“The Temple’s even bigger up close, ” V’vendy said to Ira as they and the Pilgrims trudged up its steps. They passed by sigil-grooved doors and windows built into the pyramid walls, as well as shrines holding graven images of Bulls, Hawks, Trees and Fish. “There must be thousands of people working on this!” She marvelled.
“Tens of thousands,” Ira said. “We fill our labor gangs with subjects from all across the Kingdom…mostly Thugs from the Thug Ghetto, along with farmer offspring and prisoners.”
The party reached the first ring of the Infinite Temple and wandered clockwise along the pathway, heading towards the section that had blown up.
“I…see,” V’vendy said, looking troubled. “Not to be rude, but, uh, are these laborers happy?”
“Lady Ira blinked, her wise and knowing expression breaking apart into confusion. “Why wouldn’t they be?” She asked. “They’re working to please the gods- even Thugs can contribute, despite their lack of magic!”
Corax snorted, a sound like a horse’s bellow. “Don’t start getting naïve, Lady Ira,” he said. “The will of Gods is hard to judge…and rarely benevolent for mortals.”
“And how would you know that?” Ira asked Corax, eyes gleaming with speculation.
Corax glanced away, head-feathers wilting. “Oh, look,” he said hastily. “We’re here!”
They arrived at the explosion crater, a blackened, jagged scar in the Infinite Temple’s majesty. Rubble littered the area; a few stoned chunks still smoldered with blue flame. Nearby shrines and sub-temples lay caved in. At the heart of the crater, stone and brick had melted and refused into a pool of gleam-black obsidian….
…Obsidian marked with a trail of bare footprints. Footprints that tracked north towards the upper levels of the Temple and faded out at the crater’s edge.
Uuco’s face grew blank and expressionless. “Ooh-boy,” he muttered.
Rintha narrowed his eyes. “It lives,” he snarled. “The Roarer walked away from his own blast!”
“We need to find him…it!” V’vendy chimed in.
“But if he looks like an ordinary human, he could be anyone!” Ira cursed.
The Pilgrims walked around the crater’s edge and came across a band of laborers crouched within a ring of shattered wooden frames and brick stacks.
The laborers were clad in tattered clothes, dusty skin, and burn scars. Some of them wept over a human outline beneath a bloodstained tarp. The others listened to the impassioned words of a youthful, bald Nobble with a thick goatee.
“Its the Magicker’s fault!” the Nobble ranted, standing on a fallen pillar so he could meet the eyes of the humans and Saurians. “Because of their mystic powers, they think they can just push us around, treat us like dogs! Is that right?”
“No!” A few voices chimed in.
“They call us Thugs!” The Nobble added. “They turn up their noses when we ask for good jobs, then make us work to death on this foul temple! If that’s not enough, they blow us to bits with their damn spells and then whip us into building it all over again!” The Nobble gasped for breath, then forged ahead. “Is. That. Right?” He asked.
“No!” More voices declared.
“Damn right it isn’t!” The Nobble proclaimed. “Those pious priests and nobles could never build the temple without us! I say we band together and refuse to work until they give us the rights we deserve! And if they refuse us, we can–!”
Ira climbed onto the pillar and loomed over the diminutive Nobble. “The Lady Ira sees you were caught in the blast,” she said. ” Where were your wounded taken?”
The young Nobble stepped back in shock. “Who in the Underworld–?” He started to say.
“Tell us where your wounded are,” Ira said calmly, “and the Lady Ira shall raise all your work fees to 50 shells a day. The Lady Ira shall also pay for any healing you require and grant you daily siestas during the afternoon from this point on. The Lady Ira will do all this if you tell us where your wounded have gone.”
Lady Ira arched an eyebrow at the row of irate laborers. “Well?” She asked.
“You–!” the Nobble stammered.
“They were taken to the House of Salving!” A labourer with a bandaged scalp shouted. He pointed up towards the Temple’s higher levels while the rabble-rousing Nobble spluttered. “It’s that way!”
Ira inclined her head respectfully towards the laborer who’d spoken up. “Thank you for your help,” she said. “We’re going now to catch the heretics who caused this disaster.”
She turned to go, pausing half-turn. “Oh. If you even try to harm the Infinite Temple further,” she said calmly, “I’ll sing you all into the stones.”
Ira departed. V’vendy, Rintha and Uuco followed behind her. No one raised a voice in protest.
Corax halted mid-stride, then walked over to the rabble-rallying Nobble and dipped his head.
“Now’s not the time to rise up,” he whispered in the Nobble’s ear. “But that time is coming soon. Be ready.”
Uuco, V’vendy, and Rintha walked up the Infinite Temple’s spiralling ramp to the House of Salving. Corax sprinted up from below, tail swaying from side to side as he caught up with the gang.
The House of Salving was a dome made of brick studded with narrow windows at various levels. Three guards in leather shirts and kilts stood by the doorway with drawn swords and shields. As the Pilgrims moved to enter, the guards stood in their way.
“No one enters!” the leader of the guards said.
“Turn around and go back the way you came!” Another added.
Ira fixed the guards with a glare. “I am a noble of the house of Baruck! You will let me pass!”
The guards glanced at each other. “There are wounded being treated inside,” the leader of the guards said, raising his shield. “Noble or not, we won’t let you barge in and mess with their healing!”
Uuco walked up and patted the guard’s leg. “Now, now, “ he said in a fatherly tone, “don’t get your loincloths in a twist, boy!” He jerked his thumb towards Ira. “This dame here can heal with her music, y’know! She could help the people in there, if you just…took a break for a moment, yeah?”
