Looks could be deceiving, especially when you tailored them to do just that. The Holy Lady knew that as much as any other Scavenger since, reiterating, she had been one.
The Holy Lady was the only member to have ever left the organization willingly. The vast majority was kicked, the rare minority became a Teen.
Due to the nature of the organization, its parental connection to its agents, nobody really wanted to leave.
The Street Rat was guided to the elevator, which only took them to three floors below the top one. He led her across a corridor of rooms and into a spiral staircase that led to a sort of waiting room. It had a seating area right out of the entrance but soon thinned into a hall which walls were lined with long bar counters, which didn’t have anyone on them except for a couple of soldiers. The sight reminded Jamie Amara might still be worried about the assassination attempt.
On the other side of the room were the stairs leading to the actual top floor, which was hiding behind a decently size door. Jamie recognized all of it, of course, she had been there as Sarah.
Straight out of the door, Jamie spotted Amara standing in front of the stairs where she had been shot. Jamie looked around for a minute, denying Amara primary focus, seeing how the enormous hall had been emptied of all its hosting-oriented paraphernalia. It seemed all the bigger, empty as it was, and the windows spaced across the walls above each balcony exit shone all the brighter on the floor. They led to the interior balcony that covered the entire opposite wall, which received the stairs into its center.
Finally, the Street Rat looked at Amara, disappointed in finding just her back.
Dang it, Jamie thought, annoyed that her looking around had just been wasted time.
Amara was now wearing her very famous divine robe. The voluptuous white robe all but hid every speck of her body. How they kept that robe absolutely pure and untouched by even…air, was beyond Jamie. It was known to glisten at any measure of light, and it presented no speck of dust or dirt, even when the Lady of Light was knee-deep in a mud-ridden orphan house, feeding them.
It was part of the allure. Jamie hardly noticed as the soldier left, alerted only by the door closing, so mesmerized that she was by the blinding white posture of the Lady of Light standing alone in a hall built to house hundreds.
“You passed out,” Amara stated from a distance.
Jamie shook her head out of its befuddlement, temporarily stunned. In a couple of seconds, she was back on script.
“What?” she asked.
Slowly, the Street Rat stepped forward with a half limp and a shoulder that was not happy at all to be out of bed.
“I was dying…and you fainted,” Amara said. “I have seen people feign it, you did it to get in here just now, but to actually, truly faint…?”
“What can I say?” Jamie smirked, stopping her walk. “I’m the best.”
Amara turned towards Jamie. Her dark skin contrasted with the robes in a way that was…mythical. If humanity survived, paintings of the Lady of Light would adorn cathedrals for centuries to come. The visage alone would do it, but there was also the way she had transformed the church, and by doing that, the world. A work which was in risk of being utterly undone by the Beasts.
“You really are,” Amara said.
That would be Jamie’s initial angle. The Street Rat stood up straight and looked at Amara as an equal. She was willing to grovel, but she had the strong sense Amara didn’t want that. She wanted the reveal, she wanted to know who the Street Rat really was.
The smirk went away as her mouth normalized into a serious expression.
Jamie never showed her true self. Her friends thought she did, when she talked hoarsely, cutting corners with words and phrasing, and when she was impatient, arrogant and a braggart.
But her true self?
Cranky gears turned in her mind, lacking in oil, and dusty old gates scraped across moldy floors as they opened…slowly. What she brought on to the forefront of her nervous system, to the control center of her behavior, was so unfamiliar it almost felt like it was just another role. Just another act
It wasn’t, however.
Jamie could tell Amara noticed. Her head inched a bit up so she could look down on Jamie…not out of superiority, but out of caution. It wasn’t a patronizing gaze but rather a watchful one.
The Lady of Light was taking the Street Rat very…very seriously.
“You’re probably the most beautiful human, Amara, when you’re wearing that,” Jamie stated.
“That is the idea,” Amara said, cautiously.
“But our true value…” Jamie held up a hand and closed it, “is not skin deep. It’s what we achieve.”
“You seek to lecture me about achievements?” Amara didn’t smirk or smile at that, as she would have if she were talking to Sarah, or probably anyone else. She was keeping her stance of caution…of challenge.
