The first time he saw her she was naked, her legs covered only by a sheer piece of fabric billowing around her, propelled by a mysterious wind of unknown source in the closed, windowless room that held only the temple elder, his assistant, and him.

She was also floating. Floating to the beat of the chant of the elder's steady voice that was stealthily weaving in and out of the particles of the air, engaging and disengaging them to create an invisible support for a perfect, flawless back that had once been marred by scars that will later reappear again to blight that pale expanse of skin.

When she was in the air she was perfect. Once her feet so much as touched the ground, though, the orange, puckered nipples would fade to a dull pink, two dark, angry, permanent marks would be visible in her neck again, and the bright, porcelain skin would once again evince the fact that it had once been whipped seventy times seven, for the years when she wasn't the revered oracle yet.

And he never found her as beautiful as when she came back down to him, and to earth—for the eyes that had once been dull and devoid of any emotion were bright of unshed tears, bitterness, and resigned acceptance beneath a mask of practiced blankness; and he thought that perhaps only he was privy to those emotions, for his masters never acknowledged them. She stood there after the chant and the ritual was over, silent as the night and as still as the statue, awaiting the dark cloak that would cover her body from his again, which was wrapped around her by the practiced yet leery hands of the hissing apprentice whom he was never really fond of.

They were both fifteen, and while her body looked glorious and mature to him, he felt all limbs and bones, as gangly as an awkward praying mantis who had never learned how to control his thin legs.

His unabashed staring finally caught her eye as the hood was finally secured over the riotous washed-red curls that adorned her head, and he thought he saw the hint of a slight smile.


[tbc]