Summary: It's one thing when a god whose existence is debatable makes rules and lays them down. It's another thing when a god who quite obviously exists lays down rules and someone breaks them.
The next day, Megiddo had foregone her training in alliance with Uriel's apparent desire to get the job over with. Not that she could blame him; she was rather anxious to get the job over with as well, though most likely for a different reason. The day was spent going over abilities, visiting the healer for energy pills, checking over weapons, and resting up.
Megiddo did spend her lunch hour with Sara. The girl had come over to the inn and grilled Megiddo on every detail, though the priestess would only give out a few. No need to talk about things in a public place and cause a panic, after all, and besides, if she spoke of heretical gods where other people could hear, there was a good chance that she wouldn't wake up the next morning – or evening, depending on when exactly it was that they would be getting back.
"This all sounds so exciting, big sister!" Sara enthused in a hushed voice. "You and big brother working together and using your holy powers to banish evil? It sounds like something out of the stories my governess used to read to me when I was little."
"Well, hopefully things won't end up being that exciting," Megiddo replied. "I'd rather not be walking into something dangerous."
"That's not the way you should think about it, big sister! Think of it as an exciting adventure where you don't know what the next surprise will be or when it will happen," the younger girl suggested.
"That's exactly what scares me, though."
So Megiddo hoped and prayed to Lachesis that things would turn out well. She prayed to Atropos that if she were to meet her end in the forest, it would be a painless death. She even kept Nereus's name in mind and promised herself that, should worse come to worse, she would do as he advised and pray to him for guidance.
In the meantime, the priestess had a small task to complete before she and Uriel were on their way. Stopping at the post office, she rented out a cubicle out a letter to Megara, detailing her encounter with Nereus and her current job. At the end of the letter, she wrote a quick apology, though she knew it wasn't enough – really, nothing could ever make up for ignoring the existence of one's kin. But she wrote it and signed her name and brought the letter back to her room with her to store in her pack with the promise that is she survived the job, she would post it with all haste.
At sunset, the two were all packed up and ready to go. Megiddo's side of the room was clean, while Uriel's had his nonessential belongings scattered about. "Optimistic, are you?" the priestess remarked.
Uriel shrugged. "I could make the same comment about you and pessimism," he pointed out. That was the end of the conversation.
Not long after, the priestess found herself once more venturing into the forest, though there was one very crucial difference. "I can't see anything out here," she hissed to her partner.
As soon as the words left her mouth, a number of softly glowing lights appeared around them. They almost looked like fireflies, though the pure white tint of their glow showed the truth. "Does this meet your satisfaction?" Uriel asked in a dryly-amused tone of voice.
"Won't they attract monsters?" she asked, looking around nervously. The lights weren't very bright – barely bright enough to show details of their surrounds – but if the monsters could pick them out at all...
I can't cover every aspect of this; it's either be able to see where you're going or not attracting monsters," he replied. "Take your pick."
"Fine, I pick being able to see." Megiddo continued to follow the firefly lights along, hoping that the monsters didn't have very good night vision.
About fifteen minutes after this exchange, Uriel abruptly and Megiddo crashed into his back, as his black clothing rendered him nearly invisible. "Ow! Uriel, what do you think you're—"
He ignored her oncoming outburst. "I know you're out there," he called out.
"Uriel, you're going to bring a whole bunch of monsters over here!" she hissed loudly.
The priest continued to ignore her. "Get over here already. I can sense you and if you don't get over here soon, there are going to be swarms of monsters over here because of my voice," he continued.
'Well, at least he's not completely ignoring me,' Megiddo thought morosely. "Uriel, leave it alone. If someone is following us like an idiot, then getting eaten by monsters is their own problem."
"Big sister, that's a really cruel thing to say!" came an exclamation from a startlingly familiar voice. Megiddo and Uriel turned and the priestess was caught in one of Sara's embraces once more.
"Big sister!" The little girl cuddled against Megiddo. "Hello~"
Megiddo was shocked and speechless for a moment before her mind finally caught up with what was going on. "Sara, what are you doing here? How did you find us here? It's too dangerous for you!"
"Were you following us this entire time?" Uriel asked, watching the young girl with narrowed eyes.
"No, I wasn't," Sara said in reply to Uriel's question. "I got really worried about you guys, so I went after you! I'm sorry, big sister, but I was really, really worried about you!"
"Sara…" Megiddo hugged the girl back. "This wasn't a good idea, but I suppose that it's too late to do anything..." she trailed off, glancing over at Uriel.
The priest sighed. "As much as I hate to admit it, it's probably too to go back now if we want to get this done tonight. We'll have to bring her with us."
"The mayor's not going to be happy about this," Megiddo remarked.
