Buried Treasure

Cort and Orta seek buried treasure.


1. Buried Treasure


"You call this buried?" They had been crawling, slithering, and cramming through narrow black caves and fissures for two hours and Cort was beginning to doubt Orta's information. 


"Well, we are under the earth," Orta replied as he chipped away solid rock from the edge of a particularly small aperture. "And if there is treasure down here then it's under the earth too. As in, buried." He balled up his hand and punched out a final chunk to make sure they could ease through in comfort. 


"IF?" Cort's hands were already bloody from scrambling for holds when Orta had caused a chain-reaction of landslides and the collapse of a thin crust they had been sliding along. Fortunately neither had fallen into the abyss that opened, though Cort had the impression that it was an abyss that would have been better left unbreached. Now he could feel thick strata all around them for dozens of yards. 


Orta squirmed through the opening and waited for Cort to follow before clearing his throat and answering, "Xin was a little intoxicated, sure, but he gave very good directions. He just wasn't sure when he got the directions; ten years ago....twenty...maybe a hundred years from now. Hells, he could have gotten the planet wrong. But the directions are working." Orta probed around and found it safe to stand, the first time in forty-five minutes. 


"Must be nice," Cort mused as he stood in the lightless cavern, "to hop around space and time getting bent." He probed around himself and quickly determined that the cavern, though originally made naturally, had been renovated by sentient forces. It sloped down on a constant angle that was barely imperfect for the two men and it stretched straight and true for as far as he sensed. 


"You should try it sometime," Orta commented as he began a smooth lope deeper into the earth. They glided down the cavern for another hour, slowing when they sensed an enormous chamber yawning at the end. They approached it cautiously letting their minds gather every bit of data they could. It wasn't until they reached the chambers portal that they discovered something else. 


"Unholy Abyss..." was all Orta whispered. 


"Waste!" Cort cursed. "Some treasure." 


A rush of fetid and stagnant air blasted them threatening to blow them off their feet and roll them back up the cavern. Both men knew what would come next and both reacted with the same action. With knife-hand strikes they each thrust their hands into the rock at their side, Orta to the left of the opening and Cort to the right. An instant later the earth was rattled by a tremendous BOOM and the sick blasting wind reversed and howled back down the cavern from behind them with a hundred times the force, lifting them sideways. 


Cort wasn't worried about losing his grip with his hand fully lodged in the stone up to the wrist, but the strain on his shoulder grew to a pain so intense he had to pull his senses back into himself and concentrate on the integrity of his joints and sinews. He flapped like a flag in a gale, smashing repeatedly into the unforgiving stone of the portal, his legs already inside the chamber from the knee down. 


From the back of the room a moaning wail grew and grew till Cort took his sense retrieval a step further and shut his hearing completely off. Then came another danger...the thing in the lightless chamber was seeking to pull all air from its vicinity. Cort found his breathing becoming difficult as every inhalation caused a greater difference in air pressure between his lungs and the external air. He feared that soon there would not be enough air to even take a breath. 


Suddenly he was falling through still air and slamming into the unyielding floor with his knees. He let his hearing return but decided against using energy to sense-probe. The first sound he heard was from within the depths of the chamber, and it disgusted him; some strange choking gurgle emanating from a throat that had no right to exist in the first place. He probed around Orta and found him without breeches. 


"Yeeow! Let's go," Orta shouted as he bodily forced his hand from the wall. Cort did the same and followed the half naked man at full speed. It only took them ten minutes to reach the aperture Orta had widened an hour before, and then they stopped for two minutes of breathing before scrambling and sliding and climbing ahead as fast as possible. 


They didn't speak until they were sprawled on cold, moon-kissed and moss-covered rocks outside of a small hole in a gulley where a thin rope dangled down into darkness. 


"I don't know what it was, but did it stop?" 


Orta had his eyes closed and was breathing heavily. "My pants ripped off, and I uh... Well, I got 'em fromGud'm...they were trans. And I had like, I dunno, twelve flasks of GOROG!" (he shouted the word loud enough to be heard a mile away)" in them. It took me five months to brew all that." 


"One more question, then I'd like to drop this whole subject for a year or two..." Cort rolled over onto his side and raised an eyebrow at Orta. "Have you ever heard of underpants?"

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