Chapter 9 - Secrets of Seneca
“Lux sphaera haeram, copulus etiam,” Rhemar recited, as a faint light swelled to form a hovering globe overhead, revealing the Cimmerian corridor.
Its radiance illuminated approximately seven feet of their guided path, bobbing with the travelers as they strode down the cobbled hall. Cato gawked at the englobing mass of crepuscular light with undivided scrutiny, attempting to discover what fueled its fireless glow. Over the next twenty minutes, they wandered invariably straight and unhindered into the depths of the titan. The ominous presence they sensed pestered Rhemar into an unceasing qualm, making his demeanor lousy company. With only their periodic pads echoing against the stones, another twenty minutes passed in near silence.
At the end of the corridor, the two voyagers reach a tremendous stone door. Inlaid with fine etchings of various dramatic scenes, the door depicts a champion overcoming the ternary trials of Seneca. Protecting the deepest secret of the temple, a masterfully composed gauntlet awaits any pilgrim attempting to discover its buried mysteries.
Rhemar pressed his hand to the door and felt a somber warmth radiating. Knowing the average heat dissipation of the temple’s sandstone, along with the assumption of the door’s thickness, Rhemar could tell a vast source of heat lay on the other side.
“We must be careful, the immense temperatures beyond these walls are greater than any normal being can withstand,” Rhemar said.
“How do we proceed?”
“We’ll need some protection,” Rhemar replied, “Ignis haeram, copulus flumen vivificas.”
A cerise aura enshrouded both Cato and Rhemar. “This will protect us from some heat, but not more than a thousand persiants. Hopefully this does the trick.”
Cato’s expression showed surprise when he leaned forward and touched his hand to the feverish stone door, “Woah. Everything feels…cold.”
“Just wait until we get inside, you’ll feel the heat when it comes.”
The two prepared for the unknown and thrust the door wide with surprising ease. As the door unfurled, an intense wave of heat flurried past them. Cato could feel the extreme temperatures baking his corneas and doubted whether they possessed the protection needed to survive this first trial.
The heat subsided somewhat, allowing for the duo to enter the next chamber. A molten basin of whirlpooling lava spread the length of the room, creating a flowing divide that separated Rhemar and Cato from the next door.
Cato gave Rhemar a pretentious curtsy, “How do we get pass this, Almighty One?”
Inspecting the chamber’s nuances and extremities, Rhemar noticed a repeating pattern in the lava pool. There were five distinct currents, whirling and bisecting various segments of the molten lagoon.
“We need to find a vessel that will carry us across. There seems to be a current flowing diagonal from our position to that ledge on the right. If we can get there, I have no doubt we could make the hurdle with a little wind at our backs.”
Cato acknowledged, “I can facilitate the wind. How do you propose we get there?”
“It seems the obsidian stones lining the pool have a higher melting point, yet less density, than the churning magma. We need to dislodge one that’s large enough for us to fare while remaining buoyant.” Rhemar replied, revealing a familiar silver rod from his robes. “Ferro hastam, imperium munitium.”
The pint-sized rod elongated and sharpened at its tip, transforming into a brilliant spear of scaled sterling. Rhemar positioned himself near the molten pool and thrust the spear into a crevice. Heaving, he threw his might into dislodging a gondola-sized boulder from the shoreline. Crumbles of stone were discarded into the fiery pit as Rhemar dismantled the interim raft. Its knifed edges sliced through the magma, splashing droplets of lava on the battered banks. Once abdicated, the stone raft began drifting away from the duo, following the churning undertow and steering toward the far side embankment.
Rhemar seized Cato from his shoulders and throttled him towards the embarking stone vessel, “We must go now!”
Propelled from Rhemar’s candid boost and the everchanging wind at his back, Cato pounced from the collapsing berm and landed on the rocking ship with wisping ease. Rhemar nearly missed his foothold as he lunged over the incinerating lava, causing additional staggering in the ship’s sway. Deposited moisture residues in the obsidian’s pores hissed as they evaporated, flicking shots of steam into the air.
“Cato, start cooling this rock before we blister to bits!”
Drawing a broad breath, Cato felt the cindering heat singe his lungs; he let out a howling gale of conditioned air that swept across the deck, abating the feverish heap momentarily. As he clutched his inflamed chest and wiped his perspiring brow, he prepared for another squall.
Rhemar curbed Cato’s efforts and fixed his palms to the stone deck, “Ignis sorbere flumen, sphaera postea.”
