Vur walked alongside Paul, who was holding onto Lillian’s left hand. Lillian’s right arm was linked together with Michelle’s by their elbows. “You have a pretty high tolerance,” Paul said to Vur as he led the girls around a signpost. He shook his head as the girls giggled.
“Isn’t their tolerance just too low?” Vur asked. The four of them were following a sentry towards the temple.
“Hey,” Michelle called out. “Hey. Mr. Sentry. Hey. Who won the warrior competition?”
“The prince won first-place. Trent won second-place,” the sentry said as he continued marching.
“Ah, that stupid egg. I was hoping someone would kick his ass,” Michelle said and stumbled. She giggled and looked at Lillian. “You did a pretty good job.”
Paul sighed. “I can’t believe she only had two glasses of wine,” he said. “Has she never drank before?”
The sentry cleared his throat. “She is the pope’s daughter,” he said as the group arrived in front of the temple. The sentry nodded at the two guards standing in front of the door before he turned around and speed-walked away.
“Well, he seemed to be in an awful hurry to get away,” Michelle said as she staggered up the steps, supporting herself with Lillian’s arm.
“It’s because you’re embarrassing,” Vur said and shrugged.
“You’re embarrassing!” Michelle said and pouted. “Everyone was only staring because of your mask.”
The two guards looked at each other before they opened the door and stepped aside. Paul passed Lillian’s hand to Vur and nodded. “I’ll be waiting right here,” he said.
“What? You’re not coming with us?” Michelle asked as she struggled against Lillian. “Come ‘ere.”
“Only winners are allowed to enter the temple,” the guard to her right said. “He can’t enter.”
“That’s not fair,” Michelle whined. “He’s a good healer, he just couldn’t compete in the main competition because the preliminaries weren’t fair.”
“But then I would have lost to you,” Paul said and scratched his head as Vur tugged the two girls through the door.
“Oh. Right,” Michelle said and giggled. The door guards closed the door.
Paul sighed and shook his head.
The pope stood in front of an altar, facing the six winners of the competition. A golden fire burned in a white bowl on the altar, emitting a glowing yellow smoke that converged towards the ceiling of the temple.
“The six of you have proven yourselves worthy of receiving the blessing of our god,” the pope said as he spread his arms.
“God?” Vur asked while tilting his head. “I thought we were here to be blessed by spirits.”
“You are,” the pope said as he raised an eyebrow. “Did you not know that our god is the collective whole of our spirits? When we leave our mortal coils for the last time, we become one with our god and our god becomes one with us.”
“He was raised in isolation, Father,” Michelle said and sniffled. “Can you imagine not living with other people? He must’ve been so lonely.” She started to sob and hiccup.
The pope’s brow creased and he frowned as he eyed his daughter, but kept his mouth shut. He turned back towards Vur. “I understand now,” he said and sighed. “You poor soul. You’ve never been enlightened or baptized by their aura before.” The yellow smoke behind the pope thickened and started to swirl in the air above the group. Rays of golden light shone down from the yellow cloud and bathed the seven people in light.
Seven gasps sounded out at the same time as the group shuddered. Vur lost feeling in his legs and his knees buckled, but he managed to stay standing by taking a step forward. The pope fell to the floor and prostrated himself. Michelle fell next, followed by the prince, and then Roy. Lillian let out a moan and also prostrated herself. Trent shuddered and panted, still standing with his hands on his knees. A line of saliva fell out of his mouth before he fell to the floor on one knee. Veins bulged outwards on his forehead.
Chills coursed through Vur’s body, eliciting goosebumps all over. His body slackened and his shoulders drooped. He was about to fall when a roar rang through his head, causing his whole body to tense. Underneath his mask, a dark rune appeared on his forehead. A black aura rushed through his body devouring the golden specks floating in his blood.
A DRAGON DOES NOT KNEEL!
Vur’s eyes narrowed underneath his mask as he straightened his back and crossed his arms, sticking his chest out. He raised his head and stared straight at the glowing cloud, letting the waves of light wash over him. Trent’s lips quirked upwards as he saw Vur’s change in posture from the corner of his eye. Everyone else remained prostrate on the ground with their eyes closed, oblivious to their surroundings.
