Chapter 2 – Foreseen Complications
The path from the icy prison to the altar at which they had long ago captured him, and at which they now intended to reopen a pathway, was of no great distance. Tamrael had chosen to brief the keeper in part on the way to this place once the later had agreed to assist them.
"I'm surprised none of your wizards have died trying to use the gem…" the imprisoned keeper said with moot interest. "The magic within them is volatile at best, and using one that is still attuned to a dungeon heart is sheer madness, not even a bile demon would be stupid enough to try that". It was something Tamrael simply couldn't object to. He had predicted that the little, blue gem could not be controlled without this being's help, and indeed, many spell casters had nearly lost their lives in the fruitless attempts to do so. "So you wish for me to open a gate so that your people may pass through? Did your people not build the hero gates and create the portal gems in the first place?"
The comment made Tamrael hesitate momentarily. He was not sure whether the keeper had referred to the human races or the heavenly ones to which he had once belonged. Did this nameless keeper know something he did not? Or perhaps was that just what the cunning keeper had intended for? A devious smile graced his mouth, but it did so often… more often than not in fact. He decided not to inquire further on the matter, lest he might give the hooded figure an edge over the uncertain seraph. Trust was not something to be directed towards anyone that had been born underneath ground, less even towards a keeper, and least of all this particular one, who had proven himself to be the most ruthless, cruel, cunning and perhaps even mad of them all.
"Ah, I had nearly forgotten… the curse of amnesia, is it? You were thrown out of the heavens and you do not even know why… you truly despise the gods for that, do you not… old friend?" The keeper said, wearing another one of his devious smiles. "Hold your tongue keeper. I may not remember, but I'm still very much aware of your intention. You will not turn me" Tamrael replied with more confidence than he actually harboured. In truth, he did wonder why he had been the only seraph to be cast out of heaven. "We have little time for pointless chat and I am as eager to be done with this as you are to make Nemesis' life harder" Tamrael told the keeper and took a deep breath; "As you have noted, we require your aid to open a portal. The time spent on the surface must have left you with little magic to work with. We have several wizards who will let you guide their efforts, but you will not wield any magic directly, for obvious reasons…" The keepers smile turned into a reaper's grin at this. "Why, old friend… do you not trust me anymore?" A short laugh escaped him. "I would have expected that I was the one to no longer trust you, especially after all those enchanted arrows" at those last words he drew back the collar of his hood, revealing a scar that seemed to still be burning. It was formed slightly like a star, a scar left by the bolt fired from a crossbow. "…holy water… despicable stuff…"
After this little dispute it hadn't taken long Tamrael much longer to prepare the keeper. Merely a matter of security procedures and a discussion on what the keeper would need to complete for the spell work. The alchemic ingredients had been easy to gather from local monks, even though it left many of them infuriated. It was something Tamrael intended to later solve with the help of a few pints of ale, but for now he was with the guard captain in charge of watching the keeper. His purple tabard was framed in gold, an indication of higher rank. He seemed anxious, and for a good reason too. The nameless keeper had not been let out of his cell for twice as long as this man had lived. "Do you think he has any plans to escape?" The human asked with unease. "I do not only think so, I know so. It is all we can do to be prepared for whatever he may throw at us and hope to foil it" Tamrael said, well out of earshot from the nameless keeper who had now been put in chains and was being guarded not only by the royal guards of the current king, but also a number of lordly knights, not to mention a dozen of wizards and monks who remained a slight distance away.
"Even so" he continued; "should he manage to get himself to the underworld, at very least he will cause Nemesis a great deal of trouble, and ultimately buy us some time. Whether he means to or not". Tamrael reasoned. "I suppose you are right" the guard captain answered shortly. "…but I don't like it one bit". Neither do I; Tamrael thought… then decided he better keep the keeper under his own watchful eye. The journey towards the altar was mostly uneventful, even dull. Occasionally a bystander or citizen would throw a fruit or a rock, and once a rotten egg was about to hit the keeper's head, had the later not used some magic to propel the smelly missile straight back to the one who had thrown it. Pride was one of the flaws by which keepers could be defeated, and it turned out this one's pride lead him to reveal he still was capable of minor magic feats. Tamrael kept an even closer eye on him after this, but the preparations of the spell seemed to go smoothly. As far he could see the keeper made no attempt at escape or sabotage. And while the evil being surely knew how to throw insults and taunts, he made seemingly was sincere about his cooperation. This made Tamrael even more anxious, which in turn made him flex his great feathery wings. He was sure that the keeper had his own schemes.
