Scene 2: Descent into the Temple (No violence for a change! :) )


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Thread: Scene 2: Descent into the Temple (No violence for a change! :) )

  1. #1

    Scene 2: Descent into the Temple (No violence for a change! :) )

    This one tips the scales at around 2100 words, but hopefully it reads nice and quick. My writing isn't that much more complicated than "See spot" anyway, right?

    ====

    The Great Sovrek Desert was ancient when mankind was young, and she would endure long after he had gone, and all memory of his deeds: this was the one truth Arax Thorne had learned in seven years. He was alone in the barracks, a low, wind-scarred tent dug into the shifting desert sand, because the men of the Duke’s Own 71st Regiment of Foot, 5th Company, had been called to mess just before midday. In this quiet, stolen moment, the sun’s glare seemed to fade and the wind seemed to slack in its restless rush as he knelt before a long, battered chest. He lay his hat in the dust beside his knees, revealing short hair much the color of sand and a face browned by the sun. He took from his neck a cord of simple cotton, concealed beneath his tattered jacket, from which hung a heavy iron key. It fitted the lock on the chest before him: the chest that contained all that remained of his life.


    Soon, this monthly ritual would be discontinued. His seven years of exile would come to an end and he would find his way home, away from this desert, from brutal sun and the burning sand. Perhaps, in another year, he would be among the green-furred forests and the white-capped peaks of the Laurentians. For now, though, it had to be done and be done in secret. It took some force to wrench open lock on his old trunk, but it did open at last. He pushed back the lid to reveal only a dingy sheet of linen cloth that concealed and protected the bulk of the trunk’s contents. The only thing on the sheet was a story cut from the Times years ago: something boring about a baker down by Hogsend, but it could be plainly seen by the marks of paste near the corners that this side had been stuck to the lid of the trunk. Absently, he turned the aged paper over in his hand to reveal the headline:


    “RED BARON” SECURES VICTORY IN ASIA


    The yellowed, brittle newsprint seemed ready to turn to dust, and the photograph below that headline was much smudged. But, in spite of that, the fellow in the photo bore a notable resemblance to him, even if the


    one in the picture wore his hair a bit longer, like a youth too long away from his mother. Indeed, the young man looked ready to bolt as he shook the hand of the unmistakable Grand Duke Cornell. The lad’s smile looked fragile and hung lopsided from his frightened countenance, just as the new medal hung from the ribbon pinned to his chest. Thorne licked the pad of his thumb to wet the paste and tried to affix the photograph to its customary place. The clipping beside it had fared better. Its headline read:


    DRAGOON TO RECEIVE AWARD FOR VALOR


    The man pictured here was older, more sure of himself. He had the look of one tested in battle, and who had been found equal to the task. He had no face to speak of: his visage was hidden in shadow beneath an hussar’s fur cap, pulled down low over his eyes. The sword at his side was most conspicuous, to the trained eye at least. It was of the wrong make for a cavalier, with a longer hilt than should have been expected. His cheek bore several days’ bristle, and his uniform was spattered with something dark—mud, or possibly something else. The photo had been taken just a day after the action for which he was to be honored, before it had been decided which award, precisely, he was to receive. An account of the action followed the photograph, wildly embellished, probably in turns, first by the dragoon himself and then by the correspondent from the Mail and the several editors who had taken hold of it on its way to the press. Thorne didn’t read the story again.


    He pushed aside the linen cloth in search of the secret which had brought him here again, but underneath that his fingertips brushed against yet more newsprint and he stopped. There, couched between a sheaf of old letters he had never answered and the side of the trunk, was an issue of the Mail, still intact, that he had never quite managed to throw away, and which he could not bear to look at. The photograph was of excellent quality. The man who was its subject might have been the same as in the others, but here his head was down, turned away in shame from the cameraman so that only his mouth could be seen, unsmiling, broken by sorrow. His arms and legs were shackled. Off to the left, just out of frame, his mother cried, heartbroken. Men and women jeered him and small boys looked on in disbelief. Far away, on an opulent country estate, a beautiful fiancée wrote him a scathing letter to end their engagement. The letter would not reach him for more than two years. A shiver shot down his spine and he slammed the chest shut when, with a start, he realized there was someone behind him.


    “I am sorry. I did not mean to interrupt.” It was Major Walker K. M. Patterson of Her Majesty’s Imperial Armed Forces.


    Relief that he had not been caught was replaced by a sense of dread at the thought of opening the trunk to face those accusing stares again. He shook his head and turned the key in the lock, saying, “It’s all right, Major. I think she’ll keep for another few weeks.”


    “Good,” said Patterson. “One of the researchers was attacked this morning. Something about an artifact. Dr. Arthur has asked that I provide assistance to Drs. Cole and Yves as they attempt to recover it.”


    Thorne took a moment to steady himself, his eyes lingering on the chest for an instant before he could tear them away. At last he faced Patterson to voice his doubts. “You’ve an entire company of stout men, Major,” said Thorne. “Find someone else.”


    Patterson nodded, understanding, but he did not relent. “It’s in the deepest pits of the Mine, Arax,” he said. “I’ll need a steady man at my back, and you’re as steady as they come. She will just have to bite her tongue.”


    Thorne might have argued longer, but in the end he could not neglect his duty to a comrade in arms. He took up his pack and a canteen of fresh water and followed Major Patterson out of the tent city of Granger and over the Brow: the great dune found to the west of the camp.


