Jadde ndash; the fragile.., p.30
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       Jadde – The Fragile Sanctuary, p.30

           Clive Ousley

  The velvet black shimmered with stabbing, glittering grey.

  A roar filled her ears, and flooded her mind.

  Consciousness groped from the depths and thunder surrounded her whole body.

  Her arms and legs lay sodden and immovable, so she listened to the noise and realised it was a rushing torrent. The sound filled her mind.

  At last she made out the vague confines of a ledge surrounded by cascading water – and she was sprawled on it.

  Her hands groped around the narrow ledge; no one else was there.

  Who am I? She wondered – and failed to remember.

  Then reality froze the all pervading splashing boom. The ledge spun and she remembered a terrible thing. Someone had been in her care and must now be drowned.

  A sad name sprang into her head . . . Bettry.

  Bettry had been wrenched from her grasp and nothing could have been done to save her. She choked back the sorrow, gagged water and began to feel more alert. Her fingers and toes tingled, and she found they moved to accompany her wracking shivers.

  Who am I? She wondered and concentrated hard. It all came flooding back with the sound of the Shimmerrath Falls as it sped by on its long drop to the Fethwerth pool.

  I am Cabryce Otterpaw.

  Slowly she rose to her knees and retched. Feeling better she pressed and flexed her body: nothing broken; just cuts and bruises. A particularly sore bruise gave her a pounding headache. Her sodden hair had dried to damp tangles and a gnawing emptiness added to her shivering body.

  Dim light filtered through the roaring water. She had rolled inward; the ledge had a slight incline which had protected her from continuous soaking. Her eyes became more accustomed to the gloom and she tottered into a deep fissure. The dim light reverted to the deepest black and she staggered back to the ledge lip and peered down at the hissing and booming torrent. Cabryce presumed the flood was falling into the mist shrouded Fethwerth pool she knew seethed at the bottom of a vertical cliff. There was no escape that way; she would be smashed to pulp by the water and the rocks in the pool below. Above her, through the spray was sheer rock covered in strings of drenched slime and impossible to climb. Her only choice was the fissure which appeared to extend into the rock.

  Without hesitation she squeezed inside the cavity and crawled along a rock floor smoothed by flood water. The crevice widened slightly and she felt her way along unseen walls, undulating to touch. Her heart hammered unnaturally as she thought of the towering weight of rock above her, but she carried on inward regardless. The sound of the booming water diminished. Soon she lost track of left, right, up and down in the absence of light. Cabryce paused, and slowly the hammering in her chest eased as she realised it was the total darkness that was panicking her.

  The roof sloped down and she dreaded the fissure coming to an end. Sometimes crouching then crawling, she fumbled along the narrow space for an interminable length of time.

  Cabryce started to have visions of daylight, she blinked and they disappeared. Then the visions expanded and she felt hot sun on her face. She had to shake her head to remove them. It was crushing to realise that reality was the interminable black of a tomb.

  Then at last it opened out and she stood again. Her fingertips told her she was in a narrow passage, the walls felt smoother and drier. The roof above just touched the top of her hair and she edged along, her arms extended like a sleep walker. The floor was now smooth and dry under her feet, and she edged further along the passage. The sound of booming water finally disappeared to be replaced by a horrible silence. Deprived of her last sensory input she started sweating. Her heart pounded again and her breath rasped loudly in the confined passage. She raised her hands to massage her face and shoulders; then kept them locked across her chest in a last vestige of comfort.

  Suddenly she smashed headlong into a solid obstruction with such force particles of stone clattered around her. She fell backwards with the impact.

  The passage had come to a dead end and this place was to become her grave. She screamed and curled into a ball.

  How long she lay crumpled with blood pounding in her temples she never knew, but eventually she willed herself to rise and think her situation through.

  She would have to go back and dive into the pool. It was the only way out. The plunge would probably mean death, or if Jadde was with her, then just serious injury. But at least someone will find my body, she thought with finality. Then with the sudden anger of defeat she smashed her fist involuntarily into the dead-end. A grating crunch echoed loudly, and flakes of something brittle fell on her feet.

  The surface had flexed.

  A minute hope rose and she ran her fingers blindly over the surface.

