The Unconquered Sun floated slowly into a maze of canyons and narrow valleys. The envelope of the Zeppelin was in tatters in many places from fore to aft, the rags flapping in the head wind. Inside Lane and Monica had crawled back out of the weapon pods returning to the bridge where captain Idris had refilled their champagne glasses and was now standing behind the large ship steering wheel directing her wounded but not beaten ship through stone labyrinth in front of them.
Monica drained her glass in one go and went to the bottle to get a refill. Lane only drank half of hers before she regained control over herself again.
"Where that also friends of yours?" Lane said.
"The helicopter guys? No. None of mine. I would say that those were actually friends of yours." she said turning towards Lane eyebrows raised.
"Friend of ours? Nooo. Monica?"
"Not that I know off. It could be. But very unlikely. How could they have found us? No one knew we were going to fly away in your ship."
"You said that you were in trouble with Khalid El Harrak." said Captain Idris.
"We were also seen by a few people who saw us walking with you to your ship." Lane said.
"Possible. But I don't think so everyone knows I don't take passengers." said Idris.
"There were people in the restaurant when you decided to take us with you." said Lane.
"You're paranoid." said Idris.
"Yeah, that's kind of her thing." said Monica. "But her paranoia is usually well founded."
"While I do have some people who'd love to see me resting forever none of them could get three combat helicopters launched on a moments notice much less without making the Moroccan military extremely angry. El Harrak that deformed dog afterbirth does have contacts to the police and the military and you told me that at least the police was also looking for you... so that would bring us back to you."
"But how could they have found us?" Lane asked.
"The only people that attacked us in the under market where Brynjar's pyjama brigade, who were after me not you. The fuckers did appear quickly but where not waiting for us at the entrance to my underground hanger. It took them a while to find us, which they did in the open desert out of line of sight to the city. This means one of you idiots is carrying around a tracking device..." captain Idris said crossing her arms and resting her case.
"But I'm paranoid?" said Lane. Monica just shrugged and nodded.
"Captain Idris," Monica said pointing behind the captain that was enjoying her moment of smugness, "there is a cliff in front of us." Idris turned around rapidly remembering that they were not flying through the open sky.
"Look for the device, break it and we'll be out of trouble." said Idris.
"Maybe during the fight with the three stooges back in the hotel?" Lane suggested. Monica made a 'could be' gesture with her head and started searching her cloths for anything that shouldn't be there. "could you check my back?" she said to Lane.
"Nothing." Lane said.
"Your turn." said Monica.
Lane patted her pockets, taking out her things. "Keys, phone, wallet nothing in my pockets." Something fell out of her wallet. A small black square thing that looked like it was made of plexiglass.
"What's that?" Monica asked pointing at the thing.
"No idea." Lane said she was trying to come up with a rational story how that thing had entered her pocket. Maybe something she put in her pocket when she was roaring drunk after the Vodka and gherkins? But that couldn't be, she had taken her wallet out after wards. Several times and there certainly hadn't been that thing there.
"Throw it out of a window and be done with it." said Captain Idris.
"OK." said Lane scratching her head.
"No. Wait." said Monica. "We should better keep it for now."
"Are you crazy?" Lane asked.
"If she insists you can throw her out of the window too." said captain Idris.
"I know where that thing comes from." Monica said.
"Really..." said Lane.
"The man who was hunted down by the Pale Man. He was running away, but he was not only running for his life he was also running away with something. That thing. When he died he put it in your pocket. I guess he hoped that maybe that way it would not come into the hands of El Harrak."
"Can't have been then. I paid for my amulet with my money from my wallet." Lane said holding up her hand showing her jade bracelet."
"It wasn't in your wallet. It fell out when you took it out of your pocket. The thing was there the whole time. At some point you pushed your wallet back into your pocket shoving what ever that is into the fold of your wallet." Monica said extending her hands out wards palms held upwards in a 'and there you have it' gesture.
"Fascinating Mrs. Holmes." said captain Idris. "Can you throw it out of the window now?"
"That would not be prudent." said Monica.
"That's not what prudent means." said Lane.
"Do you know how we say prudent in Spanish? 'Prudente'. I know very well what it means." said Monica. "Captain how well do radio signals travel here?"
"Down here in the labyrinth? Like shit." said Idris.
"As we have not been attacked again we I would guess that they are not able to locate us. We are going to land soon enough for some repairs, right." Monica said.
"I need to assess the damage, yes. Repairing the ship properly will be impossible out here but we will fix what we can."
"Which will give us enough time to find out what that thing down there is." said Monica.
"You may be right. The dead guy risked his life to get that thing out of El Harrak's hands and El Harrak in turn went through a lot of trouble to get it back." Lane said. "That also mean that we are still being followed, the moment they see that we have the thing we are probably dead."
