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J.A. Aarntzen

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The Redeemer Part 31
By J.A. Aarntzen
Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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Recent stories by J.A. Aarntzen
· The Redeemer Part 33
· The Legacy of Hickory Robinbreast Part 30
· The Redeemer Part 32
· The Lucky Shirt
· The Legacy of Hickory Robinbreast Part 29
· My Name is Space
· The Legacy of Hickory Robinbreast Part 28
           >> View all 143


After his incident with the Hand of the Law, Chiapos is advised that he should remain in the Land without Time and learn everything about it before he returns to his own world.

Reunion

 
As a creature of the gale, Chiapos could directly experience everything that he travelled through but he had no senses in any manner that were familiar to him. As the incarnation of the wind, nothing could move faster than him, and he had the ability to sweep across vast swaths of countryside and arrive at any destination swiftly and secretly. No one ever suspected the wind as a harbinger of any motives, yet within the molecules that comprised him, he was laden with motives. 
 
He might have finally escaped the Tanejulians but his mission was far from complete here on this side of the Divide. He had come here to retrieve the Redeemer and he had not done this. Everything else on the other side, in the Land of Time, hinged on his bringing the Wood of Faerie triumphantly across the interdimensional ford that bridged the two existences. The Aura in Ascension, Martok, had to be vanquished before all of Mallog’mor’ach was wrought in the blight of his grim vision. It was not vainglory for Chiapos to feel that he was the world's only hope to bring down this foul demon. The Redeemer was desperately needed to give the Rainwaterman even the remotest of chances of accomplishing his noble quest. 
 
Then there were personal missions that needed to be brought to successful closings as well. Many lives of friends had ended in the Land of Time. He wanted them back in the world of the living. He wanted Laulo and Sjorud back. These companions could have been already ruthlessly slaughtered by the pompous Scanga Groes and his assistant Sworrel if the evil pair’s words rang true . He wanted Cherite, wife of Brucar, back. She may lie dead on that dismal beach facing Martok's Keep. And then there was Chyna, lifelessly imprisoned by the nefarious Dark Aura, Chyna who was Martok's personal challenge to Chiapos to take up battle with him. He wanted her back. He held only the slightest of hope that the Hand may have been lying about Dedication. Scanga had said that he had unceremoniously devoured the buffalo's heart. But if the Hand lied, then he might be able to save Dedication as well. 
 
All of this needed to be accomplished, all things that were beyond the capability of the wind.
 
Using his changeling abilities from this world, the invisible swirl of air coalesced into a shape that he guessed was human. Instinctively, he knew that he did not take the shape of his true self, he did not know what that shape looked like. But as familiar vision came back to impress his mind, he saw that he had the torso and limbs of a human.
 
With his eyesight returned, he once again looked upon the place that was so far away and yet was here, his treasured Rainwater. This was land not despoiled on either side of the Divide. This was land that was more him than any shape that he had assumed since coming to this world. It was land that was part of him and land that he longed for more deeply than he had ever longed for anything else in his life. The small, meandering slothish moving creek, nameless on both sides of the Divide, twinkled at him and almost begged him to return to its lazy banks and live the carefree life that was the birthright of every Rainwaterman. Why young men and women would want to answer the reckless beck of the Challenge when they could never find anything more life ingratiating than this little covey Chiapos could not answer. At this moment there was no point to anything else other than to return to the real Rainwater. 
 
His eyes moved gently across the swaying landscape and saw the inherent gentleness of everything here. There was nothing obtrusive, the creek was not broiling or moody, the hills were not rugged and prone to bare their rocky fangs. This was a place of serenity and peacefulness; a place not imbued with any rage or hostility. There, was the spot that Straye's father, Stapos, had chosen to make his home. There, was the site where the village elders had picked to make the grand architecture of their abodes. Nothing in Tanejul was as simple or as blended with nature. And there, was his family's house. There Mother Lepti had died and there Father Chakka lives with the rest of his children, all the children who were wise enough not to embark on a journey that would lead them nowhere.
 
His eyes fell upon the bodies of Scanga Groes and Sworrel. Their battered figures were like an abomination on the scene. He felt no remorse in what he had done to them. They deserved what they got. Scanga Groes had caused nothing but death and misery all of his life and his own death could never be payment enough to undo what damage he had caused. But there was some anxiety stirred in Chiapos upon seeing the dead man. Brucar had said that they were not truly here on this side of the Divide. This was a dreamworld in a sense. Did the death of Scanga Groes in the Land Without Time necessarily mean that he was dead in the Land of Time? This caused him consternation as well as a slight hope that perhaps Samarin was alive on the other side. Only time would tell. He could not go to the other side until he found the Redeemer.
 
But first, he decided that he could not leave Rainwater with this desecration upon it. He had to bury the bodies only just to get them out of sight and to purify his vision of the place that he called home. For some reason, he found himself beginning to dig the graves on the very site where his home was on the other side. It was a choice that he had made unconsciously. Perhaps since it was him that had possibly caused the ruin of the true Rainwater, it was only fitting that the seeds of that destruction be laid to rest in the spot where was the source of their germination in the Land of Time. Had he not gone to Tanejul and brazenly flaunted his healing talents, the village would not have incurred the wrath of the Hand of the Law.
 
The soil was rich in nutrients, its dark brown colour and its soft texture was a pleasure to the senses and it did not offer any struggle in giving up its resting spot to Chiapos's hands. He could see why his father had chosen this site. It was very amenable to being worked. The mound of dirt grew steadily higher as he plugged away at the chore he had set for himself. Now and then, he would come across dew worms and earthworms, diminutive cousins of one carnation that he had chosen for himself on this side of the Divide. Having shared their worldview he no longer regarded them as insignificant and he took care not to injure them or to despoil their habitat.
 
As the hole got deeper, there was something just barely past the reach of his consciousness that harkened him and urged him to keep digging. It was something that he hardly even noticed, yet his hands kept tearing away at the dirt long past the point where he had sufficient depth to bury the two fallen Tanejulians. He was obeying this subconscious yearning and spent a great deal of time at his work. He soon had to bodily climb into the hole himself to continue at the excavation. It was becoming obsessive to him and he was starting to realize that it was so, yet he continued and did not give himself a moment's rest.
 
About two hours later, the soil had given way to a hard, clammy, cold clay. He was more than three times his length within the warren that he was creating when his fingers finally started to scrape something other than the clay. At once, the receptors at the tips of his fingers recognized what it was touching. It sent this message quickly and certainly to his brain.
 
The Redeemer!
 
It was the Redeemer! The Wood of Faerie that had eluded him for so long ever since Samarin had stolen away with it along the Highwayman’s Trail - many, many lifetimes ago. It was the Redeemer! Chiapos could not believe it!
 
He could not dig any longer for an insurmountable wave of joy swept over him with more force than he had employed in the incarnation of the gale to overcome Scanga Groes. Even though he no longer had the physical capacity to produce tears any more, Chiapos could swear that he was crying. 
 
