Kem finished his proposal. It met silence in the holy chamber. Not one stolid priest changed his stoic expression. The High Prax stared at Kem with his fierce, penetrating eyes. Kem felt an increasing sensation of pressure. Danger.
“Your words are corrupt,” said the High Prax. Kem felt an involuntary shock. The High Prax continued, pointing a finger at Kem, “They carry the taint of krem-krem!”
“Krem-krem!” the body of priests chanted with condemnation, “Krem-krem!”
Kem reeled. Each word caused a tightening of his stomach as if he had been struck. Betrayal! For months now, he had confided in the High Prax about his propositions regarding the sacred understandings, and it was the High Prax himself who had suggested the he make the proposal during the Great Convocation.
Why? What was happening?
He had believed he had grown close to the High Prax in the past year. Manipulation! In the shock of realization he saw that the series of events had been planned. The High Prax had slowly encouraged his line of spiritual reasoning, cultivating it in Kem. Was this the High Prax’s way of teaching that it was arrogance to assume any sort of intimacy with him or to diverge from the sacred teaching? Or something else?
The Praxes continued to chant, “Krem-krem! Krem-krem!”
Kem felt his face redden. “No!” he thought. “No!”
“Behold!” cried one of the priests, mockingly, “The face flesh reveals the presence of the scarlet seeds of Kamalah!”
“Impure!” several of the priests shouted. And then, again, they repeated their chant of accusation and judgment: “Krem-krem!”
For Kem, the world began to spin. He felt an hot, icy feeling work its way up from his stomach into his throat. Where was his sacred control? A clammy sweat upon his face. A cold, disgusting trickle under his armpits. Waves of nausea threatened to make him bend over and retch. “No!” he thought, “Where is my purity? The body reverts, suddenly, and obtains dominance over the spirit! Years of training ruined in an instant! I reek with the stench of Kamalah like some unclean, undisciplined neophyte! What has happened to me?”
He had passed through the Fifth Travail long ago and had rid himself of base instinct and involuntary physical reactions. The animal had been tamed. How could this be?
The High Prax raised his hands. The Convocation resumed silence.
“Prax Kem clearly demonstrates the signs of krem-krem! He has fallen into the filth of Kamalah and must be cleansed. Kem, leave this place. You have soiled it with your impurity and weakness. You will go immediately to the Site of Holy Excruciation and begin the Rite of Purification.”
“No!” thought Kem, seeing his years of spiritual progress fade and his hopes for future progress vanish. “I will never ascend!”
“But then…” he thought as his mind raced in new, unthinkable directions, sensing new possibilities here-to-fore forbidden to him. This crisis and loss of control had somehow propelled him past his inculcated inhibitions. He felt his body moving as if he did not move it, leaving the holy chamber as if in a trance. As he walked, priests averted their gaze. He knew that the High Prax, after speaking his judgment, had turned his back on him. Until the Rite of Purification was completed, looking upon him risked contagion.
As he moved, his thoughts were filled with new possibilities. Those who were krem-krem had certain opportunities other candidates did not. Ascension was lost, but forbidden roads were opened by way of sin, for those who dared. There were the Twisting Bridges, the Paths of Profane Geometry, or the Depths of Shadows, among others. Heretical, composed of pariahs, but each had their place and function and were begrudgingly and secretly accepted by the High Church. A toleration born of necessity. But he must escape, somehow…
Was this another planned temptation? What had happened? He must meditate on it during the Rite. He would have time and much solitude. The painful rites would send him to the Other Space, and there he would have a much needed clarity in timelessness and could recover and cultivate his spiritual strength.
He would have to make his choice and take action, however, before the rite was complete. Afterwards, he would only be fit for service as a krem-skel, a cleaner of filth and doer of menial tasks. He doubted he could tolerate the daily rituals of humiliation of that position, and, once the purification was complete, he would have no more vital spiritual strength.
Gargantuan, rounded stone slabs form sky-high, concentric rings at the center of which sits a small, cold, solitary, circular chamber. It is here that the Rite of Purification occurs. Water, the only allowed sustenance for the body during the ritual, drips slowly, drop by drop, from above into the center-point of the chamber. Its echoes can be heard throughout the zone, which is silent except for the sounds of the Purificant or the occasional Ministers, who provide cleansing tortures to the body, mind, and spirit.
His body already ritually purged of food-stuff and waste matter, Kem knelt, naked and shorn of all hair, in the position of obeisance, spine erect, head tilted back, mouth open, receiving the nourishing yet poisonous drops as he meditated. He had learned at the end of his first year as an acolyte the means by which bodily and psychological pain can serve as the gateway to the Other Space. He knew the way well and navigated with skill. As quickly as his control had vanished from him during the convocation, it had reappeared. He felt already that his being had been voided of krem-krem. How strange…
It was rumored among the neophytes that the water of this place contained subtle poisons which while taking vital energy from the body enhanced spiritual potential and progress. An irony, considering the end result of the rite. Using the spirit to permanently cripple it.
