Chapter Two: The Mysterious Dungeon
That warmth on his face had him recoiling, but Rhys was able to placate himself. It was a foreign feeling, the sunlight on his cheek. He hadn’t been deprived of daylight since his journey began, but the feeling of a ray of sun shining through a glass window? That was something he hadn’t enjoyed for a long while. The man stretched, enjoying the comfortable bed more than he thought possible.
He sat up, swinging his legs off the mattress. Off his back, it was as if the rest of his senses were heightened. The scent of some breakfast pastry from the main hall of that lodge nearly pried him from the bed.
Rhys couldn’t remember going from that deep of a slumber to wide awake in some time. Since his visit to the Void, every night was a sleepless one, always endured rather than enjoyed.
He half expected the hellhound to be waiting for him on the other side of that door.
All he found were other content patrons, who raised their morning cups of tea when they saw their savior on that walkway up above. In unison, he raised his fist.
It was an odd sensation. Rhys was always so eager to move into the next portal, to see what was on the other side. Would it be home?
After a dozen trips or more, he couldn’t remember waiting to venture forth. He swallowed away the tension building in his throat. Was he losing hope that he would ever find his way back?
He knocked on the next door, the only way to distract himself from that harrowing thought. Rhys didn’t wait for an answer—he didn’t need to. There would be no interrupting Virgil’s sleep, as he never needed it.
When the traveler entered his companion’s room, he found him by the window, staring off into the field to the west of town. A far cry from the charred woods in the east, those fields looked inviting and peaceful. Rhys considered that peace that Virgil observed, then.
It was the first time he had ever encountered it.
“This is how it’s supposed to be,” he said.
Virgil turned around, and without the dark of night or the leather cowl to obscure his face, the truth was more apparent. Shades of silver, grey and black covered his body, except for those two periwinkle orbs that gazed toward Rhys, and the bright violet shine in his brow.
The human moved to the bed, and swept up the cloak, tossing it to his companion. “We don’t want to frighten the people down there.”
Catching the garment without looking at it, Virgil nodded. He didn’t understand shame, and took no offense to his companion’s warning. Fear had been thoroughly explained to him, though. He was a strange being, even if he didn’t know why. If it made life easier for Rhys, that was all he needed to know. He pulled that cloak in around him, obscuring his metallic face and body.
Rhys made his way down those steps, and when the woman behind the counter noticed him, she slid over toward the staircase.
“What can I get for you lads this morning?” she wondered.
The young man was already shaking his head. “We couldn’t possibly impose any more than we already have. You put us up when we didn’t have any coin. That’s plenty.”
“Well, it’s thanks to you that the rest of us will have food in our bellies in the months to come,” one of the other villagers offered. “Least we can do is share a little of what we have.”
He raised his hand to placate the people of Verna. “Now I know we were all drinking a lot last night, but I hope you all remember when I said the big Hellhound is gone, but the little one is still out there.”
“Bah. Let him take a chicken every few weeks if he’s hungry. Now that the big one’s gone, we don’t have to worry about our cows going missing. Geraldine, you get those boys whatever they want a bite of, and I’ll take care of the cost.”
The woman behind the counter folder her arms over her chest, and sent a smile to the saviors of their village. Rhys conceded with a nod and pulled out the nearest seat.
Before he could find a comfortable position, the door to the lodge slammed open.
“All of you better come out here to see this,” another villager cried. “The whole damn forest is gone.”
“What is it, Harold?” the generous patron asked. “These adventurers told us that some of it caught fire yesterday. There’s nothing to be done with about it. Someday, green will come back to those woods, but for now, we should settle with being alive, don’t you—”
“That’s not what I’m saying, Rolph,” the anxious fellow pressed. “The forest is gone, and something else is in its place. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen.”
Rhys arched his eyebrow and looked at his companion. Virgil nodded just enough to let that violet shard dip beneath the cowl.
