When Scarlett came to, she was floating in a large well. Below her was water, gloopy and dark green with chunks of algae in it. Above her was air.
Air, and a domed ceiling that was steadily getting closer.
Scarlett righted herself, dizzying though it was to do so and caught sight of a spiral stairwell carved into the stone. She swam to it. The steps were too narrow for her suit.
Breathing heavily, she assessed her options. At the top of the stairwell was a landing. The water was rising fast enough to deposit her on to it, but that would lessen her time in finding a way out.
She checked her oxygen levels. They were nearly empty.
“Well, that decides that,” Scarlett said to herself, before unclasping the suit’s heavy headpiece. It fell to the side of the stairwell and sank. She gulped air, which smelled strangely of sweet bread, and was startled by a rush of cold water that poured into her suit. Setting her flasher on a higher step, where it teetered but stayed, she crawled out of her suit and up the stairs as fast as her short legs could move.
The landing was the entrance to a vast chamber room. Scarlett, barefoot and dripping wet, tiptoed past ancient chariot after ancient chariot. Skeletons of horses still in armor were attached to each one, as if they were ready to race out at any moment. Large caches of weapons were next. Swords with black blades glimmered from the torch’s light. Spears stacked horizontally were in front of shields that hung from the walls. Some were decorated with half-moons, other with stars, and scattered here and there were shields with mythical beasts on them.
Scarlett captioned them all. Bloodstags with regal antlers. Moondoes with long, spiraling horns in the center of their foreheads. There were even batwolves with hairy faces and large, triangular ears. Night Creatures, they were called in history books.
Keelan hadn’t mentioned any of this.
She carried on further into the room, where shelves stacked half a hundred feet high. Initially captioning it from afar, it wasn’t until Scarlett approached to get close-ups that she saw it for the morbid structure that it was. The shelves were full of skeletons. Skeletons in armor. Exactly like the horses.
Scarlett chose one to caption. One flash captured the whole body. A second caption captured the chest plate and helmet. When she took a step back, there was a splash.
The water had spilled over the landing.
She raced past shelves and shelves of the skeleton army, stumbling upon a collection of clay pottery vases that were bigger–and wider–than her, and because she was Scarlett Burn, she stopped to caption them. Throwing all caution aside, she lifted one of the lids on the pots. The sweet aroma she first smelled wafted up to her nose. Ancient pastries and loaves of bread were stored inside. Food supplies for the army.
Scarlett captioned that too and replaced the lid as the water trickled to her toes. Then she was off again, running past the pottery until she arrived at a wall. An arched doorway was in the center, the handles shaped as half-moons.
The next room was filled with glass coffins. They were not stacked as the army had been. Instead, they formed a circular pattern around a larger, grander glass coffin positioned in the center. Within the glass laid more skeletons, their skin shriveled, their hair long and styled elegantly. Each wore metal halos, much like the colossal statue Scarlett had stumbled upon in the murky water.
These women were important. If Scarlett had to guess, she’d say they were the fabled Mistresses of the Night. Every sorceress had maidens, after all. Phaedra the Enchantress certainly would have had many.
Scarlett captioned them, unsure if the reflection from the glass would blur their faces. She would only know in development.
With hardly any film left in her plate, she weaved through the glass coffins to see the very center one. When she approached and saw the body inside, Scarlett stopped. Her flasher lowered. Inside the central coffin was a remarkably well-preserved woman.
The woman had died quite young, her pale skin still soft and supple within the glass, her hair long and black. On her body was a bodice made of metal. Her skirt and boots were dark leather. She wore a halo like the others, but hers had a bulky red stone set in the center. Like her army and her horses, she looked ready for war.
Scarlett raised her flasher to her face. There was a click, a flash, and the woman’s face was captioned. Scarlett stepped back, aligned her lens to capture the whole coffin from the side, clicked, and another flash went off.
A moan filled the room.
Her head whipped back to the door she had entered. Water sprayed inside from the bottom edges. The door moaned again at the pressure. Something bumped against the other side. A pot of bread, most likely. She had closed the door in the hopes it kept the water at bay, but it was old and made of wood. It wouldn’t hold for long.
How many people could caption the thing that killed them?
She held her flasher up to face the door. A click. No flash. Her plate of film was out.
Knowing she couldn’t die peacefully without exhausting all possible ways to survive, Scarlett shone the torch around the room in one last effort to find a way out. To her surprise – and great pleasure – a small alcove in the corner wall opposite the flooding door appeared to have been blocked from the inside with a large boulder.
With her flasher hanging from her neck, Scarlett marched over to it. “If you can be pushed into place, you can be pulled out of place.”
Behind the boulder was a narrow, almost vertical, crawlspace that was so high the top was beyond the reach of the torch’s light.
Scarlett squeezed into the tiny space easily enough. Climbing while already exhausted was the hard part. Thankfully, she had some experience with that. Timon’s proposal on the mountaintop had been years ago. Scarlett hoped her body remembered how to handle the strain.
She moved her flasher around to hang at her back, put the handle of the torch in her mouth, and jumped up to grab what looked to be a horizontal stone rivet. Body dangling just above the floor, she peered up again. The crawlspace was riddled with stone rivets.
