Tales From a Thousand Worlds

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Echo of the Ages – The Crown of Fire – Shadow of the Raven – Chapter 3

Chapter 3 – The Raven and the Emperor

Kathri did not see the explosion when it occurred, not directly. The searing flash of light that accompanied it pierced even through her closed eyelids. Rather than seeing it, she felt it and heard it. A blast of pressure swirled over and around the crystal, slamming into her. Dust picked up by the blast swept across her, stinging exposed flesh as it struck. Her ears were riven by the explosion, the sound of it bouncing through the chamber, deafening in its intensity, a cacophony of noise that assaulted the senses and seemed to go on and on without end. The intensity of it rolled over her, battering at her. She clung on tight, waiting for it to come to an end.

When the echoes of it at last died out, her ears still rang. Slowly she rose up from where she had sheltered and looked over the crystal towards the door.

It had gone, along with a large portion of the wall around where it had been. The image of the king ended at his waist, below which now only a gaping hole in the wall could be seen. Smoke and dust filled the chamber, hanging in the air and blocking a view of what lay beyond the hole as well as much of the rest of the room they were in. In the light of the amberstone the dust glowed with an almost bloody hue, ominous in its appearance. Large shards of shattered stone lay strewn around the new opening in the wall.

Astiara stood up and directed a grin in Kathri’s attention. He began dusting himself off as he headed towards the opening. Closing in on it, he drew his hiasta once more. Kathri went after him, her legs still shaky from the experience. Her hearing began to recover as the ringing gradually subsided in strength, as did the dust that hung in the air, settling to the floor once more.

Kathri peered in through the opening. Through it loomed the broken remnants of a stone statue of the same kind as the ones that stood in the forechamber. The legs of it had been smashed by the force of the blast. As it had collapsed, the head of it had broken off and come to rest looking out through the hole. The hound like features of it bore an almost stoic melancholy about it, or so Kathri felt. Astiara made his way in, holding the amberstone up high so as to light the way.

Entering in through the hole in the wall after him, Kathri rested her hand upon the muzzle of the statue’s head. A feeling of regret for it’s current situation stole over her.

All those centuries standing silent vigil in the dark for your Emperor only to meet such an ignoble fate. You did not deserve that.

“The Mages are really not going to enjoy hearing about what we have done,” she murmured, half to herself. “They are going to be unhappy with the damage we have caused.”

Astiara responded with a shrug, his basic body language implying what was done was done and that that they had little choice in the matter, not if they wished to continue on.

As the illumination from the amberstone flooded into the burial chamber, they saw dominating the room a solid plinth of red stone and upon it a crystal sarcophagus. The plinth itself bore scars from the explosion where fragments of flying stone had struck it. The crystal did not, remaining unmarred. It was also larger than the ones out in the forechamber and clear as well, not restricting the view of the body within. Along the walls around the room stood large stone pots, each as high as a person. Of the same type of red stone as the plinth, they had been decorated with gold around the rim and in abstract swirling patterns across the body of them. The walls themselves were also painted, bearing images of a kind as had been seen on the wall outside the chamber, predominant among them the deeds of the Emperor.

Ignoring them, Kathri and Astiara walked towards the crystal sarcophagus, almost reverential in their approach. The man within was tall and black skinned. It was hard to tell his exact age, though he was no longer young. He retained a warrior’s physique, being broad of shoulder and well built. As with the images of him on the wall, he had fiery hair, almost to being like molten metal in appearance, a mix of deep reds, of oranges, yellows and whites, the very essence of one who was fireblooded. Despite an appearance of being a warrior, he had not been buried as one. He wore long flowing robes of the purest white, the hems, collars and cuffs of which were stitched with threads of gold and purple that formed complex geometric patterns of swirls. His hands were clasped together upon his chest and beneath them he held a golden sceptre. A large red ruby formed the head of it while smaller ones were studded along its length. Golden rings graced his fingers and his ears while a circlet of gold rested upon his head, in the centre of which shone another rich red ruby.

