Interlude – Ireland Part 5
August 5th 2014 – Molly
I woke up cold, wet, naked, and in the middle of a blasted wasteland filled with burnt corpses. All in all, it wasn’t the best morning I’d ever had. It also was only a morning by the most generous definition of the word, the sun hadn’t yet begun to peek over the horizon. I started to get up, but paused, wincing, when I discovered just how sore I was. I was laying across two head-sized boulders, and that definitely had not made for good rest. Nor had being rained on. I was soaked, but apparently the hillside wasn’t on fire anymore, so that was something. Gotta be thankful for the little things in life.
I was sore in parts of my body that I didn’t know could get sore. I stood up anyway, I had to get moving, sooner or later someone would be coming to investigate the fact that I’d burned half the hillside to ashes. Actually, upon further inspection, it was probably a bit more than half. There was a small circle of green around me, but beyond that about twenty feet of the hillside was charred black, save where it was covered by the grey ashes of vegetation. Corpses, including two that were clearly far too large to be human, dotted the landscape. Most of them were piled up like sandbags in a ring around me, but about two dozen lay lower on the hillside. Further down the hill twisting black lines were burned, marking where Guenwhyvar had passed during the fight.
Wait, where was Guen? Had the mob finally managed to bring her down? Did she dissipate after I passed out? I couldn’t feel any trace of the presence that had lurked in the back of my mind during the battle with the Slaugh.
I spent a moment just standing there, unsure if I wanted to spend my limited time looking for Guen or venture into the tomb to find whatever it was I’d come here for. So, I did the only thing that made sense. I got dressed and finished dinner. The tent had rolled over on it’s side at some point during the battle, but thankfully hadn’t caught fire. My clothes were laying on the floor, marginally dryer and less muddy than they had been last night. I put them on, shivering. I found my lighter and spent the last few dregs of butane to start a small fire in little circle of hedge around me. What was one more little fire after everything I had put the countryside through?
I found the rest of the roll of chocolate-covered biscuits at the bottom of the tent. They were pretty much dust, apparently I stepped on them at some point last night, but they were still delicious, covered with chocolate, and full of calories. I found the little package of precooked sausages I hadn’t been interested in the night before and took those out too. I didn’t have a grate or any sticks, so I just ate them cold and huddled around the little fire. A tiny expenditure of power kept it from spreading any farther. Now fully clothed and fed, huddling around my fire, I had to think about the elephant in the room. Or rather, the tiger that wasn’t on the hillside.
Guen was gone. I hadn’t had her for long, but she had been my cat damnit. Hell, she’d been a better person than any of the people I’d ever met. But she wasn’t coming back. I knew that cat would never have abandoned me just as surely and instinctively as I knew she would’ve burned me if I tried to pet her. If she wasn’t here, she wasn’t anywhere. And she wasn’t coming back. She must have… Fuck, my face was wet. From the rain, of course.
I turned to face the barrow, I’d come this far already, I’d see this through, no matter what. Not that I had much choice in the matter. Being homeless is bad for normal people, but it’s worse for mages. Homeless mages get eaten. I suppose homeless normals might sometimes get eaten too, but I’m pretty sure it’s less likely.
The barrow’s entrance was a slit in the hillside about one and a half times the height and width of an average man. Unfortunately, it was mostly blocked by rubble and greenery. Around the edges of the archway there were hints of what might have been intentional stonework, at least before the centuries of wind and rain. There was an uneven border, and what looked like a keystone near the top. Uniform scratches that might have been writing a very long time ago dotted the stones around the edges of the opening. I traced the writing with my fingers, feeling the smooth grooves. It was definitely old, but I had no clue whatsoever what it said. I could barely manage the most basic of modern Gaelic street signs, this was the domain of anthropologists and archeologists. I might not have an army of unpaid undergraduates with cameras, but I did have the sight. I opened my metaphorical 3rd eye and gave the entrance furtive a once-over.
It was a fear ward. I almost laughed. It’s not that it wouldn’t be an effective way to keep peasants and grave-robbers at bay, I was just expecting something more King-Tut curse and less Emo-Mage home security. I’d had plenty of experience dealing with these during my apprenticeship. My dear old master had used them as magical childproofing. I had been expected to push my way through similar wards every time I wanted to get into the kitchen for a snack. It took the better part of a decade before the bastard taught me how to actually dispel the damn things. He’d used a similar approach to teach me to deal with charm and enchantment, occasionally making halfhearted but still frighteningly effective attempts to charm me into doing nasty chores. And to make me do other things. He really hadn’t been a nice man.
