Samantha's arm hurt horribly where the Ogin had grabbed and burned her, and at the moment, she wanted nothing more than to hold his head underwater until all the fire in him was extinguished. She knew she shouldn't think thoughts like that, but the image filled her with such joy that she didn't care if it was right or wrong. In fact she was so lost in the thought that she almost ran face-first into a wall.
Skidding to a halt just in time, Samantha looked around. The room she found herself in had a wooden floor that was laid out in a checkered pattern, and large tapestries hung on the walls. There was hardly any light, and what there was came from the room she had just left. Frustrated by the dead end, she started back tracking, but then noticed one of the tapestries move. It was not a lot, but it was like there was something crawling on the wall behind it, and that was more than enough to scare Samantha. She shot out of the room without a second glance and pounded back up the hall the way she had just come.
She reached a four-way intersection: one path led back to the room she'd just left and one she knew led to the throne room, but neither of the other two corridors were going in the correct direction. Crossing her fingers and hoping luck was with her, Samantha picked the one to her right, which she thought led towards the front of the palace.
The hallway continued for a long time, and just when Samantha figured that she had taken the wrong path, it turned ninety degrees back in the direction she wished to go. Yet no sooner had Samantha made the turn before the the hallway changed again. Whereas before the turn, the corridor had been wood paneled and lit by overhead chandeliers that blazed, the new section looked to be made of some kind of stone, and it had torches in brackets about every hundred feet. The torches burnt fiercely, but in the mid-point between them there were deep pools of shadows. Looking closely at one of those points, Samantha thought she saw something move.
Samantha felt her hands get sweaty, and she knew it had nothing to do with all the running that she had been doing. Hurrying, she tried to take one of the torches but found that she was unable to remove it from its bracket. Still, the corridor ran in the direction she thought Gale was in, and that meant one thing: Samantha started running again, but as she did, she heard things very close to her, and if the scraping sound was anything to judge by, they had claws. Then it happened: she found herself at the edge of one pool of light and staring into utter darkness. It only went on for about five feet before the next pool of light began weakly, but it nevertheless sent shivers running up and down Samantha’s spine. Closing her eyes, she left the light.
She felt it more than saw it. Things pawed at her arms and legs, trying to trip her. Something got ahold of her hair, and she felt a small chunk of it part with her scalp. She also heard a new sound: it was a cacophony of clicking that created a horrible din akin to hail coming down in sheets on a tin roof. Just when she thought that whatever it was was going to consume her, the gropes and snatches stopped and the clicking vanished. She had reached a pool of light. Samantha stopped, panting. She had not gone far, but it still felt as if she had run miles.
She turned and looked into the darkness, which now shifted and swirled; however, she could not make anything out. Her flesh broke out in goosebumps and she looked in the direction she was going and found that she would have to make that same dash at least ten more times. Gritting her teeth, Samantha walked forward, trying to save as much of her speed as she could. Mustering her courage, Samantha put on a burst of speed and plunged back into the darkness. Again, the clicking returned, yet this time the grasping was more resolute. More determined. So when Samantha burst into the light the second time, she was not sure she would survive a third attempt through, nor did she think that going back would be any better. She screamed in frustration, and got faint clicks from the darkness in response.
Panic started to boil up inside of her. While she was stuck in this foul corridor, the Ogin would be searching room after room. Samantha did not have time to stop, yet she could not figure out how to proceed. Again she tried to take the torch from the wall, but it refused to budge. "I really, really, really, hate this place," Samantha said as she took off her coat, which now had a large hole burned into one sleeve and several small rips in the fabric from whatever had been grasping at her.
Being careful to keep as much of the coat out of the fire as possible, Samantha held the hood of the coat in one hand and then with the other, carefully lit the bottom of the garment on fire. As soon as it started to burn, she set off at a quick jog, the hood in one hand, while the flames consumed the coat from the bottom. Plunging into the darkness, she finally saw the things that had been trying to grab her: they had translucent, white skin; a simian body that lacked fur or hair; and large hands. There were no claws. Instead there were long, pointed fingernails. The creature also had the head and neck of a vulture, with two differences. Perched near the top of the head were bat-like ears, and the eyes were both larger and weaker. The light from the flaming coat was enough to cause the foul things to shut their eyes in pain and snap their beaks furiously.
