Second Book of the Darkness Trilogy
by K Griffin © 1998
"External Powers are a weakness that can be
exploited. The essence of true power is found within oneself"
extract from the "Chaos Codex"
Ryrf had been dreading the moment when the platform would stop. He knew that as soon as he left this chimney, he’d have to face the fact of the tons of rock between him and the heavens. Now the moment was here. He felt the platform heave and yaw a little before settling back onto an even keel. All movement seemed to stop. He stood resolutely, squared his shoulders in a personal little gesture of determination. He dragged his eyes from the heavens. As he'd known it would, the moment his link with the sky was broken, a deep and gnawing hunger began to eat at his insides. He closed his eyes and focused on the problem at hand, then opened them to take stock. There was no obvious exit from this stone chamber and he could only vaguely make out Miles in the darkness. Miles was visible more by virtue of his movements than because any real light penetrated this deep into the mountain.
Miles spoke in a small voice, "Wait Ryrf. The doors can't open until the platform is below the entrance." There was a sudden thud as some rocks fell onto the platform. The extra weight of the rocks made the platform settle even deeper. There was a loud creaking and groaning. Miles couldn't resist explaining the wonders of the gnome inventiveness, but his long rambling explanation of alcoves and rocks and cantilevers and counterbalances left Ryrf none the wiser as to why the rock wall facing them suddenly swung open. As Miles chattered on about his beloved machinery, his voice lightened and he seemed to forget the magnitude and seriousness of the task ahead of them.
Ryrf waited patiently for the gnome to stop his chatter. He wasn’t really listening and the truth was, Miles didn’t really expect him to listen anyway. Miles babbled when he was tired or nervous or scared, and Ryrf ignored it and collected his thoughts, letting the noise roll over him. It was a compromise that suited them both.
Ryrf peered down the tunnel that connected to this elevator but could see nothing but a soft glow of white in the distance. He stepped off the platform to gain a better view of the tunnel. The platform rose slightly as his weight left it, and the great groaning and creaking began again. Ryrf watched in dismay as the rock face began to close. He half turned to yell a warning to Miles, but the noise had galvanised Miles into action. Before Ryrf could throw himself through the diminishing opening, Miles had leapt off the platform as well, but he wasn't rushing towards the tunnel. Instead he simply turned and started throwing rocks from a nearby pile onto the platform. Ryrf joined in shamefacedly, annoyed that he hadn’t noticed the piles of rocks. He castigated himself for not noticing and not realising the purpose of the pile of rocks. He watched as the platform again settled and whatever it triggered at the bottom of the chimney, reversed the closing of the great wall of rock.
"You're not thinking too straight yet, Ryrf." grinned Miles before trotting off down wide, open tunnel. He called over his shoulder as he reached the first turning "Come on man, there's a resting place just down here. We can sort out the next move there."
Ryrf sighed and followed the little man. The quick pace of his friend was difficult to emulate, since the low and jagged roof of the tunnel meant Ryrf could not always stand upright. Ryrf refused to dwell on the tempting image of how easily his four-footed form would traverse these tunnels. The ache inside was bad enough without wishing for something that could not happen. By the time he caught up to his friend, he was gasping for breath. He barely looked around the snug little room before dropping onto a woven mat.
Miles looked at his friend and shook his head sadly as he said, "Admit it Ryrf. If we're to help your little lady, you have to rest first." Miles looked at his friend's white face and emaciated body and said in a measured tone, "At a guess, its a two day journey to get across and up to the castle, and we'd still have to find a way inside once we arrived." Miles paused a moment before continuing "They say there is one who has been inside." With a short bitter little laugh he interrupted his own thoughts to add "Actually they say there are many who have been inside, but only one who ever returned."
Ryrf looked at the serious little face and said softly "Only one?"
Miles nodded. "Only one", he said sadly. "But," he added in a brighter voice, "he's the one to show us the way. You can rest here while I go and fetch him."
"Will he come?" asked Ryrf.
"For me, I think he will. I've always accorded him the credit of his deeds in his formal naming. Something few others do." said Miles looking pointedly at Ryrf. "Some of us understand the importance of a full and correct name." Ryrf had the good grace to look a little abashed at this polite little dig, but he didn't comment.
"Umm, Miles" he grinned and paused to see if he got a reaction before continuing, "I'll wait here for you then".
Miles grinned back but didn't bite. "Don't waste your energy Ryrf. There are herbs for teas and dried meat and fruits in the canisters. Do what you can to restore yourself while I'm gone." he said as he ducked out of the traveller's way and back into the main tunnels. His parting words floated back as he trotted off into the darkness "..and sleep Ryrf. Sleep well. It’s safe here."
As the sound of footsteps faded into the distance and silence again settled around him, Ryrf took the time to survey this haven. Like a nest hollowed out of the tunnel wall it cocooned him in safety. There were no obvious sconces or torches, yet a soft white glow lit the room. Ryrf examined every surface and indentation but could not find the source of the light. A plaque above the door held some message that Ryrf wished he could understand, but Gnomish was not a language he'd ever learned well enough to read. The floor of the room was warm to the touch and the heat seemed to soak into his weary bones to heal from the inside out. Ryrf could feel that sleep was not far away, but he knew he should eat before he let sleep overtake him. Shelves at the rear of the little room were lined with large pottery canisters. Ryrf didn't even need to stand to reach them. He simply leaned over and began opening them one at a time. Most of the contents were unfamiliar, although one seemed to hold the dried giant rock lizard that Miles had already fed him. Although it wasn't particularly tasty, it was nourishing. Ryrf chewed some of the strips while he continued his exploration.
