Chapter 28 can be read below the cut.
Nymue trudged through the streets of Tivadshy. It was midday, but the sky was almost as dark as night due to the heavy rain. She’d just left the National Library and was making her way toward the Avatar’s Palace. Her own research was turning up nothing. She needed to talk to Chanda.
She found Chanda in the lobby of the Palace, talking to one of the aides. Chanda turned toward her and blinked in surprise at Nymue standing there, wearing a drenched overcoat and dripping water into the carpet.
“Who do I need to talk to in order to find out what the other gods were originally named in Rennukat?” Nymue asked.
Chanda blinked. “Huh?” she said.
“I’m sure the gods had names in early Rennukat,” said Nymue. “Even if they were loanwords from other languages, they’d be in the records. But there are no names other than Akoisusei.”
“Yes, that’s true,” said Chanda. “Your god has no name. That we know of.”
Nymue looked at Chanda intensely. “But you know which one I am?” she asked.
“I’ve gone through my religious texts enough times to make a decision,” said Chanda. She pointed at Nymue. “You, Nymue Rozenbarr, are the Avatar of the god who scrutinizes reality. I have to say that you embody that quality very well.”
“And that god really has no name,” stated Nymue.
Chanda crossed her arms. “Not in Rennukat, and not in any of our records. The monks might know the name. They know those aspects of the original religion well.”
Nymue stared at her in disbelief. “You’re really saying that after an entire year, you haven’t found out the names of the other gods, but the monks might know what it is? And you haven’t even gone to speak with them? What have you been doing with your time!?”
“My job as the leader of this country,” said Chanda. “It takes up more time than anything else, especially with what I have planned.”
Nymue narrowed her eyes. “And what exactly is that?”
“I’ve been putting plans in order to abolish the theocracy. It should be done by the end of the year,” said Chanda.
Nymue’s eyes widened and she raised her eyebrows. “You…you are? But that doesn’t benefit you,” she said.
“What do you mean by that?” Chanda asked. “Explain your thinking.”
“People who hold power don’t like to let go of it. They can shift the historical narrative to say whatever they want it to say. That’s what the previous Avatars of Akoisusei did. That’s why I’m having such a problem piecing things together,” said Nymue.
“That is definitely true,” said Chanda. She frowned. “But I’m sure you’ve learned this past year that I’m not happy about the things my previous incarnations did. Abolishing the theocracy ensures that no one person holds all the power. There won’t be any single person controlling the narrative.”
Nymue looked skeptical. “The Old Countries had democracies and republics. That didn’t stop their governments from manipulating the historical timeline.”
“I know that,” said Chanda. “But leaving the theocracy intact won’t help anything or anyone. I can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
“I’m not quite sure I believe you,” said Nymue. “You’ve been helping me piece together Tsurennupaiva’s early history, but you’re still the person who made it that way in the first place.”
Chanda sighed. “You’ll simply have to believe me when I say that I have no intention of continuing the legacy of my previous incarnations.” She waved her hand through the air. “Go to the monastery and speak with Serrailin Synnesu. Most of the monks should be able to point you in the right direction to find the gods’ names, but I think you’ll enjoy talking with Serrailin about a variety of things.”
Nymue narrowed her eyes, but she felt more tired than suspicious. “Trying to get rid of me so quickly?” she asked.
“I answered your questions, didn’t I?” said Chanda. “There’s not much of a point in you staying here longer.”
Nymue gestured toward the window. “It’s still raining. I didn’t bring an umbrella,” she said.
Chanda chuckled. “That’s the problem? I have plenty around here. You can take one.”
Nymue walked down the street, holding the umbrella over her head. The wind had picked up, and the rain was now coming sideways occasionally instead of straight down. It didn’t take her long to make it to the monastery, but by the time she arrived, most of her outer clothes were almost entirely soaked through.
She shook the water out of her umbrella and left it on the front patio, then wrung out her coat to the best of her abilities. There was no place for her to hang it up, so she put it back on her shoulders before walking in through the open doorway.
A monk immediately stepped in front of her. “Hello, young lady. I don’t believe I’ve seen you before. Is there something I can help you with?” he asked.