Monica thought for a moment in silence. "You are probably right. It's what I would do. They might think that we know what it does so they will try to capture and torture us first for information we do not have."
Lane started to fidget with her phone. "So why are we keeping it? We could destroy it or at least throw it away."
"Right now," Monica said, "we are just reacting to a situation we hardly know anything about, that makes us weak. Right now there is no one attacking us, so I assume for the moment at least, that they can't detect what ever signal that thing is giving off. If I had to guess I would say the mountains are blocking the signal." Monica picked up the little square. "I would have expected some blinking lights, or something. But there is something embedded into the resin."
"Do you know what it is?" Idris asked, gently pushing the Unconquered Sun past a sharp corner leading to a a broad valley that lay mostly in shadows as the cliffs on both sides stretched towards each other leaving only a narrow opening between them.
"I have no clue. It seems to be a technical device that is able to transmit its position to those who know what to look for... Do you have a safe, captain?" Monica asked.
"Yes. Several. We can put that stupid thing into a secure lead box and put that inside of a large safe, that way we should be able to block all kinds of signals." Idris said.
"You have a lockable lead box?" Lane asked.
"Yes. Several actually."
"Why?" Lane asked."
"Because I sometimes need to transport things that are better kept sealed away and there are some business partners that I trust, but I don't trust their partners. Especially if all I have to transport is a small thing that is of course completely harmless... Let me put it this way my Geiger counter was one of the best inventions of my life."
"We will probably need that too. Just in case." said Monica.
"And I think I might have to give some courses in moral eduction..." Lane murmured.
"What was that?" asked Monica. Before Lane could come up with an excuse the captain interrupted them.
"We have reached our destination. We will be safe for the night."
"Really? How so?" said Lane turning around looking out of the bridges window.
"That in front of us is the Temple of the Hunter in Daylight." said Idris.
"Great. How does that help us?" said Lane.
"It helps us because this is a forbidden place, no one in their right mind would come here. It isn't really a temple but a prison. Built millennia ago. It is where the Hunter in Daylight is kept prisoner."
"So we can hide there and who ever is looking for us would prefer to look here last?" Lane said.
"Pretty much also the temple is very large, the Unconquered Sun can be parked inside it. It remains better hidden and all the columns and galleries inside will help us with patching up the ship.
"Cool." said Lane. "So what are we waiting for?"
"Dusk." said Idris.
"Why don't we fly in now? We could start assessing the damage faster and repair more that way. Couldn't we?"
Captain Idris turned around her eyes wide. "Are you insane?"
"Wh..." Lane attempted to say.
"It is the prison of the Hunter in: Day Light. An ancient monstrosity that relishes bright sunlight, stalking its price for all to see. If we go in there now we will not come out alive. Do you understand? The 'temple' is built to confuse it, within its walls there is a maze of light that it can't escape and at night it sleeps. So we have to wait for the night to come."
"You can't be serious." Lane said.
Captain Idris shrugged. "If you feel so sure about yourself then go have a look around inside the temple. If you come back out again I will make offerings at the altar of modern science and renounce my silly superstitious ways. Maybe after I am done fixing the incantations in the frame of vacuum bags above which would collapse without them. Come on go ahead. And take that fancy torch of yours with you in case there are some shadowy corners in the temple."
"Fine." said Lane her eyes throwing sparks.
"Really?" asked Idris with genuine surprise.
"Yes. I will take my torch and have a look." Lane said.
"Are you crazy Lane?" said Monica blanching slightly, "Didn't you hear her?"
"Yes I did and she also dissed science. Which is not going to happen on my watch." Lane said.
"Since when do you care so much about science?" Monica said.
"I always cared about sciences." Lane said. "I always read the articles about mice with ears on their backs and about the galaxies in the Hubble deep field and things like that. Just because I work in an office doesn't mean I can't be into science. You... racist."
"Racist?" Monica said. "What you say makes even less sense. Why would that make you walk into a death trap?"
"Because" Lane started pointing her finger at captain Idris, "she just said some bullshit about an ancient thing that eats people and only comes out during the day and that creature is kept in that... ruin over there."
"I still don't get the science part." Monica said.
"Just because someone tells you that something exists doesn't make it so. What I will do is take my torch, walk over there and shine it at the temple. I know that my torch changes the colour of its light. It reacts to something, that we know by now and that something might be effective. So if I shine the light at the temple and it changes its colour I will know that there is something there something strange going on there. If that is the case I will give the captain the benefit of doubt if not we will know that it's just a legend and just fly in saving giving us a significant amount of extra hours. What do you say to that."
"What if your torch does not detect the kind of magic behind the temple or the Hunter in Daylight? What do you say to that." said Monica crossing her arms.
"Shut up." Lane said. "What do you think captain?"
"I think I that I should have gotten some popcorn." Idris said. "Wait until we have made landfall and then you can go ahead with your plan. I like it."
