Phado came and went from the temple as she pleased, but her priests and priestesses led an orderly life. They woke before the suns rose and raced them all day.
The temple must be spotless. Sculptures were scrubbed with sand and then polished with skin so the entire structure gleamed like the eyes of Phado herself. Her priests and priestesses had to shepherd those who would make their confessions and give them blessings while they waited, for there was no telling when or if the goddess would care to give audience. There were rituals for prayers, too. Rituals for the breath, for the posture, for the intention itself. It was soothing and stimulating all at once, and everything else that had existed for Isela fell away until temple life became her whole existence.
Phado herself stalked through the rooms like a demon Vyrnna, disappearing when it suited her. Occasionally she gave instruction or led the devout in their practices. Other times she stood still as her temple itself, as if she had gone deep inside herself and cared not to return.
Isela lived to see her. Sometimes she could feel the goddess watching her as she performed her rituals but she dared not turn her head. She stood cloaked in white with the others, the whole hall of them facing the suns through the temple doors. The spirit moved in their bodies as they meditated; it was alive and separate from them. They were taught to allow their breath-bodies to rise into the air. There were some who were able to send their spirit selves away while their bodies waited on the ground, light as husks, for their return.
It was a feeling of strangest intimacy, to hold oneself still and silent with so many others. For Isela, it was elating. And that moment, when there came a collective inhale, and all the spirit bodies fell through the air back into their owners--the sensation made you catch your breath, as the body had become cold and no longer felt natural inside your skin, and a collective shiver went over the hall as though over a field of leaves.
There were some adepts who could sustain this action all on their own, and that was truly a marvel to see. The great priests walking slowly through the pale halls and into the churning streets, their breath-body curled above them like an exhale. Even the thieves stepped aside.
Hillm, the priest who'd brought Isela to the temple, had staked a claim on Isela. He was no longer an apprentice, and the burnt-orange color of his skin burned even brighter against the white robes of a full priest. She felt his eyes hot on her back as she went about the rituals; found him at her elbow at odd moments. Whenever she looked about for company, there he was, ready to speak. Gradually the other practitioners flowed away from Isela, not wanting to upset Hillm.
Even Joh retreated.
"I do not know what to say to him, Isela," the gentle trader said. "And he has made it clear he has nothing to say to me."
She protested, but he gracefully withdrew. What Joh must think of her! Murdering her intended; lying with a human, bathing herself in the blood of an unborn.
"You are troubled," a voice said.
She was circling the temple, fretting with her claws. She turned and recognized the young-old priest at once, although he was not in his robes. "River!" she said. "How did you know?"
He lengthened his stride to match hers. "I am a student of behaviors, my dear. What disquiets you?"
"Mistakes. I've made so many."
"We can have the past, or we can have the future. We cannot have both, Isela."
"I know you're right." she said. "Where are your robes?" She stepped lightly around hatchlings playing at nests in the road. They squealed with delight when her own robe fluttered against them.