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2. Enter The Procession

Back in his chambers, Aziel sat imprisoned by contemplation. It was early morning, with dew settling on temple roofs for a glittering display of the sun’s riches, and squawking birds doing theirs to awaken the surrounding world. The night lingered to the west, silently retreating its grasp of darkness with dignity. To the east, the day stretched its conquering beams as if this battle of the sky had not been won and lost more times before than anyone cared to imagine. A short lived glory: anticipated and soon undone anew.

The reality of the night’s events was still dawning on him, the weight of revelation burdening the mind, as yet patternless visions of the future kept flashing before his eyes. Fresh air tempted Aziel's boiling consciousness, and he walked slowly to the balcony.

“The prophecy is clear. The Ones’ will lies in my hands now,'' he thought, mentally vocalising every word to cement their meaning. “I have much to do. But how do I proceed? Who can I trust with my plans, my duties? Erisey, the empress? Her empty-headed wishes of peace among the city states defy The Ones’ divine exaltation of our people. Pathetic!” The last word slipped into an audible snarl, his fuming face only then realising its own contortions. Slowly rectifying his posture, each hand lightly grabbed the other behind the back. South-eastbound, the balcony of his abode enjoyed the light of the morning from its earliest surfacing, and he looked to its opening eye for calm.

“One question burns brighter than all others at this moment: who is as worthy of the truth as I am?” He squinted his eyes with increasing resolve, as if the answer was written on the dancing edge of the sun, the focus of his gaze.

“No one,” he concluded. “Especially not her. But she won’t go down easily.”

In the imperial halls, which were painted with pale blue colouring so the mosaics of the marble were visible, the floors and the air were still cold from the night. A feature in the warm climate of the region, the privilege to enter such a domain was chiefly based on the comfort it brought the senses and the mind. Pillars seemed to stretch towards a ceiling a dizzying distance above, and one would have to nearly whisper to not have echoes fill the entire building. The empress, Erisey, a tall and slender woman, greeted her vizier, smiling albeit with overt puzzlement.

“Why have you called for a ceremony without a word to me on the matter at hand, and on such short notice?” she asked with a slight laugh of amusement, continuing without much pause for an answer. “This is highly unusual of you. What does this concern?” Her expression now bore an ambiguity of worry and curiosity.

With a calm demeanour and rank posture he answered, “I bring news from the spiritual world that does not allow for any more delays. What I have been bestowed must be proclaimed to the people without further hesitation.”

“Would you care to enlighten me, as the empress of the people this concerns?” she asked sharply.

“You assume much, Erisey, but the stream of fate has met a delta, and your sovereignty is moving down a different path than you are.”

The empress raised her voice in anger, “How dare you speak to me in this manner? I have granted you the opportunity to explain yourself for the misuse of authority that you have displayed behind my back, issuing an unsanctioned ceremony, and this is how you choose to act? This is how you choose to address me? I will have y-”

“I am afraid your right to the knowledge on this matter has dwindled to that of the common men and women,” he interrupted. The empress’ eyes widened, her pupils narrow with focused fury. “You will know soon enough, along with the rest, what will befall this empire,” Aziel said drily, motioning to the sound of the talking masses which could now be heard inside the grand hall from the foot of the temple where they had gathered.

The empress, though rarely stunned to the point of speechlessness, held her breath in bemusement, then sneered in disbelief. “My line was granted our power over the people by the creators of the heavens. What could possibly change their minds seeing how prosperous the empire has become; how full our stomachs are; how colourful our art is, and how precise the stargazing of our astronomers has become? We have followed their will, their guidance, without fault or flaw. From what prerogative have you attained the audacity to question the good I have brought to my people?”

Aziel responded with an instructive tone, “Your gods are but pawns in a game in which they would never admit participation to the ones that serve them. Do you not think they answer to a power even greater than themselves?”

