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"Star Keys" (The Word & the Way)

“We found this today sir,” the soldier says. “Then, we did lose a man inside, sir. Dreadful, in the caves, it speaks General Yea. Shades of Gondohl ghost-takers, there’s a demon that talks, clearly.”

“Huh,” Tauk huffs. “I laugh at the thought, soldier. I hate to lose any man in battle, much less to lose one who wandered in a cave. A demon talks? Pugh!”

“It does sir. I tell you, as my life depends on it,” the man goes on as they walk.

Tiekus mumbles. His arms swing and he keeps step. “What the devil? I’ve heard of the Bushwain baggot, the Gooley womagong that is said to have feelings, the Waptoo Nario, and each a lower life form said to speak, somehow. Now this? I tell you you’re delirious, soldier.”

“No sir,” the swad goes on. “Then, yes, it warns us, sir.” The grunt shakes, his teeth clench, and his eyes shift left and right as he leads the way. “The men are frightened. They saw phaser shots deflected. Foul, borne beneath the earth, or from some surreal hole, this demon fires its own weapon—from its eye.”

“What?” Tauk shouts. His eyes bulge.

Yea shakes again. “Don’t tell me! It’s a damning creature.” Aghast, he stops the talk.

One swad rolls eyes. “Generals, I tell you, it speaks of one named Calipha and Zahl, sirs.”

Again, Tauk and Yea jerk.

“Zahl? It can’t be.” Yea gasps again; and he slaps hands together.

Tiekus blows out and quivers. “I’m stunned with the words. Then, the creature is surely true and lives.”

Yabba Yea looks to Tiekus and then spins back to his soldier. Yabba’s hand slips to his gun. “Ready your phasers, soldiers. Set for maximum stun.”

Soldiers grip their guns.

Swallowing hard, Tiekus nods. “Lead on, soldier,” he says and motions; and his dark-brown eyes steel forward.

Slowly, they walk a narrow, barren passageway while focusing and their weapons held securely in their palms. As they continue, water droplets trickle down inside walls of the tenebrous, musky tunnel.

Soon, the walkway widens.

“See the cavern, generals,” one swad says. “We had set lamps apart from one another to guide the way. I tell you I speak the truth.”

Yea throws eyes to the cavern as Tauk does. Eyes pop at glittering-red, walls.

“The crystals are dazzling,” Yea whispers.

“I’ve never seen the like,” says Tiekus. His eyes as moonpuppy eggs, he blinks and bites his lip.

Enlivened, “It’s a room of rubies,” Yea goes on. “I would…augh,” he groans and grinds teeth. “Gahst. It’s a body.”

Meters from them a cold, dead, soldier lays in brown, soft dirt.

“It’s our comrade,” gushes, Zaggia 12. Her head shakes.

“Yes. This is one of our men,” a swad says. “It’s Franzek; and I am so sorry,” he whispers as his eyes water. He spins to Tauk. “Now do you believe me? My friend is dead. The demon is here, I tell you.”

“Perhaps,” Tauk says softly. His eyes peer to the fallen soldier, Franzek, and then to sparkling, red crystals. “A dead soldier and a strange room, it’s eerie.”

“But it is; and moonstone, mystic moonstone is imbedded in the cavern walls,” Zaggia 12 says. She casts wary eyes about the forsaken den. “I am overtaken by such a place that sparkles and shines. What happened to our comrade?”

“We think he was bitten by something,” the swad-soldier goes on. “There’s moonstone, and zultanite in the cave, as well, generals, lady Zaggia, Borauk. It’s a unique formation that…”

“Wait. I see it,” Tauk whispers; and he holds his mighty forearm out.

One hand stops the swad; and Tiekus’s ready-hand grips his gun.

“There,” says Tauk. He points. As if they’d been slapped, Yea and Tiekus, Borauk, Zaggia 12, and soldiers look on.

A multi-headed beast inches its way above a rocky outcrop. Extruded rubies and moonstone make the half-lit, spooky cavern appear majestic.

“What comes this way?” Yea mumbles. “Maddening, there’s misfortune here. My mind, is numb, to murder and mystery,” he whispers as he peers to the demon opposite them.

The beast slithers. Wrinkled ears the size of one’s palms dangle to each side of the sleek creature’s many heads.

“Httsss,” it makes noise.

Fangs drape as mouths open and close, the creature hissing. The largest head of the beast contains a third eye centered above the bridge of its scaly nose.

