tea berry-blue (teaberryblue) wrote,
tea berry-blue

    Billy Bly pointed past the stone gates, his tanned, leathery finger extended up the hillside toward the silhouette not too far off in the distance. 

Outlined sharply by the golden rays of the falling sun, two figures struggled on the hilltop, just beside the entrance to the tomb.  One was huge, hulking—certainly too large to be human—a greenish-gray mass of sinewy muscles that bulged and rippled as the beast raised his glinting weapon.

The other figure was small, willowy, and one who didn’t know the creature might have mistaken her for a fragile thing.  The sun caught her masses of flaxen hair, which reflected the light with such shimmering brilliance that the woman appeared to be an angel or saint, crowned with a luminous halo.  Armed only with a wooden plank pried from the selfsame gate at which our heroes stood, she held back the force of the beast, as the wind whipped up her silken skirts to dance around her delicate ankles.

Then, suddenly, and without warning, the beast sprouted a pair of leathery wings, wings like a bat’s, and the wings beat rhythmically as he rose into the air, grabbing the woman by the hair.  She cried out, screaming, as she still fought valiantly for release, beating at the beast’s impenetrable hide with the wooden board as she cried out in rage.

“That isn’t what happened,” Helen informed her husband, in a matter-of-fact tone, as she entered the room, busily shelving a stack of books.  “You haven’t been keeping these in order, either,” she observed, as she plucked a few books from the shelf with a put-upon look, shoving them back into place.  She gave the shelf an approving nod, dusting her hands off before she turned to leave, her ash-blonde braid swinging out as she spun.  The large hound dog looked up from where he was curled up on the floor, eyeing her lazily for a moment before going back to sleep.    

“Nonononono, Helen, look!” Sidney objected, pushing himself off the stool to catch at the woman’s wrist, tugging her back over to the shelf.  He gave his young audience an apologetic, almost plaintive look.  “Just a minute, Lanclott.  They were in order,” he said, switching the books back to their original positions.  “I fixed the order; they’re much better this way.”

China isn’t near Greece, Glass,” Helen replied, switching the books back so that they were ordered geographically along the shelf. 

“But Helen, see,” Sidney explained, prodding at the books as he switched the positions of several others.  “This way is better; now they’re all organized by type.  All the map books are together, and all the animal books are together, and all the books that’re wrong are to-“

“Strop being stubborn,” Helen told Sidney, putting his books back in geographical order as fast as he could move them.  “If we do it your way, no one else can find anything.” 

Sidney rubbed at his head, glancing a bit awkwardly around the room.  “That was sort of the point,” he mumbled sheepishly.

“Who runs a store where no one can find anything?”  Helen demanded.  “You’re supposed to be selling the books, not hoarding them away.” 

Sidney flashed his wife a crooked grin.  “You want to run the shop?” he asked. “Sell your books.  Anyway,” he pointed out, shrugging, “it’s a map shop, not a book shop.” 

“Which explains why you have all the maps squirreled away under your desk,” Helen agreed nicely, tugging at the end of her braid as she finally straightened up.  “Tell me, Glass, do we ever make any money?”

“Money?” Sidney asked, feigning a perplexed look.  “We’re supposed to be making money?”

Helen raised an eyebrow at Sidney, tugging at her braid as she regarded him pointedly.  “Yes, Glass, that’s what shops do,” Helen answered with a smile.  “They make money.  Did you know that?  I only found it out the other day.  All this time running our shop, and I’d never have known.  Did you know other stores have these people who come into them and buy things?  They’re called customers?”

 “I have customers,” Sidney answered, nodding to the boy on the stool.  He shot Lanclott a wide grin.  “You interrupted us.”    

“Customers who buy things?” Helen inquired, though she smiled tiredly at the boy.  “If you’re going to sit around telling stories all day, you might as well get them right.”

“Helen, the lad’s going to be a wealthy ship’s captain someday and rule the seven seas, and when he does, he’ll buy everything in the shop.”  Sidney gave his wife a pleading look.  “That’s just how it happened,” he insisted earnestly.  “If I’m getting it wrong, you tell it.” 

The woman sighed, shaking her head at her husband.  “Later,” she promised, looking apologetically at the boy, as she rubbed at the sleeves of her dress.  “The baby needs a bath.  You just go ahead and tell him about the evil demons.  Supper will be ready in an hour.”

“Djiinn,” Sidney corrected, as his wife headed through the door and back into the house behind the shop, her blond braid swinging between her shoulder blades.  “They were Djinn, Helen.” 