All the villagers joined the travelers as they exited the lodge. They crossed Verna’s main road, and passed the buildings on the other side, cresting the hill that overlooked the forest where Rhys fought against the hellhound.
As they neared the peak of that hill though, they found truth in Harold’s words. The forest was gone. Only a few char marks existed to tell the tale of the encounter with the hellhound, and the trees, branches and leaves looked as though they’d never existed in the first place, except for the semi-circle that framed the odd looking stonework that was present in the center of the area.
“What is that?” Rolph asked. “It looks like a—”
“Like a crypt,” Geraldine interrupted.
None of the villagers noticed when Rhys’ eyes flashed. He grabbed Virgil by the crook of his arm, and pulled him away from the crowd, then.
“Do you notice what I do?” he asked. “That building is right where the portal was last night.”
“But that means…”
“Our way home is gone,” Rhys said.
Rolph drew close and stepped between the two travelers. “What does it mean, stranger?”
Rhys took a step closer to the edge of the hill and narrowed his eyes. “I’m not sure. It certainly wasn’t here during our confrontation with the hellhound. I suppose we’ll have to investigate it closer.”
“Perhaps that is what gave the beast its recent immense stature,” the villager said. “You don’t think it’s coming back, do you?”
“If it does, we’ll send it away once more. Virgil?” Rhys asked as he ventured from that knoll. His companion walked up beside him, and together, they descended the hill, drawing near to that stone edifice. “There may still be a chance for us to find our way out of this place.”
“And this time,” the golem added.
“If the portal still remains, it should be right behind those doors. If it is, we’re not going to hesitate a moment later. We’ll go right into the Void, like we should have done last night.”
Virgil looked back and peered up the hill. “But what of the villagers?” he asked. “If our portal is in there, and we escape through it, they’ll think something has happened to us. They mind send people in after us.”
Rhys was already shaking his head. “Whatever this place is, it came about because I was too weak-willed to leave. This journey is my punishment, and I was a fool to think that I could find a moment of calm. If we find our way out, I’m positive this place will leave with us.”
Moments later, they stood before those two doors. The trees towered over the building, and moss was overgrown amongst the stone that surrounded those heavy slabs of elm. Rhys took a step forward, and reached for the entrance. It slid open before his fingers could land on the grain of the wood. He looked to his companion, who couldn’t understand why such a thing was eerie.
Rhys sighed, and proceeded on. A single step inside that building was all he needed to take to realize that things were not as he originally suspected. It was not a tomb, he understood, but a tremendous dungeon—and what that defied reality. Corridors led off in either direction to his sides, and stairs before him descended into darkness. He breathed in the scent of sulfur, then, and turned to see that a pair of torches was already alight beside the entrance.
“Are you seeing this, Virgil?” he asked.
He looked out into the open once more, and was left befuddled. His companion was not there—and neither were the villagers. Even the hill that they once stood upon was gone.
“What is this place?” Rhys muttered.
At once, those doors to the dungeon slammed shut. The man stumbled backward, tumbling off the first of those steps. By reflex alone, he enacted his sphere of magic, but it was a moment too late. His head slapped against the stone, and then all went black.
* * * * *
Virgil tilted his head to his side. As soon as his companion stepped into that place and was engulfed in those shadows within, it was as though he disappeared completely.
“Rhys?” he asked.
When he heard no response, he ventured inside. The doors slammed behind him, and he turned about. There was no fear in him, though. He returned to those doors with curiosity taking root in his mind. A light push on it proved that the way through was no longer available to him.
The golem spun about, looking at the steps forward that had seen been illuminated by the torches in the expansive chamber. He stood there, frozen, as he struggled with the logic that was defied by the place.
Far beyond that room though, he heard a familiar voice.
“Are you seeing this, Virgil?” Rhys’ voice quietly echoed.
With nothing else to latch onto, he focused on that voice, descending the closest flight of stone steps.
Perhaps he could solve the mysteries of the dungeon, and find his lost companion.