Reckoning 12, 6106 RTR (24 May 2006) Tasha is coached and made up to be the Herald of Abaddon, and sent to the temple to deliver a message about the upcoming duel.
(Aaron) (Amazonia) (Layth) (Tasha)
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By the time Layth and Tasha made their way out of the hedge maze, afternoon was fading into evening. They didn't get far before Aaron found them, twitched his nose a few times, and ushered them off to the bathhouse to clean up.

Kerebos Baths
The baths have the same rough-hewn stone walls as the rest of the building, but are open to the sky instead of having a wooden roof. Two long, padded benches stand between the changing room and the bath itself, which is sunken further into the ground and looks as big as a swimming pool would on Rephidim. Steaming water pours from an opening high up on the far wall, and drains near the surface keep the room from flooding. Stone steps lead down into the water, and there appear to be stone platforms set at various heights below the surface.

The baths are even less private than usual, with several conies and an older, dark brown buck in attendance, along with Aaron. "Drink these," Lightfoot says, handing glasses of vegetable juice to the overly-lathered-up Layth and Tasha. The Vartan in particular is being scrubbed down by two of the conies, while Layth is mostly on his own.

"What is it and why?" Layth inquires as he eyes the glass, then Aaron. "And, why are we getting scrubbed, again?"

Tasha has been remarkably quiet since she finished up her private affairs with Layth. In fact, she seems a little subdued. The woman eyes the drink Aaron gives her, and then drinks it without a word. She doesn't even complain when the conies begin to scrub her down.

"The juice is to cover the smell of Milk on your breath," Aaron explains. "The scrubbing to get rid of… uh… other telling odors."

Layth shrugs then drinks down the juice. "Ah, then you're familiar with this due to your liaisons with the queen, then, Master Lightfoot?" he asks, looking moderately amused.

Aaron frowns, and says, "Well… the scent can get the Vykarins and other Lapi antsy. And Tasha has to smell pristine if she's going to play the part of a divine herald."

"At least she will now be calm enough to play that role," Layth notes and resumes cleaning himself. Occasionally, he just goes completely under water.

Tasha mumbles something about agreeing, swirling her cup around as she stares into it between sips.

"Well, she does seem a bit more… quiet," Aaron agrees, although from his tone he seems unsure if that's a good or a bad thing. "She needs to look like she's glowing anyway."

The conies have undone Tasha's braid to wash her hair, and have also started stripping her tail of decorations, which they leave in a bowl at the edge of the bath.

"You could always go spend some time with her too," Layth suggests to Aaron. "So, is she to go alone to the temple?"

"I'm too old for her," Aaron claims, then answers, "We'll bring her there, but at some point she'll have to be on her own, yes. Abednego here is going to coach her for that. He's… I'd guess you'd call him the Master of Sacrifices. He knows the most about dealing with the clergy."

The older buck nods at the mention of his name.

Tasha does move when she starts losing her adornments. She reaches out for the bowl, nabs a string of shinies, and brings it over where she can see it. After gulping down the last of Aaron's brew, she begins flicking the shinies one by one through her hand, as one might count beads.

"What will we do, then? Wait outside?" Layth inquires as he carefully cleans the insides of his ears.

Aaron turns to Abednego and whispers with him for a few moments, then explains, "Ah, your tail needs to be made up a bit Tasha. Yes, we'll wait, although it shouldn't seem obvious that we're with her. She might need to do some flying, but I'm hoping it can be avoided."

"Will I even be welcome there? Will there be anything for me to do? I don't like being … idle," Layth says, then takes a moment to dunk his head and rinse out his ears.

Tasha noodles with her shinies a bit more, then tosses them back in the bowl. She watches the conies work on her a bit more before grabbing a brush and helping them out.

"We should stay close in case there is trouble," Aaron says. "You could probably get away with entering the temple to make an offering, since you wouldn't be recognized, Layth." He gets a thoughtful look, and consults with Abednego again.

"It's not necessary that I go in," Layth says dismissively. "I think Tasha would prefer to be alone for a bit, anyway."

"It might help certain things if you were nearby though," Aaron says, then asks Tasha, "Could you fly while carrying Layth, or is he too big for you?"

The Vartan looks up when her name is mentioned again, insisting, "I'm fine." She glances at Layth a moment, then turns to ask Aaron, "What will it be like? In the temple, I mean? An' I don' think I can carry 'im. Not that far."

