Buried Alive

by April on July 10, 2012

The stifling sound of silence surrounded me once the last thud of dirt dropped onto my coffin. Burial box. Sarcophagus. Whatever. I’m not sure what the ancients called this thing, but all that matters is that it had been used to bury dead people. Several times, actually, according to the records. The good news was all of them had stayed that way. Dead, I mean.

That’s what might make this work.

I have to admit being buried alive isn’t my favorite thing, even though I’d volunteered for the job myself. Well, sort of. Did I forget to mention I have screaming claustrophobia? The kind that would deplete the oxygen left in my burial box? Not that I’d ever mentioned that to the beautiful lady who’d put me here. Image and all that.

That reminded me. Don’t pant, I told myself. It’s not dignified. I’ll fix this, and she’ll come back to me like she always promised she would. Even though she doesn’t remember that now. I twisted the old wooden ring around on my finger. We’d given each other promise rings when we were young and naïve. That was before she’d messed with spells she shouldn’t have. Now she was a sorceress with no memory of what had come before.

Then I laughed at myself. Promises, hah! Who can believe a sorceress’s promise? Then I shrugged. I suppose that doesn’t matter here, though. I twisted my ring around again, the motion familiar and comforting, and I nodded in the close confines of the box. Getting myself stuck here was the right thing to do. Years of meticulous research had led to this moment. Somehow, I would find the crystal immortalizing two unicorn tears in my hour of greatest need. Either that, or I’d die.

Once so common and found in every sarcophagus ever created, the unicorn tears powering the oxygen spells embedded in protective crystal had quickly been used for other magical purposes once the unicorns fled. Saving people who woke up from death was no longer a high priority, I suppose.

But that’s ancient history. Right now I had to worry about living. After all, running out of air should trigger the release of the crystal, with the proper runic words, of course. That ought to qualify as my hour of greatest need. After all, that’s what the crystals were for.

My dear, evil sorceress thinks she’s using me as a guinea pig to get at those unicorn tears for a special, nefarious purpose all her own. Knowing this new Elliana, she was probably planning a coup or something. But I have other plans for the unicorn tear magic if I can survive long enough.

The air in my narrow prison grew warm and moist, something I tried hard not to think about. Anyway, if all else failed, I still had the string attached to my wrist. A most sturdy string of woven hemp that I’d made last night when I couldn’t sleep. It ran through a miniscule hole in the heavy stone over my face and from there wound its way through the dirt up to a bell above ground.  I’d tied that knot securely myself.

By tugging on it three times I could end this deadly experiment anytime. Just to prove to myself that I could, I raised my right wrist in front of my face and listened for the faint chiming of a bell. After all, I couldn’t be buried that deep.

But my wrist encountered no resistance. My lips tightened and thinned, as if that would trap those traitorous breaths from leaving my body and polluting the little air left.

Maybe I had made the string longer than I’d thought. I wriggled my other hand up on top of my body and pulled on the string. More came through, along with a sprinkling of dirt. I pulled again and again till my hours of hard work lay in a tangle on my churning stomach.

I couldn’t afford to do any of those things one might be tempted to do right now. The stench of urine, feces, or vomit would no doubt raise my heart rate, something I was trying desperately to avoid.

Yes, at this point I can now officially say I’m desperate. The sorceress, Elliana, standing above me was no doubt laughing at my gullibility, my belief that she’d let me have a backup way out of here. I could picture her cutting the string with that sharp belt knife of hers. She was probably laughing and admonishing me from a distance, saying that I should know I wouldn’t be truly desperate unless I could actually die.

That may be true, and needed for the spell to work, but I don’t have to like it.

Just let her laugh because I didn’t tell her all of my secrets, either. A scholar has to have a few. Why else would we pour over books night and day, stooping our shoulders and ruining our eyesight in the flickering candlelight?

Focus, I commanded myself. I could deal with Elliana and her schemes later. Right now I had to find the pattern of words and pushes to trigger the magic for my escape, hopefully with the crystal. I’m not so naive as to jump into all this without a completely hidden escape route. As much as I love Elliana, she can’t be trusted right now the way she is, polluted with that evil magic she so foolishly experimented with.

My hands scrabbled against the box’s stone walls till I found two small indentations. Irregular indentations the size of small runes. I avoided breathing a sigh of relief, as much as I wanted to. The air already felt stale in here.

When my fingers finished tracing over those indentions, the rumbling sound of boulders grinding against each other nearly deafened me. Perfect. Elliana couldn’t magically eavesdrop on what I was about to say. I smiled for the first time since getting myself into this mess and blessed the ancients for their paranoid desire to protect their sacred language. Now for the tough part. I traced my fingers along the runes on my right side till I found the one signaling deepest despair. I didn’t laugh when my right hand traced the runes signaling the dungeon of doom. As dramatic as those were, at least together I should be able to combine them to get air while I figured the rest of this out.

I spoke out loud for the first time, saying the hidden meanings of these runes. I’m afraid I can’t repeat those meanings here. Vows of secrecy, and all that. But suffice it to say, their hidden meanings are much different and more complex than their visual counterparts. If I’d chosen a pleasant place, like a garden, I might have actually ended up in a dungeon. Which I would have done if I hadn’t cracked that clever code in the book I’d pilfered from Elliana.

The grinding stone sound stopped. It wasn’t needed anymore to block Elliana from horning in on my amateur attempt at magic.

