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Daedalus In The Underworld Pt 5: A Simple Case Of Gas

The black priest hadn’t been seen for a week. Everyone assumed he was dead and his bones were added to the pile that was climbing to the sky.

Helios was not dead. The lions didn’t let him die. He drank from their mouths and he ate from their kills and all because they didn’t know one deity from another. To the cats he was mom and it would be that way until all of them chanced to be together in the den. It was only a matter of time before it happened.

He crept away, unseen by the cats, into the deeper parts of the caves. For light he had fire, though everything about him was reborn. It was new and exciting to see his hand before his face in what should have been a pitch black cave.

After a while he threw his torch aside. At first he saw little, but after a few minutes a new kind of seeing came to mind. He saw through rock to the rock wall behind, and then he saw through that, and the next, as far as he chose to see. Turning his gaze skyward he saw through layers of earth until he was blinded by a light so bright he saw nothing more.

In darkness he slept, and he awoke to the sound of voices.

“Someone’s been here,” said one.

Helios couldn’t see, but the man’s speech said he was Antallean.

“Impossible!” declared a second who could only be Daedalus, “Icarus…”

Daedalus said no more because he remembered that Icarus wasn’t there.

“You said you know where they are,” complained the squeaky voice of Menjik.

“That was before they stomped all over the chamber,” argued the doctor.

Helios, seeing nothing and hearing all, knew exactly what they were talking about. The stones came in many shapes and sizes. Some were cylinders for storing information. Others were crystals split with Titan accuracy for a single purpose, such as preventing access to a nexus of artificial intelligence.

It was Pateramon’s genius that he recognized the exact stone for the purpose and set it into the pommel of the Sword of Theosadartis, not only because he could do it, but because it implies that he knew, hundreds of years before, that such a tool would be needed.

Down and down they went, with Helios following behind.

He learned they were eight person’s: Menjik, Daedalus, Ambicatus and five soldiers of the guard. He learned that Daedalus had no intention of finding the Stones of Hephaestus. Clear in the learned man’s mind was the regent’s threat that if the stones came into the hands of the temple he would be strung up and used as mosquito bait.

It was not exactly true that the stones were lost. Helios knew, or thought he knew, just where they were, as did the generations of temple stewards who had come before.

As they descended Daedalus hardly had his mind on the matter. The thought in his head crowding out all others was the fact that the Temple of Shamash was now far above and there was no way now he could keep it a secret.

Through tubes and tunnels they went, lit by torches sputtering in the warm, wet air. The sound of water was far below, and like a cat Helios followed, his ruined eyes useless from their sight of the sun, and painful in his head.

They were so far down into the bowels of the earth that Daedalus no longer had any idea where he was. His original plan was to follow the underground river back to Far Step, which he had never done, nor heard of anyone doing, but he believed had to be possible even if only because he wanted it to be. Half a day underground told him he was no closer to Far Step than he was to the Temple of Shamash.

He had found the underground river all right, but it only led them to a second one, and that to a lake fouled by Gilgraith’s decaying hulk. Or perhaps it wasn’t Gilgraith: there were no lances protruding from it’s forehead.

Daedalus noticed a ring above their heads defining a nearly dry lake. After traversing a series of caverns separated by the bare membranes, most of which were host to their own Gilgraith, Daedalus knew why. He looked up to a steady rain. It was river water, percolating through dozens of feet of river bed. Every so often a fish egg made it all the way through and hatched in the pools below. With no outlet there could be just one king in any one pool. Daedalus grimaced at the thought. What dramas had played out in these wells, unknown and undisturbed?

Without warning they turned a corner and a riot met their eyes. Hot, steaming magma bubbled in a lake all it’s own. It was far below, too far for molten rock to fly, but the fumes were sickening. One soldier choked and fell to his death.

Helios knew he was dead before he hit the bottom. The others could only hope.

Another thought found the priest as well. The soldier’s death gave Menjik an idea. He could cause the death of Daedalus by the accidental deaths of five more soldiers. It was, Menjik feared, his one way out of the caves.

The next death was a simple one. Menjik went ahead for reasons having to do with the call of nature and was quickly out of sight. A guard sent to find him was ambushed in the dark and disposed of quickly. When confronted Menjik denied knowledge of it. His story was accepted a few dozen feet farther down. There the guard was seen, his neck broken, having fallen to his death.

Helios saw it from Menjik’s point of view. The new regent of Antallis was trying to get rid of him. He’d thought he was so smart and Deadalus such a fool. Mountain must have known, which meant the Gimric were involved in his would be murder. Well he wasn’t dead yet.

