The Stone by the Stream (Part 28)
The whistling grew louder as the light around Cynthia pulsed brighter and brighter. Still drawn toward the stone, still trying to remind herself why she should hold back, Cynthia waited for the source of the clownish whistling to emerge. The deep thrumming from beneath the earth rolled onward, oscillating so deeply Cynthia wondered if it was an earthquake.
“Accept your destiny, Cynthia.”
She heard the voice before she saw its source. And she wasn’t surprised when the acolyte she called Sofia emerged from the line of trees, taking half-league strides with her broom slung over her shoulder like a knapsack.
“But I’ll lose myself if I join with her!” Cynthia cried.
“Don’t play naïve, Cynthia,” Sofia said, taking an easy stride across the clearing and coming to a stop at Cynthia’s left side. “You don’t really have a self and you never will. And you know it, too. It’s the reason you’re oracle material — it’s the reason Sofia was oracle material when she was alive.”
“But… the Temple.”
“Sand in the glass, Cynthia. All this world is passing away. If it doesn’t crumble today, with you, it will crumble tomorrow, with someone else. In the eyes of the Goddess it’s all the same.”
“She seems awfully insistent on having me join her now.”
“Only because you want to join her so very badly. What do you think gave the Naiad the energy to carry you here?”
Cynthia gaped. “I… assumed it was because it’s so big and I’m so small.”
“Oh, no, Cynthia. The Naiads are quite powerless unless there’s a strong desire they can channel to give them their energy. The only reason the Naiad could take you here is because you want to be here.”
“No, that can’t be right. I wanted to go back to the Temple and let them Initiate me. I wanted to wait till I learned the discipline!”
Even the most sensitive mortals rarely discern the gods working through them.
Sofia smiled. “Maybe that’s what you said, Cynthia. And maybe you even believed it in the moment. You wanted to play the obedient little parrot and play the Temple’s game — which is all right, of course, I don’t blame you in the least. But if you must play somebody’s parrot act… we both know you’d rather play for the Goddess.”
“And what if I just want to be myself? What if I want to be Cynthia, just Cynthia? Nobody’s parrot.”
Sofia burst out in sardonic laughter, nearly doubling over. “Don’t play with me. You’re smarter than most mortals — smart enough to know there’s no way out of the parrot game. The gods rule this world, Cynthia. No matter what you do, you’ll always be a mouthpiece for one of them.”
“Then why not just force me to join her? Throw me on the stone and make me one with her.”
You must choose freely.
“She’s not being a sentimentalist when she says that, either. You must understand, Cynthia. If you resist meeting with her you’ll be no more good to her as a servant than those fools at the Temple. A servant in name only.”
“So does that mean I’m free to go?”
“Perfectly free, Cynthia.”
“I think I’ll go, then.”
Cynthia stepped toward the path back to the Temple and Sofia made no move to follow her. The glow pervading the clearing grew fainter with every stride, by the time she reached the edge of the clearing fading to nothing more than a faint reddish aura, as of a trick of the eyes on waking.
But before she wandered out of earshot, Sofia asked, “How many times, Cynthia?”
Cynthia steeled herself against turning around. It was already dark and it was important to get back to the Temple, she reminded herself. The Priestess might already be headed this way with some of the Temple bodyguards. She had to let them know she was all right… certainly no time to turn around and let Sofia pour more poison in her ear!
She turned around and asked, “What do you mean, how many times?”
“How many times are you going to come to the brink and shrink away again? This is… what? The third time in as many days you’ve come to this stone?”
“I’m… curious about the Goddess, is all.”
“Very curious. But I’m sure you’re right… I’m sure you have it in you to wait years to meet her face to face.”
Cynthia took a step toward Sofia, the reddish light around her growing in intensity. “I don’t need to meet her right now. I can wait till I’m ready.”
“And I’m sure you’ll say the same thing tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Waiting patiently, for years… for a day that may never come.”
Cynthia felt weak. What was this force that kept compelling her to come back to the stone, day after day? And Sofia was right… how could she ever endure the wait? The days stretched out before her, gray and dull with dreary, never-ending exertions. Only serving the Goddess in name, in tiny unremarkable ways, enduring the Temple discipline as time crawled tortoise-like to the day of revelation.
And the day of revelation could come right now!
“That’s it, Cynthia,” Sofia said, watching closely. “Become who you truly are.”
Cynthia nodded and stepped toward the stone. There was no sense in waiting! She could already feel her body and mind dissolving into the Huntress.
But as she took her first step, a voice coming from down the path to the Temple shouted, “Cynthia!”