Face Value

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Chapter 17: What Dreams May Come

“Face!”

The word drifted out from the darkness of my unbroken sleep. “Face! Can you hear me now?” The feminine voice sounded vaguely familiar, and I called out in my mind,

Christine! Is that you? What happened to me?

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” answered the voice, “but I am not Christine. Luckily, you are not dead, as I first supposed. I was afraid that I gave you a little too much of that stuff.”

My mind swelled with anger, What was that stuff? Where you trying to drug me?

The voice didn’t answer right away, but when it did, it spoke with a little more hesitancy than before, “That stuff was a bit of concentrated sleeping essence. It’s not dangerous, except in massive doses. First, I used a bit of curiosity to make you want to check out this book, and then a bit of sleeping essence to send you off to dreamland. I am sorry for giving you so much. I had forgotten how susceptible humans are to that stuff.”

Who are you? I pleaded, Why have you done this to me?

The voice answered right away, “I am called Oriona, a Shadow that can only move and communicate among dreams. I possess no physical form. I can only take form, when a person’s subconscious gives it to me. That is why I had to put you to sleep in such a manner.”

That still doesn’t explain why you need to talk to me. Did Trezzlepeg send you?

Oriona chuckled, “By Orion’s Belt, no. I could never be one of his puppets, locked up in cages. He has a savage streak in him as long as the Milky Way. He’s excellent at covering it with the customers, though. Who could blame him? He was the last hope for continuing his race, and now since he trapped here, it has all but died out. He is a bitter soul , and the shop is suffering for it. He hasn’t kept up with all the lower passages and things have gotten out of hand. That’s why I need to talk to you: for your good, as well as his. I need for you to deliver a message that he probably won’t take well, but that he needs to hear: I have located Xiaphius.”

Her statement had about as much of an effect on me as trying to explain calculus to a three-year-old. I’m afraid that you have got me right confused. Zae-fee-who?

The voice sighed from the darkness,

“Let me explain…”
 I cut in abruptly,

I think it would be easier if you showed yourself first. I don’t care for talking to the darkness of the backs of my eyelids.

Silence.

“As you wish.”

Then, out of the blackness, a woman’s face took form, ghostly and pale. However, when I recognized the face, my stomach turned a knot. This strange entity had chosen to take the face of none other than my sweet Christine, looking beaten and sickly.

I cried into the darkness,

Please, anything but that! Can’t you take the form of someone else?

The head bobbed slowly up and down, and melted once again to blackness,

“I figured that you would want to see her. You cried out for her.”

I cried out for her, I retorted angrily, because she is no longer mine, and I want her back. But seeing her reminds me that she isn’t mine and I can’t stand to think of her with anyone else. It is driving me mad.

The voice chuckled once again,

“What do you know of madness? You’ve lived in darkness for a while, but I’ve lived in darkness for eternity. Only then can you say that you are mad.”

Her face reappeared, this time as Samot, the woman who had patched me up after my scuffle with the gargoyles.

The face was a remarkable likeness, but once again it was drawn and pale. All at once, a twinge of pity for the poor creature began gnawing at my heart. I tried to reach out to her in consolation, but then realized that I could not move my arms.

“If this form is acceptable, I shall continue to explain. Xiaphius is my master, and was the master of the Bazaar until he became imprisoned by a pair of lockets shaped like an owls that he wore about his neck. He came by these extraordinary lockets as a young man, and found that by wearing them, he became the master of all wisdom. With his trove of knowledge, he gained unthinkable power and prestige. It seemed to everyone else that he could do no wrong, but as time passed, and he was made master of the shop, I found that the locket had a side he did not reveal to anyone.

“I found him up late at night, at the stage between awake and asleep talking to them. He would hold it up to his ear as if listening and then would rant and rave in a furious stupor. It just kept getting worse, until one day when he was walking in the lower levels, the lockets glowed and spoke in a language I did not understand. Then, both Xiaphius and the lockets vanished. With Xiaphius gone, Trezzlepeg was stuck with having to run the shop against his wishes. To this day, he holds a terrible grudge against him, because he thinks that Xiaphius left on purpose, leaving him with the job.”

