Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 205

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Chapter 205

Beyond the forest filled with fog, lies a great plains. Tall grass, short grass, and the occasional tree are visible from the campsite as we pack up in the morning. The day is actually really nice, if a little hot, but my clothes are mostly clean, and all it does is encourage me and Myrna to go without our shirts. Me because it’s hot; her because she wants more skin exposure to the sun. She’s moving faster the more she heats up, too.

“Y’know, I can carry you, Anthony.” Myrna says, looking over her shoulder as she winds through another tuft of grass that’s thick enough to slow me down.

“Yeah, and I can touch my tongue to my elbow. What’s your point?”

“Just know the offer is on the table. Anyways, we have any idea where we’re heading?”

I check the map and look at the compass. “Well, since it’s one of the few landmarks on this crappy map, we’re heading for a big rock thing that looks like a mountain or just an exceptionally large boulder. Other than that I’m totally fucking lost.”

“You mean that one?” I hear Dash call from above. I look up, and see she’s made herself into an aerial pointer, and look in the direction she’s pointing. I can’t see anything.

“No, the other patch of whatever we can’t see from the ground.”

“How the hey can you not see it? It’s, like, a bajillion miles tall!”

“I’m not sure, why don’t you land for once and find out?”

“But the wind and thermals are soooo nice up here!” Dash calls back down, rolling onto her back to make her point. Anne, gleaming like an anti-stealth jet, wings by as well.

“We aren’t on vacation, we’re on a rescue or search and destroy mission.”

“But why can’t we enjoy it? I mean, how often do you get air th-” and without warning, she just vanishes.

I sigh. Either she pulled some weird trick to freak me out or something bad happened. “You alright there, Rainbow?”

No answer. Anne calls down, “I don’t see her! She just sorta van-” and now she’s gone. The hell?!

“Alright, I’ve seen enough sci-fi to assume some sort of cloaked teleporter or some junk like that.” I pull out some coal and toss a lump up where Rainbow and Anne disappeared to. The lump goes higher, higher... and vanishes. I can’t even feel where it is, anymore, either. A ‘general recall’ doesn’t work either so it’s either stuck or out of range. “And it’s a one-way deal to boot. What do you think Myrna?”

“Uh, that we need to find a way to get them back?”

“I meant after that. We can’t just tie ourselves to a post and follow the rope back through, so if we follow them, we’re stuck wherever they are too, and I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be even more lost. Ah well, ladder, please?”

“We don’t really have one. They’re bulky. Unless you need a rope ladder. And besides, they must’ve been a hundred feet up.”

“Well then what’s your plan? Throw me?”

“No. Make a ladder. Or, in this case, a staircase.” She dives underground for a moment, then comes up, looking like she’s dragging a column of rock behind her. She seems to waver for a moment, then slides back down the pillar, solid handholds forming along the way.

“Alright, not much of a staircase, but it’ll do.” I grab the first handhold and make my way up. “Hey, a bit higher on this thing, it just kinda stops up here.”

“Yeah, I felt a little dizzy for a moment, so I stopped. I figured that was the edge of whatever’s making them vanish.” She reaches down, and grabs me by the backpack, and simply hauls me straight up the cliff face. She sets me down on a convenient ledge with my head just a few inches below the ‘cutoff’ point.

I take the dagger out of my pocket and, leaning back, jab it at the ‘invisible hole’. The blade sinks into the ‘air’ and seems to waver, like it’s splitting in two directions at once, each image partially see-through. Each image is also slightly different in color.

“What do you think would happen if we jumped in but still had some of us ‘not in’?” I ask Myrna. “I mean, Rainbow and Anne just kinda ‘fell’ in, but we’ve got gravity pulling us down from this angle.”

“I don’t even know what it is, let alone how it works, Anthony.”

“That’s why it’s called a ‘theory’ as opposed to a ‘fact’.”

Actually, that’s a hypothesis, science-boy.” Myrna quips. “A theory is what you get after you’ve tested your hypothesis. As for my best guess? It’s magic, and follows whatever rules it feels like.”

I sigh. “Good enough for me. Give me a boost through?”

“Alright, here ya go.” She grabs me by my hips as if I was a child, and hoists me bodily into the effect zone.

Oogh... I feel really nauseous, and the room is spinning. Turn off the lights, please.

Room? Lights? Where am I?

Blinking rapidly, the ‘room’ dissolves into the savannah, with Myrna holding onto me. “Anthony, are you alright? You stopped responding, and then you went limp!”

“Yeah... I don’t think it works unless I’m all the way through. I have no idea what happened while I was ‘under’.”

“Well... I can put you on top of the rock, and boost you through that way. I’ll bring you back down in fifteen seconds, okay?”

“Works for me. Let’s just get this over with.”

She lays me down, then I feel a surge as the rock jumps upwa-

Okay, earlier nausea was a one, this is an infinity... and there goes breakfast.

