The Crystal Towers | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Science Fiction Bookmark and Share

The Crystal Towers

The Lost Crystal Towers of Mars (The Ancient Martian Legends of Kara Thorne) By: Dallas G. Releford In the days before the great battle on the plains of Plainium Green between the forces of the Argrean Empire and the Tharcian people, Kara’s grandfather was already a devoted warrior of great renown. In a time when wars were many and peace was scarce, he chose as many did to hold his sword high with pride and charge into battle with great determination, dignity and endurance. His bravery and cunning brought victory after victory to the Tharcian people but they soon learned a hard lesson they would not likely soon forget. Even though they were intelligent, enduring and brave people, they had entrusted the greatest wealth they had to a select few without fully understanding the consequences. Their greatest resource was knowledge but those who would seek it were not looked upon favorably because those in power were terribly afraid of anything they didn’t understand. Their greatest fear was that those with the knowledge would somehow use the power of knowledge to take over their kingdom. In most cases, those who had the knowledge were ignored or collected themselves in secret societies that carried on their research without the approval or support of the rest of the Tharcian society. These people were called Madicians because they held the secrets of the universe in their minds and recorded their thoughts on their long scrolls. The Madicians, or scientists were shunned and mistrusted by the rest of Tharcian society. In their very hands, they held the secrets for weapons that could have won the battles that Kara’s grandfather had tried so desperately to win but because they were the outcasts, the scientists of Tharcia could do little to help them. Day after day and battle after battle, the Tharcians finally came to realize what the Argrean people had already figured out, that this war could not be won no matter how many men they threw into the long, bloody conflicts. They realized that the war would continue until both peoples were totally destroyed and there wouldn’t be enough people left to bury the dead. They had reached a stalemate but her grandfather, Nordis Zalor was not a quitter. With a heavy heart and a feeling of despair, he gathered a few of the chieftains around him and told them what they must do. They must seek out the “wise ones” in the Mountains of Kanadar in the South and find out if they would help them. He was not going to give up, not just yet anyway. The Tharcian Empire stretched from the deep canyons along the westerns plains to the high mountains in the East. It was a huge land filled with beautiful flowing rivers, deep canyons, great forests, long never-ending plains so green with grass and foliage that many lost their way there. There were mountains so high that they reached up into the very clouds that provided them with rain when they needed it. The abode of the Madicians, the Magic Ones was in those tall mountains in the Southern hemisphere. The Empire of Argrea covered much of the Western hemisphere and surrounded Tharcia on the West. The Great Empire of Argrea was an alliance of many tribes and peoples that had banded together over the years to fight the Tharcians in an attempt to conquer their lands. They were successful in this endeavor such as the time they had conquered the land west of the Great Miradian Canyons where they had taken and held most of the Schobian Desert. Nordis Zalor, winner of battles knew that time was running out as surely as the strong Martian winds blew the sand across the hot, hellish desert. With little time to waste, he gathered twelve of his most trusted warriors, three of his best servants and four of the wisest scholars in the kingdom to accompany him on his journey. In the time of the second season and on the day of the fourth Sun, they set forth taking only what they would need to sustain them on their journey because the land was bountiful with food and water. The first four days found them traveling south on the bridge of the huge floating ships they called the Albatores because they were named after the large flying creatures that sailed on the winds of Mars. Powered by their solar engines and pushed along by the prevailing winds, these ships proved to be an admirable means of transportation but the tough old warrior spent more time bent over the railing of the great ship than he did in the comfortable quarters that had been provided for him. His stomach just wasn’t accustomed to air or water travel. By the time they reached the Marshes of Gleniva in the southern part of Kopar, he had learned how to relax and even to enjoy the food the crew had given to them. Leaving the great air carriers at Gleniva on the coast of the great marsh, they boarded the light reed boats and traveled over the deep and deadly marsh for over a hundred miles toward the tall, blue, snow-covered peaks in the distance. Their destination was the mountains and not even the demons, monsters and serpents that dwelled in the marsh would be able to deter them from their purpose. Kara’s grandmother had told her that the journey through the marsh was one that the warriors who had experienced it would never forget. But the exact details of that horrible trip so long ago had been all but forgotten by the time she was old enough to be told the story of the quest for the Men of Knowledge. Even her grandmother, now old and feeble, seemed to forget some of the more minor details but by the time she had finished telling her version of the story, Kara had enough information to know something about what her great grandfather had experienced, the feelings he must have had and the challenges he faced in that ancient Martian world. They traveled for many days and nights only resting when it became absolutely necessary. The night skies were illuminated by big Rasen, the sister planet of Mars. Sometimes, the sky was brightened by the appearance of Phobo and Deimos, the natural moons of the planet. On many nights when the planets, the stars and the moons weren’t obscured by the heavy, dark clouds that sometimes drove across the Martian skies, the lights from those welcome heavenly bodies allowed them to travel at night when it was cooler. Just before the advent of the third season, they arrived at the base of the gigantic mountain range. None of them actually knew where the scientists were hiding but they had received word from nearby villagers that they were deep within the mountains at a place called the Shidel. Following the directions given to them by the villagers as best as they could, they finally found the small town that had grown up around the homes of the scientists. At first, the scientists were terrified of the warriors because they thought they had come seeking them in order to take them back or worse yet, to kill them. It took some strong words from Nordis Zalor and the wise scholars to convince them otherwise, but they still had their suspicions. “We come merely to gain your trust and your assistance,” Zalor told them slamming his huge fist against his bulky chest, “and we value the knowledge that you have gained. Without your help, I’m afraid that our people will perish and the land that we have enjoyed for so long will be ours no more.” “What is it that you want?” The first to speak was Amasor Berkin, a well-known scientist or Madician who had fled the city of Lanair only a few seasons ago. He was like many others of his kind who was forced to flee the cities of the North because they had great knowledge that was frowned upon by the rulers of not only Tharcia but also of the Kingdom of Argrea. What was really strange was that the more intelligent people of both warring kingdoms had been living in the mountains for several centuries and had done so in great prosperity and peace. They ignored their differences because they knew they both had the same interests and the same goals, to further the cause of science. “Maybe we should get in out of the weather because it’s hot and we’re tired and thirsty?” Nordis Zalor was not a weak creature by any means and he was a well-known negotiator. He knew he could make the wary scientists understand better if they all were comfortable and if he could set their minds at ease. He hoped that drink, comfort and a few smiles would do the job of convincing them that they were needed and that no harm would befall them. “The story is long and deserves much explanation,” he added, “and I can tell the story better if I’m under a roof and have your full attention.” “Of course,” Berkin replied pointing to a row of white buildings spread out along a street paved with small stones. For the first time, Zalor surveyed the wide, long green valley. What a wonderful place for something so historical to happen, he thought. A small river ran down the center of the valley and no doubt emptied into the swamp they had just traveled through. On the side of the river where they were presently standing there were perhaps a hundred dwellings made from the thick bark of the Janiper tree. These buildings had all been painted a beautiful white color and Zalor could only imagine what they looked like illuminated in the light of the Martian moons on a beautiful, starry night. Berkin interrupted Zalor’s obsession with the beauty of the mountains in the distance and the valley. “How cruel of me --- it’s been so long since we had guests that I almost forgot my manners,” he added pointing once again at a nearby dwelling. They talked through the night and before the next light, they had reached an agreement. “Do you really think the Argrean government will agree to our plan?” Berkin asked and the rest of the scientists that had gathered in the huge room looked to see what his response would be. They all had wondered about the same thing. After all, nations that had fought each other for centuries would hardly be expected to agree on anything much less something so far fetched as the Crystal Towers. “They will have