Price of the Cloth

Chapter XIII: The Hephaesta

© 2000 by Stayka deyAvemta

This page was last modified: 2000/06/28


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Fearfully, the girls looked around.

It had been maybe a month since they had been taken away from their homes all over the world and delivered at Sanctuary. In that time they had been given a crash course in Greek so that they could understand the orders of their teachers.

Today instead of their usual instructor, a faceless woman with flowing black hair appeared. She wore a white and silver armour and a silver mask that hid her face completely. Even the eyes were unrecognizable behind the cold metal.

"Look! Do you think she can see from behind that?" one of the girls, a small five-year old with grass green hair whispered in Italian accented Greek to another of the girls.

In virtually the same instant she got slapped by the masked woman and the force of the hit threw her to the ground. "You are only to speak when spoken to," the woman said evenly. "What is your name, girl?"

The five-year old struggled back to her feet, but even as tears streamed out of her green eyes, she glared defiantly at the tall female Saint. "Maria Graziella."

"Well, Maria Graziella, I can see perfectly through this mask. - And my hearing is even better!" The woman turned to another of the girls who immediately froze before she could utter even a single sound. "So who are you?"

"Sanae," the red-head replied timidly.

"Maybe I should first intruduce myself," the woman said. "I am Cassiopeia Silver Saint Regina, and I will be training you from now on. You have been chosen to be among the Saints of Athena and you will either complete your training successfully and attain a Cloth or die trying. I expect you to put all your heart and soul into this task and then we will get along fine. If you don't you will not survive long." Regina looked at the ten girls in front of her, one looking more terrified than the other. If one of them survived the training, she would be considered successful. As for the others -- weakness was not tolerated in Sanctuary.

Hesitantly, Sanae lifted her arm.

"You have a question?"

"Hai, Regina-sensei," she answered. The Cassiopeia Saint frowned and slapped her into the face. "Speak Greek! So, what do you want to know?"

"Ha-- yes, Mistress Regina. Why do you wear such a mask?"

"I am a Saint of the Goddess Athena. Since the dawn of time, Athena defended Earth from the evil schemes of other Gods. She was supported in this by an army of young men, her Warrior Saints, who fought for her not using arms, but only their bodies. Sooner or later, there were also young women who wanted to join the ranks of the Saints. At first, Athena refused to let women join her Saints, because they reminded her too much of the Amazons, a female warrior tribe who was fathered by Ares, one among the Gods whom Athena dislikes most. But as time passed and more and more women asked to be allowed to fight for her, Athena decided to give in - under one condition. The women fighting for her had to give up their feminity and hide their beautiful faces behind masks. From that day on, every female fighter wore a mask just like mine and no one was ever allowed to see her face again."

"No one?" a brown-haired girl mouthed. She, too, was slapped for her insolence of speaking out of turn, but still Cassiopeia Regina answered the question.

"No one. Once you take up the mask, it will become a part of you - you sacrifice your face to the Goddess. The mask gives you some advantages, though. The material filters the air you breathe so that you will not be affected by gaseous poisons. Also you can dive under the sea indefinitely. The male Saints can stay under water for a long time, too, but they have eventually to surface to breathe. You don't. Moreover, your eyes are protected from all kinds of dangerous radiation, while infrared light is being enhanced so that you can also see in the night."

"Cool!" it came from one of the girls, but Regina wasn't sure who it was. So this time she only glared in the vicinity of the offender. It was probably the green-haired girl again. She was a spirited young lady, and Regina had high hopes that she would be the one to survive the training.

"From the time you receive your masks you will only take them off to wash or eat. And make sure that no one watches you during these times! For a female Saint to be seen without her mask is a greater embarassment than being seen stark naked! And mind you, if I ever catch anyone of you bare-faced after the masking ceremony, you will run naked 50 kilometres through Sanctuary, up to Athena's statue and down again so that you remember the lesson."

Fearful silence greeted the Cassiopeia Saint again. Timidly, the red-haired Japanese girl lifted her hand once more.

"Yes, Sanae?"

"And when do we get our masks?"

"As soon as the Hephaesta has forged them for you." Regina smiled, but of course every emotion was hidden behind the silver metal. Actually, this was another advantage the female Saints had - no one could read their faces in battle, a fact that had given many of the girls quite an edge against the males. "Follow me."

Regina left the hut that was used for instructing the young Saints-to-be, and the girls filed hurriedly out after her. If they had learned one thing by now it was that immediate obedience led to better treatment by their superiors.

"We will now go to the Hephaesta. She will take measure for your masks." With measured strides, Regina walked to the solitary hut that stood about halfway around the hill with the Zodiac Temples. A tiny rivulet flew next to the hut, and steady smoke streamed from the chimney. As none of the girls dared to pose a question at the moment, Regina decided to volunteer some information.

"The Hephaesta was a Saint once, too. The Sculptor Bronze Saint. Since the first female Saint entered the ranks, the Sculptor Cloth was only worn by women. Every Sculptor Saint throughout history had an affinity to smithcraft. With her Cosmo alone, the Sculptor was able to alter metals, an almost invincible weapon against armours, shields and swords. The only kinds of armour a Sculptor Saint cannot influence are the Cloths of Saints. It is said that this is because a Cloth is not simple inanimate matter, but a somehow living entity. So when Athena's demand for masks had to be met, the Sculptor Saint was chosen to create them. But as it was considered unwise to let a Saint only do work and not fight anymore, it became custom that the smith for the masks was the retired Sculptor Saint who passed on her Cloth to a worthy successor."

