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The power of the orbs
The rising sun casts a blood red stain on the wide horizon interrupted only by spires of rock jutting up into the morning sky like daggers, and columns of black smoke spreading an oil slick across the dawn. The battle was over now, and I let the sword slip out of my grip. It wasn’t my sword; that had been lost in the first hour or so of fighting. I wonder where it is, missing the familiar balance and feel of the worn leather handle. It had been old, but still a thing of beauty and precision, especially compared to the brutish things I had been forced to fight with after that. A twig snaps behind me and before I even had time to think, there is a dagger in my hand and I am twisting to face my “attacker” who turns out to be my best friend, Jon.
“Whoa!” Jon holds up his hands defensively, “Just trying to find a good place to take a p***!”
“Sorry, you scared me”
“No problem,” Jon murmurs as he disappears behind the smoking wreak of a wagon.
Some of the bodies around us were badly mutilated; this must have been where he was fighting… It does come in handy to have a shape-shifter as a best friend. I had only seen him once during the fight, and he had assumed the form of a giant bear with glowing red eyes. This was one of two reasons I made him my second in command. The other, in case you’re wondering, was that he made a mean stew from our normally bland field rations.
With my body becoming more and more aware of its self after the numbing hours of fighting, I realize a sharp pain in my left leg. I try to take a few steps forward and collapse as I feel an arrow head dig into the muscle in my calf. It must have been stuck there for a long time, because the shaft is broken off and there are rivers of dried blood running down my leg. Suddenly a warm sensation floods my entire being and a bulb of pure blue energy appears in the palm of my hand. When this first happened to me, I was totally freaked out, but now I just calmly reach down and place my hand over the wound. Sharp pain, originating from the spot I grabbed, floods my veins with fire. Then it is over, I lift my hand, the arrow head now a cool weight in my palm, leaving a totally healed leg behind. It was a nasty arrow head, crafted with backward facing barbs meant to tear flesh on the way out. Letting it drop to the ground, I take the hunting horn out of its holster on my belt and blast a long, clear note; signaling the rest of my small group to pick their way through the carnage. While I wait for everyone to assemble, I find a cool rock to sit on and think about how I got here.
I mostly blame Jon for the current situation; it was our first spelunking trip and not even my idea. I don’t like small, enclosed spaces and there is usually no shortage of those in caves. But he was intent on going and as long as he paid for the gear, there wasn’t any great reason not to go. Besides, it might be fun. That was how I found myself bouncing along forgotten back road in my little Ford Ranger at five am with Jon in the seat next to me calling out the directions that he had acquired from a friend of a friends second cousin, or something like that. When we finally arrived at the cave, most of my apprehension was put to rest by the sight of the cave entrance. It wasn’t a tiny hole in the ground like I had imagined. In fact, I probably could have driven my truck through it, but the actual size was hard to tell because the weeds and brush had seemed to make it their personal mission to close up and hide the pathway leading under the earth’s skin. I tuned to find Jon already out of the cab and eagerly unsheathing his machete. So maybe this spelunking thing wasn’t going to be too bad after all.
It had been grey dawn when we started, but by the time we finished hacking a path ninety-ish feet from where the “road” ended to the hillside where the cave began, unloaded all of our stuff and gotten suited up, the sun was up and the heat of another scorching Montana summer day was beginning to seep into the air. It was a relief as Jon and I plunged into the coolness of the underground to leave behind the hot, sunny weather that, to be honest, got kind of boring after a while. The minutes flew by as we wound our way deeper and deeper past stalactites and stalagmites once even crossing a small underground river all the time talking about “that one girl with a hot butt” or a piece of fishing equipment that one of us had caught a “monster” on. While still cautious, I was actually beginning to enjoy myself. We had tied ourselves together at the beginning of the trip with a fifteen foot long rope; Jon had read somewhere that this was what you were supposed to do in case someone fell down a hole. Taking turns leading turned out to be the tricky part, because the tunnels had gotten considerably smaller since the entrance, and though they were still spacious enough for me not to feel claustrophobic; it was hard to get past one another to take the lead. We reached a fork in the tunnel and it was time for my turn to go in front so I called out for Jon to stop. He reached back to hand me the flash light and at that exact moment caught his toe on something, causing him to sprawl head first toward the ground. Reaching out to catch his arm, I was a second late and only succeeded in knocking the light out of his hand. It smashed in to the ground at the same moment that Jon did, and went out.
