Chapter 17:

Things You Find in the Dark

Mylo and the Summoned Hero

Mylo tumbled through floor after floor of rotted wood. He’d be grateful for them slowing his fall to survivable speeds were he not a bit busy freaking out. That circle of light where he fell in was getting awful small. When a floor held for a moment, Mylo lashed out with the dagger, hoping to anchor to anything sturdy enough to hold him. Then the wood would give, and he’d drop again.Bookmark here

There had to be a bottom. Old Edule was built down rather then up, it seemed.Bookmark here

Crashing through a final set of boards, Mylo found solid ground with a heavy thud.Bookmark here

"Ow. Damn it."Bookmark here

For a moment, he laid still, trying not to feel the throbbing in the wrist he landed on. No light save for the skylight he’d made on the way down, and that had closed to a pinpoint. He smelled dust, cut with something tannic, and perhaps a waft of vinegar. Cool stone lay under his hands. A finger drawn across it came away caked in dust. This room hadn’t been used in a long time.Bookmark here

If he just lay here, would Kasumi drift down and pull him out? She had that levitation spell, which she’d tried on the tower when they met. Here in the ruins, there might be enough ambient mana for her to leave the spell running and float all the way down and back up again with him in her arms. But if she had to stop and recharge on the same floors that couldn’t support either, much less both of them? Then they would both be stuck.Bookmark here

"Kasu—darn, first rule. Pelgram! Are you up there?"Bookmark here

No response.Bookmark here

Maybe she’d try to find another way down. Or maybe she’d go try to find help. Mylo didn’t know. He didn’t understand Kasumi at all. What would she do in a situation—everyday or life-threatening—was a black box to him. And what was he to her? Her ‘NPC’, whatever that meant. For all he knew, she might be busy slaughtering every monster in the ruins.Bookmark here

Mylo decided that last thought was unfair. Nobody’s that heartless.Bookmark here

Using a brick wall for support, Mylo stood up. He couldn’t see, so he felt his way around. Solid, rough-hewn stone on all sides save for the brick wall, whose mortar crumbled under his finger tips. The room barely had space enough for him to lie down.Bookmark here

Stay in place. That’s what I should do. When Kasumi or the Adventuring Bureau comes looking, I’ll be right where they expect.Bookmark here

Mylo sat down, and his hand bumped something that rattled away. Massaging his wrist, he groped around with his uninjured hand. He grabbed a dusty, hard shell. No, not a shell, too smooth.Bookmark here

Mylo’s fingers moved down and found a round hole, then teeth.Bookmark here

He sprang upright. "Look at the time! It’s find-my-own-exit o’clock!"Bookmark here

With the dagger in his left hand, Mylo flaked away the ancient mortar. Soon the bricks tumbled at a push.Bookmark here

Mylo scrambled out and ran through the gloom. Not the smart thing to do, but right now he craved distance from that skeleton. Stale air fogged his thoughts and judgment. He blundered into something at chest height, which groaned and creaked while Mylo toppled to the floor. Whatever it was, it burst, drenching Mylo in a cold, pungent drink.Bookmark here

He screamed at first, expecting blood or some eldritch fluid. But a bit got in his mouth. Mylo blinked. It had the bite of alcohol and a nutty, oaky flavor. Paul Etier had tried to introduce Mylo to the appreciation of fine wine, but had never succeeded in refining the young man's palette.Bookmark here

Thinking aloud, he whispered, "Amontillado, maybe?"Bookmark here

Whatever it was, Mylo had just ruined a very old cask of it.Bookmark here

Moving slower now, Mylo felt his way around the wine cellar until he found a door. He grasped the handle and the hinges lifted out of the wall. Mylo leaned the door out of the way where no one would trip over it, and went out.Bookmark here

Light! Now he was getting somewhere. Nergalite rods dangled on metal wires from the ceiling, lending the hallway their toasty glow. Supposedly lasting centuries, nergalite made great emergency lighting. Not as fresh or bright as those he had worked under in the mana pumping station, but at least he could see. Mylo picked a direction and walked as the red wine dried and stained his clothes.Bookmark here

How long had these stones shone on empty halls? Here he was, deep in the bowels of the old city, surrounded by dust, yes, and some rust, but no clutter.Bookmark here

Mylo hit deadends and got turned around. For a while it was just musty corridors and rooms of rotted scrolls. He hit a store room now and then, stuffed with huge clay pots, their lids still sealed. What was inside them? It was spiders, wasn't it? Mylo assumed it was spiders and left well enough alone.Bookmark here

After what seemed like an hour, Mylo opened a heavy metal door and left the corridors behind.Bookmark here

