| 
  • If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Stop wasting time looking for files and revisions. Connect your Gmail, DriveDropbox, and Slack accounts and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio will automatically organize all your file attachments. Learn more and claim your free account.

View
 

Chapter 93

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 4 years, 11 months ago



Our situation got rather hectic before getting better. I witnessed firsthand our collective luck get stretched thin and near its breaking point and a couple of us had lost at least one of our nine lives. No one was seriously hurt, at least not permanently. How Chris manged to remain partially functional after having a roof dropped on her head scared me more than the thought there would be many more traps to come.

 

Thankfully, we eked out a revelation in return. It came from the most unexpected person to boot: Rose.

 

This whole time she had a skip to her step and a sweet melody humming in her breast, both activities taking up her whole attention span. But it ended up being her who picked out the missing piece of the puzzle. That was the answer to the question which kept Ba'el and Shoshanah scratching theirs heads. That would be how this onslaught of traps worked.

 

The solution seemed obvious in retrospect and that they were facing the wrong way. They were not designed in the most efficient way to keep us out, But rather to keep something in. In the end we traded a certain threat to a more mysterious and more terrifying one.

 

What were these traps trying to keep from getting out?

 

To save face, Shoshanah explained to me at length how spotting traps was three-fourths spotting subtle abnormalities and one-quarter getting inside the head of the designer; predicting where they would appear by where a trap would be most effective. Her paws waving back and forth in a flurry and sweat pouring down her forehead. Rose stood beside me with a smug smile plastered on her face and that appeared to be driving Susan rabid.

 

Minte had taken my place on patting Chris on the head, the giant of the girl still with her knees tucked into her chest and fighting back the last few tears her eyes had left to give. Meanwhile, Ba'el had shaken the shock out of her system and was inspecting the walls with a lit wooden pipe tumbling between her lips.

 

It's not the mechanisms she was interested in, rather, the magic involved within them. Whatever ancient mechanisms were involved, the ball lay within Susan's court of expertise, but the magic at work remained in Ba'el's. Yet that tiny demon had kept silent for the past hour an hour since coming to a stop.

 

     "...Shit,” came her telltale vulgarity at last; complete with a puffed ring of smoke.

 

     "Beg your pardon?” I said, standing on my tiptoes to look over Susan and Rose now close to blows in front of me.

 

     "Shhh!” She hissed through clenched teeth. "And turn off that damn staff,” She said rudely pointing at Susan.

 

The corners of her lips peeled back and revealed her fangs for a second, but the priestess heaved a heavy sigh through her nose instead. She turned off the glowing orb inside her staff's keyhole. The illuminated halls dimmed and Rose's tail remained the sole enitity to push back the darkness. An eerie silence followed, the constant chime the light gave off became apparent only after it disappeared.

Ba'el pushed herself away from the wall and looked everywhere. Her eyes appearing to view far off in the distance beyond the mere stone in front of her.

 

     "Ambiance,” was the next solitary word to come out of her. "Dammit! Of course!”

 

The demon began clawing at the stone, etching out fresh white scars in the rock as she drew a magic circle. Partway through she turned to Rose next.

 

     "Cut it off with the tail for a second.”

 

Rose looked to me first and I shrugged back. She took one deep breath and held it in with puffed cheeks. The flame on her tail died down to a weak wisp after a few seconds . The remaining light in the tunnel slowly dimmed until there was barely anything at all besides Rose's silhouette and the rough shapes of all the others in the pitch black darkness. Nothing else existed except the scraping of Ba'el's claws on the stone wall.

 

No longer than a second after the scratches ended, the completed circle glowed a faint green.

 

     "Immediately after completion?” Susan gasped.

 

Ba'el's profile illuminated by the cinders inside her pipe and the pale green light from the wall turn to face us. The girl raised her paws and shrugged her tiny shoulders; she had indeed done nothing more.

 

     "It ain't glowing because I did anything.”

 

     "Which would mean?...” I asked

 

     "We've been walking through a very weak magic field this whole time. Like a fog blinding us to the small stuff.”

 

Susan approached the circle, and while she refused to touch it, inspected it closely.

