Talla's Temple Ch. 05byxtorch©
"You'd best go now," Harzen said jovially as they finished dinner. "You don't want to be late."
He'd been quite a bit more personable this afternoon, since Zhair'lo's message had come.
There hadn't been any talk of rejecting the 'request'. He'd shown it to Harzen by way of wondering if he could get the evening off. Harzen had brightened considerably since that moment and explained to him quite clearly that a man should never refuse a 'request', no matter how phrased, from the Temple.
That just wasn't how things were done, foolish boy.
Zhair'lo had wanted to leave earlier and tried to explain that he wanted to take a quick bath in the river before heading to the Temple. He'd been embarrassed by his uncleanliness before and didn't want that happening again.
Harzen had simply laughed and said, "Don't worry. They'll take care of it."
So, at Harzen's behest, he put on his newest clothing and began the long walk in to town. The two girls from the Temple had apparently run all the way out to see him and then run back. He didn't think of himself as a slouch, but it seemed preposterous to do that in the afternoon heat and barely break a sweat. Besides, Harzen had given him more than enough time. A brisk walk would get him there in well under an hour.
He had all that time to fret over what it was they wanted from him and whether or not he'd get to see Talla. He knew, underneath it all, that he was probably deluding himself. He understood what that race had been. All of the girls in it had been making guys come. He had seen the pegs for the rings on the wall. After he came on Talla's face, the woman in orange had placed one ring on one of the pegs. From that alone, he assumed that Talla would have had to make eight other guys come on her.
Why would she remember him?
Talla was trying not to shake.
She now knew what was in the back of the well guarded marble office building. It was the upgrade room. More precisely, it was Endowment's "Augmentation Chamber" which, as it was the only room in the whole complex that had the word "chamber" in it, was usually just called "The Chamber". The thing she was going to do today would be done dozens of times over the next few years of her life.
The thing she was going to do?
The thing she was going to have done to her.
They had told her it might hurt a bit, but they might have been understating.
Knowing what was coming was sometimes even worse than not knowing. Maybe her imagination just wasn't vivid enough -- or cruel enough.
There were other women in the waiting anteroom, sealed off from the Chamber. Salee had gone first. Lara had just followed. Talla waited, sitting on one of several flat marble benches, with three other women for company. The room had two doors: one through which she had entered from a small shower room; and the door to the Chamber. At some point, the Chamber door would open and her name would be called.
The other women were older and calm. They'd done this before. Conversation between them was casual. She'd picked up that all three were here for Point upgrades. Two were being promoted in rank -- one of whom would be dropping her yellow clothes for orange. The third was a Keeper from Form. She'd just had her fourth upgrade in Facial and was choosing Point as her first upgrade outside her own Division. She was beautiful. Even Talla in her senses deadening state of anxiety could see it.
All it did was make Talla the odd one out. They were all here for Point, even Salee and Lara. Only she was here for Abundance.
Alone, alone, alone.
She took a deep breath. The bright light was that this was a chance to see Zhair'lo again. And not just see him...
But she remembered Kara's lesson from last night. Monogamy was a curse word, spat out of the side of one's mouth. Everyone was shared with everyone else. Monogamy was dangerous in a way that Talla could not understand. It was about possession. It was destructive to society. It led to wasteful competition, fighting, injury, even murder. Monogamy was unthinkable.
She wanted to be with Zhair'lo, but knew that this desire was wrong. Her stomach trembled.
Think positive, she told herself, willing her insides to settle.
Zhair'lo was somewhere past this door, waiting for her; waiting to do his part. She hoped he was eager, too. If she couldn't have forever, she could have now.
Another deep breath. Salee's upgrade seemed to have taken all of five minutes. Lara's was taking a bit longer. When would it be her turn?
Zhair'lo looked at the men around him, waiting their turns. They were older than he, but still quite young and strong. They seemed pleasant and happy. Why not? Zhair'lo had been briefed on his role. It seemed a pleasant thing to do.
Two things had been made clear though. The first was that it was a privilege that Talla had chosen him. The second was that the privilege would never come his way again if he violated the Protocols.
