It almost felt physical to those who walked forth, constantly surrounded by it. With every hesitant step, their soles sunk deep into a carpet of age old dust and debris. Beams of light coming from their helmets sliced the darkness, revealing the mummified, bony remains of previous explorers. Yet, a fraction of a second after their headlights helped them see ancient walls and dilapidated corpses, the dark reconquered its domain.
Built in a bygone age, the gloomy corridors of this mausoleum radiated pure terror. With shattered bones, the cadavers’ unmoving mouths avowed ghostly words. They warned those who, just like they once foolishly did, disturbed the sanctity of this structure. Their words promised the newly-arrived that they will rot away quietly, dust their eternal companion.
The new visitors ignored them and, seemingly undeterred, moved deeper into the all-encompassing darkness.
The men slowly walked forward, and while three of them had their weapons ready, itchy fingers on the trigger, their unarmed companion lingered aback. Hands crossed before his chest, this tall sentient had adopted a pace more akin to the gingerly stroll of a relaxed tourist, rather than someone descending into the depths of an ancient tomb.
While the three wore lightly armored suits and in their hands clutched high-powered particle-beam weapons, the robed man carried nothing. On second glance, one would experience great trouble, noticing anything even resembling modern gear on his person.
Clasped in dark teal cowl, his hidden behind an intricately crafted, ornate silvery mask eyes, calmly explored his surroundings. The cowl’s hood moved not and remained firmly in its place, covering both his head and shoulders. Even the occasional gust of wind which came and went with an ominous whistle, blew dust all over the man’s companions, but failed to disturb his pristine robes.
From time to time, the other three would stop; stricken with minor panic, they’d attempt to overcome some ancient trap, before their cowled companion would act.
Chants uttered in unknown language, words which they couldn’t know the meaning of, even after all their G-Net searches, would leave the man’s lips. Then, as if his recitations bent the laws of nature, matter, and space itself, with but a wave of his hand said trap was disabled.
Bombs, mines, and even hidden, swift moving vibroblades – everything was as deathly as its Avern’a builders crafted it, ages ago. Yet, thanks to their companion, the men overcame every ancient contraption, and bypassed all, even the most terrifying of traps.
Weapons ready to fire, the three men explored every dark corner; looking, searching for some invisible threat. Their high-tech goggles all set, and hopefully able to provide them with a warning, before any of the tomb’s ethereal guardians strike. Though despite their rigid, constant alertness – none of the fabled ghostly warriors leapt at them from the dark.
Legs careful not to disturb the rotten, dilapidated remains of the tomb’s previous visitors, the four braved ever deeper into the dark. They passed other rooms, their doors blasted open by use of explosives or beams, some even hacked with vibroblades.
Moving with a purpose the men ignored everything; even though there were many, and arguably still usable items rolling on the dusty floors. Weapons of every size, backpacks overflowing with olden gear, spare munitions, even food. Most of the rations were packed in portable stasis units and still edible, after who knows how many decades lying in the dust.
Despite all of this easy to access loot, the men did not halt. They even made attempts to not look, obviously eager to locate a place of greater importance. One full star-hour passed and then two more ebbed away, before the men reached their destination.
A gate made of white metal barred their way; its two wings tightly closed. Covered by intricate etchings, the meaning of which eluded all but one of them, it appeared thick, and overwhelmingly sturdy.
It was apparent to even the daftest of persons, that the particle-beams of simple rifles would not penetrate it. Nor would the small breaching charges, which one of the armed men carried with him, blow a big enough hole through it. At best the bombs could bend metal, and at worst... collapse the ancient tunnel on top of their heads.
The cowled man canted his masked head; eyes shielded by yellow crystal, he observed how the three scanned and then cursed the white door. It didn’t take long before they exhausted all of their options and the burliest of them turned around.
“You try and open the gate, mageling!” – Rumbled angrily the man, loudly speaking his words in some rather obscure, disjointed Taz’aran dialect.
The “mageling” remained silent; his clasped in dark teal robes body moved not, nor did the man respond to his companion’s rude order.
“Open it this instant, or I swear by the Most Holiest of Darknesses, you will get not one decat!” – Again shouted the armed with assault rifle man, this time dangling a hefty-looking purse in the air.
At first, the man’s only reaction was to cant his cowled head the other way. Then, the golden eye crystals shielding his eyes flickered ominously, their irises glinting thrice.
One of the armed men could swear that for a single star-second, their companion’s cowl shimmered. But, after his goggles showered the robed figure with scanning beams and found nothing, he thought it was his own, tired eyes, playing tricks on him.
Hands no longer resting on his chest, the masked man pointed at the white gate, saying:
“Then stand aside and let me earn my pay, shootlings.”
This is an excerpt from my Starshatter anthology. If you like what you read, you can grab both paperback and digital copy of A Mandate Of Sword And Railgun here.