To Know You
With his place as Maya’s right hand decided, the ceremony crowning Maya as the god of the cult and its new official leader went smoothly. Everyone cheered as she raised her scepter, their cries echoing in the cavity of the tooth. She vowed to overthrow the gods for a better future, and they chanted and cried out her name like a roaring tiger. Shane knelt before her, his bangs tickling his face. He took an oath of loyalty to Maya and she dipped her scepter on each of his shoulders before declaring him her second-in-command.
At least, this is what should have happened.
Instead, just as the crown was about to touch her head, Shane heard a low buzzing sound that quickly crescendoed into a distorted ringing. By the time Shane noticed the source it was too late to stop it. The energy blast zoomed past him, repelling him with the force of the blast as it aimed for Maya. He watched, his voice stuck in his throat as it hurtled toward her, helpless to help due to the sluggishness that still lingered in his body and the force of the blast. He couldn’t save her, and that was a painful helplessness.
Instead of succumbing to the blast like he dreaded though, Maya dodged with an elegant swirl of her body and sent a large bolt of lightning back in return. It prickled at his skin, the pressure of Maya’s power weighing down on his body. Seconds after, the blast crashed into one of the pillars, causing a wave of energy to be unleashed. Shane gritted his teeth as the force of it nearly pushed him to his knees. Save her? What a joke. She could kill them all and step on their backs as she climbed the steps to her throne.
The lights go out at the impact, but Shane didn’t hear the sound of the pillar crumbling, so it was probably reinforced with some powerful magic. That was good.
Shane saw another small spark in the darkness before the lights flickered on, revealing Maya holding someone by the wrist, a glass spray bottle in their hand. “Florence?” Shane asked, voice filled with disbelief.
Florence’s face was so still it looked like it had been molded that way. “I’m sorry, but for the good of Bai Hu, you need to be eliminated," she said, trying to spray Maya with the spray bottle again.
Maya sent a bolt of electricity through Florence, and she gasped, causing her to drop the spray bottle. Having a bad feeling about what the contents might be, Shane rushed to catch it as quickly as his sagging body would allow. He succeeded, standing up and backing away cautiously. “Don’t lie. You’ve had it out for me since I got here,” Maya said, but not before sending him a quick look of gratitude.
“What would you know? You’re oblivious to everyone but yourself.”
“And you can’t see past your own ambition.” Maya cocked her head to the side. “You’ve stopped training the other members, and even hidden some of the books on magic from them. I see your kids more than you do now, and you know? They miss you, but you’re too busy threatening our engineer into creating magical weapons for a revolt instead of dealing with our energy problems.”
“Don’t bring my kids into this,” she seethed. “It’s not about them. It’s about me. Is it so wrong, that I want to be more than a mother? Can’t I do something for me? They’re all grown, and I’ve made revolutionary strides in magic. I’m a gifted and successful magician. The one to take out the gods should be me. “
“Then let it be you,” Maya said.
Florence reeled back in shock. “What do you mean?”
Maya looked to the pews. The priests and priestesses seem unsettled, but many of them were too afraid to move.
“Hear me, people of Bai Hu! Florence is not undeserving of a place as a god—as a leader, and as a magician, she is far more experienced than I. While there’s no doubt I will be the one to overthrow the gods, if you believe in Florence, follow her. I only want to be worshiped by those who have faith in me.”
A soft murmur went through the room as the members of Bai Hu consulted with each other. As they did so, Florence stepped back, still in a daze. Shane examined the red liquid in the spray bottle, tilting it up against the light.
“Sleeping Beauty oil,” Florence answered without being asked, gliding to his side as Maya watched over the members. “It causes an eternal slumber that can only be fixed by true love’s kiss. I really thought it would work. That spray bottle shoots liquid faster than most laser guns.”
“So you weren’t trying to kill her then,” he concluded.
Florence closed her eyes. “No. I wanted her to sleep for a long, long time. With you here, that was hardly possible, even if it would take you some time to figure out what I sprayed her with.” She glowered up at him. “You ruined all my plans.”
“You did something to me when you healed me earlier, didn’t you? I haven’t been able to move properly since Master Terra bound me.”
“That’s surprisingly sharp of you. I didn’t think you were the kind of man to notice such details.”
“Well, I’m a Fishing Master. If I don’t watch the fish carefully, I can’t get them.”
She laughed. “You’re a Fishing Master? No wonder then. My apologies. Maya told us a lot, but not quite that much.”
Shane wasn’t surprised. “Whenever people found out I was a Fishing Master they came to challenge me. It got quite annoying, and it interfered with my fishing. Maya knew I hated the attention, so she probably wouldn’t tell many people about that.”
