Chapter 1

The majestic rising sun slowly cast its rays onto the four perimeter towers of the limestone citadel. Another tower rose from the center of the complex in a stark disparity to the lighter rock. Set against the high mountains, the ebony obelisk watched over its occupants like a stern matron. Within the tower lived the High Priestess of the Skycap Temple, a woman as opposing and powerful as her residence. In the predawn light, a young acolyte ran her hands over the unseen crevices and carving at the bottom of the tower. The pattern continued from its base to the tip of the structure, becoming more complex the higher the design went. As the morning sunbeams caught the black marble, the intricate arcane symbols began to absorb the light and create golden veins running down the tower's sides. The glowing, staggering obelisk served as a reminder to the Kazdians of the strange power their priestesses held.

Like bees drawn to a sweet flower, lines of girls dressed in pale red silk robes walked somberly to the glowing pylon. Beyond the tower and the courtyard lay the main temple of the complex, a domed building of the same pale limestone as the other buildings. Outer walls surrounded the temple, connected to towering pillars at each of the cardinal directions. Worshippers and visitors gathered in the outer courtyard while awaiting emission to the inner sanctum where the main temple and centermost tower resided. It was here where the full priestesses gathered, kneeling on the hard stone towards the obelisk, creating half of a semicircle. Opposite of the priestesses, the acolytes lined up and began to kneel in their designated places. Just as the senior priestesses knelt closest to the obelisk, senior acolytes with their gold Doua medallions created the first row of the acolyte's half.

Each acolyte was veiled with only dark eyes breaking the crimson sea. The shuffle of their silks slowly faded away until only the wind created a thin whistle through the courtyard. As the morning light traveled down the obelisk, the great doors of the High Priestess's tower slowly opened to reveal the golden garbed priestess. Amah Vizrana a Tor'Doua walked slowly to stand in the center of the courtyard. Slowly her gaze travelled across the sea of kneeling women as the sun continued to rise. Her scanning eyes finally rested upon a singular senior acolyte.

Jadza a Or'Doua kept her eyes on the cobblestone in front of her. Already her back and knees began to ache along with her forearms. Her fingers itched to fiddle with the gold chain around her neck. The heavy medallion depicted a rising sun with multitudes of rays bursting from the semicircle. Each senior acolyte received the medallion on her eighteenth birthday. It signified both the end of their training and the entering of their adult lives. The acolyte could feel Amah Vizrana's eyes on the back of her head. Although the Amah was fond of Jadza, trouble had a way of finding the young woman and caused many meetings with the head of the temple.

Sneaking a glance at the Amah, Jadza was once again stunned by the power that manifested in the High Priestess. The golden yellow robes held elaborate patterns of entwining suns and rays in a light red, orange, and yellow. It crisscrossed over the hems of her silks and simmered in the dawn light. No veil covered the lush dark curls that draped down her shoulders and back. Only faint traces of gray could be seen along her temples that hinted at her true age. Even at sixty, the Amah held the physique of a woman in her forties. Midnight eyes caught Jadza's own brown eyes, and the startled acolyte quickly averted her eyes back to the cobblestone.

Her heart pounded in her ears, and her breath became shallow. A wave of panic coursed through her body, and her arms began to shake. Today, at noon, she would leave the Skycap Temple and begin her pilgrimage with the other senior acolytes to Doua's Citadel within the City of Lights, the capital of Kazdia. The sprawling seaport lay on the coast on the opposite border of her temple's city. She had been told the city stands next to a body of water so vast that one could not see the other side! It would be a great difference from her mountain city. There at the Citadel was where she would go through Doua's Judgment and receive her final Call to become a full priestess of the sun deity. Jadza took a shaky breath and clenched her hands together. 'Please oh Blessed Sun, don't forsake me. Let me be your Chosen One.'

Gradually, she began to feel a sleeping coil of power stir within her. Around her she knew that others were feeling the same. It was Doua, waking his nation. His Light would turn the snowcaps of the mountains a brilliant array of colors; red, orange, yellow, and finally back to white. It would touch the Snake River and line the water with golden light. Kazdia was Doua's chosen nation, and his Light protected all of his people.

A clear, ringing voice broke the serenity of the courtyard, "Blessing of the Dawn! Blessings of Doua's Light! Sister, open your hearts to our lord's power!" As one, both acolytes and priestesses raised their hands and faces to the blazing obelisk. Before them, Amah Vizrana was bathed in the morning light with her arms raised high to the rising sun. Light radiated from her open palms and glowed a deep golden yellow. Jadza felt her own power stir as the sun touched her veil and her open palms. Light surged forth from her. A rush of emotions coursed through her body as warmth and light radiant from her raised palms. Every woman in the courtyard poured her power into the sky to join the Amah's. A sudden burst, the light shot from their hands and rose to the morning sun in a magnificent display of power.

Under her face, a fierce smile broke out on Jadza's face. The Morning Light ceremony always lifted her spirits but it was the joined harmonious flow of power between the Blessed Ones that caused her soul to sing. This was the physical manifestation of Duoa's power in his chosen. It was a gift of love and trust bestowed on his priestess to protect his nation. Some even said this ceremony was what caused the sun to return day after day, but Jadza knew that wasn't true. It was just a physical display of Doua's love to his people.

