Jadranka, formerly known to the world as Danka, presented herself to her professors. She recognized two of the instructors from the Followers’ celebrations she had attended earlier in the year. However, there was no special interaction with them. The Cult of the Ancients had dissolved, its members had cut themselves off from their pasts, and to the committee she was just an ordinary student.
She spoke to a panel of academics to demonstrate which educational topics she had mastered and which ones she would need to pursue over the next year. After admonishing her for arriving a week late, the university staff grilled her about her education so far. Although not a word about her former life was mentioned at the hearing, the professors were well-aware that Jadranka had been a protege of the dean’s associate, the Cult leader Babackt Yaga. Therefore she would have a foundation in field medicine, chemistry, botany, classical readings, and Danubian history. It turned out she also knew archaic Danubian and had a working knowledge of German and Slavic.
After having been forced to stand for several hours, an exhausted Jadranka finally received her curricula for the next year. She would be placed in the advanced course for chemistry and medicine preparation, the advanced course for archaic Danubian, the intermediate course for algebra, the intermediate course for German, the intermediate course for field surgery, and the beginners’ course in chronicles and report writing.
Jadranka also would be enrolled in the beginners’ course for a topic referred to as “land studies”, which covered topography, soil and rock identification, weather studies, astronomy, map-preparation, and rudimentary structural engineering. Europeans were only beginning to understand hard sciences such as geology during the 1700s, but in the Duchy the study of the earth was enthusiastically embraced by a culture which was trying to unlock the mysteries the Creator had left in the Realm of the Living.
The professors handed the new student a list of books she would have to retrieve from the library the following morning. She also received a list of study supplies that included parchment, ink, quills, a lamp and oil, and measurement instruments.
Dean Fitoreckt showed up when the meeting was about to conclude. He escorted Jadranka to the bed-chamber she had selected and told her to move her things to an upperclassman’s quarters. Jadranka was stunned when she saw the new room and realized it was assigned to her. It had a bed with curtains, a wardrobe, a study desk, a bookshelf, a private wash basin, and a private chamber-pot. The floor had a rug and the walls had tapestries. However, the detail that made the room truly luxurious was a glass window. Jadranka touched the glass. She had never slept in a room that was graced by a glass window.
She remembered her bucket and the items she had taken from Babackt Yaga’s study. She handed the portrait and the two jars longevity potion to her dean. He opened the picture holder and stared at the portraits. His eyes became watery and he struggled to keep his voice under control.
“Babackt Yaga was correct about you. It truly was your Path in Life to bear witness to the demise of the Old World. It is a blessing, truly a blessing, that you rescued these paintings.”
“Who’s the man in the portrait, if I may ask, Dean?”
“My uncle. From a long time ago, hard to believe it’s been so many years. He married her, according to the Old World traditions. And years later, I left my family and followed him into the Cult.”
“What happened to him?”
“Knowledge brings despair, Jadranka. It brought despair to him, just like it brought despair to me and will bring despair to you. And yet, you must pursue knowledge, just like I did, just like my uncle did. It is your Path in Life.”
Jadranka knew better than to pursue the topic. Dean Fitoreckt changed the subject.
“You proved to the professors that you qualify as an upper classman, not a beginning student. They made that determination, not me. So, like any other upper-level student, you have the privilege of this room.”
Less than a week after she saw her Mistress, her lover, and the forest settlement for the last time; Student Jadranka started classes. There was no settling in. The day after she arrived she picked up her books, carried them to her room, and joined the other students in the lecture halls. The university’s routine was structured to allow the students to focus on their education and nothing else. The school had professional cooks to prepare meals and collared penitents to clean the linens, heat bath water, sweep out the rooms, and clean the chamber pots. The schedule was grueling: Jadranka’s first class started at 7:00 in the morning and her last class ended at 8:00 in the evening. Between classes she read, wrote reports, and memorized course material. She struggled to keep up with the deluge of new information being pushed at her, but she was satisfied knowing the professors took her seriously. As long as she could keep up with the classes, no one questioned her background or her rough peasant accent.
Jadranka’s manner of speaking during her time at the university was unique among the students. She still had the accent of a peasant, but her vocabulary matched that of any leading intellectual. It was strange for her listeners to hear complicated words and concepts being spoken with such rough pronunciation. The student did consider trying to work on her speech, but she was so overwhelmed with other subjects that she did not believe softening her accent was a priority.