So, what does this all have to do with me? Why do you even confront me like this?

“Because, Trezzlepeg is dangerous. He is consumed by wanting to escape-so consumed that his judgment has been clouded. Why else do you think he wants the lockets so bad? It’s not the sentimental value!”

Maybe I could understand better if I know exactly what they do. All he would tell me is that they had extreme destructive power.

The face in front of me smiled knowingly, her eyes grim and haunting, “I see that he has purposely kept you in the dark, but I can’t leave you like that. The two lockets were made by an ancient civilization, the Gyemen. Though beautiful on the outside, each locket is really a prison for something that should never be unleashed. During the early years of the Gyemen, a certain number of men where endowed with great powers by the king, each having a different power, depending on what he was to govern. One gave the user great physical strength, another great wisdom, another power over the skies, and so and so forth. However, with these, he also forged a second set with the opposite power of each in the first set. This way, he was able to keep his governors in check. He and his queen carried the two most powerful: the power to bring either growth and life, or death and destruction.

This system worked for a while, but the power of these lockets began to consume their bearers. Each one of Bearers, as there were called, fought with the others in hopes of obtaining more lockets, and soon the land broke out in all out war.

Many Bearers obtained the locket that was supposed to keep them in check. Seeing the bleak situation, Gyem, the king, sealed every Bearer inside a locket. At first, he thought to destroy them, but did not wish to cause more bloodshed. So he banished each locket, including his own, to a different corner of the Universe.”

Are you saying that the lockets that Trezzlepeg is looking for, are the ultimate ones? My brother was wearing that King’s locket when he died?

The face was fading, becoming more blurry around the edges, like the picture of an out of focus camera,

“Yes, but only a few people know of their coming to Earth. They had been missing so long, that most dismissed the story as legend, and those who did believe it, rumored that they had been destroyed. Yet, since you have finally alerted him to his whereabouts, he will spare any expense to have that kind of power in his possession. He is…”

However, I did not catch the remainder of her sentence. A booming voice drowned her words, “Face, wake up! Trezzlepeg is on his way back!”

My eyes flew open to see Andrus three inches from my eyes. Startled, I leapt to my feet, “We need to go. Trezzlepeg is back.”

Sure enough, a gondola with a small blue bulge atop it was rapidly approaching from the other end of the room. Gliding lightly through the air, the boat came towards us and stopped beside me, hovering a foot above the floor. As he approached, I could make out a colorful bird perched on his shoulder. Its body resembled a chicken, with black and green feathers. Its heads were a different story. Both resembled parrots with crooked beaks and the same glistening feathers. Though its body was stubby, its neck was uncommonly long so that each head kept a considerable distance from the other.

“Come,” Trezzlepeg said. “The preparations are in order. The sooner we can get you back down there, the greater advantage you will have. This is Relyt, a very useful shadow. I’ll let him explain his powers when you reach your destination.”

No sooner had my feet hit the floor of the boat that it shot off. Just barely keeping my balance, I managed to take a seat and then grab the sides.

At first, I thought to deliver the message that Oriona had told me deliver to Trezzlepeg, however, even as I opened my mouth to do so, a hard knot formed in my stomach. As I thought over the situation, I realized that one critical piece of information was missing.

She didn’t finish her message. She was about to tell me but didn’t get a chance to say what Trezzlepeg wanted with the lockets. Maybe I should hold off for a bit, just in case she wasn’t done.

As the stars melted by, my nerves settled slightly. Soon, the gondola hovered in front of one of the exits to the shop. With a gesture from Trezzlepeg, we disembarked and waited in front of the vast darkness before us. Relyt, swooped off the Shopkeeper’s shoulder and landed on mine. Its weight barely registered.

