I reached up to shield my eyes from the harsh noon sun, straining through my veil to make some sense of the world around me. The heat haze shimmered in the distance, but at least the mountain was still clear. We’d been trying to make our way here for days and I’d lost count of the number of friends I’d left behind, their bodies drying out in the unforgiving dust.
We were down to a single wagon, all our worldly possessions, such as they were, held within the canvas and wood construct. None of our animals had made it thus far. The remaining four of us teamed up to pull the wagon. At this point it was all or nothing. Just another few hours to go.
Each step thudded in my ears, pounding against the cracked ground, echoing the crunch of the wagon wheels on the dust. Suddenly the world seemed to disappear from my addled brain. Looking up, I found myself covered in the shadow of the mountain, confusion warring with the fatigue. We’d made it?
My gaze was captured by the massive vault doors embedded into the stone face of the mountain. The legends had been true! The Doors to the Underworld, the world of darkness and shade, the world hidden from the sun. My parents had told me of those doors but I’d never really believed them. After countless years drudging through the heat and the desolate world, could there really be a hidden world of bounty?
Releasing myself from the harness for the wagon, I staggered towards the vault doors, vaguely aware of my surviving friends shambling alongside me. Collapsing against the metal, I marveled that it was cool to the touch, the cold seeping through my leathers in a way that I’d never felt before. It was a blessing, a short reprieve from the oppression that had been my life up til that point.
None of us could really tell how long we just leaned against those doors. Only the eventual laughter of one of my friends broke us from our exhausted sentry. We had to move on. Nodding to my friend, trying to suppress my own hysterical laughter, I grabbed hold of the door handle on my side of the door, along with my friends, two to a handle. With a grunt and a heave, we pulled, dragging those massive doors open.
Air seemed to rush past us as the doors slowly inched open, the heat of the day rushing past the shadows and that final barrier to flood the interior, long before we got the doors open enough to push ourselves inside. A single shaft of shade addled light drifted by us, flooded by motes of light to illuminate part of the interior. Cold, sterile metal greeted our gaze. A long hallway seemingly untouched by the years, only the dust billowing in from our intrusion daring to stain the floor.
Slowly, we made our way inside, unable to speak. Unwilling to disturb the silence around us. After a few steps, a crackle above startled me and sent us all diving for cover. With none available, we huddled against the unforgiving walls. A moment later I had to shield my eyes again as light flared into light, the ceiling seeming to burn with brightness.
Lamps? Light Bulbs? Something like that. I think. I remember my mother telling me about the artificial lights that could keep an entire campsite as bright as day without the heat. That had to be what those bright bars were on the ceiling.
Blinking away the spots from my eyes, I returned my gaze to the interior, seeing the corridor go deeper and deeper into the mountain, not a door insight before the corridor curved out of sight, far beyond me. Looking at my friends, we all nodded, then scrambled onwards.