To counteract their sedentary lifestyle, every day the university forced the students to engage in physical exercising. In the mid afternoon of each day they had to run a full circle around the outer walls of the city, regardless of weather conditions. Apart from special leather running slippers, the students performed their laps completely naked, in full view of the city guards and anyone else who cared to step outside the city gates to watch. Failing to attend a run without medical justification was a serious offense at the school, punishable by wearing a collar for a week for the first offense, 25 strokes of the switch for the second offense, and expulsion from the university for the third offense.
The students received military training from the Royal guardsmen stationed at the nearby defensive fortifications as part of their education and as a responsibility for being residents in a town close to the border. On Saturdays they had to perform drills that involved manning the city walls, running over rooftops in the event they needed to avoid enemies in the streets, using flags and hand signals, and carrying injured patients. In addition to the Saturday drills, weapons-training was given three days each week. Sebernekt Ris was perilously close to hostile territory so, if the place were ever invaded, it would be important that everyone knew how to fight in a war, women included. The citizens of the city took it for granted that if they were ever invaded, it would be best to fight to the death. The Danubians understood, from the stories of the invasions in the early 1500’s, it was likely any prisoners would be tortured and any captured women would be raped before being killed.
Along with the basics of operating a crossbow, a longbow, and a musket, Jadranka also learned the basics of using a dagger and a sword. The sword training was the only part of her new life that she truly hated, because every time she picked up a sword she had to endure flashbacks of those terrible last minutes in Babackt Yaga’s settlement and traumatic memories of clumsily hacking men to death. However, she always forced herself to pick up the weapon when it was her turn to practice. Whatever trouble she might have had with nightmares or memories, she’d have to keep those thoughts to herself and pursue her duties. Post-traumatic stress disorder was still unknown at the time.
Discipline at the university was strict for almost every aspect of life, not just military training and exercising. A student could not miss a class, cheat or lie under any circumstances, drink alcohol, fight, leave the city without a document signed by the dean, or disobey a professor, city guard, or Clergy member. Failing tests and not completing assignments was considered an act of disobedience against a professor and thus a punishable offense.
The school maintained a punishment bench where offenders were switched. Most of the offenders were young men who were first-year students, and the most common offense was leaving the campus without permission. Whenever a student was punished, the faculty posted a message in the morning to notify the other students about the event. Switchings were always administered at noon. 15 minutes before the punishment, the student had to undress and stand on the punishment bench with his hands behind his head while the audience gathered. At noon the offender bent over the bench with his bottom facing the spectators. The strokes were always administered a minute apart, which was timed with a small hourglass.
The university women, especially the upper-level students, watched the punishments for entertainment if they didn’t have any pressing duties at the moment. They did not openly taunt the offenders, but they quietly discussed the whippings and compared the young men’s bodies and how bravely they endured their chastisements. Jadranka was fascinated by seeing young men her age being forced to endure punishment, and then stand facing the women with their naked bodies and teary faces. Very rarely did she miss the opportunity to witness a switching.
There was one activity that was not restricted among the students: sex. The students were free to engage in relationships and visit each other’s bedchambers, as long as their sexual encounters did not interfere with their studies. The alchemist’s shop maintained a steady supply of birth-control paste, so there was little risk of pregnancy among the women. The staff looked upon sex among their students as a legitimate form of stress-relief, certainly better than drinking or gambling.
Jadranka was one of the most sexually active women at the school. Her fantasies about being Lilith returned full-force within days of her enrollment. Very quickly she forgot about the scandal that her behavior had caused in Daguruckt-Tok. She made love to anyone whose Path in Life crossed with hers, as long as the man was willing to lie on his back and allow her to copulate by straddling him. She made love to professors, senior students, and first-year students alike, only insisting that her partners assume a position that allowed her to fancy herself as Lilith. She especially enjoyed having sex with young students who had just been punished. Disciplined men usually remained humiliated and submissive when she approached them, which was precisely what she wanted. She loved making them stand with their legs spread and hands on a wall while she caressed the welts on their bottoms and slowly teased their penises until they were erect. Then she’d make them lie on their backs and wait, making them desperate before finally straddling them.
