Tastes Like Fulfillment

Submitted into Contest #100 in response to: Start or end your story with two characters sitting down for a meal.... view prompt



Above the temple to Thundrigol, the sky was consumed by clouds. An endless field of grey, with patches of clouds so pregnant with rain, one had to wonder when they'd finally give up their load and how powerful the storm would be when they did. Though no sunlight washed over the massive building, which loomed impossibly large, seeming to dwarf even the mighty giants who had been Thundrigol's first worshippers, the limestone temple still seemed to glow. 

Talia Thundershield shaded her eyes with a blue-skinned hand, staring up at the fluted columns above her, wondering how much longer it would take to reach the entryway. "I hope they have food when I get up there. These steps are humongous, and I was never the strongest girl in Gard! Also, I didn't get the chance to eat before I came here, so I'm rightly famished!" The girl pushed the worries aside, though. Being here was a thrilling enough prospect that nothing could bring her down! If Thundrigol meant this giant stairway to be a trial for entering his temple, Talia refused to be discouraged. My friends always said I was notorious for my upbeat energy and tenacity, even in the face of hardship! It was a lesson she'd learned growing up on the severe isle of Cannoth. If something is important to you, then you'll be prepared to work for it. 

What awaited Talia at the top of these steps was something she'd been working towards all twenty-three years of her life. "At last, it's here before me...he's here before me, and all I have to do is climb some stairs? Sounds like a bargain to me!" With purpose reviewed and energy renewed, Talia skipped up the rest of the steps, humming a jaunty tune under her breath and waving to silent marble guardians flanking every third step. She couldn't help but wonder if the person she'd come looking for had a statue yet, but she didn't spend overmuch time searching. Why seek his relief in stone when I can greet him in the flesh? Oooh, he's going to be so surprised! 

Despite the apparent length of the mammoth staircase, the journey was over in no time, and the heels of Talia's knee-high boots clicked on the top landing. Even from below, the temple had looked tall as a mountain. But, standing between furrowed columns, the grooves of which large enough to fit two of her, Talia was like an ant approaching the barracks of the Day After Knights. A flutter of nervousness took over the girl's chest. Had she prayed enough to Thundrigol to earn her desired boon, or would the Lord of Storms and Justice bring down a steel-clad foot to crush her hopes? The God was a figure of justice, was he not?

Nevertheless, her feet remained frozen to the landing as the giant doors opened before her, responding to her presence. A promising sign, but it took a breeze to brush away her chains of doubt. The doors were carved from solid steel and studded with four massive gems—aquamarine and amethyst for the left, and sapphire paired with garnet on the right— each twice the size of her head. Talia wondered what kind of magic would be needed to move such undoubtedly heavy slabs. The answer was carried on a gale that buffeted Talia's bluish-black hair, and though she'd never considered the possibility of the scent before, she could say with utmost certainty that the wind smelled of pearls. Like the breath of God himself, the gust warmed her to the core, filling her with hope as it caressed pointed ears that stuck out perpendicular to her head. Come, the voice of the wind said. Claim your prize for a life well-lived.

Like sand from a rainstorm, the metaphysical bonds that restrained her retreated, and Talia took a deep breath before affixing a broad smile to her face and marching through the door.

Tarloc Thundershield knelt in front of the revered icon of his God. Tall as he was, the man stood only up to the statue's ankle at full height, which he raised himself to as he finished a prayer. "Oh, Thundrigol, master of battles that shake the sky, what need do you have of me this day?" Upon waking this morning, he'd received a mysterious summons. He was ordered to fast and present himself to the temple's main hall before the hour struck noon. Punctual as ever, Tarloc had arrived but had found nobody awaiting him. The message had come from the golden eagles that were Thundrigol's own messengers, so he knew there was no foul play at work, but he was confused. Why did Thundrigol want him here? And why was there a table set for two in the foyer? There wasn't any food here yet, but Tarloc had spent time enough in his Lord's Domain to know that it would appear when the time was right and not a moment before.

Then the door began to scrape open, the floor trembling slightly as they did. The Dinhyre paladin, Chosen of Thundrigol, smiled and smoothed his hands down the exquisite fabric of the flowing indigo robes chased with silver chosen to perfectly complement his mauve skin. So the God had chosen him to greet a new member, to bring them into the folds of terminal worship. The hall was larger than the ruins of some ancient tournament halls he'd seen, so Tarloc knew he had a bit of time before the newcomer arrived, especially if they were fond of observing every nook and cranny. Fingers absently combed the thick wave of hair cascading down to the small of his back. Though he didn't know it yet, his tresses were a perfect match in hue for the new visitor, and as electric blue eyes scanned the far side of the room, they passed over the sightline of a pair of heterochromatic orbs, one of which was a perfect replica. It seemed that their new member came with a purpose, as she barely spared a glance for the chamber's intricacies. Her eyes were set forward, locked on the distant shape of his body. Tarloc smiled warmly as he saw the skip in her step. It had been quite some time since the Tempest's Hands had such spirit among their ranks. He vibrated with anticipation and began to approach, ready to learn this person's story. But when she came into clear view, that excitement settled into a deep dread in the pit of his stomach. The two figures stopped several feet from each other, their hands clasped before their chests. Talia bounced on her legs, thrill bursting in her chest, while Tarloc felt like he could either hurl or collapse. Finally, after a long silence, the two figures called out to each other, speaking simultaneously.

"Talia, what are you doing here?" the purple-skinned cleric wondered with a distraught warble in his voice.

The blue-skinned woman's call was high-pitched with joy. "Father! Is it really you?"