Samantha ran and ran, and as she felt the fire spread, she increased her speed and tried not to look at the creatures that completely surrounded her. But then the flames started to lick her skin and, with a cry, she dropped the blazing coat as soon as she reached the next pool of light. Instantly the clicking grew much louder and almost triumphant. Samantha knew why. There were still two stretches of darkness between where she was and what looked like the end of the hall. Desperate to escape, she quickly took off her shirt and ripped the sleeves off. Putting back on the mangled shirt, she caught one of the sleeves on fire and ran. Again, the creatures backed away in front of her, but the flimsy sleeve burned up much too quickly, and she was not completely out of the shadows when the flames started to sputter.
Instantly the hands came at her, and started grabbing Samantha again. Beaks opened and closed, and suddenly something caught hold of her ankle. She fell forward, landing mostly in the light, but the things started to drag her backwards. Frantically, Samantha stomped down on the offending hand, which only tightened its grip. Without a second thought, Samantha kicked her shoe off and lunged forward, falling into the light.
The stone floor was cold and rough, and Samantha knew it would be nearly impossible to run on with just one shoe, but without any means of retrieving her lost shoe, she could only scream, "I hate you," at the things in the dark. Reluctantly, Samantha took off her other shoe so she could run evenly. Taking a deep breath, she lit the last sleeve on fire and bolted for the end of the hellish hallway.
Her feet slapped the hard stones underneath her, and as soon as Samantha penetrated the darkness, one of the things reached out and tried to wrench the flaming cloth from her hand, but she saw it and ducked. Before she knew what happened though, a second creature launched itself at her from her blind side. Somehow, Samantha was able to keep ahold of the flaming sleeve, which miraculously did not go out when the creature pushed Samantha. Buffeted closer to the wall where the mad hoard waited to great her with ravenous breaks, she tried to bring her flaming sleeve around scattering all but one, larger creature that was missing an eye. It opened its beak wide and launched itself at Samantha.
Samantha was too terrified to scream and too off-balance to do anything except twist her body around, trying to lessen the coming blow. In that instant the image of the large bug smashing into the windshield of their car flashed through her mind, and she suddenly remembered her father saying, "Hey, you know what the last thing that went through that bug's mind was?"
"No," Samantha said.
"Its butt," her father said, as he forced a hollow chuckle.
Samantha remembered thinking it was a bad joke at the time, but now she desperately hoped she would get the chance to have her father replace that stupid memory with something, anything better. Something about how he loved her.
WHAM. The sound of the beak closing echoed right in Samantha's ear, while from all sides the clicking rose into a tidal wave of ecstasy. Not like this, Samantha thought and using the itch in the back of her mind that pointed her towards Gale, she lurched forward, as the thing that had attacked her battered her with its limbs. Then just when she was sure it was going to bite into her neck, the thing screeched in pain and let go.
Samantha had made it to the end of the hall and stood in the light. The thing that had jumped on her was writhing around on the floor. She watch as its skin bubbled and boiled, and suddenly the translucent skin began to split. Blood that smelled like gasoline, began pouring out of it. Samantha didn't wait to see what would happen next. She ran. Clearing the corner she heard the thing scream one last time. That was followed by what sounded like a balloon bursting, and suddenly a huge tongue of fire erupted behind her followed by more wails and screams of pain. A few moments later, there was another popping sound. Then another. Black smoke began pouring our of the doorway Samantha had just exited and then suddenly, as if a giant was filling its lungs, the air around Samantha was sucked into the passageway. The sound of the wind was quickly replaced by the the sound of an inferno along with more screaming. Then, silence overwhelmed everything.
For a few heartbeats nothing happened.
”Serves you right," Samantha said and then turned to look at where she was. Her breath caught in her throat. The room looked like an old church that she had been in with her grandmother years ago. The stone here was earthy and brown and supported domes that were ribbed and windows that were at least fifty feet tall. Light poured in from both sides of the room. Above her, thousands of bells were suspended on what looked like spider webs. The bells were glass, brass, gold, silver, large, small, plain, lavish, and everything in-between. In the center of the room was a huge fountain with a statue of a woman holding a spear in one hand and a book in the other standing in its center. The book had the same strange runes that Samantha had seen on the Ogin's banner, but there was something so lifelike about the woman that it was almost unsettling. Her stone eyes seemed to be transfixed on Samantha, who, after just surviving the horrible corridor was in no mood for any other kind of surprises.