Jadranka never invited any of her lovers into her bed-chamber. That room was her space, a place where she could be alone with her studies, her body, and her thoughts. Also, she wanted to control how long she spent with her lovers and did not want to deal with having to coax a man out of her room once she was finished with him. So… she always went to her lover’s bed chamber if he was a student; or to his study if he was a professor.
Jadranka was careful to avoid any mention of the Cult of the Ancients whenever she was around the dean. However, she suspected that Fitoreckt had a final matter to settle before the Followers completely vanished into the void; avenging the death of Babackt Yaga and the elders in the forest. She also wondered what would happen to places such as the Altar of Blood Nourishment and the Temple of the Solstice. She could hardly imagine those locations simply being left abandoned to be looted by fortune-hunters.
The student received her first hint that the Cult of the Ancients was not completely forgotten at the end of her first week at the university. When she returned from her first afternoon of military drills, a package was sitting on her desk. When she opened it, she took out a small jar of blue powder and other ingredients needed to make the special tea. She had turned over all of the mixture taken from Babackt Yaga’s study without giving any thought about keeping any for herself. Fitoreckt had secretly thanked her by returning a portion of the potion. She calculated there were enough doses in the jar to last about 30 years.
The Equinox came and went without any fanfare. The True Believers were watching to see if the Cult of the Ancients was planning any special events. They were deeply disappointed when the day passed without any Followers showing themselves in public. That seemed very strange. Perhaps there were far fewer Followers than originally estimated, or perhaps more died in the forest than was evident from the dismembered bodies that had been recovered from the witch’s burned-out settlement.
Through his network of informants, Fitoreckt monitored the True Believers. He noted they seemed much more relaxed after the Equinox had passed. During the second week of October, the Priest of Nagoronkti-Serifkti felt confident enough to organize a group to go into the mountains and locate the Altar of Blood Nourishment. It would be destroyed and a cross built in its place, the first step in a plan to eliminate all vestiges of paganism and eventually claim the entire Duchy for the True Believers.
Fitoreckt knew that he had to act before the True Believers had a chance to locate the Altar. During the month following the raid on Babackt Yaga’s settlement, the surviving leader of the Cult of the Ancients had not been sitting quietly: he had been gathering information on his nemesis to retaliate. His most important informant in Nagoronkti-Serifkti was a laundress whose duties included washing the linens in the Priest’s house. Although the Priest was not married and did not have a partner, the woman frequently had to wash semen out of both the bed sheets and the man’s nightshirt. The True Believer Priest was very worried about the linens and had paid the servant in silver not to say anything about them. Another informant who cleaned the town’s church provided another useful piece of information; that each day the laundress had to clean bed linens, the Priest was in the chapel frantically praying to the Christian saints to protect him against the evil female demon that was causing him to sin. Fitoreckt figured out what was going on: the Priest was having wet dreams and was terrified that Lilith was paying him visits.
Fitoreckt reflected about Lilith. He remembered the fascination that Babackt Yaga’s protege had with her. The girl’s obsession with Lilith was still a central part of her character, confirmed by gossip Fitoreckt was hearing about the way she insisted on making love. The dean put on his Follower’s robe and sat at his desk to contemplate the final task the Ancients had given him as the Cult leader and the clues they had given him to accomplish his duty.
Interesting how the Ancients have asked me to avenge Babackt Yaga. I must do so through Lilith, and in my university I have a Lilith. That girl will fulfill her Path in Life. Through her, the Ancients will avenge the murder of our Mistress of the Forest.
Jadranka received a note from the dean to visit his office at midnight. She wondered what was going on, but figured the summons was related to her sexual activity. Either she was about to admonished for her behavior, or the dean wanted to make love to her. It would be interesting to see which it was.
When she arrived and knocked, no one answered. She worked up the courage to open the door. An ancient oil lamp was lit, emitting a red flame. In the dim light Jadranka could see a Follower’s skull staff and a folded black dress sitting on Dean Fitoreckt’s desk. There was a note on top of the dress.
You will serve the Ancients. Put on your dress and light your staff. When your staff is lit, I will come to you and speak.
Jadranka did as she was instructed. She changed into her Followers’ dress and lit the lamp in her skull. Fitoreckt emerged from the darkness. Jadranka was both scared and happy to see him wearing his Follower’s robe. So, the Followers weren’t completely gone after-all. Jadranka saluted him, held out her staff in the manner she had been taught by her Mistress, and knelt. It felt good to be a Follower again.
