The scene reminded Heider of stories he had heard, and he knew that he had entered into a wing of the Red Sultan’s vast subterranean complex. The histories said that it had been destroyed in the Six Sultans War, but clearly some parts of it had survived.
The echoes of a man’s voice became audible, and grew louder as Heider moved forward. He had never before heard the language the man was using. The voice itself was deep, but melodic, and reminiscent of prayer. The source of the words soon became apparent.
At the end of the tunnel was a sprawling chamber with a domed ceiling. At the center of the chamber was an altar, upon which lay the boy. Heider thought at first that the altar was made of the same red brick as the walls, but soon realized that it was not stone at all–it was a mound of raw musculature, throbbing like a giant, deformed heart.
Crouched on its heels a few feet from the altar was the waithawa, arms wrapped around its legs and head tucked down into its knees like a sleeping bird. Three humanoid figures stood around the altar, their unclothed flesh white as lotus and gleaming faintly under the red illumination. They had no hair or genitals. Their bodies were smooth as stone and featureless except for the round, sucking black orifices in the center of their faces.
Mawala, Heider thought. He had heard of them only in legend.
The demonic trio moved purposefully around the unconscious boy, drawing veins from the altar and sticking them into the child’s sides. The fleshy thing pulsated more feverishly, as though pumping out the victim’s blood.
Circling around the whole scene was a stout man in red robes, reading hypnotic prayers from a dark tome.
Heider shrank back from the entranceway and turned to Adta. “Enough of this game,” he whispered. “They have led us to their location, just as you planned.”
Adta leaned so close to him that her veil-covered lips brushed his ear as she spoke. “We must find what alliances they have made.”
“They are performing a Summoning, calling forth djinn from Between the Stars. We must wait to find out which group of djinn they are dealing with.”
“What difference does it make?” Heider hissed, barely restraining from shouting.
“We must find out if any of our own contacts are working for them.”
“Our own contacts?” Heider considered what she was implying. It was obvious, but too terrible to comprehend. “Are you telling me that the Order of Szuth employs its own djinn?”
Without indication of guilt or shame, Adta nodded. Noticing Heider’s incredulity, her eyes smiled. “To maneuver dark places, one must hire a guide that is accustomed to darkness.” She shrugged. “Djinn are hirelings, like any other hireling. They serve their purpose.”
The Red Priest’s voice rose towards a fevered crescendo. Heider looked around the corner. The altar’s veins had grown so many and so thick that the place where they ended and the boy began was indistinguishable. Red and yellow bands of energy snapped and coiled around each other in the air above the child. At the center of the swirling bundle opened a black hole. Heider did not have to be a Summoner to know that djinn were waiting on the other side.
He had sworn to obey the Order of Szuth in their fight against the Red Servants, but how much would he lose of himself if he simply stood by and watched an innocent child fall into such a grim fate? He did not know if Adta’s plan was right. Maybe it was, and maybe it was not. The only thing he knew for certain was that he would not want to be the one lying upon that altar. That was the one truth that made unwavering sense to him.