"Just a little further. Little further."
Lemeza leapt to the top of the pyramid and shifted his weight in time to its shaking, trying to get his bearings. He'd been in Mulbruk's chamber so often, but with the ruins collapsing all around could no longer quite remember which way to go from the top of the big pyramid. He usually walked from the Grail tablet - arriving from the Spring in the Sky side was unusual.
"This way," he said to himself, picking a direction and dropping down. "-Not this way!"
No, it would be all right. Just a wrong turn. He'd work his way back up and jump again. He'd-
Lemeza shied into a sideways leap and covered his neck as a piece of the ceiling came loose and crashed down where he'd been; turning back to look chilled his blood. He'd dodged into an alcove in the wall to avoid being crushed, and the great stone chunk from the roof now held him trapped. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds, and let it out.
Deep breath. Held it. Let it out.
He slipped on the magic gloves he'd found in the Spring and pushed. The stone shifted back a few inches, but would budge no further. A running start did him no better.
Lemeza swallowed. In, out - too fast. Calm down. Inhale. Hold. Exhale.
In. Hold. Out.
The professor swung his pack off to dig through it. No bombs, he knew - he'd used the last of them fighting Mother's soul. In quarters this close he'd probably be caught in the blast even with the shield, anyway. He already knew the Grail was broken, as well. It had cracked and lost its power when he'd filled it full of spilled medicine from the Vessel and thrown it at Mother's face. And as powerfully as they shredded flesh, he doubted chakrams or shuriken would budge the stone in front of the alcove.
In. Hold. Out.
Lemeza set his pack aside and drew the sword with its glowing gem. He wedged the blade in the crack where the stone met the wall and set about trying it as a lever.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid."
Lemeza rammed the ceiling stone with his shoulder once again. For some time it had been doing more damage to his shoulder than either the stone or its position, but for some time he'd been desperate. The Aegis Shield lay discarded by his pack - he'd tried it for a few minutes before tossing it aside in favour of using his full weight.
"Amateur. Damn rank amateur mistake."
He wasn't entirely conscious of what languages he was using to mutter to himself in at that point: fluent in two and passing in several others, words come to mind and passed out his mouth as they pleased. It all made equal sense to him. Again he rammed the stone, again it didn't budge, and this time his shoulder finally gave up on him. Teeth grinding, he slid down to a kneel against the stone, right hand over his left shoulder. The entire arm felt dead.
The rest of me's going to follow.
Something deep and furious rebelled at the thought - he glared up the stone and hissed to himself, or to no one, or to Mother's dead soul: "Not here. Not like this. Not me."
Lemeza rose, backed up to the alcove's rear wall, put his bruised shoulder forward again, and charged. Not two steps later, the floor shifted, sweeping his feet out from under him. With the dead arm, he missed catching himself and landed headfirst, knocked silly, pitched into a hapless tumble into his things. The particular ceiling stone he'd been fighting rolled away, only for gravity to bring down an even larger chunk to reseal the alcove.
Time passed as he returned to consciousness. The rumbles and crashes got quiet, grew loud, quieted again. Whether it was varying distance or his head still clearing, Lemeza couldn't say. It was dark: though something glowed faintly somewhere behind his head, his electric lantern's light was out, from the feel of it crushed underhip when he'd fallen. Presently he let out a bitter laugh.
"That's the way, right?" He made an effort to sit up and failed. "That's the way."
He listened to the rumbling outside for some time. It really is getting quieter now, he decided, and passed out again.
Lemeza's limbs, with the exception of his left arm, twitched. "C'mon. Up. You can do it." The rest of him didn't seem to agree with his voice.
Eventually, slowly, he dragged himself up one-handed, and sat gasping for air like a fishman. The percussion of falling stonework, falling god flesh, had ceased, leaving him with nothing but himself to listen to. Focus. He loosely wrapped his working arm around his knees.
"Hope you ran," he slurred. Mulbruk, those Philosophers, hell, even Shawn. He hoped they'd all made it to the surface in time. Elder Xelpud, too. No, wait - he was already at the surface. Wasn't he? Lemeza squinted at nothing in particular, concentrating harder on his breathing. His thoughts, like the air, were as thick as stew, but something clear came to him after a little: Air's running out. I'll suffocate if this doesn't collapse.
He groaned through his teeth. In, out. Slow down. In. Hold. Out.
That's the way. God killers don't get happy endings, do they? But I saved humanity.
His head felt light. He swayed a little, then shifted position, leaning in a corner with his eyes screwed shut. I wonder if Shawn will tell the truth about what happened. I doubt it. In. Hold. Out on another groan. At least he left me a lifeline, I guess. I can't think of who else could have left that rope in Mother's shrine.
Lemeza sat for five inhale-hold-exhale cycles. I wonder if he'll miss me. He opened his eyes, staring dully into the darkness. I wonder if anyone will.
Ten cycles passed. Eleven.
Addressing the wall, he whispered, "This your revenge?" In. Hold. Out. "Las'... las' counner'tack." More like getting smacked in the face by her death throes, really. In. Hold. Swallow - out, out shuddering, back in much too fast. In spite of himself and all his training, he was starting to gasp again.
Maybe they'll dig me up one day. People are going to come back to the site. Won't that be something. Archaeologist bones in a museum.
Lemeza had finally given up on trying to control his breathing.
He lolled his head toward his fallen-over pack. The open, hibernating Super X was sticking out, the Treasure of Life resting ahead of it. It gradually dawned through his mind's fog that the little artefact was the light source he hadn't been able to place before; it had been too weak a glow to see even with his lantern dimmed, but was now bright enough as the only light in total darkness. Some thoughts swam lazily into each other as he gazed at it. It was another few minutes before he acted on them. He stretched out to the computer, missed it twice, and finally collapsed forward, on top of Mother's last treasure.
I don't want to die listening to myself like this.
Scrabbling, he dragged the Super X out of the pack and righted it, whereupon he spent several minutes struggling to launch a music player. The light of the screen wasn't enough to see the keyboard by and barely enough to see the mouse pad, and his one usable hand was tremoring. The spots in his vision weren't helping, either. Still, he at last got something playing: his MSX playlist. His playlist, songs he'd ripped himself. Lemeza hummed feebly along between breaths, head down.
I don't want to die here. I want to go home.
At length, he rolled to his left side, facing the laptop. Feeling for and grabbing the Treasure of Life in his good hand used the last of his strength.
I don't want to die.
The music continued without him.
"So what's this you got with your allowance this time?"
"It's a new game, Grandpa! Look, look. You're this knight, see? But you go here and - see, you can be a goddess, too!"
"Haha... isn't that something. What are they doing?"
"A wizard took over their castle, and stole their baby from heaven! Their future baby. So they're trying to save it."
"Goodness, me. Well, I guess I know where I can find you after studies and training, eh?"
Lemeza laughed. His grandfather gave him a one-armed hug and laughed with him.
Lemeza wheezed out a weak chuckle. His eyes rolled over the darkness of his tomb, for all that he wouldn't have seen it even with a decent light. He squeezed the teardrop treasure and felt his grandfather's hand squeezing back.