The Dark Device, Chapter 29
Amates 31, 1277. Finding new lows to our highs.
The marble gray platform trembled like it might shake off its support chains. Fortunately, the rusted chains held on while they lowered us down in a light cloud of ancient dust. But the clank and rattle were bad enough to wake the dead, if any were nearby. I hoped not.
I landed harder on the platform than I wanted to after my dive through the door above. It hadn’t been a long drop, but it was enough to rattle my joints. Worst of all was the leg cramp when I stood up. Ki caught me before I fell, then helped me over to a rusted metal railing. I clutched at the ancient metal while my calf squeezed in painful knots.
There was this stale scent to the air like old mildew. Not enough to steal my breath, just ruin my nose for a bit. That seemed odd, since I expected more grit and dust. But it wasn’t odd enough to worry about. I chalked the smell up to an underground stream while I tried to ignore the stench.
The stone platform we rode on was a set of smooth, interconnected marble tiles, like the ones on the floor above. Together they formed a large stone circle about fifteen nindel, or Ancient Order meters, across. I was more convinced than ever that the Ancient Order used this as a ferry system. A way to move people and cargo between the surface and the Deepland realms.
But where underground? I had no idea, since we didn’t have much light. There was my Sun Orb, of course. It pushed the darkness back five or six nindel past the edge of the platform, enough to know this was an enormous cavern. But luckily, it wasn’t the only light around.
The cavern ceiling was alive with drifting waves of soft, glowing smears of purple, blue, and white lights. Those came from odd shaped lumps on the ceiling that I couldn’t quite make out.
It was a colorful display, but not that much brighter than dock lanterns in a light evening fog. The dancing lights reminded me of lightning that jumped between storm clouds.
“Those look like mushrooms,” Ki said while he watched the lights. “Glowing mushrooms.”
He frowned for a few seconds while he rubbed the thumb and fingers on his right hand together.
“I can feel that there’s some magic involved, but not much.” He squinted at the ceiling. “Maybe a touch of wild magic?”
“It’s mostly not,” Mikasi chimed in.
He joined us on our side of the platform while we stared at the ceiling.
“Those are Spindletongue mushrooms,” he said. “I read that Deepland folks cultivated them before the Great Collapse for a kind of street lamp. They used a lot in their cities. That glow?” Mikasi shrugged. “They do that in the dark when air moves over them. Supposedly they give off a little Deeplands energy, but not enough to turn you into a purple goo or anything. If you tie enough of the small ones together, they might make a good lantern. A gloomy one, but enough to see where you’re going.”
I nodded, lost in a cauldron of dark thoughts about Long Deep, the Deeplands, and us heading into the jaws of that danger. The Deeplands itself was a great way to get killed in a thousand different ways. Abominations oozing through tunnel walls, colorful wild magic fog glowing off rocks and plants that might twist a person inside out. I shuddered, as did the platform under our feet while we descended.
Ki tapped me on the shoulder, which dragged me out of my thoughts.
“We could use some more light. I’d rather we see what’s coming than get surprised by it.” He gestured to the Sun Orb. “Mind if I use some of that?”
I held out the Sub Orb in his direction.
Ki scooped his hand through the air next to the Sun Orb and dragged away a little of the light. It flowed around his fingers like water scooped out of a bucket. Using what didn’t drain away back to the orb, Ki pulled the light into long, glowing strands. In no time, he had a bundle of glowing ‘yarn’ drooped over his hand. That he pulled taught, then literally finger-knitted his spell.
It was the primary way he cast any spell. He worked fast, but it still it took him a little under a minute to finish. Once he did, there was a flash of light, then the spell spread its wings and leaped into the air. Ki’s creation flew in a slow circle over our heads, casting light all around us.
“A bird?” Mikasi asked, watching the spell with keen interest.
“Parrot,” Ki corrected him, then shrugged. “I like parrots.”
I shook my head with a thin smile. The darkness down here wasn’t that bad for me. Whatever Odro had done when he healed my eyes let me see better in the dark than before. But that didn’t mean I could see clearly in pitch darkness. We all needed to see where we were going, and now there was suddenly a lot to see.
