Monday, January 17, 2011

Episode 26: Saladin and Iryien Make Some Moves

A door opens in the side of the eel statue, two women emerge. One is an acolyte in light, flexible armor. One is Iryien. The new Iryien glances at the decapitated bodies on the floor, then gazes hard at Xoe before turning to address Iryien.

She hardly acknowledges Saladin at all.

"Playing rough again, Mother? I know you can hardly be held responsible for your actions nowadays, but Aefeul was a good priestess, and most dedicated to the Program. We do allow you your dalliances," she fixed Saladin with what would be considered a look, "but it is time to consecrate a new batch of your daughters. The delegation from Rachhakka Kuunka is here and would like you to join them for the ceremony. Let us go below and get you into something more... appropriate."

Iryien, Saladin then Xoe were ushered into the stairwell behind the Other Iryien by the acolyte, and they wound down a long spiral staircase that is only intermittently lit by the occasional torch.

When they reached the bottom, the stairs opened into a wide, well-lit hallway, decorated in gaudy tapestries, forking in two directions. The Other Iryien heads to the right, and as Saladin emerges from the stairwell, he notices that the acolyte, not Xoe, is directly behind him.

Iryien turned to the acolyte and said "We seem to be missing someone. I didn't see any doorways in the staircase." The acolyte smiles wordlessly as the Other iryien responds.

"Mother, you know untrained females aren't allowed on Earth Level. The fact that she even attempted to come with us shows that some retraining is needed. Don't worry, she's being attended to. Now if you'll step into here," her hand passed over a section of wall and a hidden door clicked open in the stone, "you'll find your vestments have been laid out for you. I must see to the delegation before the ceremony. Please make your way to their box as soon as you're dressed. I'll make sure they find a larger chair for your..." she paused to eye Saladin up and down, not without a little disdain. "...friend."

She led them into a long room, heavy with perfumes and tapestries. One other door leads from the room, which seems to be a vestry of sorts. A stunning chocolate velvet is laid out on an ornamental table, presumably for Iryien as it would amount to little more than a loincloth on Saladin. The Other Iryien turned and left.

Iryien let out a strained breath and crossed over to the velvet garments.

"We may as well play this out for as long as we can. There is no telling what sort of trouble will find us once they discover I am not who they believe me to be." She ran her hands over the velvet. "Turn around, Saladin. I am going to change."

Iryien lifted the outfit and looked around the room.

"While you're waiting, why don't you make yourself useful and look around? Just...
do be cautious when opening doors."

Saladin turned to the rest of the room. Priestly ornaments filled the room, again with a distinctly Earthen theme. Gold, amber, jasper accents adorned censers, plates, little tabletop altars. A large, circular mosaic depicting certain Elemental rituals is inlaid into the far wall, with the quarter circle representing Earth on top.

Saladin moved to the other door in the room and listened quietly. He heard a murmered conversation between two women and silently cracked the door...

"How many are going down this time?"
"Almost thirty."
"That many? That's twice as many as last month!"
"Yes, Master Lee has ordered that we increase production. It is also why the Reptoids are here. They want to personally see the first of the ones Who Will Go Outside. So please try not to tread on my robes during the Chant to the Waters this time..."

As the two voices descend onto girlish giggling, Iryien whispered to Saladin that she was ready.

Flowing robes with built-in headpiece, the velvet robes seem slightly big for Iryien's frame, a detail she does not miss. Not
too big, just a little more roomy here and there. If this was made for me, Iryien thought, it's a me who's lost her shape...

Remembering that they were told to make thier way to the delgates' box, Saladin realized that they now had the authority to roam unmolested for a short time now. Opening the door for his 'Reverend Mother', he bowed (a little sarcastically, she thinks) and beckoned her into the hall.

As they opened the door, a low murmur greeted them. They seemed to be in a tunnel underneath a gathering place, like a auditorium. Two young acolytes are at the end of the 20-foot passage, discussing something quietly when they entered. Upon seeing Iryien, they snapped to attention and stepped aside, each one flanking a doorway.

As they passed and headed up the stairway inside the door, they could hear chortling and guffawing from the space above. Heading up and around, they entered what looked like a theater box, and sitting there in glittering robes of green and gold were four reptilian humanoids. Four pairs of large, glassy eyes turned their way when they entered, and all four rise to their feet before bowing low. One of them, the shortest, approached Iryien with its hands extended.

