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Silhouine

The ship is light, yare and sweet to the helm: Silhouine swoops around a flock of cranes, then dips the keel to score the surface of a sparkling lake, just for the joy of it. Flight. The Loveblind Bird must be centuries old, but she behaves as if her beams were cured yesterday.

Plans crowd into Silhouine’s head. A ship wants a crew, and the crew will want a destination. Where will they go?

What, Silhouine asks herself, does she want?

Yael, more than anything, wants the ship to go in a straight line long enough for her to safely vomit.

Silhouine

Yael only understands the nature of the puzzle when the smoothly closing wall tries to crush her. It can’t be more than a few minutes past five.

Why all this trouble, why drugged darts and ventilation and tricky little games of punctuality? If this place is a tomb, why not fill it with stones and bomb the mouth shut?

Because someone wanted it to be solved.

Four more downward twists of the path: she catches up to Silhouine in a vast space occupied by a suspended ship of impossible beauty.

“The Loveblind Bird,” whispers Silhouine, then vomits and collapses in siezure.

Silhouine

There is this about getting poisoned: it causes you to look at the remainder of your life with intense scrutiny.

Things keep bubbling into Silhouine’s head. The ratios of the mortarless stones in the corridor speak to her; sounds have fluid tastes and something keeps trying to tell her about numbers. She’s almost certain she can see in the dark.

She’s aware of a distant nausea. Her heartbeat tastes like blood. There’s got to be something at the bottom of all this, she thinks, feeling more than a little guilty for running ahead of Yael. But she’s got so little time.

Silhouine

“It was… after four when we came in here?” says Yael. “So by now it’s nearly–”

Silhouine is up, scrambling toward one of the corridors. “Five o’clock tastes like burning dust,” she pants.

“How do you even know which one is twelve?” says Yael, following. “Also, what?”

“The candle told me,” says Silhouine, and hurries into darkness.

Yael blinks down at the little stub and sees that its flame is, in fact, streaming steadily toward a different portal in some invisible breeze. She hurries after her friend, thinking, they always hurry. Can’t they take their time getting to the next disaster?

Silhouine

Yael almost drops the candle, scrambling over, while Silhouine sits down with her mouth open. Then she shuts it. “Ooooowwwww,” she notes.

“It could be tipped with something,” says Yael, the quickness of her speech letting fear in around the edges. “I have to take it out, all right?”

Silhouine blinks and pats at her head.

“All right,” says Yael, and yanks. Only a little blood comes out.

“THAT IS REALLY A LOT WORSE,” says Silhouine. “What time is it.”

“What?” says Yael.

“The stupid room is a stupid clock,” says Silhouine, who is beginning to realize that smells have colors.

Silhouine

At the bottom of the stair is a dome with a dozen corridors leading out. Of course.

“I can’t see very far down any of them,” says Yael, who’s too busy glancing at the candle to really look.

“This is the first test.”

“Oh,” says Yael, “right, the tests.”

“Graverobber prevention,” says Silhouine, with an odd confidence. “The gods would have known which path is the true one, you see?”

“So we just have outsmart the gods.”

“And that can’t be too hard,” Silhouine smirks, and leans on a giveaway piece of masonry, which embeds an obliging dart in her head.

Yael

“If you actually do know magic,” says Silhouine, “this would be an excellent opportunity to–”

“I’m not a magician,” sighs Yael. “I’m a spy.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Oh.”

They take a few dozen more steps in silence. The spiral is wide but the stairs around the outside narrow; the light of the candle Sanguoît threw in after them gives no sign of how deep it goes. It’s almost more useful for detecting the little currents of air that whistle from the stone at regular intervals. It’s cool and fresh.

Whoever’s buried here, Yael thinks, was serious about proper ventilation in the afterlife.

Silhouine

“We could double back–”

“Won’t he have posted guards or something?”

“If I were guarding a cave mouth in the middle of the desert…” says Yael, dubious.

“Ah,” says Silhouine.

“Water could be a problem, but–”

“I think I’m going in anyway.”

Yael looks at her with green eyes.

“What have I got in the city? Trouble and debt, fear and no prospects. I don’t know if he’s crazy, but there’s something in here. If we find it, it’s ours.”

“That may be,” says Yael.

“All right,” says Silhouine, and knocks the ancient chain off the tomb door with a rock.

Silhouine

“Behold,” says the man in the red cassock, whose name, we’ll find out eventually, is Sanguoît. “Your chance at freedom.”

Yael and Silhouine, dehooded, are busy blinking and making faces in the afternoon sun.

“I said behold!”

They behold it.

“Freedom,” notes Yael, “looks like a cave.”

“A cave wherein the last of the masters of the High Age hid his masterwork: the means to challenge the Iron Heart in its own–” (he continues in this vein for a while here) “–OUR FREEDOM.”

“Wait, whose?” says Silhouine. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.”

After that the cave seems like the safest option.

Yael

He’s going to offer you a last chance to make good on your debt,” the less burly of the guards mutters into Yael’s ear as, once again behooded and bedonkeyed, they jounce off to certain doom in the desert.

“What?” she snaps. It takes her a second to realize which language he’s speaking.

Up to you if you want to take it. He’s planning on killing you even if you succeed, but it’ll be some time before I can get an extraction team out here, so–

Unfortunate plover?” says Yael, astonished, starting to catch up.

It’s ‘sturdy protuberance’ now,” he grimaces.

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