Feldspar and Gypsum were identical twins. They had been raised together and lived together their whole lives. No surprise, then, that, though many miles separated them, they awoke at the same time.
But Feldspar was able to eat breakfast. Gypsum only wished he could. But there was nothing he could do about it, and he admitted that it was his own fault. He donned his armor and tested the air with his nose and ears but detected no nearby enemies. He emerged cautiously from the shallow cave and looked around. There was no sign of the residents of Old City.
He looked around to verify his route, then headed away from his sleeping place, and Old City, at a casual jog. He skirted the perimeter of the city and headed for the river. It would lengthen his return trip, but he needed water. And there was a chance he might find something to kill and eat.
Meanwhile, Feldspar, Topaz, and the rest of the concerned individuals resumed their vigil at the top of the hill, scanning the area for any sign of Gypsum. Topaz became more and more agitated as the hours passed and still her potential future mate made no appearance. Beryl tried to comfort her sister while also remaining close to Feldspar. The other two adult males remained passive.
After Gypsum reached the river he shed his armor and immersed himself in the cool water. He had maintained alertness and managed to snag a medium-sized fish. He ate it raw, reluctantly, but had no means to start a fire.
He looked back to the place he exited Old City. There was no real worry about pursuit. He moved his vision across the extent of the city. To his left the expanse of Old City obliterated New City and the hill that was, from this angle, to the right.
He had a sudden idea. It would be necessary to skirt the Old City anyway, and veer off to the right. Why not go a little farther and come up on his brother and the rest from behind? If they happen to see him before he got out of sight, he would not admit his intention. But if they did not see him, he could have a good laugh when he startled them from behind.
His decision made, he arranged his armor to be carried on his back and shoulders and set out to spring a surprise on, especially, Topaz.
He failed to consider what her reaction might be.
Live and learn.
There was no sight or sound of enemies as he emerged from the stairway. He took two steps forward and posed on a flat rock. He sheathed his sword as he looked around. He was in a part of Old City not visible from the hilltop near New City.
The rugged faces of the mountain cliffs were behind him, sporting crude structures at the mouths of caves. Tiny fires smoldered in some of them. A flat-domed structure stood in front of him, decorated with a string of small baubles and sporting an irregular chimney structure.
A good distance away to his left were more chimneys. But these irregular structures had white smoke issuing from them. Between those and the mountains were more spires like the one he'd climbed and decorated.
To his right, as he stood upon the flat rock, was a clear pathway leading out of the city.
Gypsum gave a snarl of satisfaction, his torch held at shoulder height in his right hand; then he turned sharply and silently made his way toward the exit that offered a clear escape from the old and unlovely ancient city.
He had many miles to travel to reach New City. He would have to skirt the perimeter of Old City and do it cautiously to avoid any residents of the city.
Plus, he was hungry and getting hungrier every minute. There was no rule that he needed to return by the end of the day, and night would be soon upon him.
After working his way through the piles of rubble that cluttered the exit avenue, he headed straight away from the city and then veered away from his destination and toward the foot of the low mountains. He hoped to find a cave or at least some kind of concealed place to sleep.
He kept his senses alert for anything that might serve as food.
He was disappointed.
But he did find a small cave.
It was little more than a shallow hole in the rocky face of the cliff. But it allowed him to sleep out of sight of any casual passerby and it offered shelter from the wind that seemed to always pick up in the evenings.
There were a few trees in the vicinity. Gypsum tore off a thin branch with plenty of leaves and then walked back to where he exited the city.
He used the leafy branch as a broom and swept away his footprints. It was a tedious chore, backing up the entire distance to the cave while sweeping the ground behind him. But he felt it worthwhile. If any patrols should come looking for him, or just on random patrol, they would have no clue that he had passed this way. He would be able to sleep without being on high alert.
He shed his armor for the sake of comfort and quiet, growled his displeasure at the hunger pains he felt, and went to sleep. His last thought was a hope that Topaz would not worry too much.
But Topaz did worry. She had kept faithful vigil atop the hill with Feldspar and Beryl. When hours passed with no sign of Gypsum, all but Feldspar and Topaz sadly left the hill and returned to their homes. After darkness was the dominant theme, Feldspar insisted that Topaz return to her home and they would begin again their watching in the morning. She reluctantly went, taking hope in Feldspar's assurances that his brother would return on the next day, and relatively unscathed.
