Chapter Eight Shades and Shadows
The acid vapours bit in to their throats making them cough as it pulled itself ever closer to Lancelot inch by choking inch and he wasn’t taking it that well.
“Ladies I am sorry our adventures together have been so short and have come to such an ignominious end. Be assured I hold you in no way at fault for my demise.” He said having already given up the struggle to get free.
“That’s good of you.” Horren muttered under her breath before adding as calmly as she could so he could hear. “Don’t consign us to the Dark Lords realm yet my there may yet be away out of this dilemma though I must admit to being bereft of ideas at this precise moment.”
“I have an idea but it is dangerous. I will attempt to turn back time and free us that way. If I succeed please try and remember to take me with you.” Serin sounded anything but confident.
“Don’t you dare my love it nearly killed you when we were looking for that lost child in Dyffid.” Horren’s anguish was obvious in her voice. “If you fail you could trap us in this moment forever. Forever feeling the acid bite but never dying , doomed for ever to repeat these final seconds.”
“I had to go back three hours then not a few minutes.” Serin sniffed. “I think I can do this. Lancelot, Horren you can not take anything with you from the time we entered this room the second time. As soon as you’re free get out of here.”
“Fine my Lady but could you hurry as its stomach is perilously close to my right foot.” Lancelot screeched as another filament landed close to his foot.
Serin began to chant in Dyffid a falling and rising Iroquois song to a driving beat. Louder and louder it grew, faster and faster Serin’s free hands clapped the beat her eye’s rolling up in their sockets to show the blood veined whites.
The faster she sang the slower time travelled until it ground to a halt with Lancelot’s foot surrounded by the filaments and then it began to crawl judderingly backward. Serin’s voice was a piercing shriek as the creature reformed into the open chest and the glued hands of Lancelot and Horren became free as the shield and cloak reassembled.
“Lancelot throw the shield back in before its lid shuts!” Horren bellowed above the noise of Serin’s shrill voice. Horren threw in her cloak a second before the lid snapped shut.
“What now my Lady Horren?” Lancelot yelled.
“Grab Serin and get out of here.” Horren yelled back.
Without further a do Lancelot threw Serin over his shoulder and legged it out of the room with Horren scampering after him.
Horren paused at the door and looked back at their doppelgangers back in the room.
“Serin, let go my darling we’re safe.” She glanced across to where Lancelot had propped her against the wall of the corridor unsure of what he was meant to do. “Catch her!!”
Serin screamed and collapsed in agony into the worried knight’s arms.
Horren glanced back into the room and watched satisfied as time rolled forward faster and faster. The creature was almost touching the Lancelot in the room leg when they all vanished from sight leaving an enraged beast behind.
Horren slammed the door and with a pass of her hand warped both it and the frame fusing it shut.
“It worked my love, we’re safe.” She turned to see a worried man gently stoking her lovers face.
For a moment she was consumed by jealousy and hate but real concern for both the people in front of her along with gratitude and love soon replaced it.
“Thank you my Lord for saving Serin but I am needed now.” She said gently giving the man a kiss on his cheek in gratitude. She bent over Serin and ever so lightly kissed her twisted lips. “Come back to me my love your work is done. Earth Mother let my love be a beacon in the darkness. Bring her home to me I pray.” Her tears dropped on to Serin’s cheek as a choked Lancelot squeezed her shoulder. “Come home my love. I love you, I need you, I desire you please don’t leave me all alone.”
Serin’s eye lids fluttered and her contorted body and face relaxed.
“It worked then?” She croaked. “I didn’t think it would.”
“Yes it worked my love but don’t you ever do that again I don’t think either my heart or that of Sir Lancelot’s could take the strain.” Horren smiled up at the young man and cupped his face in her hand. “Don’t you agree my Lord?”
“I could not agree more my Lady Horren. I believe the experience has aged me a good ten years or more.” He smiled revealing how young he really was. “I am sure some of my hair has gone white.”
Serin pursed her lips.
