“Throw me the line, Parus!”
Oska slid forward across the ledge, reaching out a hand. Above him, the Fire-Agori Parus uncoiled his rope, tossing it back down the cliff-side.
“Catch!” he said as he anchored it into the rough stone. “I hope you’re not getting tired, scholar. We’ve a ways to go yet.”
Oska scowled, “Even scholars have some brawn, Parus.” He heaved himself up on the line slowly, testing its strength. “We simply use our brains in applying it.”
“Hah!” Parus laughed, “Well said...well said.”
Above them, the face of the cliff rose in shelf after shelf of overgrown lichen and sornaxa-bush. The sun blazed full and bright in the midday sky, bathing the rise with heat.
“Old Solis is unforgiving today,” Oska said as he pulled himself onto the ledge, standing up beside his companion. He stopped to wipe a sheen of sweat from his forehead.
“They say he used to be brighter,” Parus said, smiling. “In the time of the Matoran. Right, scholar?”
Oska scoffed, “I seem to remember you also theorizing that the great wars were caused by sun-sickness.”
“Ah, well...” the Fire-Agori shrugged and stretched, lifting his pack again. “Ready for the next leg?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
By evening they had scaled several more ledges. The sun was low on the western horizon, and the two Agori had stopped for the night. There was a low cave leading off from the shallow plateau they had reached—an excellent place to make camp.
The Fire-Agori, true to his heritage, had a small fire crackling in short order, and soon they were satisfying their hunger with some provisions. The light faded slowly from the sky, ruddy orange dying into dark blue. Stars flickered up out of the sunset.
Oska looked out from the mouth of the cave, surveying the dim landscape below. The mountain-slope stretched away before him, giving way to woodlands farther to the west. Southward, the trees thinned out into wide, grassy plains. The cities of Tesara and Mava lay two days journey in that direction, now hidden in the veiling night.
“So tell me, scholar,” Parus spoke through a mouthful of dried meat, “what do you hope to find in the Mountains of the Matoran? Pottery? Or maybe some of their old masks?”
“What?” Oska turned back to the firelight, “Old masks? Is that all you think the Matoran were?”
“Ah, well. Can’t say I’ve seen much more of them in the museum-halls.”
“I doubt you’ve ever visited an archive in your life,” Oska prodded. “We might have lost a great deal about the Matoran, but we still know some things.”
“And you’re in the business of finding out more?”
“Of course. Haven’t you ever wondered what they were like? How they lived? They were a remarkable race.”
“Apparently not remarkable enough to survive.”
“I wouldn’t say that...” Oska trailed off. “I’ve made over seven expeditions to these mountains, and I’ve brought back numerous artifacts from their culture. You should go educate yourself about them sometime.”
“Hah! Maybe later. Right now I have better things to do, scholar. Like not breaking my neck.” Parus chuckled.
“Although,” he added, “I have to admit: these mountains are rather strange. I’ve climbed a lot of mountains in my day, scholar, and I don’t think I’ve encountered any that were so...I don’t know...
“Straight, I suppose.”
“Straight?” Oska frowned, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The slopes,” the Fire-Agori gestured, trying to explain, “they’re not like, say, the Black Spikes or the Quartz Ranges at all. They’re straight. Angular, I guess you’d say. And the rock is tough to anchor in.”
“Even this cave,” Parus continued, “look at how squared-off the entrance is. I don’t know how that could have formed naturally in this kind of slope.”
“Now I’m beginning to wonder if old Solis was hard on you too.”
“Hah. Maybe, scholar. Maybe.”
They lapsed into silence, listening to the crackle of the firewood.
“No birds, either.” Parus muttered.
“Oh, go to sleep.”
Hours passed, and the night was cool when Oska suddenly awakened.
He was shivering, his rough cloak offering little protection from the cold wind that was now blowing into the cave. The fire had burned down to fitful embers in the steady breeze.
“Parus!” Oska whispered, turning over. “Where are you?”
The Fire-Agori should have been keeping watch...
