Welcome to chapter 23 of Arena of Souls, my new, Doc Savage-style, pulp adventure. A new chapter every week! If you missed the previous chapters, you can start at the beginning here:
Arena of Souls Chapter 23- The Revelation
“My uncle?” Stone didn’t need Akente’s nod of the head to know it was true. Clearly, his grandfather had sired a son while on the island.
“Just so,” Akente said. “My mother was immediately taken with this exotic stranger, and though he remained with us only a short time, it was time enough.”
“Did he marry her?” Trinity’s cheeks flushed a rosy pink and she stole an unreadable glance in Stone’s direction.
Akente laughed. “I am afraid that when it comes to choosing a mate, we do not share your society’s institutions, nor your peculiar reservations about what is a very natural act.”
Trinity’s face turned scarlet, while Alex and Moses turned away before she spotted their twin smiles.
“Can you tell me anything about the time my grandfather, your father, spent here?” Stone asked.
Akente wiggled his elbow in what Stone took to be equivalent to a shrug. “A little bit. But my mother can tell you more.”
“She’s alive?” No sooner had the words passed her lips than Trinity brought her hand to her mouth. “I am so sorry. I only meant, since Stone’s grandfather is dead…”
“I understand,” Akente said, smiling graciously. “My mother was young, barely a woman, when my father came here. She is old now, of course, but she still has her mind and her spirit. I will take you to see her if you wish.”
“Please,” Stone said.
Akente led them out of the garden and out toward the outskirts of the city. As they walked, Moses fell in step with Stone.
“You sure this ain’t a trap?” he whispered.
“I’m sure it’ doesn’t matter,” Stone replied. “If it comes to a fight, we’re in bad shape.”
Moses nodded, clearly unsatisfied with the answer.
Akente halted at a low stone building. “This is my home. Wait here, please.” He disappeared through an arched doorway, returning moments later. “Please come inside. We have food and drink for you.” He mad a slight bow and swept his arm toward the doorway like a maitre d showing guests to their table.
The flat-roofed house consisted of one large room. Sunlight shone in through open windows all around. Stone noted there were no panes, only thick curtains woven of some tough fiber, drawn back to let in the light. The walls were coated in a stucco-like substance and painted in brightly-colored murals depicting scenes from nature. A sunrise decorated the East wall and a sunset the West, while the north wall was a starry night and the south a stormy sky. Woven blankets lay on the stone floor, circling a crackling fire. Beyond the fire, covered in a fur blanket, a dark-skinned, silver-haired woman reclined against a pile of cushions.
“You are welcome here.” Her strong voice filled the chamber. She gestured with a leathery hand toward the blankets and Stone and his friends lay their packs and weapons against the wall, though Stone kept his Webley at his hip. “I understand you are Samuel Stone’s grandson,” she said as soon as Stone’s backside hit the floor.
“Yes ma’am,” he replied.’
Her sharp eyes narrowed. “What is that word?”
“Sorry,” Stone began, “where I grew up, it is a term of respect for an adult woman.”
She considered this for a moment. “In Ogygia, we are known as we are known. You will call me Talisa. Now, tell me why you have come here and brought weapons with you.”
“We brought the weapons because we did not know what dangers we might encounter,” Stone said.
“A good thing, too, considering we met dinosaurs along the way,” Alex interrupted.
The woman frowned and glanced at Akente.
“The stelli,” he said.
“Speaking of them dinosaurs,” Moses said, “how come they don’t come after you? The flying ones, I mean.”
“The pyramid keeps them away,” Talisa said.
“How does that work, excatly?” Alex asked.
“We do not know. The knowledge came to us from lost travelers many summers ago, but they did not share this knowledge with us.”
“The stelli do not approach our valley any longer,” Akente said. “Save for the occasional youngling, and they turn and flee when they come too close.”
“Have any ever broken through?” Stone asked.
“Rarely. And they die in the attempt.” Akente smiled.
“Does the pyramid keep the Varri away as well?” Trinity asked.
“No,” Talisa said simply.
“The Varri are human.” Stone said. “I imagine that anything power that would drive them away would have the same effect on the people of Ogygia.”
“You have not told me why you have come here.” Talisa’s voice cracked like a whip.
“My grandfather wanted me to come here. He left me a map and a message that I must find the island or I would be in danger.” Stone paused. “I can’t say for certain what that danger is, though men have been trying to kill me ever since his death. I can only assume that someone found out about his time on the island and wants whatever he discovered here.”
Talisa remained silent, but Stone noticed that she no longer looked him in the eye.
“Can you help me? Do you know what he discovered while he was here? What could make it worth me endangering my life to make this trek? And why are men trying to kill me?”
Talisa gazed at the fire. “I do not know what he discovered.”
Stone’s spirits fell at her pronouncement, but lifted at her next words.
“But I know where he found it.” She looked at him with a sad smile. “Samuel spent his days exploring as much of the island as he dared. And he spent his night with me,” she added with a grin that made Trinity shift uncomfortably. “The night before he left, he told me of a cave he discovered. He called it a…” She frowned and pressed her fingers to her temples. “What is your word? Revolt? No. A revelation. He said what he found there could change the world… or destroy it.”
“Can you direct me to this cave?” Stone felt like springing to his feet and dashing out the door in search of this cave, but he waited.
“It is dangerous. You must climb the volcano and find the passageway that descends into its depths.”
“I can do it,” Stone said.
A commotion arose from outside the house and Akente hurried to the doorway. Angry voices speaking in an unfamiliar language echoed through the house.
Talisa inclined her head. “It is Samman, a member of the council. He knows that a group has arrived, among them a man claiming to be Samuel’s descendant. He is angry that Akente did not present you to the council immediately, as we are expected to do with all new visitors.”
“Are we in danger?” Trinity asked.
Talisa made the same elbow-wagging motion they had seen Akente make earlier. “Visitors are always brought into our society, provided they do no harm. But they will watch you closely, and they cannot know about the cave. Samuel made that clear.”
Stone rose just high enough to peer through the window. Samman was a powerfully-built man with bronze skin and black, curly hair. He was flanked by half a dozen men— some armed with bows, and two with old flintlock muskets, probably the spoils of an old shipwreck.
“I don’t see any way around this,” he said to his companions. “Aside from grabbing our guns and attacking them, but that is unwarranted. They only want us to meet this council.”
“But what if they don’t allow you to search for the cave?” Trinity asked.
Alex rose to his feet. “Go and find your cave,” he said. “We’ll be here when you get back.” Before Stone could reply, Alex tossed him one of the backpacks. “Quick. Out the window before they encircle the house.”
“Do it,” Trinity whispered. “Like Talisa said, we’re safe provided we do no harm.”
“I can’t leave you.”
“We done went through too much for you to give up when you almost there,” Moses said.
“But they know I’m here,” Stone protested.
Alex smiled. “Correction. They know a descendant of Samuel Stone is here.” With that he turned and strode out the door with his hands upraised. “I am Alex English,” he bellowed. “I am Samuel’s grandson.”
“There’s nothing for it now.” Trinity managed a grin. “If you go out there now, they’ll know him to be a liar and then we’re all in trouble.” She planted a quick kiss on Stone’s cheek. “Get out of here.”
Stone saw the wisdom in her words, though every fiber of his being told him to stay and fight. Mouthing a word of thanks to Talisa, he reluctantly moved to the rear window and sprang through. When he hit the ground, he began running at full tilt toward the volcano.
And whatever secret lay within its depths.