5: A Serran Church
I sat in one of the pews of the circular building amidst a meager crowd. There weren’t as many practicing Serran followers in the city as there used to be before King Zante conquered the Ryne, or at least, so I’ve been told. The traditional Rynish religion, while still legally permitted to exist, is looked down upon by the crown. I’ve never known it any other way, as I hadn’t been born before things changed. Most of the commoners outside of the capital, Tarpik, still observed the major holidays and some basic prayers. Those who made their living through the balance of nature typically observed the Serran religion, as it aligned well with those values. Though our village had been this way, like many others, this was the first time I’d ever been in a Serran church. It was gorgeous. The walls were circular, which I’d not seen before. I marveled at the architecture. I imagined it was difficult to build, especially since this building had been standing for several hundred years.
The walls were decorated with elaborate designs, panels depicting particular scenes from the religious text of the Serran religion. I didn’t recognize any of the scenes, so I settled for enjoying the art for its own sake. Each panel was alternating in color scheme between red and blue. I knew this much – red symbolized the Goddess of land, Tarah, who ruled the eternal mountain, Skyterra. This was the name for the Serran afterlife for those who did enough good.
Though each of the panels showed various depictions from their text, whatever it was called, I noticed there was a pair of snakes in each of them. I remembered that the twin gods of the Serra were symbolized not only in color, but also in serpent form. The red snake signified Tarah, and the blue snake signified Myr. Myr, the god of the sea, and also the afterlife for the damned, was highly feared by the common people who followed this religion. This one I was more familiar with, because the main river that carved its way through the country was named after him. I suppose it was a smart idea to honor the god of the Depths, the afterlife for the damned; you wouldn’t want to anger him.
The people milled around, chatting amongst themselves pleasantly as I scanned the crowd, looking for the Naga contact. I had no idea what he looked like, this person I was supposed to be meeting here. I could only assume that Mama Jude was successful in getting him to agree to meet me, and that he would actually show. The sermon was evidently only a few minutes away from starting. I sat alone on my pew, the others instinctively avoiding me. The pew was circular to match the building, and rows of increasingly smaller radius of semi circles of pews filled the room, ending in a large altar where the Serpa, the speaker of the Serra religion, would be preaching.
The altar was simple in itself, a large, wooden pulpit otherwise undecorated except for a pair of metal snakes intertwined, one painted red, and one painted blue. The metal shone through the folds and cracks of the metal, shining brass peeking from the cover of the thick paint. The Serpa had taken his place at the altar, apparently about to begin his message for the day. When would this guy ever show?
“Welcome, old friends and new,” the Serpa greeted.
Instantly, I tuned him out. Maybe this mysterious stranger was somewhere in this church already, and I’d missed him? That was doubtful, but possible. There were only about fifteen or so people seated in this entire church, and none of them stood out to me. Some were homeless, as made obvious by their dress, but others were merchants, one was an entire family complete with five well-behaved young children, and the rest were elderly. None of them looked likely to be the person I was supposed to meet.
I sighed, deciding to at least listen to the sermon. Might as well try to learn something. And, it was entirely possible that my mystery man was here, watching me, and would approach me afterwards. I suppose Mama Jude didn’t specify that he would speak to me before the sermon started; I’d just assumed.
“... we pray that our children steer clear of the Depths, Tarah, guide us to safety towards Skyterra...” the Serpa droned on.
I sighed again, immediately bored once more. I was not cut out for listening to religious speeches, apparently. I scanned the room again, this time noticing the decorations instead of the people. They were just so beautiful, I thought, and I stared at a panel directly to my right. I was seated near the wall, and so this scene was only a few feet away from me. This one was deep blue, and showed a person drowning in the sea, reaching upwards as if to try and reach for Skyterra. I looked closer, and I realized that the person had a mirror image of themselves reflected in the sky, reaching down towards them in turn. Interesting.
I felt a warmth against my thigh, pressure, as somebody sat far too close to me, their leg pushing into mine. Slowly, I turned to face this person who had invaded my space. It had better be who I was waiting for, or I would have to hurt somebody.
He was looking straight ahead, watching the Serpa preach his message. His black hair was messy, and a little too long, the nape of his neck covered with those black strands. His nose, sharp and regal, made for a distinctive profile. My eyes scanned his face, taking in the deep, tanned skin, smooth, high and prominent cheekbones, as he deliberately ignored me.
Whatever, two could play that game. I looked forward too, ignoring him as he ignored me.
“Larke?” he questioned, whispering, still not looking at me.
I nodded once. This was indeed the person I was supposed to meet.
“Dean Red,” he said, still staring forward.
“Pleasure to meet you,” I said.
Dean Red... an interesting name. Red was the surname given to orphans and bastards; the default for those unclaimed. It filled me with sadness and pity to hear that; I wondered what had brought him here to me, what trauma he had endured to result with him associating with the Naga gang. We didn’t speak again for the rest of the sermon. Eventually, it finished, and as the people ambled out towards the exit, we stood, staring at each other.
“What happens now?” I asked, curious.
Would he take me directly to the Naga gang? Did they have a headquarters here in the city? I hoped against hope that I would be able to meet their leader and plead my case.
“I’ll take you to see The Raven.”