Chapter 26
The Devl's Finger

Pandemonium, Byrn; Anno Regis 1275

"Fear... Anger... Sorrow... Despair... Hate... These are the weapons of the enemy. Wielding these, they take more than life; they rob men of their souls. We arm ourselves with wood, steel and stone, but they are useless against such dreadful power. A strong will, a clear mind and a steady heart will lead you to victory."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

For all the menace the dreaded tower posed, few people knew of Pandemonium's existence. Long ago there was a string of disappearances associated with Ban Plateau and the King sealed off all the entrances and kept them under guard. Despite these precautions, rumors persisted that the gates of Hell lay open and luckless travelers were carried away by demonic hordes to suffer eternal torment.
The rumors did not seem far from the mark. The moment Mark and his companions crossed the threshold, the massive doors swung shut with alarming speed, plunging them into darkness. The cries they heard from outside had not stopped, but in the darkness the effect was far more terrifying.
"Ignatiy."
Catherine's voice cut through the cries and the darkness. Ignatiy quickly created a small flame to light his torch. With the new source of light, they were able to see their surroundings, but it was arguably better to have remained in the dark. The walls were a collage of twisted faces stricken with terror and anguish. Thin, gnarled arms reached up from the floor, greedily pawing and grabbing at the companions' legs and feet.
"Pay them no heed," Catherine warned. "They cannot harm you as long as you do not surrender to fear. Just keep moving."
As the arms started clutching to Ignatiy, he began to stumble, nearly letting go of his torch. Catherine rushed to his side, taking hold of him and shaking him lightly.
"Stay focused! Do not let them take away your flame."
She pointed at the arms grabbing Ignatiy and they recoiled in paralysis. Even with her intervention, the group could not move very easily through the tangle of greedy hands. Mark drew his sword to fend them off, but Catherine quickly grabbed his arm.
"Do not cut them! You will only make things worse!"
Mark did not question her. He sheathed his blade and they continued to press onward. After breaking from the grip of one hand, they would be caught by another. Even so, they did not allow their perseverance to falter and eventually reached the stairwell on the other end of the chamber.
The stairs themselves looked like nothing more than bones suspended in the air. Needless to say, they had some reservations about setting foot on such an unsavory thing, but the drive to continue pushed them forward. Catherine, the lightest among them, went first, cautiously setting her foot down on the lowest step. It creaked under her weight, but seemed to support her.
"It appears safe enough," she told the others.
The stairs groaned loudly as they ascended, but they took the precaution of having only one person on a single stair at a time. In spite of their misgivings, their ascent met with no misfortune. In no time at all they found themselves on the next level.
The second floor seemed innocuous enough, plain stone walls and a seemingly featureless brown floor. That was before they stepped off the stairs. Upon entering the chamber, they found themselves waist-deep in thick mud. Besides moving slower than normal, there did not seem to be much of a challenge clearing the floor until something nearly knocked Catherine off her feet. As Mark helped her up, a violent collision pushed the two of them face-first into the mud.
Once they were back on their feet, they saw the others being knocked around as well. Looking closer, they saw scores of bodies, presumably human, gliding through the mud like blind river pikes. While the others were floundering about, Stefan seemed to detach himself from the situation, standing still in deep concentration. With the aid of his heightened awareness, he intercepted one body with a thrust of his quarterstaff, then another with a powerful kick, only to be knocked over while attacking the third.
"It's no use!" Ignatiy shrieked, cut short by another collision.
"We have to keep going!" Catherine urged. "Join hands and do not let go!"
Forming a chain, they started to make steady progress to the other side. Whenever a body struck one of them, the others kept him or her from falling and maintained their momentum. The uncoordinated movements of the bodies proved to be their greatest ally, rarely inflicting blows that threatened to separate them. Beaten and bruised, they finally managed to drag themselves out of the mire into the stairwell.
After practically crawling up the stairs, the five of them collapsed on the third floor. However, the floor made a peculiar crunching sound upon their landing. They quickly realized the floor was covered with all manner of crawling insects. They all recoiled in their own fashion, some (namely Ignatiy) far more frantically than others. As they sprang to their feet and shook any vermin out of their clothes, the air became thick with the floor's flying counterparts.
"Cover your faces and run!" Catherine yelled, sputtering from the gnats flooding into her mouth. "Do not fall for anything!"
