The Place of Restitution (part 1) working title
"Wow, this place is huge!" Quileya tilted her head back and extended her neck. "I didn't know it was going to be so white."
"According the records, it was built nine centuries ago, by the former inhabitants, a bug-like species called the Dorfflassen. Twelve legs, three eyes and very high intelligence. Apparently they just disappeared right after they completed the inner temple." Rothis flipped through the pages of an invisible book hanging in the air. "Doesn't make that much sense, considering It usually likes mindless minions. And why would they disappear? Wouldn't It want them around for the war?"
Quileya sucked her neck back to its normal proportions. "You're reading the records, check the most recent entries."
Rothis frowned. "This is odd. Someone was here four years ago. Who would want to come here?"
"Maybe they were sent, just like us."
"But Awdendet said no one had been here for at least a century, when a master comes to check that the sentience is at the same level of awareness."
"Then maybe she came to wake up the sentience."
Rothis stopped peering at the book that wasn't there and looked over at his companion. "She?"
With long blue arms, Quileya gestured expansively at the large white hall they were standing in. "This place has a female feel to it. And there were soft feet in here."
"Plenty of species have soft feet, it doesn't have to have been a female."
"Well, it was. I think she was here because she was desperate."
Rothis didn't reply. In situations like these, Quileya's talent for knowing things that should be unknowable generally turned out to be more correct that the data he read from the surroundings. "So, a desperate - what was she?"
Quileya moved forward on blue legs toward the other end of the hall, shuffling her feet on the marble-like stone that made up all the surface area. Rothis followed her, bringing along the records, which had transferred themselves to his mind. Whether she hadn't heard his question, or just didn't know the answer yet, Quileya didn't respond as they walked in silence down the hall.
Little by little, Rothis became uncomfortably aware of a presence taking note of their arrival. He tried not to look at the ceiling, which seemed to have eyes trained on him and Quileya. She appeared not to notice anything, but with Quileya, you could never tell. Oftentimes she noticed much more than she let on.
They came to a large door made of the same white stone, and only discernible by the border of black that created a doorframe. Rothis stepped forward and laid his hand on the door. A moment later, it silently and slowly swung open, revealing a large room carved from red stone with white and black patterns set into the floor. Quileya squinted at the first design and walked carefully up to it.
"There's writing in this. I think I can read it if--" and Quileya squinted at the floor for a few moments while Rothis walked further into the room. "Enter the chamber of restitution- to be certain your debt is paid, no, your debt WILL be paid, no, hang on." She swung out her neck and looked at the writing from different angles. "Hmm, let me try again. Enter the chamber of restitution - if you are certain your debt is paid. Or will be paid, I'm not sure which. Let me look at the other messages."
"Are you sure they're messages at all? It could just be pieces of some ancient poem or something…" Rothis felt his red cheeks heat up as Quileya delivered a withering glance at him. "All right, I know what this place was built for, or rather, Who, but still, what does restitution have to do with it? And I thought this was a temple, not a palace." He opened a mental image of the record book from the hall and scanned page after page.
"It's restitution all right; looks like those Dorflassen owed It some sort of debt." She moved all around the room as she surveyed each pattern message. "So not only did they have to build It a big white temple-palace thing, but then they--" Quileya scrunched up her face and stopped reading the floor messages. "Oh."
Rothis gave up on the records since they showed nothing but nonsense after the entry declaring that the Dorflassen disappeared. "Oh?"
"Wait a minute, I want to check the last of the messages." Quileya scurried across the floor and bent over the final black and white design before the red wall to the right. "They're all pretty similar, actually, they're all part of the same message, with some parts repeated, but that's for emphasis. It's the parts in the middle that you read as the next line, if it was written out in ordinary, or at least, their native language, the dorflassen language I mean. The beginnings and endings are just to encase it properly. It must be part of the form and makes the restitution bit very clear; no one coming in here could mistake this for another meaning." Rothis rolled his eyes briefly at her typical way of explaining without really explaining, but then he perked up at the last sentence. "I think I understand now."
Tapping one foot on the red floor, Rothis folded his arms. "So? Tell me. Then we can figure out how awake the sentience is, possibly put it to sleep again, and get out of here. I don't like this place."
"You wouldn't," Quileya mused, then stood up straight and walked to the center of the room. "All right, here's what it says all together, as best as I can understand, anyway." She started to speak as though she were reciting a ballad.
"Enter the chamber of restitution
The price is heavy | the story is old
If life means nothing | discard it
Like the price that must be paid
The chamber is here | forever it waits
The dark | in the light
Enter the chamber of restitution
The debt will be paid | life will end.
"And it repeats a couple of times, but like I said before, it's just for emphasis."
Rothis blew out slowly. "That's not foreboding at all."
"Well, it's not, not really. The message is pertinent to any time, for always." Quileya was scribbling away at the interpretation she was writing down on one of the scraps of paper she kept on her person. "It's even pertinent to us, even if the debt is not owed by us."
Rothis blinked. "Quileya."
She didn't look up from her paper as she made corrections to the message. "Yes?"
"The last line, 'the debt will be paid, life will end,' you do think it just means that the dorflassen, wherever they went, will have to pay it, don't you?"
"I think they already did."
"Then why is the message pertinent to us?"
"Because It thinks everyone is in its debt. A binding like this, well, It could make it out to apply to anyone, the way It twists all its words to fit its own meaning."
His fingers clenching and unclenching nervously, Rothis thought about this for about three and a half seconds. "So in other words, anyone who enters the chamber of restitution has to pay the debt."
"According to It."
"And you're not worried? This means we'll probably have to fight our way out of here!"
Quileya finally stopped writing and squinted instead at her companion, a patient smile on her face. "No, Rothis, we won't. Because if It can interpret this message to mean anyone, we can interpret it to mean the dorflassen, and they've already paid. With their lives." Her smile dropped away. "So are we going to check on the sentience or what?"
Rothis shook his head in an effort to clear it of doubt. "Right, let's do that. I want to leave this creepy place as soon as we can."