Chapter 49:     To Aket

Transcribed from dictation, ADAM speaking--

Okay, here we go: the fabulous City of Aket...  Uhm, I'm a little 
ambiguous about just how much I should tell to anyone in the Nokhso 
world.  But that's where the story goes now, so I'm locked in.  We 
can edit it later.

Aket is a secret place, very well hidden, difficult to get to, with 
guards posted and security traps to keep it that way. The entrance 
is protected against anyone stumbling in by accident. They really 
don't want Nokhso people (you guys) finding it, for obvious reasons.  

So I'm not going to say where it is, nor offer interesting details 
about our journey to get there, full of hidden clues for any clever 
treasure hunters to follow.  In fact, I should probably just LIE 
about the route, to throw any rabid squatch-seekers off the trail...
if only I could lie, that is.

But if I'm going to tell you ANYTHING about what I experienced in 
Aket, I will have to admit that the entire place is underground.  

So now you're probably already imagining "the fabulous City of Aket" 
as horribly cold, dark and dank, a cave without sunshine or fresh 
air, a gloomy pit where the sasquatches are doomed to hide, squalid 
refugees from the eyes of humans and Google Earth.  Well, that's 
what I imagined.  

Dagrolyt took me there, waving to guards I never saw along the way 
to the entrance.  We passed a little stream, where we washed all 
the stink off us because it was not the custom in Aket, which was 
fine with me.  Already this mysterious Bigfoot Burg was beginning to 
sound like a civilized place.

When we reached the actual entrance Dagrolyt told me: "We're here.  
Now we must wait while those Alutna agents observe us to determine 
if we may enter Aket or not."

"Huh?  What Alutna agents?"  I hadn't seen even one.

"They're well hidden-- never mind, here they come!"

Four Nokhons came out of the forest from four directions.  One of 
them gave us a signal to follow him, so we did and the other three 
walked close behind us.  We were led into a... let's just say an 
"entrance" leading into total darkness.  The three Alutna behind us 
dropped away and the one ahead guided us into Aket, leading us by 
holding Dagrolyt's hand, him holding mine.  I was completely blind, 
but our guide walked fast, sure of the way.  

But then our way became visible, vaguely at first.  The lighting was 
a combination of daylight mirrored into the passage and some kind of 
phosphorescent moss growing on the walls which glowed faint blue, 
dim, but just visible enough to follow.  The deeper in we went, the 
brighter the sunlight became. 

Of course, ever the excited young scientific explorer, I was asking 
what kind of moss could glow like that and wondering where daylight 
was coming from.  Our Alutna escort was amused at my amazement. "I 
dunno, it's always been like that in here," was all he had to say 
about it, with the squatch equivalent of a shrug.  He didn't know or 
care how it worked.

Eventually we came to a big bright chamber with switch-backed stair-
ways carved into the stone wall, the last check-point to Aket.  If 
we had been enemy invaders (most likely humans) the guards above 
could simply roll rocks down on us as we tried to come up those 
stairs.  Potentially a pretty effective defense system, although I 
couldn't imagine squatches actually doing that to anyone, since they 
don't kill anything.

The Alutna who had escorted us through the tunnels called up to 
another guard above and we were given permission to come up the 
stairs and enter Aket through a rift in the granite wall.