  It was a metal grid like a dungeon gate but much finer in construction. The latticed metal strands were cold to touch, with a rough flaking surface. She hammered her fists and shouted, hoping someone would hear. Flakes of metal rained on her like a hail storm. Her accompanied shouts echoed back along the passage.

  No one came, and after an interminable time she slumped to the floor and cried. Then her spirits and determination rose again and she hammered from the low squat she had assumed.

  More flakes fell on her, and the grill bottom grated on the rock base.

  Had it moved?

  Cabryce pushed and pulled frantically, skinning her fingertips. A decayed edge dissolved into rusted fragments under her frantic hands. She grasped more strands and wrenched, then pulled and pushed. Corroded metal fell away and she bent another section upward. Soon the gap was large enough, so she wriggled into it careful not to rip her clothing.

  Then she was through and groping ahead again. Metal steps found her feet and a cold hand rail was perfectly positioned to help her. She climbed and in the oily black ran headlong into a door. Her fumbling hands found a catch unlike any she ever known. She pushed down. It worked, and the door ground open on unused hinges.

  The protesting door created echoes which bounced from unseen walls and became the signal for sudden brightness to sear her eyes.

  The light was real this time. She was discovered, so she shrank into a corner waiting for the Brenna to grab her.

  Later Cabryce opened her eyes, which were now accustomed to the glare, and stared up a lit passage to another flight of metal stairs. The light came from mysterious circles in the ceiling and from nearby came a hum that she was sure had not been there until the sun-like-light had appeared.

  She climbed the next set of stairs and another door opened under her wrenching of its handle. This time there was a sharp hiss like a surprised snake and she darted back quickly as the door swung open.

  Nothing happened, and Cabryce walked through, finding herself in a great cavern. The air smelt old, dry and – strange. A smell of something alien wafted to her nose. Like pig-fat or the urine laced liquid that the tanners used. She looked at the strange monsters in the cavern. They all had glass eyes or large glass compartments and stood on circular discs, a thick black coating slumped under the rounded shapes. She prodded the black, it come away in chunks like stale bread and smelt of something unpleasant. Instinctively she realised the circles rotated and supported the monsters, and the black layers had once cushioned the metal circles.

  She walked round the largest of the monsters absorbed in the revelation that the circles helped the monsters move. In an intuitive instant she realised they were constructed by the great ancients to serve them in some mysterious way. A dormant curiosity blossomed.

  Slowly she read lettering all around the huge cavern. Occasionally a word made sense. ‘DH5 Command Vehicle’ one stated, ‘Snowplough 1’ said another, a sign above an empty space said ‘Jet ski 1 and 2’.

  But why would you plough snow and not the soil, she thought idly.

  Cabryce found a door in the furthest wall, another cold metal plate unlike the crude wooden panel-doors she was used to. She entered another darkened room and lights flicked on. She glanced over her shoulder; t
he cavern of metal monsters had gone dark. Before her, long benches bordered the walls and faded signs were mounted above them inscribed with unrecognisable words. Then in a far corner she saw a room enclosed by glass windows of an extraordinary size. She recognised comfy seats through the glass and entered through a transparent door.

  She spent an hourglass in there resting on seats that seemed to comfort her aches. Her throat became dry and she realised she was breathing stale air sealed within this intricate cavern. Swallowing failed to relieve the itch so she looked around for a source of water. The room had a few similarities to her small kitchen in the cottage. Strange metal recesses looked familiar, as if they were sinks and cold ovens. Other machines held scorched metal racks looking as if pans or spits had been heated above them. She reasoned any leftover food would have turned to dust and bones lifetimes ago and water could not be obtainable in this dry tomb. But Jadde whispered in her head for her to search for sustenance – so she looked in cupboards and nearby rooms labelled Cold Store and Freezer. Cabryce found nothing and her stomach groaned in sympathy.

  She wandered down a few steps and looked into more empty rooms. Some had faded remains of containers that fell apart in her hands, but all were empty. Then at the end of the corridor was a locked door and Cabryce knew she had to search within.

  She returned to the cavern of metal monsters and brought back a heavy metal bar, then spent two hourglasses levering at the lock and the door seal. Finally she worked the bar into a small door crack. Using all her strength she heaved and the lock snapped with a loud crack.

