November 12 - December 9, 2006

Disclaimer: this is not a foolproof method of divination. Written for elina in dwnoga 2006. Many thanks to everyone who helped out with beta. Do not archive this story without permission.

as it is in heaven

"This is far enough," JC said to the soldiers, and they set him down on the first white step of the temple, keeping his bare feet clean of mud. The stone chilled his soles. The air was fresh and alive with the approach of dawn, though the sky overhead was a star-spattered darkness still, where thin clouds swirled like trails of ink in black water. Looking up and out at the world revolving around him, JC suppressed a shiver.

The soldiers saluted, fist to heart, and JC tossed a silver moon sickle to the captain; she flashed him a quick, bright smile before they turned and left. He stood and watched them go, and the night wind tugged at his heavy cloak; he pulled it more securely around his body, and the rough, undyed wool scratched his skin. When the soldiers' footsteps had died into silence, JC turned and went through the temple gate, saluting each of the gateposts, fist to heart and palm to lips. He crossed the courtyard on the curving stone path, taking care to step only on the white stones, each of them swept clean of sand. Now and then the hem of his cloak brushed against the low-cut zangari bushes, and breaths of dry, spicy scent rose from the leaves. Someone had raked the sand between the stones into a fish-scale pattern: wealth, but also change.

No lights showed in the windows of the long, low buildings to either side. JC reached the foot of the tower. The door stood open, waiting for him. He went in and began to climb the steps, and as soon as the spiral curve of the stairs took him away from the door, he was in darkness. Each step was worn down in the middle, the stone polished treacherously slick, but JC didn't need to touch the walls for either balance or guidance. He closed his eyes and went on.

When he'd counted one hundred and two steps, he opened his eyes again. The doorway at the top of the tower was low and narrow, and carved on each side with the signs for time, and truth, and dream. JC ducked his head and stepped out on the platform. He unfastened his cloak and let it fall, and stood naked in the night air, breathing in slowly through his nose and out through his mouth.

The whitegrass and bundles of chage lying on the platform were arranged in a fish-scale pattern, too, except at the very edges, where the grass had been twisted into whale tails instead: for extraordinary success, and also for great sexual potency.

JC didn't permit himself to smile, not then. He dipped his right hand in the shallow silver bowl at his feet, coating it in oil, and walked to the center of the platform to stand at the southwest corner of the map of the double world. All the lines had been filled in with red paint. JC looked at the horizon. He breathed again, in and out, releasing some of the energy that lay coiled along his spine and twisted around his pelvis, and his body was flooded with every sensation of the past night, every touch, every kiss, every thrust. His breathing grew deeper.

When he saw a thin streak of orange and lime green heralding the dawn, he closed his oil-slick hand around his cock and began to stroke. The rhythm was perfectly matched to his breathing. The sun was rising, and the king was fucking him. JC started to vocalize on each exhalation, and it turned into the junoti chant, prayer of days, the heartbeat of the sun. The heartbeat of the king, fucking him.

The rising sun shone on his face, in his eyes, almost blinding him. Sunlight called out the scent of the whitegrass, sharp and glittery-thin. The rising energy pulsed into every note of the junoti chant. JC breathed in deep of the light and the scent, and breathed out his orgasm on a long, low note.

He sank to his knees, breathing still under perfect control, and looked at the map of the double world. He had spilled his seed on the southern plains, on the sheaves of grain and on the wide river of years running into the sea of memory, on the sign for prosperity and the city of Warhin. JC committed it all to memory, every red line and every white drop. Reaching out with both arms, he dragged the whitegrass and chage across the map, wiping it clean of prophecy.

The sun bleached the sky as it rose, and flooded the world with color. JC rose and stretched, picked up the cloak, and left the platform. The inside of the tower was still dark and chilly. At the foot of the steps, he opened a narrow red door and went into the chamber of records. The shutters were open, spilling air and light into the room, and everything smelled freshly scrubbed. Each shelf had been dusted, JC knew, floor to ceiling, and each book on each shelf had its leather bindings carefully oiled. The lectern in the middle of the room bore a fresh coat of red lacquer. Two bowls of ink and a reed pen were set out on the right side.

