Chapter 20: Traitor
Avagon sighed. "Don't look at me like that, Ren. I don't need your sorrow or your pity. What's done is done. My fate was sealed the day the Dark Water claimed me. But you - you still have the power to wield your own fate. Do not take that responsibility lightly." She rounded the table, approaching him. One of her gloved hands reached up to push his hair away from his brow. "You really have grown in the time I've seen you. More like your father every passing day."
Ren felt like any words he could speak in the moment couldn't convey the hurt and guilt he felt on Avagon's behalf. "What can I do, Avagon?"
She laughed, but without humor. "For Octopon, for Mer? Always the Quest. But you don't need me to tell you that - seems you've already made up your mind. For me, you can release me from a fate worse than death."
Ren's eyes widened. "Anything. Name it and I will help you."
She narrowed her good eye at him. "Don't be too eager. What I am asking you is something that I know in your heart of hearts that you will find difficult to do. But do it you must, because the worst vision of my fate has me killing you."
The shock of her latter statement hit him like an arrow to his heart. "Avagon..."
"Look at me, Ren," she said. "I am one half of the Darkdweller's brethren, one part of the Dark Heart. I was infected long ago. One part of my mind belongs to me, the other to the Darkdweller, though we are limited to what we can access in each other's minds. I would sooner meet my end than have him use me as a vessel to harm you or the fate of Mer. I am human and a monster. If my face isn't proof then perhaps my hands will convince you." She removed her gloves one at a time, holding up her left hand which was slimmer, but her normal hand. The other was mangled flesh with sharp claws. Ren took a step back, recoiling by reflex.
This didn't faze Avagon in the slightest. "You're lucky I didn't grab your arm with this one - would've skewered your flesh. But I had to take you with me, to see you before you ventured for the 11th treasure, so that you would know the truth."
Ren could barely speak the truth of the matter aloud. "You can't know what you're asking me to do. You're asking me...t-to kill you."
"No," Avagon said, her expression momentarily crestfallen, before smoothing over into a firm look of determination. "The Darkdweller killed me. Never think anything else."
He shook his head. "There must be some other way. Let me help you, Avagon."
Ren wasn't expecting her to shove him so hard against the wall that he lost his breath. "It's your own undoing then," she hissed.
Momentarily stunned, Ren watched her walk in a furious rush past him. He was about to call after her when she suddenly groaned in pain, clutching her stomach before falling to her knees.
"Dark water...taking hold...this pain..." She winced. "Listen to me, Son of Primus. You must go to the next treasure of Rule. Leave at once...do not...concern yourself with me."
"I'm not leaving you here alone," Ren said, rushing to her side and helping Avagon to her feet. "Look, Ioz, Tula and Niddler shouldn't be too far behind. We can find a way to cure you. I think I might have a way..."
"There's no time! You must...leave now!" Avagon roughly pushed him away. "Go to the 11th treasure. I will put as much distance between us to buy you time, but we are now enemies." She pulled her mask over her face, pulling her hood over her head as she rose to her feet. She only looked over her shoulder once. "This is my last warning to you, Son of Primus. Hold the same denial and mercy that you have in your spirit, and you will succumb to the Dark Heart. The Darkdweller will have his way with you. Should you fall, you will fail all of Octopon, Mer, and your father as well."
She fled the room as Ren found himself slumped against the wall, stunned. It didn't help that the compass around his neck was blinking wildly. It'd started freaking out the second that Avagon shoved him. He wondered if it was acting to protect him. He wondered what would've occurred if Avagon had stayed moments longer.
He wasn't sure what to think anymore, but he shook his head in denial. I can't allow myself to be consumed by fear of the unknown or by a demise that I can fight against, he thought. Avagon doesn't deserve to have her life stolen and I can never raise a hand to harm her. There must be another way.
He ran after her.
"Ren! Ren, where are you?" Niddler called through the winding halls of the temple. Nothing but his own voice echoed through the elaborate structure. Ioz, Tula, and the monkeybird had long left the underground part of the Temple, now making their way through in an effort to find who had kidnapped Ren and why.
Ioz made Niddler stop abruptly in his tracks, bringing down his sword just short of the monkeybird's beak. "You need to keep that beak of yours shut, monkeybird. Or would you rather tip off the enemy?"
Niddler screeched. "I'd rather let Ren know we're on the way!"
Tula sighed. "I never thought I'd say this, but Ioz is right, Niddler. If whomever has Ren means him harm, knowing we're coming may bring Ren into more danger than it's worth."
Ioz raised a brow. "Why Tula, you humble me with your acknowledgement of my genius." He pointed to his temple with a smirk.
