Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 6 part 3.32

Posted by harmony0stars on January 10, 2011

Milet stroked the cat’s fur with an expression of wonder, and he accepted the attention as a prince would accept tribute. It appeared to be love at first sight. At least Glory wouldn’t have to worry about Milet trying to eat him, though thinking of Edgar made her homesick. She wanted to ask Soter about the time difference between the waking world and the Dreamlands, but she was afraid of the answer. It wasn’t as if they’d come via the normal route. She could only hope that her little family was doing all right on their own.

Milet would have carried the cat through the halls, but he was a large tom, easily half her weight. He consoled her by rubbing up against her leg as she walked, though Glory had read cats did that more to mark their territory with their scent than to show affection. But what did she know? It wasn’t like he was a normal cat.

Pulling their amulets over their heads, they followed Soter and Elewa to the highest room in the building. Soter took them back to his private study, unlocking the closed door and leading the travelers up a narrow, spiraling staircase to a room with only one window and facing it, a black door. He murmured a prayer or spell softly as he opened this second door which should have opened onto nothing, and did, in a way.

The door opened on blackness. The bright sun shining through the window which faced it made no impact on the darkness which spilled from the doorway thick and soft as coal dust. Glory felt Phoenix shudder beside her. “Do you have rope?” she asked Soter as an afterthought.

Soter looked at her blankly for a moment, then nodded and sent Elewa for rope. It was only a minute or so before he returned, but Soter gently pushed the door nearly shut after a few seconds. A chill had crept into the room from the open door, negating the cheerful sunlight that spilled in from the window. They stood awkward and silent in the light as if waiting for a stay of execution.

Glory tied the rope around her waist and Milet’s, giving the loose end to Phoenix. He tied the knot twice and then a third time, tugging on it to make sure that it would not come loose. Elewa clapped him on the shoulder, making him flinch.

“With High Priest Atal looking out for you, I am sure you have nothing to worry about,” the old man said, in a jovial tone that rang hollow even with the black door mostly shut. Whatever had spooked Phoenix on their first trip still had its hooks in him however. He swallowed without responding, his skin an unhealthy grayish color.

“Keep Ulthar in your thoughts,” Soter said, “and watch the cat. He will keep you safe.”

The cat was the first through the door when Soter reopened it. His fur erupted with light as he passed through, his spots like flickering shadows over silver. He paused and looked back as if to say, Well? Are you coming or not?

For a few seconds at least, there was a light behind them as well as ahead, but Soter could not leave the door open forever. It closed with a click that echoed through the darkness, becoming a relentless tapping that went on and on and on. There was no floor and no ceiling, no walls… only the blackness and the cat in front of them. The cold crept into their limbs, robbing them of the strength to go on. Glory could hear Phoenix taking long, snuffling breaths as if to steady himself but these became more ragged as they went, like the sniffing of a dog on a scent. The only way to measure the passage of time was by the increasing ache in their limbs, and the cold made such measurements inconclusive.

Every now and then, the cat paused, its fur bristling. He scanned the darkness as if he had heard or seen something they could not. The blackness was so absolute that it seemed to twist and stir itself as her eyes made up for the lack of stimuli. She saw shapes which she was certain could not be there, bulges and shifting blackness, blacker than their surroundings but banded like the clouds seen on Jupiter or Saturn. Glory strained her ears, but all she heard was Phoenix’s breathing and the incessant tapping. Eventually they would move on as whatever the cat had sensed passed by them.

He stopped abruptly, backing up and crouching as if to spring at some unseen foe. Glory could see nothing, but Phoenix‘s breathing choked and spluttered, ending with a whine which was almost canine. A panting like a hound which had run itself into exhaustion reached her ears, and she glanced back at him. Her heart skip a beat as she realized he was not the one she had heard during their trek through the darkness. Both her companions were illuminated by the pendants they wore, the ‘ruby’ at the center of the star glowing so bright it appeared white. Milet held herself, her head down. Only motivated by the tug of the rope in the intense cold, she had stopped with the rope gone slack and stood swaying in the cold. Beyond her Phoenix stood stock still, his fists clenched at his sides and his eyes darting left and right, if such directions could said to exist in a place that lacked an up or down. He seemed to be holding his breath but the sounds continued.

Echoes? Or…

The cat hissed and lashed out at some unseen thing. A shadow darker than the rest loomed deceptively close, or so she thought until it howled and jerked away from the cat. A trail of green-blue light blossomed from the cat’s claws as the shadow darted away, zigzagging in a dizzying contortion of black on black until by some trick of light or distance its angles became the curves of corkscrew towers and cyclopean buildings.

to Book 6, part 3, page 33

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4 Responses to “Tattoo Book 6 part 3.32”

  1. Fiona said

    Thank goodness for the cat!

    Unless, as Mae West said, goodness had nothing to do with it….

  2. here2read said

    cool! totally saw the cats special effects!
    I have such an imagination.

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