Chapter 39: Resignation
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The High Priest had instructed Oryn to bring Aelene to him as soon as she regained consciousness. However, it had already been an entire day since then and he was starting to wonder whether she would ever wake up. If she didn’t, the plans he had for her would fall flat, although he could also work with an unconscious miracle if there was no other way. He lit up when he heard a voice from the hallway outside.

“Leave me alone!!” he heard a woman yell before someone knocked on his door.

“Sir, it’s Oryn and Aelene,” a man said from the outside.

“Come in.”

The door flew open, the two of them hurried inside and Aelene slammed the door shut. “Why won’t they go away...” she said in frustration.

The High Priest laid down the papers he had been reading and looked at Aelene. He was once more in awe of the atmosphere she had around her, though he didn’t understand what she was so agitated about. “What’s the matter, Aelene?” he asked.

She let go of the door and turned around to look at the High Priest. “Oh... Good day, High Priest. I’m sorry about this. A few of the others seem to mistake me for a literal goddess and WON’T LEAVE ME ALONE,” she said, yelling the last part at the now closed door.

Oryn and Aelene had made their way to the High Priest’s office on the third floor of the temple in relative peace, except for Aelene’s followers, who had crept closer towards them with every passing minute. At some point she had snapped and tried to send them off, but they wouldn’t listen.

“Ohoho,” the High Priest laughed. “I’m certain you will get used to it. Come,” he said, gesturing for them to sit down on the chairs on the other side of the desk across from him.

The two accepted the offer, but Aelene did not look pleased at the High Priest’s words. “Sir... I would rather not ‘get used’ to it... I don’t want any of this... Please, can we try to reverse it?”

While Oryn lowered his head in exasperation, the High Priest looked at her in astonishment. “You would want to throw away this gift the gods have given you? Don’t be unthankful, Aelene. You will be the key to everything!”

“... Sir?” she said, uncertain. “This... isn’t a divine gift, it was just a failed experiment. I’m not a goddess!”

“That matters not, dear priestess. What matters are the optics, and if even our people believe you to be a divine being, what do you think the common people will see you as?”

“Will you please reconsider, sir? I’m not comfortable with this situation... In the best case I would be deceiving people. And this ‘following’ is creeping me out...”

The High Priest looked at her with an understanding smile, but shot down any attempt of hers to get him to change his mind. He had lost the boy twice and they hadn’t learned nearly as much from him as the High Priest had hoped. Aelene receiving the same gift, which also gave her the appearance of a divine being, was an enormous blessing for him and the temple.

“Think of the things we can accomplish! For our people! And for Alarna as a whole! All you need to do is let them worship you and help us with Oryn’s experiments. Of course you will be relieved from your usual duties, and your quarters will also be moved to the third floor. This will ensure that you have a little more privacy when you need it.”

Aelene had a resigned expression on her face and slowly lowered her head in a nod. The High Priest had plans for her, and if neither he nor Oryn were willing to work on turning her back to how she had been, there was very little she could do.

“Sir, these experiments...” she said carefully, “aren’t they dangerous?”

“Please don’t worry, Aelene. Naturally, you will be treated with the respect your new role deserves, and we would not risk harming you. Don’t hesitate to come to me should there be any issues.”

“Except for when I don’t want any of this...” Aelene mumbled inaudibly.

“Oryn, due to the special circumstances, I assign you to be her attendant,” the High Priest said. “Oh, and have you finished your report on your experiments?”

“I’m not quite done yet, sir. But you will have it as soon as I finish it.”

The High Priest nodded, pleased at how smoothly things were progressing. Aelene appeared somewhat reluctant, but not to an extent where she would stand in his way. Oryn on the other hand was not reluctant at all, as expected. While he was a little disappointed that it hadn’t been him who received the energy, he still had made considerable advances in scripture research, and in Aelene he had found a new project. Not to mention that all of this would bring more power to the temple, which could only be good for him and his research.

“Now, tell me,” the High Priest said to Aelene. “What does your new power feel like?”

She looked up at him and thought his question over. She was in pain, but aside from that she did not feel any different, which made this whole situation even worse to her. If she had truly become a god, with divine abilities or the like, maybe she would feel differently, but as it stood, all this did was inconvenience her. There could only be one response to the question of how she felt about her new power.

“It sucks...”

***

When Aelene and Oryn left the High Priest’s office, the priests that had followed them there had thankfully dispersed. The third floor of the temple was reserved for the upper clergy, and normal priests generally weren’t supposed to spend more time there than necessary.