too,” Zalor assured them, “because it is the only possible solution to our problems.” “And you think these Crystal Towers, as you have come to call them, will do the trick?” “It is as we have agreed,” Zalor replied with his tired eyes giving him more trouble by the moment and his tired bones trembled from lack of rest. He could hardly hold his head erect but he knew that he must because so much depended on him. “We will build a huge computational machine that will store all the knowledge of both our empires. This huge machine will allow us to share our knowledge and use it for the good of all of us, not just a select few. The Sun, Solon, will provide power to the Crystal Towers and the machine will be able to control our destinies by removing all the emotions from our minds and our hearts that have brought us to this deplorable state of affairs. I mean --- you said that such a machine was entirely possible and that you can build it. Is that not so Amasor?” “Yes, of course we can,” Berkin assured him. “We’ve had the technology for many years and our computers can already think and act just as we do. We have known for quite some time that many people of our race have telepathic abilities and all the machine has to do is to monitor their thoughts. When we have negative thoughts it will merely inject positive thoughts into their minds or just give them a solution to their problems. It is not that impossible and if we all put our minds to it, so to speak, then we will be successful in that endeavor.” Nordis Zalor held true to his promise to deliver the solution to the next meeting of the Tharcian council. The plan met with some resistance as most plans do but before the last season had come and gone, the council approved it. The next step was the most difficult one, getting the Argrean and the Tharcian leaders to sit down and discuss the new plan. That finally happened and it was agreed that from that day forward, their main focus would be on mutual cooperation in building and constructing the Crystal Towers. The job of actually building the towers went to Amasor Berkin who graciously accepted the challenge. The Crystal Towers of Mars were built high upon a mountain top deep in the Kanadar mountain range where they could send out their mighty powers to all those who chose to feel their presence. For several hundred years, the peoples of Tharcia and Argrea enjoyed peace and contentment like they had never experienced before. Never in the history of the Martians had such a thing been achieved. They finally had a common interest; a common bond between them and that bond was the two beautiful, white towers that stood high up in the mountains constantly reminding them that the two were now one. The Sword of Tharcia was buried beside Nordis Zalor upon his death. It had blessed him for all his years and now it rested beside him in his grave beneath the statue that had been erected in his honor. The statue faced the huge, tall towers as they glistened in the noon sun and glowed a bluish white color in the mists under the moonlight. For the next several hundred years the towers became a routine part of the daily lives of the people of the two kingdoms. Soon they forgot all about them since they were so immersed in the joys of their lives. Eventually they arrived at the point where they didn’t know the Crystal Towers existed anymore and only the most intellectual historians knew about the existence of the massive and important structures. The keepers of the secret books of the towers had placed the precious documents on golden storage disks in a secured cave deep within the mountains and few knew of their existence or their whereabouts. These were the manuals and instruction books that told how the towers worked and how they were constructed. These “keepers” were a secret group that were isolated from the rest of the Martian society and had sworn an oath to protect the secrets of the towers with their very lives. The scientists who had designed and built the towers were accepted by the rest of the people of the two kingdoms and with their help, the civilization flourished and prospered. With the development of their own technological civilization, they didn’t need the towers anymore and they slipped into oblivion. Eventually the influence of the towers became weaker and weaker as the two kingdoms became more self-sufficient. Someone had once said that the towers were programmed to compensate for the developing civilizations advances in knowledge. As they became more advanced in knowledge, the towers would assume a monitoring role and not a supervisory or control mode as it did while they were in the advancing stage. This would allow the races some dexterity in controlling their own future, once they were advanced enough to do so. During coming centuries, they developed many marvels including a space program that would allow them to explore space. Their ships explored the nearby moons Phobos and Deimos. It wasn’t until they landed an exploratory, unmanned craft on their sister world of Rasen that they made an amazing discovery. They weren’t alone and the people they found there weren’t very happy about their intrusion into their airspace. They destroyed the robot craft but not before it had sent back visual graphics of the aliens on Rasen. They were huge insect like creatures with long, deadly stingers. “So what’s the latest from Rasen?” Kara Thorne looked at her father who was busy examining several pictures that had been sent back from the latest satellite that now circled Rasen. Worried that the alien creatures there could be a future problem, the kingdoms of Tharcia and Argrea had decided to keep an eye on them. The two kingdoms had merged long ago and they were now called Kanidar. Her father, Malicor Thorne studied the pictures intently hardly hearing his young daughter. Finally hearing her after she asked the question a second time, he dropped the photographs on the desk. “The more we learn about them the more worried I get,” he replied, “but that isn’t the most important worry that we have.” “What could be worse than several million insects with horrible stingers on a planet that is so close to us?” She asked sitting down on the stool next to the lab table and resting her chin on her fist staring at her father who now was sitting in his swivel chair by the desk. “Many things,” he said, “but the one thing that is worrisome is what the satellite has revealed.” “What is that?” She asked. “That planet up there has some problems,” he told her, “it has a lot of volcanic activity.” “What does that mean? I guess what I mean to say is, what does that have to do with us? Is that a serious problem?” “Yes,” he replied, “that activity is becoming worse every day and if it continues, it could lead to the planet exploding or at least causing us some problems down here. The preliminary studies that we have done show that the core of the planet is very unstable and that there are many active volcanoes on the planet right now and that isn’t good.” “So you’re saying that the world up there could actually explode and either cause this world to destroy itself or rain a lot of debris down on us.” “That it can,” he said scratching his chin, “and if that does happen then Mars could be riddled with meteors and huge chunks of the planet. I think most or all of the life on Mars could be totally destroyed.” “What options do we have?” “Well some of us have been talking. I’m a member of the Organization of Scientists as you very well know and most of the members agree that we have to do something. There is another world that we have been looking at and they think that we have time to move all or most of the civilization from here to that world.” “What world are you thinking of? Most of the planets in our solar system are probably uninhabitable.” “Not the third one from the Sun that we have named Teranus. It is close to the sun, receives a lot of light and it looks like it has plenty of water and is similar to Mars. It would be the perfect world for us.” “But would our people be willing to go there even if we can construct the transport ships in time?” “They won’t have a choice,” he replied. “Our job now is to get busy confirming that the planet up there is ready to break up and then we must get organized. We have to use all our resources to build the ships and transport as many of our race that we can to Teranus.” Kara thought for a moment. “There is another problem,” she told him. “What? We have so many that it would be hard to guess what you’ve thought of.” “The Crystal Towers,” she reminded him, “--- the Crystal Towers hold all the information that we need to carry out this plan. Our scientists have used the towers over the years to store information. The problem is that nobody that I know has the knowledge to recover the information. All the ancient ones have long passed away and nobody knows where the manuals and other instructions were stored away.” “Oh dear,” he said, “that’s right --- you’re absolutely right. Those towers are nothing more than huge computers that are powered by solar absorbing panels that make up the walls --- the walls are made from Silicon and other materials that absorb the energy of the sun, just like plants --- they also absorb our knowledge as we feed it to them. None of the computers we have are powerful enough yet to handle the data manipulation that we need to carry out the planning and implementation of such a huge project. We will need the towers power to help us accomplish such a feat. That means that one of us will have to go and find the “keepers” that have the knowledge to use the towers to help us with this project.” “Can’t we just connect our computers into them in some way and use the towers to do the calculations and planning?” Kara was very well trained in Computer Science but the exact method of doing this escaped her. After all, her father had trained her in the science and he was the best computer scientist on the entire planet. He was also one of the best astronomers and geophysicists on the world and most of the other scientists respected him for it. “Well, it is