Chapter Twenty-Seven

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Chapter Twenty-Seven – Kalki

When they woke in the chilly early hours of dawn the next day, Shu was gone. “She must be in the cave in the cliffs,” Khan said, shouldering his sword and shield.

“Then we join her!” Apis insisted. They stopped at the edge of the cliffs looking down to see where the cave entrance was. The ground where they stood overhung the three thousand meter sheer drop to the pounding waves below. Seti and Akkad walked along the edge, looking for a way past the overhang to the entrance. Besal, Max, and Manesh tore up plants from the area behind the cliff and began making a crude rope from the material. Nusaan and Akhen surveyed the ground about them looking for any clue to Shu’s whereabouts.

“Look!” They all turned to where Shansur stood horrified, pointing at the ground in front of him. Smashed to pieces on a wide flat rock at his feet, were the remains of the pyramid. Tuluk had accidentally released her when he tried to steal the pyramid while they slept!

“Shu’s gone forever,” Apis whispered, carefully picking up the shattered pyramid, trying to put it back together. They all sank to their knees around the receptacle that had housed her, and protected and revitalized them. Despite their new-found strength and courage, the berserkers uttered anguished cries like children mourning the loss of their mother. They went back to the camp and sat in silence remembering the beautiful woman they all loved and followed. While she was not flesh and blood, merely an image, they each shared the sensation of feeling her gentle touch on their brow, and the intoxicating smell of her perfume whenever she was near was more real to them now in their sorrow than ever before.

“We have to get down to the cave entrance and find whatever it was Shu was looking for,” Max said sadly.

“What’s the point,” Apis wailed. “She’s gone. Let’s head back home.”

“Where’s home now?” Seti asked, knowing the answer to the question before he opened his mouth. “We can’t leave the planet – we have no ship remember?”

“This is our home!” Besal snarled.

“Time for that later; now we find the cave and whatever it contains!” Khan snapped, hefting the crude rope over his shoulder. Using a narrow ledge barely wide enough to grip with their toes which Seti had found, they picked their way carefully along it back to where the overhang was. The cave entrance was protected by a series of protruding rocks. Each one would have to be negotiated separately. Roping themselves together, they took it in turns to swing around the rocks while the rest of the party anchored the one suspended on the end of the makeshift rope, which frayed as each berserker swung from it. Nusaan was the last to attempt the perilous undertaking. He took a deep breath before swinging out and down to clear the last rock.

The weakened strands stretched and began parting under the strain of him swinging back and forth in an ever widening arc across the cliff face. As he drew near to the cave entrance and his brothers, the rope snapped. Suddenly released from the safety of the rope he flew through the air and began tumbling down the cliff. Frantically grabbing at anything in the rapid descent to his death, his fingers latched on to a narrow jagged ledge halting his progress. The effect of the sudden stop smashed him into the cliff with such force that the air in his lungs was driven out in one painful burst. But he managed to hang on. Khan and Akhen lowered the frayed rope down to where their injured brother clung by his fingertips. Finding a tiny foothold Nusaan reached out with his right hand and wrapped the rope around his arm. Max, Akkad, and Seti pulled him slowly back to the cave mouth. Akhen and Besal leaned out, held back by Apis and Shansur’s strong grips, and seized him by the shield strap around his shoulders, hauling him into the safety of the cave.

After Nusaan had recovered from his ordeal, they moved further in, led by Shansur. Their path was lit by the flames of the torches they held, made from the remnant of the rope. As the cave took them deeper into the long dormant volcanic peninsula, a faint sound slowly became apparent. “What is that?” Besal said, straining to make it out.

“Sounds like machinery of some kind,” Manesh replied. For countless hours, they moved further into the cave system following the sound. By now, a gentle vibration in the rock accompanied the humming, underfoot and in the cave walls. Reaching the edge of a deep shaft that descended into blackness beneath their feet, the brothers halted. Their way ahead beyond the shaft was blocked by an ancient rock fall.

“What now?” Khan asked, dropping a tiny rock into the shafts depths. “Down or back?”

In answer Akhen carefully climbed over the edge of the shaft and slowly began descending, using his hands and feet in a spread-eagle fashion across the shaft’s width. “There’s another smaller tunnel entrance down here,” he shouted from the darkness below. The others soon joined him and once again they followed its path.

Shansur stopped. “What is it?” Nusaan asked.

“Shhh – quiet,” Shansur whispered, raising his hand. Besides the steady hum and vibration of machinery, there was now the unmistakable low sound of chanting coming from the depths of the tunnel. Carefully moving forward, the group turned a corner. Before them, a vast cavern extended for thousands of meters, lit by an eerie phosphorescent glow. The cavern was not what took their breath away but what it contained. A giant ship, surrounded by the glowing lights of control panels belonging to machinery of some kind, which were connected to it by umbilical cables, stood on the cavern floor. In front of the ship, lying prone was the source of  the chanting – hundreds of Neolithic men, women, and children. Best of all, holding her arms out wide was Shu! Honey blond hair covered her head and delicate shoulders, reflecting the lights from the panels. She was dressed in a translucent robe that clung to the curves of her stunning figure. The brothers watched from their vantage point high on the cavern wall as the leader of the Stone Age people shuffled forward on his knees, head bowed, holding a gift of a stone axe in his outstretched hands. Placing it at Shu’s naked feet he retreated to his position at the head of the assembled crowd. She picked up the axe. Holding it above her head, the crowd began chanting in the same low tone.