  The room was stacked with containers; faded lettering had mouth watering words she recognised, wheat, biscuit and apple and other delicacies like bacon and lamb. It was easy to rip the first container apart and packs spilt out. Cabryce sampled many still edible foods during the next hourglass. She even found boxes of soft glass bottles containing fruit flavoured water. Jadde had blessed her; surely there was enough food here for more than a season. She wandered back to the room of comfy chairs, her arms laden with packet food and bottled water.

  She pulled two of the comfy chairs together and slept. Then awoke and ate again, then explored further. She had never seen such evidence of human ingenuity. Everywhere glass and metal boxes glittered, vines without leaves snaked and strange lettering was inscribed on everything. She realised the maze of creepers and box shapes were not mere decoration, but for whatever purpose they had once served they were now all dead. She prodded one and the shiny front cracked in brittle decay.

  Cabryce slept and ate again, and her next exploration in another glass windowed room revealed shelves of books. This room contained many identical glass fronted boxes on small pieces of plain furniture. A large intricately wrought box said ‘Server’ and some strange name. She wondered what it served and touched it, leaving greasy prints. From a shelf she took a few books with words on their covers that interested her. Then lounged in a chair and ate the wonderful tasty food sealed in the strange parchment skins. She found out the comfy chairs she slept on were in a ‘Canteen’ where cooked meals were served. Time seemed to slow and then strangely expand as she learnt more words. Slowly her fascination increased as she related them to some of the machines she saw in the large cavern. She already knew the snowplough; others were for the Mountain Patrol another was a fire-tender. That one would be really useful; her fellow villagers always lived under the threat of fire in their homes. Perhaps the Brenna could haul it out of here. Then she came sharply out of the daydream: it was the Brenna that had beat and imprisoned her. But she felt safe here; they must have given up searching for her by now. Cabryce let her thoughts wander further; she would find a way of bringing the knowledge of this place to Malkrin. They could plan to use it to free the people.

  Later she found a manual that related to some of the glass fronted boxes and she read until her brain felt heavy and ready to burst. She continued, and then reread and then went over to a computer and pressed the ‘on’ button. There was a sizzle and the components fried, acrid smoke seeped from the device. Quickly she switched it off and tried another, then another; then gave up. They had all died in the same burst of malfunction.

  Cabryce discovered the ceiling lights were controlled by nuclear powered generators. They also kept the atmosphere at a constant humidity and heat, and only triggering the lights when someone entered a room. There were back-up generators and she took a book and an installation map and found the small generator rooms. Two generator machines looked scorched and dead, but at some point a third had taken over, keeping the underground rooms preserved. Some spaces and rooms remained pitch black; she avoided them as they reminded her of her ordeal in the passage from the Shimmerrath waterfalls.

  Between many sleep periods she learnt, and in her fascination, knowledge filled her mind. Time seemed to flow endlessly without the anchor of seasons to remind her. The bottled water run out so she did a daily journey to the waterfall to fill empty bottles, and when the plastic and vacuum packed food ran low, she rigged long fishing lines through the waterfall down into an unseen pool below. Bated with fruity morsels, she caught salmon and trout. Then she ate them with the strands of green pondweed like slime. They kept her sustained and eked out the remaining wrapped food. She began whispering to herself as if talking to a companion. Then the whispers turned to full voiced conversations and she realised her voice was brittle and croaked from lack of use. So as she wandered around she began to sing both to exercise her voice and to keep up her spirits. Her hair grew and her clothes began to fray and become thin. Vaguely she realised time and seasons were passing outside her retreat, but her thirst for new knowledge drowned her anxiety.

  Cabryce absorbed books about the ancient ones machinery, procedures, lifestyle and specialised knowledge. The whole complex she had found was called a Genetic Research Institute and had been set up to find a permanent way of annihilating creatures called quarter-men. Apparently it was a secret, closed community and the whole ancient world was oblivious to its existence. She found shelves of books in other rooms and learnt of computing, building and systems maintenance, various scientific specialities and a host of miscellaneous but mind blowing information which made more sense of other books she’d already browsed.

  Then her sleep periods became disturbed, she realised her unease was caused by a growing concern that the ancient complex would become her tomb and that her new found knowledge would be lost forever. She switched her research to finding out how to leave this place. Nardin needed to know of it, he could use its knowledge against the Brenna. Telling Nardin would be easy, but she also had to find Malkrin to tell him too. First, she had to avoid the Brenna; there was no way she was going to risk meeting Erich Gamlyn again.

