Chapter 14 - A Second Chance

- Nightfall: The Masterís Collection of Amazing Toys - Day 10: 4:10am

The door was three feet of solid iron. On it was a mirror. I looked into the mirror, and a bright light shot out into my eyes. Seconds latter, the door slowly began to slide upwards, opening. I entered the passageway which it revealed. I quickly walked down a large staircase, spiraling downward. I had not set foot in here for months. No one but I knew it existed; except James.

Jyre was safe. She had been lucky. Maybe this was a blessing after all. If Jyre had not stabbed me, then Cristen would never had restored me, and I would not feel nearly as good as I did now. I came to my tower to gear up, and that was what I was now going to do.

I entered the secret vault. It was lit by a pair of glowing blue crystals on either side of a mammoth doorway. I stepped between the crystals, and an arc of energy shot between them and through me for several seconds. The warm tingling sensation was quite pleasant actually, unless of course the person standing here was not me, for then they would be ash. After it ceased, the mammoth door slowly drew itself open. On the door was a high relief stone engraving of a great winged blade. The blade, which marked the center of the door, slowly drew itself into the ground, and the two wings folded backwards, opening the door, and revealing the chamber within.

The room inside was long, with a high ceiling. Light was provided by tall narrow white tubes, which lined the walls. Inside this room was a treasury of artifacts. But these were not just any artifacts: this was my armory, collected over the years of my life from my many quests, adventures, and wars. The things I needed to navigate the Labyrinth and then find and slay The Faery Queen were here.

First things first, however, and that scroll Jyre had given me needed a temporary home before I could research it. I put it on a vacant shelf, in a place I knew I would remember.

My second stop, after grabbing a travel pack from a shelf, was the map chest. I browsed through the drawers, looking for a map with anything on it which resembled the cavern I had seen. After a good ten minutes I thought I had something. Looking at the corner of the hand drawn map, I saw something which looked just like the large cavern I had been in. Passageways leading to and from the room were placed at opposite ends, and the whole thing was crossed by a rift running perpendicular to the passages. The rift was spanned by a bridge. I was almost sure it was the same place when I saw a side note telling that the rift was filled with a very fast lava flow, and strong air current. The complex was huge, and the map was only half drawn. I rolled up the large map, and placed it in my travel pack. I then took the pair of insect-like creatures from the map case, and put them in my pocket.

My pocket had a hole in it. The most disturbing thing about this was that the critters fell through my pocket and onto the floor, where they began to scurry away. I quickly snatched them back up, and placed them in my intact pocket. The other disturbing thing was the fact that there was a hole not only there, but everywhere else Jyre has stabbed me. Annoyed with myself for forgetting that my clothing was destroyed, and hat, gloves, and cloak being used as bedclothes, I quickly went to the far corner of the room to a large iron wardrobe.

I pulled out a new tunic and pair of pants, sturdier versions, with more pockets, and changed quickly. The tunic had a thick, armor-vest integrated into it Ė stylish leather armor, if you will. I quickly moved the critters out of the old pants and into the new, where they settled down and went back to sleep. Then I donned bracers, leg guards, a collar-like neck guard, as well as straps on which gear could be attached. Then I chose a cloak. It was so black I almost did not see it against the back of the wardrobe Ė it looked like just a deep shadow. It was a much lighter and simpler cloak then my usual attire - and much more functional.

My next stop was the weapons rack. My glance jumped from ax to sword to mace and back again. What should I bring? Or more importantly, what would have the most effect on a Faery Queen? The "Ax of Life-Stealer" perhaps? No, I disliked battle-axes, especially ones that large, even if they did drain the life force from your foes and added it to your own. I considered the nameless jeweled long-sword, enchanted to deal unsurpassed damage. Nah, I had a feeling that she was the type to grow back limbs as soon as I hacked them off. I went to the shelf where I kept the more personal weapons. I found my obsidian, two-handed katana, which I had carried with me during the war with the Rivata back in my homeland. No, it would be too uncanny using that again. I made up my mind which sword to bring as soon as I saw its case. This sword had its own little vault. I quickly went over, and pressed the stone panel next to the door. The door rotated open, and a drawer slid out slowly. White steam poured out of the small chamber where the blade was kept.

