Squiggles and squares, wiggles and wares,
who cares if a thing is skew or fair?
~ Tattle’s Blunt Adventures
The Square Pyramid
A distinctive alteration appeared on the horizon.
As they were a distance from it, it had to be of massive proportions.
Southeast, by dead reckoning. No question, it was what they searched for.
As they drew steadily nearer it materialised into a gigantic pile of rubble, easily two hundred feet high and three hundred wide, and from the centre a wall lifted, largely intact. Dismounting, feeling both awed at the size and disheartened to find only rubble, they approached warily. It did not appear stable. In fact, as they neared there was a rumble like thunder, and a large block dislodged from the top of the wall, four hundred feet above them, and crashed into the pile with a sound like mighty thunder intensified. Dust billowed out, temporarily obscuring view.
“This is the Square Pyramid?” Samson queried. “I expected more.”
“It was,” Belun said. “Come, let us back up a bit; this edifice is unsafe. Even an Immortal would have a hard time surviving if that collapses.”
They retreated. At their feet were chips of stone, strewn haphazardly, evidently shot away when the massive blocks shattered.
Curious, Mordan bent to retrieve and finger a sliver. “It’s marble. Aaru, what it must’ve entailed to raise something this huge with this heavy material.” He craned backward, leaning on his staff. “Once, it must’ve been a sight to behold.”
Everyone stopped to gaze at the enormous structure, each imagining it in full glory, each concept different.
Slowly they walked on until they felt safer.
McSee frowned, agitated, and Rayne frowned at him, but the red-haired man shook his head, denying a problem, face closing over.
“When you look at it from here, you can see what a square pyramid looked like,” Kylan said.
“You can?” Kisha teased.
He flashed a grin. “See the rubble? Imagine that as the pyramid part …” He used his hands to demonstrate, drawing them upward in a sloping motion. “Then, from the centre of the pyramid, a square tower rises.” His hands went straight up. “Can you see it? Aaru knows why, but there it is.”
“Was,” Samson quipped.
“What I can’t figure out is why those Enlightenment idiots would come out here. To find ruins? What would they do here?” Kisha pondered.
“Perhaps they had to scale that unstable tower,” Cristi giggled. “See the world from up there. Maybe there was more then to see.”
“Idiots,” Aven muttered.
“What now?” Kylan asked.
“We solve the riddle,” Llettynn stated.
“Let’s get under those trees,” Taranis said, pointing at a gnarled copse forming decent shade.
They hobbled the horses and found an ancient well. It was swiftly in use.
Night fell. They made a miserable fire, for there was little wood. Later Llettynn grew irritated at the blaze constantly spluttering out, constantly to be resuscitated, and snapped the pitiful warmth into eager flame, bright and hot. It was cold out in the open.
“Llettynn!” Taranis exclaimed.
“It is a small signature,” the Siric said and leaned in to warm his icy hands.
Moonrise was some time away, the night inky black, the stars far distant. Four nights hence it would be Moondark, and the Guardians were not looking forward to it. Darklings loved the lightless night.
They knew the riddle by heart. Tonight, with the nearby pile of rubble as inspiration, they would solve it even if they had to forgo sleep.
“Let’s take it line for line again,” Taranis suggested, without conviction.
Glint began to recite, “’The Valleur build eternity’ …”
“Doesn’t look like it,” Samson murmured, amused.
Mordan sat up straighter. “But that’s it! They build forever, they say thus in the Oracles and why doubt it? In believing them, we must assume that heap isn’t reality.” He smacked his forehead with the flat of his hand. “It wouldn’t have occurred to me had I not seen the rubble today - strange how the mind works. Look at the next lines, ‘No substance in weather’, it gets pretty harsh out here, and ‘No substance in strife’, Valaris has known much war, and still they insist it is forever. There is a passage in the Oracles referring to cloaking and uncloaking, as if the Valleur could hide objects in plain sight. I suggest that the rubble hides what is really there.”
“Yes,” Llettynn stated.
“Vannis could confirm,” Averroes said.
“We leave him out of it at present, my dear,” Taranis said. “We need prove what we can do without him, just as he needs gain our trust. Mordan, is there an uncloaking enchantment in the Oracles?”
“We have our own unmasking spells,” Glint pointed out.
“This is a Valleur site; we should speak Valleur magic. Mordan?”
Mordan could not meet the Guardian’s eyes. “I am afraid,” the old man whispered. “Forgive me; I am a cowardly old man. Yes, there is an uncloaking, but I am afraid of it.” His eyes moved to Rayne as if seeking absolution.
