This is the thirteenth chapter in Sun of Shadows and the fourth in part two, Ice.
Ice and Fire
The sea of snow and ice blurred under Geb whenever he risked to look there. Snow came up from under the massive feet of the companions, but not high enough to reach him. As high up as he was, he almost had to deal with his fear of heights - but neither Rastaban nor his companion were bothered when he buried his face in their thick fur. Maybe they didn't even notice.
So Geb spent the ride with his head in Rastaban's snow-white coat. The steady gallop soon let his thoughts blur like the white under him. He didn't try to fight it. He could use a little sleep.
Geb didn't start until Rastaban suddenly moved. His head found no support on the back of the ice giant and he landed - at least not roughly - in the woolly rhinoceros's fur. How long had he slept? That was hard to say in this strange region, where the solar movement was so different from home.
Geb was surprised to see Rastaban had dismounted - and was looking at him with big blue eyes. The boy jumped, which only made the Ice Elm smile; then he was lifted like at their departure and this time dropped off in the snow. A quick look was enough: he saw Alignak, Sedna, and Perry, who had all been through the same. And Boulder, who was still lying on his platform and didn't move. Now Rastaban's two acquaintances went to him and lifted the ice raft with bare hands instead of using their magic. Geb's jaw dropped at the sight.
Fascinated, he followed where they brought Boulder... and stopped again. Immediately before them lay a settlement whose mere sight took his breath away. He recognized hemispherical buildings made entirely of ice in a variety of sizes, all of course far larger than the Elm standard, which were illuminated partly from the outside and partly from the inside by colored light that resembled that of the three companions. It reminded Geb of Spectralia's countless gems - Karzelek would love this place.
His eyes fell on a large platform in the middle where the bodies of great creatures had been laid. This had to be a kind of prey pile, because the cuisine of this tribe was likely not too advanced. Everywhere he saw more animals trotting around, most of them with as thick a coat as Rastaban's companion. They stood in buildings that were probably stables, or walked around freely, with or without an Ice Elm at their side. All these Elmen were white, but in the light, they all got very different colors. None of them had the markings that were characteristic of Elmen. It was strange and fascinating at the same time.
Of course their arrival didn't go unnoticed. Geb felt countless pairs of eyes on him as more and more Elmen stepped out of their huts or turned to face them. They all came closer, but kept a certain distance. What did they think of the foreign Elmen? Surely none of them had ever seen an Earth Elm or a Water Elmin that was as radiantly blue as Sedna. And then there was Perry... although Geb didn't understand a word, he sensed that the mumbling of the Ice Elmen was mostly about his friend. Even up here, they apparently knew the Tribe of Light - and perhaps the prophecy that came with it.
Geb watched as Boulder was taken to one of the larger buildings. "The house of the healers," Alignak whispered to him. Geb was happy to know the man by his side, he knew this place better than all of them. Now the Water Elm stepped forward, towards the group of Elmen. In a friendly, calm tone, he began to speak Kiujak. Of course Geb didn't understand much - only that Alignak was apparently introducing them. And another name fell: Cynosura. The chief of the ice giants.
How big might this Ice Elm be? Geb was on the lookout for anyone who seemed eligible, but it was hard to tell the Elmen apart. Suddenly, the crowd parted and formed an alley, through which someone stepped. A girl, Geb believed; she looked younger than Rastaban and was only about a head taller than himself. Her fur was as white as the others', but shone in the light of the little colored dots that studded it. Dots that, Geb realized, were miniature versions of the light globes that had been braided into her fur. If only she had markings that revealed her age...
The girl walked to them until she was standing right in front of Alignak, but her gaze went over to Perry. "Welcome," she said in a loud but gentle voice. One could clearly tell that her vocal cords weren't made for the common language, but Geb could easily understand her. "Cynosura my name. Great honor, seeing you."
Geb's stunned look met Sedna's: Such a young chief was unusual. And just an option, should the previous chief...
"My condolences," Alignak replied, even he looked surprised. "I knew Ipabog well."
A picture flickered through Geb's head: Gerra, the chief of the Fire Tribe, a giant Elm skull of on his head. That of the last Ice Chief... surely Alignak had heard of it, but he was also meeting Ipabog's successor for the first time.
Cynosura nodded, but quickly recovered. "So. Why are you here?"
Alignak switched to Kiujak, so Geb focused on Cynosura's expression. She listened thoughtfully, but her face brightened when Alignak mentioned Perry. Again and again, she nodded, until Alignak ended and she herself took the floor. Geb didn't fail to notice that she was pointing to him - and to Sedna.
"What is she saying?", he asked Alignak, worried.
