Poeli hurried to walk close beside him signing and thinking, ‘Have The Powers spoken to you?’
‘No, but we’re dealing with a ‘being’ of some sort, and it has needs which we must take care to understand.’
‘Even if it doesn’t understand ours.’
The tunnel soon levelled out, and then with a turn to the right it widened into a deep lagoon, which must have been made to gather the water together. It was cool, even chilly down here, away from the heat of the valley. A bridge crossed the stream where it entered the lagoon, and there was a smooth flat walkway around the water. All these structures had been formed out of a black, opaque substance embedded with the blue-white sand, which, either incidentally or intentionally, reduced the danger of a fall for anyone walking on it.
Bru reduced his shieldings, and the two friends moved onto the right-hand walkway, every sense alert for attack or danger. At first they saw nothing at all, but some distance from the bridge they saw, near the water’s edge, a chest made of the same black material. It’s lid was open and it was full to the brim with small bright crystals which glittered like precious jewels.
‘Don’t touch them!’ Bru’s thought slammed into Poeli’s mind with the strength of a shout. ‘They’re alive in some way – I can Sense them. They’re pleased and hopeful. . .but they’re also desperate. Stay out of reach!’
They backed away, then looked around more carefully. This far from the inflow the lagoon was dim and gloomy.
‘We need to see more clearly,’ Poeli suggested, and as they released their Light a warm glow filled the huge cavern.
Now they could see there were many chests set around the edges of the lagoon, nearly all of which stood on or were surrounded by thick sheets or ‘planks’ of clear crystal, many overlapping each other at odd angles. They stretched out over the water and at the end of each one a coffin-shaped casket hung vertically from its lower surface. They were of one piece with the supporting ‘plank’ with no joins, clasps or hinges, and the majority, being full of water, were completely submerged; but about ten seemed to be lighter, and bobbed in the flow of the stream with a couple of hand spans of the casket clear of the water, and within them a vague shape could be seen.
Bru felt himself go cold with dread at the same moment that Poeli gripped his arm and asked, ‘There’s something in them. Are they. . .are they Weronti?’
‘I think so. They’re pale skinned. Oh, Poeli. . .’ He stood frozen to the spot, but Poeli began to look around again with an increasing sense of urgency.
‘Bru, come over here. This one’s new, it’s bright and smooth.’ He’d moved to within a pace of the ‘plank’, and knelt down to study it more closely. The crystal had grown from beneath a chest where a few jewels were spilled on the floor, and like all the others, half a pace from the walkway’s edge it became a casket inside which Poeli could see a dark shape – the shape of a man facing towards the inflow, his head only just clear of the water. As Bru approached, Poeli looked up in horror, ‘Bru it’s him, it’s Niethi. But I don’t understand . . . this,’ and he gestured towards the casket with a shaking hand.
‘Don’t touch it, Poeli. Not yet. We need to know. . . get up, take my hands.’ He looked grave but not despairing, and though shaken to the core, Poeli took heart from that. Bru had been closer to the Powers for longer than he had, and in consequence was more confident in his reliance on them. He tightened his grip on Bru’s hands.
‘He’s alive, Poeli, I can Sense him. He’s alive and he knows we’re here. Releasing the Light has shown him that. Now we’re going to call on the Grace. Be open to any thought or guidance you might be given,’ and with that he reached out with his spirit, lifted his head and spoke his plea aloud.
‘May our voices and hearts be heard by the Grace of Myldora, by the Great Power under which we two were given life and made Gifts to the Worlds. You know us, you know our hearts, you know our desire to be united with you beyond all worlds, and we know there is no place where you are not. We know your loving care for each and every world, and the power which holds them in their place.
‘Hear our cry now and answer our need. The need of a people tormented by fear; the need of men held captive; the need of a being using desperate measures to survive. May the Grace be with us in this place and time, and guide our every thought and deed.’
Poeli had begun to sing as soon as Bru spoke – music and song were his Gift from The Powers – it was a wordless music and he found it was imbued with hope and trust, so as he sang he felt his heart lift and his fear dissolve like ice in Spring sunshine.
