1/1 - A Day Too Late
We walked, climbed and slithered under the blue, blue sky, with the sun hot from above and the snow and ice cold from below.
Lucian led the way in the direction where the roadway must have been, yet we could not find it nor see it, and eventually it became clear that the upheavals on the mountainside must have erased a great deal more of the landscape than we first suspected.
After an hour or so I sat down and refused to go any further.
“There must be an easier way to do this. And, I am hungry and thirsty. Can’t we call for some food first?” I asked of him who was bursting with bright energy and really enjoyed clambering across the fields of rock and ice, repeatedly opening up great distances between us and then waiting with supressed impatience for me to catch up.
He agreed but when he opened the connection, there was a deathly silence on the other side.
The old man did not respond, and no-one else had taken his place.
Something most unusual had happened since the horse people had called on our help, only a day ago? Just one day ago – it seemed like lifetimes had passed since we lay in the grey marble room I had made for him, and which was now entirely gone, blasted fragments scattered across the ridges and the valleys of the North Mountains.
I caught a flash from Lucian that he was sorry that the Tadara had vanished with the tower and then a small amusement.
We really did not need swords to fight with anymore.
So, he opened the doorway and, noting my hesitation, took my hand and more or less pulled me straight into the opening.
There was a horrendous sensation of falling, spinning out of control and a definite rush of bitter cold, but it lasted only for a heartbeat and we stepped out of the white and into an onslaught of difference on every conceivable level; so much so that I nearly fell if it hadn’t been for Lucian steadying me with his hand and with his mind.
The air was thick, dry; it was much warmer here and after the bright freshness of the mountain range, the dense, dry heat fell upon me from all sides like a predator. The light turned the strangest hue of orangey-yellow; my body felt heavier as though weights were pressing on my head and shoulders and before me, there stretched a horizon so vast and wide it made my knees go weak. There was a steady push of deep wind blowing across my face without let up or pause that caused a pressure in my ears and against my eyes.
Lucian transferred my hand into his other hand and wrapped an arm around my waist, holding me closely.
I was grateful and leaned into his familiarity of presence and texture as I centred enough to look around me.
We stood in a round space, defined by an absence of grass, on what appeared to be some kind of sand or ground stone, covering thinly a base of rock beneath us. The space itself was not much bigger than a small cottage, and beyond it, there was the grass I remembered from Lucian’s memories, stretching out in all directions as far as the eye could see.
To the right of me and just outside the circle, lay a largish pile of smoldering black; overlaid, I remembered that this is where the keeper’s home would have been, that it had been a round shaped hut made from grass and mud, decorated with earth colours and weaves carved into the surface.
As my eyes tracked on and past the keeper’s house, following a straight trail that led to an assembly of caved in and broken structures, I became aware of the outlines of a number of motionless human shapes, on the trail and halfway in the grass that was trampled flat by the side of the trail.
It was very obvious that we had come a day too late.
Lucian stood straight by my side, holding me, tracking across the land, scanning for life signs and for the enemy. As far as he knew, there were no enemies to the horse people and I began to feel very uncomfortable, standing in this circle so exposed. I linked tighter with him and helped to scan, widening out onto the Serein levels and what I knew of the old magic ones, half to be of use and half to give me something to do beyond becoming more and more disconcerted and afraid with every heartbeat that passed.
This place was enormous, vast, and full of a whispering silence. There were just the tiniest of minds amongst the grasses, and the grasses itself had such an enormity of presence here that they represented a dense, slow consciousness of their very own.
There was no discernable life anywhere and through the link, I felt Lucian becoming uncomfortable now. Where were the horses? These plains had been filled with them on our/his last visit. Where were the horse people? Where were their enemies?
All was whispering, rushing silence.
I strained and stretched out to fill in the levels he could not yet cover and finally, I perceived a highly unusual echo amongst the noise of the grasses, unusual because it pulsed slowly and repeated itself with intervals large enough to make it difficult to detect as a pattern if you were not extremely acute and careful.
I alerted Lucian to this pattern and we tuned into it together, filtering out the distractions of silence until the pulse was clearly perceived, the resonance of a giant beating heart.
We sat in the pattern world, waiting for it to come again, to ascertain more of its nature, and when it did, I realised that it was a kind of revolving doorway that would open just for a fraction of a second, then turn away again as it moved out of phase with where we were once more.
I would see what lay on the other side of this doorway.
That might prove to be a very dangerous thing. We might consider to leave here and at once. I dislike this situation.
Then we’re back on top of a mountain with no provisions and nothing but a very large forest to traverse when we get down. Also, I would know what has transpired here. (I feel guilty about this, we should have come yesterday when they asked us to, when they were still alive).
What’s done is done (you were not to know, be calm). I dislike this situation (no control, no information, no intelligence).
(Acknowledgement). I would like to try sending the bird through the doorway.
(Uncertainty) The doorway might break the connection – this might be dangerous to you/us.