Rhemar cast a calefaction-absorbing hex on the vessel, channeling heat to a spherical core propagating overhead. “This will give us ten seconds of reprieve. Hurry! Send a tempest starboard so we can secure the current!”
Cato squarely squatted, strengthening his stance for the next assault. With an adamant gesture, he thrust both palms starboard and unleashed a vigorous surge. The burst jerked them near the center and set course toward the crosswise eddy. Cato’s overzealous efforts caused the raft to traverse the current before they could reach their lofted destination, causing them to steer directly into the whirlpooling center.
The ship began spiraling astray as the heat-absorption enchantment faded, allowing the stone’s fever to rise. Accelerating from the churning rapids, the duo forced themselves to cling to the ship deck, avoiding a dismounting cremation. As they circumnavigated the whirlpool, Rhemar contemplated their options.
“Once the next lap commences, we must redirect our path or we’re ash in the wind. We’ll need more gusto than you used before to escape the rapine. I’ll assist, but I need you resolute.” Rhemar urged, pressing his hands to Cato’s back and closing his eyes. “On my mark, give it everything you got.”
Cato secured his foothold and steadied his breath. Shifting his stance, he readied for the next push and waited Rhemar’s cue. Before the moment came, Cato felt a surge of energy flow insidiously through his spine, veins, and ventricles, making it hard for him to focus. Rhemar’s energy was debilitatingly potent and Cato feared he would not withstand another iota of the Majin’s verve. Cato’s innards thrashed as the spirit engulfed him. All he could do was focus on the task at hand and pray he did not collapse from an imminent implosion.
Rhemar’s voice thundered, reverberating through Cato’s torso and bones, “NOW!”
Thrusting his palms aft, Cato erupted into a lion’s roar and unleashed a violent typhoon. As he screamed, Cato felt Rhemar’s energy drain violently from his veins, leaving him feeble and encumbered. He could hear Rhemar’s voice washing away, as though he spoke behind an aqueous veil and drifted flimsily into a hazy stupor. The majin leeched every trace of strength he possessed and guided Cato into an empty darkness.
The abrupt jolt from Cato’s gale was enough to disembark their course from the clutches of the molten vortex. As Cato lie limp and unconscious, Rhemar feared his plot killed the young shaman. With their available time diminishing, Rhemar focused on getting them to safety. He hoisted Cato onto his left shoulder and prepared for a leap of faith. The timing had to be exact. Rhemar concentrated the last of his majin, diverting every molecule to his quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. He squatted low, bending his knees to full capacity and awaited the exact moment of departure. Instead of aiming for the lofted edge, Rhemar set sights on the opposing coastline. Just before the stone ship began to shy away from their path, he sprang forth. The unleashing force from his vault sent a quake through the stone, upheaving sintered dust in a circular cloud around his gamboling feet, submerging the raft into the molten abyss.
Heels landing inches from the coastline’s edge, Rhemar felt the reciprocal momentum lurching him backwards. He drove his head forward and rolled Cato off his back and toppled over the limp lad. Rhemar’s legs, arms, and torso ached with fraying woe as he felt his majin diminish. After thirty seconds of grueling agony, Rhemar centered his focus and disabled his pain receptors. Commanding his body to rise, Rhemar knew he would not be able to stave the pain indefinitely. He grabbed Cato’s ash ridden robes and began to drag him toward the exit. Once they reached the twin stone doors, Rhemar threw his body at their seam and roared a dying warrior’s battle cry. The doors remained shut and stubborn.
Rhemar’s outcry dulled to a pathetic groan as he prodded his fist into the stone doors with a whimpering thud. “Open…damn you. OPEN! BY THE CREATOR, OPEN THIS FUCKING DOOR!”
As he felt a sinister anger swell, the chamber’s walls began to tremble, and the doors lurched ajar. Rhemar collapsed through the doorway and his afflicting pain returned. Addled from the sudden inrush of nervous responses, Rhemar capsized and convulsed stridently for a few moments. After the sporadic tremors abated, he crawled to Cato and staggered to his feet. Rhemar grabbed Cato once more and lugged him the remaining distance, until they were safe from the searing swelter.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Cato awoke several minutes later to a dimly flushed corridor with a faint heat at his back. The doors to the chamber of lava were ajar, just enough to abate the inferno’s temper. Coming into clarity, Cato twisted his sights to inspect the surrounding corridor for his companion. Rhemar sat hunched and ragged against the onyx slate walls.
“About time you woke up. How do you feel?” Rhemar asked.
