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Chapter 8

Norris returned to the temple. He wasn’t at all worried about the two boys he had left alone in his home. He felt like he was a good judge of character. Despite knowing they lied when they talked with Lina he felt in his heart that they were good people. The more he trained with Deren, the more he saw himself in the young man. He was going to miss them when they left.

The tables in the temple lobby were abandoned now that night fell. There was not a priestess to be found. There were two doors on the back wall on either side of the room. They led down to the storage rooms and servants’ rooms were. The priestesses’ chambers were on the second floor, up the stairway in the back of the temple. Norris made his way to Lina’s room. He stopped before knocking on the door, casting a dark glare down the hall to his left. At the opposite end of the hall was where the high priestess lived. It was always guarded. Putting thoughts of the high priestess aside, he knocked on the door.

A groggy looking Lina opened the door and let him in. She had fallen asleep while waiting for him. She closed the door behind him before turning and greeting him with the usual.

“Nobody saw you, right?” she asked worriedly.

“Of course people did, but just the same guards as always. What we’re doing here isn’t against the rules,” Norris replied calming her worries.

“I know,” Lina relaxed. “I just can’t help but feel a little guilty about it.”

“Don’t be. We’re just talking, we haven’t done anything.” Norris reassured her further. He removed his helmet revealing his battle worn face. It was always nice to release his rugged dark brown beard that matched his hair.

“Please sit. I know I should take better care of my room,” Lina told him. She had a large room with an equally large bed. The stone tiles on the floor were pristine, and they sparkled beautifully in the light of the moon which shone through the window. The entire back wall was made of a thick glass which always allowed light to shine through into the room. Lina walked to the window, closing the long curtains which covered up the entire back wall.

Attached to the bedroom was another room that only Lina had access to, a place Norris had most certainly never been, Lina’s private bath. Lina definitely loved her bath and described it as the one place where she could be free. Every priestess had a bath just like hers to make sure they appeared immaculate to the public.

“I want to thank you again for being here for me like this. I know you don’t always enjoy what you’re hearing,” Lina said suddenly, snapping Norris out of his thoughts. The room was very dark now that the curtains were closed. Lina was becoming more and more paranoid about breaking the rules.

“It’s common for a priestess like yourself to have second thoughts, but I will admit you take it to a new level,” Norris put her thoughts at ease.

“I’m thinking of just quitting. I know I haven’t been a priestess all that long, and I know I’ve already passed the point of no return. Things just aren’t what I expected.” Lina sighed. The point of no return she was talking about was the inauguration of becoming a priestess. Once a woman became a priestess, there was no turning back. It was one of the many rules of being a priestess and probably the most important one. There were only two instances of priestesses trying to leave throughout the years; both had ended in death.

“You know you can’t quit. It’s not that simple,” Norris countered. He finally took a seat on the bed, Lina sitting next to him.

“I feel like I have to. Especially with what’s going on between us,” Her voice sank back to sadness.

“I know, but you can’t tell Tana about this at all. If she finds out the order to kill you will go out. An order they’ll likely expect me to fulfill,” Norris explained remembering his past.

“I know! But I just can’t stay here. This is not what Ana wanted. This place, it’s different than it should be,” Lina groaned out of frustration. “You and I are the only ones who see it!”

“It may seem like that but running away won’t solve anything. Staying here and doing your best to change things will,” Norris countered.

“You’ve been here a long time Norris. What have you changed?” Lina asked suddenly, putting Norris in his place.

“It’s difficult for me to change anything.” Norris stood up, looking away. “You’re in a position where you can change things. You’re a priestess. You have power here.”

“I will never become the high priestess,” Lina grunted. She lay back on the bed looking up at the ceiling. “Tana will always be high priestess, something else that needs to change. It isn’t right what she’s doing.”

Lina was talking about the Phoenix amulet. Tana always wore the Phoenix amulet, as it was the only thing keeping her alive. She had been alive since the old days, back when people lived in the holy lands. It was a golden age of prosperity. Ana provided for everyone and wanted nothing in return. It was said that one day Ana stopped providing, and the land turned barren. The knowledge of what had happened was restricted and only the most experienced priestesses were trusted with that knowledge. Tana was the high priestess during those times, and remained the high priestess during present time.

“She uses that amulet to prolong her life unnaturally! Then she uses Ana to gain power. She may have founded Lumin as an attempt to rebuild the paradise of old. But really we’re just like any of the ten territories. We just try to survive. The only difference is, unlike the territories, we don’t have to rely on any other nations to do so. We are completely self-sufficient. And now she wants to build a border town to restrict access into Lumin even further, using the dragon mines as an excuse!” Lina ranted. Ranting was common for her during these late night talks with Norris. Despite how Lina acted to the public, always smiling and playing her part as priestess, she was still a teenage girl. Norris was happy to see her act out like this, as it was much better than letting it buildup inside.

