As his last hoof struck unhallowed ground the miracle high in the vault of the temple roof ceased. The last placed stone in that uncopiable vault did what gravity had always decreed it would do, but for divine intervention, and fell. Support lost, the rest of the roof followed it, then the walls.
The sound reached the gate in time for Zhaerudmeal to turn around so the Sun Emperor and the seer could see the whole complex fall like a house of cards triggering lines of dominoes.
Dust shot out above them. Through the crowd there were some who started to run back towards the temple but, if they weren’t grabbed by their friends, they were grabbed by Jonan’s soldiers. The seer saw a seven foot tall soldier with bolt cutters hanging from his belt shove a heavy bag into the arms of the Master of the Library and grab the bolting third librarian within two of his long strides. His arms wrapped her to him from chest to waist and his head bent down so he could talk into the ear beside her tear-streaked face.
When the dust settled and the coughing stopped, though most of the dust fell within the boundary wall, the high priest came storming over to where Zhaerudmeal still stood with the newly wed pair on his back. Most of the other senior members of the temple’s hierarchy began, at varying paces, to converge on them as well.
“What did you do!?” The high priest stopped to splutter and sneeze again.
“The seer left the temple grounds,” Jonan said prosaically and took a draw on his cigar, “Actually, it’s not as bad as I thought it might be.”
“Ah, yes,” rejoined the Master of Studies, who’d almost sauntered over from what was, now the seer had time to look, a prime viewing position, “The verb in the original Navreen can be translated as ‘drop’, can’t it?”
“What are you talking about?” The high priest was wiping dust off his face with a handkerchief, “The Chambourian Verses were written in Melladiki.”
“Not at all, high priest,” the Master of Studies said calmly, “The prophet wrote them in his native Navreen and they were then translated into Melladiki. Then during the Raigshik someone decided that because the Verses had been translated into Melladiki, the originals weren’t needed anymore so they went around destroying the copies in Navreen. That’s why the real original is so hard to find these days.”
“People who have them don’t like to make it known,” agreed Jonan. “Mind you, some of the Melladiki versions use ‘sofli’ which is supposed to be for ripe fruit falling from the branch. Still very – suggestive.”
“Suggestive of what?” The high priest was still sounding snappish.
“That the buildings collapsing might not be all of it,” replied Jonan.
“There are caves under there, after all,” the seer’s comment had an oddly detached tone.
“Don’t talk nonsense,” the Mistress of Duties had joined them. “This is just the sort of thing that got you pulled from ordination classes – speaking out of turn about things you know nothing about.”
“Mother,” the eyes the seer turned on her were like nothing the older woman had seen before, depthless pools of impenetrable not-colour, “Hermine, I am no longer a child and I am no longer under your control. The Sun Emperor has already pointed out your options. You have served faithfully in the task required of you, do not act against your best interests now.”
The Mistress of Duties looked taken aback. “How long have you been able to do that?”
“Which of us are you referring to?” the seer asked. “I am the divine spark of the Silence Under the Hills carried, in this generation, within your daughter. I’ve always been able to do this, I have simply chosen not to for several generations. The other ‘me’ present, your daughter, is perfectly capable of conducting normal interactions with the people and environment around us.” She looked at the faces of the people standing around them then up at Jonan, “I haven’t gone mad,” her voice began to resonate as his had earlier in the morning, “You just haven’t seen the divine spark manifest before. Partly my fault, I chose to pull back from running the temple so you wouldn’t all be directionless when the seer left you.” Those strange, light absorbing eyes turned towards the high priest, “You and your predecessor didn’t take control of the temple, I let you have it.” Her smile was not a nice smile. “You may be in for interesting times. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to help the seer find all the information our divine mistress has left sitting in her mind for her to use – ordination classes used to be so good for that and then you stopped them.”
Her eyes returned to normal then the seer added brightly, “That was interesting, wasn’t it? She’s never done that with people around before – do I look like that in trance ceremonies or are they different?”
The ragged chorus of replies was quite clear. “Different!”
“Oh.” The seer found that interesting but now was not the time to discuss how you looked in the mirror while having a conversation with yourself. “The caves, that’s what I was talking about.”
“Um, yes dear,” said her mother.
“There’s about five levels of galleries before you get down to the Deep Altar. The first two go back into the mountain then the lower three come back this way again.” The seer added, “I don’t imagine though, that our divine lady would want to collapse the way down to the Deep Altar – she might want to use it again.”
“We could open the way down for her,” said the high priest thoughtfully, “Take pilgrims down-.”
“No!” None of them had ever heard the seer speak that forcefully before, and indeed she hurt her throat doing so. “It is not,” every word was clearly articulated, “That sort of altar. It is one of the secret places under the world, one of the reflections of the Eternal Cavern.”
“The old ceremonies,” said the Master of Studies thoughtfully, “Where the hero never returns from the goddess’ embrace.”
The Mistress of Works spoke up from behind the Master of Studies, “Feel like being a hero, high priest?
They may rip each other apart while they sort this out. The seer was bemused. I’m glad Dulcine will be out of this.
“My men will be bringing up tents and a field kitchen for your use,” said Jonan over the top of the developing verbal brawl below him. “Some trained librarians will remain to help your Master Librarian and his people recover their books. The kennel master, his staff and charges will be leaving with us.” He nodded affably to them. “We’ll be leaving you to your discussions. I intend that we will spend the night a good three and a half leagues from here, so we must get moving. Good bye.” He took a draw on his cigar and Zhaerudmeal moved off. Jonan waited a moment for the seer to call out her good bye to her mother then asked, offering it to her, “Do you need some of this? It keeps the spark subdued.”
“No, thank you.” She smiled up at him, “My divine spark seems happy to sit in the background, most of the time. Is yours pushier?”
“It’s not that-,” he was interrupted by a giggle. “What’s funny?”
“One of you soldiers stopped my friend Idua, the third librarian, from running back towards the temple.”
“So? They were told to do that. We didn’t want there to be bodies.”
“They’ve both just realised where one of his hands has been this whole time.”
“Oh?” He looked in the direction she was looking in. “Oh. Did he pick her up like that so she’d stop hitting him?”
“I think so. But that does put her in a better position to kick him.”
“It would help,” Jonan said severely just before the seer lost sight of her friend behind his shoulder, “If the rest of his squad weren’t laughing so hard at him. Particularly the priest-archivist.”
Zhaerudmeal made his way down the road at a stately pace. It seemed to the seer that the temple folk were in shock. Some, like the infirmarian, had tasks to perform. A few were having hysterics. They passed the kitchen staff clustered around the Head Cook and with the scratched soldier, his arms and hands bandaged, sitting beside them. On his lap was an orange pobha kitten. Every time the kitten tried to get off the lap and return to its siblings in the basket, its mother swatted it on the nose. After the third swat that the seer saw, the kitten settled down, discontentedly for a nap.
“What does that man think he’s going to do with a house cat?” Jonan had followed her gaze again.
“I don’t suppose the mother asked him before she decided he was having a kitten,” replied the seer, “Pobha can be a bit like that. Besides, did you see its feet when it was kneading before it settled? It’s decided to be much bigger than a house cat. It’s about the right age for that.”
“Are you sure, you don’t have one?” Jonan looked concerned.