"Father will deal," Sara replied. "Thank you for allowing me to-" She stopped abruptly and in the poor light, Megiddo thought that she saw something on the girl's head move. "There's something coming!"
In an instant, Uriel was all business. "All right, Megiddo, walk behind the girl. We need to get out of here before anything catches our scents." He took the forward position and began marching through the brush. Megiddo gave Sara a nudge and the two girls were soon following the priest.
While they continued moving along, the lights dancing before them, Uriel ended up asking Sara a few questions. "Do you have anything on you that you can use as a weapon?"
"Well, I have my jump rope," she replied, touching the rope wrapped around her waist. "I didn't really have anything else; I just grabbed this to sneak out of my room."
"Do you know any magic at all?"
"Mm-hmm!" Sara nodded enthusiastically. "I can do a few earth spells, but I'm not allowed to practice, so I'm not really good at it."
"That's fine." The priest's tone turned thoughtful. "Earth sorceress, hm? I think you'll be very useful here, then."
Megiddo was concerned with the priest's answer, however. "Uriel, what do you mean that she could be "very useful here"?" she asked warily.
"The person that we will be confronting uses poison," he responded. "An earth magic user generally has a higher tolerance for poisons than most other elements."
"Wh-what?! Uriel, you... you can't be thinking of putting her in front, are you?!" Megiddo demanded.
He shrugged. "It's a good battle tactic."
She's just a little girl! Besides, she's the mayor's daughter! If she gets hurt while she's in our care, he'll have our hides when we return!"
"You're wrong," he said flatly.
"He's already going to have our hides because she followed us," Uriel explained. "If she gets hurt, then we're going to be tortured slowly before he skins us."
There was another shrug. "If she's injured, I'll her. The best thing we can do is to finish all of this up as quickly as possible."
"But-" The priest and priestess both stopped suddenly, which left Sara confused.
The priestess had a dazed look in her eyes. "It feels strange all of a sudden…"
"We've probably entered the domain of that guy," Uriel noted. "I don't think we have to worry about monsters any more, but there's something else that we'll need to look out for now."
"Something else?" she asked, but fell silent when Sara gripped her arm tightly. The girl had heard something again, apparently.
Uriel looked over. "We might be able to take a look. Come on." He nodded over to a bunch of bushes. "We'll hide in there."
"But what if it smells us out or—"
"Trust me, that's really not going to be a problem," he replied, beginning to push the girls where he wanted them. There was much crackling as the three settled into place in the brush. Before long though, all was still.
More or less. Megiddo fidgeted, thinking that she could feel bugs crawling on her and into her clothing. She couldn't stop herself, even when Uriel gripped her arm tightly enough that she was sure there would be a bruise in the morning.
Just as the priestess was about to force her way out of the bushes and yell at Uriel for making her sit around when they had a schedule, she suddenly picked up on the sounds of twigs and dried leaves snapping and rustling, as well as the smell of decay. She closed her mouth and ducked just low enough that she could still peer over the bushes.
The light that Uriel had conjured still only gave off a faint glow, but bunched in one spot as they were, the creature that came shambling up was illuminated well enough. Megiddo bit her lip to prevent any outcry as she took in every detail. The creature was human – 'was' being the operative word. Now it was more like a patchwork doll – the torso of one human attached to the legs of another with thick black stitches; the same followed for the two different arms and the head. He – because it was quite obviously a male, since there was no clothing to obscure vision – shuffled into the clearing and stared at the lights for a while with a blank expression before shuffling off again.
Once the creature was far enough away, Sara began to pick her way out of the bushes. "What was that thing, big brother?" she asked quietly, staring in the direction that the creature had gone.
"That would be a creation by the person we're currently tracking," Uriel replied, picking his way out of the bushes as well. "There'll probably be more of them where those came from, so we need to stay on guard."
"You know, this 'thrilling adventure' is getting worse and worse by the moment," Megiddo muttered her breath.
Sara hugged her again. "Don't worry, big sister, everything will turn out all right!" she chirped.
"...You heard her?" Uriel asked. The rest of the sentence was unspoken: I didn't.
"Mm-hmm." The two clerics exchanged glances over the girl's head.
"...In any case, we should continue. Come along."
So they walked. And they walked and they walked some more, and it was around what Megiddo would willingly was midnight or later that they finally entered a large clearing.
A distant part of Megiddo's mind noted that the clearing would have to be big to house the enormous structure in front of them. Though the only sources of illumination were the light that Uriel had conjured and the starlight from the skies above, it was still easy to make out the towering silhouette.
"...He's in there?"
"Should be," Uriel replied, already approaching the building with Sara at his heels.
Megiddo hurried to catch up. "Shouldn't we be more careful?" she hissed as she fell in step behind the priest. "What is there are more of those patched-together things around here??"
