"Into the Shadows"
Amara's Story, Part 2
Based on a Story by Amber Sevineya
Read Part 1 "Dreams, Dreamer, Lover"

Sorreah felt eyes upon his back, a strange prickly feeling along his feather tips that told him that they were being watched.
"Can you walk?" Sorreah asked his strange new companion. Amara nodded. Sorreah extended a polite arm to the slight girl at his side, which she took gratefully. Her touch was an electric charge, and he was suddenly very aware of the heat of her fingertips resting lightly on his arm. "We should go," he told her. "It is not safe here."
"I’ll say!" Amara added. "Definitely not safe!" She remembered all too well her last encounter in this place. Turning to look at the remaining statues she asked, "But…what about the others? Why haven’t they returned to life as well?"
Sorreah shook his head, for he didn’t know the answer. He didn’t know why she had returned to life, but he knew that their questions would not be answered here. "We must get you to the Hall of Scholars. Delia will surely be able to answer your questions better than I."
"Delia? Who’s that?" Amara asked as they began to retrace Sorreah’s steps out of the plaza, heading toward the steps that would take them up into the light of day.
"Delia is one of the eldest of the scholars, and also the Keeper of Arderial. She is very learned." Sorreah struggled to keep a tremble from his voice, as the touch of this strange girl’s fingers sent a thrill along his arm to pierce his heart in a most unusual manner. He was suddenly acutely aware of his heartbeat, how it had changed from its trustworthy steadfast rhythm to a lurching flip-flop, flip-flop.
Amara gulped audibly. "Umm…just how long have I been down here?" she asked, her voice sounding small and wary.
Sorreah glanced at her from the corners of his eyes. Her face was down-turned, but even the top of her head was mesmerizing to him. Flip-flop, flip-flop, went his heartbeat. He wished it would stop this nonsense; he was becoming agitated and didn’t understand what he was feeling. Then he remembered that Amara had asked a question. "Umm, yes…well, Tuku emerged from this place a year or so ago and told us his tale. The system for counting the days has changed somewhat since he first led, uh, you, down here. The best we can figure, it has been a little less than a thousand years."
Amara stopped suddenly. "A thousand years!?" Her voice sounded incredulous. "But…but that means that? she buried her face in her hands and began to sob.
Sorreah was flabbergasted. He didn’t know what to say or do so he just stood there awkwardly by her side.
"Everyone I know…my friends, my family…all? Amara’s words choked off into wordless sobbing. Sorreah was distraught, feeling he should offer some comfort, yet not knowing what to say. To make matters worse, his feeling that they er being watched had become stronger than ever. He gently pulled at Amara’s shoulder, silently urging her into motion again.
They had crossed almost half of the distance to the steps, but they were not travelling swiftly enough to suit Sorreah. The prickly feeling in his feathers became a burning sensation, and he knew that they were about to face serious trouble. He remembered the gorath from his dream and shuddered.
Suddenly the air before them sparkled and glittered in a thousand shades of violet. Sorreah braced himself and threw the still sobbing Amara protectively behind his back.
"Wha?" sniffed Amara, peeking around Sorreah’s wings to see what the trouble was. "What’s wrong?"
Sorreah didn’t have time to answer as the sparkling air coalesced into the snarling forms of three rabid wasperines. They pounced even before they had fully solidified, flying through the air with claws and fangs extended. In an eye blink, Sorreah had summoned his own creatures: a warlum and an elder vellup. The warlum absorbed the impact of the first rabid wasperine, although the colliding bodies still crashed through the air and bowled into Sorreah and Amara. The elder vellup snorted in disdain for the remaining two Core creatures, and began to tease them by diving and then rising just out of reach of their claws.
Amara pushed her way out from beneath Sorreah, who had landed on top of her. She spit feathers out of her mouth and cried out, "I see I didn’t leave everything behind me in the past!" She turned to Sorreah. "Stand back—I know how to handle these monsters!"
