Lady Ira, Rintha Roarhunter, V’vendy the Deathweaver, Corax Sickleblade and Uuco the Witness gathered in a circle. They looked down at the charred, extremely motionless Priestess of Evolution.
“I still think we should kill her more,” Uuco said. “Really make sure she’s dead.”
“You can’t be serious” Rintha said, squinting at Uuco. “I mean, look at her! She’s crumbling as we speak.” Rintha nudged the Priestess’s hand with his foot, smashing the withered claw to chunks with a single poke. “You could throw her into a fire pit and she wouldn’t stand out!”
“Well,” V’vendy mumbled, drawing her blackened green cloak around her. “It wouldn’t hurt. I mean, we don’t know she can’t resurrect…so maybe if we cut her up and threw her pieces in a river–?”
“But what if that’s the thing that brings her back to life?” Corax protested, rubbing two talons together thoughtfully.
“Dismembering and tossing someone into a river brings them back to life?” Rintha spluttered.
Corax dipped his snout. “I saw weirder things before becoming a god,” he said.
“Enough!” Lady Ira said roughly. She slid her string-less harp back into its carrying case. Looming over the charred Priestess, she drew her bronze sword and hacked down at her neck. With three rough strokes, Lady Ira cut off the Priestess’s head and wrapped it in a strip of torn cloth.
“Uuco?” Lady Ira said, tucking the bundle under her shoulder. “We give you permission to mutilate the body of our enemy in whatever fashion you see fit! Everyone else: search this sanctum for all the documents you can find. We shall sniff out all the Zealots in Baruck, from temple to tavern!”
Everyone stared at her for a moment.
“If you please!” Ira said, voice clear and ringing.
“This won’t be easy,” Corax said soberly, eyes clear and sober as a still pool.
“And yet the Lady Ira means to do it,” Ira replied briskly. “This is our city, and we won’t let them ruin any more of it.”
Corax pressed his jaws together and nodded grimly.
Uuco grabbed an arrow-studded carcass by the ankle and dragged it towards the Priestess’s carcass, whistling cheerfully. With a grunt of effort, he pulled the dead Red Robe Acolyte over the corpse of dead Priestess and yanked V’vendy’s arrows free. Blood dripped from the Red Robe’s wounds, catching fire on contact with the air.
Soon the corpse pile of two was burning merrily, carrying the scent of roasting sweet meat through the underground chamber.
“Here you are, V’vendy!” Uuco chirped, handing a bundle of white-fletched arrows back to the Deathweaver. “I picked these myself, yes I did!”
V’vendy took them with a nod. She sniffed the air. Her stomach rumbled. “Maybe I could take some choice cuts?” She mumbled, glancing at all the dead bodies. “It’s all going to rot anyway…”
“What was that, lass?” Uuco asked, blinking.
“Nothing, nothing!” V’vendy hastily replied.
After an hour searching through cupboards and jars, the Pilgrims reassembled.
“What have you found?” Lady Ira, fingers clasped tightly around the Priestess’s journal tablets, filled with heretical scriptures and boastful entries about her contacts among the clergy.
Rintha opened a drawstring bag, revealing pottery shards roughly carved with sigils. “The rank and file member seems to have liked sending messages to their friends across the city,” he said. “We can get a few names from these.”
Lady Ira nodded. “Very useful,” she said.
V’vendy opened her hands, revealing a trio of carved stone cylinders. “These are seals, right?” She asked.
“You roll them across a wet tablet to make them official, ” Ira said with a nod.
V’vendy offered the seals. “Here,” she said, glancing meekly to the side. “I found these in an eagle statue’s mouth.”
Ira took the seals from V’vendy’s hands, turning them around, fingers tracing over the engraved illustrations. Her lips pressed into a thin line.
“These are the seals of Great Houses…Lyr, Borine, and Piper,” she hissed. “Those blind fools! While the Lady Ira was working to restore my Household’s prestige, they were dabbling with treason!”
“That makes you mad?” Uuco suggested, stroking his mustache.
“Very much so,” Lady Ira replied. “But we must move carefully. Destroying all three houses at once would shatter Baruck’s social harmony…”
She looked up at her fell Pilgrims. The air of Royalty and Command drained from her.