The others were quick to obey. The swarms were so thick that a sword could barely cut through them, much less five people. Any exposed flesh was easy prey for the insects of the air while those of the floor eagerly looked for any chance to crawl up their legs.
As hellish as all the stinging, biting and crawling was, their lives were not in danger so long as they kept moving. In the end, it was more of a monstrous nuisance than anything else.
The insects thinned out as the five companions got closer to the stairs, signaling that their torment would soon be over. They hastily made their way up to the next floor, furiously shaking their clothes and hair once more to dislodge any unwanted intruders. For a moment, they were so happy to be rid of the insects that they forgot that the next floor would likely be just as bad.
Once the flush of victory had left them, they took stock of their new surroundings. The walls of the fourth floor were lined with three rows of bas-relief in the form of gaping demon heads. Although there did not appear to be any obstacles in the chamber, they knew better than to let themselves be lulled into a sense of complacency by mere appearances. They were right to be suspicious.
They had only taken a few steps into the chamber when gushing streams of blood spewed from the mouths of the demon heads. By the time the group fully realized what was happening, the room was already filled up to their ankles. Catherine did not need to tell them what to do. They started to run, sloshing noisily through the pool that had risen to their knees in mere seconds. The pool continued to rise, reaching chest-level by the time they were at the halfway point. Mark, Stefan and Catherine began to swim as the pool covered up the second row of heads; but Olofer and Ignatiy could only thrash around helplessly. Seeing their plight, Stefan turned back to them, sparing only a brief moment to pass instructions to his fellow swimmers.
"Mark, help Olofer," he said. "I'll get Ignatiy. You keep going, Catherine. We'll need you on the other side."
Although it was clearly taking some effort, Olofer kept his wits about him and did not struggle against Mark as he helped the shepherd onward. Ignatiy, on the other hand, was giving in to panic and frantically grabbing at Stefan. Struggling to keep himself afloat amidst Ignatiy's thrashing, the young fighter cursed angrily.
"Hold still, damn you! You'll drown us both!"
The pool was only a few feet from the ceiling and within a minute or two it would be filled to the brim. Catherine was already across with Mark and Olofer not far behind. In the face of his increasingly hopeless situation, Ignatiy was becoming even more difficult. At his wit's end, Stefan squeezed Ignatiy tightly to keep his arms from thrashing any more.
"You'll hold your breath and be still," he hissed, "understand? I'll leave you behind if I have to, but I'm not going to drown here!"
Whether it was the harshness of his words or just a sense of resignation that stopped Ignatiy from moving around, Stefan could care less, but he did not waste the opportunity. Taking one last gulp of air, he pushed himself below the surface. Ignatiy slowed him down, but not as much as if he were still struggling.
Stefan was worn from the beating he had suffered earlier and his strength was waning. He could feel himself sinking to the bottom. There was no doubt in his mind that he was going to die. As worthless as he thought the firebug was, he wished he was not bringing Ignatiy down with him. Ignatiy would have died anyway left on his own, but the thought gave Stefan no comfort.
Just as he had resolved himself to death, the fighter felt a hand grab his wrist and pull his body out of the pool. Thankfully, he kept his hold on Ignatiy the whole time and both were saved. After a fit of coughing, Stefan wiped the blood from his eyes to see who had grabbed him. For some reason, he could hardly believe that the hand still clutching his wrist belonged to Mark. Where did he get the strength to pull both Stefan and Ignatiy out of the pool?
"Are you two all right?" Mark asked. There was no mistaking the sincere concern in his eyes.
Stefan managed a weak grin. "We'll live."
They were tempted to remain sprawled out where they were, but the creaking of the stairs was all the impetus they needed to keep moving. The fifth floor was completely bare with polished stone on all sides. Before they could make heads or tails of it, a sudden gust of wind swept Catherine off her feet and lifted her into the air.
"Catherine!" Mark cried, blindly springing forward to reach her.
His arm could not reach her; the wind carried her away too quickly for him to catch her. Before the others could react, the wind blew more fiercely and swept them all into the air. The wind swirled into a great vortex, splitting into several smaller whirlwinds that separated the group. Even if the winds did not kept them well away from the walls, ceiling or floor; there was nothing for them to hold onto.
"Join hands!" Catherine shouted, her voice barely above the howl of the winds. "Form a chain and we can move across the whirlwinds!"
They tried to come together, but it was a vain effort. The wind taunted them, letting them get within mere inches of each other only to blow harder the moment they tried to join hands.
"This isn't working!" Ignatiy cried.