"Um," Aaron says, and turns to Abednego. The brown buck steps forward, and says, "After you deliver your message, you may be asked to participate in a ceremony or ritual. There is no record that I know of regarding a herald visiting the Temple, so there may not be any set procedure in place for receiving one."

"I got it," Tasha says. She looks between the three bucks, ears twitching, and then adds, "I can 'andle it."

Layth leans over and whispers something in Aaron's ear.

Aaron listens to Layth and gets an odd look before whispering back to him.

Layth shakes his head briefly, whispers one more thing, then resumes cleaning himself.

"Very well," Abednego says, and takes a scroll from his tunic. Apparently, not all Amazonians are illiterate. "There is a special greeting used between the clergy of Abaddon, which I will teach you. You will also need to memorize the message and repeat it as clearly as you can."

Aaron thinks about what Layth just told him, then nods to the other buck in agreement.

"What are you two whisperin' about," Tasha inquires, leaning over a coney to peer at the two men. "I'm all right! I'm jus' thinkin', is all! Can't a woman think abou' things?" Her ears perk straight up, and she gives the two men a challenging glare before turning her attention to Abednego, telling him, "I'll learn. I will."

"See?" is all Layth says. He then rinses off the remaining soap and exits the bathes to dry off and brush out his fur.

"Just… guy talk," Aaron claims, smiling innocently, and picks up a towel to help Tasha dry off, then thinks better of it and hands it to a coney. Tasha has been rinsed off by now, and is ready to be dried.

Tasha eyes Aaron when he responds, then raises a brow when he grabs a towel. She nods when the buck hands it off, and then stands up to help the conies dry her. "Aaron," she says, in a low voice, "… do you respect me? Like me at all?"

"Err, sure I do, Tasha," Aaron says, and goes to help Layth groom himself. "Have I done something to upset you?" he asks.

Layth tries to shed off as much water as possible before using a towel. The buck works on drying off in quiet now. He gives Aaron an odd glance when he comes over to help him, then just shrugs and lets him.

"Oi, no, it's jus' … " Tasha blinks a bit, ears flicking, suddenly looks at the ceiling. "It's nothin'. Jus' thinkin', is all. I better concentrate. I don' wan' to miss any words o' the greeting."

The conies work to fluff up Tasha's fur, making sure it's fully dry before bringing out the combs. Abednego refers to his scroll, and waits until Tasha is seated before clearing his throat. "The greeting goes, 'May Prosperity arise from Blood and Chaos, through the Grace of Abaddon.' You should cross your arms like so… " The buck demonstrates, forming an 'X' against his chest with his balled fists touching opposite shoulders and his head bowed.

"I didn't know you swung that way," Layth remarks amusedly to Aaron as he finishes working out most of the water from his fur. The buck then retrieves a brush and starts brushing out his semi-damp fur.

"'May Prosperity arise from … from Blood and Chaos," Tasha begins, crossing her arms and balling her fists the way Abednego showed her, " … through the Grace of Abaddon." She says the words solemnly, with a quiet hint of respect in the way that she keeps her voice low and keeps out any sarcasm or mockery.

"What?" Aaron asks, suddenly realizing what he's doing. "Ah… Roland and I used to groom each other. It's just social."

"Very good," Abednego says, even though the practice makes it harder for the conies to do their work. "Always be certain to pass your left arm over your right as well." He demonstrates the greeting again, reciting the words and performing the bow.

"Left arm over right – does that mean anythin'?" Tasha repeats the gesture, although she has to try and bow seated.

"I know, but your expression was funny nevertheless," Layth remarks absently. "I take it you are not allowed in the temple?"

"The left arm is the shield arm. By pinning the sword arm under it, you demonstrate your peaceful intent," Abednego explains.

Tasha nods to the explanation. "That makes sense to me," she says, without sarcasm. She actually sounds intent, keeping her voice low and steady. Again she repeats the gesture, adding, "The right arm is the sword arm," as she crosses her right arm, and, "the left arm is the shield arm," as she crosses her other arm.

"I've been in the one in Parthos," Aaron notes. "The Olympian priests of Abaddon have a certain kinship with the Amazonian ones that goes beyond politics, and are willing to send messages via spiritual means."

"And was there a problem in the one in Parthos?" Layth inquires and peers over his shoulder at Aaron.

