One of the priests called down to them from the arched walkway halfway up the main temple building, gesturing for them to come up. Glory held out a hand to help Phoenix up from his seat, and he let her, which surprised her greatly. As they walked through the building, he stumbled twice, the second time tripping as they exited to the main temple. She caught him by the arm before he could do himself harm.
He sighed, straightening and brushing his clothes as if to restore his dignity. “I don’t suppose you could…?” he asked hopefully, confirming her worst fears.
“I did… when I helped you up. You didn’t feel anything?” The energy she’d tried to give him in the garden had apparently gone nowhere. Though he hadn’t said anything, she had simply assumed it was too embarrassing for him to acknowledge that he needed it. Since the plains below Sarnath, he hadn’t asked her for a refuel.
He paled, his eyes widening slightly. Biting his lip, he turned away and started walking towards the stairs.
“Do you think it was something the Miri Nigri did?” she asked, catching up to him without effort. “That gem you mentioned them dripping your blood onto… they seem to use gemstones a lot.”
“That must be it. There’s no other reason.” He put his arms around himself as if he felt cold. “If somehow our souls had become disentangled, I would already be dead.”
‘There you are,” called the priest from the top of the stairs, his choppy strawberry blond hair making him look like the son of an angry haystack. “The Master sent me to find you, and that urchin you brought with you woke up hours ago. She should not be allowed to pester him so.”
“Sorry,” Glory said, climbing the stairs slowly to keep pace with Phoenix. “My friend isn’t feeling well.”
“Small wonder,” the man said without a hint of compassion. “But the Master is waiting…”
His eyes bulged. As he stared at her arm, she belatedly realized she‘d let the illusion slip while trying to feed Phoenix some much needed energy. She plucked at the sleeve of her robe, tucking her fingers inside and giving the man a challenging glare.
He turned, a little less arrogant than he had been a moment before, and said, “Follow me.” As he hurried down the hall, they were hard pressed to keep up. Glory had already been to Atal’s quarters once however, and she was certain she could find it again without too much trouble.
“Why don’t you get some more rest?“ Glory said as they passed through the hall where they had first woken up. “I’ll let you know whatever the old man says.”
“I’m not tired… just…” Phoenix paused as if the word was humiliating, “weak.”
“Then read that book for me.” She guided him to his room, her good hand on his elbow. “That’s something that needs doing but that won’t task you too much. If Atal says anything interesting, I’ll let you know.”
Haystack poked his head around the corner at the end of the hall, some of his irritation returning with distance. Glory waved to Phoenix, not that he looked in her direction as he shuffled back to bed, the book tucked under his arm. As soon as she started in his direction, the irritable priest disappeared down the next hall. The faster she moved to catch up, the faster he moved to stay well away from her. She finally stopped trying, using her time to put the illusion back on her arm instead. An idea was percolating through her mind concerning how to give her more control over her rebellious limb, but it wasn’t something she’d undertake lightly.
The priest was waiting at the door to his master’s chambers when she finally caught up to him. He waited until she was a few feet away before knocking on the door and announcing that she had arrived. At her approach, he scurried away like a rat that had had it‘s bite of cheese and was willing to leave the rest for another day. She shook her head, having no time for his cowardice or belligerence.
“Ah, there you are,” Atal said with a welcoming smile from his chair. She wasn’t exactly in the mood for his games, but she’d had to deal with far less pleasant people in her time. If he wanted to play at being her friend now, well she had his measure and knew he wasn’t to be trusted.
She was surprised to see Milet on the floor, playing with the cat near his feet. The girl looked up and smiled sweetly as if she had never been a half-starved orphan living on the streets of Ilarnek. Someone had finally taken a scissors to her hair and chopped away the worst of the matted knots. It wasn’t pretty, but it was better than it had been.
“I have performed the spells required to find the nearest portal to Y’qaa,” Atal said without preamble. “Luckily, there is one to be found near Mount Lerion. Unfortunately, it is in goblin haunted Ygiroth.”
“And a goblin is… what exactly?” Glory asked, not sure if the Dreamlands version was the same as Earthly folklore.
“Mostly harmless,” he replied, waving his hand as if it were nothing to worry about. “And easily avoided if you go down into the catacombs beneath the city rather than wandering its streets. They are more bothersome than dangerous to one such as yourself, though your companions might not fare so well.”
Glory looked down at Milet who dangled a piece of twine for the cat to bat and studiously avoided meeting her eyes. “I’d have left her in Kadatheron if not for the Miri Nigri,” she said in a low, unhappy voice. “Whether I am successful in reaching Y’qaa or not, I would avoid taking her with me. If I found someway back to Earth from Y’qaa, I know I couldn’t take her to Earth, though I’d be more than happy to adopt her if I could.”
“The King of Cats likes her,” Atal said as if that was the most important thing in the world. “Perhaps she would be suited to the priesthood.”
“The King?” she murmured, baffled, but shook her head. “If Milet wants to become a priestess, I won’t stand in her way. Otherwise, I’ll take her down into Ulthar to find an apprenticeship.
Milet looked up from her play, unhappy but resolute. “If I’m to be left behind, then here is as good as anywhere else, I guess. Least if those goat-men come looking for me, I‘m safe in the temple.” The cat mewed and nudged her with his head. She dropped her hand to smooth his glossy fur, taking comfort in petting him.
“That’s settled then,” Atal said, tapping his palms on his knees. “What of the other one? Your male companion.”
to Book 6, part 3, page 39