In the footsteps of Genghis Khan
Between them Ithis, Nick and David had finally agreed on their next target. It was to be the Deer stone monolith, situated south of Chatgai, near the town of Mörön in northern Mongolia. Using Nicolai’s vast number of contacts, plans were soon formulated for the journey to the small Mongolian town of Munku-Sardyk, just inside the previously disputed border with the former USSR, in the mountainous region of Sajan east of Irkutsk, where a guide would be waiting to take them to Chatgai. At last the party set off on their long drive south across country. Not wishing to draw unnecessary attention to themselves, they kept to the almost impassable tracks across the spine of the Sayan Mountains, avoiding all villages and towns along the way, with Kolya and Victor taking turns at the wheel.
After five tortuous weeks of being bounced and bruised inside the old ex-army four wheel drive truck, their goal was at last in sight. In the gloom of early evening, the lights of Munku-Sardyk created an eerie glow in the thick layer of fog that sat like a grey sea in the valley where the town stood. Kolya drove the old truck slowly down the tortuously winding narrow mountain road that led into town, barely able to hang onto the violently twisting steering wheel as the truck’s front wheels constantly collided with the steep sides of the deep ruts in the road, threatened to tear it from his grip. Much to everyone’s relief, he finally halted the truck outside an old abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the small town. He and David disguised themselves heavily, dressed in heavy khaki coloured ex-soviet army quilted coats, pants and felt boots, with their facial features obscured by the peak and ear flaps of their old army winter forage hats. They silently walked towards the rendezvous point, using the fog and shadows to hide from any prying eyes.
Kolya beckoned David to follow him as he entered the smoke filled interior of the local general store. In one corner of the room, a squat Eurasian looking man stood with his back to them warming his hands over the cause for all the foul smelling smoke – an ancient potbelly stove, the store’s only source of heat. The storekeeper was busy doing business with an old woman and a youth at the store’s wooden counter in the centre of the room.
The two men stood for a moment, waiting to see who would catch their eye. The man at the stove put his thick fur lined gloves on and turned towards them, before walking past and back out into the night. The storekeeper glanced at them, briefly indicating with his eyes and a slight nodding movement of his head, that they should follow the man who had just left. Stepping back outside, Kolya looked up and down the street searching for the man who appeared to have completely vanished into the night. Then David nudged him, pointing across the street to where they could see the faint glow of a cigarette in the fog filled shadows opposite. They crossed the street and followed the shadowy figure behind a pile of old rusty oil drums and corrugated iron into a small shack. He gestured to them to sit while he checked that they had not been followed before introducing himself in his passable Russian. His name was Gansukh. He had been sent by his father Ganbaatar to guide them across the dangerous mountain paths to where his family lived.
As the sun began to rise above the horizon, Gansukh led the way with Nick, David, Kolya and Victor following behind as they climbed above the town, closely shadowed by Ithis. The party headed south to the high mountain pass above Munku-Sardyk, which overlooked a lake feeding the Egijn River, just north of Mörön and the village of Chatgai, Gansukh’s home. By mid-afternoon, they were all seated cross legged and completely tired out by the long hike, greedily eating tough cubes of cooked yak meat from a large skillet sitting on top of a small iron stove, which doubled as the family’s heat source. They drank copious quantities of fermented yak milk while relaxing inside Ganbaatar’s felt lined, traditional Yurt, used whenever the old man decided to spend the summer months out in the vast grass prairies of northern Mongolia, reconnecting with nature. He proved his worth. He was an excellent source of knowledge when it came to all the ancient stone monoliths, spread far and wide across the vast Mongolian countryside, and beyond into China itself. His son Gansukh would one day take his place as head of the clan, carrying on the old traditions taught to him by his father, and his father before him, down the generations. Traditional clans like theirs, and the way they lived, harked back to the days of the greatest of all Mongols, Genghis Khan, whose army conquered vast swaths of foreign lands north, south, east and west of the Mongolian steppes. For a relatively short time during the communist takeover of Mongolia by their large neighbour China, all forms of local religion and traditions were banned. But once Mongolia had become an autonomous state and its people were again in control of their destiny, life soon returned to the old ways.
