Author: Aaron Davis PM
The light dawns the darkness purrs and magic keeps on singing.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Supernatural - Chapters: 5 - Words: 15,074 - Reviews: 4 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 03-12-13 - Published: 02-13-13 - id: 3100723
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
She unrolled the contents of her leather wrap, carefully across her bed. Silhouetted in the moonlight, the dark-eyed woman checked each item in turn, meticulously reassuring herself that she had not forgotten anything in the mad rush of the day's work.
Starting with the most treasured belonging, she opened a small beaded bag at the far left and drew out a tiny, carved, obsidian statue... her Zemi. The little statuette was polished smooth, and sanded to round curves. The figure was reminiscent of a full bodied woman viewed from the front, but with no features, indentations or extraneous details. The carving could almost have been mistaken for a very large seed of the Bao trees that grew across the shrub plains beyond the city - except that the polish caused the Zemi's surface to be so reflective that gazing upon it was akin to looking into deep, still water. The Zemi was her most treasured possession, a sacred fetish of her family. The stone and form of the piece had been chosen and directed by her mother, chiseled by her father, then sanded and polished by her aunts and uncles as a token of her birth.
She held the Zemi for a moment in the moonlight, then put it back in its ceremonial bag and tied the beaded chord tight. It was very bad luck to lose a Zemi, a new one would have to be made, and by rite, could not be made by the owner herself.
Continuing down the line, she unfolded one end of a rectangular Bao-leaf wrapping to check on the state of the dried cakes she had packed for her journey... As expected, they were good for a few weeks still, and she chided herself for checking on them so often as it would help none in preserving them. A proper Bao-leaf wrap would keep most fresh foods from spoiling until the leaves dried up; so long as it was stored properly the food inside would stay moist and supple through even the heat of long desert days or the unmerciful cold of desert nights.
She moved on, ensuring her medicine bag was fully stocked with herbs and clean linen... then checked her spare set of clothes... looked over a few small pieces of jewelry she preferred not to part with (but could possibly trade if there was a need)... double checked her two water-skins were full... and finally, untying the embroidered leather holding the last item in her pack, she gazed once more at the small shimmering rectangular vial inside.
The glinting light of the vial was not merely a reflection of the moon, but actually emanated from the liquid within the glass... Crystal Water, it was called. A drop could nourish and sustain a person for a day without thirst. Nearly priceless, a vial the length of her thumb had not been easy to procure, but it was worth the effort as the small bottle could very well save her life soon.
Staring at the liquid light, it was more apparent than ever that there was no turning back now.
She carefully replaced all of her possessions and rolled them again in the long Cressdrake-hide wrap, then placed them between blankets in her heavy-linen bag before slinging it over one shoulder.
Taking a deep breath, she stood, pulling her traveling cloak from where it hung on the post jutting from the red-stone wall. She wrapped the finely woven, sand-colored shroud around her and clasped it at the shoulder, then pulled the cloak's hood down to leave her face in shadow. Slowly... carefully... quietly, Gitara slid open the door of her small stone living quarters, and slipped out, into the dark hallway of the temple.
The Temple of the Sun in which the young woman lived, was one of the greatest wonders of civilization. Towering hundreds of meters in the air, the Temple's highest points were often obscured by low flying clouds in the rainy season. The megalith's walls swept downward smoothly toward three corners of an immense base, forming an area nearly an 8th the size of the great city of Isot'ul in which it resided. The towering building was believed to be the largest man-made structure in existence.
The Temple was so large it was practically a city itself, within its walls lay a labyrinth of hallways, courtyards, gardens, living quarters, meditation rooms, grain mills and kitchens; there were weaving rooms, scribe-courts, various training rooms, observatories, barracks for the guards, living quarters for the priests and acolytes, music halls; and, at the very top peak, the great Veil of Light... a wide and holy plateau centered around a statue of the Sun-God, Isot himself. As if that were not impressive enough, beneath the temple lay the crypts and tombs of the great kings and queens of the past. The catacombs went so deep that the lower levels were permanently sealed off to avoid any disturbance or need of regular upkeep.
Gitara had once found the size and complexity of the temple overwhelming to navigate, but was now overwhelmingly-grateful for it. As an acolyte she knew these passageways as well as anyone, better than the standard contingent of guards to be sure. She knew how to weave through the web of halls and rooms so as to avoid any of the areas the high Priests might deem worth protecting, or would be a likely part of any regular patrol. The young woman had also practiced her route well during the past few weeks to being certain she could navigate it in near darkness. She was as prepared as she could be, yet still, beads of anxious sweat moistened her olive skin as she dashed from room to room.
