Evu and Tryn moved into the geyser, but no sooner had their feet touched the dark floor, than the doorway began to collapse. Driven by surprise, they ran forward as the maelstrom closed the portal behind them, leaving them enveloped in a thick, whirling darkness filled with vile shapes, sounds, and smells, filling them with nausea and chilling them to the bone. The ground itself seemed to lurch in counterpoint to the whirling darkness, and occasionally bits of the floor would get sucked upward by the winds.
Tryn looked around; it was all but impossible to see. She saw a faint glimmer of light reflecting off of Evu's bald head, but even as she turned, he stumbled blindly off into the nightmarish landscape. A sudden fear leapt into her heart, a premonition that she would never see him again.
She raised her hand to call after him, but at that moment some...thing seemed to materialize out of the darkness around her. It sniffed her hand, opened its jaw with a laughing growl, fixed her with its glowing eyes...
Tryn stumbled back at the creature leapt, raking her with its claws and smashing her into a wall. Quickly she touched her ring and dreamed up a rudwot, but the vile beast shredded the rudwot faster than she would have thought possible. She had only a few moments left to her, and in her panicked state, her mind came up blank. What to do?
Tryn screamed as powerful hands seized her. She felt herself picked up and flung aside. A huge gout of fire streamed over her, making her skin uncomfortably hot. She looked up and saw the well-tanned features of Barak looming over her, a stern look on his face. Curls of fire flickered from his outstretched hand. Once more a blast of flame erupted from his hand, and she heard the howl of the vile beast abruptly end in the tinkle of falling animite.
"Boy am I glad to see you," said Tryn, but as she did so the ground shifted, and the two Magi slid several feet to the side and the greasy floor beneath them began to buck and tilt.
"We have to get out of here," he said. "I don't know what this is, but it's like a volcano in the midst of an eruption. Far safer to move into the heart of the volcano, where it's calm."
"I thought Calders enjoyed the chaos of an eruption."
"If you'd rather, I'll leave you here..." said Barak.
"Lead the way, big guy," said Tryn. "I'm right behind you."
o o o
Barak's instinctive knowledge of eruptions led them down to the base of the geyser, and they emerged in the center of a vast magical laboratory deep in the Core. They slipped quietly past the sole Core Magi present, an ugly and heavily armored creature who slumped against the wall, slumbering fitfully and murmuring something about "my plan, my plan."
Barak wanted to fight the Magi and get some small measure of revenge for what the geyser had done to the Moonlands (as well as prove a personal point about Orwin's contest and the superiority of fire magic), but Tryn coaxed him onward. "Even a warlord like you doesn't need to fight all the time," she said. "Wait for a better time."
Barak looked at her for a long moment, then nodded.
They moved deeper into the Core, making their way past huge fortresses, forests of brambles, and oozing piles of ichor that spewed out noxious foggy sprays. Several times they defeated assaults by the twisted denizens of the Core as they looked for a place to hole up.
At last, in a dank, dripping, but mercifully quiet corner, the two Magi stopped to take a rest. Barak dreamed up a couple arbolits, one to keep them warm, and one to infuse Tryn with its energy. She gasped as she felt the heat flowing through her. It was a very different feeling from the energies of Naroom, fierce and hot and aggressive.
"So how did you get in here?" she asked Barak at last.
"A few of my followers and I tried to follow you and Evu just as the gateway was closing. They used their abilities to help me get in before it was too late. Lucky I made it, too: that half-eaten jile had you right where it wanted you."
"It just caught me off guard," said Tryn lamely. The fact is, she'd been too startled. This geyser, in fact the whole Core, was so unlike the gentle, quiet forests. She felt like she'd been no help to Barak. In contrast, he was decisive, calm, and always ready to fight back at any threat. Maybe there was a positive side to growing up among flames and explosions all the time...
"So where's Evu?" asked the warlord.
"I don't know," she said quietly. "He wandered off almost as soon as we came in. He didn't even say anything to me; it was almost like he was being called."
"That's not good," grunted Barak.
"And I'll tell you this, I don't want to go looking for him, either. Let's just get out of here. We've got to let Orwin know what happened."
"Well," said Barak, rubbing his fist, "to do that, we'll have to hope they open another volcano. If they do, maybe we can ride the eruption back to the surface. But judging by the size of that laboratory back there, these spells use a lot of energy, so it'll probably be a while before they launch another one. Let's rest a bit, and then we can start looking. The arbolit will keep watch."
"All right," said Tryn, and she settled back to sleep for a bit. The last thing she saw before she drifted off was the warm, soothing glow of the arbolit. I guess fire isn't so bad, she thought as her eyes closed.
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