BLACK HOLLOW 9.4 The Fork in the Road

Andril pumped his legs, and each time his knees came to full height, his trousers threw off some of the monster gore that had earlier been splattered all over them. He ran through the tunnel, leaving the putrid gore behind him. Tahg and Haryk followed, and for once Haryk was finding it hard to keep up with the mage. Haryk knew that Tahg hadn’t spoken since the dragons were killed. He had a hunch why. Haryk himself didn’t have much time to think about it, but something still made him wonder, even in the tumult of the battle. What kind of damned kid keeps a couple of dragons for pets?

He tried to keep up with Andril’s pace but the mage wasn’t stopping for anything or anyone. He moved with a singular purpose. It was a purpose that Haryk shared. Haryk had never seen the mage move so fast. It was as if he knew exactly where he was going for once. Then, he realized he did know, having sent Scribbles out to scout. Before long they were not racing through a tunnel, but instead were speeding through what looked like a ruined building. Haryk didn’t know what the outside of it looked like, but from the smoky inside it had the appearance of a child’s playhouse toppled and crushed. Rounding a corner, Haryk still recognized the place as the very courthouse he had been brought to his first night in Far Realm. At least, it was what was left of it. This, he noted as he saw the cell bars twisted, was the place where his death sentence turned into Canton’s reprieve. That then turned into everything that had happened since. So long ago now, thought Haryk. Although to him, and he knew Andril too, it didn’t feel that long. The others, he knew had been killed on First Isle. Or so he had thought. He recalled the moment they stepped through the gate in Host Bay, only just before the dragons had come, how Genoran and the others blamed them for the heroes disappearing again. Somehow, they had stepped into the very portal, that Haryk had just stepped out of! Somehow,  Areia the Rogue, the monk, Frank the Cleric, and even Thrak the green had all survived First Isle. What’s more, they too had traveled in both space and time, and maybe more than once. Haryk knew that luck and light had shone upon he, and Andril. But maybe luck had shone upon all of them. And it all began here.

Now, damaged and ruined by the erupting mountain, the place was a shambles, and it was tilted. The floors were hard to tell from walls. There were jagged slashes in the stonework as if the mountain had ripped it apart in it’s quakes. Smoke filled the air, and soot covered all. There was a heat that he felt from the stone itself.  The entire place looked roasted and charred, broken. Haryk had to strain to walk up the floor, if it was the floor. He couldn’t tell. Andril led them down what was left of a corridor, trying to keep himself upright. He stopped at a set of large iron double doors, still intact on their hinges. The doors were barred inside, and looked incredibly strong.

Out of breath, Haryk finally caught up. “You’ve found the fucker then?”

Andril nodded while catching his breath. He winked, pointing to the doors. Tahg and Haryk looked at Andril, waiting for him to tell them what he had found. The mage put his hand to his lip and whispered. “And a cherry on top too.”

From his pocket, Andril pulled out a pair of metal rings. He stooped and placed one on the stones, then flicked it underneath the door.  The mage then held the second one to his eye. Haryk watched as an image formed inside of the ring.  He realized quickly that the scene was from inside the chamber beyond the door. Haryk could see the ceiling and a portion of the side of the room, so he knew the picture was from the perspective of the other ring lying on the floor.

In the image, there was a blonde woman, her long golden hair falling to her waist. She was dressed elegantly and was strikingly beautiful. Perhaps, he thought, the most beautiful woman that Haryk had ever seen. She was pacing back and forth in their vision, and she clearly in deep and focused thought. There was a glow about her face, of mirth and exuberance. She was undeniably overjoyed by something. In fact, she looked delirious with triumph.

“That’s the new mistress of Far Realm?” Haryk murmured.

“She’s pretty!” whispered Tahg.

Without realizing it, Haryk connected to Andril in a mind link. I’m going to have to put her under house arrest. Don’t worry Bookworm, I know how to rescue this one.  Haryk pulled out his gun and aimed it at the lock in the door.

Andril grabbed his wrist. Not just yet, Lord Haryk, look! 

Haryk’s eyes returned to the image in the ring. There was a glow which even from the little image felt warm and radiant.  The woman was now holding a lantern aloft. Haryk couldn’t see it well, but he didn’t have to. He recognized it from notes that the Bookworm had been trying to show him while they rested in Abraxas’ laboratory. He hadn’t much cared then, and he wasn’t sure he cared now. But by the looks of Andril’s face, he knew that he did. And not a little.  The lantern’s light lit the woman’s face and she seemed even more beautiful in it.  She smiled at it, before handing it off to a blue, scaly clawed hand which Haryk could not see the end of.  “Take this to my mistress,” she said in an exquisite voice. “Do not fail me.” There was no reply as the hands withdrew the lantern out of view.

The woman appeared in the image again, her face still hidden by her lustrous hair. She paced back and forth, arms now behind her back. She was talking to someone in the space beyond now in a language that Haryk did not know. Other voices, raspy answered her. These two Haryk could not understand. There was movement, and sounds of scraping, as if something metallic was scraping something made of rock. Her voice was stern. She wasn’t telling. She was ordering. Demanding. 

