The nation of Kray’agen was a motley mix of various islands in the ocean, a beautiful tropical region that was lush green and fertile. A rich and prosperous area, the rigid aristocracy controlled the peasantry and serfs, ensuring that wealth never left the hands of the already affluent.
The local temple of one of the more agricultural regions was built atop what was once a volcanic opening in the world’s crust. A large stone dome that was crafted from solid volcanic lava so old that its source could never be apparent. The worshipers held fast to the old ways, despite the modern pressure of new beliefs and lack of trust in the Infernals.
The volcano it was originally built on was gone; however the design of the building left it a pocket of scorching heat, the inside of it as hot as an oven in keeping with tradition. Priests and acolytes sweated, sacrificed and prayed in the excruciating heat, day and night. It was not a particularly large temple and staffed relatively few, especially since the death of the former high priest had left it without any official master to tend to it.
The current administrator was a man who, until recently, was the groundskeeper of the temple. Not a religious man himself, he had the appearance of a tall, virile male. Grie had skin the colour of charcoal, eyes bright red and exotically shaped, with a lightly bulked musculature, giving him a rather powerfully masculine look. Two curved ram-horns stood out on either side of his head, and he sported angled back legs of his race like a pure-blood satyr that he was descended from, with pitch hooves. From around his horns came long, sleek black hair that then spilled around his shoulders.
At the back of the temple, he stood at one of the large sliding doors, looking out over the green and luscious garden he had spent so much time tending. Wearing one of the traditional outfits of the locals, a black and white one-piece robe that ended at the knees and tied about the waist, he kept it off his shoulders, hanging around his waist. It was the way he and most of the labourers wore it due to the heat, and a sign of his status as a lowly peasant in breeding, despite the auspicious role he now filled.
With the death of the high priest, there were no clergy for their dying faith to take over. They were officially on wait for more, but they were just another temple among hundreds that needed new priests that simply didn’t exist. The only other religiously trained people at the temple were the young students, and some workers–like himself–who had the barest of indoctrinations.
He mightn’t have been a religious man, but it was up to him to herd the last remaining few students and keep up the temple, at least for appearances sake.
Ilithya was a punctual girl just passing the cusp of womanhood; bright faced, with auburn haired, her flesh a smooth sandy colour and striking blue eyes. One of the many mixed breeds that filled the world, she had a look of exotic beauty, with a lovely pair of reddish brown wings that were as carefully preened as the rest of her.
Her approach was light on her feet, several bats of her wings keeping her somewhat lofted as she met with her new instructor.
Grie’s lightly pointed ears caught her approach and he turned around, hard hooves scraping on the volcanic stone flooring, arms folded across his dark, bare chest. “Alum-ka’vey,” he said in the traditional greeting of the temple, “you are punctual as always, acolyte Ilithya.” He wasn’t a very cheerful or emotive man, famed for his stoic reserve as he diligently went about his task of keeping the grounds in its tip-top shape.
The original dwellers of the island and its worshippers here were like the two of them, their blood and ancestry extending back to the ancient times. They were fitting inhabitants of the old and rarely used structure, even if their rankings and training didn’t quite fit them to it.
“I trust,” he began in his deep voice, a low sound that bespoke of his infernal heritage with its otherworldly edge, “you have given your prayers and made blood offering, if there was any to give.”
“Of course,” she responded in that girlish whisper of a voice. The way the girl held herself together it was obvious that, no matter how loudly she spoke, others would cling to her words. Ilithya gave him another low bow, her eyes tilted towards him, her auburn hair spilling in long, loose curls over her shoulders.
Turning back around, he gestured outside, “Come.”
He was quite tall, about seven feet in height, making him tower over most men, his hooves equally large, and made a loud sound as he took each step down to the grass below to the flower gardens outside.
She had hesitated to follow him out; leaving the temple for religious matters most unusual, but she was obedient enough not to linger behind him long. Catching up to him on her feathered wings, she settled her feet into the grass behind him, her arms lightly on her hips as she watched him.
“Your training is not yet complete, acolyte, but there is no replacement coming to take over. None available to take you on at this time either,” he stated in that infernal pitched voice, peering back at her.
“I understand,” her eerie blue eyes watched him carefully. She wasn’t as uncomfortable in the heat as he, though her body still held the tell tale shine of the inner temple, drawing more attention to her prominent cheekbones and the smooth curves of her legs.
Looking down at her, he unfurled his arms from across his chest, his shiny obsidian nails–neatly curving to points–showing for a moment before he clasped his large hands behind his back. When he spoke his dark lips gave way to show silverish-white fanged teeth, “You’re a competent woman, however, trained in the arts of the infernal. The priest had seen to your training in the essential forms, and all you had left were years of study in the esoteric nuance of the theological world. This is fortunate,” he said, pursing his lips and nodding, “for though it was a loss either way, your more practical skills and knowledge will serve you better as you seek out further enlightenment.”
“I live to serve,” she confirmed, a coyness to the words. She enjoyed the work within the temple, and had a real knack for it. She had a low body weight and the heat didn’t bother her so much, and all of the work came naturally to her with very little study or practice, but for the more extreme and taboo. She looked over his face, her head tilting thoughtfully, “Did you have something you required?”
