The Vault of Sorrow
Part Two: The Vault of Sorrow
The Receiving Room of the Temple was bare stone from floor to ceiling. It was an alcove where the members of the Mound of Gaia came and went from the uninitiated world. Three Temple guards stepped forward and bowed low when Vera, Sam, and Evander materialized. Vera was pleased to see that her sisters had responded with caution to Iris’ disappearance.
She was struck by a wave of thoughts, the force of which caused her vision to swim. Vera reached out to Evander and he steadied her. He looked between Sam and Vera with deepening concern. Sam placed two fingers to her temple and closed his eyes. He heard the cacophony of voices crashing through her mind, immersing Vera in the fear of hundreds of other beings. It was deafening. He murmured a calming charm and the pinched expression on Vera’s face faded. She allowed herself to sag against Evander.
“I think it’s safe to say that Iris’ disappearance isn’t a secret,” Vera rolled her neck in a circle to release the muscles that had stiffened.
An older woman rushed into the alcove, wringing her hands and muttering apologies before she came to a stop. A midnight blue dress was draped over her curvaceous frame, flowing to the floor where it swished around her ankles like water.
“My lady, we weren’t expecting you so soon,” she bowed her head, keeping her eyes downcast.
“Sofia, call me Vera.” The other woman sniffed. Vera placed a finger beneath her chin until their eyes met, “Or Sister, if you can’t bring yourself to use my name. You’re twenty years older and a world of experience wiser than I’ll ever be. How many more decades are we going to have to fight over this?”
“Of course, Sister,” Sofia forced a smile, but Vera saw past the stretch of her lips to the lines of worry that creased her forehead. She was the Temple Keeper. Nothing came or went in the Temple of Gaia without her knowledge. She had been born into the order and dedicated to Gaia as a baby. Fifty years later, her ash blonde hair was shot through with gray and her steps were not as spry as they had been when she was a girl, but the flame of her dedication had not waned with age.
“Now, walk with me. Tell me what we know.” Vera said and began the journey down the spiral stairs that wrapped around the outer wall of the temple. The Temple of Gaia was a soaring circle of limestone and marble, surrounded by a colonnade of twelve columns, one for each of Gaia’s Titans. Vera ran her hand along the wall, allowing the voice of the Temple itself to wash over her as they descended; even the stone was uneasy. Whispers of loss and betrayal seeped through the walls like blood through cloth.
“We know so little. Sister Iris took luncheon with Sisters Hestia and Callisto. She told them she was feeling unwell and retired to their rooms to rest. When they went to retrieve her for supper, she was gone.”
The first tendrils of panic were curling through Vera’s belly when they reached the ground floor and began their descent into the catacombs. Sam, who sensed her disquiet, drew up beside her, brushing his hand over hers and allowing some of her tension to flow into him.
“Was the Vault opened?”
“No, so we have no way of knowing if Pandora’s jar’s been taken,” Sofia paled.
Vera attempted to master her shock, “Sofia, repeat what you just said, please?”
“I said that we do not know if Pandora’s jar is still within the Vault. The seal can only be broken by the High Votaress or The Servant of Hope.”
Vera and Evander exchanged looks. Vera, Evander, Sam, and Iris were the only four people in all the worlds who were supposed to know that Pandora’s jar was more than just a myth.
“Before she disappeared, did Iris tell you what she was chosen to keep?”
“No, Sister,” Sofia’s brow furrowed with confusion, “Iris never talked about the Vault at all.”
The air became chilled as they moved deeper into the catacombs and Vera was glad that she had not changed into her Temple dress before leaving home. Thick wool and silk protected her from the worst of the cold. The maze of halls that lead to the Vault wound like a serpent curling in on itself. The ceiling was low and Evander and Sam were forced to stoop as they walked. Torches, burning with unquenchable fire, lit their way. Vera heard hurried murmurs as they drew nearer to the Vault. They rounded the final turn and the narrow hall opened into a circular room. The floor and walls were made from blood-colored stone that glimmered in the torchlight.
There were two women standing by the Vault door. They were engrossed in conversation, their heads bent toward one another, unaware that they were no longer alone. One was slender, with skin the same rich brown as the olives that grew around the Temple. Vera recognized her as Iris’ Familiar Callisto. The other woman was more compact with a shock of red curls framing her face. This was Hestia, Iris’ Guardian.
