“Two moons? Two moons?!”
Aphrodite scowled, crossing her arms and glaring defiantly. “She was impudent. She deserves to be punished.”
“Oh, you haven’t grown out of that ‘I’m a god and therefore have the right to act like an overgrown child’ mindset?”
Prometheus straightened out his white suit, glaring at the goddess in front of him, his broken shackles rattling. Aphrodite flared, her eyes glowing brightly. “You would do well you remember your place, Uncle!”
“And you would do well you remember yours,” he said brusquely, waving his hand. “You acted like a spoiled infant and that young lady must pay.” He paused. “That is something that I doubt that you will ever fully appreciate the significance of. But more consequentially for you, you’re tantrum threatens her ability to reproduce. I did not design humanity to be able to simply pop children out like an assembly line!” He crossed his arms, his brow furrowed. “They need rest, regeneration, and time to spend with the infants they already have.”
“She was disrespectful!”
“She is a confused, married, and pregnant young woman and you turned up in the night and began to molest her while dithering on about how her future offspring will all be sex symbols. You’re lucky she only told you to leave and never come back.” Prometheus frowned and paced around the broken temple, ignoring the frail breeze and the blood at his abdomen. “Just because you are now a war goddess does not mean you are invincible. You need a vassal, as does any other god that wishes to exist. Hecate will not allow you to threaten that with your childish antics.”
“Hecate does not control me!”
Prometheus scowled at the sex goddess, staying silent for a long moment. “…If you do not want to bow to her rule, you do not have to. But she is the closest thing we have to wisdom anymore, even without the Crone. Destruction is in your path, Aphrodite, and we will not allow you to drag us down as well.”
He turned away and started to fade. “Artemis is in charge of the moons, Aphrodite. Whenever the God Mother gives birth, the lunar cycle will slow. She will have at least eighteen regular moons to heal.”
Fire danced in Aphrodite’s hair and streamed from her eyes. “YOU DARE—”
“I will not allow your foolishness to doom us, and I will not allow you to force that woman to suffer just because you have an overly inflated sense of entitlement,” Prometheus said softly, then he was gone.
“YOU’LL REGRET THIS, PROMETHEUS! YOU WILL REGRET UNDERMINING MY AUTHORITY!”
The goddess raged, but the Titan was already gone.
Mijung slowly faded to consciousness on her belly, the side of her face pressed to the firm but soft pillow, facing the other edge of the bed. The covers on the other side were carefully made, and there was the slightest indent on the pillow, but no one was there. The woman reached out a hand, fingering the spot as though she were a jilted lover. The area was cold. The room was empty. Yutrin was gone.
Mijung drew her arm back, fingering the locket at her throat. He had left her. Had he fled because she was a burden? A threat?
Dull despair hit her stomach, but there was almost nothing left to take. Her husband. Soon. She couldn’t forget him. She loved him too much to forget.
But how could a mortal’s love and desire hold against the power of the gods?
And how could she even survive in this world? She didn’t see any food or water on their way through. And she wasn’t sure if she could even provide for herself once her stomach swelled. And Yutrin was gone.
She had been stupid to hope that the coward would help her.
She ignored the niggling memory of his tenderness the night before.
Mijung clenched her fists, tempted to curl into a ball, but she needed to find something to eat and drink before the dull ache in her stomach and the dryness in her throat really kicked in. She pushed the covers back.
The door swung open.
“We’re in luck, Mijung. There’s a river around two miles from here, and there’s a bunch of plants growing. I don’t see any sign of farm crops—it looks like the farms around here died a while ago—but the wild food seems fine.”
Mijung sat up, blinking in surprise as Yutrin walked in, carrying a giant basket of water strapped on his back (Mijung took a moment to marvel at the craftsmanship—the reeds were woven so tightly that not a drop escaped) and a dark leather pack of wild vegetables and fruit. He took the basket off without spilling anything, hands working with it with the autonomy that only came with experience, and he let the pack lightly plop to the ground. “It takes a while to walk there and back because of the glass and metal, but I saw a lot of abandoned houses—I found the basket and the bag in one of them—so maybe there’re more supplies we can use. Maybe shoes or sandals that won’t be shredded. Speaking of which, how are your feet and arm healing up? Any sign of infection?”
Mijung stared at him for a long while, noting that the burns on his ear, shoulders, hands, and arms were still there and looking quite raw. She also noted that he still wasn’t wearing a shirt.
He had come back.