    Beyond it lay a second city. A darker city, built of smooth, black stone, surrounded by tall walls crowned with long spikes. At first it had been thought a necropolis: a burial monument built to mark the passing of a lost people of an ancient age, but that theory had been discarded before the first year’s work had ended. Other theories had been entertained, but none seemed to stand the test of time or reason and they had each been discarded in turn. The men of the Duke’s Regiment, by and large, referred to it simply as the Pit, or the Mine, and the less spoken of it the better. Amongst the learned researchers of the camp, the second city was called simply the Site, which certainly served well to conceal the true nature of the place. Perhaps the laborers, drawn from the native peoples of the Sovrek, had the most poignant name for it: they called it the Black Temple.


    They found that Cole, Yves, and three assistant researchers had been waiting for them just on the far side of the Brow, and just out of sight of the Temple itself; to stand waiting with that edifice in sight, or to stand with it watching over one’s back, was intolerable. Cole protested immediately, as Thorne had predicted. “Major Patterson,” she called out as soon as they were within earshot, “that scoundrel is unwelcome in my presence.”


    Cole was still young and possessed of a fierce hunger, a strength that might easily have been mistaken for beauty. She had gotten her start, Thorne had been told, as a lecturer in antiquities, in particularly ancient languages, at Danes’ School, and she had fought for years to gain a research position here at the Sovrek dig, but he knew at a glance that there was more to her story than that. She wore her dark hair plated with crimson silk, which was common enough practice amongst Imperial hussars, and the black snake tattoo that wound its way round her tan, slender arm was the emblem of the 10th Light Horse: the Serpent Regiment, covered in glory during the Succession Wars of the Middle Kingdoms. It was clear that she was also accustomed to being obeyed, as evinced by the way she rankled under the authority of more senior researchers in Granger, so Thorne guessed that she had been a line officer in the Army before joining the halls of academia. He had never served with her, nor even spoken to her, but knew his reputation well enough.


    “Enough, Genevieve,” said Dr. Corvec Yves, who covered his sunburnt head with a rumpled old had as he stood. Wisps of his white beard strayed in the wind, and he nodded toward the Temple. “If Major Patterson will vouch for him, I am satisfied. Let’s have this done with, please.”


    And so they pressed on, deeper into the Temple complex, with Cole in the lead and Thorne bringing up the rear. They passed between the tall, blood-red towers that stood flanking the gate set in the Temple’s ancient walls. They crossed smooth, black flagstones of the Temple courtyard, which until that summer had not known the tread of man or beast for ten thousand years. They passed through the inner gates and up the jagged stair leading to the dark sanctuary set on the highest level of the temple compound. There, inside that hellish place of worship which seemed to smell of death even after millennia buried beneath the sand, they came to the very maw of the Pit, yawning before them like an entrance to the underworld.


    “The find is located on the sixth level,” said Cole as she slipped off her pack to remove a torch and a pistol, which she strapped on her hip. “Other than Dr. Yves and I, none of us are cleared to go past the fourth level, so don’t touch anything while we are there. Understood?”


    Thorne fished a sparklight torch from his own pack and ignited it by twisting the base one quarter turn to the right. A soft, white glow poured from the tip and cast a pale, insignificant shaft of light down the long, black ramp leading into the first level of the Mine. Cole glared at him, apparently still waiting for an answer. At last, he said, “Clear.”


    “What about Professor Norris?” asked Patterson, loosening his own pistol in its holster. “You said he just disappeared after the attack.”


    “Correction,” said Yves, an edge of anger in his voice. “Professor Norris enacted out the attack. He tried to break open my skull with a nine pound sledge as we examined, and I was lucky to escape with my life. He vanished into the dark without a torch and we didn’t see where he went.”


    “Professor Norris should be considered disturbed and dangerous,” said Cole, “but he is not our objective.”


    “That being the case, doctor,” said Patterson, “don’t you feel it would be best if you provided Thorne with a weapon?” The major glanced pointedly at the large-bore pistol Cole had hanging from her belt, and at the similar revolver he wore himself.


    “With all due respect to your rank and wisdom, Major,” said Cole in a tone that recalled razor-sharp ice in the depth of winter, “I regard Mr. Thorne as an unwelcome risk, at best, and more likely an out and out traitor. If you believe that, unarmed, he will prove a liability during this operation, perhaps you should select another of your soldiers to accompany us.”


    She fixed her eyes on Thorne then, her brows knitted with a just-contained fury. “I will be watching you quite closely, Mr. Thorne. Make no mistake: in my mind, you do not rate above a stray dog, and should you prove false, I will put you down without more hesitation or remorse than I would spare for a mad hound.”


    Seven years of exile had taught Thorne some measure of humility, and it was only by that long, unpleasant experience that he managed not to return her insults in kind. “I will make no such mistake, doctor. Shall we begin?”
    Don't take my advice personally. Also don't expect me to provide disclaimers like, "Just my opinion, but..." You should know that by now.

  2. #2
    What a rich fanstasy world you've created here. I was especially drawn in by the description of the Black Temple and the paragraph about Cole. The story breaks off right when its getting good too, so I eagerly await the next installment. I actually have yet to read scene 1, so I'll have to go do that.

    Also, I thought it really cool how you told Thorne's backstory through the photographs. I'm really rooting for him now and I'm curious to see how his relationship (or lack thereof) with Cole will play out.

  3. #3
    Ha. Actually, there are probably a dozen different versions of scenes one and two on this website. I really appreciate everyone's help, because I do think they have improved over time.
    Don't take my advice personally. Also don't expect me to provide disclaimers like, "Just my opinion, but..." You should know that by now.

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