Thursday, December 30, 2010

IV. Descent into Azure

           A quiet world slept along the frozen interior ring of the Wondering Mountains.  Obsidian ice peered with scarlet eyes at the two men descending.  The cliffs were slick, almost sheer and absolute.  Occasionally a buttress of dark rock jutted from the ice, leaning out and peering down.  To the untrained eye the only possible avenue of travel here was a swift and terminal fall to the mist shrouded nothing below.  To the Trumpeter and the Fencer this forbidden incline felt like the only place they could ever be.
            They were not alone in their journey.  Upon the slopes where no man could climb, along the fissures down which the two descended, the remains of people reached towards the heavens.  Their limbs and flesh petrified into marble, caught at a moment of sudden deliverance.  Most were encased in the thick and watching ice.
            Down continued the two men through the unseen paths the Trumpeter puzzled from sheer nothing and it was this nothing that he focused on to keep his imagination from dwelling on the weapon which swung at the Fencers side.  He focused on the windless cold, all Winter, everywhere.  A world without heaven or earth suspended in an icy vacuum from which stared unblinking eyes.  And they had nothing in their bellies because in the struggle the Lemur-men which survived the battle on the peak had stolen their only sack of supplies. 
            A handful of days passed in such fashion.  They slept folded away into tomb-like fissures and they drank from pools of purest snow water which the Trumpeter was adept at finding.  In silence the azure cloudscape bellow greeted them.
            At a distance the clouds seemed a solid landscape of barely moving blue fields, but where reality ended and the azure began, this terminus grew gauzy as they approached.  By now the way had become easier and the slope less severe.  The becalmed silence of the world became a silence between the two vagabonds.  Without a word they slipped into the unknown.
            Within the cloistered cloud they were each alone.  The Trumpeter, only a few yards ahead of the Fencer, bobbed in and out of existence.  Here and gone.  With a sudden jerk the Fencer scrabbled at his evil weapon.
            Something simian loomed out of the quiet air, clutching at the wall mere centimeters from his head.  It drooped lazily in hunger and the Fencer was awash in alien fear.
            Do you feel that? hissed the thing from the rocks, reaching with a conical appendage towards something unseen in the fog. Fear crystallized in the Fencer, almost possessing him. His heart reached towards frightful possibilities beyond that which his mind could grasp.  Out there an alien thing in the mist approached, bringing an uncomfortable intimacy.
            Do you feel that? urged the Trumpeter from his uncertain perch, scanning uselessly in the mist, using his trumpet as an eyepiece.  The Fencer fought with his fear.  An urge to decapitate the useless madman that seconds ago was other.  Like some stranger sitting right next to me, apart from you of course.
            Ill put an end to it, whatever it is, rasped the Fencer, hungry for a tangible threat.  A residue of his former fear clung to him.  I dont fear anything that lives.
            Feel it, argued the Trumpeter reaching out to the mist.  There is something in the mist.  What kind of thing would live here?  Perhaps it grows by being cut apart, or laughs in joy as all the pain it feels is transmuted to sunlight, snow flowers, or things stranger still.  Or maybe it never reveals itself for understanding, existing always as a vague feeling shrouded by this cloud.
            Most certainly it is the cloud, spat the Fencer.  I dont know.  Its beyond me, but I must see things through to the bottom.
            They traveled a day more, the uncanny thing following them, ubiquitous and yet unseen.  Another day and the slope continued to lessen and the cloud increasingly thinned out.  By the third day the two men had entered a new world.
            The Fencer believed that they were far below the ground level on the other side of the mountains but the Trumpeter was cannier about such matters; it had taken them longer to descend due to difficulty and not height.  The gouge which had lead them down, the trail of the weighty stone of shame, once chained to the Fencers neck, still guided them in fits and starts.  This reminder of the outer world warded away the charge the two had felt in the air, though it still threatened what was left of their sanity.  The Fencer was the first to find the children.
            At first he believed they were more petrified bodies, but those had dwindled as the climbers had descended.  Also these reached out towards no hope.
