Notes and Disclaimers: The characters of Enus and Winslow and the setup are from the lovely series Transistor ni Venus, by Takemoto Izumi and are the property of Takemoto and F Comics. Hopefully, you will be able to enjoy this story without knowing the characters a priori. I hope you do enjoy this story, and if you do, an email to let me know that you did, would be very nice. Another nice way to show your appreciations is to buy a copy of Shoujoai ni Bouken: The Adventures of Yuriko, either from Amazon or the Yuricon Shop.
As always, my sincere appreciation goes out to the members of the Fanfic Revolution, for being such good friends, and decent editors.
The Treasure of Elgabaal
When she disembarked from the ship, it was instantly apparent that it was she that I had been sent there to meet. The short, white, trench coat only served to highlight her curves, and her green hair flowed free beneath a wide-brimmed white hat. Black sunglasses obscured her eyes, but her mouth wore a friendly smile.
I approached her quickly, my arms open for an embrace, our customary greeting, when she rushed up to me, took me in her arms and whispered fiercely, “Play along, they know I’m here already.”
And then she kissed me.
Never, ever, has there been a kiss like that.
At first my hands gripped her arms in surprise and to steady myself, as her embrace had been rather sudden. But as her mouth moved against mine, and her tongue sought mine out, my hands tightened their grip merely to help me remain standing.
I had no thought of breaking the kiss off, in fact would have been content to forget the mission then and there and take this woman to bed for a week. But at some point she moved away, and I had to find a way to refocus my eyes and once again be aware of my surroundings.
“Sorry,” she said with a smile. “I’m…”
Of course her reputation proceeded her; the female spy with the power of the goddess, but oh my…!
“…April Enus,” I said, a little weakly. I pushed myself a little apart and kissed her cheeks gently. “And I’m…”
“Elgabaal Ellie Elard,” she replied, still smiling.
“Call me Ellie.”
“Nice to meet you Ellie.”
“You too Enus.” I didn’t turn away from her as I asked, “Is it safe yet?”
She nodded and stepped away. “I’m not sure if it fooled them, but you know lizard brains – they’re practically short circuited by human relations.”
Shaking my head, I led the way to the exit. “I wouldn’t underestimate them.”
“I don’t,” she said with an even brighter smile than before.
“So, if I understand correctly,” I said breezily, keeping my tone light, “You’re here to find the treasure of the Elgabaal?” I say that I was keeping my tone light, because inside, I was a roiling mass of conflicting emotions.
“Yes,” she replied, her face serious. “And I understand that you’re the heir to the Elgabaal fortune.”
I nodded. There was no need to hide it; I was quite possibly the most famous person on my planet. But….
“You know that the treasure is a myth, right?” I blurted, mortified that I sounded more like myself at six than my true age.
Enus’ reaction was…odd. She turned to me with a broad smile, grabbed the large white bag she carried, and opened it. “Winslow?” she said, and reached into the bag. I leaned forward to see what exotic high-tech gadgetry she would have brought with her. A little excited, I thought, ”Now this is what being a spy is about!”
Gun, tracer, hearing enhancer – what would it be?
Instead, Enus pulled her hand out of the bag clasping a small black cat. The cat yawned hugely, looked at me and smiled. I would swear to it. His lips pulled back to show just the tips of his teeth.
“Ellie, this is Winslow, my partner. Winslow, this is Ellie.” The cat meowed at me with a little nod of acknowledgement. Stupidly, I greeted it, returning the nod.
Enus nodded. “Winslow, after dinner tonight, I want you to snoop around a bit.” The cat meowed his assent and curled up in the crook of Enus’ arm.
“Winslow and I will find the treasure.” Enus spoke so confidently that for a moment, I believed she might just. Only…
“Enus,” I whispered. “There really isn’t any. My family’s fortune was never real. It’s…well, it’s a joke that the whole planet is in on.”
Again, that smile. Enus tucked my arm into hers and pulled me close. “There may be no gold, but there’s bound to be a treasure.” And she smiled down at me so compellingly, that I found myself smiling back up, like a fool.
Dinner that night was meant to be a state affair. I walked carefully down the hallway, trying to look natural on my slightly too-high heels. They were a nuisance, but I knew that the effect they had, of lengthening my legs *just* the right amount to make the slit on my skirt work *just* so, was well worth the effort. And my dress was low-cut just enough to allow the gem around my neck, a milk-white stone I had inherited from my mother and which I always wore, to lay against my chest in the most tantalizing possible place.
Impatiently, I knocked on Enus’ door, wondering what fashion was in for master spies these days.
“Come in!” her voice rang out.
I pushed the door open, eyes wide, waiting to see the daringly low cut femme fatale look, but was faintly surprised to see her in nothing more than a towel. She smiled at my reflection in the mirror.
“I’m sorry, I’m running late. Winslow and I had to report in.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” I prevaricated, waving my hand casually trying to dispel my lingering disappointment. I looked around, trying to come up with an irresistibly clever conversational gambit.
“So, Ellie. Tell me what you know of the treasure.” Enus’ smile was infectious. I stepped up, took the brush from her hand and ran my fingers through her still-damp hair.
“Let me do that, I love doing people’s hair, but the servants here won’t let me do a thing for myself.”
“Please,” she nodded, and closed her eyes happily. I swear she purred, as I moved the brush through her hair.
“Well,” I began. “The story goes that the first settlers here brought with them a great treasure. Although…no one has ever been able to explain satisfactorily why they would waste space on their ship for treasure, when things like food and construction equipment would have been much more useful.” I paused to consider what I knew. “Maybe it was an allegory – the “treasure” was really their knowledge, or something else. Anyway,” I resumed brushing Enus’ hair and my tale simultaneously. “The treasure was supposed to have been buried by my ancestors and this house built on top of the ‘vault’. But that was hundreds of generations ago – and no one has ever found *anything* at all.” I laughed. “It’s like a right of passage among the children here – family or servants, it doesn’t matter. When you hit about seven years old, you’re taken down to the caves and left to fend for yourself.”
