Fiction Excerpt: “The Beautiful Corridor”

Fiction Excerpt: “The Beautiful Corridor”

By Jonathan L. Howard

from Black Gate 13, copyright © 2009 by New Epoch Press. All rights Reserved.

The Beautiful CorridorKyth liked tiled floors the way other people like venomous snakes. Nor did she like the color pink, but that was just personal preference. Her dislike of tiled floors was entirely professional and based upon difficult experience. The example she was currently walking demonstrated the point well.

The floor erupted around her. Beautifully decorated and glazed tiles flew up in a cloud like startled birds, peaking at head height before tumbling back to the ground in a riot of clatters and smashes. Even as they fell, the tubes exposed by the rising flock were discharging death into the air. Poisonous darts, fine jets of noxious air, plumes of deadly spores filled the chamber, a killer hail within a murdering fog. There was no chance for survival – anybody in the room who didn’t die abruptly would die slowly.

It was, therefore, just as well that Kyth had already left.

In the shadows of the next corridor, she watched the maelstrom peak and abate, darts clattering to the floor like discarded toothpicks. She nodded to herself, impressed. Somebody must have spent days setting that up. Shame it had all been for nothing – as soon as the first tile had started to lift, she’d already been sprinting for the exit and calculating the chances of there being a pincer trap waiting for her. That there was none had not surprised her in the slightest.

Ever since she’d penetrated the mausoleum-temple, she’d been studying the handiwork of the architect and by now felt fairly confident that she could stay one step ahead of him and his snares. It was always the same when breaking into one of these places; the best way to look upon the defences was in the form of a chess game played between the architect and the… uninvited visitor. If you managed to last the first few minutes, the chances were you might be developing an insight into the way your opponent played the game.

Now this man (and she knew it had to be a man who’d created this place because – Nasutiro help us – it was so bombastic) this man was the sort who would use a trebuchet to kill a cockroach. Long stretches of the place were safe; you could take your family for a picnic in them with no fear of your nearest and dearest ending up disembowelled, dissolved, dismantled or incinerated. Then you’d step into a room or a chamber and it would suddenly seem as if the whole building were trying to kill you.

Always rooms and chambers, she mentally noted. Her antagonist seemed to regard corridors as too prosaic to exercise his talents.

There was a sense of challenges laid out before her. Whether he realized it or not, he regarded this as all a game too. All of which was to Kyth’s advantage.

Kyth liked to cheat.

She fished in the cuff of her jerkin for a moment and produced a spill of wood marked off at regular intervals and stained at one end – a minute-stick. The stain was slowly travelling the length of the spill. She counted the markings on the minute-stick and saw that there were only sixteen clear segments left. Sixteen minutes. She tucked it away and rose to her feet. Sixteen minutes would be cutting things very finely. She ran, swift but cautious down the corridor, her soft leather shoes barely whispering on the marble.

The corridor opened abruptly out into a small anteroom and then through a right angle into another corridor. She stopped at the anteroom’s threshold and looked cautiously in. Nothing. Nothing at all. So very profoundly nothing as to raise her suspicions.

She sank into a cross-legged position and considered. Every death-trap that had been thrown at her so far had been in a room. Ahead lay a room, therefore it contained a death-trap. There was more to it than that, though, she realized. Every death-trap that had been thrown at her had been contained in a room that contained some ornamentation. This room contained precious little. Cold white marble pillars in each corner, a black and white tiled floor, featureless white plaster walls. She craned around to look at the exiting corridor that led from the anteroom. At the far end she could make out a great chamber, ornate architecture, the flickering lights of torches and large fires. She could smell the incense from here. It had to be the central chamber itself, there simply wasn’t enough room left in the temple-mausoleum for it to be anything else. Down there would be a throne and on that throne sat her target, the corpse of Maten Shal, founder of the Cult of the Moreover. A target she had – she quickly consulted the minute-stick – thirteen minutes to reach.

She arose in a smooth movement and drew the rattlerod from her belt, quickly extending it. Normally, she liked to work slow and steady but time was at a premium; she would have to work fast and extemporaneously.

The rattlerod extended her reach five cubits, enough to prod the most likely trigger points in the anteroom with a modicum of safety, just a great deal of noise. Kyth could think of a dozen and a half ways that the room might still eat her for lunch, rattlerod or no, but she doubted the architect had. After a minute, she was still drawing breath and her entrails were still just where she liked them, in her torso. Time really was not on her side, though. She stepped cautiously out into the room and, delightfully, nothing happened. She sighed inaudibly; she’d been right. The architect’s egotism showed in everything he did. If he was going to set a trap, he couldn’t bear not to make it a pretty trap. Now all she had to do was a quick trot down the last corridor and…

She stopped short of the entrance to the corridor. It was decked out like an emperor’s boudoir. Magnificent carvings, exquisite inlays, a prince’s ransom in gold leaf.

Kyth was positive that if you drove a herd of war elephants down there, not one would come out the other end alive. The minute-stick said she had less than nine minutes left.

The complete version of “The Beautiful Corridor” appears in Black Gate 13.