The House of Yeel
Author:Michael McCloskey

Chapter 22: The Brown Moors





Yeel left with his Companions early the next morning. King Aruscetar had wanted to arrange for a grand escort of his remaining horsemen, but Yeel had dissuaded the monarch, telling him they wanted to catch the Meridalae by surprise. He had accepted horses for his Companions and a wagon for himself to travel in.

They were able to travel part of the way by road. It took them two days to reach a small trail branching into the wilds. It twisted and turned, eventually narrowing. The trees pressed in, making the trail become ever harder to follow. Everyone dismounted and proceeded on foot.

Yeel led the way.

���It will be underground, and the entrance is hidden. I recall a stony formation,” he said.

“You don’t remember it exactly,” Jymoor said.

“Well, of course not.”

The trees thinned. The ground became wetter. A view opened before them of a rolling, grassy land.

“The Brown Moors,” he announced.

The column proceeded across the wet grassland. Yeel meandered a bit, but headed always west. Then after an hour, he headed for a rise where he saw a bit of exposed rock. He paused to look in all directions. This spot was the only rocky outcropping he saw.

“This is the entrance.”

“There’s nothing here,” Master Kasil said.

“It’s underground.”

“But the soil beneath our feet is drenched in water,” Jymoor said. “How can anything be underground here without being flooded?”

“It is flooded.”

“What? You do know we need to breathe, don’t you?” Master Kasil demanded.

They’re so bound by limitations. And fear of the unknown, poor creatures.

“It’s not completely flooded. There’s a very clever system to harvest and pump away the water. That alone is a fascinating aspect of the place. I don’t quite remember—”

Jymoor cleared her throat. “I believe time is of the essence, no?”

“Of course. Follow me.”

Yeel led the way up the modest rise. They neared a cluster of rough, pocked boulders. A tall stand of grass, with blades as wide as a human hand blocked their way.

Yeel smashed it down and looked beyond.

A wavy black barrier obscured the way between two large boulders.

“There it is,” he said. “Just as I remembered.”

Jymoor stepped through the bent grass camouflage and looked at the foreboding black curtain.

“What’s that made of?”

“The hide of a null dragon, perhaps,” Yeel said. “Or it could be a photonic curler sheet.”

“Forget I asked. Let’s go.”

“Wait but a moment…I have to get something ready first.”

“Yes?”

“It’s a defensive measure.”

“Of what kind?” hissed Master Kasil, joining them at the curtain.

“Sometimes the best defense is a really good reactive defense.”

“What?”

“A defense so good that it kills anyone on the offense. Since we lack any real workers of magic, it seems wise to employ powerful antimagic means.”

Yeel recovered three silver spheres from his pack.

“These are vlure eggs. Each houses a nascent vlure, a creature that feeds on magical energy. Each time we encounter a mage of the Meridalae, I’ll release a vlure. The creatures are rather nightmarish, actually. They will mature within seconds of being exposed to magical effects, and, once active, they typically proceed to draw a mage’s brain right out of the skull. It’s very unsettling to watch, by all accounts.”

“They deserve it, if they’ve caused all that destruction on two worlds.”

“Oh, more than two worlds, I assure you. But that’s good for us. They’re stretched thin.”

“So, how do we go in?”

“Not yet. First an offensive measure.”

“Really?”

“Yes.” Yeel took a small bottle out of his pack.

“Tuluk’s poison. Though most was spent, there was still a little left in his body. He can serve us one more time.”

“Its effect?”

“Violent spasms, hallucinations, and death.”

Everyone put some of the poison on their weapons. Jymoor filled up the sac in the end of her fenlar. After listening to Yeel describe its dangers, the Companions stood a bit farther apart, holding their spears and blades more carefully.

“Can we go in now?” Jymoor prompted again.

“You go first.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“Well, it’s simply that you’re wearing heavy armor. Better than any of the knights we have here among us. I’ll go in behind you. Actually we should arrange the Companions so that our heavily armored fighters are in front. The more…agile ones can follow behind.”

Yeel tried to pull aside the edge of the black sheet, but his tentacle simply slipped through it. It didn’t hurt. Yeel grabbed a rock and slipped it through then retrieved it.

“Here, we go,” he said, and slid through.

The stone stairs beyond were slick with moisture and slime. Yeel moved easily down but Jymoor slipped and fell behind him, causing a thump to echo ahead of them. Master Kasil followed, and fell herself as she tried to help Jymoor up. Kasil swore.

Her vocabulary is more colorful than the other females of her species, Yeel thought.