Ugh, now where am I? My whole body feels flipped around so I can’t even tell which direction ‘up’ is... I feel around myself to see if I’m on a solid surface or something, my eyes not feeling like opening.

It... feels solid. I think. It also feels like it’s rocking in a storm. That might just be the nausea, though.

Bleh, I think I can get my tongue working again... “Where ‘m I?”

Looking around makes me feel like I’m spinning rapidly, and makes the world feels like it’s doing backflips for no reason.

“Okay, ride was fun... wanna getoff now...”

Working hard, I manage to sit up, and the dizziness and nausea recede a little. With a  spark of intuition, and the hope I’m not making a mistake, I stand up, and the waves of discomfort largely subside. And... I’m on a cliff. Looking down, I can see a slender pillar of rock, Myrna looking around frantically, though if she’s speaking, I can’t hear it.

I figure trying to speak to her wouldn’t help, but... I gotta communicate somehow. Hmm... I take something from my backpack, another small dagger, and drop it down over the ledge near where I can see her.

The weapon glances of the rock and spins past her face. It doesn’t look like it cut her, but it has her looking up again.

I try waving at her, but I figure she can’t see me. Need to send her a message somehow...

Rummaging through my stuff, I find some scrap parchment. Good enough. I write my message of ‘I’m okay, come through.’ and fold the paper into a crude airplane and toss it at her.

It bounces off her face, and for a second I’m afraid I’ll have to find another piece of parchment. Then, one of her snakes grabs it in its mouth, and hands it to her. I move away from the ledge and wait for Myrna to come through.

She starts her way up, but stops, going cross eyed as she falls away from the barrier, barely catching herself before she falls off the tall stone spire.

I sigh and wait for her to realize that she has to be ‘launched’ through. Oh well, she’ll think of something, I should probably look around for Anne and Rainbow.

Looking around, I can see what looks like the entrance to a cave about a dozen feet away along a thin path on the stone wall of the cliff. Oh, joy... I’m a hundred feet up, and the only place to go is across a razor-thin ledge over a sheer drop that may or may not have more magic covering other hazards. Whee.

That said... perhaps I can get propulsion on my side. If I used my Dynamo form to speed up and take a flying leap... would it carry me far enough to reach the other side... I look at what I have for a ‘runway’ and at the distance I’d have to jump... yeah, no chance of me sticking that even if I made it. Mario Jumpman Video I ain’t. Oh well, new plan. Hmmm... I could grow and try to step over it, but at that size I’d have zero footing anyway.

I sit down and think this over. I gotta have some kind of trick I can pull here. But what? Step one, review inventory. I double-check my backpack and see what I brought with that might help. Unfortunately I have no rope, no grappling hooks and no Quantum Tunneling Device. Guess I gotta do this the slow way. I look at the teeny tiny path I have to move along and figure which way to go about this. I could go on my stomach, but it would be truly impossible to grab the ledge if I fell, I’m not that dextrous... But using my two feet and sidling along would be a bad distribution of my weight on this sliver of land, and there’s no chance of enough room to crawl.

Okay... How do I do this? I continue to sit and stare at the ‘path’ hoping for some sort of epiphany. I’ll think of something...

Come on, man... think!

Sighing, I decide the stomach-crawl is my best bet and lay down, slowly pulling myself up to the path. Okay... no exceptionally strong wind blowing, no loud distracting noises... let’s do this. Shutting my eyes tight I wriggle onto the path, going very slowly to make sure I can stay still enough to rest like this if need be.

I think I’m good... Taking a deep breath and letting it out I continue my slow wiggle as I heave myself forward centimeter by centimeter until I can’t feel my feet touch the ledge behind me anymore.

After what feels like an eternity of slow-motion shimmying, I feel the other side’s ledge. Calming down, I make my way further up onto the ledge and eventually I’m able to sit upright and look back at the other side where I came from.

I blink. The path behind me is at least four feet wide, and has a small guard-rail to boot. I can see my footprints on the side of the path opposite the guard-rail from the actual cliff.

That was not there a bit ago, I swear! I quadruple-checked the area! Now the universe is just trolling me... Sighing, I head for the cave. It’s a teensy bit dark, so I light myself up, the usual steel-gray glow bathing the area around me in my aura.

The cave itself is large, the tunnel leading in big enough for me to walk with my arms up and still not touch the roof if I wanted to, and there’s bones, big and small, lining the walls. A few skulls look up from piles of femurs and ribs, but on the whole, it doesn’t smell bad. I shudder a little as I notice deep tooth marks, as if from a shark or something, in the bones.

Well, the others must have come this way, so I decide to call out for them, hoping the cavernous area would help carry my voice. I wait a bit, then shout a bit louder.

After a bit with no response, I steel myself to go in. Hopefully, nothing grabbed the others while they were stunned and dragged them in to add to the bonepiles... though, I kinda have a morbid curiosity about whether Anne has bronze bones, too.

