Last Stand of the World
Chapter Nine: Map
Davern watched as Asaa, whipped around the room, her tail coiling around her in mesmerizing swirls, and in less than two minutes, she’d completely emptied the room furniture and all. He was quite surprised. How much storage did the band have?
Davern wondered how far apart the weird feeling and the band storage worked; he gave the stink eye to the snake he’d saved for the second time, or was it actually a third.
He poked the cute old guy in the head. “How are we going to bring him with us?”
“I have a beast bag.”
“Yes,” a solemn look crossed her face. My mother left me in charge of certain things in case something happened.
He could tell she was caging, so he left it alone.
“Here's the map.” Asaa held it up and pasted it to the wall with tacks. “I've heard certain God blessed items, or things not from this world, aren't affected by the Nullers’ magic.”
“Who told you? Didn’t you say you didn't know anything about the Nullers'?”
She fingered the bond, “my mother and Azer once talked about it in passing. I wasn't paying much attention at the time. I didn't think it would apply to me, but something happened that awakened certain racial memories of my people, so I’ve gained some knowledge about the Nullers that I didn't have previously.”
Davern looked at the map squinting, trying to make heads, or tails out of the squiggly lines and tunnels that were drawn there.
Asaa smiled at him and laughed faintly at his confusion. “We are here.” She pointed to the small sub-room they were located in. “We are surrounded by shielding; even the sand wyrms would have a hard time breaking into this room.” Asaa paused for a moment and looked at him, making sure he was following her, then pointed to another area.“This is where it opens up above, and this is where the mechanism was located,'' she pointed to three spots on the map in quick succession.
“Okay, let's see,” the map was very different from what he had seen and followed up there. He put his finger on the spot she’d indicated that had triggered the mechanism and from there ran it back to the alcove, “here’s the alcove where I rested across from the foreboding cavern before I triggered the trap.” he said, pointing to the expanse across from it, looks like he was right unless he had a choice he wanted to avoid that room. He didn't know what was in there.
She smirked at him, “foreboding cavern, really?”
“Really, it's pitch black up there. I only had glow rocks for light. I was naked, with only a rusty dagger, a rope, and out of magic. Besides, I’d just come down this tunnel,” he said, pointing along the tunnel where the sand wyrms were, “and this path is chock full of Sand Wyrms.” He followed it in further with his finger to another branch, “I saw a giant Web down that passage, thought better of it, and decided to not go that way. There were stairs here, a little bit up, where I got the dagger, off a dead sand goblin, and killed a sand spider.”
“Wait, hold up. There are what, and what kind of monsters in our home? Goblins? We don't keep goblins; my mother hates them.”
“Well, there was a dead one; that’s how I got this,” he said, pulling out the dagger.
Asaa paled, “Mother? What happened to everyone?”
He patted her on the shoulder, “we’ll figure it out. Hopefully, some people are just like Azer and hiding.”
“You don’t know much about Lamia, do you?” Looking at him with a knowing smile. Like she’d caught him doing something naughty.
He kicked his feet a little sheepishly. “Not much to be truthful.”
“Azer isn’t one of our people; he is a friend of the family, and an advisor to my mother, and an elder to me. I can force my people to change with a tool and my inheritance magic, but they can't change independently. Lamia can’t shift like he can unless they are Mothers.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Don’t be; it’s not something that everyone knows and not something I would tell just anyone,” she flipped her tail at him.”What else do you know?”
He pointed at the top of the stairs. “Here is the pit trap where Nuller keeps its food storage: it's littered with skeletons and broken bones. I'm sure there are food storages deeper inside, but I don't know where.”
“I see, the layout of the tunnels appears to be the same, but there are differences. I can’t tell you everything that’s been blocked off, but I can tell you what used to be there.” She ran her finger back down the map. "The foreboding cavern is actually a great hall, where we have a bazaar held a few times a month so the outer villages can sell their wares. There is probably nothing there now but empty stalls and clutter.
'The Sand Wyrms weren’t there before, nor was that passage blocked, that led out to one of the villages and outer living quarters.
