|Across the Expanse|
|Series||Beyond the Veil by Enodoc|
|Previous||Interlude – Meanwhile, at the Camp|
|Next||City of Sand|
|← Interlude – Meanwhile, at the Camp||Chapter Chronology||City of Sand →|
Across the ExpanseEdit
The King slumped to the floor.
"Fallen out of the ceiling..." he breathed. "Thank Avo it actually worked."
Melisi looked at him and smiled, tearfully. She sat down beside him.
"I'm sorry..." she said, again.
The King put a comforting arm around her. "Looks like it all turned out fine after all," he said. "Let's set up camp here for the night. We can ponder over the Goddess statue and how she ended up in a place like this."
"Jasper, camp please. And send Sam back as well."
"Right-o, Sire," Jasper said. He wondered whether he would ever really find out what just happened.
* * *
"So, this appears to go in the right direction," mused the King, as he investigated a newly-opened door in the south wall of the large chamber.
The three adventurers made their way into the tunnel. It wasn't long before they came to another door; light seeped in around the edges.
"Do you think this is it?" asked Melisi, hopefully.
"Could be indeed!"
The door slid open as they approached. Light flooded in, and a warm breeze stirred the mounds of sand deposited inside the door. They hurried outside.
The Zoryan desert stretched away before them, as far as the eye could see. Sand dunes undulated in all directions, blown to great heights by the strong desert winds. Away to the south-west, they could just make out a high plateau, conspicuous amongst the waves of sand.
"Any idea which way we need to go?"
"Alas not, Sire. I only know as much as you about Zorya. The history between them and Aurora is not part of common knowledge."
"I guess we'd better try to get up there, then. Try to get a view of the surrounding area." He pointed at the plateau.
"As you wish, Sire."
The King had noticed that the young woman had become much more subdued than she had been previously.
Understandable, he thought. She really went through a lot yesterday. Indeed, she had been through even more than the King was aware.
The wind buffeted against them as they climbed the side of the first of many sand dunes which lay ahead. It was slow progress to the top, made even trickier by the loose sand underfoot.
"How long do you think it will take us to get across this?"
"Best part of a day, at this rate, Sire. It should be easier going by night, when there isn't the heat to contend with."
* * *
It was nearing midnight as they slid wearily down from the last sand dune. The plateau loomed in front of them, sparse vegetation dotting its rugged facade. Sam soon located a rough track leading up the side of the landmark, underneath a rocky outcrop on its north-western end. The track was quite narrow, but looked like it may have been used frequently.
"Do you think someone else has been here?" wondered Melisi.
"It's probably just some desert animals. Do you know of anything that may live in this area?"
"Rockmites are a possibility, given the terrain," she replied, "There's also the chance of some larger creatures that we don't get in Aurora any more, due to the expansion of human influences driving them away from there, as well as the darkness having killed a lot of them off."
The trio arrived at the top of the track. They squinted out into the moonlit desert below.
"Sorry, Sire, I don't think we're going to be able to see much from up here. At least not at this time of night."
The King looked around. Off to the south, he thought he could make out a strange blue-green glow.
"What do you think that is?" he asked.
Melisi came to stand beside him. She stared at the glow for a while. It flickered occasionally, and seemed to move about ever so slightly. "I don't know," she finally decided. "Maybe a trick of the moonlight? It's not something I've ever seen before."
They watched the eerie glow together for a while longer, and then it suddenly flickered away to nothingness.
"Hopefully the morning should reveal more to us," suggested the King. "Let's set up camp for the rest of the night and get a fresh take on it with the morning's light."
* * *
Melisi awoke to find the King sitting on a rock nearby, facing away from the camp towards the track, his sword propped up against the rock beside him.
Has he been keeping watch there all night? she wondered.
"Good morning, Your Majesty."
The King started. He had obviously been dozing. He looked around.
"Ah, good morning!" he said cheerfully.
Sam trotted over as the King sheathed his sword and began to tidy up the camp. He wagged his tail at Melisi.
"Hi Sam!" she said, patting him on the head. Sam looked up happily.
Melisi made her way over to the southern edge of the plateau and looked out in the direction of where they had seen the strange glow the night before. A series of wide channels spread out before her, separated by a scattering of ridges. In the middle sat a small area with lush vegetation and a clear blue pond.
"That's what it was!" she exclaimed. The King hurried over.
"What's that then?"
"Over there. We must have seen the moonlight reflecting off that oasis last night."
"That's definitely feasible. Well spotted!"
"Thanks," she blushed. "But what do you suppose those channels are?"
"They look a bit like dried up river beds, although there's not enough water around here anymore for them to still be active."
"Historic then? I don't recall any Auroran history mentioning enough rain to cause rivers, but I suppose the climate here could have been different. But then..." she paused, "If there had been significant enough rainfall to create rivers, the ground would never have been dry enough to form the dunes on the north side. It's like there was two different climates either side of this mesa."
"That's a strange thought to be sure," pondered the King. "Best not to dwell on it now, though. Let's see if we can find any sign of the ancient city."
They walked eastward along the top of the plat...
"Hold up a moment," interrupted the King. "Did you say 'mesa'?"
