“Twenty three yards and not an inch less! Didn’t you hear the damn woman?”
“Yes, of course, I’m so sorry. And you said you wanted satin, yes?”
“Celestial satin, nothing more nothing less.”
“Oh but ma’am. Ma’am that will take some time to acquire… Oh. Oh yes, sir. Right away sir.”
Jane sat in her dressing room, listening to the argument outside. Maybe she had been foolish to request a very long train the morning of the wedding, but Adronious the Vast had told her ‘whatever she wanted.’ And Jane did so want a train.
As Mistress Geela and Darkos were currently sleeping in the middle of what was once Queen Terha’s great hall, neither could play the role of Jane’s maid of honor, so she’d had to rely on the pirate crew to help her out with the wedding. One of the chef’s, a gruff woman named Mazy, had taken on the role, and now bellowed down the tailor when she tried to refuse anything. If Mazy’s general pirate-ness wasn’t enough to convince them, Adronious the Vast would step in, and the argument would cease.
Jane hadn’t entered Mistress Geela’s service expecting to find love. She had entered Geela’s service expecting to avoid a twenty year minimum sentencing back in the Celestial City for her role in a crime and drug smuggling ring. Geela had saved her by pretending to be someone else. It was a bit complicated for Jane to keep straight, but the next thing Jane knew she was watching Geela dressed up as a blood witch dressed up as a goddess eating a void spawn dressed up as a clerk. That was also a bit complicated for Jane. Then they were on a boat, and Jane almost died, and she met Adronious the Vast, and they fell in love, and then proposed to get married but then Geela, and Darkos went into comas trying to chase after an evil pirate captain who was Darkos’s brother sort of.
She had very much hoped either would wake up, and held out hope for some time, but after a few days it became clear they would never wake again. So she planned her wedding in their honor.
Then she learned Geela might be a goddess, or so according to a letter she got in the mail, and so she decided the wedding should be in Geela’s name, and sent Geela’s old pirate crew out to the corners of the world to find anyone who knew how a wedding in Geela’s name should be celebrated.
Things got out of hand when the boats came back with thousands of worshipers, but Jane was not afraid. She took on her new guests with passion and gusto, which are things she was told are needed for any successful marriage, and began setting up the wedding.
There had been a bit of a confusion regarding the dates of the wedding, since initially she’d planned for it to be six months after Geela and Darkos first fell asleep, but then the dress came in from the tailors a few days before the wedding, and it very much did not fit, which Adronious the Vast blamed on the tailors but Jane secretly blamed on the triplets. She didn’t want to embarrass either the tailors or Adronious the Vast, so they waited for the triplets to make their grand appearance, and for Jane to get back to her usual size.
Jane loved the triplets dearly, even though they frightened her with their squawling. She was told by the many parents of the congregation that it was natural for babies to cry frequently, so Jane had showed patience.
Today, though, the triplets were in the custody of some close friends of Geela’s. Eight people who all looked very similar, some indistinguishably so, who were all apparently twins and whose parents were twins. Jane figured if anyone were to be good with triplets, it would be twins. So today Jane got to be treated like a princess in preparation for the big day.
“I am ready to leave now,” she said, tapping on the door.
“Alright, alright, shoo shoo.” Jane waited for the sounds of Mazy shooing Adronious the Vast away from the tailor’s office to taper off before emerging, donned in her gown.
“Thank you for making a train for me,” she said to the tailor, whose face was grey. “I’ve always wanted one.”
“You had nine months to tell me that,” the woman said, her voice a croak. “Nine months.”
Jane sighed, shaking her head. “I knew I’d forgotten something. It has been a busy nine months.”
The tailor nodded, but strangely looked about ready to cry. “Where will I find celestial satin?”
Jane patted her on the shoulder. “There there. One of Mistress Geela’s friends is talented in the ways of getting into the Celestial City in mere moments. She is a tall woman named Carlosi. Perhaps she can help.”
The tailor burst into tears and crushed Jane in a hug. “You have somehow been the best and worst customer I’ve ever had, but I’m beyond grateful to have been a part of this!”
Jane nodded and continued patting her shoulder. The woman had been a member of the Church of Celeste before most of the Celestial City branch of the church turned to worshipping Geela. So she understood the significance of this ceremony.
Mazy helped Jane gather her skirts as the two left the tailor’s office and made their way through the halls. The ceremony would be in six hours, and Jane still had much to do. As they bustled down the hallway, two small children darted underfoot, frolicking playfully. Jane didn’t try to stop as they did, knowing she would only fail if she tried, and the four all collided catastrophically.
Jane frowned from the ground while Mazy began to bawl out the children. The younger one, who was perhaps five, began to cry, while the older, perhaps seven, began to shout back ugly, foul curses. Not swear curses, but evil blood magic curses.