'Back up to the pit trap that didn’t exist, the Nuller must have created it. The stairs led up to another part of the city, it must be blocked off right now, and they are just using that section and have broken through to the surface. I wonder if they have done the same thing in other parts of the kingdom, making a smaller, more remote base for themselves?
'There might be some people still living in the outer villages?"
"There is always hope, he said, patting her on the arm. You’ll have to figure that out after we find my brother."
She nodded her head and looked back up at the map, refocusing her attention on the great hall.
She put her finger back there. "Let's focus here since we know that the Nuller probably went further into the tunnels towards the palace. At least that’s what I would have done. So, back up to the hall that we use for the bazaar and where we are now, if we continue to the left some stairs lead to the central square we have shops and apartments, and trade there is also a large artificial lake.
'Down a corridor past the lake is the main hall where we hold feasts and all formal occasions. Past that, it leads you to the library and armory, also the state treasury, the guard barracks, and prison wards.
'If you come back to the main hall and go to the left, instead of going straight, you’ll go up a set of stairs leading up into the entrance hall of the palace, where guests are entertained as they are waiting for an audience. Past that is a gate, I have a key for the lock if it isn’t changed.” She paused, fiddling with the small keyring at her waist.
It was the same one she’d used before, he wondered why she kept it out and not in the bond, but he didn’t ask.
“Then there is the first set of the deep pools. They are heated by a thermal vent and are quite big, and never vary in temperature. They help when you're not feeling well. We've made a special bath that contains the water and filters it so that nothing harmful can come in with the water.”
“Oh, “ Davern drawled. A cold glint in his eye. “Perfectly controlled thermal baths that are filtered, and nothing harmful can reach the bather? Do I have that right? Is there a magical device involved?”
“Nevermind, keep going. I’ll let you know my thoughts in a moment if my guess is correct.”
“Okay, she nodded and continued on with her explanation of the complex's layout. “Not far from the first bath is the Throne room, and behind that are mine and my mother's rooms. They’re heated by the same system that controls the springs.
'In fact, the whole temperature control system for the tribe is controlled by the system. There isn’t any magic needed. It works very efficiently and is quite adapted to this climate. Our race has lived quite comfortably within this network for millennia.”
“Do you have any record of the technology required to build and maintain the heating and cooling system?”
“What are you driving at?”
“You’re a cold-blooded species that happens to use magic, but instead of using magic to solve your problem, you use technology? Something that you can't control? But it can be controlled by a species that comes to the desert every couple hundred years, breeds, wreaks havoc on all other sentient races on this planet, and then vanishes back into its marshland habitat and goes dormant; unless someone disturbed one.
'It must take them quite a while to reach maturity, and if they are like some species, maybe the adults die off after they give birth to the young; that could be why the Nuller I fought with is so much weaker than the reports.
'Maybe these aren’t your peoples' ancestral lands at all; maybe they have always been the Nullers' spawning grounds."
She paled, her eyes widened, “Lamia are tribal. There are many Queens. Do you know how many cities there are in the desert that are just like this one? If that's true, why hasn’t my race been destroyed?”
“I don’t know the answer to that question. How long could you have stayed in this room before I found you? How many other girls like you, are there in other rooms like this one? You can hibernate, right?”
She nodded, her stomach weak, as the realization of what had happened, the legends of the Mothers, the reason mankind was terror-stricken of her kind. The wars, the fear. How it could all have been avoided. How if she had been in here for years, the kind of monster she would have become, her only purpose to procreate and repopulate her species.
The primal memories from the inheritance would have overtaken her will, and she would have lost herself; maybe there were more to Azer’s words than she had known when he had spoken of her race stepping out of the desert; they could also save them before it was too late. “Oh god, I’ve got to save them before they turn into monsters.”
He didn’t know what she was talking about, but he could feel her terror, feel her fear. He reached out and rubbed her shoulder, not knowing what else to do to comfort her, not knowing what was appropriate, “we’ll do the best we can. Azer said to find the library, and it would help us with the answers we seek, so I guess we have got to get out of here first and save as many as we can and find Evon that bloody jinx, then we can work on what we need to do to find the library.”
