The De'an

Follows three main protagonists. Heryn Cavadrian is a young man Consecrated to the service of the De'an, the three mysterious deities whose worship is enforced by the Priests of Rhylean. Arvian Dalygh is a farmer's apprentice living in Tal's Table, a rural town in the middle of Rhylean, but is there more to him than meets the eye? And Cedrys Galan is a young woman whose life is changed forever when she is told she possesses the Seed - the ability to develop magical talents which the Priests have declared evil, blasphemous and punishable by death.


1. Chapter 1

   Heryn winced slightly as the whip bit into his flesh, but he did not cry aloud until the fifth stroke. Not that he was particularly trying to maintain his dignity. That desire had fled along with self-respect, leaving in their wake only shame and grief. He had nothing to prove; he just felt strangely detached from his circumstances. He only began to notice the pain when it grew unbearable. Then he wept freely. The other Consecrated were seated on benches opposite him. Some were staring in open disgust, but many were awkwardly turning their heads, averting their eyes away from his shame. You weren't supposed to break this easily. He was a Consecrated, a representative of the De'an, devoted to their service. The De'an were not weak. Therefore, a Consecrated should be strong, forbearing, accepting. He should embrace the punishment he deserved as an opportunity to purify his soul, to become a worthier servant of the De'an. Some of the Consecrated could endure forty lashes with no reaction but a smile. Legend had it that when Aeldo Snoss had been a Consecrated, he had once received fifty lashes for a misdeed and endured all fifty standing perfectly straight, without leaning any weight on the steel frame he was chained to, without uttering a single word or even flinching. Then, when the whipping was completed, he slowly dropped to his knees and thanked the De'an for purifying his heart and bringing it into greater subjection to their will, stood up, bowed in gratitude to the Priest who had been whipping him, and then calmly walked to his cell, leaving behind a red trail of blood droplets from his back. The blood was washed away promptly, but to that day Consecrated in Eastport Temple swore that penitent sinners walking the Crimson Trail could feel the mercy and forgiveness of the De'an permeate their soul like the fragrance of a rose permeates a room.

   Never mind. Heryn was no Aeldo Snoss, so he would not pretend to be. Enduring stoically was for the most noble Consecrated, the likes of Aeldo Snoss, the ones who went on to rise to the Council of the Exalted and rubbed shoulders with Alech Tholl Himself, the Spokesman of the De'an. Heryn would never be like them. It was more honest to break, to weep, to lean on the frame so that it was bearing his entire weight, to shame himself so that everybody knew his guilt, everybody could see his sin, everybody understood the confessions he had uttered. His suffering could not purify him, and he was done with pretending. Where his blood stained the floor, there would be no Crimson Trail, no blessings of love and forgiveness, only a dark and ominous sense of inevitable judgement and impending doom.

   The Consecrated were chanting now, the Liturgy of the Sinner: "'The De'an do not forgive. The De'an do not give pardon. The De'an see evil with their all-penetrating eyes and they vanquish it with their unconquerable might. The De'an will hold the sinner to account until the payment is complete and the penalty served. Then, in grace and loving kindness, they release him, instruct him and command him to walk no more in the shadow of sin, but to return to their embrace. After the penalty has been served, there is hope for the penitent, whereas nothing awaits he who returns to his sin but further punishment and the wrath of the De'an. For the De'an are above all. They bring light to darkness, clarity to confusion, order to chaos, and who will not fear their justice?'"

    There is no hope for the sinner, thought Heryn bitterly.  For the penitent, perhaps, but not for me. For he wasn't penitent, when he truly considered it. He felt shame, disgust, loathing...but no penitence. Because if it came to it, he knew he would do it again. He wasn't even sure that he would regret it. He would hate himself for doing it, but he would enjoy it as well. Because he was happy. Even as he loathed himself for being the kind of sinner who could be so delighted in the company of a blasphemer, he was happier there than he ever had been elsewhere. And even deeper than the shame, and the disgust, and the physical pain, what he felt strongest as the whip descended and tore his back to shreds was grief, sorrow and an overwhelming sense of loss.

   Cedrys, he thought as the whip came again, and again. I miss you. I'm sorry. I love you. You caused me to sin, you cause me to sin still, you corrupted me and turned me from the service of the Gods I love, but Rakhad take me, I love you more. And I am sorry for every bitter word I spoke to you. Because he knew, even as he hated himself, that his only real regret was for the hard words he had spoken to Cedrys. It was not for befriending her, not for laughing with her, not for loving her - Rakhad take him, it was not even for lying with her. Even as the Priest spoke the words condemning him for the fornication he had freely confessed to and he felt the eyes of the entire Consecrated Body upon him, he knew that in his heart of hearts, he did not regret it. No, his only regret was that the last time she looked at him, it had been with reproach and hurt rather than tenderness.

   Tiredly, Heryn braced himself for the next stroke of the whip, but it did not come. The Priest spoke: "Your punishment is complete. The penalty has been served. You are cleansed of your sin. May it serve as a warning against future misdeeds, both for you and for all who may be tempted by Rakhad to rebel against the laws of the De'an. The punishment of the De'an is terrible, and all who are wise avoid it." His voice took on a reverential tone: "The De'an rule supreme over all. They bring light to darkness, clarity to confusion, order to chaos. Let all that has breath praise Them and adore Their holy names. All glory to the De'an, now and throughout eternity."

   Wearily, Heryn breathed the appropriate response along with the other Consecrated: "Forever." Then the Priest stepped forward and untied the ropes binding Heryn's hands to the frame. The whipping was finished. How many strokes had it been in the end? Twenty? Thirty? Thirty. Yes, that was the prescribed penalty for fornication. Though in reality, he probably deserved far more than that, for all that he had not confessed to. Like harbouring a blasphemer and conspiracy to commit treason. In fact, come to think of it, the penalty for that was death.

   Well, then, if they ever found out, they could kill him, and he wouldn't resist. He would not betray Cedrys' secret, no matter how vile it was, no matter how much he detested his own silence. She could go, and leave him, and dabble in forbidden magic, and incur the wrath of the De'an, and in all likelihood get herself sentenced to death, and he would not stop her. Who knew? Perhaps they would meet again in Tal's Teeth.

   Abruptly, Heryn became aware of the eyes of the Consecrated Body, all of them trained intently on him. Their gazes were a mixture of concern and disgust. He realised he was laughing, loudly, almost uncontrollably. Well, it was funny, wasn't it? They could discover his guilt, and he could be dead by morning. Wasn't that enough to make anyone laugh?

   So he carried on chuckling, and took a step away from the frame to walk back to his cell. He managed about a step and a half before he nearly collapsed and the Consecrated who had been assigned to this duty - Heryn seemed to recall meeting him before. Corian, was it? Something like that - stepped forward to catch him and support him. He wore green robes, over what seemed to be a woollen shirt, dyed blue. Of course. Tonight was Tanis Tal, the feast of the new year and new beginnings. Heryn began chuckling louder.

   "Do you know, my dear friend," he wheezed as he gasped for breath between laughing, "do you know, tonight is the feast of new birth. But it's funny, don't you agree? Because, this is clearly the end. Don't you think it's funny?" He began laughing uncontrollably. Corian kept his silence and tried to avoid looking at him. He looked rather uncomfortable, in fact.

   Heryn continued to laugh as Corian opened the door to his cell and he stumbled in to collapse on the bed. After a short while, his laughter became weeping.

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