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Chapter Forty-Eight

The great temple of the sun, 1880

The courtyard, so painstakingly cleared by Nagi's exertions over the course of several days, had yielded little of interest to the young men, being in its entirety free of treasures that might be lifted and easily transported. A number of statues had been found at its eastern end, massive in scale and in execution but these, being composed of stone rather than gold, had not excited Schuldig past the most cursory of glances although they had roused within Crawford's breast the urge to spend time in study and contemplation of what they might tell him of the religious persuasions of the ancients. Micah had shown some interest in them, while Farfarello, barring a taciturn statement on the futility of all faiths, had merely bent to whatever work he had been assigned. Only Nagi had attempted to show a deeper and true interest in the knowledge such massive statuary might impart but Crawford knew well that the fascination evinced by the lad had its roots not in any love of antiquarianism but in the regard in which Nagi held him. Having no time in which to persuade his friends of the value of such learning for its own sake, and being in truth as eager for different surroundings and the company of a greater number of people than his small group of friends, Crawford was content - or at least resigned - to the thought of ripping the knowledge he needed from the temple rather than persuading it little by little to relinquish its secrets to him. Accordingly, he assembled his friends before dawn, paying little attention to the piteous and theatrical yawns of Schuldig nor to the faint complaints of his friend that a man could not survive on such scant hours of embrace in the arms of Morpheus. He aligned them all with their faces to the east and awaited the moment of sunrise. The light grew ever greater, the night-time tone of the sky fading into paler and paler blue until at last the sun, so distant from the soil of Mars yet so harshly unforgiving in the fierceness of its gaze rose above the surrounding hills, and the whole courtyard was flooded with golden light.

"Hail, Helios," murmured Crawford, his avid gaze tracing where the sun would surely once have been enclosed in the massive span of an arch. "Well, let us begin," he went on, turning to his companions. He smiled to see Micah hide a yawn behind one hand and to see Schuldig and Nagi leaning one against another, their eyes closed. "Such regrettable indolence," smiled Crawford. "Why, Farfarello is the only one alert, and he has been awake for much of the night!"

"I have perfected the art of sleeping with open eyes," said Farfarello dreamily as Schuldig said, his eyes still firmly closed, "You quite wore me to exhaustion last night, Crawford, you can hardly expect me to be roused again to effort in your service so soon!"

"Nagi," said Crawford, "stop acting as a prop for Schuldig in his dotage and let us get to work." The lad at once rushed to his side, affording the young mind reader the opportunity to stagger and look more piteous yet.

"Ach!" he ejaculated. "Such cruelty from those that call themselves my friends!"

"What shall I do?" said Nagi, looking up at Crawford in eagerness.

"Let us start at the eastern end," said Crawford. "They revered the sun, that much is clear, and where better to secrete their treasures than beneath its place of first appearance?" He indicated the ground between the most massive of the statutes, saying, "Begin there. Lift up the flagstones, Nagi, and let us see what might lie beneath." He bent down then as Nagi tugged on his jacket, a look of worry on his little face. "What is it?" asked Crawford patiently.

"These stones are very heavy," whispered Nagi with worry. "Are you sure you want Micah to see that I can lift them?"

"It is perfectly all right," murmured Crawford quietly. "Has he not been a friend to us all over the past time? You have been listening to Schuldig too much, Nagi. Micah is my brother, and you may trust him."

As if every objection he might possibly have held had been swept away by the sound of Crawford's voice, Nagi stared with great concentration at the area delineated by the sweep of his older friend's hand. He stepped forward, his small face rapt and tense, as if he did not even know he moved, and stood there, his narrow frame shaking with effort as he raised his hands, slowly and carefully as if he bore - not in them but between them - a great burden. There was a terrible rending sound, as if the earth itself was moving, and Nagi's face took on an even more determined expression. Several of the largest of the immense stones that floored the courtyard shifted, groaning against their fellows that remained firmly rooted. All at once, six of them lifted from their position with a loud snapping sound and hung, mid-air, until Nagi flung wide his arms and they moved on the most precise and fixed of courses to land neatly by the walls of the courtyard. The lad wiped at the perspiration that streamed down his face, his complexion suddenly pallid. Crawford at once handed him a bottle of water.