With a look of grave concern in his expression Cato interjected, “Me? Look at you! What happened?”
After a bawdy cough, Rhemar lifted his head and held his gaze at the arching ceiling. “You passed out like a little girl seeing her first blood. Then, I carried your lassie arse into this hall…wasn’t much between.”
“Fuck off! There’s no way you made that leap. You hardly made the grade landing on that hellish canoe fresh out the gates!” Cato clamored, fidgeting his brow as he tried to remember the moments after he unleashed his majin-aided tempest. “What did you do to me? It felt like my veins were shredding from the inside. My nerves were electrified and burning, yet–”
“Invigorated? The sensation of every cell in your tiny body shaking with gaiety?” Rhemar fixed his attention on the young shaman, emerald eyes glinting in the waning glow and a wry smile swelling on his jeering, pretentious face. “That was pure Majin coursing through you. A taste of the Creator’s finest vintage. Thought it snuffed you out at first. Glad your insolent hide withstood a little zesting.”
“Little zesting? Ha’heh, you’re somethin’ else mister.” Cato chuckled and gave Rhemar a determined, adamant look, “Next time, it will be I saving your hide, my lord.”
With a nod of acknowledgement, Rhemar rose to his feet and dusted off the ashen soot from his robes, “I have no doubt that you will be my salvation someday, and I thank you in advance.”
Watching the unimposing and lighthearted man, Cato felt there was much more to the wizardly Majin than he previously discerned. As Cato uprooted himself, he felt the same fiery prickle rushing through his veins.
Aware of Cato’s behooving disbelief, Rhemar walked over to the young shaman and bolstered his shoulder, “You and all living organisms have magical pathways throughout their body, allowing them to channel majin.”
Rhemar looked Cato in the eyes with studious wisdom, “These pathways are generally restrictive, only allowing insignificant bits of majin to flow at any given time. However, through intensive training or evolved inheritance, sects of people (and some animals) have expanded their pathways, granting them increased capabilities. Your pathways, tiny as they are, have great potential, but still need many seasons before they fully develop. The majin I passed through you opened them up and increased your abilities. That’s what you’re feeling right now, unencumbered lifeforce surging like the tide.”
A bright glimmer peaked Cato’s expression, “So that’s how it works. It feels good, really good.”
“Due to increased access of your reserves, you’ll be able to channel your majin with greater ease. Beware, the majin you will inevitably use–”
Before Rhemar could continue, Cato chuckled joyously, bounced two steps, and unleashed a howling gale down the length of the corridor. He felt the immense surge of majin rushing out of him, so much that he could not restrict the unceasing flow. Rhemar holstered Cato’s arms, tucking them behind his scapulae, and thrusted him to the ground. The shock from hitting the stone floor ceased the turbulence flooding the hall, leaving Cato disoriented.
A shrewd expression etched Rhemar’s face, “Stay your hand if you want to live through the next giddy hurricane you muster. You need patience and moderation to control this power.”
“You sound like the old monks from home,” Cato unfurled his arms from Rhemar’s loosening grip, rolled over, and gazed at the arching ceiling, “Patience isn’t my thing…not fond of moderation either.”
Rhemar let out a gasping and unwavering chortle before wiping a forced tear from his cheek, “Well then, I guess you’ll need a bigger tank. Until then, try not to kill yourself, or me for that fact.”
The next few hours felt like days. After their scant survival of Seneca’s first trial, the two compatriots were weary of what challenges lay ahead. They agreed to keep a level mind and vigilant resolve while they prepared a basic strategy for remaining guarded and an extensive scheme for escaping. To allow Cato practice of his new abilities, they rehearsed an imagined scrimmage. Rhemar deployed a squall of fiery birds to invariably attack Cato in groups of three. After half an hour, Cato went from uncontrollably whooshing the birds away to precisely eliminating each individual team with cutthroat accuracy. Once they were content with proceeding, they gave each other a nod of newfound camaraderie, reassembled, and ventured deeper into the depths of the Titan.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A dilapidated iron door marked the second trial of Seneca. It seemed to crumble just from looking at it, hinges groaning from Gravity’s oppression. The travelers knew it would not be long before Time lay waste to the giant’s decaying fortitude. Rhemar could see no indications of acquaintance with the door’s next trial. Instead, all he could make out were fist-sized ripples protruding from the door’s corroded surface, lining its bottom expanse and eager to emerge from the other side.
Rhemar’s expression transitioned into a chilly dismay, “Something was trying to escape from here. I hope we arrived late enough to miss the party.”
