Prompt: photography; bodyguard betrayal
Sarchie snapped awake to see sunlight filtering through the fabric of her tent. “Oh, my moons and oceans!” She lurched up, kicking at the blankets tangled around her. She could not believe it was morning. It had felt like she would never be able to fall asleep. With her limbs still weak from sleep but her mind racing ahead, she staggered out toward the campfire.
Letro’s tent was still closed. The fire was nothing more than a few embers. Sarchie cupped her hands by the tent flap and shouted, “Let’s go! Wake up, wake up!” The whole tent rocked as big Letro got up. Sarchie bounded away again in search of something quick to eat.
Letro burst out of the tent and scanned the area for danger with faceted onyx eyes. “Trouble?” he asked in a voice made of gravel and glass. The great golem could barely speak at all; he had only been given a voice to shout warnings to his client. But he was the best bodyguard the convention could buy–strong enough to carry an oxcart with one arm and at least smart enough to not set it down on top of someone.
Sarchie pawed through the bags of provisions. “The first prints will be ready! Let’s hurry.” She crunched on a handful of dried vegetables, technically intended for reconstituted soup. “I can’t wait to see what images I got. The ruins are sure to be full of magical traces. I just can’t believe the convention finally agreed to let me study them.” She horked down another mouthful and continued to talk. “I mean, after what they said last time, I thought I would have to start requesting at other witches’ conventions or, gads, even ask the provincial government to make it a joint effort.” Sarchie took a deep breath and nearly choked on a dried corn kernel.
Letro lumbered around the campsite, putting away cooking supplies and dousing the fire and arming the alarms and booby-traps. He had his teeth closed around a fist-sized lump of turquoise, eating it like an apple. Sarchie had grown so accustomed to being told to shut up and keep her “wild imaginings” to herself that Letro’s silent companionship constituted the friendliest conversation she’d had in, well, years.
Sarchie took a buoy sack out of her pack and lashed it to the bag of food. She smashed the buoy against the ground to activate the float stones inside. Reaction started, the buoy rose away from the ground steadily, pulling the supply sack up behind it. Suspended ten feet in the air with nothing around it, their food would be safe from even the cleverest scavengers. “Right, now, let’s get moving.”
Sarchie kept talking as they hiked across a grassy hillside to the ruins. “I haven’t brought it up, because, really, I know everyone thinks I’m just crazy. But you’re not going to tell anyone, are you?” She looked up at Letro, towering over her and taking one stride for her three. He said nothing, of course, and Sarchie smiled. “I think, if we’re lucky, the memory plates won’t just show the residual vibrations of the people massacred the temple. I think we could see the people who did it. It takes some pretty strong hate to kill that many people–that doesn’t just leave a place.”
Sarchie’s toe caught on something sticking up from the ground. She stumbled and the weight of her bag of supplies threatened to dump her face-first in the grass. Then Letro’s arm caught her, hard and thick as a tree branch. Yet he set her back on her feet as gently as if she were made of glass. Sarchie patted his hand fondly. Letro might have been a golem, not really a person, but he seemed so kind and patient with her. “I know you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, and even if you did, you might not care. Most people don’t. But thank you for listening anyway.”
Sarchie looked up and realize she had tripped over a fallen column. They had reached the ruins. Sarchie caught herself holding her breath. Cracked spines and domes split open like eggshells created a heap of rubble. Sarchie could see in those bones the glory it had once been. “Who would’ve thought,” she said with a breathless laugh, “that a psychic archaeology student would be excavating something from less than fifty years ago? Let’s go check the memory plates.”
The plates, protected from interference by enchanted boxes, were stashed around the accessible parts of the ruins and surrounding grounds. Sarchie led Letro to each one and he carried the growing stack of boxes for her. When the boxes were all collected, they settled down in the grassy field, site of so much bloodshed, and examined what the plates had to show.
Sarchie placed fixing enchantments on the first plate and took it from the box. Letro stood behind her, blocking the sunlight so she could see. The plate, once flawless and milky white stone, bore etchings of shadow that emerge from within the stone itself. The etchings formed visual imprints of the residual psychic energies of the place. The first one, taken from the field and aimed at the ruins, showed nothing surprising, just the buildings as they had appeared fifty years prior. With a special quill, Sarchie labeled the bottom edge of the plate.
More plates showed scenes, tableaux of suffering and waiting and murder. Some were just faces, close-ups of the lost, some famous, others forgotten. Some, Sarchie realized, were not just the long-dead. “This–this can’t be right.” She shuffled through the plates quickly. “Did someone else visit this before me? But how could they leave such strong residuals?”
Sarchie froze as the fan of plates revealed a face far too familiar and very much alive. “The headmistress? But why?”
Two big hands closed on either side of her head. She looked up that Letro. “It was all a set-up. They knew this was the only way to silence me.” And as Letro twisted her head and broke her neck with one clean snap, Sarchie smiled because she saw quicksilver tears in his eyes. At least she had been right about Letro, her only friend even then.