Sunday, 22 January 2017
Ygor’s growing preoccupation with a fury directed at himself and his companions for letting Michal escape under their very noses was, perhaps inevitable, to prove his undoing. The mystery perplexed him and Ygor was not one to be easily perplexed. He must have had help, but whose? The druid asked himself over and over. Not Astor for he would have sensed Astor’s presence, surely? Yet how can I be sure of anything anymore? Ragund…? he mused briefly, but rejected the notion out of hand. Ragund was a great mage, yes. Even he, Ygor, would not deny that, but great enough to overcome druid magic? “No!” Ygor exclaimed aloud, and not for the first time the mountain rang with the force of his denial. Then who or what had come to the aid of young Michal, and how…?
Thus it was that, deep in thought, Ygor and his acolytes rounded the next corner to find themselves confronted - and outnumbered - by Radik and his company of krill’s; a small company it may well have been, but one that was armed and ready to greet their new guests with as much hostility as necessary.
Krills and druids had been sworn enemies for more lifetimes than Ygor cared to count. This thought flashed into his mind just as the first arrow flew past his left ear. Instantly, his innermost druid self took over and attempted an ages-old magic that would temporarily blind the enemy and allow them to escape.
To Ygor’s utter consternation and horror, his attempt failed. He strained with all his senses to achieve what should have been relatively easy for a druid of his rank… but it proved impossible. This cannot be! Who…what…? But the mountain supplied no answer and a blow to the head rendered him instantly unconscious.
“Kill the druids except their leader. They will serve for several suppers, but he may well prove useful, Radik snarled.” He did not wait to see his orders carried out but retreated into his makeshift tent to discuss the situation with Arissa. He was well pleased with himself. It had been a Krill bringing up the rear, not least because of an old injury, that had alerted him to the druids’ approach. Instantly, he had resolved to lay a trap rather than avoid them. Would the druids not sense their presence? The thought had crossed his mind, of course, but he decided to chance his luck anyway.
Radik’s recklessness had both surprised and exhilarated him. What chance Krills against druid magic? Yet, it was if some inner voice urged him, with increasing passion, to attempt the elimination of an ages-old enemy. Besides, his conscious self wasted no time reminding him that Arissa would approve, and while that in itself hardly mattered, it could only better the chances of their engaging in a very pleasurable time later. Arissa, he had discovered long since, never engaged in intimacy lightly. She was the most highly sexed female it had ever been his good fortune to encounter.
While Radik did not hold females in high esteem except for sexual pleasure, he had good sense enough to appreciate that Arissa was no ordinary female. She often had ideas worth listening to. All but oblivious to the piercing screams of Ygor’s small company as they were butchered, he thus sought out she whom he had come to think of as his consort. He was less than pleased to find her in the company of the imbecile elf who doted on her regardless of the fact that he, Radik, had raged at Pers’ blind infatuation on more than one occasion. Moreover, the Krill leader blamed Pers for releasing his prisoners despite the elf’s cries of protest. Who else would dare set them free? At the same time, even Radik had to concede it was unlikely Pers would have found the nerve if only for fear of arousing Arisa’s displeasure. Why does she tolerate him?
Why, indeed? Arissa found herself wondering much the same thing although she had been flattered by the way the elf had leapt to defend her against a druid who had made the mistake of attacking her. She had no need of his help, of course, but appreciated it all the same, especially with Tol having disappeared shortly before the unsuspecting druids fell into the trap awaiting them.
It disturbed Arissa that the gentle giant had left the camp without her knowledge, but she did not doubt he would return soon enough, he always did. Even so, it was a constant source of concern to her that, devoted slave as he was, Tol clearly had a mind of his own, one which she had never succeeded in fully accessing if not for want of trying. Invariably, she would probe and come up against a wall; a not an entirely blank wall, but one she could not pass. Ordinarily, this would have rung loud and clear alarm bells in her head, but she put it down to Tol being something of a simple soul, persuaded that any suspect wardings were neither calculated nor even intentional but simply the effects of a naïve consciousness. Radik had once challenged her assessment of Tol as being too crude to be true. His choice of words, however, more so even than the fact that he had dared challenge her at all, so enraged her that they did not speak for some time. Once reconciled, the Krill leader had wisely kept his own counsel regarding Tol and avoided the subject thereafter.
“I don’t care what Radik says or thinks,” Pers was saying for the umpteenth time as Radik entered, I did not release the prisoners.” Arissa merely shrugged. He hated it when she did that as it invariably meant she was displeased with him. “Why does no one suspect Tol? It’s not as if anyone even knows where he has gone…”
True, Radik was inclined to agree, but said nothing. “We have their leader, and…” he flung the elf an accusing glare, “…Ygor had better stay our prisoner or heads will roll.”
Pers visibly flinched.
“My clever Radik,” Arissa purred, wondering at the same time how a bunch of Krills had managed to snare a company of druids, however small. Something is wrong, very wrong. For now, though, she kept her suspicions to herself. “Who is a clever Radik then?” she exclaimed, embracing the Krill leader and showering him with kisses, much to his obvious delight and Pers’ ill-concealed jealousy.
“Never underestimate druids,” said Pers, “Ygor will only be of any use to you as far as he is prepared to be so.”
“Perhaps,” growled Radik, “you would prefer I set him free, ye who set such store by the freedom of others while content to remain enthralled by foolish puppy love?”
Pers winced at the jibe and looked directly at Arissa as if half expecting a show of support, but not surprised to find none, only profoundly disappointed as always. Will I never learn? She cares nothing for me. I know this, and yet I cannot leave her. Why? Do I truly love her? How can I even ask myself that, and where is Tol?
“Nevertheless, the elf has a point,” conceded Arissa, addressing Radik without sparing Pers so much as a glance.
Radik shrugged. “We can dispose of him any time. Meanwhile, he may prove useful. There are forces at work that I do not understand. A master druid has to be a useful insurance against whatever power is working against us in this damn mountain.”
“Don’t count on it,” hissed Arissa. “For once, the elf has a point. Never underestimate a druid. If you are not careful, very careful, Ygor will see you dead long before you can spit on his grave. Better he die now along with his comrades than remain the slightest threat, surely?”