At the end of their prayer they smiled at each other, and releasing Bru’s hands Poeli turned back towards Niethi. He was glad he couldn’t look into his eyes – despite his renewed confidence they might’ve broken his resolve. But as, in response to their plea, the cavern and lagoon grew brighter still he saw enough. Niethi was indeed alive, the top of the casket let in air, his lower arms and hands moved against its sides, and his feet hung out of the open bottom, but his naked body was held firmly against its back by the living crystal which had sheathed him in layers of wrappings, and through them all sharp fingers of crystal had pierced deep into his chest. Then, as if the Grace had explained it to him, he understood, and he stood up and faced Bru.
‘It’s using his life. The crystal’s wrapped itself around his heart and it’s using it to keep itself alive.’
‘Yes, I think you’re right. It doesn’t want him dead. It needs him to be alive. But what I don’t understand is how he’s being kept alive. He’s got air and water, but. . .wait a minute,’ and Bru strode back towards the inflow of the stream. When he was well away from any crystal he bent and scooped up some of the water, swirled it around his mouth and spat it out again before coming back.
‘It’s full of minerals and living organisms. I think the high lands must be particularly rich in all kinds of life forms. So just as a whale can live on minute organisms, the men here are kept alive by the life forms in this water. But why doesn’t the crystal use them?’
Again Poeli seemed to be given the answer; ‘Because it’s not organic. Its needs are different.’
They stared at each other helplessly. Without more knowledge they didn’t know what to do. Poeli clenched his fists in frustration and strode up and down. Finally he forced himself to stop pacing, to breathe more slowly and deeply, and then he went and sat on one of the steps, where he couldn’t see Niethi, or any of the Weronti who were suspended in their living-death in the cold water, and he made himself think. Time was passing, and they were no nearer to rescuing anyone. While he thought Bru knelt as close to Niethi as he dared, reached a hand out above his casket, and let the Light of the Grace shine on and around him. Eventually he rose to his feet, and came to sit beside his friend.
‘You’ve got an answer,’ Poeli said. It was a statement, not a question.
‘Not a complete one. I went back to the beginning and asked myself what creates crystals, and what keeps them growing? And why are these crystals on this world, in this valley, where they don’t belong, where the land is totally unsuitable for them?
‘Sharu explained something like it to me once – sudden intense heat can melt certain materials, like that blue-white sand, and then in hot dry conditions like this valley, crystals will begin to form. And if some are cooled and kept in a particular kind of water, they go on growing.’
Poeli stared blankly down at his feet. ‘But. . . why does it need living human hearts? I know the power that keeps our hearts beating is the same kind of power as lightning, though of course with only the tiniest fraction of its strength. Perhaps the original heat came from something like lightning – no, it couldn’t’ve been that, it wouldn’t last long enough.’
‘And that can’t be all of it,’ Bru objected. ‘It might explain the forest, but what about the tunnel and the lagoon? There’s an intelligence here which simple sand crystals don’t have. This crystal has a real life of some sort. What Sharu was talking about couldn’t entice anyone with a trap.’
‘No, it couldn’t, so perhaps the beginning was more complex. Perhaps it was more like the heaven-rock of Draakoa – that would be hot enough, and the heat would last – evaporating the streams from the rim. That might explain the forest. And perhaps inside it the rock had carried intelligent beings which could combine with the melted sand crystals and use them, even change how they grew.’ He nodded as if his guess was being confirmed. ‘You know the yellow and white growths on stone? They’re made of two life-forms working and living together. It could be like that, and the intelligence, coming from the cold beyond this world, would need somewhere cool to survive, and somehow it created the lagoon. . . But I don’t know how; I don’t know how it sings; or how it entices people here.’ He stood up, turned and looked towards the harsh light of the valley outside. Then he shook his head as if to clear it.
‘Still, at the moment that doesn’t matter. What matters is working out how to provide what it needs some other way than this – some harmless way, so that it can set Niethi and the others free.’
. . . . . . . .To be continued