Ok, so this one is more of a calm before the storm chapter, and yeah, I kind of deviated from my outline in this one, but that’s just cause I didn’t like what I had planned. Anyways, in the last one, we had Elaina’s death confirmed, learned some stuff about Charles, and had a robot come and greet the travelers. What happens next? Read on and find out. 😀
I see, I hear, I smell, I feel, but my heart knows nothing but numbness.
“Where are you taking us, AB 34?” Nathaniel asked as their guide led them into the temple.
“The ceremonial chamber. All who come here must go to the ceremonial chamber for cleansing.” the robot replied.
“And if I refuse?”
“You shouldn’t. You’d miss an intriguing puzzle.”
Nathaniel knew he was being baited into a trap, but he decided to follow along anyway. When the two students before him had come here, whatever had happened had affected them greatly. They passed by piles and piles of robots, all in pieces and lying motionless on the ground. Charles was looking around in wonderment, while Katherine was staring straight ahead; that is, until it grew too dark to see. Then Nathaniel pulled out a flashlight from his pocket and switched it on.
“What are you?” he asked AB 34.
“I am Annabel 34. Self-aware robot custodian and primary guardian created by the People for the defense of the Temple. What are you?”
Charles thought this a funny question and muffled a guffaw; Nathaniel did not deign to answer. Instead he was examining the walls of stone. They were covered in strange runes, many of which resembled the geometry of the ‘artifact’ that he had picked up. There were even some depictions of people worshipping a giant sphere covered in linear impressions similar to that on the pendant he had recently acquired. Another showed a man touching the sphere and dying. Nathaniel realized it was a story, and his eyes flicked to the next carving.
Another worship ceremony, and more people. Different people though. Nathaniel moved onto the next picture. The new people were attacking the worshippers. The conquistadors! The next relief was a closeup of the sphere they worshipped, with what appeared to be a smaller sphere approaching it. In the next carving, the bigger sphere was shattered by the smaller one, and Nathaniel realized that the tribe’s idol must have been hit by a cannonball.
Nathaniel was interrupted from his study of the wall when AB 34 called out, “This way! Over here.”
The robot led them into a square shaped room. At the center of it was a pedestal. The back floor seemed unusually dark, and Nathaniel was about to question the robot about it when there was a loud bang!
He whirled around, only to see a large stone cube blocking their entrance. There was a moment as the stunned travelers just stared and dust settled. Then Nathaniel turned to Annabel menacingly.
“Oh dear,” AB 34 said. “I do believe we are trap–”
A gunshot from Nathaniel sent pieces of the traitorous guide flying everywhere.
“What d’we do now sir?” Charles asked, eyeing Katherine who, despite chewing on her little finger, was doing it in a manner that indicated she did not seem to realize the predicament they were in.
“It’s a puzzle.” Nathaniel walked to the altar. Standing there, he was in the middle of the room, and he began to examine his surroundings. He now realized that the dark spot at the end of the room was a giant hole in the ground. Looking up, he found numerous intrinsic patterns sculpted across the ceiling, and a ring of holes above the altar.
The sacrificial table itself was an excellent piece of carving workmanship. There was a smooth surface on which no doubt the offerings were executed, and small sloped irrigation channels led to holes which were unquestionably to drain the blood of the sacrifices away. This was obviously the worship chamber in the carvings, yet it was trapped, which meant there had to be a way for the priests to release the people.
Nathaniel pictured the scene in his head. The giant sphere, hanging from the ceiling. The priest, standing at the podium Nathaniel now stood on, with his back to the hole in the floor. The ‘People’ bowing down before the altar and worshipping the sphere. The priest would kill the sacrifice, the blood would flow into the holes, and then what?
Nathaniel looked at one of the two dimensional stone pictures on the wall. It showed a man, obviously the priest, sticking his finger into the altar. For a moment, it didn’t make sense to Nathaniel, then he thought of the fact that it was a two dimensional image he was looking at. Of course! The release catch was hidden in one of the blood receptacles.
Nathaniel bent closer to examine them. His thought proved accurate, except for one fact; there was a catch in each one of them. Nathaniel looked back at the picture. The priest’s finger was going in at the middle of the altar. That brought it down from four to two; the right and the left side. Then the thought that the picture might be false occurred to Nathaniel, and it went back to four.
“What ye doin’ sir?” Charles asked.
“Trying to decide which catch will let us out, and which catch will kill us.” Nathaniel pointed at the picture.
“Well, that’s easy,” Charles said. “Th’ pi’ture is obv’ously fake, s’it’s not th’ right or th’ left uns. Th’ people would b’worshipp’ng in front of th’altar, an’ th’ sacrifice would be lying acrossit, s’it’s not th’ front, ‘cause it would b’awk’ard for th’ priest t’have t’reach over th’ sacrifice an’ act’vate th’ catch. Ittwould also reveal th’ secret, s’it ‘as t’be th’ back un.” And Charles reached forward to release the catch.
Over the years of Nathaniel’s experience with mysteries, he had learned to trust his instincts, and right now they were telling him that something did not add up. He went through Charles’ logic. It was flawless, except for his assumption that the picture was fake, but even if it was not, the priest’s doing that, followed immediately by the opening of the room, would instantly reveal the secret. So why did Nathaniel get this feeling? The priest doing a blood sacrifice to the god that would open the room–
Wait! That was it! A blood sacrifice. It had to be a blood sacrifice. The blood, it would drain into the holes, release a primary catch…
“No don’t!” Nathaniel exclaimed, but it was too late. Nathaniel gave Charles a shove that sent the guide flying away, then he himself leaped back, but time was already up. Six large spikes fell from the ceiling, one of them pinning Nathaniel’s foot to the ground.
“Lordy!” Charles exclaimed upon seeing Nathaniel’s wound, and he had to look away for a moment.
Nathaniel did not really register it, since he felt no pain, but the warm blood surrounding his foot brought to his mind recent memories that he wished to forget. Charles was blubbering apologies as he approached Nathaniel, but the latter paid him no attention. Katherine just stood, head cocked slightly to one side, and looked quietly at the scene unfolding before her. Carefully Charles pulled the spike out and bandaged Nathaniel’s foot.
Elaina. Gone. And because of him! Nathaniel could not bear the thought.
“We need blood,” he murmured. “A blood sacrifice.”
“I know, I know,” Charles crooned comfortingly, paying no attention to the meaning of Nathaniel’s words.
“Then what are you doing?” Nathaniel asked, ripping the bandage off his foot savagely and staggering to his feet. He heisted the wounded appendage onto the altar, where the blood drained into the holes. Then he took his foot off the altar and picking up the bandage, began dressing his wound again.
“Press the catch again,” Nathaniel commanded.
“Are ye sure sir?” Charles asked, hesitant after his mistake.
“Of course I’m sure!” Nathaniel said irritably.
Charles pressed the catch, and then cringed. Nathaniel looked up sharply.
“What s’it sir?” Charles asked, wondering if he had again blundered.
“Nothing happened,” Nathaniel said slowly, as if not believing the evidence before his eyes. “Confound it. After everything I have ever learned– nothing happened?”