Yet again dependable Victor shone, acting as translator. His natural gift for language was invaluable. He and Gansukh soon became firm friends as they made arrangements to get Nick to the Deer stone monolith relatively unnoticed. Ganbaatar would travel south within the week, taking his family with him to re-establish their connection with the land, and the old gods that he firmly believed in. Nick and David, together with Kolya and Victor, would be disguised in traditional Mongolian garb for the journey to the Deer stone where Ganbaatar would set up camp.
The speed of their journey was governed by the yoked pair of Yaks slow but steady pace, as they pulled the heavy wooden-wheeled cart containing all of Ganbaatar’s family’s possessions. Victor talked softly to the animals, encouraging them ever onwards while Nick, Kolya and David walked beside the cart with the old man riding on top of the pile. Their journey took them southeast through open grassland, avoiding the road to Mörön and across a shallow ford over the Delger River, a few miles east. Then they turned south to the Deer stone monolith.
Nick and Kolya helped Gansukh and Victor erect the Yurt from the tangle of wooden poles, collapsible wicker wall supports, and the heavy felt rolls that filled the cart. In this vast empty prairie no one would bother them as Nick went about his business checking out the ancient monolith. If anyone did appear, Gansukh and Victor’s keen eyesight would soon pick them out if they appeared on the horizon. Nick began studying the upright stone looking for any sign of where or what was the key to unlocking its secrets. As far as he could see, the stone bore no visible signs of ever having been carved, or of having any finger holes like some of the previous standing stones he and David had come across in the past. He sat down with his back to the stone’s cold surface, beginning to wonder if this was the correct one after all.
“Look on the top of the stone,” Ithis’ voice whispered gently inside his head. Nick called Victor over and climbed onto his massive shoulders, quickly changing his position so that he now knelt precariously with Victor’s large hands clamped onto his ankles for support. As he peered over the top of the stone monolith he could see that it was covered in a thick layer of lichen, which he managed to scrape clean, using the knife that Kolya passed up to him. Just like the stone in Sweden, this one had a carved concentric spiral ending in a single finger width hole at its centre. He pushed the index finger of his right hand into the tiny hole. Almost imperceptibly at first, the stone slowly began to lower itself into the ground. He quickly jumped onto it from Victor’s shoulders, riding it as it descended below ground level.
The stone’s slow passage into the underworld finally stopped. Nick peered into the gloom, before shouting back up for light. A hurricane lamp and lighter were lowered to him by rope, down the long shaft above his head. After lighting the lamp he stepped off the stone. He began walking carefully forward towards the middle entrance of three tunnels leading off into the distance. “Nick, the stone is rising, get back quick!” David shouted from above. Nick turned round, but he was too late. The stone had already risen too far for him to climb onto. He was trapped for the moment with no way back to the surface. Somewhere close by was the artefact he had come to reactivate.
“Ithis, which way do I go?” he asked, now fully aware that she would always be near to protect and guide him. She walked out of the surrounding walls of the space beneath the monolith and came over to where he sat.
“Stay here for the moment my Nick while I explore,” Ithis purred, glad at last have him to herself once more. “I’ll search for the artefact’s location. Although you must remember that I cannot physically go near it for fear of detection by the system,” she gently pointed out, to remind him of the danger her presence there represented. Nick’s sexual desire for her intensified as he watched the gentle sway of her hips when she walked to the left hand tunnel entrance first, disappearing into the darkness. Moments later she reappeared from the right hand entrance, shaking with fear.
“What’s wrong, what happened?” He ran to her, desperately wanting to put his arms round her to protect and reassure her, stopping himself from doing so at the last possible moment.
