Chapter 2 of 3
Hand in hand, Donvin and Kalaian walked to the shimmering archway. Butterflies twirled and dipped in Kalaian’s wake. The setting sun stretched fingers of orange light across the sky. Clusters of small glowing flowers peeked out from the hedges outlining the park, casting a gentle green glow. Golden rivers of light flared and twisted overhead as they directed the rain away from the City. Donvin’s swooping statues gleamed with faint luminescence, lighting the path. The scalloped pools shone with an internal light, red and purple and green and gold rippling through the surface of the water. Behind them, a last swarm of glittering gnats smoothed away the place where they’d coupled, the drone’s helpful pillow collapsing and vanishing in a sharp blue flare.
A dronelight shaped like a slender bird with narrow, forward-swept wings escorted a slim, sleek figure, pale skin decorated with loops and whorls of fine gold chain. Long, fluttering ribbons of brightly-colored silk crossed their chest, arms, hips, and legs, fluttering in a non-existent breeze, growing wider as they streamed behind them. “Maryalah!” Kalaian exclaimed. “Thank you for coming. Donvin, this is Priestess Maryalah, my sponsor. Maryalah, this is my…um, friend Donvin.”
Maryalah bowed. “My pleasure.” To Kalaian, they said, “What a gorgeous tattoo! How lovely!” Kalaian blushed and bowed. “Grand High Priest Astlyn sends his welcome. He has asked me to extend his regrets that he will be unable to attend. This is for you.” They presented Kalaian with a dazzling, multifaceted red gem on a fine chain. “The greater your joy, the brighter it will glow.”
Kalaian bowed again. “Thank you!” She fastened the chain around her neck. Immediately, the gemstone shone with a deep red light. Subtle shapes danced within it. The butterflies that flowed across her skin, confused by the chain, fluttered in circles for a moment before they found a path around the necklace, across her breast to her shoulder.
More guests approached, accompanied by bobbing dronelights. The dronelights dimmed as they came near, allowing the soft light of the flowers and statues and the rippling radiance from the pools to take over. Kalaian greeted each guest with a bow. Donvin recognized many priests, priestesses, and worshippers of the Lady. She introduced him to a scattered handful of other people, some worshippers of the Quickener, others her personal friends.
The sun settled behind the rim of the world, sending long streamers of shadow through the City. Golden light snaked across the shield dome, sending faint ripples scurrying across the grass. A dronelight shaped like a long ship, its square sail fluttering in the breeze, escorted two figures to the arch, where tiny gleaming flowers grew in profusion from the thin hanging vines. The figure in the lead, resplendent in a dress of green and teal that covered one arm and half her body but left one arm and one breast bare, moved with an effortless regal grace that radiated calm confidence. A complex assortment of narrow metal bands barely restrained her lush tangle of thick black hair. A shorter woman followed in her wake, bronze-skinned and green-eyed, wearing a simple tunic and pants the same emerald as her hair.
Kalaian’s face broke out in a broad grin. The pendant on her necklace glowed. “High Priestess Neveah! Thank you so much for coming!”
Neveah embraced her. “Where else would I be? I am sorry you’re leaving us, but I wish you well on your journey with the Lady.” She turned to the woman behind her. “Allow me to introduce my daughter Terlyn.”
Kalaian bowed. “This is my friend Donvin of the Lady.” She elbowed Donvin, who stood entranced, mouth hanging open.
“Ah! I’ve heard so much about you,” Neveah said. “I understand you’re the one responsible for luring Kalaian away from us.”
“Well, err, not exactly as such,” Donvin stammered. “I just, that is, yes, I suppose I did, didn’t I?”
Neveah chuckled. “May she bring joy to her service of the Lady.” She bowed low to Kalaian. “I look forward to sampling whatever delights you’ve created for us.”
“The pools contain a mild Blessing that facilitates connection,” Kalaian said. “You’ll find a variety of wines on the table. Those in the blue glasses contain the same Blessing. Please let me know if I can make you more comfortable.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes traveled up and down Kalaian’s form. “I will.”
