by Rob Steiner
Fatimah had spent seven years in the Heiron as an acolyte and a priest, but she had never been this far down into the Heiron’s vaults. Nor had she known there were this many levels below ground.
Fatimah had followed Eblin and the other four members of the Master Circle through nine arches, all opening into dark, musty rooms. For each arch, one of the Master Circle had to place a hand on the right column to activate the Aspects and open the portal to the next level, for these levels were forbidden to all but the Tuathan leaders. When they came to a tenth arch, Melahara gave Ollis Gray a sad look, and Ollis returned it with a slightly nervous one of his own. The Holy Seat placed her right hand on the right column of the arch, while the Worldly Seat placed his left hand on the left column. They both closed their eyes and uttered an incantation under their breaths that Fatimah could not hear. A loud crack came from the arch, as if it had split in two, and then a dark corridor appeared beyond it. Cold air rushed from out of the corridor, stinking of mold and centuries. There was no other arch in the room. They had reached the bottom level of the Heiron.
Melahara gave Ollis a challenging glare. “This was your idea, Worldly Seat, so you lead the way.”
Ollis held his head high and strode through the arch and into the dark corridor. As soon as Ollis entered, two torches sitting in sconces on either side of the corridor burst into blue-white flames that gave off no heat. Fatimah flinched at the sudden light, but Ollis continued on as if nothing had happened. The further he walked down the corridor, the more torches on either side of the hall burst into flame.
Melahara followed Ollis.
Fatimah glanced at Eblin, who followed Melahara as if they were walking into another part of the library. Fatimah stayed behind her Master, trying to match Eblin’s same unconcerned air, but wishing for the first time that Apprentices did not have to accompany their Masters on every part of their trade. Fatimah did not look behind her, but she heard Nyram and Ocrim following closely.
The corridor ran straight ahead almost fifty paces until it came to an abrupt end at a wall with three alcoves set side by side, their interiors bathed in shadow. They were two paces high and set in the center of the wall. Three small torches within each alcove burst into the same blue-white flame as the torches in the hall.
The alcoves were empty.
Ollis studied the alcoves open-mouthed, while Melahara inhaled sharply. The others stared at the alcoves in shocked silence.
Ollis turned to Melahara. “It was you and your priests that were supposed to guard the Delving Jars. What have you done with them?”
Melahara opened and closed her mouth a few times, then said in a tight voice, “No priest has been in this chamber for a thousand years. And lest you forget, it takes both of us to open the arch.”
“Then where are they?” Nyram asked as she inspected the alcoves where the jars once stood. She ran her fingers along the pedestal of the alcove in the center of the wall and looked at the dust trail they made. “These have been empty a long time.”
The others crowded around the left and right alcoves, and noticed dust covering the pedestals of both in equal abundance.
Ocrim Tylea said, “Whatever happened to them, happened a long time ago.” He looked at Ollis and said, “So I think we can cease the accusations.”
Ignoring Ocrim, Ollis said, “It is impossible to reach this chamber without going through the arch, and the arch can only be opened by the Worldly Seat and the Holy Seat together. So how were the Jars stolen?”
“Perhaps it is possible,” Eblin said, leaning on her staff, “the Jars were never here to begin with.”
Melahara shook her head. “But I have records from Kalisha Mazid, the first Holy Seat. She describes this room and how she was one of the priests who stole the Jars from the Fomorians.”
“Alon Grete’s journals said the same thing,” Ollis said, staring at the empty alcoves, speaking of the first Worldly Seat. “Why would they both lie? That does not make sense.”
Eblin chuckled. “I did not say it made sense. Only that it was possible. All this dust says the hall has not been disturbed for hundreds of years. If the Jars were not here to begin with, then they were certainly taken out of here a long time ago. In any case, we need another plan.”