The Doom of Alokai Temple is the story that inspired When The Moon Over Kualina Mountain Comes.
The Doom of Alokai Temple
Storm stirred the sand with her driftwood cane, smearing the runes and sigils. She didn’t deny the future they foretold—she couldn’t—but she didn’t have the strength to face it just then. Instead, she picked up the long trails of seaweed and flung them into the encroaching waves. The water would purify them, scour them with sand and salt before casting them back onto the land to proclaim another future for those who dared read it.
Painfully, Storm hitched up her skirt to more easily bend down and collect the handful of bright serat shells: purple and luminescent in the fading light, still warm against her palm. The serat lived for centuries: to kill them when they were so young was cruel; however, the goddess Brikal had demanded an extravagant sacrifice that night.
Storm now knew why.
Finally satisfied that she’d covered her tracks and no one could divine her work or easily spot the trails of blood, Storm allowed herself a few moments to stare across the water. The two moons had yet to rise and clouds blocked the rivers of stars, ominously hiding the sea—if Storm believed in omens, which she did not. Fortunes drawn out of the deaths of small beings, bespelled chalk lines, and weeds coaxed from the depths? Yes. Mere physical phenomenon, without the geas of augury? No.
Still, Storm pulled her shawl closer and tighter over her rough blouse as the night blanked out the ocean, until all she knew of it was the soft splashing of the waves. Even when Ty, the smaller moon, rose, its red light barely reflected off the water.
However, Storm didn’t have all night to wait for the second moon, Gulik, to rise as well. Instead, she turned and slowly made her way past the logs and ocean debris scattered across the sand to the small path between the scraggly thorns that encrusted the dunes. She’d walked the path so often over the decades that she could do it blindfolded, counting her footsteps as she padded softly to the point of land, then beyond the rough rocks into the open bay protected by coral shoals so the waves merely lapped at the sands.
Only a short distance along the circle of the cove sat Storm’s house, its logs encrusted with salt and sand. Inside, the fire was banked, warm red coals that just needed a sprinkling of firedust to spring back to life.
Storm stored her supplies in the nets above her head, hiding the jars of colored chalk beside the long buoy-like gourds and stringy lures. She ignored the way her back ached from stooping too long, forcing her fingers to move nimbly as if they hadn’t been working in wet sand and cold all afternoon. Only with the fire blazing, sea- and dew-misted clothing changed for a clean skirt and blouse, and a pot of fish and other bounty reheating over the flames did Storm allow herself to ponder the fortune laid out that night.
She hadn’t had a choice about doing the divination, and had resisted the goddess’ call as long as she could. The price had shocked her—so many lives. Closing her eyes, she could still see the quicksilver light that had sprung up after the last rune had been drawn, as Storm had closed the circle with the living vines from the sea. The picture exploded in her mind as it had across the bloodstained sand.
Alokai Temple, drowned.
It sat well inland, with wells but no river nearby. However, Storm couldn’t deny the towering wave of water that crashed over the grounds. She couldn’t tell the direction it came from, if the day had been sunny or storm-filled. All she knew was that the day was soon.
Storm had to warn the priestesses at the temple without revealing her own foresight or showing herself to be a witch. The temple burned witches: pillars of their remains stretched behind the main grounds, stark black smudges beside the pure white stone walkways. She shivered. The taint of burned flesh never left the compound, no matter how the winter winds blew.
The cost of disrespecting the goddess Brikal by not spreading her word was as just as high. Storm would never be able to cast another fortune. What little luck she had would vanish. Brikal did not like to be ignored.
Could Storm claim she’d had a dream when she told the temple priestesses? Maybe she could declare it as some sort of omen.
Possibly that would work, but then her warnings would be ignored, and she herself would be put under more scrutiny than she already was. The townspeople didn’t trust her, living alone and so close to the sea. They were suspicious of her goods, though she had pure salt to trade, as well as fish, well-seasoned and smoked. But few enough bought her wares.
More scrutiny could bring the temple guards. It had happened before: she’d seen the guards form a line in front of poor Willow’s table so none could get through to her.
A loud knock startled Storm out of her thoughts. No one came to her hut, and anyone who came so late probably meant no good. With a sigh, she swung the pot out of the flames—it might be a while before she got to it, and no sense in wasting good food. She picked up her driftwood cane (though it was more for show) and made her slow way across the room.
“Who is it?” she called out as she neared the door.
A fervent pounding came in response.
Storm threw open the door before it had slacked off.
