Monday, 20 February 2017

Mamelon 2 - Chapter Twenty-Two


On Ti-gray, Isle of the Dead, Astor, Gabriel, and Nadya were joined by Etta and Galia. Astor tossed a questioning glance at Gabriel who appeared not to notice.
“Is it really you?” Etta addressed Gabriel as the two embraced like old friends.
“I don’t understand,” Galia confronted her father, “What is a Keeper’s father doing here?”
“Let mind and spirit travel back many, many, lifetimes, daughter and you will understand. I will join you so you do not lose your way.”
“I don’t need your help,” Galia snapped.
“Oh, but you do, daughter, you do. You are of the Motherworld now. Like it or not, your powers are a trifle diminished even here in your homeland. Now, do not argue but let mind and spirit be guided by mine.”
Galia knew better than to resist and reluctantly did as she was told. When she next appraised Gabriel, it was with undisguised awe and reverence.
“Good.” Astor was satisfied that the feisty spirit he so loved and admired in her would, for now at least, consent to be led rather than go its own way regard.


In Lunis, City of Moons, Ragund peered earnestly into the seer bowl at the little group, quite unable to repress his delight. “Ah, now I have you, all of you. None shall leave the mountain alive. I, alone, will rule Mamelon with no interference from that fool, Astor. Call upon your mentor in vain, my dear Ricci. Come, what are you waiting for? Enter the Passage of Infinity at your peril. He cannot help you, no one can. Yes, yes. Climb, climb, and the mountain shall be your tomb.”  He would have rubbed his hands with glee had it not been necessary to hold the seer bowl with both hands to prevent losing his grip as it began to shake violently. Nonplussed, it took all his powers to keep hold of the bowl. Indeed, it seemed to him as if he were wrestling with demons. Or what, exactly… But he chose to put the half-thought aside rather than confront the sole means by which he might yet be thwarted in his desire for power beyond imagination. Mamelon, yes, and the Motherworld, too, once I control the Water of Life. The possibilities are endless…endless.
The seer bowl shook so violently that, yet again, it took all his strength to prevent its falling to the ground

Nadya started as a familiar cacophony caused her to turn her head, “Why summon them?”  She looked to Astor for an explanation. The few glucks, all that remained of the weird, ostrich-like species since others of their kind had perished in the coppery skies above Mamelon, managed to convey a certain dignity despite their absurd appearance.
It was Gabriel who answered, “They will be needed sooner than you or they know, and stand ready to perform a vital rescue mission. Is that not so, Iggy?”
The lead gluck inclined its head.

Shireen, in the body of Arissa, knew at once that she must leave. The thunderous sound of rushing water was too close for comfort. Radik was already climbing. For all the good it will do him.
She summoned her dream-self from Lunis, City of Moons and prepared to regain her natural form.
Radik’s fate was of little or no concern to her although she had enjoyed their time together. The krill leader was an incredible lover whereas the same could not be said for Ragund whose paltry advances she endured only as a means to an end. He was a great mage, after all, and she had learned much under his tutelage. More than you know, my Ragund. She could not resist a sly chuckle for thinking how she had learned to draw upon his magic powers without his suspecting a thing. Blind fool, you think I could love you? Huh. in your dreams old man!
Poised to make the transition, she became suddenly aware that something was wrong, very wrong. Instinctively she turned.
She froze...
The kikiri that had once been Arissa stood perfectly still, fixing the source of her worst living nightmares with a steady, determined, gaze.
“No, this cannot be!” Shireen shrieked, “Away, you have no place here!” It was unheard of in all the annals of magic since the beginning of time for a kikiri to approach, let alone confront, its creator.
Confront Shireen, though, the kikiri did, with unrelenting malice.
How can this be? This thing, this kikiri, it has no feelings. Yet, the loathing exuding from the skeletal figure was almost tangible. Shireen began to panic. Desperately, she tried to enact the customary fluid-like bonding with her dream-self that somehow remained present and ominously static. This, too, was unheard of. For kikiri, an adopted persona and true self to be present at one and the same time was…Impossible!
Now incredulous, now fearful, Shireen struggled to make sense of what was happening. I must return, I must, and yet… I CANNOT. Fear turned to abject terror as the kikiri persisted in its advance; not once did it falter even as the ghastly triumvirate came together; kikiri and the twin selves of the erstwhile consort to mage and krill. Shireen made a last ditch attempt to save herself. “Ragund!” she cried aloud across time and space, but whether he did not hear or did not choose to hear, she would never know. Even as the three merged into one with the roar of water gushing forth, a final thought pursued the paltry remains of her consciousness. Who, how….? But it was already too late for Shireen to catch the mocking response. Where three had merged into one, there was only a rush of water such as none in Mamelon had barely dared hope to ever see again, making good its escape, dashing like a wild beast from a cage, its brave heart bursting with a rage to live free, answerable only to nature.
Meanwhile, in Lunis, City of Moons, Ragund has been pacing Shireen’s apartments for some while, searching in vain for his long-time consort. Suddenly, he sensed another’s unseen presence and slowly, surely, almost (but not quite) fearfully put a name to it. “You…!” he hissed, “You have done this to me, to us. But I am not the apprentice I once was. I am not that fool, Ricci. You will not defeat me, Astor, nor will you crush me, try as you might.”
How had Astor acquired such power?
It took Ragund only a moment to find an answer, during which time the fear-like sensation he had scornfully put aside transmuted first into incredulity before - for the first time in any lifetime - the fear became real, real and terrible. Awful as it was, the feeling quickly passed to be replaced by a rush of resolve not to be outdone; it raged through him much as the Sea of Marmela was furiously regaining its rightful place as heart and soul of Mamelon. “I am not finished yet!” he screamed, “Mamelon may feed on living water again, but it is nothing, NOTHING, without daylight, and there I have the edge. We shall see what we shall see…”
Still ranting, the fox made a mad dash for the comparative safety of his own den.