"Drink," he ordered. "Lift them one at a time, the effort is too much for you."

"I want to be useful," said Nagi in a faint voice, and then, shyly, "I want people to see how useful I am."

"We know your worth," said Crawford quietly. "I want you to keep well, Nagi. Lift them one at a time from now on, and do not worry about such neat and precise placing of them once they have been removed from their positions." He lifted the lad's hat momentarily to pour water upon Nagi's head, thinking that the lad would gain some relief thereby. "Keep that on," he said, replacing the hat with a firm pat. "Very well," he went on. "Back to work." At once the lad smiled faintly and another of the great blocks of stone raised itself into the air. Crawford squeezed his shoulder and looked back at the others. Schuldig smiled slightly at him, while Farfarello nodded in approval at Nagi's work, clearly thinking that the destruction of temples was the best course with which to approach them. Micah watched Nagi's progress with a delighted and surprised air.

"He is very strong," said Micah to Crawford. "I hadn't realised he could lift so much with such delicate precision."

"He is very good," said Crawford with unfeigned pleasure. "He has become stronger and stronger under our tutelage."

"What he could do with specialised training," murmured Micah. "But no mind, you have trained him more than well enough!"

"When Schuldig was shot Nagi took the bullet from the wound very neatly," said Crawford. "He has needed in the past to be pushed, for he was too easily content with what he could do - though recently the difficulty has been in making sure he does not rush to the other extreme and over-exhaust himself!" Seeing that over two dozen of the blocks had been removed, he reached out and patted the boy's shoulder, saying, "A moment, Nagi. Let us see if you have uncovered anything yet." He and Nagi went forward, a look of utmost concentration again on the boy's face. "Is it solid beneath?" asked Crawford.

"I think -- I think so," said Nagi in disappointment.

"Take your time," said Crawford, keeping his own disappointment from his voice. "If you cannot feel anything, there is no shame, Nagi. Just because you can feel within a lock and open it from within does not mean that you can feel something that is not there!" He frowned, looking about him. "Still," he mused, "all the temple seems focused on this space - yet there is nothing here. Am I to believe there is only blank stone reflecting the rays of their god? They show no reticence in depictions of their deity elsewhere." He sighed. "Try again, Nagi."

Nagi sank to his knees, putting his hands flat upon the rougher stone he had revealed and closing his eyes. He knelt there, motionless, until Crawford thought the lad had quite become insensible. Then, in the faintest of voices he said in his native tongue, "There is a crack. I do not know if it is natural or not."

"Good boy," said Crawford avidly, kneeling beside him and placing a hand upon his bowed shoulders. "Here, lean against me, that's it."

"It's beneath a stone I haven't lifted," said Nagi, his voice shaking. "It's -- it feels sharp, Crawford."

"What does that mean?" asked Crawford, stroking the lad's back.

"I think I caused it," said Nagi. "I think it wasn't there before I moved the stones, it's new." He raised his head and stared at a further stone that raised itself a few inches before falling back into place. It raised itself again and fell once more.

"Are you tired?" asked Crawford.

"Yes," whispered Nagi, "but I'm able to lift the stone, it's not that I can't." He looked seriously up at Crawford, continuing, "I think I can widen the crack this way."

"Good boy," said Crawford, glad to see how Nagi redoubled his efforts at the praise.