It was his Redeemer! 
 
It was here in the very place that he made home on the other side of the Divide. It now seemed like he should have known that it would have been here all along. He renewed his efforts and eventually pulled from the clay that knobby, twisted piece of wood that he had so fortuitously stumbled upon way back when in the Tester after that night of sleep in the trees. He had said back then that he would call the stick the Redeemer because it had failed to break his fall from the boughs and that it had to redeem itself. And redeem itself it did many times over, saving him from a perpetual doom in the bowels of Mount Corvyx and showing that it possessed the wild magics that could only be harnessed by one who was in transformation from the mortal coil into some supernatural entity. 
 
And when it was taken from him, he had never felt such a loss in his life. The Wood of Faerie was integrally part of him and doing without it was a source of hardship for him ever since. Then to learn of the historical significance of this Wood made him want it all the more. Sjorud had warned him to beware of the spell that it had cast over him, that it could only represent corruption to his spirit. At this moment, Chiapos could not see it as corruption but only as redemption, redemption not only for himself but redemption for the entire Land of Time.
 
Then at long last, the Redeemer was in his hands! He marveled at it and wept for it and was run amok with oceanic feelings of gratitude that fate had finally saw to it to reunite him with it.
 
"What are you doing down there?"
 
Chiapos could barely hear the words, his mind was still so transfixed by the Wood of Faerie but as he looked up the hole into the skies above, part of it was obstructed by a friendly and familiar face. It was Brucar peering down. At his side was his beloved wife, Cherite, no longer in the form of a dolphin but in the heavenly form that she had first appeared to him. It might have been a trick of the light but to Chiapos, he thought that both the Sovereign and Cherite seemed to shine. There were silvery haloes emanating from each of them.
 
"Brucar!" Chiapos chimed, holding the Redeemer above his head to show the Sutherlanders.
 
"I see that you have found the Wood," Cherite said while wiping away the hair that blew into her face.
 
"I certainly did! I am so happy, I can dance!" the Rainwaterman rang and to show proof of his elation, he started moving his feet back and forth in a traditional village step used at the summer solstice in Rainwater.
 
"You might be happy, but you certainly can't dance!" Brucar laughed. "You have dug yourself into quite a deep pit. Want a hand getting out of there?" The Sovereign extended his arm to show an offer of help.
 
"I don't need any help now. I have my Redeemer, it will get me out of here!" Chiapos held the Wood of Faerie above his head in much the same manner that he did within Mount Corvyx when he first discovered the magical properties of his staff.
 
True to its precedent, the Redeemer started to lift the Rainwaterman up. His toes gave up their hold on the clay bottom of the pit and Chiapos began to slowly and gingerly drift upwards. A moment later he cleared the hole that he initially dug as a grave for Scanga Groes and Sworrel, rising past Brucar and Cherite and letting the currents of the wind that was blowing the hair in the Sutherlander's face lift him higher. 
 
Chiapos was in sheer ecstasy, allowing the ancient magics of the Wood of Faerie be his guide to the ether. He had never seen his home from a birds' eye view and its serenity reached up to him and enveloped him in the most heart assuaging way. Below him, Brucar and his wife seemed to share in his happiness for they laughed and started to dance themselves. Even though no sound was audible to the ear, there was music in the air. The Sovereign, himself was not much of a dancer but Chiapos had never seen anybody move their body so whimsically and poetically as Cherite. She truly was a dancer.
 
At long last, Chiapos descended to join the two ancients. He landed rather roughly, misjudging the speed of his descent. When his feet touched down on the mound of soil that he had excavated he felt a slightly painful jarring on his soles. He never gave it any thought but it was at this point that subconsciously he realized that he would no longer be a stranger to pain. The potion in the vial had managed to undo some of Cenan’s magic.
 
Cherite rushed up to him and said, "Let me see your Redeemer."
 
The Rainwaterman clutched at it and would not hand it over. Something in him said that he should never part with it again. And remembering that the Hand and his aide, Sworrel, had travelled in the guise of the Sutherlanders, his suspicions once again reared up.
 
Cherite was nonplussed by his reaction. "I just wanted to have a look at its quality. I wasn't going to take it from you."
 
Brucar took his wife under his arm and said to Chiapos, "Sometimes the clays have a deleterious effect upon the Wood of Faerie. Cherite only wanted to see if any rot might have set in on your Redeemer. That is what brought us here."
 
Chiapos eyed the two ancients carefully. He still wasn't sure if they were not imposters. He had never seen haloes emanate from them before. "You knew that it was here?" he suddenly barked when the Sovereign's words had sunk in.
 
"Of course, we did. We buried it here," Brucar answered.
 
The elation that he was experiencing only moments ago had dissipated into a fugue of suspicion, anger and the feeling of being wronged. "Then why did you allow me to spend all that time hunting for it?"
 
"You should have known that the first place that you should search for anything is your own yard!" Cherite responded.
 
"We only placed it there once we learned that those two had entered the land," Brucar explained, indicating the bodies of the two Tanejulians. "We wanted to make sure that their evil hands did not fall upon the Wood so we stole it from Samarin as he slept one night. We thought that you would eventually think of looking for it in your birthing place." 
 
"Besides this is the Land Without Time. It does not truly matter how long it took you to find it for nothing will have changed in the world that you belong," Cherite added.
 
"Those two damned near killed me!" Chiapos cried. In his heart he was satisfied that Brucar and Cherite were who they appeared to be. "Why didn't you try and protect me?"
 
"Things turned out all right for you, didn't they?" was all the response Brucar gave to that charge.
 
"We knew that you were capable of looking out after yourself. You are the Prophet and the Chosen, you have all the necessary skills to ensure your own survival," Cherite smiled.
 
Chiapos saw that the Sovereign himself was smiling as well. At that moment, they were the two most beautiful entities that he had ever beheld. "Things did turn out alright, I guess," he mumbled. "But I still have so much to do. I have to get back to my world."
 
"Now, that you have your Wood, you should fare well," Brucar commented. "You will find your exit from this world at the May Shores."
 
"That's what Scanga Groes said," Chiapos turned his head and glanced at the two dead Tanejulians. "Are they dead in my world as well?" he asked.
 
"You will discover that yourself," Cherite answered enigmatically. She nodded her head and the bodies of the two wicked Tanejulians that had held him in a painful captivity for so long disappeared into the air. It would have been an amazing feat had Chiapos not himself earlier done a version of that trick himself when he had turned himself into the wind.
 
"What of Samarin? Will I find him alive on the other side of the Divide?" Chiapos asked. He hoped that he would.
 
"I am afraid that that one is lost forever. For you see, he was genuinely here on this side of the Divide. He has no counterpart in the Land of Time," Cherite replied. "He did redeem himself in the end though, so it is too bad." 
 
Chiapos felt a genuine sadness that the highwayman was dead. They had shared the same path for so long and now he was gone. He knew that he would miss the man.
 
