作者：残烟一缕 提交日期：2008-6-18 18:02:00 | 分类: | 访问量：4225
VOICES, many voices—whether birthed in his own head or in the comfortless shadows that surrounded him, Simon could not tell—were his only companions in that first terrible hour.
Simon mooncalf! Done it again, Simon mooncalf!
His friend is dead, his only friend, be kind, be kind!
Where are we?
In darkness, in darkness forever, to bat-flitter like a lost shrieking soul through the endless tunnels...
He is Simon Pilgrim now, doomed to wander, to wonder...
No. Simon shuddered, trying to rein in the clamoring voices, I will remember. I will remember the red line on the old map, and to look for the Tan'J'a Stairs—whatever they might be. I will remember the flat black eyes of that murderer Pryrates: I will remember my friend ... my friend Doctor Morgenes...
He sank down onto the gritty tunnel floor, weeping with helpless, strengthless anger, a barely beating heart of life in a universe of black stone. The blackness was a choking thing that pressed down on him, squeezing out his breath.
Why did he do it? Why didn't he run?
He died to save you, idiot boy—and Josua. If he had run, they would have followed; Pryrates had the stronger magic. You would have been caught, and they would have been free to follow the prince, to hunt him down and drag him back to his cell. Morgenes died for that.
Simon hated the sound of his own crying, the hacking, sniveling sound echoing on and on. He pushed it all up from inside him, sobbing until his voice was a dry rasp—a sound he could live with, not the weepy bleat of a lost mooncalf in the dark.
Lightheaded and sick, wiping his face with his shirtsleeve, Simon felt the forgotten weight of Morgenes' crystal sphere in his hand.
Light. The doctor had given him light. Along with the papers crimped uncomfortably in the waistband of his breeches, it was the last gift the doctor had given him.
No, a voice whispered, the second-to-last, Simon Pilgrim.
Simon shook his head, trying to dispel the licking, murmuring fear. What had Morgenes said as he tied the glinting bauble to the sparrow's slender leg? To be strong with its heavy burden? Why was he sitting in the pitch dark, mewling and dribbling—wasn't he Morgenes' apprentice, after all?
He clambered to his feet, dizzy and trembling. He felt the glassy surface of the crystal warm beneath his stroking fingers. He stared into the darkness where his hands must be, thinking of the doctor. How could the old man laugh so often, when the world was so full of hidden treachery, of beautiful things with rot inside of them? There was so much shadow, so little...
A pinprick of light flared before him—a needle hole in the sun-shrouding curtain of night. He rubbed harder and stared. The light bloomed, folding back the shadows; the passageway's walls leaped out on either side, brushed with glowing amber. Air seemed to rush into his lungs. He could see!
The momentary elation evaporated as he turned to look up and down the corridor. A pain in his head made the walls waver before his gaze. The tunnel was nearly featureless, a lonely hole burrowing down into the underbelly of the castle, festooned with pale cobwebs. Back up the passage he could see a crossway he had already passed, a gaping mouth in the wall. He walked back. A quick shine of the crystal revealed nothing beyond the opening but tailings and rubble, a sloping pile of debris leading down out of reach of the sphere's thin light. How many other cross-paths had he missed? And how would he know which ones were the right ones? Another wave of choking hopelessness washed over him. He was hopelessly alone, hopelessly lost. He would never find himself back in the world of light.
Simon Pilgrim, Simon mooncalf... family dead. friend dead, see him wander and wander forever...
"Silence!" he growled out loud, and was startled to hear the word caroming down the path before him, a messenger carrying a proclamation from the king of Under-the-ground: "Silence... silence... silen... si..."
King Simon of the Tunnels began his staggering progress.
The passageway squirmed downward into the stone heart of the Hayholt, a smothering, winding, cobwebbed track lit only by the gleam of Morgenes' crystal sphere. Broken spiderwebs performed a slow, ghostly dance in the wake of his passage; when he turned to look back the strands seemed to wave after him, like the clutching, boneless fingers of the drowned. Hanks of silky thread stuck to his hair and draped stickily across his face, so that he had to hold his hand before his eyes as he walked. Often he would feel some small, leggy thing scuttling away across his fingers as he broke through its netting, and would have to stop for a moment, head down, until the shivers of disgust subsided.
