Chapter 4:

Immaterial Eating

To Know You

When Shane and Maya finally finish cooking and plating the food, they bring it into the dining hall just next door, letting the savory aroma of freshly cooked meat waft through the hall. As expected of a cult that was home to a few hundred members until yesterday, the dining hall was extremely spacious. Most of the tables didn’t seem to be distinguishable from each other.Bookmark here

However, in the middle of the hall there was a regal looking table carved out of wood, unlike the bone the other tables were made out of. It was akin to the size of a family table and looked quite small surrounded by all the long tables covered in tablecloths surrounding it. Bookmark here

While the dining tables didn’t stand out too much, the rest of the dining was where the luxury lied. There were chandeliers hanging high in the ceilings and plush pillows for bums for the benches. There was even an indoor fountain that created drinks depending on the input magical input, changing the liquid into the preferred flavor with the tap of a button. Right next to this ingenious fountain was a chocolate fountain, and right next to that was a snack bar. Bookmark here

It was robust, and with the cult severely downsized, most of it would be seeing much less use than before. Except that chocolate fountain. Shane loved chocolate covered fruits, and this was a perfect opportunity to have what was previously a rarity in his life daily. As Shane and Maya put the dishes on the table and waited for the guests to arrive, he did find himself wondering what her plans were. “This place looks like it can fit a lot of people. Have you thought about how many members you would like to recruit?”Bookmark here

She stuck her tongue out in concentration as she carefully placed the silverware in the correct order. “Hmmm, maybe ten at most?”Bookmark here

Shane paused as he was adjusting the salad. “But that would mean…there’s already five of us serving you.”Bookmark here

Maya nodded. “If I want to improve my leadership, I need to start out small, I think. Besides, those ten will be the ones to help me usher in a new era. They could end up being leaders of the flock themselves! Regular worshippers will come naturally in due time. “Bookmark here

“P-Please don’t say something so scary, Lady Maya.”Bookmark here

Maya brightened. “Reka, great timing! We just finished setting the table for breakfast.”Bookmark here

Maya reached over and slung an arm around his shoulder and smiled at him. Reka was about the same height as Maya, with pale skin and fine blond hair. He looked almost sickly, given his build. Reka gave Maya a small smile, placing a hand over hers. “I-I’m looking forward to your cooking.”Bookmark here

Wait. Why did that name sound familiar? “Wait. Weren’t you the one manning the cannon that almost killed her yesterday?”Bookmark here

Reka immediately seemed uncomfortable again, his ice blue eyes shifting back and forth as he quivered in fear. “I’m very sorry for what I did. I didn’t want to, but Lady Florence, she…”Bookmark here

“Threatened you?” Maya finished.Bookmark here

Reka nodded his head furiously. “She-she did! I didn’t want to betray Lady Maya, pleasebelieveme!” he said in a rush, his words becoming garbled.Bookmark here

“Why?” Bookmark here

Reka seemed unsure of what to say, seemingly curling in on himself even more than before. Bookmark here

Maya patted Shane on the back. “Relax, Shane! Reka actually joined Bai Hu because of me!”Bookmark here

“T-That’s right! Lady Maya saved me from a deadly weapon experiment I was involved in when I was working for Winslet Armory.”Bookmark here

Shane raised an eyebrow. “Winslet Armory is famous for how well they treat their engineers and blacksmiths.”Bookmark here

“S-So most people say, but they actually didn’t treat me very well…”Bookmark here

“Why not?”Bookmark here

Reka twisted his hands into his robes. “I’d rather not talk about it you don’t mind…”Bookmark here

“Sorry,” Shane apologized. He reached into his armor and handed him an orange fruit. “Here, eat this. We’ve got plenty more.”Bookmark here

Reka smiled before reaching out to take the fruit. “Thanks!”Bookmark here

“Wait!” Maya cried, slapping the fruit out of Shane’s hand. They both looked at her, dumbfounded. Bookmark here

She didn’t pay them any mind and went and picked up the fruit, inspecting it. “Shane, why didn’t you throw this out? It’s the poisonous one.”Bookmark here

Shane looked down at Reka again, his eyes glowing. “He put you in danger. He should suffer a little as punishment. Temporary paralysis is a small price to pay in my opinion for what he did.” Bookmark here

Shane turned to her. “Revenge or punishment, the reason doesn’t matter. As your advisor, I recommend that Reka should suffer the consequence of his actions.”Bookmark here