I reached up and brushed my index finger along one of the bird’s glistening feathers. They felt as smooth and as sleek as they looked, however, as I drew back my hand, a chalky green residue remained on my fingers. Startled, I checked the portion of the bird’s feathers that I had felt and met with another surprise. The area, which I had touched, had faded away. Horrified, I cried out and flung the bird from my shoulders. From the boat Trezzlepeg laughed, “I was waiting for you to do that! The look on your face alone was worth framing in bronze!”

I gestured the bird back to my shoulder and continued down the dark hallway. This seemed to catch Trezzlepeg’s attention, as he had not quite finished his ranting, “Face, come back! I’m not finished yet! Don’t you want an explanation?”

I did not glance back, “Not really. I manage best with on the job training, thank you very much.”

Clenching my jaw, I broke into a trot and let the darkness engulf me, not waiting for any more comments.

This time the trip lasted less than a fraction of a second. With a brilliant flash of light, I found myself back in the passenger seat of my old car, no longer alone. Andrus, hovered over the dashboard and the parrot/chicken creature occupied the driver’s seat. Blinking, I glanced anxiously at my watch: 2:27. Not even a minute had passed since I had first depressed the large red button on what seemed like much earlier that afternoon.

As if swimming in a dream state, the whole world around me seemed to crawl in slow motion. I stared out the window, dazed by the strangeness of my situation. However, some unknown force did not let me gawk long, as a familiar voice broke me from stupor, “Frank! Are you coming back? I’m ready for some Frisbee!”

Once again, my hands shot to my pockets, but once again they came up empty. Frank still had my keys, and I was out of luck. Or so I thought. Just as I was about to abandon the car and stake out on foot, Andrus buzzed up in front of my face, dangling a familiar item.

“I believe you are looking for these? I’d give you a lift myself, but you seem eager to bring the wheels along.”

Mentally thanking my luck, I snatched the keys from his paws, “How? They were in Fred’s pocket…”

Andrus raised a paw with mock modesty,

“’It was nothing. I’m pretty light in the paws. I suggest we get going before your brother gets too curious.”

I shooed the bird into the backseat, jammed the keys into the ignition, and slammed the accelerator. I glanced back only momentarily to see Fred frantically flailing his arms, running after the car. Though I felt a twinge of guilt leaving him stranded, I was in no mood for sympathy.

Leaving the painful afternoon behind me, I kept on the gas, and made my way towards City Hall. With any luck, I would only have to set the device back a few minutes to track the hiding place.

“So, what exactly does our fine feathered friend do?”

Andrus replied with a grin, “The bird is used for stealth. You saw what happened when you touched it, didn’t you? One head has the power to make you invisible, and the other has the power to make you visible again. It’s usually invisible in its native form, so to be seen its feathers produce this powder that allows you to see it. The powder rubbed off when you touched it.”

I nodded and returned my attention to the road. Andrus was not finished yet, “By the way, you’re lucky that I didn’t decide to leave all our equipment back there It’s there in the back seat with the bird.”

“Why doesn’t it talk?” I asked, gesturing to Relyt, “I thought Trezzlepeg said it was a Shadow.”

Andrus shrugged, “Yes…and no. Though it is mute, it is very skilled at smoke signals. Just watch.”

Andrus disappeared into the back seat and whispered a few words, which I could not make out, and suddenly a wispy cloud of smoke curled into my peripheral vision from the back seat. Curious, I turned the car into a parking lot. The smoke curled before my eyes and formed hazy letters.

“Welcome Face- it’s a pleasure to be working with you.”

Strangely, as my eyes finished with each word, it melted back into muddled smoke. Not exactly sure how to respond, I warily glanced back at the bird and flashed a thumbs-up. Oddly, the bird grinned back with an almost human-like quality to his features. As I gawked at it, Relyt twisted its head to the side, and I caught a glimpse of a glint of gold around the feathers of its neck. However, before I could figure out what it had there, the bird returned its neck to the normal position.

As I approached City Hall, I could see that the crowd had not diminished, and so there was no way to park directly in front of the building. This forced me to turn onto a side street, on which I found a parking space a few blocks down. Before disembarking, Andrus tossed me the brown gunnysack from the back seat. Inside it I found both the shiny Recronoscope and the disguise that Trezzlepeg had sent for me to wear. At first its presence baffled me, “Why,” I asked Andrus, “do I need this, if the bird can make me invisible?”

