photoGlory and Empire (Traci Ganner Series, Book #3)

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Traci noticed three large, silver bells mounted on posts at the foot of the causeway. As they approached, one of the Seroniir warriors rode up to the front of the party, carrying a large hammer instead of a spear.

The Seroniir chieftain called for a halt, and they all dismounted. Traci felt her shoulder tweak slightly as her groom helped her off of her horse. She hoped that she hadn’t pulled any of the stitches loose.

“What happens now?” Traci asked Rutherford. Talatil seemed to guess her question.

“He will strike the bells,” Talatil said. Traci wondered how the aging Seroniir chief would manage to swing the heavy hammer. The warrior bearing the hammer brought it forth and presented it to the aging chief.

“It is the distinct honor of the Seroniir clan to strike the bells and awaken the temple,” Talatil said, “just as it was our honor to draw you from the river and tend to your wounds. It is in our natures. We are from the earth and water and are the more nurturing tribe. They are from the fire and light and are the more aggressive.”

Traci tried to take that in. She was certainly glad it was the Iranahar tribe that had rescued her from the ice. If it had been the Seroniir tribe that had found her, she doubted she would be standing here now. But wasn’t that preordained by their oracle? Perhaps they had somehow known the temperament of each tribe.

Traci watched in awe as the elder chief took the hammer and blessed it with some kind of doxology. But instead of walking forward with it, he instead handed it to his son.

Makir swelled with pride as he took the hammer in his hands and bowed slightly in acknowledgement of the great honor that was to be his. He strode confidently to the foot of the long causeway and faced the three large silver bells.

Rutherford leaned close and spoke in a hushed voice.

“He must strike the bells in the precise sequence spoken by the oracle. If he fails to do so, the temple will remain silent.”

Traci raised an eyebrow at this revelation. Were they expecting the temple to speak? Perhaps peals of thunder were expected.

Makir raised the striker over his head and spoke the words of his tribe. Then he swung the massive mallet and struck the first bell. Its tone was pure and crisp as it rang out across the mountainside. He struck the second bell, then struck the first once more. Last, he struck the third bell three times.

There was a hushed silence for several seconds. Traci was certain that she had forgotten to breathe. Then, suddenly, there was a rumble from the mountain as the temple awoke.

Makir, satisfied that the combination had been struck correctly, returned to his father’s side. All eyes turned to Traci Ganner, and as silently as they could, the two tribes took several steps back to give her plenty of room to make her way to the foot of the causeway.

Kendahl took advantage of the parting crowd and walked up beside her.

“Well,” he said, “we came all this way. Might as well go see what’s inside.”

Traci turned to look at Rutherford, who was still standing beside her. He looked as excited as when she had first seen him, as this was his first opportunity to study the temple up close. Up until this moment, he had been prohibited from even being this close.

Traci squared her shoulders and made a command decision. She took measured and confident strides past the three bells and onto the causeway. Her fur-covered boots slogged through the drifted snow as she forged a path up the long walkway. Kendahl and Rutherford followed behind her in the trail she was plowing. Neither the Iranahar nor Seroniir tribes took any action to prevent them from following her.

Traci’s mind raced as she ascended the narrow road. What was powering the temple? Surely it wasn’t the gods!

“Seems like nuclear or ionic power to me,” Kendahl said. “Whatever it is, it’s enough to make the ground vibrate.”

“That may be for the benefit of the natives,” Traci said. She didn’t believe it was the power of the gods any more than Rutherford or Kendahl did. But whoever built the temple was still a mystery, and one that Traci didn’t need to solve. She just needed to get inside. Perhaps the simple act of walking through the door would be enough. Pop back out, show everyone that she was okay, and then look for a back door and escape to the western portal.

“I hope there are no traps,” Rutherford said. “You know, I have read about ancient civilizations that protected their shrines through the use of ingenious, lethal mechanisms. Spring-loaded blocks that fall down on the hapless intruders, that sort of thing.”

Traci hadn’t thought of that. She resolved to stay on her toes.

“Let’s concern ourselves with finding the front door,” she said instead.

As they made their way ever upward, she could see the sunlight glinting on the surface of the outer doorway. There was a design there of some sort. Perhaps it would give a clue as to how to enter. Traci hoped it would be similar in design to the ringing of the bells that had activated the temple’s main power source.

When they were close enough to make out the design, Traci gasped in shock. Kendahl and Rutherford both stared at her with confused looks. Encrusted in the entryway were precious stones that made up a clear picture: it was an outline of a young woman wielding a sword. And not just any sword—a katana.

Traci’s mind raced. Who could possibly know that her martial arts training included the use of weapons, especially this one? Certainly Rutherford could not know, and it was doubtful that Kendahl would have guessed. But someone did, and they had gone to great lengths to let her know. She began to feel uneasy about whatever powers had built this place. She was starting to understand why they believed in their warrior princess. The image was stunningly accurate, from the sword held overhead to the tiara to the outline of a bear skin coat and boots.

They all stared at the mural for several minutes, looking for doors, hinges, cracks, something. But there seemed to be no opening of any kind. They were reluctant to approach too close, lest they find some of the booby traps Rutherford feared the builders might have emplaced.

Their inspection having revealed nothing, Traci stepped forward. If they had gone to this much trouble to invite her here, they were not likely to kill her in front of the tribes below. Rutherford and Kendahl were less certain, however.

She reached out and touched the mural. It was strangely warm beneath her fingertips, as though there was some mechanism operating behind the wall. She was caught completely off guard when both sides of the wall detonated, sending rocks flying outward to reveal two recesses. From these recesses, two curved metal doors hissed out from either side of the wall and closed around her. Having reacted a second too late, Kendahl and Rutherford now pounded on the smooth doors from outside, to no avail.

Traci was gone.


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© Brian Jeffreys.