Chapter II: The Plunge
Time was short, but the path was long.
Thankfully, Hamish was able to use the aura of the sword to confirm they were going the right direction, but there was little they could do to speed up the process.
For a time, they sprinted through vacant city streets, following Selene’s memory. Eventually, they stopped as they came to a hole in the earth.
“Are we going down there?” Ari asked, somewhat disappointed to once again find them heading beneath the earth.
Both Selene and Hamish nodded.
There was no staircase, only a vacant hole into the abyss.
“Selene, do you still have your rope?” Hamish asked, staring into the hole.
She shook her head. “No, I left it at the docks when I…” Selene was about to explain how she lost the rope, but thought better of it, so she said instead, “…anyway, I don’t have it. I guess we’ll need to find another way?”
Ari and Hamish both eyed her a moment, suspicious, but decided to leave it aside for the matter at hand.
“Before we look for other route, why don’t I try climbing down?” Hamish suggested. “I can create footholds for you two if it appears safe enough.”
Selene and Ari nodded, preferring the faster route. Before any more was said, Hamish swung down and began to climb.
It did not take long for the half-orc to return.
Dirt speckled his beard as he grinned, declaring, “Is safe, follow footholds down, my friends!”
He promptly descended once more.
Ari, unusually impatient, was the first to descend. Selene followed suit as soon as she could no longer see the elf.
The descent was gruelling. Selene imagined they travelled about as deep as the first time they ventured below the city. Only this time it was straight down.
Eventually, they all reached the bottom of the hole sweaty, tired, and slightly annoyed. Except Hamish, who was only sweaty and tired.
There was no time to rest, however, so they kept their pace.
The bottom revealed a familiar tunnel, leading to ancient hallways that stretched on as far as Selene could see.
Selene turned toward the direction she had seen in her mind and continued down the hall. Footsteps from her companions soon followed.
Everything is so empty now. Selene thought, noting the only sound to be heard was the echoing clash of their feet against the marbled stone beneath them. Maybe this is that deluge Renik was talking about. A quiet before the end.
All the halls appeared the same, yet Selene still managed to lead them with ease thanks to the Firstborn’s influence. What was the far more pressing problem was Selene’s uncertainty on how close they were getting. Was it another hour? Or was it just around the corner? In spite of the knowledge the Firstborn gifted, she could not tell.
Her thoughts were cut short as suddenly she felt her pace begin to slow. Turning to her companions, she noticed Ari was slowing as well, and was looking around with the same confusion.
Hamish alone seemed unaffected, running past them before swiftly coming to a stop as well.
“What is it, friends?” He asked, concerned.
You may not step a foot closer to the Hall. A voice spoke in their minds. At first, Selene assumed it was Lendrig, but she realized it lacked his voice’s distinct weight and age. This was a younger voice. All the same, Selene’s heart sank at the realization they had just walked into a trap.
Sep’tha, hidden behind illusory walls, crept forward, surrounding them. Their faces were partially obscured by hoods, but this did nothing to hide the tentacles that flowed down to their chests like a beard.
Hamish spun in place, falling into a defensive stance
Strange…his mind is…beyond our reach.
Selene looked at them doubtfully, “You mean Hamish can’t hear you?”
Hamish looked at her, confused, “Cannot hear what, my friend?”
His will is strong…none but the master might breach it.
For a moment, Selene felt a surge of hope. Perhaps Hamish could dispatch the group on his own if they were powerless?
Your mind is a paradox. So easy to read, yet so difficult to comprehend. We need not brute force to defeat this ‘Hamish,’ Malenai. Tell him we have bound you two, the Sep’tha declared, And that we will kill you if he does not cooperate.
Selene’s heart sank again, but she relayed the message to him. Ari remained silent during the whole exchange, studying the Sep’tha like a caged animal.
Hamish looked to Selene regretfully, “I am sorry, friend. It appears I cannot protect you here.”
Selene gave a reassuring smile, “It’s okay, we didn’t know what we would find here.”
Hamish nodded reluctantly, but said nothing. He sat upon the floor, watching the Sep’tha intently. His gaze did not seem to affect the Sep’tha, but they also made sure to keep their distance from him.
Now that that is settled we…
The Sep’tha cut off in mid sentence, as if he had changed his mind.
Ah…I see. It appears you were expected. The Master says he was beginning to grow…impatient. The hour of the rebirth draws near, but we could not begin without our honoured guests.
“W-what do you mean?” Selene asked, feigning confusion.
The Master wants you all to bear witness to the rebirth before you face death together. But…wait…
The Sep’tha studied the group intently, before flinching, The Master expected another. Where is the fourth in your party?
“He’s—” Selene began.
Ari cut her off, “He told us he had found a way to beat Lendrig and that he needed to stay behind.”
The Sep’tha did not respond.
Instead, it was Lendrig that spoke. Amusing.. A coward’s flight disguised as valour is quite the deception. I applaud the Acolyte’s cunning. I will deal with him later. Chosen.
At the mention of the word, the surrounding Sep’tha bowed their heads in unison, What do you ask of your humble servants, Master?
