Sunday, 29 July 2018

Episode CXCVIII -The Light in the Darkness

            “A question I could well ask you, Ellis Graves,” Nadiyya replied, punctuating each syllable with little thrusting gestures from the knife in her right hand, “It has been a long time since you left me for dead in Shadedstreams, has it not?”

                “I… I actually don’t remember a lot about that, Nadiyya, I’m sorry,” he replied, shamefaced, “I was kind of in a daze for a long time afterwards.”

                “A convenient excuse, I’m sure.”

                “No, really,” Siren interjected, “it was all a kind of existential crisis, really, stemming from his discovery – thanks to your father, I believe – that he is, in fact, an hypostatick construct created by Doctor Rosetta Barkham of the Noble Society of Hypostatick Philisophers to recreate the Breakthrough.  Something like that, anyway.”

                “It’s more common than you’d think,” added Annabella with knowing grin.

                “What are you talking about?  And who are you two anyway?  And does any of it excuse the fact that I was left in the rubble of my father’s palace for days before they dug me out and by then you were all long gone, you and your ‘Former Baron’.”

                “I really am sorry, Nadiyya, but I honestly don’t remember anything for weeks after your father opened the way for Lakhma to come through.  I’m not even sure how we escaped.”

                “Is this why you followed us all the way here?” asked Siren.


                “I wasn’t following anyone here,” Nadiyya replied sharply, “well, not to Noondeep, anyway.  I’m here for my own reasons, but I saw Ellis walk by and couldn’t resist the opportunity to finally get some answers and reparation for how I was treated.”

                “Really sorry,” Ellis said with a sigh, “I am really sorry, but I’m just going to have to keep disappointing you on that front.”

                “Then why are you here, Nadiyya,” Annabella asked, “if you don’t mind me bringing the conversation back around full circle.”

                “I was sent by my uncle to look into some ruins that are supposed to be here somewhere.”

                “Why did he want you to find them?” Siren asked, guarded.

                “He thinks they will prove to be important soon, something about ancient races and blah, blah, blah.  You know how these Hypostatick Philosophy types get.”

                “Don’t we just,” muttered Ellis.  “It may seem like an astonishing coincidence, but we’re here for the exact same reason.  The Former Baron sent us!“ he finished before flinching as Nadiyya gestured angrily with her knife once more.

                “Okay, okay,” she said, finally sheathing the blade, “then I suppose we had better start again, on the right footing this time.”

                “Wonderful,” Siren said with forced cheer, “well, I already know your name-“

                “I imagine it is easier to keep up with events when you aren’t buried thirty feet beneath the rubble of your former home.”

                “-and you are well acquainted with Ellis, clearly, so it’s just myself and Annabella here you need to be introduced to.  My name is Siren.  I’m a pirate, of sorts.”

                “And I’m another construct.  Tiberius had me created to summon Lakhma.  Sorry about that, by the way.”

                Nadiyya rolled her eyes.  “Whatever,” she said, “I’m not sure I’m interested anyway.”

                Annabella frowned.

                “Look,” Ellis said, trying to regain control of the conversation, yet again, “if these ruins are as important as your uncle and our Former Baron seem to think they are, shouldn’t we start investigating them?”

                “I suppose so,” Nadiyya said with a sigh, “but I’ll lead the way.”  And with that she stepped around Siren and began to walk on down the hill into the darkness.

                “Is she always like that?”  Annabella asked.

                Ellis pulled a face and was about to speak when Siren interrupted, “I imagine she’s usually much, much worse…”


                The long, slow slope was neither warmer nor more inviting now that they had an extra companion and Ellis found himself shivering more and more as they progressed deeper into the dark of the canyon.  He was not alone in this.  Annabella, in particular, seemed to be struggling with the temperature and Ellis thought he ought to be handing her his top or something, except that he thought he rather needed it himself.

                He was still puzzling over this quandary of chivalry when he heard Nadiyya hum with satisfaction just up ahead.

                “Have you found something?” Siren called.

                “Yes,” Nadiyya replied.

                Ellis was squinting into the gloom, unable to see anything before them but the rock wall of the canyon.  He couldn’t even make out Nadiyya’s silhouette against it.

                “I think this must be it,” Nadiyya called back.

                Still, Ellis could see nothing out of the ordinary and then, without warning, the darkness seemed to end, just like the path they were walking on, with a huge wall of rock.

                “It’s a dead end,” he said sorrowfully.

                “No, it isn’t,” Nadiyya replied.  He could barely make her out even though she was standing only a few feet away, but her voice was as sharp and clear as ever.  “Try looking!”

                Ellis was trying, but his dark-adapted vision just wasn’t very well adapted to the dark.

                Annabella, on the other hand, who had spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time since her creation in the dark tunnels below Fracture, could see it clearly.

                “Oh my!” she said, and Ellis found himself jealous of the awe he could hear in her voice.

                “Yes, this is it alright,” Siren agreed and Ellis turned in the direction of her voice to give her a pointed, and completely invisible stare.

