Chapter 50: Passage to Purgatory
Hundreds of abandoned vessels crowded the Bay in the Port of Aurora. The eclectic collection of boats had outgrown the harbour, and the flotilla stretched out beyond the Bay, bobbing without restraint on the choppy Seas of Dawn. Every conceivable craft could be seen, from a child’s tiny red canoe, which bumped the harbour wall with each swell of water, to huge, four-mast sailing ships, their tall spars pointing skywards like bony black fingers.
The red dragon soared over the orange tipped, billowing sails and boardwalks rimming the docks. The little pukis trailed along behind, silhouetted against the sky as the sun rose from the sea behind them. The town appeared deserted.
“Any idea how far North the caves are?” Rose said, squinting towards the distant cliffs. “Hold on, look there, the third inlet along.”
The cliffs undulated, having been shaped by the easterly winds, rough winter seas and flooding spring tides that pounded the cliff face, eating away at the rock.
The sunlight outlined the escarpment with slivers of gold. The cliffs had been formed into a series of promontories and between the third and fourth peninsula, at its base, was a dark semi-circular hole - the entrance to a cave.
“I see it,” said El-on-ah.
Rose could barely hear El-on-ah above the roar of the wind and the waves. The sea spray soaked Rose’s face as she leant forward onto the neck of the great dragon and pointed towards the cavern. The great red beast banked to the left. Their speed increased as they headed towards the caves. Rose’s heart caught in her throat as she slid forwards. Quickly she restored her grip on the animal’s neck.
They landed smoothly on a rocky beach just below the entrance to the cave. Ro-eh-na quickly transfigured, and the three Ascendants illuminated their potens rings before heading inside.
“Look,” Ro-eh-na’s voice was hushed, the way you speak when you enter a holy building. “the rocks here have been worn down. It has to be the passageway.”
“I agree,” Rose stretched her ringed hand out before her.
The stone walls ahead bore the marks where axes had bitten into the rock as the tunnel builders had worked to form the long, arched-roofed passageway.
“The question,” said Rose “is where will it lead us - Aurora is how far from Aureus?”
“If the tunnel is straight, it should take us between one and two hours.” Said El-on-ah
“Then we should have enough time,” Rose let out a sigh of relief. “Let’s just hope that it comes up somewhere where we will not be seen.”
“I suspect the chances of that are good,” said El-on-ah, “If it were that obvious surely some of the more adventurous novices would have found the tunnel long ago. Puk - you go ahead and see if you can locate the exit.”
The little dragon chattered happily as it took to the wing, fluttering through the passageway like an overgrown bat.
The tunnel narrowed as the three Ascendants moved deeper and deeper into the mountain. Soon the floor became wet and uneven a mix of wet sand, and slippery, slime-covered rock. Ro-eh-na stumbled. Instinctively El-on-ah reached out, stemming Ro-eh-na’s fall and preventing her skull from slamming into a jagged piece of rock jutting out from the wall of the cavern.
“Thank you,” Ro-eh-na’s words were spoken through clenched teeth.
“Maybe you should transfigure,” said El-on-ah,”you would make better time.”
“Why not just say it.” Said Ro-eh-na, “I’m holding you up.”
“You’re not holding us up,” said Rose, shooting El-on-ah a withering look, “we have plenty of time.”
“No, we do not,” said El-on-ah, “even if the passageway is clear and straight - what if it is blocked?”
“If I transfigure,” Ro-eh-na’s jaw tightened, “I will be unable to use my potens ring. What if we are attacked? Surely we all need to be capable of using our magic.”
“Then, don’t be so pig-headed,” El-on-ah offered her arm to Ro-eh-na, “let me help you, I promise I’ll not bite.”
Puk fluttered towards them excitedly, his tiny wings flapping like an agitated hummingbird. The small dragon let out a series of shrill whistles and clicks.
“He’s found the exit,” said El-on-ah, “it’s just up ahead.”
The tunnel exit was secured by a large round stone.
“It’s a screwstone, similar to the stone at Tollen’s gate. I have studied the magic and mechanism well,” said El-on-ah examining the base and rim of the rock. “I can open it, but ideally we need to know where it opens into before I do that.”
Rose ran her fingers around the rim of the circular stone, which was plugged into the opening like a cork in a bottle. Sliding her fingertips into the ridges on the outside of the screwstone she traced their path. The grooves spiralled upwards, from the base of the stone until they disappeared inside the rock in which the stone was embedded.
Moving closer she blew the fine sand and dust from the groove, revealing a deep, spiralling, gouge in the stone, winding upwards through the rock.
“Ro-eh-na…” Rose motioned to the narrow channel, “Do you think a tiny insect could work its way through here?”
“I’ve not transfigured into anything smaller than an apis before,” Ro-eh-na drew her bottom lip into her mouth, “but I’ll give it a try.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Ro-eh-na’s body began to glow and shift, its form becoming hazy and indistinct as each atom was rearranged. Within a few seconds, she had transformed into a tiny mosquito. The insect flew into the groove at the top of the screwstone, quickly disappearing inside the opening.
A minute later she had returned, reforming the instant she re-entered the tunnel.
“The stone opens into the Ascension Chamber inside the Basilica. The screwstone forms the chamber’s central plinth. The good news is, it appears to be deserted at the moment, so if we are going to go…”
“Of course, that makes sense,” Rose said, remembering her Cognito lesson on the History of Aurum, “The Basilica is one of the oldest and least used buildings in Aurum. It couldn’t be more perfect. El-on-ah, can you open it?”
El-on-ah arched her right hand, aligning it with the top of the screwstone.
“adfliget faciem,” El-on-ah’s ring burst forth a shower of ruby sparks, which struck the top of the screwstone. Instantly, the stone began to turn, twisting downwards it opened out into five spiral steps, leading upwards, into a circular opening in the roof of the tunnel.
“I should go first,” said El-on-ah.
Rose was about to argue, but Ro-eh-na placed a hand on her arm.
“El-on-ah is right Rose,” she said, “we cannot afford to risk you. Remember what you said - this war can be decided only by you and Lord Ka, if you die, we all lose.”
Rose arched her brows. Who would have thought these two would be ganging up on me? “difficult for me to argue with my own words,” Rose said, waving her arm towards El-on-ah, “lead on.”
The basilica was deserted. The room had lost none of its grandeur. It had been almost a year since Rose had Ascended into this world. She recalled how afraid and bewildered she’d been, and yet even then, Rose had felt an odd sense of belonging.
The silence was broken by the seemingly distant hum of voices coming from the courtyard between the Basilica and the Oratory. Then, rising from that muffled buzz, came the unmistakable sound of a cheering crowd
“Ro-eh-na,” said Rose, gazing up at the elaborately painted domed ceiling, “I need you to find out where Ash and Lord Ka are.”
“No problem,” Before the words had left Ro-eh-na’s lips, her body transformed once more into a tiny buzzing insect.