The Dead Held Hands
The Temple of the Exploding Head
Starfarers and explorers, the League settled on Kana thousands of years ago. They found it to be a paradise, a perfect, virtually uninhabited planet waiting just for them in the cradle of space.
Lovely Kana … it was too good to be true …
But, all was not as it seemed. Simmering beneath the ground was a demented god who had soaked Kana in blood for untold ages, luring in victims, lying to them, and rejoicing in their suffering as they died at the hands of his dark angels.
And there will be blood again … From his Temple in the ground, the Horned God stirs.
When Lord Kabyl of Blanchefort, a young man troubled by the weight of the world, dares give his heart to a girl from a mysterious ancient household, one that pre-dates the League itself, he comes to know the shadows of the past that hover over her.
He comes to know of the Horned God, and for love he is destined to face him. All roads lead to the Temple of the Exploding Head, a place of evil and death, rooted in the ancient past, but also tied to the distant future.
“We were evil once,” she said, “and the gods are still punishing us…”
The library was apparently cut deep into the ground. The interior was twenty stories in total, rising to the huge ornate dome high above. The perimeter of the rotunda was a honeycomb of shelves, cubbies, reading areas, terminals and desks. Beneath the center of the rotunda was a vast open space that led down to an aqua-marine pool at the bottom.
They found a quiet place to sit down in privacy and began contemplating their strategy. Phillip plopped down on a comfortable couch by the rail, and Lon wandered into the maze of shelves, browsing.
“So, what are we supposed to be looking for?” Phillip asked.
“A silver device similar to the one we picked up in Rostov.”
“Where is it?”
Kay looked around. “I’m not sure, really. The judge told me that it was in the library and that it will not be all that hard to find.”
Sarah saddled up to a terminal and began looking at the posts. “You better start looking around then,” she said as the holographic images orbited her head. “Meanwhile, I’m going to catch up on my reading—see what’s hot out there. Take your time, Kay.” The posts Sarah called up were the usual sensational stuff that she consumed in volume. The first post read:
PARAFLIES FOUND DEAD IN THE MILLIONS IN CALVERT—FACE EXTINCTION
Dead? Extinction? He thought about the one Parafly that had helped save him after the attack on his life. “What’s wrong with the Paraflies?”
Sarah read on. “Don’t know. They’re turning up dead all over the place. Says here their dead bodies clogged up the canal water in Bern.”
“Ah, pity,” Kay said. “I rather fancied them.”
He allowed his Sight to roam. The giant library was full of a great many people, but the place was so big it appeared only modestly populated due to the size. He looked around, seeing the library clearly. He could see people walking around on the floors above and below them, including a few amorous couples kissing in quiet, romantic nooks. The underside of the dome overhead was etched with many images and shapes—the shape of a dragon being the most prominent. He could see through the dome as well, to the silty blue sky of Calvert above.
He looked down and instantly saw what he was looking for. “There it is,” he said.
Sarah turned from her posts. “That was fast. Where is it?”
“Down there.” Kay pointed down, over the rail to the pool below.
Phillip sat up, and they gazed over the railing.
The pool, from where they were standing, was four floors down. The water was a cheerful aqua-marine. Many students on the bottom floor were seated around the edge of the pool. Some sat with their books at the water’s edge dipping their feet into it. Some seemed to be talking to the water—having a conversation with nobody.
“How deep is it?” Phillip asked.
“Deep, at least five hundred feet. There’s an immense cavern under there that goes on for miles.”
Sarah looked over the side. “What? Five hundred feet? That pool can’t be more than five feet deep. You sure it’s in there? I don’t see anything.”
“It’s in there.”
She smiled at him. “I guess you’re getting wet then. Are you going to walk down and jump in, or am I going to get to toss you in from here?”
Kay continued to stare into the water. “Wait. I see something in the water moving around. Something big.”
Sarah squinted, lighting her Sight. “The water looks clear to me.”
“Me, too,” Phillip said.
“There’s some sort of Cloak or Paint over it. Beneath the surface I see a lot of stalagmites, like what you’d see in a flooded cavern, and swimming through them is a large creature.”
“A big fish?” Phillip asked.
“It doesn’t look like a fish. It’s bizarre. I don’t know what it is.”
Sarah was distressed. “Why can’t I see it?”
Lon returned holding a book he’d pulled off one of the shelves. “What are we looking at?” he asked.
“Kay’s found the device. He says there’s a monster in the water,” Sarah said.
Lon looked over the side. “Really? You sure, Kay?”
“Yes, I am sure.”
This sort of thing was right down Sarah’s alley, and she was getting excited. “Describe it,” she said.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It looks sort of like a dragon with a green body, a long neck, a mane of long red hair like a horse, orange legs—splayed out like a gecko—and a long, thin pink tail with a woman growing out of the end.”
“You’re making that up,” she said, cross.
“No, I’m not. I’d not make up such a thing.”
Sarah, her imagination going haywire, strained to look into the pool—seeing nothing but the clear water.
Phillip took off his hat and wiped his brow. “So what are we going to do? I thought this one was going to be easy. No doubt if you jump in there, the creature is going to devour you.”
Lon looked down and noted all the students casually sitting by the pool. “Nobody down there appears to be put off in any way.”
“They must not be aware of the danger that lurks beneath,” Phillip said.
Sarah started pushing everybody toward the lift. “Come on; we’re going down there. I want to see this thing for myself.”
Hurriedly they went down to the bottom. The bottom floor of the library was set up as a small café, serving light lunch fare to the students, a nice place to eat and read and gather with friends. They walked through the chattering noise of the café and soon stood at the edge of the pool gazing into it. Sarah, eager to see whatever it was, knelt down and looked into the clear water. Kay thought for a moment that she was going to pull her boots off and dive in—that was something Sarah would do without hesitation.
