Sanctuary of the Seasons

by
LadyMerlin



1 - Spring - 1

The soft evening breeze ruffles his hair and sends the fallen leaves dancing around the gravestones. He makes his way amongst the dead with care while the crunch of his footsteps on grass that shines with frost is loud in the otherwise quiet of the night. Overhead the stars shine brightly and the harvest moon hangs low in the sky casting an eerie radiance. The surreal ambience adds to his unease as he approaches the crypt with caution.

Standing at the door, he looks back over his shoulder searching in the dark for any followers. Wiping his hands on his jeans to clear them of the sweat that has made them slick despite the evening chill, he turns back to face the heavy oak door. With a hand that is shaking slightly from cold or possibly nervousness, he produces a large, ornate key from his jacket pocket. He struggles to get the key into the lock as his fingers betray him and try to drop the heavy item to the cold hard ground. Taking a deep steadying breath, he inserts the key into the lock and with a determined turn and a brisk click, the door releases from its latch.

The door is surprisingly easy to open for all its apparent weight and it gives a tremendous creak as it starts to swing slowly outwards. He fights the sudden urge to flee as the door abruptly opens the rest of the way in a rush of howling icy cold wind. The accompanying odour is foul and stale and rocks him back on his feet. He is hesitant to cross the threshold but knows there isn’t any other choice.

His steps are small and tentative as he enters the darkened crypt. He can almost convince himself that his slowness is because he is giving his eyes time to adjust and not because he’s scared or dreading what he may find. He can just make out shapes that he soon realises are tombs. His entrance disturbs the layer of dust that coats almost all the surfaces and sends rats scurrying for cover. He’s trying to hold in a sneeze that threatens to escape and disturb the peace of the departed. As he bravely ventures forward, his footsteps seem to echo and bounce around the walls of the crypt or perhaps the sound is merely in his head, taunting him and trying to get him to leave before it’s too late.

A sudden resounding boom echoes loudly behind him. He tries to turn and shuffle backwards at the same time causing his feet to tangle and he stumbles putting out his hands blindly in an attempt to stop his fall. His hip cracks painfully on the edge of a tomb slowing his descent to the coarse stone. Sitting on the floor and panting in rough shallow breaths, he tries to regain control and ease the shaking of his body. Looking towards the doorway he realises it was the slamming of the open door that had scared him so badly.

Placing his hands on the floor in preparation to push back up to his feet, he feels a groove in the flooring under his palms. Closer inspection reveals two deep furrows evenly spaced liked rail-road tracks in front of the tomb, one at each narrow end. He stands deciding to look closer at the tomb that so agonizingly made its presence known such a short time ago. He can’t quite make out the name on the lid in the gloom but can feel the letters as he runs his hands over the indentations. Abruptly pulling his hands away, he shivers and wraps his arms around his middle in an attempt to ward off the chill that is suddenly running over his skin.

The name escapes his lips on a soft questioning sigh, “Harris. My family name - but how?”

Stepping back, he can only just see several small hand prints in the dust on the side opposite the mysterious grooves. Placing both of his hands near the hand prints, he begins to push. With a grinding rumble, the tomb begins to slide along the stone floor revealing an opening. Resting after his exertion, he adjusts his satchel more securely on his shoulder and peers into the murkiness below.

In the dim flickering light, Xander can see an uneven granite stairway leading to a hallway that is made of the same roughly cut stone. Unable to see any further he strains to take notice of any sound but can only hear the rasp of his breathing and the thumping of his heart. Gathering his courage, he slowly and warily starts making his way down into the unknown depths.

Just as he reaches the bottom of the stairs, he thinks he hears a faint sound. A woman’s voice, beautiful and humming softly floats towards him along with a faint whiff of smoke. He edges towards the corner where the hallway turns abruptly to the right. He dares a peek and sees another corridor with torches spaced along the length in elaborate metal sconces. There is an archway in the distance flanked by a single standing column while strewn upon the hall floor are the remains of another. He also glimpses an abundance of cobwebs, dust and dirt but no sign of the possessor of that haunting voice.

