The Fire Within: Part Nine
Only a few hours after Yardly emerged from the Magma Pool, Marbelle decided it was time to storm Moltara City. Unlike the Font, which had multiple access tunnels, there was only one route to the city. The longer Andesite had to warn the Mayor of Marbelle's attack, the more heavily fortified the bottleneck would become.
Only a few monks were left to hold the Font, the locals were too scared to mount any kind of rebellion now Igneot was gone - and in any case, they were the kind of Moltarans who believed against fighting in the Font under any circumstances.
The rest of Marbelle’s monks marched upwards through the tunnels towards the city, wading across the rivers of lava as if they were streams. Yardly, as Marbelle had demanded, was up near the front. Now he was magma, she could sense he had been telling the truth about Igneot honestly overpowering him. Yardly had acted quickly to admit handing the lock pick to Andesite - though he maintained that the exile's actions were his own and not part of Yardly’s plan. This, she believed. After all, if he had been lying, she would be able to tell in an instant now.
About a mile from the tunnel’s exit into the city, they came across the blockade - steam ships had been towed across the tunnel, blocking it completely, while machinery, Marbelle’s scouts reported back, was littered on the lava bed to prevent them swimming underneath.
There were Moltaran soldiers on the decks of the ship - armed with water cannons. Designed to harm magma Neopets specifically.
“I am Commodore Birkin,” a voice rang out from one of the ships. “You are denied access to Moltara City by the authority of the Mayor’s office. Turn back now or face the consequences.”
Yardly could sense someone on the ship - someone familiar. Andesite, was it?
“You cannot stand against us!” Marbelle shouted, waving over her shoulder at her monks.
They began to use their magic... or their knowledge of the magma, whatever it was, to alter the tide of the lava river, moving the ships and causing them to bang against each other.
On the ships, they unleashed the water cannons, and Marbelle gave the order to submerge - below the surface, the water could not touch them. Yardly followed, his eyes instantly blinded by the lava, but his new senses compensated.
Through the Daken Nar, he could see Marbelle and the other monks swimming beside him, and the position of the ships thanks to Andesite and a few other exiles being aboard them.
The current in the river was increasing thanks to the monks, and Commodore Birkin seemed to have ordered a retreat back to shallower lava as the boats were slowly moving away.
Marbelle emerged back to the surface with the others.
“We have them on the run!” she shouted. “Charge! Let them feel the torment of the fire!”
She rushed forwards with a small group of bolder monks ahead of the main group, swimming faster than they could catch up with.
Something was wrong about this, Yardly thought. This was too easy - the Mayor had days to prepare, and a few ships was all he sent to defend the entire city?
Yardly reached out, and though the Daken Nar he felt something. Andesite was worried - worried if the plan would work.
“Marbelle!” Yardly shouted down the tunnel. “It's a trap! Turn back! It’s a trap!”
Marbelle paused to look back towards Yardly, but the other monks she had been swimming with carried on forwards. And then it was all too late.
In the distance, they heard Birkin yell, “Now!”
And then suddenly, the world became an explosion of noise and rock. The miners had been hard at work, Yardly realised, digging side tunnels away from Moltara City. Tunnels right next to the main one that they had filled with explosives. Now they had detonated them, and brought the main tunnel down with them. It wasn’t the only path to the surface, but it was Marbelle's only route to the city. They were sealed off from their first victims.
The rockfall stopped just short of where Marbelle was. If Yardly had said nothing, she would have been its victim.
“Back to the Font,” she declared. “Everyone, back to the Font.”
Yardly was called to Igneot’s old tent a few hours after they returned to the Font. He found Marbelle standing behind the floating ball of molten rock as the Gnorbu once had.
“My scouts have reported back,” Marbelle said. “It is worse than we feared - the city tunnel was not the only one targeted. Every single supply tunnel we have was detonated at the same time. We are cut off from the surface completely.”
That would be a disaster for a surfacer. Down here, a few days without water would be lethal. Magma Neopets would be able to survive though. Food would be scarce, but there were animals down in the depths they could hunt.
“A drastic solution from the Mayor,” Yardly commented.
“No doubt one meant to deal with me, as well,” Marbelle said. “If you hadn’t discovered the trap and called me back, I would have been buried under that rubble, Alex Yardly. You saved me when it would have suited your previous employers to entomb me.”
“Perhaps that will finally convince you that I mean what I say,” Yardly told her. “Now that you have shown me the truth of it, allowed me to feel what you feel, I have come to agree with you. I saved you because I am on your side.”
She nodded, there was only truth in his words, she could tell.
“I was wrong about you, Alex Yardly,” she said. “And for that, I apologise. I wish to offer you a reward. Voices like yours should not be silenced. I would have you travel to the Shining Chasm. Add your voice to the song.”
“A surfacer?” Yardly asked.
“You are a surfacer no longer, Alex Yardly,” she said. “You are one of us now, and always will be. While you are gone, we will begin excavating one of the shallower tunnels. We are no miners though, and the collapses seem complete. Excavation could take years.
“Then I will return as quickly as possible to help.”
Yardly had one of Marbelle's monks guide him on the path to the Shining Chasm - his new senses were good, but as with Andesite, he was not sure which of the tunnels remained or which ones now lay in ruins.
They made good time, arriving at the marble gates the following morning. The old guards were gone, replaced by ones from Marbelle's followers. Clearly, she feared the others would side with Igneot and allow him to return to the fold.
They wordlessly allowed him entrance, using their ways to active the lava within the gate and open the great doors. Yardly’s guide left him at the gate, insisting that the first walk should be taken alone.
At last, Yardly emerged out of the tunnel into the diamond chasm. The glittering sight was as impressive as ever, but it took an entirely new quality now that Yardly was in possession of the Daken Nar. The whispers assaulted him all at once, like a wall of not-quite sound. He could feel them, reflected in the prisms of the diamonds, the heat of the souls that had passed through this place in generations present and past. The emotions of them all overwhelmed him, and like Andesite before him, Yardly broke into silent tears.
As he listened, he thought he could pick out individual imprints. There was Andesite, he realised, and behind his whisper there was almost an echo. A record of the previous time he had visited the chamber. This Andesite was younger, and it seemed full of hope and desire for adventure. None of the regret that the older Andesite's whisper had been tinged with. There, another whisper, was Igneot - stoic and peaceful as ever. There were countless echoes for his whisper, one for each of his visits. Each time growing fainter, but the core of the man never changing. It seemed that Igneot had always been destined for the path of the mystic.
And there, storming through the chorus of the whispers was Madame Marbelle. A sour note in the choir. Her whisper, too, had echoes of a number similar to Igneot. But there was a change in them. The first started peaceful and young, almost similar to Igneot’s. But then, with each new whisper, an anger boiled within her. Increasing each time until eventually it was a gentle whisper no longer. It was a scream of rage.
Yardly recoiled from the song as if struck by some force. There were secrets unfurling in his mind. Secrets he had hidden deliberately. But now he remembered. Marbelle's rage had triggered something, and the plan came to the front of his mind.
He felt the weight in his pack. Two items he had completely forgotten about. Deliberately forgotten about. He reached out with the Daken Nar to find the presence he knew would be there - Igneot. He needed to find Igneot.
So far below.
Yardly realised he was waiting at the bottom of the Chasm. Sitting in the song, absorbing every note. Yardly only hoped he had enough rope in his pack to abseil down into the darkness.
He focused his mind as Marbelle had taught him. Meditating and separating himself from the Daken Nar. In an instant, he was gone, fallen off the grid.
He reached for the first item - a white paintbrush.
It was time to rid himself of the Moltaran facade. Time to end it all.
To be continued…