"You need not behave in a deferential manner to the priests," Abednego explains. "But your manner should be respectful, as if to a peer. You are a messenger, as are they."

"Hmm, oh… well, last time, the doe I came with triggered an old, disused enchantment," Aaron says quietly. "It was rather amusing really, they thought she was a virgin sacrifice sent from Amazonia, and had to explain that they didn't perform such sacrifices anymore. Of course, Anisa didn't speak Olympian, and the acolyte's hand gestures alarmed her."

"Not defer … Not deferential." Tasha's ears flick as she tilts her head. After working her muzzle a little in thought, she nods. "I think I get it. I'll do my best, 'aye'?"

"You seem to attract trouble," Layth observes, "that usually involve women. You really should stick to flowers and candies. Taking them to temples is not a great way to date."

Abednego nods. The conies bring out a red cotton scarf that closely matches Tasha's own color, and begin to wrap her tail with it, tying it at the base, so that only a big tuft of hair remains at the end.

Tasha watches as the conies wrap her tail. She opens her mouth to ask about it, then suddenly flicks her gaze to a coney's tail. She mouths an 'oh,' nodding, before returning her full attention to Abednego. "Is there anythin' else I ought an' know?"

"It wasn't a date," Aaron says calmly. "She just wanted to come along, and I wasn't able to dissuade her."

"Are you sure she didn't see it as a date?" Layth inquires, then looks around for his clothing.

"The heralds do not fight," the scholarly buck explains. "They are messengers, reporting to Abaddon during battles and delivering instructions to chosen warriors or priests. You will not carry any weapons with you, nor will you be expected to be fierce or intimidating."

Realizing he's been sitting on Layth's clothes, Aaron stands up. "If I had… uh… things may have gone a bit differently," he admits, rubbing the back of his head. "I had to wait for circumstances to be different before I could approach her about such things."

The conies begin to work on Tasha's hair next, teasing it out into long, curving shapes and then fixing it with a starchy substance. Without a mirror, it is difficult to tell what it looks like, only that it must be making her look taller at least.

Layth collects his clothes and starts dressing. "It was probably for the best, anyway. Rushing into such things is never wise," he says with a nod.

"I'm not fierce or intimidatin', am I," Tasha whispers to no one in particular as she looks away. After frowning a moment, she looks back and nods to the buck. "I'll do what is required," she tells him, louder.

As the conies work, Tasha glances up at her hair. She turns this way, then that, then lifts her eyebrows so she can look up as well as she might – and can't seem to see it. She just blinks again, letting it go, and giving Abednego her full attention.

Abednego seems to be looking at Tasha's hooves for a moment, then turns his attention back to her face. "You will need to deliver a message to the priests, since that is the purpose of your visit. The message is: The Eyes of Abaddon are full of love for the warriors Merope of Cyclon and Alcyone of Kerebos, and Her belly quivers as if these were Her own Daughters. She blesses them both, and wishes a merciful outcome to their battle which ensures the prosperity of their blood."

It takes Tasha several tries to fully repeat the message, but she gets it eventually. It must be all those times Captain Eyeshine told her to go buy something for him, and she came back with the wrong one, earning an earful and a extra watch duty. "I guess it's 'ow it goes, right? At least Merope and Alcyone are real warriors," she tells the buck.

Layth finishes dressing and sits down on a nearby bench. He folds his hands in his lap and leans back against a pillar, letting his eyes droop closed for now.

Abednego tilts his ears to one side at the mention of 'real warriors', and says, "There are only live Warriors and dead Warriors." The conies begin dressing Tasha, wrapping a red tunic around her torso and making adjustments on the fly for her wings. A pair of knee-length red trousers are also brought out.

"It was nothin'. Jus' a thought," explains the Vartan quickly, eyes wide. Apparently, even after this long in Amazonia, Tasha still hasn't gotten used to a country full of people that hear better than she does. As she tries to look focused, she helps he conies dress her, then stands up full. "I don' need any boots or shoes," she notes.

Aaron eyes Tasha's new hairdo with a touch of concern. "It looks like your head is on fire, Tasha," he reports. Abednego says, "You lack the Vykarin dewclaw, but that is easy to overlook and should not be a concern. The clothing is enough to hide any other differences from the official imagery."

