Glory caught her breath as they came out on the roof of the temple. The chill in the air told her they were high up, but the nearness of the stars would have been enough. They looked close enough to touch. The sporadic light of small fires in the darkness all around the building only enhanced the illusion.
A young man sat in an alcove by the door, a single candle providing enough light by which to write. Light shimmered dimly on what looked to be a massive astrolabe fixed to the roof, the lamps set far enough away that they would still illuminate the gears without destroying the night vision of its users. Its gears gently ticked like some celestial clock as the settings were adjusted. The man in the alcove opened his mouth to speak when a soft voice from the darkness called out. He quickly bent to make a note in the book.
“Master Atal?” the woman called. “One of the travelers is awake.”
There was a murmured conversation among the dark figures surrounding the astrolabe as the old man gave instructions to his junior priests, and then the small figure slowly made its way to the door. He peered up at Glory, his eyes like two small raisins nestled among his wrinkles. “Thank you, Sena,” the High Priest said, dismissing the woman. “Come, child,” he said, motioning for Glory to accompany him back down the stairs. “We can speak in my study.”
Glory was not surprised by the pace he set as they climbed back down from the roof. He was a very old man by the look of him. They reached the first landing, his steps slowing by increments, and he paused, his hand on the balustrade as if out of breath.
“Would you give an old man your arm?” he asked.
“O-of course,” Glory replied.
She attempted to move so he could lean on her right arm, but he was faster. He fastened his hand around her wrist, his papery skin loose on a hand which was not as frail as she would have expected. Glory couldn’t help but think that she’d been led on. The odd look Sena had given her master from the bottom of the stairs as he took them at a snail‘s pace made Glory feel manipulated. Atal might be old, but he was not infirm.
In the course of their walk, Atal made a pretense of moving his hand along her arm. Every so often he stumbled or sought a better grip, managing to examine her arm from fingers to elbow. Just her luck, she hadn’t thought to try any tactile illusions. After all, who was going to touch her? All she could do was keep her mouth shut and continue to help the old man to his rooms. At least they were not far.
He released her at the door to his rooms, pushing open the door and stepping inside without her assistance. Lighting a long taper from a single lamp, he lit other lamps around the room and stirred up the embers in the fireplace, adding a few split logs and a kettle. Atal had definitely not needed her help.
“Please, where are my manners? Be seated.” He gestured to a chair by the fire. “Would you like some tea? I can call for some food, though at this hour there will only be yesterday’s bread. Perhaps some fruit?”
“No, thank you,” Glory said, feeling awkward. She skirted the room, walking a little out of her way to avoid getting too close the priest. He knew. She was certain of it. And from the way he looked at her, he knew she knew he knew. It was only a matter of who was going to bring it up first.
He took the seat on the opposite side of the fire, smoothing his robes over his legs. They stared at each other a moment before the old man cleared his throat. “Well, I am sure you have questions. Where to begin, where to begin…”
Glory put her good hand over her left arm as his eyes seem to rest on the limb. The illusions was still good but obviously not good enough. His doddering old grandfather routine was getting on her nerves. “What do you know about my family?” she snapped, discarding any pretense. “What do you know about what they want me to do?”
The old man flinched but gave her a cool look despite his embarrassment at being called out. “What do the Great Old Ones ever want of their offspring? They want you to break the bonds of their prison. You have the power but lack the tools. So here you have come to retrieve them.”
Glory scowled. “My father is already mostly free,” she said, her tone turning more acid as she went on. “And he is not a good person… thing, whatever. Nor is Bokrug, or whatever he wants to call himself in Ilarnek. At least Shub… at least the Goat with a Thousand Young,” she used a euphemism she’d heard from the Miri Nigri, “wasn’t a child killer when I met her, though she could have just been playing with my head.” She leaned forward in her chair. “I am getting really tired of being pushed around and having my friends threatened. If the Great Old Ones are in prison, they need better jailors.”
Atal steepled his fingers as he stared at her, an unreadable expression on his face. “So you would not go to Y’qaa, then.”
“I wouldn’t even be in the Dreamlands if my father hadn’t dragged me here,“ she said, waving her hands angrily. “and if I can get away with not doing what he wants without any harm coming to my children or the people I care about, then I’d just as soon go back to Earth right now.”
“Unfortunately, that is not up to either one of us,” the old man said, wiping his palms as he got up pour himself some tea.
“Dammit!” she said, pounding her fists onto her knees. “Why can’t anyone just give me a straight answer? What can I do? What mustn’t I do? Who can I afford to tick off without it coming back to my kids and the people that depend on me? It’s not like I went out looking for trouble, you know? I was perfectly content to sit at home and be no one.”
The look he gave her was almost pitying as he sat back down with the cup in his hand. “You must go to Y’qaa, but what you do once you get there is another matter.”
to Book 6, part 3, page 35