...and keeping the fire fed. Oska cursed as he got up, his teeth chattering. He shuffled forward in the darkness of the cave, moving toward the entrance.
Where was he? Did he fall asleep?
“Parus!” Oska called out, his eyes straining in the darkness. No answer. There was no moon tonight, and the stars offered little radiance.
Oska turned back to the cave, searching blindly for the store of tinder they had gathered. He found a few of the dry branches and quickly tossed them onto the remnants of the fire.
Embers flared up, sparks of flame licking at the wood. Oska crouched before it, facing into the cavern with the wind at his back. The camp-fire flashed slowly to life, lighting up the interior of the cave with a flickering glow.
The scholar squinted at the coals, letting his eyes adjust to the light, rubbing his cold hands together. After a moment, he leaned back and looked up...
He froze, sudden fear rooting him to the stone. His eyes widened.
The cave was empty. Parus was nowhere to be seen. The floor seemed undisturbed.
But there, at the back of the cave, dark against the fitful light of the fire, there was a black opening in the cave wall.
An opening that had not been there before.
The wind was rushing steadily into the breach: a straight crack almost the width of Oska’s arm.
The scholar fell back in amazement, scrambling backward, out of the cave-entrance. Where had the opening come from? What could have opened it?
The cold fear seized him more sharply. What could be living in this cave? A beast? He shivered. Parus had said he knew of no predators in the mountains, nothing worse than a cliff-bat or two, at least.
Parus could be wrong.
And if it was a beast? That meant it must have taken Parus. Could it have missed him? What should he do? He couldn’t abandon his friend.
He had to do something.
Oska lurched forward suddenly, groping for his pack, eyes fixed on the opening. He pulled out an unused torch, dropped it, found it again. He glanced away from the crack long enough to thrust it into the dying fire.
Then he crept forward, using his body to shield the torch from the wind. Nothing happened. Slowly he advanced, skirting the wall of the cave.
Now he had reached the opening, peering intently into the darkness beyond. No movement. Nothing. Should he call out to Parus?
“Hello!” he yelled on impulse. Then he cursed to himself, Fool! You’ll bring something worse instead.
But nothing came. The wind continued to flow into the opening, sucking at his torch. The fire behind him was sputtering out again.
He wavered, taking a step away from the opening. He could feel his heart beating fast. The darkness inside the crack seemed impenetrable. What should he do?
He would have to go in.
No…he could wait. Wait for Parus to come back…
Parus might never come back.
He might be dead, somewhere behind the opening...
He would have to go in.
The scholar did not consider himself very brave, and he did not feel brave at all now. But there was nothing else to be done. He couldn’t wait around. There were too many unknowns.
He turned from the opening and stumbled to his pack, snatching it up with shaking hands.
That was when he realized that Parus’ pack was gone as well.
Was that good or bad? He didn’t have the time to think about it.
Now he was back at the opening, examining the cave-wall in the light of the torch. It was definitely not natural. There was a seam in the stone along the wall, much corroded with dust and age, but it had been disturbed recently. Like a giant door.
Oska thrilled with the thought, even despite the fear that choked him. This was a discovery. A real discovery. Something ancient.
And it’s not important right now. Find Parus.
He forced himself back to the opening. Turning, he tried to squeeze through the gap in the stone. It was not large enough for him to pass. That wasn’t a good sign. How could he move a giant stone slab? How could Parus have moved it?
Maybe Parus didn’t move it, he thought. Maybe something bigger and stronger did.
No...he had to try.
Placing his shoulder against one side of the opening, he began to push. With all his strength he heaved against the hard rock.
It gave way! The slab slid suddenly farther into the wall. Oska fell onto his back. He had not expected it to yield so easily. His torch clattered to the stone, sparking as it rolled into the space beyond the door.
Don’t lose it, you fool!
He staggered up and gave chase, stopping the rolling torch with his foot. He snatched it up again, cupping a hand around the sputtering end.
