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The high priestess spoke in silky tones, standing there in the light, her jeweled robe falling from her form to the ground, “I’m told you’ve been a very bad boy,” she said.

“Yes, mistress,” Damian replied, dropping to his knees as she approached. “I beg your permission for passage.”

“You’ve brought a Halan to my city. Why did you not bring her here to me? I haven’t felt forest flesh in a long time.”

“I have certain uses for her, mistress, my deepest apologies.”

“Hm, we all have our pets. . . I suppose.” She grabbed his beard roughly, pulling it up and jerking his head back. “Do you seek Beauty’s pleasure?” she asked her lips almost touching his.

Out of the corner of his eye, Damian noticed another woman, an acolyte, carrying a tray as she entered the room.

“Of course, mistress. I live only to please Her Majesty.”

Tossing his head away, the priestess turned, walking slowly toward the altar. “Yes, that one,” she said, pointing to an item on the tray as she passed.

As she approached the candles lit at the altar’s side, the glow highlighted her form and face. She stopped, running her hand over the flames slowly. Then she turned, raised her arms, eyes rolling up briefly into her head, then back down to look at him. “Her Majesty finds you worthy, ” she said. “Approach and worship.”

As they merged, the mistress whispered in her passion, “Make her feel something.”

***

As he left the high priestess’ chambers, Damian smiled slightly to himself, chaffing at the thought that she had been impressed with his manhood. Priestesses were trained to do that; make you feel comfortable, worthy of their. . .attention. Tall and shapely, she moved like a big cat, danger wrapped around overt sensuality. Her face showed signs of age, but the rest of her. . .Okay, he thought, I was . . . impressed.

He exited the central temple and began humming a sex song, remembering his petition to the high priestess. He’d been fortunate to see her on such short notice. One of her regulars must have taken ill at the last moment. Of course, he’d made a rather large donation of pitch wood, and that type of resin always opened doors.

***

Just as well, Damian thought as he sat that afternoon, waiting for the others to ready themselves for dinner. It was inconvenient to delay as the clothing orders were completed, but the clothes were absolutely essential to the success of the mission. Sitting in the corridor, he checked the charge on the mind dampening tech: at 31%. Needs charging.

His fingers stroked his beard. Hmm. He knew it would barely pass for Purity Day service, but there was no time to see a barber. He’d have to make do. Society, ah – too many rules. Give me the open desert. The thrill and danger of finding old tech, selling it on the black market, now that was living. A round of drinks and a good meal with friends. . .well, that was enough.

Shifting his weight on the chair, he gazed down the hallway at the doors leading to the guest rooms where the rag-tag bunch he led was staying. He felt numb, more than usual. The Halan, now she was a surprise. There was rage in him, for sure, but not as much as he’d expected. Her presence was more irritating than painful. What had happened? Was it just time, the lengthening of days? It was a mystery he really didn’t want to plumb. Better to avoid that line.

What an odd bunch, little to nothing in common, yet chosen to find the wizard? Misfits, all of them, well, except the big black man. Derek’s a warrior, a man worthy of a fight. Damian had known such men before; slow to speak, but good in tight situations. At least Derek was a plus.

Against all Damian’s better instincts, the archangel, 3, did have a point; the Tech Wizard would never see them coming. The absurdity of the whole plan grated on his mind daily.

Sighing, he leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. It was cracking here and there, not much, but enough to let one know all things were not well in Steam City. Everything was decaying. For Hades’ sake, he was decaying. His joints had begun to ache; cracking and popping when he got out of bed. His eyesight, too, was losing its sharpness, forcing him to use the seeing glasses more and more. I won’t wear them, he thought, recalling others wearing spectacles, not yet, anyway.

Tane was a warrior, too. When they’d first met, Tane’s gun was quicker than his. Yet he hadn’t pulled the trigger. Damian leaned forward, staring at the floor. The angels visiting him, telling him to go alone into the Dune Sea. He traced the whole line of absurdity from that first meeting in the desert to where he sat today, that was –

Ah, crap! He noticed a broken lace on his right boot. He’d have to get another on the day after Purity; nothing would be open today. He took out his timepiece, wiped it on his pants, and looked at it. He stood up. I’m hungry. How long can this take, people?

Putting his timepiece back into his pocket, he heard the doors open. Finally, he thought, as the women emerged together from the left and Derek and Micron a few moments later from the right. He shook his head, good thing we have our chits.

“I just want to eat, then go to bed,” Brenzel said as she approached. “I’m tired.”

“Me too,” Fallon said.

Derek didn’t say much, as usual. Micron scowled and adjusted his turban.

“Do they have roast meat here?” Meha piped up.

“The best in Steam City,” Damian replied, leading them downstairs to the eating place.

***

After the host at the front checked each of their chits, they were shown into a large room full of amazing smells, roasted meat begin the most dominant. People sat at round tables, eating, drinking, talking, laughing. Big flagons of drink in the men’s hands, dainty glasses in the women’s, the people looked briefly as Damian and his group walked in, then resumed their repast.

Beautiful stringed music played from the far corner, somewhat familiar to Damian, yet alien at the same time. A well-dressed man showed them to a table lined with chairs, vases of flowers arranged in the middle, plates and utensils set out for seven. The man pulled out the chairs for each of the ladies while the men seated themselves.

“I already ordered our meal,” Damian said, “I hope you like it.”

***

“Mmmm, this is even better than Hatty and I ate at the port city! It’s so tender!” Brenzel said, reaching for another rib, slathered in sauce, biting into the succulent roasted meat that was falling off the bone.

“Some goods ques,” Derek said, finishing a rib of his own, wiping some of the sauce off his face with the napkin.

Micron, always fastidious, cut the meat off the bone, arranged it by size on his plate, then ate his, too. He said nothing but seemed to be enjoying himself.

“What type of meat is this? I’ve never tasted anything like it,” Brenzel asked.

“Horse,” Damian replied.

Brenzel’s eyes grew wide for a moment. She held the rib away, then, after looking around at the others eating, shrugged and took another bite. “Mmm, this is so good!” she said with her mouth full.

Damian smiled, then looked over at Komae.

At the end of the table, the Halan sat, eating vegetables and some of the orange mash dish, eyes avoiding the platter of charred meat before her.

“Excuse me, Komae,” Fallon said as she reached in front of her and took two pieces of meat, handing one over to Derek, then wiping her hand on the cloth in her lap.

Komae pulled back as if to avoid the meat as it passed in front of her.

“Come, Komae, try some, you’ll like it,” Damian said with a smirk, taunting the uncomfortable woman, knowing she ‘d never taste flesh.

Komae glared at him, then reached for a rib and picked it up.

Eyebrows rose as Damian’s face muscles slacked with surprise. Everyone at the table stopped and watched Komae.

Visibly controlling herself, with great effort, Komae bit into the meat, tearing of a very small piece. Then she put the rib down on her plate, forcing herself to chew slowly and deliberately, then swallowed, all the while staring Damian down.

“By Hades!” he exclaimed.

Resonant Chamber by Animusic

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