“Yes but it does make you look distinguished my Lord.” She wheezed with a watery smile.
An acrid smell wafted over them and assailed Horren’s nostrils.
“It seems that our enemy is reluctant to give up its prey.” She said darkly staring at the smoking door. “Can you carry my Lady Serin my Lord?”
He bent down and lifted her up easily.
“Yes my Lady.” He replied.
“Good now take her at least 100 yards from here.” Horren commanded.
“Lead the way my Lady.”
“No I fear not my Lord I have work to do. I’m going to bring down the corridor so just pray there is another way out of this labyrinth.” Horren told him as she turned back toward their enemy. “Go now and go quickly my Lord.”
The door finally collapsed in a steaming mount as the creature hauled its amorphous bulk through.
Horren began backing up as it undulated into view.
“Earth Mother shake these walls down on to this our enemy. Crush it in you wroth for its temerity in attacking your servant.” She bellowed her voice so loud that it brought dust and gravel down on the creature making it pause in it movement. “Let the walls crumble and the roof fall. Close this space I beseech you.”
Her voice reverberated off the walls making them shake as the echoes grew in volume. Then as if in slow motion they buckled and collapsed inward bringing down the ceiling and the tons of earth above it straight on top of the beast. But Horren hadn’t stayed around to view her handy work, she was running for all she was worth toward the other pair.
She could see the horrified expression of the young man as he looked back and saw the churning maelstrom of dust and earth thundering along behind her.
As she reached the staggering man she wrapped her arms around him and his burden and yelled the most powerful word she knew.
A flickering field of sparkling green lights formed around them just as the front edge of the dust storm reached them. It crashed into the sanctuary shield like a thing possessed, wailing and plunging them into darkness as the screen buckled under the strain. It threatened to give way altogether as it flared red again and again from rock strikes. Suddenly it became silent with nothing moving but dust motes in the air.
Fatigued beyond imagining Horren dropped the Sanctuary to reveal a clear space around them in the dust and rock. They had survived but only just.
“Come let us find somewhere safe for you Ladies to rest.” Lancelot said putting the exhausted Serin down and leading them on.
Eventually they came to an exit from the tunnels out into a familiar room. The only sign that they had that they were not back where they had started was the lack of white crosses and arrows on the wall.
“I take it that we’re not back at the beginning but where Tesler started.” Horren slumped exhaustedly against the wall.
“Yes you’re right and since she hasn’t come back here its safe to say she’s come across a problem.” Serin slid down the wall to join her as Lancelot took up guard duties at the tunnels exits. “I would say she and the others have taken the centre way. We’ll rest here awhile and then follow.”
Horren said nothing but just lent back and shut her eyes.
For a little while no one spoke as all three of them were lost in their private thoughts.
When Serin broke the silence it was with a question that quite surprised Horren.
“Horren darling what was the argument between you and Lorren about, the one you had at that dam wall? Why was it so important for you to know what she saw?” Serin saw the reluctance to answer in her lovers face. “Horren my darling there should be no secrets between us.”
Horren sighed and felt the pain of those days flood back and tears welled up unbeckoned in her eyes.
“She saw her sons, her twin boys.” She said wiping her eyes.
“I didn’t know she had been married let alone had children.” Serin said quietly. “Are you married Horren I never thought to ask?”
“I was but he’s dead.” Horren said a little angrily. “You wanted to know so listen but don’t judge us please.”
“You know that Lorren and I were sent with our Ambassador to the Conglomerate well what you may not know is why and how old we were. We were sent to find husbands to strengthen the Dyffid blood line. I was sixteen and Lorren was fourteen.
A year later both of us were married.” Horren shuddered as the memories flooded back. “I worked with the Ambassadors livestock and the Conglomerates horses as a healer while Lorren joined the military. Lorren was luckier that than I, you see she fell in love with a Captain of the Guard, a really hansom twenty one year old, and he fell in love with her.
