Clarke shadowed his guide, and both of them descended the stone steps to the semi-circular stage the Men of the Earth had occupied during the ceremony. When they reached the floor, they began to follow the ringed walkaway to the far side of the crater and Clarke returned his gaze to the viscous surface of the lava. Though the molten liquid was not overtaking the path, its heat was pushing the threshold unhindered. Clarke flattened the right side of his body against the smooth interior wall of the crater in an effort to avoid the pulsing waves of scalding air, for each rush that breezed across his face felt as if it was melting a layer of skin with each pass. Finally, the pair of them reached a tunnel on the far side of the ceremonial space. Before they entered, Clarke looked back towards the red and black blood of the earth and knew that, a few moments after they left the chamber, the pool of lava would begin to drain.
The walls of this second tunnel were streaked with the same black scars and speckled with the same golden flakes as the first, however, its architecture was different. Numerous tunnels intersected with theirs but for a long while, they took none of them. At one intersection the guide halted and Clarke did the same. Another Terra Homines appeared from another tunnel and the tribesman that was leading Clarke handed the other Clarke’s satchel. The other carried the bag away in the same fashion his fellow tribe member had, like an expensive dinner tray. Clarke’s guide then continued onward, taking a right turn into an indistinct tunnel.
Clarke imagined that the series of tunnels he was passing through extended well beyond the exterior of the Northern Sentinel’s walls and so he assumed he was now underground, so close to Libris he was under the island’s skin. Their footsteps were the only sounds that echoed the corridor and the air grew colder and the golden specks grew darker with light from neither the lava nor the sun to illuminate them. Just before absolute darkness overcame them, the tunnel ended. After his eyes adjusted to the absence of light, Clarke saw, shadowed within the wall in front of his guide, a wooden door. The tribesman knocked on it -one-one-two-three-five- and the portal opened.
There was no-one standing directly behind the door and the knob thumped against the wall behind it. All that appeared was a small hallway with a soft, flickering glow lining its passage. Clarke’s guide led him down the hall and into a larger room. The room was lined with book shelves that stretched to the ceiling. Each shelf overflowed, burst, was about to erupt, with manuscripts, editions, maps, journals, leather bound, and loose writings of all kinds. Where the top of the book shelves ended the ceiling did not flatten, but curved above the room.
Clarke’s eyes were drawn to the fire place. There was no fire there, yet still light emanated from the hearth in front of which were two chairs, one of them comfortably fitting a human form.
The tribesman stepped forward and a figure slowly rose from its seat and turned to greet him. The figure was the man from the mouth of the volcano, the one who had at once been uninvolved with and the center of the Terra Homine ceremony. The man beckoned the tribesman forward and seemed to whisper into his ear. Clarke’s guide left the room, the wooden door announcing his departure with a thump.
Closer to the hearth the room smelled of incense and a light haze filled the space. The man looked at Clarke with dull, green eyes that Clarke could meet for only seconds at a time. The man was of average height and average build, shorter and smaller than Clarke was. The man was bald, and dressed entirely in furs unlike the rest of the tribesman who wore only a thin layer of cloth like shorts.
As if to read his mind, but more likely having seen where Clarke’s gaze was directed, the man looked down at his own attire.
“Do you like them?”
Clarke was stuttered by the man’s speech. His mind, unaccustomed to interaction with the man, posed a question. How can he be speaking English? The other mind that had infiltrated his own answered, he can communicate with all of his followers, no matter the language.
“I am correct in assuming you speak English, no?”
“Then respond, my friend. I’ve been waiting some time to hear the voice of another.”
“Ye-Yes, I like them… but…”
“But where did I acquire such furs? It is a question you will learn the answer to. The same applies to the question of how I am able to speak English, how I – we all – came to be on this island. In fact, you already know the answers, at least a part of you does. Soon enough they will be revealed to you, for now, please sit with me.”
The man motioned to the two chairs in front of the fire place. Obediently, Clarke sat. He saw there was no floor within the hearth, just a hole that descended down to a source of light.
“The glow comes from the lava,” the man said as if Clarke had asked.
The man took a seat and Clarke tried to re-orient his mind. If the tunnels were any indication they should be much father underground than the location of the ceremony.
