The next three days of their journey were rather uneventful as they crossed the vast plains that were the Amaranch Fields, save for the night that Maya decided to see if the bracelet Soren found in the structure in the thicket would prevent the wearer from being burned. It did not.
At the dawn of the fourth day since they left the thicket – the seventh day of their journey, though it had been extended by one more day than initially projected – as they were packing up their camp, Soren noticed a raven, perched on a lone tree nearby. He finished tying up his bedroll before cautiously approaching it.
The last time he remembered seeing a raven on the island was when he’d just defeated Naga. When he emerged from the ancient temple and it was perched on a tree. Before that, he saw one when he woke up on the shore after his first attempt to escape the island. He peered at it curiously before whispering, “Why do I keep seeing you?”
The raven cocked its head.
“I’ve seen plenty of talking animals on this island, who are you?”
Somehow, Soren felt he could see the raven smiling. Something in its eyes. Its blue, crystalline eyes. How he hadn’t noticed its eyes before, he didn’t know – perhaps it was a different bird. But he had seen eyes like it before. In idols of the gods back in Ingaard, as well as the other cities of Shelez.
He opened his mouth to speak once more, but the bird took off. Soren sighed before returning to the others as they finished breaking camp.
Tomorrow, they would be in Zapad. Tomorrow, Soren would see Tyrell again. But first, they needed to travel through Dormu’s Hollow. The reason so many people took the two-week journey, as opposed to one. Dormu’s Hollow was a system of valleys and caves that cut across the north side of the island, known for killing many travelers. At the time when Arakim wrote his atlas, he was the only known explorer – though there were rumors of another – to pass through the hollow and survive.
Leondrea and Soren, however, were convinced they could make it through the hollow, especially with the help of Skullcrusher – and even more so now that they had Karkog with them.
After a couple hours of travel, they reached the entrance to the hollow. A cave, surrounded by poles that displayed the heads of men and orks alike.
“It’s not too late to turn back, you know,” Maya said as she lightly rubbed her bandaged arm. It took a lot of willpower not to simply scratch it outright. Despite the bracelet offering seemingly no benefit, she continued to wear it nonetheless.
“We’re going,” the Madam affirmed. “We’ve come this far, we’re not turning back now.” She let out a sigh, “We don’t really have the supplies to do so, even if we wanted to.”
“We could always ask the orks for supplies.”
Leondrea shook her head.
The darkness in the cave that led into the hollow was thick. It was as though they were traversing their way through a black fog, the light of a torch unable to reach as far as it normally would. Strange sounds echoed from the darkness as they crept through the cavern: a faint clicking noise, an occasional squeak, and the scraping of various materials against stone.
Arakim wrote of the things that lurked in the hollow. Vermin of extraordinary size – rodents, arachnids, and frogs the size of wolves, or larger. Long, segmented creatures with many legs that reached the height of men. And creatures that Arakim called celvir: tall, lanky creatures with teeth the size of a man’s fingers, and hollow, black eyes. It was the celvir who put their victims heads on poles. Soren had heard tales of similar creatures – felreiss – that lived up in Kapfas. They would eat the raw flesh off their victims and could reattach severed limbs – even if those limbs originally belonged to something else. Their only weakness was sunlight, which burned their skin from their bones.
But the most foreboding creature was the hollow’s namesake. Arakim wrote little about it. Nothing of its appearance or behaviors. Only the sound it made. Even the celvir seemed to fear its feral call. Arakim described it as a mixture between the crying of a babe and the sound of a man drowning in his own blood.
After what felt like miles, they finally emerged from the cave into one of the deep valleys that made up the hollow. The sky above was covered in thick clouds that loomed just at the top of the sheer rock walls that lined it. It was near midday, but felt as though it was twilight.
At the very least, they could now see more than ten feet away from them. But that perhaps only made things worse as they watched the giant tarantulas and scorpions creeping along the wall. Giant rats spat at them, their saliva sounding as though it was sizzling on the ground. Likely the only thing that kept the creatures away was the foreboding dire wolf that walked alongside the group. Soren saw none of the hundred-legged creatures Arakim wrote about, or the celvir, or Dormu itself -as far as he could tell.
Statues lined the sides of the pass, their figures carved with intricate detail. Like soldiers, standing at attention. They almost appeared to be people, turned to stone by some magical force. At once point, Soren thought he saw a statue turn its head to look at them out of the corner of his eye. When he investigated the statue, he saw its head facing forward, just as all the rest.
