rogan and Tavis flew through the air, a ball of red and tan flesh, and the shining shaft of a lance. Turning gently, almost gracefully, the pair plummeted toward the pink glassy dome of the King's tower. Brogan's back was completely square to the glass panes when they hit, and Tavis felt the jarring impact on the stiff surface. It creaked, barely, and then gave way completely, splintering into pinkish shards and sharp leaves as Brogan's hulking mass broke through the dome.
Tavis regained the breath that he had painfully expelled at the collision. Struggling with uncanny forces of gravity, he kept a hold on the lance as they plunged into the dark shaft of the King's tower. They regained speed again quickly once they were through the dome. Tavis watched with an almost childlike fascination as slices of glass tumbled lazily down the tower, briefly catching glimmers of the red light of the descending sun. A thick thread of spiral staircase wound away as they sped downward, stair rails and steps unwinding like a ribbon, faster and faster as the seconds passed by.
The hypnotic descent broke when Brogan unwrapped one arm from around Tavis and reached out to some passing obstruction. The youth heard a wooden railing burst and chips of wood rained onto him. They fell again until Brogan swung wide with the same arm, catching a thick chain and jarring them in their descent. Tavis heard the metal of a chandelier creak and smelled the heady odor of scented candles. The chandelier strained, the chain went taut, and the pair of them swung onto a landing on the staircase, hitting the hard surface with a series of tumultuous thuds.
Tavis took account of himself and began brushing wood chips and plaster powder out of his hair and clothes. His eyes adjusted quickly to the dim light, and he found his lance where it had fallen. Turning, he looked for Brogan. The big red lay on the wide staircase steps, groaning and clutching at his shoulder with a huge hand.
Tavis ambled over to him and placed a hand on the BeHemoth's back. "You okay?"
Brogan groaned again, louder "Arrrgh… Think I pulled something…" After a minute of moaning, Brogan raised himself to his knees and leaned against the wall. "Oof… Hang on a minute." With that, Brogan jerked his upper body violently and smacked his shoulder into the wall. Tavis cringed and stepped back as Brogan gave out a horrific wail that reverberated up and down through the tower.
"What did you… Why did you…" Tavis stammered.
"Had to… <ouch> Had to set it back in place… It's popped out like this before… Ooo… I'll be okay." Brogan sat back then, tried to relax, and panted heavily.
"Well you just rest okay," Tavis cautioned.
"No no, I'm fine. 'Sides," he began groaning as he got his feet under him, "we gotta get moving."
Tavis raced to Brogan's side, offering an arm under him for support.
"It's the arm that's sprained, kid, the legs still work fine," Brogan returned, dismissively.
His words did not put Tavis at ease in the slightest.
"Come on, let's go." They descended the stairs fairly rapidly. Tavis kept firm hold of the lance while Brogan continued to massage his injured shoulder. In short order they arrived at the landing and cast about nervously.
"Where's the welcoming committee?" Brogan asked.
"I'm sure they heard us come," Tavis answered.
"Come on," Brogan coaxed, and started off down a hallway.
A dark-haired, ashen-faced man wearing black robes darted around a corner and raced blindly toward them. "Easy, bud," Brogan responded, bringing up his good arm to catch the fellow. "What's your hurry?"
The ashen-faced man looked up into Brogan's face. At this close range, they saw that small beads of sweat had formed all over his skin. "Oh… Oh no, you're not one of them, are you?"
"One of what?" Brogan demanded.
The ashen-faced man stammered a moment before continuing. His eyes were teary and mucus seeped from his nose. It looked to Tavis as though the fellow had been crying or in some awful kind of pain. "Insanity…" the man continued, "Horrible.. Can't begin…"
"Allright," Brogan interrupted impatiently, "Where's Nashan?"
"You actually want to see…?" the man began, then halted when he registered the sincerity in Brogan's beady eyes. "…Down that way," he continued, "but on your lives…"
"Get out of here, pal," Brogan snapped sharply, releasing his grip on the fellow's black robes. "I don't want you to miss the end of the world or nothin'."
