The temple of Hermonia was located out in the farms for practical reasons. The farmers and their servants would go to the temple, pray for a good harvest, sacrifice a bowl of fruit or a goat to the goddess and then go back to work.
As a system went it was simple, messy, and prone to failure. It was an imperfect and flawed science, but it was all the people knew, and thus it was tolerated.
It being summer the fields the farmers and their slaves were hard at work reaping the benefits or the labour and sacrifice. Lush golden grass was met with sharp bronze and obsidian. The morning was coming and there was never enough time so the men and women and children worked hard.
Winter was coming like a storm cloud on the horizon, promising death and the cold. And for this promise they worked.
Cyme would have appreciated the slowly illuminating landscape more but she was too busy leaning out of the cart and hacking up the contents of last night’s meal. True to her word she had drunk until she went cross eyed.
“You know that it’s bad for you, why did you drink so much?” Tila asked, wincing as her co-worker hung out of the cart like a dog with its tongue sticking out.
“Because it felt good.” Cyme said. Why did she drink? That was easy, it was to mourn her life. Once she was a soldier, she fought and killed, she pillaged and took. Now she looked at what that man had turned into and she felt lost and alone.
“But you put it on our master’s tab. At this rate you will never pay off your debt.” Tila whined.
The noisy mouse did make a good point. The old bitch who ran the Triplets had given Cyme and Tila free reign over the kitchen and the bar. Tila, sensing a similar trap that Frank had done to the Orian had eaten a simple meal of bread, meanwhile, her co-worker had consumed enough for the both of them.
Their night’s rest was interrupted when a man calling himself Barnus had insisted that their master earned the attention of several powerful individuals, including his master Urilus Marus and several priests.
The two sorcerer’s assistants were politely asked at spear point to accompany Barnus to their master’s current whereabouts. By some random luck, Senator Urilus Marus’s mansion was just a kilometre away from where their master was suspected to be.
Both women suspected that if their master was not at his expected location then they would be sending the day at the nobleman’s estate, most likely waiting for Frank to rescue them.
While Tila was slightly concerned about their current predicament, Cyme however, was surprised that it had taken this long for them to end up as hostages. At the moment of their volunteer capture, the Oria didn’t care if she was miserable in a seedy tavern guarding a possessed door or being miserable and locked up in somebody’s dungeon, just as long as she had a bed and a bucket to cradle.
After polluting the countryside, Cyme admired her traveling companions. She was shearing the donkey driven cart with two mature looking grandmotherly women. One had a long face and looking at her in disgust, the other was a woman with grey hair and was looking at her with sympathy.
After ten minutes of awkward silence and rocking, the grey one introduced herself, “My name is Petit and this is Het’scia.”
Cyme gave a grunt of acknowledgement.
Being a talker, Tila gestured to herself and her companion, “My name is Tila and this is Cyme.”
This time it was Het’scia who grunted. Cyme decided that she could stomach the old woman.
Petit ignored both grumpy women, “I see by your friend’s armour that she an Oria. A emissary of Hippolyta, if I am correct. What temple are you from, may I ask?”
Cyme wouldn’t have called herself strictly religious before meeting Frank, not enough to call herself a messenger of the goddess. She and the deities in general had a good relationship before the sorcerer turned up. She would pray to them and they wouldn’t shoot a lightning bolt at her.
“Um, I don’t know.” Tila confessed as if embarrassed.
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I,” she trailed off for a moment, “I lost my memories.”
“Oh,” Petit said as if in understanding, “You plan to have Istate’s son to heal you, is that it?” she tapped Tila in a friendly gesture. “We understand, girl. We were healed last night. I may not look it now but I was so hideous I frightened small children. Het’scia’s eye bounced over the place but now it is straight.”
There was something oddly suspicious and familiar about what the old woman was saying, Cyme decided to comment on it, “Who? Since when does the Goddess of Lost Souls have a son?”
“I do not know if he is the son of a god.” Het’scia said, “I have seen his power for myself. The power to grow a building and create healing waters. To entice Istate and Hermonia to drink themselves drunk and make a storm of healing waters appear from nowhere.” She said with an exhausted sigh.
Cyme was starting to get sinking feeling in her gut and it was only half because of the alcohol. She could also see that Tila was also looking worried. “Tell us more about this son of a witch.” The Oria said.
Instead of going to bed like a man with any common sense, Frank had been persuaded by one of Hermonia’s high priestesses to speak of theological and philosophy matters of his stay in Thebes. They both engaged in deep prayer and debate, until the high priestess volunteered the opinions and services of her temple’s junior.
Cyme had seen her master joining in prayer with one of the junior priestess after she kicked down the door of the high priestess’ private chambers. Before their interruption the priestess had been crying out Hermonia’s name and a few other choice words that might be considered blasphemy.