The last canister he opened held some pungent herbs. As soon as he lifted the lid, the smell filled the room. Ryrf took one deep breath and wrinkled his nose in distaste. A biting acrid smell burned his nostrils and a wave of dizziness blurred his vision. He replaced the lid quickly but couldn't shake the effects. The scent hung heavy in the room and with each breath, it filled his head again. Cursing Miles for not warning him of this one and cursing himself for trusting the warm ambience of the bolt-hole, he gave in to the sleep that the herb demanded. His eyelids drooped uncontrollably and he slumped back down onto the mat and allowed sleep to overwhelm him
It was a strange sleep. Ryrf could see his body, pale and thin, sleeping on the softness of the woven mats. His mind however roamed free and continued its search for Chrys. Leaving his body sleeping and vulnerable, his essence stepped through a silver portal and entered a circular room. Each wall of the circular room was covered with glass panels that were dusty and covered in cobwebs. Without his physical form he couldn't clean the windows and his attempts to see only yielded faint images and vague shadows. It was like trying to look into an old clouded mirror. As the similarity occurred to him, he realised its truth. They were, or once were, mirrors that made up the walls of this room.
As he stared at the mirrors, one began to sparkle. Its cloudy surface began to swirl and the images came into focus. A fountain tinkled in the centre of the room and a woman and a man were arguing. It was Chrys. Beside her, a dark enigmatic man was taunting her and daring her. He pointed to the sparkling diamonds of water that danced in the air. He pointed to the amazingly still water below the fountain. The water fell, but the pool beneath the fountain was not disturbed by the spray or falling water. No ripples fanned out from the diamond sparkles as they hit the water. And it was this water, that the man was daring Chrys to enter. Suddenly, Ryrf could hear their words as well as see them. "Its her final legacy" said the dark man. "Its her gift."
The wrongness of the picture terrified Ryrf. "No!" he screamed, but his words could not reach past the mirror. He watched in terror as the man filled a silver chalice with the water and handed it to Chrys.
"No!!" he screamed again and he tried to batter his way past the mirror. Even as he watched, Chrys lifted the chalice in a toast then seemed to turn and look straight into his eyes. He watched as she drank the strange water, and a terrible pain washed over him as a cold stillness settled over her vibrant smile. She still stood before him, but the colour of her aura faded, absorbed by the stillness of the water. Just as the diamond sparkles of the fountain had disappeared without trace, so did the essence that was Chrys. The mirror slowly clouded over or perhaps it was the tears in his eyes blurring the picture.
He heard a voice calling his name and the mirror seemed to clear again. He blinked slowly as his vision cleared. "No" he gasped, repeating the one word over and over again. He looked up in confusion when he realised his name was still being called and a hand was shaking his shoulder. He blinked slowly, when he saw Miles standing over him. "It was a dream?" he said slowly.
He scrambled to his feet in confusion only to bang his head on the low ceiling. Dizziness almost overwhelmed him again and he sat quickly down resting his head in his hands. He finally looked up and saw Miles watching him. "Was it a dream, Miles?" he asked, with a tremor of despair shaking his voice. "Yes," said Miles, "Whatever it was, it was a dream. You were sleeping when we arrived."
Ryrf realised that Miles was not alone. Behind him stood another gnome, aloof and embarrassed by the informality of this meeting. "Greetings, honourable sir" said Ryrf , using the gnomish form for the greeting, in an attempt to salvage some respectability. The form of greeting he used presumed that the visitor was a great and important man, and was designed to flatter. Ryrf pushed the disturbing visions aside and watched the newcomer carefully. The gnome’s response to the formal greeting was reassuring. The little man's nose stopped twitching with distaste and he seemed to expand with pride at this recognition of his status.
Ryrf turned back to Miles and asked "How long were you gone, Miles? I did sleep. Some herb, from the canisters, knocked me out so I have no idea how long I've been sleeping." Miles glanced across at the canisters and spoke slowly, "which.." He stopped mid-sentence and shook his head slowly. His next words didn't seem to finish the sentence. He continued, "Almost a day, Ryrf. We have the services of a master guide. We can do it now."
Miles stepped aside and gestured the other gnome to come forward. Miles began the introductions with “Grir’Ryrf, Archon of Clan Wolf, Defender of Yang’Grir, Protector of the Lady Chrys,” but Ryrf interrupted him. “We’ve already lost a day, Miles.” he murmured softly before speaking over the great and proud lineage that Miles was weaving for him. In a strong and friendly voice, he said “For this journey, it is simply Ryrf, good Sir. The Lady has demanded informality. As best he could he bowed deeply and waited for the courtesy to be returned. “Davron, then it shall be. Davron, yes, Davron,” said the gnome, with a wry grin, letting the short name roll off his tongue as he repeated it over and over again.
“Lead on then friend Davron. We are in your hands until we obtain entry to the Castle.” said Ryrf, managing to stifle Miles protests, by simply stepping in front of him and ushering Davron out the door. In single file, with Davron leading, they headed off into the darkness. Miles scrambled around muttering, cleaning out some of the canisters and stuffing his pack full of food, before joining the rear of the line.
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