Chapter 64

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Wenyanga adjusted themselves slightly on Somnazu's woven carpet. They couldn't feel any physical discomfort in the void, but it helped to remember that they had a body to tend to, however ethereal. They sat cross-legged before the bowl of goat meat, still untouched, hands on knees. Their body was no less an illusion as the meat, something to distract their human mind so they could focus on whatever Somnazu wanted them to.

Right now he had no time for her, though. He was still bent over the rift, his hands tight as knots of wood along the borders of it. The sunlight shining in the Deadwater reflected on his godly face, fractals of colour cutting along the ice on his beard, his dark eyes drinking it in as he glared feverishly. 

Wenyanga's back was to him, but he had lashed them to his awareness so they could see what he was seeing. It granted them a piece of his omniscience, and for a moment, Wenyanga was tempted to consider how they might steal a piece of it. No. Focusing on the impossible would get them nowhere.

Focusing on the near-impossible would mean dedicating far too much thinking power on how Anele had ascended to Refined and mended her soul all in the space of a few breaths. She had disappeared beyond Somnazu's spiritual awareness for a moment, seemingly sinking into the earth only to appear again, partly whole, exponentially more powerful.

No, let the Voidgod puzzle that out by himself. He certainly had a better grasp on it than them. Speaking of puzzles...

The question of whether one could hunger in a void had been answered immediately when Somnazu manifested meat and beer and spice before them. The savour of the meat ghosted into their nostrils and promised to lather itself along their tongue. The spices didn't just promise flavour, Earth aura burned inside the salt and pepper, Earth and Flame sparked inside the cumin, and the Water aura that swam in the honey was liquid gold, pure as prayer. But the beer had sealed it. 

Both urns had the aroma of the second beer Wenyanga had ever sipped. The first, of course, had caught them by surprise for how bitter and yeasty it tasted, but they had spent a day and a half contemplating the flavour until they felt like trying again. Somehow, they'd managed to convince themselves that it wasn't so bad. So two days later, Wenyanga had waited until their village kraal was full of people celebrating some omen or another. There was a spare urn of beer abandoned behind a cooking fire, half-empty, the suds flat and liquid warmed and soured under the sun. It had tasted alright, but the memory was sweeter, and thus so was the scent wafting from the urns.

It was a meal designed after their most closely guarded savours. Everything in Wenyanga's soul told them it was the perfect platter, yet not a single fibre in their body yearned for any of it. No, one could not hunger in a void.

They began inspecting the spices.

"Who is Anele?" the Voidgod asked.

"A witch, Great One."

"I see that," he seethed. "Explain what she is."

"Remarkable, perhaps." Wenyanga leaned forward and scrutinised the floating ball of salt. Tinged pink, like the salt from Tello's homeland. "I've not quite gotten to the bottom of her mystery, being dead and all. I believe I was close, however."

That was borderline petulance, but Wenyanga had just endured a lecture from a being they had no business talking back to. That was a rare occurrence and frankly had left them a little raw. If Somnazu took offence, he didn't have the time to make it known.

"How close? What do you know?"

Wenyanga held their hand out to the ball of pepper, and it paused in its orbit an inch from their fingers. A memory came to them, a trip to the South East with Thula, a market where peppercorns were sold side by side with diamonds and silk. "I know that she had a mentor, Great One, but I can't decide if said mentor was a genius, a fool, or simply a fanatic."

Silence from the Voidgod. In their shared awareness, Wenyanga saw Anele grab the wrist of the mage that had been beating his fists to soft pulps against her. Time passed through syrup as they watched.

"Her body requires more orgone than her soul can produce," Wenyanga continued, frowning at the cumin now. "It weighs her down and keeps her cycle axis off centre, threatening to bend her orgone channels in dangerously crooked angles. Not only that, she doesn't cycle her natural aura, to the point where atrophy has turned her soul to rags. In short, she is every failure I made with Tello."

"And yet."

"And yet she fought a Pettygod to a standstill as a Crude." Wenyanga sniffed the cumin, thought of the beach house. "Her failures are intentional, I suspect only her mentor knows why."

"Someone else in the Deadwater has knowledge of Voidgod ascension."

Wenyanga paused. "Might the Great One know who?"

Silence. So he did know, but would not say. What he did say threatened to put a shiver in Wenyanga's well-trained calm.

"She must be my heir."

"I cannot make that happen, Great One."

The Chaos trembled with Somnazu's contained rage. "Why. Not."

"I made a soul contract to her that I must oblige before I can even offer mentorship. Unfortunately, what I offered her is within Tello."

"So extract it."

Wenyanga went cold for a long moment. No doubt Somnazu felt her ire at the easy way he ordered the death of his old pupil, their beloved. But he was a Voidgod, what did he care what they felt?

A smile itched on their lip. "I can't. What is within Tello is promised to another."

"What did you offer the witch?"

"A Judge level soul." Wenyanga's gaze went to the ball of honey. "Or better."

"Influencing the Deadwater to provide you with such breaks a law of the Chaos even more than this rift does. Find a way to fulfil your obligations, and place the girl under my instruction by proxy of you. I command this."

"Respectfully, Great One--"

"This is not a point of argument."

Wenyanga pressed their hands together. "Respectfully, Great One, you cannot command anything in the Deadwater. You guide, aid, and reveal but do not instruct. For my service, we must bargain."

"Bargain? I brought you back from the brink of death once and you want to bargain?"

"Yes."

"Do not mistake your existence for soft-heartedness."

"I don't, but soul contracts bind all of magehood. If someone else is guiding the witch towards a Voidgod path, then I need equal leverage to guide her down a different one."

Somnazu straightened, his back still to them. In their shared awareness, Wenyanga watched Anele face Tello. "What do you need?"

"The first thing I need is the ball of honey," Wenyanga said, rising to their feet. "That was a neat enough puzzle, Great One. Oh, and one more thing..."

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