Well, Llettynn thought, we begin to see who the real power here is.
Rayne glanced briefly at Taranis. “Mordan, I have studied magic since I could talk …” McSee made a sound of displeasure in his throat, having only taken that bold step in his twenties, but Rayne ignored him. “… and I am still afraid. Do not apologise, my friend; admitting your fear is more bravely done than hiding it.”
“Amen,” Taranis said.
“Indeed,” Belun murmured.
With suspiciously blinking eyes, Mordan nodded. “How can I not?” Knowing the enchantment verbatim, it would be his duty to speak it.
“We shall support you,” Rayne smiled, and Saska was relieved to see him do so again.
McSee sported a thunderous expression. Over the last few days he had grown all the more quiet, as if something burdened him, and when he did speak, it was to snap or argue.
“McSee, are you with us?” Rayne queried, sending a puzzled glance at the big man. McSee nodded unhappily.
“What of ‘Blind is our stronghold’?” Kisha asked as Mordan rose, pulling Cristi to her feet beside him.
Llettynn, already standing and stamping his feet to engender greater warmth, said, “After it is real, I believe.”
“How can you be sure? You always confirm as if you know,” Kisha said.
“A Siric talent, young woman,” Llettynn murmured. “When a truth is spoken we feel it reverberate within.”
“Handy,” Samson grinned, and received a baleful look from the Siric.
“Llettynn is our sounding board,” Belun teased. He also received a stare.
“Vannis says the Siric are the cleverest of all sentients,” Averroes said.
She did not receive a stare; instead she was given a thoughtful look. “Really? I am liking this Vallorin more and more.”
Only McSee did not laugh.
Taranis brought it under control. “Come, it’s time to be serious. Mordan?”
Taking a deep breath, Mordan ambled out to beyond the circle of light to face the dark mass ahead, where he became as stone. His courage deserted him.
Taranis went over to the old man, and laid a hand on his bony shoulder. “We are with you.”
And they were, arrayed behind him.
The old man’s shoulders rose and fell. “I don’t know the correct pronunciation.”
“Phonetic,” Averroes said.
The old man cleared his throat in preparation.
“Wait,” Rayne interrupted. “Averroes, take the Medaillon and do as you did for Aven when he cast spells …”
“No! I dare not touch it! I-I will take it straight to Vannis!”
There was a shocked silence.
“Well,” McSee muttered.
Rayne touched his chest where the Medaillon lay against his skin, and said, “It has never done Averroes ill; we should follow her instincts.”
“Now is not the time, Rayne,” Taranis said. “Standing here in the dark about to uncloak a sacred site and then to speak of freeing the Vallorin, probably the architect of yon building? I think not. Mordan, forgive us; please resume.”
Shaking, Mordan nodded. “Um … Ma-ma … sorry, I will go again. Ma nume ka shunl, Ma nume ka shunl, ra shu donl ken, nume ka, nume ka!” The last word he shouted in a firm, sure voice.
“Yes,” the Siric murmured.
“Terrible sounding language,” McSee muttered. “Guttural and harsh.”
Averroes glared daggers at him, and Rayne surprised himself and the others by saying, “Shut up, McSee. For your information Valleur is musical, if you know how to run the syllables together.”
“Oh?” Llettynn drew out.
“Come on!” Kisha whispered. “What are we doing here: arguing or uncloaking?”
Rayne and Llettynn traded glances, before Rayne whispered, “Is it not true that most spells are Valleur, Siric?”
Llettynn inclined his head in defeat.
Meanwhile nothing changed out in the dark ahead. Agonising minutes dragged by, and the silence, finally, was unbroken.
Taranis was about to tell Mordan to repeat the enchantment, when the last standing wall in the pile of rubble glowed luminescent jade. Eerie.
Kisha gripped Kylan’s shoulder and dug her nails in. He did not notice. Cristi moved into Samson’s arms. Faces reflected the strengthening green glow. McSee sucked his breath in through clenched teeth.
Then there was no longer just a crumbling wall, but a glowing tower topped with a small pyramid. It was an amazing sight, ethereal and beautiful.
The luminosity changed direction, rushing out from the four corners of the tower at the bottom diagonally to the earth below. Behold! they seemed to declare, and Rayne’s blood stirred with joy and recognition he had no name for. Averroes was beside him, clutching his arm with the same rapt expression on her face.
