Talla's Temple Ch. 17byxtorch©
Zhair'lo was waiting just outside the Initiation Room, the place where he'd just ejaculated over the face of a young girl. It had been as good an experience as he could imagine it being. She'd been eager, he'd been horny. She'd done him quickly, being in a hurry to finish the ritual and place as highly as she could.
She hadn't even told him her name.
He wasn't done thinking about her anyway.
Something else was wrong. He felt something alternately pushing him away and pulling him in. Something was terribly, frighteningly wrong. Part of him wanted to run straight out of the Temple as fast as he could. Another part wanted to run in to the Temple, deeper -- somewhere -- and ferret out the trouble.
He squinted and realized as he did so that he was mostly trying to ignore what he was seeing. The problem wasn't something he could see from here. His eyes were just showing him torchlit, sandstone walls. Useless information.
If his eyes were useless, what point was there in leaving them open?
So he closed them and reached out to the turmoil brewing out of his sight. The thing out there had been pulling him this way, toward the Temple, all night. It had been driving him here. He had thought it was just his general arousal and a desire to head to where women were to be found. But that wasn't it. The thing in his head had been pulling him right past this building, not to it.
If he had his bearings right, it was pulling him in the general direction of the Augmentation Chamber where he'd been so many times before. Endowment's Augmentation Chamber, that was, the one where he'd upgraded Talla. It had been pulling him toward Talla?
Was that a figment of his imagination? Wishful thinking? Then why the fear now? Did he feel bad, that he'd been going toward Talla and spent his orgasm on someone else?
He opened his mind.
It was the mesh. Her mesh.
He knew it well. The song might have changed, from one of joy to one of terror, but the instrument hadn't. The player hadn't. This was Talla's song.
Someone was hurting Talla. His heart quickened. His breath raced. He knew exactly which way to run to help her. His eyes popped open.
A normally stoic guard was staring at him, one eyebrow raised.
He'd make it exactly three steps past her before she took him out with her spear. Assuming she didn't just trip him on the way by.
Stymied, he tried to ignore her and feel again. The mesh tying him to Talla, even at this distance, was strong enough to sense her emotions. He could not physically reach her. He remembered his daydream, riding to her rescue on horseback. That wouldn't work here.
No horse, for one thing.
Guards with spears and the muscle to back them up, for another.
Fear again. Confusion. Vulnerability. Was she naked? It felt like that. Being outside and naked. Embarrassed. Maybe cold, too.
Someone was with her -- also under threat.
Lots of large, menacing things around her. Not really people. Just scary things.
And then a measure of relief.
Talla was safe again, sort of. She was still frightened and hysterical.
Zhair'lo grimaced. What could he do for her? He couldn't reach her, couldn't comfort her. He thought that he might take her in his arms. Wasn't that what one did with children when they cried? Could one do that with an adult? Men didn't do it with each other, but he thought women might, and women and men might.
Could he comfort her? If he could feel her, could she feel him?
It's okay, he beamed at her, squinting and focusing his eyes where he thought she might be, wishing that his thoughts could burn a path through wall and beam and cold night air.
"Boy!" a woman ordered.
He snapped back to his surroundings.
"Time to go, the lot of you," an armoured woman said to him and the several other boys gathered around the entrance to the Initiation building. "Let's go."
She had already turned away, her obviously ceremonial leather skirt leaving her legs bare well up her thigh.
It's okay, he kept trying to send, even as he ran in the opposite direction. It will be okay.
Two skinny, naked girls were crying in each other's arms, both shoulders soaked with the tears that coursed down their bodies.
What had that been about? They were suspected of stealing and using Synergist? What could possibly have brought that on?
At first, Talla had thought they were being accosted for what they'd been planning to do. There was a rule -- a rule none of her teachers had thought to mention -- that forbade women from doing that with each other. Orgasms were to be saved for the men.
Next she'd thought they were looking for the scroll cylinder she'd appropriated from the domain of Strength.
But that hadn't been it. When they'd taken her clothes and starting poking her insides, she'd been thoroughly confused.
It had turned out they'd been looking for Synergist, the liquid that allowed the transfer of magic from woman to man and back to woman again. They expected Tina and Talla to have it?