The torch flared back to life, and Oska breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t think that he would have the courage to continue on without a light. He raised it shakily, letting its radiance light up the emptiness before him, almost afraid to look at what might be hidden there.
There was no beast. It was a passageway: walls stretching away into the darkness beyond the reach of the torch, leading straight on into the mountain. This was no animal-den. That was certain.
The wind poured into the gap even faster now that he had enlarged the opening, rushing around Oska like a river. It whipped the flame of his torch into a frenzy, tearing at the thin flame.
Something caught his eye to the left. There on the wall. Something...
It was a light, embedded in the stone. But no, it wasn’t just a light. Oska could see.
It was a symbol.
He knew what it was. He had seen it many times before...a Matoran symbol. Circular.
It seemed to glow right out of the flat wall. Oska sidled toward it, keeping one eye on the dark passageway. He slid his free hand over the symbol.
Incredible... he thought. Another discovery. This was history. He was touching it. He knocked on the wall. It resounded with a clang. Metal.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of rasping. The sound of metal on stone.
The sound of the door sliding shut.
“No!” he yelled, leaping toward it. He didn’t even have time to react.
It was too late.
The slab closed with a clang. The wind vanished. The glowing symbol winked off. Sudden silence deafened him, oppressive, like a crushing weight. He yelled desperately and pounded on the slab with his free hand, eyes roving around the space. It now seemed so very small, closing in around him.
He was trapped.
Oska spun around, pressing flat against the closed door, breathing hard. He thrust the torch out in front of him, his heart pounding up in his ears. What could he do? There was no escape. He didn’t know how to open the door. He was alone.
The thought struck him. He had almost forgotten. Parus was in here too.
That was some comfort, but not much. Parus could be lost in the dark or fallen down some chasm, for all he knew. He might spend the rest of his life wandering in the depths of the mountains...
Again Oska pounded on the stone slab. He searched around the edges, trying to find some opening mechanism, clawing at the smooth seam in the metal. There was nothing to grip, nothing to pull on. No response.
He stopped, leaning against the wall. Sweat beaded on his brow. What now?
There was only one way to go. Down the passageway. Down into the darkness of the mountain. The thought chilled him to the bone. Images of deep pits and creatures lurking in the dark rose in his mind. He shook his head, trying to think clearly.
He could not stay here. That was certain. He had to try to find Parus. Maybe the two of them could find a way out.
The passage went on before him, long and straight.
He could always come back...right?
Oska breathed steadily, calming himself, trying to keep his hand from shaking. It was not so silent here after all. The torch crackled in the still air, lighting up a place that had been dark for who knew how many ages. Even the air smelled ancient.
He had to go on.
The passage stretched on. Time stretched on, or at least it felt like it. Oska plodded down the tunnel, not knowing how long he had been walking. He called out every so often, calling to Parus. He got no answer back, or at least, nothing more than his own muffled echo. Sometimes he thought he heard a voice that was not his own, filtering from across vast distances.
Other times it seemed like sounds came from the walls of the tunnel. Something pounding, thudding rhythmically deep in the earth. It reminded him of the sound of a factory he had seen in Old Vulcanus many years ago. Iron gears grinding…
The walls of the passage were smooth, for the most part. At intervals, Oska found small grooves in the thick metal. He thought they might be doors, but he didn’t know how to open them. He hoped Parus didn’t know either—even though the Fire-Agori had apparently managed to open the door in the cave. Otherwise he would surely be lost.
Once, near the beginning of the passage, he had come to a place where the tunnel widened into a large chamber, the roof higher than the torchlight could reach. He had searched around the perimeter of it, but found no sign of Parus.
There were notches in the walls there too, and he thought he had seen another Matoran symbol glowing from across the chamber. But by the time he reached it, there was no sign of it. Perhaps he had only imagined...his eyes playing tricks in the flickering light.
No, for now there was only one way to go: straight forward.
Luckily, he still had his pack when he started down the tunnel. It had been on the right side of the door when it closed, and that meant he had one extra torch. But that was a while ago, and by now he had used up one of them. If he didn’t find Parus soon, he would have to turn back or be forced to continue blind in the dark.
