The latest from my online epic, Lore of the Underlings.
Chapter 3 continues:
“Ayrie, though face afake in grins, couldn’t wait to whisper some secret to me.
“‘We must get a count of the folk,’ he said, ‘including our family, don’t forget.’ Brother sounded excited. ‘If they match the Semperor’s number too, that means…’ he paused as if searching for something. ‘Well, I don’t know exactly what it means, but we need to know. That’s for sure!’
“‘But how?’ I asked, forcing another too-happy look back.
“Ayrie pointed his index finger. ‘There’s just one way left I guess. Arrowboy, it’s up to you!’
“Yet you were way ahead of us two. The words had not passed Ayrie’s lips when you were already off, crashing through the waves of folk, turning their tide from side to side, and parting their number asunder. Then back you were before we knew it.
“Bumping the chevox that drew our cart, you had us pull to the side and stop as mother passed by displeased. The sun, now low, cast a rose and gold glow over the land, which you mined with your cloven front hooves for to find the treasured folks’ sum. We watched you dig shapes in the soil, some number runes long forgotten, plowed out in an ancient arithmetic. The earth here was rich and black, a mother lode thick with life. It smelled sweet.”
Fyryx, the man, came back for a breath and a glimpse of his breathless old friend. Both forelimbs of this vell lay still — no counting on them anymore — although just once they seemed to twitch. He slipped his hands beneath a hoof, huge yet light, to lift it up. It was delicate with a beautiful shape, but felt to him brittle and ready to break. So gently he set it down in the straw and withdrew to his boyhood again.
“A set of four shapes, that’s what you drew. Three diamonds inside a perfect circle, enclosed in a square, triangle beneath. But what did it mean? A trio of gems upon a moon, locked in a box, atop a peak. A sacred mount keeping three secrets safe? Neither Ayrie nor I had a clue.
“So we called an old folkster who came limping by, leathery-skinned, a big pack on his back, and hoped that he knew.
“‘Been an age since me’d seen that,’ he said with a spit. ‘On the knee of me grandy-dad learnt it. Sempyre ciphers they be. That one, this be…’ He bent himself closer and nearly tipped over, then hacked an awful cough. ‘Yup. This be yer triplet-ten-three.’
“That didn’t help. And our blank looks got his back up.
“‘What dummy boys do ye be?’ he bristled. ‘The Treasuror’s two? Sad to see. Yer beast it packs more brains.’
“That got a laugh from you, Arrowboy. But the old prune turned only more bitter.
“‘Now so ye’ll let me go,’ he griped, ‘we’ll give ye yer cipher red and ripe…’
“He screwed up an eye at us.
“‘A thousand times bloody three,’ he cursed. ‘Er, three bloody thousand, whichever be worse.’
“And with that he spat and slumped off.
“The bulk of the folk had passed us by, some running to reach the wood’s edge before dark. Now they were all but there. But we stood stuck in time, dumbstruck, digesting their constant number. The number the Semperor set years before.
More to come. To read this chapter from the start, click here.
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