The guard looked conflicted. “But we–!” he started to say.
Uuco took out Dragon Face’s shell pouch and tieds it around the guard’s belt. “Listen,” he said. “Just take your buddies out, go get falafels at this stand down the block: it’s called Turbas, you can’t miss it!” He nodded enthusiastically, wiggling his fingers for emphasis. “They got great food!”
The guard sheathed his sword and dropped his hand to his belt. His eyes widened as he felt the gold shells inside. “…You better be gone when we get back!” The guard said at last, fixing Uuco with a half-hearted glare. He turned to his fellow guards. “C’mon, let’s move out!”
The guards trotted off. Uuco turned back to the Pilgrims and grinned widely. “I did it!” He proclaimed.
“The money you stole from your friend did it,” Lady Ira replied dryly. “Regardless, let’s go in.”
“Flesh flows to smoothness, bones fused together.
Pain Dim to aches that change with the weather.”
Lady Ira stood above a row of pallets filled with bandage-stained, black-bruised humans and Saurians, She sang and played a soft melody on blue-gleaming strings. Slowly, incrementally, the wounds of the patients started to fade.
The Senior Mother of the House of Salving closed the door to the patient ward and turned to Uuco, Corax, Rintha and V’vendy. “The rest of our patients are in a state of sleep to conserve their strength,” she whispered. “You’re free to move around as long as you don’t touch or wake them.”
Rintha clasped a hand to his chest and bowed. “We swear not to wake them unless they’re in danger, most honored mother,” he said solemnly.
The Senior Mother blushed. “Ha. Such a polite child!” she said. She turned to go, drawing her shawl close around her shoulders. “Perhaps you Pilgrims aren’t so bad after all–”
The Senior Mother rounded the stair and walked out of sight down to the first floor. The instant she vanished, Uuco spun around towards Rintha. “So, boy, “ he said, “who do we wake first?”
Rintha glanced up and down the ward they were in, filled with pallets of bandaged, blanket-draped patients, sighing under the gentle fumes of sleeping incense. “Someone with light injuries who still has his eyes,” He concluded. “Spread out and search for a suitable witness. Don’t wake anyone until I give the okay.”
Corax bobbed his head in acknowledgment. Uuco sighed and rolled his eyes. They spread out to search.
“Sorry, honored Mother,” Rintha muttered as he moved from pallet to pallet, “but everyone in this city’s in danger.”
V’vendy drew her hood down and walked away from the others, leaning down over each patient to check their injuries. “Too many burns–he won’t be able to talk without screaming,” she whispered to herself while bending over an old Stout swathed in bandages. “And this one has a head-wound–his memory’s probably scrambled.”
She moved to the next pallet, holding a moaning, sweat-stained human with a shaggy crop of hair. “Ah!” V’vendy said. “He looks more or less alright!” She lifted the blanket draped over the shaggy man’s legs. “Hmmm,” she said to herself, “the only injuries he has seems to be on his feet–”
V’vendy froze. She leaned down, examining the shaggy haired man more closely.
The shaggy-haired man twitched and groaned, in the throes of some bad dream. “Nuh…” he whispered. A stream of pure purple mana poured out of his mouth like mist, vanishing into a cascade of fiery sparks.
V’vendy’s hair-feathers stood on end. She turned and quickly walked back to where Corax and Uuco were arguing.
“I’m telling you,” Uuco hissed, shaking an unconscious patient’s limp hand about. “You check their pulse at the wrist.”
“The neck is more reliable!” Corax insisted.
“How would you know? You’ve got talons!” Uuco replied.
V’vendy got between them. She clamped a hand over Uuco’s mouth and rested her other on Corax’s snout.
“I found the Roarer,” she said. “He’s lying on the cot over there.”
Both Corax and Uuco stopped talking.
Rintha rushed to V’vendy’s side. “The Roarer is here?” He asked. He clenched his jaw; the hairline scar on his cheek lengthened. “Show me.”
V’vendy guided the party to the cot in question. They silently starred down at the Roarer, who tossed and turned in his sleep, vomiting up glowing, self-combusting mana with each moan.
Uuco wiggled his fingers back and forth at his side. “…So,” he said. “That’s the Roarer we’re looking for, eh?”
Rintha glanced at Uuco. “Aren’t you going to claim that Roarers don’t exist?” He asked.
“No,” Uuco said quietly.
“What are we going to do?” Corax asked. “We can’t leave him here.” His talons tightened on the hilt of his sword. “Should we kill him?”
“If we don’t slay him in the first blow, his cries of pain could summon up a vortex of destructive spells,” Rintha hissed. “There’s a reason V’vendy and I hunted Roarers with long-ranged weapons…”
“We need to get him out of here,” V’vendy said, voice steady and determined. “We can’t leave him here, but as long as he stays asleep…”
She closed her eyes and held a hand over the drowsing, shaggy Roarer. Her hair-feathers glowed with a nimbus of purple; circling currents of air enfolded the Roarer like a mother’s grasp and lifted him into the air.
“He’ll stay comfortable this way,” V’vendy said, draping the blanket around the dozing entity of mass destruction. “Let’s get him out of here.”
The party walked toward the ward’s exit, the sleeping abomination floating behind them.
The door flew open: past it stood the Senior Mother, backed up four of her fellow healing acolytes.
“What is the meaning of this?” the Senior Mother said. Her eyes flicked left to the floating Roarer. “How dare you kidnap our patient!” She hissed.
“V’vendy’s eyes widened. “We, uh–please let us explain!” She stammered.
She drew a thin bronze knife from her belt; her fellow acolytes followed suite. “Drop him. Now!”