Chapter Thirteen: Out of the Lake of Fire and into…
Ivak screamed as he was spat out from the portal, he landed on his side onto white marble, or at least it looked like white marble. He grunted as Claroosa landed on top of him. Fatho came through the portal laughing.
He wobbled on his legs a bit as he got up.
“Haha, I wasn’t expecting it to be so delayed! Still we are through, welcome to Awarth!” he said.
Claroosa helped Ivak up, dusting him off.
“Yes well, I hope we never have to do something like that again” Ivak said.
He loosened his cloak, then he opened his quilted coat.
“Is it just me or is it really hot…” Ivak trailed off as he noticed the flame crackling merrily on his arm.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Ivak fell to the ground, rolling back and forth in an effort to put the flame out.
“Calm yourself milord!” Claroosa said, her own body wreathed in flames, she was also opening up her cloak and coat. She did not seem particularly bothered by the fire, it did not seem to be burning her either.
Fatho was laughing.
“Oh sorry, I should’ve warned you, some places in Awarth their reflection of our cold places are kind of like this, the fire is harmless. Just makes you kinda warm, I’ve even heard you can drink the stuff like water, but I’ve never been desperate enough to try”
Ivak managed to calm down and look about. Indeed the flames were not doing him any harm.
“Ahem, we ok, Inform me about these things in the future” Ivak said stiffly.
Fatho gave a low bow, obscuring his sniggering face with his hunchback’s hump.
They seemed to be at the top of a tall pure white staircase, one without structural supports, and yet it still rose into the sky. Behind them was a single emerald door, set into a marble frame. There was nothing behind the door. There was another pedestal, with pegs, but again this was white.
All around and below them was a lake of flames, indeed the flames moved not as fire, but as water.
Small embers spiralled gently down from the sky, flowing off of the three travellers and the staircase and into the fiery lake. The light that the flames gave up was greedily devoured by the darkness of Awarth. They were but remote pinpricks. Not even the mass of the lake could drive the dark back, it was not as the darkness in Kigan is.
“Hey, don’t look at the sky!” Fatho called out, just as Ivak was about to see if their was some odd clouds producing the blazing rain.
“I must paint this” Ivak said.
“No, you must not” Fatho returned “The less time we spend in Awarth the better, this might look pretty and all, but if we stay in Awarth too long we’ll not escape unchanged, if we escape at all”
“We did agree to obey what he says milord, it is probably for the best” Claroosa consoled Ivak.
Ivak looked like a kicked puppy made from sticks.
“Oh, all right” He said dejectedly.
This made Fatho unreasonably guilty enough to prompt him into speaking more of his knowledge of Awarth.
“Some crazy folks, even a few natives of Awarth make a good living by selling stuff like this flame in Kigan, or by selling what we’ve got in Kigan to Awarth, alchemists in particular find the stuff useful I’ve been told.”
They descended the stairs, Ivak almost weeping at the view from them, though he had to be careful not to look at the horizon. Not looking at the sky was proving quite difficult.
“It’s right hard to get the stuff to exist properly in Kigan though” Fatho continued.
The lowest level was a harbour. A single strip of walkway, lined with chained small marble boats that bobbed on top of the flames. The chains were made of a white metal. At one end of the pier was a statue of an armoured emerald being.
It had the lower body of a serpent with fins, the upper body had four arms, two arms each grasping a white metallic halberd, fat spearheads atop crescent axes, with a fishhook at the back. Its head was also of this white metal.
The head was a curved helm that let loose a small coif of white mail over the statues armoured body. The helm had three horizontal slits across the front, though the middle slit extended up the sides of the helm. No light shone from these slits.
The armour of the body was not made of the white metal, but instead was of the same emerald substance that the body was. Heavy curved plates, sculpted cloth and mail, the images of armour.
Fatho inspected the boats, checking for a sound one, and for possible traps. Ivak not being allowed to paint the sights he was seeing, contented himself with admiring the craftsmanship of the statue. He particularly liked the knotwork patterns carved into the thing, like runes on the armour and like scales on the body.
Then, as he was examining the helmet of the statue, six spots of green light flashed out from the slits. Claroosa immediately grabbed Ivak and pulled him behind her. Fatho for his part began unhooking one of the boats, ready for a relatively quick escape.
