“I should tell you though, you’re wasting your time.” The librarian patted the shelf next to him. “Gotta lot of stuff here, but nothing about any ancient transmission myths I’m afraid.” He shrugged. “But anyway, feel free to keep browsing. Might find something even better, y’know?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Addy laughed, still sounding far too uncomfortable.
“Thanks!” Cyrus added, pretending to be helpful while internally cringing at himself for ending up in that situation to begin with. As soon as the man was out of earshot, he turned to Addy and said as much. “Shit.”
“It’s fine,” Addy assured him, though she looked just as unnerved as he felt. “It’s fine. He was just trying to be helpful. It’s not a big deal at all.”
Cyrus frowned at her. “You’re sure? Corra specifically said–”
“I know what she said,” Addy snapped, running a hand through her hair. “But she was just being cautious. What’s he going to do? Nothing will happen, it’s fine.”
Cyrus was not convinced, but now that they’d already been caught in a compromising situation here once, he didn’t want to repeat the incident. Hopefully she was right. Hopefully he was just a local looking to ‘help’ some misplaced tourists. And hopefully he could just let it go.
“Maybe we should get back to reading,” he suggested at last and Addy nodded as she took his arm and they started down the aisle back to their desks.
They only took a few steps though before something rolled out onto the floor in front of them.
“What’s that?” Cyrus asked, and it was the last thing he was able to do before gas started to spew from the device and his vision turned black.
“One. Two. Three!”
Corra heaved in a breath and held it as she pushed against the heavy stone slab one last time. Finally, at long last, it shifted out of the way. She practically choked the air out of her lungs and leaned over, bracing her tired hands on her knees. Finn, also exhausted, sat down heavily on the offending rock and ran the back of his wrist across his sweaty brow.
“I take it back,” he breathed through gasps. “Maybe none of the locals have come snooping around here after all.”
Corra couldn’t spare the lung capacity to give more than a half-hearted laugh. When she’d pictured the two of them exploring this archaeological dig site, she had expected a gate, probably a lock she could pick, if they were super unlucky, someone would have installed some additional security after Eriaas had abandoned the place, but probably security that could be overridden.
What she hadn’t expected was a rock.
It had taken nearly half an hour to get that thing to budge and another fifteen minutes to get it clear of the entrance. The entrance which now, finally, she stood up to give her complete attention to.
At first, her eyes blinking through the daylight, she couldn’t see much of anything in the dark shadow beyond the slab. It wasn’t a large hole in the ground. Maybe five feet in diameter all around. There were layers around the immediate edge, old floors of long-gone buildings, brick, concrete, one might even have been marble. But finally, the floors gave way to something else. Stairs, by the looks of it, that lead downward and beyond what Corra could see from up on solid ground.
“Well that’s not creepy at all,” said Finn, peering down into the hole himself.
Corra glanced up at him. “Hope you’re not claustrophobic.” She held out her hand. “Give me your lighter.”
“Think you’re gonna need something bigger than that, cap’n.”
He handed it to her anyway as she carefully lowered herself through the centuries of flooring and onto the stone steps beneath. A cool breeze hit her legs and made a shiver run up her spine. Maybe she was a little more claustrophobic than she thought. Still, she’d done way worse lately than go cave exploring.
Regardless, she growled, “You better be right behind me,” to Finn as she lit the lighter and started her descent. He was right, the lighter barely illuminated anything because, she found quite quickly, this staircase was massive. Even holding the lighter as far from her body as she could, she couldn’t catch glimpse of any walls or floors. Just stairs, as far as the orange flickering light could cast.
She heard Finn’s footfalls behind her and soon he entered the flame’s circle. He looked around into the darkness with her for a moment then casually placed a cigarette in his mouth, plucked the lighter from her hand, lit it, and handed it back. “Shall we?”
Corra started down the stairs, but cast him a nasty glare as she did. “Still haven’t kicked that habit yet?”
“You weren’t here to reprimand me for it,” Finn remarked, exhaling a plume of smoke into the darkness.
She rolled her eyes and made a mental note to scold Daelen for not taking up the gauntlet in her absence. For now, though, she contented herself to glare at him as they continued down the steps into the black abyss below. The further they got from the hole they’d come through, the more her eyes began to adjust. The dirt and debris that had coated the entrance started to let up and reveal the true deep blue-grey hue of the stone they walked on. And ever so slowly, the stairway narrowed and Corra caught glimpses of shining pillars lining the walls.
“Can you imagine this place when it was new?” she breathed. Images of proper men and women in delicate post-Division War garb sweeping down these steps flashed across her mind. Meetings in the depths of the archives to plan a whole new colonization effort. Taking stock of their ancient artifacts and–
“It’s hard to imagine it even now,” Finn commented bluntly and Corra shot him another glare.
“Well if you’d been taking better care of the Beacon’s stock, we would have a generator and an actual light to use,” she shot back and he chuckled.
“Good thing I still smoke then, huh?” He gestured to the lighter. Corra opened her mouth to retort before realizing she didn’t actually have one. He took the pause as his opportunity to change the subject, “So let’s say we find this thing. This Transmitter thing. What’re you gonna do with it?”
“Get it out of here and put it somewhere safe,” she guessed.
Finn nodded thoughtfully. “No intents to use it then? Try out that little shiny tube thing. The Transmission.”
Corra laughed indignantly. “Really? You think I should use an ancient device to transmit a message whose contents I don’t know to an unknown party? Does that seem like a good idea to you?”
“No,” Finn admitted, but then he grinned. “Could be fun though.”
His smile was contagious. “Yeah, maybe a little.” The thought had certainly crossed her mind. There was nothing Corra loved more than tales of the distant past, of the Origin, of the Ark and the Great Crossing of the first colonists. And sure, if she was being honest, that love was at least part of what had driven her here at all. She didn’t want someone she didn’t trust having some potential power, of course, that was the real reason. But curiosity certainly had something to do with it too.
“But no, I’m definitely not messing with anything unless I know exactly what it is and what it’ll do,” she decided at last. The last time she’d tangled with ancient technology hadn’t turned out so well. “We’re just making it secure. That’s it.”
Finn nodded slowly, exhaling another cloud of smoke. “Beneath a big shitty rock isn’t secure enough as is?”
Corra shot him a look. “When you and me are able to move it with just the two of us?”
He scoffed and flexed his bicep. “Hey I’m pretty strong.”
“You’re pretty out of shape.” She prodded his arm with her index finger.
A long laugh erupted from his throat, echoing throughout the dark chamber. “And you’ve been checking me out apparently?”
It was her turn to laugh. “Just taking stock is all.”
“Well. You’d think a team of archaeologists would have had more sense than to just stick a rock on it and call it a day,” Finn concluded as they finally seemed to reach the bottom of the stairs. They stepped down onto the solid ground, an intricately tiled floor that spread out before them. in all directions, the walls forming a vast circle.
“Y’know what I mean?” Finn went on. “This place is centuries old. Wouldn’t someone want to better protect it?”
Corra walked in a wide arc through the room, holding the lighter out as high as she could put as much of the contents into her vision as she could. But no matter how far she cast the light, she never saw anything. A layer of dust covered the floor, brushing up into the air as she walked across it, and she could see patches where it was thinner. Patches in very specific, geometric shapes.
A sigh passed Corra’s lips as realization set upon her. “Not if there’s nothing left to protect…”