By Cheryl Barkauskas  

“Please, Sister,” the woman said, weeping. “No one else will help my son since he was expelled from the Temple. They’re all afraid, they won’t even see him. You’re my last hope.”

Erai pressed the woman’s hand. “Don’t cry. Everything will be fine.” She closed her eyes, calmed herself, and dropped into the prayer-meditation that years of devotion and training had made instinctive. Mother, are you there? she asked in the silence of her mind.

Yes, daughter, the Goddess replied. Her voice shimmered soundlessly. The question was rhetorical—Erai felt the divine presence like a warmth.

Is it right to leave the Temple and treat this woman’s son?

What do you think? the Goddess asked.

I’m not sure. We’re supposed to ask them to be brought here, but she says he’s too sick, and of course I remember him from his novitiate. And how can I turn her away? She’s in such pain . . .

Compassion is a virtue. So is obedience.

But compassion is the higher virtue. That’s what we’re taught. Erai pondered. So the virtuous path must be to treat him. Is that right?

It is good, the Goddess said.

Erai opened her eyes. The anguish she’d felt in empathy with the frightened mother had been replaced by calm and utter certainty. “It’s all right, I’ll help you,” she told the woman.

“You will? Oh, thank you! Thank you!”

Erai patted her hand. “Go on home, and I’ll meet you there as soon as I can put some things together.”

The woman still wept, but now her tears were joyful. She kissed Erai’s hand and rushed out of the cramped but well-cushioned cell that served as Erai’s living quarters.

Erai rose with a grunt—she really should lose some weight—and packed her medical bag. Although she was not one of the Temple’s official physicians, her position as master of novices had acquainted her with a variety of illnesses. The Goddess was right: compassion was the best path. The tragic condition that had caused the boy’s expulsion from the Temple was no fault of his own. Her lips pursed in remembered distress.

She trotted down the hallway of the novices’ wing and into the empty courtyard. Even at this hour, waves of heat radiated off the cobbles, and the yellow sandstone walls of the Temple undulated in her vision. Across the courtyard, the murmur of evening service arose from the grand cathedral. The stained glass would be beautiful inside at this hour. To the north, the cliffs glowed in the haze. Beyond the Temple walls sprawled the great desert city of princes and beggars and everyone between. Erai savored the golden beauty and offered heartfelt thanks that the Temple had taken her in as a foundling, giving her the chance to follow her calling.

In the center of the courtyard was a statue of the Two. The Goddess stood upright, feet planted, while the teasing God danced around her: stability and change in an eternal give and take. Erai had always felt closer to the comforting Goddess, but as she did each time she passed the statue, she dipped to one knee before the Two and murmured a prayer to them both.

She had hoped to catch the end of the service, but as she hurried toward the cathedral, the doors opened and priests and novices spilled out. The quiet was broken by dozens of voices. Erai sighed and dug in her pocket for a piece of string to tie around her finger to remind her to offer penitence for missing service. The string would have company next to the other five on her hand. There was so much to remember.

“Sister Erai! Just a minute.” She turned to see Khavial, the chief Temple judge, looming over her. She had known Khavial as a fat-cheeked novice, and she had difficulty recognizing him in this man whose face was planes and shadows. “Have you read my proposal on reallocating Temple funds?”

“Oh . . . yes, I did, Brother Khavial.” Khavial wished to attempt to channel the gods’ voices into the courtyard statue, to receive the Word through incorruptible stone rather than in the fragile and fallible human mind. Such a complex project would require an increase in the tithe from the city. Erai thought it was implausible and pretentious, but she wouldn’t dream of hurting Khavial by saying so to his face.

“High Priest Ondares thinks it’s a wonderful idea. He says you haven’t spoken to him about it.”

Erai squirmed and cast a longing glance toward the edge of the crowd. “Well, I was thinking . . .”

“You don’t approve.”

“It’s justBrother, why don’t we simply give back the excess money we take in? Or use it to send more priests into the community, to help those who can’t come to us?”

Khavial’s eyebrows drew together. “You’re still pushing for intervention? It’s inefficient and it doesn’t last. A week after you visit, they’ll forget you.”

Erai wilted under his disapproval. Is he right? she appealed to the Goddess.

He speaks a truth, said the Goddess. So do you.

We can’t both be right. Which do you prefer?

Both ideas have possibility, the Goddess replied. It is for you to decide. Such a statement was not uncommon from the Two, but it still frustrated Eraiit was a response without being an answer.

