Writing Wednesday: The Haunted Temple

We’re just days away from the release of Riwenne & the Bionic Witches. There are so many exciting things in this book that I think you’ll love. I’ve just gotten the first review from one of my ARC readers, and Warren said, “If you like anime or rpg video games, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. It’s easy to read and the time flies by when doing so.”

I may do one more excerpt next week, but I don’t want to spoil all the best parts. Also, I’m writing book three now and I want to start sharing pieces of that! So here’s one of the last excerpts you’ll get from book 2. A fun part I’ve been waiting to write since I started the series since Xiso is one of my favorite gods. Riwenne and her friends are looking for the truth about the gods, so they seek out an old, abandoned temple for clues…

The last thing I wanted to do was explore a haunted cave in the middle of nowhere. Kyra used to work as an exorcist for the temple, so she didn’t use words like “haunted” lightly. The last time she followed rumors of ghosts, we ended up fighting a giant mechanical crocodile in the city sewers. This cave could be haunted by real ghosts or something worse. And I’d have to face it with no magic.

I stepped off the ship with some hesitation. We were above the tree line, so there was nothing but grass and rocks. The air was clear and easy to breathe. The sun was bright. Out here, it felt peaceful, safe.

Kyra led the way as if she’d been here before. She pointed out the abandoned buildings. “These are all at least three hundred years old. These outlying structures are newer, built as the temple expanded to house the growing number of priestesses and flocks.”

I eyed her. I knew for a fact she’d never left the city before our escape, so there was no way she could have first-hand knowledge of anything here. Her old know-it-all attitude from the class was coming back.

The buildings were large and spread out in a rectangle around a central courtyard. The doors, windows, and roofs were all gone, but the stone shells looked strong enough to withstand centuries. The stones were unevenly cut, nothing like the symmetrical brickwork of the city, but when I touched a wall, they were so tightly fit that even a sheet of paper couldn’t have slipped between them.

The temple was the largest, built so it leaned against the mountain, with its stone roof still intact. Amena passed around lit torches before we went inside, reminding us not to use magic.

While most of the buildings were plain, the main entrance was heavily decorated. Tall pillars, carved to resemble strange, menacing creatures, ran down the immense hall in rows to support the high roof. The walls showed traces of old paintings. Huge potted plants brightened up the room, and some of these had overgrown the floor, their blooms filling the hall with their sweet, heavy perfume. An extravagance of candles sat in every available nook and cranny in the windowless room, dripping into veritable mountains and rivers of wax built up over centuries of use. We lit several with our torches to get a better look.

Kyra gestured at the paintings. “Here’s our first clue. See anything unusual?”

I craned my neck upward. Everything looked strange to me. The artwork was in an older style I’d never seen before, although the bold lines and symbols reminded me of our temple’s design back home. The lowest pictures on the wall showed ebu, the horned mountain sheep that gave thick wool and rich milk for cheese. These basic pictures showed the yearly cycle of humans caring for the sheep: herding them to graze in mountain pastures, birthing the lambs, sheering their wool in the warmer seasons, milking them, making cheese and storing it to ripen in the caves.

Above the sheep pictures, there were more elaborate designs of gods who seemed to observe or bless the humans’ works. The largest figure, repeated often, looked like Xiso—except instead of wearing a llama’s pelt, he had a sheepskin cape and an ebu ram’s horns on his head. I recognized a female figure over the birthing scene as Mitta, the goddess of motherhood. There were at least a dozen deities I’d never seen before.

“What counts as unusual?” I pointed to a figure I didn’t recognize, one who didn’t look masculine or feminine. “I don’t know who that’s supposed to be.”

Tika landed on my shoulder. “Zavy,” she chirped. “They’re in charge of wool and weaving, that’s why they’re blessing the sheering.”

I frowned, looking closer, but their gender remained ambiguous. “They? So they’re non-binary?”

“Exactly,” Tika said. “Lots of gods don’t identify with a gender, and some prefer to take different genders at different times. Even Xiso, that tricksy shapeshifter, took a female form to birth the first llama.”

I scanned the walls and found another section with Xiso’s exploits. He shape-shifted into many animals, mostly for breeding. One picture matched Tika’s description of the first llama’s birth rather graphically. I glanced away.

“I thought Ibda was the only non-binary deity,” Janera said, coming over to see Zavy.

“The only one the temples mention now,” Kyra said with a sigh. She pointed to another goddess’s picture. “There’s Charuza, the goddess of cheese. I’ve only found vague references to her in our books. She must have been important here.”

Janera put a hand to her head. “But how do you keep these gods straight? Are there really five hundred?”

“Nobody worshiped that many at once,” Tika said. She gestured with her wing. “These deities watched over the herds and making cheese, so people venerated them here. Other temples served different gods depending on their function. But your empire has forgotten many of the old ways and rites that used to be part of daily life. Things are so automated in the factories, people don’t call on the gods.”

I shivered and glanced back to the sunlight outside. No wonder people said this old temple was haunted. If there was even a trace of the neglected gods, but modern people didn’t know who they were, they must get confused and frightened. But I didn’t sense any divine presences, even as we spoke their names aloud. The gods must have lost their ties to this temple after decades of being ignored.

Kristen

I'm an author, a blogger, and a nerd. I read and write fantasy.
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