Enus’ eyes popped open, a look of concern on her face. “Fend for yourself? Who leaves children to do that? Who would be so cruel?”
I smiled at her reflection, “Other children, of course. If you haven’t gotten lost in the passages down there at least once by the time you’re in school, everyone shuns you.” I paused again. “I guess it’s a mean thing to do, but I never really thought about it. It’s just what we do.” I remembered my first night in the caves, alone. It was less scary than it might have been for me, as I was with one of the maids’ daughters, a friend of mine, who was roughly my own age. We clung to each other until someone came for us the next morning, then pretended that we had never been scared at all. Ah, the bravado of youth. I laughed at my own pretension.
“Will you show me the caves later?”
I glanced up, meeting Enus’ eyes in the mirror. “I’d be glad to. But really, Enus, there’s nothing *there*.” I smiled to take some of the sting from my words.
“That’s all right. I don’t expect to find anything particular.” She stood, and turned towards the dressing screen in the corner of the room, shedding her towel as she walked. I could hear the sounds of cloth against skin and, then, “I just think it would be fun to get lost with you for the night, Ellie.”
Speechless as I was at that, I was instantly breathless as well when she came around the screen. Her outfit was, yes, low cut, and the pants clung to her curves pleasantly.
“It will be my pleasure, then,” I managed, eventually.
All through dinner I watched her, waiting to see some sign of, oh, I don’t know, spy-ness. A sly look, a coded phrase, something. Time and time again, I saw opportunities where surely she would make some subtle allusion to past adventures, or insights on her current mission. Each time the moment passed with nothing more than common repartee that one might hear at the most banal of affairs.
Watching her so closely, I soon began to resent her. Although she was two years younger than myself, in comparison I looked (and felt) positively childish. Her social skills were polished, her conversation smooth and her body…well, let’s just say that I resented her in that one thing most of all.
The evening passed as all formal dinners do, equal parts excruciating moments of false gaiety and forced civility. I was there as the hostess to my father’s host, a role I had played since my mother passed away. It was his request that had brought Enus to us in the first place. It was for his peace of mind that she was there to discover the Treasure of the Elgabaal.
It wasn’t that he believed the myth. My father was, above all things, a practical man and a realist. It was more that he sought to lay it to rest forever. In recent years there had been several adventurers who had come to harm looking for the fabled treasure and only a few months ago a young man had died in a sudden cave-in. My father felt that if the treasure could be discovered and removed, or failing that, proved to be no more than wishful thinking, it would put an end to the mishaps. Or, at least, remove our family name from connection with them.
But, Enus was no treasure hunter. Why had the government sent us a spy? I could not stop wondering if there was something she knew that I did not. I determined to ask her as soon as I could.
“Soon” came even sooner than I expected.
After the last guest had been shown out, and I was sure that the cleaning up was going smoothly, I hobbled back to my room, grateful to change out of my dress clothes. Just as my maid had laced up the robe I wore over my nightgown, there was a knock on the door. It was my father’s secretary, asking me to visit his office when I had an opportunity. Slipping into soft shoes, I followed him quickly and was shortly in front of the door to my father’s office. I could hear voices inside as I opened the door.
“Ellie!” My father stood up with the gentle smile he habitually used in my presence. “You looked lovely tonight – the Ambassador even commented on it.” His smile flashed brighter, knowing how I felt about the reprobate who held the title.
“Not as lovely as Enus,” I pouted, hoping to elicit compliments from both parties in the room. Of course, the other person was Enus herself, still wearing her party clothes, looking as fresh as she had when she left her room earlier that day. My resentment flared, along with something a little warmer. I glanced at my father questioningly. If I found Enus attractive, I knew he would as well. My father and I have similar tastes, something we have known for a very long time, although we have never discussed it. We both assiduously avoid situations that might become complicated. I was relieved to see that my father had returned to his desk and was looking, not at Enus, but at a paper in his hand. I thanked him silently and took a seat.
Enus was smiling over at me. “You did look lovely, Ellie. I thought the skirt really highlighted your legs.” I felt my cheeks get warm at that. So nice to have all that effort appreciated.
“Still, you overshadowed all of us, Enus.” I smiled, but my petulance was audible. I laughed at my own jealousy, turning towards where my father sat. “You asked for me to join you?”
“Yes, Ellie. I wanted to tell Enus about some developments and I thought that you ought to know, as well.” He half stood and leaned over the desk, stretching out a piece of paper towards Enus, who likewise half stood and reached to accept it. She glanced at it, then handed it over to me. I looked down at the words, but they didn’t make much sense to me.
“Monster sightings?” I asked. “In the caves?”
“Saurians,” my father clarified.
“Ah.” I glanced over at Enus, but her expression hadn’t changed. Either she had known they were here, or she expected them…but I found her nonchalance troubling. “What aren’t you telling me?” I found myself asking her bluntly.
“Me?” She prevaricated, still smiling. “I told you they were on to me, didn’t I? When we first met.”
I nodded. “You did and then you…” I stopped, felt myself blush, then forced myself to continue, my voice scolding. “And I told you that there is no treasure. So why are they here and, for that matter, why are you? Why is the famous spy April Enus here to look for a treasure that does not exist?!”
Enus turned towards my father, and my gaze followed. Surely he wasn’t keeping anything from me? He cleared his throat and nodded. “Ellie. There is something I have been keeping from you. Something I thought I would never need to tell you.” He began to recite something, his voice quiet, but strong.
His words triggered something in me, something like a memory. I could hear my mother’s voice singing those very words; a childhood song sung so many times over that one could not possible forget words or tune.
“There are no gold, nor jewels, nor anything as precious as the daughters of Elgabaal,” I found myself saying, as if in a dream. “You cannot possibly mean…. Father?”
“Ellie,” it was not my father’s voice that spoke gently to me at that moment. I spun in place to look at Enus. Her expression was not, as I would have expected, embarrassed or sad, instead there was a pinkness to her cheek and a strong pulse in her neck. “There is a treasure,” she said with a shaky voice. The quaver in her voice was not concern, but excitement. “Will you come with me to the caves tomorrow, Treasure of the Elgabaal?”