“Hello?” Oska called out again into the dead air. “Anyone?” His voice faltered. He was tired. He needed to rest, but that would mean letting the torch burn lower. He couldn’t let that happen.
The sound of his own footsteps droned in his ears. Repetitive, wearisome. He had tried to whistle at one point, but the sound didn’t carry in the close air. It fell flat, disheartening.
I can’t go much farther like this, he thought, watching the torch sputter and hiss.
It would burn his hand soon. And then it would go out. He would be truly alone…lost…forgotten.
No one would know what happened to him.
No one would remember...
He ran into something flat and solid, falling hard on his back.
“Oh...” he moaned, rubbing his face. He sat up. Luckily, he hadn’t dropped the torch.
It was a wall. The end of the tunnel?
Yes. It was a dead end. The tunnel ended abruptly here. He had been watching his feet, hadn’t been paying attention...
He sat motionless for a moment on the floor, staring dumbly at the featureless wall. What possible purpose could there be in this passage if it just ended here? Where was Parus?
He stood up slowly. Could Parus have really come this way? There wasn’t even a sign of him. Maybe he had gone through one the doors...or maybe Oska had missed a branching of the tunnel. Maybe Parus hadn’t even entered the tunnel!
The thought sent a shiver of fear through him, rising up to choke his mind. All of this could be futile. Parus was not here. He was alone. He should turn back now, before the light was gone.
The light... Suddenly Oska’s dazed mind registered the spluttering sound of the torch going out. The oiled wood was spent, and he watched in horror as it sparked, flickered, and died in his hand. The shadows closed in around, covering him, filling his eyes and his mind.
Standing there in the absolute darkness, Oska felt despair creep into his thoughts. Despair and fear.
It was over. He could not face the long journey back through the lightless passage. Even now, the fear of something creeping down the tunnel froze his heart with unknown terror. Things crawling out of the doors in the passage behind him.
He couldn’t see. He was blind now. Blind and dead.
The dead air pressed down on his spirit, choking him. He fell to his knees, clawing at the hard metal before him, scraping it with his finger. He couldn’t make a sound. His throat was shut, his eyes clenched tightly. There was no where to hide. It was over.
Three times he struck the hard wall. His fist hurt, and tears sprang to his eyes. He drew his arm back for one more strike. One more before he gave in. Before the darkness claimed him.
His fist flew forward...
...but it struck nothing but emptiness. Wind blew past him with the sound of the door moving aside, and he fell forward, hurtling through the sudden opening...
...and two arms caught him.
He felt like he was floating...no solid ground beneath him.
Hey, wake up!
Oska sat up suddenly, gasping. He was awake. Awake! He had heard a voice...someone had spoken.
...Someone had caught him.
He tried to stagger up, thrashing.
“Whoa, hold on, scholar!” A hand gripped his arm in the darkness. It was...it was Parus!
Relief washed over Oska’s mind.
“Parus!” he croaked, “By the spirits, I’m glad to hear your voice!”
“Hah!” the hand moved to his shoulder. “The same to you, scholar.”
Oska couldn’t see. His eyes were wide open, straining. It was still pitch black. They were still in the passage.
“How long was I out?”
“A few minutes, maybe. Looks like you were pretty high-strung.”
“You have no idea, Parus. I thought I was going to die down here.” Oska winced, feeling the pain in his bruised hand. He shook his head, trying to clear away the cobwebs, the lingering horror that he had felt.
“Hey—“ he said, feeling a bit irritated, “what on earth possessed you to go wandering down here, Parus? You could have wakened me at least! You should have got me up.”
There was a silence.
“Eh...” Parus’ voice sounded embarrassed, “I...meant to come back. I did. But...I sort of got lost.”
“You got lost...in a straight tunnel?” Oska almost laughed.