She was so adept as a warrior she soon became his second in command despite her age. They would take their corps out on long patrols together and soon won the respect and love of the veterans that went with them. When Captain Tancredo took her to wife they carried the pair of them around the town on their shoulders.” Horren stopped to wipe away another tear. “My husband was chosen for me from the rich merchants of the town, a man who had outlived three wives already. We had a joint wedding ceremony, it was beautiful. Within two months she was pregnant but continued to ride with him right up till the last month. The old guard loved all the more for it. They went out their way to protect her even commandeering farm buildings for her to sleep in not that the farmers minded they were more than happy to help.
In the last month Anton was excused patrols to be with her but messages came through that Gnoll’s were attacking the outlying farms. He took out the patrol and was ambushed at the very moment Lorren went into labour. We think he died at the very moment the twins were born. It was wonderful to see them come into the world. I was there with the birthing woman at the Captains request; he didn’t want her without some one who loved her. Two days later the survivors entered the town made their way to the quarters of another Captain who had betrayed them and butchered him and his close guard.
Lorren flew into a dark rage and blamed everyone for not letting her go with him. She felt she could have saved him. She was inconsolable and fell into darkness blaming her twin boys for their father’s death. Several times I found her sitting in a pool of blood from where she had cut herself. I was the one that had her hide the scars with small tattoos but she loved the pain it gave her that she began covering herself with the designs she has now. Then I caught her trying to suffocate the babies. I took them away from her and took us home to Dyffid. The babies were given to a childless couple and your stepfather the Arch druid sent us to the school as teachers to recover.” Horren turned and looked at Serin. “Before you ask she doesn’t know who has her boys and yes they are at the school in fact we both tried to help them with their projects.”
“Ivan and Ivor?” Serin asked with growing realisation. “And what of your husband did he agree to you returning home?”
“He wasn’t in any condition to complain by then. I’d already killed him.” Horren said coldly but any attempt to glean further information was curtailed by Lancelot’s low whisper.
“Ladies someone comes.”
“Were away my Lord?” Serin asked wearily pulling out her swords and holding them crossed in front of her.
“Someone or something Sir Lancelot?” Horren asked with dread fearing the creature had survived the rock fall some how and even now was drawing nigh,
“Someone I should gauge from the swearing.” He suddenly reddened. “Especially with words like that and from a woman’s throat too.”
Horren and Serin looked at each other and grinned.
“Darius.” They said simultaneously but still they didn’t lower there guard till their friend limped into view out of the right hand tunnel several minutes later.
“You made it then?” Horren said with a mock scowl.
“If it wasn’t for Troy we wouldn’t have.” Darius grimaced and began rubbing her injured leg.
“How so?” Serin asked offering to help her friend.
Darius waved her away.
“It just aches a bit from running.” She reassured her before continuing. “The first room was bad enough.” She shuddered at the memory. “We found one of the serving girls or what was left of her.”
“Whipped to death?” Serin asked.
“No, she had been cut to ribbons with a thousand small cuts and allowed to bleed to death in to a drain. The whole side of her face had been hinged open to show the organs and muscles beneath.” Darius was have a tough time as she recalled it.
“Could you see her brain?” Serin asked earnestly.
“No we couldn’t. Why are you asking such ghoulish questions Serin?” Lorren asked from where she lazed against the wall stretching her legs.
“We found the other one in a similar condition. Could you recognise her?” Serin seemed strangely drawn to these events and it was making Horren feel very uncomfortable but she was more than surprised by her sister’s reply and Serin’s reaction to it.
“Yes it was Morag, the poor child.”
Before she could open her mouth to refute her sister’s claim Serin stood on her foot in a signal for silence.
“We couldn’t tell from our one her face was too ruined and strangely her brain had been removed.” Serin said in a puzzled voice.
“It was the next room that nearly killed us.” Darius continued. “It was an armoury with racks of swords, axes and a superb Elf bow. As I reached for it I was knocked flying by a beast.”