I blinked. Honestly, I almost laughed at her, it was so ridiculous. What kind of treasure could I possibly be? “I’m no treasure, I assure you, but I did already promise to take you to the caves.” I stood quickly, closing my robe about me more closely. “And I suppose then, that I should get some sleep. Father.” I turned towards him, leaned down to kiss his cheek.
He cupped my cheek in his palm as I did so. “Ellie. I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to apologize for, Father.” I smiled down at him. “I think I’ll be the one apologizing. I fear that I’ll be a terrible disappointment to both of you.” I walked to the door, where Enus already stood, waiting.
As I turned away, my father said, “You could never disappoint me, Ellie.”
I laughed. “You say that now!” Then I blew him a kiss over my shoulder, and closed the door behind me
Enus and I walked in silence down the hall. We headed haphazardly towards her room – I felt a mild obligation to accompany her, as she was a guest and might get lost in the vastness of my ancestral home. More truthfully, I wanted to be with her for a little while longer.
“What does it mean, that I am the Treasure?” I asked, as we entered the residential wing of the house.
“I have no idea,” she laughed, tucking my arm through hers and squeezing it. I colored a little at the pressure of her breast against my arm, but did not seek to remove it. “Won’t it be fun finding out?”
“Fun?” I stared at her in disbelief. “But the Saurians…?”
“Oh, them.” She waved a hand dismissively. “It always works out somehow.” Although her words were vapid and meaningless, they made me feel, for no good reason, quite relieved. Whatever it was would work out. The super spy with the power of the Goddess had said so. And hadn’t she survived many dozens of missions already; after all, her power was that no one would ever be killed on one of her missions. I felt oddly comforted, though still a little confused as to my place in all of this.
We continued on in silence until we reached the guest room that had been prepared for Enus. She disengaged herself from my arm and stepped away with a cheerful smile. “I guess this is goodnight?” there was something in her tone that I wanted to interpret as a question; an invitation, perhaps? She turned her back to me and opened the door.
“Enus?” I stretched out a hand.
She looked back over her shoulder at me, with an inquisitive exclamation. “Yes?”
“I guess we’d better get a good night’s sleep.” I offered lamely.
“Oh?” Her lips were rounded, soft, wet. I found myself captivated by them. “Well, then, how about a good night kiss?” She reached out for my arm, which still hung in the air. Pulling me close, she dipped her head and after a moment, I had no thoughts left of anything but the lips pressed against mine.
I didn’t resist when she maneuvered me into her bedroom. And I’m fairly certain that it was I who led her to the bed. But from that point on, who was in charge mattered less and less.
I woke, dazed. The unfamiliarity of the room, the light coming in from the wrong side of the bed, all of it left me feeling disconcerted. As I became aware of just where I was, and why it was that I was there, I was filled with a warm lassitude that left me positively glowing. The bed was still warm with Enus’ heat; the air was fresh and clear. I – and, apparently, Winslow, who was curled under my arm – felt no need to rush into the day. I think I might just have stayed there all morning if left to my own devices.
The sound of running water lulled me, and the heaviness of my limbs grew. I suppose I fell back asleep, but had no memory of it at all. I do remember the feeling of soft lips upon my eyes, and a quick kiss upon my mouth that awoke me a second time. I looked up to find Enus smiling down upon me, wearing lingerie that could not *possibly* have been designed with adventuring into caves in mind.
“Good morning,” I purred, a greeting echoed immediately by Winslow, who gave both of us a baleful glare, then removed himself to the windowsill where he could continue his rest unabated.
“Let’s go to the caves tomorrow,” I pleaded, reaching out for Enus, who swiftly moved out of my grasp. “I want to stay in bed to today. With you,” I added unnecessarily.
Enus merely laughed at my wheedling tone. “There are no rewards for lazybones.” She disappeared into the dressing room, from where the sound of one of the maids and Enus consulting on her clothes reached me. I considered being difficult about it, then reluctantly rose, dragging the blanket off the bed, as I made my way to the bathroom.
As I showered, I realized somewhat belatedly that I was some considerable distance from my own bedroom, and my wardrobe. I wondered how I was going to get across to my rooms without looking like a fool when Enus called out, “I’m going down to breakfast. Your maid brought your clothes over and will help you dress. Hurry up or there won’t be any food left for you.” And with a final laugh, she left.
When I came back into the room, my two servants were waiting, neither willing to meet my eyes, but both with the bravest attempt at hiding their smirks that they could muster. I sat down at the vanity and let them have their laugh at my expense. I’d known both Jarella and Anitha since I was a child. There was nothing about me they did not know – in fact, the probably knew things about me of which I myself had no understanding.
“I trust you slept well?” Jarella asked while combing out my hair. Anitha made a small snerking noise from where she stood, laying out my clothes.
“I did, thank you. When I finally slept.” I smiled into the mirror. Jarella’s eyes flashed, but her expression never changed.
“She’s very pretty,” Anitha commented. “She looks a little like…”
“Do not say that she looks like my mother,” I cautioned firmly. “There are too many things about that that would make me unhappy.”
Anitha giggled. “I was going to say that she reminds me of my cousin Sharl.”
“Ah, Sharl,” I subsided. Shandhar Sharl Maharreen was a famous entertainer and well known for her seductive beauty. I grew up with Sharl and knew her very well. With all that implies. “Yes, I can see that. They don’t look alike, but they both hold themselves with confidence and poise.” I pondered. “How is Sharl?”
“She’s busy, as usual. Between films and appearances, she hardly has time for her four lovers.”
“Four?” Jarella asked. “Which one did she drop?”
The two continued to gossip about Sharl, but my mind drifted back to the topic of April Enus. Even as I thought about our night together, I could feel my body warm at the memory of her embrace. Jarella completed my hair and I stood up, waiting for them both to dress me. Of course I was completely able to dress myself, but this was a bonding ritual for the three of us. This was the only time during the day that we had time to be nothing more than three girls. We shared news, gossip, talk of the day before and the day to come. This was our time together and we treasured it.