Xander moves slowly forward into the hallway cringing as his footsteps sound loud to his ears. He stops to listen and brush away the cobwebs tickling his neck. As the singing carries on uninterrupted, he continues his journey carefully sidestepping the debris littering the floor. His body is starting to feel the strain of the constant tension as he finally approaches the archway. He pauses in the shadows thrown by the remaining column to try to relax the cramping in his muscles. Bending forward with a hushed moan, he begins to massage his legs. He starts to feel the welcome loosening of the muscles in his calves when he becomes aware of the quiet. He jerks his head up as he realises the humming tune has stopped.

“Draw near and show yourself challenger,” says the soft sweet voice.

Stepping through the archway, he enters a rectangular room made of the same roughly cut stone but softened by hanging tapestries depicting the four seasons and highly wrought chandeliers with dozens of candles casting a warm glow. There are several delicate gothic style chairs and a matching chaise lounge in plush dark green velvet. Seated demurely at a spinning wheel is a woman of extraordinary beauty. Her hair is raven black and spills down her back like a waterfall making a perfect contrast to her creamy white skin and delicate features. She is dressed in a long flowing gown of the deepest plum that matches the colour of her lips and highlights the blue of her eyes.

She looks up from her work when he enters and she studies him for a moment before she speaks. “Oh look!” She exclaims clapping her hands like a small child, “it is the White Knight.”

She seems to float across the floor as she leaves her place on the stool to approach him.  “Are you here to find the Dark Prince that lies trapped within the sanctuary? “

“I… Yes, who are you?”

“I am the seer, the knower of secrets, The Queen of Cups. Have you brought an offering?”

Xander nods his head and reaches into the pocket of his jeans taking out a handmade silver pendant in the shape of a heart suspended on a delicate silver chain that glints and twinkles in the candlelight. He drops the trinket into her waiting palm as she coos with delight.

“How charming, look Miss Edith,” she croons speaking to a porcelain doll perched on one of the chairs, “isn’t it lovely. He is most worthy, don’t you think?” Turning back to face him she continues, “You have pleased me. I shall help you on your quest.”

“Thank you, my lady,” he says bowing slightly at the waist.

She giggles behind her hand and drops a curtsey. Becoming serious, she starts to circle round him. As he begins to turn to follow her movement, she drops a hand onto his arm and shakes her head.

“Close your eyes and allow yourself to drift. Relax and let the images come into your mind. No. No, don’t fight it. Don’t fight them brave knight. There that’s it, do you see?”

He feels quite relaxed and can see himself and the seer standing in the room although his eyes are closed. He feels no alarm, just a calm that envelops him like a safe warm blanket. He nods his head to indicate his readiness.

She continues to speak in her soft honeyed voice, “The sun begins its climb back into the sky thus lightening the black velvet of the night.”

Xander is surprised when he doesn’t see the expected sunrise or the dark of night but the young sister of the slayer and himself. He is puzzled for a moment until he abruptly realises his mistake. “Of course, Dawn and not night but knight. The key and the White Knight but what does it mean?”

“What a clever kitten and proving to be worthy indeed. Don’t fret, it will become clear in time and you will remember and know. Pay attention now there is more. The magic tree freed its power and where there was only one Warrior Queen there are now many.”

There is no surprise upon observing things not expected. In his mind, he sees an image of his long time friend Willow. She is sitting amongst the ruins of a building, her red hair flowing in a breeze. She appears to be casting and then the image changes to that of another friend, the slayer leading a small army of girls.

“What images do the words invoke?”

He opens his eyes and hesitates a moment in order to make sense of the imagery. “I see my friend Willow, the magic tree, the Red Witch. She cast a spell that freed the power of the scythe and made slayers of all the potentials.” He looks to his unexpected supporter with questioning eyes. “So I’ve seen the key, the White Knight, the Red Witch, the slayer or Warrior Queen and the scythe?”

