Gala and the Lost Boy
Where he had reassembled the statue was not exactly a suitable location for a shrine in Gala's honour. He had put it back together on a flat between two jagged spires that shot up from the reasonably level ground. It was in a spot not likely to be easily found by anybody who might come this way to pay her homage. But, he would be damned, he thought, if he were going to move it back up where he had initially found it. Its weight was immense and the task of transporting it up Taulkine’s sheer face would have been gargantuan. Besides, where it had been at the mouth of the grotto was not an ideal location either.
"There," he said to the likeness of Gala. "You have yourself a new home. A change of view would do you some good. You must have been tired of looking at the same things for more than half a millennium, anyway." He was almost apologetic to the inanimate artifact. It was time for him to move on.
He started to shapeshift back into the lithe form of a thunderbird when suddenly his heart would have stopped had he one that beat. He had not expected to hear a human voice.
"I don't like this view at all!" The words emanated from the statue.
With disbelief, Chiapos gawked at the statue open-mouthed. The life-sized monument was more stone than life and it seemed entirely incapable of moving even with the wind let alone move with the minute detail required for speaking. The statue's eyes did appear to be looking at him but that was a property inherent to all statues and other pieces of art as he had learned in Old Man Kray’s house out on the prairie.
The statue was now as quiet as quiet can be. Not a single utterance issued from the stone structure and the Rainwaterman who was now entirely in the form of a thunderbird once again dismissed the voice as an auditory hallucination created by the wind. There was somewhat of a tunnel in this rugged terrain and the wind would be able to bounce off all forms of angles and objects to create sonic impressions, he theorized.
As he postulated upon acceptable explanations of what produced the sound that he had heard, the female voice once again made itself be heard. "Well, aren't you going to do anything about it? I don't like this spot at all! I want to be taken back to where you found me."
This time Chiapos was sure that the voice did come from the statuary. There was no breeze that tussled his feathers. No errant movement of air could account for the sound. The speaking was emanating from the statue.
"What are you?" the Rainwaterman cried. It was so ludicrous to be talking to an inanimate object. But then again, he was in the guise of a thunderbird at the moment and it was ludicrous to think that such a great and mythical bird could speak as well.
The statue did not answer. It remained as inert and motionless as the land itself.
It suddenly dawned on Chiapos that he was dealing with someone who had shapeshifted into the form of the sculpture. "Who are you?" he changed his question.
This time the work of stone did respond. "I am Gala from Rainwater," it proclaimed with certainty.
"And I am the Mammoth of the Tester, now who are you really? Is that you Cherite?" He was thinking that it could have been one of the Malagans playing a trick on him.
"I am Gala from Rainwater!" the statue said assertively. "And you are not the Mammoth of the Tester! You are a bird."
"It's a good trick that you are showing me but I have seen through your facade. Now, I will change myself back to my human form if you promise to do so as well," Chiapos laughed. He was positive that the statue was in actuality one of Brucar's wives although the voice was not familiar to him. It did not sound like Cherite, Maelin or Jeyud. But if you can change your form, changing your voice could not be that much more of a trick.
He transformed himself back into his own form. "There, I have done it. Now, it is your turn."
"You have the facial structure of a Rainwaterman but you have the custom of a Tanejulian," the statue remarked.
"I got my hair lopped off before entering Tanejul so that I would not look conspicuous," Chiapos offhandedly explained. "How would you know what a Rainwaterman would look like anyway?" It suddenly dawned on him that the barbering habits of Rainwater and Tanejul were not likely to be the kind of knowledge that the Malagans would possess.
"I might have been away from the village for some time but I do know what my people look like!" the statue snapped.
Chiapos recalled the pattern of flashing light that had attracted him in the first place to the statue on the side of Mount Taulkine. It had the two pulses followed by the single pulse followed by the two pulses again. This Challengelore method of identification would not be known by Brucar or his wives. This pattern was the drumbeat signature of a Challenger who had turned to stone over five hundred years ago. This was too peculiar for him. He could not accept the notion that what he was having a discourse with was the actual heraldic Gala of the Challengelore.
He remembered Cenan's Absolution. It was one secret that only the Appointed Servant to the Mammoth of the Tester and the people of Rainwater possessed. It was something that Gala should know if she is who she claimed. Her historical era occurred after the events that led to this secret between Cenan and the villagers. "What can you tell me about Cenan's Absolution?"
"I am not sure that I can tell you that for I do not know if you are a Rainwaterman or not," the statue answered. The voice came from somewhere within the stonework. It did not come from the carved mouth.
"I assure you that I am a Rainwaterman. I am Chiapos. I am on my Challenge."
"That doesn't prove anything to me. You tell me about Cenan's Absolution to show to me that you are indeed from the village," the statue defiantly retorted.
Chiapos laughed. "I guess we have a stalemate here. If I prove to you that I am a Rainwaterman through reciting Cenan's Absolution then I would never know if you knew what it was in the first place for you would know the secret for I would have just told it to you."
"And the opposite is true as well, Chiapos," the statue replied. "Except that you have proved to me that you have the concept of Cenan's Absolution and that shows to me that you are from Rainwater. Nobody outside of the village would be likely to even utter those two words together. Cenan's Absolution. And then for you to know that there is a significance to them that would only be known by our people tells me that I may be in the company of one of my own kind."
"Very true ," Chiapos concurred. He felt good that this statue was not questioning his Rainwater authenticity. "I uttered the words, now you tell me what they mean."
"Cenan's Absolution deals with a rite a villager takes before embarking on the Challenge. It is asking the High Priestess for forgiveness for what Carmikel's bastard daughter, Zergo, had done to the Mastodon of the Fire Mountains, the twin to the Mammoth of the Tester whom you are not."
Chiapos was overwhelmed by joy. The statue's answer satisfied him that she was from Rainwater. "I couldn't fool you on that one, could I?" His mind harkened back to the great forest on the other side of the Divide when he had attempted a similar ploy of posing as the Lord of the Tester to Samarin and his partner Pitak.
"You couldn't fool me that you were the Mammoth of the Tester, no. But, I have never seen a member of our village walk about in the plumes of a giant eagle before. You have me fooled on that one, I have to admit!"
