On returning to the Temple of Abaddon, Tasha was let to a small chamber deep in the temple. Lit by a few candles, and filled with smoky, cloying incense, the room was also decorated in mosaic murals depicting armies, monsters and gods including the heralds and the red warrior Lapi used to represent Abaddon in Amazonia. The attendant also gave Tasha a cup of herbal tea, and told her to drink it while waiting for a monk to arrive.
Having nothing to do but wait, Tasha keeps herself busy by examining the mosaics. First, she looks to Abaddon, trying to picture 'her' as a Khatta male. He ends up being red, armored, and vaguely fatherly, with one of the same ceremonial swords the red warrior Lapi version she saw earlier had. She stares at the image a moment, mulling over the many faces of her god, wondering what it was like for the High Priestess to have met Him.
The way the candles flicker, and the obscuring effect of the incense make the mosaics almost seem to move, if stared at long enough. The tea is also making Tasha a bit light-headed, so much so that she doesn't even notice the arrival of the red-hooded monk until he's sitting across from her. "You are the pilgrim?" the monk asks, in a neutral voice.
Tasha's ears shoot up in surprise, and she blinks. Turning, she peers at the monk, wondering if he just popped out of thin air. With nervous energy, and sudden startlement, she almost says "aye" then quickly realizes he won't recognize the word. Instead, she nods, saying "yes" in Olympian.
"What do you seek?" the figure asks.
The question reminds Tasha of a children's story she was told long ago, by a bard who also happened to work about The Rake. In it, a spirit asked the protagonist much the same question, with dire consequences for the wrong answer. Although she doesn't seriously expect dire consequences here, she can't help but feel a certain tradition behind the question, and so answers with what she feels is a ritual answer. "I seek to know the ways of the cult of Abaddon," she answers.
"Why?" the monk asks next. "You are not a warrior, not even of these lands or this people. Why do you seek your answers here?"
"A calling," Tasha answers. That's what the High Priestess described it as, and the Vartan thinks it fits quite well.
The monk removes something its sleeve, and dangles it. It's a shiny stone, faceted to scatter light better, suspended from a chain. He begins to swing it back and forth. "You come to us as a herald," the monk says, almost chanting.
Tasha's muzzle unhinges slightly at the sudden appearance of a shiny. Being Vartan, the woman can't resist a good sparkle, and the shiny stone is a really good sparkle. Of course, Tasha would also want to have resisted being dazzled so easily in a serious moment like this, but she can't help it. Her ears darken slightly in embarrassment, and she simply utters a distracted, "Mm."
The monk continues to chant, the words blurring a bit in Tasha's head. There is the repeated comment about being a herald, and other words that might be names. The flashes from the crystal seem to spark off of the walls and the smoky air itself, mesmerizing Tasha.
It's one thing to see a shiny in, say, a market place. That's a distraction. It's quite another matter entirely, when someone is actively trying to mesmerize a Vartan. In this smoke-filled, dizzying, room, Tasha doesn't stand a chance of willing herself away from the stone. She can only watch it sway as the words fall upon her life waves on a beach.
A breeze blows the smoke away from Tasha's eyes, and the scene before her weaves together from colored tiles, until she finds herself standing next to a mounted figure on Vykarin back, looking down at a battle taking place in the valley below where she stands.
"Oi," Tasha says, reaching back to run a hand over her head. It takes her a moment for the scene change to really sink past the shiny-shock. But, once she has her wits about her, she blinks at the battlefield, and then suddenly looks up at the mounted figure beside her.
A red-furred Amazonian warrior sits atop the Vykarin. The only variance from the usual depictions are the pair of large red wings that sprout from her back. She turns and looks down at Tasha, and says, "What brings you here today, Sister? This battle is not one of vengeance."
Tasha tries not to gape, and mostly manages it. She shuts her mouth, and quickly realizes that how she acts here may be important. It may be a test, and she doesn't want to let Abaddon down. Like before, the scene speaks of a certain tradition to the Vartan. She feels like there's a way to this, a ix of honesty and role-playing. Thus, she answers in as steady a voice as she can manage, "I've come to learn." It's time to be the Herald, she decides. She remembers swearing that if she wasn't really the Herald, that she would strive to be and prove herself worthy of it. It's that time.
"To learn?" the warrior asks. She points to a mote hovering above the battlefield. "Megaera is there now, waiting to see if intervention is needed, as is proper for a battle based on a long standing disagreement. If the forces of Filistus are at risk of failure, she will aid and inspire them to overcome their disadvantage."