“Only thinking of herself…” Florence said under her breath as her eyes drifted back to Maya, her face resolute and her back straight as she faced the crowd.
“I guess being considerate is a new trait of hers, then.”
“I’m surprised you can say that considering what she’s doing for you right now. She’s setting you free, knowing how talented you are so you can reach your full potential, even if you eventually get in her way.”
Shane didn’t expect Maya to make such a selfless move, and he could truly understand the fundamental change this was in her character. But maybe selflessness wasn’t the word for her altruism. No, like Florence said, considerate might be a better word for it. It was almost as if…Maya was being considerate of Florence because she wanted people to be considerate of her wishes too.
“Whatever happens, it seems that Maya wants to let you forge your own path,” Shane said with finality.
“Will you be able to help her do the same? I’m surprised you can even support her in this.”
“Right now, this is who she is; this is what she wants. I can’t control that. Honestly, this conflict has shown me I can’t even control whether she’s safe or not.” Shane looked up into the endless expanse of the Cavity Combs. “All I can do… is be by her side.”
“That’s not true, Shane,” Maya fluttering over on light feet. “You don’t have to stay by my side if you want to. When I said that the members of Bai Hu can leave with Florence, that also means…you. You and Florence seem to get along so—”
Shane knelt down and flicked her forehead lightly. “I came for you. Not for the cult, not for the chance of victory in this battle against the gods—just you. Don’t forget that. “
Little sparks of electricity jump from her cheeks, and he could tell she was embarrassed by his words. “You still talk so old-fashioned, don’t you?””
“I’m still surprised I picked up on your father’s speech, while you picked up on my father’s,” Shane said.
“Well, it’s only natural. Your father trained me and vice versa. The source of your fire is different from everyone else, and my father was the only one with a vague idea of how to train you to handle it.”
“Not that it did me much good in the end; I still can’t control it very well.”
They were so immersed in conversation they didn’t notice the priest standing at the steps until he cleared his throat three times. All three of them looked down at the priest at the same time, startling him. “We-we have reached a verdict, Lady Maya and Lady Florence.”
“So? What have you decided?” Maya asked, the nostalgia in her voice quickly changing to reflect her authority.
The priest looked at Lady Florence. “We have decided, with the exception of Reka, Letitia, and Garrette, that we will follow Lady Florence.”
The silence that followed this statement was deafening. Then, with a loud cry, the priests and priestesses called out, “Please lead us to victory, Lady Florence!”
“Why…” Florence trailed off, shocked by their overwhelming support.
The priest placed a hand across his chest. “We have known you for a long time milady. You could say that we all joined and built this cult together. To abandon you after all these years for a young girl we do not share a history with who also lacks experience…we would not wish to do such a thing.”
Maya’s head was bowed as he spoke, and Shane could not see her face as she accepted the fact that the majority of her followers did not actually wish to follow her. Her breaths came steady and deep, the noise speaking to a peace and resignation he wasn’t sure how she was able to resign herself to. Maya had been here three years, presumably. Yet in all that time, she did not manage to win the hearts of her people.
Shane didn’t know if he should call it a discredit to her, due to the circumstances of her coming here (and the possible unwilling destiny thrust upon her), but he felt she deserved to be praised for her wisdom. No one needed false worshipers, especially when pursuing the greatest powers in the world.
Eventually she lifted her head, eyes filled with determination. “Thank you for your honesty! And for those of you who stayed, I thank you Letitia, Reka, and Garrette." She turned to Master Terra, who had mysteriously reappeared after the attack transpired. “And to you too, Master Terra.”
“Now then,” she said, her tone almost cheery. “I want you all gone by morning. If not…” Shane heard thunder rumble in the distance, and lightning crackled from her fingertips threateningly. “I’ll show you the vengeance of a wrathful goddess.”
At her command, the priests and priestesses scrambled like pixie dust, many of them scurrying past them to the platform to gather their belongings. “Florence,” Maya called, causing the older woman to straighten. Maya offered her hand. “Just know that someday, in a room full people like this, I am the one they will choose to follow.”
Florence looked down at her hand for a moment before taking it, offering Maya a tentative smile. “Next time I see you, I won’t miss with the squirt bottle.”
Maya put her hand to her head and sighed. “Even now, you can’t bring yourself to say something nice to me, can you? Look how gracious I’m being to you!”
“I’m going to be a goddess,” Florence said, her hands proudly set on her hips and her green eyes glowing. “I don’t have to thank a lesser being for rescuing me from a situation I could have saved myself from.”
“Be careful what you say, Florence,” Shane warned. “You’re not a goddess yet.”
Florence laughed and waved as she went to get her own things. “Farewell. Until the end of the gods.”
They were gone by morning, just like Maya ordered. Despite being unwilling to concede to her leadership as ruler of Bai Hu, they did not doubt her power, nor that she would use it on them.