She sat down on the cave floor shivering with fear. The emotionally expressive large pupils of her eyes had changed their colour once more, this time to pure white, the colour that indicated sheer terror in her. Gradually they returned to their normal shade of pale emerald green when she finally stopped shaking. “Asima!” she managed to whisper. “He senses we are near to the one artefact in this part of the world that is really important to the system. He is growing more powerful Nick. He must be feeding off the army which the pope sent to stand guard over his tomb. He is using their latent psychic energy to increase his own. We have to find a way to communicate with Ricardo to warn him of the danger the army is in,” she said closing her eyes for a moment, trying desperately to recover from Asima’s second vicious mental assault from the darkened confines of his living tomb.
Nick sat as close to her as he dare, while she repaired the damage within her mind. “Did you manage to locate the artefact before he attacked you my love?” Nick asked softly, not wishing to cause her any more pain than she was going through at that moment. She nodded and drew a map in the dust on the floor between them, showing the path through the tunnel maze he had to take. Memorizing the route, he began walking towards the right hand tunnel, using the old hurricane lamp to light his way. He marked the tunnel wall with a series of scratches which he made with a piece of rock for his return journey. The route through the maze twisted and turned, sometimes doubling back on itself at infrequent junctions in its makeup. In the painful mental state Ithis was in, she couldn’t help him. For the moment he was on his own. Soon he reached the place where the artefact stood. It was housed in a familiar large dome roofed chamber at the maze’s centre. This was not just another sub power station within the system’s worldwide power network; it was much, much more than that. From floor to ceiling around the walls of the chamber, vast banks of capacitor inlets where all connected to a central control system that housed a massive generating unit, fed by five heavily insulated, solid metal power cables from deep below the surface. The capacitors outlets were equally as large, leading off in all directions. The control unit itself had five separate fail-safe panels that had to be reset before the central reconnection switch could be utilized. Each failsafe panel consisted of a series of moveable icons that had to be correctly repositioned in order to work. Nick sat looking at each panel, carefully studying the icons, trying to work out where he had seen them before. It was obvious that the panels denoted the destination for each cable’s direction.
One panel’s icon appeared to be Sumerian in origin, while another looked more like Sanskrit, and the remaining three bore early examples of Chinese, Korean and Japanese characters. If only Ithis were here by his side… Choosing to start with the cuneiform panel first, Nick began shifting the icons around almost haphazardly at first, before he finally realized exactly what the key for each of the panels was. Each one was a representation of the most powerful ancient deity for each location, when the system was first constructed. After resetting the Sumerian panel, he quietly worked his way through the four remaining panels. At last he was able to reactivate the central power control generating unit. For a moment he sat back, silently thanking his obsession for solving the most difficult Sudoku problems. Now he was mentally exhausted by the four puzzles he had solved. The power unit quietly hummed as the capacitors built up energy, before discharging it down the line to the next junction. He retraced his steps following the marks he had made on the tunnel walls, until eventually he arrived back where he had left Ithis over two hours earlier. The small cavern was empty. Ithis was nowhere to be seen. Then he saw the top of the Deer stone monolith slowly reappear from above and quickly jumped on it for the return journey. By reactivating the Asian central power generating system, it allowed the giant stone to descend, to return him once more to the surface.
David told him that Ithis had briefly spoken with him openly once she had fully recovered, reluctant to communicate in her normal fashion for fear of Asima listening in. She told him that she was going to inform Ricardo of the immediate danger his army of tomb guards where in, hoping that between them, they could find a solution to the problem Asima presented to anyone remotely susceptible to his influence. In turn, Nick related how each of the panels gave clear directions in their search for the next series of artefacts in China, Japan, Korea, India and the ancient Sumerian connection somewhere inside modern day Iraq. One thing was abundantly clear now – they needed to turn their attention temporarily away from their search, to assist Ricardo in any way they could. So calling on the help once more of their Mongolian hosts, they set out on the long journey north to southern Siberia.