A strangle temple leads Lina and Gourry to discover a piece of history they, and the rest of the world, would rather forget.
Author's Note: This story takes place after Slayers TRY and refers back to some of the events toward the end of that series.
Story #3: "Four Rings of Light Upon the Ceiling Overhead"
It had taken them three days to get to this point, starting from the moment that Lina realized there was a cave in the area that didn't appear on their map. She had wanted to explore it, and wanted to explore it now.
Gourry frowned at the rather tall and obvious stone structure jutting out of the desert. "That's silly," he said. "Why wouldn't this be on a map? We're in the desert, Lina. It's not like it's hard to miss."
Lina sighed, a bit exasperated. "Because they don't want people to find it, jellyfish. Why do you think things such as this get overlooked?" Her eyes sparkled as visions of priceless treasures and little-known knowledge danced in her head. It could be gems or jewels or maybe even a fragment of the Claire Bible! Okay, so she had managed to get a glimpse at some of the knowledge thanks to Milgasia a couple years earlier. But that didn't mean she would pass up the chance for another crack at it.
"Even so," Gourry jerked his thumb at the cave, "it's hard to overlook something this big."
Lina rolled her eyes. "Gourry, you just don't get it, do you?"
He blinked at her and tilted his head slightly to one side. "Get what?"
She grabbed his sleeve. Trying to reason with Gourry would be about as effective as Lina going up, addressing the cave and expecting it to answer her. "Let's just go!"
They didn't make it far the first day before Lina realized that the cave was pretty big and would take a few days to explore throughly. She decided it was worth the time investment to check it out. It wasn't like she and Gourry had to be anywhere to begin with. Sure, there was that trip to Zefielia Gourry had hinted at a couple months before, but Lina really was trying to prevent the eventual reunion with her sister as long as possible.
She called a halt to their looking and they retreated to the nearest town.
The next day, they returned with enough supplies tucked into Lina's pocket on the Astral Plane to last a week. They spent the entire day walking through the main tunnel and exploring a few of the side caverns.
Gourry scanned the walls as Lina walked ahead of him suspending a ball of mage light. He stopped and squinted at something. He tapped at it, then called down to her as the light moved away. "Hey, Lina! What's this on the wall?"
Lina headed back to him and studied it. Carved into the stone was faint etchings, so old that they had almost smoothed out entirely. She grinned up at Gourry. "Nice catch! I didn't see those. It's rune writing all right." She put more power into the Lighting spell until the entire cavern was brightly lit. She squinted and tried to make out some of the words. She recognized a few key phrases, but nothing concrete.
This only solidified the possibility of something wonderful to be found further on in the cave. Her excitement rising, she almost ran down the corridor, frantically scanning the walls for more runes or anything that she could legitimately use as an excuse to believe that there was something in here other than dark, dank walls.
She wondered if someone had tried to build a secret city beneath the ground. Some of the side caverns had held what appeared to be storage rooms and, much to their relief, rooms that functioned as a bathroom. It made sense, Lina thought. The further they headed in, the more time it would take to reach the outside world. The workers would have to fashion some areas in which to store their supplies and relieve themselves without desecrating the rest of the place.
"But, wouldn't they eventually run out, even after getting to this point?" Gourry asked after one of these stops and they decided to use one of the empty storage rooms as their camp site for the night. "You'd have to eat some of the food to even get here. They didn't use pack animals."
"You're right. If they had, we would had seen animal droppings or stains from where urine splashed up on the walls. Animals wouldn't control themselves the way humans do - and even then that's debatable. Many slaves wouldn't stop to take a piss if their master was cracking a whip over them. So, whoever built this place was really hung up on cleanliness." Lina drew her knees up to her chin and looked around the small room. "You can tell small fires were burned in here, and there's the bones of someone's dinner over in the corner. None of these traces are in the main cavern. Whatever this place is, it's really sacred."
Gourry fidgeted. He was starting not to like this place much at all. Something about it just didn't seem right to him. It reminded him of the times Lina dragged him into really old temples - like something bad had happened in this place. He unrolled his bedroll, and after a moment of consideration, pushed it next to Lina's.
She turned from where she had been stowing the rest of their dinner supplies in her pack and scowled at him. "What do...what do you think you're doing, Gourry?" she hissed, blushing furiously.
He unbuckled his armor and set it aside, but kept his sword within arm's reach. "I figure I'd sleep over here tonight. You know, just in case something spooks you."
"The only thing that's spooking me is you," she growled. Her eyes began to sparkle with hints of mischief. "Gourry, are you scared of this place?"
"No!" He lied. Lina smirked. He quickly got into his bedroll.
"How cute," she teased. "You need me to protect you from the big, bad ghosts that wander the area. You know, I think I have a teddy bear you can cuddle..."