They looked at each in complicity, in wonder. Do we know this place? This dream?
The Square Pyramid was whole, much as Kylan sketched in the air, and it glowed. They approached in silence, a mark of unconscious respect. As they walked, the strewn marble chips vanished from the ground. Closer, they noticed an alteration in the air. It was no longer cold, but warm, balmy.
They crossed over on paving so well fitted it was as smoothed rock. They were on a path meandering through a garden. There were trees and shrubs, and flowers closed to the night, flowers open to the dark. The sweet smells of honeysuckle and jasmine hung in still air.
On looking back briefly, there was no sight of their horses or Llettynn’s magical fire.
Huge stately oaks barred them from view.
Kisha laughed. Cristi whooped into the air. Glint chuckled.
The site possessed an atmosphere of benevolence, of welcome, of homecoming.
“This is how it was when the Valleur were here?” Kylan whispered. “It’s fantastic. What did we do to this place?”
“For once the humans are blameless,” Llettynn said. “The Valleur hid this.”
“And Drasso changed Tor into today’s desert,” Aven added.
They reached the foot of the Pyramid and it towered over them. The marble blocks were of equal size and shape, expertly dressed, with nary a crack visible between them. No longer glowing jade, the edifice yet gave off light; a soft white glow that had nothing to do with magic, but rather with the nature of the stone.
Cristi laid her right hand against the sloping marble. “It’s warm,” she breathed. “As if it’s alive.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. The Valleur were master-builders and it’s said not just expertise went into their creations, but also their essence,” Belun said, who had reverted to his Centuar form. He was rueful. “Mordan’s uncloaking unmasked me as well.”
“Evil cannot build like this,” Aven murmured.
Llettynn swirled his tongue in his mouth. He did not deny that aloud, but he had personally seen glory, riches, and astounding magic under the aegis of some unsavoury sorcerers.
Taranis glanced around, a frown marring his face. “Someone else was unmasked, by the looks of it.”
“Who?” Mordan asked, horrified. What had he done?
Samson frowned also. “I don’t see … you mean McSee?”
“I am afraid so,” Taranis replied. “I started having my suspicions a while ago, but hoped I was wrong. Always obdurate, asking irrelevant questions, and quick to anger, especially with Rayne. He may have been sent to ensure Rayne was included in the team, more probable now there is this whiff of prophecy, but who controls that mixed-up man, I cannot say.”
“Shouldn’t we go after him?” Kylan asked, noting Rayne’s grim expression.
“No,” Rayne said.
“Because he is a friend, he will come to his senses.”
They stared at Rayne.
Rayne shrugged. “You did not meet the McSee I met in Farinwood. We have changed, all of us; he is having a harder time accepting. I refuse to hound him.”
“It’s literally a jungle out there now,” Glint said. “He’s gone.” The Sagorin inclined his head towards Rayne. “And I agree with Rayne.”
“Maybe you’re wrong, and maybe he’s nearby, well, relieving himself,” Kisha suggested.
“He is gone. We will find a horse missing when we go back,” Llettynn murmured. “Mixed-up is right, but not evil. He has had a tough time of it in recent years, and knows not what to believe in.”
“Do any of us?” Kisha whispered.
“Believe in yourself first, and the rest is easy,” the Siric responded. “The man from Gasmoor has not seen that truth yet.”
“I don’t think we have seen the last of our erstwhile friend, but, perforce, we must leave him to another day. We have a more pressing problem right now,” Taranis said. “We need to find the gates.”
Aven wondered, “Did Infinity get to McSee?” He could not believe McSee was not what he had thought; it pained him to think his judgement was off.
“More than likely.”
“She did not know Rayne before we gathered at the Well,” Llettynn murmured. “I doubt she knows of him now.”
Taranis inclined his head. “Then she approached McSee to use as a spy, and probably had some kind of leverage; either before the Calloway sank, or soon after.”
“Actar,” Glint mused. “McSee was too drunk in Luan, unless he was faking.”
“McSee is stubborn,” Rayne murmured. “Infinity’s leverage, whatever it is, would not budge him from a path quickly.”
“Hey, the moon is up,” Kisha mused, her mind on another track. “I just had a thought; the riddle says ‘only the wife opens the gates as daylight fold’. Who is the wife to daylight; whose touch could be ‘lightless is the feather’?”
“The moon!” Cristi exclaimed.
“Good thinking, Kisha,” Taranis said. He flicked a glance at Rayne, who shrugged as if to say as far as he was concerned the subject of McSee was closed. Taranis nodded.