A small girl sat eating her lunch at a nearby table piled high with books. She saw Sarah and the rest gawking into the pool and laughed quietly. “You must be new here. Is this your first year?”
Lon spoke up, outraged. “We do not matriculate at this school, madam! I have been offered a full scholarship at the University of Arden, sciences.”
The girl smiled and rolled her eyes. “Oh, I see,” she said. “Arden, wow, you must be really smart then. Not smart enough to know what’s in the water though, are you? None of those fancy Vith schools have what we’ve got right here in Dee.”
Sarah walked toward the girl. “You’ve seen the thing in the water?”
“The ‘Thing’ in the water? Yeah, of course I have,” she said in a slightly arrogant way.
Phillip interjected. “Well, then, miss, could you please inform us? What is it?”
She laughed. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”
“Ask him? How?”
The girl pointed at the other side of the café. There, perched at the water’s edge, was the statue of a dragon-like monster. Sarah quickly made her way to the statue and looked it over, inspecting every inch. Long neck, dragon-like face with a mane of long hair, big beady eyes, splayed legs and a long, thin tail. “Is this what you’re seeing in the water, Kay?”
“Looks like it,” he said.
“It’s hideous,” Sarah remarked with wonder.
The girl at the other side of the café called out to them. “You’re going to hurt his feelings with talk like that. Put some money in his mouth, and he’ll talk to you—and be nice to him.”
They looked at the girl for a moment; then, Kay slowly pulled a money purse out of his coat. He took out a Blanchefort hader and was about to stick it in the statue’s mouth.
“Give him two, Kay—don’t be cheap,” Sarah said, wide-eyed with anticipation.
Kay scowled at her and took out another hader. He then put both of them in the statue’s mouth. The coins fell in, rattled about a bit inside, and then emerged from its rear-end, entering the water with a plop—plop!
A moment later, a beautiful, black-haired woman wearing a toga came walking out of the water.
They regarded her for a moment.
Kay Sighted her. She was some sort of molded, fleshy bit, like the tongue of a snapping turtle that resembles a worm.
Kay could see that this black-haired woman was the end of the monster’s tail. Far below, the monster lurked in the depths of the pool, its tail stretching like elastic and ending with what appeared to be a beautiful woman. Kay sensed danger.
“Are you the creature in the water?” Kay asked.
“You’re its tail, correct? We are currently talking to the end of a tail, yes?”
“That is correct,” the woman said.
“Do you know why we’re here?”
“No. Should I?”
Sarah didn’t approve of the questioning. “I was expecting to see that,” she said pointing at the statue. “What are you, the monster’s slave?”
The woman smiled. “As the gentleman just pointed out, what you see is the end of my tail. I can will the end of my tail to be anything I wish. I feel like being a woman today.”
“What are you?” Kay asked.
“All rudeness aside, I’m from here. There are many old and deep things living on Kana. When the builders of this library began digging, they dug up my home. I wasn’t angry. I even assisted them in completing the library.”
“And you’ve been here ever since?”
“I have. This is my home. I like it here. I get three free meals a day, and I help the students with their research. I have many friends. I’m even the mascot of this university. I am very proud of our brandtball team this year.”
“What are you called?”
“Call me what you wish—I have no particular name.”
“Mickey!” Sarah cried. “We’ll call you Mickey.”
“If you must.”
Kay looked back into the water and saw the body of “Mickey” resting at the bottom of the cavernous pool far below.
“Mickey,” Kay said. “There is a matter we must discuss.”
“It sounds urgent. I am here. I am listening.”
“There is a silver device resting at the bottom of your cavern. I am tasked to remove it from here. Do you know of it?”
“There are many items in here with me. I like shiny things. Can you be more specific?”
“It is a small silver object about this big,” Kay said holding his hands out about a foot apart. “It is round with a hole in the middle.”
Kay peered into the water and saw “Mickey” looking around, his long neck coiling about.
“Oh yes, I see that. It’s over there. Very pretty.”
“I need to take it from here. I am tasked to do so.”
Mickey’s tail, the woman in the toga, smiled. “There is a rule here—anything that falls into the water is mine. See,” she said pointing at a distant sign carved into a stone pillar.
It read: “ANY ITEM FALLING INTO THE WATER BELONGS TO THE DRAGON. NO EXCEPTIONS.”
As they continued to look around, they began noticing the dragon’s motif everywhere, carved in the stone pillars, adorning vases and paintings; many students were even wearing clothing with a dragon stamped on the front. Even the food being served in the café followed the theme: dragon salad, dragon-tarts, dragon soda and dragon-tips.
Kay turned his attention back to the woman. “Mickey, I need this device. I have to have it. May we, perhaps, trade for it?”
The woman appeared intrigued. “What do you have to trade?”
“I have a purse full of Blanchefort haders.”
The woman thought a moment. “I don’t need any of those. What else do you have?”
They started looking at each other, trying to come up with something. The woman noted Kay’s CARG. “That weapon will do. Let’s trade for it.”
Kay looked down at his CARG. “This weapon doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to my beloved and is not mine to trade away, I’m sorry.”
Sarah stepped forward. “What if we just dive in and grab the item? What about that?”
“Then, I suppose I’ll have to devour you, and that’s a shame as I just had breakfast. Why don’t you try diving in later in the day, at around lunch time. I’ll devour you then.”
About the Author
Ren Garcia is a Science Fiction/Fantasy author and Texas native who grew up in western Ohio. He has been writing since before he could write, often scribbling alien lingo on any available wall or floor with assorted crayons. He attended The Ohio State University and majored in English Literature. Ren has been an avid lover of anything surreal since childhood, he also has a passion for caving, urban archeology and architecture.