Amidst a stream of curses, Stefan yelled to Catherine, "We need another plan!"
Catherine could foresee the pitfalls of all the alternative strategies brewing in the minds of her companions. Before they attempted any of those bad ideas, she sent a telepathic plea to Olofer.
Use your pendant, Olofer! It is the only way!
Olofer did not need to be told twice. He stopped struggling and became one with the wind as he drew energy into the pendant. Soon a mighty gale cut across the vortices and mangled their flow. The space went dead and the five companions fell to the floor. There was no telling when the wind would return and they did not plan on wasting the opportunity Olofer had given them. They sprang to their feet and ran to the stairs as fast as their legs could carry them. To speed them on their way, Olofer unleashed a powerful tailwind that forced them to the other end of the room. The whirlwind returned as they were scrambling up the stairs and very nearly sucked them back in.
In their rush to get clear of the whirlwind, they poured into the next chamber rather incautiously. Ignatiy slipped and fell on his backside, a fate the other four scarcely managed to avoid. The sixth floor was covered in a thick layer of ice, much like the tunnel that brought them to Castle Ban.
Paying no heed to the chill, Catherine looked at Ignatiy. "We will be needing your powers in here."
"Wait!" Stefan warned in a harsh whisper. He pointed at the icicles hanging from the ceiling. "The heat could make them fall and we'd be torn to shreds."
He had barely finished his last sentence when ice crystals began to form on their bodies. They immediately tried to pluck off the ice, but it held fast to their clothes and skin.
Seeing the obvious danger if the ice continued to spread, Catherine grimly replied, "We have to take the risk." She nodded to the firebug. "Ignatiy, hurry and conjure a flame, but keep it small. We need to get out of here as quickly as possible."
Having lost his torches back on the second level, Ignatiy created a small flame the size of a torch's light and the group huddled around him. The ice could not spread within flames small radius of heat, but it left their backs vulnerable. Because their half-warmed bodies could hardly move, Ignatiy slowly increased the size of the flame. Bit by bit, the ice began to recede and disappear from their bodies. His success came at a price, though. The group was forced to scatter as a hail of icicles crashed into the floor.
Separated from the flame, the ice began to grow again. The others hurried back to Ignatiy, sliding and stumbling every step of the way. The ice was halted once more by a small flare that caused dozens of dagger-sized icicles to rain down on them. Catherine tried to bat them away with a wave of her hand, but rather flying safely out of the way, they were diverted just enough to prevent any serious damage.
"Something about this place is affecting my powers," Catherine said. "We cannot rely on them to protect us." She turned to Ignatiy. "Make the flame smaller. The ice will still grow, but at least it will keep the icicles from falling."
Ignatiy obeyed and the flame shrank to the size of a candle's light. The ice started to grow again, but at a much slower rate. The icicles did not fall, but the sheer weight and coldness of the ice clinging to them made each step agonizingly difficult. By the time they were only a few fathoms from the stairs, they were nearly frozen solid.
"We cannot keep going at this rate," Catherine said, her eyes fluttering in her struggle to stay conscious. "Increase the flame, Ignatiy, or we will not make it out."
Instead of expanding, the tiny flame flickered and died out. Ignatiy then lurched forward and collapsed. The companions' reflexes dulled by the cold, it took a moment for the gravity of the situation to strike them. When it did, they exchanged desperate looks with each other and the unconscious Ignatiy. Mustering all her willpower to move her frozen limbs, Catherine shook Ignatiy roughly.
"Wake up, Ignatiy! We need you!"
Even though he could not even curl his fingers into a proper fist, Stefan cuffed the firebug's jaw.
"Get up! We'll all die if you don't get up!"
Ignatiy did not respond, forcing Mark to take desperate measures. Fumbling with his uncooperative hands, he drew Eolande's Dagger from his belt. He pushed down on Ignatiy chest with the pommel and charged it with the little energy he could muster. A brief surge of electricity coursed into Ignatiy's body from the gem and his eyes snapped open.
A red light hovered above Ignatiy and materialized into a flame that was barely strong enough to hold back the ice from overcoming them completely. With Mark and Stefan holding Ignatiy's arms and Olofer and Catherine his legs, they made the last few torturous steps to the stairwell. As they were exiting the chamber, the flame started to grow, causing the ice to recede once and for all. Before, the creaking of the stairs had been enough to push them on to the next floor, but this time they ignored the threatening noises and let the flame do its work.