Andrus scowled, “Just put it on and think of a good one. The bird can only make you invisible for limited periods of time. Call it an extra precaution.”

Grudgingly, I did as I was told and slipped the robe over my shoulders and the mask over my face. Then, I let my mind wander…

I’ll just be the first person who pops into my head.

As I let my mind off like a feather in the wind, it eventually made a selection and the robe and mask changed my features to match. Andrus surveyed the choice and cocked a bushy eyebrow,

“Hmm…that’s an interesting choice, gauging that you barely know the man. Are you sure?”

I rolled my eyes.

“Yes. Just be glad that I didn’t appear in the space suit that he was wearing when he met me. For some reason, it didn’t copy that. I’m still wearing jeans and I T-shirt.”

Strangely, my mind had first jumped to the doctor from another planet, Tomas, as a good selection. I was satisfied that no one around here would recognize him.

“Okay, Andrus. Have the bird work its wonders, and let’s be on our way.”

Obediently, he landed atop the bird’s right head,

“Just pull here,” he said “and you’ll be invisible in no time.”

I squinted my eyes and nearly choked with amusement, “Are you sure about that? I mean this isn’t just another one of those practical jokes that you and Trezzlepeg are so fond of?”

Andrus shook his head, his face all innocence, “No, no, it’s perfectly safe. If you lose an eye or anything else, I’m sure it can be replaced.”

Reluctantly, I stretched out my hand until I had my fingers curled about the bird’s neck like a python ready to squeeze the life out of its prey. There, I hesitated, still not confident of my decision to trust him.

“Come on,” Andrus roared, “who is the expert on strange creatures-you or me? Just give it a yank!”

Seeing no other choice, I shut my eyes and yanked as hard I could muster. Immediately, the bird let out an ear-rending squawk, as if I was indeed wringing its neck, and expelled a fine mist from out its beak. A white powder blanketed everything inside the car, and rendered everything it covered invisible..

My eyes bulged out in disbelief. He hadn’t been joking,

“That’s amazing! How long does it last?”

I glanced about and realized that I could not see Andrus either,

We had better talk like this for a while. I don’t want innocent bystanders overhearing and thinking that they hear voices. It will save them the therapy. Each dose lasts about thirty minutes and the bird has to wait about forty-five minutes between doses.

As the dust settled on interior of the car, an unfamiliar odor hit my nostrils. It was sweet yet, old and musty, like fruit that has been laying to long out in the sun. Figuring that it must have come from the mist, I tried not to worry about it,

So we’ll have to find a place to hang low in between, I guess. How am I supposed to know where you are anyway? Or the bird for that matter?

Suddenly, the door, or what was left that I could see of it, popped open,

I’ll stay close; don’t worry about me. As for the bird, it stays undercover in the car. We’ll come back if we need to. Come on. I’d like to get as much done on this first dose as possible.

As I hoisted myself out the car, I realized an opportunity and seized it,

I had the bird sit on the sack, so that it’s still visible. Pick it up and hang on. I think it would be better if I took you over the crowd as opposed to going through it.

No sooner had my fingers closed in around the sack, than I was propelled into the air by Andrus’s deceivingly strong paws. With a pang of elation and nausea, I soared over the celebrating crowd, and, within seconds, we were circling above City Hall scouting out a suitable landing space. . Terrified that I might drop it, or that it would be seen flying through the air, I stuffed the sack under my shirt.

Locating a secluded corner behind the building, Andrus dove towards the ground without warning, climbing to a dizzying speed. He still managed to put me down on the back lawn under a tree as gently as an autumn leaf guided to the ground by an easy breeze.

I shot a glance at my watch: about 2:55. That left us about a half hour of invisibility. Not wasting a second, Andrus yanked the sack out from under my shirt and rummaged through it until he located the shiny Recronoscope. Impatiently, he thrust into my hands.