“A Blink Dog?” Horren asked feeling even more confused and frightened over the similarities in the stories. “That’s what attacked us.”
“No some sort of large lizard.” She replied. “It blew out some sort of noxious green vapour that paralysed Troy and I. It went for Troy but Lorren blocked it.”
“It was some sort of Basilisk but luckily I was out of range when it exhaled.” Lorren took up the tale but Horren could have sworn she had heard Serin mutter that luck didn’t come into it. “Eight feet, it had eight feet all with vicious claws.”
“She was amazing my Lady Serin.” Troy added. “She filleted it as if for the table.”
“Did you take the bow?” Serin asked Darius.
“No, Troy warned me not to touch it.” Darius said puzzled.
“I recognised it as a psychic bait of a Trapper.” Troy explained. “We created them in my time your future to protect valuable artefacts and spell scrolls. How it managed to be here in this time I do not know. It was disguised itself as a suit of armour but I could see its true form. They use the baits to glue you to the spot so they can consume you. It’s difficult to explain.”
“You don’t have to we met one disguised as a chest.” Serin told him. “It nearly killed us.”
“This one would have done for us to if it wasn’t for Troy.” Darius explained. “He had us activate it and get out of the room rapidly.”
“It took considerable effort but I managed to freeze it long enough for Lady Lorren to shatter it with a blow from her sword. Then deciding that retreat was the better path of valour we ran away as fast as we could just in case it wasn’t quite as dead as I hoped.” Troy finished.
“I just collapsed the tunnel on top of ours.” Horren said just a little smugly.
“To much of a coincidence I think.” Serin muttered quietly before adding for the benefit of the others. “Sister Tesler and her group have not returned here so we must assume they have run into similar problems to our own. Let’s go and find out shall we. Lorren would you lead the way please with Sir Lancelot into the central tunnel. Darius and I taking up the rear.”
The tunnel began sloping downwards and soon developed into a narrow gallery arcing around a deep abyss where a pale light flickered in its depths.
It twisted through several short tunnels and small rooms full of strange artefacts and sculptures. No one touched them finding them too obvious to be trusted.
“Is it worth shouting out to see if the others can hear us do you think?” Darius asked when they paused to rest.
“No I don’t think so my friend.” Serin said. She had made Darius sit against the wall and was diligently massaging the rangers damaged leg to ease the ache. “I’m surprised we haven’t heard them considering how much Hanna likes a good moan.”
The anteroom was full of larger sculptures and paintings depicting torture and fornication in equal measure.
“I don’t think much for their taste in art.” Darius twisted her head to one side and then the other trying to separate the intertwined bodies in the orgy scene over seen by a devil on the wall opposite.
“I think they are effective in depicting the darkness of the soul.” Lorren crossed to another exhibit. “Look how the artist has combined sculpture with art to make the woman’s body come out of the painting.”
It was true that the combination was stunning with the woman’s form rising out of image of the rest of her. It was perfect but some thing bothered Serin as she leaned in for a closer look.
“It’s not a sculpture.” She said eventually with a look of disgust on her face. “It’s a real woman’s body preserved in some way. No carver could produce so accurately the pores of the skin.”
“Thank you for sharing that with us my love.” Horren grimaced and felt a little sick as Lorren and Serin examined the body more closely. “I think we’ll move on don’t you.”
Horren wanted to get as much distance as possible between her and the room, but in her haste she failed to notice an imperfection in a tile near the exit. As she reached the large flagstones she triggered the trap.
The trapdoor opened before anyone could react, dropping her through the floor into the abyss below.
As she fell her hands scrabbled for any purchase to stop her fatal descent and at the last moment her left hand grabbed a metal crossbeam that pulled her up with such a jerk that it threaten to dislocate her shoulder and may catapult her of into the abyss.
She heard the shouts of consternation above her before two heads appeared above her peering over the edge.
“Hang on darling love we’ll get you. What ever you do don’t let go.” Serin said worriedly.
