Lava poured from the spot where the tower had once stood sending great burning rivers of molten stone down through the pine and hemlock, spruce and oak. As I poled across the lake, Brother Charles screeched his displeasure and shat upon my head.
It was a day previous and I had been attacked by a flock of gorgewings, their proboscis whetted for my tasty blood. I recall battling the flying suckers and losing, with two attached to my person and their poison making me reel. A blue flash scattered the remaining flock and I staggered back from their hunting ground, struggling with one who had latched his many legs on my arm. I managed to fling it off me, only to see it snatched out of the air by a great blue plumed bird. This was Brother Charles in the moments of our first meeting.
Further back in time I explored the northern portion of the island, finding ruins of a small city. From the vantage point of the island’s peak I could discern the remains of a great road running from a broken tower out into the lake itself. The ruins here were sparse and weathered, allowing that they had been overcome by the forest and swamp many years previously. The tower that stood as the focal point of the ruined city was one of ours.
Here I had a moment of cognitive dissonance. Where had those memories come from? How had they been buried so deeply that I had no recollection of them? My mind at that time did seem to move slower. Perhaps being so near death, and infected with parasites and disease before Kithri healed me, had done something to my mental capacity. Or, perhaps I had been as stupid at Brother Durham had always said, and it was only through a series of events that I grew smarter. Was that possible?
Memories skipped, noises and flashes of light moving faster than I could capture. Somehow this reminded me of the time Rufus and I delved into the nightmares of Bÿglar. Or, perhaps the time I’d mind melded with that ancient sorceress after destroying the brain abomination. I was not in the true world, but rather a sideways realm of memories and illusions. If I tried very hard, I could make out Kithri seated in front of me, her lips moving and two of her stubby fingers pressed against my forehead. Liz stood over us both, bow drawn as noises filtered in from the dark.
“Hurry,” Liz growled. “We haven’t much time.”
What I found most intriguing was the single bead of sweat that ran down Kithri’s forehead, only to get lodged in her left eyebrow. It hung there, a shimmering orb that captured the flickering light of the fire and the visions swam.
There had been skeletons in the courtyard of the broken island keep, buried in the rubble. I had been away from the monastery for just over three weeks when I first met Kithri. She had come to me at the behest of the god Yolanda, who I thought I was worshiping for a while. I was more confused in those days.
The tower had been smashed, like a child pummeling a sand castle. In the ruin were dozens of skeletons. When they sensed my approach several of them tore away trapped limbs in order to free themselves and attack me. I dispatched them all, along with any that I could reach in the rubble.
I recall working my way over top the fallen wall of the central tower to stare down into the core, surprised to find a circular pit within, encompassing the entirety of the interior. In the gaping hole a many-tentacled creature writhed, agitated by my actions. There was treasure there, I recalled, gold and gems scattered along the rim of the pit as if to entice the foolish. But I had no desire for treasure and that seemed to enrage the monster. How long had it been since it consumed a man? I felt its hunger like a hammer beating on the door to my mind.
And the vision shifts. I stand in the tower, the illusion of the pit dispelled and the waving tentacles nothing more than vapors. Here is a great ramp, spiraling down into the unknown darkness. Something draws me down into the tower, over the broken masonry where I find myself with my feet on the lip of the ramp that arcs downward to disappear into nothingness below the cursed earth. Plaintive cries rise from the depths as soon as my feet strike the path. The way the sound echoes distorts the cry. Is it a child, or perhaps a woman? The voice seems too high pitched for a man, but a boy child, perchance? My mind rages, telling me it is a trap, the mewling of the true monster, one who thinks to draw me down into its lair, once I saw through the illusion of the tentacles and the pit.
In the world before me, Kithri chanted feverishly as Liz paced the clearing, bow in hand, sending arrows into the darkness. Whatever hunted us did so with trepidation. The yelps that echo back after her bow sang told me she had struck true.
I sank into the earth, turning, ever turning as my feet carried me into the heart of the island. Soon the darkness was replaced by the heat and light cast from the flowing river of molten stone; the very blood of the earth.
When I reached the bottom I saw the ground was steaming and the entirety was littered with the bones of the dead. These did not rise to confront me. They were the remains of something’s enormous appetite and I had stepped into its lair.
For a moment I saw nothing over the glare and heat that rolled from the river, then the shimmer parted and I saw, over the great flowing river of fire, a cage. My eyes blurred from the smoke and the heat. A figure moved within that cage. A voice, weak and drawn called out a warning. Then a shadow rose from the lava flow and my vision shifted once more.
Beings flooded into the clearing. Liz dropped her bow and pulled her twin blades, dancing around us. Yipping and cackling laughter preceded a pack of hyena like humanoids as they flooded into the clearing. Six leapt forward to be met by Liz who danced among them, a whirlwind of blades. But then another six entered the clearing, and another six. I reached for my mace, aware that Kithri had not stopped her chanting, had not removed her fingers from my brow. In the moment I found my mace, I stood to help Liz and Kithri screamed, falling to the ground where she did not move.