Kali couldn’t believe she let Jake talk her into sneaking into the SteamPunk Sanctum. From the outside, the rambling mansion looked quaint, even charming, but Kali knew better to judge a book by its cover.
She took several deep breaths before stepping up to the front door. She snuck a peek through the oval pane of glass in the front door. An airship etched into the glass in what appeared to be silver. Kali gasped when the door creaked open. A man no higher than four feet gave her a strange look, yet said, “I’m Jenkins, please come in and feel free to explore the house.” He vanished without another word.
Do I really want to go poking around in here? If only half of the wild stories about this place are true, it could be quite dangerous just being inside. Kali turned to leave, yet her inner voice kept nagging for her to take a look around. And her curiosity was having a fit at the very thought she might leave. Where shall I start? The library?
She glanced around the entry then headed down the narrow hall. The first room off the hall appeared to be a sitting room with nothing unusual that she could see. The next door opened onto the room she wanted. Tall windows along one wall let the sunlight filter into the room. Massive bookshelves lined the other three walls floor to ceiling. A brass rail ran around the room along the floor and the top of the bookshelves. A brass ladder hung from the railing and moved quite easily when Kali bumped it. Several tables with matching chairs occupied the center of the room. Chairs of various sizes with reading lamp hovering over them where scattered haphazardly between the tables and bookshelves. Spider silk hung from the ceiling fixture and sent a shiver down her back. She backed out of the room.
Strange hisses and swirling smoke came from a door at the far end of the hall. Kali tugged it open and stairs spiraled downward into darkness. She heard clanks, ticks and whirling sounds, yet her feet refused to step downward.
Kali climbed the winding staircase to the next level. At the far end of the hall a steel door with a large padlock begged for attention. She moved closer to inspect the door. Her skin crawled when she reached it. She hurried away from the locked door as strange sounds came from behind it. She climbed the narrow stairs to the attic.
Her hand shook as she twisted the crystal doorknob. The door squeaked its protest as she shoved it open. Her heart leaped into her throat, fear did a dance along her spine. Beads of perspiration tickled down her face. She started to retreat when she got this sudden urge that demanded she enter. She gulped down several deep breaths and crossed the threshold. Faint light filtered through a distance window. Dust danced in the faded light. A gleam caught her attention. Kali approached a small bookshelf. On top of it sat what appeared to be a pocket watch with a crystal clear case. Kali could see the tiny gears turning. She knew she had to pick it up. A strange warmth raced through her hand the moment she touched the strange watch.
“Kali, come to me,” a faint voice whispered.
Kali gasped as her one dark-purple eye and one dark-grey eye darted around the attic seeking the soul who spoke. She discovered she was the only living person there. Then as if she were hypnotized her feet moved back downstairs and headed straight for the eastern cupola. She tried to go the other way, yet couldn’t make her body obey the command from her brain.
The door opened and revealed a hunchback that stood five-three with a bulldog build. His left arm, a mechanical wonder. Cogs rotated at the shoulder and elbow with ease as pistons moved in his upper and lower arm.
Kali stood frozen.
“Come in before the other realize I know how to bypass their feeble attempts to keep me contained here.”
Kali slid passed the wee man. “Who are you?”
“I’m Ellery, Kali. You found Pavel’s time scope.” He pointed to the strange gizmo in her hand. “It allows one to travel through time and enter different realms. I need you to take this treasure map to Pavel.”
“Are you crazy?” Kali stepped back when she saw the strange gleam in Ellery’s green eyes with their swirling black flecks.
“Not hardly, yet some say I’m a delusional. Others claim I’m a weird science dude. I make marvelous wee clock work gizmos. Come let me show you.”
Kali followed him to a workbench set under a beautiful stained glass window. The sparkling glass held a hot air balloon with bird-like wings and a smoke stack with grey smoke curling from it. On the table lay all sorts of gears and cogs. A pair of goggles with magnifying glass lenses attached lay next to a mechanical butterfly.