When Neveah and Terlyn had passed, Kalaian chuckled in Donvin’s ear. “See something you like?” she cooed.
Kalaian giggled and took Donvin’s hand. “Come get wet with me!” She led Donvin to the central pool, large enough for a dozen people, surrounded by smaller pools just big enough for two or three. The water shimmered invitingly, red and gold. Kalaian unfastened Donvin’s shirt and ran her hands over his chest. She leaned close enough her lips almost brushed his skin. “Are you still feeling impertinent?” she murmured.
“Good.” She unfastened his pants and let them fall. Her eyes flicked downward. “Oh, you certainly are!” Hand in his, she stepped into the pool. He followed her down. They slid between a novice he knew vaguely from worship of the Lady and a woman he’d never seen before.
The warm water loosened his muscles. A faint, pleasant scent, slightly spicy, rose from the steaming water. Donvin inhaled deeply. He closed his eyes and settled back. His skin tingled where Kalaian held his hand. The woman seated on his other side shifted slightly. His body buzzed delightfully at every point of contact between them.
“Hi! I’m Rashillia,” she said in a dreamy voice. “I don’t know you.”
“Donvin.” As the water worked his magic, he found himself drawn into her teal eyes. Ripples of light played over her dark skin.
“Would you like to touch me, Donvin?” she said, her voice slow and languid.
“Mm, yes please.”
She took his hand in hers, fingertips playing lightly over his palm. Electric currents ran up and down his arm. “I think hands are so sensual, don’t you?” she murmured, voice soft, languorous. She placed his hand on her cheek. “Would you like to kiss me?”
Donvin floated toward her. Eddies of pleasure shimmered up and down his back when their lips met. He was aware in some far-off corner of his mind of Kalaian kissing the person beside her, then Donvin fell down, down, down, into the glow of Rashillia’s eyes. She kissed him with a gentle delicacy that made his heart hammer.
Eventually, she rose with effortless grace. Water streamed from her body. She helped Donvin from the pool, her touch sending shivers through him. A small utility drone shaped like a flattened torus with tiny wings driven by spinning gears held out towels in long, silver-inscribed metal arms. Rashillia dried him gently with the soft towel. He shuddered at her caress.
She took his hand and led him to a long, soft couch that hovered silently just above the grass. On the way, she selected a glass from the stone table with its Providers. She drew him down beside her. Arm linked through his, she brought the glass to her lips. A tiny shudder, barely perceptible, traveled down her body when she swallowed. “Would you like some?” she said.
She lifted the glass to his lips. When he swallowed, a gentle radiant heat spread within him. His focus narrowed until all that existed was her skin against his, the light that danced in her eyes, the low throaty chuckle as she kissed the side of his neck. She pressed him onto his back and stretched out atop him, body soft against him.
Donvin wrapped his arms around her. The sounds of the party faded to a background murmur, distant and unimportant. He and Rashillia kissed, gently, her lips barely grazing his. He felt acute awareness of everywhere they touched: her fingers stroking the side of his face, her breath on his skin, her body pressed close to his. “Do you want me?” she breathed.
“Yes,” Donvin breathed.
Without haste, she lowered herself onto him, taking him inside her. Donvin ran his hands up her back. She buried her face in his neck with a sigh. He stared up at the sky, lost in the tinsel chaos of the rain against the shield dome. Rippling streamers of light snaked across the sky. Rashillia rocked her hips, each slow, subtle motion igniting ripples of pleasure across his skin like the golden light above.
Gradually, Rashillia slowed, until at last they lay together unmoving for a long moment that stretched out to eternity, simply basking in the feel of one another. “You are delightful,” she said. Whorling eddies danced over Donvin’s body. She ran her fingers through his hair. “Thank you for sharing this moment with me.” She placed a gentle kiss on his lips, so softly it stole his breath away, then rose and vanished into the party.
Donvin lay on his back for a long time, relishing the hum in his skin and the silent spectacle overhead. Presently he rose, summoned a black robe edged in red and a glittering amber drink from the Provider, and wandered through the party. All around him, people chatted, or basked in the pools, or had leisurely sex. A lean, graceful man with white hair and deep indigo skin spun long metal rods with balls of fire at their ends.