It was becoming colder, and the close-cramped walls of the passageway seemed to breathe with moisture. Parts of the tunnel had crumbled; in some places dislodged dirt and stone were piled so high in the center of the path that he had to push his back against the damp walls and edge around them.
He was doing just that—squeezing around an obstruction, the light-wielding hand held over his head, the other feeling before him for a way past—when he felt a searing pain like a thousand needle-pricks run up his questing hand and onto his arm. A flash of the crystal brought a vision of horror—hundreds, no, thousands of tiny white spiders swarming up his wrist and under his shirt sleeve, biting like a thousand burning fires. Simon shrieked and slammed his arm against the tunnel wall, bringing a shower of clotted dirt down into his mouth and eyes. His terrified shouts echoed down the passageway, quickly failing. He fell to his knees in damp soil, smacking his stinging arm up and down into the dirt until the flaring pain began to subside, then crawled forward on his hands and knees, away from whatever horrible nest or den he had disturbed. As he crouched and frantically scrubbed his arm with loose soil the tears came again, racking him like a whipping.
When he could stand to look at his arm, the crystal's light revealed only reddening and swelling skin beneath the dirt, instead of the bloody wounds he had been sure he would find. The arm throbbed, and he wondered dully if the spiders were poisonous—if the worst was yet to come. When he felt the sobs climbing once more in his chest, shortening his breath, he forced himself to his feet. He must go on. He must.
A thousand white spiders.
He must go on.
He followed the sphere's dim light downward. It gleamed on moisture-slick stone and earth-choked cross-corridors, twining with pallid roots. Surely he must be far below the castle by now—far down into the black earth. There was no sign of Josua's passage, or of anyone's. He was sickeningly certain he had missed some turning-place in the darkness and confusion, and was even now spiraling downward into an inescapable pit.
He had trudged on so long, making so many twists and turns, that the memory of the narrow red line on Morgenes' old parchment was now useless. There was nothing remotely like stairs anywhere in these narrow, strangling wormholes. Even the glowing crystal was beginning to flicker. The voices escaped his control again, surrounding him in the crazy shadows like a shouting throng. Dark and getting darker. Dark and getting darker. Let us lie down for a while. We want to sleep, just for a while, sleep...
The king has an animal inside him, and Pryrates is its keeper...
"My Simon." Morgenes called you '"my Simon"... he knew your father. He kept secrets.
Josua is going to Naglimund. The sun shines there all day and night Naglimund. They eat sweet cream and drink clear, shining water at Naglimund. The sun is bright.
Bright and hot. It is hot. Why?
The damp tunnel was suddenly very warm. He stumbled on, hopelessly sure that he felt the first fever of spider-poison. He would die in the dark, the terrible dark. He would never again see the sun, or feel its...
The warmth seemed to push into his lungs. It was getting hotter!
Stifling air enfolded him, sticking his shirt to his chest and his hair to his forehead. He felt a moment of even greater panic.
Have I circled round? Have I walked for years only to come back to the ruins of Morgenes' chamber— the burned, blackened remains of his life?
But it was not possible. He had been going downward steadily, never once mounting back to anything more than a moment's level going. Why was it so hot?
The memory of one of Shem Horsegroom's stories pushed forward, a story of young Prester John wandering through darkness toward a great, brooding heat—the dragon Shurakai in its lair beneath the castle... this castle.
But the dragon is dead! I've touched its bones, a yellow chair in the throne room. There is no dragon anymore—no sleepless, deep-breathing red hulk the size of the toumey field, waiting in the darkness with claws like swords and a soul as old as the stones of Osten Ard—the dragon is dead.
