A/N: I actually wrote this fic this August for a fanfic contest. Nothing ever came of the contest, so here I am posting it, several months later. I'm great at procrastinating, no? ::sweatdrop::
I don't consider this one of my better works—not by far. But I figured that if I went to all this trouble of writing it—because I always wanted to know what happened in Madra Catacombs—I might as well post it. So here you are!
Comments, constructive criticism, and ridiculous amounts of praise are all welcome. ::grins:: Enjoy!
You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to Molech. . . . Leviticus 18:21
"Are you sure it's that important that we explore these old ruins?" Piers asked again as the group walked towards Madra's stone walls.
Kraden looked at him as if he were insane. "Aren't you even remotely interested in the ruins? In solving their mysteries?"
Piers looked uncomfortable. "Well, yes, I would be ordinarily, but. . . ."
"I know what it is." Sheba grinned. "It's because they're in Madra. I know you're not overly fond of the place, but come on, Piers! There might be treasure beyond our wildest imaginings in there!"
"Or I might get arrested again for no good reason, just like the last time," Piers grumbled.
Felix tried not to smile. "Well, there's an entrance into the catacombs just outside of Madra, so we don't even really have to go inside the town."
However, after a short walk through the town's graveyard, they discovered that the hole in the ground that had been the entrance to the catacombs was now a small, tidy hill of dirt.
"Aw, no!" Jenna looked annoyed. "They must've filled it in."
"What a terrible shame." Kraden tried to keep the disappointment from his voice. "And I had been so looking forward to exploring the ruins, too."
"Oh well. Guess we might as well get back to finding those trident pieces," Piers said, voice a little too cheerful.
Sheba laughed. "Oh no you don't, Piers! There's another entrance just inside the town. "
Kraden perked up. "You're right, Sheba! I had almost forgotten! Let's go, everyone!"
Piers looked glum, but followed his friends anyway. Fortunately for him, the guards were too in awe of his unusual powers to stop him from entering the town, and soon the five of them were descending the ladder that led into Madra Catacombs.
"You're kidding me, right?" the stranger asked, sipping a mug of ale in the inn. "You mean to tell me that every year, you murder a child to appease some pagan god? That's barbaric, especially for this Golden Age!"
"It's not just some 'pagan god,'" one woman told him. "Moloch is very real. It's said that if we don't keep sending our gifted children through the fire to it, it will destroy our village completely and utterly."
"Well, I think you're all being fools. Did you ever try to go a year without slaughtering your children?" he asked.
Someone else answered. "Of course not. We're not stupid. Obviously, doing this sorrows us greatly, but the alternative is far worse."
"You should try something this year. Don't kill any children. I'd be willing to bet anything that your 'deity' won't do a darn thing." The traveller wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
"Anything?" the first woman asked, voice subdued.
He drained his mug. "Anything. I'll even bet my life on it."
Sheba cast Reveal and the stone gates to the ruins, once seeming so solid, vanished in her true sight. The five hurried through and Sheba let go of the spell.
"Wow," Jenna whispered, holding the flame she cupped in her hand higher. Her Mars Psynergy was most useful for seeing the way in dank, dark caverns. "This place is . . . I don't know what it is."
Kraden stood in one place and just looked, drinking in the dimly-lit sight. "Amazing . . . these ruins are so old, and yet from what I can tell, the buildings share the same style as the Madra above our heads."
"I don't like this place." Sheba's voice sounded unusually small. She hunched her shoulders unconsciously. She hated caverns like this. Being closed in and underground made her feel like she was being buried alive. If Jenna ever teased her about being claustrophobic, she always denied it vehemently, but the fact remained that she could never quite forget that the tonnes of earth suspended precariously above her head could come crashing down at any moment.
Felix gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I'm sure we'll be fine. This cave has been here for time out of mind. It'll stay up for a few more hours while we explore this place."
Piers rubbed his arms. "I'm with Sheba; I don't like it here, either. This place feels so sad . . . I wonder what happened here?"
Lord Varun looked over the delegation, meeting their eyes one by one. "You all agree on this?"
"We do, milord." The village baker nodded firmly. "We're tired of killing our children every year, and all for a deity that may or may not exist."
