The storm crashed all around the temple. Water poured from the skies. The wind loudly burst through the trees, claiming any that were too young or small to withstand it. The lightning crashed, sounding uncomfortably close.
In spite of all that, Daisy felt secure inside. After all, was not the storm under the command of Zeus? Wasn’t a temple consecrated to Hera safe from him?
She headed for the kitchen, moving past a few other priestesses as she went. she stopped in front of the door. she wasn’t certain, especially with the storm, but she thought she’d heard something. A small, insignificant sound. Hesitantly, she reached for the large doors and opened one, covering her face to shield it from the incoming rain and wind.
Looking at their step, she felt a chill. A small basket had been left with a sleeping baby inside. Hurriedly, Daisy pulled the child inside. “Get a cleric!” she screamed. The girl had a bronzed complexion and scattered patches of violet hair starting to come in. When she opened her eyes, they were a deep blue that Daisy had never seen in anyone with that kind of complexion before.
The cleric hurried in. “Let me see her,” she entreated. Daisy obediently handed the child to her and watched her examination.
“The poor thing is soaked to the bone,” Daisy said.
“Indeed,” the cleric agreed. “But she’s also perfectly healthy, just wet. The Goddess herself must have been looking out for her for the elements to have left her unharmed.”
“Such a relief,” Daisy stated. “But why would anyone abandon a child in these conditions?”
“I don’t know,” the cleric said. “I’ll get her dried and find some milk. Check that basket for clues, and close the door.”
Daisy shut the door first, embarrassed that she’d forgotten, and turned her attention to the basket. There was a note, rendered virtually illegible by the rain. Only one word remained clear, a name. Inés.
“Inés,” Daisy muttered. “You’re a lucky child. We’ll make sure you grow up strong and healthy or the Goddess herself blight us.”
Strong as the waves
Deep as the ocean
Impossible to grasp as the tsunami
Won’t you spare at least
A kind smile, my way
“Yo!” Jack felt his heart race and he hurriedly moved to hide the verses. “Didn’t mean to startle you.” She laughed. He glanced back at her. Her shoulder length violet hair was a bit untidy, but still cute. Jack was certain that it felt silky but what really got him were her eyes. That deep blue hue that evoked the ocean.
“So, what are you working on?” she asked. “A new ballad? Maybe something adventurous and grand?”
“Just a poem,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s good enough to share, though.”
She shrugged and sat down, putting her feet up on the table. “So, what did you want?”
“Inés,” Jack began. “About this pilgrimage. Do you really have to go?”
“If I want to become a full-fledged warrior priestess for Athena I do,” Inés said. “Don’t worry, if anything awesome happens I’ll tell you the story first so you can do your bardic thing with it.”
“I’m not worried about that,” Jack said. “It’s just… do you really want to devote yourself to Athena?”
“Absolutely!” Inés declared. “Have ever since I was a kid. Athena’s warrior priestesses were so cool! Travelling the world, beating down bad guys and helping people. I always used to dream about wearing that sweet suit of armour, seeing strange things, taking down people who deserved it and wooing cute girls in every city I reached.”
“Yes, that all sounds great,” Jack said. “But couldn’t you travel as an adventurer? Giving up any chance of…” he paused, unsure how to continue. “Any chance of life with a boyfriend or husband seems a bit much, doesn’t it?”
“Nope,” Inés stated. “Never was interested in guys like that anyway. It’s not like I’m dedicating myself to Hestia and have to give up girls. Why do you care so much anyway?”
“No reason,” Jack lied. “I… I just know some women who joined and regretted it is all. I was worried about you.”
“You’re a good friend,” Inés said. “Thanks. But you don’t have to worry. This is everything I want.” She pulled her legs off of the table and rose. “I’ll meet with you when I return to give you the first crack at any stories I have.”
She left the tavern behind, giving no hint that she noticed his true feelings. Jack sighed and began tearing up his poem.
Inés was on her way back to Athena’s temple when a trio of guys caught her eye. They had surrounded a girl, probably a couple of years younger than her. Her dark brown eyes were darting around frantically and she seemed to be trying to excuse herself.
“Don’t be like that,” one said. “We’re good guys.”
“Yeah,” a second added. “Just join us for a drink or two.”
“Hey, Morons!” Inés cried. “The girl isn’t interested. Why don’tcha stop being creepy and leave her alone?”
The three turned to look at her and the largest moved forward. “Who are you calling creeps?” He asked. “Why don’t you mind your own business?”He reached out and poked her shoulder.
Her elbow slammed directly into his chin, sending him flying into the side of a building four metres away.
“Don’t touch me,” Inés stated. She looked at the other two. “I won’t say it again. Get lost!”
The two looked at each other briefly before running off, forgetting about their unconscious friend.
Inés smiled at the girl. “Are you okay?”
“Y… yes!” she answered. “Than you so much. That was amazing! You’re really strong!” Inés couldn’t help but think that she was cute. Her ebon skin illuminated by the moon and her eyes looking quite large due to her spectacles. She seemed quite petite too, slightly taller than 160 centimetres.
