After escaping Venus’ prison and breaking through the labyrinth, Elasaid meets a rather unexpected guide on her journey to Mercury’s Tower.
The Unicorn stood without Cameron underneath the towering spherical cauldron. In the giddying heights, a three–headed eagle spewed white liquid over the cauldron’s edge.
At each side of the industrial monolith, the carved feet of the Cushitic statues met the purple hazed mountains; their waists reached the top of the cauldron, and even higher their arms held two enormous spheres. Floating flames skimmed the rising fumes belching from the cauldron many hands above. A few lost souls climbed the side of the cauldron. Underneath, Elasaid caught her breath by the bare gnarled branches of a withering cedar tree.
Hamish stared in awe at the towering cauldron; its heat searing the trunks of the cedar wood until the barks flickered with a combustible glow. Hamish looked back at Elasaid.
‘We made it. The Chamber of Life,’ said Hamish.
‘Where’s Campbell?’ asked Elasaid. ‘We need to find my brother.’
‘You have the azoth,’ muttered Hamish, ‘he has the book. He’s fine. Stealth must be our watchword through these parts. Only those whose time has come may pass under the cauldron of the Philosopher’s Sea. It gets fired up when the Alchemists trigger the beginning of something. Hold the four powers safe. Many spies lurk amongst this industrial wasteland when souls congregate at the first sign the Alchemists are starting the putrefaction. Can’t remember the last time.’
‘Why do they congregate?’ asked Elasaid.
‘So they can escape the chambers. These poor fools believe the cauldron will lead them directly to the Sun and Moon Chambers. There’s no shortcut. They’ll perish,’ explained Hamish.
‘How can they perish? They’re immortal. Aren’t they?’ asked Elasaid.
Hamish ignored the question. ‘Up there, in the hands of the Cushitic people are the chambers of the Sun and Moon but the only passage to the chambers is by Mercury’s Tower. Not by climbing this beastly structure. See the stages.’ He pointed to the enormous structure underneath the flames and smoke. ‘There’s the Red and Green Lion at the early part.’
The flames at the top were already beginning to form the phoenix, waving in and out from the belching fire, riven from its ashes. At the base, a four–headed dragon unleashed the First Operation fires above, which Mercury held a green lion and dragon on a leash.
‘The Green Lion,’ gasped Elasaid.
‘It’s an illusion,’ said the Fallen Angel, ‘no more real than Mercury.’
A red lion took the next level, underneath a sea, where a raven’s head poked above a surface deluged with silver rain. Between the sun and moon spheres, a swan discharged a milky liquid into a mercurial fluid.
‘Is that Swan? Is that our swan?’ asked Elasaid.
‘Mmm, no,’ answered Hamish. ‘Some beasts are bewitched by the Alchemists. They’ve sold themselves. This is not our guide.’
Beneath the emerging phoenix, a King and Queen looked upon the cauldron’s chemistry; the King with a red lily and the Queen with a white one.
‘This is some weird stuff,’ said Elasaid, then realised something was missing. ‘Where’s the book? Where’s the opus?’
‘Your brother took it,’ glibly responded Hamish.
‘You don’t care about my brother, do you? The Green Lion was right.’
Only in the tapestry of the firmament under the cloak of concealment did Elasaid experience sudden clarity. Forces swept past her like the wind, catching her breath, buffeting her between the haberdashery and blacksmith in the tapestry. Messages from the firmament filtered through that this man was not to be trusted. Elasaid rose. With a heckled spine animating her arm, she slowly and quietly undid her belt, and with a single move lashed it around Hamish’s neck.
‘Get him back,’ she shouted.
Hamish choked. She turned on him with a bitten fury till the leather cut his neck and the unicorn fled into the purple-haze mountain past the Fallen Angel running through the cedar wood.
‘No, no, no, this will not do,’ said the Fallen Angel. ‘Not in the Chamber of Life.’
‘This is not your fight.’ Elasaid relaxed the grip. ‘I know you’ve been following us since the Chamber of Descent.’
‘Not my fight, she tells me. Begone,’ hissed the Fallen Angel, ‘with all that anger. If you murder in here, of all places, the wrath of the planets will destroy everything.’
Elasaid collapsed to the scorched ground under Hamish’s gasping breath. She looked up at the Fallen Angel. ‘He left Cameron.’