“The hour has arrived for us to avenge your Mistress. You will play the most important role in our act of vengeance. Is that your wish, Follower Danka Siluckt?”
“Yes, Alchemist Fitoreckt. That is my wish. I place myself at the command of the Ancients and I will do as you instruct.”
Fitoreckt handed Danka a trader’s dress to wear as a traveling disguise. They left Sebernekt Ris with a dozen other former Cult members, riding horses in the direction of Nagoronkti-Serifkti. The rode quickly, so fast that Danka had trouble staying on her horse given that she was not an experienced rider. The group traveled the same route she had followed two months earlier when she was riding her mule, but they were traveling much faster. When they approached the path that led into the forest, the other Followers veered to the north, but Fitoreckt and Danka continued in the direction of Nagoronkti-Serifkti.
The two Followers arrived mid-morning at a small farm house just outside the town. The structure was humble on the outside, but much larger on the inside. The place had a huge multi-chambered basement containing a dormitory, storage rooms, and a study. Fitoreckt ordered Danka to rest and recover from her jarring ride. Shortly before sunset Fitoreckt showed Danka maps of the town and drawings of the layout of the Priest’s house and its interior.
Danka and her mentor joined a couple of other disguised Cult members and entered the town after dark. They scouted the area around the local church and the Priest’s house to memorize access routes, practice their escape plan, and make sure the items they needed for their ruse were properly stored and well hidden. The trip included a trial run into their target’s house. The Priest’s two dogs, which had been drugged, peacefully slept while a terrified Danka snuck into the man’s sleeping chamber and silently crawled up to his bed. She carefully memorized the locations of all the objects in the room and crawled up to the window, which would be her escape route. The Priest slept fitfully as she moved about. Finally she returned to door and slowly backed down the stairs, careful to avoid creaking boards.
Danka spent the next day practicing her lines and moving about wearing nothing but a pair of shoes shaped like bird’s feet and a large pair of fake wings. At sunset she unbraided her hair, combed it out, and hid the back of her head under a shawl. She had long fantasized about being Lilith. Now, to avenge the death of her Mistress, she would play that role in real life.
Danka dressed in her traders’ disguise to enter the town, but would change into her Lilith outfit upon arriving near the Priest’s house. As she emerged outside, four mounted men rode up to the farm house carrying cloth sacks. The sacks contained human heads, taken from members of the expedition of True Believers who had been sent into the mountains to find the Altar of Blood Nourishment. It seemed there were a lot of heads, at least 30. Fitoreckt was extremely pleased. Even if they accomplished nothing more that night, already their vengeance against the True Believers had gone extremely well.
When she arrived near the Priest’s house, Danka was greeted by four followers dressed in tightly fitting black clothing with their faces and hands painted black. They took her trader’s outfit and handed her the wings and bird feet shoes. Danka’s naked body trembled in the chilly autumn air, but she forced herself to stay silent. She pulled off her headscarf, trying to ignore the fact that three men and a woman were seeing her with her hair undone. It was a gross indecency, but one that was necessary for Fitoreckt’s plan.
The three men snuck in first, lugging heavy sacks full of human heads. A few minutes later they re-emerged, their sacks now empty. Danka went in next, following the woman. One of the men followed her, holding her wings to prevent them from brushing against any objects in the house and making noise. Danka and the man waited silently while the woman carefully uncovered the Priest and pulled up his nightshirt. She gently and patiently masturbated him, managing to make him hard without waking him up. He was still asleep when he climaxed and the smell of semen filled the room. Danka marveled at what her companion had managed to accomplish.
The orgasm was Danka’s signal to sneak up to the bed and straddle the Priest. The woman quickly lit two green oil lamps, giving Danka a completely surreal appearance. “Lilith” placed her hand close to the Priest’s chest and grabbed his wet penis. He woke up with a start and a terrified grunt. The “demon” placed her hand on his chest and pushed him down, while her two companions reached up from under the bed and immobilized his arms. The Priest started to scream, but Danka put her hand over his mouth.
“You must be silent, my love. Do not be afraid. I am here for you. I am your beloved, and the owner of your soul. So do not fear.”
Danka uncovered the Priest’s mouth and brought her face close to his. He was so terrified that he lost control of his bladder. Danka felt the hot piss flowing against her thigh. She was totally disgusted, but relieved that Fitoreckt’s ruse seemed to be working so well. She continued.