            Here and there, in various depths of newer, aquamarine-colored ice, the corpses of the young and newly born lay.  Many were exposed, their hollow shriveled eye sockets blandly staring.  They were akin in deformity.  Clubbed feet lay crumpled and little, malformed flipper hands clutched at themselves to ward off the infinite cold.  Others were stranger, seemingly normal, only the vivid streamers of fantastically colored hair betrayed them now, as then, whenever they had been cast down the mountain.  The stone of shame rested here from its long journey.
            At least we know what happens to ours, stated the Fencer philosophically to the Trumpeter who waited at the edge of the cemetery.  At least we know that ours are dead, that they cant be taken.
            How is it done in the village of the Narwhale hunters?  The Trumpeters voice was clear and even.
            At the first sign it is a fathers duty to hold them beneath the ice; Im told it is very quick.
            I wonder what kind of secrets they took with them to the ice, pondered the Trumpeter clutching his instrument.  What few things their brief lives revealed.  Is it like anything we can imagine?  Is this worth just keeping them from being taken?
            More secrets, muttered the Fencer.  
            Maybe they arent taken, maybe they just leave.
            A bit surprising you didnt end up among them, jabbed the Fencer.
            Its not my practice, Im going to say it never was, declared the Trumpeter, ignoring the Fencers jibe, using his own manner of reason.
            Maybe it still is, sighed the Fencer.  With no food well never make it back up the cliffs.  Well probably end up like those your people abandoned.
            Then we had better get walking; Id like to see whatever it is that brought us here before I fall over dead.
            The Fencer and the Trumpeter walked out across a vast, frozen expanse.  As the days passed it revealed itself clearly as a bowl sloping gradually towards a singular point within the ring of the Wondering Mountains.  No living things stirred but the presence in the cloud seemed to dilute as the mist itself thinned; now it watched from above.  They could see the sun as a greenish disk of copper at noon time.
            A few days past the cemetery the Fencer noticed the trail of a massive creature, something like a bundle of rope with weight enough to gouge the eternal ice.  He decided not to mention this to the Trumpeter who would probably want them to chase it down for a conversation.  Then they would have to kill it and despite this promising thought the Fencer marched all the wearier.
            The Ice beneath their feet was crystalline and sapphire over the black and crimson.  A sound of scratched glass rose with their footsteps.  In time the two were exhausted and didnt notice when they marred a line drawn upon the ice with their tired footsteps.  This was when they heard the fluttering of many wings.
            A tree appeared, so massive that the two spent many minutes walking from where the branches first broke through the azure fog to where the wide trunk leaned.  It grew out of ice broken with the upheaval of ancient growth and reached far above into the deepening cloud.  Neither man had seen a living tree before nor was this an exception as its bark was petrified with the ages it had reclined in this forgotten place. 
            Cages hung from many branches and inside the wire mesh things flapped.  Peering into one the Trumpeter could see a butterfly, a snowfly as he knew them, the size of a falcon struggling against its bars.  In each of the other prisons more and stranger snowflies toiled ceaselessly.  They were of all bright colors with multivariate patterns.  With two, four, six or more wings they sought escape.  Some were small and delicate while others were as large as an eagle.  The Fencer found their noise maddening.
            The slope grades upwards past the tree; this is it! exclaimed the Trumpeter.  You see?  At the very center a tree.  A big, old, dead tree, with mutated snowflies in little cages.  It all makes sense and we can die now.  The madman collapsed to the ice breathing with excitement and exhaustion.
            The Fencer circled around the tree once gathering his thoughts, trying to cut through the haze of fatigue and the pangs of starvation to some understanding of their find.
            Who put the snowflies in the cages?  Who made the cages?
            The Trumpeter only groaned at the thought of thought then stood up with a manic flourish.
            Obviously this is call for a bit of the art. 
            To the Fencers horror the madman brought his trumpet to his lips.  With a full intake of air the instrument called up into the cloud, the peal sounding over the vast basin.  Things in cages struggled with renewed vigor and as the sound died away something shuffled beyond sight.
