This story has been brought over from the now closed Talibarr blog as part of our effort to streamline and integrate a few things within the Netherwerks netherverse of blogs. This story in particular has major implications for Rist, but that will all be revealed in good time. You'll be seeing more things from Talibarr, and some of our other settings appearing both here and at the Riskail blog from now on.
Bersel slung the micro-fine mesh sack over his upper-left shoulder and tightened his grip on the thing. The polymerized shell of collapsed lead cut the orbatrix off from everything as thoroughly as could be managed without dropping it into a pocket-space of its own, and that was outside of their current financial means. Thankfully the mass compensator embedded in the polymer-lead ball was still functional. Without it the thing would be completely unmanageable without some seriously heavy equipment like a freight-lift. One of the really big ones like they used down on the docks to load and unload the supercargo vessels that sailed through the still-operative Seagates that connected the Moons of Shuubra into the so-called Archipelago.
That was some dangerous work, crossing over from moon to moon on one of those massive ships. Dangerous and far too demanding and completely too honest for a couple of enterprising freelancers like Bersel and his sister Kedmet. Plying the sealanes and lugging other people's crap from place to place in the vain hopes of making a particularly good deal in one port or another just didn't appeal to either of them. It was too much like gambling. A sucker's game. Instead they acquired things for clients, quietly, discretely and with a minimum of muss, fuss or anything much to discuss.
It was an ancient and well-established profession. Their ancestors were amongst those clans that had clustered around the Well of Saomris out on the arid Plains of Ancient Kings in the Northern Equatorial Zone just past the lesser exurbs of Bazra itself. But that had been before the thrice-cursed elothrin had driven them out at gun-point during a particularly bloody and disastrous feud whose origins no one agreed upon any more. It was old news. Dead news. Less than significant any longer. The clan had relocated to Talibarr only to have the Azure Wrath shut-down the gates beind them, almost upon them. Bersel spat in disgust. He hated fanatics. Alive they made trouble, dead they made looting difficult and far more work than was reasonable or fair.
Kedmet signalled to him that all was clear. She had taken point as he had taken to lugging the bulky package out of the deep cavern, grotto really, that it had been ensconced within centuries ago. The domesticated lamp-beetles skittered and circled around them both, providing a cool greenish luminence that was less likely to trigger the vast majority of light-sensitive traps. Only a fool relied upon torches, electric or otherwise, in a place like this. And what a place it was.
Bersel rested his hands on his hips and flexed his back muscles to work a kink out. Even with the mass compensator the damn orb-thing was heavy. He wished that they could afford to take more time to investigate the place their patron had given them directions to--this was not just any old stash-away niche or remodelled cavern. No. It also was completely stricken from or had never been entered into the databases or journals of the spelunkers, drainers or scavenger clans, nor did their own tomb-looting clan have any hint of the place or its existence. It was the kind of place that could make their clan wealthy and able to purchase some respect amongst the established Peers and lingering aristocracy that clung to their Towers as though they might stave off the inevitable and what had already happened. Most of the older groups with direct descent to the times before the riots, the collapse and the Azure Wrath's violent ascendency and even quicker demise were not much more than a few decrepit Geriatrics addicted to synthetic sensoria that they clung to in stubborn denial of an unconscionable, unacceptable reality. Bersel snorted derisively. His people were far too sensible to lock themselves into the rigid stupidity of cladistic-medievalism. Nearly five centuries of brutal isolation had pretty much proven the concept to be both ineffective and pointless as far as he was concerned.
There was a future to claim, to build, to drag up out of the muck and ashes left behind by the Azure Wrath and Bersel was young, strong, imaginat--
A shaft of quickmetal jetted abruptly through Bersel's cranium, impaling his head and cutting him off in mid-thought.
Kedmet heard the tell-tale gasp let out by her brother's body as it sagged against the matte black rod that had spontaneously extruded from the wall, a trap that they --that she-- had missed on their way into the secret installation. She turned back. Bersel hung in the dimness, vaguely outlined by the glow of the last few straggler lamp-beetles. Stifling a scream and choking back her tears as she had been taught from an early age to do, just in case she ever found herself in such a situation, her instincts kicked in and Kedmet carefully, delicately, almost reverentially removed the mesh sack from her dead brother's shoulder and eased it to the ground so she could drag it back away from the deadly wall-trap. Each movement was agony, every second torture as she wrestled against herself as much as she did with the dead weight of their prize, trying desperately to not trigger the trap again. One of them had to make it. She was determined it would be her, now that she was the last one left. She suppressed a shudder at the grisly memory of their childhood friend and partner Ulikki and how he had been unraveled on a cellular level by the flickering pink radiance of a flay-field just before they had cracked the locks on the inner-most vault and had reached the prize that sat there glowing balefully, scornfully like some hateful vestige of the past best left buried and lost.
But they had made a contract. They had given their bond and sealed the deal on the sacred honor of their clan. They would not break that oath no matter what, no matter which of them had survived, they would bring the orb to their client. It was what they did.
