Chapter 15: In which there is no Teaparty. Hiss.
Bab-Lin had actually managed to preserve the meat he, Phule and Zalark did not eat. He had been a bit worried, but using a little bit of some strange powder from a bottle in his fuzzy bag and his own flame he had managed it. What had really pleased him was the roll of glowing paper that had been with the supplies they had gotten from Talvharn. According to Bab-Lin, the paper had the property of leeching time from whatever it was wrapped around.
Fram must have made it himself. Bab-Lin had been particularly joyous that there was at least three rolls of the stuff between his and Aira’s packs. He claimed that his powder was not really that great of a preserver, more of a seasoning.
They had fried the meat they ate of course, frying being the default thing to do when not sure of how to cook something. Water was not a problem in this part of Awarth, Fasil-Yad, as it was yet one more place in the shadow of Nortrieln in Kigan. A kind of dark opaque water could be melted from the black snow, though it had the troubling attribute of constantly trying to float into the sky, good for making skyships, not so much for transportation or ease of drinking.
Though Bab-Lin and Aira’s packs were actually lighter when they filled up all their water-skins, thanks to the floating water.
Bab-Lin divided mean portions of dried fruit from the supplies. Though it was good to be cautious, as they had no idea how long they would be travelling, Phule couldn’t help but get the feeling that Bab-Lin had once almost starved to death. Aira not needing food, but magic energy thought it wise to stock up on magic crystals made from her transmutor. The quality of the crystals was none too good as they were made from simple earth.
Still, she filled her shadows deeply and stuffed a number of crystals into her pack. Aira would have liked to talk to everyone a bit, but after eating and drinking, her companions swiftly descended into sleep, as unlike her, they were not golems.
So Aira alone was left awake in Awarth’s second night, to watch over her companions. Bab-Lin was unchanged, as he was his shadow in a sense, but Phule and Zalark were wrapped in their shadows, as if the shadow were blankets.
The nature of a shadow was different if a creature’s body was also in Awarth. Though, in the case of Zalark, his was a body of spirit not flesh, but the difference means less in Awarth.
Aira looked to the sky. In the deep dark, not even the shadow of the Anchor Tree nor the swirling black and red maelstrom could be seen. Tomorrow Zalark would begin to guide them.
She wondered if it was really right to be dragging these people with her, but she corrected herself, she was not dragging anyone, apart from Zalark they were with her of their own free will.
Apart from Zalark. The bird spirit did not have a full will, in many ways its will was more developed than her’s, but she was freer. She understood Zalark not wanting to betray people to their doom, but she had hope that they’d survive whatever Zalark led them into. Something bothered her, what had Fram said?
It would betray them at least once? Did that mean that after the first betrayal, Zalark would have a choice?
A grim thought crossed her hope, perhaps one betrayal was all it took normally.
Aira’s gaze came across the reflection of Nanlach. The pure Moonfruit of the Anchor Tree Yaibggael. The deep dark seemed unable to cover the pale light it had, though it suckled greedily on it. Aira felt that Nanlach was… beautiful.
She was glad to be alive, to have will of her own. She would not have been able to feel that Nanlach was beautiful before. She supposed that faster development was one of the benefits of being made the way she was.
She still did not know why she had been made by a dark magician and an enchantress, and a song. Should she think of them as her parents? They were her creators, but what had they been doing in that place, and how had they avoided the spirit that she met?
She wondered, if it was really worth finding them. She could easily return to Talvharn, she was welcome there, and would have purpose in the work of the tower.
Nothing came in the deep dark, though now and then were was the cry or howl or whisper of some creatures from the mirror forest near them.
Aira wanted to know. She decided then that she could do whatever she wanted, even after finding out why she had been made. Though for all she knew perhaps her creators were in dire need of her and had forgotten about her due to the magic on the ruins of Tavarn.
The Deep Dark slowly gave way to lighter night, as Aira thought of this and that, and like many beings wondered at her place in existence.
They left early.
“Please guide me to the ones who made me, a dark magician and an enchantress” Aira asked of Zalark.
“I will do so, that is within my power, though I will also lead you to doom” Zalark sombrely replied.
He wasn’t as unpleasant, but he was still kind of pompous. Bab-Lin was interested in what things were not within Zalark’s power to guide a person to.
They talked as they travelled over and down the snow dunes of Fasil-Yad.
Aira and Bab-Lin told Zalark and Phule of the mysteries of Tavarn, but of course neither had heard of the people or the place. Though Zalark seemed troubled after the telling.
Phule spoke of her hometown of Undsweill, ruled by the Goblin Queen Faarle, supposedly it was smack right on the border of Fasil-Yad and Adibh-Ur. In spite of this, it was still an unimportant place. A small bit of boasting was able to be extracted from Bab-Lin on the mention of Adibh-Ur, it was his homeland, and he had been a man of some importance before his enchantment with flame as punishment for his crime.
Zalark for his part could not recall where he had been born, as was not unusual for spirits without a physical body.
