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LJ Idol 01: Here There Be Dragons.

The tomb was breathing.


Corwin stood in the narrow gap of the thieves' entrance, his shuttered lantern casting little light into the depths. Its flame flickered as the air flowed in one moment, out the next. In again, out in a slow flow like ocean waves. Like breath.


And like breath, the moist, warm air pressed against his face with the faint taste of flesh. His mind conjured teeth hanging from the roof of the carved stone tunnel and turned the soft soil littering the floor into the spongy softness of a tongue. It needed no help to make a throat of the long, downward sloping tunnel that extended well past the reach of his lantern.


Looking over his shoulder, he was sorely tempted by the gray light outside. Reflecting off the sea and the low, thin clouds and the beginnings of the season's green grass, it was bright and shadowless. Nothing lurked out there.


But neither did any reward. He had come so far. He turned back, and resolutely set himself forward into the throat.


The light faded behind him as he continued down ever deeper. The tomb's breath continued to make his lantern gutter, flickering bright and dim over the shelves cut deep into either side of the tunnel. These were the oldest tombs, the crypts of the first kings of Anset. Names were cut into the granite, too eroded to be read today, and too forgotten. Whatever treasure these kings and queens had once owned had been stolen long, long ago by the thieves who had scattered their bones into heaps.


He wasn't here to steal, he reminded himself. His King had died owing him; he was not a thief, only a debt collector. But how to tell that to these bones, these disapproving skulls that glowered down at him from the shelves? He shifted the bag on his back, pulled his cloak more tightly around himself, and went on.


The tunnel sloped down and down and down, until he was certainly below the level of the sea outside. The stone began to change, the granite of the shore giving way to something coarser, coal black and imbedded with tiny white shells, catching his lantern light like golden stars that seemed to move whenever he glanced away, to crawl like insects at the edges of his light. But this stone was not as strong, with piles of flakes softening the join between floor and wall. Whatever long-dead craftsmen had built this for the old kings had soon realized their mistake, and the tunnel suddenly turned a right angle, a few paces, and then another, leading back the way it had come but always, always angled down.


He wiped sweat from his forehead, and found it cold. The deeper he went, the more he wanted his feet to slow. King Noonsword's crypt would be the very lowermost, and then he would have to climb all this way out again, bearing the treasure. He stopped in his tracks: What if he had to make the trek twice, to retrieve it all?


The obvious solution to that was that everything he could carry in one go would obviously be enough to repay the debt. And he forced himself onwards again, though slower.


The tunnel turned again, this third long slow cutting into the deeper rock, something glasslike with green glints. The carved walls were smoother here, and artisans had cut in bas reliefs, scenes of heroism and greatness above each shelf-like crypt. Queen Sani, tall and foreign-looking, was immortalized holding the crops of the land in her arms. King Urth, a name Corwin dimly recognized, was fixed in stone as a slayer, single handed, of some fell army. The dying monsters looked like horned children. He hurried onwards.


There were cracks in the walls, as he approached the next turn, and air flowed in and out of them, disturbing his heavy cloak, making him keep to the very center of the path. The marks of carving along here were new, sharp-edged and unsmoothed, and there were stone chips on the floor, even an abandoned chisel tucked in a corner. Recent work, all. He had to be getting close to the new crypt.


Just before he reached the corner, there was a rattle, a clatter, a tapping of fallen stone. He froze, and, on impulse, swung shut the shutters of his lantern. The tomb went black. He and it breathed together, waiting for the sound to repeat itself.


In and out, went the air. The feeling of being in a throat was back, with only the sound of the breeze, damp against his forehead, and no light. It smelled like rot, and death, and something of the musk of vermin.


That was it, he told the nightmares rising in his mind. He was hearing rats. Of course there would be rats. The King's body was just around that bend, only a ten-day dead. Royal flesh would corrupt just as quickly as common; the rats would be busily making worms' meal of him.


He delayed, tending to his lantern, making it shine its brightest once again. The span of its light, tinted and refracted by the cut glass, was small, but that made it a shelter, an illuminated little haven against the swallowing blackness. He laid his free hand against the cold wall, and stepped around that final turn.


He had reason to be glad that he'd brightened the lamp; a rockfall had sprawled boulders all across the tunnel floor, a knee-high jumble leading to a yawning black gap in the wall of King Noonsword's empty crypt. He stared into it, eyes trapped, and raised the lantern.


Points of light gleamed back, and blinked, and vanished.


Stones were rattled again.


Something sinuous and blacker than the stone moved, just beyond the radius of his light.




This is my entry for LJ Idol. Week 1, Here There be Dragons. It is ALSO an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel in progress, Trapped. Thank you for reading.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
furzicle
Nov. 6th, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC)
I like the idea of the breath inhaling and exhaling through the tunnel. Rather intimidating, I must say!
i_id
Nov. 6th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
It's been edited to strengthen it! Give it a re-read?
furzicle
Nov. 6th, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)
I reread it. It all looked familiar, though I'm guessing you cut parts out. Yes? (Sorry, I've read a number of things since I first saw this one.)
skylanth
Nov. 7th, 2010 06:21 am (UTC)
*Two thumbs up, way up*
skylanth
Nov. 7th, 2010 06:23 am (UTC)
And I too like the comparison of the cave to a breathing throat. Caves do indeed breathe! It's dark! Corwin might be...yadda yadda you know the rest.
puppetmaker40
Nov. 7th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC)
The use of descriptive language worked for me a lot.

I liked how Corwin kept trying to keep himself moving forward by justifying why he was doing this.
lawchicky
Nov. 7th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Good job!
baxaphobia
Nov. 8th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
Very descriptive. Liked this a lot
roina_arwen
Nov. 9th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
Hook, line, and sinking feeling! I want to read more! :)
estelle
Nov. 9th, 2010 10:19 pm (UTC)
Not a thief, a debt collector? I like it.
Good luck!
streetnights
Nov. 10th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
Well-written fiction! I wish you luck in nano!
barsukthom
Nov. 17th, 2010 03:50 am (UTC)
Nice atmosphere!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )