I entered the corridor. As I stepped, small clouds of the white spoor raised from the ground. It clung to my boots. Regular spoor could eat through my boots in a few hours. I hoped Djah was right and his master could control the spread.
Djah smiled “You’re a trusting man. I’ve had to argue and bluster with more than a few Rantaa’ that wanted an audience with my master.”
“Arguing would be pointless in my position.” I said.
“You will be our first Kelec guest. I’m honored.” He bowed slightly.
“I’m surprised you let me in. Thank you. I thought I’d have to come up with some brilliant way of unlocking your door.” I said.
“There wasn’t much reason to keep you out. At this point, the tomb is compromised. We will now have to disassemble it and move it to another location.” He stated.
I looked at him incredulously. “Move this? The whole hex is full. It would take a hundred years with a million Kelrath.”
“As you say, It will be done.” He said in a sing song tone.
He was serious. They would actually disassemble this place, move it somewhere across the planet and set it up again. It would be considered a great and mighty effort and the Rantaa’ that accomplished it would be famous. That’s just how the Kelrath are. They’d move the planet a foot to the left with nothing but shovels if they got the notion to do it.
The inner sanctum was covered in spoor on every surface. It etched the surface of the passage we were in with great dendritic patterns ending in whorls so that every surface looked like a chaotic jumble of trees. The surface glistened periodically with an unexpected light. It was really very beautiful.
“Onix Concade, this is my master.” Djah said gesturing through a doorway.
As I stepped into the chamber, I was struck by a vision I was not expecting. A Tanroc Fredar sat on a white throne, but the spoor had enveloped him. His left arm and his legs were completely enwrapped in a material like a coral reef. Although he seemed trapped, his face was calm. His eyes regarded me coolly.
I bowed. It seemed the appropriate thing to do.
“Let me see your Kelpei.” He said.
I drew the head that Osulo took off Mr. Mustache from my satchel.
“Do you know why you are here?” The Tanroc Fredar said. I did not ask his name, as just knowing it would make him an easier target for Loc. I suspected that he fully understood this also, because he did not offer it.
“I’m here to give you information that will help the Kelrath in their war against Loc.” I answered.
“No.” He stated and paused. He squinted to look at me and I realized that the spoor was connected to the back of his head.
“Please enlighten me then father.” I replied.
“In the beginning of the cleansing there were many ways. Loc has followed only one.” He stated cryptically.
This seemed to be familiar to me. I knew it was information from Loc. It’s a famous Tanroc Fredar saying from millennia ago “In the beginning there were many ways”. This expounded on the saying in what seemed foreign to me.
“What do you mean by ‘the cleansing’?” I asked.
Djah spoke up “The cleansing was when the old gods were chased away.”
The Tanroc Fredar Spoke again. “The one they call Loc’s way is one of many that existed before the great rift.”
“You mean, when Loc became paralyzed? When he lost contact with half the planet?” I said.
“That is the least of it!” The Tanroc Fredar erupted. “That one was shattered into many splinters. With him scattered, the ways were scattered.”
“Ways? Ways to what?” I asked.
Djah spoke again. “Onix Concade, ever since the cleansing, it has been known that the old gods would return. The ways, are the ways to survive their return.”
“So there were a number of strategies. Loc chose one. No, he only knew of one after the rift.” I surmised.
“You begin to see.” The Tanroc Fredar said. “Takoog was brilliant. He pursued one of the ways into the splinters. He completed the work, finished chasing the shadow of the way that generations of my people have searched for. In the end, the way was incomplete. The remainder of the information is not in the splinters we have access to. His life’s work ended. You met him as he prepared himself to die.”
“Takoog said that everything was lost to your people before he was born.” I said.
“That was his view. He despaired that if the way he was pursuing could not be completed, all the ways may be incomplete and all our work for thousands of years is for nothing.” He said.
“Loc has completed his way.” I stated.
