The door swung open, revealing a large, torch lit chamber. She looked back into the red tunnel one final time before stepping through and closing the door behind her. The red outlines of the door remained for a few seconds more before fading away. Jothal figured that the powder must have burnt up. She would have to remember to use more on the way back, if she ever made it back.
Jothal looked around at her new surroundings. The room was large, and the air was stagnant. Almost stuffy. The air swirled with hot smoke. It was tall and circular with an alter in the center with four columns supporting the ceiling. The alter appeared to be made from the same material as the wall that Jothal had just walked through. Something about this chamber seemed familiar but wrong. She couldn’t place it, though, and decided to explore. She approached the center of the room. The alter had more of the white powder on it, forming stars within circles and strange writing. She wasn’t sure in the dim lighting, but it almost looked as if there was blood dripping from the alter. Jothal decided that she had better investigate the room more before she even thought about experimenting with the alter. There were two more paths branching off of the main chamber, and she could faintly hear noises coming from the one to the right of the entrance wall. Jothal spotted a small cabinet filled with more vials of the white powder, old leather bound books written in the strange language, and a glass jar filled with a strange, swirling liquid.
Having searched the room to its fullest, Jothal decided to see what secrets the alter held. She took a vial of the powder from the cabinet and placed a pinch onto the alter. As the flames from the flint and steel took it and the red blaze filled the room with color, Jothal looked around the room for any red lines. However, other than the outline of the door that she had entered through, Jothal saw nothing. She frowned. Maybe if she lit the runes…? No. That would be foolish, but it was her only chance of figuring out this strange translucent substance. First, she would experiment with a harmless shape. Jothal put a pinch of powder on the alter and set it aflame. After the initial brilliance, the red light faded. However, in place of the powder was a small pinkish dot. Perhaps this alter was more of a writing table for darkened areas that lacked sufficient light? She decided to find out by lighting the runes.
Jothal struck her flint and steel and sent sparks flying towards a star enclosed in a circle. It had no other symbols close by, so there was little chance of lighting any other runes. It glowed brilliantly as expected and then fade as the powder burned away. However, this time a phantom of the symbol remained. At first Jothal thought that it was the image burned into her eyes, but as she focused on the symbol again, she noticed that a green sprig of some plant began to grow from the center of the star. It grew and twisted, budded, and finally blossom into a purple mountain flower. This is impossible… Jothal thought. It must be some kind of magic. She looked for another rune to try. Spotting a set of words written in some unknown language, Jothal lit the powder, watching as the red light engulfed the room and then faded into a soft glow. This time, a thick, viscous liquid seeped from the markings and onto the ground. Jothal gasped. Blood. She concluded. This must be dark magic. I’d better stop before I find one of these symbols that does some serious harm. I wonder who made these?
Jothal stepped back from the alter and turned towards the two branching pathways. Facing the entrance wall, she stared down the tunnels, looking for any clues as to what they might contain. To the left was the noisy hallway. She could see that the ground leading towards it was well trod. The path on the right had a hex over the doorway, but looked like it was visited less often, so she decided that she would start there.
It was a short passageway, coming to its end only a few steps away. This new room was dimly lit and filled with all kinds of planters, tools, and animals in pens and cages. Surprisingly, the animals made no noises, despite there being an abundance of every colored birds, small livestock, and various other creatures. To the right were pigs, goats, and sheep. Directly across from them were shelves lined with every kind of crawling, slithering, or creeping thing, most that Jothal had never heard of or seen before. From the ceiling hung many cages filled with birds and small furry creatures that Jothal couldn’t distinguish in the dim light.
“I wonder what they use all of these creatures for…” Jothal wondered aloud. Unfortunately, her answer came in the form of a crude, wooden table, laden with knives of all shapes and sizes and many jars filled with preserved body parts. Jothal picked up one jar, labeled Leptocoris Bahram Thorax, saw tiny greenish rice grains floating about, and then put it back amongst similar jars. She rifled through the others and found sheep eyes, pig hairs, and feathers in every color imaginable. Jothal could only imagine what rituals these specimens were a part of. She did not want to look at any more jars.
Leaving the creature room, Jothal headed back through the main chamber for the noisy hallway. This passage was significantly longer than the other. It twisted about, and after some time, Jothal forgot whether she was walking deeper into the tunnels or if she was walking back out. After what felt like thousands of steps, she could finally see a reinforced door with a heavy looking lock on it. She cautiously approached the door, and jiggled the lock to find that it was indeed locked tightly. Jothal once again wished that Vos could have accompanied her, but faced the reality that she was perhaps stuck mere inches away from an answer to the disappearances. She didn’t have a key, nor the skills to pick this lock. She looked down at Rankein. Maybe…
Wielding the battleax in her hands, and mustering all the strength she could manage, she lifted it up over her head and swung it down on the lock with a loud crash. The hammer of the weapon struck the padlock dead on and had rendered the lock useless. Years of practice being a blacksmith had made her aim with a hammer nearly perfect. Tossing the remains of the battered lock on the ground, she examined Rankein to look for any adverse effects that her act might have had on it, but found only a few smudges of dirt. She smiled and wiped the flat, reddish metal surface clean with a corner of her tunic. She hoped she would make it back to thank Master Hebak, but the thought of her master was a bittersweet one. He would be so disappointed if he learned where she had been, but she couldn’t stop now. Not when she was this close to solving her city’s problems. Pushing the thoughts from her mind, Jothal held her shield in front of her, for protection from whatever was being locked up. Pushing open the door, she discovered the source of the noises.