With that, the ashen-faced man dashed off down the hallway, black robes fluttering behind him.
"Come on," Brogan cajoled again, leading Tavis down the hallway.
Turning the corner, they discovered the reason for the ashen-faced man's hasty exit. It was hard to make out in the dark light, and if they hadn't seen one before, they wouldn't have recognized the impetus that raced down the hallway toward them. Fierce, grunting, it charged like a bull, brawny shoulders hunched and beady eyes fixed. Black, muscled legs pumped mechanically as thick, curved talons dug into the carpet, eating up huge spans as it went.
Brogan attempted a fighter's crouch, but wounded shoulder and fearful memory of the other creature like this from a few nights before made him hesitate. Coolly, Tavis stepped around the BeHemoth, planted the butt of his staff in the ground, letting the small fang at the end bite into the carpet. Firmly, he brought the staff down, level with the onrushing beast's charge, and pushed out a breath through gritted teeth.
Unthinking, driven by some unintelligent motivation, the beast charged forward and thrust a meaty shoulder onto the lance, sinking down well onto the shaft. There was no provoking vibration this time, and Tavis found himself having to urge the lance into action, exhaling and pushing his will through the silvery pole and into the impetus that whipped and screeched on the tip. The lance took the cue, though, and snapped to life, coursing blue sparks into the flailing beast, growing and brightening until the pitch creature's scream broke and the flesh burst off, disintegrating instantly as it left the beast.
Brogan stared down at the dark-haired youth. "Thanks pal," he said, massaging his shoulder again, "I think we might be even now."
Tavis did not respond, simply looked up and over Brogan's shoulder to a bright flash from a room at the end of an adjacent hallway. "Look, there's someone in there. Let's go."
Brogan nodded, letting Tavis lead the way. They ran only a short distance. Like a pair of soldiers, they entered the room and confronted the sole inhabitant. It was another black-robed fellow, darker-skinned and while shorter, he was healthier looking than the previous one. He was removing a large mirror from the wall and was quite shocked when the two entered the room.
"Please," the black-robed fellow began, the first to speak, "Please, I'm trying to get out of here..." Tavis and Brogan remained quiet, letting him talk. "It's insane… The Enteroh… I don't know what he… I'm just trying to collect my things and get out."
"You know the Enteroh? Who are you?" Tavis asked.
"I… -Trondal's my name. I had to work for him… -Against my will, as well. He trusted me with very little… I'm just trying to get out!" The man was pleading now, his voice bordering on frantic.
"Where is he?" Tavis continued.
"Who? What? -The Enteroh, you mean? I think I saw, -that is, I believe he's in his throne room at the end of the hall." Trondal paused and looked nervously at his two assailants. "Please, I so want to get out of this place!"
Brogan scowled at the small Devict. "Get a good price for that mirror, bub." The BeHemoth stepped aside then, and Trondal darted past him and out the door without a word.
Brogan watched the little man leave. "Suppose I should've asked him where the throne room is," he stated flatly.
"I think I remember…" Tavis began, "from a dream I had a few days back…"
Brogan looked on at Tavis in disbelief. "Am I the only one on this team not having Tolus-dreams?" Then he shook his head. "Go on, lead the way!"
Tavis did so, turning and exiting out the door, then down a hallway that he seemed to remember walking through before. His feet tread lightly on a strip of purple carpet that ran at length down the hallway, up a short flight of stairs, and under a pair of decorated, wooden, double-doors. Cautiously, Tavis walked up to them. He rested a hand on them, then turned to Brogan and raised his eyebrows in question.
"Oh I'm never gonna be more ready, pal," Brogan replied, "You go right ahead."
Tavis turned back, took a deep breath, then pushed one of the doors open and stepped in.
The throne room was darker than Tavis remembered, much darker than in his dream. It was far more disheveled than he recalled as well, books were out of their shelves and lying open on the floor, tables had been overturned, broken glass lay in clumps here and there, and ornate curtains and tapestries dangled from windows and ceiling rails, obscuring their vision more than the dim light. Cautiously, Tavis crept in, Brogan at his side, carefully, stepping over the rubble that littered the ground. All the while, their ears pricked to a rattling, reverberating noise that sounded like forced breathing -almost panting, coming from behind a large, purple tapestry which hung a few paces before them. Gingerly, Tavis stepped forward and poked at the fabric with the tip of his lance. Then, gently, he pushed the giant purple weave aside.
