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3. The Inevitable Dissent

Erisey knew time had passed. How long, she didn’t know. Hours and days lost their meaning inside the prison cell in which the guards had violently placed her. The cell was cold at night, lit by a moon whose warmless light mocked the freezing, illuminated bodies.

Her rage had settled into contemplation. She found herself deprived of the will to wordlessly curse the guards any further with screams that echoed through the dark halls. Now, those curses only swirled inside her mind, a stirring body of water which sometimes boiled with anger, sometimes moved like a vortex of ferocious hatred, and at other times, sank into deep cave wells that left her dry and lifeless. Its ebb and flow was profoundly impacted by the damming influence of her physical weakness which took greater and greater hold each day.

How had Aziel managed to turn the people against her so effectively?

How did he break their once durable loyalty with such ease?

Had this avarice slumbered inside them all this time?

Had he awakened something in them, or put it there?

These questions evoked horrific nightmares of a sort she had never before experienced. Projections of these fearful uncertainties filled her nightly lucid visions with chaos and ruin.

Day and night, her mind raced trying to find the answer. Trying to understand.

“Was it all magical and divine? Did he compromise their free will using powers beyond those of mortals, or did he persuade a yearning for immortality already present within them?”

It filled her with great sorrow to think that she might have been blind to her people’s true desires, their minds’ malleability, or perhaps their naivete. “If he could do what he did so easily - infect my once devoted subjects with propaganda of the heavens, turning them against me - have my efforts to eradicate their suffering been nothing but coercion facing the other way, cruelty inverted in all but method? For all these years, had I not realised the true nature of those I tried to protect and foster, now ghouls with questionable consciousness?”

“Maybe he was in the right,” Erisey thought solemnly. “If Aziel is actually in service of powers higher than any we’ve worshipped before, he may then have the right to be the people’s leader, the right to set the course towards higher godly realms.” She felt a twisted admiration and jealousy towards his ambition and his capabilities. The potential good that he could grant her people left her momentarily anxious and in shambles; a mortifying realization of her own incompetence, evident from having been outshined by a moment’s confident proclamation of power by a raving lunatic and traitor.

“But… it cannot be!” she wanted to scream.

Erisey tried to hammer her fists into the floor, but her arms remained by her side and the agony she felt from the unreleased frustrations gnawed at her waning sanity.

“My motives were always true to what is right, and I don’t trust that he won’t abuse the power he now wields. There is no telling what he is willing to do, only that whatever it is, he is now able to do so. If he is wrong about the will of those he serves, by even the smallest degree, the consequences could be catastrophic. All those years of securing everyone’s safety; all this work to grow our community, now flushed into an open sea and steered by the wind from the mouth of an infidel.”

“An infidel?”

She turned this notion over in her head. “But to him, I am the infidel. And so is anyone else who doubts him. We have been punished as much by imprisonment as by this title. That’s the game he is playing. He’s inverting everyone’s claim to our humanity by linking it to whether we follow him or not!”

The empress felt a chill come over her as the grim face of possibility revealed its darkest avenues of the future to her. Though weak from malnourishment, and with her thoughts slow from the exhausting bodily task of maintaining the status quo of the flesh, particularly in the cold of night, lying on the freezing stone floor, one immovable thought had planted deep roots in her mind:

“He must not succeed.” Mustering all her remaining strength, she stood up and looked up into the starlit night sky.

“Indeed, my dissent was inevitable,” she thought to herself, recalling the vizier’s taunting words. “He knew me well enough to know what resolution and conviction he would be up against. The fact that he hasn’t killed me yet either proves his stupidity or the purpose I will eventually serve in his plan. I must not be tempted by the former to neglect the chances of the latter.” The waters of her mind returned with tsunamic force, her perception of her task as clear as the arch of the tides of destruction she was willing to rain down upon whatever opposed her, be it god or man.

“My hatred for him knows no bounds, and it fuels me even when I lie without strength, in the stone brick prison that I fought to never have to use. My mission must be of one goal: to banish him to hellish realms not even his new gods could imagine, no matter the cost.”

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