It had been over two centuries since Rokian had last seen Aiuna, and today during his daily devotional, she just… appeared. Her shining crimson gown rippled at her ankles, as if she created her own breeze in the otherwise still room.
He jumped to his feet before she spoke. She allowed none of her clerics to bow in her presence, but he hung his head, ashamed to look at her. When he last saw her, it was to redress him for his betrayal. The tightness in her voice that day still haunted him. He never imagined the lack of his attention would hurt a Goddess, but it had.
In retribution, she reduced his entire village to cinders. And although rebuilding took years, she spared everyone’s lives, but her blessings appeared only days after. The diversity of plants that sprouted from the ashes were like nothing any of them had seen. Other than an array of multicolored blooms, a yellow succulent — rich in protein — staved off famine, a puffed white flower served as a powerful poultice that healed the injured, and new trees bloomed that produced fine hardwood for construction.
Her hands made and destroyed worlds, and he would never question her again.
Today, she radiated calm and joy. But regardless of the brutality she was capable of, he never feared her, and warmth flushed to his face at a mere glance. She brushed a marbled curl from her eye, exposing the golden iris beneath. Rokian knew it was impossible to love another female as he did her, so he hadn’t bothered.
“I missed you as well Cleric Sylrel.”
He stiffened at the formality of the title, uncertain if she teased. Sometimes it could be difficult to tell. She winked at him before flicking her fingertips as if casting off water, and her altar vanished. A black lounge appeared in its place, and Aiuna stretched across it before propping herself on a tricep and gesturing for him to sit.
“How may I be of service, my Goddess?”
She rolled her eyes and adjusted the golden cords at her waist absentmindedly. “You know better than that.”
“I am sorry Aiuna, but I did not wish to be disrespectful.”
“You have suffered enough. I have heard your voice every day — as promised.” Rokian’s spine straightened, and a smile crossed his lips. She had been listening. But unsure of what words might heal the rift between them, he sat in silence.
“We used to have the most thought-provoking discussions.” The back of her finger slid over the edge of her chin as if in reflection. “Maybe I left you for too long. Ask the first thing that comes to mind.”
Since lying to her wasn’t possible, this was a dangerous game she played.
“Did you really need this many years to decide if I was worthy?”
Her eyes lit in amusement. “That is much better! But yes, I did. You forsook me to go play with that traitorous elf of yours.”
Rokian’s thin fingers clenched into a fist, and his nails dug into his palm. He had sacrificed two centuries with her because of a dalliance with an abusive male that he could never love as he did his Goddess. That time passed in a blink to an immortal, but it was a tenth of his life.
“I will never forgive myself for turning away from you and would understand if you did not either.”
The shimmering polish on her fingernails flickered in the mage light when she patted beside herself, encouraging him to come closer. Her long legs extended across his lap as she stretched, settling into him. “Well, I have. And it is time for you to do the same.”
When she smiled again, he forgot himself and met her gaze. Once before, he had done that, and didn’t remember the entire month afterward. If she chose not to damper the song of her magic, the low hum would shift into a deadly symphony until it burned a mage from the inside out. Today, she let him hear her for only a moment, and his heart fluttered when she grazed his hand, to pull him back into himself.
“If I recall, red is your favorite.” She twisted her wrist and held the fine stem of a wine flute appeared between her fingertips.
“But my visit this evening is not for pleasure, Rokian.” As graceful as a swan, she passed him the sparkling liquid, but his head still swam at the sound of his name on her lips.
“I came with a purpose… an opportunity.”
Rokian’s eyebrow raised as he sipped from the glass. Pure energy flowed down his throat with a sweet bite, energizing him, refilling depleted magic. Aiuna watched him, letting him enjoy the moment. His body relaxed with a sigh, and when his head leaned against the backrest, he grinned and rolled it to the side to look at her.
Her tongue prodded the tip of a canine as she smiled. “Feeling better?” Rokian nodded and rested a hand on her voluptuous thigh.
She snickered. “Good. As I was saying, there is something I need, and you are the only elf I trust enough to ask.”
“You know I live and breathe for you. What would you have me do?”
“There is a youngling in King Rainier’s court. Retrieve her for me.” His forehead crinkled, and his head tilted in confusion at the unusual request.
“A half-elf. But her mother needs to join her, and it will not be easy to convince him to part with his most prized alchemist. As usual, I prefer as few deaths as possible.” Rokian curled his nose at the notion of negotiating with the sycophant.
“Is this not something you would rather the inquisitor do for you?”
“If I wanted Castian to do it, I would have already asked him,” she snapped.
His breath skipped. What was he thinking? If she angered and turned from him again, this would be the last he saw of her. “Are there any special considerations to make when planning how to… collect her?”
She sighed. “I understand that you are not fond of children love, but above all else, I expect you to be kind. The female has been through enough to serve my purpose. She need not be broken further.”
He opened his fingers, allowing his glass to plummet and it vanished before shattering against the stone. The Goddess sat up with her legs still draped atop his lap. Her warm breath against his neck ignited every nerve, and when her gold tipped nail slipped over his carotid artery, he stopped breathing.
There was one female in all Neuralia that held Rokian’s attention, and she was close — so close. But to touch her could cause instant death. She played such cruel games with him. His hands trembled, so he spoke to distract himself. “Is there something specific you had in mind?”
She scrunched her nose then reclined as if pleased that he had passed another of her tests. “No, I leave the method to you. Bring her here and treat her with kindness. Once you have completed this task, I will return.”
A light he didn’t even realize filled the room vanished in an instant, and Rokian kneeled in the position she’d found him. It was as if none of it had happened, a fantasy turned delusion. He sat back onto his heels and listened for his gift. His magic no longer buzzed quiet like an annoying fly. Instead, it echoed against the walls of the temple - restored.
He pressed his awareness through the boundaries of the keep, searching mentally for his mate, Kailu.
Aiuna has returned to me.
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