Just a trick of the light.
“I’ve heard of creatures which can turn men to stone,” Leondrea commented, breaking the solemn silence they’d walked in for the past few hours.
“I wouldn’t believe such legends,” Soren replied with a hoarse whisper.
“And why is that?”
Soren shrugged as he scanned their surroundings. Something felt off. It was too quiet, and the various creatures around them were slowly creeping away. “I’ve never seen something with magic that powerful. To be able to change the material something is made of.”
“And why is that so hard to believe? We just watched a god die no more than a fortnight ago.”
Soren took in a sharp breath and listened for a moment. There was no sounds. No quiet clicking, no squeaking, nothing. “If whatever that was truly died, it was no god.”
Leondrea opened her mouth to speak again, but Soren cut her off.
The group stood, listening for a moment. There was no cry, so it couldn’t have been Dormu.
A light slapping noise echoed through the pass.
The group shuffled over to the wall and crouched low – Skullcrusher couldn’t do much to hide. Just as they finished hiding, a creature, at least double Soren’s height, rounded the corner up ahead. One leg matched its body – a long, spindly leg with far too many joints that ended in a point – the other appeared to have once belonged to a frog. That was what had been making the slapping noise. It would have been taller if not for the frog leg. One of its long arms reached down to the ground, ending in a clawed hand, where each of its four fingers circled around its odd wrist. Its other arm appeared to have once been the tail of a particularly large rat. Its perfectly round head held a gaping mouth, filled with sharp teeth, and its eye sockets appeared completely empty. Its gaze seemed to lock on Skullcrusher and its lips curled outward, taking two rows of teeth with it. Another row sat behind them in a twisted smile. The celvir were certainly much more twisted than the tales Soren had heard of the felreiss.
Leondrea tried to jump out of their hiding place. Soren held her back and placed his other hand on Maya’s head.
“Wait for it to get close.” He nodded at Karkog, who nodded back.
As the celvir crept closer, Soren began climbing the wall next to them. It was certainly much easier than it would have been without his sandals. He kept behind a fold in the wall until he was satisfied he was too high for the celvir to notice him.
Skullcrusher whimpered slightly as the creature grew closer.
Soren kicked off the cliff face and flipped through the air to land on the opposite wall. He scrambled to hide behind a fold in the wall, sending several small rocks tumbling down.
The celvir was distracted for only a moment before its attention returned to Skullcrusher. Soren had never seen such a patient hunter, walking so slowly. Perhaps it wanted to strike fear into its prey. Maybe it simply couldn’t run properly.
Soren slowly lowered himself down the rock face until he felt he could jump down safely once it got close enough. He looked to Karkog to ensure he was watching. Then he focused on the celvir. It grew closer. And closer.
Soren nodded to Karkog before jumping from the cliff face.
Karkog grunted hoarsely and sprang into action.
In his descent, Soren swung Delmore’s sword in a wide arc. Trying to sever its head would be impractical, but cutting into it would likely do some damage. He missed, instead hitting the rat tail arm, which fell off with ease.
Karkog targeted the long and spindly leg. His axe swung, and collided with the thing’s leg. They heard a crunch as the leg shattered, sending splinters flying through the air. Its skin was like bone.
The Madam barked an order and Skullcrusher sprang into action. He leapt at the celvir, pinning it the ground. But not before it could cry for help.
As it collided with the ground the creature let out a sharp screech. Skullcrusher ripped its head off, flinging it across the stone ground. Yet it moved still.
Their ears ringing, Karkog and Soren continued hacking at the creature until it could move no more. Celvir’s vital organs were highly decentralized. The only way to kill one would be to destroy its entire body completely.
“We will need to move quickly,” Soren said as he rushed to gather its parts together, “More may be on the way soon.”
As they laid the last of its parts on top of its torso, a second screech sounded from elsewhere in the hollow.
Soren rifled through his backpack, fishing out a fireball and setting it on the pile. “Be ready to run.” As he lit the fuse, he started running, the rest along with him.
An explosion rang out behind them as they ran as fast as they could, turning this way and that, having no time to stop and look at the map Arakim provided. There was no way to know if they were heading toward the exit, only that the screeching of the other celvir was getting quieter.
They were getting further from danger, and that was all that mattered.
As the screeching stopped, their running slowed. Eventually, they stopped, each of them slumping over to catch their breath. Only Karkog remained alert.
They rested for a minute before Karkog interrupted.
Soren looked up to see what Karkog was looking at. The celvir had found them.