The view was incredible, and I almost forgot our lives were in danger. No one spoke right away. All we did was stare at the ruins in front of us and everything around them.
“It’s a giant underground lake!” Mikasi exclaimed while he peered over the railing. “There are little islands down there. I think some have buildings on them surrounded by some giant Spindletongue clumps. It looks like a small fishing port.”
“Never mind that. Look out and up,” Ki said in a hushed tone.
He pointed at the stalactites on the cavern ceiling. The smallest was the size of a building, but the largest could have held an entire town. From the looks of it, I think it once did.
They were like polished stone fingers that stretched for the dark waters below. Light from the Spindletongues and the flicker of our own light danced off smooth stones of blues, greens, and browns. Windows with ornate frames lined the stalactites in orderly lines. Water spouts carved into the stone directed water to where it would help the stalactite grow but not damage the living spaces. Suspension bridges were everywhere.
“It’s an entire settlement carved out of those small mountain sized stalactites with suspended bridges connecting them together.” He squinted. “I think there are more platforms like this one, but I don’t see any chains to raise and lower them. But still, it’s an entire town. Maybe a small city.”
I pulled the journal from my shoulder bag. The view was breathtaking, but I realized it was also the missing puzzle piece I didn’t know I needed. After I flipped open to the map of the Long Deep ruins and the surroundings, everything felt like it slid into place.
“Hello, Long Deep,” I said while I tapped the map in my journal.
Ki met my glance.
“Tela, are you sure?”
His eyes cut over to the stalactite city with its sweeping support arches and dark windows like thousands of dead eye sockets. I noticed the tip of his tiefling tail sway with curiosity. It may have been the place where I almost died, and he did die, but that didn’t curb his interest one bit. I was sure a rant about ancient mold out to kill us would come later.
I scowled and shook my weather-beaten journal at him like a floppy bludgeon. Ki raised his eyebrows and held up his hands in defense in response. The tip of his tail curled in silent laughter.
“Fine. It’s Long Deep,” he said. “But last time, how did we miss those rooms, balconies, upside down arches?” He gestured at the nearest stalactite building that loomed out of the darkness. “All of that?”
“Running for our lives,” I replied dryly.
The ancient metal railing complained when I leaned on it.
“All trying to rescue Vargas from his greed and stupidity while running for our lives.”
Ki nodded while he pursed his lips.
“There was that.”
“Flying buttresses,” Mikasi exclaimed, lost in staring at the ruins. “Those are upside down flying buttresses. That’s somehow distributing the weight of the hollowed out stalactites. Brilliant!”
Mikasi lightly tapped the railing with a hand before Ki or myself could reply.
“So, you both have been here before. We know we have to get to the Automatic Crystal before the others do. If you didn’t see it before when you were here, it has to be down in these chambers, yes?” The inventor pointed in excitement to the largest stalactite building that was larger than the rest. “I’d say that one.”
I flipped through my journal, then looked out to where Mikasi pointed. In everything I had dug up on the Crystal, from journals to what Odro taught me, I had nothing more than ‘Long Deep’ for a location. Certainly not an upside down building.
Still, there was something about that idea that rattled around in my head. My gut screamed he was onto something. I raised my eyebrows at Ki, who just shrugged back.
“I suppose it could be. It’s the tallest,” I hesitated, remembering that it’s a stalactite on an enormous cave ceiling, “well, longest of the buildings. That could be the town center.”
Mikasi squinted at the two of us.
“Don’t you see it?” After a second, he shook his head with a small frown, then waved a hand at the upside down building. “Take a good look at those buildings. The architecture, the design and how it flows. I’m no expert, but that isn’t entirely Ancient Order design. Think about those buildings standing right side if they were above ground.”
We tried, or at least I did. I felt like I almost followed what he meant.
When we didn’t reply, Mikasi added, “the Ancient Order weren’t the only ones who designed this. People used to living underground were involved. They had to be.”
The moment Mikasi said that, I understood. I noticed Ki did, too, by his astonished expression.