"Well, I do not recall many of our people being cast into stone either!" Chiapos chuckled. It felt very good to him to be able to make conversation again. It had been a decade since he had last spoke to anybody and have that person answer audibly back to him.
"I am stone, aren't I?" the human-shaped monolith answered. There was a tinge of sadness in the voice.
"You are stone. But more than that, you are Gala from the Challengelore!" Chiapos sang back with enthusiasm. Only now was his mind starting to wonder about what this interaction was going to mean to him and his immediate plans. The notion of just having a conversation and then saying goodbye did not seem to be the appropriate thing to do. His plans would now have to change.
"What do they say of me in the Challengelore?"
The elation that he was experiencing only moments before was being rapidly swept aside by a pall of great sadness. The entry of Gala in the Challengelore was one of the most lugubrious tales passed on by the people of the village. Gala had accomplished many great things during her historical quest. After some early hardships in Tanejul she had embarked to the northern shores of Mallog’mor’ach where after she did battle with a band of pissy-eyed poachers menacing a bear and her cubs, she had sustained a terrible injury from the ungrateful and wounded she-bear. She had to put the mother down since the extent of the wounds inflicted upon the creature by the poachers was mortal. Knowing that there was a menagerie at the May Shores, she trekked injured through very rugged country for many hundreds of miles with the two ursine infants following her in tow. There were many adventures and many life-threatening situations that ensued but she finally reached the haven on the southwest coast of Mallog’mor’ach known as the May Shores. Here, she had met another member of her village whom she related the details of her Challenge. Then, she delivered the cubs to the menagerie and made her tearful departure from these animals that she had become quite endeared with. She said her farewells to the people of the May Shores and embarked upon her journey overland home to Rainwater even though she was warned by the Mayshori to choose the safer maritime route instead. But the historical Gala decided to take her chances with the Fire Mountains. The learned scribes from the celebrated community predicted that Mount Taulkine was ready to erupt. Why, she did not listen to them, nobody ever really knew. It wasn't until fifteen years later when Alana, the stalwart son of Gala's eldest brother, chose a similar route for his Challenge was it learned that the woman had been turned to stone from the ashy fallout of Mount Taulkine. Alana's adventure had finished the tale of Gala that had been a mystery to the villagers of Rainwater for fifteen years. Most of the earlier part of her story was known from the other Challenger that she had met at the May Shores, Lawbrad, who had returned to Rainwater via the sea rather than tempt fate with the tempestuous Mount Taulkine. Lawbrad had related at the Evening Fires Gala's story up to the point where she had left the May Shores. Alana completed the tale when he sadly encountered his petrified aunt on the slopes of a much more quiescent Taulkine fifteen years later.
"What do they say of you in the Challenge?" Chiapos reiterated the statue's question.
"They probably cast me as a fool for challenging the volcano, right?" the stoneworks that was Gala sounded resigned that this was the case.
"On the contrary Gala! You are looked upon as one of the most courageous Challengers ever!" Chiapos exclaimed. There was some truth in his answer but there was also some truth in Gala's surmisal. It all depended on who was telling her tale at the amphitheater on any particular night. Some saw her as a true heroine; some saw her as reckless and foolhardy.
"You are just saying that to make me feel better. I have had a lot of time to mull over my escapades and I keep recriminating myself for being too impulsive and headstrong. I could have easily avoided my fate if I had only listened to the others."
"Why didn't you take the boat out of the May Shores like Lawbrad did?" Chiapos cried. It was a question that was often asked over the past five hundred years at the Evening Fires. No one ever had the definitive answer to it but now he would be able to finally allay the arguments between the pro-Gala and anti-Gala factions in the village by getting a first hand account from the very protagonist of the great Gala saga.
The statue was silent for several long moments in which Chiapos began to wonder if the consciousness inside of it had also finally turned to stone. This was somewhat reminiscent to him of when he had lost communication with Dedication back in Tanejul. He felt a great loss back then. Was such an empty feeling going to revisit him again here on the Land Without Time’s version of the Fire Mountains?
Finally, Gala spoke. "My original plans were to return by the boat out of the May Shores but on the evening prior to when I was due to set sail, I happened to take a stroll in the golden leas and meadows that flank the outskirts of that town. I remember it was such a lovely evening and the fragrances flowing from the marigolds in the fields just beckoned me to walk among them. As I meandered happily through them thinking of the success that my Challenge had been, I happened upon an injured woodcock among the flowers. Its wing had been broken."
Upon hearing the mention of the woodcock, at once Chiapos was alarmed. He sensed the workings of an old enemy in the ancient's tale. He kept his fears quiet and realized that Gala had been continuing with her story and that he had missed some of the details and had to ask the statue to retell her narrative from the point where she had come upon the woodcock.
Statues' eyes may seem to move but the rest of their faces remain stationary and do not betray any thoughts lurking within that are not part of the package that was frozen in the sculptor’s detail. If Gala's opinion of him had been altered by his inattention, it just did not show. She complied with his request. "I picked up the poor injured bird and decided that I would return it to the menagerie in the town where the residents there might be able to mend its wing. But I fear that the woodcock would not have any part of this plan, for with its long bill it jabbed me in my thumb. That made me lose my grip. The bird shuffled through the grasses where I could not quite make out its trail given the looming darkness that was setting in as night was starting to fall. As you may know, I have a soft spot in my heart for harmless creatures and it grieved me that this little bird might fall victim to any fox or bushcat that was starting its nocturnal prowl at about this time. I decided that I would make every effort in the world to catch the little bird again. Every now and then I would hear its shrill call emanating from somewhere ahead of me in the field. I knew that it had to be nearby and it didn't matter to me that the night was turning a pitch black. It seemed that this bird was steadily making its ways to a great forest at the far end of the field and blindly I followed after it until I found myself amidst the great stand of sequoias and firs that dominated these woods. Once here, I no longer heard the woodcock but I did hear something else that immediately tore at my heart with even more passion than the helpless little bird. It was the sound of a little boy weeping. I was beside myself with anguish in thinking that a small child would be out in these feral woods all by himself. I called out and he timidly answered. Soon, I came upon the little boy who was sitting on the lowest branch of a great and sinister-appearing tree."
