When I finally got to the temple, Nehcor’s voice in my mind didn’t sound upset. He explained that he had told me to keep it quiet for as long as possible so as to slow down the timeline of his plan.
‘Things will be picking up now,’ he said. ‘That’s all. Though, still, you probably shouldn’t be hanging ‘I’m from your god’ over his head, so you’re right to keep that quiet, for the sake of your relationship, though he’s going to figure it out eventually. It’s just about timing. But wow, weren’t you stupid not thinking of that when you were all ‘just use my mind for practice!’ Talk about not thinking. You really should have asked Milly or Hal, buuuuut I knew you wouldn’t do that. So, again, all according to plan. You’re doing great. Two thumbs up.’
I wanted to call bullshit on him. It was sloppy on his part and we both knew it, though I guess god doesn’t lie, so…oh, whatever. Today’s prayers were going to be short.
At least Gus seemed to be actually praying this time instead of fidgeting and whining to me about how stupid this all was.
‘You should practice your magic more from now on. You’ll find more uses for it in the future. Just this loving brother’s advice.’
Advice my ass. Advice from a god was as good as a commandment, because if ignored you’d either a. get misery or, b. seriously miss out, which was what commandments were for, right? Don’t kill so you don’t get killed? Don’t cheat or else you’ll screw up your family, ruin other people’s lives, and cause major drama?
‘Which is why I don’t give as much as you think I should. You should find things out for yourself.’
Stop reading my mind and answer what’s prayed to you. Shouldn’t there be some sort of godly courtesy rules like that?
I could feel his mirth. ‘Oh, Lillian, you’re still so much like you were when you were little, it’s great. It makes me wish I’d just kept you here. You and my wife would have ganged up on me over everything, it’d be hilarious.’
…Is that really something you should be happy about?
Every time I talked to him he seemed less and less godlike and more like an ordinary human.
‘Seeing as I am human, just an immortal, all powerful one—‘
Stop reading my mind!!
I was getting tired anyways, so I left after that. Not the most enlightening or spiritually uplifting of experiences I’d had.
“Why do you often leave the temple looking irritated?” Gus happened to ask while we were leaving.
I just sighed and closed my eyes, hoping that was a natural enough way to not meet his gaze as I said, “Just because it reminds me of how imperfect I am.”
“Don’t really see how just kneeling in front of a statue can do that…”
“It makes me reflect on the scriptures and commandments. It’s place of mind, Gus, place of mind. It would do good to get your mind there too.”
“Sure. We’re getting an ice cream, right?”
“Only if you don’t bully Glen.”
“It’s not bullying. I’m just a little kid, he’s a grown ass man, how could I bully him?”
“Oh, now you’re a little kid? That’s rich.” Then, as an afterthought. “Language.”
Gus tched and let me win that one, though he managed to slide his hand into mine as smooth as butter, natural as breathing. He didn’t try conveying any thoughts to me, though I could feel the lightest touch of his magic as he kept an eye on my thoughts. The loud ones, at least, as I didn’t know how much he could see from the nerves in my hands. He always found an excuse to do that when we visited the bakery, for whatever reason, because if I managed to shut him up he’d have another way to sneak in his jokes to me at the poor baker’s expense.
Mind in the right place indeed.
When I took back my hand, he pouted.
“I don’t want to hear your nastiness,” I said.
Gus sighed, but didn’t try to reclaim my hand. Which was good, because I would have smacked him if he did.
We’d just gotten back to the inn and sat down to tell Hal about our trip, all while helping him pick out dirt from the cracks between the walls and floor, when a messenger arrived at the back door. All deliveries, mail or otherwise, came to the back door. Helped Hal and Milly keep their privacy from their patrons and not block the door to business, if nothing else.
I ooed and awed at the pretty paper, only to find it, to my surprise, handed to me.
“For a miss Lillian Maybeth Strobelt.”
“You have a last name?” said Milly in surprise.
“You have a middle?” Hal said.
The wax seal broke easily in my nails. The seal would have told me who it was from, but since I was bunk at that, I didn’t bother much at the carving of the bird.
I hope that your offer of service to the temple is still available. If it is, send your answer via this messenger and I’ll be back with you soon on a date and time.
Priest Miurian Domkalt
“Any you have a pen?” I asked.
“A what?” asked Milly.
“Oh, something to write with. I have to return an answer.”
“What is it?” Gus asked.
“Is it a man asking you out for courting meetings?” asked Hal, somehow amused by the thought.
“No, it’s from the temple—come on, people, writing utensil. We can’t keep this man waiting.”
“Actually,” said the messenger, who looked to be the age Gus was suppose to look, “My feet hurt, so, um, I’m cool with waiting.” He blushed when he met my gaze and looked down.
Gus snorted. “Sure your feet hurt.”
Ignoring whatever prostrating was happening there, I followed Milly inside and took the paper wrapped charcoal stick she handed me to scribble a ‘Yes. When and where?’ on the back of the letter, hoping my fledgling attempts at this world’s penmanship was okay. I asked Milly if it was legible, and she said yes, though her reading and writing skills were only enough to keep inventory of the inns supplies. I had invited them in on Gus and mine’s reading and writing lessons with the good ol’ book, but they had never seen it worth the time sacrificed where they could spend prepping for evening business. It was a little odd for me, who had been raised in an education-centered society, to have almost illiterate people see no need to become literate.
When I came back out, Hal had returned to his dirt picking inside (becoming an inn owner was probably not the best career choice for someone as OCD about cleanliness as him). I handed the letter off to the freckled youth to run off with and patted my boy’s silvery head, just because I could.
Gus shot me a questioning look from beneath my hand.
“You need friends, boy.”
He frowned. “Excuse me?”
“Socialization. Old fogies like Hal, Milly and me can’t make up for interacting with kids your own age. Why don’t you take what’s left of our day off to go out and make some friends?”
He didn’t like that idea, but he didn’t shrug off my hand, for which I was glad. His hair was soft and smooth as the metal it imitated. I wondered if it would be worth it to goad him into growing it out so I could braid it and all sorts of fun things.
“I don’t need friends my own age. I got my fill of that rubbish when I lived on the streets.”
“Oh, dumb me, it’s like I think you started to exist when I found you. You probably have old friends from before we met, huh?”
He gave me the blandest of dry looks, so much so I began to think I’d insulted his dead mother.
“If I had any such friends, do you think I would have been dying?”
“…Yeah, that was dumb. I’m dumb.”
“I can’t believe I even have to remind you of this,” he pointed to his eyes. “Red eyes. Bad omen. Dark magic.”
“Come on, not everyone’s got to be hung up over that. Hal and Milly—“
“Gave me the benefit of a doubt until your big break down. You know what Hal told me?”
Well, technically, that was his big break down, turning into the panic attack wreck that needed to be chloroformed by Hal. But, you know, whatever. I’d bite.
“Don’t do it?”
“That if he caught me using dark magic on anyone again, he’d have his friend in the city guard kick me out of the city after plucking my eyes out so I couldn’t find my way back in.”
It was like icy water had been dumped over my head.
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