“Ah-kay,” Scarlett said around the handle of the torch. She took a breath, locked eyes on the next rivet, and began to climb.
When Scarlett reached the top, the air became hot and muggy. She was back outside and above ground. Her skin was instantly swarmed by bugs. Perched at the top of the crawlspace, she peered back down. Halfway up, she had heard glass shatter and assumed the water had burst in and pushed the Mistresses of the Night’s coffins into one another. The water hadn’t risen higher, though, and Scarlett now knew why.
The ceiling of that room had been in level with the lake’s surface. Water could not rise any higher. Unfortunately, the crawlspace had brought Scarlett far out of the city and into the jungle. She could see the city lights in the distance as well as a few boats on the lake making their leisurely way back to the docks.
Scarlett couldn’t dawdle. Returning on foot would take hours and she needed to return before nightfall. Animals prowled the jungle and though they were not Night Creatures, they were just as dangerous.
As she set off toward the city, flasher dangling from around her neck, she wondered if Aleander would be up for another dinner of cold noodles.
Scarlett saw Keelan and the team sitting
outside a restaurant eating Scarlett’s most despised southern dish – spicy soup
served with a side of roasted hot peppers – with tears streaming down their red
cheeks. Aleander sat with them, nursing a drink with a sad expression.
Scarlett, feet cut and body dirty, limped up to them and deposited her flasher in the middle of the table.
“You’re alive!” exclaimed Keelan as the others choked on their meal.
Scarlett shared a relieved smile with Aleander before answering. “Didn’t want to miss dinner.”
Since she had no other suit to dive in again, Keelan asked her to develop her captions while he and his team went in search of the burial chamber. They were thrilled to hear about her findings.
Scarlett welcomed the smell of chemicals and the low glow of red lights. As she strung up caption by caption to dry, she placed the last two glossy papers in the final wash and waited. The images were of the sorceress. Keelan was convinced it was Phaedria the Enchantress. He’d nearly had a stroke when she told him how pretty she had looked.
The two images formed under the chemicals. Scarlett peered at them. She had been worried the glass would hold a glare but found they held no trace of the flash. The face and body came out well, the red stone more so.
The final image–the last her flasher produced–was a little more blurry than the previous ones.
Scarlett squinted and hummed, strung the caption up to dry, and left the Red Room. She had to find Keelan and Aleander. They would want to see for themselves.
In the final caption, Phaedria’s eyes were open.
“Must be a trick of the light,” said Keelan. “Must be.”
Aleander nodded along. “But good f-for our story!”
“It’s not the best caption I’ve ever taken.” Scarlett squinted at Phaedria’s open eyes again. They seemed to have been looking at her when the flash went off. An eerier thought had never crossed her mind.
“Yes, yes,” said Keelan. “We’ll train more captioners to dive and send Scarlett and Aleander back to you.”
Elektra’s voice came over the radio. “Can we publish with what we have?”
“More than enough captions for that.” Keelen glanced over to Scarlett. “More than enough.”
Scarlett broke the dense bun she had in half and gave the extra piece to Aleander. Ever since she’d smelled the ancient sweet bread, she couldn’t satiate her cravings.
Aleander took the piece with a stuttering, “T-Thanks.”
She parked Sassi in the middle of a sea of roamers. The airship was packed.
“Scarlett!” a voice yelled from the docks.
Scarlett walked down the ramp. Keelan waved her over from beside his roamer. His face was drawn and serious.
“We found the burial chamber,” he said immediately. “The glass coffins were all intact as far as we could see. All of them except the sorceress’s. Hers was completely shattered.”
Scarlett had heard the glass shatter, but how had that happened if the other coffins closer to the door had not?
“For shame,” she told Keelan. In a lighter tone, she added, “Perhaps my caption wasn’t a trick of the light. Perhaps Phaedria the Enchantress is alive and free, exploring this new world and eating lots of bread.”
Keelan frowned at that. “She better not be.”
Scarlett had intended it to be all in good humor, but Keelan’s attitude did not match hers. She handed him her contact card. “Well, if you find her wandering the city, let me know. I should apologize for flooding her bedroom.”
Kat burst out of her front door the moment Scarlett rolled into the driveway. Her face was severe. She crossed her arms as she waited.
Tempted though Scarlett was to keep Sassi running, she parked and turned the cruiser off.
“You nearly drowned?” yelled Kat the moment the cruiser went silent.
Scarlett shrugged. She was happy to be back in Quinvillu, where the food was edible and the climate reasonable. “Just so.”
There was a pause, and then Kat’s voice went so shrill the neighbors peeked out their windows. “I knew this would happen!”
End of VOL I
Well, that was the final edition of the rough draft of my first novelette! If you’re interested in reading the complete – and edited – version of Scarlett Burn, you can find it on Amazon in April 2019. Your support means a great deal to me.
Also, I have more free stories on wattpad.com. Feel free to find me there!
Category: Adventure, Fantasy, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, WritingTags: Adventure, airships, archaeology, diving, exploration, Fantasy, femaleprotagonist, freestories, humor, motorcycle, New Author, Novelette, peopleofcolor, photography, secondworld, Self-Publishing, stories, undiscoveredwriter, Writing
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