JC put his cloak down next to the low table by the door, and washed his hands carefully in the bowl of cool water waiting for him. Next to the bowl was a square of tight-woven linen, its edges embroidered with sheaves of grain. He dried his hands with equal care, wiping away all the water between his fingers and underneath his nails. Then he went over to the lectern and opened the book of the ninth year of the reign of Kevin Shadowhands, and turned to a clean page.

The reed pen was new, its tip unstained. JC dipped it in the red ink and drew the outlines of the southern plains, the river, and the city. He looked gravely at the page as if the penstrokes on paper would somehow transform into a true view of the world. But his imagination was not equal to creating such a picture; after all, he had quite literally never set foot outside the temple, except for the king's chambers. Instead, he dipped the pen in the black ink and drew the stylized lines and whorls of prophecy, just as they had fallen on the year-stone at dawn.

Every stroke was clear and precise. Not a drop of ink fell in the wrong place. JC bent his wrist at the perfect angle for the final stroke, then set the pen down. He drew himself upright and centered himself, feet and hips and spine and shoulders, breathed in, and chanted. First the junoti chant, for this day and every day; after that, the semtan chant, for a turning of the year wheel, beginning and end. JC sang the prayer for the king's health and the prayer for universal serenity, holding the final notes as long as he could. When he finished, the ink was dry.

JC closed the book and brushed his lips over the embossed crest on the binding. He breathed in the smell of oil and leather, and felt a little lightheaded as he stood up. He'd eaten nothing since noon the previous day except for the three bara seeds the king had laid on his tongue. As he stepped away from the lectern, his stomach rumbled.

At the door, JC washed his hands again. He slung his cloak over one arm and left the chamber of records, closing the door but not locking it. Someone would come in later in the day and clean up, remove the bowl of water, sweep the floor. JC's part of this ritual ended as he stepped out of the tower and breathed deep of the morning air, moving on to what next had to be done. When he walked into the courtyard, the sun was already warm on his skin, and the scent rising from the zangari bushes was strong enough to be intoxicating; JC opened his hand to the sunlight and wondered if he could lick it off his palm like syrup.

He went over to the hall and opened the door to the cleansing chamber. Steam billowed out. JC sneezed.

"Shut the door, already," Chris yelled. "You're letting all the heat out."

JC went in and shut the door. The heat was inside him, thrumming energy at the base of his spine, but the cleansing chamber was warm, too. When Chris came up to him, JC handed him the cloak and kissed him on the mouth. He walked into the room and kissed Joey, who was pumping hot water into the tub, bare shoulders gleaming with steam and sweat, and Lance, who was kneeling at the side of the tub, measuring out the faliola and zangari oil. JC loved the smell of zangari. He stretched and yawned, and watched Lance's graceful posture and the way his arms moved.

"He's improving, isn't he," Joey said, nodding at Lance before leaning in for another long, slow kiss.

"That's my expert teaching at work," Chris said, coming up behind JC and putting both hands on his hips, rubbing his thumbs across JC's hipbones. "You've got bruises."

"Shadowhands," JC said and smiled at Justin, who came through the door at the back of the room with his arms full of towels. "It was a true naming, you know."

"Hey," Justin said, his kiss quick and light. "Go on, get in the water."

JC stepped into the tub and let out a slow breath. The water was perfect, just hot enough to balance the heat within. Joey eased him down with steady hands until he was sitting comfortably, and Chris came to stand behind him. JC tilted his head back and smiled up at him. "Go easy on me."

"I always do." Chris poured a basin of water over JC's head and started to wash his hair. He had a firm, easy touch, and as his fingers moved over JC's scalp, JC felt muscles unclench all the way down his back. "So the end of days didn't come today?"

"Mm," JC said and lifted one foot out of the water. Lance grasped it and began to rub the sole with a fine black pumice stone. "No. Not today. Not this year."

JC relaxed and gave himself over. His hair was washed three times, and rinsed with three waters, the last one scented with faliola. Joey washed his face and shaved him, Lance scrubbed his hands and feet and polished his nails, and Justin washed his body with three different cloths, from coarse to soft, and three different soaps. It felt good to be cleansed by their touch, their hands warm and familiar on his body.