“No, no...” the Fire-Agori cringed, “it was that first chamber. You see, I went looking around the walls and ended up taking the wrong way back. Then I came to this door half-open, and it closed when I went through. I’ve been stuck here for a few hours at least. It only opened when you started pounding on it.”
“Oh, well that explains some things.” Oska said, still irritated. “At least you have a good excuse. How did you manage to open the door in the cave in the first place?”
“I was checking out the back of the cave, and I noticed the seam in the stone. It just opened when I touched it. I really don’t know how it works.”
“Neither do I. It closed when I went through. So technically we’re both trapped.”
“Ah, excellent, scholar. A fine situation we’re in.”
Oska sighed. “All the same,” he said, “I’m glad I won’t have to die alone down here.”
“I suppose that’s some consolation,” Parus chuckled. “Anyways, we won’t worry about dying yet. But what now?”
“I don’t know.”
“You say we can’t go back?”
“Maybe...I don’t know. The doors don’t seem to open from the inside.”
“Looks like whoever built this place didn’t want anyone getting out...”
They sat silent for a moment, each with his own thoughts. Oska was relieved to have found his companion again, but a sense of foreboding still lingered in his mind. What could they do now? They had limited resources—maybe enough for a few days—but no light and no way to go...
“I explored farther up the tunnel before you got here,” Parus said quietly, as if he wanted to keep the conversation going. “It turns to the left after a while, and there are no more channels in the walls after that.”
“Do you want to go back?” Oska asked, half-wishing that he’d say yes.
“Actually, scholar, I thought you’d want to go on.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Well, isn’t this what you’ve been looking for? History?”
“I’d prefer to be able to tell people about it in the present. It looks like we may become history here...”
“Heh, well said, scholar. But what if there’s another way out? These tunnels can’t go on forever.”
“Hmph...well, I’m not going to sit here and wait to starve, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”
“No, no, you’re right, Parus.” Oska sighed again, rubbing his face. “I want to see where this all leads as much as you do.”
“I thought you’d say that.” Parus was smiling. “So we’re agreed?”
As Parus had said, the tunnel turned sharply left after a short distance. The going was much slower now that they had no light. The two Agori walked side by side now, each with one hand on the wall. They didn’t want to miss any openings.
At least another two hours passed in this manner. They stopped to rest occasionally, taking some food from their packs. Water would be the vital thing to conserve, so they drank sparingly.
They talked a little to pass the time, but otherwise silence filled the tunnel. Eventually they came to another tall chamber, similar to the first.
“Let’s make sure we go through the right door this time.” Oska said dryly after they had searched the smooth walls.
“No need to rub it in, scholar.” Parus said, gritting his teeth.
They left the chamber behind, continuing on into the straight, unchanging tunnel. Once again, they lapsed into the rhythm of walking, walking and listening, the same as before.
But after a while, something changed.
It was subtle at first: a quiet and unobtrusive noise. But soon, both Agori knew that they were not imagining it:
It was a rhythmic sound. The sound of pounding: something beating, pulsing from beyond the walls. It was unmistakable. They stopped a few times just to listen, to make sure it wasn’t their minds playing tricks.
It was there. Oska could almost feel it vibrate into his feet. Not everything was dead down here. There was something alive in this ancient place.
Neither one of the Agori spoke now—all there was to do was walk and listen, walk and listen. A long, drawn-out rhythm of movement and sound. The tunnel went on straight and unbending. Time went on, unmeasured. There was no time here. There was only the relentless walking, the tunnel, the beating noise, the darkness.
Suddenly the walls on either side ended. They were out of the tunnel—another chamber? Yes, it was another chamber, but this one was larger—much larger. It stretched away into emptiness, an immeasurable space. The air almost felt thin, all vibrating with the vast, unending noise.
They stopped abruptly. The transition from close quarters to the feeling of massive, unseen space was startling. Oska dropped to one knee, bracing a hand on the floor.
“You can feel it here,” he mumbled. “Even the floor is vibrating.”
“Oska!” Parus spoke to his left. His voice was quivering. “Look!”
Oska had not realized that his eyes were closed. In the darkness it had not mattered, and he had forgotten.