The prayer session must have been very intense as the whole female congregation were naked and several members were passed out. Including the head priestess, a seventy year old woman who was found moaning under the bed.
After a few screams, curses, and excuses, Frank was standing outside of Hermonia’s temple, readjusting his pants. “You could have knocked,” he said.
“We did,” Cyme said sourly.
“Really, I thought that was the headboard.”
Petit laughed, “Stop, stop it hurts.” She had been laughing nonstop since the Oria had sent her boot into the bedroom door. Her associate wasn’t doing much better, Cyme thought that Het’sica sounded like a pig in heat when she laughed.
Cyme was not so amused, “What exactly were you thinking? Do you think that the Goddess Hermonia would be amused with you having an orgy in her temple?”
“Oh I doubt she would mind, gods representing harvests and fertility are very open minded about sex. As long as it’s consensual no one minds here. If anything, the people here think I’m closed minded. They wanted to bring a child in, but I said, “No. Nobody under thirty. Not too long ago, two centuries used to be my absolute limit.” He smiled at Cyme but it faulted when she didn’t smile back.
Petit raised a hand as if she were asking a teacher a question, “What do you mean you consider a thirty year old to be a child?”
“I know that people get married around about twelve but…” Frank made a face like he had just bitten down on a piece of rotten fruit.
Cyme frowned, it was quickly becoming her neutral expression around her new master, “You look as if you couldn’t be older than I am.” For Oria age was an achievement and a sign that you were strong. As a war-like culture twenty-five was middle-aged. She was classified as a grandmother.
Frank grinned, “Thank you. I’m glad that somebody noticed I put the time into this mask of Me.”
Cyme wanted to ask how old the bartender really was, but Barnus had just finished dry heaving in the bushes. While seeing the wrinkly sagging arse of a seventy and forty year old women was not the highlight of the Oria’s morning, the Senator’s errand boy had acted as if he had seen his own execution.
He rounded the corner, drinking heavily from his wine sack. After taking a deep breath he stood straight and moved to Frank, “Sorcerer Frank. Forgive me for my ill timed intrusion.”
“Really? Because it looks like I should be the one apologising. Tell me Barnus, what do think of as the proper age a woman should be to boink.” Frank held up his hand, “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to punch you in the face. You said yesterday that your master wanted to see me. Yo Mama something.”
Barnus’s eyes flashed with anger, “Senator Urilus Marus is an important man. I will ask that you remember it.”
Cyme allowed the man’s warning wash off the bartender like the insults of a flea. “I thought that you wanted to obtain your fortune back. What about reclaiming what my unit took from you?” she pointed at the temple, “Was that real gold that was around that slut’s neck? Were those diamonds that the head priestess was crawling on the ground for?”
“Master,” Tila said, sounding hurt, “If age is not a problem for you, I would have warmed your bed.”
The Oria rubbed the bridge of her nose. The sun had barely touched the sky yet and she already needed a hard drink.
“We were negotiating Tila. The temple commissioned me to build them a statue of Hermonia.” Frank said.
“And the diamonds and gold necklaces were what? Change?” Het’sica asked.
Frank turned his head to the two members of Istate’s flock, “I’m sorry, who are you again?” He listened to Het’scia ‘s vocation and groaned. “That bloody statue again. Haven’t you people invented gardening yet? It’s easy, first you cut the grass, and you plant seeds…”
“You didn’t do any of those.” Cyme interrupted.
“Quiet Cyme, I am teaching the savages how to plant pretty flowers.”
“And if you keep doing it I am going to smack you across the head.” Het’sica said.
Petit crossed her arms and laughed, “It’s like I am seeing a mirror. Are you sure you two aren’t related?”
The sorcerer and the witch ignored the cheerful twit. He looked at what constituted as one of Istate’s high priestess in these parts. “And how do you fit into this? Don’t tell me that you want another statue.”
Het’sica gestured to Barnus, “His master wants me to evaluate to see if you are one of Istate’s followers and if you can help his son. And yes, I wouldn’t mind having a proper statue and some of those pretties you gave those sluts in there.” She pointed at the temple.
“Hag!” Barnus shouted sensing betrayal in the air.
She waved his accusations away, “He already knows I’m with you. I’m too old to be playing in plots and he should be warned from somebody who has experience about those who fail to meet Urilus Marus’s expectations.”
She rubbed her back and Cyme remembered the story of Frank’s healing. The witch claimed that her scars and joints were miraculously gone as was an limp. The Oria was curious as to which the senator was responsible for.
Her eyes touched on Frank’s, “Are you a follower of Istate or any god?”
“No,” Frank said and sounded honest, “I’m atheist.”
“You do not believe in the Gods?”