“You need to back me,” Khavial insisted. “It’s crucial that the senior priests present a united front to the city.”

Erai glanced around, seeking support, and saw the High Priest standing a few feet away with a knot of older priests and priestesses. “Brother Ondares?” she called.

Ondares glanced over and excused himself from the group. “Blessed evening, Sister,” he said, his deep voice soothing Erai’s nerves. “What can I do for you?”

“About Brother Khavial’s proposal,” Erai said. “The speaking statue. Do we have to decide on it now?”

“It has to be soon,” Khavial said. “Tithe collection starts in a few days. We need to set a percentage.”

Ondares peered at Erai’s face with kind eyes. “We don’t need to decide tonight, at any rate,” he said. Khavial drew breath to speak, but Ondares overrode him. “In fact, Brother, there are a few points I’m not quite clear about. Can you explain again how you propose to channel the divine voices? It’s never been done.”

“That’s exactly why we need more funding, Brother,” Khavial said. “We’ll have to devote several senior priests to the project, and

“Did you have anyone in mind?” Ondares draped an arm across Khavial’s shoulders and led him back toward the main living quarters.

“As a matter of fact, I had considered . . .” Khavial’s voice faded as they entered the building. Erai gratefully rubbed the tension from her neck. Ondares was not only a fine priest, but a decent man, and an observant one at that. Anyway, her opinion would hardly make a difference one way or the other. The gods would see to it that whatever happened would be for the best.

The courtyard had emptied out. Her assistants would look after the novices in her absence. Erai squared her shoulders, took a shaky breath, and marched through the great archway in the outer Temple wall.

As she left the sanctified ground, the ever-present warmth in her mind faded. By reflex Erai reached out to the Two, but nothing came to her, not even the sense of their presence. She had left the Temple grounds before, but every time the loss of direct communion unnerved her. She felt a wrench of pity for those who lived their lives never hearing the gods’ voices. Unconsciously, Erai increased her pace, the sooner to return to the gods’ presence.

It was fully dark by the time she panted to a stop at her destination, and she shivered in the cooling air. The sick boy, Verett, lived in a slum on a high plateau exposed to the stinging western winds. Weathered lean-tos collapsing against each other offered minimal shelter. The crooked streets reeked of waste. The whole decrepit area probably had to be rebuilt after every sandstorm. The season was almost upon them again; Erai wondered how much of the area would be left in a month. Several times Erai had to ask for directions, and by the time she found the proper street, a band of curious children tagged along behind her. Verett’s mother kept at watch outside one of the shacks. She saw Erai and beckoned. Erai tugged at the elaborate pendant that signified her rank in the Temple and followed her inside.

The shack was nearly empty except for two pallets and a mismatched collection of pots and utensils. Verett lay under a worn blanket on one of the pallets. His skin was papery, and he looked thinner than Erai remembered, even allowing for illness. He looked at her a moment without recognition. Then his eyes widened, and he turned his face aside.

Erai knelt by his side and smoothed his hair back. “Verett, it’s Sister Erai.”

“Go away.”

His mother gasped. Erai smiled sadly. “Don’t be foolish. I’m going to help you get better.” She examined him with an experienced eye: ague, cough, rapid pulse. Probably fernfever at this season, easily treated. She started to ask the Goddess to confirm her diagnosis before she remembered where she was. Verett’s other condition was invisible, but she could do nothing for it anyway.

As she prepared the medicine, her thoughts went back to Verett’s final day at the Temple. In the last rite of the novitiate, after the long training in meditation and the tests of character and knowledge and devotion, the novice stood in the center of the grand cathedral, alone with the senior priests. Surrounding the novice in a ring on the floor were fifteen handbells. Though they appeared identical, most had no clappers; only one would ring. To prove the gods spoke to him, the novice prayed for guidance, and the gods told him which bell to choose. Usually the rite was a formality, but in rare cases, like Verett’s, it exposed the person who could not hear the gods despite all the training in meditation and prayer the Temple could bestow: the person who was god-deaf.

