|Thaumaturjekyll: Book One chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7||Book Two chapter 8 9 10 11|
Into the Darkness
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1999 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
Do not rush headlong into the darkness for fear of the light.
-- Jeffrey M. Mahr
The horde milled about in front of the temple. There was a clear undercurrent of fear as their captors examined the temple-like structure carved out of the rock wall. Sonja and Hastie seemed undisturbed, but even Dr. and Mrs. Lanyon shivered with some unspecifiable, but still palpable feeling of ill ease.
The temple itself had huge doors, easily three times as tall and twice as wide as the newly created centaurs. Fanning out on either side of the doors were six huge fluted columns, half again taller than the doors, and above the entrance was a capstone even taller than the doors below. The capstone stretched from one end of the row of columns to the other and was covered with hieroglyphics creating a single row of dancing giants across it.
Further examination was interrupted as the leader shouted, "Forward!" and the girls were yanked forward by the straps around their necks.
As the group approached, the doors opened for the leader, a strange looking man with bright white hair and a matching goatee easily a foot long. He strode confidently up to the doors and made several gestures before turning back to the others. "Wards have been set. Light the torches. The horses go to the stable, inside and to the left. Bring the prisoners to me in the throne room." When no one moved he snapped, "Now!" before stalking off into the temple.
"I don't get it. Do you think they're xenophobic?" Dr. Herbert Lanyon shrugged her shoulders and frowned as she poked at the dust covered, rotting hay strewn, stall. She could barely see her wife in the guttering light of the single torch on the other side of the room although she could smell him and feel the heat radiating from his body.
"They treated us like common horses." Emily pointed in the direction of the now sleeping stable hands. "Not a word to us, it was as if we didn't exist."
"Yes dear, and they're still doing it."
"I mean, what is the world coming to when adult males don't even look at naked breasts," Herbert looked down and blushed as she realized what she had said. "Uhh, what was that you said dear?"
"I said they're still treating us like horses." Mrs. Lanyon pointed to the stall they were in. "No guards, no gate, just a rope from each of our necks to a tie ring in an open room, not even a real stall. We can walk away from here any time we want."
"Then what are we waiting for? Let's get the kids and get out of here. I think I know a way to get us home."
"Sounds good to me," Mrs. Lanyon reached up and began working on the knotted leather tied to his neck. As she worked on the knot, she pondered aloud, "I wonder why?"
"Why what?" Dr. Lanyon was working with equal vigor on his knot.
"I wonder why they act like we we're horses. Do you think that's what they think we are?"
"Humm. You know, I'll bet they do. Even if there are centaurs here, I would suspect they would either be rare, in which case they would treat us as objects of value, or common, in which case they would know to speak to us."
"But they ignored us when we spoke to them."
"Exactly Emily. We can hear each other speaking and the boys can hear us speaking, yet it seems they can't... or won't."
"So which is it, 'can't' or 'won't,' Herbert?"
"There's not enough information to determine that for sure yet, but I'm guessing 'can't.' It's like 'Ghost,' the children's game where everyone pretends someone is not there even though he or she is actually present. Someone usually makes a mistake, talking to the ghost, walking around him or her, responding to something they've said, even if it's just a flush of embarrassment or a raised eyebrow. In effect someone blinks."
Mrs. Lanyon waited impatiently for his husband to finish, but she seemed to have forgotten what she was saying as she concentrated on her knot. "What about 'Ghost,' dear?"
"Oh, sorry. No one blinked. Nothing they said or did gave me the slightest hint that they thought we were anything more than horses. For whatever reason, I think we appear to be horses rather than centaurs to everyone but Sonja and her sister."
"You mean our son Hastie, don't you Herbert?"
"Yes, of course. For some reason I couldn't remember his name. I think that's a hint too, but I'm not sure of what."
Herbert Lanyon gave a final yank and removed the knot around her neck. Looking up she saw that her wife had already removed his and was using strips of the leather to tie burlap bags around each foot.
