The Fire Within: Part Six
Hariq, as it transpired, was very far off the beaten track. So far that it, unlike the Shining Chasm, didn't have a name in the common tongue. Hariq was the ancient Moltaran word for exploding, violent fire. As Igneot had said, the place had been founded to study magma geysers by the early mystics. That made the place dangerous enough, and the path to it even worse.
Lava rivers ran freely along the tunnels the deeper the pair went, meaning Andesite and Yardly needed to pick their path carefully. After several days beneath the surface, Yardly had believed he was getting used to the heat, but this was something different. He was sweating so much that his water supplies were already beginning to run dry. Andesite, of course, required no water. He was in his element - literally. In some places, he paddled into the lava, bridging gaps so that Yardly could jump over.
“We are close now,” Andesite said as they crossed another river. “Be on your guard. Marbelle will not welcome visitors like us.”
“She will have scouts?” Yardly asked.
“Perhaps,” Andesite replied. “Though she will not need them - they will be able to sense I am coming.”
He tapped his chest.
“Of course,” Yardly said. “I can see why the crime rate dow here is so low - not much chance of sneaking up on anyone if they can feel you coming from a mile off. Still, they won’t know I'm here, right? That gives us an advantage.”
Andesite gave a polite smile.
“I think, in numbers, skill, and terrain, they will hold the advantage,” Andesite said. “Unless you have suddenly learned to tread the Path of Fire? It is unlikely your skills will overcome a dozen fireballs. If you wish to speak with Marbelle as you said, then surrendering is your best bet.”
“I’ll keep that in mind when it comes to it,” Yardly said.
Andesite paused, as if listening to something.
“I think it just has, Mr. Yardly,” he said. “I apologise... I... Don't know how they did that.”
From out of the lava rivers, magma Neopets began to leap, as if they had been diving underwater. Their hands were aflame, coursing with the strange Moltaran non-magic. At once, a wall of fire blocked their path backward - no retreat, no escape.
“You didn't sense them coming?” Yardly asked.
“No...” Andesite said, slightly alarmed. “I wonder... Does Igneot know this power?”
“Exile!” one of the magma Neopets shouted. “This is not your place!”
“My name is Alex Yardly,” Yardly said, the Gelert moving between the two Neopets. “I wish to speak to Madame Marbelle.”
“We have heard of your coming,” the Neopet, a Poogle, said. “The Madame will speak with you. You are to come with us.”
“Excellent,” Yardly said.
He moved to follow, but the Poogle still seemed to be barring the way to Andesite.
“The Madame has no wish to speak with exiles,” the Poogle said. “The surfacer will come with us, no other.”
“Go on, Mr. Yardly,” Andesite said. “They will not harm you while Marbelle wishes to speak with you, and if she decides to harm you afterwards, I will hardly be able to stop her. We must part ways here, I am afraid.”
Yardly was acutely aware that, despite Andesite’s lessons, he was still a newcomer to this place. Marbelle would run rings around him - Andesite was his best bet at evening the odds.
“No,” Yardly said. “If he does not go, I do not go.”
“You are in no position to make demands,” the Poogle chuckled. “The Madame does not issue you an invitation - you are our prisoner.”
“I am in every position to make demands,” Yardly shot back. “Marbelle has asked to speak with me, and if you disobey that order, you will suffer her wrath, no doubt.”
“We will force you to come if you will not come willingly,” the Poogle said.
“Perhaps,” Yardly said, moving closer to the edge of the lava river. “But I am no magma Neopet - if I fall, I will die. And then there will be no one to speak to Marbelle. Andesite comes with me, or neither of us go.”
“You are bluffing,” the Poogle said.
“Try me,” Yardly said.
There was silence in the tunnel for a moment.
“Very well,” the Poogle relented. “The exile will come with us as a prisoner as well. We move now.”
The other magma Neopets nodded as one. Some turned to march with the Poogles, while others leapt back into the lava river, disappearing below the magma.
“They are gone again,” Andesite whispered to Yardly as they walked. “The ones that jumped back in. I can't feel them, even though I know they are there. The ability to hide from the Daken Nar... This is a dark kind of knowledge, not the Moltaran way.”
“Forbidden knowledge?” Yardly asked.
“Unknown knowledge,” Andesite answered. “This flows against the Path of Fire.”
“Then what are they studying?” Yardly asked.
“A different Path,” the Poogle answered in front of them. “The Madame will show you.”
