Solkaris: The Narrative - Part Five
One of the first obstacles we stumbled across was another
great puzzle wall, and Sarina tackled it with gusto. I'm sure that after all that
bodywork she was more than happy to get her mathematical brain up and functioning
properly again. Despite how many times she may have smashed her head back there,
she seemed untouched by it. I wish I could say the same. I knew headaches would
never feel the same again, pathetic throbs in my head compared with the pounding
going on in my noggin' then.
I stood back (with Sibil always on my shoulder)
and watched with fascination as she quickly skimmed the hieroglyphics in the
margin of the wall.
Horuses like the morning sun;
Selkets hide from danger;
Crack the code and you may pass;
Solve my riddle, stranger.
In the center of the wall was a sun disk, lines
radiating from it, riddled with ancient symbols long lost to the knowledge of
modern Sakhmetians. Two Horus figures stood on either side of it, facing away,
their stone backs heralding the dawn. At their feet were three smaller disks,
each with a Selket engraved upon it, facing upwards, looking up at the great
talons of the birds. It was complete befuddlement to me, but to the Aisha archaeologist
it was as easy as a two-piece jigsaw.
Pushing gently against each Horus, she snapped
them around so that they faced the stone sun, their hard eyes looking into its
sandy rays. Then she clicked the Selket disks around-like I had done on the
Gebmid's second entrance-until they were upside down and facing our feet in
an act of burrowing beneath the warm, enveloping sands of the desert.
At first the door made no attempt to move; it
didn't even seem to realize its riddle had been cracked, its puzzle solved.
I thought then we were truly done for, and then that familiar shaking rattled
down the corridor, and fragments of roof clattered down on our heads, showering
us with sand. Through the cascade of grit pouring down my fringe I saw the wall
lifting up into the darkness of the ceiling. Finally, the shaking stopped, the
doorway was clear, and we moved on, shaking dust and sand from our clothes.
"Gah!" I coughed and spluttered, spitting mouthfuls
of the stuff into the sand, "The first thing I do when I get back up, is take
a good bath!"
Sarina laughed and agreed.
"Don't you think that maybe the ancient Sakhmetians
could've built this thing so that it didn't sound like it was going to crash
down on you every time a door opens? Couldn't they…grease it or something?"
"It's been hundreds of years since anyone's last
been in here…" Sarina said. "Hundreds of years since the doors have even been
opened, and we did it! Our first go and we made it into Sutek's treasury, his
tomb. We've seen him…"
"A gold mask of him, Sarina, I would hate to
see the state of him now." I shuddered at the thought.
Suddenly she stopped, frozen in her tracks. I
almost bumped into her, but swerved neatly to the side and found myself teetering
at the edge of a perilous drop down a deep chasm. My heart skipped a beat. Not
more endless drops!
My heart skipped two beats as I saw how it was
we were expected to cross the gaping abyss. Small rock platforms dotted the
blackness, like solid stepping stones in a pool of darkness. Suspended by the
thinnest neck of rock imaginable, like crumbling pillars, well worn with age,
the platforms may as well have been suspended in midair. It looked like we were
going to have to hop our way out of this one and I cast a worried glance at
Sarina, at her stubby paws and shorter legs. I might be able to cross this easily;
after all, I was an agile Zafara, my skills honed to a point from my life of
lawbreaking and looting. It was her I was concerned for. An Aisha; an archaeologist…by
the looks of it this was the first adventure she'd ever embarked on.
"Looks like we're going to have to leap across!"
Sarina gasped after a while, breaking the heavy silence between us. We could
both see that the rope was not going to reach the other side.
I shooed Sibil off my shoulder and she flapped
across to the other end of the abyss. I didn't need the additional weight if
I was to cross this alive.
Sarina gave me a nervous look.
There was nothing else to do. Either we cross
this obstacle or never get out at all.
"You first," I added hastily. She jumped in surprise,
more than slightly taken aback.
"What? Why me?" she snapped, perhaps a little
"Because you're the archaeologist here! And…
come on!" I gestured helplessly at her stubby feet. "You might not be a Chia
(thank Donna for that!) but you're… you're… an Aisha and what with your flouncy
body build you'll never be able to leap fast enough for both of us to cross.
Those platforms will probably crumble under contact, we're going to need to
be fast to get us both across."
