The room filled with a thick and strong-smelling fog. Powerful drums like a beating heart seemed to echo all around. The dark room seemed like another universe to the huddled children. Tense seconds and minutes… a hissing sound…

THOOM

The kids shrieked. Before them stood Oraq, the God-empress herself. Cloaked in sparks and lightning – just like the stories! Her pearl war mask shone with an aura as a tell of her unearthly power. Each methodical step she took seemed deafeningly loud in the cavernous room. 
She slowly raised her armored hand and pointed with authority at the group. Each child felt that she pierced solely them. Her words were slow and mighty.

“CHILD OF CONCORDA! FROM MY THRONE IN PROVIDENCE I HAVE DESCENDED AND COME TO YOU! WILL YOU PROVE YOURSELF AS STRONG IN RESOLVE AS YOUR ANCESTORS?” 
Cold sweat. Though fearful, the children stammered a staggered ‘yes’.
“WITH RESOLVE, CHILD. WHAT IS THE SPIRIT OF MAN?”
The teachers chanted and the children followed. All knew the words by heart.
“Sovereign empress incarnate! Our call is to carry the eternal flame!”
“WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?”
“To light the new age! That all may see the glory of Allano!”
“WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE?”
“That our children may carry the flame forward! To succeed in their spirit!”
“AND THE NAME IN WHICH WE REJOICE IN OUR TRIUMPH?”
“To our queen, God, and ancestor!”

As suddenly as she appeared, Oraq vanished. The choir leader began chanting the familiar hymn The Bravery Lost and the children began to sing along.

Though muffled through the walls, it was just possible to make out moments of her partners’ booming song. Walking behind the curtain and onto the street corner behind the odeon, Malatye sat down and removed the pearl mask. She shook her frills and took a deep breath. The thing was so stuffy. If Oraq’s helm was like this one, no wonder she had such resolve. Thank the Gods for a breeze.

“You dishonor Her by making Her into a tame plaything.”

The actress looked over her shoulder. There stood a small elderly woman, a cold disapproval on her face. Malatye now found herself the one being pointed at.

“Do not mock the Incarnate with such blatant irreverence.” said the woman. Malatye sighed. Heard this before. Countless times.
“Look, I know what you’re going to say-”
“Do you?”
“…Our portrayal of the God helps the children understand Her better.” she sighed. “ We know our portrayal isn’t real. We aren’t trying to- hh- cheapen her calling or her message-”

The woman spit at Malatye’s feet.

“The God is so far beyond us that any portrayal is mockery! How can you claim to follow her path if you do the very thing she despises?”
“How is helping the children understand our faith despicable?”
“Man is not on the same level as the divine! You’re playing a puppet! You’re giving them false standards! They can’t save themselves without knowing the true goal!”
“The goal? ‘Our call is to carry the eternal flame? To light the new age? That all may see the glory-’”
“-How can you speak those words?”
“Because they’re true?”
“Don’t mock me-”
“Elder, please… why can’t you let us teach in a way that helps the kids? Ask any one of them- ”
“You are destroying them beyond the grave!! How DARE you take away their right to ascend?”

Silence.

“…I respectfully disagree, elder.” Malatye said, quietly.
“The God would never be played by some slave. You must be the one in charge. Is this what now passes for piety? You lead the children in worship? A weak-willed whore like you? Selling yourself to false standards of eternity?” she scowled. “…You will never be able to free yourself.”

Malatye narrowed her eyes.

“If She could save herself then there’s hope for all of us. Or have you forgotten your teachings as a child?” the actress said firmly.
“The Incarnate found the path.”
“And so can we.”
“She was the God.”
“She was once mortal too. And she had no one to show Her the path. But I will show them in a way they understand.”

Another moment of silence. The woman simply turned and walked away.
Malatye looked to the sky and held her rosary tight. Oraq would understand. Surely…