“If We’re Not Back in Two Hours…”

“Uuco!” Lady Ira shouted. ‘Release my servant: now!”

 

Uuco’s fingers loosened from Thiris’s throat. Immediately, the Nobble fell and landed on his rump.

“Ach!” Uuco exclaimed, wincing and clutching at his back. “Not as spry as I used to be…” He got up and jabbed a finger at Thiris. “Count your blessings, backstabber!” Uuco growled. “I’ve got my eyes on you!”

 

Uuco wandered off. Ira walked up to Thiris. “Why?” She asked gently, searching her servant’s gaze.

 

Thiris starred back at Ira blankly. He snorted. “Who can say?” He replied.

 

Ira blinked. “Thiris…” she said hoarsely.

 

Thiris chuckled softly. “Spare me your pity,” he said. “We both know I need to be punished. And after casting me out, you’ll find another faithful subject to run your house while you go traveling to distant lands.”

 

He looked to the side. “Not everyone is content being your spear-carrier,” he spat.

 

Ira’s jaw tightened. She nodded. She slapped her chief servant. Thiris recoiled, a red bruise forming on his clenched cheek.

 

“You could have brought your discontent to me,” Ira said. “Instead you sold yourself to monsters. You destroyed our home.” She gestured toward the crowd of ash-stained, blank-eyed servants. “You destroyed their home,” she repeated, quivering in anger. “Get out of my sight.”

 

Thiris, knuckles squeezed white, bowed stiffly at the waist. “As you command, my Lady,” he said.

 

Thiris turned to go, then paused. “The Zealot who contacted me,” he said, “came from the Infinite Temple. Make of that what you will.”

 

With that, Thiris shrugged off his servant robes before wandering off into the tangled alleyways of Baruck.

 

Ira watched him go in silence.

 

Corax fidgeted quietly. “Are you alright, Ira?”

 

“Not remotely,” Ira replied.

 

“It’s like you said, “ V’vendy interjected, running a finger along her bow’s strings to check for fraying. “We’re going to make the Zealots pay.”

 

“Your head servant mentioned the Infinite Temple,” Rinta pointed out. “Does that mean the Zealots have infiltrated the temple’s priesthood?”

 

Ira shook her head. “The Lady Ira refuses to believe that.” Her brow furrowed. “However,” she added, “the Infinite Temple is massive and constantly expanding. As new cathedrals are built, the priesthood moves outward to stay close to their worshippers…”

 

V’vendy’s eyes widened. “Leaving the old spaces empty for anyone to move in and claim,” she said.

 

“The explosion earlier,” Ira mused, “must have been triggered by Zealots operating inside an deserted chunk of the Infinite Temple. Their experiments with the sleeping Roarer backfired.”

 

“And now they have their Roarer back,” Rinta spat. “They could be anywhere inside the temple!”

 

Corax snorted loudly. “Speaking as one of your gods,” he remarked, “we never asked you to build such a uselessly large temple.”

 

“Maybe you did tell them to build it!” Uuco chirped, wandering back over. “But you forgot, on account of being so darn tooting old!”

 

I will eat you,” Corax hissed.

 

“Enough!” Ira roared. “The Lady Ira has some Zealots to punish. Will you follow, or continue this endless bickering?”

 

Uuco and Corax shut their mouths. Ira turned from her ruined house and strolled towards the Infinite Temple, looming in the distance. V’vendy raced after her. Uuco and Corax followed, while Rinta took up the rear, glaring at Uuco suspiciously.

 

Iwilleatyou,” Corax whispered to Uuco.

 

%%%

 

In a tangled ghetto to the north of the Infinite Temple, a soot-stained laborer pulled the hood of his tattered cloak over his head and hastily walked away from the Pilgrims.

 

“Blight and Harvest!” Corax shouted, carving gashes in the street as his feet talons tightened. “How could an army of fanatics and twisted monsters march through here without anyone noticing?”

 

“Plenty of ways,” Uuco replied, wiggling his fingers back and forth. “The Zealots know their magic: they could have conjured fog, or weaved an illusion over their arm of beasts…”

 

“An illusion of a food cart?” Rinta suggested tartly.

 

Uuco flushed.

 

Ira gazed around the alley, noting the closed doors and shuttered windows. “More likely, they threatened to kill the residents if they reported to the city guard.”

 

V’vendy shook her head quietly. “If these people won’t even try to defend themselves,” she muttered, “should we even try to save them?”

 

“Yes,” Ira said firmly, regarding V’vendy with a calm gaze. “Do you object to that?”

 

V’vendy looked down at her feet. “No, no,” she whispered. “No.”

 

Uuco walked up and down the alleyway, peering at scuffs and dirt marks in the brick pavement. “Hmmm,” he said, stroking his mustache. ”Hmmm…Hmmm!”

 

“Uuco?” Ira asked. “What is it?”

 

“Now I’m certain!” Uuco proclaimed, snapping his fingers.

 

“Yes?” Ira asked again, more urgently.

 

“I have no memory of this place,” Uuco announced soberly.

 

Rinta and Corax groaned audibly.

 

“Yesirree,” Uuco said, nodding sagely. “I haven’t been here. I am pretty sure the economic level of this place is…low.”

 

A Saurian child dressed in rags bumped into Ira. “Sorry, Sorry!” The child chirped, taking off after a furry spider that was scurrying down the street. “There you being!” The Urchin shouted. “Catching you be I!”

 

Ira lowered her hand to her belt, fingers brushing over the empty space where her string of gold shells used to be. “That scamp,” she hissed.

 

Rinta dropped a stone into his sling and let fly. The stone whizzed past the urchin and hit the fleeing spider, smashing two of its legs to pulp. “I got it!” He shouted.

 

The spider twitched pathetically on the ground, trying to inch forward. The Saurian urchin froze, his tail quivering in agitation. “Jenka!” he cried out, rushing over to the spider. “No!”

 

Rinta froze.

 

The urchin turned towards Rinta, blinking rapidly. “What grudge be my pet giving? Why be the hurting?” He wailed. “Why?”

 

“What did you do?” Uuco said to Rinta, eyes wide. “What did you do?”

 

“I don’t know!” Rinta stammered, dropping his sling. “I thought it was a pest! I didn’t think–!“

 

“Well that part’s obvious!” Uuco shouted.

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