Yutrin looked up curiously, ears drooping slightly, and he squirmed in place before kneeling down and reaching into the leather bag, carefully pulling out a pair of scorched used tongs, old cloth, and rocks. He tossed the rocks gently into the fire and placed the basket of water carefully on the ground. “Are you still angry?”
“You came back.”
Yutrin’s ears twitched in confusion and he pulled several olives from the bag, giving the majority to Mijung before nibbling on a few. “Of course.”
Mijung crossed her arms, frowning, and sat up comfortably on the bed, eating the olives one by one. “I’m a burden, though. Pretty soon, I won’t be able to contribute anything. You’ll have to provide for us both. It’s not likely you’ll be able to.”
“Give me some credit, Mijung.” The stones in the hearth started to glow, and Yutrin took the tongs and carefully picked two out, dropping them in the water basket and quickly putting the cloth over the top before the steam could escape. “I get scared a lot. I know that. It’s the reason I’ve been able to survive so long. But there’s a difference between self-preservation and just being a dirty coward.” He finished off his olives and pulled out a clean turnip, giving it to the woman on the bed. “Running away from a war party when you have no offensive spells prepared is self-preservation. Abandoning a pregnant woman in the middle of nowhere with no way to provide for or protect herself is just wrong.”
He carefully dropped two more red-hot stones in, keeping the cloth on the top, then pulled the cooled rocks out of the water and threw them in the hearth again. “I became a cleric because I want to help people. Helping people sometimes comes at a price.”
Mijung frowned at him as he slowly rose the temperature of the water, watching as it started to boil. Where did he learn how to do that?
“…I misjudged you, Yutrin. I’m sorry.”
Yutrin shrugged and smiled up at her, golden eyes shining in the scant light from outside. “Don’t worry, Mijung. Humans do it a lot with goblins. You want something to drink?”
“…Yes, please. That would be nice.”
Yutrin’s ears perked and he pulled two clay cups out of the leather bag and dipped them in the boiling water, letting them cool before giving one to Mijung. He took a sip, claws making tiny indentations on the cups. “…You know, I promise that I won’t abandon you, even if I’m scared. Even when you can’t walk around anymore, even when you’re giving birth, even when you’re nursing, even when you have a little girl or boy to take care of… I’m not going to leave.”
Mijung frowned, contemplating her water, then looked over at the goblin. “How do I know that you’re telling the truth?”
Yutrin shrugged, sipping quietly. “I came back today, didn’t I?”
“…” Mijung finished her water, then stood from the bed. “You did.” She ignored the pain in her feet, noting that it looked like they were healing up nicely, and made sure that the cloth wrap around them was thick. “You’re probably tired from tromping around all last night and this morning. Have some rest. I’ll explore for a bit.”
Yutrin straightened, looking as though he would protest.
“I promise I’ll be back soon. I need to take a walk, and I might as well try to be helpful while I can.” Mijung bent down and gave him a chaste kiss on the top of his head. Yutrin stiffened, his ears perking, the tips going pink and a blush coming to his cheeks. By the time he snapped out of his daze, she was gone.
It took him a while to realize that that had been her way of apologizing.
“Mother would tell me I was a pretty girl
Then she would cry all night
Nobody thinks that really they’re being cruel
When they suggest that I should try to look like them
As if God loved the pretty ones best.”
Mijung looked up curiously, listening hard, but the music was being carried by the wind. She hesitantly followed it, hoping against hope that there were more sapient beings aside from those thrice-damned gods. She carefully avoided stepping on any of the glass or metal, walking towards a giant columned building that looked like it had once been grand.
She walked up the steps and slipped past the columns, coming to what looked to be an old courtyard. She noted with relief that it didn’t have the glass and metal of the outside. Dying vines clung to the columns, drooping sadly, and the last vestiges of bushes and flowers had turned to nothing but brown, crackly brambles on equally brown grass. The fountain at the center had mucky green water, moss happily growing inside and floating on top of it, and there were three stone women holding pots, presumably what used to let the water flow. The women had a few things missing—a nose here, an arm there—and vines curled around them. Stone chunks littered the ground; they looked as though they were parts of other statues that had been broken over the years. Some of their remnants remained intact. Mijung crouched down and picked up an open stone hand, admiring the craftsmanship. If it hadn’t been stone, she would have thought it was an actual hand.
Mijung straightened, looking around for some sign of more to the building. Past the fountain, there was a big wooden door with scratches all over it. She walked towards it, then pulled it open slowly, careful to listen for any sign of the ancient thing falling down on her. It held fast to its hinges and allowed her into the building.