Etched into the surface of a material that could not be marred be any known means was a stylised emblem, that of a spread winged raven. Never before had Kathri seen a sarcophagus so marked. As to how it had been done, whether during the process of creation, or after, she could not fathom a guess.

Kathri bowed her head towards the entombed Emperor. “Hello Ajanathad,” she said with obvious respect. “A lot of people have been looking for you for a long time.”

“The last of the lost Great Emperors of the Hajanri,” Astiara observed, resting a hand upon the sarcophagus. “It is the end of an age.”

Kathri responded with a wry smile. “There are still dozens of kings and queens from numerous civilisations whose tombs have yet to be discovered.”

“None of them took the imagination as did Ajanathad and the other Great Emperors. Few but for the likes of us would have heard of the others.”

“True,” Kathri admitted, still looking upon the features of the entombed Ajanathad, “But we are not yet out of work.”

Astiara laughed, amusement sparkling in his eyes. “We will never be out of work. There have been too many fallen civilisations for that.” He stared down at Ajanathad, a thoughtful look coming across him. “That is a fortune contained within there that can not be recovered.”

“Let him keep his jewels,” Kathri replied, at last raising her look from the sarcophagus. “There is more than enough in here for us.” She looked around the room, at the jars standing along the walls, and her eyes lighted upon an object at the rear of the room she had not seen earlier. A pedestal stood there, one of intricately wrought iron, and upon it sat a small figurine. In the shape of a raven, it was made of dark green porcelain through which were shot threads of gold.

She started to walk towards it, drawn to an object that seemed out of place. Astiara headed for the jars around the room. That the raven was just sitting there on display seemed to her to be odd, as the raven was not an important symbol for the Hajanri. That honour belonged to the fallen kingdom of the Brianath, and to the House of Sancia that had once held land within the Kingdom of Ferria, one of the Seven Kingdoms of the Vigosa that formed the Conclave. Twice now it marked the burial chamber.

Why a raven? She wondered. The hawk would have been more appropriate for burial with an emperor of the Hajanri.

A rattle came from one of the jars as Astiara removed the lid from it, breaking into Kathri’s thoughts. “There is nothing in here but sand,” he reported. Kathri span about, crimson flaring in her eyes.

“Don’t touch it!” she barked out as fast as she could, beginning to run towards him.

Astiara’s hand had began to dip into the jar, only to halt at her words. It hovered there for a moment before he jerked it back as if it had been stung. He dropped the lid back onto the jar and scrambled away, the blood draining from his face. “Here?” he asked incredulously. “No, that can’t be true. They never trap the Emperors burial chamber you said, and most certainly not with that.”

“You didn’t touch it did you?” Kathri asked as she reached his side, deep concern evident in her voice and her looks. Her eyes shaded back to their familiar ochre as she looked down at his hand, seeing that it remained unblemished.

Astiara shook his head, his composure restored. “No. It was close though. If you had warned me a few seconds later….” He broke off with a shrug.

Kathri exhaled a long breath that she hadn’t been aware she had been holding in. “This place is all wrong. Nothing is as it should be. I would not be at all surprised if all the other jars are the same as this one.”

Astiara nodded, moving towards the next jar. With cautious movements he removed the lid and looked inside. It was filled near to the brim with sand of a kind that caught the light of the amberstone and seemed to glisten from it, while brief flashes of a blood red colour played through it. One by one they checked the rest of the jars. When they had examined the last of them, all having been filled with sand, Astiara frowned. “Traps and no treasure. There has to be treasure though. This is the tomb of one of the greatest of the Hajanri Emperors after all. They would not send him on his way without some grave goods to accompany him.”

“It may be that the tomb has been looted already,” Kathri replied. “The body back in the pit trap would seem to indicate that others have been here before us.”

“If that were the case then why is the figurine you were looking at earlier still here?” Astiara asked.

A thoughtful frown fleeted across Kathri’s brow before she nodded. “There is that. Perhaps they hid it all in another chamber. Some of the kings of the First Dynasty did but it soon fell out of favour.”

