Tenlyres Chapter 38 – Flowering Lyre

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Previous Chapter

Ilsa, Lemuel, and Tirica go to scout the nearest Lyre to Chogrum. They are looking for Uzan, but what will they find?

 

If we are to fight for any reason, let us face evil together.

 

Blooming flowers of every color surrounded the looming form of the Eastern Lyre. Ilsa realized what the Oshomi had told her was true, she understood why they always referred to it as “Flowering.” The plant piles close to the surface here made the name obvious by sending up their stalks for pollination.

She, Lemuel, and Tirica rode through the flowers. A shame their horses left hoof prints in the soil and disturbed the natural beauty. However, the flowers also made it easier to spot if anyone else had been poking around on a steed. Strider and runner prints would be effortless to spot in this field were steppe grass gave way to bright blossoms.

Like the other structures of Tenlyres Ilsa had seen, the easternmost was made of dark-colored stone, raised on a circular base, though this one lacked ramps. Metallic strings gleamed in the afternoon sun.

They left their horses beside the base. The animals could have leaped to reach the top, but they were already strained by the morning ride, and the stress would be unnecessary.

The three of them climbed the meter or so up onto the stone. She knew from what Lemuel had discovered about the lyres that, though the stone seemed still, they vibrated at a subtle frequency that made them impervious to the ravages of time. And they could morph to open up to allow access when the right notes were played on the lyre’s metal strings.

She led the way to the strings and looked up at the flat stone support stretching across the top of the lyre. Lemuel glanced at the broader of the two arms of the lyre, where a gate to the empty upper chamber could be opened. “Looks like part of it is still sealed.”

“Yeah,” said Ilsa. “Let’s keep it that way.”

If the lyre was opened entirely, as the central instrument had been, who could tell how many Uzan would be set free from its hidden chambers.

“I should study the piles around here,” said Lemuel. “See if they can tell us anything about the history.”

“I thought you two had been here before?” said Ilsa.

“We have. But I didn’t know what to look for back then.”

“I suppose it makes sense to check them before we play any notes.”

Tirica nodded. “Don’t want any surprises.”

“Right,” said Ilsa.

Lemuel and Ilsa walked to the edge of the raised base of the lyre. While the two of them climbed down to study the piles, Tirica took up a position by one of the lyre’s arms and began to scan the steppe around them through the scope of her rifle.

Ilsa was grateful to have someone watching, in case of nearby enemies. She was even more grateful she had not been forced to use her weapon bonds for a few weeks.

In that time she could feel the guns joined to her spirit silent, but ready as ever to spill blood and take life.

On the ground, among the flowers, Lemuel retrieved an interface tablet from his pack. He crouched down and jabbed the long needle that unfolded from one end of the screen into the stem of a flower.

The screen flickered into life, activated by the bioelectric battery within it. Information stored by natural plant piles could be difficult to decipher, but if one knew what to look for, one could uncover many things about the area in the vicinity of the pile.

Lemuel’s gaze moved over the stream of data points, mostly numbers with only a few words to label the units and title the columns. The interface translated the pile’s information into simple characters when connected.

“Looks like someone has been around here in the last ten hours. Three someones today,” he said. “One is average height, but low step pressure. Someone lightly built. The other two are a lot bigger.”

“How big?” Ilsa asked, leaning in to look at the screen, though its digits and characters made little sense to her.

“Well, they could be Uzan, but a human the size of someone like Ozleji Sammhar would be about as heavy.”

Ilsa’s blood ran cold for a moment at the thought of Sammhar, though she knew he remained a prisoner of the Vogmem nomads allied with Siuku. She had out-shot him more than once, but it did not ease her completely, as it shouldn’t for any of her father’s apprentices.

“I can’t see anything else out of the ordinary,” said Lemuel. “My guess is, even if there are Uzan around, they haven’t found the way to open up the lyre yet. It would be obvious if they had.”

“Definitely,” said Ilsa. “Is there anything else out here to see about?”

“I doubt it. If one of the piles has information the others don’t, then it would still be like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

The two of them climbed back onto the base of the lyre. Tirica nodded to them. “The plains look clear to me,” she said.

“You ready to have a look inside?” Ilsa asked.

Lemuel folded his little hand into his big one. “It’s funny. Just this spring I couldn’t have imagined ever going inside a lyre. Now, I don’t know how much there is to learn down there.”

“Being trapped in one of them for a week could make anyone nervous,” Ilsa said.

“The smell of days of our own excrement. The threat of death outside.” Lemuel wrinkled his nose. “How could I forget?”

Ilsa took a deep breath and produced one of her pistols from her brand. She took her scroll case from her belt and handed it to Lemuel.