Chiapos's spine was going rigid. He could not believe what he was hearing! Without Gala having to say the name of the little boy, he knew that the child had to be Martok. The Appointed Servant Cenan had said that the lost boy had made himself appear to people throughout the ages in the Tester. Apparently, Martok's range extended to other forests as well. And Chiapos also recalled from the very lips of the Aura in Ascension that he had come across another person from Rainwater recently. Chiapos had assumed that it was Straye that he was talking about but Martok did not recognize the name. Now, given that Auras live under a different type of timescale than mortals, it was not stretching the plausible too far to think that a period of a few weeks would be in the same league as a period of five hundred years to an Aura. Could Martok have been referring to Gala when he mentioned the other Rainwaterman that he met? It did not seem all too unlikely. Chiapos had often puzzled over who the Dark Aura had been talking about, now it seemed that he might have an answer.
He had to ask Gala once again to repeat some of her story, as she had not stopped her tale while he was drawing up some preliminary hypotheses. "You truly are from my village!" the statue regaled. "For in all of my travels, I have never come across a more daydreaming lot than the people of Rainwater."
Chiapos chuckled. He was used to the disdain that Samarin and others had expressed about the villagers from home. Now, he was even hearing it from one of his own kind.
"Anyway, the boy's name was Martok and he was from a place called Cresswell in the Kingdom of Malaga. Somehow he lost his way from his parents whom he believed might be making camp on the other side of the Fire Mountains. Without a second thought, I volunteered to take the boy to his parents."
Chiapos shook his head vehemently. "That was a mistake!" he interrupted.
"No, it isn't a mistake. I remember quite clearly that it was I that volunteered," the statue retorted. "These are my memories! I should know them the best!" She sounded nonplussed. "Now if you want to hear my story, I beg you not to interrupt again or I will never tell you."
There was some indication in the Challengelore that he had heard back in the village that Gala was known not only for her soft heart towards animals and children, but she was also known to have a snappy temper. This, to Chiapos, was more proof that the statue was indeed his historical antecedent.
"The boy Martok was a talkative little child and prattled continuously throughout the night about all manner of things," Gala continued. "I didn't get much sleep that night in the forest, I tell you. It didn't seem that the boy needed any for I swear he didn't sleep at all. I must have finally drowsed off for I recall that I was suddenly stirred and there, dangling before my eyes was a freshly killed ferret, its head shorn off in a fleshy mess. This game was held by an exuberant young lad. He was eager for me to share the meat with him. I offered to cook it for him but he wanted it raw and insisted that I do so as well. It was the way meat was supposed to be eaten, he told me. And at that point, he ripped a leg from the ferret and with his teeth he tore away the skin and hair of the creature. He offered me the leg and although it was against my gastronomical judgement, I did oblige the boy and chewed from it. It held no taste for me and I found it extremely difficult to chew but Martok seemed pleased that I made the effort. He consumed the rest of the ferret ravenously. Not even the ferret itself in its lifetime could have been more voracious. I was beginning to wonder what kind of boy this was but then I reminded myself that this was a lost child and needed my help.
"We spent the better part of the next seven days together as we made our way to the Fire Mountains. Every day the boy caught his repast with nothing more than his bare hands. If this were the hunting skill of a mere child, I believed that his parents would not think twice about wrestling a grizzly bear with nothing more than what they were born with. I found myself praying that they would possess some civilized characteristics when I met up with them for I had heard tales in the May Shores that there were some cannibals, human-flesh eaters, to be found in the Fire Mountains. I had at first dismissed these stories as more examples of the nonsense that the Mayshori tend to babble but upon witnessing young Martok, I had to wonder if there was not some truth in this one tale at least. Martok, although he was as talkative as a sparrow on a spring evening, tended not to talk much about his life. His words tended to be only reflections of what he perceived in the here and now such as one would expect from anybody his age. As time progressed, while the boy fed upon the bounty of his hunts and I lived exclusively on berries, I was finding that the journey was not as threatening as the Mayshori had tried to lead me to believe. We were in the shadow of Mount Taulkine now and I could see the white plumes of smoke billow from its top. They seemed more inviting to me than dangerous. 'That's from my parents' campfire.' Martok had said. I corrected him and said that it was smoke from the volcano and he said, 'No! That is from my parents.'
"He started racing up the mountainside with the wild anticipation of a child firmly imprinted on his brow. In the thin light, it almost seemed like his eyes were made of silver. He begged me to hurry and I soon found myself dashing after him in a reckless abandon towards a stewing volcano top. Soon, the smoke was all around me and was burning in my lungs. Yet, it did not appear to bother Martok for he cried out for me not to stop and to keep coming, that soon we would be rejoined with his parents. I could barely see him and if it wasn't for his silver eyes, I think I might not have seen him at all. I complained to him that I couldn't breathe and that we should turn around and get back into some fresh air. He thought that this was ludicrous and said that he would help me breathe. He was onto me in a flash, his mouth open and blowing into mine.
"Now, you would expect the breath of a little child to be pure and innocent. I tell you, I have never experienced a more malign taste in all of my life. And it couldn't have been from his diet. There was something altogether sinister and ancient in what was dispelled from his lungs into mine. Yet, I found that after this I was able to breathe through the smoke although I had a festering taste in my mouth, a leftover from that boy's vile breath.
"I couldn't see anything for the smoke. Only the strain in my thighs and calves told me that I was following the path of my companion and was still progressing uphill towards the summit of the mountain. I do not know what was going on in my head, even the slightest tinge of common sense should have told me that I was being absolutely out of my mind climbing through the thick smoke into an erupting volcano. Martok was beyond my field of vision and the deep thunder of the mountain masked any sound that he might have made. For all intents and purposes, I was alone on that volcano and when I reached the crest of the crater, everything that I could see was in eerie, fiery shades of red that made the heavy smoke glow. Nothing in my most terrible dreams could have matched the sheer and diabolical place that I found myself in. The heat was intense. I could swear that the flesh on my body was dripping away in great globs. I should have turned around and tried to save my ignorant self but there was a boy up there that I just could not abandon. I cried out his name as loudly as I could but my pipings most assuredly had to be drowned by the grumblings of the inferno beneath my feet.