They made camp two times as the deep dark came and went, they passed a number of mirror forests and even an ominous crystal labyrinth. Then they came to what seemed a large cave. Phule wondered if they had left Fasil-Yad behind, but nobody knew if they had, or which of Fasil-Yad’s three bordering regions they would have entered if they had.
It was quite a foreboding cave, impressive for smooth white rock. The mouth of it looked almost like, well a mouth.
“This wouldn’t happen to be a mimic wurm would it?” Bab-Lin pondered, considering the eventual betrayal of Zalark.
Mimic wurms, oddly were native to both Awarth and Kigan, many a traveller had rested in what they thought was a cave only to wake in the stomach of a mimic wurm. Being a kind of mimic it is unsurprising that they are more common in Awarth than Kigan. Nobody was sure just how big the wurms could get, but there was tales of massive wurms with multiple cities inside them.
If the cave before them was actually mimic wurm, it was clearly not a very big one.
The mimic wurm was just one in a long and terrifying list of creatures that pretended to be things they weren’t.
Phule shook her head.
“No, not enough teeth pretendings to be rock! Wrong shape too”
“You know a lot about mimic wurms Phule?” Aira asked.
Phule cackled and posed proudly nose in the air.
“Lots o’ mimics, all kinds around Undsweill, made for exciting childhood, had game where youse gettings points for how many mimics find before gettings eatings, Phule wouldn’t livings past childhood if Phule wasn’t goblin.”
Bab-Lin supposed that most goblin games were highly fatal, given that any goblin serving a goblin royal would just reappear after dying, they probably didn’t worry too much. He wondered if the dead body just kind of vanished when the new one spawned, but he wasn’t up on his goblin magic.
“Oh come on!” Zalark protested. “You think your doom would be a mimic wurm? It’ll be much worse than that!”
Satisfied that the cave was not a mimic, Bab-Lin stepped into the cave.
It was not a cave. It was still not a mimic, it was a tunnel. He could tell it was because further on, the walls, ceiling and ground were covered in a kind of glowing red flat wide mushroom. It wasn’t one he was familiar with.
“Phule, you seen this mushroom before?”
Phule shook her head, Bab-Lin shrugged and after a while of trying to determine if there was anything sinister about the mushrooms, they pushed on through the tunnel.
The went in tense silence for a while, half expecting something to jump out from the walls or the floor, but nothing happened.
Nothing that is, until a clanging sound from Aira.
“Ah” She exclaimed, out of surprise, rather than pain, after all, she could not feel physical pain normally.
“I think something tried to bite me, it must not be very smart”
Aira bent down and picked what appeared to be a mushroom up.
It was not a mushroom mimic. Rather it was a large brown beetle, the mushroom cap was stuck onto its body by way of impalement on four horns on its head. It was a Hat-beetle.
Hat-beetle are not particularly special creatures apart from their odd habit of making hats from things and sticking them on their head by way of their horns. They are also known to make primitive kettles and cups (from whatever they can find) and sit around in circles drinking whatever they can find. As it turns out though, supposedly they are not actually smarter than other most other beetles, rather, magicians and other madmen who actually took the time to study them found that they were, on average stupider then the average beetle.
Seeing a hat-beetle’s tea (very rarely with actual tea) party is considered unfortunate, mainly due to the large numbers of beetles at such an event, most beings consider being eaten by beetles a bad way to die. It is said that any liquid drank from a hat-beetle’s kettle causes unpleasant hallucinations. Liquid drank from a hat-beetle’s cup however has sanity restoring properties.
Hat-Beetle cups then are valued as medicine for those afflicted by madness, magical or otherwise. The potency is horribly variable however. Hat-Beetles are of course, native to Awarth.
Aira held the struggling beetle up for everyone to see.
“Well, I guess a single Hat-Beetle hardly counts as doom” Aira said cheerfully.
There was the sound of several hat-beetles unearthing themselves. Several being most of the mushrooms on the walls and ceiling of the bit of the tunnel they were on.
Nobody panicked. Bab-Lin sighed.
“Well, this doesn’t count as doom at all”
Everyone stood behind Bab-Lin as he spat flame onto the beetles. It didn’t take Bab-Lin long to finish.
“You know, it actually hurts quite a bit to breath flame like that” he complained, over the crackling popping sound of roasting hat-beetles.
In sort order, they were on their way again, Zalark, Phule and Bab-Lin snacking on roast beetle. Aira had even tried converting a few into mana crystals, the results were a bit better than using earth, though she got the strange desire to cackle madly when looking into the crystals, she guessed it had something to do with the nature of the crystals.
They came to a fork in the tunnel, the glowing mushrooms had long since been left behind, they now went blindly following the glow of Zalark.
Then, after a time, Zalark stopped.
“I have led you to your doom, I have led you to her, you should not have told me of her. My betrayal is almost complete”
He vanished into darkness after that, and the only light there was, was from Aira’s crystal eyeball.
Aira saw them, a multitude of yellow eyes glaring hatefully out of the dark.
Hissing filled her head.
She could not even scream.