“Oh, how beautiful,” Aradia breathed. Her eyes sparkled so enchantingly.
“Quite,” Rose agreed, looking at her partner instead of the ancient temple before them.
Jade, already starting forward, wondered, “Do you think this one will have deadly traps, too?”
Rose reached out and grabbed her sleeve.
“I hope so,” Aradia replied far more gleefully than she really should have at the prospect. That’s just how Rose’s girls were.
Rose grabbed Aradia, too, and linked her arms with both women. They turned to her with wide grins and together they walked up to the temple entrance.
Surprisingly, for its age, it wasn’t all that run down. This dry climate had preserved it well. The temple was half buried in the sand, too, helping to shield it from clear view. It was by sheer luck that a satellite had even picked up on it, and then only as a curious anomaly. They had set out on this little expedition solely on Jade and Aradia’s shared hunch.
The temple entrance was uncovered, a layer of sand coating the steps inside. They made their way up to the ornate stone door. Immediately Jade and Aradia examined it, former ghosting a finger around the etching on it.
“How bizarre,” Aradia mused. “It almost looks like a mixed depiction of a human heart and troll bloodpusher.”
“Like someone stitched them together,” Jade agreed.
“Curious indeed, though a sentiment I fully understand.” Rose’s partners beamed at her. “Shall we?”
They heaved the door open just enough for them to slip inside. Jade shone a light around what appeared to be a small foyer with a few antechambers on either side and one larger opening across the far wall.
The air was stagnant, overbearing. The heaviness of centuries blanketed over them.
Jade and Aradia looked right at home.
Rose herself, while not as hands on as her wandering girlfriends in these scenarios, did find it quite interesting. Great fodder for her next book.
“Picking anyone up?” Jade wondered.
“Hm. Not so much, no. There’s some sort of presence here but I’m not sure if it’s an entity or simply the residual energy of this place.”
“I’m sure a bit more investigating will show us one way or another,” Rose said, striding over to the large doorway. “Ladies?”
Jade and her light led the way. It was a grand chamber, incredibly detailed images painted on every wall and even the high ceiling. There were trolls and humans both, with hands or horns locked in displays of both pale and red love. Some were embracing, others were kneeling across from each other. A few were obviously shoosh-papping their partner or partners.
Oddly the only object was in the center. A stone effigy of a human and troll, hands pressed together and fingers interlocked. Its base was like a fountain waiting to be filled with water.
“This is so curious,” Aradia said, circling the sculpture.
“This temple must be to celebrate love,” Jade mused.
“Possibly fertility too.”
“Copulation,” Rose offered with a pop. Her partners snickered.
“Really though this is marvelous,” Aradia said, reverence in her voice as she placed a hand on the statue. “This was probably a ceremonial—oh!”
The fountain part lit up with a burgundy light—Aradia’s blood color. It staid lit even when she took her hand off. Curiously Jade touched the statue and a green that matched her name illuminated it, as well. Of course Rose had to try next, and a purple shade joined the others. The colors danced around each other, growing stronger and brighter until the whole room was illuminated.
They watched the lights in wonder. The air was lighter, somehow, stagnation from before having rapidly dissipated. It was so warm, too. Not a warmth like the room was heating up, but something more...inside of her. Warmth was blossoming from Rose’s chest, washing over her from the inside out. It was so tranquil and she was struck with the urge to just lay down in a pile with her partners and bask in their presence.
She was about to suggest just that—not even considering what they would use for a pile—when there was a terrible screeching that cut through the daze they’d fallen into. The three whipped towards the sound. There in the corner of the room was the largest snake Rose had ever seen. Easily thicker than Rose’s forearm, even thicker than either of her partners’, the creature likewise was long. Currently it’s head was lifted six feet off the ground and it still had plenty of body left to raise; Rose mused that if stretched fully it could reach the ceiling.
It’s face wasn’t like anything Rose had ever seen before. She couldn’t stare directly at it for longer than a glance, some power repelling her. What she could catch, however, was a mangled or maybe distorted mess. A shadow of a creature that didn’t naturally occur in their world.
Without warning it struck out at Rose who was nearest. There was only time for her to throw her arms over her face before the creature was upon her, knocking her to the hard ground. Fortunately it was her shoulder blade that took the brunt of the fall as opposed to her head.
Both partners cried out for her. Rose would have loved to assure them she was fine, but the heavy pressure bearing down on her chest made that quite difficult. Breathing, too. Hm. She may not have been as fine as initially assumed.
Senses muffled from air loss, Rose barely caught the faint crack of Aradia’s whip. She could see nothing but ceiling and the creature towering over her. It was lashing out presumably at her partners, yet steadfastly refusing to get off her. Rose tried to push at the creature but it was a fruitless endeavor, one arm pinned beneath its massive body while the other grew more feeble as the last of her oxygen reserves were used up.