Sofia cleared her throat to announce Vera and Callisto and Hestia rushed forward to greet them. Callisto fell into Vera’s arms and sobbed. Hestia stood apart, her expression severe, but Vera saw past her stoicism to the shame beneath. It was clear that Hestia blamed herself; Vera hoped Evander might aid in putting that feeling to rest.
“We’ll find Iris and bring her home. I promise you both. Right now, I need you to go with Evander and tell him everything you remember. Leave nothing out, even if it seems foolish or you can’t remember how you came to hear it, do you understand?” Hestia and Callisto nodded and Evander led them away from the Vault door to the far side of the rotunda.
Vera motioned for Sofia and Sam to follow her to the Vault. She stood before the door, eyes closed and head cocked, like a blind woman trying to distinguish between voices in the black. She traced the rough limestone with the fingertips of one hand and reached to Sam with the other. He pressed the grip of a dagger into her hand. There was an economy to her movement as she brought the blade to her opposite palm and sliced across her skin, blood welling from the cut. She smeared the precious fluid on the door and began to chant. Power coalesced around her, tugging at the loose strands of her hair and the folds of her clothes. There was a cracking, like ice breaking up in the spring, and the Vault of Sorrow opened.
“I don’t understand, we have nothing. Less than Nothing.” Vera paced in their bedchamber. They were in a villa, a half-day’s ride from the Temple, in the rocky hills above the Valley of Gortyna. The belongings that they had brought along with them were carried up to the villa when they arrived.
The Beyond lingered in antiquity, like a shadow of ancient Greece. Life moved differently on either side of the Passage, and the triunes called to serve in the uninitiated world became adept at traveling between realities. The magic of Gaia made many modern conventions obsolete and the old ways were maintained to honor the past.
“Will we even know if the jar’s been opened?” Sam asked.
Vera huffed and fell backwards onto the feathered mattress that served as their sleeping palate. “That room was sealed millennia ago and no one is supposed to know that Pandora’s jar exists, let alone what will happen to the worlds if it’s opened.”
“I can’t imagine the worlds losing hope,” Evander said from his spot curled on the bed, his voice was rough, like it had been scraped raw. He reached out and ran his hands through Vera’s hair. “Callisto and Hestia are gutted.”
Vera felt her eyes prick with heat. She tried to focus on the comfort of Evander’s touch. It calmed the flurry of whispers that were assailing her. The web was fraught with fear and rumor. Sam had tried to carry some of Vera’s burden, but the thoughts of the other Sisters created a snarl of emotion that made it difficult for her to think. There was an empty ache in her chest, and she slung her arm over her face. The mattress dipped and she caught the warm scent of Sam, a combination of heather and bitter orange, that soothed her frayed nerves.
“What do you need, love?” Sam’s hand slid beneath her sweater and settled on her stomach.
“I don’t know. I can’t think.” She pushed herself up to sit and winced when the din in her mind grew louder. “There are hundreds of rumors being passed around, I can hear all of them. It’s maddening.”
The bedclothes rustled behind her and Evander swept her curls from the nape of her neck, laying a gentle kiss on her skin. One thought broke free from the rest, like the face of a glacier tumbling into the sea. It was an extraordinary alchemy, Vera thought, that brought us together.
She leaned forward, allowing her mouth to hover over Sam’s. “This,” she said, “I need this.”
Sam closed the distance between them and pressed his lips to hers, allowing his tongue to slip forward. Vera whimpered when Evander kissed the side of her neck. His hands slid down her arms and caught onto the hem of her sweater, pulling it over her head. She heard the swish of more fabric and felt the warmth of Evander’s bare chest against her back. He resumed raining light kisses on her shoulders while he unclasped her bra.
Vera reached for Sam again. He dove into her arms and reclaimed her mouth. The tide of noise in her mind started to ebb. Evander continued to stroke her sides and she leaned her head back on his shoulder. She turned her neck and captured Evander’s lips while Sam explored her breasts with his tongue, suckling at her nipples before teasing the hardened buds with sharp nips.
