Lily felt Iris’ fingers tentatively touch her hand, Iris’ fingertips trembling ever so slightly. Lily frowned. Iris never trembled. Something was wrong. Without saying a word, Lily grasped Iris’ hand tightly, interlocking fingers with her close friend, then looked down at the markings in the mountainside again, her frown growing deeper.
There was no doubt: the markings on the mountainside were identical to the patterns of lines that adorned Iris’ body in her metallic appearance. Whatever this circle was, it was connected to Iris in some way. The question was how.
While hovering, her wingbeats punctuating the air as she bobbed around in the air, Prei spoke up.
“As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, those markings are…”
Lily had few words for Prei – she was too busy thinking about what this glowing circle could possibly be, and what it had to do with Iris. As she considered this, she felt Iris’ fingers tighten their grip. Seated as they were atop a large dragon, it was not possible for Lily to turn to face Iris. Instead, she leaned back, bringing her ear slightly closer to Iris’ lips, and waited.
Lily had no doubt that Iris had an idea of what they were looking at, but the fact that she was visibly afraid and hesitant was unusual. Something about that circle unsettled her. Lily stayed silent, waiting for Iris to say something. If she wanted to turn back, that would be the end of it. They would return home and pretend they never saw markings on a mountain that looked like the markings on Iris’ body. On the other hand, if she wanted to continue, all she had to do was give them instructions, and Lily would stand by whatever decision Iris made. What they did next depended on Iris. She was clearly the individual with the most obvious connection to this discovery, so it should be her decision.
For a while more, Iris said nothing, shaking. Prei and Lily remained silent as well, awaiting the decision. Then the trembling in Iris’ fingertips began to subside somewhat. Lily could still feel her shaking, but Iris was clearly forcing herself to calm down. Finally, after the trembling had been reduced to a slight, barely noticeable quiver, Iris spoke up.
“As you suspect, I know what that circle is.”
Iris paused after just one sentence, hesitating. Lily nodded encouragingly. Taking in a deep breath, Iris spoke again, an expression of confusion on her face.
“I know what it is, but it makes no sense.”
Lily raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to continue.
“It sounds ridiculous, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… that’s a Corpora. It’s a prison, of sorts.”
Lily blinked. A prison? From the ancient civilisation? And it survived to this day? If that was right, this was an archeological discovery which could shake the academic world to its core. As Lily’s mind raced in anticipation of all the lost technology and knowledge that might be waiting for them within this prison, she abruptly stopped when she considered that Iris had called it ridiculous.
“So it’s a prison then. Why did you say it was ridiculous?”
Iris frowned, seemingly doubtful of the words she was about to say.
“Well, a Corpora is a very special prison. It’s a magical prison built to hold… well… angels.”
The term was unfamiliar to Lily. Iris quickly offered an alternative definition.
“Angels, winged humanoid creatures with immense magic. Messengers and soldiers of the gods. The enemy.”
Lily blinked rapidly, surprised. Messengers of the gods? The older tales did tell of the gods sending down messengers to the mortal realm, but none of them mentioned the term “angel”. These messengers were always humanoid, too, no mention of wings. The image of Vessel, with her large wings, flitted across Lily’s mind. She called herself an avatar of a god. Was it possible that she was one of these angels? As she recalled the words Vessel had spoken to her outside that antique shop in Saphiz, her mind refocused on a particular part of Iris’ explanation.
“You called them ‘the enemy’. Why?”
Iris folded her arms, her face overtaken by confusion.
“I… don’t know. All I know is that when I think of the word “Angel”, something in me is screaming that they’re the enemy.”
Lily frowned, but decided to move on, seeing that Iris was clearly distressed by her sudden, seemingly groundless hostility.
“Well? It’s a Corpora. Okay, what now? Do you know how to open it?”
“Well, I do know how to open it, but…”
Iris averted her eyes.
“I’m scared. And again, I don’t know why. The thought of opening that door and going inside makes me irrationally scared, but at the same time, I feel like it’s something I need to do…”
Lily realised that Iris was still holding her hand. She gave Iris’ fingers a reassuring squeeze.
“It’s up to you, but remember that we’re with you. Whether you want to open it and go in, or leave it alone, we’ll support your decision. If you want to go in, we’ll go with you, if you don’t want to, we’ll all go home. There’s nothing to be afraid of, because I’m here, and I’m with you.”
Iris’ fingers went limp for a moment, then they grasped Lily’s hand strongly. Any sign of shaking had disappeared.
“Thank you. I’ll be fine. Let’s advance. Prei, take us right next to the mark.”
Prei gave no acknowledgment, instead immediately complying by banking right, allowing herself to descend to the point where Lily and Iris were hovering right next to the center of the glowing circle. Without letting go of Lily’s left hand, Iris placed her right hand on the glowing markings and closed her eyes. After a few moments, the glow of the markings on the mountainside changed to a softer, cyan colour, pulsating slowly.
Iris removed her hand from the mountainside and sat on Prei’s back, relaxing. In front of the group, the patterned circle glowed and irised open, revealing its insides. It was pitch dark within the mountain, so looking in from outside, they could see nothing. However, Iris assured Lily that there was magical lighting within the facility. Even so, they would have to physically enter the Corpora in order to see anything. The entrance to the Corpora was wide, but not wide enough for Prei to fit through. She would have to shift to humanoid form to enter.
Lily and Iris stood on Prei’s back, preparing to leap across, into the Corpora. Finally in a position where she could look at Iris’ face, Lily gave Iris a brilliant smile and took her hand. Gulping down her fear, Iris nodded to Lily, indicating her gratitude. On the count of three, the two girls leapt together, jumping off from Prei’s back and landing on the inside of the Corpora’s entrance.
The moment their feet hit solid ground on the interior of the Corpora, lights within the pitch-black facility blazed to life, causing Lily to cover her eyes in surprise, giving time for them to adjust. When she could eventually open her eyes without experiencing severe pain, the sight that greeted her was one which could only be described as otherworldly.