But now he opened them, raising his weary eyelids slowly.
He cried out and staggered back, shielding his dulled sight from the brightness which suddenly assaulted him.
“What is it?” he yelled. Points of light flickered in his vision as he steadied himself, trying to ease his eyes open again.
This time it was not nearly as bright. There were two points of radiance to his left: they were mounted in the wall on either side of the opening they had just passed through. Parus was examining one of them, his face pale in the white glow.
“Look at this, Oska! It’s amazing. No heat at all.”
“No heat?” Oska rose, moving toward him. “Where’s the fuel coming from?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t look like it’s even attached to the wall.” The Fire-Agori stooped and rummaged in his pack for moment. “In fact,” he continued, holding up a rock-climbing pick, “I think I can pry one loose.”
“Be careful,” Oska replied, stepping back. “Don’t damage it. I’ve had my fill of blindness.”
“Hah, so have I,” Parus wedged the pick in behind the glowing stone, heaving down on the handle. It came loose without much effort, and Parus crowed with triumph.
“Better than a sputtering torch, eh, scholar? We’ve gone up in the world!”
“If you say so.”
The Fire-Agori pried the second stone out of its sconce, handing it to Oska.
“One for each of us. No more stumbling in the dark.”
The stone was cool to the touch, giving off a pale, white radiance—a translucent crystal. Oska had never seen anything like it before. He stared at it for several moments, feeling the smooth surface.
Then he turned to the massive space, raising the light-stone aloft.
The floor lit up before him, and Oska now saw—to his sudden horror—that the floor ended a short distance from where he stood. Beyond it there was only empty space.
“My...” he stepped back hurriedly. “Careful, Parus, it’s a pit!”
They were on a platform, jutting out over dark emptiness.
“Watch your step, scholar.” Parus said, his voice grave. “Thank the spirits we didn’t keep walking...”
“Don’t remind me.”
Before him, Oska now saw that the platform narrowed into walkway—thin, but straight—which stretched out over the chasm, continuing into the darkness. Presumably it led to some other opening on the far side of the pit.
Parus stepped forward.
“Be careful!” Oska warned.
“—I know what I’m doing, scholar. What, afraid of heights all of a sudden?”
He sidled slowly toward the edge, peering down into the blackness for a moment. Then he dropped one of the burnt torch-shafts into the depths, watching as the darkness swallowed it.
There was no sound of it hitting the bottom, even if they could have heard it above the steady pulsing in the air.
“That’s enough of that, Parus.” Oska gestured for him to come away from the edge. “We know it’s deep. Very deep.”
“Of course, well, shall we cross the bridge then?”
“Oh...If we must.” Oska eyed the narrow walkway nervously.
“Unless you’d rather sit here and listen to the hammering. It’s louder here than in the tunnel.”
“I think it’s getting louder as we go on.”
“I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”
“Neither do I...Alright, let’s go.” Oska raised his light-stone aloft again, moving toward the narrow walkway. He squared his shoulders, making sure his pack was balanced.
Then he stepped forward.
Step after step, one at a time. The thin light revealed more and more of the walkway as they continued on. On either side, the chasm stretched into infinity—up, down, left, right. The cavern echoed with the unending noise, resounding in the unknown distance above and below.
Soon, Oska could glimpse another platform and a wall with another opening away in front of him. They were near the end. It was almost over.
He slowed his pace, looking back over his shoulder.
“Almost there, Parus! Only a little farther.”
The Fire-Agori was close behind, sauntering. Almost casual. Oska scowled, turning forward again. He plodded on, matching the pace of the pulsing noise.
He could almost imagine the great wheels and gears and throbbing pistons that could make such a sound. Maybe if there were lights in this chamber he could see them, away to the left or right.
He wished he could see them. That in itself would make this journey worthwhile.
The machines of giants.
Or of the Matoran...
His thoughts were shattered by a sudden lurch. The bridge shifted underneath him, shaking violently. The pounding noise suddenly rose faster, louder, filling his ears and mind. Oska cried out, trying to keep his balance.