“Ellie-war,” Jarella said, using my childhood nickname. “How…was…she, um…?” She blushed and stopped speaking; knowing that I knew what she meant and would answer in my own way. I turned and took one of her hands and one of Anitha’s, grinning.
“They say,” I whispered to them, “that she has the power of the goddess. They also say that she loves to kiss beautiful young women. All I will say is this – if you have a chance to kiss her, do!” And I laughed. They squeezed my hands and laughed with me. I had no doubt that one day we would all be able to compare notes on Enus’ skills.
Breakfast was a lively affair. I came down to find Enus flirting happily with my father who, for my sake, was forcing himself to behave. I watched the interaction for a few moments and decided that playing the jealous lover would be too much for me until I had my breakfast. Once I had sufficiently eaten and drunk, I intruded on Enus’ game with pouting mouth and half-serious remonstrances, until I had coaxed her away from my poor father.
I would have liked to take her back to bed; instead we headed to the back of the house where the main entrance to the underground passages lay. We arrived at the doors to find fully loaded packs with survival equipment, weapons, food and shelter awaiting us. I picked up a pack, scanned it, and removed two items from one of the pockets. One of these I stuck in my mouth. Anitha had seen to it that my pack had a supply of my favorite sweets. She’s always thinking of me.
I turned to Enus, who was engaged in opening the pockets of the pack to inventory the contents. “These are specially prepared for the caves. This pocket contains light and heat sources, this food and water. A standard shelter is in here, and next to it is a water and heat-resistant suit.” I tugged a corner of it out of the bag to point it out. “It’s made of a special material, only found here – it’s one of our planet’s chief exports.” Enus nodded and I continued. “And this is the map.” I said, with the direst of voices. I handed over one of the two objects, with a face as dark as I could make it.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Open it and look,” I gestured at her with the object. She took it from my hand, opened the flap and expanded the image. Her brows drew together as she gazed at it.
“You see the problem.”
“It’s blank, for one thing,” she pointed out, quite naturally.
“It isn’t. Not really.” I explained, taking it back and refolding it. “It’s just…well…the caves are unmappable. That is, we *can* map them, but then they will be different the next time. So maps aren’t useful at all. We’ve developed a special tracer technology. As we pass through the underground passages, the tracers will transmit to the map, which will fill in. This way we won’t get lost. We just won’t know where to go, going forward. Until we’ve gone there.”
“That’s very clever – and a little irritating,” Enus admitted. “But…didn’t you say that the children would come down here alone? How did they, you, ever get found again?” She set her pack onto the ground and shrugged into the multi-use vest hanging on the hook above the pack.
I smiled. “It’s not as hard as it seems. Until we get to the Waterfall, the path is nearly the same every time. That is, it looks a little different, but there are a few key landmarks that everyone knows. When I was a child, they took us to the Waterfall, then left us to find our way back. Sharl and I almost made it, too, but at the last second, the path took a weird turn and we got lost.” I smiled at Enus, who looked none too happy at my tale. “But this time, I have an ace up my sleeve, so don’t worry.” I pulled open a pocket on my vest and removed a waterproof container, shaking it lightly. “You have one of these too – if we get separated and you need to get back, just put this chip into the slot in the back of the map. It’s a master map, loaded with all the variations of the past. It’ll give you a higher chance of returning safely.”
“Very clever,” she repeated thoughtfully.
“Now then,” I said as I slipped my map into my vest, “Let’s go to the Waterfall first and make camp, then we can decide where you want to go from there.”
It wasn’t just that the paths were familiar or that the Waterfall was set conveniently about one day’s jaunty walk into the caves that made it my initial destination. Nor was it that I know that I’d find clean water there, although that helped.
No, my mind was, that day, fixed on one thing. No elusive – or illusive – treasure concerned me. I thought that this whole adventure was silly, to be honest. There was no treasure, and I personally was worth no more than the sum of my skills and contributions to society. That I held within me some kind of secret, dating back to my ancestors’ arrival on the planet was not only ridiculous, I found it mildly insulting.
Instead I focused on the one part of the journey that was incontrovertible. I was, for the next few days at least, in the company of one of the most attractive and intriguing women in the universe. And I had every intention of enjoying that time completely.
I could feel the slight pressure in my ears increase, letting me know that we approached our destination. “Can you feel it?”
“Yes.” Enus nodded, one hand to an ear. “It’s…singing?”
I returned the nod. “Come on. You’ll see.”
We continued down the path, through a rock formation I had never seen before, and past a few new openings in the main tunnel. The humidity grew, but so did the temperature, until we both found ourselves shedding packs and vests, as we walked. Soon we were able to make out a light coming from around the bend; a light that got progressively brighter as we approached.
The Waterfall’s voice rose, almost deafening us with its song, as we broke through the last barriers to find ourselves on a shelf overlooking the Lemilaya, the Rainbow Fall.
As one might imagine from the name, the water spray leapt up from the fall in a just such a way as to catch the bright sunlight streaming down through a deep shaft in the ceiling, in order to form a permanent and perfect rainbow. It was always breathtakingly beautiful. So we both stood, and stared for some long, silent, period of time.
I greeted the Rainbow Fall with ritual words, and introduced it to Enus. In return it sang a welcome song, then its voice softened to a quiet, romantic murmur.
I turned to the spy with a grin. “Lemilaya says that you are very pretty.” Enus shot me a glance, then stepped forward, her hand cupped by her mouth. “Thank you,” she called out. “But you are twice as beautiful as any waterfall I have ever seen.” She looked at me again. I nodded briefly. The rainbow flickered slightly, then beamed ever more brightly for a brief second.
“Well done,” I said, as we picked our way down to the “bay” at the bottom of the fall, on a winding, narrow path. “I think you made it blush.”
Enus just smiled her pleasantly enigmatic smile.
