Talla's Temple Ch. 11byxtorch©
The Queen of Endowment awoke in the casual way that she always did after a busy night.
The man she had Served had left her bed some time before she had woken. It was considered gracious of her to have her servants set out breakfast for him and see him well fed before he was escorted out of the Temple. Once he was gone, it was acceptable for her to get up and have her breakfast. It just wouldn't do to eat together. She had to set a good example for her Disciples; women and men simply didn't dine at the same table.
She took a deep breath and sat up.
His clothing was gone. He would have taken it after it was laundered in the night. There was barely any sign of him, really. Just the rumpled, somewhat stained sheets and a feeling of fullness inside her. Just those little signs -- and her memories.
She remembered that tall, bearded man, taking a knee at the threshold to her bedroom.
"Highness," he had said in his deep, sonorous voice as he bowed his head.
"Arise," she had replied in kind, eager as any girl on her first night.
She smiled with the memory.
She couldn't leave the Temple. She rarely left the Endowment triangle except when summoned by the Goddess.
But she did have this place; her own Domain.
And she had this room in all its fiery and crimson shades of red.
And she had this body, with its full breasts and perfect, wide and pert nipples. She admired herself in the full length mirror so large that few could afford it. So nearly perfect, this body that the gods and her own efforts had given her. So very nearly perfect and unlikely to ever make the final jump.
Those last six upgrades were not to come her way. She knew and accepted this. She ran her fingertips over the luxurious fur between her legs. Ten upgrades. Ten men she had coaxed to orgasm to obtain this much, but the eleventh would not come.
And her legs: strong and supple. She traced the lines of her muscles as she turned sideways to the mirror. Quadraceps. Hamstrings. Calves. Lean and hard. It was a good body. It served and it Served. But it wasn't perfect.
Her face, her hair and her muscles, even the ones inside her, would never quite reach perfection.
"In stability: Sweetness."
That was the rule, known as far back as Temples went. This was a time of stability, of controlled growth and peace and health. So when the Goddess's time was done it would be the Queen of Sweetness replacing her, not either of the Queens of Endowment or Form.
And that was fine.
Endowment had her own projects to see through, her own responsibilities to carry out.
That meant it was time to stop admiring herself in the mirror. There was a small, private shower just off of her bedroom. A frosted glass window in the ceiling let sunlight shine down on her as she pushed the lever to let the water flow.
That felt good. Getting water up to the third floor of a building was no mean feat. She knew that better than anyone in the Temple. But, by the gods, this was the Division of the engineers, and if they couldn't get their Queen a hot shower in her bedroom, there would be nine kinds of hell to pay.
Sex was a wonderful thing, but so was washing off the stickiness of sweat and semen from her body. She smiled at that thought, too. No matter how pleasant meshing was, there was always a thrill in taking a man's erection between her breasts, in squeezing it between those mounds of flesh. She liked to feel that engorged rod thrusting against her.
Some men -- some few, blessed men -- were long enough to poke out the top of her cleavage. She could watch their heads swelling before her very eyes. Some men. Like Kendrik, last night.
"Come," she would say, as she had said last night. "It's okay."
And they would fight it, or snarl, or grunt to hold it off. Or they might be like Kendrik, who would just smile and let loose; let her feel his pulsing manhood thrashing in her bosom and spray her from neck to forehead.
Semen was life. It was energy. It was the necessary Conduit for the magic that the gods had given to the Temples. It was a lovely thing to see it launching out at her, as it had in dozens of Upgrades and hundreds of other more playful times.
Some thought of it as wasteful, to let an orgasm go by without meshing. But she understood, as maturity could make one understand, the power of anticipation.
Besides, it was no loss to her.
Thirty three Endowment upgrades had been sprayed in to her chest. If the perfected mammary glands therein couldn't produce something to bring back an erection, then something was terribly wrong.
Talla had lain awake for hours, trying to figure out how she felt about what had happened with Tina. It was undoubtedly a mesh that they had made. It was a bit like the one she had had with Zhair'lo, but much more like the one she had barely had with Sila. She and Sila had broken that one out of fear -- mostly Sila's.