Maya leaned into his space, putting the fruit against his chest. “And why shouldn’t I punish you for trying to poison him?”Bookmark here

“Because I’m doing this for your sake. You want to become a better leader, right? You chased the entire congregation out last night. Why can’t you let Reka get a little taste of your divine retribution? You should treat your followers equally.” Bookmark here

Maya flipped her hair. “I’m a benevolent goddess. I can choose who I forgive and who I chase away. It’s also my duty to recognize the unique circumstances and people that worship me. I understand Reka, so I don’t hold what happened against him.”Bookmark here

“So, you won’t hear my advice?”Bookmark here

“Pl-Please stop—"Bookmark here

“So, you won’t accept my answer?” Bookmark here

Just as Shane is a about to retort, feeling increasingly angry by the conversation, Reka snatched the fruit from Maya’s hand and swallowed it whole.Bookmark here

They both stare at him in horror. “You—why did you eat it!” Bookmark here

“I wasn’t going to force you to eat that you know…” Shane mumbled. “I was just trying to use you as an example.”Bookmark here

Reka looked between them, his legs already going jelly. “I just wanted you both to stop fighting. Lady Maya has been waiting to see you for so long, I d-don’t want to be the one to ruin it. So, I’ll accept the punishment.”Bookmark here

“You seriously have no chill, do you Shane?” Letitia said, brushing past Shane and Maya to Reka’s side. She looked down at his wobbly legs and sighed. “Now I have to feed Reka his breakfast,” Letitia tutted.Bookmark here

Despite her complaints, she lifted Reka into her arms and sat him down at the table. Reka didn’t resist, almost as if he was used to being manhandled like this by her. Shane and Maya looked at each other, both silently deciding not to argue further before sitting down and joining them. Bookmark here

Just before Shane had the first morsel in his mouth, Master Terra arrived, plopping down at the head of the table while the man Shane presumed to be Garrette quietly took a seat across from him. He was a strange looking guy for a librarian. He was handsome to an extent that it almost felt like a crime to have him hidden away in the catacombs, his eyes a captivating gold and his skin a deep tan. Bookmark here

Garrette nodded at him silently. “It’s a pleasure,” he said, voice suave like a prince.Bookmark here

“Y-Yeah. Same here.”Bookmark here

Master Terra watched the exchange in amusement as she vigorously chewed on ox thigh. “Garrette, why don’t you tell Shane about the different types of fire magic you researched upon anticipating his arrival here?”Bookmark here

The topic seemed to brighten him up considerably, and he began to excitedly tell him in great detail about all the differences. “Maya said your magic was unusual, so I did some digging and discovered there are actually different forms of fire magic. Would I be able to get a look at yours for a moment?”Bookmark here

“I can’t control it that well,” Shane warned.Bookmark here

He waved his hand. “That’s fine. Just a demonstration of your capabilities.”Bookmark here

Shane closed his eyes and did his best to concentrate before producing a large blue flame in his palm.Bookmark here

“Simply marvelous,” Garrette said, eyes wide in fascination. After studying for a long moment, Garrette looked at him thoughtfully. “Say, Sir Shane.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“Have you ever considered that you may actually —”Bookmark here

Shane slapped a massive slab of meat onto Garrette’s plate. “Less talking, more eating. “Bookmark here

“Yes, of course,” he said, sufficiently cowed.Bookmark here

After that, Shane finally allowed himself to sit back, eat, and watch the members of the cult interact. He took a bite of the delicious boar Maya had killed and compared its taste to the ox he killed. Somehow, it tasted better when she killed them. He still wasn’t quite sure what the difference was. As he continued to ponder the flavors, Master Letitia was feeding a paralyzed Reka with an exasperated look on her face. Bookmark here

She almost treated him like a younger sibling she felt obliged to care for, a role Letitia adapted to scarily fast. Maybe she’s an older sibling. Garrette, after being swiftly shut down by Shane, receded back into quiet, listening to Maya proudly tell him of her latest training and hunting accomplishments. Eventually, taking a breath, she asked him about his research. Just like before, as if flipping a switch, he engaged with her animatedly. Bookmark here

Shane watched this all while feeling thoroughly entertained. It had been a long time since he had been surrounded by people like this, and he was quite happy for the change. He had been running after Maya for the past few years, so his friends and family were a bit neglected. Bookmark here

“What do you think of the boar, Shane? Different from the ox, no?” Master Terra asked.Bookmark here

