Chapter 10: Mounted
ARTIE and Abby’s moods had turned nearly as dark and dank as the Old City hall we stood in, which called for a change of subject.
“So how big is this place?” I said.
They looked at each other, clueless.
Artie shrugged. “We’re not really sure. It goes on for miles and miles in nearly every direction. Except the west side.” He pointed, gesturing to an area somewhere on the other side of the theater. “It bent up into the mountains and flooded a long time ago, so its halls are filled with sediment layers, just like the mountain. That’s where the mines are.”
“Wow. How long have you been here?”
“Joseph and I broke through the wall of an abandoned gold mine and into Winter’s Edge thirty years ago.” Artie’s speech was back to its usual quick pace again.
“Thirty years and you still don’t know how big this place is?”
“I wish we did.” Artie shook his head. “It’s taken a long time to explore all of this and get the fiber-optics hung.” He pointed at the brightly-glowing cables running across sides of the tunnel.
“But it looks like Killer’s got that covered now,” Abby said, her mood lightening as she looked around for the dog.
A sniffing sound came from below and something mounted my leg—intimately. Killer stared up at me with longing eyes. “Can we snuggle?” Then he proceeded to violate my leg.
I jumped and Abby screamed. A wicked sensation spiked through my stomach. The sickening energy dropped down through my leg, exploding out. Killer dislodged and slammed against the wall with a yelp. As he hopped to his feet, he cocked his head and whimpered, confused.
Artie nearly dropped the jackhammer scrambling to block Killer from me.
Abby’s eyebrows creased in the middle. “Aw, you hurt him.”
I went slack-jawed at her. “Really? You’re worried about him?”
Artie swatted Killer’s backside. “Bad dog! I told you, they’re not intruders.” He looked at me with wilted features. “Sorry. Killer and I should probably get to the mines.”
He headed off around the curved outside of the theater wall. Killer followed behind, butt wiggling from side to side with each puggish step.
That was the first time I’d actually been in danger of dying since I’d arrived, and it was from a robo-pug in the depths of an ancient underground city. What kind of screwy place had I ended up in?
I just shook my head and turned back to the engraving. Then a realization hit me. “Wait, these people had powers thousands of years ago?”
“Some of them, yes. The judges in the Bible had powers.”
I cocked my head. “So these powers have nothing to do with mutation or evolution?”
“Of course not.” She shook her head. “No experiments have ever shown mutations to make a species survive better. Epigeneticists found that DNA is not set in stone. There’s no such thing as junk DNA like the Human Genome Project thought. In 2012, several papers came out from labs around the world finding that eighty percent of the supposed junk DNA was actively controlling the DNA. They’re affected daily by what we eat, or think, or what’s in our emotional subconscious. Powers are probably dormant abilities that we haven’t discovered yet or that we forgot how to access at some point.”
I stared through Abby, recalibrating my view of the world one tick. One very large tick. I wasn’t sure I believed her. “Huh. I’ve never heard that before.”
“Not many have.” Abby pointed to another inscription, changing the subject. “These name the plays and give short descriptions.” She gestured toward one specifically. “This story’s about a dreamwalker—a female who could come out of her body and roam around unseen. She could even enter the dreams of others.”
“Whoa. Freaky. Can anyone in Winter’s Edge do that?”
Abby shook her head.
She laughed, then arched an eyebrow at me. “Just what do you dream about exactly?”
“I’m a seventeen-year-old guy. Do you have to ask?”
Abby rolled her eyes, displaying her cute, entertained smile.
I changed the subject before I embarrassed myself further. “So why did the people here write in Ancient Hebrew? Were they Jewish?”
“Wait, we’re gonna go from your x-rated dreams back to Ancient Hebrew?”
I threw my hands up defensively. “Hey, I didn’t say x-rated.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“Oh, come on.”
“I’m not judging.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Alright, fine,” she said. “This place dates to around 5,000 B.C., way before the Hebrews, but we’ve identified two different races of people who lived here—one pre-flood, one post-flood. They both used Paleo-Hebrew, which means it was most likely the first written language since it predates the Tower of Babel. They weren’t Hebrews, but they did have the same views as the Ancient Hebrews of Abraham’s day. And from what we can tell, neither Abraham nor these people were any religion. It was just them and God.”
“Isn’t that a religion?”
“Religion doesn’t really exist when you think about it. It’s a convention. An idea. It only exists in the mind.” She flipped a switch on a box they’d installed next to the doors, and a thin light showed from the other side through their seams. “Putting a label and limitations on belief systems ends up causing wars and judgments about people without really knowing them personally. Life’s a lot more simple than that. These people understood that. No need to try and define God or rules or any of that. It was just humans and God. Nothing more. If you strip away everything we have in this life—our job, our money, our possessions—all you’re left with are relationships.” She walked to the doors, putting her hands on them, and looked at me. “There was no religion in the Garden…only relationship.”