Then Sila had gone to Form, to Iron, where rules mattered.
Had Tina and Talla broken a rule? Had they done something that no one did?
"New!" Tina had seemed to shout in jubilation.
New because women couldn't do such things? Or because no one had ever tried?
Turmoil set her stomach to a great deal of unease.
She didn't want more trouble. She didn't want more attention. She wanted to take the one semi-fortunate accident that had happened to her and push ahead.
The scent of Tina was still upon her fingers.
She needed to wash up and head out to the dorms. The children would be getting up soon and she had to see to their breakfasts.
There was an image burned in her mind. Two dark-skinned fingers held casually against an ivory white marble altar.
Maybe it hadn't hurt Zhair'lo. Maybe it was just like Tina said: a thing so routine that no one worried about it.
Or maybe, just maybe, they were killing him very, very slowly.
Either way, she would always remember that night in the Augmentation Chamber. She would never lose that image. Not as long as she lived.
"Eat up, Zhai-Zhai," Tilgan castigated him. "Rain coming. No time to waste."
Breakfast was quick, apparently, on rainy days. There was work to be done and it was best to get the outdoor parts of it out of the way before the ground turned muddy.
He polished off his meal, nodded gratitude to the chef, and headed out.
Mind you, Zhair'lo thought as the morning sunlight hit him, the rain would be a blessing in this heat. It was five bells from noon and it was already uncomfortable. He imagined standing out in the rain, letting it beat down on him, and continuing to work in spite of it.
He looked up at the sky without tilting his head.
Bring it on, he told the clouds with a smirk.
Shanata was dumbfounded. Even Eletta could see that.
Eletta had never seen her strict, frighteningly imposing teacher in such a state. Her left fist was on her hip. Her right she held clenched in front of her face, absentmindedly biting the knuckle of her index finger as she stood in front of Eletta and stared at the younger woman's chest in disbelief.
Eletta was getting uncomfortable. It was bad enough her breasts were sore from what had turned out to be a double upgrade. She really didn't care to add to that her current predicament -- standing in Principia Endowment, topless, with six high ranking women gathered around her. She couldn't do anything but stand there stiffly, hands at her side, while they examined her.
There were rules, meant for the comfort of high ranking individuals, that required lower ranking Disciples to strip when in the presence of their naked betters. There were no such rules for the comfort of naked juniors.
What was she supposed to do? She was afraid even to shrug.
Though she didn't realize it, the women weren't really staring at her. Only Shanata had eyes for the uncovered portion of her body. The other women were all staring at Shanata, waiting in silence.
"Do you have any questions?" the Sorceress of Abundance asked, breaking a silence so lengthy that her voice startled Eletta.
Shanata shook her head.
"Impossible," was all she said.
"Really, sister?" Atreya asked.
"Yes. Really, sister."
Eletta was still having a hard time getting modes of address straight. Sometimes you had to call a woman of higher rank 'Mistress' and sometimes you didn't. Sometimes 'sister' was okay between certain people. Shanata was, by her clothing, three ranks below Atreya -- yet still called her 'sister'.
"I told you what I did," Shanata confirmed, her eyes out of focus. "This makes no sense. I swear it."
"It's not that bad," another woman -- an Officer in orange -- offered. "This happens once every hundred upgrades."
"Not to me, it doesn't."
It didn't happen to you, Eletta thought, it happened to me. But she said nothing. This seemed like a really good time to say nothing.
Shanata leaned in more closely, as she already had twice before, and examined her junior's small breasts from several angles.
Finally, she shook her head.
"I don't understand," she said. "I must have been mistaken."
Five women let out very gentle, cautious sighs.
It hadn't been an easy admission. That much was certain.
"I should be taken off upgrade duty," Shanata added firmly.
"Shanata, dear," Abundance consoled.
"Mistress, I insist," she said, pointedly not looking at Atreya. "Think what damage I could do without even realizing it."
Abundance considered this for a moment and tried not to sigh in exasperation.
"Very well," she said. "Have yourself examined by a physician. I will expect you to return to your duties in short order, or I'll hear why. Am I understood?"
