New to Quest Five?
The stories are best enjoyed when read in order beginning with May 1, 2009.

Welcome To Quest Five
Allison Beaumont is having trouble finding a job after college until one day the wealthy and powerful Joseph Candle offers her a job at his rather unusual corporation, where mistakes can lead to bare bottomed spankings. Adopting the alias of Virginia West, she joins four highly skilled colleagues, racing around the globe in search of mysterious treasures, but wherever she goes, trouble is sure to follow.
Note: Some stories contain scenes of a sexual nature, corporal punishment, non-consensual corporal punishment, and strong language which some reader's may find offensive. If you feel this material might be inappropriate for you please move on to another blog by clicking the next blog link at the top of the page.

September 22, 2009

Breaking Free: Flood or Flame

Torch flames flickered against the stone walls as a cool breeze filtered its way through the tunnels. Dr. Michaels was practically walking on my heals with Kyra, Gina and Mark behind him and Tom bringing up the rear of our group. Our captors followed a short distance behind him and my mysterious little girl had disappeared once again. I'm sure she'll show up again and probably at a very inconvenient time, but I'll worry about it when it happens. I was a little surprised their leader wasn't walking right next to me but the tunnels we were walking through were hardly large enough for more than three close friends to walk side by side. Walking next to someone you don't trust would be dangerous and quite possibly foolish given the shadows along the way could hide almost anything.

The path sloped downward and turned at right angles toward the pyramid's center every few hundred feet. If you moved too fast it could make you dizzy, particularly with the musty breeze blowing in your face. Were it up to me we would have waited a day or two for the centuries old air to filter out and replace itself with something a little more fresh, but the cultists were in a hurry.

We made a total of 8 turns before coming to another solid stone door. A torch burned on each side of it giving us enough light to see the engraved drawing on its surface. I didn't waste time trying to figure it out myself, but instead stepped to the side and waved Dr. Michaels forward. He barely glanced at me before grabbing one of the torches and pulling it free from its holder on the wall. The light reflected brightly off the door, but curiously there wasn't the kind of heat you would expect from a fire burning in such close proximity.

I recognized the symbol for water on the door. It was carved in four places around a central picture of what seemed to be an army. In the center of the army were the symbols for earth, fire and wind. Dr. Michaels traced the images with his finger and grunted a few times as he studied the image. Part of me was impatient for him to figure out how to open the door, but like him, I was also curious about the things we were seeing. Understanding the messages left for us might well be crucial to our survival.

"The first of four tests." Dr. Michaels said.

"What kind of tests?" I asked.

He shrugged as if to say my guess was as good as his. The leader of the cultists pushed his way to us through a frowning Tom and a more than slightly annoyed Kyra. Gina and Mark just got out of the way apparently deciding it wasn't a good idea to make waves. The leader's face was full of obvious excitement as he got close enough to see the door.

"The first puzzle is upon us." He said. "Study the engraving well, so that you might find the answer within."

His eyes rested solely upon me as if no one else mattered.

"How am I supposed to solve a riddle when I don't even know the question?" I asked.

"The question will be obvious when the answer is needed." He replied.

It was a good thing I didn't have a gun or I'd have been tempted to shoot him for criminal crypticism. Would it have killed him to give a straight answer now that we were deep inside the pyramid with nowhere to go but forward? As it was I wondered how he'd react if I tried slapping some sense into him. Too bad he was the one with the gun.

"Any ideas?" I asked, turning to Dr. Michaels.

"Everything I've studied so far indicates a deep fascination with balancing nature. If I had to guess I would say these puzzles will have something to do with that." Dr. Michaels said.

"That's better than nothing. Any clue how to open the door?" I said.

"That's the simple part." Dr. Michaels replied.

He placed three fingers on the engraving, one each on the symbols for earth, fire, and wind and then pushed. The symbols sunk into the stone a quarter inch or so and then the door dropped into the tunnel floor so that it became a stepping stone on the path, just like the entry door.

Dr. Michaels looked at me and I nodded at him before proceeding into the room before us. Unless I had read the map wrong back at the compound, this would be the first large chamber and the one with the terracotta soldiers waiting for us. As I stepped into the room I felt a gust of warm air rush into my face and within the air there was a tremor and first wave of a roar about to envelop the room. Reflexes told me to pull back and I listened.

