Blissful silence. Perfect stillness. Restful sleep.
“Which way from here?”
A pause. “Right?”
Red and Aidra were carrying Alice down a darkened hallway, having eventually settled upon carrying her on an improvised stretcher, that is, a chair. Red led the way, holding the front two legs of the weird bone-wicker chair behind him, and Aidra brought up the rear, carrying the back of the chair.
“You must be getting tired,” said Red, “you’re barely making stupid jokes.”
“I’ll have you kn—” Aidra began, cutting himself off with a massive yawn — “I’ll have you know that I can still do it, coach, let me at ‘em. I’ll pun like my life depended on it. Heh. Depunded on it.”
“Who’re you calling weak? We should’a got a gurney or something, so we could wheel her around while traversing Syrk’s giant fricken’ stupidly huge maze.”
“Have you not seen the floor?”
“No, Red, I very clearly haven’t. It’s dark in here. Grue-eaten dark!”
“Uh-huh. Well, it’s very roughly dug into what I can only assume is the naturally bone-filled rock and soil of the Necropolis. Not really suitable for rolling a gurney around.”
“I mean, you can’t see in the dark either, so why am I asking you?”
“I can, though.”
“I guess there was light back in the room with Syrk, because otherwise how would there have been shadows for us to describe?”
“You were there. You’d know if there was light.”
“Hey! This is theatre of the mind, you dingus.”
“In my mind-theatre, I’m strangling you.”
Aidra snorted. “Everyone’s a critic. Left, up ahead, by the way.”
“Fifth time you’ve made that joke.”
“Hey, none of those other times count! They weren’t on camera!”
They proceeded, twisting and turning through the corridors, stairs and strange rooms of Syrk’s complex. The place was filled with the heady scent of myrrh, and a dry pall of bone dust that lingered on the back of the tongue. Occasionally, Red would catch a putrid whiff of rotten meat, hear something squelching in the distance, and Aidra would swear under his breath in Brackish and direct them down a different corridor, away from whatever it was that lurked, before he could even catch a glimpse of it.
“Oh,” Aidra whispered, as Red thought that, “there’s more than one of them. The master of the house is incapacitated, but there are still monsters down here.”
“Okay cool I don’t want to meet those either.”
The floor underfoot was actually made of stone now, or was carved into some truly massive bones. Probably not much of a difference, in the Necropolis. The walls were lined with shapes, outlined in red lines that seemed fuzzier than the ones Red was used to seeing. He paused a moment at an intersection while Aidra puzzled out the route ahead, set down the chair, reached out and touched one of the symbols, feeling cold metal, accompanied by a subtle numbness in the back of his mind, his magical senses picking up the presence of a magic-blocking olythreme alloy.
“Olythreme in the walls,” he said. “Does this mean we’re getting close to some kind of prison or containment?”
Aidra made an expressive noise of not-knowing. “Could be. What it does mean, though, is that I’m having trouble working out where we should be going — ‘s like shoving my brain through porridge to work out what’s on the other side of these walls.”
“Descriptive,” said Red. “Also, revolting.”
“Happy to help. And it’s a left, here.”
They walked for a few more minutes in relative silence, zig-zagging down hallways. The olythremic symbols on the walls grew in density and complexity, not quite gradually, but they were definitely approaching the centre of whatever this was. Occasionally, Syrk’s innovative approach to interior design and accessible spaces came up — sheer drops where he would, presumably, have flown down to another level, and where interlopers would probably fall in the dark and break their necks. Luckily, both Red and Aidra could fly, awkwardly, carrying Alice on their makeshift stretcher, down the narrow vertical shafts, and up at least a couple.
“I’m surprised this place isn’t collapsing,” Red said, after some thought, “now Syrk’s out of commission. Not permanently, I suppose.”
“You don’t get called ‘the Deathless’ for being easy to put down permanently,” said Aidra. “He’ll be back. Actually, I suppose he might have the villainous lair self-destruction thing going for when he actually, fully, no-take-backsies croaks. Maybe that’s a good sign that he isn’t totally gone, because nothing’s disintegrating. And, er, I think we’re getting closer. I think I’m starting to get snippets of thoughts that aren’t yours or Alice’s.”
“I thought I’d warded my thoughts against you.”
Aidra waved a hand. “Ehhhhh… As an analogy, it’s progressed from something like a guy talking next to me, and it’s more like someone yelling in a different room? I mean, I appreciate the effort, but—”
“And of course you didn’t tell me.”
“I mean, why would I?”
Red snorted. “Exactly.”
“Better get working on that tinfoil hat, then.”
“If there’s anything good that can be said about your incessant chatter,” he replied, “it’s that you occasionally have to pause to breathe. Anyway, which way do we go?”
“It’s getting pretty hard to tell with all this nonsense in the walls — I’m having to do it on hotter-colder rules, based on how easily I can comprehend their thoughts. But we’re close! And, er, that way.”
“That’s a wall.”
“Dangit. It’s starting to genuinely be difficult to ‘see’ in here.”
He set the front of Alice’s chair down, and quickly checked whether she was still balanced properly.
“You think we can risk a light?” Red asked.
“Maybe we can, or… actually—”
Aidra took a step forwards, bringing his face nearly up to the wall, and started to examine it, poking and prodding at the solid stone, or bone, or whatever it was.
Red looked over. “You alright, over there?”
“This isn’t a wall.”
“Uh-huh. What is it, then?”
“Well,” Aidra said, reaching out and prodding one of the symbols on the wall, “If I do this…”
With a series of grating, grinding noises, the wall folded away, revealing a cavernous room whose walls and floor buzzed in Red’s indistinct outlined vision as his magically-facilitated senses met surfaces of nearly-pure olythreme. Faintly, he thought he could see large cages and cells, rows of them, filling the massive room, hanging on chains from the ceiling.
“You think this is the place?” he breathed.
“Of all the dark I can’t see in,” Aidra replied, “this is the dark it’s most true of.”