The man Callon, walked slowly through the temple's great hall as part of the procession of Chosen Ones. Around him, the white-robed priests of the temple watched as the group made its way through the hall towards the stage.
Overhead was a great vaulted ceiling, giant beams held up the sloped walls at the hall's peak. Stained glass windows let in a faint light, each one depicting a historic event cast through the religious eye. Small stone columns topped with a statue of an eagle, lined the procession's path.
As the procession moved forward, a low hum started as the priest's began their chant. A drum began to beat slowly from the stage ahead. Callon could feel the nerves of the men around him and he himself was starting to get nervous. His white robes were ill-fitting and scratched his skin. A bead of sweat trickled down his back.
On the stage ahead stood the high priest. He wore a head piece of a great, golden eagle with wings outstretched, the symbol of his god. The head piece made him appear several feet taller, as he loomed above all others on the stage. Behind him was a golden arch, eight feet high, its surface engraved with eagles in different poses of flight.
Callon covertly cast small glances at the priests lining the hall. No one had recognized him yet, the men walking with him were also oblivious. The hood drawn over his head obscured most of his features, including his unshaven face.
The procession reached the middle of the hall. The chant became louder and the drums beat faster. The high priest stood on the stage ahead, calling out to his god, beseeching his deity for safe passage for the Chosen Ones. Other preists stood on the stage around him leading the chant that reverberated around the hall.
A current of electricity flowed through the air and Callon's hairs stood on end. The golden arch on stage began to glow. The air around it crackled and spat, and a glowing white field appeared underneath, a portal.
Callon considered the plan, which at first had felt like madness. He thought back to the other prisoners, especially the old man. This had been the old man's idea, for he had witnessed the ceremony before.
The high priest continued his address as the chanting reached a crescendo around him. The high priest called on the Chosen Ones to do the great god's will and to find glory in their new life. He raised his eagle-headed staff into the sky as his voice carried to his brethren.
The first Chosen One reached the base of the steps. He drew out a coin from his robe and handed it to a priest. The priest took the coin and bowed to the man, who then continued up the steps to the high priest. The high priest touched the Chosen One on the shoulder as he passed. A few steps more and the Chosen One walked into the glowing arch and disappeared.
Callon summoned his final resolve. Escaping the dungeon had been tricky, but doable. Stealing the robe and hiding the body had been almost too easy. Callon didn't have a coin, but there was one more thing he could do.
Each Chosen One gave his coin in turn to the gatekeeper, before climbing to the stage. After receiving the high priest's blessing, the Chosen One walked through the portal and disappeared. In time, Callon found himself at the base of the steps.
He stood before the gatekeeper, and looked him in the eye. Around the hall, the priests chanted and the drums boomed. Above, on the stage, the high priest loomed, glowing in the light from the portal.
"Pass me your coin, my brother", said the priest in a low voice.
In response, Callon pushed the priest hard and the priest fell backwards to the ground. Callon turned and ran up the steps, pushing past the stunned members of the procession. Another priest tried to grab him, but Callon stepped to the side and tripped the priest, sending him sprawling down the steps.
He set his sights on the glowing arch and ran for the portal. The high priest stepped infront of him and brought his staff down over Callon's head. The blow struck hard and Callon's vision began to blur. He lost his footing and fell back to the side of the stage.
As he struggled to get up, the high priest and two others formed a ring, trapping him on the stage, the portal glowing behind them.
"Who are you?", said the high priest.
Around the hall, the chanting had fallen silent. The Chosen One procession frozen in position. All eyes were now on them.
"Trying to escape this nightmare", said Callon.
The high priest paused for a moment and looked over Callon.
"The eagle god will judge you, step into the portal."
"Wait?!", called out a priest on the stage, "this is heresy!"
"Where is the precedent?", yelled one priest from below.
"This man is not Chosen!", yelled another.
The sounds of discontent began to boil as other priests voiced their concerns.
"Silence!", said the high priest. The hall reduced to murmurs then fell quiet.
"Have faith in your god, this man will be judged for what he is."
The high priest stepped aside, and the two other priests begrudgingly followed.
Callon gingerly got to his feet, his vision still swimming. He looked at the high priest with a questioning expression on his face. The high priest gave him a hard stare, but his eyes were smiling. Having no other option, Callon took a few steadying steps and then walked forward into the glowing arch.
On the other side of the portal was empty sky. Above him he saw the white-robed Chosen Ones with feathered, golden wings sprouted from their backs, gliding through the air to a lush wilderness beyond. They each flew in formation with eagles, circling and diving through the sky. A great sun hovered above them, golden and glowing.
Forests, mountains and rivers were all laid out before him. Green carpets of miniature trees dotted the landscape and the highest mountains were capped in snow. The waters of the lakes were crystal blue, shimmering with the reflections of the world around them.
For an instant he had an eagle's eye over an untouched paradise.
Then Callon began to fall.