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Preparation

In the balmy summer days leading up to the solstice festival, Eugene spends his free time preparing the bookstore for the increase of customers that are bound to soon arrive. For this particular festival though, Eugene is deferring to his other workers – particularly Irene, who is quite eager for the opportunity to help the store in a big way.

In addition to assisting with festival duties around the temple, Eugene is going to act as the head priest for the main solstice ritual – a high festival in honor of the Roman goddess Ubertas. She is a deity of particular significance to the Wellspring Temple.

“I know you’ve been putting in a lot of effort this year, Irene, but I thought a few volunteers would be in order – given all the public interest, and how many donations our temple has been getting so far” Eugene says calmly. “This is Lucien and his boyfriend Preston.”

Lucien and Preston both give friendly yet casual waves to Irene.

With Lucien’s hand placed firmly on his shoulder, Preston is reminded how imposing his boyfriend actually is. Lucien is shorter than both Eugene and Magid, but his physical strength is well-attested by a sculpted agrestic physique – one that he freely shows off with fitted jeans, a tucked-in shirt and an extra-large, wolf’s head belt buckle.

Irene says, “I’m very grateful to you two. If you’ll give me a moment of your time, I’ll walk you through some of the things I need the most help with.”

Irene, much like Preston, is quite slender, but she’s rather tall – even for a raven. She’s barely a few inches shorter than Eugene or his boyfriend Magid. She has a dark beak and soft, shimmering black plumage. She also wears glasses, but prefers a bit more flair to her outfits than Preston – particularly during the solstice, where her love of summery boho aesthetics and bold accessories really shines brightest.

Hanging back a bit is Irene’s girlfriend Cassandra – a tall and athletic young raven with an intense gaze and formidability that rivals the goddess Sekhmet. In contrast to Irene, she finds herself most comfortable in activewear with a form-fitting tank top – belying her strong interest in gym life and the scenery she hikes with Lucien as her trail buddy.

“So, Cassandra and I will deal with setting out most of the festival items to sell in the bookstore” Irene says. “You and Lucien can set up signs, decorations and whatever else you can get to today. Let me know if you have any questions.”

After separating into two groups and getting to work, in a moment of silence Cassandra says, “Hey sweetie. I just wanted to say I appreciate you putting in a good word with Eugene. Working here has been so much more relaxed and getting into meditation here has been a nice contrast to my high energy workout routine.”

“It’s my pleasure” Irene says warmly. “Speaking of temple activities, did you know that Lucien will be teaching traditional martial arts at the Wellspring?”

With a lot of surprise, Cassandra replies, “He told me that he had something big planned, but I had no idea it was this involved.”

“I only ask because, despite appearances, Lucien has a soft heart” Irene says. “He wants to ask you to be a part of the class after the festival, but he doesn’t want you to feel pressured.”

“I’d love to be a part of something like that, honestly” Cassandra replies.

“I agree. It would also give you a way of contributing to the temple in a more substantial way than being an errand gal for your girlfriend” Irene says playfully.

Cassandra smirks and says, “Well, I can still help you with heavy lifting from time to time.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way” Irene replies.

In a small reading area for kids, Eugene’s boyfriend Magid is sitting on a chair with a group of younglings and sitting on the floor at looking up intently. It’s clear from their glances that many of them are utterly fascinated by his bold punk attire, band patches, flashy jewelry and imposing boar countenance. But more than that, they are captivated by the way he tells captivating stories.

“Since the solstice festival is upon us, I thought I’d tell you all the story of the birth of the goddess Ubertas” Magid says warmly to the children before him.

“Raise your hand if you have heard of Ubertas” Magid says aloud. A few kids cautiously raise they hands – one after the other. “A few of you do, it seems. Very good. You can put your hands down now.”

“As the story goes, Ubertas, the mistress of the marshes, is a very special goddess. Unlike many other deities, she emerged as a fully formed being” Magid says brightly. “Ubertas emerged from out of the sacred waters, at the edge of the first land – the fertile soil that rose up from the endless abyss. This is what would become known as Earth.”

“What makes her so special?” a juvenile male boar asks Magid.

“Do you know what a bath house is?” Magid replies softly. The boy nods. “Bath houses aren’t just a place to keep cool, wet and relaxed. They are also a place where anthropes of all kinds can set aside their differences and grow closer to one another; They can bathe and relax in places set aside for anthropes of all ages and backgrounds.”

Eugene walks over to Magid and sets a gentle hand on his shoulder before saying, “That’s why Ubertas is also a great protectress. She especially protects women and children.”

Magid says, “Ubertas loves joy and play too, but she doesn’t like too much mischief. That’s why we all want you to be on your best behavior during the solstice festival. Make sure to listen to the adults around you and don’t wander off during the main event.”

The children nod in agreement and Magid continues telling them more about the festival itself before the rest of story time is finished.

Once the children clear out for the day, Eugene gives Magid a gentle kiss before Magid says playfully, “What was that for?”

“You’re so good with kids” Eugene says warmly.

“You don’t think I’m too firm with them?” Magid asks.

“Sometimes kids need a firm hand. You did well today babe” Eugene replies.

“Thanks Eugene” Magid says.

“You’re welcome.” Eugene replies. “Let’s finish the rest of the festival preparations together. I want us to get this just right when we perform the ritual together.”

“Me too” Magid says. “It’s gonna be amazing.”

“I agree” Eugene replies. “Let’s get to it.”