Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Dapple Gray and the Demesne

Now it's time for Thoreau to know the dappled stallion.
There is nothing else to do today but explore my environment. I'm now living in a desert, which heretofore has been absent in my direct experience, and as there are no other pressing concerns (save the protracted, long-term ones I've plotted), I will avail myself of the leisure.

I'm thinking of what to do with the horse. There is no hay here to feed him currently, yet he (the horse is very apparently male, before anyone chide me for crass assumptions) does not appear emaciated. Once my own garden is underway I should be able to provide for him, at any rate.

As I said, he is calm around me and does not mind the scent of human, apparently. He is outfitted with tack and harness, and his coat is a healthy mottled gray with few blemishes or scrapes. Whether he originates from here or was selected and brought hither from that wild herd I discovered so long ago, there is no way for me to tell. All I could do was assess his flanks and rub his velvety nose while trying to come up with a name for him.

The Mohawk formerly of my region called these beasts yakosatens, and the Maquas, aquesados. Only a little linguistic stunt-work is necessary to contort these until they sound related to each other, not at all like the Seminole ugshuteh. The Mohican náhnióges is something else entirely. Playing with the first two, I suppose I will name him Agasado. Perhaps it is not the most elegant appellation, but like so many other issues, there is no one about to oppose me.

Unless they're all stored up inside the pyramid and waiting for me. They would likely have an opinion on the matter.

Agasado seems to have taken well to me, permitting me to walk him about the grounds by his rein. He watches me with a soft and intelligent eye, assessing me. I'm less concerned with the scraggliness of my beard or the unkempt arrangement of my clothes, than I am with the purity of my soul. Oh yes, if souls have we, there is no doubt in my mind that animals—being innocent children of the world, closely attuned to the innate fire of life—may read them without impediment. No fair and gentle visitor of the feminine persuasion ever caused me as much self-conscious angst as did a perspicacious animal with its clear eye.

But Agasado seems to like me, and I know to be grateful. At length I ventured to slip one boot into one stirrup, and when he did not shy I hove myself upon the saddle. We took a long time to get to know each other: me, assessing his experience and knowledge; him, testing my conviction and confidence. Long story short: he was complaisant for the time being and we set out at a gentle gait.

The cleansing, purifying fires of our glorious white sun.
It was still early  morning, yet, when we began our rounds, and it has been quite educational already. There were still monsters about, and I took them in with great pleasure, observing them to incinerate in the cleansing rays of Sol Invictus, as they do. I associate tremendous bitterness with these mindless or malevolent creatures, and at their suffering I confess to feel something between nonchalance and cheer. The feelings that other people must feel at a cozy little cabin in snowy woods, windows glowing with a roaring fire in the hearth, are the same feelings I experience to see the Ambulatory Corpses of Men or the archer-skeletons scrambling for shelter even as their material ignite and sear. It lifts my mood and cracks my rough face into a smile, though I know this must be pettiness and I should feel shame at myself and pity for these hapless things. But I do not.

The cacti are nourished on A.C.M. meat.
Interestingly, I have discovered a new hazard in these cacti, which grow so abundantly throughout the desert lands. They may tower a full meter above my head, no more, and they do not branch out. I can dissemble them with any tool except bare fists. They are unlike the trees of this world, in that punching a cactus will cause me considerable damage. In fact, I observed an A.C.M. staggering in the passion of his incineration toward a grove of cacti, and these plants effectively tore him apart. There was a moment when he had stopped burning and merely stumbled about, and as he bounced between cacti, chunks and morsels of him were torn off; the worse he flailed, the better he was flayed.

This should be useful information. It occurs to me that I might uproot and transplant several of these around any fortification I construct in the future. I may easily dodge between them, even a meter apace, so conceivably they could form a wall or hedge for my purposes. How marvelous a solution would this be?

A sustainable well of fresh water.
Steering Agasado well clear of the unholy fracas, we trotted due north and I discovered another man-made structure: a well, in the middle of the desert. I drank from it and bade Agasado do the same (which he did, to his credit and in defiance of common wisdom), and between us we didn't seem to lower the mark of the water's surface a whit. This is very good to know: I'm not far from the ocean, of course, but that is not water for me to drink. A source of clean water in this wasteland is useful indeed.

As well, it is still telling of those who came before me. My curiosity mounts ever greater, for my conception of people in this world has tripled in the last few months. Firstly, there were the men that these A.C.M.s must have become, which could have been a prior civilization wiped out and accursed to roam in an undead state. Secondly, there were the villagers Selidon, Voessi and Gorluin, only the latter of which spoke my tongue. The third case is yet to be determined and are only known by what they have created: the pyramid, the stable and this well. They could be villagers like my acquaintances, or they could be a rival tribe, or even a distinct people altogether.