“I fear no druid scum,” Radik snarled, “and you may well be right, my sweet, but alive he may yet be useful to us. We will interrogate him later. For now, I have an appetite for making love to the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Arissa’s smile struck Pers as being more smug than pleased. She has the krill just where she wants him, but she does not care for him any more than she cares for me. The notion that the likes of Arissa only used others for their own selfish ends came as no surprise to Pers. So why do I stay? Why do I care for her so? Or perhaps I am meant to stay for some other purpose and my love has only ever been an illusion? The elf left the tent less so because he clearly was not wanted there than gravely disquieted by thoughts that had not surfaced his mind before although…Can they really have been there all the time? If so, why do they visit me now..?
Pers had the faintest sense of an unknown presence that vanished almost as soon as he became aware of it. Before he could quite collect his thoughts, he heard his name called and found himself approaching the druid, Ygor, even as he struggled to summon a show of self-confidence. Why do I get the feeling I am being undermined, and not by any presence with which I am familiar? Even as he thought it, though, he sensed ‘undermined’ was incorrect. Yet, he dismissed any notion of ‘support’ as fanciful. Whatever, it was disconcerting to say the least that he should even begin to question his pledged allegiance to Arissa. There is something curiously potent in the air, but what? Magic, perhaps? But when had he ever felt uncomfortable with magic? The elf shook his head, more confused than considerably less concerned than he felt was appropriate.
“Don’t shake your head at me, elf,” hissed Ygor. “You may not know it, but you are as much a prisoner here as I am if not more so,” he scoffed, “At least I know I am a prisoner while, you…you are but wet clay in the hands of evil doers.”
Pers confronted the druid leader with a semblance of composure he was far from feeling. Ygor had been bound to a rock, his physical appearance badly mauled while continuing to emanate a powerful presence. How, the elf wondered, had the druids been caught off guard by a company of Krills that barely outnumbered their own and would never, in normal times, been a match for them.
“Ah, but these are not normal times, elf, as well we all know,” said Ygor as if reading other’s thoughts..
“Have you come across my sister?” It was not the question Pers meant to ask, but the first that came to his lips.
“Irina is here beneath the mountain? Interesting,” murmured the druid, “She will be with Heron, of course, and who else, I wonder…?” Why is this news to me? Why have I not been aware of this? Something or someone is playing with me. Well, they will live to regret it. I am sure your sister is in good hands, which is more than I can say for you, my good elf. He treated Pers to a patronizing smile that made Pers cringe. “Tell me. Surely, you cannot trust these Krill mercenaries or the witch whore, Arissa, who travels with them? Can it be that your elven senses play you so false that you are immune to all else but her beauty? He laughed as the elf’s bemused expression. “Oh, yes, I cannot deny her that although I suspect it goes but skin deep. As for what evil lies beneath…” He spat.
There was a time not so long ago that Pers would have struck out at anyone defiling Arissa’s name. On this occasion, though, he remained curiously unmoved. Nor did he feel in the least inclined to leap to his beloved’s defence.
“It is appropriate that you, a druid, should speak of evil,” Pers retorted, “It is all you know.” Yet, there was something about the druid, a ‘presence’ that, for all the elf could not help but find it very disturbing, was also oddly reassuring, as if the piercing eyes were able to penetrate a deeper elven consciousness that has been suppressed and was starting to reawaken. Confused and upset, Pers began to move away.
“You are right to feel as you do, elf, for nothing is at it seems in this place. Only fools cannot trust their own judgement, but here…trust and judgement, I am thinking they are much as rock and hard place here.” But why, why, and what am I not seeing?
“Only a fool would trust a druid, that’s for sure,” Pers responded in much the same mocking tone as Ygor had used, “Trust is a precious thing, neither easily earned or given, even to the inner self, and then only selectively and unreservedly or not at all.
“Wise words, elf. Unreservedly, yes. Selectively, yes. You speak of the inner self. And do you trust yours, elf? I suspect not. Nor I mine, I find, if the truth be told. So where does that leave us, elf? In a fine mess, I’d say, wouldn’t you?”
“You know nothing, druid,”
“And you know less than nothing, elf. Perhaps, between us, we can learn something?”
“Are you asking for my help?” Pers could not believe his ears.
“The day a druid asks aid of an elf has to be a dark day indeed,” was Ygor’s oblique reply.
“A dark day for you, yes,” Pers said quietly. “Whatever Radik’s plans for you, you can be sure it will involve torture.”
“And for you, elf,” murmured Ygor icily, “Do you honestly believe he and Arissa have anything less unpleasant in store for you once you have served their purpose?”
“Oh, and what purpose would that be?”
“You tell me.” Ygor fixed the elf with a searching look that forced Pers to turn and walk away, feeling sick, as if he had been violated.
Ygor watched him go with a self-satisfied smile. That he would make an ally of the elf yet, he was in no doubt.
For his part, Pers wandered to the edge of the camp and just beyond, sat on a shelf of rock and put his head in his hands. The druid is right. I can trust no one, including myself. So what should I do…nothing or something? Nothing would be safer, for now. Something, has to be better, though, but what…?”
Someone came and sat beside him. Startled, Pers took his hands from his face and looked up. “Tol…! Where in Ri’s name have you been?” he asked before remembering the giant was dumb.
Tol’s colourless lips and grey eyes smiled. Instantly, Pers felt reassured and uplifted, which was a new experience as he had never felt at ease with the giant in the past. He turned slightly, all the better to follow Tol’s steady gaze to where Ygor, too, was watching him carefully, as if assessing his worth…
Pers felt a growing unease merge with a weird sense of nameless purpose. His chest began to tighten as if giant and druid had him in a vice-like grip. “What do you want of me?” he asked mutely of both.
By way of a riposte their silence spoke volumes.
Aware and not aware or what he was doing or why he was doing it, Pers went to Ygor and cut the druid’s his bonds free with the elven blade he always carried.
Some drunken krills nearby were celebrating an easy victory over the druids, but no one saw or heard a thing as giant, elf and the only druid left alive snuck off into the gloom.
