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Daft tale I wrote for an anthology I didn't get into. But ah well, means you fine people can enjoy it! Was a tricky one to write, don't know why but it took me a while to do.
Weight of the Ward Keeper
Naked and alone, Fira knelt at Neptune’s feet and prayed for another safe night. She asked him to keep her people safe and to let the city persevere. To give her the strength to keep her magic strong and for life to continue in this bubble.
Bringing her prayer to a close, she chalked the sacred symbol on the floor before her; a teardrop within a bubble. By tomorrow it would be gone, and she would know that Neptune had heard her prayer. Dipping her hand into the sacred pool, which surrounded the god’s sculpture, she smeared the blessed water across her naked body. A small amount was used to slick her royal blue hair back away from her face.
Ritual complete, Fira got to her feet and collected her folded bundle of clothes, which she had left within easy reach. She didn’t dry herself, but left the sacred water to soak into her skin. Sighing, she looked up at Neptune’s image. It was the only stone structure left in Atlantis. Everything else was made of a synthetic crystal, which was engineered after they used up the last of the island’s natural resources about a hundred years ago. The stone face of the Atlantean deity watched her with cold, stern eyes. It felt like he was always watching her. She couldn’t escape him.
A dark blue top was pulled on over her head and then she adjusted her wrap-around silver skirt until it fit her waist just right.
“Don’t get dressed on my account,” a voice said behind Fira, startling her as she tied her skirt in place. Spinning around, she discovered that it was only Dax, and not some crazy stalker.
“Good Neptune, Dax. You nearly scared me out of my skin,” she gasped, a hand resting on her chest as her heart rate slowed again. The man stood against the doorframe, which led down to the stairwell to the rest of the temple, smiling in the dim light of the alter room.
“Shame I didn’t scare you out of your skirt,” he answered playfully.
“Go drown,” Fira fired back as she approached him, her arms folding across her chest. Getting closer, she could see him more clearly. Icy blue hair hung over his face, framing his navy eyes, which had a cheeky glint about them. He was in his uniform of a pair of smart trousers and matching shirt. His tie was missing though and he had partially unbuttoned his shirt, which was not tucked into his trousers, thus not conforming to Atlantean guard regulations.
“Don’t say that,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ve got a race tomorrow, you don’t want to bring me bad luck!” Dax was a full-time guard, part-time wave rider. He was far more popular for the latter. In fact, from what Fira had heard, he was starting to become a bit of a celebrity on this half of the island.
“Well, what would bring you good luck?” she asked, her arms still folded across her body, pressing the light material of her clothing against her damp flesh.
“I wonder,” Dax said, pushing his body away from the door frame and placing his hands on Fira’s arms, pulling her closer and closer to him. Without any kind of reluctance of hesitation, she tilted her face up to meet his, kissing him softly at first. Arms dropped away from their crossed position and she slid her hands around his neck, as he held her tighter. Getting lost in the kiss, they forgot how long they had been apart and only thought about the now.
Pulling apart, the two stood, silently staring at one another. They were the only two people in the temple and, for them, they felt like the only two people in Atlantis right now. Fira ran her fingers over the skin on Dax’s neck. She liked to trace his wave tattoos – the marking of his rank in the Atlantean guard. But glancing at them, she noticed that there were now three little waves, each stacked on top of the other, instead of the two that had been there the last time she had seen him.
“You’ve been promoted!” she gasped, pushing his head sideways to get a better look at the new tattoo, the flesh around which was still a little red and raw. He groaned and tried to struggle against her, but she still persisted on the topic. “When did this happen? Why didn’t you come and see me sooner?!”
“It was only a few days ago,” he said, removing her hand from his neck and kissing her fingers. “This is the first chance I’ve had to visit. Been a bit busy with training for this race tomorrow.”
“Oh so some race is more important than visiting me?!” she complained jokingly, giving him a little push before walking a way a little. Fira moved away from the doorway and closer to the statue of Neptune, glancing at her own chalk marks as Dax followed her.
“It would be nice if you could visit me for a change,” he said quietly. “Come to a race, maybe.” Fira stopped walking and he now stood directly behind her. They both stood under the imposing figure of Neptune, who held his triton regally. His shadow consumed them both.
“Well, we both know that that can’t happen,” Fira whispered over her shoulder. Dax placed a hand on her hip and slid it round to her stomach. She pulled away. “The night shift will happen soon,” she commented, changing the subject. “I should start putting the lights on.”
The woman stepped away from her lover, walking towards the first of the glass orbs, which hid in little carved alcoves around the temple. She picked it up and, holding it between both hands, twisted it slightly until it began to omit a warm glow. The glow illuminated Dax, who leaned against the wall beside her. His face was solemn, yet concerned.
