The Dark Device of the Great Chasm by Kummer Wolfe | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 28

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Amates 31, 1277. Taking a wrong turn for the right reasons.

     There's distracted. Then there's what happened at the campsite behind us.
     Miksai, his cheetah, and I reached Kiyosi at the weathered gray-white marble doorway, when a muted crash echoed through the canyon. Angry shouts far behind us were icing on the cake. I knelt down at the collection of canvas bags next to Ki, fished out my worn canvas shoulder bag, and slipped it on.
     Kiyosi had pulled his attention away from the inscription in the marble over the commotion.
     "What was that?"
     Mikasi skid to a stop, gasping for breath. Nicodemus fared better. The smoke cheetah padded up to glance around at the doorway and its partial rock slide. In hindsight, calling it 'partially covered' was generous. Those rocks were from a landslide, but now that I was right next to them, I saw there was a sizable gap on the right side. Plenty of room for a person to squeeze through.
     "Oh, probably the waterwheel coming off its base and crashing down," Mikasi said in a low voice. "I think they noticed."
     Another crash followed the first, accompanied by the sound of wood shattering like twigs. More shouts, a lot of them, filled the air. Then, the silvery-gray fog thinned out enough that we saw the mercenaries' waterwheel. Free of its moorings, the large wheel trundled heavily through the middle of the camp and flattened several tents and one cooking fire. The thing came to a stop at the camp's center, where it teetered sideways to crush one last tent.
     Ki frowned at the two of us.
     I shrugged.
     "What? They're distracted. Wouldn't you be?" I took a quick glance at the marble doorway. "What's the translation?"
     Ki rubbed the bridge of his nose.
     "Age and weather have eaten at some letters, but I'm guessing this is a side door for workers to get into the tunnels. It mentions an underground storage vault named 'West Branch', which fits if we're right about Long Deep being used as a trade center."
     "Perfect! Then we're probably on the right path." I squeezed past the rocks to the other side. "Mikasi and I both heard Vargas complain about this entire situation. He's already sure they are digging in the wrong spot, but the baron won't hear it. So we're running on borrowed time. Vargas will find this door quick enough. Come on!"
     "Damn the tides!" Ki swore.
     "At least they're distracted." Mikasi shrugged, grabbed a pack, before he followed me past the rock. Nicodemus leaped in right after him.
     "We have a very different definition of 'distracted'." Kiyosi groaned. "At least the inscription on the frame didn't suggest any traps."
     "Did it mention anything other than 'vault' and 'West Branch'?" I asked.
     Ki grabbed the last bag, a stained brown canvas backpack, then slipped inside after us.
     "No. There had been more, but it's long since ruined."
     I grinned while I fished the Sun Orb out of my shoulder bag for light.
     "Then we find out for ourselves."
     Ki shook his head while we picked our way down the dark, tiled hallway.
     Some of my cheery disposition was bravado. A mask to deal with any fear of the Crimson Company, their undead patron, and the current situation we were dealing with. But there was more to it than just a 'brave outlook'.
     Ancient ruins are history, and everyone experiences that history differently. Ruin Poachers see an ancient building with its locked doors, even stained glass, and only see money. Something to break down and sell in one smuggler's den or another. I've lost track of how many times a Windtracer expedition was sent to steal a relic from a thief, looking to make some fast coin.
     For me? A ruin, really any ancient building, is as much the prize as any relic inside the place.
     Every piece of tile, mason's mark, or dash of paint is a story told by the people who lived there. A voice wanting to be remembered. It was someone's present, or future, frozen in place. Preserved hope passed down so that people like me could call it 'history' and let those people live again. Maybe even rekindle that hope in someone else.
     The hallway was wide enough for two people to walk next to each other without a problem. It was also tall, with a vaulted ceiling. This wasn't a surprise. The Ancient Order used that style of architecture a lot. It was the design of the ceiling arch I didn't expect. I held the Sun Orb up as high as I could reach.
     "Reinforced," I said and glanced at the others. "Ceiling uses reinforced arches."
     Ki glanced overhead while we walked. Mikasi looked up and shrugged.
     "Support the weight of the rock and cliffs overhead?" he suggested. "I mean, this is basically a mine shaft," the inventor tapped a nearby wall, "even if it's lined with some nice, colorful little marble tiles."
     I lowered the Sun Orb, then continued forward.
