Published: Nov 11, 2017 11:49:53 AM

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Part 5: Reliquary

Rostand was left to the task. The aged easterner loped the palaces halls. She halted at certain doors. She kept still long enough to decide, then proceeded on.

Through one door and another, Rostand led the others deeper. They listened for the hidden lures in quiet rooms. Rostand was always the first to notice the cracks in the wall, leading to hidden spaces in the architecture. They filed down a narrow staircase. They inhaled to slip into gaps within the walls themselves. Suna struggled. He knocked apart the flaking materials with his bulk.

The secret rooms were vaults. Rahz checked the walls for where they were sealed in ages past. The antiques were left entomed, standing free in delicate arrangement about the floors.

Each lay dormant, either drained by time or hushed by a word.In a room with no windows to set their bearings, Rostand stood before a table. A wooden chair on three legs sat against the table. Atop the table was a small iron machine.

Rostand touched the reel fixed to the machine's top. Black tar mucked her fingers. She sniffed the stuff and looked to the others.

Orry set his hands to the tiny levers on the machine's front. Each was marked with a symbol.

"Forty-six activation points," he mumbled, touching the spindly device. He pressed down one near the center.

Y.

An uncomfortable tone traveled through the room. A wire connected the analog machine to the wall. Deep inside, a device rattled. Gears shifted.

"A hex," Orry said to himself.

"I'd have felt it," Suna assured. He hefted the hammer, exchanging narrowed looks with Rostand. She showed no panic. Suna waited.

The walls behind the table pulled apart. The floor shifted. It was mounted on a series of rattling mechanisms and rails. The platform remained level as it chunked down a track. For a bewildering moment, there was trembling. Rahz shouted warnings to hold tight. Somewhere, metal bent.

Then it snapped.

The flooring dug into the slope. The toothed wheels meant to slow the descent gathered momentum. It clanked and dragged against the rush of speed. A cavernous space swallowed them. They pressed to the broken device for balance. Imbalance tilted it forward. It caught a corner. They gatherd in the center for stability. The flooring came apart and dashed them against the basin's sides. The steep, smooth surfaces sent them faster.

Orry grasped for friction and found none. The terrific speed only accelerated. Rostand bellowed above them all, ahead of the group. She reached the center first, at last coming to a stop.

Suna crashed into her, scooping her up, skidding a bit more before halting.

The angular rail that would've delivered them safely vomited up its gears and wood. They scattered from the crashing debris strewn about the basin.

The room was bowl-shaped—a caldera.

"We've arrived," Rahz panted.

Rostand wriggled free from Suna's hands. She sauntered by Rahz toward the room's center. The floor was still uneven, forcing caution. Its surface was near-frictionless, but Rostand's boots and gloves were glazed in wax. The grit permitted normal strides. Normally used for handling dangerous antiques, the squeaking points of contact allowed the woman to proceed with ease.

Unlike the interior rooms they'd passed through, this was no great gathering, no vault or archive. The space funneled to a central point.

Rostand skidded to an easygoing stop near the center. There, the friction was greater, not because of a change in material, but because of a welling, roaring reaction at the center.

The floor metal flickered into a dark, rushing wind, mixing with a weeping light reserved for stars and suns, draining into a dome in the middle. The others came up beside Rostand.

Rahz swapped between her lenses. Suna fingered at his hammer, listeneing to the mechanical chunking of Rahz changing her visual sensors.

"It's just blackness," Rahz said. "It draws in all things. Swallowing light, matter, and energy."

-- Alex Crumb
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