Still, there was nothing in the room that seemed overly threatening. Even better, Samantha could see a door off to her right. She hurried through it and found another hallway. Unlike the first one, there was nothing that seemed to be trying to get her, and there were lots and lots of doorways that led into sumptuous apartments, libraries, sitting rooms, and bathrooms.
Ignoring these, Samantha hurried along until she reached the end of the hall, but instead of turning in the direction she wanted, there was a only a spiral staircase that led down. Stepping onto the first step, she tested the wood, which felt solid and firm. Pleased, and hoping that this would not turn into some kind of slide, like in Harry Potter, she started racing down the steps. A full two minutes later and without sight of a single exit onto another floor, she changed her mind and wished that the stairs would turn into a slide, if only so she could get to the bottom faster.
Eventually, Samantha came to the bottom of the stairs and found herself in a huge kitchen that housed pots large enough to boil a whole horse, hoards of crystal chalices and china plates, pots and pan that gleamed a deep coppery color, and herbs and dried spices hanging from the rafters. Samantha flew through the space, stopping only long enough to grab what looked like a couple of a bananas and bread.
After going down another long corridor, she found herself in yet another room, notable for being the first room to really resemble a different room that she had already visited. Bells of all shapes and sizes hung from the ceiling, but instead of looking like an old church, this room was an office of some kind; however, like the room above, it too had a fountain in the middle of it. But instead of a woman, there was a man dressed as a king. Like the statue above, he looked life-like, and Samantha felt that his eyes tracked her across the room. In his hands he held a mace and an astrolabe.
Samantha was about to head off in the direction she felt she needed to go when a burst of smoke appeared in the room followed by the Ogin. Blue flames lit up his fingertips and reflected on his black, plate armor and helmet like the ripples of light that gave him the same look as the animals on TV had when they were covered in oil from some disaster. The Ogin looked around quickly and then his head froze as he saw Samantha.
“So, you made it past the Vulapes upstairs. I’m impressed. They consume most everyone. But it won’t be enough. If you doubt me, just ask the former king,” the Ogin said with a laugh. Then looking at the statue and laughing all the louder, he vanished in another burst of smoke.
Rattled, Samantha ran up to the statue and for a moment really looked at it. It looked too perfect to be carved. There were places on the face with acne scars that were so convincing that no chisel could have made them. Additionally, the eye lashes were each made up of individual strands of stone. Samantha did not even know if that was possible, but the thought quickly passed as she felt something press against her consciousness. It was something old and angry, and it made Samantha recoil. Catching a whiff of sulfur, drove away all Samantha’s thoughts of the stone-king from her brain.
Charging down the hallway to the right of the one that she’d just exited, she ran into yet another hallway, that was short and ended in a door with no handle or knocker. Confused, she pounded on the door, which suddenly glowed with a pale green light and said: If you would pass then let your first come last and your last come first.
“What does that mean?” Samantha cried, pushing on the door, which didn’t budge. “Come on. Open up!”
But the door held fast, and no matter how much Samantha beat on it or screamed or pleaded, it would only repeat what it had said. Furious, Samantha aimed a kick at the door, which sent her away limping. Hopping up and down on one foot, with tears welling in her eyes, she turned around back the way she had come. She leaned back against the wall as the tears started to slide down her face, and then she fell through the door. The back of her head bounced off the floor and stars exploded behind her eyes. The air fled her body, followed by a moan as she lay there trying to recover. Eventually, Samantha hauled herself up and staggered off in the direction she thought Gale was.
She found another set of stairs and took them down, but unlike the last great stairwell, this one was relatively short. It put her out in what looked like a hospital ward. Endless rows ran down a long, broad hallway, and inside the beds were more stone figures. Like the king and queen she had seen upstairs, the carvings seemed to follow her every movement, causing her to quicken her pace. Her feet, still bare, slapped a plain, pine floor and she hurried down to the end of the ward and opened the only visible door.
