Friday, March 26, 2010

The High Tombs of Yuddoth, Episode Four

Skran started awake.  It was warm.  Hard and dark, but warm.  And close.  He was in a small place, one with little air movement.  It reeked of sweat and sphinx piss.  Not being able to get at him with her talons, the sphinx had thoroughly marked the spot.  The sharp scent helped him clear his head a bit.  No way was he going to scoot himself ass-backwards into the delicate and tender embrace of the sphinx.  Uh-uh.  The little bit of sleep he'd gotten had helped restore some sense of proportion to things.  He wasn't stumbling about in a daze any longer.  His stomach grumbled.

On hands and knees, re-opening numerous small cuts and abrasions as he went along, Skran crawled deeper into the darkness, going forwards into the unknown regions behind the low-ceilinged niche that had given him momentary sanctuary from the enraged sphinx who clearly had been eyeing him with bad intent. One painful inch after another Skran dragged himself along the slightly sloping incline of stone.  Each piece so well fitted into the others that he could only feel the barest hint of an edge to any of them.  The workmanship that had gone into the construction of this shaft and wherever it led had been exceptional, incredible even.  Like some tombs he'd once read about.


Skran paused and got his breathing back under some semblance of control so that he at least didn't hypervenitilate or pass out.  He slumped back down to the sloping stone ramp leading upwards and deep, deep into the rimwall itself.  There was no doubt in his mind at all.  This was a part of some tomb, perhaps a ventilation shaft or something like that.  He rolled over onto his back and laughed until he cried then fell back asleep.  It was just too damn much.  He slept fitfully for a time and awoke still stressed-out and entirely displeased with the way things had turned out.  With barely the clothes on his back, beaten all to hell, bleeding and starving, with a pissed-off sphinx directly behind him and some unknown tomb before him Skran seriously considered becoming a priest, but it wasn't likely to help him out of his current predicament so he dropped the notion.  Skran did the only thing he could do.  He got back onto his hands and knees and started crawling forwards.  Better to confront uncertainty than to dive headlong into a sure, certain and grisly demise.  Sphinxes were spiteful creatures even when they hadn't been scorned or insulted.  Escaping from her after the chase they had run through the forest was about as dire an insult as he could have hoped to have slapped her with.  She would watch that niche and wait patiently for him to do the stupid thing.  In her experience monkeys always did the stupid thing. 

Skran decided to go the sphinx one better and go as far into the tomb as he could get. Maybe he could replace the reposing king from his gold sarcophagus and leave his own corpse in its place.  That would at least be a fine joke to pull.  A final flipping-off of the universe before falling headlong into that great good night.  Stupid as it was, it was better than just trying to get away from the sphinx.  He hated being caught-up in reacting to things.  It was better to choose a course and be pro-active instead.  So far he'd run his fool ass off in one big fat reaction, first to the jarpha mercenaries, the scale-hounds, and the petty lordling he'd managed to upset with his blunt commentary regarding the likely prospects of his less than scholastically-inclined offspring.  Enough was enough.  He had a plan and he'd see it through.

As ridiculous as that was, it made him feel better, sort of.

He was in a tomb, one of the most feared and superstition-shrouded places in the whole of the Great Rift and he chose to look upon it as an opportunity.  Maybe he could learn something interesting before he died of thirst, hunger or whatever else got to him.  He was a scholar damn it, and it was time he started acting like one again.

He just wished that he had a knife or something that he could at least try to protect himself with.  He might as well be naked going into a tomb completely unequipped, unprepared.  It would have been the height of folly had he chosen to attempt this from the beginning.

So he crawled.  He crawled some more.  He kept crawling and the incline got steeper until he was having to brace himself against the narrow walls in order to climb forwards and upwards.  The shaft became a sort of chimney.  Skran kept going.  Climbing through the darkness.  Panting, sweating, bleeding and climbing, climbing, climbing until he tought that he was going to vomit or pass out.  Then his hand passed over the lip of the shaft he was in.  He nearly lost his grip but managed to heave himself up over the edge and sprawl out upon a flat area.  He rested himself.  The climb had been difficult.  He'd barely made it.  The slim reserves that he'd regained before were depleted again.  Exhausted he fall into a deep slumber once more.

He awoke into a pearl-gray gloom.  Above him was a massive icicle stabbing downwards like the poinard of some primordial colossus.  Flickering lights played across the ice, reflected and refracted simultaneously.  Skran blinked away the dirt from his eyes and stood up slowly, carefully.  The ice was suspended quite a distance above him, not directly overhead as he at first had thought.  Above him there were numerous struts, catwalks, or spans running through the space, into the ice-mass and across to the other side.  A set of mirrors on elaborate gimbel-assemblies channeled the light of the rim-aurorae into the chamber.  It took him a moment but he realized that he could see the dawn-light just beginning to crest in one of the mirrors and it sank in that those mirrors would be focusing a lot of bright light into the ice-mass and the shaft-chamber would quickly become completely unbearable to be in--if the light didn't fry his eyes, the melting ice and falling chunks would pulverize him and carry him back down the chimney to his death.  Not acceptable.  He'd gone through too much to let some silly bunch of ice claim him now.  He looked around.  There were small apertures set all around the walls at regular, staggered intervals.  Most of the openings were far too small to accomodate him.  But there were two opposing pentagonal openings on either side of him that were quite large enough for him to pass through.

Skran sidled around the gaping chimney-shaft that he had only a short while before climbed up in the dark.  The light made it look far wider and much more menacing than it had appeared from inside the thing.  He felt light-headed.  Slightly dizzy.  He forced himself to keep moving, to grip the all too smooth walls and keep moving until he could look past the edges of the nearer opening.  He nearly fell again.  The opening let onto a vertiginous catwalk without any rails, a single span of paper-thin material that led across a dark space that could have been anything to a destination that appeared to be some sort of doorway from which streamed a soft orangish light.

He dropped back to his much-abused knees and reached forwards and downwards to touch the span.  It was firm and solid.  Knowing full-well that he just did not have it in him to walk, let alone run across the span, as much as he wanted to if only to get things over with once and for all, Skran resumed his cramped and painful crawl along the span.

An interminable aeon passed before him as he crawled onwards across that span surrounded by vast, undulant spaces that only seemed to be sheathed in darkness.

Finally, anti-climactically Skran pulled himself across the threshold of the open doorway and into the soft, orange light.  It was warm and inviting.  It felt good on his skin the way that sunlight does when the sting is taken out of it by the filters used on habitats and skyhook-trams.  The air was clean and the temperature was comfortable for a change, neither too cold nor too hot.  He had reached a space that seemed to have been deliberately designed for human comfort.  Not the sort of thing one would expect to find in a tomb.

"You look like you could use a friend." Came a small, squeaky voice off to the side.

Skran looked down at a spindly little humanoid figure.  It had bristly hair, large, round eyes, and the hang-dog look of a creature that got kicked around entirely too much.  He recognized it almost immediately as a drijj.  One of the least studied, most ignored and generally insignificant offspring of the genartists.  He laughed through cracked and bleeding lips and fainted at the feet of the silly looking little being.  It had been holding a type of wrench in its tiny hands.

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