She gestured at the rabid wasperines, who had regrouped for another attack and suddenly the nearest one exploded into a thousand tiny animite shards in what looked like a miniature version of Sorreah’s Shockwave spell. Sorreah stepped back, impressed. His own Shockwave spell was too massive to use in this enclosed space, it could very well bring the ceiling down on their heads.
Amara cast her spell twice more in rapid succession, taking out the second rabid wasperine as well as the warlum, who had finally regained its feet.
"Hey, why did you take out the warlum?" yelled Sorreah, even as he circled to get a clean shot at the remaining wasperine. He cast a small lightning bolt onto the snarling beast, depleting about half of its energy in the process.
"What do you mean ‘why?" asked Amara breathlessly. "I’m savin?our butts here! Besides, what’s a warlum?"
The elder vellup dove and tore a large chunk out of the wasperine’s hide, and then bobbed back up out of harm’s way.
"Say, why did the big ugly birdy just attack the big ugly green thing?" Amara sounded truly confused. Sorreah glanced at her, suddenly remembering that she would not know of the use of dream creatures for battle…that had come after her time in history. Just then the elder vellup took another plunge after the rabid wasperine and managed to snatch away the last of its energy. It disappeared with a final outraged howl. The elder vellup snorted in satisfaction and turned toward its master.
"Lookout!" yelled Amara, pushing her sleeves back. Sorreah stopped her with a hand on her arm.
"No, please, Amara." He pointed to the approaching vellup and lifted his hand toward it. It bobbed up and gently nuzzled his fingers.
"This is my creature, and so was the warlum…er, the other feathered one you so gallantly vanquished." Sorreah kept his voice calm.
"Whaddya mean, your creature? Only the nasty baddies from the Core have these things!"
Sorreah shook his head. "Not anymore." He held up his hands to show her the rings glistening on his fingers. "Each of these rings can invoke a creature to help me in battle. They are my friends."
Amara looked shocked and then became thoughtful as she gazed up at the gracefully hovering elder vellup. Sorreah reached up to scratch the vellup beneath its beak. "They are my friends," he repeated gently.
"Oh! But I…oh. I killed it! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean?
Sorreah laughed. "No. You didn’t kill it. You just depleted all of the energy that allowed it to retain its shape. It went back to the Dream Plane."
Sorreah smiled and gestured to one of his rings. He sent a trickle of energy into it and suddenly, there stood the warlum before them. "You see?"
The warlum approached Sorreah and issued a chastising screech before looking at Amara, narrowing its eyes and giving her a low growl. She stepped back from the beast warily. Sorreah laughed again and patted the warlum. "There, there, old friend. Amara didn’t know that you were an ally. I’m sure she’s sorry." He turned to Amara, who still looked doubtful. "Isn’t that right?"
"Uh…yeah, sure. I think."
The warlum snorted indignantly once more. Sorreah spoke to both of his creatures quietly for a few moments as the confused Amara looked on and then he sent them both back to the Dream Plane.
"Um…I see that a lot has happened in the past? Amara paused and gulped, "…thousand years."
"I will tell you all about it, but first we must get out of this place before we are attacked again. We don’t have the energy left for another big battle." He held his arm out to her and they resumed their trek toward the huge staircase leading upward.
Amara looked around now, belatedly taking in their surroundings. "Hey, I don’t remember this place. Where are we?"
"You don’t recall where you were when you were…uh, defeated?" Sorreah asked.
"Well, yes I do recall, very clearly in fact. And this? she gestured to the surrounding cavern, "is definitely not it!" Amara looked down and suddenly noticed the strange patterns on the floor beneath their feet. She pulled on Sorreah’s arm and motioned for him to look down. "But these! I remember these patterns!" She sounded excited now. "We…well, Tuku, I mean…used the Core Glyph and it sent us to a place with weird moving walls and shadows without casters. The floors were covered in designs like these." She stopped again and pointed to a series of five circles set within a larger circle. Each of the smaller circles was roughly three hand-spans across.
"We used these to move around the shadow place! They took us to the Core!"
Sorreah frowned, and looked more closely at the patterns on the floor. He threw a questioning glance back at Amara.