But did dragons never have brothers? And what was that sound? That dull, grumbling roar? The heat was oppressive, and the air was thick with itching smoke. Simon's heart was a lump of dull lead in his chest. The crystal began to dim as broad smears of reddish light blotted out the sphere's weaker radiance. The tunnel flattened, turning now neither left nor right, leading down a long, eroded gallery to an arched doorway that danced with a flickering orange radiance. Shivering despite the sweat streaming down his face, Simon felt himself drawn toward it.
Turn and run, mooncalf?
He could not. Each step was a labor, but he moved closer. He reached the archway and craned his neck fearfully around the portal's rim.
It was a great cavern, awash in leaping light. The rock walls seemed to have melted and set like wax at the base of a candle, the stone smoothed in long, vertical ripples. For a moment Simon's light-stunned eyes opened wide in amazement; at the cavern's far side a score of dark figures were kneeling before the shape of... a monstrous, flame-blazing dragon!
An instant later he saw that it was not so; the huge shape crouched against the stone was a great furnace. The dark-clad figures were forking logs into its flaming maw.
The foundry! The castle foundry!
All around the cavern heavily dressed and scarf-masked men were smithying the tools of war. Massive buckets of glowing liquid iron were pulled from the flames on the ends of long poles. Molten metal jumped and hissed as it drizzled into plate-shaped molds, and above the groaning voice of the furnace reverberated the clang of hammer on anvil.
Simon shrank back from the doorway. For a heartbeat he had felt himself about to leap forward and run to these men—for men they were, despite their strange dress. It had seemed in that instant that anything was better than the dark tunnel, and the voices—but he knew better. Did he think these foundrymen would help him to escape? Doubtless they knew only one route from the blazing cavern: up and back into the clutches of Pryrates—if he had survived the inferno of Morgenes' chambers—or the brutal justice of Elias.
He sank down onto his haunches to think. The noise of the furnace and his own painful head made it difficult. He could not remember passing any cross-tunnels for some time. He could see what looked like a row of holes along the far wall of the foundry-cavem; it could be that they were nothing but storage chambers...
But it seemed just as likely that they were other routes in and out of the chamber. To retreat back up the tunnel seemed foolish...
Numb, battered, he balanced on the knife-edge of indecision. To go back, and wander through the same dark, spider-haunted tunnels, his only light nickering into extinction... or to make his way across the roaring infemo of the foundry floor—and from there, who could know? Which should it be?
He will be King of Under-ground, Lord of the Weeping Shades!
No, his people are gone, let him be!
He smacked himself on the head, trying to dispel the chattering voices.
If I'm going to die, he decided, wresting back the mastery of his speeding heart, at least let it be in the light.
He bent over, head throbbing, to stare at the cupped gleam of the crystal sphere. Even as he looked, the light died, then throbbed back into tenuous life. He slipped it into his pocket.
The furnace flame and the dark shapes that passed before them laid pulsing stripes of red, orange and black along the wall; he dropped down from the archway to huddle beside the downsloping ramp. The nearest hiding place was a shabby brick structure some fifteen or twenty ells from where he crouched, a disused kiln or oven that squatted on the chamber's fringe. After a few deep breaths he bolted for it, half-running, half-crawling. His head ached from the motion, and when he reached the bulky kiln he had to lower his face between his knees until the black spots went away. The harsh roar of the feeding furnace rang like thunder inside his head, silencing even his voices with its painful clamor.
He made his way from dark place to dark place, little islands of shadowed safety in the ocean of smoke and red noise. The foundrymen did not look up and see him; they barely communicated among themselves, limited in the crushing din to broad gestures, like armored men in the chaos of battle. Their eyes, points of reflected light above the masking cloth, seemed instead to stare at one thing only: the bright, compelling glow of hot iron. Like the red map-line that still snaked a wistful course through Simon's memory, the radiant metal was everywhere and all the same, like a dragon's magical blood. Here it splashed over the edge of a vat, spattering in gemlike drops; over there it wound serpentlike away across the rock to flow hissing into a pool of brackish water. Great tongues of incandescence sluiced down from buckets, coloring the bundled foundrymen in demonic scarlet.
