This is a masterpage containing excerpts from current and incoming chapters.
Persia stood at the gated temple with a frown on her pretty face. Shimera knew from the look on her face that she had earned another thirty minutes of whining from Persia about her home. Persia had smooth brown skin and her hazel eyes were a welcome sight for Shimera. There was no worry in them, only impatience. She pulled Shimera in for a hug and Shimera inhaled Persia’s soft, sweet perfume. She relaxed into Persia’s arms and wrapped her arms around her lover. Persia had been the one to pursue her and eventually, Shimera could no longer deny her affection for Persia. It had only been two weeks, but they were a breath of fresh air for her. She smiled into Persia’s orange shemagh, feeling some of the tension in her body melt away.
Shimera pulled away after a moment, remembering the stakes if they were caught in such a tender embrace. Despite how natural it felt, it still wasn’t right. They had to be more careful. They had to stop–
Shimera cleared her throat and asked, “Have you started?”
Persia shook her head and Shimera struggled to read the emotions on her face before she turned away. “Not quite. You have time to dress. Be quick about it.” She said, glancing back at Shimera.
Shimera nodded, once more remembering Persia’s place in temple: above her. Shimera cleared her throat again as the reality of her life came running back. She straightened up as a wave of sadness made her eyes water. She followed Persia farther into the temple without a word.
The temple was made of weathered white stone and it was adorned with statues and yellow fabric. There were pillars along every wall, separating hallways from each other, and the smell of myrrh filled the air. They were burning incense in the sanctuary. The temple was much cooler than the outside, and she welcomed the stiff, dry air with a sigh.
Shimera left Persia’s side to walk to the women’s side of the temple. The temple used to be filled with monks, but due to their celibacy laws, the monks hadn’t been able to raise children into the faith. This had changed long before Shimera was born, but they could only marry within the temple. The children were raised in the nearby houses, and many of them knew Shimera as an adopted aunt. She was one of the few women above the age of eighteen who worshipped the Sun while living outside of the temple, and some of them came to her when their family members had fallen sick.
Shimera waved to a few of the mothers and children passing her.
One of the children squeaked, “They’re going to water the river today, right, Momma?”
The woman responded by shushing her child, but she gave Shimera a proud look as they passed her. She knew they were expecting children from her and the other young women soon. The entire village was. Always.
Shimera walked into the dressing room, tossing these troubling thoughts aside, and was surprised to see a naked dark-skinned woman standing in the middle of the room. Shimera averted her eyes from the woman, who quickly reached for her folded clothes on the bench in front of her.
“My apologies,” Shimera muttered, looking down at her crumpled shemagh in her hands.
“Not at all. We all have the same parts, do we not?” The woman spoke with an accent, but the friendly words came out in a curt, annoyed way. The woman glared at her clothes, avoiding Shimera’s eyes.
Shimera risked a peek at her face and saw the topaz jewel held to the woman’s neck by a black cord. The gem glittered despite the low light in the room. The realization made a chill run down her spine. This was an undead woman, one of the immortal headless soldiers. One of the Lyres.
Consumed with curiosity, Shimera turned her eyes to absorb the woman’s form. She was getting dressed now, no longer paying Shimera any mind, while Shimera studied the woman with her eyes.
Like all of the immortal soldiers, they had an undeniably magnetizing presence. Heads turned whenever a group of them walked down the street. Of course, the village hardly ever saw a group of Lyres, since they spent most of their time in other cities. The Lyres wore a blend of dyed cotton and leather, depending on the season, and they had an athletic build that the strongest men in town could only pray for. The women somehow kept a feminine edge to their features, whether it was from a softer jawline or something sweet in their eyes, while the men looked like they would cut your throat for looking at them as they passed you. Everything about the Lyres screamed intimidating, screamed danger!, but Shimera felt no such intimidation as she gazed upon this one.
Sensing her stare, the soldier looked up at her. She smirked and the arrogant expression lit up her mysterious gold eyes, only enchanting Shimera even more. They glowed like the topaz around her neck.
“Don’t you have a rain dance to do?” The soldier asked.
The question settled into Shimera’s mind, bringing anxiety with it. Shimera turned away, flustered now, and began to strip out of her clothes. The soldier reached for the last of her things: a belt of some sort, and stepped around Shimera without another word.
Shimera headed for the shelf with the ceremonial robes and she pulled one over her head as the soldier said, “My name is Vanja. I get the sense you’ll be seeing me around.”
Shimera turned to look at the soldier and saw that she blocked the door now. She crossed her arms and Shimera’s eyes scanned her again without shame. Vanja was dressed in her uniform now, and it was a blend of black cotton and silver weaponry. The belt around Vanja’s waist held weapons. Vanja’s sleeves were rolled up and she glared openly at Shimera now with her right hand resting on one of her daggers.
Danger! Shimera stiffened, her entire body went cold, as she realized something.
Vanja left without another word, sending Shimera a dark look, and Shimera cowered by the robes, trying to inhale a calming breath.
“Shimera!” Someone called, making her jump. “We can’t start without you!”
Shimera swallowed hard and called back, “I’m on the way!”
She hesitated before she left the safety of the cabinets. She lingered by the entrance of the dressing room, and her nose caught a whiff of something foul. Something dead.
Shimera peeked around the hallway for a moment, looking for unfamiliar faces. She had never seen a Lyre in the Sun temple before. She’d have to ask Persia why Vanja had been inside.
Shimera continued down the hallway. Once a place of safety and peace, Shimera felt that there were eyes everywhere in the Sun temple, staring at her. Watching her every move. She reached up for the yellow shemagh on her head and tightened it around her wild hair. She kept her head down as she hurried to the sanctuary.
This excerpt comes directly from chapter one.