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CHAPTER TWENTY

Most of the oracles retreated to the edges of the chamber, screaming and praying for release from the magic that descended from the ceiling. A glittering whirlwind of spinning glass forced the shards to crash into one another, pulverizing them into a fine dust of flying razors. Sameska took faltering steps backward, her mumbled prayers for forgiveness lost in the tempest of wind and glass.

Startled at first, Dreslya gathered her wits and concentrated to think of a spell to counter the intruding magic. She dropped her bundle to the floor and gripped her holy symbol tightly before her. A cold sweat broke out on her forehead as she watched one ensorcelled savant walk closer and closer to the falling doom of shredding glass. If the other oracles would add their power to mine, we might have a chance, she thought in despair. But most still accepted the prophecy and would not violate its edict. The wheeling cloud centered itself over the ancient rune-inscribed circle of before the altar, the sacred place of the high oracle where the most powerful visions had been born in ages past. Large chunks of glass fell from the tempest's center, shattering as they crashed to the stone of the circle, covering it in sharp slivers. Something about the whirlwind's movement nudged Dreslya's memory and she quickly realized that the thing was not merely a magical wind, but an air elemental. The dark-haired savant edged closer still to the perimeter of the circle, gazing upward into the spinning gale with blood-rimmed eyes and a blank stare. Dreslya held back an empathic gasp as the girl's foot crunched on the glass, her sandles merely padded cloth that offered little protection from injury. The imagined pain cleared Dreslya's head and she hurried to cast a spell. Conjuring a gust of swift wind, she directed it toward the circle, sweeping away the fallen glass, though it could not loosen the shards that already pierced the savant's bleeding foot. The dark maelstrom lowered menacingly, hovering just above the girl's upturned face, bits of glass scratching her cheeks and forehead as they whipped past. The cloth that covered the blood-stained statue of Savras was ripped away and carried into the cyclone, fluttering as it was sliced apart and lost. The statue stared blankly upon the scene, dried rivers of brown blood trailing from its eyes. Sameska fell as the statue was revealed, and she scrambled backward weakly on hands and heels, averting her eyes. Dreslya stepped as close to the circle as she dared and held her hands out at her sides, intoning an ancient rite. The duties and powers of acting Sybilite were still hers, and the temple's protections were formidable. A spell of command tumbled past her lips easily as she cast, stoically watching as several cuts appeared on the savant's face. Her voice was ragged and desperate as she shouted the last. "Peshtak revallas, emuarte!" The chamber shook with power, and the spinning wind slowed for a moment, recognizing a sudden threat.

The sanctuary's runes glowed and burst to life, arcing across walls and floors like the lightning outside. Light beamed through the darkness of the foul wind, and the air creature writhed, surging upward to seek escape. Glass fell in a sparkling rain as the elemental abandoned its weapons and the helpless prey below. Trapped in the temple's net of spells, the wind quickly dissipated, destroyed by the magical wards of the temple. Silence fell upon the chamber, broken only by sobs and the scraping feet of those rising from where they'd fallen. Rain splashed high above where the glass dome had been, the wards preventing the weather from penetrating. Dreslya rushed forward to catch the dark-haired savant as the temple's white light banished the girl's strange possession. She caught the wounded priestess and lowered her to the floor. Ignoring the sacred circle beneath them, she inspected the girl's bleeding cuts and whispered prayers of healing to close them. Other oracles rushed forward to help. Dreslya rose, feeling slightly dizzy but relieved. Sameska stood as well, watching as rain slid across the invisible shield of power in the gaping hole above. Eyeing the chaos and disheveled oracles, she addressed the fearful and berated the blasphemous. "This is what comes of our betrayal! This is his punishment, his wrath in answer to our doubt! We must-" "No." Dres spoke quietly, but the runes in the chamber still pulsed to her command, amplifying her voice and vibrating in the floor. Sameska stumbled back as if struck. "Savras is not a god of blood and vengeance. We are taught to heed his words, not fear them."

She turned to speak to the oracles, ignoring Sameska. "I know that doubt still grips you, and I will not dismiss your fears as petty or trivial. I will ask none of you to join me at the gates to meet the evil that seeks to tear us apart." She paused, looking down at the blood staining the deep grooves of the circle and the shimmering glass spread across the floor. "But I will tell you this I have been shown that a prophecy does indeed unfold before us, and we must decide for ourselves what parts we shall play in it." Dres retrieved her bundle from the floor and turned to leave the chamber. Every oracle watched her go, still shaken and contemplating her words. Sameska stared wildly at the glowing walls of the chamber, as if unseen judgment lurked in the spiraling patterns around her.



***** | Bloodwalk | *****