"Ah!" ejaculated Nagi, a fierce light coming into his eyes as they narrowed with satisfaction. He clambered to his feet, pulling himself up by means of Crawford, as if his older friend were a ladder. He stepped forward, his fists clenched as the stone on which he had bent his attention raised itself and moved aside. Standing where it had rested, Nagi stared down and then, lifting a clenched fist, he punched downwards, aiming as it were an abortive blow at the ground between his feet. Dust rose as if he had in truth dealt a violent blow and then Crawford had cause to bless his foresight as he snatched Nagi to him, leaping then to the side to land on one of the great flagstones as a crack appeared from nowhere and the ground crumbled. A shard of stone spun in the air and shot to Nagi's outstretched hand. Crawford lay on his side with the boy sheltered in his arms, breathing heavily as he heard the whoops of victory from the others, all his attention, however on the prize Nagi held up to him.

"Look," said Nagi joyfully, showing him the smooth deep blue on which golden stars were figured. "It's plastered, Crawford! It's not natural - we've found it!"

* * *

The chamber in which they stood boasted a high vaulted ceiling on which was depicted in paint and inlaid precious materials the night sky in glorious array, on the walls under which the earth lay sleeping. At the eastern end of the chamber lay a raised and intricately carved platform that the young men all immediately dubbed an altar, and scattered about the floor were tables and stone chests for them to investigate. What had caused Crawford to shout aloud with pleasure, however, was the depiction of the sun journeying under the earth, beset by demons that inevitably shrank back from that celestial being's bright golden rays. His joy at such pictures and at the great inscription inlaid in gold against a background of what proved to be yellowed and aged ivory on the eastern wall was natural and unfeigned.

"The pictures are very Egyptian," agreed Schuldig in a somewhat muffled voice as he patiently submitted to Crawford's embrace. "None of us will ever again doubt you," he continued in a condescending tone. "How excited you are!" he went on in thought alone, "It makes your mind seem altogether less boring - you must endeavour to always be so excited in my company." He unwound Crawford's arm from about him, smiling at his friend's happiness.

"Is this not the mirror in ritual of the courtyard above?" said Crawford eagerly, gesturing at the walls and ceiling. "Where the ancients saw their deity clearly traversing the sky during the day, obvious to all and so requiring no idolatrous accoutrements in the place of worship, they at night must needs have had recourse to their imaginations and so have depicted the supposed adventures and travails of their god in their art. Did they carry out services of hope for the sun's daily resurrection here every night, or was this room reserved for actions of a darker, chthonic nature, I wonder?" He smiled ruefully at the laughter dancing in Schuldig's eyes. "You think me entirely too enthusiastic," he said.

"I like your enthusiasms," said Schuldig merrily. "You are always so indulgent with me during them. But restrain yourself a little, my friend, for you are quite in a state of nervous excitement and I would not have you do yourself harm."

Crawford laughed, his eyes fixed on the patch of wall illuminated by the rays of the sun that penetrated the opening they had torn in the ceiling. "You need not fear for my health, for I plan on working you to the bone, all of you! I must start recording this, Schuldig --" So saying he left his friend and went to the illuminated wall, running his hands possessively over the designs carved and painted thereon. Nagi dropped the items he had been examining and ran over to Crawford, pulling out a notebook and a pencil from his pocket as he did so. Schuldig shook his head in mock sorrow, returning to the others who stood in the middle of the chamber, looking about them in the dim light.

"We shall never tear him away from this, never," said Schuldig sadly to Farfarello. "He shall surely die here, wasted away to nothing."

"We can perhaps leave food within arm's reach so that he does not starve," said Farfarello. "Though I'm sure he will have but little appetite."

"This is what happens when one is seized by a passion in one's old age, one loses all sense of decorum and flings oneself upon the object of infatuation. His advanced age makes it inevitable," sighed Schuldig.

"Bradley and I were born within three months of each other," said Micah mildly.

"Look upon your fate and regret your misspent youth," said Schuldig evilly. "Do you too feel you must make love to the wall?"

Micah laughed and indicated Nagi, working close to Crawford and taking down things the older man said. "We shouldn't get too close, or we too will be given notebooks to fill. How that child has the patience to list everything Bradley says I do not know. His devotion is unmatched, is it not?"

"Wait till we're back in civilisation, and you'll see Schuldig running at Crawford's heels like a lap-dog seeking attention," said Farfarello cheerfully.