"Good idea dear. It should muffle the sounds of our hooves nicely." He quickly copied her and they headed off in search of the youngsters."
The throne room might have been opulent at one time, but it had been abandoned long enough that it had been necessary to actually shovel the dust into corners and there was still a strong smell of decay despite the more appealing aromas emanating from the food laden table in the center of the room. The room had once been adored with several tapestries on it's walls, but they were rotted and one disintegrated in a puff of cloying dust as Sonja brushed against it. Hastie and Sonja almost drooled as they examined the treasure of precious metals and jewels carelessly tossed into the corner along with the dust.
"To my table I welcome you, strangers. Akcuanrut am I and this be the Lost Temple of Zampulus. Please..." he made a broad wave towards a table with a small assortment of fruits surrounding two large braised haunches. Sonja was fairly certain they were the carcasses of the animals killed back by the tree.
These folks didn't look like your average next door neighbor. Most had scars of some sort and all wore swords, knives, and a smattering of other weapons that she could see. Sonja concluded that if it had not happened yet, they probably were not going to be killed, and that meant their captors had something worse in mind for them. Thus she felt confident that there was little to lose by being honest, and besides, she had no desire to be anyone's food tester. "You first." It came out gruffly, but Sonja didn't care.
The white haired man just laughed and waved nonchalantly to a huge man with muscles on his muscles. Sonja found herself staring, first at his biceps, then his chest and below, as he strode confidently to the table and grabbed an entire haunch with the ease of one lifting a sheet of paper. Taking a prodigious bite he smiled with grease dripping from his mouth, and without bothering to wipe, tossed a portion of the haunch to Akcuanrut.
With a similar smile, Akcuanrut ignored the two women as he began munching himself. Eventually, Hastie tentatively approached the table and tried a fruit. Sonja sighed, and joined her, taking out her dagger and carving of a large section of the remaining haunch. For a while the only sounds were those of ripping, chewing, and swallowing, interspersed by the occasional belch.
Finally, Akcuanrut threw down his bone, belched prodigiously, leaned back on the stone throne upon which he had been sitting, and turned to the women. "As earlier I said, Akcuanrut I be. Beside me, this hulking barbarian be D'lon-ra, second in command. Help us to recover the Heart of Virtue you will."
"What the hell makes you think we will work for you Yoda?" Hastie added.
"Akcuanrut the name be my pretties," he laughed with a jiggling stomach. "At a time, one question only please. Your fellow travelers, first maybe, would like to join us?" Every one turned to the entryway he gestured towards as Emily and Herbert sheepishly stepped around the corner of the wall from which they had been eavesdropping.
"To the food, help yourselves," the silver haired man called out. "Hungry, you must be." He waited patiently as they paced up to the table and picked up a fruit each.
"Come, come. Hungrier than that you must be. A long way you've traveled." With that he turned back to the others.
"But you can see us as centaurs. How is that?" Dr. Lanyon was confused.
"Eat. Relax. Explain I will, but other questions I have first to answer." He turned to Hastie.
"First was your question I believe. 'Unique' be the Heart of Virtue. Not totally of this world be it. By the Dark gods it was created. To aid them in their eternal war against 'The Light' it was. Much about it we know not, but to suck the virtue from those about it its prime function be, thus additional slaves of Darkness creating.
"Why aid us should you, the second question was?" He paused in thought for long enough for the others to wonder if he was going to respond at all, but then continued. "To explain a bit of the history of this world, I must tell. Not from it you are, after all."
Mrs. Lanyon gasped while father's and son's eyes grew wide. Sonja's grave expression become even more severe, but Akcuanrut just smiled and nodded. "I know. Question number four, but out of order I shall answer it.
"You be not of this world because routinely slaughtered for their magical properties centaurs on this world are, so fear humans they do. From this world no centaur would permit itself to be captured as have you for fear of mutilation and death.
"From this world you be not because were you, recognize D'lon-ra as Emperor's Champion and I as Dean of the Emperor's College of Wizards you would." He ticked off another finger.
