Talla's Temple Ch. 15byxtorch©
When ill, Talla had been told, one was to go directly to the Offices. Physicians were always available.
Illnesses were a lot simpler in the dorms. There the doctors would come to the patients. Here, Talla supposed, it made more sense to put the doctors in one place and have the patients come to them.
Did her condition really merit the term "illness"?
That normally meant "disease". What was she going to say, "Please help me. My breasts are too big"?
Having finished her day of child minding, she trotted past the sunbathing courtyard full of her naked sisters. She made the best speed she could, having yanked the straps on her top as tight as possible to take the weight off her chest.
She wasn't happy about what she had to do. Whining wasn't looked well upon. "Unnecessary drama" would have been the accusation of her dorm mothers. She could almost hear the condescending tone and had to blink away an image of a woman pointing at the stool in the corner.
Talla grimaced as she entered the dark, cool chamber of the Offices. Just as quiet as the courtyard, but so much the opposite in every other respect.
Did she really need to see a doctor?
With what she knew was an intent to procrastinate, she went first to the shelves full of night time assignments. There, in her slot, was the card.
What would it be tonight? Whose name would be on the card? There was a certain anxiety in reaching for that card, knowing it would contain the name of a boy she'd never met -- a boy she'd be expected to go out in to the night to find. And then Serve. Another penis, plunging in to her.
And his name was -
All that was written on the card was "Desk 15" and some Temple Script which she translated to mean "immediately".
Not a hard direction to follow. Desk 15 was just behind her. She crossed the marble floor -- quietly so as to avoid distracting the hard working women -- and stood in front of the fifteenth desk.
An Officer, probably of Abundance. She wore a tight fitting but rather fancy blouse. It wasn't quite the sort of thing that women went out Serving in, but the plunging next line and lace in the cleavage was a notch above standard work wear.
"My card said to come here, Mistress," Talla said, showing the Officer the card.
"Ah, Talla," she said. "My name is Pril. Pleased to meet you."
"Mistress," Talla replied with a curtsy. She supposed it was an honour to be recognized. There were very few Officers, after all.
"You're here because you have a choice tonight," Pril explained.
When had there been talk of choices? Her first night, certainly, but she didn't think she got choices after that. Could she choose whom she Served? That thought lit her eyes up.
"Yes," Pril explained. "You chose to be paced at five Services per week."
"Many girls do this to meet their quota more quickly," Pril said. "And your devotion is admirable. There are, however, other duties of equal import -- and credit."
Talla raised her eyebrows expectantly.
"If you wish," Pril said, "we have an opening in Priming tonight. We're offering it to you based on your success in discovering -- ah -- Zo'kar, I believe it was."
"Zo'kar?" Talla wondered. "What about him?"
"He's a Seal Breaker," Pril said. "Having been involved in his discovery, some of the credit is yours. So if you would prefer to achieve your quota with a greater degree of Priming, that can be arranged."
Zo'kar was a Seal Breaker, just like Zhair'lo. How about that?
And what of her choice? Would she rather be out Serving, or Priming? She thought of her beleaguered breasts. Priming, even twice, they would only be unwrapped for a few minutes -- half an hour at most. It wouldn't cure her arousal, but she could always masturbate if it came to that. If she chose to Serve -- well -- the pain in her chest ...
"I'll take Priming," she said confidently.
She took from Pril's smile that it was the right decision. Whatever her part was in getting Zo'kar prepared, it was obviously an important duty. So be it.
"Good," Pril said. "We'll see you at seventh bell, as before."
Talla lingered a bit.
"Is there something else?"
"I -- I think I need to see a doctor," she stammered.
An expression of concern crossed Pril's face.
"Go up to Principia Abundance and tell the guard there," Pril said. "I hope all is well."
"Thank you, Mistress," she said and curtsied again. "I'm sure I'll be fine."
Down in the vaults under Sweetness Hall, Maksa was hard at work.
There were no skylights, so even in the middle of the day work was done under candlelight.
Maksa had examined Talla's dossier, tracing back through all five ancestral generations available to find something that might stand out. There was nothing there. The dossier was perfectly clean.