“You’ve seen well, almost as well as a seer. The Elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth are also the Seasons and each has its own power. The power of Life, Light, Love and Law and all are connected.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“When the time is right you will. You have a generosity of spirit and an ability to glimpse outside the obvious that serves you well. Remember what I have said and what you have seen. You will face demons and the way will not be easy. Are you sure you wish to enter the Sanctuary of the Seasons?”

“I have to. He needs my help.”

“Very well. Then it begins. You will find the entrance at the beginning.”She wanders off towards a table set out for tea collecting the porcelain doll along the way. “Come Miss Edith. Let us have a tea party.”

He turns his attention to finding the entrance now that the seer has reverted to her childlike state. Xander considers her final words whilst looking about the room. As his eyes scan the tapestries, he suddenly realises where the entrance is located.

He walks over to the heavy tapestry depicting spring and sees it is suspended on a rod so that it may be drawn aside revealing what is behind. The fabric is coarse and feels strange under his fingers, almost living. He refuses to give in to the urge to pull away and pushes the heavy cloth aside to reveal an oak door with wrought iron hinges. The door is unlocked and opens easily when pushed. He peers into the gloom ahead but observes nothing more than another hallway almost identical to the one at the bottom of the stairs. With a last look over his shoulder at the room behind, Xander walks through the doorway, into the sanctuary and towards his fate.





2 Spring - 2

As he enters the Sanctuary he sees there is an archway at the end of the passage but unlike the entrance to the seer’s chamber, this one is much smaller. He pauses to listen and then moves confidently forward through the familiar looking corridor, as all is quiet. He quickly reaches the small stone arch where he stops to look into the room beyond. It is again familiar in appearance to what he left behind but the room appears abandoned. The once luxurious chairs lie broken and torn and the remains of a delicate china tea set lay strewn in the thick layer of dust on the floor. Looking around the space from the entry, the only apparent signs of life are the scattering of paw prints and the occasional squeak. Taking a deep breath to settle himself, he steps into the neglected space.

Xander shivers as he passes through what feels like an invisible barrier and discovers that what appeared to be a room from the other side is now a roughly carved tunnel. There are wooden torches widely spaced along the length so that his sight is limited and the smell of smoke is strong and stings his eyes. The passage appears to lead straight ahead without branches or turns. There are many stones, holes and tree roots making their way across the ground. The walls have a fine sheen of moisture that drips and runs in small rivulets and moss that is starting to encroach upon the ground. The poor lighting combined with the treacherous footing makes his trek slow and arduous. He develops a gleam of sweat that chills him to the bone when a cool breeze whistles through the narrow passage. The occasional spider or lizard darts across his path as his presence in their home disturbs them. Just as he begins to suspect that the tunnel is never ending, he sees the outline of an opening. He can see dust motes and flying insects playing amongst the rays of sunshine as he nears a natural doorway of stone.

The rough stone arc opens up into a wooded area of trees with a winding path leading off into the distance. He can hear birds chirping and as his eyes adjust to the newfound light, he notices a riot of colour upon the ground. There amongst the trees is a profusion of wildflowers in every colour imaginable making a natural carpet with a delicate floral scent. He pauses to turn his face up to the sunshine allowing its heat to penetrate his chilled skin. Shielding his eyes against the rays of welcoming warmth, he looks up at the blue of the sky. There is a large rough opening in the roof of what he now realises is a great cavern that contains this wooded area.

Turning his attention back to the forest, he starts down the path. It seems the easiest route but he wonders is it too easy? He pauses to reconsider his options. He feels slightly uncomfortable taking such an obvious course yet the alternative would be trying to make his way through the woods. Getting lost could be a very real possibility and there may well be any number of unknown dangers within the cover of the trees and flora of the forest floor. Better to be in the open, albeit narrow pathway, than be trapped amongst the trees if danger should present itself. Decision made, he continues on his way.

