Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 115,191,906 Issue: 230 | 9th day of Running, Y8
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Solkaris: The Narrative - Part Three

by x_marks_the_spot


I stirred. There was movement in the dark, but I was hardly conscious myself and I struggled to overcome the severe throbbing that was wracking my brain to pieces. I was lying painfully on my back, and I felt as if a heavy weight was pressing down against my skinny body. Shakily, my hand went to the back of my head, and I felt around for any cuts or blood that might assure me I was hurt and going to die in the depths of some mysterious artifact I entombed myself in because of my own greed.

     I don't know whether I was more relieved or surprised when I discovered my skull was still intact, but by the already apparent swelling I knew I was going to have a million-Neopoint egg on my noggin for quite a while after this. A groan above me reminded me that I wasn't alone, and slowly my memory oozed back into my brain.

     Rolling over slowly, I came face-to-face with Sarina just as she put flint to tinder and re-lit her torch. The sudden light in the blackness sent sparks whizzing across my vision, and after a long moment's recovery I staggered to my unstable feet. Sibil seemed better off than either Sarina or me. No doubt she had braced herself before landing.

     The room we were in now was so small one torch was sufficient enough to dimly light up every corner in the room, and Sarina was almost immediately back on her feet and tracing the wall paintings with wonder. I saw her glance meaningfully at her diary as its shabby edges peeked out of my sash, and I snatched it into my arms protectively, reminding her that I wasn't giving it up.

     Now that I had regained my senses enough, I flicked through the pages until I found the diagram of the Gebmid. Sibil regained her composure, too, and hop-skipped onto my shoulder. I looked over her sketches.

     "According to your notes, we should be in the underground chamber!" I said, startled at how off-course we had gotten due to one careless step. The treasure was in Sutek's tomb, not some false room!

     Sibil peered at the drawing.

     "Isn't that quite a ways down?" she squawked.

     From the other end of the room, Sarina replied over her shoulder.

     "It is! We've fallen into one of Sutek's many traps and ended up in a false chamber…" she let her voice trail off before continuing, "Meant to deter tomb-robbers."

     I glowered at her briefly, my painted eyes shooting her a look of pure contempt, and I muttered under my breath. "Huh, well, it's certainly not deterring me!"

     If there was ever such a thing as glaring competitions, then Sarina and I would be the champions. I swear, that Aisha and I were always out to get each other from that moment, but we both knew that if we were to escape from this place alive, then we were going to need each other's help, despite how much we didn't want it. I didn't want to have to drag an archaeologist that should be locked up in a library with books along behind me. I could probably get out of here by myself! By the look on Sarina's face, I could see she thought the same.

     I took a step towards the intricate wall carvings on my side of the room, and my foot came down on a loose brick. Immediately the wall swiveled around on unseen pivots and plunged me into yet more darkness. My cry of alarm was cut off from Sarina as the wall ground back into place with a crunching slam, and although I couldn't hear her, I could take an educated guess at what she must have been thinking. I had just unwittingly stumbled into yet another trap!

     Fumbling about for the book in the dark, I didn't notice the wall churning around again until it was too late. The sudden stop of the wall locking back into place tripped a rather bewildered Sarina off balance and she collided into little unprepared me, knocking the diary out of my grimy hands.

     "NO!" I yelled out in horror as the aged book tumbled down the steep sides of an artificial cliff. I made to jump at it, but a restraining paw fell upon my shoulder and held me back.

     "The route!" I yelped again, as if that were enough to make Sarina let go, but she persisted, her grip tightening.

     "Solkaris, don't go after it! It's much too dangerous!" she said sharply, picking me up off my hands and knees and lecturing me. "Getting out is the most important thing to do right now!"

     I looked at her as if she had just told me Sloth could fly and faeries wore boxers.

     "Getting out? I'm not leaving 'till I get that book back and the treasure!" I retaliated stubbornly.

     "Forget the book!" she said, almost pleadingly, "It's inaccurate! Sutek's tomb is much more complicated than I had first thought! All those history books, ancient scrolls, royal manuscripts… they're all incorrect! That book is not worth you risking your life for!" She was almost begging now. "Please Solkaris, we've got to get out!"

     I sighed. She was right. Despite how much I didn't want it to be true, that Aisha was right. But how do we get out of the deepest bowels of a Gebmid riddled with traps and puzzles all lying in wait like a patient Cobrall, just poised and ready to jump out at us when we least expected it?

     "I don't think the wall can open from this side!" I exclaimed in disbelief when I realized we were trapped teetering on a narrow ledge, a deadly drop always gaping at our heels. I fumbled at the walls in desperation, but there was no lever, no loose brick, nothing to make the wall reverse again. And even then, there was no way we could climb all the way back up that vertical tunnel.

     Sarina searched alongside me, and Sibil flew down into the shadowy depths and then up into the darkness above looking for a way to escape. Finally we gave up after our fruitless hunt. We sagged against the walls, bone-weary and tired, our fearful eyes never once leaving the flickering torchlight. Once that fire ran out of sufficient air, it would extinguish itself, and then we would truly be lost.

