Time seemed to drag on, but, finally, Razor felt the plane begin to descend but hit turbulence again, which made Clarissa squeak with fright. He reached over and grasped her paw and held it gently. She gave him a nervous smile of appreciation. He smiled back then returned his view to the outside and watched the boiling black clouds surrounding them with concern. He’d flown in weather like this and didn’t enjoy it even when he was the one piloting. But, it was so much worse being a passenger.
Peering through the plane window, Razor couldn’t see where Davon could possibly be trying to land at. No smooth ground was visible, only mountains and snow. The ride grew even bouncier and, at one point, bounced so hard heads hit the ceiling despite their seat belts.
“Ouch! That hurt!” the small SWAT Kat hissed. “Hope we get where we’re going before we shake apart.”
“Oh, perish the thought,” Clarissa gasped, still gripping his paw, her voice tight.
That’s when the Cessna suddenly lost altitude, making Razor’s stomach lurch. A not pleasant sensation, and, by the many groans, it wasn’t anyone else’s either. But, finally, they hit clear air, and things went quiet rather abruptly.
Peering out the window, Razor, to his stunned amazement, realized they were flying along inside a huge cave. The Cessna was completely dwarfed by the size of the interior.
He gave a low whistle. “It’s immense in here.”
Clarissa nodded and gave a huge sigh of relief. “Isn’t it? And, I’m so very glad we’ve finally arrived inside, away from that awful storm.”
“So, your special place is inside a mountain?”
“Uh huh. But, we’re not quite there yet. Just wait until you see our sacred place for yourself.” Her voice was hushed with excitement, and she squeezed his paw even tighter.
Razor stared at huge stalactites that the plane passed with plenty of room to spare. They were as big as a truck, which told him this place was very old. What was more unusual though was the fact the interior of this cave was brightly lit instead of being dark. From his angle, he was unable to see what caused it. He could only observe that the light glowed from above somewhere, like a miniature sun. It was fascinating.
To emphasize the incredible depth of the space, it took them another thirty minutes of straight flying before Razor felt them begin a descent. Ahead, he could just make out a ledge the size and length of two football fields. This was where Davon was apparently making a landing. Since the Cessna didn’t have hover capabilities like the Turbokat, it needed enough distance to land and take off, which this ledge seemed to offer in spades.
It took only a few minutes more before Davon was landing, smooth as silk, onto the rock landing field then rolling along until he halted the plane within another natural cave.
Wow! A cave within a cave. What an amazing place, Razor thought, as the plane came to a gentle stop.
He was ever so glad when the door was opened and they could deplane. He looked around but saw nothing more than what he’d seen flying in.
Suddenly, Clarissa slipped her arm through his and began to escort him deeper into the cave. This one was smaller, maybe fifty feet to the ceiling and about thirty feet wide. The small group, including the pilot, walked toward a brighter light ahead.
When they reached it, Razor stopped moving and just gaped. Clarissa giggled and stopped with to allow him to take in the incredible sight. Here within the cave within a cave was a veritable jungle. The space was huge, but just how big it was Razor couldn’t tell due to all the vegetation. High overhead, sunlight shone down, though how that was possible when it was storming outside he hadn’t a clue yet.
“Glorious, isn’t?” Clarissa said.
“I can agree with that, but where are we? What is this place, and how can there be a sun when it’s nasty outside?” Razor asked a litany of questions with more pressing on him by the minute.
The group laughed gently around him.
“Come, my friend,” Byron said as he began to move forward. “You’ll have your answers soon enough.”
Razor stumbled forward, tripping over the vegetation until he realized there was an actual footpath made of smooth slate that the others were walking on. His face flamed under his cinnamon fur at his clumsiness … he who was normally very graceful and light of foot. But, he could be forgiven as the place simply overwhelmed him.
He kept trying to see everything all at once, making him look rather like an owl. He heard and saw birds with colorful plumage fly above and through the canopy as well as heard and caught sight of small mammals scurry within the underbrush. It was like a piece of one of those jungles in the southern hemisphere of the planet had been transplanted right here. And the temperature! How could it be so warm … warm enough to allow all of this greenery to be so plentiful and thick. Was that a waterfall he was hearing in the distance?
As the group wended its way through the jungle-like environment, the sound of water grew louder and louder until they came out near a lagoon with an honest to God waterfall some fifty feet in the air, falling down a natural rock wall. It was just mind-boggling.
The group escorting him allowed Razor to just gawp for a few minutes before urging him on again.
They wound their way around the edge of the lagoon, heading for a high rock wall. Just outside this area was more jungle that looked a bit different than the rest.
It was here Juno paused to show him something unique to this place. “Look closely, Razor, what do you see?”
Frowning, Razor stared hard at the vegetation and gradually realized what made it so different from the rest. It was a garden, one that had been allowed to run wild. He could just make out a few fruit trees he recognized and towering stalks of corn with meandering squashes at their feet but could make out little else. “It’s a garden.”
