High Priestess Tokkenoht stood at the top of the stepped pyramid, 130 feet above the city streets. The pyramid’s design was different from temples in any other Birmisian city, as so many things about Yessonarah were different. Each of the nine levels, representing the nine ages of the universe, was covered in smooth white limestone. The staircase running up the pyramid’s front, from the base to the top, was marble trimmed with red brick fired in a kiln, a process learned from the soft-skins. Behind her, the square vault was dark grey marble, with a copper frieze and a doorway trimmed in copper. And on either side of that doorway was a sculpture of the god, carved of stone but covered in silver. The top of the vault was of course flat, to give the god a place to sit when he came to visit.
The temple’s dedication was still three days a way, but everything was coming along. With a quick glance at the acolytes stationed at the vault, Tokkenoht descended the great staircase. A hundred or more lizzies, mostly new arrivals to the city, stopped what they were doing to watch her. She was quite a spectacle. Her smooth green skin was painted azure blue, with zigzag designs of bright yellow down her belly. She wore a cape made of feathers of all colors of the rainbow, from crimson achillobator feathers near her tail, to bright blue utahraptor feathers poking up to form a collar behind her head.
When she reached the street, the crowd parted for her, some of them bowing low. She hissed pleasantly to them and then climbed into her sedan chair, an enclosed seat carried litter-like by the four large males, their bodies painted white, who waited beside it. It was a not a long journey to the palace, but the streets were busy, so by the time they arrived, the sun was already dropping toward the western horizon. When the bearers sat her chair down, Tokkenoht dismissed them for the day and walked quickly up the steps to the residence.
“Welcome home, High Priestess,” said Sirris, waiting at the top. She had no paint or feathers, but wore a large gold necklace, with a Yessonar pendant.
“Thank you, wife of my husband. Were you waiting to speak with me?”
“No. I just stepped out here. I am on my way to check with Ssu and see that all the preparations are complete.”
“I will go with you,” said Tokkenoht. “I want to see the… what was that soft-skin word that Kendra used?”
“Yes. I want to see the children.”
Together, they walked through an ornately carved archway and into the royal gardens. The gardens were not particularly impressive at the moment, as the winter plants were past their prime. It wouldn’t be long till they were pulled out and replaced with spring flowers. But the colorful birds in the aviaries still sang and the fountains still sprayed their jets of water.
Just past the gardens were five plots of carefully prepared soil, and just beyond them, a huge cage. Built like the aviaries, the cage was a half dome made of mesh wire over a wooden frame. Unlike the aviaries though, which were twenty feet in diameter, this great cage was one hundred feet across. Inside was a carefully created environment, replicating the forests that stretched out hundreds of miles in every direction.
Ssu sat on a stone bench, watching the inhabitants of the cage. Tokkenoht and Sirris stopped beside her and looked. Scampering around inside the enclosure were some one hundred little lizzie offspring. Half of them were over a year old and already starting to walk upright. The other half, not yet yearlings, were still on all fours, scarcely thirty inches long.
“How are they?” asked the high priestess.
“They are good,” said Ssu, flushing her dewlap in pleasure.
“Oh, that one is mine!” shouted Tokkenoht, spying a blue band on one of the little hind legs.