"And then one of my feet began to slide upon some loose rabble and I realized that I was about to tumble into the boiling, bubbling lava-filled crater. Somehow I managed to right myself and avoided slipping into what would have been a swift and terrible death. Through the smoke, I looked into the maw of Taulkine and was struck by the most pure form of horror that I think a human being could experience. The molten rock was writhing in a wicked splurting dance that slowly was making its way up the cone. Some of the lava frothed up in a surge and splattered nearby causing some droplets of the infernal stuff to splash upon my legs. I never felt such excruciating pain from a burn before. But through my anguish and my terror, somehow I had a very lucid moment as I peered into the volcano and what I saw is forever etched in my mind. I saw a huge shadowy form swim through the lava. It had a shape that somehow or other made me think of a mammoth."
"Wait!" Chiapos cried. He had broken his promise to Gala to remain silent but what she had just described was uncanningly similar to what he had seen in the bowels of Mount Corvyx shortly before he made his exit through the cone. He had seen a mammoth-shaped shadow creep within that mountain as well. He had assumed that it was the Mammoth of the Tester that he had seen but now he came to realize that it could not have been the great spirit of the forest for he had just left it enrapt with the High Priestess Cenan in the forest. Something instinctively told him that this shadow that he had seen and the shadow that Gala had seen in Mount Taulkine were one and the same entity and this entity could only be the true form of the Aura in Ascension. Martok was the one who had led him into the trap at Mount Corvyx and it was Martok who had done the same to Gala more than five hundred years earlier. This was too extraordinary. The Dark Aura's lair had to be within the belly of a mountain.
Woman of Stone
"I told you that I was not going to stop with my narrative until I was finished. One more interruption and I will not tell you any more." The statue had the personality of a cross, self- centered bitch.
"Go ahead," Chiapos sighed. "I won't interrupt you any more." He was learning a great deal from this relic from the past and he knew that he had to hear the rest of her story. He was glad that he had decided to investigate that glint of light upon the mountain. That glint of light was giving him some enlightenment on who his enemy was.
"That shadow in the shape of a mammoth suddenly looked up at me with eyes of silver. They were the same eyes that I had seen on the young lad earlier. Could this have been one of his parents, I wondered. Or could it have been the little boy himself? The only thing that I was sure of was that that wraithish creature down there was a demon of the most foul nature and I could only feel my heart mortify at the menace in its glance.
"At once, I cared not about the safety of the little Martok. It was my eternal soul that I sensed that the brooding demon wanted and that to me was more precious than any life. I had to get away from there and fast and I started to run through the smoke not knowing where my steps would fall or lead me. Not only was my vision disoriented so was my sense of hearing for I began to hear through the deep tremors of the roaring volcanoes taunting whispers calling out my name. The voices came from here and came from there and came from everywhere, not ever allowing itself to be fixated to any one spot.
"'Come here, Gala! Come here, maiden of Rainwater!' The voices did whisper in sounds that seemed to be more breath than enunciation and in such a manner that I could not tell if they were male, female or child. 'Come here, Gala! Come here, maiden of Rainwater!' they continued as if they wanted to ferment a madness in my mind. They could not have fermented any greater madness than what my mind was already experiencing. I chose to ignore them and continued running, yet no matter how much it seemed that I moved in that infernal place, the red, boiling lava crater was always only an edge away from me and the silver eyes of the lurking demon within it never left my presence.
"'You shall never leave this place.' the chant of the whispers had changed. They did not seem to emanate from the wraith shaped like a mammoth but I had no doubt that it had to be the source of the voices. 'You will remain here until the day someone comes searching for you in the bleak of winter. That day you will die and that day whoever finds you will have delivered the instrument that I require and he will give it over obligingly to me and then afterwards all the days will be mine.'"
Chiapos did not say anything. He had to believe that the Dark Aura was talking about him and the Redeemer. Hand over the Redeemer to him? Never, he thought.
"It was a most peculiar thing that he said and it made no sense to me at that time. All that I wanted to do was escape and get as far away from that infernal mountain as I could. I kept on running and running but I was not getting any place. It was like I had turned to stone within the red glowing smokes of Mount Taulkine.
"I do not know how long I was there in that horrible environment under the gaze of that most malign creature. There was no way to measure time as long as everything was occluded by the veil of darkness that clung to that mountaintop. All that I knew was that gradually the smoke seemed to ease up and as I could finally begin to glimpse the sky and the surrounding peaks of the Fire Mountains. The wraith was no longer there. But as the world started to come into view I realized that I could not move at all. My legs were so heavy that it was impossible for me to lift them. The same with my arms. Even my head was so laden with weight that my neck could not turn it one way or the other. For an unimaginably long period where not only day gave way to night but seasons gave way to seasons, I remained motionless.
"Until one day this youth who looked remarkably familiar to me came up to me. He called me by my name and asked what had happened to me. I wanted so dearly to tell him and to beg him for his help but my lips were petrified and all that I could do was watch his eyes well up with tears. This young man was overwhelmed by an immense compassion for me. He told me who he was. He was my nephew, Alana. The last I had seen him he was not much older than what Martok appeared to be. Now he was a grown man embarking on his own Challenge. It was from his words that I finally got a notion about what had happened to me. There was no wonder that I could not move. I had been turned to stone and my nephew thought me dead. As I watched Alana lament at my feet, I remembered the words of the wraith, that some day someone would find me. That day I would die and that wraith would become the usurper of the universe. I so feared for Alana but I then recalled that the wraith had said that it would be in the winter. Alana had found me in the summer. He was not the one. He stayed with me for only a few minutes, I do not think that he could bear to see what had happened to me any longer. The last I saw of him he lumbered away with sunken head and heavy heart. Poor lad."
It grieved Chiapos to hear Gala woe over her nephew as if he were still fresh to the Earth when in the grim reality of the matter, Alana had been dead four and a half centuries now. At least it was comforting to know that Alana had a great Challenge and lived to a ripe old age and had many offspring. There were still people in Rainwater that can trace their ancestry back to Alana and Gala. Whendi, one of the village elders, was a direct descendent, and proud of her lineage. In fact, if the years were stripped away from Whendi's weathered face, she would bear a remarkable similarity to the statue before him.
