Poul was surprised that the soldiers and crew had the energy and determination to work so hard. He was impressed. He would have promised them raises, promotions and medals if he could, but all he had to offer was the honor and satisfaction to save more lives from Earth’s turmoil.
They drove up the river at a slow speed. The weight of the boat, the supplies, the helicopter and crew made it difficult for the diesel engine to push forward, especially with many of its components missing.
The river was named the Crystal Waters. Its meaning was easy to understand. The bottom of the riverbed sparkled as if someone had poured blue and purple amethyst into the river. The water was perfectly clear, even after the Yggdrasil’s wake. Only a trickle of mud rippled from the propellers, but after a few seconds, the mud settled into transparency.
Cho noticed that the mud seemed to disperse around oval shapes. Without anyone’s permission, he took a raft, inflated it and tied a rope to the cleat and the raft. Dragged behind the Yggdrasil, he investigated the translucent fish. Catching a few of them, their bodies dissolved and deflated like jellyfish out of water. He then caught more fish into a bucket and then inspected them closely. The skin was transparent; the organs were like clear quartz.
After studying the fish, he began collecting riverbed rocks. Then he plucked seaweed. Cho spent most of the day and some dusk trailing behind the Yggdrasil like a tail. The Admiral had to order the curious Chinese Private to return. He almost regretted the order when Cho wandered about the yacht explaining his discoveries to everyone. The crew quietly groaned at the enthusiastic field medic.
The Yggdrasil spent a full day chugging up the river, and then a new morning started with a shroud of clouds puffing across the sky. The travel was insignificant; both sides of the river were lined with trees layered and piled against each other like a crowd clambering along the ropes to catch a better glimpse of a celebrity. A few drooping trees bowed towards the river, its leaves brushing along the waters to drink.
Daniel Terron spent the entire trip on the bow, gazing over the river and the land. He slept on the bow’s deck and never wandered far from that area. He seemed annoyed at the technology as if affronted by its reality. He had questioned the Admiral several times before leaving, explaining that the hike to Zhamuerea would only take five days on foot, but the Colonel and Admiral insisted on the Yggdrasil.
Neither of them wanted to risk fighting on tired legs. They also didn’t want to waste any time. They remembered the chaos of Earth. Every day was another day of terror for those defenseless people.
Both of them knew that the mission wasn’t going to be a simple hike through the woods. They may not understand the Petasanwee ways but they respected them. But the Admiral and Colonel were trained in their own ways, and that meant bringing along the supplies and tools that they were accustomed to using.
When someone passed Daniel Terron, he would shake his head like a disapproving father. The soldiers and crew gave him a respectful distance. They offered him food but he only ate from his own provisions. He spoke to no one and ignored the crew’s idle chatter.
After several kilometers, the river opened up. The embankments rose into short cliffs; gray marble walls chiseled as if from dragon claws. Trees still gathered along the cliff tops but were fewer in numbers. On occasion, the river widened into pockets where waterfalls splashed into the mouth. Beck counted the waterfalls, “Twenty-three. Twenty-four.” When he reached thirty-seven, the river divided into two paths.
Seeing the divide in the river, the Admiral ordered the driver to reduce speed. He would have dropped anchor until Daniel Terron entered the wheelhouse and directed them towards the western tributary.
The driver followed Daniel’s instructions, and the Yggdrasil slowly turned into the narrow passage. The trip was another fifteen minutes before the tributary opened into a small lake surrounded by steep slopes of rock and brush.
A dock extended from the center, beautifully carved with birds. A staircase, designed like a serpent’s neck, slithered to the top. Tall posts stood from the dock every third mooring, and on their tops, a carved talon gripped lamps between wooden claws. Two ships were docked on opposite sides, wagging back and forth like old men on rocking chairs. Their sails were shaped like large Dragon wings, fanning quietly against the masts.