“I’ll try not to my love but if you could hurry I’d be really obliged.” Horren grunted back with false humour.
Lorren gave a short bark of a laugh as she looked down on her sister.
“It seems that I’ll have to save you this time. I’ve always said you’re always hanging around.”
“Well if you’re going to save me could you hurry up I don’t think I can hold on much longer.” She wheezed back.
Lorren eased herself into the hole bracing her body with her back against one wall and her feet against the other. Slowly she edged her way down until she could stand on the rail Horren was hanging from. Carefully she tested it to see if it could bear her weight. Once satisfied she lowered herself onto it before reaching down and carefully drawing Horren up to stand beside her. But once there Lorren was unsure how to proceed.
“I can lift you up but you’ll still be short of the lip.” Lorren told her trying to move round in the limited space without losing her footing on the narrow bar that creaked ominously.
“I can create some hand grips from the wall if you can steady me.” Horren said whilst causing a bit of panic as she nearly pushed her sister off as she turned round to face the wall.
“Why didn’t you do that in the first place?” Her sister growled.
“It’s a bit difficult to think of these things while you dangling by one hand over a bottomless pit.” She sniped back. “Now lift me up a high as you can?”
Lorren obliged by grabbing her by the thighs and powering upward with a grunt. Once up Horren made the rock walls protrude enough for her to haul herself up into Serin’s and Lancelot’s waiting hands. They man handled her over the lip to safety just as they heard a wrenching sound from below.
“Lorren!” Horren screamed and with Serin scrambled to the lip and peered over dreading what they would see.
Lorren had wedged herself once again against the wall.
“The dam bar gave way just as I pushed to get my last foot off.” Lorren squirmed a little bit closer with a great degree of effort. “I’ll need some help to get over the lip when I get near the top.”
It took another gruelling five minutes before they could haul her to comparative safety.
Serin stayed put a few moments staring into the chasm at the remains of the bar floating in apparent mid air a few feet beneath where it was once anchored. She got to her feet and cast about her in search for something.
“Darius pass us that small bronze figure please.” She asked. Darius nervously complied.
Serin then without further ado dropped it into the trap and watched it descend to land with a clump beside the bar. Apparently satisfied she turned to the others with a nod.
“Just trying out a theory. Shall we go?” She turned and lightly skipped over the chasm to the other side. She turned around and saw Troy create some sort of transparent bridge affair over the gap.
“Show Off.” Horren said as she crossed.
“Why thank you my Lady.” Serin gave a graceful curtsy.
“I was talking to Troy not you my love.” Horren said trying vainly not to look down. She spied the objects hovering down below and shook her head in disbelief. “But that’s impossible.”
“Yes I know. Interesting isn’t it?” Serin said talking her hand as she came of the bridge. “I’m for one glad you are still alive.”
“We’ll that makes two of us.” Horren muttered.
Five minutes later they entered another room that was far less pleasant as in it was another body.
It was Gwen or what was left of her. She had been dismembered.
Her head was stuck on a spike, her flesh pinned to a wall while her torso lay on a table beside trays holding steaming piles of her entrails and organs. Her feet and hands lay in separate trays.
On two lecterns were detailed anatomical drawings of the body parts. Blood was everywhere making the room stink as was the dung leaking out of the large and small bowels.
Lorren sniffed the air her eyes wide with wonder.
“Impressive.” She said neutrally. “This is a barber surgeon’s dissection room.”
“Are you trying to be vile on purpose?” Horren moaned as she tried to turn away from the sights. “Come on lets get out of here before I’m sick.”
“I somehow don’t think she is going to let us sister.” Lorren bellowed. “To arms, to arms.”
The disembodied head swung round on the spike making her pulled out eyes swing round like balls on a string.
“That’s it run to the hills.” It screamed at them. “Welcome to the dark side of the moon.”
It roared with laughter as her body parts began to move as a rouge wind made the torches gutter.
“Welcome to the Sabbath because Satan’s here.” It screeched in manic laughter. “I’m hungry!!”