The Vartan wonders if not knowing half of what the warrior says is a bad sign, but she decides to press on anyway. Does she try to play along, or state the truth? A warrior's greatest weapons is her mind, she remembers, but her mind isn't being very helpful right now.
Tasha turns to follow the warrior's gesture to the mote, trying to use her superior vision to make it out. Megaera. "Megaera is inspiring their courage?" Is Magaera the bringer of courage? Then am I the bringer of vengeance? She said this battle wasn't about vengeance.
"I know that you usually work alone, Tisiphone," the warrior says. "You have the luxury of clearly knowing who is to be punished and who is to be avenged in the battles you oversee. You probably do not need to call on Alecto for support, even."
Then I am Tisiphone. Or, I am Tasha being Tisiphone … The Vartan's ears skew, such introspection is a foreign to her; especially questions as to who she really is or isn't. She does know what she wants to be, though; she decides to be Tisiphone, for now anyway. "I have the luxury to know who will be clearly punished," she repeats, comprehending. I wish that were actually true. I wish I knew what to say, and do. Am I being a fool, Abaddon? "If I work alone, will you then tell me more about Megaera, Alecto, and you? If you will?"
"If you wish," the warrior says. "As the goddess of just victory, I decide which side in a battle is in the right. Your fellow Heralds then encourage or discourage as needed. Megaera stokes the fires of grudge, reminding the warriors why they are fighting, or causing the opposition to question their righteousness. If that is not enough, Alecto may grant certain warriors new reserves of strength to push on, inspiring others."
Then she she? is Abaddon, and I am Vengeance. My Sisters, are they others like me, who want to be Heralds? It strikes Tasha, then, that 'want to' and 'are,' are undefined and need defining. Trying to figure out if she is or isn't actually a Herald is confusing her, and she did say if she wasn't she would be. She promised she'd prove herself worthy. So, Tasha decides to be a Herald, and she'll prove it if she needs to somehow.
Having worked out that little quandary, she nods to herself, and then nods to the ongoing battle as well. "As I am vengeance, I need to aid. Bitter rivals and blood feuds fuel themselves." Tasha doesn't need an education on that. After all, she's been jealous enough times to plant her fist in someone else's face. Airship crews often quarrel. It all makes perfect sense to her.
"I understand you are not limited to battles," the warrior says, giving Tasha/Tisiphone a sidelong glance. "That if there are no surviving victims, you will deal with the offender personally."
The way the warrior speaks to her, Tasha begins to wonder if this is an indirect instruction. Normally she would panic, being here, suspecting magic. The gods arenít magic, Tasha decides. This is sacred. Sacred. Tasha never thought what the sacred might mean to her, or that she'd ever be a part of anything like this. Now, she's trying her best to live up to the honor.
Internal struggle aside, Tasha ponders the question. Deal with the offender personally? It has the feel of a question, a test, and a judge of her morals all at once. I'll do it, I'll live up to Tisiphone's name, she affirms. "I'll deal with them personally," she answers.
"So wills Abaddon, then," the warrior says, and goes back to watching the battle. "Even the Gods must bow before justice. If they get caught, anyway."
"What is the way of Abaddon, for those mortals who desire to follow War," Tasha answers. Here, in this dream if it is a dream the Vartan feels more eloquent. The perfect Olympian that eluded her in life is as easy as a thought. She might wonder on that, if she were the introspective type, and if she wasn't busy with more important questions.
"Abaddon plays with the hearts of mortals," the warrior says. "Their very nature serves Him. Their every other action is in praise to Him. There is no creation without destruction the fire that warms and lights also consumes and burns. The likes of us merely need make sure the rules are enforced."
"Does Abaddon call mortals to His service?" Him. Then, this is not Abaddon, but someone else. Tasha considers the evidence. She called me Sister. An act that confused Tasha, especially considering the Lapi looks almost exactly like the statue of the Lapi Abaddon. She is the 'goddess' of just victory, but she seemed to hint the Heralds were different from her. I wonder if she's another goddess …
"I suppose he does," the warrior says. "I suspect… " and here she glances again at Tasha… "that he does so in subtle ways. I will not say that I think you had a role in the recent fall of Babel, so long outside of His reach. But the sins of the leaders certainly warranted justice."
Tasha's ears perk slightly when she's looked at, for she feels the weight of the goddess's gaze. Tasha had only heard about Babel The Rake avoided Babel during its worst period and so she isn't sure what the goddess means, but that sidelong glance certainly makes Tasha feel suspect, that she is one of these 'subtle ways.' But, the goddess doesn't call her a fake, even if she suspects. No one has, Tasha tells herself. No one. It makes her that much more sure of herself, in this role. "If I am to conquer the sinful, then I must fight. The High Priestess would teach me tactics, logistics, and leadership. Others have offered to teach me fighting. The priests have offered to teach me their faith. Is it enough, Sister?"