Lord Varun rubbed at his eyes. He had often thought their village was cursed. It was only natural that after a time, the people would rebel against such cruelty. And yet why did he have to be the one to make such a decision?
"I understand why you want to stop sacrificing our Adept children each year—my own little girl was one of them, fifteen years ago. . . ." He hesitated for a moment, pushing the memory away.
His wife took advantage of his pause. "But think of the consequences if it turns out you all are wrong. The entire village would be destroyed by Moloch's wrath!"
"Your pardon, Lady Mallika, but the traveller Amadyne had a point." The weapon seller spoke with respect. "We've never even seen a glimpse of Moloch, so for all we know, we could be killing our children for no reason at all."
Varun took in a deep breath. "You are convinced of your path?"
"We are." The weapon seller nodded once, the movement precise.
"She speaks for all of us," one man said. "We will allow no more children to be slain."
"Then you have chosen your path, and by Fate, I hope you are right." Lips pressed tightly together, Lady Mallika strode from the room.
Silently, the delegation of villagers filed out, leaving Lord Varun alone, sitting in his throne-like chair and staring at the floor. His thoughts were as distant as his eyes.
After exploring the ruined town for a while, the five eventually came upon what must have once been a grand palace.
Jenna fingered the rotting wood of a large chair. It almost seemed fit for a king. "I wonder if this is where the lady or lord of the town sat? It's certainly impressive enough."
Felix looked around the dusty room. "Probably. It looks like this was where the mayor—or whatever his title was—met with the citizens."
"It's too bad we couldn't get at that bookshelf we saw," Piers commented. "I'd have liked to have seen what the people read back then."
"The books would probably melt into dust under your fingers, anyway." Sheba shrugged. "I think they'd be too old to be handled properly."
"It's a real pity." Kraden couldn't help sighing. "To be able to read the writings of our ancestors. . . . Well, maybe other ruins will have books we can actually read."
"I'd still like to know what happened here," Jenna said. "It looks like whoever lived here left in a hurry—what made them leave?"
A man ran down the main street of the town, out of his mind with terror. "Moloch is coming! It's going to kill us all!"
Fear spread outwards from his path like ripples on water. Near the town gates, a rumbling, crashing noise could be heard. Beneath it, enhancing the sound, was a loud, strong roar.
Amadyne the traveller walked out of the inn, clearly disbelieving. "The man's probably drunk." He had to shout to make himself heard over the growing panic. "You're going to believe him? Look!" He walked towards the gates, stance casual and relaxed. "There's nothing at—"
A blast of frost-like energy caught him mid-chest and flung him against a nearby house, his face forever registering complete shock.
Clawing its way over the wall was a huge white form, yellowing teeth bared in a feral snarl. Ice gathered in its mouth and blasted forward, reducing the weapon seller's shop to rubble and burying the proprietor and shoppers beneath.
"The Adepts! Someone, anyone, get them!" a woman shrieked, collapsing on the spot and sobbing.
A young girl ripped her horrified gaze free from the wreckage and ran for the home of the nearest Adept, screaming all the while.
As they descended the staircase, the air grew cooler and stuffier. If it weren't for the small flame cupped in Jenna's left hand, they would have been in complete darkness. The four Adepts and the scholar stayed close to one another; the atmosphere was beginning to get to them.
"Look, there's a door up ahead," Piers whispered. He wasn't quite sure why—only that the situation seemed to call for it.
"Try that key we found, Felix," Sheba said.
Felix moved towards the door and fitted the key into the lock with care. Despite both lock and key being hundreds of years old, the key turned easily. Pushing open the doors, Felix and the rest walked forward.
As Moloch revenged itself on the town, the ten strongest Adepts in the village gathered in an out-of-the-way corner, holding a fast council.
"Our only hope is to trap Moloch in this tablet." Nishad, the oldest living Adept in the village, struggled to lift a thick, blank slate. "I made this a long time ago, in case some calamity befell us. Provided we all work together, we should succeed. However, the effort may cost us our lives."
"But our town will be safe?" Alopa shouted to make herself heard over the sounds of destruction. She squeezed her niece's hand in a vain attempt to reassure the girl.
Nishad looked sad. "Perhaps not our town, but the rest of the continent."
"Then let's go, in case we can save our village!" Alopa's niece, Madhavi, said, darting glances out of the alley they had squeezed themselves into.
