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Daedalus In The Underworld Pt 3: The Ghost Of Marduk

The black priest let the darkness take him. It was a darkness lit by certain knowledge that he could not and would not die.  Not from these wounds nor from any other because a small part of the eternal being called Marduk was alive in his soul.  It was left there by Nibiru in her attempt to climb up the blade of the Sword of Theosarditis.  That small bit of Marduk had been the chains that bound her when Father Time thrust her bones deep into the core of Mother Earth.  One day, if Marduk ever found out that such a bit of him had returned to the land of the living, he would want it back.  It was a secret not to be told.  There were too many who knew it already, including Persea, her father Taros, the man called Mountain and he reasoned that the druid, Bear, must surely have seen it across the vast water of the underworld.

Mountain came to the waterside and laid the sword beside Lord Taros.

“A blade this hot one does not wield,” he said.

“Set the pommel in the water,” Taros replied, “but keep the blade dry.”

The Gimric chief was skeptical.

“Friend,” urged Taros, “Nibiru is no danger to you. Drown her fire in the underground water and she will be rendered as helpless as a child.”

“I would have the counsel of the druid,” objected the chief.

“You held the sword,” said Taros, wincing, “It grows hotter does it not?  How hot it will burn before the Stone of Hephaestus is consumed not even Pateramon could have said for sure.”

Mountain didn’t need to be told twice, mostly because if he waited for Bear it might never get done.

Taking the blade in both hands he dropped the pommel into several inches of water where it sizzled and steamed.

“Thank you, my friend,” said Taros, “I won’t kill Sky Crier for throwing a lance at me today.”

“HE WHAT?” bellowed the chief so loudly that everyone heard him.

“He thought we were bat haulers,” added Persea.

Mountain stomped off to have a word with his son.

“I knew it,” chattered Daedalus, “See here, and here and here: do you know where we are boy? This is, say it softly now, the long lost Temple of Shamash.”

“Master, we are nowhere near Dilmun,” answered his scribe.

“How do you know? Has anyone ever seen Dilmun?”

“It is said to be located…”

“It is said, it is taught, it is written,” complained Daedalus, “Who did the saying, who did the teaching and who did the writing? These are questions to which we have no answers and so it follows that the sayings, and the teachings, and the writings, could be and probably are egregiously wrong!”

“Fine, but where are the stones?” challenged Icarus.

“All around you. You’re standing on one!”

“I am not…”

“Get off it you big lunk!”

Then they heard a crack as whatever Icarus was standing on gave way.

“Now look what you’ve done!”

A trickle of red liquid flowed out of what looked like a stalactite, but which Daedalus emphatically maintained was nothing of the sort.

“Do stalactites bleed?” mocked the learned Athenian, “This was a priceless Stone of Hephaestus until you chose to end it’s existence!”

“I stepped on a rock!” complained the scribe.

“A jewel more rare than a diamond. Poof!”

As he said it, Daedalus shifted his weight and they heard a second tell-tale crack, this time from beneath the doctor’s feet.

“O my,” he worried, “Boy, come and lift me, gingerly, from what I’m standing on.”

“But you’re as big as an ox!”

“JUST DO IT!” shouted Daedalus, earning the lion’s attention.

Seconds later Icarus had his arms around his masters waist. At the count of three he lifted and Daedalus jumped and came right down where he started, shattering the fragile ark.

More of the red blood oozed from the rock, this time tinged with green.

“Interesting,” observed Daedalus, his ire replaced by fascination, “Whatever do you think it means?”

“Rocks bleed in rainbow colors?” suggested the scribe.

“Rocks don’t bleed unless they are alive,” said Daedalus, “I assure you there has been no living rock since the Titan Wars.”

“Why is that, master?” Icarus dutifully asked, while rolling his eyes at the very idea.

“They were killed in the wars, of course!”

“I see,” replied his apprentice.

“Don’t be so quick to dismiss what you don’t understand,” warned his teacher, “There was a time when rock was imbued with spirit, and this spirit was not imprisoned in it’s flesh! No no! Far and wide they roamed, the spirits of the rocks, and not only them; water spirits, and sky spirits too, and when they finally came together the earth was born…awakened if you will, and that is what these stones are going to tell us.”

“Tell us what, master?”

“Aren’t you listening? I am on the verge, and perhaps have already made, the greatest discovery since the Titan Wars! I’ll have you show some passion for my work!”

They set about counting and surveying and chatting up this stone versus that rock and they totally missed that others were calling for them.

“Daedalus!” cried Persea, “I know you’re out there. I can hear you thinking! Daedalus! There is no time for this. We must go.”

