“Do you feel them?” Hea asked. “And do they feel you?”
“I feel it and it feels me. All the souls enreithed here have lost their individualities.”
“So it is said. I never understood it.”
“You never wanted to understand it,” Lyré said, smiling. “You are of Poinaith, completely. I am half of this world and I have tried to understand my other people.”
Hea moved up beside her g’daughter and laid her hands on the stone, trying to find even the slightest trace of a discrete soul, but it was like trying to isolate one drop of water in the surging surf. Yet souls were here, vast in number, powerful in their combined ai, but all submerged.
Hea shuddered. “I have seen menhirs on a hundred worlds,” she said, “but nothing like this. And this they do willingly; even hungrily. I have lived among them for a century, and it still repels me.”
“To these people,” Lyré replied, “death is loneliness. Not fear, nor pain, nor heaven, nor hell, nor mere cessation. Loneliness. And enreithment is a full bonding with all the ones who have gone before, into an eternity where loneliness is not even possible. Can that be so hard to understand?”
Hea turned sourly away from the menhir and strode through the gap in the surrounding hedge. A light touch of her ai had directed the priests elsewhere, so Hea and Lyré moved unseen among the outbuildings of the temple complex. They entered a long, low wooden structure that was completely overgrown by thorngall. Within were two corpses awaiting enreithment. One was a young woman of perhaps twenty-five; the other was her stillborn infant.
Lyré gripped Hea’s arm and whispered, “You mustn’t.”
“I will do what I have to. With the Shambler ascendant, I can no longer leave his Lost Get unmonitored. But if I watch him myself, the Shambler will know.”
Hea touched the dead girl’s forehead with her staff. There was no change on the tortured face, for the body was truly dead. But her soul was still unenreithed, abahara, and it hung in the room, still tethered by rapidly attenuating bonds. Hea said, “Asuras astorus!” and it stood revealed, coming slowly into focus as a nearly transparent simulacrum of the body on the pallet.
Lyré said, “Please!”
Hea hissed, “Silence,” then said to the abahara, “What was your name?”
“Baralia. Who are you? You aren’t a priest.”
“Why did you expect a priest?”
Baralia looked disgusted at the question. “I have been hanging her all day, looking down at my body. Do you think I don’t know I’m dead? I knew I was dying anyway. There was too much pain, and too much blood. I didn’t expect that. This was my second child. Girls who die like I did, usually die with their first child. But she was just too big.”
Lyré looked down at the ruddy, twisted face of the stillborn and said, “Is your daughter here?”
“Of course she’s here. Where else would she be? She’s just a crazy thing, flitting around like a bat. She doesn’t know she’s dead. She doesn’t know she never got to live. She doesn’t know anything, except pain and fear. I wish the priests would come. It hurts to be alone; even I hurt, and I know it will only be a few hours.”
Lyré said, “You can’t do this,” but Hea ignored her. more tomorrow