3.2 Blasphemy

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"Sit, sit," Chaniyelem urged.

Jinishta ignored the High Councilor's soothing tone. Her hair bristled, and sparks crackled along her tense body. "Jonathan Stead came to us in darkness, and in need." She spoke in loud, emphatic words. "Was it not said that he had great height? People saw his wounds, and did they not say, 'here is the messiah, come to deliver us to our lost glory?'"

"That was ages ago," an elderly woman said.

"And it happened in Bebeshar," Councilor Karyum said. "They are a bit foolish there."

Kessa had many questions, but she kept her beak shut. She gave Alex a look that promised translation later. For now, she figured the best way to help him was to learn by listening.

"You cannot deny," one of the councilors said, standing and pointing at Alex, "he does have great height!"

"The prophet should be able to clarify whether or not Alex is the chosen one," Councilor Deschuba suggested in a dry tone. "Chaniyelem, have you sent word to her?"

Kessa barely understood what a prophet was, but the Alashani dinner guests became enthusiastic.

"Right!"

"Migyatel has never been wrong about anyone's future!"

"Didn't she recently predict a Torth battle in the dead city? She said that ancient buildings would fall."

"She did!"

"And it happened!"

Jinishta folded her lace-covered arms. "Migyatel said nothing about us finding the messiah. She asked us to search for runaways in the dead city. That is all she said. If he is truly the messiah ..." She sized up Alex with skepticism. "Surely the greatest prophet in ten generations would have mentioned that?"

Uncertain murmurs rippled throughout the banquet hall. Guests eyed Alex with newfound suspicion.

"What's wrong?" Alex asked Kessa in a low voice. "What are they saying?"

She placed a hand on his arm. "They had a problem with Jonathan Stead. I will find out more, but I must listen."

The Yeresunsa among the dinner guests were voicing support for Jinishta. One by one, they stood.

"If he was truly the messiah, then Migyatel would be here right now."

"She would know."

"She would come to foretell his future."

Chaniyelem stood, her voice confident against the rising tide of dismay. "I am certain that Migyatel is on her way," she said. "Don't forget, the tunnels between Bebeshar and Hufti are narrow and winding, and it is an arduous journey, even for someone in good health. She is as old as stalactites. Even if she left fifteen pendulum orbits ago, she will require frequent rest stops."

Jinishta looked somewhat mollified.

"I have sent news to Bebeshar," Chaniyelem added, with a nod to acknowledge Deschuba. "I see your doubts, Jinishta. But surely you will accept Alex as the messiah, if Migyatel announces that he is the one?"

"I would need to see Migyatel speak those words," Jinishta said in a stiff tone. "In person."

"And then you would believe?" Chaniyelem asked.

"Yes." Jinishta sounded grudging. "If the prophet shows up and announces that Alex is the one and only savior who will lead us to light and glory, then yes, I will have no choice but to believe." Her voice became firmer and more confident as she went on, staring at Alex. "Until then? Alex is an unknown Yeresunsa visiting us from another land. He is just a stranger."

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