“Mistress!” Bellowed the giant in a thunderous boom. “My brethren and I beseech you. Do not leave us here with these creatures from the deep. These are foul fetid beasts. We’ve served you well, we have. We beg of you. Take us off this blasted place before She comes.”
For a very long second, Frank knew they were discovered, and thus would be dead in a mere moment. Probably, by way of being squashed at the hands of the giant guardian at the entrance they had come upon. When the second passed, and Frank was still alive, he then wondered why the giant stooping over to be face to face with him had called him “Mistress.” And then he remembered that he wasn’t who he’d say he was.
We are the Host. All of us are. At least, this guardian thinks we are. It’s trying to communicate with us! He looked over at Radagar, their guide, who seemed to shrink back even more into his hood. No one answered.
“Mistress, I beseech you!” The building sized man took a knee, shaking the ground under Frank’s feet so hard that he felt his body lift off the dirt briefly. Do not make us serve here any longer. Give my brothers and I leave before She comes!”
Frank thought fast, hearing not the usually quick reply from either Zy’an or Iricah who he knew were at his sides, cloaked as well. He knew better than to look at either now. Fooling the enemy was often their department. Or Areia’s, but she wasn’t here. He opened his mouth and tried to speak in as deep a voice as he could. The words came out in an unrecognizable roar, “Silence, fool! You will be dismissed when it is time. When I say it is time.” Then, Frank’s face and eyes blazed red.
And without thinking anything else, nor looking around, the cleric kept his hood up and his gaze facing forward and strode down the tunnel into the dark and smoky space underneath Ferroun’s Station.
The others walked briskly behind them, each carrying their meaningless loads. No one looked back and when they had walked down for some ways, Zy’an set his boxes down. Iricah followed his lead.
“That was some deceptive work Frank!” Said Iricah. “You nearly sounded like a god there. So angry.”
“This way,” said Radagar. “Do not celebrate passing a lone guardian. The slaves you seek are surely within this space and we will no doubt encounter many other guardians. Remember who we are. We are…Wrath after all. We are servants, part of the mistress, in material form.”
Zy’an stopped, and studied the man. A member of one of the many tribes of the isles. Like Ulua, only not an Ata’uhn. Radagar too had once been a part of the Host. Now, no longer. Genoran had used his advice several times before their mission. Zy’an’s eyes glinted in the darkness. The monk rested on his walking stick.
“We remember who we are, guide. Be sure that you do as well.” There was some change to his demeanor, as though he were inspecting the man the way he would when he studied his martial art or a laboratory specimen. Then, the moment passed. He turned to Frank and Iricah. “The island is failing. Whatever is going on here is not going to be happening much longer. If we wish to complete this mission, I’d recommend we stay focused and begin doing it now.”
The others nodded, and Zy’an moved to the front with catlike grace. Iricah followed him, trying to keep the items in her bag from clinking together. Next to the monk, she was like a horse and carriage riding into town. Frank, whose armor still didn’t fit quite right followed them with Radagar. Frank tried his best under the black robes but he made an awful racket. There was nothing for it. If they encountered any of the Sasser forces now, he’d just have to hope that armor under the robes was part of the Host’s fashion sense.
The passageway led steeply downward into the heart of the island. The walls brimmed with heat, and smoke billowed out of fissures in the wall. Inside the fissures, red hot rock glowed. Before long, they were drenched with sweat, and their skin felt cooked.
Just then, a loud explosion rocked the tunnel and shook several stones above them loose. Frank nearly fell to his feet but was helped up by Radagar. He was about to say thank you, when Zy’an, still in the lead put a finger to his lips. Slinking back, behind him, a pair of figures crossed in an intersecting tunnel. The pair did not look their way, and moved hurriedly and confidently. The pair were nearly as high as the ceiling of the tunnel, well above ten feet tall.
After they past, Iricah, who had needed to bite her lip from shrieking, found her breath again. The air was stifling hot as it was, and dense too. Adding this surprise didn’t help any. These were not hooded Sarasins. These were not even men. The figures had looked like people on the top, but below, had walked on spidery legs! Like a centaur, or a faun, they were halves. But their lower portion was like that of a spider! She stared at Radagar as if he should somehow know what they were. “Well, you are the guide! What in the Ketian darkness were those things?” She blurted out through gasps of the smoky air.
“These are not Sarasins,” whispered Rad simply.
Iricah tilted her head and gave a wry grin as if to say, Really? “Well what in the Ketian night are they?”
