My Enemy, My King: Part Four
Alaric eased himself down to the bottom of a long, slick wall with only scant handholds, then looked up at the dot of light at the top of the slope and lit his own torch. “The rest of you can come down now! It’s not too bad if you go slow.”
He saw the flare of wings up above – Codsworth would be the next down. Emeth would probably wait until last, when he could make sure that someone would be able to catch him if he fell.
Alaric tried to remind himself that as the smallest and the oldest, Emeth would have the hardest time navigating the steep drop. He had the right to make things a little safer for himself. Since Alaric had done quite a lot of cave-crawling in the Haunted Woods, it had made sense that he went first.
When Codsworth reached the bottom, he sighed. “Not fun. Though better than those stone soldiers that we had to fight.”
Alaric rubbed a rapidly emerging bruise on his arm from where he’d been hit by one of the living statues the first king of Sakhmet had left... they’d come out of alcoves in the walls in the long passage after the bridge cavern. The four adventurers had needed to fight their way through to get to the chamber above this cliff. He sighed. “Chen-Ra was a devious little Lupe treat – I don’t really want to find out what else he has in store for us.”
Codsworth shrugged. “Not like we have much of an option at this point. No use thinking like that, Al.”
Next Sarkish came down, and after a couple near slips and a slide that almost stopped Alaric’s heart as he watched it, Emeth joined them. He said, “Keep moving. I don’t want to have to camp in this Fyora-forsaken place.”
Alaric looked into the next dark tunnel, wondering what sort of obstacle could possibly await.
It wasn’t long before they found themselves in front of an elaborate door, with another inscription.
The words were just as grim as the ones out in the desert cave. Alaric winced. Was this really a good idea? He didn’t like the word sepulcher – it made it sound like there was something more buried here than a crystal orb. Something much more malevolent.
Prince Jazan had mentioned that the Orb was dangerous, hadn’t he? Alaric wished that he’d had more time to talk with the boy – instead of brushing him off, he really should have gotten everything the Kyrii knew from him.
Sarkish looked at the door, and pointed out the design in the center, which Alaric realized was an elaborate lock. “I’ve seen one of these before in a vault I had to break for King Nural in Sakhmet – you have to initiate the right pattern. I can figure it out.”
He laid a hand on the top corner gem – a red one, which started to glow. Immediately, the walls slammed shut at the entrance of the corridor. All of a sudden, Alaric found it hard to breathe. It’s not just the sepulcher of the Orb – it’s our tomb as well!
Emeth grinned. “High stakes, my boys. This place won’t let us out until we get the Orb. We go through this doorway, or we stop here.”
Sarkish tried one combination. A few of the gems turned clear – others darkened again. But what preoccupied Alaric and the others more was a grinding sound behind them. And as the Lupe turned, the section of the floor closest to the now-shut gate slid back into the walls, leaving a void beneath without hope of a handhold. It was clear to Alaric how it worked – for each wrong guess, they lost some of the floor. And if Sarkish didn’t get this right quick enough, they were all doomed.
He said, trying to keep calm, “I’ll see how much goes away next time. It’ll tell us how many tries we get.”
Sarkish leaned closer to the pattern in the door, and illuminated another combination. One more gem turned clear, and one more row of flagstones shifted back into the walls. It looked like they’d lost two, then – Alaric walked back and counted. “Twelve rows total, minus two – you’ve got ten more tries, Sarkish. Though I’d really prefer you do this faster.”
Another combination – another horrible grating sound that made Alaric think of the lid of his coffin closing. That black pit was starting to yawn behind them, and he was far past nervous.
If only there was something he could fight! He could fight those stone soldiers. He could scale that cliff, and navigate that narrow bridge. But he’d never been any good at puzzles. All he could do was hope that Sarkish wasn’t acting out of bravado – because there wasn’t anything to be done but trust him to save them. He had no way to save himself.
He gripped his sword – maybe Chen-Ra intended whoever made it this far to die from the nerves. Remember, Alaric. You’re still in Qasala. You aren’t going to let yourself die in Qasala. You aren’t going to let your tomb be under the desert sands. You’ve gone too far for that. You can survive this!
Another wrong combination – a third of the floor was gone now. Alaric tried not to hover by Sarkish like the other two were doing. He didn’t want to make the Hissi any more nervous.
