The Fire Within: Part Five
T hey arrived at the Shining Chasm that evening, as far as Yardly could tell in the timeless dark of the caverns. The tunnel had widened out slightly, giving way to a solid wall of what looked like white marble. A door appeared to be carved into the rock, closed fast, with what looked like Maraquan symbols carved around it.
There were two guards, magma Neopets - Moltaran mystics by the look of their crimson robes. But they were not the red priests Yardly remembered from Neopia Central’s industrial district. Their robes were augmented with bone armor, and each of them held a spear carved of solid obsidian. These were warrior monks.
They certainly didn't seem to approve of Luthor’s presence. They were already giving him a hard stare as he bid the travelers farewell and started on his trek back to the Font.
“Hail, Andesite,” one of the guards, a Nimmo said. “Hail, Alex Yardly. Igneot has told us of your coming. We are to give you passage.”
Yardly gathered from his tone that they didn’t entirely agree with the idea. But Igneot still had enough power while he held the Font that they would not turn against his will.
The pair of guards lowered their spears, turning back towards the gateway and holding out their hands to the marble. They moved forwards, touching the wall and closing their eyes in concentration.
After a moment, they moved backwards, leaving magma hand prints on the stone. The magic of the magma seemed to kick in, the molten rock spreading along the grooves carved in the marble. The symbols lit up, and then the grooves of the door. Finally, the doors opened inwards, clearing the way.
“Alex Yardly,” the Nimmo said, taking up his spear again. “Igneot bids us to grant you access to the Shining Chasm and we obey, but know this - you keep to our laws within these tunnels. The Shining Chasm will not be profaned.”
“Understood,” Yardly said.
They passed through, and the marble doors rumbled shut behind them.
“I have had dealings with wizards before,” Yardly said. “I know the feel of magic, but I didn't feel it then.”
“It is common practice to label that which is not understood as magic,” Andesite said. “The Path of Fire is not magic, it is just a deeper form of knowledge.”
“Can you do that?” Yardly asked. “Move rocks with your mind?”
“That is not what you saw, Mr. Yardly,” Andesite replied. “The lava moved the rocks. The guards merely called the lava to the task. But no, I cannot. Those monks have studied years to gain such control, my own abilities pale in comparison. Even Igneot, the most skilled mystic in a generation, would say he still has further to tread on the Path of Fire.”
“Would Igneot’s power be enough to repel Marbelle if she attacked the Font?” Yardly asked.
“She would not,” Andesite said. “Fighting is not the way of the mystics. Fighting in the Font, even less so. It is the place we all come from, the first step in the Path of Fire. Fighting in the Font is unthinkable, even for Marbelle.”
The makeup of the tunnel was changing, with diamonds jutting out of the tunnel wall more regularly as they moved on.
Up ahead, the tunnel widened out into a large chamber. They had arrived - the Shining Chasm.
The image of a valley of diamonds in Yardly’s mind did not do the place justice. Very few things took his breath away, but this was one.
The chasm must have been about a half mile across, almost perfectly circular within the great cavern. And down, down as far as the eye could see into the darkness of the depths, there were diamonds. Pure and glittering in the firelight, they reflected and refracted the light a thousand times over, twinkling in the darkness.
There seemed to be a quiet air of reverence about the place. Yardly realised he was holding his breath and abruptly exhaled. He turned to Andesite, who appeared to be crying - as much as a being made of magma could cry. Little beads of orange magma were rolling down his cheeks.
“Are you alright?” Yardly asked.
Andesite seemed startled by the noise, and wiped the tears away.
“Sorry,” he said with a sniff. “It’s just... A bit overwhelming. I never thought I would feel it again.”
“Feel it?” Yardly asked.