Menjik believed the Athenian when he said he had it worked out. The hired help refused to go into the underworld with an escort of Antallean swordsman, but he believed Daedalus when he said the soldiers were trained in handling the Stones of Hephaestus. He should have turned back screaming at the sight of a cowled figure, but he descended into Hades, drawn on by the promise that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t all lies.

Their attention was drawn by a blood curdling scream. The second time they heard it Daedalus knew it was no living thing. The river was boiling. Up through the water geysers shot high to the whine of steam under pressure.

Daedalus thought they were already deep but the hot river was far below. They had come the entire height of the mountain. He was sure they had reached the elevation of Far Step . The hot river might have been under the mud pots, but it was not. Above them was a shaft of light and a steady fall of bones. For all their wanderings they were no farther east than when they started.

Then he saw it.

The instant of his epiphany was the darkest moment of the black priest’s night. In that one second of clarity Daedalus saw the Temple of Shamash fallen and sitting intact on the cave floor. It’s ancient columns were covered in calcite drapes, and the exquisitely tiled mosaic was littered and cracked. The golden avatar of Shamash lay shattered, having fallen across the broken altar.

Then lions attacked.

A scream was followed by a gurgle and then the masticating sounds of a lion enjoying a meal. Three times it happened as Daedalus cowered in the darkest corner he could find, and Ambicatus covered him by waving his torch

Helios knew why. It was foremost in the captain’s mind. The regent had said that everyone but Daedalus was expendable.

Now that Cybele’s darlings were sated there was naught to fear from them. No cubs were reared that far down. The lions considered it a no man’s land. They didn’t care if a few of them climbed all over the ruins as long as they brought a little lunch.

In the shock that accompanied the lion’s feeding, Helios chose to show himself.

Pulling back his cowl so they could better see his face, his blind eyes stared at them.

“Welcome to my house,” spoke the priest.

Everyone had heard he was dead.

“Oo-ooo-aaaaahaa,” moaned Daedalus.  It rose to a scream before dying pitifully.

Helios heard and came near to Daedalus.

He turned slowly, pretending to see everything.

“Be gone!” he said and the lions left, some with a meal in their jaws.

“Who are you?” Daedalus asked, his voice quaking with fear.

“I am Helios Phaethon Hyperion,” answered the wraith

“You are not the black priest,” insisted the doctor, “He was cut down by a sword through the heart.  I was there when it happened.”

“As I am dead,” he replied, “cut down by a sword through the heart, boiled in a lake of fire, and eaten by a pride of lions.”

“What have we done to earn the wrath of the gods?” squeaked Menjik.

“It is what you will do unless you abandon the Stones of Hephaestus. They are a message from an age long past to an age far in the future. Nothing about them concerns you here and now.”

Ambicatus would have none of it.

“You’re coming with me, priest.”

“Threats?” chuckled Helios, “Do you know your way out of here?”

The captain of the guard looked up. A yawning chasm glowed brightly and the sun was directly overhead. The splash of bones in the water said the land was still crumbling. A river of rock lapped at the low edges of the temple and it was clear the cave was falling.

“No,” the captain replied and he sheathed his sword.

The hot river was rising and the temple might not survive. As soon as he thought it Helios knew it was true. The Stones were about to be lost for another age and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

“We must leave,” they said together and Menjik alone was reluctant to go.

“I’ll follow,” he offered, “I’ve got a bit of a headache. It’s the fumes, I think.”

“It’s now or never,” said Helios curtly and Menjik believed him.

Crossing the tilting marble floor wasn’t easy. Magma bombs the size of fists broke all around them. A fine mist protected them from the worst but their clothes were smoking.

Then the temple lurched hard to the river of rock. As they fell to certain death it rose again as if on legs and went careening through the chamber.

Daedalus held onto Ambicatus and the captain held onto nothing as the temple gained speed. By the light of the shaft they saw a black door opening and the rocks parting. A wave of stone caught them as it spilled over its banks and then they were surfing on lava.

One of them was silent, and the rest were screaming for their lives.

It was red and black in the lava tube. The ceiling was not far above them. The walls were close on either side. The air was so hot it scorched their lungs. They saw ahead, they saw behind, and there was no end in sight.

The eruption rocked Antallis to it’s base to it’s lofty peak.

