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Fantasy Speculative

I have never been this high in the Temple, climbing to the most sacred floor to bring an answer to the greatest issue facing our Church in years.   I fear it is the wrong answer. I do not want to go. I pray to the gods they do not take their rage out on the bearer of the message. 

My red robes, thick and heavy, slide down my shoulders as I take step after step. All I hear is the shushing sound of it scraping along the stone steps. Sweat runs down my forehead and prickles along my back as I walk through the pools of flickering candlelight on each landing, up and up and up the stairs. I look back, hoping to see only the empty staircase, but she is still there, many steps behind, my curse.

As a Novice I had never been in the Inner Sanctum, and after today might never again. 

I had discovered the issue, through a chance encounter, and now horribly I was tasked with its resolution. Princesses Tanya had asked me not to reveal her secret.  I will have to ask the gods forgiveness for letting her down.  I lost all my skills at deception since living in the safety of the Temple. I truly had tried to be subtle when I asked my advisor, the Hieromonk Christian.  

Christian was watering the vegetable garden on the 45th floor of our temple, one of the converted garden floors. His heavy bulk moved slowly amongst the raised beds. I was pushing the water barrel on the small cart behind him. With the shades up, warmth from the morning sun felt good. As usual he was giving me a lesson. 

“Today we are limited in communications to only those near us.  In the Before Times,  people could talk to someone, see someone anywhere in the world at any time.”

I nodded along, Christian told so many unbelievable stories. Yet there was one I needed to know about.  

“Master, you have called the god Azon, the Grantor of Miracles. 'Make a wish today and by the next day the wish would arrive' is this the truth?”

Christian smiled, he loved explaining the mysteries of his religion.  "Yes, all people who were of the faith could whisper their wishes into the magic boxes, then the god Azon would send the miracles directly to them.”

“That is impossible!”  I had heard this before but needed it confirmed.

 “It is true, it is written.” He said this, I know, to irritate me as I can not read.  He holds his great knowledge over me like a hammer.   “The magic has left the boxes, so now only those trained in the mysteries can speak to the gods.” He gestured to the blue-black robes he wore, symbol of his status as a Hieromonk. 

“Can a Princess of Gram make a wish, and have it come true?” I reached out to touch a plant, trying to act like I did not care about the answer.

His head turned, his eyes focused on me, “What is your concern with a Princess of Gram?”

“Just wondering, nevermind.” I looked down and stared at my two hands washing each other.  

Christian’s eyes blazed and he rounded on me, grabbing my arm and holding tight. 

He stared at me. “Novice, tell me everything.”

 Christian, the Hieromonk who found me in the streets and raised me from a young child knew me too well. I believe it when he says he can read my mind.

“I found Tanay, a Princess of Gram, on the kitchen level when I was cleaning the pots. She wanted food- she said the Princesses are not given enough food so they will stay small and thin.” I did not mention that I had been sneaking her food for months, or our conversations about being young teenagers in this difficult world. 

“She is… ill,  and asked for me to make a wish to Azon.”

I looked up and saw this half-truth was not working.   “The Princess is… with child.  And she wishes to have Azon make it go away.  Sir, that is her wish.” 

“One of the virgin Princess of Gram?”  Christian’s face contorted in disgust. “Another one.  She should be thrown out of the temple, she is contaminated!” He took two steps away, and then came back. “If our congregation finds out, it will ruin us! Princesses of Gram are the daughters of the god, renowned for their beauty and their purity! They cannot have children!” 

“- I thought so too, but her belly is-” I demonstrated with my arms her huge stomach. “-Princess Tanay said it was the will of Azon.”

“Well how did this happen?” The skin on my shaved head pricked up when I saw the fear in Christian’s eyes. He did not know. 

I walked through the outer rooms and deep into the most sacred space of the Temple, on the highest floor with the message. I could not believe this is how I am going to meet the Prime Leader.  Princess Tanay is scared too and is making me hold her hand. Her grip is strong and she is leaning in close to me. It makes me feel better, though I will have to cleanse my hands after.  Tanay’s face is heavily painted but underneath I know it is pockmarked and pale just like mine. 

On the way I could see through what was once the exterior walls of this giant building.  The sun streamed in through the large shattered and missing windows. The height of this old building, high into the clouds, was tall enough to see the mountains to the east and feel the swirling wind coming in from the unseen ocean sea, salty and fresh.  I didn’t get close enough to look down to see the ruined city below.  I knew from another windows I would see the only other still-standing towers.  There used to be many, but all the rest of them have fallen. Destroyed in the Great Quake, or the war that followed.  I could picture the street below in my mind, the cold and the dirt, my life in the car where I starved and fought for every morsel of food.  The homeless people living below against the walls could not be seen, or smelled this high up.  My dreams of being in this building, and now at the highest level have come true.  I do not want to be here now carrying this terrible message.   