The Temple taught that god-deafness was a disability not the fault of the sufferer. The Two were reticent on the subject. Though many in the clergy had asked them about it over the years, all they would say was that an individual’s communion with them was sacred and personal. Despite the Temple’s official policy, most people, and even some priests, subscribed to the stubborn prejudice that saw god-deafness as a sign of evil. Verett’s mother had learned as much when she tried to find help for her son. Erai sided with the Temple; she had seen no evil in any of the stunned novices she had been forced to expel. Outside the sacred grounds, in fact, there was no difference between a god-deaf person and an ordinary one, yet the stigma endured. Verett was lucky to face only ostracismErai had heard tales of beatings and deaths that went unpunished, even celebrated. She found it heartbreaking.

Erai handed the pouch of medicine to Verett’s mother. “Mix a teaspoon into a cup of boiling water, let it dissolve, and give it to him every six hours. His fever should come down in a day. The cough will take longer to ease, but he’ll be fine.”

Verett’s mother took the pouch but could not speak. Erai smiled at her. “He’ll be fine,” she repeated. She stood and looked down at the sick boy. “I’m sorry I can’t stay, Verett, but I need to get back.”

“Where you can hear them.”

Erai’s lips parted. Verett watched her with an old man’s eyes. She remembered his anguish after his failed rite, how he had laced his fingers together as if trying to crack his bones. “I thought they’d speak to me when it mattered, even though they never had . . . Sister, does it mean I’m a bad person?”

“No!” she had said. “It’s just . . . we don’t always know why the gods do what they do. They don’t reveal their plans to us. They don’t answer every question.”

“At least they’re there for you. You can touch them.”

Erai had hesitated, but Verett had known the answer anyway.

Now she said gently, “Don’t lose faith. They still hear you, even if you can’t hear them.”

“Prove it,” Verett said.

Erai caught her breath. After endless heartbeats, she said, “I’ll pray for you, Verett.”


Verett’s desolate face haunted Erai the next day. She had met ex-novices before, and the encounters had never been pleasant. She found it difficult to concentrate on the supplicant before her, who was negotiating for her teenage granddaughter’s admission as a novice.

“It’s ridiculous,” the old woman said. Her stubby fingers clutched the elegant beaded purse on her lap. “Seventy silver pieces is three months’ income for a decent hardworking family.”

“It still doesn’t cover the cost of training and board,” Erai explained for the third time. “We don’t tithe the city for a novice until she takes orders. Many poorer families can’t even afford the seventy, and this helps to pay for them as well.” The barrenness of Verett’s home intruded on her thoughts. She wondered what his family had sacrificed to sponsor him in the Temple, and how they’d felt when it turned out so disastrously. “Think of the prestige you’ll gain,” Erai said. “Your granddaughter as a Temple physician, or a scholar, or a judge! A direct link to the gods! Isn’t it worth it?”

The old woman’s lips tightened. She was obviously not convinced. “I want to speak with your superior.”

Erai shrank from her hostility. Should I bother Ondares with this? she asked the Goddess.

There is no virtue in suffering needlessly, the Goddess replied.

Erai considered that. Thank you. “All right,” she said aloud to the old woman, and stepped outside her cell to find a passing novice. “Find High Priest Ondares and ask him to come here,” she told him.

Erai returned and sat. “It’ll be a few minutes,” she said. The woman sniffed.

Ondares appeared shortly. Erai summarized the problem and watched as Ondares explained the situation. He said just what Erai had, yet the woman seemed to accept it from him. Erai frowned. It wasn’t fair.

Suddenly the warmth of the divine presence in her mind flared into painful heat. Erai started up with a cry, her chair clattering to the floor. At the same time, the old woman moaned and hunched over, clutching her head.

Ondares looked from one to the other. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Sound the alarms, the Goddess said to Erai. Her voice resonated like a drumbeat through the floor, inducing a throbbing in Erai’s skull. There is a major sandstorm nearly upon you. You must alert the city.

Erai stumbled to the door of her cell and pushed it open. Up and down the corridor, stunned novices writhed on the ground or wandered in circles. “Is everyone all right?” Erai croaked. She couldn’t hear her own voice properly.

Sound the alarms! the Goddess urged.

Erai shook her head, trying to clear the ringing in her ears, and staggered into the courtyard. With the pressure in her head, she didn’t notice the midday heat. Novices and priests cowered in the courtyard, overcome. Some had lost consciousness. Even the unshakeable Khavial stood frozen and gaping. The air was hazy and still. Erai saw no sign of a storm, but she trusted the Goddess’ word over the evidence of her eyes.

Erai reached Khavial’s side and shook him. “Khavial! Blow the trumpets!”