Amid the yelling, Jane heard two more pairs of feet approach, and soon more shouting entered the fray, this time a young man and young woman. They all sounded very upset at each other, the children, Mazy, even at Jane, who was still lying on the floor, immobilized by her billowing skirts.
“Perhaps you should take better care of your children so that they don’t take out the bride!” Mazy’s voice was harsh and brusque.
“They aren’t our children!” This one was the young man, who sounded very very offended at the idea. “We were only put in charge of them because their parents are looking after her triplets and apparently these brats are supposed to be easier to handle than newborns.”
“Renby, don’t call them brats,” said the younger woman who had entered the hallway with him.
“They are brats, and I’ll say it.”
“You have to be nicer than that. At least around them.” The young woman sounded angry.
“You be nice around them.” Renby’s voice spiked in irritation. “I don’t enjoy children and I’m not looking to be anyone’s parent.”
“Perhaps,” Mazy said, seething, “you should have thought of that before having children yourself. I know who you two are. You don’t even belong to the Church of Geela. I don’t know why you two are here, nasty blood mages.”
“Help,” Jane said finally after spotting a gap in the argument.
Mazy groaned and hoisted Jane to her feet while Vera and Renby gathered the two children.
“Sangy, Hemo, with me,” Vera said. The young woman brushed several strands of silky hair behind her ears before giving the slim man beside her a dirty glare. “You too, Renby. Since I apparently have to look after all of you.”
“Oh don’t give me that crap,” he said as he followed her down the hallway. “Don’t pretend you like this anymore than I do.”
Mazy gave the two a long, disapproving look. “Blood mages. Come on, Miss, let’s get your hair and makeup done.”
They finally made it to the hair and makeup office, where two frantic individuals, one an older woman, one a younger man, rushed about, sprinkling flower petals and crushed, ashy rock on the doorways and window frames.
Jane, who had not initially noticed the line of dust on the hearthway, now looked in dismay at the soot on her gown.
“Damn magma sniffers,” Mazy said. “Look at what you’ve done. I’m ninety percent sure the Church of Geela doesn’t follow these customs and if you’re going to worship her, you’ve gotta act like it.”
The young man stared at his toes in shame while the older woman began brushing the dust back in front of the door.
“Way I see it,” she said, “Geela doesn’t know what makes the volcanoes go either. So til then, we’re gonna keep our customs. It ain’t disrespect. Just pure and straight common sense. We’ve followed these customs for eons, and Geela has never been upset before. Don’t see why she oughta be now.” She straightened up then and patted on a chair. “Alright then, Miss. Let’s get your hair and face sorted.”
Jane held still while her face was sorted by the two. She’d never been to the Volcanic Region and had been surprised when she learned that Geela had not only been there but had converted a few cities. It made Jane happy to hear. Long ago, one of her ancestors had been a king there, but Jane didn’t like to talk about that. It made her feel pompous.
Instead, she shut off her face so that it could be made up. Then, because she kept thinking, and her thinking made her brow frown, she turned off the rest of her head so that they could finish her makeup in speed and ease.
Two hours later, a prod on the back let Jane know her face and hair were appropriately set. A glance in the mirror had Jane almost cry because she had never felt so beautiful. She didn’t cry, because that would ruin her new makeup, but she did nod and the two makeup and hair people did cry, so it was a good time all around.
Then it was off to get flowers. The flowers had been gathered by an alchemist named Morris. He was either Geela’s pirate or Hari’s pirate. Maybe he’d once been both and then neither but now he was Geela’s because his cousin had been killed in a fight, and that was enough for him. According to Morris, he knew where all the prettiest flowers in the Southern Islands Regions were, and he knew how to bring them back in ‘pristine shape.’ Jane had tentatively trusted him, but had yet to see any flowers until now, so she was a little worried.
“Well, isn’t that just the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen!”
This wasn’t Jane speaking. This was Morris speaking, but likely about Jane as she walked in, and the comment made her cheeks flush.
“I came to say the same about your lovely flowers,” she said, holding a hand in front of her face so he couldn’t see her blush. His flowers were very lovely, and Jane was glad she’d trusted him. To her shame, she couldn’t name a single one, which was particularly bad given she was an accomplished alchemist herself, but she did enjoy the way their colors all were very bright and vivid. Even better, many were different shapes and sizes, and the smell was blissful.
Morris nodded, grinning ear to ear. “I’m about to have them carted into the wedding hall. I’ve got—” He broke off, a sudden sad look in his eye. “I’ve got a whole bouquet of lilacs and emerald roses to go around them in the middle. It’ll be a place of honor.” He swiped at his eyes. “Sheeps, I hope they wake up soon.”
