“How many times have you awakened here?” asked Sonje. According to Church edict the recipient of Severe Unction should be encouraged to confess “awakenings” not deaths. This served as a gentle reminder that the presiding bishop held the subject’s life in his hands.
The High Sage’s nose twitched. His eyes rolled in his head, and Sonje thought the creature might pass out. But then he said, “Two,” in a quavering voice that made the bishop’s heart ache.
Tock made a sound in his throat that could have been a stifled sob. The Surrogate’s ears hung limp on either side of his head.
“Do you confess the All-Point?” asked Sonje, careful to keep a note of pleading out of his voice.
The confessional was silent for a long moment. Even the guards, two hulking men who seemed the type ill disposed to regret, watched the old rabbit with a certain air of hope and not a little trepidation.
At last the Sage lifted his eyes, his body shaking, his manner quiescent. For a moment Sonje knew hope like no sensation he had ever felt in his life.
Despite Sonje’s best efforts at schooling his expression, he could not help sagging back in his chair. His heart beat hard in his chest, almost painfully, and he could feel the hibernation tremors trying to seize his body.
“I am sorry to hear that,” he said. “Guards.”
The leftmost guard retrieved a small case from beneath the Sage’s chair. From this he drew out a plastic squeeze bottle; the kind a runner might carry for water. The guard squeezed a stream of clear liquid from the bottle, dousing the High Sage’s head, shoulders, and chest.
The smell of refined petroleum filled the room.
“No,” said the Sage, realization brightening his eyes. “Don’t do this.”
“Confess the All-Point,” said Sonje.
“Please, Father Sage,” said Tock, his voice pleading, “do it.”
“I will not. No matter what they say you are, young Tock, your blood is Shar-Un, just like mine. Remember that.”
Sonje glanced at his Surrogate, but Tock’s eyes never wavered from the High Sage’s face.
His fur soaked now with combustible liquid, the Sage looked more rat than rabbit.
At a signal from Sonje, the two guards backed away from the Sage’s chair. Then one of them lifted a small, black device that sent a finger of flame wafting into the High Sage of Shar-Un.