Sunday, 1 January 2017

Mamelon 2 - Chapter Five


As soon as it became clear the Krills would overwhelm them without much difficulty, Ricci stepped back into the shadows and hastily muttered a changing spell that actually worked for once, instantly transforming him into a snake.  He hurriedly slithered away, persuaded this was the best course of action since it would leave him free to help Bethan and Mulac as and when the opportunity arose. Besides, he needed time to think. They had just passed no small distance through solid rock, no mean feat even where magic was involved. Moreover, he doubted whether Astor’s powers, great as they were, could be responsible. There is magic abroad of which I have never known the like, Ricci pondered, refusing to be distracted by the war-like cries behind him. But how can this be, and if not Astor’s whose? Not Ragund’s that’s for certain. 
Ricci was in no doubt that if the Dark Mage had contrived to lead them inside the rock wall, he would have left them there to suffocate. A shiver passed through his snake body as he manoeuvred it to a safe place from which he could keep an eye on what was happening to his companions.
Beth saw no point in putting up a fight and surrendered angrily to the first two Krills that confronted her.  Mulac, though, pulled a dagger from beneath his tunic and fought like a madman. Time and again, the handsome blade found its mark, penetrating thin layers of Krill flesh exposed around the creatures’ evil-looking scales. Inevitably, he was finally brought down by a hefty blow from a cudgel-like object to side of the head that sent him reeling and tumbling off the ledge into space. 
The Krill that felled Mulac had crept up on him from behind.  Beth could only watch, helplessly. She could hardly shout a warning with a knife at her throat. Besides, there was far too much noise for it to have found its mark. Taller and more powerfully built than the rest, Beth recognized him at once as the leader, Radik. It was Radik, too, who grabbed Mulac by the legs and hauled him to safety before shouting orders to several others who proceeded to part carry, part drag the unconscious Nu-gen into their camp below, Here, there was space for everyone to move with ease safety.
In spite of her predicament, Beth breathed a sigh of relief. She had been terrified Radik would have them both killed without a second thought.
Her captors, having bound Beth’s hands behind her back, now tossed her against the cavern wall where Mulac, too, was unceremoniously dumped soon afterwards.  Most of the Krills then scuttled into the shadows but for Radik and one other who entered a makeshift tent.  A light inside the tent revealed the animated silhouettes of other figures. One of the tent flaps remained partly open and Beth could hear voices, but paid little attention as her chief concern was for Mulac whose breathing was loud and rasping. Bending over him and feeling for a pulse, she was relieved when the swarthy Nu-gen opened one eye and winked at her.
Mulac had barely managed to sit up when, despite their hands being tied, both moved in for a kiss to which each gladly responded.
“Where is Ricci?” Mulac whispered.
Beth shrugged. “I haven’t a clue,” she had to admit.  “One minute he was there and the next…gone. I did see a snake, though, so maybe he changed himself into one. If so, I do think he might have done the same for us. But that’s Ricci all over. He can be sweet, even charming, and always means well, but the truth is Ricci only really ever looks out for himself.” Even as she said it, though, she suspected she was doing poor Ricci an injustice.
“A wise move,” Mulac growled softly, “and I took him for a fool!” He chuckled. “He remains free while we…”
“…are prisoners,” Beth wailed, giving up all pretence of self-confidence. At the same time, she was furious with herself since the last thing she intended was for Mulac to think of her as some weak female. Even so, she wished he could give her a hug, having to settle instead for a wicked grin that instantly transformed his surly features. She began to relax, reassured by this completely different side to the Mulac whom she had once detested. Theirs, though, was a love they had to accept without question, for now at least. Both knew it was not a love Mamelon could condone. She was, after all, a Motherworlder, but that was not the only reason. Their destinies may well be intertwined, yet both knew instinctively that the time for asking questions would come soon enough.  When that time comes, I’ll lose him. 
Beth made a poor show of fighting back tears that Mulac misinterpreted as her being fearful for the situation in which they found themselves. Krills were not known for their kindness towards others. It was only natural after all. She has spirit, and I love her, but she is only a female. “Don’t cry. It saddens me deeply to see you cry. Besides, all is far from lost. Ricci is sure to find a way to help us.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Beth replied with feeling, but managed a wry smile that cheered them both. Do something Ricci, and don’t be too long about it. You know you can if you put your mind to it. “He’ll do his best, he always does,” she conceded. 
Mulac opened his mouth to say something when they were distracted by movement at the tent. The flaps were flung open wide and Radik strutted towards the prisoners, a smiling Arissa close behind and trailing after her a very unhappy elf.
