The blade of an axe crashed through the heavy door just above the bolt. Morgenes bent over and picked a long stick up off the floor and broke the high window, then lifted the sparrow to the sill and let it go. The bird hopped along the frame for a moment, then took wing and disappeared into the evening sky. One by one, the doctor released five more sparrows that way, until the cage stood empty. A large piece had been bitten from the door's center; Simon could see the angry faces and the flare of torchlight on metal beyond. The doctor beckoned. "The tunnel, boy, and quickly!" Behind them another ragged chunk of wood tore loose and clattered to the floor. As they sped across the room the doctor handed Simon something small and round. "Rub this and you will have light, Simon," he said. "It is better than a torch.'* He swept the hanging aside and pulled the door open. "Go on, hurry! Look for the Tan'ja Stairs, then climb!" As Simon entered the corridor mouth the great door sagged on its hinges and collapsed. Morgenes turned. "But, Doctor!" Simon shouted. "Come with me! We can escape!" The doctor looked at him and smiled, shaking his head. The table before the doorway was overturned with a smash of glass, and a group of armed men in green and yellow began to push past the wreckage. In the midst of the Erkynguard, crouched like a toad in a garden of swords and axes, was Breyugar, the Lord Constable. In the littered hallway stood the bulky form of Inch; behind him Pryrates' cloak flashed scarlet. "Stop!" a voice thundered through the room—Simon was still able to marvel, in the midst of all his fear and confusion, that such a sound could come from Morgenes' frail body. The doctor stood now before the Erkynguard, fingers splayed in a strange gesture. The air began to bend and shimmer between the doctor and the startled soldiers. The very substance of nothingness seemed to grow solid as Morgenes' hands danced strange patterns. For a moment the torches outlined the scene before Simon's eyes as if it were frozen on an ancient tapestry. "Bless you, boy," Morgenes hissed. "Go! Now!" Simon retreated another step down the corridor. Pryrates pushed past the stunned guards, a blurry red shadow behind the wall of air. One of his hands stabbed forth; a seething, coruscating web of blue sparks marked where it touched the thickening air. Morgenes reeled, and his barrier began to melt like a sheet of ice. The doctor bent and swept up a pair of beakers from a rack on the floor. "Stop that youth!" Pryrates shouted, and suddenly Simon could see his eyes above the scarlet cloak... cold black eyes, serpentine eyes that seemed to hold him... transfix him... The shimmering pane of air dissolved. "Take them!" spat Count Breguyar, and the soldiers surged forward. Simon watched in sick fascination, wanting to run but unable to, nothing between him and the Erkynguards' swords but... Morgenes. "ENKJANNUKHAI SHFIGAO!" The doctor's voice boomed and tolled like a bell made of stone. A wind shrieked through the chamber, flattening and extinguishing the torches. In the center of the maelstrom Morgenes stood, a flask in each outstretched band. In the brief instant of darkness there was a crash, then a flare of incandescence as the glass beakers shattered into flame. In a heartbeat fiery streams were running down the arms of Morgenes' cloak, and then his head was haloed in leaping, crackling tongues of fire. Simon was buffeted by terrible heat as the doctor turned to him once more; Morgenes' face seemed already to shift and change behind the blazing mist that enveloped it. "Go, my Simon," he breathed, and he was voiced in flame. "It is too late for me. Go to Josua." As Simon staggered backward in horror, the doctor's frail form leaped with burning radiance. Morgenes wheeled. Taking a few halting steps, he threw himself with outspread arms onto the screeching, quailing guardsmen, who tore at each other in their desperation to escape back through the broken doorway. Hellish flames billowed upward, blackening the groaning roofbeams. The very walls began to shudder. For a brief moment Simon heard the harsh choking voice of Pryrates intertwined with the sounds of Morgenes' final agonies... then there was a great crack of light and an ear-thumping roar. A hot whip of air flung Simon down the passageway, blowing the door shut behind him with a noise like the Hammer of Judgment. Stunned, he heard the grinding, splintering shriek of the roof timbers collapsing. The door shuddered, wedged shut by many thousandweight of scorched oak and stone. For a long time he lay wracked with sobs, the tears of his eyes sucked away by the heat. At last he crawled to his feet. He found the warm stone wall with his hand and went stumbling down into darkness.