“You would use the glucks to return them all safely from the mountain? Etta asked Gabriel directly. She did not need to be told that it was not Astor who was in charge of events.
“Not all,” murmured Astor.
“Ah, yes,” Etta thought she understood and her thoughts flew to Bethan, Keeper. “They will be safe here if it can be done.”
“You doubt it?” Again, it was Astor who spoke.
“Not here,” Gabriel said slowly, “Their paths lie elsewhere as they surely will for each of us, once what is done is done,” he added cryptically, “Ri willing, the dead shall reclaim Ti-gray for their own while the living must find their own way which is as it should be.”
“And Heron, Arissa…what will become of my children?” Nadya demanded.
“Your children…!” Galia could conceal neither surprise nor excitement. “I have grandchildren?”
“Heron and Arissa…?”  Nadya answered her mother without taking her eyes off Gabriel.
“Go, Nadya, and take a walk into yonder woods,” Gabriel told her, and his expression was enough to send her running.
Galia and Astor looked to Gabriel for an explanation.
“Not all,” Gabriel repeated, “There will be price to pay if Mamelon is truly to live again.”
“A sacrifice…” Astor muttered darkly.
“Indeed,” Etta agreed, close to tears.
“Sacrifice..? Yes, well, whatever, Mamelon has to be worth saving at any price.”
“Agreed…” responded Etta and Astor almost reverently.
As one, the thoughts of all three flew to Bethan whose duty it was to remain within the mountain, never to stray far from the Tomb of the Creator as had been a Keeper’s destiny since the beginning of time. In unison, too, their gaze flew pityingly to Gabriel whose daughter it was would be required to make the sacrifice.
They had no way of even suspecting that Gabriel’s thoughts were elsewhere.
“When can we expect them in Ti-Gray?” Galia asked.
“Not Ti-Gray, Gar. If salvation there is to be, it lies with elves in the Forest of Gar,” said Gabriel, his voice distant, his whole demeanor trance-like as if he were experiencing a premonition of sorts.
The Fire Tree… Etta and Astor grasped the implication immediately but said nothing, hoping to spare Galia.
Galia, though, was no fool. Her beautiful face turned suddenly grey and etched with the agony only a mother can know when he fears for her child.
No one spoke. Astor groaned with unexpected pain as he finally understood the purpose bringing young Peter, his grandson, to Mamelon. 
Three pairs of eyes turned on Gabriel if not quite accusingly nor entirely absent of recrimination.
“Is there no other way?” Galia fixed Gabriel with a pleading look that touched all their hearts.
Before Gabriel could frame a reply, however, they were distracted by the sudden reappearance of Nadya, emerging from nearby woodlands bearing the lifeless body of Arissa in her arms. She passed them without a word, barely looking to either left or right except to glance briefly at Gabriel Thank you, her weak, grateful smile spoke for her. Even in her grief, she was relieved beyond measure to find Arissa restored to her true self. The customary fate of kikiri was too unbearable for even the most stoic imagination to contemplate. She, too, realized that it was beyond even Astor’s powers to achieve the impossible, finding no small comfort for knowing that, whatever lay ahead, Ragund had almost certainly met his match.
Gabriel sensed their confidence in him, and could only wish it was well-placed. As it was, he had no idea how the elves would respond to the task they faced or whether La-Ri and Ka-Ri could convince even themselves that what had to be done must be done for all their sakes. In his mind’s eye, he summoned the image of the red-haired Motherworld boy, Peter,  and brushed away a tear.