Ellery picked the tiny creation up, wound a brass key, and tossed it into the air. The wings fluttered and the sparkling wee butterfly flew around Kali. He held out his hand.
“The time scope, please.”
Her hand shook as she handed the strange pocket watch over. Ellery dawned his goggles and snapped it open. Instead of numbers, tiny strange glyphs were etched around the edge. Kali noticed there were two dials. Ellery fiddled with each one. He set each hand on a different rune and grabbed her hand as the room began to tremble. She gasped as the room spun around them and a blinding light flared. She landed hard on her hands and knees.
“What have you done? Where are we?”
“I took us to the realm where Pavel lives.”
“That still doesn’t tell me where I am?”
“Pandora. It co-exist with our world only in a different time phase.”
Kali climbed to her feet and brushed the dust from her clothes. She felt anger race through her, and she wanted to strangle Ellery, yet knew that wouldn’t solve the problem at hand. “Where exactly is Pandora?”
“That I do not know, nor do I care to know,” Ellery said.
“WHO GOES THERE!” a voice roared.
“Tis I, Braxton.”
“Ellery. Why did ye bring a time traveler with ye?” The cat size dragon came into view.
Kali gasped when she saw his beautiful glimmering blue scales. She stepped back when she saw the glare in Braxton’s shadowy blue eyes. “What time traveler?”
“Ye be the time traveler.” Braxton pointed a claw at Kali. “Tell me thy name.”
“That’s Sanskrit. I believe it means dark goddess.” The dragon turned to Ellery. “Why have ye brought this stranger to see Pavel?”
“She has the map for the Hidden City,” Ellery said.
“Nothing more that a fable. Perhaps a legend, yet it’s not real.”
“That is where ye be wrong?” another voice said.
“Pavel, please stand back. This time traveler may be dangerous,” Braxton said.
Kali notice his unusual eyes. The color of rose quartz. She felt a pang of envy when she saw his beautiful peach colored completion. Her hand flew to her mouth when she spotted the glyphs swirling just above the skin on his arms. How bold? Pale blue hair with a matching beard that almost touches his waist. He’s definitely not human. Yet what is he?
“I’m a Fae. Fairy where you come from, Child.”
“You. . . You can. . .” Kali sputtered.
“Read thy thoughts, thy scents, and thy body language. Come let’s have tea,” Pavel said.
“NO!” Braxton said. “Her eyes make her a dangerous threat, and she must be destroyed.”
“Nonsense. What’s wrong with her eyes?” Pavel said.
“The left eye is dark-purple and the right eye dark-grey. For a stranger to this land she has a tattoo of Magnus’s airship on her left arm. Her hair suggests she’s a pixie, and ye know how much trouble they can be.” Braxton whispered several strange words and Ellery vanished.
“NO! He still had the time scope. I’m trapped wherever this is.” Kali sank to her knees, pulling them to her chest.
“Fear not. Use the map Ellery gave ye and find the Hidden City. There ye shall find the time gem, and it shall send ye anywhere ye wish to go,” Pavel said.
“I’m a stranger here. I know nothing about this place, its laws or customs. I would never survive such a quest,” Kali said.
“Ye need to have a little faith, Child. Come I shall help ye the best way I can.” Pavel moved off without another word.
A loud shriek woke Kali and it sent chills down her spine. Braxton came rushing in. “Rendor has come to take you to the Hidden City. Hurry Pavel won’t wait forever.”
“Who is Rendor, and why would he help me?” Kali asked.
“Rendor is a Roc. I believe in your realm, a pterodactyls, a prehistoric bird. I must warn you, Rendor is different than most Rocs.”
“His wings are mechanical. His real wings were shredded in an air battle with a dragon. The fall into the ocean was the only reason he survived. Ellery made the wings for Rendor. The cogs and gears make them function like real wings.”
