In the Fire Caves
Chapter 6: Walk with the Prophets
Summary for this chapter: On gods and forgiveness
For disclaimers, warnings etc. please see chapter 1.
It was in that eternal moment that Winn Adami realized that the Fire Caves had never been closed. The walls were open. Looking up, she saw herself kneeling over Dukat's body at the mouth of the caves, chanting the words to end the Kosst Amojen's exile. To a nonlinear being, that moment would never end and had always been. The Pah-wraiths had never been imprisoned.
To a nonlinear being.
Winn's shirt was untorn, her body unwounded. The book of the Kosst Amojen was whole in her hands. The Fire Caves were open. She could leave them, and walk on the face of Bajor, and speak with her people. She could give them back her book.
Walk with the Prophets, she had blessed her people at the moment of death. She wondered where she would be walking if she had allowed the Pah-wraiths their self-annihilation. With better gods, perhaps, gods more worthy of their people. Or with none.
Winn opened the book. The pages were all seemingly blank, as they had been when the book had first been brought to her. With a thought, she caused blood to issue from her forefinger. "Forgiveness is not the only path to union," she wrote. Will not be. Has never been. "I will never forgive you," she said aloud. Never have. The timeless language of the Prophets came easily to her, as if she had spoken it all her life. The letters burst into flame, burning with the fire of the Pah-wraiths, black fire on white. Then white fire on white, letters indistinguishable. Satisfied, she closed the book and put it aside. It would live, whole and unshattered, for the future Kai to find.
"Dukat," she called out. She waited. He did not appear, would not come to her, so she would go to him. She caused her Kai's robes to form around her as she crossed the caves. These robes no longer belonged to her, but she would need them for what she was about to do.
The Pah-wraiths surrounded her as she neared them. Their touch was tentative, almost afraid. They had given her the power to judge them, a power of which she was unworthy but that she was unable to refuse. "Dukat," she called again.
He materialized, this time in Cardassian form. His Gul's armour shone with the light of flames, and he grinned. "Adami," he said.
"Ask me your question," she said. His hand reached to her waist as he moved to embrace her. She stepped away. "Ask me your question," she said.
"Adami," he said, more softly this time. He fell to his knees, gazing up at her like a penitent in a shrine.
His humility was feigned, of course, as was his remorse. It always had been. He was as dishonest and deceitful as the beings who had accepted him. Still, Winn herself had not always been completely honest with her gods. She put her hands on his forehead. Her Kai's robes shimmered gold with the light of the Pah-wraiths, and Dukat's Cardassian facial ridges were soft under her fingers.
This was not a man who deserved her love. These were not gods who deserved Bajor's worship. This was no reason not to speak the truth.
"You are of Bajor," she said. He laughed, and clutched her robes, staring up at her in stunned joy. She did not turn away from his gaze, willing him to believe her words. At last he placed his cheek on her belly, content in her acceptance. Then he shifted form again, and was once again noncorporeal, in the form of the Prophets and Pah-wraiths who were and are and always will be of Bajor. How strange, Winn thought, that after a lifetime of begging to serve the Prophets she had finally been permitted to give them the answer to their greatest need.
The Fire Caves were open, had always been. Soon the Pah-wraiths would leave them to return to the Celestial Temple that had always been their home. Winn Adami would walk among them. But there was no hurry to leave these caves. Those who had once been Prophets were close by, and Winn had many questions to ask them.
Notes: This story draws very heavily on Sabine's essay about Dukat and her interpretation of the character and his desires. In the subsequent discussion, selenak asked for a story in which the Pah-wraiths were shown to be the true gods of Bajor. I have tried to oblige. The story also draws much inspiration from selenak's and cruisedirector's excellent Winn fics.