He stared at her for a second before he came to himself. “Take the southern wall,” he said. “I’ll take the western.” He staggered west, his pace a far cry from his confident stride.

Erai stumbled toward the Temple’s southern wall. A giant trumpet was mounted upon it, its mouthpiece head-height from the ground and its thirty-foot-wide bell resting atop the wall. In less peaceful days, the trumpets had been used to signal battle. Now, they were used to warn of danger of a different kind.

Erai curled her hand around the trumpet’s mouthpiece, heedless of the scorching metal. She took a deep breath and blew into the trumpet. A great bass note emerged above her. In her dazed state Erai imagined it as a physical object, rolling down the hillside to crush the houses below. She sounded another blast, then another. To her right she heard the blast of Khavial’s trumpet. From the city far below, she heard faint answering trumpets. The warning was picked up. She hoped people would make it to safety in time.

The northern wall of the Temple was flush against the cliffs, but there was still a trumpet on the eastern wall. Halfway there, Erai stopped as she heard it sounded. She squinted and saw that Ondares had gotten there first. At least he was still conscious.

Khavial appeared out of nowhere. “We need to get everyone inside,” he said. His voice was overly loud, and his pupils were different sizes.

Erai nodded. The cathedral had too many windows to be safe. “The cellars will be big enough.”

It was slow work getting everyone to safety, and Erai feared that they would be caught above ground when the storm hit. Many people had to be supported or carried outright. Once Ondares rejoined them, he ran from group to group, urging and encouraging, and he managed to hasten them along. He seemed less affected by the miracle than everyone else. Something about it bothered Erai, but her head was full of fire, and she couldn’t work it out.

As the last person they could find was herded downstairs, Erai paused to gaze at the sky. In the few minutes it had taken to get everyone inside, the wind had risen to a shriek. A towering brown wall of sand had appeared almost out of nowhere and bore down on the city with terrifying speed.

“Erai, hurry!” Khavial shouted from inside. Erai ran inside and down the stairs, and the cellar doors were slammed and barred behind her.

They waited in candlelit darkness for hours, listening to the storm rage. Many people huddled together to seek comfort. Two priests counted the refugees, trying to determine how many had been left above. Erai saw her old petitioner propped half-conscious against a wine cask. Khavial lay on the floor, one arm flung across his eyes. Erai tried to pray, but it took her several minutes to calm her disordered thoughts and to establish rapport despite her aching head. She hoped her difficulty was temporary and not a permanent side effect of the Goddess’s mind-blasting warning.

How can we tell you how thankful we are? Erai asked the Goddess. You saved thousands of lives today.

Be content, the Goddess said. Much of the credit is yours. We could hardly let such a disaster strike you without warning. Erai basked in the divine affection, despite the pain of maintaining the prayer.

We spoke too loudly, the Goddess admitted. Too many were injured. That was our mistake.

Erai looked across the room at Ondares, who was consoling a frightened priest. His eyes met hers, lost and bleak, and her smile faded. Her mind had cleared, but her heart grew troubled.


Eventually, the storm passed and the sky cleared to show an angry red moon. The Temple was badly damaged: many windows were broken, and the courtyard was littered with tiles and shingles that had once been parts of roofs. More devastating was the discovery of several bodies, including three novices, who had not made it to safety. Swaths of rubble streaked the city below like cracks in a shattered window. Erai wondered if Verett had survived, but she had no time to dwell on it. She reassured the traumatized novices that this century storm was not a sign of the gods’ displeasure and reminded them they could pray for that reassurance themselves, once their headaches subsided enough to let them listen to the gods without pain.

Finally, they fell asleep, or pretended to. Erai walked outside where Ondares was directing cleanup efforts. He hesitated, then approached her. There was sorrow in his face, which she had expected, and compassion, which she had not. She shivered in the night air.

“So,” he said. “You know?”

Tears stung Erai’s eyes. “Everyone heard the gods speak, even the woman with us, but you did not . . .” She tried to catch Ondares’s gaze, but he lowered his eyes to the ground. “Ondares, I am so sorry.”

He nodded, but did not look up.

Even in her grief, Erai was curious. “If you are . . . if you can’t hear the gods, how did you know which bell to ring at your initiation rite?”

Ondares spread his hands. “I guessed.”

So the holiest man among them had become so by chance. Erai closed her eyes in despair.

“If you feel you need to inform the other priests, I will understand,” Ondares added.

Erai had never felt so helpless. “What should I do?”