The sword was about four feet long. It had no fancy adornments of any kind. The blade was not smooth, nor was it worn. It looked to be carved from solid stone. The double edge was dull. The hilt and hand-guard were large. Once again, it had no special decorations or adornments. The handle was molded to fit one hand. The sword was held to the shelf by what had once been iron shackles, but they looked as if they had petrified to stone. Smiling at the memories I had of this trusty blade, I took the handle in my hand, and watched the all too familiar result. The blade seemed to electrify as a yellow pattern of light washed over it. The stone shackles cracked, and were broken. The sword was free, and in my hand. When the light subsided, the blade was polished and clean, just like new, and razor sharp.

I smiled and touched the blade with my gloved hand, feeling the energy within. It would not petrify its master. The name of the sword had been forgotten long ago. The earliest records detailed how it was discovered In a tomb, (of Praetor Loth, I believe) centuries ago, by an ancient hero in another far away realm. After trading hands many times, it eventually came into my possession. I never used it for an actual quest until now. Something in me could not wait to try it out on a live adversary. I grabbed a sheath from a hook on the wall, and attached it to my belt.

Though I had many sets of armor, it was easy to choose which one to bring. There was only one obvious choice. I had bought it from a strange man by the name of Ashford. He said he had no use for it anymore. His adventuring days were over, and all his friends thought he was dead. He wanted to disappear quietly, and never be bothered by the action of life again. I happily took it off his hands. The armor held an enchantment I had never seen the likes of before. It was a simple breastplate, greenish in color, and bore the letters S.F.C. on a shoulder. It had no straps, for it needed none. I took the plate from its place of honor, and put it over my chest, right on top of my clothing. I felt the familiar initial feeling of discomfort as the plate liquefied and seeped through my clothing, and proceeded to cover my entire body. If the process had not been so quick, I would have truly despised it. It took a few seconds to regain my balance and accustom myself to my new weight and enhanced strength (I actually felt lighter with it on, even though it made me about twice as heavy). An interesting feature of the thing was that no one could tell you were wearing it by looking at you, since it soaked through your clothing and coated your skin. It sounds creepy, of course, but I found the concept quite ingenious.

Next stop, tools. First was the obvious one. I grabbed a set of large boots from its place on the wall. The boots were quite heavy, covered with red scales. These were not ordinary scales, but dragon scales. Yes, from a real dragon. These boots were made by the hands of a ghoul tailor, using thread made from red spidersí webs and dragon skin from a drake killed by a greater troll. These boots were the legendary (well, not really legendary, since I was really the only one who knew about them) Dragon Skin boots. No matter how deep, or how hot, the wearer of these boots could walk on the surface of lava unharmed. Great stamina was still required, for even though your feet were safe, lava is still rather hot for the rest of your body. The last owner was killed when he lost his balance while walking on a flow, fell over, and his unprotected body was incinerated. All that was left was the boots, and a set of very cool feet.

There was something else I had in mind. It was a narrow circlet, meant to be worn like a crown. It was blue in color, constructed from jade and sapphires. An inscription of glyphs in the inside of the band roughly translated to "sen-saronde". I paced it on my head. Once again, there was that initial feeling of discomfort as suddenly the entire nature of my vision changed. I could now see all around me. Everything was a complete unbroken circle. It was extremely disorienting for the first few minutes, but after that, it was actually possible for me to walk again. It really changed the way I thought about my seeing in general.

Well, I thought I had it down, but when I moved forwards only to knock backwards into the wall, I knew I needed a bit of practice once more.

Ten minutes latter, I was confident that I had learned how to walk again, so I glanced around the room, well, not glanced really, all I had to do was stand there and see, to find anything that I had missed. Of course, how could I forget? I picked up my trusty composite longbow, quiver full of fire, water, gas, rope, and broadhead arrows. With that on my back, I grabbed a few flash bombs and various potions, (speed, health, invisibility, breath, etc.) placed them in my pocket along with the little critters I took from the map chest, and was all set.