He turned, vaulting over the nearest stool as he went to sit back down with his guest.  “Sorry, boyo,” he said with a smile, running his hands through his hair.  “Where were we?”


“Just go slow, boy,” the older man instructed seriously, watching his young companion with a cautious expression. 

“Got it!” the youth exclaimed excitedly, as he fit the two pieces of iron together, forming them into a metal pyramid as the shapes locked together with a click.  He hefted it in one hand, running his free hand through his black hair. 

Sidney held the iron pyramid out to his older companion, regarding it with a questioning look.  “Figure now we fit this into the bigger one?” he asked, tossing the pyramid into the air a few inches before catching it again. 

Careful!” the older man exclaimed, starting as Sidney tossed the object.  He gave the youth a sharp look, shaking his head.  “Don’t do that,” he warned. 

“I dunno what you’re so worried for, Bill,” the gangly youth replied, tossing the pyramid just a little bit higher, just to see the reaction on the older man’s face.  “It’s not like it’s the treasure.”  At nineteen, Sidney towered over the other man, his long limbs and broad shoulders making him appear taller and more awkward than he was.  He held the pyramid up, out of the other man’s reach, as Bill made a grab for it. 

The older man turned away, sighing, as he shook his head.  “You’re too old for this,” he informed Sidney tiredly. “If you wanted to learn how to do this, you should have started a long time ago, lad.” 

“I wanted to,” Sidney pointed out, as he lowered his hand, giving Bill a disappointed look.  “Talk to Mom. She’s the one who wouldn’t let me go with you.” 

“Your mother doesn’t want you getting yourself killed,” Bill replied, matter-of-factly, as he snatched the pyramid away from the younger man.  “She was probably right.  You’re too careless, boy; this isn’t a game.” 

Sidney stepped back sheepishly, kicking at the ground.  He looked down at the older man.  “You want me to go home?” he asked hesitantly. “I figure I could make the trip; I know my way back to the docks, and if you don’t mind lending me the money for a place on one of the—“

“You asked to come, lad; you’re in it till the end of things,” Bill answered, holding the pyramid back out to him.  “Now don’t play with it this time, boy,” he warned.  “Next time I’m taking it away for good.  Get out your notes.” 

Sidney dropped his pack, rummaging through it for the sheaf of notes he had made, as he held tightly to the iron object.  “Yessir,” he answered, removing the notes before belting his pack back onto his shoulders.  “Guess we start at the bit after the pyramid?” he asked.

“That would be a good guess,” Bill answered dryly. 

Sidney glanced sheepishly at the older man, as he rearranged the papers until he found the one he was looking for.  “I think we fit it into the bigger one, uh, Bill,” he informed the older man, nodding to the iron decoration on the stone doors that stood before them.  The nearby pillar as adorned with a shape that appeared to be a pyramid with its top lopped off. 

Bill stood back from the doors, eyeing them with a cautious, almost studious gaze, his eyes moving slowly over the surface of the stone and iron.  “Hmm,” he murmured.  “And why do you think that, boy?”

Sidney held the iron pyramid up, leveling it in his line of sight with the larger one.  “Because,” he answered, looking rather satisfied with his determination, “The base of this piece’s the same as the top of the other one, and it’s got a little hole right where that thing’d fit on.”  He pointed to the short protrusion at the top of the pillar. 

“Mhmm,” Bill replied yet again, putting his hands on his hips.  “Seems pretty common-sensical, doesn’t it, lad?”

Sidney looked back at the older man, flashing him a wide grin.  “Yeah,” he agreed, as he fit the pyramid onto the base, “yeah, it does.“ 

The pyramid clicked into place, and the entire mechanism began turning, like clockwork, no doubt moving the gears that would open the doors.  The bricks, up at the high end of the wall, withdrew into the wall itself, leaving a series of narrow holes.  There was an odd snapping noise from within the door.

“Get down, lad,” Bill instructed in a brisk tone. 

“Huh?” Sidney asked, turning back to eye the older man questioningly.  “But—“

“Get down,” Bill snapped, grabbing the tall youth by his collar and tugging him down and back, just as a volley of arrows were released from the gaps in the wall, one catching in Sidney’s hair as they narrowly missed the two men, glancing harmlessly off the ground just beyond them. 

Sidney let out a rather embarrassingly boyish squeak, jerking his head up as he grabbed for the arrow shaft in his hair. 

Bill snorted, grabbing at Sidney’s hand.  “Careful,” his hissed, as he pulled the youth’s hand back, plucking the arrow from his hair before holding it out, very gingerly, between two fingers.  “Do you see?”