The climb was slow, and taking its toll on the little company in more ways than one. Now exhausted and dispirited, now determined to press on no matter what, they sought foothold after foothold, gradually ascending the gloomy chimney. For what seemed an age, the glimmer of coppery sky above seemed no closer; if anything farther away than ever. .
Only Ricci and Fred found the going relatively easy their size allowing them to use the tiny shelves of rock as a kind of stairway, leaping nimbly from one to the other. Even they, though, needed to rest occasionally on the widely spaced broader shelves. At such times, an affinity began to develop between the seemingly ill-matched pair that took both by surprise and in which each took comfort bordering on a sense of camaraderie.
“Where is your home?”  Fred asked during one such respite.
The question took Ricci by surprise, not least because he was at a loss for what to answer. “I have no home,” he confessed sheepishly, “That is to say, no real home. I live at my master’s calling, to do as he asks and go when and wherever he may choose to send me.”
“I would hate that,” the Foss pulled a comic expression that made Ricci smile. “There, you see. You can do it if you try.”
“Do what?”
“Smile, of course. That is the first time I have seen you smile. You always look so…lost.”
His choice of words upset Ricci whose immediate reaction was to be defensive. “I am apprentice to Astor, the greatest of all mages, and I have never been lost in my life.”
“Being lost is not good,” Fred remarked, “but feeling lost is as bad if not worse,” he added more intuitively than Ricci would have believed.
Ricci shrugged, lost for words, unprepared for what was a more astute observation that he would have cared to admit. After a considered pause, during which his previous ambivalence towards the other swung from open hostility to begrudging affinity, Ricci was about to open up to the little Foss, in a way he had never permitted himself before to anyone, when the gloom in which they perched suddenly assumed a significantly darker, eminently more forbidding quality; even the phosphorescent glow emanating from the rock surrounds had dimmed significantly.
Instinctively, both peered upwards. Where a hint of bracken sky had persistently urged them on, there was nothing; it was if a lid had been placed over the mountain shaft, sealing all means of escape.
Yells from below might have been the mountain itself expressing, in turn, its rage, terror and despair culminating in a deathly silence.
Ragund, was Ricci’s first thought. “We are trapped,” he managed to say, all but choking on every word, his throat dry with the sheer horror of it all. Master, master, where are you? Help us… But from Astor there was only an ear-splitting silence. He glanced at his companion, hoping for, but not in truth expecting a denial, reassurance, anything but the sickening despair that gripped him in its strangle-hold. 
But the mountain-born Foss could not speak for tears.
Some distance below, the others struggled to regain a sense of calm after their initial panic.
“Where is it, what has happened to the sky?” Pers spoke for them all.
“It feels like someone has just re-sealed the tomb, only this time it is ours,” said Heron, struggling no less than the others to stay positive and failing miserably.
“I’m scared,” Pete was the first to admit, glad of a comforting hug from Mick that, at any other time, he would have shrunk from on principle.
“It is as I feared,” said Beth, but in her Bethan persona, instinctively sensing that its substitution of her Earth self was almost complete. Neither consciously nor subconsciously did she feel the familiar if inconstant need to keep resisting the change. For once, perhaps even for the first time, she felt in control. Hers had been no passive surrender but the result of a gradual process of acquiescence, although to quite what, exactly, there remained a lingering doubt. She felt confused, yet less so than she would have thought. Moreover, her spirits rose unexpectedly as she felt compelled to catch the eye of first Irina and then Heron, who had been supporting Michal, clearly the most fatigued by their climb. Finally, her gaze fell on Calum, her heart skipping several beats as it always did whenever she saw the way he was looking at her now; if she had nursed any lingering doubts that Mamelon’s Ruler-in-Waiting returned her love, these were instantly obliterated by the force of emotion that passed between them. Both collected themselves almost at once, but not before Heron and Michal had glimpsed the brief exchange and silently wished them well.
Heron, for his part, acknowledged a similar flood of emotion coursing mind, body, and spirit, returning a smile that spoke volumes as the elf-girl, Irina, reached for his hand and squeezed it tightly.  
The five exchanged meaningful looks, simultaneously aware of the same voice, kindly yet authoritative at the same time; advising, no instructing them.

It was Tol.