But he had been an effective teacher. I climbed the pile of moss-covered rocks and broken beer bottles and shoved my backpack through the little hole that opened into the tomb. I went next, shimmying in backwards, feet first. I felt the ward take effect when I was about halfway in and paused for a moment. It started subtle, my heart beating faster than it should have. Then came the familiar pressure on my chest, the sweaty palms and the trembling fingers. The bitter taste in the back of my mouth, the pounding in my head. I closed my eyes, and focused on separating the symptoms I was experiencing from the emotions I usually associated them with.
And then I got on with shimmying my way through the gap. Knowing it was magic that was affecting you definitely helped, but there’s nothing like years of practice when it comes to pushing through magic designed to ensnare the mind. Well, actually some new research suggests that the sex, age, and personality of an individual are the best metrics for gauging resistance to various forms of mental magic. Personally, I just think they didn’t train their experimental group properly.
I found footing on the inside of the barrow and slowly lowered myself in. It hadn’t been too tight a squeeze, but a man, or someone with more sizeable… boobs, might’ve been in trouble.
It was dark and musty inside the barrow. A thin sliver of light crept in from the gap I had climbed through. Every time I moved I could see the accumulated dust of centuries dancing in the thin ray of light. The short entryway opened into a small burial chamber. A stone tomb on a raised dais dominated the space. The tomb had been roughly hewn from some sort of grey stone. It hadn’t been weathered anywhere near as much as the stonework on the outside and still retained it’s inscription. Not that I had any hope of reading it, between the dim light and it being, y’know, probably written in a dead language.
I kinda figured it was a few verses extolling the virtues of whatever poor fellow was interred here and the standard warnings of eternal damnation for grave-robbers. The usual stuff you’d find on a pre-christian tomb. I checked it for magic, it was clean. Well, it was slightly dingy. Everything in the tomb was very modestly magical, but nothing overtly threatening stood out about the tomb. So, I got on with what I was here for. I’d bought a crowbar shortly after landing in Dublin, seeing as I’m tiny and rocks are both heavy and inflammable. After a few tries I managed to find a spot where I could lodge the straight end between the heavy stone lid and the lip of the tomb. I had a hard time getting the lid to move, after several thousand years to settle it was practically glued to the tomb itself. Eventually I succeeded in wiggling the crowbar in deep enough that I could pry the lid far enough upwards for gravity and normal force to slide it a bit to the side. It was easier from then on, every inch I shifted the lid gave me more and more leverage. Eventually I had shifted the stone cover almost a third of the way to the side. I gave it one more good wedge upwards, and it started to fall.
The lid landed with a resounding, earth shaking, crash. Dust and soil rained from the roof of the cave. And the tomb lay open before me.
At that moment, what I was doing really hit me. I was about to defile that last resting place of someone who had been beloved enough that those who survived him had literally carved out a hillside as his final resting place. Or her, it was too dark to make out much about the mummy lying before me. The bones were a dark brown color, even more withered than the zombies outside had been. Everything in the tomb was covered with a gray-green dust, at least I really hoped it was dust. The body was taller than me, maybe six and a half feet, but I couldn’t tell anything about the build or gender of the mummy.
Most importantly, and disappointingly, there were almost no personal effects in the tomb. I say almost no, because there was clear evidence there had been some. There was a long thin piece of what had one been wood a very long time ago, which dissolved into bug-filled dust the moment my hand brushed up against it. It might have once been a stave for a bow or spear, but it wasn’t anything anymore. There were also piles of, well, organic matter, that might have once been clothing. And there was a piece of black metal, pitted with rust and roughly the length of my forearm. Maybe a spearhead, or part of a dagger. I didn’t know, and didn’t care. I put it in the bag.
Mission fucking accomplished. There was nothing else of interest in the tomb, and my employer had mentioned nothing about wanting bones or dust. I left the tomb the same way I came in, this time unmolested by the fear ward.
All this for a goddamn oversized nail. Fuck this country. As if in response to my unspoken curse, the grey sky above me rumbled. Every so often lightning flashed ominously in the distance. I threw my backpack over my shoulder and started walking. I really needed a drink. Or several. However many was enough to forget about the scabs all over my body and the cat that had almost been mine.