            A sobered Trumpeter took a few steps back against the ancient tree while the Fencer grimaced.  He drew his sword and waited as the shuffling grew close.  Imagined creatures like the one he had tracked days ago filled his mind but what stumbled from the haze was far worse.
            Its tattered plastic garb crinkled with each movement.  It didnt seem old, but worn away, ancient.  It had once been a man, possibly still was, with long limbs ending in frostbite blackened nails, and a strange face, the edges of which were worn away by time.  His eyes smoldered sleepily and red, but it was the mans hair which brought the most fear, old fear, up from the bones of both travelers. 
            Despite the filth and dust of ages the long drape of hair the ancient man dragged behind him was the color of the sky.  That blue of rare, unclouded days.  The color most common to those with a gift or knack or talent beyond the normal instrumentalities of man.  It was the reason for drowning ones children or casting them down the side of a cliff.  It was the sign of magic.  It was a sign that they would be taken by others of their kind and never seen again. 
            The Fencer thought he might jump this creature now, see if it would die as quickly as a Lemur-man, but he couldnt help remembering the witch in the cave.  He tried to remember the color of her hair.
            While the Trumpeter hid behind the tree their visitor shuffled up without hurry, smiling with broken teeth, letting them know they were welcome.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

III. Attack of the Lemur-men

            Perhaps it was the altitude or the harrowing wind blowing over the peaks but the Trumpeter and the Outcast only heard their doom mere seconds before the attack.  Hooting and crying, their large, yellow-ringed eyes wide and innocent, the Lemur-men hopped and yawned open their red-toothed jaws, clutching with claws made to dig in the ice.  They hungered for the soft inner parts of living men and their ringed tails swayed with obvious excitement at the prospect before them.
            Instantly the foul creatures split the two exhausted travelers apart from each other, over a dozen hopping fiends competing for each kill.  The Trumpeter was uncharacteristically quiet as he took perilous steps backwards, swinging his Trumpet to more laughter and mocking hoots.  The Outcast, however, was kept at the scene only by the stone of his shame, no matter how much he scrabbled on the ice trying to get away.
            A blast from the Trumpeters horn cut through the wind but the creatures were unmoved by such music. 
            One Lemur-man began pulling the Outcast back by his chain, squeezing the air from him.  This high up twilight filled reality where the ground had once been.  Stars glared unblemished along with the languid midnight sun.  The wind howled away the dusted snow revealing more black, red-eyed ice beneath.
            Half frozen, this groundless vision filling him, the Outcasts mood changed and with a start he grabbed the chain and pulled the offending Lemur-man to him.  He bound up and strangled the thing, making its golden eyes grow wider and wider as its uncaring companions cried and laughed.  Its talons raked at him. 
            The rest then rushed in, tearing open his arms and legs as he fought to keep their clutching paws away from the vitals they thirsted for.  The Outcasts world was a blur of claws and teeth and wide-eyed noise.  There was warmth and this was from his own blood.  They wouldve had him then but fortune played a strange hand.
            One creature, smaller than the others and perhaps more cunning, was unable to join the frenzy, thought it did see the stone which was chained to the Outcasts neck.  Deftly it snatched the stone of shame and with some effort, and the help of the ice, slipped the obsidian block down the side of the mountain, down where the mists roiled up, down to the forbidden lands.  The Outcast soon followed.
            In a tangle of yelping Lemur-men the lost man slid almost in free fall.  The no-time sun danced fitfully in his tumbling vision, along with the wide open sky and a scattering of ice.  Any moment the stone would catch and his neck would break.   Things like bone, or weak ice snapped against him as he slid with distant pain.   
            The Outcast hit the outcropping just after his burden and he had enough sense to grab the chain.  Still in motion the weight took him.  Out over nothing his stomach leapt.  A thousand feet towered above his tumbled perspective and to this upside-down height he fell. 
            With his only free hand he caught himself; but it was truly only his distemperate soul which kept him from falling, arguing against absolutes.  Below yawned a bowl of mist, blue and cloud-like.  A gibbering sound betrayed the presence of another Lemur-man.
