Jul 27

A Beating Heart of Stone Part 7

The Captain watched as Maria closed her eyes, simultaneous magic requiring the utmost concentration. A globe of light shimmered into existence in the air above them. It wavered for a second before becoming solid. The sentries stopped their pacing to inspect it.

The Captain nodded to Alexia. Red light seeped from the end of her staff as the globe above began to fill with fire. She too closed her eyes in concentration and the inferno intensified into a miniature sun.

Now for the difficult part.

“Ready,” the Captain asked.

Two nods.

“On my mark,” he wrapped his arms through Maria and Alexia’s. “Now!”

The barrier around them dissipated. Before the sentries could attack the Captain released twin bolts of force from his hands, sending the three of them sliding backwards across the smooth metal floor.

The ball of fire flickered, then erupted, consuming the center of the room. The Captain raised his arms to block out the intense light. When he lowered them pieces of armor were scattered around the room. The orbs of crystal were suspended in the air where they had been, as if nothing had happened.

He scrambled to his feet, offering a hand to Alexia. “Lets go, I don’t want to see if they can put themselves back together.”

– –

As much as the prospect of following a bunch of rats had disgusted Gehard, following a goblin was far worse. The fact that the Order mages had no problem taking direction from the repulsive tunnel dweller only made it more nauseating.

And yet, here he was, allowing a goblin to lead him through the labyrinthine tunnels. Life truly was more impossible than dream.

Menlas and Carter were discussing some academic triviality or another about the ruins. Gehard found himself listening to them, not because he was interested, but as a distraction from their guide’s species.

Carter was running his hand along the tunnel wall. “The material isn’t gold, although it certainly looks like it. It’s possible it’s not metal at all.”

“Haven’t they discovered similar material in other relics?”

“Yes, the reports all mention a gold-like substance, but no one has any idea what it is.”

“They haven’t found out anything by studying it?”

“No one’s been able to break off a piece to study.”

“It’s that strong?”

“Yes. The All alone knows how they made it.”

Gehard had decided, after watching them for a time, that Menlas was a rather attractive woman. So much so, in fact, that he also decided he would get to know her better when all this was over. That was, of course, assuming that goblin didn’t lead them into a trap.

Adrian seemed to sense Gehard’s discomfort.

“Enjoying the tour?” he teased.

“The tour yes, the tourguide, no.”

“Goblins aren’t that bad.”

“If you find unsightly tunnel dwelling vermin attractive then no, they’re not that bad. Otherwise.”

Exas glanced back at him. “You know she can hear you, right?”

Gehard snarled at him. Exas’ goblin obsession was rapidly getting on his nerves.

“I think she’s hind of cute,” Adrian said.

“You also thought Stark was a girl for a month.”

“Hey, I thought you weren’t going to bring that up.”

Gehard noticed that the head of their group had stalled.

“Why have we stopped?”

“She won’t go any farther,” Exas said. “This place is sacred to them.”

“Oh great,” Gehard muttered. “A goblin holy site. I can’t wait to see what that is.”

Menlas sighed. “Just shut up and keep walking.”

She lead them down the tunnel to where it intersected a larger passage. Unlike the other corridors, this one was dark, lit only by patterns of glowing symbols etched into its walls. A curious combination of metallic noises came from up ahead. They had a rhythmic, almost lyrical quality to them.

Gehard was blinded by the sudden brightness at the tunnel’s end, when his eyes adjusted he understood why the mages had wanted them to see the place.

He stood at the center of a great cylindrical space, it’s top and bottom so distant as to be lost from sight. The walls were covered in line upon line of intricate symbols, many the size of a man, all of them pulsing rhythmically with light. At the center a great pillar of gold rose up from ground unseen, a single sphere of brilliant blue cradled at its core, rows of symbols appearing and fading in the air around it.

“We call it the Heart,” Menlas said from behind him. “We think it powers the rest of the ruin.”

Gehard stepped out onto a platform that sat suspended over the void, his gaze locked on the ribbons of light that played through the air above.

“Such power,” Carter said, the sphere casting his face as a mask of blue and black. “It’s incredible.”

“Too bad we can’t use magic.”

“Wait,” Carter said, “it powers the entire ruin?”

“That’s our theory at least, why?”

“That gives me an idea.”

– –

Although they must have been walking for hours, they hadn’t passed a single intersection since their encounter with the sentries. The singular golden passage remained unbroken for as far as the eye could see.

The Captain noticed Maria was beginning to fall behind. “You alright Maria? We can stop if you need to.”

“No, I’m fine,” she said, although she didn’t look it. “I’m just worried about Adrian and the others.”