"What? I like that," said Schuldig in disgust. "Such slander!"

"Oh yes," continued Farfarello. "The moment Crawford has other things to concern him we shall hear "yap, yap, yap" from morning to night."

"I'm sure he is a most loving pet," said Micah, "with many charming tricks Bradley has taught him."

"If you'll excuse me, I shall lend my help to Crawford," said Schuldig in annoyance.

"Yap!" said Farfarello. "Yap, yap!" He raised an eyebrow as Schuldig did not respond, walking instead silently away. "Bah!" ejaculated Farfarello. "If he is growing up I shall have to try harder to provoke him!"

"What are you doing?" asked Schuldig, standing behind Crawford at a distance he considered safe, watching the other stretch a tape measure out across a painted scene to check the angle at which the celestial bodies were depicted.

"What I always do," said Crawford, picking up his notebook once more and not ceasing from his careful notes and drawings. "If you want to be useful you can help. There are more notebooks in my satchel."

"No, no. I shall aid you by making comments on the artistry," said Schuldig. "You know I am of an artistic bent."

"Bend yourself to my service," said Crawford. "Nagi --"

A notebook floated over to Schuldig and tapped itself against his nose. "Brat," he muttered as Nagi hid a smile. He sighed and seized it from the air. "Oh, very well," he said. "I know you always use me as you will. I may as well capitulate gracefully."

Crawford marshalled them all in working on the inscriptions that accompanied the depictions of the sun's travails every day while he, in the manner of a lover attaining at last the object of his greatest desires, busied himself with the gold and ivory text, having to be dragged away from it to eat and sleep, during which times his mind was all too clearly still occupied with the great letters of burnished gold.

"At last I see what you really love," said Schuldig one night, pulling Crawford away from the wall by force. "You are exhausted, come to bed."

"A little longer, if you please," said Crawford, trying almost to hold on to the wall with his fingertips.

"It will be here in the morning," said Schuldig, pulling harder. "Komm, Kind, you are being silly." He smiled at Crawford's irritated expression. "If you are not a good little child I shall shut your mind down and you will wake in the tent wondering how you got there."

"Don't you ever pull your nasty tricks on me," said Crawford.

"I but joked!" cried Schuldig, stung by Crawford's change of mood. "When have I ever used such things against you? Do not take your failures out on me!"

"Failures?" said Crawford angrily.

Schuldig glared at him, then sighed. "Keep your secrets, it was simply on the surface of your mind, I didn't go looking - tell me what is wrong, Crawford. Are we not partners in this?" He took Crawford's hand, saying, "If your moods turn mercurial, then I shall have to become the sensible one - surely you could not be so cruel to me?"

"I cannot read it," admitted Crawford, hanging his head. "It makes no sense, even give my scant knowledge of the Martian tongue. And when I use the key --" he held up the little gold and ivory plaque they had discovered in the priestess' tomb, "it still makes no sense. Some of the characters on the key are completely unlike any others we have seen in any text in this place. This is all nonsense to me, though I have been able to decipher other inscriptions."

"Listen to me," said Schuldig seriously. "In Egypt, though your knowledge of the language was more exact and your work easier in some ways, you did not expect all the mysteries of the place to reveal themselves at once to you. You studied, and had me read learned men's minds, and others took what you had learned and built upon it over and over till they knew enough to send us here. Take step upon step, do not feel you must do everything at once, rest and ensure your health, do not doubt that I shall be there to kill those who would try to stop you."

"Such sense, so late at night," said Crawford. "You are right, of course."

"Of course," repeated Schuldig. "Now, come and rest. Don't fear that you shall be too full of theories to sleep, I shall make sure you are completely at peace before you close your eyes. Tomorrow you shall read this out to me, with not mistakes."

"Have you become an oracle?" said Crawford, allowing himself to lean upon his friend, for he was in truth very tired.