            Most of the creatures had saved themselves from the fall with their ice-digging claws but this one now moved on to finish its quarry alone.  It took its time, hooting with glee as the Outcast struggled.  The things eyes glowed as it made tender hops towards the helpless man.
            In desperation the Outcast slowly let the stones weight down so that his arm was free, though his neck screamed from the strain.  Still he made no progress up the rock, his hands tossing up fragments of ice, cut, bleeding and cold, finding no purchase on the jagged stuff. 
            Flailing against the icy wall of the mountain, the Outcast found no purchase on the uncaring ice, each strike of desperation almost falling in time with the short, expectant hops of the Lemur-man.  Clear top ice, older than the village of the narwhale hunters was at first hard as diamond and then gave, chip by chip, to repeated assault.  The Outcasts mind swarmed with emotion while he suffocated from the choking collar.  The creature slid closer considering its joys.  Something cut deep into the mans grasping hand and held him just as much as he held it.
            Still on the peak, the Trumpeter was in a quandary.  He didnt want to have his innards devoured by the very same creatures that had decimated his community but at the same time was loath to use the only implement at his disposal, his trumpet.  The Lemur-men had gotten his insane companion and now they closed upon him, backing him against the peaks edge and the cold lands from which he had recently journeyed.  He felt perfectly vindicated in his previous protests.
            He was about to occupy his final seconds by gazing up towards the sky and the secret, forbidden thing which held his dreams when blood hit the ice and the tone of the howls changed. 
            With something dark in his hand the bloodied Outcast sheared the tops off of several of the unwitting creatures, brains steaming in the cold.  An incautious Lemur-man hoped to slip by the armed man and in grazing itself on the razor blackness split open.  Most of the fiends then leapt towards the wounded man.  A handful impaled themselves, their dead weight sloughing off the Outcasts blade like memory from a dream.  More joined them. 
            Speed and blood and hollow, defeated cries resounded as the eternal sun brightened away from dusk towards afternoon or morning. The elegant instrument cut death from life with cold comment.  The Outcast fought poorly, relying on his weapon as sole advantage.  A few creatures made it past the blade, claws digging deep, sudden-wide jaws clamping down on the swordsmans tired skin.  These were the last to die.
            A few fearful, marginally intelligent Lemur-men hopped away in the end.  They would tell hooting stories of an undying thing wielding a nightmare.  Their companions would feature only as blood and muscle and foolish foils for the unquestionably cunning survivors.  In this way they were much as other men, though perhaps not much like the Outcast and the Trumpeter.
            The mad musician stayed with his back to the sky.  There was something unwholesome in what the Outcast held, that strip of demon-ice which all the mountain people shunned.  The implement was roughly sword shaped; a long ribbon of some liquid metal which had been super heated and then quenched.  Yet it was also crystalline, like ice, just as jagged.  For some reason he was reminded of those lost crystals in the witches cave.  The unblinking reddish eyes from within the blade seemed to stare at the Trumpeter.
            Have you survived or are you lost?
            The Outcast seemed to be confused by the Trumpeters glib question.  He looked down, out of his fugue.  He was all bloody.
            I told you, I dont care for pain, he explained.
            Do you also not care much for gravity?  I saw you take a trip over the side just over there.  The Trumpeter pointed and both went to look.  There they could see where the Outcast had fallen and where he had hung over the abyss on a lucky outcrop of stone.                                     Below blood and half a Lemur-man lay steaming.  The Outcast pointed out the cunning rents in the icy slope where he had used his new tool to climb back up to the summit and the shattered ice where his frantic efforts found the thing.  Lastly, the Outcast now saw the outcroppings which had broken off at his tumbling descent; ancient petrified limbs, reaching up from the ice, toward some unknown salvation or wonder.  There were more where ever the two looked on the inward slopes.  The Trumpeter had not been lying about the ancient corpses from the dawn of time.  The wind clawed at the two men.
            Well? searched the Outcast but the Trumpeter had nothing to give him.
            Hmmm? was the only response.
            You are now avenged on the unspeakable things which murdered and presumably ate your friends and family.
            Yes, I think those were the things.  Maybe not the exact creatures, or the same band.  Now the mountain man was searching the sky again in the waxing light.
