‘Isn’t this much better?’ Adelard said.

No response came from the lumbering shape behind him. Although the quality of the company had improved, Adelard was slightly concerned about the noise they were making. The mercenary had never been a nimble man, but he was much less so now. Fortunately, the sanctum should not be far now.

Adelard caught a pungent, spicy odor. He cursed softly and looked over his shoulder at the mercenary. ‘It seems your ill-timed tantrum has ruffled some feathers, my illiterate friend,’ he said. ‘We should move more swiftly.’

They doubled their speed. Hallways and doorways flashed past them. Adelard’s orb of light lit places that had not seen men or light in centuries--if they ever had at all--until they finally came upon a double stone door. It was decorated from top to bottom with intricate carvings that depicted Etter and their slaves: all creatures of the world, perhaps even of the universe, were there, some of which Adelard recognized, and some of which were a mystery even to him. The large, intricate lock on the door shone a challenge in the light of Adelard’s orb.

‘Finally,’ Adelard whispered. He retrieved a green steel key from his pouch. His hands trembled slightly with anticipation as he placed it in the lock. The key turned easily, as if the mechanism had been in regular use during all these centuries. The door opened of its own accord; its slow movement spread a low, rumbling sound through the fortress.

 The smell was much stronger here. Adelard already heard the terrible skittering in the distance. They were much closer than he had anticipated; he would have to move quickly. His orb hovered forward into the sanctum and its bright light unveiled a monstrous statue that filled Adelard’s heart with joy.

The statue’s base was a ten-foot high conical web in which were caught men, beasts, and things that defied definition. Atop the web, at the apex of the cone, stood a creature that was not a spider, and yet it was. A sensual and tempting form, yet at the same time quite repulsive. It inspired fear and confusion, but above all a feeling of insignificance as it clawed for things unseen and hatched schemes unimaginable.

Adelard smiled at the sight of his god.

The altar before the statue was modest. On it lay the object of Adelard’s quest: a small vial of purple liquid. He couldn’t suppress a little cry of elation, despite everything that was crawling up to the sanctum, ready to rip him apart tendon by tendon, bone by bone. He rushed forward and grabbed the object of his desire from the altar and carefully wrapped it in a piece of cloth.

‘Dog,’ Adelard said loudly.

When the mercenary stepped into the light of Adelard’s orb, the strangely contorted face and the lolling and swollen tongue almost startled Adelard. He sought to look the mercenary in the eyes, but they had already turned upwards in their sockets. From the way the mercenary stood, Adelard could tell his muscles were stiffening, but Adelard’s magic should be enough to keep them flexible just long enough.

‘Kill everything that steps into this room,’ Adelard said.

A yellow fire blazed in the mercenary’s upturned, watery eyes. He planted his feet in a warrior’s position half-remembered and held the crudely crafted axe firmly in his swelling hands.

Adelard slipped past him. But before he ran back to the fortress’ entrance where he would be greeted by safety and fresh air, he lifted the mercenary’s purse from his belt.

‘A refund for my troubles,’ he said and smiled. 

End