The dancing lasted long into the night. I finally retired
to a tent that had been set aside for me and my friends. Melody was already
there along with Netsuko, Sakuko, and MoonFall. I found a spot near them and
covered myself up with the blankets. Sleep came instantly that night.
"Shi'tri!" I called, once again sensing that
this was more than a dream, "Where are you?"
"Right here," he said coldly.
"Elemental Forge, eh?" I said, watching for
There was none. His face remained as impassive
"You know, it's not just me that wants you to
turn back," he said. "All the elements want it. It's just only I can contact
you in this manner."
"So? I want my pet back and I'm not giving up
until I have him."
"You can't have him. For your sake… just give
"I won't. We've been over this before. I must
ask though: what is up with your shaman?"
Shi'tri sniffed in disgust.
"Oh. Him. A rather poor choice in my mind but
he was all that was available. We try and keep tabs on the Infernals due to
their proximity to the Forge."
"Well, tell your shaman that if he so much as
looks at me wrong he'll be finding out what the afterlife is like firsthand."
The element looked at me sadly.
"See, this is why I don't want you to come to
the Forge. I'm rather fond of you, you know."
"You are? Even after I beat you up in the Shadow
He nodded, a ghost of a smile on his face.
"Yes. Even though you defeated me before. But
your sheer determination will get you to the Forge and from there we can only
see how events fall out. I want you to know that whatever happens is not because
I dislike you. It is out of necessity."
"And what will happen at the Forge?" I whispered.
"We're all rather fond of you. You've been very
good at upholding your responsibilities as Essence. But… it's a pity this has
to be this way."
"What? What are you talking about?"
He merely vanished from sight though and I drifted
back into normal sleep.
I was woken the next morning by one of Un-eairkagh's
admirers from the previous night. She ushered us outside and to a small campfire
where we found breakfast waiting for us.
"I hate mushrooms," Sabreur said, staring at
his bowl in dismay.
"Quit whining," Terraile retorted.
"I miss MoonFall's cooking."
The Uni eyed him appreciatively.
"I never thought I'd hear you say that, Sabreur."
He looked at her mournfully.
"I miss decent food. I miss the lab. And I miss
being out in the open as opposed to being stuck in these dingy tunnels."
"How do you think I feel?" Un-eairkagh snapped,
"I'm the one who suffers from claustrophobia here!"
"You've done fine," I said wearily, not wanting
everyone to start moaning so close to the end of our journey, "You've all done
Raitos approached us then.
"When you are ready, we will take you to the
Everyone made as to leave, reaching for weapons,
but the Kougra shook his furless head.
"No, only the girl may go. The path is closed
for the rest of you."
"How come?" Sakuko and Nestuko demanded as one.
"There are two ways to the Elemental Forge.
One does not take you all the way there. That is the one the shamans take. The
other can only be traveled through water. It is entirely submerged."
There was silence.
"Well," I said, trying to put a note of cheerfulness
in my voice, "I guess it'll just be me then."
"Don't act so happy," Melody said dubiously,
"I know your phobia."
I gulped and Un-eairkagh turned to me in excitement.
"You have a phobia other than spiders?"
"Yes," I muttered, "I don't like water where
I can't see the bottom. And I don't like underground lakes, streams, rivers,
whatever. They scare me. Badly."
Raitos looked at me strangely and growled.
"There is no other way. Either master your fear
And he turned to walk off towards the lake.
I watched him go and then reluctantly stood, picking up my Elemental Spear.
"Well, that's it then," I said awkwardly, "I'm
Everyone rose also. I hugged them each in turn,
accepting their wishes of good luck. And this time I did not forget to tell
anyone that I loved them.
The Kougra chieftain was waiting by the lakeside.
A Infernal Peophin was also there. He was pale and furless as all Infernals
are; with one exception. He had a mane of stringy and knotted hair. Bits of
stone were tied up in it. He regarded me with large pale eyes and then flipped
back into the water. I could dimly see his pale outline just under the water's
"Mikohs will guide you," the Kougra said evenly,
"as far as he can. From there it is up to you."
"It is a fool's quest you are on and I doubt
I will ever see you again. But so be it."
I nodded and stepped out into the lake. The
water was only mildly cold, hinting at some volcanic activity deeper below the
earth. The Infernals had mentioned the Forge being too hot to survive in. I
imagined the place would be some lava pool deep under the earth. But to get
there through water… what kind of place was the Forge?
I was about to dive underwater when a call stopped
me. It was my brother. He glanced at me awkwardly then tossed me a metal sphere.
"For you. Just in case you need it."
And then he trotted off to rejoin the rest of
my group. I carefully clasped the improved firebomb to my belt and dove underwater.
I could see fine and breath fine, thanks to my gills. Mikohs twisted around
to ensure I was ready and then took off through the lake. We dove deeper and
deeper until there was no light. I summoned a small sphere of light magic to
guide us. Up ahead was a tunnel in the cavern wall. We made for it. I hesitated
for a moment, staring at the yawning black mouth before me. For Aldrai. I braced
myself and followed.
We swam for what seemed like hours. Eventually
the current starting picking up and I heard the sound of rushing water. That
meant air had to be nearby. Sure enough, Mikohs vanished onto a surface above
us. I broke through and took a deep breath of slightly stale air before pulling
myself out of the river and onto the slick stone floor in the cave. It was a
tiny room with barely enough space for two of us. As it was, both our tails
hung in the water and we were squashed uncomfortably close.
"This is as far as I can take you," the Peophin
said jerkily. "You'll have to go on yourself. The current picks up too hard
to turn back pretty soon. Just follow the river. It'll take you straight to
the Elemental Forge."
"Thank you," I said softly.
"There is nothing to thank me for. I am leading
you towards death."
I was about to reply but the Peophin had already
leaped into the water and was heading back up the way we had came. I watched
him go and then felt an abrupt wave of loneliness and fear. It was just me and
whatever lay in the Forge. I leapt back into the water and let the current carry
To be continued...