Welcome to chapter 25 of Arena of Souls- A Brock Stone Adventure, a serial adventure story in the style of the old pulps. If you’re just joining in, begin here:
Chapter 25: The Cave
Stone worked his way up the steep, rocky slope. He hated leaving the others behind, but he knew this would likely be his best chance to solve his grandfather’s mystery. No telling what the council might decide. Better to take action now rather than wait upon the unknown.
Loose rocks shifted beneath his feet but he continued his ascent. His muscles strained as gravity’s clutching hands fought to hold him back. As the way grew even steeper, he was forced to find handholds in the volcanic rock, and moved along in a half-crawl. Somewhere in the distance he heard the keening cry of what he hoped was a bird of pray. More likely, it was a pterodactyl. He hoped Talisa was right about the pyramid keeping the dinosaurs, or the stelli, as she called them, at bay.
Humidity and his own perspiration quickly soaked through the fabric of his clothing. The exertion felt good. He hadn’t realized how much he missed climbing. Before he knew it, he’d reached the top of the volcano.
Gazing through haze of volcanic gases wafting up from the crater, he scanned the dark rock, looking for any sign of a cave. Not for the first time, he wished his grandfather had left more explicit instructions.
Cracks in the rock, many cast in deep shadow, lay all about. Any of them could hide the entrance. It would take forever to search every one of them. He’d need to narrow things down.
He sat down on a nearby rock, allowed his eyes to slide out of focus, and began the breathing technique he’d learned in the Far East. In and out, focusing all his awareness, bringing all his senses and mental acuity to bear…
When his eyes snapped open again, he once again scanned the inside of the volcanic cone, this time with machine-like precision. His eyes took in every detail, his brain processing the information in a flash. In moments, he had discarded entire sections of the volcano as unlikely due to the steepness of the sides, the thinness of the cracks, and the emissions patterns of the gas. He quickly identified the most likely section into which his grandfather would have descended, and then his sharp eyes picked out, not a path, but a line in which the angle of the slope was a little less steep. It was so subtle, he had overlooked it the first time, but now it seemed to shine as his eyes locked on it.a
He made his way down to the spot he’d seen, where he found a narrow crevasse that cut at a sharp angle down into the rock of the volcano. Not sure if it would prove to be a dead end, he squeezed his bulk into the narrow space and began working his way back into the darkness. The confining quarters squeezed his chest and restricted his breathing. A less-experienced man might quickly succumb to claustrophobia and panic, but this was hardly Stone’s first caving experience and he knew that any spot he could get into, he could get himself out of again.
He pressed on, sometimes having to force the air from his lungs in order to work his way through a particularly narrow spot, but finally, the way opened up enough for him to move easily and, more important, breathe freely. A few more minutes of feeling his way in the dark and he was able to walk normally. With room to get into his pack, he retrieved his flashlight and shone it up ahead.
He was in a lava tube. The way ahead sloped downward at a steep angle. He would be able to climb back out, but it would be a chore. He once again thought about his friends and reminded himself it was important to find whatever lay ahead and then make tracks back to the city.
He slid down the steep tube. At the bottom, it bent sharply to the right and opened up into a large chamber.
Stone took two steps inside and shone his light all around.
“My God,” he breathed. “It’s incredible.”
To his left, a strange script covered the wall— some form of hieroglyphs, if he didn’t miss his guess. To the right, a map of the earth adorned the smooth stone. Sprinkled throughout were images of pyramids. He saw some in the expected places: Egypt and Central America, but there were many more, some in North America, which he assumed might be Indian mounds, but others were located in surprising places, such as Eastern Europe, Japan, and even Antarctica. Wavy lines radiated outward from all of them, linking up with other pyramids. He had no idea what they meant, but they had to be important. Was this his grandfather’s secret?
He searched the cavern to make certain he had not missed anything, and quickly satisfied himself that the map and strange writing were the secrets intended for his eyes. He drew a pencil and notebook from his pack, sat down, and prepared his mind for the task. Once focused, he set to copying the hieroglyphs. His hand zipped across the pages, sketching perfect copies of the symbols at a breakneck pace— another skill he had picked up after his military service. When he’d filled more than twenty pages, he turned and copied the map of the earth.
He sat there, feeling an odd sense of incompleteness. Something was not right. If his grandfather’s secret was locked in a map and a set of symbols, why had it been necessary for Stone to come to this place? Couldn’t his grandfather have copied them down as Stone had just done? There had to be more… perhaps something that could only be experienced.
He lay his pencil and notebook aside, closed his eyes, and calmed his thoughts. He reached out beyond the confines of his body, feeling the energy of the space. Something pulsed in the air… something powerful and deadly. The world map seemed to detach from the wall and drift toward him. Despite his closed eyes, he could see it clearly. It encircled him and formed a sphere that slowly rotated around him.
Energy seemed to flow up from within the earth into the pyramids. As Stone watched shadows seemed to encroach from all around, and the pyramids began to glow. It soon became evident that the grid formed by the network of pyramids was keeping the darkness at bay.
His eyes snapped open. He stood, his mind alive with the vision he’d just witnessed. He didn’t fully understand what he had just seen. What was the darkness the pyramids held at bay, and what was his connection to it? He hoped the secret lay in the hieroglyphs. But now, he needed to get back to Trinity and his friends.