Cogflake Cogflake

Feb 27, 2024




Reinventing the Lightbulb - Part 13

Previous - Reinventing the Lightbulb Part 12

Zorro groans a little, looking up at them and starting to climb. “These people and their stairs…”

Viktor looks up them as well and sighs. The red fox just groans. STAAAAAAIIIIIRRRS.

Raziel cracks his neck, and trudges on up after Zorro. “I think you stole my line, by the way. About the stairs. And I think I figured out why people never include parts like this in your stories. I doubt it would be very much less arduous to read about climbing up an endless series of IDENTICAL STAIRS.”

Zorro keeps walking up the stairs, grunting, “Yeah. It doesn’t exactly sell novels.” He keeps on trudging. “We’ll enter the pyramid, and find ourselves dodging booby traps into the village. No stairs needed.”

Viktor sighs some. “Aai vish there vere no staahirz needed now….”

Raziel nods. “That would be most agreeable…” The tiger just kind of gets lost in the pattern. Leg up, move forward. Leg up, move forward.

Zorro also does as well, droning his steps upward, eyes searching for traps, just in case, but he’s pretty bored. “Are we there yet?”

The trip up the stairs is even longer than going down them, and there’s a lot of these stairs, seemingly nearly endless. This, along with the faint sounds of someone following every now and then, makes for a tense atmosphere. Or something.

Raziel drops onto his wobbling knees as he /finally/ reaches the top. “That…was…brutal. I never thought I’d be happy to see the inside of this temple again.” The tiger looks behind him, to see how the others are faring.

Zorro ngghs, looking down and trying to spot whoever it is following them, “Shit. We almost there? Sounds like someone may be following us.” The little fennec is drenched in sweat, tongue hanging out.

Viktor trudges up the stairs and flops on the top step, breathing heavily, while the other fox lags behind even Zorro, having to stop every now and then to catch his breath, his paws on his knees constantly. Viktor pulls himself up and looks over the edge, trying to concentrate for a minute. “Uhg, zorry, aai kaahnt vocuz long enough to tell, aai’m too tired.”

Raziel cautiously looks around the room, making sure none of the cultists returned. He probably should have done that sooner. “That’s fine, Viktor. I don’t plan to stick around long enough to find out…” The tiger frowns slightly when he sees the red fox lagging behind.

Zorro keeps up as best he can, climbing each stair one after another. “D-damn it. Raz, can you see the top?” He hopes so. It’s been a long climb.

Raziel calls back down to Zorro, “I’m /at/ the top. Not much further now. And tell that other fox to keep up; we need to get moving.”

Viktor takes a seat, sighing and looking up at the ceiling, breathing hard.

And, at the same time, the other fox calls back, still making it up the stares at a pace, though it’s slow. “I’m coming, I’m coming, just….. I’ll be there in a bit.

Zorro finally gets up to the top with a groan, and flops on the ground, taking some time to catch his breath while the other fox makes his way up. Mmmuurbl.

Raziel nods, and checks his equipment while he waits. “Alright.” The tiger sits down as well, next to the fennec and arctic fox. No need to stand around. “So, Viktor…what happened while you were in that cage?”

Viktor’s breathing starts to calm down and normalize. “Nothink much. Aai voke up, aahnd vound myzelf in thaah’t kaahge. Vound thaaht other vox in the kaahge next to me, but he vaahz aahzleep, so aai vaahited. Aai kould haahve gotten out, but then aai vould haahve probaahbly mizzed you iv you kaahme lookink vore me, zo aai decided to ztaahy aah daahy or two vor yoo two to kome. Then the vox guy voke up, aahnd he vaahz tellink me aahbout vhy he vaahz here, then they took him aahvaahy, aahnd Zorro vound me, aahnd here ve aahre.”

Zorro’s panting slows down as he listens to the arctic fox tell his tail. He scoots himself over toward the staircase to check on the other fox and see how he’s coming. He looks left, then right, “Did anyone bother to catch his name?”