The paper inside carried the instructions to play the notes to open the top chamber of the lyre. Ilsa had written them down during their stay within the Central Lyre. Later, she had added notes on what she suspected other tunes might do after her father used the relic song pistols to open the entire instrument and free its Uzan. She had only had time to think in the evenings on their ride east after escaping the mountains.

Lemuel unrolled the scroll. “Okay, just a few strings to hit.” He related the information Ilsa half-remembered on her own.

She loaded her pistol and took a deep breath. A stray shot could bring out Uzan, but she would not miss. She took aim at the first string. “I’m ready.”

She pulled the trigger. Pivoted. Pulled the trigger again. The strings sounded more like heavy bells than an ordinary lyre, but as she played, the sound came out deep and distinct, even over the sound of Ilsa’s gunshots.

If I’m not going deaf from playing these yet, I will be soon, Ilsa thought. She completed the brief tune and lowered the pistol.

Tirica let her rifle hang in the sling around her shoulders and applauded, then jerked forward, startled by the lyre’s stone moving near her. Lemuel smirked as the wall beside Tirica opened up into a passage leading downward.

“It still amazes me the way this place works,” he said with a note of awe in his voice.

Ilsa nodded to him. They walked toward the passage, side by side. “Tirica,” said Ilsa. “Can you stay out here and keep watch?”

“Can do,” said the girl. “Someone here has to look out for trouble.” She walked a few paces away from the passage and sat down nearby. “Don’t you two distract each other down there.”

“Distract each other?” Lemuel flushed. “Sister, I don’t know—”

“I know what you two have been doing when we camp at night. And it isn’t all making notes and plans in your tent alone.”

Lemuel’s face grew redder than Ilsa had ever seen before. She stifled a laugh with her hand. Tirica did not bother hiding her own mirth.

“Sister, please,” said Lemuel. “It is not polite.”

“Brother, really?” Tirica seemed to choke on her laughter. “I’m happy for you. Besides, Ilsa doesn’t mind. That’s obvious.”

He waved his hands. “Ilsa has more experience with this sort of thing than I do.”

“That is not the sort of thing most men just admit, you know,” said Tirica.

Lemuel froze, suddenly silent, but still red.

“Your brother isn’t most men. He’s an uncommon genius.” Ilsa put a hand on Lemuel’s arm.

Everything from Lemuel’s ears to his chin flushed after that.

Tirica shook her head, then sat back against the lyre’s arm. She adjusted the scope while making a disgusted expression. “Alright, that was more than I needed to know.”

“Shouldn’t have pushed,” mumbled Lemuel. He started down the passage into the lyre. Ilsa followed him with a smile at Tirica as she walked past the girl.

Tirica pulled a disgusted face.

As they descended out of earshot of Tirica, Lemuel took a deep breath and turned to her. “An uncommon genius? Did you really mean that?”

“Of course I did. You figured out more about lyres than anyone since the ancients.”

He started to speak but stopped himself. They continued to follow the dark sloping passage, illuminated by glowing stone streaks along the walls on either side of the five-meter-broad passage.

They emerged into the empty chamber under the base of lyre visible on the surface. It appeared to be identical in structure and dimensions to the one in the Central Lyre.

“Not much to see here,” she said.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Lemuel followed the glowing lines in the stone along one of the walls. “If the passage above can be opened with a song, there could be other chambers accessible from this one using different notes.”

“Siuku definitely seemed to think so.” Ilsa frowned. “She didn’t know any of those songs, though. just the one that opened the prisons of the Uzan, and the one that got us down here.”

“If we have time, we should experiment with different notes.” He furrowed his brow. “Something tells me there are other passages out from here.”

“Intuition? You?”

“I know, I usually prefer data. But sometimes one has to make a hypothesis and then test it to learn. In this case, the hypothesis of songs is that they can help us learn without also freeing more Uzan.”

“The hypothesis of songs,” said Ilsa. “Sounds pretty poetic.”

“That’s more your field than mine,” he said. “History, information, lyre lore, that’s my skill set. You’re the one with words. I’m glad you’re writing them down now.”

Ilsa followed him along the wall a few more paces then stopped. “I only do that when I think you’re asleep.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t used to do it at all.”

“Cass told me I should, back at the lake.”

“I think she’s right. You’re still a priestess of Hathani, even without your staff.”

“I’m starting to feel that way again,” Ilsa said. “Sometimes I wasn’t all that sure what I really believed.”

“Well.” He turned to face her. He took her free hand in his larger one. “We rely on each other to figure that out. At least, that’s how it seems to me.”

She pulled him close and they shared a kiss hot as summer in the cool chamber.

“I keep counting on you,” she said as they drew apart.

Two gunshots cracked the air. The sounds echoed down the passage to reverberate inside the chamber.

“Shit,” said Ilsa. “Unfriendly company.”

“That was Tirica’s rifle.” He reached for the revolver holstered at his belt.

She turned toward the entrance and raised her pistol. They ran for the surface.

#

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