“Phoenix… he comes with me. He’s not a native of the Dreamlands,“ Glory replied though the old man looked skeptical. “He was pulled here, same as I was, and he needs to go back with me. I… he has been ill though, since waking up he is becoming weaker by the moment. I think the Miri Nigri did something to him. They caught him and took some of his blood when he snuck below deck to see their rowers.”
“That is not good, not good at all,” the old man said, rubbing his chin. “He should remove the amulet I sent immediately. There is a small chance the Hounds will pick up his scent again if he does, but even outside the void, it is drawing energy from him to strengthen his etheric body. That can only be compounding anything the Miri Nigri have done. Beyond that, I don’t know what could be done for him unless you could find whatever charm they have made and destroy it, but…” he paused, fixing her with a stern eye. “His life is as nothing compared to the billions who are depending upon you to reach Y’qaa and the tablets. I would not recommend you go looking for them. It is difficult to say how long the portal at Ygiroth will last, and the next one I find might be further away and harder to reach. Once you reach Earth… their power over him may fade.”
He added the last as if it should be comforting, but Glory scowled and made no comment. There were an awful lot of unknowns in Atal’s argument. “What about Ourkranos?” she asked and Atal gave her a puzzled look. “Someone should do something. At least go to Kiran to tell them what’s become of their god so they can decide what to do from there.”
Atal nodded. “Of course, someone will be dispatched at once. Perhaps one of Earth’s dreaming heroes can free your brother god.”
She didn’t know if he was aware that Ourkranos was her brother or if he was just applying a familial title, but it hardly mattered. Glory unfastened the small bag of starstones which someone had thoughtfully transferred to her belt and offered it to the old priest. “Please send my apologies that most of the stones are gone and that I could not do more to help. Tell them that their people very nearly made it to the top of Kadath before succumbing to the cold and that they were cremated…” she trailed off not sure what she wanted him to tell them about herself. “I don’t know if that’s how they would normally care for their dead, but at least it stops them from any further indignities.” She didn’t elaborate on what those indignities had been, and Atal didn’t ask. He could decide what to say about her, if anything, on his own. She took the second, smaller bag that Milet had helped fill on the ship and offered it as well. “These are for Milet. I don’t know if your priests are allowed personal possessions. If not, then it’s for the upkeep of the temple. I noticed a lot of fallen masonry outside.”
Atal raised an eyebrow at the second bag. He did not look inside, but he did seem to weigh it with his hand before setting it beside the first on his table. “Well, if this is to be an exchange of gifts, then I have one for you as well.” He picked up a small wooden box and held it out to her.
It was barely larger than her palm, a nondescript box without any indication of what might be inside. She lifted the lid away completely to reveal a silver key so black with tarnish it was almost lost among the folds of the black silk scarf that cushioned it. The word key could be used only in the loosest sense. Glory removed it from its nest and examined the animal menagerie which gathered along its bow and handle. The animals, if that was what they were supposed to depict, flowed over and through one another like Celtic knot work. Some seemed to carry an almost Egyptian distinction, as if they had once been hieroglyphics which had melted together until any message they were meant to convey was lost. The blade, or blades as it seemed to constantly reveal more while she turned it in her hand, was a thing of strange geometries, as if it existed in more than one dimension. She could not imagine the lock such a key was meant to fit.
And still, it seemed to her that it was incomplete. When it had lain in the box, it appeared that the blade was flat. Why should it have one flat side when turning it showed more sides than it could reasonably have… unless half of it was missing and that one flat plane was where it had broken.
“It is an Elder Key,” Atal said. “One of two, the other being lost in the pit of Y’qaa by the prehuman sorcerer Haon-Dor. This one has only come to us recently by strange chance, and I think perhaps it was meant for you.”
Ah-ha… Glory had read the story of Haon-Dor in the book Atal had given her, though the key wasn‘t quite as she‘d pictured it. He hadn‘t seemed to use it as a key at all, but as a sign of his right to seek Y‘qaa. If he’d had only had half the key, that might explain why all of the creatures he had encountered had seemed to mock him even as they let him pass. They had known his mission would fail, though he had given up without really trying once he finally confronted the horror of Ubbo-Sathla.
“Thank you,” she said, returning the key to its box and holding it awkwardly in her hand, her mind already revolving around the problem of why there should be two keys unless both were needed. She doubted the Elder Gods, or whoever had made them, would need a copy… not if they had designated only one jailer.
“I have contracted a guide to Mount Lerion, and he will see you to Ygiroth on the morrow. Unfortunately, only treasure hunters make regular journeys into the city itself and few enough of those return. I suggest you finish your reading and get some rest,” the old man said. “I will have someone bring your companion food.”
“Thank you,” she said again and turned to go, not bothering to tell him that in addition to food, she did not really sleep. Unconsciousness simply wasn’t the same thing.
Milet jumped up and threw her arms around her from behind. “I’ll miss you,” she said as Glory twisted to look down at her. “I was scared… in Ilarnek and Kadatheron, but I’m glad you picked me. Thank you.”
“It’s alright, sweetie. Be good,” Glory said, putting an arm around Milet as the girl made no move to release her so she could get both arms around her. “I’ll come back and visit if I can.”
“I will,” the girl promise, giving Glory another squeeze before letting go.
to Book 6, part 3, page 40