"The Hand told me that they butchered the members of my little party - dear Laulo, Sjorud and Dedication. I guess I will discover the truth to that myself too, eh?" Chiapos felt a dread run through him. He was afraid of finding out that the three members that he had left asleep back in Martok's Keep were beyond rescue.
 
"You are not the only one with the healing powers, Prophet. Your comrades are very much living and have been instructed to rendezvous with you at a meeting place that you will discover on your own," Brucar said in a manner that seemed like a promise.
 
"But Scanga Groes ate Dedication's heart! Without a heart the poor beast cannot live!" the Rainwaterman cried.
 
"You must learn to be more creative in your healing arts, Prophet!" Cherite smiled once more. "Your Comptode Buffalo, as you call it, is very much alive."
 
At once Chiapos thought of his countrywoman Straye and Chyna's brother, Everan. Maybe he could save them as well.
 
"Maybe," said Cherite. She had read his mind.
 
At the words, a new jubilation sprang into Chiapos. Laulo, Sjorud and Dedication were all alive! And Straye and Everan could live again! He was overwhelmed with a joy that did everything but produce a tear in his eye. Because of Cenan, this was one thing that he could not produce.
 
"What about you?" he looked at Cherite. "Are you no longer dead either?"
 
"Life and death are foreign notions to beings like my husband and I. You need not worry about me," Cherite responded, stepping forward and giving Chiapos a kiss on the cheek. "But thanks for showing genuine regard."
 
Chiapos felt a tad uncomfortable about receiving the peck. Brucar showed no concern whatsoever. "We manage quite well on our own," the Sovereign added. "We have lasted millennia and we should last many more."
 
"What kind of beings are you anyway?" the Rainwaterman could not help but ask. "Are you Auras? You show such remarkable skills."
 
"We are not Auras or any other kind of spiritual being. We have an existence that runs tangential to what you can understand," Brucar said. "I could explain it to you but I am afraid that you will not comprehend what I tell you. Just think of us as the ancient folks of Sutherland."
 
"Don't think of us in terms of good or bad either," Cherite said. "For we are neither. You might see in our actions a bit of both but what we do is beyond your ability in measuring morality and ethics. Just think of us as basically good for we do not bear any of what you may call evil intent for you or your kind."
 
Chiapos was not getting any meaning out of what was being said. He felt in his stomach that there was nothing to fear from the Sutherlanders. "Tell me, are you able to fight the Aura in Ascension yourselves?"
 
Brucar chuckled. "Interesting question. What do you think honey? By the way, I love you."
 
"You idiot!" Cherite smirked. "You don't even know what love means. As to your question Prophet, can we fight the Dark Aura? I guess we can if we have a quarrel with him but we really don't have any dispute with him. As long as he leaves our Suzerainty alone, we really don't care what happens elsewhere. So it is not our battle to fight."
 
"But you must have a quarrel with him! He threatens everything. He will upheave even your world!" Chiapos crowed.
 
"We are beyond his realm as he is beyond ours," Cherite answered. "He cannot enter this world and what he does to our Sutherland in the Land of Time can eventually be undone by us."
 
"You must have noticed that we were not too concerned about you finding your Redeemer here on this side of the Divide?" Brucar said. "We knew that you would eventually find it, even if it was in the remotest, darkest spot underneath the ocean. For in this Land Without Time, anything that has a low probability of happening will eventually happen. It is a mathematical property of chance that I do not think that you are capable of understanding."
 
"Don't sell me short, Brucar. I have been exposed to mathematics on my Challenge. But don't bother trying to explain it. I found my Redeemer and I guess that proves you right so I will take your word on it that the Dark Aura can't touch you." Chiapos was growing weary of the conversation. He had his Wood of Faerie in his hands and he felt nothing but the urge to get on with his Challenge and to get away from this strange detour through the Land Without Time. He needed to get on the other side of the Divide.
 
"Don't be too hasty in trying to get back to your world, Prophet." It was almost like Cherite had read his mind again. Was this another power that the Sutherlanders held? "Remember that hardly any time has past over there in the world from which you hail and no matter if you decide to take ten years travelling this world, still next to no time will have past over there."
 
"You have had some heavy and demoralizing experiences of late, you should give yourself a vacation, Chiapos," Brucar advised. "Take it easy on this side for a while until you feel that you are ready to take on your challenges. Then cross the Divide. Trust me you will be thankful that you did."
 
"You may be experiencing some of the blessings of immortality in that you are no longer dependent upon your body to give you energy. But you are still a victim of mental stress and that could cloud your thinking. Let me tell you that you are still going to have to do some very clear thinking when you take on the Rascal," Cherite offered her opinion as well.
 
"I feel fairly assured that you will overcome your obstacles, Prophet, but I implore you to make the best of your time here in this land," Brucar reiterated his advice. His warning?
 
"And when your obstacles no longer exist, promise us this that you will return the Wood of Faerie to this world. It belongs here," Cherite remarked. "It will do no good if it remains on the other side past its time of utility there."
 
The Sutherlander was beginning to remind Chiapos a lot of Sjorud. It seemed that everybody was concerned that the Redeemer was having some form of negative effect upon him. He enjoyed the Wood of Faerie. It made him feel complete. But as he thought about it, he realized that if and when Martok falls, what use would he have for the Redeemer. So in the end, he agreed to this condition, "I promise to return it here. Maybe I will come here to live myself, I am sure that somebody who lives forever on the other side would eventually become a nuisance to those that don't!" he laughed.
 
Brucar and Cherite joined him in his chortling. All was well between him and the two Sutherlanders. "You are always welcome here, Chiapos of Rainwater," Brucar said. "As for now we will no longer keep you. I am feeling a particular fondness for my Wife Number Three and I think that my intentions for her should not be witnessed by anybody else."
 
"You idiot!" Cherite squealed. "How could you say something like that in front of a stranger?"
 
"I have had all of eternity to declare my love for you but I am afraid that that is not enough time for me to properly convey the intensity of my feeling for you, my immortal beloved."
 
"Will you stop!" Cherite swatted her husband across his chest.
 
"I think that I should be going now," Chiapos giggled nervously. He did not want to watch what was going to happen between the two Sutherlanders.
 
Brucar had swallowed the struggling smaller Cherite in his arms.   The lights emanating from within each ancient's body began to fuse and meld into one glowing light.   "Remember take our advice, have yourself a holiday."
 
"And maybe we will see you again someday here in this world," Cherite added. She held Brucar's nose in her hands trying to inflict some pain to deflect the Sovereign's amorous advances. Their single halo was intensifying in its brilliance making it very difficult for Chiapos to actually see them.
 
Before the Rainwaterman parted company with them, he had one nagging question left at the back of his mind. It was a question that begged asking. "Tell me, before I forget, do I look like what I did on the other side of the Divide? Ever since I did my first shapeshift, I have never been able to return to my original form."
 