Sidney eyed the arrow perplexedly.  It had a short shaft, almost more like a dart than an arrow, fletched with short, soft feathers, and a steel head that seemed to be stained black.   “N-no?” he replied, shaking his head as he squinted questioningly at the older man. 

“Heads’re poisoned,” Bill answered.  “Pick them up, by the shaft, and we’ll cover the heads.  They may come in useful.  Just don’t touch them, lad; it shouldn’t have a topical effect but your mother will kill me if you get it on your hands and ingest it accidentally.  I told her I’d bring you home alive. 

Sidney nodded sheepishly.  “Yessir,” he agreed, tugging himself to his feet as he began to pluck the arrows very carefully out of the grass. 

“And Sidney?” the older man said, brushing himself off as he pulled himself to his feet. 

Sidney looked over, raising an eyebrow at the older man.  “Aye?” he asked. 

Bill gave Sidney a very dry look.  “Next time, read the notes in your hand before jumping to conclusions.”  He held a hand out, pointing to the now-crumpled papers.  “Now give me those and let me show you how it’s done.” 

Twenty minutes later,  Bill had carefully blocked the gaps in the wall so that the men wouldn’t be doused with boiling oil while he extricated the pyramid from the base and removed the pin from the door, re-positioning the pyramid in its place and replacing the pin atop the pillar so the verses inscribed on the upper surface of the pillar matched the few letters inscribed on the head of the pin, all the while lecturing Sidney in a calm, even voice, about the dangers of acting too impulsively. 

The door swung open with a loud creak and not a sprung trap in sight. 

Sidney grinned at his companion and stepped forward toward the door.  It appeared, in fact, the be the gateway onto a large, square courtyard with a building on its opposite side.  “Nice work, Bill,” he said in an admiring tone. 

Bill shrugged, raising an eyebrow, his balding head creasing dramatically.  “That was nothing, lad,” he answered nonchalantly, as he put a hand out, crossing Sidney’s chest with his outstretched arm to hold the younger man back.  “Stay put,” he warned, as he eyed all four sides of the gate with a cautious expression, then stepped back a few paces. 

“What is it?” Sidney asked, as Bill cast about on the ground, picking up a rock.  The older man stepped forward, pitching the rock through the open gateway, and tripping an iron portcullis which snapped down with a clang, the black spikes that tipped its bottom driving into the earth below the gate.

Bill looked back at the younger man.  “That,” he answered, giving Sidney a very serious look.  “Lad, you want to do this, you can’t play around.  It isn’t all fun and games and shiny treasure.  You do this, your life’s on the line, and I can’t always protect you.  It’s-“ 

He was cut off by a yell from within the gates—a distinctly feminine yell.  Sidney straightened up, ignoring anything further that the older man might have tried to say in favor of using his own brute strength and a piece of rope from his pack to prop the portcullis open just far enough to crawl beneath the threatening spikes. 

Whoever had yelled before did it again, and the voice sounded more desperate this time. 

“Sid!” Bill hissed after the younger man as Sidney squirmed underneath the portcullis, reaching back to drag his pack through.  Sidney barely listened.  Instead, he pulled on his pack and hastened in the direction of the voice.  Sidney, lad, it could be a trap!” 

Sidney had sprinted off in the direction of the building, where two figures were struggling atop the roof—a large man, thicker-waisted and more muscular than Sidney was, and a tall, slender young woman, a girl, really, who was certainly no older that Sidney and quite possibly a few years younger. 

The girl was the one who was yelling, and she seemed to be doing so with good reason, as the man was now dangling her over the side of the roof, her shoulder gripped firmly in one hand and her thick braid of ash-blonde hair in the other as she clawed and bit, kicked and scratched, all to no avail.  In one hand, she was holding a golden statuette inlaid with such dazzling jewels that it caught the light and set Sidney to squinting, even two stories beneath, where he stood.

Ignoring Bill’s protestations, Sidney dropped his pack, easily finding a hand-hold to start scaling the wall.  He shimmied up to the roof in just a few moments, barely catching his breath before decking the bigger man in the jaw and diving for one of the woman’s arms.  He caught her just as her wrist slipped through his hand, and she gasped, looking down at the ground below her before he reached out with his other hand, tugging her up.

No sooner had Sidney deposited the girl unceremoniously beside him on the roof, than her assailant came for him now, shoving him down onto the rooftop with a slam.  Sidney choked, then righted himself promptly, slugging the man in the jaw yet again as he fumbled for the knife he was carrying in his belt. 

