Chapter 29 - Reviving the Deep
Reaching the fourth level from the bottom, they waited. A quick glance in every room they passed on the way down proved that the Sanctum was as eerily empty as Rhuthain warned. Each and every room, no matter how big or small was devoid of furnishings, items, anything. Wall-to-wall of emptiness with a fine layer of sand that barely broke the shine of the polished stone floor, it was a sight that gave a growing sense of unease in the darkness. Kitaraiya looked at Rhyker, her eyes resting on his neck momentarily.
“This evening, Kit.” he said feeling her eyes on him.
She turned away and rested her arms on the rail, sweeping off a little sand.
“How long do you think we have before our friends arrive?”
Kitaraiya nodded slightly, her eyes catching movement below as Rhuthain and Silvast came into view.
Rhyker stared blankly ahead, the bright glare of Antradis’s light casting stark contours on his face, “If Silvast’s shard can bring the conduits of magic back to life within these walls, and those sconces we passed relight. They will be confident that we do not know.”
“How long, Rhy?”
“From the moment they enter? Less than an hour.”
Kitaraiya nodded, watching the pitch black doorway across from them. She squinted slightly before glancing at him.
“You don’t need to ask, Kit. This won’t even be a skirmish.”
Her brows pulled together in a pinch, “I need to.”
Rhyker stood from a lean and faced her, his eyes on hers, his faint smoulder of flaming embers meeting her ice-white glow as he took her hands in his.
She waited for a brief moment, “You will stop me…” she said with a focused intensity in her gaze.
“I will, if necessary.”
“If I change, you will end my life if I can’t return…”
“I will, as I swore.”
“If I die, by your hand or not, you will take me home…”
“I will carry you alone, that is my pledge.”
“On my pyre, you will release my soul before I burn…”
Rhyker clenched his jaw lightly, “I will release you to the Forge of Souls and hope to cross paths with you again, whatever form you take. That is my hope.”
Kitaraiya swallowed hard and gave a small nod before leaning in and kissing him on the cheek.
“Thank you, brother.”
“It is an honour, sister.” he said quietly as she stepped back with a faint smile.
Below them they could hear Rhuthain and Silvast suddenly talking animatedly.
“Thain, what is it?” Kitaraiya called out.
“He found where the core should be and he is too excited for his own good!” Silvast said back, looking up to the two of them, her eyes flashing as they caught the glint off the light.
Kitaraiya watched as Rhuthain shifted sand with his hands, shovelling it away while on his knees. She glanced at Rhyker, noting his shake of the head as the dwarf let out a whoop of victory.
“Silvast, a question.” he said, his voice cutting its way down to her despite his lack of volume.
Silvast looked up at him as he continued, “That ceiling, it will stay closed when the shard is placed on the…” he chuckled as he saw her non-committal shrug and stifled a laugh as he watched her back away a few steps.
“I heard that!” growled Rhuthain, “Worth the risk, boy, worth the risk! Digging me way out after being buried in sand is nothing compared to being under a mountain of rock. Least it’s soft an all.” he finished with a grumble.
“Not worried about you, Thain.”
“You’re not? That breaks me heart it does, I thought for a moment you had a sprig of concern for your uncle… Bugger it; let’s just hope for the best is all,” Rhuthain said.
The dwarf cleared off an area of the large round pedestal, nothing more than a polished onyx disk among the sands. Taking a cloth from his pocket he swept the remaining sand away and cleared an area no larger than a buckler shield.
“So, I just place the shard on it? Or you need to do some dragony, magicy stuff to it first?”
Silvast just looked at him.
“No? Just put it on the…” he stopped as he saw Silvast raise a brow.
“No need to…” he frowned, sliding the shard onto his palm.
He watched it pulse slowly with a pale glow, bending down and carefully placing it on the cleared onyx of the pedestal.
“So, what do I do now? Blow on it? Make a wish?” he asked sarcastically.
Suddenly he was hoisted by the harness on his back, Silvast roughly grabbing him and pulling back out of the way. Standing under the cover of the tiers above she dropped him to his feet as he cursed wildly.
“Damn it, lizard! What you have to do that for?! Scared the daylights out of me, you did. Could have given me some…Oh.” Rhuthain said, his eyes wide as the spectacle started.