Through a momentary gap in the crowd, he spotted Kalaian reclining on a low couch, head back, eyes closed. A lithe, muscular man sat beside her, exploring her body with his hands. Another man with golden hair and golden skin knelt on the grass, face buried between her open legs. As he pleasured her, he stroked the first man’s rigid erection with patient care. The gem at Kalaian’s throat blazed with light. Phantasmal butterflies rose in a spiral above her. Her fingers twined through her kneeling lover’s hair. Music filled the air.
Eventually, Donvin’s wandering feet carried him to a far corner of the space, where a row of shield generators cast a faint haze that enclosed a collection of couches and chairs, arranged in several circles. He felt the faint whisper of the shield as he stepped through. The music faded to a barely audible murmur.
“Hi! Donvin, is it? You’re Novice Kalaian’s friend?”
Donvin looked around. “Hi!” he said to the woman reclining on a small couch, a soft pillow tucked behind her head. “Terlyn, right?”
Terlyn looked him up and down. “I’m impressed. Do you remember the names of everyone you’ve met tonight? It’s quite a large party.”
“Well, perhaps not everyone,” Donvin said.
“Then I’m flattered.” She moved aside to make room beside her. “Sit with me?”
“Sure!” Donvin seated himself beside her and sipped his drink. A pleasant haze settled around him. “Are you enjoying the party so far?”
“Truth be told, I’m not one for parties,” Terlyn confessed. “One of my mothers thinks I should get out more, so here I am.”
Donvin nodded. “I know what you mean. Being around crowds can get tiring after a while.”
Terlyn gazed out into the bustle beyond the faint shield, where a tall, nude man with blue skin decorated with bold scarlet designs walked past one of Donvin’s luminous statues. He sported outsized breasts, an erection larger than Donvin’s forearm decorated with the same jagged scarlet lines, and a long tail that ended in a spike. “He must worship the Lady,” she said. “I’ve never really understood her worshippers.”
“Hey, now!” Donvin said with mock hurt.
“No offense intended,” Terlyn said. She glanced at him slyly from the corner of her eye. “Or maybe a little bit. You did steal Kalaian away from us, after all.”
“You worship the Quickener, then?”
“I do. Most of the people in my family group do.”
“I see our reputation precedes us. Again.” Some complex emotion flitted across her face and was gone, leaving no trace. She smiled at him and ran quick light fingertips over his arm. “Get me something to drink?”
“There’s a Provider right next to you.”
“What would you like?”
“Surprise me. It’s no fun asking the gods to surprise you, because they already know you better than you know yourself. I want you to surprise me.” Her fingertips touched the back of his hand, light and quick. “It’s the least you can do, for entrancing one of our worshippers into service to the Lady.”
“If I get you a drink, will all my sins be forgiven?” Light sparkled in Donvin’s eye.
“I don’t know all of your sins. Tell me of them when you’ve brought me a drink and we’ll see.”
“Ah, it’s to be that kind of night, is it? Perhaps I’ll bring one for myself as well.” Donvin drained his glass and rose. “I’ll be right back!”
Terlyn leaned back and looked up at him through half-lidded eyes. “The moments will seem like days until you return.”
Donvin stepped through the shield into the noise of the party. Music washed around him. He went to the table, where a utility drone with an astonishing profusion of multi-jointed arms had set out an array of wine glasses in a complex, colorful pattern. He hesitated for a moment and chose two blue glasses of exquisitely cut crystal, then returned to the sanctuary enclosed by the shield. Behind him, the drone deftly rearranged the glasses, filling in the spaces left by the ones he’d taken.
Terlyn beamed up at him. She accepted one of the glasses and patted the cushion beside her. Donvin sank down, almost but not quite touching her. “Thank you,” she said demurely.
“Don’t you want to ask what I got you?”
“Did you get yourself the same thing?”
“Then no.” Terlyn drained half her glass. “Mm, this is lovely.” She leaned toward him. “Now, Donvin of the Lady, tell me of your sins.”