Tag Archive: gateway

May 14

In the Company of Angels: Episode 12.2 – The Crucible (cont.)



In the Company of Angels, Episode 12.2 – The Crucible (cont.)

 It was then that Jill, desperate to find something, anything, that she might be able to do, happened to glance down at the surface of the plaza. And there she saw an object that she didn’t recognize. It appeared to be a small fruit, perhaps an unripe apple or a gourd. It was lying upon the stone floor. She knew not whence it had come, but its appearance was odd, almost as if it glowed with some inner light. The effect was all the more pronounced given the return of the Amenta and their resumed darkening of the plaza..

Jill reached down and picked up the object, holding it up so that she could examine it better. And as she did so, shrieks of pain and horror erupted from the throng of the Masters standing before them. Not understanding what was happening, she looked up questioningly, only to discover that Azarias, Mr. Luke, and Polydora were just as puzzled as she. Jill stood silently and watched, and as she did so, the Masters quailed and began to scramble backwards, retreating from the five small figures before them.

“What has happened?!” asked Azarias. “Polly, did you do something to them?”

“No,” she replied, “I have done nothing. But there has been a great surge of light that has caused the Masters to quail. I know not whence this light has come….”

All of the defenders of the gateway looked around them, and Sam whistled aloud. “Look in Jill’s hands! I recognize that! I picked it from a tree when I was chasing the raven in Oxford.”

They all gazed at the small, unripe orb that Jill clasped yet, and even as they watched it, the light that it emitted grew.

“You brought this from Oxford?!” Luke asked, astonished.

“Oh, no, not from Oxford. It was on some other world; one I travelled to to retrieve the raven.”

“And what was the name of that world?” asked Azarias.

“We never asked…did we, Jill?”

“No, Sir, we didn’t. It was a place the Professor had written about, in one of his books, I think. I picked the fruit up from the plaza just now. Sam, it must have fallen out of your pocket!”

Azarias gently lifted the fruit from Jill’s hand and held it aloft. As he did so, the Masters quailed once more and cowered away from them.

“Polly, what do your empathic senses tell you about this curious object?” asked Azarias

Polydora reached out and brushed six delicate fingers across the orb. The sensation she experienced was like none that had ever come to her, and she was shaken to her core.

“I have never encountered anything so…so….”

“So what, Polly?” Asked Mr. Luke.

“So…holy,” replied the Ferrumari.

“But why would it have such an effect on the Masters?” asked Sam.

“Because, Sam, the Masters are utter slaves to evil, and, if Polly is correct, this fruit is something untainted by evil. It is entirely pure and unsullied. They cannot bear even the sight of such as this.” said Azarias.

“But would it be enough to drive them back into the caverns?” asked Polydora.

“I do not know, for even now its effect could be waning,” said Azarias. “My greatest fear now is that we may be attacked from behind even as we attempt to drive the Masters back into the caverns. The Amenta will not relent; they have planned this event for centuries, if not millennia. If they begin once more to assail us in force, to separate us and confuse us, then we may not even be able to speak amongst ourselves to plan our actions. Even now their numbers have almost fully blackened the sky.”

They all looked around them. Aside from the light of the crystals and the golden apple, plus the flicker of flame from the open fissures, everything around them was now in total darkness. The Masters themselves appeared to have overcome their first dismay at the sight of the golden fruit, and they appeared, by the light of the flames that were growing once more around them, to be organizing for some new attempt to break free.

In that moment, and when all seemed to be most in doubt, Polydora knew with certainty what she must do.

“Jill, give me your hand,” she said. Jill reached up and took the hand of the silver angel before her. And when she did so, she heard Jill speak to her gently, lovingly, within her head, “you must help me call forth my people. They are here already, but we must bring them here in their full glory and in the greatest numbers that we can. Do you remember their singing when first you beheld the painting of Orbaratus?”

“Yes, Polly,” answered Jill.

“Then we must ask for their help. Listen for their song, and ask them to surround and support us. Ask them to drive back the Amenta and force the Masters to retreat.”