“It is Ygor and his companions.” Mulac murmured unnecessarily. Beth nodded as they lay low and heard rather than saw the druid company pass overhead where the track began to slope until she guessed it would reach their level just ahead. Presumably, they had covered the distance by way of another of the mountain’s higher paths. More to the point, she mused, how had Tol known they were in such danger? Instantly, she corrected herself. By now, she should know better than to be surprised by anything the gentle giant said or did.
“You sensed their presence or do you have magic that told you of it?” the disquieted Nu-Gen demanded in a harsh whisper.
As simply and briefly as possible Beth explained how Tol had warned her. Mulac’s response took her by surprise. He did not, as she had expected, question her ability to make contact with Tol via mind-talk but appeared to take it in his stride. Instead, he commented, “To whom, I wonder, does he answer, this Tol? I suspect it not to Arissa. Clearly, he has a part to play in what brings you to Mamelon and places us on the back of a sea monster,” he chuckled humorlessly. “So who can he be, this Tol, and what his purpose?” he murmured, more to himself than to Beth.
Beth could only shrug off the question she had put to herself time and again, the answer to which she could not begin to imagine. Mulac seemed to accept this and, much to her relief, seemed content to drop the subject; for now at least as they continued to lie low, watch and listen. The druids had barely turned the next bend when all at once the very walls of the mountain seemed to be screaming. Surprise, rage, fear, all these were let loose among echoes that assaulted their eardrums and made their blood run cold.
“Krills…!” Mulac murmured and put a finger to his lips as Beth started to speak. “Hush, Bethan, for walls have ears,” he mouthed. Beth fell silent although she doubted if any sound either of them made would be heard by either walls or living things for the sheer fury of blood curdling yells and frantic cries.
Beth-Bethan clung to Mulac. Ri knows, I have no love for druids, but even they do not deserve that Krills should feast upon their remains, possibly even while they are still alive. Ri, save them from that, at least. A ghastly picture of what was almost certainly being played out not far ahead crossed her mind’s eye and caused her to shiver violently.
Glad of Mulac’s arms around her, Beth still found time to wonder how it was that calling upon the god came so naturally to her. I am more Bethan than Beth. The more she tried to resist this truth, the stronger her conviction that it could not, should not be resisted. Or reversed…? For the first time, she confronted the possibility that she may not return to Earth.
Mulac’s comforting embrace tightened perceptibly. Had he read her thoughts, she wondered? Did she really want to return to a life without him? But that question, she resolved to put aside until such a time as she might be forced to choose. Assuming, I still have a choice, Bethan of Mamelon pondered ruefully. Yet, I cannot, must not let go of Bethany Martin completely or…Mulac nuzzled her neck and the unfinished thought became lost as she raised eager lips to his and the shrieking walls fell momentarily silent.
Wednesday, 18 January 2017
It seemed to Beth that they were falling for an eternity, she and Mulac, although she reasoned much later it could only have been seconds in Earth time.
They landed close together on a solid bed of red sand where they lay gasping for breath until Beth confided that her motherworld father had visited her in a vision as if come to save her from harm. “It was him,” she insisted, “my dad, Gabriel Martin. He did not say anything, not so much as a hello, but I saw him as clearly as I see you now. But how, why…?” It makes no sense.
“This is Mamelon,” Mulac reminded her with a wry smile. I have been trying to make sense of it all my life.
“You called out too,” she told him, adding almost accusingly, “but not to me.”
“Ah, yes.” The Nu-gen’s usual deadpan expression, or so it seemed to Beth, reflected something of her own astonishment and disbelief. “I thought I saw…”
“Who…? Who did you see?”
“Galia, it was Galia of Mamelon, long-ago consort of Michal the Great when our world flourished, its peoples too. Yet, how could I know this? I know nothing of these times or Galia, only what the legends tell us. Why, of all people, should I call out to Galia?”
“You were as terrified as I was…” Beth began but changed her mind and bit her lip before hastening to add, “…and there is no shame in that. Only, fear has been known to perform a magic of its own. I needed my father and he came. Perhaps you needed to call on the greatness that was once Mamelon to give you strength, help you believe that more than death would break our fall.”
“The Nu-gen’s smile broadened. “You are wise beyond your years, my Bethan. Either that or you have a very vivid imagination.”
They both laughed and felt the tension between them ease. For his part, Mulac could still not quite believe that Ri had brought them together again. Had not his heart assured him time and again that she was the love of as many lifetimes as he might see? “Even so,” he pondered aloud, “Why should I see a face I have never seen, identify someone who is, after all, no more to me than someone in one of Etta’s stories…?”
Again, Beth bit her tongue even while reminding herself she really must get used to being Bethan again. The vision of her father had unsettled her. At the same time, and for no reason, but intensely all the same, instinct warned her this was not a good time to tell Mulac that it may or may not have been Galia of Mamelon he saw in his vision, but his passionate cry, still ringing in her ears, had been, ‘Mother!’ Had she misheard, she wondered? Could it have been Etta’s name he had all buts screamed? She sighed, persuaded herself that it did not much matter anyway and resolved not to think about it again. Instantly, the incident was dispatched to the archives of her mind where it would remain until such a time as she might well need to refer to it again.
Mulac leaped to his feet and held out his hand. “Come, we cannot stay here. We must move on.”
“Where to?”” she wanted to know while accepting the proffered hand and hauling herself up to fall into his arms.
Mulac shrugged. “Ri knows. We must trust Ri. It is his mountain after all.”
They walked in companionable silence for some time, content to hold hands, thereby reassuring themselves of each other’s presence while trying to forget the known dangers they has left behind and resist anticipating any that may lie ahead. Suddenly, Beth slipped and pulled Mulac down after her. At first they laughed and got to their feet again, only to have the sand shift under their feet and send them sprawling again.
Bath stared at Mulac in wide-eyed disbelief. “The mountain, Mulac, it’s moving!”
Mulac’s expression tensed before he shook his head, slowly as if in deep thought. “Not the mountain,” he said gruffly, “the Kurzl.”
