< Return to It’s a Trap! Part 4
My sister is taking me to the evil dentist today. She has no soul.
Jeremiah looked about. Little light crept down through the scattered holes above him. The effect created dim shafts that speared the pit. The one thing he could discern was how dusty the space was. His knees scratched against the rough stone of the wall and every time he placed his hands to steady his descent, he could feel a thin film stick to his skin.
The taunt rope suddenly slackened, sending him on a short, gut-wrenching plummet before it stabilized and Jeremiah breathed a sigh of relief that he still wasn’t dead.
Course, he was thankful that Keirn thought of lowering him down with the rope instead of blindly jumping off like he imagined. And given the distance he’d already descended, he knew he’d saved himself some serious injury at the very least. But the depth of the pit was much deeper than he first anticipated and he waited for his eyes to adjust to the even dimmer lightning before calling to be dropped even lower.
This entire line of thinking, however, seemed pretty counter-intuitive to Jeremiah. They wanted to go higher to escape, not deeper.
In the darkness, something seemed to form. He squinted, hoping it was the floor.
“Could I get some more light?”
There was the sound of scuffling above and Jeremiah waited, dangling slowly in the air and wondering how long this rope could hold his weight. Then, the walls seemed to be washed in dry orange before he looked up to see a torch plummeting straight for him. He cried, kicking from the wall as the burning wood tumbled by in a flash of heat. He watched it drop, clattering seemingly twenty feet below him.
Down and down he was dropped until he felt he was close enough. He then struggled with the tight knots about his waist. Slowly, he began to wiggle the rope loose of his confines until the rope slid from its loops and dropped him roughly on the ground. There was some more shuffling before a distant call echoed down.
“Are you dead?!”
“No!” Jeremiah groaned, as he rolled on his side and immediately regretted not having them lower him further. His chest hurt from where he’d landed but he looked around to gather his surroundings.
The torch still burned close by and he scooped it up, directing the flame towards the darkness.
Small piles of broken tiles littered the rough floor. As Jeremiah took a step, a cloud of dust and dirt exploded upwards and rolled out into the dark. He took his time examining the place, the light of the torch settling over a few tell-tale scattered bones that littered the floor.
However, from his brief inspection, he could not find a way out of the pit. He turned, making his way back to the rope when something caught his eye. Holding the torch above his head, he looked on in wonder at the expansive mural that had been carved into the pit wall.
Great men met upon a lavish field, brandishing swords, spears and bows in their naked hands. Two clear forces engaged each other in a devastating combat. On the one side, came an unimaginable beautiful people from the valleys and hills. Robes and capes fluttered from their lithe, muscular frames. Opposing them was a terrifying band of warriors with wicked weapons and iron helms on their heads. They seemed to swoop down from the very skies as if the clouds had borne them like great boats to this confrontation.
As Jeremiah studied the ancient artwork, a great clatter and shouting erupted above him. He turned, holding his torch to illuminate the shape of a figure quickly descending down the rope. At first he’d assumed that Keirn had grown tired of waiting and was surprised to see Amber dropping the last couple of feet to the floor.
“Where is it?!” she hissed, spinning around.
There was more commotion above them and as Jeremiah turned to look, Amber lunged unexpectedly at him. For such a petite girl, she had a ferocious strength as she grabbed the torch and wrestled it from Jeremiah’s hands.
“Where’s the exit!” she yelled, waving the torch menacingly to keep Jeremiah at bay.
“I didn’t say there was one down here.”
“Where is it! Don’t try hiding it from me!”
She backed away from him, the torch waving madly in the darkness. She stumbled over a pile of debris, cursing in the darkness before scampering to her feet once more.
In the play between dark and light, she appeared different to him. The shadows seemed to harden the features of her face, turning that once round and soft visage into one of steeled malice. A frantic, almost maniacal, spirit seemed to possess her as she stumbled around. Was this the woman he had once loved? She seemed so remarkably changed from that sweet thing he’d once doted over.
Jeremiah turned from the mural, following slowly after her. Somewhere in the dark, he found his voice.
“I must know – why did you do it? Why did you leave me?”
“You all tried to kill me!” she hissed. “You’d leave me here to die!”
“No, not now. I mean before. Back at Galt.”
“You want to know why? You want to know the real reason!”
And Jeremiah had to pondered the proposition. He had often asked himself, alone in his bunk staring up at the rafters of his small house. He wondered if there was something he could have done. He wondered if he had offended her somehow. He wondered if there was no way for him to make things up with her.
He had feared a confrontation, almost terrified to know what reasons had torn them apart. But if he were to close that chapter of his heart, he had to know the truth.
The torch paused its examination of the walls for a secret door. Red hair turned, locking those vibrant eyes with his. For a brief moment, that enchanting smile spread across her lips. But that smile was only a vestige of something long dead. Instead, a wicked sneer quickly took hold.
