Prologue - "It Begins"
She stepped out of the boat, her feet scratched by the rocks. She didn’t bother to secure the small skiff but rather hurried to the shore before turning around and scanning the water. Stringy hair pushed back revealed a face lined with fatigue, fear and pain, but one that was beautiful, nonetheless. Her dark eyes cast about and, not seeing what she was looking for, showed the first glimmer of relief.
Turning to face inward again she scanned the island, noting the tree-lined ridges and dense foliage in front of her. Overhead the sky was clear, the half-moon casting a dim light upon the open ground. She sighed and hurried onward, her torn skirt damp around her bare feet. She moved with tired grace, stepping carefully when she could, pushing limbs and branches out of her way as she made her way down some trail only she could see. She went over rocks, across a small stream, and made her way up the rocky path.
Near the top of the ridge she began working her way across, using one hand to maintain balance as her bare feet found shaky purchase on the gravelly slope. Using scrub brush to work around steeper sections she continuing on, pausing every so often to cast her gaze up and down the hillside. Her movements became more frantic, small sounds of frustration escaping as she continued her trek.
With a whimper of hope she seemed to find what she was looking for. She allowed herself to slide down perhaps ten feet before continuing her scramble sideways. A large clump of scrub lay just ahead, and she made for it with renewed vigor. Once there it seemed she was attacking it, flailing with arms and pulling at branches with cut hands. After only a few moments she stopped, a sob of relief escaping.
Before here lay a pit of darkness. The scrub hid the entrance to a hole, or perhaps something more, for without further delay the woman pulled herself into the hole, seemingly fearless in the face of injury, animal or insect.
It was pitch dark inside, but the woman used her hands to pull herself along, only occasionally reaching out above her or the side to feel the walls. The shaft sloped downward gently at first, but soon curled into a slide. Rushing down face first the woman did little to slow her fall, using her already bruised and bleeding hands to keep the worst of the gravel from her face.
After only a short time she came to a halt, the shaft again curling upward until it was nearly flat. She didn’t know how far she’d slid but guessed she was close to sea level yet again. In the distant darkness she could hear the drips and tinkling of water echoing off the walls of the cavern. She crawled forward some more until her hands splashed on the edge of a pool of water.
She smiled in the darkness, but there was no one to see. No one needed to. She knew where she was going now. She crawled along the edge of the water for a ways, knowing it was curving around, until she bumped her head into a wall. A sharp intake of breath was all that she allowed herself, and then she was in the water, crawling in slowly until she was fully immersed except for her head. Her skirt clung to her legs but not enough to impede her slow progress. She kept close to the wall, until it disappeared altogether.
For several long moments she simply tread water, then took several deep breaths. She dove under the water and, hands out in front of her to feel her way, found the underwater tunnel she’d been looking for. She swam strongly despite her weariness, for she knew she had a distance to go before she could come up for air.
Twenty feet, thirty, forty…more. Ten more feet and she was certain the water grew lighter. Another ten feet and she could see where the light originated. She kicked harder, her lungs burning, and finally the darkness lifted. She turned upwards sharply and emerged into a lighted room with a gasp that echoed off the walls. She tread water for a moment, gathering her strength, then swam to the edge. Instead of being a rocky bed, however, the edges were smooth, with very light steps the last half-dozen feet or so.
She clambered out of the water and fell to the ground, also smooth. She wrung out her skirt as she regained her breath, then took the time to look around her.
The room she was in couldn’t be called a cave. Not fairly. It was indeed carved from the very rock, but there was a comfort in the design. The patterns of the rock and the design of the room gave it a secure feeling, not oppressive at all. Her eyes traveled from the walls to the source of light in the room; several long panels along the ceiling shed a muted glow over the entire room. There were no obvious cables. In fact, if she had to hazard a guess she would’ve said the light was like a bright, full moon on a clear night.
The pool took up one entire corner of the room The other three walls seemed to hold all manner of strange and delightful things, from boxes that looked like a cross between very old and futuristic technology, to hollows in the walls that held statuettes, candles, small boxes and the like. Though somewhat congruous with each other, the blend of old and new somehow fit together in this room. Too, there was the writing.
All over the room, in seemingly random intervals and at varying heights, there was writing. At points it seemed Greek or even Cyrillic in origin, and yet other places it seemed to flow into something akin to hieroglyphics, though like none she’d ever seen before. As always, the writing fascinated her. She sat down, her legs spread out before her, and gently wrung out her hair while she let her clothes dry somewhat, all the while letting her eyes roam over the walls and humming a long-forgotten tune.
After a while she stood again, this time turning her head back and forth as she searched for something specific. Her focus latched quickly onto one section of the cavern wall. Between two pillars lined with writing lay an archway, as wide as she was tall times two, and tall enough that she couldn’t quite reach the top of the arch with her outstretched fingers, even when standing on her toes. The surface looked like polished silver, or perhaps mirrored glass, but offered no reflection. She was careful not to touch it.
Mostly dry and having regained most of her strength she began looking around the room, examining each console, each artifact in its nook, each unrecognizable object, be it on the floor or in the wall. Her brows furrowed and her head began turning a little more sharply. Finally she noted a heavy chest set just inside the wall low and to the ground. She practically jumped forward and squatted to the pull the heavy wood-and-metal chest toward her. Once clear of the wall she gently brushed dust from it before lifting the latch and opening it. With tender care she reached inside and withdrew a heavy tome. The covers appeared to be wood laced with ivory. The bindings looked like braided catgut. Upon opening the tome she identified the pages as vellum. Again the strange writing greeted her, but she wasn’t concerned. She closed the book and, hugging it to her chest, rose and turned back toward the mirrored arch.
She set the book atop a console that, oddly enough (or perhaps not so oddly), had a slight indentation that seemed a perfect fit. There was a faint hum, felt more than heard, and the console glowed a faint green. Almost smiling now the woman ran her fingers along the console, barely touching the gem-like indicators and almost-antique looking knobs and dials.
The woman smoothed her matted hair down, a faint smile on her lips. She rested one hand on the book and one hand on the console and began singing. At first it came out only as a whisper, but as she found the tone her voice grew in strength until it echoed off the walls in a rich mezzo-soprano.
The words were incomprehensible. She herself couldn’t speak the language; the words formed only in her songs, and she knew not their specific meanings, only their feelings and intent. The song she sang now resonated with hope, but also with sadness and longing, and, as she reached the crescendo, supplication.
The console in front of her began to glow with her song, the muted red gem-like crystals shining a deep crimson. The book began to glow with a blue light, and as she progressed toward the finality of her song, waves of light emanated from both the book and the console to swirl together in a violet cloud that slow stretched forth to the nearby pylon.
As the violet light reached the standing stone an emerald light suffused the cavern. All other lights were muted, and just as the woman sang her final note, a bright beam of light erupted from the pillar. Emerald energy splashed across the mirrored surface of the arch, which in turn began to ripple as a still pond might when one tossed in a stone.
In only a few moments the ripples became larger waves, emanating from the center outward. All the lights dimmed and there was the sound of thunder and lightning, the flash and booming noise startling the woman. She stepped back, tripped over the corner of a step behind her, and fell down, her head striking stone.
With her ears ringing and her eyes seeing spots, the woman failed to notice the shimmering surface of the arch retreating. From beyond the arch there was a glimpse of another room not unlike the room she was in, with one major difference.
There were figures moving about that room, and they were facing the gateway.