"You seem worried, old friend… are you not pleased with the efforts I make to help you slay my kin?" A grin that could only be described as grim rested underneath the keeper's hood. The comment caught Tamrael off guard. He had expected that the keeper would need all his focus to ensure the success of the spell. Evidently he still had time to play tricks on the seraph's fragmented mind. "What do you want, keeper?" Tamrael asked him, eager to change the subject. It was something about this particular evil that made his skin crawl, a most uncommon feeling for one of angelic descent.
"Freedom, power, an army to purge this world of you heroes… there are many things I want" the keeper sighted ruefully, "… the question is what I need. I have finished guiding your so-called wizards in preparing what will make out the base of the portal. I am amazed you consider these to be skilled spell casters. A few warlocks would have done the job without my guidance…"
"Alas, we sadly have no warlocks at our disposal. I suppose it is the portal gem you ask for?" Tamrael replied in false remorse. A warlock was the last thing he wanted here right now. Their knowledge of the dark arts was only surpassed by their everlasting hunger for more spells of destruction and havoc.
"Indeed, but seeing how your wizards perform… I will be required to take part in the creation of the portal if we are to succeed. At best you will link with the old portal, and I assure you, Nemesis will have it heavily guarded" the keeper's diabolic visage turned to a smirk "at very least if he learned anything from his encounter with me". Just as quickly as it had appeared the smirk now turned into an absent expression, the keeper was already thinking deeply again. Did he dwell in memories, Tamrael wondered, or did he perhaps put together his next great plan?
"You ask for a lot, keeper. Allowing you to exit your prison alone is a great risk to take. How can we be sure you will not attempt to trick us?"
"Simple. You cannot. If you wish to send someone to the lands beneath you will have to trust us" Tamrael didn't like how the keeper now had begun speaking absently. It seemed as if he hardly was aware of his surroundings anymore. It then struck him, 'us'? Had the keeper just said 'us'? Or had Tamrael perhaps just misunderstood him? None of the surrounding guards seemed to react or have taken notice, and these were highly trained men and women.
"Very well, you shall have the portal gem as soon as we can begin." Tamrael told the keeper. In truth he was not very eager to have their presence noticed the instant the first dwarf set foot into the old catacombs. The element of surprise was one known to all, but it was nonetheless one of great effect, and if they could have it, even the better.
It was dark by now, and soon the moon would reach the highest point in the sky soon, only to spread its magnificent rays in a dazzling play of light and dark. He had heard the tales of the moon becoming so large that it would seem greater than even the sun, a moon that would charm the hearts of humans and let them be in love for an eternity. Tamrael however, in his many years walking earth, had never seen it become any greater or smaller… more wishful thinking that mortals were so fond of. It struck him then that this nigh peaceful night seemed a lot like the one when the nameless keeper had first set a foot into the world above his own. The stars were glistening high above on a clear sky and the surroundings were dressed in the deep greens of summer. Sometimes a tree would even appear to shimmer bluely in at the whim of the illuminating moon far above. It must be what also kept distracting the keeper. Ever since that one night he had been again been locked up underground. Would an entire life in caverns and prisons have the same effect on anyone? Was is truly their right to keep the demonic forces, no matter how grotesque, locked away from sight for eternity? Having now tasted the freedom and vastness of the world, the keeper would probably intend to claim it for himself.
A mild breeze stroke across Tamrael's stone face, forcing him to come back to senses. This was not the time for philosophical thoughts. The following night the moon would no longer be full, and they needed every tiny ounce of magic that was available to them. Forcing his disturbed mind to focus, he stepped into the radiating pentagram that made up the base of the spell. The keeper could not be trusted and he would personally monitor the work. Out of necessity they had already been forced to allow to him to create the magical patterns and weaves that would in turn create the portal. They had channelled into him a vast amount of magic that he could have abused at will, but even as it may have been tempting, Tamrael was sure the keeper was not so short-sighted. If he did envision a plan, it would be one of much greater extents. A century of imprisonment had given him by far enough time to plot.