“Pers, is it you?” Beth cried out warmly thinking to keep the elf on their side, but if Pers heard he made no sign.
“We meet again Bethan, Motherworlder,” Arissa sneered, “and in the company of a worthless Nu-gen too. Appropriate enough, wouldn’t you say, my Radik?”
“The female is very beautiful,” said Radik, much amused by Arissa’s predictably petulant response.
“For a Motherworlder, perhaps, but I am not impressed. What will you do with her, give her to the others?”
Beth paled, bit her lip, and glared malevolently from one to the other. 
“You know I cannot do that. She is precious, this one, “Mulac hissed, treating his captive to such a hideous parody of a smile that Beth was hard put not to retch.
It was then that Tol’s voice broke into Beth’s subconscious, “Take care, Bethan Motherworlder. Do not antagonise him. The ways of Radik are viler even than he looks when roused.”
Where are you Tol? She would dearly have liked to make mind contact with the gentle giant if only for comfort’s sake but sensed it would be unwise to attempt mind-speak at that moment in time.
“And what of the Nu-gen, he is expendable, yes?” Arissa came closer and spat in Mulac’s face. “What say you, Nu-gen?  What shall my Radik and I do with you? You have a fine body. Perhaps I shall ravish you before we decide. Would you like that?”
It was Mulac’s turn to spit. A pellet of well-aimed phlegm landed between Arissa’s eyes that blazed with such utter loathing that Beth expected a violent response. Instead, Arissa threw back her head and laughed, Radik too.  “We will roast it slowly, this one,” Arissa cried gaily and clapped her hands, “and the heart is mine.”
“It will make a welcome change from Foss,” Radik agreed.
“Don’t be so sure,” Mulac growled, “We are tough, Nu-gen, and hopefully, you will choke to death.”
“Better that than being roasted alive, Nu-gen scum,” Radik mocked, still laughing as he took Arissa’s hand and they returned to the tent.
“What did he mean about me being ‘precious’?” Beth asked the question aloud as much to herself as to Mulac.
“You are a Keeper.” To their surprise, it was Pers who answered. He had sidled up as close, as he dared but in shadow so they had not notice his presence. Now he edged even closer but remained no more than a vague silhouette in the gloom.
“All the more reason for you to set us free,” said Mulac.
“What is a Keeper?” Beth asked although, even as she did so, her heart sank as if it already knew the answer.
“Keepers have guarded the Tomb of the Creator from which flows the Spring of Life since the beginning of Time,” replied Pers solemnly.  All have been female and all called  Bethan. It is more than a tradition, it is a duty.  So it will be again once the tomb is recovered.”
“If it is recovered,” Mulac pointed out.
“Why else would Ri bring Motherworlders to Mamelon?” asked Pers with such naïve simplicity that Mulac found himself swallowing the passionate denial on his tongue, not least because he suspected the elf spoke the truth.
“A Keeper…” Beth murmured, and let her inner eye roam freely amongst a pageant of images as strange as it was familiar. Nor did she like what she saw. Duty…? Doom is more like it.
Again, Tol’s voice spoke at her inner ear. “Don’t be afraid, Bethan Motherworlder or ever believe all is lost. Trust me. The task ahead is a hard one, yes, but when it is complete you will discover that the burden you carry is one of choice not doom.”
Where are you?  Yet again, though, there was no reply.
“You must help us,” Mulac was saying to the disconsolate elf. “Are we not friends?”
“I cannot leave Arissa.”
“You mean you dare not,” Mulac growled impatiently, “Are you such a fool to let that evil female control every move you make?”
“She doesn’t,” Pers protested, “If she knew I was speaking with you now she would…”
“Skin you alive,” Mulac muttered, furious with the elf’s intransigence,
“Perhaps,” Pers admitted, close to tears, “but I can’t help the way I feel. She is everything to me. I love her, “
“Huh, love!” Mulac scoffed, “Can’t you see she is manipulating you?”
“If you can’t help us why are you talking to us at all?” Beth asked with such quiet earnestness that the elf began to cry.”
“I can’t bear to think of you…”
“Eaten alive?” Mulac suggested so lightly and matter-of-factly that Beth as well as Pers was taken a-back.
“They can’t!” she wailed.
“They can and they will,” Mulac assured her tonelessly. She wished he would show anger, fear even. This apparent acceptance of so terrible a fate was not only uncharacteristic, but scared her even more than the threat itself.  Suddenly, she realised just how much, until now, she had been relying on the Nu-gen to come up with an escape plan. Hadn’t Mulac apparently returned from the dead once?  Surely, he won’t let the likes of Radik and Arissa get the better of him, especially the latter.  She bristled with rage just for thinking about Heron’s dreadful sister. To think we once trusted the bitch… “Pers, please help us, please,” she pleaded.