"Like this? she said and stood on one of the circles. Instantly she vanished into thin air. "Amara!" cried Sorreah, reaching out to grasp the empty air where she had stood but moments ago. Flip-Flop-THUD, went his heartbeat. He stepped forward, his feet falling into the circle Amara had occupied. Suddenly, she was there before him once more, against a startling backdrop of shifting veils of purple light.
"What took ya so long?" she asked, with a slight twinkle in her eye. "Yep," she said looking around at their new surroundings, "this is more like I remember it!"
"Is this? Sorreah found himself whispering, "is the Core?"
Amara considered, "Umm, no. Not exactly. Its like some weird halfway-between place." Sorreah didn’t understand, but Amara shrugged. "I didn’t really understand it either—but the important thing is that now I can get my bow!"
"Your bow?
"Yeah. I left it in here somewhere. I really don’t want to leave without it."
"But, this place is…dangerous. We should leave before we are attacked again."
Amara sighed and a frown returned to her face. "Yes, I know. I’ve endangered you enough already…but, I can’t leave my bow…especially since? her voice faltered.
Sorreah thought he understood. "I see. The bow…it was special to you?"
Amara nodded. "A gift from my…father." Unshed tears brightened her eyes in the odd shifting light. "He gave it to me just before I left home to join Tuku and the others."
Sorreah nodded. "Then we’ll find it. But let’s hurry!"
Amara pointed down what seemed to be a long corridor, although the walls seemed to be moving around them and it was hard to gauge the distance to the end of the space. As they moved silently through the strange shadow hall, Sorreah noticed what looked like elaborate architectural details shining just behind the smoky veils of light and shadows that formed the walls. It was as if this place were the ghostly remnants of some long-forgotten ancient mansion. Decorative arches seemed to form overhead as they moved through the hallway, but they vanished when Sorreah tried to examine them more closely. Now and then, the corridor would split, and they could see other long shifting halls stretching away into the distance.
Sound seemed muffled in this strange place. Despite the great size of the space, there were no echoes, and even their footfalls on the patterned floor made little sound. Shadows danced along the walls, looking like the shadows of magi and beasts alike, but there was nothing to be seen that could cast these shadows. Sorreah watched as the shadows acted out silent battles on the walls as they passed.
Abruptly, a set of huge doors appeared before them, ending the corridor at last. Amara marched boldly up to them and tugged on the handle of the leftmost door. It took a lot of strength for her to push the massive door inward, but she finally managed to open it enough for them to squeeze through to the other side.
They found themselves in a vast dark space. Huge arches, galleries and arcades could dimly be seen in the shifting shadows of the far distance. Behind them, the doors stood in open space, with no wall to support them. Greyish-purple light spilled from the doorway at their backs to light the floor before them, but it was soon consumed by the smothering gloom that seemed to fill this place.
"There it is!" Amara cried and dashed off into the darkness. Sorreah’s arms stretched out after her, but he managed to stifle a shout. "Be careful!" he whispered after her as loudly as he dared. She had stopped a short distance away and stooped to rummage through an assortment of old-fashioned armor and weaponry. Sorreah quietly joined her. He could see the end of a bow sticking out from under the pile of cast-off armor. She was carefully trying to lift a heavy breastplate from atop the pile to avoid making too much noise. Sorreah moved to give her a hand.
He smiled as he picked up an old short sword, slashing it through the air experimentally. He was grateful that the days of relying on such barbaric weapons were long over. Dream creatures were much more civilized! Working together, Amara and Sorreah finally managed to quietly move the armor and weapons aside. Amara seized up her bow in triumph. It gleamed in the smoky light from the open doorway, glistening with a dull gold sheen. Tiny gems had been set into the elegant scrollwork decorating either end of the bow. Unfortunately, there appeared to be no bowstring. Sorreah surmised that it had rotted away throughout the long years it had waited in this place. He looked about at all the other archaic items lying about on the floor.
"Why were all these things left here? Surely you needed your weapons for the confrontation with Agram." Sorreah stated.
"We didn’t want to, believe me. But Tuku had warned us that we couldn’t take all this metal stuff through the last transporter to reach the Core. The magic wouldn’t allow it."