Finally he answered the call.

“But this is the Temple of Shamash,” he yelled, and the echo rang all around them, “It was lost for thousands of years and it is found by me. I can’t just leave it here!”

“Fine,” she answered, walking in light so not to be missed, “Be dinner for the cats. Icarus, now that your master is gone we’re going to need your expertise.”

They left, leaving Daedalus to fidget with the stones.

“Wait!”he cried, struggling with two heavy cylinders, “I’m coming!”

Sky Crier and Far Talker were having trouble herding the cats now that a few hours had passed and the interlopers had yet to leave their den. That’s when Bear rowed up in a borrowed bat boat carrying Dalius, the Steward of Antallis.

“You have come for the priest?” asked Mountain.

“The black priest?” wondered Dalius, “He is here?”

Mountain looked but the Helios was gone from his rock.

“He must have gone with Gilgraith,” reasoned the chief.

Bear blessed the land before stepping ashore and calling the lions to attend him. With his bear skin draped over his shoulders and the bear’s great head perched like a hat above his own he was more than a man to the beasts.

Chuffing, they came up to him and he fed them meat from his hands.

Helios watched them go from a crevice in the shadows. First they looked for him, and once he had to crawl again so as not be seen, but they soon gave up. All thought he was taken by lions. It was uncanny how he knew it.

“This is your doing?” he thought to the wraith.

A small part of him he had never before known answered with a wordless affirmation.

Helios awoke to the silent steps of pacing cats.  Beside his sleeping head they had left a morsel.  He ate the raw meat and it was the rarest of all delicacies.

Dalius led the party out. They went on foot by  the shaft of light with the pile of bones at it’s end. By ways Dalius knew they emerged on a bluff overlooking the Nilos River.

“After you,” offered the steward.

Persea mounted a rusted iron ladder leading up the cliff face. Before she reached the top she knew she was at the Bilfrost Quarry. Next was Icarus, minus his load. They lowered a rope and hauled Taros up. Daedalus insisted on sending up the cylinders and for some reason Dalius agreed, so yet more time was lost. When all were safely on the ridge the sun was low in the sky.

Gimric laborers splitting rocks watched as the Antalleans came and went. Persea was at their head, followed by Daedalus who carried a large cylinder of stone, followed by his scribe who carried a larger one, and Lord Taros with his hands bandaged and his sword still smoking. Ambicatus and Dalius took up the rear, smiling and promising all was well.

At once Daedalus saw someone he both recognized and trusted.

“Yellow Face,” he shouted, “I’ll pay you six bronze to carry my burden to Antallis!”

“I’ll pay you twelve!” shouted Icarus.

In the confusion the stones were nearly broken so Dalius hired a carter with the king’s gold to get them there.

“Thank, you. Great steward,” stumbled Daedalus, unsure of the protocol.

“Not at all,” Dalius replied, “It is my duty to safeguard the royal possessions.”

“These aren’t royal possessions,” he protested.

The steward’s glare said it was already decided.

“You go with the carter,” ordered Dalius.

He paid again for passage for three: Icarus, Daedalus, and Ambicatus, just to be sure there were no shenanigans.

The rest of the party he took to the moaning caves as it was approaching sunset.  When safely there he took them into his confidence.

“None must know what has happened,” he warned, “Let the Stones of Hephaestus be the news of the day. If the priest returns do not be surprised. He will keep our secret as long as we keep his.”

“You can’t keep a secret from Cybele,” warned Persea.

“Nor would I try,” he agreed.

Daedalus thought he had awakened the king with the news.

“Must you see me now?” complained the king, “The moon is high, the frogs are chirping and dawn has yet to come. What is it that cannot wait?”

Prosus was dressed in his robe with the lions on it. The one he wore when courting.

“Oh dear,” mumbled Daedalus, “Have I come at a bad time?”

“There is no worse time,” answered the king.

“Darling, send him to Antiope. She’ll make short work of it.”

Daedalus swallowed.

“Is that Queen Hippolyta?”

“If you tell him I’ll have to kill him,” warned a voice.

“It is nothing but an ill gotten wind,” answered the king.

Daedalus left without asking leave.

“My suitor talks to the wind,” mocked the Sarmatian Queen, “Why does Circe think I would have you for a husband?”

“Because you have many husbands already,” he glowered, “and you have no respect for any of them.”

Hippolyta was so enraged that she slapped the king across the face, slicing him open with her rings. Prosus grimaced and put his hand to his cheek, but he did not cry out. To do so would have brought the guard.

“Let me help…” began the queen, suddenly finding her respect.