Her body came alive beneath their hands. They maneuvered her out of her clothes until Vera sat on the edge of the bed with Evander pressed against her back and Sam kneeling in front of her on the floor. Evander spread her legs, trailing his fingers up her inner thighs. When he reached her sex, he parted her inner lips, exposing the delicate pearl of her clit and her opening. She gleamed with the slick and Sam’s tongue darted out for a taste. Vera groaned as he teased her while Evander’s hands palmed her breasts, reveling in the beauty of their weight and the velvet texture of her skin.
Vera’s pleasure raced through her and she pulled at Sam’s shoulders, greedy for the peace that was unwinding within her body. Evander pulled away, leaning against the headboard, a thick plank of dark wood that contrasted with the peach-gold of Evander’s skin. He motioned for Vera and Sam to join him. His cock was hard, and his balls were heavy and tight against his body. Vera leaned down and took one, then the other in her mouth before sliding her tongue up his length, and licking the glistening tip.
Evander reveled in the wet heat of Vera’s mouth and the feel of her tongue gliding over the thick vein on the underside of his cock. Sam slid his hand between her legs, massaging her clit, and breaching the wet heat at the pith of her lust. Vera whimpered and Evander clamped down on the base of his shaft. She rocked forward until her lips met Evander’s fingers and she swallowed once around him, letting her throat milk him before pulling back. She squeezed her inner walls around Sam’s fingers when he buried them deep within her, relishing the drag and pressure when he withdrew them and plunged them back inside her body.
“Look at you,” Evander growled, “Look at you both.” His eyes were hooded and he guided Vera until she facing away from him, kneeling with her legs pressed against the outside of his thighs. Evander pulled her backward until her back was against his chest and guided her onto his member. He locked her in place with both arms when he was fully sheathed. She tried to move against him, to circle her hips on his phallus and he stilled her movements.
“Settle, beautiful. Don’t move.”
“I want to move.” Her speech was more breath than voice, but she quieted, a plaintive whine clawing at her throat.
“Let us. Please, Vera. Will you let us love you?” Sam’s eyes softened when she nodded.
He smiled and Evander spread his legs just wide enough that Sam could lay between his thighs and licked at the heart of Vera’s womanhood. Her breath caught in her throat when Sam raised a hand and pressed two fingers to her lips. She took them into her mouth, laving them with her tongue and, guessing at his purpose, ensured they were dripping when he pulled his hand away. Sam slipped those fingers along the valley of Evander’s ass and massaged the furled, tender skin of his entrance. Evander gulped air when Sam breached his body with first one, then two fingers. It was Sam’s pleasure to indulge both his lovers. He stroked the bundle of nerves in Evander’s body until he was panting and fighting to keep his hips still.
Vera’s moans grew in intensity as she neared her climax. She begged to move and Evander held her tighter. His arms were like bands of iron and she had the fleeting thought that if he let her go, she would break apart into thousands of pieces and disappear on the wind. Her body began to quake and Sam sucked hard at her clit until she came, wracked with spasms by the power ripping through her body. The walls of her hallowed channel squeezed Evander’s organ with such force that when Sam pressed fingers hard into his prostate, Evander tumbled over the edge with a shout. Sam leaned back on his haunches and gripped his neglected cock, watching his lovers gasping for air, spent from the intensity of their lovemaking. He gave himself no quarter and after several hard strokes he groaned out his climax, coming over his fist.
Evander lifted Vera off his body and the two men curled around her, calming her with gentle touches.
“Is your mind any quieter?” Evander asked, brushing the hair out of her eyes and kissing her brow.
Vera closed her eyes and focused. The voices were still there, but the roar had been reduced to whispers. The rumors of Iris’ disappearance shifted and changed with each telling, spreading through the web like a sickness. It bothered her that not a single person could remember where they had heard the story of Pandora’s jar and yet they all knew it was missing.
An idea sparked in Vera’s mind and she sheltered it like a candle’s flame, cupping her hand around it and allowing it to burn high, safe from the extinguishing wind. The spark grew into a flame and she bolted up from the bed, drawing surprised cries from both Evander and Sam. Vera disappeared into the dressing chamber and Evander and Sam soon heard her pouring water into the wash basin. Minutes later she peaked her head around the doorframe and smiled. Her cheeks were pink, and her eyes sparkled with energy.
“I’m sure I could rescue Iris by myself,” Vera laughed, “but I’d be much obliged if you two got your beautiful asses out of bed and gave me hand.”