 

     "That's why we haven't sensed anything,” Ba'el continued. "All these traps work on real subtle triggers. Nothing more than a couple runes or tiny circles. This whole field drowns em out.”

 

     I stepped forward and asked, "Someone, or something, is jamming us?”

 

     "If it were only that, I'd be happy. No. This is worse. Way worse,” Ba'el said while shaking the last few ashes from her pipe before stowing it away. “All this doesn't have a point of origin. It just is.”

 

     "Can you-”

 

I looked back to my right and saw Rose's face getting increasingly strained as she kept on holding her breath. Her tail flickered and spat a few stray embers in distress as well.

 

    "I think that's enough Rose, thanks.”

 

     "Phhhwaw!” Came the sound of her lungs collapsing as a rush of air escaped Rose's lips.

 

A quick coughing fit later and her tail's flame soon roared back to its usual strength.

 

     "Like I was going to say... Ba'el, can you put that in laymen terms?”

 

     "Didn't I tell you all this before?” She groaned. "Whatever. It's like this: Magic and reality ain't the best of pals. They're like two totally different fabrics woven together... Something about how that's a bad thing in one the Church's holy books, right, whatever. See, magic is omnipresent. It's everywhere, but its anchored to this world in a certain way.”

 

She stomped on the hard stone beneath her with her hoof for effect.

 

     "Solid and real. Nothing strange, right? Well, there's countless little threads of mana weaving in and out of the earth. All over the place. There wouldn't be a thing called magic without em. And that would make this place more boring than heaven... But here? We got ourselves a genuine crap ton of threads all bundled together. All those little invisible threads weaving in and out all gathering to one spot and then spreading out all over again. We call this kind of phenomenon a leyline; a hub of em to be specific.”

 

     "An interesting theory,” Shoshanah spoke, "But it fails to sufficiently explain the nature of the current radiating mana. If it were true that this were a leyline hub, the very history of this realm would be fundamentally-”

 

She suddenly gasped, grit down on her teeth all while her eyebrows knit together.

 

     "Nuh-uh uh uh~!” Ba'el chuckled and wagged a finger in return. "We're not talking about no divine power here. This is good old fashioned mana here. You can put a stopper on top of that. But judging by your face I think that pretty little head of yours caught up with your big fat mouth.”

 

     "I said laymen, not talking in circles. Come on now,” I protested.

 

     "Sealed away,” Minte spoke up, her voice delicate as glass.

 

     "Ding ding ding! We have a winner” Ba'el applauded the assassin. "Bringing that score up during the lightning round.”

 

     "A weak radiance of mana...” Shoshanah mumbled. "Stifled, decentralized and stale.”

 

     "So all this used to be around before someone put a lid on it?” Rose asked.

 

     "Tis the most logical conclusion,” Shoshanah said. "A wealth of mana means wealth of magic for little cost to its user. There is definitely a correlation between the strength of past empires and their ability to exploit these locations worldwide.”

 

That's not something Hyria mentioned when giving the details of this job. And I'd say it's a pretty big detail to omit. If this kind of power is common knowledge, would these catacombs remain untouched after all these years? She might not have known. The job was simply to deliver an artifact back to an ancestral tomb. A way to honor the dead. Maybe appease a few of the dearly departed. After all, this old map and green crystal are likely as old as these tunnels.

 

     "Wait. Shouldn't that mean you'd have more at your disposal?” I turned back and asked Ba'el.

 

A rush of air escaped her tiny nose. A disappointed sigh, preparing the speaker to dwell on something she would rather not talk about.

 

     "It's dead,” she said. "This ain't no freshly baked cookie smell, this is rotting corpse levels of stagnant. Like I said, a whole lotta noise and nothing else. That's why I didn't pick up on it till about now. This circuits of this circle here should be bright enough to lite the whole tunnel up.”

 

And right now it didn't glow any brighter than some cheap dollar store glow-in-the-dark stickers.

 

So what I could gather is that this place used to be rife with magic. Something happened and it died. Saying that it was sealed off might be a better way to put it; but that led to asking why... The final word is that a type of magic waste is the only thing managing to seep out, like a kind of radiation. Since no one else panicked and ran for the exit I figured this wasn't some sort of bio-hazard... If it were, they'd make me deal with it on account of my magic resistance.