“The moon will reveal the door,” Belun mused. “Lucky we didn’t tarry longer in Actar, or we may have hit moondark.”
“’Man dies, a child, maternity’,” Rayne quoted. “During daylight, or moondark, no matter how desperate, we would find no entrance.”
“Easy riddle, with hindsight,” Taranis laughed.
“I don’t see a door on this side.” Cristi had her hand on the stone, mesmerized by the life it contained.
“Walk it,” Aven suggested.
They walked around the Pyramid. Rayne remarked to Llettynn as he passed him at one stage, “Is your mind more at ease, Siric? I was not unmasked.”
“Give it time, mortal; yours will be another manner of unmasking.”
“You dream too much.”
“And you hide too much.”
They walked the perimeter three times, to no avail, ending back where they started.
“Maybe I was wrong,” Kisha murmured.
“And maybe the moon isn’t high enough,” Kylan said.
“You may have it there,” Taranis pondered. “Fine, let’s separate. Four teams to keep an eye on each side in the event it comes and goes quickly.” He hoped they had not already missed it.
Barely ten minutes later, Aven, Averroes and Rayne hollered from the north face.
The entrance materialised like magic. It was magic and it was not a small door, but a twelve-foot-high double-door of solid oak, carved with strange symbols.
Due to size, the doors were recessed deep into the side of the Pyramid, and the passage formed by the recess was lit, the ground underfoot an iridescent blue. The hues would fade into a more acceptable format once discovery was complete. The entrance, to their relief, did not vanish when an errant cloud obscured the moon.
Aven and Rayne grinned at each other, appearing ghoulish in the strange light.
Rayne scrutinised the door when the others arrived. Looking over his shoulder, he asked, “Shall I give it a push? There are no handles.” Without awaiting an answer, he pushed both sides. It opened inward without a sound. Before him lay darkness, but the air within smelled fresh and wholesome.
“Be careful, my boy,” Aven murmured.
Nodding, for he did not feel at ease, Rayne held his right hand before him. A flame flickered at his fingertips. Using it to light his way, he stepped over the threshold, and the entering caused the interior to light up of its own accord.
Crowding behind Rayne, they could not believe the sight that greeted them. A mellow blue light suffused everything and transparent globes hung suspended at various heights. The interior had the appearance of a giant upside-down bubble bath. It was decidedly odd.
“I think you may banish that now,” and Aven gestured at the flame. Blinking into awareness, Rayne withdrew it.
The globes were above head height, and they wandered around the huge, angled interior, craning their necks. The marble walls shone gently, cool to the touch.
“I wonder what they are,” Saska murmured, pointing upward. One of the globes lowered, halting at exactly her eye-level. It seemed empty until she touched it. Within, tiny figures could be seen. Excited, she called to the others.
More tiny figures appeared, and they were golden of skin with long hair of white, yellow or gold. Their eyes were a fascinating yellow.
“They must represent the Valleur,” Saska whispered. “What are they doing?”
The little men darted to and fro, carrying minute trees and shrubs. Some kneeled on the ground throwing seeds into shallow trenches, while others filled them in.
“The planting of Valaris,” Taranis murmured. “Look at the background.” Blue mountains made misty by distance and the tiny size overlooked the busy group in the bubble. It was the Eastern Range, no doubt about it.
Saska pointed up and another globe descended, while the first returned to its previous position. When she touched it, a new scene sprang into life.
Four Valleur stood atop a high mountain looking over an azure ocean. In the far reaches lightning flashed and clouds gathered. First one, then two, knelt. The remaining two proceeded to shave the kneeling two’s long hair in even strokes born of long practise. When it was finished, they reversed position and the same action was repeated. Hair blew into the air.
“They’re preparing for battle,” Averroes said. “Vannis told me it’s tradition to shave their heads.”
“I don’t recognise the world,” Taranis said, intrigued. “Llettynn?”
Pursing his lips, Llettynn replied, “The view is too limited to be sure, but if I were to guess I would say Beacon, about twenty thousand years ago. Today it is a human world and little of that beauty remains.”
“The humans again,” Aven said.
“This place is a museum, an archive of some kind,” Rayne said, pacing around. “Extraordinary.” He pointed at one globe after the other, touching them briefly, but not studying them; he attempted to garner a feel for the place and its purpose. “I am willing to wager, if we study these, we would have a fair idea of Valleur history.”