"Of this world you be not because like ours your auras are not." Seeing his guest's confusion he added, "But discuss that later we will or to the rest of your questions we will never get.
"Finally, of this world you be not because, unlike all others, speak with a strange accent you do." He smiled at the mixed emotions flashed across his guests as they debated which of his claims to accept and which to reject.
"'Why should you aid us,' next was? As it does to us, not being of this world the answer may not have as much meaning to the four of you," he made a broad gesture including D'lon-ra, "but, as simply as possible to put things, if we cannot get the Heart of Virtue back to the College within the next fortnight, cease to exist this world will. On the neighboring dimensions the impact of the destruction of an entire world I would not care to imagine."
Dr. Lanyon gasped this time and then whispered to her wife. "Remember that glow as we were running from this horde? I think it means that the gate home is still open. If this world really is destroyed, the energy blast could destroy our world also."
"Sorry to hear that am I. A wizard I told you I was." He smiled as he spoke, but it was quickly replaced by a frown of concern. "A portal I feared that be, but had not the luxury of time to examine it. Justified your concerns are. Access to enough destructive energy from this world, a portal would provide. Damage your world or even destroy it, the energy could. To aid us this provides another reason, I fear."
Walking to the buffet, Akcuanrut retrieved a flagon of ale. Returning to his seat on the aging throne, he drank deeply. "Ahhh. Really dry the mouth talking can."
"So," Dr. Lanyon spoke around the orange and red speckled fruit in her mouth, "assuming we believe you and agree to assist you, how would we capture and transport this 'Heart of Virtue' if being near it turns you evil?"
"Medallions I will provide you with which will dampen the Heart's power but protect you completely they will not, should you touch the Heart. The souls of heros and the skills of thieves you will need else you succumb despite my protective devices."
Hastie turned to Sonja. She was tempted to whisper, but after her father's failed attempt, decided not to bother and spoke aloud. "This guy can't be serious, but I'd consider helping recover the damned thing just for a piece of the reward, if the stuff left in this temple is any indication."
A slight smile passed Sonja's lips in response, but she quickly stifled it and shushed Hastie just like in class, worried that there might be something important they would miss.
"Where is this Heart," Sonja asked, "assuming we agree to retrieve it for you?"
"Ahhh. Tell you that it is but a pleasant stroll from here I would love to do, but I cannot." Another swig, this time with a slight tremble to the hand, caused some beer to spill onto wizard's flowing beard. A wave of the hand and it was dry again. Akcuanrut made little of it, but Sonja thought she saw fear in his eyes. "More difficult than retrieving it, getting to the Heart may be."
"We can't touch the damned thing or even be near it without turning into some kind of evil creatures," Hastie sneered. "What can be worse?"
"No-Nac," D'lon-ra interrupted, "the previous Emperor's Champion and the best warrior ever to live. Never returned from their attempt to recover the Heart, he and his men did not."
"So the Heart killed them?" Mrs. Lanyon was not happy with the way this conversation was going.
"No Mrs. Lanyon, he's probably waiting for us, and as an agent of evil his touch would be the same as if you had touched the Heart."
"Let me get this straight," Hastie was clearly incredulous. "We can't touch the Heart, whatever the hell it is. We can't be near it. We have to fight the best warrior this world has ever produced and we can't let him touch us either. Is there any more good news?"
"Traverse the Caves of Despair to reach the Heart, you must."
"I was joking. I was joking. Let's get out of here. These guys are insane." Hastie turned to leave, but Sonja grabbed her arm. Hastie tried to shrug her twin's hand off, but it didn't budge. An instant later a dagger was moving with tremendous speed towards Sonja's neck.
"Girls. Please." It was Mrs. Lanyon, hands to his mouth in shock, who spoke while his husband charged towards the two youngsters.
Sonja saw the dagger approach and stepped back, releasing Hastie's arm and at the same time drawing her own dagger. "Is it playtime girlie?" she sneered evilly as both moved into identical fighting crouches.
