The Laws are Absolute; a Tale of Chastity

The Laws are Absolute; a Tale of Chastity

I’ve done two rounds of Seven Deadly Sins prompts, mostly because I have such a large pool of characters to draw from. While flipping through other prompt suggestions, I happened to find a list of the Seven Heavenly Virtues (which seem to get a lot less press). In case you’ve never heard of them, they are: Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness and Humility. So now that we’ve seen the darker sides of my characters, why don’t we take a peek at their virtues? This week features Azmih, who is dedicated to laws of his order. This scene also continues the story started in They Return Every Year to Lay Flowers on the Spot.
. . .

The Heavenly Virtue of Chastity is defined as “discretion of conduct according to one’s state in life.”
. . .

“Now, Azmih, please recite the edicts as they were laid out by Death and as they have been passed down through the generations to the order of Necromancers.”

The pale elf sat up a little straighter, squaring his shoulders and lifting his chin. It wouldn’t do to slouch during lessons or he would be scrubbing something unpleasant by the end of the day. He cleared his throat, not to buy more time, so that his voice would be clear when he began to speak.

“Of course, Master. The sacred duties of the order are as follows; wherever you find the work of Death, it must be done. It cannot be ignored, denied or delayed.” He paused for the briefest of moments, waiting for the master’s slight nod to indicate that he should continue. This was the first time he had been asked to recite the order’s doctrine from memory. Usually he read it from a small red book in which he had carefully copied the notes until he could see them clearly in his sleep.

“Wherever restless spirits roam, you must tame them and send them to the heart of their mistress so that they may properly rest.” Another small nod from his instructor. “If ever the dying are lost, help them to find their way so that their spirits will not become restless.” This time, confident he recalled the details correctly, Azmih did not wait for the confirmation to continue.

“Death’s laws are absolute and must not be manipulated. Where there is evidence of tampering with Death’s power, or Death’s natural law, you must break the cycle and restore the system to its natural course.” The final edict finished, Azmih allowed a small, pleased smile to cross his lips.

But he did not receive the soft words of praise he anticipated. Instead, his instructor cast him an expectant look. “And what are the consequences for failure to uphold the edicts?”

Azmih pressed his lips into a thin line and bowed his head, embarrassed that he hadn’t completed the simple task properly. “Those who tamper with the natural way must be brought to justice. If necessary, the errant Necromancer must be taken to the mistress for judgment.”

“And?” his instructor prompted when he fell silent, prompting Amzih to rack his brain for the last piece of the puzzle.

“Those who fail to comply with the edicts as spoken must bleed for their failures.”

At last, a satisfied smile crossed the master’s lips. “Well done, Azmih. The edicts are central to the survival of our order. See to it that you never forget either their spirit or their contents. It would be your undoing.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Azmih knelt in the tall grass as he scooped his hand into the pouch he wore at his belt. For six months it had dangled while he walked, a constant reminder of the promise he had made. A promise he would one day have to break.

The gems felt tiny in his hands, but they filled the whole of his palm when he uncurled his pale fingers to peer at them. How could such light stones provide such heavy burden? He flexed his fingers, switching the positions of the rubies several times before he let them come to rest.

What was he going to do with them? He couldn’t dodge the altars forever; his inadvertent encounter with an archaic, unmapped shrine was proof enough of that. And he didn’t think he had enough blood in his body to bleed for leaving this task untended. He was half tempted to leave the blood red rubies on the next altar he found, a sacrifice of sorts. Let Death determine what fate should become such an odd creature.

But he knew better. The rules were absolute. He just needed to determine which rules actually applied.

With a soft sigh, he lifted the gleaming rubies and slotted them into the two rough holes adorning the weather-worn stone. It might have been a statue once or, perhaps, some rudimentary golem. Its legs were gone – if it ever had such things – and its arms were little more than stumps, worn smooth by wind and rain.

As soon as both rubies were in place, they winked bright, then dim, then bright again, like a pair of eyes blinking against a bright ray of morning sun. A soft sound escaped the scrape across the lower edge of the top rock, like a fresh breath scraping a raw throat.

Slowly, and with a great deal of effort, the rocks that served as arms lifted and the rubies directed their glow toward the stump endings. A single finger-like protrusion twisted, then pointed accusingly in Azmih’s direction.

“What have you done to me, Necromancer? This hardly seems like a reasonable substitute for the body I abandoned in the bog.”

“Apologies,” Azmih replied as he settled himself in the tall grass, legs folded in front of him. “My options were limited. It’s only meant to be a temporary solution, my friend, I assure you. I needed to speak with you.”

“Friends, are we now?” Wind scraped against the crack that served as the rock golem’s mouth. It took several seconds for Azmih to identify it as laughter.