"Don't fall asleep," Chris said.

"No." JC half-closed his eyes. "The king is." He yawned and sank deeper in the water.

"Is what?" Justin asked. When JC didn't reply, Justin slapped his knee with the washcloth. "The king is what?"

"Very good," JC said. After a moment's thought he added, "And very demanding."

"He's the king," Lance said, amused and relaxed. JC smiled in agreement and closed his eyes all the way.

"Don't fall asleep." Chris rubbed sweet oil into JC's hairline with the tips of his fingers. "We're not done."

"I know." The energy and heat was almost vibrating within him.

Joey helped JC to his feet, and Justin put a thick towel down on the floor and held out his arm for JC to steady himself against as he stepped out of the tub. The air chilled JC for a moment and then Justin wrapped a huge, soft towel around him and rubbed him dry. Chris squeezed the water out of his hair with a smaller towel, and Joey wiped his face with a square of linen. A faint clink of glass was Lance bringing the vials of scent and oil.

Lance uncorked the first vial, and the smell of whitegrass filled the room. He handed the vial to Justin, who poured a drop on his fingertip and marked JC on the forehead and right over his heart. Breathing slowly, JC concentrated on not sneezing again. While Justin put the cork back in the whitegrass vial and put it to one side, Lance uncorked the next one, and Joey dipped a finger in and swiped scent markers of ginger and cinnamon on JC's hands and feet. Then he stayed at JC's feet, sitting back on his heels as Lance handed the vial of oil to Chris and Justin went to light the incense.

All the scents and the lack of food made JC feel pleasantly lightheaded, and when Chris put a hand between his shoulderblades and pushed, he bent forward easily, enjoying the stretch in his calves and legs. Lance caught him by cupping his jaw in one hand and tilting his head forward, thumb pressing against his lips. JC licked at it. Joey ran his hands up the inside of JC's thighs, shifting his legs into a wider stance, and through the haze of rising incense, JC could hear the sound of Chris slicking himself up with the oil.

Off to one side, Justin began to chant. Tonogamarn chant: to belong, to reclaim, to recreate, to rebuild. To preserve from harm. Lance stepped closer and moved JC's head until JC's lips were brushing against Lance's cock. JC opened his mouth and breathed against the soft skin, the only action that was permitted to him, until Lance pushed inside; he could feel Joey's hands, and then Joey's mouth, sucking him with steady determination, the way Lance fucked his mouth. Moments later, Chris put both hands on JC's ass, spread him open, and thrust into him.

Justin's chant didn't falter, and JC laid his own breathing against that chant, as best he could with Lance's cock down his throat. He swayed, but Joey's hands were on his thighs and Chris's hands were on his hips and Lance's hands held his head steady. The incense curled sweetly around him and deep into him, and his fingers and toes tingled. This was where he belonged. This was the heart of the temple; at this moment, he was the heart of the temple. He was wrapped in warmth, and they were reclaiming every part of him.

As Justin moved into the second round of tonogamarn, Lance added his voice to the chant. The thrust of his cock in JC's mouth grew slow and rhythmic, paced to the long phrases of the tonogamarn. JC closed his eyes and felt the stretch in his jaw, the wet slide of skin and thick pressure against his tongue and palate. All the energy locked in his mouth and forehead and at the back of his neck was working loose, blue and silver strands slowly untangling.

A drop of water ran from JC's hair along the line of his jaw and dripped from the point of his chin down on the floor. Chris joined in the third round of tonogamarn, his voice soaring effortlessly even as he slowed and deepened his thrusts to follow the chant, until he and Lance were so perfectly paced that it was somehow like being fucked by only one person, the same deep push and slow withdrawal, like breathing, like a heartbeat. Like being alive.

The tight coil of energy at the base of JC's spine began to stretch and loosen, too, moving slowly up his spine until it met the tendrils coming from his shoulders and the back of his neck, and with his eyes closed JC could see himself glowing, white and blue and silver and shining, a powerful current of life and heat running through him from Lance's cock in his mouth to Chris's cock in his ass. The air in the room was thick with incense and chant, completely and perfectly filled, just as JC was.