     Suddenly Sibil flapped down from above us and landed at my feet, hopping from one foot to the other.

     "There's another ledge above you!" she screeched hoarsely. "Maybe the way to the surface is up there!"

     I knew I should've been hopeful and praised her for giving us any sliver of hope to cling to in this plummeting darkness, but I was tired and frustrated and a hiss of irritation escaped from between my lips.

     "And how do you suggest we get there?" I grumbled, my muscles already sore from the battering they had just endured on my way here.

     Suddenly Sibil snatched the rope from Sarina before she could even blink. I was honestly impressed. Sibil wouldn't make a bad pickpocket! But I hid my emotions behind a scowl.

     "Using this!" she crowed triumphantly, and then she took off again, back up into the shadows that swallowed her whole.

     We sat in silence for a while, both squinting into the gloom where my Crokabek had just disappeared. Finally she swooped back down to us and assured us that she had lodged the rope securely between some rubble. I knew we had no other choice. With any luck, there would be a tunnel leading back to the light up there.

     The climb was long, hard and tedious. Every move was a painstaking attempt, every flinch another ache, every breath a difficult, gasping feat to achieve. The pattern was simple, hand over hand on the rope, foot over foot on the wall as we scaled the cliff's artificial sides, but it seemed the most complicated of dance steps as we tripped our way up. Sarina held the torch before us using her large ears, and I followed its bobbing glow with determined obedience. I was a thief, and a thief is a hardheaded creature: once one sets its mind to something, it achieves it or suffers defeat for the rest of its life. That was me, and I was going to escape from here or I'd spend what was left of my life feeling a fool and a loser, moping in remorse. Kind of silly, really, considering that if I spent much longer down here I'd probably slip away without even realizing it.

     The Aisha's short-tempered grumble and huff of exertion shook me from my grim thoughts, and I lightened up a little as I realized we had reached the second ledge. She scrambled onto its narrow surface and I struggled after her. I glanced warily at the torch; it had reduced down to a guttering, spitting blue flame, and I knew soon it wouldn't be much more than crackling embers, glowing in its death throes.

     "It's going to burn out soon!" I said, my voice cracking in sudden fear. I didn't mind the dark; I didn't mind sleeping under the stars as they winked at me from the night sky's bruised cloak, but this suffocating, gloomy shade was the last place I wanted to be left without light in!

     "We've got to get out soon!" Sarina said desperately, "But how?"

     "Quick!" I ordered hurriedly, "Feel around for any loose bricks, faults in the wall, anything that could be a secret passage!" I fell to my knees and began pushing and shoving against some of the lowest bricks with newfound energy. My hands scrabbled and grabbed, dislodging sand and grit from between the decomposing rubble. I grunted and cursed in exertion but didn't give up, merely shooting a nasty look at Sarina when she made no attempt to help.

     "Don't be silly, you're just wasting your energy!" Sarina scolded as she watched me struggling in vain. "There was no reverse levers on the level below, why would-"


     The satisfying, gravelly grating of stone sliding away met our ears as I hit the bullseye. A craftily hidden passageway, concealed behind an amazingly well disguised door, met our tired eyes. I dusted off my hands and sat back, satisfied.

     "Wha'-how-where? How did you know?" the Aisha stammered as I went flat on my belly and shuffled into the tunnel. She followed suit silently and Sibil was back on my shoulder as we slowly scuttled upwards.

     The passage was low-roofed, and the going was terribly tiresome and tedious, but the tunnel slanted upwards and with every breathless inch we progressed I could feel a great weight lifting off my shoulders. We must be getting near the surface! We must be!

     And then, suddenly, my hopes disintegrated before my very eyes as my groping hands came into contact with cold, solid stone. I took in a sharp intake of breath and only hoped this was another door.

     I surprised myself by my show of strength that day. It must have been the adrenaline, my lust for life whooshing through my veins. For such a small, skinny street urchin I seem to have had more than my fair share of muscle that time, and when I leaned heavily against the stone I felt it loosen and slide neatly aside. A cool draft hit me straight on, and I struggled out of the claustrophobic tunnel and relished in the breeze. It seemed an eternity since I last felt the cool splash of fresh air against my face. Sarina felt it too, and she wriggled after me excitedly.

     As she stood she pointed out a small hole cut into the wall, out of which I could just make out the star-dappled night sky.

     "The ancient Sakhmetians believed that the Pharaoh's soul should have an emergency route to the afterworld should he get lost within his own Gebmid," she explained, tuned into archaeologist-mode again. I scoffed slightly; if the very King this tomb was built for could get lost in it, then we were faring famously! Sarina was still pointing at the small outlet. "That serves as an extra exit."

     "Wait a minute…" my brain chugged away at full-speed as I slotted everything into place. A growing excitement was bubbling inside me. "If the Pharaoh's soul should escape, then the window would have to be in his chamber, which means…"

     The fresh air replenished the diminishing torch's guttering glow, suddenly whipping it into a healthy crackle again and illuminating our surroundings. I was grinning from ear-to-ear in ecstasy. I had hit the jackpot.

To be continued...

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» Solkaris: The Narrative - Part One
» Solkaris: The Narrative: Part Two

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