Soon three wizards channelled their power into the circle, ever expanding the erratic magic that was formed by the keeper's artistic hands. Tamrael stood with them, not only watching but also granting part of his own strength. To one who was capable of seeing the strains of magic, the sight was marvellous… simply astonishing. Threads of divine light flew from Tamrael's open hands into the portal gems that lay still in the middle of their formation. The small piece of crystal seemed dull and old, not like anything that would hold such great power. Small flaws covered it in places and obscured what lay inside, but to Tamrael's eyes the inherent magic was evident. His sight allowed him not only a vision of the gems own magic, but of all the magic around them. His own like silver strains in the night, the wizards' purple and blue, shifting from one colour to another as if reflecting every change in their hearts and minds, and the keeper's; not at all as he would have expected. Instead of red or black, as was usual to their kind, the threads that seemed to float from him were brilliant gold, yet in some places they did make a tainted impression. All together they these threads appeared to form a pattern, a matrix, that slowly but steadily made its way into the gem. As they did they spread around the gems from all sides forming a tiny vortex that gave the impression of gradually absorbing anything around it. Tiny specs of dust that floated to close were quickly engulfed in the unstable forces at work, but these were not the only thing affected. The very moonlight bent on its way past the miniature gateway, being sucked into it. The tiny gem had also begun rotating in the middle of it all, apparently regaining some of its beauty in the process. Darkness was dancing in morbid patterns within, and Tamrael knew that the gem was being used against its purpose here. It was a key meant to lock a door, not open one. But there was no going back. Magic had begun working and it would not stop until its purpose had been fulfilled here. On and on they fed power into the small portal, and gradually it widened, absorbing falling leaves, dust and more moonlight. As far Tamrael could tell, it even seemed to affect the flow of time where they stood; a dazzling aspect of the portal. Slowly his attention wandered astray. It seemed to take the guards that were further away from the portal more time to move or act. At one point he thought he heard a call from someone, but it blurred together soon. From mighty sorcerers, a keeper and a seraph, they turned into gnats that were no match for what they had wrought. The violent currents of reality swept their minds around like twigs in a raging sea. Time lost all meaning and soon it was all Tamrael could do to not lose himself in face of it all.
Amidst all the confusion and all the impossibilities he ultimately saw at last what the keeper had been trying to achieve. The spell would collapse; there was no doubt about it. But not all distortion in the portal seemed to be of the keeper's origin. Somehow the magic of the seraph seemed to conflict with the rest, destabilizing it. In parts of the portal time was now also flowing backward. It was expanding and contracting over and over, but across it one thing was in clear sight; A wicked, malevolent grin on the keeper's strain-ridden face. Tamrael had believed the keeper would attempt to flee to the old heart of his dungeon to re-establish his forces had not the seraph watched him closely, but the evil being's audacity was evident, and pride was now on the verge of being Tamrael's defeat as well. He should have known that any remote chance of escape would be the first point of attack, known that the keeper would subtly do anything to distract the seraph. In the heat of the moment Tamrael was forced to make a rash decision. Withdrawing as much magic as he could, he removed himself from the portal's spell matrix, ripping a wide gap into the forces. Even before he did so it had been beyond their skills to turn it into a stable portal, he was sure of that, but now they could merely protect themselves; perhaps not even that. It would, with a great deal of luck, grant no more than a single person entry to the frightful world that rested far beneath their feet before collapsing entirely. It didn't take long for the keeper to notice the changes, and his madman's grin quickly turned into a frown of utter dismay. He too broke from the pattern, and without hesitation he leapt towards the opening before him. It was all Tamrael could do to mirror his movements and pray he was to reach the centre first. In the blind darkness that they had created he clawed in front of himself, seeking to push back the keeper. In a last desperate move he forced all magic into his thrust, barely feeling that he shoved something away, and then… darkness.
Vertigo took hold of him and forced him to what he thought were his knees. He felt distorted and twisted. His own body felt like nothing more than an infinitely large cloud energy, drifting without a sense of time or place. He didn't know whether seconds or years passed, until all of a sudden he begun to take a physical shape once again. An excruciatingly painful experience. And as soon as he was sure his head was in one piece once again, it was struck by something hard. The smell of cold clay, stale air and ancient blood filled his nose. In the distant he heard a slow, steady beat. Darkness enveloped his mind.
Right, I know this chapter is rather lackluster in terms of events and writing. Quite frankly, I personally despise it, but it had to be done. With this piece of the 'introduction' out of the way I can now finally get started on the interesting pieces. That is, if there is any interest at all. Again I really request that someone leave some feedback. Believe, a single review will probably be enough to spark my interest in writing at least another two chapters (probably each a few 1000 words long).
As for the current state of this; you can probably tell my writing style is undergoing quite a few changes. Mostly a result of further reading and education. I really want to continue this piece, but ultimately something is written so it can be read, and thus far my other projects (which aren't on this site) have been receiving a lot more interest than this, which is a pitty, as I truely enjoy the world of Dungeon Keeper.