"Get down!" I shouted.

We all hit the dirt floor of the tunnel just in time to avoid a wave of flame. Some of our guards were not so lucky or quick and the flame turned them to dust in the blink of an eye while their screams still echoed in the room. Somehow, Tom and I had ended up eye to eye on the ground and the question in his eyes was easy to read. I shook my head, before getting back to my feet; It wasn't time to escape yet.

"Maybe we should stay down for the moment?" Mark suggested.

Most of the others had followed me to their feet and were dusting the dirt off their clothes. Mark stared up at me with uncertainty in his eyes. Dr. Michaels extended a hand down to him to help him up. Tom just glared at him with disapproval.

"The next threat will most likely be some form of earth, so crawling around probably isn't the safest place to be." Dr. Michaels said.

I nodded my agreement. After a moment, Mark grabbed Dr. Michaels' hand and climbed back to his feet. I took a moment to survey our captors before proceeding. Their leader was unfazed by the events, but his troops were looking a little frazzled. When the time came to leave them all behind, that would help.

Cautiously, we made our way into the room until its enormity became obvious. Dr. Michaels gasped and he was far from alone in his reaction to the sight before us. I stopped in my tracks to take it all in. The ceiling was high above us to the point it almost felt like their was none after the tightness of the tunnels. At the center of the room and extending as far back in a straight line as I could see, a trench filled with terracotta soldiers stared back at us. They were remarkable, unbroken, and looking as if they'd been crafted only hours ago instead of the centuries that must have passed.

On the left side above the trench a series of stone spikes stuck out from the wall, evenly spaced apart all the way down through the room. A small blaze of fire rested on the tip of each one and every few seconds the fire roared out and sprayed across the room, over the trench until it reached the right side of the room. On that side, a narrow ledge extended into the distance. Before us, the ground sloped downward into the trench, making it the obvious path forward to avoid the fire.

"There must be a pocket of natural gas fueling the fire." Dr. Michaels said.

"I don't smell anything." Tom said.

"You wouldn't. The odor we're used to is an additive for safety purposes." Dr. Michaels said.

"I knew that." Tom said.

"Are you seeing these sculptures?" Gina said. "The detail is breathtaking."

"Every face is unique like each one was modeled after a real person." Kyra said.

"They have my full attention." I said.

"Looks like we'll be seeing a lot more of them." Mark said. "The only way to the other side is through them."

"I'm not so sure about that." I said.

"What?" Mark asked.

"It feels like a trap." I said.

A glance at Tom confirmed he was getting the same impression. Whenever an enemy is forcing you to go in a certain direction, the best choice is usually any other direction. The last place I wanted to be was right where the designers of this test wanted me to be. The ledge on the right side seemed to be a better choice if it weren't for the occasional bursts of fire coming from the left.

"So what do we do?" Kyra asked.

I turned my head to see if the leader of our captors would have any advice, but he appeared to be content to watch me. His men were staying back and leaving it to me and my team to figure out what to do and where to go. While I didn't enjoy being the one to take all the risks, it would definitely be an advantage if I could figure out a way to turn the vault's puzzles against our captors. Not only would they not see it coming, they wouldn't have a clue how to stop it either.

"If we could put the fires out, we could move safely along the sides." Mark said.

"And the room would fill up with gas creating a situation for another fireball to exterminate us or perhaps the gas would knock us out first." Dr. Michaels said. "Either way we'd never make it out of here alive."

"What's causing the bursts?" I asked.

"Something has to be causing the gas to build up in a large quantity before it's released." Dr. Michaels said.

"Such as?" I asked.

"Well today we would use a pressure valve system to create the same effect." Dr. Michaels answered.

"And in the past?" I said.

"The gas is obviously coming up from a pocket somewhere beneath this chamber. They would have to have something to regulate the flow of the gas from the pocket into this room or the fire would have consumed the entire source all at once." Dr. Michaels said.

"Sounds logical. What would they use?" I said.

"Water would have been the simplest. The gas would bubble up through the water at a fixed rate, when the room was full of gas the pressure above and below would have equalized and the water would keep the source separated from the chamber." Dr. Michaels explained. "Now that the pressure is unequal again, the gas has resumed bubbling up. If they used a container beneath each of those spikes with a properly weighted top, the gas would fill the container and then push the top up, releasing all of the gas at once causing the bursts of flame we're seeing. Once the build up was sufficiently released the top would come back down until enough gas built up to push it up again."