Behind it, slumped in his throne, adorned in his regal sash, ashen faced and panting, sat Enteroh Nashan. At the sight of the two intruders, the king's panting quickened and shortened. Nashan's eyes focused on them, pulling back in from a deep, sunken, glassy stare. Wordlessly, the three stood, eyes locked, for a long, disquieting moment.
At great length, Nashan spoke. "So," he began through belabored breaths, "You've come." A series of grievous, jarring coughs followed. "Good, good… Very good."
Tavis furrowed his brows, staring hard into the king's pale face from down the length of deep maroon carpet that lay between them. "What's wrong with you?"
"Concern?" the Enteroh began, following it with a chuckle that turned into another wrenching cough. "A kind citizen, are you? Here to wish me health and long life?"
Tavis did not respond.
The Enteroh eyed the youth's long, silvery lance surreptitiously. "By the looks of things, you have less… benign plans in mind."
"Looks like somebody beat us to you, pal," Brogan interjected. He was still rubbing his sprained shoulder. "You look like a fish on dry sand. I give you an hour tops. All we gotta do now is sit back and watch the show."
Tavis blanched slightly at Brogan's words.
"Oh please," the Enteroh replied through laborious breathing, "Do indeed. Sit back and make yourselves comfortable." A weak smile crossed his pale lips." I guarantee you no disappointment."
Brogan grimaced at that.
Nashan turned his head slightly from the position into which it had slumped. "One moment…" he began, narrowing his eyes, "I remember you." The Enteroh attempted to straighten up in his chair, grunting onerously as he did so. "I'm so glad you returned. The pits have scarcely been drawing anyone since you left."
Brogan ground his teeth and stretched himself up to full height. An angry, throbbing vein protruded from his neck.
Tavis put a restraining hand on the big red's arm. "I don't thing I'm going to wait," the youth began. "I think I'm going to finish you right now." He bit down harshly on the last few words and brought both hands back onto the lance, tightening his grip and leveling the spearhead toward the king's chest. It was a fair distance from here to the Enteroh, the youth thought, but a short charge would cover the ground quickly, and the Enteroh sure wasn't going anywhere in his condition.
Nashan fixed his eyes on Tavis. "You could, you know, you could," he began, his breathing still belabored. "But there are others… who could stand in my place." The Enteroh paused, letting his words sink in. "Better for you to take the offer I extended to you earlier and contribute to the cause, be one of the people building up the foundation." The Enteroh looked on at Tavis. "Beautiful creatures, I tell you. Absolutely beautiful creatures."
"I don't care," Tavis replied, steel in his voice.
Nashan looked disappointed. "What then? What will you do to me now? Lock me up like I did to your father? Drive me mad like I did to your mother? Run me out of town and then hunt me down like I did to you and all your friends?"
"Kill you like you did to my uncle?" Tavis added to the list, a hot flame of anger showing in his voice.
Enteroh Nashan smiled at that, a wide, generous smile. "Is that all this is about? Revenge?" The Enteroh laughed, a wry, wheezing laugh. "Oh I must start putting out more money to get some better advisors. They had me convinced that you were some sort of noble crusader…" He broke off into a mild chuckle again, which turned quickly into a hacking, jolting cough. "You may be able <koff>… to sit and watch <koff> <koff>… after all…" The king's whole body trembled then, limbs shivering and quaking spasmodically. His face blanched even further and his eyes opened impossibly wide, showing a great amount of white around the dark centers. He began gulping in huge balefuls of air more and more deeply as though preparing for a great sneeze. He never released it though, just hung at the apex of his intakes, unmoving, a frozen still life in his throne.
Tavis and Brogan looked hard at the king's body, their faces drawn and almost fearful. "Is he… Is he gone?" Tavis began, edging forward.