13 Between Worlds VOICES, many voices—whether birthed in his own head or in the comfortless shadows that surrounded him, Simon could not tell—were his only companions in that first terrible hour. Simon mooncalf! Done it again, Simon mooncalf! His friend is dead, his only friend, be kind, be kind! Where are we? In darkness, in darkness forever, to bat-flitter like a lost shrieking soul through the endless tunnels... He is Simon Pilgrim now, doomed to wander, to wonder... No. Simon shuddered, trying to rein in the clamoring voices, I will remember. I will remember the red line on the old map, and to look for the Tan'J'a Stairs—whatever they might be. I will remember the flat black eyes of that murderer Pryrates: I will remember my friend ... my friend Doctor Morgenes... He sank down onto the gritty tunnel floor, weeping with helpless, strengthless anger, a barely beating heart of life in a universe of black stone. The blackness was a choking thing that pressed down on him, squeezing out his breath. Why did he do it? Why didn't he run? He died to save you, idiot boy—and Josua. If he had run, they would have followed; Pryrates had the stronger magic. You would have been caught, and they would have been free to follow the prince, to hunt him down and drag him back to his cell. Morgenes died for that. Simon hated the sound of his own crying, the hacking, sniveling sound echoing on and on. He pushed it all up from inside him, sobbing until his voice was a dry rasp—a sound he could live with, not the weepy bleat of a lost mooncalf in the dark. Lightheaded and sick, wiping his face with his shirtsleeve, Simon felt the forgotten weight of Morgenes' crystal sphere in his hand. Light. The doctor had given him light. Along with the papers crimped uncomfortably in the waistband of his breeches, it was the last gift the doctor had given him. No, a voice whispered, the second-to-last, Simon Pilgrim. Simon shook his head, trying to dispel the licking, murmuring fear. What had Morgenes said as he tied the glinting bauble to the sparrow's slender leg? To be strong with its heavy burden? Why was he sitting in the pitch dark, mewling and dribbling—wasn't he Morgenes' apprentice, after all? He clambered to his feet, dizzy and trembling. He felt the glassy surface of the crystal warm beneath his stroking fingers. He stared into the darkness where his hands must be, thinking of the doctor. How could the old man laugh so often, when the world was so full of hidden treachery, of beautiful things with rot inside of them? There was so much shadow, so little... A pinprick of light flared before him—a needle hole in the sun-shrouding curtain of night. He rubbed harder and stared. The light bloomed, folding back the shadows; the passageway's walls leaped out on either side, brushed with glowing amber. Air seemed to rush into his lungs. He could see! The momentary elation evaporated as he turned to look up and down the corridor. A pain in his head made the walls waver before his gaze. The tunnel was nearly featureless, a lonely hole burrowing down into the underbelly of the castle, festooned with pale cobwebs. Back up the passage he could see a crossway he had already passed, a gaping mouth in the wall. He walked back. A quick shine of the crystal revealed nothing beyond the opening but tailings and rubble, a sloping pile of debris leading down out of reach of the sphere's thin light. How many other cross-paths had he missed? And how would he know which ones were the right ones? Another wave of choking hopelessness washed over him. He was hopelessly alone, hopelessly lost. He would never find himself back in the world of light. Simon Pilgrim, Simon mooncalf... family dead. friend dead, see him wander and wander forever... "Silence!" he growled out loud, and was startled to hear the word caroming down the path before him, a messenger carrying a proclamation from the king of Under-the-ground: "Silence... silence... silen... si..." King Simon of the Tunnels began his staggering progress. The passageway squirmed downward into the stone heart of the Hayholt, a smothering, winding, cobwebbed track lit only by the gleam of Morgenes' crystal sphere. Broken spiderwebs performed a slow, ghostly dance in the wake of his passage; when he turned to look back the strands seemed to wave after him, like the clutching, boneless fingers of the drowned. Hanks of silky thread stuck to his hair and draped stickily across his face, so that he had to hold his hand before his eyes as he