Father Emier held the coin up to the light, a curt tsk of approval clipping through his pursed lips.
"They're Altimorean gold," said the merchant before him. The man had the most ridiculously puffy attire, but Father Emier had associated with the Yellerian Guild for long enough now to know that comments on their fashion tended not to lead anywhere at all. Still, he'd never seen so much bright green fabric in one place before. It was beginning to unsettle him.
He flicked the coin back into the box, where it settled in among its fellows. "And you'll have the second chest delivered tomorrow?"
"We have a man in the city already. He'll hand it to you after the sermon."
Father Emier took a seat. They were in his study, a luxurious space dominated by a massive oak desk covered with engravings of the gods. The chair behind it could almost be called a throne: intricate woodwork curled around it in various displays of artistic splendor, and it was upholstered with a fine black leather that basked in the sunlight of the bright summer day. It creaked slightly as Father Emier collapsed his weight upon it.
"I'd think you'd trust me by now," he said with what might've been a chuckle. It was a throaty noise, akin to a gurgle. "How long have we been doing this together, my friend? How many times have I swayed my believers into accepting the Yellerian doctrine and all it entails? I daresay I know more of your prophecies than most of your elders."
"That, I do not know. But you would not be much of anything in the formal ranks of us Yellerians, father."
"Eh? Why's that?"
"Your dress is too plain to have any worth. I think you would spend all your days as nothing more than an acolyte of the cause."
Father Emier assumed a wooden smile. "Yes. Of course. Will you be staying in the city, then? You've given me quite a lot to work with. It'll be a sermon to remember."
The merchant's expression was indecipherable. "It will be. Unfortunately, I am called away. I'm needed on the eastern coast. After the fiasco with Lord Andrys, my vessel is the fastest in the Guild."
"And that's important, is it?"
"Tomorrow, it will be." And with that, the merchant took his leave. At first, Father Emier wondered what the man had meant by his parting words. But then he had the idea to count out his coins, stacking them into high columns of gleaming gold, and he soon forgot what it was he'd been fussing about.
I will tell you of the cathedral in Dyrz, where Father Emier served as a cardinal. It was built in the Mortmondian style, all tall spires and black iron decor. Braziers of twisted steel threw blistering flames into an overcast sky, and Fyrtar, the Reckoner, glowered down from a stained-glass window situated directly beneath the central spire. It was an imposing sight in those days, especially since Castle Dyrz, the only other structure of similar majesty, was all the way across the city, too far to pose the risk of competition.
Inside, the cathedral hosted not only the standard pews and aisles, but also a high balcony, from which ranking church officials and guests of honor could look over the proceedings. It was here that the Yellerian Guild had sent their servant, who held not a box of coins but a stave of lightning-blackened wood. Though he was dressed in a frightfully bright orange robe with frills along the neck, waist, and cuffs, something about his manner subdued the idea of ridicule before it had a chance to form. His eyes gleamed from under a feathered hat, and his left hand had three fingers only. Today, he was the only person on the balcony, though the pews below were almost overflowing with chattering evangelicals. Stroking the staff, he tried to focus on the honor of his position rather than the oppressive heat or the stuffiness of his clothes. Soon, it wouldn't matter. Nothing would matter at all, ever again.
Father Emier had taken his place at the pulpit. Perched upon it were two volumes: one was the Gospel of Fyrtar, through which the reckoner imposed his will on the world of men. The other was scarcely more than a pamphlet, printed on cheap, thin paper. This was the Prophecy of Tsor-Anath, though Father Emier knew it only as the Book of Yellerian Doctrine, as this was what the innocent title proclaimed the pamphlet to be. The Yellerian emissary drummed his fingers on the staff. Hurry up, he thought, and a low growl rolled between his teeth.
Father Emier began with the Gospel. After an hour of intonations concerning the inevitability of the Holy Conflagration and the sins one should avoid in order to survive the initial rains of Fyrtar's oil, he slammed shut the Gospel with a heavy thud and peered over at the congregation.
"And now, my children, I will tell you more of the world to come. I will tell it through the words of Yelleria, who was a prophet in the old days, who followed Fyrtar's will even as the Rashidian church beheaded her for what they called blasphemy -- you may very well gasp! Even now, those pagans prance in the beer-stained halls of the north. They know not the truth, but Yelleria knew it. She told it to the masses, and I will tell them to you again."
Father Emier knew, of course, that Yelleria was a fiction. Or, rather, she was certainly not a prophet of Fyrtar. But he got paid to say she was, that her strange teachings were some complicated tangent to the Gospel, and so he taught it. The Yellerian Guild knew more than that. They knew exactly who Yelleria had worshipped, what she had hoped to achieve in her short life before the men of Aralun destroyed any hope of the good she hoped to bring about. And they knew why paying Emier to preach her words was worth every coin in their coffers.
