(Y6, July 23-24th)
The trio stayed silent in the absolute darkness for a while. But no sound came through the wall. The beating sound of the alarm wasn’t audible. Vantegaard tried to feel his way. A shoulder. An arm. A hand grasping his. Birkathane.
Just behind where he felt Birkathane to be, Quandocor’s whispers came out.
“Probably. We got lucky. Very, very lucky.”
“No, I mean they are. I can’t sense the rest from here because of the walls blocking, but Sense Life and Death tells me Maelia and Vasili at least are dead just behind that wall.”
They all stopped talking and listened, but no sound at all was coming. Only the feeling of materiality under their feet, the press of bodies under hands, and the slowly receding adrenaline was enough to differentiate from the emptiness of Setup.
“Ok. Let’s try to see where we’ve ended.”
Vantegaard felt around in his backpack, finally finding a glow globe that Vasili had handed him “in case”. Glow globes were newbie artificer items, working like supercharged glowsticks from Earth. You shook them, and they started giving light. They were usually brighter than any torch, and unlike glowsticks, you could shake them horizontally rather than vertically to shut them down. Leaving them in the sun for a day was enough to recharge their light for an hour or so.
The place where they were was… weird.
“What the fuck is this?”
They were on a kind of stone ledge, 2m in width, along the wall. Beyond a 20m gap, there was a sloping wall, with a ledge. Looking down, Vantegaard saw that the wall was plunging further, receding from their position. There were 10 by 2m ledges all over the wall. He couldn’t see a floor.
The wall they were on was more like a stone block. The ledge they were on ended a meter to their left, and another ledge started just 40cm above it.
Birkathane was the first to remark “These blocs… they look like the outside of the stairs and halls.”
She pointed to big square blocks of stone blocs, place on large pillars.
“It’s as if the entire pyramid is hollow. With just the internal halls built up.”
“Well, we’re lucky then. We’re behind the curtain.”
Quandocor summarized “It’s fake? It’s a fake pyramid?”
“I don’t know. But this definitively looks like we’re not supposed to be seeing this. My wall walking ability was probably not meant to be used here.”
“What’s up, Quan?”
“No, just felt a big one through the wall. Something in the 100s.”
“One of the guardians.”
“Probably. Oh. Shit.”
“Can’t sense Vasili’s corpse anymore. And the big one moved out. I think they’re removing the bodies. Shit, shit, shit.”
Birkathane made a small hiccup.
“What are those fucking horrors? It looked more like Terminator than anything in Northworld.”
Vantegaard closed his eyes.
“And I fucked up. I opened the floodgates.”
Birkathane squeezed his shoulder.
“The other Aetherist would have done the same if you hadn’t. Don’t blame yourself.”
Vantegaard punched the wall in frustration. Quandocor grabbed his hand to avoid him striking again and potentially attracting attention.
“And I didn’t have enough skill levels to let everyone escape. I should have worked on that Mind over Matter…”
Quandocor winced in sympathy.
“I think it was already too late anyway. The only reason we escaped… was that we couldn’t really fight those monsters. Everyone who was trying to really fight them died.”
He made a silent curse.
“Maelia’s body gone now. Another ‘cleaner’ came.”
They waited a bit, then Vantegaard called out.
“Ok, I got another glow globe. The one I’m using won’t last forever. Anyone else?”
“Nope,” said Birkathane.
“Only one,” added Quandocor.
“So, we need to plan an escape and fast. No time to dwell on the shit down there. I need two meditations to be back at full psy, to use Mind over Matter again.”
“No way we’re getting back in,” opined Birkathane.
“I think we need to go up, if possible.”
Vantegaard peered upward.
“If we get near the top, we can probably switch to the outside wall, then climb down, and try to open up the wall near the bottom of the pyramid. Then, we run like hell and hope none of the terminator skeletons are patrolling. If they do... we're dead.”
