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I knew this was a mistake

The people thronged the gates as they paid their entrance monies. The acolyte, Velarant, led Damian and Brenzel through the crowd and over to the left side of the long lines to a heavily guarded side gate, where no one was. Two tough looking men stood at attention.

“These are guests of the high priestess,” Velarant informed them.

The men nodded, parting the way.

Brenzel followed the robed Hadite woman, the red feathers bordering her sleeves and cloak fluttering in the wind. It was cold here, even at noon.

Damian seemed comfortable and enjoying himself, chatting with the acolyte, asking about this or that.

I’ve never felt this naked with clothes on, not even in Elysia, Brenzel thought, feeling her thighs rubbing together as they walked. The odd snowflake here or there made her glad for the weather; everyone dressed warmly.

The temple grounds reminded her of Egypt: Garish colors on murals depicting semi-clad women bowing at the feet of, what she could only assume, was their goddess. They worship a seraph? Brenzel thought, as she saw a large, six-winged woman seated on a throne.

She never thought that people could or would worship a seraph. Dove, though powerful, didn’t invite worship of herself at all, nor her sisters for that matter. Brenzel had never considered what people might do if they met one and she was not good. Though that thought was shocking enough, the greater surprise was what the stone mural showed this goddess’ worshipers doing in front of her throne.

Brenzel had tried, or at least knew about, most of the activities depicted, but one caused her eyes to linger, Is that even possible? she wondered.

Party atmosphere

Other than that, the whole temple had a party like atmosphere and the people, men and women, were allowed to mingle. They talked, laughed, and seemed genuinely happy.

They came to a long row of tents, and Velarant showed them into one. In front of them was a woman, seated. “Who would like to be first?” she asked, as she looked at them.

To Brenzel’s relief, Damian said, “I will.”

The woman uncovered a ball made of clear glass. Brenzel had heard tales of these associated with witches and sorcerers. Some called it a crystal ball, or a seeing stone, through which those gifted with special powers could see things that ought not to be known.

Brenzel watched as Damian laid his hands on the table, palms down, waiting. The woman, moving her hand over the globe, looked into it. No one spoke.

“I see…” Then the seated woman stopped talking and looked at Brenzel with concern. Seeming to catch herself, she turned back to Damian. “Your future is unclear, though your purpose sure. You bear a heavy burden round your . . .neck, but it, too, has purpose. I see. . .an arrow striking your heart, deep, but you do not die.”

Damian nodded, waiting. The woman sat with her eyes closed. Suddenly, she opened them and looked intently into Damian’s eyes. “In all that you have done, in all that you may yet do, realize it is what you leave behind that matters most.”

The woman put the cloth back on the crystal ball, signifying that her reading was over.

Brenzel’s turn

It was now Brenzel’s turn. She hesitated. The woman did not look at her. Damian motioned for her to sit, and she finally sat stiffly in the chair across from the seated woman. The lady did not speak or move, just sat looking at Brenzel. She did not like the feeling the woman gave her.

“You are not Halan,” the woman finally spoke as she looked into Brenzel’s eyes.

Brenzel said nothing, but looked back at the woman, noticing her aging face and the gray hairs in her locks.

Slowly, the woman uncovered the sphere sitting on the table. She looked into it for a long time, raising her hand sharply when Velarant attempted to speak.

“You…you are like a land divided. Light and darkness, day and night, good…and evil. I see black feathers, a journey to-” Abruptly, she covered the orb, refusing to look at Brenzel.

“What is it?” Brenzel asked, curiosity gripping her heart.

“There is death. I know no more than that.”

“What? That’s all you’re going to say? What death? Who? Me? It’s someone else, isn’t it? Tell me!” Her mind flashed back to what Wichapi had told her about Iris.

“I cannot say, it is unclear,” the woman said, her voice shaking now.

“I don’t like that!” Brenzel said, standing up. Angry, she removed the rag from the crystal ball and put her hand on it, demanding, “Let me see what you see.”

Damian’s strong grip removed Brenzel’s hand from the ball. He turned to the seated woman. “I beg your forgiveness M’lady, my friend is not from our land and does not know our customs.”

Brenzel pulled her arm from his grip and leaned on the table close to the woman’s face. “You shouldn’t tell people such things.”

“Please, Brenzel, we need to leave,” Damian said in a soft voice. “Remember the mission.”

Brenzel stood up and looked at Damian. She took a deep breath, “Okay, I’m sorry, I’ll go.”

***

Brenzel was silent for a while, as they followed Velarant together. Those types are just charlatans anyway, she thought. They’re just good at sizing you up, but don’t really know anything, so they can’t be specific. No need to worry about such things, if she really wanted to know the future, she’d ask 3 or Dove or even Joshua. She sighed, What an odd thing to do before you go to worship.

Outside a large building, as large as she’d ever seen, Velarant stood and bid them wait, while she announced their presence.

Inside Brenzel heard the roar of the people swell, then die down, then swell again. A beautiful voice, singing first in operatic style, then a sudden, throbbing, crashing music pulsed through the doors, the ground beneath her seeming to shake. What in the hell is that? Brenzel thought, never having herd anything close to it. Despite still being irritated, Brenzel’s hips moved to the beat as she leaned over to Damian, whispering, “I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

The Hadite looked at her and said calmly, “To get along in our world, you go along.”

“Well, I’m not letting anyone touch me,” she declared, folding her arms.

He smiled, “All worship on Purity Day is by consent only.” He shrugged, “Just say no.”

“Humph,” Brenzel sounded, “It had better be that way. That’s all I have to say.” She felt like a fish caught in a net as she adjusted some of the fabric under her robe as she fought the urge to dance.