"Oh, you are as ugly as you were before, Prophet," Brucar joked.
 
"You have regained your persona, Chiapos of Rainwater. Maybe your reunion with the Wood, has allowed you to find yourself." Cherite acknowledged. Then she and her husband were overtaken by the light that was glowing from within them. Chiapos could no longer see them at all and he knew that they were gone.
 
They were odd beings, he thought. They seemed to be as far removed from reality as beings could get. What mattered to everything else in the world did not matter to them. Their purpose was altogether foreign. They were more creatures of the Land Without Time than the world on the other side of the Divide. He was very grateful that he had met them. They had aided him immensely in their strange manner. He was set on the path that led to the Redeemer by them and they had looked out for him in a peculiar way when he was at his greatest peril from the Hand of the Law. He liked them very much - Brucar, Cherite, Jeyud and Maelin, and he truly hoped that their paths would cross again. If everything goes well, he vowed to himself that he would return to this world and be in their company again.
 
Brucar said that he believed that Chiapos would overcome his obstacles. This instilled a solid basis of confidence within the Rainwaterman. He hoped that among all the other powers that the Sovereign of the Suzerainty of Sutherland possessed was the ability to be presentient, the ability to see into the future. Why didn't he ask them if they had this power?   He laughed, for he was certain that if he would have asked this question, he would have received some ambiguous response that would shed no light to him whatsoever on the matter.
 
 
Decade
 
 
With the disappearance of the Sutherlanders, Chiapos did not feel alone. He had his Redeemer and it seemed to fill any void left by the absence of others with whom he could interact. The Wood of Faerie somehow managed to keep his mind occupied as if the staff was relating to him a long list of promises that it swore that it would keep for him. With the Redeemer, he was feeling somewhat invincible, a strange feeling in that he had never really felt invincible before even with all of the magic powers that Cenan had bestowed upon him through the milk of her breasts.
 
He allowed the sun to settle over his Rainwater setting. It was a scene he had witnessed countless times in his earlier days. With the gloaming, the many families that made up his village would all be at their respective homes making and having dinner. The smell of wood fires would permeate the air. Added to the burning wood would be the aromatic blends of the meats sizzling in the hearth. The air would not be quiet, as there would be the myriad sounds that are produced by a human community - the crying of the newborn, the loud voices of the hard of hearing and of those trying to accommodate them. Some households seemed more prone to bickering than others, but that was the way of any gathering of people no matter how idyllic the surroundings. It would disturb the peace but it would not rupture it. As the final lights of the sun would try to illuminate the eastern hills of Rainwater, Mihec and Whendi, the eldest couple of the village elders would emerge from their homes and start to place the day's hewn wood upon the large central firepit at the Commons. This would signify that another night of story telling was soon to start. Mihec and Whendi would then start the thumping of their small drums. The other village elders would one by one emerge and join in the rhythm with drums of their own. All of the ambient sounds in the households would gradually begin to simmer and the people would come out singly or in family groups and make their way to the modest but natural amphitheater that surrounded the firepit. Any squabbles would be left back in the homes. When the drumming came to an end, everybody would become focused on listening to the stories that they had heard hundreds if not thousands of times over. Some eyes would watch the storyteller, some would idly watch the dance of the flames in the firepit and the insects that drifted by attracted by the light, while others would be drawn to the heavens and roam lazily through the fantastic gardens of the stars and planets. The Challengelore. How he yearned to hear just one tale from it spoken in a voice other than that from what he heard in his mind.
 
It was a beautiful night here in the Rainwater of the Land Without Time. Perhaps as beautiful a night that one could ever wish for yet Rainwater belonged to people and he missed not seeing any here. He started to think of the Sutherlanders’ advice about not rushing back to his own world and that he should stay here as long as he desired to get himself mentally prepared for what was to come. It made a great deal of sense for it truly did not matter on the other side of the Divide at all how long he was gone. Nothing would change there. Maybe this was his opportunity to get himself entirely acquainted with all of Mallog’mor’ach, all of its topography and all of its flora and fauna. This might prove to be very useful on the other side when fighting the Aura in Ascension. It was certain that Martok would be intimately aware of every detail that made up Mallog’mor’ach. That could give him a great advantage if Chiapos did not seek to equalize it.
 
Yet it was the people more than anything else that needed to be known about Mallog’mor’ach and the Land Without Time was not going to give him any profound new insights into humanity. The knowledge of humans and their ways would be tantamount in waging war with the enemy of the land. Chiapos was not sure how much Martok would know about the people. But if he had been wandering the land since time immemorial as a young wastrel he would have gained probably more knowledge than any Rainwaterman would have amassed even if the villager was equipped with all the ken garnered from the Challengelore.
 
Still he could not let this opportunity of learning everything that was needed to be known of the physical Mallog’mor’ach and its nonhuman inhabitants slip out of his hands. He decided that he would travel the entire Land Without Time and study everything that was there. As the night grew to its height in this Rainwater, Chiapos rose to his feet and using the Redeemer as a trusty walking stick, he embarked on his journey of discovery.
 
As time was measured mentally by a living being, an entire decade elapsed as Chiapos wandered throughout all of the lands that made up this Mallog’mor’ach before he returned to his Rainwater home in the Land Without Time. The only place that he did not venture near was the May Shores. He feared that if he went to that whimsical locality, he might be tempted to make the crossing of the Divide before having learnt all that he could learn of the island that was his world. He had learned a treasure trove of knowledge about this world in his ten-year trek.
 
There was hardly a species nor a breed of animal that roamed upon this land that he had not grown acquainted with during this journey, whether the creature walked, swam, crawled or flew, he had come to know them all. With many of the species, he had actually shapeshifted into their form and interacted with them for a period of time. He ran through the mountain country of the far north of Mallog’mor’ach with the saber-toothed smilodons and cougars and with the goats and sheep. From being both a goat and a sheep in the high alpine territory, he became a master of pedal balance and surefootedness. He was able to judge terrain and make valid hypotheses on what kind of rock outcropping would support his weight and what would give way. From the smilodons and cougars, he was able to add stealth in the way he could traverse a rugged forested countryside with a minimal amount of noise being produced by avoiding stepping upon crackling errant debris upon the ground. The mountain lions also showed him how to overpower larger game by quick and purposeful blows accompanied with an understanding of the locomotion and agility of their prey. This being the Land Without Time meant that no creature fed upon another, but this did not preclude these creatures from playful wrestling antics which would on the other side of the Divide eventually lead up to a kill. No kills here in the Land Without Time.
 
The fishes of the lakes and streams were his mentors in a diverse range of skills as well. As a walleyed pickerel, Chiapos garnered the ability to work within a group to maximally harvest a goal as these fish lived in schools. One disadvantage for him here was that the pickerel had a hierarchy based on size and because of the transformation laws that applied in this world, he could not take on a mass of anything smaller than himself. He was the big fish in the school of walleyes and was thus accorded a priori rights to anything the school had driven out in its foraging behaviour. It was teaching him to be a leader but he needed to know how to be a follower as well. As a slow mustering sturgeon, Chiapos was able to develop the tenacity to defend a territory and how to drive out anything that came within his bounds, including the very school of pickerel that he had previously been a member.
 