Jane also felt herself tear up but put the tears away again. “We pray every day that they will. Thank the sheep.” The sheep thing had been Jane’s idea, after hearing Geela rant so much about the church being a ‘buncha sheep.’ Jane had meant to ask on of the high priests. Surely Sonatad, Lisit Lynn, Sal Sally Salemand, or Imimi would have some idea of Geela’s holy animal, given they were in charge of the Celestial, Volcanic, Island, and Scattered branches of Geela’s church. They would know. But Jane had forgotten to ask and had instead just started swearing on sheep as if she’d already asked. When people asked why she did this, she’d forgotten that she hadn’t asked the priests, and explained it was Geela’s holy animal.
Hopefully Mistress Geela wouldn’t be upset when she woke up. Jane didn’t see why she would, though. Sheep were darling animals.
Next stop was to check on the cake. Since Jane had made Mazy her Maid of honor, the woman had been unable to fulfil her chefly duty. Her partner, a nervous man named Ru, had requested a few co-chefs to help him. Mazy had suggested many fine replacements, including chefs from the top kitchens in all of the Celestial City, Knuckle Sandwich, Haymaker, and even a few damn good cooks from Sunnyville, Sunnydale, and Sunnyland. Jane had contemplated many of them over many days, before sending in a small team to assist him. She liked to think she picked well. The only assignment that had been unpopular was her decision to appoint one of the pirates on the crew to help with the cake. The woman Jane had assigned hadn’t quite been a cook, but Jane had stood firm with her decision. The pirate was simply too dangerous to have running amok with so many strange and wonderful people invited, so it was cake duty for the good doctor.
Ru had wailed when he learned his co-cake-chef would be the infamous Doc Chop. Jane had simply told him that she’d had, on good authority, reason to believe that Doc Chop used to be a butcher before taking up more delicate knife work. Despite Ru’s many protests, Jane had held firm. Perhaps Doc Chop was not a good cake maker, but keeping her locked in the kitchens was smarter than letting her roam free. Too many oddities, too many ways for things to go wrong. Jane would rather have a butchered cake than find out the doctor had dissected one of the blood cultists.
And even then, Jane had nothing to worry about. She entered the kitchens to find a dazzling, twelve layer cake, as big as a turret, sitting in the middle of the room.
“Oh.” Jane smiled as she looked at the layers, each decorated either with a significant moment in the involved party’s lives. For Jane, there were some of her more monumental moments—meeting Adronious, turning the Church of Celeste purple, spurring Sonatad to unite the church in Geela’s name. Then there were some scene from Adronious’s life—meeting Jane, saving her from being crushed by a kraken tentacle. And, of course, because it was her church, there were scenes from Geela’s life—saving the Volcanoes, defeating Terha, rescuing Jane, meeting Darkos.
“Is it chocolate,” she asked, after several moments of silence.
“That is what was requested by you, was it not?” asked the creepy voice of the doctor. The woman’s coppery curls were tucked under a modified chef’s hat, upon which was mounted a series of lenses that flicked over the woman’s single, organic eye.
“It was.” Jane smiled at the two chefs. Ru was harder for her to smile at, since he was hiding behind the cake, but Jane finally did get a full look at him, and he was all in one piece. The doctor hadn’t managed to pull anything, after all.
See? Jane could strategize.
Mazy grinned, even if she looked a bit envious that she hadn’t been able to work on the cake herself. “We’ll send Carlosi down to teleport it up to the hall once she’s done summoning the fabric needed for Jane’s dress.”
“You’re making modifications?” Ru asked, eyebrows pinching, vicariously afraid for the tailors.
“Just for a train,” Jane said. “I forgot I wanted one until this morning.”
“Ah,” Ru said. He and Doc Chop exchanged a glance before both plastered smiles on their faces.
“We shall see you at the ceremony then,” Doc Chop said, that weird smile still on her face, showing off her metal teeth.
Jane nodded and turned.
The actual last step was to find Carlosi and instruct her about the cake needs.
Jane located the woman in a lounge, far off from the rest of the people. Inside sat the older woman, reclining on a fancy sofa with two other dazzling people. On Carlosi’s left was a tall, bald man with a rugged, jagged jaw, and a scar across his face. On her right was a beautiful, smaller woman with a mountain of intertwined black braids on her head. The woman’s silver eyes pierced Jane, who’d opened her mouth to speak.
“They need you to move something, Corla,” the woman said, a wry twist on her dark lips.
Carlosi groaned. “I’m not a delivery person. Can you believe this?” She sighed and stood up, towering over a foot above Jane’s head. “What is it this time? More fabric?”
“A cake,” the silver eyed woman said.
“Illy,” the man said, unable to suppress his laughter anymore. “That’s rude.”
The woman—Illisandra, Jane though her full name might be—didn’t look apologetic at all. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “Gene’s right. I shouldn’t have.”
Mistress Geela always said she didn’t like psychics, so Jane never could remember that one of her old friends was one. Then again, Geela’s friends were strange and confusing people. Somehow these three, along with the two young babysitters from earlier, had all been Geela’s accomplices many decades ago.