The man remained calm. "She understands that Hyperion is here because of the Shadows. However, she wants to know what brings you here."
Geb hesitated. Of course, they could say they only accompanied Perry. On the other hand, there was the truth... but would Cynosura believe them if they barely did themselves?
"She has to give us an Elm anyway," Sedna reminded him. "It's better we don't unnecessarily lie to her."
He nodded thankfully. He himself had never been a friend of lies and he was glad that Sedna was over it, too. But he would never be able to explain it all to Cynosura... so he turned to Alignak and summed up the situation as best as he could.
The Water Elm frowned as he listened to Geb's words. "I see," he said without judging. Then he turned to Cynosura, who had waited patiently, and spoke to her in Kiujak.
He didn't get far.
As soon as he had said the first words, a roar drowned his voice, like what they had heard on the ice. A horn.
Geb looked around nervously. What was going on? Were they being attacked? Did the Fire Tribe come to seize Illuk?
But none of the Ice Elmen looked worried. On the contrary, Geb thought they seemed rather expectant. "What happened?", he asked Alignak, who was the most likely to help him.
The Water Elm shrugged helplessly and quickly asked Cynosura, who was about to follow the sound of the horn. What came back was an equally concise answer, then she trudged off with an at least apologetic look.
"And?" Sedna was also tense.
"A scout," Alignak said. "He probably brings important news."
Fortunately, Alignak didn't forbid them to follow Cynosura. He himself was as curious as them and hurried not to lose the chief girl. Geb and Sedna were close behind, only Perry seemed little interested. But at last, he joined them too - surely to avoid being alone among the remaining Ice Elmen.
Cynosura and some other Elmen hurried to the edge of Illuk until they came to a stop and waited. The scout was already clearly visible: A silvery shimmering hoofed animal with huge shovel-like antlers galloped towards the Elm group, on its back certainly an Elm. In no time at all, it cleared the last several feet and changed into a trot - the ice giant swung from its back even before the animal had stopped. He also had silver fur, but it seemed to stand on end, so excited was he. That made him seem even more enormous than he already was.
Geb wanted to get closer to see more, but Alignak stopped him. "It's better we go unnoticed for the time being," he whispered, pointing to the Ice Elmen who had stepped between them and the scout.
Geb nodded. The scout was already agitated enough, they shouldn't distract him from his report.
"Don't worry," Alignak added. "I also understand them from here."
Already the scout began to speak. His words - if you could call the sounds of the Ice Elmen that - were overturning; Alignak listened, frowning. Did he even begin to understand what this was about?
It seemed to take hours for the scout to finish. He had somehow managed to keep his breath, but now he was panting so loud that even Geb could hear it. The suspense was almost killing him. "What did he say?"
"He spied on the main camp of the Fire Tribe, if I understood him correctly," Alignak replied. "At least he was traveling in that area. There he saw something that is on the way here."
Something that completely disconcerted him. "Iris and the others?", Sedna asked.
Alignak shook his head thoughtfully. "He didn't mention Elmen. Only one thing: Atsanik."
Geb tilted his head. "What does that mean?"
"That's the name for special lights you can see on this continent," Alignak explained. "However, I don't see why they should have upset him so."
"Maybe it was a special light", Geb pondered. "Like -"
Cynosura's voice rang across the plain. Geb looked at the Water Elm worriedly: What was going on? Did he have something to do with the light?
Alignak frowned in confusion as well. "Come," he whispered to his friends, before pushing past the Elm crowd to Cynosura. Sedna and Geb exchanged a look, then followed him.
When they arrived at the Elmin, Geb noticed in confusion that she was looking at him, not Alignak. He had to swallow involuntarily - what did he have to do with the whole thing?
Cynosura pointed to the scout, who now stared at him with wide eyes as well. Was that good or bad? "Merak," she said, and the man lowered his head, which was more like half a bow with his short neck.
Sedna understood first. "Sedna," she replied and continued before Geb could: "Geb."
The boy just nodded. He wasn't angry that she had done the talking, he rather watched silently. Like now.
Cynosura smiled down at them, then pointed her huge hand to Geb and then to Sedna. "Brown," she said gently. "Blue."
Those are the colors of our skin, Geb knew. But what was she trying to tell them?
The girl pointed to Merak, the scout. "Seen different," she explained in fascination. "Fire red. Sky blue."
Geb stopped. "That's the others!", he exclaimed, causing Cynosura to flinch. He lowered his voice and hoped that the girl understood him: "Friends," he said, nodding. "Familiar."
From the corner of his eye, he saw Sedna roll her eyes, but she bit back a comment. Sure, Nergal wasn't their best friend, but the others deserved the title.