Then she threw it into the air in front of the ship. Twin beams of light from the ship atomized it. The chanting turned into wailing and tearing of the animal skins that covered their bodies. Shu held up her hands to silence them. Speaking in a strange guttural tongue, she commanded them to rise. As the crowd stood up, their gaze followed Shu’s pointing finger. The males beat their chests with their weapons and began running across the cavern toward where the berserkers stood. Shu stopped their headlong rush with one command. Then she called out, her voice echoing around the vast cavern. “Akhen, bring your brothers down here to me.”

The berserkers climbed down, brandishing their swords, and forced their way through the angry crowd of Stone Age warriors toward where Shu stood. Beckoning them to stand beside her, she greeted each one of her beloved berserker sons with a tender kiss and embrace. Shu was no longer an avatar – she was alive. The Stone Age people looked puzzled by their high priestess’ warm greeting to the powerful berserker warriors standing in a circle about her. Plucking up courage, the leader stepped forward once again, this time stabbing the air with his stone tipped spear. Seti ran to meet him, sliced the spear in two with one stroke of his sword, and felled the simple creature with his shield. “Seti – enough!” Shu ordered. “They’re just curious, no more than that.” Unconvinced, he pinned the prone man beneath his foot. The rest of the crowd retreated from where their leader lay, in sullen silence. Shu spoke to them quietly, explaining that, ‘the warriors were her kin and protectors’. Tapping Seti’s thigh with her hand, she commanded him to release the man before she returned to where the rest stood ready to fight. Seti grasped the man by the scruff of his neck and bodily lifted him to his feet before propelling him in the general direction of his people, aided by a powerful kick administered to the man’s backside.

~~~

Shu sat silently as the brothers bombarded her with endless questions about the ship and the Neolithic people in the cavern. The one burning question on their minds was, “Why are you alive after being thousands of years inside the small pyramid – why?”

The answer was even more baffling than the question. “Because of the Kaliyuga,” she said softly. Her transformation was no mere accident; it seemed Tuluk was destined to release her!

The Kaliyuga is a series of cycles of creation and destruction, which her people had lived through during their long existence. It could be controlled somewhat, but during the final break up of her people into warring tribes, it moved on towards the destructive upheaval of the planet, which spelt the end of the few remaining peaceful members of her people, including herself. In their case, they reverted to primitive cave dwellers, and in hers, she was trapped inside the pyramid. The giant stellar ship she named Kalki was their ‘Ark’ to escape Kallorn, but was encased inside the rock peninsula by violent geological upheaval. The machinery surrounding Kalki had maintained it over the millennia. When Shu entered it, closely shadowed by Tuluk, the ship, recognizing there was imminent danger, and regenerated her by a process similar to the one the brothers had undergone. This time, just like them, she was mortal flesh and blood but with thousands of years of knowledge at her fingertips. Over countless centuries, the Neolithic people had worshipped and protected the ship in a ‘cargo-cult’ fashion, believing it to be a gift from their god – which in a way, it was. When Shu descended from it a few short hours ago, they now believed their god had sent her to them. “We have one small problem however; Kalki is counting down to something. It began the moment I stepped out of the regeneration unit,” Shu said, looking worried. “I think the Kaliyuga is entering its final cycle, but this time it will destroy Kallorn forever!”

While Shu desperately tried to lure the frightened people on board the interstellar ship, warning them that the only home they had ever known would soon be destroyed, Akhen and the berserkers explored the ship from stem to stern. For the primitive cave dwellers, entering the domain of their god meant they would surely perish. When the first earthquake hit a few hours later, the brothers took matters into their own hands and herded the terrified people into the ship’s cavernous interior at sword point, where they forced them into stasis units. Disconnecting the ship from the machinery surrounding it from within the protection of the ship’s shielded hull, they prepared themselves for the inevitable breakup of Kallorn. The cavern and peninsula began to slowly collapse as the violent quakes increased in destructive intensity. Holes appeared in the roof of the cavern, marked by dust filled shafts of light from the outside. The ship rocked violently, skidding on the floor from side to side, crashing into the cavern walls. All aboard thought the shield surrounding the hull would give out. Eventually the roof collapsed in a tangled mess around the ship, burying the unprotected maintenance equipment under thousands of tonnes of rock.

Shu took control of Kalki and it slowly ascended out of its former prison into the clear air above the peninsula. Then, as the giant ship gained altitude, heading toward one of the eight moons surrounding the planet, Kallorn entered its final phase. Putting as much distance as she could between the ship and the dying planet, she called her berserkers to witness the end of the beautiful blue-green jewel in space. After the last violent explosion that ripped the planet apart had ended, an expanding ring of tiny particles and asteroids marked the point Kallorn had previously occupied in the vast emptiness of space an hour earlier.

~~~

Tuluk remained hidden on board Kalki until he considered it was safe for him to escape, eventually arriving here on earth, where he joined two  more of my cousins, Brak and Lek; but more of them later. You wonder how it is I know all the details dear reader. You may recall that I mentioned that we are able to communicate across great distances simply by our thoughts. How else do you think my cousins were able to create so much destruction throughout the cosmos! Hesket was about to begin his evil quest. Pashtek would bide his time, waiting for Hesket to fail –  and he would fail spectacularly, but not before unleashing a weapon far more powerful than the new species of berserkers!

~~~

Next time – Chapter Twenty-Eight

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