I'm not sure how to describe my first view of Aket. Majestic, exotic, mysterious, beautiful? Not dramatic enough. Incredible, amazing? Too clichéd. Thing is, it was REALLY AWESOME but I don't like how dumb that makes me sound. But yeah, AWESOME it was and even more so because of the light. It was so open and bright that I assumed we'd come outside again. It took a moment to register that we were actually inside a really huge cavern under a ceiling of granite bristling with glassy rods, big and thick as trees. Those rods were transparent and evidently long enough to penetrate all the way up to the surface above, because sunlight was shining down through them. Sunbeams were criss-crossing every which way, aimed at mirrors of "chromed" rocks or crystals that reflected the light around evenly. So it was a sunny day inside that chamber. I don't want to get into a detailed scientific report right now about the illumination of Aket, but can't avoid mentioning it because the place could literally not exist without that light. Besides, it's got to be about the most amazing work of ancient engineering I've ever seen. It may have once been a natural cavern but I noticed that large expanses of ceiling were supported by three gigantic stone columns, definitely man-made. The more I looked the more flabbergasted I became at the scope of impossible constructions involved in just the ceiling alone. And that was just the box we were in. Looking out over the cavern, the City of Aket was the real surprise. There really was a city! Well, okay, a town. Not a big town, but a true archeological wonder in the tradition of many classic ancient temple complexes found around the world, only this one was inside a cavern. And completely unknown. It was all pretty compact, of course, there was only so much room in which to spread out, but I was struck by just how harmoniously it all fit together, not cramped or crowded at all, everything structured on levels or shelves. The architecture itself seemed to be a mixmash of styles from other ancient cultures. Highest up, the far wall was a sheer cliff, but with three openings carved into the granite which reminded me of Hopi Cliff Dwellings. There were also several small waterfalls gushing out of the wall. The next level down sported what looked like a Mayan temple perched on a shelf of its own. Zillions of stairs cut into stone ran down to a wider shelf with a big "town square" framed by three large cubical buildings suggestive of ancient Greece. Farther down, what looked like Babylonian hanging gardens. And at the bottom, water, a lake or pool fed by those waterfalls. Pretty scenic. But equally fantastic was that there were trees and green plants growing everywhere down there-- inside that cavern, inside that mountain! And this was hardly some ancient abandoned ruin; I could hear voices down there, a hum-buzzing of people, even over the splashing of waterfalls and the other natural echoes of that big cavern. Then I saw them moving around below, certainly more Nokhontli than I'd ever seen gathered at any one place before. Hundreds, at least. I admit that I wasn't really prepared for the WOW of Aket--I'd actually expected it to know, a disappointment. Not that I was hoping for a "city" by the standards of modern civilization, especially not in size or population. But hey, for a guy majoring in anthropology and archaeology, this was nothing less than... AWESOME! I felt like Hiram Bingham discovering Maccu Piccu. Hell, make that Tarzan finding the Lost City of Opar! This was an Indiana Jones movie, a fantasy sci-fi adventure, Saturday morning cartoons-- except that this was REAL! None of this was new to Dagrolyt, of course. He pointed to the big "town square" below us, "That's where The Three Elders hold audience, usually around mid-day. It's too late today, we'll have to go there tomorrow."
Dagrolyt led the way down the endless stairway chopped into the cavern wall. It was just wide enough for two big guys like him and me, which was good because there was no railing of any kind and it was a nasty long way down. Especially because those steps were also thousands of years old and you could see it: so worn that they were rounded and slippery and pitched towards the brink. I found myself hugging the cliff as we went down. Of course, Dagrolyt just skipped down them, totally unconcerned about that deadly drop right beside us. Didn't seem to notice. I was noticing everything. I heard that we passed over a waterfall somewhere below us, but was afraid to go to the edge and look down. The stairway switch-backed, so we neared it again. Dagrolyt stopped when the water-roar was just under the edge of the slippery stairs. "We can take the quick way down from here," he said, pointing over the brink. I carefully crept to the edge to look down. "You've got to be bloody kidding me," I said in English, but he understood by context and laughed. "It's safe enough," he said, "as long as you follow me," and sprang off the edge. Well, we were still at LEAST a hundred feet above the rocks downstairs, but the waterfall was gushing out of the cliff side with enough force to arc out over to the lake below. I watched Dagrolyt drop into the thick stream and be