Torshael and Tayne's Story: A New God for a New Mission

Chapter Twenty-Three

Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight


The sun had fully set when Haiiro sent a wordless burst of attention to the rest of his companions, and an image of what only his eyes could so far see: ruined stone towers on the horizon, gray and green in the midst of a sea of dusty brown. The moons were rising by the time the rest of them could see it, too. The ruins looked dead and uninhabited, though at their peak probably would have been self-sufficient and even pleasing to the eye.

Everything was dark except for the stars and the rising moons when they landed. Tayne, still a great cat, padded towards the ruins himself first, keeping low to the ground. Haiiro peered around his bond's shoulder and Tekasynos's neck to watch him, looking past him for any sign of the strange lights the lizard-guard had mentioned. He didn't see even a hint of light, except what reflected from the moons and, from this angle, Tekasynos's red eyes.

Neither, it seemed, did Tayne. Well, except a lizard or two, one of which he promptly pounced, sniffed over curiously, then slurped up without hesitation. Haiiro could feel Torshael shudder a bit at the sight, and grinned. ::Looks and smells pretty clear, to me:: Tayne sent back. ::Nothing sentient or bigger than my paw. Might wanna shift down, Tekas, I don't know if you'll fit between some of these buildings, and the one we should probably investigate first certainly isn't going to fit you.::

Haiiro could guess which one that was: the ruin's most prominent building lay directly ahead, down an overgrown, cobbled path. It looked very much like a central temple, and as Ishtar's journal described her base as in the lower levels of the temple structure, that seemed like the place to start. And Tayne was right: it was unlikely Tekasynos was going to fit through that doorway. So, once Haiiro and Torshael were on the ground again, the infernal shifted back into a human, leaving their packs in a pile just within the cluster of buildings. Torshael fished out his new coat, but the rest of them left the gear there.

The temple-- once inside, it was obvious that it was the temple, and one dedicated to a giant serpent, at that-- was just as abandoned-looking as the rest of the site. It looked damaged by more than just time and weather, however, as if there had been fighting or vandals inside. Several dried-up skeletons littered across the floor supported the theory. Haiiro stepped carefully around them, trying not to think too much about them and how they must have died, though Torshael gave them sad looks and Tayne actually paused to investigate each one.

Haiiro was the one, unsurprisingly really, to spot the doorway in the shadows in the back of the room. They had to pick their way through the rubble and corpses to get to it, carefully brushing aside cobwebs and disturbing small clouds of dust in the process. Torshael paused to examine one of the murals and made a face. ::Well, Ishtar's having to investigate this cult makes more sense now.::

::Why's that?:: Apparently Tayne felt the need to keep quiet, as well, for he replied in kind rather than call across the room.

Torshael pointed at the massive snake coiled around a tree, eating it from the top down. ::The Devourer of Worlds.::

Tayne peered at it, snorted softly, and kept going. ::As long as they aren't here, I don't care if they worshipped Ishtar herself. Are you coming?::

The doorway Haiiro found led into storage rooms, which they dutifully explored, looking for stairs down. They didn't find a stairwell, but a strange, cold mist was rising from the farthest corner of the last room. The four of them gathered around it and Torshael found the handle to a trap door, one that opened to the sought-after stairs. A cool breeze rose from the darkness, a breath of chill.

::Looks like we've found what we wanted,:: Torshael commented. Haiiro peered into the darkness a moment more, then started down. Torshael followed, pulling on his coat, with Tekasynos and then Tayne bringing up the rear.

The air as they descended was cold, but not freezing. The stairs spiraled downwards, utterly dark except for the very faint red glow of Tekasynos's eyes until Haiiro blew out a fistful of fire and held it on the ends of his fingers to light their way, and finally spilled them out into a flat tunnel. The walls, though still stone and not yet encroached upon by ice, were slick and slowly growing colder.

After a minute of walking in silence, the tunnel split: left, right, and straight. Haiiro stared down each corridor, but could find no difference to suggest which road to take. He glanced over his shoulder at the other three, then shrugged and started down the central tunnel. Behind him, he heard Tayne give the wall a powerful scratch, a loud and teeth-jarring scraping sound, marring the stone to mark the direction they took. It sounded far too loud in the silence.

This tunnel seemed to have a more marked association with Ishtar: the chill deepened, making Torshael pull his coat more closely around him and the rest up their own body temperatures to compensate. First slush then true ice coated the floor and walls, making the going especially tricky when the tunnel turned into another spiral stair downwards. Haiiro spared a thought to silently thank both his father for the gift of feet, rather than hooves, and Tekasynos's cobbler for the excellent boots that covered them. At least the slippery floors were a sign that they were going in the right direction.

The staircase this time left them in an ice-bound room, empty except for some furniture shaped out of ice: a chair, shaped to fit a slender body, and a small table, both facing the right-hand corner of the room. Haiiro moved carefully further in, his fire casting shadowy flickers into the icy walls. He thought he caught a strange reflection off of the wall in that far corner, and brightened the flame before approaching it. If it weren't obvious that no shadows were being cast, he would have thought there was actually something there-- that outline in the ice actually looked like--

With a little gasp of shock, Haiiro darted the last few paces when he realized the shape he saw was someone, not something: a person, a man, trapped in the ice. He stared at him for a long moment, taking in the horrible sight of someone actually imprisoned in the ice. It was some kind of elf, young, pale and cold with his eyes closed and an odd, dark mark on his forehead-- bound in chains. As Torshael, Tayne, and Tekas caught up with him, he put a hand to the frozen wall above the prisoner's heart, sending a questing thought tentatively in search of a mind.

Impossibly, but still the reason Haiiro had even checked, he sensed faint, sluggish thoughts, just barely within his grasp.

"Tayne," he whispered, staring at the poor, closed eyes, "melt the ice?"

::You don't think--:: Torshael sounded horrified.

"He's alive," Haiiro answered the bitten off thought.

Tayne got to work immediately, and Tekasynos disappeared for a few minutes, returning with blankets. Haiiro stayed right where he was, catching and supporting the limp young man as the ice receded enough that it could no longer hold him up. He was breathing, though very faintly, and the chill of the ice clung to him.

"Keep warming him up," Haiiro murmured to Tayne as Tekas and Torshael got the young man wrapped as warmly in the blankets as they could. "But... gently."

"Yes, yes," Tayne replied absently, focused on doing just that.

Hoping that imprisonment hadn't caused the elf any harm, Haiiro tried to follow the faint thread of thoughts in his unconscious mind. If he could encourage it to the surface, at the very least he could get him into sleep, if not wake him. Either one would help him, and tell him whether the mind was still there and still sane. To his relief, the elf seemed perfectly healthy in his mind, despite having spent however long-- years, at least-- frozen and bound. He couldn't manage more than normal sleep, but at least that would be restive for him.

"Who is he?" Torshael asked. "Can you tell?"

"Or at least, why was Ishtar keeping here with such-- uh, tenacity," Tayne added, finally looking up from the former captive, apparently having deigned him as warm as they could get him.

Haiiro shook his head. "No... he's protected, and I don't want to try to get past the protections without knowing who put them there. Take him upstairs? He shouldn't stay down here...."

"And maybe we can find something to get those chains off with," Tayne growled, getting up from the half-crouch he'd been in to work. 

"And you?" Torshael asked.

"I'm going to make sure he's the only one here," Haiiro said, "then I'll come up with you. I have a feeling this is why we were brought here, not the phylactery."

"I have a feeling you're right," Torshael agreed. "Be careful."

"I will," Haiiro smiled, then moved off.


Chapter Twenty-Four

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