At least, I thought I was all set until I remembered the immediate problem Ė the rift. I could be conservative, and grab some climbing gear, or try to pole vault it along with a speed potion, but I had another idea. I removed the few items I had in my pack, and placed them on my person wherever they could fit. I rummaged through a chest filled with neat junk, and found my goal. It was a large backpack type item. On the back was stenciled, "Property of the Order of the Hammer. Prototype Number 473482-45234. A Brother Thurm Design." Good olí Thurm, letting me, ahem, borrow the only successful prototype of this device. I strapped it to my back and took another good gaze around the room.

Okay, I had the prototype for getting myself down into the rift, the boots to walk on the lava, the sen-saronde just because it was useful, the sword for battling that scag and her beasties, my arrows for obvious needs, potions, flash bombs, map and critters, my magic armor. Funny, I thought to myself, I would most likely end up not only not using most of this stuff, but loosing half of it. What else did I need? I felt like I was forgetting something. Oh well, I would undoubtedly remember halfway there. I needed to hurry now.

- James: For the Record - Day 10: 4:30am

The door locked behind me and I plopped down in my chair, right on top of a stack of weather reports. I didnít mind, seeing as I was exhausted and they really werenít that uncomfortable. I found some cold tea waiting for me on the table, and quaffed it. I didnít need to report anything to Daneel now. He knew everything I had to tell. But I had the tedious habit of recording everything. At least I didnít have to worry about getting him the brief. This one would go straight into the archives.

- Nightfall: Unfinished Business - Day 10: 4:50am

It was nearing five AM, meaning that I had taken much more time than I had hoped. One last thing still needed to be done. I made my way back up to the guestroom where I had left Jyre. I found her just as I had left her, sleeping soundly on the bed. She was now curled up in the cloak, with only the side of her face visible. I went over quietly and picked up my old hat and gloves, which had fallen onto the floor, and placed them on the nightstand. I then pulled a pad from the nightstand drawer, and wrote her a short note. I placed the note under the fruit bowl on the coffee table, and exited.

My next stop was the quarters of Mrs. Simon. I knocked softly on the door and waited. Seconds latter I heard a muffled "come in." I opened the door and entered the dark room. I saw Mrs. Simon, a middle-aged woman, sitting up in bed holding up the candlestick from her nightstand up so that she could see me. "Yes, Master?" she said sleepily.

"Mrs. Simon, you will find in one of the guest rooms, on the ground floor of the Capricorn wing, a child, an adolescent girl, who shall be staying here for some time. Please see to it that she has fresh clothing, and that you clean her up as soon as she wakes. I left a note in the room. See to it that she finds everything the way I described it in the note. Let her sleep in, she has been through quite a bit."

She nodded once.

"Tell Marith to prepare another breakfast as well. I suggest you also introduce her to Zin. They would probably be able to relate."

She nodded once more. "You are going out, I see. When can we expect you back?"

I paused, thinking. "The sooner the better," was all I said.

"What time is it?" She asked herself, holding the candle over near the clock by the bed. It read four fifty-seven. "Hmm, I should get on it soon."

I was about to say farewell, when I remembered something else. "Has Richenís guest room been converted to his permanent quarters yet?"

"Yes, sir. Actually, no, but almost. A few things need to be done still."

"Good. Heíll be home sometime today. See to it that his first day here as a resident is a pleasant one. He has served me very well."

"Yes sir," she said with a nod. "Will that be all?" She pulled herself out of bed as she said this.

I nodded. "Good morning," I said with a smile.

She smiled and adjusted her nightgown. "Good morning to you too."

I nodded again, said, "Have a good day," and left.

I went back outside as quickly as I could. I suspected that I had forgotten something, but this was not what I had in mind. The horse was still standing out by the gate, and the poor thing looked exhausted. What horse wouldnít be after a good ten-mile gallop in three hours? This positioned me in quite a dilemma. I could not afford the time it would take to go by foot, nor could I take this horse.

