Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chapter Twenty-Two


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 46,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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On the night King Gregorovich Farchrist II died, Sir Gildegarde Brisbane II, stricken with grief, fled from the castle, into the city below, and into the waiting arms of his only love, Amanda. She took him inside her humble home and in the back bedroom, apart from her mother, she did the best she could to console the man she loved. Brisbane felt his world coming to an end, as the sorrow he felt for the passing of his King was only compounded by the sorrow he felt for the separation from Amanda his position demanded. In a fit of anger at the world, of misery for himself, and of passion for his beloved, he took Amanda as a man takes a woman, and Amanda gave herself to him. His climax thundered through his body and into his mind and, in that moment, he knew the end he was rushing towards. When he left Amanda that night with a sweet kiss on her lips, she was already pregnant with his child.

+   +   +

They decided to use the staircase on the side of the chapel they had entered on, the same side of the river they had been on since the beginning of the adventure. The pack mules, who had followed them readily enough through the secret passage and into the temple, refused to go down the stairs. Shortwhiskers had expected that, and he said they would have to leave them there. They leashed the animals to spikes they drove into the stone floor and the dwarf felt they would be safe enough that way until they could come back to pick them up. Dantrius, however, seemed more concerned about the gold the mules carried than the mules themselves.

They weren’t sure if the two stairways went to the same places, but it was doubtful, as after going down a flight, they turned in opposite directions away from the river. If the two staircases did not meet, they planned on exploring the first one as far as they could before going back to the second one.

They gathered again in a small group, like the pips on the five of a die. The staircase was wide enough to permit this and they slowly descended, Roystnof and Shortwhiskers up front, Stargazer in the middle, and Brisbane and Dantrius bringing up the rear. Brisbane’s thoughts were on the demon they had encountered when they went downstairs at the shrine down the river. He did not want to meet such a beast again, but as he padded down the stairs, Angelika coolly reassured him that no evil could stand against them.

They reached a small landing at the bottom of the first flight and a second one continued on after a turn to the left. They continued down these stairs and then entered into a large underground chamber. The room was a fifty foot square with a ten foot ceiling, and all surfaces seemed to have been carved smooth out of the solid rock of the mountain. The corners weren’t sharp but were rounded slightly and gave the chamber an odd look to it. Every ten feet, all along the walls, a small archway was spaced, each barely large enough for a man to pass through.

Stargazer stepped out in front of everyone else and stood by herself with a look of partial amazement on her face.

A strange and unpleasant feeling sunk deep into Brisbane’s stomach. The chamber made him very uncomfortable and he was not sure why. For the second time that day, he had an unfamiliar pang of claustrophobia. He tried to push it aside, but it continued to nag him at the back of his mind.

“Allie?” he asked. “What is it?”

Stargazer waved her arm at a wall of archways. “They’re the meditation chambers,” she said. “Where the priests would come to meditate and to pray. In the ancient times, it was said Grecolus sometimes visited the most faithful priests in their meditation chambers.”

Stargazer ran to one of the archways and the rest of the party came out to the center of the room. She looked into one of them and then turned around to look at her companions.

“Come and see,” she said.

There were five chambers against one wall and each person went to a separate arch, with Stargazer at the middle one. Brisbane looked into his and saw that after going in for a few feet, it ended and a very narrow shaft went down into the floor. Carved into the face of one of the walls of the dark shaft were the footholds of a ladder.

“They go down to a small chamber,” Stargazer said. “The priests would go down there to meditate. Sometimes for days.”

Brisbane marveled at the size of the shaft. Even Shortwhiskers would have a hard time squeezing down there. As he was leaning over, looking down into that dark hole, his head suddenly started to spin and he had to hold onto the stone walls to avoid falling in. He backed away from the hole and his head started to clear.

“How big are the chambers down there?” Brisbane asked.

“Very small,” Stargazer said matter-of-factly. “They are really just large enough for one person.”

She suddenly went into her archway. Brisbane ran to her. He saw her poised on the first step of the stone ladder.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Stargazer looked at him oddly. “I’m going down. I want to see what it’s like.”

Brisbane looked to his sides. Roystnof and Shortwhiskers had joined him.

“We should probably search them all,” Roystnof said. “We don’t want to miss anything.”

Stargazer started down the ladder.

“Wait!” Brisbane said.

Stargazer stopped. “Gil, what’s the matter with you?”