He shook off his dark thoughts. He was here to see Talla, to do what needed doing.
He inhaled deeply and tried to clear his thoughts by looking upward. The ceiling, if you could call it that, was a series of wooden beams mounted on the beige stone walls. The beams were widely spaced enough to let him see constellations. What if it rained? There must be actual roof panels hidden away somewhere. For now, he took in the fresh night air, watched the torchlight dance off the wooden ceiling beams, and tried to relax with a few deep breaths.
"First time?" a dark haired man asked him.
"Do it well, you can come back."
That was curious. "You've been here a lot?"
"About once a week," he said proudly.
That would be something, doing this sort of thing often. He didn't know if he could take the stress.
The heavy door opened as it had twice before to take away the first two boys.
The same woman who had come for them now stepped through and softly spoke his name, reading it off a sheet of parchment, "Zhair'lo M'han?"
"Come in, please."
The three men he left behind patted him on the back and wished him luck. They were quite chipper about the whole thing. The woman he followed wore the least clothing he had ever seen on a female body. Her clothing consisted of a tiny pair of orange underwear and a strongly reinforced piece of clothing that held in her breasts. Men usually referred to the ensemble as simply a "bikini".
He followed her in to the room beyond, expecting the giant chamber he had been told about. Instead it was another small room, torchlit and open to the night sky through two or three storeys of walls. The room had two more doors, a large and serious looking one directly ahead and a smaller one to the side.
"Ella and Renia will see to you," she said to him with the officious tone of a Busy Person.
She turned to the two girls who stood by the door to his right and instructed them, "You have some time. He's a new one, though, so be careful."
Be careful of what?
She then exited via the smaller door and closed it behind her.
There were two girls a little older than him, dressed in bikini tops and skirts as tiny as that of one of his messengers of the night before. The difference here, of course, was that neither wore anything under her skirt. This fact was soon revealed when they approached him, smiling comfortingly, and began undressing.
That was unexpected. He'd received instruction on his part in the Upgrade Rite. No one had mentioned this. He was too nervous to think sexually, too disconnected from his surroundings to do anything but stand still and let things happen.
Once both of them were naked, they began to casually remove his clothing.
"I'm Ella," one girl said softly. "Don't worry, Zhair'lo. We're just going to wash you and get you ready."
That was a bit of a relief. Harzen had told him not to bother washing. The woman who had briefed him on his role hadn't said anything about his state of filth either. He hadn't wanted to show up like this, with all of these girls in their fine clothing - or not, as the case now happened to be.
His shirt was unlaced and put aside. His pants went next. He was naked and skinny in the thankfully dim torchlight, just like they were. He was not particularly aroused. Ella looked down and noticed.
"Good," she remarked with a smile, "we'll have some time then."
Each holding one of his hands, they led him to the left side of the room where a curious pipe hung overhead. Renia pulled a lever on the wall and water came spraying gently out of the pipe. They pushed him into the spray.
It was warm. Luxuriously warm. There was nothing like this outside the Temple. Not that he knew of at any rate. He closed his eyes and relaxed as the water poured over his body, rinsing the dirt and sweat of a day of farmer's labour from first his hair and then the rest of his body.
Ella or Renia, he couldn't see which while blinded by the spray of water, was rubbing his hair now. He smelled a strange, fruity fragrance -- something other than mere lye. The scalp massage was delicious.
"Lean back a bit," he heard Renia say. "Let me rinse your hair."
He obeyed. He hadn't felt this clean in a long time.
Ella, meanwhile, was rubbing soap on his arms and chest. It would have been embarrassing if he weren't so distracted and anxious. Her body was developed. She had breasts, even if they were small. He felt like a skinny runt, a child among adults. Sure, his body was a wiry kind of hard. He'd been apprenticed to a blacksmith for the last year after all. But he still felt ... juvenile ... next to these two.
But they didn't seem to mind. They had a job to do and apparently his role was important enough to merit their devout attention.
Ella washed the front of his body while Renia washed the back. Soon both were kneeling, working their way down to his feet. Several days of sweat and dirt were furiously and meticulously scrubbed from his body. He couldn't see Renia, so he watched Ella. Slim and fit, young and just a little bit curvaceous, she diligently cleaned him down to his toes.
