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I REMEMBER the moment when I discovered pain.

Life in Cereus House settled quickly into its own rhythm, unchanging and ceaseless. There were several of us younger children; four others, all told, and myself. I shared a room with two girls, both of them fragile and soft-spoken, with manners like exquisite china. The elder, Juliette, had hair darkening to a brassy gold in her seventh year, and it was reckoned that Dahlia House would buy her marque. With her reserve and solemn air, she was suited to its service.

The younger, Ellyn, was for Cereus House and no mistake. She had the frail bloom and pallor, skin so fair the lids were bluish over her eyes when she closed them, lashes breaking like a wave on her tender cheek.

I had little in common with them.

Nor with the others, in truth—pretty Etienne, half-brother to Ellyn, with his cherub's curls of palest gold; nor with Calantia, despite her merry laugh. They were known quantities, their worth determined, their futures assured, born of sanctioned union and destined, if not for this House, then another.

It is not, understand, that I was bitter. Years passed in this manner, pleasant and undemanding, spent in the company of the others. The adepts were kind, and took shifts to teach us the rudiments of knowledge; poetry, song and playing, how to pour wine and prepare a bedchamber and serve at the table as pretty adornments. This I was permitted to do, providing I kept my eyes cast always downward.

I was what I was: a whore's unwanted get. If this sounds harsh, understand too what I learned at Cereus House: Blessed Elua loved me nonetheless for it. After all, what was he if not a whore's unwanted get? My parents had never bothered with teaching me the basics of faith, caught up in the rhapsody of their mortal devotions. At Cereus House, even the children received the benefit of a priest's instruction.

He came every week, Brother Louvel, to sit cross-legged among us in the nursery and share with us the teachings of Elua. I loved him because he was beautiful, with long, fair hair he bound in a silken braid and eyes the color of deep ocean. Indeed, he had been an adept of Gentian House until a patron bought his marque, freeing him to follow his mystic's dreams. Ministering unto children was one of them. He would draw us upon his lap, one or two at a time, and spin us the old tales in his dreamer's voice.

This is how I came to learn, then, dandled on a former adept's knee, how Blessed Elua came to be; how when Yeshua ben Yosef hung dying upon the cross, a soldier of Tiberium pierced his side with the cruel steel of a spearhead. How when Yeshua was lowered, the women grieved, and the Magdelene most of all, letting down the ruddy gold torrent of her hair to clothe his still, naked figure. How the bitter salt tears of the Magdelene fell upon soil ensanguined and moist with the shed blood of the Messiah.

And from this union the grieving Earth engendered her most precious son; Blessed Elua, most cherished of angels.

I listened with a child's rapt fascination as Brother Louvel told us of the wandering of Elua. Abhorred by the Yeshuites as an abomination, reviled by the empire of Tiberium as the scion of its enemy, Elua wandered the earth, across vast deserts and wastelands. Scorned by the One God of whose son he was begotten, Elua trod with bare feet on the bosom of his mother Earth and wandered singing, and where he went, flowers bloomed in his footprints.

He was captured in Persis, and shook his head smiling when the King put him in chains, and vines grew to wreath his cell. The tale of his wandering had come to reach the ear of Heaven, and when he was imprisoned, there were those among the angelic hierarchy who answered. Choosing to flout the will of the One God, they came to earth in ancient Persis.

Of these it was Naamah, eldest sister, who went smiling to the King and offered herself with lowered eyelids, in exchange for the freedom of Elua. Besotted, the King of Persis accepted, and there is a story still told of the King's Night of Pleasure. When the door to Elua's cell was opened, a great fragrance of flowers poured forth, and Elua emerged singing, crowned with vines.

This is why, Brother Louvel explained, we revere Naamah and enter her service as a sacred trust. Afterward, he said, the King betrayed Elua and those who followed, and gave them strong wine laced with valerian to drink. While they slept, he had them cast on a boat with no sails and put out to sea; but when he awoke, Elua sang and the creatures of the deep came to answer, guiding the boat across the sea.

The boat came to land in Bhodistan, and Naamah and the others who had come followed Elua, not knowing or caring if the Eye of the One God was upon them, and where they went they sang, and wound in their hair the flowers that sprang up in Elua's wake. In Bhodistan, they are an ancient people, and they feared to turn from their multitude of gods, who are by turns capricious and compassionate. Yet they saw the light in him and would allow no harm to Blessed Elua, nor would they follow him, so he wandered singing, and people made the sign of peace and turned away. When he went hungry, Naamah lay down with strangers in the marketplace for coin.

