Lucci breathed heavily as he scrabbled up the last few feet of the steep incline. Small stones and dirt rained down behind him in long, slender trails while he kicked himself up over the edge of the overhang. The youth never attempted to climb a mountain before, so in with that consideration in mind, he told himself that he was actually doing quite well.
That should lose them, shouldn’t it?
-I wouldn’t bank on it too much, Lucci-boy,- Kaz told him. -Once they figure out that we’ve gone up, they’ll be on to us faster than we’d like.-
Though he was tired, the words spurred him to find his feet and continue forward. Lucci wasn’t exactly sure where Kaz was leading him. It was a place that the spirit called the Cynosure. He said that it was secret Pathway that once existed in the Time Before, and connected places across the whole planet.
Though Lucci wasn’t so sure about things with big names like Cynosure, he hoped that Kaz was right. He also hoped they would be there soon, because he was tired and they were now being chased.
They first warned Lucci of his pursuers two sleeps ago. They couldn’t seem to make out exactly who was following – if they were creatures of Zeromus or of Zemi. But either way, the youth didn’t want to be caught. Creatures of Zeromus would certainly be up to no good. And creatures of Zemi would only try to return him to the Islands.
Are you sure that these Pathways will still work, Kaz? If they’re from the Time Before, won’t they be too old?
-The Pathways were embedded into the energy flows of the planet itself. It would be quite hard to destroy such a thing, though I suppose it could be possible,- Kaz answered.
What do we do if they’re not there?
-Let’s just hope they are. It’s the risk we have to take right now.-
The youth knew that Kaz was right. As much as hope and good wishes had proven to fall through for him, this time, all Lucci had to go on was an ancient legend, a misty light and a desperate hope.
Where are we going from there?
-Let’s just concentrate on finding the Pathways first. See that dark area of rock up there, above your head, to the right?-
Lucci paused and peered up at the face of the mountainside. Sure enough, there was a patch of darker stone that seemed to be strangely smoothed and slightly indented. He wouldn’t have noticed it if Kaz hadn’t pointed it out, for it was positioned right underneath the drooping branches of a sickened bush.
Yes! I see it!
-Can you reach up there and put your hand on it?-
The youth nodded slowly. He hoisted himself up on a few lower-jutting stones, stretching his hand up towards the smooth spot. It wasn’t too difficult for him to reach. The stone cool felt against the palm of his hand.
-Good. Now, we need to take this slowly.-
What do you need me to do?
-The Cynosure lies within the heart of this mountain. We’ve got to open the door to the chamber. However, it’s designed to respond to only certain kinds of energy signatures,- Kaz explained, a sifting silver mist already beginning to gather.
Do you think you can do it?
-I’m going to give it my best try. So I need you to concentrate with me, and help me project my energy,- the spirit told him grimly. -Chances are, I’ll only be able to open the door, if that. So once it’s open, it’s open, and we’re going to have to move fast.-
Lucci nodded, focusing on the spot under his hand. The sifting of mist grew thicker. Stronger. It gathered around his body, a cool and damp sensation, streaming around his shoulders then down the length of his arm to his outstretched hand. Though something within him wanted to flinch, he forced himself to sit absolutely still.
The tickling in the back of his mind, his awareness of the presence of Kaz, began to grow. It quickly became a swelling pressure that filled his ears with a muted roar, like the sound of the winds on a troubled day. The youth sucked in his breath as sweat beaded along his face. He could feel the vast, deep power rising from beyond a distant time and connecting into his own essence.
He almost panicked as an abrupt rush of energy flowed through his body. For a fleeting moment, Lucci felt his knees weaken and his stance waver. His breath choked, frozen cold within his lungs. The world swam in front of his eyes, threatening to grow dim.
-Hold on. Just a little more!-
The stone under his touch began to shake as silver light began to expand, first in an outline around his hand, then streaming along the cracks of the stone wall. His eyes fought to make sense of the vision. Millions up on millions of tiny etched runes began to burn, like the scripture written of the finest-point pen, glowing brilliant in tall columns that slowly formed into a doorway. The stone shifted and began to recede like a dark ocean tide.