A soldier stood just outside, tall and proud, one of the king’s men. He peered at her with dark eyes, his face partially covered by his plumed helmet. His bare arms bulged with muscles, his chest made broader by the heavy rings sewn to his leather shirt. A sword, a cudgel, and a knife all protruded from his wide leather belt. Though the night was cool, his legs were bare, and his boots only came up mid-calf.
“What do you want?” Storm asked crossly. If he’d come to rob her, well, she wasn’t as helpless as she appeared.
The soldier looked her up and down, glanced over her shoulder into her room, then over his own shoulders briefly, as if determining that they were alone.
“I know what you did,” he announced with the finality of a body falling from a cliff. “And I know the prophesy you saw.”
Craeg, the king’s guard, refused to say anything until after they were settled next to the fire. When he cast a longing look at the stew bubbling there, Storm offered him a bowl: though the goddess Brikal was strict regarding fortunes, the god Kireg was even more of a stickler regarding the customs of hospitality.
As Craeg sat down on Storm’s footstool, stiffer than dried leather, he drawled, “Now, if anyone comes, this can be seen as a social visit.”
Storm couldn’t contain her snort. No matter how friendly they seemed, no one would believe such a fiction, not if they knew her past troubles with the guards.
Craeg just drew himself up tighter, though he gratefully took a sip of the stew.
The quiet of the night stretched between them. Without his plumed helmet, Craeg stood not much taller than Storm, though her bulk was made up of layers of cloth, whereas his was all muscles. The sword and cudgel lay beside him on the floor within easy reach, while his knife stayed in his belt.
Finally Craeg put the empty bowl of soup to the side.
Storm followed suit. Though she’d been starving earlier, she’d managed only a few bites.
“I know what you did,” he repeated, softer this time, more like sharing a secret. “And I know what you saw.” He paused, then added, “I’ve seen it, too.”
Startled, Storm grew very still. Why would Craeg admit to the gift of foresight? The priestesses would draw and quarter him if they found out. Or was it a trick, designed to get her to admit her own prescience? “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Storm finally said.
“Anyone who has even an inkling of the gift has foreseen the fate of Alokai Temple,” Craeg said dismissively. He took a deep breath and stared hard at Storm. “But only a few have dreamed of the one who might stop it.”
Storm had been careful not to confess to her ability to divine the future, but she had to say something now. “Go on,” she said, nodding yes, finally, yes, telling the truth of her talent.
“You can’t do it,” Craeg said. “You can’t stop it. The temple has to go, be washed from the face of this world.”
“How could I stop it?” Storm asked, incredulous. “No one has the power to stop such a force.”
“You do,” Craeg insisted. “I’ve seen it.”
Storm shook her head, denying the stirring she felt in her soul, the rising in her gut, as if the goddess Brikal demanded yet another sacrifice and prophesy.
“You can,” Craeg said again, softer now. “Shoal, the high priestess, will beg for your help. You won’t be able to refuse. But you must. You must not stop the cleansing.”
“Why do you bargain with me? Why not just kill me if I’m the only one with the power?” Storm asked, not caring about the death she was courting.
It was Craeg’s turn to snort. “Fate cannot be denied that way, as you well know. All but the priestesses of Alokai Temple know that. If you were unavailable, another would take your place, maybe one not so amenable to persuasion.”
“So what exactly are you trying to persuade me to do?” Storm asked, raising one eyebrow. “To stand aside as thousands are killed?”
“In the hope of saving ten thousand more souls? Yes.”
“It’s never that easy,” Storm said. “Without the temple, the people will be lost. The kingdom will be ripe for attack.”
Everyone knew the western king envied their lands, and would maybe even offer help after such a disaster, sending soldiers with healers, if only to get a foothold here.
“Yes,” Craeg said. “The king may get washed away as well.”
Ripples of possibilities echoed around Storm. Was Craeg already working for the western king? Was the army planning a coup?
“What would you have me do? I can’t deny this foretelling, any more than you could deny coming to see me,” Storm asked, too buffeted by waves to see clearly.
“Go to the temple. Tell them what you’ve seen,” Craeg urged.
“What?” Storm had been so cautious all her life. For someone to ask her to be bold, to proudly proclaim her heritage—she’d never expected that.
“You must go. We both know why,” Craeg said dryly.
“I know that,” Storm hissed. The price of hiding such a prophesy was too high.
“Then, when the high priestess asks for your help, refuse.”
Storm shook her head. “The temple can also be very persuasive,” she pointed out. Though their persuasion was more likely to involve broken bones and the threat of burning.
“So let yourself be persuaded. Pretend to cooperate. But you must break at the last minute and let the wave fall.”