Set the dials.

I hesitated, Wait a second. Why are you so anxious? It’s not like we are in danger of gargoyles chasing us about this time. Besides, I’ve never used this thing before. Please give me a second to see how it works.

I fiddled with the dials until they registered today’s date. Then I set the dial, which read ‘hour’ to 2 o’clock and left the minutes and seconds on zero. After turning the device over in my hands a few times, I located a small lever, which was labeled with several settings.

-Off

-Pause Time

-Half Time

-Real Time

-Double Time

Eagerly, I first turned the lever to the slot marked ‘Pause Time’. Instantly, the clear lens became clouded with a flurry of motion and color. I gazed into the lens and saw people, mostly unrecognizable, but once in a while, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face: the mayor, a neighbor, or a friend. But as quickly as each face passed into my vision, it passed from it again, becoming lost in the sea of color.

Finally, the colors settled and a scene appeared in the glass. As I peered through the glass, I saw only the same grassy area where we now stood, nothing more. However, on a hunch, I peered around the corner towards the lawn and the glass revealed a much different scene. A great crowd of townspeople around the large temporary stage in front of City Hall, and in the center of the stage standing behind a wooden podium was Mayor Graff, his arms extended triumphantly towards the heavens. Beside him lay a bulky wooden box of some sort, which I assumed to be the time capsule. Everything seemed exactly as it should be, except that everything and everyone appeared frozen in space as if the whole scene had been paused by some great remote control.

The proverbial light bulb gleamed above my head.

I think I understand. Now if I try the other way.

My ‘eureka’ moment was interrupted by a stern command,

Switch it to the other mode. You won’t get anywhere on that one.

I rolled my eyes in frustration.

I had almost forgotten that you were there. I just was about to anyway.

Following through with my claim, I pulled the lever down to ‘Real Time’. All at once, the picture in the glass burst into a flurry of motion. The crowd came alive, waving their arms and yelling in approval, though no sound came through.

The scene unfolded in real time, every second being counted off by the spin of the dials. The mayor continued with his speech, gesturing and waving his arms as if involved in a complicated game of charades. However, my attention was held not by the mayor, but by the box at his right. Slinking in closer, hiding the scope beneath my shirt, I was able to get an even closer look. Moving swiftly, I set up camp behind a tree near the platform, and once again took out the scope.

The time capsule was an elaborate oak chest with gold trim and a shiny finish. For minutes, the box lay where it had been placed, untouched, with no indication that it was the cause of all the celebration. My gaze fixed upon the box, and I lay in wait, like a patient predator waiting to pounce on its prey. At first, I held my eyes open in a trance-like vigil, however, the longer I stared, the thirstier my eyes became, and I was forced to blink. Just as my eyelids were closing, I felt an incessant tap on my shoulder,

What do you see? Have they taken the capsule away yet?

I had no idea how long Andrus had been with me, but since he had outlived his usefulness for now, I had been content by his absence. I brushed my hand to the side in an attempt to shoo him away.

Did you take grouch pills this morning, Andrus, or is this just a bad hair day? Can’t you see that I’m concentrating?

Or at least, I had been concentrating. As I looked back to the stage, the chest had vanished. Frantically, I hit the lever back to ‘pause time’ and checked the time: 2:24 and 36 seconds. Thankfully, I would only have to set the device back a few seconds,

Andrus, don’t do that again! I missed it.

The reply was swift and gruff, I shall try…Lord Franklin.

But then as if a cloud had suddenly blanketed the sun, all the enmity faded from his voice and his tone reverted from surly to serious,

It’s just that something isn’t right. I don’t know exactly what, but I often do have a sense for such things. You know that better than anyone.

I tried to brush his words off as indulgent pessimism, however something inside me nudged me to trust his hunch. He had certainly had more experience with danger.

I’m sure it’s nothing. You’re so used to things going wrong that when something actually goes right, you get uneasy.

After glancing about to convince myself that nothing posed a threat, I returned to work. With jittery hands, I turned the dial back a few moments, pointed the scope towards the place where the capsule had lain, and set the lever to ‘half time’.