Bind the half-orc in chains, then escort them to the Hall.
Their heads all rose as they spoke, each voice united in pitch and tone to the extent each one was indistinguishable from another.
It shall be done, Master.
Chains were procured quite quickly. Selene was forced to act as mediary so that Hamish knew their demands. Begrudgingly, he allowed the chains to be wrapped tightly around him. This procedure went on for several minutes before the Sep’tha were satisfied.
Then the party was dragged through the halls, captured once more.
They travelled the same route Selene had followed. She knew they were leading them straight toward the Hall of Heart.
The walk was not long before they reached the Hall, but the door that Selene saw in her memories was now opened. Inside was a chamber swallowed in an inky blackness no eye could pierce.
Perfect, more of that enchanted darkness. Selene grumbled to herself as the Sep’tha forced them through it.
Stepping through, she soon realized the darkness did not fill the room, it was more of a curtain to obscure the activity within.
The chamber was large and damp, as if it had been flooded and only recently emptied of water. Runes marked the walls and ceiling. Mists flowed into the room and hovered over the floor, but Selene suspected they too were covered in the strange runes. For such a grand title as the Hall of Heart, Selene could not help but feel this room was too simple. I expected more of a throne room, considering its importance. Why is it so bare?
Her thoughts were interrupted as her eyes fell upon the room’s centerpiece.
At its center was a massive crystalline structure. Initially, Selene thought it was solid, but a closer inspection revealed it to be filled with a murky, viscous fluid. It was filled with hundreds of squid, darting about wildly. The larger and stronger ones devoured the weaker ones.
Yet something larger also lurked within.
Ahhh, there you are. Lendrig’s voice purred in their minds. I was worried you all would miss the main event.
Please…come in, come in.
The party stepped forward, compelled by Lendrig’s powers.
As they approached, the thing in the glass came into view.
Selene gasped. It was a mass of bulging flesh. Thick, pale green veins pulsed across wrinkled skin as tendrils floated calmly amidst the water.
Disgusted, Selene tried resisting the pull, not wanting to get any closer. Nothing she tried had any success. Her body would not obey, she had no choice but to approach.
Behold, my true form. Consider yourselves honoured to stand before me, in all my glory, and bear witness to the rebirth of the Igryss and my rise to the place of absolute ruler of this pathetic world.
They stopped a few feet from the glass, where they were forced to kneel by the same power that had kept them moving forward. Even Hamish, who was far more successful in resisting, eventually succumbed and fell to his knees.
Once all were kneeling, the flesh thrummed with a strange power as it moved in the water. While it lacked a face, or eyes, Selene knew it had turned to face them.
Lendrig’s voice filled her mind. Welcome, Malenai. You kept me waiting.
The consciousness then moved toward Ari. And you…Daughter of the Icy Wind. It pleases me greatly that you decided to join her. It will please me to return the pain you gave me when you destroyed my Chosen.
Finally it turned to Hamish. And you…traveller from the West. I must say your presence delights me most of all. It has been an Aeon since the incense from that accursed tree was used against us. To kill you will be a…correction for the end I suffered at your ancestor’s hand.
As Lendrig spoke, Hamish winced. Suddenly he appeared quite small. A bead of sweat fell from his brow as his breathing became strained.
You are strong, but not enough to face me here, half-orc. I have dined upon thousands of mortals since my defeat, growing in strength. Now, not even the blasted cedar can save you from me.
It appeared as if Lendrig’s words rang true. Bound and unable to resist, Hamish knelt motionless, eyes clamped shut.
But all of that can wait, Lendrig concluded casually. You all came for the main event, did you not? Well, here it is. You kneel in the Hall of the Heart, the place where the Ocean’s Heart was found, and where the Igryss shall be reborn. In another era, I locked it away to ensure none might disturb the Igryss. It was locked from anyone who did not hold the key. Now that it was returned to me, I could once again enter this domain. Now, all we need are the finishing touches. First, the heart for rebirth!
From the mists ascended a large, green crystal. In spite of its solid appearance, the crystal appeared to beat.
Its pulse was in rhythm to the pulsating flesh of Lendrig’s true form. Selene, in spite of herself, could not look away. There was something to the thrum and beat of it, something familiar.
Born from the Heart’s Power and the feasting of the Children on the blood of surface dwellers for centuries. Now, all that’s left is the purification.
Selene’s eyes were still glued to the heart, but she could see something descending. It was a tentacle, holding something Selene could not see.
“Argent!” Ari cried, staring at the unconscious form of the elf, hanging from the ceiling. He was held by a large tendril, wrapped tightly around his waist.
She struggled to rise to her feet, but the pressure keeping them down was too great for her to resist.
Now, now. No need to get emotional. It’s already too late for you, after all. If it does you any comfort, know the Máni’s progeny yet lives. His strength of will was quite impressive. Not one scream, no matter how he bled. Unconsciousness took him before I could make him beg for mercy. A shame he will die when the purification is complete.
Perhaps, you will be different?
Lendrig laughed once more, But that can wait until after the rebirth. Come, let us not keep the Igyrss waiting.