“It will drown me as well.” Storm swallowed around the sudden dryness of her throat. She pulled her shawl closer over her shoulders, the realization making her cold.
“You were dead the moment you walked out to the beach and called the seaweed from the waves.” Craeg gave a laugh, brittle and harsh. “It’s your time to go, grandmother.”
Storm looked at Craeg sharply. She’d whelped a son many eons ago, left him behind as her visions had dictated. She didn’t feel any kinship to this man, and grandmother was a common enough term. She still had to ask. “Are you?”
Craeg shrugged. “Orphaned from birth, raised by the army and the king. I am no one and everyone’s grandson. And I’m begging you, for the sake of my own unborn son, let this cup pass you by.”
Storm shivered. “I’ll try,” she promised.
It was the best she’d ever be able to do, the most honest she could be. Death was a powerful motivator, and it appeared that no matter what path she chose, it was bound to encase her soon.
Storm stretched her leg out against the packed dirt floor of her cell, seeing if she could straighten it. The temple guards hadn’t been kind after her declaration and they’d given her a beating fit for a younger person.
Still, she thought only her ribs were broken. She took another cautious breath, the pain sharp at her side. When they’d thrown her into the cell they’d done her a favor, shoving her left arm back into its socket with the force of her fall. All her fingers worked, as well as her toes.
It was just her knee that worried her. It had swelled to the size of a baby’s head. Her cane would never again just be for show.
What had she been thinking, announcing the doom of the temple that way, at the high priestess’ morning court? Craeg’s words had made her stupidly brave, thinking the priestesses would recognize the savior of the temple in her unveiling. She should have found another way to deal with the geas of augury—a way without sacrificing so much of her own flesh.
Storm had also believed Craeg—too much, perhaps—that she now faced her own doom. The puzzles the gods had laid before her were too complex; the games they played far beyond her ken. Maybe she should have accepted their wrath instead and just gone to the southern islands. It was a one-way trip: she’d never make it back to the mainland. But it was rumored that they welcomed any and all people who washed up on their shores.
However, Storm had never merely accepted anything, let alone never being able to walk again.
She pushed at her leg, trying to shift her knee around. The sliding disc of the cap wouldn’t set right. The pain made her whimper and her vision darkened. It wouldn’t budge.
Storm took a deep breath, then two more, before she begged any gods who were listening to help and slammed her palm against the side of her knee. She screamed as the agony washed through her.
When she woke from passing out, the throbbing ache made her want to vomit, but she could finally straighten her leg.
“I could help with that,” came a slithering whisper. “Help ease your pain.”
Storm squinted and peered into the dark corners of her cell. She didn’t see anyone or anything, just straw and the latrine ditch that flowed into open sewers below. There was no cot, of course, but someone had thrown a moldy, lice-infested blanket into the other corner. Storm had already vowed not to go near it. “Who are you?” she whispered after the voice had grown still. “Where are you?”
“By the door,” the voice promised.
Storm didn’t hold back her groan. Walking that far was out of the question, though it was only a few feet away. “Why would you help me?”
“You’re the temple’s only hope.” The voice changed timbre now, losing its smoky edge and becoming more human. “And the temple is the last hope for the kingdom.”
“From the western kingdom?” Storm asked.
“Yes. They’ve already bought the guard.”
Storm couldn’t help the full-body shiver. So Craeg might have been corrupted.
“And the western kingdom treats its witches much worse,” the voice assured her.
“Worse than burning them at the stake?” Storm asked, incredulous.
“We only burn a few,” the voice said dismissively. “We let all who would leave go south, to the islands.”
“How noble of you, high priestess Shoal,” Storm said, finally identifying the speaker.
The priestess continued, as if she hadn’t heard Storm. “The greatest witches, of course, hide in plain view—priestesses, all of them. They carry the word of god to the people, that they receive through wholesome prayer, not archaic blood rites.”
Storm sat shocked into stillness. She’d never heard of such a thing, not even a hint. The priestesses stood above all but the king—some might even say the high priestess stood level with the king.
And they were witches?
Witches were despised more than undertakers, and feared more than the guard. “How can you do this to your own kind?” Storm hissed.
“Our ancestors made this choice, long ago, based on augury that would turn your stomach,” Shoal said through gritted teeth. “An entire army of soldiers, tricked, trapped, and slaughtered for their entrails. It was the only way we could save ourselves.”
“So all witches could disappear into the temples without being persecuted,” Storm said, still reeling.
“It’s the will of the people,” Shoal recited, as if by rote. “The strongest of us are given the chance to recant publically, coming into the temple.”