Jill did as Polydora bid her, and she knew that the Ferrumari was doing the same. Almost immediately, she heard singing all around them and saw flitting lightning-bug sparks swirling and dancing, first here, then there. They came closer, and ever closer, and behind them were thousands — nay, millions — of others! They packed closely in around them, and their light pushed the black mass of the Amenta back and up into the sky, away from the plaza’s surface.

Even as the lights increased and the darkness waned, Jill glanced around them and saw, now, not just points of light, but light coalescing into figures: tall figures that shone out in the darkness; great winged beings of radiance and power! They stretched behind her and behind Polydora upon the plaza: a throng so great that she could not see even where the plaza ended. And the Amenta remained thrust up into the sky and away from all of them. Their howling became shrieks of pain as the light pierced them.

“Polly, I think they’ve come! They’ve all come!” she thought to her friend. Polly squeezed her hand. “Keep them with us, little one, for as long as they are needed. And do not stop listening to and joining in their song, if you are able. Whatever happens, little one, you must do this! I am relying on you; don’t fail me!”

Then Polydora, the last of the Ferrumari, removed her hand from Jill’s, and placed within it, instead, the guarding stone she had been holding aloft. She turned and stepped then before Azarias and grasped the staff that he held. They looked for a moment into each other’s eyes, and then Azarias bowed and released the staff to her.

Polly turned, and, raising high the silver shaft with its brilliant blue star, she began marching straight toward the leader of the Masters. As she did so, all of her people, the luminescent angel spirits of the Ferrumari, gathered around her. They were a thundering ocean of light as they flowed forward, unstoppable, toward the gateway.

Osor screamed and gave way before them. The other Masters  broke ranks and fought each other to be the first to reach the passageway and return to the blackness of the caverns below.

Onward marched Polydora, and Azarias raised his voice to be heard above the singing of the Ferrumari, which was now perceived by them all. “Follow Polydora! Follow her with the crystals! We must close the stone gates behind the Masters before they have another chance to escape!”

Jill raised high the gem that Polly had placed in her hand, and she continued singing the song of the Ferrumari, drawing ever more of the angelic creatures into the flood of light that surrounded Polydora and all of them.

The song of the Ferrumari became ever louder, and even the stones beneath Jill’s feet began to  tremble with the chorus of voices. Osor, the last to back his way through the gateway, just as he was the first to leave it, would not flee, but instead he continued to try to hold his ground against Polydora and the angelic Ferrumari. But they would not relent, nor even slacken their pace. Instead, Polly increased her stride, driving the leader of the Masters back, back into the cavern. Now Polly herself was within the passageway, and while Jill expected her to stop, she realized then that if she did so, Osor would be able to escape once more.

Azarias looked at Jill and, within her head, she heard a voice speak a single word: “Courage!”

Azarias reached for the crystal that Jill was holding aloft, and, signaling to Luke, he strode to one side of the gateway while Luke went to the other. They each put their shoulders to the sides of the split stone slab, and slowly the two halves began to swing back toward each other. The luminous Ferrumari who were not already within the passageway with Polydora stood back and allowed the doors to close. The booming as the slab sealed shut was barely audible above the ongoing chorus of the Ferrumari, but once the gateway was closed, Luke and Azarias stepped back, holding the crystals aloft so that they could see where they needed to be replaced.

As they did so, one of the tallest of the angelic Ferrumari stepped before them. The glowing figure wore a crown upon his brow, and he bowed first to Azarias and then to Luke. Then he held out his hands to Azarias, and his lips appeared to move, though none but Azarias could interpret his words.

Azarias bowed in his turn and placed the crystal he had been holding into the hands of the Ferrumari. Luke did likewise. Then the angelic king turned and replaced the stone on the right-hand side, and then, lifting himself high into the air upon his wings, he replaced the gem above the stone doorway. He dropped back down to the plaza, and bowed low to Azarias once more. Then he stood upright and raised his arms to the throngs of his people. The chorus swelled to a crescendo: the very air throbbed with the power of so many voices singing at once! Then the king dropped his hands  back down to his sides.

As he did so, the song of the Ferrumari ceased. Jill looked around her and saw the corporeal forms of Polly’s people diminish, break into tiny points of light, and then vanish.

The four travelers from earth were left all alone upon the Plaza of the Masters, and Polydora and all of her forebears were gone.