"You do not need any of that to fulfill your duty," the red woman says. "To understand mortals, perhaps. How they think and plan. In that sense… yes, I suppose it would aid you. Understand your enemy, understand your prey."
Understanding? Tasha mulls over that. Vengeance comes form understanding your prey. After thinking about it a moment, she's suddenly reminded of the captain Calligenia killed. That was vengeance, delivered by Calligenia. I was there, Tasha realizes. Despite the obviousness, it's a bit of a shocker to the Vartan. She tries to ignore the surprise deciding these things are fated and they all make sense now and think about Calligenia's way. If she had been there to assure vengeance, what would she have done? Tell Calli, Calli would kill him. And she would have, Tasha agrees with herself. The Vartan wouldn't have to have lifted a finger. Ah ha.
"I think I understand," Tasha tells the red woman after she works it out in a moment of silence. "In that way, it is very subtle." Knowing that captain, Tasha could have handled that situation a number of ways. Life seems easier when you take time to think about it, Tasha realizes.
The dot that is Megaera comes closer, revealing another Vartan-like creature, with the upper body of a bird and the hind parts of a lion-Khatta. "Nike! The foes are routed and retreating! Do we drive the victors to run them down?"
Tasha turns to look between the Herald and Nike, wondering what Nike's response will be. Nike, the goddess's name is Nike. The Vartan files that away.
"An example must be set!" the Amazonian Lapi calls back, and raises her spear. "Farewell, Sister," she tells Tasha, then spurs her mount and rushes down the hillside, apparently intent on leading the charge…
"Farewell," Tasha calls back. When Nike has gone, the Vartan turns her attention to Megaera. So this is grudge, as I am vengeance. Here, like this, the meeting feels both surreal and entirely plausible. My life makes sense because of this, it's my destiny. Still, meeting destiny fills Tasha with a sense of awe, as well as comfort that her world has structure.
As Nike gets farther away, the world seems to separate into tiles and blur, losing focus. And then it becomes just a mosaic again, back in a small room where a hooded monk sits silently before Tasha.
Tasha stares through the face of her 'Sister' as she fades away, and then there's the hooded figure in her place. She doesn't blink in surprise this time, but instead remains quiet; the feeling of sacredness about the whole experience she can't help but feel would be ruined by speaking.
"Did you speak to Her?" the monk asks, once it's clear that Tasha is sensing the room again.
"Yes," Tasha answers reverently, voice quiet. The meeting continues to reverberate in her head, filling her heart and soul. The Vartan has never experienced anything like it before.
"Then you know the truth, that we do not worship Abaddon, for He does not need it," the monk says. "We revere the Virtue, Nike, in Abaddon's name."
"I 'ad wondered, but it's all clear now." Reaching back, Tasha runs her hand over her head again, and then glances at the mural of Nike. "I spoke to Nike, her wit' wings an' like the statues. She called me Tisiphone, she told me a lot," the Vartan explains. "It makes sense now," she repeats, after a moment.
"You do resemble the Herald of Avenging Murder," the monk says, "from what I am told. You seem to have gained much from your vision."
"Nike explained what I 'ave to do," the Vartan relates. She briefly wonders if the monk is blind, but decides he'll tell her if she needs to know. "She said she didn't blame me for Babel." A vision? It seemed all those details of religions Tasha never paid any attention, or credit, to, are now all about her. It feels like taking a journey to somewhere wondrous, without knowing exactly where that is. All is unfamiliar, and yet she feels like she somehow belongs in all of it. To be sure, the Vartan finds it a queer feeling indeed.
"A pilgrim's path is not decided by a single vision," the monk recites. "This is only a first step. Before the next, you must meditate upon a question."
I guess it's not so straightforward, Tasha decides. Straightforward is the way of the old Tasha. Old Tasha seems very familiar to the Vartan, and a little too near.
"A question?" Tasha's ears perk forward.
"We who follow the Gods whom do we ultimately serve?" the monk asks. "Think on that, and return tomorrow."
Tasha crosses her left arm over her right. "I will." Bowing, she recites, "May Prosperity arise from Blood and Chaos, through the Grace of Abaddon."
When Tasha raises her head again, the monk is already gone, as silently as he had arrived.
Tasha slowly rises, and when she's up she takes a moment to steady herself. Breathing in deeply, she scans the mosaics that surround her, remembering her vision. Then, breathing out, she quietly exists the room. I have a lot to think about.