The banister melted beneath Aisha’s hand.
She jerked her hand away, darting her eyes around the foyer of the Temple to check if anyone had seen, but all heads were bowed. There were plenty of prophets visiting the Temples and she was one of the servants—no reason to think anyone would spare time to watch her—but she had still hoped she would be able to keep her magic under control. All she could hope for was that she was far from this place when one of the other servants noticed the finger-shaped dents she had left in the gleaming banister.
The High Priestess stood on the landing above her with their honored guest. Thousands of people had crowded around the temple in the early hours of the morning hoping to gain admittance inside to watch the exchange. There was an eagerness to be seen among them. The privileged were far more interested in being perceived as meek than proving it. No one dared to mention such things of course; the church took the power aristocrats allowed it to have. Instead, they were allowed to bully or buy their way into the temple for special occasions and bow their heads in mock reverie. Aisha hoped that when they visited the Sleep Walkers after the ceremony that they would be told misfortune was in their future. It would scare them for a few days but the mere thought of the devastated looks on their faces made Aisha smile to herself.
The High Priestess was accepting a gift from the man beside her. “Of course, one would hope,” said Lord Samara with a grin, “that faith would be its own gift.”
Mother Micaiah handed the gift to one of the prophets by her side and turned a raised eyebrow at him, drawing attention to her blue eyes. The colour was what marked her as a child of the gods—every one of the prophets had them, including Aisha herself. There were places in the temple that only blue eyes could gain one access to. Mother Micaiah’s eyes were crystal blue, gaining her more power than the average prophet. Anyone with any shade of blue would be trained in the temples. The more wealthy families in the city owned their own prophets but they had little power in the church and more often than not had no magical abilities to help with their premonitions.
“I’m glad you think so, Lord Samara,” Mother Micaiah said, returning his smile with one of her own. “For it implies that, while I preside over this temple, you’ll expect nothing in return for your gift. Let us hope that your faith can sustain you.”
Lord Samara forced a laugh that didn’t reach his eyes. Aisha, on the other hand, had to bow her head in order to hide her grin. Out of all the High Priestesses she had met, Mother Micaiah was the one she truly believed deserved her respect.
When she had first started at the temple, Father Ezra had been in charge. She remembered his eyes as those of ice—incapable of looking upon anything with warmth and yet could burn flesh if one dared to be in their presence too long. She had avoided him whenever possible, as did many. That is, except for Sister Micaiah, as she was called at the time, who’s presence flared in the dark stone passages of the temple and cracked like laughter during prayers. When she was raised to High Priestess and asked Aisha to serve under her, Aisha was more than relieved to be given the chance.
Lord Samara stepped up and greeted some of the other prophets on the landing. He made sure to smile at everyone but there was a tightness to his movements. Mother Micaiah was able to preach in this temple within Afasa because the government allowed it. There was a fine-line between Speaker of the Gods and User of Magic—one would get a person killed.
Lord Samara, somewhat pointedly in Aisha’s opinion, checked his pocket watch and started to walk down the staircase towards the door, offering greetings as he left. He was walking down the side of the stairs where Aisha was standing. She felt her stomach drop at the thought of having to make eye-contact with him, or worse, shake his hand. She quickly checked her palms, terrified by the idea that her panic might have sparked her magic again. Somehow she guessed that burning the flesh off one of the high lords would be a sure-fire way of getting herself killed.
Aisha tried to make her face neutral as Lord Samara slowly made his way down the steps. Perhaps if she seemed uninterested in his presence he would pass her without much thought? As it was, he was spending little time with those he was shaking hands with.
She pointedly turned her gaze towards her feet–trying to convince herself that it wasn’t the pressure of those dark eyes she was feeling. As far as he was concerned, she was just another servant; it was only her bright eyes that marked her as anything of note–eyes he had hopefully not seen.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you before. Are you a prophet?”
Aisha jumped at the sound of a male voice so close to her and involuntarily looked up. Lord Samara met her gaze with a vaguely bored one that she was almost convinced she could reply to his question with silence and he wouldn’t notice.
She wasn’t entirely sure what she said in response–something about joining the Temple in the last year–but he only nodded and moved onto the next Prophet.
She got to stay close to Mother Micaiah and keep her tongue in her mouth. The next thing was to peacefully get all of these groveling noblemen out of the temple. It would be hours before that happened.
Mother Micaiah stepped up to Aisha. “I will not be part of the premonitions this afternoon.”
“May I ask, Mother,” Aisha whispered, “if there is anything wrong?”
“Nothing wrong,” she replied. “I can’t stand the idea of sitting alone with Lord Samara and telling him good fortune is on the horizon. He kissed my feet to distract from his poisoning my drink. I have half a mind to kick his nose in.”
Aisha risked a glance towards the man in question.
Mother Micaiah smiled; she probably meant it to be reassuring but there was a tightness to it that ruined the effect. “Don’t worry about him, Aisha,” she said. “He has far less power in the senate than he likes the public to believe. There’s a reason they sent him all the way out to the Third Ring to visit a public temple.”
