Twists & Turns
Chapter 23 of Uninvited Guests
The dark passageway
twisted this way and that as the small band of escaped hostages
continued walking. Renaud and Richenda's handfire created odd,
spectral shadows, but failed to illuminated any clues to their
"I think we need to go further upstairs." Renaud sighed heavily. "Only I don't know where another stairwell is."
They seemed to have entered an abandoned and partially ruined part of the castle, for they saw no signs of life. Richenda glanced at Crispal. "Do you remember any more about the room with the circles?"
The boy shook his head. "It was dark there, except for the blurry blue-green fire. It seemed like a large room."
"You don't recall any furniture there?" Elise asked.
Crispal thought for a minute. "I don't think so."
Elise glanced worriedly at Richenda and moved closer to her. "Dare we trust this child to get us out of here?"
Richenda shrugged and pulled Briony closer to her. "What choice do we have? We need a Portal. Short of constructing one ourselves--" She broke off and grabbed Renaud's sleeve. "Renaud, have you ever constructed a Portal?"
Renaud arched one eyebrow. "That takes time and considerable power."
"Ala-my husband once assisted in constructing a temporary Portal. I've never done it myself, but I've read about it. We've got three adult Deryni and two young Deryni, plus Rory, who's a Haldane and could provide energy." Richenda pulled out her ward cubes.
"I don't know." Renaud looked from one tired traveler to another. "Crispal has incredibly strong shields. He may not be able to help us. And a major use of power like that would definitely attract unwanted attention."
"If it works, we'd be far from here before anyone reaches us. If it fails, we're as dead as we'll be if we keep wandering around here until Alekseyevich or his men find us." Richenda dropped to her knees and ran a hand over the stone floor. "Natural stone! This fortress was built into the mountainside, just as I'd hoped."
Renaud sighed again. "I fear Lady Richenda is right. We can't keep wandering around in the dark. Sooner or later we will be caught. Now, we need something to mark an octagon on the floor...."
"Why can't I feel them?" Alaric stared at Kelson. "Dear God, they can't all be --" The word stuck in his throat.
"They're not." Valentin sounded confident. "This castle has strange wards built into it that cover up various things. I think the Northerners who built this fortress imbued it with an odd magic so that people working a ritual in one part of the castle couldn't feel others working different rituals and vice versa. I'm told the Skaggarak Fortress once housed a schola of sorts." He shuddered. "I'm not sure I want to know what they taught..."
"Sweet Jesu," Kelson breathed. "A castle that wards it's inhabitants! How are we going to find them?"
A cold smile crossed Azim's face. "By turning that magic to our advantage. We may not be able to feel them, but the enemy can't feel us either."
The Portal lay in the center of an octagonal tower, with tall lancet windows overlooking the rocky coast. Alaric glanced out at the icy waves pounding the boulders. "I suppose they're below us -- in some sort of dungeon."
Azim circled the room and came to stand beside Alaric. "We will find them." He patted Alaric's shoulder.
"First we need to find a way out of this tower," Derry muttered. Alaric spun around, realizing for the first time that the room had six window walls and two stone walls, but seemingly no door.
Valentin approached the stone walls and ran his hands over them. "There's a hidden door here."
"And where does it lead?" Kelson's hand unconsciously tightened on his sword hilt.
"I'm not sure." Valentin held his handfire close to the wall, revealing the pale outlines of an arched entryway. He took several deep breaths and pulled out a set of ward cubes. *Prime* he began, igniting the first cube.
*Secunde* Azim joined him. To Morgan and Kelson's surprise, they placed the lighted cubes in two pillars...white, black, white, black, at each side of the outlined door.
Valentin placed his hands against the door. "Fiat Lux!" Blue flame exploded around the door, catapaulting Valentin backward toward the center of the room.
Others were uttering the words to set wards at almost the same time, though in a slightly different manner. They had scratched an open octagon on the stone floor and now sat in their prescribed positions. Richenda sat to Renaud's right and Elise, holding Crispal, to his left, with Briony and Rory across from them. Richenda reached out and brought first Briony, then Rory into the link. She encountered more difficulty with Crispal, however, for the boy's shield's remained rigid. They would have to hope that four of them could manage without his assistance.
They moved forward and focused on the square outlined by their knees. Renaud extended his right hand and the others clasped it.
Elise patted Crispal's shoulder. "Join us if you can."
The boy's pale face was set with determination. "I'll try."
Slowly he placed his right hand upon the others' clasped right hands, attempting to join the knot of power. For a moment nothing happened. Then power exploded around them.
A wave of vertigo brought Alekseyevich to consciousness. His head throbbed as though a hundred horses raced within it. He blinked as memories of Renaud's betrayal and his Blinding surfaced.
"Well, the Lord and Master is awake," taunted one of his soldiers.
"You had damned well better bring me food and wine immediately." Alekseyevich glared at them. "Our valuable prisoners have escaped and all of us will feel our overlord's wrath if we don't catch them."