After several moments of intense consideration, I realized that it really wasnít that much of a problem. A little bit of alchemy was in order. I reached for all my speed potions.

"All right, Suzy, I hope these things work as well on horses as they do on people."

- Jyre: Gentle Dreams - Day 10: 5:00am

Up and down. Up and down. A gull floating on a lonely stretch of sea. The waves are soft and rhythmic. A gentle breeze stirs the air. Below a fish swims through the dark depths. Its color is lost in the murky water. A single bubble rises from its lips and drifts upwards, towards the sun. Light glints inside and slowly grows until it fills the world entire. Inside its translucent depths a boy can be seen. Blonde of hair and strong of build, he giggles and chases after flowers that are not there. The sun glistens on his bare skin and the ground beneath him is filled with spring's blossoms. The boy yells and runs. The bubble shrinks once more and breaks the surface to join the thousands of others that have gone before it. The gull still floats on the water. Up and down. Up and down.

"Silly Stillie," I mutter as I snuggle deeper into the velvet warmth around me. Sleep's claws grip me tighter.

The wood 's grain runs the length of the door, its pattern unbroken. The surface is soft and warm, worn smooth by the passing of time. The handle is metal, forged into the form of a dragon. Its wings beat the air and the door slowly swings open.

A box. Black square and unadorned. It floated in the air before me as though awaiting my touch. I reached for it and carefully lifted the lid. It drew me inside.

Crossed keys carved into the bark of an aged tree. Words too small to read stamped underneath. I traced them with my fingers, feeling every notch and grove beneath my skin. Something came free and nestled snugly in the palm of my hand. A tiny lump of metal. Peering closer I found it had the shape of a 'v'. The lump stretched out, and became a metal arrow.

"All is as it should be." The words were formed by the breeze as it stirred the leaves of the tree. "The words that were written will come to pass."

The carving on the tree flared and sizzled. Flames filled my vision. When they died back I was standing outside the city, watching as the moon slowly slid beyond the horizon, bringing a close to the night. An owl hooted in the distance. Below a mouse scurried through the thick grass. Wings flapped, feet scurried. The ground rushed away in a blur. Claws snapped out, fur was shredded. I felt myself born away in the owl's mighty grasp.

The hands that held me were strong but gentle. A finger brushed against the side of my face. I looked into his eyes and smiled. Warm velvet wrapped around me, holding me in its warmth.

- Ghost: Not Playing Fair - Day 10: 5:00am

I woke up early in the morning, before the sun came up. It was time to start on my last intentional dealing with the Hammerites. They had caused enough problems for everyone over the years. I wondered why no one had done something like this before. Maybe they had. I just never heard about it, because they didn't live to brag about it. After I got dressed and ready I peeked in on Lytha. She had been sleeping quietly ever since I gave her that healing potion.

I sat on a rooftop waiting. Quenton would come to his small shop soon, and then would leave quickly in excitement. I could follow him then. I had sent a note to a friend to stop by and place a large order with Quenton. I knew he would go in person to whomever supplied him to check on the supplies. He was predictable. Thatís why I liked him.

The sun was starting to rise. People were slowly coming out, opening shops in the marketplace and heading to whatever they do all day. I could see Quenton coming, a block away. He was staggering down the street from too much drinking and not enough sleep last night.

I didn't have to wait long for my friend to show up. Well, heís not so much a friend as a courier. He stepped up and banged on the door. As soon as it opened he stepped inside. A few seconds later he came out, followed by Quenton. Quenton rushed out and locking the door behind him. Following Quenton from the rooftops would be easy as long as he stayed in the center part of the city and didn't stray to where the buildings were farther apart. He rushed between buildings, along streets and alleys faster than I had ever seen him move. I guess the order that was placed, impressed him. Too bad no one would ever show up to pay for it.

