From the moment they reached the summit of the hill, Marcus was thinking of only one word. And that word was ambush. His instincts were on high alert. Daytime or not, he knew that Umani would come for him. He understood that kind of darkness. Around him, ancient structures loomed, imposing against the backdrop of First Isle’s eastern mountain range.
From the moment she reached the summit though, Iricah knew she had at last found the legendary fortress of Enceladus. An ancient site, which from her research suggested that the Kasillians created weapons of incredible destruction there. Nearly two decades ago, simply the outside of the structure and a basic search of a part of its interior had yielded more ballistics engineering in Cellinor, than in all of it’s later history. They all knew where that original research had come from, now. From the journey undertaken by Fritz, and Ian, and that first party to traverse the still waters. Here they were at this moment in the very place where those first Celns had once stood. But today, they would enter the fortress, and this time they would gain access to the center structure within. Areia guessed that if they had known then, what they saw before them now, they would have stayed in Far Realm, and ran the King’s Chamber Pot. At least Andril and Haryk had been smart enough to see that, she thought.
Enceladus lay at the top of a mountain pass the Ata referred to as the Serpent’s Tail. The entrance was located in an enormous clearing, with steep cliffs of ancient sandstone. Towering statues, dwarfed by the cliffs, but still grand, stood in a semi-circle. Three facing three others. One in the middle. They recognized the figures immediately as the four and the three of Kasillian lore. The forbidden lore of their Realm back home. Here, in the middle of the dread isles though, they stood, ancient yet real. Tall and worn from the passage of time, each characterized the symbol of whatever the Kasillians thought of them. Heroes, gods. Kings and Queens? No one knew that answer to that particular riddle. The great mother in the center, the three heroes to her side, and what Iricah referred to as The Fates on the other.
None of the others had heard of The Fates prior to that day. All had heard of the Three Traitors, but that was a tale told in hushed whispers. The betrayers of mankind, the three, siding with the dragons to destroy the last of humanity, of elfkind of all the civilized races. And yet, here they stood, proudly, although eroded and weathered, their forms clearly belying their original identity. Among the others, like this, there could be no denial. Once, the three and the four were simply the seven, carved by the same admiring hands each of them meant something together. That was clear.
Behind them all stood the intimidating stone entrance to the fortress itself. Into that place they must go, or else find a way to survive another night.
Iricah’s tool bag was laid out before her and she went to work with little fanfare. It was still early morning when they got to the site, and they knew that daylight was their friend. The night would bring certain death from Umani’s hordes if they couldn’t access the entrance. Nevertheless, Enceladus was not a place one entered lightly. From the story Fritz and Ian told them, it was there they had nearly lost their lives, and it was there that The Seeker had killed one of their party, and taken his key from them.
“Out of the witch’s cauldron, into the Ketian night,” sighed Iricah, moving from one area to the other. She found a spot and set down her bags.
“What’s that you say?” said Areia. “How did you know about the witch’s cauldron?”
Iricah didn’t understand at first. “Oh no,” remarked the archaeologist, “I was just quoting an old Celn saying from Cillandar.”
“I see,” said Areia. “You’re from there then?”
“I am,” said Iricah, and she smiled at the elf. “But I don’t feel like I belong there anymore I suppose. It’s a long story I guess.” She kept at her work, surprised by the information she was sharing. She poured a bottle of something that fizzed on a portion of one of the fallen and broken pieces of rock. It was clearly once part of a statue near it.
“You’ve seen our King?” asked the elf a little too casually. Iricah looked up at Areia. The rogue looked away and took out an arrow. She used her knife to trim the fletching.
“I have actually,” said Iricah. “And his son as well. Once, that is.” Areia’s hand stopped. Iricah waited perhaps for another question, but it never came. Areia simply moved off without a word, and like the others searched for clues and things of value.
Iricah took a small cloth and wiped the area where she had poured the solution clean. Studying it with a glass, she took notes in a field journal. “Hmmm,” she muttered, “That is most interesting.”
“What’s interesting?” said Thrak who was nearby, watching her work. He found the things the Celns did quite unnatural.
“Well my scaled friend,” she said, “These statues are not eroded, and they are not weathered as badly as I first thought. They have only been exposed to the elements some two or maybe three lives of a human. Their wear is from the tools used to extract them from the stone they were embedded in. If my observations are correct here, this entire area was excavated over the course of a lifetime, perhaps some 20-30 years.”
“And who would spend that time excavating all this? It would take dozens, hundreds of people many years!”
“Yes, it would,” said Ulua. She was listening intently to what Iricah said, but her eyes were on the far end of the clearing. Like a wildcat that sees a bird in a tree, she stared. The others stopped what they were doing and stared that way too. Thrak withdrew his axes. A spark sprang up between them, arcing. Frank’s mail tightenened on his chest, an energy sprang up around his armor that made his hairs on his arm stand up on end. Areia could feel the coins in her pockets slide together, like as if they were being glued and forced by an invisible power of some kind.
It was Zy’an who first noticed the ground shake. He ran to a spot as close to the cliff wall as he could, crouching low by the feet of the trickster statue.
A low thud penetrated the ground and then up into their feet, their ankles and legs. It ended with a knee jarring stop, followed by another, and another. It had a similar rhythm to the dreadful drums that had haunted them throughout the night, but they knew it wasn’t. The thudding stopped, as each of the party crouched their natural instincts kicking in. Iricah dropped the scraper tool she held in her hand and reached for her rapier.
And then, out of legend and into reality, from around the cliff face, beyond the clearing from the mountainside walked the most terrible and magnificent creature he had ever seen. The sun shone on the scales like it was striking a calm sea, casting brilliant blue in all directions. Inpenetrable mail, imposing presence it whisked it’s massive muzzle around the corner, horns shaking. Roaring, it’s mouth full of dagger-like teeth snapped at the air, and it’s bright blue azure eyes, like two gleaming gems found them quickly as if it knew exactly where they would be.