‘No time for that now. We have to move. Venus is creating all hell with the Alchemists after they let fast and loose with the labyrinth’s destruction.’
‘We have to look for my brother,’ insisted Elasaid.
‘We need to pass under the cauldron,’ replied Hamish.
The crumbled labyrinth sent destructors wisps into the smoky air. With four chambers passed and the hard labour behind, they’d lost Cameron in the industrial wasteland extending from the metallic reach of Venus’ jail. The fiery sparks from the cauldron made flesh, blood and bone cower against the slavish feeding of the Sun and Moon’s desires. Earth and metal, fire and sparks, beat the ore taken hostage from the earth into a molten fluid. The beasts moved coal into tunnels bored underneath the cast bronze statues smelted over the rock. Tremors vibrated their legs as coal dust settled on their tongue. The Fallen Angel stood overwhelmed against the frenetic construction and destruction of the alchemical process.
‘This is the dark side,’ said Hamish.
Elasaid thought of Sophia. The earth mother who lashed them in the Green Lion’s chamber. No sign of elm, oak or ash or any wood here, past the cedar wood. Only the mines.
The Swan waddled out from the rubble of the labyrinth. ‘Ah, our guide at last,’ Hamish sarcastically announced.
The Swan ignored him and spoke as if picking up the protracted bass tones of a royal park zoo attendant. ‘Past this cauldron runs the foundation of Mercury’s Tower. We must climb the tower, not the cauldron like these fools.’ The Swan pointed a wing at the lost souls climbing the Alchemists’ monolith.
‘Told you,’ said Hamish.
‘Mercury’s Tower is many leagues away. No one has cracked the code leading to the highest turret of the Tower where one staircase spirals to the four halls. What we will find is daunting. Watch your stomach. Energy flows but it’ll eat your insides in Mercury’s domain. As you approach Mercury’s Tower, you’ll see the path. Sharpen your wits. Stay awake.’
‘What does staying awake mean down here?’ asked Hamish.
‘As I walk…’ continued the Swan.
‘Waddle,’ responded the Fallen Angel.
‘Idiot,’ spat out the Swan. ‘Don’t rile me with your nonsense. Listen. There is another path. Very inviting. Don’t be fooled – it leads to the Ancestors. You don’t want to awaken them. When you get to Mercury’s Tower, there are two circular stairs. One ascends to the halls and the other descends. Take the wrong stair at your peril since it falls into oblivion.’
‘Can’t be much worse than here,’ said Elasaid.
The Swan looked directly at Hamish. ‘Lost souls cannot pass under the cauldron. This is where we part. The chambers have their protections. Your presence as a lost soul will draw too much unwanted attention.’
Unusually, Hamish did not protest. He cast his mind back to London in the 1400s and the White Tower, where he was imprisoned with his friend, Leons of London; the creator of the great astrological manuscript of myth and reality.
His neck strained again at the great height marked by the cauldron’s basin. One great myth of illusion created by Mercury, that this Alchemists’ cauldron was the way to the Sun and Moon Chambers to meet the Rising Phoenix. The only way was by Mercury’s Tower. Leons of London notoriously pulled this truth out of the establishment, but he ended in the White Tower for his audacity. With Hamish’s assistance, he forced Mercury to change trajectory, by a ritual worked in the White Tower, that crossed to Mercury’s Tower in the chambers.
Strange lights flashed over London and the distant farmlands as Leons, dressed in strange robes secreted to him by his jailors, passed his confined hand into the hidden worlds.
‘You’re quiet,’ said Elasaid, ‘makes me nervous.’
‘Save your nerves for later,’ said the Swan, ‘there is nought we can use them for in here.’
‘What freaked the unicorn?’ asked Elasaid in a desperate bid to bring the conversation back to important matters, ‘Cameron climbed on its back and now he’s gone. We’re not leaving my brother.’
A ram pushed a wheelbarrow across their path then dropped it unceremoniously adjacent. ‘That’s it for today,’ exclaimed the Ram. ‘Those Alchemists are firing up something and I’m on double time. They’ll run out of ore at this rate.’
The Ram observed the Fallen Angel, Hamish, Elasaid and the Swan for the first time. ‘My,’ he exclaimed, ‘what a diverse group. You’re not part of the work crew.’
‘We seek Mercury’s Tower,’ explained Elasaid.