The elf shook his head. “I can’t,” he wept. “I only came to see if you had any news of Irina.”
“The answer is no,” Mulac snapped, “but you can be sure that if she lives and ever gets to hear of your betrayal, she will disown you.  Gar will disown you. You will spend the rest of your miserable life exiled and alone except for that she-devil who has your wits in the palm of her pretty hand.”
“No, no!” The elf continued to sob quietly.
“If you won’t help us, at least have the decency to go away and leave us in peace to enjoy what little time we have together.” Mulac spread his large hands despairingly and breathed a sigh of relief when the elf slipped further into the shadows even more suddenly and stealthily than he had appeared.
“You were too hard on him,” Beth felt compelled to say. “He is in the grip of dark magic. You must see that, surely?”
“Of course,” Mulac agreed, “but I had to try.”
Both fell silent, unexpectedly and involuntarily drifting into a sense of semi-awareness that was neither wakefulness nor sleep.
It was Beth who first saw the ghostly figure floating towards them. While it had no easily distinguishable features, it had something resembling a finger to where its lips might have been. Beth dug her elbow into Mulac’s ribs.
The Nu-gen grunted, opened his eyes and gave a start. “Kikiri…!” he gasped.
“What…?” Beth whispered.  Mulac did his best to explain. Meanwhile, the apparition continued to hover and watch.
“What does it want?”
“It wants us to follow it,” Mulac said with a self-confidence he was far from feeling.
“With our hands tied behind our backs?”
“Hands, not feet,” he pointed out gruffly.
“Even so, are you sure?”
“No, but what have we to lose?”
“You have doubts,” It was not a question.
Mulac shrugged. “It is a thing of dark magic. But I sense there is something of what it was that remains and that, at least, means us no harm. “Besides, it is as I say. We have no choice but to trust it.
As the pair scrambled to their feet, Mulac involuntarily wincing from various cuts and bruises he had received earlier, they realized their hands were no longer tied. “But how…?” Beth exclaimed albeit softly.
“Who cares? There is magic here, yes, but it sides with us not against us so let us just  be grateful and leave it at that. Now, come.”
“We will be caught, and Ri knows what will happen then,” Beth muttered while massaging her wrists. As if by way of a reply, the eerie figure just ahead of them appeared to shake its head. “Oh, well, needs must as the Devil drives.” Seizing Mulac’s hand, she took the initiative and began walking slowly towards it even though this took them out of the deeper shadows and into full view of several small groups of Krills, As luck would have it, they were too busy cackling among themselves and drinking heavily to notice the odd trio, thereby paying them no attention. Even as they passed the tent, where a light of some kind was still burning and voices could be heard, no one raised the alarm. It’s like we’re invisible. Beth would have shared the thought with Mulac aloud had it not been necessary to keep silent. Besides, she knew he would be thinking the same.
It was the weirdest experience, but soon they were some distance from the Krill’s camp and following the apparition along yet another winding passage. “We’re going down,” she whispered to Mulac who was just a few steps ahead.
“So?” he replied abstractly, his mind turning over various possibilities. Can it be we have escaped one trap only to be led into another? Yet, what would be the point of that? Even so, he continued to nurse grave doubts about their strange guide.
“This isn’t the only mountain. How do we know the Tomb of the Creator is here? It may be in one of the others, “Beth pointed out. “At this rate, we’re as likely to find our own tomb as anyone else’s,” she added grimly.
“We are here are we not?” came Mulac’s cryptic reply.
“Do you think this kikiri may know the location of the tomb?”“
Mulac shrugged. “Who knows what a kikiri knows?  What is certain is that we know nothing. Have some faith, woman.”
The Nu-gen’s brusque tone was music to Beth’s ears. Mulac was back to his usual impossible self.  She was starting to feel almost positive when, without any warning, the ground gave way beneath their feet.
Both plunged screaming, limbs flailing helplessly, into a pitch black chasm.
As she fell, a ghostly figure appeared to Beth. She managed to cry out,” Dad!” whereupon the vision of her Motherworld father swooped and gathered her into his arms. Immediately, she closed her eyes and felt perfectly safe, no longer fearful of what she imagined must be certain death.  In a weird, dream-like state, she heard Mulac cry out also, only to be engulfed by infinite pain and disappointment that the name on his lips was not hers.