He had taken on many reptilian forms from a host of different turtles, terrapins and tortoises through to scores of species of snakes and serpents. He even spent some time as the caiman that could only be found, and only rarely at that, at the southernmost tip of the Entity Islands several hundred miles below the island continent of Mallog’mor’ach proper. He had migrated to this distant place in the cetacean shape of a right whale. As a reptile, he learned how to be patient and how to be explosive and how to meld himself into the surrounding environment and to become indistinct from everything else within the niche.
 
He had been practically everything in this world. In the whole ten years that he was the wanderer he had never come across any living human beings. He had come upon the body of his departed friend, Samarin. Decay had taken much of the man's former mass and try as he did, Chiapos could not restore life to him. He spent nearly a month endeavouring but too much time had elapsed and too much of the once great highwayman had decomposed sending the elements that the Rainwaterman needed in the healing process forever away. Cherite had spoke of creative healing but this skill eluded him. Hopefully, it would surface within his hands if and when he finds Straye and Everan. 
 
It saddened him immensely that he could not revitalize Samarin but there was a reality to face here and that was that death was not always escapable. Eventually it will become the victor. He wondered if death would always elude him though as he set about the grim task of burying his friend. Having none of the systems working within himself that sustained life, he was in a sense dead already. But his existence could not qualify as an afterlife, he was not free to leave the coil of the Earth behind him. He could not travel upon vistas of other planes of consciousness. He was still very much a part of the world that he knew when he was able to breathe and eat and drink. Whatever he had become or was becoming could not be classified as being alive in the traditional sense of the word nor could it be classified as being dead under the same traditions as well. Maybe afterall he had escaped death and would become an anachronistic being like Cenan and the Sutherlanders.
 
In his decade long travels, he did not encounter Brucar or any of his wives. He was not visited upon by the vision of Cenan and the Mammoth of the Tester. Anything in a human form did not cross his path save poor dead Samarin and the reflection of himself in the waters on those occasions when he had not shapeshifted into another living creature. The very first morning of his ten-year trek, he had come across a pool of perfectly still water, the sun was shining bright and his image was precisely cast in the pond. Having not shapeshifted as of yet, he memorized his form for Brucar had said onto him that he had found his true self and that was what he saw reflected back at him from the pool. He had made it a necessity for himself that each time he returned to his human form that he would seek out some body of water and ascertain that he was not veering from his appearance. And through this entire mission of learning, he was able to perfectly return to his true self each time. 
 
He also discovered another affect of Cenan's milk that he had never considered before. When he had entered Tanejul, Chyna had given him a haircut that would not make him conspicuous in the city. The Tanejulian men wore their hair shortcropped whereas Rainwatermen rarely barbered their locks. In all of the time that had elapsed since then to when he had crossed the Divide, his hair had not grown at all. Neither did his fingernails and toenails. More signs that he was dead he had to wonder.  He assumed that in the period he actually spent in the Land Without Time, his hair would not grow at all anyway. It did not particularly please him that he would forever bear the resemblance of a Tanejulian rather than a Rainwaterman. His heart was with his village and not with the city.
 
After a decade of roaming most of the four corners of Mallog’mor’ach and having tasted life in the eyes of a host of different creatures, he still did not feel that he was entirely omniscient of what there was to know of this world. To discover everything would in all likelihood require immortality and even then there would be knowledge that would find a means to elude the student. Ten years was enough for him and he was starting to grow impatient to return to his own side of the Divide. He looked about the timeless Rainwater one last time and found himself praying that he would once again come back to this world where humanity did not belong. This was a cathedral to nature. It was the kingdom for all those that did not desire to place any utilitarian purposes on it.
 
He spent one last night sitting at the amphitheater that served as the meeting grounds for his people on the other side. They would be reciting Challengelore that was out of date for they would not have the great epic tale of Chiapos as of yet. He doubted very much that any preliminary stories of his adventures had reached Rainwater as of yet. But it was conceivable that some merchant from Tanejul had travelled to his little village and started talking about this great Healer who had come to the city and performed the most miraculous of deeds. Perhaps this merchant even might have known that the Healer was from Rainwater. The more he thought of it, the more Chiapos started to believe that this might have indeed happened. Merchants and travelers from Tanejul, although very infrequent, were not entirely unheard of in the village. Maybe even now, as Mihec and Whendi, the two village elders were stoking the fires, there would be tales of the last two chapters in the Challengelore. He did not know how he felt about this. It would be nice to know that they were thinking of him and marveling at what he had accomplished but it would also be very nice to have a fresh set of ears to listen to the tales. Since there were no new Challengers in the days of his youth in Rainwater, he had never experienced what must have been a very thrilling evening when a new tale was given its inaugural recital around the fire. Yet, he hoped very deeply that someone had gone back and told of the heroic adventures of his predecessor, Straye. He did not know much of her Challenge and would eagerly want to listen to it. She had died horribly in the hands of Scanga Groes and then had her heart eaten out by the diabolical Martok. If he could not save her then her entry into the Challengelore would indeed be a very sad addition to the great stories and it would be a melancholic end to them. For her and for the rest of the people of the village, he had to come out of this Challenge living and able to give his fellow villagers a grand new chapter to the agelong history of Rainwater. And with these noble and albeit egocentric, vain aspirations, Chiapos stood up and starting making the walk westward to the May Shores.
 
His thoughts were still engaged in imagining what was happening in Rainwater at precisely this moment in time. It only occurred to him as he crossed the village's creek and made his way up the knoll that there would not have been any recent Tanejulian merchants in Rainwater because of the fierce winter storm raging all over those lands. The Challengelore would still be composed of the tales that he had grown familiar with. His name and Straye's were only works in progress for the age-old incantations.
 
The distance between Rainwater and the May Shores was said to be more than a season's walking. This was not so much because of the distance as the crow flies between the two places but rather due to the rugged volcanic Fire Mountains, which he had first seen from the Sky Tunnel. They acted as a veil to the mysterious May Shores. Some of the stories in the Challengelore spoke of when the tallest mountain in the chain, Mount Taulkine, blew out red hot burning lava from its crater for a period lasting nigh on a century. Not all of the Challengers that braved their journeys during this time had made it. A young Rainwaterwoman of nearly six hundred years ago, Gala, had been unfortunately covered by a hail of acidic volcanic ash and had turned to stone along the eastern slopes of Mount Taulkine. Her eerie, forlorn figure had been seen by many a Challenger since that time. It was even said that roses grew from her stoney form in the spring when the winter snows began to melt. Gala appeared that she was not even aware of what befell her because there was a smile on her face forever frozen.
 
