Mawnco was seeing a room that was quite similar to a box. The walls, ceiling, and floor were all made with plain wood planks. There was a single window to his left, along with two beds of thin straw and blankets, one before and one behind him, both on the ground. Apart from this modest ornamentation, the only movables parts of the room was a thin mat on the floor between the beds and the two girls who lay upon those beds.
The first girl looked barely old enough to have gone through first puberty, and hugged the blankets to her as if to shield her crusty skin from the bloody light of the sunset. Her hair was short, and it spiraled across the sheets in clumps. Her face was teeming with scars. She wore no lenses before her watering blue eyes, and the menacing black serpent around her neck made Mawnco curious as to why she hadn’t disappeared with the other Bloodkoomas.
The other girl, Mawnco turned to see, was significantly taller–glowering down from the bedside, lighter-skinned, and overall in much better condition than the first one, though she was still a Bloodkooma. Judging by her matching, fluid, river-like eyes, she was the twin of the first, and both were Bloodstealers.
The ragged girl implored her twin, “Don’t trust them. We have to try and leave. We must at least try!”
The taller, fairer one shook her head solemnly, and her healthy black locks swayed with it. “You know it is forbidden.”
“Why should we care about what’s forbidden? Think of how they treat us here! Would a chance at peace not be better?”
“Better than food, than shelter, than an education?” The taller demanded, “Would risking burning be worth it? You must have lost too much blood in that garden, but I trust Master Awkaseesa. She wouldn’t need to riddle you with such scars if you would do as you’re told. It does not take very much intelligence to do as you’re told.”
“Just the opposite,” the smaller one muttered, but in a subdued tone. It was unmistakable that the argument was over, in the taller one’s favor.
The tall one fiddled with her sheets and gratefully sank into them for the night, welcoming their embrace. The ragged one watched her for a few mournful moments, then closed her eyes.
Only a heartbeat seemed to pass before it was completely dark in the room, excepting some moonshine that had intruded on the dark slumber. Mawnco heard footsteps beyond the beige tapestry that separated the room from the rooms beyond. Evidently, so had the ragged sister. Her blue eyes stared into the room, their moisture swimming at a lively pace that must have matched her heartbeat. Mawnco guessed that she had never been asleep, at all.
“Kuree!” hissed the small one. “Kuree, wake up!”
“Hush, Whyra!” a voice snapped, accompanied by a candle and a hand that pulled away the draping blanket. “You have been told countless times that you are not to make a sound during the ceremony.” An old, wizened woman’s face scowled in the candle’s golden, bright influence. Her lenses were a deep brown like Mawnco’s; she must have been Master Awkaseesa, a Janpee Master, to have mastered all the magic disciplines. Only Masters, Chosen Children, and a few sage nobles ever blended all the colors into one.
Whyra, the small, ragged Bloodstealer, remained silent, and held still except for her eyes. Her sister calmly awoke with a silent yawn that she failed to stifle completely and practically jumped out of her bed, scattering bits of straw across the otherwise spotless floor. Whyra stood more cautiously, as if by delaying her fate she could prevent it altogether.
Wordlessly, the three left the room, with Mawnco following behind at a pace slow enough to observe his new surroundings. Thin hallways with the same wooden features enclosed them on all sides as far as the eye could see, though tapestries hung in stone niches in the walls, beyond the wood’s reach. The tapestries depicted the mythical scenes often repeated in oral lyrics and epics, just as in any other temple. They turned only twice before Mawnco realized where they were. At the end of this wider hall was a stone basin, edges running parallel to the walls, which contained swirling, pure water. He could hear the conservative trickle of the small fountain before he saw it, a modest spout in the wall but nonetheless efficient.
We’re at a Capital’s temple, he realized. Such modest arrangements would not be in the private chambers of a king or council; this was most likely a temple for the citizens of a capital city themselves. Whether it was the Ore, Creature, Wind, Water, Sun, or Lightning Capital, he couldn’t be certain. The girls were either Mountain or Beach Dwellers, as they lacked the features of Jungle or Island Dwellers, but that alone did not guarantee that they lived near the western coast or central mountains.
They came closer to the basin of water, and the Janpee had the two girls wash their faces in the water but not drink. Mawnco slowly gasped as he realized what these Bloodkoomas were about to do, and wondered when this vision would end; only Bloodkoomas and Janpees could ever bear witness to the Chamber of Sleeping Flame.
He knew that some spirits could send mortals visions. Illa couldn’t, but plenty of other spirits were allies of the Chosen Children. What else could this be? A lucid dream? Last he recalled, he had been fighting for his life.
Janpee gathered the water that dripped off of the Bloodkooma’s cheeks in a small, leather bag and led them a short distance left to where a lone, stone wall blocked the way. Carved into the stone was the shape of a two-dimensional Chakana, its arms this time ending in points like an eight-sided star. The middle square was hollowed out. The Janpee released the water in the crevice and whispered a password to eight blue beads in her hand. Mawnco was certain that only those who knew blue magic could see their glow. She placed them along the square shelf: one at each corner and one midway between each corner.
Almost instantly, the water began to creep toward the beads of its own accord. The beads shone bright blue, and the Janpee extinguished the candle. To Mawnco’s surprise, the blue beads’ shine quickly faded, leaving them in darkness. Something had sapped them of their magic, but he couldn’t see anything else glowing. He heard the deep but close sound of splitting rock, as if the Chakana were being ripped at its now invisible seems.
A burst of blue light appeared on the wall, snaking along the edges of the Chakana until the entire star was outlined in its own dazzling brilliance. The stone itself seemed to fade away, and a dark hole appeared where it had been only a few moments before.
To be continued…