Chapter 35 - Cornered
A sudden silence descended over the pit of the Sanctum, the faint scuffles and footfall on the upper levels stopped as all ears strained, the echo of steel reaching the distant ceiling before bouncing back. A singular voice called out from above, the sudden and rough sound in a local tongue that received no answer.
Both Rhyker and Kitaraiya exchanged a brief glance as they stood silently looking to the tiers and walkways. She signed to him and skipped ahead, light on her feet as she skirted the wall under the cover of the tier above. Rhyker slowly walked, his eyes set high and watching the white balustrades. Slipping his hand inside his loose jacket and to his lower back, he felt for the first of a brace of weighted throwing daggers and drew it between two fingers. He settled it in his hand, watching carefully. Dim embers were stoked in his eyes as he drew upon a single strand, the blade in his hand shimmering in the light as it responded to his call. Side stepping, he kept watch, making his way to the passage.
Voices echoed down from a brief discussion. Rhyker’s eyes narrowed as he picked out the movement behind the balustrades on the twelfth level. Orders echoed down in the silence and the sudden sound of boots on stairs. Rhyker set himself in a shadow, his hand and blade at the ready as a figure came into view between the short columns. It was gesturing, backing toward them.
His eyes immediately flared, the embers sparking to life as his hand flicked before returning to the brace at his back in preparation. The light from the blade flickered, its edges catching the light as it span before flying true, its path unerringly straight as Rhyker’s strand enhanced its flight. A spray of marble chips shot out over the pit as it ricocheted off a marble column and embedded itself to the hilt. The dull thud and blast of air as the target staggered forward breathlessly, gasping for air before crumpling to the floor with a dagger in its back.
Shouts erupted above them and a face peered over the rail, again his hand flashed. The next dagger already flickering through the dim light in its upward trajectory. Clipping the heavy marble rail and skipping high, grazing its target’s cheek, leaving a trail of bright blood before glancing off the floor above.
“Fuck.” he said to himself, watching the target withdraw while shouting orders.
A sly smile came to Rhyker’s lips as he broke into a measured run. He signed to Kitaraiya and she nodded, slipping into the passage with sword drawn and at the ready. Following quickly behind her, he gave one last glance over his shoulder, memorising the layout of the chamber before entering.
With his eyes quickly adjusting to the change in light he came to a momentary halt. Rhuthain stood over his quarry, blood spattered his thick hairy arms and stocky well-defined chest. His battle axe was at the ready, both hands on its shaft as he shoved the lifeless and cleaved body with a booted foot.
“Aye, boy. They sent this bugger ahead.” he raised a bushy eyebrow, “What you got out there?”
“They are on their way.”
“Aye. We got problems, boy.” Rhithain said, giving a swift jerk of his head.
“Silvast?” Kitaraiya asked, spotting her leaning heavily against the wall.
“I happened, is what. She shielded all of us at a cost.” he nodded to Rhyker, “She’s out of the fight for now.”
“Gods, Sil did you?” Kitaraiya said as she reached her, “That blast we felt?”
Silvast nodded, her silver eyes scrutinising both Kitaraiya and Rhyker swiftly, “It was a trap.” she said, her eyes slipping to Rhuthain, “I managed to get between Thain and it in time.”
He nodded grudgingly, “Aye, and with thanks, else I’d be a stain on the wall.”
Silvast glanced back and forth between them, her eyes glimmering slightly, “Where are Antrandis and Sian?”
“They found the Copper’s living chambers.” Rhyker said, eyeing the shirt Silvast was wearing and quickly loosing the buckle and straps on his jacket as Kitaraiya joined Rhuthain.
While they were bent over the corpse checking it, Rhyker nodded to Silvast and came around behind, carefully helping her into his jacket.
Speaking quietly, he met her eyes as he helped her, “Sian wants me to get Kit away from the fight and yet the fight comes to us.”
“What did my sister tell you?”
“To find a room and barricade ourselves in.”
Silvast nodded, biting her lip and wincing as he tightened the straps of the harness that was sewn the jacket’s folds. Her eyes sharpened, their glow growing in intensity as she watched him at close distance.
“Broken ribs?” he murmered.
He glanced at her, almost embracing her as he adjusted two straps in the rear while her hands rested on his shoulders.
“You are different, Rhy.” she whispered into his ear, “Both of you are. Something has changed in you and its growing. Your blood is brighter and your threads, I can’t place it yet.”
