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Pratima Gets A Big Surprise

Dintin May 9th, 2015 (edited) 359 Never
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  1.     The ruin was a massive thing. It seemed as if the earth itself had been ripped away by some great hand, a city carved into the resulting cliff face. It was split down the middle by a broad crack which ran from the sandy stone floor Pratima and her friend stood upon all the way up to the top of the cliff face, easily three hundred feet above them. On either side the crack was flanked by buildings carved from stone, their blocky shapes protruding from the rock wall and dotted with the thin slits of windows.
  2.  
  3.     Pratima let out a long, low whistle at the sight of the ruin they intended to delve. "What do you think this place was, before the collapse?"
  4.  
  5.     Her companion, a young woman approaching her sixtieth year in the resplendent gold and rich purple of a Grandmaster Vatis, approached the great crack in the cliff face, speaking absentmindedly while she focused on some eroded image carved into the wall. "It was a fortress, meant to defend El-Amin from foreign invaders. It's connected to a series of tunnels, now collapsed on order of the Shah due to the number of bandits using them to launch raids on trade caravans, which allowed the soldiers stationed here to harry enemy supply lines with impunity."
  6.  
  7.     Pratima frowned, folding her arms moodily in front of her chest. "How do you know so much about this place, Aisha? I thought it was supposed to be sealed off and forgotten."
  8.  
  9.     Aisha grinned mischievously, turning her attention fully to Pratima. "There is seldom little in the whole of the Shahdom off limits to a Grandmistress. I did some research on my own, and found some records from when this fort was still garrisoned. Did you know they struck a vein of gold whilst excavating the barracks? It's since been mined out, but I'm hoping we might find a Hiacian mint, or perhaps raw ore which they never bothered to process. Now, shall we enter?"
  10.  
  11.     Pratima nodded, following hesitantly as Aisha marched confidently into the gloom of the ancient fortress. The crack which split the cliff face soon grew pitch dark, but Pratima had come prepared. Retrieving a torch from her pack she concentrated and channeled her vys, a burst of light momentarily blinding her. She was left with flame twisting lazily at the end of her torch, though it took more than she'd like to admit out of her.
  12.  
  13.     The two women advanced slowly, the walls which surrounded them becoming increasingly ornate as they walked further and further on. The carvings which Aisha had spotted near the entrance, faded almost beyond recognition, grew more prominent the further into the tunnel the two went. The flickering torchlight danced across ancient scenes of battle, revealing tales of long forgotten triumphs etched into the stone. As they neared the end of the chamber they come to a flat wall, with a branching path stretching in either direction. Illuminated by the light of a torch were the remnants of a fresco. Once the painting would have been richly colored, but now it was faded and crumbling.
  14.  
  15.     Depicted on the wall was once a sprawling scene of battle. What little remained revealed a horned man with black skin kneeling before a pale human woman draped in elaborate robes seemingly woven from the material of the sky itself. Fire licked at the flesh of the kneeling figure, swords and spears stabbed into the ground surrounding him. In the background soldiers struggled valiantly against one another while a massive worm-like figure burrowed into the ground.
  16.  
  17.     Aisha ran her fingers reverently across the fresco's surface. "This fortress housed a barracks of Children who fought valiantly in the Third Siege of Eshnuk. They died almost to a man, yet never did their morale waver. These sorts of frescoes are common in commemoration of the siege."
  18.  
  19.     Pratima piped up, her confusion evident. "Why is he kneeling to a human of all things? If it was a victory for Hiacia, should it not be the woman kneeling to the Child? What of the figures in the background, they too have horns. I see no humans depicted besides the woman."
  20.  
  21.     Aisha merely shrugged, her voice growing hesitant. "There's been a fair amount of debate about the exact meaning of these paintings among Vatis. Most agree that the conflict depicted is a revolt carried out by the Children of Surya to overthrow a general who sought to surrender. You can faintly see the white flag in the background set aflame." She gestured to where, in the background, there was indeed a white flag burning. It almost seemed to melt into the fabric of the woman's dress.
  22.  
  23.     Aisha began to pace along the wall, running her fingers slowly across the crumbling plaster. "The two central figures are believed to be the general in command of the fortress, the kneeling Child, and a human goddess, Alea. We're not exactly sure when the tradition began of depicting the general and all the soldiers as Children when in fact the Children of Surya made up only a small portion of the army. The battle itself took place five hundred years before the Fall, and we don't have any surviving examples from that time, so we're left with speculation."
  24.  