Creeping, scuttling, Simon made his slow way around the rim of the smelting-cave until he reached the nearest ramp leading out of the chamber. The oppressive, breathing heat and his own sickened spirit urged him to climb up, but the packed earth of the ramp showed a deep, crisscrossing scrawl of cartwheel tracks. This was a much-used doorway, he reasoned, thoughts blurry and slow. It was not a place he should try.
At last he reached a mouth in the cavern wall that had no ramp. It was a difficult scrabble up the smooth—fire-melted? Dragon-melted?—rock, but his flagging strength held up long enough for him to pull himself over the lip and collapse full length in the sheltering shadows just inside, the unpocketed sphere glowing weakly in his hand like a trapped firefly.
When he knew who he was once more, he was crawling.
On your knees again, mooncalf?
The blackness was virtually complete, and he was moving blindly downward. The tunnel floor was dry and sandy beneath his hands.
He crawled for a long, long time; even the voices began to sound as if they felt sorry for him.
Simon lost... Simon lost lost los...
Only the slowly diminishing heat behind convinced him he was actually moving—but toward what? Where? He crept like a wounded animal, through solid shadow, heading down, always down. Would he crawl downward to the very center of the world?
Scuttling, leggy things beneath his fingers meant nothing now. The darkness was complete, inside and outside. He felt himself almost bodiless, a bundle of frightened thoughts bumping down into the cryptic earth.
Somewhere, sometime later, the darkened sphere he had clutched for so long that it seemed a pan of him began to glow again, this time with a strange azure light. From a core of pulsing blue the light expanded until he had to hold the sphere away from him, squinting. He climbed slowly to his feet and stood panting, his hands and knees tingling where they no longer touched sand.
The tunnel walls were covered in fibrous black growths, tangled as uncombed wool, but through the twining strands gleamed shining patches, reflecting the new-flowered light. Simon hobbled closer to investigate, drawing his hand back with a thin wheeze of disgust as he touched the greasy black moss. Some of his self had come back with the light, and as he stood swaying he thought about what he had crawled through, and trembled.
The wall beneath the moss was covered in some kind of tile, chipped and scored in many places, missing in others so that the dull earth showed through. Behind him the tunnel sloped upward, the rut of his passage stopping where he now stood. Before him the darkness led on. He would try walking on two legs for a while.
The passage soon widened. The arched entrances of scores of other corridors joined the one he traveled, most of them filled with soil and stone. Soon there were also flagstones beneath his shambling feet, uneven, fractured stone that nonetheless caught the light of the lantern-sphere with strange opalescence. The ceiling gradually angled away above him, out of reach of the blue light; the corridor continued downward into the earth. Something that might have been the beat of leathery wings fluttered in the emptiness above.
Where am I now? How could Hayholt run so deep? Doctor said castles under castles, down into the world's bones. Castles under castles... under castles...
He had stopped without knowing it, and had turned to stand before one of the cross-passages. In some part of his head he could see himself and how he must look—tattered, dirt-smeared, head wagging from side to side like a half-wit. A strand of spittle dangled from his lower lip.
The doorway before him was unblocked; a strange scented air like dried flowers hung in the black arch. He stepped forward, dragging an arm that felt like heavy, useless meat across his mouth, holding aloft the crystal sphere in his other hand.
... Beautiful! Beautiful place...!
It was a chamber, perfect in the blue glow, as perfect as if someone had left it only a moment before. The ceiling was high-vaulted, covered in a tracery of delicate painted lines, a pattern suggesting thom bushes, or flowering vines, or the meandering of a thousand meadow streams. The rounded windows were choked with rubble, and dirt had poured down from them to silt the tiled floor beneath, but all else was untouched. There was a bed—a miracle of subtle, curving wood—and a chair as fine as the bones of a bird. In the room's center stood a fountain of polished stone that looked as if it might fill with singing water at any moment.