Stymied, she then decided that there might be something in the sixth generation. She could, theoretically, go through all thirty two of Talla's available ancestors, dig up those dossiers and see what they held. But she had learned a few things in her stint at genealogy. People moved from one city to another. When they moved, a copy of their records moved with them, but their parents' records didn't. So if Mih'lan or Kain or one of their parents were immigrants, Maksa could spend hours looking through the oldest parts of the Stacks before she realized the pointlessness of her task.
She could, however, look up Mih'lan and Kain themselves.
So here she sat, having found Mih'lan's dossier and placed it next to Talla's, comparing the trees.
It was a perfect match. The left half of Talla's family tree matched perfectly with Mih'lan's, right out to the sixth generation. Mih'lan's chart then had one more generation. There was no more sign of predilection towards Endowment than she would have expected.
There was something though.
On the bottom of Mih'lan's chart, where children would be listed alongside the names of the fathers, someone had made an error and scratched it out.
Mih'lan had had two children, both girls.
The first was Zhina, fathered by someone named Kortis.
On the next line was Kain's name, something scratched out, followed by Talla's name.
It wasn't uncommon to see scratch marks on older parchment. The stuff hadn't been cheap to make until more recently. If Talla was eighteen, then this name was written eighteen years ago. But what had been scratched out?
Maksa held the parchment up to the light.
Whoever had made the scratch marks had been sloppy. The ink used to scratch out was not the same colour as that used to write the original word. That didn't make a lot of sense.
The most likely explanation was that someone, most likely Mih'lan's doctor, had changed her mind about the baby's name. Wouldn't the person who made the error be the one crossing it out? And wouldn't the same pen be used?
Maksa tried viewing the parchment from different angles, attempting to decipher what Talla's name might have been.
It was difficult. Names could be. There were so many possibilities. Besides, Temple Script allotted a special symbol for names, just as the common language capitalized the first letter. This name, for some reason, did not have that symbol.
That made it not a name, but a word.
Knowing that, something clicked inside Maksa's head. She began to look at that scribble in a different way.
And, quite suddenly, she recognized the word.
"What seems to be the problem, young lady?" the physician asked.
She was a young woman, wearing orange clothing of indeterminate rank under her white coat. Talla had waited half a bell to speak to her.
"My chest hurts," she said.
"That is normal after an upgrade," the physician said.
Her brief encounters with physicians had led her to suppose that they were trained not to emote. Talla could tell, regardless of any such training, that this one wanted to roll her eyes.
"Yes, I know," Talla said. "My upgrade was six days ago. My breasts don't hurt anymore, really. It's just, sort of, in behind."
The physician raised her eyebrows in confusion.
"Very well," she said. "Let me see."
They were in a curtained off section of Principia Abundance. Talla assumed it was acceptable to be naked with a physician present.
She unlaced her top and gently let her breasts fall. She tried not to wince.
The physician now looked completely at a loss.
"Initiate, you do not appear to have any Strength or Point upgrades," she said. "And what -- three Abundance upgrades?"
"Four, actually," Talla corrected. "It was an accident."
"I'll say. Where does it hurt?"
Talla placed her fingertips gently on the tops of her breasts.
"Here," she said. "Sort of, in behind. It pulls."
"Yes, it does."
The physician placed her left hand above Talla's left breast and cupped the same breast with her right hand.
"Here?" she asked, pushing in Talla's chest.
The physician gingerly lifted Talla's breast.
"Not so bad."
"So you're okay when you're wearing your top?"
"Yes," Talla said. "Well, better anyway. It is very sturdy."
She repeated the procedure with Talla's right breast, confirming her diagnosis.
"We warn Endowment women about this sort of thing," she said. "Every now and then, however, some fool Abundance Neophyte, having aced her exams all the way up, manages to get both of her extra upgrades in Point. Fancier, you know, having nice nipples. She makes it to Keeper, gets her fourth upgrade and her breasts are just too big for her chest strength. Then we make her get a Strength upgrade, as soon as possible. But she has to spend some time in your condition."
"I guess that's me, then," Talla said.
