THE TEMPLE OF PATHS
“What are you doing?” Mehrak asked. “We have to keep going.”
“Ramaask has gone.”
“The cave paintings were right. He went into the Cataclysm.”
Mehrak frowned. “When?”
“Just now. Hami was there. I felt it happen. Don’t ask me how. I just did.”
“Hami defeated him?”
“You really are a magus then. Esther was always going to bring you here, to end Ramaask’s reign. He wasn’t scared about you leaving Perseopia. He was scared you’d break that seal. It must have protected him in some way.”
Another subterranean explosion shifted the rock under their feet and they stumbled. The earthquake was getting stronger.
“We might not have much time left,” Mehrak said. He pushed Sammy down the tunnel, leaving the broken seal behind. Ancient text spiralled around the circumference of the tunnel, from floor to ceiling and round again. No time to read it. They ran on towards light at the end of the corridor.
The tunnel ended at a small dome-shaped room.
Pale yellow light emanated from a circular pit in the centre, and on the wall, a narrow shelf ran all the way around the room. On the shelf were hundreds of glowing marbles, arranged in single file
in the order that the colours appear in a rainbow; or, as Sammy had learned in science, in light wavelength size. To the left were the violets, then the blues, greens, yellows and oranges, ending with the red balls to the right of the entrance, and they rattled in small divots on the shelf each time the ground shook.
“Is this really the Temple of Paths?” Sammy shouted over the earthquake. “This tiny room?”
“Of course!” Mehrak called back. “These are Arda Viraf’s gems. The pearls of portal paths!”
Sammy picked up a blood red ball and peered into it. Inside were swirling shapes and small faces, crying and pressing up against the surface. She put it back, shivered and wiped her hand on her shirt.
“The fourth picture outside the entrance,” Mehrak shouted. “The girl holding a ball and falling. You’re supposed to pick one of these portal pearls and jump into the pit. That’s what the picture shows.”
Sammy peered into the pit. It was deep. Although she couldn’t tell how deep due to the brightness of the light shining up from the bottom. “Jump in? Are you sure?”
“What else can it mean?”
Another underground explosion rocked the room. Mehrak teetered near the edge of the pit. Sammy grabbed the shelf with one hand and Mehrak with the other. She pulled him back from the brink and he regained his balance.
“What now?” she shouted.
Mehrak stared down into the pit, shaking. “I, er, I suppose you should start with the greens. The gemstone on your bracelet was green, wasn’t it?”
Sammy raced around the pit to the section of green portal pearls and picked one up.
“This one’s the same colour,” she called back.
“It has to be exactly the same. If you pick the wrong one, you could end up anywhere.”
Sammy looked into the pearl. Inside were small sparks flashing in swirling clouds.
Then Sammy realised.
“Esther’s book!” she shouted. “It said, ‘The world of lush greens, fresh air and grass.’ That’s how Esther knew which pearl to pick. The Midnight Emerald that brought me here was green with swaying grass inside. The swaying must be from the fresh air! I need the pearl that matches the one that brought me here!”
Mehrak picked up a couple of portal pearls at random. “You’re right. Each gem has something different going on inside. Check all the greens. Be quick, but don’t rush. You don’t want the wrong one.”
“Do you think I should go back?” Sammy said. “Hami might need me for …”
“Forget about Hami! He used you and you weren’t even the chosen one.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
“What does it matter? Really? You broke the seal! Ramaask got defeated … apparently. You might not have been the one fighting him, but you were still crucial to both those things happening. Does it matter whether you were the real chosen one or not?”
“So you don’t think I should stick around?”
Mehrak took hold of her and stared into her eyes. “You have your life in the Mother World. All the people that care about you are there.”
“All of them?”
“Well, maybe not everyone that cares about you.” Mehrak smiled.
But how much did he really care? It’s not like she was his wife. Or Hami’s chosen one. Sammy ignored the nagging doubt and turned back to the row of portal pearls.
She concentrated on checking each green gem in turn, going as fast as she dared. She even checked the greens that weren’t quite the same shade. Each one had different things going on inside:
strange animals, people, clouds, trees. It was getting harder to hold them still enough to see inside. The vibrations were coming up from the ground, through her body and into her hands. She couldn’t keep the pearls still.
She couldn’t fail now. Not when she was so close.
Only nine green gems left before the turquoise ones began. What if she’d gone past it, dismissing it by accident? What if there were two that looked exactly the same? Or what if it wasn’t here because Esther had already used it? Only five pearls left. Deep breath. Four left. Three.
And reeds. Or grass. Whatever they were, they were in there, swaying in the breeze.
“I’ve got it!”
“Really? It’s the right one?”
Sammy smiled and stepped over to the edge of the pit.
“Mehrak?” she said. “I …”
The rumbling grew to a crescendo, climaxing with a crunch that echoed through the mountain. And everything shifted. The room was tipping.
“The mountain’s falling!” Mehrak screamed as he almost went into the glowing pit again. He crashed into Sammy and they fell, sliding to the side of the room nearest the blue marbles. Red and orange gems fell from the walls. Some dropped into the pit causing red and orange flashes as they disappeared. The rest fell around them.
Sammy gripped the pearl tightly as the room stopped with a jolt. More pearls spilled off the shelf and pooled around them.
The floor came to a rest at a shallow angle, sloping up towards the red pearls. The ones that had disappeared into the pit popped back into existence above the shelf and landed back in their divots. Sammy picked up an orange pearl that she’d been sitting on and threw it into the pit. There was a flash of orange, and then pop, it appeared just above the shelf and landed in its hole.
“Sammy, for Ahura’s sake, just jump into the pit!” Mehrak shouted.
“But I’ll never see you again.”
“And if you stay, you’ll never see your mother again.”
“Come with me,” Sammy said. “Your lamp’s nearly out of oil. The mountain is falling and you can’t get out anyway because of the cave-in and the monster.” Sammy stared into his eyes, his beautiful hazel eyes.
“I can’t.” Mehrak looked away. “Gisouie needs me.”
Sammy couldn’t hold back. She couldn’t leave him, but the rumbling was building again.
“Please come,” she cried.
Tears welled in Mehrak’s eyes. “You were important, Sammy Ellis,” he shouted over the noise. “To Hami. To Perseopia. And to me.” He took her hands and stared into her eyes.
This was the only opportunity she’d get. “Look after Louis,” she said, and kissed him.
He flinched, but didn’t pull away. He relaxed into the kiss and the outside world dissolved around them. Mehrak’s soft lips pressed into hers, exquisite and bittersweet. She wasn’t the chosen one but in that moment she didn’t care. She was as important as she needed to be.
She let go, winked, and then stepped backwards into the pit.
She gripped the pearl as she embraced the weightlessness of freefall.
Then everything exploded into green and white light.