Two moons over, p.14
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       Two Moons Over, p.14

           Levi Shipley
 
quite a bit below the groups eye level and did require a little bit of crouching on Salina’s part. And, without a single congratulatory noise, the door opened up on powerful hydraulics.

  Behind this behemoth door was a great scape of equipment and workers. Glowing drills and sparks could be seen digging into the ground and walls. This was a mine, and clearly it was a very pivotal one. Above the workers, walking on narrow steel bridges were large upright beetles. In each one of their talon like hands was a weapon, and continuously they shouted at the workers to speed up. A second look revealed to Cecil that each worker was wearing a brace around the left ankle, and each brace had a pulsing yellow light at the heel.

  “Let’s go before anyone sees us.” Arthur said and spun around.

  Cecil didn’t hear him at first and studied the room further. At the center of the chamber was a ditch, and in it lie dozens of dead bodies. Some were dogmen, some orcs, and many others. But no beetles slept in that ditch. It was for the worn slaves. “We need to help them.” He said as a wheelbarrow full of tattered and mangled bodies was dumped in.

  “Forget it. We’ll worry about this some other time.” Arthur had begun walking now, and as he talked his voiced trailed. One by one the other three followed. Marianna was first and Salina last. Salina turned around just long enough to shake her head and then moved on and out of sight. It was more important for them to find Hodge, and they made this clear to Cecil.

  Eleven

  He stood watching as his companions all turned their backs on him and vanished into the corridor behind the great door. Then, in a moment of anger and betrayal he turned his frustrations on this room. Just like that, they would leave me behind. So be it. And no sooner had the thought ended that he found himself reeling.

  Cecil fell to his knees clutching his chest. The world around him was warbling and spinning. His heart seized up and stopped pumping his undying blood. He was in a pain that you only get to experience once in a lifetime. It was the pain of death. And as he knelt there before the great room, all the horrors he’d seen in his life began to play out in front of him. He knew it was over and waited for the lights to fade, but they would not. He was immortal, but heart attacks can help you forget that. The pain subsided almost as quickly as it had roared up, and Cecil regained his balance.

  He stood dazed for a moment and felt his chest. His heart was still stopped, and he thought there was a good chance that it wasn’t going to start back up any time soon. His mind felt a little lighter as if something had been pulled out. He denoted the feeling to surviving death. Once his mind cleared up, he dusted off his knees and walked toward a sentinel tower.

  There were steps leading up it in a spiral. However, they were built for someone half his height and he found himself tiptoeing on the narrow steps while ducking under the overhang. Once he reached the elevated walkway that connected all the towers, he entered the nearest one. Inside was a beetle stationed at a chair. In front of him (or her) was an array of monitors. The displays only showed two colors, green and red. Cecil supposed they must see those colors most clearly and distinctly. Whatever the case he intended to deactivate the anklets.

  The beetle got up from its chair and made for the door. It didn’t seem to notice Cecil at first, but then it whiffed the air and turned to him. As it began to make a distress call, Cecil put his force into downward strike atop the creature’s mandibled head. There was a crunching noise to confirm the impact. Though Cecil only intended to stun it, the beetle died from the blow. A bit too hard . . . probably just a bit.

  He sat down at the station chair. Its legs were short and on rollers. The seat swiveled effortlessly on smooth stainless steel joints and was well cushioned. As the werewolf sat there he began searching the panels for a shutdown switch. Though he was certain it would not be as simple as movies presented it, he was still confident that emergency measures were in order. Some sort of deactivation must be possible, especially if there was a cave in. Then he had two sobering revelations: the deactivation switch or lever or whatever may not be in this tower or even in the mine at all. The second that the beetles in charge may not care if the workers get trapped inside during an accident.

  Having no written words on the controls didn’t help either. Five minutes had passed since he killed the guard, but Cecil thought it might be fifteen or twenty and knew the rest would become suspicious. He needed to figure out how to operate the system, and he needed to do it fast. Hitting all the buttons and levers was not an option. There was a good chance that one of them would kill all the slaves.

