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Книга The Jewels of Aptor. Содержание - Chapter VII

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Sun struck the tops of the trees for the first time that morning and a moment later splashed copper in concentric curves on the water by the rock’s edge, staining it further with dull gold.

“You seem to know your way around awfully well. Have you ever been on Aptor before?” Iimmi asked Snake suddenly.

Snake paused for a moment. Then he nodded, slowly.

They were all silent now.

Finally Geo asked, “What made you ask that?”

“Something in your first theory,” Iimmi said. “I’ve been thinking it for some time, and I guess you knew I was thinking it too, Four Arms. You thought Jordde wanted to get rid of me, Whitey, and Snake, and that it was just an accident that he caught Whitey first instead of Snake. You thought he wanted to get rid of Whitey and me because of something we’d seen, or might have seen, when we were on Aptor with Argo. I just thought perhaps he wanted to get rid of Snake for the same reason. Which meant he might have been on Aptor before, too.”

“Jordde was on Aptor before,” said Urson. “You said that’s when became a spy for them.”

They all turned to Snake who stood quietly.

“I don’t think we ought to ask him any more questions,” said Iimmi. “The answers aren’t going to do us any good, and no matter what we find out, we’ve got a job to do, and seven, no—six and half days to do it in.”

Snake quietly handed the metal chain with the pendant jewel back to Iimmi. The dark man put it around his neck once more and they turned up the river.

By twelve, the sun had parched the sky. Once they stopped to swim and cool themselves. Chill water gave before reaching arms and lowered faces. They even dove in search of their aquatic helpers, but grubbed the pebbly bottom of the river with blind fingers instead, coming up with dripping twigs and smooth wet stones. Soon, they were in a splashing match, of which it is fair to say, Snake won—hands down.

Hunger thrust its sharp finger into their abdomens once more, only a mile on. “Maybe we should have saved some of that stuff from breakfast,” muttered Urson.

Iimmi suddenly broke away from the bank toward the forest.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get some food.”

The building they suddenly came upon had tongues of moss licking twenty to fifty feet up the loosely mortared stones. A hundred yards from the water, the jungle came right to its edges. The whole edifice had sunk a bit to one side in the boggy soil. It was a far more stolid and primitive structure than the barracks. They scraped and hacked in front of the entrance where two great columns of stone, six feet across at the base, rose fifty feet to a supported arch. The stones of the building were rough and unfinished.

“It’s a temple,” Geo suddenly said.

And again they fell back to work. What spots of light spilled through the twisted net of jungle stopped at the total shadow beneath the great arch. A line of blackness up one side of the basalt door showed that it was ajar. Now they mounted the steps, moving aside a fallen branch which chattered leaves at them. Geo, Iimmi, then Snake, and at last Urson, squeezed through the door.

Ceiling blocks had fallen from the high vault so that three shafts of sun struck through the continual shift of dust to the littered floor.

“Do you think it’s Hama’s temple?” Urson asked. His voice came back in the stone room, small and hollow.

“I doubt it,” said Iimmi. “At least not the one we’re supposed to find.”

“Maybe it’s an abandoned one,” said Geo, “and we can find out something useful from it.”

Something large and dark suddenly flapped through a far shaft of sun. They stepped back. After a moment of silence, Geo handed his jewel to Snake. “Make some light in here,” he said.

The blue green glow flowed from the up-raised jewel in Snake’s hand. As the light flared, and flared brighter, they saw that the flapping had come from a mdeium-sized bird that was perched harmlessly on an arch that ran between two columns. It ducked its head at them, cawed harshly, and then flapped from its perch and out one of the apertures in the ceiling, the sound of its wings still thrumming in echo seconds after it was gone.

There were doors between the columns, and one far wall had not withstood time’s sledge. A gaping rent was nearly blocked with vines except for a dim, green-tinted shimmer that broke in here and there through the uneven foliage.

