Attempt nineteen. Or, maybe, attempt ninety-one.
Nilla wasn't too sure at this point.
She was almost certain that the last try had something to do with a grappling hook. As she fell face-first into the engulfing darkness, she bit her lip and recounted the previous attempts. If it was the grappling hook, then she'd know everything she needed to know. She smiled, realizing she could rely on the helpful mnemonic she put together: “A hook is fine for attempt number NINE—teen”.
It might not be that helpful. Rhyming numbers is hard, and adventurers make for bad poets.
Now wasn't the time for that. She needed to check on the hook. There'd be time to muse later. She nodded in agreement with her revelation, and put the thought aside. She took a breath, mustering all her energy into shifting her body. She flailed her arms and legs, relying on her momentum and the rushing winds to flip her towards the fading sky. Her muscles tensed as she struggled to turn. She jerked. She twisted.
And, then spun.
Her descent into the depths became a dizzying tumble. Still, even in her barrel roll into darkness, she caught glimpses of the world above. There, shimmering in the sunlight, was her grappling hook still dug into the cliff edge. She smiled.
“A hook is fine for number-- crap, already?” Said Nilla as the rocky earth greeted her.
On a pillar of ash and flagstone, a brown satchel rested beneath the burning sun. It laid on its back, quiet and still, an innocent witness to the day's events. It could have stayed like that forever, lording over a barren, lifeless spire as the sun burned above. But, there was a noise.
A slate, harsh gust blew over the ashen ground, rustling the satchel upright. Its leather flap swung back. Its gaping maw opened wide. From within its cavernous leather cavity, the noise spilled out. It echoed louder with every moment. It grew and grew, until it grew into a scream – an angry, profanity-fueled scream.
Nilla erupted from the satchel's maw, surging high into the air as she had countless times before. Beneath her was the satchel, gazing up, its maw a thin curve. She glared in reply with fierce, burning eyes of yellow.
She came down as the pull of gravity dragged her back to the ashy stone. She let loose a garbled roar; her impact far more aggravating than painful. Her crash sent the satchel flying, only to drift back to Nilla's side.
Nilla sneered at the satchel laying motionless beside her. It fell over. Its leather flap rolled across the ground, sticking out.
“You shut the hell up!” Said Nilla. She stood, her fists clenched and trembling. “This is all your fault What the hell do you want from me?”
The satchel's aged shoulder strap slouched down as the harsh desert wind blew.
She screamed, and kicked the satchel aside.
Nilla approached the thin lip of the ravine, the hot desert air pushing on her back, and the satchel at her side. She stared across the ravine, measuring its width. Her face twitched. It was a festering wound on the landscape; a narrow cut surrounding a nameless ruin history on a pinhead history forgot.
How she ended up there, isolated from the grass expanse only thirty feet away, she couldn't recall. In all honesty, Nilla couldn't explain anything about the ruins. All she had were clouded memories of glittering treasure, and a very inconsistent sense of how long ago that was. Still, none of that mattered to Nilla. All that mattered to her getting off that pillar.
“Was it this wide last time?” She said, glancing at the satchel. Nilla was a seasoned explorer. There were wider, more treacherous gaps. Some in even far worse conditions. Still, she swore it was never this wide.
“No sweat.” Said Nilla, as she peeked over the edge of the gap. She watched as it dropped to depths even the sunlight was not obliged to go, and took a deep breath. “Yeah, this isn't so bad.”
She stepped away from the ledge, taking several more deep breaths as she walked a fair distance from the edge. She stopped, exhaled, and she licked the tip of her finger before sticking it high into the air.
This, of course, told her nothing
“You got this, girl. You got this.” She said, as she shook her hands while hopping in place.
The satchel fell onto its side, its sudden thud echoing in the dead silence. Nilla turned, glaring at the leather satchel.
“No! Not this time!” Said Nilla, a shaky finger pointed at the motionless bag. “I don't want to hear a word out of you!”
The satchel laid there, a small drop of moisture rolling down its metal clasp.
Nilla rolled her eyes.
The satchel was nothing more than an ordinary shoulder bag. Its shabby, brown skin was dry and cracked from the harsh desert air. Its metal buckles were corroded, eaten away by a layer of rust. And, its weakened, frayed stitching teetered on the verge of expiration. It was an old, worn-out bag left alone in the ruins; lifeless, innocent, and uninvolved.
“Whatever. Some treasure you turned out to be.” Nilla said, remembering its promises – its sweet, sweet promises. She shook her head, and returned her attention to the gap. She hunched down into a runner's stance. One good burst was all she needed. She counted down. Three. Two. Two and a half. Two and--
“The hell is that?” Said Nilla, as a strange noise buzzed behind her. The satchel sat, its maw still open, with a high pitch buzzing gurgling out.