I was feeling rather lost when he finally stopped at a door in a deep back alley and knocked. The door opened and he stepped inside. I now knew where Q-boy got his supplies. Now I had to wait for everyone to get out of there. Maybe they would go out to celebrate or something, or at least leave for lunch. After what seemed like an eternity on the rooftop in the scorching daytime sun, the door opened and Quenton emerged, smiling. After he was gone I decided that it was entirely too hot up there and headed down to where I could keep a better watch on the door. I reversed my cloak so the torn up looking inside was visible and planted myself in plain view in the alley. Everyone ignored the beggars and I had no doubt they wouldn't care about me either.

I was starting to wonder if these people would ever leave, or if there was even anyone in there, when the door creaked open and a woman whom I didn't recognize stepped out and locked the door. She glanced at me as she went by, but just kept walking when I put my hand out and asked for money. "Typical pompous wench. Lets see how she feels about beggars after this." I headed to the door after she was gone and quickly picked the lock. I had no idea when she would be getting back, so I had to make this fast Ė I hated that.

I opened the door and stepped into what looked like a big storeroom, or a small warehouse. There were lots of crates and boxes, all unmarked. "Just great," I moaned and pulled the crowbar from my pack. After cracking open several crates, I found one of the things I was looking for: mines. I grinned as I grabbed a bunch and stuffed them into my pack. Within ten minutes I had two packs full of the gear that I had come for, and had the place looking more or less like it was when I got there. I moved for the door, but heard the handle rattle when I got close. The shadows near the door were the only thing I had going for me as the woman stepped back in and started to look around. When she looked away from my spot I did the only thing I could think of. I pulled out my blackjack and bashed her on the back of the head. She dropped like a sack of laundry. I shook my head. "Well damn, now she'll move her little shop and I'll have to keep paying for this stuff." After grabbing her money pouch I lumbered out the door with my stuff and went back to the rooftops.

Making my way back to the center of town was easy. No one was on the roofs and the Hammers didn't have any posts up high enough to watch them. I ditched the packs on a roof near my target for tonight and headed back home to check on Lytha. She should be up by now and maybe wouldn't still be mad about our talk last night.

- Nightfall: Love Them Hammerites - Day 10: 6:00am

When I got back to the site of the lodge, I was impressed by what I saw. They had managed to reconstruct one of the machines, using part from the other three, and had finished the road! They set up camp in the large clearing where the lodge once stood. Unless I was mistaken, I saw signs of preparations to build that tower of which the captain spoke. As I approached, I was greeted by a Hammerite lieutenant.

"Master Nightfall! Brother Thurm and the captain are in the chamber you discovered below the ruins. They asked that you come there at once upon your return. I nodded a thanks, and made my way to the stump, or at least where it had been. They had used the wrecking machine to actually rip the stump from the ground. I was amazed. I was also amazed that they managed to get it into the large pit! I wondered how they planned to get it out. There was now an even deeper pit in the center of the building's foundation, leading to the chamber which I had visited the last night.

I got down off Suzy, who was having trouble walking straight after all those speed potions, and strolled over to the hole. I hopped in to find a rather gleeful Brother Thurm with an intense scholarly look on his face, as he jotted down notes on his pad. "Thurm, your progress?"

He looked up suddenly. "Ah yes! Master Nightfall, Ďtis thee. Thank the Builder." He paused. "Pray, how didst thou manage to get to thy home and back here in such short time? Why, it hast not even been 8 hours since thee left!"

"The Master Builder provided," I said simply.

"Praise Him then! Excellent. Master Nightfall, please accompany me below."

I did so, and followed him down the corridor, which I had explored the night before, along with a group of Hammerites designated as his bodyguards. They had placed torches at regular intervals down the corridor, so it was lit well enough to keep us from fumbling over each other. After what seemed to be a brief walk, we were in the mammoth chamber with the broken bridge.

Once again I was amazed. Hammerite workers were pouring over the broken hulk of the bridge, taking measurements, writing notes, and debating with one another. Thurm broke my gaze. "We are doing our best to decipher the best way to reconstruct this bridge." He said. "Currently we lack the technology for such a task, for the chasm is very wide, and the corridor behind us is too steep and narrow to bring down heavy construction materials and equipment. So we will have to invent a way to conquer this challenge the Master Builder has set before us."