Making camp was simplicity here. Previous spelunkers had left supplies of every kind – a common tradition when one made camp here on the last day out of the caves. Who wants to carry emergency rations when tomorrow one would be back above ground?
I set up a shelter for us, while Enus watched. She made no move to assist with dinner, either, seemingly content to let me do all the work. When it was completed, and there was nothing left but to watch the Waterfall, she stood. “How about a bath?” was all she asked.
My eyes narrowed. “Is this a setup?”
“Not at all!” She insisted, putting out a hand to assist me to my feet. “There’s just all that water…” her voice took on a pouty quality, which softened my heart.
“Enus?” I stood, facing her directly.
“Mm?” she asked, her eyes wide and innocent – something I already recognized as a sign that she was planning something.
“How about a pre-bath kiss?” I leaned forward.
“Only if I can also get a post-bath kiss, in return,” she breathed, capturing my lips with her own.
And then I was able to accomplish *my* goal for the day.
I knew it was too good to last. In fact, it was the last thing I thought that night, when we finally fell asleep. This is too good to last. Something will happen to ruin it.
But when the shots rang out and our tent exploded above us with whoosh of released pressure, I had to admit that that had not been what I meant.
Enus rolled away quickly, lifting a gun from somewhere, and throwing on pants at the same time. My reaction was more of the “curl into a tight ball and pray to not die” variety, so I didn’t see her leave the tent. But I heard her shout, “Get dressed and grab the packs!” so I forced myself to crawl to where my clothes were (slithering on my belly, my sight hampered by the collapsing tent walls.)
I dressed sloppily, found both bags and tried to not hear the shooting. It wasn’t like the shows, where shots blam-blam-blam continuously. It was a tense silence, broken painfully by the energy forced through air whine of a gun, then falling back into silence.
Whimpering, I pulled my own weapon out and gripped it desperately, waiting for a scaly arm or saurian face to appear. After a moment the material of the tent peeled back, but it was Enus’ face and arm that appeared. “Come on!” she said, hauling on the bags and me with them. I had just enough wits left to clamber after her. She looked around quickly, then headed off past Lemilaya at a run, carrying both the packs. Unburdened in body only, I took a deep breath and ran after her as fact as I could.
It was no good. My legs were burning, my heart fighting to escape its confinement in my chest cavity. Tears welled up, but I had no time for them. I wanted to stop, but Enus’ straight back taunted me to follow it without complaint.
“Enus!” I managed a gasp, but the effort distracted me from concentrating on running and I tripped, sprawling face down on the rock surface. Immediately, there were warm, comforting hands lifting me, stroking my face, and soft words of concern.
“I think we can take a break,” Enus said, with more confidence that I think she felt. She propped me behind an extended rock shelf, and pulled herself in next to me. She pulled out a canteen and we drank. I tried to not slop the water, although my hands shook badly.
“What…did…they want?” I asked, with some effort. I could feel panic welling up within me, and all my efforts were directed towards keeping it off. “If they…wanted to kill us.” I took a deep breath and finished in a rush, “They didn’t accomplish their mission.”
Enus face was placid as she regarded me. “There was only one, and I think I wounded it. But,” she turned her face away, “I think they accomplished their mission.” She turned back to regard me with careful eyes, waiting for me to understand.
I looked back at her, and the panic welled up closer and more strongly as her words were made clear to me. We had run heedlessly into the caves, not minding what direction we took or where we had been. And while we had our bags, that was true, and in them food, water and shelter for weeks, if need be, neither of us had our vests…or the maps. We were lost in caves that could not be mapped, with no way to return.
I burst into tears, angry with myself for my failure, filled with terror. The panic won, and the weight of the tons of rock above me pressed down, robbing me of my breath. I grabbed my chest and screamed.
The shock of the blow wasn’t the pain so much as the sudden involuntary movement of my body from where I had put it to where I suddenly found myself. Enus stood over me, her beautiful face still placid, her hand poised for another blow. I stared up, panic receding with the shock.
“Get a hold of yourself. Please.” Her voice was mild, and steadying.
Nodding, I sought to breathe deeply and calm myself. “How do we get out?” I found myself asking.
“Out?” Enus replied as if the idea had never occurred to her. “We haven’t found what we’re looking for yet. We just have to be more careful now that we know we’re being followed.”
“But why?” I whined. “What do they want?”
Enus rose, brushing herself off, then holding out a hand to help me to my feet. “That’s what we have to find out, isn’t it?” She asked this, as if it was the most reasonable question ever. Yes, it made perfect sense to throw ourselves deeper into a maze of unknowable subterranean passages in order to lead hostile entities to some *thing* they are looking for, so they can take it and kill or enslave us.
“I guess so,” I replied. I stood and brushed the dust off myself, then squared my shoulders. “Let’s go.”
We were facing a crossroads. I mean that literally. The passage we were in, which had been broad and high ceilinged until now, split into four smaller, more cramped looking paths. None were marked, of course.
“Which way?” Enus asked, in that maddeningly reasonable voice.
“How would I know?” I snapped childishly.
Enus smiled gently at me and took my hand. “Ellie. You are the Treasure of the Elgabaal. You know. I’m sure of it.” I began to protest, but she squeezed my hand to stop me. “I believe in you. Don’t think about it, just choose with this.” I felt the pressure of a hand against my chest and realized that I had closed my eyes. “Use your heart, your instinct, whatever you call it. Just…choose.”
“That one,” I pointed to my left, not at all knowing why. I opened my eyes to find Enus smiling happily at me. She leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on my lips. “I believe in you.”
Lead on, I thought, lead on to our death, to enslavement. Lead on, goddess, so that I may once again win a kiss from your lips. But all I did was nod and follow Enus, who was already headed off in the direction I had chosen. Randomly.
The passage was initially rather smaller than the one we had come from. I didn’t have to bend to walk, but the air seemed heavier. We couldn’t walk side by side, so I contented myself with following Enus, and distracted myself by inappropriately enjoying the way she moved so confidently in front of me.