       [ To read Episode 12.2, click here…. ]


Apr 23

In the Company of Angels: Episode 11.1 – The Broken Gate




In the Company of Angels, Episode 11.1 – The Broken Gate


“There is a tendency to dismiss the events on Orbaratus as an anomaly. ‘Surely’, the historians will say, ‘the catastrophe on Orbaratus was simply an aberration on a world that had nothing whatsoever to do with our own.’ Yet, it was not so. The near cataclysm on that planet — distant in time and in space from the earth — came closer to destroying our world than any historian may ever be willing to acknowledge.”

       Brother Azarias, The Orbaratus Chronicles.


When the second earthquake on Orbaratus began, Polydora had spread her glittering silver wings and soared twenty or thirty feet above the Plaza of the Masters. There she circled above both the monolith Luke had sketched upon and the portal into which Jill and Sam had vanished. She soon was very glad that she had taken the precaution, for this earthquake was much more violent than the first. New cracks appeared on the plaza floor, and additional stone monuments were heaved from their pedestals and toppled. Among these was the very one that Luke had sketched upon. But there was nothing Polly could do but wait out the calamity, so she continued to circle above the plaza while the ruined city of Cenurbus trembled and buckled beneath her.

Debris exploded and fell into the shadowed streets, and rumblings like distant thunder heralded the collapse of structures that had been abandoned for centuries. At length, the roaring of the earth began to subside and the ground ceased its convulsions. Only then did Polydora glide gently back down to the plaza’s surface. She alighted near the fallen monolith upon which  Luke had created his sketch. She was relieved to find that the stone had fallen on its side, and that the sketch was still visible and intact; if it had been otherwise, Polly knew that Luke would have been unable to return through that frame.

Polly turned her attention to the other portal. It still remained suspended in space near the edge of the plaza; she noticed nothing different about it, and could see no sign of anyone when she gazed through it. She wondered where Jill and Sam were, and how they were faring in their quest to capture the raven.

She then turned her gaze upon the gateway into the mountain. It appeared not to have suffered from the earthquake, but she strode toward it to make sure. With each step the feeling that there were other beings stirring beneath her feet increased; that feeling had ceased when she took flight, but now that she was walking once more upon the surface of her planet, it was back, and now much stronger than before.

She approached the gateway and saw with dismay that now two of the three sapphires were missing from the mirrored surface within which the stone slab door was set. She ran to the gateway and began searching through the rubble, hoping that the gem might have been accidentally  dislodged by the earth’s heavings. But it was not so. The sapphire was gone.

Polly looked across the plaza at the distant portal and wondered. Had the raven come back during the earthquake, unmarked by her while she was aloft? It was possible. But now only a single stone remained, and she was unsure what that meant. She shut her eyes and tried to sense with her whole being, attempting to learn through her empathic powers what might be happening behind and below the gateway.

And this is what she experienced:

Deep, deep down through the crust of these high places her awareness drifted. At first she felt the presence only of cold stone, but then pockets of warmth pricked her. Scattered like the tiny chambers crafted into the immensity of an Egyptian pyramid, these pockets were few, but each was filled to overflowing with white linen-wrapped bodies. They were seeds within an otherwise empty and lifeless sea of living rock. And within each of the pockets there was growth; wild, malignant growth: of consciousness; of hatred; of violence. Each pocket was reaching out in diseased flailings as it found its bonds weakening and falling away.

Polydora pulled back her awareness and opened her eyes once more upon the Plaza of the Masters. She then understood that the forces that guarded the gateway were failing, and that some great horror must soon be unleashed unless…unless what?

In her centuries alone upon her planet, Polly had learned the dead languages of her people, and even snippets of the older language of the Masters. To the extent possible, she had absorbed the culture of the Ferrumari: their understanding of themselves before the end times had come; their understanding of what goodness, and truth, and beauty meant in a world that could still be controlled by evil. She remembered what we might call prayers, and these she began to recite aloud, as she had done, alone, whenever her heart had quailed and trembled during those earliest years of her life.

