A deep hum thrummed in the tiny temple, resonating within the graceful structure making the aged marble dance with tiny shivers of noise. It perched atop a small knoll, ancient and beautiful. Pale time smoothed columns shadowed the faces of the grey crumbling stone guardians indistinguishable.
Devoid of any life but a few brave strands of creeping vines forcing their way up through the floor, the pronaos sat stale and empty. Deeper into the humming temple lay the naos dominated by the resolute chipped bronze statue of a woman gripping in one hand a sword and in the other a scale. She commanded the back of the room, eyes fixed intently upon the entrance to her chamber.
In the center of the naos, a man knelt, eyes closed and hands clasped fervently as if he were praying. A thin shaft of light lanced through a tiny crack in the ceiling bathing half of him in a glittering halo. He was shadow and light. The balance of need against need not good against evil.
A breath dragged into his mouth, full of the taste of the thrumming. After a few seconds, the breath slipped out softer. Another came in. Pause. Another went out. Repeat.
He was the lynchpin, the tipping point, the player. The rest? they were his chess pieces. Pawns, castles, knights, bishops, queen, king. He moved them, he weighed them.
The humming ached in his bones, shaking his humanity with its otherworldliness. His eyes ripped open.
A woman stood before him arrayed in a pale grey dress that glowed with an inner light. Her features were neither beautiful nor ugly, her body neither slender nor heavy, and posture neither graceful nor slouching. Yet, she was power so thick the air crackled around him.
He smiled and prostrated himself reverently before her. “My Lady Vaereth.”
“Why is it you have called me, child?” asked the goddess, voice a thunderous whisper.
A tiny rivulet of blood dribbled from the man's left nostril, but he did not wipe it away as he straightened, sitting back on his haunches. “I wish to be your vessel for the coming war, My Lady.”
The humming swelled and a second trickle of blood flowed from his other nostril. The utter strength of the goddesses mere presence was slowly picking him apart. Two terrible green eyes considered the man slowly as if she knew this and was examining every choice he had ever made in his life and was weighing them on her scale.
She was Vaereth, the goddess of balance. He had no doubts his heart was being weighed upon her scales, his worthiness to be her vessel.
Gazing up at her, he tried to guess what sort of decision she might make, but the buzzing burned louder in him. The blood coming from his nose was no longer a tiny trickle but swelled to a steady flow. The metalic taste coated his lips in crimson. A steady beat pounded inside his head and it felt like he was being torn apart from his bones outward. If he sat immersed in her power any long he would certainly die.
But he didn’t move. He had come too far to give up now, and if he died then so be it. He had always believed in playing big no matter the cost. Life was a risk and he would risk it all.
A thin smile played across the sterile lips of the goddess as if she had heard his thoughts. “I have made my decision child. Will you accept it?”
“Yes, My Lady.” He forced the aching words out.
“Even if it means your death?”
“Yes, My Lady.” Again, he compelled his thick tongue to enunciated the words.
The goddess’s smile expanded and she dipped her head in respect to his will power. Raising her right hand, the voluminous silk sleeve of her dress fell to reveal a pale right arm. The humming condensed in her hand with a crackle and the man nearly screamed in pain. His head was going to explode.
In a burst of light, a sword materialized in her lifted hand, and for a moment, she held it steady there gazing down upon him.
“You have asked and I have judged. I warn you not to anger to gods. Farewell child, we shall meet again soon.”
With a flash, the sword plunged down and sliced him in two. He died without a sound, body collapsing to either side of Vaereth. She stepped delicately between his two halves and knelt, facing the arcing entrance to the pronaos and the world outside the temple.
“The contract is complete, child. Do not regret what you have asked.” As soon as the last word breathed out her mouth, she was gone.
The temple sat quite on the hilltop, no longer filled with the deep hum of the gods, but now simply with the silence of death and destiny.