My eyes strained in the sudden darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of my fallen friend and to my surprise, I could. That meant that there was some form of light in this tunnel but it definitely wasn’t coming from us. As I helped Jon up, I noticed a slight trickle of blood coming from his left nostril.
“Is it broken?” I asked as he gingerly felt his nose.
“No, but it hurts like hell,” he said as he kicked the useless flashlight to the side. “Hey, we can still see. Where’s the light coming from?”
“Seems to be coming from that way,” I indicated toward the smaller of the two paths. “Let’s go check it out!”
Jon followed me murmuring something about how it was probably just daylight leaking in from some vent, his usually adventurous nature now slightly dampened by the recent fall and bloody nose. The light had an unnatural quality about it, always seeming to shift between a deep blue and sea green but somehow staying a constant color at the same time. It grew stronger and brighter as we got deeper into the progressively narrowing tunnel. Eventually I had to start shuffling semi-sideways because my shoulders, which were rather wide, would keep bashing against the rough walls. Jon could walk normally for a little while longer on account of his slimmer build but when it got to the point where even he was having trouble sliding along sideways; I was ready to call it quits and was feeling a nasty case of claustrophobia coming on. But my friend must have been feeling better because he was insistent that we continue on.
“Look, you got me into this, I’m gonna go through with it! Besides, it looks like it’s coming from around this corner up ahead.”
As it turns out, he was right. We rounded the sharp bend and came to a sudden halt, utterly stunned by what we encountered.
A large cavern with the dimensions of a football field and a ceiling soaring at least twenty feet above our heads confronted us. The unearthly light reflected off the totally smooth walls, floor, and ceiling, making the entire area glow as if it were made of some weird crystal. At the far end of the room I could make out the source of it all; six pedestals, each with a luminescent orb resting on it. Totally caught up in the adventure now, Jon began to hurry across the hundred yards with me following right behind him. As we neared the end, I began to slow down, an uneasy feeling in my gut pulling me back. I began to call out a warning as my buddy reached out to touch one of the orbs.
“Hey, maybe we should-“
And then he disappeared.
A hole had opened up in the floor in front of the pedestals, swallowing Jon in an instant. The rope connecting us, which a second ago was snaked limply across the floor, quickly followed him down. Realizing I had nowhere to brace myself, I had just enough time to exclaim,
Before all the slack was out of the line and I was violently jerked forward toward the chasm. At the lip of the fissure, I made a desperate jump and managed to grab hold of two of the stone pillars. My plan seemed to work for a moment, the rope biting into my waist as the burden on the other end came to a halt but then the full weight of two high school senior boys overwhelmed the strength of the rocks. With a loud, grating crack, they gave away sending me plunging down into the darkness after Jon.
The hole must have been around thirty feet deep, because I was only falling for about one and a half seconds. However, if you have ever fallen from thirty feet up before, those one and a half seconds last for an eternity. After falling for forever, I landed hard on something that was semi soft. It, or he as it turns out, let out a strangled moan and I quickly rolled off of my friend just as chunks of the broken pedestals and the mysterious orbs rained down on the spot where I had been. I painfully pushed myself up off the dirt floor, my back all out of whack from the fall. Staggering over to Jon I helped him up, surprised that he was still conscious after first the fall without a person to soften the landing, then being a landing softener, and finally the mini hailstorm of debris. His nose was obviously broken now, and he talked kind of funny on account of the blood streaming out of both nostrils.
“Wad the fug habbened? I was falling, then I stobbed, then I fell sub bore! Thed you and a fubbin ladslide land on be!”
So maybe my desperate grab had done some good, stopping him from falling the full thirty feet which probably would have left him in a lot worse shape than he was now.
The orbs didn’t seem very bright now as they sat there in a pile of rubble but they still gave off a good ten food circle of light. So instead of answering his question, which to be honest I wasn’t really sure I knew the answer to, I bent down and scooped up both of the strange objects. They appeared to be identical spheres of glowing crystal, each about the size of a large marble. I tossed one at Jon who, since both hands were busy trying to stop his bleeding nose, didn’t even try to catch it.
“I don wan thad thig, it’s the reasond we are dow ere in the first blase.”
“They might be valuable,” I said. “Besides, we can use them as flashlights for now.”
