The hall had grandiose dimensions, with soaring pillars of white marble, engraved with mystical creature. The walls, too, were rife with chiselled relief, especially around the enormous glass panes that offered a glimpse of blue skies. The floor was an intricate mosaic of various white hues, smooth as pared ice. White , and the colour of the sky, transformed the light of day into radiance, giving the impression that the entire enclosure was sculpted from ice.
‘Holy Light of Rah,’ Paplo muttered, in awe.
Max was on his knees, to better appreciate the perfect flatness of the floor. ”Tis beyond the skill of modern dwarves!’ be breathed, ‘Only the mastersmiths of old possessed such arcana!’
Eladred was more interested in the exquisite beauty of the stone carvings, ‘The art of the creator goes beyond mere genius! Not only was his craft with hammer and chisel without peer, he had the gift of expression. See how life-like are the forms depicted, charged with evocative energy!’
Wykka and Paplo stood transfixed by the wonder around them.
After long moments spent in admiration, they remembered that they were supposed to be in the deserted abode of the Most Dreaded Name In History. Except that the place did not look like it had been deserted for more than a day!
‘It is as I feared,’ Max said, ‘The ancient evil endured!’
‘The Ice Queen?’ Paplo queried, looking around fearfully.
‘Or Her minions,’ Max said, ‘How else to explain the fact that the Citadel has not fallen into ruin, after a thousand years?’
‘It may be that some enchantment survived Ishar’s demise. Perhaps that is what maintains her fortress in good repair. After all, we have not seen anu guards,’ Eladred reasoned.
‘That is a possibility,’ admitted Max, ‘But it could also be that the Ice Queen, or Her minoins, had gone out – soon to return!’
‘Then we should leave now!’ Paplo said.
‘Not so fast, young Paplo,’ Max said, ‘Since we’re already here, we might as well try for the Throne Room. It would be easier to convince the King to part with his gold, if we took back one of the gargoyles there.’
‘I agree,’ Eladred said, ‘If there were guards in the Citadel, they would have appeared by now. Even if it is as Max surmised, mayhaps we could yet escape before they return.’
‘Then let’s do it quick!’ Paplo said, sprinting for the great winged stairs at the other end of the hall.
‘Careful!’ cautioned Eladred. ‘There must be safeguards installed, else this place would have been looted long since.’
Paplo hesitated, voicing hopefully, ‘Traps may not have been necessary. The name of Ishar still has power to terrify. Perhaps it was sufficient to deter tomb raiders.’
‘It didn’t deter us,’ the elf pointed out. ‘Best not to sacrifice care for haste.’
Uncharacteristically, Wykka chipped in his penny’s worth, ‘I don’t know. I find it strange that the doors weren’t locked, if the residents had indeed gone out.’
At that thought, Max furrowed his brows worriedly, ‘What if the Citadel was in decay, but has only been recently restored? By sorcery? I suspect that would take a lot of effort; maybe enoughto limit a wytch from maintaining a host of supernatural cohorts, for a time. That would explain the absence of guards. If so, it is possible that She is in the Citadel somewhere, regaining Her strength. It would correspond with the remours: Ishar has returned!’