Chapter 11 Scene 8

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 47 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Light touched his face, too much light for midnight, even with a bright moon and a cloudless sky. He struggled upright and found himself lying across Gunther’s outstretched legs. He had tripped over Gunther! The young air mage was senseless. Simon scrambled to his side, as his head throbbed and darkness swam in from the edges of his vision again. Gunther was breathing, if shallowly. His skin felt cool and his eyes rolled behind his closed lids, but the bleeding from his nose and ears had stopped. He lived at least. Simon felt the back of his head gingerly, where he found a sticky lump. He probed the edges of a small gash, which brought nausea to his gut and spots to his sight. His skin felt flushed and feverish. Perhaps the head wound was from one of the poisonous crystals? There was nothing he could do about that now though.

Then he felt the first tremor and remembered that light had woken him. He looked to the east, and saw the faint, traitorous glow of sunrise. What had the handler said? It hides in the light? The ground trembled again beneath him. He looked up toward the tip of the black spire and saw sunlight touch it. Before his eyes it changed from black to a liquid golden glow before becoming transparent and then disappearing entirely. Beneath him, the trembling was continuous now as he felt the ground subsiding.

Where was their promised guide? Had it all been an elaborate trap after all? Anger galvanized him with new strength and he stormed down the path toward the landing shelf. The wreckage of their wagon was strewn across the advancing edge of rising sands. The entire island was rapidly sinking into the White Sea.

Now panic set in. He dashed back up to Gunther’s prostrate body. He wasted precious minutes as he tried unsuccessfully to rouse the spent air mage. He dragged Gunther up the winding path until they reached a broad clearing in the strange crystal formations with no outlet. He dashed from one end of the clearing to the other, certain that there must be some opening or hidden entrance for the supposed guide, before the last of his strength left him and he gave in to despair. He could barely keep on his feet now as the ground heaved more and more violently. He heard fractures and cracks as crystal spires were weakened by the advancing sunlight and collapsed all around them. He returned to the center of the circle and dropped by Gunther’s side.

“I’m sorry to have dragged you here lad.” Tears stung Simon’s eyes, but evaporated before they could leave tracks in the dust on his face. He felt the temperature rising with the sun.

“At least we won’t freeze before sinking into the sands! There’s small comfort!” The phrase caught something in Simon’s memory. Wait! He scrambled desperately through all of the pockets in his robes. Where was it? At last he found the small crystal vial tucked into his belt. He had not lost it then, but what was he to do with it? And what would it do?

“Does it matter anymore?” The rumbling of the island intensified in answer.

“Well, a few drops only then. You first lad.” Simon clumsily pulled the plug of hide out of the crystal vial and poured a drop of the sticky black liquid on Gunther’s lips, where it stuck and went no further. Simon tried to push the sticky fluid into his mouth or onto his tongue. It seemed to have no effect.

“Hmm. Guess that’s not right.” The air mage’s eyes rolled, revealing a flash of white. Simon frowned in consternation, and then shook his head.

“OK, why not?” Before he could change his mind, Simon pulled back each eyelid and placed a single drop of the black fluid in each eye. The change was immediate. Gunther’s breathing stabilized and his rigid muscles relaxed. But he did not awaken.

“My turn, then.” He clumsily administered a drop to his left eye and blinked as the gummy film rolled across his vision like a blanket of night. He felt his pulse drop and his trembling hands steadied. The vision in that eye seemed different somehow. Less clear around the edges, but sharper and more focused in the middle. He could see the vibration of the crystals around them, and knew somehow that they were nearly energized enough to shatter. Remembering how much damage the Prophet’s warriors had inflicted with their crystal weapons renewed his urgency. There was enough fluid left in the vial for a few more drops, but he used only one in his right eye, as he had with Gunther. In a final fully lucid moment, he tucked the vial back tightly into his robes after stuffing the hide stopper back into the opening.

He suddenly felt more comfortable on all fours that standing upright, which was probably just as well. The ground was increasingly unstable. He knew that their current position was dangerous somehow. He felt a curious alignment snap into place on his awareness, and suddenly the thought of being lost was a foreign concept. He hooked one hand around Gunther’s strange clothes and dragged him across the shaking ground toward a space a few hundred body lengths ahead, behind a large crystal formation that looked less like black glass the longer he looked at it. He nestled Gunther against the base of this curious structure that was not disintegrating like the rest of the crystals around them. He settled his own body down on top of the unresponsive air mage and waited. Beneath him, Gunther twitched and made a low noise in his throat that was very like a hiss. For some reason, this seemed perfectly normal to Simon right now.

They waited while the ground continued to rumble. Like some parody of returning tide, white sands rushed into the clearing now from the trail they had climbed. They were quickly filling the flat open space, while the upper spires of black crystal were dissolving in the sun. In moments the sand rushed around their hiding place and surrounded them. It continued to rise, packing into every open space, except the small pocket of air trapped against the base of the metallic crystal formation where they crouched. Soon the light of the rising sun was completely blocked out. Moments later, the crushing weight of the sands slowed his breathing, but the rumbling continued. His consciousness slowed with his breath and Simon lost track of time. Eventually, the rumbling stopped and the last of the sand settled into place.

Though he could have stayed in that tomb of poisonous salts indefinitely, while his consciousness continued to slow, some sense goaded Simon into action again. He felt drawn toward some distant point up above the darkness that trapped him. Anger uncoiled in his gut. He would have cuffed the other he dragged in his wake if it was not already completely subdued. Digging was much harder than it should have been, but the anger energized him. A nagging voice suggested to him that he could move all this earth with a mere thought, but he silenced it instinctively, and aggressively. Slowly, Simon began to dig upward toward the light.

*          *          *

Surfacing from feverish dreams that clung to his thoughts like tattered cobwebs, Simon at last remembered. He tried to climb to the top of his own consciousness, but he was as much a passenger as the senseless Gunther, dragged along the blazing salt flat behind him. Some sense that the earth mage could not understand guided his movements. When he tried to sense his location and direction with a touch of earth energy, he was suddenly clubbed a step further down in his own consciousness by something ruthless and vicious. Dazed, he stared out of eyes slitted against the glaring sun, helpless to challenge whatever animal determination compelled him to continue this pointless crawl. But silently, he held onto a single thought, repeating it over and over like a mantra.

Go into the sands. Get clear of the sea and go into the sands…

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