Dealing with the Divine

Fira stood on the stone steps of the temple's entrance. Gentle wind wrapped the scent of poppies around her. The clouds were turning pink and the ochre sun was brushing the tallest tree branches. It would be sunset soon.

The temple guards pulled the chain linked around her hands as he led her up the stone steps towards the black double-doors that led to the shrine within. The doors were heavy but seemed quick to close on her as the guard left her alone in the temple. Crystals in the wall sconces emitted a white glow bringing life to the artwork carved into the walls. Twenty narrow columns made of thick onyx coils entwined with marble flanked the walkway.

Fira thought back to when she had first come here two weeks ago. She had hidden behind each column on her right all the while imaging what might have been waiting for her at the end of the walkway: a pacing jaguar, snarling stone beast, or a demon aflame with magic. At least this time she knew what, or rather who, she would meet. She stopped in front of the stone platform and onyx throne and waited.

'Grand-Lady Aether?' Fira watched the throne. A statue of Aether had been carved onto the black seat acting as her portal into their world; all the gods had one in their temples. 

She called again but still nothing happened. Fira frowned. When she first came here the statue had  glowed with a plum-coloured magic and then Aether had stepped out. She had skin that reflected the great swirls of purple, pinks and oranges of the galaxies, her freckles were stars, and her hair was floating tendrils of ebony. 

The statue's mouth began to burn purple and Fira relaxed.

'What do you want this time?' Aether's voice echoed from the statue and through the temple.

'I ... I did what you asked of me - ' Fira stepped towards the throne.

'- Good, well done.' The purple magic throbbed as the goddess spoke.

'They want to execute me for it.'

'I needed the dagger hidden from them.' 

'Yes, but they thought I was going to use it. You must help me.' Fira presented her chained wrists.

'Help you? That wasn't part of our agreement. You steal and hide the dagger and I crush the disease growing in your daughter's brain and heart. Nice and simple.' The purple mouth smiled.

'Except that I was caught.' Fira lowered her wrists.

'Not my fault nor my problem.'

'Perhaps I should have used the dagger rather than hide it then.' Fira clenched her fists.

'No, you wouldn't have used the dagger. Your daughter's illness would return and the world would break apart.' The statue's mouth smiled again revealing silver-white teeth.

'You expect me to die for you now? After all of this?' Fira gestured towards the only door in the temple where the guard waited outside.

'You allowed yourself to be caught. The village now believe you are 'the woman who tried to kill the Grand-Lady Aether' if you do not face the consequences you and your family will only know misery.'

Fira sat down on the cold floor. She thought of her son and daughter sat in their home waiting for the sunset. Her brother would stop them seeing the execution or at least she hoped he would. Fira could accept her fate but would not see her children suffer because of the deal she had struck with a goddess.

'You'll protect them ... if I do this?' Fira looked at the stone eyes of Aether's likeness.

'I will grant them safe passage from the village if you die in my name.' A purple circle appeared for a moment over the statue's chest - the deal had been sealed just as before.

Fira nodded as a similar circle embedded itself into her own chest. Biting her lip against the pain, she stood and walked back through the temple. The light in the crystals went out as she passed each one. She pushed the black doors and stepped back outside into the orange daylight. The guard grabbed her chain once more but she no longer resisted.

As she was led away from the temple and towards the marketplace she watched the sun turn blood-orange as it hid further behind the silhouetted trees. Fira had always loved sunsets. She walked up the two creaky steps and up onto the wooden platform in the centre of town. The executioner, dressed in his ceremonial black robes complete with the blue and gold sash of Tintifaul, stood next to a three foot high oaken block which had a curved nook carved out of it's top. Walking towards her executioner, Fira searched for her family's faces in the gathered crowd but there was no sign of them. She smiled and, in her mind, she thanked her brother.

Fira reached the block and whispered the pray of Aether that she had been taught as a child. As she kneeled, she was offered a blindfold but she refused. Fira wanted the sun to be the last thing she would see before the dark and the unknown. She lay her head on the flat, dry surface of the block with her neck resting comfortably in the nook. As she looked towards the dying sunlight two shadowy figures crossed her vision. A tall man and a small boy carrying a baby. The boy turned to look at her but was pulled away by the man leading him.

They had done it.

Aether had protected her family and now Fira would die to keep them safe. She relaxed and took one last breath, coating her senses with the smells of hard-labouring people, tired horses, bread and iced buns from the baker, the grass and the poppies.