Keys of Binding, Part Six - Twist of Fate

As the companions limped away from Storm’s ice wall, Sophia stopped to bandage Roarc’s leg, putting her arm around his waist to help him walk onward. Tector was stumbling from blood loss, leaning on the wall from time to time to steady himself, and Storm dropped back to help his friend, taking a moment to give Roarc the last of the enchanted blueberries, which eased his wounds and enabled him to pick up the pace.

They hurried through the tiled room Roarc had led them through previously, hoping that their attacker would trigger the trap and be caught in the chamber as it flooded. Arriving in the circular room containing eight aqueducts, they saw that the pool was stirring gently now, no longer the swirling whirlpool they had arrived in days before.

Unsure whether Myrddin had heard his earlier plea, Storm linked hands with Sophia and Tector, trying to join the power of their Solstice Stones and connect with the Summoning Stone in order to appeal to the druid for aid. “Myrddin, please help us. We are in the Catacombs, being pursued by a deadly enemy. Please come to the aqueducts room,” said Storm urgently. He could feel the power of the Solstice Stones, and thought there was some connection with his druidic mentor, but could not be entirely sure.

Meanwhile, Roarc stood lookout, staring back down the passageway they had come through, an arrow nocked to his bow. Suddenly, the tense silence was broken by the harsh, insistent whisper of a female voice. “Pssst! Come this way.”

The group wheeled round to see Tinuviel peering into the room from the western entrance. She addressed them earnestly. “We have felt the terrible power that has entered the Catacombs, and I have been tracking it. Follow me, let’s get to safety.”

Grinning with relief, they followed the scarred elf maid through the Catacombs at a trot, passing quickly through familiar chambers: the silver Roman statue, the great hall in which the chokers made their lair, and finally a chrome steel statue in a mirrored room. Heading south from there, they reached a dead end of solid stone.

Tinuviel rapped on the wall with her sword hilt, tapping out a particular rhythm. Immediately, one of the stone blocks slid sideways, and in seconds the wall blocking their way had folded aside, one block at a time, leaving the way open into a chamber beyond. Tinuviel stepped quickly through, the companions following behind, to find Mara and a scowling Dolgrim waiting for them within. As the stone blocks slid back into place behind them, Storm greeted the Twisted leaders warmly, thanking them for their aid.

Mara smiled, revealing her rotting teeth. “We had been avoiding the dark elves that entered the Catacombs a few days ago, but sensed the terrible power, the antithesis of life, that arrived within the last hour. What do we face?”

Storm described the construct they had fought. “We smashed off its armour,” Tector added, “revealing a fast quicksilver body beneath.”

“It was nearly impossible to fight off,” said Sophia, shaking her head.

Mara turned to Dolgrim. “Can you use your powers to imprison it? Wall it off, so that it cannot escape?”

“Aye, I’ll try,” grunted the stoneseer, before turning and walking back out of the chamber.

Mara turned to Tinuviel. “Can you take Cathal with you and track this construct? See if Dolgrim’s power succeeds in containing it.”

The elven scout nodded and strode from the room, leaving the group alone with Mara. She looked at Roarc, who was still being supported by Sophia. “Come, let’s get those wounds seen to.” She turned and led them deeper into the Twisted stronghold, taking them to the infirmary room where the three friends had woken after their first encounter with a blazing skeleton many months before.

Laying Roarc and Tector on two of the beds, Mara and Sophia worked together to clean the wounds they had sustained, although there was little they could do for the horrible blackened patches where their skin had been withered by the necrotic aura of the construct. Having done so, Mara pressed her hands to their wounds and, with a warm golden light, healed the worst of them. Roarc fell into a deep sleep, and Tector too felt suddenly exhausted.

An hour passed, and Dolgrim returned, shaking his head. “My walls are slowing the thing down, but it smashes its way through eventually. It seems to know where we are, and it’s coming this way.”

“How long will it take to reach us?” asked Storm.

“Perhaps an hour,” answered Dolgrim.

“We should leave here, go around it, escape the Catacombs,” said Storm.

Sophia shook her head. “But Storm, that would mean leading the construct up into York. We cannot do that.”

Storm nodded his agreement, and closed his eyes, trying to think of another plan. A thoughtful silence descended upon the room.

Suddenly Storm’s mind was filled with an agonised scream, followed my Myrddin’s voice, thick with pain. “Please, help me! I am at the aqueducts!” he groaned.

Quickly waking Tector and Roarc, the companions sprinted through the Catacombs, retracing their steps and finding Myrddin slumped on the edge of the pool. He had dragged himself out of the water, legs mangled and bleeding as if savaged by huge jaws. He looked up, trying to speak, but was wracked by a coughing fit and spat blood onto the flagstone floor.