Sarkish announced, “I think I have it down to three other choices.”
Three other options, eight remaining pieces of floor. That was good. He watched as one disappeared, two-
On Sarkish’s third combination, a row disappeared again! He’d been wrong! And now there were only five rows of tile left – sweet Fyora, they were doomed!
Sarkish didn’t betray any outward signs of tension or worry... he just leaned so close to the gemstones in the door that his nose almost touched them. Codsworth whispered, “In case we don’t get out of here, Al, I just want you to know it was a pleasure working with you.”
Alaric nodded as he adjusted his hat. “Likewise.”
Sarkish grinned, flicking his long tongue. “I see what I did – it’s one of two options for sure.”
He pressed another pattern, and the vault door swung open. Behind them, the tiles slid back into place and the wall opened up to give them a view of the slick black cliff that, as a way out, had never looked more inviting.
But they were almost there – and once they’d gotten the accursed Orb, they could head out toward sunlight and home.
The room was illuminated with a shaft of light from above, shining straight onto a golden box. Alaric looked up to see if wherever the light was coming from could be used as an escape route – but it was too small, and looked as if it were probably straight up. He walked toward the box and opened it, to see a round object covered in a linen cloth.
And then soldier’s instinct leapt in, and Alaric barely dived out of the way as Sarkish’s sword swung through where he had been an instant before. “Don’t you dare touch that, Lupe!”
And then a knife whistled an inch above Sarkish’s turban. Emeth stood braced, two more throwing knives in each of his hands. “It ends here, Hissi!”
The sword met the long knife as the two men started to duel.
And, beneath them, the earth started to shake.
Alaric dashed and grabbed the covered Orb, but he’d only gotten a few steps toward the entrance before the ground opened up beneath him.
He didn’t fall enough to injure himself, but he was standing on the bottom of a crevice with no idea how much more it might open. He cried, “Codsworth! Help me out, will you?”
The Eyrie leaned over the edge. “Pass up the Orb first – it’ll make it easier to help you!”
Alaric tossed up the Orb – Codsworth stood up. Alaric shouted, “Sweet Fyora, Codsworth, help me!”
The Eyrie looked down at him. “Sorry, Al.”
He shrugged his wings. “I owe the king a debt. And I had to either pay it in your lives or in my own.”
Alaric couldn’t believe his ears. Funny, friendly Codsworth had sold them all down the river – he was just as bad as Emeth or Sarkish could ever have been! Jazan had been right after all. He looked up at the Eyrie. “So that’s to be it then – all the work we did together, all the times on this trip we’ve had each other’s back – and you’ll leave me here to die?”
Before Codsworth could answer, there was a crackle of lighting and a sound almost like thunder as the earth shook again – Alaric slid deeper into the crack that opened beneath him. But he was glad to be hidden as he saw King Razul appear at the edge of the crevice. The mad king’s back was to him, but he still shrank down as low as he could to avoid his notice. There was something around him, the faint flicker of fire – he looked more demonic than mortal. Codsworth asked, shaking, “My lord – how-”
The king said, “That amulet. It was Khammar’s – it recognized his power, and connected to it, allowing me to come here and collect the Orb myself!”
Codsworth said, “I would have brought you the Orb, milord! I would not have failed you!”
King Razul roared, “Silence!” With another crack of magic and a burst of light, Alaric could see the still-wrapped Orb fly from Codsworth’s hands to the king’s. “With that amulet, I could sense your mind, you fool! You intended to betray our bargain – you were going to let that idiotic Lupe escape!”
He was going to help me – he was going to change his mind and save me from this!
“No, my lord, I swear!”
“I knew your thoughts! I always know, you wretched piece of sailor scum. I always know!” Alaric shrank into an even smaller ball to try and avoid whatever painful fate waited otherwise as the king started to glow with magical power. “And for that, you will lose your life, just as he did!”
Alaric knew then that the king thought he was dead – he’d have to get out of here, try and get out of this crevice and head for the exit, before King Razul left and brought the whole place down on top of them! The dark magic gathering around the Kyrii seemed to extinguish the beam of light that had looked like a little ray of hope.
And as he tried to leap for the edge of the crack, there was a roaring noise, the sound of crashing stone, and a flash of fire that blinded him as a sharp pain blazed through his head and everything went black.
To be continued...