"More visitors came to Mount Taulkine from the village now and then." Gala had never stopped to allow Chiapos to gather his thoughts. "None came in winter however. These slopes are extremely treacherous in that season and so icy that I do not think that it is possible to scale them. So as far as I know, this dark prophecy may never come to pass and I sincerely pray that it never does. I have never seen anything so evil as that elephantine wraith and fortunately I had never seen him again in all of the intervening years. I just remained perched and about the only activity that I witnessed was the annual migration of the geese and the swans. The snow piles up in the winter and disappears in the spring when the trees bud up and they lose their leaves in the autumn. I can shut my mind off in reverie but it always will open up again and show me the mountainous topography that has become my world. In time it became very comforting to me and I do not believe that I could cope with an alternate field of vision, I have become so engrained with the immutability of my world.
"This is not a perpetual immutability, however. On larger time scales, nothing stays the same. Saplings grow tall and wide with heavy limbs and foliage but then the ultimate destroyer, time, knocks them down so that new trees will take their place and cast shadows upon the fallen rotting trunks. Even if this mountain was not prone to the occasional temper tantrum, I believe that not one stone would still be in the same spot that it was when I first became solidified. The only thing that hasn't moved is me. But the temper of old Taulkine does spout off now and then and in its aftermath there would be a wholesale change in the topology of my world. For some reason, I seem to be immune to its effects for the mountain has never bowled me over nor twisted my alignment to the stars. The cave that you found me in was not there originally. It was a gradual accretion of rock and soil that built itself up around me over the years. I think that after you return me to that place time will see to it that the rocks will entomb me and I will then be in perpetual darkness. It is a fate that does not frighten me. I almost look forward to it. You will take me back there now."
"It is okay for me to speak, now?" Chiapos asked wanting to make sure that he would not be a victim to a cutting remark from the temperamental statue.
Gala did not respond which Chiapos took as a cue that permission had been granted. He had so many questions that he wanted to ask but did not know where to start. Gala had covered a lot of territory in her narrative as she called it but she did not touch upon how she had ended up in the Land Without Time. No humans or human artifacts could be found here, yet she was without a doubt here on this side of the Divide.
"The Land Without Time? What are you talking about?" the statue showed her snarky demeanour.
Chiapos explained to her how this world that she was in was devoid of Rainwatermen, Tanejulians, Mayshori and all other people. "How did you get here?"
"That is more of an outlandish tale than the one I told you!" Gala responded.
"That is exactly what this place is, Gala!" Chiapos cried. "It is outlandish! It is not our world! It is not the world that we grew up in. We are in a land where time does not move forward as it does in our own world. It stands still in our own world even though it may seem that eons have gone by here on this side."
"I see the sun rise every day and the growing shadows later on tells me that it sets every evening. You can't tell me that time stands still here!" She was trying to cast aspersions on what Chiapos said. He didn't truly expect her to believe what he said so soon.
"Subjectively, to us who are on this side of the Divide, time seems to march forward but back in our world not a second has drifted by. I was taught this by the Malagans," Chiapos said, knowing that it would be questioned at once by the stone-woman.
"Malagans? Like Martok, you mean?"
"Well technically they belong to the same federation of states as Martok but my advisors are Sutherlanders and they make passage to this world frequently."
"Just a moment, you had better sit down and start all over. You have me confused completely. Tell me your Challenge tale, Chiapos. And don't tell me that you don't have time for it. If this is the Land Without Time then no time will have gone by at all."
Gala was right. The Land With Time could wait while he engaged himself in a little bit of Challengelore. His chapter of the Challengelore. This would be good practice for him if and when he could actually present his story to the people of Rainwater on some wonderful, magical evening about the fires in the Commons.
He told Gala about everything - his encounter with Martok at the edge of the Tester; his fortunate discovery of the Redeemer, his meeting with Samarin and Pitak; his strange and mystical days with Cenan and the magic that she bestowed upon him. And how he had allowed the Appointed Servant to learn that there was a Dark Aura about that was about to challenge the Mammoth of the Tester for supremacy over the world; and how he had actually seen the legendary Mammoth in communion with his High Priestess. He explained to Gala about his being duped by the Dark Aura in disguise into entering Mount Corvyx and how the Redeemer had saved him. All of the details that brought him across the prairies and into Tanejul were told to the statue. He mentioned Chyna, Samarin, Dedication, Sjorud, Scanga Groes, Seagrist and his daughters. Gala learned of his growing immortality and his special skills as a Healer. She travelled with him from his escape from the Hand of the Law's stronghold in the Montoo District to the collapsing Phantom Farm. She heard about his fantastic journey to the eastern reaches of Mallog’mor’ach where he met Brucar and his wives. She learned how they brought them to Martok's Keep and his ultimate passage across the Divide into the Land Without Time and all of his adventures and travails here which included the deaths of Samarin, Scanga Groes and Sworrel. He told of his decade long study of the flora and fauna of this world and how he finally had decided that it was time to cross over again and face his nemesis.
Gala had granted him the silence that a Rainwaterman customarily gives to anybody reciting any passage of the Challengelore. When he reached the part where he had melded back together the statue upon the face of Mount Taulkine, her first comment was, "That is quite the saga. Are you sure you are speaking the truth?"
This comment irritated Chiapos. The telling of the Challengelore was considered to be a solemn event for both the teller and the listeners. It was an unspoken covenant that the truth as far as the speaker perceived it was being presented. Gala's cool remark frustrated him. "I can just leave you here now if that is the way that you are going to be!" he snapped. "Of course, it is the truth!"
"No need to get so hotheaded Chiapos. I believe you. You don't have to worry about that. There are so many ramifications in your story for the entire world, that it is hard to grasp it all at one listening. It is going to take me a bit of time to piece it all together, that is all I mean to say," Gala said.
"Then you should have said that in the first place. You have done nothing but scorn me and intimidate me ever since I met you. I just want some respect from you, that's all."
