The temple of Morpheous was small and quiet and dark. It shared space with Teleuti's followers somewhat unsurprisingly. In a city as enamored with the Goddess of Light as Vale was, she almost expected that darker things, dreams and death, would be relegated to hidden corners and shadows. She fought not to limp, for the most part successfully, as she walked through the high, black, marble arch and into the chapel. The walls were covered with slowly drifting wisps of blue and green fire that cast the room in shifting shadow and light. The effect was beautiful but eery. A shaft of moonlight cut through the center room, pouring through an oculus and bathing the large, moonstone statute of him in soft light. She moved to stand before it. Staring into the statute's translucent face, she decided they had gotten his smile all wrong. It's much more mischievous in person, she thought, and his hair was longer. Nisha heard quiet, satin-footed steps coming up behind her and turned.
"I beg your aid, brother," she said as she moved aside her cloak to reveal the wound.
"Oh," said an old man so wrinkled Nisha wasn't sure he could see at all, "oh my, that will need some tending. Come this way, and we'll have someone fix you right up."
The old man was far stronger than she'd have expected. He felt solid as he helped her walk into the innards of the rectory and eased her onto a tufted bench.
"She'll be here directly," he said and patted her hand.
She watched him leave, his long robes bouncing gently with each ginger step. Was there the slightest bulge of a sword on his back? Had it been a sheath she'd felt? She thought so, but wasn't sure.
True to his word, a young, brown skinned woman appeared quite quickly. Her hair was so dark and silky it blended near seamlessly into her black, flowing robes. The girl bent down to examine the wound, and the robe gaped. The gaping robe gave Nisha a good glimpse of the woman's supple breasts and the tattoo that marked her as a priestess. Simple black loops curling around one another in impossible to follow lines were inked into the skin over the heart of every creature in his service. It looked beautiful against her skin, even if slightly distorted by the swell of her chest. Nisha let her gaze linger just long enough to make sure the young priestess was aware she'd looked.
"I'll need you," she said with a shy smile as she motioned to a doorway behind her, "in here."
There was a dark spot at the edge of her smile; she was missing a tooth. As Nisha followed the priestess into the room she wondered how and where and when it had happened.
"Gladly," Nisha said in the sweetest voice she could muster.
There was still a hint of darkness when she spoke, always a shadow lurking she could never quite hide, but Nisha suspected in this place that it wouldn't be held against her. She stopped holding back her limp, playing it up slightly. Of course, the sweet, young priestess moved quickly to help. Nisha accepted. She leaned in as the girl wrapped her arm around Nisha's hip to avoid the wide cut at her waist, helping her support herself. Walking side by side, it was impossible not to notice that the priestess towered over her. The walk was short, and over far sooner than either would have liked.
Damp earth perfumed the warm, moist air in the room into which the priestess brought Nisha. Bunches of herbs hung from the ceiling and peaked out from alcoves in the clay walls, giving the air a pleasantly floral undercurrent. A fine mist rolled across the floor, steaming up from some unseen source.
"Take off your clothes, please," said the girl with a smile. "I can help if you want a hand."
"I think I can manage, but I do appreciate the offer..." Nisha trailed off, looking at the girl with a raised eyebrow.
"Stephora," she supplied, "but you can call me Steph."
"Steph," she said, "thank you."
She could have easily slipped out of her cloak and cleverly disguised chain shirt, but didn't; she struggled, twisting and turning and feigning a wince. Nisha hid a smile when, as expected, the other woman moved up quickly to fuss over and berate her for not accepting help. With Stephora's hands gently helping her, Nisha climbed onto the warm, stone table at the center of the room. There was a large, brass, convex disk above the table, and with a touch of the priestess's hand its surface exploded with light. Some trick of the metal reflected the light directly down onto the table, and the priestess angled it to illuminate Nisha's injury.
"How did this happen," she asked, and carefully unpacked the cut and rinsed it with water, "or would it be better not to ask?"
"It's a very long and very odd story. Would you forgive me if I wasn't up to telling it just now?"
The priestess smiled and gave Nisha's arm a gentle squeeze.
"Of course," she said.
