Alfons blinked up at the black marble building, leaning hard on the man who had come back to life.
“A temple? Are you insane?”
“It’s possible,” the man replied, adjusting his grip on the makeshift sled the two of them had put together for Zofi, still unconscious. “I was dead for a long time.”
Alfons coughed, blood splattering the man’s shoulder. “That’s just great.”
The man glanced down at him, concern on his face. “Let’s get you inside before you expire.”
“No offense to your plan, but we didn’t exactly get along with the last acolytes of a god, not to mention the actual god, we met.”
“This is a temple to Morbid. They’re fairly barren,” the man explained, surging forward, dragging Zofi with one hand and half-carrying Alfons with the other arm.
They stepped into the cool darkness of the temple, a single torch gleaming at the end of the long hall, illuminating the fifteen-foot statue’s face. The man paused, staring up the sleek statue of a woman with extremely long nails and her hair twisted around her neck. He stared retrospectively at it, even reverently, for a several long moments.
Alfons coughed blood again, grasping at the man’s shoulder as his legs tried to give out. The man reacted quickly, tightening his hold around Alfons’ waist to take his weight completely. Alfons wheezed, trying to get his good leg under him, but unable to. The broken bones (and other injuries) were taking their tolls.
“I request the sanctuary of the Morbid One!” the man shouted into the empty hall.
Almost immediately a woman stepped out of the shadows. She looked them over with eyes heavily lined in kohl, but upon spying Zofi, nodded.
“Sanctuary is yours,” she said, stepping forward to take Alfons. Three more women stepped out of the dark edges of the temple, two helping her to carry Alfons, the last helping the man with Zofi. They guided them out of the temple’s main hall into a series of interconnected side rooms. Women of all colors, sizes, and ages, unified only in their use of kohl, gathered around the three, carting Alfons and Zofi to separate rooms. Alfons tried to keep track of what happened, but one of his broken bones snapped again and he plummeted into unconsciousness.
Alfons came to in semi-darkness. The man sat beside him cleaning dirt from under his fingernails.
“They don’t,” the man said.
Alfons swallowed back the dryness in his mouth. The man held out a cup and tipped a thin trickle of water down Alfons’ throat.
“What?” Alfons said once he’d drunk.
“Fingernails and hair. They don’t grow after death. That’s a myth.”
The man chuckled. “You’re looking considerably livelier. The priestesses replaced a few of your bones apparently. Bone death, hmm?”
Alfons looked away, surveying his body as an excuse to break eye contact. He’d been well taken care of, it seemed, with splints and wrappings and enough medicine that he couldn’t feel anything.
“I didn’t ask them to do that,” Alfons said.
“It needed done.”
“That’s not the point!” Alfons snapped. “You can’t just go into somebody and tamper with their body without their consent. Taking out bullets, fine. Stopping bleeding, alright. But removing and replacing my bones? No. I don’t know these people. I don’t know what they want, who they help, why they’d help us—”
“It’s what they do.”
Alfons narrowed his eyes at the man.
“The disciples of Morbid take care of any and all who have been abused. It began as a joke, on Morbid’s part, but I think she’s come to like the idea. If I’m being charitable.”
“Who are you?” Alfons asked.
The man smiled. “Mathieu. I am, was, am a priest of the Mangled One, though I began in a temple devoted to the six.”
“Mathieu,” Alfons repeated.
“And believe me, the priestesses would not have dared to violate you if a bone transfer were had not been absolutely necessary to keeping you alive. You were…are dancing on the edge of life, my friend.”
“We aren’t friends.”
Mathieu inclined his head. “A figure of speech.”
“I see. Where’s Zofi?”
“Another room. She’s as fine as can be expected given that she used her life to raise mine, which is not, I should add, how it is done. I didn’t know it could be done this way.”
“How do you know all these things?” Alfons asked.
Mathieu shrugged. “I have spent much time among the gods.”
“They’re not gods.”
Mathieu raised his eyebrow.
Alfons gestured at his ribs. “I’ve been shot by one. I’ve seen them bleed, scream in fear. I’ve robbed them. The Immortals are not gods.”
Mathieu held up his hand. “Wait. Robbed?”
“I was part of a mission to steal some Key from the Immortals. I’m the only one left of the team.”
The man exhaled, then stood, Alfons tracking him intently with his eyes. “You stole the Key.”
“Do you know where it is now?”
Alfons’ eyes narrowed. “I don’t know. It was lost.”
“Damn,” Mathieu murmured.
The priestess who had received them entered the room, drawing their attentions. “She’s awakened.”