~ Chapter 96: The Nundaba Ritual (Part 2) ~
“Do not worry, Sir Kataryna, all of our temples are guarded by strong warriors, and the chambers in which you will pray can only be opened by a trusted priest who has been chosen by yours truly. If anyone dares to open the door without my approval, the other priests will certainly hear it and take action immediately.” the dwarf priest told us.
Right when I wanted to comment on the possibility of an assassination on the Princess, she looked up at me and then said “I know what you want to say, Seryanna, but this is a risk I am willing to take if it will mean bringing our two nations closer.”
The determination in her eyes shined like a bright star. Nothing I would have said would have made her change her mind. Besides, unless something really dangerous happened, interrupting or refusing to participate in this test would put a stain on the Emperor's trust on us and the entire draconian kind.
“I will follow your orders.” I said.
“Good. Now, High Priest Klen'Ashin'Tark, what do we have to do exactly?” she asked.
“That is simple. You will choose a God or Spirit of your desire and then stay within the Room of Prayer for three whole days. An hourglass will be used to measure the time. You will have the duty of turning it upside down once the sand has poured down completely. At the drop of the first grain of sand, you will be given a book of prayers for that specific entity. You will have the duty to read it once per day. If you don't know how to read, we will task one of our acolytes to read it for you and then listen to you repeat it.” he explained while looking forward.
“We'll have to do this for three days without sleep?” I asked.
“Yes. Now, do you wish to hear the name of all of our guardian Gods and Spirits?”
“There will be no need to. Kataryna, you pick the God of Earth, and Seryanna, you pick the God of Fire. I will have no choice but to stay in the middle of the Soul Platform, but I believe those two are the most compatible with your elements.” Princess Elleyzabelle said.
“God of Earth? Isn't there one of ice?” Kataryna asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Of ice? No. Ice is just water turned cold. Why would there be a God of Ice? The God of Fire controls the temperature of all things. He is whom we pray to so that our blades will heat up in the forge and then properly cool down in the water.” High Priest Klen'Ashin'Tark explained with great zeal in the tone of his voice, almost as if he was trying to convince us of how great the deity he was worshiping was.
“Exactly. Besides, I do believe that the God of Earth will suit you just nicely. High Priest, will you be kind enough to tell my Knights what they are to expect inside those two temples?” the Princess asked him in a polite tone of voice.
“Of course! Within the Room of Prayer of the God of Fire, temperatures will rise and fall every hour, sometimes rising to almost unbearable values. Many dwarfs were forced to leave the Room of Prayer within hours of entering it. As for the Room of Prayer of the God of Earth, you will be subjected to the eerie silence of old abandoned caves. The shift of earth will be the only song you will hear besides your beating heart and gasping breath. A human once dared to stay within that chamber for more than a day and then came out completely insane. The poor man was screaming about going back to some weird place called 'Japan' to become something weird called a 'corporate slave'.” he shook his head and offered a silent prayer to that individual.
“He must have been a human hero.” I said.
“Well, none of us dwarfs really bothered with him very much. He was a weird fellow who claimed he will one day rule the world and have a harem at his disposal. Too bad he was impotent in the head.” he shook his head and offered him another silent prayer.
“That sounds interesting. What do you mean impotent in the head?” Kataryna asked with a smirk on her lips.
“Well, the story goes like this. Not long after the human heroes appeared, a beautiful dwarf maiden fell in love with him for some weird reason known only by the spirits, but he didn't touch her even when she threw herself at him naked. His body reacted, but his mind didn't seem to understand the concept of 'sexual pleasure between a man and a woman'. In the end she kicked him in his manhood and went to find somebody else to fall in love with. The poor man, not understanding what happened, he came to seek for my help, and I told him to use one of the Prayer Rooms.”
“Hahaha! So funny!” laughed Kataryna.
“Hm? Alkelios almost ended up like that as well...” I furrowed my brow.
“No, my friend, that guy would have NEVER ended up like that. First of all, unlike the insane fellow the High Priest told us about, Alkelios was quite attracted to you from the very beginning. He just had a bit too much stress that piled up on his shoulders. That's all.” she shrugged.
“Oh? You know of someone who went through a similar predicament?” the High Priest looked at us with big curious eyes.
“Similar, maybe...” I nodded. “But he got over it.”
“How did he get over it? May I know?”
“We had a long nice chat about how he saw things AFTER I beat the living daylight out of him!” Kataryna replied with a laugh.
“You beat him up?” the priest did not expect such an answer.
“Until he calmed down, yes. Otherwise, he would not have listened to me.”
“If not for her, I doubt I would have been able to do anything to help my husband get out of that predicament.” I said.
“I believe it depends on the individual, though. It is far more important to get them in a state in which they can listen to what you have to say and then make a choice without the fears that might tie them down.” Princess Elleyzabelle offered her opinion on the matter.
“This is indeed quite fascinating, and it doesn't appear as though either of you are worried about spending three days in the Room of Prayer.” the High Priest remarked.
“What is there to worry about?” Kataryna scoffed.
“I agree. We have nothing to fear.” I nodded.
We continued to exchange idle words as we made our way through the narrow and sometimes twisted streets of the dwarf capital Exaver. Along the way, we gathered numerous curious stares, among which, the children appeared to be the most excited about seeing us.
We were a rare sight for them.
