(IP) The Crumbling Temple
The explorer held his companion close to his side, his arm wrapped around him, wincing as he felt the lad’s wound begin to reopen, trying to move as quickly as he could while the stairs began to disintegrate. Blood dripped between his outspread fingers, warm and thick, and the panic he’d managed to shove into the back of his mind ripped through him, in bright, suffocating crimson waves.
He had to save him. He would never forgive himself if he wasn’t able to. The boy had begged to accompany him, for weeks, before he’d given his consent. And now, all he could feel was panic and the iron tang of bitterness and regret.
“Hold on, I’ll get us to the temple. Just try to hold on; we’ll get help and you’ll be fine!” His voice sounded bright and too cheery to his own ears, and he winced. “You’re gonna be fine, I promise you, kid. Just don’t… Don’t die on me, not now.” Not when they’d come so far.
He could barely hear himself, let alone his companion’s response, over the vicious, endless howl of the wind. He was blinded by the grit and stone that was flying through the air, and he growled. He had to get to the temple, even if he had to drag himself up those steps with the boy in tow. He’d been the one to set this in motion, and he would be the one to fix it.
He was certain that if he didn’t, his spirit would not be able to rest after he passed into the next world. He didn’t have many fears, but that was one of them, the product of his mother and sisters telling tales from the time he was young.
He had to right his wrongs, or he would pay for it when it was time to make peace with his death. That thought alone was nearly enough to bring him to his knees.
But then the boy coughed, splattering spots of dark blood on the stone steps.
“We need to hurry, child. I know it hurts, but we have to make it to the temple before it crumbles and is given up to the portal entirely. Strength and honor, my friend. Stay with me, now.” His voice was soft, and he doubted the boy could understand him, but the words lit a fire in his heart.
He would make it to the temple, or die in the attempt.
He cast a worried glance at the boy, and he gulped. His face was white, his bright green eyes the only spot of color in his face, his clothes torn nearly to shreds, and that damned gash still spurting blood, despite his attempts to staunch the wound. He was wracked by a coughing fit again, but he began to walk, and the pair mounted the steps.
Just a little farther…
The wind whipped his hair out of its leather thong and it spun in thick, bright strands around his face. Gathering the last of his strength, he swung the boy over his shoulder, carrying him into the cold stone temple like a sack of grain, heedless of the blood dribbling down the back of him. That didn’t matter; he had to invoke the power of the gods and stop this destruction.
If anyone deserved to die for this, it was him, and not this boy, this child, who’d yet to live. The guilt was enough to make him gag, adding to the panicked stranglehold building around his throat.
The quiet of the temple after the roaring of the storm was deafening, so much so that his ears were ringing. He could hardly see in front of him, it was so very dark, but he could just barely make out the shape of an altar at the center of the room, and he carried the boy over to it, his hands shaking so badly he could barely hold him.
They’d made it to the temple. Now he needed to try and speak to the gods.
But why, after all of these years of silence, would they speak to him now? The thought sickened him. But he had to try. For the boy, for his family, for the last scrap of honor he had left.
He took his pack off of his hip, trying to wince when the boy began to wheeze, hacking for air as if he were close to his last breaths. The explorer dug through his pack, trying to find flint and a candle. He had to hurry.
At last, he found a thick stub of a candle, the wick almost entirely spent. It was good enough for now, though. He struck the flint against the stone until it sparked and flamed, and he lit the candle. Placing it in a nearby sconce, he lifted the boy and lay his body on the altar.
“Please… I have nothing to offer you, but I humbly ask that you fix this, that you close the portal and spare this boy’s life. I’ve made mistakes, and he doesn’t deserve to die for my sins. Please.”
There was a bright light, blooming slowly like the petals of a flower, and he covered his eyes, blinded.