Brisbane felt sweat bead up on the back of his neck. He wasn’t sure why he was so jumpy, but he felt very uneasy about him or anyone else going down into the meditation chambers. Especially him. He just could not imagine anyone willingly going down into those chambers and sealing themselves away into the earth. He didn’t see how anyone could be relaxed enough to meditate under such circumstances.

“Nothing,” Brisbane said eventually to Stargazer. “Just be careful.”

Stargazer smiled and then disappeared into the shaft. Brisbane turned his back on the arch. Roystnof and Shortwhiskers were standing right there and Dantrius was off in another corner of the chamber.

“She’ll be fine,” Shortwhiskers said. “We’ll probably have to drag her out of there. I think this is one of the reasons why she wanted to come along.”

Brisbane nodded his head weakly. His throat was dry.

Roystnof unshouldered his pack again. As he rummaged through it he spoke aloud, loud enough for Dantrius to hear him if the mage cared to. “We will each go down into one of Miss Stargazer’s meditation chambers, and each of us will need his own light source.”

He brought out of his pack a handful of unlit torches. He handed one to Shortwhiskers and one to Brisbane. Surprisingly, Dantrius came over and took one as well. They all stood for a moment in a small circle, each with a short, fat stick in his hand.

Roystnof turned to Brisbane. “Do you still remember your fire cantrip, Gil?”

Brisbane said nothing. He met Roystnof’s eyes and then looked around the circle. He placed his hand around the end of his torch, closed his eyes, and said the magic word Roystnof had taught him. It had been years since he had done it, but Brisbane remembered and pronounced all the inflections perfectly. He pulled his hand away and the end of the torch began to burn with a bright flame.

Roystnof smiled as he put his torch into Brisbane’s fire and fed off the flame. Shortwhiskers and Dantrius did the same. When they all had lit torches in hand, Roystnof called for them to move out and reminded them to check all the chambers. They set off in different directions and, as Brisbane stood there, he saw each of them choose and arch and disappear down a shaft.

Brisbane tried to swallow and coughed because his throat was so rough. He went over to the arch next to the one Stargazer had gone down. He held the torch out and peered down the shaft. The firelight flickered down and he saw the floor of the meditation chamber perhaps twenty feet down. He looked back into the large chamber, saw it empty, and turned back to the stone ladder.

Brisbane tried to build his confidence. It wasn’t working.

Go, Brisbane, Angelika whispered in his mind. Yours is an honor all would desire. Go down and face your fear.

Brisbane stepped onto the first rung of the ladder. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.

I am with you, Brisbane. You need not go alone.

Brisbane started down. The walls of the shaft seemed to swallow him immediately. He had to hold the torch almost straight up above his head to keep from burning himself in the enclosed space. The end of Angelika’s scabbard scraped against one of the walls as he went down, making a shrieking noise and running chills up and down his spine. Each step became more and more difficult and Brisbane became sure the walls were closing in on him. He shut his eyes tightly and let Angelika weave her spell of confidence around him. Her seductive voice did not slow his beating heart, but it kept the organ in his chest.

Brisbane touched the bottom. He stepped off the ladder and slowly opened his eyes. He found himself staring at the footholds of the ladder. He spun around in place—there was no room to make a turn—and met another wall with his gaze.

Down, Brisbane. Farther down.

Brisbane brought the torch down next to his head and looked down. The bottom three feet of the wall was an open space.

Through there, Brisbane. The meditation chamber.

Brisbane felt beside himself. Without Angelika, he did not think he could have made it this far. He had never known he was this claustrophobic, but the truth was now being drilled into him. He began to bend down to peer into the open space, but the angle of Angelika’s scabbard at his belt prevented it. It caught against the walls of the shaft and would not let him crouch. He tried time and time again, but it just wouldn’t work.

You’ll have to take me off, Brisbane.

No! Brisbane’s mind screamed. I couldn’t move without you here.

Young Brisbane. Angelika’s voice was sweetness in his head. I will still be able to speak with you. Just set me here against the ladder.

Brisbane found himself doing so before he realized it. He undid the buckle that secured the scabbard to his waist and gently set Angelika, point down, against the wall in which the ladder was carved. He was now able to bend down and peer into the meditation chamber. What he saw when he did so frightened him more than anything he had seen so far. Carved into the rock, dropped slightly below the floor of the shaft, was a space of about three or four feet on a side, a tiny little chamber of air buried thousands of feet under the mountain. There was nothing in it.

Go on in, Brisbane. Go on in and commune like the priests who lived here centuries ago. They saw their god. What will you see?

It’s empty, Brisbane thought. There’s no need to go in. There’s nothing in there. I should go up and check another one.