Tears streamed down her grimy cheeks as Kedmet finally reached a spot that she was reasonably certain would be safe enough to heft the heavy sack over her own upper-right shoulder. There were a few more traps to be wary of, that they had found but were not able to disable, each one marked with a pigment that glowed vivid scarlet in the lamp-beetles' glow. And now she knew for a horrible fact that there were still others that were perched to strike if given the slightest chance, traps that had waited patiently for centuries in their niches for someone like her to come along that they might kill an unwary intruder foolish enough to relax their guard on the way out. But she had been raised amongst an old and once powerful clan. She was alsard, one of the modii-descended lineages who had proven themselves stable and distinct in the hellish killing fields of the Genelords of Cathelia. They had proven their humanity, won their independence as sovereign beings and claimed their due as inheritors of the worlds without end that were the legacy of all humanity. Much good that it did for them now. Cut-off from the rest of the Known Worlds, trapped in a nightmare born of reactionary pseudo-volkisch insanity and the aftermath of a disastrous coup by a paranoid pack of hatemongers who had turned upon themselves almost before they they had succeeded in ruining the world for everyone else.
But such thoughts were neither helpful nor conducive to her survival in the present situation, so Kedmet took a few deep breaths, steadied herself, wiped away the tears and got busy getting the hell out of this wretched hole in the ground. She relinquished the fear, shed the sorrow and focused on the burning, damning knowledge that this installation had once upon a time been a major center of power for one of the leading lights of the Azure Wrath. They hadn't known that going in, but the regalia they discovered in some of the ante-chambers that they had given a cursory exploration had confirmed it beyond a doubt. She had begged and pleaded with the other two to leave, to go notify their elders, to bring back a larger, better equipped expedition, one that could reconnoiter in force and truly strip the place bare like it deserved. But they had overruled her. They had pushed onwards. Downwards. To their deaths.
Kedmet kept moving. Single-mindedly, every nerve strung to hyper-intense awareness, her four arms straining to pull her through passages or to clamber up fractured shafts that once hosted liftdisks or elevators. Sweat poured from her pores, washing away some of the dust, dirt and grime but none of the regret or shame at her brother's and her friend's loss. She burned with a fury that lent a magnificent character to her features, a deeply powerful rage that spurred her onwards, ever onwards, upwards and outwards and away, away, away from this hateful place that had cost her far too much for oh so damn little.
Nothing could replace her brother or her best friend. The defenses of this place made it impossible to even get a decent sample of their cells to concoct a necroclone. Something in the background fields created a peculiar harmonic that disrupted their cells slowly, corrosively. The effect would accelerate the longer they stayed until they were reduced to quivering piles of goo. Any sample they tried to take was rendered a thin pink fluid almost instantly. It had something to do with mass, or so Ulikki had guessed. All she knew was that it meant that they only had a narrow window of opportunity to get in, acquire the orb, and get out. Already she could feel blood trickling down her back and legs from where her skin was starting to rupture from the field's insidious effects. But she endured it stoically. A little pain and discomfort would not stop her.
The quickmetal shaft that had struck down her brother was far worse than the corrosive fields of energy that were slowly breaking down her cells. Far, far worse. It was a weapon from the bad old days when wars had spilled across worlds uncounted over things unremembered, a thing that her elders had whispered about in revulsion and barely mastered fear as they told their tales around the communal hearth-fires. They had quietly and shudderingly told of the wars in which the most horrific of methods were brought to bear in the insane desire to destroy enemies and crush opponents for all time. The quickmetal shaft was mind-numbingly horrific in particular in that it instantly fused with a victim's genetic material and used it as a sympathetic focus to simultaneously impale every instance of their unique genetic make-up one after another and would do so for all time. Her brother was irretrievable. Lost to her forever. It was a recklessly hateful, spiteful kind of destruction that the Azure Wrath were all too famous for, and it had struck out centuries past their hey-day to claim one last victim with a finality that staggered the conscience and beggared the imagination.
But Kedmet was determined not to let them win. She would beat them. She was stealing their most prized possession out and away from this deep crypt which no longer had a recorded name. But that was not true; by rite of custom among her people, as the survivor of the first expedition to plumb the depths of this place she had the right to re-name it as she so wished. She would name it Bersel's Tomb, after her brother. Ulikki would require no such monument, for though he too had been struck down in the prime of his life, she carried his heir in her womb, if it could survive the arduous journey through the fields that were slowly breaking down her body into a bloody pulp. She would not only beat them at their hateful, stupid game, she would bring new life from out of their place of death and lingering horrors of a time best expunged from the histories.
One step after another, painfully and willfully Kedmet made her way past the traps, through the passages, and finally out the concealed entrance to the bunker and into the cool night air. Great Shuubra loomed in the East like a mighty gas-giant god that had no need to demand anyone's attention as it was unavoidable. Bleeding from more than just damaged skin, weary with her prodigious exertions, and teetering on the brink of hysteria and madness, Kedmet picked her way carefully, deliberately down the twisting, turning switchbacks of the trail they had followed and made her way back to the black aerostat they had used to reach the site. It was almost morning when she finally reached the little four-seater airship and secured her cargo in the back. She didn't notice that the gates of Talibarr were waking up, coming back online even as she took to the air and directed her craft towards the rendezvous site and the homely little drijj who was acting as an agent and representative of her so-far unnamed employer.
To Be Continued over at the Hereticwerks blog...