Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Mamelon 2 - Chapter Ten


Ricci was not happy being a snake. That is to say, he was not happy being this particular snake. A little snake would have sufficed.  But, no, it was big, and not even pretty. Moreover, it appeared to have a mind of its own since he was finding it extremely difficult to manoeuvre different parts of the elongated body that kept swaying this way and that.  Even so, he had escaped the Krills and must count his blessings. Now, at least, he could…Do what, exactly?  Get help? Where do I go for help? Who is going to help us anyway? He had already tried making mind contact with Astor, and failed miserably.
He sighed. That is, he meant to sigh but was only able to produce a noisy rattle. The ghastly sound made him start to the extent that his snake body first quivered its entire length before flying into a frantic coil that poor Ricci was quite unable to control and which nearly strangled him. Uncoiling took a while, and considerable concentration. Afterwards, he continued to fret. Why was it, he asked himself, as he had a thousand times, that adopting the shape of bird, beast, reptile or whatever did not necessarily lend him immediate access to the very best of its natural faculties? He had put the question to Astor, of course, more than once. Astor, though, had simply remarked that he still had a lot to learn. Ricci almost sighed again, thought better of it, and settled instead for staying annoyed with Astor. What the devil use is a mentor who doesn’t mentor properly? Aggrievedly, the snake stretched to its full length, but not for long as Ricci’s train of thought was rudely interrupted by a blood-curdling yell.
Ricci slithered to a nearby ledge that gave him a grandstand view of what was happening below and did not like what he saw. The surly Nu-gen, Mulac, was trying to take on the band of Krills singlehanded.  Naturally, it was a lost cause from the start and he was soon overcome by a sneaky blow from Radik who had crept up behind him.  Bethan, Ricci was relieved to see, had surrendered to the inevitable, but was now showing more concern for the Nu-gen’s fate than her own. Ricci adroitly wriggled to express further irritation. The relationship between these two was incomprehensible to the point of sacrilege. She’s a Keeper, for Ri’s sake, and he’s…Well, being Nu-gen says it all. At the same time, Ricci began to panic as the hopelessness of their situation made him nauseous. Astor had placed them in his care, after all. They were his, Ricci’s responsibility. Let’s face it.  Being a snake has its limitations. Unable to summon a vestige of optimism, Ricci slithered down the rock face and into the Krill camp, taking care to avoid being trodden on.
For a while, Ricci just watched and waited, although if he had been asked for what, exactly, he would have been at a loss to reply. He took great pleasure in letting rip with a long if subdued hiss when Arissa appeared. He had never trusted the female. The fact that she was clearly on very familiar terms with Radik came as no surprise either.  I’d have put nothing past this one…
The appearance of a kikiri, however, gave Ricci such a shock that he almost jumped out of his snake skin especially when it then proceeded to lead the captives out of the camp as if they were invisible. A kikiri here, of all places, and making itself useful…? How can this be? It is unheard of. He was about to follow them when the two Krills meant to be guarding the captives caught his attention.  Their backs to the cave wall, they were plainly oblivious to the escape. Nor did anyone else exhibit any signs of raising the alarm.  Most peculiar, I’ll say!
“Why do you suppose Radik wants them anyway?” one was asking.
The other shrugged. “To get us across the lake is my guess/”
“Yes, Doom Lake, and well named. It can’t be far now and the monster will be sure to demand  payment. What could be better than fresh meat?”
“One is a Motherworlder though...” The first Krill sounded doubtful. .
The second Krill shrugged again. “Meat is meat, and everyone knows no meat tastes better than human, whatever its source. Ask any druid if you don’t believe me,” he added with a cackle that made Ricci’s blood run cold. It had been rumoured that druids as well as Krills loved to feast on human flesh for as many lifetimes as he could recall.
It was at that moment Radik and Arissa chose to emerge from the makeshift tent where their animated silhouettes and raised voices had demonstrated to just about everyone present, not least Ricci, that it was the Krill leader who danced to Arissa’s tune not the other way round. Ricci permitted himself another long, low hiss.  The elf, Pers, was not alone in being bewitched by this devilish female. What is her plan? What is she after? Whatever, it bodes ill for all of us, I’ll say!
Ricci looked around and spotted the elf cowering in shadows near the place where the captives had been only moments before. He looked around again, but there was no sign of Tol, Strange... But Ricci barely had time to reflect on the gentle giant’s absence when Radik let out a shriek of rage that almost sent him flying into another hysterical coil. As it was, it took every last drop of concentration to impose his will on the snake body. He succeeded, but at the cost of an excruciating headache. Oh, my poor head, it is positively swimming. He longed to put a comforting hand to his throbbing head, but of course he couldn’t. This is ridiculous. No hands, no feet…What am I supposed to do, for Ri’s sake, moult?
“Idiots,! You call yourselves sentries?” Radik was demanding of the two hapless Krills whose responsibility it had been to guard the captives.  “My great-grandmother could have done a better job!” he screamed, waving a deadly blade in their faces. It was to their credit, thought Ricci, that they neither moved a muscle nor did their faces betray any expression other than a dutiful blandness.
