Shai awoke in a cold sweat, fear caught in her throat like the silent scream she could not sound. Standing on shaky legs she wobbled over to the small porcelain wash basin in the corner of her tiny room. The cool water still smelled fresh enough to use. Shai’s sleeves fell into the bowl as she splashed her face. Sighing, she methodically re-rolled them and wiped the water from her face with a worn, fraying towel. Shai shivered, goosepimples spread across her skin. The thin, woven rug beneath her bare feet did little to block the chill of the stone floor beneath. She leapt onto the thick bearskin beside her bed, catapulted into the pile of heavy quilts and burrowed into their warmth, careful to hold her damp sleeves away from her body.
Small, even among the priestesses, Shai’s robes had to be shortened, bound, or rolled in every capacity. Utility pins dug into her shoulders but did their part to compensate the wide neckline. A seamstress in town donated the white cotton A-line shifts in lieu of her yearly tithe and she only made one size for them. In truth, the garments were only ill-fitted for Shai who aspired to be waifish in build who could easily pass for a young child. No matter how heartily she ate and in spite of the extra vitamins after prayer, Shai could not make gains in height or breadth, just one of many oddities setting her apart from the others. Blowing a tuft of unruly silver hair from her face, Shai hugged her knees in tight. She would give almost anything to be just a little less skeletal and a few inches taller. Asa and Kriya constantly reprimanded her vanity but that was not quite right, she simply wanted to be an equal instead of an oddity. Too small to draw water from the well or work the laundry press, Shai even struggled to clear dishes at meal time.
Pulling the blankets even tighter the tiny priestess wondered how much time had passed. Reflection time in Moon Temple tended to drive Shai to the brink of madness so she often napped to pass the two hour block of solitude. Without a timepiece in her room, Shai relied on the other priestesses or the great timepiece to notify her of the end of Reflection. Unfortunately, the great timepiece only chimed on the hour and she did not hear the soft tinkling radiating through the winding corridors from the Temple’s center. Shai frowned and stretched her mind to the Priestesses rooming around her but found them happily occupied, their minds locked in meditation.
Shai looked around her room, bare even by the Moon Temple’s standards. Her three-shelved, borrowed bookcase stood nearly empty. She knew most priestesses had pictures of their families, reminders of who they were before they entered the Temple in service of Moon Mother. Not Shai, her semi-warped and faded shelves held a few shabby prayer books and a small etched map of Isthile, all gifts from her surrogate sisters. Shai had no family, no past, no memories of a time before. Nobody could tell how old she was, how many annuals had passed since her transition, or if she had transitioned at all. Even Elder Priestess Kriya with her exceptional gift of Sight remained flummoxed.
Shaking her head clear, Shai began wording her prayers for the evening session, hopeful as ever that the right phrasing would catch Moon Mother’s ear. Shai always prayed for the same two things, her transition and her past, though the words did not come as readily when requesting the return of her memories. This often struck her as odd but a small voice in the back of her mind suggested there could be a reason she forgot in the first place. To not know where one comes from is a greater burden than to be uneasy in one’s own skin. Shai found herself afflicted in both matters. Still, she counted herself lucky because of Kriya’s kindness. The Elder Priestess saved her from being shunned and cast into the Fog. A shiver ran down Shai’s spine. The Fog. Everything about it screamed danger, or so the other priestesses told her. They explained it as a vast mystical entity encircling all of Isthile. The memories they flashed in Shai’s mind were frightening and captivating. The Fog appeared to be a dense mist as high as the eye could see and filled with crackling blue lights. Some of the priestesses swore they could hear voices of the lost if you wandered too close. Only Shai wondered what lay beyond the Fog and the thought nagged at her often.
Shai’s mind wandered back to the dream, grasping at the threads she could recall, pushing the edges of her mind, trying to see something new in it. She stared at the tile work around her altar, purples of every shade, some bearing the mark of Moon Mother, and surrounding the small statuette she offered thrice daily prayers to. Shai marveled at the beauty of the Moon Mother’s visage in the flickering firelight from her jasmine candles. The small idol’s porcelain eyes frozen in an upward fashion, her delicate lips curved in a knowing smile, warm and soft as a mother’s should be. And then it came, hard and fast, Shai tried to react to the aura, to control the vision, but then she was falling – again.