If the terrible winter storms that were ravaging Tanejul had also descended upon the Fire Mountains, Chiapos was sure that when it was his fortune to pass the statue of Gala, there would be no roses growing upon her. He might not even see her for she could easily be buried in the alpine snow and ice.
 
He was three days out of Rainwater when his eyes could see the purplish shadows of the very distant Fire Mountains in the Land Without Time. He wondered if those spires that seen from this vantage seemed not so frightening were frothing with lava and ash on this side of the Divide. Everything was gentler here. There was no reason to think that the volcanic violence from his world would be in evidence on this side. As he gazed upon the jagged mountainous horizon, he could pick out the one that was called Mount Taulkine. It stood so much taller than the others. From what he could see of it from here, it strangely had the outline of a horrific lizard. It was like a dragon he thought. Had he seen this silhouette before, he would have visited upon Samarin in that shape rather than the obtusely silly giant chameleon form that he had chosen. Even here in the Land Without Time, Mount Taulkine had a foreboding that told trespassers to beware. It would not tolerate anything or anyone trying to conquer its peaks. In his world, this very mountain might at this moment be spewing its rage over the lands on a monumental scale never before witnessed by anybody living or dead. If the Aura in Ascension was its master, this could no doubt be the truth. He felt himself shudder at the prospects. His ten-year travels of the Land Without Time had been a period of tranquility and learning. Nothing had scared him. But now as he was embarking on his trip back to his world and was given innocuous precursors of what to expect, he began to question the wisdom of making his return to the other side of the Divide at this present moment. Perhaps, he was not ready.
 
But what could harm him he asked himself. And he realized that nothing in the physical world could hurt him but there were things out there that could cause him the severest of pain. Scanga Groes and Sworrel had shown him that he was not immune to everything. He still bore a vulnerability and he could be sure that Martok would be testing his weaknesses thoroughly. He clutched at the Redeemer, trying to draw strength and resolve from it to continue. Together, he and the Wood of Faerie had conquered Mount Corvyx. Surely, Mount Taulkine would fall to him as well.
 
What separated him from the Fire Mountains were steppe lands somewhat similar to the prairie lands from which Chyna hailed. However, where that country was dominated by sedgegrasses, this land had scrubby bushes that came up to about his waist or chest. These bushes were not friendly plants at all since each was adorned with hundreds of extremely sharp thorns and they were so densely placed that it was practically impossible for him to avoid having his skin shorn by them. There were many miles of this type of vegetation ahead of him, all of it unbroken. The Challengelore spoke of the Fields of Thorns. Only few had dared to cross them and fewer still that had actually survived the ordeal.   These fields had taken their toll in Rainwater blood as witnessed by those that had died bleeding to death from these excruciating bushes that showed no mercy to any whom dared them. Of those daring Challengers that had survived the Fields of Thorns, their bodies were forever more severely lacerated and bore hundreds of terrible scars. Marchebet the Snake who was Thedden's great great grandmother was so called because of a long serpentlike scar that ran from her waist to her feet that she obtained in these Fields. Thedden was the Challenger that Sjorud knew in his youth. It was hardly any wonder that most of the tales of the Challenge of Rainwatermen who had visited the May Shores had chosen the sea route as opposed to dealing with the Fire Mountains and the Fields of Thorns.
 
Chiapos, after only several hundred yards of putting up with the thorns snagging into his clothing and his skin, had to wonder why he had not chosen the sea passage to the May Shores himself. Why was he putting himself up to this ordeal? He had two bonafide methods of escaping this drudgery and it was drudgery to him as he felt no pain from the devilishly pointy thorns or did he bleed from where they had broken his skin. His first method was to have taken the sea route and the second was to just shapeshift himself into a thunderbird and then just sail easily over these fields and the mountains up ahead. But he chose to not employ either method as he saw these thorns and those peaks as a chance to mentally condition himself to deal with what surely would be tougher rigors on the other side of the Divide. Plus he had to prove to himself that he could withstand as much grueling punishment as Marchebet and the other Challengers who actually survived this feat without the aid of immortality.
 
His immortality was put to the test in that even though he did not bleed, his skin could still be torn and ripped by these nasty pricks. In the fortnight that it took him to finally get to the other side of the Fields of Thorns, he had to resort to his healing powers at least twenty times to fix up ligaments that were no longer giving him support in walking. This was somewhat disconcerting to him since it showed that he was not completely oblivious to the consequences of the physical world. If and when the Dark Aura became aware of this vulnerability of his he felt assured that there would be knives and axes along his path that were meant to shred his body apart. Hopefully he would not have to face such a fate.
 
Even the Redeemer showed that it was not impervious to the savagery of the thorns. Many of the sharp points had lodged themselves into it as Chiapos made his way through the scrub brushes. After removing them on as many occasions as he had to attend to his own physical condition, he could not help but notice that there were dozens of pockmarks in the Wood's surface and that in a few places, splinters had actually broken off of the magical staff. Hopefully these would not have any effect on the Redeemer's great properties.
 
It was a miserable time for the Rainwaterman. He could not think of any other place in all of Mallog’mor’ach as accursed as the Fields of Thorns. The Fire Mountains, which were looming very nearby, could not be as mentally depressing and overwhelming as this terrain that he had just crossed. If he could at all avoid them on the other side of the Divide, he would do so. There was something in his gut that told him that this was not going to be the case. He feared that he was not saying farewell to the Fields of Thorns for a last time.
 
 
Still an Existence
 
 
The foothills of the Fire Mountains lay just ahead of him. To get to them, he would have to first traverse a very deep and treacherous canyon. Here, in the Land Without Time, there was nothing that would aid him in making the crossing. On the other side, the Challengelore spoke of a stone bridge that had stood for as far back as the heraldic stories went. This bridge, which was somehow never damaged by the ravishings of the volcanic eruptions over the ages, spanned the gap and shortened any trip across the canyon to an afternoon’s hike. Without the bridge and if he did not transform himself, Chiapos was looking at at least a three-day struggle. He would have to be constantly vigilant about his footing. His experience as a mountain goat would come to an advantage crossing the canyon. Yet, as he scanned down into the deep gully with its hair-turn passages, he could not see any mountain goats or any mountain sheep perched on any of its outcrops. Perhaps, these creatures did not dare the dangers of the canyon. Perhaps, he should pay homage to their wisdom in making this choice. If they did not want anything to do with this great and severe rent into the earth's crust, why should he have to engage it in all of its trickyfootedness peril?
 
Afterall, on the other side of the Divide there was a bridge that crossed it. There would be no need to carefully edge down the gorge risking sudden and fatal falls over there. Why should he put himself to that risk on this side? And given the added time this dangerous trek in his journey to the May Shores would take, it did not warrant having to undergo its ardours when it was so easily forded through a simple shapeshift. He had a subconscious nagging that this was cheating but he chose to ignore that niggling and laid the Redeemer upon the ground.
 