“It is done.” I spoke the formal words with not a note of triumph in my voice. Hopefully Elliana thought I was near death, not near an escape that would baffle her and her nauseating minions. A minute passed, then two, and I began to wonder if I’d done something wrong. Perhaps I’d mispronounced a syllable or two? My hands clenched into tight balls. I couldn’t try again. Who knew what would happen if I started a second magical escape attempt while the first one was in progress?

Just as I began to wonder if I actually was going to die, the bottom of my coffin dropped out from under me, and I spilled down a slippery tunnel of not quite even stones. Too many bruises to count dampened my triumph, but only just.

That stone tunnel hadn’t existed moments before. I loved runic magic. Elliana was going to be furious when she found me missing. A spontaneous laugh burst out of me at the thought. Then I took stock of my surroundings with the help of the new glowing crystal hanging from a chain around my neck. Perfect. I grinned and squelched the shout of triumph beginning deep within me. That would warn her through the listening spell she’d almost certainly placed on me.

My eyes adjusted to the bright light, and I took in this supposed dungeon of doom. What would I find? A lost library of incredibly rare knowledge would be excellent. What I actually saw made me take a step or two back till I hit the wall behind me. A wall? My fingers scratched against hard stone struggling in vain to find the open air of the tunnel I’d just come down.

This was not good. Had I mispronounced a runic syllable? Why else would I not be taken to my opposite of the dungeon of despair, like I’d specified?

Something went wrong, in any case, since I’m pretty sure a hidden library wouldn’t be harboring a bunch of dead bodies.

I’m not sure which would be worse, strangling on bad air like them or dying of hunger and thirst amidst an extraordinarily large pile of skeletons. Human skeletons. This time a sigh did escape me.

To avoid crunching stray bones under foot, I tip-toed around my new prison. Damp, crumbling stone, all of it, with no way out. I clasped the crystal hanging around my neck. At least I was the only one of these poor fellows with a crystal. That was encouraging.

I sat down and tried to ignore the fact I urgently needed to relieve myself of all the extra water I’d drank that morning. During that miserable moment, Elliana’s laughing voice came from somewhere I couldn’t see.

“I’m so glad you chose the dungeon, my dear scribe. It’s always lovely to see an excellently crafted book fool a prodigious scholar like yourself.”

She thought I was prodigious? Despite what she’d just done, a flush of warmth ran through me at that though, a remnant of times long gone. That wasn’t helping me, though.

So I didn’t bother responding. Since I hadn’t ended up in a repository of lost knowledge like I’d hoped, what she said was likely true. Were the clean bones piled up around me fellow scribes who had fallen for tales of lost knowledge desperately needed to save the kingdom? Perhaps I should have asked exactly what we were saving the kingdom from instead of jumping at the chance to find one of the near legendary crystals.

I looked around again. Hmmm. Clean bones.

Did she think I was stupid? Here I sat in an entirely closed room with no air source and dead bodies completely decomposed except for skeletons in excellent condition.

Obviously, I hadn’t left the burial box after all. This must be a magically induced hallucination designed to make me think I had escaped in order to let my real air run out before I attempted to use the crystal. Then the sorceress would dig up my body and claim the unused crystal for her own.

It was a nice try, I’ll give her that. But I’m not about to let her pervert this cleansing crystal to whatever sinister purpose she has in mind.

No more time for delaying. I had the crystal, now I had to use it. I closed my eyes and focused on my desperate need for far more than clean air. I smiled when purified, cool air touched my chest where the crystal lay. My real environment, the sarcophagus, reappeared.

This next part wouldn’t be so pleasant.

With one barked word in the secret language I’ve sworn to never reveal, the rest of the crystal’s purifying powers were turned on as high as a raging bonfire. Elliana and I were magically linked through her spying spell, but if I wanted to cleanse the evil magic’s taint from her, I would have to let it run through me first.

Heat spread through me and burst out of every pore. My eyes clamped shut against the scalding light and I groaned. This much pain I hadn’t expected. It ran through every nerve, every part of my body, and I struggled to turn on my side, to force up the coffin’s lid so I could curl up into a tiny quivering ball of goo. The lid didn’t budge.

My only coherent thought in this raging sea of agony was a question: would Elliana’s magic be purified as well? And would she remember me, remember us?

The pain slowly passed and the darkness of the burial box closed in on me. I didn’t worry about that, though, with the weight of the crystal on my chest. It should work for some time yet. My unfortunate problem now was how much I needed a good outhouse. Whatever came next, I wanted to meet it with dignity.

Far too much time passed before shovels clanged against the stone above my head, but at least I couldn’t hear an evil sorceress screaming orders through the tiny hole I’d threaded my useless hemp string through.

When the heavy lid was raised off me, I blinked into the bright, dusty sunlight. “Elliana?” I croaked, my throat hoarse from earlier screams.

“Waldor!” She held shaking arms out to me, and joy replaced the lingering echoes of agony running through me. “You came so close to failing. I almost lost you.” She gazed off into the distance for a moment while I hobbled out and wrapped my own shaky arms around her. “I remember it all, now. The magic twisted me into its own creature. It was desperate for power. What it could have done with those unicorn tears….” Her delicate body gave a shudder of horror against mine.

She was right. It had been so close, too close. For so many years she’d been lost to me. The disdainful sorceress looking down on the lowly scribe with no memory of what we’d been to each other before.

“Next time, I’ll translate the spells, agreed?” If I tried to put a ban on magical experimentation, I just might push her into evilness again myself.

She laughed her joy into my ear. “Deal. And next time, I’ll rescue you.”

I grinned. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

The End

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