"Hang on kid," Brogan replied, reaching out an arm to halt the youth's advances. "Just lemme see here…" The huge BeHemoth edged toward the throne, absently rubbing his shoulder, cautiously moving forward by increments to get a closer look.
Then finally, exceedingly slowly, Enteroh Nashan let out a breath. Eyes closed, face serene, he exhaled, long and deep, a compliment to his earlier spasmodic intakes. Gradually, deliberately, he straightened and rose from his throne, eyes still closed. Brogan halted his progress. Tavis tightened his grip on the lance…
Nashan opened his eyes.
And the orbs under his lids shone out at them, dark, ebon eyes like polished agates with golden diamonds burning in their centers. With their opening came an overpowering, engulfing feeling of entrapment, as though the inky waters of the bay had risen up and burst through the Hall windows, pounding and drowning everyone inside.
Brogan bellowed and stumbled backwards, bringing up a hand to his face reflexively. Tavis cast his eyes about, feeling a draining surge of despair and an incomprehension of the power upon him. Indecision took him and his mind scattered into a thousand pieces.
Keep your wits lad, hold your head together! Remember what I taught you. Breathe, lad, breathe! Deliberately, willfully, Tavis closed his eyes, and breathed, the full, drawing breaths that Wiljes had taught him. Searching, wanting, he felt for and found the firm, warm glow of his Ahdi, deep within him, exactly where he had left it. He fueled it then, still breathing, letting it draw in as much mana as it could handle. His Ahdi seemed to drink it in, thirsty, yearning. As it grew to fill the rest of his body, the suffocating feeling he beheld a moment before grew, almost in response, trying to beat the glowing core inside Tavis back down. Tavis met the buffeting, opening up his spirit as wide as he was able, fueling the warmth of his Ahdi even further, picturing it as though it were a fire and chanting to himself: Burn… Burn… Burn…
He was winning. He could feel it. Confidence growing, he dared to open his eyes and behold what he had seen so long ago when he first learned to see with his other sight. And there it was, the soft blue nimbus of mana covered his shoulders, his arms, his hands… and even the lance. Tavis lingered on it, wondering. The lance had been coated in a blue, misty haze before, but it was different now; the bluish glow of the lance and the glow from his own arms seemed to merge leaving no distinguishable edges between his hands and the metal. It registered with him then that the lance was vibrating furiously, just as it had before, but with a pent up power that surged and raced like a raptor in a cage. Burn… he thought, looking at the silvery lance with intrigue. Burn…
A great howl sounded in Tavis' ears then, and he jerked his head up to see. Before him, standing in place of where Enteroh Nashan had stood earlier, was a huge serpent -almost the size of the tower he and Brogan had fallen down earlier- covered with a dirty, yellowish glow.. Glinting black bands of ebon scales sloped up the viper's body like liquid armor, flowing outward at the top to form a huge pair of massive wings that spread until they almost touched the throne room walls. At the top of the serpent's towering body perched an almost insect-like head, manacled and twitching, with two eyes burning in it's skull like twin, golden diamonds.
"Anhur!" Tavis screamed, not thinking.
Brogan snapped his head around. "What is it kid? What do you see?"
The serpent rattled out a noise, filling the whole of the throne room.
"What was that noise?" Brogan asked, turning about wildly. "Where did it-"
"You may as well know," the serpent answered. Tavis watched with his other sight, and beheld the golden glow surrounding the ebon viper disappear.
"Holy-!" Brogan shouted, stumbling backwards and staring in disbelief at the creature that had suddenly appeared before him. "Mother of flying great Anhur! What-"
The head turned, and the diamond eyes fixed on Brogan. One of the serpent's huge wings shot out like a whip and struck the BeHemoth dead in the shoulder he had been absently rubbing. Tavis heard the sickening crack of cartilage and bone as the tip of the black wing stung. With a wail that filled all of the Hall, Brogan fell, clutching weakly at his ruined shoulder.
Tavis turned to the big red, startled. Hesitantly, he advanced toward him, no longer thinking of the huge serpent that towered before him. Brogan looked up, his pained, beady eyes meeting the youth's.