The sun’s warmth, the fragrant flowers and beautiful scenery make it hard to imagine there could be any threat. The trees along the dirt trail are heavy with blossoms visited by buzzing bees and tiny hummingbirds. Butterflies flit amongst the wildflowers and tease young rabbits out of their hiding places. He can just make out deer between the various trees of pine, oak and maple. The young forage in the flora for food while dutiful parents keep a keen eye out for danger. He can hear the soft flow of water and he imagines a winding brook to complete the charming scene.

As he travels along, he tries to picture those who came before him. The path is well worn and he daydreams of great warriors and knights heading off to foreign lands on a similar mission to his own. Off to rescue the fair maiden in distress. He laughs aloud when he thinks of how the Dark Prince would react if he knew. After travelling along the path for several hours Xander decides to stop for a rest. Finding a small clearing, he settles himself next to a fallen tree a short distance from the dirt track using his jacket as a cushion. He chooses a candy bar from the small supply of portable snack foods that he’d tucked into his satchel before setting out on his journey. Leaning back against the tree, he takes a few precious moments to enjoy the natural splendour that surrounds him. The buzzing of the insects and twittering of the birds are a musical accompaniment to his meagre meal.

Looking skyward, he notices a large bird of prey that appears to be circling the clearing. He watches as it draws closer without any apparent fear of the human that has invaded its forest home. He identifies the bird as a peregrine falcon when it lands on the tree very near to his resting place. The falcon observes him closely with eyes that are all too knowing. Turning slightly he stares back and becomes drawn into the intense gaze. The sights and sounds of the forest fade into the background as all his attention is on the creature in front of him. He starts and turns abruptly at the sound of a deep male voice behind him.

“You should leave while you still can foolish mortal.”

There is nothing behind him but he continues trying to locate whoever spoke. Perhaps he’s hiding in the trees nearby.

“You will never succeed.”

Again, the voice seems to come from behind but when he turns, there is no one there. Standing he decides to challenge the unknown speaker.

“Where are you? Show yourself.”

A booming laugh seems to come from all around him as he constantly shifts his position in a vain attempt to spot his tormentor.

“Why would I reveal myself to someone as ineffectual and puny as you? They are foolish to send the useless one. Or did they send the most expendable of their number?”

Xander can hear the obvious disdain in the voice and the heat of a blush creeps across his face. He wrestles with the familiar stirrings of inadequacy and tries not to show his unease when the comments hit their intended mark. Putting his past behind him, Xander attempts a strike of his own.

“If I’m not a threat then why hide?”

“Haward hides from no one. Now go while I am still feeling generous enough to allow it.”

Bolstered by his ability to get Haward to reveal his name he stands straighter. “I’ll go when I get what I came for.”

“Very well, you have been warned. I grow tired of this conversation. It is pointless.”

Xander spins at the abrupt sound of wings flapping as the bird returns to the skies. Following the falcon’s flight he notices darkness is descending. He observes the clearing in the dwindling light while the sounds of the forest begin to quiet and the wind increases. It pushes and pulls at his hair trying to make tangles and obscure his vision. Tree blossoms twirl and dance in the wind before alighting on the ground mimicking a winter storm. Deciding it would be best to move on Xander grabs his jacket and regains the trail. He continues onward hoping to reach some sort of shelter before nightfall.

The wind continues to increase in strength and he’s leaning heavily forward to remain on his feet. He enters a section of the forest that appears much older as the trees become larger and the undergrowth begins to encroach upon the trail. He slows his pace as the light continues to fade and the path becomes more treacherous. The delicate dancing blossoms are now dangerous airborne sticks and twigs. Tree branches claw at his clothes and skin leaving small tears and scratches. Xander is panting with exertion and beginning to tire when finally, in the distance ahead he can just make out the shape of a doorway carved into the trunk of an enormous tree. It reminds him of the trees he saw when he travelled to the Great Redwood Forest as a child. Paying for his lack of concentration, he slips and falls as a particularly large gust off wind sweeps his feet out from under him. He scrabbles for purchase in the soft soil, digging in with his fingers. During a lull in the howling wind, he manages to slow his backward slide and push himself up to his knees. As if angered by his resilience the windstorm increases in violence.