"But they won't let me have any other upgrades until I've met my Virgin quotas," Talla said.
The physician tilted her chin up just a fraction, now on firmer ground.
"We'll see about that, dear. Come along."
Zhair'lo was at the farthest edge of the Harzen's farm, about two kilometres from the farmhouse. Someone had reported a leaking roof in one of the ancient stone sheds. Why there was a shed with a thatched roof way out here was beyond his ken. It was enough that he was the most junior worker on the farm and consequently was handed the crappiest jobs. Even Kurran had stayed behind, having more important things to do.
True enough, he had spent some time learning to repair roofs.
A long time ago.
For about a week or two.
He sighed. Nothing for it but to march out to the middle of nowhere, which he had done, and climb up to the roof, which he was about to do.
What was the point of this stupid shed? There was a plough and a pair of butter churns stored in it. Otherwise it was a large empty building with a wide doorway and a chimney. What possible reason could there be for a pair of butter churns to be out here?
At least there was enough thatch on hand to repair the hole in the roof. He'd carried the bundles and the long straw on his back. They'd promised him that it would be enough.
He supposed that the complaint came from someone who had been stuck out here when the rain storm had hit. What could you do in a storm like that except run to the nearest building and wait it out?
And if that building started leaking, you might wonder if the whole roof would follow.
Fair enough. He could fix it before the next bell if he did it right.
Looking up at the hole in the roof, it did seem pretty simple. Without a ladder in evidence, however, he'd have to climb up the back of the chimney or find some other purchase to get up there. After that it was just a matter of packing the bundles in tightly enough across the rafters that this wouldn't happen again.
He exited the building by the same wide doorway through which he'd entered and, with weeds, grass and damnable thorns whipping at his bare legs, made his way around the shed. There was no ladder, but the chimney was quite scalable. He wasn't going to be able to climb up carrying the full load of thatch on his back, though. It would take at least two trips.
He unsaddled half his load and started climbing. At least his sandals were in good shape. That made for a pleasant and reasonably safe climb even if he was hot and sticky from the walk out.
The shed, in addition to being unnecessary and in the middle of nowhere, was also stupidly tall. Why bother complaining at this point?
He reached the top and unloaded the tightly bound bundles he'd brought up. Then he took a moment to rest. Over the length of the shed, he could see all the way back to the farmhouse, but the path he had walked was below the edge of the building. So he turned around instead and contented himself with a look out past the town limits.
There was a path out there, just the other side of a copse of trees. He could see it. It didn't lead away from the town, though, but rather across his view. A group of people, men and women, carrying swords or bows on their backs, were jogging along the path.
Fighters, the men were called.
He knew them enough to name them. Sometimes they were seen in town, marching from one place to another or guarding some baggage train. That it was a job was all Zhair'lo knew about it. There were occasionally people to fight. Out there. Somewhere. And Fighters did the fighting.
Presumably this casually paced run on this path at the edge of town had something to do with guarding the town against whomever it was that the Fighters were employed to fight.
Zhair'lo had never really thought about it, but he did now. The existence of the Fighters, well known but rarely spoken of, meant that there must be someone out there, in the vast wilderness between cities, that contested the rule of the Goddesses and their Temples.
He was about to wonder why when a voice called out, "Zhair'lo M'han?"
"Up here," he shouted back.
The voice had been distinctly feminine. There was only one reason for that in the middle of the day. Another message scroll. Another upgrade.
"I'm on the roof - around back."
"There is a message for you," the same voice replied. He could hear their footsteps as they walked around the building.
"Can you just leave it somewhere for me?"
There was a pause in the footsteps and a whispered conversation.
"No," an older voice replied. "We must hand it directly to you."
More Temple rules. If they had been able to leave it for him, they would have left it with Harzen back at the farmhouse and saved themselves four kilometres of running.
"Alright, alright," Zhair'lo called back. He was going to have to go back down anyway to get the rest of the long straw. He might as well do it now. He couldn't imagine asking them to come up. "Let me climb down. No use you walking through all those weeds."
"Thank you," the first, younger voice replied.