“It’s confusing, I understand. The interior pathways are quite labyrinthine. We are actually on the same level as the platform on which the ceremony is performed. When it is underway, the lava rises to the brim of that hole as it does to the brim of dais.”
Clarke’s mouth was parched, the man produced a leather flask and gave it to him. It tasted of the water of the brook.
“I am glad you have arrived, Dr. Wilson. Not all do. Although you, no doubt, are struggling with everything you have been exposed to this evening. I promised the answers will come to you, and they will, but for now you may ask what you wish and I will answer.”
Clarke could find the questions but he could not pick from them. There were too many and although the man waited patiently, Clarke stayed silent.
“I understand you have many questions. I can guess at most of them so you do not have to ask, I will simply tell.
“My name is not important and, from this moment on, neither is yours. I came here some decades ago, I too was drawn here by the same force you were. Yet, when I arrived there was no tribe, there were only legends. But, as I’m sure you know, legends are often based on one or two facts. There may have been a native population here, once, but for all I know they leapt into the volcano centuries ago.”
The man’s voice was lulling Clarke into a meditative state, he could feel the foreign side of his mind slowly seeping through the neurons that were his own. Knowledge came with them and left in spite of them. He could picture the island, raw and uninhabited, and he could feel his attraction for it growing with each breath. His old life and his passion for the memories associated with it receded. The memories themselves receded.
“Here I found the source of the power that had been calling me. I fed off it and it kept me sustained in body and mind. When others started to arrive, like yourself, I showed them the way. How to draw forth the power from which I fed and how to feed on it themselves. Of course, as I was the first here, most of that essence came to me.”
Clarke felt a surge of jealousy and animosity towards this man who claimed he was the first but the matter spreading through his mind subsided such feelings and thoughts. This man was the first, and he understood the power of Libris. It belonged to him and he was generous to share it with his tribe.
“While I have stayed the same my tribe’s physical features have changed. This is a side effect of the temporary withdrawals they must go through. You see, for example, when our tribe numbers twelve members they can only withdraw the power of twelve people. Eventually, their tolerance grows resilient and the power of twelve is no longer enough. It is only when new members arrive, who do not require as much sustenance from Libris, that they are able to regain their true strength. That makes new members, like yourself, the most important to us.”
Clarke glowed when he heard that he was now the most important man on the island, which obscured from him the dubious facts of the story he’d just heard. He was simply happy, blissfully content, to be where he was.
The man abruptly stood and peered into the pit of the hearth.
“I believe that is enough for now, I can feel your connection with Libris growing as we speak. Soon, you will find you feel right at home. And soon, you will find the remaining answers you seek.”
The man turned and walked towards the door and the portal was opened by Clarkes guide from the other side. The man whispered into the tribesman’s ear.
Suddenly, Clarke spoke out, “When may I have my satchel back?”
“There is no need for memories or items of past lives here on Libris. All that matters is here, and now. You will see soon enough.”
And Clarke did see. Each night, he became a part of the ceremony held in the crater of the Northern Sentinel. Each night, he was ushered forward, ahead of the other tribesman, onto the edge of the platform. There he chanted and watched the lava rise and felt the heat, carrying with it power, wash over him. He was told he drew more power than any of the others, that he was the center of the ceremony. At first, the feeling of finally reaching and channeling the source of Libris that called to him for so long was euphoric. Even when the lava reached the very lip of the platform the heat was only ever a warm blanket draping the front of his body. But slowly it began to burn him. Each subsequent ceremony Clarke felt himself taking sequentially more steps back from the edge of the dais, until, one day, he too was in line with the rest of the Terra Homines. His skin flaked, his eyes became pained, and his throat was forever parched. He lost the ability to speak and was then given a tattoo across his palm. Depending on how he held his fingers and angled his hand the tattoo could express the simplest forms of communication, stop, follow, yes, no. He was finally one with Libris, a channeler of power from the island’s lowest vaults to the fur draped man. Clarke had reached his goal and he believed he was happy.
One of Clarke’s brethren held up her hand, “stop” imparted the symbol. Clarke stopped. The women then handed Clarke a yellowed, crumbling page of parchment upon which was drawn a rudimentary map. The map detailed the path of a trail he was to take and although he did not remember it, his destination was a place he’d already visited.