From there, Elua's course drifted to the north, and he wandered long through lands harsh and stony, and the angels and creatures of the earth attended upon him, or surely he would have perished. These stories I loved, such as the Eagle of Tiroc Pass, who flew over the crags and ice each morning to stoop low above the head of Blessed Elua and drop a berry into his mouth.

In the dark woods of the Skaldic hinterlands, the ravens and wolves were his friends, but the tribesmen gave him no heed, brandishing their terrible axes and calling upon their gods, who have a taste for blood and iron. So he wandered, and snowdrops poked their heads above the drifts where he went.

At last he came to Terre d'Ange, still unnamed, a rich and beautiful land where olives, grapes and melons grew, and lavender bloomed in fragrant clouds. And here the people welcomed him as he crossed the fields and answered him in song, opening their arms.

So Elua; so Terre d'Ange, land of my birth and my soul. For threescore years, Blessed Elua and those who followed him—Naamah, Anael, Azza, Shemhazai, Camael, Cassiel, Eisheth and Kushiel—made to dwell here. And each of them followed the Precept of Blessed Elua save Cassiel, that which my mother had quoted to the Dowayne: Love as thou wilt.So did Terre d'Ange come to be what it is, and the world to know of D'Angeline beauty, born in the bloodlines from the seed of Blessed Elua and those who followed him. Cassiel alone held steadfast to the commandment of the One God and abjured mortal love for the love of the divine; but his heart was moved by Elua, and he stayed always by his side like a brother.

During this time, Brother Louvel said, the mind of the One God was much preoccupied with the death of his son, Yeshua ben Yosef, and the course of his chosen people. The time of deities does not move like our own, and three generations may live and die in the space between one thought and another. When the songs of the D'Angelines reached his ears, he turned his eye to Terre d'Ange, to Elua and those who had fled Heaven to follow him. The One God sent his commander-in-chief to fetch them back and bring Elua to stand before the throne, but Elua met him smiling and gave him the kiss of peace, laying wreaths of flowers about his neck and filling his glass with sweet wines, and the leader of God's host returned ashamed and empty-handed.

It came then to the One God that his persuasion held no sway over Elua, in whose veins ran the red wine of his mother Earth, through the womb she gave him and the tears of the Magdelene. And yet through this he was mortal, and thus subject to mortality. The One God pondered long, and sent not the angel of death, but his arch-herald to Elua and those who followed him. "Do you stay here and love as you wilt, thy offspring shall overrun the earth," said the herald of the One God. "And this is a thing which may not be. Come now in peace to the right hand of your God and Lord, and all is forgiven."

Brother Louvel told the stories well; he had a melodic voice, and knew when to pause, leaving his listeners hanging on his next breath. How would Elua answer? We were in a fever to know.

And this he told us: Blessed Elua smiled at the arch-herald, and turned to his boon companion Cassiel, holding out his hand for his knife. Taking it, he drew the point across the palm of his hand, scoring it. Bright blood welled from his palm and fell in fat drops to the earth, and anemones bloomed. "My grandfather's Heaven is bloodless," Elua told the arch-herald, "And I am not. Let him offer me a better place, where we may love and sing and grow as we are wont, where our children and our children's children may join us, and I will go."

The arch-herald paused, awaiting the One God's response. "There is no such place," he answered.

At that, Brother Louvel told us, such a thing happened as had not happened in many years and never since: Our mother Earth spoke to her once-husband, the One God, and said, "We may create it, you and I."

So was created the true Terre d'Ange, the one that lies beyond mortal perception, whose gate we may enter only after passing through the dark gate that leads out of this world. And so Blessed Elua and those who followed him did leave this plane, passing not through the dark gate, but straightways through the bright one, into the greater land that lies beyond. But this land he loved first, and so we call it after that one, and revere him and his memory, in pride and love.

On the day he finished telling us the Eluine Cycle, Brother Louvel brought a gift; a spray of anemones, one for each, to be fastened on our plackets with a long pin. They were the deep, rich red which I thought betokened true love, but he explained that these were a sign of understanding, of the mortal blood of Elua shed for his love of earth and the D'Angeline people.

