Pushed by her employer, Zara fell on the cobbles in front of the door, landing on her shoulder. She gathered herself up hastily. “Please, I did not mean to steal, I thought the candle stubs were trash.”
“You stole, and I don’t employ thieves.”
Zara leaned her whole weight against the door, trying to keep it from closing. “But Ma’am, it’s nearly dark. Please at least let me stay until the morning.”
“That is your problem.” The lady stomped entirely unladylike for Zara’s foot. “Better hurry,” she called, closing and latching the door.
Zara looked around. shadows filled the streets like deep blue ink, the sky holding a faint orange tint of orange in the west, but that was being relentlessly chased by purple. Everybody sane had barred their doors, for the guardians kept the streets safe from everyone. Fighting her panic for a clear thought, Zara tried to decide on a way, wasting precious moments.
Going for the Eastern road might be faster. She would be safe beyond the city limits. She ran. It was too far to make it before full dark, but she could not curl up and wait for death.
Over the sounds of her steps and her soon ragged breathing she thought she heard noises. Stone and wood settling, if she was lucky. If it was the guardians waking…
Shattering like of fine clay behind her, followed by a growl, told her it was too late. The street opened to a plaza, but there were another two blocks ahead before she might be far enough away. Something bounded after her, and in front and to the right, another statue’s skin burst.
Zara tried to dodge, lost her footing, and rolled, her side being pelted by splinters. Involuntarily she looked what had awoken there. A larger-than-life human figure, no, two, a man holding a woman aloft. The Pillar holding the Sky. Zara thought only the guarding beasts awoke.
The Pillar looked at Zara and let the Sky down gently, their movements sure and sinuous. “Come here, child.”
The Sky strode a few steps away from their plinth, barely grazing Zara with her gaze.
“Come.” He waved. “Sky won’t mind me holding someone else for a while. I’ll protect you.”
Zara scrambled and obeyed. Only when the Pillar cradled her in his arms did she looks back.
A handful of four- and six-limbed creatures were starting to circle the Sky, who stood proud as, well, a goddess. “Would you attack me?”
Her skin was black as night, alive with faint rainbow sparkles of stars. Zara watched the guardian beasts slink back.
A giant hand stroked Zara ’s hair gently. “Sleep, child. You’ll be safe.”
She curled up in the crook of his arm. The warmth of his skin and his slow heartbeat calmed her.
The velvety chuckle of Sky floated into Zara’s consciousness. Sky’s hand was cool when she touched Zara’s forehead, but it froze her fears, letting sleep overcome her.
Zara woke still in the Pillar’s arms. The Sky sat on the edge of the plinth, watching the first hints of dawn emerge.
“The beasts have gone to sleep. We can’t wait much longer.”
“Thank you for your help.”
“It is nothing. Be safe, little one.” He crouched to let Zara down.
She looked up at Sky a little nervously, settling for a bow towards the goddess, or the living statue. Zara was rewarded with a smile, but Sky gave her no more attention than that before standing and offering her hand to the Pillar.
He lifted her up, the pair of them moving like dancers. White crawled over his deep brown skin starting at his feet as he turned back to marble, the metamorphosis continuing with Sky when it was finished.
Zara turned to the East and made her legs carry her. After a few steps she stopped, and looked back. She had nowhere to go, so she could decide where to go.
The temple to Sky and Pillar, Sea and Barrier formed the South edge of the plaza. Zara wanted to ask some questions. Reminding herself that priests tended to consider curiosity a virtue, she made it her new destination.