“Greetings, Al,” she said, with a shallow bow. “Agrum Jdal sent me to show you to more comfortable and . . . expansive rooms. The discussion of what to do, after your news, shows sign of being . . . extensive. The Agrum does not expect it to end today, perhaps not for several days.”
Good, but also . . . shite.
Alaric did his best to imitate the bow.
“Thank you, and . . . Agrum? Jdal for your hospitality. It’s been great. But, I have my own place, and things, back on the surface. I should really, probably, get back to them. And the people who are with my team. They’re probably getting worried about me.”
The woman’s face furrowed in confusion.
“Agrum Jdal assured the others that his spells detected no other humans, or Great Ones, for some distance from our temple. Perhaps your . . . team? Left?” she smiled. “I may not understand. The Agrum did speak for me so I might learn, but it is possible he and I misunderstood.”
Her tone indicated that she thought the possibility highly unlikely.
Deception was not his strong suit, any more than athletics.
“Alright,” Alaric gave in to the inevitable. “After you . . ., uh, what is your name?”
“Polnica,” she said, waiting for him to exit the room, “but I prefer Nica. Polnica was my great-aunt, surly and disliked by most. If you will follow me . . .”
Nica led him down the corridor at a brisk, yet unhurried, pace.
He was quickly turned around and lost in the maze of halls and rooms. From what Jdal had said, this had to be an area that was only open to the priests, dragons, and influential laity.
“Apologies,” his guide said. “We are only a modest temple, at a remote settlement. Or we were. We were not used to guests and lack the guest quarters the more important temples host. Agrum Jdal has ordered one of the unused priests’ quarters to be made ready for you.”
Being lost did nothing to diminish Alaric’s observation of his surroundings. In fact, he seemed, to himself, to be hyperaware of the number of statues that decorated the halls. It was his inspection of some of these that caused him to miss most of Nica’s statement.
“It’ll be fine,” he muttered, still distracted.
There were a lot of statues.
The woman apparently took his distraction as rudeness, since the rest of their walk passed in silence.
They came to a halt in a corridor that looked like all the others, save only that it had several doors on either side. Nica stopped in front of one, though Alaric could see no difference. She touched the door lightly with her fingertips for a few heartbeats.
The featureless door emitted a faint gold-silver glow for a couple seconds.
As he watched, the solid rectangle became translucent, then faded from sight.
Nica stood aside to usher him in.
“This door will open only for you or one of the higher priests,” she said. “The Agrum has said that he warned you of the dangers of walking the halls alone. Touching this spot here,” she indicated a discolored oval on the ivory wall, “will summon a servant, should you need anything.”
Alaric stood a couple steps inside a sitting room that was larger than a New York apartment. He saw three doors off the well-appointed room, done in a restrained opulence. There was no sign of gold or anything ostentatious like that. If anything, the room was plain and understated. But, even he could sense the wealth that the room represented. His eyes took in the furnishings, more seats and tables than he would ever need, while his ears clamored for attention.
He had missed something.
“Sorry, what was that?”
“Does the suite meet with your approval? It is not much, but . . .”
“No, no. It’s fine. Small temple, remote, right?”
“Yes,” Nica agreed. “To the left is a bath. To the right, the front is a study and workspace. The back right is the bedroom.”
Alaric nodded his understanding.
As Nica turned to leave, he said, “Before you go, one question?”
The woman bowed, a hint of concern touching her eyes.
“Is the room wrong?”
“No, not at all. Better than I’d expect, really. No . . . about the agrum. His perception, I am somewhat familiar with the theory, but how far does his perception extend?”
A light dawned in her eyes.
“You are concerned about privacy. Of course. The quarters are not outside his realm of knowledge. But, he says he is only vaguely aware of activities in the temple in a general sort of way, unless he concentrates his attention on a particular place. Which he rarely does. The bath and bed are perfectly private, the Agrum would never intrude on either.”
“Thank you, Nica.”
So, he had only the word of a dragon priest that he would have privacy.
Good to know.