"Mistress," Shanata said as she bowed.
Eletta watched as Shanata left the room. Gods, the woman had strong legs. She epitomized strength, even if her Discipline was Abundance. Seeing her like this was just plain odd.
Now that Shanata was gone, would she be allowed to leave, too? Or at least put her top back on? Maybe it was a good time to ask - no, the older women were talking.
"You let her shirk duty?" Atreya asked.
"You know her as well as I do," the Sorceress replied. "Do you think she would do her job well, right now, with her confidence so shaken?"
Heads nodded in acknowledgement of this piece of wisdom.
"Give her three days," she added, "then put her back in the schedule. She's one of the best we have for Virgin upgrades. I won't have her dawdling over a minor error like this for any longer than that."
Another woman in orange nodded and took a note.
"Now, let's find this Zo'kar -" the Sorceress said as she turned away.
The four remaining women turned and followed their Sorceress back in to the depths of her Offices, leaving the topless Virgin in her long skirt standing there, forgotten.
Eletta shrugged, not particularly happy at having been abandoned, but glad to have the attention off her. She replaced her new top and scurried quickly out. She had some paperwork to fill out.
"Zhair'lo M'han?" a female voice called out quietly.
They were in the stable, brushing down the horses. It was not a place where one expected women to show up, so the sound of woman's voice would always command attention.
"Yes?" he said, turning to face the two girls at the stable doorway.
"A Summons," one of the girls said, holding out a scroll. "For tomorrow evening."
Zhair'lo blinked at her and took a breath. The one who spoke was dressed like Talla, in a tiny skirt. But her legs -- her legs were much stronger.
"Again?" he asked.
The Summons could only mean one thing. How often did they expect him to do this?
Both girls looked at him oddly then, not sure what to say.
He shrugged and held out his hand for the scroll. The girl who held it gave him a raised eyebrow as she released the cylinder from her grip.
The other girl, who wore crossed sashes over her breasts and looked slightly older, gave him an admonishing look.
"If it's not too much trouble for you," she remarked glibly.
One did not shirk duty. One did not even let on for a moment that one wanted to shirk duty.
"No. Not at all," he retreated hurriedly. "Thank you."
They nodded in return and darted off. Doubtless they wanted to get under shelter before the rain hit, just like everybody else.
He cracked the seal on the scroll before they were even out of sight.
Another upgrade. Same gate as before.
Kurran had strolled up behind him.
"You'll be wanting to be more careful, Zhai-zhai," the older man warned him.
"Gettin' clever with the Temple ladies," Kurran said. "They don't like ya acting like that."
Kurran thought about that for a moment.
Zhair'lo's eyes went wide. He hadn't meant to -
"Probably nothin'," Kurran said with a wave of his hands. "Just mind yourself, alrigh'?"
Zhair'lo nodded, taking it to heart.
Everything in his life had taught him to do his job. And his job was whatever apprenticeship or duty the Temple sent him on. There were penalties implied for disobedience, but he'd never experienced any of them himself. It was enough to know they were there. He could only hope the messenger girls hadn't misunderstood his reticence for -
"Zhair'lo!" a deep voice called out.
He stuck his head out of the stable doorway. Harzen was approaching.
"Master Harzen," he replied, trying not to let fear in to his voice. Had the girls complained about him? It can't have been that bad, could it? Harzen didn't appear happy. That was for certain.
"Let's saddle up a horse, boy," Harzen told him. "Grab Sunrise or White Spot, whichever. Get one of them out in the corral before the rain hits."
"Yes, sir," Zhair'lo replied. It didn't sound like any form of punishment.
Harzen grabbed a saddle off one of the gates and jammed a scroll with a broken red seal in to the saddle next to it. So Harzen had received a message as well? Did he have an upgrade to do, too? Then why did he seem so upset? Zhair'lo's impression was that most men looked forward to the rare occasions in which they were called to participate in that ceremony.
Very, very odd.
The rain had started to fall. Talla looked out through the windows forlornly. The children would be a bit harder to control on days like this. At least M'lis had told her so. That's why they'd put the children out earlier in the day. Let them run around and burn off some energy before the rain came and cooped them up inside.