He nodded, pulling back a little and quickly drawing the leather sides in to support Silvast’s chest, his eyes on hers while he tightened it, watching for her small nod and grimace.
“The Copper was seriously wounded the last time she returned. Her blood is in the bathing room, and on the way out there was a trail on the floor.”
Silvast stared at him, “But that would have been tens of thousands of years ago.” she grunted slightly and nodded as he tightened the straps.
“Stasis, everything was as it was left. Even the water in the bathing pool was still steaming.”
She grimaced as he finished tightening the final strap, “The blessing? Her blood, did it react?”
He gave a quick nod and she smiled, “Then another mystery of the old world has been solved.”
Rhyker gave her a curious glance as she straightened, testing her range of motion now her chest and back were braced.
“Gods, I laughed at you for this harness when you suggested it, I now see its wisdom. I can barely draw breath, but at least I can move.” she said.
Kit looked at him apologetically as she returned to his side, “He wouldn’t need it if it weren’t for me.” she said, her shoulder brushing his.
“Aye, mortals think differently.” Rhuthain said, “We have to find cover, any of those storerooms we passed will do, Sil.”
“What are you so concerned about? As you said, there are only…” Silvast said with concern building on her face as she saw his shake of the head.
“Kit just told me, she picked up a scent an it doesn’t belong here.” he said, offering her a torn piece of fabric from the deceased.
Silvast brought it to her nose and sniffed; the acrid, yet musky overtones were faint but could not be denied. She glanced at the entrance to the passage with concern.
“Smelling things doesn’t work for me, so, what do you think?” said Rhuthain.
“We have to leave, now.” she said, quickly glancing at the three of them.
Rhuthain’s eyes widened, “Those heavy steps?”
Silvast nodded, her eyes glowing slightly.
“But Sian went and scouted them this morning…”
“She wouldn’t have seen it. She mentioned a larger tent, it probably slept in there, or it was disguised.”
“Silvast?” asked Kitaraiya.
“No, Kit. We retreat. Quick.” Silvast said; wincing as she strode off back the way she and Rhuthain had come.
Rhyker immediately stepped in alongside Silvast as Kitaraiya glanced at Rhuthain in puzzlement.
“Don’t look at me girl, if an injured dragon is concerned, then I wouldn’t stand a chance. Come, time to find a place we can hole up, at least until she can fight.”
Rhyker looked across at Silvast, “What is it?”
“Those humans, they are in its thrall. They must have – No, they invited it in, bargained with it. I thought they all died out.” she said quietly.
She glanced at Rhyker, “Its a myth, just like I am. A forgotten, obscure piece of mythology from the old world.” she said as she led them to one of the storerooms she checked earlier.
“I can’t fight it, its attacks are dangerous in the physical sense. But the magic it commands is beyond me for now. I could overpower it with the both of you backing me, but…” she said with a grimace.
Rhyker nodded, waving Rhuthain and Kitaraiya in. The dwarf quickly helping him slide the heavy door closed. Releasing his pick and hammer from their holsters he set the pick against the door and drove the tip into the floor. Taking the hammer to it until one spike of the pick was driven deeply into the stone, blocking the door from being opened.
Rhuthain raised a brow and shrugged, “Should hold for a bit.” he said while watching Rhyker prepare, “What you got on you?”
“Not enough, Thain.” he replied.
“Aye, I’ll go listen, see how long.” the dwarf said.
“Rhy, take my sword. It might harm it.” Silvast said as she leaned against a wall.
“Why are you so worried, Sil?” asked Kitaraiya, “You have us, we can…”
“No, Kit. You can’t. We sit here and wait it out until Antrandis takes care of it.” Silvast glanced at Rhuthain with his ear pressed to the stone, “News?”
“We have a few moments, they are still on the stairs.” Rhuthain looked at her, “Want me to try signalling Antrandis?”
Catching Silvast’s nod, he lifted his hammer and struck it down hard, a sharp crack and ring as it hit the floor. Without waiting he raised it again and struck. The sound echoing in the room loudly.
Rhyker drew Silvast’s sword, a blade of bright platinum and dark grey hilt and grip. He looked at her as he tested the sword’s heft, “What do we need to watch out for?”
“That.” Silvast replied, her eyes on Kitaraiya.
Kitaraiya had a hand to her temple while she sagged against the wall, her eyes glowing slightly as she grunted in effort. Rhyker quickly ran to her side with Silvast close behind.