Astiara rapped on the wall nearby with his knuckles, listening for anything out of the ordinary, searching for hidden exits that might have existed and led into other chambers. Kathri left him to it, instead returning once more to the figurine, feeling drawn into it in a way she could not explain. There was something about it that she couldn’t quite put her finger upon, a nagging feeling of a thought or memory buried away that she felt she should be able to remember. It remained stubbornly out of reach though.

She stood before the figurine, ochre eyes intent upon it, studying the features of it in close detail. The crafting of it had been exquisite. Each feather was a work of art, as close to lifelike as could be made. The expression upon its face was one of proud nobility, if a bird could be said to have possessed it, while its eyes were piercing and knowing all at the same time. The whole of it was flawless, without a mark or blemish upon it. It had survived the storm of the explosion undamaged. Even if the tomb contained no other treasures, it would be reward enough for their efforts and the risks they had taken.

There had been too many unexpected problems with the tomb for her to simply take it though. Going on everything else we have seen here, it as like as not to be trapped. Nothing stood out obvious though. She searched through her collection of stones until she found one formed of rings of black and golden-browns. She brushed at the glyph upon it and whispered the word that brought it to wakefulness. A glowing golden light washed out from it, one that she swept across the figurine and the pedestal it stood upon. Nothing happened in response, much to her surprise. She frowned, tapping at her lip with a finger, pondering the situation. The persistent tap of Astiara searching the walls carried on in the background.

Turning aside from the study of the figurine for a moment, she called out to Astiara. “Try using this,” she told him and threw the eyestone she had used upon the figurine his way. Astiara caught the stone out of the air. He looked down at it and nodded. “There is little enough power remaining contained within,” she went on, “But enough perhaps to search the chamber. If you can find a treasure room with it then it should pay for itself, I hope, on the off chance that I can find another to acquire.”

Astiara began a methodical search of the chamber, sweeping the light of the stone over the walls, inch by inch, leaving no part untouched. Kathri left him at it. From out of her pack she took a bundle of cloth, spreading it out on the floor in readiness to wrap the figurine in. She reached for the raven figurine, cautious still. As her fingers brushed it, she felt a faint discharge of energy come from the figurine, a spark that ran up her arm. She snatched her hand back and looked at it. There had been no mark left upon it and the tingle left behind by the touch dissipated away. Her brow creased in puzzlement. Again she reached for the figurine. This time here was no reaction to her touch.

Odd. The remnants of an old trap that lost its potency? she wondered. Or was it something else entirely

She took hold of the figurine and carefully lifted it from the pedestal. It was surprisingly heavy, more than she had expected for an item of porcelain, having a weight to it she would have expected more from stone. Kneeling down, she lay the figurine upon the cloth. She wrapped it up, tucking the ends of the cloth around it so as to secure it safely away from any damage that could come from knocks and bumps. The newly wrapped bundle she stored away in her pack, tucked in among a change of clothes for added padding and protection.

“Over here, Kathri,” Astiara called out just as she stood back up again. He held out the eyestone before a section of wall. The light from it hit the wall and from one part of it the thinnest of lines of illumination reflected back, where air escaped through a hairline crack all but invisible to the eye but visible to the arcane light. He swept the stone across other parts of the wall, uncovering the outline of a hidden door set at the back of the chamber. Even as he finished the light from the eyestone flickered fitfully a few times before it faded out. With it vanished the outline on the wall.

“It appears to be dead,” Astiara announced. He passed the now depleted glyphstone back to Kathri. The glyph that had once been inscribed across its surface could barely be seen, the power once locked within it expended. She returned to the stone to the pouch along with the others while studying the wall where the door had been.

Upon the wall stood the flame haired image of Emperor Ajanathad, his arm extended towards a doorway, one that all but matched the dimensions of the hidden door. Filled with painted wavy painted blue lines, it represented the doorway to the afterlife which Ajanathad approached. His hand hovered in roughly the middle of the door.