It was here–the Other Space, the place of silence, where the body and emotions were but memories–that he dwelled, chanting the sacred phonemes which would purify him of krem-krem and purge his spirit of the remnants of Kamalah.
Much of it was a repetition of his early training, but with an increased intensity. The last part, however, would forever bar his spirit from the Path of Z-El, the path of spiritual power which is the privilege and domain of Praxes. It was a form of spiritual castration. It would deprive him of his source of primal, creative spiritual energy. He would be forced to live off of the reserves his acolyte training had created and taught him to store deep within his sacred vessels.
He would be a faded shadow of a real being, living not as a human and yet not as an animal.
The Rite of Purification killed many. Many others committed suicide before completing it. Death, the ultimate purifier, was always an option for disgraced Praxes who had fallen to krem-krem and embraced Kamalah.
Poison or not, he would use what was offered him to gain spiritual strength and clarity. It would be some time before he would be forced to chant the destructive phonemes which would disintegrate the generative organs of his energy body, yet some of the sounds of the chants he now recited were unknown to him and felt strangely suspect. Could it be that he was imperiling himself by participating in the rite at all? No matter. There was no choice. For the present, he was trapped.
He must find a means of escape, go through the ritual, or commit suicide. Those were his only choices, and to make his escape he must gather his spiritual strength and re-unite himself with supreme bodily control, of which the High Prax had somehow temporarily deprived him. The spirit must rule the body.
Within Other Space, somewhere in the distance was a faint echo of sensation. His spirit urged connection with the physical body. He reached out with the body which was not a body to connect with the world of imperfection. Spikes of throbbing pain threatened to enter his consciousness, though they could not reach him. Shadows and false ghosts. Impressions subject to perceptive frames which could change the very nature of the impressions. Such was the power of the spirit, a power which could control naming and labels because it was beyond them.
His body sensed footsteps. Strange, it was not time for the Holy Excruciation. Was this inconsistency a part of the ritual?
He performed the chant of acceptance and moved slowly back into the body, interpreting each assault of agony not as pain, but as sensation without judgment or classification attached. Thus, agony was not agony. Pain was not pain. What is the natureless nature of things before they are known? What is pain before it is pain? This was the lesson he had learned.
Kem returned, slowly, to his body. He began the slow, methodical post-meditation muscle exercises which would ease and nourish the body, relieving it from the stiffness of prolonged non-movement. Subtle and almost imperceptible flexing and releasing of every muscle group, improving blood flow and making the body once again limber and vital.
As he faced forward, stretched his arms upward, and inhaled, he felt a presence in the open archway to his chamber. By dint of sound patterns and scents upon the air, he recognized the identity of the figure. He allowed his eyes to remain closed as he greeted his visitor.
“Good afternoon, High Prax.” Kem sensed a reaction of surprise in the High Prax. Almost imperceptible. Contained and controlled, but there.
“What is this?” thought the High Prax, “Vanity? Insouciance? This is new. Insulting! Yet… interesting. Vital and aware when it should be otherwise.” He felt the impulse to grimace in his nervous system and redirected the nervous energies before they reached the muscles.
“I was right in making my choice,” he thought.
Although the High Prax had bristled inwardly at the brazen disrespect, he chose to ignore it. “I must be careful with this one. Soothing. He must sense no conflict,” he concluded.
“Good afternoon, Kem. I trust the purification proceeds as expected?”
“It proceeds as it will and must, your Sagacity.”
“Ah, does he accept?” the High Prax asked himself. The High Prax counted a few beats, performing a quick rite, cleansing and opening the gates of perception. “My mind must be empty of expectations and judgments! My consciousness is a mirror and reflects only truth, thus nothing can remain hidden!” Filled with pure sense data through the cleansed instruments of the body and its senses, his spirit perceived no duplicity or resentment in Kem’s statement. “Good,” he thought.
The High Prax nodded. “You must have many questions.”
“The questions of an impure being are only the graspings of a soul drowning in illusion. Like a mindless animal, it will reach for anything, thus, such grasping should not be trusted. Once I am cleansed, when I am once again with my spirit, only then will I seek answers for that which eludes me.”
“He endeavors to show me his faith, that he is not completely lost. He hopes!” thought the High Prax.
The High Prax smiled and replied, “Well spoken. Offering light in the darkness is a kindness, and it is the duty of the enlightened to provide. Such is the injunction. I offer an explanation, if you will have it.”
“I must take what is given,” replied Kem, who had finished his exercises and opened his eyes. He looked at the High Prax impassively.
The High Prax nodded, and thought, “He responds as a wandering Prax? Does he realize what he reveals by this? Does he seek to escape? Ah, Kem, do as you will. No matter. There is only one escape for you, my acolyte, and soon it shall reveal itself.”
“It was a test. You failed. I blame myself. You were not ready.”