Storm had seen that—at least two women she’d known had recanted, shaved their heads, and become nuns in the temple, their eyes always lowered, never accepted by anyone after that. “So that’s what you offer me? A barely tolerated place beside you?” The temple might take care of Storm, but no one would smile at her ever again. Not that many did now, but at least a few of the merchants didn’t give her a cold shoulder.
“No, not merely that. Stand by us as we defy the wave with the will of god—you will be celebrated to the end of your days and beyond.”
A cool breeze fluttered through the cell. This time, Storm didn’t shudder, but stretched as her muscles all suddenly relaxed. She saw nothing; however, cool tendrils massaged her knee, chasing away the pain. A second breeze licked her side, soothing her ribs. Her bruised eyes and split cheek stopped aching, and the swelling across her lips receded.
Storm had never known such a powerful healing. No witch she knew could have done this work without sight or touch.
“A small token of how you will be repaid,” promised Shoal. A will-o’-the-wisp light appeared in the corner, brightening Storm’s heart. A soft blanket, warm and clean, lay beside it.
“I will think on what you’ve said,” Storm promised, wondering: If she saved the temple, could she also save herself?
When Storm awoke, all her aches had passed, sliding away with her dreams. If it hadn’t been for the stark cell, the dark stains she knew were blood, and the vile odor of the trench, she might have thought everything that had happened the day before just a dream as well.
The crusts of bread thrown into her cell by the jailor were augmented by a jug of clean water that magically appeared in the corner. Storm used it sparingly, drinking a few teeth-chilling mouthfuls, then wetting the corner of her blanket to scrub the dried blood off her itching skin. She almost felt refreshed by the time she’d finished.
As Storm settled into the boredom of her empty cell, the sibilant voice came again.
“Put it on,” it whispered.
Storm glanced at the door, then back around her cell.
There in the corner now lay a bundle of clothes: an priestess’ habit, bright blue and gold, with its high wimple that covered her hair and a half-veil that revealed only her eyes.
“Put it on,” the voice repeated. “Then come see.”
A loud click echoed through the still morning: the lock of her door unlatching.
An unknown nun stood in the dim corridor, dressed in similar robes, though hers were the gray of a teacher, leaving her face uncovered. “You can call me Janus,” she said with a sly grin.
“Janus—the two-faced?” Storm asked, falling into place beside her, walking more strongly than she had in ages.
“I know you have questions about our program, about divided loyalties. Today is a day of truths, so why not give you a name more true than my given one?”
Janus’ honesty startled Storm, but she kept walking. The air was getting more clear, the stench of the jail falling away.
“And I will call you Hope,” Janus continued. “Because there should be more truth in your name as well.”
Storm shook her head. She wasn’t convinced the new name was right, though it pleased her that this youngster thought so. She hadn’t had hope in many decades.
They stayed inside the temple complex, never reaching the common parts of the town. Storm both regretted and was grateful for their path: if she’d found the opportunity to slip away, she might not have been able to stop herself.
The first classroom was to an outdoor classroom. The priestess sat on a carved stone bench while the children sprawled gracelessly before her, absorbing every word of the half-lies she told them.
Storm had always sacrificed to Brikal for foretelling, prayed to Kireg for hospitality and everything regarding her home, given blessings to Zeka for the storms and the sea, and even whispered to Hyn for good fortune, sometimes.
Yet, here was this priestess, proclaiming that the god of the Alokai Temple, Myat, was superior to all.
Storm didn’t even know how to counter such a lie. It was laughable.
However, the children didn’t know any better.
Then Janus and Storm stepped into a darkened cubby, far from the sun. A little girl lay on a bench, shivering yet sweating at the same time. A healer in bright red passed her hands over her while prayers were muttered, useless words masking powerful deeds.
They stopped a third time where the children were being asked to pray for miracles, not knowing they were being tested for power, the priestess looking for any glimmer to nurture. The priestess wasn’t seeking a witch; no, she sought the holy.
By the time Storm stripped off the habit she felt as though her world and everything she’d known had been turned upside down. Witches had been persecuted for generations. It was all Storm had ever known. Yet here, there was community, witches working together to raise water in a well, holding hands and directing their power, being sought after for their help and advice.
If Storm saved the temple, she could join them. She would just have to rename herself: instead of witch, go by priestess instead.
Storm awoke with a start, the darkness of her sleep carried into her waking, no lights in her cell, just the stench of the open latrine telling her where she was.
A woman moaned in the night. She was nearby, and in pain. “No, no, not me, no.”
