Blinded in the unimaginable darkness, Rina stumbled repeatedly, held aloft merely in the vice-like grip of her servitor, while the clearly perceptible echo of their guide strode further and further on ahead, as if within the temple—impossible space—while he hummed, it seemed, a liturgical hymn with the blind familiarity of a Sunday-school child nostalgically admonished with the stroke of a cane.
“Arius, Arius, are you there?” Rina shouted, which echoed return in near-mocking retort. “You seem to be getting so far ahead. We can’t keep up with you.”
“Hmm… hmm?” he responded, as if altogether oblivious. “Just follow the moon’s silver and you won’t have a problem. Eye on the sky.”
She gazed upwards into the vast darkness of the overwhelming dome, but there was nothing, no great glory of the heavens for those destined merely the terrestrial, no undying trials at the behest of Brassos or the saints, just darkness and the guarantee of terrible predestination.
“Slow down, Arius—please,” she continued. “I can’t see a blasted thing, and I’ve near stumbled upon my face—more than once. Please just have some pity.”
The confident clicks of boot-heels returned rapidly, as if arriving from across a great space in the shoes of great titans, and an invisible hand pitilessly snatched hers, struggling upon the stairway paves, and launched her within the comfort of his arms as he stood her confidently upon the platform still bathed in deep and nebulous shadow.
“Just keep your hand in mine,” he advised stringently, as if interrupted from the summation of his life’s work. “You won’t trip and you won’t stumble.”
“Just what’s the point of all this?” she replied, her throbbing heart beginning to settle. “Can’t we just light a torch or—?“
“Absolutely not. Don’t even consider it. I won’t be offended.”
“Come on. Just keep yourself close; stay within my grasp and bear the confidence in my breath.”
Charmed, she remained voiceless while he shortly approached an invisible brazier and postulated her with the utmost gravity, “Keep your hands utterly to your sides and do absolutely nothing.”
“But I don’t even know what to do.”
“You’re a scholar, right; be prepared to learn something.”
All around, the shades of a legion of slaughtered soldiers sat eternally upon their vacant thrones surrounding the platform, swooning in the ascending orange glow gleaming within the folds of the knight’s palm as it rested shortly upon the sun-whirling diadem appointing the brazier, which seemed to arrest the opaque tomb of its howling madness as the ceiling gave away and a wonderfully crafted elucidation of the undying sun overseeing innumerable farmers at labor bathed the whole chamber in near blinding light.
Stunned and overwhelmed, Rina cast her hands before her eyes, backtracking a few steps before tripping backwards over something that skittered at her rear, rescued only from collapse by the slow-to-arrive bodyguard, who with open maw surveyed the solar majesty.
The remains of men, scattered skeletons, still held within the bulwark of their scale-mail armor and bronzed greaves huddled about the facsimile altar and the countless blue eyes of the doomed and the damned resting their gaze severely from their dry-rotted thrones upon the assembly held upon every coliseum wall.
Swollen with a glory not his own, fire could be seen to drip from the merciful, burning pours of his tear-soaked eyes, as he absorbed the full contents of the god’s presence, only painfully retracting his seared and broken hand from the voracious brazier, which still seethed with solar fire.
“Captain Timon, son of Capitolinus, was the last man to place his hands upon the diadem.”
“What in the endless hells was that?” Rina roared, virtually out of her wits.
Pitch settling upon the overhang of his cheeks, he eyed her with a mixture of confusion and amusement, “Is this not what you wanted to see? You told me you were a scholar. This ritual is almost lethally private by nature, and I’ve only ever performed it once.”
“We should go,” Gul Ladal whispered, eying the vacua where once rested legion in repose.
The literally imperceptible mourning of the overhanging sphere only receded slowly, the rivers of fire and glowing ash once more the flicked away waters of mundane bereavement. “I think I know why you people fear this place.”
“That’s enough,” Gul Ladal retorted, “enough for one day. And the Lady’s quite had enough of it.”
“It’s nothing unnatural, but I will acquiesce. Perhaps the lady has had quite enough for one day, a story fit for wide-eyed grandchildren,” he said and sighed, exhaling the punitive warmth of the celestial disk.