"Make the flame a little bigger," Catherine said, sitting upright. "It is safe now."
Ignatiy made the flame as large as it could be without scorching anyone. Rather than melting, the ice simply vanished. It was undoubtedly because the ice was magical in nature, but no one bothered to comment on it. The only thing they cared about was the fact that their bodies were finally warming up again. They sat there for some time, silently absorbing as much of the flame's welcome heat as they could. Once they were ready to move on, Ignatiy extinguished the flame (with considerable dismay) and they ascended to the next floor.
In an ironic twist, the seventh floor was the exact opposite of the sixth. The interior was like the inside of a volcano, blackened rock lined with veins of bright red-orange. The air was thick with the stench of sulfur and the heat unbearable. Jets of flame burst from both the floor and ceiling. In mere moments, every single of one of them was soaked in sweat.
Without any prompting, Stefan engulfed himself in a swirling ball of water, the burst of magical energy forcing the others to take a step away from him. He did not say a thing, only sprinted to the center of the room. Then, standing as still as a statue, he then expanded the ball to press against the boundaries of the chamber. In his deep concentration, he could shout only one word:
"Hurry!"
Not sparing a single moment, they jumped into the barrier and ran the length of the room. Mark and Olofer had to help the exhausted Ignatiy along while Catherine took point. Even with the protection Stefan offered, the crossing was not easy. The barrier's reaction to the chamber caused bursts of scalding steam to break through, but as much as they hurt, the burns they caused were nothing compared to the total incineration the group would face otherwise.
As they ran past Stefan, they could see his body trembling and soaking with sweat that had nothing to do with the heat. He would not be able to maintain the barrier for long. They were almost at the stairs when the barrier became unstable. Giving Ignatiy to Catherine, Mark and Olofer ran back to get Stefan.
Once they got ahold of him, Mark told him, "Shrink the barrier. We'll get you across."
The barrier shrank to envelope just the three of them and it eased Stefan's burden considerably. Nevertheless, he could not hold out much longer. The barrier wavered briefly and vanished while they were still several paces from the stairwell. The soles of their boots sizzled on the burning floor and for a second, they were gripped with the fear that they would burst into flames then and there. Carrying Stefan, Mark and Olofer made a mad dash, jumping toward the stairs where Catherine was waiting to help pull them to safety.
As they lay on the stairs, oblivious to their earlier aversion to them, the five companions were feeling the weight of their journey now more than ever. The cursed tower had already taken a harsh toll on bodies, minds and spirits. Catherine could feel the despair welling in the hearts of her companions and indeed, even in herself.
"Why are we doing this?" Ignatiy asked, still a little dazed from what happened on the previous level.
"We've got to beat Kyrios," Mark said, "to save Byrn..."
He was only saying the words at this point. The conviction that brought the young swordsman this far was faltering. The images of his wounded uncle, the rows of heads outside Dragova and the King in his frozen prison were fading from his mind. In their place were pain, exhaustion, and fear.
Mark could feel his heart turn to lead. A full-fledged Elemental Knight had fallen to Kyrios' power. What could they possibly do? Yes, they had the Crystal Pendants, but surely their powers were like a child's tricks compared to the Omnimancer who had subverted half the kingdom. Worse yet, they were already half-dead. How did they expect to stand against him?
Though the air was hot as the desert in midday, Mark could feel himself go cold inside. There was no hope of them surviving. For all he knew, they might not even reach Kyrios. The pain slowly began to leave his body. He forgot about the cuts and bruises, the bites and scratches, the burns and frostbite. Everything was fading away. All that remained was the darkness inviting him into the embrace of the void.
He was nearly lost in that moment, but a voice pierced the darkness, a sweet melody calling him to return.
Mark, Catherine's voice echoed in the void, do not give in. The tower wants us to surrender. Whether it breaks our bodies or our spirits, it still wins. Kyrios wins. Remember... Remember why you are here.
He remembered the dream of the wolf in the forest. He remembered his uncle fighting off the men of the Dragon Guard. He remembered the feeling of his stomach turning inside out when he realized that he had taken his first life. He remembered seeing poor Ivan's body, cut down as a mere afterthought by Kyrios' puppets. He remembered the first time he heard Catherine's voice, the body thrown into the ditch, the underground cell thick with incense. He remembered how he met each of his companions, the ruins in the desert, the wyvern, the King entombed in ice. He remembered getting attacked by Maksimov and his men, the Aritan monk killed by Ludimil, the Gatekeeper and the Earth Master. He remembered seeing the accursed tower for the first time, his duel with the Captain, and each nightmarish floor they had cleared thus far.