The beast reared it’s head back, swiveled it’s neck to look behind itself while it’s body stretched out from the rockface. It lurked forward and around the cliff like a predator chasing down it’s prey. This predator though didn’t need to hide, they were in the open and it knew it.
“They’ve come,” garbled a slippery yet monstrous voice from out of the giant mouth and the words as if each had it’s own magic made their skin crawl. “They’ve come,” it said again.
In answer, another voice bellowed out something incomprehensible from behind it, and out coursed a second beast, slightly smaller than the first but no less formidable.
“Well, ok it’s two,” said Areia bringing the flute up near her lips. “Still better than an undead horde though. Right guys?”
One day, much later, Areia discovered the pure joy in recanting the tale of what she would call The Battle of the Blues Brothers. Her friends and admirers alike always loved to hear that tale, and she found it fascinating that many years later, as so in many years earlier, she was able to tell it with such incredible detail.
It was always so fun to hear her recount it. She would sometimes throw her hands up, and flap them like a giant bird. She’d stick out her mouth, and loll her tongue around, gnash her teeth as if they were giant fangs. Sometimes she’d put a piece of bread in her mouth and chomp on it while throwing her head side to side, letting the crumbs fall out like guts onto the table or floor or lap of the spellbound listener. One time, as I recall, she used a little spoon as a model for herself sitting atop the bread dragon, and she actually used her real daggers, slicing into the loaf again and again. The bread would then nose down into a bowl of Chuul Chowder. Splash! The little wooden spoon flipping in the air, would land perfectly right side up, the wooden circle at the end of the instrument bowing before all. Just as she had done herself.
Areia liked to put her flute to her mouth and it was told to me that one telling while doing so rather inebriated she actually made herself teleport into another bar where she finished The Battle of the Blues Brothers, to another admiring crowd altogether. She being none the wiser that it was not her original audience! In one version of that story, she stopped to ask where her flask had gone and the onlookers so concerned she would figure out she was now at the wrong bar and would miss the rest of the tale, nearly fought over who could offer her their own the fastest!
It was always the most fascinating thing to see her show Zy’an, oftentimes a bar peanut or a Trickster Dubloon would bound across the table, striking the floating bread dragon being held aloft by one of the many “volunteers” needed to help her tell the tale.
And when she was done, as the bread dragon fluttered away, she would slowly move her arms up and down, up and down, and a serious look would come over her face. Morose, somber.
In a grave voice, a dragon voice, she would look deeply into the eyes of each of the audience members and say each word slowly, deliberately, menacingly.
“I. Must. Bring. My. Mistress!”
“It’s leaving!” Thrak shouted holding his axe up in the air and shouted an expression in his native tongue. The massive wings of the injured dragon beat the dust back into his face, but the beast did not look back, and flew off into the sky. Something about this battle felt like the culmination of so much of his training up to this point. So much of what he had been told to do for these Celns. This day however was his real test. Against a foe he understood, in some small measure. A moment and a victory he now owned. He hooted, yipping up into the air, something his people did when they called to each other. It felt good to let himself go like this, among these humans, and elves. The pretty folk he called them at times. He felt like himself, out here in this humid jungle, dirty, filthy, fighting for survival. This, Thrak reminded himself was what he was. He was a warrior.
Marcus came to stand next to the lizardman. Thrak’s mighty tail was in motion, swirling behind him. “Excellent blade work, Master Thrak.”
“Thankssssss.” said Thrak.
“What does your call mean? What you spoke in your native tongue?” asked Marcus. Thrak studied him with his lizardlike eyes, but saw no sign he was being insincere.
“It meansssss, victory to the bold,” said Thrak. “It isss what we say after a great battle.”
“I think that is one saying the Celns may wish to borrow, lizard-man,” said Marcus. “Today, the victory indeed goes to the bold. That was a grand victory.”
They watched as Ulua approached the massive stone doors of Enceladus. On each, in deep runes were many signs the likes of which they had not seen. These
“Look! Look what happened when Ulua stood in front of the doors!” called Iricah. “The key to the door is you Ulua.” They followed Iricah’s outstretched arm. She was pointing to the eyes of the statue of the great mother. Indeed, when Ulua neared the vast stone doors set against the cliff face, the eyes of the statues shone with a bright light as if the stone had a magical power that was unseen before that.
And then Thrak and Areia went to stand by the door, and other statues’ eyes shone fiercely. These were harder to identify. Behind them, there was a large cracking sound as if the stone was separating. Like wood splitting down the middle from the blade of an ax, the doors creaked, and slid apart relunctantly. “It’s opening!” called Frank, who came over along with Zy’an and Marcus. They stood watching the stone gates sliding open to the full. Thud!!!
“We,” said Iricah, “We are the keys,” Iricah whispered to herself. “How…,” she began and her mouth simply hung open as she gazed upon the entry hall of Enceladus. A place she had dreamed of seeing for so long.
One by one, cautiously, they entered the dark space beyond. Areia walked under the figure in the middle of the hall. She stepped out of the light and into the shadow of the beast that filled the center of the white stoned chamber. Created in rough stone, two heads on two long necks, and massive claws rested upon a gigantic pedestal. Thrak avoided the shadow as if it were alive. The others stared up into the image. No one spoke.
The doors of Enceladus began their closure, scraping the ground behind them. None of them flinched, they simply stood in the shadows all around them and watched the last of the light streak through the entry doors.
Looking up into the face of nightmarish monters, Areia thought back to Iricah’s expression. Out of the witch’s cauldron, into the Ketian night. She understood the expression now.