walked. Often he would feel some small, leggy thing scuttling away across his fingers as he broke through its netting, and would have to stop for a moment, head down, until the shivers of disgust subsided. It was becoming colder, and the close-cramped walls of the passageway seemed to breathe with moisture. Parts of the tunnel had crumbled; in some places dislodged dirt and stone were piled so high in the center of the path that he had to push his back against the damp walls and edge around them. He was doing just that—squeezing around an obstruction, the light-wielding hand held over his head, the other feeling before him for a way past—when he felt a searing pain like a thousand needle-pricks run up his questing hand and onto his arm. A flash of the crystal brought a vision of horror—hundreds, no, thousands of tiny white spiders swarming up his wrist and under his shirt sleeve, biting like a thousand burning fires. Simon shrieked and slammed his arm against the tunnel wall, bringing a shower of clotted dirt down into his mouth and eyes. His terrified shouts echoed down the passageway, quickly failing. He fell to his knees in damp soil, smacking his stinging arm up and down into the dirt until the flaring pain began to subside, then crawled forward on his hands and knees, away from whatever horrible nest or den he had disturbed. As he crouched and frantically scrubbed his arm with loose soil the tears came again, racking him like a whipping. When he could stand to look at his arm, the crystal's light revealed only reddening and swelling skin beneath the dirt, instead of the bloody wounds he had been sure he would find. The arm throbbed, and he wondered dully if the spiders were poisonous—if the worst was yet to come. When he felt the sobs climbing once more in his chest, shortening his breath, he forced himself to his feet. He must go on. He must. A thousand white spiders. He must go on. He followed the sphere's dim light downward. It gleamed on moisture-slick stone and earth-choked cross-corridors, twining with pallid roots. Surely he must be far below the castle by now—far down into the black earth. There was no sign of Josua's passage, or of anyone's. He was sickeningly certain he had missed some turning-place in the darkness and confusion, and was even now spiraling downward into an inescapable pit. He had trudged on so long, making so many twists and turns, that the memory of the narrow red line on Morgenes' old parchment was now useless. There was nothing remotely like stairs anywhere in these narrow, strangling wormholes. Even the glowing crystal was beginning to flicker. The voices escaped his control again, surrounding him in the crazy shadows like a shouting throng. Dark and getting darker. Dark and getting darker. Let us lie down for a while. We want to sleep, just for a while, sleep... The king has an animal inside him, and Pryrates is its keeper... "My Simon." Morgenes called you '"my Simon"... he knew your father. He kept secrets. Josua is going to Naglimund. The sun shines there all day and night Naglimund. They eat sweet cream and drink clear, shining water at Naglimund. The sun is bright. Bright and hot. It is hot. Why? The damp tunnel was suddenly very warm. He stumbled on, hopelessly sure that he felt the first fever of spider-poison. He would die in the dark, the terrible dark. He would never again see the sun, or feel its... The warmth seemed to push into his lungs. It was getting hotter! Stifling air enfolded him, sticking his shirt to his chest and his hair to his forehead. He felt a moment of even greater panic. Have I circled round? Have I walked for years only to come back to the ruins of Morgenes' chamber— the burned, blackened remains of his life? But it was not possible. He had been going downward steadily, never once mounting back to anything more than a moment's level going. Why was it so hot? The memory of one of Shem Horsegroom's stories pushed forward, a story of young Prester John wandering through darkness toward a great, brooding heat—the dragon Shurakai in its lair beneath the castle... this castle. But the dragon is dead! I've touched its bones, a yellow chair in the throne room. There is no dragon anymore—no sleepless, deep-breathing red hulk the size of the toumey field, waiting in the darkness with claws like swords and a soul as old as the stones of Osten Ard—the dragon is dead. But did dragons never have brothers? And what was that sound? That dull, grumbling roar? The heat was oppressive, and the air was thick with itching smoke. Simon's heart was a lump of dull lead in his chest. The crystal began to dim as broad smears of