Tasha glances down at herself, wondering exactly how she differs from the 'official imagery.' Shaking her head, she looks to Aaron and says, "Ain't it appropriate? I'm a hot 'ead, ain't I?" Her tone is quite serious, making it sound less like a joke and more like a statement of fact. She does, however, grin slightly before looking back to Abednego. "If I might ask, 'ow exactly do I differ? Will tha' be a problem?"

"There are many heralds of Abaddon," Abednego explains. "The one you most closely resemble appears as a winged, unshelled Vykarin with the tail of a lion-Khatta and a mane of fire. Faced with the real thing – well, so to speak – any differences will simply be seen as artistic license. They may even update the imagery to better match your appearance."

"'Ow will they know I'm the real one?" Tasha looks back at her tail, wags it a bit as she asks the question, and the shoots Abednego a concerned look.

The Master of Sacrifices blinks at the question, and then explains, "They have no reason to suspect deception, and indeed, we are not truly deceiving them. How do you know that you are not the herald of Abaddon?"

"She certainly knows how to cause destruction," Layth comments idly in the background.

Tasha opens her mouth, looking worried. Before she says a word, she pauses, letting her muzzle close before she gives one firm nod. "If I'm not, I will be," she insists, very quietly.

"Calli thinks you're good luck in battle, if that means anything," Aaron adds.

Tasha's ears suddenly go askew. She pulls another 'I want to say something but changed my mind' move, and simply smiles.

"I had hoped a cloak would be enough to hide her until we got close to the temple," Aaron notes, and then waves at the fancy hairdo. "But no hood will cover that. Any suggestions?" he asks nobody in particular.

"We carry her in a covered chair," Layth suggests.

"Wha' if I just walk right up? Isn't that what Abaddon would do? March up an' … yell?" Tasha looks around, to gauge reactions to her suggestion.

Abednego rubs his chin, and suggests, "She can lie down in the back of a wagon, and cover herself in a blanket. Take her to Temple Square and make sure she knows which Temple to go to. Then, take her up to the Coliseum, and let her fly down to the temple from there."

"She can then walk into the temple and wait for the high priestess to arrive," the brown buck concludes.

"That would work too. Walking through town would be a bad idea," Layth comments idly, eyes still closed. "Hopefully no one will shoot her when she flies towards the temple. I do assume there are crossbows at the Coliseum."

"That seems a bit … " Tasha lets her voice trail off as the bucks discuss it, then just nods in a agreement. "I'll do it. I'm ready."

"The guardians of the city look outward, not inward," Abednego notes. "Once inside the city walls, there is little to fear. After all, why would anyone be looking up?"

Tasha's eyes suddenly widen. "Wha' about tha' Light 'o Primus," she asks.

"They'd be looking up because… ah… hmm," Aaron says, and peters out. "Right. No Eeee, no Aquilans, no Vartan… no reason to look up."

"Storms," Layth points out.

"Even if you were seen and thought a threat, the Eye could not hit such a small target at such close range," Abednego claims. "And there are no storms brewing today."

"It sounded bad," Tasha adds. By the way her ears flick, one can only imagine what she thinks the Light of Primus might be. Beam of light, lightning from the heavens, a giant flaming arbalest – any number of Tasha-toasting monstrosities. She looks immediately relived when she is declared too small to fry.

"So… her best protection is that nobody would be looking, and if she was seen… uh… well, the Temple of Abaddon is visited by just about everyone at some point, so they've all seen the image before," Aaron reasons, sounding like he's trying to convince himself of the low risk. He looks to Tasha, and asks, "Sure you want to try it? If anything happens, you can't exactly run. Passing over the city walls would expose you to even more danger."

Tasha stares at Aaron for a long moment, before nodding stubbornly. "I'm goin'. If somethin' happens … " she shakes her head, then narrows her gaze, which just makes her look more stubborn. "I'm goin'."

"She'll be fine," Layth notes and finally stands up. He adjusts his tunic quickly, adding, "It's better than sitting around here, at least. If it helps, all the better."

"Okay then," Aaron says, giving in. "I'll go fetch the wagon."

"Ah, good, I won't have to knock Master Lightfoot out and we sneak over to the temple," Layth says, looking moderately relieved. "He gave in."

Tasha gives herself the once over, and then she's off following Aaron out. When she nears Layth, she stop to give him a faint smile before heading out. "I'm goin'," she whispers to herself, very quietly, as she heads on out. I have to.


