The Seven Jewels

by Rev. Joe Kelly
read from the beginning

part seven.

By the time they reached the courtyard they had to crane their heads to look up at the top of the gigantic edifice. It rose close to a hundred feet in the air, and it was crowned with a strange frieze of men locked in combat with monstrous warriors with bestial faces, who sprouted many arms and clawed hands, who bore the legs and trunks of lions and bulls. Demons, probably; spirits of the outer dark, or their hideous bastard offspring with mortal men and women. Luo squinted suspiciously at the frieze; if he didn’t know better, he would have thought the demons were the heroes of the frieze, for they seemed to be triumphing over the men… strange.

Together, he and Alruf entered the huge portal with swords drawn. It did not take long for their eyes to adjust: the vast dome-roofed chamber they found themselves in was well-lit by broad windows in the upper galleries that ringed the room. This was the main sanctuary, the place of worship and public ceremonies.

And Luo knew, as soon as he could see, that he had not been wrong about the frieze.

He and Alruf scowled at the gigantic thing that sat on the vast pedestal. It was a huge statue of black basalt, contrasting sharply with the sandy stone of the temple. Whereas the temple’s design was stately, the thing that squatted on the central pedestal was grotesque, worked by hands inspired equally by awe and hatred. Its grossly obese body was distinctly toadlike, its long, spindly hands resting smugly on its bulging belly. Its hideous face, a swirling mishmash of features canid, batlike and simian, was split with a leer that bared pointed teeth, and its beady eyes were squinted in cruel mirth.

Luo shook his head. “Devils’ blood… these people worshiped a thing like that?”

After a moment, Alruf shook his head. “I’m not so sure they did–not willingly, anyway.” He waved at the pedestal. “Something’s been cut off there, and that thing put in its place. Probably the former god of this city.”

“Ah… a forced conversion.”

Alruf nodded. “I can see it now. A power-mad priesthood who abandoned their good God for the gifts of this demon. And thus they brought about the downfall of their own city.”

“Or they were desperate, and sought to prevent it.”

Alruf scoffed at the beast on the pedestal. “The ambitions of fools… no man can escape his destiny.”

Luo shot Alruf a look out of the corner of his eye. More of his half-baked philosophy. Where did this barbarian ever get it into his head that he was an intellectual?

Well, never mind. They split up to search the side rooms.

And several hours later, they had come up with nothing but dust. Even the furniture had long since rotted away, leaving only empty, darkened rooms with piles of mute debris here and there, shards of shattered stone, bits of verdigris-green bronze and lead fittings.

They met on an upper level, eyeing each other with disappointment. Alruf shook his head. “This is a waste of time.”

Luo growled to himself. “This place must have been picked clean long ago…” His eyes wandered over the back side of the giant edifice… and halted.

There was a broad portal tunneled into the rock, angled sharply down, carved wide so that the sun would shine through it at any time of year. He looked across the sanctuary: it had a mate, behind and above the hideous idol.

Luo grinned. “There’s still a chance.”

Alruf chuckled. “If you’re afraid to fight me, just say so.”

Luo shook his head, and pointed out the hole. “That shaft is meant to shine on something at a certain time of afternoon. Something we haven’t found yet.”

Alruf glanced at the hole disdainfully. “Surely we aren’t the first to see it.” Luo was already hurrying back around the gallery. “In a place this isolated? There’s a chance! Come on, barbarian–I’m not leaving this place empty-handed!” He cackled as he heard Alruf swear and hurry to catch up.

on to part eight.

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