"How do you land a Zeppelin anyway? I thought you needed someone on the ground to pull you down." Lane said.
"Pff. That was true for the old Zeppelins of the 20th Centruy. This thing might look like the ships of old but that's mostly style. Among other things the Unconquered Sun has four harpoon cannons that shoot earth anchors into the ground, they are connected by thick metal cords to a winch systems. It anchors the ship in place and through some high-tech wizardry it will keep the ship in place even during high winds." Idris activated the landing system arming the harpoons, aiming them through a strange targeting device resembling a binocular telescope and two control wheels to choose good spot for landfall. When she was happy with her choice she secured the wheels and pulled a big metal lever. Lane and Monica expected a sound. But heard nothing. They only noticed that it had worked when the airship began to sink slowly to the ground. After a while they felt a slight bump.
"Landfall." said captain Idris. "You can go now an shed some light on the temple of the hunter in Daylight, while your friend and I have a look at the ground-effect vehicles hull."
When captain Idris opened the pressure door to the outside Lane was almost pushed back by the hot dry air that flooded into the plane. There was a very well behaved air-condition she had not noticed active in the airship.
"How did it suddenly become so hot?" Lane asked.
"The valley of the Hunter in Daylight is always blistering hot. IT gets cooler in the night but those walls capture the heat and only let go of it grudgingly." captain Idris said.
"So what are we looking for?" asked Monica who was again all business now that she had a task at hand. She had only looked briefly at the temple most of her attention now was focused on the captain.
"We look for damage. Big things are obvious, but we are looking for small things. Single bullet holes, cracks, even scratches. The Unconquered Sun needs to go into a proper hanger for proper maintenance, but this has to do for now. Later we go upstairs and look how much damage was done to the vacuum bags and see what we can do there."
"Have fun." said Lane who had decided that going to check out the Forbidden Temple of Death was way more interesting than looking at scratches. She waved at them with what she hopped looked like friendly encouragement and not delight and stalked towards the supposedly ancient building. 'Ha' she thought, 'older than history my arse, those columns and that architectural style looks like classical Greek style to me. And to think that Martin was making fun of me because I liked to read those books and watch my documentaries. Not proper education. Stupid fuck. But then when was he not sneering at me...' as she kept on walking she noticed that the temple was much further away than it had looked at first. It looked like a large temple all right, it turned out to be a gigantic temple. While the building kept growing in her field of vision it never felt like she was getting significantly closer. She looked back, the Unconquered Sun still loomed behind her but was now a just an airship in a large desert valley. Monica and captain Idris just small figures looking up at the flying leviathan like ants discussing a daring monumental statue of their queen.
The temple in front of her was still far away and covered most of the ground. A Cyclopean structure built by giants for what they imagined Giants to be Like.
When she finally arrived she was incredibly thirsty. She had noticed that she had not brought any water with her when she was maybe three quarters there. She had considered for a moment to walk back but then decided that it was a stupid idea and a waste of everybodies time. She tried to use her little torch a few times but even in the shadow of the mountains above her the light of day was far to bright outshining her poor torch into insignificance. When she finally had reached the temple, ever step bringing its walls closer, she was day dreaming about could mountain springs and considering liking the sweat of her arms. It was only when she looked up that she was pulled out of her dreams of cool refreshments. She had concentrated on just moving forward mostly looking at the sand in front of her feet that she had not noticed how close she got. The structure was far larger than she had expected. The stone base alone was more then twenty stories tall. On them stood pillars as large a skyscrapers. Lane had to actually bend over backwards to see the top of the temple. When they had arrived she had thought that the Unconquered Sun might have to squeeze through the large open middle of the temple, but now she realized that the air ship could enter the building between any two columns. Once inside it could manoeuvre between the inner structures without much difficulties. She tried to swallow but that only created a strange rasping sensation in her throat.
"Time for science." she said instantly regretting it. Breathing in the dry desert air made her mouth even dryer than it was. Her tongue now feeling like a sock stuck to the roof of her mouth. She pulled out her little torch and shone it at the temple. She did not expect to see much as the sun was still high in the sky. The glow of her torch could hardly be seen at first but the light turned instantly a deep verdant green. She was still dealing with he surprise when she saw that the green intensified and darkened until the entire beam of the torch looked solid dark cobalt green. She turned away pointing the light away from the temple, it instantly lost its colouring, then when Lane thought it could not get any creepier she noticed that waves of greenish colour still washed through the light of her torch when pointed into the direction of the ship. She decided that this was the perfect moment to walk back to the ship. Maybe she could help find some scratches on the hole or glue together some vacuum tubes. Or what ever you did with these things to repair them. Despite her thirst she found a new spring in her steps and hurried back, she would have to have something to drink sooner rather then later. No sense in delaying that. As Lanes curiosity was stronger than most of her fears she turned on the torch again holding it in her hand while she was walking pointing backward. It took a while yet again the beam turned deep green. She kept walking, now with the feeling that something was watching her with hungry eyes. She turned her head every once in a while sometimes slow with terror then fast with curiosity but there was just that gargantuan structure which was mostly filled with air. The light of the torch remained green. As she moved away from the temple the colour grew lighter. She was half way back to the Unconquered Sun before she could not see the change of colour any more.