Polly stood before the gateway, reciting the prayers of her people, over and over again. She had remembered a litany against fear, against evil, against cruelty and hatred. And as she said the words aloud in the tongue of her people, she felt calmed and uplifted, as if the prayers themselves were calling forth the life force of all of those that had ever stood upon this plaza, generation upon generation, perhaps knowing what was behind the gateway or perhaps not. But Polly was comforted, and she resolved to continue her vigil, and to continue her prayers, as long as was necessary.

She stood alone, upright before the gateway, and the darkness increased. She knew not the time of day, but this darkness seemed unnatural, and she felt that there must be much more to it than simply a change in the weather. She felt new rumblings beneath her feet, and understood, she knew not how, that some Thing of great power had thrown off the last of its shackles and was now making its way to the surface, intent on finding a way out of the prison that had held it for so many thousands of years.

“The Light is my guide and my refuge,” Polydora said under her breath, “I shall not fear. Fear is the tool of the darkness; it is the mote that mocks the meek. I shall breathe in my fear; I shall allow it to wash over me and through me; and I shall breathe it out again. Then, my fear shall be no more, and only I and the Light shall remain….”

Now the darkness had increased so that the Plaza of the Masters appeared as it might have at twilight. And Polydora could sense movement in the air above and around her. She looked up and saw shadows flitting between her and the high clouds above, and she understood that something evil from beyond her own world had found a chink in the continuum of space and time, and was flooding through that chink to gather around the plaza. This was, she suddenly knew, the culmination of some grand design that must have been in progress for many ages. That she was alone, here, standing before the gateway, could not be coincidence. She must be there for a reason, and that reason could only be to stop what was about to happen.

But how could she? She did not know the nature and power of the forces beneath her, nor of those creatures swirling around her, although the latter she suspected must be the spirit beings, the Amenta, of whom Luke and Sam and Brother Azarias had spoken so often. Alone in the Gallery, she had never encountered them; she had only heard the tales told by others, as one might hear ghost stories told around a campfire.

But these were no ghost stories. These were malignant spirits blotting out the sky. And she alone might be able to hold the gate; if she only knew how!

Rumblings beneath her feet heralded the approach of yet another earthquake, and this one, she knew, would likely be greater yet than the two that had come before. She could but wait for it to burst upon her here in the open, before the gate; she dared not rise above the surface lest some new evil be allowed to pass in her absence. She felt the rumblings and the heaving waves of fluid rock beneath her feet. And she saw cracks form in the frame around the gateway. At the peak of the earthquake, the stone slab of the gateway itself began to yield; it moved forward as if thrust from the inside. Around her, more of the monoliths toppled, and Polly heard the cracking of stone, glass, and metal around and below her. She looked wildly to her left and her right, watching all the time to make sure that none of the destruction might rain down upon her.

Then, a single voice rang out, as deep as the very roots of the earth. It was a voice of command, and at its words, the earthquake ceased.

Polydora swung her gaze back toward the gateway. The stone slab had been thrust forward. A crack in the center had appeared, and the slab, now in two pieces, swung outward and toward her on unseen hinges. Polydora saw blackness behind it: not emptiness, but blackness; and there was motion there, as of some monstrous convulsion in the shadows.

A form emerged from that blackness. Coppery red it appeared in the dim twilight, and the fleeting forms of the Amenta gathered toward it as blackbirds flock together. The reddish shape emerged, and Polydora saw first the horns, and then the leathery black wings and the clawed arms. She recognized this shape; it was one she had seen in paintings on earth: of demons, and of the Devil himself. She knew not what to think of such a form appearing here, on her home planet, unless….

…unless this was some universal form of evil, one transmitted by dreams and myths between all worlds and all peoples and times. But now this creature literally stood before her, stretching its clawed arms out to embrace its newfound freedom.

Then the creature’s fiery eyes turned downward and focused upon her, and the monster paused, for just a moment. Then it chuckled. The chuckle grew into laughter, and the laughter into a maniacal howl of glee. The Amenta joined their howling to that of this, the greatest of The Masters, in an unholy chorus.

And Polly stood there in dismay, quailing in the roar of the hideous din….

       [ To read Episode 11.2, click here…. ]




Mar 09

Before the Gateway




“Before the Gateway

Graphite, 11.4″x8.0″ wide.

Signed and numbered prints – AVAILABLE

To purchase this original sketch, please contact Jef by clicking here.

