Echoes of Dark Reflections
Part Three – Deepest Thoughts and Darkest Desires
Half buried where the tower thrust up out of the ground was an opening, a cavity that led into the crystalline structure. Nhaoqsa ducked his head to look into it. Light from the outside reflected off the walls, providing an eerie dark glow down the length of the tunnel that cut its way deep inside. The tunnel itself lay a good meter lower than the surface of the ground, while the opening itself was too small to fit into. Kicking aside some of the earth to clear room, Nhaqosa widened the opening before squeezing in, dropping down to the uneven floor of the tunnel. One by one the others followed him in, crowding near the entrance.
Nhaqosa ran his hand over the smooth surface of the wall, studying the structure. Inside the tower, the crystal gave off no heat as the shard outside had. “Smooth,” he murmured, the sound of his voice echoing down the corridor. “There are no cracks, no joints. It is all one single piece.” He shook his head, almost in disbelief. “This should not be.”
“And yet here it is,” Lakach noted dryly.
Nhaqosa patted the wall again, broad brow furrowing. Then he shrugged, setting the puzzle aside, and headed off down the corridor, holding his maul ready before him. The passageway led slowly downwards, curving slightly inwards as it did so, tracing a gradual descending spiral into the heart of the tower. The light dimmed as they walked, until they were bathed in an eldritch purple glow that looked and felt unnatural. Time passed unremarked and unmeasured. For how long they walked, Nhaqosa could not tell, nor how deep they went before they reached the end of the passageway. It entered into a vast chamber, the roof of which was lost in gloom and darkness above.
A chill hung in the air of the chamber, strange to behold after the burning heat of the barren wastes that had rested heavy upon them outdoors, a chill that seemed to seep into flesh and pierce bones.
Nhaqosa looked around the chamber they had entered, studying its details. It curiously lacked any. Beside his band, the place stood empty, barren of anything, even other exists. Nhaqosa twitched his tail as he snorted with irritation. The whole trip had proven worthless, a waste of all time and effort. The irritation blossomed strong in him and he had to fight back the urge to punch the wall in frustration, drawing deep on reserves of willpower and self-control.
Behind him someone muttered something that he could not make out, but in answer came Niati’s laughter. That in itself was an unusual occurrence, but more unusual was the strange edge to the laughter, husky and almost challenging, a laugh to stir the blood. Frowning, Nhaqosa turned around to see Niati slowly sauntering towards Abasan, a sly smile upon her lips. Nhaqosa’s frown deepened as he watched. The whole situation felt wrong, slightly off.
Niati spoke softly so that only Abasan could hear her, while running a finger down his arm.
Abasan’s face hardened at her actions, even appearing a little disgusted by them. “Show some respect, woman,” he snapped angrily, giving her a shove and pushing her away.
Niati gave her challenging laugh again. “There is no need to hide it,” she purred. “I have seen you watching me. Everyone has. Don’t try and deny it. I know what it is you want.”
Abasan’s blow came sudden and unexpected, spinning Niati around, the sound of it sharp as it echoed around the chamber. As the echoes faded, they were replaced by shocked silence. “Harlot,” Abasan said in harsh tones. “You should be whipped for this display of wanton immorality.”
Niati raised a hand to her lip, coming away with blood on it. Her eyes were wide and face pale.
A steely rasp broke the quiet as one of the other man, his long dark hair in braids, drew his sword. “Brute,” he snarled.
Abasan unsheathed his own sword slowly, pointing it at the other man. “You would fight over this creature, Telata? I am not surprised. You are depraved as she is.”
All around the chamber there broke out the sudden clamour of shouting voices and arguments, swirling around Nhaqosa, as if a swollen dam had burst. Lakach stood stroking his moustache, all serious, any signs of levity gone from him. “Most unusual,” he stated, sounding in part distracted. “This is not the norm.”
Within Nhaqosa a seething rage of resentment rose, so bitter he could taste it. He had led them and cared for them and sheltered them, and this was the way they reacted?
“Enough,” he bellowed, all his rage going into his voice, the sound of it drowning out all other noise as it roared through the chamber. “After all I have done for you, all the blood I have shed for you, all I have taught you, this is the way you repay me? With petty squabbles and bickering about inanities? You disgust me, all of you. I am done with the lot of you.”
“Look at what you have done now,” Abasan snapped, a wild look in his eyes. “The Kwaza has carried us all and now you have driven him away.”
The impulse to punch Abasan flooded through Nhaqosa, so strong that his body shuddered as he strove to restrain himself. “Enough with your sycophantic ways,” he snarled. “Every day I have to put up with them, and your spineless crawling. The Kwaza wants men who think for themselves.”
Abasan’s face went deathly pale as all colour drained from it. Silence fell across the chamber, no one quiet believing what they had heard. Nhaqosa’s nostrils flared and he tossed his head, just as shocked at what he had said as they had been at hearing it. The anger that had flared in him dissipated in an instant, leaving behind an empty, hollow feeling, a sickness in the pit of his stomach.
Abasan’s sword fell from his fingers and he crashed to his knees, then onto his face, covering his head with his arms. His body shuddered with anguish as he wept inconsolably.
“I, I am sorry,” Nhaqosa apologised unsteadily. “I am not sure why I said that. There is something about this place. It is getting into us, making us act out of character.”
Laughter, mocking laughter, echoed around them, seeming to come from all sides and nowhere in particular all at the same time, rattling around the chamber. Nhaqosa span about, trying to locate the source, but he could see nothing and no one. “Not out of character, no,” a disembodied voice said. “It is no more than your masks coming off and your deepest thoughts and desires coming to the fore.”
“I do not believe it!” Nhaqosa growled. “Show yourself, fiend.”
No answer came.
“We should get out of here, boss,” Lakach said. Nhaqosa could hear worried concern in his voice.
Nhaqosa nodded in agreement; the place was unsettling. “How though?”
Lakach looked about and saw what Nhaqosa had already seen; there were no exists from the chamber any more. The way they had come in had gone, and nothing but smooth walls surrounded them. “This could be a problem.”
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