Mehnaz stands by the entryway, studying the Oracle in quiet meditation. The assassin is certain that this is the same girl who interrupted the attempted assassination of the heretic witch.
No doubt one of the first manifestations of her latent abilities. Perhaps there is validity to the stories that she brought Faisal back from the brink of death when I was certain that my blade struck true.
The isha-ghazi slips into the prayer chamber, silently approaching the dais. The giant standing guard outside had been easy to bypass, and the crippled servant was away on some errand. Only the feda-talib and the Oracle are present, the child having apparently resumed her duties after being snatched back from the apprenticeship.
That is a matter to be rectified at another time.
As the black-clad woman glides closer, the Oracle speaks, her Keleshi marred by a harsh northern accent.
“Assalamu aleikom wa rahmatoh Sarenrae wa barakatoh, isha-gahzi.”
The northern woman’s eyes open, her face remaining calm as she gazes directly at the assassin’s hiding spot. The child glances up in confusion as Mehnaz steps from the shadows and replies to the traditional greeting.
“Wa assalamu aleikom wa rahmatoh Sarenrae wa barakatoh.”
The feda-talib leaps from her kneeling position, a silver kukri flashing in her small hand. The girl’s eyes widen in recognition as she sees the Qadiran woman. Mehnaz supresses a smile of approval as the apprentice steps in front of the Oracle and adopts a fighting stance.
A simple, yet effective style for a smaller combatant. He continues to teach her well.
Mehnaz raises her empty hands and stops, giving a shallow bow to the girl and a much deeper one to the young woman. “Forgive me, Oracle, I did not intend to cause alarm. I come in peace to speak with you, as a follower of The Goddess of Light and Compassion.”
The Oracle rises, “Thank you, nuryeni, but your blade won’t be necessary today. Please check that Grok and the others are well.”
The girl barely moves, her eyes never leaving Mehnaz’s. “Are you certain, Oracle? She is isha-ghazi.”
“I’m well aware of our visitor’s nature, feda-talib”, says the northern woman, her voice becoming slightly more stern and commanding. “But she isn’t a threat today. Please do as I ask.”
The girl bows deeply, never taking her eyes off Mehnaz, and never dropping her blade from its guard position. As the student leaves reluctantly, Mehnaz turns back to the Oracle, the fair-skinned woman patiently waiting for her to speak.
“Thank you, Oracle”, says the assassin, again bowing deeply. “I wish to discuss the Tetheyr and your role as Voice of the Sarenrae.”
The younger woman remains standing, her face revealing little.
“The Dawnmother has named the teachings of Scarlet and Faisal as heretical, and sent a Holy Cleansing to deal with them. The evidence against your Dawnsister is conclusive, but I am less convinced of the feda-ghazi’s guilt in this matter.”
“These are serious allegations, isha-ghazi”, replies the Oracle. “How are you so certain of Scarlet’s guilt?”
“When the feda-talib was claimed under our ancient pact, we found a copy of the Karain in her possession. The text of the document has been magically altered, the ancient verses modified to include text from northern traditions and customs. Unsanctified rituals from local worship that violate the Proper Forms. Teachings that I have personally witnessed Scarlet preaching to members of this congregation, and to the feda-ghazi.”
The northern woman nods, seemingly unsurprised by the accusation. “But The Eternal Light of Compassion has always tolerated the inclusion of local traditions in Her worship. A Tetheyr would be an extreme response.”
“Yes, Oracle”, agrees the assassin. “If this were just a matter of the form of the worship. But the desecration of the Karain, and the corruption of one of the feda-ghazi, is a much more serious matter. I have perused several copies of the Book of Forms since coming to this land, and all bear the same alterations, including an ancient copy given to brother Faisal after his tazkiah.”
The Oracle nods. “Very well, I understand the seriousness of the Dawnmother’s concerns, and I have also despaired at Scarlet’s contempt for the Proper Forms. Alteration of the scriptures is a serious offense and I agree that she must be held accountable. Although she will undoubtedly deny any knowledge or involvement in the matter. But you said you have doubts about Faisal’s guilt?”
“Yes, Oracle”, replies Mehnaz. “I have studied the feda-ghazi’s observance of the Forms, and questioned the feda-talib extensively on his teachings. Other than a few incidents of the heretic directly influencing his performance of individual rituals, I can find no evidence that he is complicit in the heresy. Or that he is even aware of Scarlet’s crimes.”
“So why are you here today, isha-ghazi?”
“The Emira, the leader of this Tetheyr, is convinced that both Scarlet and Faisal are equally guilty of heresy, and does not wish to consider other possibilities. I am seeking intervention from the Voice of The Sarenrae, either to confirm the heretics’ guilt, or to help the Emira see the truth of the crime and place blame where it belongs.”
Mehnaz stands quietly, watching the fair-skinned woman’s face carefully as she considers the request. With Waliyah’s forces poised to strike at any moment, this will be her last chance to avert what she suspects would be a terrible mistake. As the silence drags on, Mehnaz’s doubt turns to disappointment, certain that the Oracle will deny the request.
After all, the holy war threatens the woman’s homeland and friends. Could anyone expect her to set that aside for good of all The Goddess’ followers?
The assassin’s thoughts are interrupted as the Oracle takes a deep breath.
“You are correct, isha-ghazi. The heresy falls solely on Scarlet’s shoulders. She is responsible for the desecration of the Holy Book, for the false teachings, and for leading the feda-ghazi astray. Faisal is guilty of no more than being her unwitting pawn.”
The northern woman takes a step forward and gives a small bow.
“Take me to the Emira. I should discuss this matter with her in person.”