"That's what I'm looking for, actually," was the calm reply.
In the darkness, Megiddo could feel the heat of his glare. "Would you keep it down? I doubt that those doll-things can hear very well, but given how loud a noise you seem to like making, that won't matter."
"We're looking for the stupid things, so it won't matter anyway," she said in an angry whisper.
"I'm looking for where they're coming out of this building; does that make you feel any better?" the priest answered. "If the person making these things is in there, then there has to be somewhere for them to get in and out. Now shut up and help me look."
Megiddo conceded his 'request' with minimal grumbling. The priest went along the building one way while the two girls went the other.
"Big brother is pretty rude," Sara remarked quietly as they felt along the side.
"That's just how he is, I guess," the older girl replied. "But if he keeps treating me like an idiot, he's going to have a very intimate encounter with my sword."
The priestess heard Sara's footsteps stop for a moment. "...Big sister, you can be really scary sometimes."
"I learned from experience."
And so much experience you have... we have... so many blissful years.
This time it was Megiddo that stopped. "Sara, did you hear something?"
"I thought... Oh, never mind." She shook her hand and continued on, one hand on the side of the building, before suddenly stepping into emptiness and dropping with a short shriek. She landed hard on her rear end and sat there, dazed and with the wind knocked out of her.
"Big sister! Big sister, are you all right?" Sara called, kneeling down beside the hole.
"I..." Megiddo shook off her confusion. "I'm fine."
"Can you climb out of there?"
The priestess began to feel around in the hole she was in. Despite being in a forest – and therefore surrounded by soft earth – the pit was lined with hard, smooth stone. Too hard.
"I don't think I can climb out of her on my own," she finally said, though she continued to feel around. Suddenly, instead of smooth rock, her hands rested on cool metal. She moved her hands up and down it before feeling something sticking out and, trying to feel its shape, accidentally pushed it in. There was a loud grating noise as the metal slid away, revealing a hallway lit with torches.
"Big sister, what's going on?"
Megiddo looked, finally able to see the young girl's face from the torchlight. Oddly, the girl seemed to look more curious than scared – but that was Sara.
"I think I finally found the entrance that that guy was looking for. Go around and get him, would you?"
Sara nodded. "Okay, big sister!" She stood and backed up, then leapt over the pit that Megiddo was in.
While she was gone, Megiddo began to look around the pit once more, better able to notice things now that she had light to see by. What she had taken to be stone she now noticed were bricks – though nothing like the typical rough-hewn bricks that she had seen all of her life. All of these were perfectly symmetrical. She still no way of getting herself out, however – though the brick wall wasn't very tall, it still rose above her head and she lacked the body strength to climb up something that high. Thinking about it, and the physiques of the patched-together human things, she decided that that was how the creatures escaped and why they were built to be so strong.
Distracted by her thoughts as she was, it was a long moment before she noticed the steady thrumming of familiar magic coming from the bricks around her. To be fair, the magic was weak and would have been beyond her notice had she not been trained in the convent. But it was still there, pulsating away.
Megiddo placed a hand on the bricks, frowning as she tried to think of where she might have felt this magic before. It couldn't have been very long ago…
"Look out below!"
The priestess' s focus quickly changed and she let out another shriek, scrambling to get out of the way of Uriel's landing spot. The priest landed hard on his feet, wobbling a little and nearly smacking into one of the walls before he was stable enough to stand.
This made him a ripe target for Sara, who leapt into the pit, grabbed onto Uriel's back as she landed, and clung to him tightly. This time he did smack into the wall.
"Sorry, big brother!" Sara yelped, detaching from him quickly. The priest gingerly touched his nose as his hand began to glow, - he was casting his healing spell, Megiddo noted with some interest. A few seconds later, the glow stopped and the hand was removed. "Well, it looks like we may as well go in," the priest said pointedly.
"Yeah, yeah," Megiddo grumbled, moving to walk ahead. She was stopped by a firm grip on her arm. "Uh?"
Uriel tugged Megiddo back and looked over at Sara. "You're the earth magic user, so you'll be taking point this time around.
"Okay!" Sara responded gleefully, running ahead. Megiddo jerked her arm out of Uriel's grip and then gave him a good knock with the handle of her sword.
"It there something wrong with your brain?" she hissed. "I said earlier that we shouldn't be putting a mere child in the front!"
"In the first place," Uriel began, rubbing his jaw where Megiddo had hit it, "'we' didn't do anything; I did. In the second, I never agreed with you, and in the third, if that girl is a "mere child", I'll drink my own oil." Megiddo began to argue again, but Uriel was quick to cut her off. "And in the fourth, if we don't follow her soon, that girl might end up in a lot of trouble."
Megiddo immediately darted into the hallway after the girl. Luckily, the path was straightforward, so it didn't take long to find the room the girl had gone into.
