"I see the chance for an average man to stand forth and bring hope to the hopeless and a life of propserity and God to those without either." The Forgotten, Archbishop
Buttery warm sunlight bled into the room and cast a soft glow about the kneeling ensign. She'd been sitting in the center of the floor since the night before, absorbed in prayer and fasting. Despite her aching muscles, she'd barely moved. By sheer will alone had she remained, exhausted and euphoric at the same time.
"Only through many hardships is a man stripped to his very foundations, and in such a state devoid of distractions, is his soul free to soar, and in this, he is closest to God."
As the morning filled the small chapel, Shalee finally gave herself permission to move. Her night of fasting and prayer completed, she stretched languidly, snaking pale white arms above her head while moving from side to side, whimpering at how stiff she had become. Dropping her hands to her thighs, she started to massage the tense musles.
Her sleepy, half-lidded gaze fell upon the 'discipline', a small whip of knotted cords voluntarily used by some priests and monks to punish their bodies as a spiritual practice.
Warily she slipped the white cloak off her shoulders and let it fall behind her. She shivered as the balmy breeze flushed against her exposed skin.
Her euphoria started to diminish as she picked up the discipline, gingerly trailing her fingertips across it's length.
Michael had counselled her, advising prayer and fasting if she wanted clarity and answers from God. In the same conversation he had mentioned his own practices though never specifically said she should try them.
Of course he never said she shouldn't either...
Her curosity had been piqued. In her past, she had been forced to administer punishment to others under her Father's orders but never to her own flesh. Those who were at the end of the whip never wanted to be...so it seemed strange to her that Michael had willingly did so to himself.
She glanced to the marbled sefrim who towered around the room, half-wondering if such a practice could really please God, if it could really bring about a spirtual closeness to the creator.
Tilting her head to the side, she pulled her long auburn hair across one shoulder, exposing her nude back to the sunlight. She tensed her stomach as she lifted the whip and threw it across her shoulder. Gasping, she winced as she felt the sting simmer along her naked flesh.
She bit into her lip as she did it again, this time harder, trying to focus on a particular scripture. Again she threw the whip across her shoulder, even harder, feeling it rip into her skin.
Gritting her teeth, she did it once more, trying not to scream as the knotted cord slamed against the raw wounds.
Blood trickled between her shoulder blades and snaked a trail down her spine.
She threw the discipline to the marbled floor in front of her, glaring at it, hating it.
Panicked and panting for breath, she tried not to think of the pain radiating through her body, instead she let her thoughts wander over the events of the last week or so.
Speaking aloud, she decided to distract herself with a journal entry. She could always upload the security feed from the chapel to her own collection of recordings later.
"Trying to remember where I left off.....right. Zenton. We had a bad go of things for a while there. I couldn't find him for days, he wasn't answering his comms and wasn't responding to my messages. He had left the Praetoria, his security status dropped extraordinarly low and it just broke my heart to know that I was losing him."
"I probably shouldn't have left to look for him but I couldn't help myself from doing so. When you really love somebody you'll stop at nothing to save them, even if it means losing yourself in the process. I went to every scum bar I knew of knew of just hoping to get word of him."
"Somewhere along the way I got really sick, at first I thought it was the flu until I went to check myself in at the medbay. Apparently I had been drugged."
Her tawny brows drew together at the memory.
"Wherever I was, someone had seen me fucked out of my mind like that and decided to tell my CEO. Gaven called me into his office and questioned me about it. I told him what I had done and he had let me off with a warning, told me to check myself in with a doctor. I feel bad, but it's not like I want to go back now and clarify that it was drugs and not the flu. It's not like I took them knowingly."
"Anyhow, I eventually found Zen, or rather he had found me, at the Basilica. He told me he joined up with an Amarrian Loyalist corp and is working on his sec status. I can live with that, though it's not like I have much choice really. Better he be with Invelious's boys than flying solo, resorting to piracy and murder."