“I think that is indeed the question Madame Archeaologist.” He let the thought hang in the thick air, and they set out through the haze once more. Downward they slunk and followed the passageway, seeing no signs of any other guardians or the like. But neither did they see any slaves.
Poor Thrak thought Iricah. He must be doomed along with the others. This was another of Genoran’s stupidly ill-planned ideas. How could thousands of slaves survive in a place like this, and to what end would they be here anyway>? No slaves means no freed warriors. No freed warriors means the battle is lost. We should have stayed, hid from Hasai, waited for the citadel!
“Sorry Thrak,” she muttered to herself. And then she bumped into the monk who quickly grabbed her bags, stilling their motion immediately. Here, the smoke was less thick, and she could see the look on Zy’an’s face he often wore, when danger was nearby. Silently, he pointed along the passageway wall, crouching low against it. Iricah heard voices there. Two voices. From behind Zy’an, she tried to squint and make sense of some form or shape, but it was the sound that struck her first. Unnerving, and maniacal, two voices broke the still air, sending shivers of disgust down her back and along her arms.
Iricah thought they weren’t so much voices, as resonating drums beating out words. Both were ominous and somber. There was a wicked and cruel edge to the sounds of whatever spoke. It made her skin crawl. She peered down the hallway where Zy’an had crept, and saw a blazing red glow. She crept closer, not able to help her curiosity and saw Zy’an crouched below a railing of stone. The red blaze was coming from a large chamber below it. They were on something of a balcony, under which the voices spoke in a giant space. She crept ever closer to the monk and peeked in between two stone columns.
Below, was some kind of a cermonial chamber with fires burning in large urns in rows between two circles of flame. In each circle, there was a hellish symbol written upon the ground, either was glowing deep and dark crimson. In the center of each symbol stood a hooded figure, both massive, like giants for the chamber was vast, and the balcony was very high above the ground level below them.
One figure, that to the left of Iricah’s view as an elegant, beautiful, tall woman. She exhuded charisma, as though this alone necessitated a larger form.
Before her lay an ornate dias, and as Iricah listened to the figure speak, her gaze moved to the other symbol. This one was nearly covered by an even more massive figure. The symbol was of the form of a spider, eight legs each with eight points, and at the end of each a bowl filled with what looked like blood, definitely a red dark liquid. In the center of this symbol appeared the large form of a spider, and a woman. They appeared at first to be two different forms. Then, to Iricah’s horror, she realized they were joined, as the creatures in the hallway had been.
The figure of the beautiful woman to the left moved her hands and a magical image of the isles appeared before her above the burning dais. In many places, spectral ships appeared. Then, she opened up her mouth and one of the voices, like a crypt opening, boomed outward. “When the citadel appears, you will have a window to destroy it, and destroy the rise of the so called heroes. They are now being ambushed by my forces. Their so-called Prince has no idea that we are aligned. They believe that Ket is still asleep. Outnumbered, they do not stand a chance. If they do not access it, they will never be in the first place. Our invasion of Cellinor proper is imminent now. The window arrives and we will wipe out the capitol before your so called masters awaken. Then, will the power of the age of light be ours. We will be the masters.”
Below both figures Iricah could make out the spectral forces and the spectral islands laid out like a ghostly map. She couldn’t be sure what she was seeing, but she hoped Zy’an could.
“We?” It was the voice of the woman spider creature. If it were possible, this only made Iricah even more on edge. The words from both of them felt like knives in her ears, and on her skin.
“We,” answered the massive woman.
The spider figure moved to the edge of the symbol towards the other. “They may not access the Kasillian Citadel without a light. See to it, they do not have one.”
“And you, Mistress. See to it that you have not taken more of the share of the harvest than we agreed upon. I would not wish for the deeper lords to learn of your betrayal.”
“Do not talk to me of betrayal, Fate. What of the force that attacked my devourer!” The figure raised a bony claw towards an island in the image, and for the first time, Iricah knew where this was. It’s the island where we nearly fell to Ket, the shadow isle she screamed inside her mind.
“I want their heads for my staff. They are powerful. Surely, they are among those we seek.”
“They are mine. They belong to me.”
There was a pause between the two. Silence filled the chamber, except for the snapping of the flames from the urns below them. Iricah could hear her own breathing, and feel her heartbeat. She hoped she was the only one.
“Then see to it that you bring them to your fold. I do not want their essence used against us when we rise. Weakness among us now diminishes our plan when the others rise.”
“The last of the corrupted will handle them. They are not a concern to us.”