Raider and the Lost Lamp Ch. 08bymythtrav16©
It took Clara a couple of seconds to get her bearings as she stood on the small sandy beach on the edge of the lake. The early morning light was still quite dim and Clara suspected that the sun had not quite risen yet. Even if it had, they would still be in the shadow of the large mountain looming just east of them.
"Ah, nuts!" Jeff complained, grabbing Clara's attention. He quickly ran out of the freezing-cold ankle-deep water in which he'd reappeared and on to the dry bank. Clara smirked. She had not intended to transport Jeff into the water. Precision long-distance travel just happened to be one aspect of her powers that she hadn't quite gotten the hang of yet.
"Sorry about that," she said flatly.
"Nah, it's okay. I didn't have time for a bath before we left, anyway," Jeff facetiously replied. "Where... where..." Jeff trailed off, suddenly seeming very unsteady.
"Are you okay?" Clara asked with concern. Jeff fell backwards onto his ass and Clara ran over to him. He was sitting up, but still seeming quite unsteady about it.
"I'm okay..." he said in groggy speech that seemed to suggest the exact opposite. "I just... just tripped. It's so dark."
"Not really," Clara disagreed. "It's the sudden drop in air pressure. You'll be all right. Just rest there until you feel better. Don't try to get up."
"Can do," Jeff softly replied. Clara watched over him vigilantly until she was satisfied that the worst was over. She was quite grateful now that she hadn't attempted to transport them directly onto the peak of one of the mountains, as she had been tempted to do the previous afternoon. Clara shuddered at the thought of what condition Jeff might have wound up in if she had.
As Jeff's strength seemed to return to him, Clara took in her surroundings more thoroughly. On a raised area a couple hundred feet from the lake's edge Clara could see what appeared to be a road sign of some sort. "If that's the road, then we can follow it into the town." She thought. Her intention had been to transport Jeff and herself to the edge of a lakeside town conveniently close to all four of the mountains they were interested in. The town had a vehicle rental agency and Clara had had the foresight to phone the agency the previous afternoon and arrange for a four wheel drive to be ready for them by the morning. Clara looked down at Jeff once again. As soon as he had recovered, they would set out.
As it turned out, Clara had transported them three kilometers away from the town. Even after the long walk, however, they still managed to arrive in the town well before the rental agency opened. Fortunately, there were no problems with the vehicle. The dealer had managed to secure for them a top-of-the-line Mercedes four wheel drive, more than capable of getting anywhere on the mountains that a vehicle could possibly go. Clara quietly groaned when Jeff took the keys and made for the driver's side door. Jeff smiled and playfully told Clara that she could drive on the way back. Clara climbed into the passenger side, silently thinking to herself that it would be Christmas before they arrived at the mountaintop.
Within an hour, however, Clara and Jeff had made their way to the end of the trail that lead up the first mountain they planned to explore. Since the capital of her empire was located far to the south, the plan was to begin the search for Tukanni's tomb on the southernmost mountain and work their way north.
Exploring the mountaintops was easier said than done, especially for Jeff, with steep inclines and rocky dead-ends limiting where he could go. The treacherous terrain did not pose such a problem to Clara, however, who managed to climb around any obstacle she found with sure-footedness that would shame any mountain goat. Jeff found himself watching her admiringly, wondering just how much of what he saw was genie, and how much was pure Clara Roft.
Jeff would follow Clara along the mountain trails as far as he could, and although she easily could have, Clara never allowed herself to get more than a few feet ahead of him. When they struck an obstacle that Jeff simply couldn't navigate around, Jeff would wait while Clara went on ahead to "Just have a look." Sometimes she would leave him for over an hour while she continued to explore solo. In many ways, she preferred it when she was alone, there was still something about Jeff's presence that Clara found disconcerting. But on the other hand, she also worried about him wandering off and getting into trouble while she was gone. If he was to die whilst she was still his slave, it would devastate her quest for freedom. Had it been an option, Clara would have preferred to leave Jeff back in England while she explored the Turkish mountains alone. But the spell she was under bound her to stay within a certain distance of the lamp, and it also forbade her from transporting the lamp out of the reach of it's owner.
Before long, the sun began to get low in the sky. The pair continued traversing the mountain for as long as they safely could before they returned to the four wheel drive and returned to the town. True to his word, Jeff let Clara drive on the return trip.
