Chapter 28 – Courting the Monster
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Chapter 28 - Courting the Monster

 

The party of six followed Rhuthain’s lead as he led them through the empty main gallery situated below the ruins of the temple. Small drifts of sand were layered on the polished stone floor, a thick layer of tight undulating waves that had gathered over an eternity of silence and exile beneath the dunes. Rhuthain’s own tracks from his early morning exploration criss-crossed the floor as he had checked the serviceability of the upper halls. Walking silently in the dark they refrained from speaking as they made progress, entering a wide passage that split in two and appeared to arc around a central wall.

“Is this?” Silvast asked, breaking the quiet.

“Aye, it is. It’s the wall of uppermost layer of the pit. This passage rings it. A number of galleries and rooms connect to it.” Rhuthain muttered back to her.

“How much did you…”

“Enough to know that none have collapsed. Aye, there is sand in all, a couple have a lot of sand. But the structure is sound.”

Rhuthain quickly glanced back at them, “All the rooms up here are cleared out. Empty, like the rooms were cleaned ‘fore they left. Puts a chill down the spine when it looks like it were never lived in an abandoned.”

Silvast chuckled to herself, the sound leaving a dampened echo in its wake.

“Laugh as you will, Sil. Us dwarves may spend our whole lives under mountain and stone in the dark, digging an tunnelling an mining. But we know fear when we come across a place that brings a chill colder than the stone that surrounds us.”

“You fear this place?” Kit asked with a soft voice.

“Nay girl, not fear, but apprehension. There is old magic here from before any of our days that must be respected, even by those like us.”

He looked at the walls then to the ceiling. Its carved reliefs visible to his dwarven sight as he smiled.

“Sian and Winter are the only ones among us bridging that gap.” he looked over his shoulder to Sian as she walked aside Antrandis, “You’re awfully quiet back there, just like at Dagnetheln.”

Sian nodded, her lips pursed.

“You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” the dwarf asked.

She nodded slowly, “She was so beautiful, delicate even.”

Rhyker looked at her, his elven eyes picking out her features in the darkness.

“Her hair was like a sunset, vibrant, tumbling.” Sian said, meeting Rhyker’s knowing glance, “Her eyes were the same, like a rich flame burned eternally within them.”

Sian grew silent for a moment as they continued to walk, no one daring to interrupt her words.

“We came at her invite. I would have been little more than a child.” she said with a smile, “She was a close friend of Mother and Father.”

Antrandis took her hand as they walked, she glanced at him and he nodded, “As you wish, my love.” he said quietly to her unspoken words.

“This place was once beautiful.” she finished softly.

“What of the Jade?” Silvast asked after a moment of silence stretched on.

“I do not recall, I never met him.”

Silvast’s eyes narrowed slightly, “Sis, can you feel her here?”

Sian chuckled to herself, “I am not a divining rod, Sil. But I can feel her touch, even now. She poured so much of herself into this place. The Jade, nothing.”

Rhyker nodded slowly, “Were they not meant to be partners? Like your and Silvast’s parents; opposites, the Black and White.”

“Meant to and in the real are two different concepts, Rhy.” Kitaraiya commented.

“Aye girl, just like I am meant to be chugging some brew right now in the mountains and not being scorched in an infernal desert while listening to sob stories from times that should’ve been forgotten.”

“Thain!” Kitaraiya admonished.

Rhuthain’s brow raised, “Reality in the situation has a lot to live up to is what I’m meaning, girl. Just because they were supposed to be partners doesn’t mean they were.”

He let out a snort, “What ‘bout me and Firliey, don’t tell me that I was supposed to fall head over heels for the waif of the waters? There is nothing supposed to in that, an it doesn’t change the fact that I would sacrifice me kingdom an more, and she the same for me.”

Silvast exchanged a quick look with Antrandis, stifling a laugh at Rhuthain’s bristly response as he shook his head in return.

“There is no dragon here, apart from you. Me hair would be on end if it were the case.” Rhuthain said as he led them further along, “An Lumos knows where they are sleeping anyway. Here’s not it. The lot of you; this way.”

Following him through the impenetrable gloom, they rounded a corner and into a wide passage.

“Down here.”

Ahead of them a large black expanse opened up, a cavernous void in the rock that brought a sharp intake of breath from Kitariaya. Her sound of surprise was immediately swallowed by the dark, the expected echo silent in return.

“Oh…” said Silvast in surprise.

“Aye, now you see.” Rhuthain said before looking to Antrandis, “You thinking some light may be in order?”

Antrandis nodded, taking his small pack off his back and reaching inside. Less than a moment later he stood at the stone balustrade and looked down into the abyss. Cupping his hands, he breathed onto the small crystal before letting it fall. The small star of light streaked into the dark, gaining brilliance as it fell. Antrandis watched it’s decent with interest. The brilliant crystal decelerated until it slowed to a stop in mid-air, hanging a short distance off the floor. White light shone brightly, leaving long shadows high on the walls and marking the rails of the balustrades in sharp relief, their white marble hues bright against the black they resided in the past millennia.

Sixteen tiers of walkway and platforms ringed the broad shaft that was sunk into the bedrock below the desert sands. Sealing the expanse from the outside world was a ceiling of interlocking hewn stone leaves that shuttered like an iris. Each edge embellished and marked with carved runes of a script long lost.