  There was a small panel maybe the size of a pocket book. It had a key lock and was nearly concealed at the end of a control board. This was either hiding the switch he desired, something useless, or the one he absolutely did not want to use. Taking his right index finger and extending one wolfen claw, he cut through the thin sheet of metal like a burglar might cut glass. The cut wasn’t as clean as glass would’ve been and left noticeable ripples along the tear lines, but he didn’t feel the resistance and that was fine for him. He heard mumbling high pitched voices and light footsteps on the stairs. Whether or not they were coming to this tower was irrelevant. Cecil had to hurry, so he pulled up the panel.

  As he suspected there was a singular red button underneath. It was glowing and next to it were the only written words Cecil had seen yet in the tower. Though they were mostly illegible, he made out “emergency” and “escape” and another that was either “rechain” or “unchain.” They all were faded and most of the words that had been there once were gone now. In truth, Cecil wasn’t sure he even read the more clear words correctly and knew wishful thinking can play eye tricks.

  With steps in the distance and companions on the road, he smashed the switch. The plastic casing first dipped, then broke, and with it also the small bulb inside. On the outside there was a silence, then some loud chatter followed by yelling and the sounds of swift heavy steps. High pitched screeches proceeded and a gunshot that sounded more like an engine back firing. Then came the siren. Without going out and without looking up at the monitors, he was positive that his mission was a success. Almost at least. The monitors confirmed it.

  In the large chamber there was a mass of dead bodies. Two of every three was a slave’s. Cecil didn’t like the sight of it, but he knew that it wasn’t so bad since they weren’t equipped with weapons. No one else was alive in the chamber. There was some faint screaming at the end opposite the side he’d come in. Leaping off the tower walkway and to the other side, he was able to see that a door had opened and appeared to lead outside. He stepped on a pickaxe and nearly tripped on a few dead bodies on his way to that side. Once there he noticed that there was sky at the top of the doorway and knew for sure that the slaves made it out.

  He walked out, going up a grade as he did so. All the while his field of vision increased to again reveal a desert. Just as the ceiling turned into air, Cecil passed under an arch. At the crest the ground plateaued and he was able to see the workers again. Every single one of them (and there were well over a hundred that made it out) was dead and torn apart. Some made it almost a hundred yards but no further. Some were off to his left and right scattered like rats running from a predator. There were no scarabs, and nothing attacked Cecil. He didn’t know how it happened, but somehow they all died. Some were no older than Folas, while others were far too old to do this kind of work and many in between. A feeling of guilt and confusion washed over Cecil, and he desired that he would’ve stayed with his group.

  Twelve

  That’s when the laughter began. A mad cackling that was both cruel and giddy emanated from above the arch behind Cecil. Then the grinding of crystal against steel. Cecil turned to see Hodge sliding down the left side of it. Sparks flew wildly about and floated down and out behind Hodge. As his feet planted on the ground, he straightened his body and faced Cecil with a grin. Hodge was covered in red and bl
ack painted crystal armor. In his left hand was an enormous ebony crystal blade dripping with blood. His armor was covered with royal symbols, and he stopped laughing.

  “You know,” He said, “the penalty for escaped slaves is on the spot execution by whatever means available. I’d hate to break the rules. I made a good deal of them myself.”

  Cecil just gaped at his former leader. That smile didn’t suit him. “What are you doing in that armor? And why are carrying a sword like that, Hodge? Tell me!” Cecil did what he could not to growl, and he did even more not to change.

  “Is that his name?” Hodge mused while holstering the buster in a sling behind his back. “Well, you clearly aren’t from this world. Just like him, or you would know. I’m a very important person, even more so since about six hours ago. And thanks to your friend Hodge, I’ll soon be the ruler of these lands.” He pulled a small box out of a satchel strapped to his greaves and pulled out a cigarette. And with the flick his fingers and a blue flash, it lit. He took a large breath and spoke as soon as he exhaled. “Huh,” Smoke fell over his words, “I haven’t fully tested this vessel, but these probably
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