     "That's true, I guess," I replied with a wary glance at the architecture. "Still, something seems different." I shrugged. "It could also be because of where we are. Nothing down here in the Chasm is 'normal'."
     We continued at a brisk pace in silence. Smooth stone tiles the size of my thumb lined the walls. Blues, greens, and creamy pearl colors glittered underneath centuries of dust and grime. A stale, bitter scent of rock dust and mildew hovered around us while we hurried along. Occasionally, I saw the remains of ancient markings painted on the tile. A slap of a word here and there. Directions? Someone's attempt at a mural? I wasn't sure.
     At the doorway on the far end, we stepped into a wide, round room. Empty wooden shelves and what might have been a cart suggested 'storehouse'. The only crates were the ones smashed on the floor long ago.
     Overhead, the ancient remains of thick spider webs ran from one edge of the arched ceiling to the other. It was a dust-filled gossamer sunshade for ghosts. A curious stone circle with the remains of a wooden timber suspended over it as thick as my body dominated the middle of the floor. Chains descended from the arched ceiling between the cobwebs to hold the wood aloft. Rags of old rope still clung to that wooden beam for dear life.
     Several doors gave us ways out of the room, but none had anything marked on them that made any sense. I pulled out the map I had copied from the Obsidian Armory in Talabrae's Deep and did some quick comparisons. That didn't help much.
     "It's well preserved," Mikasi said in amazement. "But what's that supposed to lift things to? Does the ceiling open?"
     "No idea. Maybe crates to carts?" Ki asked. "These doors all look large enough for simple carts. We know the Ancient Order loved using those small, one person types."
     A distant set of voices echoed through the darkness from the entrance. One of those was Vincent Vargas.
     "Hell and high tides!" Ki snarled. "Crimson Company. We've got to move!"
     "But where?" Mikasi asked. "Which door? They all look the same!"
     Ki and Mikasi both looked at my map before they ran to separate doors to try the handles. Some were still locked or swollen shut. Others clung to their hinges in a desperate attempt to remain useful. Me?
     I looked up at the webbing. It was a lot of webbing. Fortunately, nothing moved up there, but I noticed something odd. The webbing glimmered with a faint golden hue as if it reflected something off the floor. Bits of the same color traced along doors and around the abandoned shelves on the far side of the room.
     "I wonder."
     Slowly, I partially covered the Sub Orb. The room came alive with that faint, golden light.
     Lines traced along the floor, spilling out from under my feet in all directions. It raced along the seams in the stone tiled floor to reach across the room. That light touched the doors, raced around shelves, and best of all, ran round a set of still intact wooden levers off to my right against one wall. We had missed those at first in the dark.
     Ki and Mikasi gasped at the sight. I couldn't help but grin once more.
     The room was lit up with lines of golden starlight that traced the shape of the stone tiles. I wasn't sure how well Mikasi or Ki could see, but for me, it made the room as bright as the first rays of morning.
     "What is that?" Mikasi asked, fascinated, fear of the Crimson Company forgotten.
     "Paint," Ki replied while he knelt down by one of the glowing lines. He tapped one dusty line with a dagger. "It's... glowing. Just like the Sun Orb."
     "Magic?" Mikasi asked.
     Ki shook his head. 
     "No, not like we know it." He looked across the room at me. "Tela, it's centered on you. I think this paint is reacting to the light of the Sub Orb. How are your eyes?"
     "Perfect," I said with a huge, stupid grin on my face. "The room is clear as day now. I think... this makes sense. My eyes are better suited to this kind of dark now."
     I was caught up in the moment and couldn't help myself. Words tumbled out of me like flowing water.
     "The tiles... they're a mural! It runs along the walls in a pattern and makes letters with arrows by them. Those over there read 'platform thirty four', more say 'storeroom'. The arrows point to the doors and to the floor. Ki, by the kind tides. I get it now..."
     Despite the looming danger of the Crimson Company, I closed my eyes and imagined the room as it was; as the room might have been. Slowly, history unrolled. People and things washed into view like a painter brushing details to a half-finished canvas.
     It was magnificent.
     I watched people walk through those doors. Workers in coveralls, worn boots, and more chatting about their day. All sorts, a cosmopolitan mix, went about their day. Some moved boxes and crates between shelves. Others stacked dry goods by doors or took boxes out one of the five doors leading away from the room. At times, a cart would trundle past, pulled by a horse-sized Feathix iguana.