I would like to try?
I called upon the part of me that was the bird, through whose eyes I could see yet remain safely on the other side. Willingly enough, it came and fluttered hard against the storms of rushing and whispering. With Lucian lending strength and certainty of volition, I hovered it just near the space where the doorway would appear. When the pulse began to be felt, I held until it reached its full potential and pushed the bird-me through and to the other side.
We just caught the briefest flash of a deep purple red and a pale verticalness before the doorway disappeared and the connection to the bird was first stretched rapidly to breaking point, then it ripped completely, causing me to scream out in pain and Lucian to enfold me instantly with soothing and support.
That was a most unpleasant sensation. Thank you for your help.
(I told you so, supressed not quite rapidly enough). Let us be sure to get the bird back on the next rotation.
Lucian took the lead as I was still smarting from the tearing of the connection, tracking the space where the doorway would re-appear with care and when the first echo appeared, slowing down time so the pulse became a long drawn out sigh that gave us time to call the bird, re-attach the connection and to pull it through before the door closed away once more.
As soon as the connection was re-established, information began to flow through to both of us, a shared vision of a place beneath a purplish red sky – it might have been at sunset? – with a temple-like structure, not in ruins, quite intact, of many columns and many sets of steps leading up to it from the sweep of a low valley. It was cold there but not cold enough to kill us; and the air was breathable. The bird had not detected any signs of life, nor movement.
That was as it might have been, but the most important information was the presence of a multitude of doorways right above the temple structure, tightly clustered in a triple spiral stretching out.
This temple was a central connector for doorways.
The rotating entrance was thus because from there, you could go almost anywhere, and it certainly was a probability that exit points to our own world might be found.
I could not stop myself from thinking what Sepheal would have given for knowledge of this place and could feel Lucian growling through the link. It would be a long time indeed before he would be able to make peace with his former master.
We must go there, Lucian.
We should return whilst we still can. What is there to be gained?
Don’t you see? The ability to move from one place to the other at will, quickly, swiftly. Knowledge, information.
I have a bad feeling about this. About all of this.
We need not stay long? Please?
It is a wonderful opportunity for learning, for exploration.
You can fall into volcanoes in your quest for learning and exploration!
(Irritation, strong reluctance, grudging acceptance) If it is what you want.
He did not respond, just very workman-like picked up the link closer from his end, as I did from mine, and we moved into the waiting position for the next pulse. When it came, I took us both straight through in a swooping dive and …
We both stumbled and landed in deep dust like rust red sand, that swirled high and very slow, causing us both to start coughing immediately.
Every move we made dislodged more dust and we rapidly headed for the steps that led up to the temple building to get away from the sand. It struck me how far my steps seemed to stretch. Easily, I took three steps at a time and noticed Lucian bounding up five, ahead of me. In spite of the coughing, it occurred to me there was something very bizarre about this place.
About a quarter the way up the stairs we stopped, coughing, clearing our lungs of the red dust sand which had not followed us but remained swirling at the foot of the steps, very, very slowly settling into itself again, as though time itself had been slowed.
When I could breathe again, I became aware of the incredible stillness of the place. The only sound I could perceive was the beating of my own heart in my ears, the rapid sound of my breath and Lucian’s beside me. Beyond this, there absolutely nothing. I reached to other levels and there was nothing at all, not even the whispering of the grass. This was the most profound silence I had ever known, and Lucian’s mind, energies and eminations stood out brilliantly, a flare in darkest night, right next to me.
I put my head back and looked up at the strange, purple sky above. It was altogether starless and if you just looked but didn’t reach into it, there would be nothing to see at all. Yet, on another level, the sky was flashing brilliantly with the triple vortex spiral of the doorways, close together, an extraordinarily ornate jewelled necklace, the centre of the spiral directly above the very centre of the temple itself that had no roof just columns, marching off into the distance.
I got up without thinking and moved swiftly and unusually lightly up the steps, giving little heed to Lucian who was following right behind, unsettled by my lack of caution and still very much wrapped in a strong sense of foreboding that I simply did not share.
Once up on a level with the temple, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to move into the Serein glide rather than to continue walking – it was as if the structure and type of the building and the land upon which it stood simply invited such an action. Lucian did not like it one bit and send me a stronger caution but I gave him no heed and swiftly flowed forward across the plain, undecorated whitish floor to the centre of the temple.
It was unmarked in any way yet there was a tightly focussed apex of power there. I could feel it, sense it, even see it standing like a shaft of light and I had to enter it, I remembered it somehow, my excitement growing with the decreasing distance. Behind me, I can feel Lucian breaking into a run to catch up with me, calling me to caution, calling my name with growing desperation, and he physically reaches for me, wraps his arms around my waist but my forward momentum is such that I carry us both into the apex, breaking straight through into the brightest brightness there ever was and I am instantly extinguished and transferred into ….