Yeel got to the bottom of the stairs perhaps fifteen feet below. A long stone chamber lay ahead, lit by holes in the ceiling. Square pools of water hugged the walls to the left and right. A straight stone path led through the center of the room to a dark archway at the end. A stone balcony overlooked the room from the far side, just above the archway. Yeel spotted a second exit from the balcony.

He waited for more Companions to join him at the bottom of the stair. He tested the water with a tentacle. Cold, but pure.

As people began to press on the stairs behind, still slipping and falling, Yeel moved forward down the walkway. Jymoor and Master Kasil followed behind. A knight that Yeel knew called Groylvir drew his longsword as he came down the stairs. Yeel had given the man a special ring. Anyone struck by a weapon in the hand wearing the ring lost body heat rapidly. The attacking weapon became hotter, the target colder.

Suddenly a column of frothy water rose on their right. It was about the size of a man. The water seemed to take shape for just long enough to make Yeel wonder before breaking up into a random spray and reforming.

“What’s that thing?” Jymoor asked. As she spoke, another column sprouted up out of the water on their left.

“Everyone hold your breath!” Yeel called out.

The columns moved out of the water and onto the walkway among them. Limbs of water struck out and exploded across Master Kasil and Groylvir, then Jymoor. Yeel turned and whipped a tentacle completely through one of the things, but it wasn’t disrupted by his move. He fished through his pack.

Jymoor fell to her knees. Water poured out of the eye slit of her helm. She started to remove it. Master Kasil was stabbing the water before her, but it had little effect. An arm of water reached out to engulf her face.

Groylvir tackled one of the watery forms. Water sprayed everywhere. Groylvir fell to the stone floor, water clinging to his armor. More Companions rushed in to help him. The knight thrashed, trying to breathe.

Should I change its density, or alkalinity? No time. Both.

Yeel grabbed two packets and ripped them open, then sprayed their contents out upon the other column of water. It bubbled and fizzed angrily. Another Companion, emboldened by Groylvir’s move, tackled a column and fell into the water beyond.

Groylvir was helped up and friends removed his helm. He sputtered and coughed. Jymoor had started to recover.

“Help that man…Uncir? Help him out of the water!” Yeel called.

A brilliant white light flashed across the room. A shining creature appeared on the stone balcony above. It looked vaguely humanoid, though three eyes blazed redly atop its head. Collections of crackling sparks moved across its body.

“Oh no! I’m afraid the resistance of our outer integument has been drastically lowered by all the water,” Yeel said.

“What?” Jymoor asked.

Yeel wrapped the end of a tentacle around one of the vlure spheres. He threw it up toward the balcony. As it flew through the air, a bright flash of lightning exploded through the room. An intense pain coruscated through Yeel, causing him to emit a high-pitched keening wail.

A moment later, the pain was gone replaced by an aching numbness. From up above on the stone balcony, the shining being screamed a long, frantic scream ending in a gurgle.

“The vlure has done its work,” Yeel said.

The Companions had fallen beneath the onslaught. Everyone moved slowly. Moans filled the room.

“How badly are you damaged?” Yeel asked Jymoor. She grunted and stood unsteadily.

“I’ve never felt such pain! My hands are tingling.”

“At least the vlure got him before it could get worse. Is everyone alright?”

“There!” someone called.

Yeel spotted the object of their attention. The man who had fallen into the pool after tackling the water column floated with his head under the water. Two other Companions retrieved him. They listened for breath. He sputtered weakly.

“Can you help him? He was the first one struck, I think,” Jymoor said.

Yeel felt the man’s chest. The heartbeat was weak. The man trembled. His breath wheezed.

“Can you feel anything?” Yeel asked him.

“No,” the man croaked.

“I’m terribly sorry. There’s nothing I can do,” Yeel said. “The man is Uncir. I remember him.”

Uncir looked up at Yeel.

“My life ended in the garden. You gave me life for a while again, and I’m grateful.”

The man shook in pain.

“Please punish the Meridalae. The pain is—”

He shivered again, then passed out.

“Is he dead?”

“He will be soon,” Yeel said. “The neural pathways have been damaged.”

Jymoor shook her head, but when she spoke, there was only confidence.

“We have to continue. And quickly.”

“Through the upper archway,” Yeel said. “The lower one ahead of us is a trap.”

“You remember?”

“No. It’s only logical.”

“Well, I see no stair.”

“That thing has some kind of a ladder it can put down from its perch. But now it’s dead. I can lift one of you up there to look around.”

Jymoor shrugged. She walked down toward the door but stopped under the outer edge of the balcony. Yeel lifted her up.

“It’s so odd how you do that,” she said from above.

Yes. I project one image into your mind, yet you see me perform feats impossible with my illusory body.