“I’d like to speak with Serrailin Synnesu,” said Nymue.
The monk looked mildly surprised. “Serrailin? He’s speaking with someone else right now, but I’ll show you to his room. Follow me, please.”
“Does Serrailin normally have people come in to talk to him? Avatar Chanda told me to come to him specifically before he’d be more helpful than some others,” said Nymue.
“It depends on what you need to know,” said the monk. “Some of us have specialized in researching certain subjects.” He glanced back at Nymue. “I have to admit I’m curious as to what an Avatar such as yourself is here to learn from Serrailin.”
“Some of the older aspects of our religion. I’d prefer to only talk to him about it,” said Nymue.
“Understood,” said the monk. He stopped walking and gestured at closed door. “He’s in here. I’ll leave you for now. If you need any assistance, you can ask any of us.”
“I understand,” said Nymue. She watched the monk leave, and was still looking at him when she heard the door open.
Temurlin stood there, holding onto the door handle and looking very confused. “What are you doing here?” Nymue asked.
“I could ask you the same thing,” said Temurlin.
Nymue gestured toward the room. “I’m here to talk to Serrailin Synnesu,” she said.
“That’s incredibly obvious now that you’ve said it out loud,” said Temurlin.
Nymue narrowed her eyes. “But why are you here? You aren’t religious. There’s no way you’re here for spiritual guidance,” she said.
“I’m just here to talk to my dad,” said Temurlin. “Veitlen’s the only other person who knows about this. Don’t tell anyone.”
“I wasn’t planning on it,” said Nymue. “All I need to do is talk to Serrailin about some religious things.”
Temurlin stepped to the side, still holding onto the door. “Go on in. I’m not sure how happy he’ll be that some random person is coming in to see him right away, even if that person is an Avatar.”
Nymue walked in. Serrailin Synnesu sat cross-legged on the ground in the middle of the room. It was very bare, with only a few cushions on the ground surrounding him.
“Serrailin Synnesu?” said Nymue. “I’m Nymue Rozenbarr, one of the new Avatars. I need to talk to you about a few things.”
“One of the Avatars, hm?” said Serrailin. “No one told me that an Avatar would be stopping by today. What brings you here today, Avatar Nymue?”
Nymue knelt down on one of the cushions and clasped her hands in her lap. “I want to know the name of my god,” said Nymue. “If it has a name, it’s been scrubbed from all the records I and Chanda have been able to find.”
Serrailin scratched his chin. “What makes you so sure your god had a name in the first place?” he asked.
“What?” Nymue asked in confusion.
Serrailin held up his hand, palm flat and facing toward her. “There are many gods in the old religions that were taken to create the religion of Tsurennupaiva. Our religion is based on a mix of the old ones, and our gods are as well.”
“I know there’s a lot of cherry-picking involved,” said Nymue. “But how can you be so sure that my god doesn’t have a name? You don’t even know which one I’m an Avatar of.”
“Tell me which one you are, then, and I’ll tell you if you have a name or not,” said Serrailin.
“Chanda says I’m the Avatar of the god that ‘scrutinizes reality’. I haven’t read anything about a god with those particular qualities, but there were similar descriptions. I’m not sure if they were mistranslations or deliberate obfuscations,” said Nymue.
“What an odd translation. Thankfully, it’s enough for me to know which god you are,” said Serrailin. “And thankfully for you, that god does have a name. The name is Vitsaja. It is the god who searches for the truth of all things.”
“What religion is it from?” Nymue asked.
“One of the oldest on record. It was considered ancient by Old Humanity’s standards,” said Serrailin. “I don’t believe it was practiced much by the time of the Cataclysm. There are few records from Old Humanity’s last days, but they do speak of that religion as essentially being extinct.”
“Clearly Vitsaja wasn’t forgotten,” said Nymue. “But why go through the trouble of making an ancient god part of a pantheon that you’re going to ignore?”
Serrailin shrugged. “Our religion was created to bring the remnants of humanity together. Whoever chose Vitsaja thought they were making a good choice, I suppose.” He clasped his hands together. “Is there anything else you want to know about, Avatar?”
“I don’t know,” said Nymue. “How much time do you monks spend researching history?”
