The Tomb in the Hills of the Ancients

On his website Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig has issued a flash fiction challenge — over the top pulp insanity. Here’s my entry.

With an echoing boom, the tomb shook. Debris rained down on Ezekiel’s gear. Once the accumulation of dust, insect carcasses and bat guano stopped, he brushed off the sensor and moved to place it.

“Yesu Kristos! Will you hurry up!”

Ezekiel pulled the sensor back, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Blancmange, this is extremely delicate work. If I do it wrong, we’re toast.”

“They have a dragon! You get it? A. Dra. Gon.”

“Pffft!” Ezekiel rechecked the calibration array surrounding the cube. He tweaked one of the carbon mirrors a fraction of a millimeter. “It’s limited to its humanoid form here. It can’t veer full draconic in this pocket universe. It’s basically just a thug with a bad case of halitosis.”

Again, the tomb shook, harder than before. One of the glowfruit lamps fell over, extinguishing the light. The electric lights flickered. For a moment, the only illumination was the deep blue and mottled black coming off the cube.

Sh’hayle straightened the glowfruit lamp, tapping the globes. Three restarted with a pale orange light, but the other two remained dark.

“We have tales of dragons in my village. They live in the Blue Mountains — I have never seen one.”

“Those are big blue lizards that eat tree bark.” Blancmange paced, clutching his LIRE rifle in a death grip. “They’ve gone and found a real dragon. A Royal Red. From the Krawkaharyn Verge.” Another boom, another shake. “‘Halitosis’ my shiny pink backside. A Royal Red.”

Ezekiel cleaned off the equipment again. Moving in carefully but still too fast, the sensor touched the side of the glowing cube with a spark. He froze, held in place for a moment, then released. The sensor remained.

“Hallelujah.” Blancmange stepped over the rubble on the ramp, though he couldn’t possibly see the tomb entrance. “I smell smoke! Rock smoke! It’s starting to melt through the vault door!”

Sh’hayle moved the lamp closer to the sarcophagus. Ezekiel placed the next sensor. “Why are they attacking us? We have done nothing to them. If they had come to my village, I would have gladly guided them to the hills of the Ancients, just as I did you.”

Ezekiel checked his gaussometer. “The Clade doesn’t ‘ask’ for anything; the Clade only takes.”


Ezekiel set the last sensor. “This cube built into the sarcophagus — see how it glows? See how the dark clouds move around its surface?”

Sh’hayle’s face was illuminated by the glow. “Yes. It is magic — the magic of the Ancients.”

Ezekiel cocked his eyebrow and grimaced. “It may seem like magic, but — Not the point. This cube is powerful. Extremely powerful. And what the Clade wants more than anything is power.”

“And the Clade takes what it wants?”

“Precisely. The Clade takes what it wants.”

Another boom, another shake. Chunks of stone fell from the ceiling. Ezekiel moved to cover his equipment and the cube from the debris. He found himself sheltering Sh’hayle, as well.

Blancmange took cover beside a pillar. Ezekiel heard the whine of his rifle overcharging. “The rock is glowing, Zeke! They’re through any second!”

“I just need a few minutes to test —”

“We don’t have it! They’re coming through right now!”

Ezekiel checked his meter. He took a deep breath, just in time for another rumble and another avalanche of debris.

“What is it? What is wrong?”

“This device that I’ve cobbled together —” He gestured at the gear around the glowing cube. “It — how to explain this — it opens a doorway to our ship.”

Sh’hayle clearly didn’t understand, but nodded. “So we can leave here?”

“Yes, we can leave. But —” The next shake was accompanied by sharp, sick crack, as well. “But I don’t have time to look through the door to make sure it’s safe. And our ship — when we arrived, we crashed in the bay —”

Sh’hayle’s eyes opened wide. “Your ship sank. It’s full of water.”

“Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know. The thing is that we can make it, using the ‘magic’ of the cube to power my device. I can’t say what we’ll find on the other side, though.”

Sh’hayle nodded. “These men of the Clade — they will not just take the cube and leave us?”

“No. Once they get through, they won’t just… leave us.”

Her jaw clenched and her eyes narrowed. “Then, what choice do we have?”

Ezekiel looked away. “The other thing…. Once we get to the ship, if it hasn’t flooded and if we can get it working, we’re going to have to go. We’re going to have to leave as soon as we can.”

“Back to your world?”

“Yes. Back to our… universe.”

“Well, we could go, and when it is safe, you can bring me back.”

Ezekiel shook his head.

“You can’t bring me back?”

“The cube has been activated. If we don’t use it to ascend to the next level soon, it will be useless.”

“And once you ascend, you can’t return?”

Ezekiel shook his head again.

“I’ll never see my village again? My family?”

Ezekiel didn’t want to say what he thought — because, Yesu Kristos, the Clade brought a dragon. He just shook his head again.

He could see panic creep into Sh’hayle’s face. “But — where will I go? What will I do?”

“You can come with us.”

“To ascend? To the next level?” Tears rolled down her dirty face. “But what is there? What will we find?”

Ezekiel shrugged. What more could he do?

“What’s there, lass?” Blancmange joined them at the sarcophagus. “Endless adventure! What more can you ask than that?”

Another boom, more debris, more cracking. The supports were about to give way.

“Throw the switch, Zeke!”

Ezekiel poised his finger over the button, looked at Sh’hayle and waited.

Another boom. Sh’hayle grabbed his hand, pushed his finger onto the button, and the world turned blue.

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