It was my wont to wander the grounds of Cereus House, soaking in the day's lesson. On that day, as I remember it, I was in my seventh year, and proud as any adept of the anemones fastened to the front of my gown.

In the antechamber to the Receiving Room, those adepts summoned would gather to prepare for the viewing and selection by patrons. I liked to visit for the refined air of urgency, the subtle tensions that marked the waiting adepts as they prepared to vie for patrons' favours. Not that overt competition was permitted; such a display of untoward emotion would have been reckoned unbecoming. But it was there nonetheless, and there were always tales—a bottle of scent switched for cat piss, frayed ribbons, slit stays, the heel of a slipper cut to unevenness. I never witnessed such a thing, but the potential always eddied in the air.

On this day, all was quiet, and only two adepts waited quietly, having been requested already in particular. I held my tongue and sat quiet by the little fountain in the corner, and I tried to imagine being one of these adepts, waiting with a tranquil spirit to lie down with a patron, but a dreadful excitement gripped me instead at the thought of giving myself to a stranger. According to Brother Louvel, Naamah was filled with a mystic purity of spirit when she went to the King of Persis, and when she lay down with strangers in the market.

But that is what they say at Gentian House, and not at Alyssum, where they say she trembled to lay aside her modesty, nor at Balm, where they say she came in compassion. I know, for I listened to the adepts talk. At Bryony, they say she made a good bargain of it, and at Camellia, that her perfection unveiled left him blind for a fortnight, which led him to betray her out of uncomprehending fear. Dahlia claims she bestowed herself like a queen, while Heliotrope says she basked in love as in the sun, which shines on middens and kings' chambers alike. Jasmine House, to which I would have been heir, holds that she did it for pleasure, and Orchis, for a lark. Eglantine maintains she charmed with the sweetness of her song. What Valerian claims I know not, for of the two Houses that cater to tastes with a sharper edge, we heard less; but I heard once that Mandrake holds Naamah chose her patrons like victims and whipped them to violent pleasures, leaving them sated and half-dead.

These things I heard, for the adepts used to guess among them, when they thought I was not listening, to which House I would be bound if I were not flawed. While I had many moods in turn, as any child might, I was not sufficiently modest nor merry nor dignified nor shrewd nor ardent nor any of the others to mark me as a House's own, and I had, it seemed, no great gift for poetry nor song. So they wondered, then, idly; that day, I think, left no question.

The spray of anemones with which Brother Louvel had gifted me had slipped into disarray, and I drew out the pin to fix them. It was a long, sharp pin, exceedingly shiny, with a round head of mother-of-pearl. I sat by the fountain and admired it, anemones forgotten. I thought of Brother Louvel and his beauty, and how I would give myself to him once I was a woman proper. I thought of Blessed Elua and his long wandering, his startling answer to the arch-herald of the One God. The blood he shed might—who knows?—run in my very own veins, I thought; and resolved to see. I turned my left hand palm-upward and took the pin in a firm grip in my right, pushing it into my flesh.

The point sank in with surprising ease. For a second it seemed almost of no note; and then the pain blossomed, like an anemone, from the point I had driven into my palm. My hand sang in agony, and my nerves thrilled with it. It was an unfamiliar feeling, at once bad and good, terribly good, like when I thought of Naamah lying with strangers, only better; more.I withdrew the pin and watched with fascination as my own red blood filled the tiny indentation, a scarlet pearl in my palm to match the mote in my eye.

I did not know, then, that one of the adepts had seen and gasped, sending a servant straightways for the Dowayne. Mesmerized by pain and the thin trickle of my blood, I noticed nothing until her shadow fell over me.

"So," she said, and fastened her old claw around my left wrist, wrenching my hand up to peer at my palm. The pin dropped from my fingers and my heart beat in excited terror. Her gimlet gaze pierced my own and saw the stricken pleasure there. "It would have been Valerian House for you, then, would it?" There was a grim satisfaction in her voice; a riddle solved. "Send a messenger to the Dowayne, tell him we have such a one who might benefit from instruction in accommodating pain." The grey-steel gaze roamed my face once more, came to rest on my left eye, and stopped. "No, wait." Something again flickered in her mien; an uncertainty, something half-remembered. She dropped my wrist and turned away. "Send for Anafiel Delaunay. Tell him we have something to see."

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