“It depends on the person. Some do very little research and spend most of their time meditating. Some do the opposite,” said Serrailin.
“Who knows the most about the early history of Tsurennupaiva? That’s my field of study,” said Nymue.
“There are a few. You’ll have to speak with them in order to-”
“How can I be certain that you aren’t the ones who’re revising the history books and constructing this narrative in the first place?” Nymue interrupted.
Serrailin looked surprised. “I beg your pardon?” he said.
“At first I thought that it was only the government that had any interest in constructing a historical narrative to suit their needs. But there’s nothing that prevents you monks from doing the same thing. You’d benefit from rewriting the narrative, too,” said Nymue.
Serrailin scratched his chin. “That’s certainly true. There may be monks who aided in that.”
“May?” Nymue demanded. “You don’t know for sure?”
“I don’t control the people here, Avatar. None of us have any power over the others. Things are designed to be that way,” said Serrailin.
Nymue frowned. “That’s good to hear, I guess. But that’s also what Chanda wants for the government, and it never worked out with the Old Humans.”
“Are you an Old Human?” Serrailin asked.
Nymue blinked in surprise. “What? No, of course not.”
“Does Old Humanity still exist?” said Serrailin.
“No,” answered Nymue.
“For the past 250 words, we’ve worked to rid ourselves of the same vices that destroyed Old Humanity. Our founders built it into our religion and government and history,” said Serrailin. “Did you never think critically about why those narratives were created in the first place? Did you always assume that they existed to further the power of a theocrat?”
“That doesn’t make it acceptable,” said Nymue. “People deserve to know the truth, not something made up to make them feel better about themselves. That’s deceptive and it doesn’t actually improve peoples’ behavior. Just thinking that we’re better than the people who came before us means we get arrogant and keep making the same mistakes.”
Serrailin smiled. “You truly are the Avatar of Vitsaja. I will neither help nor hinder you in whatever you choose to do.”
“I wasn’t planning on asking you for help in making any decisions,” said Nymue. She stood up and brushed herself off. “You’ve been very helpful. I’ll go talk to some of the other monks now.”
“Very well then,” said Serrailin.
Nymue stepped toward the doorway, then turned back. “Why was Temurlin here? Does he talk to you often?” she asked.
“Almost weekly. Do you know him?” Serrailin said.
“He’s a close friend of Veitlen’s. I just wasn’t expecting to see him here,” said Nymue.
“I’ve definitely heard him talk about Veitlen,” said Serrailin. “In fact, I’d like to speak to Veitlen at some point. Can you pass that information on to him?”
“What in the world could you possibly want to talk to Veitlen about?” Nymue asked in surprise. “He’s not interested in religion or history or research.”
“Yes, I’ve managed to understand that from my conversations with Temurlin,” said Serrailin.
“Then why?” Nymue asked.
“I’d like to speak to another Avatar,” said Serrailin. “It’s not every day that this opportunity comes along. Additionally, I’m starting to get the impression that he and Temurlin might be more involved than Temurlin lets on.”
Nymue blinked. “Oh…I’ll go tell him, then.”
Nymue found Veitlen in the central city on guard duty. She’d almost walked past him, as he was dressed the same as all the other guards with the exception of his own bayonet and rifle.
“I don’t think I’m really supposed to be talking to random people,” said Veitlen, “but you’re an Avatar and so am I, so I’m pretty sure we can get away with this.”
“I didn’t care about that to begin with,” said Nymue. “Veitlen, I talked to a monk named Serrailin Synnesu at the monastery. He’s Temurlin’s father and he wants to speak with you, too.”
“Oh, because I’m an Avatar?” Veitlen asked.
“Of course,” said Nymue. “But I think he also wants to make sure you’re behaving acceptably toward Temurlin. I think he’s somehow managed to get the impression that you two are in a relationship.”
Veitlen frowned. “What the f-what!?” he exclaimed. “I am definitely going to have to talk to Temurlin about this.”
He sighed and rubbed his face. “Wait a minute. You aren’t?” Nymue asked, raising her eyebrows.
