The Barren's Tomb (Pt. 2)

Mina skidded down what she could only describe as the tomb's tongue.

Grit grated the heels of her feet and itched the skin behind her ears, and with the elegance of a flailing swan, she joined Emmett at the base of the skull's throat.

After her frightening venture from the hot air balloon and eventually locating Emmett sprawled out but uninjured in the sand, they both staggered into the awaiting, gaping mouth of the tomb.

What met Mina first was the noise.

Louder than a herd of stampeding Elephants. Greater than the roar from the fires used to fuel the war Zeppelin’s. The thundering rumble ravaged against her head, and Mina cupped her hands tight over her ears.

“What the devil is that?” Mina shouted, but Emmett seemed not to hear, entranced by something beyond.

Light from the tomb’s entrance only travelled so far in, and as he stumbled forward, he soon became swallowed by the darkness.

And Mina was alone.

Removing her goggles, Mina swung her bag around. All the way from the bottom—under her journal, the small metal cage and her telescope—she retrieved her matchbox and lantern.

Striking a flame, Mina lit the small wick in the centre of the metal box. Yellow light burst like a new star, and Mina removed the protective cap attached to the lantern’s long lens.

A sudden, powerful beam broke down the barrier of shadow, and the remainder of The Barren’s Tomb finally came into full view.

A weight lifted from her shoulders. She had found the source of the thundering sound.

A myriad of thrumming arid waterfalls gushed from either side of the tomb. The sand cascaded in smooth streams of gold, crumbling and tumbling down to a dry, lifeless sea below. Copper monoliths extended from the sea, erect and sturdy like the tombs very own soldiers—guards to whatever lay beyond.

Mina guided the light further up.

Enormous white beams curved in a sweeping arch overhead, stretching up from the sides to meet in the centre, where they were joined by a broad seam, vertebrae, that stretched further than Mina's beam of light could reach.

It looked like a rib cage belonging to an old giant.

Or a forgotten Saint.

Beside her, Emmett whipped his goggles from his head. His eyes wandered upwards, and his arms soon fell limp at his sides. His mouth gaped open, flapping like a beached fish.

A deep gash married the line of his jaw, and a plump, red lump bloomed just above his eyebrow.

He looked terrible, and Mina suspected she didn't look much better. She definitely needed her previously desired bath and possibly a chiropractor for the dull ache pounding in her shoulder.

Mina understood his wonderment, felt a calming buzz simmer in her chest. The sight was truly spectacular, a haunting, maddening marvel hidden beneath the dry skin of the earth above. She wondered how many before them had witnessed its magnificence, discovered its secrets. If only the ink hadn't destroyed her journal, she could have spent hours sketching its beauty.

Emmett lowered himself and rested his chin on Mina's shoulder. He smelt of sweat and accelerant oil from the balloon. "By the Saints," he spoke into her ear, his breath hot. "Forget what I said earlier. I adore sand." His eyes fell, and his finger tapped the metal box in her hand. “What’s that?”

“A torch.“ Mina twisted the front lens clockwise, and the light dimmed. She turned it again, and it grew.

“I like.” He gestured onwards. "Shall we? Torches first."

They followed the spine of the tomb down to another wider chamber where the sound of the sand falls slowly ebbed away. The absence of noise pounded Mina’s ears, and a high tin chimed through the frozen air. Serene walls of ochre stone replaced the irate sand, and the ground hardened, their footsteps echoing.

Mina shone her torch around and landed on a sharp mound of rocks. The surface glimmered, an iridescent, a sparkle of colour. All this way underground, and she still managed to find a rainbow.

"Ah, Mina...” Emmett's voice carried like a lost wind, brittle misplaced. “Shine... Shine your torch over here. Please."

Mina swung the beam around, then instantly wished she hadn't.


Long picked skeletons of the dead littered the floor, laid in the centre of a shallow crater, a hard crust of elliptic stone at its rim. Sand slithered through their yellowing bone and buried the slim scraps of fallen clothes. It was horrific. Barbaric. But now, Mina couldn't look away.

Who were they? Mina wondered.

What was it about the macabre that was so engrossing?

Emmett knelt beside the broken shards of a caved-in skull. His left hand hovered over it, but his fingers curled into a fist before he had time to touch it.

“Why didn't they leave?”

“Death,” Mina answered bluntly, then quickly disapproved of her flippant tone. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “But it is peculiar that they are all centred around here.”

“Huh." Emmett brushed the dirt from his trousers. "Great observations skills, Miss—” He froze. “Traps. Maybe it's quick sand.”

Traps sounded likely, but Mina couldn't recall the Scoundrel mentioning any, and she hadn't written anything in her journal. Not noting the existence of any entrapments seemed like a cruel oversight on the Scoundrel's part.

"We're not sinking."

"Hidden darts. Arrows in the walls."

"There are no arrow shafts on the ground." Mina stepped forward. "Emmett—"

"No, don't move! This isn't the balloon. We don't have parachutes this time. I...I never thought...I didn't mean..." His voice broke.

Oh. He was crying.

“Emmett,” Mina said carefully.

He sniffed and wiped his cheek. "I'm sorry."

"Why? This isn't your fault." It was, but she didn't think reminding him of that now would do him, or her, any favours. "As you said, you don't spend precious time dwelling on the past."

Steering the light around, Mina scanned the low to the surrounding walls. Her heart lept.

A skeletal arm protruded from the bed of its grave, and a gaunt, rigid finger pointed up.

High above, nestled in a cragged crook of rock, Mina could just make out the faded glint of gilded gold.

"Up there." She grabbed Emmett's chin. The movement seemed to snap him from his stupor, and a bright smile broke out on his face.

"They must have climbed the wall and fallen," he said far too gleefully. "That mean's no traps—just poor climbing techniques. Send your bird—”


“Send L'oiseau up there.”

The cage in Mina’s bag shuddered as she brought it out—an excited flitter of mechanical wings.

Blue ink blotted the tip of L'oiseau metal tail, and Mina wiped it away with the cuff of her sleeve. The tiny bird opened her small brass beak, and the cogs at her throat spun, emitting a delicate, sweet peep.

“She disapproves of this,” Mina said.

L'oiseau tweeted again, then hopped to the end of Mina’s finger. And with a creak of her extended her wings, she took off into the air.

“Me too, Mina, me too, but...” Emmett jiggled his left wrist, and the gold band beneath his sleeve glinted unnaturally. She had almost forgotten about that—a cruel trick from the Scoundrel.

Flakes of dust sprinkled from where L'oiseau pecked away at the rock. The soft tap, tap echoed like a heartbeat.

“How are you feeling?” Mina asked Emmett.

Emmett kept his focus on L'oiseau and shrugged. “Eh, alright. The band hasn't started shrinking. I may yet still have a hand by the end of this.”

“A life without a hand is far better than no life at all.”

L'oiseau chirped, and a glare of gold twinkled in her beak.

Emmett chuckled and brushed his cheek. “Alright, Philosopher Keys. Unlocked that little nugget, didn't you?”

“All I am saying—”


“Don’t play games, Emmett.”

He cupped his hand over Mina’s mouth and placed a finger to his own. His head twitched, tilting as he listened.

A subtle sound, a soft rush of noise, made her go still. She listened.

It came again, and Emmett met her eyes in the shadows.

It sounded like water.

A lot of water.

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