"Don't… go… soft…" Brogan managed.
Tavis bit down, swallowed hard, turned and beheld the serpent. His stance tightened, his legs tensed, and then his feet snapped off the floor and shot him down the length of the purple carpet. His head was light, but clear and he felt the warm, bright glow of magic inside him churning and throbbing. At the base of his vision he saw his own arms, blue coursing bands of mana chasing down them, streaming off his hands, and down the length of the lance. He felt the fire inside him manifest and surge down his forearms. This time however, he felt no stinging in his palms, and the old scars from the day on the meadow did not reopen. Drinking it in like sweet wine, the lance pulled the fire from his palms and charged the shaft with an energy as blue as the moon and as bright as the sun.
The ground between them closed, the charge ended, and the spearhead bit into the ebon serpent's banded scales. It sliced through the steely hide as though it were a spider's web. Pouring, gushing, the fiery blue mana flowed from the tip, coursing into the viper like waters bursting from a dam.
Rattling, seething, the serpent wailed. The venomous hiss stung Tavis' ears and shook the glass that littered the floor. What books remained seated, tumbled from their shelves. The huge tapestry that hung at the entrance fell to the floor. Still, Tavis poured it on, drawing from anywhere he could, shooting mana down the length of the lance. Behind the serpent, an ugly tear rent the air, and a dirty yellowish light seemed to seep out of a great wound. The viper slipped off the lance's tip and fell away into the rent, as though it was falling down an enormous well. Impossibly quickly, the reptilian coils snapped around and wrenched away into the wound like a huge black chain being reeled up. As the serpentine tail sped away, the rent closed, the air groaned, and the Hall fell into darkness, leaving only a stench of copper and a low ringing sound like that of an enormous bell.
Tavis sighed, a deep exhausted sigh. Drained from the surge of mana that had flowed through him, he closed his eyes, relaxed his muscles, and let his breathing stabilize. Gradually, he felt his Ahdi shrink back down inside him to a warm little kernel of energy, and then fade into his soul. It's gone now, he thought, the horrible, suffocating feeling is gone…His muscles trembled then from the fatigue, and he was reminded that he was still holding onto the lance, which was barely vibrating now, quickly returning to nothing more than silvery steel. There was however, a pull on the tip of the lance that he did not recognize from previous occasions. Slowly he opened his eyes, and was not prepared for what he saw.
Hanging on the end of the lance, the spearhead sunk into his torso, stood Enteroh Nashan, barely holding himself up on quavering legs. Tavis flinched, startled.
"Good heavens," Nashan began, the words wheezing out from faltering lungs, "What have I…" then the Enteroh looked up, his soft brown eyes meeting Tavis'. "Oh… It's you. I remember you… You were in a dream of mine… or…" He was broken off with greater, more painful wheezing and a few bloody coughs that brought flecks of red to the corners of his mouth.
Tavis' eyes darted all about the Enteroh, flummoxed and dazed. "Here… Let me…" He pulled the spearhead out from the King's body.
"No! Don't-" began the Enteroh, too late. Deep, cerise life tumbled out of the hole the spearhead left behind, huge gobbets staining royal robes. "Aaahhh," the Enteroh groaned, clutching at the wound with both hands. Legs buckling, he tumbled to the short steps beneath him that led up to the throne. Unhesitating, Tavis dropped the lance to the floor with a metallic thump and kneeled by the King's side, placing supporting arms underneath the frail body.
"Oh my… Stars…" the Enteroh began again, swallowing down blood. "Here…" he began again, "Let me look at you." For a long, lingering moment, both pairs of brown eyes met, and held. "It… It's Tavis, isn't it?"
Tavis nodded soberly.
"Yes… Thought I could remember. So long since I last… Can't even recall when it first… Just like a dream."
Tavis looked on at the Enteroh. Words and questions fumbled about in his head, but nothing emerged.
"Just wanted to see… who was there… when I was… released…" The Enteroh halted his speech then, the blood rising up in his throat. The eyes went glassy, the body slackened, and one, last breath rattled out of his exhausted lungs.