The moment Ira set her foot down, the glowing wall murals flared from orange to bright yellow. A voice boomed out from the wall, reverberating through the underground space:
“WHAT IS THE TRUTH THAT EVOLUTION TEACHES?”
The disembodied voice echoed through the room, subsided.
Everyone looked at each other. Before anyone else could speak, V’vendy cleared her throat.
“In evolution, the strong survive,” she said.
With that, the glowing murals on the wall faded away.
On the far side of the room, a section of the wall faded out in a shower of purple spark, revealing another hallway.
Everyone looked at V’vendy, surprised.
“One of the zealots said that, back in Crimson Girth, “ V’vendy said, blushing slightly. “…and it’s something I agree with.”
“Hmmph,” Uuco muttered with distaste. “That doesn’t mean you’re gonna join up with the Zealots, are you?”
V’vendy blinked. “Hmm? Oh, no, no!” She protested, waving her hands. “Just because they worship strength doesn’t make them strong.”
“Well,” Rintha said with frown. “Do tell us if you’re going to switch sides, alright?”
V’vendy nodded. “Of course!” She said brightly.
The Pilgrim’s walked down the hidden hallway, lit by a combination of smoky oil lamps and twinkling crystals. Low sonorous chanting echoed down the hall, coming from deeper within the complex. Wooden doors and crudes drapes lined the walls on each side of the hallway.
“Hmm!” Uuco muttered opening one of the doors and walking through. “What’s in here?”
“Now now, Uuco,” Ira hissed. “The Lady Ira knows her music, and she certainly knows the sounds of a sinister chorus. We need to hurry!”
Uuco poked his head back through the door. “It’s barracks!” He exclaimed. “These rooms are barracks!”
“Barracks?” Corax muttered, pushing past Rintha. “Let me see!”
Despite Ira’s whispered protests, the other Pilgrims took quick peaks into the various rooms. Most were filled with sleeping mats and chests. There was a storage alcove filled with stacked bags and bundles wrapped in oilcloth. (“We have no time to loot, Uuco!” Ira insisted).
One room, the last room before a set of obsidian double-doors, held interesting things.
Ira inhaled sharply. “Does this remind you–?”
“It does,” Corax said with a nod. “This is just like the Under-King’s study.”
Desks, couches and chairs were scattered around the room, each of them haphazardly piles with items. Gold Chalices, golden cowrie shells and jewels. Dry clay tablets etched with clumsy sigils, and stacks of clay in water trays, reed pens by their sides. A scepter of black metal lay propped against one wall, which Uuco immediately picked up.
“About darn time too!” Uuco exclaimed, giving the scepter a few practice swings. “You can’t call yourself a spellcaster without a stick to lug, is what I say!”
Ira picked a clay tablet up from its stack, lips fluttering as she read out the sigils. “None of our chosen so far have had the strength to channel the strength of the Manaplane,” she read. “Once we find the right candidate, their inclusion in the breeding program is mandatory. The strength of our species must be…distilled?”
Ira set the tablet down with a look of disgust. “The Lady Ira has read enough,” she announced.
V’vendy ran her fingers over a table full of little boxes, then froze. “Ira,” she whispered, white hair-feathers standing on end. “Look here.”
Ira went over to V’vendy’s side. She saw what V’vendy had found. Her face paled.
“What is it?” Rintha asked, following Ira and looking at the table.
One of the gilded boxes lay open; inside, nestled among velvet folds, lay a row of leather eye patches, some unadorned, some studded with rare metals.
“What does it mean?” Rintha asked, confused.
“Move!” Ira shouted, pushing her way past Corax and V’vendy. “Move now!”
The Pilgrims burst through the obsidian double doors, weapons and spells readied.
The room they entered was a strange hollow space, a gap in the construction of new temple grounds over old temple grounds. Thick pillars of great trees filled the room in rows, holding up roofs of clay and stone. Steps ran down from the doorway to a dusty courtyard filled with dry fountains, and ran up the far wall to a shrine.
The shrine had three archways. The left archway had a statue of a bear, the right archway a statue of an eagle. The central archway was filled with the statue of a tall, thick warrior dressed in segmented armor.
The warrior had long hair tied into braids, and a mouth from which saber tooth tusks protruded. The statue’s hands rested on the handle of an axe; the axe’s blade rested between its feet.
Corax hissed softly at the sight of the statue. Ira noticed, and chose to tuck that clue into the back of her mind for later.
There were more urgent matters to tend to. Such as the group of purple-robed priests gathered around an altar made from beast skulls.
The slumbering Roarer lay on the altar, chest rising and falling slowly, twitching and moaning.
The One-Eyed Priestess, the one they’d handed over to the Royal Guard, raised a dagger, ready to plunge it into the Roarer’s heart. That’s when she noticed the intruding Pilgrims.
“Well,” she remarked flippantly. “This is awkward.”