"Yes, that's right," she replied. "A mesa is a tabletop landform that's like a plateau, but not the same thing. A mesa has cliffs on all sides, while a plateau only needs to be raised against the adjacent land on one side. Plateaus often form part of mountain ranges, while mesas are separate. This one's not very big, either, comparatively."
So they walked eastward along the top of the mesa. It took only a few minutes to cross the width of it, and they took it in turns to scour both the north and south sides for any sign of Zorya. The terrain was easy-going after the trial of the dunes the day before. The flat top of the mesa was scattered with small rocks and boulders, a few hardy bushes and the occasional bit of ancient ruined architecture. One of these appeared to be an old stone dais, adorned with a strange gold-and-green diamond shape.
"There are a lot of similarities between the ruins here and the Auroran ones," commented the King.
"Maybe we'll discover more about our shared history once we find the city," said Melisi, excitedly.
Half an hour later, they were approaching the other end of the mesa.
"Look there." Melisi was studying the line of one of the channels. A little way away from it, two large landforms marked a point where a desert track appeared to drop away between two sheer faces of solid sand into a deep gorge. A sand-covered structure spanned the width of the gorge entrance above the track.
"That looks quite unnatural," she continued.
"I agree," said the King. "The very straight side walls and that arch structure both suggest some sort of man-made influence on that area. That could be what we're looking for. Let's get over there and see what we can find."
"Do you see any other way down?"
"No, I haven't really noticed anything."
Woof! barked Sam. He led them a little way back along the top of the mesa, towards a crevice in the rock surface, and pointed.
"Is that the way down, boy?" asked Melisi.
Ruff! said Sam.
They looked over the edge of the crevice. A narrow path led down into it, a chink of light shining from within. Carefully, the King led the way down the path. As they descended, they saw that the light was shining in from a narrow tunnel that led through the edge of the mesa to the outer side.
"This is a beautiful part of the world," marvelled the King, taking in the majestic chasm and the view that was emerging on the other side of the tunnel.
He didn't notice the passage leading away beside him.
He didn't hear Sam's warning growl until it was too late.
Raawl! A large creature pounced out of the passage onto the King. He flailed wildly, trying to throw the creature off, but its sharp claws clung on.
The sudden break in tranquillity had also startled Melisi, who was fumbling for her pistol. Once she had finally drawn it, she tried to line up a shot, but the King and the creature were indistinguishable from one another in the fray.
"Just shoot it!" shouted the King.
"I can't! I might hit you!" she wailed.
"I don't care!" he cried, "I've been shot thousands of times!"
Melisi closed her eyes, and fired three shots.
The King and the creature slumped to the floor.
"Ohh, Your Majesty..." she cringed, rushing over to him. "Are you okay? Did I hit you?"
Sam pattered over and sat beside the crumpled heap, cocking his head quizzically.
"Sire?" she asked again, trying to pull the creature off him.
There was a long pause.
"I'm alright!" he declared, flinging the animal away.
"Oh thank goodness!"
"But please don't shoot at me with your eyes closed. I know you have good aim; there was no need to show off."
She blushed, and started to smile.
"But I was worried!" She punched him playfully in the arm.
"Ouch!" he said indignantly. "I was still attacked, you know."
He waved his arm in the air, and a small pink bottle appeared. He downed its contents. "Mmm, tastes of Calpol."
"Tastes like what? Oh, never mind. Come on Sire, we should get away from this cave before any more of them show up."
"Oh, but I thought we could go inside and have a look around."
"Maybe later, Sire. I'd like to know more about the animals that live around Zorya before I go delving into their homes."
"Hmm, fair enough. This way, then." The King indicated out of the tunnel ahead of them, and they made their way to the bottom of the mesa.
To the east, they could just make out the tops of the two rocks they had seen. A wide track, which looked as though it may have been a proper road at one time in its history, led across the desert towards them. Embryonic dunes lined its sides, building up to the vast ridges of sand they crossed the day before to the north, and giving way to sparse vegetation and rough ground to the south.
Sand whipped around them as they walked along the road.
"I'll be glad to get out of this wind," said the King, covering his face with his arm.
"Mmm, I think I can help there!" smiled Melisi. She rummaged in her pack and withdrew a long piece of cloth. "Turn away from the wind, and stand still."
She carefully wrapped the cloth around the King's head, creating a scarf that covered his nose and mouth. The remainder of the cloth she tied up on top of his head into a turban.
"Oh, thank you very much! But what about you?"
"Not to worry, Sire," she said cheerfully, tying up her long, black hair into pigtails and pulling out another piece of cloth.
Within seconds, Melisi had fashioned a similar headscarf for herself. Instead of a turban, however, she wrapped the ends of the cloth around her pigtails, resulting in two long, spiralled 'ears'.
"Ha-ha, very nice," chuckled the King.
The King took a few steps back to get a better view, when suddenly a look of concern and confusion flashed across his face.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
Melisi's headscarf arrangement looked strangely familiar, yet somewhat out-of-place with her dark, enquiring eyes peering out of it.
The King waved it off.
"Oh, it's probably nothing," he replied.