Remembering gave him strength, and while he remembered the awful toll the tower had taken on his body, he also remembered his resolve to face Kyrios and defeat him no matter what.
"Just two more floors," Mark said as he struggled to pick himself up. "And Kyrios has to be on the last one. We can do it."
"But I don't wanna do this anymore," Ignatiy whined. "I only wanted to make a nice, big fire... I'm so tired I couldn't even appreciate how pretty that last room was..." Sitting upright, Ignatiy stared longingly at the red glow of the floor below them. His voice was disconnected, like he was already letting go of his fleshly chains. "I could go back down there. It wouldn't be so bad. I could join the Master..."
Ignatiy leaned forward to roll down the stairs and meet his fiery end. Mark did not react quickly enough. His arm did not reach in time and the firebug tumbled down the stairs.
"Ignatiy!"
"Owowowow!"
Mark almost thought they had lost Ignatiy when he suddenly cried out in pain. When Ignatiy rolled past Stefan, the fighter had somehow summoned the strength to catch Ignatiy by the hair and keep him from falling any farther.
"I nearly drowned because of you," Stefan growled over a litany of 'owowow' and other such noises. "You aren't dying until I say so."
To say the least, the call of the fires below them did not attract Ignatiy quite so much anymore. When Stefan finally let him go, he was too preoccupied rubbing his sore scalp to court defeatism any longer.
"I didn't go through all that to give up here," Stefan continued. "It's like Mark said. We're almost there."
It was hard for them to rouse their spirits. They were hot, sore and miserable. The battle to claw their way out of the pit of despair was as much external as it was internal. For them to truly win the internal battle, something had to be done about the external one.
Without saying anything, Stefan held his pendant and relaxed in silent meditation. He surprised the others by showering them in a cool downpour. Everyone was more than happy to cool off and rinse away all the blood, dirt and grime from the past seven floors. It did not heal their wounds, but it did wonders for their spirits. They felt better than they had in a long time, so good that they did not even mind being sopping wet as they moved on to the next level.
The momentary levity faded once they saw their latest challenge. Every floor so far had been an unpleasant surprise and the eighth was no exception. In this case, there was no floor at all. Though they reckoned each level was only about nine feet high, they could not see anything below them. The fall itself might not kill them, but there was no telling what lay cloaked in the darkness.
Moving past the others, Mark stepped close to the edge. Stefan, Ignatiy and Olofer had already used the power of their pendants to get the group through the previous chambers. Now it looked like it was his turn.
"I'll try to make some pillars for us to cross on," he said.
The others took a couple steps back to give Mark room as he focused energy into his pendant. They had to strain their ears to hear a dull rumbling below them. With remarkable speed, a stone shaft broke through all the lower levels to appear before them. Another rose up, followed by another and another until Mark fell to his knees from the exertion.
In total, Mark had raised seven pillars to connect the two stairwells. He had done well, but crossing would not be easy. The pillars were spaced a little too far apart for a casual hop but at the same time they did not provide enough space for a running start. Before encouraging anyone to go forward, Catherine took a moment to survey the distance.
"It will not be easy," she said, "but I think we can all make it. I will go first."
Catherine gracefully leapt from one pillar to the next, showing little expense of effort. Olofer went next. He was far clumsier than Catherine, but he was making it across without much difficulty. Mark expected Stefan to be next, but the fighter shook his head.
"Go ahead, Mark," Stefan said. "If Ignatiy has trouble, I don't think you'll be able to pull him up."
Mark nodded and got back on his feet. He took a few deep breaths and hoped he had enough stamina to make the jumps. Thanks to his training, he was a little more agile than Olofer, but he took his time getting across. Fatigued as he was, being hasty would likely prove to be disastrous.
As the first three were making their way across, Stefan looked down at Ignatiy. "You're going to follow my lead, alright? I don't want any problems this time."
The look on Ignatiy's face would not inspire anyone's confidence, but Stefan was not going to let that deter him. He made the first two jumps and motioned for Ignatiy to follow. Ignatiy clung to the wall, looking rather afraid and unsure of himself.
"Come on," Stefan urged. "You can't give up now."