She nodded her head. He could see something in her click, her resolve firming some of the softness from before had vanished, and he kind of ached for her for its passing. She looked back at the map, then pointed, “We’ll try here first; if I were the Nuller, I would have blocked it, but it’s worth a shot. If we hurry, we won't waste a lot of time.”
He nodded, sounds like a plan, let's start there; at least it’s better than the cavern, “I have a bad feeling about that place for some reason, he said,
She puffed out her cheeks at him and flicked him on the shoulder with her tail, “such a baby, it’s just the market, what could happen.”
“Famous last words, you sound like my jinx, brother, don’t curse us, I beg you.”
She giggled and pulled down the map storing it into the bond. “Eh, what could happen.”
Asaa, carefully picked up Azer and put him in the beast bag, and tied it to her waistband; she sighed and double-checked that she’d put in enough power stones. He seemed to be slithering around contentedly in his slumber. She sighed with relief; and closed the bag; there would be lots of additions to the bag in the near future, so she’d put nearly every stone from the treasury in there. She could only hope it would be enough for now.
She went to the control panel and decided to wait before she pulled out the recording stone until they had completely left the room. She wanted to tell him a few more things, and she wanted it recorded.
He shivered. Something was definitely not right with this picture, but he blew it off; what would come would come after all he’d had to pull Evon out of how many scrapes because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut, he watched her flick her tail back and forth as she moved about the room gathering up last minute things and sighed somehow he thought this wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d hoped.
She went to the wall next to the control panel and began depressing several stones on it, and waited for him to come up beside her, “ I wasn’t supposed to use this code unless someone came for me, or I’d come out from an extended hibernation.
Like you said, there are rules; I’m beginning to think that you are right and that this has happened to our race more than once and that the Mothers have put in protocols that the Queens implement as soon as a Nuller is spotted. There is always a Mother, a tribal Mother who births hundreds, and lives a long time in a deep slumber, and takes many husbands when she awakens.
I can see why the humans are terrified of us, they would have just gone through a great catastrophe themselves, and then the Lamia and probably other monsters take more to father children. Sometimes letting them live but oftentimes not, depending on how crazy the Mother has become.
Each tribe has a different mother, and depending on how the Mother came out of hibernation and how she assimilated, her legacy will dictate how the tribe behaves. Some of us are more volatile than others I think my tribe may have lucked out because of Azer others aren't so lucky; I wonder now if Azer didn’t save our tribe during the last catastrophe, our tribe is peaceful, we don't fight the humans, nor lure them with spells, or bedazzle them. Your feelings will always be your own.
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“I just thought you’d like to know; you might want to share it with the guild; also, I’m going to need your help, seeking asylum with the humans. Plus, you promised Azer to protect and take care of me.”
He rolled his eyes at her, “I only promised to help you find your people. I guess I also sort of agreed to look for this library too.” He rubbed the bond on his wrist.
“I just think you should know,” she huffed at him. “I think you should know about my tribe's ways, so there aren’t any more misunderstandings, she nudged him with the tip of her tail,” and then said, “though some snakes from other tribes are known to steal our women, and even some within our own tribe. The male courting rituals are well documented in several books. She smiled up at him and blushed, rubbing the tip of her tail.
He gave her a long stare, trying to figure out just what she was trying to tell him, “I’ll have to read them some time; your culture is certainly more diverse than we were led to believe.” At that moment, the constant grinding had stopped with a thud.
The passage had finally descended. “This will lead up to the stairs that I think are blocked. If they are, then we will have to backtrack down to the alcove where you triggered the trap that led to you falling into this room.” She looked down at her arm and up at him. “Azer said that the Nuller can’t affect these bands that was one of the reasons he gave them to us. He said that they were made from something, not of this world and that the Nullers can’t affect them.”
She flicked her tail over and snatched an orb from a panel beside the opening and then put it inside the bond, “let’s go.”