I nodded, picturing a series of clay pots designed for just such a purpose. It made sense, clay would be able to survive the intense heat of the burning flame and was light enough that the density of gas could move it sufficiently if the only other forces involved were gravity and air pressure. The whole thing was ingenious, like an ancient piston engine with it's own, nearly inexhaustible, fuel source.

"Wouldn't the flames go out between burst if that were case?" Mark asked.

I had the impression he was desperately trying to prove to me that he wasn't a complete idiot.

"Only if the seals were airtight which they wouldn't need to be and given the technology of the time period we're discussing, it would be almost impossible for them to achieve such a seal." Dr. Michaels said. "No, most likely a small amount of gas seeps through all the time keeping the flames at their lower level between bursts."

"Wait a second." I said. "If the caps don't make a seal, what keeps the fire from burning the gas before it's able to build up?"

Mark's face was filled with a mix between smugness and pride as he thought I'd blown a hole in Dr. Michaels' theories. I wasn't so sure I had, but I was struggling to follow the mechanics of the ancient technology we were witnessing in action.

"Air flow." Dr. Michaels answered. "The gas bubbling up through water creates an air flow outward and away from the source of the gas, as long as the air flow is blowing away the fire is content to the burn the fuel in the same direction."

"So how does understanding how this works help us anyway?" Mark asked.

"For starters it keeps us from doing something stupid that could get us all killed." Tom said. "You know, like putting out the flames."

"I still don't see any reason we shouldn't just go straight down this trench." Mark said.

"Miss West has a hunch and since I've met her, she's yet to have gotten one of those wrong. If she thinks we shouldn't go down there, I'm not arguing." Dr. Michaels said.

I heard the conversation around me, but my thoughts were occupied elsewhere. A solution danced around at the edge of my understanding. It eluded me though it was there and I began to feel frustrated with myself and my inability to grasp the thread of understanding which would yield a solution to the puzzle.

"Balance." I muttered to myself.

Stepping forward, away from the others I stared down the room, studying the side. The engraving on the door had shown the elements of earth, fire, and wind surrounded by water and yet there was no water anywhere in the room. It had to be the answer.

"You're on to something." Kyra said.

"Huh?" I asked.

"That look. Every time you get that look, you've got one of those crazy ass ideas." Kyra said.

I glanced at her wondering what look she was referring to. It was probably better I didn't know, but something about being predictable wasn't very appealing to me. Either way though, she was right, I had an idea.

"What if we reversed that airflow?" I asked.

"Theoretically, the gas would burn up before it could collect." Dr. Michaels said.

I nodded.

"But how are you going to reverse the airflow?" Dr. Michaels asked.

"You said they would use water to separate the main source from the room and regulate the flow." I said.

"Right." Dr. Michaels agreed.

"We just need to let the water out." I said.

Dr. Michaels blinked for a second as he considered my proposal.

"Provided the water drains at sufficient velocity it could reverse the airflow and suck the flame to the source." Dr. Michaels said.

"I don't see anything that looks like a water valve." Tom said.

"You wouldn't." Dr. Michaels said. "If this how we're supposed to get through then there are probably stones marked with symbol for water. Pressing those stones should do the trick."

"That's what I'm thinking." I said, pointing out the spaces between the flames. "I think that's what those are."

My team stepped up to join me at the edge of the ramp heading down into the trench. In between each one of the flaming stone spikes was a rectangular stone marked with the symbol for water. The pieces of the puzzle were all coming together, but there was at least one piece still missing.

"How do we get to them?" Mark asked.

"That's the million dollar question." Dr. Michaels said.

Mark took two more steps ahead of us down the ramp. He was obviously trying to get a better look at the marked stones, but it wasn't the smartest thing to do. A single loud click echoed in the chamber giving us our first sign that something was about to happen. A flicker of motion caught my eye amongst the sculpted soldiers, but I was pretty certain if I stuck around trying to figure out what exactly it was, I wouldn't be around to figure anything else out.

"Mark!" I shouted.

It was too late to stop him or the events he had set into motion though. The air came alive with a hissing sound and the spaces between the soldiers turned an ominous black. Realizing there was no going back I ran forward, tackling Mark and landing us both at the feet of a life size terracotta soldier. An instant later, a rain of arrows shot passed us on both sides. Fortunately the others had already started to scatter as well.