The room was made of the same solid, smooth bricks that had lined the pit. The shiny violet globes in each corner of the room had apparently distracted the young girl and she was cooing over them when Megiddo arrived.
"Sara! You shouldn't just run off like that, you could have gotten hurt," the priestess scolded as soon as she had her breath back.
Sara looked over innocently. 'There wasn't anything in the hallway and there aren't any other doors out of here," she replied.
Megiddo frowned. "A dead end?"
"I wouldn't bet on that," Uriel answered, coming up behind her. "This place might have traps or something to keep people out. I don't exactly think that this guy is very fond of people, considering his works of art that we saw outside."
"I really hope we end up not finding this guy and solving the problem some other way," Megiddo muttered to herself. "All right, so you're saying that there's a way out of here and it's hidden. Is that all?"
"More or less." He began to examine and touch the walls gingerly.
Megiddo sighed and began to look around. Besides the globes in each corner of the room, there were also ditches trailing along the floor. She followed on of the ditches and found that it led to a round hole in the middle of the room. Looking the other way, she saw what looked like a metal funnel.
"It looks like we're going to have to lift the door up with counterweights," Uriel said, touching a section of wall. Walking over, Megiddo was about to make out faint etchings on the wall. They were in a language she couldn't read.
"Maybe the globes," the priestess suggested. "It looks like something is supposed to be dropped own that hole over there. Although I don't know why there are these chutes all over the place..."
Behind them came a loud thud. "Big sister, big brother!" Sara called out. "Help me, please!"
Megiddo hurried over. "What's wrong?" she asked.
The girl was tugging at one of the globes, which she had apparently taken off of the pedestal and planted in the ground between her feet. "I was trying to pick it up, but it's really heavy!"
"Oi. There's a scale in this funnel over here," Uriel remarked from behind them both.
Megiddo looked thoughtful. "Then maybe we're supposed to use these globes to work this counterweight… But then, if there's a scale, then it's probably got to be a certain weight."
"Probably. We'll need to look and see what that weight is, though."
"Great, more intimate time with the wall." Megiddo sat up against one of the walls and waited.
Before long, Uriel had discovered a weight number and, with Megiddo helping him to carry and Sara keeping track of the numbers they called out, they quickly dumped the proper globes into the funnel and sent them down the ditches and into the holes. There was a groaning sound and part of one of the walls slowly slid up into the ceiling.
So they went through the door, which led to a staircase. Going up, Megiddo noticed that the temperature seemed to drop and shivered a little.
"Well, this isn't good," was the first thing out of Uriel's mouth. "What do you – oh." Megiddo stopped beside Uriel and stared. Instead of the straightforward corridor from the previous floor, everything now branched out into several corridors that, from what Megiddo could see by torchlight, branched out into even more corridors. "...Any ideas?"
"Shouldn't I be asking you that? Water magic users are supposed to have dowsing as a natural ability, right?"
"I haven't gotten that far in my magic training," Megiddo explained impatiently. "Dowsing isn't exactly an important skill for a funeral priestess to lean."
"I suppose we'll have to split up, then," Uriel replied with a sigh. "We'll cover more ground that way."
"Wait, wait," the priestess started, stepping in front of the priest. "Hold on a minute."
"We don't have enough time to go strolling up and down all of the corridors together."
She waved her hands. "I know, I know, just... let me try something. It won't take long, I promise."
"All right," he agreed reluctantly.
Sara looked confused. "Big sister, if you can't dowse, then... What are you going to do?"
"Just don't laugh." 'You better live up to your word,' she thought. She knelt down onto the ground, shivering again as the cold seeped through the legs of her pants, and assumed her praying position.
"Big sister, I don't think – "
"Be quiet," Uriel whispered, watching Megiddo intently.
Megiddo shot Uriel a look of gratitude before closing her eyes and focusing. 'Ne... Lord Nereus, you said that you would be there if I needed guidance and I prayed to you, and that's exactly what I'm doing and what I need. So please answer.' Prayer finished, she opened her eyes and looked around, the others following her lead.
'Figures.' Megiddo pushed herself to her feet. 'There's no way that that guy was a – '
'You have absolutely no faith in others, you know that?' a familiar voice rang in her head. The priestess stumbled and caught herself with a hand on the wall, the other pressing against her forehead.
"Quiet," she snapped. "Your timing is horrible."
'My timing is perfect,' was the response. 'You're not the only person praying to me and tending to you isn't the only business I have to take care of. Try being a little more patient.'
"Yes, yes, I'll keep that in mine. Now will you quit with the lecturing and help me?"
'Yes, I'm strongly-inclined to help followers who show no respect for me.'
"I’m not your follower!"
'You prefer I use the term 'mortal', then?'