Cynosura's smile widened and the girl turned to Alignak in Kiujak. He translated almost immediately: "Cynosura wants us to accompany her to receive the others."
"Of course we can!", Geb said and Sedna also agreed. Only Perry said nothing - was everything okay with him? He had been quieter than usual for a while now. Geb would have to ask him later.
But first they would welcome their friends. Had everything gone according to plan? At least they had found Nergal.
Geb expected to see Rastaban and his rhinoceros come to them, for surely they would be riding on that animal again. But instead there was suddenly an animal on Cynosura's side Geb was familiar with in a very different way: a mammoth like Perry's illusion... just real. It was smaller than Rastaban's companion, apparently not yet fully grown. That had to be Cynosura's companion!
The girl called instructions and before Geb knew it, he was lifted up and placed on the back of the animal that reminded him a little of an elephant with fur. The others fared similarly and even Cynosura herself was helped by a tribal companion. Finally, the five of them sat on the back of the mammoth, but Geb could only guess how little they really affected the animal. At any rate, it didn't seem to be a problem to carry them over the ice at considerable speed.
Geb didn't know how long they rode, but it couldn't have been more than an hour before they suddenly spotted outlines on the horizon. Geb counted two creatures on the ground - and two in the air, one of which had the unmistakable shape of a bird.
"There they are," he said with suppressed anticipation. He didn't want to scare Cynosura again.
Her companion immediately slowed down so that the other Elm group could approach in peace. Soon Geb could see details: The creatures on the ground were a red reptile on two legs - Spitfire with Nergal - and a green bear-like animal - Durian with Ani. Karzelek and Four-Leaf also had to be there. In the air, Geb recognized a blue bird - Shimmer with Iris - and a gray, strangely flickering insect.
Had they been able to find a Lightning Elm? Then their group would be almost complete...
"By the great storm!" A voice close to him startled him. The gray insect suddenly whirred around Cynosura's mammoth - it had to have flown to them within seconds. Geb felt anxious as the mammoth nervously shifted its weight. No wonder, as hectic as the insect was, whirring around and flickering brightly. Cynosura was talking to her companion, but Geb kept an eye on the insect, no matter how dizzy it made him feel.
"And I thought the one with the feathers made it up," the Elmin on its back continued. "But you really exist! Earth and Water and - oh! That must be the Light Elm she mentioned!"
"Uh, hello," Geb tried cautiously. "You aren't here to attack us, are you?"
The Elmin paused, then laughed. "Attack? This fat thing?" She pointed to the mammoth. "I rather leave that to others. Scaleface, for one. He'd certainly love to deal with the furbeasts. And anyway -"
A familiar voice cut her off. "Shut up and stay in formation."
The girl actually followed the harsh order and landed her companion - exactly where the other newcomers had gathered. Slowly, the mammoth calmed down again. That Geb would be relieved to hear Nergal's voice for once...
The Fire Elm made no move to dismount his companion, so the others stayed where they were as well. Cynosura, however, got off her mammoth with ease: This way, she made up for their size difference at least a little. Geb followed her awkwardly, as did Sedna and Alignak. Only Perry was once again the only one to stay where he was.
Geb noticed that the eyes of all newcomers were on Cynosura. Iris, Karzelek, and Ani all looked surprised; simultaneously fascinated and unsettled. The Lightning Elmin, tiny in direct comparison with the others, seemed to have seen Ice Elmen before, at least she looked unimpressed. Nergal's thoughts, on the other hand, were difficult to interpret: he blankly returned Cynosura's gaze that had also focused on him. Did he know that she was the chief? That it was her predecessor that his father had killed? And did she recognize Nergal as Gerra's son?
"Welcome," she said curtly. She sounded friendly, but that didn't mean anything.
"Hello," Nergal retorted, turning to Geb and Sedna. "To you as well. Good that Zephyr has reached you. We have great things to do."
Does he even know about Perry?, Geb suddenly wondered. How much had Iris told him? At any rate, her face revealed nothing.
Sedna took no chances. "We'll see," she said. "Let's hope you've thought it through well."
The boy glared at her. "More than that," he growled. "I even found us a Lightning Elmin. What do you have to show?"
"Something huge," the Lightning Elmin replied, grinning. "Open your eyes! They got us an ice monster."
Geb grimaced. The girl reminded him a little of Iris at their first encounter, but she wasn't even remotely polite. Cynosura, too, eyed the Elmin, who was a third of her size, suspiciously.
"Let me explain what's going on here," Alignak offered. "She will certainly be able to help us." Without waiting for an answer, he switched to Kiujak and spoke, gesticulating as always, to Cynosura.
