Star Dreamer

Epilogue II: Keir's Tale

[Keir]

Keir was sure where the magical path ended and his destination began. Not because the transition hadn’t been smooth, it had, yet his sensitive feet had detected the threshold easily from the difference in temperature. This was stone, cold stone and it was above and on both sides of him also.

Darker and colder than the rock of the Dun, he knew instantly it was a subterranean passage – not unlike the volcanic crevice where he had spent his hermitage. The thought that Venlesser had deceived them, had projected pleasant images while in reality sending them to the nether regions crossed his mind. His expectations lead him to envision an island, a seacoast at least, as the likely home of his wayward kin – certainly not this.

His keen eyes adjusted quickly and spied an unlit lunt in a sconce a few paces from where he had halted. Walking cautiously along he had little trouble withdrawing the torch, encouraged by the fact that it had obviously been engineered for someone close to his height as he barely had to stretch on tiptoes to reach it. Lighting it with his flint and steel he cast the glow about, the passage appearing featureless in both directions, slowly curving away into the gloom beyond. After a moments hesitation he set off in the direction the gate had faced him, down a gentle slope until he came to a second sconce. Here the tunnel split and even the combined light of both torches revealed little of their eventual fate for both curved sharply after a few feet. Sniffing cautiously at each in turn he chose the rightmost for no better reason than that was the side the sconces were mounted.

He passed two more sconces and two more divisions of the path, bearing to the right each time until the floor dropped away into a large circular hole with narrow stairs cut into the rock and spiralling downward beyond the range of his light. A distant murmer reached him but whether it was singing or the sound of water he could not tell, still it drew him on. He descended, pausing occasionally when he thought he heard footsteps behind him and then continuing after satisfying himself that the column was just amplifying his own light treads. Ages seemed to pass with no end in sight but the murmer grew until he was certain it was singing, and both the tune and the tone was familier. He nearly passed the narrow shaft the sound emanated from as it was above him. Laying the torch on a step he pulled himself up, stuck his head as far in as he could and listened. There could be no doubt, it was a Hortus song, being sung by Hortus voices, a lament of storm-tossed seas and empty nets, sails torn asunder and lives swept overboard.

Abandoning his light he squeezed himself into the shaft and inched his way closer. The shaft was roughly hewn, protruding edges tore at his vest and scraped the fur from his elbows, knees and toes but he pressed on. Several openings branched off the main horizontal shaft, the third of which lead him to the roof of a chamber. There, some fifty feet below him huddled a group of twenty or so Horti, chanting softly in the dim light. His sharp eyes detected the squat form of armed beings at the edge of the ring of light, beings slightly larger and taller than Horti and blending into the rockface like statues. ...

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