reddish light blotted out the sphere's weaker radiance. The tunnel flattened, turning now neither left nor right, leading down a long, eroded gallery to an arched doorway that danced with a flickering orange radiance. Shivering despite the sweat streaming down his face, Simon felt himself drawn toward it. Turn and run, mooncalf? He could not. Each step was a labor, but he moved closer. He reached the archway and craned his neck fearfully around the portal's rim. It was a great cavern, awash in leaping light. The rock walls seemed to have melted and set like wax at the base of a candle, the stone smoothed in long, vertical ripples. For a moment Simon's light-stunned eyes opened wide in amazement; at the cavern's far side a score of dark figures were kneeling before the shape of... a monstrous, flame-blazing dragon! An instant later he saw that it was not so; the huge shape crouched against the stone was a great furnace. The dark-clad figures were forking logs into its flaming maw. The foundry! The castle foundry! All around the cavern heavily dressed and scarf-masked men were smithying the tools of war. Massive buckets of glowing liquid iron were pulled from the flames on the ends of long poles. Molten metal jumped and hissed as it drizzled into plate-shaped molds, and above the groaning voice of the furnace reverberated the clang of hammer on anvil. Simon shrank back from the doorway. For a heartbeat he had felt himself about to leap forward and run to these men—for men they were, despite their strange dress. It had seemed in that instant that anything was better than the dark tunnel, and the voices—but he knew better. Did he think these foundrymen would help him to escape? Doubtless they knew only one route from the blazing cavern: up and back into the clutches of Pryrates—if he had survived the inferno of Morgenes' chambers—or the brutal justice of Elias. He sank down onto his haunches to think. The noise of the furnace and his own painful head made it difficult. He could not remember passing any cross-tunnels for some time. He could see what looked like a row of holes along the far wall of the foundry-cavem; it could be that they were nothing but storage chambers... Or dungeons... But it seemed just as likely that they were other routes in and out of the chamber. To retreat back up the tunnel seemed foolish... Coward! Scullion! Numb, battered, he balanced on the knife-edge of indecision. To go back, and wander through the same dark, spider-haunted tunnels, his only light nickering into extinction... or to make his way across the roaring infemo of the foundry floor—and from there, who could know? Which should it be? He will be King of Under-ground, Lord of the Weeping Shades! No, his people are gone, let him be! He smacked himself on the head, trying to dispel the chattering voices. If I'm going to die, he decided, wresting back the mastery of his speeding heart, at least let it be in the light. He bent over, head throbbing, to stare at the cupped gleam of the crystal sphere. Even as he looked, the light died, then throbbed back into tenuous life. He slipped it into his pocket. The furnace flame and the dark shapes that passed before them laid pulsing stripes of red, orange and black along the wall; he dropped down from the archway to huddle beside the downsloping ramp. The nearest hiding place was a shabby brick structure some fifteen or twenty ells from where he crouched, a disused kiln or oven that squatted on the chamber's fringe. After a few deep breaths he bolted for it, half-running, half-crawling. His head ached from the motion, and when he reached the bulky kiln he had to lower his face between his knees until the black spots went away. The harsh roar of the feeding furnace rang like thunder inside his head, silencing even his voices with its painful clamor. He made his way from dark place to dark place, little islands of shadowed safety in the ocean of smoke and red noise. The foundrymen did not look up and see him; they barely communicated among themselves, limited in the crushing din to broad gestures, like armored men in the chaos of battle. Their eyes, points of reflected light above the masking cloth, seemed instead to stare at one thing only: the bright, compelling glow of hot iron. Like the red map-line that still snaked a wistful course through Simon's memory, the radiant metal was everywhere and all the same, like a dragon's magical blood. Here it splashed over the edge of a vat, spattering in gemlike drops; over there it wound serpentlike away across the rock to flow hissing into a pool of brackish water. Great tongues of incandescence sluiced down from buckets, coloring the bundled foundrymen in demonic scarlet. Creeping, scuttling, Simon made his slow way around the rim of the smelting-cave until he reached the nearest ramp leading out of the chamber. The oppressive, breathing heat and his own sickened spirit urged him to climb up, but the packed earth of the ramp showed a deep, crisscrossing scrawl of cartwheel tracks. This was a much-used doorway, he reasoned, thoughts blurry and slow. It was not a place he should try. At last he reached a mouth in the cavern wall that had no ramp. It was a difficult scrabble up the smooth—fire-melted? Dragon-melted?