Chapter 16

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The mausoleum that served as a lobby for the temple was so spacious and quiet that Alex could hear the clacking echo of every step he took. Gold lined the corners and edges of every wall, gleaming under the rays of the noonday sun which shone through house sized windows. Polychromatic chandeliers of ornately carved sapphires, rubies, and emeralds hung every few meters from the ceiling. By the time he approached the guards at the inner chambers, Alex had a sore neck from all the staring. They too served as gaudy decorations for the temple, wearing gold armor and white silk cloaks with silver inscriptions woven into them.

"I come representing Queen Victoria, to deliver a message to the most High Priestesses of the Church," he said, holding the Crown's gold seal as proof. The women eyed him warily. They didn't say a word, but Alex could practically hear them hiss 'bastard' and 'half blood' in their minds. Nonetheless, Royal authority compelled them to step aside. They opened the five meter tall stone doors leading into the temple's interior. The next room was as white, gaudy, and empty as the last. A tall, lanky woman with greying blond hair stood up from her silver chair at the back of the room and walked toward him. Alex immediately recognized her as a member of the Twelve.

"Sir Alex. Please, have a seat." She pointed to a row of white cushion chairs lining the back wall of the slightly smaller temple room. Alex sat down. The priestess paced around him like a vulture eyeing her prey. He handed her the sealed royal letter, which she tore open and read while maintaining her trot. "So, Her Majesty requests the Council lend its Paladins to her war?"

"With all due respect, High Priestess, there aren't enough expendable half bloods like me to shelter every Angleyan woman and man from military service." Alex kept his gaze fixed forward with a flat expression. He could feel the old woman's baleful gaze. When he ventured to look the crone in the eye, he made sure to smile wide. To his delight, the gesture seemed to stoke the self righteous bitch's shaky temper. This was going to be fun.

"Is that so?" Her voice shook as she struggled to calm herself. Instinctively, he clutched the royal seal emblazoned onto his tunic. "Do you think the Queen's favor is somehow enough to grant you impunity in these holy walls?"

"No. I know the Queen isn't anywhere near as powerful as she'd like to admit. She's a ruler with so many chains and restrictions sometimes I wonder if she feels more like a slave to uppity advisers who've forgotten their place. You wouldn't know anything about that would you?" The priestess's left eye twitched slightly. Alex pushed his offensive. "I wonder if the war was even her decision. Or if it was decided by less publicly admired women behind closed doors." The twitch gave way to a glare.

"You're the one forgetting your place half blood! Just because one impulsive young ruler decided to defy a thousand years of tradition and invite half bloods to our sacred island doesn't give you the right to march in like you own the land. This Island was designated for our Celestial Mother's chosen bloodline." The aging High Priestess was audibly panting for breath as she ranted.

"And yet here on this island I sit. Along with nearly a hundred other Black Knights, all of whom have sworn loyalty to the Queen, and only the Queen." The priestess grit her teeth. "You don't need to do much more than tolerate my presence High Priestess. However, while my Queen commands it, I must know whether the Church will lend its warriors to the war against Dan." The High Priestess twitched her lips.

"Let it not be said the Twelve shrunk from its duty to defend Angley against the filthy people of the world. Go on then. Tell your Queen so long as those outside our Goddess's chosen lineage threaten us, the Church will use its full might to slay them all."

Ignoring the not so subtle jab, Alex bowed his head and stood up. "Thank you High Priestess. I'll return shortly to help organize and train the Paladins."

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