“Arrogant fool! Their power is evident beyond a shadow of a doubt, you madman!” she roared. “So too is my power, my benevolent might, which cannot be shaken, and I have both the confidence of the gods and the faith of my people to prove this! Now justify your impudent claims and answer me: by what foolishness have you chosen to betray me?!”

“I am now a vizier to the masters of the heavens, and no longer yours to command,” he asserted, letting a discreet smile surface upon his lips. “I suggest you follow me to the terrace where, as you know, I intend to speak to… My... People.”

He turned and went with speedy steps out the imperial halls and onto the plateau of the ziggurat, the empress following with a rage burning hotter with each step, spewing at her guards, “Seize him at once! Do not let him-”

But the vizier had reached the terrace and stood with increasing attention from the enormous assembly that had gathered in front of the stone structure. As soon as Erisey realised this, she called off her guards. Causing a dramatic scene in front of the entire population of the city would no doubt garner unwanted speculation. They could not know about the disorder within the closest circle of their leader. “No matter”, she thought, “He is merely a man claiming to have been in contact with the heavens… or beyond. I’ll deal with him later. He doesn’t have the power to harm me.”

A tempest gathered not far from the city, approaching the scene with increasing speed and ominous darkness. After a silent prayer, the vizier’s voice filled the surrounding area with supernatural potency, drawing notice from every pair of eyes and ears in attendance. The prophetic gravity of his presence was mesmerising.

“A new paradigm has been set in motion,” he declared loudly. “Those who are willing, will be redefined in accordance with the new order. Our humanity, our greatest quality, a condition granted us by those with the power to create and destroy as they please, is taking on new meaning. Without it, we are animals of savagery. Without our most important gift, we lack reflection and mind. But most importantly: without it, we are without proximity… To The Ones.” Lightning struck and rain fell heavily upon the cowering assemblage, some of whom responded with fearful cries, others with awestruck fascination.

“The covenant you now serve, although divine, is a ploy. Tricksters have had you settle for a frail existence, their benevolence deeply apocryphal. You serve their weakness where power is available instead. They have been mere sentinels keeping all of us at bay from the divine ecstasies that they themselves seek and crave for, leaving us with the scraps of mortal existence. I ask you: should we let this piteous gift suffice for our thirst for life?”

An immediate, near unanimous response sounded from the crowd, yells of the igniting flame of anger now stirring within. Some looked with fearful scepticism from the vizier in front of the imperial halls to their riotous fellow men and women, their sense of safety vanishing like the blotted sun. The guards stationed throughout the imperial hall and the outer stairs that lead to the terrace also stood hypnotised by the vizier’s oration.

“Fear not. For the favour of those who are truly powerful is upon us. Enter the procession, all of you who wish to land on the shores of the celestial realms! The eyes of your gods close! The dying sun of their gaze sets upon this summoned end. They kneel before the powers that reach beyond their own! Let their will of submission be done. Congregate, and follow their example for a divine unification with potential beyond what even they could imagine! See that which is evident; commence the deicide; form a parade towards extinction to sit by the throne, that brings the end!”

Aziel’s words were met with ear-deafening cries and impassioned cheers as the sky returned to its natural state. Erisey fell to her knees, her sovereignty seemingly lost to the prophetic words of a man who used to serve her. “You’ve gone mad. This is not a campaign to join the gods. I see your greed; for power; for something more than what mortal life can grant. Are you really so naive to think that beings above the gods we have always served willingly share their-”

“Enough from you.” A slight movement of his hand forced her mouth shut, leaving her writhing and gasping for air through her nose, nostrils flaring in panic and with screams trapped in her throat.

“Dissent was much anticipated on your part. I must be sure you are of no harm to this spiritual undertaking.” Guards came and raised her by her arms, her rage erupting into wild flailing and muffled cursing. “Pry open her mouth however you’d like, and sever her tongue. Then toss her, along with anyone else who expresses disapproval, into the stone wall prison. Defiance sentences anyone to a fate robbed of dignity. But keep her alive. She may prove useful.”

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