It was an honor to live inside the temple of Gidebato. Cynric, tall and lean, wore the mantelletta of a third year acolyte, which was always getting in the way of climbing ladders and crawling through tight corridors as he made repairs to the infrastructure of the temple. It was said to be, in ancient times, a luminous place and a conductor of thoughts, but now the lights were constantly winking in and out as the wires leading to them rusted away with the constant flow of drip water from the humidity trapped inside. But as much as the endless chore of repairing wires annoyed him, Cynric found the solitude, the gentle patter of water droplets, and the too frequent mild electrical shocks, to be a salve from the regular business of the temple: the singing, the praying, the kneeling, the reading, and most of all, having to listen to the abbots in their constant high-pitched debates over doctrine.
"Thank you for coming, brother Cynric," said Bishop Tristan.
They were in Tristan's office, a small, sparsely decorated space walled with the same dull metal that made up the infrastructure in the underbelly of the temple. The bishop sat behind a black desk and Cynric kneeled on a raised cushion. Cynric hadn't had much personal dealings with him, but the bishop seemed to be the sort of man who made himself feel familiar to anyone in his company. Cynric thought him to be a transparent, functional bureaucrat.
Cynric bowed his head in deference to the higher ranked man.
"I have news to tell you, though you'll wonder why," said Tristan smiling curtly. "We have a new donative, from among our number of agapetae. Does that interest you?"
"That's usually where they come from," said Cynric.
"And indeed, there is nothing unusual in that. But our records show that you know her. That you have known her." The bishop tilted his head down to emphasize the forbidden nature of what he implied.
"Olympia," said Cynric.
"Does that not rouse any emotion in you?" asked Tristan. "To know that she wishes to sacrifice herself to Gidebato?"
Cynric lowered his head.
"It is her choice. Her body. Her mind. It was always ever her choice."
Tristan stood and eased his way in front of the desk. He reached out and put a hand on Tristan's shoulder.
"It is not a sin to love," said the bishop. "The sin is in the method of expression."
"Anything that you think may or may not have happened, happened before I pledged myself to the temple--"
"But not her. Not her pledge."
Tristan squeezed Cynric's shoulder then let his hand fall.
"No, not hers," said Cynric.
The bishop crossed his arms in front of himself and smiled warmly.
"She has asked for you to perform the ritual."
Cynric lost his breath and his face was a fleeting picture of torment. He leaned forward and gripped the cushion and gasped.
"Not me..." he said, his voice barely audible.
"I know this will be your first time performing the ritual. And she was your...intimate friend. But I have questioned her thoroughly, and I am convinced that she is determined to make the sacrifice out of pure love. She worked hard and has purged all negative thought from her mind. She is as ready as any donative has ever been."
Cynric nodded and straightened up.
"Perhaps," said the bishop, "it will help you if you tell me about her."
"What?" said Cynric, astonished.
"These walls are silent," chuckled the bishop, "and you do not need to go into any of the more...material details, but it might help you accept this honor if you recall who she is, to you, and why she would ask for you specifically."
"I'm not sure I can," said Cynric. His eyes were welling up. "I am lacking. I'm not sure I will ever ascend to the priesthood. The will for it is not in me. I came to the temple because I was desperate. She...she always wanted to commit herself fully to Gidebato. I was the distraction from that path. When she left me and began to pay her penance, I was lost. At least in the temple we would be under the same roof, even if we never spoke to each other again. And so you see I am weak. I do not devote myself to Gidebato. Not in the way."
"You aren't as weak as you think. It takes a strong man to confess a weakness. Why do you think that she asked for you?"
"I think you already know the answer," said Cynric.
"The answer is not important for me, it is important for you and I think you should speak it."
"The passage from life to afterlife is said to be painful," said Cynric. "Disorienting. Frightful. I suppose I might be able to bring her some calm in her passage. For her it would be a kindness."
"And for you?"
"And what about it will hurt you?"
Cynric looked at the ceiling, with tears beginning to stream down his face.
"She will be gone forever," said Cynric.
The bishop's face immediately hardened.
"Then you have doubts about Gidebato itself."
"I have never been sure about the nature of the afterlife." Cynric met the bishop's hard gaze with equal intensity. "We have old books and ancient documents and manuals on how to operate Gidebato, but none of it ever quite made sense to me. In the most ancient sources, those closest to the origin of Gidebato, there is description of sacrifice, but the experience of the donatives in afterlife is never mentioned, and we have no idea they actually live on!"
"That is faith brother," said Tristan sternly. "You are correct, in a sense. You will not ascend to the priesthood until you are able to purge these doubts. But it is not a sin to have them. You must work to develop your faith." He stood to his full height. "I think it will benefit your journey to faith to perform the ritual. And you will do so."