Taros was tarrying on the old Kriti Highway and wondering how slow he could go when Antallis Peak blew it’s top. Deciding it was the sign he was seeking he rode his horse into action and went speeding to Grapes In A Bed.

The Sword Master was having a discussion with one his archers when it happened.

“Now?” he was saying, “You can’t go to Iolcos! I need you here!”

“It’s now or never,” Atalanta replied, “King Prosus said I could go.”

“Not in the middle of a crisis.”

“We need the red gold!” she insisted.

“How do you now about that?” Cheiron demanded.

“It’s not exactly a secret,” she told him.

When the shaking came Minos ran out of his office and crashed headlong into the two of them. The earth shook for almost a minute and when it was over a thick plume of steam came whistling out of the peak. It made Minos think of a giant tea kettle. Moments later the tea kettle blew it’s screamer and the entire northeast quarter of the mountain, from the Forge of Pateramon to the summit, was blasted into the sky. From their vantage they couldn’t see it, but they could hear the sizzle of hot lava boiling into Antallis Bay.

“Regent, please, your majesty,” said Atalanta, though she knew it wasn’t the time, “I must go to Iolcos.”

“Are you out of your mind?” he berated, but in spite of the immediacy of the moment he thought better of it, “Are you Atalanta of Arcadia? Do you think you can get on the Argo? Will you bring back gold if you do? Quickly!”

“Yes, yes and yes,” she replied, with as little emotion as she could muster.

“Cheiron,” he said, “Take her to the Court of Pelias. I would have at least one of our own on the Argo with this Jason son of Aeson.”

“My lord?” protested the Sword Master.

“Be back in a week,” insisted the regent, “Gods be with you.”

He thought it was a crazy thing to do, but it made a weird sort of sense. If red gold was to be the new money it was best to have as much as one could get.

For the Goddess of the Earth the eruption of Antallis Peak was little more than indigestion.

“That feels much better,” said Cybele, relieved at last. She hated aches and pains, and gas was the worst.

“What just happened?” wondered Persea.

“Go to Grapes In A Bed and wait for your father,” commanded Cybele, “He’ll need you now that half your family is dead. Take the garden path to the old Kriti Highway. You can’t miss it.”

Horrified, Persea ran as fast as she could to the Garden Gate.

“Which way to the old Kriti Highway?” she asked the turbaned swordsman.

“Third path on the left,” he told her, “You can’t miss it.”

The smoking Temple of Shamash came to rest in a forest of geysers. The captain of the guard was the first to come crawling from the wreckage. The black priest had gingerly stepped to solid ground moments before, and Ambicatus was trying to convince Daedalus that his head was not split open, nor was it gushing blood.

“Are you sure I’m all right?” asked the learned man again.

“If sitting under a geyser and getting your head wet is all right,” nodded Ambicatus, hauling Daedalus to his feet.

As soon as they were clear the Temple of Shamash sank into the earth, not to be seen again perhaps for another ten thousand years.

The river of rock fell quickly as well and cold river water rushed in to take it’s place.

“Oh no!” cried Deadalus. Then they were running as fast as they could go for a light at the end of the tunnel.

They didn’t make it. The rising water caught them and they were taken with the rest of the debris. Menjik was injured when his foot was hit with a splash of magma. He didn’t notice that it took his little toe off, but he did notice that it burned like hell.

The rising river was quickly running out of room. They each took a big gulp of air as the current sped them on and then there was no air to be had. They shot from the mountain in a slide of mud before coming to rest near the sulfur pots at the Far Step Hot Springs and Spa.

Yellow face was there to see them as they came boiling out of the cave. He cowered at the sight of the black priest.  Helios was white from his days underground and his extreme loss of blood.  Everyone knew he was dead, and his walking wraith proved it.  It would be many long years before Helios got his color back.  Yellow face watched as the priest left Daedalus and who might be Menjik writhing in pain on the ground.  That’s when he knew that the black priest was still dead and that he was probably deader than dead, and that the horror and pain of it were so great that it moved his dead flesh to be free of it at last.

“Yellow Face,” shouted Daedalus, “We must make haste and get poor Menjik to the moaning caves!”

“NO!” cried Menjik, his voice rising in panic, “No more caves! Yellow Face! Daedalus! You can’t take me there! People die at the hospice! Daedalus! You must believe me! It wasn’t my idea to kill you!”

His pain was too great to bear so he could not resist them for long.

“What’s he talking about?” wondered the carter.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” admitted Daedalus, because for the second time in his life he was just happy to be alive.

© 2008 Mikkel McDow