“Beware! There may be other enemies nearby,” Yeel called up.

“I don’t think…oh wait, I have it.”

A set of stones extended from the wall to the right, forming a crude stair. Tiny streams of water poured from its edges. Yeel slid up.

He examined the balcony. The exit was merely a stone archway heading out to a wet corridor. A small pool of water had formed on the balcony. The walls nearby wept water slowly. Before Jymoor, a mess of a creature was all that remained of the guard.

As the Companions ascended the slippery stair, Jymoor and Yeel went further into the lair. The dark corridor split once, then a few paces later it split to the right again.

“Which way?”

“We have to send some each way,” Yeel said. “We don’t want any to escape on this world. No doubt they have means of traveling to other worlds in their main shrine, but we can’t help that.”

“Split up into three even groups?”

Yeel put the impression of a shake of his head into their minds.

“I think the shrine will be directly ahead, the deepest point in the lair. These side passages are probably not as important. I would ask five to go to each side and make sure no Meridalae there make any escape. Be mindful there may be prisoners from your world here, or from any world for that matter. If there’s any confusion, bring them to me afterward and I’ll determine their innocence.”

“I’ll go to the right,” offered a strong man in chain mail. Yeel had carefully remembered his name as Rodan of Mountover. Yeel saw that Rodan wore some of the dense weave fabric under the chain mail. Apparently, Rodan wanted a double layer of protection.

“You are armed?” Master Kasil asked.

The man held up a loosely clenched fist.

“The sword is invisible to all but the wielder. Yeel gave it to me,” the man said.

“Ah yes, that sword came to me from the distant—”

“Excellent!” Jymoor hissed, cutting Yeel off. “Will any join him? Four more?”

Four other Companions nodded or raised their weapons, moving behind the first.

“Then me and my brother can try the left,” a soldier offered. Yeel had remembered him as Captain Carmar. Another man stood at his side. It was his brother, Grael Carmar. Two more men and a woman joined them in the passageway.

“Good luck to you all,” Jymoor said softly. The large group of Yeel and nine Companions, including Jymoor and Master Kasil, moved forward down the central tunnel.

Yeel took the lead. The tunnel headed deeper underground. Rivulets of water flowed down the walls and the gentle sloping floor. It got darker, then lighter as a glow grew brighter from ahead. The tunnel emptied into a larger cave or chamber. The inside of the room was obscured by a low wall that forced a right turn at the entrance.

Yeel raised his tentacle.

“One moment,” he thought at them.

Yeel plucked a good eye from his ridge, then tossed it solidly away. The eye bounced off the stone floor and rolled into the next room.

Quan lay in wait inside. Yeel saw them and a low, chitinous creature with many legs.

Apparently they’ve been preparing for us. That’s their master. And that’s the one who’s dangerous.

“Quiet. It’s a trap for us. I’ll clear the way, then come in ready for a fight,” Yeel put into their minds. Yeel tossed a firebomb into the room. The flash of light was impressive. Yeel supposed the Companions would be able to smell the smoke, though he could not.

Yeel rushed into the room. One of the Quan had been hit by the bomb and lay smoking on the floor.

The other Quan moved in on Yeel and his Companions near the entranceway where they poured in. Yeel projected the image of himself growing larger, more fearsome. The tips of his tentacles grew into giant venomous spikes. He hissed like a wicked creature come to kill everyone nearby.

The Quan edged away from him, but they still engaged his Companions on the flanks. Yeel didn’t pay them any attention. He focused on the crab-like being behind them. He tossed his last firebomb in its direction, simultaneously shifting to conceal his next vlure sphere.

The creature chittered at him and moved aside. The firebomb failed to detonate. Another bolt of violet energy shot toward Yeel. This time he was ready with the vlure. The bolt struck his tentacle holding the sphere. Yeel felt a sharp pain as the energy bit into him, then receded as the vlure absorbed it. It cracked and opened in his hand, sending a small white form shooting toward the crab-thing.

The effect was immediate. The crab-thing scuttled and chittered, then flipped upside down, its legs waving like an overturned bug.

Jymoor and the others chopped up the Quan in short order. By the time they’d gotten to the crab-thing, it was dead. Yeel picked a few tools and reagents from the corpse.

Not sure what all this is. But I can categorize the spoils later.

“I’m confused, Yeel,” Jymoor said as she surveyed the room. “Some of these weren’t killed by us.”

Yeel looked around. Jymoor referred to several bodies at the perimeter, in bays against the stone wall. Most of them floated in small pools, though two of them had been taken out and put onto flat tables.