“It is cunningly concealed,” Kathri noted, “But I am not sure I like the implications of the image. An entrance to the afterlife is generally one of foreboding. Only the dead can pass through them, not the living.”

“As long as we don’t have to be dead to enter is all that matters,” Astiara replied. He placed his hand upon the wall where the door was showing, meeting solid stone beneath it. Tapping on the wall, he tested various parts of it without result. Only when his hand came to rest upon the king’s did anything happen.

From his hand rippled outwards a wave, much as a pool of water when a stone had been dropped into it. The painted blue lines on the wall began to glow and swirled inwards, growing faster and faster. Astiara half stumbled forward as his hand sank into the wall.

He hauled his hand back out with a start, his eyes going wide. As he did, the swirling image upon the wall snapped back into its original state. “A Phase Wall,” Astiara gasped, holding onto his hand. “I thought you said that they didn’t use them this early in Hajanri history.”

“They didn’t,” Kathri confirmed. “That was not a true Phase Wall, else you would have not been able to escape it. This is something else, similar but not the true thing. How is your hand?”

Astiara looked down at his hand before letting go of it. “It is fine. There was no effect.”

“Hand me your knife,” Kathri said to him. Astiara drew his hiasta, reversed it and extended it hilt first towards her. Kathri took the blade from him, moving towards the wall. With her free left hand she touched Ajanathad’s hand. Once more the portal opened in the wall. Kathri, prepared for the effect, kept her hand lightly touching the image, not allowing it to sink in. Cautiously she extended the blade of the hiasta into the swirling mass of energy that opened to places unknown. The blade extended in without any resistance. Kathri halted it just before it reached the hilt. She swept it from side to side, feeling it touching the wall on either side of the door but nothing ahead.

“Go and find me a lump of stone,” she told Astiara, removing the blade from the portal.

Astiara headed back towards the entrance they had made into the chamber, where the shattered remnants of the wall were strewn about. He returned carrying a small, broken part of it in one hand, as well as a strip of thin gold plate that had once graced the doorway but had been blasted free in the explosion. “It may not be the treasure, but it is treasure,” he announced.

“True,” Kathri agreed. “Place the stone in the door.”

Astiara knelt down and slid the broken rock into the swirling doorway, leaving a fragment of it still poking out. As he stood up and moved back from the door, Kathri removed her hand from the image of the Emperor’s. The portal remained open, the stone keeping it so.

Kathri nodded with satisfaction. “That is good. I was concerned it might close when I removed my hand, which would have been a matter of grave concern for any going through.”

“Getting stuck in the wall does sound unpleasant,” Astiara noted dryly.

“It does. I felt it wiser to test with a stone rather than your knife.”

“Most considerate.”

Kathri grinned and once more thrust the hiasta through the wall, this time aiming downwards towards where a floor should be on the other side. She felt the tip hit a surface and tapped around. “I can feel a floor there,” she told Astiara. “It extends for as far as I can reach.” She withdrew the blade and returned the knife to Astiara.

Astiara sheathed the knife at his side, all the time his eyes focused upon the wavering blue light of the portal. “We have no idea of knowing on the other side and no means of finding out without going on through. It might be the treasure room but it could just as easily led into a trap.”

Kathri favoured Astiara with a wry smile. “This is a passing strange time to be showing restraint, Astiara. You haven’t shown as much previous. We have come this far and if we turn back now then we will ever regret it, wondering what treasures we may have found and turned our backs upon.”

Astiara grinned at Kathri, a merry light in his eyes. “If we live that long. I was merely pointing out the risks inherent in going through.” He squared his shoulders and looked upon the portal with purpose. “You are right though. I would regret it. I will see you on the other side.”

Kathri held out an arm, stopping him as he began to walk forwards towards the portal. “I will go first,” she told him. He replied with a slow half nod. Taking a deep breath and holding it, Kathri stepped forward, sliding into the wall through the portal.

~~~~

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