“Alright,” Jane said, not sure how else to continue. “Then if you’ll move the cake, I think I’m all set.”
“Don’t forget your train, dear,” Carlosi said as she swooshed past. “I would hope your Maid of Honor would at least remember.”
Jane nodded, but felt like maybe there had been an insult there. It made sense that Carlosi and her friends would share some of Geela’s meanness, though, so could Jane really be surprised?
Besides, she had forgotten the train, so the actual, real, final last step was back to the tailor’s office to secure that.
The tailor again sobbed as she fixed the massive bolt of fabric to the end of Jane’s dress. She kept going on about how this was an honor and how much she’d hated the task but how grateful she was and how Jane was so stupid but also so dear.
Jane didn’t give her too much mind because she was already trying to figure out how to reconcile the first part of the ceremony—riding a sheep into the hall—with her now massive dress.
“Mazy,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll fit on the sheep like this.”
Mazy’s lips pinched as she gave Jane a look. “I think you’re right. Dammit. Dammit why’d the captain have to pick sheep?”
Jane pushed her fingers together but said nothing.
“Dammit dammit dammit.” The pirate began pacing back and forth. “Do we have any very large sheep? Or can we make a sheep grow bigger? Do we have any larger pack animals that we could turn into a sheep?”
Jane clicked her fingers together at this. “Mazy, I have an idea.”
The music blared out of the organ, joining with the flutes and strings and violins in the air as they came together to play a piece Jane used to hum to Adronious the Vast when they first met. They’d made up words to it, but the words were too inappropriate for a wedding, so the piece was played without them.
Jane sat side-saddle on the back of Mistress Geela’s magical mule, Shaun, who’d shown up to the wedding. He hadn’t looked happy upon seeing Geela unconscious, nor had he been happy at the idea of becoming a sheep, but this was, as Jane suspected, something he could do and so he did.
Her train flowed out behind her, and it took the combined forces of all of The Eights’ children—the siblings and cousins of the two kids that had run into Jane—to keep her train straight and from getting messed up. The hardest part was when they had to steer it around the center of the hall, where Mistress Geela and Darkos lay, surrounded by flowers. But the children, who knew well how to manage elaborate rituals, played their roles perfectly, and her gown never touched their benevolent Goddess, nor her minion-henchman-first-mate.
At the front of the hall was a sight that made Jane’s heart almost stop. Standing beside the small, teenaged priest, was Adronious the Vast, dressed in his most horrifying pirate garb, standing tall and proud and absolutely huge. As Jane approached, he reached a single hand to his face and wiped a tear away. It was enough to make her stomach do flip flops, and Jane thanked her good mistress again for bringing this day to her.
In the church of Geela, they said their vows first, so that no one would forget their lines. Also so that the whole ceremony would be about blessing a marriage that actually existed, instead of one that wouldn’t exist until the end.
So, when Jane reached the front, and the children fanned her skirts out around her, Father Sonatad began the exchange.
“Do you,” he asked, “Jane Arlington, take Adronious the Vast, in Geela’s name, before the eyes of Her and Her whole congregation, as your lawfully, spiritually, and eternally bound husband. In sickness and health. For richer, for poorer. Through ups and downs. In light and dark. For all the days of your life until the final sunset of your last breaths, til death do you part?”
She nodded, almost forgetting her words in the emotion. Then she remembered.
“And do you, Adronious the Vast, take Jane Arlington, in Geela’s name, before the eyes of Her and Her whole congregation, as your lawfully, spiritually, and eternally bound wife. In sickness and health. For richer, for poorer. Through ups and downs. In light and dark. For all the days of your life until the final sunset of your last breaths, til death do you—”
A sudden gasp rang out across the hall as a shimmer of light flashed across it.
Jane looked around wildly, trying to find it again, but her eyes wouldn’t detect the disruption again until it landed.
Right. Over. Geela.
Jane wanted to run across the hall to defend her mistress, but her dress was too much and she only had the chance to twist in Geela’s direction before the light flashed and vanished.
“Oh thank God that worked.” Geela’s voice rang across the hall. The woman, the esteemed patron of the church of Geela, looked to Darkos at her side, who began to push himself up to a sit. “You’re welcome to you too.”
Then Jane heard another groan. A man’s groan. But it wasn’t Darkos, nor anyone else in the hall. No, it came from the loathsome Hari.
Geela climbed to her feet, looking out over the congregation. As she spoke, others began to stand. The pirates—Doc Chop, Sal, and a number of others. Geela’s friends as well as the Eight. Several members of the Celestial branch of the church. A few of the Volcanoers.
Jane couldn’t sense magic at all, but even she felt the thrum of power.
Geela smiled. “I need you to do everything I say, or the world will end.”