The echoes seemed to go on forever. Long after the heavy door had slammed shut behind her, they continued into the pitch black, bouncing over the walls and painting a rough sketch of a long, long tunnel down into the deep below the Temple. Halena stood there in the darkness, drinking it in, being one with it, and grinning the whole time.
As they’d outfitted her for the quest – a heavy coat against the cold, provisions in case she got lost and needed time to find her way back, a bizarre little signalling device that was the most delicate thing she’d ever held and that she had very little faith in – she’d kept her elation in check, although from the looks of those around her, it didn’t work.
“She’ll rob us blind,” she’d heard one of the Sisters mutter. “If not now, then someday. We’re only giving her a chance to catalogue what’s down there.”
And they were probably right, she had to admit. Almost no one knew what was in the darkness. After the wars, the ones that no one outside theTemple and Novarc would admit had ever happened, after the Harangin had come and had ransacked most of what Teykaneska had left behind, the underground had become a place to be forgotten lest history repeat. Memory was fragile, even collective memory, and there wasn’t exactly a concrete inventory of what was hidden beneath the Temple. Even if there were, so much of it was enigma.Strange shapes with unknown purposes and records that had never been translated from the Seradin tongue.
Secrets. The deepest of secrets.
Of course, this time she’d be checked. She wasn’t even allowed out without a thorough rummaging of her person – deny the strip search and she could, for all they cared, rot among the relics, her skeletal remains a warning to others who would take up her task in the future.
But they couldn’t take away whatever she would keep in her head.Collective memory was fragile, but her own was fueled by excitement and overwhelming curiosity. She planned to remember every single detail of every single thing she saw. Her search would be the most thorough that had ever been carried out in those depths. Nothing unturned.
Even if she found what she was looking for, they didn’t have to know that until she was done searching to her own contentment, after all.
A muffled voice sounded from behind the door at her back.”I don’t hear footsteps yet, Halena. Are you going or do we need to find someone else?”
“Give me a moment to enjoy my work, Sister!” she called back. “It’s a lesson you could learn yourself, now isn’t it?”
The harrumph was almost inaudible.
Halena reached into her pocket and pulled out another small wonder. Seradin tech that she was expected to return one she came back to the surface: the light fit into the palm of her hand, but when it was switch on it was as bright as the twin moons at their fullest reflecting on snow. The tunnel before her took on a blue glow, and every crack and furrow of the stairs before her was illuminated.
They disappeared down in darkness.
“I’m leaving now,” she called back. “You’d better be paying attention when I try to summon you back. It could be days! Don’t leave me locked in.”
“If it’s going to take you days then you take your chances. Good luck and don’t die. We won’t look for you.”
She took a deep breath of the air – surprisingly fresh, which raised further questions in her mind.
There was only one way to get answers.
She started down, a bubble of light in the pitch dark.