Stronger Than We Look.

If he survived this, Fen was going to kill him. The treasure hunter had business in the states that he couldn’t follow. Unfortunately for both of them, murder charges had a habit of sticking around. There were risks, and then there were massive bouts of stupidity that would screw over people he cared about. He’d moved past that point in his life…mostly.

His haphazard descent sent earth skittering down the rough slope. With a short hop he landed in the dry canal, almost denting his forehead on the low ceiling. Far away from the surface and the crowds there he was willing to risk light. With a quick twitch of his fingers the air rippled. Glowing motes fanned across the broken floor. Soon the passageway basked in dim gold, hidden pitfalls and collapsed walls losing their danger in the light.

Now that he could see he started down the ever descending tunnel. The temperature equalized as the air stilled. A few places in the long forgotten tunnel gave him difficulty, small cave ins and rubble that would take strength and patience to move. He didn’t have spades of either. Getting around them took some improvisation; nothing that running around with Fen hadn’t prepared him for.

Still when his shoe scrapped over the telltale flagstones he breathed a small release of relief. Starving lost beneath the city was not the way he wanted to go. And now he knew this was the place. He ran fingertips over the walls.  The carved indentations were clear and deliberate. It was writing, scripture of some sort if the images carved alongside were any indication.

The script didn’t keep his attention long. In the center of the small room a raised platform was set waist height in stone. It was rough, the same whorls and knot like writing covering its edges. He could see these clearer as dark residue stained the indents. Maybe it was a good thing Fen wasn’t here. The altar was old, but he could guess its use. Small chips marred the stone towards the center with more of the dark stones.

He only had a few more moments to inspect the grisly altar. Sharp footsteps echoed down the narrow tunnels. Whoever they were, they didn’t care about being found. That meant they were either stupid, careless or powerful enough that it didn’t matter. He ducked through a crumbled wall and nestled himself into a quick hiding spot, drawing the motes back into his hand.

*******

The only thing keeping her partially conscious was the fierce grip on her upper arms. She didn’t know where they were taking her, only that the floor was rough and that her feet and knees were probably a bloody mess. She could feel the dull sting down her bare legs, but whatever they’d given her curbed pain as well as the other senses.

The voices at her sides were indistinct but familiar. She knew them, but her mind refused to focus on how. A shiver moved up her spine. She was cold, the kind that settled deep in one’s body and worked its way out. Finally they stopped, leaving her hanging limp between them. Someone pushed her head backwards, letting it loll. A sharp finger pulled her eyelid back.

“If she cannot survive the first dose…” Someone said. They sounded bored.

“The strength of the body means little.” The second voice was closer. She could feel it cool against her sweat soaked skin.

“I suppose. We will see.” The first said unconvinced. “We are here at least. It’s unbecoming having to drag her.” Despite the complaint neither seemed to strain as they hauled her forward and up. Her feet left the ground and a moment later her back hit stone. She must have cried out as someone crooned gently, shushing her.

The beginnings of vision began to return slowly. Above her one of them held the torch, the other pale in the dark with a knife. The blade flashed. She winced but no more pain bloomed through the haze in her head.  Instead a drop of warm liquid hit her lip. The next dribble choked her. She coughed, lifting a hand but it was shoved to her side as more of the cloying copper taste was forced through her lips. Something stopped them and the two paused.

She wasn’t cold anymore, a growing warmth spread in her chest even as she gulped air.

A whispered command, “find it” and the one with the torch left, moving like a prowling cat. A moment later something beyond the altar caught the pale one’s attention. Cold eyes flicked to her, and then turned away, a light sliver into the dark. Alone, she closed her eyes trying to breathe through the fire moving in her veins.

“Come on.” Another voice. She opened her eyes with a start. The words were different from the others, lower, male and at her ear. Feather light fingers touched her arm. “They wont be gone long.” She thought to argue with him. The assumptions in that statement were problematic at least. But her tongue and throat refused to work even if her mind was slowly reclaiming its functions.

“I think I know the way out.” He drew her up, a hunched narrow shoulder under her own with an arm supporting her back. This stranger was not as strong as them, but she didn’t need to be carried anymore.

“This isn’t a good idea.” She whispered as they stumbled towards the tunnel.

****

The girl half hanging off his arm was not heavy. Petite didn’t cover it, she was sickly thin. That was a good thing though, he didn’t have the build for carrying damsels to safety, nor the desire to do so really.

But between her light frame and the danger buzzing in his veins like a drug, they managed a good pace.

That was until the unmistakable crunch of footsteps sounded ahead of them. The girl froze, but she didn’t flinch back or cower. She wasn’t scared, he realized.”Exactly what is going on?” He whispered, taking a step back himself.

The girl didn’t answer, gaze still drugged and unfocused. The light of a torch was upon them before he could drag her into hiding. The woman holding the torch smiled slow as she moved forward, gait smooth and sure. He wondered how much she needed that light.

“I am curious what you intend to accomplish.” The voice came from behind him. He twisted as best he could. The other one, pale in the dark, blocked the way back. The self-inflicted wound along her forearm still dripped red onto the ground. Despite her words there was no curiosity in her pointed face. “Stealing a goddess from her own temple.”

That would be quite a feat. But the girl looked anything but divine half hanging off his arm,wheezing and barely able to stand. “Your goddess seems a little unwell.” He said, maneuvering to face the one apparently in charge,

“We are stronger than we look.” The woman said.

He frowned at the ‘we’ but didn’t manage to voice the question. Iron fingers closed around the back of his neck. A quick yank and his face met wall. Cold pain spread over his skull. The woman with the torch yanked him back and drove him into the stone again. She dropped him unceremoniously to the ground.

Crumpled on the tunnel floor he conceded that yes, they seemed to be much stronger than they looked. The girl picked herself from the floor, swaying but standing. She looked at him, eyes finally focused even as his vision blackened. She might have said something but the others drew her back towards the temple leaving him to lose consciousness in the dark.

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