To purchase a print of this item, please click here.

Feb 05

In the Company of Angels: Episode 5.2 – Orbaratus (cont.)


In the Company of Angels, Episode 5.2 – Orbaratus (cont.)


“That doesn’t sound good,” said Jill, “That doesn’t sound good at all! I mean, this place is already spooky enough as it is….”

“Sam, what color were the gems?” asked Mr. Luke.

“Hard to tell because the light was bad, but they looked dark: blue, maybe?”

“Do you think, by any chance, that they might have been sapphires?”

Sam whistled “Holy smoke! I didn’t even think about that! I can go check if you’d like.”

“I’m not sure how we would determine that, to be truthful,” said Mr. Luke. “But, while we think about it, if Polly no longer senses anyone else up there, perhaps we should all go and see the place for ourselves.”

Polly stood poised, listening for a moment. “No, no one remains,” she said.

“Then, would it be possible for you to take Jill up to the cliff top? I know I’m too heavy for you to carry, but Sam can get us both up there together through the Maze. Sam, what do you think?”

Sam grinned. “I’ll be able to, but you sure won’t feel very good when we come back out.”

“Kindly don’t remind me,” said Mr. Luke, looking pained, “But, it is a risk I am prepared to take. Jill, Polly, we’ll meet you up there.”

Sam clutched his crystal in one hand, and Mr. Luke’s wrist in the other, and the two of them stepped through the adjacent wall.

Polly picked up Jill in her arms. “Are you ready to fly, little one?” she thought to Jill.

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be!” Jill thought back to her.

Then they were off.

Jill would remember that flight for the rest of her life. She had been in airplanes before, of course, and knew that takeoffs were noisy and sometimes frightening affairs, so she closed her eyes and braced herself for the jolt of the launch. But Polly’s wings lifted them both effortlessly into the Orbaratan sky, and their rise was so gentle that Polly might not have noticed that they were airborne except for the change in the breezes surrounding them. She cautiously opened one eye and saw that they were already five or six stories above street level and rising slowly, banking back and forth over the deepening chasm below them.

Far from being frightened now, Jill looked eagerly out at the ever-expanding horizon. She saw that the city of Cenurbus was built, as Polly had said, on steep mountain ridges with nearly vertical canyons between them. The city reminded her of photographs she had once seen of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and, as in Rio, there were long graceful arches bridging the canyons; but there were no trees or vegetation of any kind.  She also saw many balconies and plazas that led from the structures built into the cliff walls. But she rarely saw staircases, and it occurred to her that, of course, the Ferrumari would not need them, since they could fly!

Polydora reached the uppermost levels of the cliffs but remained close to the walls lest their flight be noticed by unfriendly eyes. Nevertheless, Sam had been correct; it was both brighter and more blustery in the upper reaches of the city, and even Polydora could not prevent the occasional stomach-wrenching gust of wind from altering their flight. Jill clasped her cloak tightly around her to keep warm. But she was soon able to distinguish the rooftops and the plaza that Sam had described. The mountain rose higher just at the plaza’s far edge, and there were benches and the remains of pots or planters scattered throughout the space in addition to the stone pillars.

“So it was almost like a garden,” Jill thought to herself.

“Yes, it was,” Polly thought back to her, “but that was many centuries ago, long before I came out into the world from the place where my parent had hidden me. But I have seen pictures of how it was, once upon a time….”

To Jill’s astonishment, she now saw faint images flashing through her mind’s eye. The planters were filled with shrubs of every hue of the rainbow. Some had great circular leaves and others reminded her of weeping willows, or of weeping cherry trees. There were tall palm-like plants and low trailing vines. Yet, despite the vivid colours, the overall effect was pleasing, and Jill thought that the Ferrumari must have had great skill in the artistic uses of colour, texture, and shape.

“There were, in fact, many great artists among my people,” Polly thought back to Jill. “And I can show you some of their works in the galleries and museums that were spared during the dark times….

“…that is, once we have solved the mystery of who else may have come here.”

Jill felt a slight wave of dread coming from the Ferrumari, and she realized then how disturbed Polly must be that her home world had, somehow, been violated.

