The Catacombs


She hurried along moist alleys in the morning mist, gray stones covered with beaded water and lichen, footfalls stealthy on the cobbled walks.  Her hands clutched the tiny, yellowed paper to her chest, hidden in her palm.  She stopped to take a furtive glance behind her, but the dense cloud shrouded the alley’s mouth.  A quick glimpse of the writings before she tucked it safe beside her bosom in the once-elegant, now-ragged bodice.  She hitched the worn, tattered cape farther onto her shoulders and ducked her damp locks beneath the hood.

She scurried forward again, paused at a corner to peer around the wall to the walkway beyond.  The young day hadn’t roused the workers and peddlers from their slumber yet.  She held the lapels of her cape and shuffled silent as a field mouse across the walkway to the foot of a towering spire, charcoal and cracked.  She felt along the wall, fingers probing in their expert way, just as she might probe the body of a client, to find the soft, tender spot.

But she wouldn’t need to do that much longer.  A wry smile pried one side of her delicate, rose petal lips.  Her eyes narrowed, and she perked an ear to the thoroughfare behind her as she moved along, slow and deliberate.

The grind of a stone sliding back froze her, a blast of adrenalin ripped through her and her breath caught.

She found it.

A firm push with her palm, and the stone sank into the wall with a hollow-throated rumble.  When it would move no farther, her feet registered a low vibration, and a section of the great wall unhinged.

She shut her eyes and rested her cheek on the wet door, heavy, thick, and breathed a grateful sigh.  Her excitement grew when she pushed the massive stone monolith aside and it glided as smooth as polished glass and feather-light.  The maw opened to a dark tunnel that swallowed huge gulps of fog as the cavernous opening drew a long-dormant breath of air.

She cast her anxious eyes to her left and right, but again, only the fog swirled and danced, hiding the world beyond her sight.

The wall of the temple swung back into place when she took two steps inside the hidden chamber, and felt the depression of a sinking trigger floor tile click.

A solid clack behind her and the door was set, invisible to the eye again.

No one who didn’t have the secret would find it.  And she would destroy the secret.

She breathed again, slowed her heartbeat.  She would be the most powerful woman in the city.  Just a few more steps, and she would be the most powerful … .

She forced the thought from her mind and opened her eyes.  The darkness consumed her, an almost palpable force.  She cursed her lack of foresight in not bringing a lamp with her.  Her trembling hand fluttered to her bosom and felt for the crinkled ancient paper.  She swallowed hard and stepped forward, hands outstretched.

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