“Prayers don’t kill people: Gods do…”

Dragon Face, the masked wrestler, Lady Ira, the royal harper, Vinkle, minor chieftain and beer-conjuror, V’vendy the Deathweaver, Corax the saurian mystery warrior, and Uuco the Witness walked forward, set their hands on the evil door and tried to pull it open. As they touched the door’s black metal, they all felt a deathly chill, as if their soul were seeping out through their fingers into an endless abyss of despair.

Even worse than that, the door refused to budge. “Owie, Owie!” Uuco exclaimed, taking a few steps back and sucking on his blue fingers. “No doubt about it!” He concluded. “This is the worst door I’ve ever run into! Like, the worst!”

“I’m On Fire!” Corax screeched, dropping down to the ground and rolling back and forth to extinguish the black flames that had engulfed him from snout to tail.

V’vendy threw her cloak off and pressed it over Corax to put out the mystical flames. “Oh dear,” She said. “What now?”

“We shall breath deep,” Dragon Face roared,  “and pull harder!” The masked wrestler took hold of the door’s brass skull-knockers again, ignoring the blood that started seeping from their engraved sockets. “Do your worst, foul door!” He bellows, knots standing out on his biceps. “The great…Dragon Face…shall triumph!”

The door’s hinges squealed like a flock of seagulls, then slowly slid open. A wave of black fog billowed out through the doorway, inundating the gathered Pilgrims and villagers with whispers of doom. Then the fog dispersed, leaving the way clear.

“Young boy,” Lady Ira said, going to one knee in front of the wide-eyed Sar. “Can you get back to the surface on your own?”

Sar nodded. “Ya-huh! Dad made me memorize it!” He rattled off a list of passageways, forks, and left and right turns.

Lady Ira listened carefully, then nodded in approval. “One last question: do you know Chief Valeria of the Wailing Saber Longhouse?”

“I think so!” Sar replied, scratching his head. “Yeah! She gave me honey sweets once…”

“Good,” Ira replied briskly. “Run quickly to the surface, boy. Let no one see you. Tell Chief Valeria what happened. She’ll keep you safe until this is settled.”

Sar nodded nervously.

“GO!” Ira shouted, widening her eyes to get the point across. Sar jumped to his feet and ran off through the doorway the party had come from. “Spry child,” Ira muttered, getting to her feet. “Come Pilgrims,” she declared, adjusting the green kerchief around her throat. “Let us pay homage to a God Ghost!”

“Mmm!” Dragon Face replied, flexing his arms by his waist.

“A ghost, eh?” Uuco muttered to himself as he followed Vinkle and his fellow pilgrims through the doorway of evil. “I used to have a ghost as my magic apprentice! Or did I? Tarnation…” Uuco snapped his fingers suddenly. “Now I remember!” He chirped in triumph. “He became a ghost later!”

On the other side of the door was a narrow bridge  that spanned a large drop into empty air. Grass plains, green streaks of forest and crop fields passed by far below, as pretty as a patchwork quilt. A trembling, gangly youth with a tangled mullet, short pants, and a quarterstaff stood in the middle of the bridge, blocking the Pilgrim’s path. “Y-you,” he stammered at the Pilgrims, raising his staff. “You shall not p–!”

The novice Zealot of Evolving Evil was instantly buried under a dog-pile composed of a wrestler, dinosaur, and a tiny Nobble with a mustache.

“Here’s the thing, boy,” Uuco said, reaching pinching the cheek of the wide-eyed, smothered Zealot. “I’ve been around a while, see? I know how these high-falutin’ interrogations work. Every time you give us an incomplete answer, I’ll have to ask another question, and we’ll be here all day. Uuco grinned and stroked his thick, bushy mustache, shadows falling across his face. “So let’s cut to the chase, kid. Tell us everything you know.”  

%%%

  Deep in the heart of the buried city, a priestess in flowing purple robes, her hair bound into a long braid and her right eye covered with a leather patch, stood before a thick stone coffin. Her hands were clasped together in prayer. “I-cenehu, tepuyu tei, me beih Hor nebew…” she recited in a singsong drone. A loud roar echoed from within the coffin, and thick layers of dust streamed out from the gap in its stone lid. The Priestess raised her head and extended a clenched fist towards the coffin.

“You will kneel before me and my gods!” She declared, glaring at the sepulcher with her sole exposed eye. “I’ll have all your secrets!” The thing within the coffin roared again. The Priestess smirked. “All right, then,” she chirped. “Let’s play this game.” She drew a dagger from her belt and set its tip against her palm. “The Blood of Origin,” she chanted. “The Fruit of the Tree of Life–!”

The Priestess heard a scraping noise behind her, and immediately tilted ducked left. A javelin flew through the space her head had occupied and bounced off the coffin, clattering on the ground.

“Fah!” Dragon Face grunted, lowering his outstretched arm. “I acknowledge your impressive reflexes, Zealot of Evolution!” Behind the masked wrestler, Ira and the other Pilgrims walked into the room with drawn weapons and readied spells.