He stepped out onto a walkway suspended above a darkened hall. Cavernous, even Mylo's hesitant footsteps rang out. The walk terminated at a small turret set in the far wall. Inside, Mylo found steps leading down and a row of switches. They weren't quite like any Mylo had seen, but they were simple, and the exposed hinge implied movement.Bookmark here

Mylo's hand hovered over the first switch in the row. What did it do? Would it even work after all this time?Bookmark here

Not like there was anyone down here to yell at him for messing with things. Mylo used his left hand to spare his swelling wrist, and wrenched the switches to their up-position one at a time.Bookmark here

Through the turret's windows, Mylo saw bluish lights flicker on. Glowstone? But no one knew how to make a mechanical mana injector for that stuff—it required a human touch to illuminate. Mylo ducked down the stairs and leaned over the railing to confirm. The lights were definitely glowstone, and pipe-fed to boot.Bookmark here

But the lights were the least interesting thing here. Below Mylo there spread a vast room whose grandeur the dust couldn’t diminish.Bookmark here

In the center, a table stood proud, carved from marble gray as a stormy sea and edged with mahogany, its regal chairs waiting for generals or council members to take their places. Along the walls stood suits of armor at attention, strange to Mylo with their ceramic plates and vulcanized rubber fittings, and in shape barely human.Bookmark here

Displays embedded in the walls hummed and winked to life. Some of them did, anyways. Some were well and truly dead, but the others lit with white-line diagrams, fuzzy and artifact-obscured, jumping now and then.Bookmark here

Mylo descended the steps in awe. Who knew Edule had something like this hiding in its darkened past?Bookmark here

Fascinated, he wandered on through connecting rooms. Each one a new surprise, each one breathtaking in its supple wood and brutal stone.Bookmark here

Down here, there had been a whole city. Empty now, but save for some earthquake scarring, it was intact. The most modest dwelling struck him as palatial. The school wasn't some rickety wooden outbuilding, but a grand edifice. Mylo sat at one of the desks and took up an ink brush. The brush crumbled in his hand, but the strange lettering around the top of the walls still glinted.Bookmark here

Mylo raised his hand, as if he had a question for the teacher who wasn't there.Bookmark here

"Teacher, are you married?" He asked the empty room.Bookmark here

Giggling a bit, Mylo got up and continued his self guided walking tour of the ruin.Bookmark here

While standing by a waterfall in a residential neighborhood, it finally dawned on Mylo why this place was so beautiful. Every light, be it glowstone, nergalite, or something unrecognizable had been tuned. In the new, living Edule, every light was standardized, either a candle or a resistive glass tube. They all shed the same light everywhere. But in Old Edule, care had been taken to adjust the hues—deep violets, pale blues, hazy greens, warm yellows, whatever that setting called for. He was confident such attention to detail would be lost on the modern Edule.Bookmark here

By this point, Mylo had grown comfortable here, maybe a little bold. So comfortable that he didn't notice the lack of dust. He was just thinking it would be nice to live down here, if only there were food and company, when he spotted a sign with an image of a book and hand, and followed it to the Great Library.Bookmark here

The books were gone, but the shelves held up shockingly well. On them sat small blue ceramic jars marked in symbols he couldn’t decode. Mylo realized they didn't match up with the flowing abugida he'd seen on the classroom walls. These were sharp, harsh, hashing marks.Bookmark here

Mylo stood and turned around. Behind him sat a fasral, its segmented eyes full of starry lights. With a head full of hundreds of eyes, it couldn't have not seen him even if it wanted to. One of its crinoid arms lay inches from Mylo's shoe.Bookmark here

Mylo dove over the shelf. Any moment now it would spit at him, he was sure. Good luck dodging at this distance, idiot. How did I let it sneak up on me like that?Bookmark here

The fasral wrapped an arm around a jar. Then it stopped. Just watching.Bookmark here

He had a route to the main door, if by route he meant no cover for a hundred feet and hope the fasral would somehow miss. At this range? Yeah, no.Bookmark here

Mylo snaked between the shelves, eyeing a door to another room. Going further in, but only so he might find another exit. The fasral watched him go.Bookmark here

He ducked through the ancient stacks, not sure which door he was looking for.Bookmark here

Thinking he'd found it, Mylo rushed through into a room. The wrongest room he could have chosen. Inside he found a trio of fasral gathered around...some contraption. All the book repair materials had been shoved aside to make way for a large mold, and above it hung a crystalline vat of swirling fluid the pale green color Paul told him the sea was near Dioon.Bookmark here

