Your senses expand, and a warm, blue light swirls in sconces on the walls. You put them there, long ago. So, so long ago.
Wraith-lanterns. Servants of the Harrower you trapped to light your path through his havoc. It was a simple magic, if difficult for at that point in your journey. You wonder if you could do it now.
The small sins trapped inside were weaker creatures, after all. Easily tamed into nothing but unconscious light. But you had been practicing for months to do this.
Do you need practice now? The way you ripped that sword from your scabbard, you’re not sure if you want to know the answer.
You hardly notice that you’ve regained your footing. You wander, aimless, through the caverns of the town that once saved you, so long ago, bathed in the blue light of your own creation. At length, you reach the lip of a black iron archway. Something tickles the back of your mind. It used to be a gate, you realize. Shorn to ruin, like everything else.
“Toric,” you marvel, “If you could see what’s become of everything. Would you…?” You’re not sure how he would feel. Would he hate you for leaving them? For letting this–this–whatever this is–happen?
Time and place, you remind yourself. Time and place.
The descent into Snothringham proper is steep and treacherous. You can hear folk talking in the distance. You hear no voices. Just hissing. Like wind. But there’s no wind down here. Not that you can feel.
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. You try to dredge up memories of how they made this. But those thoughts are hidden from you. For now, leastways.
Every sound tamps down into silence the moment it arises. Your 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.
You wonder what noises these hisses might be. You know its not wind. But the woman 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.
You 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 you 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.)
You climb the steps to the double doors, sheath slapping on your thigh. You mailed fingers reach out to stroke the smooth black walls, just beneath the sconces fill with wraithlight.
White pain sears your hand (and mind). You 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 your own flesh, long ago. The Harrower had tried to dig up this town to deliver them and its denizens to the great evil: Chaos. He meant to punish you for daring to be called here by the Higher Powers.
You stopped him.
You 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.
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