Her heart was pounding like a gong as the Aiglon led her, Pluto and Skye through a tiny doorway into a winding tunnel that led deep inside the hill. The walls of the passage were covered with hieroglyphics and symbols. They passed through several ante chambers till they came to what Aiglon announced as ‘the Holy of Holies’- the Inner Sanctum. The passage opened out into a huge domed chamber. Venus caught her breath and looked at herself as she had been last time round.
Okay, so in her former life she’d had six arms….six fingers and six toes; and a blue face, quite handsome, with slanted black eyes and strong aquiline features; and yes, wings; discreet ones, not capable of travelling very far. Maybe they were able to lift her off the ground like one of those supersonic back pack things; sort of dreadlocked black hair, with a lot of braiding and beading. And of course, no deity was complete without a third eye, right in the middle of the forehead. Sunev was a strange hybrid mixture of Hindu god, Egyptian Pharoah and James Bond. He would also not have looked out of place on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury festival. His statue dominated the whole room. It was over ten feet tall and made from beaten metals and inlaid stones. It was the strangest feeling, gazing at herself, at what she was supposed to have looked like in a previous life.
‘So – this was me over three hundred Venturian years ago?’ she whispered. ‘This is what everybody worshipped?’
‘Yes Serenity.’ Pluto was standing in the background. ‘With the greatest of respect to your current earthly form Serenity, you were considered the epitome of male elegance. You combined the superior qualities of all the races from which you gathered your hybrid heritage; – Kumarian, Vishnuvian and Monrovian. And as for your mighty works…’ he swept a black paw around the temple, ‘well take a look.’
Venus took in the interior of the temple. All over the walls were depictions of her former self performing all sorts of miracles, like an antique strip cartoon; Sunev walking on water; Sunev confronting a load of very angry looking people with two heads who had just arrived in what looked like antique spaceships; Sunev wagging his finger at a load of elephant men counting money in a temple; Sunev on a boat, fishing, with some many armed people; Sunev talking to a load of one eyed people on a mountain top......that was familiar, she’d just done something similar; Sunev having dinner with a load of people….and Sunev in a head to head with a very nasty looking reptilian creature. Her blood froze. This creature was far bigger than the Sunev figure. It made her spine tingle, even as a drawing. It must be a former Chagrinian, an ancestor of this Tyranog.
The centrepiece of all these frescoes was a huge frieze that covered a whole wall. It showed a cross section of the planet of Ventura, separated into two halves, upper and lower, except the lower bit was underground; there was an image in faded inks of Sunev sitting on a shining throne, ascending into a heaven of pink puffy clouds pierced by rays of light, with a load of painted figures from all the tribes of the planet surrounding him, also sitting on clouds. Down at the bottom of the frieze, a crowd of ghastly looking reptilian creatures wallowed in the mire of some underground sea.
Venus swallowed. ‘It’s a bit of a hard act to follow isn’t it? To live up to the memory of some supernatural being, a god, who can perform miracles and save the world and stuff.’ A thought suddenly occurred to Venus. ‘Did I have a girlfriend, or a wife? Did I have kids?’ She was beginning to feel really weird now, having to imagine herself as an adult man in another life; with a bloke’s feelings, and a bloke’s attitudes.
Pluto looked a little uncomfortable. ‘Well, you didn’t really have time for a private life Serenity. You were too busy preaching your gospel around the planet.’
No love life. That was a worrying thought. She didn’t want this kind of tradition to follow her into her current life…if she ever got back to earth.
Skye stepped forward and curled his hand round hers. He gazed deeply into her eyes and Venus felt herself blushing again. ‘Veenoos, even though you were something else then, and are someone else now, you are still you - the same person deep inside. The soul is eternal. And I think of you now as a young woman. A young woman from another planet who is not – entirely repugnant to me.... who has an earthly beauty of sorts…’
‘Oh wow thanks!’ snorted Venus, ‘is that your idea of a compliment?’ Although she did feel a little stab of pleasure that this boy did think she might be vaguely attractive. Suddenly Venus felt the Staff growing hot. She gasped as she remembered what she came for. ‘The stone ! The Green stone of Wisdom. It’s got to be here!’
‘Let your instinct guide you Serenity. You won’t have to look far.’
She perused the walls and pillars then noticed that two of the statue’s hands were cupped together, and something from within them glistened and glowed in the candlelight. She moved closer and saw a brilliant emerald green stone, nestling in the palms. She went up to the figure, stepped onto the platform beneath it and carefully reached inside the cupped hands. The stone was lodged inside a hollow. What if it didn’t come out? She slid her fingernail into the hollow and it resisted at first, then it lifted out easily. She palmed it, slipped it into a pouch on her belt and stepped back down.
‘Come on. I’ve had enough of this dwelling on the past. Let’s get the heck out of here. We ought to be getting on our way.’
They found the entire population of Xenophobia still waiting outside the temple when they came out. The row of priests stood at their head. Venus began to realise what it was like being a celeb and getting mobbed and followed everywhere. She wasn’t sure she liked it. There was a fluttering of wings as they all bowed and started chanting incantations.
‘Oh do stop it !’ cried Venus impatiently. ‘There isn’t time! I’ve got work to do. I need an escort through the mountain and down to the valley. And I could do with a couple of scouts on the journey. Do I have any volunteers? ‘
The air filled with the beating of wings as everyone clamoured to volunteer. Zena and Zeta zipped in like two dive bombers and sank to their knees in front of Venus.
‘Me me me! Please choose me Srenty!’ said Zeta.
‘No Srenty take me! I’m much better at scouting!’ cried Zena.
‘No! ‘S’not fair! If you go I’m going too,’ retorted Zeta.
Sensing another row brewing, Venus defused the situation immediately. ‘Look you two; if you carry on like this, I’m not taking either of you. But if you promise not to fight any more, I’ll take you both.’
The two girls leapt around in an ecstasy of excitement. Venus realised that they must have led very sheltered lives, incarcerated in their mountain city. The other Kumarians slumped with disappointment and their feathers drooped dejectedly.
Venus turned to their mother. ‘I hope that’s alright with you?’
She smiled. ‘It’s an honour for them to serve you. They can be very useful, when they’re not quarrelling. They’re intelligent and resourceful. Their eyesight is as sharp as a bird of prey, and their hearing is just as keen. You could not wish for better scouts,’
Zena leant forward and whispered confidentially. ‘And thanks for not snitchin that you saw us in the gorge..we’d have been in loads of trouble if we’d been found out. Normally it’s forbidden for us to go into the outside world..’
‘Well now you’re going to see plenty of it….so what are we waiting for? Let’s get going. ’