“Life was always a matter of waiting for the right moment to act.”
- The Journey to the Afterlife
Covering six hundred metres while crawling is neither fast nor interesting. On the first ten metres someone might think that it will be easy. At one hundred metres your knees start hurting. At two hundred, I felt as if I was a mule with too much weight on its back. And at three hundred metres, we had to double back at thrice the speed to make up for lost time. That’s when I started moaning.
Marcus took the wrong tunnel. Normally I would use his lacking sense of direction to make fun of him, but I admit that even I am not sure where we are by now. Having a map of these tunnels might be helpful. These ventilation shafts have so many intersections that my head is starting to spin.
And there are the rats! They are the main reason for us almost getting lost. We encountered the ugly things three more times, even though we tried to avoid them. Trying to avoid them got us into trouble. We deviated from the planned path to avoid a pack of them and our little detour turned out to be more complicated than we thought.
“It hurts, Marcus. Are you sure that we are almost there? We didn't take yet another wrong turn?” I complain.
“No. Just a few more metres. I am sure of it,” he answers in a confident tone.
“I hope you aren't like those men who navigate only by their general sense of direction, while having no clue where they actually are, all the way reassuring their wives that they will arrive at their destination in five more minutes.”
He snorts as if he is hurt. “Just ten metres, love. Do you see the light at the end of the tunnel? That's our goal. Once we are there, we get bed and breakfast.”
“Don't you mean battle and bloodbath? We still have to find a way to shut down the portal, probably by jumping right into an army of heavily armed guards.” I know that I sound pessimistic, but that's the most likely situation we'll face. The other pyramid was smaller, but it still had a big throne room with a huge staircase which led towards the command chair, a.k.a. throne. If some small outpost had space to spare for such a pompous display, then this pyramid will have it too.
Marcus reaches the end of the tunnel and crouches down on his belly. I crawl over him to get a look for myself, pressing my nose against the grill which is covering the ventilation shaft. “Looks largely the same as in the other pyramid,” I whisper.
“Yes, if you ignore the fact that the room is twice as big and therefore has twice as many guards,” Marcus grumbles and pokes two fingers into the grill to widen it a little, allowing us a better view of the situation.
A figure in black robes is sitting on the throne, his back to us. Several rows of soldiers are lined up at the walls. A separate group is facing the entrance, which is closed off. The good thing is that there is no portal in sight. Either they don't have one here, or they still think that they can stop the attack.
“I doubt that they can open a portal on a whim. At least not one that crosses the multiverse, which would be necessary to avoid being pursued by us. The magical circuitry is either embedded in the floor, or it has something to do with the throne.” He points at the throne.
I survey the room, inspecting the ground especially. The metal plates around the throne are plain and without runes. The throne on the other hand is a piece of art, filled with fine runes and sparkly jewels. The whole thing seems to be made out of massive gold. In fact, the whole room looks like a display of wealth and power, with fine arts of fought battles at the walls and nice statues at the entrance.
“You could be right, but there is no way to be sure. The throne could be intended to distract us from the important stuff. Magical circuitry could be hidden under the metal floor.”
Marcus spreads the fingers of one hand in a gesture of resignation. “So what do you suggest? I don't see any chance to go down there and disassemble everything while the whole army of guards is watching us. We could ask the evil dude to stand up, so that we can take a close look at his comfort chair.”
I chuckle, covering my mouth with both hands. It would be hilarious to do exactly that. We just kick in the grid and scramble out of this tunnel, all dirty and stinky, covered in rat blood. Marcus didn't manage a clean kill on the last one, so we had to crawl through the blood.
So once we drop to the ground like a pair of dirty potatoes, since the exit of the ventilation shaft is placed about five metres up on a wall, we get to our feet and walk up to the cloaked guy. If we manage that without being overrun by the guards, we simply ask him to get up, so that we can disassemble his shiny throne. We could also ask him nicely not to run away, because we want to have a nice and civil chat with him.
Yeah, not going to happen.
Once I have myself back under control, I clear my throat as silently as possible. A coughing fit on top of a suppressed laughing fit would give us away for sure. “I suggest that we wait until they actually try to escape, then we blast them with everything we got. Preferably completely destroying the room. It would be best to do that while our people break in through those big doors. Then we wouldn't have to deal with all those guards.”
“I have a feeling that we will be forced to act much earlier. If the evil dude has any sense of self-preservation, then he will open the portal and flee as soon as our people knock on the door. The last time he delayed his departure for long enough to almost get caught. He would be stupid to make the same mistake twice. I really wondered why he stayed that long if he didn't intend to fight.” Marcus shifts under me and scratches his chin, smearing the grime all over his face. Since he was in front, he was the one who had to fight off most of the rats. The one time one approached from behind us, I blasted it with a pulse of force, breaking its neck.
I also managed to avoid touching my face, so I don’t look as bad as Marcus. He looks like he worked in a coal mine. One point for being female; no itchy beard.
“Curiosity killed the cat. I think he wanted to know what he is up against,” I mumble.
Marcus shrugs. “So this time he won't risk staying for too long. He already had a face to face experience with your dad. No reason to repeat the experiment with the expectation of a different result.”
Finally something of interest happens. So far, the room beyond the grid was filled with a strained silence. Just as if the people were waiting for something to happen. Now the guy with the cloak makes gestures in the air and a small hologram appears in front of him. It's hard to say for sure, but I suppose he is looking at tactical display of the pyramid, which is very similar ours. He studies it for several moments.
Whatever took him so long to make a decision, it doesn't seem to matter any longer when the lights flicker, plunging the room in darkness for a second. It seems as if our people damaged the energy core. The plan said to take the core intact, but its destruction is a real possibility when beings who can wrench metal like clay fight in close proximity to it. These pyramids aren't made of mana crystal, so they aren't exactly ideal battlegrounds for higher immortals. If one person gets a little too excited, he can do real damage to the whole structure.
Luckily nobody seems to be too keen about destroying the pyramid, given its calming effect on the spirits.
The cloaked guy stands up and gestures for his guards to make some space. They oblige.
“Seems like it's our turn...” Marcus shifts and stretches a hand towards the grid.
I place my hand on his. “Wait until he actually does something, treasure every moment. Once he actually opens a portal, we blast the whole room with everything we have.”