“A sea monster that once inhabited a lake in the bowels of the mountain until the water dried up. It must have survived somehow, probably by eating Foss and…”
“Anyone else who happened to be passing…” Beth prompted with a rueful smile. “So what do we do, sit tight until it realizes it is carrying its next meal?”
Mulac grinned despite his growing anxiety for their safety. “Do you have a better suggestion?”
Beth shrugged. “Who are we to turn down a free ride even if we haven’t a clue where we’re heading? I always did love Magical Mystery tours.” She caught his bemused expression. “Don’t even ask…!” They both started to laugh aloud then clapped both hands to their mouths simultaneously as the same thought crossed both their minds. Presumably even monsters have ears?
Why does it not toss us off its back and have us for breakfast or lunch or supper, whatever damn time it is? Beth wondered, mouthing to Mulac at the same time.
The Nu-gen shrugged. Perhaps it is asleep, he mouthed back, or…
Biding its time… Beth shivered in spite of a stoic resolve that came from she knew not where.
Mulac shrugged again. Hopefully, it sleeps…
Now I’ve heard everything. A monster asleep on the move with its next meal on its back... Beth’s expression displayed a growing terror.
Mulac grinned. At least we get to stay together if only in its stomach…
Both put their hands to their mouths again to prevent bursts of laughter. Beth began to relax. It was true. Whatever happened, they were together. Could I ask for more? Beth tried to reassure herself. Well, yes, but…
It was Bethan, not Beth, who grinned back at Mulac. For his part, he was much relieved to see that she seemed less afraid although it did nothing to allay his own fears, not for himself but for her. I cannot lose her again, he kept telling himself over and over until he began to believe it.
So it was they continued their journey ever deeper into the mountain on the back of a legendary sea monster.
If Ricci had been delighted if a little bit in awe of being reunited with Galia, he was positively overjoyed to see Etta. He did not trust the Magela implicitly, but had always felt comfortable in her company. She could be devious, yes, but she was also incredibly kind. Wise, of course, but Etta also possessed that rare ability to reassure anyone in her presence that, come what may, everything would work out for the best in the end. At this moment in time, Ricci was particularly anxious to seize upon the latter.
“So what and where do we go from here, Etta dear” Ricci asked, fully expecting a positive response, “I have to confess I consider myself - ourselves - well and truly lost.” He was not disappointed.
“What we do, my dear Ricci, is remain calm and permit ourselves to think clearly without any emotional baggage getting in the way,” Etta responded, glancing pointedly Galia even as she spoke. “As for the where, I sense we must hasten to Dom-Y-Baba. If we are not needed there at this precise moment in time, my gut feeling is we soon will be.”
“Dom-y-Baba!” Galia exclaimed, “Why there of all places? I have heard they call it The Doom and is there not a sea serpent that feeds on whatever chances its way?”
“The Doom, indeed,” murmured Etta pensively, but quickly brightened, “yet we have no cause for concern, my children, serpent or no serpent. Ri is with us and this is His sacred mountain. He will watch over us and keep us safe. He will keep us all safe, you’ll see. Now, this is really not the time to stand around speculating. We have a long way to go yet.”
“Can we not use magic to transport us there?” Ricci asked hopefully.
“Certainly not,” Etta rebuked him, but with her customary smile so he did not feel in the least reprimanded. “There are forces abroad far greater than mine and some which even I have yet to quite identify. We must take great care and remember walls have ears, even for mind talk. So be on your guard, both of you.”
“So do you know the way to Dom-y-Baba, mother?” Galia asked innocently enough and was not prepared for her mother’s angry denial.
“How would I know the way? Would I ever visit such a place? Only a fool would go willingly to Dom-y-Baba unless the need was a matter of life and death. And before you ask, either of you, yes, our need is such. As for which way we take…” For once, Etta looked nonplussed.
“Follow the light,” said a voice out of nowhere. Not one of the three could prevent an instinctive jump while telling themselves they were merely startled and not in the least bit frightened.
“Look,” said Ricci pointing to where the tunnel forked just ahead. A beam of red light that might have come from a puli shone on the wall of the tunnel farthest from where they stood. “This is just so weird, I’ll say,” muttered Ricci. “I mean, there’s no one here but us so…” his voice tailed off in confusion. He looked to Etta for guidance if not an explanation of sorts, but the Magela was deep in thought and did not appear to notice.
“So let’s go then,” Galia finally announced, ignoring a skeptical glance from Ricci, “seeing as how we don’t really have a choice. Unless either of you have a better suggestion?” she added with a hint of mischief that reminded Ricci of the Galia of old whom he had once adoringly served. He sighed, nodding agreement and approval. “Are you with us, mother?”
“What? Oh, yes. You are right, of course. It’s not as if we are spoilt for choice. Indeed, let us follow the light.”
The three proceeded, Etta bringing up the rear which was perhaps just as well since neither Galia nor Ricci could read her fearful expression. Etta tried in vain to shift a coldness that had settle on her heart like a limpet despite the cave’s clammy heat. It was rare for a Magela to know fear, the kind of deep-rooted fear that makes the blood run cold. It was, though, how she felt now, certain she had recognized the disembodied voice. She had not heard it for many lifetimes and of its owner she was not in the least afraid. On the contrary, knowledge of such a presence in the mountain gave her greater cause for confidence in a successful outcome than she had dared hope. Even so, the voice warned her of great, imminent, danger even though it had not spoken of it; it held, not for the first time, the fate of all Mamelon in its deceptively dulcet tones.
Etta sighed, took several deep breaths, and hurried after the others.
In Lunis, City of Moons, Ragund the Dark Mage was also breathing deeply in order to contain a growing anticipation of success. The mirror that answered to his every command had shown him the Keeper and her Nu-gen lover at Dom-y-Baba. The Kurzl had awakened and at his, Ragund’s bidding, would take them where he, Ragund, intended they should go. Suddenly, though, the mirror clouded over like a curtain only to to reveal a new image, one he had not called upon for the simple reason that he had no knowledge of it.