“Have you looked at yourself recently? Please, Jeremiah, it was a fantasy. I am the daughter of the Gothar. I am a direct link to the divines. And what of you? You’re nothing more than some fat, ugly northern barbarian. I can have my pick of any man in the village and you think I’d settle for you?”
And she began to laugh.
But to Jeremiah, it was like some spell had been lifted. Whatever fear had clenched his heart seemed to release. The beauty of the girl seemed to melt away in that moment, driven back like so many shadows before the breaking dawn. All he saw then, in that dank pit, was what she truly was stripped of her fancy clothes and manicured features. Standing naked before him, she was little more than a repulsive, petulant child.
And it was Jeremiah’s turn to laugh.
The sound shook off the walls, reverberating through the small space to come echoing ferociously back upon her. It struck harder than any sword and she seemed to stumble back from its onslaught.
“Why are you laughing?” she demanded.
And Jeremiah found he couldn’t stop. It seemed so ludicrous that it was almost hard to believe it was even true. How could he have ever imagined being with this girl? How had he spent so many nights envisioning the rest of his life with her? He had stupidly looked towards those pegs and pretended to see her cloak dangling from them. It was like some cruel cosmic joke. If there were any gods, then they would certainly be devious tricksters. They were not these romantic visions etched into the walls.
The self righteousness of her indignation only made Jeremiah laugh even harder. His whole body shook from it that he could feel his sides begin to hurt as if they were about to split. Even if he wanted he didn’t think he could stop himself now. And as his voice rose, so did hers.
She let out an ear piercing scream, dropping the torch as his laughs seemed to pin her in from all sides. She raised her hands to her ears in an attempt to block it out. But from the darkness it felt like an entire chorus of people had come to mock and ridicule her.
“Stop it! STOP! IT!” she shouted. “I’m the daughter of the Gothar! Shut UP! I demand you shut up!”
She flung herself at him, but she was nothing. Her fists were little more than feeble taps like raindrops throwing themselves uselessly against the mountains. She tried to dig her nails in, to cut at the laughter and crush it in her fingers. Jeremiah merely lifted his arms to deflect her assault away.
“I’m the important one! Shut up! She’s just some ugly little daughter of some filthy whore!”
She screamed at her phantoms, retreating back until she pressed up against the wall. Frightened, she clutched at her ears, trying in vain to block out the unending mockery crashing upon her.
“I’m not crazy! I’m not! These visions – they are of the divine! A gift!”
But still the laughter and rejection assaulted her from all sides.
“There’s nothing wrong with me. Nothing! It’s the others that are wicked! It’s the others we must be wary of! She brought this upon us. Not I!”
In the darkness, Jeremiah could see tears begin to trickle down her cheeks as Amber’s inner demons seemed to consume her in the shadows. She huddled and shook by herself – abandoned by those that had been near. As Jeremiah slowly calmed and gathered his senses, the girl he’d loved seemed to lose herself completely in the dark.
A rumble and crumble of tiles signalled movement from above. Minutes seemed to pass in the dark and Jeremiah move to the torch barely burning at Amber’s feet. He gently breathed upon the flames, slowly building them into a brightening glow once more. The girl flinched before the flames, crawling away from the revealing light as if it burned at her very skin. He turned towards the hole and dangling rope, watching a dark lump slowly inching its way down. A scramble behind him caused him to turn and he saw, wordlessly, the retreating back of the priestess as she fled into the shadows.
Jeremiah waited as the others slowly made the descent into the pit. Kait took the longest, having to slide her numerous bags down first before committing herself to the climb.
“Where’d the strumpet get off to?” Keirn asked, approaching Jeremiah’s side.
“She ran off. Don’t know where. What happened up there?”
“Took a good swing at Keirn!” Derrek announced happily. “Looked like she was going for the eyes then she hurried down after you.”
“Why’d she do that.”
“Keirn was threatening to throw her after you since you were taking so long,” Aliessa sighed. She gave a brief shout as another of Kait’s bags clattered behind them. Somewhere amongst her folds a frightened bird gave a chirp.
“Are you okay?” Keirn asked. “You look… different.”
“Odd. I don’t know. You didn’t kill her did you?”
Keirn looked at the scattered bones on the ground.
Jeremiah only shook his head.
“We talked before she left. Cleared some things up.”
“You know she’s crazy right?” Keirn asked.
“As a jaybird.”
“Good because some of the things she’s said…” Keirn shook his head. “Nevermind. I’m sure Kait will be glad we never have to hear from her again.”
A shocked shout drew their attention back to the rope and they found Kait struggling to extract herself from the pile of bags. Keirn hurried to her side, chiding her as he fished her out from among her things. She looked back up the way they came, giving the rope a soft tug.
“We’re not going to leave this behind, are we?” she asked.
“Unless you plan on climbing up and fetching it, it’s probably best to leave it.”
