Sadra woke before the sun had broken over the mountains. Tossing the covers off, she quickly ran to her balcony and tossed the glass doors open. She stopped at the railing, looking down at the forests beyond the city. It was still too dark to see much, but the river was still visible as a silvery streak snaking through the dense forests. There were a few small fishing boats making their way downstream for the day, but no sign of any charter boats. Huffing out a defeated sigh, she went back into her room and shut the door. Perhaps it was a bit foolish to think that her guests would be arriving so soon. It took a few hours even for a steamship to make the journey up the Apothis to Khasta.
With little else to do other than wait, she began to dress herself for the day. She opened the doors to her dressing room, relishing that she was awake before her handmaidens. There had been a time where she had taken the small luxury of dressing and readying herself for granted. Changing from her nightgown to her black formal robes, she began to don all the usual apparel that had been left to her by the previous Oracle; the black onyx and gold circlet, the many golden bangles and rings that had been blessed by all the Oracles that had come before her to ward off evil and help her connect with Kirada. With every successor, the layers of enchantments grew.
Lastly, she sat before her vanity and brushed her hair before pulling it up out of her face. She pulled the small jar of black face paint towards her and marked her brow with the usual symbol of her station; an eye. At last ready and dressed, she stood and looked herself up and down in the mirror. Despite herself, she couldn’t help but feel like an imposter, a child playing dress up in her grandmother’s clothes. Unwilling to give the feeling any further thought, she turned and left the dressing room and headed to her office instead. It would likely be a few hours before Seida and her apprentices arrived to give their report. In the meantime, she could at least try to make sense of the Grand Master’s letter.
Once she’d reached her office, she locked the door behind her. Undoubtedly, her handmaidens would be coming to wake her soon. She wanted as much time alone as she could get before they came looking for her. The letter sat open on her desk, waiting for her as she sank into her chair. Dozens of times already, she’d poured over it. And yet something about it just didn’t sit right with her still. Roahrk had told her of Tauren’s appearance--the first stormcaller the Order had found outside Ist’heom in many years--and how it must surely be a sign that things were returning to normal, as well as Seida’s impending arrival in the city. His confidence in her and Kirada made her feel nauseous. No one knew what she and her circle of high priestesses in the city knew. She knew already that Tauren’s appearance was not a sign from their patroness, but a random stroke of luck. Seida had been a great scouter, one of the best, even. There was not much more to it than that. No divine act of providence had brought the boy to them.
There was a knock at the door. “Most Holy, are you in there? It’s time to get you ready for the day.”
With a heavy sigh, Sadra rose from her chair and crossed the room. She unlocked the door and opened it. The five women looked her up and down in surprise, as if expecting her to still be in her bedclothes.
“You’re up early, Most Holy,” The oldest of her handmaidens, Kava, said. “It’s ill-fitting for a woman of your station to dress herself.”
“I didn’t want to wake you all,” Sadra said, feigning an innocent smile.
Kava merely scowled at her affectionately, as she always did when Sadra tried to be independent. “We live to serve you, Most Holy. It is no trouble to wake us so that we may attend to your needs. You haven’t been reading over that letter again, have you?”
“I was,” Sadra said.
“That man is a pompous fool.” Kava took Sadra gently by the hand and led her out of the study. “He knows nothing, and that letter is proof.”
“He is the Grand Master, Kava. He deserves our respect.”
“He’s little more than an over-eager boy with no attention to details. He does not take these matters seriously.”
“What does that make me, then?” Sadra asked her.
“You are Kirada’s chosen, and in all my years serving the station of the Oracle, I’ve never seen her pick wrong. You may be younger than ...