“What happened?” Storm called out. She knew better than to ask what was wrong. Though Shoal had healed most of Storm’s wounds, the memory of her beating still ached.
“I don’t want to die,” the woman whimpered.
“What was your crime?” Storm asked, though she thought she already knew. Little other than witchcraft put a woman in a place like this.
“Being too good at healing,” the woman declared. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t cherish me. I wouldn’t hurt a person, I couldn’t.”
“What about becoming a priestess?” Storm asked.
“Never,” the woman declared.
“They’re witches, too,” Storm told her.
The woman’s laughter was dryer than a winter wind. “They’d never ask me to join,” she declared. “I’m nobody, with no connections. Plus I’m only a little good at healing, not like them.”
Storm had no words to comfort her. With the noon bells came the sweet scent of roasted flesh.
When Janus came later that afternoon, Storm confronted her. “Is it true? Do you only save the stronger witches? Those with both power and connections?”
“That’s true everywhere,” Janus said quietly. “The strong survive.”
“We’re burning our own people!”
“But we’ll survive.” Janus gave Storm her sly grin. “If you help us—join with us and stand with us—maybe you can save more of the weaker ones yourself.”
Though Storm had never been nurturing, she did take comfort in that.
Even from the gloom of her cell, Storm knew the day dawned brightly. She’d hoped for yet more days of reprieve from her terrible decision, but a thrumming in the floor under her hands told her it was time.
Janus threw her cell door open, blasting it off its hinges.
Storm scrambled after her. She knew she couldn’t run far enough now to escape the fate of the temple, so instead she followed Janus.
Storm heard the roaring of the wave before she saw it, the mad howling of a timeless beast, no relation to the gently lapping waves at her cove. Storm’s knee ached as she ran; despite Shoal’s efforts, it hadn’t quite healed. Finally they came around a corner and halted.
A long line of priestesses, all holding hands, stood in front of Alokai Temple. All the different colors of their habits would have made the gathering seem festive, if their faces hadn’t been grim.
Janus dragged Storm to the center, where the standing witches made room.
Storm clasped hands with a humming novice on one side, her clear blue eyes shining with faith, and with the cynical Janus on the other side, scared but determined to make a stand.
The power of these women coursed through Storm, binding her talent up with theirs. As sisters, they stood ready to defeat the coming maelstrom, humming and surging with incredible energy. Storm tasted the current in her mouth, dark and coppery, her very bones creaking with power. She felt more alive than ever before.
However, Storm also no longer felt single, solitary, and complete. She was part of something, and she wasn’t sure she could be alone again. And she wasn’t sure she liked that. Witches had always worked alone, in her experience.
Storm wrenched open her eyes, away from the seductive net of power, and looked outward. She’d wanted to see the enemy they faced, as well as collect her singular thoughts.
What Storm saw were the people. No matter the explanation the priestesses had given their current ritual, the people knew: it wasn’t their god, but their magic the priestesses called on.
The man before Storm sneered even as he prayed to their god for survival. The mother to the side hid her children’s eyes from the sin the priestesses committed. Even as they begged for the power to save them, the people of the city had been taught too long to shun it.
The scattered bodies formed long lines, shifting one into the other. Storm recognized the geas of augury. The strings of people were like the ropes of seaweed, living bands of divination. It didn’t take Storm but a moment to read their future and the future of all the witches.
Even if the temple survived the storm, the priestesses were doomed. The people would never forgive them for their deception. The decimation would be systematic and complete, worse than what the western kingdom could do.
Storm turned her sight back inward. Shoal, Craeg, and the others had been wrong. She wasn’t necessary to defeat the wave; she was quite certain of this, given the power that flowed through her.
However, Storm was the only one capable of destroying them.
With a strength Storm didn’t know she possessed, she wielded the black knife of foresight, demanding all the lives surrounding her as sacrifice for her foretelling, cutting through the lines of power generated by the witches, breaking apart their shield as the water crashed down.
Seaweed caught Storm’s legs, or maybe it was her sisters turned against her as she had them, holding her under the water.
Storm didn’t care, though her body struggled to breathe.
She’d saved them. Her prophesy would come true. She’d made a horrible sacrifice of all of them to ensure the survival of the witches.
The witches had been hiding, denying the blood of their birthright. Now, the temple would drive them out. They’d all go to the southern islands where they’d start anew, in a territory they could defend against the western kingdom, a home they could call their own.
There would be more dooms for the witches to face, Storm was certain, more sacrifices to make. She wished her future sisters well as she let go, letting her soul float away on the sea.