I have no important news to report. Enjoy this continuation of the story if the power resides in you so to do.
“I think he thought our shrine held a weapon, but whatever secrets it kept they died with my family.” Julius explained. “I wasn’t old enough to learn them. He had already killed most of the town before he thought to ask anyone what you were supposed to activate the shrine… and I didn’t know. He beat me nearly to death trying to get me to tell him, but I couldn’t.”
“I’ve been to that shrine.” Alina said. “The alter is still there, intact.”
“Yep… I still don’t know how to open the damn thing.”
His words hung there for a moment. The sincerity of his replies making even Regalius rethink his beliefs. The person known as the Skeleton King had become legend in the few short years since he had appeared. His bloody hand reaching into the lives of every person on the continent and a few beyond. His origins were unknown, his motives, virtually everything about him was a mystery. The only widely known truth was that he gave battle to every nation and gave it freely and well. Every altercation increased the size of his forces as the defeated warriors simply got up and followed him away. He was lord of purification. Many people had claimed to have seen him, but there was no way to prove it. Being alive was as much as anyone needed to suspect a lie. And yet… the words Julius spoke rang with the sound of someone burdened with the truth.
“There was nothing for me there. It was as though he meant to grind the memory of the town from the soil.” Julius continued when no one else moved to fill the silence. “Except he couldn’t destroy the shrine. Not the altar at least. But it’s a useless to me as to he. So I moved on.”
The others looked at one another. Even the oppressive darkness seemed pushed away by their racing thoughts.
“It still… seems hard to believe.” Regalius offered.
“Indeed.” Julius replied. Regalius suddenly found it hard to meet Julius’s gaze.
“I’ve heard enough of this nonsense.” He stated shakily. “I’m going to sleep.”
Somehow the girls knew that the evening’s conversation was over. With a little idle chit chat they made ready for sleep. Being mindful to keep combat essentials on hand. Julius made no move. His gaze was fixed someplace beyond the torchlight, beyond the walls, and it remained there long after Niona put out the light.
None of them could be sure if it was actually morning when they woke. Alina had simply risen, lit a torch, and the others followed. What rest they each had was not quality, but it was a full measure of it. When all was ready Julius carefully released the chamber lock and moved cautiously outside. The pale light was only slightly less bright than the torchlight, but it bathed the walls evenly, unceasingly. Dread seemed to hang over them all as they moved still deeper into the temple.
They were 11 levels down by Julius’s reckoning. Now past the most detailed portions of the map. Things were beginning to no longer sync between their reality and the parchment. Soon they would be moving blind. The floors had been becoming more complex and maze like the further they went and number 12 was the worst yet. Even as Julius and Niona attempted to construct a more complete map it seemed as though the walls were shifting. Perhaps this was the fate of the original team. Lost in a still worse floor, no opposition besides starvation and navigation. Julius wondered if the others had considered this. In his opinion a death in battle would be a mercy compared to wandering endlessly until your body gave out.
It seemed like hours before they found the stairs to the next floor, but it was hard to tell time properly. Neither Niona or Julius were satisfied with the accuracy of their map, but going back now didn’t seem like a better option than going forward. The four of them desecded again, but instead of another open room they found massive doors. Much higher than the ceilings of the previous floors. After they were checked for traps Alina swung the perfectly balanced doors apart. They swung silently, as though they were untouched by time or decay.
The room that spread out before them was unlike any they’d enountered so far. It was vast, empty, and stone pillars were placed at widely spaced, but even intervals. It was lit with the same eerie light, but only in a band around the pillars, and even then only a few at a time. The room seemed to know where they were and adjusted the light accordingly. It was like looking into a dark, stone, forest. Blackness filled in beyond the limit of the light, making it seems as though the room spread out forever. The doors closed so quietly behind them that they didn’t even realize they were trapped until the heard the sound of many somethings clattering closer and closer.