“Etta, Galia, together!” he seethed with rage. That fool, Ricci, was of no consequence, but Etta and Galia, mother and daughter, they made a formidable team. Here was a threat, indeed, to his well-laid plans. Between them, their magic was almost equal to his own... and with Astor interfering at every opportunity…a real threat, yes!. The mirror began to cloud over again, but not before Ragund’s sharp eyes spotted the puli light on the cave wall where it divided into several tunnels. His brow creased in a genuinely puzzled frown, he heard a sound, like a voice but not quite a voice, like nothing he had ever heard before, and yet he sensed it meant danger, great danger, of the kind any strong magic posed when working against another.
The curtain closed to leave the mirror yielding only his reflection. “So I was right, and Astor has help,” Ragund growled aloud, but what, whose…? Not those bastard druids, surely? No, they would not dare. It was way beyond Radik’s capabilities so he could rule out the krill leader. “I must know. I will not be thwarted, I will not!” he cried aloud, and stormed off to find Shireen. Making love to his beautiful consort invariably inspired him to higher thoughts which, in turn, inevitably led to a greater discernment of the status quo. Besides, he could not deny that sex was a pleasurable enough experience even as a means to an end.
“Shireen!” he called, and she was there in an instant, as beautiful as ever, yet not so. Ragund started, and then mentally reprimanded himself. For a moment he had thought to detect a difference in her, in the way she looked, a jaded - if only slightly - replica of his consort. Then she smiled. Shireen had a beautiful smile, one that radiated the very desire and desirability he had devoured since they first met and conspired to rule Mamelon together. He embraced her.
Shireen reluctantly succumbed to his clumsy embrace. It was, after all, in her best interests to keep him sweet. It meant, however, dismissing the dream-self that fooled Ragund was inclined to summon on a daily basis while she enjoyed trifling with the Krill leader, Radik as Arissa. To perfect such a degree of interchangeability had taken several lifetimes, but it had proven well worth the effort. True, Radik, like Ragund, was a means to the same end, but unlike the Dark Mage, the krill leader was also an incredible lover. She permitted herself a light, self-satisfied laugh that she knew Ragund would easily mistake for the artless coquettishness he had always associated with her and with which she had ensnared him in the first place. Such a prize, Ragund, a Dark Mage, indeed, and for someone so clever, such a fool. The Tomb of the Creator would be rediscovered soon, all her senses told her this…and the secret of eternal youth will be mine, mine, all mine…! No longer would she need to rely on the body of Arissa that, as kikiri, would be left to haunt the landscape of eternity, a mindless, bodiless, spiritless ‘thing’.
Shireen laughed again and Ragund silently congratulated himself, not for the first time, that such was his power over her that this splendid creature had been his, all his, and only ever his since the very beginning of what had been, and always would be, a very rewarding if unequal partnership.
On what had once been the underground lake known as Dom-y-Baba, It was Bethan’s turn to sleep while Mulac kept watch, not least for any tell-tale signs of the monster’s immediate intentions towards them. She had closed her eyes from sheer exhaustion not expecting to sleep. Sleep it was, though, that overwhelmed here and into whose care she gladly if only temporarily committed herself.
It was a she began to awaken that she heard the familiar voice inside her head urging her to be alert. “Tol…?”
“You must wake, Bethan, Motherworlder, for you are in great danger. No, not the Kurzl. Despite what anyone tells you, the beast means you no harm. However, you must leave its protection. Druids are nearby and Krills await you around the next bend. Ygor is a force to be reckoned with, it is true, but he is merely misguided. Radik and his band of cutthroats, on the other hand, are under orders to use you for their own evil purposes…”
“Orders, whose orders, and what evil purposes other than a given predilection for sadomasochism?”
“I dare say no more. Walls have ears. You and Mulac, you must save yourselves for greater things than anyone knows. Now, wake and go. The sand is sound where you travel now, but delay and it will suck you under. Be sure to head for the farther not nearer shelf of the mountain or the quicksand will take you beyond even the reach of the strongest magic. Once at the shelf, you will need to climb higher.” The voice in her head went silent.
“Bethan…” Mulac’s voice floated down to her through the vacuum Tol’s voice had left. He sounded anxious. Beth opened her eyes. “You were restless, a bad dream perhaps?”
“I heard…” she began and thought better of trying to explain her relationships with Arissa’s servant. “We have to leave, now.”
Mulac stared in wide-eyed amazement. “Leave, and go where? Are you mad?
“Mulac, do you trust me?” She had risked standing up and was looking directly into the eyes she had so come to love. “Do you trust me, Mulac?”” she repeated.
His eyes met hers directly and did not waver for an instant as each sensed a challenge of sorts facing each of them. Mulac caught his breath. |It was not in a Nu-gen’s nature to do a female’s bidding, and yet…I love this female and she loves me. She would never knowingly see our love threatened or each other harmed. “Yes, I trust you,” he told her and meant it.
“Then take my hand and come with me to the farther shelf of the cave.”
“Why not the nearer one..?”
“There is quicksand.”
“You cannot possibly know that?”
“I don’t have time for this, Mulac. We don’t have time for this. There are krills waiting around the next bend and we may not be so lucky next time…”
“But how…?” Mulac spluttered.
As he spoke, a bend in the river bed came into view and caught his attention. Beth turned and followed his gaze. We have to go now, Mulac, NOW.”
The urgency in her tone was sufficient persuasion for Mulac to seize her hand and as one they stepped warily off the sea monster’s sand-covered back and began crossing to the farther of the shelves that punctuated the mountain throughout.
Once there, recalling Tol’s instructions, Beth began to climb to the uppermost shelf which, being close to the cave roof, meant they had to squat as there was no room to stand.
“You are mad,” Mulac accused her but with a twinkle in his eyes that told her he was okay with that. She responded in kind while wondering what amused him most, her own behavior which must, at the very least, appear odd to the Nu-gen, or his own for doing as she, a female, had asked. Before she had time to speculate further, however, they heard first noises and then voices coming from the shelf below.
“Someone’s coming!” she whispered.
“I hear,” he murmured. “Be silent and lie flat. We dare not make our presence known until we see who our new neighbors are.”
They peered over the shelf edge. Both caught their breaths. The old adage, out of the frying pan into the fire, crossed Bethan’s Motherworld consciousness as Ygor and his druid acolytes came into view.
