Shahabit’s eyes bore down upon Sol like boulders crushing his chest. Appropriate since the statue’s eyes were carved from stone, as was the god’s entire visage. Each was no larger than his teenage hand but the importance worshipers placed on every image of the god seemed heavier than the stone itself. Including Sol’s parents.
Sol narrowed his own eyes at the statue’s judgmental gaze, looking for something in the stone.
His father smacked Sole on the back of the head.
The clap echoed off the temple’s walls.
The dozen or so worshipers outside of Sol’s family placed fingers to their lips and shushed the boy quiet, expressing their faith in that Sole should be ashamed to have uttered a noise louder than a mouse’s squeak.
Sol exhaled with frustration. Rolled his eyes. And then he turned his attention downward to Shahabit’s stone sandals in quiet solemnity.
All around him, Shahabit’s most dedicated returned to their prayers. Murmuring quietly. Asking absolution. Sol didn’t know much about the sins these people sought forgiveness for. Most of that was grownup stuff. The only thing he could think to ask forgiveness for was tripping his sister into a slurry of mud and cow dung. She’d wailed so loud. Couldn’t move for a dozen breathes as she smelled the reek of the animal waste and realized the reek was her. Then she’d ran to their mother to tattle.
Sol’s lips turned up into a wicked grin. A couple pairs of eyes shifted over to him. Sole didn’t realize he’d snickered.
His mother’s eyes narrowed on him.
His sister Fieg wouldn’t look at him.
The temple was a large, single, cold stone room. A pedestal at the top of a dais, in front of the god’s statue, was all that adorned the space. Worships knelt on cold tile. Above them the ceiling opened unto the blue afternoon sky. Clouds moved overhead. Shadows slid over the interior of the temple, washing away the light. Minutes later the sun cast away the gloom, bringing warmth. The cycle turned several revolutions–dark to light and back to dark then light again–while Sol knelt there pretending to pray.
Sole counted to ten before exhaling and feeling his body droop with boredom and annoyance. He opened one eye. Everyone was still praying. Beads rolled and licked. Lips moved more furious, tripping to get ahead of the guilty words themselves, trying to outrun.
I’d rather watch the cows graze, the boy mused.
A cloud grazed across the sky, bringing a dark cold that made Sol shiver. The cloud reminded Sol of a cow.
Sol closed his eye, determined not to open them both again until he heard people begin to rise. Until he felt his family’s knees scrape while they went about to stand. Both of his eyes were heavy. He struggled to keep them closed. He blinked. Stifled a yawn. Knuckled his other eye until he felt the strain just before the pop.
The sun began to dominate. Sol could feel the worth.
He could feel the warmth of the noonday sun even when shadows crept inside the temple.
Sol opened and allowed his eyes to drift upward.
The sky was indeed blocked.
But not by the clouds.
It was as if someone had slid the ceiling into place. A slap of stone covered the temple’s openness. Except Sol could see slivers of cloud around the stone’s edges. He also heard a humming like excited birds upon discovery nectar. Large birds. In time with the rumbling the temple seemed to have picked up as a nervous twitch.
Worshipers began to stir, aware of the sudden quake, this time not in annoyance toward Sol’s restlessness.
They pointed up at the hovering piece of stone. Excited. Terrified. Unsure what to do. Before them their god’s effigy remained silent with no confidence or assurance to offer. The people would just have to find their own strength, deep within.
Sol nudged his father. But the man was already aware of the disturbance. So were Sol’s mother and sister. His mother held his sister closely. As if the hovering stone was there for her little girl.
Suddenly the stone lit up. Veins of light in concentric patterns appeared and the stone’s humming grew louder, as if annoyed by the worshipers passing confused inquires among themselves.
That light, a pale blue like the ocean Shahabit controlled, filled the temple.
Worshipers began to retreat toward the doors, to the slits in the stone like windows, anywhere they could find a way out.
Sol’s father grabbed his arm. His father urged his mother, telling–shouting!–for her to hold tight to Fieg.
That’s when the stone spit out a column of blinding light. Sol’s arm swept up over his eyes. Worshipers screamed. Sol could hear people tripping over their neighbors in sightless desperation. They needed to leave. They needed to run back to their homes. Get away from the light.
Then the otherworldly light dimmed and people seemed to calm, though they breathed heavily.
Sol rubbed his stinging eyes, wiped away tears from when the light had pressed hard against his vision, even through the protection of his arm.
He blinked and when Sol looked up he saw the statue of Shahabit was no more. Piece of stone lay crumbled and scattered around the very real, very flesh feet of a giant. A female nearly as tall as the temple’s nonexistent ceiling knelt in the space the god’s statue once occupied. Female by her soft features. She was dressed in silvery armor accented by cold blue light, armor that hid her feminine form. Her fair hair was braided in multiple locks, slick with oil. Her skin was the bronze common to this region of the land. She held a wickedly topped pike.
A sense of fear and awe made Sol go still. Made every immovable. Struck silent the cries and confusion of the crowd.
The giant woman’s eyes blinked open and stars flicked from her lashes like dew drops. She regarded the rabble before her with curiosity, the same a cat has for a mouse.
She rose from kneeling. Armor shifting with the clinking of polished coins in a pocket.
Once– Twice– she rapped the butt of her pike on the ground, smashing pieces of stone to dust. By the sound the pike made as it struck, the weapon’s shaft was metal.
Once more the woman looked around. An expression of distaste darkened her features.
“As I rise you kneel, mortals.” Her voice boomed. She rapped her pike against the stone dais for emphasis. “I’ve returned.”
In a voice barely louder than a whisper Sol said, “This is Shahabit.”
Everyone fell to their knees.