Date Published: January 5, 2021
Publisher: Blackrose Press
Astoreth, the Devi Goddess of Love, demands complete devotion from her morevs because hearts divided cannot serve.
Moreva Tehi’s hearts aren’t divided. They belong to Laerd Teger.
And the price of her love could be her life.
“I could have you executed for this, Moreva Tehi,” Astoreth said. My Devi grandmother, the Goddess of Love, scowled at me from Her golden throne in the massive Great Hall of Her equally massive É. Today, Her long, white hair had been woven into slender braids entwined with multicolored strands of tiny jewels. They sparkled in the candescent light radiating from the ceiling and the undulant, wall-height fixtures. Her golden eyes burned with fury.
Sitting on my heels, I bowed my head, not wanting to see Her anger. I stared at the black and gold polished floor, trying to ignore the trickle of sweat snaking down my spine. My unbound hair, white like Hers, hung over my face. “Yes, Most Holy One,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady.
“You blaspheme by not celebrating Ohra-Namtar, the holiest rite of the Gods. You were well aware that this was not Ohra-Sin, praising My role in creating Peris, but extolling all the deeds of the Great Pantheon in bringing this planet to life. Ohra-Namtar celebrates Our creation of the hakoi, and the worthiest, handpicked by Me and My Brothers and Sisters, celebrated with Us. And Marduc asked Me of your whereabouts. Your absence sorely disappointed Him.”
I shuddered in fear and loathing. Marduc, Lord of the Skies, was Astoreth’s twin Brother, and my grand-uncle. I’d been scared of Him since childhood, and even then made sure I was never alone with Him. I hated the way He’d stare at me when no one was looking, licking His lips as if I was a juicy piece of meat just waiting to be devoured. I had been too young to participate in the last Ohra-Namtar, and knew He would have been only too eager to get His hands on me during this one.
“Moreva Tehi,” Astoreth’s hard tone brought me back to the moment. “You are My acolyte. Your participation was not an option. By your absence, you did not share your body with Us, your brother and sister morevs, and Our worthy hakoi. You sullied the sacredness of Ohra-Namtar. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I can only offer my most abject apologies, Most Holy One.”
“Your apologies are not accepted.”
“Yes, Most Holy One.”
“Where were you?”
“I was in the laboratory, working on a cure for red fever. Our four-year cycle will end this summer, and thousands of hakoi in the Gods’ cities and towns could die—”
“I know that,” my grandmother snapped. “But why did you miss Ohra-Namtar? Did you not hear the bells?”
“Yes, Most Holy One. I heard them. I was about to lay aside my work when I noticed an anomaly in one of my pareon solutions, so I decided to take a minute to investigate. What I found…I-I just lost track of time.”
“You lost track of time?” She repeated, sounding incredulous. “Do you expect Me to believe that?”
“Yes, Most Holy One. It is the truth.”
My head and hearts began throbbing, my grandmother probing me for signs I had lied. But She wouldn’t find any. Lying to Her was pointless, and Her punishment for lying was harsh. Swaying under the onslaught, I endured the pain without making a sound. After what seemed like forever the throbbing eased, leaving me feeling sick and dizzy.
“Very well. I accept what you say is true. I still do not accept your apology.”
“Yes, Most Holy One,” I said, panting a little.
A minute passed in uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable for me, anyway. Another minute passed. And another. Is…is She finished with me? I prayed to be dimissed. But I wasn’t.
“What do you have against My hakoi, Moreva?”
I frowned. “I don’t understand, Most Holy One.”
“I have watched you. You give them no respect. You heal them because you must, but you treat them like animals. Why is that?”
The trickle of sweat reached the small of my back and pooled there. “But my work—”
“Your work is a game between you and the red fever. It has nothing to do with My hakoi.”
I didn’t reply. It was true. Discovering the cure was a challenge I’d taken on because no one since the dawn of Peris had been able to find one. It was a war, me assaulting the virus’s defenses, and the virus fending off my attacks. Our war was my obsession, and one I meant to win. And I didn’t care about the hakoi. I despised them. They were docile enough—the Devi’s spawning and breeding program saw to that—but they were slow-witted, not unlike the pirsu the É raised for meat and hide. They stank of makira, the pungent cabbage that was their dietary staple. From what I’d seen traveling through Kherah to Astoreth’s and to the És of other Gods, all the hakoi were stupid and smelly, and I wanted nothing to do with them.
But I wouldn’t—couldn’t—admit She was right. I wracked my brain, trying to think of something that wasn’t an outright lie. Then it came to me. “Most Holy One, I treat Your hakoi the way I do because it is the Hierarchy of Being as the Devi created it. You taught us the Great Pantheon of Twelve is Supreme. The minor Devi are beneath You, the morev are beneath the minor gods, and Your hakoi are beneath the morev. Beneath the hakoi are the plants and animals of Peris. But sometimes Your hakoi forget their place, and must be reminded.”
The Great Hall was silent. I held my breath, praying She wouldn’t probe me again.