whisked away into the arc, gone in the spray. A few seconds later he surfaced from the lake and waved up to me, alive and in one piece. Well, I wasn't EAGER to do that. But when I checked out just how many more hundreds of steps I had to go down to reach the bottom and having seen that Dagrolyt had survived it, all I had to do was overcome my own craven cowardice. Dagrolyt waved again, "come on in the water's fine," you know. I could have ignored that, but then saw that others below had noticed me, crowds looking up at me. Also some girls. I was in plain sight of the whole town. And the longer I hesitated, the more they seemed to be discussing "that guy up there, seems afraid to jump". Pointing. Beginning to laugh, I supposed. So of course I jumped, less afraid of dying than to be considered a chicken. But it was okay, the current snatched me and carried me all the way down through the surface of the water so that the impact didn't even hurt, although I could hear the lake closing around me with a juicy "spla-goosh". It was deep, no rocks, no pain, my kind of lake. When I came up I saw that Dagrolyt was already sitting on a stone dock beside some stairs leading up to the city, talking with some guys there. I swam over, trying to make a graceful entrance for all those people watching me... soon realizing that nobody was. Guess once I HAD jumped I was no longer amusing or interesting. Except maybe to a couple of guys squatting on the dock with Dagrolyt. He'd evidently been telling them about me, so they politely introduced themselves. They seemed interested but reserved, not sure if it was okay to be associated with anyone so involved with those wicked little Nokhso-folk. Although when Dagrolyt mentioned that I had passed my purification with the personal blessing of the Elder Da-nama-hat himself, they became almost overtly chummy.
There at the bottom level of Aket the Lake was bordered by low rock walls and wild green gardens of bush, even a few trees. None of it looked cultivated, but there were edible greens of many sorts growing all over the place: nettles, thistles, ota, typical squatch food; and there seemed to be a lot of it. I saw several folk plucking and eating, although one seemed to be harvesting crops in any organized manner. Dagrolyt and I went upstairs to the next shelf, or second level, a flat narrow ledge with some square stone buildings here and there, but most of the bakhl were carved into the cliff itself. Entrances and passageways had been cleanly cut into the granite wall. A few Nokhons wandered in and out, up and down stairs, but there wasn't much traffic going on, the pace here seemed pretty slow. Call it the suburbs. Here too were several gardens of edible greens growing, also on the roofs of the buildings. It looked as if thousands of people could live there, but most of it was unused and empty. I later learned that Aket had once housed over 4000 inhabitants in ancient times, but at present there were only about 400 people actually living there. Most Nokhons never enter Aket, or maybe just once in their lives and only a few live there permanently, the rest are visiting teachers and students. Actually, I was also told that there are no thousands of Nokhontli to fill up all those rooms anyway, their population is currently so few in this part of the world, due to birth control being their way of adapting to the constant encroachment of modern Nokhso civilization. But back to the tour of Aket. Dagrolyt took me through one of those doorways in the cliff face, putting us in a big empty room. It was literally just a hollow stone box, no furniture, nothing except for a pile of bushy fir boughs piled up in one corner. That room was well- lit, however, by sunlight reflected from three of those mirror-stones mounted on the far side of the cavern. Spotlighting directly in through three window-like slots, which seemed pretty ingenious. "If you are accepted to study at Aket this is where you might live," Dagrolyt told me, "it's a dormitory for students and apprentices." "Ah, nice and comfy granite," I think the irony was lost on him, "do you stay here too?" "No, in Aket I must stay with the other Sha-hakas, two levels up from here. The idea being that we all mingle and exchange ideas, I with other wizards and you with fellow students. It's usually fun and you'll make lots of new friends." "But there's no one here," I observed, feeling lonely already. "Of course not, they're all hanging out at the Town Square."