“The Meridalae may have tortured them. Perhaps they resisted. You see, the Quan were once a free and respectable people just like the citizens of Riken. Then the Meridalae got a hold of them. Took over their world,” Yeel said.

“Now the Meridalae are doing something horrible to them.”

“Some kind of experiments?” Master Kasil asked.

Yeel looked over the specimen before them. Its outer integument had been split open down the middle to allow access to its vitals. Yeel examined the scene carefully. Bits of arcane apparatus were spread about the corpse.

“They were working on this poor Quan to augment their control over him,” Yeel concluded. “With these devices in place, the creature’s life is in their hands. If the Quan disobeys, then death will result. This is the ultimate goal of the Meridalae: to enslave all worlds. To eliminate all resistance, to crush any chance of fighting back.”

“Those Quan I killed…they weren’t interested in harming us. They were simply forced into service.” Yeel couldn’t see Jymoor’s face, but he detected sorrow in her tone.

“You were given no choice. But we can stop this here and now. Kill the Meridalae and destroy this lab. Close the portal.”

“You said the portal would be at a shrine? It’s not here anywhere, is it?” Master Kasil asked.

“No. And we should look for it in a moment. It’s just that…there is still something of…interest, here somewhere…” Yeel moved around the vats, looking for a row of jars. At the same time, he watched for himself from the preserved eyeball. He saw a blurry bit of movement near the jar as he slid through the room.

“Something…of mine.”

Yeel approached a shelf of jars. The shadows moved toward the eye.

“There you are,” Yeel said picking up the jar.

“What are you doing?” asked Jymoor.

“You don’t want to know. Give me but a moment,” Yeel asked.

This will be unpleasant, but must be done I think. This eye has been useful, yet disturbing. The chemicals have somehow tainted its view.

Yeel unstopped the jar and drew the eye out. Nausea washed over him. Without thinking it over, he put the eye onto the shelf, then smashed it with the jar.

Arrrrrrrghhh.

Jymoor watched him patiently. A tremor flitted through Yeel.

“I’m ready now. Proceed,” he said. The brevity of his statement was almost as painful as smashing his old eyeball. Jymoor led the Companions to a tunnel at the far side of the room.

The passageway beyond headed steadily downward. It was dark. The sounds of trickling water mixed with their footfalls. Up ahead, the corridor widened a bit. A glowing sphere lit the wider tunnel.

“I have a vague memory,” Yeel thought to them. “This is it. We’re almost to the shrine.”

“Everyone ready your weapons. I’ll go first,” Jymoor said.

“Ideally, we would have had the vlure deployed more quickly.”

“There’s no way you could have known. Yeel, give me the last one.”

“What?”

“Give it to me.”

“The moon armor may awaken it.”

“Do you see a moon in here? Of course not.”

“Still, the armor might be powerful enough to make it hatch.”

“Life comes with no guarantees. I’ll take the risk. We need to make sure it’s ready instantly if we need it. I’ll be holding it, and I’ll be in front. Whatever comes, it’s going to come right at me. I’m very conspicuous in this armor. The next Meridalae we see is going to hit me with whatever they’ve got.”

“Please don’t die. I don’t like to use the Balancer.”

“Your concern is so touching.”

“I mean, I don’t like it when you die.”

“That’s a tad better. I won’t die. Just be ready.”

Yeel handed her the vlure.

She held it for a moment. “I feel something odd in it,” she said.

Yeel pulled an old eye off his ridge and held it close to the vlure. The sphere wobbled a bit. An oily sheen moved on its surface.

“It’s growing!” Yeel observed. “We must hurry! I’m moving to the back. I realize this may seem like a cowardly act and may induce feelings of betrayal in all of you, but I assure you I have a plan to help us, which can only be implemented if I’m the last to enter. The most important part, is, very simply, don’t look back. Rest assured I am not saying that to cover my own shameful retreat, but rather because I intend to blind our opponents, which I can only do if none, or at least very few, of you, are looking back…”

“Sounds good. Don’t worry, we trust you. I know you won’t abandon us.”

Jymoor took the lead again, this time at a much faster pace. Her sword was drawn in her right hand, the vlure rested in her left. Yeel fished a thick black wand out of his pack and held it ready in two tentacles.

Such a huge risk. The vlure is maturing with every step she takes.

The corridor widened again as they advanced. The ceiling became vaulted above them. A huge chamber opened up only a few paces beyond.

Standing above the entrance on a stone stair, a tall man in a maroon robe raised his arms.

“Above you!” Yeel warned Jymoor. “Slightly to the right…”

Thin flames appeared, roiling in the air between the man and the Companions. Yeel knew the power would explode toward them at any moment. But Jymoor held the vlure.