He added, “Birka, you can climb across those walls and all with your Surface Climbing. We’ll split your backpack, and you scout to see where we can move.”
Vantegaard turned toward Quandocor.
“When we’re near the outer wall, Quan will try to detect if there are patrols passing.”
“I still have a very limited range. Unless they pass right next to us, I won't know about it.”
“It’s still better than going out straight into the maw of a centipede.”
“I agree. Assuming you can open up.”
“At worst… you get out and run. I’ll remain inside until recess in two days… then we rally on Earth and figure it out.”
“We’re not leaving you in,” said Birkathane.
“I’m the one who can walk you through walls.”
“It wouldn’t be my death. I would just be exiled. It'd be the end of Vantegaard, but not all of me.”
“No one gets left behind,” was her definitive answer.
Vantegaard admitted defeat.
“Okay. Let’s move.”
Birkathane climbed ahead of the group. From her vantage point, it was very obvious that the entire pyramid was hollowed out, and she could trace the various halls, up until darkness swallowed them.
She didn’t move too far from where Vantegaard kept the glow globe, but she could see enough ledges.
“Ok, keep moving. There’s a tiny gap where you need to go to this side room, then you can move up again.”
Looking further, she wailed.
“We were so close. One more flight of stairs and we were out.”
They switched from the internal walls to the outside walls. The ledges were larger, but the wall slant meant they had to crouch and move one at a time to avoid being too close to the border and risk falling.
They started to go down carefully. They dropped between some ledges. At one point the glow globe started to dim, and Vantegaard had to pull his second one.
They finally stopped.
“I’m not going to risk going further down, in case the pyramid goes below ground. Better have to run down some of the outdoor slopes rather than being unable to leave.”
“When do you want to do it?”
“We’ll stay here for a while, to see if Quan senses a patrol. If there are no patrols on the slopes… then I’ll try to open the wall, and we’ll rush it.”
Birkathane almost started to bring objections but thought better. Either they would make it outside or they would be stuck in… until recess? Exile?
“Ok… when I go zero, you push. The wall should be open all the way. If you feel any resistance, you pull back. Quan, you go 1s after. I’ll be right behind.”
Vantegaard was almost hyperventilating.
“On three. On two. On one… GO!”
The wall’s blocks vanished, leaving a small opening. Birkathane plunged thru and almost immediately got a breath of fresh air, despite the darkness.
Quandocor and Vantegaard nearly stumbled out. The wall behind them returned to solidity.
The outdoor of the pyramid was in darkness. The sun had set while they were climbing down, but there was still some dim light, enough to see it silhouetted against the deeper dark. Nothing seemed to move.
Vantegaard whispered, “So far, so good. Let’s climb down this pyramid and get the fuck out. These skeletons are probably the kind of critters that can see in the dark.”
They started down. The stone blocs made 40cm high steps, which they could climb down carefully, trying to make the smallest amount of noise possible.
They reached the bottom of the pyramid’s side in a short while. They tried to leave fast, but without risking tripping over some obstacle on the ground in the night.
Once they got away from the pyramid clearing among the trees, Vantegaard whistled softly and they regrouped.
“Looks like we made it.”
“I’d like to go the hell away from that, but me, at least, I see shit in the dark. And my remote sense isn’t going to give us much warning if we find some night predator prowling around,” said Quandocor.
“Let’s move a bit further, but I agree. We probably need to camp for the night,” added Birkathane.
(TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT PART)
Vincent Archer wrote his first story around age 11. On a mechanical typewriter, with carbon paper for a mimeograph to distribute in class. His teacher knew enough to make vague encouraging noises rather than really tell him what she thought. He wrote more stories afterward, but Time has thankfully managed to erase every trace of them.
Now that his career has settled in a mix of routine and insanity and that he's figured out that herding cats would probably be easier, he's finally started to write stories again on a media rather than inside his brain. Some of those are even potentially good enough to show to other people.
Silvergates is his first attempt to finish one rather than admit defeat against the usual writer's block.