The Key to Tantalis
The Key to Tantalis
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When Martin Fields is nine years old, he and his father bury a special box beneath the old oak tree in the family’s backyard. The Latin inscription reads Stultum est timere, quod vitare non potes. His father explains that these are words of great meaning and courage: It is foolish to fear what you cannot avoid.

Now a tragic car accident leaves his father dead and Martin paralyzed. Martin realizes it is time to open the box, but strange things begin to happen when he lifts the cover. Inside, he finds a key and a note that says “Tantalis.” He and his best friend Dominika begin to investigate and are transported to the special world of Tantalis—a land inhabited by trolls, faeries, dragons, and the evil creatures known as Inkwish.

Once there, Martin learns that the creatures of Tantalis need his help. His loyalty is torn between Dominika and this world of Tantalis, and he faces threats from Diablo, the leader of the Inkwish. Martin learns the truth about dragon flight and that one ancient legend on Earth might not just be a story told through the generations, but is in fact a reality that reaches out to demand the utmost of him … and almost kill him.

The Hole me duce, tuts eris under my guidance you will be safe

Diablo shifted his great weight from one leg to another. He was taller than all the other Inkwas; his head at least one quatta (about ten centimetres) above the rest. He glared at the four Inkwas that were digging the hole in front of him, and in a rasping whisper, let out a short explosion of expletives, hurrying them on.

They turned to face him, their tongues flicking in and out nervously and then went back to work immediately. Diablo’s own tongue, large and uncommonly crimson for an Inkwa, flicked too. But his was slow, deliberate, as if each flick, each flutter was the result of a careful calculation of speed and length. It was directed at them. The four workers did not let this fact go unnoticed; any slacking off meant that just one spit, and they would feel the burning of his vile poison on their backs. Like all Inkwish, Diablo had two glands in his throat, each one producing a harmless liquid which, when combined, produced a fiery, toxic chemical that burnt through even thick Inkwish skin. It was a strange and devilish characteristic of this dark race: that their own poison could harm few other species; it was poisonous only to themselves. To some, their scars were a brave indication of how they had suffered under vicious leaders. But while they might be seen as a sign of courage, or endurance, it was no fun being on the receiving end of an accurate spit. And this time Diablo was too close to miss.

He watched closely; the hole he had ordered was to be an exact depth and width – he had something clearly in mind, although those digging had no clue what it was. And he wanted it finished before the first watch began.

An aide slithered in by a side entrance, too afraid to make a sudden move; she had in her hands a Hill snake, still moving hesitantly, on the very verge of its death throws. She waited patiently until a slight movement of Diablo’s head and a recognisable flick of his tongue told her she could penetrate his presence further, which she did. She stopped in front of him, gesticulating some form of greeting and the offering of the creature she held in her hands. Diablo looked at her briefly, nodded and took the snake from her. He rocked forward, his body coming off his enormous erect tail which otherwise gave him balance, speed in flight, and comfort in sitting, and slumped slightly into the semi-squat position peculiar to Inkwas. With one swift movement, he severed the head and at least a quarter of the snake’s body so the remainder quivered, and shook in his hands. The blood dripped down the corners of his mouth onto his chin, and he irritatingly wiped it off with the back of his small left hand. He was feeling better already. The aide retreated into semi-darkness, around the side of the cave, while Diablo completed his meal by allowing the remainder of the small but tasty snake to drop into his mouth and down his gaping gullet.

Perhaps he had asked for too much; should he have ordered another two workers, or were four enough, he found himself wondering. Now, his hunger satisfied, he leant forward and peered into the hole; the workers stopped briefly, trying to detect his mood, but decided he was simply in a stance of enquiry, and they continued digging. Just then two more Inkwas entered. Their entrance was quite different. Not the obsequious and quiet waiting in the wings, like the aide. Theirs was a resolute and more confident presentation. Diablo looked at them both.

“Have you thought about it?”

“Yetthh, Ours,” they said obediently, their tongues in unison, flicking out between their lips in an attempt to emulate that of their leader.

“It’s the only way to go.” Armai and Geaddon smiled, but only just noticeably. As the two favourite and trusted soldiers of Diablo’s personal guard, they held sway. And they knew it. The task he had set them, although unprecedented, although quite unique in the history of Tantalis, and one which they had spent only brief moments doubting, was such they would be unable to refuse in the bigger picture of things.

“You have known all your lives the secret of combat,” continued Diablo turning fully, to face them. “As long as you catch them unawares, you should have no trouble.” The two nodded.

“You will bring it straight to me in the container…”

“Yetthh, Ours, we will; there will be no thpilling. No delay.”

It was exactly what Diablo wanted to hear and he smiled at them.

“If you do exactly as I say, you will be safe.” Diablo belched, but neither of them so much as moved either of their long reptilian eyelids; they were transfixed, quite mesmerised by his sheer confidence and the boldness of his plan.

By the beginning of the first watch the hole was finished. It might have been half a quatta deeper, but Diablo decided it would suffice.

The workers went to their watch relieved, bowing subserviently as they retreated from Diablo’s presence. Their leader did not budge, though. In fact he remained next to the hole for some time, peering inside, contemplating, judging, scheming. The expression on his face was one of resolute maliciousness; it was clear he had made up his mind about something, and he was not going to deviate.

Every now and then, as Inkwas do, Diablo leant forward to allow his tail a chance to furl around to the front of his body. His small hands stroked it, and he massaged the taut muscles down its length.

Although it could bear his full weight, it was also a sensitive organ, finely tuned and as sharp as a razor at the end. Taking care of one’s tail, for an Inkwa, was something akin to the preening of feathers for a bird. It was by far their deadliest weapon; and something told him he would be needing it soon.

Much later that night, and by the end of the second watch Armai and Geaddon returned.

In twenty-one centuries no single act in Tantalis would shake its traditions and its history more than the result of their actions that night. Although the Inkwish had turned and had offered troubled times and dark difficulties for everyone in Tantalis to bear, nothing like this had ever been contemplated.

Diablo knew it. Although his plans remained quite secret, he knew that what he had devised would change things forever.

He knew, also, they had succeeded when they handed him the container.

What he didn’t know was that Armai and Geaddon had not killed one but two fully grown dragones.

If Diablo had had any remorse and perhaps a little more insight, he might have shivered from the sheer magnitude of this vicious deed. Instead he simply smiled and took the large silver container from them.

In the still of the night, one could hear a faint, almost gentle, shrill-like hiss which signified the start of the third watch.

Michael Klerck grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. He has worked as an educator and a freelance writer. Klerck won the Mondi Paper Magazine Writers’ Award for work in Men’s Health magazine. He lives near Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife and two of his four children.
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