“You have served me very well, my love. You have done everything I could have wanted. I have had many men, but you truly are the good servant. You have killed and betrayed for Satan without remorse. you have brought the darkness into your city. We could not have asked for more.”
Danka caressed the Priest’s hair and kissed his terrified face. With a wild look in her eyes, she stared at him in silence. He was violently shaking from mortal fear.
“And, best of all, every night, just for me, you were my loyal lover. You truly are special. I appreciate that you loved me and none other. I am grateful, so the moment has come for me to show my face.”
Danka stood up, allowing the green lamps to illuminate her entire body. Her wings swayed back and forth.
“I now leave you, my love. But remember who you belong to. Remember, your soul is now sheltered in my womanhood, and there it will remain, forever. The next time I see you, we will travel to the underworld, together, and in the eternal darkness I will love you, FOREVER!!!”
Danka jumped off the bed. The window flew open. She hopped onto the windowsill, spread her arms, and fell forward. Outside, two black-clad Followers were waiting to catch her. The men pulled off her wings and the trio vanished into a narrow alleyway. In a well-rehearsed movement, they dressed Danka in a two-piece set of clothing normally worn by lower-class boys and quickly tied her hair. She hid her head under a peasant’s hat and the three set out running along the back allies of the town. Danka could hear maniacal screaming coming from the direction of the Priest’s house.
As soon as “Lilith” flew out the window, Danka’s two bedroom companions extinguished the oil lamps, grabbed them, and silently scurried down the stairs and out the Priest’s front door. They ducked into a neighboring house, changed clothes, and ran out the back door. They met up with Danka and her escorts near the city armory. Fitoreckt was waiting to lead the group to safety.
A city guard opened a supply door as the Followers approached. They jumped into the armory’s basement and followed a hidden passageway that lead out of the town. A drainage gate, normally bolted shut, was open to allow their final escape. A city worker pulled aside the grate.
“Correct. No one else is coming.”
“Praise be to the Ancients. May the Old World protect you in your journey.”
“Thank you. May the Ancients bestow their gratitude upon you. We won’t forget what you’ve done for us.”
The worker knelt, took Fitoreckt’s hand, and placed his forehead against the leader’s fingers. The alchemist gave the worker a quick blessing and the group ran through a wheat field. As they fled, the town’s church bells started ringing and they could hear shouting. Meanwhile, the worker bolted the grid back in place and tossed some branches to cover it.
The town of Nagoronkti-Serifkti woke up to the crazed screams and curses of their Senior Priest. It was obvious to everyone that his soul was possessed by Beelzebub the Destroyer. He was shouting incoherently about the Roman Satan and having sex with a female demon. The guards tried to calm him down, but when he saw several young women in the crowd, he screamed:
“Women! Satan sent the young women to destroy the world! Kill them! Kill the evil harlots! Kill all the women! Must destroy them all! Burn the witches!”
The Priest threw himself at his dumbfounded female spectators, but the guards firmly held him and immobilized his hands. He viciously struggled, foam forming in his mouth. The townsfolk didn’t know what to make of the bizarre spectacle, but they certainly weren’t about to kill all of the city’s women. Finally the chief councilman decided to enter the Priest’s house. A moment later he came back out, with an ashen face and his eyes wide with horror. Inside the house was an altar to Beelzebub the Destroyer and two barrels full of human heads. They were from the town citizens the Priest had convinced to go into the mountains and destroy the Pagan sites.
It wasn’t hard to figure out what happened. The Priest must have been in the service of Beelzebub the Destroyer all along, and he lured the town’s best Christian men into the mountains so his could murder them and use their heads for satanic rituals. When Beelzebub the Destroyer took possession of his soul, the Priest went mad. Not hard to figure out.
The councilman decided to confirm the Priest’s service to Beelzebub the Destroyer, by having him interrogated by relatives of men who had participated in the altar expedition. Sure enough, with the right amount of “encouragement”, he confessed. The townsfolk were so infuriated they burned him at the stake, the first time anyone in the Duchy had been executed in such a manner since 1499. After failing to control the enraged mob and the town’s leaders, the other Clergy members working at the Church in Nagoronkti-Serifkti fled in terror. For two months there were no Clergymen at all in Nagoronkti-Serifkti.