Kem absorbed this, looking at the High Prax with a relaxed yet focused gaze, and nodded.
“His eyes! So clear when they should be dull. Is that little beast inside Kem betraying me? If so, he will suffer dearly. No… unthinkable. He is bound! Is it the water of the Holy Cylinder, perhaps? Some unforeseen interaction? No matter, no matter. But look at him! He’s reading me. What has caused this change? Is Kem aware of it? This must end quickly.”
“I have done you a great disservice. You could have been a great priest of Prax, and I took that from you. My assessment was in error. Though I am High Prax, I do not perceive all. I tested you for placement among the Five Circles.”
“So,” thought Kem, “this is how he tries to distract me. Candor. False sincerity. Was he testing me? I cannot sense incongruity, yet my spirit cannot accept these words.”
“Regret is for those who cannot accept reality,” Kem replied, “I accept my fate. The flavor of wine is only known in the tasting. I failed, and, so, infected myself with krem-krem and the taint of Kamalah. Indeed, I have felt the presence in the purging. I am being cleansed. It is for the best.”
“About that,” said the High Prax, “I am able to do a thing. Though the Rite of Cleansing is a necessity, if I can aid you, then I must. As High Prax, I am given a certain latitude.”
The High Prax then presented a small flask and a cup.
“The Nectar of Ibaz,” he said.
Kem could not restrain an involuntary look of surprise, no matter how slight. The High Prax smiled inwardly. “Ah, at times the sacred control yet evades him! He has not fully recovered. Good!”
“But such a thing is forbidden. I am krem-krem! Don’t I risk death?”
The High Prax allowed a smile. Kem regained enough control to prevent a physical reaction which showed his anger. “He seeks to deceive me! See? I give you a smile. An allowance which demonstrates our intimacy. More lies! Why? What is behind this?”
“As I said,” continued the High Prax, “I enjoy a certain latitude. Your impurity is definite, and fatal to your role as priest, but mild concerning the use of Ibaz. Ibaz only kills the truly degenerate spirit. You well know that the core of your spirit shall have its organs of generation neutralized. The quality of your life will then rely upon your past cultivation, which only began as an acolyte. In the best of cases, 20 years of vitality would be left, and that only with the most rigorous efforts of conservation. With the Nectar, you will have a full life. Your spirit will be nourished, although never again will you have the spiritual prowess of a follower of Z-El…”
Kem looked at the flask and small glass before him. “How much,” he asked, “should I take.”
“Ah. Usually, one must consume the Nectar in very small portions and that very slowly, but in this case… there is no time. I have had the holy chemists make a special preparation. Drink it all, and drink deeply. It will aid in your cleansing and will increase the quality of your life as a krem-skel. Regarding that, I will see to it that you hold a position that is the least unpleasant possible. A cleaner of dust in the libraries, perhaps.”
“You are most gracious, your sagacity.”
The High Prax nodded.
Kem observed the flask and the High Prax. His senses detected no poison. His body did not give a danger reaction. But his spirit… Yes. Deception. Yet, the spirit bade him to drink. Strange.
“Then you accept my gift? You may reject it, though the going will be more difficult for you. I warn you: beware the temptation of hardship and suffering! Some hardships strengthen, others weaken. Wisdom is to know the difference.”
“I do not trust my own judgment, High Prax. I trust yours. Though I am impure, if you bid me to drink, I shall drink.”
The High Prax nodded. He felt a wave of relief wash over him. Did Kem sense it? If so, there was no indication. Once Kem drank the Nectar, the problem would be solved.
With an expression showing no emotion, neither eagerness nor hesitation, the High Prax said, “Though those who are too impure and take the Nectar risk death. This is not the case with you, good Kem. Drink.”
Kem opened the flask and poured. He breathed the strong aroma and felt his body threaten to react involuntarily to the pleasure stimulus. Measuring and balancing himself, he slowly brought the cup to his lips and drank. The flavor created intense sensations which washed over his body.
“I risk sensuality…” he said.
The High Prax nodded. “No matter. You shall be purged. The Rite of Purification shall do its work. Drink. Drink it all and quickly.”
Kem did so. Liquid energy coursed through him and nourished his spirit as spirit transformed the crude body/sense-reactions into something more subtle and sublime, which could be stored in the secret vessels of his energetic being.
“I permit you to perform the Grand Rites of Cultivation and absolve you from the need to undergo your excruciations this night. They will re-commence on the morrow.”
“Praise to you, High Prax. You are most gracious.” said Kem.
The High Prax nodded, “Be at peace, good Kem. Sleep well tonight. All shall soon be as it should.”
“The poison is slow,” thought the High Prax, “but effective. Tomorrow the world will find itself rid of you. All will accept that your death was caused by your impurity.”
Even as the High Prax left, Kem steadied himself and began the Grand Rites of Cultivation, unaware that a slow poison was beginning to systematically destroy his body.