Six girls appeared from a door to the rear of the stage, by passing six thrones; three on either side of the door.
“Ah, my beauties,” said the cult leader.
They walked in single file, stopping before their groom; each one beautiful and well formed. Four were Nusallean, but one stood a head above the others, with long blond hair; Vindavian. He couldn’t tell where the olive skinned beauty came from. Each wore the white robes of their religion and a crown of woven flowers.
Ceremoniously, they each took an ornate silver bowl from a table beside the cult leader, then formed a rank. Without saying a word, they knelt, holding their bowls in front of themselves in their upturned hands.
“We must drink,” said the groom, taking up a silver decanter. “In both celebration of our union, and to pledge your devotion
to me in every way.”
He poured a small amount into each bowl, then placed the decanter on the table. Cupping the chin of the Vindavian girl, he raised her to her feet.
“Do you swear eternal loyalty to your husband, and to the teachings of the Children of Light?” he said.
The Vindavian woman offered a crooked grin.
“Aye, I do,” she said after a pause.
Her response seemed laboured.
“Then drink to our union,” said the groom.
The Vindavian girl tilted the bowl to her lips and drank the liquid. Her expression seemed duller afterwards, yet she still retained the wisp of a smile. Slowly, the groom brought his face to hers and kissed her deeply.
“You may now take your rightful place,” he said on parting his lips from hers.
She turned, and faltered on her first step, then picked up momentum, steadying herself for the walk to the throne on the far left.
He has drugged them.
Tonunda only had to have them arrested, then hand over the decanter as evidence, but where was Kija?
As the groom, stopped in front of the second bride, Tonunda noticed a smaller, bird framed girl, four girls on, with narrower eyes than those of his countrymen.
Dekra! Come with me. He ordered the rats.
He decided to approach directly, going down the stairs, and surrounded by his army. Guards turned. Tonunda had already, charged into one, knocking him into a second man before any of them drew swords. He ducked beneath a slash and punched another man on his race for the stage.
The rats had already sifted among the guards. They panicked, screaming. One slashed wildly into his comrade by mistake.
Tonunda ran onto the stage in mid stride, as the groom took up a jeweled dagger. Before he could strike, Tonunda snatched up the decanter, and swatted the weapon from his hand. He growled menacingly at the cult leader, forcing him to cower backwards. In his panic, the groom threw his arms out, knocking over a ceremonial lamp. Flaming oil flowed from its top, spreading across the table and trailed to the nearest dangling banner. Within moments, it climbed upward, spreading to other banners and curtains.