"I spoke at length about the whole situation with Aldrith the other day. He thinks Zenton has a long way to go before earning my trust again, but he says it is not impossible. He used Eliza as a reference, at how she had turned her life around."
"It's kind of ironic now, considering what almost happened last night. We were at the Bas when she came charging in with her weapons, being chased by the security. She was livid and in that moment I was really afraid for what she might do. Aldrith and I eventually got her calmed down, though I feel that this is only the begining of a downward spiral. However, I pray for the opposite. I pray that she finds the strength not to give into temptation."
Shalee paused in her narration as she stretched a hand around her, gently wiping away a streak of blood from her lower back, smearing it across her pale skin.
"I can't help but relate to Eliza on so many levels. She is at war with herself, wanting desperately to be one way when another, more familiar way is constantly there whispering against your ear, tempting and taunting until you give in."
"It's hard to walk the righteous path. Sometimes the allure of the familiar is too hard to resist."
She lifted her hand to her mouth and suckled the blood from her middle finger.
"I want to be a Praetorian more than anything...but sometimes I get so tired of trying to live up to such impossible standards. I don't understand how some pilots ease their way through the ranks while I am getting called into the office every other day."
"I mean, literally, every other day here lately, though this time it wasn't really my fault. Zenton had threatened Garst somewhere over a local comm the other day and Captain Newelle just happened to be there to overhear it. She had sent me a message about it and I tried to ignore it, so she then called me into her office. I lied, of course. I told her I had no idea why Zenton was making stuff up, that Garst never laid a hand on me."
"So hopefully the whole ordeal will go away now. Zenton promised me he would let it go, though right now his promises don't hold much weight."
"I talked to Garst about it also, apparently he was questioned and had to lie as well. Good thing, I wouldn't want something like this to interfer with his career. He just got a promotion for Operation Northen Impact. It was a success, I even took part in the second wave under the support division. It was my maiden voyage with the Retribution and she handled herself well, managed to help take down a few enemy ships without getting blown up in the process."
"There was an informal celebration after the first wave at the Paradise. I showed up, hoping to find Jhaelee. I had gotten a disturbing message about how she was missing. Raphael said I shouldn't worry, that she was probably offline somewhere in her pod, keeping her sensors off the grid so she wouldn't be found by the enemies. He said if we hadn't heard from her in twenty four hours he'd take me out there to look for her."
"I ended up staying for a while, had a few drinks with some of the other pilots. Met a man named Rain Itsu, a possible recruit to the Praetoria. Garst and Raephael didn't seem to care for him all that much, said he was much too flirty with me. Garst almost seemed jealous of him, though I don't know why he would be."
She hesitated for a moment as she let the words he had spoken to her in the Basilica play through her mind "God loves you...hell even I love you."
"He is a good friend to me, very protective. That's all it is, nothing more. He feels responsible for me because he is my superior." But could she really keep telling herself that?
"I just really dont want to jeopardize his career in any way. No doubt I destroyed Zenton's, I will not allow Garst to suffer the same fate. He's already gotten into trouble twice over me, once for the Zenton comm issue and then with Laerise when she saw us at Paradise. We weren't doing anything wrong, just drinking and talking. I just happened to be sitting in his lap when she walked in, I'm sure it looked more scandalous than it actually was."
"It's not like I left with him or anything. Anyhow Condor can testify to that, he was still there when Garst left. We ended up chatting a bit, though I probably shouldn't have. I had entirely too much to drink and was just drunk talking. I can't help it, he reminds me of Dante. I'm pretty sure I told him more than I should have, things that were said so long ago between Dante and I. Not that it matters now."
She fell silent as she twisted around, grabbing her robe. She slid it on, wincing as the fabric brushed against her tender back. Grabbing the discipline, she sucked in her breath, aware of every aching muscle as she stood. She thought of Michael again and shook her head.
"Oh Michael, what am I going to do with you," she whispered as she left the cathedral, closing the door on the way out, leaving behind a few droplets of blood near the alter, the only sign she'd been there at all.