As we descended further into the mountain, we came upon a massive chamber. There was fire along the walls, and randomly-placed burning pits scattered along the ground. The chamber went on an impossible distance, with smaller chambers branching off here and there from the uneven walls. I glanced to Akshainie, who was starting to sweat.
“Well, we found somewhere warm,” I said.
“You’re hilarious,” she answered flatly. I laughed and looked around. A small fire spirit, that looked like a living flame with arms and legs, leapt out of one of the pits, carrying a small pile of red hot volcanic rocks. Akshainie drew her swords and stared. It jumped when it saw us, throwing the rocks into the air and landing on its back. The rocks clattered to the ground around it, and it sat rubbing what passed for a head for a moment.
“Oh! Oh my, sorry, I didn’t expect…hold on,” it said, before scrambling to its feet and beginning to gather the stones. Akshainie sighed and put her swords away.
“What is this place?”
“You don’t know? How did you get here if you don’t know?”
“Through the mountain.” I crossed my arms and waited as the flame nodded slowly, then grabbed the last rock.
“Right, well, at any rate, if you don’t know then you haven’t seen the boss, and if you haven’t seen the boss, you really should.”
“What’s it saying?” Akshainie asked, in English. It took me a second to register that we hadn’t been speaking a human language.
“Oh, uh, hold on,” I said, before turning back to the spirit. “So where do I find your boss?”
“Down this way,” the spirit answered. It adjusted the pile of rocks to ensure they were balanced in its arms and started walking.
“It’s leading us to the spirit in charge of this realm.” I started walking, and Akshainie slithered alongside me. “You going to be alright down here?”
“It’s not exactly made to keep water-aligned spirits comfortable. Let alone water-aligned spirits wearing metal.”
“You can take it off.”
“Oh, can I? Would that be alright by you?”
“Why are you being weird about this?”
“I’m being weird!? I can’t so much as wear a thin shirt without you turning away and covering your eyes! What is it about me that you find so impossible to gaze upon?”
“And what’s wrong with my breasts?” she demanded. I groaned and rubbed my neck.
“It’s not that there’s something wrong with them. It’s…let’s call it Catholic Guilt.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You guys aren’t trying to talk to me, are you? Because I don’t know what language that is,” the spirit said.
“No, sorry, we’re sorting something out is all,” I answered.
“Seems rude to be doing that right now.”
“You’re right.” I looked back to Akshainie. “Look, can we do this later?”
“How much later?” she asked.
“Look, as soon as this is over, we’ll take a break and talk, okay? I know a place you may like.”
We continued in silence after that, occasionally noticing other spirits jumping into pits or dancing or tending the flames on the walls. The place grew more crowded the further we went, and when we reached what seemed to be a fairly busy interchange the spirit stopped and turned to us.
“Okay, look, this is it. I need to take these stones further down, but the boss is here somewhere,” it said.
“Oh, okay. Thank you,” I answered. It nodded and scampered off.
“What now?” Akshainie asked. “Which one of these little…sprite…things is in charge?”
“I don’t think any of them are.”
“Cousin!” a new voice bellowed, echoing around the chamber. We turned to find a large serpentine being made of fire, about as tall as me, with three pairs of arms and a smooth face like an amphibian emerging from one of the chambers. All the other spirits glanced at it, then at us, before resuming their work. The being charged forward and wrapped his arms around me in a tight embrace. He pulled back with his hands on my arms and looked me over. “Haven’t had a visitor of your kind in centuries! And you brought a friend! She…looks uncomfortable.”
“She’s a water-aligned spirit.”
“Oh! You should have said! Hold on,” he let go of me and held his arms out, lowering them slowly as he concentrated. The temperature in the room decreased, and he stopped when we heard a sigh of relief from Akshainie. “There we go. Come! Come, let me show you around.” He slipped off back down the corridor he’d emerged from, and I nodded in that direction. We both set off, following our host.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.