Raziel shrugs. “I distinctly remember asking him, but he kind of ignored the question.” The tiger looks around at the four doorways, pointing to one of them. “That’s the way we came in, by the way. They’ve probably unblocked the doors by now, but let’s take that one, just to be safe.”

Said fox has stopped, and he’s looking down the staircase, waving at something. He ascends again, still looking back, beckoning something to come. Soon he stops waving and just focuses on getting to the top, which he does after a short while, panting deeply. “I hate stairs. Anyway, if you’d all wait a moment, I need a longer rest than what I’ve been getting, and I think we have a visitor.” He gestures back down the staircase, and at the bottom of the topmost section, sticking to the shadows in the corner is a young tribal female, stooping down low and climbing the stairs incredibly slowly, probably since she’s been noticed now.

Zorro nods, standing back on his footpaws and giving a good stretch. He then blinks as he hears the fox’s voice. He looks over the tribal girl in his runny soot fur, and blinks a few times. “Well, now.”

Raziel peers over the edge to see for himself, and sighs, rubbing the bridge of his muzzle. “Yes…a visitor. This will either end terribly for all involved, or against all odds, turn out…adequately.” The tiger highly doubts it will be anything /good/.

The girl comes up slowly, and very shyly, holding something behind her back. Once she gets in closer, just a few feet away, she stops, and reaches out one paw, making people gestures with it as she talks, pointing to Zorro especially. “I see you come to village, come and be different. Bother spoke of you to me, he say you mean, you not pack member. You must be of outsider packs. I follow you, I hide from you, and from spirit men, and watch you cause their spirit dome to sink into ground. I follow you more, and hear your words. You say you looking for this?” She pulls out the statue, it’s metallic gleam faintly shining in the low light.

The girl hands it out, reaching as far as she can. “I make this, I carved mold from ancient tree, I use liquid metal and make this. You have it, yes?”

Raziel can’t believe his eyes. “I— we - how…?” The tiger visually inspects it, to confirm that it /is/ the same metal. “Even after all the trouble we’ve caused…you would still help us?” He doesn’t know what to say.

Zorro looks over the statue, examining it. He looks up at the girl, “Well, it’s very nice. Is it made out of the same stuff as the real one?” The fox blinks a few times, and looks to Raziel, “I imagine if this is the right metal, it will be unlike anything you’ve seen in your shops, yes?”

The girl just spins it around in her hands, holding it out again. “Is made from fire-water metal. Red hot and burning. I know not if same metal or not.

Raziel nods. “Indeed, it should be quite different from what I’ve seen before - though I did manage to get a look at the real statue up above, before, well…you know.” The tiger holds out his hand cautiously to the girl. “May I see it?”

Viktor moves up slowly and takes the statue, holding it in his paws gently. “Hmmm. zeemz like the zaahme metaahl, vrom vhaaht aai remember.”

Raziel walks over to investigate, carefully inspecting the color and luster of the metal. “Looks about right to me.” The tiger looks back at the tribal girl, still slightly puzzled. “You never answered my question. Why would you want to help us?”

Zorro looks up at the girl, “Is… there more of this material? We’d like to know more about fire-water metal.”

The girl steps back a little ways after the statue is taken. “Yes, there is more of the fire-water metal. And I help you because we don’t like spirit men. Spirit men oppress village, they take whatever they wish, they no let us leave. Spirit men say outsiders animals, beasts like ones they keep in cages. But you, you outsiders, you no beasts. You go against spirit men, hurt them, destroy their meeting places. You no like spirit men either. But you want the goddess on the altar, we no want you to take her, she is light and our hope. Spirit men claim to be servants to her, but they no right with belief. She hate them, we hate them, you hate the, so I help you.”

Raziel nods. “Yeah…they’re not too fond of us, either. And we didn’t really want to take your idol; we just wanted the metal it was made of. With this,” the tiger gestures to the replica, “…everyone wins.”

