The cleric stepped over the corpse of the treasure hunter, shaking his head sadly. Such a waste of life. And those others they had found in the ruins, they would have been a welcome addition to the fold, had they not let their desire for treasure overcome their wisdom. They had attacked as soon as the Protectorate had arrived, and had quickly been killed by the Crusadori: Knives and clubs were no match against powder and shot.
The wind whipped at the cleric’s white and red robes. The painted mask he wore under his hood filtered the dust from the air with each breath, as well as signifying him as a full priest of the Third Order of the Protectorate. On his back he bore the symbol of the Protectorate: two rings, one inside the other, with three arrows pointing inward. A sign of eternity, of strength, a sign that could not be broken.
The cleric motioned for a nearby grey-robed acolyte to follow him. Around them, the rest of the group searched through the ruin grounds, lorekeepers recording what they could recover, crusadori on guard against the savages that lived in the Dust.
The gaping mouth of the ruins loomed before the cleric, broken and decaying. Hardened, gnarled trees plunged their roots deep into the ground, though their leaves bore little shade from the sun and the burning clouds. Within the gate’s dark depths sat horrible secrets, secrets he had been sent to retrieve. In his heart, he felt fear: the High Council did not often convene, and when it called one to duty, it called with the authority of all eight Orders of the Protectorate. Failure would not be appreciated.
Underneath the ruins, there was much more intact than on the surface. Most of the rooms and passages still stood, though the contents were well on their way to joining the dust that had fallen in a blanket on the floor and walls. That was a job for the lorekeepers.
Lower and lower the cleric went, guided by the flickering light of his lantern. The place was a tomb, but not one of choice: even now the burns scarred the walls, as did the holes of age-old gunfire. Occasionally, a blackened skeleton could be found, dissolving into sand. Some passages had collapsed completely; others were lined with the worn carved messages of those who died there, or the faint stain of preserved blood splattered on the walls. The cleric could read the dying testimony of these men and women, and he felt an involuntary shudder up his spine.
Even lower they went, until they reached a level filled with great vaults. Some were still sealed, even after all these years. Most were open, empty: many of the relics were destroyed in the Shattering, or lost amongst the chaos afterward.
The cleric stopped in front of one vault. The door had been forcibly torn out of the wall, laying dented on the floor. A small metal sign was on the wall. The cleric brushed off the dust and read the inscription. This was what he sought.
“Speak nothing upon entering, and do not look away until I begin the ritual,” he said to the acolyte.
Stepping into the barren room, the cleric held up his lantern. On the opposite side of the vault stood a thing, a statute. It was the size of a man, with an oversized head and grotesque, haunting features. It was made of something like stone, with some bits of iron bar sticking out of its yellowed skin. Like statues were wont, it did not move.
The cleric locked eyes with the statue. He knew this demon from the holy books: the Sightless Idol, Oon-Shiveen Thar’ie. The Shattering of the World had been wrought by this fallen god. The ancients had been taken unaware, concerned with other affairs, and it was in that moment of weakness that the Sightless Idol wrought its destruction. The gods of old, both benevolent and fallen, were cast out from the world by Oon-Shiven Thar’ie during the Shattering, now existing in a plane far removed from the world that was broken.
The cleric kept his eyes on the statue. Reaching into his pack, he took out a small glass jar. Inside was a single human eye, floating in a clear liquid, attached to a few floating chunks of graying flesh. A few nerves wrapped around a palm-sized ruby pendant. Holding the remains of the god Barat between him and the Sightless Idol, the cleric blinked.
He opened his eyes unharmed: the unblinking Eye of Barat the Still-Living had protected him. He handed the jar to the acolyte and took up a thick tome from his pack. The cleric began to read.
“By S-Cepie and Gōc, by Barat and Alcleph, by Ritez and Khan Py Tharosk-ro, and by all the gods of old, submit to the holy will of the Protectorate and the Third Order of priests, demon who is the Sightless Idol. You are hereby bound by the holy will, and shall know no mercy in repayment for the evil that has been wrought in your path. Never more shall you corrupt and destroy. Never more shall men die at your hands. By order of the Protectorate, you shall be contained within the foundations of the world in the vaults of the temple at Par-Daril, until time itself ends, and the All-Maker returns to creation and delivers judgment upon you.”
The cleric closed the book and took the Eye of Barat back from the acolyte.
“Bring me ten crusadori, loyal men with unbending will. They shall be the guardians of Oon-Shiven Thar’ie until the end of their days. Let it be said that they died in glory against the dark forces. No others are to know of this. When this is done, I will send for you, and you will leave your life to gain a new one in the Order.”
The acolyte bowed and hurriedly left. The cleric looked back at the statue, holding the Eye. In his mind, fear returned. What had happened before may happen again. The circle of fate may very well awake the other fallen gods the ancients had fought. The cleric brushed away the thought: such things were for the Council.
Inside the jar, a few old synapses sparked in the remains of the ancient brain. A single thought shot across the nerves, tinged with weary cynicism:
“Here we go again…”