Two moons over, p.13
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       Two Moons Over, p.13

           Levi Shipley
 
experiments with Soul Rendering in attempts to gain leverage in usurping Trothos.”

  “If these are well spread rumors,” Arthur now, “then why don’t the Leviathans take care of Dahzir?”

  “Fealty. They’ve sworn it to both of these men and both hold nigh equal support. It comes down to them. As for Dahzir, he is aging. He seeks a way to longevity through Soul Rendering as he assumes his uncle is blocking his magic from lengthening his life further. In which case, Dahzir will have to act quickly before age takes him.”

  On the ceiling of the burrow was a carved mural of what Cecil assumed was Artemis and Orion just before being absorbed by their own creations. He wondered if he should have noticed this sooner, but as he thought this he saw the mural change to one of a demon with a wide grin standing over a sleeping man. The wood was changing to show Frander’s story. And it changed, now to a slideshow of grotesque monstrosities that almost resembled humanoids but were unnatural and terrifying. He was amazed that wood could be so animated without color changes, but it was as if looking through a window and seeing the dwarf’s words. This was the first of many magicks they would see (and far from the most impressive).

  A glint appeared in the bearded hermit’s eyes as if only momentarily he could see. Then it was gone and his eyes hollowed again. He cleared his throat and tugged his nose, missing his facial hair. “Go,” He said, “and follow your map to Fraushein.” After this he spoke no more. He became like a stone, still and cold. Then he fell asleep.

  Some grumbling from Arthur and a sigh or two from Nelrene filled the space between rising and leaving. The rest remained quiet, though Cecil raged on the inside about how little he’d really explained. Now they pointed their feet north to the desert, which was some untold distance ahead. There were clouds now. That much was obvious from the opening canopy, but they were dark and foreboding.

  Eight

  When they arrived at the edge of the woods where the ground began to crust over and harden, the skies had cleared and a dryness plagued the air. A strong breeze rushed at them from the ahead desert. It was warm and stale like death. A vulture or some type of large bird made wide looping arcs in the distance. There was a patch of trees once evergreen, now forever dead baking in the sanding dirt. At the center of these was a rotting fox that the buzzards and other scavengers hadn’t noticed. The poor rotten corpse was practically begging to be eaten, since the trees would not benefit from its fertilization. It would go wasted.

  “When a man dies,” Salina began, “his family mourns for a time and people remember him for a longer time still.” She cocked her head toward the dead fox though she could no longer they’d passed it. “But the earth remembers him longer still. The worms toast him before long, and then the plants join the chorus and owe him for nourishment. Then one day people find him again long after his name had been lost and no mortal kin is left to appreciate him. They take him from the ground and pull him apart. When they finish he goes to help many if only for a short time. He is then used up again. Sometimes he roams the air afterwards, but always he has a purpose. Even after his tether to this plane is dissolved, he served a purpose.”

  The five did not speak amongst themselves again until they came upon sand dunes. Even then they spoke briefly and in low voices. The forest had been safe, but now they were in open territory. The heaped up sand provided a great obstacle. Zero footing and unhindered grains acted like lubricant to keep them sliding. When descending they’d made a game of sledding down on their stomachs or backs. It seemed and sounded foolish to them later but when surrounded by endless copper colored dirt, monotony rears its ugly head and grinds sand in your mind. Better they look crazy than become crazy was a slogan they just might have adopted had they the time to make such decisions.

  Nine

  An hour or two passed, or maybe it was twenty minutes. The dunes began to recede and the group found a level area. At the horizon edge farthest from them was a gleam. It looked like it might have been an old piece of machinery that was abandoned here long before the ground dried up. But then it began to shimmer. No, it didn’t shimmer; it moved, toward them. They all stopped and watched it grow bigger and more distinct. It was red, it was human.

  It was Hodge.

  He drew closer to his wife but then directed his walk at Cecil as if Nelrene hadn’t even existed. When he came within a reasonable talking range, he spoke to Cecil. The tone in his voice was off, as if he had a frog in his throat, “You have a map?” Hodge asked in a manner that made it sound as if he wasn’t asking Cecil for the map but asking if he owned a map period.