"And what makes you think you'll be any better?"
she huffed moodily. I could tell she already knew the answer, though, and she
rattled on before I could make my stubborn comeback. "Just because I may not
be a thief like you doesn't mean I'm not as swift! You may be quick between
the ears, but I'm also fast when need be! I've had my share of training. I was
expecting some trouble to amble along when I traveled Neopia, I've come prepared.
Besides…" Her voice trailed off as she looked down into the black depths of
the abyss. I could tell she was afraid. So was I; I was completely mortified
by the drop. I may have had the courage to leap from rooftop to rooftop in Sakhmet,
but there is a certain comfort in knowing what lies beneath you as you jump!
"Oh, just go!" she whined, "or we'll never get
out of here!"
For probably the first time in my life, I backed
down and bent to her needs. Hardly daring to look down, I focused on my goal,
the ledge on the other side of the chasm, shrouded from view behind its thick
veil of gloom.
"Make sure to come straight after me, I won't
stop till I'm at the other side," I hissed at her. She made no reply, and I
bounded off the ridge.
My feet met solid stone, caked in slippery sand,
but I hardly had time to register the fact that I had made it to the first platform.
Already I could feel the first vibrations in my feet as the rock beneath me
cracked and murmured in agony at my additional weight, and I quickly straightened
and sprang into nothingness again. I was aware of Sarina hurtling after me,
the glow from the torch barely illuminating my path. The platforms were mismatched
and all over the place, and I constantly found myself swiveling from right,
to left, to straight, to left again and back to right, my feet moving before
my brain could react. It was a moment of dire terror: the empty feeling in my
gut as I soared over death itself, the tightness in my throat as I hardly dared
to breathe, the pressure in my chest as my whole body seemed to stop functioning
properly. Suddenly I was controlled by my feet and my desperate impulse to stay
alive! I couldn't even hear my heart hammering away anymore, the whole treacherous
crossing was a suffocating silence like none I had ever known before, and I
pray I'll never have to know again.
And then, almost as suddenly as we had abandoned
safety, we found it again. We found comfort in the dangerously thin ledge beneath
our feet at the other side, in our shaking bodies hugging the wall to keep from
plummeting. Sibil swooped down to me gratefully and we all hugged each other
in relief. We hardly even seemed to recognize the perilous drop just to the
right of us as we huddled away from the abyss, now empty and impassable, the
rock platforms having returned to the sand whence they came.
After a while the path widened, but the gaping
drop remained a casual threat. Above us stalactites had begun to form but were
dry and cracked and crumbling with age. There was no water here, and suddenly
I realized just how thirsty I was. As if reading my thoughts, Sarina took a
flask from her backpack and handed it to me. I uncorked it without question
and gulped down a few mouthfuls of the odorless liquid. It was water, and it
had never tasted so delicious.
"You always come prepared," I mumbled, before
quenching more of my insatiable thirst.
"Of course." She almost seemed to boast. "What
did I tell you?"
"To cross first," I answered stubbornly. As an
afterthought, I added, "Why did you want me to go first? I would've thought
any Neopian would've put their safety before a thief's."
She muttered something quietly about thieves
being so persistent and walked on without answering. She wasn't watching where
she was going and ended up stepping on an outcrop not well supported. Sand sifted
over the edge as the cliff beneath her feet cracked away. Everything seemed
to happen at once. A scream ripped free of her throat, Sibil screeched in alarm,
I whipped the rope out to a stalactite and coiled it securely around its rough
sides and grabbed her outstretched paw. The water flask flew from my arms, clattering
down the sides of the cliff and disappearing forever. For a spilt second she
just hung there, one paw digging into the cliff side, the other paw caught in
my viselike grip. Her sudden weight made my shoulder and arm groan in silent
protest, but I dug my heels into the grit and hauled her up. Panting, I uncoiled
the rope and handed it back to her.
"You owe me one," I gasped.
It took us only a moment to recover. We both
felt it; we all felt it; Sibil too. The sweet tingle of freedom nearby zigzagged
through our bodies and we hardly wasted any time. Ahead of us was another claustrophobic
passage, but we felt warmth and heat coming from it.
Surely the desert! I thought.
We pressed on, sprinting down the tight capillary
as if mummies themselves were chasing us. And then, suddenly, the corridor stopped
abruptly and I almost flung myself into the hands of death itself.
To be continued...