possible but the problem is that we just don’t know how to interface with them. The best scientists in their field designed and built the towers and our knowledge simply doesn’t let us know how to do that. We simply forgot their science after they passed away and continued to develop our own. The towers seemed so far advanced that nobody but the people who built them knew exactly how they worked. I’ve read that the manuals and other information are in the hands of the Sirana, the Keepers of the Knowledge. Don’t ask me where they are --- I think they’re off in the mountains somewhere, if they still exist.” “Oh father,” Kara said excitedly, “please let me go and seek out these men and see if they can help us. I can take Randa and Kharna with me. They know the mountains very well and if anyone can find the Sirana, they can.” Her father just looked at her and shook his head. “You are my only daughter,” he replied, “and it would hurt me greatly if I allowed you to do something that might not be in your best interest. I can’t have that responsibility on my shoulders. I have to stay here and take care of things, mostly convincing the elders that we have a big problem and then organizing the research teams. I can’t be worried if you’re all right so why don’t we just send Randa and Kharna to find the Sirana? After all, they know those mountains pretty well and shouldn’t have a problem.” “But they don’t have the expertise to negotiate or convince the Sirana that we really need them,” she protested. “You will need someone that can present the scientific evidence to them and make them believe that the sister planet is really breaking up.” “I guess you’re right,” he said, “but you can go under these conditions.” “And what are your conditions?” She asked puzzled and quite convinced that she would probably go with or without her father’s permission. “First, you have to keep in contact with me. Second, you have to take Tagar with you. He is the best commander that we have and I’ll have him take a small, armed force with him. I know about the numerous bandits and other dangers that you’ll face during your journey and I am not going to take any chances with you getting hurt. Thirdly, you have to listen to Tagar. He will be in command and if he says that the journey has ended and you are to return home then that is what you will do. Now do you agree with those terms?” She started to protest but knew that the only way he would agree to let her go was if she did agree. “Yes father,” she answered, “I agree and I’ll do what he says but after we get there and make contact, I’m in charge. Do you agree to that?” “Yes, I believe that arrangement is acceptable, but you be extra careful,” he said with some doubt that he was doing the right thing. She was young and beautiful but she had a mind that thought logically and she also had his temper, independence, stubbornness and determination. He wondered if those qualities would serve her as it had served him. He watched intently as Kara walked from the room unintentionally swinging her well-rounded, womanly hips. With her dark hair, brown eyes and slim, tall build, she was the perfect image of her mother. He had loved her too but she had been called away to assist the great ones in the other Universe. One such loss in a lifetime was enough and he prayed that Kara would be spared. Three Solons (passages of the sun) later found the expedition paddling their Watids or small boats across the waters of the great marsh. Tagar sat in the first Watid directing the expedition when it needed direction but mostly just taking it easy and watching the forest all around them for any sign of unusual activity. He was well aware of the many gruesome creatures that dwelled there. Tagar wasn’t afraid of anything but that didn’t mean that he wanted to meet one of those creatures unexpectedly. Kara sat on the seat behind him observing his every move and studying him at every opportunity. What did she know about Tagar, the Sorgolite from the Kingdom of Sorgon? He wasn’t even one of them. He didn’t even look like them but she had been told many times by her father that it didn’t matter what a being looked like but what did matter was what was in their mind, how they acted and how they conducted themselves. Tagar was only about four feet in height, had long drooping gray ears and huge dark eyes. A long bunch of course, black hair grew up from between his ears on the top of his head. It flowed back over his scalp and onto his back giving him the appearance of having a full head of hair. His head was round and his skin was a light gray color. He perspired a lot. Her father had also said that the perspiration was because he wasn’t used to the Southern climate because he was born in the Northern hemisphere. His most astounding attribute was the fact that he had six fingers that were very long and each slender, hairy finger had claws rather than fingernails. “We soon be out of this world of water,” Randa replied chuckling as he spoke and pointing toward the murky water that was covered with huge floating leaves, “but better enjoy because what comes is desert and no water for several Solons.” Randa and Kharna were both from the Alnois tribe who lived in the extreme southern part of Mars in the desert called, Khrolona. They were also small but were admirable warriors of that tribe and few had ever doubted their bravery. It had taken the combined forces of Tharcia and Argrea to subdue them and bring them into their sphere of influence. Kara turned around to face the two creatures that were seated behind her. She had been concentrating on the swamp and Tagar. She had almost forgotten that the two scouts were in the Watid behind her. They both looked a lot alike except that Randa talked a lot more than Kharna who was usually quiet. They both were small, had large heads, small squinty eyes, long noses, light greenish, wrinkled skin and were virtually hairless. Thousands of years later, they would be known as Gnomes or Dwarfs on Earth, the planet that would become home to the countless millions of Martians. “Now what were you saying, Randa?” Kara asked not fully understanding what he had said the first time because she was so engrossed with her suspicious thoughts about Tagar. “Water is bad, too many monsters and deadly insects,” he replied, “but don’t worry our job is to protect you and that we do.” “Sure, I feel quite safe, thank you,” she replied and started to turn back around but there was a noise from overhead that caught her attention. Before she could take any action, she was in the water and both Randa and Kharna were on top of her. Breaking free from them, she struggled to get to the Watid behind the one she had been in. The Watid she had been in had capsized and all the inhabitants were in the water of the swamp. She wiped the liquid from her eyes and looked for the source of the screams just in time to see a huge bird swoop down and grab Randa in its giant, sharp talons. Dazed, she dived into the murky water and came up on the other side of the boat. Tagar and others were making a desperate attempt to turn the Watid over and get it floating again. Before they could do much, another scream emanated from overhead and Tagar screamed. She looked up just in time to see a giant shadow sweep over the boat and in the process Tagar was jerked into the air as if snatched from the surface by a giant hand. That was essentially what had happened except the giant hand had long, sharp talons that tore into his flesh as he was carried away. The blood from his body spilled into the swamp causing a red pool to form on the surface of the water. Kara realized that they were in a serious situation. Kharna was screaming for help. She thought he was saying that he couldn’t swim and she knew that if he were going to survive that she would have to help him. Before she could dive down and go under the boat to reach him, the boat sank into the deep swamp. She looked up just in time to avoid another attack from another huge bird that she thought looked just like the ancient Marterydal species. Her father had insisted that they all were extinct even though hunters and explorers had reported seeing them in the marsh for many years. Now she had discovered the truth, they really did exist but unfortunately, the truth was about to have them for their meal. She yelled for the rest of the soldiers in the other boats to fire their weapons and kill as many of the birds as they could but it was too late for another of the Watids. It too was capsized when one of the birds was shot down and it landed right on top of the boat crushing many of the soldiers and spilling the rest into the water. The huge hairless birds attacked the boats and the beings in the water with an increased ferocity. Their screams were so terrifying that many of the soldiers were almost powerless to raise their weapons to fire at them. “Kharna,” she yelled bobbing up and down in the water attempting to avoid being snatched up by one of the vicious creatures, “Kharna, where are you?” She yelled several times but there was so much noise from the screams of the birds and the yelling and screaming of the terrified soldiers that she knew she couldn’t hear him even if he managed to answer her. Kara knew that she needed Kharna to guide her to the secret ones, if they managed to survive the present predicament. “Kharna where are you?” She yelled several times before finally seeing a small figure about forty yards from her. He had found refuge beneath a huge tree that was situated on a small island that was barely big enough for the tree. Kharna was hugging the tree for dear life as he struggled to keep out of sight of the birds. For the moment, they had enough bodies to choose from and for the time being, he seemed to be safe where he was. She concentrated on getting to the last boat that had not been sunk yet. It was almost empty as most of the soldiers had chosen to get into the water in order to avoid the onslaught of the giant creatures. She suddenly felt something grab her by the shoulder and pain shot into her arm as a warm, thick liquid ran