Talla and her crew had only to see the children through to third bell. After that, they'd change shifts and someone else would see them off until the night came. Let the afternoon child minders suffer. The children could play with board games and blocks until lunch.
But no, the effect of the rain on the children wasn't Talla's chief concern.
The rain would make it cooler today and that meant there would be no heat bell.
No heat bell meant that there was no way for Zhair'lo to come by -- or for her to go find him.
She'd spent a lot of time thinking about that second option. She knew where he lived. She could run out there as she had on her first night of Service. But what if she went to see him at the same time that he came to see her? The streets were tangled enough that they could miss each other entirely. Then what? He had come to see her once. Might he not come again?
They had made no arrangement. She'd thought she would see him in the Priming room. They had probably made eye contact in the Chamber last night, but there was no way to communicate.
And she had to see him. She had to tell him what they'd done to him. She also had to mesh with him. There was still that incomplete mesh, the one they'd started in the alcove just around the corner from where she presently moped.
She sat up straight. Moping was unseemly. Scheming was more appropriate.
She narrowed her eyes and turned away from the window so she could look at the children as they played their board games. The games were all about scheming, weren't they? Sometimes you schemed in competition. Sometimes you played in cooperation. But you always planned. You always took careful stock of your resources. When you could, you even used someone else's stuff.
Talla didn't have any stuff of her own. She hadn't even realized until last night that she could have possessions. But those possessions would cost her coins she didn't have and, besides, none of the things she could buy would help bring Zhair'lo to her or help her get to him.
Communication was the key.
She had to talk to Zhair'lo. But how could she arrange a meeting? There was the mesh, but that seemed to have the range of about the length of an erect penis. Fine for the circumstances for which it was used but useless for her current needs. Messages did go out, though, didn't they? How else did men know when to come in for upgrades?
How did one send a message? And how did one go about sending a secret message?
She would have to find out.
Horse riding lessons?
Harzen had come out to the stables, under skies that threatened imminent and violent thunderstorms, to give him horse riding lessons?
He was already astride Sunrise and focused on trying to remember all of the tips he had been given.
Harzen still seemed angry, but Zhair'lo had slowly grown to realize that the big man's anger was directed elsewhere. His attitude toward Zhair'lo was as patient and patently condescending as it ever was. What Harzen had to be angry about, he had no idea.
"Good," Harzen said, vaguely satisfied even in his disgruntlement. He kicked at the gate to unlatch it. "Take her out for a trot around the ring. If she starts to gallop, you rein her back in right away, got it?"
That was something -- Harzen trusting him with a horse outside of the corral. Few other farm hands were allowed to do that. Those privileged few were the older ones; those with the most experience. These horses were at the disposal of the Temple, not playthings for the farm hands. They rotated four at a time to be sent to a small stable very close to the Temple, ready at a moment's notice to ferry messengers off to other cities. Zhair'lo had no idea how often that sort of thing occurred. As far as he had seen, four horses went out and the same four rotated back a day later.
As he went past Harzen, keeping the beast to a gentle trot, it occurred to him that the horse could take him to town in a fraction of the time that he could run there. Too bad it had to be the most conspicuous possible way to search for Talla.
He imagined himself, just for a moment, galloping through the city, pelting through alleys, knocking down awnings and upsetting boxes full of food. His heart raced at the thought. There was danger, too. His eyes narrowed as that was added to his dream. He was being chased. Things were burning. He could almost smell the smoke. He would find Talla, then, and whisk her up on to the back of his horse ...
He shook himself back to reality and refocused on controlling his steed.
Keep it to a trot, Harzen had said.
Likely he'd kill himself if he let the animal start running around like that.
"Nothing for it, then," M'lis remarked as the eight girls of Endowment gathered at the entrance to the children's dorm.
Rain was pelting down, as it had been for hours, rinsing clean what little dirt there was on the cobble stone streets of Gern.
Credit where credit is due, Talla thought. The deluge, heavy as it was, sluiced off in to gutters to be drained in to the river far away. The people who had laid these streets had done it well.