Episode 8:  Trapped

Working in the torchlight wasn’t easy. Noshee removed the cork from the thumb length nozzle. He turned Haiwee over, searched for a clean spot on her supple buttock. The sharp, bamboo nozzle punctured her delicate skin. Between his thumb and forefinger, Noshee squeezed the side of the syringe, crushing the bamboo protective covering. Inside a rubber bladder squirted the herbal remedy into her. He tossed the used syringe. The hollow sound bounced off the walls of the catacomb.

Haiwee rolled back on the cold floor.

Dozens of bites littered Noshee’s body. He tightened the linen wrap around his chest.

“You should’ve taken it,” Haiwee said. “You won’t survive the morning.”

She was right. His breathing tightened, which meant the shot she gave him started to wear off. But the swelling lessened in his hands. He couldn’t say the same for Haiwee’s lower left leg.

“How do you feel?” Noshee said.

She shrugged her wings.

“Why did the doors close?”

“Water from a small stream flows into a depository," Haiwee said. "It takes about half a day to fill. Enough to open and close the doors. Once the keepers and researchers enter the doors must close. To preserve the papers and pamphlets.”

Noshee checked her leg. The swelling hadn’t gone down. “Then why keep anything down here.”

Haiwee smiled. She sat up. Her wings draped the stone floor. “Sikya spiders and the dead. During the Tribal Wars the Eldens needed to keep our work safe. Only Genaian herbs can make the remedy for sikya bites. Anyone entering who didn’t know to keep their breath calm or have the herbal remedy would’ve been killed.”

“And no one wants to crawl with the dead,” Noshee said. “In the morning of my life, I had heard stories of the dead rising from their graves, taking the souls of the living.” He stopped for fear it might happen. The deads’ faces continued to dance in the torchlight. Mouths dried open in silent scream.

Noshee latched onto a stone tabletop and, with his wings bracing the floor, pulled himself up.

“Where’re you going?” Haiwee said.

“Need to find the research on Graywolf and his pack."

Tears lined her bottom eyelid. “Sit with me.”

“I cannot leave a legacy of neglect to my daughter.” He didn’t have the energy to search the thousands of burrowed chambers. Fortunately, Genaian researchers must have been working on Graywolf. Piles of amber documents on Graywolf's pack blanketed the oval, center table of the main tomb. He sifted through them, organizing them by fact, history, recent events, and territory. One pamphlet in particular came from the days of Sajen.

“How’s your wife? Still angry about us?”

“Wouldn’t you?” He flipped the pages of the pamphlet.

“Yes. That’s why I told her. To steal you away.”

“It would not work between us. You are a free soul."

“Then why’d you come?”

Noshee turned. “That’s why you sought me out? You thought I came to see you?”

She rubbed her swollen leg.

Noshee dropped a handful of papers, kneeled down and examined her. “The remedy is not working.” Then he noticed something strange. The swelling in hands and fingers was almost gone. The bite marks began to itch, a sign of healing.

“Maybe you didn’t squeeze all of the medicine,” Haiwee said.

Noshee rushed to the tossed syringe. It was gone. He took a torch and searched the floor more carefully. Where is it!

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not here.” Noshee waved the torch wildly. “I heard it bounce.”

A scratching noise entered from the main entrance that led to the dark chambers. Noshee checked the honored dead to make sure they were dead. They were. Other Hartons were also buried in the deeper chambers. Childhood nightmares crawled up Noshee’s back and out to his trembling wings.

“What is it?” Haiwee said.

Noshee pointed the torch to the entrance. But the light couldn’t reach past the oval entryway. “Nothing. Might have been my imagination.”

Scratching against rough rock stiffened Noshee’s wings. A low rumbling growl seeped into the tomb.

“That’s not nothing,” Haiwee said.

Choose your poison: Should Noshee explore the chambers of the catacombs or stay and wait?

75% of the readers chose to explore.