Excerpt from Chapter 8 of
Quantos and the Quest for Dominion
By James Haselton
An Unexpected Light

List of bookshe front of the boat being further out in the current naturally turned toward the cave and soon they were floating along parallel to shore as Uba had anticipated. As the stream narrowed into the deeper channel at the mouth of the cave, the water picked up speed and pushed the boat along accordingly. For those who had never been on a small boat before the experience was already alarming due to the speed with which they entered the cave. It seemed that no time at all passed and the sunny day had turned into utter darkness. The only ones who could see much of anything were Uba and the men right behind him. Even Uba, who was used to boats and river currents was surprised how fast they were moving.

By the time they reached the point at which the path along the shore disappeared and the channel narrowed further, they were going so fast that Uba had difficulty making out details on the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. If the others could not see this Quantos and the Quest for Dominionit was probably for the best, he thought. It was difficult enough for him to keep a grip on his emotions. For one thing, he realized that if the boat struck something and stopped suddenly, he was going to fly right off; there would be no holding on and the others would be coming right after him.

For some time, the ride was smooth and fairly straight with little change to the width of the channel and thus their speed. There was little sound as they floated along to indicate their speed either; the water occasionally making gurgling sounds as eddies formed in the lee of some rock or irregularity of the tunnel wall. How long this had been going on, none of the riders could have said; they were all tense and time tends to pass more slowly when you are in such a heightened state of awareness. Several hours passed in this way; at one point, Quantos said, “Uba, how fast are we going, compared to say a galloping horse.”

Uba said, “Nearly as fast, I judge, but I could be wrong. Pray we don’t hit anything. It would not be fun.” Uba had only just uttered these words when something changed, even the men in the back could sense it. The cave gradually grew wider and wider and the current gradually slowed. Uba tried to aim the light from side to side but it didn’t help; the dark crystal seemed to throw out light equally in all directions and was simply not bright enough to illuminate objects more than a few yards away. As the tunnel grew wider it also grew lower and that fact Uba could see all too well. He finally decided to say something, “Watch your heads, men. The ceiling is coming down on us here.”

Minutes later, the Midnight Falcon came to a grinding but mercifully gradual halt. Quantos said, “What’s happening Uba? Have we run aground?”

Uba held the light down near the water and realized he could see a sandy bottom. “Yes, we’ve come to a halt. It looks like we’re going to have to get off the boat and see if we can float it over this sand bar. Let’s get off on the right side. We’ll all have to do this at the same time. Is everyone ready? I’ll count to three and off we go.”

The dismount went pretty well but the boat still only barely cleared the sand. They quickly realized that the ceiling was now so low that they could not stand up straight. For several minutes they walked along beside the boat, hunched over, wondering how much longer they could manage this when Ra-Vlo hollered from the rear, “Stop. Everybody stop where you are. Uba hide the light against your hand or something.” When Uba had done that, they all saw, off to their right, a soft glow.

Uba said, “I see it. There’s light over there somewhere. Let’s drag the boat in that direction and have a closer look.”

They could only get the boat to float another ten yards but then dragged it a little further into the shallow sands where it seemed anchored securely. They left it there and continued toward the light, hoping they were going to see some outlet to the sunny world above though no one said so. Uba was still in the lead almost out of necessity but Quantos was right beside him so they were the first to see where the light was coming from. Uba said, “It looks like another mining shaft, doesn’t it Quantos?”

“It does, but how could that be possible this far in?”

When they were standing in the entrance, it was obvious that the shaft led upward so they all filed in. The incline was far steeper than in the other mine they had explored, but they soon saw why. This one only went a short distance then leveled out into a circular room with a crystal light just like the one Uba was holding lying right in the middle of the floor. The room was empty but what they saw stopped Uba and Quantos in their tracks causing a chain of bumping and cursing behind them. Ra-Jin said, “Hey, why’d you stop so fast? We can’t see anything back here.”

Uba said,"…Pray we don’t hit anything. It would not be fun.” Uba had only just uttered these words when something changed, even the men in the back
could sense it."

Quantos said, “Oh, sorry about that. We’ve found a room. We’ll go on in so you can follow but don’t anyone touch anything until we figure out what this is.” When they had all paraded in it was a bit crowded due to their bulky packs. Quantos said, “I think we need to study this for a little while. Let’s untie this rope so we can move around more freely. It looks like there’s another chamber further in too.”

