Catch up on parts one, two, three, and four.
It is warm in the mountain. Water drips off of stalactites and oozes down the smooth path while hot air gushes upward like hot breath. Red light bathes the walls, cast from an unnatural source deep in the bowels of the inner temple. The priesthood have not altered this sacred place with carvings or construction. Already he can hear the rhythmic throbbing, the steady thump thump of the eternal organ reverberating from the depths. A living tomb he thinks, fleeing downward, never looking back, Cassilda's voice in his ears. He doesn't know if he obeys her out of fear or bewitchment. There is only one way to go. Down.
Creatures crawl in the darkness, in the jagged edges off of the path, where water trickles, flowing down beneath the mountain, where nameless things dwell. Ancient legends are passed down as heresy; certain living contradictions, as Dazbog would call them, become unknown and impossible. As he descends, the Thief notices a warding sign on the cave wall; it glows white faintly, its magic a protective beacon. Soon, he sees them everywhere: on the path, carved into rock, hanging from stalagmites. The inner things are drawn to it he hears suddenly, in the voice of the wizard. Off to his left, his eye catches a brief flurry of movement, a mix of enormous eyes, limbs, and alabaster skin. He pauses, stares out at the darkness where it revealed itself briefly, seeing only a black void, no matter how much he squints his eyes. Move something tells him, so he does, fleeing down the path, turning only once. In that short moment the darkness flickers; eyes peel back their lenses, and a hand comes out of the ether and touches the soft dirt of his boot print, a white, nail-less hand. The priests are not foolish enough to enter the mountain alone, and when they come, they come with fire. But the Thief doesn't know this; he only knows that something terrible lurks outside the path, something that moves without light and wants what he cannot fathom. As he runs, his perception reaches a fevered pitch—the path becomes narrower, the darkness encompassing, the beating of the Heart rapid and thunderous, in sync with his own excited pulse. He imagines legions of the creatures chasing him, reaching out of nothingness to paw at his flesh, to draw him into their abysmal world. The red light grows stronger ahead, so he sprints for it, rushing downward, reckless, slipping and stumbling and eventually crawling on hands and knees before he falls, crying out in terror, his hands clawing and finding nothing. I don't want to die in the dark he screams, flailing his legs. Don't let me die in the dark.
Eons pass in silence. Then a whisper of light appears in the void, growing larger and larger until it bursts in a brilliant nova of flame. What was dark is now scattered with a billion lights, stars that sparkle out of the nothingness. He can feel it, floating weightless, the rejection of self, the hopelessness that begat life and all of creation, he feels it and recognizes the passing of the burden to things such as himself. I am an accident he says, and suddenly it all disappears, and he is the Thief, lying prone on the floor of a cave, the smell of fire in his nostrils. As he rises to his feet, a cloaked figure emerges from the darkness, a lantern in his hand. He beckons to the Thief and motions to two chairs which have appeared. Sit he says, and so the Thief sits, rubbing the back of his head.
“Where am I?” he asks the figure.
“No place,” replies the stranger. “What have you come for? You are no priest.”
“I've come to steal the Heart,” says the Thief, answering without guile. He feels strange, as though he left his self out there in the void with the scattered stars.
“So you are a thief,” says the stranger.
“I am the Thief,” says the Thief.
“If you say so,” says the stranger. “What will you do with the Heart if you manage to steal it?”
“I was planning on selling it to Galvania, but I think my companion has something else in mind. She's a sorceress. She'll probably want to use it to cast a spell. Something reckless, I'd imagine. She's going to have to pay, you know. I charge extra for liars.”
“What if I give the Heart to you, thief?” says the stranger.
“Then you couldn't say I stole it,” says the Thief.
“And that's what's important?”
“Maybe not this time. Why would you give it to me?” The Thief looks at the stranger, tries to peer into the emptiness of his cowl.
“This land has had many names and many rulers,” replies the stranger. “Kings have sat where you now sit, ancient men of old whose blood no longer flows in living veins. Yet they sought what all men seek. The ancient ways are forgotten. It is time to leave this place.” The stranger removes an objected wrapped in cheese cloth from his robe and places it on the table. “This is what you want.”
The Thief reaches for it and pulls back the cloth, revealing a living, beating heart.
“This is not the Heart of Rankar,” he says.
“That is the heart that you want,” says the stranger. He produces another object, this one wrapped in silk, and lays it on the table next to the other. “This is the heart that she wants. Choose.”
“What does all of that mean?” asks the Thief. “I want the Heart of Rankar, the creator, the venerated deity that sacrificed himself so that we could live. Tell me which heart is his. That's the one I want.”
“Choose,” says the stranger.
The Thief unwraps the silk, and lurches back from a black, diseased thing feebly sputtering.
“It is your lot to make choices without knowing everything,” says the stranger, rising from his seat.
“Can one even say that you made a choice?”
“What is that thing?” asks the Thief. “That cannot be his heart.”
“Do you believe that He had a choice? That He could have done anything else? Can we know the truth? And are their equally valid truths? Answer me, Thief.”
“I do not know. I am no philosopher!”
“That's because there is no such thing,” says the stranger, his cloak falling to the floor. The Thief leaps from his chair, his mouth agape, his hands moving to shield his burning eyes. I chose wrong he thinks, as darkness penetrates his hands, searing his flesh. Green eyes come to him out of the black, anger rising out of their depths like a hurricane, a swirling, emerald storm. I'll follow he cries, cowering in blind terror, the words torn from his lips as though drawn by a hook. I'll follow!