Chapter 17, Part 1-2

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"See how this keeps going back?" he asked. "We only came about this far. We thought we shouldn't go any further because— Well, do you smell that?"

A foul odor wafted out of the cavern. Mara put her hand over her nose, then stepped forward. "Oh, gracious!"

"What? What is it?"

"There!" she pointed.

Just ahead, a thick lead chain was attached to the wall. At its other end, was a grut.

The beast awakened. Its piercing red eyes oozed black mucus. It growled as it pulled itself up on its haunches. Thick yellow saliva dripped from its fangs.

"That explains the odor," she said.

"Back away, Mara."

She removed a knife from her boot, confident she could take it out. After all, it can't hurt me. I carry a grut tooth. She put her arm out to restrain Jules. "I'm going to kill it."

"You want me to do it?"

"No, really, it'll be my pleasure."

She turned back to the grut. Its wary red eyes followed her every move. Its growl turned to a low scream as it strained on its chain, its teeth bared, its tail swinging side to side. Chips of rock broke loose from the walls. Then, as though it could smell the protection the Oathtaker wore, the beast sat back on its haunches and whined.

"Watch this," Mara said as she threw her knife. Only then recollecting the blaze that would follow, she sprang back, pulling Jules with her.

The grut burst into flames.

Mara and Jules coughed. Moments later, they smiled at one another. The grut had vanished, along with the stench of Sinespe.

"Well done," he congratulated her.

"Thanks. I've had some practice."

"Did you know it would go up in flames like that?"

She chuckled. "Yes. Great, huh?"

He frowned, his brow lowered.

"Oh, sorry. I wasn't thinking about that before I threw my knife. You weren't hurt, were you?"

"No," he shook rubble from his hair, "I'm fine."

"Good. Let's keep going then."

A few minutes later, they found what appeared to be an altar. It emanated light in shimmering colors: the molten blue of a topaz, the clear purple of an amethyst, the deep and dreamy shades of an emerald, the bold crimson beauty of a ruby. Upon the altar sat a small, open book. Odd though the scene was, it was utterly breathtaking.

Ba bum, ba bum, ba bum . . . The sound came from the book.

Mara stepped on something. She glanced down. Human bones laid in awkward positions, as though someone had thrown them, or as though their once breathing owners had writhed in agony before finally succumbing to some greater power. A full skeleton near her feet, still clothed, held a sword in its hand.

"Fat lot of good that did him," the Oathtaker commented, gesturing toward the weapon.

"We should both turn away."

Mara contemplated the scene before her. She looked carefully at the book upon the altar. "It's as though it's breathing," she said. "Do you hear that sound?"

"Yes."

"There's something strange here."

"You think?"

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