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June 5, 2020
The church is immaculate, a conception of the 10th century in dun stone and arched relief. Long has it stood on the hill of what is now the Spanish Villaviciosa. Once, a fair and pale race lived there. But as history is wont to do, it has changed, and those that make their homes there with it. The sanctuary is old but well kept, though with little in the way of a flock. A few elderly churchgoers and an aging priest account for the congregation.
The priest is too old to perform more than a midday mass, though he also holds a long-kept secret.
In the back of his office can be found a staircase, hidden from prying eyes, a dark winding way that snakes beneath the foundations of the prayer house to a labyrinthine city. There, the ceiling writhes with the long-grown roots of the forest above. It is a cathedral to God, who would bless him enough to see trees from the other end.
Once the holders of the secret were greater, but now there are fewer, that which they are born from dwindling. In the center of their world, a great courtyard rests under the curving boughs of graven roots, obscured in the curling smoke of incense.
It takes the venerable priest many minutes to reach that sacred place and many more to light a candle and place it against the plague masks of his brethren. Rows and rows, they line the hall, each an altar below them. On the marble plinths are writ the marks of all that have worn the mask before. Brave deeds and solemn, pious lives alike. Not a one looks similar, forged to the founder’s designs, the hundred and one who broke the Shield of Unruochinger and made of it the Tears of Anguish. Each was imbued with that power; one they have come close to attaining again.
But one mask is missing.
The old priest is confused, his furrowing brow knotting his face like the bark of an oak.
A figure shifts, sitting upon a bench in the shadows. “You are disturbed, Father Isidro.”
He notes her presence with a calm that belies his age. He asks, “Where is Treachery?”
The shadow stirs and rises, reveals a towering figure framed in the wreath of incense smoke. “She has met success.”
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