“I would like to think we aren’t enemies,” Azmih replied. Though if the thing gave him some reason to dismantle its magic, that might make his life much easier.

“Oh, very well, Necromancer. Call me as you please. But speak quickly. I would rather not inhabit this body longer than I have to.”

“Fair,” Azmih agreed, folding his arms across his lap. “It has come to my attention that, in order to properly assist you, I need more information about your origins. Is it true that you were never a living thing?”

“So far as I know,” the ruby-studded rock replied, shrugging its weather-worn shoulders. “But I am not entirely certain how my master pieced me together. My first memories are of waking in his study.”

“And you never see flashes of other people or places? Things you encountered outside of your master’s domain?”

“Flashes?” The stone face sounded thoughtful. It lifted its stump arm and scratched its single finger across the lower edge of its stone head. “Yes. I think I might. I’ve seen corridors I’ve never walked. Long corridors with high ceilings and dancing candles. And trees taller than you can imagine, twice as tall as the tallest forest you’ve ever ventured through. And sunken tunnels beneath a sea I can’t name. But people; no. I’ve never met a person who didn’t approach my master’s old domain.”

Azmih bowed his head, allowing his eyes to rake the swaying grass while he considered the creature’s words. “What purpose did your master give to you after your awakening?”

“I was his servant.” Again, the stone creature shrugged awkwardly. “What else would your kind desire with something like me?”

“It was easy enough for me to discern that on my own,” Azmih replied, his tone somewhat dry. “I meant, what kind of tasks did he assign to you? Did he send you into the world to acquire things for him?”

“Yes, sometimes. But never anything too far away. He claimed I would fall to pieces if I stepped beyond a certain boundary. It wouldn’t have extended much farther than the village. Unless such things are capable of growing naturally.”

So your creator wanted to contain you. But why make it possible for you to wander at all if that were the case?

And he never asked you to retrieve anything from that village?”

“Well, he did, but he also instructed me not to be seen.”

Azmih arched an eyebrow. “So you never retrieved anything human?”

The ruby-studded rock laughed, a single, low-pitched bark. “Never. But probably because my master liked to choose his human victims for himself.”

Azmih snorted, trying not to frown too deeply. As pleasant as the creature seemed, it might be best not to give it too much insight into what he thought. “And do you know what he did to those he chose?”

“Couldn’t say, Necromancer. But I think you can guess.”

Azmih closed his eyes. When he opened them, the ruby-studded rock was staring at him intently. “Why do you ask these questions?”

“In order to sort you to the proper fate, I must know what you are made of. My suspicion was that you were the amalgamation of several different lives, pieced together to suit your master’s purposes. But now I think otherwise.” Which was something of a relief; if the creature had been made of the souls of the departed, he would have had to break the stones to set them free.

“I’m not certain why you delay; the rules of your order are absolute. I know enough to know that.”

“I know the edicts, thank you. And I know the consequences for failing to uphold them. But the truth is, I’ m starting to think you might stand outside my jurisdiction.”

Another harsh laugh. “As the creation of one of your kind? As an animated dead thing? How could that be?”

“I don’t know,” Azmih admitted. “But none of my fellows have ever created a servant quite like you.” Reasonable, logical, and oh so intelligent. How had the necromancer managed it without infusing a piece of his own soul into the stones?

“Are you certain you aren’t just looking for a servant for yourself?” The ruby-creature’s voice sounded suddenly sly.

Azmih narrowed his eyes and set his jaw. “I have no use for a servant.”

“Ah, but you have use for a friend, do you?”

Azmih tried to ignore the mocking laughter that followed, but it was hard to keep it from seeping beneath his skin. Had years of traveling alone made him so transparent?

The laughter faded to the dull whisper of the wind through the nearby trees. The rubies glinted oddly in the sunlight. “I only hope that I can trust you to keep your word, Necromancer. I would hate to retaliate if you let me down.”

Before Azmih had a chance to respond, the rubies popped free of the rough-hewn holes and tumbled across the soft grass, coming to rest at his feet. He was only mildly surprised to learn the rubies had such control over their setting. With a soft sigh, he reached down to retrieve them.

“That is another aspect,” he murmured, as he returned them to the pouch at his belt. He had made a promise. And to break it would be as much a crime as neglecting his duties, though he would likely pay a different price.

With a soft sigh, Azmih slid to his feet and stretched his arms above his head. No one had ever claimed obeying Death’s laws would be easy; the rules weren’t half as straight-forward as they seemed. He set one hand against his belt pouch, confirming the harsh shapes of the rubies rested within, then he took up his pack and resumed his long trek.

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