“The Ancient Order built what was above ground to meet a Deepland city-state that wanted to trade with them.” I tapped my journal against the railing. “If you’re right, that makes the ‘tallest’ stalactite the ‘city spire’.” I glanced down at the underground lake, then back at the largest stalactite. “Or a lighthouse.”
“Where better to put something like an Automatic Crystal if you want a clear field of vision to aim a spell,” Ki added.
I nodded along with the conversation while my thoughts ran like a racehorse.
“That would be why we never found it last time. We explored the Ancient Order side. Those papers we recovered talked a lot about trade goods being moved through the area. We’ve all thought that was to other settlements above ground.”
“Yes!” Mikasi exclaimed with delight. “Exactly! So how do we get there? Or in there?”
Ki shook his head and held up his hands.
“Wait, this is a lot of guesswork. Why wasn’t this in anything the Talabreans wrote about? Their ancestors are from here.”
I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Do you know the name of every town sitting on the Planus continent? I’m doing good to remember when the fruit carts set up each week in Ishnanor.”
“All right, fair enough. So how do we get over there without getting killed by whatever’s living there? Because you know there has to be an entire herd of Deepland abominations sliming their way through those hallways.”
Ki was right. I sighed and tapped the railing with my journal again while I stared at the upside down buildings.
“The bridges and platforms,” I replied. “We’ll use those. That way, we can see where we’re going and know if something is following us. If we head inside, we could get lost. I don’t want to go through that like last time.”
Mikasi frowned as he studied the network of bridges that connected the stalactite buildings.
“Those seem stable enough. Those bridges might even let us get ahead of the baron and the Crimson Company, too. They’ll have to find their way down through the ruins above.”
I closed my journal before I slipped it back inside my shoulder bag.
“That’s a long shot, but I’ll take it. The baron will eventually figure out that using his piece of an Automatic Crystal as a diving rod has that ‘mirror’ effect. By now, he probably has. That could lead him on a pretty direct path to the Automatic Crystal. So we’d better hurry, but keep our eyes out for whatever’s living down here that doesn’t like visitors.”
The platform rattled itself to a bone-jarring stop on one of the sweeping marble bridges. The stone was a bone-white marble carved in an artistic pattern. To me, the whole thing looked like a sculpture of flowing water. A frozen river with a walkway in the middle with ornate guide rails shaped like foam and waves.
A thin layer of dust proved it was ancient. But, there wasn’t any weathering. No cracks from age. Just some worn down stone in the middle from use. The bridge almost looked new. I shook my head. It was another testament to just how much knowledge had been lost since the Great Collapse.
It wasn’t one connected to the ‘central tower’ or lighthouse, but it was close. We just needed to cross this bridge. After that, navigate around a medium-sized stalactite building half the size of a city district, then go onto the bridge to the underground lighthouse itself.
Simple. What could go wrong?
Which were, I knew, famous last words.
As I stepped off the platform onto the marble bridge, Ki put a hand on my arm.
“Will you be all right?”
I blew out a long breath. It didn’t take a lick of the anxiety from my shoulders. I stared for a long time into the face of my oldest and best friend since childhood. The last time we were here, he died. I was luck that I found a way to revive him last time. No one needed to die now. I swore I would shatter that Automatic Crystal into powder first.
“I have to be. We have to be. Otherwise, a lich will get his hands on a relic that could kill a lot of people.”
Windtracer: Adventures in Awldor is a work of pure, unashamed fiction. In fact, it considers itself rather fancy and quite proud of itself. Names of characters, places, events, organizations and locations are all creations of the author’s imagination for this fictitious setting. Any resemblance to persons living, dead, or reanimated is coincidental. The opinions expressed are those of the characters and should not be confused with the author’s, since the characters and the author tend to disagree a lot. Also! Windtracer: Adventures in Awldor is with much respect to Starfarertheta and their work on Awldor. In many ways, this is a sibling of Awldor... which Awldor is the work of Starfarertheta.
Windtracer: Adventures in Awldor is Copyright © 2021 - 2023 CB Ash, also known as Kummer Wolfe. All rights reserved.
Windtracer: Adventures in Awldor is Copyright © 2021 - 2023 CB Ash, also known as Kummer Wolfe. All rights reserved.