“It couldn’t still be alive, you think?” Cato asked
“Surely not but get smart and pay attention.”
Upon further investigation, Rhemar found a locking mechanism that resembled a bolt and pin design at the edge of the door, fastening it unequivocally shut. With a lackluster look at Cato, Rhemar hoisted and shifted the bolting lock and pried open the iron door. Inside was the familiar darkness Rhemar and Cato were accustomed to, accompanied by a fermenting stench of rotting flesh. An unsettling energy filled the air, making it feel dense with tainted humidity.
“God awful. Have you ever smelled anything so vile?” Cato asked.
“More than once, and I’ll not likely forget it. The smell of death. Be alert.”
The duo entered the next chamber accompanied by three of Rhemar’s illuminating orbs lighting the way. A dark mist shrouded the air in a nightingale haze. They couldn’t make out any details of what the chamber looked like; all indications of purpose had been erased or eroded by the mist. As they strode deeper, the mist thickened and began following them.
“Rhemar, I think we should hurry.”
With a short chuckle, Rhemar put his arm around Cato’s shoulder in a head-locking motion. “I know you’re scared but You’re doing fine lad! Compared to the lava, this is a muffin walk.”
“Stop kidding, this mist sucks life from whomever breathes it in. I’ve seen it before.”
Rhemar’s face shifted from jubilant to serious. “Okay, so how did you survive?”
Shaking his head, Cato lifted both hands while closing his eyes, “With help from the Wind.”
The wind shaman crossed his arms and flung them to his sides. A shockwave carried outward from Cato’s position, receding the mist momentarily. Before the mist could return, Cato released another wave, and then another. Yet each time Cato brushed the mist away, it seemed to return faster than before.
“This is getting us nowhere. We have to make a run for it. Can your ladyness summon a tornado that lasts longer than five bloody seconds?”
Straightening his stance, Cato squinted his eyes and tilted his head to the side, “Don’t think I got it in me? I’ll show you ladyness…prick.”
Cato closed his eyes and made a counterclockwise sweeping motion with his left leg, then stood with his fists closed and retracted to either side. Breathing deep, he thrust his palms forward. A howling vortex stampeded down the hall, sucking up the mist and any loose stones as it marched by. Rhemar and Cato followed behind the tornado just far enough to resist the dismounting gale forces. Once the twister made it to the door at the end of the hall, Rhemar cast a flaming bolt into its center and set the tornado ablaze. The surging airflow only intensified the conjured flames. As the burning-maelstrom column grew, the mist started screaming as it evaporated.
Cato’s look of triumph faded as he noticed the shrieks were not from boiling water droplets, “Do you hear that? It sounds like people screaming.”
“I sense it is…those poor souls.”
The cries went silent and with them, the flames and wind subsided. The hall became remarkably quiet. Before either of them could break the calm, a rumble echoed from deeper in the titan. Rhemar and Cato darted looks at each other and back to the end of the hall. The door marking the chamber’s exit burst open and the blackening mist flooded in. After it filled the hall, it slammed the door shut in its wake. It moved like a serpent hunting its prey, weaving to the left and striking from the right. Surging around and encapsulating Rhemar and Cato, the mist began absorbing their energy at an alarming pace. They both could feel the warmth of their lifeforce fading, leaving a deathly chill in their extremities and seeping into their thoughts.
Cato bit deep into his tongue, bringing his mind back from the frozen wastelands. He let out another howling gale that evacuated the surrounding air. The tide of dark energy rose and separated from the duo, forming a circular wall around them and allowing a breath of respite. As they looked around, they could see figures of mutilated humanoids trying to claw their way out of the mist.
“If this wall collapses, we’re Dead. Keep these bloodsuckers at bay!” Rhemar shouted.
Cato’s eyes began to gleam, shining brighter than any lantern or moon Rhemar had ever saw. The wind shaman took a determined stance and kept perfectly still. An aura of wind enshrouded him and expanded outward, keeping the mist at bay with pure hurricane forces. Where Rhemar and Cato stood, the wind held no sway, as though they were in the eye of a cyclone.
When he spoke, his voice was carried through the wind, “Rhemar, I need you to do something, I can’t hold this much longer.”
Rhemar looked toward the hall’s end and was able to make out the lining of the door. He moved closer to Cato, “When it comes, don’t hesitate. Jump in before those monsters get to you. Give me thirty seconds.”
Cato nodded as Rhemar took his own stance and began to chant, “Montis Ocavit Bovis Lutum!”