He decided to entertain her despite his reservations. He was in a good mood. “I can’t seem to figure out what the difference is. Maya killed the boar, and I killed the ox. “Bookmark here

Terra put boar back on her plate, only a bite taken out of it. “Well, that explains why her meat is so dry. She zapped everything out of it, even the fat. The ox on the other hand, is quite good.”Bookmark here

He frowned. “I thought the opposite. Maya’s cooking has always tasted better than mine.”Bookmark here

She winked at him. “That’s the love talking, dear. Trust me, I was a professional cook and critic once upon a time. I would know.”Bookmark here

Chef and critic to...cult priestess? “How did that happen?”Bookmark here

She leaned back in her chair. “Well, you see, I was always raised around food, so I developed a passion for it. I used to cook here, but now I only do it on special occasions.Bookmark here

“That’s…nice, I suppose.” Shane responded, unsure about how to process this new information.Bookmark here

“By the way,” she said suddenly, “I was hoping to speak with you after this. Would you mind?”Bookmark here

He shook his head. “No, that’s fine.” Shane had some questions for her concerning himself, especially concerning Maya’s memory.Bookmark here

This conversation about food had been unsettling. It was strange to talk about something so mundane with the person who potentially kidnapped and brainwashed Maya. If he could confront her away from Maya’s presence, it’d be worth getting along with Terra for now. Later though…he’d see.Bookmark here

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After they finished breakfast, Garrette and Letitia chose to clear off the table as Maya took Reka up to the medical room to search for an early cure to his paralysis. Bookmark here

While everyone was occupied in mundane activity, Master Terra placed a hand on his wrist, and they warped. He looked around. The sky was black and white, and not a single blade of grass moved as they stood in the fields of Freecer. Bookmark here

“What is this place?”Bookmark here

“It’s a dimension I created. In here, all time has stopped. No one else is able to access it except for me and anyone I take with me.” She eyed him meaningfully. “I figured you’d prefer to have this conversation alone.”Bookmark here

“Maya wouldn’t like it if we ended up fighting.”Bookmark here

Terra laughed. “As if I can’t handle you. I kicked your bum yesterday.”Bookmark here

Shane chose not to mention the fact that Florence had given him something that weakened him. Let her think she had more power than him. Bookmark here

“Are we talking or not?”Bookmark here

She crooked her thumb. “Follow me.”Bookmark here

His armor clinked loudly as he maneuvered through the silent fields. Much to his surprise the blades of grass weren’t affected by his movements, or anything else. It was strange, that he felt almost weightless, his body having no bearing on this place where time had ceased. He’d never felt so deeply disconnected from the world around him. Bookmark here

Eventually, they reached a grove within a forest not terribly far from the Cavity Combs. As they entered the grove, he noticed a small pool of water in the middle of it, no more than three or four horses across. Despite how small it seemed, he could tell that the water was incredibly deep.Bookmark here

Shane tried to dip his toe in, but it simply failed to happen, as if both this world and his body rejected the natural outcome of his movement. Bookmark here

“What is this place?” he asked again, looking down into the fathomless depths of the pond, trying to keep his grip on reality.Bookmark here

“This is where we found Maya three years ago.”Bookmark here

After dropping this monumental statement, Terra pattered to a patch of soft grass bordering the pond and sat down. For someone in such a high position, it felt unnatural to see her so natural, kicking off her slippers and letting her toes sit in the grass even if there was no sensation at all. “She was floating in the water, completely unconscious. She didn’t look injured, but when we took her back to the Cavity Combs and she woke up, she said she didn’t have any memories except for her name.”Bookmark here

“So, her memories really were affected,” Shane whispered. “How did she remember me then?”Bookmark here

“I’m not sure,” Master Terra admitted, scratching her head. “I know the future in a sense through the prophecy, but I do not know how she remembered you—but she did. Over time, she began to remember more and more, but by that point, she was fully committed to Bai Hu, and based on what I knew of the prophecy, I knew she was the chosen one.”Bookmark here

Shane didn’t know if he should believe her or not. It was true that Maya’s memories had been altered, were maybe even completely gone at one point, but that didn’t mean Terra wasn’t the one that induced it. Even so, it made a lot of sense. The reason he hadn’t been able to find Maya all this time. Why she hadn’t reached out to him until now. How she seemed to forget her hunting prowess and his terrible ability to discern fruits. All of it came together in horrible clarity despite the unreality of this dimension.Bookmark here

