The cave system was dark and immense and absent of any kind of life. Which is not to say that there were not people there; the caves were overflowing with survivors of Aviar's destruction and a constant, low mumbling of discontent and discomfort permeated the dripping rocks and the puddles and the dwellings that had been constructed over the centuries below ground, in the peculiar nursery that Avii culture had spawned. For all the voices and bodies, the place lacked function: lights flickered and failed, water filtration had ceased, a variety of machines designed to produce crops despite the perpetual gloom both inside and outside of the caves sat silent and immobile, while the flying discs that had borne them above the clouds now lay inert on the tortured ground beside the crater - those which had not been destroyed during hurried landings.
Galisai did what she always did in such situations: she sharpened her sword. It was a satisfying, repetitive action that produced a benefit and required concentration without demanding any great thought or skill. It helped clear her head and banish any mischievous doubts that were clouding her vision.
"Here's the thing," Stefan said, sat on a rock beside her. "Myths are usually a one-way process. Something happens on a historical timescale, usually prior to written testimony. Stories of the real event become embellished, turn into myths. Trying to unpick the maps before we came here was an attempt to match myths and legends to real geography."
"It worked out well for you," Galisai noted with a smile.
"Thank you," he said, simultaneously dismissing the compliment with a wave of a hand, "but that's not my point. Myths are such because they are old, and their origins are older still. You can't go back to what started them, so can only ever see them from our modern perspective."
"Was that your point? I can't tell." Stefan had evidently been thinking about this for some time.
"Almost." He held his arms aloft at the cave they were in, indicating towards a large group of survivors huddled around a fire, its smoke spiralling up into an opening in the roof of the chamber. One figure stood silhouetted against the flames, speaking effusively just out of range of Galisai's hearing. "It would seem that this is what happens when reality collides with myths. None of this should have turned out to be real. Aviar, the floating city. Aera, an old god. An ancient enemy that never went away. And now here we are, below ground with remains of a civilisation that by all logic should never have existed in the first place."
"It does make me long for some good, old-fashioned political intrigue," Galisai said. "A clear mission, with an objective, a location and a plan."
The darkness encroached on them both. Stefan sighed, then stretched his back. "This doesn't feel like much of a plan, does it?"
Galisai smiled again, catching herself before she indulged Stefan's gloomier instincts. "We'll figure something out. And if we don't, Tranton will."
"One option I've been considering," Stefan said, a little hesitantly, "is going back across the mountains. Back to Bruckin - me, you, Hatch. Tranton and Fenris can come with us if they want."
"Kirya and Tarn are in no condition to be moved." Galisai understood Stefan's misgivings about their situation, but could never allow herself to give up hope. Hachim would never forgive her.
"I know," Stefan said, softly.
"The people here need our help. They might not be our people, but our mission was to come here and find them. Hachim thought we'd be able to find something to help stonebreakers."
Stefan shrugged. "There's nothing left, Galisai. The city is in pieces in the crater. Have you been outside? The air is like nothing I've ever seen."
"Perhaps it wasn't the city," Galisai said, pushing at loose gravel with the toes of her boot. "Perhaps it's the people."
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical CrownFantasy
An explorer, a princess, a slave and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and romance. When Tranton Seldon becomes the first to cross the mountains in hundreds of years...