  Then an idea struck her, perhaps she could find her way from here to the mysterious strangers with their hero Falconfeather. She owed that at least to the poor man who had lost his life trying to extract her from the Brenna. It would be easier to find them than Malkrin who wandered somewhere in the vast deadlands. The idea was a good one and she kept it firmly in her mind and began methodically searching endless corridors and into the far corners of her new home looking for an exit that led anywhere other than the waterfall. She looked in huge metal rooms entitled refrigerators and freezers, the units had failed over time and inside were shelves of desiccated remains. After many hourglasses of time fruitlessly exploring the walls in each cavernous space and small room she steeled herself to enter a pitch dark space where the lights had completely failed. In an entrance lobby she made out stairs leading down. Then as her eyes acclimatised to the deep gloom she made out signs in the usual clear lettering of the ancient sign-makers. Above one a skull and crossbones appeared in the gloom and the wording beneath stated:

  No unauthorised Personnel

  And below, words in capital letters:


  She was about to walk away certain that the words didn’t mean it was an exit, but alongside the room she noticed a f
urther corridor. The lights had also failed there and from a distance it just looked an impenetrably dark corner; that’s how she had missed it. Carefully she ran her hand along another support rail and her feet along a sloping ramp. Amongst the shadows the corridor continued its downward incline. It was so dark it made her shake and bought back the terrible panic of her first discovery of the passage entrance from the waterfall. She fumbled down in the dark with a hand firmly gripping the handrail until her outstretched fingers found a closed door. It opened with a reluctant push and again that hiss of air as the microclimate within escaped into her caverns. She knew enough now to hope whatever was behind the door was well preserved. The room, corridor or passage beyond was still impenetrably black as she peered into the even darker void. It was impossible to risk going further without light.

  Cabryce retraced her steps thinking hard; there had to be some form of emergency lighting. She guessed the ancient ones would not use oil fabric wrapped around thick sticks like her people did. Then she had an idea; the vehicles went out into the outside world and their operators must have needed light at night. She walked to the nearest vehicle and wrenched a door open. It was the one labelled Command Vehicle. Inside were racks of equipment and carelessly strewn operation and code files. She opened drawers and peered under the work stations and then under rows of metal hats and then where long ornate poles were clipped. Alongside these was a rack with an assortment of boxes. The word ‘flare’ leapt to her attention and she found one which said:

  ‘Orange, Handheld – sixty second duration.

  She took it outside and pulled on a ring as the diagram on its side explained. Immediately a vivid smoking orange seared her eyes and she dropped it. The cavern filled with smoke and a hideous bleep sounded.

  She hid behind a safety equipment cabinet with her hands firmly pressed over her ears. Eventually the smoke cleared, sucked into large vents in the ceiling. The noise stopped and the silence felt equally as deafening.

  She went to the flare rack and grabbed a handful of flares that said

  Red. Handheld – two minutes duration.

  She had no idea how long two minutes was but the flares were larger so she assumed it was longer than the sixty second flare.

  Back in the dark passage she pulled a cord on one, and the corridor lit in an unearthly smoky glow. It stung her eyes but she drew a single breath in the thick air and willed her highsense to hold it. The hideous bleeping started overhead and the smoke was again extracted through vents in the ceiling.

  She ignored the noise and passed many doors, all had names at eye level. The titles Post Room, Genetics Laboratory One or Two or Three meant nothing to her; neither did rooms labelled Culture Room, Incubator Room and Prep room. They all had words in common placed beneath each room’s title: the words Bio Hazard, written below a strange interlocked crescent moon symbol. She shook her head in bafflement then found doors with individual names beginning with the title Dr. and then some that began Prof. The next one she stopped at, held her attention and she just stared. The flare went out and she fumbled another. Had she read correctly?

  The next red glow ignited in her hand and she glanced along the smoke fogged letters. She had been right, and gripped the door handle.

  The sign had said General-commander Jadde.

  As soon as she entered, lights flickered and went out with loud pops, but one stayed powered, enough for her to see around.

