Girard’s gate was a maze, of passageways and tunnels, underground caverns and rooms that had never seen the sun, what seemed the work of thousands of years of excavating the stone bedrock. They stretched for miles beneath the desert, and perhaps one could walk among them forever, never again finding the way to the surface.
No one seemed to be able to make their eyes adjust to the darkness except Durkon, who somehow picked his way through the maze of tunnels and passages with unerring skill, never so much as making a misstep or wrong turn. Varsuvius couldn’t tell how deep they were or which way they were going, and was left groping ineffectually and stumbling in the murk.
The weak, cold light the Torch Roy was holding gave was enough to ensure you did not bump into walls, but details were lost on him, blurring into indistinct shapes, and he could barely make out the figures of the rest of the Order ahead.
Roy was still. The maze split up into five doors of dark wood, two to the left, two to the right, and one directly ahead. Door rings of polished gold gleamed even in the murk. Roy regarded each of them in turn. As he did, he could not shake the nagging sensation he was being watched, but he could not pinpoint the source.
“The doors are identical.” Roy said at last, with a sigh. “No telltale footprints in the dust, no scratches, no big neon sign pointing the way, nothing.”
“Well of course, Roy.” Elan said, as though explaining simple logic to a six year old. “Having gone to the trouble of making five separate paths, why would he give hints of which one to pick?”
Roy opened his mouth to rebut Elan’s comment on dramatic necessity… and closed it when he realized that wasn’t what the bard had said. “Would be nice.” He muttered at last.
“It dosnae matte’ which yin.” Durkon said slowly, staring ahead. “they all lead ta’ the center.”
“How do you know that?” Haley asked at last.
Durkon pointed. “Says sae up yon.” He said, pointing at the barely perceptible scratches in some unfamiliar pattern above the doors they had all taken for blemishes “In Draconic.”
Roy straightened. “So we don’t have to split-up?”
Durkon’s gaze drifted down to his feet. “Wellll…”
Elan jumped in. “Of course we do. Why else would there be five doors? To force us all to take separate directions!”
“It should present no real difficulty. A maze is simply an exercise of mental strength and agility. I am doubtful to whether it will present a real challenge.”
‘Och, I wouldnae be sae hasty. Girard buil’ a maze so subtle and complex, he himself was lost within. Think on that.”
“Blah, blah, blah. Blah. Spare me your cryptic bull. What you mean is you don’t have a clue what to expect.” With that, Belkar stormed over and grabbed at a door at random, but Durkon intercepted his hand. “This isnae a test ‘o feets, but a test o’ tha mind. It’s alive. It will study ye as ye get tae ken it, and if’n ye let it, it’ll kill ye.”
“It’ll kill me if I let it? That’s meant to be scary, is it? What sort of a devious trap is that supposed to be?”
“Worst kind there is.” Durkon replied, but Belkar ignored him and stormed through the door, his cat following him.
The door slammed closed behind him, and wouldn’t open even to Roy’s boulder-like muscles and open anything key (his sword). At last he gave up, shrugged, and went through the centre one, whistling and doing his best to put on a brave face and appear nonchalant.
Then Durkon went, and Haley and Elan subjected the remaining member to a long make-out session before separating at last and splitting up, leaving V to go through the last door.
Varsuvius recognized this place. Cold suffused him, nipping the flesh under his robe with goose bumps, and making him shiver. His teeth chattered loudly, despite his attempts to lock his jaw and force it to stop..
Varsuvius moved through the tunnel with sure and easy steps, eagerness without hurry. Then his eyes snapped open, and then stopped.
A woman was gracefully descending towards Vaarsuvius, clad in slinky black robes of silk and leather placed strategically to attract rather than discourage attention, and to be very enticing. She was tall and regal, with features that seemed cruel even from a distance, but more then that she was beautiful.
Unlike the other beings of her sort V had seen studying with Aarandius, whose beauty was clearly unnatural, the woman’s appearance, while beyond words, was (just) within the scope of mortal possibility. Her body managed to exceed every desire V could conceive, and she moved with an easy, slinky grace that made Varsuvius feel uncomfortably hot.