“They can take care of themselves.”

“But what if they encounter more of those guardians? It took all three of us to deal with them, what would have happened with only one mage?”

“You underestimate them Maria. They would have figured something out.”

“Does this kind of thing happen to you often?” Alexia asked.

“Have we been trapped in a ruin controlled by a lunatic before? No. But we have been lost in a number of strange places.” He reached for his telescope, meaning to scan the tunnel ahead. “Why? Regretting coming with us?”

“No, but I would like to know what our chances are of ever getting out.”

“As I’ve said, we’ve survived worse.”

“What could be worse than this?”

“Plenty, trust me.” The Captain’s hand plunged into an empty pocket.

Maria noticed his pace falter. “What is it?”

“My telescope, it’s gone. It must have fallen out when we were fighting.”

“Hey, Captain,” Alexia said. “I think I see some light up ahead.”

He squinted at the distant. “You’re right.”

“Finally, I was beginning to think this tunnel went on forever.”

The room was much like the one they just left. Four pedestals sat in its corners, orbs perched innocently atop them. The Captain stopped at the doorway, sword drawn.

“What do we do now?” Maria whispered.

“Can you manage another blast Alexia?”

She didn’t answer.


Alexia wasn’t paying attention. She was staring at something on then ground a short distance away.

The Captain followed her gaze and felt his heart shudder.

There, lying on the golden floor, was his telescope. Sitting exactly where he had left it.

There was silence as the full meaning of this sunk in.

“We’re never getting out,” Alexia muttered. She looked up at the Captain, her eyes pleading with him to contradict what they all knew.

But he couldn’t.

– –

Carter wove his good hand through the air, runes and sigils flowing around it.

“Explain this to me again,” Gehard said from behind him. “What are you doing?”

“The Heart is connected to everything else in the ruin, right?” Carter said with the enthusiasm he reserved for all things Ancient.

“Okay. So?”

“So, the device Mazanc has controls the ruin,” he played his hand down a line of symbols, “but it draws its power from here.”

“And if we can cut it off,” Menlas said. “He won’t be able to rearrange the ruins on us anymore.”


Carter had never experienced anything like this before. Exploring a ruin was one thing, but seeing its innermost workings was by far another. It was like he had been given an intimate glimpse into the minds of the Ancients themselves. This was the kind of thing a researcher wouldn’t dare dream of.

“Are you sure this is safe?” Exas asked. “Look what happened to Mazanc.”

“We don’t have many options.”

The symbols that surrounded Carter held no obvious meaning, but by interacting with them he intuitively knew what they meant and how to use them. He played them as one would conduct an orchestra, each stroke flowing with effortless meaning. Theirs was a truly amazing power who created this.

Just think what we could learn from this place.

It was easy to find the stream of energy flowing to Mazanc’s controls, as it was the largest and most protected. It was much harder to do anything to it.

“I can’t shut it down,” Carter said. “The entire ruin is built around the control center.”

“Then what can you do?”

Carter searched through the idea space, his thought flowing effortlessly into visual and then back again. He felt as though he was having a conversation with the ruin and it was answering him.

“There are controls here like what Mazanc has. It’s like they’re a backup in case something happens to the main ones.”

“That’s great,” Adrian said. “Could you use them to find the Captain?”

Carter’s mind began to reel from the enormity he was perceiving. “I don’t think so. The place is larger than a city. There’s no way to know where they are.”

Something appeared from amid the wealth of information, an idea that was immediately out of place. Carter inspected the cluster of symbols that stood out from the others.

“The defense system in one room’s been activated. Recently.”

“Could it be them?”

“It must be,” Exas said. “The goblins wouldn’t go near the room if it was dangerous.”

“More importantly,” Gehard said, “can you bring them here?”

Carter activated the symbols instructing the ruins to reform. As he did so, he became aware of a distant trace of panic. The alien sensation grew stronger until he realized that it was coming from Mazanc. Hints of the man’s thoughts began filtering through as Carter worked.

The panic grew into outright hysteria as the ruins began to move.

He can feel the changes to his domain, Carter realized. He’s sending his servants to find those responsible for it. He’s scared, so scared, of losing it all. The whole world is threatening. It’s spinning, crashing down around him and there’s nothing he can do about . . .

Carter was snapped back to reality as his legs were jerked out from under him. He struggled to regain his balance as the chamber shook violently.

“What did you do?” Gehard yelled over the roar.

“I ordered the ruins to move,” Carter said as he crouched low to the ground. “Mazanc could feel it and panicked.”

He grasped the edge of the platform and waited for the world to still.



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