On Thursday morning, Nik awoke disoriented, too early, depressed and nauseated and unable at first to remember what was wrong. Then it came to him in a sickening rush of anger, fear, betrayal. Justin, grinning like it was a joke, as if he would actually consent to alter his personality just to force Nik into his debt. Demons take you, Justin. How dare you. I should have called your bluff. I should have trusted that the Savior would not allow you to be greatly changed, perhaps not allow a change at all.
But what if Justin hadn’t been bluffing? What if changing the way he reacted to fear did make him more cautious? Made him reconsider the foolish risks we take when we…
Then that would be the Savior’s will. And who could fault it? Is this not the definition of madness, in violation of law, custom, nature? Shouldn’t I trust the Savior to do what is right? Nik had never had any trouble trusting the Savior before, not even when he’d prayed for alteration to his own mind. Yes, and that didn’t go as you planned, either. What do you truly fear? That you will be able to cure Justin when you have never, ever been able to cure yourself? Selfish coward.
Curse it all. What possessed me to tell him about it anyway? A misplaced sense of obligation; the fool notion that he owed it to Justin to tell him. Because his conscience had been pricked by Justin’s jibe: ‘A true friend would’ve told me I was crazy and cured me’. He punched the pillow in remembered anger. So what kind of friend am I, Justin? Right. The kind you have to buy.
The tangled web of emotions knotted into a sudden hard ball of hatred: for Justin for putting him in this position, for making everything be about money, about Justin having it and Nik not and never letting him forget that. For the Savior for giving him this curse of a Blessing – I never asked for this! For himself, for his own cowardice, for letting Justin do this to him, for not trusting the Savior.
When Shelby arrived with breakfast, Nik was still hunched in his four-poster bed, maroon and white linens in a disarrayed heap around him. The valet inquired after his health, but probed no further in response to Nik’s monosyllabic reply. Nik went through his usual morning routine sluggishly, and approached the reception hall with a sense of dread. It was by no means the first time he’d felt ashamed to invoke the Savior, and he knew the Savior would do his part whatever Nik’s mood or personal feelings. Even so, he took a moment outside the reception hall to bow his head and ask the Savior to forgive him.
The Savior’s presence when Nik prayed was different from his presence when Nik invoked his Blessing. Instead of an overwhelming rush of golden warmth and power, Nik sensed an expectancy inside his mind, a hushed listening. His prayer was silent but heartfelt: I am sorry, my Lord. For not trusting you. For being selfish and mean and petty. For selling myself. For resenting it. For being broken. For not wanting to enter this room and help people with problems a hundred times worse than my own. I am unworthy of the gift you have given me. Please forgive me.
His answer came in a touch of the Savior’s love, a warm wind enfolding him: invisible, untouchable, but nonetheless vaster and more powerful than the human mind could encompass. Behind that love was a hint of sorrow reminiscent of the Savior’s response to a petitioner Nikola could not diagnose, as if the Savior were shielding Nik from the god’s own disappointment. The certain knowledge of the Savior’s love took some of the edge off of Nikola’s misery, but it didn’t take away any of his current problems or make them feel more solvable. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and nodded to Bill to open the reception hall doors and announce him.
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