Getting a motel room for the night resulted in an awkward moment for Clara. When the desk clerk asked Jeff if they wanted a double, Jeff turned to Clara, silently asking what she wanted.
"Very well," she replied straightforwardly. Jeff's delighted smile betrayed his thoughts as he signed them in. Clara loathed having to give him such a mixed signal, but ultimately she thought it was the simplest and safest way of handling the situation. Once they were in the room, Clara made her way to the phone. She ran her eye quickly over the nearby instructions on how to dial out of the motel, and proceeded to dial the number for Croft Manor. Clara spent ten minutes talking to first her father and then her mother, mostly assuring them that both her and Jeff were safe and that she remained optimistic of finding the tomb, despite the day not having yielded any results. Meanwhile, Jeff had stripped down and made his way into the shower. He was still in there when Clara entered the bathroom.
Clara excused herself from Jeff's presence, telling him that she wished to return to the lamp, carefully choosing her words to make it sound like she planned to study Zhiasa's journal. Jeff gently protested, saying he had hoped they could spend the night together, perhaps finding a restaurant in the town in which to dine, but in the end he did not forbid Clara from returning to the lamp.
Seeking sanctuary within the lamp allowed Clara to avoid any further advances from Jeff, but contrary to what she'd implied to her master, there was nothing else for her to learn from Zhiasa's journal. With nothing else to do Clara layed down on the elegant bed within the lamp chamber and fell asleep, knowing that she would awake when Jeff rubbed the lamp in the morning.
The following three days progressed much the same as the first. Clara and Jeff combed the surface of the mountain, Clara often going off to explore on her own, but finding nothing of interest. At night, Clara would fulfil her promise to call her parents, and then quickly excuse herself into the lamp.
By the afternoon of their second day in Turkey, Jeff was getting severely bored with being left alone on the mountainside for extended periods of time. He used the sat-phone to order the most expensive portable DVD player that could be shipped to their motel by that evening, and took it with him on the following days, playing movies in blocks whenever Clara left him to go off on her own. Jeff seemed quite proud of himself for his first instance of frivolous spending since he became a billionaire. Clara did not share his excitement.
By the end of their third day in Turkey, both Clara and Jeff decided that it was time that they move on to the next mountain on their list. On it's first day, the second mountain seemed no more promising than it's predecessor. But just after ten o'clock the following morning, Clara's keen eyes spotted a small cavern in the mountain face, on top of a seven-foot-tall mound of earth. The opening was small, but the mound beneath it offered the possibility that it was just the top of a tunnel entrance that had been partially buried. The pair immediately made their way over to the cavern. Clara kneeled in front of the dark opening and shone her torch into it, revealing that the passage went deep into the mountain.
"See anything?" Jeff asked as he squatted down beside her.
"No. But the passage runs deep. This could be it!" Clara smiled, looking over at him from behind her shades.
"It's a tight squeeze," Jeff noted. The entrance to the cave was very short, but it appeared to be just large enough for a person to crawl through.
"Yes," Clara agreed. "We won't be able to take these," she said as she began to remove her backpack. Jeff followed her lead, removing his own pack, taking out his own torch and, as an afterthought, the lamp as well. Even though there was nobody else around, he wasn't going to let it out of his sight. Finally, he removed his broad akubra hat and placed it on the ground, sitting his pack on top of the brim so that the wind could not blow it away. Clara pressed her body to the ground and wormed her way into the cavern in a manner not unlike the one Jeff had seen soldiers using in stock footage of army training. She was still grasping her torch, ensuring that she was not moving completely blind. Once she was completely inside of the cavern, Jeff followed her in, his torch in one hand, the lamp in the other.
The two explorers slowly moved into the depths of the mountain. The passage didn't seem to get any more spacious as it progressed, but neither did it become tighter. After moving into the tunnel just a few feet, Jeff could scarcely see anything other than the soles of Clara's boots, illuminated by his torchlight, shifting to and fro just in front of him. Clara could see little more than the next few feet of passage ahead of her, however she had observed that the roof of the passage was far too consistent for it to have formed naturally. A confidant smile grew on her face as she realised she had almost certainly achieved her goal. Ahead, she could see the ground level begin to descend.
"Mind the incline," she warned.