Clarke had not been outside of the volcano since the day he’d entered it. All he ever tasted of the sky came during the ceremonies but he could never seem to remember to look up at the stars. The smell of moist, burnt ash, and the color of blackish powder predominated his senses at all times. Until now, the man had told him he was not ready to leave the volcano as his true familiarity with the island stretched only as far as the complicated tunnels within the Northern Sentinel.
The tribesman left Clarke and returned down the tunnel. Clarke braced himself, closed his eyes, and emerged into the world. He opened his eyes and instantly shut them. He opened his rights eye and the sunlight was piercing and the smell of leaves, bark, and the ocean were overwhelming. His mind shook with the familiar sensations but maintained focus. He looked down at the map.
He followed the predestinated path, weaving in and out the jungle, walking parallel to the base of the volcano. He stepped into a clearing, onto a flat plateau, and he raised his eyes from the paper. There was the spring, surrounded by low walls, with water flowing forth the various pipes. He’d never found the source of this source of water but he noticed now that the pool was closed off from the ravine. Water no longer flowed down into the brook.
Again his mind was jarred, this time the tight hold slipping free for a second but regaining its grasp quickly. Clarke followed his instructions and walked to the opposite side of the pool where the ravine began. The wall here was not as sturdy or smooth as the rest. Slowly, Clarke set to work peeling layers off this piece of wall. His parchment said “the brook must flow again”.
When he was finished, the overflowing water from the edge of the ravine ran down the hill as it once had. Why they were doing this now Clarke did not realize until he looked out upon the oceanic landscape.
Sitting atop the waves was a fishing vessel. People, barely perceptible, stood on the deck, seemingly facing his direction. His mind slipped all at once and images of waves, lightning, thunder, and the thought of being stranded returned to him. A word hit his mind like a tidal wave. JOURNAL. Instinctively he turned over the page in his hand and saw written at the top, “Dear, Clarke”.
The brook flowed at his feet. The ravine walls grew higher, then lower. He climbed the side of an embankment. He passed a gnarled tree, he passed a black scarred and golden flekked stone, and he burst through a small clearing filled with flat rocks laid carefully about. He stood in the middle of a blackened spot of sand, broken up and charred wood crumbling beneath his feet. He waved out to the boat upon which Jasmine Croft stood.
The Sighting II
It had been two months since the disappearance of Clarke and his crew. At first, Jasmine believed they’d done the unthinkable and embarked onto Libris. However, after she tracked down, with the help of Emily, the fisherman Clarke had hired to take his crew to Lirbris she realized the captain was missing as well. Her local contacts told her there was only one possibility, ship wreck. Still, she had stayed on the mainland, occasionally hiring a vessel to bring her around Libris. As of yet, no sign of Clarke had ever appeared.
Now she stood upon the deck of yet another fisherman’s boat. That evening one of her contacts would be driving her to the small airport about three hours north. From there she would return home, empty handed. Not only had she learned nothing about Libris but she’d lost a tough but well respected colleague.
The boat swayed beneath her feet, and for the dozenth time she contemplated whether embarking onto the island was the right call. If Clarke was there, however doubtful, she may be his only hope. But to put the tribe that supposedly lived there at any further risk was unthinkable.
The captain would never take her that close any…
A man, clearly of the tribe, burst forth from the brush and sprinted onto the beach. His skin looked to be covered in dirt, mud, or ash and he wore only cloth shorts. He waved his hands at the boat. The captain of the boat recoiled almost instantly, and told Jasmine they must leave. She told him to wait, or he would not be paid.
The tribesman on the beach grew more and more excited, beginning to jump, picking up drift wood from the beach to throw towards the boat. Other tribesman exited the jungle and simply stood behind their compatriot. When he noticed their presence, the jumping man stopped.
One of the Men of the Earth held up his hand. Then he reached forward and placed his hand the jumping man’s shoulder. All of the tribesman returned to the forest without looking back.
Jasmine was breathless. The existence of the Terra Homines was confirmed. At least she would leave with that. Had the man been waving to her because he recognized her? Was he signaling them because he knew where Clarke was? None of these thoughts crossed her mind. For her, embarking on the island was now out of the question. Whatever had driven her to Libris, the foreign presence in her mind, was obliterated.