Stomping forward was Pohrs, who growled at us until we both stood aside.
Obliging the behemoth of a man; I went one way while Rhode went the other, lest he crack our skulls together. And to have one’s head bashed against Rhode’s armoured one would be an unpleasant experience for anyone.
The door opened, and before us at last was an entity whose species was unknown to me. A creature both awesomely terrifying, and beautiful beyond compare. As sharp and sinewy as a knife, and as gentle and voluptuous as a feather. And it glowed somewhat bright and brilliant in the dismal light. I thought I was seeing what some intelligent races called angels. She, as I came to understand, was who we were waiting for.
She was magenta-clad. A flowing dress, and draping cape of noir down, sashayed along the floor, as she glode silently across it. A leather corset was tight around her waist, making her hips and bust seem larger. Her large frilled collars were like thorns compared to the small scale or plume of her bronze spaulders. And finally, there was the leather bandolier over her shoulder, which kept the rifle on her back secure. Though her clothes were not what intrigued me so.
Her nimbled claws numbered three to a hand. Glimpsing under the hem of her gown, I spied the same was so of her long-legged talons. Her skin was not skin at all, but delicate plumage, black as empty space at night. Her salient chin struck out and her lips were pursed and thin. Her nose was flat, and slowly formed the ridge of her brow and forehead up to her temple. From which sprung two glorious ivory horns, almost curled into full circles about her elfin ears. She had of course bold scarlet hair, long and waved and wild and the source of her iridescence. And her burning red eyes, transfixed me quite; I could hardly look away.
Rhode on the other hand was nervous. As though he’d seen a spectre. He sweat, and stood stiffly in place, moving just his neck to track her. For a man who feared nothing, this was cause for alarm. But he shuddered as she was ushered in, just as I did. The chill went up my spine. A chill which felt like death.
“Messieurs Tasmir and Kellar,” Saan finally said as herald, “may I introduce Toshk Angh-Zaí Saliöt Vaustok… of Çerior Nine.”
The name meant nothing to me, but Rhode didn’t need even that. He knew exactly who and what she was. Someone treacherous, dangerous; someone from his past. Now that she had caught up to him, Rhode was almost petrified. For a moment I pondered, how they could know one another. And what could give Rhode a reason to fear her.
“Baron,” said Vaustok with an æthereal lilt. She approached her host and curtseyed.
Ever so slowly she peered over her shoulder and gave me a look. A look that filled me with dread and revulsion. I can’t put it into words properly, but when Vaustok looked at me, I felt as though I had an ulcer. A fever. My breath was stuck in my throat like I was asphyxiating. And bile seared in the back of my mouth. Until she looked away. Presumably to menace at Rhode.
“How nice to see you again… Mister Tasmir,” greeted Vaustok, smiling.
Watching Rhode, I saw him labour to gulp rather than reply. And he shivered again.
“Gentleman! And lady,” Saan chimed, “Would you all care to see my collection? The one I prate and boast about so often?”
Before waiting for anyone answer, he signalled to Sudd, “The vault, if you please.”
“Yessir! My pleasure, sir!” As quick as a flash Sudd leapt from his post. His eyes rolled in their sockets and I saw them focus for the very first time.
Sudd opened a secret compartment on the wall next to him. Then he placed a palm on a reader and we all heard it scan, and then a click as something unlocked. I thought it interesting that a man like Saan would risk Sudd’s print and genetic sequencing over his own. And I was surprised at how relaxed the security was.
When the wall in front of Sudd didn’t open outward or lift into the ceiling as I was expecting however, I then wondered in anticipation which wall could be the correct one. To my astonishment, it wasn’t even a wall safe.
Saan had stepped aside from his desk, as did Vaustok.
Suddenly a mechanism in the floor activated, and the desk, Saan’s chair, and even the Hettan rug began to inch closer toward me. So did Pohrs, but advancing much faster— though I thought for a moment he might plough through me— simply pushed me out of the way.
It was then that I realised, not only was the floor moving, but the entire room seemed to be on a gimbal. Two halves of Saan Qorm’s domed office were separating, like two diverging tectonic plates. I nearly considered that they were. Because the entire room shook, the lights flickered and dirt and small sandstone rocks fell from the ceiling in a cloud of dust.
By the time it had finished, the room was several feet wider and far more oblong, and there was a gap in the centre of the floor as large as the don’s pale blue carpet. From that hole glared a vivid xenon light. Pulsating and crimson.
Moving closer, Rhode and I saw a flight of stairs leading well below the foundation of the building. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it led to the fiery heart of Izmir Tertia.
“Come on,” said Saan, leading the way.
In an instant, the gang leader descended into the pit, and was swallowed up in a flood of light. I assumed that was not the end of him however as Tung and Sudd went in after, bringing the canisters Rhode and I had delivered. And next was the mysterious Toshk Vaustok.
That left Rhode and I alone with Pohrs, who grimaced at us and bade us go forward. He gave Rhode a sharp prod between his shoulder blades. And though he only pushed me in the back, I felt it might leave a bruise.
Without protest, Rhode took his first steps down, and soon seemed like he was devoured by the blaze of a supernova.
Pohrs shoved me once more and a moment later, I too was taken in a swathe of brilliant lustre. Stepping into it felt like dipping into a pool of blood, if the pool was a thin film which burned the bacteria off of you. With exception to the red painting our skin or scales or feathers, and laundering the stuccoed sandstone, the companionway seemed no different from the rest of the don’s establishment. Although it did feel slightly cooler there.
Saan’s brute followed through the force field, and thus we found ourselves all plunging into the catacombs.
A minute passed when we finally arrived at a solid vault door. Behind which lay wonders and wealth gathered from across the galaxy, and perhaps, other galaxies entirely. I disliked Saan to extremity. However I must admit, I trembled with anticipation. For what marvels about which Saan often spoke, were no doubt worth seeing. So much so, I nearly forgot our captain had been denied entrance. That our host was a cruel cold-blooded lizard, and among the worst of the scum of the universe.
His tongue flicked excitedly, as he stood proud and akimbo. And he said aloud to us all, “I give you a chamber rife with the knowledge and wealth bereft of caliphs and czars, hazdarrs and great moqr taši. The envy of men. My pride and joy…”
Baron Saan Qorm disabled his security, and pushed the door wide open.
“See for yourselves.”