"Righto," Jeff acknowledged with a frustrated huff. Eager to get off his belly, Jeff pushed himself forward with newfound gusto when he began to feel the passage widening. Unfortunately, Clara's warning had failed to convey how quickly the ground turned downwards into a fairly steep angle. It was only when he put his hand forward that he realised that the ground was much lower than he expected it to be. He stumbled forward and began to slide down the loose earth of the cavern base, collecting Clara on his way down. The two explorers careened down the passage together like a runaway train, coming to an abrupt stop only a few seconds later. Clara grunted as she hit solid ground, the impact knocking the torch out of her hand. She grunted again a split second later, in unison with Jeff, as he landed on top of her.
"I did say 'mind the incline'," she said with a slight hint of annoyance.
"Yeah... Sorry about that," Jeff responded sheepishly, "I didn't expect it to be that much of an incline..."
"Would you mind?" Clara asked, referring to Jeff getting off of her. She had quickly changed the subject to avoid succumbing to a burning urge to berate his carelessness.
"Sure," he answered, climbing off of her as quickly as he could in the pitch blackness. Unable to see much of anything, Jeff slowly lifted his body. Upon discovering that he could now stand upright he cautiously walked over to his glowing torch, which (along with the lamp) had been knocked out of his hand, much like Clara's, when he landed on top of her. He picked it up, and walked over to Clara's torch. As he bent down to fetch it, Clara pulled it quickly into her hand with her magic. His attempt at a courteous gesture foiled, Jeff shrugged and began panning his torchlight around the nearby floor, searching for the lamp.
Clara, meanwhile, was examining the slope of earth that they had just ridden down. From the bottom, it didn't seem as steep or tall as it had on the way down. Climbing back up to the small tunnel opening at the top would not be a major problem. She moved her torchlight upwards, revealing that the roof of the cavern they were in was quite high, perhaps twenty feet above them. Astonishingly, it appeared to be completely smooth, and even arched. There was no question now that this was a man-made chamber.
It didn't take Jeff long to find and retrieve the lamp, only a few feet away from where they'd landed. He crammed it as best he could in one of the deep pockets of his shorts and began to move his torchlight further afield. All of a sudden something in the beam caught his eye and his hand froze. "Clara!" he called, as a look of awe grew on his face.
"Yes, what is..." She began in an incurious tone, silencing herself as she turned to see what Jeff had discovered. In the light before them were dozens of objects. Dull grey pots and vases made of clay, hunks of rotting pale timber that appeared to be the remains of decayed boxes or chests, the rare hint of severely corroded bronze, and a three-foot-tall statue of what appeared to be a soldier. Clara walked over to Jeff's side as she shone her own, more powerful torch in the same direction as Jeff's, illuminating even more parafinalia. As the two archaeologists began to slowly pan their torches around in opposite directions, they began to realise that the entire opposite wall of the large chamber was lined with ancient artefacts.
"I think we're in the right place..." Jeff mused with a sarcastic hint of doubt. Clara had moved her torchlight around to discover that the chamber appeared to be rectangular in shape, with a short vestibule, in which they were still standing, connecting the main area of the chamber to the entrance passage. Clara noticed that there seemed to be a couple of short steps down from the vestibule to the chamber proper. The artefacts seemed to line all the walls of the chamber, right up to the edge of the vestibule. It reminded Clara of photos she'd seen of Tutankhamun's tomb in the state it was first discovered.
"Clara!" Jeff called again, as he made another, even more interesting discovery. Clara quickly turned her gaze to the area illuminated Jeff's torch beam and her lips parted in silent amazement. There in the light was a large stone box; quite obviously, a sarcophagus. "Definitely in the right place," Jeff asserted.
The box itself was relatively plain. It was a simple rectangle prism in shape, except for a rounded cornice extending around the edge of the top of the box. The lid was still upon the sarcophagus in it's rightful position. The box looked strong, despite it's probable age. On the visible long side, a simple pattern of vertical stripes had been carved into the stone, but apart from that, the only other notable feature on the box were some inconsistent markings carved into the nearest short side, probably writing.
After staring silently at the casket for a few seconds, Jeff began to walk towards it. Clara soon followed. Jeff stumbled down the steps from the vestibule, not realising they were there, and turned his torch back to see what had made him stumble.
