All around them the baying started. It came from everywhere and nowhere, chilling their blood and driving the cold into their bones like claws. Glory snatched Milet up into her arms, every instinct in her body telling her to run. Phoenix pulled on the rope as he struggled to do just that. The cat retreated until he bumped up against her leg, his ears laid back in fear. Without a guide, they could have been running right into whatever was hunting them. Glory grabbed the rope holding Phoenix to Milet and pulled him into their little huddle as the sinuous shadows twisted closer. What had Soter said about watching the cat and him keeping them safe? So much for that idea! He seemed to be taking shelter right under her feet.
A dark form loomed above them. A truncated tentacle morphed into something like the muzzle of a dog. Its maw gaped open in multiple directions as jaws unhinged, revealing a throat lined with slime coated spines. It smashed into the nacreous bubble which formed around them as if in response to the thing’s proximity. The thin shell held, but the impact rattled her from the talisman outwards.
What else had Soter said? Keep their destination in mind, or something to that effect. Did it even matter if she’d never visited Ulthar before? She concentrated on reaching Atal even as another thing launched itself at them from different direction, driving the breath from her lungs. The creatures rained blows down on their protection, their forms changing with every glimpse, a tentacle here, a clawed limb there, spattering Glory and her companions with ichorous sea-green slime which fell through the bubble unhindered.
Glory grew numb with the blows and knew with certainty that the protection Atal had provided would not last forever. Tamash had carried them through the darkness unhindered, and was she not his sister? These things, whatever they were, didn’t pose a threat to him, even in his apparently weakened state. So why was she cowering in the dark? She put all her efforts into reaching Ulthar, ignoring the pain which radiated into her limbs. The howling and gibbering of the things stopped abruptly as if a switch had been thrown.
There was no sense of movement beyond a lurch in her stomach as they were suddenly catapulted into a wall of gray stone and flickering torchlight. It barely registered as the chanting in the room stopped with shouts and a door slammed. Glory groaned, releasing her companions and sliding to the floor. She felt bruised in every part of her body. Millet hit the floor and looked up in confusion, wrapping her arms around the cat which mewed pitifully, its fur matted with the revolting slime of the things in the dark. Phoenix moaned and crawled away, pressing himself into the wall and shuddering with horror.
Glory blinked as robed men and women plucked at her arms and lifted her head to peer into her eyes. She stood unsteadily as they helped her up and walked where they seemed to want her to go, too tired and befuddled to even comprehend that she had made it safely to Ulthar without losing anyone. At the center of the room stood a wizened man looking older than the rocks from which the room had been built. He watched as she was led from the room.
Glory sat up in bed with a gasp and looked all around. A small lamp kept the darkness at bay but otherwise she was alone in a room without windows. Her clothes had been changed for simple robes, and though her hair felt matted and coarse, someone had gotten the slime off her hands and face at least.
She pushed the blankets off and stood, ready to sit again if she felt at all weak or dizzy, but she did not. However long she had rested had been enough to restore her completely. Worry for Milet and Phoenix drove her out the open door where she almost immediately ran into a robed woman carrying a pitcher, her long hair pulled back in a thick braid down her back.
The woman gaped at her before pulling herself together. “I’m sorry. We did not expect you to be awake so soon!”
“My friends?” Glory asked anxiously.
The woman smiled. “They’re fine,” she said, motioning for Glory to follow her.
Even without the woman’s help, she would have found her companions quickly. They were only a few rooms away. The cat lay curled up in a ball on Milet’s pillow, and the girl lay sleeping peacefully enough. Phoenix wore a pinched expression when she looked in on him, his fingers clenched in his blanket as if it was the only thing keeping him safe.
“You must be tired,” the woman said, trying to lead her back to her room. “Master Atal asked that you be brought to him as soon as you woke, but dawn is still hours away. Your concern for your companions is admirable, but I‘m sure the Master would not think it amiss if you went back to bed.”
“I thought our journey would take all night,” Glory replied absently.
“Yes, Master Atal was amazed at how quickly you arrived and relieved that none of you were lost to the Hounds,” the woman said.
Glory shivered, feeling more awake than ever. “I wouldn’t want to wake him,” she murmured.
“Oh, the Master is not sleeping,” the woman said with a smile, as she put a hand on Glory’s arm to lead her back to her room. “He will be up in the observatory watching the movement of the stars. He will not come down until the sun rises and even then he will only meditate till noon before rising.”
“Then, you should probably take me to him,” Glory said with a sigh. “I won’t be able to sleep any more anyway.”
The woman‘s face betrayed her concern, but she nodded and turned to lead Glory back the way she had come. They climbed staircase after staircase, meeting fewer people the higher they went. The walls were decorated with murals and tapestries. Friezes depicted epic stories that in other circumstances, she would have been eager to ask about. She still regretted not having the time to explore the library in Kadatheron.