But what brought up this unusual situation was the fact that High Priest Klen'Ashin'Tark was a dwarf who preferred to mingle with the common folk rather than remain only in high class circles. While some nobles might have glared at him for telling the guest of the Emperor to walk all the way to the Temple Courtyard, we certainly didn't mind it. The Princess even pointed out that what this dwarf was doing was a smart thing. By gaining the favor of the common folk, it became very difficult for his enemies among the nobility to try and take his life or coerce him into doing something he might have disapproved of.
High Priest Klen'Ashin'Tark was a smart dwarf who not only cared for himself but also for those around him. From what I could see, he was the type you couldn't come to hate and at the same time couldn't afford to have as your enemy. If this dwarf ended up approving us, then the negotiations with the Trindania Empire would proceed smoother.
The Temple Courtyard had in the middle a three meters tall circular platform. From on top of it, the High Priest would usually perform his ceremonies, which involved all the deities they worshiped. From my perspective, it was just a big slab of stone cut into a perfect circle with rounded edges, nothing more and nothing else. I couldn't feel any sort of divine energy emanating from it, nor could I see what was so special about it, but religion and cult had their own special way of making one believe that even the most insignificant of things held great value.
The temples themselves were all facing with the front door at the Soul Platform. They had been constructed in a semicircle. From the left to the right, they were arranged like this: Temple of the Spirits of Liquids; Temple of the Spirits of Metals; Temple of the God of Earth; Temple of the God of Fire; Temple of the Spirits of Jewels; and Temple of the Spirits of Nature.
When we arrived at the Temple Courtyard, I was remembered of the temples back on the Dragon Continent. They were big enough to make even a dragon feel at home, with tall arches and impressive columns decorated with sculpted scenes of myths and legends. It made me feel as though I had stepped into another city, one ruled by giants rather than dwarfs, and it was more so impressive when you were reminded of how close to the ground the ceilings of their homes were.
Massive stone doors welcomed us at the entrance of each temple alongside a pair of robust dwarf guards. While they tried to look intimidating, they were far below our Power Number. At most, I could only see them as noisy alarms in case something happened, but definitely not a force to be reckoned with.
“Sir Seryanna, Sir Kataryna, an acolyte will arrive shortly to escort you to the Room of Prayer of your chosen temple. There, you will be taught how to properly pronounce the words of our prayers. As for your Highness, please allow me to escort you to my office. I will personally help you with the prayers. Once your togas arrive, the acolytes will leave and a priestess will help you change.” the High Priest Klen'Ashin'Tark explained with a calm look on his face.
“Toga?” I asked furrowing my brow.
“That is the name we use for this peculiar garb. It's a roughly semicircular cloth draped around the shoulders and around the body. Every dwarf has a ceremonial toga for various rituals, but since you have just arrived on this continent and aren't well accustomed with our rituals, I won't expect you to have one in your size, so I will send someone to prepare one for you. There is no need for measurements to be taken, just knowing your height and build is enough.” he explained in a calm tone of voice.
“So in other words, we'll first wait in our rooms until the toga arrives and then the ritual will begin?” Princess Elleyzabelle asked.
“Indeed.” he nodded. “While the togas are being prepared, all three of you will be taught the way to pray properly.” he showed us a smile.
“I understand. Then, please lead the way.” Princess Elleyzabelle said with a courteous smile.
The office of the High Priest was located in the space between the Temple of the God of Fire and the Temple of the God of Earth. It was a big, spacious room with a small window at the back showing a view of a beautiful flower garden. The High Priest's wife was the one who took care of them.
Not long after we were brought inside, two acolytes arrived to guide me and Kataryna to our respective rooms. Although reluctant, I followed her Highness' order and parted ways with her. I would see her only at the end of the ritual, three days from now.
The Room of Prayer for the Temple of the God of Fire was right at the back of the temple and as soon as I stepped inside, I felt a wave of heat washing over my armor. The acolyte found it unbearable at first and needed a moment to adjust, but I had no problems with it. Within my armor, the temperature was no higher than that of a river during a hot summer day.
The room itself was circular in shape and within it were a lot of Magic Crystals enchanted with fire spells that raised the temperatures around them. The floor was surrounded by a lava moat, and the only way to go across it other than jumping or flying was by using a stone bridge which the acolyte conjured with his magic.
When I stepped in the center of this room, I looked up and saw the clear blue sky. It was as if I was gazing up from within a volcano, the temperature seemed to match as well.
“Lady Seryanna, this is the Room of Prayer of the God of Fire. I will now instruct you in how to use this Prayer Book. Is it alright if we begin now?” the dwarf asked as he showed me a wry smile.
He appeared to be a young adult by the way he looked, but his smile was forced. No doubt he would have preferred to be anywhere else other than inside this huge cooking pot. His garments were getting wet, and he had a bit of difficulty breathing here, while I didn't even start to sweat.
“Let's begin.” I nodded.
“Wonderful!” the man smiled and then conjured up two stone stumps which we could use as chairs.
The moment he opened that book of his, I furrowed my brow. Although I could read the characters thanks to the Blessing of the Goddess Amber that enveloped this entire continent, I couldn't understand the words themselves. To me they meant nothing and sounded like a bunch of gibberish.
Note from the author: Thank you for reading this chapter, I hope you enjoyed it! Oh, and be sure to check out my other stories too!
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