Thursday, June 7, 2012

Travis Smith

Price to Be Paid

"Have you been there or not?" Truv asked the old man sitting across from him. He glanced towards Rinda, frustration beginning to show in his eyes.
Rinda gave Truv a half-smile hoping her presence would help him maintain some semblance of patience. They had followed rumors of a sunken city to this planet and the old man across from them was the only person who seemed to have any information. He looked up from his drink at Truv and Rinda sitting across the table. After a moment he took a deep breath and for a moment his eyes brightened, lit by memories only he could recall.
"You really want to go out there?" the old man asked, then drained his glass and ordered another.
"Damn right," Truv replied. "If the stories are even halfway true there could be a fortune worth of artifacts and who knows what else."
The old man stared at Truv for a moment longer, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a small datapad.
"Here are the coordinates," the old man said picking up his refilled glass.
“You’re just giving them to me?” Truv asked, reaching out to take the datapad.
“I can see it in your eyes. I had the same look once. You are going no matter what I tell you. Take ‘em. They’re not worth the effort.”
Sensing the conversation was over Truv tossed some money for the drinks on the table and stood to leave, “Thank you.”
Rinda hesitated watching the old man as he took a long drink. "What did you see?"
The old man closed his eyes for a moment, then looked back at Rinda, "Mostly death."
#

The old man’s coordinates led them to a rocky island and a cave that was two hundred meters underwater. They had rented a boat that was equipped for sub-surface travel and were able to find the cave after only a short search. The cave led horizontally into the rock for several hundred meters, then opened upwards into a large chamber. The top of the chamber was air-filled and as they rose to the surface they could see a stone landing along the side of the chamber. Uniformly placed glowing lights lined the walls and they could see the walls were covered with intricate patterns. The landing led to an archway, which was also marked with swirling lines and patterns that neither had seen before.
“The old man was right,” Truv said as they brought the boat alongside the landing.
Rinda climbed onto the landing and looked more closely at the designs carved into the wall while Truv tossed their packs onto the landing.
“Have you ever seen any markings like these before?” Rinda said as Truv climbed out of the boat to stand next to her.
“I don’t think so,” he replied, holding her pack out. “We’ll get some images of them on the way out. Let’s get going for now.”
Rinda shouldered her pack and followed Truv through the archway, glancing back briefly, an uneasy feeling creeping into her mind. The tunnel was carved out of the dark volcanic rock, the polished walls lit by the same lights they saw in the larger chamber. After several hundred meters they came to a section that was partially collapsed.
“This doesn’t look like it collapsed on its own,” Rinda said. “Look, those are blast marks.”
“Maybe someone is trying to keep people out,” Truv shrugged. “Which means they don’t want us to find whatever is in here.”
Rinda wasn’t convinced, but took the lead crawling forward through what remained of the passage. She loved Truv and normally didn’t mind following him on these treasure-hunting trips, but the feeling that this adventure was a mistake was growing stronger.
"Can you see anything yet?" Truv’s voice echoed up the passage after she had been crawling for a few minutes.
"Not yet, but I think it is opening up in front of me."
The tunnel opened into a large room and Rinda stood, looking around. The room was lit with the same glowing lights. The walls were embossed with carved figures that stood out from the polished walls; the rougher texture of the statues made them appear as if they were leaping out of the rock itself. They were creatures she had never seen before, savage looking, with teeth protruding at odd angles from elongated mouths and narrow, slanted eyes glaring out of the stone, but strangely beautiful in their own way.
She started to call back to Truv but a statue on the far side of the room caught her eye. It was free standing, not carved into the wall like the others, and it looked human. His outstretched hand was holding a large gem. She watched for a moment then stood mesmerized as the statue began swaying, as if in rhythm to music beyond her hearing. The statues eyes opened and Rinda stared, still unable to tear her eyes away from the image in front of her, as he walked to the nearest statue. He spoke to it with words Rinda could not understand, before continuing around the room, stopping at each statue, before turning once again to look at her.
The air swirled around Rinda and she saw the man’s eyes narrow in anger. The damp smell of the ruins was replaced by the clean air of farm lands that now surrounded her. She watched as the man led his creatures into a small village. They resisted, but the outcome was never in doubt. The carnage was horrifying as the savage creatures tore into the villagers with teeth and claws. Last to fall was a tall, dark-haired woman. She held out the gem in front of her, as if to ward off death. Her eyes locked onto Rinda. There was no fear in them, only a grim determination highlighted by a faint glow that emanated from her.
Rinda watched the man kill her, then pry the gem from her hand. The smell of death faded and Rinda was back in the ruins. The man stood motionless, a grim smile on his face, and the creatures began circling with eyes focused on her. The largest stepped toward her, baring its jagged teeth.
"Are you alright?" Truv's voice broke into her thoughts.
"I...I think so," her voice was shaky as her mind cleared. She looked around at the lifeless statues and then at Truv, who was now staring at the gem in the statue’s outstretched hand.
Rinda remembered the dark-haired woman who had held that gem. She shuddered from the memory of her vision and the look in the woman’s eyes and she understood. “We need to leave the gem Truv. Leave everything. Just leave.”
"Are you kidding, that gem is worth a fortune."
"No!" Rinda grabbed his arm. "The old man was right. There is nothing here but death." He resisted, staring at the gem, but the determination in her voice made him turn to look at her.
“That gem has a price,” she said, “One that I can’t let you pay.” Her eyes were wide, reflecting her fear and Truv relented, allowing her to pull him into the tunnel with only a brief glance back.
#

The man’s smile faded into stone as the two disappeared into the tunnel. Almost, he thought, almost. Even in death that raven-haired witch had defeated him, just as she had all those years ago. She had known that he would kill her, known that he would take the gem, but now the seed was planted. These two were not the first to come and the rumors would grow with each who followed. If not this young man, then another, but he knew the lure was too strong. Someone would come and take it, and then they could pay the price for this cursed gem.


© J. Travis Smith 2012

Travis lives in North Carolina with his wife and three children where his day job supports his addiction to writing. He writes fantasy and science fiction stories for children and adults, sometimes with a humorous twist, sometimes horror, always for fun. More of his work can be found at Artifacts: Of This and Other Worlds.

3 comments:

  1. I'm glad Truv did not over-rule her, as I thought he might, and the ending was more neatly-balanced than expected too.

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  2. Indiana Jones has some competition in this treasure-hunting, fact-finding duo, and their adventure takes place on another planet! I enjoyed the way we get to see Truv and Rinda retreating through the eyes of the statue/creature. That's something we hardly ever get to do.
    Travis, I wish you appeared in this venue more often.

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