The pale glow pulsed brighter, the shard of crystal growing in intensity by the second until its brilliance overcame the light Antrandis had sent earlier. A dull rumble shuddered through the abandoned halls momentarily. Light swirled around the shard, its length no bigger than Rhuthain’s thumb as it stood upright and balancing on its tip. The remaining sand on the pedestal was quickly whipped off in the growing wind.
Both Silvast and Rhuthain watched, shielding their eyes against the glare and swirling sand.
“What in the sixteen levels of hell is going on?” Rhuthain growled.
Silvast leaned down, her skin transforming into the slick small scales that covered her body in their reflective armoured shine, “Dragony, magicy stuff, master dwarf,” she whispered directly into his ear, making him shiver.
Silvast stepped out with her eyes shining vibrant platinum and her silver hair tumbling around her shoulders. She strode confidently through the wind and scouring sand, her eyes on the shard as it started to rise above the onyx pedestal, floating, twisting and turning. Tremors quivered underfoot as the Sanctum slowly accepted the life of the shard, drinking of its contained power and filling its conduits.
She glanced at the structure that surrounded them, the lowest sconces flaring back to life with rich-hued cold flames. Her natural armour reacted to the surrounds, glowering faintly as the shard drew from her, wisps and tendrils of silvered light bleeding off her exposed scales to be absorbed by the makeshift heart of the Sanctum. Slowly she reached out and loosely cupped her hands around the shard, stabilising its spin, concentrating until its momentum slowed. The winds dropped until all that was left was the finest of sand and dust floating in the air.
“Antrandis, will you be claiming this Sanctum of old for safekeeping?” she asked, her voice pure and ethereal in this form without a hint of its usual roughness.
Silvast watched as he approached, his stormy blue eyes on her platinum, for a moment she was lost to the ages and the memories of times past. His movements and visage intimately familiar to her in every sense. Her dragon eyes seeing his truth as she had finally seen twenty three years earlier. A smile came to her lips as he drew close.
“Antrandis, I offer you the Sanctum of the Sunset Copper and the Vitreous Jade dragons. No longer abandoned and lost to the sands and time. As its steward through racial inheritance, I surrender it to you in its entirety.”
Antrandis shook his head before cupping his hands around the shard in the space left by Silvast.
“I will claim it for safekeeping and to act as its steward in name until the Sunset Copper wakes or wishes to reclaim it.”
Faint flickers of light shot through his stormy blue eyes, “I call upon the power and will of Toth to protect and conceal the Sanctum to all except those decided.”
In the background the timbre of the dull rumble shifted pitch momentarily as Antrandis invoked the power of the absent god. He crouched and took a handful of sand, cupping it in his hands, compressing it in a fist until excess molten glass escaped. Blowing into his hand, it cooled almost as fast as it was made molten. The glass cast from his closed fist hung in the air, made from the minerals and sand of the desert, a faint glow coming from within it, mirroring and enhancing the sharp brilliance of the shard.
“This will sustain the temporary core until we recover or replace the original.”
Silvast nodded with a smile and stepped back, watching the jagged glass and the shard slowly rotate around each other a few feet from the floor.
“Antrandis, how many are you going to lay claim to?”
“How many are ruined of the three that remain?”
Silvast smirked, the light shimmering off the movement of fine scales that covered her, “You know something, I know that look all too well.” she shook her head, “And it does not surprise me you would. This has to do with the Copper… Somehow.” she said at a whisper, gesturing to the twins with her eyes.
Seeing his unmoving expression, her eyes widened suddenly as she watched him, “You promised me, Antrandis. No secrets.” she breathed out, letting her scales shift back to skin.
Antrandis looked up to see that Kitaraiya and Rhyker were gone, “Sil, there is a greater purpose for us being here. Tonight, the four of us.”
“Don’t tell me, I’m not invited?” grumbled Rhuthain, “For me own safety to be sure, those secrets can be too dangerous to tell to,” he looked at Silvast and stepped back noting the sharp gleam in her eye, “Oh, dragony business, no, I don’t want part of that, might be used as a chew toy when the others wake up. Four crates, four, not two!”
