The story that the monk told them was as otherworldly as the beast Zy’an was now calling a “Beholder.”
My name is Sal, short for Salamander. It is a name given to me as a child. Many years ago I, like you Zy’an, was brought here to hunt, to find and capture the demons of darkness we then experimented on. Little did I know then that I would one day find myself here, alone. When the monastery became divided over the use of the creatures and their treatment, a great battle was fought. Those of the inner sanctum, those who spoke the deep speech, they no longer wished to seek balance. They claimed that an all out war was coming, such as had come before us. There was only one answer for them. Only one path. Some chose to follow it. Others did not. Many of our number died in that fight. I was one of the faction that would not accept the darkened path. There was no compromise and so we were ambushed, pursued. A dozen of us only made it off the island, barely alive. Our leader decided we should come to Croah. It was our duty, to understand what the path was, to know why the inner sanctum had refused to accept a hope that the light could be saved. And so we came here, to the island. As we had done before. But this time, something was wrong. The ground quaked. The very rock beneath our feet shook. The skies erupted in ash and soot and a thick black air hung over the island, night and even day. The air hung thickly. The small beasts we had once captured to study, were now gone. In their place was the Eye. That which you call the Beholder, we called the Great Watcher. But we did not know the danger when we arrived. We camped that first night. I awoke startled to see The Watcher’s great eye subdue each of my comrades, each of my friends. Watched as others who were hooded, conversed with themselves in some manner I could not understand, but that I could feel in my mind. They commanded The Great Watcher. They were it’s master. Theirs was more than the deep speech of the inner sanctum. It was a rending speech, a searing speech. It tore my mind apart. It was not on the wind, it was inside, somehow. I hid, as my friends were carried off into the island’s interior. That was several months ago, and until you arrived just now, I have waited. Waited for you. Frightened. I know not what to do.
It took little debate to decide on their next course of action. Those elders who led them here, may still be alive. Sal thought he knew where they would be, but didn’t know if they would be alive or not. The Watcher and the hooded figures had taken them off. If they were to convince the Celns of what was to come, to prepare for it themselves, they would need these elders. But could they get them back? With the Great Watcher dead, Sal thought they had a chance. And, he knew where to go.
The monk that Zy’an called Salamander led them to the center of the isle. At least it felt like the center; They couldn’t be sure. Iricah though had noticed that the darkness here was most suffocating. Like when they first arrived on the isle, there was a heaviness in the air. As though the air itself had a weight. Moving steadily on, it grew. She was certain that whatever was causing the darkness in the day was before them now.
Here that weight felt crushing. It wasn’t just on her skin, it was inside of her. In her lungs. In her ears. Sounds came to her more slowly. Air entered and exited her lungs less quickly.
Iricah moved quietly behind Frank, taking up the rear position as she was used to do with her assortment of travel bags. As usual, she refused to leave them behind her. When Sal had signaled, they slowed to a crawl and watched. Nothing. A little more and they found there way to the edge of the jungle. They crouched at the tree line and looked out into a meadow devoid of trees or bushes. They watched the area that Salamander pointed towards there in the middle of the field. A clearing lay in the very center, in which was a barren zone of sand. It looked like fine sand one would find along the beach. But what was a clearing of it doing in the center of the island? Here where the darkness was thickest? Above, through the black haze, only the faintest outline of the sun shone through. This was where the darkness came from. They could feel it.
And then the ground shook beneath them. It was a rolling quake, shaking trees on the craggy cliffs beyond the clearing. Knocking rocks and boulders down into the bush crowded valleys. Birds and other beasts flew from trees. There was a thrumming that came through the rock, as if it were alive suddenly.
“These earthquakes have become more plentiful,” whispered Sal. “Do you remember them, Zy’an?”
“I remember the night, the thickening air, the smell and yes, I remember the way the earth would quiver and shake,” answered Zy’an. “But never like this.” He seemed to be thinking about something. Iricah watched him. There was a memory there, working it’s way into the stillness of his mind. Something caught his attention in the center of the clearing. “There! Watch the sand!”
“I sssssee nothing,” snapped Thrak. He’s tired of all this hiding, thought Iricah. I can’t blame him I suppose. “The ground shakessss, monk. The ground in the islesss often quakesss. It isss the way it issss.”
“Thrak,” said Frank. “I think this may be a bit different. Look.” Frank motioned to the center of the sand, and watched as the shadow of several concentric circles began to draw themselves there.
“While you sssit, our enemies wait to know their Beholder will not return. I say now is the time to attack. The lines on the sand are a ssssign. We have seen them before! To Ket with this hiding! We take them now! Follow me or do not.” The lizard man began to climb over the root they were hiding behind. One axe was already in his tight grip.
“Thrak!!” snarled Frank. “Thrak!”
Thrak turned and with a look Iricah had never seen directed at him, actually snarled at the priestly warrior. “I am off to battle. What do you wissssh to dissscussss hiding man?”
“I should lead, that way your reach over my shield can have better effect.”
Thrak opened his mouth wide, baring his fangs. His tongue snaked and snapped outward. He twisted his long neck and motioned for Frank to move to the fore and lead the way. Into the sandy middle of the clearing he sloshed after Frank, all the while waving the stump of his tail side to side.
Iricah turned to Zy’an, who jumped over the root himself. Sal went next and Iricah, as she so often did took up the rear. Pushing her many bags aside, she pulled out the shovel she had recently used. She had forgotten to tell Zy’an that the simple digging instrument may have saved his life. She wondered what he would think of that. Strange, she thought. Something about the metal seemed to vibrate, and pulse. She detected the tell tale sign of a magical enchantment. The ray of the Beholder, it must have done something to the blade! Focus, Iricah, you can investigate that later!
She followed the line of the others out as they walked cautiously step by step into the circles upon the sand. She didn’t know what they were looking for and in truth she could barely see. The air all around her wasn’t just dark, it felt thick like a veil. She knew the others could see well in the dark, but she couldn’t. She would have to once more, trust to them. Through the monk, through the lizard man, she stared out to where Frank was and tried to see what was happening. Her feet slogged through the sand.
She felt a quiver underneath her, a smaller quake of somekind. She looked down and could actually see the sand move. Then, she looked up and tried to focus on Frank, but found that he was no longer there.
And that’s when she felt herself sliding downwards. She clawed at the grains of sand, but like her dreams they simply slid through her fingers. Until she had fallen down, down, down and the sand covered her.
And all was dark.