  A large desk filled the centre of the room with a modest but comfy chair behind it. On the desk sat the obligatory computer and behind sat a table and cabinets with drawers. On the wall a plaque announced.

  United States Research Centre G-DNA2

  A faded photo on the wall had a line of words beneath describing the man as President of the United States of America. On the desk sat dust covered pens, glass weights holding down paper, a fascinating picture file stood with a title January 2046 with individual days numbered, coloured files lay arranged neatly alongside a photo of two children. But on top of all the neat organisation, a couple of grubby pages lay with ragged edges as if torn from another document. In the dim light she bent over and read.

  It was part of an account by someone called Morris-Tailt. Then she read a strange meaningless jumble about quarter-men and hidden weapons. A line leapt at her about the Goddess Jadde. But she was no Goddess and had died of some illness.

  After a time to get over the misuse of the Goddess’s name she carried on reading. The place name ‘underground laboratory’ was used. That was where she was now, she realised.

  Finally another hand had written a footnote and signed it Kristopher Falconfeather.

  She thrust the yellowed pages into her skirt’s pocket alongside the golden sun. If she could just get out of here she could find Malkrin and surprise him with another mysterious gift.

  Back in her usual seat in the canteen Cabryce sat and ate the last of the sealed food. She took another look at the pages containing Jadde’s name, used as if the writer was confident Jadde was not a Goddess, but a person of importance. She withdrew the golden sun idly examining it; then clasped it and dozed.

  And in her dreams a woman’s voice spoke to Cabryce, and she talked back telling it of her troubles and her plight. The voice promised it would help, and asked some questions which Cabryce tried to answer.

  She woke refreshed, feeling as if Jadde herself had spoken – refuting her death described by Kristopher Falconfeather.

  Cabryce decided to carry on down the corridor of many names, determined to see where it ultimately led. Then she remembered the dream voice and paused, its exact argument filled her head. In the dream she, Cabryce, had just described the snowploughs and the other vehicles.

  ‘If the cavern contains these metal monsters then they had to have been brought in somehow Cabryce’.

  ‘They may have been built in here.’

  The dream voice had countered, ‘to do that would need greater engineering facilities than it would appear your retreat contains. Look for a very large door.’

  She envisaged a large ornate door like the one that fronted The great Hall of Justice. ‘There is no such door, my Dream Mistress.’

  ‘Look anyway Cabryce.’ The dream voice had requested.

  Although annoyed with the futility of the task, Cabryce did as the dream voice had asked her – just in case when the next time she slept the voice returned to scold her.

  She stood in front of the fire-tender; it was backed against the wall that led to the computer rooms and canteen. Would it have been pushed in that far? She walked to the front of the first snowplough. There was plenty of room around the front and she looked at the wall noticing it was smooth rather than the irregular texture of the painted-rock side wall or the large brick patterns of other walls. It was patterned with reinforcing struts welded to large metal sheets. The whole surface was dented and bowed. But all the dents faced toward her, showing whoever had hammered on the metalwork had done so from outside.

  What manner of a monster could have tried to gain admittance? Cabryce hardly dared think as she touched the cold surface and paint flaked off revealing brown corroded metal. There was no way the colossal structure could open. She saw a couple of large pushbuttons and walked to the corner. The equipment manuals had shown other control-buttons where red meant close and green meant open; so she fully pressed the green button. Nothing happened, not even a creak. She gave up after the third press and stood back. After a few frustrated breaths she realised the latticework of struts fell short in an area to one side of the dented and warped metal. It was a small door within a large door. She walked up and examined it. It was at her height and rectangular in shape, with a contoured groove where fingers could be placed to pull a recessed handle sideways. She did so and something gave with a gritty crunch. Two tugs later she still could not free it and grabbed a metal wrecking bar from a workbench. It proved a powerful lever, and with it she wrenched the door open.

  A wall of smashed and cracked boulders greet
ed her, most so big there was no hope of shifting them. She peered into gaps noticing more boulders behind. At some time there had been a colossal avalanche which had concealed the huge door completely. It accounted for why none of her tribe had ever noticed such an entrance. Then she speculated whether the ancients had created the avalanche to deliberately hide the cavern.

  Dejectedly she returned to the Command Vehicle and picked up more flares – back to the original plan.

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