Aisha entered the temple for the seventh time, her pale, blue eyes locked on her feet. She could still feel the stares, hear the whispers of the witnesses over the crackling of the Bonfire of Gods.
“She’s not going to pass.”
“They’ll reject her again.”
It must be this time. The thought echoed through her mind, having become a mantra for the past week of the ceremony. If the gods reject me again tonight, I’ll be cast out of the order.
Six nights the bonfire had roared within the temple walls. For six nights, the gods had turned her away—Aisha wasn’t even sure she was disappointed. Tonight, the seventh night, would be her last chance to play vessel to a god. Failure meant exile.
Aisha reached the dais before the fire and stopped. Was that crack in the floor last night? Stop it. Focus. She slowly looked up and into the bonfire.
Flames roared, casting a hollow warmth throughout the great hall of the temple. The fire was ringed by a servant of each of the gods, each holding a small chest. Aisha breathed deeply behind her veil as, one by one, the servants stepped forward, offered a prayer to their god and emptied the powdery contents into the fire. The fire bellowed at each offering, flames lunging and spitting, until a pillar of fire rose from the depths of the inferno: this one red; the next green.
Before Aisha was truly prepared, the servants stopped coming. In front of her eyes burned a bonfire of a dozen colours. Despite being her seventh night of the ceremony, the sight still caught her breath. She reached up, trembling hands unclasping the silver hook and allowing the veil to fall to the side of her face. She began the chant she had spent the past several years learning.
What would you even do with yourself if you were freed? The betrayal slipped into her mind, and with it several coloured flames flicked out. Stop it. She chastised herself. You have worked for this. Years of missing out. Years of boredom. Flames died with each thought.
The crowd behind her no longer tried to hide their doubt, the whispered doubt becoming outright mockery.
“She never was good enough.”
“I don’t know why they didn’t leave her outside the gates when she was found in the first place.”
Aisha glared at the fire, willing it to swallow her whole and rid her of this embarrassment. Several more colours died out. If you won’t end me, please, at least get rid of those idiots? I wish every one of them would die.
The thought was barely there, briefly coming forth from some deep part of her mind, and yet the bonfire roared with it. The fire burned with renewed intensity; the fire burned with a black flame. The blackness snapped at the few colours remaining, beating them into the base of the fire until they guttered out.
Aisha stared into the black flame as it flickered and danced. Ethar’niel then? The God of Death… Yes. I think that will work. The flame flared and a thick, oozy smoke left the bonfire, curling through the space between the fire and Aisha. She inhaled, her back arching as the smoke rode the breath into her mouth and nose. Within moments, the bonfire died out and the temple was left in silence. Aisha turned upon the dais, arms outstretched to her sides, head held high.
“What were you girls saying?” she asked the crowd, a smile creeping up from her mouth into her dark, black eyes.
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