Naran gazed across the desert before he entered the temple. He stood at the edge of a great cliff, and looked at the canyon below. It was divided by a serpentine river, which sustained what little vegetation grew in the valley. The plateau across from him was sprinkled with cactus and the mountains in the distance were red, burning in the afternoon sun.
Naran wore black, a fancy coat with blue streaks. His black hair also had blue streaks. Naran was not sweating; in fact, he had never sweated in his entire existence. He took in the desert one last time, relishing it. Even the beauty out here will be surpassed by the ugliness below, he thought. He turned to the temple's entrance.
A stone arch covered with archaic writing and symbols rose over a rectangular stone slab. The slab was greatly weathered and Naran knew that no human had laid eyes on it in centuries. There was a handle facing the arch; Naran gripped it and pushed forward. It slid away, revealing a staircase descending into blackness. The staircase led to a temple that had been carved into a preexisting cave on the side of the cliff some thousand years ago.
Naran had last been here ten years ago, and it had been an easy meeting. He expected the others were already inside. There were other ways to reach this temple, but Naran preferred the scenic approach. The vast emptiness of the desert had always fascinated him, and somehow made these meetings more bearable. He ran a black gloved hand through his hair.
He reached into his pocket to make sure he had the cards. He pulled them out; there were seven this time, a good number. They were perfectly shaped, perfectly blank, and about a hand length long.
Naran put them back and descended into the temple.
* * *
Naran had taken the head seat opposite Atriana, to put the most distance between them. The stone table was cleared off, except for six small candles in the middle. They provided the only light in the room. A small stand stood next to the table, and on it stood a pot filled with clear liquid. Seated next to the pot was Canara, the gentle goddess of the druid people. She was dressed in shades of green with emeralds appearing at every corner of her dress. She smiled knowingly at Naran when she saw him looking at her.
To Naran's right sat Velize. He, like Naran, was no longer worshipped. Unlike Naran, he had not given it up by choice. Velize was dressed in light gold clothing. A priceless sword, imbued with all manner of jewels, adorned his hip. He was amiable enough, and spent most of his time procreating with human females.
"Long journey?" Velize asked.
Naran gave a slight smile.
Sardos and Lepha sat farther down the table past Velize. Sardos was a giant black specter. His entire face was draped by a black cloth, and he was mute. His hands were alabaster, whiter than even Naran's own pale complexion. He acknowledged Naran with a nod that Naran returned.
Lepha was talking excitedly with Atriana. Atriana wasn't looking at her, but at Naran.