"Here are the dreams of Yelleria," said Father Emier, and his voice carried wonderfully, riding the acoustics of the cathedral so that it seemed he spoke from every direction. "She stood at the Osumer, and looked over it. And she stood on a great dark plain where the gods stood sleeping, and she looked over them and saw another wall, taller and darker than the Osumer, and she looked over this as well. And far beyond, in the darkness, she saw Fyrtar, greatest of deities, exalted even by the universe as the master of all creation. And Fyrtar said to her, 'when men's hearts turn black and frail and the blood in their veins is nothing but sin, then will I return to ye. Then will all rejoice at the wrath I bring, for the pure will have nothing to fear, and the flames will carry them to Paradise, whereas the sinful shall be eaten by the darkness beyond the stars.'" Emier frowned to himself at this bit. None of the other pamphlets had said anything about stars, much less the things behind them. The Gospel taught that the stars were the corpses of Fyrtar's enemies, that worship or appreciation of them was a heresy, a glorification of weakness. Why would anyone care what hid behind a corpse? Then he glanced up at the emissary, thought of his box of gold, and kept on reading. "And ten Yelleria knew the god spoke true, and she returned to the world of waking and laid down seven stars of seven points, which were antithesis to the teachings of the traitor Aermun"-- but that couldn't be right at all! Aermun didn't even exist in the Gospel; he was called a fantasy of the mind-addled wizards who resented that Fyrtar was the true source of their power. All of this was ridiculous! "And she knew then that before her was a power greater than the gods, greater than the stars, greater even than the pretentious Narsalai, the dark angels which clawed at the edges of the world. It was TSOR-ANATH, he whose name was destroyed by Aermun, destroyed by the wordsmith who alone recognized the power of a name. For that power exists not as a function of the name itself, but as a metric of understanding. It is not an extension of TSOR-ANATH, yet it shall serve as his anchor. While men forget him, he lurks in the strange places, powerless and frail. But read, ye, and know the name of he who is all judgement, all reckoning. Read and speak and know of TSOR-ANATH, and in time he will come. In time, he will"--
And then Father Emier looked up with a crease in his eyes, new thoughts traveling the rickety neurons of his age-addled mind. Slowly, the gears turned, considering the passages, considering what had fast turned from tangential religion to blatant heresy. And then he looked up at the crowd before him. Blank eyes stared back at him. All of them were as confused as he was, and as the silence stretched on many of them began to grow restless.
"But father!" cried out a woman near the back. "Who is Seer Anath?"
And a man in the middle cried back to her, "weren't you listening? It's not seer, it's Tsor, woman. Tsor-Anath. Probably some older name for the Reckoner, for his names are many."
Father Emier wanted to say that no, in fact Fyrtar had no such name, but he was too confused, too bewildered. From above, the Emissary watched as whispers took over the crowd.
The name bounced from face to face, row to row. And invisible to them all, thin strands of power rose slowly from their words and disappeared in the staff. The emissary breathed deeply.
"Tsor-Anath," he muttered, and every person in the church heard the words in their mind not as an intruder, but as their own original thought. "Tsor-Anath -- the watcher, the waiter, the devourer of life. The end, the beginning, the veiled and the veil. He who will end all suffering, end all poison, and bring back the harmony of the beginning of the world." The words were not the emissary's. They were Yelleria's, the true Yelleria's, and a tear ran down his cheek as he repeated her holy mantra.
And far away, on the eastern coast, and in the heart of the continent where the Myr ran cold and blue, other pockets of the Yellerian Guild stood waiting, their staffs held high and constructed of lightning-blacked wood. And they, too, lurked in the cathedrals where the corrupt spouted Yelleria's words instead of the useless rambling of false gods, and they, too, were smiling and weeping, for their long wait was coming to an end.
Tsor-Anath. The one truth. In the old days Aermun had stopped his coming, and the Osumer had provided only an extra line of defense. But now Aermun and the Eltferi were forgotten. Now there was only fantasy where once there had been religion. Instead of gods without names, there were names without gods. And the Osumer stood alone.
Father Emier erupted into the balcony. "Alright, I've done my bit. But what is this about, eh? You Yellerians are a shifty lot. Is this some kind of takeover? You're trying to steal my business by plugging in your own names?" His face was turning red. "Well, it won't work. It's clever, I'll grant you that, telling them that all you need is to know his name, and he'll reward you, yada yada. But I've got these people wrapped around my finger. You're not stealing them from me. Find your own sheep."
The Emissary glanced over impassively. He said only, "who said anything about a reward?"
"What? But ... you said he'd come. If he were real of course, which you won't be convincing me of. But you said he's come if his name is spoken. What's the point in him showing up if he's not going to reward the loyal?" He snorted. "I thought you lot were clever. But you haven't got the least idea how to sprout up a following. Just as well. I can live without the competition."
"Just as well," echoed the emissary, and with the ghost of a smile he stood up to leave.
The pastor grabbed the emissary's arm with a pudgy hand. "Not so fast. Where's my money?"
"If I thought you'd have any need of money, I'd have brought you a mountain of it."
"No need for money? You think you can just make a play on me and rob me on the same beat? Right. Guards!"
From outside the room, two of Fyrtar's Holy Guard, resplendent in their long red capes, burst in with spears at the ready. And then they paused, for they saw Father Emier standing alone, his face red as a beet and a stream of very unholy curses spilling from his lips as his hands grasped at nothing at all.
Above them, a mural of Fyrtar slaying the unbelievers shone downward from the ceiling. Above that, the clouds gathered over Dyrz. And far above that, something stirred in the spaces between the stars, waking from the slumber of eons.
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