The Amah slowly lowered her arms, and the rest of the courtyard followed suit. The priestesses rose from their humbling position and waited for the Morning Light blessing. "Sisters, Doua honors us with another day of life and happiness. Bestow his gift unto others so that they too will know his love. Blessings of the Dawn Light!" Her clear voice rang across the courtyard. A brilliant smile filled her youthful face. It was said living in the High Priestess's tower prolonged aging and its effects because it was always filled with Doua's presence. Jadza wasn't sure if that was true or not, but the Amah didn't look a day older from when Jadza had first arrived.

"Sisters, let us rejoice. Today, our acolytes will make their journey to the Citadel and receive Doua's full blessing. Sister Imani a Sor'Doua will lead them to the City of Light." A severe woman stepped out from the ranks of the priestesses. Her silver hair and burnt orange silks were vastly different than the Amah's appearance. Jadza was sure she had never seen the senior priestess smile. However, their robes created an image of a flame of a candle. All that was missing were the azure robe of the Queen, Sabiya a Doua.

"As declared by our beloved Doua, in her eighteenth year, all acolytes must journey to his earthly palace and withstand her judgment in his presence." The High Priestess smiled kindly at her acolytes. A touch of sadness softened her expression as she continued, "May Doua grant you peace in your callings. Each of you has excelled in her studies and has been equipped with the knowledge of our past sisters." Amah Vizrana walked slowly down the center of her followers, and the entire assembly began to dissolve as girls went to attend to their daily duties.

Jadza knew why the Amah held a touch of sadness. Each year about fifty acolytes travelled to the Citadel, but only a handful would return to this temple as junior priestesses. The others would be called to serve in different temples around Kazdia that weren't as large as the Skycap Temple. Yet, some acolytes would not be able to pass Doua's Judgment. The Amah mourned for these lost sisters. For those who did not pass died either in the judgment or shortly afterward.

Fear welled up in Jadza at her own impending judgment, but another part of her exalted in the experience. She had little fear of the wrath of Doua or his Judgment, having only seen his kindness and beauty all her life in the high mountains. She and the other senior acolytes stood in the center of motion that had erupted in the courtyard. As priestesses in training, they were granted no possessions of their own and were allowed to bring nothing with them as they joined the temple. Now, they only waited for Sister Imani's directions.

The young acolyte's gaze traveled the peaks of the mountains. The mountaintops looked as lonely as she felt. She had been at the temple since her mother had left her when she had begun to manifest Doua's power. She had been four and hadn't seen nor heard from her mother again. The Amah had told her that her mother worked as a prostitute in a city up the river from Daz when Jadza had realized no one came to see her though the other acolytes always had visitors. Bitterness pooled in Jadza's heart. Granted, the fate that was given to her was better than her mother's, but she still wished to have known her only family.

The bitterness was overcome by sadness as her eyes rested on the obelisk. She would miss her home and her teachers. Most of all, she would miss the Amah and her room high in the blessed tower. From the Amah's room, Jadza was able to see the bustling river port city of Daz and the Snake River Valley. She could also see the Skycap Pass to Kazdia's neighbor, Saraveil. The temple sat high in the cliffs over the fertile valley. Daz and its surrounding villages and farms continued to supply a steady from of acolytes for the third biggest temple in the land. It was the third largest temple behind only the desert city of Shalom and the capital city.

The gates to the courtyard opened and a group of traders walked into the busy center. Temple guards escorted them to the obelisk to the meeting rooms where Amah Vizrana held her audiences. The high priestess oversaw all economic trade within the Valley and the technical ruler of the city. However, behind her sat a council of men from ancient families who used their influence to waver the Amah's opinion. The reality for women who were not ordained was bleak. While the Queen ruled the nation, common women could not own any property except her jewelry. They also could not conduct business or be alone with men who were not their relatives. Most of the women lived in seclusion in their own homes except to attend Light Blessings.

The highest social class in Kazdia was reserved for those ordained in the priesthood. Since no man was allowed to hold the title of priest, women held the most power. Except the Queen and all high priestesses were merely puppets for a council of men. The council held the greatest power of these women: they determined who a priestess will marry, if they should choose to do so. Jadza was sure that men would rule Kazdia if Doua had not explicitly denied the Queen and high priestesses to marry. She feared what would happen if the council managed a way around that decree. Even now, the men arranged marriages not based on personalities or tastes but on personal gain that could extracted from such matches. A priestess could only marry a man from the second class, the aristocrats, and only if she had registered to become married. Once married, the priestess was required to leave the temple she served and joined her husband's house. From there, she would continue her duties at a local shrine located within the city. Every day from dawn to dusk, she would serve the sick and poor and preform blessings to all who came to her.

The acolyte ran her hands up and down her arms as goose bumps covered her flesh. Even though she desperately longed for a family of her own, she had determined long ago that she would rather die than give up her freedom at the temple. At least here she could read and write and be her own person. She feared a husband would erase her and create an empty shell like she had seen some of the married priestesses become. Kazdian men would always want to dominant and control the power that they were denied. Jadza feared that someday the delicate balance that Doua had created would come crashing down as her countrymen wanted more and more.

A/n: I love constructive criticism. Send me some.