Then her eyes leveled on his penis. He almost withered under that glare. He was barely aroused even now. Without looking up, she began laving his member gently, cleaning it below and above. Renia reached from behind him to gently soap his testicles. He closed his eyes as she tickled him from underneath. He felt Ella pull his foreskin gently back to rinse underneath.
"He needs a little help, I think," Ella said -- speaking not to him but to her partner.
He looked down, wondering what she meant, and so he was able to watch the whole thing as it happened. She leaned in close, opened her mouth, and slid it completely over his unaroused manhood with practiced ease.
Her tongue gently slid along his shaft and he gasped at the tingling sensation that fired up his spine. No one had ever told him that anything like this was done. He felt her tongue swirling around the head of his shaft and all anxiety -- and all thought, really - disappeared from his mind. Ella soon found that she had to back off.
He looked down at himself, taking the moment to recover his wits. There, that was better. At least it was a little less to feel embarrassed about.
"Getting there," Ella said with a smile, praising her own efforts more than him.
Renia, for her part, held her naked body against the back of his, hugging him tightly around his narrow waist. She slid her hands up his chest to his neck and gently pulled his head back so she could nibble on his ear. Even with the water washing over all three of them, he could smell a strong floral scent in Renia's hair. He inhaled deeply as Ella went back to work below, stroking him very gently.
"We have to be careful," Renia whispered. "We can't make you come. We'd be in so, so much trouble."
And this as Ella forced him deeply and quickly in to her mouth.
She backed off just as quickly.
"Help a little," Ella said, quite mysteriously.
Renia hummed softly in to his ear before sliding around in front of him to kneel beside her companion.
He looked down to watch as the two of them, with an excellence of coordination intimating their experience at this particular venture, tickled him with their tongues. Ella went underneath, to the base of his penis under his testicles. Renia worked her way up to the tip.
Don't come, don't come, don't come, he chided himself.
Truth was that neither was stimulating him hard enough to make him come, or so he thought. He didn't think such gentle motions could cause him to release, but ...
Both girls stopped quite suddenly, sensing his state.
"Breathe deeply and relax," Renia advised, staring wide eyed at his swollen member from inches away. He tried not to think about it. Tried not to think about how much this reminded him of his position relative to Talla the day of her Initiation.
The urge went away.
"Good," Renia breathed a sigh of relief. "Good boy."
She reached around her back without turning her body and flicked the wall lever.
More quietly now, with the water no longer flowing, she went back to teasing the tip of his penis with her tongue.
"We want you all charged up," she said softly. "But you save it for the upgrade."
Ella was back to work, too.
The upgrade. Remember the upgrade. Remember what this is for. Remember whom this is for.
There was a series of four knocks at the door: three quick and light; one sharp.
"Two minutes," Ella translated as Renia fetched towels.
There was a knock at the door. Talla tensed and looked up as she felt blood drain from her face.
The door swung open, agonizingly slow.
It was the same Officer that had called for Salee and then Lara. Talla had never met her. It was enough to see that she was wearing the formal attire of an Officer. That meant a fancier version of the normal bikini and shirt decorated with jewels, tassels and baubles, a circlet about her crown and a wooden spear in her hand. Nothing like that for Talla. Whites merited nothing so fancy. Just her simple, rectangular top and long skirt.
"Yes, Mistress," she said as she stood up.
"It is your turn."
There was nothing else to say. From here, everything was Protocol and Dictate. The Dictates came from the gods. The Protocols were written by the Temple. All must be obeyed. As such, none of the four older women in the anteroom said anything to her as she followed the Officer out.
The Chamber was huge and clearly designed by someone who wanted you to know how huge it was. Entering that vast space for the first time was like being punched in the stomach.
The walls were three storeys high and curved inward as they stretched toward the sky. Flickering light came down, reflected off that curved stone from wall mounted torches. She turned her eyes up just a moment. Stars twinkled in the open space between the tops of the walls. The ceiling was the cloudless night sky.