            To this lack of gratitude the Outcast could only mutter in impotent rage.  The growing distrust, that mood which considered smashing in this addled fellows head in the night, was gone.  Now it was replaced by a cold, a pure and terrible cold, one of the many for which his people had a specific name.  Dhala.  An old name for the quiet, absolute cold which permeated the world, looming like a last and thoughtless god or force bringing all things to stillness.
            This was the thing the Outcast felt in his hand, this presence, and he struggled to pry the weapon loose.  But it was frozen.  Blood now fused him to the implement.  He panicked and struggled and finally freed himself, new blood coursing so greatly that he had to bind that hand with rags.
            Where did your necklace go? asked the Trumpeter oblivious to his companions pain.
            The bare bit of chain left from the Outcasts collar clinked as he stood up.  Walking back to the precipice he searched for a moment and then pointed to a stuttered divot running down the side of the ice slope.  Down this gouge went, out of sight, into the azure mist of the forbidden lands.  His shame was gone, cut free by the icy weapon. 
            It would seem that we have a path laid out for us Trumpeter, can you find us a way down with that as your guide?
            I suppose, mused the Trumpeter, obviously unhappy.  Youll need to change your name though.
            To what? said the Outcast for the last time.
            To the Fencer.  I believe it has something to do with swords.
            So the two left the high peaks of the Wondering Mountains, awash with dying steam from cooling corpses, climbing down to a future shrouded and a land cursed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

II. The Witch’s Cave

           The Outcast awoke to ribbons of light streaming in from the jagged cave mouth and to thoughts, perhaps formed from a dream or the mutation of the Trumpeters half-heard ponderings, playing in his mind.  Certainly this could be some lingering enchantment left by the previous resident.  Outside he found the Trumpeter standing upon a jutting rock staring at the gauzy folds of the clouds above.
            I need you to take me beyond the painted peaks, stated the Outcast, trying to see whatever it was that the Trumpeter was looking for.
            Insanity, stated the tall strange mountain man.  My people never ventured down the far slopes, unspeakable horrors are all youll find.  In fact, that was the second most important duty of my people; keeping lunatics such as yourself out so that whatever waited beyond wouldnt be made curious by uninvited guests.
            What was your first most important task, asked the Outcast.  To which the Trumpeter flourished his instrument and made ready another hellish blast from its pristine workings.  This distressed the burdened man greatly.
            I see, I see, he said, interrupting the performance.  Still you must know what lies over these mountains.
            Nothing, replied the Trumpeter playing with a frayed end of his scarf.  From the top, only mist can be seen, and the arms, of course.  Corpses frozen since the dawn of time.
            The Outcast considered all these possibilities and sat down on a flat patch of blue snow pressed almost clear by the work of centuries.
            What did your people say of the lands down by the great sound? searched the Outcast, pointing to the place where his home once was.
            Oh, only demons and bloodthirsty cannibals would make their home so close that abyss of sea hags and water witches.
            And what did I say my fellow villagers thought of these mountains? continued the Outcast adjusting his chain.
            Something about ghosts and sorcerers... began the Trumpeter as what little sense he had brought him back from the clouds.  Considering this juxtaposition he took time in speaking.
            I concede the point, but under protest; there truly are hideous creatures that live in the mist.  It was a band of such horrors that devoured my people not two weeks ago.
            Were these things of flesh and blood? queried the Outcast, his mind feverishly working on this possibly tangible problem.
            Quite, and they were after ours, responded the Trumpeter realizing he was in the company of a man as deranged as himself.
            Then I have no fear of them, finalized the Outcast as he stood up and entered the cave, preparing a further ascent of the mountain whose blue-going-to-purple peaks loomed high above.

            With daylight guiding the way the Trumpeter and the Outcast searched the witchs cave.  When they had first tumbled into its cloistered darkness exhaustion stifled any misgivings they mightve had about a place of magic.  Now they searched for supplies with the knowledge that the occupant was long gone, like all the wonders of the world.  Still, there lingered an eerie beauty and with it worry.