“Leave,” he ordered, “Make like all is well. I will tend to it myself.”

Prosus was bleeding from a trio of rakes.

“Let your steward see to it,” she advised.

“Go before you anger me further,” he replied.

He was justified to say it, but it was the wrong thing to say to the Amazon Queen.

In the morning, when the king did not rise, Serpius his servant sounded the alarm.

“The king,” he cried, “I fear he is dead.”

Prosus was not dead, but neither would he rise so a healer, Almathea of the Caves, was sent for with haste.

By evening Dalius had yet to return. The next morning Hippolyta and her sisters left, vowing to return to teach the Antalleans some manners.

So Almathea delivered a not so veiled threat.

“Great Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, will pay the largest part,” she warned.

The queen replied with a gurgling in her throat that can only be called beastly.

When she had left, Almathea had words for Serpius.

“Who closed these wounds?”

White haired, misshapen and looking older than her legend, Almathea inspired fear.

“I did,” confessed the servant, “Was it done poorly?”

“You did not boil the gut. He must go to the White Mountains where I can harvest the proper herbs or he will die.”

“Because of what the Amazon has done?” worried Serpius.

“Because of what you have done,” corrected the healer, “Unclean goat gut should not be used to close a wound. The spirit of the goat lingers until taken by the winds but you have given it a wrongful host. The lines marking his face are the fingers of the goat spirit trying to make sense of it. If the king is not purged he may even start to bray!”

“I did as he bid me,” mumbled Serpius, but the excuse went nowhere with Almathea.

Elsewhere in the court the king’s steward was being missed.

“Where is Dalius?” shouted Cheiron the Sword Master, “Where is Taros? Where is Persea? Where is Daedalus?”

“Here, right here…your Sword Ship,” muttered the learned man.

It was mid afternoon. Daedalus was pacing the hallway in his night shirt and being watched by his scribe sitting cross legged on the floor, his stylus and wax at the ready.

“Tell me when you last saw Dalius,” commanded the Sword Master.

“When he put us with carter,” replied Daedalus, and so as to dispel all doubt about his possible complicity in a possible crime, he added, “As Ambicatus can attest.”

“You entered the caves three days ago,” recalled Cheiron, “You spent a harrowing afternoon fighting Gilgraith and a pride of lions. You brought back a dubious load of rock that is so important Dalius paid twice to get you here. Why?”

“Maybe to get rid of us,” reasoned Daedalus.

“I have come to the same conclusion,” Cheiron agreed, “Dalius is up to something.”

“It’s a no brainer,” Icarus piped up, but they might not have heard him.

“What means of discovery shall we employ?” asked Daedalus, “Honest, devious or supernatural?”

“It’s no secret the Cabeiri need a captain,” offered Icarus. He was ignored as usual.

“Deceit will yield the most detail,” reasoned the Sword Master, “but honesty is by far the quickest. Supernaturalness brings its own set of problems.”

“I heard Lord Taros say that Persea should drop out of sight until Nibiru is found,” announced the scribe.

Still, they weren’t listening.

“Their disappearance obviously has something to do with the dealings underground,” Cheiron decided, “How can we be sure the Druid has nothing to do with this?”

“I heard Mountain tell him to leave the Antalleans alone,” Icarus replied, but it was like he wasn’t even there.

“Because we weren’t followed,” deduced Daedalus.

“How can you be sure of that?” prodded the Sword Master.

“Why would you follow if you know where they’re going?” shouted Icarus, “It’s not like there’s another way out of the caves!”

“Learn some respect, boy!” scolded his master.

“Or they might have already known where you would go,” argued Cheiron.

“Boy, you should be writing this down.”

“I am, master,” he scowled, “Every frickin’ word.”

“I believe the stones will tell us what we need to know,” announced Daedalus.

“When did you become a soothsayer?” scoffed the Sword Master.

“That’s not what I mean!” he insisted, “The Stones of Hephaestus are the last trace of a great and failed race! If we’re not careful we could end up just like them: arrogant, self-centered and too sure of ourselves for our own good.”

Icarus stared at his master.

“How often have I been wrong?” asked Daedalus.

“I’ve never known you to be completely, totally and absolutely wrong,” conceded his scribe, “but I have known you to be mistaken.”

“Which proves my point,” said Daedalus smugly, “When you know as much as I do arrogant is the natural way to be!”

“We will not consult a rock,” decided the Sword Master, “You and I, the three of us, and Ambicatus, are going back to the quarry to see what we can discover. Be ready in fifteen minutes.”

