Althea’s hands had gone numb. She was shivering from the cold marble slab beneath her. And still, she prayed. She had said every prayer she knew. Morning Salutations to Galeed, Meal Prayers, Harvest Prayers, Galeed’s Peace, Galeed’s War, and over and over again she prayed the litany she learned for the Sowing.
“I am the land. I am barren. I am barren because I am not Sown. Give me Seed. Give me water. Give me light. I will grow. I will grow. I will be Sown, I will be Reaped. I will grow. I will grow. I am the wheat. Galeed will separate me from the chaff. I will feed The Bull when I am Reaped. I will grow in his arms.”
She had been able to hear screams and the sounds of battle outside the Sanctum. Now, it was eerily silent. There had been a loud crashing, some small screams and now…nothing. She continued the prayer through a raw throat. Then, there were footsteps.
Cyperian drifted up the aisle of the Sanctum. He was finally standing up completely straight, his height being cumbersome in the human sized hallways and especially their secret passage. Now he was able to view the beautiful craftsmanship in this palace. There were huge stained glass windows, benches and chairs for the worshippers, and a huge altar at the head. It was a theatre for the Gods. He had always been fascinated by the religions of humans, no one had ever really gotten it right. He wondered who these people worshipped.
As he approached the dais, he saw a bloody figure on the ground, recognizing it only as a slain white calf when he came much closer. Looking up to the altar, he thought there was another, but soon realized it was a diaphanous white garment covering most of a body; huge sleeves that exposed bound wrists, a mask covering most of the face. What horrified him most, was the huge swath of blood from forehead to legs. He could see ragged breaths in the chest, indicating that life still resided there. It was chanting, he could barely hear the words. He slowly approached and stopped just short of the dais.
“Hello?” He bowed, overly genteel, gauging if she could see through the mask. The head turned toward the sound, and sobs began to pepper into the litany that seemed never-ending. “Are you…alright?” he finished lamely. She only recited her words louder as a response. He stepped up the stairs and close to her altar.
“I’m going to touch your face, move these beads, ok? Just…don’t scream.” He parted the beads, and gasped. The sweet green eyes had copper flecks, the nose had a dusting of freckles, her lips were pouting. She was gorgeous, but that is not why he gasped. The blood running across her face caused him to immediately coddle her, not knowing it wasn’t her blood. He couldn’t help but reach out to her face and try to wipe the blood away with his hand. When their skin connected, he reared back as if an electric shock had been sent through his body. Light burst at the first contact, a visible golden spark that caused her eyes to glow ever so slightly.
“What are you?” he asked, cautiously.
“I am yours.” She squeezed her eyes shut and began to chant again. “I am the land. I am barren. I am barren because I am not Sown. Give me Seed. Give me water…”
“Excuse? I’m confused. What do you mean you’re mine?”
“Just as I say, my Lord. I am yours. I knew you would come.” She opened her eyes and looked towards him, unconsciously squeezing her knees together. “I am yours. I beg to be taken to your world, to live with you as your consort.”
Cyperian took a step back and put his hands up, as if he was slowing her down.
“Ok. So. A: Super Flattered, table for one. And B: What?”
He spoke so strangely. Althea’s brow crinkled, and she made a face like she smelled something awry. God should speak like poetry, like the prayers they sent up to heaven.
“You’re here for me, aren’t you? I was to be sacrificed in your name. But..you came instead. To take me away. Right?”
“Ah…who do you think I am?”
“You’re God.” She said simply.She looked into his eyes, mercurial and swirling gold dust and smoke behind amber colored irises, no whites at all. Huge golden horns, his skin a golden flushed hue, the head of a huge and sacred bull.He was absolutely the spitting image of her god.
“You’ve really come.” Piteously small movements toward her bonds, a flash of a tear and she was quiet again even as her jaw shivered.
“I’m sorry,” he replied, shaking his head and squinting his eyes, after a pause. “I’M god?”
She silently gestured toward the ceiling. He inclined his head, following her finger. A huge mural of a bull-headed man, large horns and golden skin shone from the vaulted space.
“Huh. That’s why your mask has my horns. Well, great. That’ll make this easier.” He reached to free her bonds, resolving to throw her over his shoulder and figure out why he was pulled to her later outside the chaos of the upheaval.
“What are you doing?!” She seemed horrified and relieved at the same time.
“I’m letting you go?” He replied almost more like a question that a statement, thinking to himself, “How much more obvious could I be?“.
“I displease you! I knew I wouldn’t be good enough. The priests said you would come after they were done and would consume me as I lay dying, but you came so early in the ritual that you must be angry! I knew I should’t have let them have me, I’m damaged.” She babbled so quickly and the tears resumed, he had a hard time putting her words into sense in his brain. He reached down and rather ruffley grabbed her chin and turned her face toward his. He shushed her and slowly spoke,
"Why would I kill you?”
“I’m your sacrifice, for our harvest. Galeed, Blessed am I, the Priestess who can truly know you.” and she began a prayer of the ancient word. He cut her off,
“Whatever you are, I’m letting you go.”
“No! My city will die if I am not sacrificed. You must take me, I’ve been... kept pure for you. Please, take me.” The last sentence was a whisper, and she turned her head to the side, broke his gaze. “Or at least kill me.”
His eyes went wide. Every human he encountered, with great regularity, begged for more time, more wealth and status and most of all, more life.He looked with disbelief at this small thing, draped in luxurious fabric and jewels, exquisite metal work on her waist and the mask he divested her of. Rich, or at least dressed like it. Her skin was smooth and soft, he couldn’t help but reach out and run a hand up her arm, pushing draped fabric out of the way, feeling the warmth from her body rise at his touch. He intruded further, sliding his hand to hers. Manicure, soft hands. If she was anything she probably was a priestess or, a child raised in the church or the castle. No hard work. What could be so awful about this prized life that she offered herself as tribute?
“You’ve paid your debt. Whatever they wanted you to do, it's enough. Your city is dead anyway.” He leaned toward her. “Come with me?” He whispered to her ear as he let go the bonds from her hands. She rubbed at the wrists, pinioned for so long they had pins and needles running up and down them. He strode to the end of the stone table and quickly released one leg and then the other. She watched his huge hands undo the knot of one, growing frustrated at the other before simply snapping the rope in two.
“Whoever tied you up had no idea what they doing.” He winked at her, smiling, holding out and hand to help her up. “Not a problem you’ll ever have again, I promise.”
“You want me to never be tied up again?” she asked, refusing his hand and sitting up on her own, reaching down to her ankles to rub them as she had done her wrists.
“No.” His smile became dangerous, voice dropped, eyes slitted. Cyperian advanced a step toward her. “I want you to never be tied up badly again.” Her eyes went wide and she looked quickly to him. His eyes sparkled a dark copper and gold again, and he extended his hand again. She slyly looked at it, and spun herself to the other side of the altar and slid off it onto her feet.
“What did you mean about my city? What is happening out there?”
“Let’s just say, whatever happened to you, no one here will be able to hurt you again.” She felt her knees weaken and used both hands to support herself on the stone altar.
“What’s happening out there?” She repeated.
“Chaos.” He replied simply.