Time passed and the light dimmed before fading away. Trent wiped his hands on the back of his pants as he stood up. Lillian’s body shuddered as her eyes opened. She climbed to her feet and glanced at her palms. Roy stood up at the same time as Rudolph. Michelle stood up next, her steps no longer unsteady. The pope stood last.
He smiled. “Did you feel that? Our god coursing through your bodies,” he said and turned to Vur. “Would you like to become a member of our church? The same pleasure runs through your veins every time you follow their will. This is only a small fraction of the true god.” He gestured at the cloud above him.
“It felt nice,” Vur said and nodded as the pope’s smile widened. “But it’s not for me.”
The pope’s face froze. “Ah, truly regrettable,” the pope said and nodded. His gaze passed over the six winners. “All of you are welcome to join us at any time.”
“Is it over?” Lillian asked as she bit her lip. “That was the blessing?”
The pope shook his head. “That was just a simple scan spell,” the pope said. “Each of you will enter one of the rooms behind me for your blessing. I cannot accompany any of you.” The yellow cloud split into six streams of smoke and flowed through the doors behind the pope. The winners glanced at each other, except for Vur who had already started walking towards a door when the cloud split. The doors closed behind the six without a sound once they entered the rooms.
Vur tensed as the yellow smoke swirled around his body before it rushed to the center of the room, condensing into a humanoid figure. A man’s face formed, but the rest of the body remained as smoke.
The man’s clicked his tongue. “You have a very unique body,” he said. “We’re not quite sure whose blessing you should receive.” The face disappeared and it was replaced by a woman’s.
“You have a tremendous amount of mana and physical strength,” the woman said and sighed. “If only I had as much strength as you did…” The face blurred as it was replaced by another woman.
“What’s your preferred weapon?” she asked Vur.
“It doesn’t matter,” Vur said. “Anything I can hit or stab with.”
“You’ve never had formal training in any discipline?” the woman asked as she raised an eyebrow. Vur shook his head. “That’s a surprise,” the woman said. “The other people you came with were all well-trained.”
Vur shrugged. “I’m different,” he said and crossed his arms.
The woman chuckled. “Yes, we could tell,” she said. “You’re the first person who hasn’t kneeled to us after witnessing our splendor. Ah, this is difficult.”
“What kind of blessings do you give?” Vur asked. “Can you just give me a list to choose from?”
The woman’s face disappeared as it was replaced by a mustached man. “Insolence!” the man said as his mustache flared upwards. “We tailor fit our blessings to each individual. This isn’t a food stand where you can pick and choose what you want!”
The pope smiled as a stream of smoke flew out of a room. The volume of smoke was similar to the amount that entered. The door opened and Roy stepped out.
“What blessing did the spirits grant you?” the pope asked. Roy smiled and a circular rune appeared on his forehead as he held out his hand. A yellow orb floated above his palm and lengthened until it became a staff.
“They said it would amplify my spell’s effects and decrease the amount of mana it takes to cast them,” he said as he admired the etchings on the staff. The pope nodded his head.
Another stream of smoke flew out of a different room. This time, only half of the volume that entered appeared. The door opened and Michelle stepped out. The pope’s body tensed before his smile widened. 50% he thought. They used half the energy to bless her.
Three more streams of smoke appeared and Rudolph, Trent, and Lillian stepped out. Lillian conjured a bow and arrow in a similar manner as Roy. Tears appeared in the corner of her eyes as the bow pulsed in her hand.
“We’re just waiting for one more,” the pope said as he turned to look at Vur’s door, “and then the party will be complete.”
Ten minutes passed as the group waited. “Should it be taking this long, Father?” Michelle asked.
The pope frowned and shook his head. “No,” he said. “Usually a spirit takes interest in you and takes control of the smoke to give you their inheritance. That’s what happened with all of you, right?” he glanced at the people in the room. They all nodded.
Another ten minutes passed and Lillian started to pace around. “Can we open the door and check on him? What if something happened?” she asked.
“We can’t. Only the spirits can open the doors,” the pope said. “I’m sure noth-.”
The door opened and the pope froze mid-sentence. They used all the energy? he thought as Vur left the room.
Vur burped. A wisp of smoke, shaped like a mustache, slipped out from under his mask and rose into the air.