We must have walked like that for about an hour, when the passage opened up once again and we moved a little more freely. Then we faced another choice of direction and I once again made a decision based on nothing at all but whim. At least we knew whose fault it would be when we never returned home. And yet, with each choice I made, I had a bizarre feeling growing within me that we were heading in the right direction. To where, I couldn’t have said. But something within me told me that we were getting closer. And as we moved on, hour after tedious hour, I began to believe that Enus’ belief in me might not be misplaced.
There is no time underground. It is eternally night, and the light that one carries is the light that brings the dawn. Every second, you are caught in a perpetual sunrise, from the perspective, I suppose, of the sun. Caverns opened up their secrets to us, then closed again behind us as we passed by. When we turned, I noticed Enus making small marks on the walls near ground level. They were practically invisible, even with our lights, so how they might be of use to us to get out, I had no idea. But I trusted in the famous spy implicitly, so I could hold onto hope.
When we stopped, it was for just enough time to rest our (my) aching legs, and eat if we needed to. At least twice we slept or, at least I did. For all I know Enus remained awake both times. She didn’t look any less rested and lively than before, so maybe she had slept. All I know was that my exhaustion of body superseded any concern of mind that I had and I slept.
On the third “day” we arrived. Where we were I couldn’t have told you – or how we got there. It was one more unremarkable cave, but as we entered, I knew. This was the place. I stopped in the middle of the space and looked around me.
“This is it.”
Enus’s expression, which had hardly changed for days from calm, slightly amused, but focused, suddenly broke into a great smile. “You did it, Ellie!”
“I did it.” I repeated the words, but what had I done? We where nowhere and here was nothing.
I walked around the walls, trailing my hand across the featureless stone, looking for markings or any kind. There were none, but after a dozen steps, I stopped and turned. Wherever my hand touched to stone, there was a barely perceptible change, like the slightest bioluminescence. I moved my hand in a circle, tracing the rock surface, and watched in wonder as a pattern became visible, growing in intensity as I watched.
Enus stepped up to my side, her smile even brighter now. I could see that she breathed a little shallowly, and I was sure that if we had enough light, I would see a flush in her face. She was excited, and her excitement rubbed off on me.
“Enus!” I cried out, “What is it?” The rock face glowed brightly now, and the glow spread out to the entire cavern, filling it with a dim light.
Enus touched one of the lines, which flickered. She followed the line to a point where it joined several others, outlining a square. She pressed her palm against the square. There was another flicker and in an instant the square was filled with colored lights and what might have been words. “Looks like a control panel,” she responded, waving me closer.
I stared at the panel for a moment, then laughed. “It’s Garble! That’s a game we all play as children.” I waved at the panel. Each word has a meaning, but the words and meanings have been mixed up. The key is in the way the garbled words are strung together…” I fell silent, puzzling over the key, before I realized what I had said. “A game?” I muttered. “How did I never notice?” I fell silent again, trying to discern the pattern. How brilliant our ancestors had been. Teaching their children cryptography by making it a game. Long after the need was gone, and the language had changed, the game would remain. And then I saw the pattern in the words.
I spoke quietly, as I began to rearrange the words. “I was always good at Garble. Just like my mother had been. I suppose that isn’t surprising when you think about it, now. …And, there. Finished.” The words rearranged made a simple song, one I knew well. Of course.
I half-read, half sung the words out loud. “There are no gold, nor jewels, nor anything as precious as the daughters of Elgabaal.” The walls of rock seemed to fade, revealing painted walls. I started to cry with sheer relief and a large measure of anger. “Those bastar….” I started.
And the world exploded.
When I opened my eyes, I was on my back, looking up at the most beautiful mural, full of color and action and a beauty that made me want to become part of it. I could see people moving along the mural, building, carving, singing, dancing. I tore my eyes away from the mural to find myself in a spacious room, with soaring vaulted ceiling and windows that let in light high above. I sat up, rubbing my eyes, and the back of my head where I must have hit when I fell.
“The human is conscious,” a sibilant voice spoke behind me, much too close. I jumped, but found that I couldn’t move more than a few inches. My arms and legs were chained. I closed my eyes and reopened them, waiting for the stupid dream to clear off. But no. I was still chained, surrounded by anthropomorphic lizards with guns, and Enus was likewise chained about 6 feet away from me.
“I don’t like to be the kind of person who say ‘I told you so’, but…” I said more calmly than I felt.
Enus’ only response was a meltingly gorgeous smile. She turned to the Saurian to her left and said something in their language. He moved off, returning a few moments later with what was clearly the commander. I don’t know how I knew that – one can just tell these things. More braid on the uniform, more pretentiousness in the look.
“Human female, you will lead us to the treasure now.”
“I am the treasure,” I offered helpfully. “You’ve got it. This is it.” I gestured at myself, the chains clanking.
They spoke among themselves for a moment. The commander turned back to me, waving a hand dismissively. “We do not care about you. We speak of the treasure.”
I shrugged. “If I thought that it would gain us our freedom, I’d gladly trade whatever knowledge I had for it. But I don’t have the vaguest idea what you’re talking about.”
The commander looked peeved. “That treasure!” He pointed to the wall behind me. I looked over my shoulder and gaped. The wall was translucent, from floor to ceiling. And very visibly behind the wall, was mounds and mounds of…treasure? I could see boxes and bales of gold and color and things shone brightly, like a child’s tale of buried treasure.
A child’s tale.
I buried my face in my hands and began to laugh. Of course. Of course. Even after all that had happened, I hadn’t been able to put it all together. All of this, from beginning to end.
Children’s games, children’s songs, children’s rituals. And children’s tales.
“Enus,” I said, still huddled into myself, choking on bile and bitter humor. “How much did you know?”
“Nothing,” she answered. “I had no idea at all.”
I nodded, relieved. That our far-distant ancestors should have conspired against me didn’t distress me nearly as much as the thought that this woman had used me. That would have been intolerable. “Really?”
“I swear, Ellie. All I knew was that they,” she gestured at our captors, “were interested in this planet…and so it interested us, as well.”
