The temple to Jupiter was one of the most visited building in Thebes. It was a colossal stone and marble building, with huge pillars, carvings depicting various stories of the gods, and it was an impressive site.
While Orians were not big on looks and decorations outside of combat, Cyme found herself amazed. While the Thebes were physically weak and limited in the ways of war, they were sometimes bright and knew how to make pretty buildings.
None of that would matter if the Enseen Imperial managed to get inside the country's boarders.
If the legions of soldiers ever did march upon the city, Cyme had no doubt that the shopkeepers out front of the temples, hocking their wears would be much help. The priests inside might bar the door and managed to use their alter boys as shields but they would not do well against trained men with spears and torches.
Tila the twit looked at the structure and her eyes glimmered, “Are we going in, master? Do you wish me to get a chicken to sacrifice?”
“Mmmmm,” Frank seemed to consider this for a moment. “No. There are too many people around and they seem to be giving us the stink eyes.”
He wasn't wrong. In the eyes of the populace there were the good kind of foreigner, the ones who brought in gold and pretty things and stuck to the docks. And then there were the bad kind of foreigner, the one that thought that it had the right to be seen in public.
An Orian woman in a bronze breast plate and holding a spear, a Northerner, and whatever Frank was, was little too much culture for the educated and enlightened member of Thebes' socity.
“Are there any lesser gods that we can look and poke fun at?” he asked.
After talking to a street vendor and purchasing some fried chicken, they were able to gather directions to a garden not too far away. In fact, it was right behind the temple of Jupiter that was just side the shadow of the building.
Istate, was the goddess of witchcraft, magic, and other worldly mystery. Unlike the other gods who had stories and feats about their heroic and sometimes humorous shenanigans, Istate perfected to remain in the shadows.
While well known throughout multiple countries, her fellowship was one of the lowest. While her vessels were few her image could be found in many homes.
In some homes, great care had been arranged to accommodate a shine to the the goddess' likeness. In an ironic turn of events, Istate's shrine is used as an anti-curse ward against witches and other spirits.
Cyme, remembered there being a statue of the goddess in Eba and a few other servant communities. While she was a firm believer of Hippolyta, she did give the dark goddess some respect due to her being a woman who had a dirty and thankless job.
Making sure to shepherd the souls of ghosts to the underworld was necessary duty.
The garden itself was a bit of a problem for the Orian in terms of security. The garden had been unattended for years as the goddess had no real follows that she could count on and so the area had become as unruly and as wild as the warrior woman's armpit hair.
While even crypts and graveyard have some custodian to tend to them, the small garden that was located in the back of the Jupiter temple was a sorry sight. Weeds outnumbered the flowers and a lone fir tree stood to cast a shadow over the puny and warn rock that bore the face of Istate.
As they fought the grass and Frank checked for snakes, Cyme found herself jealous of her co-worker's jumpsuit. The feel of grass and the knowledge that snake and insects which hid inside the uncut grass and bushes would have no trouble biting her, did not feel her with comfort.
As Frank moved to examined the crude statue of the goddess, Cyme pulled Tila to the side and whispered a warning, “We're being followed.”
“What?” Tila said looking around.
“Don't look like a startled rabbit and listen. We don't have much time. I don't know who they are working for, but Frank is being watched. I need to know if you have any fighting skills in case they attack us.”
Tila was still looking at the shadows and the trampled grass that they had just trudged through for signs of trouble, it was a difficult feat as the dense foliage created plenty of hiding spots, “No. I don't think so.”
Damn. Cyme had been afraid of this. As she suspected Tila had the fighting potential of a confused chicken. Worse, a chicken at least has a brain, this fool had wiped away everything but a child's level of knowledge about this world. The warrior was having concerns about bringing Tila along.
Being somewhat pretty their pursuers might take the time raping the daft bitch stupid, giving Cyme an opportunity to either attack or move to a more strategic location. Anyway, Frank could always wipe her brain again if they managed to rescue Tila bringing her back to normal. A least normal for Tila.
“What about Master Frank? Shouldn't we tell him?” Tila asked.
“I think he knows, but I don't think he sees them as a threat.” Knowing the arrogant arse he would probably beat up the assassins and then charge them for healing potions.
Tila was getting scared now, which Cyme thought was a little unnecessary. The stalkers, while decent at hiding and tracking were most likely scouts. The real fun didn't start until the men in armour and holding pointing things turned up.
There was a sound like breaking tree branches and creaking houses. The two women turned their heads to see Frank holding out his arms and mouthing the words of an dialectic. Around the sorcerer the trees and overgrown weeds were moving.
The fir tree that was directly behind the Istate statue uprooted itself. Its roots moved like an orgy of writhing snakes, tearing themselves from the dirt and tasting the air as if searching for food. The whole tree slowly moved back several paces and replanted itself back into the soft dirt.
The bushes and weeds that had once held an iron grip over this patch of uncivilised space died and withered as if a dark force was draining them of all life. When they wilted and broke up like crusty old parchment, as they wilted other plants began to take their place. Herbs and spices filled the vacant place where ill mannered weeds had once been, all of them growing at a supernatural rate.
Under the statue of the goddess four saplings grew. The new-born trees twisted around the stone. At first they appeared to be consuming the artwork as if it offended them, but as the trees matured and bent around each other, a face started to take form.
