Friday, June 13, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Twenty: Never a Good Sign

It's never a good day when you discover something associated with your death.

I'll start off with the assurance that everyone who was here yesterday is still here today. Nagi is (probably) back at Iko's house, and Traveller is... travelling... but Logan, Jeffrey, Grylock, Plato, the rat and myself are in the ruins. Correction, in the city. But I'll get to that in a moment.

The empty chambers continued to pop up as we travelled, and we happened across quite a few more murals. They were interesting enough sights at a distance that I scribbled down some descriptions:

- One depicted what appeared to be the same city from the first mural, only this time there was a large, black sphere amid the buildings. It appeared to be tethered to the ground via dozens of strings, or cables, or ropes, or... other stuff. I won't speculate.
- Another mural showed a large group of warriors with long poles, beating away huge droves of insects from a grove of trees. Fucking desert beetles. You think they might have changed their diet after such a long time, but noooo...
- Another depicted what I assume was a map of the world. It didn't look exactly as maps of the world do today, of course, as there was no Grand Chasm... though, uh, I assume new maps don't have the Grand Chasm anymore anyway. The east was shaded a sketchy black; the west, a chalky white.
- Yet another showed an army of shadowy figures bearing down on an army of.. well, every other race. Humans, orcs, goblins, snake people, the works. We all more or less understood the implications of the mural without speculation.
- The last mural we came across depicted a night sky. Rather than stars, though, it appeared to be dotted with tiny white figures. I recognized it at once: the place where I spoke with rat-controlled Philip. I let the others ruminate over the meaning.

We did not approach or touch any of the murals. Logan assured us this was wise, as he detected a fantastic number of traps set around each mural. If only he'd noticed them while Nagi was still with us.

One room past that final mural, we discovered an open space... and I knew at once that we'd arrived at our destination. Or, at the very least, the front gates of our destination.

The entrance to the city beneath the sands consisted of the largest pair of doors I think I've ever seen. Stretching maybe ninety feet high and double that wide, the doors appeared to be built directly into the stone, with no visible hinges. Each was covered in a jumble of metal panels, set into a huge steel grid that stretched across both doors. The doors needed no lock; the grid itself kept them closed.

Sitting to the left of the doors, hovering above a circular pedestal, was a glowing blue flame that I remembered all too well.

"Oh, shit," I wheezed, stumbling up to the flame. By this point I was quite exhausted from constant walking. "I... fuck me. One of these."

The group gathered 'round the flame. Jeffrey, Logan, and Grylock recognized it from my stories about my death and resurrection; Plato and the rat simply seemed to know what it was without prompting. Only Celine needed a story, and she grasped the mechanics of the flame without hesitation or alarm.

"So if we touch this we can come back to life?" she asked, poking at the blue flame without touching it. "Oooo, it's not even hot."

"I... guess so." I shrugged. "Something like that. Might take a witch to actually bring us back, though. Otherwise I would've popped back on my own after Eve... uh... y'know. Did her thing."

"Stabbed you," Celine crooned.

"Thanks, Celine. Yes, stabbed me."

"Uh..." Jeffrey stepped up beside his daughter and tried to pull her away. "Soooo... should we... touch it?"

Without hesitation, Plato stepped up and passed his hand through the flame. The rat did the same, trembling to stretch its paw into the blue light from atop Plato's head. Not wanting to be upstaged by the fearful platypus, the rest of us followed suit. 

"And then me," Celine concluded, touching the flame last of all.

"Why's that matter?" Logan asked, scratching his head.

"Because it might only keep track of the last person to touch it," she replied smugly. "If that's the case, I wish to be certain that I am the one to be resurrected. The world would weep otherwise."

That comment sparked an argument, of course, and it took perhaps ten minutes before we settled on allowing Celine to have her way. That done, we turned to the doors.

"Big," Jeffrey murmured.

"Glad ye noticed that," Grylock replied. He coughed loudly, almost doubling over.

"Looks like a puzzle," Logan concluded. "How do we open it?"

I'm certain that, under other circumstances, the trial might've been tricky. Even difficult. But we had a minuscule advantage on our side, a tiny ally, and he immediately leaped to work by rising onto his hind legs and flailing crazily at us.

I turned to Plato and his grey companion. "What's he sayin', Plato?"

Plato shrugged. He ushered the rat onto his palm so he could watch its rapid gesticulations. The rat waved...

... and mimed...

... and appeared to struggle, as though lugging a huge weight...

... and, eventually, Celine got it.

"It's a picture," she declared, pointing at the grid. "If we form the picture properly the doors will open. Is that right?"

The rat nodded.

"See, the world would be much worse off without me." Celine tugged at the collar of her robes and grinned wanly.

For the next hour - with the aid of a human ladder formed out of myself, Logan, and Jeffrey - we slowly moved the panels into place. The rat directed us frantically from Plato's palm, waving his paws about like the were the conductor of the world's most boring orchestra. The grid seemed bent and warped in places, as though it had been forced open at some point, and I shivered at the thought of what might be strong enough to muscle through. 

With only six panels left to move, I realized what the image was: an enormous rat's head. Surprise surprise.

As the final panel slid into place the doors clicked. We stood back - way, way back - and allowed the grid to part in the middle as the way to the city beneath the sands opened.

Dead, hot air wafted out at us.

What we found... well, that's for next week.


Dragomir the Wanderer

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