Cynric was dismissed and he spent the next few hours curled up in a wet access corridor several stories below the bishop's chamber. He stared at the streams of water snaking down the walls and felt cold inside.
At the hour of the sacrifice, Cynric was dressed by several attendants in heavy ceremonial robes, in a small room off the main nave of Gidebato. Several hundred agapetae began to pound metal drums to work up the passion of the congregation. That was Olympia's cue to enter the nave. Cynric felt his throat go instantly dry. The drums stopped and the congregation errupted in deafening cheers. That was his cue. Cynric donned the mozzetta and put up the hood.
The doors into the nave were opened and the cheering subsided. Cynric looked at the carpet before him, away from the leering attention of the crowds, and most especially any sight of Olympia at the altar. The priests began to chant. Cynric allowed his feet to move him forward, and after an infinitesimally short minute he arrived at the altar. The priests finished their chant and Cynric pushed back his hood and looked up.
There she was, standing in diaphanous white robes in front of the terminus, smiling at him. She held her hands out towards him. He accepted her hands, cool and soft, and somehow already devoid of the life he remembered there being in them. She pulled him up onto the dais. He glanced at the menacing terminus, an erect torus that he always thought looked like a judging, all-seeing eye.
"I am ready," she said.
"I am not," whispered Cynric. "Please do not do this."
Olympia smiled deeply but furrowed her brow.
"You must help me," she said. "Yours is the last face I want to see. I want to take that with me into Gidebato."
Cynric whimpered slightly.
"No, please, it's not me. I would do this for another, but not you." It was a lie. He would not do it for anyone but he thought the wording might convince her that she was special. That her life was still worth living.
Olympia's smile faded.
"In this moment, let us not fight. The matter has been decided."
She put his hands on her shoulders and drew him closer to the terminus. Two agapetae attendants rose to the dais and positioned her precisely in the terminus.
"I can't," said Cynric. He felt the sense of feeling leave his fingertips and then his hands.
"Do not be afraid," said Olympia. "It has been my life's desire to guide our people through the stars. To plot courses, and to think in numbers. In this act you will help me achieve all that I've ever wanted. So push."
The attendants left the dais and Cynric with breath shallow, stood alone in front of Olympia. He wanted to run, to leave, to be the coward and the outcast, but there was a spark of anger growing in him and there was no room for it to go.
The terminus accepted her head. He heard her skull crack as the needle went in and he watched the life leave her eyes. The terminus revved up, and he could feel the hairs on his arm raise up with the electricity in the air. She smiled one last time and the congregation began to sing a hymn.
"She is still with us," said Bishop Tristan. It was a week after the ritual and he and Cynric met again, but this time it was in Cynric's cell which was filled with documents and sundry tools, and the walls were plastered with wiring diagrams. Cynric laid on his back in his cot and Tristan leaned against the door.
"Do you really think that?" asked Cynric. His voice was raspy. He had refused to eat or drink more than a few grams each day. It was just enough to give him a taste, a taunt, and not enough to keep him on his feet.
"I do," said Tristan. "But more than that, I know. She is all around us now." He put his hand against the wall. "She is infused in Gidebato, in these very walls."
Cynric narrowed his eyes at Tristan.
"And by what mechanism does that happen? How can a person exist in a wall? I mean, if you really want to think about it."
"You are angry," said Tristan.
"It is not a sin to be angry," said Cynric.
"No, it is not. But be careful how you express it." Tristan looked at the different walls in the room. "It is written that the world itself is a vessel. It is a container for all living things. When an organism dies, it goes back to that container and becomes a part of it. And people are special. Through the terminus we may preserve our minds and become one with the mind of the world, and become more than just material for the container--"
"You know, it's just words to me at this point. It doesn't have any meaning and I'm no closer to approaching faith than I ever was, and now I no longer care."
Tristan sat down on the cot next to Cynric's feet. He folded his hands atop his knees.
"This will pass," said Tristan. "This anger."
"The anger in me will never pass," said Cynric. "Maybe there's a chance I could go back to the routine of just repairing things. Maybe I can recede from all other duties. But the anger will always be there. I hate myself for ever having loved."
"It is when we are at our most vulnerable. To give love. There is faith in that."
"It most certainly wasn't towards Gidebato! How is it faith?"
"Not all faith is religious."
Cynric glared at Tristan then turned on his side and faced the wall. Tristan patted Cynric's feet then stood. He opened the door and stood in the frame.
"I will leave you here to make your decision: to keep your commitment to your order or to leave." Cynric didn't respond and the bishop looked down at his feet before leaving Cynric alone.
Cynric pressed his hand against the wall and felt its cold solidity and wondered if, just maybe, Olympia was in there somewhere, somehow.