 

A look of unease and disgust settling on Ba'el and Susan's face made me realize that perhaps those sensitive to it felt a little differently.

 

     "We should be okay now,” Ba'el said reassuringly. "Just gotta keep an ear to the ground for a fart in the wind versus the usual hushed whisper in a library... Elementary stuff.”

 

     "It should be within my power to filter out a certain degree of this 'noise',” Susan said. "If I could be allowed but a few more minutes to make preparations. We are currently a few minutes behind schedule and—”

 

     "ALRIGHT!” Chris loud booming voice pierced my eardrums.

 

We all turned to watch as Chris leaped back to her feet. Her body filled with energy, her chest bouncing, and a fire returned to her eyes. It even took Minte by surprise and she stumbled backward a few steps.

 

     "Looks like Chris finished rebooting,” I said softly, but with a relieved smile.

 

     "We can't wait around here forever, now can we?” Chris said, thumping her chest with her forearm talon. "Christophaclies is ready for action! It will take more than a few tons of falling stone to stop the forward march of JUSTICE. Long seal memories, forgotten souls wandering aimlessly. Histories abandoned and the dearly departed for too long unhonored by the living... No ancient death labyrinth can stop us from achieving our noble goal!”

 

     "I thought we were doing this to get paid?” Rose whispered to me.

 

     "We are,” I whispered back. "But we got Chris back in action, so just roll with it for-”

 

     "Come now, Tamerlion! Our mission remains yet incomplete!”

 

The next moment I got scooped off the ground by the waist and tucked underneath Chris' wing like a sack of potatoes. My flailing legs and yelp of surprise did nothing to stop the rampaging wyvern as she marched further down the tunnel with a heroic cackle of delight. My pleas turned to a scream when the floor gave way, but she merely strode across it with her exceptionally long legs and a powerful hop with the greatest of ease.

 

It took all the other girls about a minute before the first couple caught up and managed to grab onto her tail. It took about another minute to pull the girl to a stop before triggering anything more.

 

I didn't want to be caught up in her still dazed and crazy challenge of the maze's death traps which could still bounce right off her. Thankfully time cooled off her hotheadedness, but she was either playing dumb or she really did get hit hard in the head and forgot completely what she had just done. I decided I'd need to keep an extra careful eye on her for a bit.

 

***

 

Our journey continued further into the depths and the heat buried within the earth became evermore extreme. A tepid dozen or so degrees quickly became two dozen and then a sweltering summer's day. We had to be reaching a couple or more kilometers beneath the surface. If that were true, we were making more progress than it seemed. Then again, the surroundings hardly changed because they were so similar that it made it difficult to judge just how far we had walked. I long ago stopped counting the number of steps we took, so I couldn't translate it into distance.

 

The vast array of traps that were meant to bring a sudden end to any escapees (or trespassers) posed little threat now. Ba'el and Susan somehow managed to work together well enough to detect them before one of us triggered one. After a few more close calls they ceased to slow us down at all and avoiding the obvious pitfalls became routine. That didn't stop Minte from gluing herself to me though. Rose walked alongside me on the right while Chris took up a wall-like position behind us all.

 

But these endless hallways and their catastrophic twists and turns were doomed to end. The vast crypt transformed into a vast cavern. Besides a ridge wide enough to walk three across, enough for a funeral procession I'm sure, the tunnel opened into a chasm that no light in our possession could find the bottom of. The roof stretched up about one hundred meters up into a sea of stalactites. Each spike of rock was so long that it must have taken several hundreds of years to erode.

 

I could not help but drop my jaw at the sight. Rose's flame could hardly pierce the darkness and Susan's light could not travel too far before being swallowed by the darkness below. Mighty pillars of stone reached up from that darkness and held the eroding ceiling above in place. Occasionally the far side of the chasm was visible and I could make out other ridges like the one below my feet right now. From there countless other entrances to other parts of the great maze twisted and turned behind walls of earth.

 

     "At last!” Chris groaned as she stretched her wings to their fullest extent.