  Naturally Cecil pulled it from behind his chestplate. Cecil was in the air and Hodge standing almost with nose on nose contact. Cecil’s armor shattered and time slowed. The map was in the air just long enough for Hodge to snatch it up and put it in his own armor. Cecil hit the ground with a thunder that cratered the sand and dirt beneath it five feet under. Hodge Olendar laughed as if he were trying to gurgle water at the same time. The Leviathan Guard emblem on his chest was clear and outstanding. And just as soon as he came, he turned, ran a few yards, and vanished in a warped segment of air like a mirage.

  Cecil stood and dusted himself off after standing stunned for a few moments. Arthur’s mouth remained shut, but he held out his overcoat to Cecil. All their eyes focused on the air which took Hodge’s form away. Cecil turned before the rest and gazed down at his crystal armor. It lie in ruin and dazzled brilliantly in the burning light of the red sun. Arthur picked a piece up and tried to break it further. It gave no ground for more decay.

  Cecil placed Arthur’s coat on himself. It was a bit too long for him, but otherwise fit perfectly. Nelrene walked to the area that Hodge vanished within and stood gazing at the horizon. A wind picked up and grew fierce for about a minute then settled back into dead air once more. Sand plastered the five and put a grit in their hair and clothes, but this was just a nuisance and nothing more.

  Ten

  Dusk came for them and with it a landmark. Without a map, it was unknown to them what they were seeing. At a distance of maybe a mile or so was a dark cavity in the sand. From where they stood, it could either have been a cave or a shadow from a dune. But as they came closer, its shape did not change with the setting sun. So transfixed by it, they veered off their northward trek and approached the cave.

  At its mouth were signs of heavy travel. The sand was packed and several tire tracks were visible. From somewhere inside was a whining noise like a drill and a steady clanking beat. It was far from rhythmic, but it was frequent and deliberate in manner. Despite all this, the outside of the cave was vacant and without attendant. It had no lights to guide the way in, which struck the adventurers as unusual but not so unusual that it would stop them from entering. Somewhere inside were people, and they would be found.

  A veil of darkness enveloped them. At first sending each into blindness, but their sharp eyes soon adjusted to the lack of light. The path was not clear, in truth. Instead it was there when they wanted it to be. Every wall jutting and bend was only there when they focused with great effort. Even then there was stumbling and bumping of heads. Again nothing serious, but it still slowed them to a crawl. At a point, Arthur tripped and in turn brought Marianna tumbling with him. Cecil snickered at this and found it quite hard to not outright chuckle. Salina either did not notice or did not care and moved on without reaction.

  However, the sound of the fall carried down the corridor, which at this point was becoming eerie. The sounds of the drill and tapping were no louder than before and so attributed to this cave’s acoustics. This made the noises seem not like those of good work such as in a mine, but of those sinister horrors one might hear in a torture chamber, or dental office.

  The floor began to smooth out into concrete. Ahead of them the darkness gave way to faint signs of light. As they moved on, a short wooden set of steps presented themselves in the dusk
y light between where they were and where they were going. It was no more than fifteen steps down but was wide and worn. In its middle and off to either side was a railing made of what appeared to be a tarnished copper. The wood at their feet, once treated and stained, was now a sandy, worn color that had been beaten down by feet. The boards did not creek and so showed they possessed some strength, but it also revealed that a hollow spot lie underneath the flight.

  Once at the bottom, they were able to see the source of the light. Not far off were a set of lamps hung on the wall, the first of what were many to come after. Now the drill and tapping were accompanied by voices. They spoke quickly and with a high pitch that was not feminine but almost mechanical. Beyond the light was a large double door that led to the voices, drilling, and tapping. Just a few feet on their side and about three feet up was a panel. From their locale, it could have been just about anything that was undistinguishable and alien. However, Cecil had a good feeling that panel controlled the door, and he hoped it wouldn’t require any tricks to boot.

  And the wonders never ceased. The panel was as simple as touching the top or bottom to open or close, however it was
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