Had it been a castle of some kind, Hector wondered? Axiolis had mentioned something about royalty, hadn’t he? Maybe this was some sort of palace.
A sobering thought, he felt. He could hardly imagine how much time, effort, and resources would have gone into construction. And to think that it could be reduced to a state such as this? Little more than knee-high walls and a pile of rocks?
As if he needed any more reason to feel small and powerless in the grand scheme of things.
Carver led them up the steps and through the vibrating rubble. The distant battle between the two giants had not ceased or even shown any signs of doing so. Hector was not the only one who was still trying to keep an eye on it, partially out of wariness and partially out of simple awe. When would they ever get another chance to see something like this?
The feldeath loosed a burning beam of black light that cut through the golem and tore into the cavern ceiling. A half-dozen building-sized stalactites crashed down on a section of the city that was much too close for Hector’s liking. Dust and wind rushed past the group, disturbing the broken castle grounds and unsettling more debris.
After that, everyone’s pace quickened noticeably, and they soon arrived at a large door in the floor of a blown-out chamber. Carver set to work opening it--a process which apparently involved inserting a key into a hole beneath a hatch in the floor, then flipping a series of adjacent switches.
It took several attempts. Carver threw the group a few embarrassed looks and apologized after finally getting it open. “I have not done this in quite a while,” he said. “The mechanism is rather old and could do with a bit of maintenance, it seems.”
At last, he led them down a short ladder and then a spiraling staircase. A very long, spiraling staircase, Hector discovered. He had fun changing his iron box into appropriate shapes so that it could continue following the group--so much fun, in fact, that he would’ve left the damn thing behind if not for Mr. Sheridan’s pleading.
He did finally manage it after reassessing the problem and treating it like a new form of training. Making the iron box grow and shrink as necessary, becoming less like an iron box and more like an iron caterpillar. Or worm, perhaps. Squirming its way down the hole, the ladder, the narrow and curving steps.
Garovel seemed to get a kick out of the whole ordeal.
Hector was the last to reach the bottom of the staircase, and they’d apparently been asking Carver more questions while they waited for Hector to catch up.
“You’ve really been down here for five years all by your lonesome?” Mr. Sheridan was saying.