The third level, two shelves above the lake, was the center of the city. That was the deepest and widest ledge with the most open floor space, where most of the actual buildings in Aket stood. They had resembled Ancient Greek architecture from above, but were all simple cubes of various sizes. Some buildings were even 2-3 stories high, but they too all seemed to be empty. The layout could have resembled a Downtown, or a shopping mall as you know them, but was nothing of the sort. There were buildings, but no shops, no restaurants, nothing to buy, no souvenir booths, not even apartments where people lived. One could eat, however, since there were gardens of edible greens everywhere, but of course no money was involved, since squatches don't even recognize the concept. And yet there was lots of traffic on that level, pedestrian squatches coming and going about their...whatever... business, alone or in groups. In fact, there were suddenly more Nokhon people than I had ever seen gathered in one place, over a hundred easy. This was the Bigfoot version of Manhattan! I mean, really: everybody was moving faster than Nokhontli normally do, more intently, involved in the big city life-style, places to go, people to see. It was the first time I saw sasquatches actually looking BUSY (except for during a Kha-rat, of course). I had to wonder just WHAT they were doing. Dagrolyt informed me that most of the groups were students following their teachers and it suddenly occurred to me that I was actually standing in the middle of a University Campus. Click, the place made sense to me. Sure enough, many of those around us had shoulder bags, obviously Sha-haka, both male and female. Those without were apprentices and students. There were also "civilian" males and females, but no kids anywhere. This was a place of learning and wizards and government. Dagrolyt knew where he was going, but I was stumbling behind, trying to look everywhere at once, checking out the weird architecture, getting in the way of busy foot traffic. After always having considered myself the most sophisticated squatch in the World, I suddenly felt like a total Hick from the Sticks.
At the mid-point of Aket is a classic "square", a big open plaza between two large cubic buildings, the cliff-wall on one side and a cliff-edge on the other, overlooking the lower levels and lake. It's called Ka'aga'ath, which means "the Flatness", but let's just refer to it as the Town Square. In the middle of that Town Square was a perfectly rectangular block that looked like mirrored glass, about ten feet high, ten wide and twenty long, flat on top. Reminded me of the Monolith in 2001-- although toppled over, and maybe except for the chrome job. I already knew that this was the dais from which the Three Elders of Aket made public proclamations because Dagrolyt had pointed it out to me from above. Now he took me right up to it. It was weird to be approaching a GIANT MIRROR in the Nokhon world, where everything else is natural, plants and earth. Again I got the impression that we were in a modern shopping mall, where widescreen mirrors are no surprise. This mirror was not perfect plate glass, however, but kinda wibbly and warped, distorting the reflections, depending on from where you were looking at it. Still, I could easily recognize Dagrolyt, myself and the scene behind us. Made sure that I looked good, brushed my messy hair back a bit, you know. Then noticed how a lot of young Nokhons seemed to be pretty much hypnotized by their own reflections. I could understand that, most of them had probably never seen any kind of mirror before and then to come up to one this BIG! Of course, I'm used to mirrors and was more interested in the mirror-stone itself: like how the hell do they chrome rocks? I fingered it and learned that it was gooey. Some kind of quicksilver? "This is where you'll need to be tomorrow," Dagrolyt told me, "the Three Elders will hold audience here at mid-day and there'll be a crowd, so be here early." "Looks like the crowd is already gathered," I said, referring to all the people squatting or lying around the square, mostly in groups. A hundred Bigfoot just hanging out. "Well, this is The Place To Be for social and cultural interaction," Dagrolyt said, "it gets especially entertaining after dark. You should probably just spend the night here." "Okay, sounds good. But I'd like to explore the town while it's still light. Let's go up to that building," I pointed to the next shelf up, where I had earlier noticed the intriguing Mayan-looking temple complex. "Sorry, Dadamet, you can't go up there just yet. Only Sha-hakas, not even their understudies may accompany them. This public level is as high as you are allowed to go in Aket, for now at least." "Oh, well, okay. Then we could..." "Actually, I have to report up there now and meet some colleagues, so I'm going to let you run loose on your own for awhile." I was surprised, Dagrolyt had spent so much time on me lately that I'd forgotten we weren't Siamese Twins. "You going to be all right?" he was patient enough to ask. "Oh, hey, sure, I've got a strange new world to explore. Uh... any other special Aket DO's and DON'Ts I need to know about so not to screw up?" "Oh yeah, no screwing. Everyone is celibate while in Aket. No sex here, ever, okay?" I said "Ra," but wasn't sure if that was a joke or not. It was no way near full moon, so there weren't going to be any shyøma-powered temptations going on. But then again, Dagrolyt had seen that I wasn't on the same horniness schedule as most Nokhontli. Dick in pants, check. Dagrolyt gave me some final instructions about what I was supposed to do the next day, said, "See you tomorrow, after your audience with the Elders," and went up the stairs without me. Actually, I did feel a little insecure about being abandoned in such a strange and weird place, but I couldn't expect him to hold my hand night and day.

Chapter 50

Adam out of Eden