     Suddenly, everything made so much sense. I opened my eyes and uncovered the Sun Orb to let the mysterious magic paint between the stone tiles soak up more light.
     "We didn't come in through some back entrance for workers," I said in a hushed tone. "The Great Chasm wasn't even really there yet. This was all underground! The Great Chasm crushed some other part of all this right at that door we came in through."
     Then I remembered the map the Slate Watch drew of the area that included the underground lake.
     "These people were trading with someone living underground. The Slate Watch drew a lake in the Deepland caverns under all this. Ki! Mikasi! The Ancient Order was trading with someone in the Deeplands! Not some outpost. It was a kingdom below ground in the Deeplands!"
     Voices of the Crimson Company had grown louder, along with a crack of split rock.
     "They've broken out that partial land slide from the entrance," Ki said.
     Mikasi looked around nervously.
     "That's fascinating, Tela, but really, which door does that mean we need to take? They're coming!"
     I looked around the room, before my eyes fixed on the stone circle in the middle. It glimmered the brightest in the golden twilight.
     "None of them," I said, then raced for the levers.
     There was something written above those levers, but I didn't know the words. There wasn't time to translate it, either. I glanced over at Ki. He frowned, glanced at the levers, then nodded once.
     I ran my hands over the stone letters. Something deep inside whispered to me as if from far away, like remembering part of a memory. My hands settled onto the far right lever. Ancient wood felt hard, almost stone-like under my hands, but my fingers found worn spots in the wood. I shoved down. The lever groaned a little at first, then obeyed. Something in the wall rattled against the stone. My guess was a counterweight.
     In the middle of the room, the stone circle split into 'leaves' and spiraled open. Overhead, the chains on the ceiling lowered the ancient wooden beam. Somewhere out of sight, I knew there had to be a wheelhouse for the chain itself. This place was a lot larger than I thought.
     Meanwhile, in the pit that had opened in the floor, a round platform of stone with a metal frame rose out of the darkness. I pointed to it.
     "Quick! Get on!"
     "What?" Mikasi exclaimed and stepped back from the pit and platform.
     Ki raced over to him and grabbed the inventor by the shoulder to give him a little shake.
     "Trust her! Just go!"
     Mikasi raced to the platform with Nicodemus right beside him. Ki was fast behind him.
     "Hopefully, they'll take the easy route and head out one of the doors up here," Ki mused.
     "They won't have a choice," I said, then shoved my lever sideways.
     The ancient wood resisted at first, then gave with a sharp crack as it broke free. Immediately, the counterweight in the wall rumbled back into place with a scrape of metal against stone. Footsteps down the hallway from the entrance broke into a run.
     "Tela! Run!"
     Ki didn't have to tell me twice.
     The instant that counterweight fell, both platform and stone circle moved. The platform holding Ki, Mikasi, and Nicodemus lowered quickly, while the stone circle started to close over them.
     I ran. It was only a few paces away, but it could have been Ancient Order kilometers. A lot of them. I was only partway there when two crossbow bolts sang past, with one almost catching my shirt. I ducked out of instinct and nearly stumbled.
     On my left by the door, two Crimson Company crossbowmen were already reloading. From the hallway, three swordsmen spilled into the room, followed by Vincent Vargas and Baron Marius. The swordsmen ran right for me. But I had no plans to wait for them.
     “It’s her! That Windtracer! Stop her!”
     “Tela! Come on!” Ki shouted at me.
     I tossed the broken piece of lever at the swordsmen before I turned to race for the pit. There was a yelp and more than a little swearing, followed by a clatter of wood on stone. No idea who I hit. I just hoped it slowed them down a little.
     The stone circle was almost closed when I reached it. There was barely enough room for me. I clutched my bag and jumped into the hole.
     While I fell, I glimpsed the other side of the room. Neither the Crimson Company nor Baron Marius looked happy. Except maybe Vargas. I thought I saw him smirk a little as I dropped out of sight.
    I hit the platform below me hard, before I dropped to one knee. Above us, the stone leaves circled shut with a solid sound of heavy stones slammed together. Just like that, everything went almost silent. No Crimson Company, cobwebs, ghosts, or the ruins above. It was just us, a Sun Orb, a rattling metal-framed stone platform, and a long way down to darkness.
     At least, that's what we thought.

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