I A memory. It was on the festival of the summer solstice. The town of Xarath was located in the hollows of valleys, where the mists were heavily charged with magic. From end to end of every post, roof and balconies were streamers and banderoles of many different colors. In the very heart of the town was a fountain, made from obsidian black marble, with the occasional streaks and specks of white. There were only two tiers. One was for the wide pool---it was big enough to fit four people across it and nearly twenty around it---of the same circular shape, and it would catch the sacred waters. And the next tier. The statue that towered over the fountain was their one deity: Named Azappho. It was a marble white figure of woman kneeling with her eyes closed and a bowed head. With long hair that reached her hips and covered her breasts. Her arms were raised above her shoulders, and her hands were pressed together in prayer, locating it right in the center of her forehead. She was stark naked. Other than the hair, plants and crawling vines, blooming with flowers, clung on her thighs and shoulders. And her wrists and ankles were bound in real golden chains and bracelets, a necklace made from an array of brilliant gems hung low to her collarbone. This fountain spewed forth crystal clear, and sapphire blue liquid all around the circular base of the statue. People crowded around it as the sky was turning blue with nightfall. There was clapping and chanting. A young girl with wavy, lightly pink hued hair tried to join in with the cheering. She could see the priestesses twirling and dancing in the pool. They tried to imitate their deity with the long hair and some jewelry and ornaments on their bodies, but of course they were clothed. The depth of the water they waded in was shallow, as the water only reached below their knees. And their arms were raised every time they faced the statue, as if they were throwing out something in the air. They spun and threw their arms up in perfect synchronization, and in complete harmony with the chant. The girl was completely mesmerized. The insistent tug of her mother brought her back to reality. She’d been discovered. “I don’t want to go! Can’t I see them just this once? They just started!” she said sullenly, when the older female grabbed her by the arm and dragged her away. Then she received a smack to her shoulder for discipline. “Oww!” “What did I tell you? You can join when you’re of age. Not now, you hear? Your uncle just came back. He wants to see you, so you better behave.” “Okay, I will, just let go already,” she yanked her arm away from the grip. Her uncle was a trade merchant. Every other year he went out, traversing mountains and plains to reach other larger towns and cities. And when he came back, he often brought some other souvenir or item as gifts to the relatives. This was most especially true for the younger family members. And so she tried to console herself with the fact that she’d be getting something out of this family affair. Even if the homecoming feast turned out to be one of the most boring events she ever sat through. The elderly talked amongst themselves while the younger adults (which was most of her cousins) went off to celebrate the ritual. The children around her age were often mean and bratty, but that wasn’t to say that she herself was nice either. They just didn’t click. As she went home, little did she expect a different kind of gift to be brought home. She was too young to understand the concept. And her town, a relatively peaceful one, was a little late on catching up to the service trade. It came off from the traditions of a warring village to the far west of her hometown. They were still regarded as items, property, those slaves. When she followed after her mother, she was greeted by the long, rectangular table full of food in their guest room. Surrounding it were many other smaller ones, where her other relatives ate, drank and talked. “Nyx!” she glanced at the cheerful call of her name, and her mother gently pushed her in the direction towards her uncle.