“Likely, the guard lay bitten and dead of virulent neurotoxin.” Zaggia 12 moans.

“Keep still,” General Tauk mutters.

Not far away, the creature’s multiple heads rise. “I am glad you have come,” it rattles words. “It has been too long,” the sycophant babbles.

Tauk and Yea look on in disbelief, Borauk and Zaggia 12 no less taken back.

“I have lived for 1,200 years,” it continues. “I have spent nearly the last one-hundred of them on a world which I did not care to be a part of. Now, put your weapons away. They are of no use to you,” it claims and raises its head further.

“Aw,” Borauk moans. His nose turns up as he squints and grimaces. “It’s the smell.”

“Yes. It’s ghastly,” says Zagia 12.

“Putrid,” adds Borauk.

The serpent glares. “Be still and know me,” the beast goes on.

“I am of use to you…you are of use to me

One comes to help both

Visions of Calipha, sees.”

“By the moons of Jopia, it riddles,” says Yabba.

Yabba looks to Tiekus. Yea stands ready in his Alliance, spider-fighting robe befitting his body. Four Ghint’e swads freeze while dressed in black, silver-lined, tight-fitting clothing of the Spiders.

Now, General Tauk stares ahead. “How are we to help you? Of what use are you to us?” he asks and stiffens.

Soldiers maintain their distance.

“I hold a key.” The creature hisses and its many heads waver.

The demon’s muscled tail slithers and retrieves a red and black egg-stone from beneath its body. Carefully, the beast holds the object up for all to see.

“It’s a devil,” Yea whispers.

The demon’s tongue flicks and its mouth opens. “This is the telling stone and one of two of the house of Zahl. It was made and coded for worlds where some may prosper.”

Those standing, watch as if transfixed in time. Eyes and bodies appear numbed by cold, by freezing winds, and the icy words of the demon, compelling.

“It tells of good worlds?” Yea asks, cautious.

“This is the case,” the beast says. Again, it smiles and weaves its head. “The stone, like its counterpart, is destined for two sons of Zahl. What I have will reveal locations: worlds. For ages, many have sought the stone.”

Soldiers groan as, generals stare.

Nearby, Borauk coughs. “Again, the smell is so foul.”

“It’s hydrogen sulfide,” Zaggia 12 says. She gags.

“Htsss,” the creature makes more noise. “This is my house. Be still. Now, I will continue. I was cast out of Xanthos for viewing the stone before sons ever knew one another. I swallowed the jewel. I would not give it up after Ancients told my fate to me. I saw things not meant for my eyes.”

Five soldiers stand ready and listen.

“Go on,” Yea mumbles.

“I will help you, you will help me,” it chatters again. “You will have the one called Ze come to me. He is near. You know him. A battle is brewing. I have seen it in the Stone of Scopia I hold here. Then, take heed. Mistakes, I warn you. I can drop it to this world’s core through a vent that steams, nearby, if I am turned on.”

Yabba nods. “Incredible.”

“Yes,” Tauk whispers. “Somehow, Ze must know something of this.” Tauk fixes his dark eyes to the grizzly creature.

Yea shuffles one step forward.

“We know this one you speak of,” General Yea goes on. “We will tell him. What will you do for us?”

The beast wriggles and tilts its head. “More to do for me,” it goes on. “Ze shall bring me the stone’s counterpart, the Stone of Influence, as Calipha knows. It is a telling-stone he cannot read but which I can do, with both. I can release the Stone of Scopia to him. It was designed for his eyes. It will allow him to meet his objectives, that is, yours. My owning the Sphere of Influence will protect me from the house of Zahl. I shall be transferred, released to one of the more comforting worlds you seek as there are only so many precious worlds in the turbulent galaxies. Hssst.”

The beast holds the stone; and the sacred amulet glows, ruby-red like gems around it.

“Tell him where I am,” the demon finishes. Flicking its tongue, the creature slithers to where it came from and disappears.

“It’s gone.” Borauk blinks and licks lips.

“I see. So too, are we.” Tiekus turns to exit. “We will waste no time. There is more here than I should ever know. Something is amiss; and something seems right. Ze and his sons shall know,” he ends and walks on.

They leave. Short minutes of a fascinating tale, grab minds. Mystery, wonder, words, a second cave holds clues of Ancient’s covenants craved by covert Ghint’e.

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