Tom rolled into a crouch at the feet of a soldier two rows to the left of Mark and I. The look on his face was anything but amusement and his hand was obviously wishing for a gun. Not that a gun was going to do us much good against soldiers made of clay.

Looking over my shoulder I could see Dr. Michaels had shoved Kyra and Gina off to the side of the trench up top, but he hadn't managed to get himself completely out of the way. His left hand was pinned to the ramp with an arrow running straight through it. Unsurprisingly his face was dead white. Kyra was just beginning to realize what had happened and her own face was paling by the second.

Our captors were in a state of panic. Their leader had rolled off to the right, but a half dozen of the front lines guarding looked like pin cushions for arrows. The others were scrambling for cover as another click echoed from deep in the chamber signalling a second wave was likely on its way.

My eyes fixed on the half dozen men at the top of the ramp. More specifically, the weapons they'd been carrying that weren't going to do them any good anymore. Tom was thinking the same thing, evidenced by the quick glance we shared as I rolled onto my back. Mark groaned beneath me though, catching Tom's attention and making him change his focus momentarily.

"Nice move." Tom said.

I wasn't sure if he was referring to my tackling Mark or Mark's choice to walk down the ramp into the ditch despite being warned it was a trap. Under the circumstances it didn't really matter.

The second wave of arrows came rushing by with the same hissing sound as before. Two more of our guards went down and another arrow pierced Dr. Michaels' arm. He screamed for a second but then he managed to bite down on the pain. Kyra held onto him, helpless to do anything more than provide support.

I signaled Tom to stay put and then rolled off of Mark, hitting the ground running for the top of the ramp. Seconds ticked off inside of my head as I counted the moments until the next click and the storm of arrows it would signify. I made it to the first guard's body when I heard the hissing again. Without hesitation I grabbed the body and rolled so it on top of me just in time for the third wave of arrows to hit their marks.

Several of the arrows got close enough to scratch me but fortunately none actually went through me. Dr. Michaels was also more fortunate, only getting scratched as well but one arrow had landed between the first two fingers on his pinned hand. I shoved the body off of me and grabbed the handgun from his waist and a single extra clip.

Another click echoed in the chamber. I grabbed the automatic rifle out of the dead man's hands and tossed it to Tom without pausing. I ran for the ledge on the right side of the trench. Tom didn't waste anytime either. He grabbed hold of the rifle and rolled into position to take aim into the depths of the chamber. He opened fire, shattering the centuries old soldiers into dust and shards.

A burst of flame hit the wall just before I made it to the ledge and then another rain of arrows raced through the air. I was safely out of the arrows' path but if my timing was off in the slightest the fire would be a problem. My thumb found the safety and switched it off as I pushed all thoughts about the danger away. Barely even aiming, I fired at the first marked stone. Less than a second later the first flame went out and the spike it had been emanating from exploded into tiny pieces.

Deep down I was jumping for joy that my plan was working, but there wasn't time to celebrate in the real world. I kept running as fast as I could and as soon as each marked stone was visible I shot it causing each spike to explode in turn. When I was about a quarter of the way down into the chamber I saw the source of the of arrows.

There was a break in the fire spikes on the left side, obviously left there to allow room for the giant mechanism that was shooting arrows. It was a wall constructed out of the same clay the soldiers were made from. Spaced perfectly so the arrows would travel in the spaces between the soldiers were tall rows of repeating crossbows. The storage boxes of arrows on each crossbow were still more full than empty so waiting out the supply of arrows wasn't going to be an option.

I stopped running to watch as another volley of arrows was launched and then a new round of arrows were loaded into the crossbows. Something was causing a lever mechanism to be pulled and then the triggers to be pulled a few seconds later. If I wanted to understand exactly how it was working I would need Dr. Michaels' help, but I knew all I needed to know from what we'd already figured out; In this chamber, water was the solution.

On the left side I spotted a marked stone with the symbol for water and I shot it. It was the last shot of my first clip and nothing happened. I looked around for something else as I replaced the spent clip with single spare I'd managed to take with me. Nothing was standing out to me.