"Sorry. I was going to warn you about those, but then I thought if I did, you wouldn't have expected them to be that much of a step," Clara flatly remarked. "ARGH!" she winced, as she pressed her hand against her suddenly aching forehead.
"Is it that insult punishment thing again?" Jeff asked her.
"Yes," Clara replied in a strained voice.
"Don't do that. I had it coming," Jeff conceded in an easy-going tone, as her continued walking towards the sarcophagus. Clara agreed with his statement but said nothing.
"I appreciate the thought," Clara responded as the migraine left her and she resumed following Jeff to the casket, "but it's not exactly something I have control over."
"Right. Sorry," Jeff said, looking back at her with a sympathetic expression.
"Never mind," Clara grumbled, tired of discussing the matter. As Jeff began to slowly circle the sarcophagus, Clara carefully studied what she could now clearly tell was writing, carved into the nearest side of the box. "My God!" Clara suddenly exclaimed in astonishment. "I was so wrong about her."
"Who? Tukanni?" Jeff asked, lifting his eyes from the sarcophagus to look in Clara's direction, even though the glare from her torch made it impossible to actually see her.
"No, Zhiasa," Clara said. "This first line of text is written in the same dialect as the journal, nine thousand year old Mesopotamian. It says, 'Entombed within is Queen Tukanni'."
"But?" Jeff asked, knowing there must've been more to the story.
"But the line below it is written in medieval Persian; Hal'hadin's language. It says, '...The Forgiven.' Zhiasa forgave her!" Clara said staring at Jeff in wonderment. Thanks to her heightened genie senses, Clara could actually see his dumbstruck expression, despite the extreme darkness and torch glare.
"Jesus! After eight thousand years of being enslaved..." Jeff responded in wonderment. "Who said, 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'?" he said in a lighter tone.
"Some misguided fellow who tried to steal the Illakri Sceptre from me, Van Skaal, his name was..." Clara replied without missing a beat. Jeff chuckled and Clara smirked. "Tukanni indirectly introduced Zhiasa to the love of her life," Clara said, her tone serious once again. "Regardless of her intentions, Tukanni had given her something wonderful that she would never have otherwise had, something that Zhiasa obviously felt outweighed all the hardships she'd encountered along the way... I guess in that light, Zhiasa felt that she could no longer bear a grudge," Clara suggested. The chamber fell solemnly silent as the two explorers pondered such an extraordinary gesture of compassion.
"Well... We've come all this way. I think it's time we found out if the amulet is here or not," Jeff said. Clara nodded. Jeff placed his torch on the flat top of the sarcophagus lid and pressed his palms against the lid's side. He groaned as he pushed hard against the heavy stone slab. Clara, still standing several feet away, summoned a strong burst of magical energy to move the lid with a smooth wave of her hand. Jeff was startled as the lid suddenly shifted halfway across the sarcophagus. "Wow! That was easier than I thought it would be," he said in surprise. "I don't know my own strength." Clara smirked at the ironic truth in his statement.
Jeff grabbed his torch from atop the lid while Clara strolled over to the open side of the casket. They both shone their torches into the box and examined it's contents. After nine thousand years there was no body to be seen, nor skeleton. There were only scant fragments of bone, severely corroded hunks of metal (which Clara presumed was once part of the queen's funerary attire), and an awful lot of dust.
"Bingo!" Jeff said in a triumphant tone, as he reached in to the sarcophagus to grab an eye-catching metallic object, with what appeared to be two emeralds embedded in it, resting in the dust where Tukanni's torso would once have layed. Jeff blew the dust off the object as he held it in his own torchlight, and sure enough, it was shaped in the form of a lotus flower, with two emerald buds on the stem.
Jeff stared at the amulet, a contemplative look on his face with a suspicious-looking smirk. Then Clara felt her stomach sink as it all dawned on her. In her desperation to obtain the means to her freedom, she'd lead her master right to the means of keeping her in his service forever. All he had to do was marry that amulet with the lamp in his pocket and there would be no limit to the amount of wishes he could make her grant. Everything he would ever desire would be his, every obstacle that ever came in his way would disappear. Even her body would be at his beck and call, as the amulet would give him permanent access to her subconscious mind, and therefore, her sexual desires. Clara could only look on in alarm as he continued to gaze at the amulet. Jeff was a very intelligent man, there was no way in hell that he did not realise the potential of what he held in his hand.