                “You too?” he asked.  “What am I missing?”

                Suddenly he felt Siren’s soft, strong hands on his own, pulling him forward, towards the wall, then making him reach out to touch it.  He understood at once.

                The wall wasn’t make out of the rough reddish rock of the canyon at all, but something smoother, colder, almost like metal and yet still in some way stone-like.  It was also intricately carved, such that running ones fingers over it was almost like reading braille.  If it was the ruins they sought, then it was many thousands of years old, and yet the carved edges under Ellis’ fingertips were sharp and crisp as if they had been created only yesterday.

                “What is this place?” he asked, awestruck at last.

                “Our destination,” Nadiyya replied, “only now we have to find a way inside it.”

                “It can’t be that difficult,” Siren said, feeling along the wall.  “These ruins have admitted explorers before, after all.”

                “Yeah, and I’m sure the Former Baron’s books mentioned how to get in,” Ellis added bitterly, “but I don’t recall him saying anything about it.”

                “It’s probably just finding the right carving to depress or a hidden lever or something,” Nadiyya said as she exerted herself across more and more of the surface of the dark wall.

                “Or we could just go through this archway,” Annabella said cheerfully.

                Ellis turned to the sound of her voice.  He could hear Siren and Nadiyya stop what they were doing also.

                “I mean, really, it’s right here.  Can’t you see it?”

                Ellis couldn’t, but then, nor could he see Annabella.

                “Uh, no,” came Siren’s voice, uncharacteristically uncertain.

                “Just follow the sound of my voice, then,” Annabella conceded, before beginning to hum a gentle, if slightly eerie, melody.

                Ellis adjusted the direction he was facing to meet Annabella’s song, then took a couple of steps forwards before brushing against Siren who was doing exactly the same thing.

                “Oh, you first,” he said, but Siren just gripped his hand and they walked forward together until Annabella emerged from the gloom, an arch-shaped patched of darker darkness just behind her.

                Nadiyya stepped up beside them.

                “Well spotted,” she said, sounding genuinely impressed.  “I think you’ve just saved us a good half hour of searching!”

                Annabella shrugged, but Ellis could tell she was really pleased.

                It was Nadiyya who led the way, of course.  She stepped through the archway with her usual imperious confidence, leaving Ellis, Siren and Annabella to follow in her icy wake.  The arch led into a long tunnel, which, without the thin strip of sky illuminating it from above was dark enough that even Annabella had to feel her way along with her hands on the wall.  It wasn’t a straight tunnel but curved wildly, as if following the course of something writhing and coiling its way through the rock.

The curves were so peculiar, so unpredictable, that Ellis worried they might soon be lost.  What if there were side tunnels they were missing?  What if the whole thing were some impossible complex labyrinth?  Even as these thoughts were starting to make him feel anxious and claustrophobic in the dark, however, they rounded another bend and saw a faint light ahead.

                “We’re nearly there,” Nadiyya said excitedly and, able to see a little more, she picked up the pace.

                Soon it was light enough to move confidently without feeling the walls and soon after that they rounded another bend and found the source of the light shining into the tunnel from the end of a long, uncharacteristically straight section.

                “It almost looks like daylight,” Annabella observed and Ellis could only agree, but it was not searing daylight of the equatorial divide.  It seemed more like the cold, harsh light of an overcast Tuesday in England.

                “Where could it be coming from?” Siren asked, but no answer was forthcoming from any of them until they reached the end of the tunnel and saw the city spread out before them beneath a brilliant ceiling of crystalline sky.

                To Ellis it was all too strange and yet too strangely familiar.  Everywhere he looked there were geometries which should not be, lights which seemed to shine from beyond the very reality that housed them.  All was still and yet everything seemed fraught with a furious blurred motion like a passing train caught on a low-quality camera.

                “What… what even is this?” he asked.

                And then one of the frozen blurred shapes rushed towards them, it’s non-Euclidean form making Ellis’ head ache as he tried to stare at it.  It slid to an endless stop before them and a cold, hard voice spoke from within.

                “Who dares enter Gihana?  Visitors are not welcome here.”

                All across the ‘city’ other shapes began to slide from eternal restless stillness into a shadow of their true movements, like the mechanism of a frozen clock come to life, and all their angles veered towards the four standing at the mouth of tunnel and machine-shape which spoke to them.

                “You will be eliminated,” it said, “just like the others.”




2 comments:

  1. Brilliant episode. Some utterly fantastic lines, such as " Ellis was trying, but his dark-adapted vision just wasn’t very well adapted to the dark." & “It almost looks like daylight,” Annabella observed and Ellis could only agree, but it was not searing daylight of the equatorial divide. It seemed more like the cold, harsh light of an overcast Tuesday in England." I much enjoyed and thought you did quite a good job of writing this after such a...gap. Some good writing to that effect. ;)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. I wasn't sure it was a stellar episode to start off a new regime, but it was what it had to be, really. I'm hoping the next episode, of which I've just written the first 970 words, will be a bit more exciting.

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