Same stone slabs, same metal bands, same bridge. The night was not as dark as before. The moon no longer hung full in the sky, but appeared no larger than the tip of god’s thumbnail. Perhaps the denser blackness would aid their plans… though, perhaps not. Kyra was adamant that her plan would work, but still failed to share it with Tiyhak. Through the many days they had spent together on the road, the Tallri had not learned to trust him any more than she had upon his commissioning. Not that she should. If I knew my intent, I wouldn’t trust me either. She had played no less a part in the death of his first spirit slave, and such a quick return to the bridge where it had happened did not aid his mood any.
“You just plan to walk up and ask for them to grant you entrance?”
“No… only a fool would come up with such a plan.” Those crystal green eyes peered at him, and the implication within was plain.
“Certainly.” Ignoring his reversal of the insult, she walked ahead of Tiyhak down the stone bridge. “Well, let me know when you have need of my services, and make sure to do so before you get thrown in jail again.”
“Stay out of my way, and everything will be fine.”
“Out of your way… Absolutely. I have no desire to impede your well thought out plan. My involvement would only distract.”
“You couldn’t distract me.”
“A challenge that I most graciously accept.”
“It would be challenging, wouldn’t it? Almost as hard as finding out where my spirit is?”
That dark room came back into his mind. “I know full well where it is, and such knowledge I have freely shared. Perhaps you could grant me with the same courtesies.”
“Perhaps… but that wouldn’t be any fun.” She mirrored his words, but with less jovial acceptance than Tiyhak had said them. The path had come to an end, water stretching out all around them as the bridge finished the incomplete path it forged. A hiss of steam rose from the horizon, though the approaching stone was shrouded by the night.
“Well, I must be off. You may no longer possess a spirit for the Pharosh to steal, but I most certainly do. If you ever acquire access to these lands it would be helpful to inform me, though communication seems to be a part of teamwork that you fail to grasp.”
“We are not a team. A business exchange is all that we have. Once you fulfil your end of the bargain, I will do the same.”
“Certainly. No need to trouble yourself with companionship along the way.”
“I have no trouble with companionship, though a room with a bed is my preference. This hard stone just wouldn’t cut it.”
Tiyhak shook his head. “Who hurt you, child, that you would give yourself to any man?”
Tiyhak began to play with the strands in the night, searching for the ones he desired. “Well, this boy will remain no longer. I must capture some spirits. Certainly you understand.”
“Certainly.” That insulting imitation of his words reaching for his ears was her last comment before the purple wisps surrounded him, leaving nothing but a quickly dispersing cloud. Tiyhak pulled at the strands, and he flew along them like a bird in the night air. His own bird swooped low and perched beneath the stone bridge on a low-hanging metal bar. This night informer of his creation remained ever vigilant and watching. Tiyhak was with the spirits in that dark room almost before he had left, but his feathered friend remained in place, per his intention. Soon the stone tongue approaching came into view, the canons he wished to avoid a tangle with sitting in that darkened mouth like bad breath. The water below spat and boiled, enraged that the bridge would dare block out its view of the little moon there was.
Tiyhak’s bird launched itself into the air, surveying the scene below, like any other bird taking a stroll through the clouds. A band of Pharosh were armed and ready behind the cannons, and a lone Tallri stood vulnerably poised in front of them. Does she plan to battle them all? Tiyhak laughed to himself. No matter. If she dies, I have lost nothing. Tiyhak looked around the room at the three spirits resting by the remains of the broken box. Another vessel will aid me after her demise. As he refocused on the spirit of his winged spy of the night, something in the scene had changed. In the brief moment that he had spend surveying the unchanged room before him, the bird had lost Kyra! How is that possible! The bird swooped low, to the place where she had been and began to peck at the stone like looking for dropped seed. The crash of stone on stone was deafening as the two halves of the bridge came together. The Pharosh stepped from behind their cannons, guns raised at the empty spot where the Tallri had been. A barrage of bullets was hurled at Tiyhak’s creation, but it anticipated their reaction, and took flight, disappearing into the clouds above. Stupid! They think the thing is Kyra! It wasn’t that stupid, for what else could be thought of a woman turned raven?
Tucking wings tight against its oily feathered body, the bird dropped like a stone through the darkness, returning to its place beneath the bridge. In the distance, Tiyhak saw movement and the bird did too. He flew forward, dodging the metal bands and gear-work around him. Sneaky. Kyra was swinging from gear, to metal pipe, to the next available hand-hold, flowing with grace through the steelwork like a monkey swinging from branches. The movement was so fluid that it seemed like the gear-work was designed for her travel, not the great stone bridge above her. She had more trouble progressing once the pipes grew hot with steam, and the bridge began to move.