I took my mind away from his jabbering to re-associate myself with my plans. Their presence here should not change anything.

I turned to Thurm quickly. "Iím going ahead."

He gave me a startled look. "How? Why?"

"Because the Master Builder commands me so," I replied, using my "one lie fits all" tactic.

"I understand, but, but, how?" He very much wanted to know how I planned to get across and/or down, so that they could do the same.

"Have faith," I simply said, a reply thatís almost as useful as "thatís a stupid question."

It was time to put my plan into action. I walked up to the very edge and looked downwards. The lava was rushing as fast as ever, and so was the wind by the sounds of it. It was very hot, where I stood, and much hotter down there. My clothing was already rather damp from my sweat. I took a deep breath, and my lungs were filled with the smell of sulfur. Iím not sure if I was afraid or not. I knew I was nervous, however. Iíd never tried anything like this before without the aid of magic, a method which I could no longer use. I made sure I knew where the pull cord was on my large backpack, and gripped it tightly. I could feel Thurm and the others watching intently, as I stood there, my toes on the edge of the chasm. I was about to jump, when I heard Thurm shout.

"Hey! Thatís my Ė"

I jumped.

- Lytha: Departure - Day 10: 6:00am

Finally I had caught some sleep after Ghost gave me the healing potion last night. I awoke as I heard someone closing a door, and footsteps going away from the house. There was no sound of a key in a lock Ė good. I looked around, and found myself alone. Through the open door I could see the main room and the mess I had caused in there yesterday. Not only the papers, but also the broken porcelain was scattered around the floor. I felt guilty as I saw the chaos.

I realized that much of the pain had gone away. Even the headache was almost gone, and in addition to all those enjoyable facts, the voices in my head were almost silent now. The effect of that healing potion was indeed incredible. I left the bed and stood up. The expected dizziness stayed away. I could walk without the risk of stumbling and falling to the ground.

I went to the bathroom and washed my face. Then I looked up and stared into the mirror. Yes, I felt better. But nevertheless, my face was still badly misshapen. My left eye was swollen and black, bruises here and there, and some encrusted blood. And my hair... Well, frankly I looked like a complete mess. With this beaten up face and torn clothing I was not going anywhere. No, I had to rearrange myself if I really wanted to go out today, and that was what I wanted. Itís what was necessary, more to say. There was no need to attract more attention than needed. I did not want people to stare at me when I was on the streets.

I decided to feel at home, and took a bath. The warm water relaxed my aching muscles.

After a while, I left the bathtub, feeling reborn, ready for the plans I made last night; but I needed some clothes. I decided to feel even more at home, and borrow some of Ghost's. I went into the bedroom and opened the wardrobe. With a raised eyebrow, I stared at its content. Did he really only wear leather? Leather trousers, shirts, gloves, shoes... Fashioned like clothes, though. Well. Definitely not my style, but I had no choice. In a drawer I found some normal underwear, not leather. I took what I needed, and found also a gray cloak. This outfit would help me to stay unrecognized.

"Do You Really Want To Rob From Him? Betray Him, As You Always Do?" The voices of the dead Thalias seemed to be back again. Fine. I ignored them.

"But he is so much stronger. Just be nice and friendly. Don't steal." The voice of the scared child, crying. As usual.

"Before the discussions start again: yes, it is necessary. So, shut up. All of you." I told them. I was dominating the discussions inside my own head. I was mad, no question about that. But amazingly, it had worked. They obeyed, and were silent again. The healing potion had really done a wonder. I enjoyed the short interval of absolute silence in my mind, and noticed again that the headache was gone, too.

And now I was ready for my plans. I left the house as it was, thinking that I would most probably never set a foot inside again, nor meet Ghost again in this life. It was most probably a suicide mission Ė I headed to the higher town, where my befriended shopkeeper Koyne had his shop.