Regina went to the door and announced her presence to the smith.

"Come in, Cassiopeia Regina," a husky female voice answered. "Whom do you bring?"

Regina entered the smoke-filled smithy. "I bring you ten maidens who are destined to take the mask in the service of Athena," she replied the ritual words. Destined was a neat euphemism, Regina thought with a tinge of bitterness. They never had been asked whether it was their own free will to serve Athena. They had been spirited away, and now they didn't have a choice anymore. Only between suceeding and death, just like it had been with her, Regina. Like it had been with her fellow Saints... With the Hephaesta, too.

"Then let them be cleansed so that they are pure and clean to receive the gift of the Goddess that marks them as her faithful servants." The Hephaesta stepped out of the smoke, and one could see that one of her legs was crippled, just like it was said of the God who was her namesake. She had deep orange hair that was caught in one, long braid down her back to keep it away from the fire and she, too, wore a silver mask, a last reminder that she once belonged to the Saints. With a curt gesture, she waved a servant to her, a likewise masked girl who carried a bowl of fresh water, a white piece of cloth and a towel.

Regina motioned the red-haired girl to stand in front of the Hephaesta. Anxiously, Sanae stepped forward.

The smith looked solemnly at her, the impression even stronger as the was just the impassionate silver mask facing the girl. "What is your name?"

"Sanae, Mistress." The answer was only whispered.

The Hephaesta dipped the cloth into the water and gently washed the girl's face. "Hereby I cleanse you from your past and all former ties. I cleanse you from all former obligations and also your name." The smith seemed to look deep within her. "A new name shall be given you, I will inscribe it into the mask you wll wear, so that you are newly born, newly named and from now on only bound to the Goddess."

Sanae-not-anymore staggered back, completely confused. She had sensed a strange energy flowing through her when the woman looked at her, and now she felt strangely empty.

One after the other, the remaining girls underwent the very same ceremony. Finally the Hephaesta motioned the servant to put away the bowl, before she fetched a pair of tongs and took a glowing piece of metal out of the fire. Nine more pieces waited to be worked, too.

With a hammer and a steady stream of Cosmo energy, the Hephaesta turned the first piece of metal into a shining mask. While cleansing the girls, her Cosmo had given her the precise measurements and also the insight which markings the mask had to bear. Except for the clanging of metal on metal and the whisper of the flames, an utter silence filled the smithy.

Finally, the servant came with a bucket of cold water and motioned to the red-haired girl to stretch out her arm. The one formerly known as Sanae did as she was told and was completely taken by surprise that she didn't even scream when a silver dagger flashed and bit deeply into her hand, letting her blood flow into the bucket and mingle with the water.

The Hephaesta let the mask fall into the water and cool. It took only seconds and the mask was finished. The servant quietly took it out of the water and dried it with a fresh cloth before she passed it back to the Hephaesta.

"Come here," she said to the red-head whose hand was already covered with a bandage, and her words parted the almost oppressing silence of the solemn rite. "Take up the mask that was hardened in your blood and holy water, take up the new life in the service of Athena and take up the new name that marks the beginning of your new life: Marin."

The Hephaesta put the mask over the girl's face, and it fit perfectly. Much to Marin's surprise it didn't even need a string to keep it in place, it just stayed on her face as if glued on. When she let out the breath she had held in anticipation, she discovered that the material didn't hinder her breathing at all - nor did it hinder her sight. It was a strange feeling at first, but as if by magick she could still blink and even move her lips, even though the mask was completely unmoving from the outside.

One girl after the other was given the mask and a new name.

Stoically, Regina watched the ceremony and pondered where the Hephaesta got all the names from? Surrepticiously, she wrote them down. Sure, she had to memorize them sooner or later, but she wanted to be on the safe side. Marin... Nimue... Omiklea... Ariana... Verdandi... Alineth... Astara... Esther... Idurah... She wondered which of the girls would finally live to obtain one of the vacant Cloths.

Finally the last mask was given to the tomboyish green-haired girl who was named Shaina.

After Cassiopeia Regina herded her flock outside the smithy, the Hephaesta breathed deeply. She always wondered whether it was such a good idea to go through all the ceremony so early, when most of the girls wouldn't survive the training anyway, but then, they had to wear the masks to be allowed in Athena's service.

Long time ago, she had belonged to another group who was initiated by another smith who also was called the Hephaesta. She couldn't remember her original name, and she had but forgotten the one she had been given then (hadn't it been Charis?), but she still remembered how much she was awed by the ceremony.

Of course that Hephaesta also had a crippled leg, and she had wondered how that might have happened. Only when the old Hephaesta died and she as Sculptor Saint had to pass on her Cloth to her successor to follow in her footsteps, she had learned the secret of the smiths. In exchange for the power to see into the girls and the ability to create their masks, Hephaestos, the god of fire and patron of smiths, always demanded that price.

The Hephaesta sighed. All the Greek Gods were a jealous bunch...

- The End -


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