Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Mamelon 2 - Chapter Sixteen


Pete Wright was not unhappy in the company of Heron, Irina, and the Foss called Fred. That is not to say he was happy either. At least, he was less homesick than he had before joining them. He had long since come to look upon Heron as someone akin to an older brother, and if he were honest, much preferred Irina’s company to Beth’s. He was homesick, yes; sometimes more so, sometimes less. He would have given anything to be enjoying a family meal in leafy Tonbridge Wells, and enjoying his mum’s home cooking.
More than anything, he was angry. What am I doing here? What’s happened to Mick and Beth, and where did that Ricci character disappear to?  It was Ricci who got us into this mess, after all, and for what?  None of this Mamelon stuff makes any sense. Oh, I suppose it’s an adventure, but where’s the adventure in no one having a clue what it’s all about…? As for saving the planet, well, it’s not as if anyone has a plan A let alone a plan B. Not as I far as I can tell.  Not that anyone ever tells me anything, but I bet that’s because they don’t know anything themselves. “A fat lot of good that is, I’ll say,” he muttered, imitating Ricci without thinking.
            Misinterpreting his grave expression, Irina attempted to reassure the red-haired Motherworld boy. “You have a saying in your world. Hope springs eternal, yes? We must never lose hope or we might as well…”
“Be dead,” Pete said with a long sigh, yet the word seemed less scary somehow, almost matter-of-fact for its being spoken aloud.
“No one is going to die,” Irina assured him.
“You don’t know that, none of us do. Let’s face it, Irina, we’re lost.”
“We are not lost, we go where the mountain takes us, and the mountain cannot be lost, can it?
Pete chuckled. The elf girl’s logic was flawless. Irina laughed, too, relieved to see her charge raise a smile. Heron and the boy had bonded well, it was true, but it was she who felt the greater responsibility for his safety. She ruffled the striking red hair in a spirit of genuine affection, and was rewarded with a cheeky grin. She was reminded of the leaves of the Fire Tree, life force of elvendom, and experienced a sharp, oh, so familiar pang of intense longing for her home.
Where was Pers, she wondered for the umpteenth time? What did that she-devil, Arissa, have in mind for him? Only, she corrected herself with a start, it is not Arissa so who or what had stolen Arissa’s form and reduced her to kikiri? According to the oldest archives, kikiri were deprived of all human senses. Yes, this kikiri was plainly on their side. It made no sense. Kikiri were created by the darkest of dark magic. Ragund, of course…
It would, she reasoned, take a very powerful white magic to allow a kikiri anything like human responses. So what could be its source? Not Astor. Astor could not do this alone. He must have help. She had no idea why she should think that, but was certain of it all the same. Not for the first time since leaving the Forest of Gar, Irina experienced an intense, inarticulate awareness of something beyond even the comprehension of elves. Fragments of elven mythology told to her as a child came unbidden to mind. Impossible, she told herself, and yet it would explain much. Why, for example, a dying planet continued to draw breath against all odds.
“This is madness,” she said aloud.
“You can say that again,” Peter Wright retorted, I don’t suppose you have anything to eat? I’m starving.”
Welcoming a distraction from weird thoughts she would rather not have, Irina went to retrieve some mori-ga from their dwindling supplies. She had to pass Heron, who was leaning against a tree.
“Don’t look so worried, Irina, all will be well, you’ll see.”
“You cannot know that any more than I,” she snapped without meaning to, but Heron gave no sign he had taken offence.
Before she could offer an apology, something struck her as strange. “Where is the Foss called Fred?”
Both looked around expectantly, but the dwarfish fellow had vanished.
Fred was enjoying the company. In the absence of his own kind, he was glad of any company in these troubled times. He was none too pleased, therefore, to find himself being lured away by the same kikiri that had led him to the others in the first place; it had appeared in female form out of nowhere just as before. The little Foss was about to call the others, but the kikiri shook her head and put a skeletal finger to thin, barely visible lips. Oh, dear, oh, my, Fred wailed inwardly, but felt compelled to follow, less with a heavy heart than one beating too fast for comfort. He had to reason to distrust the kikiri, but this itself was cause for grave concern. Foss and kikiri, working together towards whatever ends Ri only knows. It was unheard of. Nevertheless, Fred scurried after his unlikely guide with just one, wistful, backward glance at his companions who were closeted in conversation. They probably won’t even notice I’ve gone. He knew the accusation was unjustified, but it helped excuse what he saw as a betrayal of their kindness towards him from the start.
Now upwards, now downwards, along tunnels and around bends, negotiating shelves of caverns of which he had no knowledge although, as Foss, the mountain was his natural home…Poor Fred was almost giddy with trying to work out where the kikiri was leading him. To other Foss perhaps…? Somehow, he doubted it, but just the possibility was enough to propel him forward.
