But now the wind sprang to new life. It shoved her and screamed into her ears. It cried and moaned as it whistled around her. She fought to keep it out, but she could not seal it away completely – not when she had so recently allowed it in – and as it blew through it pelted her with images that made her cry out: the Plateau splitting asunder in a savage spray of molten rock and fire. The Takare fleeing, dying. She saw a world made new in a terrible image, drawn in the ashes of the old. She saw a gray hand whose fingers stretched into every corner of the world, igniting violence, disease and hatred where it passed. She saw a ball of fire thrown down from the heavens into the center of the Plateau, shattering on impact, and from its center came a mighty being, a being that might be the world’s hero, might be its doom. She shuddered before it all. Her head bowed and tears sprang unbidden to her eyes.
Then she shook herself, almost angry, and wiped away the tears. She had never shied away, no matter the price. She would not start now. “I’ll go!” she shouted at the wind. “Stop pushing me!” She clenched herself and stepped inside.
The defile echoed with the crashing thunder of water on stone, louder than any scream. The air burned her lungs, thick with sulfur. A few steps forward and she staggered and had to reach out to the stone for support, as something else assaulted her.
It came from all around her and it struck her with palpable force, pounding against her inner walls like storm-driven waves on a breakwater. It slammed against her, over and over, a scream that had no end.
It did not come from the men who preceded her. They were too small, too brief, for fear this immense. This was the fear of a god, an immortal being driven nearly mad with terror.
She wondered at it even as she knotted her fists, lowered her head, and pushed forward. Later, if there was a later, she would puzzle over this. For now she must act. The wind had not followed her in here, but she knew it still waited for her outside. There was no way around this except through it.
The walls of the defile soared far overhead, swallowing her. The sky was a thin, cloudy ribbon only sometimes visible. The river was a thrashing, hissing beast that snarled its way through the tumbled boulders it had chewed from the walls, slowly digesting them. The path was a mere scar on the rock beside the river, slick as new ice. One misstep and she would end up in the river to have her head dashed against a stone.
Shakre looked back the way she had come. The world outside was gone. The defile closed in about her. There was nothing but the river and the stone, sound and smell and fear all snarled together into an indistinguishable mass.
No way out but forward.
Shakre continued on, concentrating on the placement of each step, trying to block everything else from her mind. As she rounded a sharp corner something loomed up before her suddenly, a huge indistinct shape in the gloom. She put her hand to her heart but it was only a rock formation jutting out from the wall of the defile. But for just a moment it had been a hunched creature waiting there, stubby wings protruding from its back. There was a flash from one of the hollows where an eye should be but it was only the trick of a stray beam of sunlight that was quickly gone. She hurried past it, careful not to touch it.
After that she saw them everywhere. Some were only dark eyes and mouths in the walls above her. Others were like the first, predatory things that crouched on stone outcroppings or lurked in shallow caves. But all of them were stone. Whatever they had once been, Shakre told herself, they were only stone now. They could not move. They were not watching her. But her steps grew faster and she tried to avoid looking at them.
She came to a place where the defile opened up and the river settled into a large, somewhat circular pool. The only way forward was a tiny ledge that circled the pool on one side, only a hand’s width above the water. She looked down at the river, up at the looming walls. No way but forward. Taking a deep breath, she stepped out on the ledge. She was halfway around when she became aware of another presence, there in the defile with her. Its Song probed along her barriers with cold tentacles. She gasped and drew back from their touch. The Song was alien, unlike anything she had encountered since the night, long ago, when she entered the poisonwood.
Frantically she scanned the dim walls around her, looking for any hint of movement. Only at the last moment did she look down.
A dark shape was rising up out of the water.
Shakre turned and ran.
As she hit the far side of the pool, she slipped and fell hard on the rock. Behind her she heard a single splash. She clambered to her feet and ran without looking back.
Only after she felt the strange Song recede did she slow to catch her breath. Her ankle throbbed and there was a pain in her chest. What was that thing?
The realization came to her all at once, as something clicked open inside her and jumbled pieces fell into place. She knew where the fear came from now:
A god whose fear was so strong it poisoned the very air. A god who feared so much that he built a fortress around his dwelling place, and filled it with guards to protect him.
Shakre stared around her in awe. The hunched, frozen shapes, the twisted faces gaping from the stone walls – they were Tu Sinar’s guards. But they had fallen asleep at their posts. Only now were they beginning to rouse themselves, alerted finally by a closing danger. But it was not she who was the danger. It was the men she followed. Of course. They came as the agents of Melekath, Melekath who would have reason to hate Tu Sinar as much as any of the old gods. Tu Sinar had fled to this place, hidden himself in a fortress, all because he feared Melekath, and what would happen if Melekath ever freed himself from his prison.
Excerpt from Landsend Plateau