"Not acceptable, this is." The wizard's hands flew out and every one froze. A second wave and D'Lon-ra unfroze. "So that it does not run into anyone or anything, turn the centaur." With that he strolled over to the fighters and gently plucked the knives from their motionless hands and returned to his seat on the stone throne.
Another wave of the hand and there was a flurry of movement. Sonja and Hastie blinked and suddenly turned to face the wizard gently tapping one dagger against the other, all thought of their duel forgotten in the face of their new enemy. Dr. Lanyon screeched to a stop, marking the stone with her slipping hooves as she realized the room had moved somehow.
"Tsk. Tsk. If unable you are to control your own evil, defeat the Heart of Virtue how will you?"
"Who says we're going?" Hastie snarled. "I don't like suicide missions."
"It be my hope that you go, because it be the only reasonable and prudent course for you, for this world, and for yours." The old man's voice seemed suddenly tired and worn, as if exhaustion had set in. His huge warrior companion quickly moved solicitously at his side and helped him rise. "Discuss your decision until sunrise tomorrow, you may. Then go we must -- with or without you."
Without another word the wizard, aided by the warrior, slowly, and with dignity, left the room as the quartet watched in silence. When the door slammed everyone began to speak at once, but stopped as Sonja raised her hand for silence. Several seconds passed as she listened intently before drawing a deep breath and sighing as she slowly sank to a seated position on the floor. "I was afraid they would try to bolt the doors and lock us in," she explained.
"So what are we going to do?" Mrs. Lanyon asked. He paced nervously, hooves echoing as each step struck the stone floor. "We're not fighters. We're a scientist, a housewife, and two high school football players. How could we pull off the theft of the century?"
"Let's blow this joint," Hastie chimed in. "This isn't our fight. We need to get the hell back home and get our original bodies back -- don't we?" He was shocked into silence when even Dr. Lanyon disagreed.
"We have no choice. Evil is evil. It must be stopped wherever it is found. If it is not defeated here, it will follow us to our own world. We cannot permit that."
"Yes Sonja, I agree," replied Dr. Lanyon, "but as Mrs. Lanyon pointed out earlier, we are not equipped for the task at hand."
"I will fight," Sonja crossed her arms and spoke definitively. "Regardless of what the rest of you choose, I will stay and fight."
"You're crazy," Hastie stormed off to the table and angrily munched on something that looked like a pear, but tasted like a cross between a cherry and an apple.
"We must help, but we can't," Mrs. Lanyon's voice cracked with emotion as he struggled with his competing emotions. "We're just not properly trained and equipped for it."
"I'm not so sure about that Emily." Mr. Lanyon had been thinking furiously while the others spoke.
"What are you talking about dear? How can we possibly consider doing something like this?"
"Herbert Lanyon the Fourth, his wife Emily the grade school teacher, their son and his friend who play football in high school and ogle the girls, can't."
"That's what I said dear." Mrs. Lanyon was thoroughly confused.
"Emily," the female centaur smiled up at her now larger wife. "Look around you. Look carefully. What do you see? You're not a grade school teacher and homemaker, You're a rather large, muscular centaur. I, dearest Emily, am slightly smaller than you, but still a rather imposing figure of a centaur; and that wizard said centaurs have magic. We know we can cloud humans' minds so they think we're just horses and I'll bet that we can do a lot more.
"Hastie and Sonja... I mean Jack, aren't high school students out wandering the mall. They're barbarian women. Have you watched them sparring, or listened to them plan strategy? They're naturals. In a contest between D'lon-ra and either one of them, I'd be hard pressed to guess who would win.
"You said we had to help. I say we are able to help, although our original selves might not have been able to help, the way we are now, we must be able to do something. Besides, I couldn't imagine living with myself knowing that I might have been able to save a world -- a whole world -- and did nothing."
The others just stared, unsure what to make of the sermon that had just come from the centaur. The silence grew. Hastie coughed delicately. Dr. Lanyon shuffled his feet nervously. And then Sonja began to slowly and rhythmically clap. Soon to be joined by Mrs. Lanyon and finally even Hastie.