"Transporter? Is that what you call the circles on the floor?"
"Yup. At least, that’s the word Tuku used. I don’t know where he picked it up, but it seems to describe what they do."
Sorreah looked around in the gloom. "And that means that the entrance to the Core is somewhere nearby?" The very thought of it made him extremely nervous.
Amara nodded and pointed off into the darkness opposite the doors. "Somewhere over there is a staircase leading down to another hall. The final set of transporters are down there." She gestured at all of the heavy armor and weapons piled at their feet. "Tuku thought we should leave all of this stuff here at the top of the stairs, because he feared that on our return trip we might have to run as fast as possible and all this heavy stuff would slow us down on the way back up the stairs.?She paused and looked at Sorreah. "It’s a very long staircase!"
"Well, you have your bow now. We must go. This place is evil." Amara nodded silently and they turned to leave. As Sorreah moved, however, the trailing tip of one of his wings bumped the edge of a golden shield he had propped up against a heavy breastplate. The shield rolled across the floor and disappeared into the darkness, making an unpleasantly loud metallic sound as it did so.
Sorreah winced. The sound died away as the shield rolled farther into the darkness and he breathed a sigh of relief. Amara looked up at him, "That was close!" she whispered. "C’mon, let’s get outta here!"
They were headed for the doors once more when from the blackness behind them came a terrible clattering. BANG! KLABANG! BANG-BANG, BANG!The sound seemed to get louder with each repetition. Sorreah realized that the shield must have reached the steps leading down, those that Amara had mentioned, and it was now rolling downward! BANG, BANG, KABANG! It sounded louder than summer thunder.
A horrible roar issued from the door before them and it slammed fully open to reveal the gigantic form of a gorath. Sorreah and Amara screeched to a halt and almost lost their balance. The giant creature took two steps forward. BAM! BAM! Its footsteps sounding like explosions in the darkened space. It reared its ugly head and bellowed in rage, shaking its mighty chains in fury. From behind it, a cloud of foul-smelling indigo fog rolled in through the open doorway, full of small flying shapes. Breaking free of the clinging mist, a full flock of chaos plith spun in circles about the enraged gorath and then dove swiftly toward the two stunned magi standing but a short distance away.
Sorreah invoked his elder vellup, and then the warlum and was preparing to call forth a third creature when the first of the diving chaos plith reached him, slamming into his chest and sending him sprawling. The warlum dove in to intercept the next two attackers, while overhead, the elder vellup began snatching the shadow beasts out of the air and chomping down on them with its mighty beak. It was swallowing some of them whole. Sorreah struggled to take in a breath, having had the wind knocked out of him. Slowly, he regained his feet.
He saw Amara, still standing, holding her unstrung bow before her as if she expected to use it. A chaos plith was heading straight toward her, and he called out, "Watch out!"
"No, you watch!" she called back. She pulled her arm back as if knocking an arrow, although there was nothing there. And then, suddenly, a line of light appeared between her hand and the middle of the bow: a perfectly straight shaft of bluish-green light. She released her grip and the shaft shot straight and true, piercing the chaos plith just in time to keep it from barreling into her tiny figure. Sorreah watched as the chaos plith underwent an amazing transformation, shedding its cloak of shadow for the bright colors of the forest. It had turned into an ordinary plith! The kind that could be found throughout Naroom!
Now the newly transformed plith turned and began attacking the remaining chaos plith. "Wow! That’s some bow!" called out Sorreah admiringly.
Amara flashed a quick smile back and then shouted, "Behind you!" BAM! BAM! Sorreah ducked and rolled just in time to avoid the approaching gorath. WHAM! It’s massive fist slammed into the floor just inches from him and he had to move quickly to avoid a second blow from the other fist. KABLAM!
Sorreah ran out of the monster’s reach and then turned. He took a deep breath and then unleashed his biggest spell, the Shockwave. The wave tore through the darkness, scattering the abandoned armor and weapons. The remaining chaos plith were caught in the blast and exploded in tiny bursts of violet-colored animite. The gorath took the brunt of the wave, which cut right through its mid-section. It roared in fury, but then kept on approaching as the wavefront passed. It was still coming!