Jymoor’s bravery has likely saved us all. I wouldn’t want to trade places with that—

Jymoor raised her hand in front, letting the rising flames caress the vlure she held. A tiny white creature erupted from the orb and flew straight for the mage’s face. It had several small limbs like a bone-white hand that clenched themselves around his head.

The mage screamed so horribly it rattled Yeel’s brain. It was like the metabolic rush of his stimulant sac when surprised by an oplex worm or when a xorgior wraith darted out of a shadow toward his eye ridge.

Yeel saw blood then looked away. The mage hit the ground with a dull thud.

“Charge!” Yeel commanded. The Companions ran into the shrine. Yeel didn’t take stock of the enemies; as soon as he entered, he snapped the wand in half and pointed both ends away from himself.

White-hot light flashed out over the entire shrine. The lines of the huge chamber melted and joined until there was nothing but a uniform bright glow from all directions. The Companions slowed, momentarily blinded, but they recovered quickly.

The shrine was huge. Massive greenish stones formed the walls. Four thick pillars of stone rose to support the ceiling at five times Yeel’s height. A stone stadium covered most of one wall facing a set of altars and the world portal below. The portal looked very much like Yeel’s roveportal entrance. It flickered with a dim light.

Several other humans or humanoids staggered about, covering their eyes. It was clear most of them were helpless. The Companions leaped to the attack while they held the advantage.

Yeel caught sight of one decidedly nonneutralized enemy. A large spider-like being, with about a dozen long spindly legs, each as long as a human, stood and walked up to the edge of a balcony overlooking the portal. It wielded a device that looked like a crossbow with three long tubes running its length perpendicular to the arm.

That can’t be good.

The creature leveled the device. A missile shot forward with a loud snap, striking a Companion named Sayas. He fell to the ground.

Another innocent gone. I have to stop this one quickly. Perhaps a bluff will work just as well as a real weapon.

“Such a quaint device. Wait until you see what mine does!” Yeel thought to the creature.

He brought out his malinthander and planted the idea of a weapon similar to the one the creature held, only larger. Jymoor and the other Companions fought the other warriors in the shrine, but Yeel stayed focused on the spiderlike creature. It dropped down from its ledge. Another Companion, a woman wearing thick leather and holding a staff, faced off against it. The weapon snapped again and she dropped, dead.

Clerr of the Liscenium Temple.

Having dropped the Companion blocking it, the creature skittered away through the portal.

I wish that one hadn’t gotten away. I’d better remember that I’m going to be seeing him again, and he won’t be happy.

“The shrine is ours!” Jymoor yelled. Blood dripped from her sword. She stepped down from a set of stone steps built into the far wall.

“Then we have to obliterate the portal. More enemies could erupt from it at any moment.”

“How do we destroy it?”

“That requires a diamond,” Yeel said.

“You could have mentioned that earlier. Perhaps King Aruscetar would have given us a diamond.”

Yeel pulled a brilliant bit of stone out of his pack.

“You have one?”

“Yes, I brought a couple. Of course I hoped we would get this far.”

“You have another? Let me see.”

Yeel handed Master Kasil his other diamond.

“This should just about do for my services,” she said.

“I’ve already paid you to train Jymoor. Oh, you mean for your part in the fight against the Meridalae. I had rather hoped you would do that for free.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Nothing’s free. I’ll split the money among the surviving Companions.”

“That would be a bad idea. You would incentivize the Companions to allow each other to die in order to get a bigger share of the money.”

“I would never even think of the money over the lives of my fellows!” bellowed a man.

That would be Alward. Glad to see his mental insulator collar is still intact after the battle.

“Nor would I,” announced a female fighter standing next to him. Yeel struggled for her name.

“Can we get on with it?” demanded Jymoor.

Yeel answered by gluing the diamond to the end of a staff. He extended the gem out with the staff until it just eclipsed the blurry light of its surface. He held it there for long moments while everyone watched.

“Nothing is happening,” Master Kasil said.

“Maybe someone stole the diamond and put a fake in its place,” Alward suggested.

“It takes a moment—”

Snap!

The glimmering portal went black. Yeel retrieved the gem. It shined with an inner light.

“Your world is safer now,” Yeel said. “This is a solid victory. This moment should be remembered by all. Choose carefully what details you—”

“Our world is no longer connected to the Meridalae!” Jymoor yelled. The Companions cheered.

“Well, yes,” Yeel muttered. “Except for the portals at Eight Rod and Steelskull…”

“What did you say? I can’t hear you over the sounds of celebration!”

“Nothing…enjoy your victory!”