As I peered through the glass this time, the seconds ticked by agonizingly slowly. This time I struck the jackpot. Right in the middle of the mayor’s speech, the beautiful wooden chest dropped through the platform through a secret panel. Once the chest was through, the panel slipped seamlessly back into place.

Reacting impulsively, I stashed the scope into my shirt and dove towards the section of platform. However, as I reached it, I was not able to make the designation portion of the tile slip away. In quiet frustration, I pounded on the platform with both fists, pounding out a beat that would make any percussionist proud.

Unfortunately, my impeccable sense of rhythm did not convince the door to open. I ran the scene in the scope again, double-checking to make sure that I had not selected the wrong tile. I had not. My firsts smarting from the effort, I fell back in defeat.

As I was about to roll over and try again, a strange grinding noise filled my ears. Startled, I looked up to see that the tile had miraculously fallen away.

Andrus did you do that?

No I didn’t do anything. Not besides laugh at you beating your fists into stubs. I don’t feel right about going in there.

The side of the passage had been fashioned with ladder rungs. As I gazed down I could see no bottom. With fear gnawing at my insides, I lowered myself into the hole.

I guess those tale tales had some truth to them.

Andrus, who did not seem to share in my adventurous attitude, tugged urgently at my shoulder.

Face, what are you doing? This smells like a trap to me. Believe me, it’s one of those times where it’s so obvious that they might as well hang up neon signs pointing the way to the ambush point.

I halted my decent.

All right. If you are so scared why don’t you go down and scout ahead for us? We are both still invisible. You’re too paranoid. Besides, it was you who suggested that we hurry up.

Defeated by my impeccable reasoning, Andrus clamed up and I felt the rush of air as he shot down the hole like an angry hornet.

Not wanting to attract any additional attention, I slid the tile back in place, leaving only the faintest traces of sunlight to trickle through the cracks. There I hung, periodically glancing at my wristwatch. It was now well into three o’clock and the sweat began to accumulate on my brow, not only for the strain of hanging there, but also for a nervous tremor, which had gripped my stomach.

What if Andrus is right, and they have guards? Or worse.

I didn’t want to think about alternatives. The sand in the hourglass was falling, and soon we would both need to renew our powers of invisibility. For a few tenuous moments, I hung there, listening to only the beat of my own pulse, the noise from the crowd had all but nonexistent. At last, I could take the strain no longer. Either Andrus had discovered the lost city of Atlantis or he had gotten himself eaten by some subterranean creature. In either case, I decided that he had probably lost track of time and needed back up.

Taking a deep swallow and gritting my teeth in determination, I flew down the remaining rungs until my feet landed soundly on the rough floor below, sending up a wispy cloud of dust that danced in the faint light. The tunnel was almost completely shrouded in darkness, except for the light of a few faint torches, which hung from slots in the wall every few yards.

Strange that they haven’t upgraded to electricity...

A faint, musty odor curled up from the floor and lingered in my nostrils. The air hung oppressive and stagnant like a fog and every breath felt like I was trying to glean air from a whirling sandstorm. The stone, which made the walls, though crumbling and dirt-encrusted, played strange tricks with the firelight. This place felt more like a crypt. Tenuously, I inched along the dusty path expecting to be jumped by a rotting zombie or an ancient mummy any second. Gathering my wits, I called out to Andrus,

Taking larger strides, I made my way down the hallway, trying desperately not to make a sound. All the while, I cried out to Andrus, but still received no response.

As I continued on the path, I came to a curve in the road of which I could not see around, and a new smell met my nostrils, wet and musty. Holding my breath, I sped around the corner, and peered into pitch darkness.

Thinking quickly, I tried to rip one of the torches from its post in order to light me way, however, this proved a futile effort as each was firmly secured in its place.

I bit my lip, nearly drawing blood.