There was a burning sensation in her chest. "Well, it's technically correct."
'I doubt that you enjoy me using the term, though, correct?'
"Beside the point."
'We'll return to that subject at a later date, then. Now, what exactly did you need my guidance for?'
"...You don't know?"
'I'm immortal, not omniscient. If you continue to mock me, then not only will I refuse to help, but I will be quite happy to make it difficult for you to survive wherever it is you – oh.'
'You're in Verite's temple.'
'The building in the forest near Badida. That is the temple of Vérité, the god of poison.'
"Hold on, you know about this guy?!"
'We're part of the same pantheon; I ought to know who he is,' the dragon god replied, sounding slightly agitated. 'And since you're in his temple… You need help to get through those labyrinthine corridors of his.'
'I haven't been there in nearly a millennium, so I'm afraid that I won't be of any help directing you. However, I do have some information that you may find useful.'
'I assume that you've seen Verite's lovely works of art walking around, correct?'
Megiddo twitched a little. "Not in the building yet, but yeah, we've seen them."
'Those creatures are composed of corpses. They tend to be rather simple due to brain damage and decay, so to leave the temple without trouble, there has to be an easy-to-spot trail around for them somewhere.'
"So we need to keep an eye out for a trail of some kind," Megiddo repeated for confirmation.
'Correct. Be aware, though, that if you are on the proper track, you'll more than likely be running into more of Verite's creations and they're hardly going to allow you to pass and approach their master without a fight.'
"Understood. Thank you for your self."
'You're welcome. Feel free to send another prayer my way if you require more assistance.'
"All right, thank you again." The priestess felt the presence of the god disappear from her mind and heaved a huge sigh of relief, her head no longer throbbing in pain or feeling heavy. She turned back to face the other members of the group and hesitated to say anything, seeing their facial expressions: Sara was looking at her as though she were insane, while Uriel was still watching her with quiet intensity. "What?" she barked, placing her hands on her hips.
Sara walked over and took Megiddo's hand. "Big sister, are you feeling all right? Do you think that maybe the stress is getting to you?"
The priestess jerked her hand away. "I’m not insane! I was speaking with a higher power; I can do that, you know!" With a huff, she turned her back again and involved herself in examining the hallways, trying to find that the trail that Nereus had mentioned.
Before long, she felt Uriel's presence by her side. "'Higher power', huh?" he remarked lightly, though she was aware of his gaze on her.
"It's going to be a very long talk," was all Megiddo had to say on the matter. "I need to find a trail of some kind. That's what the correct path has."
"I think I might have found a trail early."
She whirled to stare at him. "What? Where? When?!"
"It was while you were busy praying," he said, sounding a little annoyed at being yelled at again. "I didn't think it would be a very wise idea to interrupt and I had my hands full trying to keep the girl from interrupting as well. It didn't come up."
"Oh." Megiddo looked sheepish. "Ah... Thank you for your concern. Now where is this trail?"
Uriel led the priestess over to one of the other corridors and pointed. "There."
"...You've got to be kidding me," she said flatly. The priest was pointing to a clump of mushrooms growing in the angle where the wall met the floor. Looking further in, though Megiddo had to admit there were quite a few clumps of mushrooms growing – more than there should have been, at any rate.
"I've looked at the other hallways and there's not a thing in them" Uriel added.
"So, we're following mushrooms. This job just gets more and more ridiculous by the minute. Sara!" She half-turned to wave the younger girl over. "C'mon, we've found our course."
"Okay..." The younger girl walked over, slumped over a little.
"We're following the path with mushrooms on it," the priestess told her, giving her a small half-hug.
Sara seemed to brighten a little. "Okay! Just leave it to me~" With a hop and a skip, the girl was already beginning disappear down the corridor.
"Wait, don't run away like that!" Megiddo called out, running after the girl. Her fears were confirmed when she heard a scream. "Sara!"
When she finally caught up to the girl, Sara had removed her jump rope from around her waist and was frantically smacking at the creation in front her, trying to drive it off. As expected, it wasn't exactly successful given that the creature continued its approach. As the creature took a swing at Sara, Megiddo sprinted forward. Dodging between the two, she drew her sword and, with the momentum, swung the sword in a wide arc with as much force as she could. The blade cleanly sliced through the body, sending out a burst of clotted blood in all directions. It clung to Megiddo's clothing, thick and chunky.
"Sara, are you all right?" she asked, her eyes still on the creature. Absently, she wiped at the drops of blood that had landed on her face.
"Y-yes... what about you, big sister?" the girl asked, slowly creeping up to Megiddo.
"Fine, fine. It didn't lay a hand on me."
"Is everything all right?" asked Uriel as he came up from behind the both of them.