The tunnel widened out into another large cavern, though one far different to either the Font or the Shining Chasm.
Hariq was mostly, it seemed, a lake of boiling lava. It stretched into the distance as far as Yardly's eyes could see. He could see why it was known as the place of the violent fire - the lake was boiling to such a degree that in places it was exploding upwards like an underground volcano.
Nestled on a rock outcrop on the shore of the lake was a black stone building, tiered and ancient looking. In places it was crumbling, the signs of centuries of neglect. But now fires were lit within the windows - the place was alive again.
Solemn red robed monks watched them from the courtyard as they approached. They had been training, Yardly realised, as scorch marks littered the paving stones. Marbelle wasn't teaching monks. She was training an army.
The Poogle led them up the steps to the innards of the old monastery. Inside, a large chamber with a pool of lava in the middle was waiting. In front of it, seemingly meditating, was a magma Elephante.
She was large, her great belly etched with the marking of Magma Neopets and robes covering most of the rest of her body. They were bright crimson, and around her waist sat a belt with a lump of obsidian on it. It was the mark of a mystic, so Yardly understood. The highest rank in the Path of Fire. It was an emblem Igneot refused to wear, claiming it was a relic of the old days - that they were all equal, regardless of where they stood on the Path. Clearly, Marbelle disagreed.
“Welcome, Alex Yardly,” the Elephante said, opening her eyes and piercing the Gelert with her gaze. “I see Andesite, the exile, has tricked his traitorous ways into coming along.”
“I would not come without him,” Yardly said.
“Schist, leave us,” Marbelle commanded.
The Poogle wordlessly obeyed, closing a pair of great stone doors as he left. The three of them were completely alone.
“It is unheard of for an exile to be allowed to return to the Shining Chasm,” Marbelle said. “Your whispers will add a note of discord to the song. Speaking foul words of the surface, no doubt. Igneot has defiled the Chasm. That is unforgivable.”
“Perhaps he thought that the song is greater than the caverns,” Andesite said.
“Silence!” Marbelle shouted. “There is nothing greater. I will not hear such blasphemy - speak like that again and you will not have a tongue for much longer, exile.”
She turned her attention back to the Gelert.
“You,” she said. “Alex Yardly, a man from the surface. A man sent by the miners. Igneot allowed you access. An exile is unheard of, a surfacer... Unthinkable.”
“Perhaps Igneot can think of more things than you,” Yardly countered. “If it is any consolation, the Chasm will not hold my whispers. It remains pure of my influence.”
“I know that,” Marbelle said. “What you did there is irrelevant. What is important is why. Why has Igneot broken our laws for you, Alex Yardly? What makes you so important to him?”
“He wanted me to understand the place's value, I think,” Yardly said.
“And do you?” Marbelle asked.
“Yes,” Yardly answered. “Third Cog shouldn't be mining there.”
“But you shouldn't be attacking them either,” Yardly added. “You threw the first stone, as far as I understand.”
“You have been tutored by those with a clouded view,” she said with a pointed look at Andesite. “This is not a battle between two sides. I am following the Path of Fire. It commands me to retake the caverns from the outsiders.”
“How can you say that?” Andesite demanded. “You have people out there who can hide from the Daken Nar! That is not the Path! You have strayed!”
“You dare to lecture me!?” Marbelle shouted. “Silence! The Path of Fire is long and winding, but mystics know a truth of it all. The Path has forks. Igneot chose a different fork to me, that is all.”
“My understanding was that Igneot was learned in the traditional lava crafts of Moltara,” Yardly said. “Surely people would have noticed if he was changing the core teachings? How do you even do it? Turning invisible to people made of magma?”
“Igneot teaches that which is convenient,” Marbelle replied. “That which is popular. I have delved deep, and traced the footsteps of our ancestors. The Path I walk is that of the ancients. The true Path. The only true Path. It is a relatively simple skill, once learned. All you need do is meditate on yourself being apart from the Daken Nar. Of course, those who follow Igneot are so devoted to his ways that they find difficulty in the concept of being separate from the whispers. Those who follow my Path are trained in how to do it.”
“A Path that involves cutting off the caverns to keep the Daken Nar pure while hiding oneself from it?” Andesite asked. “You’re mad! This makes no sense!”
Marbelle gave a horrible, devious smile.
“As I said, Alex Yardly, your tutors have a clouded view,” she said. “My intention is not to seal off Moltara. It is to eliminate the surface.”
To Be Continued…