Dwelling on these, as I clopped along on Agasado's back, I was resolved to finally explore the pyramid. I could hold my own against hordes of nocturnal horrors, could I not? Was I not deft of sword, acute with bow and light of foot? Whomever or whatever waited for me in the desert temple could scarcely be greater foes than what I've already encountered. And yes, I know: O hubris. Surely thoughts like these only greatly set up their thinker for an impressive downfall. It was entirely within the realm of possibility that a yet-unknown challenge lay within, yet the fear of this unknown did not dissuade me. Maybe it was the sun that animated me, or the confidence of a garden to come and an unlimited well, or simply the momentum of exploring a new realm on this unlikely planet, but I was sufficiently emboldened. As I recount it, looking back upon it, I galloped back to the massive building, leaped from Agasado without stabling him, sprinted up the steps in front and put boot to door. The old jamb shattered, the door swung in and I stampeded into the center of...

It could only be more empty if it were a cavern.
...an empty room. There were no signs of recent life here, anywhere, not in any corner. Four massy pillars supported an upper level (where, again, no people hid or left trace), and at the top of the structure was an open skylight. I resolved to plug this somehow, to better defend against any wandering monsters.

On either side of the front entrance were staircases to the twin towers; I ran up these and they emptied to the graduated surface of the pyramid, into which were set two more doors, these gaining access to the upper level. Convoluted and inconvenient, but simple and clear for all that. I might build a staircase to the upper level, should I need extra floor space—unlikely, as to date all my needs have mainly fit within an area of four square meters.

There is a design in the floor. It lies squarely within all four pillars, so there is a consummate symmetry whether one regards the room from any of the four directions of the map. I closed my eyes at this moment and paused to listen to my environment. Wind whistled overhead, over the skylight; Agasado stamped and snorted occasionally outside the open door. There were no sounds inside the pyramid temple but the dull echo of space. Most walls and floors were built of masoned sandstone, soft enough for my thumbnail to mar but strong enough, apparently, to support this entire structure.

Examination of the design in the floor revealed it to be made of baked clay. I don't know what whim it was that seized me, but promptly I pulled out my mattock and hacked away at a square. Whether this was to learn how deep the foundation to the pyramid ran or merely a boyish caprice to deface something beautiful, I still don't rightly recollect, but what I found horrified me.

The purple baked clay tile in the center of the room shattered and gave way to an impenetrable blackness. After a moment, a long moment, I could only just detect the shattering of tile against some deep, distant floor or surface. My blood ran cold and I crawled backward across the floor, away from the pit, until I shouldered against a sandstone block.

After several minutes my terror melted away. The rest of the floor had not caved in and taken me with it, so I supposed it structurally sound. Only marginally bolder, I hacked a larger hole and tossed a torch into the darkness. It illuminated a very narrow chamber, in fact, only three meters across but plenty deep enough to cause serious injury.

Here is an important lesson for anyone in this world: be very careful about mining overhead, and never mine directly beneath your feet.

Then it was no task at all, only a matter of time to carve a crude staircase all the way around this chamber. I reached the bottom, where my torch lay among purple clay shards. In each wall was a small alcove, and in each alcove was a chest! My youthful adventuresome nature was stoked even further with this discovery! Yet something unsettled me about this strange arrangement, a treasury at the bottom of a pit with no apparent doors to it... Where the torch lay, it caused a slight flaw in the floor to glow. I traced the flaw and limned a square built into the floor, matching it in color but separate from it. This I disassembled and, once again, undertook to carefully chip away at the floor.

We may call this a near miss, nearer than anyone likes.
Anon, I uncovered beneath this a cache of explosives.

Again, I got the chills and cowered in the corner in quite reasonable fright, I should estimate. And again, in time, I recovered myself and dismantled the explosives to a relatively inert state. When I ensured there were no more traps (the flaw in the floor was a trap-plate set to detonate the explosives, were anyone to step on it), I plundered the chests of their treasure. Here I was disappointed, and by disappointed I mean nearly enraged, for it amounted to little more than a few bars of iron, a few bars of gold, a pile of bread and some watermelon seeds. What the hell kind of treasury was this?

So I sat there and fumed at having narrowly escaped death twice—the gratitude for my continued good health far outweighed by my resentment at so paltry a material reward, after this tremendous suspense—that it took me too long to discover another pertinent fact. The torch on the floor guttered and went out, and I ignited another one. To be abruptly deprived of sight finally shook me out of my self-pity and I studied the room I was in. There were no doors, the bottom had been filled with explosives (though, surely, anyone crashing into the room from above should have perished from the fall), and then I noticed a motif in the design of the very walls.

There was a ring of masoned stone, one distinct layer, in which the likeness of the Explodicons had been carved into every facet. This was a very poor joke, I felt. But when I finally trudged upstairs under the weight of my thoughts, I discovered that the pyramid interior likewise bore this image.

Was this entire structure built by some kind of explosion-worshiping cult?

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