Speaking of... I take another look at the bones, specifically the skulls, and see if I can find any evidence of a non-humanoid’s remains. About a dozen rat skulls, something that looks canid, and several that are distinctly human, and one that looks mostly human, but rotted and huge, with black teeth. The shape is subtly wrong, though. No pony skulls, though, so that’s encouraging.

Well, might as well go a bit further then. Stepping deeper into the cave, I look for any indication of Rainbow or Anne being here. They must have gone in here, there’s no other way to go, but a bit of evidence would be nice.

A few more feet into the tunnel and I find myself near a side-passage, this one a little shorter than the mainline.

Well, I should probably stick to the mainline, but I also want to be able to come back here in case... Entering my heat form, I trace a scorched line in the ground along behind me, deciding to switch to the wall once I can, as walking like this is rather uncomfortable, but I really don’t want to get turned around in here.

Further down the tunnel, I come to a truly cavernous room, the walls, floor, and ceiling rough-hewn stone, with small piles of sand and bones all about.

Well, I’ve seen less inviting-looking places. Keeping my Heat Form up but dropping my temperature, I continue on figuring it should be easy enough to find my way back. Just to be careful though, I look back to make sure there aren’t, like, twenty tunnels that split off into here.

Thankfully there aren’t, and the sunlight is just barely visible at the entrance. I turn back towards the large room, and continue deeper, trying to call for the girls again, not having any luck this time either. Oh well, they’re here somewhere, just gotta keep moving. I Wonder if Myrna managed to get through?

A snap-hiss like a lightsaber being ignited makes me freeze in place, and a ring of light in my peripheral vision brings my gaze down. I’m standing in some kind of circle made of runes, and suddenly, the room is spinning. Literally. The walls are whirling around like a reverse blender, and the floor outside of the circle is going in the opposite direction.

The question is: Is this a secret passage, or a trap?

With a  minor jolt, the spinning stops, and I’m in a different room. There aren’t any ways out that I can see, and the rune circle goes dark.

Trap it is, then.

Okay, I’ve gotten out of worse. I decide to reignite my hand, summoning a fireball to give a bit more light than my aura does. Looking around the new room, I see it, like the rest of the cave, is made of stone, so I’m still somewhere in the caves... but no idea where exactly.

Just to test, I step off the runic circle and back onto it, but it doesn’t activate again. Okay, I’ve messed with ‘shifting room’ puzzles before, I can figure this out... One style that comes to mind is where the room just had the walls shift to cover up the doorways so the doors are still there just behind the wall...

I try to phase my arm through the wall next to me. If I can find a doorway, I’m out of here, simple as that. However... it feels like solid rock to me. I can’t phase through it, though my hand is doing the weird half-invisible thing like normal.

Okay, that’s weird. This is a totally normal stone wall, I should be able to walk right through it... unless it’s got some sort of barrier around it... but that can’t be right unless it’s just this room. I could easily see the scorch-lines I made when I looked back, so this room has been ‘fixed’ somehow. Alright, now I just have to figure out how it’s ‘protected’ and how I can get through.

Hmmm... I try to leave a scorch mark on the stone wall where I failed to phase through and I leave the mark like normal. So it’s not heat resistant. Maybe I could melt through the rock? Nah, that’d take too much power, I’d be out cold for a couple of hours. Gotta think of something... if I was making a trap with no exit or back-door option... wait, that’s stupid! I mean, a trap that can’t be reused? And as big as this? That’s a horrible idea! Granted the maker of this could just be a moron, but they can’t be too stupid if they managed to make this place resistant to intangibility, the ultimate ‘get out of trap free’ card.

I sit down and stare at the wall, thinking hard on how this trap could work. I try channeling some energy into where the runic circle was, but get no response. Okay, gotta think of this in different terms, take a new perspective. I look around the room and make a mental map and draw a sort of ‘top-down’ perspective of the area into the floor. Shifting to the side I redraw it with a ‘third person’ perspective but still can’t make heads or tails of this. I move my hand to the bridge of my nose and ponder what possibility I hadn’t thought of.

Just to test, I heat up again and melt a handprint into the stone, but it’s very thick and I can’t push much further into it no matter how much I heat it up, probably hitting that barrier I can’t phase through.

I stare at my handprint on the wall. Is this a clue to the answer or just a distraction? For the sake of having them match, I change the images I’ve drawn on the floor, including the little indent my palm made. I sit down, gaze shifting from the drawings to the handprint and back. There’s a piece I’m missing here, but what? A hollow spot?

I knock against each wall, listening for a hint but I’m assured that the entire area is completely solid all the way through. I take a deep breath and try to think of other possibilities. I’m not going to be stopped by this. Next Chapter: Chapter 206 Estimated time remaining: 2 Hours, 3 Minutes

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