|Harena 5 |
Agatha and Brandhardt arrived at the entrance of the palace. Compared to the rest of Harena, the palace looked in utmost magnificence. It was the one structure in the city that did not have a crumbling exterior. Sure, the palace was old, perhaps the oldest building in Harena, but Brandhardt seemed to make sure it was taken care of.
Inside, Ng wasn’t surprised to be met by dozens of guards lining the walls, each armed and emotionless. Brandhardt escorted the professor through the first long stretch of a hallway, which was etched in ancient hieroglyphs. With the guards lined at the walls, it was a tight fit, but they made it out fine regardless of the lack of comfort. The hallway brought its visitors to a vast room filled with valuable treasures and other rarities. In the center stood a gigantic, arched opening. Two red, ripped banners bearing the sign of Harena sat freely on each side. Larger, and more dangerous looking guards sat at each side of this opening as well. And it is through this opening that Agatha clearly could make out a grand throne, a chair fit for a king.
Ng followed Brandhardt through the arched opening and into the throne room. She noticed a separate room located on the left side of the throne room, and through the opening of that room, Ng could see what appeared to be a glorious bed. She was in Brandhardt’s personal quarters. The Harenian leader then pulled a slightly different and smaller throne directly in front of his.
“Please, have a seat, Agatha.” Brandhardt offered the small throne to the professor, and Ng, knowing she was in no place to resist, sat. The little chair most certainly was the most comfortable she had ever sat in. Brandhardt then took a sip from the golden goblet that rested on the arm of his chair.
“And, if you like, I can offer you a cup of Harenian’s finest Juice of the Cane?” Brandhardt took a sip from his goblet. “It’s a special drink served only in Harena, and only to those wealthy enough to afford it. It is powerful enough to cool you down even on the hottest of days.”
“No, but thank you, Brandhardt. I would have never expected such marvelous hospitality towards someone you've called an outsider for years.” She realized her mistake in making such a statement, and to help lessen the tension that was now burning brightly on Brandhardt’s face, she apologized. “I’m terribly sorry for that, Brandhardt. So many years of solitude builds up many… emotions that are difficult to contain sometimes.”
“I understand. But let’s get back to the real business, shall we?” Brandhardt took one last, long sip of the Juice of the Cane, and started. “I’ll cut to the chase. Harena is not growing any larger. I’ll be honest with you, it fills me with pain seeing my city in such a pitiful state. The buildings are crumbling to dust, and Harenians die from starvation daily. There just simply isn’t enough left here in Harena to where I can maintain it myself. Over the years, I’ve pushed away any outside help, and as a result, Harena is reaching the end of the line. The people here are weaker than ever, so building projects have been slowed, if not cancelled. But I so dearly want to fix Harena, to restore it to its former glory, and I can’t do that with the worthless masses of settlers I have here. The work that is needed is to arduous for many of them to set out to do. So, my offer is this: In exchange for several good workers from your Settlement One, I’ll allow you to perform studies here in Harena, which, might I say is the oldest settlement to be discovered on Cruithne.” Brandhardt stood up, and walked to fetch an object resting on a flawless wooden table in the back of the room.
“Look at this,” Brandhardt carefully handed Ng the objec., “You must know I have a knack for exploring, myself, and I happened to find this in a special room deep within the pyramid. We happened to stumble across the room accidentally when…” Brandhardt paused, and continued only when Ng opened her mouth to question him. “We had a casualty. A worker was walking down a corridor, and fell into what appeared to be a pit trap.”
“Oh my…” Agatha gaped.
“He fell quite a ways down before the tragic stop onto dozens of spikes at the bottom. After closer inspection, we could see that the spikes didn't line the entire floor of the pit, and that there was a clearing. So, my workers got a long rope ladder, and carefully made their way into the secret corridor. That is where I found this tablet. I was hoping you’d be able to decipher the text on it for me. I’m sure something that old and hidden holds some sort of information on our asteroid’s past.”
After a long pause, Ng spoke. “So, in exchange for several settlers from Settlement One, you will let me unravel whatever mysterious message is etched into this stone tablet?”
“I know, you were right – it does sound horribly one-sided. However, I do have something else to offer you: another lab. You see, on the edge of Harena lies an incredibly old research lab. It has been untouched since the last group of researchers who left the city many, many years ago – since before your unfortunate crash.”
The professor thought deeply about the offer made, but decided it wasn’t enough. “I’m sorry, Brandhardt. For so many years you’ve shut us out of Harena, even came to the point of threatening us. When we needed you for assistance during the disease breakout, you shut us out. But when you need help, you expect us to freely give it to you?” Ng shook her head. “I…”
“If you accept my offer, I will even go as far as permanently opening the Harenian gates to outsiders who can come and go as they please. I’ll sign a pact initializing the permanence of tourists into Harena. Thus, you could come any time you need to perform studies. And that is all I have to offer. Besides that, all I have is wealth. Everything I once had has either died from disease or starvation, or has turn to dust on the ground.”
She felt the sense of craziness enter her mind once more. She thought to herself, "Harena is any researcher’s paradise. Allowing me the opportunity to research as I please, and declining would be ignorant."
Finally, she came up with her decision. “I will go back and ask the settlers if they would be willing to help rebuild Harena. You will not take them by force, and they will be paid for their services.”
Brandhardt grinned, knowing he had struck a deal. “Of course. You go to Settlement One, get as many workers as you can, and return. Then, I will let you start the research on this strange tablet. However, there is one condition. The tablet must stay here; you cannot bring it back with you to the settlement. I am sure you can find all you need in the lab located here for your studies.”
Reluctantly, Ng agreed to the conditions. Brandhardt then bidded farewell to the professor, and she left the palace, leaving the ancient tablet in Brandhardt’s hands. She was going to need much more to convince the other settlers to travel with her to Harena, she feared.