Ondares raised his eyes to her, and she recoiled at their expression. “Pray for me.”

He turned and vanished into the darkness. Erai’s head throbbed, and she felt desperately lonely. She picked her way through the rubble-strewn courtyard and entered the grand cathedral.

Evening services had been held in the cellar during the storm, and no one had lit candles in the cathedral. The reddish moonlight on the yellow stone created the illusion of warmth. By some miracle, the great stained glass window above the main altar had survived unscathed, though most of the others were destroyed. Silent acolytes swept up broken glass in the gloom. Erai slipped into an alcove where a small statue of the Two rested on a plain altar. Erai hesitated; a restlessness of spirit possessed her tonight. Finally she folded her hands and painfully forced herself to establish contact.

Father, can you hear me?

I can, my child, the God answered. He sounded amused. I don’t often hear from you, I must say.

Are you angry? Erai asked quickly.

Of course not. What troubles you?

Why didn’t you tell anyone that Ondares is god-deaf?

Each person’s communion with us is sacred. You know that.

Erai wanted to ask why the Two didn’t speak to everyone equally, but that was the kind of question they never answered. What should I do about it?

Why do you think action is needed?

BecauseErai stopped.

Is Ondares a good man? A good priest?

Yes, of course. I meanErai stopped again. How could a god-deaf man set standards of piety?

Then what has changed? What needs to change?

I’m not sure, Erai confessed.

Then perhaps you should be praying to my counterpart after all, the God said with a hint of irony.

Daughter, you may always turn to us for advice, the Goddess said, her presence brightening Erai’s mind. But you have read our Word, and you know the laws we have given you. In the mortal world, they must be applied by mortals. We cannot make your decisions. You are our children, not our puppets.

Despite the unsatisfying answer, Erai was comforted. I understand. I’m sorry, I should know better.

Trust yourself, Erai, the God said.

I trust in you, Erai promised. The Two did not answer.

Erai pushed herself up from her knees with one hand against the floor and left the cathedral. She stopped at the edge of the courtyard. The old woman who had been with her when the Goddess spoke had not left the Temple. She was talking animatedly to Khavial, who leaned toward her in concentration. Several of the younger priests hovered around them, wide-eyed.

Erai approached them, a queasy feeling knotting her stomach. The priests sprang apart, looking guilty. Khavial straightened and glared at her. “Sister, is it true what this woman tells me? That Brother Ondares didn’t hear the Goddess today?”

“I can’t say what Brother Ondares heard,” Erai said cautiously.

“But you were with him. Did he look like he heard it? Was he stunned, overcome?”

“No,” Erai admitted.

“I told you!” the old woman said. “Even I heard Her, praise Her! He’s one of those godless devils. How he fooled all of you this long, I can’t imagine.”

“Wait a minute” Erai began.

“That’s ignorant superstition,” Khavial said bluntly. The old woman looked offended. “Ondares is a fine man.”

The other priests jabbered among themselves. One broke away and ran toward the living quarters. “Come back here!” Khavial shouted, but the man paid no heed.

“Shouting’s no good,” the old woman said. “No force more powerful than a nice piece of gossip. Yes, the High Priest will be in a load of trouble now.” She sighed, but there was an expression of keen enjoyment in her eyes that revolted Erai.

Khavial’s mouth pinched. His eyes flicked toward Erai. “Sister, go look after the novices. I don’t want a panic. You . . .” he gestured at the old woman “stay here or go to bed as you please, but don’t spread this around.” He strode toward the senior priests’ living quarters.

Erai was relieved that events were spiraling out of control. The decision to expose Ondares was out of her hands. She hurried to the novices’ wing with a lighter heart.

Her relief was short-lived. The young priest had already roused the novices, and they were chattering in the hall. When Erai appeared, they ran up to her, demanding explanations.

“Sister, is it true?”

“Did the gods send the sandstorm to punish us for the High Priest’s sins?”

“Is Brother Ondares a demon?”

“Quiet, all of you!” Erai shouted. “Brother Ondares is a good man, and you all know that. I don’t want to hear any more of this nonsense. It’s been a long day for all of usgo back to bed and get some sleep.”

She might as well have told them to fly across the ocean. A stocky novice stepped forward, fists clenched. “I’ve seen the city,” he said, his voice tightened in fear and rage. “Whole neighborhoods are destroyed. My family’s down there. They could have died because some devil’s kin controls the Temple!”