“Belief implies that my imagination is strong enough to overrule logic or evidence in the fantastical. I know that some gods exist.” Frank showed teeth that were white enough that they almost shined, “It’s more accurate to say that they believe in me.”
Cyme and the others shivered at the bartenders words.
Frank’s eyes rested back on Cyme, “Don’t worry Cyme, I hope to make a sizable profit from this place.”
The warrior wasn’t convinced, “And what was worth a sack of jewels?”
“The sex was just a signing bonus. Why do we keep going back to that?”
“Not the…” Cyme grit her teeth. “I don’t care anymore. Let’s just go to the Senator’s house, fix his problem and we can go back to the Triplets.” Cyme didn’t want to talk in front of Barnus but the door had been acting crazy. It had shaken as if there was an army on the other side trying to get through.
There were also signs that others had been inside the empty storeroom, but that had not been as concerning as the broken lock pick on the floor. Who in their right mind would try to open a mysterious shaking door?
Barnus, having watched the exchange spoke with bitterness, “Do you allow your woman to speak to you like that?”
And the Thebes wondered why the Orians hated them so. Cyme looked down at her sword imagining it aching for the blood of this pompous fool. Was immediate satisfaction worth running for her life?
“It doesn’t bother me.” Frank pointed at his ears, “Noise augmentation implants. Can pick up television shows from half a universe away, and I set it so when a baby cries it plays laugh tracks.” He pointed at Cyme, “She sounds like she’s sucked down a unit of helium.”
He raised and twisted his voice until it squeaked like a cat being slowly strangled to death, “Let’s just go to the Senator’s house.” He pointed to Cyme and spoke normally, “That’s what I hear.”
This time Cyme did take out her sword and was planning to use it. She didn’t care anymore. The sorcerer could leave her on a snowing mountain as naked as the day she was born, it would be worth it.
While Cyme was contemplating on her how to best deliver her resignation, Het’scia had had enough. “Tell us what your goal is? To destroy the Enseen threat? To lay with every priestess in the city?”
Petit touched up her hair at the suggestion.
Frank held his hands up, “Why does everyone assume that I have some major end objective? You want me to tell you what my goal is? Fine. This is my goal, get rich, get laid, get drunk, and if there is time in the day blow something up. As soon as the Abstract is fixed I am out of here.”
“Abstract?” Barnus said.
Cyme rubbed her head, just when she thought that her new employer somehow had some end goal did she realise that he was just like everyone else. A man who lived in the present, thinking of his current needs and vices. “He means…”
“Huh-ah.” Frank interrupted, “No giving away secrets, Cyme.”
Cyme bit her lip and shut up. While beating her employer into a sticky mess was an acceptable way to end her career, revealing secrets had her feel dirty.
“What about…” Frank interrupted Het’scia before she continued.
“I’m a bartender. The first question is free. If you want more, it is going to cost you.” He caught Barnus staring at him, “Right, your boss wants a word with me.” He looked down at his naked chest, “Do you mind if I change?”
Looking as if he lived and worked for the rich and powerful as their footstool, Barnus blinked and adjusted himself. “Yes, lord Frank. Senator Urilus Marus would wish to seek your council. I will give you a moment to get dressed. I ask that you please clean and present yourself as if speaking to Jupiter himself.”
“Don’t worry. I call this my “Don’t fuck with me.” suit.” Frank said and snapped his fingers.
The people in the room gasped and stepped back as a black tar-like substance appeared on the sorcerer’s skin. Rapidly, the inky substance grew at a rate that to Cyme appeared as if Frank’s shadow was encapsulating him.
Within two seconds, Frank was wearing a ebony black shirt underneath a long dark jacket that flowed off him like a living cape. Moving stars, rings made of stagnant ice, rolling planets, and a landscape filled with stars, it was as if he was wearing the universe.
While most of his black hair remained short, thick and wild black bangs grew from his hairline, reaching out like dark claws. As his skin turned as white as chalk, Frank closed his eyes. When he opened them again they were replaced by an empty void.
The sword fell from the warrior’s hand as she stared into those cold, dead orbs. She felt herself being swallowed by the darkness. The Orain should have been afraid as she fell into the smothering nothingness, but as she peered in closer she saw that this place was not entirely empty.
At the centre of this eternal realm there was one tiny light. As Cyme drew closer she understood it immediately, it was a sun.
Then Frank blinked and Cyme and everyone else found themselves on their knees. Cyme could not speak for the others but she had felt the call of the sun, she had heard its silent melody. Tears fell freely down her cheeks as the lose crippled her to her core. It was beautiful.
His voice, like the echoes of forgotten childhood nightmares, the sorcerer’s words caused the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and fresh chills run across your body. “I am ready.”