Mustering up all the courage I possessed and muttering a quiet plea to the heavens, I crawled around the corner, keeping low to the floor, trying very hard not to damage the precious Recronoscope. The coarse sand dug at my hands and lodged itself up my fingernails, and my knees began to ache in protest, but not daring to turn back, I pressed forward through the darkness. As I went, I noticed that the sand under my fingers had been flattened out in wide swath.

Like someone was dragging something heavy.

No sooner had I registered the thought than I suddenly stumbled over something in the darkness. Frantically, a gasp leaped from my lips, I whirled about and lashed into the darkness at any invisible opponent that might be stalking me. Despite my valiant attempts, the blows swiped only air and the cavern remained as silent as before.

Badly shaken, but unharmed I stooped back to the floor and stretched out my hand to identify the object that had caused my fall. However, as my hand made the connection, I recoiled in terror. My fingers had closed around another human hand. This hand was a not warm and inviting hand, instead a clammy, lifeless hand, unmoving in the darkness.

I stretched my hand back to reassure myself that I hadn’t been imagining things and this time grabbed a full head of hair, matted with dust and still moist with a sticky substance.

My hand jerked back instantly. I cried out and inched back, not daring to alert the terrible creatures that might still be lurking in the shadows.

What’s a dead man doing down here? This place is a crypt! I just hope that it does not have any vacancy.

As I floundered back through the darkness, my request was granted, though not in a desirable fashion. The back of my head impacted an outcropping of stone which jetted out from the wall, and the lights which passed in front of my vision rivaled that of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Struggling not to black out, I called out in my mind.

Andrus! Where are you?

However, I finally lost the conflict, and lost consciousness.

I awoke to the sound of my name, barely audible, echoing through the corridor.

“Face! Are you there?”

For a moment, I could not muster the strength to reply. If I had had any vision, I’m sure it would have been swimming. I strained my ears, now more accustomed to the silence, to recognize the voice before calling back.

It could be a trap, I told myself, now sounding as paranoid as Andrus.

A voice inside my head. Indeed, it could have been, but this time it’s not.

Andrus’s voice betrayed more concern than I thought possible,

Thanks to that, I think I can find where you are now. Don’t go anywhere, and I’ll be there in a few seconds.

Wincing with pain, I sat up and shook the sand from my hair,

Don’t worry. At this point I don’t think I’ll risk another matching lump on my head. Just be quick about it. I think there is a dead person back here, and something tells me he’s not a pharaoh.

Andrus made no attempt to mask the alarm in his voice, A dead person? Are you sure? I didn’t see any on my way through…

Just hurry up and bring some light. The corpse here isn’t great company.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. As my pupils contracted in the dimness, a minute spark rounded the corner, a firefly buzzing through the blackness. At first, I shielded my eyes as they adjusted once again to the light. As my vision cleared, a recognized Andrus, carrying a torch.

Overwhelmed with relief, I started to dash towards him, but halted as the light fell upon the macabre scene on the floor. The person lying there was a man, pale as snow and clothed in what was once a green business suit, now caked with dirt. He lay in an unnatural position, strangely sideways as if he had been wrung like a rag and then tossed aside. Beneath him the sand congealed into a brownish red paste.

Feeling suddenly ill. I clamped my eyes shut, “Andrus”, I muttered breathlessly, “what happened here?”

Andrus shook his head, “I cannot even begin to fathom. I flew all the way up and down the tunnel, and I didn’t see so much as a rat. Whatever it was that did him in, worked swiftly and silently.”

I bit my lip,

“B-but why?” I queried weakly.

As soon as I had asked the question, I immediately felt stupid for asking it. I knew very well why. The question had become how.

Andrus cleared his throat, “I guess there is only one way to find out. More than likely this guy was tagged for courier duty and was simply in the way when someone or something attempted made a grab for the capsule, but that’s just a hunch. Get out the scope.”

With trembling fingers, I brought up the miraculously unharmed scope to my eyes, set the time to the time that the capsule had disappeared beneath the platform, and flicked the lever to ‘double time’. Then, Andrus drew in closer as we both peered into the flawless glass, terrified at what we might see, but too entranced to look away.

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