The Heretic – Snippet 02
He’d watched an afternoon feeding and seen the creatures swallow chunks of meat as big as barrels without once chewing. In the River, the creatures made their grisly living on fish and weak land creatures. In Garangipore, he’d seen one bring down a young herbidak that visited the river banks to graze. Carnadons also didn’t mind feasting on the occasional villager when they got the chance — a fact which his mother had never let him forget.
I won’t forget, Mamma.
“Teeth all snapping, tails all whapping, try to bite me if you can!”
Even though Abel was only six, he knew that the stone from which the stelae were made was not local. It was rock from the desert wastes beyond the River, the Redlands. Here in the valley, the natural stone was always black or dark brown like river mud unless you dug a hole very deep. You never saw buildings made of stone like this in Lindron, the city where Abel had lived for the past year, and the city where his mother had died. But here in Hestinga, near the Valley Escarpment, there were official buildings and even a few houses made from the red stone.
“You can’t catch me, I’m the Carnadon Man!”
Abel completed his second circuit of the storehouse yard and sprang down. He took the landing with bended knees and rolled as his father had taught him Scouts did when jumping from a rooftop or a cliff. He came up facing the door to the building the stones circled. It had the look of some kind of storehouse, maybe an old granary. The structure was made of the same Redlands stone as the stelae, but the door was of thick-plaited river cane and looked solid, many layers thick. A pile of windblown sand had built up at its base. There were no hinges on the door that Abel could see.
Maybe it swings inside to out, Abel thought. Or maybe it slides to the side into an opening. That would be interesting to see.
Abel had always been good at picturing sizes and arrangements of things in the world, and figuring out how things moved or might look on the other side just by thinking about them. He’d been surprised to find that not everybody could do this, not even some adults.
On the right side of the matted door was a metal plate with a long piece of flat, dark metal emerging from it. Abel moved closer and saw that the flat piece was the shaft of a key. It was sticking out of a keyhole.
Abel had seen metal locks like this before in Lindron on the very old buildings, but this was the first he’d come across in the week they’d lived here in Hestinga. He’d been interested enough to ask his father how locks worked, and his father had demonstrated a wooden version on a small reed chest in his office that held his military credentials and the jade insectoid scarab he used to set a wax seal on official documents.
This key is larger. It’s huge.
Abel approached it warily. It was at about eye-height to him. He reached up, touched it.
Cold metal. Old metal.
It was made of steel, not iron, and was perfectly smooth. He ran a finger along its edge. It had the fine-cut profile of nishterlaub, a holy metal item from the Chaos Times, the nightmare days before the Law had been revealed to the priests by Zentrum, and the priests brought peace to the Land. Abel knew what to do if he found nishterlaub. Don’t touch. Tell a priest.
But the storehouse was in the midst of the Treville District temple compound. Everyone obviously knew about it. This nishterlaub had been collected by the priests themselves. So what could it hurt to —
Before Abel quite realized what he was doing, he turned the key.
The lock was well-oiled and offered no resistance. Turning the key caused a plate on the door to pop out from its recess by a finger span to reveal a small pulling ring.
Never saw anything like that before.
In fact, the lock seemed as complicated as the most complex thing Abel knew: the firing mechanism on his father’s musket. Abel had seen plenty of those. He was the son of a soldier, after all. But complicated or not, with a musket what it finally came down to was pulling the trigger.
So just pull it. See what happens.
Abel grasped the ring and leaned backward. The door didn’t budge.
The sand. The build-up at the base of the door was keeping it in place. Abel swept it away with the sole of his sandal.
He tried again, this time throwing all his might into the effort. The door moved, swung outward an arm’s length. Abel stumbled back a step as a whoosh of musty air escaped. It set him to coughing.
After he recovered, Abel glanced inside. Dark, but some light got in through window slits set in row around all four walls. Still, pretty scary in there. Abel stepped away, glanced around the storehouse yard.
There wasn’t much by way of a weapon to carry along with him, not even a stick. There was a stone, a black rock from here in the Valley sitting not far away that, upon further examination, Abel figured must have been intended as a doorstop.
It was all he could do to pick it up with both hands and carry it next to his belly, but any weapon was better than nothing. So armed, he returned to the door and slipped inside the storehouse.
The air inside was cool and stale. He looked up and saw that the window slits near the ceiling were covered with actual glass. Glass was not considered nishterlaub, but it was something you could only find and were not allowed to make, so windows were rare in the Land. Windows were for priests and high officials. Windows were for keeping out rain and wind from important places.