Sunday, 15 January 2017
Ricci had mixed feelings about resuming his natural form. Tired of being a snake and failing to become a bat, it seemed the best option although even that proved difficult. Relief, though, was short-lived as he realized he was lost. This is ridiculous. I can’t be lost. My sense of direction never fails me.
Yet, having arrived at another fork where the tunnel branched off in not one, two or even three but four directions, Ricci was forced to concede he had no idea which he should take. He sat down and thought hard, willing his peculiar senses to inform him of the way forward. Those same senses, however, remained peculiarly dormant. Oh, well, there’s only one thing for it. He rose abruptly, closed his eyes, and swung round on his toes like a spinning top, one hand outstretched and forefinger pointing. Shakily and a little dizzy, he stopped just as abruptly and opened his eyes to see where the finger was pointing. He uttered a gasp that was more like a yelp of surprise to discover he was pointing not at any of the four tunnels but at the last person he expected to see there or anywhere. “Galia..! But how…why…?
“Yes, Ricci dear, it’s me. I have come from the Motherworld to aid my children. As for whatever other purpose, only time will tell, and very glad I am to see you too!”
To Ricci’s delight and some discomfort, she proceeded to embrace him in a big hug. Her touch, her smell…it was almost too much for poor Ricci who adored this woman he had once served so faithfully and thought long dead. Reluctantly, he wriggled free and bowed low. “Your Majesty…”
“Not Majesty any more Ricci. Not for a long, long, time and never again. So let’s dispense with the formalities shall we? You may call me Galia, just as you used to sometimes. We were friends, weren’t we?” Ricci nodded, lost for words and still struggling to contain his feelings. Oh, joy! But what an unexpected and incredible turn of events. I’ll say! “Well then, friends we are again. Oh, Ricci, it is so good to see you!” She hugged him again, Ricci savouring every precious moment, almost convinced by now that he was not dreaming. “Now, Ricci dear, which way do we go?”
As she moved away, Ricci noticed that his forefinger was still pointing outwards, and as it so happened, directly at one of the tunnels ahead. “That way,” he mumbled, his confidence at once restored by a radiant smile from his queen, for his queen she would always be no matter what happened. This time, I will not fail you, my queen, he told himself, and instantly believed it to be true. It was therefore with increasing confidence that Ricci led the way along the narrowest and lowest of the tunnels.
Ricci, being small, was able to move with ease and speed, but Galia had to bend her back and her progress was slow, not least because it began to ache considerably. Ricci would press ahead, wait until she caught up and go on alone again. Eventually, the tunnel opened up and Galia was able to stand erect. “Thank goodness for that. Now, shall we take a rest and decide on our next move?”
Ricci nodded, wondering what on earth their next move should be as he had glimpsed another fork in the tunnel around the next bend. Astor would know, of course. Why, oh, why, is Astor always somewhere else when you need him most?
“Tell me Ricci,” Galia began hesitantly, what news is there of my children?” Ricci gulped. He had been dreading the question, and half hoping she would not ask it while realizing it would have been on her tongue all the time.
“The Motherworlders are safe as far as I know,” he muttered.
“That is good to hear, but you know I speak as Galia of Mamelon, too, Ricci, not a Motherworlder. It is confusing, I know. Believe me. I am as confused as anyone. I never thought to see Mamelon again, and Astor told me my children were dead or I would never have left.”
“So how is it you were able to leave at all?” Ricci felt compelled to ask. “Did you find Time Gate?” Galia nodded pensively. “That was lucky. I’ll say!”
Galia smiled to cover her embarrassment and shame. How could she tell her old friend that Timon, her lover, had broken all the laws of the old religion and conjured up a Time Gate purely for their own selfish ends? I will tell him, I must, but not now, not yet. “Nadya, she is well?
“You know then that Calum is dead?” Ricci murmured, playing for time.
Galia opened her mouth to protest, remembering just in time that she must not speak or even think about her Mamelon firstborn. She feared the latter demanded more willpower than she possessed. Even so, she managed a brief nod and pressed her lips tightly together.
Ricci was moved by her obvious distress and could only marvel at her self-restraint. They had been close, mother and son. “I know nothing of Nadya,” he admitted, “but she has two children of her own…”
“I have grandchildren?” Galia gasped. Her face lit up and its solemn expression softened on the spot.
Ricci nodded. “Nadya married Kris, a builder. They have a son, Heron and a daughter, Arissa.” Ricci swallowed hard and resolved to say as little as possible about the bitch, Arissa. Heron is known to your Motherworld sons and their friend, Bethan. I do not know if they are aware of the relationship although I doubt it unless Astor has explained…
“Astor has explained nothing, not even to me,” Galia told him more sharply than she intended.
Ricci winced involuntarily. Was it anger, bitterness or both that gave her voice an edge sharper than any blade? That there was no love lost between father and daughter was legendary. Did this present him with divided loyalties, he wondered? He instantly attempted to shrug off the question, but it continued to nag at him. He contrived a philosophical shrug. At least there was no question as to whom he would choose. It would be Galia, of course, and as for whatever consequences... Ricci shivered. Oh, but why go there unless or until I have to? Even so, he had the distinct impression that someone had just walked over his grave.
Galia instantly relented, and her voice softened. “Astor has his work cut out trying to protect Mamelon from dark forces,” she conceded, adding ruefully, “It would appear that Ragund is an all but equal match for him these days.”
“Not to mention that she-wolf, Shireen.” Ricci made no attempt to conceal his hatred for Ragund’s consort.
Galia merely nodded, her still beautiful face wearing a troubled expression that cut Ricci to the quick. She saw his distress, guessed the reason for it, and gave him a radiant smile. “Don’t look so worried, Ricci. Ragund and Shireen are no true match for my father whatever they may or anyone else believe. Besides, there is a greater force for the good at work here too, I am sure of it. But don’t ask me what as I really have no idea.” She gave a light laugh that eased the tension between them to the extent that Ricci felt instantly reassured and even managed a grin that was not altogether forced.
“It has been my sense, too, for some time,” he admitted, “but I cannot begin to put a name to it except that, whatever it is, it is working with and for us rather than against us.”