“The Shining Chasm is very pretty,” Andesite said. “But that isn’t why we value it so much. Diamonds don’t just reflect light, you know? Daken Nar, the diamonds capture a little bit, and bounce it around inside them... I don't know how to best describe it. Like an echo chamber, perhaps? The Chasm contains a little fragment of each magma Neopet. Both the ones currently living in the caverns, and those that came before us. Right back to Vulcan, the first mystic, thousands of years ago. I can feel them, the whispers of my people. Part of me, as well, I think. My younger self.”
“I understand,” Yardly said solemnly. “This isn't just a part of your heritage. These are the ghosts of your people. Chipping into the diamond...”
“Has never been done,” Andesite said. “But even the most rudimentary mystic would postulate that it would remove some of the echoes. Whispers would be lost... And part of the Daken Nar would die. Part of us, in effect, would die.”
“Marbelle is right to be outraged,” Yardly said.
“About this, yes,” Andesite said. “But don't forget what I told you. Marbelle was outraged long before this. If she goes, I don’t doubt for a moment that Igneot will be able to convince Third Cog to drop their plans to mine here.”
“Do you want to stay for a while?” Yardly asked. “We can afford the delay, if it is important.”
“No,” Andesite said. “Preserving this place, and preserving the peace, is important. We need to find Marbelle.”
“Hariq, Igneot said that was where she is,” Yardly said. “You know the way from here? Or do we need to go and get Luthor again?”
“No, the paths between the old monasteries are kept clear,” Andesite said. “If we cross the Chasm, the tunnels will lead us there. I remember the way from my lessons on history.”
“You've never been there yourself?” Yardly asked.
“No,” Andesite said. “But then, very few have. As I said, it has been abandoned for generations. Not used since the first days when the old mystics were learning the craft. Marbelle will have picked it for that historical value, but it is out of the way - not used or visited by anyone in the caverns for any real purpose.”
They skirted around the edge of the Chasm to the other side, where a tunnel similar to the one they had entered from was waiting. Another marble door lay at the end of it, which opened as they approached, the guards on the other side apparently having been able to sense them coming. They nodded silently at the pair as they passed, suspicion in their eyes.
“We should be honoured,” Andesite said by way of explanation. “I am an exile and you are an outsider. Exiles are rarely given access to the Chasm and outsiders... Well, there hasn't been one inside in generations.”
“Why?” Yardly asked. “It’s not like I have the same connection you do. I wouldn't contaminate the diamond echoes. Why ban outsiders?”
“Men of iron and steam value the diamonds,” Andesite said. “Free access, and sooner or later, one would take a memento. Magma Neopets would never dare, even if they didn’t know what the Chasm was - we can all hear the song, so to speak.”
“Then why not let more people become magma?” Yardly asked. “Why keep it so exclusive?”
“If it were up to me, we would. Perhaps, if it were entirely up to Igneot as well,” he said. “He already allows some outsiders to use the Magma Pool once they have been judged to have learned enough about us. But Marbelle? That would just enrage her more. That is the point about all this, why Marbelle is able to gain so many supporters. This isn’t just xenophobia, she actually has a point.”
“Every new person that bathes in the Magma Pool has their voice added to the Daken Nar, to the echoes in the Shining Chasm,” Andesite explained. “People from outside bring new points of view, new ideas, new horizons, some alien concepts like... Like snow. The Daken Nar knows nothing of snow. It is the cultural identity of the caverns and each time a person from a different culture joins it, the Daken Nar is diluted, and who we are becomes diminished. That is a scary prospect for a community that has lived in the unchanging darkness of isolation for thousands of years. Personally, I feel like a different perspective might be a good thing. Diluting the Daken Nar might bring us all closer, instead of driving us apart.”
“And you think Igneot agrees?” Yardly asked.
“I feel that he does,” Andesite said. “But Igneot’s position means that he must play politics, and try and keep everyone happy. His compromise is the way which alienates the fewest. Unfortunately the few that cannot accept it are people like Marbelle.”
“Unfortunately,” Yardly agreed.
To be continued…