A dog scurried by, chasing a pigeon trying to roost in the broken rooms. Is that the window they will throw me out of?

 I stepped up to the large doors of the inner Sanctum and tried to compose myself. I wiped my face with my sleeve and took a deep breath.  I could see shapes moving behind the drawn drapes covering the glass panels of the large room. Originally the building was all glass, though it has almost all been shattered, replaced with wood or plastic or sheets of metal, reclaimed from other parts of the building.  The unbroken glass shows how special this room was. The walls around the Sanctum room were painted in elaborate and dream-like scenes of dancing fish and swimming deer and birds walking upside down, and the ever present symbol of the god Azon, the upturned arrow.  

I squeezed Tanay’s hand, pulled my shoulders back and put on my most serious face as I knocked.  

Jonathan, a Hieromonk in his blue-black robe, opened the door, concern on his puffy, bloated face. Then he looked behind me at Princess Tanay. 

“It is not allowed in here!”  

“I was asked to bring her…” I looked over Jonathon’s shoulder at the Sanctum, tapestries and ornate furniture filled the room.  I saw an empty tall chair, and the Temple leaders huddled around a table. More than twenty Hieromonks were gathered. They were the fattest people I had ever seen.  

Christian’s familiar face was in the corner and I eagerly took a quick step toward him. At his quick shake of the head, I stopped and waited.  Moments later my presence was noticed, and an Hieromonk with a beak-like nose and red eyes gestured for me to come over and leave Tanay.

“I am Josiah, the Grand Secretary. What did it say?”  He stared openly with hunger at Tanay, his slack mouth open. 

“The Princess said ‘It was the will of Azon’.  She gives no other explanation.” I whispered in reverence.

“Outrageous!”  Said Josiah

“We need an answer- this is the third one!” Another Hieromonk said. The conversation continued, ignoring me. I kept my head down, and watched the Hieromonks scurry around the room. 

“Novice, you discovered her, do you have any insight on how this came to be?” Christian addressed me directly. 

I remembered watching my sisters with the men in the cars, for the food, for the blankets.  

“Well, when a man and a woman lie together, then-” I started. 

“There are no men in the Temple!”  Josiah cried.  

I looked up at Josiah, not understanding. 

“Only followers of Azon are above the 40th floor in the Temple, there are no men.  All of us, the Hieromonks and the Novices have sworn celibacy and are above such base desires. It must be the will of Azon!” Josiah said, to nods and agreement all around.

“The virgin princesses need to stay pure!” Josiah roared. His voice booming.  “How else can we appease the god with worthy sacrifices!” He looked down his long nose at Christian who scrambled away and next to me. 

“If it is found out the Princesses of Gram are spoiled, impure, then the faith of our believers will turn against us!” Josiah pursed his lips. 

“This must be dealt with!” His voice thundered and his face turned red. “We need to find out what is happening!” He looked at the closed door in the back of the room.  We must consult the Prime Leader.  We need to hear directly from Azon, god of miracles.”

I leaned over to Christian.  “I believe she had someone to help get her that way, maybe one of the other Novices, who may have been the father-”

“ No!" Josiah said, overhearing me. “Did it say that?”

“No, Grand Secretary, but it makes sense-” 

“What did you say?” Josiah turned toward me, flames in his eyes.

My whole body turned hot with shame, I had used a forbidden word.  

 “I said I -sensed- it from her-”

 Christian stared at me disbelieving- “I feel you are not well-”

“We must make a decision what to do with this unclean Princess who allowed this to happen.” Said Josiah. “ A Princess of the Gram must be seen as perfect in every way, the ideal for our followers, beautiful and pure-” 

“-We should just throw her out the window, '' the Hieromonk Jonathon said, “like the last one. No one would notice another dead body out there.” His lips curled in disgust. "Throw that boy out too, he knows too much. Novices should not be speaking with Princesses.”

“Not yet. She invokes the god Azon." Josiah said. "And we need to stop this from happening again.”

 Josiah went to the interior door, and then returned with a tall, older man, all in white. He was led to the center of the room. He seemed to float, his robe sagged off his large belly and covered his feet completely. He stared across at Tanay with a curious expression.

“The Princess’s fate will be decided here.” Josiah said.  

An  elaborately carved wooden box was carried by Jonathon, held carefully with both hands. 

The Hieromonks began a chant:  

“...azon-com…azon-com…azon-com…azon-com…azon-com…azon-com…”

Jonathon brought it to the Prime Leader and he opened the box.