The statue creaked and cracked, and warmth washed over it. Its armour remained the same, but the mail became real mail, and the cloth, real cloth. The scales actual scales. It stared at the three intruders, silent, but clearly ready to strike out.
“Uh… good day?” Ivak ventured.
The statue cocked its head to one side.
-There is no day in Awarth, only night and deeper dark, you are from Kigan- The guardian said.
“Aha, yes, quite. Say, what would you be doing here anyway?” Ivak asked.
-This one guards this place, slaying all who would bring forth its secrets to the rest of Awarth, currently this one is wondering if this one should attack or not-
“I’m afraid we’d have to resist” Claroosa began “You see, we would prefer not to be slain”
-This one supposed that would be the case, yet this one’s duty remains-
“We don’t know anything about any secrets, we were just passing through” Ivak said.
-Passing through? What of the guardians of the other side? If you have defeated them, this one must exact vengeance- the guardian inquired.
“Oh no, the guardians were broken when we got there” Fatho supplied.
-This is troubling. This one must address this issue. This one will let you leave, on the condition that you tell this one how you came to find the portals and that you give an oath never to speak of these places- The guardian said, in flat monotone.
“It’d be my wonderful sense of direction that found it!” Fatho exclaimed “We needed a safe way into Awarth and this was it”
-Very well, swear your oaths and leave-
So they did, and Claroosa took up the oars of the boat rowing them swiftly away from the stairs as the guardian ascended them.
In short order the stairs vanished from their sight completely, obscured by the waves of flame.
* * * * *
Claroosa had been rowing under Fatho’s directions for some time.
“That” Claroosa began between grunts “Was far too easy”
“Yes, I can’t shake the feeling we are being watched” Ivak said.
Fatho said nothing. He had been very nervous since they had left the stairs, eyes twitching this way and that trying to keep a watch on all directions that something could come at them by.
All at once it happened.
Fatho let forth a cry.
“Mjorn! Put some extra guts into it! That two-faced sentinel has sent scavenger shadowbirds after us! There’s several whole murders of them! It didn’t want to take us on where we’d have the advantage!”
Behind them a thick mass of cawing shadows was moving across the fire lake, though there was no such birds in the sky.
Claroosa gritted her teeth and they skipped over the water with the force of her rowing. Then a shadowy form like the guardian’s burst out from the fiery waves, wrapping around the front of the boat. Ivak shrieked, but he pulled out a painting of Kigan’s fire, and unleashed it at the shade. It seemed to react strangely to Awarth, for what came forth was a snarling beast’s head of flame. Still it was effective against the shade, which hissed and plopped back into the blazing waves. The painting was changed when Ivak returned the flame to it.
Fatho pulled a dark red leather sling out from his white fur jacket, along with a sullenly flicking glowing ball.
“Fatho!” Ivak called out “Is that a dream bubble ahead? It looks like a dream bubble!”
“It is!” Fatho said, over the roar of the flames, which seemed to be getting quite agitated.
“Aren’t we supposed to avoid those?”
Fatho was fiddling with the ball.
“Yes, but trust my sense of direction! We have to go through it! We’ll get closer to the castle and leave the birds behind!” Fatho said.
“Less talking more doing whatever it is you are going to do Fatho! The guardian’s shadow has risen again and those birds are far too close!” Claroosa rebuked.
The shade was speedily skimming across the tops of the waves, the murders of shadowbirds close behind. Fatho messed about with the ball a bit more. Finally he just wailed in rage and stabbed it with his more claw-like thumb, light began to spill out of the crack he made. He quickly jammed it into the sling.
“Close your eyes!” He yelled.
Then he shot the thing at the mass of shadows. The was a flash bright enough that Ivak could have sworn he had seen it even though his eyes were closed, and he was even facing away from the flash.
“That’ll given us a bit of time, but push Mjorn, PUSH!”
Ivak opened his eyes, it was a bit hard to see at first, but he saw the shimmering form of the dream bubble before them, a fuzzy distortion. He couldn’t help but feel that this was a terrible idea. Then the bubble popped right before his horrified eyes.
He didn’t even have time to wail in despair as they plunged into the newly formed dreammist.