Joey wasn't in a position to chant, but as the fourth round of tonogamarn started, he hummed, warm and low, and the vibrations made the energy build up even more. JC felt a rush of heat, and tears leaked from his closed eyes. He surrendered himself completely to tonogamarn, until he was nothing but energy, completely filled by the silvery rush, building and building and finally spilling into Joey's mouth.

After that, he felt soft and weightless, falling away from himself, like a bolt of silk cloth unravelling to float in the wind. The chanting voices surrounding him didn't falter, and only the faintest tightening of Lance's fingers on his jaw told JC what was coming before the taste of Lance's seed flooded his mouth, and then Chris came, just one stuttery thrust behind, almost perfectly synchronized.

They finished out the round of tonogamarn, and then pulled out, and Lance put his hands on JC's shoulders and helped him stand up straight again. His knees were stiff and his spine felt a little compressed, although the energy still flowed freely and easily. Justin came up with the last vial, uncorked it, and poured three drops of bara-seed oil on his fingertips. He swiped a line of the bitter oil across JC's mouth, pressing just hard enough that JC could taste it, and then another line down the length of JC's cock, which twitched just slightly at the touch. Justin walked around JC and drew the third and final line down the cleft of his ass, fingertips not quite pressing into the hole; JC felt another twitch, a soft muscle tremor, a twinge, and then Justin stepped away and corked the vial of bara-seed oil again.

That was the end of the ritual, and JC breathed out. The holy touch of the king had been cleansed from his body before it could burn him to ashes. And the world wasn't going to end this year, either. "I could use another bath," he said.

"Justin, get more hot water," Lance said. He took JC's hands and steadied him as he stepped back into the tub.

"And I'll get you something to eat," Joey said and went with Justin towards the inner door, both of them naked and hard and beautiful to look at. Sunlight flooded the room as Chris lifted the shutters from the window, and fresh air came in to sweep away the heavy scent of incense. JC sat back in the tub, pleasantly sore and completely relaxed. He watched Lance pour fresh bath oil and put aside used towels with the same easy grace.

Looking up, JC met Chris's eyes. "Maybe next year," he said, and Chris scowled and nodded. "You can't hold him back for too long."

"I know," Chris said, still scowling although his voice was light and carefree. He left the window and walked over to where Lance was folding clean towels on a low couch. Chris poked a finger in Lance's side, just below the ribs, and then tugged him down on the couch to stroke his back and trade slow, languorous kisses.

Justin came back with more hot water, filling the tub almost to the brim, and JC smiled up at him. The warmth was wonderful now that all the heat came from the outside. The sunshine didn't quite reach that far into the room, but he could see golden dust motes dancing in the air where Chris and Lance lay entwined. Justin carried a small footstool over and set it down next to the tub, spreading a linen cloth over it just as Joey returned with a plate of fresh figs, sliced bread, and goat cheese drizzled with honey.

"Thank you," JC said, smiling up at Joey, who leaned down and kissed him as he set down the plate.

"Just let me know if you want more," Joey said, taking a fig and popping it in JC's mouth. Then he turned to Justin. "Listen, kid, you and I have some unfinished business."

Justin nodded. He picked up a vial of oil and handed it to Joey. Joey nodded approval and uncorked the vial, took Justin by the shoulder and bent him over the side of the tub, pouring a thin stream of oil into the cleft of his ass.

JC used a slice of bread to scoop up some cheese and honey, and sat back to watch. Justin's control was improving; he only bit his lip and moaned long and low as Joey took him, bracing himself against each rough thrust. JC caught a drop of honey on his tongue before it could fall in the water and watched Justin's lashes flutter, watched the color in Justin's face and the way his body trembled and yearned. It would be easy enough for Justin to relearn screaming in ecstasy once he'd mastered silence.

With every bite of bread and cheese, JC felt more settled, more part of the world again. He looked at Justin and Joey, their strong bodies moving together, and then looked past them at the couch where Chris and Lance were doing a lot more than just kissing. The sunshine gilded Lance's hair so perfectly it was hard to believe it wasn't deliberate.

JC nodded to himself and reached out for a fig. Justin was still too young. But the world wasn't going to end this year, and perhaps in the tenth year of the reign of Kevin Shadowhands, there would be a new oracle.

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