Bishop Sonje’s stomach curdled as he watched the High Sage’s immolation on the flimsy. The elderly rabbit-faced man screamed in high ululations that sounded tinny on the flimsy’s speakers. Sonje glanced at the Sage who sat shivering in his restraints, his pink eyes twin points of mixed accusation and fear.
“We did this?” whispered Tock.
On the flimsy the alter-Sage had quit his screaming. His body — blackened and desiccated now by flame — smoldered beneath a thick cloud of gray smoke that sent the guards staggering back, hands pressed to their noses. Did it smell like roasting rabbit in that room?
Sonje stopped the playback as his stomach gave another fitful lurch.
“We do our duty, Tock,” he whispered. “If you can’t handle that, then perhaps the Church is not your place.” He turned frank eyes on his head Surrogate and Tock dropped his eyes, his nose twitching in shame.
Sonje wished he could be certain it was shame for his questioning and not for his Church-sanctioned actions.
“How many times have you awakened here?” asked Sonje for the first time. Odd; he knew it was the first time he had ever asked this question and yet he had heard his alter-self ask it not five minutes ago. Two of his alter-selves had asked the same of this High Sage. How far would this horror go? Would one of his past alter-selves be forced to ask that same question for the first and final time?
The Sage did not answer right away, but sat shivering and starting his pink-eyed accusations at the bishop.
That was fine. Every minute that passed was another in which the High Sage lived and the bishop was not forced to order his execution.
After nearly two full minutes the Sage said, “Three. I have awakened here three times.”
“And will you confess the All-Point? Your flesh and your thoughts are granted you by its past and future existence. The very fact that you have this choice stems from the All-Point.”
The Sage’s shivers became tremors, his head jittering enough to dislodge his long ears from his shoulders, but his eyes never left Sonje’s face.
“No,” he said. “I will not confess your All-Point.”