As a precaution the Sword Master sent a courier to the Kriti Highlands with a letter for Minos, the uncle of King Prosus and Lord of the Lasithi Valley.

The Kriti Highlands towered over the Aswal desert and they were one of the reasons for it. The White Mountains marked their western end and rose thirteen thousand feet over the valley floor. The Aswal desert was itself an anomaly in that it was several hundred feet below sea level. If the western lakes were to flood the lowlands it would become a deep inland sea.

This thought had crossed the learned man’s mind in the first days of the king’s romance. Hippolyta took them, them being Daedalus and Icarus, into the sky in her battle balloon and what he saw horrified him. He had Icarus sketch the scene in wax and again with ink so he could horrify himself whenever he chose.

They lived in a bowl with lakes on two sides and a river that might change its course in the blink of an eye, and Antallis Peak was even more horrifying. Daedalus knew what engines were responsible for the steam that bubbled high on the mountaintop. He’d heard about the fissures and imagined them to be small things, not yawning chasms that might swallow a man. These were far more dangerous than the engines which made the mud pots, but no one, not even the king, understood him.

Now that he thought about it there was one who probably did understand. Dalius the steward always knew more than he was willing to say. What was Dalius up to?

“I must go to the caves at Mount Ida to consult with my grandfather,” said the steward. They had gathered at the hospice near the moaning caves, unseen by the few who suffered there, “Persea must leave this realm all together. Taros, you must go to Grapes In A Bed by way of the Old Kriti Highway, but tarry. It will do no good if you show up with bloody hands.”

“You’re being cryptic, old man,” chided Taros.

“Yes,” agreed the steward, “Off with you, each in your own direction.”

“Grandfather Dalius,” wondered Persea, “How do I leave this realm all together?”

“Silly of me,” confessed the steward and like the wizard he was he snapped his fingers.  The air shimmered and crackled as he said, “The way is through the dancing door. On the other side is the garden path. It matters not which direction you go. Salmud the Gate Keeper will find you.”

Persea stepped through the shimmering wall of air and nothing was like it was. Where all had been sandy brown rock there was a garden so green it colored the sky.

A turbaned man with a large, curved and very sharp sword challenged her at the gate.

“Who walks this way…What business brings…How is it that…”

“WHY ARE YOU HERE?” bellowed a disembodied voice that could only be Cybele, Goddess of the Earth, speaking from the sky.

“Yes, that’s it,” agreed the gate keeper. He was young and obviously new to his job, “Uh, have you come for the power of…for the power…”

“HAVE YOU COME FOR THE POWER OF MARDUK, BECAUSE IF THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE COME FOR YOU CAN’T HAVE IT!!!!!!!!”

“What she said,” added Salmud, his sword high over his head and getting heavier.

“I don’t know what the Power of Marduk is,” replied Persea.

“You don’t?” puzzled Salmud, teetering under the weight of his huge steel blade.

“THEN HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO CALL IT?????”

“Aha!” declared Salmud, “She’s got you there!”

“Because you just said it,” answered Persea.

“EXCUSE ME,” commanded the Goddess while lightning struck and thunder rolled overhead, “ZEUS IS HOME. SALMUD, SEE HER INSIDE AND DON’T FORGET TO FEED MY DARLINGS!!!!!”

Because the morning suddenly became less oppressive they knew she had gone.

“You don’t suppose she meant I’m to feed you to the cats?” wondered Salmud.

“Don’t try it,” warned Persea, “Cave lions are my thing. I like it in the dark with a sword in each hand. How do you like it?”

Stepping around the Gate Keeper she walked in as if she owned the place.

“SAL-MUUD!” sang a gray haired matron in a dowdy green dress, “Bring my guest inside, won’t you please?”

“Uh oh,” warned the Gate Keeper, “I hate it when she’s nice.”

Stepping through the door Persea found the cottage larger on the inside than outside.

“That’s so I don’t have to walk six miles to the back door,” explained the goddess.

“Where am I?” Persea asked her.

“In the glen, dear child,” she replied.

“Am I dead?”

“Why would you think so?”

“Because I’m here with you,” Persea replied.

“Well there is that,” she answered, “What you are is hard to say. There’s a person. She’s not very nice. She’s horribly bad really. Her name is Nibiru. She’s frozen in a block of ice but the cold is hard on these old bones and I have to heat up for awhile. When I do the ice will thaw and she’ll go free, so I thought, well I could just space her but my navel is gone and I need you to find it.”

The back door opened to wind and rain, but it was sunny and warm in the front yard.

“It’s more likely it closed up,” insisted an old god entering with a woolly beast slung over his shoulder.