"You have my respect. Anybody that has gone through what you have gone through at the very least deserves respect. As to your question about how I came to be in the Land Without Time, the only thing that I can think of is that since I am made of stone and not fashioned by human hands it would not be breaking any of the rules. This in a sense makes me part of the natural world and thus a suitable candidate to be incarnated on this side of the Divide, ” the statue suggested.
"I was thinking along the same lines," Chiapos concurred. "I wonder if your counterpart on the other side of the Divide is nothing but stone?"
"If you are telling me that no time passes on the other side when we are here, I would say that my counterpart over there has rocks for brains just as your counterpart must be frozen motionless in Martok's Keep," Gala surmised. "I am only guessing that I did not come here until you yourself crossed over because I have had nothing but a steady stream of consciousness ever since my calamity. Maybe I have been back and forth on many occasions with each time someone journeys across the Divide?" the stone woman speculated.
"Maybe you were specially brought over only this time when I have crossed!" Chiapos added his own speculation. "Maybe Brucar saw to it that you have become embodied only on this occasion. By the way that you measure the time since your accident, you count approximately five hundred years which is about the number of years that have passed since you left Rainwater. Had you been coming back and forth with each time one of the Sutherlanders crossed, you would have estimated a far greater span of time because you would not have been aware that you had entered a suspended world."
"You are right, young man. It is good to see that that good old village savvy has not disappeared in the half of a millennium since my days of flesh and blood. I wonder what purpose your Brucar would have had in having me cross over the Divide?"
"There could be plenty of reasons. I would like to think that you have already helped me in giving me a good notion on where to find Martok once I cross over. If it hadn't have been for you I would not have come to realize that he is a denizen of the interiors of volcanoes."
"You would have figured out that one on your own, I am sure," the statue of Gala seemed almost demure which was a far cry from her normally raspy self.
"Maybe your help to me would come in some other fashion?" Chiapos wondered.
"Don't be so brazen!" the raspy Gala re-emerged. "Not everything in this world has to center around you! Maybe your Brucar wanted to help me!"
Chiapos felt that he was properly admonished. The world did not have to revolve around him. Maybe Brucar was trying to help Gala. "You have got me thinking. This is the Land Without Time and you have a human consciousness. I wonder if you can shapeshift?"
There was no response from the statue at all. It appeared that she had reverted back to being nothing more than an artistic composition of hardened volcanic ash. And when finally, Gala spoke, her tone was broken and saturated with emotion. Perhaps, she was having to deal with a notion that would have seemed impossible to her before. She had been trapped in a stone body for five hundred years without any hope of ever changing that condition. Now, she was presented with an idea that could free her from her volcanic coil and give her once again the ability to move on her own accord. "How do you do it? How do you shapeshift?" her quivering voice asked.
"All what you do is just think of what shape you wish to attain and that is all there is to it. You become the shape." Chiapos sensed that he was being overcome by emotion as well. To see the legendary Gala of Rainwater walk the land again would be a very happy day not only for her, but also for him, and for the village.
"That's all you have to do is just think of it?"
"But how do you decide what you want to be?"
It was as if the statue was too afraid to give it a try in fear that it would not work or in fear that it would work.
"Just think of who you were and what you looked like," Chiapos said with a coercive gentleness. "It should work." He prayed that it would work, if it did not, he would have to contend with a monumental disappointment in her and probably a good dosage of her wrath as well.
"It's been so long. When I think of myself nowadays I think of the bleached stone that composes me."
"Think of flesh and blood."
The white stone that outlined the contours of her face and her hair and her rather frail body seemed to grow darker as if a cloud was passing overhead to obscure the sun. But gradually there was a differentiation in colours growing quite visible along her stoney shape. Her long hair had gone black and its ends were whisking with the slight breeze in the air. The stone frock that covered her torso had become a marine blue and it too showed that it was no longer composed of hardened volcanic ash. Her lips, cheeks and chin all established a differentiation in hues of pink and brown.
Chiapos could only catch her eyes for the briefest of moments. They were the deep charcoal of Rainwater but then her eyes were shut. Her forehead furrowed and her high cheekbones crept towards her black eyebrows. Her entire body began to quiver in a rhythmic spasm. Gala of Rainwater was a human being again and she wept. And she wept. And she wept.
Carmikel and Zergo
She must have been overwhelmed by finally seeing to fruition a dream that she probably believed would never have come true . She was flesh again. The stony blood in her veins and arteries had melted and were flowing with true life. Chiapos, himself, was also smitten with great pangs of joy upon seeing the ancient revitalized. However in the recesses of his mind, there was an ashen thought that kept the moment from being one of sheer bliss. What if Gala could only attain the human form here in the Land Without Time? What happens to her if she attempts to cross the Divide? Does everything that makes her up calcify back to the abominable prison of stone once more? It was a question that would have to see an answer if she were to accompany him back to their own world. He intended for her to accompany him. She would be a great asset in his battle with the Dark Aura and he would also love to see the faces of everybody back in Rainwater when upon his return he was accompanied by the legendary Gala of half a millennium ago.
And still Gala wept. More than an hour had passed since she had regained her human condition and she had spent the entire time locked up in tears. "You had better be careful that you don't cry away all your liquids and you end up all dried up again," he said, at length.
This comment only served to intensify her bawling. She began sobbing louder and upon occasion even came close to wailing. Chiapos realized that what he had said was not very sensitive. It was more insensitive and even crude and cruel. His social skills were never that great and his long absence from the company of fellow human beings could not have helped these skills much. It was better to let her cry and wait for her to judge the time when her tears should come to an end.
Two more hours passed and day had slipped into night. If he had not seen that twinkle on the mountainside and if he had remained upon the wing of a thunderbird, he was sure that he would have been in the Land Without Time's incarnation of the May Shores by now. But instead he was here listening to the baleful laments of a relic from the long ago past. He knew that he shouldn't being harbouring such thoughts but without any opportunity to explore other lines of consciousness he could do little else. His fear that Gala would not be able to pass over to the other side in a flesh and blood form was also pressing in upon him. He did not know how he would be able to deal with her acute disappointment if that were to come to pass. She was now tasting life on the outside, it would be very very bitter if she were to have to return to her former condition, to her stone prison for the rest of time.