But now Jill saw Sam and Mr. Luke on the plaza. Sam was standing next to the shimmering wall that enclosed the plaza. He was watching them fly in while Mr. Luke was seated on one of the stone benches. Polly lightly touched down next to them, and then she set Jill down upon her own two feet.

Mr. Luke was once again munching on a chocolate bar. “I think next time I’ll take the stairs,” he said between bites.

“That would have taken you weeks,” said Sam. “Besides, I never even saw any leading up here.”

“Of course not, Samuel. It was a feeble attempt at making a joke. The Ferrumari didn’t bother much with stairs.” said Mr. Luke. “But, I’m better now. Going back down, I may opt for a sketch…running one of them, especially one of my own, doesn’t make my stomach do belly-flops the way the Maze does.”

The four of them turned their attention to the plaza. It was fairly large, and despite the crumbling stonework and the wear and erosion of many centuries, it still held a haunting beauty. There were paths worked into the multi-toned flagstones, and these threaded through the planters and stone monoliths that punctuated the space. Jill noticed that there was writing on many of the stone structures. “What do they say?” she asked aloud.

“They are short histories,” said Polly. “This path is itself like a walk backward through time. It begins with events near the time of the Apocalypse, and then traces Orbaratan history back through the ages until the time of the disappearance of the Masters. A visitor, or a pilgrim as they were called, did not need to read the writing on stones at all if he didn’t wish to; all of the Ferrumari had telepathic powers, and these stones have crystals embedded within them that retained images, songs, and performances from other times. A pilgrim could actually experience history in addition to simply reading about it. But now the crystals are mostly silent. I can sense very little of their original contents.”

“I’ll bet there needs to be some power source to make them work,” said Sam. “And I’ll bet that energy source has long since stopped working. Whatcha think, Mr. Luke?”

“Possibly. But, Polly, does anything look different to you now compared to your earlier visits?”

“No,” said Polly, “it is just as I remember it.”

By this time they had followed one of the winding paths past the empty planters and benches and were approaching the cliff wall at the back of the plaza. Jill could see a huge cutting in the cliff base and an immense doorway. A slab of stone filled the space, and its surface was covered with writing.

“More history, I suppose,” Jill thought. “Then she noticed the blue gems that Sam had mentioned. They were large — nearly the size of a half dollar — and were embedded in more of the mirrored glass-like material that seemed so prevalent throughout Cenurbus. They were round in shape, but were nearly the same colour as the sapphire Jill was wearing on her finger, and they were on either side of the stone door, roughly at Polly’s eye level.

“There are the two stones,” said Sam.

“Yes, but there should be a third,” answered Polly. “Look at the top of the door.”

They all looked at the lintel above the door. It was not as obvious to Mr. Luke, Sam, and Jill because they were not as tall as Polydora, but they could see, in the dim light that filtered down from the overhanging rock, a round setting of the mirrored glass. But it held no stone.

“The third gem is gone!” exclaimed Polly. “And now I remember why that is important! In addition to the writing on the stone door itself, there is a rhyme written upon the lintel. It speaks of the three stones that were originally set here.”

“What does the rhyme say? Can you translate it for us?” asked Mr. Luke.

Jill sensed rather than heard Polly’s thoughts as she tried to recast the rhyme into English.

The original Orbaratan language must, Jill thought, have been quite beautiful to hear spoken aloud. But the tone of these verses was dark and ominous.

“Here is what it says,” said Polly, “although this is but a rough translation. The original verse in my own language conveys great authority; they are words of warning and command, but they read something like this:


‘The three blessed stones that seal the thrones on high,

defended by the Ferrumari troth,

restrain the Masters, who, suspended lie,

chained and wrapped in cold funereal cloth.

Yet they will wake and wend a woeful doom,

should none of that great Warden Race endure,

fell acts of terror then they shall resume,

unless the sealing stones remain secure.'”


“But what does that even mean?!” asked Sam.

“It means,” said Mr. Luke after pondering for a few moments, “that we are likely in very grave danger.”

The words were scarcely out of Mr. Luke’s mouth when they all heard a sound like distant thunder that grew and grew. Even as it roared about them, they felt the stones beneath their feet heave and buckle.