He fell to a knee, arms outstretched, wavering.
“Go!” he heard Parus shout behind him, and a hand shoved him along the walkway. He had to get to the end—the wide platform. He was almost there.
Oska stumbled forward, teetering from side to side. The ground lurched again, and he almost fell, instead he lost his grip on the light-stone.
Away it flickered, down into the bottomless pit. Oska felt sick at the sight, but he staggered on.
There! He had made it. He collapsed to the floor of the platform, hugging the flat metal as it shook beneath him. In the corner of his vision he saw Parus do the same. The Fire-Agori still had a light-stone, at least.
“What is it?” Parus yelled above the noise that now thundered around them.
“I don’t know!” Oska replied.
“Maybe we shouldn’t stay to find out!”
They rose in unison, both dashing toward the opening in the wall which loomed before them. Parus rushed through first, holding the light-stone forward, and Oska followed, stumbling.
For a moment, before he entered, the scholar stopped in the doorway. Bracing himself against the wall, he looked back into the massive chamber.
It was a short moment, a short glance, but it was long enough to glimpse a flickering host of lights winking on in the vast distance of the chamber.
White light glinted momentarily upon huge shapes rising the distance. Cyclopean machines throbbing and pulsing as they worked—the last thundering throes of mechanisms worn out by time and entropy...
It was a sight at once beautiful and frightening in its immensity...fearful and terrible.
Oska turned and fled into the tunnel.
The passage lead straight on as all the others had, except this one now began to slant upward.
It was a gradual incline, but soon both Agori were breathing hard as they struggled up the slope, fleeing from the quaking and the deafening noise.
Parus still lead the way, holding the light-stone aloft to illuminate their path.
Both were weary—weary of this place, weary of the journey, weary of fear.
There must be an end soon, Oska thought, feeling his muscles burn with the effort of running. A sense of urgency drove him on. The feeling of some impending conclusion to this journey.
The tunnel went on.
Time seemed to skip quickly forward, rushing, rushing.
The slope steepened, now they were almost crawling, bent forward.
Oska went with his hands out to catch himself if he fell...
It was almost done. Almost over.
The breath stuck in his lungs as he gasped, his heart pounding with the speed of the pounding machines in the depths behind them.
Pounding in his ears…
Pounding in his mind…
In front of him, Parus seemed to stop for a moment, the light in his hand wavering as he bent. Was he going to rest?
No, it was another door. Another dead end. The light-stone shone white and flat against it.
Not another one. Oska couldn’t take much more.
Parus raised the lightstone, searching for a groove or seam. There was nothing. Nothing!
He beat upon the stone. Oska beat with him. Neither spoke. There was nothing but the thud of their hands on the stone. Nothing more to do but that. Nothing to do but escape. Escape.
And then the door moved.
Light blinded them. But this time it was real light—no artificial, crystaline radiance.
It was sunlight. Blazing, brilliant sunlight.
They staggered forward out of the dark and into the day.
Wind smote Oska’s face as he stumbled forward upon the dusty ground. It was a crisp wind, bitingly cold after the stillness of the tunnel.
“We’re out!” he heard Parus yell to his right as he staggered in the haze of sunlight. Even with the glow of the crystal to acclimate his eyes in the passage, the light of the sun was blinding, painful.
He was out of breath, lungs heaving, limbs weak after the last desperate effort up the sloping tunnel. He stood still, trying to regain his bearings. At last, his vision cleared.
…and the sight that greeted him was staggering.
Before his feet, the ground sloped steadily downward: a long, gray, sweeping curve that lead down into a vast Plain.
Immense: a shifting ocean of gray dunes and hills of ancient sand, all sculpted into unmoving waves by the icy wind.
Before him it spread, huge and incredible, not just for its size, but also because, as Oska gazed in speechless awe, he perceived that it was a cavern. The wall behind him rose up into an unbroken cliff-side, towering higher and higher, slanting outward into the vaulted arch of a gray stone sky above him.
