In the Shadow of Orpheus
By Paul Lucas
Ebony bricks stood solemn in all directions; an ever-reaching corridor, extending for what must have been miles. It certainly felt that way to the woman who trod the charcoal path. Each footstep echoed unnaturally loud, the merest footstep becoming that of a giant’s lumbering gait.
“Mistress! I’ve come!” A voice from behind made itself known above each calculated step, curious enough to bring her to a halt. She turned to face him, her pallid features barely registering a look of disapproval or disdain.
“You’re late, Initiate. I am not one to humour tardiness.” It seemed his presence was expected, the intruder coming to a sudden halt; each breath seemed more laboured than the last within the damnable passage. “Name?”
“Mori, Ryumaru, Mistress! 3rd Vanguard, Mjolnir Corp. I was instruct-“
“I am well aware of why you’re here, childe. We would not be here, otherwise. Your invocations are silenced? Any fetishes?” Her voice droned in an air of casual professionalism.
“None, Mistress. Nothing but my blade came with me,” He reassured her.
“Then come.” With another twist of the weighty heel on her boot, their pilgrimage commenced. Every few steps down the unending corridor began to expose its unwanted charms. Charcoal black brick gave way to cracked earth and gnarled roots; crawling, clasping at the dirt which sought to contain it. Yet, every now and then, one succeeded to break its bonds, airily grasping at their thickened leather coats which dared to tread too close to the ground, with perturbing accuracy.
“We’re to deliver news to Vargrheim; the litter is ready for induction, as are you, pup. We are to delve into Twilight. Pay attention to all I say. This is no test. At my command, we are to split and make haste to the nearest tear. If you find yourself cornered, I will not be assisting you. Are we understood, Initiate?”
His nod was a passive one; in part from the newfound anxiety which had nestled in the back of his head. What truly drew his attention was the spectacle to which the corridor’s frigid breeze insisted he give reverence; a sudden absence of land greeted them, a brown abyss of jagged rock hinted with a thin layer of frost, as did the two black rock bridges which spanned the gap towards the true focus at the end of the now finite pathway: Ten feet tall with ease, it’s construction buried beneath a silvered exterior. Runes – few of which he could understand – surrounded its entirety. Ansuz and raido, to name a few.
“I will give you a few words of advice, childe. Keep moving. Follow my every step. Do not invoke your sorceries. Understood?” The look she gave him was not one to be questioned; it wasn’t.
Between the imposing pillars lay their destination. A hole, one which pierced what small amount of light filled the corridor. Each step towards it made it grow in size, its soft hums becoming audiable. Whines. Wails. The occasional sob. These were the only things which escaped the blackened tear which rent reality before them asunder.
“Then, on my word. Onward!” It was barely a few hurried strides before they both, in tandem, crossed the threshold.
To call the cold which engulfed them oppressive was an understatement; it was as if all breath which did and would exist was suddenly gone, swallowed by the ever-hungering void of entropy. What seemed like a small eternity was over in an instant.
It was home, but it wasn’t. The already blackened clouds were darker than the Initiate could testify, streaked with dark crimson streaks. The crumbling arches of The Pale Temptress loomed on the far reaches of the Forsaken Expanse was still in her miserable state, but even her most reviled of crimes had not caused her chiselled breast to crumble so. One half of her chest was gone, drowning without resistance into the murky depths of the surrounding swamp. Ryumaru couldn’t remember the last time he’d even seen a swamp within three hundred claws of the Covenant. Even that had fell into disrepair since their travels. It’s black-hewn fortress walls were now nothing more than ruins, the once majestic wyrms which guarded it’s entrance were now one-winged, legless lizards. How was this possible?
“Let us go. It’s not safe to linger here.” Her gaze turned quickly. His followed her gaze from where it came, but this raised his curiosity. She’d looked away from a figure. A husk of a man, muttering nothings to himself. Silent sobs echoed came from him, in between the occasional thump of his head against the one remaining wall which once composed the outer walls of the Ebon Wyrm Covenent.
“Why… She never comes… Why… Where did she go…” He sobbed to himself.
“Initiate! Come! Now!”
“We can’t just leave him!” He protested, taking a step forward, “Sir? Sir, are you alright?!”
“You stupid childe! I sai-“
The man stopped. A silence fell over them. With a ragged twitch of his neck, his matted hair fell over his face, gazing in the young Witchhunter’s vague direction.
“She… Never comes…” Another moment of silence. A drawn out croak came from his throat, his arms lunging forward, hair escaping his face; his features were worse than any warped mask, eyes stretched in opposite directions, strained and heavy lidded, his jaw broken and jutting outwards at an impossible angle. Her advice suddenly seemed that much more valuable in that moment.