Twenty3: Aubade – Swancon 23 Progress Report 4

Transcribed by Elaine Walker – the actual author of the work not given, later research determined that it was Grant Watson. Fiction snippet on conspiracy theme.

They arrived with the rising of the sun, dark silhouettes rowing before the spreading orange stain of dawn. Muscled arms pushed the oars through the water, the boat rising and falling on the crest of each wave. An ocean breathing. The soldiers wore white loincloths and tunics, stained with seaspray and marks of physical labour. Their heads were shaved.
From the rear of the reed boat, cold black eyes surveyed the growing horizon.
It spread like an approaching shadow, the dark lines of the coastline forming as the boat sailed closer. Sepat’s eyes moved from one end of the world to the other. Back again. This was the chosen shore. He glanced down. In the base of the boat, the stone casket seethed, immobile and silent.
He knew it was watching him.
Sepat wrapped his cloak around himself tightly and, with a shiver, returned to watching the land that grew relentlessly near.

They pulled the boat ashore before attempting to lift out the casket.
Sepat commanded the soldiers as they used thick ropes to drag the stone coffin onto the beach. It almost upturned the boat as it pitched over the side, smashing heavily into the wet sand below. From here, the soldiers hauled as one, the casket leaving a deep trail engraved into the beach behind it. Behind them, their captain barked orders and commands with a fierce determination.
As the casket slowly travelled uphill, Sepat surveyed the opposite horizon, where the chopping waves the ocean met the sky. He breathed deeply, dark eyes blinking very slowly before turning to watch the soldiers work.
There was a sudden series of shouts and warnings, and Sepat hitched up the bottom of his robes to run up the beach to discover what had gone wrong.
Over the brink of the rocks, the men scrambled desperately around the casket, heaving in panicked unison to lift the stone monument off the ground. Craning his neck to see, Sepat realised that a man had become trapped underneath the casket. It was dragged away, revealing the soldier’s bloody, mangled body crushed into the rock. Thick pools of red fluid were already growing around his shoulders and head.
Numerous eyes turned to watch Sepat’s reaction.
Sepat frowned for a moment. ‘Continue up to the cavern,’ he commanded, and strolled back downhill to watch the sea.

A rumbling groan echoed from horizon to horizon.
Sepat looked up. Above him, the clouds were spiralling to a central point. His brow furrowed with concern as he glanced back down to earth. The rising sun was darkening, spilling rich violet light onto the tops of the hills. With growing concern, Sepat mounted the rocks and progressed beyond the nearby hollow. Soldiers surrounded a cave entrance, the casket lying between them. Another groan split the landscape in two.
The captain moved past the casket, advancing into the cave. Beside him, the casket seemed to echo, very slightly. Sepat’s eyes narrowed. There. On the side, where the seals held the lid firmly in place. Through a thin crack, a feeble white light had broken through.
Something had broken through.
Sepat was unsure if he shouted first or if he was already running as he called. Calling for the captain to stop. Don’t go near the casket. Don’t go near. Don’t. As he sprinted forth he watched. The captain leaned down. He brushed his hand. By accident. He brushed his hand against the casket. Against its cool, metallic surface.
The shockwave knocked Sepat down as if he had been punched in the chest. He stumbled to his knees, eyes closed, hands flailing. The casket lit up with the light of a thousand suns. Eyes closed, hands in front of his face and he could still see the captain’s silhouette as the energy rippled out with a scream of power.
There was a rumbling in the hills. Tides of dust rolling down the rocks. A cascade of dead fish billowed to the ocean’s surface for a mile in all directions. Sepat rolled onto his back, opening his eyes. Between the whorls of white and purple, he could see the clouds spiralling. Faster and faster and faster. Out of control.
The casket was alone. The captain has vanished.
Around him, his warriors were wailing. Sepat wiped a thin line of blood from each ear and slowly advanced to the caves. A hot wind buffeted him as he walked, spreading his cloak behind him like angel wings. The sky rumbled dangerously as the first spots of rain fell on his face. Behind him, the soldiers were too afraid to follow. Sepat was not even sure if they would wait for him to return or flee from the beach straight away.
He reached the mouth of the caves, standing in bold defiance above the artifact. The casket whispered to itself. Ice was forming on its surface while the sand beneath turned to glass.
Sepat ripped the amulet from his neck, holding it like a talisman before him. The sky was pierced with a million lightning bolts, stretching like fingers from earth to the heavens. Electrical fire exploded from the casket, stretching like angry gods around the amulet, stretching out to Sepat’s hand and arm and shoulder. He bit his lip open in an attempt to stop screaming.
There was a roar like an angry beast, and the surface of the casket shuddered from some internal impact. Sepat shielded his eyes the best he could, advanced upon the hellish stone monolith and pushed.
The amulet welded itself to the casket’s surface instantaneously.
Screaming with pain and fear and anger, Sepat pushed against the casket. Fire consumed him. The pain only served to enrage him further. He pushed and pushed and pushed. Soon all he could see was the fiercest white light and a screaming in his mind – louder than his own. Louder than a million dying angels. He pushed with all his soul and finally, just barely, the casket teetered precariously upon the cliff edge.
Behind it, the pit stretched into an infinite darkness. Before it, Sepat’s body glowed. From beneath the casket’s surface, a roaring leonine creature surged upwards, tearing and scratching at the air.
There was a long pause, long enough to still the entire world.
Then the casket fell, energy flailing into angry tendrils, screaming horribly down into the darkness. It fell like a god from heaven, lighting the walls of the pit on fire as it went. Sepat fell to the floor, watching over the edge as the casket fell, falling further and further away.
The scream reached a terrible crescendo, and a wind hot enough to evaporate the ocean roared up and out of the tunnel.
There was a silence.
Sepat rolled onto his back, blinking slowly with a near reptilian deliberance.
Outside it was raining.
He slept.

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