Temple Square
This section of Dianus is relatively free of the crowds that hurry about other precincts, such as the market. Gleaming marble temples and shrines rise up all around, facing towards the center of the square with gardens and fountains between and behind them. The largest temples represent the familiar Olympian deities, while smaller shrines are dedicated to minor gods and heroes. There are still plenty of Lapi present, but they move at the sedate pace of priests and priestesses, acolytes and supplicants.

The Temple of Abaddon, God of War, is understandably imposing. A twice-life-sized statue of the armored goddess stands before it, cut from rare red marble and armored in genuine bronze, holding aloft a bronze battle-axe. The temple itself uses the same red marble a bit more sparingly, reserving it for the public sacrificial pyre next to the statue and the base of the ornate support pillars. Bas-relief depictions of Lapi warriors doing battle with Khattas and monsters adorn the outer walls of the temple, watched over by Abaddon's winged heralds.

Hidden on the roof of the Temple of Logos, keeping her shadow cast into the allies behind the temple, Tasha eyes the Temple of War with some apprehension. "If I stay 'ere, I'm a coward," she tells herself. "A live coward, but a coward. If I go, I might die. I'm no' even a Lapi! I'm a … a big fake!" She punches her fist in to the marble of the Temple of Knowledge, wincing, but largely ignoring the pain. "Fake an' a coward. I guess I deserve it." She nods her head, then sucks in a breath before leaping off the roof and soaring towards the statue of the Goddess of War, where she intends to set down. Goddess, I know I'm a big fake – but I came! Give me a chance, an' I'll prove I can be worth somethin'! The Vartan sets her brow and descends before the statue – no turning back now.

Tasha's descent is first noticed by a young, red-robed acolyte who is sweeping around the base of the statue, who just happened to come around it and look up to wipe his (or her) brow. "Glark!" the acolyte chokes out, and falls on its rump when Tasha lands. The broom is completely forgotten.

Tasha abruptly turns to stare down at the acolyte, brows raised. She wasn't expecting this. The woman expected to be confronted by an imposing priest, or other person she could use what Abednego taught her on – but someone so young? Not only that, someone young who has just fallen on their rear and said, "Glark." Uncertain what to do, Tasha crosses her left arm over her right, balls her hands, and says, "May Prosperity arise from Blood and Chaos, through the Grace of Abaddon," while bowing – slightly.

Learned reflex overcomes shock, as the acolyte hops up to his feet and immediately returns the bow, although bowing much further than Tasha was taught to. "G-greetings Herald!" the acolyte nearly barks out. "How… uh… " he stumbles, at least sounding male to Tasha, if a bit young. He seems at a loss as to what he should do next.

Tasha's at a bit of a loss for what to do next, too. She realizes that standing directly before the statue, in a very obvious and public location, may cause a lot of commotion very soon if she doesn't do something, however. She stares at the boy as she thinks – then she has it: the high priestess. "I … bring a message." That's what Heralds do, isn't it? "For the priests."

The boy finally looks up, eyes wide, and seems to freeze again. A few of the priests, priestesses and acolytes of the other temples are gathering to watch, from a distance. Except for one, who comes over to put a hand on the boy's shoulder. Tasha can immediately recognize her as Celosia, one of Tyche's daughters and Calligenia's older sister. "Go fetch the high priest and priestess, Acolyte," she says softly. The boy blinks, stares at Celosia for a moment, then nods and runs back to the temple, tripping twice before hiking up his robes so he can run.

Tasha turns to watch Celosia approach, and is immediately beset by fear. Does she suspect? Is she goin' to call me a fake before the high priest and priestess, Tasha wonders, doing her best to conceal her anxiety. She thinks back to all those fights, those stand-offs, when only seeming tough saved her from a sound beating – or worse. She tries to act like that, even though the situation is as different as can be. "Celosia," she greets the other woman, neutrally. Maybe if I don't tip my 'and, she won't know how to take me. "'El- … Greetings."

The lovely brown doe smiles to Tasha and gives her a respectful bow, and says, "Ashtoreth's Blessings upon your mission, Herald." She then straightens up, and turns to walk back towards the Temple of Ashtoreth and the other acolytes there who have come out to watch.