Why would they think that?
A wave of calmness overcame her then. And another. She took a breath to quiet her sobbing. Tina was still hysterical and hyperventilating.
Talla pulled away from her and took her by the shoulders. Their foreheads touching, Talla spoke to her softly.
"It's okay," she said. "It'll be okay."
Tina opened her eyes to meet Talla's. Tears still streamed down her cheeks to spill down to her breasts. She was beautiful, in a sad and tortured way.
"It's okay," Talla repeated.
"Why?" Tina sobbed. "Why would they think that about us?"
She let her head fall to Talla's shoulder again.
Talla was calmer now. Her brain had started working.
Why? Why would they think that?
"Something must have happened tonight," Talla said.
Talla's eyes narrowed, peering through the wall behind Tina's head.
"Something must have gone wrong at the upgrade."
"We did it right," Tina protested. "Both of those guys were good and hard and ready."
"I've only Primed twice," Talla said. "How many times have you done it?"
"Dozens," Tina replied with a sniff. "So what?"
"So you can tell me," Talla said. "Were the times with me any different from the others?"
Tina had stopped crying. She was thinking now. That was better. Women weren't to be crying and sobbing like children. They were expected to handle any adversity -- sickness, punishment, even death -- with a certain degree of calm maturity. That mental conditioning was starting to work in Tina's head.
Her eyes still blurred with tears, she gathered her wits.
"I don't think so," she said as she shook her head. "I mean -- we get them hard, suck 'em, rub up against them. Make sure they're clean."
Tina's eyes were wandering now as she tried to pull details out of her memory.
"You're the first one who's been called back so quickly," she said.
"What do you mean?"
"Sometimes I get matched with someone," Tina replied. "And we might run in to each other again and again. But I've never seen anyone come back so soon for another Priming."
What had the woman in the Offices said when she'd offered Talla another shot at Priming?
"Zo'kar," Talla said suddenly. "It was Zo'kar. He's a Seal Breaker, possibly. They said we got part of the credit for finding him."
"That means he did a ren hana," Tina said. "He must have pulled two upgrades out of someone. That's how they find Seal Breakers -- the only way, as far as I know."
They sat in silence a moment.
"No one came in to your room last time and ripped off our clothes," Talla said.
"Nine Fortunate Gods, no!" Tina exclaimed. Then, more calmly, "Our clothes weren't on anyway. Would have saved them some time."
Talla was still thinking.
"So something else happened tonight."
"What else?" Tina asked.
"I don't know," Talla said. "What else can go wrong?"
"If upgrades fail, it's usually marked Yinay Ador," Tina said.
"What kind of failure?" Talla asked.
"Yinay," Tina said. "It means 'release'. Y'know, as in 'prematurely'? The guy'll sometimes come on the Primers, the Source or even the girl getting the upgrade."
"Why's it a problem if he comes on the one getting the upgrade?"
"If the Synergist isn't in place yet," Tina clarified. "The magic in his come burns out pretty fast if you don't rub it in to your body."
"Oh, right," Talla replied with a frown. That had been covered in her early lessons. "Do you think that's what happened tonight?"
Tina shook her head.
"No way," she said. "That happens a lot. Even if he comes on one of us while we're Priming, we catch a reprimand and that's it. If it happens too often, you're just removed from the Priming list, that's all. Nobody busts in to your room in the middle of the night."
"What did you mean 'marked'?" Talla asked.
"You said it's 'marked as Yinay Ador'," Talla said. "Marked where?"
"On the docket."
"Can we find that docket?"
Tina smiled, the shifting of her facial muscles pushing the last, abandoned tears from her eyes.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, we can."
The evening had gone pretty much as he could have hoped.
He'd removed the ribbon out of his hair, lest he come across another girl on her Initiation and find himself empty, and had taken to wandering around the Temple at an innocuous distance.
He could still feel Talla, distantly. She was calmer now, if a bit shaken. Maybe he'd helped her a little.
Could she feel him the same way? It didn't seem so, but he considered it likely that whatever had happened to her was distracting her attention.