It made him want to ask her a terrible, terrible question. So, in this immaterial place where his words held as little weight as a blade of grass, he spoke his mind. “Does that mean if she remembers everything, she’ll go back to being the person I fell in love with again?" Bookmark here

Master Terra smiled at him gently, the gemstones in her teeth dim. “I think you know the answer to that already.”Bookmark here

His breath hitched. “…Is it wrong that I miss how she was?”Bookmark here

“No. In fact, it’s probably natural.” She picked up a pebble, or at least tried to. Instead, she pulled off one of her magic stones from her toe rings and tried to skip it on the surface of the pond. It didn’t work, but it seemed he wasn’t the only one who needed something tangible to focus on in this warped space. “What was she like? What is it you miss about her?”Bookmark here

“What she was like? Well for one, she was quite devout.”Bookmark here

Master Terra winced, threading her fingers between her toes as she shifted to sit crisscross. “No wonder you were so wary about me…”Bookmark here

“She was also determined to avoid violence.”Bookmark here

“Not an unusual trait for someone to possess. What’s so special about that?”Bookmark here

“Because the reason I fell in love with her was because I saw how she was able to resolve situations so peacefully.” Shane took off his armor and placed it between them, as if creating a barrier. He sat back down and fiddled with his legs sleeves as he slowly began to unravel the story of how he fell in love with Maya. “We grew up together, but as a young teen I was…’recruited’ into an army for a certain kingdom. I began to live a violent life. Life was cheap, and it was easy to take."
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Shane paused and looked up, trying to recall everything in as much detail as he could. “One day, years after I ‘joined’ the army, she marched into our camp and demanded to speak with the commander.”Bookmark here

“Which was you, I presume?”Bookmark here

Shane nodded. “I decided to send a messenger to speak with her instead of going myself.”Bookmark here

“What did she say?”Bookmark here

“The messenger told me that she demanded they stop fighting and release the hostages. She even brought beer as a gift to persuade us.”Bookmark here

“There have been worse bribes, I’m sure.”Bookmark here

“Sure, but as a commander, I couldn’t be persuaded by something as simple as beer. My troops would never respect me. Still, I was intrigued by her request and I…missed her. So, I told the messenger to have her stay the night and I would give an answer in the morning.”Bookmark here

“I assume you decided to do as she asked by morning?”Bookmark here

Shane laughed heartily. “Not exactly. By morning, my soldiers all bowed to me and told me they wanted to stop fighting. It turned out that what she brought was no ordinary beer. It was one that brought on nostalgia and brought the honest desires of the heart to the surface. Many of the soldiers wanted to stop fighting already, and she just gave them the opportunity to admit it to themselves.Bookmark here

“How many soldiers?”Bookmark here

“It was small camp, so maybe five hundred.”Bookmark here

“That’s incredible.”Bookmark here

“I thought so too. When I finally saw her again after releasing the prisoners and sending the troops home, I asked her to marry me. For some reason, she said yes.”Bookmark here

Master Terra tried to touch a dandelion that was already half blown away. “Just like you spent years looking for her, she might have been looking for you after you were taken too.”Bookmark here

Shane reeled back. He had never thought of that possibility. “If Maya’s intention was to find me, would she really have gone to all the effort of releasing the prisoners and convincing the soldiers to leave?”Bookmark here

“Would you have been free to leave if she hadn’t done that?”Bookmark here

The answer, of course, was no. He was a commanding officer, and he had a responsibility for the people under him. Shane was also as good as a war slave to the country he served. He couldn’t just do as he pleased. …Did Maya consider all that and come to rescue him? Bookmark here

“If that is the case, then just standing idly by as I watch her go down this path feels wrong. Overthrowing the gods, putting herself on a throne above mortals…that’s never what she was about, and it’s a lofty goal that I’m afraid will lead me into the heart of darkness once again. I don’t want to kill people anymore. Can I love her if she takes me down this path? The same one I admired her for not taking before?”Bookmark here

Master Terra stood, cracking her back loudly. “She’s not going to force you to do anything, Shane. Still, it’s true that her path may be bloodier than you can tolerate. It’s up to you whether this is worth it to you. She may change for the better, or the worse. She may remember, she may not. It’s an uncertain situation. Do you want to continue by her side and love her anyways?”Bookmark here

Shane stood as well. He clenched his jaw and looked at her with clear eyes. “I must try."
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Real Aire
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