“I’d really prefer it if you didn’t hurt my pet. He’s been at my side for more years than you’ve walked the earth, and I’m quite fond of him” The voice was smooth like silk and totally neutral. I’d never actually heard her speak before, but I didn’t need to turn my gaze to know that it was the Priestess herself who was addressing us.
“Then you won’t mind at all, calling him off” Solen’s voice- was low and unyielding, yet somehow even standing over me like some sort of blood-sworn bodyguard, with his bow still gripped firmly in his hands, he still managed to sound respectful.
“You heard the young man Jinzu” The creature gave one last shriek of acknowledgement with a definite undertone of irritation at being denied its new playthings, before bounding off through the canopy. It must have already been in position before we arrived because, if the din it was making as it headed back towards the temple was anything to go by, then stealth was not a skill it possessed.
Part of me was almost disappointed that I hadn’t managed to even glimpse what kind of creature ‘Jinzu’ was, but only a very small part. The memory of its shrill terrible screams still rang in my ears, and I hoped that I’d never have the misfortune of hearing that sound again in my lifetime. If I still had a lifetime to live that is.
I struggled to get back to my feet and once I was stood at his side again Solen slowly lowered the bow to his side, placing the arrow back into his quiver with practised ease.
“This place is forbidden to all but those chosen by Ziuni.” I wasn’t sure what I had been expecting in response to our trespass but it certainly wasn’t the soft smile that grew to brighten her otherworldly purple eyes.
“I am sorry Priestess. I wouldn’t have come to this sacred ground but there seemed to be no other choice. My problem is very grave, and I fear not one entirely of this world.”
The Priestess raised her hand to stop him, silver bracelets glinting in the late morning light. “You had better follow me. Such things are best only spoken of safely away from prying eyes.”
Her words sent a whole new wave of shivers through me, and I couldn’t help but scan the thick blanket of green surrounding the clearing. The Priestess lead the way, her unnatural grace making it seem like she floated over the roots and vines rather than walking upon them. In fact, everything about her, from her strange purple eyes, to her oddly calm demeanour had me wondering if she had any of her former humanity left inside of her. She just seemed so strangely…other.
We arrived in front of a seemingly impenetrable wall of dense foliage but, with a smooth wave of her hand the vines drew back revealing a crumbling stone archway. It had a series of symbols carved into its sandstone blocks and in the centre of the top of the arch was Ziuni’s symbol, the heart crossed by twin spears, wrapped tightly in the coils of a two-headed serpent.
The Priestess passed under the stones and after a quick reassuring glance back at me, Solen too stepped forward into the shadowy interior of the temple.
Standing alone in the sunlight dappled clearing should have been preferable to the shadows that awaited me inside, but I couldn’t help the feeling that someone was indeed watching me, just as the Priestess had implied. The back of my neck prickled uncomfortably, but I refused to turn around and give substance to my fear.
With a soft shushing sound, the vines began to relax again, one by one slowly falling back into pace in front of the entrance and without a moment’s hesitation, I darted beneath the arch and into the darkness beyond.