"Everything's fine, no thanks to you," Megiddo replied tartly. "You certainly took your sweet time getting over here."
"My apologies," he answered dryly.
"...Big sister, I think that thing is still moving…" Sara murmured, tugging on Megiddo's sleeve and pointing.
"What?" Megiddo looked over to see that, yes, the creature was still standing, though its guts were spilling out of the injury that Megiddo's sword had created. "What the - ?!"
"The things aren't alive," Uriel reminded them. "Bodily damage wouldn't really stop them. Besides, physical damage is only going to get their blood on you, and given that these are all plague victims, that's something that I'd rather we avoid."
"Haven't you noticed how their bodies seem to be putrefying and falling apart?" Uriel pointed out. "Not all of that damage can be chalked up to decay, you know."
"No, I don't know, or else I wouldn't be asking," Megiddo retorted. "How do you propose we get rid of this thing?"
"I'll take care of this one," the priest answered. Stepping forward, he pulled a small glass bottle out of his sleeve and gripped it in both hands, lowering his head to pray. Shortly, the creature lunged at him, arms wide to grip and crush him. In a second, the bottle began to glow and the priest popped it open and flung the contents in the monster's face. With a roar, the creature threw itself backward, clawing at its face, which was beginning to smoke.
Uriel lowered the hand holding the bottle and began to trace out a crest with the other. "Go in peace!"
With a final cry, the creature's body tensed up light began to emanate from within before disintegrating.
"...Wow." Megiddo stared. "That's...wow."
"That was amazing, big brother!" Sara squealed. "How did you do that?"
He shrugged. "It's undead and I'm an exorcist. It comes part and parcel with the job."
Megiddo glowered at him. "You know, it's all well and good for you to do stuff like this, but do you have to be so casual about it?"
"Well, it's not anything special," he replied. "Any exorcist in my order can do the same thing. Try to keep things in perspective."
"What-" Megiddo's body suddenly tensed began she began coughing hard, sinking to her knees and doubling over.
"Big sister? Big sister, what's wrong?" Sara asked, running to the fallen girl's side. She tried to put her arms around the priestess, but the older girl quickly shuffled away on her knees, hacking up something black and wet onto the ground.
Uriel pushed Sara away. "You were touched by the blood, weren't you?" he asked after the priestess.
"What do you think?" Megiddo replied between coughs before hacking up more fluid onto the floor. "Am I... am I going to die?"
The priest was silent for a moment. "I'm not sure," he admitted eventually. "It depends on how much you want to live."
"How much I – " She cut herself off with another cough. "That's hardly an answer!"
"I realize that, but it's the truth."
"Well, that's just – " More coughing and the priestess felt her heart beginning to beat erratically. At the same time, it was becoming harder and harder to breathe.
'Someone...' Everything faded to black. 'Help me...'
I'll do more than that, you failed waste of space!
The priestess's fading senses suddenly reversed their degeneration, while the voice in her head began to rant.
As if I would be taken down by some illnesses that that baby of a god cooked up. Oh, when I get my hands on him, I'll rip him apart for his audacity! Or maybe I'll toy with him...
The voice faded as Megiddo regained her strength and slowly pushed herself to her feet.
Sara looked at her fearfully. "Big sister?"
"I... I'm okay," Megiddo finally said. "I'm feeling a lot better now." She wiped the remaining fluid off of her mouth using the sleeve of her dress and smiled at Sara, trying to reassure her.
"It looks like you really wanted to live," Uriel remarked, watching the priestess as she picked herself up and tried to get herself into some kind of order.
"I guess I did," Megiddo answered, not meeting his gaze. "Let's continue, shall we?"
"Right. I'll take point for the time being." The priest walked ahead. "This is only temporary, though."
Megiddo had been having difficulty telling the passage of time out in the forest because she couldn't see the sky and she was having the same trouble in the temple. A number of creatures and puzzles later, the priestess leaned against a wall and slid down into a sitting position. "It's go to be nearly morning," she moaned. "Can't we take a break?"
"The faster we finish this up, the faster we get out of here – "
Megiddo growled. "If we keep pushing ourselves like this, there's no way that we're going to be able to face up against more of the patchwork things! Let's just take a breather for a few minutes, recharge, and then go again."
Sara fidgeted a little and the priestess could have sworn that she saw something swish beneath the edge of the girl's skirt. "I'm kind of tired too, big brother..."
Uriel sighed. "Well, since I 'm being out-voted here…"
"Yay!" Sara cheered, going over to Megiddo before Uriel stopped her. "Big brother?"
"She still has that blood all over her clothes, so chances are that she might be infected still," the priest explained. "If that's the case, then you need to stay away from her and don't touch anything she touches."
"But – "
"That's how it goes. Sorry." He addressed the apology to Megiddo, tugging Sara in the opposite direction.