 

Without a moment of hesitation she walked over to the edge and let her body free fall over the side. Her wings caught the stale air and the echo of her leathery membranes thundered off the cavern walls. She soared high and low, grabbing onto the pillars to look around before pushing off to taking flight once more. She acted as a scout while enjoying her refound freedom. The look of bliss on her face got me thinking that her instability might have to do with a repressed case of minor claustrophobia.

 

Other than the occasional flare up of bickering our party made good progress until we found a suitable alcove along the precarious ridge path. This would be the end of our second day and the next would be the final day we had the necessary supplies for. Any longer and we'd start running out of food. There were the occasional patches of grotesque lichen clinging to the rocks, and a few mushrooms with worrisome bio luminescence, but I'd rather not be reduced to being poisoned by either.

 

Susan assured me in the final moments before we laid down to rest that we'd make it to the location marked out on the map by midday tomorrow. I hoped that was so, because I felt stricken by a feeling of unease that got worse and worse the further we traveled the underground canyon. Maybe it's my bad luck with them; the last time I ran through the last I got sent tumbling down a stone chimney.

 

This uncomfortable gut feeling for worse when seeing Ba'el's troubled expression after a series of constant experiments. At the camp she scratched one magic circle into the stone after another. Every time she did so the faint glow of light got stronger and stronger the further into the underground we got.

 

That night my sleep remained dreamless, something I saw as another ill omen. Yet I could not allow myself to be deterred and the following morning I steeled myself to venture onward.

 

My demeanor did not appear to be shared by the others, so I kept my thoughts to myself. Rose remained as bombastic as ever. Fantasies of riches and adventure that were before and all around us pushed her onward. Susan and Ba'el had stern expressions as they dwell on the mysteries and hidden threats. Chris took her work very seriously and wore her usual heroic expression on her face. Minte remained close, the stoney expression on her face had a tinge of worry since she was intent on reading my own expressions. I waived her worries, but she persisted.

 

The last leg of our journey took us further along the chasm. Ba'el's impromptu circles continued to grow stronger and Chris flew back with news that the cavern dripped off sharply ahead and came to an end. Susan beamed and proclaimed that this agreed with the map. She gave herself a few figurative pats on the back and we set off to our final destination.

 

One last treat of winding corridors and an unusual concentration of lethal traps blocked our path and set us two hours behind schedule, but after descending a long spiral stairwell, like a tower stabbing into the heart of the earth, we entered one long lost and forgotten chamber. The sight of it took my breath away.

 

Ancient columns, lined in two parallel rows, the entrance to a Hellenic-like temple. They did not reach the ceiling which stood about thirty meters high and some were broken, their top halves collapsed onto the smooth stone floor beneath. Time had not been kind and many of those smooth tiles had been cracked and clawed at by the ravages of erosion. Eons had labored hard to tear this place down, but most of it seemed to have escaped any serious harm.

 

A true archeologist would likely be brought to tears to lay their eyes on this place. Scrawling marks on the wall detailed some long lost history. Gashes in the walls had long since robbed them of having any meaning, but remnants of the care and precision that went into what few runes remained. They cut paths along the floor, walls and ceiling to the array of stone alters. There were six of them in total, with one large one located at the far end of the column pathway.

 

As we walked I noticed our footprints in the dust. There had never been so much dust spread so thinly over an entire room like this until now. Large conical piles ancient of bone ash had been all there was before. They gathered in zen circles around a series of sarcophagi. That's what were placed atop every alter. I did not notice it at a distance, but in the shadow of Rose's flame and Susan's light... I could not describe them as anything else.

 

And within that light came the glistening of silver and gold. Rose and Ba'el's eyes lit up with child-like glee at the sight. Jewelry, stacks of coins and pottery that contained them. They rest beside the weathered old staffs of wood that were likewise ornate. A small fortune had remained untouched here for countless years and there hadn't been so much as a door to seal it away. Thinking back on the complexity of the labyrinth behind us though... It didn't seem too far a stretch that anyone without a map could spend a lifetime investigating every crevice from the entrance down and fail to document it all. And that's if they survive the array of deadly traps.