Grecolus, young Brisbane. The priests found Grecolus in there. What will you find?

Brisbane began to crawl into the chamber. He put the burning torch down on the floor of the shaft and scraped his chainmail poncho against the stone on the way in. He positioned himself in the chamber, his head touching the ceiling and his knees brought up with his toes bent against the wall. His right hand still dangled out into the air of the shaft and now he drew even that into the chamber.

There. Now. Close your eyes and let yourself go.

Brisbane closed his eyes and tried to clear his head. He tried to imagine himself as one of the ancient priests, coming down here to meditate. These chambers must have been the most important part of the temple when it was alive with people. In these tiny cells buried in the earth, men who had devoted their entire lives to the worship and study of Grecolus came to meditate on what they had learned and what they believed. Some of them reached such a state of tranquility that they evidently saw and conversed with this god. Brisbane knew plenty of places in the realm that were considered holy. The Peoples Temple in Raveltown. The Pool of Cleansing in the land across the Sea of Darkmarine. But he now realized he was in, perhaps, the most holy place of all.

And so he tried to tune in on the spiritual channel that was reported to exist here, to feel the power of revelation that others had felt here. From the beginning of his attempt, however, there was something in the way. At first, he couldn’t tell what that something was, but as he sat there, and the something grew in his mind, he began to realize it was his own intense and ever-present feeling of claustrophobia that was getting in his way.

The rock, the rock, the rock pushing in on him from all sides, pushing, pushing, pressing in on him from all sides but mostly from above. The ceiling bending under the impossible weight on top of it, threatening to cave in and crush his fragile body flat. His breathing grew very quick and then stopped altogether. He opened his eyes in shock and saw in the dim torchlight the impossible space he had wedged himself into. He could feel the stone surface against the top of his head, against the back of his neck, against the crook of his back, against the tips of his toes, against the heels of his feet. The tears began to stream down his face as he sat in absolute terror, trying to draw life-giving breath.

He was going to die, Brisbane was sure of it. He was going to die down there in that tiny chamber and the only mystery left was whether he would run out of air first or his heart would burst. But what was worse than the fact that he was going to die was the fact that he was going to die alone and before he really learned anything about what life was really all about. Even Angelika had left him. Brisbane had forgotten about her in his fright and her voice could not reach him. He tried to call out for help, but his jaws were frozen and he still could not breathe. Brisbane’s vision began to pop and fade in the corners.


The voice was distant and far away.

“Gil? Are you down there?”

It was Roystnof. Brisbane could hear Roystnof. He tried to speak but couldn’t. Roystnof was right there and Brisbane was going to die anyway.

“Gil, I can see your sword. Are you down there?”

My sword!

Answer him, Brisbane

“I’m here, Roy,” Brisbane was suddenly able to say, his voice echoing strangely in the small space. He was also able to breathe and move. He quickly crawled out of the meditation chamber. He picked up the torch and looked up at Roystnof’s face.

“Gil,” Roystnof said. “Miss Stargazer won’t come out of her chamber. She wants to talk to you.”

Brisbane restrapped Angelika to his side and began to climb the ladder. Stargazer wouldn’t come out of her chamber? She wanted to talk to him? The terrors of his experience were gone and his only concern was for Stargazer. In an instant, he was back in the main chamber and looking down the shaft Stargazer had descended. She had not taken a light source with her and only darkness stared back at him.

Roystnof, Shortwhiskers, and Dantrius stood behind him.

“We’ve searched them all,” Roystnof said to Brisbane. “We found nothing except for Nog, who found a passageway at the bottom of one. We want to go on but she says she won’t come out until she talks to you.”

“Forget her,” Dantrius mumbled in the back. “Let’s go.”

Brisbane ignored the mage. He leaned over the open shaft again.


Her voice came back very softly. “Is that you, Gil?”


“Come on down. I want to talk to you.”

Brisbane straightened up. He looked at Roystnof for a moment and then slowly started down the ladder, his torch held high above his head.

“Don’t bring the light,” Stargazer called out. “The light will spoil it. It really is quite wonderful.”

Brisbane froze on the ladder, halfway into the floor. Roystnof came over and crouched down in front of him and took Brisbane’s torch from him.

Roystnof nodded. “Go get her out of there,” he whispered.

Brisbane pursed his lips. “Just a minute,” he said and then began to unfasten Angelika from his waist. He handed the scabbarded weapon to Roystnof. “I’ll be right back,” he said. He swallowed a lump in his throat and started down the ladder again.