Nisha relaxed into the familiar ritual as, after inspecting the wound to ensure it was cleansed, the priestess placed her soft hands against the deep cut and spoke quietly words that Nisha had heard many times but knew not the meaning of. After the girl's hands moved from the wound, it was healed. There wasn't even a scar left behind.
"Thank you," she said, "how can I repay you?"
Though Stephora's hands were no longer on the cut, they had not left Nisha's body. She laid still, at ease as she waited to see what the other woman would do.
"You don't need to pay," said the girl, "I'm happy to have helped."
As if she'd just become aware of her hands slowly drifting down Nisha's body, the priestess blushed. A red tide warmed her deep, brown cheeks.
"I'm, I'm sorry," she stammered, "I didn't mean..."
"No need to be sorry," Nisha said, stopping the girl with her hand over top of the other woman's, "it feels good."
Nisha sat up and guided the priestess's hands up her body to brush against her exposed breasts. She smiled to see Stephora looking down at her intently.
"You sure you're well enough for this?" The girl asked.
"Certain," Nisha said as she drew Stephora's lean body toward her and into a kiss.
The kiss started tentative and probing, but ended hungry and hard and deep. Both woman pulled back smiling. Nisha slid from the table to kneel on the floor, stirring and sending up wisps of steam around them. Slowly, she moved her hands along the other woman's legs and pushed up her luxurious robes. It surprised her when, on the priestess's thigh, her fingers felt the cool brush of steel instead of soft skin. She looked up at her, cocking an eyebrow.
"Can't be too careful," said the young priestess.
Nisha grinned and drew the dagger from its sheath. Carefully, she dragged the knife over Stephora's thigh, and her smile widened as a shutter ran through the other woman's body.
"Now," she said, "that is a very interesting reaction."
Nisha rose from the floor in a single, fluid motion, taking the robe with her. With a little help from the younger, taller woman, the priestess was naked in the dewy air. It became obvious that Nisha was eye level to the other woman's round breasts. She drew the priestess's nipple into her mouth. At the brush of her teeth, the other woman whimpered and shook. It spurred Nisha on, and sucking turned to biting. When she pulled, slowly back, allowing the other woman's skin to slide from between her teeth, she smiled to find Stephora's eyes already wide and out of focus. Nisha turned the priestess around, guiding her to the table.
"Get up and lie down on your back," she said, still holding the dagger.
Nisha leaned down over the other woman's body as a shudder ran through her. She traced her hands across the priestess's long, lean stomach, pressing her lips and then her teeth into the tender flesh. Stephora gasped in response. Drawing herself back up, Nisha ran the blade down the other woman's torso, leaving a shallow cut in its wake. The blood looked dark against Stephora's skin, almost the color of her own hair, Nisha thought. She licked the long, crimson line that bisected the priestess's stomach and chest, and she ended crouched over top of her, kissing Stephora with bloody lips. They pressed their bodies together. Nisha reached her slender arm between the other woman's legs as the sweet, copper taste of the priestess's blood filled their mouths.
Nisha pulled back and sat up, slid down the other woman's body and ground against her. All of a sudden, she found herself rolled over, flat on her back with Stephora stretched out on top of her.
"Can't be in charge all the time," said the girl with a wicked, gap-toothed smile.
The two woman tumbled and tussled; they rolled one over the other biting and kissing and groping and grabbing. Quickly, they ended up off the table and on the floor. Nisha found herself again looking up at the other woman towering over her. The ground was soft, almost spongy beneath her back. Sephora's hair fell around them, pooling and haloing both women in an intimate darkness. They kissed in that darkness, kissed hard enough to leave bruises. Nisha felt the other woman's knee press into the hot, wet spot between her legs.
They fed on one another fiercely with lips and teeth and tongues for longer than either of them could keep track of. By the time she collapsed panting into the priestess's chest, Nisha's hands had explored all of the other woman's body, and Nisha too had been explored. For a few moments they laid together and worked to catch their breaths. Eventually, Nisha rolled to the side, propping herself on her elbow to look at the other woman. Sweat glistened on their skin, painting Nisha a pale gold and the girl a deep bronze. The priestess looked back at Nisha with dark, almond eyes and spoke softly.