I shot the marked stone two more times in rapid succession, hoping it just needed a little more push to be effective. Still, nothing happened. The engraving on the door into the chamber flashed in my memory once more and on a hunch I looked up. Sure enough, a stone marked with the symbol for water was directly above the center of the wall of crossbows. Looking down there was another one on the ground at the base of the wall and another one on the wall to my right, about even with the wall of crossbows and the similar stone on the left side. Just as the engraving had explained, the army was surrounded by water.

I shot the stone at the base of the wall and watched as it visibly sunk into the ground. Next, I shot the stone in the ceiling resulting in a spark but no visible movement there. Then I kicked the one on the wall to my right and watch it sink in flush to the wall. Not sure what to expect, I waited for a moment but nothing happened except the wall of crossbows sending another volley of arrows forward.

I was certain the one on my side and the one at the base had moved as they were supposed to, but the one on the far side and the one in the ceiling were much harder to be certain about. I fired another shot at the stone on the left side and when nothing happened, I turned my attention to the stone in the ceiling. I shot at it again and again a spark flew from the stone but it appeared I didn't have the proper angle to get enough force to push the stone up as was necessary.

It appeared the only way I was going to get in a position to move the stone as necessary was to jump down into the trench and get straight underneath it. The problem with that was rather obvious; if anything went wrong, the next volley of arrows would turn me into swiss cheese. I waited through two more volleys looking for an alternative, but when Dr. Michaels screamed again after the second volley I decided I couldn't wait any longer.

I jumped down into the trench as soon as the next volley was launched. My injured ribs screamed in protest at the jarring landing but I didn't let it slow me down. I aimed my gun at the stone on the ceiling even as I ran forward to get as close beneath it as I could. I squeezed off three rounds in rapid succession until the stone did the exact opposite of what I was expecting. Instead of moving up it came flying down and only narrowly missed my head.

Water shot into the room like a tsunami from four directions. In the distance I watched the remaining fires flicker out and the stone spikes explode while at the same time I was propelled backward, toward the entrance I had come from. The water was salty and cold as if it were coming from the depths of the sea. In less than a minute I was rolling out of the water onto the dirt back with my friends and our captors. Tom and Mark were lying on the ground next to me, each nearly as soaked and breathless as I was.

Fortunately the water stopped coming when the trench was filled to the top. Before Tom, Mark or I could gather our wits, our captors had surrounded us with guns pointing in our general direction. They didn't exactly look friendly or grateful and considering I'd just saved their lives I think I had a right to be annoyed. Obviously they had a different perspective on things.

"Your guns, if you please." The leader said.

I stood up slowly and made sure to reengage the safety before handing the gun over to him. Tom looked like he'd been betrayed but he followed my lead and handed him his rifle. I shrugged at Tom hoping he'd understand.

"I only had one shot left and I don't think it was going to do us any good." I said.

Tom nodded.

"I was clean out myself." He said.

"We could use a little help over here." Kyra said.

She gestured at Dr. Michaels who was still pinned to the ramp by two arrows. He was being rather patient considering the water level was over both his penetrations and the salt had to be inflaming the situation.

"Do you think I could borrow a knife?" Tom asked.

The leader of the cultist pulled one from out of his boot and handed it to Tom, handle first, without a word. Tom grabbed and quickly cut the backs off the arrows. Dr. Michaels must have known what was coming because he grabbed the larger length of wood Tom had cut off and bit down on it with his teeth. The two men exchanged a curt nod and then Tom pulled Dr. Michaels' hand up the remainder of the first arrow until was free and then did the same with his arm. With his arm finally free, Dr. Michaels rolled onto his back and laid still for a long moment.

Tom returned the knife to its owner and we all gathered together at the edge of the water where the ramp had once descended into the trench. With the fire and stone spikes missing from the left side it offered a wide and easy walkway deeper into the vault. I didn't have to ask to know our captors were still intent on continuing the journey. They had known from the start that some of them would not be leaving and they'd made the choice to go anyway. It didn't seem to matter that my team and I had not made that same choice.

"Well done, Miss West." Dr. Michaels said. "Now if you can just keep your boyfriend under control we might actually survive the day."


  1. Ashley, wow, my bum is getting numb, you do this so well.
    Warm hugs,

  2. Well that sucks for Mark. One false step and people die, plus you end up looking like a tool.

  3. Ash,

    Fantastic writing definitely a page turner keeping me very interested...looking forward to the next story