A home for me. A home beneath the ground. A bed to sleep in, sleep and sleep until Pryrates and the king and the soldiers have all gone away...
A few dragging steps forward and he stood beside the bed, the pallet as clean and unsmirched as the sails of the blessed. There was a face staring down at him from a niche above it, a splendid, clever woman's face—a statue. Something about it was wrong, though: the lines were too angular, the eyes too deep and wide, the cheekbones high and sharp. Still it was a face of great beauty, captured in translucent stone, forever frozen in a sad, knowing smile.
As he reached out to gently touch the sculpted cheek his shin nudged the bedframe, a touch delicate as a spider's step. The bed crumbled into powder. A moment later, as he stared in horror, the bust in the niche dissolved into fine ash beneath his fingertips, the woman's features melting away in an instant. He took a stumbling step back and the light of the sphere glared and then waned to a dim glow. The thump of his foot on the floor leveled the chair and delicate fountain, and a moment later the ceiling itself began to sift down, the twining branches moldering into soft dust. The sphere flickered as he lurched for the door, and as he plunged back out into the corridor the blue light guttered out.
Standing in the darkness again, he heard someone crying. After a long minute he reeled forward, down into the never-ending shadows, wondering who it was that could still have tears left to shed.
The passage of time had become a thing only of fits and starts. Somewhere behind him he had dropped the spent crystal to lie forever in darkness, a pearl in the blackest trenches of the secret sea. In a last, sane part of his wandering thought, thoughts now unbounded by the hedge of light, he knew that he was moving still further downward.
Going down. Into the pit. Going down.
Going where? To what?
From shadow to shadow, as a scullion always travels.
Dead mooncalf. Ghost mooncalf...
Drifting, drifting... Simon thought of Morgenes with his wispy beard curling in flame, thought of the shining comet glaring redly down on the Hayholt... thought of himself, descending—mounting?—through the black nothing spaces like a small, cold star.
The emptiness was complete. The darkness, at first just an absence of light and life, began to assume qualities of its own: narrow, choking dark when the tunnels narrowed, Simon clambering over drifts of rubble and tangling roots, or the lofty, airy darkness of invisible chambers, full of the parchment scrape of bat wings. Feeling his way through these vast, underground galleries, hearing his own muffled footfalls and the hissing patter of dirt shaken loose from the walls, any remaining sense of direction fell away. He might be walking straight up the walls, for all he could tell, or staggering across the ceilings like a maddened fly. There was no left or right; when his fingers found solid walls again, and doors leading to other tunnels, he groped mindlessly on through more constricted passageways and into other bat-squeaking, measureless catacombs.
Ghost of a mooncalf!
The odor of water and stone was everywhere. His sense of smell, like his hearing, seemed to have grown more acute in the blind, black night, and as he fumbled his way ever downward the scents of this midnight world washed over him—damp, loamy earth, nearly as rich as bread dough, and the bland but harsh fragrance of rocks. He was awash in the vibrant, breathing odors of moss and roots, the busy, sweet rottenness of tiny things living and dying. And floating through everything, permeating and complicating all, was the sour, mineral tang of seawater.
Seawater? Sightless, he listened, hunting the booming sounds of the ocean. How deep had he come? All he heard were the minute shufflings of digging things and his own ragged breathing. Had he tunneled beneath even the unsounded Kynslagh?
There! Faint musical tones, chiming in the farther depths. Water dripping.
Down he went. The walls were moist.
You are dead, Simon Mooncalf. A spirit, doomed to haunt a void.
There is no light. There never was such a thing. Smell the darkness? Hear the resounding nothing? This has ever been.
The fear was all he had left, but even that was something—he was afraid, so he must be alive! There was darkness, but there was Simon, too! They were not one and the same. Not yet. Not quite...
And now, so slowly he did not perceive the difference for a long time, light came back. It was a light so faint, so dim, that at first it was less than the points of color hovering before his useless eyes. Then curiously, he saw a black shape before him, a deeper shadow. A clot of worms, wriggling? No. Fingers... a hand... his hand! It was silhouetted before him, bathed in a faint glow.