It seemed natural to him to meander the wrong way around the Temple, past where Plin lived with the bakers rather than take the faster route to get closer to Talla.
Maybe Plin would be around. Would he have been swept up by the wave of eager girls in their long skirts? Possibly. Zhair'lo didn't want to leave the area until he knew Talla was safe but neither could he just walk in to the Temple.
Besides, she didn't seem to currently need any rescuing.
So he wandered, blue ribbon in his pocket, pretending to be older than he was.
That word had a meaning to genealogists that it did not have to anyone else. The words "mother" and "father" weren't all that commonly used either. It was enough for a woman to separate herself from other women of the same name by saying that she was the "daughter" of a particular man she'd never met, and had come "out of" another woman she knew equally well.
The women of Form had been pushing for decades to eliminate even this. The Temple had replaced what had once been called the "family". There was no need for those ancestral bonds. Everyone would have an equal opportunity and all that such associations could do was raise questions of favouritism. Hadn't that been one of scourges of the times before the Goddesses and their Temples?
It hadn't been such an issue when life expectancies were shorter, but it had become possible for women to live to see their daughters enter the Temple. Best if, the Form women said, they nipped it in the bud now.
So secondary names had been invented, names for creches and nurseries and babies grouped by time and place of birth. A woman might know that she'd given birth to a girl of Ch'lai or a boy of M'han, but she would know little else if the child knew nothing else.
That was a curious word.
To every man in their society, it meant nothing. A word, overheard perhaps, spoken between women. To women, it meant that kisses had been shared, lips to nipples, back and forth. It meant a bond of friendship.
A sister, to a genealogist, meant a woman who shared a parent with another. "Half-sister" was the old term, because it was most often the case that people with one parent in common would have both in common. But how likely was that, in the time of the Temple? There were thousands of possible parents, all dealt out to each other at random by nightly assignment cards.
Talla had a sister.
That sister's name was Zhina.
According to the sheet that lay before Maksa, Zhina was older than Talla by two and a half years.
Having been stymied on the front of looking up Talla's ancestors, she had done the next best thing and looked up her siblings.
Maybe she could find Zhina and see what she had done with her life. Had she mysteriously violated the tendencies of her ancestors, as Talla had, and taken to Endowment over Sweetness? What Discipline had Zhina chosen? The girl would be just past twenty, probably a Neophyte.
What was Zhina up to?
Maksa looked at the bottom of the sheet.
There was no information about Zhina. The last entry was Temple Script. The word was "emigrated" and the symbol next to it was the one they used for the city of Beshenna.
Zhina had moved -- or, more accurately, she had been moved -- to Beshenna, just about eighteen years ago.
Right about the time Talla had been born.
That was damned curious. People did move about. It was fairly common to find people who enjoyed travelling from one city to another, spending a few years here and there. Some liked it. Some didn't. The Temples made allowances for both kinds of people. But children two and a half years of age? They didn't make decisions. They had decisions made for them.
Next, she checked on Mih'lan herself. Where was Talla's mother? It was possible, these days, for a woman to live a little past forty. Thus the concern of Form regarding favouritism.
Mih'lan might actually be alive, somewhere, wondering when the weakness of old age would come upon her. Maksa might be able to find her.
Maksa found the record.
"Emigrated, Turiksa", and almost the exact same date.
So Mih'lan had given birth to Talla, apparently in a manner that had made someone temporarily think that she had given birth to a stillborn child. Then, just a few weeks later, both Mih'lan and her other offspring had moved -- or been moved -- to separate distant cities.
What in nine hells had gone on eighteen years ago?
"Did you honestly believe -" the Sorceress of Abundance fumed at the Officer before her, "that two girls of that age had managed to thieve away an allotment of Synergist?"
Atreya had never seen her Sorceress this angry. She hadn't known Abundance all that long -- the woman had only ascended to the rank of Sorceress a few years ago upon the death of the previous Queen of Endowment. She had chosen Atreya as her Second on the same day.
She'd seen her Sorceress under stress and duress. She'd felt her superior's disappointment the day Talla and Zhair'lo had nearly died. She'd seen every kind of annoyance, concern and derision the woman had to offer.