Veitlen looked at her in disbelief. “No! I don’t do relationships! Temurlin knows that! I don’t know what the hell he told Serrailin!” He ran his hand through his hair. “Uuuugh! When my shift ends I am going straight to his house and-”
“There’s something else I want to ask you,” Nymue interrupted.
“What else?” Veitlen hissed.
“Did Chanda ever tell you which god you’re an Avatar of?” Nymue asked.
Veitlen’s expression switched from annoyed to confused in an instant and he dropped his hands back to his sides. “What? No. She never told me anything like that.”
“Weird. She told me,” said Nymue.
“The last time I seriously talked to her about anything like that was in September last year,” said Veitlen. “I’m not like you with the endless questions.”
“Of course that’s the case,” said Nymue. “But haven’t people been asking you questions about that?”
“Yeah. I just make up things most of the time,” said Veitlen. He grinned at Nymue’s baffled expression. “I would’ve been concerned about this a year ago, but I’ve learned how to be fine with it.”
“Really,” said Nymue flatly.
Veitlen frowned. “Do you not believe me? Really, Nym, I’m not going to be upset if I never figure this out. It’s not going to prevent me from liberating demons or anything else.”
Nymue shook her head. “I am apparently the Avatar of the god who needs to know everything,” she said.
“That definitely explains just about everything about you,” said Veitlen.
Veitlen’s shift ended at 5:30 that night, and it took him close to an hour to walk to the Kerruveil household. When he got there, he stood in front of the door, hand half-raised, thinking over what he was going to say.
He knocked on the door. Moments later, Temurlin opened the door, looking surprised. “Veitlen? Did you just get off work?” he asked.
“Just what have you been telling your dad?” Veitlen asked.
“What do you mean?” Temurlin asked.
“What have you said to make him think that we’re in a relationship!?” Veitlen demanded.
Temurlin glanced backward, then stepped onto the porch and shut the door behind him. “Exactly what are you talking about?” he asked.
“Nymue told me that Serrailin told her that he thinks the two of us are involved,” said Veitlen irritably.
Temurlin frowned. “Why would Nymue know something like that?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care. I just what to know what the fuck you’ve been telling your dad!” Veitlen hissed.
Temurlin patted Veitlen’s shoulder, probably trying to calm him down. “I assure you, I never said anything like that,” he said.
“Well, you clearly said enough for him to imply that it’s what you meant,” said Veitlen.
Temurlin sighed and rubbed his face. Veitlen glanced at the hand on his shoulder before gently brushing it off. “I’m not so inattentive that I haven’t managed to notice that you have some kind of interest in me,” said Veitlen. “When I talk to your dad, I’ll tell him it’s just a misunderstanding.”
They stared at each other for a moment before Veitlen continued. “So just what did you tell him, anyway?”
“Nothing much,” said Temurlin. He grabbed the door handle. “I was asking him for guidance on how to work through some of my problems-”
“I’m one of the problems,” Veitlen interrupted.
Temurlin turned the handle and opened the door slightly. “Yeah, and now you’ve become a problem for the entire country. How’s that working out for you?”
“Don’t change the subject,” said Veitlen.
Temurlin slipped inside and attempted to pull the door shut. Veitlen shoved his arm through the doorway and reached for the door handle. “Don’t just run away from me, you coward!” he said.
“Sorry man, this conversation is over,” said Temurlin. He attempted to pull the door closed, but Veitlen managed to grab one of his wrists and shove him back from the door entirely.
Veitlen rubbed his arm and grimaced. “I’m gonna talk to your dad tomorrow and clear up everything,” he said.
“Please do,” said Temurlin. “Just so you know, I regret saying anything to him.”
“Oh, sure,” said Veitlen. “Maybe next time you need to talk about your personal problems, you do it with a therapist, huh? How does that sound?”
“Excuse me,” said Fynneil. She stepped into the living room, looking confused. “Is there something I need to help with?”
Veitlen and Temurlin glanced at each other. “No, we’re fine,” said Temurlin. “Veitlen was just going to leave.”
“But it’s dinnertime!” Fynneil protested. “Temur, help me finish cooking. Veitlen, you can eat dinner with us, okay? I’m sure your aunt and uncle will be okay with that.”
Veitlen smiled slightly. “Yeah, that sounds fine,” he said.