They stepped out, prepared.
"I can see something." Jenna squinted through the darkness. "Let's go."
The five stepped into the room, past rusted gates embedded in the wall.
Without warning, two torches lit themselves in a wide room up ahead.
He lashed Moloch with his power again and again, forcing every particle of his Psynergy from his body in an attempt to weaken it. It didn't help that his element was similar to Moloch's and thus was less effective. Dodging a deadly frost blast from the beast, he felt his knees weaken, his head spin. Slowly, he collapsed, and was hit by Moloch's next attack. His body disintegrated instantly.
Yash!" Balamohan's fists clenched. His best friend was gone in a single blow. He renewed his efforts, adding his anger to his power.
Light caught his eye. Turning, he saw Moloch aim another deadly attack at Amodini. They were to be married in a week. . . .
"No!" he cried, and flung himself in front of her, shielding her with his life.
Kraden gave a surprised look at the first two flames flickering in the darkness, then pointed. "Look, two more torches are lighting themselves."
Amodini was brushed with the dust of her fiancé; it was all that was left of him. A horrible wail tore itself from her throat. As fast as she could, she used the last of her power and collapsed. She was almost grateful for the attack that destroyed her body and saved her from her grief.
Nearby, sweat dripped down the side of Menaka's face. Having the power of fire meant that her assault against the legendary beast was the most effective, and so she continued to weaken Moloch.
Surely this is enough for Nishad to trap it in the tablet, she thought, legs trembling from exertion.
Her daughter screamed behind her. Automatically she turned and started to run to her—but she never made it.
"And look, there's two more." Sheba peered past Piers' shoulder. "This is creepy. What's making them light?"
"Did that last attack hit anyone?" Madhavi asked, trying to look past the village beauty, Keshini.
"I didn't see," Keshini lied. "Keep fighting!"
"Moloch is almost weak enough!" Nishad steadied the tablet at his feet. "Don't stop for anything
The next attack came so fast that Jeevan, a long-time admirer of Keshini, didn't even have enough time to push her out of the way. Both were dust.
Moving into the room, Felix, Sheba, Kraden, Jenna, and Piers saw a tablet with runes engraved deep into its stone surface. The last four torches lit simultaneously, startling them.
"Now! Get ready!" Nishad shouted. "The three of you need to hit Moloch all at once with your Psynergy to distract it so my spell can take hold. Are you prepared?"
"Three?" Madhavi stared, whipping her head about, her motions wild and uncontrolled. "Mother? Where are you?"
Alopa grabbed her by the arm. "Concentrate and attack! Do you want my sister's death to be for no reason?"
Madhavi sobbed but somehow found the strength for a last attack. Alopa, and Tapan, Lord Varun's only son, looked at one another and nodded. Then they launched their most powerful Psynergy at Moloch, joining Madhavi.
At the same time, with an effort Nishad lifted the stone tablet. He held it in front of himself, arms quivering. "Bind!"
Moloch gave a roar as it was drawn towards the stone, being lashed to the stone by the old man's Psynergy. As runes formed themselves on the slate's surface, the beast let loose one final attack. The area of town in which they were fighting was devastated. And the last four Adepts collapsed and died.
"Hey look! It's one of those summon tablets!" Jenna pointed at it. "Come on, everyone, let's go touch it."
The four Adepts hurried forward and placed their hands on the cool stone. As Kraden watched, the runes on the tablet vanished and reappeared as ghostly runes in the air. They began to swoop and swirl, melding with the Adepts' bodies as the ancient writing taught them the secret of summoning another creature.
Felix shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them. "Echo says this tablet was for summoning some spirit called Moloch."
"Good enough." Sheba shrugged. "Now, why don't we leave? I think we've seen all there is to see around here."
"Yes, we really should be working on getting to Lemuria," Piers added.
"We can't get too far behind or Karst will try to cut our throats in our sleep." Jenna made a quick horizontal motion across her neck to illustrate.
"Oh, come on, Jenna, she's not that bad," he said as they exited the room, Kraden taking one last lingering look behind them.
"Sure she isn't." Jenna's voice echoed as they walked up the stairs. Behind them, the door to the summon tablet room swung slowly shut.
And, all at once, the torches went out.