She would have preferred more subtlety, or to do this in the daylight and thus hide her actions in the crowds of the temple. After all, a single acolyte creeping through the dark halls in a traveling cloak and carrying provisions, would not exactly dissuade interest or suspicion. Unfortunately the young acolytes goals would be nigh impossible to achieve in the day, those crowds also meant the watching eyes of the high priests in certain areas of the tower she preferred them not to be looking. In any case, she had waited and prepared as long as she could, she didn't have another day to spare. Gitara knew what was to happen in the morning and there would be no way to prevent it then, this was her last chance.
Spiral staircase after spiral staircase, she climbed, her sweat now both from fear and exertion. She paused at the slightest sound, ducking into empty rooms as light and shadow from torches betrayed the approach of patrols.
Up and up she flew, controlling her pace only to keep her labored breathing from betraying her. She climbed past concert halls, kitchens and sewing rooms... past the Golden Garden, it's flowers all asleep in the moonlight - arranged around the statue of the twin headed Ciriji. The statue was a giant nude image of a man engraved in bejeweled necklaces, rings, and gold-linked-chains. One head was human, beautifully sculpted with piercing green eyes... the other head, a Jackal, it's long snout and protruding rows of teeth doing little to make the mood of the evening less ominous. Both heads of the sculpture faced forward over the garden, their opposite eyes surveying the room, while their inner eyes trained suspiciously upon each-other. Ciriji was the god of greed and prosperity, he was said to keep a ledger of those who worshiped him, only giving to one follower what he could take from another.
At the top of the next flight of stairs Gitara paused, finally. She had reached the Dormot, the great chamber beneath the veil of light. She had taken the servants passage but there would be a guard on the other side of this door for certain.
Gitara stooped, pulling back her hood and letting the moonlight from the slatted windows of the stairwell, dance across her smooth, dark skin. She closed her eyes and listened.
Breathing in and out steadily, rhythmically, Gitara waited until she was calm, then the acolyte took out a small candle and whispered a soft word to the wick whilst holding it up to the moonlight. Almost at once a small blue flame erupted on the end of the candle. She smiled, and turned quietly to the stone door, placing the lit-candle at its base.
Kneeling then, her palms forward, arms at her side, Gitara continued to control her breathing, evenly the air flowed in and out of her lungs as she listened to the sounds of the night, all the while staring at the blue flame. After several minutes, Gitara whispered again, softer than the wind outside the tower:
"Sister of sun-light, I offer my praise, as every night, am I blessed by your power and beauty. Let this vessel convey your knowledge, let it burn bright, while hearts still beat beyond this door of stone, within the room of Dormot, beneath your brother's throne."
She repeated the prayer as a chant until the thin shaft of moonlight from the window shifted eerily, resting on the candle for the briefest moment before returning to illuminate the stone steps. The tongue of blue flame began to flicker oddly, soft and bright, soft and bright, in too steady a rhythm for ordinary fire; soft and bright, soft and bright, it pulsed, like the beating of a heart.
Now she could only wait, and hope.
Gitara watched the candle pulse as the minutes turned to hours, and the hours dragged on. Sitting on stone steps was much more uncomfortable than she had anticipated. She was tempted to unpack her fur blanket to sit on, but decided she couldn't risk being so encumbered if opportunity arose.
Finally... after the moon had traveled half-way across the sky, nearing the horizon, just as Gitara began to fear that she had missed her chance entirely... she caught the candle flame diminishing steadily, pulsing smaller and smaller before extinguishing entirely. Just as the flame vanished, Gitara heard a large stone door slam shut from within the room ahead. The Dormot was empty.
Gitara jumped up, grabbing her candle, she offered the briefest thanks toward the moonlight before facing the door before her. There was no time to deliberate or bolster her courage, she pushed the stone door open and stepped into a massive, high-ceilinged, bright and entirely empty chamber.
The lower walls and domed ceiling were ordained with a myriad of complex and beautifully chiseled glyphs and images, all telling the ancient legends of Isot, god of the sun. A protruding trench of constantly burning oil spanned the length of the room, sitting two-thirds up the high walls and just below rows of even, square windows. The flame trench ran just above the servants access Gitara had entered through, and ended beside two great gate-like doors on either side of the chamber. A walkway followed along opposite walls, while the floor in the center of the room sunk downward in steps. Elaborate patterns ran across the floor toward the center of the room; copper, gold, bronze and amber lines wove around inlaid, brightly-colored jewels. Tigers-eye and fire-opal, with some red quartz settings were favored by the artisans who had labored over the vault-like room for years before it's completion.
Finally at the heart of the chamber was a pedestal, and upon it lay a crystal bowl set in gold and beaded with more of the fiery gem-stones.
Gitara took the length of the room swiftly, up to the pedestal... up to the bowl. She tried to remain steady, to focus on what must be done. Just being seen here... an acolyte, and a woman to boot, would cost her her head; yet that was not why she could not stop her hands from trembling.
