"Be quick, Holder. They will know that we have come in again."
"I can only read so quickly and still use the gift, Threader."
"Fine. I hold the torch and hope the guardians don't come down this hallway, while you read in peace."
Holder picked a scroll from the drawer and began to read.
"I knew you would appreciate a giant hollow of stone."
"Do you know, wiser one, how it was made?"
"The will of a being greater than the stone was applied."
"Yes, but how? It was not made by humans, it is too perfect. Was it here when First God made the Earth, or was it the will of Endro himself?"
"I do not think that Endro carved this. He would have said something to us about it, and it is not his way to put holes into the stone in such perfect shape."
"And this, this Meldus. It appears like a dais. Some god has made a seat here."
"I do not know any more of these mysteries, Thurgod. I found a crack and wondered of it, and found this hall, and immediately returned to court, seeking Endro to ask him of it. Finding you there and he gone..."
Thurgod held up his hand and stared at the floor. "It would be better if you were silent."
Meldus ceased from speaking, and looked where Thurgod stared. The smith god closed his eyes, dropped to his knees, and stroked his face along the smooth stone of the floor.
Meldus' form swelled, and the colors that usually rested amongst his pearled body shrieked out in arcs about his body. His voice assumed a ring he could not hold in, "We ousted them an eon past."
Thurgod stroked his left hand along the floor. "There is no metal in this stone for me. I will be of little help."
Meldus floated off of the floor, his form winding together into a tighter column of pearled magnificence. "Their skill of concealment has increased, or I would have shattered a hand of them already."
"I do not think there are five, but you and I know one might be as evil two hands of them. They are each different."
Meldus relaxed, returning to a shape with arms and legs. "I would rupture them each all the same, and then even Itris could not tell which part was from which," and the great god laughed.
"It is metal, Meldus. I can feel it."
"Metal that reeks of Xerphii?"
"I tell you it reminds me of Xeprhii, and I know it like I know metal. It is below us."
"Then Endro must be summoned. You and he are the ones to retrieve it. We must know the answer."
"Perhaps Itris, as well? She would be the one to look at a thing and understand it."
"You are the smith, Thurgod. Do not let your humility demand the time of a god who loves her studies as much as she. If when you have touched it you still do know understand it at once, and I am most mistaken about how your power is, then call upon Itris. I will send for Endro now, and when I am done, go to First God's home, to tell him of this when he returns."
All at once Meldus disintegrated into ten thousand tiny pearls which set off in a stream out of the cavern by way of the cave through which the two gods had come. Thurgod knew that next the great god's form would ascend in a silver and rainbow pinnacle to the sky, from which he would call to Endro.
Indeed the call came swiftly for a minute later, while Thurgod still rubbed his knuckles on the floor seeking the closer call of that metal which he had never felt, and which had never bowed to his stroke upon an anvil, Endro appeared.
Endro was the most human-like of the gods, having neither remarkable beauty nor ugliness to make him noteworthy, and neither strength nor fatness to recommend him. Alone amongst the gods Endro could sift through earth and unrefined metal at will, and he breathed the grains of sand more happily than air. Endro stepped through the wall of the chamber. Endro's speech was initiated by a spew of dust and gravel from his mouth, which scattered on the floor. "I am summoned by Meldus. I would ask if you had carved this cave without my word, but I know better of you, brother."
Endro approached Thurgod, and each at once placed his right hand firmly on the others shoulder and rapped their heads together sharply, then released the other. "My blood that is in you would have told you, and your blood in me would have not allowed it. I have found trail of Xerphii here, and I am aware of a metal I do not know."
Endro stood stiffly. "I know every ore there is, and every cave that is made I know of, before stream can carve it I have seen its bed. Yet here I stand in air I did not allow. Where is the metal? For if there were Xerphii here, we would not so speak."
"I think it is yonder," said Thurgod, pointing towards the couch of stone which rested upon a platform on the further end of the hall, "but I warn you, it resists being known by me, and no metal has ever done so before."
Endro lurched towards the dais, his feet resting happily a few inches below the floor of the hall, and he sloshed his way through it, as humans walk through knee-deep water. Thurgod followed. As he ascended the dais, he dropped again to his knees, but then faced upwards, wincing. "The metal fights back. Perhaps a Xerphii is made of metal?"
"Tell me its place, Thurgod."
"Behind the dais an arm's length of mine, perhaps an arm and a hand."