It was a little better in the dark. The walls didn’t seem to swallow him as much and his heart didn’t thump as loudly. But he still felt uncomfortable as he descended the ladder. He was again seized with a tremor of claustrophobia.

“Allie?” he said as the sweat began to bead on his forehead.

“I’m here, Gil,” Stargazer said, her voice closer. “Come on down.”

Brisbane steeled himself and eventually touched the bottom. He looked up at the little square of light so far above his head. He then crouched down, this time unhindered by his sword, and peered carefully into the meditation chamber. His eyes could not see Stargazer.


“Gil.” Her voice was very close but he still could not see her. “Roystnof said you searched the other chambers. Did you go into one?”


“Isn’t it wonderful?”

“What do you mean?” Brisbane thought he could see her vague form in the darkness.

“Well, I mean the others can’t appreciate it. They don’t have the faith. But we do. Can’t you feel the holiness of this place?”

The terror wasn’t as strong with Stargazer down there with him. In his position just outside the meditation chamber, Brisbane could also always see the world of light above him.

“Yes,” Brisbane said. “I can.”

“I’ve never felt closer to Grecolus in my life. I feel completely at ease with myself and the world. It’s all so beautiful, don’t you think?”

Brisbane did not answer. He wished he could feel the things Stargazer felt. He wished he could feel the glory and grandeur of Grecolus. He wished he could see the pattern of the Grecolus-created universe and the possible endings that universe would lead to. He wished he could take joy in all these things. But he couldn’t. When he was down in the meditation chambers, he realized all he could feel was the smallness of his being and the helplessness of his situation.


“Come on, Allie. We’ve got to go.” He could see her form now and he reached out and took her hand.

“Gil, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Allie,” Brisbane said, tugging gently on her arm. “Nog has found another passage. We have to move on.”

“Okay, Gil.” She shuffled around inside the chamber and stuck her head out in front of Brisbane’s. There were tears on her cheeks.

“What is it, Allie?”

Stargazer shook her head.


“It’s just so…” Stargazer said, trailing off. “It just all seems so wonderful.”

Brisbane smiled. “I know it does. I know.”

He pulled her out of the chamber and they stood at the bottom of the ladder for a long time in a silent embrace.

“I love you, Gil,” Stargazer said into his chest.

“I love you, too, Allie.”

They kissed and then started back up the ladder, Brisbane first because he was closer to it. They were quickly back up in the main chamber with the others in the party.

“I hope everything is all right, Miss Stargazer,” Roystnof said to her after she emerged from the shaft. “You gave me quite a scare the way you refused to come up.”

Stargazer smiled oddly at the wizard. “Everything’s fine,” she said to him. “It was just something I wanted to share with Gil. I am fully prepared to continue on our exploration of the temple.”

Roystnof returned her smile. “I’m glad to hear that.”

“And Roystnof?”

“Yes, Miss Stargazer?”

Stargazer stepped closer to him and lowered her voice. “I don’t think anyone here will mind if you call me Allison.”

Roystnof’s eyebrows flew up. “Very well, Allison,” he said, trying out the name. “Our friend Nog has found a rough stone passage at the bottom of one of these meditation chambers. We have searched them all and Nog’s discovery is the only one worthy of mention. Shall we move on?”

“We shall,” Stargazer said. She took Brisbane’s hand and followed Roystnof over to the arch that Shortwhiskers stood beside. It looked like any one of the others.

They extinguished all the torches they had lit and relied only on Roystnof’s magic lantern before going deeper into the earth. Curious about it, Brisbane asked Roystnof how long his crystal ball would give off luminance for them, and Roystnof said it would shine until he dispelled the magic.

“Or until you die,” Dantrius added tonelessly.

“Well, yes,” Roystnof said. “The power comes from me, so that when I end, so will the light. But I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that any time soon.”

Brisbane gave Dantrius an angry stare and held back a desire to punch the mage in the nose.

“The passage is much larger than the shaft,” Shortwhiskers cut in. “And it looks like it goes on for quite a while. It appears to have been carved in a hurry but it seems secure enough.”

There wasn’t much more to say. Shortwhiskers went down the appropriate ladder first and the rest of the party went down one by one after him. Roystnof, Stargazer, Brisbane, and finally Dantrius. The bottom of the ladder did not give into a tiny meditation chamber, but instead into a corridor with a vaulted ceiling, fully ten feet off the floor and ten feet wide as well. The party gathered momentarily at the bottom of the ladder, arranged themselves into a marching order like the pips of a five on a six-sided die, and them started off down the corridor.

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