The close-bending tunnel walls were thick with twining moss, and it was the moss itself that gleamed—a pale, green-white shimmer that threw only enough light to show the greater darkness of the tunnel before him, and the light-blocking shadow of his own hands and arms. But it was light! Light! Simon laughed soundlessly, and his nebulous shadows crisscrossed the passageway.
The tunnel opened out into another open gallery. As he looked up, astounded at the constellation of radiant mosses sprouting on the faraway ceiling, he felt a drop of cold water on his neck. More water drizzled slowly from above, each drop striking the rocks below with a sound like a tiny mallet falling on glass. The vaulting chamber was full of long pillars of stone, fat on either end, narrow in the middle; some were as slender as a hair's-breadth, like strands of oozing honey. As he trudged forward he realized, in some remote part of his battered mind, that most of this was the work of stone and dripping water, not of laboring hands. But still, there were lines in the dimness that did not seem natural: right-angled creases on the moss-girdled walls, ruined pillars among the stalagmites too orderly to be accidental. He was moving through a place that had once known something other than the ceaseless rhythm of water pattering in stone pools. Once it had echoed to other footsteps. But "once" only meant something if Time was still a barrier. So long had he been crawling in dark places, he might have dug through into the misty future or the shadowed past, or into unmapped realms of madness—how was he to know... ?
Putting his foot down, Simon felt a moment of shocking emptiness. He plunged into cold, wet blackness. His hands lit on the far edge as he fell, and the water proved only as deep as his knees. He thought some clawed thing clutched at his leg as he yanked himself back out onto the passageway, shaking from more than the cold. I don't want to die. I want the sun again. Poor Simon, his voices responded. Mad in the dark. Dripping, shivering, he limped on through the green-glimmered chamber, watching carefully for the empty blacknesses that next time might not be so shallow. Faint flickers, glowing pink and white, darted to and fro in the holes as he stepped across or made his way carefully around them. Fish? Shining fish in the deeps of the earth?
Now, as one large chamber opened into another, and another, the lines of hand-wrought things began to show more clearly beneath the cloak of moss and stone-drip. They made strange silhouettes in the dim half-light: crumbled spans that might once have been balconies, arched depressions matted in pallid moss that could have been windows or gateways. As he squinted, trying to make out details in the near-darkness, he began to feel his vision was slipping sideways, somehow—the overgrown shapes, smothered in shadow, seemed to simultaneously nicker with the lineaments they had once worn. From the corner of his eye he saw one of the shattered columns lining the gallery suddenly standing straight, a shining white thing carved with trains of graceful flowers. When he turned to stare, it was only a clump of broken stone once more, half-shrouded in moss and encroaching earth. The deep gloom of the chambers bent crazily at the corners of his sight, and his head pounded. The ceaseless sound of falling water now began to feel like hammerblows to his reeling mind. His voices came chittering back, revelers excited by wild music.
Mad! The boy is mad!
Have pity, he's lost, lost, lost...!
We will have it back, manchild! We will have it all back!
And as he passed down yet one more sloping tunnel he began to hear other voices in his head, voices he had not heard before, somehow both more real and more unreal than those which had long been his unwanted companions. Some of these shouted in languages that he did not know, unless he had glimpsed them in the doctor's ancient books.
Ruakha, ruakha Asu'a!
T'si e-isi'ha as-irigu!
The trees are burning! Where is the prince?! The witchwood is in flames, the gardens are burning!
The half-darkness was contorting around him, bending, as though he stood at the center of a spinning wheel. He turned and stumbled blindly down a passageway and into one more lofty hall, holding his agonized head in his hands. There was other,'different light here: thin blue beams angling down from cracks in the unseen ceiling above, light that pierced the darkness but illuminated nothing where it fell. He smelled more water, and strange vegetation; he heard men running, shouting, women crying and the ring of metal on metal. In the strange ahnost-blackness the sound of some terrible battle raged all around, but did not touch him. He screamed—or thought he did—but could not hear his own voice, only the ghastly din in his head.