They had been descending for a while along winding passageways when the kikiri suddenly vanished. Fred was about to surrender to blind panic when the figure of a cone-headed little fellow barely taller than himself, loomed into view, scaring the poor Foss almost out of what wits he had left. “Oh!” he wailed, and froze.
“Oh!” cried Ricci, momentarily nonplussed.
“Who are you?” in unison. “What are you doing here? What do you want?  Each fired the same questions that echoed all the more hollowly for bouncing off rock walls and offering no answers.
“Stop!” yelled Ricci thunderously, the resulting cacophony startling them both into silence. Ricci was the first to recover, and promptly seized the advantage by proceeding to intimidate the Foss. “Answer my questions, Foss, or it will be the worse for you.”
Fred, though, was not easily intimidated. “As you observe, I am Foss, and this is my mountain. I live here. So it is you, an intruder, who needs to explain your presence here.”
Ricci was taken aback. It was unheard of for a Foss to be so direct. Indeed, they were a tribe well known for their timidity and preferring to stay close to home. “I am called Ricci,” he stated emphatically nor a trifle grandiosely, the better to convey his own sense of self-importance.
“I am called Fred.”
“Fred? Whoever heard of a Foss called Fred?” Ricci’s eyes widened with incredulity.
Fred swallowed hard, determined that this little fellow with the cone-shaped head would not get the better of him. “The name was given to me. It is mine. I like it, and I shall keep it. I am Foss, called Fred,” he repeated stubbornly.
“Given to you, by whom?” Ricci demanded with growing interest.
“A Motherworlder if you must know.”
“A Motherworlder…?” Ricci could barely contain his excitement. His eyes lit up so fiercely that Fred recoiled several steps and would have lost his footing on the narrow shelf had Ricci not stepped forward and grabbed his hand.  “Thank you,” murmured the Foss, more shaken than he cared to let on. Before he could collect either his balance or thoughts, however, a female, grey hair piled high, arrived to stand behind the one called Ricci.
“What is going on? If the mountain has ears, the pair of you will send it stone deaf,” Etta protested. “Let us proceed to where we may find space enough to discuss and make sense of things.”
“I’ll say,” Ricci agreed.
“Lead on, Foss,” Etta instructed the Foss imperiously, but not unkindly.
“What is it mother, why have we stopped?” Galia emerged from the shadows.
Oh, dear, three of them! Fred wailed inwardly. Oh, well, what have I to lose? He turned to seek out the kikiri that was beckoning with some impatience. “We have to follow,” he explained.
“Follow who, what…?” Etta, Galia and Ricci demanded in one voice.
“The kikiri, of course….and don’t worry, it means us no harm”
“What kikiri…? Again, the trio of agitated voices converged upon each other, their agitation for much the same reason. How could it be that this Foss could see a kikiri when they, for all their magic powers, could not?
Etta was the most offended and simultaneously disturbed. I should be able to see it. Why can’t I see it? What or who, is keeping it from me, and why? What IS going on? Again, the same thought pertaining to myth and legend over many lifetimes sprung to mind; this time she was slower to dismiss them, but dismiss them she did.
Ignorant of the pandemonium he had caused, Fred quickened his pace, the others close behind as the kikiri glided almost out of sight.
This is most peculiar, I’ll say, Ricci lamented to himself more than once while taking care to keep up with the motley group.
“Where’s Fred?” Peter cried out in alarm. He had become very fond of the little fellow even in a short space of time. “He must have wandered off. He’ll get lost. We must go and look for him. He’s our guide, for heaven’s sake. How will we ever find my brother without him? The mountain is too big, too…big,” he repeated, fighting back tears.
“The mountain has a mind of its own, I suspect,” said Irina, “and I do not think it is working against us.”
“How can you say that?” Peter Wright was skeptical, “We’re here, aren’t we? And it hasn’t been much help so far. And now we’ve lost Fred, and the kikiri ‘thing’ nowhere to be seen either.”
“Fear not for Fred,” Heron told him with a wry smile, “Foss are mountain creatures, they do not get lost easily. As for the kikiri…” He shrugged. “We can but press on and hope for the best. At least we know we are heading in the right direction.”
“You would trust this kikiri?” Irina sensed he did and was curious to know why. Did Heron, she wondered, have an affinity with the spirit of his sister even though he could not recognize her as kikiri?
Heron shrugged again. “Do we have a choice? If we are heading towards disaster, well, we know that anyway.”
“You do not think Mamelon can be saved?”
“Mamelon, perhaps... that is, if we can find the tomb and release the Spring of Life in time. As for whether any of us will live to see it, Ri only knows…”
“We have to think positively,” Peter Wright interjected. He surprised even himself with a sudden burst of optimism.  A faint humming in one ear sounded uncannily familiar, and he had the weirdest sense that his mother was trying to reach him with The Okay Song. Whatever, he felt considerably less discouraged than he had only moments before. “Besides” he added defensively as both regarded him with frank amazement, “if there is no point to dragging Motherworlders here, why bother?”
