I am Utas. I do not remember, but they came for me, the twelve. I die and am reborn. How many times? I am taken by the twelve from my home and taken to the tower. No more than a child, I remember nothing. The twelve came for me led by Vatu, by the Darkness and brought me here to my home.
I remember nothing, just darkness. What does it matter, I grew, and the darkness grew within me.
The twelve fed me darkness. How they hate me. How they envy me. I will take from them all that they have for it is all mine. They will not keep me from it. They murdered me before but I am reborn and now when it is time I will murder them, each of them.
I will murder Zauria who took me for my first year. I remember nothing of that time, but still I will kill him when I can. I will take his body and burn him on the altar and sing the death hymn, but I will not shed tears for him. He is the least of the Twelve.
Of the year spent with Zigoro I recall scarcely more. I survived. I suppose that Vatu would have made it clear that the death of the infant high priest would displease him, otherwise Zigoro would surely have slain me. He is not to be trusted, but then again none of them are to be trusted. He is not strong but he is cunning. He lies in wait until it is clear to strike, at other times he hides. He is hated, they are all hated. I hate them all.
Bedura, Gorroto, Hondato, Estira; I passed from one to the other each year. I was taken to the hall of Vatu. My sponsor would bring me to the echoing empty chamber. All of the twelve would be there, the twelve and Vatu.
“I have done with him,” my sponsor would say. “I return him to the dark.”
“Who will serve the dark? Who will guide the high priest?”
“I will,” and my new guardian will step forward and take my hand. Then the twelve retire from the hall led by the new tutor holding my hand tightly. That is it; there is no great ceremony. I am handed over. I am led away.
Hilketa is my guardian now. He leads me to his chambers. They are not so different from the chambers of the others. They are large and dark. They have no windows. The moon does not shine here. There are four rooms, not counting the washroom and privy. Hilketa shows me to one of the apartments.
“This is yours,” he says.
I look at it and shrug. It is a large square room with black stone walls and floor. There are brass lanterns, but they are turned down low. There is a bed and a box and a table. The box is empty. Every year it is empty. My things are destroyed, and I receive new things. But I need few things anyway; perhaps a writing tablet and stylus, or a flute. They are easily replaced.
Hilketa looks at me. He looks me in the eye.
“Do you remember?” he asks, but I shake my head. I do not know what he thinks I will recall. I have been reborn, but I do not remember anything.
“We were friends,” he says. I think it is a lie, but I say nothing. I am a child and I am in his care. I will not antagonise him needlessly.
“You are so like him.”
It is a stupid thing to say. Of course I am like him. I am myself, who else should I look like?
“Go then, sleep, we will begin tomorrow.”
“Begin what?” I ask.
“Your training, of course.”
“The others did not train me,” I state flatly.
“Yes they did,” contradicts Hilketa, “you just don’t know what you have learned.”
“What will you teach me?” I ask.
“The same as the others; how to be yourself.”
I think for a while and screw my face up. Do I need to be taught to be myself? I would like to ask him, but I do not in case he beats me. I am not afraid of beatings (who taught me that?). But I have no wish to be beaten for no good cause.
“What?” asks Hilketa. He seems amused.
“Why must I be taught to be myself?”
“That can wait, tomorrow is fine. We will speak then. You have much to learn. Sleep now.”
With that Hilketa turns and leaves. I am alone. I lie on the bed. It is firm and there is no cover. All the beds are firm and the tower is warm so there is no need for a cover. I sleep, sleep is the darkness’s greatest gift.
In the morning I wake to find Hilketa in my room. He is seated and is looking at me. He is dressed in black robes, but he is not wearing his mask or his gauntlets. I look at him, but say nothing.
“It is time to get up,” he says. “Are you hungry?”
He gestures to a bowl of blood and milk. I am hungry, and drink it with relish. It is slightly warm, and very satisfying.
“Do you know why we drink blood?” he asks.