down her side. She was carried about forty feet into the air before she realized that she was the victim of one of the huge beasts. All of a sudden, a beam of red light flashed from the water below and she heard a sudden “thud” as the beam affected the bird’s flesh. She felt the claws loosen its hold on her and she fell to the water below. Kara hit the water like a flat stone and sunk below the surface. She didn’t have time to catch her breath and almost drowned in the murky depths. She came to the surface and gasped for breath but immediately felt something pulling her back down toward the bottom. Kara couldn’t imagine what was pulling her down but whatever it was had a good hold on her. It also felt “slimy” and “cold” on her bare legs. Kara pulled her long knife from the holster and slashed the water but couldn’t make contact with anything. She guessed that her life was all over. The next thing that she knew was the sudden rush of fresh air into her lungs. She gasped and slowly opened her eyes. Looking around her, she could see that she was on a small island. “Thought you were gone, I did,” the voice said. She recognized it at once. “Kharna,” she whispered, “how in the world did you --- what happened?” “I managed to get to you before the huge creature had devoured you,” he replied smiling and then repeated his statement. “I managed to get to you but the creature didn’t want to give up its meal. Call him a Sordin, they call him.” “Well, I’m glad you helped me because I thought that it was all over,” she said attempting to get up. “What about the others? Where is everyone?” “I guess we’re it,” he replied. “I managed to get one of the boats while you were --- while you were resting. It’s tied to the bank over there by the other island. They killed or scared off the other birds so they shouldn’t bother us any more or at least I hope so. I also recovered some of the weapons and some supplies but I don’t see anyone else but us. I saw some of the soldiers being pulled down into the deep, I did and they didn’t come back up --- they didn’t. With all the blood in the water, creatures were attracted to it. Some of the survivors might have made it by swimming to some of these little islands? I don’t hear anyone --- I don’t. These swamps are infested with the long teeth fish the islanders call Larianas. They love the smell of blood and there are thousands of them around here. We have to be very careful. It’ll be a long while before we can get back into the water to recover our boat. I don’t want to chance becoming a meal for them.” Kara looked at the little creature that had saved her life and realized how lucky she was. While she was there in the water struggling for her life, she had really thought it was the end. Kara wondered how she was going to thank Kharna for all his services and for saving her life. Someone yelling nearby interrupted her before she could tell him that she was indeed grateful for his help. “What’s going on? Who’s that yelling?” Kharna stood up on the small island holding onto the tree so he wouldn’t slide on the mud and fall back into the swamp. “It’s coming from there, near those trees on that little island,” he explained pointing to a grove of tall trees that were clustered on a small island just big enough to sustain the trees. Some of the huge roots from the trees protruded into the water giving an eerie appearance of something ancient and evil. “We can’t get to them yet --- hope they can hear us --- must warn them to stay out of the water. We’ll pick them up when we can get to the boat again. There must be at least --- yes, there are two of them --- they’re soldiers I believe. Do you see them there between the trees?” Yes, Kara did see them and she felt sorry for the soldiers because she knew what it was like to be trapped. She couldn’t believe that it had come to this. She had started out with over fifty members of the party and now there were only four left. Ironically, that number included her. Her eyes caught the sudden movement of something in the water, something big and it was moving fast toward the yelling men. “Movement in the water,” Kharna yelled, “they’re attracting one of the Sharz --- big creatures with big teeth --- big appetite.” He looked at her helplessly and then began yelling at the soldiers to quit their yelling. All of a sudden, they could see more than one creature in the water. When the soldiers saw the huge monsters heading for them they attempted to climb higher up on the trunks of the trees but with little success. “Shut up,” Kharna yelled, “they can’t get to you because they can’t get out of the water. Just keep quiet and they’ll eventually go away.” Maybe the monster fish with the sharp teeth realized that they couldn’t get access to the soldiers but no matter what the reason was they headed toward Kara and Kharna. “They hear you,” Kara shouted, “keep quiet and maybe they will go away.” “Little chance --- they have seen us too --- smell us --- get as far up around the trees as you can Kara. Maybe they won’t try to get us if we can get up between the trees.” Kara and Kharna clung to the four tree trunks that formed their part of the small island while the huge, ugly gray fins moved around them in the water. The creatures seemed to be waiting for their chance when one of them got too tired to hold on anymore and plunged into the water. After more than an hour, they had suddenly disappeared. “Where did they go?” Kara asked peeking around one tree after another trying to see if they were crawling up the sandy bank to get them. “I don’t know,” he replied also looking intensely for them. “Maybe they --- that’s why they left,” he suddenly replied pointing up at the darkened sky. “Don’t worry Kara, they don’t have any feet. They can’t walk on land. They’re imprisoned by the water and can’t hurt you as long as you’re out of their reach.” “What now?” Kara asked almost not wanting to know a little encouraged by his words of wisdom. “Storm --- severe storm with lots of wind and a lot of lightning is coming at us. Its coming from the direction of the desert and that isn’t good. That means the fish and other creatures can detect the magnetic storm or something. I’ve always heard that but I guess that it’s true.” “What in Jupior do we do now?” “You stay here and I’ll see if I can get to the boat and bring it back for you before the storm hits. Maybe we can find some shelter in some of these islands before it can blow us away.” “But you aren’t strong enough to handle that boat --- it took six soldiers to move that thing,” she protested knowing that it wasn’t going to do any good to tell him anything once he had made up his mind to do it. “I’ll do it,” he replied slipping into the water and quickly swimming away, “you might be surprised, besides, the boat is in the water already, it is.” “But what about those flesh-eating creatures?” She yelled after him hoping that they too had headed for cover. “Don’t worry,” he yelled back almost out of breath already, “they have other things on their minds.” “Great!” Kara said and motioned for the soldiers on the other island to keep quiet and not to create any disturbance. One held his hand up, waved at her and shook his head in a manner that told her that he understood what she was saying. Kara was extremely relieved when Kharna managed to paddle the boat back to the little island without starting the magnetic engine that would have made more noise than they needed right at the moment. As she carefully climbed into the boat with his help, the sky became much darker and small balls of ice dropped from the sky. The trees around them began to sway in many different directions, as the wind grew stronger. “Hurry,” Kharna said handing one of the long oars to her, “we have to get to the others and get out of here. It won’t do to be caught out in this weather.” After paddling the Watid over to where the other two men were, they helped them into the boat. “Names Walic and that’s Peli. We’re both grateful to you two,” he replied smiling, “and we better get out of here. There’s a bunch of tall cliffs up there somewhere if we can get to them. There should be some caves where we can seek shelter until this blows over. The cliffs are right on the edge of the desert and then there are the mountains in the background. If we can just make it to the caves then we stand a good chance of surviving this.” “Let’s hurry,” Kharna urged, “he’s right --- storm bad and dangerous --- the caves he speaks of are only about half-a-mili up that way.” He pointed his long, slender finger in the direction the storm was coming from. “That should be a feat by itself,” Kara complained, “since we’re going right into the storm. We better get the engines going. We’re going to need all the speed we can get.” She was right. The magnetic engines were hard to start probably because of the fact that they had got wet during the battle that had ensued previously but they were finally underway before the worst of the storm hit. The strong winds blew ferociously in their faces while tearing trees from the islands and tossing them about like the sand of the desert but they managed to keep going. They arrived in the area of the cliffs just as the storm reached its peak. The lightning bolts struck all around them but they managed to maneuver the boat between two tall cliffs and were able to seek shelter under some overhanging rocks after securing the Watid to a large rock. Several Solons later found the four tired, nearly exhausted travelers, seekers of the Knowledge of the Crystal Towers, in the Desert of Mohad. They had taken the same route her grandfather had taken many Yeres (period of four seasons) ago but in those times, the desert was not there. Her grandfather had to travel through the swamp and the jungle to get to the mountains. Since then, the area had been changed from dense growth to practically no growth at all. The desert was a hot, hostile and dangerous place, almost as dangerous as the swamp. Kara wished then that she had taken her father’s advice and rode one of the air transport ships but she was afraid that the sudden appearance of such