Amara cocked another of her strange arrows at the monstrosity, but it swung its chain and sent the bow flying from her grasp, clattering across the floor. Sorreah looked around for his creatures, but they were nowhere to be seen, having apparently been lost in the battle. The fog-shrouded doors behind the gorath now began to swing as the low-slung forms of several rabid wasperines stalked in to back up the gorath.
Sorreah groaned. His energy was almost totally depleted. The Shockwave spell usually took just about everything he had and when even it was not enough, he knew it was time to run. He dashed after Amara, who had gone to retrieve her bow. She had just picked it up from the floor when he raced past, grabbing her by the arm as they went. He made for the only retreat they had left: the staircase that led downward to the entrance of the Core.
BAM! BAM! BAM! The thunderous footsteps of the gorath sounded just behind them, and the snarls of the rabid wasperines were growing in volume as well.
Racing like the wind, they reached the top of the stairs sooner than Sorreah had expected. The steps appeared out of the gloom like a gaping black mouth ready to swallow them whole. Tall pillars flanked either side of the staircase, and a grand sweeping banister followed the steps downward in their plunge into darkness.
BAM! BAM! SLAM! They leaped onto the first of the steps, taking them three at a time just as the gorath’s chains smashed into the pillars at either side of the staircase, exploding them into tiny bits of marble and dust. The snarling wasperines yowled and leapt past the huge gorath to plunge down the steps. Their great strength brought them within inches of the fleeing magi with their first bound.
Sorreah knew they only had seconds to spare. He scooped Amara in his arms and leapt onto the huge bannister flanking the steps. They began to slide. "Hold on!" he yelled through the rushing of the wind as they picked up speed. He partially extended his wings to help control his balance, but he dared not extend them fully, for fear he would slow them down.
A slashing claw raked one of his wings and he felt a few feathers being torn from their place. Sorreah ducked his head and willed himself to slide faster still. The rushing of the wind filled his ears and made his eyes sting. He felt Amara trembling in his arms. He strained to hear the sounds of pursuit, but all he could hear was the rushing air.
They slid for what seemed to be a very long time. The darkness remained solid around them, unchanging and unrelenting. Sorreah began to worry about what would happen when they reached the bottom, traveling at this rate of speed. He cautiously extended his wings, wincing as the speeding air caught at his torn feathers. The bannister began to slide by less swiflty beneath them as his wings caught the air and slowed their rate of descent. As the wind died back, Sorreah strained to hear indications of pursuit, but there seemed to be nothing but silence and more darkness behind and above them.
Without warning, they found themselves surrounded by blinding light. Sorreah flapped his wings frantically and fought to cease their downward momentum altogether. He lifted Amara from the bannister and hopped down onto the stais with shaky legs. Struggling to see past the tears in his eyes, he squinted into the brilliant light beyond the bannister.
Gradually, his eyes adjusted and he saw that the light wasn’t really very bright at all, merely that his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness. Below them sprawled the largest expanse of interior space Sorreah had ever beheld. The ground far below seemed to be made of some dull gray substance that was traced through with glowing lines, arcs, circles and arabesques. The intricate patterns faded out in the haze of distance in every direction he could see. Looking up, he found that the ceiling seemed to echo the patterns of the floor. He looked over at Amara.
She nodded back. "Yes, this is what we found. Scary isn’t it?"
Sorreah nodded. Scary wasn’t quite the right word for this place. Awesome, bewildering, and terrifying all in one. How could such a place have existed for so long without anyone ever having stumbled across it? Well, that’s not quite true, he corrected himself. Tuku and his followers found this place. He thought about some of the wild tales that Tony Jones had shared with Jalea and the other scholars during his visit to the Sky Ring. The boy had claimed to have discovered a strange network of passages that led from one land to another. Could this place be a part of what Tony discovered?
Sorreah shook his head to clear away the mysteries. He had no penchant for pondering such things, preferring to leave such to the scholars.