“Rhy, it feels like my… Gods… It’s like something is in my head.” she growled, wincing with the effort.
“That thing is a telepath; it’s neither fully here or in the spirit realm. It can change its form; make you see what it wants you to see. We are all immune to it, but its sensing your other self, Kit. You must fight it or keep it occupied.”
Rhyker glanced at Silvast, “How could it affect her?”
“Crippling fear. Dominance over an animal or beast to not do its master’s bidding.”
Kitaraiya smiled with a twisted grin, “Then it doesn’t know, just thinks I’m an animal.” she groaned lightly, “How long before?”
“Before I can fight? Five, maybe ten minutes.” Silvast said, pressing at her strapped ribs, “You think you can keep it entertained for that long?”
Kitaraiya nodded, gritting her teeth and sliding to the floor at a kneel. Each breath she took being released with a faint growl.
“How could it get past her?” Rhyker said.
“It is a creature, a monster of the demonic planes, or at least that is where it came from in the old world before its kind reproduced and became the precursors to the feline half-beast inhabitants of the DeKaalenstaad.” Selera said offhand as she watched Kitaraiya, “Going unnoticed is as natural to it as breathing air.” she finished, meeting his eyes.
“Like you, unless you show them.”
“Similar. It can pass as an elf, human without being concerned about scrutiny.” she said with a concerned note as Rhuthain’s hammer struck the floor again with a steady rhythm.
“Hey, Sil, I always thought you could talk to him in your head like the cat?” Rhuthain said between the ringing beats of his hammer.
She shook her head as she frowned, “I wish. It would have lead to less misunderstandings.” she said quietly to herself.
“Aye, what was that?”
“No, we have to physically touch.” she yelled back at him.
Rhuthain glanced at her, “Let’s hope one of them hears this then.”
Silvast raised an eyebrow, hearing a scrabble at the stone door. She gestured for Rhuthain to stop, taking a step closer, her eyes narrowing.
“They are here.” she said as a heavy thump sounded before the shudder shook the door.
“Aye.” said Rhuthain as he stood, rolling and flexing his shoulders, “An just like in Scarosant…”
“You can not use your power on the stone.” Silvast stated.
“Aye. Can’t even make the door stronger, it’s humiliating is what it is. Powerless in my own element.” his teeth gleamed white through his smile, “Well, at least you have a pissed off, stronger and tougher than any other dwarf ready to go beating heads in.”
His gaze shifted, as did his smile, “Should I start being worried?” he said, looking at the twins, “She’s not doing well.”
Kitaraiya sat with her head between her knees, her short hair messed and hanging damply as she shook with the exertion, “It’s in my head. Working on my fear, trying to keep me from acting.”
Silvast grimaced, “Can you feel its intent?”
Kitaraiya let out a short laugh, looking to Rhyker with a pained smile, “Its trying to get me to bite the hand that feeds me. To turn against my masters. To heap fear on me until I lash out.”
“No Kit… Don’t.” he said, looking into her eyes as they flared to life.
She gritted her teeth as she weathered the next wave that washed against her, “Promise me, Ven.”
Flames stirred in response to her words and he nodded in resignation, standing and quickly preparing. His fiery embers met Silvast’s platinum.
Her eyes still on his, she spoke, “Rhuthain, the door, ready to open it.”
“Ready to open the door, or she will tear her way through it.” Silvast ordered before looking at Rhyker and nodding, “May your thread burn bright, Spear of Scarosant.”
He smiled and handed back her sword, “And with honour.” he returned as the door shuddered from another impact.
Kitaraiya’s chilling laugh cut through the room, “What it fails to see, I am my own master, my fear is not born from being afraid of others.” she said, her voice suddenly small and hollow.
Her eyes flared as they met Rhyker’s, her body already starting to change. Her hands and fingers elongating and her nails becoming claw-like. Letting out a low moan, her shoulders expanded, the sickening popping and grinding sounds of her bones and joints as her body shifted, becoming more muscular and sinuous. Her skin lost its healthy gleam and turned ashen grey as she stood, now taller than her brother. Grey hair erupting and tracking its way down the middle of her back as her clothing became almost unbearably skin-tight. Her canine teeth lengthened in preparation as dark, almost black smudges formed in the skin around her eyes with web-like veins of white glowing through.
“I am not afraid of monsters,” she said with a guttural snarl as she stalked toward the door, “I am one.”