"It's fine, it's fine," the priestess sighed, leaning against the wall more heavily. "It's fair, and I don't want to get anyone infected." She started fishing around in her travel pack for her canteen and her share of energy pills, while Uriel shared his with Sara. A few minutes later, the energy pills kicked in and they began their traveling once again.
Or not. Before they could step into the next room, Megiddo heard a familiar voice. 'I wouldn't do that just yet if I were you.'
"Gah!" The priestess gripped her head while the other two began to look at her strangely. "You're back? I didn't call you to you."
'I'm aware of that,' the dragon god replied. 'I've been keeping track of your progress in the temple. The room that you're about to enter is the final room and it's where you'll find Verite.'
"Oh, so we're nearly finished with this trip?" Megiddo asked, sounding relieved. "That's good news."
'And if things were going to be simple, it would be much better.'
"I don't like the sound of that..."
'Verite is sealed in that temple in the same way that I was sealed in the lake,' the god explained. 'As a result of being sealed away for a thousand years, along with other factors, he's become rather... insane. You'll have to snap him out of it behind you can unseal him.'
"I wasn't aware that insanity was something you could be brought in and out of," the priestess growled, rubbing her forehead as the signs of a lovely headache began to show themselves.
'The rules governing mortals don't always apply to the gods. In any case, Verite will most likely attack you for your overtures. You'll have to defeat him in combat before he'll listen to you; luckily for you, he's the weakest of the gods, so defeating him shouldn't be too much trouble.'
"Will we able to use earth magic in there?" Megiddo asked suddenly. "Everything seems to be either metal or covered in metal."
'I believe there is a place exposed to the earth in his chamber, but I'm not entirely sure.'
"All right, then. Well, thank you for the information..."
'There's one other thing.'
"I don't like the sound of that."
'Before you can approach Vérité, you'll have to get rid of his bodyguards. They are his masterpieces out of all of his creations and, unlike the others, they are capable of sentient thought and planning. Approach them with caution.'
"This is just getting better and better…" She sighed, rubbing her forehead again. "Thank you for the heads up."
'You're welcome. Good luck.'
"We're going to need it," Megiddo muttered as she felt the god's presence leave her mind.
"Did he contact you?" Uriel asked, peering at Megiddo.
The priestess nodded. "Apparently, the person we're looking for is in the next room, but we have to fight him and his bodyguards before we can really get things done."
Uriel nodded. "Got it. Should I stay up front?"
She stared at him. "You're asking me?"
"You're the one getting messages from higher powers."
"Oh." 'Good point.' "He said that this person's bodyguards are his finest creations, so yeah, you probably should stay up front."
"Huh?" The little girl looked over at the priestess. "What is it, big sister?"
"There might be some earth for you to channel somewhere in there, but I'm not completely sure. When we get in, I want you to concentrate on finding some earth or stone – something – and staying out of the way if any of the bodyguards attack you, okay?"
Sara pouted. "Well... okay. But once I get some ground, I'm going to join the fight!"
"No – "
A loud grating noise reached her ears and she winced a little; Uriel removed his hand from the large button.
"Let's just get going, shall we?" he suggested, walking in without waiting for an answer. Megiddo followed after him, growling in frustration, while Sara followed her, massaging at something in her hair with a pained expression on her face.
Upon walking into the room, Megiddo was hit with the odor of decay and human waste, along with traces of something strong that she couldn't quite identify. She covered her face and mouth with the neckline of her dress – any relief was better than none, after all – before beginning to take a look around the room.
Like the rest of the floor, everything in the room was covered with metal – the walls, the floor, and even what looked like a throne off to the side. The smell that Megiddo had picked up on was from a pile of bodies and body parts beside the throne. On the opposite of the room was a fire under a large cauldron, and inside the cauldron was something that bubbled and smoked.
In the center of the room was a raised platform, and it was at this platform that a man – presumably Verite – stood, poking and prodding at a corpse. Even from here, Megiddo could hear him muttering to himself, though she couldn't make out exactly what was being said. Without thinking, she took a step closer. "Excuse me?"
The man immediately stilled, then spun around. Megiddo was stunned to see that the man looked to be around her age. Firelight cast strange shadows on his deathly pale skin and oddly colored hair. It seemed to be an odd shade between dark pink and purple.
"Who are you!" he barked out suddenly, startling Megiddo further. "How did you get in here? Did my dolls bring you?"
"No matter," the man continued, as though the priestess hadn't spoken. "I don't have time to deal with you right now." His face tilted upward, toward the ceiling. "Papillon! Araignee! Guepe! Fourmi!"
On the man's command, four shadows separated from the darkened ceiling. "Get rid of these visitors; dispose of the bodies how ever," the man instructed, already turning back to the body on the slab.