  25.     Pratima stared at the fresco, transfixed, until Aisha's echoing footsteps drew her attention back to her task. She tore herself away from the painting set off at a brisk walk to catch up with her friend, the temperature growing markedly cooler the further in the two women ventured. Pratima was beginning to regret not wearing something heavier than her loose silken robes when they finally reached a dead end. Where once there had obviously been a doorway, now there was naught but a flat stone slab. Aisha stepped forward and pressed her hand against the stone. There was a burst of vys, and in an instant the stone had melted away. All that remained of the barrier was a pile of sand.
  26.  
  27.     Immediately the women were assaulted by a blast of cold, stale air. The chill seeped into their bones, bringing with it the stench of rot and decay, making it inordinately difficult just to draw breath. Her paranoia getting the better of her, Pratima drew her sabre and took the lead. She held her torch out before her as though its light would shield her from whatever lurked in the gloom, her knuckles white around its tapered wooden end. Her companion, rather than relying upon blade or bow, drew sand from the pile which sat in the doorway and let it diffuse through the air around her, a haze of debris she could compress into a deadly projectile or a impenetrable shield at a moment's notice.
  28.  
  29.     They advanced down the narrow hall with all the necessary caution, pausing at any doorway they passed to search the rooms beyond for loot. Step by step, minute by minute, and hour by hour they cleared the fortress of its valuables, quickly accumulating a bounty of forgotten silver coins, mundane artifacts, and discarded personal effects. Nothing of particular value, but there was still much to explore and Pratima at least remained optimistic, even if Aisha grew steadily less enthused with their mission.
  30.  
  31.     It was as they rounded a corner at the end of a hall, one of many they'd already explored, that they encountered something odd. The floor had collapsed, and bellow them yawned a black chasm. The stench of death hung heavy in the air and Pratima, in her curiosity, held her torch closer to the hole. Revealed some twenty or thirty feet below was a pile of rotted flesh which had dissolved over the long years into a semi-gelatinous mass of bloated corpses. Men and women both found their final resting place amongst the pile. Their skin, grown waxy and pale, seemed ready at a moment's notice to slough off their bones.
  32.  
  33.     She postulated that only the stagnancy of the ruin preserved these poor, unfortunate souls to any degree at all. Though, it was indeed odd that, rather than the years turning flesh to dust and pulling what little remains of flesh taught against their bones, they were still bloated and watery. They seemed far more recently dead than they really ought to be.
  34.  
  35.     Pratima ultimately turned away from the gruesome sight, prepared to move on, but her companion was decidedly less squeamish. Snatching the torch from her friend, Aisha laid down flat against the floor and stuck her arm through the hole. The firelight danced across the metallic surface of a smelter, the steel molds still stacked against the right wall. A Hiacian mint, and by the looks of it with the proper materials it could once again produce coins.
  36.  
  37.     Not a word was spoken between the two as Aisha, careful to avoid weakening any one area enough to cause a collapse, drew from the walls and floors to create a stairwell down to the bottom of the hole. A stairwell which conveniently avoided the pile of rot. Pratima drew her shirt up to cover her mouth and nose in the hopes of warding off the stench, but the thin garment did little. Seeking to put some distance between herself and the corpses and trailed towards the only doorway in the room, leading into a long hallway with no immediately apparent end. Shoving her torch into the black revealed only more stone, trailing off beyond the light of the flame.
  38.  
  39.     Aisha was far too absorbed in a stack of crates piled in the back of the room to care much for her surroundings. Sand pulled itself slowly from the floor, wedging itself beneath the lid of the nearest crate before solidifying and jerking backwards, popping out the nails that sealed the crate with a high pitched whine. This process repeated itself, over and over, revealing empty crate after empty crate. The Vatis was not deterred, she did not despair, for if even one crate contained a shipment of silver or gold coins they would both walk away from this quite rich.
  40.  
  41.     Minutes passed, and the number of unopened crates steadily dwindled. Pratima stared into the void unworried that the void may be staring back, while her friend so greedily ransacked the home of their ancestors. Confident that Aisha faced no threats, and eager to escape the smell of rot that filled the mint, Pratima decided to explore a little further into the darkened hallway in the hopes of finding something of interest. She doesn't even make it fifty feet in before something catches her eye. Down a previously unseen path, there was a light. It was a faint blue glow, emanating from whatever lied just past the next turn.
  42.  
  43.     Her curiosity won out over her better judgement and, throwing caution to the wind, she plodded happily down the hallway in search of the source of this strange glow. Unfortunately, her passage did not go unnoticed. A voiced called out in a dry, rasping voice as she passed a doorway. "Girl! Come here a moment! Please, please, I beg. Don't leave me trapped here!"
  44.  
  45.     Had she been a more skeptical sort, she might have questioned just how a man could have gotten himself trapped in a sealed ruin without leaving any sign of his entry. She might ask herself how he survived down here, or what he was doing so deep in the ruin to begin with, having not even disturbed the crates in the mint. Pratima was not a skeptical sort, and she did not ask herself these questions.