He inclined his head to her slowly, “I have tasks for you. Many of them will not be in the nature of what the high priest would have delegated, but I have worked here for many long years and learned more than most would credit me for.” He peered up at a statue made of ebon volcanic stone of some infernal ancient goddess writhing in some carnal bliss.
Or the bliss of carnage; it was the same to the Infernals.
“You are a blessed one, your performance never failed to please and excite the hopes of the former high priest,” he said, that same imposing gaze somehow transmitting his approval, “he stayed up late after many a ritual to tell me of how proud he was of his apprentice, and his hopes for you.”
Her lips curled a little bit, pleased with the revelation and she took the praise with the grace and poise of a woman that was used to being appreciated, “Thank you, Temple Master.”
She followed after him rather closely, leaving an almost ethereal trail of feathers behind her.
“I can not teach you the names of the hundreds of theologians down through the millennia who thought on the Infernals, and their lessons. But I can pass on some of their wisdom. I know our rituals by heart, through long years of studying them, and I can aid you with those too, in all manners. And,” he said, turning down a corner in the hedge maze, the ripe scent of fruit and nectar in the air, “more important than that, when all is said and done, I hold the authority to make you a priestess of this temple, if not of the Order in its entirety.”
Her little ears perked up at his words, her spine straightening, as if she were already being bestowed such a grand title, “I would do anything to make it so, Temple Master.”
“I know you would,” he said with confidence, “you are a true child of the infernal, Ilithya. And you deserve to be the priestess of this temple, even should that mean you be the last to grace it so. Especially should you be the last, I think. Most fitting the last priestess be the finest to have come upon it in long memory.”
She smiled as she bowed her head, “With all due respect, Temple Master, I believe that were I in a position to do so, I could and would spread the faith and have it touch all once more, as it did in the old times,” she glanced up at him, just with her eyes, her hair framing her face, “I would do all I may to restore the faith to our people.”
Coming to a slow halt at a small fountain in the midst of the hedges, he turned upon his heavy hooves to look down at her, offering a rare smile to her. “The former high priest did not even dare to think as much, young acolyte. You truly are worthy of the position, dreaming so. Yes. You are precisely what the temple needs in these times.”
“Without the faithful,” she said in that soft, breezy voice, “the faith falls. I do not want it to die with me, and I’ll make it so it continues after I pass. I don’t see the point in dreaming small. Those that dream small achieve the same.”
He gave a light chuckle, something so low, deep and otherworldly one might swear he’d spew flames like an infernal immortal at any moment with the act. Reaching a hand out, he lightly touches her head with a pat, “Well said. On that, we think much alike.”
“As per your training, I will broaden your horizons, Acolyte. And show you more of the world beyond. Only like that might you hope to accomplish some of your goal.
“You will start off slowly. I will send you into the town to watch the people. Then you will return from studying them, their ways and how they live, to discuss with me what you have learned. We will determine how best you are to approach them. Then ultimately,” he said, peering back at her with his crimson gaze, “do acts of charity and faith that will win them over and bring them to us to revel in the faith of the Infernals.”
“And what if they approach me? How am I to proceed?”
“Act to the best of your abilities. You have learned much in your time here. Some of which will not appeal on its surface to the people, not to win them over. Your average peasant or serf will not be won over by notions of ritual and sacrifice. But you have learned other things while here that will appeal to them. The Passions of the Flame, for one.”
Ilithya nodded. Though she’d never attended a Passion of the Flame ceremony, she knew well of them. Carnal bliss. It would soon serve as her rite of passage. “Of course. I’ll be sure to instruct all in the benefits of the faith as they may see them,” she purred, for a moment playing with him in the most adult manner before returning to the visage of the devout girl.
The towering groundskeeper noted her look of adult mischief, and there was a slight glint of something in return in his eyes, “But for now, learning the ways and situations of the people. You can’t hope to convince them of something if you don’t know how to speak to them in a language that really grasps at them. Not everyone will be moved by the same pleas.”
“It is our solemn duty to bring others to our faith. If others aren’t being brought into our folds, then it’s our own failure,” she agreed.
His gaze was unflinching until finally a slight smile rose on his charcoal coloured face. He reached a hand out to her head, resting his large palm upon her crown as he spoke. “You are correct, acolyte. The temple has lost the dedication of the people because it is not dedicated to the people. Without even beginning your observations, you know much.”
She bowed her head tenderly, “Thank you.”
Turning his gaze back upon her he paused a moment, “I will send you out at first to observe and learn. You will take a basket of flowers grown here, dispense them to the people you see. If some offer donations, accept them and invite them to come to the temple for solace or guidance should they need it.”
“Of course, Temple Master,” she paused in a thoughtful manner, “When shall I go, then?”
He unfurled his arms from across his bare chest, “As soon as you are prepared to go, come see me in the flower gardens. I will give you the basket of flowers to hand out, acolyte. I place the rest in your capable hands.”
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