Gathering his courage, Ignatiy successfully made his first jump, but it was the shortest of the seven. Once he was sure of Ignatiy's footing, Stefan jumped to the next pillar and Ignatiy followed in turn. This pattern continued without a hitch until Ignatiy made the jump to the sixth pillar.
He landed off-center and the rock under his foot crumbled. Even as he was falling, Stefan bounded back to the sixth pillar and fell flat on his belly just in time to grab Ignatiy by the wrists. As he was pulling Ignatiy up, he heard a distant crack and felt the pillar sway.
When Ignatiy was on his feet, Stefan yelled hastily, "Jump now! This pillar is about to collapse!"
Having to share the pillar with Stefan, it was tricky jump even for a nimble person and it was no surprise that Ignatiy landed awkwardly on the seventh pillar. While Ignatiy struggled to regain his balance, Stefan was having his own problems trying to maintain his equilibrium on the teetering pillar. There was no time to let Ignatiy make a careful, deliberate jump, so Stefan yelled at him again.
"Jump, you fool!"
Once again, Ignatiy's jump fell shy of the distance he needed to clear. If Mark and Olofer had not been there waiting to catch him, Stefan's efforts would have been in vain. With Ignatiy out of the way, the fighter was free to jump to the seventh pillar. However, the moment his feet touched the pillar, the sixth crashed into it, sending both him and the pillar into the wall. Stefan jumped at the last moment, grabbed the edge of the stairwell and held on for dear life. Much as Stefan had done for Ignatiy, Mark and Olofer dropped to their bellies to help pull him up. Each held an arm and with the help of Ignatiy and Catherine, they lifted him into the stairwell.
With all five companions safe from the latest terror, they took a brief moment to prepare themselves before making the final push.
"Everyone, you have done well," Catherine said, doing her best to keep everyone's spirits up. "We have to stay strong. Our next challenge is none other than Kyrios himself. He knows we are coming. I can feel his anticipation."
Stefan clapped a fist into his open palm. "He's not the only one. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm really itching to give this Kyrios the thrashing he deserves."
"You cannot think that way," Catherine countered. "This tower feeds on negative emotions. Fear, anger, aggression, despair... We were nearly defeated by these emotions, but now we must put them behind us. Kyrios will be difficult enough without the tower helping him."
"How are we supposed to fight him without aggression?" Stefan demanded.
"We defend ourselves," Mark said. "If you need aggression for offense, then defense is the only answer."
"You can't win a fight by playing defensive," the fighter argued. "I thought our match proved that to you."
Catherine placed her hand on her heart. "We have to believe in the power of the pendants," she said, "and in each other. For all his power, Kyrios is not invincible. We can defeat him."
"Well said, mindwalker," a voice replied, "but I wouldn't be so sure of your chances."
It did not seem possible, but the voice belonged to Brenok, who was standing at the top of the stairs. What he had told them at Ban Gorge was no empty taunt. He was there to witness the final battle, after all.
Mark, Stefan and Olofer reached for their weapons, but Catherine motioned for them to stand down. This seemed to amuse the young traitor.
"You don't want to fight me?" Brenok asked, almost goading them to try. When they would not take the bait, he simply shrugged. "Well, I guess it's for the best. The master is waiting for you and I'm sure any delays would only upset him."
Catherine took the opportunity to mock the devilish youth. "An heir of House Serkan reduced to nothing more than Kyrios' doorman. So this is where your hunger for power led you?"
Brenok crossed his arms. "Hmph. It's a shame you won't live to see just how powerful I become. I didn't expect you'd actually make it this far, but your puny resistance to the master's will ends here."
"I have to agree with you," the psychic replied. "When Kyrios is dead, there will no longer be any reason to resist him."
"We'll see how long you can keep that attitude, mindwalker. You'll be begging to die before it's over."
"Enough of your prattling," Catherine said. "Lead the way."
Brenok stepped out of the way and the five companions were free to ascend to the ninth level. The ninth floor was less than half the size of the first. Less room to run, no place to hide. The walls were adorned with many reliefs of menacing demons like the ones guarding the front gate. Long curling horns of stone hung from the ceiling like sinister stalactites. Two rows of bronze lamps lined a blood red carpet, forming a narrow corridor to a throne fashioned out of twisted bones. Sitting on the throne was an indistinguishable figure cloaked in shadows whose voice echoed throughout the chamber.
"At last, the five have come."
The voice belonged to Kyrios himself. The group drew their weapons and went to their fighting stances. The battle for the fate of Byrn was about to begin.