a ship would cause the Sirana to hide from them and then they would never have a chance of finding them. They didn’t know what mental condition the scientists were in. They hadn’t had any contact with them in years and she just wanted to quietly make an advance toward them hoping that if she appeared to them on their own level that the communications might go well for them. “Doesn’t anything grow here?” Kara asked struggling through the hot, deep sand. “I mean, I haven’t seen anything green for days, no water and nothing else living except us and I’m beginning to wonder about us.” “Hope you not see anything else living,” Kharna replied walking along slowly in front of her. The two soldiers walked behind her struggling with each step to keep moving forward. “What do you mean?” “This land has many creatures that you don’t want to meet,” he replied and said nothing more. They walked along silently with the mountains looming tall, tranquil and beautiful in front of them. As they slowly progressed toward them, they seemed to get much taller and more pleasant to look at. Even though they had a little water and some food left to eat, they all were thirsty, tired and hungry. They had to ration the food, only eating a scant quantity each night so they would be assured of having enough to finish the trip. The thought that both food and water awaited them in the mountains helped to sustain their courage and made them want to reach their destination that much sooner. “How much longer?” Kara asked hoping that Kharna would say that the journey was almost over. “Just a couple more miles,” he replied. “We’re getting close now --- smell the mountains, I do --- smell the air every now and then in all the heat. It will get cooler as we get closer to the mountain air.” “I hope so,” Kara replied, “because I can’t take much more of this.” All of a sudden, they were startled to see the ground all around them begin to move. Small figures dressed in dirty, black robes surrounded them with long, terrible ray guns pointed in their direction. The hoods on the robes shielded their faces from the Solon and from their view. Kara counted twenty fearsome creatures before one of them pointed the weapon at her and cautiously walked toward her. He placed his hideous, long wrinkled fingers with the long, sharp claws on her head. She thought she was going to have her head torn off and the thought made her shudder all the way from her nose to her trembling toes. The being slowly brought his hand down from the top of her head letting the long, black silky hair drift through his fingers feeling it as it slipped through his rough fingers. “Don’t move,” Kharna whispered, “I don’t think they have seen a beautiful woman before --- not one with hair anyway.” “That’s easy for you to say,” she whispered, “you don’t have his hand on your head. It’s deplorable and I hate it.” “Just endure and conquer,” Kharna replied looking for any avenue of escape. “The rest of you guys had better throw down your weapons, I don’t think these beasts are very friendly.” “What do they want of us --- who are they?” Kara asked her lips trembling so much she could hardly speak. “They want what we have --- scavengers are they --- bad people that live in the desert and prey on anything and anybody that happens to get in their way.” “It doesn’t matter,” Kara said impatiently, “we have to get away and get to the towers. What can we do? Maybe we can give them something valuable?” “Ah,” Kharna replied, “that’s not what they want. They want you and that is obvious. They also want everything we have including us.” “What do you mean?” “They --- well, they will take us to their camp and will eventually sell us to the higher bidder --- sell us to others of their kind to do their dirty work. They don’t treat their prisoners very well, hear I.” “Great,” Kara replied as the creature moved his hand down her body until she viciously slapped it away. He stepped back to survey the interesting form in front of him. Others of the band had taken an interest in her and when he became aware of it, he motioned for them to go away but most stood their ground just starring at Kara. The beast who had touched Kara motioned for them to move forward in the direction opposite of the mountains and when none of them made an attempt to do so he walked up to Walic, grabbed him by the arm and with very little effort, slung him to the ground as if he were a grain of sand. Before Kara could scream he had drawn his long, black sharp sword and cut the beings head completely off with one vicious swipe. The head fell to the ground and rolled down a small bank of white sand. The eyes were still staring into empty space when it came to rest against a large boulder. “Ugh,” the creature muttered motioning with the sword for the three friends to follow him. “Well, I don’t see that we have a choice,” Kara told Kharna, “since they have our weapons and we have nothing. I don’t guess we’ll ever see the mountains and we won’t see the Crystal Towers.” “Don’t get sad --- sadness can make your mind sick --- you need strength and always remember as long as you live, there may be a way.” “Hope you’re right,” Kara replied following the little beast back in the direction from which they had come. A loud, shrill scream brought chills down the spines of the three friends. Kara screamed loudly as she turned around to see four huge creatures sliding down the sand dunes behind them. “Marta Scorpis,” Kharna yelled as the creatures quickly approached. The little creatures that held them captive scattered in every direction firing at the Martian Scorpions as they ran. Some made it to shelter between boulders and some tried to bury their own bodies in the sand as if they thought that would hide them from the huge stingers of the creatures and protect them from the huge claws that could rip them apart. The scorpions dispatched several of them right away and after taking a few bites from the squirming bodies that they held in their huge claws, they tossed them aside to find others to destroy. “Quick --- grab as many weapons as you can and let’s get out of here while the Margs are busy with the scorpions.” “Great,” Kara said, “and what are the Margs?” “Those things that wanted to make love to you --- well you now know that is one of the things they do to female prisoners.” “You don’t have to tell me twice to get out of here,” Kara said grabbing her ray weapon and the water container from one of the Margs as it ran by her with a huge twelve foot high scorpion not far behind. “And you don’t have to describe their sex acts either, I have a pretty good imagination.” They ran up the slope toward a series of huge, tall rocks that would hide them from both the scorpions and the Margs. As they ran, the earth began to tremble again and Kara thought that there were more of the creatures coming for them. “What now?” She asked as Kharna and Peli followed quickly behind her. As they neared the top of the sand dune with the rocks to their left and a steep cliff to their right, another of the scorpions suddenly appeared directly in front of them. “Great again,” Kara exclaimed, “is there no end to our misery?” She felt a strong hand on her arm as Peli stepped bravely in front of her and aimed his rifle at the creature. It was coming down the sandy trail toward them with both of the huge pinchers held in a menacing position and as it approached closer it’s ominous tail with the deadly stinger penetrated the sand just a few inches from her. She couldn’t believe that the monster was so big but she didn’t have much time to think about anything but getting out of it’s path as both Kharna and Peli opened fire on the beast. Kharna managed to shoot the tail half way off and it just fell to the ground as the monster screamed in pain. Even wounded, the scorpion was still considerably dangerous and it seemed that it was out to prove it. One of the huge, sharp claws enclosed the body of Peli and he screamed in terror as the pinchers closed on him. The scorpion slid down the sand dune and into a huge crevice that had opened up as the surface of the planet shuddered and the land trembled. He still had Peli imprisoned in his claw and the last they saw of them as they disappeared into the crevice was the horrible dissection of Peli as the claws closed on him and his body was cut into two pieces, both of them fell down into the crevice beside the huge insect. Kara screamed and almost fainted but Kharna sensed her predicament and came to her aid. “Hold on,” he yelled trying to hold her up with one arm while watching all around for the sudden appearance of the creatures that was causing the planet to shake, shudder and crack open. It was then that he finally realized what was happening. “Hold on girl,” he yelled again hoping that she wouldn’t completely pass out, “hold on, it’s just a quake and it will pass shortly. We have to get away from this sand dune because those large rocks above us may come tumbling down.” “Okay,” she finally managed to say, “I’ll be fine. Let’s get out of here if we can --- I can hardly stand up with the sand moving all over the place.” “Yes, it’s difficult but we have to do it --- the trail goes up the hill past the cliff so we’ll try to follow that. Just remain on your feet and keep moving as fast as you can --- follow me.” Kharna was quite correct about the quake not lasting very long but it had been active long enough to bury most of the scorpions and the Margs. They were able to reach the top of the cliff that was located above the trail they had ascended only moments before. From that vantage point they were able to confirm that cracks had developed all along the desert floor and anyone or anything that had been unfortunate enough to be down there had been buried. There wasn’t any sign of anything else except for the tail or other body parts of a scorpion sticking up from the sand, here and there. “Well, I guess you and I are all alone now Kharna,” she said sadly. “I wish now that I had taken the advice of my father and chosen some other form of transportation and this would never have happened. It seems like