The floor began to tremble and fluctuate like a stone dropped in water. From the center of the chaos, a figure began to rise. It took on the form of a two-headed ox with four tails and solidified. It was three meters tall, two wide, and four long. Its horns were curved upwards instead of out and they were thick enough to put a melon-sized hole in a man.
The bull cracked its two necks and left out a hefty sigh, “Rhemar is that you? You son of a bitch, where have you been? You owe me a favor, if you haven’t forgotten? Rhemar, where are You? Where am I? WHO’S THIS?”
Rhemar flung his hands in the air for immediate surrender, “Jakan! Pew! It’s good to see you guys, my old friends! My, is that your winter-coats coming in, they look mighty thick and bully! Don’t kill this guy, he’s my friend, and we’re kind of in a pickle…Oh, and I haven’t forgotten our arrangement, I assure you.”
The stone bovine turned its two heads toward Rhemar and stared at him with deep intent. The right head, Pew spoke first, “Well, as long as you haven’t forgotten. And why yes, it is coming in rather thick this year, thanks for noticing. So Rhemar my dear, what’s this pickle you speak of?”
“We need you to get us through a door without letting that bogus swarm of death follow. I’ll owe you double.”
“Make it triple, or no deal,” Jakan, the left head, said.
“Fine, triple it is.”
Pew piped up, “And we want another go at Chloe.”
“You got it, anything else, we’re kinda in a hurry here.”
Jakan lifted his head up and away, “No, I think we’re content. Get in.”
The stone gargantuan ox’s side split and opened wide. Makeshift seats were inlaid throughout its gut cavity, with a small area for loading passengers below its ribs. Rhemar hopped in and gave Cato the signal. The wind shaman broke his spell and bolted for the stone bull. As he jumped in the ox, the mist was already closing in on his position. Before it could reach a sinister embrace, the stone side-panel slammed shut, preventing the mist from entering. Rhemar and Cato could hear the mist howling and scratching at the bull’s masoned exterior. Unhindered, the summoned stone ox marched toward the only door in sight.
Frazzled and on edge, Cato turned to Rhemar, “What is this THING? How long will we last in here? Who’s Chloe?”
“They’re two halves of a magical creature from another dimension. Long story. Basically, a two-headed cow that can talk, not much of a surprise. They’re tied to my majin and as long as I have spare energy, they can stay in this world. I used the stones in the floor as a medium for bringing them here, otherwise you and I would be sitting in a meaty gullet and their hide would have been torn to shreds by this Fucking Mist!” Rhemar banged his fist on the stone walls keeping the mist at bay. “All in all, I think we made it out of this one right lucky. Oh, and Chloe is my ol’Bessie back home. They’re heads over hoofs for her. Must be those utters.”
“Riiight…But we still have to make it through that door without letting this rampaging psycho-cane follow us. They know we’re in here and won’t likely forget we boiled their friends to death…or second death, I guess.” Cato said.
Rhemar reclined in his chair and looked toward the front of the ox, “Relax, Jakan and Pew are professionals. I asked them to get us through without the mist following and they said no worries, so stop worrying and enjoy the ride. Besides, I need to focus on my connection with this oaf or he’ll fall to pieces and we’ll be up Buldoc’s Creek.”
Cato looked unsatisfied with Rhemar’s response. He crossed his arms and sat silently, sulking in defeat. After a two-minute leisurely stroll through a hornet’s nest of unyielding buzz, the stone ox reached the iron door. Pew shoved his head into the door without it budging. Then his head shifted and took the form of a battering ram, but still didn’t move. On the inside, Rhemar and Cato could see an opening through Pew’s mouth unfurling. Pew effortlessly penetrated the door without a sound, and formed a passageway for the duo to escape without letting the mist in.
“Can you seal that up before you go?”
Jakan’s muffled voice sounded from the other side of the door, “It’ll cost you quadruple.”
“That’s absurdly criminal! A tiny patch job for quad? How preposterous…Deal.”
The stone-throat passage that lead Rhemar and Cato into the next room sealed without a scuff or blemish adorning the mineral slab. With the apparent departure of the peculiar ox, the screaming and clawing stopped, as though nothing had occurred moments prior. Rhemar sat down to catch his breath. The prolonged summoning took a great deal of majin out of him.
Cato started for Rhemar, “Are you alright?”
Rhemar took out his gourd flask, gulped down its cool contents, and passed it to Cato, “Just need some water, it’s thirsty business traveling with you.”