Chapter Thirteen: Artifact
She was jolted awake, startled rudely from her reverie by the recollection of the chase through the jungle the night before. She remembered now where she was and what she had done, and gazed again upon the curious violet artifact which she had rescued from the ruinous structure in which it had been housed. The talisman was approximately three inches in diameter, with the central cavity representing roughly a third of that. It had a crystalline structure, its exterior bearing a number of bevels and facets. It was translucent but not transparent, as there were what appeared to be flaws in the deep interior, indistinct lines or crevices that could not be clearly perceived; thin but not flat, perhaps half an inch in height.
Her desultory inspection was interrupted by a single swift, brilliant beam that blazed precipitately from the deep inner reaches of the mysterious gemlike artifact, catching her eye and arousing her unalloyed curiosity. She crawled slowly closer, casting her eyes gravely over the glimmering planes and angles of the unfathomable object. There were numerous unusual features to be observed and she spent a long time sniffing at and eyeing them, although she hadn't the faintest notion what possible meaning any of them might convey.
The property that most intensely commanded her scrutiny was the series of minute pores ringing the inner surface of the torus. She could discern infinitesimal filaments inside the tiny pores, looking for the world like worried worms peering from their watery holes. She stretched a paw tentatively toward the ring of pores, but rapidly jerked it away when she began to feel a thrumming vibration in the air above the object, as if the very atmosphere had become solidified, moving gently against her paw. It was not an unpleasant sensation, and she had felt an identical vibration when she had previously touched the inner surface of the talisman, but for the moment she remained chary and mistrustful of the artifact. She backed quickly away and hunkered down again, pensively regarding the cryptic thing. Shecould not understand why she felt such an attraction to the thing, nor what had impelled her to possess it.
Bit by bit, she became aware of a vibration, a subliminal humming that penetrated deep into her mind and soothed her troubled thoughts. A feeling of bliss washed over her, and once again she crept sluggishly toward the captivating talisman. Vague, nebulous pictures began to form in her brain, indistinct moving objects and hazy, unknowable surroundings. The only form that gradually resolved itself into a sharp image was that of a creature not unlike herself, except that its fur was entirely white and its eyes were of a deep garnet color. Other furred forms moved fuzzily in the background against a misty backdrop of what appeared to be a series of shiny, vertical sticks. The clearly delineated mouse, for she could now make out that that was what it was, peered at her with a solemn and placid expression. It twiddled its whiskers at her, and a glint of what might have been humor shone from its ruby eyes. As she crouched, unmoving, watchful, she felt a sort of stirring in the nether region of her brain, a sensation similar to that which, had she had experience of such, might have resembled water in a pot set to boil, bubbles slowly forming and rising singly to the surface. A notion gradually insinuated itself into her mind that embodied a single, simple concept: wait.
The vision of the plump, pale, crimson-eyed mouse began to fade, as cirrus clouds wisp away on a windy summer day. At length the apparition, and the tenebrous oscillation gently electrifying the air, had fully dissipated, leaving her benighted and bemused. What had just occurred to the muddled little mouse in the last few minutes she had no idea, but she was almost sorry that the exceptional experience had ended so quickly. She shook herself all over, as if unburdening herself of a drenching quantity of water, trying desperately to throw off the remnants of eldritch unreality that clung to her whirling wits. Returning to a rough approximation of her previously placid self, she conceived a renewed determination to hold onto the mysterious artifact, and to plumb the perplexing puzzles that it proffered to her newly enhanced analytical processes.
Peering from her leafy covert, she checked for any signs of impending danger in the immediate vicinity of the mounded pile of leaves. Perceiving nothing threatening, she emerged warily and thoroughly reconnoitered the forest for as far as she could see. High above, where the clearing lay open to the sky, she could see the riotous colors of the sunset; crimson, lemon, lavender, like runnels of paint spilling across an inverted canvas. Enchanting emerald droplets spattered the glorious creation as a raucous, screaming flock of parrots soared swiftly overhead. The interlaced, topmost limbs of the staid sylvan sentinels were gilded with a molten overlay poured from the crucible of the dying daystar. Below, beneath the coruscating canopy, satiny, shimmering twilight started to spread like smoke sliding silently along the ground.
The towering trunks of the liana-laden trees extended into the misty distance like staunch columns of stone swathed with tatters of mossy, mouldering fabric, upholding the ceiling of an abandoned antediluvian cathedral. At their feet, as if abasing themselves at ancient altars, crouched a congregation of gaudy and flamboyantly garbed growths, swaying listlessly in vagrant snatches of evening breeze. Occasional shuddering undulations passed through the ranks of shadowed supplicants as unseen creatures moved furtively among them, seeking to assuage ravenous appetites.
