Chapter 9: Lair
Rose and her friends came out of the portal in a room that was also red and black—crimson walls covered with black markings. Some of them were pictures; some were runes, some just unknown squiggles.
“There is way too much magic concentrated here,” Calyx announced.
“How do you sleep?” Rose meant the question for Nam.
“Why would I want to sleep? You mortal humans spend so much of your time dead to the world. Sleep is just time wasted.”
“It is how we refresh ourselves.”
“I take a fire bath when I need refreshing. It burns away weakness and impurity, and leaves me ready for the next test.”
“The life of a wizard is one test after another.”
“I know,” said Calyx. “I like to spread those tests out a bit...”
In addition to scarlet walls with sable markings, Nam’s lair featured an impressive array of silver sigils. Ebony racks held them by the hundreds. The silver had been shaped into stars, spirals, circles, squares, and hundreds of other shapes best described as twisted.
“Is there a spell bound into each one of these sigils?” asked Petal, who was looking at a silver flower with a face in the center.
“And do you know all of these spells?”
“When I know them all, then I will graduate and be a full-fledged wizard. Right now I am just an apprentice.”
“And who is your master?” queried Rose.
“She is . . .” Nam broke off. “You need not know here name. It is better that you don’t, for even saying it out loud might call her attention to us.”
“Where is this place?” asked Rose.
“This room makes me feel bad,” said Arrth.
“Don’t you have any doors or windows?” asked Calyx.
All three remarks came practically simultaneously.
When Calyx said doors, she momentarily glimpsed doors hidden in the walls. When she said windows, she saw right through the walls to the outside world. They were somewhere in the high mountains. Snow covered peaks loomed against the skyline.
The room would make anyone uncomfortable. It had five walls instead of four, and it was wider at the ceiling than at the floor. Light came not from lamps or torches but from small balls of fire that simply hung in the air near the ceiling and in the corners. The floor was a mirror and although it could be felt underfoot, everyone appeared to be walking on themselves and floating.
“This place feels evil,” said Petal.
“Evil is a point of view, Forest Elf. It doesn’t feel evil to me. It feels like home.”
“Then you’re evil!”
“So? What’s your point? Some people might call that little scam that you and your friends just ran on the people of Stormgaard evil. You cheated hundreds of people out of their money.”
“They got a good show out of it, at least, and no one was hurt.”
“No one? Your friend, Zheen has some permanent damage to his jaw and teeth, and will have psychological problems for the rest of his life. He will probably end up hating all women because of what you did to him, Rose.”
“I see what you mean,” Rose admitted. “I guess I am evil. I never claimed to be a saint.”
“Don’t listen to him, Rose,” warned Calyx. “You are not evil.”
“Evil is just a point of view,” Nam insisted. “I do not think of myself as evil. I am one of the good guys, and what I do is for the best for the world at large.”
“Just keep telling yourself that, Dead Boy,” growled Thorn.
“Tell us about this armband we are supposed to retrieve. How could a wizard of your power be careless enough to lose a magical artifact? What were you doing in these Pits of Despair? And why have I never heard of them?” Rose changed the subject by bombarding the wizard with questions.
“It’s gold with a large emerald set into it. It is a battery for kremm—the wearer has much more magical energy that he can use. I got careless. I don’t know how I lost it. I had the armband when I entered the caves. I didn’t have it when I came out. I was practicing kill magics in a dangerous environment. and looking for sacrificial victims.”
“You are evil,” hissed Petal.
“What do you care if I take a few goblins or uruks to sacrifice to the gods of light?”
“The gods of light don’t require sacrifices,” Calyx protested. “We Elves don’t sacrifice souls to our gods.”
“Oh, no? Don’t you offer them the first fruits of your growing, as well as sheep and cattle?”
“But those things are just things. They don’t have souls.”
“I have news for you, Elf. Everything is Spirit. Everything has a soul.”
Calyx looked horrified. “Everything has souls?”
“Yes, and it’s a Soul eat Soul universe.”
“Rocks have souls?” wondered Thorn. “That would explain a lot.”
“You mortals have such strange ideas,” Nam gloated. “You have no idea what souls really are. I’ll give you this lesson for free. Opposites attract.”
“What does that mean?” asked Petal.
“It means that Darkness eats Light, and Light eats Darkness. Good needs Evil to survive, and Evil is lost without Good. Yes, I go into the Pits to find victims for my sacrifices. I rip their evil goblin hearts out of their bodies and offer their suffering and their dark souls to the transcendental Gods of Light in exchange for more power, more wizardry, more kremm.”
