Yasmina had been as excited by my find as I had been but had refused to examine the pillar in person, claiming to be too frail and old to go clambering around. Instead it was Dazidra who had gone with me and Thorne to check our discovery. Like me, she could sense the Power. Between us we deduced that the pieces of stone were a key of some sort that would fit into the circular depression.
“Bit like a cog,” mused Thorne. “Perhaps you line up a symbol with that arrow?”
“Sounds a strong possibility,” I answered. “But then what? Will a path show itself? And what if we put the key in wrongly? And how do we get it out to take it with us? Will the path remain long enough after we remove the key?”
None of us, of course, knew the answers. Before we could find out more we had to put the pieces together. That, however, proved far more difficult than I’d originally thought. Thorne returned to the underground chamber to search for more tiny fragments of stone, eventually retrieving them all. Even with all of them laid out on the table, it was an almost impossible puzzle to solve. It would have helped if I’d known what the symbols were. And in what order they appeared. As it was I’d soon found the rest of the triangle but others eluded me. The symbols seemed crude and irregular: most were composed of shapes or disconnected lines that made no sense to me whatsoever. There were also symbols on both sides of the stone, which worried me further as to the use of the key – was it the symbol facing upward that directed the path or the one pressed against the pillar?
Gradually I sorted the pieces into some semblance of order. One of the symbols appeared to be a hammer in a triangle. That had excited Dazidra. “It’s the flag of Tadhi Hallim, the Targ citadel,” she announced, beaming. “Or at least, an approximation. If you can work out how the key works, you could test it by going there first.”
I grunted, feeling unsettled by the whole concept of a ‘test’. What if I used it only to find myself trapped in some bricked-up chamber with no hope of getting out? What if there was no pillar at the other end, trapping me completely? And, most importantly, would the magic still work with a cracked key? There was no way, after all, that the key would be perfect. Would the imperfections skewer the paths? I put those thoughts to one side and returned to the task at hand.
Eventually, one and a half days later, I had assembled all the pieces into what seemed to be the right shape. Thorne produced some paste that he used to repair crumbling stonework in and around the temple buildings and painstakingly glued it together. Then we sat back and studied the object with Dazidra and Yasmina joining us in an attempt to work out what the symbols meant.
Despite the priestesses having spent much of the last day or so studying the charred book on the Pathways, they had no better luck in deciphering the key than I had. It seemed anything relating to how to use the Pathways or of the symbols was burnt beyond reading. But they believed one symbol looked a little like Anshey du Khull – a rough tree shape on a raised semi-circle. Another Thorne pointed out as being similar in shape to Shianti Island although Yasmina dismissed that as implausible.
“No record of that ever being an important Harazana Place,” she harrumphed.
I looked across at Thorne and smiled sympathetically as I said “But, Yasmina, from what you say, your records are incomplete. Perhaps someone else would know if it is.” I was rewarded by a huge grin and wink from Thorne that made me feel rather shaky yet warm inside. Blushing, I hurriedly averted my gaze and concentrated once more on the key.
Called away to help his mother in the kitchen – I had learned that he was not only the handyman but also the person who hauled sacks and any other heavy items around the temple – Thorne left, leaving me alone with the priestesses. Studiously we continued to examine the key as dusk fell.
Other symbols included a tall rectangle topped by a half-moon, a group of three arrows that might possibly be mountains, three vertical lines of varying height and another shape that could have been an island. Yasmina had vague ideas about some but the only ones we felt we could be certain of were those for Tadhi Hallim and Anshey du Khull.
“So,” Yasmina finally announced as we decided there was no way we could decipher any more, “You have your key, Seeker. Time to open the Pathways and fulfil the first part of your destiny!”