The one closest to Megiddo grinned at the priestess in a disturbing way, mandibles – yes, mandibles – clicked loudly. "Such tasty treats the queen is giving us," she – obviously a she, the clothes were too tight to conceal anything – clacked out, her voice reminding Megiddo of the clacking of drumsticks together.
"Yesssss," hissed out another, who seemed to slowly rise until he or she reached the ceiling again. "It hasssss been a while ssssssince we've had a meal... we ssshould sssavor thisss."
"Mother says we should get rid of them, but not when... Mmm, such lovely meat," came another voice from the opposite side of the room of the room as the group of humans. There was a faint buzzing and the creation zipped to and fro in the firelight, watching the group hungrily with her oversized eyes and grinning with huge teeth that weren't her own.
In the last corner of the room came the final bodyguard, who calmly moved toward the group with all the grace that a woman was capable of. The four large wings on her back fluttered briefly and, smiling at the three humans, she flight, releasing clouds of some sort of colorful dust.
Megiddo backed away. "Yeah, this isn't good," she breathed.
"It's probably worse than you think; I'm pretty sure that dust the woman is spreading is poisonous; I've seen those wings on a monster before," Uriel replied, trying and finding it difficult to keep his attention on all four attackers at the same time.
Cutting off any further conversation, Fourmi suddenly rushed forward on all sixes, mandibles continuing to clack loudly. "Dinnertime!"
Uriel jerked Sara with him to one side and Megiddo dove in the opposite direction, allowing the creation to crash headlong into the now-closed door. The creation stumbled backward, dazed, and sat down. While she was vulnerable, Uriel took out his bottle of chrism, but before he could do anything, Megiddo spotted a shadow dropping down from the ceiling.
"Uriel, above you!"
The priest immediately jumped backward, nearly crashing into a still-recovering Sara. Seconds later, Araignee crashed down to the ground, twin swords impaling the spot where Uriel had been standing.
On the back of the creation was something attaching it to the ceiling. Megiddo moved to draw her sword and cut the threads, but Guepe flew between them, grinning and thrusting her hand-stinger in the direction of the priestess's stomach. Megiddo was forced to back away, and Araignee shot back up to the ceiling. Guepe flew away again.
By this time, Fourmi had recovered her senses and began advancing on Uriel and Sara with a mad smile. Uriel kept the girl behind him, holding the bottle at the ready and focusing on it. It wasn't long before the bottle began to glow again, and the priest readied himself to throw the contents in the face of the creation.
Meanwhile, Megiddo was keeping an eye skyward. "Oh, what I wouldn't give for a long-range weapon," she muttered to herself. "Like a crossbow. Or a spell that would be useful."
"No crossbow for you!" The priestess's gaze darted to the side to see Guêpe making another dive for her, hand-stinger extended. Megiddo ran to the side of the room with the cauldron, running around it and hoping that the creation would have to back away for the moment. As she moved, she found herself covered in a light purple powder and seconds later a feeling of intense nausea swept through her, bringing her to her knees.
'Ugh... Dammit, I'm going to rip that moth's wings off,' she promised. 'And that smell from before, it's a lot stronger over here. Wait... I know this smell...'
"There you are!" Guepe crowed, hovering above the cauldron. "Hold still, or the meat is going to be bitter~"
As the creation lunged for the priestess again, Megiddo forced herself to her feet and began moving around the cauldron once more, a plan forming in her head.
"You won't get away from me that easily," the creation sang out, rising above the cauldron once more. Megiddo concentrated on the moisture in the air and, when the creation was just above the vapors rising from the cauldron, she flung her hands upward. "Spring Shower!"
Instantly the moisture in the room began to coalesce into clouds and rain down. "Take cover!" Megiddo yelled, sliding herself under a shelf of bodies and hissing as her skin began to burn.
"What did you do?" Uriel demanded, doing the same. When the rain had stopped, he pulled his cassock off of Sara and began to cast the healing spell on his hands and face.
A loud thud and a loud splash interrupted conversation. The thud came from Papillon whose wings were sodden and being eaten. The splash came from Guepe, whose wings were also destroyed and who had landed in the cauldron. She began screaming. "Mother! Save me!"
"You should have gotten out of the way when the rain started falling," Verite replied. He seemed to be completely unharmed as he continued to work on the body.
Guepe let out a final scream, her body half-eaten away, before sinking into the cauldron.
"That's acid over there," Megiddo explained, nodding over to the cauldron and forcing herself to ignore the way her head swam. "I can't be specific about what my spell uses for the rain, so I figured it might be useful."
"I think that depends on what your definition of useful is!" The last word was yelled as the acid reached the flame pit under the cauldron and caught on fire, the flames racing in every direction. There was nowhere to run.