There was no one to greet them, no guards and no crew. The Colonel presumed that lack of guards would change when the Petasanwee and Samyra witnessed his people obliging their darker sides of theft and perhaps sabotage. For now, everyone was pleased at their freedoms until they saw something that they wanted on someone else’s property. Poul didn’t see his viewpoint as pessimistic; he thought the Samyra were naïve.
The driver plucked switches to stop the engine, and the yacht smoothly slowed until it rubbed against the central dock. Crew quickly snagged the mooring posts with ropes, looping circles around them and tying them on ship’s cleats. As the rope’s slack stretched, the boat buckled and groaned as it pulled on the moorings.
Daniel Terron was the first to abandon ship, glad to leave the metal behemoth behind him and lead the Phoenix on the last leg of his part of the journey. The Colonel signaled for Arielle, Knud and Ehud to join them. The Admiral looked confused by the Colonel’s slim choice in escort and even pointed at the wide selection of prepped and armed soldiers to join them. The Colonel waved at the Admiral as if wiping away dust off a shelf.
Poul saw no need for violence. Daniel Terron was confident of his safety, and the Samyra should not have hostile feelings against them. The four Phoenix followed the eager Petasanwee up the stairs; Daniel scaled the steep rises with better ease than the four of them.
When reaching the top, a covered walkway led towards the center of town. Buildings were organized in rectangular formations surrounding garden courtyards outlined by covered walkways. On the outside walls, beautifully carved animals and trees were divided by trim of a brown-purple wood. Green bamboo was bent into curved awnings and roofs. The columns and rafters were built of a reddish-orange wood, as if stained with the fire blood of dragons; its grain was drawn into black velvet lines. The columns were carved with different animal faces connected by vines; each set of eyes glared suspiciously at the intruders.
Gray stones marked the town’s perimeter, a short wall following the wavy slopes. The small town was dark; each house was hollow, bordered with empty porches and pergolas. Within the open doorways, the inner rooms were divided with sliding walls. The Busho Samyra didn’t seem to own much in possessions. If they didn’t know any better, they would have sworn that the town was abandoned. Daniel led the Phoenix towards the central courtyard. Rock, flower and sand gardens patched the grass square.
On one end of the courtyard, the Samyra were knelt before five statues attached and entangled by the legs. The statue faces expressed different emotions.
On the right side, three bells dangled on an arch. Each bell was a different size, one smaller than the other and shaped like fingernails with flute-like slits on the top.
Essence burned in small bowls around the meditating Samyra. Chimes gently dinged and pinged as if accompanying their lyrical chants. The entire town was assembled there, including the squirmy children at their mothers’ sides. One boy glimpsed Daniel and the soldiers; he pointed a finger at them before inserting it into his nose.
Daniel led the Phoenix towards the back of the courtyard and gestured that they kneel with respect to the tradition. The Phoenix obliged, staying there for several minutes before they heard the gong of the larger bell. A prayer was chanted and then the second bell gonged. Another prayer and another bell sounded before everyone kissed their palms and returned to their feet.
Daniel waited patiently, giving the Samyra time to recognize their presence. Ehud watched the Samyra return to chores; the mothers shooed the children back home; workers finished closing furnaces and kilns while the others conversed politely about certain things in their native tongue. Their language had a distinctive rhythm to it with influences from Japanese and Korean. Their gowns were long silk robes with layers of sashes and scarves. Each sash had a collection of symbols representing the states of matter, magic and emotion. When a Samyra turned towards the Phoenix, they noticed their eyes, like gaseous nebulas trapped within the bounds of their pupils.
A tall, distinctive Samyra stood in front; humbly bowing to the people as they returned home. The Master noticed Daniel and the escort, pretended to not care while continuing to acknowledge his people reverently. He waved to the last Samyra before the Master’s head turned slightly at the Phoenix and then his lips pursed disagreeably. He gestured towards a covered walkway to invite them to walk with him, just as a trickle of rain started to patter against their shoulders. The last Samyra returned to their homes, a few remaining underneath awnings to continue their polite conversations. (What the Phoenix didn’t realize was the Samyra were watchful guards pretending to partake in idle chat.)
