Zélie, Amari, and Tzain follow the man down a dark passageway. Zélie knows he is a sêntaro, a kind of high priest to the maji. He introduces himself as Olamilekan, or Lekan for short.
Even though magic is outlawed, Zélie’s knowledge of faith and tradition helps her forge a connection to this stranger and understand his powers and place within the larger maji community.
Lekan leads Zélie, Amari, and Tzain to a vast central chamber decorated with beautiful murals of the gods. As he speaks, telling the stories of the Sky Mother and each of the children gods, the walls swirl with color and light. When he reaches Oya, Zélie’s patron god, he asks her to tell the story. Telling the story reminds her powerfully of her mother.
Again, Zélie feels a sense of kinship with Lekan and the temple because they invoke shared traditions—something Saran has tried to erase. Zélie learned those traditions from her mother, so she also feels a sense of connection to her lost family when she speaks about the gods.
Lekan also explains that, every century, the scroll, the sunstone, and the bone dagger must be carried to a sacred temple for the binding ritual. King Saran found out about the ritual and slaughtered the sêntaros before carrying out the Raid, so that the connection to the gods and magic would be lost.
Saran used his fear of magic to justify the murder of priests and the destruction of a powerful faith. Killing the ntaros made the maji less connected to the gods, but also less connected to each other, because they lost powerful community leaders.
Lekan says that the centennial solstice is approaching, and it will be a final chance to restore a connection to the gods. On this solstice, an island will appear. If the artifacts are taken there and the ancient incantation recited, magic will be restored for all divîners. But it’s only a month away.
The faith of the divîners requires constant renewal, practice, ceremony, and sacrifice. The divîners’ faith is also a source of both personal power and a strong sense of connection to other divîners. This, as well as the restoration of a balance of power in the kingdom, is what is at stake with the upcoming ritual.
The ritual must be performed by a woman. If Lekan performs a ceremony to connect Zélie to the Sky Mother, he says, she can be the one to carry out the ritual. Zélie is terrified. She feels like the gods must have made a mistake—there’s no way she’s strong enough to do the ritual. But she knows that without the ritual, the monarchy will continue seeing and treating her people as maggots forever.
Zélie is still not sure in her own faith and power. She is not convinced that the gods are behind her, especially after she has suffered for so many years. But, she also feels a growing sense of purpose. She believes that the only way to subvert the injustice and oppression of the monarchy is by restoring some power to her people, and she knows that if she doesn’t perform the ritual, no one else can or will.
Lekan begins the ceremony to connect Zélie to the Sky Mother: he cuts Zélie’s hand with the bone dagger and submerges her in a bath. She feels a sensation of electricity in her veins and sees a vision of Oya spinning in red silk. She feels an overwhelming sense of magic and connection. After the ceremony, Zélie is almost too exhausted to stand. As she is about to sink into sleep, Lekan shouts that someone is coming—they have to flee.
Although the ritual to connect Zélie to the Sky Mother is painful and demanding, it also gives her a sense of connection to others, just as practicing faith can help communities to form. Lekan’s warning is a reminder that there is no time to rest—they are still on the run, and the religious site is still at risk of attack.