An encompassing, everlasting pandemonium of feral cries, grunts, shrieks and squalls shattered the sylvan silence of the immemorial woodland. The vibrant voices of birds, mammals and amphibians combined to create a chilling cacophony, a demoniac orchestration composed by a crazed musical genius that was anything but melodious. Underlying and underscoring this devilish chorus was a deathless, droning buzz.
Chill, wan fingers of ghostly mist spiraled from the dank, fetid earth like sad spirits rising from the unremembered halls of the cursed and comfortless underworld, bearing the scents and odors of the animal and vegetable denizens of the deep and dusky woodland ways. The scents of things foreign and familiar wafted into the nostrils of the tiny mouse, stunning her senses with a limitless smorgasbord of smells. One scent in particular she was able to pick out from the plethora of aromas, and a tidal wave of homesickness washed heartrendingly over her as she recognized the cloying, comforting fragrance of cedarwood, so dearly remembered as the sentry that stood unwavering watch over her blessed burrow.
Startling her from her moment of melancholy, a turbulent cloud of tiny biting insects descended upon her, hovering and darting as they attempted to settle on her body to make a meal of the warm blood which they sensed pulsing beneath her furry, radiant exterior. She squeaked indignantly and snapped sharply at the annoying little creatures, seeking to repel them, dancing and darting in futility as the clinging cloud of insects swirled about her, disbanding and reforming as she attempted to elude it.
(Why, even insects prey upon us.)
Startled by this interjection, coming as it seemingly did from the depths of her own bewildered brain, she looked about confusedly, feeling as if she were being studied, half expecting to see something standing and watching her. Finding nothing, she spun on her tiny heels and dove abruptly back under the sheltering pile of leaves where the bothersome bugs could not follow and continue to mercilessly molest her.
The muted humming of the mysterious artifact had once again begun its siren's song while she had been admiring the landscape with a depth and intensity which she had never before known. She was no longer frightened by these strange and eldritch manifestations; to the contrary, she was beginning to feel a sense of anticipation, hoping to experience anew that sensation of bliss and peace which had stolen over her. Also, she wanted to view again that curiously colored creature that had offered her such a feeling of fellowship.
(You must move us.)
She quailed again, still unaccustomed to these unbidden eruptions apparently emanating from her own subconscious mind. Ever a creature of instinct, and accustomed to reacting to events rather than initiating them, and most certainly not given to prolonged periods of pondering, she nevertheless embarked upon a review of the actions which she had undertaken since the battle with the snake. The realization that she had changed in some fundamental way dawned slowly upon her. Something had bestowed upon her the ability to not only access untouched and unknown portions of her brain, but had also allowed her to employ those extra brain cells in ways she could never before have imagined.
The import of the thought which had swum to the surface of her mind returned to her in a rush. Yes, she must seek out a more secure and permanent refuge than this pile of mouldering leaves. She emerged from cover again, more closely contemplating the clearing in which she stood, rejoicing in the discovery that the cloud of tiny tormentors had disappeared.
The ground upon which she stood was chiefly covered with a species of short, tough, wiry grass, dotted intermittently with an occasional kapok and sapodilla (she didn't know the names but had become familiar with the fluffy fibers and sweet, juicy fruits which they produced.) It occurred to her that here was a supply not only of food, but also excellent nesting material. She could do much worse than to make a new home right here. She turned about, scrutinizing the structure she had earlier vacated. In the fast-fading daylight, the upper portions of the temple still shone pallidly, but at ground level, long shadows obscured the myriad details graven in its limestone facade. The dark, gaping gateway, her erstwhile exit from the temple, was capped by a carved lintel which had been so badly weathered by the ages that any inscriptions or renditions of ancient gods were almost totally obliterated. This, she thought, might be a superb place to settle in, assuming she could locate a nook that was not only sheltered, but provided proximity to the clearing.
Unwilling to be separated from the talisman for even a short span of time, she returned to the pile of leaves to recover it. The artifact lay quiescent, all signs of activity ended for now, as if waiting for a more auspicious moment to awaken anew. She took the ends of the vine strand once more between her teeth, tugging the torus out into the dying of the light.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maximus culpa. In wanting to impart some sense of Lona's enhanced perceptions, I indulged in a frenzy, nay, a veritable orgasm of description in this chapter. But it was fun.
Mariah is resting still but appearing slightly uncomfortable. I expect sometime late tonight, the fifth and probably final egg will emerge, and the serious business of incubation will begin. I'll keep you apprised.
Until tomorrow, peace.
Story content copyright Malcolm Mott 2005