She’s seen—felt—worse, in the Link. This is just Meat. She’s past that.
Somehow her feet are moving her closer, effortless, like she’s zooming in Virtual Reality, and from far focus she sees/feels her hand move slowly forward. She has to touch it. Him. The dead meat.
Her fingers touch skin, not cold, no, baking in the heat and the blood’s still sticky Jesus the smell hits her and she hears them now, black clots of buzzing flies and the smell Madre de Dios it’s flooding her, filling her death rot inside. Somewhere someone is screaming and Stop! won’t the bitch stop she’s trying to throw up again but she can’t and the screams chase her all the way up the trail into that burning blue empty sky.
Leeza stumbled over the crest of the trail and fell into the dirt, coughing and gasping. “Shit. Shit.” She sat, head down, as the dark dizziness ebbed. Was this It? Nothing but meat.
She pulled herself to her feet and staggered on. Around chunky boulders. Over a dry streambed. Still recording it all, refusing to think. She’ll find another way down.
She suddenly came up short as scattered pieces of stone columns and ruined walls swam into focus. Some kind of funky old old chapel. She caught a quick breath and wiped her shaking hands on her pants. Reflexes kicking in, she strode forward.
A quick pan of the front, crumbling rock and low doorway. Scattered column pieces, carved marble in exquisite fluting and left lying around like junk. She ducked under the lintel into dimness. She let her eyes adjust, dim candlelight flickering over her. Switching on the goggle headlight, she scanned the curved leaking ceiling, faded faces of those weird Byzantine saints with the huge eyes staring down, accusing. The old original-sin-and-hellfire whammy.
Leeza shook her head. She stepped over to the wooden altar covered with a cloth, the candles guttering, tossing shadows across a bunch of stuff: miniature painted versions of those frowning saints with halos, bottles of oil, crosses, tin strips with body parts stamped in, dried flowers and seeds. Her headlight kindled a blue flame.
Leeza reached out to pick up the dusty sapphire crystal, wiping it clean until the facets gleamed. Water and fire in her hands. And there were tiny pictures carved into it, between spiral lines—horns, crescent moon, a winged serpent.
The lines, like a maze winding into the depths of the stone. What was that old myth? Ariadne, daughter of the ancient Cretan king what’s-his-name. Minos. He had that bullheaded monster guarding some treasure at the heart of his stone labyrinth, and it was Ariadne who gave somebody, some stupid hero, the thread to find the way in and out. Ariadne, the priestess of the secrets. The old lost magic.
She swore she could feel it, stirring here, all those layers of history shot through with it. Maybe the cult rockheads had something, and this was one of those power spots. A Link.
Leeza stared into the clear facets, cool deathless perfection. Her hands closed around the beautiful crystal, light winking out. Eternal and Unyielding Stone. It’s Ariadne. She has to have it. For Ariadne. Rekindle the magic?
Just for Ariadne. Leeza jerked around, clutching the crystal, and strode from the chapel.
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