"So," she said, "are you up to telling that story of yours now?"
Nisha narrowed her solid black eyes at the other woman.
"Did you sleep with me in hopes of manipulating it from me?" She asked.
"Not at all. I'm sure that was your plan. You were trying to seduce me, and you seemed like a good time. Figured why not." The priestess laughed a little when she spoke, reclining comfortably in the humid room. "Which, I have to say, I was right about."
She was taken back and narrowed her eyes more at the young woman she had thought voracious but naive and pliable just moments before.
"You knew?" She asked.
Another laugh from Stephora and a nod. "Yes," she said, "I'm not nearly so young and innocent as I look. I take after my mother that way."
"Half elves," Nisha said, "you are all too hard to spot and too hard to read."
"Oh, I've heard that more than a few times from women in your shoes, or lack there of as the case may be."
"Someone told me recently that I need not always be a villain. Perhaps, now would be a good time to test that."
"Oh," she said, "you're a villain, are you?"
"Yes," Nisha said, "I have been for a very long time."
She told as short as was reasonable, the bizarre encounter she'd had with her patron deity, and briefly about the fight with the thieves. Of course, she left out key details like location of the object and murder of the man in the hallway. The priestess listened to Nisha's smooth, dark voice telling her story with a neutral, calm expression. Once she was done, Stephora hopped to her feet.
"You need to talk to Hercule," the priestess said. "I haven't a damned clue what any of that means, save obviously that you're seriously skilled with that sword on your back, but he'll know who to send you to."
Nisha was quietly thankful the girl didn't actually make her ask.
"Where could I find this Hercule?" She asked, sitting up.
"You've already met him, actually. You remember the man who brought you in?" She asked. "That's him. If you'll stay here, I'll fetch him. I'm sure he isn't far. He's very protective."
While she waited for the priestess to return Nisha redressed. She wasn't waiting long before she heard the old man's light footsteps coming down the hallway outside with Stephora's close behind.
"Steph tells me you have questions; how can I help child?" Said the stout, wrinkled man that squinted up at her.
"I have this object," Nisha said, and started reaching for the belt pouch that still contained the glowing blue orb.
"You don't need to produce it. I can see. He has given you a gift; he's marked you," he said.
The old man smiled and nodded as he reached out and patted her hand.
"He came to you dream, yes? Talked to you? Gave you the Tear? The mark is obvious to those who can see. I knew he'd put his mark on you when I saw you before, only, I didn't know you didn't know of it."
"I have seen no marks on my body," Nisha said.
"The mark cannot be seen by your eyes," said the old man. He smiled again, looking at her with his tiny, bright eyes mostly obscured in the folds of his weathered face. "But, I see many things others can't."
"Can you tell me what it is?" She asked.
"It's his Tear."
"That is what the thief called it when he attempted to take it from me, a Tear," she said.
"Oh, yes, yes, that is what it is. The Morphean Tear is a most rare and powerful artifact, very valuable even if you are not a child of the All Father. For you it will be even more so, as you are such a child and marked by him as well."
"Morphean Tear," she asked, "what does it do? How do I use it?"
"I can't tell you all of what it does. No, I don't know; though, I am certain I know a woman who could give you such information. What I can tell you is that it'll lead you to that which you want most. Also, that it began as a real tear that fell from his cheek and into the world when he witnessed the beauty of his dream that is our existence," said the old man at length.
"Who must I find, and where is she?"
"Ariana," he exclaimed with a wide smile, "my daughter, she's always on the move, searching for lore and recovering important artifacts for the temple. I have no way to know her whereabouts; she moves around far too much and too quickly, but the Tear can show you the way."
A deep groove cut down the center of her pale, sallow forehead as she furrowed her brow and ran a long fingered hand over her face.
"How does it do that?"
"Hold it in your hand, stop and take a breath; you must think of what you need and what you want and you will feel a pull toward that thing or place or person," he said.
Nisha pulled the Tear from her belt pouch, and held it in her open hand. It glowed faintly. She closed her eyes and thought of the woman, Ariana, the old man's daughter.