Episode 7:  The Catacomb

The lone moon drifted up into the dark purple sky. Wispy clouds seemed to surround the white orb, strangling it. A breeze swept the tips of the lofty trees of Nashoba Forest. Leaves whispered down Sajen’s Cliffs that edged the province of Genai’s western border. The towering cliffs strode from the north to the southern border of the province. There, about half way down, was a small hole that barely fit a small Harton. Thin streams of water slid around the opening. A thin layer of moss coated the cliff side, making it impossible for Noshee to latch on with his claws. His hair blew back by her flapping wings.

Haiwee hovered, spread the hanging moss and secured her clawed hands inside the entrance. Her cheeks scrunched up. She hated the sliminess. She folded her wings tight, pulled herself in and disappeared into the gaping hole.

“Maybe you can bring out what I need—”

“Noshee,” she exclaimed.

A frightening image of being swallowed entered his mind as Noshee slid in.  The rock walls pressed his wings against his back, painfully. Knuckles of his wings cracked.  His chest constricted, making breathing impossible. Worse the coldness of the slimy rock walls stole his breath. No wonder the keepers of the catacombs were thin.

His head felt like it was going to explode. His lungs started to burn. He needed to back out. But he’d come so far and needed to prove his innocence. Blue, red, and green splotches popped in the darkness. He needed air now. A squishing sound echoed. Then a faint sucking noise followed. Haiwee made it.

Against great pain, Noshee pushed forward. The tube seemed to angle downward and Noshee slid. He picked up speed and couldn’t claw to a stop. His forehead smacked the rock hard floor. Stars marred his inky vision. Noshee took desperate deep breaths, while rubbing his head.

“Noshee,” Haiwee said. “Keep your breath calm.”

Something crawled on his wings, something heavy. Something else tickled his lower leg. His hands scrambled down and knocked something prickly and hefty away. He slapped his hand over his mouth.

“Shh,” Haiwee warned. “Sikya spiders.”

“Here?”

Once Noshee spoke it was too late. The fear exhaled from his breath signaled a swarm of sikya spiders, the size of a man’s face. His skin crawled with thousands of hairy, prodding legs. He screamed. More spiders leaped on him, weighing his wings down. He rolled on the ground, crushing some. His arms, legs, and wings stung from their tugging bites. Panic started to take hold. He clawed his body, ripping spiders off only to have others crawl back. It felt like his legs moved through molasses as paralysis set in.

A whooshing sound blazed in the small cave. Spiders scurried away. Through the tears, Noshee saw Haiwee waving a torch. His skin felt numb, bloated. Haiwee turned him over. A burning sensation punctured his butt cheek.

“Relax,” she said.

She stood, walked to the cave wall and pulled down a lever. Large amounts of water seemed to drain. But Noshee couldn’t tell from where because the thunder of rock grinding against rock shook the ground. Two thick doors rotated open.

“Can you get up?” Haiwee yelled.

Noshee pushed his arms and legs to move. But like all nightmares he couldn’t.

The sound stopped with a heavy clank.

“Crow,” she said. Haiwee dropped the torch, grabbed Noshee’s scrunched body by his wings and dragged him across the floor.

Two large doors strode by. They were closing!

Haiwee grunted as she hauled Noshee’s dead weight.

Rock grinding blared in his head. Noshee saw the narrow band of light between the two doors disappear. A muffled granite thud marked the sealing of the catacomb.

Haiwee scuffled around in the dark. A popping sound accompanied by a spark lit a torch. Haiwee lit three others and left hers in its holder.

From what Noshee knew of the catacombs there were thousands of chambers. Genaians archived documents from treaties, laws, ownership of land, farms, and dwellings, research findings from countless generations. More than Noshee could recall at the moment.

This was the main tomb. It was obvious. Among the carved out shelves storing thick amber papers and pamphlets were Hartons buried in the walls behind glass. All of the graves were airtight. As a result, the honored Hartons were well preserved.

Noshee couldn’t stand the sight of their dead faces, dancing in the torch light. They lined the main chamber. There was no where he could look without seeing the spoiled faces gazing back, mouth dried open, lips pulled back, fangs protruding down, hair ragged through growth.

A sense of relief moved over Noshee’s body. Looking at his hand, he noticed the swelling had gone down a little.

Haiwee smiled and kneeled on the floor. “You look better.”

“What was it you stuck me?”

“A remedy made from an herb found only in Genai.” She looked Noshee over. “You’ll need another dose.” She took out a bamboo syringe.

“How many did you bring?”

She looked down. “Last one.” She lost her balance and crumpled onto Noshee.

Noshee caught her and said, “What’s wrong?” She didn’t have to answer. Her lower left leg was swollen with four puncture marks forming a line.

“You need this or you’ll die,” she said. “You’ve taken too many bites.”

“It only takes one to kill,” Noshee said. “It is too late for me.” He pushed the syringe toward her.

Choose your poison: Should Noshee take the herbal remedy or give it to Haiwee, who only suffered a single bite?

83% of the readers chose to give it to Haiwee.