I wasn’t sure that that was too much better. She had let me lead her here, knowing we were followed. But, then, I had been keen to live the life of an adventuress and spy. And here I was. So it was time to live the life.
“You will access this.” The Saurian commander spoke. “Or we will kill her.” All guns pointed towards Enus.
I tried to put on a cool, unconcerned expression. “That woman means nothing to me. Kill her or let her go. I can’t ‘access this’,” I mimicked the commander’s sibilance, “whether you threaten me or not.” Even as I spoke, I realized that I was lying. Another children’s song came to me, and in a flash, I understood its place in the puzzle.
But how to tell Enus without giving the game away? She didn’t know our songs and games.
I shrugged and turned away from both Enus and the commander. The treasure beckoned evilly. “I don’t know anything about this.” I collapsed into myself, muttering. Something Enus said when she had arrived on my planet stuck in my mind, something about human relations short-circuiting lizard brains. Surely I was smart enough to use this information?
“Give them the treasure,” Enus clanked her chains loudly, reaching out for me. “Don’t let them kill me!” Her tone of voice was shrill, but there was a look in her eyes, a message for me that I understood immediately. Lizard brains. Human relations. We could say anything, as long as our actions and words fit into certain patterns…but still how to tell Enus what she needed to know?
She was fighting against her guards and her bonds. I watched her with more inappropriate thoughts, as she strained against the chains, thrusting her body forward. My god. I shook myself to clear my thoughts and start to speak coldly.
“It’s child’s play, Enus. You weren’t here before and can’t know how I feel.” I stared at her, hard enough to burn a hole in her forehead. She pulled back a little, as if I had slapped her, then bowed her head. A nod. She understood.
I began to recite, “It’s red and green, the truth to be seen.” I stomped my foot and shouted at her. “It’s yellow and blue, and shame on you!” I screamed the last words as if it would have been my pleasure to see the lizards shoot her. Enus collapsed to her knees in grief and I whirled away. “Silver and gold,” I spat, “tales must be told.”
The Saurians stood around us, shifting uneasily, muttering. The commander stepped forward, his gun now trained on me.
“You will access this.” He repeated, then said something in their language, because the guards who held my chains, moved and I found myself being dragged towards the wall. Okay, here we go, I thought, let’s see if Enus got the message. I dug my heels in for a moment and waited until both guards tugged, then let go and fell heavily into them. As we tumbled down in a heap, I could hear noise and shouts and shots, but couldn’t afford to look, as my own guards were up and I was being hauled bodily towards the “treasure.”
The sounds behind me receded; it was hard to hear past my own grunts of discomfort. I made it as hard for them as I could, until they simply lifted me and carried me to the wall. They dumped me harshly on the ground, prodding me to stand. I leaned against the wall to pull myself up and was rewarded by a grinding noise that echoed around the room.
Guns neared my head, so I couldn’t risk looking, but the sounds from around the room were lessening. I prayed that Enus had gotten away, but there was no time for that, as I placed both hands in the conspicuously hand-shaped niche carved in the wall. The grinding noise stopped, but the sound of a lock opening was instantly audible. A row of colored lights appeared, each blinking smoothly. I waited for a moment, as if to analyze the pattern, then keyed in a random order of six colors, followed by yellow and blue. The grinding noise started again and the translucent wall slid upward slowly.
The lizards were transfixed. Truth be told, so was I. What was behind the wall that they wanted so badly?
As the wall lifted a little more, it was apparent that the vision of gold and gems was just that, a vision. Along with the wall, it rolled upwards, disappearing into some crevice above. But it was not the holographic image of treasures that we awaited breathlessly. Well, I was breathless. I don’t know how the lizards breathe. The room, when it was completely visible, was also completely empty, but for a single clear pedestal in the middle, with something that looked like a mirror balanced on the top.
As the door folded away, and the truth was revealed, there was once again the sound of guns firing, the scream of energy forced through air and the sounds of impacts with flesh and stone. Half seeing a pale figure out of the corner of my left eye, I threw myself back at the wall, hands thrust forward, then quickly, as if I had known all along that this was the true meaning of the rhyme, punched out the ancient code into a lock created generations ago. I could feel myself lifted off the ground and thrust forward as the wall, which had so agonizingly moved upwards into the ceiling, came crashing down behind me in a mere instant. I rolled away from the wall, surrounded and protected by Enus, who had scooped me up as she passed me at a dead run.
We lay there for a few moments, regaining our breath and untangling ourselves. The wall between the outer chamber and ourselves was now completely opaque, but I could hear small sounds and guessed that the lizards were trying to force their way in.
I lay back, letting the dizziness fade. “Enus?” I croaked.
“Ellie?” she replied from behind and above. I tilted my head back to see her standing there, looking down at me.
“Is this what it’s always like?”
“Mostly,” she agreed pleasantly. “Sometimes it’s more difficult.”
Slowly and painfully I dragged myself to my feet and joined her in the middle of the room. Where the mirror had stood taunting any intruder now the pedestal bore instead a simple black box. I reached out for the box tenderly. It was light. Empty? After all this? Cautiously, I pulled the lid up, saw a plush velvet lining. My brows furrowing, I opened the box , letting the lid flop back. It was clearly a jewelry box. And yes, it sat empty, mocking both Enus and I with its lack of contents.
I giggled slightly. Hysteria, no doubt. Enus took the box from me, lifted the velvet couch from the inside, ran a hand through the interior. My giggling increased. She lifted the box, looked at it from every possible direction, as I continued to giggle. Enus was about to pry the box apart, when I reached out with a cry.
“Don’t!” I said, taking the velvet interior and laying it back in the box, then closing it. “Don’t, don’t.” I hugged the box to my chest, as if it were precious. “Oh, Enus. How I hate my family all of a sudden,” I giggled convulsively. “Such intimidatingly clever creatures we all are. Treasure of the Elgabaal. What pretension, what…is there a word for people like this?” I closed my eyes and breathed deeply.