"So how did your little expedition go." asked captain Idris who was waiting for her at the entrance to the ship.
"Thirst." croaked Lane.
"You didn't take any water with you?" the captain asked?
Lane just shook her head.
"Son of a dog." Idris cursed. "Well come with me then and let's see if we can get you back to the world of the living."
The captain took Lane to the music room, where there was indeed a pool table covered in red felt, a pipe organ and a bar. Idris walked to the bar took out a clean neatly folded white cloth towel. She then took a soda bottle and soaked the towel in water. "Here suck on this." she said.
"Are you fucking with..." Lane tried to push an angry protest through her brittle vocal cord and her parched mouth. The captain silenced her with a sharp motion of her hand.
"Do not talk. Suck the cloth. If you start drinking now you will have the worst stomach cramps of your life and as dried out as you are you would do more damge to your body than help it in any way."
Lane took the towel glowering at the captain. The second the water passed into her mouth she forgot everything she wanted to say to the captain lost in the moment of tasting a bit of water. She almost ate the towel but her mouth was still to dry.
"More?" captain Idris asked,
Lane nodded vigorously. When the captain took back the towel Lane lunged forward trying to grab the bottle. "Oh no!" said the captain shoving Lane back with force. While lane was still stumbling she soaked the towel with water again. "You can have the towel back or I can hit you with the bottle." Idris said the dripping towel held towards Lane, the bottle in her hand held high ready to strike. Lane looked with greed clouded eyes at the bottle for a moment, tensing ready to lunge for it. "Careful Lane." said the captain in a voice painting consequences holding the towel again in Lane's line of sight.
Lane snatched the towel out of the captains hand.
"Good." the captain said. Now sit down on chair put your hands on your lap and promise me that you will not make me knock you unconscious turn you into a rolled joint for roasting, I will keep that towel filled with water at a sensible pace. Is that OK? Lane nodded her eyes still showing a bit to much animal cunning for the captains taste. She walked back to the bar never turning her back to Lane. She took a glass and filled it with tap water, put the soda bottle out of sight and came back with the water glass to soak Lanes towel before it was completely dry.
After a while Lane got her first half filled shot glass with water which she inhaled more than drink it. Ten minutes later Idris trusted Lane enough to give her a small bottle of water and refill her glass on her own. "You'll still get some glorious cramps in a while but while you lie on the floor rolling around in pain I hope you remember that I did my best from preventing you from doing worse to yourself."
"I'll live." said Lane who by now was thinking more sane thoughts than lizard brain thoughts of acquiring water with no regards to the consequences.
"You will." said Idris. "So how did your expedition go?"
"If my torch is right than it is more ancient magic than stone."
"I told you so."
"And now I know." she said in between downing shot glasses full of water. "Where is Monica?"
"Welding holes shut. She is pretty good with it, although she told me that she isn't really used to use to weld things shut."
"She has strange hobbies. Why aren't you helping her?" Lane asked.
Captain Idris gave her a 'you didn't just ask that, did you?' look. "Because you came back with a serious case of dehydration?"
"You could have told her." Lane said looking down at the little shot glass in her fingers. Her shame tried to stop her from refilling it that instant with water, her thirst won.
"Yes I could have wandered the ship looking for her with you in tow. So that she could have stopped patching up the ship so we can both watch you trying to kill yourself with water after you did not manage to do it without." said Idris.
"It's OK, just try to be less of an idiot next time." said Idris.
"That was uncalled for." Lane said now looking the captain straight in the eyes again. The two women stared at each other for a while until the captain relaxed. "No offence intended. Next time you do something in a dangerous environment that you do not know that well, pause to think and maybe if there is someone around who knows about these things asked them if they can help you out. All right?" said Idris.
Lane's expression softened. "Yes captain. Sorry. When it looks like people are trying to push me I have learned to push back."
"No worries. I like your spirit. I think you need to learn how to better gauge who your are trying to push and what situation you are in." Idris said when she saw that Lane's eyes were growing hard again she arched her eyebrows. "This is just friendly advice, no attack. Trust me with me you will always know the difference."
After a deep breath Lane relaxed again. "Sorry captain. Bad habits die hard."
"As I said you are doing well already, work on it and you'll be doing even better. Now come, take a water bottle with you and we go looking for your friend." Idris said. As she led Lane towards the back of the craft she asked Lane: "Do you know how to weld?"
"I wouldn't know where the burny bit of the welder is."