Kali followed Braxton outside and swallowed the scream that threatened to escape. The bird was larger than a house, yet beautiful in a strange sort of way. Incandescent feathers of blue, silver, lavender and pink covered the Roc’s body. Coral eyes watched Kali. “So ye be the human that Ellery has sent to retrieve the time gem.”
Kali gasped. “It talks.”
“How rude. I am not an it. If ye be capable of speech why should I not be? Show me the map so we may be on our way,” Rendor said.
Kali’s hand trembled as she held out the map to the giant bird. He gave the parchment the once over then nodded. “Ellery, why would ye hide the time gem there of all places?”
“Do you know where this Hidden City is?” Kali asked.
The Roc glared at Kali. She stepped back and shook when Rendor lowered his head so he was eye to eye with her. “I know where every secret on that island is hidden. My concern is Magnus.”
“That old fool deems himself a pirate and believes there’s a treasure hidden within the city. He’s too stupid to realize there is no such treasure. The only thing of value there is the library with tomes, scrolls, and stone tablets that are centuries old that would only be of value to scholars and historians.”
“Then the time gem is a book not a gemstone, Kali said.
“Ye be smarter than ye look, Human. Get on my back, daylight fades as we waste time. It’s a long flight to the island. I wish to be there by nightfall.”
“The sun is barely above the trees,” Kali said.
“True,” Rendor said.
Miles and miles of land and sea disappeared as Rendor winged his way across the sky. The air felt icy at times, and hot at other times. A shadow loomed over them as the island came into view.
A cannon ball whished by. “Darn! Magnus, are ye crazy?”
An pirate ship with wings and steam coming from a chimney came along side Rendor. “Hand over the girl and map, and you shall not be harmed.”
Kali swallowed furiously when she saw Magnus. He stood on the forecastle and was naked to the waist. Strange glyphs ran down the right side of his face over his shoulder and stopped at his waist. They created a delicate, yet beautiful and erotic design of multi colors. Blue-black hair shimmered in the fading sunlight that hung to his shoulders. It seemed as if his eyes were a dark-blue grey that held suspicion in them.
“That I cannot do,” Rendor said. “Kali, hang on.” Rendor dove toward island. A scream escaped Kali and she threw her arms around Rendor’s neck. He flew just above the treetops then straight at a mountainside.
“Rendor, look out.”
Rendor ignored Kali’s scream and swooped into a cave at the last second. Kali slid off and fell to her hands and knees. Her whole body shook for several minutes before she could catch her breath. “He tried to kill us.”
“Scare ye silly perhaps. Kill us, not by any means. That cannon ball was high and wide. He never kills unless that’s his only option. Right now he wants ye alive. He believes ye can lead him to he treasure.”
“How did he even know Ellery sent me?”
“Magnus always knows when someone crossing the time barrier between our worlds.”
“How do we get to the city if he’s out there?”
“There’s a hidden passage through this mountain that goes straight into the city. It’s the only way to get there by foot.”
“Then why would Magnus need me? He can see the city from his airship by flying over it,” Kali said.
“Magic hides the city from above. All one sees is a thick blanket of clouds with lightning flashing within them.”
“Just great. A trek through a dark, gloomy cave with a lunatic hot on my tail.”
“Who are you calling a lunatic, Missy.” Magnus stood less than two feet from Kali. A nasty looking pistol filled his right hand. “Don’t be foolish and try anything, Rendor. I would hate to have to kill you. I enjoy our wee scrimmages.”
“What do ye want?”
“The treasure,” Magnus said.
“There isn’t a treasure,” Rendor said.
“Then why is the girl here? Ellery doesn’t send outsiders here unless there’s a good reason. The Hidden City holds a valuable treasure that I intend to take.”
“What happens to me if there isn’t a treasure?” Kali asked.
The glare Magnus gave her made her cringe. She stepped back against Rendor. “Why would you say such a thing? I have hunted for the Hidden City most of my life.”
“I heard a rumor that the city contains nothing of value for a mighty pirate. It only holds an interest for scholars and historians,” Kali said.
“What is she babbling about, Rendor?”