Sian smiled as she looked down to the many levels below them, “There were vines and creeping plants that grew down, a fountain and water feature that was in the middle of the floor,” she looked up, “and that was open, the main entrance to the Sanctum opposes the temple.”

“Aye, I found that. It’s in once piece on the inside at least.” said Rhuthain, barely able to take his eyes off the ceiling.

Antrandis gently took Sian’s hand, “Anything that comes back to you about this place…”

She met his eyes and smiled, her emerald depths sharpening, “Kit, Rhy, there is a library here, not large like Scarosant’s. We don’t expect much, but you know what we are here for.”

Rhyker nodded slightly, “Anything that can connect the Jade to the Aletere. But if he was not here for most of the time, then…”

“Clues to where he would go. Maps especially.”

“If the library is no help, find his private chambers.” said Silvast, “If he is what we know of him, his chambers might be useful. But, expect them to be so bare that there is not even a hair on the floor.”

Sian looked at Silvast, “Sil, the Copper was a smith, like you and Father.”

Silvast nodded, “Find her forge, Rhuthain you are with me once we get to the bottom.”

“Aye.” he said, “Wait… Her forge? A dragon forge?”

Silvast grinned as a smile lit his face up.

“Two more cases if you let me touch it.”

“Four.”

“Extortionist.” he retorted, his teeth showing through his grin as he fell into step beside her.

Antrandis glanced at Kitaraiya and Rhyker, “We will try to find the Copper’s quarters. If you find something, let us know immediately.”

“Yes, Papa.” she said before looking to her brother, “After you.”

Rhyker shook his head, glancing at both Antrandis and Sian, “What of those above? How many did you see, Mother?”

Sian met his eyes, “A dozen or so, maybe a couple more.”

“How many do you wish to capture?” he asked, his eyes serious.

“Brother… Please don’t keep me waiting, who knows what could happen…” Kitaraiya said from a distance off, standing at the first flight of stairs down.

“How many?” he glanced back at Kitaraiya and held a finger out, gesturing for her to wait, “If she smells blood I will have to subdue her. We can’t use our thread down here.”

“Brother is afraid of the big bad wolf.” Kitaraiya taunted.

Sian looked past him to watch Kitaraiya at the top of the stairs, her stance ready despite her playful taunts, Sian pursed her lips, “If none surrender, two. We need to know if it is chance.”

“Rhy, you can use a leash if you want, like you used to. I still have my collar.” she called out.

Antrandis shook his head in exasperation and met Rhyker’s eyes, “Go son.”

Rhyker gave him a quick nod and turned, glaring at Kitaraiya as he approached. She laughed, her chuckles gentle yet indulgent in his discomfort.

“The leash worked on the wolf, but not the monster you have become.”

Kitaraiya’s smile grew a little more twisted as she latched onto his arm and whispered into his ear, “Maybe I should start wearing it again, to remind you…”

“You are going further and further, Tiff. Once we find a cure will you remain as you are, uninhibited? Or will you regain at least a shred of your decency?” he said quietly in return.

Kitaraiya glared at him, hugging his arm to her even tighter, “Ven, I...”

“I know how it affects you when you want it, when you feed. That hunger for more that churns at your insides, stirring every emotion and sensation it can to use against you.”

Rhyker reached out and brought her into an embrace, whispering into her ear, “Tiff, fight it a little more, please. For me.”

Kitaraiya’s eyes narrowed, “It’s because of Lia and your bond with her. I can destroy it, you know.”

“Then you would have to destroy me and yourself in the same stroke, lose to that monster.”

“Ven, I just…”

Rhyker smiled gently as he held her tighter, “You know the truth, Tiff. I will fight for you as I always have. I know your words are only your passion and desire for my blood, but to others it…”

Kitaraiya nuzzled his neck, breathing deeply and clenching her jaw while her veins pumped and surged in a heightened state, “You tempt me brother, you test me in such cruel ways. Saying such words while playing your sick game of trust.” she whispered with a ragged breath.

She eyed the scars that she had inflicted on him, the bites, tears and scratches that ringed his neck as her hands clamped on his shoulders, “How many times do I have to prove it before I can take no more, Ven?”

Kitaraiya brought her lips close, touching them to his neck and breathing in desire, feeling the steady pulse of his blood under her lips. The throb of his jugular exposed for the taking. She swallowed, breathing in his scent as she closed her eyes, forcefully reigning in the savage impulse that screamed at her. Her instincts howling at her that ecstasy was only a hairsbreadth away.

“How many times must you make me do this?” Kitaraiya whispered with a voice dripping of passion.

“As many times as it takes to prove it to yourself, Tiff.”

Kitaraiya shivered and kissed his neck before pulling away, carefully placing him back on his feet. Within moments her form shifted back to normal as she calmed. She kept her eyes locked on his as she breathed heavily, missing the movement of his hand as it slid back from the hilt of his dagger at his side. Kitaraiya stared at him, biting at her lip with uncertainty.

“Ven, I think it’s getting worse.”

He nodded slowly and held out his hand. Kitaraiya reached out and took it, feeling the callouses and ruggedness of his grip now gentle and familiar.

She frowned, “What if I don’t want to be normal again?” Kitaraiya said in a small voice, her sharp sky-blue eyes meeting his.

 


 

 

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