The first thing to greet Albert as his soiled shoes landed onto the tile mosaic was a plume of dust that spread throughout the cavern like a cloud, causing Al to break down into a coughing fit, which only made the millennium year old dust spread further. He fell to his hands and knees as he coughed, hoping that the air would be clearer near the floor. A few miserable minutes later, the air cleared around him and Al realized that he was now face to face with the grinning face of a yellowing skull.
Al let out an unintelligible scream and reeled backwards in shock, slipping on other bones that went clattering into the distance.
"Calm yourself Albert, it's merely a skeleton," Myrin said, his tone morphing into an imperious tone that wouldn't sound amiss coming from a king. "My people, your loyalty is touching. Even in death my priests guard my temple still."
"Jesus Christ," Albert breathed, ignoring Myrin.
He shut his eyes and stretched his head backwards, trying to catch his breath. When it no longer felt like his heart was going to explode, he gazed around the wreck of a room. Several skeletons lay slumped in around the floor. Around them several carapaces and skeletons of things decidedly inhuman slept an eternal sleep, pierced by the occasional spear or arrow. Albert stood up and gingerly grabbed the shaft of the weapon that pierced the hard shell of a corpse nearby, only to have it crumble beneath his touch and fall to the floor.
"The shells of these creatures are so hard that even weapons engraved by master enchanters barely scratched it. If that weren't enough, their blood is corrosive like acid. It's astonishing that that spear kept its shape for as long as it did."
Albert looked at the flakes of rusty metal still left in his palm and let it drop to the floor.
"They came from the rift that your Mystics opened?" He asked, taking note of the signs of battle, still evident even now, that scarred the room.
Claw marks, spanning a width larger than the shoulders of a grown man, left deep gashes in the stone. Several sections of marble and tile looked to have been melted into one homogenous lump by some hellish flame and, of course, bones shattered and strewn about the carnage told the story of the final moments of the former priests of Myrin.
"Yes, they were but one of many unknown species of monster, not native to this world, that poured from the opening. Hurry now, the teleportation chamber should be close. Use the switch hidden behind the tapestry ahead."
Indeed, in a cylindrical alcove further into the room where the remains of a stairwell that had spiraled upward, a tapestry fluttered in the slight breeze that Albert created as he moved towards it. The tapestry was immaculate, colors vibrant and bright, not at all changed or damaged by the cataclysm or steady passage of time.
Albert's eyes were immediately drawn to the center of the tapestry, where a glowing being was woven, the threads glimmering as if to demonstrate that even a depiction of this being was holy. Around the being, kneeling men and women wearing immaculate robes of blue and swirling silver prayed to the being, the tips of the strangely tall hats they wore touching the ground they bowed so low.
Further away from the being, more men and women wearing the same robes and hats clutched scrolls that glowed turquoise with symbols similar to the ones etched on Myrin's shrine. The Mystics, as Albert had now decided that they were, coaxed towers and buildings to sprout out of the earth before them, adding new sections of an already sprawling city.
Men, women, and children, each drabbed in garbs of obvious affluent wealth walked about the city that grew in size and complexity. Corridors led to towers, which led to raised walkways that led to stairwells. Albert felt that he could stare at the tapestry for hours and still not discover all that was hidden within. Tearing his gaze away from a beautiful silver haired girl he spotted next to a strange floating device in a tower, he scanned the city until it stopped cleanly at the shores of an ocean. From the ocean, the vibrant colors faded into dark navy blues and greens, which then merged into the blacks and grey of foreign shores. On them, you could just see despot faces people in rags, crouching beneath cobbled together buildings before the tapestry ended.
"How has this survived so long?" Albert muttered, transfixed by the incredible detail and beauty of the piece, running a finger along the outer fringe.
"This tapestry was woven using colored strands of mithril, the hardest and most durable substance that our Mystics were able to create. Even as this cave crumbles around it, the tapestry would remain another millennium," Myrin declared with a chuckle. "Now then, on the wall behind it there is a hidden switch. Press it inward and stand back. A passage should open."
Wasting no more time, Albert pushed past the tapestry and ran his hand against the smooth stone of the wall, feeling nothing out of the ordinary, until...CLICK. A section of the wall sunk into the stone and ancient mechanisms began whirring and clanging beneath his feet. Beside him, the first steps of the broken stairwell sunk into the ground with a thud. After a brief silence, the second stair was pulled downwards, quickly followed by its fellows, rhythmically thudding downwards into darkness.
Albert warily tested the first step with a foot, ready to pull it back if it gave way. Though ancient, the stair held firm and Albert took his first few steps downwards into the unknown, any hesitation he still had melting away with the cries of one of the beasts that echoed from the passage leading to the priest's quarters. From the sounds of it, they had discovered his location. He used his good hand to press against the center pillar that the stairs wrapped around to guide his way down through the darkness, trying not to imagine what other creatures could have taken residence in the darkness in the time since the stairwell's last use.
After an indiscriminate amount of time continuing through the darkness, clanks and thuds sounded distantly above as the entrance to the hidden stairs closed behind him. Albert released a shaky breath, some of the tension releasing from his muscles. Unless something had managed to get into the stairwell before it closed, he was safe for the moment. However, there was truly no turning back now, even if he had wanted to.
From that point on, the only thing Albert knew was blackness and the hallow clicking sounds of the soles his shoes slapping against the stairs that echoed and disappeared into the darkness of the passage around him. With the immediate danger gone, the adrenaline drained from his system and all the scrapes and bruises that he had collected in his flight made themselves known.
Albert's shoulder began to burn and throb with each step he took, as if each movement released a drop of molten metal that slid down from his shoulder blade burned a path down his sides. He descended into a painful haze. He no longer could tell how much time had passed, but he seemed no closer to the destination than he had when he started. The longer he spent in the darkness, the more he welcomed the pain from his wounds, or the occasional words of encouragement spoken by the distant Myrin. They were his anchor to sanity in this world of nothingness.
Suddenly, after exhaustion began to weigh down on Albert like a blanket, he stumbled forward as the next step he had intended to take downwards had landed sooner than expected. He caught himself as he fell, his hands slapping against glowing runes etched into a circle on the floor. His confused mind just had enough time to recognize that the glowing turquoise symbolling was identical to what the people in the tapestry above held in their scrolls when the room dissolved in a flash of bright white light.
Well, it's certainly been a while! It feels good to catch up with Albert and Myrin again.
Next time look forward to the beginning of Albert's training and the true start to his adventure.
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