Once they were free to move about more easily, Tariq went into the next chamber and came back out immediately, “Uba, let’s have a little light in here. It looks like there are objects lying around on the floor.” Uba brought the light into the doorway and held it up. Tariq said, “I’d say there were three men living here for quite awhile. Look at the walls, there are sleeping niches just like up in the inner circle.”

Uba said, “Yes, they must have slept and kept their tools in here. Look, there are chisels, hammers, picks, all the tools of the trade for miners. This explains what’s out in that round room, or at least how it was done, if not why. Let’s go back out there. I want to get a better look.”

When they went back with the others, they saw that the room was not, strictly-speaking, round, but octagonal. Quantos was just saying, “There’s a puzzle here we need to understand. This must be a king’s ransom in gold on these walls. Not only that, it must have taken a long time to accomplish the task.” What he was referring to was a sequence of engraved panels in the walls of the room in which the letters had been chiseled out of the stone and then filled in with thin hammered gold leaf. There was also considerable ornamentation in the form of vines and flowers surrounding or framing the lettering. The gold lettering and decoration, reflecting the light, stood out against the dark stone as if they were hanging in empty space. Once you looked closely, it seemed likely that the panels told a story or maybe more than one starting near the door and following right around the room to the right and back to the door. Quantos said, “Well the only way to figure this out is to read it. You probably don’t all need to do this if you don’t want to. This is going to take some time, so I’d appreciate it if someone would take the light out and check on the boat every so often.”

After reading most of the panels, Quantos said, “Well this is interesting. Apparently the three men who made all of this had decided as a last, desperate measure, to search via this river tunnel for a way out of the inner land. This was many years after the Enigma wall appeared. The men who had been thus trapped in Lavros were not all willing to perish cut off from the rest of the world and vowed to escape if some way could be found. They first traveled the entire circumference of the Enigma before trying this route. They brought a hoard of gold with them in case they made it.”

Ra-Jin said, “So why did they stop here? Is this the end of the river? Are we going to perish here also?”

Tariq, who had been reading along right behind Quantos, said, “They stopped here because they could not get past the Enigma. Apparently it was powerful magic, and actually penetrated deep into the earth. They tried their pick axes on it and had no better luck here than up above. They never found out what lay beyond that impenetrable wall and they could not get back up the tunnel against the current. They had brought much food with them in case it might take a long time to travel the whole length of the river. Quantos and the Quest for DominionThat is why they made this room. It was something to do to take their minds off their dilemma and it ended up becoming their home and eventually their tomb.”

Quantos said, “Yes, but there is a little more to it than that. Actually, the writing on this wall was intended as a message to Lavros, himself, a report, if you will. It was supposed to be a warning so that no one else would try what they had done. Ironically, I have been aware of this chamber for some time but it is not possible to read this writing using the mask.”

Ra-Jin said, “Yes! That explains the round room, doesn’t it? They thought by putting the crystal in the middle of the room, Lavros would be able to read their message. It does seem strange that it was just lying there like that. I wonder…” He went to the middle of the room, picked up the light and held it up. “Yes, it was originally held in place somehow in the ceiling. See? There’s a hole there. Maybe Lavros could read this when the crystal was properly mounted.”

Quantos said, “Maybe, but there’s no time to test that theory. Anyway, the poor priests did this so that others could learn from their mistake. I suppose Lavros was able to observe their efforts and got the basic message, even if he couldn’t read the words.”

Ra-Jin said, “Well, I don’t see any reason to leave this crystal here. We may as well take it along. Here you go, little brother, we’ll now have a light at both ends of the boat.”

He handed the light to Ra-Vlo who said, “Are we ready to go then? This place is interesting but it’s not helping with our escape. I’m anxious to see what becomes of that river.”

Quantos said, “I don’t suppose there could be anything helpful in those last few panels and we can’t take the time to salvage this gold, although I would like to. Okay, let’s get out of here.”

Sekou, who was the only one of Uba’s soldiers who could read, had not been able to get close enough to read the first few panels with the priests crowding around so he read the last ones instead. He knew Quantos was correct – there was nothing there that would help them escape – so he kept quiet, but there was an interesting and tremendously moving story there. Sekou knew the story would not have been well received by Lavros over two thousand years ago and the same was true for the priests of his day, so he did not say anything. He silently wiped the tears from his eyes and followed the others out of the tunnel.

 

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