The woman stepped inside, the door closing behind her, and gasped.
A complex mosaic, still intact after gods-knew how long, was fixed on the ceiling, spilling out over the walls and completed on the floor. It felt like she was in the sky. The floor was clouds, gods and goddesses she couldn’t name all sitting upon their thrones and looking down lovingly below, and a parting in the cloud showed her the earth, but the mountains, trees, rivers, and oceans made a body, a face, a smile, a woman that seemed to breathe, even despite the fact she was only a design. Mijung looked up, and past the clouds, she saw the night sky, men and women made of stars so vivid that they glowed running across the ceiling. She could see the stars, men, and women joining in a greater picture, the picture of a man, greater than any of the gods on the clouds or any mortal on the earth woman. This was the true power of this world, and it was all Mijung could do to not fall to her knees in awe and worship.
After the initial wonder wore off, Mijung took a moment to mentally praise the artists. This was amazing craftsmanship.
She took a moment to examine the actual room. In the middle of one of the oceans, there was a giant basin with several big faucets on the edge; a mosaic of merpeople swimming through with fish in coral reef with a waterfall leading into it across the inner walls. It was a giant public bath.
Mijung tentatively fingered one of the great faucets, then squeezed, turning.
The pipes rumbled and Mijung jumped away, wondering if she had just broken something.
Water splashed into the bath, a cloud of steam rising and leaving droplets of moisture on the mosaics. Mijung shivered, goose bumps rising on her skin. It was so warm, and the water looked clean…
She undid the red ribbon holding her garments together, and her kimono slipped from her shoulders, falling in a bundle on the ground. A tremor ran through her body. She hadn’t taken off her clothes since she had left the other world. That had been months ago. Years? She didn’t know. Either way, she hadn’t realized how much she needed a bath. And clean clothes.
If this used to be a public bath, then there may be things that were still able to be worn.
Mijung slowly unclasped her bra and pulled down her underwear, trembling. She wanted Soon’s touch. She wanted his breath against her ear. She wanted his arms around her waist, her bare chest pressed against her back. She wanted to feel his heartbeat. She wanted him to kiss her and tell her that they would never be apart again.
She missed him.
Mijung watched as the basin filled to the edge, but it seemed to be draining at a rate where the faucet could stay on and the water wouldn’t overflow.
She tentatively slipped in, and warmth leaked into her bones, soothing out tension that had knotted itself in her muscles. The water shouldn’t be hot or clean. Unless the people who had been here before had made revolutionary discoveries in science, by the looks of things, the pipes shouldn’t even work, let alone transport clean, hot water.
But seeing everything else, Mijung wouldn’t put such a series of discoveries past these ghosts.
She swam in the bath, letting the collected filth float off, and she felt along the edges playfully, finding a little niche. Curiously, she slipped her fingernails in and flicked, revealing a hidden compartment filled with leaf-thin palm-sized flecks of soap.
She hesitantly took one, running it over her body, and it scrubbed off the accumulated impurities, then rubbed the dead skin off without pause, making her red and raw. She ran it through her hair, forcing out the grime, and the soap flake resolutely stayed unworn. She took her time cleaning, then pulled her clothes from the side of the tub, starting to scrub them underwater.
Mijung didn’t know how long she washed in the bath. After a while, she slowly crawled out and turned the water off, allowing it to drain. She would have to tell Yutrin about this place. He would probably like someplace to bathe and a source of water that wasn’t a couple miles away over glass-covered land.
And she’d have to check the drainage system to see if she could stop it up the next time she bathed. They should conserve all the water they had available. And she would need to check the pipes—anything that was still in working order could imply that there were either still people here or that the situation wasn’t as hopeless as she had thought.
Mijung squeezed the excess moisture out of her clothes, laying them carefully over the faucets to dry. She stood slowly and stretched before walking around the stunning walls and feeling them, finding a door the same way she found the soap compartment. She made it swing open, taking a chunk out of the sky and a giant freakishly muscled man with a lion pelt for clothes, and stepped into the next room.
It felt cold next to the wonderfully warm and steamed up bath. Mijung shivered, squinting in the room, but she couldn’t really see much. Little light flowed in.
She raised her hand to cast Light, then she lowered it again, scowling. She missed being able to use magic.
Maybe those gods would make themselves useful and give her and Yutrin their magic back. If they were able to magically break the language barrier, than giving the ability to prepare and cast spells couldn’t be that difficult.
She slipped into the dark room, waiting for her eyes to adjust. She could vaguely make out a mosaic decorating the walls, ceiling, and floor, but the light was too bad for her to make it all out. That was a pity.