Mylo squeezed under a battered old desk. Not great, but the best hiding he could do on the spot. About now he realized that he'd dropped the dagger when he ran into that cask of wine, and left it. He swore at himself, but then groping around in the dark for a sharp blade wasn't so brilliant either.Bookmark here

The fasral paid him no mind. They were busy around one of the small blue jars, strong but undextrous arms wrapped around teaspoons while they dragged another heavy, jointed arm over the top to level the powder, inevitably spilling it. Thumbs would've helped. No frustration here, just seething patience.Bookmark here

Not how they were supposed to act. True, the fight he and Kasumi had with one the other day was his first fasral encounter, but the stories were consistent enough. They had to see him come in, he'd made a loud entrance. So why weren't they busy killing him?Bookmark here

Dusting himself off, Mylo emerged. "You uh...could you point me towards the exit?"Bookmark here

Rather than answer, the fasral kept trying. The knocked powder mostly falling onto a funnel which sat on the jar at a jaunty angle. Watching these feared monsters fail to level a teaspoon should have been funny, but somehow it was just painful.Bookmark here

"Here." Mylo walked up to one of the fasral and held out his hand, palm flat up.Bookmark here

The fasral's arm felt cold, more like a chain of coins strung through the center than a limb. It uncoiled in his hand, leaving the teaspoon. It tapped the jar, then reached up and tapped 8 times on a the open bay of an injector affixed to the vat's side.Bookmark here

"Oh, that shouldn't take long."Bookmark here

It didn't. Mylo scooped, leveled the powder with his fingers, and filled it to the exact measure.Bookmark here

Now the moment of truth, had he bridged the gap? What sort of understanding had he earned by helping the fasral with...whatever it was they were doing?Bookmark here

Something coiled around his wrist, and pulled him toward the door.Bookmark here

"Ow!"Bookmark here

What they lacked in manual dexterity the fasral made up for in strength. If he hadn't walked after it, Mylo would have been dragged by his busted wrist.Bookmark here

The fasral brought him to a grand hall, lit only by dim purple stones set in the floor. There it dropped him. As Mylo massaged his arm, it lifted an arm and pointed at a shallow ramp going up and up and up.Bookmark here

"Oh, thanks."Bookmark here

It scuttled away, arms swishing over the granite with purpose, and Mylo was alone.Bookmark here

Or he should have been. The hairs on the back of Mylo's neck waved for his attention.Bookmark here

Turning in the gloom, Mylo saw it. Suspended or perhaps floating, the rear of the hall was filled by massive, shimmering, transparent blue bones. No skull or face or mouth, no legs or arms, he'd have called its body serpent-like were it not so tall and thin like a ribbon. It was long as the fallen spotting tower, twice Mylo's height vertically, but narrower than his palm across.Bookmark here

What the...when did monsters get gossamer bones? No, it has to be a sculpture. It's got no mouth.Bookmark here

The only suggestion of biology was a tiny vestigial ribcage. Inside it, just empty space and two small, hard black objects which looked like unripe pine cones, one where the heart should be, and the other mirroring first but on the right side.Bookmark here

Mylo stood under the thing, wondering if this is what the fasral considered art. Then the tail moved.Bookmark here

Mylo blurred up the ramp. He screamed all the way to the great door at the surface. Still screaming, he kicked at the lock-looking thing until it caved in and fired its bolts, blowing open the door. Mylo ran outside and bent over in the lane, no longer screaming only because he was out of breath.Bookmark here

Surface, good. Modern fasral art, bad.Bookmark here

The sun was getting low in the sky. Had it been just hours, or a full day and change?Bookmark here

"Hey Mylo." Kasumi's voice was flat, mildly annoyed if anything. "Find any loot down there?"Bookmark here

"No. What have you been doing all this time?"Bookmark here

With a distant look in her eyes, Kasumi replied, "I've killed 600 rabbits, and not one of 'em dropped a fire weapon."Bookmark here

Mylo didn't know whether to be disappointed or pissed off.Bookmark here

"I fell who knows how far, into a sealed ruin, and you decided to farm for weapon drops?"Bookmark here

"You seemed to be fine." Kasumi nodded, and pointed at a spot of empty air in front of her face. "I could see your health bar the whole time—I added you to my party earlier."Bookmark here

Reaching into his pocket, Mylo produced his party tracker, which insisted he wasn't teamed up with anyone. She had said something before about using a menu for that—were the systems incompatible?Bookmark here

"What if I'd been trapped?"Bookmark here

"Then rescuing you woulda been a side quest, in which case I'd need a fire weapon. You can't expect me to go to the bottom of a dungeon without proper gear."Bookmark here

Mylo wasn't sure how to feel, but his broken wrist knew it wanted immediate attention.Bookmark here

Marshall Eastman
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