Friday, November 3, 2023

Dark Armor: The Grandmother's Request

Pallian raised the glowstone in its metal cage and angled the lens so that its light fell on the crude map that Tybben had drawn, and the notations that the dog-faced man had scrawled in beside it. If I am where I think I am... 

He turned the lamp to scan the barren stone passageway. There. It was a bit further ahead than he'd expected, but there was a side-passage leading off to the right. He moved forward, turned, and started down it. It wound down in a narrowing spiral, making it impossible to keep his sense of direction, and it descended for a very long time. 

At the bottom, he surveyed the three passageways branching out, and took the one on the right. Something howled far away, filling the halls with its echoes, and for a moment Pallian froze. Then he continued on; he'd come too far to back out now. 

Tybben had refused to come with him; the loyal servant was not part of the royal bloodline, and feared that the Grandmother would destroy him if he intruded on her space. Pallian would have greatly preferred to be down here in his company, but he found that particular fear hard to argue with. The House of Teres was not known for being reasonable, measured, or in any way restrained. 

It was probably why his father was convinced that there was something wrong with him.  

Left at the intersection, right and down at the split, and then a left turn to descend the spiral staircase that led down to the center of the Grandmother's ancient suite. 

There was a wisp waiting for him at the foot of the stair, gleaming with a pale blue light that sometimes flickered into a sickly green. Pallian greeted it silently, and followed when it darted away. It seemed he was expected. 

It led him a short way, down clean and empty halls, to an arch-roofed laboratory where a robed figure stood with its back to him. "Grandmother?" he asked cautiously, as the wisp dispersed in a burst of glowing mist. 

"I'm just in the middle of something," the figure said, in a soft, sweet voice, "and I need a pair of demons-eye rubies. If you go out the door and to the left, you'll find my supplies two doors down on the left. There is, however, a bit of vermin that's gotten into the room and thinks of it as home. Be a dear and take care of it, will you?"

Pallian swallowed. "As you wish, Grandmother."

He ducked back out the door, turned left, and found the second door on the left wall. He paused for a moment outside, then tried the latch and pushed it open. 

The room beyond was dark, its exact dimension hidden behind rows of shelves. A faint whoosh, like a soft breath, rolled across the room. 

Pallian drew and released a breath of his own. He knew a test when he saw one. 

So he stepped carefully into the room, moving the lamp to his left hand and drawing his sword with his right. He nudged the door closed with the heel of his left foot, since he was fairly certain it was going to close itself behind him anyway. 

Trespasser...  The word was another soft breath, rolling through the room. 

"That's not how I heard it," Pallian said quietly. 

Come closer... Come near... Step into the trap... 

Pallian advanced cautiously, keeping his steps quiet so he could listen, trying to look every direction at once. The irony of having refused the initiation that would have allowed him to do that very thing was not at all lost on him. 

Seven steps later, he came out from the shelves and saw it: a design of salt and wax traced across a section of open flooring, a dull-red figure hovering above it, and the shaken-ember flicker as the figure vanished. 

He flung himself forward, towards the design, and heard the whish as the air parted just behind his neck. Too close. The light of the lamp jumped crazily, and he knew that whatever this thing was, it could kill him easily just by sticking to the shadows. The light from the lamp was a narrow beam, only showing one direction at a time. This enemy, this beast, could come from anywhere. 

Pallian dropped his sword and gripped the lamp with both hands, ripping it apart. The glowstone inside fell out, landed at his feet, and suddenly everything around him was brightly lit except where his own shadow covered it. There! Pallian rolled aside and scooped up his sword, and for a moment the red-skinned thing was caught in the light, oversized hands with their overlong fingers and talons raised to shield its eyes. 

It vanished again, but by then it was too late: Pallian fell on the design, breaking it with his dagger and sweeping it aside with his sword. There was a sort of shriek, but it didn't come from the beast; it came from the design itself. 

The bargain is fulfilled... said that same empty voice, and then the room was silent. 

Pallian kept his sword out but put his dagger away. He scooped up the glowstone in his left hand, and turned its light on the shelves. After a minute or so of cautious searching he found the basket labelled demons-eye rubies in the old-fashioned, looping script that the nobility had favored four centuries ago. He pulled two of the stones, the ones that looked best to him, and made his way back to the Grandmother's laboratory...

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