Irina laughed. “Why, indeed!”
Heron regarded the elf girl in something akin to awe. He had never met anyone quite like her. He and Arissa had mingled mostly with the dead on T-Gray.
Irina returned his gaze, and the laughter dies on her lips, but not its warm smile.
Peter Wright gave a grunt that spoke volumes and was the first to make a move. Huh, trust grownups to get slushy with each other when the going gets tough! As if he didn’t have enough problems...
Heron quickly hastened to overtake the boy and tried hard to look self-confident although the truth was he felt not only daunted by the task ahead but was unable to shrug off a nagging sense of impending doom. Yet, the boy was right to say the Motherworlders must have been brought to Mamelon for a purpose. But by whom, and for what purpose exactly? He stopped. They had reached yet another fork. Which way? As if by way of a response, a light appeared on the wall of a passage that veered to their right and appeared to descend the more steeply.
“Are you sure?” Irina tugged his arm as if suggesting they should take the alternative route.
“Yes I am sure.” Heron gritted his teeth and plunged into the ever darkening shadows, the light dancing faintly ahead. It was the kikiri, he was sure of it. Somehow it had found a way to guide them without being present.  How do I know this, and why am I so certain?
But the mountain, as ever, was giving nothing away as slowly, but surely, the trio made their way into its unwelcoming depths.
Eventually, they reached a floor of red mud along which ran narrow shelves of rock on either side.
“We need to cross,” Heron announced in a tone the brooked no argument. Discord, however, was forthcoming as both Peter and Irina protested. “We must cross,” Heron repeated. He had no answer to their protests. He only knew that it was imperative they cross the ribbon of mud confronting them. If he had any doubts at all, these vanished with the appearance of a flicker of dancing light on the wall of the opposite shelf. Even as he saw it, the flickering grew more earnest, the dancing more frantic. “We must hurry.”
“But the mud,” Irina pointed out with growing impatience, “It will suck us in and we will all die.”
“Look!” Pete shouted excitedly.
Heron, having turned to confront Irina, returned his gaze to the stretch of red mud ahead. Where moments before there had been only mud, now there were footprints. “It is a sign,” he gasped, and then “Astor!” he murmured under his breath, not intending that the others should hear. As a child, on his mother’s knee, he had heard wondrous tales about the White Mage. “We cross here,” he repeated decisively. “If we tread the footprints, we will be safe.”
“You cannot know that!” Irina stamped her foot. “It could be a trap? My mother always said never to trust Astor.”
“What would an elf know of Astor?”
“He is a druid. What else is there to know?”
Sensing a battle of wills and more than vaguely aware that time was short, Pete took the initiative, neatly side-stepped Heron and proceeded to cross the muddy divide, taking care to place one foot after the other in the mysterious prints. The mud held firm. “Come on,” he beckoned the others without turning round, “before they disappear...”
Heron did not hesitate.
Irina, though, did hesitate. She did not trust the footprints. Her mind was only made up when she spotted a flicker of dancing light on the opposite wall of the underground ravine. Even as she followed the others across, though, she could not help but wonder that she could trust a kikiri. Had not her dear mother always warned her that kikiri were a law unto themselves, the creation of dark magic, and only ever meant harm to any not of their own kind?
First to reach the other side, Pete’s cry echoed through the mountain like an explosion. “Hurry, Krills…”
But the red mud would not be hurried. Heron heaved himself on to the shelf to stand next to Peter while, to their horror, Irina, startled by the boy’s cry, turned her head. On seeing the band of Krills, she stumbled and one foot stepped beyond the print’s outline. To her horror, she found herself in the grip of the mud’s grim, relentless pull.
“Grab my hand..!” Heron reached over as far as he dared, but it was not far enough.
“I die!” Irina screamed.
Heron felt the boy wedge himself between him and the rock wall, the small hands tightening around his waist. He did not need to be told what to do, and leaned forward even further, hands outstretched.
“Be calm, stay still, and take my hands!” Heron ordered the frantic elf girl who was already waist deep in the shifting, pitiless mud. So harsh and bullish was the command that Irina did as she was told without hesitation.
Their fingertips touched.
Heron leaned even further and almost lost his footing. He regained it in time to prevent him falling, Peter too, and in that instant his hands found their mark. Behind him, Peter Wright drew upon all his young strength. In no time, but what seemed a lifetime to all three, Irina reached the safety of the shelf just as Radik and his band spotted them.
Radik had also observed the footprints; instantly grasping their significance, he wasted no time shouting orders. “No”, Arissa yelled, and grabbed him by the arm.
“Go!” Radik ordered his followers into the mud, instructing them to keep step into the footprints and take care not to veer a fraction either side.
First one, then another and another followed. A fourth was poised to join them when they began screaming as the mud dragged them under… and the footprints vanished.