Into the Trap
I flew straight and fast to the Pit of Despair Prison; secrecy seemed pointless. I wore every defensive spell that Llred or Ythac or I could cast, and scribbled notes to Ythac constantly. Like, «Ghemel looks worse every time I fly over it. Xolgrohim’s been ripping homes down and building factories and smelting plants.» Not that I particularly needed the distraction, but if I got killed, best if Ythac knew what was going on for purposes of revenge.
«I wish I could find out why that was,» wrote Ythac. Information mages always hate not knowing things.
«I’ll ask him if I see him,» I scribbled back.
And there was the Pit of Despair Prison: a huge complex surrounded by thin walls of powdery stone pierced by several roads. There was a great deal of new construction, mostly in a ring around the Pit of Despair proper, and the air stank of iron and oil-smoke and chemicals, and the despair of hovens. The trap proper was nicely marked, with a big sign on a building saying “Welcome, Jyothky. This way to Tarcuna.”
The arrow pointed down into the pit.
I circled the prison in the air, watching, thinking. Well, I could … Destroy all the surrounding buildings? and maybe kill Tarcuna if she’s being kept there. Oh, and certainly kill lots of Xolgrohim’s hoven pawns. Turn into something tiny and try to infiltrate? Silly at this point, and undignified. Ask Ythac? «Sorry, no good advice,» was his answer.
«I’m just going to follow the arrow and fly into the trap,» I said. So I tried. Actually I had to land on a conveniently placed and non-dangerous ledge and climb down, since the pit wasn’t big enough for much flapping of wings and I didn’t want to use a levitation spell that anygod could swat away and tumble me inelegantly into the pit. They had conveniently installed a very solid wooden staircase, with heavy beams stuck out of the steel-clad walls of the pit, just big enough for me, so this was obviously part of Xolgrohim’s plan.
As I climbed down, I heard a tremendous grinding of gears from overhead. Three huge metal jaws were closing off the top of the Pit of Despair, snipping me off from the light of Virtuet. «I think I know what Xolgrohim has been foundering,» I told Ythac.
«Foundreying. Yes, it sounds that way. There’s your trap, I guess.»
«Not much of a trap, if that’s all. Those doors won’t be a dozenth as hard to melt as Kuhankun Mountain,» I wrote.
«If that’s all, yes,» wrote Ythac. «Keep your nineteen senses up, OK?»
«All of them? I am nibbling on the wall now. Yummy!» I wrote. I wasn’t, and it wasn’t.
The spiral staircase took seven turns around. At the second turn, Tarcuna called up to me: “Jyothky! You came!”
“Oh, hi, Tarcuna. Nice to see you!”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t, actually,” she said.
I strolled down the staircase, my tail thumping on the wall. “Oh? Got a better companion than an alien monster who mostly ignores you?”
“No, I still love you. But I’m pretty sure this is a trap,” she said.
“Absolutely, it’s a trap. Did you see the poster, and the doors closing?”
Metal slammed against metal, twice, and hoofsteps tapped out on the pit’s floor below. Someone shouted up, “I am afraid that, yes, it is a trap. Please don’t be offended.” The voice sounded half-familiar.
“Xolgrohim, is that you?” I asked, and looked down. It was Murghal. Rather, it was Murghal’s body, with a heavy sevenfold cable of bitter sorcery wrapped around it and trailing off into the distance, and tenasensitive signs of strain everywhere. “Or Murghal?”
“Xolgrohim, using Murghal’s body,” he said, and I saw the cables twitch with each word. “Perhaps I could explain the conditions of the trap in a bit more detail, to start with, and thereby avoid or at least postpone unpleasantness?”
“Nice little puppet you’ve got there,” I said. The stairs ended thirty feet above the floor, so I leapt down to the middle of the clear half of the room. It wasn’t safe, but its loud hiss of menace was all potential. Tarcuna ran over and hugged my foreleg, and I folded a wing around her protectively.
“Well, the most important thing to remember about the trap is the walls. I know you could burn your way out of anything on Hove. But these walls are special. They are a sandwich. The outer layers are steel — enough steel, I believe, so that you cannot easily claw or bite your way through them; you will have to breathe. The inner layer is a very insidious sort of filling. It is ampoules of various chemicals. If you burn them, or pierce them, they will form any number of fearsome toxic vapors, which flood the pit. I am not sure if they will kill you or not, though they are quite strong. They will certainly kill Tarcuna,” said Xolgrohim, in a smallish voice.
“So I shouldn’t grab Tarcuna and burn my way out of here,” I said, and relayed Xolgrohim’s words to Ythac.
“Exactly! I knew you would be sensible!” he beamed. “Now, the floor.”