***

The two great leaves of the door opened as drums, big ones, sounded out. Looking up, Brenzel saw acrobats on long pieces of fabric, in various poses, swinging here and there. Light filled the great gathering place from above with most of it focused on a raised platform at the opposite end from where Brenzel stood. It was warm, but it didn’t stink. In fact, there was a hit of cinnamon in the air, almost pleasant.

Damian turned to Brenzel and put his hand out, signaling her to take her robe off. “Stand tall, Brenzel,” he advised, “they’ll judge by posture, as well as dress.” Straightening his own shoulders, sticking his chin out, he then looked ahead. “Follow my lead, walk like you own it.”

Rolling her eyes, Brenzel disrobed, and stood straight at his side. The acolyte, Velarant, did likewise and began to move down the aisle with them in tow.

Brenzel’s shoes, with high heels, were not as uncomfortable as they first looked, as she stepped onto the red carpet that led toward the stage. Men and women, mixed together, stared at them from either side, commenting on their apparel as the three of them passed.

Brenzel, dressed only in an open fishnet in the back, felt the air on her behind. The shiny red circles that hung from where the fishnet intersected in the front, shimmered in the light as she walked, sometimes revealing what lay beneath. Ah, what the hell, Brenzel thought. Raising her hands, she pirouetted to the surprise and enormous roar of the crowd.

Damian frowned.

Before them, the high priestess stood on the stage, waiting. Brenzel had never see anything like it.

She couldn’t decide whether her garment was gaudy or brilliant. In different shades of red, her dress flared out and down, her breasts and secret places featured, as the back of the dress flowed with an enormous trail of gossamer fabric. On her head sat a golden crown with different color jewels framed by a half-moon-shaped hoop of stretched red fabric. Wow, Brenzel thought.

The acolyte stopped just before the steps leading up to the platform. They waited.

***

“On this day, our Day of Purity, I welcome you all to the house of Beauty,” the high priestess began in a clear, strong voice. She raised her arms, long sheer fabric fluttering, making it look like she had wings. “We, the chosen, the faithful, come to honor the one who set us free and granted us the right to forge our own destiny free from tyranny. We all wait and pray for Her Majesty in the sure knowledge that Beauty will rise again!”

The crowd roared approval, clapping with shrill whistles interspersed throughout the throng.

The high priestess brought her arms down, palms making a downward motion, and the crowd quieted. “On this day of purity, we have a special treat for all of you.”

Velarant began to ascend the stairs. Brenzel gulped.

“You have all heard of a place called Eden, a land beautiful beyond compare!”

The crowd with one voice said, “Yes!”

“It is the promised land of our great goddess. A good land where people are free to choose their own destiny. We’ve all heard the stories, we all know the prophecies and now, today, by the fortunes of the four winds, you will hear it from the lips of one who has come to us to speak of it!”

Brenzel felt dizzy and tried to focus on not falling down as she climbed the red carpet stairs, placing her long heel carefully as she mounted the platform.

There was a cough toward the far back, but otherwise not a sound issued from anyone who stared up at her. Brenzel tried to focus as she turned toward the crowd, but the bright lights glared in her eyes.

The high priestess gestured over as Velarant placed Brenzel by her side. “I give you our special guest, direct from across the great divide, Brenzel of Eden!”

It was pandemonium, the intensity of which caused Brenzel to step back as the wall of sound hit her full force. People cheered, clapped, and whistled. Men put women on their shoulders so they could see better, holding their legs for support.

After a moment, the high priestess came over, looked Brenzel in the eyes, smiled and hugged her. “Welcome to my house. I welcome you with open arms.”

Brenzel, of course could not hug her back, her dress made that impossible. But she thought, She’s not faking it. She means it. She is pleased to see me. “Thank you, high priestess, I am honored.”

In her heart, suddenly she didn’t feel odd, but accepted. Actual love. Looking at the crowd, her eyes adjusting better, and she saw their faces. They were genuinely happy, too, excited to see her, causing her to smile back at them warmly.

Please, say a few words

“Please,” the high priestess asked, “say a few words for us about your homeland?”

A sudden desire to be open with them, know them, connect with their hearts in the same way they were connecting with hers came upon Brenzel as the people quieted.

The high priestess stood back, leaving the tall blond from Eden center stage.

Licking her lips, Brenzel said, “My home, which you know as Eden, I call England. On my home world, which is an island in the midst of a great ocean of water, many lovely rivers flow from the mountains into it, day and night. It rains often. There are no deserts, but only green fields and lush forests as far as an eye can see. Our people grow crops, raise animals and live in cities much like yours. We speak many languages and people from different lands come and go as they like. The clothes we wear are much like yours and our women folk, as well as the men, dress respectfully.

A murmur of approval rippled through the crowd.

“And,” smiling at the memory, “I think your roasted meat is the best I’ve ever tasted!”

Everyone laughed, agreeing heartily. She heard sporadic clapping.

When the room quieted again, Brenzel finished with, “I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect when I received a invitation from your high priestess. I just knew it was a great honor. This is the first time I have traveled among you, but I can say, having met some of your people before, and all of you today, that we are surprisingly alike.” She raised her arms, palms up, spreading them wide as she bowed. “Thank you.”

With that, the crowd cheered and whistled with wild enthusiasm. She looked back at the high priestess who was smiling broadly as she approached, taking Brenzel’s hand in hers.

In that moment she felt a stunning truth: She was more like the Haders than the Halans.

Handel: Let The Bright Seraphim

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