            The room they had slept in was small and crowded with every manner of root and berry and blossom that managed to grow on the icy slopes.  While mostly tough and mean varieties survived at this frigid height a few delicate and strange things flourished.  Here the men found Ling roots, Tolem tubers and a sack full of frozen Klee berries, which they gnawed on with eager hunger. 
            Other reagents were of less obvious use to them; rime lilies which bloomed only during the times of endless sun, the icy-veined flowers known as pale liars grown from where fresh blood was spilt on the colored ice, and many specimens of other rare plants capable of surviving the endless winter.  Most were poisonous, several were deadly and all were useless to the vagabonds.
            Particularly troubling were the animal supplies which the two, superstitions flaring, avoided as best they could.  In spite of themselves they were drawn to the jars of staring eyes, the skins, and other pickled, preserved reasons that the witch had been feared.
            We called her Tchrana, stated the Outcast solemnly.  Its a word which refers to rogue female narwhales that murder their own young, and was a joke at her expense.  I seem to recall that she had lived in our village once, long ago, but had committed some crime against her husband and was thus thrown out.
            That wasnt her name, retorted the Trumpeter blithely.  She was the Hungry Lady and was yet another reason not to leave the mountains.  She had been of our people but had ventured into the forbidden place to which you are taking us both, may you be damned to a very peculiar hell.  I think her name was Ihela or something like that.
            The Outcast merely laughed at this paradox and pondered the light spilling in while the Trumpeter quietly disturbed jar and bottle and pot, looking. 
            Behind a cunning fold of stone they discovered a passage leading deeper into the mountain.  Some air passed through this narrow fissure which was remarkably warm and fresh.  Several hundred meters of darkness later they ventured into a place beyond the permafrost world they had known.
            It was a hidden room, an unworked palace.  Water fell on glassen crystal and pooled up in a wide basin of smooth white, soft-edged stone.  The alabaster walls were shot through with veins of precious metals, speckled with uncut gems and curved, with a natural grace, reaching dozens of meters into the air.  There was light, a sort of radiance all about.  In the middle of the basin, which was far wider than any hut either man had ever seen, an island of crystal rose up in chiseled beauty to form a massive yet elegant chair of dubious comfort and decadent form.  The two men stood still for fear of shattering the dream they had stumbled into.
            The Outcast wandered aimlessly forward while the Trumpeters only reaction was to let his instrument slip in his awed grasp.
            A hot spring, it must be, said the Outcast kneeling down to the hyper-clear water.  Probably fed from above to fall all the way down here.  Still, the water is so clear. 
            He stared into the spotless clarity of the pool and was drawn in.  His people had a thousand words for the various expressions of ice and distantly he remembered he had been named for one such kind but just as his name was lost to him so too had his razored thoughts abandoned him in the face of such wonder.  Why thoughts of ice now, he questioned internally.  
            A dream, mused the Trumpeter who ambled forward, his eyes continuously cast upwards.  Did she find it or carve it or dream it?
            The question would be left unanswered.  The Outcast made a thorough, though haunted, examination of the room while the Trumpeter splashed through the pristine waters in his filthy coat to become better acquainted with the throne.  This violation disturbed the Outcast but he kept his thoughts to himself.  Seated on the great emerald, the Trumpeter lounged like an exiled prince while the Outcast felt disquiet settle upon him as he searched. 
            We need to leave, go back to our journey, stated the Outcast flatly when he had found what he was looking for. 
            I believe she made this place, pontificated the oblivious musician from his repose as he traced the designs of small winged things on the seat.  She simply conjured up a spirit and it gave her a dream of stone, a secret place.  Thats what separated us from the magicians and their kind; secrets.
            Considering this the Outcast returned with, are you going to leave that chair or do I have to knock you out of it?  His mood had turned and his face was set and cold in the mysterious light.  The Trumpeter half scrambled from his seat, placing the glassen work between them.
            Youre the one who is so keen on taboo subjects, he retorted cleanly, his features blurred and distorted by the chair.