The Master appeared old but aged gracefully. A few gray strands streaked his straight hair that was bound in a long ponytail down his back. He eyed the foreigners before acknowledging Daniel Ankti Terron with a nod. For a few minutes, they spoke in two languages, both in their native tongues. They obviously understood one another, sharing a common insight on leadership and the world. A couple of times, the Master turned to eye the four soldiers.
Poul presumed that Daniel and the Master weren’t just passing pleasantries but speaking about the necessity of their mission. He had heard several words that he recognized as referencing the Caretaker and the gods. It seemed obvious to him that the Samyra Master would respect the wishes of the Caretaker, (maybe even Gunner Mech) over the desires of a few foreigners from Earth. He also presumed that Daniel would relay information about the Petasanwee’s emigration, something that the Colonel didn’t bother to explain to his fellow Officers. He didn’t want to alarm anyone or distract them from their mission.
Finally, the Samyra Master spoke English, “We had been expecting you.” Other than a slight accent, he spoke fluently. “The first assembles of your people were disrespectful to the rest of us.”
“They didn’t introduce themselves, either?” Lt. Duperey needled.
Poul almost smirked at his daughter’s attack. It was a fair comment but he had decided to be diplomatic. Arielle had no inclination.
The Samyra Master swiveled sharply but smoothly on a heel. His brows rose in pronounced accuracy. “I am Master Hoyto Fouso. I am the keeper of the disciplines of nature and man.” The Master eyed Arielle, but the obstinate French Lieutenant didn’t budge, didn’t blink.
Poul interrupted the awkward silence between his daughter and Master Hoyto. “We mean no disrespect. We are in a foreign land, and we are still adjusting. But we are still trying to decipher the facts.”
“Decipher the facts?” he echoed.
“Their numbers? How many? What control do they have of this Ancient Ruins of Gods’ Temple?”
“They cannot control something they do not understand,” Master Hoyto responded arrogantly.
Poul overheard Arielle make a “Pfftt” noise. He agreed with her but didn’t want to insult the Master. After all, the humans in Midtwarg may have to interact with the Samyra in the future.
Poul took a diplomatic ploy. “Well, we cannot allow them to desecrate the Temple. So we should stop them.”
“Ancient Ruins of Gods’ Temple?” Master Hoyto corrected, “Funjoumin. Or what the Petasanwee call The Temple of Three Seasons represents the five deities who watched over the lands during spring, summer and fall.”
“Who watches over winter?” Knud asked.
“We watch over the winter. We tend to our wounds, allow the soil to heal; the plant and animal to rest. The Samyra have been charged with this duty since abandoning your world ten generations ago. We are in service to its care. Much like the Petasanwee, we are caretakers. Our ancestors left because your part of the race decided that machine and the expediency of progress was greater than tending the lands and the old ways. The five deities recognized our determination and graced us with a great responsibility.”
“If Jenson’s followers have control, then you have failed,” Arielle argued.
Poul expressed concern with her comment, shaking his head and twisting brows to ward her away from confronting Master Hoyto.
Master Hoyto continued, pretending to ignore Arielle, “Funjoumin has been under our guard since the deities’ departure. We watch in case they shall return. Jenson’s followers cannot control what they do not understand. They have mild interferences but nothing that draws danger to any of us.”
“With respect, Master Hoyto,” Poul picked up his tempo, “The Temple is invaded, and the Fifth Worlders must be removed. They are interfering with many innocent lives that need a chance to live. The Caretaker cannot make contact and therefore the people cannot cross.”
“It is not the connection that needs repairing. The Caretaker seeks to eliminate the future before the present can reset. The other forces will diminish.”
Poul wasn’t sure what the Master was talking about. He continued, “We are here to help remove the Fifth Worlders. Unless you intend to allow them to continue?” The comments were more confrontational than the Colonel wanted but he didn’t see any other way to breach Master Hoyto’s wall of arrogance.
