12. A Lost Cause

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The End

Too late. I was always too late.

The current high priest was ancient, with eyes set as deep as his voice and a stomach that stuck out like the humps on a camel's back. In other words, not a scrupulous. No doubt his predecessor would see his eating habits as sinful. I'd always suspected he was more interested in the priesthood than in any god, but, then again, most high priests probably were. Ambition was necessary to procure such a prominent seat. He decorated himself lavishly, an amber rosary hanging from his neck, orange ink, a halin marking the spot on his forehead just above the bridge of his nose, several ruby rings on each of his fingers, and golden thread woven through the skin on the crown of his head, the mark of the High Priest. The area around it was red and puffy with infection. Perhaps it had spread to his brain.

He addressed the crowd with a raised hand and the type of overstated confidence that shouldn't be trusted but always was.

"My fellow children," he said. "Today I bring you a letter from God!"

Xerxes. Are you really so lazy that you couldn't even specify which god?

I pushed my way through the crowd until I was almost in a run.

"Three weeks ago I received this letter when the suns balanced in the sky. It fell from the Heavens. This is how I know it is from God. But this evening, you will know it is from Him as well."

For Xerxes's sake, after reading his letter to Amestris, I sincerely hoped he doubled checked his handwriting before trying to pass it off as a god's. I didn't doubt that the High Priest didn't actually believe in its validity; he just enjoyed the spectacle.

"I have read through only the instructions as directed of me by God. I will now read through the rest, as directed from Him." The High Priest cleared his throat. "Today I will prove my miracles. Every decision is impacted by my will. Every person is under my protection and mercy. Your life is not your own. It is mine."

Almost to the temple, I held my breath. What was my father doing? How could he listen to this and just let it go on?

"Today, you all have made decisions you may not have been aware of. Nevertheless, they are significant. The High Priest is wearing a particular color. His halin is slanted in a particular angle. The birds above will fly in a particular pattern. Many of you wear your headscarves in a particular fashion. This is not a coincidence, but my word. And now, I will prove it to you." The High Priest cleared his throat. My fists clenched tight.

"In a few moments, I will send a flock of doves down from the Heavens. A single bird will carry down a scroll containing your decisions. The color of the High Priest's outfit, the slant of his halin, the formation of the doves, the arrangement of your headscarves. As you look around, I am sure you may realize you bare a similar style to your neighbor. This is my word."

What in hell? Xerxes was advanced enough to influence animals! Since when? And the sheer number of people he must have had to influence! How?! He couldn't have done it alone. Even I couldn't have done it all alone.

In his letter, Xerxes mentioned the possibility of reaching out to either our second eldest brother, Alikhan, or our third eldest brother, Hakan. I didn't know about Alikhan, but I might have believed that Hakan, given his experience and natural talent, could do this. Had Xerxes been successful? But the Hakan I knew would have never agreed with such an irresponsible and destructive plan. Which was more plausible - Hakan helping Xerxes, or Xerxes accomplishing this alone?

Time was quickly slipping away from me - there was no way I could reach the front of the Square in time. Instead, I froze and did what I should have done from the beginning: try to influence Xerxes by grabbing ahold of his energy. But with the distance between us and the large and now excited crowd, energies overwhelmed me. Finding Xerxes's energy was elusive, like searching for a single grain of sand in the desert. My head spun after mere seconds of trying.

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