I’m always taking the wrong advice from my own mind. I wonder why that is? I wonder why it happens, especially since I try my best to do the right thing.” “Don’t worry about it,” Kharna said not wanting to hurt her feelings. He had been a friend of her father for so many seasons that he could not even count them and he would do anything for her or her father. “Just follow your feelings --- let your thoughts lead you and you won’t have any problems --- thoughts can take you a long way if you learn to use them.” “I still feel responsible for all this --- we started out with many and now there are so few.” Standing there on the high, yellow cliff overlooking the valley down below with her long black hair flowing briskly in the hot desert wind she could see a column of beings walking up the valley toward them. She recognized the one in the front as being Peli and the one behind him as being Walic. She was quite sure the rest of the figures were the soldiers that had accompanied them. She held up her hand and pointed in the direction of the beings. “Look Kharna, look down there --- they aren’t dead at all --- they’re all alive and they’re down there coming to us. They know we’re here and they’re coming to help us.” “No,” Kharna said, putting his long bony fingers on her shoulder to comfort her, “those aren’t real beings --- just ghosts created by the strange magnetic waves in this desert. It has been known for years and has scared many a weary traveler out of his wits. We still don’t know exactly how it works but the magnetic flux of the atmosphere somehow interacts with what you’re thinking and creates some kind of a facsimile of what you have on your mind. In theory, if you thought of a nice, cold container of water, it would create it for you. In reality, it has been recorded that these representations appear after some great tragic event and the creatures that see them are under a lot of stress. Your mind has to be in such a state of depression, remorse or terror for them to actually appear. They’ll go away in a moment just like any other mirage.” “Kharna,” Kara replied, “you wouldn’t really put me on like that would you?” “Of course not,” he said and then smiled as he tugged at her arm pulling her back away from the top of the cliff, “but it is as good an explanation as any. We better get going --- we don’t want them to catch up with us. We don’t know if they’re friend or foe. Strange things happen in this desert --- some say it is the favorite vacation spot of the evil one.” They traveled on for quite some time and neither of them ventured to say anything to the other. After all, there wasn’t much to say that would take away the sorrow or console their heavy hearts. They had lost so much in the last two solons and nothing they could do would bring back their friends. They had little water to drink and nothing at all to fill their grumbling stomachs. “Do you like fried Lizards?” Kharna looked back at Kara to see the effect of the question on her. He was hungry and he knew there was little else to eat in the desert. “I don’t know since I’ve never had the opportunity to eat one,” she replied and then added, “but I feel like I could eat almost anything right now.” “Good because you are about to have your first meal of Lizard tails.” “Where do you find them?” “Just about anywhere under these cliffs and in the caves,” he replied. “But you have to be careful --- they are big and dangerous.” “Isn’t everything dangerous in this desert?” She asked following him once again toward the mountains. Kharna didn’t say anything; he didn’t have to because he knew that she already had figured that out. He looked back to make sure she was following him up the small incline to one of the many small caves in the area that were all along the cliff wall. He motioned for her to stay back from the opening as he took out his knife and made a small cut on one of his long fingers. The green blood dripped down onto the desert floor in front of the cave. Grabbing Kara by the arm, he pulled her back behind a huge rock nearby and stood there with the weapon pointed at the opening. It wasn’t long until they could hear something moving near the entrance. Kara put her hands to her mouth to stifle the scream that she knew would emanate from her lips no matter how hard she tried to keep it from happening. The beast that came out of the small hole in the cliff was almost as big as they were and it reminded her of one of the ancient creatures that had walked the surface of the planet many, many Yeres ago. The huge ravenous teeth told the tale. She knew that it was a meat-eater and it wouldn’t care what kind of meat it was eating just as long as it was living and bloody. Kharna aimed the weapon at the animal but it seemed reluctant to fall for his trick and follow the trail of the blood out of the cave into the open where he could get a good aim on it. Would the creature come out of the cave and become their dinner or would it wisely go back inside and forget about the fresh meat that awaited it on the outside? They both seemed to be thinking the same thing at the same time. “Why doesn’t it come out?” Kara whispered being careful that she didn’t speak loud enough so the creature could hear her. “I don’t know --- maybe it senses that we are here or maybe it can smell us --- I hope that it’s curiosity will give way to whatever logic it has and it’ll come out, I’m getting hungry.” “You expect me to eat that?” “When you’re hungry you can eat just about anything,” he answered, “and that includes this beast. Actually, it tastes pretty good.” The beast finally came out from the cave just as Kharna predicted and tossed the long head up and down and all around and let out a loud roar either as a challenge to the invisible enemy or as a signal of defiance. As it raised its head once again to issue a challenge, Kharna took careful aim and fired. The beam cut right through its throat and blew most of the head away from the rest of the body. It lay there struggling as the last indications of its life force slipped away. Kara looked away in another direction as Kharna took out his huge knife and carefully slashed through the tough skin to reveal the treasured meat below the skin. “I only want to know one thing,” she said, “just how are we going to cook it?” She glanced around at him as he was slicing two choice cuts from the rear hip of the creature. Kharna walked over to a huge flat stone with a smooth surface and quickly wiped the dust from the surface. Pulling his hand held ray gun from the holster, he aimed it at the stone and pulled the trigger. The stone turned a bright red and slowly changed color to a beautiful yellow color. Taking the knife, he quickly turned the pieces of meat over so they would cook on both sides. Returning to the animal, he cut two more huge chunks from the carcass and threw them on the stone. “May as well cook a lot of it, maybe we’ll eat it later,” he replied. “I probably could eat it all myself,” Kara said changing her mind about the source of the meat as it cooked and began to gain an appealing color.” “Would you cook, eat and not offer food to a stranger,” a voice said from behind them. Since they thought they were all alone, they both were extremely startled. They turned around to see a small creature with a large head, completely covered with short, black hair and large, deep blue eyes. His most interesting and intriguing feature was his long, peaked ears. One of them flopped over and downward toward his shoulder. His long, reddish nose was poised just above his thin lips that didn’t seem to be able to manage a smile. Most of his skin was a lighter red than his nose giving them the impression that he had spent too much time in the desert and under the desert Solon. “Who are you? Where did you come from?” The questions escaped the lips of Kara before she realized she had really said anything. “Me am Amoes the Trolle, keeper of the ways of the desert and wanderer of the mountains and me am at your service. Me offer you information and help with finding your way in the desert in return for food,” he said almost begging. He sniffed the air pointing his long nose in the direction of the cooking meat and his large blue eyes seemed to glisten in the light. “Oh there’s plenty of food and you’re quite welcome to join us,” Kara explained feeling little reason to not trust the little person. His head came barely up to her breast and she couldn’t see any way that he could harm them or at least it wasn’t too likely. “Me am grateful and am at your service. What do you seek? There must be some reason you are out here in the desert? Perhaps Amoes can lead you to your destination?” Kharna was about to ask him if he knew of the Sirana but Kara quickly shot a glance at him that told him to keep quiet for a little while. “We’re just out here on our way to the mountains to do some research,” she replied obviously lying. “We could have used your services earlier however but perhaps you would be willing to accompany us to the mountains there in the distance.” “Yes, that Amoes would surely do for some so kind,” he replied eyeing the meat even more than he had done before. Kara introduced herself and her friend to the little creature as they both stood there hungrily watching Kharna cook the meat. Kharna turned the meat once more and once satisfied that it was cooked he found several smaller flat stones and once he had cleaned the flat stones he put a slice of the cooked meat on each and handed them to Kara and Amoes who ate quickly. “Take your time,” he warned them, “if you don’t want to get a terrible stomach pain.” They didn’t say much as they sat around the hot stone on which Khara had used to cook the meat and finished their meal. When they were finished, Kara rubbed her stomach as if her hunger was satisfied and she was the first to speak. “Where are you from Amoes?” She asked as the little creature finished the last of the slab of meat and looked hungrily at the food on top of the hot rock. “Amoes comes from the Dwarftian Tribe in the Argonease Forest to the south of here. Amoes has traveled to many lands