Xander cries out in pain as a large branch strikes him hard on the right side. He falls back to the ground as his arm buckles from the blow. Lying on his side, he pants harshly through his mouth. He closes his eyes as the words failure, useless, and zeppo flash across his mind. His resolve returns in a flash of bleach blonde hair and a leather duster bathed in a golden glow making the ultimate sacrifice.

“No, I won’t let you down,” Xander vows.

Opening his eyes and gritting his teeth in determination, he pushes back up to his knees. He puts up an arm to shield his face from the flying debris and slits his eyes against the raging windstorm as he searches in the diminishing light for the carved tree he spotted earlier. Xander sighs in relief as he sees the tree not far from his current position. Not bothering to struggle against the strong winds to get to his feet Xander crawls on his hands and knees while the wind howls and gusts around him. He feels smothered by the forest and the clawing branches that are like icy fingers trying to prevent his forward progress. His hands are numb and his knees ache from the merciless irregular terrain. He hangs his head concentrating on putting one hand, one knee in front of the other. Just as he feels ready to collapse from exhaustion, he hits his head against a solid surface.

He looks up to find that he’s reached the carved tree. After crawling into the meagre shelter of the doorway, he pauses to catch his breath and assess his situation. There is an oak door the same as the other doors he’s encountered in the sanctuary. Of course, with his luck he figures it will be locked. Without any better options, he reaches for the knob. He’s surprised when it turns easily and the door swings rapidly inward in the wind. A bellow of rage louder than the wind causes the ground to shake beneath him. The sound is angry and terrifying. Not bothering to take a close look at what’s on the other side he flings himself through the opening, turns over and uses his feet to push the door closed.

Resting after his effort, he looks around from his vantage point on the wooden floor. The tree is hollow creating a cosy imperfect round room lit by a small lantern hung on a hook next to the door. There is a kitchen area on one side and a small bedroom opposite. The furniture is simple but also appears to be handmade from the wood carved out of the tree. All the wooden surfaces are waxed and polished so they gleam in the light casting their own warmth. The carpenter in him appreciates the skill required to make such an elaborate and beautiful construction. Above the door he entered is a welcome done in embroidery. He reads ‘Rest and know you are safe and welcome’. He doesn’t see anyone else and rolling over he pushes up to his feet.

The quiet of the room is almost unnerving after the loudness of the windstorm but it is also a relief. Trusting his instincts, he feels safe enough to rest and recover before moving on. He’s torn between exhaustion and hunger but decides to eat first then sleep. Moving to the kitchen, he finds a simple meal of bread, fruit and cheese. Removing his satchel and jacket, he places them in one of the chairs. Taking a seat at the table in the other chair, he digs into the meal with gusto. Meal quickly finished Xander debates on cleaning up the dishes or simply crawling into bed and the welcoming arms of sleep.

After a very brief pause, he heads over to the bed and strips down to his boxers. He climbs under the covers and snuggles beneath a comforter embroidered with scenes of the four seasons. In his relaxed state, he drifts and remembers lush crimson kiss swollen lips and wishing there could be more than kisses, more time to explore each other. Sleep follows quickly and he dreams of knights, dragons and a prince with striking blue eyes.





4 Summer - 1

Xander wakes to bright sunshine streaming through windows that he knows were not there when he went to sleep. He can’t explain it but he still feels quite safe inside the tree. It seems as though someone is watching over him and keeping him from harm. Xander smiles as he flings back the covers and swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, he stands. Stretching while looking about the room, he notices that in addition to the windows there is also a new door. A quick look out the nearest window shows a familiar forest of trees with a winding dirt path leading away towards some rocky terrain but no sign of the previous night’s storm. Leaving the door for later exploration, he retrieves his clothes from where he left them on the floor. He sees they are torn and dirty but with a shrug, he puts them on and heads over to the kitchen for breakfast.