“You worship the Gods of Light?”
“Oh yes, can’t you tell? My special patron is Ryptonk, the God of Red Light.”
“I’ve never heard of that god,” said Calyx.
“You don’t really know very much, do you Elf? Weren’t you banished from your own school of wizardry for your narrow-mindedness? Weren’t you exiled into the world to learn better?”
Calyx’s pale skin had grown red with embarrassment, or perhaps it was just the light in the room that gave everyone’s skin a ruddy glow. “It isn’t exile—just a forced vacation, really. A hundred years isn’t that much in the lifespan of a High Elf.”
“My point is that you have no reason to be critical of my beliefs and practices. Yours don’t stand up under scrutiny.”
Calyx hung her head.
“I don’t like you,” said Petal. “You hurt people.”
“The sooner you all get into the Pits and find my armband, the sooner I will stop hurting you and your friends, Forest Elf. You bring all this on yourselves by not doing what I so courteously asked.”
“What can you do to help us find this trinket, Nam?”
“What do you mean? I’m sending you to where I lost it.”
“We might need more. Someone could have found it and moved it.”
“What do you want?”
“A locator of some sort.”
“I told you what it looks like.”
“I want more. I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life searching these Pits of Despair. Talk about needles in haystacks.”
“You want a finding spell?”
“Yes. There are finding spells for other things—lost people, lost treasure, water.”
“You want me to make an emerald and gold finder?”
“Can you do it?”
“If I did that, I could find it myself. What would I need you for?”
“Brains and muscle. You’re obviously not smart enough to find it yourself.”
“That’s telling him, Rose!” gloated Thorn.
“Yes, I could make that for you,” snarled the wizard. He went to a rack and took out a small silver arrow. He snapped his fingers and an emerald fell out of the air into the palm of his hand. He reached into his sleeve, got his small coin pouch, and took out a golden coin. He embedded the emerald in the coin—it was only a very small gem. Then he put the gemmed coin in one hand, the silver arrow in the other, brought his hands together and chanted something like “Ryptonk, Great One, make this finder for me!” His hands glowed with a crimson radiance, and when he opened them, the silver arrow was fused with the gold coin. He handed the sigil to Rose.
“Impressive,” said Rose. “With your talent and my brains, you and I could set up quite a business, Nam. Either making magical talismans, or creating jewelry.” She admired it for a moment. “How does it work?”
“Hold it. Think of the armband. You’ll get a directional feeling, as if the arrow were pulling you that way.”
“Will it work for anyone?”
“I am thinking of the armband now. The arrow makes me think of going downward.”
“That would be correct. The Pits are below us.”
“How do we get there?”
“That stairway will take you down into the Caves.” Nam pointed at the wall behind Rose, and it was not a wall, but a stairway leading down into darkness.
“That wasn’t there before.” Thorn’s comment was unnecessary, but completely in character. She had a way of restating the obvious as if it was something totally new. Sometimes it was.
“Then let’s get going.”
“Nam, how do we get back?” asked Arrth.
“Just climb back up the stairs.”
“And if we can’t reach the stairs?”
“Just call me.” The wizard took a small silver globe out of the cabinet. He said a word, and the surface of the globe reflected everything in the room. The curvature of the image was all wrong and twisted, but the scene was clear enough. I will be watching you. When I hear my name called, I will bring you back via portal if necessary.”
“Will that really work?” asked Thorn.
“Nam, Nam, bring me back!” said Thorn.
A tiny echo of her voice came from the silver globe. “Nam, Nam, bring me back!”
“I don’t know if I want him watching me,” said Calyx softly.
“I will set it to just watch Rose. I have to watch someone.”
“Why didn’t you watch the other group?” asked Arrth.
“What makes you think I didn’t?”
“Then what happened to them?”
“A couple of them died. The rest are still down there searching.”
“Why don’t you bring them back now? You have us. You don’t need them?”
“They haven’t found the armband. Why should I bring them back? They haven’t fulfilled their contract.”
“That’s evil,” said Petal.
“That’s business,” answered Nam. “But if you are concerned about Cherry and her group, you can bring them back with you if you run into them.”
“Let’s go!” said Rose. She turned and headed for the stairs. The rest followed her out of the crimson room and into the dark stairwell.
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