Seeing him make no move toward his orb, I picked it up off the ground and stuck it in my pocket. Holding the other one aloft, I began to take stock of our surroundings. We were in a small chamber with a dirt floor which I found odd, we must have been pretty deep underground. Off to the left, an arch way led into darkness. This also was odd because it was an actual arch way, not a random fissure in the wall but something that had obviously been carved out. Whoever carved it had also taken the time to line the arch with semi-polished stone causing it to look like what I imagined would be a doorway in one of those old English castles. Saying as it was the only way to go, that was the way I led. Jon lagged behind and was staring off vacantly into space. Guessing that he was slightly concussed, I snapped my fingers,
“Hey, Jon! Over here! We are going this way!”
Focusing his eyes on me, he nodded vaguely and began to follow. The corridor beyond the arch was also man-made, the floor changing from dirt to big, worn slabs of stone. The walls of this corridor were lined with more arches, slightly smaller than the original spaced about four feet apart adding to the whole castle illusion. Curiosity had gotten us into this fix so I stubbornly tried ignored them and continue down the main hallway. But, as James Stephens said, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will” and eventually my curiosity as to what might be past those arches got the better of my fear that something else would happen to us. I dragged Jon under the nearest arch and into what turned out to be a fully furnished bedroom. There was a rather uncomfortable looking armchair, an ancient wood dresser, and a huge canopy bed dominating most of the space in the room. On the floor were two musty carpets, each with an intricate, unique design woven into them.
“Oh gud,” My friend murmured. “I cold really use a nab.”
He pulled aside a curtain on the bed and flopped down, sending up a huge cloud of dust. Turning away to examine the rest of the room, I was startled by his yelp of surprise. I turned back to see him jump out of bed, trip over the chamber pot, and once again, go sprawling on the ground. But the shock must have cleared his head a little because he was up in an instant and babbling about how there was already someone in the bed.
Thinking he was just imagining things, I made my way over to the bed and was confronted by a grinning skull. Slightly caught off guard, I took a step back and promptly tripped over the same chamber pot that Jon had. I got up off the ground saying,
“Don’t worry, he’s already dead. We probably should respect his resting place, let’s go!”
Back out in the corridor, the freakiness of finding human remains wore off a little and we began to check the other arches all of which led to a room identical to the first one we were in. Every bed had a human skeleton in it. We even pried open a few of the wardrobes, revealing some robes in various states of decomposing but nothing else. When we reached the end of the strange passage, the floor changed back to dirt and we were in a chamber identical to the one we originally started out in. There was a slight difference, and that was the reflective pool taking up most of the floor leaving only a foot or so of dirt around the edge. In the center of the glass like water was a rock and in that rock was stuck a sword, almost up to its hilt. Jon, really past the point of caring, kneeled down and began washing the blood off of his face being very careful around his nose which had stopped bleeding but was really starting to swell up. As he busied himself with this I wadded across the pool, the water level never rising above my knees, and began to examine the sword, or what I could see of it. I noticed an empty space in the pommel that looked about the right size to fit the stone I was holding. I don’t know why I did what I did then, maybe I felt the connection between the orb and the void in the metal or maybe it was just for the heck of it, but I gripped the handle for leverage and popped the crystal into place. Immediately the sword started glowing with that weird light that the orbs produced and when I tried to pull my hand away from the grip, I found that I couldn’t. They were frozen there and the sword and rock started to slowly sink into the pool. I tried to yell for help, but it was like an invisible force had glued my jaw shut. The water crept up, past my knees, past my waist, and up to my chest where the descent paused for a second. The sword then seemed to glow even brighter, and started vibrating with energy. Then it went into hyper-drive, sucking me down below the surface in an instant. Deeper down and faster I went. Before I blacked out the rope, which we had for some reason left tied around out waists, tightened. I remember thinking, maybe with a bit too much satisfaction: Good, now it’s Jon’s turn to be dragged down a hole!
A loud clearing of one’s throat brings me back to the present. I open my eyes and do a quick head count of the group that has gathered around me. I don’t think any one is missing, but just to be sure, I ask,
“Did we lose anyone?”
“Are you kidding boss?” Charlie, a mammoth of a man near the back, speaks up, “those king’s men were no match for us!”
This bold statement is greeted by mummers of agreement and a few guys even fist bump. Despite this macho attitude, the chance of losing a team member in battle is always very real no matter who it was that we are fighting. All it takes is one mistake. Just last week, we had to burry Mike. All he did was try to help a kid in trouble who turned out to be a hostile midget with a dagger. I hated burying people; these guys were my family now.