I had only heard rumors of the Prime Leader, I had never seen him before. Bald, with a huge prominent chin, he had a vitality I had rarely seen.  His hands, opening the box, were thin with long yellow claw-like nails.  I was transfixed, keeping my breath low and quiet and my head down. I did not want to get noticed. My eyes did not leave the Prime Leader and the box. I felt the energy inside myself grow and pull me toward the power of him. Jonathon was short so even I could see over his shoulder. Inside the wooden box on a blue velvet-lining was another smaller box, worn and faded. Muted and dull gray, the Prime Leader took it out with both hands and handed it to another Hieromonk. 

He opened this box and the Prime leader took out a ring. 

It was an unusual ring with a large dark stone. A whispered myth turned out to be true, the legendary Muud Ring! I knew all about it, it glowed in different colors to show the gods’ wishes. 

The band was a coppery green, with gold paint flecks . The Prime held it up and then put it on. The Hieromonks chant became even louder.  

“...azon-com…azon-com…azon-com…azon-com…azon-com…azon-com…”

The Prime Leader then closed his eyes, raised his hand wearing the ring straight out and said in a loud, clear voice, 

“I, Azon Prime ask, what should be the punishment of this Princess of the Gram?”

I saw all the Hieromonks watching the ring intently, while the Prime Leader held out his hand stiffly, the ring’s stone dull and black. 

Tanay was crying, her painted face smearing with tears as she waited for their verdict.  At a sharp intake of breath I looked back at the ring. It was starting to change color!  

A dark red at first-

 “Red is for death!”  A voice spoke, excited. 

I wasn't sure if that was exactly red.

“No it is changing-” Cried another voice.  

“Is that some Yellow?”  Christian, said to me. “Yellow is release-”

I moved closer, I couldn't help myself. The ring was drawing me in, I felt it like a rope tugging at me. I didn't see any yellow.

“It should be close to complete now.” Said Christian.

 The Prime still had his eyes closed, gritting his teeth.

“Dark Blue!” Josiah said. “Sadness and pain. Get rid of her.”  

“That is purple!” A high-pitched voice cried out. ““Purple is for passion!”

 I looked around at everyone staring at me and slapped my hand over my mouth.

Tanay began screaming, her hand pointing at the Prime Leader, “He did it! He made me lie with him. He said it was the will of Azon…”  All of the Hieromonks began shouting and scurrying around the room. In the excitement I looked to make my escape.

 The Prime Leader opened his eyes and stared at Tanay.  Their eyes connected, sparks seem to fly with energy between them.  He smiled. “It is the will of Azon-  that she dies!”  

I was almost out the door when I saw Tanay, her sad eyes pleaded.   I grabbed her hand and pulled her with me.  I saw the gray box on the ground and picked it up too.  

“Where can we go?”  

“I don’t know, I lived outside before- but we will need the gods in our favor.”

I looked at the box, with the familiar upward curved arrow underneath some words. 

“Can you read this?”

‘Azon.com’ She said.  Tanay rubbed the words. “There is also an A, and a ‘m’ Amazon.com.”

"We are saved!" I leaned into Tanay. “Whisper a wish.” I said. “That is where miracles come from-”

November 18, 2022 16:59

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9 comments

Francois K
19:32 Nov 19, 2022

Azing idea! All of it was quite entertaining but these made me smile: "Make a wish today and by the next day the wish would arrive" "the god Azon, the upturned arrow" "Azon Prime" Love it. Surely we shall never want for Home & Kitchen goods when Azon provides for us.

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Marty B
22:17 Nov 19, 2022

It is quite unbelievable - my fingers touch a few buttons on the 'magic box' and whoosh- presents miraculously arrive. (I do not make light of the the inhumane treatment of the workforce to make all this happen, that dystopia is another story... )

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Michał Przywara
21:29 Nov 20, 2022

"Azing idea!" Damn you, that's brilliant :)

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Doreeny T.
16:47 Nov 27, 2022

Love it! It really made me think about the instant gratification we have all come to expect. Wonder where it will lead us….

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Marty B
05:07 Nov 28, 2022

instant gratification and throw away culture is not healthy for any society- I hope it leads to a better outcome than this! Thank you for reading!

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Michał Przywara
21:33 Nov 20, 2022

This was a fun story :) Something about the initial climb in the temple made me picture a skyscraper - perhaps that converted garden on the 45th floor. Very creative! A new kind of cargo cult. The world is new, the beliefs are new, but the corruption is the same. I like the open end here, where the story can continue on to something bigger. Critique-wise, this is a good mix of action and background. Everything was clear without any expository info dump, and it read smoothly. Enjoyable and well done!

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Marty B
02:07 Nov 21, 2022

I think corruption is inherent in all societies, when the structure breaks down it comes out more. (I have been reading too many dystopian stories) Thanks!

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Edward Latham
15:05 Nov 19, 2022

Let's hope the apocalypse doesn't come today, or I worry this is what the people of tomorrow will be like! A funny yet terrifying idea Marty, thanks for the read!

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Marty B
17:17 Nov 19, 2022

Thanks !

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