“I understand the who, the what and the where. And even how – but why, Enus, why?” I slipped to the floor with exhaustion. Enus was by my side immediately. We had no food or water; our bags were outside this room where hostile beings still attempted to break in.
“I will tell you why.” Enus stroked my hair. “Your illustrious ancestors had a secret that they wanted to protect. But they didn’t want the secret to be lost. So they locked the story into the hearts of their children and spread the answers to the secret way to find it in their children’s songs.”
“But…why?” I held the box out. “This box belongs to a piece of jewelry, right?” I reached into my shirt and pulled out the chain I always wore around my neck. With a quick tug the magnetic hold opened and I laid the white jewel in the box where it fit snugly. Perfectly. “My mother’s necklace,” I said to the gem. “Why is the box for my mother’s necklace buried in the earth? And hidden by a web of fairytales?”
For an answer, Enus gently took the box out of my hands, then walked across the chamber. She lifted the gem from its bed and held it out as she touched the wall. The outline of a door appeared. She touched the gem to the door and it began to slide open.
“This is the why. Here is the treasure of the Elga…”
“Nyah!” came the loud, demanding meow of a cat and a black figure shot into the room from the doorway as soon as enough space allowed it to. It jumped into Enus’ arms and proceeded to nuzzle her face.
“Winslow?” Enus laughed. “You came.”
I was completely speechless. How had Winslow found us? And whose voice was it that I heard calling my name? I stood, trembling, as my father ran into the room, crushing me into a tight embrace, saying my name over and over.
“A what?” I repeated for the third time.
We were once again in my father’s office, which I had never thought I would see again, so I found myself distracted by every detail of wall and floor, in my relief to be alive.
“An image transduction unit,” my father repeatedly gently.
“Which allows a person to change the appearance of a thing without changing the thing itself,” I parroted, not quite capable yet of understanding my own words. I felt no shame at my lack of comprehension. In the last few days I had been shot at, captured and chained. I felt that I was owed some indulgence. But after a moment, it all sunk in and I sighed. “That was why the caves kept changing. They never did, really – they just looked different?” I didn’t wait for a response. “The Saurians wanted the ITU.” I said.
“Yes,” both my father and Enus replied in stereo.
“That was why they were wandering the caves.” Enus continued. “When we heard from your father that they were there, I was sent to find out why. And stop them, of course.” Her brilliant smile melted me, but there was little more I could melt, tucked up as I was on the sofa, sleepy with exhaustion and having eaten a meal large enough for three people.
“And bring back the ITU?” I inquired, as gently as I could.
My father stepped in before Enus could respond. “The agreement was open-ended. We didn’t know for sure what, exactly, they were after. We didn’t know what we had – or whether there was anything we had at all.”
My eyes popped open as something occurred to me. “How did you find us?”
“Once the ITU was disengaged – that was what you did when you used the correct code – the caves’ image firmed and Winslow was able to track you.” My father seemed pleased to have some part in the story to tell. “That was exceedingly clever, Enus, marking your path where he could pick it up.” Upon hearing that, I felt foolish for not realizing that that had been what she was doing.
My father anticipated my next question. “We knew the ITU had been turned off, because of Winslow as well. He was sitting here on the windowsill, when he suddenly shot into my lap and demanded that I follow him. It was quite remarkable.” My father nodded to the cat, who waved a paw sleepily at him.
“So the real hero here is Winslow,” I said, not displeased with the idea. I closed my eyes and recited the rhyme. “It’s red and green, the truth to be seen. It’s yellow and blue, and shame on you. Silver and gold, tales must be told.” Then I reached up and took my mother’s gem into my hand and finished the verse, “Black and white, and all is right.” I looked down at the black jewelry box, where the white milky gem had lived once upon a time. “All for something we had in our hands all along.” I sighed. “Are all adventures like this? Exhausting and vaguely irritating?”
Laughing, Enus stood. “Sometimes they are just exhausting.” She bowed slightly to myself and to my father and announced that she and Winslow were going to bed. I thought about asking her to take me with her, but my eyes were hard to open now and the words seem to be stuck inside my mouth. I felt myself lifted slightly and then nothing more.
I awoke in my room. From the angle of the light it was instantly apparent that it was late morning. I yawned and stretched and reached out for the bell to call Jarella, but she was at my side before I could find it with my hand. She had an unusually pleased expression. I chalked it up to my return after a tense few days. But when Anitha entered with my clothes for the day, she had the same expression. I put my hands on my hips and demanded to know the cause.
“I met Enus in the hall this morning,” Jarella started, then stopped. She liked to pretend that she was inured to scandalous talk, but at heart she was rather shy. Anitha took up the story, but I didn’t need the rest of the details to understand their expressions. I was surprised to find that I felt a little bit jealous of them. But, after, all Enus did have the blessing of the goddess – it was practically a devotion to kiss her.
I spent the rest of the morning looking for Enus. I found her, at last, in the library, curled up with an early history of our world, and a pleased expression herself.
“How do you feel?” She asked immediately as soon as she saw me. She marked her place in the book, and sat up, making space for me to sit by her.
“You’ll be leaving, I suppose,” I found it hard to keep the petulance from my voice. “Now that you have the ITU.”
“Well, we don’t *have* it. We have an agreement with your father to share in the research results. But it will remain here.” She seemed unconcerned, but I felt something in me loosen that I hadn’t known was tense.
“Then you’re free to go?”
“If you’d like me to.” She smiled at me. “Or, I can stay for a little while. If there’s a good reason for me to stay.”
“There’s a lot about the treasure of Elgabaal that you still don’t know,” I smiled back at her. “Our songs, stories, games, they may all contain a clue. You may have to be here for some time.” I moved in closer, offering myself up to the spy with the power of the goddess. Her arms wrapped around me and her lips pressed mine.
“There is something I do know,” she said, when we at length moved away from one another.
“What’s that?” I breathed, while I willed my eyes to focus once more.
“There are no gold, nor jewels, nor anything as precious as the daughters of Elgabaal,” she said with a laugh, as she took me into her arms once again and kissed me.
Never, ever, has there been a kiss like that.