The temple of Sindalin was a sombre place, draped in dark indigo tapestries that covered the outdoor windows, with dark stone laid into the bare floors and a simple unadorned altar sitting in front of a faceless robe-draped statue. Lodaris raised an eyebrow as he entered, noting a faint scent of myrrh in the heavy air. He let the door to the antechamber swing soundlessly shut behind him, walking forwards along the main aisle.
"There are no services here in daylight hours." A robed priest, his face covered as with the statue's, spoke as he hurried out from a side room, but stopped dead at seeing Lodaris's appearance. "Um..."
"It is sunset. A time of transitions." Lodaris nodded stiffy. "I will speak with the goddess." He started towards the altar. The priest moved to put himself in his path.
"Milord, might this humble servant ask your intentions in this small town?" The priest did not move aggressively towards Lodaris, but neither did he step backwards. Lodaris frowned slightly, and looked around.
"I told you." His voice remained firm. "I will speak with your goddess." He returned his attention to the altar again, taking a step forwards. The priest did not step aside, and the two wound up standing a single pace apart from one another. Both clearly knew that any confrontation would be short, but Lodaris was not willing to provoke it, and the priest seemed equally unwilling. The pause stretched, as the two regarded each other, before Lodaris spoke. "Is there a problem, priest?"
"The goddess does not accept supplicants directly." The priest's voice quavered slightly on the last word, but he stood his ground. "If you return during tonight's ceremony, perhaps..."
"I am not here to supplicate myself, nor will I ever be." With an effort, Lodaris pushed the harshness from his voice, leaving only the sternness behind. "But I will speak with her."
"Then enter." The voice was soft, with an echo of ocean tides, and the priest spun around, bowing his head. Lodaris saw that behind him, there was a shimmering blue light around the altar, and he nodded once, stepping forwards. This time, the priest stepped aside, quickly, as Lodaris walked towards the gate.
"Thank you, Lady Sindalin. I will not greatly occupy your time."
As he stepped through the portal, letting it close behind him, Lodaris glanced around the chamber that he found himself in. Darker even than the temple, it was lit only by flickering moonlight radiating from above. The walls were ice, and through them he could see the ocean floor, and the pillars were of dark basalt. There was no throne; instead, a massive eel coiled around a rock near the centre of the room. Its upper body was that of a beautiful Western woman, her hair floating in water that only she could feel, her skin as clammy as a corpse, and its lower half was gray and purple, with stars sparkling along her skin. She smiled a bloodless smile and nodded her head. "Welcome, Immaculate. It has been many centuries since one of you deigned to visit our small island."
"I am no Immaculate, milady. Not any longer." Lodaris combed his fingers through his hair by way of emphasis. "I am merely a traveller to this... interesting island. I am considering remaining here."
"Hmm." Sindalin sighed, letting her body droop further around the rock. "I will not abandon my flock, if that is what you think. And I have a defender, a champion that even you might be hard-pressed to slay, skilled killer though I sense you to be."
Lodaris smiled grimly. "I have no intention of taking over here. However..." He paused. "I take it that Twice-Forged Steel is indeed your champion, as he claims?"
"Yes." The world was loaded with hidden meanings, and Sindalin raised herself again. "Though his nature opposes mine, he himself is less vile. And he is far preferable to the stink of Yozi that the Lintha carry with them." She made a face. "Wretched, loathesome beings, half out of the world already. They are an affront to the natural order."
"Why have they come here?"
"They want what is in the island." Sindalin shrugged at his quizzical expression. "It only returned recently, and so they noticed it. A Shogunate base that was sealed away long before the Contagion. I do not know the details; it was before my rise." She smiled again. "And what interest is it of yours, oh rogue? I have watched you since you approached my island. I know what you travel with - one of the Solars returned. Strange." Lodaris kept his face blank, and she smiled again. "Or perhaps not so strange, when I see your kills."
"You are an ocean spirit, whatever the islanders think." Lodaris fought to keep his expression calm. "I do not believe that you truly have dominion over death."
"I have some, now." Her smile this time was predatory. "When their beliefs shifted, our roles shifted as well. I am the arbiter of Endings for this island, as my counterpart is the arbiter of Beginnings. It has given me power... but not enough to combat the Lintha." Her expression grew sorrowful, and she leaned forwards, conspiratorially. "You may stay, Cathak Lodaris. Though you bring danger with you, I feel that you avert it more. And it will be good to have more Exalts about. Your school will be a wonder to behold, I think."
There was a stunned pause. Finally, Lodaris managed to blurt out, "What?"
"Your school. Is that not your goal?" Her eyebrow raised delicately. "To train a new generation of Dragon-Blooded, without the restrictions and lies of the Immaculate Order? To find the truth hidden amidst the rubble, and be a part of a new order?"
Lodaris's eyes narrowed. "And what has that to do with death?"
"Nothing, I hope. Let me say rather than we share a friend." She laughed, and waved a hand. "I will ensure that my priests know of your welcome. You have nothing to fear from the spirits of this island."
"And that Shogunate base?"
"If you can gain access, you are welcome to it. I do not know what is inside that the Lintha crave; it is well-warded against both demons and gods." Sindalin paused, and spoke again. "I do know one thing, Cathak Lodaris. This path will not alone lay your ghosts to rest."
"I know." Lodaris bowed to the goddess, turning to leave, as the portal sprang to life behind him. "But it will be a beginning."