Tasha returns the bow a second later, needing a moment to process the doe's response for sarcasm or treachery. Finding none, the Vartan can bow easy. That was close, she admits to herself. If that had gone bad, well, this could have very well been her last day. Trying not to think too hard on how this could still be her last day, she turns slowly to take in all the Lapi watching her.

The entrance to the Temple of Abaddon becomes much more active, as curious long-eared faces peek out around the edges, and two acolytes hurry out carrying some sort of wooden podium, which they quickly set up off to one side of Tasha, and just as quickly retreat back to the temple.

The Vartan examines the podium, too. She hadn't expected a podium. She thinks, in all her life, nothing she has ever done has earned her a podium. It's an absurd thought, and one that might have made her laugh at any other time but this. As it is, the podium just seems to emphasize the seriousness of the situation. She looks up at the statue, then, and wonders, Is this 'oly? Is this what sacred feels like?

Another acolyte appears, this one an older male close to Tasha's age. He carries and armful of scrolls and has a quill held in his teeth, along with an inkwell improbably balanced atop his head. Despite the ungainliness, he manages to set the scrolls down and set the inkwell into a holder on the podium without incident. He barely even glances at Tasha as he sorts through scrolls. Finding the correct one, he sets it into a pair of stirrups atop the podium and starts to unroll it, the parchment piling up at his feet, until he gets the to last line of writing. Only then does he take the quill from his mouth and dip it into the ink. He immediately writes down something on the scroll, then stops and waits, giving Tasha an apologetic smile.

Am I supposed to start talkin' now? Abednego didn't say anything about gigantic scrolls, podiums, or when to speak. He also didn't say there was a way they do this, Tasha tries to assure herself. Deciding speaking now may be an insult to the high priestess and priest, she waits, looking towards the doors to the temple and hoping she isn't making a fool of herself.

Another acolyte rushes out, slinging the strap of a small drum over her shoulders and carrying the sticks in her teeth. She stops and stands to one side as well, opposite the podium, and begins to play something that might be a processional, a march, or just noise. It certainly isn't anything one could dance to. It does, however, announce the arrival of the temple heads. A priest and a priestess, both dressed in flowing robes with ceremonial armor worn over them, begin to walk out from the Temple. Both wear ornate helmets and carry ceremonial weapons – the priestess a sword and the priest a spear. Unlike all of the other Lapis seen so far, they must have a bit of Warrior blood in them, since they're as tall as Tasha. They come before the Vartan, and the drumming finally stops.

Tasha decides she will have to have a word with Abednego later, if she survives. I'm on my own, she tells herself, although she really doesn't need the reminder. Time to be brave. At least if I'm killed, I didn't stand down. Now, she tries to feel the moment out. Abednego said … right. Crossing her left arm over her right, Tasha repeats her earlier greeting pose, saying, "May Prosperity arise from Blood and Chaos, through the Grace of Abaddon," as she bows as low as Abednego showed her.

The priest and priestess return the ceremonial bow, and then the priestess says, softly, "Your presence honors us, Herald of the Goddess of War." The acolyte with the pen scribes her words, and only when he is finished does she again speak. "What would Abaddon have of us, Her humble servants, oh Herald?"

Going with the flow, Tasha continues on, feeling as if the whole scene is carrying her along now. "I have a message." The Vartan leaves it at that, for a moment. It gives her a chance to remember, and she thinks it sounds dramatic that way. Once she remembers what she was supposed to say, she tells the priestess, "The Eyes of Abaddon are full of love for the warriors Merope of Cyclon and Alcyone of Kerebos, and Her belly quivers as if these were Her own Daughters. She blesses them both, and wishes a merciful outcome to their battle, which ensures the prosperity of their blood," and hopes she remembered it right – she certainly practiced it enough on the way here.

"Mer-o-pe," the acolyte mutters under his breath, along with the other words as he dutifully records them. The priest and priestess exchange a glance, and then the priestess bows again before replying, "We have received Abaddon's wisdom, and will act upon it as well as we can, Herald." For the first time, the priest speaks up, asking, "Is there naught else the Goddess wishes of us this day, Divine Messenger?"

