Stretched, thin cords of mold hung down from above me, root strings corkscrewed upwards around my feet, and through a heavy trudge of moisten fog I alertly stepped by careful step through the gateway of the Blackthorn, my senses buzzing with tight throated anxiety.
The gateway grew long, impossibly long, tunneling for what seemed forever, when at last I could see a dot of light. My pulse quickening I hurried towards it, my feet sloshing along the muddy, damp soil as I neared and neared and could see that the light was escaping from out a small hole in a crusted wall of underearth, and with my breath constricted, labored, I fiercely began to claw away at the dirt, broadening the hole. With each lump of clay removed the light began to pour in, as I dug and clawed faster and faster, the beam growing stronger and the clammy soil piling at my feet. I heaved, punching my arm through and elbowing downward, crumbling a large potion of wall, when at last I kicked a large chunk out, at about the height of my knees, and turning my body sideways I struggled and plunged myself through, catching sight of what seemed the high buttresses of the Cathedral before I abruptly toppled from some height in a yelp, landing in a heap of mud upon a large, outcropped root that was the sure thickness of my waist, my cloak flopping up and over my head. Throwing back the garment in a huff, I held myself up on my arm, the other rubbing the grime from my eye, when I blinked and held my breath at the unexpected sight.
There was the Cathedral, just as before, the long aisle-gullet stretching, her fowl creatures leering from her arced and girthy ceiling, and the pews in line, empty, and dark. In confusion, I looked above me, from where I had fallen from, and there was I, sitting upon the base of the Blackthorn, which now stood enormous in replacement of the huge double doors of the Cathedral, from which I had entered. A thin, human sized hole in the wide trunk of the tree hovered above me, and turning my gaze forward once again I saw the alter that had been split, was not split, but was solid and whole, and from behind it streamed an astonishing stained-glass window, of at least four stories, appearing the entire height of the Cathedral herself, glowing brightly, as if a chapel unto itself.
I sat there flabbergasted, in awe, and brushing the fragments of dirt from my legs, arms and dress, I slid down from the giant root I had landed unpleasantly upon, and slowly began to make my way back up the aisle, my brows knitted, and my eyes scanning suspiciously around.
“This…can’t be right.” I said quietly.
My feet padded softly, the only sound being heard, when a faint scampering met my ears. I whirled left to only see, and hear nothing. I stood there, still, my eyes casting back and forth, when from behind me I heard another scamper, and I quickly turned to only hear another from behind me once again. I twisted, turned, as dark, skittering shadows I could see circling about me. In front of me – behind! Left, no – right! My hair whipped in my face as small strands stuck against my sweaty skin, and I shouted out, a sure quiver in my voice.
I could hear whispers, the scampering about continued, and a tall candleholder was knocked over, clanging upon the floor.
“Come out!” I shouted, “I know you’re there! Come out of the shadows! Or are you afraid!”
Quickly turning around I jumped in fright as before me stood squatted three gnarled, ape like creatures. They looked as though concrete, hunched with crooks and cracks and knobs lined throughout their strange, gangly yet heavy forms, and their eyes, wet looking and solid black, bulge hugely out of their heads, like those of a massive deer. I stepped back, my hand pressed over my racing heart, and I leaned against a pew, catching my breath.
“Afraid? No, we are not afraid!”
“We are Beetle!”
“We are Mantis!”
“We are Ant, we are!”
It took me a moment’s time to realize they were telling me their names, introducing themselves. I swallowed, my throat dry. Their eyes were startling.
“Hello,” I choked out, “my name is Ash -”
Suddenly they began to hop in rhythmic frog-leaping, over and under one another, never taking their eyes off me as they pranced:
“We know who you are!”
“We know why you come!”
“We know where you’ve been!”
“We know what you’ve done!”
“The Rumor you seek!”
“The Riddle you dream!”
“The Question of Great!”
“The Magician of Schemes!”
“Yes, yes!” I said quickly, hustling after them as they frog-leaped their way down the Cathedral aisles, “Yes, I seek the Magician! Where is he! Tell me, where can I find him!”
“He lurks within walls!”
“He talks amongst darks!”
“He slips within shadows!”
“He consists of black parts!”
“Please!” I panted, clambering over the pews, “You must help me find him! So far I’ve done nothing but go in circles! Please, help me find the Dark Magicia – !”
Swooping in front of me unexpectedly, the three queer, goblin-like creatures stood still and quiet before me, crouched upon the back of a pew like hulky crows upon a branch. The sudden seriousness of the moment brought fear creeping back into my chest, when after only a few seconds of silence the middle one brought forth a bulky finger, pointing at me, and said, “And, what will you give us for our aid?”
Solid, my brain scrambled. “You mean, a sort of, trade?”
And with that all three of their grubby hands extended out towards me, palms open and in unison their fifteen fingers twitched inward, indicating.
I rubbed my arms, thinking, wondering what I could give them. It seemed somewhat fair, I supposed. They would scratch my back, I’d scratch theirs sort of thing. But I carried nothing I thought would be of any value, and what would these creatures value in the first place? I shivered slightly, tugging in my cloak, when I lifted my head in a thought.
“Here, take this cloak.” I said, as I laid it over their three outstretched hands, “As payment.”
In a unified awe they snatched, hopped, and examined it, laying it out upon the floor, ruffling and snapping the thick cloth, as if testing it’s durability.
They turned on heel, then in quick, monkey-like strides they hustled around me, two of them taking an arm each and the third pushing at my back, and bobbling, hurried and tugging they pulled me roughly to the alter, chuckling and cackling in a delight.
A sense of alarm sprung in me, and I yanked against them, telling them to not be so rough, when they picked me from the ground, carrying me over their heads as a prize and raced me up the pulpit steps, and in horror I shouted as they dumped me upon the alter, their little hands holding me down.
“Wait! What are you doing? Stop it! Ah!”
I struggled as two held my arms, and the third who had been holding my legs released me, and slapped something I couldn’t see at the foot of the alter. A scraping of rock could be heard as from the corner of my eye, as I fought against the tight grips of the gargoyle pests, I saw a long, heavy lever rise from the ground, and like a cricket the third creature jumped upon it, it’s eyes glinting at me.
“Down you go!”
The lever cranked and the alter I was laid over swiftly tilted 90 degrees, and in a wild scream I dropped down into a hole of total blackness, the terrible Hee! Hee! Hees! of the creatures caroling loudly in shrillest echoes, then I could hear nothing at all.