Right now, they were out hunting, the morning light just settling onto the horizon, lighting the meadows and fields in uneven patches of light. They were currently in one of the forests that existed a moderate distance form the Cavity Combs, searching for the unlucky animal to serve as their breakfast.
Maya had insisted he come along, even going so far as to jolt him awake with her magic. It was a small shock, something he barely felt, but it was enough. And now, as he stood in the cold morning wind, watching Maya grab a boar by its horns and shock it to death, he wondered if it was displays like this that kept the cult in line all this time.
Maya wiped her brow and smiled at him. “Phew, breakfast served! It’s a lot easier to hunt for a few people than the whole bunch.”
“You always did the hunting?” Shane asked as he grabbed the boar and lifted it onto his shoulder effortlessly. The weight was heavy, but he appreciate that it evened out the weight he had from the ox on his right shoulder and the basket of fruits and vegetables on his back.
“No, usually I did it. They went hunting with me the first time and then didn’t want to go again.”
It might be because they were afraid you’d kill them with that lighting.
“Well, it just shows how good of a hunter you are, I suppose.”
“You 'suppose'?” She snorted. “Just admit that I’m good at it. I know I never did this before, but you could at least give me some credit for learning something new while we were separated."
A new skill…which told him that some of her memories of hunting in the past were not there. He didn’t know how much she remembered, except that she remembered him. Did she remember everything about him? How much time had she known him for in her memory?
A whole new world of concern opened up in his heart. What else had she forgotten? He did his best to shake off his increasingly negative thoughts. Right now, there was nothing else to do but fill his belly and continue to observe her carefully.
“I am proud. Now if you could just learn how to carry your game too…”
She kicked some dirt at him playfully. “If you’re complaining about how much this stuff weighs, you’ve gone soft.”
When they arrived back, the Cavity Combs were incredibly quiet, their feet the only sound echoing in the halls. He looked down at her. Her expression was unreadable, and it seemed this was something about her that hadn’t changed. There were times where Maya was indecipherable to him—a mystery to rival even the origin of the gods or the creators of this great prophecy, and now was one of those moments.
Shane chose not to comment on it. Shane knew that when Maya was like this, it was better to leave her alone. It’s not as if she would respond anyways even if he did ask.
They ride to the fourth floor in silence, walking the carpeted halls until they reach the kitchen.
The kitchen, much like the room Florence’s medical room, had wallpaper. The only difference was that in here it was curling and peeling off the walls, no doubt due to age and the heat of the stoves.
It was a wide and long room, filled with several stove tops, ovens, and other cooking machinery. Luckily, thanks to magic circuits, most of them didn’t require much energy to work. The need for less energy devices also created more space in the kitchen, and it was a common practice to design kitchens this way in most bakeries and restaurants Shane had been to.
“Ah, not that one,” Maya said as she moved to one of the stoves further down. “This is actually the only one that works. Our engineer was supposed to fix the magic circuits in the others because they’re old, but I guess I know why Reka was putting it off now…”
Shane placed the boar and the ox on a massive cutting table next to the stove. As Maya prepared the pots and pans, he sorted through the fruit, carefully organizing them into piles. “Was Reka at the ceremony yesterday? I didn’t get to meet him.”
“Well, he was probably manning the cannon so—Shane!”
He blinked, his hand hovering over the last fruit in the basket. “What?”
She inspected all the fruit he had brought, taking each in hand and looking increasingly annoyed at what she saw. “You picked all the poisonous ones again! After I taught you so many times not to! I even made you sit with the village herbalist and learn from him!”
“I can’t help if they all look the same.”
“Some of them aren’t even the right colors!” She pinched her nose and sighed. “You managed to become a Fishing Master, and you even figured out that Florence did something to you, yet why is it when it comes to vegetation you…”
“Sorry. I’ll probably let it happen again.”
“Don’t worry. It’s my fault for not remembering how terrible you are at this.”
Shane felt tempted to ask her what she meant by that. Was it a temporary slip, or did she genuinely not remember?
Before he could make up his mind to ask or not, she nudged a large butcher knife into his hands. “Cut. I’ll go and pick the right stuff, so watch the stove for me, okay?”
He nodded. Lightning sprung from her feet as she took a starting position and bolted out of the kitchen. Shane continued at his task for no more than a few minutes before Maya was back, the proper fruits and vegetables in tow, and a big grin on her face.
“You didn’t really forget that I was bad at picking fruits and vegetables, did you?"
“Nope! But it was cute to see you try. I wanted to see if you learned something new while we were apart too.” Maya smiled softly. “Seems like I still have more things to teach you.”
Shane shook his head and smiled down at her. “I suppose you’re right.”