A few short seconds later Chiapos was a thunderbird once again. That great majestic avian form was the first shape that he had chosen when he first learnt about his ability of mutating his body upon arrival in the Land Without Time more than ten years ago. He had chosen this powerful eagle-like body several times in the time that had lapsed since then. It was clearly his favourite. He lowered his neck and in his beak he took hold of the Wood of Faerie and then he took wing over the canyon, his flight being aided by the powerful updrafts emanating from within the gorge. There was a spectacular bit of scenery below him with the winding and deep gouges torn through the land by a river that had a meek appearance but the demeanour of a voracious hungry carnivore. The sun glinted off of the churning waters of this river beneath him.
 
In only a short measure of time, he was past the canyon and felt no more guilt about having taken the easy path. That was in the past now. In fact, now, that he was in the shape of the thunderbird, he convinced himself not to revert back to his human form in getting past the Fire Mountains. He would remain in his present form. It was simpler flying over the volcanic chain rather than dealing with their treacherous and possibly volatile slopes. He rationalized that once he got back to his world, he would no longer have the luxury of shapeshifting. Transforming one's form was such a gift that it would be folly of him not to revel in the supreme pleasure that he derived from it.
 
So, aided by the warm air currents from the gorge, he began to soar upwards with the terrain chasing after him in that same lofty direction as the land lifted upwards to form the eastern peaks of the Fire Mountains. These were not the tallest mountains that he had come across. Those found in the northwestern quadrant of Mallog’mor’ach rose to dizzying heights and would have dwarfed the Fire Mountain peaks twofold over. Yet those northern mountains, where he had lived the life of mountain goats and sheep, did not possess any ominous pretensions the way these Fire Mountains did. He could sense a brooding presence within them that may at the moment be asleep but once it was aroused it would show the disposition of a quarrelsome badger coupled with the power of a Comptode Buffalo. These peaks' counterparts in the Land With Time, his world, may indeed be awake at this very moment, spreading their venom and their rage upon those poor miscreants that were misfortunate enough or foolish enough to live in their vicinity.
 
Mount Taulkine now was directly ahead of him. The brooding presence that touched the periphery of his mind from the other mountains in this chain was now a full-blast of mental intrusion upon his thoughts. Even here in the nonaggressive Land Without Time, there was such a terrible menace emanating from this mountain, that Chiapos had to wonder if indeed the long truce of peace between the pacific elements of this world and those violent earth shattering and landforming elements was coming to an end. There was a steady veil of smoke and steam climbing from the top of Taulkine's spire and there were low, deep grumblings churgling from within its core. It almost seemed like this volcano was going to erupt. If it did, could it be a sign that the Aura in Ascension was at long last capable of casting his evil design upon this world? This world was presumably protected by the mantle that was created by the Mammoth of the Tester. The thunderbird almost feared to think that this could verily be the case. He couldn't get past Mount Taulkine fast enough.
 
He was just nearing the summit of this threatening mountain when something caught the corner of his huge raptor eye. Something for only the briefest of moments gleamed along the eastern face of Taulkine not far from the very top of the old crag. At first, Chiapos chose to ignore it. He wanted to put this mountain and the rest of the gloomy chain behind him. But then there was that sparkle again from the very same place. Even with his highly attenuated vision, he could not tell exactly what was making this reflection. His curiosity got the best of him and he tilted his long wings and began to make a slow arc high in the alpine air, his head fixed on that spot where he had seen what he thought was something shining.
 
It was shining no longer and all that he could make out of the place where it had seemed to emanate was a sheer face of sharp, igneous rock whose ebony constitution was highly reflective in itself. The sun must have been playing tricks with his eyes for there did not seem to be anything there at all. Adjusting the spread of his wing, he was still capable of capturing the significant updrafts that surged powerfully up along the mountain. This allowed him not to have to flap to gain velocity for his climb.
 
Although much of it was obscured from the steam emanating from within it, the top of Mount Taulkine was jagged and broken looking. It must have been a taller mountain at one point in time but it had blown its top off at some frightful time in history in some major violent volcanic explosion. He wondered how much taller it could have been if this would not have happened. He wondered how much of the summit would be destroyed in the next cataclysm that this mountain would upheave. Even here in the Land Without Time where there was a benevolent static timeline, it did not truly seem that Taulkine was playing in tune with the rest of this world. There was a definite rage brewing within its conical shape and it would not be at all surprising if it did erupt. With his safe distance in altitude, Chiapos could see the red palpitations of fiery lava spurting from the mountain’s top quite regularly. It occurred to him that the Mount Taulkine in the Land of Time must have been erupting about the same instant as he crossed the Divide into this world. Save for the absence of humans, the Land Without Time seemed to be in a synchronization with all of the other geological factors that made up its sister world, the Land With Time. Perhaps, if he had crossed over the Divide a day later the whole layout of this world would have been different from what he had experienced. It was an interesting hypothesis and one that he hoped to present to Brucar at some future meeting.
 
If this hypothesis was true and if there was no tampering by a malevolent creature such as Martok, then it could be safe to assume that Mount Taulkine would not erupt on this world. Still given this hypothesis and the fact that nothing physical could harm him due to Cenan's Milk, Chiapos still felt the greatest of unease concerning the mountain. He had to get past it.
 
Then, just as he swept by the southern face of the snarly, grumbling peak, that sparkling flash that had caught his eye earlier was catching his eye again. This time it wasn't brief, this time it twinkled steadily and what was more, it was twinkling in a precise pattern. On for two beats, off for one, on for two beats, off for one. Only something intelligent could concoct such a rhythm, no natural phenomenum could instigate that pattern. There was something familiar about the beat, something that reminded him of Rainwater nights when the drumming of Mihec and Whendi would arouse the village to come gather for the recital of the Challengelore. That ‘on for two beats, off for one, on for two beats, off for one’ pattern was precisely one of the rhythms chosen by one of the ancient Challengers.
 
This was very peculiar to Chiapos and as much as his mind told him to get away from the mountain, there was something tugging at his familial heart that begged him to turn around and investigate. 
 
This was the Land Without Time. No time advances in the Land With Time while he was here in this world. Nothing harmful could naturally occur here. The animals did not even feed upon one another. Mount Taulkine was not going to blow its stack here. There was absolutely no logical reason for him not to investigate what was making those pulsating flashes. He arched his wings.
 
This time he would not satisfy himself with a cursory, long distance scan of the location where the pulses of light were generated. This time he flew directly towards the igneous outcropping with its ashen, glassy rocks declaring that they would slice open any foot that decides to fall upon them. As he began to swoop down towards the outcropping, the light pulses stopped. When he got to within a hundred yards of the outcropping, he could see that there seemed to be a cave or some form of covered depression within the black rocks that he wasn't able to see from his earlier higher elevation.
 
There inside this shallow cave was something that entirely surprised him, something that he had not expected to see at all on this side of the Divide.    It was a human artifact. It was a life-sized statue! From his angle, all that he could see was most of the upper torso and the head of the stone figure.    The detail was incredible and very lifelike. It was almost like someone painted a charcoal coating over a living person. The statue was of a young woman.
 