Fouso turned abruptly, tripping sideways in his walk. He considered the words carefully before conceding, “We have stopped others from disrupting the lands, ruining the earth, even chased and hunted them down.”
At those words, Poul turned to the archery guards patrolling nonchalant around them, pretending to be strolling. He looked at the arrows, a fine fletching from Griffin feathers, a red tweed shaft with flint tips. He realized that his earlier assumption was wrong. The colonists had been killed by the Samyra and not the Petasanwee. That explained why the colonists were hiding in the Dwarf mines. The Petasanwee were too timid to harm the colonists but the Samyra were warriors at heart. They may have seen his people as threats to their sovereignty, or an affront to their rites dictated by the deities.
According to Detective Marx and Daniel, Jenson had killed those colonists who would not serve him. He coerced the survivors to join him on a trek to the Temple, and to tap the secrets of the magical portals. He killed the remaining people who would interfere. Jenson could easily seduce the younger generations, who had only heard stories of Earth; gave them promises of soda fountains and fast food. The truth was colder.
“What about the Chinese? Did you kill them too? Just in case they would scare away your harvest of Dodo birds?” Knud asked with concern.
Master Hoyto looked inquisitive over the choice of words and looked to Daniel for translation. Daniel answered, “Porcheenas.”
“We don’t eat such creatures,” Fouso scoffed. “Only these people do.” He waved a hand at Daniel who seemed slightly offended. “The people you speak of are safe. We sent them to Goredos, the Nogares lands.”
“Nogares?!” Daniel exclaimed.
Master Hoyto twitched his head in a defiant shake. “They have not been seen for many seasons. The race is gone. If any still remained, they would be hiding forever. Which is not likely. Nogares are foul and impatient. They could not stay lying about for so long without wanting to spread harm and terror.”
“That’s an assumption,” Daniel stressed. “Seventeen generations may not have seen them but they could have been isolated by the algae or the copper rains. The prejudice of their impatience may be exaggerated. If they have no choice…”
“The Nogares killed many of the humans when they first settled the Earth but they have since been gone. They either were killed on Earth or were lost when their deities fought amongst themselves and abandoned them all to rot. The Nogares lands have been open to us for five generations. My father took me out there to fling my first arrows. The grass is flowing with red shafts and petaling beautiful flowers.”
“Budding is the word I think you are looking for,” Knud corrected. “But those people are ok?”
“I said so,” Master Hoyto challenged. He turned to the Colonel. “We will not guide you through the lands.”
“We do not need guides,” Poul stated.
“These are accomplished warriors, Master Hoyto,” Daniel defended. “They have been given the respect of Mezcha Dor Gonner.”
Poul recognized the reverent respect in Fuoso’s eyes when Gunner Mech’s translated name was spoken. Poul recognized the name when Petasanwee spoke it in whispers on the plains. Even after a month, Gunner Mech had inspired respect and admiration from the locals. Poul presumed that it had something to do with his association with the Caretaker, but he couldn’t be sure if Mech’s life before the merging hadn’t added to that reputation.
Poul and his people had still to inspire trust among the locals. He hoped that the mission to the Temple would help with that.
Master Hoyto turned and faced Colonel Flagstaad. “You must take the Crystal Waters towards the east, beyond the Dwarven Mines, passed the Lonely House and around the Crescent Waterfalls. The ship should beach at the end of that curve. You will then have to cross the Shutoushey Desert.”
“They still guard it?” Daniel asked, obviously more familiar of the territory than the Phoenix.
Fuoso acknowledged with heavy nods. “They are still there. They remained to hunt and father at the feet of the plateau, waiting for their masters’ return. They will not enter the Temple out of respect but they kill all who cross the desert breadth.”
“And who are ‘They’?” Arielle asked.
“The Shutoushey who guard the Fonjuomin. The Temple of the Three Seasons as you say. The accepted translations are lost in the histories.” Master Hoyto picked up his pace to put some distance between them. While turning the corner of the walkway, he announced, “May the deities guard your travels.”
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