Chapter 84 The truth behind Hermes
Bishop Mayne followed the circular staircase leading into the earth.
The staircase, with a depth of at least of four times that of the cathedral’s highest tower and a diameter of about twenty feet, was built in a natural doline and lead directly into a strategically-positioned and spacious castle. The beginning of the staircase was well lit by skylight pathing through the windows of the high dome above, giving the twisting and turning stone walls an icy color.
But when following the steps, the stairway quickly darkened, seemingly fusing the walls into one. But after some time at the center of the staircase, the reflection of a blue light could be seen, and the deeper one went, the brighter it would become. So even without a torch, they would never fall into a pitch-black predicament.
At the foot of the staircase, a pathway that was firmly attached to the rock wall meandered around a dark hole.
The path was cut out of granite, formed by many rectangular pieces three fingers thick. The path was wide enough for two people walk side by side. One end of each granite piece was embedded into the rock wall while the other end was in the air. In order to prevent accidental falls, there were wooden fence posts that were connected by rope at the side of the hole..
Mayne didn’t count the number of steps he walked. In the end, there were just too many, but he knew that embedding every piece of stone was a tough task. The masons hired by the Church had to lean on a rope to hang down while they knocked out suitably deep holes in the hard rock.Afterwards, they had to insert the granite plates into the holes. Each action had to be done very carefully because every rope slippage or breakage lead to a fall to the bottom, which happened to more than three hundred people.
If the Church’s Cathedral on the surface was a symbol for the unyielding spirit of the church, then the hidden castle in the Hermes plateau was the real core of the Church.
A piece of God’s Stone of Retaliation was embedded at the edge of every step, and a guard was placed on every hundredth step. For last line of defense, there was even a squadron of the God’s Punishment Army that was always ready to face an attack from intruders. Many bags of sand and gravel were buried between the Cathedral and the underground castle. This was in case every line of defense in the Holy City had failed. If every important person was evacuated, the pope could start the trap and bury everything under a deep layer of sand and gravel.
Although it wasn’t Mayne first visit to the underground castle, the feeling of walking on air still made him feel dizzy. Especially after some time, he would always have the illusion of falling.
So he was a little relieved when he finally had once more solid ground under his feet.
At the bottom of the sinkhole was a huge white stone disc, with a surface as smooth as a mirror. When standing above it, someone could even clearly see their own reflection. Through a cleverly designed construction, the light coming through the windows within the dome was so reflected that it directly hit the millstone. Thanks to this, even without lighting a torch, the bottom of the doline was never dark.
When reaching the bottom of the doline, they would discover that the sun is not colorless. After being reflected by the grindstone, the light would become blue, yet when looking upwards, the blue light would let the sinkhole shine in a cool color. But when taking a closer look, someone would discover that there were countless dust particle flying upwards, just like the minute creatures recorded within the ancient book.
The holes within the wall of the mountain were caves formed by nature, and the church only opened up the entries, to further expand and built the Hermes castle. But thanks to theses holes which extended in all directions, the air could flow freely, so that the air at the bottom of the doline didn’t feel rotten or oppressive.
When Mayne stepped through the door into the castle’s main area, he was suddenly surrounded by a strong defense force. There were five soldiers called Judges, who guarded every entryway – the Judges were the Church’s most loyal soldiers, once they were accepted into this group and started their work, they would forever live in the castle, never able to return to the surface.
In fact, only he and the pope were able to enter and later exit the castle, even the two archbishops Heather and Tayfun weren’t allowed to enter here.
But even Mayne didn’t know how many channels the castle had. In addition to the main channel leading south, there were many side branches leading away from the main branch, and when following this side channels, they would split again into many more branches. Some were used by the Church, while others were sealed. He had heard, that during the construction of the castle, a few artisans strayed into those channels not marked as safe, which led to them becoming lost, never able to find their way back.
The vertical main channel led directly to the depths of the mountain, around every three hundred feet (about 100 meters), Mayne had to cross a checkpoint. He knew that the Church was using each segment between two checkpoints for a different task. The most outside area was used as the living area for the warriors who had to stay their whole life in the castle. The second segment was used as archives, for the storage of instruments, and fragments of ancient books. The third section was the jail area, where prisoners were housed who weren’t allowed to see the light ever again... innocents included.
After crossing through the third checkpoint, Mayne stopped. Further in, was the castle’s secret area. All of the Church’s research materials and inventions originated from this place, and without the Pope’s authorization, no one was allowed to enter. Since he became the Archbishop three years ago, he had only stepped into this area once before.
When Mayne walked closer he took the left path.
After a short walk, the way was ended by a door, with a plate at the height of the chest on it on which read "Elders!”
Mayne nodded to the guards and ordered, "Open the door."
Behind the door the corridor continued, there were burning torches hanging on the wall, like small sparks of light within a sea of darkness, continuing along the path until the end. On both sides of the road were many wooden doors and in the middle of each door hung a plate with a number on it.
One of the Judges who followed Mayne raised a torch to illuminate the surroundings. While walking down the channel, Mayne looked all the while at the numbers on the plates. When he finally saw the number 35 mottled into the plate, he stopped and pulled a key out of one of his pockets and inserted it into the keyhole, turning it lightly. At the bottom of the doline, the sound of opening the lock was especially harsh, and its echo could be heard even at the end of the channel. As if it was a signal flare, suddenly many cries could be heard through the doors, there were calls from men and women. When listening carefully, Mayne could understand some of them! "Quickly save me!" "Help me!" "Please, kill me!" and the like.
But Mayne was unmoved by the cries. He only ordered the guard standing beside the door to immediately shut it after he entered the room, leaving the chaos of screams outside.
Behind iron rails the bishop saw an old man sitting on his bed – perhaps he was not so old, but now his hair had already turned white, and his face was covered by wrinkles. His beard looked like he hadn’t groomed it in a long time, almost reaching up to his neck. Since he hadn’t seen the sun for a long time, his skin had become terribly pale, and his hands and feet were as thin as bamboo.
Mayne glanced at the food plate behind the rails, which looked like it hadn’t been touched, registering this he sighed, "You should treat yourself better, the Church doesn’t lack for food. And the meals are even made according to a king’s standard, except for the wine. Even the fish, it’s first-rate Cod coming from Port of Bluewater. You should be familiar with its taste, right Your Majesty King Wimbledon?”
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