“This promotion is a big step for us,” he told her. “I’m on the move. A few more levels up and people will start to listen to me. I’ll have a sense authority that will actually be worth listening to.”
“I know, sweetheart,” she said, pushing some of his hair out of his eyes. There was more stubble on his face than he normally had on his visits to her. Things must be getting busier for him on the island below.
“And once I’ve got some kind of power - some real kind, that is – the first thing I’ll do is save you from this.”
Fira could feel her eyes welling up. She was struggling. Not knowing what else to do, she pulled him to her, kissing him hard. The orb lit them warmly, its rays of light struggling to break past their entwined bodies. The shadow they created was one figure, not two.
It was Dax who pulled away this time, not finished the speech he had prepared on the way to the temple. “I’m going to fight to give the Daughters of Neptune the freedom to choose their vocation,” he gasped, his heart still pounding from the kiss. Outside, the artificial sky had changed from evening to night. “You’re kept like a prisoner in here; you and the other girls. You’re the ones keeping this place within the bubble and no-one seems to care. It’s not fair.” He was getting upset. Fira tried to hush him, taking his hand in hers, but he shook his head. “I’m going to start creating interest in the cause soon. Soon, you’ll be free.”
“But, Dax, honey,” Fira said, her voice low and soothing. “There will be another girl to replace me, and she’ll be stuck here just like me.”
“But that’s the point,” he gushed, his distress turning into passion. “I want to stop the isolation of Atlantis’ ward keepers. We’re following a tradition that’s as old as the bubble itself. Surely if our alchemists and scientists and magic-wielders reconsidered the situation, they could find a new solution. I mean, there’s a reason that the ward keepers are always little girls taken from the orphanages – no troublesome parents trying to get to them and take them away from this hellhole.”
Dax was partially right. When Fira was a little girl, one of the temple monks had come to the orphanage, where she had lived, and chosen her to go back to the temple with him. After months of training, she had been assigned one of Atlantis’ twelve towers and named as its ward keeper. The towers were what held the wards which kept the bubble strong – the bubble which held Atlantis and kept it from a watery death. However, each ward keeper was confined to the temple of Neptune, where they could stay focussed on channelling their energy into their tower and direct all their prayers at keeping Atlantis safe. It was forbidden for a ward keeper to leave the temple, as if a girl was not focussed, she could result in the failure of her tower and the destruction of Atlantis. The only way for a ward keeper to be replaced and then leave the temple was for her to grow old, sick or pregnant. Nobody bothered if the girls had men coming and going from the temple. The population of the isolated island of Atlantis relied on their woman reproducing. Fira and Dax didn’t want to resort to that. Even though, Fira had come across a few girls who had. They couldn’t bring a child into the world as a form of escape plan. It wasn’t fair on the child.
“I will get you out of here,” Dax promised her again.
A bell tolled outside. Curfew was nearing. “You should go,” Fira told him, sniffing away a stray tear which was approaching. “You’ve got the race tomorrow; you’ll need a good rest.”
“I’d race better if you were in the crowd,” he muttered, pressing his forehead against hers.
“Enough,” she told him, nudging him gently. “Just go and win for me.”
“I always win for you.”
In the dim glow of the temple, the couple held one another tightly, not knowing when Dax would have the opportunity to return again. Due to his promotion in the Guards and his success on the wave rider circuit, his visits were few and far between these days. Another long kiss was exchanged.
“Go before you can’t get home,” Fira whispered. Dax nodded. He kissed her for the last time and hesitated before pulling away.
“I love you,” he told her, not caring to whisper and letting the words echo around the room, the stairwell and Neptune’s ears.
“I love you, too,” Fira told him, her passion equal to his.
The Atlantean Guard pulled away and left the room, before goodbyes became too difficult. Fira stood still, in the glow of the light orb, listening to his footsteps cross the room and vanish down the stairwell. It was a painful sound.
Once he was gone, Fira sent herself to light the rest of the orbs, moving like a zombie – dead to the world. Thoughts bounced around her brain as she lit the orbs automatically. After three were lit, she stopped. Life came back into her eyes and she strode to the statue in the centre of the room, suddenly filled with purpose. Almost feverish with anticipation, Fira pulled her clothing off. She dumped it on the floor and dropped to her knees, rubbing her chalked marking away.
Raising her eyes to Neptune, she began a new prayer. She did not pray for her tower or the keeping of the wards. But she prayed for Dax and for everything that was important to him, and finally, she began to pray for herself.
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