03 - CHAPTER III The Finding Of The Great Crystals
etcee climbed down into the chamber, sliding off of the ledge, hanging onto it with her hands, and then dropping down to the floor below. It was a longer drop than she’d expected and she took a tumble backward when she hit, landing hard on her bottom and rolling to sprawl on her side. She was uninjured though, except for some pain in her legs.
How would she get out again? She panicked for a moment, got up and leapt for a handhold on the exit once again, but could not reach it. She was not even close. She was stuck now. Fear leapt up inside her like a wild dog. She jumped and slapped at the wall for a few moments before finally sinking down to sit with her back against it, forcing herself to calm down.
“Hold, Betcee. You are master.”
The chamber was quiet. That’s the first thing she noticed. It was quiet as a tomb. She could hear the distant sound of the waterfall from down the tunnel, but the roar of it was dulled down to a whisper by the distance and the insulation of the chamber’s contents. It was dark too, almost pitch black if not for the glow of the necklace atop the pedestal near the end of the room. The glow was bright, and lit nearly the entire length of the chamber. It was still dark near the back where she was, but she could see a little a little. There were crates and chests everywhere, like the one she’d found half-buried out by the pool. These would be her way out, she realized. She would simply stack them up beneath the exit. There was also clothing, outfits laid across the chests, and some hanging from metal stands. How these things had gotten in here, she had no idea. Surely there was no merchant or tailor for a hundred miles in any direction. There they were nevertheless. The place was no tomb. It was a vault.
She wandered through the piles and rows of stands, and chests, and seats, heading toward the pedestal. There against a wall, was a cot, covered in luxurious blankets. It looked beautiful to her weary eyes. She’d been sleeping in caves and on the sand, beneath overhanging rocks, exposed to the weather for as long as she’d been on this island. And now here was a proper bed. Once again, she had no idea where it had come from or why it was there, but she was grateful. Had someone been living down here? Who? For how long? And why?
Lanajia, she assumed. The Ancients had spoken of her as creating the cavern out there. She had no doubt formed and stocked this room as well.
Then Betcee stopped altogether. There beside the bed was a bookshelf, stacked with volumes and scrolls on every shelf. It was the most beautiful thing she could have possibly imagined and she stood in awe for a moment, before hurrying over to it, stumbling over boxes and smaller crates as she went.
She got to the book shelf and looked at the titles.
The Touch of Life
Solid Beings in Motion
Experiencing the Hand
The Body Eternal
Oh no! These were the writings of the hedonist cult. There were none else. On every shelf, titles of writings on exploring physical pleasures, blanking out thought and emotion, and simply losing oneself in ecstasy. Lanajia apparently belonged to the sect of The Mortals, or at least subscribed to their philosophies. Why couldn’t she have been a Mage? Betcee wrinkled her nose and sniffed at the dusty old books. How could a hedonist rise to the level of a demigoddess, higher than even the highest Mage? Perhaps the teachings of The Hand weren’t so barbarous when Lanajia was mortal. Eight hundred years had passed since then. Perhaps The Hand had gotten worse over time, turning into the flesh-loving sensualists that so disgusted the Mages today. Perhaps the books would answer her questions, though her mind was repulsed by the idea of even touching them.
Betcee shook her head, confused by the oddness of the world once again. But there was more thing to explore in this ancient chamber. There was the great necklace.
She approached the pedestal slowly, listening for the voices of the Ancients to speak into her mind once again. She heard nothing. The feeling of being watched was now stronger than ever however. She felt like she was stepping before a grand council of low gods. She almost wanted to kneel, but her mind objected to that. The posture of her flesh was irrelevant to beings that had no bodies themselves. It was the humility of her mind that was important.
“I approach seeking truth, understanding. I wish to learn the deeper mysteries of the universe, great Ancients. I present myself as a Leaf on the Great Tree of your knowledge.”
The necklace did not respond. The chamber was quiet as a tomb.
She felt small and insignificant, frightened and powerless, unworthy. She wanted to flee.
“Cheemosh,” Betcee thought to herself. Cheemosh indeed.
But she approached, and touched the necklace. There was no jolt of power through her. There was no sudden revelation of the universal mysteries. It was cool as stone. It wasn’t even the source of the glow, Betcee realized, once she was able to examine it up close. The glow was coming from the stand the necklace was placed upon, a flat circular crystal stand, about the size of a lady’s neck.