“A pretty explanation, Moreva Tehi. But My hakoi know their place. It is you who do not know yours. You are the only morev in Kherah to have more Devi blood in your veins than hakoi, but that does not change your station, nor can you can rise above it. Your privileges—to freely move about Uruk without É authorization, to participate in the Gods’ festivals and games, to travel most anywhere in Kherah—are the same as any other of your brothers and sisters. And it is the morev who attend My hakoi. As a healer, you are not too good to minister to their needs, and you are surely not too good to celebrate Ohra-Namtar with them.”
I swallowed. “Yes, Most Holy One.”
“Look at Me.”
I raised my head. My grandmother’s expression was fierce.
“And that is why you let the time get away from you, as you say. You, Moreva Tehi, My acolyte of Love, are a bigot. I might understand if you were still a child, but you are not. You have done nothing to better yourself since then. Your bigotry is the reason you did not celebrate Ohra-Namtar. You did not want to share your body with Our hakoi.” She glared, as if daring me to contradict her.
I stared into Her golden eyes, wanting to deny Her accusation, but that would be a lie. I kept quiet.
She leaned forward. “I have overlooked many of your transgressions while in My service. I know you use your psi power to harass other morevs for what you perceive as slights. But I cannot overlook your bigotry, or your missing Ohra-Namtar. I will not execute you because you are too dear to My heart. The stewardship for Astoreth-69 in the Syren Perritory ends in two days. You will take the next rotation.”
My hearts froze. This was my punishment? Getting exiled to Syren? Everyone knew the Syren Perritory in Peris’s far northern hemisphere was the worst place in the world to steward a landing beacon. Cold and dark, with dense woods full of wild animals, the Syren was no place for me. My place was in Kherah, a sunny desert south of the planet’s equator, where the fauna was kept in special habitats for learning and entertainment. As for the Syrenese, they were the descendants of one of the Devi’s earliest and failed hakoi spawning and breeding experiments, and were as untamed as the perritory where they lived.
My throat tightened, and a tear formed in the corner of my eye. Eresh…he’s in the Syren Perritory now. I’ll be taking his place. It’s already been a year since I’ve seen him, and I won’t see him again for another year. Two years without my best friend…my only friend. What am I to do?
I managed to get up the gumption to protest, but didn’t. Challenging my grandmother would be disrespectful, and my punishment would be even worse than exile. It would also be futile. Astoreth’s word was law, and it had just come down on my head. “Yes, Most Holy One,” I said, my voice meek.
She leaned back on Her throne. “Mehmed will come to your room after breakfast tomorrow so you can be fitted for your uniform.”
“My uniform, Most Holy One? I will not be taking my clothes?”
“No. As overseer of the landing beacon, you are the liaison between the Mjor village as well as the commander of the garrison. Your subordinate, Kepten Yose, will report to you once a marun and you are to relay the garrison’s needs to Laerd Teger, the Mjoran village chief.”
“Yes, Most Holy One.”
“I will make allowance for your healer’s kit and a portable laboratory, but you are not to take your red fever research. I am sure you have other projects you can work on while you are there.”
“No, Moreva Tehi. It is too dangerous.”
“I can take precautions—”
“No. I will not allow you to endanger the Mjorans. That is My final word. ” She gazed at me for a long moment. “You should also know that they, like all Syrenese, are not a forgiving people. They do not take transgressions—of any kind—lightly.”
I swallowed. “I understand, Most Holy One.”
“Good.” Her eyes narrowed. “One more thing. As the garrison’s moreva, you will lead the services in worship of Me, and that includes Ohra-Sin. Go now.”
“Thank you, Most Holy One.” I stood on shaky legs, bowed, and backed out of the Great Hall. Fleeing to my room, I fell on the bed and sobbed. It was bad enough to be exiled to the Syren Perritory and to spend another year without Eresh, but Ohra-Sin with the garrison? Only the hakoi served in Astoreth’s military. I felt dirty already. And not allowing me to work on my red fever project was punishment by itself.
A hand touched my shoulder. “Tehi, what’s wrong?” a worried voice said. It was Moreva Jaleta, one of my friendlier morev sisters.
“I-I’m being sent to the Syren Perritory to steward Astoreth-69,” I wailed.
I sat up. “I missed Ohra-Namtar yesterday and n-now Astoreth is punishing me.”
She gave me an unsympathetic look. “You’re lucky She didn’t have your head. Be thankful you’re Her favorite.”
I sniffed, but said nothing.
Jaleta patted my shoulder. “It won’t be so bad, Tehi. The year will be over before you know it. Come on, it’s time to eat.”
About the Author
Award-winning author Roxanne Bland was born in the shadows of the rubber factory smokestacks in Akron, Ohio but grew up in Washington, D.C. As a child, she spent an inordinate amount of time prowling the museums of the Smithsonian Institution and also spent an inordinate amount of time reading whatever books she could get her hands on, including the dictionary. A self-described “fugitive from reality,” she has always colored outside the lines and in her early years of writing, saw no reason why a story couldn’t be written combining the genres she loved and did so despite being told it wasn’t possible. Today, she writes stories that are mashups of paranormal urban fantasy, romance, and science fiction, as well as other speculative fiction genres.