Far out in the vastness, three massive holes in that artificial sky let in the sunlight from beyond.
One of holes was more jagged than the others: a rough gap torn in the colossal roof.
Oska fell to his knees, overcome.
Beside him, Parus rubbed his eyes, his jaw slack. There were no words to describe the scene—not only the sense of scale but also the sense of...
Eons lay upon the dry expanse of that ancient sea, that primeval vault of sky. And upon the single feature that rose up from the ashen gray of that plain: an island amid the spreading dunes.
Oska thought that he could almost glimpse the spires of towers upon the indistinct shape that glowered in the distance. A mountain?
“What...” Parus swallowed, trying to form words. “What is it, scholar?”
“I don’t...know...” Oska replied, struggling to his feet again. He moved forward, step by step, farther down the slope. His mind felt far away, shocked and overwhelmed.
The wind blew around his knees as he fell forward suddenly, catching himself with outstretched hands.
The dust hissed between his fingers, fine-grained and sterile, and he felt something hard beneath the surface. With trembling fingers, he scraped away the accumulation of ages, finding a hard corner of stone or metal.
“Parus, where’s my pack?” he mumbled, breathless.
“On your back.” The Fire-Agori moved toward him, tearing his eyes away from the landscape.
“Oh...” Oska shifted his shoulder, dropping the pack to the ground.
He rummaged in its depths for a moment before drawing out a small brush. He then proceeded to unearth the stone object, finding the edges, clearing away the dry grit.
The wind aided his progress, and soon he was kneeling before a small raised pedestal which jutted out of the dust.
“Found something already?” Parus stooped beside him, peering over his shoulder.
“Yes...” Oska bent and blew on the stone, clearing out the small channels and grooves with his breath. An inscription appeared. Several inscriptions. Oska’s heart was beating even faster now.
His eyes darted over the pedestal, trying to discern the symbols.
There were Matoran symbols here. Matoran. There were several variations. He couldn’t read them very well. Some were worn away by the passing of time.
Oska felt a feeling of urgency rise in his chest, almost desperation. He had to find out what they meant...he had to. There had to be some purpose to them, somehow.
He traced the lines down the pedestal, line after line, searching...
...and then he saw it.
There along the lower third of the stone: the final set of inscriptions. He caught a word. It was Agori: old—very old. But Oska knew much of the old languages of Spherus Magna, especially his own.
He could read it.
He could read it.
It was here—here for him, he was sure. And it meant that some other Agori had been here at one time. Some Agori had, in ancient days, carved these words alongside the words of Matoran, perhaps at the same time. That in itself was a revelation.
“Well?” Parus broke into his revelry, a quiet voice against the wind. “What does it say?”
What does it say?
Such a question demanded an answer...
What does it mean?
Such a journey demanded a purpose...
And in those few short moments, there kneeling before that awesome expanse—the dry, spreading sea-plain, the dim city-shape, the rising dome of the sky pierced by the shafts of the morning sun—Oska the scholar recited the words carved there for him to see in the long-forgotten depths of time:
Look, O inheritor. Look and see.
O heir of this world—this world broken and healed and broken again—look long and well.
Regain what we have lost, when the life of our world is dying and gone.
Remember what we have written here.
For, in the remembering, this world shall live again.
Look, inheritor, and remember us:
We, the Children of the Great Spirit.
Children of the Bionicle.
“In the Time Before Time…
: : The End : :
[Originally posted 4/21/11. The archived version is here.]
I had a free evening this week.
Free of work, free of homework. A few cups of most excellent coffee…
…Twenty pages and several hours later, this was the result. This is a distinct departure from my usual method of writing because of the fact that it’s a “one-off”: written in one sitting. I don’t normally work like that. Ideas have to sit around in my mind and ferment, develop. Not so with this one.
Hope you like it. I’m going to sleep now.
Hey again, BZP.
Just thought I’d bring this one back from the time before the cataclysm. Comments/criticism is always much appreciated.