John the Baptist took a sip of the ceremonial wine after everyone was gone. Then another. Then a real, long gulp. John still hadn't become the raging alcoholic from a decade later, but what could be wrong with indulging in the Christ's blood? He had been martyred so Christ masses could be held.
After a quick stop in the vestibule to leave the crown and preacherly regalia, John emerged in beach garment, and hit the sand.
The Christ's High Council saw the move to tropical locations as a major hassle, but the world was changing. Mihr was rumored to be back, and while this was heresy to the Christ's flock, they were losing people. Besides, the High Council had been preparing this from three generations prior to the Mithra problem; seeing Europe as a lost cause, they had spent two generations persuading and preparing secular scholars to take care of Rome as the new successors to King Numa Pompilius, in the core of the Roman civilization the High Council now had to divorce.
Ella thought this crazy business about the return of Mihr was a ripple effect from the Holy Divorce. You can never really be sure about whether the devout were really moving their allegiance together with The Christ or whether the Roman civilization held the most sway. And Christless Rome was, at least symbolically, fractal Rome, as secular as its reality was. But then again, Ella worried John the Baptist; the mithra rumors intrigued her.
Each time John the Baptist hit the beach, he saw more and more Mithra girls. Mithra men were rare, usually converted by marriage, and very calvinist in lifestyle after that. Mihr's message was suspiciously seventh-wave metafeminist, simultaneously directing women to marry and live subservient, but hold nothing back until then. Was it surprising that post-menopausal Mithra women no longer were a rare sight?
This was the trouble with those Mithra girls, whispered John's heart, beating faster as the thought dispersed through his body. They were asked either to be pagan temptresses or starving buddhas. The Christ's Church sexual policy was bland in comparison; John had toured Europe many times, and couldn't see much practical difference between secular and Christ practice, other than in a few ancient rituals that were rendered emotionless by purging their roman elements.
John the Baptist, of course, couldn't marry at all, having been elected a holy man and a Ressurrect at that. Among all the bland rituals of the Church, the ressurection was strikingly dramatic; Mike Xander had undergone ritual suicide by the cutting of veins, and renounced all previous live to incarnate John the Baptist. The indoctrination worked well; John was incapable of greed, lust and envy. And as such he was sent to the beaches to fight the Mithra threat. "Has anyone even seen a trace, a hair, a drop of sweat of this Mihr?", boomed his voice from the pulpit.
Why did Ella interrupt his silent reflection bringing word of Mihr's return? John was briefly alarmed -- what, an actual sighting of Mihr? As soon as he could see clearly, however, he stared in sadness at the minimal mithra outfit that came from where the voice came. He wouldn't look Ella in the eye like that. The trouble with those Mithra girls is the outfits, he briefly thought, more erotic than nudity itself. Then he thought that this was a worrying thought, nearly as sinful as the deed itself.
Ella proposed, then pleaded, then danced, then cried. But as much as John the Baptist was losing his purity of mind with all the fireworks, he said in three thousand four hundred and two words that he wouldn't marry her, he couldn't marry her, he didn't want to marry her. He was no merchant, he was an elected Ressurrect, a precondition for the apocalypse in first place. Finally she just threw her body at him, and this made him lose the last of his strength of will.
The trouble with those Mithra girls was that they didn't stay too long with a losing prospect. Ella and Xander lived as lovers for ninety days, including the time Xander spent in the Christ's Church headquarters for another blood ritual returning the Ressurrect status so that a better man may fulfill the prophecy. Xander wouldn't accept Mihr at all, his fealty to the Christ's idea stronger than what remained of Romanness in mithra culture. But as weak as common men are understood to be by the Christ, he took Ella for a lover. Until she gave up converting him for marriage. Such is the luck of weak-willed prophets.