            In response the Outcast splashed across the basin to roust the Trumpeter.  He forced his companion to back out of the room and then snatched the trumpet in front of the madmans widening eyes. 
            Just as he had seen the day before the Outcast placed his lips to the instrument and before the Trumpeter could do anything had blown a vast and despondent blast into the hidden chamber.  Crystal cracked in pain, stones jostled and fell.  A flaw in the chamber, or perhaps some ancient ward left by the previous tenant, buckled from the sound and in seconds the two men could only stare at the blocked-up fissure and the lost treasure beyond.
            There were some tense moments.  The Trumpeter waited, perched on his rock once more while the Outcast bumped and smashed inside the cave.  They were returned to their ice-bound world and the barbarian beauty their thick skins allowed them to witness.  Their lives of hardship allowed the luxury only of viewing the towering slopes of stained ice, contemplating the frozen bay down below while clear and uncaring skies looked down thoughtlessly.
            That was a stupid thing to do, commented the Trumpeter when his companion had finally exited the cave with a large oiled leather pack.  In fact that was the single most foolish, short-sighted, ignorant, childish action to which my life has ever born witness.  For someone who values sound reason you certainly let your demons get the best of you.
            The Outcast made no motion that he was listening.
            Im not going up there with you, and with that the Trumpeter hopped down on the Outcasts rock like some rancorous yet cowardly scavenger.  Sighing audibly, his breath escaping like steam, the Outcast considered this challenge.
            It was like she was hiding from us, in that chamber, explained the Outcast.  And now they are all gone, all the miracle workers, and they are still hiding from us.  Its just like you said; its all about secrets.  Really makes my blood boil.  Also, Im known to do frightfully stupid things from time to time.
            With very little meditation the Trumpeter accepted this explanation.  He suspected the Outcast wasnt telling the whole truth but he also felt a sort of competitiveness.  Inscrutable and chaotic as he was the Trumpeter still knew when he had been out done and maybe if he watched this violent individual long enough hed see what the Outcast had seen.  Secrets were the thing after all.
            Indeed the Outcast was holding back.  The chamber, the room, the gems and metals, all were far from natural.  Where the basin emptied through a vent too small for a man he had found evidence of a walkway, and in tracing the spray of metals across a wall he found a few scorched teeth.  Once that room buried in the mountain had been part of some great building, composed of that white, perfect stone, adorned with those fantastic metals, the hot spring part of an elaborate waterworks, but something had happened.  Fire was his only guess; a fire which melded dweller and dwelling, reforged the past and then tempered it in freezing winter. 
            This narrative was only a flimsy construct of his reason and the secrets that were kept from him stung at the Outcasts heart.  Survival so occupied his mind that he felt buried under a sudden swarm of secrets, mysteries he would never know.  Fear that his dream, his quest for Summer, was in vain brought back his demons and compelled him to bring the gallery crashing down.  All so simple.   
            Facing the Riddle it was well they returned to the climb.  Under the mid-morning sun the entire phase shift of the land expanded above and below them.  The distant realm of the Outcast was dirty white and sullen.  Then, as the eye followed the slopes of the Wondering Mountains the ancient ice gained color which peeked out from the dusting snows.  At first the tint was aquamarine and very faint but gained vibrancy with altitude, through cerulean, azure, violet where faint traces of clouds clung, to indigo near the peaks, where the two arrived after a few days following the rare rocky paths the Trumpeters people had worn.
            It took all of the Outcasts resolve to carry his burden to the top.  The Trumpeter had thought of many ways to be rid of the stone of shame but none were of any practicality.  Most of this time was spent in contemplative silence, which fit the atmosphere at the top of the world, but in truth the actions in the cave had left the two distrustful.  They dreamed of murder.
            At the peak though their spirits lifted slightly, probably due to the thin air.  Here the ice reached to deepest black in color with rare specks of crimson peeking out from within like beads or maybe eyes.  The Trumpeter mentioned that they had best stay far away from such spots.  He then went back to regarding the sky, as if what he was always training his neck for could now be seen above the cloud line.  The Outcast was about to ask about this new taboo but that was when the first of the Lemur-men fell upon them.