“No. But I wonder if you have forgotten them?” The Street Rat suggested. “Your church, the world you’ve impacted, it’s all dying. They’re all trying to see you, hoping to hear from you. I don’t understand what you’re doing, cooped up in here.”
Amara leaned her head in, eyes closed in defiance. Her hands vanished into the humongous sleeves she had on, probably to hug behind her back.
Then she surprised the Street Rat. Amara smiled warmly.
It made Jamie step back.
Despite having just unveiled her true persona, The Street Rat felt disarmed by that facial expression.
It was too honest.
More sincere than any Andy had ever produced, and his eyes were ever locked into that emotional state of sincerity. It was confusing, and therefore disarming, because the only explanation that her instincts had to give her mind was that it was real.
It couldn’t be real. A thief, a conman of any kind, did not smile like that.
“You believe I have acted as you do,” Amara said, voice sweetened with kindness. “You believe I use my Church, and the teachings of the Light, for my own benefit. You could not be farther from the truth, sweet Jamie.”
The Street Rat was now on the defensive, much as she tried to hide it.
Jamie had not considered that. She was sure of who Amara was. The Holy Lady. The way Street Rat abused people’s perception and interpretation of a defenseless child, alone in the world and only trying to put food on her belly, so did the Holy Lady abuse people’s perception and interpretation of faith. Of religion.
The Holy Lady was to faith what the Banker was to greed, and the Street Rat to compassion, she was just another specialized con-artist.
That had to be it. And yet, now, Amara was insinuating that was not it? That she was, truly and really, the Lady of Light? That would mean that the con was not on the faithful…but on everyone else. On the underworld, on the thieves and the criminals.
On the Street Rat.
“You have done terrible things to get to your position,” Jamie argued, not really needing the insinuation spoken clearly.
The Lady of Light leaned her head aside, caringly.
“I won the Shadow Conclave through the blessed donations of the faithful,” she said calmly, “they believed in me. If you want to talk about terrible things, you need only look to my predecessors. They were the most terrible and tried to be most terrible towards me as well…but the Shadow Conclave protected me.”
“That caused their death,” Jamie countered, insinuating hypocrisy. “Their misery. Also donations? Really? You stole from them, the same way I do.”
Jamie was not arguing that Amara didn’t actually think she was the people’s Lady of Light, and not the underworld’s Holy Lady, for that would be moot. But if that were Amara’s angle, Jamie would argue against her being a good person. A saint.
Amara faced the accusations by leaning her head, lightly, the other way.
“You believe I stole from them. They believe they gave it to me. Who is right?” Amara asked, patiently.
“Your Church is still the richest—”
“No,” Amara said, interrupting as she should if Jamie’s point was that predictable. “The Scavengers are the richest organization, and you know that. On top of that, I don’t have wealth, the Light does.”
Synapses were exploding inside Jamie’s mind.
It was impossible.
“And those evil men and women died trying to do horrible things,” Amara said, with a bit of the kind of sadness that lacks regret. “Actions have consequences, I did not move to end their lives, only to speak my mind and be true to my faith.”
Everyone who knew the truth knew what the Holy Lady was about. It was fact. She had never denied it. She dealt with them on so many occasions.
Use that, Jamie thought.
“You make deals with us,” the Street Rat accused.
“What kind of deals?” Amara’s shoulders gestured slightly. “Consider them.”
Jamie couldn’t help but bring a hand to her mouth, realizing Amara had only ever dealt with the underworld to cause a distribution of wealth or to rescue the persecuted who wanted to follow the Light. Or things like that, things that always seemed poised masterfully to enhance her popularity, and thus, her power within the church. Unlawful things, yes, but only according to the law of a particular nation…none of it, in actual fact, went against the tenets of her faith.
She always challenged to perform the deals without violence… Jamie thought, shocked. Her intentions were genuine?
The Holy Lady, winner of a Shadow Conclave and a would-be Teen of the Scavengers…was a true convert. And she had played the entire underworld.
“How can you be…no,” the Street Rat said, in denial, “it’s you, how can you have such close contact with us?! If that’s true, you’d have us all arrested, you’d have to. Moral obligation.”
