It was going to be an awkward kind of day, Asha decided. Though if she had allowed herself to dwell on it even a little longer, she knew that it would have been much stranger than just ‘awkward’. It wasn’t helped by feeling like she was in a doctor’s office, stripped to her underwear and waiting atop the cold stone bench that marked their ‘altar’ to Ishtar. She sat on the edge, legs hanging off as her fingers nervously drummed the rim of the altar. The base had been surrounded by Ishtar’s preferred food, spices, and incense offerings while the top had been left bare to ‘give them room’ as Constance had so delicately put it. The room itself was a windowless underground stone chamber lit with torches that cast everything in a hazy amber glow.
At Rachel’s recommendation, she had stopped holding back her spiritual energy as well. Her long wings of gold and blue lay behind her, draped across the altar, and the power coursing through her manifested as a soft glow on her exposed skin and a shine in her eyes. She’d been more self-conscious about her appearance over the last few hours than she had been in the last two years, constantly adjusting her hair and re-checking her appearance in the polished bronze shield that lay against the side of the altar. The waiting was the worst part, how long was he going to take?
No sooner had she thought that than did the door open up as Leyla half-stepped in, still clearly talking to someone on the other side, likely Constance.
“Yes I know…I know…oh just…just get out! No opening the door until we say so.”
With a sigh, Leyla stepped inside, shutting the door behind him and triple-checking to ensure it was locked before looking up to see Asha sitting on the altar. The changes of expression on his face were certainly something to see. First was surprise, a widening of the eyes and half-gape that marked a pleasant shock rather than horror. Then came the embarrassment, rushing in like the tide as his face turned red and his eyes flickered in the predictable paths of trying to look up and down her body while trying to look away at the same time. All the while, underpinning this flood of emotion, were the subtle changes in stance and movement of the lips that marked arousal.
Asha could identify it not because she was a particularly skilled face-reader, but because she was feeling the exact same thing. Leyla had a tendency not to flaunt his body too much, wearing long and loose-fitting clothing ideal for desert travel. She’d seen him shirtless now and then but, given the context and that he was stripped to his underwear, now she saw him in a completely different light.
Leyla had always had an androgynous face, and now she could see that extended to the rest of him, from his narrow shoulders to his slender waist. She could see the sharp build of his body despite the slimness. He was lithe but not thin, as monster hunting had a way of toning the body.
Leyla was no doubt seeing the same thing in her. Asha didn’t have the most impressive curves, but broad hips and a toned stomach that gave definition to her waist were quick to draw his eyes to her deep tan skin before they traveled further upwards.
“Umm…” Leyla was the first to manage to break the silence. “You look…really good.”
“Likewise,” It was a lame line and both of them knew it. But they needed to lift the awkward mood somehow. It wasn’t that Asha didn’t want to be here in this situation with Leyla. Rather the context was making it far more awkward than the prospect of the act itself.
Leyla took a seat beside her on the altar, both staring forward at the door as they struggled to find a way to start, to say something that might break the tension.
“So what was Constance trying to do?” Asha asked.
“Giving me tips,” Leyla screwed up his mouth in a sort of half-smirk. “I told her I wasn’t new at this.”
“Wait…you’ve done it…in that body?” Asha glanced at him.
“Let’s not go there,” Leyla said. “But short answer is yes.”
“Oh…” Color rushed to her face as Asha’s self-consciousness returned. “I’m…completely new at this.”
“Oh…ooh,” Leyla was about as red as she likely was. “Wow and I’ve just been assuming and…seriously, never? You must have had a boyfriend.”
“Nope,” Asha said.
“Girlfriend…you know, other than Cat?”
Asha punched him in the shoulder, but she felt the burden ease up as he chuckled.
“No but seriously, a girl as beautiful as you,” Leyla continued. “I can understand waiting around for…well ‘it’. But it’s just been you?”
“No one,” Asha said, though she could hear her heart thumping in her chest now as she dangled on the words, head ablaze as she considered the ramifications of adding ‘except you’. Was she ready for that? Were they ready for that?
Her fingers curled around the edge of the altar. The anticipation, the knowledge of why they were there causing her heartbeat to accelerate until it was like thunder in her brain, making her thoughts hazy and indistinct as they fluttered half-formed between what was, what could be, and what would be.
As she stared off in no particular direction, she was pulled suddenly from her fevered reverie by the feelings of his hands on her shoulders. Suddenly she was looking at him, her eyes staring into his as her wings flapped to life.
“I think…” Leyla said, his words slow and deliberate. “…that there isn’t much point in just waiting.”
“Y-yeah…” Asha managed to stammer before Leyla pushed forward and, faster than she could blink, she felt his lips pressed to hers.
She was so focused, so consumed by the feeling of him kissing her she didn’t notice he was gently moving her onto her back until she felt her skin and the soft feathers at the base of her wings pressed against the cold stone. All she could focus on was the shape of his lips and the warm wet feeling of his tongue.
He pulled his head back, only far enough to speak, and Asha moved her arm to catch his long dark hair in her hand as she ran it across the back of his head.
“Are you ready?” He may have taken the lead, but Asha could see the intense nervousness running through Leyla’s body, his hands trembling even as they caressed her shoulders.
“Yeah,” Asha said, this time with more assurance. She wanted to feel his lips gain, to feel all of him against her.
The one word was all it took for him to lean back in, and this time she could feel his chest pressed against hers as his hands set to work on what little she still wore. She realized then just how warm he was, his very skin hot against hers as the power of the fire spirit burned within him. It was like being embraced by a furnace, but rather than push him away, Asha only wanted to feel more of it.