  46.  
  47.     She turned, and with insufficient caution passed through the doorway from which she'd heard the voice. The light of her torch danced across all manner of strange devices, massive bundles of cords all feeding into the apparatus in the center of the room. She did not concern herself with these relics, but rather with the man contained within.
  48.  
  49.     His skin was the same waxy sort of pale grey as the corpses piled beneath the collapsed ceiling. His eyes shined the same soft blue as whatever glowed beyond the bend in the hall. He was dressed in strange clothes cut in a style she was unfamiliar with, all manner of heavy golden jewelry dangling around his neck. A man of wealth and means, and judging by the white creeping through his hair, quite an old one at that. Pratima did not question these things, she had seen far stranger in her twenty short years on this Earth. The Vatis District alone was home to a dozen oddities more extreme than glowing eyes and pale skin.
  50.  
  51.     The man smiled warmly from within his prison, though shying away from the light of her torch, and spoke with all the relief one might expect a trapped man to possess upon his rescue. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to see another living face, this place seems home to naught but corpses." Pulling himself up to the bars of his prison he reached through, pointing to a console against the right wall. "I think you should be able to free me from this accursed contraption there."
  52.  
  53.     "How did you manage to get trapped in there, and how long have you been down here? This place seems as though it hasn't been disturbed since it was sealed." She asked, whilst moving towards the console and inspecting its controls. There was, unfortunately, no clearly labeled 'off' button, but there was an intricately carved rod made from the carapace of a palaka worm shoved into a receptacle on the right. To her, it seemed the logical source of the console's power.
  54.  
  55.     "It was my own foolishness that trapped me here." The man admitted. "I thought I could rely on my friends, but it seems they failed me when I needed them most. I've been rotting here ever since." The warmth left him, his expression shifting to one of cold indifference as Pratima pulled the carved rod free and the walls of his prison fell away. He stood, for the first time in long time, and stretched his legs as well as he was able. To move again felt strange, but his muscles had not atrophied. It would merely take some getting used to.
  56.  
  57.     The strange man gestured for Pratima to follow as he almost seemed to glide towards the door. "Come with me," He instructed, his tone indicating it was less a request, and more a command. "I've something to show you. A thanks, since you freed me. The treasure in the next room is guarded by powerful enchantments, but before I was trapped here I learned a way past them."
  58.  
  59.     Intrigued by the prospect of loot and rather curious about the stranger, she obliged him. The man led her down the hall and around the corner, into an expansive chamber housing what might best be described as an altar, or shrine. Soft blue light spilled from a ring of fire surrounding a central platform separated from the rest of the room by a narrow chasm. The chasm seemed far too small to prove any real hindrance to anyone, but judging by the way the sand flowed slowly away from the walls there was more at work here than a moat of fire.
  60.  
  61.     The man stepped forward confidently, even as his robes started to whip around him with an unnatural intensity, drawn towards the pit surrounding the shrine. Pratima did not bother to inspect the carvings on the wall, and the scenes of death as well as torment depicted there-in. She did not notice the shattered corpse against the wall opposite her. She did not even give much thought to the face of Surya staring back at her, carved flames spewing from his stone maw as a man drives a sword through his gut just above.
  62.  
  63.     She did not see these warnings, so transfixed on the man walking towards what she thought was certain demise. However, he stepped cleanly across the wall of flame, his form obscured on the other side, and a moment later the flames died. The suction stopped. The sand no longer spilled into the depths of the chasm below. Instead the man stood next to the altar, above which levitated two perfectly spherical gemstones. It was less than clear how exactly the man had managed to deactivate the barrier, let alone pass through it unharmed.
  64.  
  65.     Yet, as he flourished his hand towards the two gems hovering in orbit of one another, that didn't seem quite so important. "Yours." He intoned dramatically. "A thanks, for rescuing me."
  66.  
  67.     Pratima stepped towards the altar, her vision narrowing until nothing but she and the stones existed. Reaching out, the man slapped her hands away. "Both at once, lest you activate the safeguard." He scolded her.
  68.  
  69.     She apologized sheepishly and reached forward again, this time with both hands. As she grasped the gemstones pain shot through her arms like lightning, her vision going black. When next she was aware of herself, she was laying on the floor by herself. The man had vanished, and with no small amount of horror she realized that the gems were gone. Her concerns that it had all just been some sort of ploy to trick her into activating a trap were assuaged when she realized that, rather than the man running off with the treasure, the gems had burned their way into her palms. They seemed almost rooted there, and as much as she tried she couldn't remove them.
  70.  
  71.     {Do not worry, little one.} The voice of the man she'd freed drifted through Pratima's thoughts, his words honey sweet. {I will protect you now. I will make you strong.}
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