My senses expand, and a warm, blue light swirls in sconces on the walls. I put them there, long ago. So, so long ago.
Wraith-lanterns. Servants of the Harrower I trapped to light my path through his havoc. It was a simple magic, if difficult for at that point in my journey. I wonder if I could do it now.
The small sins trapped inside were weaker creatures, after all. Easily tamed into nothing but unconscious light. But I had been practicing for months to do this.
Do I need practice now? The way I ripped that sword from my scabbard, I’m not sure if I want to know the answer.
I hardly notice that I’ve regained my footing. I wander, aimless, through the caverns of the town that once saved me, so long ago, bathed in the blue light of my own creation. At length, I reach the lip of a black iron archway. Something tickles the back of my mind. It used to be a gate, I realize. Shorn to ruin, like everything else.
“Toric,” I marvel, “If you could see what’s become of everything. Would you…?” I’m not sure how he would feel. Would he hate me for leaving them? For letting this–this–whatever this is–happen?
Time and place, I remind myself. Time and place.
The descent into Strathbury-below proper is steep and treacherous. I can hear folk talking in the distance. No clear voices, though. Just hissing. Like wind. But I don’t feel wind.
Each domed building is made of neither brick nor mortar. Every hut and house is molded from smooth, shining black metal. The wraith-lanterns’ reflections danced, prismatic in their polish.
There’s no sign of wear, after all these years. Not a single scratch. I try to dredge up memories of how they made this. But those thoughts are hidden from me. For now, at least.
Every sound tamps down into silence the moment it arises. My footsteps do not echo through the caverns of what remains of the small town. Some vile force wrings Creation at the neck, undoing every evidence of life the moment it noises itself.
I wonder what noises these hisses might be. I know it’s not wind. But the women and children of Strathbury are down here. And no noise can yet be uttered.
They can’t even scream. Is that what this is? Dozens of helpless women and children, crying out, and silenced?
It’s perhaps best to table that thought for the time being.
I descend into the smothering shadow of the old Mair’s office: a single sheet of black metal wrought into the visage of a tower small tower. Like the Citadel of Virengar, in the west, constructed in miniature.
The structure comes back to me suddenly and without warning: ancient spires of stone and causeways, white-marble, uncracked, towering high so high that it fills the planes for miles in its shadow. Those twisting, towering structured are echoed here, in miniature.
I climb the steps to the double doors, sheath slapping on my thigh. My mailed fingers reach out to stroke the smooth black walls, just beneath the sconces fill with wraithlight.
White pain sears my hand (and mind). I yelp and draw back. The shattered shards fit into place:
The wolf–the Harrower–was charged by the Great Evil to remove this place from the Order of the world. Such concepts walked the land as bare as my own flesh, long ago. The Harrower had tried to dig up this town to deliver them and its denizens to the Great Evil. He meant to punish me for daring to be called here by the Higher Powers.
I stopped him.
I stopped him.
But Anthea–Gormund’s daugher–if she’s not dead, then vestiges of the Higher Powers still echo inside her. And if she was dragged into these tunnels when the Swarm came, then that power was still flagging from her body. She has to be strong, to have survived this long.
All it would take is a single strand–a streamer–scented by the Harrower–something he could latch onto to draw his own power.
The gray wolf is awake.
And the gray wolf is angry.