“It is for the best, dwarf lord.” said Sian, resting her hand on his shoulder, “Lumos and her sisters, along with the Black and White are involved.”
Rhuthain glanced up at her, “Oh hell, no. Aisling is weird in all senses of the word, last time I saw her, she did strange things to me beard.”
Silvast frowned in confusion and started to walk, “Strange things? Thain, let’s go, the forge.”
“Why do we have to rush? It’s not like those…”
“Midnight, Thain. Until then we are exposed.” Antrandis said in contemplation.
“I don’t know why you are so worried about a few sand bandits,” he looked to Sian, “You could have taken them all this morning, I just don’t get why we are letting them down here just to…” he said, gesturing to his neck with cutting motion.
“Unless you want word getting out. Force the locals to show their hand? Set rumours flying in the desert?”
“Misdirection, friend. The rumours will be of this place, not us.”
“Get them chasing their tail. Aye, stupid but smart in its own way. Whatever you are planning, I’m hoping it’s entertaining.”
Rhyker and Kitaraiya turned away from the calming spectacle, both Antrandis and Silvast below speaking quietly. Rhyker watched as the cold fire sconces on the walls flamed to life, slowly spreading out and up from the core and slowly lighting the levels and walkways above in alluring pools of warm light in the sea of darkness.
“Rhy, its beautiful.”
Rhyker glanced up, noting his sister’s expression, a moment of wonderment that reminded him of when they first came to their new home, during the Festival of Sighs in the sprawling forest domain of Meliandra. He watched her as she turned, following the lights and looking to the still dark levels above.
“It’s quite different to Dagnetheln.”
Kitaraiya glanced at him, her short grey-streaked hair shifting with the movement, “Quite.” she replied quickly, meeting with him as he strode for the open doorway and the room that appeared to be the library.
A soft glow permeated the large space beyond the door, the sconces on the walls flaring and giving light to the many millennia of night that had fallen over the domain. They walked past stone plinths, shelves and pedestals. Those that would have supported statues or treasures. But with every step they took, there was nothing, no books, scrolls, or anything apart from bare and empty expanses. They descended a short flight of stairs and advanced into what would have been the main library,
Kitaraiya’s brow furrowed, “Rhy, what happened here? It really is like Thain said.”
Rhyker nodded slowly, the bare expanse nothing but an empty, wide and deep chamber that stretched around the wall of the central shaft. There were no shelves, or anything of evidence to prove that this place had once teemed with life.
“There is a point that we are missing, Kit.”
“Meaning?” she said, her eyes meeting his.
“Mother said it, the Vitreous Jade was not here, he was not where he was meant to be. She made a point so if he returned he would find nothing. It is a message, Kit. An angry one, filled with spite.”
Kitaraiya’s lips twisted into a smile, “I don’t see it. I only see an empty room.”
“I see a damaged soul. Hurt.” he said softly, his eyes settling on a set of double doors, one half ajar.
“Next you are going to tell me there is going to be a pointed message somewhere here.”
“The doors, Kit.”
Kitaraiya glanced at the doors and the glow that reached out from behind them in an enticing manner. Her smile twisted further as she followed him across the empty expanse. After a few long moments of walking in the silence, they slipped through the gap and entered the room beyond. Circular cuts in the far wall, hole after hole, a honeycomb for rolled maps to reside dominated the room, each and every one empty. Kitariaya walked up to the monstrous bench that sat in the middle and rested her hands on it.
“She even cleared out the maps. I was expecting it, but, maybe you are right.” she waited for his response though none came, “Rhy?”
She caught sight of him as he stood down the end of the long room at the edge of a circular chamber. Frowning, she made her way to him and stopped at his side, her eyes widening in surprise. The smooth wall of the chamber was a map of the old world. Semi-precious stones were inlaid into the surface of the wall, making the land masses and oceans. Cities of ruby, emerald, sapphire and diamond were marked and labelled. But one feature in particular stood out, a tempered steel spike had been hammered deep into the wall, cracks splintering out through the inlaid gemstone. Its squared length buried deep in the valley of the low mountains that cut an undulating path down the middle of the desert, an arid, rocky and unforgiving landscape.
“She knew where he went.” Kitaraiya whispered.