Table of Contents
Hands up, everyone who saw that coming.
Sarn led the group deep into the mountain, through what appeared to have once been natural tunnels, high-ceilinged and broad. They were now carved, smoothed, and lined with doorways and lanterns rather than natural branchings, and the entire affair gave the impression of a well-constructed fortress. Khory ran one hand along the wall, and whistled softly. â€œIâ€™ve never seen workings so smooth. How did you accomplish it?â€
â€œDemons, of course.â€ Sarn shrugged. â€œThe master summoned them to help make his castle more appropriate to one of his stature. It is a paltry thing next to what he once owned, of course.â€
â€œOf course.â€ Khory removed his hand from the wall, watching it in fascination, before returning his attention to the hallway. â€œAnd the doors leadâ€¦â€
â€œTo all manner of places. Our interests are many, and the master believes in being prepared.â€ Sarn turned down another hallway, and shrugged again. â€œIt is a small thing.â€
â€œFor you, I guess.â€ Khory looked around, thoughtfully.
â€œNo artwork, though.â€ Elena pointed at the barren walls. â€œNo statues, even. Doesnâ€™t your masterâ€¦â€
â€œElena.â€ Niaâ€™s voice was soft, and she shook her head warningly. Elena raised an eyebrow, but quieted. Sarn continued speaking as though the exchange had never occurred.
â€œThe master is most pleased that you have returned, Nia. We had all thought you lost to the Deathlords long ago, if not worse.â€
â€œThey couldnâ€™t kill me.â€ Nia shivered, stepping unconsciously closer to the lights, and Kieran put an arm around her comfortingly. â€œThey just tried to keep me out of the way. If it wasnâ€™t for Kieran, Iâ€™d have never escaped.â€ She looked over at her three friends, and smiled.
â€œWell, then, the master owes you as well.â€ Sarn turned back with a warm smile, but his eyes were worried. For a moment, he opened his mouth to speak, and then he stopped, looking forwards again. â€œHere we are. The master waits within.â€
The doors were far more impressive than the island had been. Ten feet tall, forged of white jade with orichalcum trim and black jade panelling, the towered above the group. With a faint gulp, Nia stepped forwards, and raised a hand to knock. As she did, the doors swung soundlessly inwards. Looking back at the others, she shrugged, and strode inwards, still shivering slightly. Kieran, Elena, and Khory followed, carefully keeping a pace behind their companion as they looked around.
The inner chamber was massive; forty yards across, with a ceiling so high above them that Kieran could see sunlight, carefully filtered down through dozens of mirrors laid across the roof. At the far end of the room, a great window looked out over the island and the sea, and standing in front of that window was Mokrelus.
He was not as Kieran remembered him. Still massive, towering over the room, his once-flawless skin was criscrossed with scars, and tiny fragments of white jade glittered in his skin. Below his waist, his legs were locked together in a great jade column, which sat brokenly on the floor. His arms, once filled with motion, were still, none betraying even a hint of motion, no sign that Mokrelus even lived. Slowly, however, the great creature turned his head, and his burning gaze settled on the group.
Reaching down with four arms, Mokrelus spin himself around, a snide smile splitting across his face. â€œMy errant Splinter. How lovely to finally see you again. And you have brought such guests with you.â€ He bowed low, arms sweeping across his chest. â€œMy humble home is honoured to be blessed by the Unconquered Sun.â€
â€œMaster.â€ Nia sank to one knee. â€œIt is we who are honoured. I return to you, as you commanded so long ago. I am only sorry that I could not complete my mission sooner.â€
â€œBut it is complete?â€ Mokrelus leaned forwards, and Kieran found his hand falling towards the hilt of his sword. Angrily, he forced it loose, but he gathered Essence around himself â€“ just in case. The greedy look in that ominous expression was not one that he liked.
Nia, still leaning forwards, did not see it. â€œYes, master. The secret to the destruction of the Deathlords. And your Splinters will be capable of accomplishing it. Soon, you can rid the world of the threat of Oblivion forever â€“ a fine demonstration to bring before the Incarnae when you seek a place at their sides.â€
â€œExcellent, Nia. All is forgiven.â€ Mokrelus waved a hand casually. â€œNow, now I have my weapon. No more working with those idiotic elementals. No more pointless summonings. Destroy the Deathlords? With this secret at my command, child, I will control them! I will not approach the Incarnae as a beggar, no. They will come begging to me!!â€
As Niaâ€™s head rose, shock and horror warring for primacy on her features, Kieran nodded grimly. â€œIt was you all along. Your Splinters were the ones who summoned the Wind Masters to bind them.â€
â€œAn old ploy, and now unneeded.â€ Mokrelus laughed joyfully, but there was an insane edge to the sound. â€œThank you for the great boon that you have given me.â€
â€œThose people you killed, the damage you wrought.â€ Kieran shook his head. â€œThat wasnâ€™t Order!â€
â€œI AM ORDER!â€ Mokrelusâ€™s roar shook the chamber, and the far door opened, Sarn and the guards rushing in to see what the matter was. â€œI DECIDE WHAT IS RIGHT OR WRONG!â€ He gestured to his legs. â€œYour Incarnae abandoned me, left me trapped in a jade prison for thousands of years! I will be revenged!â€
â€œNo!â€ Kieran drew his daiklave grimly. Nia scrabbled to one side, face still frozen in shock. â€œI will not live in the sort of world that you will bring about!â€
â€œVery well.â€ Mokrelusâ€™s voice was dark. â€œI still owe you a boon, after all.â€ He gestured.