As the moment to move rose in her, as she stared back towards where the derelict ship rested and she slowly pressed her fears down, down into the dirt, face-first so they couldn’t talk to her anymore, Halena spared one small glance to the left, to the passageway she’d come down in the first place. A small niggling part of her spoke up, reminding her that she could, after all, go back to the surface. If she told them that there was something down in the depths, stalking the shadows, guarding the treasure, then maybe they wouldn’t even take away her exclusive rights to venture below the Temple. They could send a party in with her next time, for safety and security…
laugh when there was nothing to be found. Just her luck.
“You couldn’t be a real monster, could you?” she hissed into the darkness. “You couldn’t chase me out of here or even just make spooky noises in the dark so I’d know you were following me. You had to be subtle. You had to be silent. You had to make sure I don’t have a choice but to come back alone, didn’t you?” She tsked, and the click of her tongue bounced off the rocks around her, echoing back and forth before fading slowly into the dark.
For a time she waited, vainly hoping that that would stir the creature and she could turn back, but no. There was nothing.
And so there was nothing for it – she sighed, gathered all of her wits, and went onwards, forwards, back into the dark, back to the ship.
This time she’d be the one sneaking about in silence.
It was just as she’d left it – dark and enticing, just as before, but she still hesitated. There was nothing inside the ship. She could see from where she stood, she could see into the tear in its metal skin that unless the shining creature could dampen its light and change its shape, then it wasn’t in there any longer. The realization made the hairs on the back of her neck slowly rise and the crawling feeling of being watched slipped into her subconsciousness.
Paranoia, she thought. It’s paranoia. If it was out and about she would have noticed something by now. There had to be another answer – she hadn’t seen anything the first time either.
So she took a breath, held it, and forced her feet to move. Slowly, carefully, getting lower to the ground with each step, stalking the ship as if it were her prey. In a way, it was.
She reached the opening without incident. Nothing sprang out at her, nothing stirred, and when she finally entered, she was more convinced than ever that she was, in fact, completely alone. Pausing just inside, she looked around carefully, but all there was to see was banks of strange controls and panels of darkened glass.
She let out a slow, soft sigh, unaware until that moment of just how much air she’d been sucking in and holding with every step.
Time to get to work, then.
She rose, slipped fully inside, and went to the nearest control panel, staying close to the wall as she travelled, senses tuned to listen for the tiniest shifts in the air currents. Nothing moved, and she was able to finally, finally get her fingers on the controls. For a moment she rested them there and relished the moment. No one had touched that machine in centuries. No one had tried. No one even knew it was there. No one but she, because she was brave enough to do what most tikedi were not – to explore beyond the boundaries of safety, and to see what was over the horizon, or under the earth, or hiding in the dark.
She smiled to herself and her tail flipped excitedly behind her – just a little twitch – before she pressed down on the switches and controls in front of her. They clicked, snapped, popped, the sound echoing through the empty cockpit.
And nothing happened. The screens stayed dark and the ship stayed silent. She tried again, and then sighed. Not unexpected. She straightened, turned, and looked around again. The ship was damaged, and badly, and beyond that, it had been resting for so long. She didn’t even know where or what the power source for such a machine would be, or if it was still intact. Had that been stolen long ago? Was it just drained, wherever it was?
She patted the console. “Well,” she said out loud, “I’ll just have to come back for you and l—”
Suddenly: light. She registered belatedly that one of the consoles had lit up like a star, but by then, the illumination was flooding the whole cockpit, coalescing into a shape. Her heart leaped, her feet followed, and she proceeded to quickly trip over her own tail, stumble, and fall backwards towards the same console she’d been pushing buttons on. A split second before her head connected with the edge, she saw the wavering and snapping ghostly image of something tall and bipedal with too many sharp teeth in its mouth.
Then there was a loud gong that rattled through her skull and an almost instantaneous shroud of darkness fell over her.
The last word she thought was “Depths!”