She approached the ship as if it were alive. It wasn’t a conscious thing, and when she realized she was doing it – crouching low, taking shuffling steps to minimize the sound she made, just as her mother had taught her so many years ago – she stopped, sighed, and forced herself to stand again. To convince her nervous psyche, she passed the light over the ship again, slowly, dragging the beam across the hull.
“See?” She said to herself, her voice echoing across the ceiling high above. “It’s just like every other piece of junk down here, Halena. It’s just scrap. You could pull it apart and no one would care.” Her flashlight beam passed over flaked markings on the side of the ship – maybe something that had once been an emblem of some kind. It could even have been a word. She’d handled more Seradin artifacts than most, but she was no linguist.
The beam finally hit on the front of the ship. There were dark windows there – very dark. If the point was to see where they were going, she briefly wondered how they ever had. To her it looked opaque.
And what, she wondered, could it be hiding?
Time to find out. She pressed on, this time standing tall and loose. If there was something inside that she would be given reason to fear, then it was all the better that she could make a run for it.
She hesitated and looked back. Run where, of course… that was a question. It was a long ways to the exit.
And, admittedly, she was surprised to see such a fantastic artifact left behind. She’s heard the stories in the Temple, the mix of bitterness and acceptance when the Sisters spoke of the old Harangin war, how they’d come and held the Tieke at bay while they made off with so many of the greatest Seradin artifacts.
Anything that could have taught them too much, too fast.
Not that the Harangin necessarily knew what they were looking at. Certainly they’d taken a lot of things that were useless, the equivalent of kitchenware.
And certainly they’d accidentally left some things behind that held far more significance than they could know.
She reached the edge. Inside it was very dark, very still, and even as she let her flashlight beam creep across the steel deck, she could see how thick the layer of dust was – like a carpet that wavered and shuffled as she approached.
They must have thought that this particular derelict was far too broken for the Tieke to take anything useful from. It was also too big to move. A calculated risk.
She supposed it had played out for them so far.
“Let’s see if you really are beyond repair,” she muttered. She carefully lifted a foot, stepped over one of the ragged torn edges and ducked to avoid slicing herself open on the upper edge. Her foot touched down inside, maybe the first tikedi foot to ever touch the inside of a Seradin ship.
And the floor was cold. Very cold. She shivered.
Her second foot was mid-air, and she was balancing mostly with her tail, when there was a sudden ear-splitting snap to her left. She whirled towards it, belatedly recognizing the smell that follows a lightning strike that’s far too close. A few feet away, muted to a faint etheral glow by the dust caking its surface, a light had switched on.
And then, before she could fully process what was happening, there was another loud snap, a blaze of light that shocked her senses and sent her reeling backwards, back out of the ship, back onto the rocky ground where she belonged. She landed hard on her backside, nearly cracking the bones in her tail, and her yelp bounced around the cavern for nearly a minute.
A minute in which the light fully coalesced inside the ruined shell of the vessel, formed what looked to her like arms, leg, a head – huge, long ears like a Tarsin’s, some sort of crest that stood straight up from its skull, and a tail that whipped back and forth.
It turned to her, and her heart simultaneously tried to break through her ribs and stop entirely out of sheer terror. Two bright eyes in an unnervingly flat face, with a mouth full of razor teeth grinning at her.
She bolted. Spun her feet in the dirt and launched into a staggering, stumbling run back the way she’d come. An electronic warble – words? – sounded behind her, so loud that it chased her as she ran, tearing past the heaps of debris and back towards the door, her heart racing keep up.
Of all the things to encounter in the deoths beneath the Temple, she’d found a Seradin itself.
And she never wanted to see another one again