Her hands moved through his hair and across his back, feeling the heat rising off of him as his lips moved from hers to her cheek and down her neck, leaving her mouth free to release its gentle gasps. Leyla was leading, doing most of the work as he positioned them, his hands running from her shoulders to her waist too tantalizingly far up her hips, but if he had any complaints he didn’t voice them between his own rapid breaths.
It should have been uncomfortable, even painful. The two of them were positioned awkwardly atop the hard stone altar, neither experienced and one not experienced at all, guided only by their instincts and what little they knew. But something inhuman burned in both of them, that rush of spiritual energy that was ignited as their hearts raced and their spirits burned drove out any memory of pain or discomfort as they were lost in each other.
Asha didn’t know how long they had been going. She hadn’t bothered trying to keep track of time or anything except Leyla and what he was making her feel. He may have started but she was soon more than eager to give back in their flurry. And by the time one had finished the other pushed them forward with hurried movement and whispered words until they had lost all sense of when they had started or when they planned to end.
It took only a glance, however, only an aside glance from Asha to bring that tumultuous feeling crashing down on them. As she saw that in their lustful haze neither of them had realized they were being watched.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” A woman sat in a small but elegant throne across the room from them, facing their altar. “Please, continue.”
Both of them sat bolt upright, a movement that, in retrospect, was not well planned as Leyla winced sharply in pain and a riveting shudder ran up Asha’s spine. She had been on top at this point, and her wings were still fluttering hazily as they extricated themselves from one another with awkward pauses and murmured apologies until they were sitting on the edge of the altar.
The woman, or rather the goddess, facing them was astonishing to behold. She was a love goddess after all, and her beauty was unrivaled by anything Asha had ever seen. Her skin was a deep brown, her hair the black of fertile river soil, and her eyes a glistening golden color. She was dressed in fine robes that spoke of divine royalty, capped by a crown of molded gold centered with an eight-pointed star.
She might not have been tall, she did not tower over them like a giant upon a vast throne, however, there was a deeper allure to her. Every facet of her being seemed to exist to be her pleasure. From the silky shine of her hair, to the graceful movement of her slender legs and the glittering of her golden eyes, she was everything that Asha had ever wanted.
Asha’s head was already in a haze of confusion, lust, and slightly awkward shame, but seeing this love goddess before her sent her emotions on a spiraling journey to nowhere. Simply looking at her was enough to make Asha want to push Leyla back down onto his back, and a glance was all it took for her to tell Leyla felt the same. His arousal was, after all, much more obvious.
“L-Lady Ishtar,” Asha bowed her head deeply. “We’re honored by your presence.”
“I should imagine so. I have neither the time nor the inclination to visit every amorous pair in Damascus. Both of you should be more than honored to simply have me in your presence. If anything, I should have you on your knees.”
If Asha had been blushing before her face was burning now. She had hoped the goddess would announce herself first rather than sit around invisibly to…watch.
“Now, as you seem insistent upon interrupting such a lovely show,” Ishtar said. “Why is it you two have taken all this effort to summon me?”
Her voice, which had been a velvet waterfall of sweet and tantalizing words, suddenly grew sharp. It was, Asha felt, like a sword pulled from an ornate sheath.
Asha swallowed her nervousness. Now was not the time to stumble over her words. Still, giving a speech to a goddess was nerve-wracking under ideal conditions, and now she was nude and very…distracted.
“Lady Ishtar, we wish to create a cult for you in the city of Babylon.”
“Ah, Babylon…” The goddess said wistfully. “The old lands…While I am intrigued by the idea, it begs the question…why? You mortals so rarely do anything for each other, let alone the gods. At least not without persuasion.”
Asha swallowed a groan, this goddess was relentless. Leyla, however, was there to pick up the slack.
“Because the city is currently ruled by a tyrant,” he said. “One who considers herself and rules like a god-queen. We felt a real goddess, particularly one of your aspects and…popularity, would be a far better figure around which to rally the city.”
“Because everyone wants a sex goddess,” Ishtar’s smile grew even more predatory. “And because you need a war goddess. Is that right?”
“Bluntly put…yes,” Asha bowed her head.
Ishtar took a while to answer. Quite a while, Asha realized, her thighs and hands fidgeting nervously as she felt her heart shiver with each breath.
“I am amused,” Ishtar smiled. “Such an earnest display just to curry a little favor with me. I suppose you have tickled my better nature. Of course, favor swiftly earned is favor swiftly lost. If I am displeased by this cult, or by your representations of me, then I will as soon flay you alive as I might bless you.”
She never stopped smiling as she spoke, that was perhaps the most disturbing aspect of it all. Ishtar walked along that fine line between beautiful and dangerous.
“For now though I am amused. Continue to amuse me, make me satisfied by your performance in this cult, and you shall reap the crop of my favor in Babylon.”
She smiled at them with a touch of cruel mischievousness. “I’m glad I could bring you two a little closer together.”
Both of them bowed their heads deeply.
“Thank you, Lady Ishtar” They said together.
“Do not waste this rare opportunity. For your own sake…” She gave them one last smile before vanishing, the divine essence that had seeped in with her vanishing in a rush as well until Leyla and Asha were quite sure they were alone again.
They had Ishtar’s cooperation, they had both agreed that it was all they needed before they opened the door and joined the others to give them the news. Together, they passed a single glance to the door.
Leyla grabbed her shoulders and pushed her back down against the altar. Hard. But not as hard as she had wanted him to. She looked up at him, a grin spreading across her face. Neither of them needed to express a word. The love goddess had left, but her influence hadn’t.
The others could wait for a few hours.
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa