Bee had hoped Void would catch up to her soon, but there was still no sign of her master. This left her in an awkward position. She poked her head around the corner into the catacombs level. Even knowing its capabilities, she might have started to worry. Still, there was no sign of any skeletons coming up from behind her. Indeed that was a good sign.
Looking into the massive room, she could make out much more this time. The oppressive darkness from when they had first entered this room seemed to be gone. Her light source still didn't illuminate the entire cavern, but it no longer felt muted and contained. She would need to do some research when she returned to the library because it seemed that once the skeletons had left, so had the oppressive doom.
It was really disappointing, but she would have to go through it alone. Ordinarily, she would have just waited for Void. The tunnel had been safe so far. But she was low on food and water and probably needed to get out sometime today or tomorrow morning before she started having issues. So without second guessing herself anymore, she crept out into the open. Of course, sneaking might have been pointless if her enemies had life sense, and she was carrying a massive light in her hand anyway, but still, she did her best not to make a sound. It wasn't entirely rational, but it made her feel more secure.
Bee stayed near the center of the room, away from the walls. If there were still skeletons in the cubbies, she didn't want to risk raising them. Best not to disturb them if she didn't have to. She remembered that they hadn't actually explored the center of this room. So she was equal parts curious and cautious as she worked her way toward it. It took her a minute or two of quiet walking before she saw there was indeed something in the center. It wasn't a mausoleum this time, but it looked like a raised dais with an altar on top. The dais was maybe six feet high, and there were no stairs. From this side, she couldn't see any way up. She also couldn't make out what, if anything, lay at the top.
This side of the dais was entirely blank and smooth. It didn't even have any natural patterns or marks from tools. Edging carefully around the corners, the other sides were similarly featureless.
Bee had a choice: keep investigating the dais or leave and continue up. It might be rash, but many of the things she had done recently were rash. In many ways, it might be the only way she felt in control of her life at this point. So instead of continuing for the exit, she took a closer look.
She had confirmed there was no easy way up, so she looked for alternatives. Looking for a place she could climb up or something she could use as a stool, Bee paused and remembered what had happened in the mausoleum with the trap.
If someone climbed up here, the protections might assume they were a trespasser or were here for riches. The skeletons would spill out, overwhelming them instantly. It would almost be a worse trap than blocking the exit like the one she had triggered. Considering this, she stopped and thought, then looked over at the walls.
She couldn't see the cubbies from here, but she knew many skeletons had been released from the earlier trap. So there might have been no more skeletons here. If so, it would be her best chance to get a good look at any sort of carvings or information up on this altar. To find out, she'd have to test it.
It was a risk. But this was a risk more consciously chosen and better calculated in Bee's mind. At least when she compared it to some of the other risks she had already taken. For example, the knowledge this place had given her didn't include a way to deal with the Lieutenant. But it had given her a place to look. So really, was it much more of a risk to investigate this place? Or to wait for the Lieutenant to wake when she was unprepared for it?
Still, she didn't have to be stupid about this. Changing her mind about an earlier decision, Bee walked toward one of the walls. It was better to find out if there were still skeletons guarding this place by disturbing a few rather than accidentally causing a bunch to come out at once. Right as her light hit the wall, she stopped. It was still far away, but she could see into the cubbies. They appeared empty. Each and every one. She paced down the length of the wall and didn't see a single skeleton. That was one side clear. Then, deciding to be thorough and not risk being more stupid than she had to be, she made her way to the other side of the room. Repeating the process, she found no skeletons. One cubby at the very end, though, had something left behind in it.
Holding her light up, she looked a little closer. Inside was something small and shiny that had caught the light. Looking closely, she saw a chain of silver glittering in the amber light. It was threaded through a dull black pendant. The pendant was dark enough that it didn't reflect light well, but not the otherworldly black that Void was. It was simple, shaped like a teardrop, and about as large as Bee's fingernail.
Bee reached her hand into the cubby. She didn't think it would be a trap. This was too subtle and small. Carefully she pulled the chain out and held it dangling in front of her. Nothing happened, and she breathed a sigh of relief. When she looked closely, she saw that the chain was silver but not tarnished. She wasn't sure if it had been preserved or was actually some other metal than silver. The pendant, though, was more complex than she first thought. Sure, it was a dark-colored stone, but it had etchings. She couldn't quite make it out in the light, but it seemed to be a foreign language. Carefully she slipped it into her pocket. She'd have to look at this more closely later.
Now confident that there were no skeletons left to ambush her, she returned to the dais in the center of the room.
She tried to reach the top of the ledge by standing on her toes but could barely touch the lower lip with her fingertips. Beatrice was tall for her age but not nearly as tall as a fully grown adult. Still, she had the experience and knowledge of a child that didn't take no for an answer. She had climbed many things that she probably shouldn't have. Slipping her pack to the ground, Bee hopped up and could barely grab the slippery lip. She tried to pull herself up, but it was difficult, even with her newfound strength. Dropping back down, she took a few steps back. Then she ran forward, kicking off the wall and launching herself up. Her hands made it above the edge, and she pulled herself up using the momentum of the move. Part of her chest made it onto the dais' top, and her belly soon followed as she flopped forward. Panting with effort, she rolled over onto her back on the platform.
Realizing that she could have just gotten herself into a precarious situation, Bee got to her feet. In the center, what she had thought was an altar was more of a podium. Other than that, the surface of the dais was utterly featureless.
On the podium sat a book. It was bound in pale leather, with blocky black lettering on the cover and a thick layer of dust coating it. The pages were thick and yellow but perfectly cut. Bee took a closer look at the cover. The lettering was of an alphabet she didn't recognize. Well, that wasn't entirely true. She recognized the alphabet, but she couldn't read it. It was similar to the writing on the archway she couldn't read further down.
Something was odd about this. Not just that she couldn't read the language but the letters themselves. They were too perfect, almost like they were carved into stone. She doubted that a human's hands could have made them. Closely examining the book from every angle, she couldn't see anything besides a leather-bound book on top of a simple stone surface.
With an abundance of caution, Bee reached out and flipped the cover open to a random page. The lettering was square and blocky. Every line was perfectly straight, with the exact same amount of spacing between it and the next one. Every letter was exactly the same width. There were no places where the ink wavered as a hand cramped or a quill needed refreshing. Who wrote this book?
It was slow going as I made my way up this ever-increasing incline. I didn't realize how much I had grown used to Beatrice's company. While cleaning, I could dive into myself and enjoy my work, but this was boring. I had to limp up the hallway. I moved at a plodding pace. I didn't even have the luxury of a job well done. I tried to clean as I went, and the same happened when I tried to use my light or exercise my arm. My repair timer started increasing, and I did not want to wait longer than I had to before I was back at full functionality.
By the time I reached the first level, I could feel my repairs had made significant progress. I still had several hours, but my state didn't hinder me nearly as much as it did previously. My pace increased too, and I had started going faster than I knew Beatrice could comfortably maintain, so I could catch up with her soon. I hoped she was okay. It was nice to see that she had apparently managed to skirt past the group of skeletons in the second layer without being noticed. Still, I didn't believe her luck would last.
I was using my advanced scanners to watch the area around me. That was the only thing I could do that didn't seem to increase my repair time further. However, I couldn't extend them for a very long distance yet. But every hour or so that I kept them on, I noticed I could reach a little further. I would have liked precise numbers on my range to increase, but it seemed somewhat variable. Either that or I still needed to collect enough data to have an exact correlation between the time used and any range increases. The expansion rate also seemed to change when I investigated different things with my sensors, so it might have been in vain to even hope for such a formula.
When I first rolled onto the first level's room, I didn't notice anything. But as I moved towards the center, I caught Beatrice on my sensors. Oh good, she was fine and safe. However, as I got closer, I realized she might be in a slight predicament. There was a single raised platform in the very center of the room. It was way too tall for Beatrice to climb up or down, yet she stood on top. Honestly. She never ceased to amaze. At least she wasn't getting attacked again.
I had to help her find a way to get down. At a distance, I circled around the giant platform so I could keep my eye on her. There was no easy way up or down. It was 6.04 feet of slick wall on any side. I suppose she could try jumping down, but I wouldn't want her cracking apart. I still had yet to find her any replacement parts.
On one side, I saw her satchel lying on the ground. Seeing that nothing had approached us yet, it was probably safe to make myself known. I was here to help. I tried to convey that message in a greeting beep to reassure her.
Beatrice looked up. She had been studying something intently, but I couldn't see what from this angle. When she saw me, she smiled and gave me a little wave. I popped out my grabby arm and waved back. It was really lovely to see her. Now I just had to help her out of this predicament.
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Bio: After reading pretty much everything I could I figured I would try making some of the stories that I wanted to read.