When the Grand Duke was informed about the situation in Nagoronkti-Serifkti, he asked the Senior Prophet of the Great Temple in Danubikt Moskt to send people to replace the disgraced Priests from the True Believers’ church. The new Clergy members were Priests and Priestesses from the Old Believers’ faction. That was fine with everyone in the town. After what they had been through, no one in Nagoronkti-Serifkti wanted anything to do with the True Believers or their patrons from the Church in Rome.
Alchemist Fitoreckt wanted to believe that the Followers’ revenge against the men who had killed Babackt Yaga was a sign that the Cult of the Ancients could return and reassert itself as part of the Duchy’s society. However, the answer he received was firmly “no”. The Old World was gone and it was not coming back… ever. The Ancients had granted the Followers their final wish, to avenge the death of Babackt Yaga and the settlement elders. Following that moment of revenge, there would be nothing else. The Ancients were determined to no longer speak through the Cult. Alchemist Fitoreckt knew why; he had even explained the facts to Jadranka, when she was still known to the world as the Follower Danka. Time moved forward, never backward. So… it was up to Alchemist Fitoreckt, the last leader of the Cult of the Ancients, to close it down permanently.
The Altar of Blood Nourishment was indeed destroyed, but by the Followers themselves, not their enemies the True Believers. The Cult members took apart the structure stone by stone and took all of the pieces underground. They were careful not to damage any of the stones or bricks and numbered them so the site could be rebuilt, should the Realm of the Living ever want the Followers to return to the practices of the Old World. However, as the Cult members sadly took down their holy site, they knew they were dismantling the last vestiges of the Old World itself. The Altar and the beliefs it represented would be reduced to nothing more than a stack of stones and building materials buried underground.
The Followers handed over their skull staffs and Cult clothing. The personal items would be stored underground along with the stones from the Altar; in the unlikely event they could ever be reused. The Followers, standing outside in the bitter cold wearing ordinary winter clothing, sadly watched as Alchemist Fitoreckt rigged the explosion that would cause the entrance of the passageway to collapse. The chambers would remain intact, at least for a while, but the entrance would be destroyed, buried, and planted over. Once vegetation grew over the site, no fortune hunter would ever find it.
Danka, now having returned to her new life as Student Jadranka, immersed herself in her studies throughout the rest of the autumn and the entire winter. She impressed all of the university’s professors with her ability to remember detailed information and to grasp new concepts. She also impressed the university with her willingness to help others. She mentored new students and tutored classmates who were having difficulty with course material. Helping others helped Jadranka develop her own abilities to explain complicated subject matter, which in turn was of tremendous usefulness when she had to take exams and recite her knowledge of class material.
Student Jadranka spent part of her spare time during the winter transcribing Babackt Yaga’s unpublished research and editing texts for printing. Apart from the dean, Student Jadranka had known Babackt Yaga better than anyone else at the university, so she knew how her Mistress would have wanted to phrase and express the contents of her notes. The work was important, but also very painful for the transciber. It seemed that Babackt Yaga was speaking for a final time from the grave. When the transcriptions were finished, she’d have nothing more to say.
As the snow fell and the cold mountain wind whipped around the university, Jadranka often sat by her window, contemplating the bitter weather outside. She was extremely grateful her mind was being given the opportunity to develop and be challenged with new information, but she sorely missed life in Babackt Yaga’s settlement. She missed the late-night sessions with her mentor… she missed the chores and the rough medical training, and she missed her lover Kaloyankt. She had known from the beginning that she could never stay with him, but she still deeply cared for him and missed him. There had been an emotional bond with him that she had not been able to find with anyone else. She spent the winter making love to many men, but she couldn’t feel attached to any of them.
She wasn’t sure why, but by the beginning of March, sex was starting to bore her. After months of being as active as possible, it seemed that every love-making session was like every other love-making session. Worse, it seemed that the male students were indistinguishable from each other. The professors were somewhat more interesting, but none of the older men saw her as an intellectual equal. She wanted to talk, but there was no one to talk to.
Fortunately, Student Jadranka’s academic performance did not reflect her increasingly restless state of mind. As the winter months passed and the days lengthened, she continued to perform extremely well in her classes. She finished editing Babackt Yaga’s final journals and wondered what to do next.