Betcee lifted the necklace and held it up to her face. The glow in the crystal stand faded. Suddenly the chamber was nearly black. When she dropped the necklace back down toward the stand again, it glowed once more. Fascinating. She lifted it again and looked at it. It held no light of its own. And it seemed to hold no power, at least none that she could physically feel. She’d expected it to hum with energy the way her body had when she was filled with magîce, but it didn’t. By all accounts, it was a mere necklace.
Perhaps the voices she’d heard in the cavern were simply her imagination after all.
“Speak, Ancients. Or have I gone mad?”
Betcee sighed. She didn’t want to believe she was insane. A Mage would never allow herself to sink that low. Insanity was the realm of The Storm cult. The Mages were sound, level, balanced. But she was hearing voices that were apparently not really there. And even the crabs on the beach were now talking to her. That was indeed madness, if she’d ever seen it.
That thought made her sad. It also filled her with a terrible fear, but the sorrow was stronger. She fought to control it though. She pressed it down inside her and dammed it off, feeling calm once again, and in control. If she had indeed gone mad, she would just have to unmadden herself. Madness was merely a tangle of reason. She would simply untangle things. She had all the time in the world.
She lifted the necklace once again, and wrapped it around her neck, closing the clasp beneath her hair and standing there in silence, waiting for some new revelation to strike her.
More silence. And darkness now too.
She sighed again. She reached out and lifted the crystal stand from the pedestal. It glowed once again when she brought it near the necklace. It was not a heavy thing, so she walked with it, back toward the cot, carrying the crystal like a lamp, finding her way in the darkness by its pale blue glow.
When she got to the bed she realized it was more than a cot. It was a nest, a luxurious nest that seemed to caress her hand in return when she ran her fingers over it. It was soft and warm and inviting, like the embrace of a dear friend. And when she looked around and noticed that most of the artefacts around her were clothing, blankets, cloaks, robes, and footwear, she wondered how she hadn’t figured it out sooner. Of course Lanajia was a follower of The Hand! Everything down here was all things that stimulated and cared for one’s flesh somehow. If Betcee had stocked this chamber, it would have been full of books, apparatus, instruments—all things that stimulated one’s mind, and her belief in the Mages’ philosophy would have been obvious to anyone. But Lanajia had collected treasures that celebrated the sensations of the flesh. Betcee worried that all these physical luxuries would dull her if she allowed herself to indulge in them too much.
The bed was so soft however, so enticing. She sat down on it. She lay down on it. She was instantly in ecstasy. She writhed around on the thing like it was a lover’s caress, so beautiful! She would perform the ritual of Mîm’ra with ease on this thing. She would sleep so peacefully too, and rest so-
No! Betcee sat up and scrambled off the thing. Already she was surrendering to the temptation sensuality. It had only taken seconds. That frightened her. No. She would not be able to perform the ritual of Mim’ra on this thing. She’d be too lost in the ecstasy of her own flesh to properly focus her mind.
Lanajia had done it though. Lanajia had blown a hole in the side of the mountain.
That was Lanajia. Lanajia was a hedonist. Indulgence in sensuality worked for her. Betcee was a Mage, and for Betcee, the rocks on the beach would be her altar. She would sleep on this bed, rest herself, but her meditations would be done outdoors.
A black cloak caught her eye. It hung by itself upon a metallic stand. The arms of the stand seemed to be reaching out towards her, beckoning her. She approached and ran her hand over the smooth velvety fabric. It was warm. She stripped off the brown cloak and breeches she’d found in the chest outside and donned the cloak instead. She was instantly warmed, calmed, comforted. The black shroud was magical. It was soothing her flesh, relaxing her, lulling all her aches and weariness, freeing her mind to concentrate more fully.
The cloak seemed to be caressing her, flowing with her every movement, stroking her flesh. She found herself gasping a little with every move she made. The magic cloak felt exhilarating. Her first thoughts after wearing it for a moment or two were of how beautiful the Mîm’ra would feel with this cloak against her body. She was urged to head outside and attempt it.
Getting out of the chamber turned out to be easier than she thought it would. She simply stacked boxes and crates beneath the exit and climbed out again. It only took her a few minutes, and she chided herself for her silly panic as she hopped up into the tunnel once more.
She was curious though, as to how Lanajia had last exited when she’d left eight hundred years before. There were no boxes stacked up for her. She had apparently simply flown out the exit somehow, like a bird. Perhaps Betcee would learn to fly too. She’d learned the magic of ice quickly enough.
Betcee went out of the cave, descended Mount Stairway, and walked out onto the sunny sands. The black cloak ruffled in the wind, teasing new ecstasies into her with every step she took. And there on the beach, with the sun shining across the sea, she began the ritual once more. This time she was totally calm. This time she was totally in control. This time she was able to focus completely.