“Very good. You see each generation of Servants to Ceridwen …” (which was what Byron called themselves Razor had been told on the trip here), “… planted food crops they knew well and allowed them to grow unchecked or managed by anyone. This meant the jungle and garden would commingle and make new combinations of those plants. Many a strange and delightful edible food has been discovered and enjoyed, as well as new herbs to flavor the food. Additionally, new medicines have been made from these mutations. The advantage to such a farming method is a constantly evolving food and medical source. And, an extra benefit is the exercise it takes to have to search and explore the garden to even find them. For those among us who enjoy the art of gardening it is a veritable treasure trove, which they lovingly catalog in journals kept within the temple library. In this way, generations benefit from all the new combinations discovered,” Juno explained.
“That’s incredible and really cool,” Razor acknowledged. Looking around him, he added, “This is an amazing place alright.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Davon smirked. “Come on and see the temple.” He led the way toward yet another cave entry. This was more like a tunnel through the rock than a true cave and was only about seven feet in height and about six wide, so everyone had to go two by two or single file. At the end of this was a room.
That was the only way Razor could describe it because it had four walls and a ceiling, albeit a ceiling that was some fifty feet or more above them, a floor made of closely laid, gray slate, and covered with thick rugs that had images of the servants working with the Goddess in brilliant threads. The walls of the space had been carved out of solid rock and decorated with tapestries that softened the harshness of it. There were comfortable seating of handmade furniture with thick cushions placed about the area facing a huge statue as well as dozens of floor pillows. A variety of potted plants were added to give the space warmth and a living presence. A huge fireplace graced the wall on the right, a roaring fire within it … though, when he looked closer, he realized it was a fake, but heat did emanate from within, keeping the space a pleasant temperature.
How cool was that? The more he saw, the more the place intrigued him. It didn’t look like the audience chamber of a deity at all, and Razor figured that was the point. From what he’d been told, Ceridwen was supposed to be treated as just a distant member of this planet’s magical family. A viewpoint he liked and accepted more easily than the alternative.
He saved the centerpiece of the room for last. Against a wall facing the door was a large statue that stood on a huge, decorated pedestal. The statue was some eight feet tall and was of a creature that looked something like a skinned Kat but possessing no whiskers or pointed ears. And, it had wings. Clearly female, she was beautiful in a strange alien way.
Made of some kind of warm colored stone of yellow hue, she was dressed in a kind of sarong garment, painted lavender, that left her breasts and belly naked but covered her to her lower thighs before splitting and revealing long, slim legs with no appearance of fur anywhere in its sculpted curves. The feet were bare and bore no claws but did have five toes. For that matter, neither did her paws, which held a tablet of some kind and also possessed five digits on each paw. Her oddly smooth, oval face held a gentle expression of benevolence, thick lips curving in a warm and welcoming smile. Round shaped eyes with round pupils had been painted a vivid blue and was a complete departure from a Kat’s slitted ones. Her ears lay flat against her head, which was crowned with a flow of hair that fell in curls past her shoulders and was painted in a red-copper hue. She wore no jewelry or other adornment. Her wings, colored white, were spread and soared above her head, the bottom feathers stopping just above her ankles.
Razor studied the creature for some minutes. There was no telling what species she was, but it definitely wasn’t Kat. This then must be Ceridwen, the Goddess who had set the course for their race all those centuries ago. He shook his head. “That’s beautiful workmanship, and she’s an amazing looking creature alright. Really alien looking though. I take it that’s Ceridwen?”
“Yes, isn’t she magnificent?” Clarissa said, admiring the statue as she did every time she came here.
“Oh, she’s that alright. Must have been an amazing person to have set all this up,” he agreed. “So, now that we’re here at last, what’s next?”
Byron burst into laughter while the others blinked in surprise by Razor’s rather blasé response to all he’d seen. “Now, why am I not surprised by that?” he managed when he could control himself again.
Moving to Razor’s side, he laid a paw on the young tom’s shoulder. “What’s next? We eat, rest, get settled as we will be here for a few days, then you will greet our Goddess. Come along.” With that, he led Razor toward a doorway that opened into a long hallway on the left of the audience chamber.
It too had been carved from the rock. Mounted on the walls between the doors of many rooms lining the hall were paintings done, apparently, by some of the more talented members of the magical group and framed in some soft wood most likely harvested from the jungle outside. Each frame bore intricate designs on them.
During the tour of the hall, he could see just how big this place truly was. There were no less than twenty rooms carved in the mountain with the same care as the hall and entry chamber and each had their own purpose. At least fifteen of the rooms were sleeping quarters and each was outfitted with: a comfortable bed, dresser, an actual closet with rod and hangars, rugs, tapestries on the walls, a lantern on a nightstand for light and a single chair.
The last five rooms were divided up for public use. The nearest one was a well appointed kitchen with wood stove, sink, cupboards, and huge dining room table with chairs. Off of it was a supply room, the walls covered in shelves mostly with one wall outfitted with two, huge wooden cupboards. Another room held a beautifully appointed library filled with shelves that held thousands of books. The floor was covered with thick carpets to deaden sound and plenty of chairs dotted the space, a few at tables for studying and in the corner a large oak desk. A surprise was the impressively well equipped medical bay. The space was divided up into a couple of treatment rooms, a lab, surgery, and a supply bay that held oxygen bottles, medicines, medical tools, and even a mini-x ray machine (though how they powered it, he couldn’t tell yet). And, the last space was obviously a meeting room. A huge world map filled one wall and blank screens were mounted on the rest of the walls. A large conference table sat in the center. Byron called this the strategy room. These last few rooms had been located right outside the audience chamber, which made perfect sense. There was no sign of any form of security system, but considering how remote they were and the fact they used magic, why should there be?