He clambered down the chimney stones as quickly as he could without killing himself. When he got around the side of the building, he found the two girls carefully extricating themselves from the hip high weeds that were threatening their white, knee length skirts.
One wore the simple rectangular top that he associated with the lowest rank. The other girl wore a pair of sashes. He could only see her from the back, but he assumed her sashes crossed in front to cover her breasts.
He had almost caught up to them at the front corner of the building when the younger one got her skirt snagged on a particularly stubborn thorned weed. It made him glad that he was wearing work leathers. The thorns would have torn up any of his other clothes.
He was about to warn her about damaging her clothes, but she had already realized she was caught. She turned on the thorn bush, clearly frustrated by her arduous trek through the wilds of farm country, and yanked on her skirt.
Zhair'lo wasn't sure what she'd been expecting. Sure, the thorns could be stubborn, but the weeds they grew on weren't that strong. She didn't seem to realize she was fighting with, basically, a blade of grass. She braced herself for what she clearly thought was going to be a tug of war.
Instead, one hard tug later, she found herself flat on her ass with her skirt in her hands, pulled up over her belly.
Zhair'lo, for his part, found himself staring at her naked, hairless genitals.
He blinked, pretending not to have noticed as she quickly forced her skirt back down.
Her senior, however, had noticed.
"Gods damn it, Atani," she muttered. "Where is your underwear?"
"It chafes, Marie" she said. "Only six days since the upgrade. Can't run with them on."
Marie turned to face Zhair'lo.
"Did you see that?" she asked him.
Zhair'lo made a noncommittal noise, not quite willing to lie to avoid trouble. He was meanwhile thinking -- how many days had it been since Talla's upgrade? Was this girl part of Talla's group?
"Of course he did," the older girl said to the younger. "Stupid. Do you know how much trouble you get in for that?"
"It was an accident," Atani protested.
"An accident in front of a man," her senior chastised her. "Don't make excuses. Your job is to avoid accidents. You want them to send somebody out for him in the middle of the day?"
What did she mean by that? 'Send somebody out'?
"It's not really that big of a -" Zhair'lo started to protest.
Really. He'd had plenty of sex lately. It wasn't like he hadn't seen one before.
Marie, however, wasn't paying him any attention.
"Get inside the building," she told the younger girl, interrupting Zhair'lo.
She turned to Zhair'lo, softening her tone only slightly.
"Sorry about that," she said as she waved toward the doorway of the shed. "Come inside a moment."
Talla and the physician, along with two Virgin attendants, waited outside the entrance to the Sorceress of Abundance's innermost sanctum. The guard had said that the Sorceress couldn't be disturbed but promised that it would only be a moment.
Talla was in the middle of letting out a sigh of impatience when she heard a strange fizzing sound from behind the door. What was that? She was about to ask when she heard a loud pop followed an explosion that sounded like a stroke of thunder.
What in the nine hells?
Fizz. Pop. Bang!
Someone inside the room called out, "Come."
The guard perked up.
"The Sorceress will see you now," she said as she opened the door and ushered them in.
The physician, for her part, didn't appear the least bit surprised by the sound of explosions. She led Talla into the wide rectangular room and bowed politely to the blonde Sorceress and her dark haired Second. The Virgins followed them in and stood by the door.
Both Abundance and Atreya looked a bit tired though contented.
Talla sniffed at the air. Was something burning? She looked around the room and saw a scorched and smoldering bale of hay at the far end. That wasn't the smell, though.
"What is it, Iyana?" her Sorceress asked, cutting off Talla's bafflement.
"Young Talla, Abundance," the physician responded.
The Sorceress brushed her blonde, wavy hair back off her face and let out a breath of exhaustion, apparently recovering from whatever she and Atreya had been up to. Atreya, for her part, merely looked Talla in the eye, saying nothing.
"We have met her, yes."
"She has four upgrades in Abundance," Iyana said, rather severely, "and none in Strength."
"Yes," she said.
"She cannot be left this way," Iyana continued. "She is already experiencing pain. There could be permanent damage."
"We were hoping not," the Sorceress said. "Come here, girl. Let us see."