Aven’s eyes gleamed and he commenced muttering to himself, walking away from the others. His hand pointed up with regularity. And his heart beat a rhythm of anticipation.
Averroes laughed. “Dear me, now we’ll never get him out of here.”
“Interesting,” Belun murmured. “This here is the kind of challenge to lose oneself in. A new and untold tale of a forgotten race intrigues.”
Aven glanced at him and averted his gaze. Indeed. The kind of challenge to lose oneself in.
Rayne studied him thoughtfully, but did not alert Averroes to his state of mind.
“Which we don’t have time for,” Taranis said.
“Oh, let’s look at a few more, please!” Cristi begged.
Smiling, for he too wanted to see more, Taranis pointed up. For the next two hours they called out to each other to come and see, they cried, they laughed, they frowned and they were overwhelmed. Not one among them would judge the Valleur after that session; it was evident the golden people were lumin kindred, and had been forced to extremes by circumstances. Secretly pleased by the new mind-set, Averroes was privately vindicated.
There was much to see and learn, and finally Rayne called the halt. “Sunrise comes, and we have only two days to find the Obelisk. Time to go.”
“What about the tower?” Kisha said amid disappointed groans. A globe descended to her, but she ignored it in favour of the dark square overhead - the entrance to the tower. The globe retreated after a time.
“How do we get up there?” Cristi asked, squinting up.
“Point at it, I would say,” Aven said, and did just that. A ladder lowered to the ground. He grinned. “Not that I’m forcing my old bones up there.”
“Rayne and I will go,” Taranis said.
They had wasted enough time already, as instructive as it was. Disappointed faces said they would be up there far too long if he allowed all to go.
The two men scaled the ladder to vanish into the darkened square. From there, up and up they climbed … up, up and up.
“I have been spoilt by the way we travel,” Taranis muttered breathlessly in the lead.
“No idea what my excuse is,” Rayne groaned, chest tight with exertion.
Chuckling, they continued, and at last arrived on a platform at the top of the tower.
All strain left them, all cares.
They were on a viewing platform, transparent glass all around, the pyramid roof painted gaily in a variety of flowers, but the interior did not caused their awe - it was the land. They could see the length and breadth of Tor Island, and beyond, to the mainland. To the west, the Western Ocean stretched to the distant horizon. It was moments before sunrise.
“It’s changed; the entire island is different,” Taranis breathed.
“Will it revert once we leave, I wonder?” Rayne mused, praying it would not.
“I don’t think so. We have awakened a sacred site and with it the life that was and will be. Tor Island has been blessed this night.”
“The Valleur really despised humankind to have hidden this.”
“We shall not be judge and jury; it was a different universe then. Boy, are the Actarians in for a surprise this morning.”
Then, as the morning sun peeped up from the mainland, the two men were lost to the view. It was an extraordinary renewal of an almost dead island. Silent they stood. In homage.
The benign dawn bathed this fresh new day, new life, with soft tendrils of light. Before, the island was barren, now flowers and trees covered it. Green vied for dominance over purple, scarlet, sunflower yellow, pale pink, amber, and lakes of fresh water glinted welcome and mystery here and there through and amid the trees. It was fresh, riotous colour, too much for their senses to assimilate. A flock of birds lifted from the trees ahead, their colour a striking emerald; parrots, squawking greeting at the new day.
“Here the darkness has been banished,” Rayne said.
“Amen,” Taranis intoned.
“We must go.”
They stood a while longer, entranced.
“I can track McSee from here,” Taranis said without looking at his companion.
“Leave him. Please.”
“He could be a traitor.”
“He isn’t. What he is, is miserable.”
“Taranis, since the night Vannis awakened my dreams have intensified. Short and sharp. She says …” Rayne voice caught there, and he swallowed. “She tells her father it will all burn.”
“What will burn?”
Rayne turned his head to the Guardian. “The Valleur world beyond the Rift.”
“You are saying Vannis is right about the Darak Or.”
“What we have seen in the globes below softens my attitude to the Valleur in general, but, Rayne, we know nothing of Vannis. What if he is the one inducing the kind of dreams that will force someone of your power to release him into this new time?”
Rayne looked away.
They stood unmoving and wordless for a few minutes and the transformation outside ensnared them anew.
Taranis said, “This is true magic, and it covers us like a blanket.”
“Meaning no Darak Or is going to see us. I would we descend that ladder the Guardian way.”
Rayne laughed and took Taranis’ outstretched hand.
An instant later they were among the others and the globes.