The room Samantha entered was like the ones the king and queen were housed in above. But there seemed to be hundreds of statues in this room and it was far larger than any room Samantha had ever seen. It was rectangular in shape, and about five times as long as it was deep. Pillars were spaced evenly throughout the room in neat, even rows, and it was between these pillars that the thousands and thousands of bells hung. But unlike the other rooms she had seen, there was no fountain. Instead, against the far wall, there was what looked like a large shelf about ten feet up off the floor and directly centered between the far ends of the room. On the shelf was what looked to be a small desk that was built into the shelf’s floor, and behind this, in the wall, there was an ornate door. A statue of a wizened old man sat at the desk, surveying the hundreds and hundreds of other statues that were seated throughout the room.
Suddenly, behind the seated figure, the Ogin appeared. He quickly scanned the room, and catching site of Samantha he laughed. “What do you think? Is it familiar?” the Ogin asked, waving his hand around the room.
“What is this place?” Samantha asked.
“My, my, my, they not only lie to the children where you are from, but they do not even bother to educate them. A most dangerous combination.”
Samantha looked around again and saw that all the statues in the room were of young boys and girls. “You mean this is a school?” she gasped
“Indeed. It is the only school in the whole palace. It was designed by Fu’Shen here,” the Ogin said, as he brought his club through the air and knocked the head off the statue at his feet. “I personally can attest that his lessons were nearly useless; however, I did learn one great thing from him. Can you guess what that is?”
Samantha felt her mouth go dry and shook her head, positive that she did not want to know, as a piece of the statue the Ogin had smashed landed at her feet. Trembling she reached down and picked it up. The lips of the old man, which were pursed in such as way that they looked like he might have been trying to blow out birthday candles rested in her hand. The Ogin, upon seeing this, smiled and continued, “Well it may be hard to divine, given how barbaric your brain is, but the lesson dear child is this: see all but do not been seen yourself. Let me demonstrate. From here, I can see every figure in this room, but down there, you can only see those seated right next to you. That gives me an advantage that you do not have, so go on. Look for your sister. If she is here, I will find her long before you.”
Samantha concentrated on Gale, and felt her close by off to her left and a little in front of her, but she was too afraid to look and see if she was right. Then suddenly something hit her. Ts’ui had said something about water not being the only thing that was refreshing. What did that mean? Could it help her defeat the Ogin? She’d asked, but he’d only pushed her out of the room, using his massive head.
His head. Finally it clicked. His head had a bell tied around it.
“You can see everything from up there?” Samantha suddenly asked, trying to keep the Ogin distracted.
“Of course,” the Ogin said,” as his flaming eyes began sweeping over the figures.
“Well tell me if you saw this coming,” Samantha shouted and then threw the bit of stone in her hand at the bells above her head.
The Ogin, who had been busy scanning the figures only let his gaze flicker up at her words, but suddenly the flames shot out of his eyes, and he vanished in a puff of smoke. Too late.
The stone hit one of the bells which rang with a soft, sonorous tinkle. It knocked its neighbor, which dominoed outward. Soon a great clamor filled the vast room and a wind began to blow, seemingly out of nowhere. The wind set the bells ringing wild, and an odd, red light began to form under the thousands of bells. Transfixed, Samantha watched as the first bell she’d hit burst. However, no shards or debris fell. Instead a pulsing orb of light hung for a moment in the air and then flung itself through the red cloud, emerging on the other side as a crimson and gold orb. It shot towards one of the statues and then vanished into the stone, which instantly changed to flesh. Other bells followed suit and soon hundreds of pulsing orbs were flying through the air.
Taking advantage of the chaos, Samantha darted forward, scanning the faces of both the reanimated and the statues, and then she saw Gale. Her Gale was stone, but in a flash, her eyes went from being stone to the vivd green that Samantha knew and loved. Rushing forward, she grabbed her sister, and screamed at her to run, but the noise in the room was so deafening that Gale didn’t hear anything.
The next second Samantha was yanked off her feet. The Ogin had her by the neck, and he was screaming something at her. Samantha, however, could not make out the words over the ruckus. The monster raised his club to smite his nemesis, but suddenly he was thrown off his feet. Ts’ui seemed to appear out of nowhere. And with a roar that could be clearly heard over the din, he snapped his jaws around the Ogin, which sent Samantha sailing through the air. She smashed head first into the floor, and for the second time, stars exploded behind her eyes. Samantha vaguely noted Ts’ui give his head a jerk and spray what looked like molten lava in several directions, but then the darkness overwhelmed her and she knew no more.