Once there he’s surprised to see a towel, wash cloth, soap, razor, toothpaste and a toothbrush set out upon the surface of the wooden counter. Next to the items is a large ceramic pitcher filled with water resting inside a washbowl. Looking over his shoulder, he looks at the wooden chest that rests at the foot of the bed.

“I wonder…,” he says aloud before turning to investigate.

Inside he finds simple linen undergarments, wool socks, and a plain tunic in a shade of forest green and underneath a pair of soft brown trousers. He’s not surprised to see they all appear to be the right size. Removing the outfit reveals sturdy leather boots. Reaching into the chest to retrieve the boots he spots a leather belt with a scabbard that holds an elaborately decorated dagger.

Lifting the belt out of the chest, he carefully slides the dagger out of its holder. The blade gleams in the light looking deadly, and at its top is set an oval, blood red ruby with the open wings of a dragon above. A horned dragon’s head is at the top of the grooved handle. Testing its weight and grip, he’s pleased that it feels quite natural, like an extension of his hand. Closing the chest and collecting his treasures he moves over to the bed setting down the belt and items of clothing. He places the boots on the floor and strips before heading back to the kitchen to wash.

The water is cool against his skin but it feels good to be free of the dust and dirt. After drying off Xander decides to get dressed before breakfast. The underwear, socks and tunic are simple enough but the trousers are another matter. There is a simple drawstring at the waist but there seems to be extra material. After a bit of fumbling he realises it’s a tie flap at the front rather than the conventional button fly or zipper. He fastens the belt just above his hips over the tunic and adjusts the scabbard so the dagger is within easy reach. The outfit is surprisingly comfortable and he feels quite dashing, although he would never admit it to anyone.

He moves back to the kitchen while smoothing his unruly dark locks into some semblance of order. Looking through the small store of food, he chooses the same simple meal of bread, cheese and fruit for breakfast. Meal finished, he cleans up and adds some of the fruit and cheese to his satchel along with the toiletries. Not wanting to appear ungrateful to whomever or whatever arranged all this for him, he cleans the kitchen and straightens out the bedding. Taking a last look around to ensure he hasn’t forgotten anything he heads to the new door. Once opened he sees a small antechamber with wooden pegs and a windowed door leading to the outside. Hanging on one of the pegs is a dark green cape with a large hood. The material is soft and the clasp is a silver spike with roses entwined around it. With a delighted smile, he adds the cloak to his new outfit.

Truly feeling like a knight of old, he heads outside and follows the path under his feet. It may have been a bit harrowing last time but he got where he needed to go in the end so he sees no reason to change. The day is bright, clear, and hot with a cool, mild breeze making it pleasant rather than stifling. The trees provide plenty of welcoming shade with an abundance of bright green leaves. The grass along the sides of the path is luxuriant and he’s tempted to take off his boots and walk barefoot to feel its softness. Looking about as he travels along he sees no sticks or branches strewn about. It’s as if the windstorm never happened but he knows better and has the scratches on his body to prove it. He shivers as he remembers the harsh winds and the inhuman bellow of rage. With effort, Xander turns his mind away from thoughts of almost failure and refocuses his attention on the path, his journey, and his ultimate goal.

The sun is high in the sky when he stops for a light meal. He again chooses a spot near the trail to rest and eat. He spreads his cloak upon the ground like a blanket and enjoys a picnic while watching the wildlife. He is alert for any signs of the falcon but sees only deer, rabbits and a curious raccoon. The small animal is bold and comes close to Xander’s resting place. He offers the creature a bit of fruit, which he takes happily before racing off with his prize.