Tula folded her arms across her chest, giving him a side-long glance. "Considering your brains aren't usually worth more than sea scum, that may be giving you too much credit!"
Ioz started to fire back an insult, but he was interrupted when a dark hooded figure rushed past them, shoving him to the ground hard enough to drop his sword and bruise his elbow.
"Noy jitat! Who was that?" Ioz said.
"That's who kidnapped Ren!" Tula said, quickly pulling her dagger from her boot. "Oh no you don't, you scourge!" She threw the dagger, which struck a nearby pillar, pinning part of the figure's cloak to it. That didn't stop the fleeing figure, who roughly pulled away and tore its cloak in the process. Tula saw a part of the figure's clothing beneath the heavy robe, something that flashed a brief, familiar vision in her mind. It can't be. I...know this person. A traitor working in the Darkdweller's ranks?
Before Ioz, Tula and Niddler could approach, the figure was suddenly enveloped in a dark magic mist, disappearing and leaving behind a puddle of Dark Water in the middle of the hall. It bubbled on the tile until it eventually fizzled out.
"Dark Water? What sort of witchcraft is this?!" Ioz said, stunned.
Niddler screeched. "One of the Darkdwellers minions, no doubt! Oh poor Ren. Going up against a figure of that power, I have a feeling something bad happened to him."
A familiar voice echoed behind them. "You have little faith, Niddler. I'm in one piece last time I checked. But it seems I'm too late to help."
Ren couldn't help but smile at the relieved faces of his comrades as he ran up to approach them. Niddler was the first to reach him, flying and throwing his arms around Ren's neck. Ioz and Tula weren't far behind.
"Thank Kunda you weren't stricken by that foul being that just passed us. I've had my fill of the Darkdweller's minions in this temple. Just crossing paths with them makes my skin crawl," said Ioz.
Tula met Ren's glance at the moment, a war of emotions on her features. "Ren, did you know who that was?"
To all of their surprise, Ren nodded, his smile vanished to a more grim expression. "Unfortunately, Tula, I did. But that's a story best left for when we get back to the Wraith. We need to get the 11th treasure as soon as possible and get out of this temple. I fear what might happen if we stay here too much longer."
Ren spun the compass at his neck, allowing the beam to point them in the right direction.
Ioz studied the odd contraption in front of the four of them. "Noy jitat, finally. I was starting to think this temple would go on for eternity and we'd never find the treasure. But what is this construction?"
"Looks like it's only big enough to fit one person from the look of it. Niddler's monkeybird wings can't even fit in this tight space." Tula observed. "It has a crank on the side to lower the buggy upwards and down. Well, I guess that rules out any of us following Ren directly. But if you need me, I can follow you in spirit, Ren. Better that than have you at the mercy of any of the Darkdweller's minions that might be down there."
"Thank you, Tula. Ioz, Niddler, I'm counting on you two to make sure things are fine here topside." Ren nodded to the two of them, who responded in kind.
Ioz unsheathed his sword. "If any of the Darkdweller's or Bloth's men try to cross us here, we'll cut them off at the pass. Be careful Ren, and be quick."
Ren used the odd elevator to lower himself down into the dark, narrow passageway. It was similar to the more decorated parts of the temple, almost as if it were once a library or a study of sorts. Using the light of the compass and lighting a nearby torch, it wasn't long before he found the 11th treasure of Rule, covered by a tattered cloth on a pedestal.
Ren had a memory flash through his mind. The tattered cloth wasn't just any old cloth, but one that was part of the sail of his family's ship. A memento of his father.
"Noy jitat...it can't be a coincidence. Someone must have found and put the treasure of Rule here for me to find." Ren didn't have to think too long about who that person might've been.
Avagon, it has to be, he thought. That's why she was here, why we ended up meeting. She knew, and she worked against the Darkdweller's influence to do it. But that would've meant she braved all the dangers this place had, Krawlers included.
As he reached for the 11th treasure of Rule, Ren noticed something dark out of the corner of his eye. It made him pause long enough to wonder what was on the other side of the room, beyond where the pillar with the treasure stood. He couldn't see at first because of the dim reach of the light, but upon stepping on the other side of the pillar, he found himself recoiling at the sight in front of him.
A single red eye and large sharp teeth glistened in the dim lighting, standing out in a heaped mass of long slimy dark forms where flesh hung from bone. The tangled bodies made no move toward him.
Tula definitely noticed his reaction in spirit. "Ren, what's wrong? Did something happen?"
Ren's labored breath hung in the still air of the room. "There are several Krawlers in here. All of them...dead." He realized then that Avagon had done much to help him, Niddler, Ioz and Tula, but how badly could she harm them under the Darkdweller's influence? He wasn't sure he wanted to find out.