“Earthquake!” yelled Mr. Luke. “Quickly, get away from the door and out onto the open plaza!”

                [ To read Episode 6.1, click here…. ]

Jan 30

In the Company of Angels: Episode 5.1 – Orbaratus



In the Company of Angels, Episode 5.1 – Orbaratus


Mr. Luke, Sam, and Jill all gazed intently skyward, squinting in the silvery light to see if they could make anything out.

“I can’t see a thing,” said Mr. Luke. “Polly, did you truly see something, or mainly sense it?”

“Both,” said Polly, “although the movement has now ceased. I knew something was wrong as soon as we stepped through.” The Ferrumari turned to look at all of them. “This is my home. I know how it ought to feel, for I lived here for nearly a thousand of your earth years….”

Jill involuntarily thought to herself “A thousand years all alone…what a horrible thing!”

Polly thought back to her “It was not so difficult; it was all that I knew at first. You only miss a thing that is taken away from you, not something that you never had at the start.” Polly squeezed Jill’s hand.

Aloud, Polly continued: “I know how Orbaratus feels, and this was different. There has been a shift in the taste of the air and in the movements of thought here. The ones who came before, my ancestors, are still here in spirit. They, too, are whispering to me of changes.”

“What sort of changes, Polly?” asked Mr. Luke.

“I do not yet know; that may take some time to understand. But I could fly up to the place where I saw the movements and see what there is to be seen there.”

Mr. Luke thought for a moment, stroking his thin beard. “I wish we could find out without drawing attention to ourselves. If you fly up there, anyone or anything might see you coming.

“I could sketch a view from the cliffs back toward us and Sam and I could certainly framerun it, but that would take time.” Mr. Luke looked around at the structures near them and slapped his forehead with his hand. “Of course!” Polly, are all of the buildings on Orbaratus reflective…like these?” He pointed to the nearest structure, which mirrored them nearly perfectly.

“Yes, most are, although not all,” said Polly. “Those sheets are pressed from a mineral that is mined heavily in the northern parts of this land. It is not metal. Rather, it is more like your glass, or rather, closer to what you might call a one-way mirror on earth. It lets some light through, and some it reflects. But it is much stronger than steel, so it is used throughout most structures in Orbaratus. Why? Is that important?”

“Oh, I see!” said Sam. “If it’s like a mirror, then maybe I can mazerun up to the top of the cliff!”

“It may truly be a Navigator’s dream come true,” said Mr. Luke, nodding. “A whole world built of nothing but mirrors! I suppose it never dawned on me before because I’ve come here so seldom, and I’ve never explored over any great distances.

“But I suppose the first thing to do is to have you attempt it, Sam. Could you just try to pop through this wall near us and return?”

Mr. Luke had hardly finished speaking before Sam had pulled the crystal on its chain from beneath his shirt, clenched it in his hand, and disappeared into the wall beside them. A few moments later, he reappeared, but not in the same spot he had left. He was standing on a ledge about fifteen feet above their heads.

“It all seems pretty normal to me,” he said from above them. “Want me to go up to the spot Polly pointed out?”

“Yes, if you can” said Mr. Luke, “but be careful! And if anything seems odd — in the Maze, I mean — don’t take chances: just come back here. But if you can find your way up to the place Polly pointed out, look out and see if you can see anything. Don’t leave the Maze unless all is quiet. We don’t want anyone to see you.”

“OK,” said Sam. He turned and disappeared back into the wall.

“Mr. Luke,” said Jill, “he was inside the wall for just a moment. How can he have climbed up there that quickly?” She pointed to the ledge above them.

“Space and time don’t work the same way when you’re mazerunning,” said Mr. Luke. “I know, I’ve tried it, several times.” He shuddered involuntarily. “I might never have gotten back out but for the fact that I always had someone like Sam with me to pull me through.”

“Polly,” he said, turning toward the Ferrumari, “do you know what’s up there? It looks from here just like the top of a building, or the top of a cliff. I’ve not spent enough time here to know exactly how the city was built, nor even where we are.”