There wasn't anything else to say, Tasha knows. Her job here is done. She's supposed to leave and return to the Coliseum, but she feels compelled to stay. I want to stay, Tasha realizes as she tries to puzzle out why. It's 'cause I'm a fake, that's why. I'm just a fake messenger, an' a phony person. I'm no' brave. I'm no Warrior. I jus' flirt so people will like me, an' respect me! That painful realization came earlier today, after Layth, when she was too tired to walk. It was as if her whole life came in to focus in a moment of clarity. Amazonia strips away all her bravado, and leaves her life bare. Not quite sure how to word what she wants, she looks over the priestess and priest, and says, "No," before adding, after a terrifying moment of indecision, "There's somethin' I want."

The quill stands poised over the parchment, and the priestess says, "Merely name it, Daughter of Abaddon."

They're goin' to write down everythin' I say. "I wan' to learn. Teach me, an' I will do my best to learn what you teach. The sword, the armor, the ways of a warrior – true bravery." I've lost me bloody mind, a part of Tasha wails. "As Aldara Tasha, that's what I want." After saying the words, Tasha feels a stunning, cold, feeling wash across her body. Maybe they'll think it's a joke, that same wailing voice in her head cries. But they wrote it down. They're goin' to kill me. "It's what I want," Tasha tells the priestess and priest, and the voice in her head. Maybe, now, the voice will leave her alone. The cold feels numbing, now, as if the whole moment had become a dream – or a nightmare. Too surreal to be real, Tasha can't help but feel like reality were now a play she's watching.

The acolyte scribes the words, not really paying attention to their meaning. The priest and priestess both look shocked, however. "Is this a Sign," the priest asks, very quietly. "Are the Gods preparing for war?"

Deciding Armageddon is, perhaps, not what she was aiming for, Tasha begins to say something – but stops. After all, how does she know, she wonders. She's a Vartan, alone, in Amazonia, born from a Jupani and a Vartan – an unlikely birth at best. Her whole life seems to rest on the razor's edge of sense and absurdity, as if written by a madman – or a god. She looks up at the statue, and wonders, Is it a Sign? Even to her it seems absurd, but … everything seems absurd right now. In a crazy moment like this, everything seems possible.

The priestess reaches over to stop the scribe's hand, causing the acolyte to blink in surprise. She then takes Tasha's left hand in her own, and quietly says, "We can train you in leadership, tactics and strategy, logistics and diplomacy. But martial skills are not ours to offer."

"Very well," Tasha says, her tone neutral and detached. Very well, her mind echoes at her. Very well! What the 'ell am I doin'! "I'll do my best."

The priestess smiles, for the first time, and lets go of Tasha's hand. "Return to us when you are ready to begin," she says, and then gestures to the drummer, who quickly starts up a different march. The priest and priestess bow, then turn and begin their sedate walk back into the temple.

Tasha nods her head, and then steps back once the priestess and priest turn away. She watches them walk for a moment, thinking back on all she said and finding everything still in a haze. Slowly, she turns from watching them to look around at the crowd and, looking at their faces, wondering if they're real – if she's real, and if this isn't a dream.

The drummer follows behind the priest and priestess, and the scribe works at blotting out some of the bits that weren't meant to be recorded, and blows on the rest to dry the ink. He also clears his throat, and whispers to Tasha, "Forgive my intrusion, Herald, but can I ask you a… personal question?"

"Aye," Tasha replies, reflexively. It feels to her that, right now, her body is running quite without her needing to move it.

"Um," the acolyte pauses, then asks, "Do you always have to wear your hair like that?"

Tasha thinks about that a moment. "It's traditional, it is," she decides, aloud. "Like the art." She lifts a hand and points towards the Temple of War.

The Acolyte glances back to the bas-relief, then bows to Tasha while gathering up his scrolls. "Ah, of course. The artist did not do you justice, if I may say so, Herald," he says, and hides a blush by folding his ears back before scurrying off.

Tasha nods slowly, although not because she appreciates the compliment. She does, but the way she feels now, she can't quite feel like herself – like the old Tasha. She feels like someone else, someone who isn't a hopeless flirt, and a big fake. After standing there a moment and considering all that's happened again, she remembers she'd best head off.

Stepping away from the statue, Tasha is about to leap into the sky before the woman remembers there's something she almost forgot. She turns to the statue of Abaddon and smiles. Thanks for not smitin' me, and for givin' me a chance. I'll try to be worth it, I will – even if I'm not a Lapi. She crosses her arms, bows to the statue, and then leaps in to the sky.

---

GMed by BoingDragon

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