She’d come back later when the sun was in a better position to see the pictures.
There were rows of benches, clothes draped across them. She couldn’t identify some of the clothing—obviously, the society that created this place had different designs for clothes than Mijung was used to—but if it was clean and didn’t reveal anything, she was happy.
She stepped through the rows of benches, sorting through the clothes. She picked up something that strongly resembled a bra and quietly thanked the Twelve Gods for inter-dimensional womanly needs before slipping it on.
That was odd. It offered much more comfort and support than the ones she usually wore, and it fit despite the fact she had just randomly picked it up. Another good mark for the people who made this society.
She hesitated before picking up a pair of underwear, checking to see it was clean before pulling it on. She didn’t really have a choice of whether or not to use clothes that used to belong to someone else.
She picked up a thin article of clothing that looked like it was a cross between a dress, a shirt, and a robe.
Mijung pulled it on, getting the oddest sense of wearing something made of mist or quicksilver. It rolled across her skin, settling against her as though it had always been there. The sleeves were big and loose, making her feel a little as though she were wearing a ceremonial robe, but it offered a lot more freedom of movement than the kimonos she had had to wear for the rituals her father had made her attend as a child of nobility. The robe/shirt/dress went down to her knees, allowing for easy movement of her legs, and the neck dipped a little more than she was used to, but not so much that she wasn’t willing to wear it around Yutrin.
Most importantly, it was all dry and clean.
She collected a bunch of different clothing, some for herself and some for Yutrin, and folded it on her arm, taking only a moment to wrap up her feet with more clean cloth.
She grabbed her own wet clothes before she stepped back into the courtyard, taking one last moment to stare at the partially intact statues of frightened men and women and raging warriors, then she down the front steps, walking back towards where she came from. She had been gone for a while. Yutrin would get worried.
Mijung had forgotten the singing that had drawn her there in the first place.
Someone watched her from behind the columns, low hum deep in its throat and weapons at the ready to strike and kill. Mijung left without the person moving once.
“Damn ‘em all - I create my own perfection
Damn ‘em all in the face of their rejection
Damn ‘em all - well this dog will have its day…”
The person turned away, still singing softly, and went into the building, fingers scraping against the mosaics.
“My garden’s full of pretty men who couldn’t stay away.”
“A public bath? Really?”
Mijung smiled, letting her wet clothes rest on the windowsill to dry and folding up the clothes she had brought back, letting Yutrin take what he needed and turning away for him to change. “Yeah. And the architecture and art in it are amazing. I’ll show it to you tomorrow once the sun comes back up.”
“And the pipes were still working?”
The woman nodded, running her hands through her hair, and the fire crackled merrily in the background, sunset colors only just reaching the window.
“That’s weird. If this place is abandoned, water shouldn’t be running. Did you drink any of it?”
“Of course not.”
Mijung turned around again, seeing that Yutrin had changed, and luckily, he was wearing a shirt. Mijung couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable with him shirtless without her husband around.
Yutrin nodded, and they both sat down on the edge of the bed, the fire warm and deep. “Good. I’ll go, but I think that we should fashion weapons. If there’s water and food, then there’s life. And life can be a predator or prey for us. I get nervous.”
“I’m not fooling myself over what the dangers could be, believe me.” Mijung sighed softly. “Just don’t spook, okay? Even if you’re scared, try to stay rational.”
Had Mijung said this to any human she knew, they would have been indignant. Yutrin only shook his head. “Mijung, I’ve lived my whole life in fear. I know how to think when I’m scared.”
He hesitated, ears twitching questioningly, and somehow, she got the sense that he was asking if she wanted him to sleep on the floor or if she was willing to extend invitation for the bed again.
Mijung lay down, going under the covers. “Come on, Yutrin. Get comfortable. We’re going to need to figure out how we’re going to live here tomorrow.”
The goblin’s ears perked and he crawled in the bed with her, careful to not touch her, but exuding a warmth that made Mijung almost comfortable with the whole arrangement. But Soon would have undoubtedly murdered Yutrin on the spot for sharing her bed had he been there, and maybe even be angry at her for willingly working so closely with an Evil creature, with the enemy. He was still a goblin. He was still Evil. And she was still sleeping in the same bed as him.
Mijung reminded herself that this was necessary and that she was not betraying her husband.
Nonetheless, she scooted a little further away from Yutrin to keep from accidentally touching him over the night.
She closed her eyes and fell asleep.