Part 6) Asta
Asta had not had the best of days. If anything, she had found the past twenty-five hours more draining and discouraging than everything that she and Loden had dealt with during their trials on that elsewhere world.
After stepping through the gate with the Eldra, Asta appeared in the High Temple of Mercy in the city of GreensBridge. She had appeared under the great statue of the Goddess, below the hand of guidance, facing many hundred of her fellow sisters who had been gathered for the morning service. The High Seat had been in attendance as well, sitting in a throne-like chair on a raised dais, centred along the southern wall.
Her sudden appearance had caused a serious kerfuffle. Some of those gathered had thought she was the avatar of the Goddess, spontaneously manifest, others had thought she was a sorceress, set to attack the temple. About a third of the priestesses had dropped to their knees and started paying homage to her, another third turned and fled while the remaining women moved to protect the High Seat or to confront Asta.
More troublesome had been the fact that there was no sign of the Eldra man, nor Loden. She had raised her left hand and clearly spoke, “Peace be with you, Sisters of Mercy.” Her voice was amplified considerably due to the way the temple was built, nearly everyone had stopped in their tracks. “Peace be with you,” chorused the women who had dropped to their knees. The closest priestesses regarded her cautiously. She was surprised by how fit and robust those that had advanced on her were, though she had regarded the intimidating group calmly.
Then the High Seat stood, pointed to Asta and commanded, “Bring the blasphemer to me!”
She had been about to go over to the High Seat when those that had originally advanced on her brutishly grabbed her. She was stripped her of the bundle she carried, the satchel and even the nice knife she had recently acquired. Then two off the biggest women had grabbed her by the arms, one to either side, and lifted her off her feet. Asta was marched over to the dais and unceremoniously dumped on the lower step. She also banged her knee.
Asta stood up, habitually dusting herself, though she found that her clothing was clean and unruffled. The High Seat glared down at her from above, “Explain yourself, woman.”
Asta, totally taken aback by this point, was initially at a loss for words. Those behind her started asking what was going on. The High Seat silenced them with a gesture, returning her penetrating gaze to Asta, “Speak.”
Asta cleared her throat, gave a curtsy, despite wearing pants, “It is an honour to meet you High Seat. May the Goddess’ wisdom guide your council.”
The older woman continued to glare down at her, Asta noted that the High Seat wore very ornate robes, a lot of jewellery and spent a great deal of time with cosmetics, trying make herself look younger. Not what she had expected, but of course she was used to a much more rural setting than the High Temple of Mercy. It was to be expected that things would be different here.
One of the brutes beside Asta swatted her across the back of the head, “You’ve been commanded, explain yourself.”
“Ow!” Asta glared at the woman and gently rubbed the back of her head where she had been struck. Exasperated she huffed, then took a couple of calming breaths before attempting to explain herself.
As she told her story, she had to admit that much of it, everything after Towwit Falls, sounded rather far fetched. Though, she did have the Eldra artifacts as proof and she even flipped her hair back to show the mark on her forehead when she explained how the Goddess had marked her and Loden. Many of the women in the temple were moved by her story and there were no small number of “Goddess be praised,” that sounded from behind her during various parts of her accounting. She did note the skepticism on the High Seat’s face when she claimed to have smote a drake.
When her tale had come to its end everyone in the temple was silent, looking on expectantly. The High Seat looked up to the ceiling, closed her eyes and raised her hands, palm upwards. She muttered under her breath for a few moments. Then she asked, “Where are these men you spoke of? The ancient one and the other one you claim was marked?”
“I’m not sure.”
The older woman rolled her eyes and gave a dismissive wave, “Take this apostate to the Silent Sisters. Take these… trinkets to my chambers for further inspection.”
Then there had nearly been a riot. Many of the gathered Priestesses vocally objected, while the more militant faction was quick to defend the High Seats commands. The women started pushing one another while some demanded the High Seat be removed from her position and still others wailed at the outrage of the atrocity they were witnessing. Pushes quickly became shoves and a few punches were thrown. Asta could not believe what she was witnessing, quietly she asked the Goddess to save them from themselves.
Suddenly Asta and another dozen or so women throughout the hall began to radiate light. It quickly became overwhelmingly intense to those around them and the melee broke off as most people were forced to shield their eyes. No small number of women called out praises or asked for forgiveness. Many fell to their knees and wept.
In the relative silence, Asta said clearly, “I will go to the Silent Sisters now and allow the High Seat to meditate on this issue.”
No one moved. The High Seat looked down at her as if stricken. Asta looked around, “I’m not sure where to go. Could someone take me to the Silent Sisters?”
She very quickly had a number of people willing to do so and others followed them out. “Sister! What will you do?”
She turned and faced those following her, she was more than a bit surprised by how many now gathered around her. Someone else asked, “Are you the Avatar of Mercy?”
Asta took a breath and spoke to the women, “I do not believe that I am the Avatar of the Goddess. I’m also unaware of what transpires here and have only a vague notion of what has been happening in Swampdon. So I will accept a room with the Silent Sisters and seek the guidance of the Goddess. Perhaps by tomorrow morning I will have a better idea of what She intends for me. Now, if one of you could take me the rest of the way, I’ll allow the others to return to their duties.”
Asta turned and headed off, after a moment another priestess fell in stride with her. Asta glanced over and saw a middle aged woman with wide hips, hair just starting to turn a silvery grey and a contemplative look on her face. Asta could see by the vestments she wore that she was part of one of the specialized orders, though she was not familiar with which one. The woman also wore the gold chains of a Cira-di, she remained silent as they walked. They came to a cherry orchard, much of the fruit was nearly ripe, the woman gestured to a lane that ran through the orchard and they walked towards the far end of the grounds.
“You’ve ruffled more than a few feathers today.”
“It seems so. Though, in all honesty I don’t understand what happened in the temple.”
“Perhaps that is best.”
“When is ignorance a mercy?”
“Do you seek to understand the local politics or would you follow the path the Goddess of Mercy intends for you?”
“I’ve always tried to follow the will of the Goddess.”
“That is your answer. Remaining ignorant of the local politics, at least for now, will allow you to more clearly see Her will.”
They were within a dozen paces of the door to an old Elquin manor at the back of the temple grounds. The Cira-di stopped, “Within you will find the Silent Sisters.”
“Thank you, for your wisdom.”
“Thank you, for following Her will.” And with that she turned and left, striding purposefully back the way she had come.
Asta turned back to the old manor. It was a tall and narrow stone building with a conical topped tower at the far end, the main structure was three or four stories tall. The tower was half as tall again, perhaps twenty or so paces high. It was a much more pristine version of some of the buildings and ruins she had seen around Towwit Falls.
Asta walked up the short set of worn stone steps and pulled open the narrower of the two tall wooden doors set into the arching doorway. She had heard a lot about the Silent Sisters, she was curious about what she would find within.