As Nilla grew close, the buzzing dulled to a hum. It was a sweet, playful hum, like a song. The satchel was singing.
“Why that song?” She said, her eyes growing wide. “Why are you doing this?”
Why was this happening? Was this all her fault? Was this was payback or karma? It couldn't be. What could she have done that was so wrong? What crime would be worth this kind of punishment?
This couldn't be about those adventurers.
She never meant for what happened to them.
At least, she didn't mean for it on purpose. How could she have known they'd fall into that pit of spikes? They should have paid more attention. It was their fault for never shutting up.
She wanted some peace. She already had to deal with that horrible satchel. Couldn't they understand? She only wanted them to stop their damn singing. They were no better. They heard the same promises. They came for the same reason. The satchel promised them such treasure.
But, the satchel was a liar.
“Stop it! I said stop it!” She said. “Did you hear that? You're a liar! You made me do it! I didn't want to! You're a bastard and a liar! You piece of--” She said, her voice cracking.
“I hate you.” Said Nilla, wiping tears from her eyes. She didn't have time to deal with the satchel. She had to focus. Focus on her jump. Focus on going home. She turned to the gap, ready for her attempt, only to see what was once thirty feet had become a mile.
Her blood boiled as she gazed at the gulf that laid before her. She screamed, lunging at the satchel. Her quaking hands clutched at it tight. Her fiery eyes crackled with hate, and her vision blurred. She squeezed and shook the satchel, and held it at arm’s length.
“I'm sorry. Okay?” Nilla said, hoarse and trembling. “That's what you want me to say, right? You sick piece of – I'm sorry.”
Nilla pressed the satchel against her chest, and dropped to her knees. Salty streams ran down her ash-covered face as she choked and gasped. The satchel rested motionless in her arms, lifeless and silent.
“Didn't you hear me?” She said, heaving on every word. “I said I was sorry.”
She held out the satchel. It hung limp in her hands.
“That's it? Now you shut up?” She said, the tears on her face drying. “Fine. If that's how you want it.”
She stared across the ravine towards the clear blue skies being kept from her. She could almost feel the cool breeze kiss her skin. She imagined the touch of grass running through her fingers. She took a step forward, thinking of all the things she'd be forever denied, and hurled the satchel into the chasm.
“If I'm going to Hell, then you're going first!” She said, watching the leathery fiend soar over the chasm.
She smiled, holding her breath, waiting for it to plummet into the depths.
The satchel sailed across the gaping scar, but as it arced towards the darkness, it slowed. It bobbed and bounced in the desert air. It floated across the chasm, skipping, until it landed with a gentle plop on the other side.
Nilla collapsed, mouth hanging open and face flush. Her arms fell limp, her body sagged. She gazed across the chasm, staring at the satchel resting on the cool grass.
And, Nilla laughed. She laughed until tears ran down her face. She threw her head back, laughing until she ran out of breath, a wide smile cutting across. She wiped away the tears, and rose to her feet. Standing over the edge of the ravine, faints chortles still escaping her, she stared the satchel.
Weary and worn, her body caving from exhaustion, Nilla once more peered into the endless chasm. She took a long, deep breath, and thought of her sister. She could still hear her. She could still hear her graceful voice, singing at the head of the group. She could still hear that same voice give way to a scream as she fell into a pit of spikes. She could still see her sister's beautiful face painted with horror, the sound of that angelic voice struggling and choked in blood.
Nilla sighed, and stepped off the ledge.
She sank into the infinite depths of the chasm, her mind reeling with every moment of her captivity. She recalled every failed attempt, and every wasted effort. Each glorious failure to cross the ravine flashed before her; the grappling hook, the glider made from old maps, and the catapult. She was still embarrassed by that ridiculous catapult. Each attempt ended the same way, a battered and tired Nilla laying next to that awful satchel.
That wretched satchel.
“They all deserved it!” She said with a laugh. She closed her eyes, smiling at the winds rushing around her. Smiling at the idea of being free. Free of the memories. Free of the ruins. Free of that satchel.
She spread her arms wide, her smile bright, as the ravine consumed her.
The rushing winds became a roar, and the darkness claimed her.
Nilla opened her eyes to a grappling hook planted into the ground, its metal fingers dug into the grass-covered earth. She turned, seeing the satchel resting quiet and innocent beside her. She felt the cool breeze kiss her skin. She ran her fingers through the grass, as birds sang above.
Nilla rolled over, burying her face in the warm earth.
“I hate you. I hate you so much.”