Luckily the ship had hit the water near the shore so although she sank, the legs made sure only her belly touched the calm waves. They had descended the ramp and made the short swim to shore on a heated, white beech. The scenery was impressive. The beech stood at the foot of a giant, chalk cliffside where a natural pathway cut to the top. Initially it was a grassy outcrop but further in there was rustling woodland. However they followed the Cliffside with the sea to their right and here and there, strange natural archways, coves and bays. They found that as they walked they were ascending until the cliff was so high that the oxygen levels were thin and the clouds were beneath them. And there it stood, a magnificent jewel.
Before them was the deep curve of a bay like a silver crescent moon in the baking sun. Set into the pinnacle of the curve was a docking station within the mountain wide enough to fit two of Warrick’s ships in side by side, and she was quite a big gal. On the very rim of the cliff face a series of multicoloured flowers grew like a bright rainbow and following the marble pathway, holding marble pillars on either side and steadily rose to an enormous building. It must have been at least six storeys high with many white balconies and hanging plant pots. From the side of the building closest to them churned a large waterfall that sprinkled crystal water, roaring down into the azure depths below. There were several spires to the “house” though maybe palace fit the description better. It was simply magnificent to behold.
“Impressive sight, sir,” Eva mumbled.
“Who cares, start moving I say!” Triggs roared and clapped his hands together.
The entrance was far more impressive close up with several columns, gilded with gold leaf images, leading to a set of large, glass double doors and revealing the reception, so-to-speak. Inside was a wonderful looking place too. Several potted plants filled the area emitting various otherworldly aromas, each one more wonderful than the next create a heavenly suffusion. Comfortable, oaken chaise-longue fitted with red material and embroidered in gold were placed near these plants. The floor was a mosaic, too big to be able to comprehend the whole depiction from ground level but at in the middle of the room, what could only be described as a river cut the waiting section from the desk with a wooden bridge, softly lit up, connecting the two. The roof was incredibly high, and crowded with many pictures in wrought frames. Here and there, great balconies looked down on them. Warrick led them over the bridge towards the desk where a woman sat.
“Kind of classy for a whore-house,” Triggs mumbled into Eva’s ear. She clenched her fist but said nothing.
“Welcome to Phoenicia, house of the Maidens of Aphrodite, do you have an appointment with us?”
“You need an appointment?” Warrick looked surprised. It didn’t look that busy.
The woman let out a faint, tinkling laugh, then stopped when she realised he was serious. “Oh, well yes. The Maidens of the Rock are booked up for several hundred years, we are very popular. If you wish to see a Maiden more quickly however, we have several who roam the sector, as well as immobile space stations dedicated to providing similar services, I—“
“Amarie that will be enough, I shall take it from here.” The secretary straightened up even more than before and turned towards the woman. She was, without a doubt, stunning. Her hair was a dark brown, braids on the top that ringed her head like a crown, dotted with various gemstones, and a large amount of hair that fell in curls and coiled around her shoulder and down her chest. Her face had high cheek bones and looked carved out of some wonderful stone. Her eyes were a deep well of brown just as her lustrous hair. She wore a sea green dress made of some light material. Warrick could have sworn it was almost see through, and also could have sworn that Triggs was squinting to check that, non too subtly. She seemed unperturbed however. She gracefully turned and stepped through an arched walkway that led to a balcony.
She stopped at the rails, Warrick joined her side, Eva next to him and Triggs, with his arm folded, leaning against the wall close to the door, trying to look cool.
The Maiden stared out. The curtains of rock seemed to try and close them in. Just past the opening was sea, stretching out for miles and miles. Falling from the sky, was a large, orange sun and wisps of purple and grey cloud.
“I am Sophia, this is my Maidens’ sanctuary. You must understand that the safety of my Sisters is paramount to me, nothing can jeopardize that, nothing.”
She turned on Warrick then, but he met her gaze steadily.
“I wouldn't do anything to harm your serenity, and if you’re referring to him,” Warrick jabbed a thumb in Triggs’ direction, “He may be a little brainless at times but he won’t hurt any of your girls.”
Warrick expected her to look slightly more at ease about that, but if anything, she sort of looked guiltier. Before he could get to the bottom of that look, she hid those emotions with a clearly well worn mask.
“What brought you here?” but rather than curiosity, it was as if she were checking something.
“To be truthful, my ship crashed, my crew are stranded here till we can get the parts needed to fix ‘er up.” She smiled then, a kind of sad smile and looked out to sea again. “You wouldn’t have any ship parts would you? Or have a merchant that does?”
It was a while before she spoke, low and purposeful, “yes we do. Like I told you earlier, we have Maidens who fly into space on their own, we have to be knowledgeable when it comes to mechanics. After all the Universe is so fraught with perils. We have our own ships. I can give you the parts you need. Do you have any money?”
Warrick sighed and shook his head, “nah, not much, this crash hit us at the worst of times.”
“Well you’re in luck, regardless. It so happens that we have a job that needs doing. What a coincidence.” her words seemed so carefully deliberate. Was he seeing too much into it or was she just that good?
“Really?” Warrick bristled. “What kind of job?”
“A delivery, that’s all, requires secrecy.” There was an intensity in the air, something she wasn’t quite telling him. Warrick had been trained to read people.
“What makes you think I’m a delivery boy?” he asked, rather angrier than he wanted, “or anything related to that line?”
“We have to be a good judge of character. Often we Maidens will choose our own clients we have that many, so it’s important that we can choose the right person. But everything about you, the way you dress, your lack of money, the fact that you crashed, all paints its own picture of you." He was about to argue, he hated people judging him this way. "So will you do it?” She turned again suddenly, this time clasping his arm, “I assure you we will pay handsomely for your cooperation.” Her eyes lit up with a desperation un-befitting of her tone. He realised she was holding her breath.
He didn’t trust her, something in his gut told him there was more to this than a simple delivery, but the distraught look that had entered her face... either she was a very good actor or she was in some sort of trouble.
“I suppose I don’t have much choice, if I must do this to pay you back for the parts to get off this planet, then I will.”
“Good,” she breathed then, and let go of his arm but moved closer to him. Very close. “I am very grateful. You can stay in our house for a day whilst we ready your ship. I shall even give each of you a Maiden to keep you company whilst you wait, and sleeping quarters.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
“The Maidens of the Rock treat every client with the height of luxury and care, there is no need to thank us. After all, we must maintain our standards. Come with me now so we can make the arrangements.”