Chapter 14: A Moment of Laxity

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As Regis and his men entered the Santus Sophis, they were greeted by an old priest in thick, brown robes. He nodded grimly at Regis, his eyes darting between the soldiers entering and the outside world.

"Come in. Quickly now. Quickly now." The old priest fidgeted with the ratty cord around his waist, his knobby hands calloused from years of toil. When the final soldier entered, the door was shut and the large, wooden bar was set back into place. Candles flickered from small shrines nearby, bathing the meeting room in a ruddy light.

The familiar scent of incense that Regis had smelled on his way in was even more intense now that he was inside. Smoke trickled down from above. The heady aroma of cloves and frankincense nipped at his nose. Already, he was starting to get sick of it.

"Please, one of my men was injured during our retreat. He needs medical attention." Regis motioned to the still barely conscious Magus tethered to his back. The old priest called out beyond. Two attendants appeared shortly. They helped untie Magus, gently cradling his body onto a stretcher brought with them. When the old wizard had been carefully placed down, the two attendants lifted him gently and carted him off deeper into the cathedral. Regis watched on, fighting off the urge to worry.

"Come this way." The priest ordered, ushering everyone else further in. Regis took point with Ruber close behind, walking in step with the priest.

"I noticed," Regis said, eyeing the priest. "That you failed to give your name during our exchange at the door?"

"A common precaution." The priest said. "A man's name becomes his bartering chip in times such as these. Regardless, apologies. I am Flamendos, the Princep of the Sanctus Sophis."

"Strange to see someone of your station acting as coy as a court royal." Regis goaded.

This time it was the priest to give him the eye. "I've lived long enough to know that no man is untouched by the whims of those in power. Twenty years ago I watched half my congregation burn because they refused to acknowledge the Empress's ascension. I vowed never to make the same mistake twice."

Regis merely responded with a nod. He was not there to witness the Empresses fabled day of ascension. He had only heard rumors. How she set the torch to every man and woman who rebuked her, and made it into a holiday. To think that she would commit such atrocities to clergy. For the northmen of Danic, such acts would be sacrilege. Unfortunately, Regis was no longer in Danic. The rules were quite different here in the south.

They marched past the meeting hall into the nave, where the main body of worship was held. The ceiling opened up considerably, stretching up to the seven stories seen outside, with a vaulting fresco. Painted cherubs floated overhead, watched over by angels in black feathered wings and flaming swords.

Painted glass windows bathed the room in a kaleidoscope of light, the colors shifting continuously as the final remnants of sunlight disappeared over the horizon. Two massive sets of columns ran down either side of the nave, their gilding etched in Byzun script. At the end was a pedestal where the bishop usually gave his eulogy.

Further back stood the statue of the Empress standing near four stories tall, her masked face angled down to stare into the congregation. Truly, the cathedral was as awe inspiring within as it was without.

And it was packed with people. The many rows of prayer seats that normally lined the nave had been replaced with bedrolls, displaced families and squealing children. Priests of various faiths passed by, handing out food, water and words of encouragement to those in need. Even with the marching feet of Regis and his men, their din could not compare to the throng of civilians that had come to the Sanctus Sophis for shelter.

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