The metal teeth of gears snapped at Tallri and bird alike as the two dodged between the openings in the metalwork, searching for safety among the craftsmanship. Kyra grabbed hold of a lone pipe which shot out from the gear-work, acting as an exhaust for the steam-powered behemoth. With a great swing, she launched herself into the approaching hole where metal and stone disappeared together. Tiyhak’s bird followed her descent, fighting against hot blasts of air and slowly shifting steelwork. Kyra had gained entry to Kho Arian. Now it was time for Tiyhak to do his part.
The spirit of his night informer was plain as it hid beneath the retracting stone bridge, but Tiyhak was more interested in the spirits that hung motionless and bodiless in that stone prison. They had gotten there somehow, and he intended to find out, but no matter his intentions, he hadn’t yet been successful. The smooth stone walls represented Pharosh construction, but that was the only indication that he was in Kho Arian. Searching amidst the strands was useless, save for the soft violet light it provided him. The spirit realm was usually filled with wisps of smoke from every variety of being imaginable. They swirled about like he was in a cloud rising from the ends of a thousand pipes, forming rings and slithering out like slow snakes reaching for the sky. Now, the strands were simply three, and manipulating them provided less light than he was used to… and less comfort. There is something disturbingly unnatural about a spiritless being, but it was this lack that gave the prehistoric beings an upper hand.
Tiyhak walked the walls of the chamber for the hundredth time, hoping for some form of discovery. The minimal strands wrapped around his hands as he ran them along the stone with meticulous investigation. The light provided was merely physical, for no intellectual illumination was brought forth by the endeavour. Around and around he circled, searching the corners with particular care. No door seams were evident by sight or touch, but he continued to search. There had to be something! Lowering himself to the ground, he cast the strands out to encircle the room’s interior. They rested in the crevice that joining floor and wall provided, casting a luminescent glow to aid his inspection. Squishing his fingers into the cold, unmoving stone, he worked his way around the room until he again was where he had started. “Open you eyes.” He scoffed. That’s what Kyra had told him to do next time he visited this place. “I will bring you here, Tallri, and I will enjoy a laugh while you search. Perhaps you are a greater sleuth than I?” That was the whole problem, wasn’t it. If he could bring her here, he could easily re-fit her spirit where it belonged and they’d have no need for this foolish act.
Moving the room-bordering strands to the ceiling seam, he began to work it with care. Sometimes the senses can deceive. Ears hear what they will in the night, mouths whisper their own desires before brain can instruct, eyes spot hallucinations between the shadows, but fingers cannot lie. Though there was nothing to see or hear, halfway around the top of the room his fingers sunk into the stone like it suddenly became soft. Pushing at the indentation, he found that the rest of his sense came back to reality. A slow hiss of steam following the crunching of stone on stone revealed the purpose of the cleverly concealed button. A slit of light broke through the ceiling and expanded with lethargic intent. The light seemed harsh against the previous soft glow in the room, but to normal eyes not adjusted to the darkness, it would have been the soothing glow of a low flame.
Tiyhak ascended a smoothly crafted staircase that had fallen into place, once the room was completely exposed from above. Torches were not the only inhabitants of the great chambers, but row upon row of books hung from the walls. No longer did the soft glow of spirit-strands encircle him, but an equally complete border of leather-bound pages. The room looked ridiculously mammoth compared to the tiny pit from which he had come. A great shaft of airy expanse rose in the centre of the room, sparsely gathered by book-covered pillars. Luckily for him, books and torches were the only things that populated the room in the dead of the night. Knowing what he did of the Pharosh, he assumed there would be some sort of security, but it remained as concealed to him as the button in that cellar had.
Finding a staircase carved into the outer wall, he climbed, uninterested by the books acting as banisters on either side of the path. Tiyhak ascended to the top of the building, vigilantly watching for a guard of whatever type of security this place might have. No obstacles stood in the way, and soon he was looking out of the glass windows at the top of the towering chamber. The moonlight was not so prevalent outside, as gas lanterns hung from stone pillars which illumed the streets like it was mid-afternoon. Stone carts on steel tracks zoomed around the metropolis, some filled with the native lizard-folk, some without. Pistons pumped up and down at stations where the carts came to rest, amidst the high-rises and street bustle. It was certainly not as fast as spirit travel, but the locomotive ingenuity inspired him.
Tiyhak craned his neck to see the exterior of the building from which he spied. Green-white lights encircled the thing and flashed with ever-increasing intensity. Guns spun wildly around, but fired no bullets. They seemingly searched for something, someone. A stone cart stopped at the base of the tower and a company of Pharosh holding weapons in hand rushed for the building. Steam compressed and hissed below him as a great opening appeared and soon filled with more weapons and scales than Tiyhak considered friendly. He had tripped a silent alarm.