Goth watched as his priest, Kobold, ran his claws down the ancient stone tablet, his eyes closed and his mouth silently forming indiscernible words. He had made it clear that he took his position seriously, but Goth could tell that a lot of the rituals he performed were just theatrics. He gave a twitch of impatience, wishing that the old bat would just get on with it. He knows that this does not impress me, he thought with distaste. Next time I should appoint someone less dramatic as my high priest. Kobold had many mannerisms that reminded him of Voxzaco, the previous priest that had served him.
Goth turned his attention to the tablet itself. It was a very old stone, cracked in several places and covered in dirt that the servants couldn't wipe away completely, no matter how hard they tried. Yet he knew that the stone was worth more to the Vampyrum than almost anything. He had discovered it partially buried in the jungle a few weeks ago, and helped dig it out and carry it back to the temple.
The tablet was roughly rectangular. There were the usual symbols of Cama Zotz engraved at the top; the feathered serpent and the jaguar on either corner, and in between them, the two pupil-less eyes that always seemed to be looking at you. Smaller symbols ran down the tablet, and in the very centre was a perfect ring shape that was about as wide as his torso.
Kobold finally opened his eyes, and turned dramatically to Goth. "Your Highness, this treasure you have discovered is most valuable to our study of–"
"Just tell me what you see," he snapped, deliberately cutting the priest short.
"Of course, my King," the old Vampyrum said, without a hint of resentment in his voice.
There was one difference between Kobold and Voxzaco, however. At least Kobold was undyingly obedient and wasn't at ends with him like Voxzaco was. Goth still believed that the destruction of the old pyramid and the deaths of Zotz's servants was Voxzaco's fault. It is satisfying to know that Zotz has given him an eternity of suffering, he thought with a cruel smile.
"…the sixteenth night when the wind currents sweep over the jungle from an easterly direction," Kobold said. "And here, Your Highness, is the indication of when the next eclipse will occur."
Goth immediately gave him his full attention. "What did you say?"
"If you recall the lunar eclipse we witnessed several months ago, I kept track of how long it lasted," Kobold explained. "Based on my studies and my previous records, I have strong beliefs that this year's solar eclipse will be much longer than the last. This one will last at least twenty minutes, I believe."
Goth was intrigued. He remembered the plan that Zotz had given him before sending him to kill Shade Silverwing's son and returning to the earth with his life. This time, I will not fail. And it looks like fate is in my favour. "When does the eclipse occur?"
"In fifteen days, Your Highness."
He recalled something. "But the next total eclipse will not be for three hundred years."
"It does not matter, my King. If the tunnel is opened before the eclipse, Zotz will be able to kill the sun when its power wanes. All we need are the sacrifices."
This was unexpected, but he was pleased nonetheless. Perhaps he would see Zotz reign over the Upper World in his lifetime after all. "Excellent. We will make preparations."
"We must find a hundred sacrifices, immediately," Goth said. He turned to one of his guards. "Send out five hundred soldiers to capture as many prisoners as they can. If there is not enough, I will put my own servants in to take their place." The Vampyrum had only resided at the temple for a few months, but they hadn't managed to gather enough prisoners to number a hundred. Even during sacrifical ceremonies, their offers were scarce.
Kobold looked down at the tablet again. "My Lord?"
Goth glared at him. "What is it?"
"Finding prisoners will not be necessary."
"And why not?"
"The tablet says that there will be an army entering the jungle two weeks from now. They will number in the millions, and they will pitch battle with us."
Goth was startled. "An army? Of what?"
The high priest was silent for a moment, his eyes moving rapidly across the tablet again. "Rats, owls…and northern bats."
Who has set this in motion? Goth wondered. He remembered the last great battle in the jungle, when the bats had joined forces with the owls and the rats. That was when Shade had ruined his plans to summon Zotz, and when Voxzaco wiped out all the Vampyrum in the royal pyramid. When he, Goth, had been bested by Shade and died along with thousands of his kind. Perhaps he will be among the northern bats that are on their way here. He wondered if Shade was seeking revenge for his son's death. But would he bring together an entire army just for vengeance? I didn't think the little bat would have the guts.
I will find out when they are here. And then I will sacrifice them all for my god.
"All the better," Goth said. "We will prepare the soldiers for battle instead. If the northern bats want a war, then we will give them one."