But she'd never seen anger like this from her Sorceress. Anger that burned in blue eyes. Anger that frankly sizzled off blonde hair as if the entire body were a flaming torch of fury. This woman, Atreya knew, could cause serious physical damage if her anger were unleashed.
The Officer of Strength, a woman named Reesa whom Atreya had only met on a few occasions, was firmly standing her ground.
"The evidence was overwhelming," she replied. Harried, perhaps, but nowhere near the level of terrified she ought to be given the situation. "Both of the women in question had Primed an upgrade before, a ritual which had resulted in a double Abundance upgrade. Both women in question had sufficient Abundance to transmit a double upgrade. Both women were there again, tonight, in the Priming Room - and the Source found herself blocked on a Conduit already Seized to a double Abundance upgrade."
"One does not argue about the evidence," another voice put in, calmly. This was the Sorceress of Strength, attempting to mediate between her Officer and her comrade. "One is given cause to wonder at your jurisprudence and enforcement."
"Mistress," Reesa said, straightening herself at this very gentle rebuke. "What should I have done? If Synergist had slipped out of official hands?"
"Out of official hands," her Sorceress replied, "and in to the hands of an Initiate just weeks in to her adulthood and a Neophyte barely wiser?"
That stymied the Officer a moment.
"Would those two women -- and I use the term only because it's technically accurate," Strength continued, "Are those two women really likely to be part of a conspiracy to subjugate Temple Orthodoxy via the illegal distribution of Synergist in -- of all places -- Priming Rooms?"
Reesa opened her mouth to speak, but words didn't come out. There was worried calculation behind her eyes.
"If Synergist really exists outside of our control," the Sorceress of Strength went on, "would those who seek to subvert the peace of the Temple really allow its use in such a flagrant manner?"
The Officer's mouth snapped shut. There was a moment of silence.
Clearly, she had not considered these things in her rush.
It was in to that silence that an older voice spoke.
"We appreciate your sense of urgency," that voice said. "And your loyalty. Let none dispute."
Reesa bowed solemnly. "Highness," she acknowledged.
"But had there actually been a conspiracy, which we very much doubt," the Queen of Endowment continued, "you might have driven away what could have been tracked and stalked."
Reesa considered this a moment. At the very least, Atreya thought, the woman was beginning to realize what a stupid thing she'd done.
The Queen was issuing a judgement, at this point, and everyone else in the room was silent.
"We respect your loyalty, and the swiftness of your action," the Queen stated, "but not the thought behind it. We see, however, no reason for punishment, given that you acknowledge your error."
There was a pause there, a moment in which Reesa found it prudent to bow her head and mumble, "Highness" with appropriate gratitude and humility.
"You are dismissed, then," the Queen added. "Send in the Guard Captain."
Talla awoke from a troubled sleep.
She had pretended to be asleep when her roommates had returned from their classes, already having done her best to clean up the room before Lara and Salee had arrived. She hoped that she'd reordered their clothing to something resembling their own standards.
The last thing she'd wanted was to talk to them.
Tina had collected her clothing and left chagrined but, like Talla, determined to find out what had provoked such a violent search for Synergist. At least Talla had returned Tina's clothing. That was one thing off her mind. She didn't know if the two of them could ever again share the mesh they'd had before. What punishment would it have merited if the Officer and her guards had discovered them naked and rolling on the bed together?
Sex would have to come from men, then, wouldn't it?
But what man, aside from Zhair'lo, had brought her the kind and depth of mesh she'd had with Tina?
Zhair'lo was out there, somewhere, and as much as she wanted to know what stupid thing had gone on that led to those women busting in to her room last night, she wanted to be with Zhair'lo so much more.
She could feel him, out there -- way, way out there.
She rolled out of bed, looking down at the breasts that he had given her -- accidentally and at great personal cost to them both.
She'd chosen Endowment because of him, or at least because of the way it made her feel when she looked at him She liked that look, whether it came from Jace, Shen or Zhair'lo or just about anybody.
She shook off her thoughts. It was time to go.
Child-minding wasn't the sort of task one could put off. Children didn't wait. They got hungry and needed feeding and supervision.