 

I followed behind Susan who followed the last minute details scrawled on the map and we stopped at the end of the long chamber. Rising above us both was the largest alter of them all. One sarcophagus, larger than the others, rest atop a hill of thirty stone steps. Unlit candles made long dead taxiways to the top. Yet after all these years, the candles lit as Susan's wisp of light passed them by. They appeared nothing more than wax candles, but they had somehow survived and remained undisturbed since the day someone placed them there.

 

     "We have at last reached our destination,” Susan said while expertly folding the oversized map and stowing it away.

 

     "Phew! That was quite the stroll,” Rose said while stretching herself out.

 

     "Finders Keepers time,” Ba'el announced and made herself busy skulking around the room.

 

     "Hey! Did thou forget what was agreed upon?” Susan shouted back.

 

     "Relax, relax,” Rose said with a smile. Only anything out of place, right?”

 

The priestess was going to protest, but couldn't get the words out after Rose slapped her hard on the back a few times and knocked the wind out of her.

 

     "No stealing from the dead. But can't help it if someone left something nice just laying around, right?”

 

     "We could always take it for archeological purposes...” Chris mused.

 

     "Absolutely not!” Susan cried after a short coughing fit. "Laven, please commence with the ritual. Before any of these thick skull ruffians have their way with this holy site!”

 

     "Alright alright,” I said backing away from the upset anubis.

 

But I wasn't exactly sure what to do... A good first step would have to do the crystal though, right?

 

I began climbing the stairs, guided on each side by the unnatural candlelight. Every step I ascended made my stomach drop a little lower in my torso as the air felt heavier with each step I took. And I took each of those steps alone. Susan watched apprehensively from below along with Minte, but the other three had gone off around the room below me to investigate the rest of the room. Chris and Rose eyed the riches on display with no doubt glistening eyes. Ba'el, meanwhile, took a rather uncharacteristic turn and was drawn to the runes and patterns on the wall.

 

My eyes peeled away from the girls as I reached the top of the steps and placed my hands on the alter. I missed a beat in my heart at the sight of bones in what turned out to be an open sarcophagus. It was a nearly complete skeleton too. A good deal of it seemed to have been reduced to dust, but its skull, most of its ribcage and a few of the larger bones in the arms and legs remained intact. Someone had draped it in a dusky grey mortcloth long ago. How intact that cloth was after all this time, with but a few tatters here and there, is extraordinary.

 

That skull definitely appeared to be in mint condition. Bleach white and completely untouched by time itself. Not even the jaw and teeth had been lost or damaged. Given its shape, and from what bones remained, I'd hazard a guess that these bones once belonged to a woman. Alongside all the dreary greys, whites and darkness was a singular red ruby lodged in the skull's right eye-socket. My eyes were continuously drawn to it. Glass-like, perfectly round and masterfully cut. Maybe it's some luxurious glass eye?

 

I called back down to explain what I had found.

 

     "Tis that location in particular that the map details,” Susan responded back. "Offer the crystal in this Hyria's stead. Then offer a brief prayer to the departed.”

 

     "Oi! Suzie!” Ba'el called out from the darkness.

 

     "Don't call me that!” Suzie barked back

 

     "Come and take a look at this and tell me what ya think,” the demon continued unapologetically.

 

The priestess stormed off before I could ask her another question. That left me alone with the green crystal in one hand and the ancient bones resting peacefully before me.

 

     "Do... Do I just place the crystal inside and—?”

 

I reached out with the crystal in hand to drop it inside the sarcophagus when the granules of dust were pushed way in circular patterns upon the crystal's approach. I pulled back instinctively and the motion of the dust stopped. Each grain had moved as if repulsed by the crystal like iron shavings from a magnet. And that revealed a dip in the bottom of the sarcophagus. It's located betwixt the ribcage; dead-centre of the chest where the heart would be. The circumference of the hole which was not quite circular and matched the hexagonal edges of the crystal appeared to be a perfect match.

 

My breathing had become ragged at some point. I swallowed a dry mouthful and reached out with the crystal once more. More the dust gave way, but I could reach trough the ribcage and insert the crystal. This time though, the remains themselves shook and the glass ruby eyes quivered and hopped out of its socket. I panicked and managed to catch it in my other hand before it landed. The sphere was ice cold to the touch. It actually hurt a little to hold it at first.