-Here it comes, boy! Watch it happen!-
When the mists drew away and Lucci’s senses came back to him, he found himself staring into a huge entrance built into the face of the mountain. The doorway seemed like a simple rectangle at first. But as he moved his head to stare at it, the structure gave the feeling of shifting and changing, as a liquid would.
“Wow…” at a loss for words, it was all he could say. His voice came out in a hoarse croak and he realized that his whole body ached from channeling the amount of energy that it took to open the lock on the chamber.
-If you think that’s neat, wait until you see inside,- Kaz told him. Though there was enthusiasm in the tone, there was also the sense of weariness. He, too, was taxed by taking on such a feat.
Lucci strode forward, the only sound came from the stone under his boots. Abruptly, the sound changed from a gravelly crunch to the click of his heels on a slick, solid floor. The youth looked down just in time to see a silver glow illuminate the square tile around his feet, reacting to his touch. The light caught like wildfire, pulsing from one tile to the next until the whole floor of the chamber was humming with a cool, quiet energy.
“It’s beautiful!” the youth caught in a sudden breath.
The Cynosure rose above him, a tall structure of gentle slopes and great pillars. The walls and the floors looked to be carved out of the heart of the mountain itself, made of a serene crystalline stone. Everywhere Lucci looked, reflections upon reflections upon reflections shown, leaving a hazy and unreal feeling about the whole room.
There in the center of the Cynosure, a fantastic circular pattern was etched into the crystal. Long looping designs and exquisitely ornate script crossed from one point of the circle to another. Lucci realized after studying for a moment that it was a giant compass, like the ones that he had seen on some of Master ZenToYa’s old maps. Except this one was far, far more complex. At certain points on the circle, patterns converged into spirals and stars, tiles that seemed set apart from the rest of the design. There was some sort of logic in their placing, as if they held an important function to be discovered.
If only I could read that script on the floor. I wonder what it says.
-It is the name of the Pathways,- Kaz told him. -The writing is in the language of those who lived in the Time Before.-
Lucci bent down in curiosity, reaching his hand towards the nearest tile.
-Careful! Don’t touch that. There’s no knowing where it will lead you if it transports you!-
“Sorry!” the youth drew back with a wide eyed look.
-It’s okay. I just don’t want us getting sent off somewhere impossible to return from. There are a lot of Pathways that don’t have a connection back to the Cynosure. You can travel to them, but not back from them. That wouldn’t be good right now.-
“No, it wouldn’t. You’re right,” Lucci nodded, staring at the tiles in wonderment. “So this place, this Cynosure, allows for travel all around the world?”
“Like… to everywhere?”
-Just about. You can find your way to any place you want to go eventually from here.-
“Why did it get closed up?” the youth tilted his head, looking back at the designs that spiraled far above his head.
“Do you really have to ask that, or are you truly that naive, Lord LuShi?” a deep, cold voice echoed across the chamber.
Lucci rounded on his heel with a look of alarm. He was so engrossed in the energy of the Cynosure that he hadn’t felt the presence of someone else entering. For some reason, even They didn’t alert him. In fact, They were almost silent to the point of non-existence since he had entered the chamber.
The slick, disfigured smile and the black, glittering eyes was all that he needed to see.
KoGuRai! How did he get here?
-I don’t know. I don’t think he was the one that we’ve been running from.-
You mean… there might be more?
-I don’t know that either. But my advice to you – watch the one that’s here and worry about the others later!-
Just as Lucci was about to act on that advice, a large fist shot out from the folds of KoGuRai’s cloak, grabbing him by the shirt front. The smile twisted into a vicious snarl as the putrid breath seeped out from between the blackened teeth. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting with you again, Lord LuShi. This time it’s going to be just you… and me.”