Zorro nods a bit, “Well, with it, the status quo is permitted to continue, at least. We get the metal, but we leave the village with oppressors. At least if we have information on there being a mineral deposit here, there could be renewed interest in some sort of diplomatic relations and trade, which could benefit these people. But I worry about the spirit men attacking those seeking trade, war being started, and the innocent people being harmed in the process.”

Raziel raises a paw slightly to attract everyone’s attention. “Well…we did kill at least seven or eight of their guards, and all of the others fled. Are these ‘spirit men’ really in any condition to retaliate?” It’s not a rhetorical question; the tiger really isn’t sure.

Zorro waggles his paw, “It’s less about their shape to retaliate, and more about their need to. If they feel compelled to fight people who come here to trade, and the King decides to get them taken care of, they won’t survive. But then, if the villagers are lumped into the same group as the spirit men, they might be targeted as well.”

Viktor thinks a moment. “Zo, iv ve vaahnt to keep komink baahck, ve’d need to get rid ov the zpirit men…… or maahybe ve kould zmuggle the villiaahgerz out.”

Raziel shakes his head, and begins pacing. “I don’t know what to do, then. We tried to reason with them, and that failed catastrophically. None of them even appear to understand our language, apart from this girl.” The tiger stares off into space, still thinking. “Uprooting an enitre tribal community doesn’t sound that practical either, and they seem rather content to live in seclusion. Which leaves us with getting rid of the spirit men…but how?”

Zorro rubs his muzzle, “I don’t think they’re all that married to being in seclusion. I suggest we take the statue back to Sovereign, and discuss with him his needs. He has stated that he wants to use a different material because it’s rare, but if there’s a deposit here, he might not have to. If we explain to him the circumstances of the agreement, the capital from selling the first Illuminator could be used to set a diplomatic force, and, failing that, a mercenary one, to try to resolve the issue of the spirit men, with forewarning that the people of the town are not counted among them.”

The girl just stands quietly a few feet a way while the group discusses things, the other fox seemingly passed out, probably from the climb up the stairs. She holds her tongue while the talking goes on, swaying back and forth idly. Eventually, she chimes in as talk of leaving comes up. “Spirit men go to place tonight. Up, in altar. All of them be there, is meeting with high priest. They discuss what do with us.

Raziel sighs, and rubs the bridge of his muzzle. “I’m all for the diplomatic solution, but we certainly won’t be able to make all those preparations by the time this council meets. I hate to say it, but more…drastic measures may be in order. But what? And how? We’ll certainly be outnumbered if they’re /all/ there…”

Zorro looks to Raziel, “You’re assuming that something needs to be done.” He looks to the girl, “Could you clarify— what do you mean ‘do with you’? What sort of things do they do?”

The girl shrugs a bit, like it’s no big deal really. “Punishments, beatings, purging of unworthy. They decide what take from us, how much we need, when pray time is, how much pray, punisment for doing nothing about outsiders, things of that.

Raziel blinks, and looks back to Zorro. “I /am/ assuming something needs to be done. The also captured a harmless researcher, and forced him to fight wolves and a /bear/ for their own personal amusement! When they find out that *two* pasu managed to infiltrate their village, and helped another two prisoners escape, what do you think they’ll do? I’m not eager to find out, are you?”

Zorro looks up at Raziel, “They don’t have a lot of room to complain about outsiders that they themselves ran screaming from. If all the pasu involved are gone already, there’s not much they can do to us.” He gestures to the girl, “And she should come with us if she’s in danger, certainly. But when you say ‘purge’…” He looks back to the girl, “Do you mean ‘force to leave the village’, ‘kill’, or something else?”

She looks at Zorro, shrugging. “Not know. They take unworthy to altar and black smoke rises into setting sun. We no see them again, some say they be spirit men after that, but no see them with spirit men.”

Raziel laughs mirthlessly. “Oh, good. Ritual sacrifice. Just what this place needed.” The tiger resumes pacing, intermittently glancing between the statue, the three foxes, and the jackal.