The newcomers fascinatedly watched the exchange, only Nergal looked unimpressed. "Barbarians," he mumbled.
Geb stared at him. Could Nergal at least have a bit of respect? Luckily, Cynosura was engrossed in her conversation with Alignak and hadn't noticed. Geb picked up how excited she sounded and how she kept looking down at the friends.
"So, what is she saying?" Iris had appeared next to him and looked up at him.
"You're asking the wrong guy," Geb replied helplessly, but had to smile. "Good to see you all again. Did everything go well?"
"We're good," she assured him. "Even if Five can be quite loud."
"The Lightning Elmin?"
What a strange name. But he couldn't utter the thought: Alignak had finished his conversation and cleared his throat. "I told Cynosura about your plans - Nergal, is it?"
The Fire Elm nodded pompously. As if he was completely convinced of his findings. "And?"
"Well," Alignak went on, "she says her tribe isn't being spared by the Shadows either. Therefore, she welcomes dealing with them as soon as possible."
Nergal triumphantly crossed his arms. "Wise decision."
Alignak's gaze was priceless. "But," he pointedly added, "she isn't sure if your path is the right one."
Nergal stared first at him, then at Cynosura. "What's that supposed to mean? It all makes sense! And much more sense than a single useless Elm of Light!"
Sedna coughed and gestured with a subtle nod to Perry, who was silently watching the action from the mammoth's back and froze when he noticed the gesture.
Nergal's gaze followed Sedna's nod and rested visibly confused on Perry - until it dawned on him and his expression gave way to helplessness, almost horror.
"Is this a joke?", he yelled. "This... this dweeb is your chosen one?" He spun around to Iris. "When were you planning to tell me that? Never, to make a fool of me here in front of everyone? Congratulations, it worked!"
"Nergal...", Ani started, her voice worried. Geb was concerned too: he knew only too well that Nergal's last outburst had been fatal...
"No, you shut up!"
Geb exchanged a startled look with his friends. It was unthinkable that Nergal spoke to Ani like that. The girl, however, bravely resisted his angry look.
"I didn't cross the damned ocean to stand here like a useless idiot! I hate the cold as much as you do, but I brought you here anyway. Not because I loathe you, but because we're destined for greatness, you and me. And the others. Because we're going to save the world, damn it. And I certainly won't let myself get stopped by some random child!"
"Technically we're all random children," the Lightning Elmin objected, not irritated at all. "You too, Scaleface."
Nergal didn't look at her. "If you didn't believe in me, you wouldn't all have followed me into this cold. So from now on, you'll do what I say, because it was me who discovered the sign in the first place. And you -", he scowled up at Perry, "will stay of this. I don't want to hear a word from you or catch you intervening. Is that clear?"
Perry said nothing, but turned his head away in silence. Nergal nodded, satisfied.
"Very good. Anyone else have any questions or comments?"
In the faces of his friends, Geb read that almost all of them had something on their mind. He himself was no exception: he didn't like it at all how Nergal thought he could boss them around. He wanted to tell him what he thought of him... but he didn't. None of them did. Maybe because they all noticed Ani slowly shake her head. Wait, she seemed to want to say. There will be a better moment.
So they were silent until Cynosura raised her voice. "Come," she said gently, without showing what she thought about Nergal. "Back to Illuk. You all."
"Your village?", Nergal asked. "Good idea. We need provisions and accommodation - and a member of your tribe."
The Ice Elmin nodded confidently. "Everything planned, Ukpatik. Patience."
Nergal scoffed, but didn't complain. "You heard her. Let's go."
When they rode back to Illuk a little later, Geb dared ask Alignak, who was sitting in front of him, "What was the word that she said earlier?"
Geb didn't see Alignak's face, but he heard the amused sound of his voice. "I'm afraid it's not quite as much of a compliment as Nergal might like."
"That's what I thought," Sedna said. "So?"
"Well," she received the answer, "Let's say Ukpatik means the rear end of a body, especially that of an animal."
Behind him, Geb heard a sound that seemed almost strange to him, so rarely did he hear it. Sedna chuckled.
|Sun of Shadows Chapters|
|One: Light||1: Out at Sea • 2: Last Chance • 3: Arrival • 4: An Incredible Discovery • 5: Without Wings • 6: Lumeon • 7: Stars and Scales • 8: Breaking In • 9: Decisions|
|Two: Ice||10: The Stormy Sea • 11: Thick Fur • 12: Five • 13: Ice and Fire • 14: Light and Shadow • 15: A Tooth for a Tooth • 16: Of Past and Future • 17: The Truth|
|Three: Shadow||18: Secret Keepers • 19: Eclipse • 20: Chosen • 21: Last Words|