"Cut it out!" Gourry turned onto his side so he could face her. "It's not that...there's just something about this place that doesn't feel right. It's like there's something huge and we're the only two people in here and that thing is much bigger than ourselves."
She studied him for a moment, realization starting to dawn. And you don't want to be alone, she silently finished for him. She slipped into her own bedroll and turned so she faced him as well. He watched her intently and her heart started to beat a little faster. The moment called for something, she just wasn't sure what to do in this case.
She bit her lip, then reached out, and laid her hand on top of his and closed her eyes. He moved his hand slightly, so their fingers were linked.
Neither of them slept much that night.
All of that had led up to this moment, when they finally stumbled into a huge room that seemed to go on forever and ever. Ever since Gourry had made his statement about the place not feeling right, Lina had mulled over it, adding it to her own observations about the large hallway leading into the gigantic main cavern, the human-sized storage and bathrooms, and the rune-markings they had seen on the wall.
She was starting to figure out exactly what this place was.
The main cavern was mostly empty, with a few pedestals jutting out of the ground. Intricate patterns were carved into the walls, but they didn't seem to form enough of a coherent pattern to indicate that they were any style of writing - or at least writing that Lina was familiar with.
She cast a large ball of mage light and sent it to the ceiling, trying to illuminate as much of the room as possible. At most, she had managed to illuminate a quarter of the room.
Gourry stared up, trying to see the light. He suddenly pointed at the ceiling. "Look up there!"
Lina craned her head, eyes widening when she saw part of an elaborate portrait. She let out a low whistle and levitated up to see it better. "I'm going to make it brighter in here," she called down to him.
He watched as she flew to different parts of the cavern. Soon, there were four rings of light hovering close to the ceiling - each a shining ball of mage light. She sailed back to him and landed nimbly on her feet. She sighed and wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her glove.
"You can't tell it from here, but that's the largest Lighting spell I could cast without losing control over the Levitation spell." Lina sighed when Gourry rewarded her with a blank stare. "I cast the biggest spell I could without falling, in other words."
"Oh." Understanding now, Gourry craned his neck to get a good look at the ceiling.
An elaborate mural sprawled above them, the edges of it disappearing into darkness beyond the edges of Lina's collective spells. In each quadrant, a large dragon was featured with smaller dragons clustered around it. Neither of them could quite tell what the smaller dragons were doing, but Lina instantly recognized the larger ones.
"Those are the subordinates of Ceiphied," she told Gourry. "Flarelord, Aqualord, Earthlord and Airlord. Remember when we were in Filia's temple? I remember a similar depiction of Flarelord in there. Gourry, this is a dragon temple."
He shoved his hands in his pockets. "Which type of dragon though? Aren't there more than one?"
"My guess is that this is Ancient Dragon. The location is consistent, as well as the age of the building based off the runes we discovered and the fact that the four dragons are represented - not just one." Lina frowned. "It would also account for it being taken off a map, especially after the Golden Dragons destroyed the remaining Ancient Dragons. It's not entirely out of reach that the same genocide was going on up here as it was in Filia's lands."
Gourry felt slightly sick to his stomach, remembering the slaughtering of the Golden Dragons in their effort to beat back Valgaav. Filia had also relayed to them what had happened to the Ancient Dragons. That, as well, had been hard to bear. "If it was the Golden Dragons, then wouldn't they destroy the temple?"
"You have a point. My guess is that the Ancient Dragons vacated this place before that could happen. I bet that if you look at this spot from above, it'll look like a bit of rock. So a dragon in flight may not notice it being anything other than part of the natural landscape." Lina shivered slightly as her theory solidifed. "I'm willing to bet that this was going to be a refuge - a place of last resort for the dwindling Ancient Dragons. Hence, the lack of overall ornamentation with the exception of this room."
"But what about the places that could accommodate us?"
"Simple enough to answer." Her voice dropped to a near whisper. "This place, the bulk of it, was built by human slaves. Hundreds, probably thousands of them. The Ancients could do the bulk of the work themselves, but it would draw too much attention. The Golden Dragons wouldn't be interested in the whims of humans - unless it infringed on their territory."
As Lina spoke, one by one her spells dissipated until they were in complete darkness. Gourry swallowed and unconsciously took a step closer to Lina and felt his arm brush against hers. He quickly wrapped an arm around her shoulders, partly to make sure he wouldn't lose her in the huge cavern and also because the more Lina discussed the temple's possible past, the more uneasy he felt.
Lina didn't move to cast another Lighting spell. His grip on her tightened.
"It feels like the time we saw all of those dead dragons," he said quietly.
"Yeah." He felt her arms snake around his waist and he immediately returned the hug. They held each other for a few minutes until Lina broke the embrace and cast a new Lighting spell.
"This place is creeping me out. Let's get out of here," she suggested.
"I'm not about to disagree with you," Gourry responded and they hurried out of the main cavern.