“That is unfortunate.” He said gravely. “It is said by one of the shards that Loc’s way will lose to the old gods.”
“What was the way that Takoog was pursuing? What was uncovered?” I asked.
“Takoog’s way said that in the face of an overwhelming enemy, build a wall.” Djah answered.
Again I recognized this. It was a saying from the Kelrath Oracle Rall, called the war master.
“Surely there is more than that.” I said.
“The shards think in ways that men cannot. To explain Takoog’s work would require several of your lifetimes. To put it in terms you can easily understand, the way involves moving in a wall of time to a place where the old gods do not know to follow. The last piece of way unanswered is not leaving a trail for them to follow.” He said.
He continued. “You see my imprisonment. The spoor is an extension of my mind, without it, I would go mad. My people were once both warrior and priest to Loc. The scourge put in your mind is what my people were born to carry. We knew of all the ways but their complexities were so great that even our minds could not retain them. After the rift, we saw him chasing after the one way that we were told would not save us. We tried to find ways to combine the shards but each one tried to destroy the other. A safeguard that protected the whole now kept them apart. Loc wanted the shards back, but the ways would surely be lost so we rose up against the one that used to be our master.
“Then, your tombs are a library of your research.” I commented.
“Yes, through the years, we have probed the shards, but we also let the Kelrath ask questions, revealing the patterns they think in. Every question is cataloged and recorded.” The Tanroc Fredar said.
“With Loc’s way completed, what will you do?” I asked.
He said gravely, “We have fully understood that this race we are in can only be won by one of the ways. If Loc has won, then we have lost.”
“May I suggest, father, that even now there are many ways.” I said.
He seemed pleased by this thought. “Continue Kelec.” he said.
“If the shadows of the shards have faded, a new way must be followed. Takoog saw this and decided to take up Earth’s way. We have struggled against each other for millennia. In the last two hundred years, we have found that sharing information, and joining together in causes has been more effective than each nation being alone. Instead of hiding what we know from each other, we teach each other.” I offered.
“You suggest that the Kelrath accept and work with your people.” He said.
“It has become our way. It is a way that could work for the Kelrath and the Tanroc Fredar. Even more, it is my people’s desire to aid the Kelrath in this way. Even Loc knows that the Scimrahn, as small they are, may survive with the help of earth. How much more could the Kelrath?” I said.
“The change you suggest would be cataclysmic to the Kelrath way of life.” He said.
“Doing nothing would be a greater cataclysm. Loc expects to scour the Kelrath from the planet with this new weapon.” I said.
“I will consider your way Onix Concade. It will take time to see if it is possible.” he said.
“I agree that you will need time, but Loc will not want to allow you that time. Loc is also looking to delay his enemies because his followers must learn to use his weapons. You can deny him that time and take it for yourself.” I suggested.
“To be the aggressor is not our way.” he said.
“As you said, your ways are only shadows. Unless your ways change, Loc will win.” I demanded.
He stroked his beard for a moment. “I will consider your way, and consult my brothers.”
“While you do so, I urge you to take a small action that could greatly disrupt Loc’s way. Send your Rantaa’ a message that the Kelrath attack the collector well blockade. Let me talk to my people and have them do the same. The Kelrath need not know they’re working in accord with earth forces. Let this be a test of our way. You and your brothers observe and conclude for yourselves.” I said.
“You may contact your people at any time, you have the ability.” he said.
“If I may, father, go with Djah to my people. As a Kelec, they may not trust me. With Djah I can convince them that the Kelrath will act and they will want to act.” I said.
“Before we discuss that, there are two things I wish to know.” He said calmly.
“Of course, I’ll tell you what I’m able to.” I said.
“How do I know that your people will not take advantage of my people. You are more practiced at this way.” He said.
“An understandable question father. The answer is, my people will try and take advantage of the Kelrath. You must help them see that and be ready. Be wary and do not trust. The way this works is that an ally, even a wary ally is better than an enemy.” I said bluntly.