“It’s not safe to be in this area at night,” Inés said. “Especially not for a cutie like you. Do you need me to walk you home?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “I was actually on my way to the temple when they stopped me.”
“Oh, which temple?” Inés asked.
“Athena’s,” the girl answered. “I’m starting as an initiate tomorrow!”
“What a coincidence!” Inés declared. “I’m on my way back there.” She bowed elegantly. “Inés, fourth year warrior priestess initiate, at your service.” She lightly kissed the girl’s hand. “And you are?”
“S… Serena,” she stammered. “Serena Rabelle, soon to be a first year initiate.” Serena curtsied. “Pleased to meet you.”
Inés escorted Serena to the temple, answering her questions about the training and regaling her with stories of her own time there.
“These are the first year dorms,” Inés said. She pointed to a building in the distance. “The fourth years are over there. If you need anything, come by and ask for me.”
She began walking away when Serena spoke up. “Um… If… if you want to…” Inés turned, Serena was digging into the ground with her foot, she looked up at Inés, her face reddening. “Will… will you come to my room with me for the night?”
Inés reached over and stroked her cheek. “I would love to, Serena.”
Inés looked around the head priestesses’ office, wondering briefly how many times she’d been summoned there in the past four years.
“Diana,” Inés acknowledged.
“You’re still not a full priestess, call me Miss Geneve or head priestess Geneve,” Diana chided.
“So, what exactly am I here for, Diana?” Inés asked.
“I’ve heard a disturbing report that you took one of the new initiates out to the tavern late last night and brought her back, taking her to her room,” Diana answered. “Is that true?”
“Did she say that?” Inés asked.
“The two of you were seen,” Diana answered.
“It’s a mistake,” Inés said. “Someone undoubtedly got the wrong idea. Call Serena in here and ask her what happened.”
“I intend to,” Diana asked. “I just have her waiting while you explain yourself.”
“I trust her to tell you the truth,” Inés said. “Please, call her in.”
Diana moved over to her door and opened it. “Come in, Miss Rabelle,” she said. Serena came in and sat in the seat next to Inés’. Inés shot her a reassuring smile. “If you could explain to me what happened betwixt the two of you yesterday, I’d appreciate it.”
Serena took a deep breath and told the head priestess all about her run in with the young men and how Inés had come to her rescue and brought her to the temple.
“She was wonderful,” Serena concluded, her face flushing.
“And after she brought you back,” Diana pressed.
Serena looked down, shuffling uncomfortably. “I…” she pressed her fingers together. “I asked her…” She slumped down. “I can’t say it, it’s embarrassing.”
“That’s fine,” Diana said. “I can figure out the rest. You can go.” Serena bowed and headed out, casting one last look at Inés. “It seems I owe you an apology.”
“Think nothing of it, Diana,” Inés said. “I’ll go ahead to the pilgrimage ceremony site. Give me some good partners, okay?”
“You aren’t in trouble?” Serena asked.
Inés shook her head. “She just misunderstood what happened is all. Don’t you need to get o orientation?”
“Oh…” Serena said. “I’m actually starting with the pilgrimage accompaniment.”
“Really?” Inés asked. “I thought for sure you’d be more study-focused. Still, that’s great! Maybe you’ll even be paired with me.”
“That would be wonderful,” Serena agreed.
“My, if it isn’t the lecherous mermaid.”
Inés froze. “Hi, Sylvie.” Her voice was cold.
Sylvie was roughly 180 centimetres tall, slightly shorter than Inés, with green eyes and curled blonde hair. Her piercing gaze settled on the other girl. “Really, you’re such a disgrace to our Goddess. I don’t know how you made it this far.”
“I’m no disgrace!” Inés declared. “Just because you’re a prude doesn’t mean anyone else has to be! I’m just as qualified as you are.”
“How impertinent!” Sylvie exclaimed. “I’m a true woman of the Goddess! I don’t jump into the beds of random women, unlike some people.”
“I only go to bed with girls I like,” Inés said. “It’s never ‘random’.”
Miss Geneve approached the crowd of girls confidently, with her head held high. The crowd went silent in deference to her.
“Ladies,” she began, projecting her voice for the entire crowd. “Some of you are here today to take your first steps into the service of our Goddess. Some of you are here to take your final steps. The pilgrimage is an important rite in serving Athena. We must go forth, taking her message of wisdom to the masses, bringing justice where there is none. When you go out, you must remain true to our ideals. You must demonstrate dignity and honour…”
Diana finished her speech and began calling the initiates up for their assignments. “Inés, Sylvie Fortunio and Serena Rabelle,” she listed. Inés and Sylvie glared at one another, but obediently took their positions next to the head priestess.
“You three will go to Drahaven and say a prayer for the souls of the Draconians,” Diana stated. “Whatever may have happened to them at the end, they were favoured by great Athena once. Inés, Sylvie, you’ll be responsible for Serena’s safety and well-being. Teach her properly and look after her.”
“I won’t fail you,” Sylvie said. “Rest assured.”
“I’ll watch her very closely,” Inés said, putting an arm around Serena.
“Yes, I trust you will,” Diana said. “Get your armour and supplies. I’ll expect a full report when you return.”