Pulling the door open with his left hand while it still clutched the torch would have resulted in burns if not for the armor over his hands and forearms.
The opened door revealed a passageway, darker than any moonless night Gypsum had ever experienced. It also smelled of stale air long undisturbed. His muzzle wrinkled in an expression of distaste.
Before entering he took one of the unlit torches from a wall sconce and tucked it into his now empty scabbard. With sword and lit torch in hand he proceeded through the passage as swiftly as caution allowed. The ceiling of the passage was high enough to accommodate him without the need to make himself shorter by bending or crouching. It was also wide enough that he and his brother could have walked abreast without either brushing the walls.
The passage descended gradually and after ten minutes Gypsum realized that he was passing under other buildings in the city. His sense of direction also told him that he was heading away from New City and toward the cliffs and mines. He would have preferred some other direction, but his preferences were of no matter.
Besides, he was exploring an area that had not seen visitors in years—perhaps centuries. The dust on the stone floor of the passage had not been disturbed for a very long time. A glance behind him confirmed that his own travel left clear footprints and even a haze as the dust resettled. With the evidence of this tunnel being long deserted, plus the complete lack of sound or smell to indicate danger, he took the spare torch from the scabbard and resettled his sword there. The torch was much lighter.
It was over half an hour before the passageway offered any break from its monotony. At the same time the torch he carried began to sputter and die. He used it to light the extra he'd brought and he left the expired one on the floor against a wall.
His stomach reminded him again that he had not eaten in too long. He growled a wordless expression of discontent and continued forward to where a faint light source awaited.
He found that the tunnel ended in a closed door. Plus, there were also doors in the wall on each side. He had three exits to choose from.
With a shrug he chose the one on the left and attempted to push it open. He was not successful. He tried to pull, but it was obvious that the door opened only forward. He pushed hard against it with his shoulder and it gave an inch or two. He could tell from the sounds of scraping on the other side and the smell that the door was blocked by rubble. Apparently the old building there had collapsed.
He had a moment to worry that the other two doors would be similarly blocked; he shrugged and tried the door on the right. It opened with only a little difficulty into another empty room as dark as the tunnel.
Before exploring further he closed that door and tried the one that opened in the direction he had been traveling. This one offered some promise since a very faint light shone around the imperfect seams of the door.
That one revealed a stairway, and at the top of the stairs was a source of light. He drew his sword, clutched the torch in his left hand, and climbed slowly and silently up the stairs.
What he encountered at the top surprised him a little and pleased him even more.
As Gypsum began his careful descent of the spire he discovered a pleasant surprise: a trapdoor entrance on the roof! He had not noticed it earlier because his vision was focused upward. But looking down, he could see the square door squeezed into the small space beside the base of the spire.
There was very little room around the base of the spire, and none of it was horizontal. The trapdoor had been constructed into the slanted roof. Gypsum needed to anchor himself from sliding down the roof and off while working to open the door.
Before he risked a descent through the trapdoor, Gypsum surveyed the ground at the base of the building. It did not look good. He could see at least six citizens of Old City silently staring up at him.
There was not a friendly face in sight. Gypsum comforted himself a little by reflecting that Riotori faces did not tend to look friendly even among friends.
He shrugged and eased himself down through the door feet first.
Feldspar and the other watchers on the hill were almost shocked to see him simply vanish from the rooftop. Topaz gave a brief cry of despair as Gypsum literally dropped from sight.
That was the last they would see of him that day or night.
He found what he had hoped for, and expected. A metal ladder descended from the trapdoor. He did not for a second trust the rungs. He clutched the vertical stringers firmly with both hands at all times.
He was delightfully surprised when the rungs proved reliable all the way to the bottom. He was glad he'd kept the door open. There was no other source of light, and that source was fading with the coming of evening.
Fortune smiled on him again, and more than once. At hand at the bottom of the metal ladder was a torch in a sconce. Next to the sconce was a tinder box and flints.
Two minutes after his feet settled on the floor of the building, he had a lighted torch in his hand.
The room was sparsely furnished with chairs and a table and additional torches along the wall. And to his right as he looked into the room there was a doorway. It was not the door to the outside he'd seen when he circled the building.
He strode across the room and gripped the latch handle with his left hand. His right hand drew his sword, and he opened the door...
The story: This serial is about the "mascot" shown at the top of these pages. There are actually two of them, identical twins, Feldspar and Gypsum.