At first, Chiapos thought that the figure was of a Malagan just like the great statues comprising Martok's Keep which was the only other working of men on this side of the Divide. Yet as he landed at the maw of the shallow grotto, he could see that this creation did not wear the garb that Brucar and his wives had worn. Rather, the woman wore the very plain shift common to what the women wore in his Rainwater. The statue's eyes appeared to be made of a very crystalline stone and it was these that must have caught his attention way up there in the air for they were very sparkling.
 
How did this statue get here he wondered? It was altogether a most illogical place to set a piece of art way up high on volcanic Mount Taulkine. Whoever put it here would have had to contend with the extremely treacherous igneous outcropping with its almost frictionless surface and its sharp cutting edges. Even in his thunderbird form, Chiapos was finding it difficult to maintain any kind of footing. He had to flap his wings on occasion just to maintain his balance. Why would anybody risk his or her life putting a sculpture in such a precarious place? The placement was obscure and partially hidden from the vista below in the rugged terrain separating Mount Taulkine from its neighbouring peaks. Nobody would be able to see it clearly from any place other than where he stood now. If it was some religious artifact or shrine to inspire worshippers, there were better locales upon the mountain face where it could have been situated. There were no worshippers in the Land Without Time, so the whole thing seemed very pointless. None of it made any sense. He would have to ask Brucar about this one too.
 
He took one last look at the statue. It was so odd that she appeared to be dressed like a Rainwaterman and that the pulsing of the reflection from her eyes had harkened him to remember his evenings in the village listening to the Challengelore. Two pulses on, one pulse off. Two pulses on, one pulse off. That was someone's signature, someone of the distant past.
 
Then it struck him.
 
Of course!
 
It was a statue of Gala, the Challenger that had been turned to stone on the face of Mount Taulkine when the volcano had erupted in the distant past.   Two beats on, one beat off, two beats on, one beat off was the rhythm that was played on the great drums of Rainwater on any night when this ancient Challenger's forlorn story was to be told.
 
But how would a statue of Gala get here in the Land Without Time? If it were a statue at all? A shudder ran up his avian spine as he thought that maybe underneath the stone shell, the real Gala was to be found. The thought was entirely revolting to Chiapos, it seemed to him that this was an abomination to the Challenger's memory, to be forever perched on the side of a threatening volcano. Gala was remembered as an extremely delicate and sensitive human being and to look upon her as an ossified stone rebuked the man underneath the thunderbird form.
 
He would not have this. He transformed himself into a Comptode Buffalo and with some tricky footing he worked his way behind the statue. He felt a pall of gloom reach out to him from the black cave behind him. This feeling dissipated when he returned his attention to the sculpture. He was struck by the eyes. Even though they were made of stone, they seemed to be alive and to be following his every move. Once behind the artifact, he lowered his massive bovine head and through the brute power of his neck and shoulders, he toppled the stone figure of his ancient ancestor onto its side. It was at the edge of the sheer abyss that it had overlooked for so long.
 
Once the base of the figure was upon the smooth igneous basaltic rock, it began to gain speed and started sliding recklessly down the outcropping. The top of the statue tilted over and before it crashed into a thousand pieces against the rocks far below, Chiapos heard a scream come from the stone figure.
 
He did not imagine, he definitely heard it. It was the mortified scream of a terrified human woman. The shriek ended abruptly with the crumpling and shattering of the stone against the face of Mount Taulkine. The myriad of pieces that once formed the statue tumbled down to the bottom of the mountain.
 
Chiapos was in abject horror. He did not know what he had done. He was sure that that was a scream that he heard. And if it was actually Gala and not a carved likeness of her, he had killed her. Could it be possibly that she had been still alive in her volcanic ash encasement? Nothing was beyond the realm of the credulous in his life any more. He was capable of shapeshifting, he was capable of living without the need for air, food and water. It was entirely feasible that the ancient Gala may still have been living.
 
What a miserable existence that must have been? Locked away in a stone shell and perched at the mouth of a small cave upon the face of a gloomy, irritable mountain. But it was still an existence and now he had obliterated that life forever. If he lives to return to tell his tale at the Commons amphitheater in his village, his Challenge would be tainted by this act. He could go on and save the world but his name would be always a dark mark in the nightly tales for what he had done to Gala. He could heal every woe that ....
 
Heal.
 
He was the Healer. He wondered.   Could he do it? He had pieced together Samarin when the highwayman was in the form of a shark. Perhaps there was the knowledge of a sculptor hidden within his hands as well.
 
But the remains of the statue were scattered haphazardly down in the gorge below him. How would he ever find all of the pieces to fit it back together again? It was an impossible task, he thought, but an idea occurred to him. If the statue had truly contained the living Rainwaterwoman, there should be a remnant odour that perhaps could be sniffed out by a bear or wolf or some other creature with a superior olfactory system. The scent of a human was such a rare thing in the Land Without Time that anything containing its smell should be easily detected by one of these creatures. 
 
He transformed himself into a wolf and scurried down the mountainside. Travelling on four legs made the downward trek not near as hazardous as it would have been had he been in his natural state. Almost immediately he picked up a human scent amid the smattering of vegetation that tried to eke out a living upon the side of Mount Taulkine. In no time at all, he had gathered up the bulk of the smashed stones that at one time made up the likeness of his ancestor, Gala. Thrice, he searched the area and in the end he was satisfied that he had accumulated all of the pebbles and stones and shards of the statue.
 
Shapeshifting back into his human form, he looked upon the amassed heap of rubble. None of it in his eyes fitted together. It seemed to be an amorphous, incongruent lot but he knew that it could be assembled back into what it was once the Healer within him ascended. Once again, he had trouble trying to get himself into the right frame of mind where his hands would take over unconsciously and perform their wizardry and reinstate that what was broken. Then, as every other time that he needed to summon his healing powers, his hands started working automatically and independently from his mind.
 
His eyes watched in amazement as the rubble was transformed from a random pile of stones into the likeness of the very statue that he had destroyed before. Everything was fitting together perfectly. He had had some concern that along the fault lines where the statue had splintered, there would be missing material in the form of dust. But this did not seem to be the case. The sculpture was being recreated. When his hands stopped working, the statue of Gala from Rainwater was whole again.
 
But it did not seem to possess any life within it. It was only the likeness of life and Chiapos began to question himself about this whole exercise. Perhaps the wind had played a trick on him up there near the summit and made him think that he had heard the scream of a human when in fact all that he heard was the wind's wild banshee cry. Still, if this statue was nothing but a statue, Chiapos still felt pleased that he had restored it back to its initial form. What had gotten into him to make him want to destroy it in the first place? The sculpture was a testament to the bravery and ultimate sadness of Gala of Rainwater. To have left it completely destroyed was an insult to her memory

       Web Site: Storyteller on the Lake

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