"Yes," said Schuldig. "Right now I see that you will be asleep very soon, whether you are left here or whether you come to bed. It is my professional opinion as a soothsayer that you will have less aches and stiffness if you come and sleep under your blankets, with an amenable companion."

"Companions, surely," said Crawford, "unless the dov have eaten Nagi at last?"

"He is long since sound asleep. We would have to shout right in his ear to wake him. Can you be quiet, Herr Crawford?" said Schuldig with an impish smile. "I'd so hate to disturb his slumber."

"I can be very quiet," said Crawford, not relinquishing Schuldig's hand as he bent to retrieve his jacket.

"Why, I suspect you have become a mind reader," said Schuldig cheerfully, leading Crawford to the ladder and the courtyard above. "Let us go and be very quiet, then."

Date: 2006-04-17 08:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*happy sigh* They are all adorable. I am so full of squee. (Although it's lucky they're on Mars, or I might just be killed for that remark.)

"Let us go and be very quiet, then." -aw.

Date: 2006-04-17 03:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hee, thank you! Even badass clairvoyant assassins sometimes need someone to hold their hand and make them go to bed :-)

Date: 2006-04-18 06:44 am (UTC)
ext_14419: the mouse that wants Arthur's brain (Default)
From: [identity profile]
It may just be enlightened self-interest, but Schuldig can be so very sweet to Crawford. :)

Date: 2006-04-18 06:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hee! Well, don't tell anyone, but -- *looks around conspiratorially* -- he's rather fond of him. In a manly and heterosexual way, of course.

Date: 2006-04-17 06:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, what a wonderful end to the chapter! The group dynamic here is just wonderful; I loved all their teasing of a close-to-oblivious Crawford.

Date: 2006-04-18 03:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! Crawford needs to be teased (in Schuldig's opinion, anyway) so that he may faintly remember what it was to be young. One of these days Crawford's going to smack him for the "old man" jokes. Schuldig will like that.

Date: 2006-04-18 08:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Schuldig is still not Micah's favourite person, I see... ;-) Even Farfarello turned a bit against him (even if he didn't notice it).

But they are lovely. So eager, so Victorian and so sweet (even when planning various stages of world domination or amongst their Victorian innuendo :p).

Date: 2006-04-18 09:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Why, Micah is but joining in the general raillery! Teasing someone is a sign one likes them, after all.

For assassins, they are rather sweet, thank you :-)

Date: 2006-05-07 10:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
They found it! er... well, they've found something significant, anyway. Although I'm glad to see Schuldig is doing a good job of keeping Crawford from wearing himself down to nothing with the combined excitement and frustration of it all. Odd to think of Schuldig as the voice of reason (even if it does speak in tones of temptation), but somehow you make it work perfectly.

I am just a little uneasy about the extent of Nagi's powers which our man Micah has now witnessed, though. Just cannot bring myself to trust him, particularly now they'll soon be returning to "civilization"...

Date: 2006-05-08 10:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Curses upon my treacherous friends, for recommending an unfinished work so highly!

Still, I have cause to be grateful to them, as the Victorian manliness has quite taken over my brain. As it is utterly impossible for a woman to be unaffected by such excess, I have decided to form a passionate tendre for Schuldig.

As Nagi is quite, quite too young and innocent for me to entertain the slightest thought about him.

No doubt I shall pine away, but I shall have the satisfaction of seeing him well settled with his particular friend. Truly, all that remains for me to be utterly content is for Nagi's pet dov to eat Micah in the night.

Date: 2006-05-08 11:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hee hee! Thank you!

It's unfinished, but very much in progress, now that I have more time to myself again.

It's good that you see that Nagi's youthful innocence is too young and innocent to be besmirched, as otherwise Schuldig might have to take importunate hands off at the shoulder. Some might say this would indicate unresloved issues from his own innocent youth, Schuldig would say that the science of psychiatry has not yet developed such terminology.

Truly, all that remains for me to be utterly content is for Nagi's pet dov to eat Micah in the night.

You and Schuldig both :-)
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