Feeling lazy and full, he lies back on his cloak atop the soft mattress of grass and gazes up at the sky. He watches white fluffy clouds drift slowly across a background of pale blue remembering lazy summer days of his childhood and hours spent trying to find pictures in the clouds. The way his ice cream cone would melt in the heat and tiny sticky droplets would try to run down his hand to the ground. He would race to lick them away before any of the precious sweetness could be lost. A tiny smile turns into a yawn but before he can fall asleep, he sits up, repacks the remaining provisions and regains the path.

He moves along at a swift pace and before long, he notices that the terrain is changing from a flourishing forest to a more barren rocky landscape. The trail begins to climb and the trees are farther apart. The cooling wind ceases and the day becomes hotter. Xander’s pace slows as he starts up a rocky hillside. Looking up towards the top of the hill, he can see the mouth of a cave set amongst some large boulders and a tree with a few dry leaves persistently clinging to the bent branches. As he becomes warmer and begins to sweat, he stops briefly to remove the cloak and pack it away in his satchel.

He enters the small clearing at the top of the hill and approaches the entrance to the cave.  Looking around from his vantage point atop the hill, he can see the sheer rock walls that make up the edges of the great cavern. He wonders if the whole area is the Sanctuary. There is no other visible route except the path and the hill is at the bottom of one of the giant cliff faces that stretches to the ceiling. It would appear that the only alternative is to enter the cave and see where it leads. Taking a last look around, he steps inside. The floors and walls are rough. The air is still and quiet. His dislike of dark enclosed spaces causes him to shudder despite the heat that seems to seep from the rock itself.

As he moves to the back of the cave, he notices a change in the walls and floor. Although still rough, the texture is smoother and he suspects it is manmade rather than worn naturally. His suspicions are confirmed when he comes upon two unlit torches to either side of a sealed door. The door is surrounded by designs but he can’t make out any details in the dim light that comes from the entrance. Searching blindly in his satchel his fingers triumphantly close upon a smooth, cool, thin metal object. He pulls the object free from its confines and in a manoeuvre that shows hours of practice the Zippo sparks to life. He sets both torches alight and examines the markings along the outer edge of the door.

They are depictions of a variety of objects in a single line ringing the entire arc of the door from the floor to the top and back down to the floor again. Unable to see any point to the markings he tries to open the door but it stays stubbornly closed. Locked but there is no keyhole or other apparent locking mechanism. Looking back at the images, his breath hitches when he notices a carved picture of a key. Examining the pictures more closely he also finds two scythes and another key. Four all together and four seasons, four powers, the key and the scythe, could it be that simple. Running his fingers over the carvings, he feels one of the keys give slightly. Putting more pressure on it causes it to move inward several inches before stopping with a loud click. He repeats the process on the other carved key and the scythes.

The door swings open slightly with a loud groan and a cloud of dust. Retrieving one of the torches from its resting place, he gingerly pushes it through the opening. When nothing jumps out to attack, he pushes the door completely open to reveal a tunnel carved into the rock. It stretches beyond the meagre light of the torch but what is visible is dry with sand piled in uneven mounds along the edges of the floor. Listening carefully he hears a rushing sound and thinks there might be an underwater stream somewhere ahead.

Xander moves slowly and cautiously along the tunnel as it slopes downward so gently as to be almost unnoticeable. Despite no apparent threat, he still feels uneasy. There is nothing but dry walls where he expects to see moisture. There is heat where he expects damp coolness. The underground tunnel is unnatural and causes him to feel troubled and tense. Xander hesitates when he comes to a fork. Should he go left or right? There is a reddish, orange glow emanating from the left hand tunnel while the right is dark. The noise he heard earlier sounds louder on his left. Deciding to head toward the light and sound, he takes the tunnel on the left.

He continues on his way, carefully watching for any reappearance of Haward or any of the demons the seer warned he would encounter. The glow is becoming brighter and the heat more oppressive. He can feel the sweat trickling down his face and the middle of his back and when he stops to wipe the moisture from his face, he hears a skittering sound coming from the darkness behind him. He doesn’t see anything when he turns to peer into the gloom. Quickening his pace, he continues bravely onward toward the deep red radiance and away from the unseen follower.