“You know, it’s already expected that I create my own squadron of mage hunters? Create and lead them from afar, giving them orders based on premonitions given to me by Tana. I signed up to be a priestess in the belief of Ana and following her word to help others. Not to give orders to kill people. It was sickening having to question those two innocent civilians on about Wonik today,” Lina continued her rant, but Norris interrupted her there.

“Speaking of which, I’m fairly certain they were lying. The people of the Tawarln Territory revere Wonik, they do not fear her,” Norris told her.

“You know what? I don’t blame them for lying. Wonik may have killed soldiers of Lumin in the past, but if she’s somehow making their lives easier then she is doing more for them than we are,” Lina was nearly shouting at this time. Norris was quick to signal her to be quieter. Lina groaned once more and rolled over on to her stomach.

“Norris. We have to do something. I’m not sure I can go on like this,” she sighed.

“Just hang in there. You’re still a new priestess. With more responsibilities comes more control over what happens here. I know you don’t like it that priestesses get so much power, but if you use that power to change things to what is right it will be okay,” Norris told her. He picked up his helmet and made for the door. “It’s late now and we should both really get some sleep. I’ll talk to you tomorrow Lina.”

“Thank you Norris. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She smiled, waving goodbye to him from the bed.

Norris closed the door behind him and made his way out of the temple. He was walking through the main room when another guard approached him. The guard was a young fellow who Norris had trained himself, a man by the name of Samuel. He wore the same type of armor as Norris, making his physical features impossible to see. He had only recently become a personal guard to a priestess.

“Sir. Did you hear?” Samuel asked with an attempt of a stern voice. He was unable to hide his fear from Norris.

“Hear what, Samuel?” Norris replied in his own stern voice that Samuel was attempting to mimic.

“Wonik. The scouts the high priestess sent have returned. They say that Wonik is flying through the Tawarln territory, destroying town after town,” Samuel told him, not trying to mask the fear. “What’s worse is she has recently disappeared again after killing a large amount of the population there. It is believed she’s on her way here next. She is stronger than ever Norris.”

“Calm down. Get to your priestess and take her back to your home as we are supposed to. Tana will likely dispatch a large group of soldiers to the Tawarln Territory to bring her down. It will be up to us to defend Lumin should she get around them.” Norris ordered. He had no right to order him considering they were the same rank, but right now Samuel needed a leader to follow.

“Yes sir!” He responded standing at attention out of habit. He stood there for only a second before reality snapped back into him and he made a run through the temple to his priestess the right hall. Norris did the same.

There were a large amount of guardsmen escorting priestesses out of the temple creating a lot of traffic in the halls. Norris found it difficult to get to Lina’s room due to the ruckus. After getting through the crowds Norris knocked on Lina’s door just as he had before. There was no answer at first. Finally, a sleepy Lina opened the door.

“Norris, what are you doing back here?” She asked tiredly.

“There’s been an incident,” Norris responded. Before he could explain, he was interrupted.

“Thank you Norris. I will brief Lina of the problem at hand. You wait here,” a superior voice called out. The voice sounded very similar to Lina’s, only more professional. Norris stepped to the side, standing away from the door as he turned to face the high priestess. He kneeled in respect as he was taught to.

The high priestess wore a robe similar to Lina’s, only hers was made from pure golden silk with red decorative lines running down it. It sparkled in the little light from the torches that lit the halls. Her skin was pure white as if light snow were powdered on her face. She had long flowing purple hair which stretched down her back to just below her hips. Finally, the most distinguishing feature that Norris eyed was the necklace she wore. Made of pure gold, it was encompassed with a line of rubies which glowed ominously: The phoenix amulet, the only thing sustaining her life. She glanced downwards at the kneeling Norris, a prudish look on her face. Norris bowed his head in respect quickly. It was always strange to Norris having to revere the high priestess on this level given how young she looked. She looked to be only thirteen, a couple years younger than Lina, yet he knew she was so much older.

Escorting the high priestess were two guards which looked very out of place. Norris knew they were the most well trained soldiers in all of Lumin, and likely the world. Their armor was of a design similar to Norris’s. Only while Norris’s armor was pure white and reflected light, their armor was the darkest of black. The armor was made from the highest concentration of dragon ore ever found, and made specifically to fit the soldiers that wore it. Norris knew the two soldiers well, having tried out for their position. He had never come across an opponent within the Lumin military that was able to defeat him in a duel. Both of them had not only defeated him, but had done so in such a fashion that it humiliated him. Their skill outmatched his by a greater difference then his outmatched a child’s.