After Cyme’s spit out a fly that had flown into her open mouth, she and her co-worker continued to watch in awe as the face of a beautiful woman grew from the twisting trees and shrubbery.
The statues nose, lips, cheek bones, and eyes sockets displayed a woman who was smirking as if she knew something that you didn't.
Thick and twisting tree libs sprouted from the mad mash of intersecting flora, forming what appeared to be arms. At the ends of one of the branches there was a twist and separate tiny branches formed showing what appeared to look like the knuckles of fingers. Then the branches split, one going straight down while another went right up. The effect was like the living statue was holding a twisted staff.
The girl's master became quiet and viewed this new refreshing take on the deity. After making sure that the rest of her proportions and her hair was correct, Frank shrugged in acceptance. He spun around to see Cyme and Tila holding each other, their eyes showing fear.
“What?” he asked.
Cyme looked down, saw who she was holding, remembered that she was supposed to be a tough Orian warrior, and shoved the timid woman away. She wore a mask of annoyance over her terror. “What in the name of the gods was that?” she pointed at the tree statue.
“Huh?” Frank acted confused and glanced back at Istate as if he was only now seeing her, “Oh, that. I took up a class on common Tree a while back.”
He smiled, “I was banging this sophomore, which was a huge mistake I tell you now. Logically, I know. Dating a dryad was a mistake. While the Dutch elm disease and the fire blight I could handle, it was the damn splinters that ruined it.” he stared off into space with a dreamy look, “But holy shit did she have a fine arse.”
He pointed at the statue's rear end, “Check it out. I once ate off that. No kidding, she turned herself into a table.”
Cyme wanted rubbed her face as the man's babbling washed over her. He used his dryad he had once had a fling with as a model for a goddess of witchcraft. She was unsure if that was sacrilege or not? She wanted to know.
Frank pointed at the fir, “Anyway, I just told the dumbass over there that it would get more sun if it would step back a bit. I also made a deal with some herbs who were having a war against the weeds, who are total jerks by the way.”
There were so many things wrong with that sentence that it hurt Cyme's brain listening to the madman's ramblings. She shook as her mind slowly comprehended part of the sorcerer's nonsense and pronounced each syllable as if it hurt, “You. Speak. Tree?”
Frank made a face like he had just eaten bad cheese, “It's a very flighty and flippant language, but it's also passive aggressive. Trees are also incredibly selfish...”
“Enough.” Cyme begged. Gathering what wits she had the warrior spoke like she was talking to a disobedient child, “You can do whatever you want. I am going back to the Triplets so I can drink myself into a stupor. No more.”
She didn't know what kind of dark pit the sorcerer had rescued her from, but she was sure that it had made a lot more sense than what she had just witnessed. Trees did not move and plants did not wave wars. This was all too wired for her.
Swords, enemies that she could see, goals, fists and blood. Those things Cyme knew and understood. But magic was too wired and was far outside of her element.
She spun around, ready to walk through shit and the worst this city had installed for her to get a decent drink.
Standing at the entrance of the garden was a man in a dark purple tunic who was flanked by four shady looking men with curved swords. The man and his guard were standing perfectly still and wore expressions similar to the ones that Cyme and Tila had been wearing.
The Orian woman also noticed that much of the once wild and untamed bushes had shrunk, revealing shocked men and women in dark clothes. They were all standing there, none of them sure what to do.
For nearly a minute no one spoke or did anything.
Steeling herself, Cyme marched to the man in the fancy clothes and shouted. “I am done with him, you hear me? I. Am. Done. Arrest me, throw me in prison, threaten to kill me, I don't give a cow's shit. I am going to get drunk.” With that, Cyme stormed off, intending to drink her weight in cheap wine and whatever poor excuse of a man Roumpíni can dig up.
Tila saw Cyme storm off to the street where a large gathering of people were starting to grow curious. She looked at Frank and it was easy to see that she was conflicted.
Frank waved her off, “Go on. Get in trouble, call me.”
Obtaining her master's approval, Tila went to attach up to the angry Orian.
Shaking off his stupor, the man in the purple clothes called out to the passing Tila, “Wait.”
One of his shadows moved and stepped in front of the Northerner, halting her escape. He also caused Cyme to stop where she was.
While Tila was not one of her people, they were technically co-workers now. This put the Orian in a difficult position. Would she rescue the naïve woman or was Tila on her own?
“Oh, come on.” The bartender called out, and tapped his stomach, “You want a girl in on big boy talk?”
The guy in purple looked at the woman who looked close to crying and rolled his eyes, “Go,” he said and nodded to his man.
Tila bowed and then ran off into the street.
Before they moved off, Cyme glanced back at the scene and shook her head.
Over at what had been the the unkempt shrubs and adequate hiding spots five minutes ago, the men assigned to keep and eye on the interesting sorcerer were giving their best interpretation of a bunch of extras in a comedy romance movie. Two of the stalkers were trying to engage in polite conversation while a man and women were trying to look like an eloping couple.
The Orian had to give them props for adapting.
Born in Australia I am a late bloomer when it came to books. I started writing when my grandfather died and it just sort of turned into a hobby.
I like science fiction, but not space opera. I like fantasy but I am picky when it comes to epic and urban types. I try to stay away from vampires, zombies and romance novels when I can.