The door through which she had entered was in a corner of the Chamber along the lowest wall the room had. She followed the Officer to the centre of that wall and turned her body to the left to face the room at the exact moment the Officer did. Then she waited, just as she been told.
The Chamber was tiered. Talla and her guide stood at the lowest level, looking up at those who oversaw the ceremony. There were four thrones several levels above them, about twenty paces away, one higher than the others and to the right side of the room. In that highest throne sat a woman in the most ornate red clothing Talla had ever seen. Her crown was jeweled, not with a single orange jewel like the Officer's, but with numerous different gems. This was the Queen of Endowment and she looked down on Talla as if she were a bit bored.
Boring for her, Talla thought, she must do this several times every night.
Of the three simpler thrones one level down from the Queen and off to the left, two were occupied. These would have to be the Sorceresses of Abundance and Point. The Sorceress of Strength would have no reason to be here tonight.
Behind those thrones were higher levels for spectators. They sat in darkness, the room having been designed to throw very little light in to their midst.
In the middle of all this, the focus of the entire Chamber, were the two altars, one to either side of Talla. These were simple marble platforms meant for a woman to lie on. The one on her left was completely flat. The one on her right had an angled backrest so that the user could sit in a reclined position while facing the altar on the left. Upon each altar sat a single ornately molded golden chalice. Other than that, the altars were plain marble.
The altar on the right was where she would -
Her thoughts were interrupted as the Officer at her side struck the floor three times with the butt of her spear. The cracks echoed through the otherwise silent chamber.
"Whom do you present to Us?" the Queen asked..
"Highness," the Officer replied, "I present Talla: daughter of Kain; out of Mih'lan."
Their voices carried so well in the Chamber. She feared hers would not.
"Talla out of Mih'lan," the Queen addressed her, leaving out her father's name. "What do you seek?"
Deep breath now. Relax. Speak clearly.
"Abundance, Highness. My first upgrade."
Her voice was weak, but it didn't crack. She hoped she'd said her line properly. A quick glance to the sides of the Chamber confirmed this. There were female guards among the attendants along the side walls, shrouded in darkness like the spectators, ready to swiftly correct violations of Protocol. Kara had told her that all such guards were chosen from among the Disciples of Form, even for ceremonies in the heart of Endowment.
"I see no fault," the Queen replied. "What say you, Abundance?"
It was the formal way to identify a Sorceress, naming her simply by the Discipline she had mastered.
The woman in green, just one tier down from of the Queen and to her left, turned her head to speak over her shoulder. "Neither see I any fault, Highness."
"Then who will stand for this Virgin?" the Queen asked.
They'd been hazy on this part when they had explained the ceremony to her. She knew her lines and what preceded each of them, but little else about what would happen had been related to her. Someone had to be the source for her upgrade. She assumed someone a single rank above her would be chosen, but she had no insight in to that part of the Rite.
"I will stand, Highness," a voice called out from the darkness behind the Queen.
Talla thought that she recognized that voice.
"Come forth in to the light."
It was Atreya, resplendent in a translucent blue skirt and gold-inlaid blue blouse, who stepped forward beside the Queen's throne. Talla was relieved to see her. They hadn't spoken since she'd drunk herself to sleep two nights ago. She hadn't imagined that Atreya would do this for her. It seemed quite an honour.
"Very well," the Queen said. "Let it begin."
Somewhere high in the darkness, behind even the spectators, drums began to beat softly.
Torches were quietly snuffed so that the Queen and Sorceresses were in darkness with the rest of those gathered. Atreya slowly walked down the tiers and until she stood between the two altars. When she came to a stop, it was Talla's cue to approach.
Deep breath. She need do nothing else but follow in step and keep quiet.
Her walk was much shorter than Atreya's. Only four paces and one step up, she stood facing her tall, beautiful senior. She sparkled in the torchlight, and not just because of the jeweled crown she wore. There were tiny flecks of gold in Atreya's otherwise jet black hair.
"From me to you, sister," Atreya said quietly.
It was not part of the Protocol to say anything. Talla didn't want to be rude. She glanced aside to the guards, worried that she might do something wrong.