“I do not destroy the darkness, I don’t even fight it,” she announced. “I am not Man’s law. I the Light’s beacon, I shine a light on the darkness, that is ever my purpose. Besides, that would be very counter-productive to the good I have was set out to do…by the Light.”
Of course, Jamie thought, upset at the realization.
“Many of your peers have converted to the Light,” she mentioned, “and now rely on the truest of truths for their happiness, which is the only way to truly attain it.”
They all knew the Holy Lady’s past, that was why. They’d destroy her and stop her from accomplishing…everything. Converting to the Light hadn’t made her any stupider, she knew she couldn’t turn the underworld against her because that’s where she came from.
They knew her. Better to manipulate them.
Jamie looked upon the Lady of Light with a new understanding of things. Amara belonged to the group of people the Street Rat had always sneered at, mocked and held in the lowest of regards. The people Jamie considered to be immature and trusting idiots.
Amara was religious.
The Lady of Light extended her arms, her hands once again peeking out of her magnanimous sleeves. “Look at me,” she said, “am I not ready to go out and meet the people? My delay is only your own, sweet Jamie.”
The Street Rat resumed composure. Fine, she thought.
“Don’t call me that,” the Street Rat said. “And yeah, I get it, the reason you haven’t gone out is that you knew I’d be sent to convince you otherwise.”
“Precisely,” Amara said.
Jamie’s eyes squinted suspiciously.
“So you wanted me,” she stated. “Why?”
“Well, I never received an answer as to who you were, and I really wanted to know.”
Jamie frowned, once again stunned.
“I’m still Amara, Jamie. I still enjoy roleplaying, and I still enjoy the kind of game we were playing, and I looked forward to bringing Light into your life as well. But mostly,” she smiled excitedly. “I beat you.”
Amara gave a giggle, and Jamie snorted in annoyance.
“I got my own light, thanks,” she said in protest, “and no you didn’t.”
“Oh, we all do, of course, we wouldn’t be of the Light if it wasn’t already in us in a way. You need it fully, however. And yes I did,” she added playfully, “I know who the Street Rat is.”
“I need you to stop creepin’ me out, lady, that’s what I need,” Jamie complained.
She realized then that she had reverted to her Scavenger persona. Her true self had retreated back into its dusty old cave, incapable of dealing with defeat.
Amara was right. Without a doubt.
First, she had played Jamie by pretending she had no idea Sarah wasn’t real. And now that? The Street Rat’s hands trembled, she wasn’t used to losing, not like that, not playing her own game. Because of that, she wanted to take Amara to town on her religion instead. That was usually easy.
“Why’s the Light not doin’ anything to the dark ones?” she asked.
“Oh, the Dark Ones, such a superstitious name. And it is, haven’t your people been making strides?”
“Yeah, us thieves and criminals,” Jamie pointed out, a bit too defensively. “Goin’ by a Magni prophecy,” she added.
“Well, like we just said, there is light in all of us, independent of the darkness that surrounds us, and we all end up doing the bidding of the Light, for it is infinitely smarter than even I, and knows us deeply. Knowing what I have accomplished, you should be able to make an apt comparison.”
“The prophecy,” Jamie whispered. “It’s what brought us together. It’s Magni.”
“And yet, it’s what has confounded you as well, all because you do not have an understanding of the Light, not a good one at least, and thus find yourselves unable to interpret the words in what might very well be the right way.”
“Can ya tone down the wordiness, yer holy holiness?” Jamie asked. “What’re ya talking about?”
Amara chuckled lightly and nodded.
“The deaths will toll, and screams will run. Misery will mold, a shadow around the sun. Those sequences are pretty right, not much to doubt, I mean, the amount of death and misery is pretty unprecedented. If this invasion is not what the prophecy is referring to, I shudder to think about what it might be. But, there is that to consider.”
“It’s definitely this,” Jamie agreed.
“And the shadow around the sun would be a reference to their mist,” Amara added. The Street Rat again nodded in agreement.
“And when the time comes, look to darkness for the save,” Amara continued, “so, the solution to this threat, the save, is going to come from the darkness.” Amara looked up, bringing a hand to her chin. “As I said, we all have the Light within us, in some way, even when surrounded by darkness…as you and your peers definitely are. Yet, we are all in the darkness. If this was to be a prophecy, it needed to be more…detailed.”