A pair of foxes suddenly appeared at the end of the carved entractment of land that the two humans had inhabited for many hours now. Chiapos, at first, was not even aware that they were there until the moonlight reflected in their cunning eyes.
"That's Carmikel and Zergo," Gala announced, completely surprising Chiapos who had not realized that the woman had at last conquered her tears.
"Carmikel and Zergo?" Chiapos responded. "Are there more ancients among us?"
"No, silly! They aren't shapeshifted Rainwatermen!" Gala laughed. "They are just foxes. I just named them after the famous father and daughter from the Challengelore. Carmikel is the male. He is forever exploring his environment and trying to make sense of it. While Zergo, the female always seems to be getting herself into trouble."
"Just like the real Carmikel and Zergo!" Chiapos feigned a slight laugh to be polite to Gala. He was more interested to listen to what she had to say about her marathon crying session.
"I have watched these two for years. They always come out at twilight and I have to admit that Carmikel has used me every night for marking his territory."
This time, Chiapos did laugh honestly, the sound of which sent the two foxes scurrying away. "I guess he won't be marking you tonight!" he chuckled.
"I still can't believe what has happened to me," Gala sniffled causing Chiapos to fear that she might start crying all over again. "Do you know what sensation that I really missed? I missed the darkness that you get when you shut your eyes. My eyes were stuck open for all those centuries and I could never really escape what was there in front of me. I could never truly allow my imagination to take me away. And that is what has made me cry."
"I understand," Chiapos was able to relate to the opposite of this sensory abrogation when he was stuck all that time in the interminable darkness of the black cell in Scanga Groes's jail. There, all that he had was darkness and his fantasies and all that he craved was light. He was sure that if his emotional constitution were so made up, he would have spent a great deal of time directly afterwards in tears. Of course, he did not have the luxury of timelessness to even entertain his newfound freedom back then. He had to be quick to escape with Dedication from the vicinity of the Hand of the Law's stronghold. Gala had the opportunity to wallow in her liberation with her feelings. Chiapos did not begrudge her this. Her imprisonment was infinitely longer than his. Hoping that he would not sound too insensitive, he added, "You haven't taken your first step yet. You can move now Gala! You can move!"
Instead of slipping into a crying spasm again, the newly freed woman giggled. "One step at a time, my dear. One step at a time. I do not even know if I remember how to walk, it has been such a long, long time. My head is half swimming with just trying to maintain my balance. When you are stone, the sheer weight of your body ensures that you stay put and upright. And I have to admit that I am a little tired. It has been a very trying day for me and with the darkness, all that I want to really do right now is sleep. Sleep with my eyes shut. It has been so long since I have had that luxury. I hope that you don't mind."
"Go right ahead," Chiapos sighed. He was able to commiserate with his new companion yet what it meant for him was another spell of time that he would have to idle by with little more to do than be entertained by his thoughts. He was growing tired of this and had a strong desire to get his life moving again. He craved to be back in the world of people, to be back on the other side of the Divide and face his challenge. But that had to be put on hold for another night.
"Good night, my fellow Rainwaterman," Gala said through a gaping yawn and then she fell asleep on her feet.
After so many years of being stuck in an upright position, Chiapos thought that the woman would have wanted to finally lie down. But that did not seem to be the case. Perhaps, she knew no other way of sleeping any more. At least, her eyes were closed, that was something different for her.
Dawn was a whole night away and there he was with nothing to do to make the night race by. He thought of going and exploring the vicinity of the Fire Mountains and learn their geography but something inside of him told him that he should not leave her side just in case something happened.
But nothing happened and Chiapos had spent one of the longest nights of his recent life in utter tedium. Not even the Challengelore offered him any respite from the deep ennui that had set in on him while the moon and the stars made their leisurely nocturnal voyage across the heavens.
Finally, morning did arrive, hailed by the predawn crystallization of a frosty dew upon the ground. The high elevation where he found himself was susceptible to cooler weather than he had grown accustomed to as of late. He wondered if the cold would wake up his companion but Gala continued to sleep even after the sun had finally climbed to a sufficient height to cast its warming rays upon the hidden valley where the two natives of Rainwater found themselves.
The woman slept silently and deeply upon her feet. Had it not been for the colouration of her skin, hair and clothing, she could have still been mistaken for a statue. Many a time came where Chiapos, exasperated by his boredom, thought of waking her but each time he relented out of a combination of pity and fear. Pity in that Gala needed her sleep, fear that if he were to wake her before she was ready she would lambaste him with a scathing scolding. Now and then, he even thought that he should leave her. She was an adventurer and had done many a brave deed all by herself centuries before he was born. She did not really need him but he could not bring himself about to actually go. He remained with her.
The day slowly ambled forward into the afternoon and then the gloaming and then another night and still Gala slept. Not even in Scanga Groes' prison did Chiapos feel so stir crazy. Every fiber within him was aching to get going on with his travels but it was his loyalty to an icon of the great heraldic days that kept him put even though there was no compelling reason why he should believe that Gala would expect him to wait.
Another night meandered lazily through its ascendancy of the heavens and grudgingly allowed its daytime partner to take the skies many long, lumbering hours later. And still Gala slept. In fact, it was for three days and four nights that the woman slumbered. Chiapos had never seen even the most ailing aged person in the village of Rainwater sleep so long. Five hundred years of being denied a truly restful sleep must have been exacting its toll upon Gala. That was the way that Chiapos saw it even though at times he wondered if whether the ancient had not returned back to her calcified state and was no longer a living, breathing entity. Her chest and waist were well covered by her clothing that concealed any telltale signs that she was consuming the air. And she was as motionless in her face and body as if she had become a statue again. If it were not for her pigmentation and the restlessness of her black hair in those times where the breeze whistled through the gorge, anybody could have easily have taken her for a work of art rather than someone who was actually alive.