“I assume I may enter your abode, young Lina,” Tana, the high priestess asked in a very smug way.

“As you wish high priestess,” Lina smiled, bowing her head respectfully as she opened the door further, holding out her arms. Norris remained kneeling until the two soldiers in dark armor entered. They closed the door behind them, as if making sure Norris would be unable to hear what they were saying. Instead of listening with his ear at the door like a child, Norris instead stood at the door with a serious stature. Why was the high priestess herself specifically addressing Lina like this? She wouldn’t brief all of the other priestesses in such detail.

Lina stood in the figurative shadow of the three who entered her room. The curtains were still closed making it dark. As if reading her mind, the two soldiers in the dark armor walked over and opened the curtain flooding the room with moonlight so the high priestess could shine in her beautiful dress.

“Lina, tell me what Norris has told you.” She spoke in a nice voice, but Lina had heard this voice all too much. What it truly meant was Lina was doing something that Tana did not approve of.

“He has not told me anything yet high priestess. He was about to before you graced us with your presence. It is an honor unlike any other to be told the news from you on such a personal level,” Lina responded cheerfully with a smile. Lina was an expert on hiding her emotions. It was what she had trained a majority of her life for. Becoming a priestess meant being a public figure, someone to increase morale when everything was wrong and lead people through the toughest of times. It was a skill she honed above all else, knowing a smile could ease the minds of even the most worried of people and show them that there is still light within this world.

“There has been a crisis. I know you’re aware of the scouting party I sent to the Tawarln Territory based on a premonition I had. They’ve reported back tonight that Wonik has struck.” She paused there, purposely adding drama to her words. Lina had been a priestess long enough to know exactly how to manipulate words in order to manipulate others. “Wonik is using her terrible, evil power to destroy entire towns, killing thousands. The scouting group reported back, knowing they were no match for her.”

“I am telling you this because I want you to give orders to the strike force that is assembling in the training grounds as we speak. You have grown much since your younger days as a new priestess. It is time for you to take it to the next level. You will have your very own squadron of soldiers, who will obey your every order. You have been trained already in how to lead a squadron, and the size of this force will be quite considerable. I trust you with this task.” Tana finally finished up her speech. Lina stood there, saying nothing at first, pretending to look shocked, when in truth she was sickened by the thought. She waited the proper amount of time for initial shock to wear off before responding with the correct tone of voice.

“Thank you, high priestess, for trusting me with such a large task. I will use all the knowledge I’ve gained here to honor your wishes well. I trust a report will be given to me so I can see the lay of the land?” Lina pretended to be as happy as any girl her age would be having been given such a responsibility. She even faked losing some of the proper attitude expected of her as a priestess as if she were truly that excited. “I assume the other priestesses will be in charge of leading a team to help the civilians who may have survived?”

“Incorrect, but a valid assumption,” Tana snapped back. Lina fought hard to hide the anger which grew within her at those words. “It is likely that those in the territory are either dead, or will be dead should they not already have escaped. We cannot devote the resources to send a team to do potentially nothing. We must instead devote more resources to building the guardian town faster, as it will act as a much needed barrier to stop those from entering Lumin.”

Lina hissed at her words within her own mind. She remained smiling on the outside, but on the inside another rant was building. A rant she would have to tell Norris on a later date. They had the resources to save those people. Instead they were using them to attack the cause. The hatred that Tana had for magic and guardians had never been so easily shown to Lina before.

“After giving orders to the squadron in the training grounds, you will instruct Norris to take you to his home as is protocol for situations such as this. Come tomorrow a new personal guard will be assigned to you. Norris will be put on standby, waiting on reserve for the next new priestess much like he was before you showed up.” Tana decided to throw salt in the wound.

“Understood high priestess,” Lina nodded, her voice serious but still with happy undertones. Tana knew about Lina and Norris having talks about Lina’s second thoughts about being a priestess. Lina didn’t know how, but Tana knew. Tana turned her back, and one by one the trio of intimidation left her room without saying a single goodbye. Lina stood there smiling until the door was shut. She turned her back facing out the window, her stupid smile still on her face as she looked down over the snowy town of Lumin. She allowed a single tear to escape. For just a moment, she stopped hiding her emotions. For only a moment she stopped being a priestess, and cried, out of pure anger against Tana, and sorrow for the future loss of Norris.

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