She reached the top tier of the pedestal and gazed in to the depths of the bowl... there it was, the Jewel of Isot... The Eye of the Sun. It was a small square of jet black reflecting the flames along the high walls so that it seemed to glow. The rectangular jewel was set in a larger golden circle suspended by three spiraling arms of bronze. The whole piece was smaller than her hand.
Gitara scolded herself for pausing to gape, the change of Guard would return soon. Technically they were never supposed to leave the room unattended, but Gitara had it on good authority that this night the Guards would be entertaining some certain sisters of her order, whom she had promised a week's worth of chamber duties in advance to be found... lingering near the outer doors of the Dormot.
She decided she had waited long enough. Accomplish her task or flee, but she had to make a choice...
Gitara braced herself, took a deep breath, and plunged her hand into the bowl to grab the sacred amulet. She felt burning, her eyes shot open-wide in pain; she hadn't even touched the stone yet, but her hand felt as though it were on fire. She tried to pull her hand back but found that she couldn't move her arm below the elbow. She tried to step backward but again, her arm wouldn't move, it was fixed in space as though buried in stone.
Suddenly, from the pedestal to the high ceiling a bright, hot, column of light burst into being. The light was so bright it was nearly blinding and Gitara had to blink back tears at its intensity.
This was a nightmare come to life, she could neither retreat nor reach the jewel, and surely someone would notice the Dormot lighting up like firework in the middle of the night. She scolded herself for being so naive. Of course there were magical protections on the Eye of Isot that no one but the highest order of priests would know about. She had told herself, no... convinced herself, that if news of such a ward hadn't reached the ears of the servants or most of the priesthood, it probably didn't exist; it was wishful thinking and it was going to get her killed.
Then a horrible thought struck her. What if this wasn't the High Priest's doing at all? What if it was Isot himself? What if this was his wrath coming upon her for trying to deny him his offering?
She shook with fear and pain, unsure what to do, she clutched in her bag for something, anything... instinctively she grabbed the beaded satchel and closed her fingers around the Zemi.
Tears drenched her cheeks as the burning of her hand continued... she heard a noise from outside the great doors opposite her...
"No... no no... Please!" she whispered as she felt the fingers of her right hand go numb and the burning sensation move steadily up her arm... "Please... anyone! Anything!... Please! I'm begging!" she closed her eyes and bit her lip hard, trying to repress a scream. Gitara clutched her Zemi so tightly that the point dug into her skin... "please... " she repeated her voice unbidden now, she could not keep from crying out much longer...
The pain lessened for a moment as her entire right hand and forearm went numb... she opened her eyes...
Stone. She could see her forearm protruding from the column of light, what should have been dark and smooth was now white and rough. Her arm wasn't on fire, it was turning to stone.
This time the tears came, hot and unabated; her nostrils flared as she reeled back instinctively in shock. Eyes widened, the young priestess forgot about being quiet.
"I call upon the light of the divine, the light of grace!" She shouted. "...A light you do not own Isot!" She screamed at the column before her, heart racing, blood pumping, no longer fighting her panic but embracing it wholly. She barely knew what she was saying, she released her carefully honed control and tore at the mystical ward holding her with any and every power she had ever even suspected was within her grasp... all her training as a priestess, all her being, all her will... "I call on every power of every God and Goddess! Every being known and unknown who wields the light!... " she refused this... this ending... she would not lose herself here just as she would not lose herself to the hands of the High Priests.
"I call on you! Light of the divine! Light of creation! Light of the dream! Light of life, of fire, of sun and moon! DELIVER ME!" She couldn't see through her tears, she couldn't feel through the pain and fear, she could only fight, it was all that was left to her. Her elbow went numb, she could no longer bend her arm, "DELIVER ME NOW!" she screamed!
A tingle felt it's way along from her left hand holding her Zemi, like electricity, it moved up her arm, across her shoulders, then swiftly up her right arm...
An explosion. A wave of energy erupted from the pedestal where she stood, the light so blinding she could see its form through closed eyes. She flew... or rather, was flung, across the Dormot, slamming into a wall, the wind knocked out of her.
She fell to the floor, still clutching her Zemi.
A much darker world came into focus, one without the startling light of the mystical column or the flames of the oil trench (which had apparently been blown out), as Gitara looked up to get her bearings. It took her a moment to adjust to the moonlight from the high slatted windows, and her head spun as she used the wall to help herself stand.
As her surroundings came into focus she saw, there, in the center of the room, the pedestal. It was a third as tall as before, cracked down the center, hardly standing in a pile of its own rubble. She looked for the bowl and spotted bits of the crystal reflecting the moonlight.
She heard footsteps coming from the doors on either side of the room... lots of them.