The two foxes, Carmikel and Zergo as Gala had named them showed up every evening. On one of these nights, Chiapos thought that he would hide himself behind a large rock and watch the two vulpine creatures. As sure as Gala had said that he would, Carmikel, the male, cautiously approached the sleeping woman and took some tentative sniffs of her sandaled feet. And before Chiapos could do anything to stop him, the fox lifted its leg and piddled on Gala's exposed ankles. Chiapos did run out to try and stop him but he was too late. Being a creature from the Land Without Time, the flight instinct was not readily available to Carmikel. He ran back several steps and stopped to see what the intruder was going to do. All that Chiapos could do was laugh. He was sure that by now Gala had grown well accustomed to the pungent acidic odour of fox urine.
Gala had said that the vixen Zergo was a mischief-maker just like her legendary namesake. And once again the woman from the past was proven right. Directly after Carmikel had marked his territory upon the woman’s shift, Zergo ran up to the sleeping Gala. The wind that accompanied her motion caused Gala's skirts to flutter. At first this startled the unsuspecting Zergo but then it illicited an angry response as the female fox grabbed hold of the skirt's hem and started tearing and tugging at it. Chiapos tried to scare off Zergo but not before the mischievous vixen tore away a sizeable scrap of the cloth leaving Gala's legs exposed to well above her knees. Zergo ran off with her new prize and began shaking her head vigorously and emitting boastful growls that declared that she had won her scrap fair and square and that she could do anything that she wanted to do with it. The foxes hung around for several minutes before they had decided to continue on their nocturnal forages and ending Chiapos's only respite from the overwhelming, appalling tedium.
Finally, after over one hundred long torturous hours, Gala finally stirred with the dawn of the fourth day of her return to a natural state. Chiapos, at the moment that the woman woke up, was standing nearby and was so near madness in his boredom that he at first thought that he was imagining her arising as he must have imagined it hundreds of times over these past four days.
"Well, that was a good night's sleep!" Gala announced through a yawn when she saw Chiapos.
"A good night? That was half a week of sleep!" he cried not trying to conceal that he was not amused about having to wait around for so long.
Gala chose to ignore the acerbic comment. "Did you know that when I first woke up, I forgot what had happened to me. I thought I was still in my stone shell. But when I noticed the scenery had been altered from what I had grown used to and when I saw you standing there, I remembered it all! This is such a dream come true !" She was genuinely cheerful.
Chiapos was not. "Any dream can come true with all the time that went by! I have never seen anybody sleep so long!"
"I can't believe that I have my old flesh, bones and blood back again!" Gala said as she looked down her body. She must have seen her bare legs. The genuine cheerfulness quickly disintegrated into a scowl of anger. "What happened to my skirt? What have you been doing to me while I was asleep? If you have violated me, I will kill you!" She stooped down and tried to cover herself.
"I did nothing to you!" Chiapos cried in self-defense. "The foxes did that to you, I swear!"
She eyed him suspiciously. The top end of her cheerfulness had been clipped off with her mistrust. "Yes, just one fox did that to me and that fox is you!"
"Look, I don't need to listen to your accusations. Think what you will as long as I know the truth," Chiapos said through angry lips. He had never imagined that a great totem from history could be so aggravating. He wondered what the true personalities of the personages that peopled the Challengelore were really like. They were all mortal and had to be something less than the glorious esteem that they were held in in the tales. Gala was certainly proving to be something else than the animal-loving idealist that she had been portrayed as in the Challengelore.
"I'm hungry," Gala proclaimed. "I haven't eaten in five centuries and now that I have a stomach again it needs to be filled."
"There's plenty to eat around here. I am going," Chiapos said brusquely.
"You don't need me around any more and I am going crazy just waiting around here. I have got to get back to the other side."
"Aren't you going to take me with you?" she cried out with surprise. "You're not going to leave me in this forsaken world, are you?"
Chiapos turned his back on the woman. He was being eaten up by all manner of competing emotions. He had been hurt by Gala yet she was the iconic woman from the Challengelore. He had a strong desire to get back to the Land With Time and yet he felt an equally powerful motivation in remaining with her. "Why would you seek the company of someone you believe has violated you?"
"Because you are all that I have got, Chiapos!" Gala responded.
"Listen, I don't know that you can even cross over the Divide. For all that we know, you will return to stone as soon as you reach our world," Chiapos decided to be frank. "You have waited so long to be alive again. You cannot risk having it all prove for naught only a few short sleep-filled days afterwards."
Gala did not respond immediately. This caused Chiapos to turn around and face the woman. He expected to see her fighting back tears with the stark realization that what he said might be true . Instead, he saw that there was nothing but a firm resolve in her eyes and chin. "For all we know," she began with a trace of suppressed fear in her voice, "For all we know, this world will all come apart once you cross the boundary. It is a world that mirrors our own at precisely the time that you entered this side of the Divide. Outside of people, everything here is what it was on the other side at the time you came to this world. Once you get into our world, everything here just may disintegrate and what would happen to me here then? My newfound freedom will just vanish as if it never did happen."
The ancient woman was very astute in her reasoning. She just may be right. Chiapos had no real response for her. He simply just didn't know. "This world is beyond my ken, Gala. I don't know what to say. Samarin was here before me. I entered this world at a later time than he did yet I found him here."
"That should tell you that time does move on the other side when you are here or else from your Samarin's point of view, you should never have entered this world," Gala pointed out.
"And Brucar and Cherite have gone back and forth across the Divide many a time since I have come here. And Scanga Groes and Sworrel came here after me. That should not have happened if time did truly stand still here," Chiapos tried to reason. This was all too confusing to him. He was surprised that he had never dwelt on this question before in all of the 'time' that he had spent here.
"I think that what we have here is an alternate reality, Chiapos, where the rules of Nature are not those of our world."
"So, what this tells me Gala is that this world will survive even if I cross over to our world. You will not simply disappear once I am back in the Land With Time," Chiapos said, too exasperated by trying to make sense out of the Land Without Time.
"And what it tells me is that you cannot be absolutely certain that I may become stone again if I attempt to go back home," Gala proclaimed. "And all this food for thought is not satisfying my hunger. I could have been eating my fill of berries while we were having this hopeless conversation. There's this one bush up there where I used to be that I have had my eye on for decades. I always thought that they would be the best tasting blueberries in the world but I never had the chance to try them out. Now is my time."