Endro stepped where Thurgod indicated, then sneered at the floor, and pointing his finger at it the stone gave way as though driven by an augur. As the stone chips flew he said, "How far, Thurgod?"
"If I lay on my face, I would think I could reach it through a hole."
Then suddenly Endro sprawled backward, and his form fell into the stone utterly. He rose again out of it in an instant. "That is no earth which I put there, nor ore that I left to be found!"
But Thurgod was already standing over the hole his brother had bored. At the bottom was a curious stone, like the largest of fruits, pristine in smoothness, yet reticulated in shape. "It looks like one of Itris' drawings of the brain in a human head."
Endro stood over it, "It is altogether evil, and harms me exceedingly." He held his hand in front of him, shaking it as though to make the pain release it.
"The same would have happened had you tried to order the water or the sky to your will. This is not a thing in your domain. The Xerphii answer only to the authority of Meldus and of First God. To the rest of us, we must use our might, or else work the world against them. You cannot come against them with the decree of your power."
"Speak no longer, Thurgod, but smash it by your might then. How should one of them have hidden so long." Endro swished his arm, and through the stone wall away from which he had swung came clattering chunks of ore, the toughest iron of the earth answering the earth god's call.
Thurgod held aloft his left hand, and into it a hammer formed, leaving only the dust of the ores behind, all the iron being taken up. "No forge to soften thee, nor anvil to shape thee, but only my hand to smash thee, Xerphii," he cried, then swung down with all his might.
All the gravel that Endro had made leapt from the floor, and then the shockwave cast Thurgod into the air, tossing head over heels backward through the air until he crashed into the wall of the opposite side of the hall. Endro recoiled into the Earth again.
After a gasp, Thurgod collected himself, and ran back. There was no dent where he had struck it.
"Were it a Xerphii that blow must have crushed its soul, or it is greater than I."
Endro barely showed his face from the wall of the cave. "I loathe all of this. A cave I did not authorize, a metal you did not know. And Thurgod, your hand!"
Thurgod looked at his left hand. In it he still, absentmindedly, clutched the shaft of his hammer, but the head was no where to be seen, its only trace being the sudden kink at the end of the shaft which held no weight. And Thurgod's hand was covered in blood.
"No metal can shed the blood of a god, brother. This is malevolence beyond us!"
Thurgod turned back to Endro, "Then it should have woken, and destroyed us both. I say it is not Xerphii, but an artefact of theirs. A thing they put here, to do some evil we do not yet know."
"Then I will bury it deeper, and let the heart of my earth destroy it forever."
"We will wait on the word of Meldus from First God, Endro. For it was the will of First God that we only meet the Xerphii when he sends us and tells us all we should know. It was his order in ages past."
"No Xerphii have been seen since we were young, Thurgod, and First God may not return until we are old. We must do what we can."
"Then I would wait on wisdom from Meldus or sight from Itris. We must leave it here, and do no more with this cave, until we know its evil rightly from one wiser or more discerning than ourselves."
"You would have me leave this sore within the Earth?"
"It is hard for you brother, and it is hard for me to leave a metal unshaped. But there was a time when things were always this way, when the Xerphii were frequent, before they were ousted at last. Be patient again, and we will wait until the ones who choose well have told us what to do."
Endro stepped back towards the walls of stone. "I am not as foolish as you imagine, Thurgod, for the earth knows good and evil. It is as old as we, and it tells me that it wills to burn this thing."
"The earth is not our master, but you are its, and another is yours. We will wait until they speak."
Endro bowed, "I will not contradict those who speak down to us, but I say that they can only agree with me, and it may be that we wish I had destroyed it sooner." Then the earth god retreated to his stone, and was seen no more. The smith-god returned to the surface and turned towards the city, to return there, seeking Itris.
"It is the story of how Korlythe was made. We have wanted this secret."
"And what of his name? Have we found his true name?"
"No. It is written here as we know it today."
"Blast! And here they come!" The Guardian appeared in the hallway down which Threader watched. It cried out as it spotted the light in the scroll-vault, lurching forward with titanic speed.
"Time for your gift to come of use, Threader."
The two boys ran for the window, Holder dropping the scroll back into the drawer from whence it came. They linked arms as they squeezed through the window, dropping outside of it just below its sill as a slender spike flew just over them.
The Guardian ran to the window, and glowered down, seeing no one.
"Do you still remember the words, Holder?"
"With perfection, as usual."
"Good. Then the Master will be pleased."