Tarloc was shaking, and he glanced back at the statue of Thundrigol as if looking for answers. But none were forthcoming, so he stumbled forward, coming within arms reach of his daughter, the child he'd never had the chance to meet. He lifted calloused hands to her face, gently brushing the supple skin of her smiling face as if checking if it was real. He'd spent so many of his free hours watching his daughter's adventures as she traveled Seagap, looking for a way to revive him, but now... "My dear...if you're here... Does that mean..."

A sober expression dulled the brightness in the young woman's eyes, and Tarloc cringed inwardly, never wanting to bring his daughter pain. But he needed to know. Talia nodded, her smile drooping sadly. "Yeah. It kinda sucks, and I miss my friends already, but I finally get to meet you, so that's a plus. You look just like the portraits Mom has up around our wing of Gard." The blue-skinned woman worried her bottom lip. "Um...father? I feel a bit awkward asking, but...can I hug you?"

Tarloc let his gaze drink deeply of his daughter's image, a woman who was almost a stranger to him, thanks to the untimely arrival of his death the day after her conception. Tears brimming in his eyes, he nodded numbly, opening his arms so she could collapse into them. Thick, muscular arms squeezed her lanky frame tightly. Gods, she resembled her mother so much. "H-how did you..." The man couldn't bear to say the word 'die.' How could his daughter be dead? "What happened? I was so occupied with my work up here that I didn't get the chance to watch over you these past few days." Inwardly he was glad for it. If Tarloc had been forced to watch his own blood die, he doubted he'd have been unscathed. No answer came for a moment, and he was about to press her for one, but then the cleric felt her shaking, head buried in his shoulder. Talia had always been a ball of sunshine, so vibrant, so happy. Since reaching adulthood, Tarloc couldn't recall a single time she'd shed a tear from sorrow. But Talia was sobbing in his arms. Breaking free from the paralysis that had filled him, he leaned into her embrace, rubbing her back while he cooed soothing nothings into her ears. "Take your time, love. I know dying isn't easy. Accepting the fact is kind of like swallowing a mountain." Gods, what kind of reassurance was that! Tarloc had never been the most eloquent, leave that to the bards, but now he was utterly at a loss for words. So, he just continued to stroke her hair and pour wordless comfort into the woman he wanted to know everything about.

At long last, Talia chose to talk. "You'd have to ask my friends to be sure, but I think I died a hero. There was this tyrannical Lord in Brinepoint, a city we visited. The band of adventurers I traveled with pledged their support to the rest of the government people, who had decided to kick him out. I guess he took exception to that, so he sent his personal collection of soldiers and beasts at their fortified blockade. I'm not quite sure what happened, but some magical miscellany saw me going toe to talon with a manticore. One of my friends, Lucille, tried to knock it off me, but he was too late. I...I don't really know how to feel. I only knew them for maybe a month and a half, but they were such cool friends to have!" Talia pulled back, scanning her father's face and blessing him with her warmest grin. "I wish you'd had the chance to meet Luci! He was one heckuva badass monster hunter. He carried the trophies of his hunts, including a basilisk eye and the horn of an evil unicorn. Oh, you should have seen him fight, Father! One of the last things I saw was him jumping down from a twenty-foot tall building to stick a giant sword through the manticore on top of me!" 

"I can tell you certainly liked him," Tarloc chuckled. "He was the older fellow, wasn't he, with the sword he fed monster parts to?" His brow furrowed. "This Luci, he was the dependable and honorable sort, I hope. Not playing with your heart?" He couldn't help it. Fatherly instincts were kicking in, and he needed to ensure his daughter was making good choices.

Talia rolled her eyes. "Oh, please, Father. Our relationship wasn't like that! It was Trystain who was interested in that side of me. You know, the tall blonde one from Gard? My best friend? I'll miss him most of all."

"Lady Gwyneth's son? Yes, I remember now." He was about to ask more questions but shook his head. "That's enough fatherly grilling. You're an adult, only a few years younger than I was when..." By the Thunderhead, that was surreal. Being a spirit in the Storm Lord's Envoy meant he didn't age any longer, so he was now within years of his own daughter's age. There was a lot to unpack there. "Not having the people you were closest to is the worst part of the afterlife, but knowing you, you'll make new friends here in no time. And once you've settled in, I can show you how to scry on the surface world, so you can keep an eye on those friends of yours." And your mother. He pushed the thoughts away. If he dwelled on the notion of his dear Rirka, now left alone in the world, he'd probably taint this entire meeting with grief. Talia didn't deserve that. They would have plenty of time to grieve together later.

"Thanks, Father. I'll be happy to take you up on all those offers." Talia cocked a smile and winked. "But for now, this is more than enough. You know, you've got twenty-three years of father-daughter bonding time to make up for."

A nervous chuckle escaped Tarloc's throat. "I'm both terrified and delighted! A task worthy for a hero-paladin, I suppose." He stepped away and made a sweeping gesture towards the table off to the side, where a veritable banquet had appeared. "Shall we start with brunch?"

Almost as if the two were in sync with each other, their stomachs sounded their approval in unison. Then, arm in arm, the two walked to the table and sat across from each other. Tarloc turned their goblets upright and grabbed a flagon. 

"Spirit Clear!" Talia exclaimed upon seeing the translucent green liquid inside. "I guess our God really is omniscient. He even knew what my favorite drink is!"

"I don't think I've ever had it," Tarloc said, sniffing the strangely minty bouquet. 

"Then here's a tip. Just pour a small bit for each of us. Trust me, that stuff is stronger than aged whiskey, and we don't want to get too drunk on our first meeting!"

Tarloc did as he was bid and then raised his silver, jewel-encrusted goblet in a toast. "To father-daughter bonding and heroic deeds."

Talia clinked her drink happily against his, the shimmering tone signaling the beginning of an era long-awaited. "Indeed! And to budding relationships and meals that taste like dream fulfillment!"

June 30, 2021 16:07

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