Aisha nodded slowly. Right—she had forgotten that to most people this was on the outskirts of the city centre, the last part of the city before what most of the nobility referred to as The Outer Rings, but for someone who had grown up outside of the walls it was the nexus of urban life.
“If you’re scared of him I suggest you never become a private Prophet,” Mother Micaiah said, putting a hand on Aisha’ shoulder. “From what I’ve heard they have next to no freedom at all. Their practically used as spokespersons for whatever politician has the deepest pockets at the time. Part of me is glad I never made it out of this place, but if I had, who knows?”
She turned away as she said this, a wistful air to her voice and Aisha found herself wondering why Mother Micaiah had never left this temple. She had done nothing significant to offend anyone—for the most part anyway, there had been hiccups—but no one in the community would say she hadn’t changed the place for the better. Granted, some of the nobility thought she was sharp-tongued—some of the servants and prophets shared their opinion—but she had never said anything that couldn’t be apologized for later, throw in a few favors and they would promote her to the First Ring in no time.
Aisha turned back towards the doors of the temple where nobility where still mingling and chatting in hushed tones. Aisha still felt uncomfortable around such wealth, and found herself wondering what people like that did with all the time they weren’t working. Shining all those gems they had on? Maybe getting all of them on was what took up all their time. She had heard stories about balls and parties, lavish dinners and glamorous clothing, but she assumed it was mostly hyperbole. No one could actually eat that much food all in one night!
I’ll have to get one of these noblemen to tell me about the Inner Rings before they leave, she thought. Not that any of them seemed the least bit interested in her. She had never gotten used to growing her hair out and had instead elected to keep it short–as it had been her whole life. The other Prophets entangled their hair with rings and twisted it into elaborate patterns. It seemed like a lot of work for a headache. Her clothes never ventured outside of the spectrum of brown, except when she was expected to wear white. She was short, frickled, and plain. Not that she did much to change that. It was better that no one noticed her.
Of course, it was possible her hair had grown a few inches in the time she had been standing there.
Who knows? Maybe she would be able to become a prophet and leave this place, maybe even be ‘a woman of means’. Marrying into it would be the easiest way. If she could charm one of the young men in the crowd… and hate herself for the rest of her life because she married for money and status on a girlish-whim—her mother would smack her for thinking that way.
She wasn’t sure she would do well in the Inner Rings anyway. After all, magic users were killed if they were found out and she had a hard enough time here keeping people from discovering hers—imagine if she had to live with people who had nothing better to do than gossip? The thought of it made her stomach turn and she was thinking about pleading illness and escaping the crowds when one of the noblemen caught her eye.
At first, she had let her eyes bounce over him, circling back a second later when her mind made the connection that he was in fact staring at her. He was looking at her right in the eyes. She darted her eyes around the crowd, looking back at him at intervals. His eyes never left her.. The look wasn’t an invitation—he wasn’t even smiling—but an exchange of…sympathy? His eyes darted quickly to the banister then back to her eyes. The banister! He had seen the mark her fingers had left there; he had seen her use magic. She stepped towards him reflexively, her heart pounding in her ears, and the man shook his head ever so slightly.
No arrogance, or fear, or triumph. Kinsmenship. Understanding.
The nobleman placed a finger over his lips then pointed.
Aisha turned to see the other nobility starting to migrate into the temple’s meeting halls for their readings.
She turned back. Where had he been standing? Amid all the jewelry and moving bodies it was hard to tell anyone apart. Aisha stood on her toes, searching. She thought she saw him… a head of thin waves blacker than the night sky but there were hundreds of people between them.
Could she get to him? And do what? The man held all the cards in this game. She couldn’t be sure he was also a magic user and she sure as hell couldn’t prove it. She wasn’t even sure if he had seen what she had done to the banister—how could he from that distance? Still, that moment of connection between them made her stomach flip.
“Aisha?” Dema, another servant in the temple, asked, a hand on Aisha’s arm and a worried crease between her eyes.
Mother Micaiah was standing nearby, watching her with curiosity. It would be ill-advised to let her know that she was considering running after one of the nobilities and tackling him to the ground.
“I’m not feeling well, Dema,” Aisha said to the girl at her arm. “I think I’ll go back to my room. Please let the others know.”
Dema still looked worried but nodded. It wasn’t a good reason for acting the way she was but it was the best she could think of—all she wanted was to escape from all the eyes around her.
Footsteps sounded beside her and she impulsively moved back towards the banister to let whoever it was pass. She flicked her eyes to look at them from the corner of her eye. And turned to face him when she recognized the smile on his face. There was no mistaking it. He had turned to face her, his sand coloured cloak left open to show a tailored suit of clothes of rich reds. He was no commoner, that was certain, and there was no mistaking that his attention was centred on her.
Let me know what you thought of this first part by clicking the thumbs-up below and be sure to check in next week when the next part will be published!