‘Quite a rum group that needs passage under the great cauldron of the Philosopher’s Sea to Mercury’s Tower. Do you have the right permits?’ asked the Ram.
The Swan nodded.
‘Strange experiments and strange folk inhabit these parts these days,’ continued the goat. ‘Alchemists are charlatans, for the most part, and now they desire to inhabit our bodies with an obnoxious elixir. You’re not Alchemists, are ye?’ asked the Ram.
‘Good man,’ countered the Swan, ‘we are not of that tribe. Do you know of the passage under the cauldron to Mercury’s Tower?’
The Ram contemplated this, over the payload of ore, for some considerable time. Furnace light radiated over the poker-faced interrogator. Behind the party, the labyrinth walls collapsed periodically, lost in impact under the drumming noise of industrial activity from the cauldron. Still, the Ram felt the need to draw its attention.
‘What say you about your past?’ the Ram asked while pointing a hoof at the labyrinth. ‘That crumbling behind you. Not that I care too much. This is no-beast land. The boundary between Venus and Mercury. I own no allegiance.’ He became furtive. Looked around. ‘Are you spies? You have the look of spies. None of you are workers. And I’ve never seen the likes of a bird slumming it with the filth. Why do birds mix with lost souls? Or angels. The birds on the other side of the cauldron, see, near the tower, they don’t mix with angels or lost souls.’ The Ram skipped a glance at Elasaid. ‘Is she human? Strange things down here I tell ye. That is the last wood for many leagues till Mercury’s Tower. No fungal network here. No spying for the trees. And you have a bird. Don’t make sense. Strange times.’
A shrill whistle distracted the Ram. ‘My, on my mother’s hooves, look what you’ve done. Distracting me like that. They’ll need this ore for the next stage. You’ll not get past the cauldron. Not with a lost soul. Best go back.’
More flames breached the cauldron. ‘Oh my,’ continued the Ram, ‘I cannot help,’ and he trotted into the inner environs beneath the Cushitic statue’s cast bronze feet.
‘Beast,’ tutted the Swan.
‘Not much of a guide, are you?’ muttered Hamish.
‘The Fallen Angel knows a way, don’t you?’ Swan asked, pecking at the Fallen Angel’s scorched wings.
After some reflection, the Fallen Angel spoke. ‘I saw the master prepare robes for the ceremony. He’s under the cauldron. Soon the doors to Mercury’s Tower will be closed until the next putrefaction. The Rising Phoenix is nearly formed – look. If we do not move soon the past will not be overcome.’
‘The master? Leons is here?’ asked Hamish. ‘You saw him under the cauldron?’
‘You know Leons?’ asked the Swan.
Elasaid thought back to the cosmological model in the Green Lion’s chamber. Was that what the Green Lion meant? If the model of the cosmos stopped; she’d be stuck for a lifetime in the chambers and the gates to Mercury’s Tower would be shut. What of Cameron? He carried the book. At least if he found the right text, he could open a portal. That was his exit, but her only chance was a journey to the Sun Chamber. The unpassable purple hazed mountains surrounding the vast labyrinth crumbled behind them, offering no retreat to Saturn’s Chamber where the Green Lion and Sacred Ibis sent her on this impossible trek.
She missed the labyrinth’s Minotaur. He’d defied Venus to enable their escape. A true friend. Not as harsh as Swan. How was this party going to make it to the tower; a lost soul, fallen angel, a bird and a mortal; too ill-fitted to find the tower, never mind the Sun’s Chamber. Why couldn’t they have a beast at the party instead of a bird? Maybe that’s why the Ram sped off so quickly.
‘We need to move,’ said Elasaid.
‘You’ve changed. That’s what I have been saying,’ grumbled Hamish.
‘If you know Leons, you’d better come too,’ said the Swan. ‘He’ll need some convincing to help us.’
Hamish looked upon Elasaid with tenderness. ‘The Alchemists decided I should wander the passages and chambers of the underworld for an eternity. Venus wanted me eradicated. Leons knows how to get to the tower. This is my chance and yours.’
‘Don’t push it,’ said Elasaid, and give me back my belt.’
Hamish unwrapped the belt from his neck and bowed. ‘My pleasure.’
‘Creep,’ she said,’ and set off for the nearest tunnel under the Cushitic statue’s feet where the Ram had taken its wheelbarrow.
If you enjoyed reading this, then download The Seven Chambers game and continue your journey.