He chuckled. “Very well, I appreciate your candor. Then the other question I have is, how do you know that your suggested course is not exactly what the Chezbah want you to do?”
This gave me pause. I was actually becoming confident in my course of action. Could I be falling into Loc’s, or Path’s plan? What would be the pitfall? Loc could not know that I would be standing in front of a Tanroc Fredar. He couldn’t know in advance what I just decided to propose just now, could he?
“It is a good question. I can’t say for certainty that it isn’t. I know that I came to this planet with a desire to unite. I am not changed in that I’m certain.” I offered.
“You cannot know that you were not chosen because of this desire tough.” He said.
“Yes, why not select a tool that is already made to do the work you intend?” I paused. “I can’t eliminate that possibility, but I’m not sure that any alternatives are preferable. For example, if the earth and the Kelrath continue to fight each other, what advantage would it give to us?”
He gestured as if giving ideas away with his free hand and said. “Perhaps an alliance makes us a single enemy and it is easier to predict our actions. Maybe by sharing, we become like one another in tactics, technology or in our physical location.”
I sighed, “That there are possible dangers in a way, is not a reason to reject it. It’s a question of it being better than your alternatives.”
“But ‘better’ can truly only be evaluated if you try both ways and can say which is more preferable. My people have been at this game of comparing ways for generation after generation. Impulsively chasing one before knowing the results has, more than once lead to disaster.” He said.
“So you will do nothing?” I asked.
“Doing nothing would be a poor plan. Action is needed, but hasty action is not. As I said, I will take this to my brothers and seek their wisdom. I will do this for you, but I also do it in the memory of Takoog.” he said.
“You will do nothing then, all that will be accomplished is an endless debate. Some will be for and others against. The fear of failure will lead to paralysis.” I paused, “Takoog acted, even though he knew that he would suffer failure. I see his wisdom that you speak about. Without his loss, I could not be here to warn you. Without his loss, you would not have this chance at glory. Father, you are greatly indebted to him.”
“You speak of debit. I have taken a great risk to myself and my work by allowing you here. There is something that I want.” He said.
“What is that father? I will do what is needed to make this work.” I asked.
He smiled a sharp toothed grin “You see my imprisonment. You carry what I need to free myself of it. I do need your assistance, but not in the way you hoped.”
“The scourge? If you carried it, you might become Loc’s thrall, even if you didn’t, you would not be able to operate in secret anymore.” I protested. He wasn’t talking about gently removing the scourge from me. He intended to dissect my brain and sift the nanotech from it.
“I may be able to extract the components that would calm my mind without making a connection to Loc. You see, from birth we fight madness because we were bred to need the scourge as a part of our own brain. Our spoor infects our minds and works as a poor substitute but to have the pure scourge could free me from needing the spoor.” He said.
I couldn’t just leave. The moment I set foot in the sanctum, I was at his mercy. I had to get him to want me to leave this place or the spoor would kill me slowly. If he died, nothing would stop the infection and I would slowly waste away. I could stalemate him. I might win a confrontation with him locked in his throne but he likely had other tricks I wouldn’t be prepared for.
I instinctively felt an electrical charge building up inside me. I tried to keep it in, it was difficult, but doing so only made it grow in me. It felt more powerful than I had ever known. It kept on building until I feared I could not hold it in.
I looked down at my satchel and started to laugh. Of course there was the answer. It was so obvious.
Long arcs flew from my hands, blasting scorch marks in the walls. As I expected, he was protected by a shield.
“Don’t make yourself a fool.” I said reaching down into my bag, I drew out Mr. Mustache again and tossed him into the lap of the Tanroc Fredar. “Some of the scourge in him may be degraded, but there should be enough for your purposes.”
He gave out a “Harumpf!” as he picked up the head and examined it.
“Djah, will you accompany me to the ASO base?” I asked.
Djah looked back and forth between me and the Tanroc Fredar not sure of what to do. “Master? What is your command?”