Lord Haryk soon found that the noise he thought was wind, wasn’t wind. It was something far far worse.
After the battle, Andril and Haryk, and Tahg too, moved carefully down the smoke-filled tunnel. The smell of sulfur burned in their nostrils, but they had gotten used to it enough to breathe, and not cough. Andril made some use of his spellbook and found something which helped them, but it wasn’t doing the full job. Haryk figured he would lose years off his lifespan for it, but then again he figured he had far fewer years left anyway on account of all the Kill Devil’s Rum he’d consumed in the isles. As for the mage, Andril looked like his self again despite the gloom, and despite the fact that portal hopping had given him a few greys above the ears, he looked almost strong. This wasn’t a word Haryk often associated with who he called The Bookworm. Must be all that impressive magical power I’ve been witnessing he thought.
Very impressive, added Andril dryly in his mind.
Damn you mage, you can’t just enter my mind whenever you want!
I’m not Haryk, I’m just continuing the spell I began an hour ago. All you’ve got to do is just end the link…Bit of magic, and it’s all over.
Haryk didn’t answer and adding insult to injury was that he had to hear Andril laugh at his silence in his mind. Tahg walked beside them, seemingly oblivious to the discord. The druid was now back in boy form, albeit a little hairy around the mouth. Haryk had been teasing him mercilessly, but he was nevertheless impressed with who he used to call The Pest Control Expert. It seemed like forever ago since he had sent the boy out on the dinghy to inspect the ship there in Black Lake. And as he trudged along in the damp and twisting corridor, he wondered what exactly he’d been doing all these years. Carried away by that cursed dragon, Haryk assumed he was a snack–never to be seen again. The next thing we know he’s rescuing us in the same dragon’s underground lair. Then he’s petting the darkened thing’s pets, they themselves fully grown dragons! Something wasn’t right. No boy was clever enough to conceal what must connect these facts. No boy had dragon pets. Ideas circulated through the soldier’s mind, but none seemed to find a perch.
And why isn’t he any older?
Don’t worry Haryk, I’ve got my eyes on him too, spoke Andril far more seriously in his mind. Who knows maybe he entered the portal backwards.
Haryk was just about to turn around and tell the mage he wasn’t kidding anymore about the mindlink when he saw that they were coming to the end of the tunnel. He could see, just barely, through the tunnel that there was a gap of some kind, like a chamber, or some other hollow space.
What do you see? Asked the mage, whose human eyes were clearly no match for the black haze. Shall I send scribbles?
No. Not just yet Andril. Haryk gave the signal for the others to stop. He walked on just a couple of paces.
A cave perhaps? Only he couldn’t see the floor of the space and that made him uncomfortable. He hunched over, pulling his slicker back and aimed his pistol off of his hip as he sometimes did in tight spaces. Slowly he inched forward until he could see that whatever the cavernous space was for–for it was not natural but constructed– it was large indeed. There was then a strange green glow which flashed, and again a few seconds later. The air around him grew heavy and hotter as he crept forward. It felt to him that he was breathing in a liquid rather than an air now, and he was reminded of Andril’s underwater breathing trick. But this was not water, it was ash and soot, and it was foul, hardly what he would even call air. He was just about to the opening when a massive object plummeted just before him. Haryk flinched and threw his hands over his heads fearing a cave-in. But it wasn’t in the tunnel. Something had flown by, plummeting downwards just beyond the tunnel exit. It was there one second–then it was gone. Haryk quickly moved to what he now could see was a ledge by a gigantic cylindrical cave complex. All around him, across a blank empty space, were the smooth walls of the enormous structure. There were other ledges with dark tunnels leading elsewhere–judging by the size of their openings, most of them were far larger than the one he was in. He gripped the sides for support as the tunnel was slick and slippery. He felt the odd sensation in his legs he had when he stood near a cliff or up in the crow’s nest. Carefully, he looked below and thought he saw something fall into the inky black, but he couldn’t tell. Whatever it was, it must have been big.
Haryk stood and motioned for the others to come forward, and because he was no longer facing outwards into the chasm, he did not see the creature materialize out of thin air just behind him.
But Andril and Tahg did.
Haryk spun and squatted down, just as Andril and Tahg stood. He was just about to curse them quietly when he saw their faces drop. That was when the searing began in his head. No, not in his head, his mind. Tearing, ripping, shredding. They were all happening to his mind, all at the same time. My brains are being flayed! Haryk, once more, found himself not able to turn around, nor able to rip his own brains out with his fingers. He had never known such pain. The unbearable piercing into his very consciousness reached a breaking point, and Haryk could feel it slipping away. He didn’t know if he was passing out, or if he was dying. Either would be just fine what was left of his mind screamed. With the last of his will, he looked ahead and saw the mage doubled over, his hands to his own head. Tahg was gone. Andril was screaming, but it wasn’t in Haryk’s ears. A final thought came to him.
He felt something in his mind pop, like a cork being pulled from a drainpipe in one of those fancy baths in Cillandar! Slowly, his mind came back to him, although the pain stayed. He felt his feet upon the tunnel and in one swift motion, he twisted around, unholstering his weapon and bringing it up to where he figured the chin of his adversary would be.
But there was no chin!