The darkness at the edge of her vision crept further, further, until it overtook her sight. For a moment that’s all there was.
Then there were arms around her, helping her to sit up half cradled to a familiar chest. Aradia. Dimly Rose realized she was panting hard as air rushed into her deprived lungs.
There was the sound of a struggle close by and Rose managed to turn. Jade was wrestling with the creature, somehow keeping it from choking the life from her even as she was tangled up in it. She was using both teeth and hands; Rose couldn’t help taking a moment to appreciate her attractiveness. Not appropriate in this scenario, but one hundred percent accurate.
“I need to help Jade,” Aradia spoke up. “Can I leave you here?”
“Oh yes I’m fine. No need to dote on me, dear.”
Aradia gently sat Rose up by herself before jumping into the fray. Precision impressive as always, she cracked her whip at the creature, striking it solely. It let out another terrible, enraged screech that no normal snake should have the means to make.
It slid out of Jade’s grasp and rushed towards Aradia. Acting on instinct Rose lunged in front of her, regardless that as a troll Aradia was far more capable of taking a hit. Especially since Rose’s lungs were still greedily sucking up air in recovery.
It seemed she needn’t have worried.
Before the creature connected with Rose, something pure white came whizzing out of nowhere and collided with it. They went flying to the other side of the chamber, slamming against the mural. The three watched as their savior bit down with savage fangs on the creature’s neck and shake it like a toy. It’s tail whipped around furiously, shrieking at their savior, but the other beast merely batted it away. The snake tried to bite, but it was futile trapped in the other beast’s maw as it was.
It didn’t take long for the lusus to subdue the beast. When it stilled they gently set it back on the ground and strolled over to the trio, looking them up and down with an inquisitive eye. No one moved as the lusus circled around them, finally stopping in front of the three.
Looking closely at the lusus, Rose noted that at the right angle the beast was see-through. A ghost, then. She’d never met a ghost of a lusus. This one looked like a very large lioness. It bowed its head, and Rose automatically curtsied.
Stepping forward and placing her open palm on the beast’s head Aradia introduced, “Hello! Thank you for saving us. I’m Aradia, and these are my matesprits, Jade and Rose.”
The ghost purred. Smiling, Aradia turned her head back to them.
“She says her name is Pounce. And it’s been a very long time since she’s had company.”
“Well I’m very glad we could stop by,” Jade replied.
Aradia knelt down for a minute, communicating with the lusus and relating the information to her partners. Apparently their guesses as to the temple’s purpose had been correct, and that it had been dedicated solely to interspecies relationships back in a time when humans and trolls were often warring. The temple had eventually been ransacked, and Pounce had given her life trying to protect it. Now she was giving it her afterlife.
“That’s so tragic,” Jade whispered, eyes watering. Rose put a soothing hand on the small of her back.
“That is quite unfortunate. Relations between trolls and humans are much better nowadays,” Rose told the ghost.
Pounce seemed pleased. She glanced back to Aradia.
“Hm? Oh! We’d be honored.” She stood, facing her partners. “Pounce would like us to perform the ancient ritual to celebrate our love.”
Jade clapped her hands together and replied, “We’d love to!”
“I do love performing ancient rituals, and I’m sure this one will be much safer than that accidental demoness summoning a few months ago.”
Aradia translated Pounce’s instructions carefully, and the other two obeyed. All three stood shoulder to shoulder around the fountain, humans on either side of Aradia. With one of Jade’s knives they each took turns pricking the tip of their index finger, then together squeezed out a few droplets of blood into the base. Smoke rose up, engulfing their sight. Rose couldn’t see her partners through its thickness, though could still feel the pressure of Aradia against her side.
Warmth filled her, just like before. Aradia ordered them all to grasp the statue and Rose did. Once again those brilliant lights appeared, cutting through the fog.
To Rose’s immense surprise the statues moved. At first the stone rumbled, then slowly the heads shifted to peer at the trio. They smiled, and Rose swore a faint giggling wafted through the chamber.
“Pounce says we may kiss now.”
“Well if it’s for the ritual then I can’t very well say no,” Rose teased, earning the sweet laughter of her partners.
They all leaned in for slow, silly kisses. Rose blew on Jade’s ear, Aradia tugged on her hair, and Jade blew a raspberry on Aradia’s neck that made her squeal.
When they finally pulled away from each other they realized the chamber had gone back to how it had been before. Fog, lights, all gone. The statues were staring at each other again. Pounce was no longer behind them, either.
“She’s resting,” Aradia explained, a serenity in her voice.
That warmth was still flowing through Rose, and she was sure her partners could still feel it, as well. Her earlier idea came back in full force.
“That’s not a wholly awful idea. Would you two like to join me in a pile?”
Her partners beamed at Rose and took her offered hands.