“You’re enjoying this,” Jamie noticed, still in complaint.
“This, my sweet Jamie, is the great reveal,” Amara told her, “I was kidding before, of course, I wouldn’t make the people suffer on behalf of my personal whims. The truth is that I do not know who your savior is, but you most certainly should. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’d get there without talking to me.”
Jamie shook her head in disbelief but gave no response beyond her half-disgusted facial expression.
“For hope will be pitched…from the very best of the Shadow Conclave,” Amara announced, meaningfully. “This is where you all went off the rails, so to speak, on your interpretation. One, you assume that the very best of the Shadow Conclave is going to destroy the Beasts when what it says is they’ll pitch hope. That can be a number of things but still, it is possible that that hope does mean the destruction of the Beasts. It’s also possible that it doesn’t. However, what I do know is that you most likely thought that by best, it meant skill. Because Shadow Conclave was mentioned, an alliance of thieves, it would be the best thief. The most skilled.”
The Lady of Light paused for effect, waving a stretched finger like she had just solved a puzzle. Jamie didn’t appreciate it that much.
“Yeah? So?” the Street Rat asked, impatiently.
“So obviously it isn’t,” Amara said, looking forward at Jamie. “The prophecy did not come from a thief, if it really came from anyone at all. In that respect, you should all instead have taken it much more literally, as you did with the first part, instead of assuming hidden meanings. The best has to mean the best person. Best as in, pardon the bad grammar, most good.”
Jamie raised a questionable eyebrow, so Amara added, “I mean morally and ethically, the best of you.”
The Street Rat’s first reaction was to snort, as derisively as she could. Then she chuckled dismissively.
Then she remembered the Shadow and kind of almost had a stroke.
“No,” Jamie said, trailing off somewhat into the universe inside her mind. “No way.”
The Street Rat wavered, her eyes shifting in a torrent of quick rampant thoughts that more or less choked her.
“Ah ha,” Amara smiled warmly again, very glad to confirm her suspicions. “So I was right, you know who I’m talking about.”
“You’re crazy!” Jamie yelled, which startled her. Jamie waved her hand, her eyes still tracing some invisible map on the ground, “you’re crazy is what you are. Not right.”
“That person will see the Light,” Amara said, smiling, “or has already. They are blessed to be personally touched, no doubt, so that their heart moves them to purpose and to what is right, instead of being dragged on by the flimsy desires of the ego. As it is with most.”
The Lady of Light paused for effect.
“Whether anyone supports them will bear no significance on their efforts to do what’s best. However, what ist the hope that they will be pitching? And to whom? That is the real mystery,” Amara confessed.
“You’re getting wordy again,” the Street Rat complained, her body compressed in hesitation of acceptance. In stubbornness.
“I’m sorry,” Amara acknowledged with a nod, “you get to have an entire world wanting to hear you nonstop, you kind of develop a habit,” she laughed at herself.
The Street Rat was not one to feel envy, but she was jealous at that. Just one more wrong thing to add to the pile of mistakes that had been that whole interaction.
Looking at it all, Jamie couldn’t help but laugh. All of a sudden, she was laughing.
“I’ve learned the greatest lesson today,” the Street Rat told Amara, soon as she regained composure, “I mean, no matter how smart we are, it really doesn’t mean we can’t be crazy and delusional. I should’ve learned that from the Mad Genius,” she added derisively, “but you, Amara, you take the cake.”
Amara laughed kindly, more with the Street Rat than at her.
“That is not the lesson you learned from me, Jamie,” she said. “But it’s still true, yes. Maybe you should ask if you’re not already experiencing that.”
“What? Me?” Jamie asked, scoffing.
“Who else thinks they are exerting control over the end of the world? And manipulating the behavior of people who are, as you yourself just stated, clinically mad? I’d say that someone is a bit delusional herself?” Amara questioned, in a friendly manner.
Jamie couldn’t help but blush. Ordinarily, she could very easily prove such a statement wrong…but not at that moment, not when Jamie had said it could happen to the best of them, and not after she experienced a true and insane rarity.
The Street Rat had been wrong about Amara.
So very wrong.