The High Priest had briefly layed out the plans he had for Aelene, starting with a public announcement at the end of the week, when most people had their day off. He wanted to pull more citizens into their beliefs. Not with vague statements that the gods were always watching, but with a bonafide angel walking among them. As the last public appearance of a god had been years ago, less and less people felt inclined to offer their support to the temple, and the next generation of citizens had never once even seen a god, which put the temple in a bad place. According to the High Priest, all this would change now. Generally speaking, as a temple priestess, Aelene was in favor of the High Priest’s goals. If only they didn’t involve her.

“So... what now?” she asked Oryn, as they were walking to her new room side-by-side. Her belongings would be brought up by others, as she didn’t want to run into her followers again so soon.

“I know that you have your reservations,” Oryn said, “but if you don’t mind, I would very much like to measure your volume.”

“My... Excuse me!?” she yelled and gave Oryn a confused look, bordering on anger.

“Your vol— Oh. I’m sorry,” he said with an awkward laugh. “I mean how much water you can produce with your abilities. There’s also the matter of whether all scripture works just the same on you as it does on a water source, as well as whether this amount of energy let’s you do anything by itself. Then we need to experiment with weaponization, of course. Oh, and we should also look into ‘miracles’ that you could perform for the citizens. That reminds me, I need to order a few black stones! That display will certainly—”

Oryn stopped his ramblings and froze up when Aelene suddenly stopped in her tracks and a heavy pressure radiated out from her. The aura of a god, something that he shouldn’t even feel if his theories were correct.

He swallowed hard. “Aelene...?”

After a few seconds the pressure subsided and she looked around in confusion. “Hm? What’s wrong?”

“You don’t know what just happened?” he asked.

“I remember you blabbering with no end in sight...” she said in displeasure.

Aelene walked on and Oryn followed after her in silent trepidation until they arrived at her new room. As she opened the door and looked inside, Oryn carefully tried to approach the subject of his experiments again.

“Aelene, about those tests, maybe we could—”

“You’re supposed to be my attendant, right?” she interrupted him.

“Uhm... Yes, I suppose I am,” he said in confusion.

She turned around to look him in the eyes. “I’ve had a strenuous day so far and I would like to relax a little. Make sure nobody disturbs me, please,” she said and slammed the door in his face. Thinking about the perplexed face Oryn would be making on the other side of the door right now, she had to hold back not to start laughing.

“That felt good and normal,” she said with a quiet giggle.

***

The last night, I thought. Tomorrow we would finally reach Cerus, and if everything went according to plan, this would be the last night we would spend sleeping on the ground. At least for a little bit. My main concern was the monthly caravan from Alarna that would arrive about five days after us. I wasn’t sure whether we should be in town when a large group of soldiers got there. Still, it would be something. And since we hadn’t noticed any more pursuers, talking beasts or otherwise, I was in a good mood and my head was clear.

While the girls were preparing the fireplace, I had gone gathering firewood and talked to Miles about the future. I had promised him that we would try to get him out of my head at some point, but for the past couple of days my mind had been on other things. To keep my promise, we would need more research opportunities. We had the water source script and blue stones, but that path would primarily teach us more about what we could do with water. If we could get our hands on white stones in Cerus, maybe we would make some progress. One thing I was uncertain about, however.

“What if you can’t get back to your world?”

We had never talked much about what would happen after getting him out. He was hoping that it would be possible to simply reverse the entire process and put him where he had come from. However, I had glossed over the question of what his plans were in case that wasn’t possible.

‘Honestly, I’m trying not to think about it... Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely miserable here, but I’d very much like to go back.’

“Of course...” It wasn’t quite the same, but I wanted to go back home someday as well. Both of our futures were uncertain in that regard. However, while Miles was trying not to think too much about this road being a dead end, I was considering interesting possibilities. “Hey, if the ritual moves people, or spirits, or whatever, couldn’t we put you in another body?”

‘The thought occurred to me, but I’m surprised you would consider that. Whose body would I take over though?’ he said with curiosity.

“Maybe I wouldn’t mind too much if the people who tried to kill us were gone...” Wait, what am I saying? It had been a random thought, but I wasn’t sure where it had come from. Miles seemed just as perplexed as I was.

‘... do you mean that?’

“I... don’t know.”

Two days ago I had rescued an enemy and was actively trying to befriend her, and now I was considering robbing people of their bodies...? It seemed weird. However, in that moment, while thinking about the people who had harmed us, I felt something rise up in me that I had never felt before. Maybe I wouldn’t mind them getting what they wanted to do to us, I thought, but I tried to shake the feeling.

“There could be other options though! What about those talking beasts?” I said in an attempt to change where this conversation was going. “They were clearly intelligent, what if you could occupy one of them?”

‘Oh good, now you want to turn me into a furry,’ Miles said, laughing, and lightening the mood again. Even though I didn’t understand his rant about how that would most definitely not be an option.

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