He had wanted to carry a pistol, but Bill had flatly refused—no boy would carry a gun on one of his expeditions until his judgment could be trusted under pressure, Bill had said.  Never mind that Sidney was already the fastest draw of his age, thanks to repeated practice in front of his mother’s looking glass; Bill still said he was too rash.  Sidney supposed he had spent a lot of time proving Bill right. 

The next moment was likely part of that time.  As the man advanced again, Sidney dove at his middle, jabbing the knife into his gut and twisting it sharply.  He didn’t have the slightest clue how to use a knife, except that the pointy end went in, and he stabbed blindly until the other man fell back in a faint. 

“You GIT!” shouted the girl behind him.  Sidney jumped back, turning, the knife still covered in gore as he faced the girl, her cheeks flushed with rage and her hair escaping from the braid that swung around her head like an angrily-switching cat’s tail. 

The last thing Sidney saw before everything went black was the girl’s golden statuette making an arc for his forehead. 

“Well, you obviously haven’t done a very good job of teaching him,” said a girl’s voice, as Sidney slowly regained his vision.  His head had felt better.  He raised a hand to it, and was rewarded with a dull pain emanating from a large lump placed squarely on his forehead.  He wondered how bad it looked. 

            “Hello there,” Bill said gruffly, from where he sat, his watchful gaze hovering over Sidney’s head.

            “Huh,” Sidney managed. 

“Nice to have you with us,” Bill replied.  “I see that welt hasn’t done a thing to your brain.”

Someone snorted pointedly.  That girl was still there, standing over them, with her hands on her hips. 

“Oh, ah, this is Helen Hatch,” Bill added, nodding toward the woman.  “Miss Hatch, this is my assistant, Sidney Glass.  You’ve already met his head.” 

“Glass?” Sidney queried perplexedly, rubbing at his forehead. 

“Yes, lad, that’s your name.  Miss Hatch didn’t hit you that hard, did she?” 

Sidney squinted at the older man, who only met his squint with a very dry expression.  Instead, he turned his attention to the young woman.  He saw now that she was extremely attractive, with fair, freckled skin, large, smoky eyes, and soft, regular features.  She looked at him as if, despite all his own steadfast beliefs to the contrary, he must have been somehow lacking in the same department. 

Sidney could feet his ears getting warm.  He put a hand to the bump, as much to conceal it as to rub at it, and wondered what color it was.  “What’d you hit me for?” he demanded. 

“Well, only because you ruined everything, Glass” the blonde informed him, rolling her eyes as she crossed her arms over her chest. 

Sidney sat up with a start, swooning slightly as dizziness took over.  “I rescued you!”

Helen gave the youth a very pointed look.  “I had it under control,” she informed him.  “I really need Mister Dashing Hero to come rescue me.”

Sidney looked wide-eyed at the girl.  “You were dangling over a building.”

“It took me weeks to get him to do that,” Helen retorted, rolling her eyes again.   “He was one of five people who knows his way through the maze into the temple proper, and you’ve killed him and I’ll have to start from scratch, If they don’t catch on first.  Bly, you need to teach your assistant to stay out of other people’s business.”

By now, Sidney’s cheeks were hot, too.  “I was only trying to help,” he mumbled. 

Bill put a hand on Sidney’s shoulder.  “And help you did,” he assured the younger man with a smile.  He held out his free hand to the woman. “May I see the statuette?” he asked.

Helen gave him a very dry look. “You’re joking,” she replied. 

Bill raised an eyebrow at her, keeping his hand firmly on Sidney’s shoulder.  “Miss Hatch,” he replied, “I don’t see the need to abuse my assistant for your shortcomings.  We’ll be more than happy to share our findings with you, fifty-fifty.”

“My shortcomings?” Helen demanded politely, gripping the statuette more tightly.  Your findings?  You really think I’m going to let you just barge right in here and take my--”

“How long have you had it, may I ask?” Bill inquired in a calm tone. 

            Helen blinked, looking down at the golden statuette in her hand.  “This?” she asked.  “Six, seven months,” she replied.  “You know what it is?”

            “I know that if I had it, I wouldn’t need to get myself kidnapped,” answered Bill.  “Turn the sapphire in the right eye a three-quarter turn clockwise.” 

            Helen raised an eyebrow, but did as the man instructed.  The base of the statuette fell out, dropping out a tightly-rolled parchment, which Bill deftly caught in midair.  “There’s the map to the maze,” he observed pleasantly.  “Are we in, fifty-fifty?”

            Helen gave the older man a disbelieving look.  “Fine,” she agreed, holding out her hand, “but give me my map back.”

            Sidney was feeling better already. 

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