Stell

There is a place in the world where wood is still burned for mere heat and light. There, Stell sat across from the Iconoclast. The others were all around them, cloaks rippling among the bark, blotting out the other fires, in their great ring.

It was mere coincidence that Stell was alone with her. He had not planned it. A part of him always wondered if she did. He had not known her to speak to individuals often. His mask rolled in his fingers. He looked into the frowning, horned face, and then up across the fire. The Iconoclast’s face was black with shadow, tilted down in reverie as she so frequently was. One of the others had said it was required for her to remain sane, to not get lost in memory and vision. He didn’t know.

They sat in silence a while. Stell, wrapped in his thick green cloak, could feel the chill of wind even through it. The fire whipped to one side, and light played across the red and brown ink that decorated her forearms.

Still, they were alone. He had to ask. When his mouth opened to speak, though, she looked up into his eyes, expression discontent and severe.

Ask.

You say that the old world lives, trapped. Can you show it to us?

Only what is left behind.

Why do you not? Why can’t you show us?

It is not right for the Horns to doubt. None should doubt.

There it was again, the admonition, the implication of failure. He steeled himself, though, and pressed on. When he was out in The City, among the Enemy, he would be able to live with his task. Here, though, was perhaps the last person that would ever understand it. What to ask, though? What would banish the pause he experienced? What would give him that bottomless well of conviction that she displayed so easily?

She spoke before him, perhaps reading the question in his face.

The mask that you wear, priest, locks in the doubt. It chains it. To the world you are merely the Horns. Conviction ushers forth because of the mask, not because of the one beneath it. You must simply be the mask.

You do not wear one.

The one beneath my mask died long ago, Stell. There is a chance that you will be that way, living your purpose until the one that first took steps on that journey dies in its walking. I hope you will know the peace it brings.

She paused, then added:If I prove to you the truth of the old world, you will never be like me.

There it was again, the purpose of the Horns, the reason he had been selected, out of all his peers, to serve in such a way. The mask rolled in his fingers again, this time facing away from him, then rose to his face, clinging there with a shrinking grip that he still found claustrophobic. Stell rose from where he knelt.

Then that,he spokeis what I will be.

Stell

The Eight Crimes of The Iconodules Zeral