Then, as if to confirm his already certain madness, dim figures began to rush past in the blue-lanced darkness, bearded men with torches and axes chasing others more slender who bore swords and bows. All of them, pursuers and pursued, were as transparent and ill-defined as mist. None touched or saw Simon, although he stood squarely in their midst.
Jinguzul Aya'aif 0 Jingizu! came a wailing cry.
Kill the Sithi demons, harsher voices shouted. Put fire to their nest!
Hands clutched tight over his ears could not keep the voices away. He stumbled forward, trying to escape the swirling shapes, and fell through a doorway, coming to rest at last on a flat landing of gleaming white stone. He could feel cushioning moss beneath his groping hands, but his eyes saw nothing but polished blankness. He crawled forward on his stomach, still trying to escape the horrible voices shrieking in pain and anger. His fingers felt cracks and pits, but still the stone looked as flawless as glass. He reached the Up and stared out across a great, level field of black emptiness which smelled of time and death and the patient ocean. An invisible pebble rolled from beneath his hand to fall silently for long moments and then splash in the depths below.
Something large and white gleamed beside him. He lifted his heavy, aching head from the lip of the dark tarn and looked up. Scant inches from where he lay jutted the bottom steps of a great stone staircase, an upward-sweeping spiral that climbed away, mounting the side of the cavem and circling the underground lake to disappear at last into upper darkness. He gaped as an urgent, fractured memory pushed through the clamor in bis head. Stairs. Tan'za Stairs. Doctor said look for stairs.... He clambered forward, pulling himself up onto the cool, polished stone, and knew that he was mad beyond salvation, or had died and was trapped in some terrible netherworld. He was beneath the earth in final darkness: there could be no voices, no phantom warriors. There would be no light making the steps gleam before him like moonlit alabaster.
He began to climb, pulling himself up to the next high step with trembling, sweat-slippery fingers. As he mounted higher, sometimes standing, sometimes clawing his way up in a scrabbling crouch, he peered out from the stairs. The silent lake, a vast pool of shadow below him, lay at the bottom of a great circular hall, bigger by far than the foundry. The ceiling stretched immeasurably upward, lost in the blackness above with the top of the slender, beautiful white pillars ringing the chamber. A foggy, directionless light glinted on the sea-blue and jade-green walls, and touched the frames of high-vaulting windows that flickered now with an ominous crimson glare.
In the middle of the pearly mists, hovering above the silent lake, sat a dark, wavering shape. It cast a shadow both of wonder and of terror, and it filled Simon with inexpressible, pitying dread. Prince Ineluki! They come! The Northerners come! As this last impassioned cry echoed in the dark walls of Simon's skull, the figure at the room's center lifted its head. Gleaming red eyes bloomed in its face, cutting through the fog like torches. Jingizu. a voice breathed. Jingizu. So much sorrow. The crimson light flared. The shriek of death and fear rose from below like a great wave. At the center of it all, the dark figure lifted a long slender object and the beautiful chamber shuddered, shimmering like a shattered reflection, then fell away into nothingness. Simon turned away in horror, enveloped in a strangling pall of loss and despair.
Something was gone. Something beautiful had been destroyed beyond retrieval. A world had died here, and Simon felt its failing cry embedded in his heart like a gray sword. Even his consuming fear was driven out by the terrible sadness that cut through him, bringing painful, shuddering tears from reservoirs that should have been long dry. Embracing the darkness, he lurched on up the endless climb, winding around the mighty chamber. The shadows and silence swallowed the dream-battle and the dream-chamber below him, bringing a black shroud to pull over his fevered mind.
A million steps passed beneath his blind touch. A million years slid past as he traveled in the void, drowning in sorrow.
Darkness without and darkness within. The last thing he felt was metal beneath his fingers and fresh air on Bis face.