 

A sigh of relief escaped pursed lips. I breathed a few crisp breaths through clenched teeth and readied myself again; third time had to be the charm. I would return the ruby after securing the crystal, so I thought. This time I reached out and stabbed it into the opening before anything else could get the chance to break. The crystal's contact with the stone sarcophagus let out a disinterested ring of a struck tuning fork, but nothing reacted this time. In all its green glory, the object had been delivered at last and safely... Mostly.

 

I looked down at the ruby in my hands. It was the perfect size to mimic a human eye. The thing is quite the impressive hedron; there had to be at least a hundred sides to it which gave it a near perfect round shape. This ruby had to be worth even more than the green crystal, but for now I'd have to return it. After all, that's the agreement which Susan laid out. Someone had kept that ruby there for a reason. A quick prayer to the dead and that should be everything we need to—

 

     "Laven stop!”

     "Laven halt!”

 

Susan and Ba'el both cried at the same time at the base of the stairs.

 

I turned to face them with the one dumbfounded word I could muster: "What?”

 

Looking back had been a bad choice. That meant I had to acknowledge the lines of green etching their way down the grooves in the stonework from the alter and down toward to the floor.

 

"Dammit!” Ba'el yelled.

 

The five girls had gathered and closed in together, now all back to back, as the green surged across the room. All those old half ruined runes along the room radiated a sharp green colour in all their ancient glory. A quiet screeching became louder and the whole room began to shake. The green lines covering the whole room and flooding the room with light flashed a blood red for a moment before quickly turning to a sharp yellow. A shower of sparks erupted from one rune after another. Sparks that acted more like broken shards of glass rained down across the room.

 

A powerful wind appeared form nowhere and the candlelight which had also been glowing that distinct shade of yellow were extinguished. As suddenly as it began, the chaos ended and the room went dark except for Rose's tail. But not even that lasted long, because the candles relit soon after the wind died without warning. Amidst the silence came the sound of chattering bone. Before my dead could turn to face the sarcophagus behind me, clouds of dust were crawling up the stairs and pouring collecting inside it.

 

I did finally force myself to turn around and I was face to face with the skull which now floated above the sarcophagus. The shock of the sight had me stumble down a step, but I would be treated to more soon enough. Other bones from within arranged themselves below the skull and the dust swirled around an ever reassembling corpse. A complete spine rebuilt itself within seconds from dust. The ribcage healed next and the hips, legs and arms came next. By the time I managed to retreat five steps down, the skeleton was complete.

 

Next came the mortcloth which wrapped itself around the skeleton and served as a cloak. It did nothing to stop the incessant flow of dust from flowing in toward the face, arm holes and skirt bottom. Pale grey flesh clung to the bones and made withered mummified flesh from a horrific mask of the death to the tips of withered old toes.

 

A mummified corpse it would not remain. From clouds of dust came hydration that filled the skin with life; although its skin color remained a dead pale grey. A dusty marble-like and shapely form of a young woman filled out and the mortcloth pushed out substantially from the best. Long scraggly strands of old white hair reaching down to the shoulders and collarbone smoothed out and regained life as a light blue crept up each strand from root to tip. Any trace of a corpse had vanished. Replaced by the form of a young, short but immodestly endowed woman. So too was she hardly dressed, the blackened and tattered cloak clinging barely to her, as though it had a mind of its own and an intent to tease.

 

Last came the intricate tattoos reminiscent of magic circuits along her biceps and thighs. They glowed a radiant red before dulling to a darker shade of bluish-grey. The ritual of resurrection completed, her body gracefully touched down onto the highest step before the sarcophagus.

 

With a sickening squelch her eyes opened; one with iris of hazel, the other with nothing but an empty black hole. Despite how long she must have been left here undisturbed, sleep deprived bags hung under her hooded shaped eyes. Thin eyebrows and a delicate jawline frame her face along with a small slightly upturned nose Her cold lifeless eye quickly glared down at me and a menacing pressure pushed me backward a couple more steps.

 

Even I could feel the crackling of power emanating from her and the room began to shake once more.

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.