And with that, she pushed open the lofty doors.
I squinted as fiber-optic light flooded out of the colossal amphitheater, washing the halls with more brilliant definition. “Wow.”
Abby glanced at me before she entered. “I think you’ve hit your ‘wow’ quota for the day.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
An elaborate etching of a tree with three rows of flowers circling its edge covered most of the stage. A fond memory of Mom gardening poured into my head, then drained sickeningly into my gut. Would I ever find out if she was okay? Dad had thrown me out. I had no place to go, even if they were okay. My teeth ground together. How long before I’d throw all of this away and maybe get myself and my parents killed?
I shrugged off the feeling as best I could.
Abby smiled at the stage floor as she descended the stairs. “That’s my favorite engraving in the city.”
“That’s impressive. The detail’s amazing.” It inspired me to draw, but I doubted they kept a supply of drawing supplies down here.
“Isn’t it? I was a little girl the first time I saw it. I thought it was so beautiful that I learned the names of all of the flowers in it, and every flower I came across after that.”
I smiled as she spoke about another of her passions. “Why’d they put it on the floor of the theater instead of on a wall?” I took my time, strolling down the steps, taking in my surroundings, consciously imprinting everything in my mind.
“I don’t know.” Abby stepped onto the circular stone stage surrounded by stadium seating. “Maybe they wanted everyone to see it every time they watched a play.” She crouched, then traced her fingers over some of the lines of the nearest flower. “I like to think they acted out their histories and prophecies here. It seems like a fun way to teach. Like our documentaries or historical movies.”
“So they didn’t watch movies here?” I gave her an ornery smile as I came up beside her.
She shook her head with a you’re-incorrigible look, then slapped my arm. “Now you’re just being stupid.”
“Oh, now I’m stupid?”
“I didn’t say you were stupid. I said you’re being stupid. There’s a difference.” A devious grin crossed her face, then turned to a breath-taking smile. The way her lips curled and her eyes smiled… She was only a few inches from me. If I just leaned in…
Kat burst out of thin air right next to us. “Get a room already. There are plenty of them around here if you haven’t noticed.”
We both flinched.
“Kat!” Abby slapped Kat’s shoulder, then turned to me. “Come on.” She headed toward the door.
I followed her.
“Oh, you guys really are gonna go get a room. Nice.” Kat sang, “Bow chicka bow bow.”
Abby didn’t even bother turning around. “You know everyone hates it when you spy on them.”
“Oh come on. You know you like it.” Kat came after us.
Abby swung around, harsh. “No, Kat. No one likes it.”
The doors opened opposite of where we’d entered and two men walked in.
Kat turned to greet them. “Hey, guys. You just missed the show. These two were about to start sucking face.”
Artie and his cute little psycho-pug came in behind the men.
“Kat, don’t you have some mice you should be chasing?” One of the men said with a southern drawl. He was tall, maybe taller than me, with short black hair and a friendly disposition. Probably in his fifties, he dressed like an old farmer with his dusty button-up shirt and jeans. His worn boots clomped as he came down the stairs and crossed the stage floor to the staircase where we stood.
“You guys are no fun.” Kat glared at him and vanished.
I wasn’t sure what that meant, if anything. Kat was a weird cat…and yes, sadly, I’d just tapped into my That-70’s-Show lingo. I was clearly degenerating.
Abby’s shoulders relaxed. “Ian, this is Robert and Euan.”
Robert walked up and shook my hand with an easy grip.
Euan just kept walking, nodding with a look that said he couldn’t care less about me. He was my height, probably in his early thirties, and looked to be boiling under the surface, but keeping it at bay. Like everyone else here, he was built. Everything about him screamed, Don’t mess with me.
I returned his nod and brought my attention back to Robert. “You guys look like you just came out of a mine.”
“We did!” Robert chuckled and walked up the stairs. “We’re headin’ back to the city if you wanna come.”
Abby followed him. “I thought you guys were gonna try out Artie’s new jackhammer.”
“We just did,” he said. “But it’s time for some lunch, now.”
Abby looked to me. “The Old City will be more interesting once you learn the language. We’ll come back another time. Besides, we need to get back and tell Joseph about the message you decoded.”
I nodded and followed her up the stairs, but I couldn’t help think about Kat and her spying.
Was Kat really Abby’s friend…or was she something else?