In some religious systems the ruling Deity 'rides' or speaks through a member of the congregation. Like Lois McMasters Bujold's "Saints" I wonder if it's more of a problem than an honour. -- Anon Guest
[AN: I firkin LOVE anything written by Lois McMasters Bujold]
One good thing about taking shelter in an abandoned temple, Josephine mused, was that one was technically close to the gods. She'd prayed at half of those altars in the dead of the night. And now, at the strained light of dawn, she knelt at the Goddess of Futures and Portents.
She was always portrayed with blood in her lap, but in recent decades, men bowdlerised her image by adding a bowl and a sacrificial animal. This was one of the older ones, with just the blood between her spread thighs.
Josephine lit tinder and a handful of bay leaves in the brass container for such offerings. Made sure she breathed only a small portion of the smoke.
"I don't know if you're still here," she said. "You've always favoured women, so I'm taking my chances. I need to know... Where will I find my true love?" For this to work, she needed to voice her real name. Josephine briefly looked around the temple for any unwelcome listeners. "Where will I find Bonnie Mumely Gabor?"
She remained on her knees until the fire went out. Until the smoke vanished. There were no messages in the ash. No shapes in the smoke. Well. Desperate measures got thin rations. She thanked the Goddess regardless and cleaned out the old brazier.
One god down, five to go. Josephine wrung the neck of a pigeon for the God of Death, and asked for any sign that He had passed Bonnie by, or... if the unthinkable had happened, that he'd taken her mercifully from life, to be born again in another place.
Neither the pigeon nor her tears impressed that dire, obsidian facade.
The Goddess of Harvests, the God of Profit, and two others who no longer had faces had anything for her either. Josephine had never been very religious, so she knew which gods had no faces, but not in which order. So she'd given them both mixed offerings and hoped they were merciful.
Ha! Mercy from the gods. She should have known by now that the gods never favoured Engineers nor Scholars, who never had time for prayer. Josephine packed up her belongings and set forth for her next destination.
It was when she hit the hustle and bustle of the city that a strange spell washed over her. There were auras around everything living, and there was an absence of weight to everything. Her body, her pack, even her aching scars ceased to pain her. She could see... light... leading people on their way.
Fear not, whispered a woman's voice. I am with thee.
Josephine couldn't be afraid. All her emotions were out of her reach. She saw her own path's leash, and the potential threads she could follow. A glowing hand only she could see reached forward and pulled on one singular thread.
Josephine followed it to a train station. Let a voice out of her control calmly order a ticket back to Traderport. Yes, she understood that she would have to pay for her own food, but the sleeper cabin came with the ticket price.
The last thing she knew, the same voice whispered, My servant will help you.
And she woke, hours later, in a second-class seat, opposite an elderly man who immediately offered her chocolate.
"I'm afraid it's nougat," he said. "They're always the last to go."
"...not around me," she mumbled. She felt strangely lazy. As if all of her will to move had been drained from her. When she tried to move her arm, it was heavy. As if she'd been in a long bath and only recently came out of the water.
"Take it easy for a couple of days," said the stranger. "Gods. They know everything, so they never learn. Especially when it comes to riding humans."
The chocolate-covered nougat replenished only some of her reserves. At least she wasn't feeling so drowsy. "Izzat what happened?"
"O yes. You were a Pauper's Saint for roughly an hour. For good or ill, you are getting what you wished for."
"She... said you were... her servant?"
"I have found ways to see futures, yes. You're trading pain for your wish. And not merely the physical discomforts." He squinted. "You might lose some toes, but your creation will help you get them back."
Josephine's hands tightened on her skirts. "Were is she? Is she all right?"
"Yes. For now. Soon... she will start a long journey to find you. A journey I will have to help her with." He checked a rather plain pocketwatch. "And it is now safe for you to sleep in your cabin. The officer who could have harmed you has been caught. And dealt with. You will have an uneventful journey to Traderport."
Josephine felt a chill as he escorted her to her cabin. He was, indeed, what the Goddess promised. And it was only now that she remembered that the Goddess of Futures and Portents was also the Sacred Guardian of Tricksters. She had no doubt that this man had arranged everything.
And she dared not pray again.