Chapter 60 Fate
Marcus led the way through the broken doors which once adorned the entrance to the main keep. The building suffered extensive damage over the years, and they had to move carefully through the beams and fallen debris that previously formed part of the second floor. Marcus wouldn’t have risked their lives, but some inner sense told him they would find answers here. He convinced Rowan had that vision for a reason.
Nothing remained of the splendors the castle once hosted, only bare walls, stone floors littered with debris, filth, and desolation. This magnificent building had become just another eerie tombstone to the past. Their footsteps echoed in the room, making them flinch, and for some reason, the atmosphere reminded them of the burial chamber underneath the black tomb. This was what the death of a dream looked like.
They made their way deeper into the building. The stone passages were less damaged than the open spaces, and the structural support of the walls kept sections of the wooden upper floors in place — this part of the building led to the servant’s quarters and the kitchens.
They found the pantry and an askew door at the back led to what they guessed would be the wine cellar. They chose a passage that led away from the kitchens to what must have been the armory - where a broken sword lay abandoned in the middle of the room.
They left the room and followed the passage which led gradually down until they reached a broken door. It took their combined strength to move the sold, ironbound door. Stairs led down from it and even before they entered the dark beyond; the atmosphere changed.
They made their way to the bottom where four dungeons with iron bars faced into an open room. The doors had long since rusted loose and fallen askew.
“These were the dungeons, and the torture chamber,” Alena voiced their thoughts, and they could sense the way misery lingered in this space like a taste that clung to the back of your throat. The smell and feel of death. They hadn’t spoken since they entered, and her voice came out in little more than a whisper.
Across from the dungeons, in the wall to the right of the steps, a solid steel door drew their attention. The workmanship wasn’t the same as the rest of the castle. Someone added the door at a later date, and several feet away from it, the key still dangled from its ancient hook.
Marcus noticed the way Rowan couldn’t pull her gaze away from the key, he made his way over, took it down, and it felt icy in his fingers. He expected to have to force open the lock, but it clicked open with no regard to the passage of centuries. Marcus couldn’t explain his reluctance to know what was on the other side.
The door swung partially open under the lightest touch of his hands, and the hinges didn’t even squeak or resist the movement. Marcus resisted the urge to turn, grab the women and never return to this place.
Even from where he stood, he could see stairs leading eve farther down, and an odd smell that reminded of musk pervaded the dank air. The air that touched his skin was icy, and his instincts warned him not to move forward, but he did.
Alena and Rowan followed him down. Marcus wondered if they too felt the way he did. They reached the bottom of this second flight of stone stairs, cut from the sandstone of the cliff itself.
None of them said a word nor made a sound. The oppression in this room was almost unbearable. Rowan glanced at Alena and saw her fears reflected in her sister’s eyes. They could sense the way this place affected Marcus, but like him, they felt compelled to move forward against their instincts, and better judgment.
They were under the castle in what must once have been a root cellar. Someone carved the entire room from the rock, one side long and narrow, with four more cells excavated from the side. Damp pervaded the air, and it was much colder down here. Winters in these cells must have been brutal. No human prisoner would have survived their confines.
The smell and taste of death seemed much more pungent. Marcus lifted his lamp, and they could see why. Human bones littered the cells. There were no keys for the dungeons, and they moved closer without even realizing what they were doing, drawn to the horror of what must have happened there.
Marcus lifted his lamp a little higher still, and something reflected in the light. He repeated the motion, and Rowan spotted a small object among the bones in the second cell. Even as her eyes took it in, she realized that in some strange way her subconscious mind knew it would be there. She even knew what it was.
The key to this cell sat innocently inside of the lock, but none of them spotted it until the light caught on the shiny metal surface of the small object lodged among the bones. Rowan could barely resist the pull she felt toward that cell and what it held.
Marcus turned the key with some difficulty, but the door had rusted shut. He pulled until the muscles in his arms strained against the fabric of his shirt, and it came clean off its hinges. He cast it aside as if someone made it of wood instead of steel. Despite herself, Rowan got a little thrill out of seeing him do these things.
Instinct drove her to pick her way through the wreckage, and it felt like sacrilege as she disturbed their bones. She didn’t want to linger and hastened to take what she needed as quickly as she could. She made her way to where the others waited, and from the concern reflected in their expressions, they realized she wasn’t entirely in control of her actions.
Rowan opened her hand and the tiny scarab beetle. Crafted from gold with its wings painted in Lapis Lazuli, looked precisely the way she thought it would. From the two tiny rubies that formed its eyes to the minute precious stones that decorated its body.
It was perfect, fragile, beautiful, and ancient, but as much as she admired the exquisite artistry of whoever made it, it also repulsed her. This jewel lying amongst the bones of the dead, in a castle in some random port, proved what all of them secretly knew. Their path was never random. It led them to this dungeon to find the scarab.
The shadows made the lamplight seem less warm. Something dark lingered in this place. It fluttered at the edges of their minds, lurked in the areas the light didn’t reach and toyed with them like puppets on a string.