“What is this, anyway?” Aliessa asked, stepping to Jeremiah’s side and taking a look at the murals over the walls.
“Ah, see! I knew this was the way to go,” Derrek said. “That’s why the answer was ‘exit.’”
“Dear, you’re not making sense.”
“It’s simple, the floor above us was a trap.”
“Really, you think?” Keirn said.
“But the solution itself was a false lead. See, if we’d successfully crossed and gone out the door, it would have sealed anyway. And from the looks of the cables overhead, the final corridor has already been coated in a flammable grease. Had we arrived through that exit, we’d have been roasted like a boar.”
“He’s not actually being serious, is he?” Kait whispered.
“This way should do it!” Derrek announced, heading into the darkness after plucking the torch from Jeremiah’s hands.
“Just get your bags,” Keirn said. He stepped to Jeremiah’s side as they formed rank. He pulled the long rod from his sleeves, admiring it in the light of Jeremiah’s torch. “At least we still have this to show for our troubles.”
“Seems rather fortunate that she found it before we did,” Jeremiah said.
“Not really. This isn’t the first time that Mai-” Keirn stopped mid-sentence, looking quickly at Jeremiah.
The dark man scowled.
“What was that?”
“Quite a little puzzle, that. I guess we’ll never know for sure.”
“You knew she would be here!” Jeremiah cried, grabbing his friend by the wrist before he could sneak off.
Keirn shook his head.
“I didn’t know she’d be here. But I won’t say it was a surprise. And you seemed so excited when we first bumped into her that I wasn’t going to bring it up. Then there was the whole issue of the creature chasing her and then getting stuck in all those traps and it… just never seemed like the right time to mention it.”
“So this whole damnable adventure had been a trap from the start!”
“This way!” Derrek called, waving the group towards a darkened passage. As the torch drew closer it revealed a set of stairs leading up.
“Look, it’s not my fault that we’re mortal enemies with a woman who has seemingly unending underworld connections.”
“We agreed we wouldn’t deal with that witch again!” Jeremiah cried. Keirn hissed at him.
“Look, the others don’t know and I don’t see why they have to.”
“I’m not keeping your lies now! I can’t believe I agreed to all of this.”
“You agreed because you know you’re needed. Without you, who would be our moral compass?”
“But you don’t ever listen to me!”
“That’s not true. We didn’t throw the tart down the pit and now we’re all better people for it.”
Jeremiah sighed. But perhaps his friend did have a point. Deep down he didn’t really think they would throw her in but maybe that’s because they knew he would intervene. Perhaps it wasn’t the strangers that needed to look up to him at all.
“Oh, before I forget, we packed these up for you,” Keirn said. He held out Jeremiah’s scabbard. “But I thought it might be wise to at least give this to you for now. Who knows what else we’ll come across.”
Jeremiah took the sword. They paused at the top of the stairs as he handed the torch to Keirn then wrapped the leather thong around his waist. The metal of the scabbard slapped against his unarmoured side and to feel the blade against him without his armour on was a strange sensation. But he patted the handle, its presence somehow easing his mind.
“We really need to get you something new,” Keirn said.
“This is just fine.”
“No, look. The reward for this little beauty is quite high. And now that she-who-we-don’t-speak-of has to pay all of us for retrieving it instead of just the little tart, we’ll have plenty enough coin to get you something a little more respectable. Something a bit more knightly.”
“It’s fine,” Jeremiah said. “It’s really not important how it looks but what I do with it that matters.”
And Keirn regarded him curiously as the girls pressed by to continue on after Derrek.
“I’m… glad to hear it. But I insist we get you something. At the very least, let’s get that awful armour of yours repaired.”
“Fine but I’m not sure how comfortable I am with giving her some ancient powerful relic.”
Keirn turned the rod over in his hands. He looked down the corridor to make sure the girls were out of earshot before looking back at Jeremiah.
“Look, if the ancient murals are anything to go by I don’t think her abuse of this artefact is really going to be an issue. From what I can gather it’s for…” Keirn paused as he tried to think of some tact. “Let’s just say its powers are for personal use.”
Jeremiah shook his head.
“Now you’re joking.”
“Buddy, you’ve been missing out a lot by skipping temple. Come on, let’s get out of this dusty place and I can tell you more. Who knows, the gods may not be as bad as you think.”
They hurried down the corridor to catch up with their compatriots. However, as they approached, they found the others standing before a great iron door. The girls were watching Derrek expectantly as the young man pulled anxiously on the bars.
At the sound of their approach, all three turned around and began shouting. But as Jeremiah stepped into the room, he felt the floor shift slightly. A pressure plate slide beneath his weight and before they could react, a crash of metal sounded behind them. They turned to see a second metal gate had sealed them in.
“Turns out I was wrong,” Derrek muttered. “Seems like it was a trap all along.”
A rumble in the distance caused each member to turn with concern to the other. Jeremiah looked at Keirn.
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