Behind a twisted metal rail and raised on steps of stone, the ruins of a huge statue sat. Carved from black rock, it represented a man seated cross-legged on a dais. An arm and shoulder had broken off and lay in pieces on the altar steps. The hand, its fingers as thick as Urson’s thigh, lay just behind the altar rail. The head was completely missing. Both the hand still on the statue and the one in front of them on the steps looked as though they had once held something, but whatever it was had been removed.

Iimmi was moving along the rail to where a set of stone boxes were placed like foot stones along the side of the altar. “Here, Snake,” he called. “Bring a light over here.” Snake obeyed, and with Geo’s and Urson’s help, he loosened one of the lids.

“What’s in there?” Urson asked.

“Books,” said Iimmi, lifting out one dusty volume. Geo peered over his shoulder while the dark fingers turned the pages. “Old rituals,” Iimmi said. “Look here,” and he pointed to one of them. “You can still read them.”

“Let me see,” Geo said. “You know I studied with Eadnu at the University of Olcse Olwnh.”

Iimmi looked up and laughed. “I thought some of your ideas sounded familiar. I was a pupil of Welis.”

“You were at Olcse Olwnh too?” Geo asked.

“Um-hm,” said Iimmi turning the pages. “I signed aboard this ship as a summer job. If I’d known where we’d end up, I don’t think I’d have gone, though.”

Stomach pangs were forgotten.

“These rituals are not at all like those of the Goddess,” Iimmi observed.

“Apparently not,” agreed Geo. “Wait!” Iimmi had been turning pages at random. “Look there!” Geo pointed.

“What is it?” Iimmi asked.

“The lines,” Geo said. “The ones Argo recited.”

He read out loud:

“Forked in the heart of the dark oakthe circlet of his sashrimmed where the eye of Hama brokewith fire, smoke, and ash.Freeze the drop in the handand break the earth with singing.Hail the height of a manand also the height of a woman.The eyes have imprisoned a vision.The ash tree dribbles with blood.Thrust from the gates of the prisonsmear the yew tree with mud.”

“It’s the other version of the poem I found in the pre-purge rituals of Argo. I wonder if there were any more poems in the old rituals of Leptar that parallel those of Aptor and Hama?”

“Probably,” Iimmi said. “Especially if the first invasion from Aptor took place just before, and probably caused, the purges.”

“What about food?” Urson suddenly asked from where he now sat on the altar steps. “You two scholars have the rest of time to argue. But we may starve before you can enjoy the leisure.”

“He’s right,” said Iimmi. “Besides, we have to get going.”

“Would you two consider it an imposition to set your minds to procuring us some food?” Urson asked.

“Wait a minute,” Iimmi said. “Here’s a section on the burial of the dead. Yes, I thought so.” He read out loud now:

“Sink the bright dead with misgivingfrom the half-light of the living…”

“What does that mean?” asked Urson.

“It means that the dead are buried with all the accoutrements of the living. That means that they put food in the graves.”

“Over here,” cried Iimmi. With Snake following, they came to the row of sealed doors behind the columns along the wall. Iimmi looked at the inscription. “Tombs,” he reported. He turned the handles, a double set of rings, which he twisted in opposite directions. “In an old, uncared-for temple like this, the lock mechanisms must have rusted by now if they’re at all like the ancient tombs of Leptar.”

“Have you studied the ancient tombs?” asked Geo excitedly. “Professor Eadnu always considered them a waste of time.”

“That’s all Welis ever talked about,” laughed Iimmi. “Here, Urson, you set your back to this a moment.”

Grumbling, Urson came forward, took the rings, and twisted. One snapped off in his hand. The other gave, with a crumbling sound inside the door.

“I think that does it,” Iimmi said.

They all helped pull now, and suddenly the door gave an inch, and then, on the next tug, swung free.

Snake proceeded them into the tiny stone cell.