She moved a pace beyond and that’s when Haryk saw two native women and one man dressed in the island armor of the natives. They were all, the three of them, hanging against the chamber wall. Each had their heads bowed, and each had long hair, dirty, streaked with blood and matted with filth, dangling over their heads. He could tell, that one of them had pointy ears that protruded through her matted hair. The other female, wore jewelry and especially a necklace. The silver chain draped around her neck and hung suspended before her chest. Haryk knew he had seen it before. It was the necklace worn by Ulua, the scout on First Isle! Finally, Haryk’s eyes went to the man. When the man’s face lifted, it was twisted in fury, yet still somehow poised, regal even. Although now so different, he knew immediately who the man was.

Abraxas! Thought Haryk and Andril simultaneously.

Abraxas, whom Haryk could only just see part of,  shook his chains violently, and Haryk realized that the lot of them hung from the wall, chained captives. It wasn’t what he expected to see. He had come here to kill the bastard that had taken him by force, and left him for dead. And now that man hung here, at the mercy of someone else!

“Where is the light, Hasai?” Asked the voice of the man, the voice of Abraxas. The voice, like hers, sounded exquisite, regal. It was an authoritative voice, like hers. Haryk guessed that he was used to being heard, but there was a fracture in it’s strength. It was strained now. And it sounded less than whole, broken.

The woman answered, “I gave it to my mistress, my love. She is it’s rightful owner now.”

Abraxas cried out, “NO!!!!!” How could you?”  Haryk could no longer see the man, for he was now blocked from view by the woman’s back, but he could  hear the chains rattling, their links snapping. “She cannot wield it. Only the heroes can! She knows this! Call your warrior back, Hasai! Release us! Please, this is not you! It is not too late, my…my love!”

The woman, who turned away, now spun back around. Haryk saw her face fully then fade from content to outraged. Rage spread across her brow. Haryk’s mouth hung open. She was, in so many words, the most beautiful woman Haryk had ever laid eyes on. “Heroes!” She snapped.  “I am tired of hearing of these so-called heroes! They are sheep. Sheep Abraxas!. You have only ever tended to sheep, guarded over sheep! Some good it has done you!”

Abraxas’  voice cried out in pain. It was deep pain, Haryk knew, something far more than in one’s muscles, in one’s body. His voice was now resonant, but weaker. It was the voice of the defeated. “This isn’t you!!!   Have you forgotten all that you once were? All that we once were? Have you no mercy Hasai?”

The chamber now shook with the woman’s laugher. “You sentimental old fool! What I was, you took from me! What I was you destroyed. Have you forgotten? Have you? My new mistress is my lord now Abraxas!  She is all power, she is the master. Not the slave, or some mortal fool from a fantasy long gone by.” The woman moved to stand next to one of the female prisoners, now laughing, the one with the pointy ears. She grabbed the prisoner’s hair, and lifted her head back sharply. Haryk and Andril gasped. It was Areia!

“Some hero,” she said sarcastically, staring into Areia’s unconscious face. “Some bearer of the light.” She chuckled. “I suppose you think the others are awakened on their Path too? You should know I killed the mage, and his traveling companion! You thought you could keep them safe from me in your secret hide-out, my love?” She hissed with ridicule. “I’ll kill your little laboratory experiments as well, the boy you’ve taken under your wing…” Abraxas didn’t speak. Haryk’s mind raced.  “We all change my love. Except you.” Haryk now saw in one of her hands she gripped a cruel, twisted dagger! She held it to Areia’s throat.

“No Hasai. No!” Screamed Abraxas. The chains rattled and shook. He was crying, obviously powerless.

“We all evolve my love. You who cannot change cannot see that. You cannot shed your mortal coil. Ket rises again and this time, we have an opportunity. An opportunity that The Seven took from us! They who could not protect themselves. They who made us the sacrifice, so that they could go on! We now can protect ourselves. Now they are the sacrifice Abraxas!”

Haryk’s mind was running wild. He wasn’t sure what to think anymore. He was here to kill Abraxas, wasn’t he? They needed to get in, or they needed to go. And they needed to do it, now! He turned to Andril, who did not look like he was backing up. He raised his gun at the door again. Somehow shooting the lock didn’t seem to be the best way anymore. We’re running out of time, Andril. Can’t you make us invisible or something? We’ll surprise her!

No Haryk, there is an aura here. She has true sight.

What does that mean…

Shhhh….just do the shooting Haryk.  I have an idea. Andril began muttering under his breath. He was preparing a spell. Haryk hoped it was a good one. Something was beginning to trouble him about this. He decided he didn’t have time, and so aimed at the lock again. It was higher than he remembered.

Flustered, Haryk raised his gun to the lock, and then raised it some more. The lock was speeding upwards, as if it somehow came alive and decided to climb up the door! No, the door is growing upwards too. What in Ket?

Quiet Haryk. I’m concentrating on making us smaller here.

Great. Just great! Because the last time we were shrunk worked out so fucking well!

Just remember, Haryk, step into the ring, in you go. Step in again, out you come.”

“Wait! Where did the druid go?” Said Haryk’s tiny voice. “Ah shit!” Next to him lay the ring which like everything around him was enormous. He pulled himself over the ring and landed inside, his gun at the ready!





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