Galia opened her mouth as if to say something, thought better of it and said nothing. It would not do to raise false hopes. Besides, I could be wrong, so wrong, and yet… She pushed the thought aside, not daring to articulate upon it even to herself while, at the same time, allowing herself to hope. Subsequently, her flagging spirits rallied to fly higher than they had been since her return to Mamelon.
Ricci gasped. Mistaking, delight for fear, Galia swung round, ready to do battle. Her relief knew no bounds.
“You are right to hope, daughter, just as you are also right to keep your thoughts safely hid from prying ears,” said Etta the Magela, her voice a murmuring lilt that reminded Ricci of waves lapping against a shore, her white hair piled high and young-old face lit with genuine pleasure if tempered with other, darker concerns.
Thursday, 12 January 2017
At the Wright’s home in leafy Tonbridge Wells, three shadowy figures stood solemnly and close together in the master bedroom. Gail and Tim Wright held hands while Etta the Magela joined them in mind and spirit if not in body. Together, they pooled ages-old powers that had been both blessing and curse since birth.
Tim Wright struggled to project his alter ego across time and space to reach Mamelon in his role as Timon, Holy Seer. Gail, it seemed, for her part, could not get beyond towering ramparts of ancient stone that seemed impregnable. At her side, Etta willed her daughter, at considerable cost to her own well-being, to focus on the son whom she was frantic to save.
Gail, feeling all but drained of her natural senses, somehow managed to rally, the more so as support from the others flooded into her and gave her the strength and vision to command a gap in the far distant wall through which she was able to enter. At the same time, she was aware of other, less friendly forces, hovering at the edge of her mind and threatening harm. Yet, there was, too, a hint of something or someone else to which she could not even begin to put a name so did not try, but knew instinctively ‘it’ was on her side.
She found herself in a huge cavern and soon spotted the druids and the makeshift litter on which they carried the inert figure of Michael Wright or Michal as she must think of him here. This proved less difficult than she imagined as Gail felt herself being absorbed into the entire Mamelon ethos and mythology as if she had never been away. I am Galia of Mamelon, she silently repeated to herself several times before it became unnecessary because now she was Galia of Mamelon. Her thoughts flew to Calum, her firstborn, and her heart skipped several beats. Hastily, she concentrated on Michal.
“Speak not of Calum,” Etta had told her sharply when she had tried to raise the subject with her mother. “Don’t even think of him. Dark powers have acute hearing. “No one must suspect he lives or not only Calum but all of us risk losing everything. Everything, daughter, everything, she repeated.” A single glance had warned Galia to drop the matter instantly and resist asking even one of the many questions on her lips.
Galia took several deep breaths. For now, it must be her firstborn Motherworld child to whom she must devote a single minded care and attention.
She followed the druids through a maze of passages that took them ever deeper into the mountains. Finally, they paused for rest. The two Robed Ones carrying Michal laid the litter down. Almost at once, they made a circle and she was almost overwhelmed by the concentration of power that descended upon her like a raging flood. Gasping for breath, she rallied and hurried towards the unconscious Michael, praying that, between the three of them, they could keep her warded from druid mischief. As yet, there was nothing to suggest the Robed Ones were aware of her presence. Dear, Ri, let it stay that way.
At the litter, Gail of Tunbridge Wells, now Galia of Mamelon, concentrated wholly upon the young man she must think of as Michal or he would not respond to her powers nor would they have any effect anyway on any protective wards the druids may have placed around him. In vain, she summoned every ounce of will power to restore the still, pale, figure on the litter to a state of consciousness, at least to the extent that he might become even faintly aware of her presence. She sent a stream of familiar images into his mind, but to no avail. Soon exhausted, she began to panic. There was no telling for how long the druids would be distracted either by their own rites or her magic. Should they discover and challenge her, she was even less certain how she might fare.
It was on the cusp of Galia’s hope and despair that Michal opened his eye.
“Mother?” he groaned. Gail heaved a sigh of relief, not only that he was awake but at his way of addressing her. Michael only ever called her, Mum.
“Yes, Michal.it is I. No questions, we do not have time. You are in the company of druids that mean you harm, and I have come to take you to a safer place.”
Michal sat up and gave his mother a fierce hug while observing The Robed Ones over her shoulder. “How long before they...?”
“My guess is, not long.” She told him bluntly. “We need to go now. Can you walk?”
“I think so?” Gingerly, Michal swung his legs to the ground, took several steps, and would have fallen heavily if his mother had not caught him.”
“It’s no good. I am too weak. You must lend me of your strength, Mother.”
“I dare not, my son. I need all I have or I cannot stay even for the short while I am needed here. Empty your mind of all but the will to live, survive, and more. Journey far within, and further still. Let your very selfhood fly all time and space until it can reach out and touch the spirit with which you were born, and then enter. Let it mingle with the blood coursing your veins. Motherworlder, you may be, but you are of the bloodline no less for that. It will help you, save you, and shine light on you where there is only darkness. But you must want it, my son ….want it, will it, acknowledge it, and then practise to use it well if any of us are ever to be returned to the reality of our first choice. “
“Choice..?” The word thundered through his brain. “I have a choice?” The words sounded weak, feeble, and he barely recognized his own voice.
“Choose, Michal. Choose to seek, find, and learn to use or…” Suddenly overcome by an intense weariness, Galia, unable even to finish her sentence, sank to her knees. She could but trust her firstborn Mmotherworld child would reach such a place within himself where words were unnecessary and he would understand all she was trying to say, hopefully far more.
For his part, Mick-Michal found himself drifting on the very sound of his mother’s words; this made no sense until he, too, was overwhelmed by an awareness of his own breathing so intense that it hurt. His head began to throb. At the same time, he became dimly aware of another sound, a vaguely familiar one trying to find a way through to his inner ear. Suddenly, the lilt and lyric of the Okay Song burst into his head and blossomed like a flower, every note a petal opening up to some tawny dawn. Now he was flying through the air across the wild, angry, wilting Mamelon landscape. At last, he touched down. A veil of mist began to lift. I know this place. Something brushed his face and floated to the ground. He bent to retrieve it, recognized its coppery hues and turned to find himself at the Fire Tree, Heart of Elvendom.