and has great knowledge of every place he has traveled.” “What do you know about the mountains over there?” “What do you want to know? Amoes is still hungry,” he replied pointing toward the hot cooking stone. “Sure,” Kharna replied getting up quickly and inserting his knife blade into a piece of meat, he dropped it onto the stone that Amoes held out to him. Khara sat back down near the heat of the cooking stone as the desert was getting cold. While they had prepared the food and talked to Amoes, it had become dark and along with the darkness came the cold from the North. “We’re doing research, as I mentioned and we need to contact some scientists from the north that inhabit the area. The only problem is that we don’t know where they are or who they are. They haven’t been in contact with my people for several dozen seasons. It is very important that we talk to them and we would be very grateful if you could help us find them.” “Amoes help,” he replied taking another big bite from the large piece of meat. “Amoes think you are looking for the people from the city of Lansug that is on the Syprus River near the Sonjea Mountains.” “That must be them,” Kara said. “Have you ever talked to them?” “Amoes has only seen them but never made talk with them,” he said, “mostly they are a very secret group and don’t make talk to many people like Amoes.” “Could you get us to their village so we can talk to them?” Kharna blasted the stone again with his ray gun sending so much heat in their direction that they had to move back to keep from getting too hot. “Amoes the Trolle can do that for friends,” Amoes replied forcing down the last of the meat and then licked his long, hairy fingers. “Good,” Kara replied, “How long will it take us to get there?” “If we leave when the first light comes, we’ll be there by the time the light is overhead.” “We better find a place to sleep away from this meat,” Kharna said, “there will be other animals coming here as soon as they smell the blood and the fire has died down. I’ll cook some more for us to take with us before we leave. We have to get a good nights sleep because we all are exhausted.” “I agree with that,” Kara replied stretching and yawning at the same time. She could feel all her bones beckoning for rest and she couldn’t wait to make them happy. The first light brought a light rain that was something unusual for the desert but Amoes explained in his own way that since they were close to the mountains it was not unusual to get showers in this part of the desert. Kharna had been right in assuming that they would have visitors in the night because even from their campsite almost a half mile away they could hear terrible screams that chilled their bones as some unknown creatures fought for the meat. They had taken refuge between some high boulders and Kharna had lit up another stone to keep them warm but now they were almost to the mountains and soaking wet. “I don’t know which is worse,” Kara complained as she walked behind Kharna with Amoes leading the way toward the mountains, “the humid, hot desert or the cold mountain air.” “Guess we don’t really have a choice sometimes,” Kharna said. “Did you ever contact your father before we lost the equipment?” Kara thought for a moment trying to remember the last time she had really talked to him. “Yes, it was just before we had the attack by the birds and all the equipment was lost. I guess he’s worried sick about us but we’ll probably be able to contact him once we reach the city.” “I hope so,” Kharna said but trying not to show too much concern because he didn’t want to worry Kara any more than he had too. They had enough worries without adding any more. It was late in the afternoon of that same day when the little party arrived in the city of Lansug on the Syprus River. They stood on the bank of the river and looked off into the distance at the beautiful sight that was displayed like a beautiful painting before their astounded eyes. They could see the river winding down from the far end of the beautiful valley with the mountains rising in the distance on each side of the wide river. On the west side of the river was the beautiful city of Lansug. It was built with a material made from the white sand of the desert and the beautiful white towers glistened in the light even with the clouds overhead. A tall, thick wall of the same material surrounded the city. “Seems like they like their privacy,” Kara said. “But it is so beautiful and that is something that those guys would really build --- I mean with the intelligence they have accumulated and all --- but it is beyond all my expectations.” “Yes,” Kharna agreed, “but let’s get there and get this over with. We have so little time left and we still have to convince them that we need them.” “Amoes take you there and stay with you in case you need help,” he promised. “Fine,” Kharna said as she followed Amoes as they headed toward the city. There was a paved road that ran along the edge of the river and finally curved toward the city before proceeding on up the valley. There was another road that ran from the river road to the entrance to the city. “One way in and one way out, I’d say,” he added. “Who are you and what do you want,” the guard at the gate asked as other travelers moved unchallenged through the gate. Kara figured that they lived close by or in the city and the guard had some method of recognizing them. “Travelers from Tharcia and Argrea and we are here on important business,” Kara replied. “What is that you have with you?” “What do you mean?” Kara seemed puzzled but quickly realized that the guard was interested in the strange little creature that stood beside her. “Oh that’s Amoes the Trolle and our guide,” she replied patting Amoes on the shoulder. “I’ve never seen one of those before. Who do you want to see?” “One of the scientists or whoever is in charge. The information we have is very important and we don’t have too much time to waste. This information must be discussed with someone with a lot of authority.” “That would be Arnos.” The guard replied relaxing a little now that he wasn’t afraid of the little hairy creature anymore. “Arnos is the city administrator but I think he is too busy to see anyone now.” “Please contact him and tell him who we are and the importance of our business and I’m sure he will have the time,” Kara pleaded. The guard hesitated but then walked over to a room built into the wall. “I’ll try but don’t blame me if you’re disappointed,” he added. Kara shuffled her feet and sighed impatiently while Amoes found a seat on a nearby stone near the wall. Kharna was impatient also but it didn’t show. He was normally a quiet, patient being but even he knew the importance of the mission and was anxious to see it through. “What’s taking so long,” Kara commented as the guard suddenly came walking toward them after what seemed forever. “He will see you in a little while,” the guard informed them, “and I’m to walk you to the Palace of Crystal.” “So you’re Kara?” The tall, middle-aged being held up the palm of his hand in the customary greeting of the people of the North as he walked toward them. “I hope you are all doing well today.“ “Yes,” Kara said, “and this is Kharna and this is Amoes the Trolle.” “I’m Arnos and I’m the administrator of this city. We would like to welcome you and if you follow me, we will go where we can discuss our business in privacy.” They followed him and a few servants to a huge room on the first floor. The palace was impressive with huge pillars of some kind of white, hard stone, beautiful multi-colored floors and huge windows that let in more than enough natural light. The palace was furnished with numerous plants, flowers and even small trees that grew inside the huge structure. It was a natural setting. “We brought the outside in here so we can enjoy natures ways,” Arnos had explained when Kara commented about the beauty of the flowers and trees. When the servants had made sure they were all comfortable, they brought food and refreshments for them to enjoy while they talked. Kara didn’t waste any time explaining their mission to Arnos and he was very receptive and seemed to understand what they were presenting to him. “We already have some knowledge of the possibility that our sister planet will break up some time soon,” he replied, “and we have been discussing what to do about it but really haven’t considered a mass immigration to some other world. It is a great idea but it will be hard to plan and implement.” “What if you have the entire resources of the planet at your disposal and the powers of the Crystal Towers?” Kharna spoke with a note of authority hoping to convince Arnos that all the people of the world would really be willing to help them. He knew that there would always be those who were suspicious and wouldn’t agree to anything that everyone else wanted but he hoped their numbers would be small. “That would be a great help,” Arnos said, “but one problem is that nobody here remembers much about the towers. They were built so long ago that it is almost ancient history. Nobody seems to know where the manuals and disks that contained all the information about the towers were buried. That secret died with Old Jaskas, the ancient one who held all the secrets of the towers. He was the last of the Sirana, the holders of the Ancient Order of the Crystal Towers. Old Jaskas suddenly got some disease that wiped his memory away in just a single season. He couldn’t remember much and quickly passed on to the place in the other Universe. His secrets went with him. If we could find the magic golden disks then we could use the powers of those crystal towers to help us do all the planning and calculations. I’ve heard that the towers were so intelligent that they could actually communicate with Old Jaskas and others.” “That’s probably true from what my father told me about the towers,” Kara agreed. “We must find the disks though. There must be someone that knew Jaskas and what he did with them.” “There is one who really knows,” a soft, weak voice said from behind them. Kara looked around to see an old man with