“Great-grandmother…?” Arissa murmured absently, but audibly, “I never knew you had one. Or even a mother, for that matter…” But the Krill leader was in no mood for her sarcasm. He was used to it if inclined to mistake it for the kind of banter in which lovers had indulged since the beginning of time. On this occasion, though, he chose to ignore her, forgetting in his rage, that being ignored was something a female with an ego as volcanic as Arissa’s would not tolerate lightly. “Can this be my brave Radik throwing such a tantrum?” she said quietly, yet once again loud enough for everyone to hear. “That our guests have departed is regrettable, I agree, and a mystery. But what is done is done. At times like this, my dear Radik, a leader needs to keep his head, not lose it. In your case, using it for once might also help,” she added scathingly before heaving an exaggerated sigh followed by, “I have to say, Radik, I am fast becoming weary of always having to think for both of us.”
Radik scowled. No match for Arissa in this mood, he had to be content with slitting the throats of both sentries before asking in a tone that anyone but Arissa would have found intimidating, “So why should I care that we have lost the Keeper when I’m sure you have a plan to recover her and that dim-witted Nu-gen?”
“No plan, Radik, simply that we give pursuit without delay rather than stand around wringing our hands like washerwomen caught in a rainstorm.”
Radik glared. What kind of female is this that drives me to slit the throats of two of our band which, Ri knows, is small enough. Yet, she does not say a word or even appear to notice? But Radik was not the fool Arissa took him for, and kept a tight rein on his temper, easily enough now that he had spilled blood. Indeed, the parody of a smile that lit his battered features might almost have been interpreted as subservience. “You are right, of course. They cannot have made much ground so we should catch them before they reach Dom-y-Baba. The Nu-gen is expendable, of course, but we dare not risk losing Bethan, Keeper. She is, after all, the key to Mamelon’s future, and ours.
“Perhaps,” said Arissa thoughtfully. Let us hope so, my Radik, “she purred, “but we must make haste. The Kurzl cares not for such things, only his appetite. Let us hope he has a taste for Nu-gen. Pers, you will see to the tent, and have a care with my things,” she called imperiously to the besotted elf without even bothering to look for him.
Dom-y-Baba, Lake of Doom…Oh, my goodness. Ricci began to panic yet again. It did not help to discover that he had been under an illusion that snakes could travel at speed. Progress was slow as he slithered away from the Krill camp, undecided whether to try and change into a bat or revert to his natural form. Bats can fly, but would I get the hang of their peculiar nervous system? Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear…
Coming to a fork in the tunnel did not help ease poor Ricci’s growing frustration. Instinct suggested he take the left, and then he thought he heard voices, albeit faint echoes, farther down on the right so slid hopefully in that direction.  Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a pair of legs. For now, though, he decided, it may well prove useful to remain a snake. Besides, he could not for the life of him recall a spell for bats.
He had not travelled as far as he expected before Ricci found himself peering down from a ledge at Ygor and his robed followers. Their presence came as no surprise, but what stunned poor Ricci  was the sight of an inert form laid out on a makeshift litter that two Robed Ones were carrying. Michal! Trust a druid to get his greedy hands on one of the bloodline. I daresay he has a plan to snare Keeper Bethan too.  For an instant, his eyes narrowed under the snake hood, exuding a malevolence to which his host body was no stranger. Ricci, though, was by nature a kind soul. Moreover, his hatred of druids smacked of disloyalty to his master. Astor may well be the finest of mages and beyond reproach, but that did not make him any less a druid. Indeed, Ricci never ceased to wonder at the love he felt for Astor. Nor had he questioned that love since entering Astor’s service so long ago that he could scarce recall the circumstances, a love greater even than the intense loathing he felt for Ygor and his rogue band. By comparison, his feelings towards Radik were almost benign if less so regarding Arissa.
Ricci’s jumbled thoughts and mixed feelings suddenly cleared and proceeded to focus upon one thing. Oh, my goodness, Dom-y-Baba.  But Ygor would never sacrifice one of the bloodline to the Kurzl, surely? Michal was too important. Without Michal, no one could enter the Tomb of the Creator even assuming they should ever discover it among the maze of tunnels and yawning caverns that had played host to Foss and other hybrid beings for as many lifetimes as the mountains themselves had stood.  In his mind’s eye, he pictured the key he had worn on a chain around his neck, now safely insinuated into the snake’s body patterns and indistinguishable from a variety of colourful markings. They cannot do anything without it, none of them, Ricci reflected with pride, and I will surrender it to no one but the rightful Ruler of Mamelon. Yet, as he looked askance upon the Motherworlder’s pale face, he could not help but wonder if it was already too late.
Where is Astor, whenever I need him most? Not the first time, Ricci’s devotion to the White Mage was sorely tested as he struggled to decide on the best course of action. I must get to the lake, and hopefully catch up with Bethan and the Nu-gen along the way. Oh, but suppose they arrive and the Kurzl…Panic threatened another near suffocating coiling-up, more than enough to calm even Ricci. He wondered if the druids were aware the lake had dried up and all that was left was a sprawling bed of red sand. As for the Kurzl, some stories suggested it had made its way to the Sea of Marmela while others insisted it continued to live where it had dwelt since Ri created the mountains, ever poised to make a kill, creating quicksand to draw being or beast into its lair.

 A vision of Bethan, Keeper, being sucked into the jaws of the Kurzl loomed in Ricci’s graphic imagination. Oh, my, oh my…There was no time to waste.  Struggling in vain to recall a spell for bats, he wriggled away as fast as he could.