IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!
Wednesday, April 1, 2708
We keep on because we must. (We kept on because we had no choice.) Alysha not only mothers these soldier-waifs of hers, but fathers them, too, getting as stern with them as she has to—because they won’t find any food lingering up here, not on this stony slope. (Father left us no choice, going out sailing, day after day, leaving us alone together for so long, staring across the shimmering silver in vain for him, faces into the cold, salt wind. But, “Try to understand, Wallace. We won’t find fish in our cupboard by magic.”)
I try to pull myself together, hold my back stiff, my head up, and act like the miles without food don’t gnaw at me—because, prisoner or not, I might well be the only adult that these children have, for miles around. Lovequest does not stop with a chain. (I smooth my robes and hold myself straight and firm, because a headmaster must stand in for a father.) Jonathan would’ve said so. (Terrible, terrible things happen without a father.) When Kiril stumbles and just stays there, tottering on her knees, I hoist her up onto my back and keep on going.
April 1, 2708
April Fool’s Day--wouldn’t you know it! Thank you, hotel calendar. Thank you, Time, for your cruel sense of humor
The transcriber smiled and shook her head, once she had puzzled out and typed the notes squeezed in between the date and the text of the next entry. Then she frowned and bit down hard on her fennel-flavored toothpick. She reminded herself not to pay that much attention.
All on my own now, huh? Well, I can do it--I'm an agent of the Tilián and I know a thing or two that we wouldn't dream of teaching the Purple Mantles or anyone like them. Like me, whatever. First I just need to recollect myself a little, though, take a day or two to figure out my options. The room I rent is bare, but clean enough; I can stay here for awhile.
Look at this stuff, brown and just a little murky, like dirty water good enough for your mule but not for you, but I drink it all the same. Even though it hurts I drink it. I have reached the point where I no longer have to force myself. I have to force myself to abstain, through most of the daylight hours, but shorter and shorter an interval every day. I think I need it, now.
Although I still haven't achieved the bliss of blackouts, this magic potion at least numbs the memories, or rather edits them down to what I want. I think often now of that final dance of Deirdre's, recalling nothing but the beauty, her braids flying about her in innocent abandon, the sparkle of her sweat. I see her dress float about her again, I see her every graceful move replayed in slow motion before my heart, the dove-light foot as it drifts so gently down to brush against the earth, the flexion of the toes as it springs back up again. I can sit for hours just sipping chaummin and remembering the good times, anaesthetized to any grief that they have gone forever from my life.
I do not forget the gravity of my mission, however. I will drag a certain kidnapper down to Hell. I carry a coal of Hell in my belly solely for this purpose, hot as all my hatred for this fiend that destroyed my life and Deirdre's. Someday I will find him and incinerate him.
No plans come to me tonight. Tomorrow, maybe. I mustn't rush things, I must get it right the first time. I have a time limit on me, now; whatever else I forget I mustn't forget that.
Look out there, at the waning moon. Curse-time, my grandfather used to say. Vendetta time. You do your best killing on the waning moon.
Then my grandmother would interrupt and say it's useful, beneficial, a time to kill weeds, mildew, germs, roaches, time to strip away dirt and pretensions and excess weight. God made no evil thing, she'd say, heaven forbid you should ever givethe boy the wrong idea about that! Grandfather would just sit there, bent in upon himself, eyes glinting inthe dim-lit room.
And then, of course, my family's enemies slew my grandparents, too, just as they had my parents before, and I wound up sent asan orphan to Til Institute. Granny did as her religion taught her to, forgiving with her last, bubbling breath. I never forgot that. I wanted to keep that much with me, whatever religion I eventually chose.I cannot help but sigh, thinking about my family. Granny couldn't possibly understand me anymore.
Alysha, Marduk, and I carry the smallest children on our backs. I feel an old woman's edema in Kiril's ankles; she dozes against my head, the chain fallen from her fingers and draped over my shoulder. Lufti stares quite awake from Marduk's back, though utterly limp, his dark, dark eyes as wide as wounds in something slain. Branko mutters deliriously about chocolate over Alysha's shoulder, and sometimes reaches weakly for Marduk's curls, but the hand never gets very far.
Damien keeps us going, hoarsely trying to sing all the songs he's ever learned, in unfocussed snatches, a crazy-quilt of heroes and heroines, villains, forces of nature, spirits and treasures and mortal weapons, none of it making any sense anymore, only the folk melodies roughly segueing into each other as Kanarik stumbles alongside him, leaning into his shoulder. For some reason I think, "Dancers need strong muscles" when I look at her pipestem legs as they shove her stubbornly forward, not allowing Damien to carry her outright. Didn't the Ancients use to starve their dancers, to accentuate each movement of the limbs like spare strokes of the calligrapher's pen? Oh, would that she merely starved by choice, an aesthetic decision!
All by himself Rashid struggles under the weight of several other children's packs, though small enough in his own right, his eyes stupefied and his mouth slack-open, flies buzzing around his brow for sips of his flowing sweat. Another strange image hits me, this time of a penitent struggling under a weight, a stone on the back for every sin. But what would so young a child have to repent? We have gone past Good Friday's heavy cross and out through Easter; the only stones we bear are brightly-colored pebbles, far too small for Easter-eggs and hardly any weight at all.(Someday I will become a magician and fly over these mountains, and no weight will hold me down. Someday I will so purify myself, by penitence and fasting, that I shall become a levitating saint. Someday I will...someday I will rest.)