The entrance to the fortress was nearly blocked off by rubble. Among it lay some objects that had once belonged to the fortress’ dwellers. There were weapons, coins, and even some old plating made of an alien green-black steel. All of these artefacts were valuable to those who knew their true worth, but Adelard was not here to scavenge.
Deeper down into the fortress, the masonry walls were made of large slabs of black stone laced with slightly glowing green veins. The masonry was decorated with inscriptions in a language that only few today could read. Adelard had seen such things before and could even make out some of the arcane symbols, but the mercenary gazed at them with eyes wide with fear.
To their left and right, Adelard's orb of light revealed doorways and hallways, all leading away from the main corridor. Strange smells permeated the air around these openings. The mercenary glanced carefully into every one of them, seemingly more ill at ease with every step they made.
When they came upon a large junction with an elaborately carved, man-high obelisk at its center, the mercenary placed his hand on Adelard’s shoulder. ‘We should stop,’ he said.
Adelard turned to face him. ‘And why is that?’
‘Haven’t you seen enough yet? This place goes on forever.’
‘All things end,’ Adelard said, ‘even these tunnels.’
The mercenary ignored him. His eye was caught by the obelisk. He pushed Adelard out of the way and stepped forward.
‘What in the Pale One’s name is this?’
The mercenary pointed at a carving of a beast that was half scorpion, half spider; in each of its four arms it held a long chain, to which naked men and women were fastened by their wrists and ankles.
‘It is a carving,’ Adelard said. ‘And it depicts an Etter. They are the creatures that built this place and ruled the world in ages past.’
‘Is that what’s further down there?’ The mercenary cast a furtive glance into the darkness ahead.
Adelard sighed. ‘It’s what’s further down everywhere,’ he said. ‘Now come, we continue.’
‘No,’ the mercenary said. ‘We should go back.’
‘I am paying you to accompany me,’ Adelard said through his teeth. ‘Now be a good dog and do as you’re told.’
The axe came out of the belt.
Adelard closed his eyes and whispered a formula of power. He heard the mercenary’s voice, but the energies swirling through and around him dampened all sounds so that Adelard couldn’t quite make out what the mercenary was saying. It mattered little anyway. When Adelard opened his eyes again, the mercenary’s red face was but a few inches from his own. He had grabbed Adelard by the collar of his robe with his one hand; the other hand held the axe’s blade close to Adelard’s face. The mercenary’s voice became clearer.
‘--and if you think I’m going to--'
From Adelard’s body came forth a wave of energy; not heat, cold, or lightning--although Adelard mastered those at well--but an energy as black as the hearts of the men who taught Adelard to summon it. The mercenary sensed the threat; he let go of Adelard's robe and jumped back. For a moment, it seemed clear of the destructive power until the black energy lashed out from Adelard's position and grabbed hold of the mercenary. There was a short struggle, but the mercenary was not a strong man--at least not in the spiritual sense. With a flick of his wrist, Adelard drew the mercenary’s soul from his body as if he was wringing water out of a cloth. The mercenary’s mouth contorted to let out a howl of terror that never left his body. He stumbled and collapsed against the obelisk.
Adelard licked his lips.