Polly pondered for a moment. “We are standing in what is, or was, the capital city of all of the world of Orbaratus. During the time of my people, there were no separate nations or states. But this place was called Cenurbus. It was the cultural hub of Orbaratus, and the home of most of its places of learning and governance. Near here, my parents prepared a place for me when I was first born, and when I was old enough to safely leave that place, what I found around me was what you see now: the ruins of a once-great city.”

“So, are all of these…,” Mr. Luke waved at the steep cliff-like walls surrounding them, “are all of these structures? Skyscrapers? Or are they actually cliffs that have been built upon?”

“A bit of both,” answered Polly. “This place was carved out of a range of mountains, the stone of which is like granite on earth. Some of the cliff tops are truly the peaks of that virgin rock; others are homes and halls that have been planted upon the rocky bones of the mountains.”

“And do you know what that specific building was?” Mr. Luke pointed to the one they had sent Sam to explore.

“It was a place of veneration, I believe, as well as an archive. It was there that all of the lore of the Masters was kept by my people.”

“The Masters? Who were they?” asked Jill.

“They were the ones who came before the Ferrumari. Some of the sages wrote that they created us, and that the Ferrumari were either bred or built by them to be their servants. Others claimed that they were a competing race that died out just before speech came to us and we began to populate Orbaratus.

“All that I know comes from the archives, and I was unable to distinguish truth from legend, for I had no one to guide me in my studies. But there are rhymes and songs written about the elder days, from long before the time when the Masters vanished, and many of these are beautiful and speak of a wondrous age of joy and prosperity. But there are also other songs that speak of the final days of the Masters, and these are not so beautiful. They are filled with grief and with dire prophesies.”

“Prophesies? Prophesies about what?” asked Mr. Luke.

“About the end of days, about evil times to come,” said Polly. “And, you can see, much of what was written has come to pass, in a way.”

Jill felt a wave of sorrow and anxiety wash over her, and she realized that it had come from Polly. She looked around at the ruined buildings and, for the first time, began to feel uneasy.

“But, Polly,” said Mr. Luke, “if someone — someone not of the Ferrumari — came to Orbaratus, would there be anything about that building particularly that might attract them? You said it was a place of veneration as well as an archive. Was it a temple?”

“Not as you think of it,” said Polly. “But there is a garden of meditation at its summit, a place of remembrance.”

“You mean, like the tomb of the Unknown Soldier? Or an historical memorial of some kind?”

“Yes, something somewhat like that. At the top of the cliff is a hallowed door, or gateway, into the mountain, through which the Masters were said to have departed from our world. Or, at least, so it appears. But there is nothing behind that door, and I do not believe that it can be opened. Writings are engraved upon it: verses from the last days of the Masters, written in an ancient mode of speech.”

“But, is there anything that anyone might want there?”

“Not that I recall, but perhaps Sam can tell us what he has found, and whether the place is as I remember it.”

Sam had just popped back out of the wall behind Mr. Luke.

“Well?” asked Mr. Luke, “did you see anything?”

“No, not really,” said Sam, “There was no movement at all, except for what was caused by the wind. It’s pretty blustery up there!”

“Did you look around?”

“Yeah. Since I didn’t see anyone there, I popped out of the Maze and explored a bit. I don’t know if you saw me; I couldn’t make you out down here because of the angle of the buildings and the shadows at the bottoms of the cliffs. It’s a lot lighter up there!”

“I felt that you were there,” said Polly, “Although I didn’t see you. But what I sensed before seems to have departed. I was aware only of you this time.”

“Was there anything up there that seemed…well…disturbed?” asked Mr. Luke.

“The place is pretty old and deserted. There’s something like a plaza made of stone, with stone pillars scattered around on it, and benches, and things that look like planters. A cliff wall rises on the side away from us. It looks like that’s where the building stops; beyond it is just rock.”

“Did you notice a doorway built into the side of the mountain?”

“I saw something that looks like a doorway. Just a slab with writing on it and two gems set into the walls: one on either side.”

Two gems?” asked Polly.

“Yeah. One on each side of the door.”

“Why, Polly? Is that important?” asked Mr. Luke.

“I am unsure. It has been such a very long time since I was in that place, but there was something about the stones: some dark legend, or perhaps it was an evil prophesy.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” said Jill, “That doesn’t sound good at all!”

                [ To read Episode 5.2, click here…. ]