“Estira says it is to symbolise our power and strength. Mighty predators drink blood and so do we.”
Hikita snorts. “Yes, mighty predators drink blood, and so do parasites.
“Come.” He gestures and I follow him. He leads me to a broad hall.
“Stand on that mark,” he says and points to a hieroglyph on the floor. I stand on the mark and Hilketa ties a blindfold around my eyes. “Walk forward,” he instructs.
“Where to?” I ask.
“Just walk forward, I’ll tell you when to stop.”
I walk forward for about ten steps, then he tells me to stop. “Now turn and go back to where you were.” I turn and walk back, counting out the ten steps in my head. When I think I have returned, I stop.
“Take the blindfold off,” Hilketa says.
I am standing well to the left of the mark and about four feet too short. Hilketa looks disappointed, I can see by his face I have not done well.
“I will teach you to walk in darkness,” he says. “It is not easy, not at first. You have walked with your eyes guiding you, now you must let the darkness guide you.”
“I tried to count my steps,” I reply sullenly.
“Yes,” agrees Hilketa, “that was your mistake. Put the blindfold on again. There are many senses. No doubt you have been told we have five: smell, sight, touch, taste and hearing. It is a lie, we have many more senses. Lean to one side, that’s right, a bit further. Now feel the difference, feel the change in your balance and feel the changes in your muscles. Be aware. Be aware of your movement. To walk in darkness you must have faith. You must have faith in the darkness and in yourself, now once again.”
I step on to the hieroglyph and replace the blindfold. Once again I step forward.
“Imagine that you are leaving a trail of silver behind you,” says Hilketa. “Walk forward and then turn and follow that trail backward. In your head is both a compass and level. Feel each swing of the compass and each tilt of the level. When you go back you must repeat each tilt and swing. In your head you are building a map of silver trails that lead you through the dark.”
Again I walk back.
“Now take off your blindfold.”
This time I am only a short way from the hieroglyph.
“Good,” says Hilketa. “What did you do wrong?”
I think for a while.
“Well, what is your answer?”
“I did everything as you said, I was very close to the hieroglyph.”
“But not close enough. You must be exact. If you are even the slightest bit out, the gap between where you are and where you should be will get greater and greater and you will be lost in the darkness. When you are the high priest you will have to dance in the hall of Vatu. Think, if then you could not find your way back to the doors of darkness, you would be trapped there.”
“I could follow the wall till I came to the door.”
“You could try, perhaps you would be fortunate and find it, but most likely not. The Hall of Vatu is not like this, it is vast and shapeless. You would not find your way out that way. Touch will not lead you out. Now again, what did you do wrong?”
Again I think for a moment.
“I compensated, I thought I had made a mistake and tried to correct it. I thought I had gone too far and stepped back. I put my faith in reason rather than in darkness and in myself.”
“That is right.” Hilketa nods. “Now, again.”
Again and again I walk blindfolded, I get better but I make many mistakes.
“I cannot do this,” I protest.
“If you could do it then I would not have to teach you,” says Hilketa mildly. “Again.”
I try again and this time when I remove the blindfold I am standing directly over the hieroglyph.
“Good,” says Hilketa.
“If I am the high priest reborn,” I ask, “why must I learn the things I knew before?”
Hilketa shrugs. “It is the way.”
“Did you need to learn this?”
“Yes,” says Hilketa. “You taught me.”
I think about this for a while. It is strange to think that these men knew me in my past life.
“That was a long time ago,” says Hilketa. “It was in the life before the last one. This is the second time I have taught you to walk in darkness, and other things.”
“Was I a good teacher?” I ask.
“Yes, you taught me to walk in darkness. I am grateful,” and to my surprise he bows to me. None of the others bowed to me. It must be a trick. He is trying to make me trust him. I am not such a fool.
We practice for the rest of the day, walking backwards and forwards. I get better, but I am still not perfect.
“Do not be discouraged, it is not easy to ignore reason and walk in darkness. Come now, that is enough for one day.”