Dean Fitoreckt, anticipating a possible crisis over the sudden lack of extra work, decided to send Jadranka into the city as a member of a team of university doctors and medical students. The group also visited the fortifications on the border and attended the needs of the Royal Guards and the cannon crews. The student took special interest in the cannons and how they operated, and in hearing stories about how King Vladik was able to retake the area after the second invasion from the Holy Roman Empire. The men talked confidently about their defenses, but seemed worried about the military situation on the other side of the Duchy, south of Danubikt Moskt.
In mid-March, Jadranka even had the opportunity to cross the border. A foreign landlord, smart enough to not trust the medical practitioners in his own country, had contracted the university in Sebernekt Ris to send doctors to attend his wife while she had a baby. The landlord sent his own escort to bring in the Danubians, so they traveled safely. While on the man’s estate, the Danubians attended other medical issues of family members and servants, including vaccinations, a couple of operations, and disinfecting bedrooms. The trip to the foreign manor was considerably more pleasant than the previous year’s trading expedition, but when she returned to Sebernekt Ris, Jadranka and the others realized they had brought back lice.
On the first day of April, 1753, Jadranka abruptly stopped having sex with her classmates. She had long been bored with her lifestyle and her memories of Kaloyankt and Ermin made her realize that she’d never find a partner if she continued making herself available to every man who came her way. What she had been doing might be acceptable for a Follower, but the Cult’s Path in Life no longer was available to her. The Cult of the Ancients was gone and Jadranka understood she had to find a new identity. With no serious relationship and no group with whom she could say she belonged, she did not have an assigned place in her country’s society. She felt adrift, every bit as much as she had felt adrift during those first days of traveling between Rika Heckt-nemat and Starivktaki Moskt. Her only consolation was that as long as she remained a student, the problem of not having an identity was not as serious as it would be if she were still wandering the country roads.
Jadranka was not only bored with sex. She became bored with the entire university and its monotonous routine of classes, studying, military practice, and daily runs. She knew that her performance would be satisfactory through the end of the academic year in June, but she pondered whether or not she really wanted to return for the 1753-1754 school year. Ironically, the visits to the fortifications and the foreign manor made her less satisfied with her academic life by reminding her of the world that existed beyond her bed-chamber, the library, and the lecture halls.
Jadranka’s problem was feeling unable to talk to anyone about her feelings. She fully understood that she needed to be grateful to Dean Fitoreckt for setting her up with free enrollment and residency in a very nice room. For a young person from a dishonored and impoverished background, her situation was ideal. But she was increasingly restless and dissatisfied. Why?
Her thoughts returned to her heroine Lilith and the power she held over the righteous. Power, that was one thing Jadranka did not have. As a woman in Danubian society, she never would have any power, assuming she wanted to lead a “respectable” life and marry a man capable of taking care of her. She had been right about Kaloyankt: at first glance he had been perfect for her, but she could not have tolerated living the restricted life of an upper-class wife, even if she could have ingratiated herself into his neighbors’ society, which was highly doubtful.
She had hoped to achieve power through sex. Before scandal overtook her in Daguruckt-Tok, using sex to control men seemed a promising Path in Life. That belief seemed to be confirmed when she played Lilith during the Cult’s final act of vengeance against the Priest who had sought to destroy it. She had tried the same strategy at the university, with no results. She pleased her lovers and for a while pleased herself, but after months of continuous copulating, her standing in the university was exactly what it had been the day she enrolled.
So, what did the university offer? Yes, she was developing her intellect, but for what purpose? The best she could hope for upon graduating would be a position as a scribe for a city official or being the doctor of a wealthy family. In either situation she would live out her life as a pampered servant, taking orders from some man or some woman whose social status was higher than hers. Already she was taking orders, constantly standing in front of her professors trying to satisfy them with how much she had learned. The entire routine was irritating her more and more.
Note: Geologists surveying the northern mountains with seismic imaging located a series of caves and tunnels deep under the location believed to be the former site of the Altar of Blood Nourishment. However, after consulting with the Grand Prophets of the Danubian Church, Prime Minister Vladim Dukov prohibited any further exploration and ordered the area to be incorporated into the National Park System. The Danubian Church is now officially responsible for administering the location. The site will never be excavated and will never be made accessible to anyone, even archeologists. The only existing map of the area based on the recent imaging is stored in the vault in the Prime Minister’s office.
– Maritza Ortskt-Dukovna –