“But this is not your business,” Lady Ira said. “You have your pilgrimages to complete, and homes to return to.” She placed the tablets and cylinder seals in a wicker basket by her feet, right next to the bundled up Priestess head. “You may go,” she said, idly waving her hand. “The Lady Ira releases you from my service, to go where you please.”
“I don’t recall ever being in your service,” Rintha grunted.
V’vendy nodded. “I’ll leave in the morning, guess,” she said softly. “It… was nice, I suppose, to pilgrim with you?”
“I have to go as well,” Corax said, talon adjusting his green kerchief. “Even with this new body, I’ve attracted too much attention. They’ll find me soon…”
“I’ll hang around as long as you feed me!” Uuco proclaimed, sidling up to Lady Ira. “Ooh! I could be your new chief servant…just so long as I wouldn’t have to do any work, mind you!”
Lady Ira pinched her nose and closed her eyes. “The Lady Ira…shall discuss this with you latter.” She said. “First, let us contact the Royal Guard.”
The Pilgrims made their way back up through the dark passages and tight corridors running underneath the Infinite Temple. Soon they emerged back out under the evening sun, setting over the streets of Baruck. A western breeze blew over the slopes of the great stepped pyramid, carrying the sounds of shouting and screaming.
Uuco’s mustache twitched. “Hidden Gods, ” he cursed, sprinting up the steps, climbing with feet and hands towards the commotion.
“Uuco!” V’vendy shouted, running after the Nobble.
The other Pilgrims followed Uuco and Vvendy to the next landing. The gang of laborers from before were kneeling in rows next to the gaping hole they’d helped Uuco create. They were surrounded by ranks of tall, thickly built warriors, adorned with bronze scales and animal pelt capes.
One of the hide-clad warriors raised a ceremonial flail and whipped it through the air once. “For the crime of sabotaging the Infinite Temple, of casting ill-fortune on Baruck,” he pronounced. “I sentence you all to death!”
Thirty bronze mace heads rose into the air as one, reflecting light from the fading crimson sun.
Uuco’s eyes widened. He sprang forward, blue sparks dancing around his fingernails.
Lady Ira moved faster, springing in front of Uuco and brandishing her string-free harp. “Hold, Captain Zarth!” She shouted. “You’ve gotten your teeth in the wrong hide!”
Captain Zarth flicked his flail again. His regiment’s maces halted, mid-descent. “Is that Lady Ira of the harp I see?” He remarked, turning around and raising a thick eyebrow. “I had heard you were on Pilgrimage for some reason.”
“We returned,” Ira said. “As you can see.” She cleared her throat, and extended her wicker basket to Captain Zarth.
Captain Zarth took the basket, blinking as his eyes scanned its contents. “What do these have to do with anything?” He asked. “Why are you interfering with Watchman’s work?”
Ira straightened her shoulders. “Captain Zarth,” she said calmly. “Your Gnashers have caught the wrong people. These honest laborers were helping us catch a fugitive who’d escaped from the Royal Guard–the same fugitive whose schemes ignited the explosion that damaged part of the Infinite Temple.”
She nodded at the wicker basket. “There lies her heretical head, along with documents identifying clergy and nobles who’ve collaborated with the Zealots of the Evolving Eye.” She drew in a hoarse breath. “We have much work to do if we’re to reform this city, Captain, and no time to waste painting your cudgels with the blood of innocents.”
Captain Zarth starred at Lady Ira, eyes narrowed. “Gnashers!” He barked. “Release the laborers. Send them home!”
The Gnashers kicked the laborers to their feet and drove them off with a combination of shouting and slapping with their maces. Uuco sighed in relief.
Once the dust settled, the Gnashers and the Pilgrims were alone on the slopes of the Infinite Temple.
“Your story sounds quite implausible, Lady Ira,” Captain Zarth remarked dryly, tapping his flail against his bare arm.
“It does sound implausible,” Lady Ira agreed. “It is also true.”
Captain Zarth sighed, tucking his flail through his belt. “I believe you,” he said, drawing his bronze mace.
“Gnashers!” He barked to his men, gesturing with his axe. “Arrest them!”