What surprised him most was the lack of light fixtures anywhere. Light seemed to simply ooze from the ceiling in some way, except for the bedrooms, which used lanterns. He was itching to discover how that was possible but that would have to wait for later as Byron deflected any and all questions. He guessed it would have to wait until he was officially initiated.
The last stop was the central privy used by all and located at the end of the hall. This was divided with the privy to the left and the bathing rooms to the right. It was set up really nice with honest to goodness private toilets that were made of rock but had some kind of soft material that made the seat comfortable to use. There was even a lid to keep the smell from coming back up, though, since the waste material went down into the bowels of the earth, there wasn’t much of a scent. In the bath, there were huge pools of bubbling warm water that came from hot springs below the ground. The water circulated, but he couldn’t determine how.
Drinking water was provided by a small diversion system that used the waterfall as its origin then poured into a central fountain between the privy and bathing room. It was waist high and had a two foot ledge around it. A lovely ewer made of silver stood on the wide ledge accompanied by several simple but well made wooden cups. The water poured through a simple pipe affair and disappeared through a hole in the bottom of the fountain. The kitchen had a simple faucet affair that shouldn’t have been able to work, but, when he made a point to look under it, he could see Ceridwen had found a way to harness the power of the falls to shunt it toward this small outlet for ease of use during cooking. Whether she had used magic or had done it herself, he couldn’t tell, but it was ingenious and worked well.
Overall, the work done here was amazing and, according to Byron, was done at the time of the Goddess’ arrival. Razor could only shake his head. The place was so tidy and well preserved it didn’t have the look or feel of a place as old as the beginning of Kat history. That more than anything told him just how advanced her species had been. And, why she would seem like a Goddess. But, he knew that was simply because her species was so advanced that their technology would seem like magic. Knowing this, he could easily admire and respect the skills and craftsmanship it took for her species to set all this up and have it last as long as it had. In addition, he liked the feeling it exuded of family and warmth, which he had a suspicion was Ceridwen’s intention.
When show and tell was over, he’d been told to ‘just pick a room’ as no one stayed there all the time to have a specific room. It was sort of like living in a hotel, he mused. However, unlike a hotel, no one came out here very often, which confused him.
“You mean there isn’t staff that remains or a regular pilgrimage?” he asked Byron when they were sitting down to a simple meal of sandwiches and fruit.
“We told you. Ceridwen refused to be worshiped and insisted her servants not treat her as a Goddess, though that is how we think of her. But, we have honored her wishes and only come here a few times a year, no more. And, we only do that to insure there are no messages from her statue or rumblings from Aristal we need to be attentive to. After the meal, I will show you the strategy room more closely. It holds the true workings of her temple.”
Razor’s eyebrows raised. “You make it sound like some kind of situation room or something.”
“It is,” Byron smiled.
“Now you have me very curious.”
Everyone chuckled at that. Lunch was pleasant, and they answered most of his questions about the temple and surrounding area. Razor already knew the place was warmed by an extinct volcano below them. It kept the place a comfortable seventy-two degrees year round. The water was cold and delicious without the impurities found in the city water.
The light source he’d noted had been set in place by Ceridwen. It really did act as a miniature sun, but no Kat had ever gone up to investigate what it was or looked like, just accepted it would provide light and heat for eternity.
As he took a healthy bite of his sandwich, Razor mulled over that attitude and felt it wasn’t exactly a very sensible one. If this ‘sun’ failed for whatever reason, the plants and wildlife within the cave would die and so would this sanctuary. The temple could stay warm from the volcano and the water wouldn’t stop flowing (maybe), but there would be no garden for food without natural light. So, why take the chance and wait for that to happen? As a matter of fact, no one down the centuries had even mapped the entire cavern. Razor thought that woefully short sighted. That was the wrong attitude to take and, if there was time, he would be willing to scale the walls and see what was actually doing the work. However, he was fairly certain he would be too busy to do any exploring this time around, but, perhaps after this war was over, he would return to do just that.
“You know, Byron, all parts of this sanctuary and temple should be mapped thoroughly so that every aspect of it is known to all just in case some part of it failed for any reason.”
“That may be true, Razor, but there have been none with the skills or knowledge to understand what they might find, hence no reason to go looking. However, …” he paused to eye the young tom speculatively, “… maybe it is about time that is done since we now have a techno-mage who might have what is needed to investigate those questions and gain us some needed answers.”
“Oh, hence the reason I’m needed,” Razor snorted and rolled his eyes.
Byron smiled but shook his head. “No, you were chosen because you possess a magical core and true to the laws handed down from Ceridwen, you have reached the age to be indoctrinated and brought into her fold of planet caretakers.”
“Lucky me,” Razor muttered, not that overjoyed.
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