“Step away from the casket and yield now, Zealot!” Ira declared, three lead balls clasped between her fingertips. She drew her sword. “If the next words from your mouth aren’t I yield, then we will shoot you down,” the Harper explained. “If you try and run for the exit, we’ll shoot you down. If you attack, we will hack you to pieces. Now then…what say you?”

Corax held his sickle sword by his side, tail swishing back and forth in anticipation. V’vendy had an arrow nocked to her bow, ready to draw and fire it in an eye-blink. Vinckle brandished a clay charm-tablet in his off hand and held his newfound dagger at his side. Uuco glared steadily at the Priestess, sparks flickering from his eyes every time he blinked.

“I yield, the Priestess said promptly. She fell to her knee and extended her clasped hands. “Do as you will.”

Ira blinked, then frowned in disappointment. “Dragon Face, bind her with rope, please,” she said.

“My knots shall be the tightest in the world!” Dragon Face declared, and started pulling rope out from his travel sack.

Lady Ira took a step towards the kneeling Priestess. “Now then, Zealot,” she declared. “You are going to undo the magic you’ve cast, and lower this buried tomb and the town above it back down to earth.” Ira’s voice sharped. “What were you thinking? By the Hidden Gods, there are children up above!”

“Indeed!” Dragon Face affirmed as he approached the Priestess and wound the rope around her wrists.

The Priestess tilted her head to the side. “We had nothing to do with this levitating town,” she stated archly, nodding towards the coffin. “You can blame that on the Ghost throwing a temper tantrum-!“

The Priestess’s voice trailed off. She looked more closely at Corax, and then at Uuco. Her eye widened. She smiled a smile that only children pulling wings off bugs could even attempt to mimic. “Ha,” she said. “Hahahahaha! Hidden Gods, you say? You don’t know the truth of your words, Harper. Hidden, yes…hidden in plain sight.”

Corax snapped his jaw shut, grunting in distaste. The Priestess turned her gaze back to Uuco. “And you, old geezer!” she chortled with glee. “After a century, we’ve found you again! I hardly recognized you, Witness: nothing’s burning to death around you yet!”

Uuco’s mustache twitched. He started to gather lightning between his wrinkled hands. “Woman,” he declared. “You just earned yourself a lightning spanking!”

“Calm yourself, Uuco!” Ira insisted. “Once we hand her in the Royal Gnashers, this heretic will get the justice she deserves!” The Priestess smirked. “Royal Justice?” she echoed in a singsong pitch. “Oh, we’re going to have so much fun with each other, Harper,” She bowed her head. “Hahahahah…”

Ira’s eye twitched. “Dragon Face? Gag this miscreant immediately.”

The Priestess jerked her head back up. “HAH!” she shouted. The laugh burst from her lips like a thunderclap, a purple-tinged shockwave echoing throughout the chamber. The blast hurled Dragon Face and Ira off their feet and sent Uuco staggering back, blood dripping from his ears.

The Priestess rose to her feet, shucking off the rope around her wrist, and ran towards the coffin in the center of the room. Vinkle smashed the tablet he carried on the ground, and a line of fire raced across the stone floor towards the Priestess’s feet. Corax gathered white-hot energy in the back of his throat, and then coughed up a ravening beam that flew through the air towards the Priestess’s back.

The Priestess bent her knees and leapt, soaring over the coffin and landing on the other side. Vinkle’s fire spell wreathed the coffin in flame, while Corax’s mouth beam cracked its stone lid in half.

“HAHAHA-HAH!” The Priestess crowed, another shockwave bursting from her lips, blowing away the arrow V’vendy sent flying at her. “Well done, Pilgrims!” she crowed, as the room they were in started to rumble. “You’ve angered the God Ghost keeping this village from falling out of the sky! I’d say you’ve made a painful mistake…!” The Priestess ran towards a staircase in the back of the room, a staircase that seemed to lead up to some kind of exit. “Still,” she shouted over her shoulder, “maybe you’ll have a chance to evolve! Like the old parable says: that which you kill makes you stronger!”

“What?” Uuco shouted over the ringing in his ears. “Did you say ‘kill me’? I can do that!” He rolled forward, then shot lightning from his hands as he rose up…lightning that flew off course and scorched a mark in the ceiling. The Priestess vaulted up the stairs and vanished from view. Mocking laughter echoed back down, shattering the staircase’s ceiling and burying the exit in rubble.

The coffin’s stone lid exploded, unleashing a cloud of dust that swirled through the air and formed itself into the spectral outline of a giant, clad in furs and wielding a cudgel the size of a tree. The God Ghost threw his head back and roared: “Intruders…shall receive no mercy!”

“Friend Uuco!” Dragon Face groaned, picking himself up and reaching a hand towards the elderly Nobble. “I beg you,” he pleaded. “Stop. Rolling. Before. You Attack!”

“What?” Uuco shouted, his ears still bleeding.

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