The torch’s flames cast dancing shadows along the colossal bronze walls of the ancient temple. Tonight, like most nights, the air was tinged with the smell of smoke and the sweat of men. But the silence of this night, it was different, ominous even. The normal clack, clack, clack of hobnailed heels reverberating throughout the main hall was menacingly absent. In its place was the crackling sound of a lively fire from within the mouth of the holy Aries monument positioned at the center of the great hall, like a warning against all who would dare trespass. His holy presence was a reminder of the courage that would be needed in the time ahead. This was not Olin’s normal time to make his rounds through the temple, but there was something off. He could feel it. Warning signs had come in the nights prior and he and his brothers had made preparations. Their only hope was that they would be enough. Olin grabbed his hood and pulled it tight against his face, holding on to the edges as he swept through the great hall and out into the cold night air. Stopping at the edge of terrace, he held on to the rail and looked down atop the vast garden. His heart sank. Nothing. No one. Not a soul. The night was dark and tonight of all nights he knew that it was filled with terrors. His chest tightened and it became harder to swallow. His brothers wouldn’t simply abandon their posts this way. It is their holy duty to guard this temple.
Olin turned sharply on the spot, the realization sending goosebumps up his forearms. It falls on me now. It was then that he heard the most terrible sound that he ever thought he would hear. The scream pierced him to his very core. He barely recognized the voice as Jeremiah. “P-p-p-lease.. No.. I c-can’t” he was sobbing now, words barely distinguishable at this distance but seemingly pleading for mercy. Olin was rooted there for a moment, calculating. He stepped towards the sound of the sobbing when the nausea inducing sound of flesh tearing from bone and the deep throaty gurgle of death filled the air. A cold despair was gathering in his chest and he could not allow it to overtake him. The stakes were too high. Turning quickly, he ducked into the great hall behind a wide limestone column. He held his breath for a moment, hearing his heartbeat pound in his chest and then dashed forward. Olin knelt before the Great Ram surveying his divine likeness in awe. The ancient deity towered above him, his every detail painstakingly recreated many lifetimes ago, from his hooves to the formidable curling horns that stretched toward the ceiling overhead.
They would be here any second and if there was one thing that he knew, it was that the beasts were thirsty for blood. Still kneeling, Olin focused his gaze on the small basin situated in front of him, catching a quick glimpse of his meek reflection. He took the chalice in his hands, slid it into the still liquid, and filled it to the brim. Aries, fill me with your fire, let thine justice be served through this humble vessel. Grabbing the chalice with both hands, he tilted his head back and let the liquid wash down the back of his throat. The pain was instant. It was as if he swallowed a cup full of fire. The young priest clutched his throat as the heat filled him from within. This was the first time he’d heard of this ritual being invoked in his lifetime and he may just have to be the one to complete it in full. On his own. With tear-filled eyes and blurred vision, he rose to his feet. Gather your wits Olin. He reached into his shirt retrieving the pendant that hung around his neck. A deep unnatural heat was spreading through his chest pushing its way downward and into his extremities. It was hard to ignore. Still attached to his neck, Olin clutched the pendant in the palm of his hand, tracing the intricate design with the tip of a finger. Its beauty was undeniable, a masterpiece of craftsmanship worthy of the Gods. The heat finally reached the soles of his feet and then his toes causing him to clench from the strange sensation. With the pendant still in hand, he stepped between the hooves of the Great Ram, and watched as the marble floor beneath Aries faded into nothingness, and a winding staircase leading below appeared in its place.
He blinked for a moment, taking it all in. If it were another time or place he would have marveled at this display of ancient wizardry. He had to keep moving. Time is of the essence. Olin descended the staircase and found himself in a part of the temple he hadn’t even known existed. The room was pitch-black and smelled like stale air that hadn’t been inhaled in a century. He reached into his pocket retrieving a small stone, perfectly round and smooth to the touch. It was deceptively cool but he knew the eruptive power it carried within. Briefly focusing on the heat within, he allowed his consciousness to intertwine with that of the stone. He felt the surge of energy charge up his forearm and through his lungs, and as he exhaled, air pushed from his lips filling the room with an orange cloud of light, illuminating an empty desolate chamber save a dais pressed against the back wall. Olin approached the platform slowly, still hobbled from the fiery liquid coursing through his veins. Using the dais to steady himself, he looked down upon his destiny. The tablet was engraved in the ancient tongue, a script that had long died except for among a handful of scholars and a few learned Zodian Templars. The young priest analyzed the text, line by line, racking his brain to make sure that he read it all correctly. His head was spinning. It could have been a few seconds or several minutes, he wasn’t quite sure, but as he stood there rooted in place an eerie feeling washed over him followed by the putrid smell of rotting meat that filled his nostrils. No, no, no. I have to finish this. The orange cloud of light began to flicker, straining to keep the room lit. He watched in terror as a shadow slid down the staircase and towards the dais where he stood. Olin closed his eyes, feeling the heat and fury coursing through him. He summoned every ounce of energy from within and let the fire connect with his every cell, using his frail body as a vessel for divine power. The fiery light poured from him, snapping across the room like a blinding whip towards its shadowy prey. It was a flash, a small display of holy intervention that would push the beast out of range for just a moment. With two hands, he flipped the heavy stone tablet on its side, revealing a long-twisted dagger with an ivory handle carved into the likeness of the Great Ram and a circular groove etched into the center of the stone. Olin snatched his pendant from his neck fitting it into the slot like a missing puzzle piece and in one swift motion grasped the long ivory handle and plunged the blade into his belly. He couldn’t breathe, the pressure of it deep in his flesh was paralyzing. The young priest slid to the floor, the heavy stone tablet collapsing down on top of him. He trembled as the putrid smell returned and the shadow crept steadily down the staircase once again. Blood was soaking his robes now and beginning to stream down onto the floor around him. Unable to move from one side to the other, he stared weakly up at the shadow as it moved ever closer. Olin immersed one palm into the warm pool of blood while his other grasped the ivory horns of the Great Ram. He placed the bloody hand back on the tablet and twisted the hilt with all the strength that he had. As the beast began to pick at his flesh, the new fresh pain barely registered. His mind was slipping into the void. Olin Tabor had done his duty. Death would be a sweet release.