"Ah, Reverend Mother, it iss ssso good of you to grant usss the pleasssure of your company."

The three others nod in agreement before giving way to reveal two chairs in the center of the box, obviously meant for Saladin and Iryien. One of them is considerably larger than the other.

"And ssso good of you," chimed in another, possibly female, lizardperson, "to take in an Athasian refugee as a mate. Your Excellency no doubt wantsss to sssave sssome of that sssturdy Mulish ssstock from the genocccide currently taking placcce on Athas. What a noble gesssture! Jussst make sssure the Dragon Queen doesssn't find out!" All four reptoids broke out into peals of hissy laughter. It was obvious from the scents that assailed their nostrils that the four of them had been drinking.

A bright, brassy horn interrupted the glee session, and the reptoids quickly recovered to look ahead out of the balcony window onto the scene below.

This great open area is obviously the one in which the principle of Earth is served. The walls are rough-hewn sandstone, but the entire floor is dark brown earth. Some sort of phosphorescent lichen provides a dim illumination throughout the vast area. It grows on walls and ceiling, supports and arches. Cressets and wall sconces indicate that, during ceremonies, other light sources are used. In the center of the room, occupying a 20' square area, is a pyramid of hardpacked dirt; the sides rise about six feet, and the top is flat, forming an area about six feet square. Stone steps are set in the
four faces of the pyramid. Atop it is a stone altar, each of its four faces bearing a inlaid golden triangle.

Three women, one of them the Other Iryien, stalked ritualistically out to the pyramid, up the steps and to the altar as brassy music played. Soon after, a line of young, sylphlike acolytes wearing gauzy chocolate-colored gowns proceeded out from doors beneath them. They proceeded to the beat of the music, first up the left-hand stairway, then to the altar where the Other Iryien would make a mark on their forehead, drawing it with her finger after dipping it into a bowl being held by her two attendants. As she marked the girls, she chanted over and over again:

From the Earth our mission goes
Down through Waters deep below
Tempered by a cleansing Fire
Air doth scatter our Desires

After being marked, the girls headed down the steps to the right before disappearing through a door directly beneath their box. 33 in all. After the last one disappeared, ten more women appeared from below Iryien and march up the center stairway of the pyramid. They flanked the Other Iryien on each side, all obviously pregnant. "Iryien" turned and kissed each one on the forehead before turning to Iryien's box and shouting:

Mother! I, your daughter give these your daughters
to the ones who will take them to the Birthing Place!
May they travel safe and bear their burdens well!
May they return in triumph with more Glory for you!
Let the Cycle of Peace continue again in your name, amen.

As the girls turned and filed down the far side of the pyramid, a set of bronze doors in the back opens up and the girls all head through.

"That'sss our cue," says the short reptoid, as they all rise. "Do come and sssee usss off, Reverend Mother. We do have a sssurprise for you."

After watching the whole ritual with a thinly veiled look of alarm, Iryien turned to the reptilian creatures and says, with a smile, "We will follow you in a moment."

Once they left, she turned to Saladin with a 'what in the world have we walked into' look on her face.

They then followed the reptoids through the large space where the ritual occurred. Dozens of acolytes were hanging about, sweeping, cleaning, refilling lamps and bowls. Looks like there's an evening show.

At the big doors in the back, one of the reptoids turns and says, "Reverend Mother! Come sssee!"

They walked up to the four reptoids and as they step aside they saw a space - bigger than the auditorium behind them. No ceiling could be seen, but in the middle of the vast floor, lit by flickering spotlight, is a wasp.

A giant wasp.

The pregnant acolytes are heading towards it and... start to enter?

"Behold, the "Reverend Motherssship!"

The four beam at the wasp as they looked again, seeing the last of the acolytes head up a ramp into the belly of the...


A Spelljammer.

"Fassstessst in the fleet, ssshe isss. After we take thisss crop to birth in orbit around the sun, we'll ssstop by our homeworld to pick up more prophylacteriesss before bringing them here. Really a lovely sssystem you've devisssed..."

The thoughts in your head start to wheel and spin, so much so that you barely notice the disturbance back in the ritual chamber...

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