"You think it’s weird from up here, just wait’ll you see it from down there." Amara’s voice had a strange edge to it. Sorreah studied her tiny form as she descended the steps before him. So delicate in appearance, and yet, with a raw edge that belied her seeming frailty. He watched her shining hair swaying back and forth across her pale shoulders. Flip-flop, flip-flop, his heart lurched. Sorreah pulled his lips into a grim line, growing uneasy with the strange tightness he felt deep within his chest. A sort of achy anxious feeling he couldn’t identify. What is happening to me? Perhaps I should see a healer when we get back?/i>if we get back!
It seemed that one moment the staircase still had no end in sight and the next they were stepping out across an even surface. Sorreah stumbled when he found flat ground beneath his foot where he hadn’t expected it to be. He looked around, expecting to find himself on the broad glowing plain he had seen from above. Instead, they found themselves standing in another long corridor, although this one was substantially different from the first. The walls swept up from the floor in glowing curves which crested gently overhead, like frozen waves high above their heads. The surfaces were a dull grey, but were covered with softly glowing lines that traced intricate patterns over every inch of the walls, floor and ceiling.
Amara led the way down the long corridor, appearing to be in no hurry.
"Is something the matter?" Sorreah asked, feeling like an idiot asking for such a question when obviously everything was wrong all around them. Still, he had felt the need to say something.
"I’m just…worried…I guess. I’m not sure how we’re going to get out of here. The only ways out that I know of are the stairs and the transporter to the Core."
Sorreah nodded glumly. "I guess neither are very attractive." He said, feeling even dumber for having stated the blatantly obvious. Amara didn’t seem to notice. She just kept on moving ahead.
Sorreah was studying the patterns on the floor as they shuffled past, when he noticed that the glowing lines had begun to change color. He looked up and saw that they had suddenly entered a large circular space. A glance behind showed him that there was no sign of the long corridor they had been following. Above, there was no ceiling. Rather, several large floating spheres, covered in the same glowing patterns as the walls, hung there, bobbing gently in some unseen breeze. From the sides and tops of these spheres, huge columns of shadows issued forth, rising to disappear far overhead. It hurt Sorreah’s eyes to look at the shadow generating orbs and he lowered his gaze.
In the center of the floor, the patterns all merged into a great swirling arabesque of curls and whorls and eddies, centering on five bright shining circles. The pattern glowed a soft amber color. "There is the gate to the Core," Amara said, pointing to the glowing central pattern. Sorreah shivered.
Amara was frowning. "That’s odd," she remarked. "I don’t remember the patterns being this color."
Sorreah’s mind was numb, and it hurt to think about the strangeness all around them. "Uh…what color do you remember?"
"Purple or violet or…magenta, maybe," Amara shrugged. She turned to Sorreah. "Well, now what?"
He sighed. "Perhaps we could try the stairs again. Maybe the Core creatures gave up the pursuit and we could sneak back out." He knew it sounded lame, but he really didn’t see any other option. Travelling into the Core itself was simply unthinkable.
"Well…maybe," began Amara, but her sentence was cut off by a loud and all too familiar BAM! BAM! BAM! from behind them. They whirled around to see the gorath standing there. No less than six rabid wasperines stalked out from behind it to flank either side of the hulking monster. A cloud of chaos plith, dark vellups and shryque rose to fill the air above. Sorreah swallowed, hard. BAM! The gorath moved one huge foot forward, baring its yellow teeth in a hideous grimace. BAM! It took another step as the six flanking wasperines began to slink forward as well. BAM! Sorreah and Amara stumbled backward as the monsters advanced and the cloud of flying beasts began to circle lazily overhead. BAM! The gorath raised its arms, ready to swing its deadly chains. BAM! Sorreah put a protective arm around Amara as she boldly raised her battered bow. BAM! It was hopeless, Sorreah knew. Neither of them had the energy left for a fight such as this. The wasperines slid closer. Now they could smell the fetid breath of their tormentors.
With a roar, the gorath charged. Sorreah pulled Amara tight and turned to do the unthinkable. Closing his eyes, he plunged them both over the glowing patterns that would take them into the very heart of evil itself…the Core.

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