The silence in the temple was deafening. No sound was heard in the deserted hallways and not even the chirping of birds filled the gardens. It was just before sunrise, and the usually crowded yards were empty. Neither the priests nor the people who came to seek the gods’ blessings were up yet. Not even any of the many refugees who sought sanctuary there was to be seen this early in the morning.
A sigh broke through the silence. On the roof overlooking one of the temple yards sat a young woman. She was the only one up, and she sat so still that no one would have noticed her, even if she hadn’t been.
Selissa shifted slightly. She had been sitting there for hours already, and her back was starting to get stiff. She knew that the priests would reprimand her for sitting out all night, just like they always did, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
A cold wind blew through the yard and made Selissa’s long, black hair fall into her face. She absentmindedly led a hand to her face to brush it away. The cold didn’t bother her. It helped chase away a very different kind of chill.
The nightmare was still vivid in her mind. It had plagued her for as long as she could remember. Ever since she first came to the temple.
How long had it been since then? Five years? Six? She couldn’t quite remember anymore.
Ghostly images still flashed through her mind when she closed her eyes. A dark room, filled with whispering voices. It was always the same. In the nightmare she was surrounded by cloaked figures. She would never see their faces, but their voices haunted her even during the day. A constant whispering, like they were chanting. A sudden pain shooting through her body, as if Hell itself tried to burn its way through her back.
She never saw what happened at the end. She would always wake up in cold sweat, as if the pain had been real, the chanting still resounding in her mind.
A noise broke her from her thoughts. She had barely noticed the first light shining in the horizon, announcing the start of the day. The apprentices were the first to show for the morning’s duties. Their first job of the day was to make sure everything was ready for the morning Mass.
Selissa knew the priests would be making their way to the great hall by now to perform the Mass. She never needed to know what time it was. The life in the temple was so structured and predictable, she could hardly remember the last time something out of the ordinary happened. Every day started out with the Mass in the morning and ended with a ritual at night. After the Mass the classes would start. The apprentices would study in the library or assist the priests in teaching the children who came to the temple for guidance. Once a week, the priests would perform the Blessing for everyone who wished for the gods’ protection. Every once in a while, some of the refugees living at the temple would get into a fight, but the priests would always make sure to put an end to it. More than once, she had gotten involved in those fights and been on the receiving end of a couple of punches. But that was the worst that ever happened under the temple’s roof.
She knew the priests had to pass by the place she was sitting to get to the great hall. And she knew that if they saw her sitting there, they would not only pester her about staying out at night, but also make her attend the Mass.
She quickly jumped down from the roof, as quietly as possible, so the passing apprentices wouldn’t notice her. Sneaking around without getting discovered was a skill she had mastered early in her time living there.
She knew exactly which hallways would be empty at this time, so it was easy to avoid the temple’s other residents. She made her way through the maze-like corridors, which she knew like the back of her hand, to the garden farthest away from the main halls of the temple.
She smiled as the garden came into view. The morning light bathed it in an almost ethereal light, painting the grass in a pale green color, which couldn’t be seen at any other time of day.
The garden was almost isolated from the rest of the sanctuary, and Selissa felt like she was stepping into a completely different world as she entered it. The sound of human activity was closed out, and as she slowly made her way across the grass, the only noise made was of the birds that were just beginning to wake up.
She liked the solitude the garden provided. It let her escape from the life of the temple, even if just for a little while. She was thankful to the priests who had taken her in all those years ago, and they had always treated her well, but still she knew she didn’t belong there. It was like there was an invisible wall between her and everyone else. It didn’t make sense to everyone else, but she felt the least alone when she was by herself.
She walked through the garden, slowly approaching the small lake that filled the back. She could hear the muted sound of rippling water as she watched the light play across the surface.
She sat down by the edge and watched the water move quietly. The wind had blown a few leaves into the water, and rings were slowly spreading, disturbing the surface.
As the water stilled, Selissa found her reflection staring back at her. A narrow face, defined by high cheekbones, was framed by thick, dark hair, but it was rarely that which caught peoples’ attention. The pair of eyes staring back at her looked like they were made of pure silver, the pupils so faint it seemed like they were not even there. They stood in sharp contrast to her dark hair and made the reflection shimmering across the surface seem unreal.
She sighed to herself. It was no wonder people kept their distance. She knew that those strange, silvery eyes unnerved them. The way she looked reminded them of the demons in the myths who took the shape of humans. In a place where people worshipped the angels, those eyes made everyone wary of her.
She was so lost in her thoughts that she almost missed the sound of footsteps. Her head snapped up when she noticed the sound and scanned the garden for the intruder.
A young man, dressed in priest robes, stepped into the garden and walked towards her. She relaxed immediately when she recognized him.
Calen had been an apprentice at the temple when Selissa first came there. He was one of the people who had found her lying battered and bruised outside the sanctuary grounds all those years ago, when she was taken in by the temple’s priests.
Even though he had long since passed his exams and had become a priest, to her he was still the same as back then. The years hadn’t changed his boyish, but kind face much and he still had the same shaggy, blond hair that gave him a permanent disheveled look.
“Skipping Mass again?” He asked, as he approached her. There was no accusation in his voice, and the smile on his face told her that he was more amused by her actions than disapproving.
Some of the tension disappeared from her shoulders. Calen was the closest thing she had to a friend and being around him always made her feel at ease. “I’m not skipping. I’m just not attending.” Selissa answered promptly, before realizing how stupid it sounded. Calen’s smile widened and he let out a chuckle.
“The High Priest won’t be happy with you, you know.” He said, sitting down next to her.
She scowled and rested her head in her hands. “That old man is never happy, is he? I might as well be slacking, since he needs something to complain about anyway.”
Calen let out a sigh, even though the smile never left his face. He was so used to her antics by now that he didn’t even try to correct her.
“Why did you come out here anyway? I guess you didn’t just want to remind me that I wasn’t at Mass.” Selissa asked, suddenly realizing that he must have had a purpose in coming to find her.
“Some refugees and travelers arrived this morning to seek sanctuary here. Since you skipped Mass again, the High Priest wants you to help getting them settled in.” As Calen said this, he started to rise from his place beside her and extended his hand to help her up.
She stared at it for a moment, before reluctantly accepting it. How bad could it be?
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