3.14 Sacred Remnants

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More than one hundred Yeresunsa waited in the grand chamber. Old and young, female and male, all wore heavy jewels atop their finest robes. The eldest carried silver staffs, and considering their powers, Margo thought they looked like wizards. 

Even with variety, the group had a sameness. Albino. Dainty. Long necks and coifed white hair. Purple mantles draped their shoulders, weighted by silver or gold pendants. Alex approached them, massive and dark, looming like a thundercloud. He had ignored Jinishta's request that he wear jewelry. His woolens were plain, adorned only by golden plates and the Yeresunsa mantle stretched across his shoulders.

Margo felt even more out of place than Alex looked. Her artificial leg clicked on a crystal floor so polished, she saw herself reflected there. Her hair shone, curling over her shoulders. It could not hide her lack of a mantle.

More than a hundred disapproving glares aimed her way.

Jinishta stood at the head of the delegation, and she addressed Alex in a firm tone. "The crystal test is for Yeresunsa only."

Alex's deep voice was formidable. "You told me Migyatel would be here."

"Migyatel sent us a messenger," Jinishta said. "She is delayed, and she implores us to hold the test without her."

Jinishta had already postponed this rite of passage three times. It seemed she had finally gotten fed up with waiting for Migyatel, just like everyone else. The prophet—known for precise timing and punctuality—kept sending messengers bearing news that she was exhausted and needed to rest, or that someone in her party was ill and needed recovery time, or that she had unexpectedly met a dear friend and needed just a bit more time to enjoy her visit.

At first, Margo hadn't thought much about the delays. But people in the city were grumbling, and the grumblings were growing angry. "Migyatel is afraid," neighbors told each other. "She knows something is rotten in Hufti. She knows that we have invited evil into our city. What if that hulking giant is not the messiah, after all? Why is she afraid to come here?"

Quite a few of the finely dressed Yeresunsa sized up Alex with suspicion instead of politeness.

He focused solely on the leader. "You told me that this ceremony can determine whether or not I am the messiah."

Jinishta held his gaze, unflinching. "It can."

No elaboration. Alex pressed on anyway. "If I am the messiah, I want my own messenger. And I choose Margo Hollander." He held Margo's hand. "She needs to be there."

Jinishta's lips tightened. Any other Yeresunsa would stick staunchly to the rules and say "no," even with the embarrassment of Migyatel's failure to show up. But Jinishta seemed to regard Alex as a family member; maybe even a friend.

She gave him a nod of permission. That incited a flurry of outraged stares and whispers.

"Thank you." Alex returned Jinishta's permissiveness with a smile.

One Yeresunsa whispered to another, "He had better be the messiah."

"Alex." Margo tugged his hand. "I don't need to be here. I really don't mind if—"

"I need you." Alex glanced at her. Just a brief glance that no one else noticed, but Margo glimpsed a haunted look in eyes.

That was explanation enough. Margo straightened, showing that she had no intention of leaving Alex alone with these powerful zealots. If they bowed down and began to worship him, she would be here. And if they denounced him as a fraud, and tried to lynch him ... she would be here. She would witness whatever craziness this ceremony entailed.

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