Tector stooped and picked up the druid, who gasped in pain and almost passed out. With Storm leading the way and Sophia bringing up the rear, they retraced their steps as quickly as possible to the Twisted stronghold, fearing attack at any moment.

The stone wall once again parted to allow them entry, and they took Myrddin straight to Mara in the infirmary. She poured healing power into his ravaged body, and the companions were amazed to see the worst of his wounds heal in moments. The effort clearly took its toll on Mara however, as she nearly collapsed and had to be helped to one of the infirmary beds to rest.

Myrddin grimaced as he sat up. “I seem to have broken a couple of ribs.”

“What happened?” asked Storm.

“I have been taking too many risks recently, trying to be in too many places, influence too many events, using magic to travel too frequently over long distances.”

“What about your injuries?” asked Tector.

“I was attacked,” replied the druid. “Hidden pathways lead through other worlds that exist in parallel with ours, all of which reflect our world in some way, whether as a dark shadow, a true wilderness, an eternal night, or a flaming hell. The standing stones of my ancestors take advantage of these paths to travel very quickly between one and another, emerging back into our world just a few minutes later, but hundreds of miles away.” Myrddin paused, grimacing again at the pain in his ribs, before continuing.

“There is also power in water, which was used by my people in ancient times, a power that was perfected by the Romans and which they used for centuries to sustain their vast empire. There are other means as well, including mirror magic, beloved of Morgause. The Solstice Stones, when grouped together, bestow a similar power, but they need a ‘target’ – whether it be standing stones, a mirror or an enchanted pool – to aim for, or the risk of becoming lost increases exponentially. Even with a target, the use of the Solstice Stones seems to increase the risk.”

“What risk could cause these injures?” asked Sophia.

“The Otherlands, through which the enchanted paths cross, have other inhabitants, and there is always a small risk that, however quickly you pass through, you may encounter something unfriendly. That happened to me today. I was attacked by a denizen of the Otherlands, a three headed demon larger than a carthorse. I was already weakened from much expenditure of power over the last few days, and would not have survived had I not used all my power to heal myself and escape.”

Storm looked thoughtful. “How do you escape, if you are lost in the Otherlands?”

“The same methods we use for travel from this world. Standing stones, enchanted pools, flowing water. And, in a pinch, the Solstice Stones.”

“Can the creatures of the Otherlands come to our world?” asked the Dragonborn.

“Indeed they can,” replied the druid. “Morrigan is the greatest living conjurer, and many of her most terrible servants are summoned from the Otherlands.” His eyes swept over the companions. “Now, why did you call me here?”

Storm described the construct that had attacked them, and explained what had transpired since, including its implacable pursuit. Sophia speculated that the construct might be tracking the Keys of Binding or the Solstice Stones.

Myrddin looked grim. After a short, thoughtful silence, he reached into his robes and withdrew a rosy red apple and a vial of shimmering liquid. He ate the apple quickly, washing it down with the liquid. He inhaled sharply, and his body began to shake. Gritting his teeth, the druid gradually steadied himself, and then stood.

“I will lead the construct away, attempt to transport it to one of the Otherlands and leave it there, trapped.”

“But you are badly wounded, you are not strong enough,” objected Sophia, her voice laden with concern. “We should help you.”

“You have another task,” replied the druid. “Roarc, will you aid me?” The sithe prince nodded.

Myrddin turned back to Sophia. “You must find the last Key of Binding and recover it. I believe it remains somewhere here, in the Catacombs.”

“If that is the case, we can ask Dolgrim to help us,” said Tector. “His powers may be able to help us find it.”

“Yes,” added Sophia. “And we may be able to use the Keys that Storm and Tector hold to search for the final key.”

“These are excellent ideas,” said Myrddin. “Lord de Glanvill is also on his way back to York from Durham. His divinations may be able to aid you, should you be unable to locate the fifth Key. I will return as soon as I can, the war against the Witches is entering a key phase and it is time we held counsel together.”

As Myrddin and Roarc prepared to leave, Dolgrim spoke. “Ye’re a brave man, druid. May the Aesir smile upon ye.”

“It was a pleasure travelling with you for a time,” Roarc said, bidding farewell to the companions. Pausing, he took Sophia’s hand, bent his head and kissed it. “My lady, until we meet again,” he said with a smile.

The druid and the warrior left the chamber with Dolgrim, and the three friends were left alone with their thoughts once more.

Keys of Binding, Part Six - Twist of Fate

Albion Andrew_Brereton Andrew_Brereton