- Nightfall: The Big Ride - Day 10: 6:30am

The rush of dropping downward was intense. The world about me flew by, as I plummeted. My clothing whipped about furiously. Time seemed to go in slow motion. I counted the seconds as I dropped. The lava below loomed closer and closer. At this rate, I had no prayer of landing on my feet, so the boots could not save me from the lava, let alone the impact. All at once the sensation I had been waiting for hit me: the air current. I pulled violently at the cord.

The chute burst open with an almighty BANG, violently jerking me upright from my previous slow tumble. A large white canvas bloomed forth from the pack, still attached to me by strong cords. As the air current caught it, my trajectory suddenly shifted, from downwards to wherever the current was going. Just as I planned, this parachute device caught the air current, and was pulling me along with it.

I traveled down the chasm, which soon became a tunnel, at a relatively quick speed. The lava still maintained the red glow, so sight was not easy, but still possible. Whenever I came to a fork in the tunnel, I urged myself to the right, by tugging on the cords, to keep myself going in the vague direction towards the center of the map. The air current was slowly gaining speed, which I did not really appreciate, since the faster I went the more likely it was that I would dash myself to bits against the cavern wall.

I was suddenly hit with an extremely strong air current, so strong I could barely breath. As the current struck the canvas sail, I was jerked forward and downwards at a remarkable velocity. I traveled at breakneck speed down the chasm, which was now a large tunnel twisting back and forth, but ever upwards. I held my breath. I gripped the straps of the now empty pack tightly. My body whipped around through the air as I was shot higher, towards the surface. I knew that at any moment I could strike one of the walls of this tunnel, and my body would shatter. Suddenly I felt the current shift, and I was pulled violently straight downwards! The current and I were now traveling roughly straight down, deeper and deeper into a vertical shaft. I strained my eyes to see, but could not, for the dense dust in the air. I could barely make out my parachute below me, as it dragged me deeper and deeper. This was not the plan at all.

Suddenly, I saw it. A light up above. It was then that I realized that I was now traveling down the long vertical shaft of a volcano. This was definitely not the plan! I had to figure out some way to stop my descent, and fast. The answer came to me without me even thinking about it. I didnít even have to do anything. The air current ceased.

I didnít have time to ponder the mechanics of it all, since I was now falling like a rock. Somehow the parachute had folded in on itself, and no longer was able to slow my descent. The worthless pile of canvas above me thrashed about, doing little to halt my downward spiral. I wasnít happy at this point. I knew I still had my wits about me, which was a plus, but it was hard to think in free fall, especially in a barely lit volcano shaft full of dust, debris, sulfur, ash and the like.

As welcome as it was, the sudden jolt of the chute reopening was very painful. If I had not been wearing my armor, my ribs would have been smashed. The first thing I did was reach onto my head and pull off the sen-saronde. It was more of a handicap than a use at this point. Reaching over my shoulder, I slid It carefully into my backpack.

One again I had my bearings, was in control, and had no idea where I was. I looked about at the strange alien world I was now a guest in. Cutting rifts in the blackness were lava falls, some oozing out of the walls of the shaft, and some flowing out of other large tunnels. I had very little idea anymore of which way was which, so I had little more then random guessing to guide me.

At one point it occurred to me to look downwards, and then I realized that I didnít need to choose a direction to travel at all. Far below me I could make out shapes. I saw a pool of lava, crisscrossed by walkways, and with a large structure in the center. I strained to see details, but could make none out. I looked back at my immediate surroundings, and was amazed that I could make out slight details of the features around me. Perhaps the sun had moved to let more light in from the volcanoís opening up above. I didnít ask questions, I just took advantage of my new situation. Satisfied that I only had to wait for myself to descend I relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

Unfortunately, there is always something that never lets you just wait and rest. I was still unsure as to the mechanism responsible for these currents of air deep underground, but what happened next made me regret placing myself at their mercy. The draft returned, but rather then sucking air into the volcano, it was now blowing it out, and me with it. I was going up.

- Chapter 13 - Reunion / Chapter 15 - Guests in Alien Realms

Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.