“The Hidden City contains only a library with ancient writings within. There is no treasure or at least the kind of which ye seek.”
“Liar! Move, Missy, before I blow a hole through Rendor. Don’t get any ideas of trying to escape. I shall not hesitate to put a shot through your legs and arms to prevent you from running,” Magnus said.
Rendor hissed, yet stepped away from Kali. “Kali, go with him and don’t run off. There are worst things than Magnus that are far more dangerous.”
Kali hung her head and moved through the passage in front of him. After what seems like hours and hours the passage opened at the edge of a city. Kali gasped when her eyes darted around. Everything was made of glass.
“Take me to the treasure.” Magnus shoved her toward the stone path in front of them.
“I cannot. I am a stranger here.”
Rendor shot from the passage behind them. “Do not shoot me, Magnus. The girl does not know. Pavel kept the map. Only I know where what you seek is.”
“Fine.” Magnus cocked his pistol and held it against Kali’s temple. “One wrong step, Rendor, and the pretty wee lass loses her head.”
Rendor nodded and walked down the stone path. He led them through twists and turns. Kali was getting dizzy from all the turns and tripped, sinking to her knees. “How much father?”
“Three move twists shall bring us to the center of the city where your quest ends,” Rendor said.
“Get up and move or I shall shoot you where you are,” Magnus said.
“If ye harm her in anyway I shall not take ye to what ye seek.”
Magnus glared at Rendor, and jerked Kali to her feet and shoved her in front of him.
Three twists later, a large domed building loomed before them. Yet this one was not made from glass. Blue and lavender marble rose above them. Wide cut stairs led up to an archway hidden between two columns. A dragon and a Roc had been carved from the stone that created the columns.
Magnus motioned for them to climb the stairs. Kali swallowed the lump that threatened to choke her. Her heart felt as if it would jump out through her mouth. Tiny icy fingers slid up and down her back. She stepped through the archway with Magnus right behind her. A groan shattered the silence when Magnus saw tomes, scrolls, and stone tablets everywhere. “Where’s the treasure?”
“Ye are looking at it,” Rendor said.
“Tis impossible. The legend.” Magnus dropped the pistol from Kali. He wandered around the room for several minutes. “Tis a trick. Show me where the time gem is. Do it NOW!”
“As ye wish,” Rendor said.
Kali and Magnus followed Rendor down a corridor that ended at two doors. A strange glyph etched each door, and each sigil was different. “Open them.”
“I cannot. Only Kali can,” Rendor said.
Magnus jerked Kali around to face him. “Open the doors or die where you stand.”
“Stop threatening me. How am I suppose to open them? I do not possess any magic.”
“Tis not true,” Rendor said.
Kali gasped. Tears began to slid down her cheeks. She wiped the tears away and moved to the doors. She traced each glyph with the hand she wiped her tears with. The runes began to glow, and the doors creaked open in protest. Magnus shoved her into the room. The only thing in the room was a table at the center. A ring of light fell through a circle window at the top of the dome. On the table lay a leather tome.
“Where is the time gem?”
“Ye be looking at it,” Rendor said.
Magnus stepped up to the table and glanced down at the book. On the cover in fancy script, Time Gem. “It’s a book.” Magnus’s body shook violently. His face turned an ugly shade of red. “I have wasted my life hunting for a damn book!” He turned and vanished.
“Now what?” Kali asked.
“Only ye can answer that. I believe Ellery wants ye to bring him this tome.”
“How? He took the time scope when he left me with Pavel and Braxton.”
“The Time Gem shall tell ye how. Open the tome and simply follow the instructions.” Rendor turned and walked away.
Kali’s hands shook as she opened the tome. She read the directions and closed her eyes. She felt as if she were spinning. When she opened her eyes Ellery stood over her. She was in his cupola at the SteamPunk Sanctum. “What a strange dream?”
“I must have fallen asleep.” She noticed the book she held and gasped when she saw the title. The Time Gem.