deep dark eyes, wrinkled pale skin, trembling hands and dressed in a long, purple robe sitting in the seat that Amoes the Trolle had been sitting in only a few moments before. He had chosen not to sit at the long table with the rest of them explaining that the table was too tall for him. Although Arnos had insisted on him sitting at the dining table and even offered several pillows for him to sit on, Amoes had refused and sat quietly to the back of them listening to their conversation. “Who are you?” Kharna asked the one question they all had been wishing to ask. “Where is Amoes and what did you do with him.” “He is here. Don’t worry about that because there is so little time and none to waste. The gold you all store in your palaces and in your pockets is worth much less than the time that you have so little of. It is precious, so let’s get down to the reason we all are here.” “Agreed,” Arnos replied from the head of the table with a voice of authority. “What is your name and what’s your reason for being here?” “Amoes is my real name,” he replied arising from the chair and walking around the table toward Arnos, “Amoes Creed --- that’s my name. I have been here for a long time and have spent many of your seasons studying and caring for the towers but my real home is in the south in the Desert of the Crystal Sands. I came here many seasons ago and joined the Sirane and the Secret Society of the Towers. I’m the last of them, I am and I alone hold the secrets you seek. When I came upon these travelers, I was surprised to learn that they were seeking the towers and you but I was hesitant to tell them the truth at that time but now the truth can be told, it can.” “What do you know about the towers that can help us to save our people?” Arnos looked at the old man with some pity and knew that his time on the planet was very short. “You mentioned the Crystal Sands. Is that the desert of crystals that I’m thinking about? I have heard that the crystals there grow as tall as mountains right out in the desert and that the light from them has some kind of magical power.” “You ask me a lot of questions but I suppose that I expect that,” he replied his head shaking as he talked. “Yes, the crystals are tall and they do have a certain magic I suppose but nothing like the Crystal Towers. The crystals of the desert of which we speak convert the light into some magical properties that can be used as energy. Those were the crystals with which we built the Crystal Towers. They supply their own power and therefore do not require any outside power to sustain them. They store this energy and can operate in the darkness at full power. They can be used to power those space ships of which you speak --- the ones you need to transport your people to some other planet --- all you need to do is to construct a ship from the crystals and the powers can be controlled with computerized machines that I will teach you to make. Amoes can do that for you, I can.” “That’s more than I hoped for,” Arnos replied. “But do you know the secrets of the Crystal Towers and can we use them to do some of the work for us?” “Yes,” he replied, “and that’s not all. The computerized equipment in the towers has become very intelligent and can produce all the machines and ships that you need from the crystal material and even construct the computers that you will need to perform other functions. They will also design and produce anything else that you will need for your journey. So, you can call that magic but it is a magic that your race actually produced and then forgot about it.” “We’re just grateful that you are around to convey all that information to us, Amoes,” Kara said. “I know this is probably immature, but one thing really troubles me --- well, actually several things trouble me at this point --- the two things I am questioning in my mind is, what will really happen to Mars when the planet explodes and what do we know about the third planet from the sun. Are other creatures living there? Can it support our species and can we adapt to it?” Amoes looked at her with some feeling of amazement that she could ask so many questions at one time and slightly shook his head. “Your thoughts are normal but so many questions,” he said. “It is probable that when the planet explodes that there will be some devastation on Mars itself such as quakes, floods and most certainly huge meteors and other debris from the planet. As for the third planet, we have sent some probes there over the years unknown to the rest of the population of this world. The only inhabitants there are huge monsters that prey on each other. It is a deadly, horrible, bloody and dangerous world inhabited by creatures that do nothing but eat each other. We will have to eliminate them in order for us to survive there. We haven’t detected any beings that we could call intelligent --- by our standards anyway --- but that is not to say that they aren’t there. It would be most unlikely though because species such as us would have a very difficult time surviving there without an advanced technology. As for us, the atmosphere has a lot of oxygen and the surface resources are plentiful with such things as water and other materials that we will need. Yes, if we can reach there and destroy the huge creatures and all their deadly counterparts, we should be able to survive.” “That is good news,” Arnos replied. “How soon can we get started?” “It has already begun,” Amoes said smiling. “All the things we discussed were considered by the towers a few Yeres ago when we found out that the other planet might have some problems. All that information has been stored and we can start working on it just as soon as we get organized and reach the towers.” Kara, Amoes the Trolle, Arnos, Kharna and the others sat quietly thinking about all the things that must be done and the fearsome events that they must overcome in order to survive the destruction of the sister planet. Finally, Kara broke the silence, “What will actually happen to the other planet when it does explode? I mean, will all the debris rain down on Mars or will it simply be blown out into space?” “Ah, more questions from such an inquisitive mind,” he noted, “but that is good. We need probing minds. For your question, most of the planet, or what will be left of it will orbit Mars forever as a grim reminder that we are not masters of our own destinies, merely participants in events that will happen. We cannot control such things no matter how intelligent we are and never will. Our existence is such as nature wishes it to be.” Kara, Amoes and Kharna stood on the balcony of the huge palace high above the courtyard below with all its greenery, bushes, trees, flowers and other things that made it such a beautiful places. In the distance, they could see the outline of the mountain peaks rising high above them obscuring millions of stars they knew were there but could not see. Overhead were two moons that illuminated the valley below and cast dark shadows down into the valley floor from the mountains rising above them. One huge round object was rising in the distance and was just coming slowly over the mountains as they watched it approach. Several meteors flashed across the sky and Kara made a secret wish as those before her had done for thousands of seasons. As they observed the approach of Rasen, two tall shapes suddenly appeared on top of a mountain glistening in the faint light of the sister planet. They were partially obscured by dark, ominous clouds that were shrouded around the mountain. Suddenly, beams of blue light emanated from the twin towers in all directions. “You mean they were there all the time and we couldn’t see them?” Kara asked surprised. “Yes,” Amoes the Trolle replied, “they can only be seen under the light of Rasen. It is the light of the strongest planet that gives them the signal to appear. It is a signal of new hope. Of course, it is really just a timing device that allows the towers to transmit their information to another storage device deep in the Lorgan Mountains a little distance from here on a regular basis but it is symbolic of Rasen. The original creators of the Crystal Towers of Mars wanted to keep them secret so some mad ruler wouldn’t destroy them so they used Rasen as the triggering source. The fact that they appear when Rasen appears means that they aren’t visible all the time and you’d have to be here in this valley or close by in order to actually see them. And that is why it has been hard for anyone to find them in the past.” “That is truly extraordinary. Seems funny that something so beautiful as Rasen, our sister planet can turn out to be so deadly and threatening,” she whispered. “Yes it is beautiful,” Kharna agreed, “but that will not be for very long. It is destined to become part of Mars in an unfavorable way. Hopefully, we will not be here to greet it. One thing is for certain and that is that I will never forget the beauty of Mars, no matter what happens to me.” “I will not either,” Kara agreed. “Well, I’m getting sleepy. It’s been a long day. I guess I’ll get some rest and I suggest you do the same thing. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow. We have an entire species to save and a lot of other creatures too. I understand that Arnos wants to take as many of the other creatures and plants as he can to Teranus. He thinks that most of them will survive there.” “Yes, I’m sure they will and you’re right Kara. It is time to go to sleep. So, you all have a good night and tomorrow is another day. As they turned away to seek the sleep they all so desperately needed, Kara looked up at the large blanket of twinkling stars and knew that among the billions of lights in the sky, that one of them would soon be her new home. With sadness in her heart, she also knew that she would never forget her home planet Mars for as long as she lived. She would always want to remember the things that had happened there and the people that she had known. Kara was deeply saddened that the life she had known on Mars would no longer exist. THE END
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