“Greetings, young Michal.” a soft, lilting voice reached his ears almost as if it had sprung from the Okay Song itself.
The figure of a man, whose features he could barely make out although his senses told him he was old, made Michal start. At first, from what he could tell, he thought it was Astor, the grandfather to whom had first been drawn but learned since to mistrust on a previous visit to Mamelon. How could I have forgotten? Memories of that visit passed like a twenty-first century movie through his mind. He tensed, grew wary, and then relaxed completely. This was not Astor, He was in no danger. The stranger meant him no harm, on the contrary. I can trust this man with my life.
I can’t see or hear you very well,” Michal thought it best to be honest.
“That’s because I am here, and am not here. I am as you find me, and not as you find me. I belong here, and do not belong here. We have much in common, wouldn’t you say?”
Michal nodded. Excepting his mother, he had never felt as confused by or as comfortable with anyone in his whole life before.
“You have journeyed far, young Michal, and have further yet to go. But this is a good beginning. That is to say, as much as any awareness implies beginning. Trust your senses and they will bring you to a good end. That is to say, as much as any awareness implies an end. It is not so, of course. But that is something else we can discover for ourselves or impose lesser alternatives of our own making. Go now, and tell your mother how we met by the Fire Tree, Heart of Elvendom, and she will be reassured. You are of her blood, young Motherworlder, part elf, and part druid for all you are but human. These parts of a whole, they will serve you well, my friend, but only if you choose to let them and are willing to trust magic over human instinct as and when the time is right”
“How will I know the time is right?” Michal was not sure he understood.
“You will know, and then it is up to you which path you take. Now, close your eyes and return to your mother for I fear her strength is failing and I must attend to it as best I can.”
The image of the old man began to fade. “Who are you? How are you called?” Michal cried, “You know who I am. Surely, I may know who you are also?”
But the image had already vanished.
Like birdsong in a light, summer air, Michal heard once again the command to close his eyes, and did so only to be instantly catapulted into a blankness that was as uncomfortable as it was uninspiring. Hastily, he opened them again, and found himself gazing into his mother’s eyes; they looked troubled and anxious, but lit up like twin moons in a dark sky the second he gave her a huge, reassuring grin. “I saw an old man sitting by the Fire Tree…” he began but Galia put a finger to her son’s lips.
“That is good, very good, but we are running out of time. You must go Michal, and go now.”
“Are you coming with me?”
Galia shook her head. “I must return to the Motherworld. Believe me. I can help you all from there, far better than if I were to remain, even if that was an option which it isn’t,” she added ruefully. “Go and find your brother. He is with friends, and they are your friends too.”
“But I have no idea where he is or Bethan either.”
“Use the puli, and it will guide you to Peter. As for Bethan…” Galia sighed. “She is safe. Mulac will see she comes to know harm.” For now, she added silently.
Michal’s serious expression brightened considerably. “Mulac may be Nu-gen, but I trust him with all my heart.”
“There is more to Mulac than you know…” Galia began before realizing what she had said and clapped a hand to her mouth to prevent all she longed to say. Yet, what can I say and how would it help to tell you Mulac is your brother, Calum? Dear, Ri, what am I thinking? Minds, too have ears. I must go, now, before I ruin everything. “Go, my son, and know that you and your brother are much loved by parents who are sorrier than you will ever know for burdening you with Mamelon’s past, present, and future.” She gave Michal an impassioned hug, kissed him on the cheek, and was gone before he even realized it, vanished just like the old man.
Still feeling slightly dazed, but much stronger, Michal felt in his pocket for the small, flat stone shaped like a triangle that had been a parting gift from La-Ri, the elf queen. Instantly, it pointed in the direction its owner trusted he should follow.
Moving away from the druid circle and into one of several tunnels leading ever further into the mountain, Michal discovered to his amazement that he could not only run, but also faster and lighter of foot than ever before.
Galia watched him go and managed not to cry if only because it would further drain her of those innermost resources she was relying on to see her safely back to Tonbridge Wells. It came as no surprise that she felt no inclination to stay except for her children. She had hated Mamelon once, and she hated now, even more so because it threatened her children. All my children... Will I ever see Calum and Nadya again? How they must hate me for abandoning them? But I thought you were dead. Astort said…
But there was no time for regrets or recriminations. Gathering all her willpower and struggling to establish mind contact with Etta and Timon, Galia prepared herself for the journey back to the Motherworld and the Gail Wright persona she had long since adopted and grown into just as she might have grown into a new pair of shoes until they fitted perfectly.
Her mind reached out. Again and it again, it reached out, but found nothing and no one, only a vast emptiness across which her inner eye could see no way to cross unaided. She began to panic. Help me! Timon, Etta, help me! But her cries fell on deaf ears. Her heart sank. For now, at least, there was no discernible way back. In desperation, she tried Astor. Father, help me. If you ever cared for me at all, help me now. Again, she received no response. She thought she sensed a presence of sorts but could not determine its nature, only that it meant well and might even be trying to help her, but it was barely a flicker and was quickly snuffed out like a candle. She considered the analogy. Had the candle ben snuffed out by accident or design? Someone is working against me, but who? She shivered despite the clammy heat. For it had to be her old enemy, Ragund.
No longer did Galia resist the tears welling in her tired eyes as she confronted her greatest fear, one that had haunted her far, far, longer than she cared to recall.
Suddenly, through her tears, she saw a dear face she had not seen for more lifetimes than she cared to count. “Calum!” she tried to call out, but no sound came from her lips. The image remained. though, but wore an expression of distress and fear. She struggled to send positive, reassuring thought waves, and seemed to sense a response, but could not be sure.
As suddenly as it has appeared, the image vanished, and there was nothing left to hold on to but her innate identity as Galia of Mamelon, consort to Michal the Great. She was unprepared for the rush of adrenalin that coursed her veins. Yet, had she not old scores to settle? She owed her children that much, and her murdered husband. Bracing herself for whatever may lie ahead, she heaved a huge sigh that conveyed mixed feelings, but primarily one of fierce anticipation.
Galia of Mamelon had come home.