Not sure I like where this ends, but it’s midnight so up it goes.
Tam started when the voice rang out, nearly falling backwards off her chair. It rang out a second time, harsh and peremptory, barking out orders or warnings in a language she couldn’t understand. It repeated itself again – the exact phrase, as far as she could tell – before falling silent again. The sounds of the desert, the wind and insects and distant birds, seemed far too quiet after the sudden burst of noise.
After a moment’s hesitation, Tam bundled her tools back into her pack and quietly moved her chair a good distance further back. Better not to provoke whatever was guarding the threshold any further for today, she reckoned. It remained as quiet as she’d found it as she sat down again and looked more carefully at the structure buried beneath the paintings and idols. Nothing leaped out at her – the star was different, yes, but the rest of the building was more or less identical to the dozens she’d already seen: sturdily built out of natural stone, with a door made out of obviously mass-produced metal. It was covered in sand and dirt, and could easily have been standing there for longer than the local tribes’ histories stretched back. The basic architecture, the materials, the much more recent piled idols and painted signs – there was nothing there that she hadn’t seen many times over.
But it listened and it spoke. It was, in some way, alive. It was also the best lead she’d found in more than six months of hiking, digging, and constant interrogation of every community she came across.
The other structures Tam had found had been ruins – some broken into and repurposed as tombs by the locals, but mostly dead and silent. Today’s find had clearly been better preserved than the others she’d looked at, even if the only difference was a rude doorkeeper. The real challenge now was getting inside. Entry would be difficult, especially since she had no desire to antagonise whatever was lurking inside – burning down the door was most definitely not an option any more. If her mark was here then she’d need to be particularly careful, but even if he were elsewhere it would be senseless to stir up animosity here.
Tam turned over a new leaf in her notebook and started on a second map, a local one. She couldn’t understand the doorkeeper, nor could she blast her way in without inviting more trouble than she was prepared for: the smart move, then, would be to find a back door. She marked down a scale and a few landmarks before packing up the chair and stretching. She’d need to find water if she was going to be here for more than another day or two, so a broad pattern would be best; if she didn’t find a well or a stream then she could head back to the nearest village and set out again in a few days for a proper search.