Her shock began to subside and she remembered fear. Frantically, she scanned the floor of the Dormot, then felt her foot touch something and heard it scrape across the floor nearby. The eye. She spotted and reached for the amulet with her nearest hand. Though she only registered the fact peripherally and didn't have time to contemplate how it had worked out exactly, she was pleasantly surprised to note that none of her limbs were made of stone anymore.
Bolting for the servants door, Gitara shoved both Zemi and Sacred Stolen Amulet, into her pack; she whipped around the stairwell access and shut it just as she heard the large golden doors opening on the other side of the hall.
Gitara made a b-line down the stairs and nearly fell as the hem of her cloak pulled her back, shut tight in the doo, it wasn't budging.
Gitara didn't have a word for what she was feeling now, she was surviving, that was it. Hardly thinking she pointed with two fingers at the setting moon through the open window, then to the hem of cloak stuck in the door. A familiar blue flame erupted at the edge of the cloth cutting the tension enough for her to rip the rest of her cloak away.
The majority of her descent was a blur of doors and passages, when asked about it later she mostly recalled thinking how silly it would have been to stumble down all those stairs and break her neck after everything. Three levels from the main gate she had to duck into the Great Hall of Bovine Music (or some-such nonsense she had no time for) as a small battalion of guards (led by one of the High Priests) rushed passed her toward the main staircase. The alarm had been sounded, apparently, while she had been busy trying not to trip. Now the front gate of the temple would be bolted, and all the servant entrances on the main level would be guarded...
Gitara swore loudly.
She could try to hide in the crypts, but they would certainly search there before nightfall, and it would only corner her further.
She looked around desperately, saw one of the tall slatted pane-less windows, and decided to do something desperate. In some far off part of her mind she remembered there was something called caution, but decided it was a silly sounding word and waved it away further.
"The Temple does slope down toward the base... and I am only three stories up... and at least there won't be any more stairs..." she told herself as she ran for the window, and jumped through before she could look down or stop herself.
The Temple did indeed slope toward the base, but given it's great height, the drop was still vertical enough.
Gitara hit the wall of the temple hard, as it sloped up to her. The falling woman clutched her bag and tried to roll, but controlling ones momentum when free falling down a greatly angled slope is much easier to postulate than perform.
She did roll, haphazardly, at all angles, sliding and bouncing, she banged her head, she saw spots, her elbow hit the side of the wall, she heard a crack, was that a bone? No, she felt an impact, that was an awning, she was probably going to die... she felt sick.
Three floors, even when each is a half dozen meters apart, doesn't take that long to cover when one is dropping like a stone. Gitara saw the ground spinning at her, then the sky, then the ground, then she landed with a thump...
... which wasn't quite as hard, painful, or deadly as she was expecting.
She looked up, her arm hurt, she tasted blood, but she found once more that she could raise herself. The ground she was standing in was unusually soft, like a feather pillow... it didn't make sense... she might be dead, she was likely suffering warriors dementia, the ground wasn't supposed to be squishy. Someone touched her arm, it was an old jackal... no, that was stupid, it was an old man...
The man looked haggard and ragged, he gave her a grin with quite a few missing teeth. "You know, most young ladies who jump from windows aren't so lucky as you." he chided in a fatherly, yet mocking tone.
Gitara shook her head, both in agreement and to try to stop the ringing in her ears. "The ground is soft..." she replied nonsensically.
"I'm sure it is dear." replied the old man, cajolingly. "Oh now look... and you're a mess aren't you?"
Gitara smiled with an appropriate amount of embarrassment, then curtsied, then threw up.
The old man laughed and handed her something "Here... take this now." he encouraged after she'd found her balance again.
He was giving her a small bag. Gitara eyed it warily
"It's a little concoction of cleaning salt and animal blubber. It will help get all those blood-stains out of your clothes." the old man croaked, licking his lips after the word "blood-stains."
Bewildered to say the least, Gitara took the bag and managed a "Thank you."
"Now you be on your way dear" the old man commanded, putting a guiding hand on her back and pushing her down a narrow side road away from the temple. "... the sun will be up soon, you don't want to miss your ride with the merchants do you?"
Once Gitara began to walk in the direction she was being prodded the old man let her go and turned away from her. After a few moments the young woman's head cleared a bit, and the ground beneath her feet didn't feel soft anymore. Snapping back to attention, she looked back fearfully... the old man was tending to a mule and cart.
"How do you know I'm traveling anywhere, or when they're leaving?!" she was afraid of the answer... She took a second look at the man, he still seemed demur and frail... but there was something about the eyes...
The aged miser just smiled, looking more concerned with his cart full of baskets than with her.
Busying himself, he ho-hummed "Oh most merchants leave at sun-up... ", he paused, and glanced at her from the side, a secret in the corner of his eye, "... and any being who wields the light knows when the sun rises."