On a rock table, lying on its side, was a bald, shriveled, sexless body. Around the floor were a few sealed jars, heaps of parchment, and a few piles of ornaments.

Iimmi moved among the jars. “This one has grain,” he said. “Give me a hand.” Geo helped him lug the big pottery vessel to the door.

Suddenly a thin shriek scarred the dusty air, and both boys stumbled. The jar hit the ground, split, and grain heaped over the floor. The shriek came again.

Geo saw, there on the edge of the broken wall across the temple from them five of the ape-like figures crouched before the thickly shingled leaves, just visible in the uneven light. One leapt from the wall now and ran wailing across the littered temple floor, straight for the door of the tomb. Two others followed, and then two others. More had mounted the broken ridge of stone.

Only a greenish rectangle of light fell through the tomb’s door as the loping forms burst into the room, one, and then its two companions. Claws and teeth closed on the shriveled skin. The body rolled beneath the ripping hands and mouths, for one arm swept into the air above their lowered heads and humped backs. It fell on the edge of the rock table, broke at the mid-forearm, and the skeletal hand fell to the floor, shattering like china, into a dozen pieces.

They backed to the temple door. Then they turned and ran down the temple steps. The sunlight on the broad rocks touched them; they became still, breathed deeply. They walked quietly. Hunger returned slowly after that, and occasionally one would look aside into the faces of the others in attempt to identify the horror that still pulsed behind their eyes.

Chapter VII

It was Urson who first pointed it out. “Look at the far bank,” he said.

Across from them, they could make out an obviously man-made stone embankment.

A few hundred feet further on, Iimmi sighted the spires above the trees, still across the river from them. They could figure nothing for an explanation, till suddenly the trees ceased on the opposite bank and the buildings and towers of a great city broke the sky. Elevated highways looped tower after tower, many of them broken, their ends dangling colossaly to the streets. The docks of the city just across from them were completely deserted.

It was Geo who suggested, “Perhaps Hama’s temple is in there. After all, Argo’s largest temple is in Leptar’s biggest city.”

“And what city in Leptar is that big?” breathed Urson, awfully.

“How do we get across?” asked Immi.

But Snake had already started down to the water.

“I guess we follow him,” said Geo, climbing down over the rocks.

Snake dove into the water. Iimmi, Geo, and Urson followed. Before he had taken two strokes, Geo felt familiar hands suddenly grasp his body from below. This time he did not fight, and there was a sudden sense of speed, of sinking through consciousness.

Then he was bobbing up through chill water with the rising embankment of stones to one side and the broad river to the other. He switched from skulling into a crawl now, wondering how to scale the stones when he saw the rusted metal ladder leading into the water. He caught hold of the sides and pulled himself up.

Snake came up now, and then Urson. And, at last Iimmi joined them on the broad ridge of concrete that walled the flowing river. Together now on the wharf, they turned to the city.

Near them, piles of debris lay between two taller buildings. After a few minutes’ walk the building walls had reached canyon size. “Now, how are you going to go about looking for the temple?” Urson asked.

“Maybe we can take a look from the top of one of these buildings,” Geo suggested.

They turned toward a random building. A slab of metal had torn away from the wall, and stepping through, they found themselves in a huge hollow room. Dim light came from a number of white tubes set around the wall. Only a quarter of them were lit, and one was flickering. Hung from the center of the room was a metal sign which read:


and beneath it, in smaller letters:


One of the huge cylinders, across the floor, was buzzing.

As they mounted a spiral staircase to the next floor the great room turned about them, sinking. At last they stepped up into a dark corridor. A red light glowed at the end which said: EXIT.

Doors outlined themselves along the hall in a red haze. Geo moved to one at random and opened it. Natural light fell in on them as the others came to see. They entered a room whose outer wall was torn away. The floor broke off irregularly over thrusting girders.

“What could have happened to it?” Urson asked.

“See,” Iimmi explained. “That roadway must have crashed into the wall and knocked it away.”

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