—rock, but his flagging strength held up long enough for him to pull himself over the lip and collapse full length in the sheltering shadows just inside, the unpocketed sphere glowing weakly in his hand like a trapped firefly. When he knew who he was once more, he was crawling. On your knees again, mooncalf? The blackness was virtually complete, and he was moving blindly downward. The tunnel floor was dry and sandy beneath his hands. He crawled for a long, long time; even the voices began to sound as if they felt sorry for him. Simon lost... Simon lost lost los... Only the slowly diminishing heat behind convinced him he was actually moving—but toward what? Where? He crept like a wounded animal, through solid shadow, heading down, always down. Would he crawl downward to the very center of the world? Scuttling, leggy things beneath his fingers meant nothing now. The darkness was complete, inside and outside. He felt himself almost bodiless, a bundle of frightened thoughts bumping down into the cryptic earth. Somewhere, sometime later, the darkened sphere he had clutched for so long that it seemed a pan of him began to glow again, this time with a strange azure light. From a core of pulsing blue the light expanded until he had to hold the sphere away from him, squinting. He climbed slowly to his feet and stood panting, his hands and knees tingling where they no longer touched sand. The tunnel walls were covered in fibrous black growths, tangled as uncombed wool, but through the twining strands gleamed shining patches, reflecting the new-flowered light. Simon hobbled closer to investigate, drawing his hand back with a thin wheeze of disgust as he touched the greasy black moss. Some of his self had come back with the light, and as he stood swaying he thought about what he had crawled through, and trembled. The wall beneath the moss was covered in some kind of tile, chipped and scored in many places, missing in others so that the dull earth showed through. Behind him the tunnel sloped upward, the rut of his passage stopping where he now stood. Before him the darkness led on. He would try walking on two legs for a while. The passage soon widened. The arched entrances of scores of other corridors joined the one he traveled, most of them filled with soil and stone. Soon there were also flagstones beneath his shambling feet, uneven, fractured stone that nonetheless caught the light of the lantern-sphere with strange opalescence. The ceiling gradually angled away above him, out of reach of the blue light; the corridor continued downward into the earth. Something that might have been the beat of leathery wings fluttered in the emptiness above. Where am I now? How could Hayholt run so deep? Doctor said castles under castles, down into the world's bones. Castles under castles... under castles... He had stopped without knowing it, and had turned to stand before one of the cross-passages. In some part of his head he could see himself and how he must look—tattered, dirt-smeared, head wagging from side to side like a half-wit. A strand of spittle dangled from his lower lip. The doorway before him was unblocked; a strange scented air like dried flowers hung in the black arch. He stepped forward, dragging an arm that felt like heavy, useless meat across his mouth, holding aloft the crystal sphere in his other hand. ... Beautiful! Beautiful place...! It was a chamber, perfect in the blue glow, as perfect as if someone had left it only a moment before. The ceiling was high-vaulted, covered in a tracery of delicate painted lines, a pattern suggesting thom bushes, or flowering vines, or the meandering of a thousand meadow streams. The rounded windows were choked with rubble, and dirt had poured down from them to silt the tiled floor beneath, but all else was untouched. There was a bed—a miracle of subtle, curving wood—and a chair as fine as the bones of a bird. In the room's center stood a fountain of polished stone that looked as if it might fill with singing water at any moment.