Zorro nnghs. That’s not what he wanted to hear. “Damn it…” He thinks on what to do. “Wait, if all the guards are outside at that point… why not just lock them out?”

The girl makes a circle with her arm and paw. “They go around. Then punish us more for insolence.”

Raziel nods his head. “They would just take the long way around, Zorro. The one the researcher took. It would stall them for a day or two, at most.” The tiger changes up the pattern of his pacing slightly, and flicks his ear. “I think it’s unavoidable that we’ll have to do /something/…but what?”

Zorro looks to Raziel, “But that long way the researcher took involves treacherous cliffs, does it not? It’d give time to lay a proper trap. You could pour oil on the cliffs, or you could wet them, if they have any water mages. At the worst case, they’d have to move very slowly, and so a good guard team could fend them off. They wouldn’t be able to rush anyone.” Zorro’s combat strategies are unsuited for someone of his level of adorable.

Viktor pipes up here. “Iv ve do thaaht, ve kould move the whole villiaahge out by the time they return. Vithout aah villiaahge to return to for rezourzez, they’ll leaahve maahybe, aahnd the villiaahgers kaahn haahve their villiaahge back, aahnd we kaahn haahve traahde too. Thaaht aahnd I didn’t zee aahny vemaahle zpirit men, zo they kouldn’t exaahctly ztaahrt aah new villiaahge.”

Raziel nods, and abruptly stops pacing. “That…may work. But we’d need the girl’s help to convince them; at least to translate. Then come the problem of finding a temporary home for the displaced villagers - Quark works, but it’s not the nicest place in the world…”

Zorro shakes his head, “That sounds like a logistical nightmare. How do you feed, shelter, water, and whatnot an entire village displaced of all their homes and systems? What about those who are too sick to move?” He shakes his head, thinking, “We should build a barricade to block the other entrance. It shouldn’t take too long to build a wall that will hold long enough to dispatch the remaining spirit men who would assault it.”

Viktor shrugs. “Or ve kould go to their meetink plaahce aahnd kollaahpze it down on their heaahdz? Or traahp them in, they zeem to like lonk korridorz aahnd tunnelz.”

Raziel frowns, and shakes his head. “…Thereby destroying the temple, and possibly the idol, and then we’re actually /worse off/ than if we had stolen it. We could trap them, I suppose - but we’d need to find a way to block off the trapped tunnel.” A look of realization crosses the tiger’s muzzle. “Wait! The doors down there didn’t *appear* to work, but what if we found a way to force them shut? We already know how to seal the temple doors, and that would be the only other way out.”

Zorro blinks, “Which doors do you mean?” He tilts his head, confused. So many doors, corridors, and hallways.

The girl moves suddenly, pushing past the group and beckoning them to follow. She leads them into one of the empty chambers with those mechanisms that run the door, and next to the entrance is a staircase, obviously not the same entrance they came in. She goes up the stairs, which go up about twenty five or so feet, then she moves down a corridor at the top, till she hits a dead end. “This door to meeting room, makes good privacy. Use rope to lift door up, cut rope, and they no can lift, yes?”

“And…they’ll all be in there? So all we have to do is cut the rope, and they’ll be trapped? This solution is beyond adequate! All we would have to do is sneak in and cut the rope once we’re sure they’re all in, and we can be gone by tonight!” The tiger looks /very/ excited at the prospect.

Raziel stares as the girl explains, and inspects the door carefully. “And…they’ll all be in there? So all we have to do is cut the rope, and they’ll be trapped? This solution is beyond adequate! All we would have to do is sneak in and cut the rope once we’re sure they’re all in, and we can be gone by tonight!” The tiger looks /very/ excited at the prospect.

Zorro’s eyes widen, “Yes, this does solve everything.” The fox smiles, “Good. I mean… not entirely sure what we should do with them when we have them trapped… We’d want some humane way to deal with them, even if they don’t really deserve it.”

Next - Reinventing the Lightbulb Part 14

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