"Is his wrath worse than yours?" one soldier demanded.
"Far worse." Alekseyevich didn't want to contemplate telling either Mahael or the Master that he had lost the prisoners. But he had one ally left. And that was a powerful one.
The men exchanged glances, but made no move to assist their captive master.
Alekseyevich curled his lip in annoyance. "If you value your lives, you'll help me. Because I will win, with or without you. "
"And if we assist you? What reward will you offer us?" A seasoned knight with a long scar on his cheek asked.
"Will you share the women and the wine?"
Alekseyevich smirked. "When I catch them, you can all enjoy Lady Richenda and Elise."
The scarred man nodded. "Maybe we can catch them without you."
Alekseyevich shook his head. "If so, you'd have already done that." He ran his hand across the scar on his neck. Now, if he could only reach Njall...
Aloud he continued, "You can't catch those Deryni, but I can." He scrambled to his feet, but had to lean against the stone wall for support. He swayed dizzily, still seeking Njall.
A cloud of grey mist suddenly appeared before him. Alekseyevich could distinguish the stern features of Njall, but he doubted the men could see anything. *Njall, that bastard Renaud turned traitor and Blinded me. I need your help.*
*You've failed me, Zinovy. Why should I save you?* Njall's tone could have cracked a glacier.
*I haven't failed. The fugitives will never escape Skaggarak. But I need my powers to fight them. I haven't time to argue.* Alekseyevich fought to keep the pleading out of his mental tone.
Njall cast him a frigid glare. *I warned you about trusting that Healer.*
*But you can undo his spell. You told me you could.* Alekseyevich fought down rising panic.
*In a manner of speaking, yes. I can reawaken your powers. For a price.*
The grey cloud surrounded Alekseyevich and he moaned in spite of himself as Njall entered his mind.
The blue flames subsided, revealing a long, dark corridor. Valentin waited a moment, then stepped into the opening. He glanced around, flicking his handfire down the passageway. "It looks like it's safe."
Azim stepped into the darkness and probed for several moments before confirming Valentin's statement. Alaric continued pacing around the tower until Azim beckoned for them to follow.
The group started down the narrow, twisting corridor. Their handfire illumated cressets on the wall, but no candles flickered in them. They walked and walked, occasionally entering and exploring chambers filled only with shadows and dust.
They had not gone far when something sent a shudder through the entire building, as though something had shaken the structure to its very foundations. The tremor passed, but the Deryni gazed at each other, suddenly recognizing the familiar aura of unleased magic.
"Someone has attempted some sort of working," Azim muttered.
Alaric gritted his teeth and cast another probe for Richenda. For a moment, he thought he detected her, but then it slipped away. He wondered if she had been involved in the working. The corridor turned and sloped downward.
Another ripple of power pervaded the atmosphere, followed by the clatter of footsteps. Valentin froze and reached for his sword.
A swirling grey cloud materialized before them, then vanished, revealing a score of soldiers led by an all-too familiar nobleman.
"Well, well." Alekseyevich cast them a feral smile. "A new band of hostages. And another traitor? Or have you led your supposed friends right to me, Valentin?"
Valentin's face turned ashen and he drew his sword. "Take another step and you die, Alekseyevich."
"Grant me the pleasure." Alaric stepped forward, brandishing his sword. "Only keep him alive long enough to find out where he's hidden my wife and daughter."
"Wouldn't you love to know that?" Alekseyevich taunted. "What makes you think I'll ever tell you?"
Morgan lunged for him, but his sword found a soldier's heart as Alekseyevich neatly sidestepped the blow. The soldiers swarmed forward and steel clanged against steel as Kelson's men engaged them in battle.
Morgan moved toward him again, but Alekseyevich pointed down the corridor. "Will you kill me or rescue your wife?"
Morgan spun to see what Alekseyevich meant. He glanced away only for a moment, but long enough for Alekseyevich to raise his sword. As he turned back, recognizing the trick, Morgan saw the blade descending toward him. He tried to retreat, but it was too late. The blade neared his neck...
But never drew blood, at least from Morgan. A figured hurled himself between them, sending Morgan careening into the wall. The bloodied body slid to the ground with Alekseyevich's sword protruding from his chest. Morgan scrambled to his feet, gasped at sight of his wounded ally, and dropped to his knees beside the man.
"Oh, God, Derry! What have you done?"
"Watch out, Morgan. Watch Alekseyevich! I'll be all right..." Derry's voice trailed off and his weapons slid from limp fingers and skittered across the floor.
"I can Heal you. I will Heal you. Forgive me, Derry. I've treated you horribly." Morgan reached out to Derry mentally, then pulled back, as the shadow loomed over him.
"Aleksey..." Derry whispered before passing into oblivion.
Flicking his dagger from its wrist sheath, Morgan glanced over his shoulder at Alekseyevich, who approached, stilletto in hand.