She has large luminous green eyes, slanting gently, that glimmered with an inhuman intellect and cut through Varsuvius like a knife. A sinister smirk perpetually flickered on her face, setting of warning vibes and making Varsuvius question her sanity. White hair fell past her waist, wound with silver wire and delicate barbs and hooks.
Varsuvius drew herself up and cocked his head. "Unless you make your identity plain instantaneously I shall be obliged to end you." He said, eyes narrowing and electricity crackling around her fingers menacingly.
The elven women shook her head. “Tell me,” She belled imperiously, with a voice that communicated only pleasure. “Are you always so arrogant, or is it just because there are a trio of souls wrapped around you heart?”
V flinched, then looked down to see herself dressed in black robes again. Her skin was pale and veined with thick dark ropes full to bursting with corruption. Even her hair had spread wild, in a thick, tangled cascade down to the small of his back.
V screamed, as a rough susurrus of voices began to whisper in his ear, promising worship, adoration, bloodshed. “We will cloth you in the dust of empires.” They sang. “We will bathe you in the blood of nations. Through you we shall beat out a dirge on the surface of the world, and bear you away to those beyond this one.”
At this, Vaasuvuis did scream, and she staggered forward… and they were gone, gone as though they’d never been. He was back to normal. His robe was once more a drab, faded, tattered red, her hair was once more bound, and the voices were gone.
He inhaled, then noticed a tang on the air. Smoke. Salt, copper and iron. A smell like roasting pork.
“Help—” A man started to say, dressed in the Azure City livery, before a piece of fallen masonry crashed into his back, toppling him over. He gurgled as he died.
The next was run through behind. Blood pumped through the ragged wound, at first in a huge gush that dwindled as shock set in. He gibbered through the pain, his eyes glazed over. It was doubtful a single coherent word would escape his lips before his body finally succumbed to shock, and he died. His arms convulsed as his muscles contracted, and his lips moved as sounds gurgled out of his lips.
The blood pooled beneath his still twitching corpse.
The women who’d been begging him just seconds… back then… died last, stabbed in the back almost as an afterthought, as though she wasn’t even worth it.
“Elf, if you’re still here…” She started to say, but V took one agonized step forward towards the women, and pulled up short. Kyrie. Oh, great elven gods no, not this. Kyrie was standing in front, eyes steely, hand grasped determinedly on a simple piece of wood, although what the baker intended to do with it was beyond Vaarsuvius.
“Get away from us!” The baker shouted, waving it almost, but not quite, exactly the wrong way.
“Monster!” Vaarsuvius's mate continued, waving the stick. Worse were the children, who simply stood there, shocked faces showing neither understanding nor acceptance, nothing but cold fear.
“I did it for you.” Vaarsuvius sobbed, but they didn’t hear or didn’t care. The words were as good as raining blows, V whimpered further and curled tighter, pressing her head to his knees.
Then the woman's voice from before intruded again. The visions were gone, and the women was standing above, smiling in a slightly mocking fashion.
“You’ve suffered so much.” She said.
“Just leave me alone.”
“Oh, that won’t do you any good. It’s not enough for it to stop, you want it to end.”
“Well. Maybe we can come to an agreement…”
“There is nothing you can offer me I don’t already have.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.” Replied the women huskily. “I can help you forget. I can give you a new start. I can make them adore you, fall to their knees willingly and worship you. Beg you to accept their forgiveness.” She slowed, letting that tempting offer sink in.
“And some things are transient but pleasurable.” She added, punctuating her comment by rolling her tongue across her teeth.
Suddenly V’s skin felt two sizes too tight. The pain was gone, the sadness, the hurt all had never existed. A way out. It seemed too good to be true.
“What do I have to do?”
“Just follow me…” The women said, swaying her hips suggestively.
V watched her go, mind awhirl. A certain longing wanted to press on, even if it meant facing more of this, and get to the gate. But he couldn’t. All his magic, his obsession with power has all been about one thing. At the end of the day, she just wants to make it all go away. And desire, whether for power or other, baser needs, was a powerful motivator.
Sighing, with one last regretful look, she follows the women, into the eternal night.
"Forgive me Kyrie, and don't judge me too harshly. I was never as strong as I liked to think"