Torchbearer

The cave walls are damp. Under the light of my torch they have a slippery shine. I have lost track of how far underground we are. But we should be at our destination soon.

Selrik stands and waves me over. “Isla.”

I join him, and he points at something in the wall. Glistening, not like the water, but a green shine. He removes the small pickaxe from his belt, and I light the area for him as he removes bits of precious stone from the wall. In between hacking away at the wall, he stops to drop the green rocks into the satchel I’m carrying.

At last he returns the pickaxe to his belt and claps the dust off his hands. “When we get out, we’ll pick the prettiest one of these and have it worked into your ring.”

 

Further down, there are more of the green rocks, and the satchel fills.

“Fantastic,” Selrik says. “At this rate we won’t even need the main attraction. We can just sell these!” Despite the bad lighting, his eyes are green and sparkling like the gems.

 

“Hah!” He drops a particularly large gem into the heavy satchel. “Forget old Jarrik’s crypt, we can buy us a house!”

My smile must rival the gems at the thought. “Then should we return? There’s still his curse, why bother with it?”

Selrik frowns and bites his lower lip in thought. “Let me think about it.” He points at another area in the wall. “Light?”

 

He studies the map again, and I stand next to him, the torch lighting up the parchment. I don’t have eyes for the map as much as for him. I see a small frown on his face, then a glint in his eyes.

“Did you find something?”

His eyes stay fixed on the map for a while longer. Then he looks up and folds up the map.

He sets out to walk, but hesitates, looks back at me.

His face breaks into a smile, his posture relaxes. He steps over to me, opens the satchel and drops the map inside. My heart skips a beat. He reaches up to my shoulder and removes the strap, and immediately I feel light. He slings the heavy bag over his own shoulder. “You shouldn’t have to carry that. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

I smile at him.

He opens the satchel again, takes his small bag with lock picking supplies from his belt and dumps them all into the larger one. “Better.” He grins.

 

There is a steep descent in the path, and the walls narrow around us. “Shall I go ahead?” I ask, raising the torch over my head.

So we’re going to King Jarrik’s crypt after all.

Did he ever answer before? I’m not sure now.

“Sure, go ahead,” Selrik says. So we descend down the steps. I’m glad my burden has been lightened earlier.

 

There is a small hole where the door to the crypt was locked in mysterious ways generations prior.

Selrik walks around it and studies it from all sides, crouches down, looks through, shakes his head, gets back up again.

He musters the wall again. “I want to figure something out. Can you light the hole for me from this side? I’ll try to crawl through and see if I can figure the lock out from inside.”

Of course I oblige. “Shall I take the bag?” I ask.

He reaches inside the satchel, rummages around, then shakes his head. “All my stuff is mixed up in there. I was stupid earlier. But thanks.” He crouches down and wedges the bag and himself through the hole slowly.

I light his path, then crouch down myself and hold the torch at the height of the hole he disappeared through. “Like this?”

“Just like that. Yeah. Just a moment. I’ll have this…” I hear rustling and clanking. “Figured out in a moment. Hang on.” More clanking. Then silence. I wait and light into the hole.

 

Occasionally, I hear him fumble around with the door and curse under his breath.

When the position gets too uncomfortable, I crouch with my back to the door, holding the torch for him, waiting. I don’t want to sit down; the floor is as damp as the walls here.

 

Something large slams into the floor behind me. Clanking, clicking.

“Did you manage something?”

Silence.

“Selrik?”

Nothing.

I remove the torch, change positions, light into the hole again and try to peer through, but there’s nothing I can see. It’s blocked.

“Selrik?”

No answer.

 

There has been no answer for a while now. No more noises either. Just silence.

I get up, my back and legs aching. My heart just cold for now. I stand there with my torch lighting the glistening walls.

It’s time to leave.

Advertisements

A Professional

It is said Grandmaster Sahnadu was called upon when the sludge arrived in Mistarra.

He frowned deeply underneath his bald pate as the dark substance oozed through riverbeds and covered up tinkling streams formerly lined with the delicate greenery of spring.

He stood still as a rock when life was sundered senselessly, and only turned away from the spectacle when a robed man beside him cleared his throat and bowed in a ducking manner, and said, “We called you because you are a professional. And this…”

Sahnadu raised his hand. “Say no more.”

And the man said no more.

 

It is said that in his quest to understand the sludge and its underlying principles, Grandmaster Sahnadu stood knee-deep in the rising swamp, dark splatters all over his skin and his robe which would be forever ruined. He did not mind.

 

When all attempted sorceries proved to be of no avail, and the sludge reached the Temple of Light, it is said that Gandmaster Sahnadu stood stoically, watching the sacred grounds be devoured, and with them, another hope of deliverance from this evil. The others gathered around him like to a rock in a stormy sea. But this sea was dark and creeping, unstoppable in its lethargy.

 

When a young monk who had studied under him flung himself into the floods to save something, anything, perhaps a statue or an artefact that might help us, and was instead torn asunder and blackened, it is said that Grandmaster Sahnadu betrayed emotion for the first time. He flinched, as if to stop the brightly robed young man, but then resigned to the inevitable and let him go, grief lining his face. Then he got back to the work that they all must have known by now was pointless.

 

In the end, it is said that Mistarra went under completely, a beautiful land destroyed and besmirched by a substance of foul origin.

It is said that the substance did not pass the borders.

I stood at the Southern border. I saw him and his followers still flocking around him in desperate hope. I saw him raise his hand to the sky as the sludge stopped its advance, and I saw him smile.