“Why would it do that?” asked his wife.

Persea quickly turned away, because she’d seen his face before.

“I don’t know,” he replied, “Who besides Nibiru has reason to take it?”

“Then where could it be?” cried Cybele, “I’m missing it terribly.”

“I should think it’s on your belly,” offered Persea.

The Goddess looked again but it was still missing.

“It’s not there,” she said sadly, “It’s that Nibiru person. She took it.”

“You have no proof,” admonished her husband, “The last time I checked she was smack dab in the middle of an underground ice sheet.”

“When was that dear?” asked his wife.

“I don’t know,” he confessed, “Sunday morning just before ten, I think.”

“Husband! It is always Sunday morning just before ten. Let me see your boots.”

Sheepishly, he did so.

“Husband,” she said calmly, “That mud is not from an underground ice sheet.”

“It’s not?”

“No. It is from Kangaatsiaq. Nibiru has escaped and you weren’t going to tell me.”

The old god bowed his head and then the truth came out.

“I don’t know where she is. I was hoping to find her before you found out about it.”

“You can’t keep secrets from me,” she said, her anger growing, “You’re an old fool. I hope you have a plan or something.”

“Just to wake up and get on with it,” confessed the old god.

“The only reason I don’t turn you to stone right now and put you in the garden is that I don’t want to scar this poor girl for life,” she threatened, “Then again, why not?”

“Oh no,” mumbled the old god, but his jaw was set and turning to stone.

“I’ve been needing a new husband anyway,” sighed the goddess.

Sunday morning at just before ten Dalius stood before the entrance of the Idaian cave. Two lions blocked his way. They each took an arm in their deadly teeth and led him deep inside.

The lions were gentle so Dalius arrived at the glen with his arms intact. He emerged into daylight and saw that his grandfather was turned to stone.

“Pateramon!” he cried.

The statue managed a little creak, though it was all he could say.

“Let’s get you back home,” muttered Dalius.

He picked him up and carried him off, remembering to stay close behind the lions.

At first Pateramon was as heavy as stone and just as rigid, but as Dalius dragged him the old man softened up.  Given that, he didn’t get far.

“Hold on there,” said a dark man clad all in leather, “You can’t take statues from the garden. It’s not allowed.”

Dalius put his grandfather down and he stood on his own two feet.

“Maybe he can,” spoke Jasius, “I’ve never seen that one before.”

“You know me,” said Dalius, frustrated at not being recognized, “and you know my grandfather, Pateramon!”

“You still can’t take him out of the garden,” insisted Epimedes.

“You could if he really was your grandfather,” added Jasius.

“He really is my grandfather,” insisted Dalius, “With a couple of greats appended.”

Pateramon’s face was getting darker and losing it’s chalky texture.

“Coffee,” moaned the rigid old man.

“If you don’t mind,” said Dalius, excusing himself.

Aeonius the mind reader broke into wild guffaws.

“Cybele has thrown another husband out the garden gate.”

“That is the truth of it,” agreed Dalius.

“Coffee,” moaned Pateramon again, but Dalius couldn’t find his flint set.

“Use mine,” offered Idas, but it wasn’t his at all.

The others had a good laugh at the old steward’s expense.

“He never got near me,” marveled Dalius.

It was a favorite joke that never failed to amuse.

Dalius set water to boiling. After a few minutes the aroma of brewing coffee brought Pateramon out of his stupor. Aeonius caught him as he fell and laid him gently on the cool cave floor. After a few minutes more the drink had worked it’s magic.

“Help me up,” Pateramon said with his rough old voice, “We have a hound to catch!”

Dalius tried to go with them but he couldn’t leave the cave.

“Cybele’s got another one,” he heard Idas say as they rode off with his grandfather.

Dalius was compelled to turn around.  He did so to see an ageless beauty flanked by two white lions.

“Come to bed, husband,” she said, “I tire of waiting.”

This time the lions were not gentle.

After the Goddess of the Earth had used him Dalius slept in her big feather bed. When he awoke he was full of questions.

“How long did I sleep?”

“That’s hard to say,” replied his new wife.

“How long would you have let me sleep?”

“All day, I suppose.”

“But the days here never end,” he reminded her.

“I know,” she replied, as if it mattered not at all, but seeing the confusion on her lover’s face she added, “Don’t worry about what is not your concern. By the way, your friends were here. They took your rings.”

Dalius looked. They were indeed gone, as were the marks and scars of old age.

“Am I dead?”

“Of course you are,” said his new wife.  She was smiling because it was like night following day, “You made a wonderful meal for my dear darlings.”