The other novices muttered agreement. Erai looked from one to another in desperation. “Now listen to me,” she said. But she no longer controlled them. One novice took off running down the hall, then two followed, then the rest. Erai was left alone, her hands outstretched.

Now that it was quieter, she could hear shouts from the rest of the complex, deeper voices, adult voices. She moved to a window and saw lights flickering in other wings of the Temple. Not Khavial’s doing; it was the overflow of terror and pain seeking an outlet.

Stop it, please! she begged. There was no answer. She struggled to establish contact, to drop into meditation and hear the gods’ voices, but her fear and the pain in her head blocked her effort.

Footsteps scuffed behind her, and she whirled to see Ondares. His eyes gleamed. “Erai, help me,” he whispered. “Everyone’s gone mad. They’re calling for my death.”

Erai’s tongue swelled in her mouth. She couldn’t move it properly. “I—I—”

“Please, just hide me until things calm down. They won’t hurt youeveryone trusts you.”

Erai looked frantically around. Is it right to help him?

“Erai, please!”

What do I do?

Someone shouted from the end of the hall; Erai never found out who. In an instant the hall was alive with people. Three grabbed Ondares from behind and secured his arms. His eyes met Erai’s in a hard pleading gaze before he was dragged off. As if hypnotized, Erai retreated into her cell, leaving the door open. She sank to her knees and pretended to pray, but her mind was in too much turmoil to meditate. She clutched the pendant of her rank in her fist, its edges gouging her palm. She did not stir, even when the sounds from the courtyard grew louder, or when the light from the courtyard grew redder.

When everything was over, she moved into the courtyard like a sleepwalker. Strange how people who had suffered destruction so recently could have appetite for more. She stopped before the smoldering woodpile, but her brain refused to process the image before her into recognizable components.

Why didn’t you stop it? she asked dully.

Why didn’t you? the Goddess countered.

Erai shuddered. She retreated to her cell and lay awake, staring at nothing, for the rest of the endless night.


Khavial did his best to investigate Ondares’ death, but the effort was doomed. No one admitted to participating in the mob, and the Two never betrayed secrets. Erai watched Khavial struggle and finally give up, turning his thoughts to the living Temple. She couldn’t pray. One question circled endlessly in her mindhow could you let this happen?and she already knew the answer.

Khavial approached her in the courtyard several days later. Erai stood before the great archway that led out of the sanctified grounds, gazing over the devastated city. She turned her eyes on Khavial without interest.

“Are you all right?” Khavial asked. He had been unusually considerate lately.

“Fine, Brother. You?”

“There’s much work to be done.” Khavial looked tired. “Especially since no one will admit to . . . well. A great deal of spiritual healing needs to happen, and I have to trust that people will seek it in their own way.”

Erai turned to face him. Something within her quickened. “Yes. Yes, each person finds a different way.”

“We place too much reliance on individual communion. If we’d had the speaking statue, this would never have happened.”

“Perhaps.” Erai doubted it. The gods’ laws were clear, and they had been broken regardless. She made no excuses for herself; she should have known what was right. Perhaps hearing the gods for so many years had deafened her to quieter voices.

Khavial shook his head. “It’s too late for Ondares, but maybe there are others we can save . . .  How about it, Sister? Can I count on your support when I ask for tithes to be raised?”

“No,” Erai said.

Khavial frowned. “I just explained

“You’re right,” Erai said. “We rely too much on the gods. This was the greatest test of our faith we’ve ever faced, and we proved to be animals. Now you want to rely on a statue? How much more dependent do you want us to be?”

“That’s too harsh, Erai.”

“It’s the truth. We are human beings. We ought to be better than stone.” Erai drew off her pendant and handed it to Khavial. “You’ll need to find a new master of novices. Either of my assistants would be fine. They’re good and kind people, and pious.” Erai’s mouth twisted on the last word.

Khavial grasped Erai’s arm. “Erai, you’re not thinking clearly. You need to have faith.”

Erai pulled free. “I do.” She tried to sound confident, but the magnitude of what she was doing made her heart race. She closed her eyes and touched the warmth in her mind for the last time, fixing it in her memory.

“You can’t leave the Temple.” Khavial sounded panicked. Of course, she was as much a fixture in his life as the gods were, practically part of the stonework. “You’ve never lived anywhere else. There’s nothing out there for you. What will you do?”

“This,” said Erai. She walked through the archway and began to listen.