The Flowing of Kobalo
Also available in ePub format.
From the center of the small lake, a geyser shot crystal water high into the air. Several wooden buckets sat clustered at the edge of the water where they might catch some of the spray from the fountain. Martin breached the surface of the lake. He used a moment to look to where Cynthia and Jeff were playing with a number of children before diving back below the surface. The crystal water was warm and filled with bubbles that tingled against his skin and made viewing anything difficult. He swam against the push of the water from the fountain and was thrown toward the surface. At the surface, he gasped for breath and got more spray from the geyser in his mouth than air. Sputtering and coughing, he began to swim toward where the children still played and the water buckets were still ignored.
The lake became shallow enough for him to stand and wade what remained of the distance to the others. Cynthia noticed him approaching.
"Tell us a story, Martin!" she shouted, and the children quickly took up the chant.
Martin tilted his head slightly to one side and gave Cynthia a grim smile over the repeated demands of the children. Cynthia burst into laughter. Martin cupped his hands together and filled them with water, which stayed in a globular mass between his fingers. There was no effort required to hold the water together as he threw the mass at Cynthia. She covered her face with her hands. The water hit and burst like a balloon.
"I have already told you a story," Martin said. "It should be your turn to tell me one." He looked back toward the geyser in the middle of the lake. "What about the fountain? Is it caused by water heated underground?"
"No," answered the chores of children.
"Then what is it?"
"The fountain is our life," one of the older girls said. She looked about and then shrugged her shoulders. "Have you tasted the water?"
"More than I intended to." He placed a hand over his stomach.
The children giggled.
"Then you can feel it?" the girl asked.
Martin smiled and nodded his head.
"The fountain was created!" another one of the children said. "The fountain was created when Thorne killed the monster!"
"The monster," a young boy said. "It died, and Thorne commanded it to stay in the ground until the monster could throw all the water out of the lake."
"But the water falls back into the lake," the first girl said. "No matter how hard the monster tries, it can never empty the lake."
"Wonderful story," Martin said, and he led the children to where their buckets had been discarded. "Now, I think it's time to help the monster and take some of the water back to your families."
The children collected the wooden buckets and ran back into the lake. Picking up the last bucket, Martin joined the children and filled it with the crystal water. He found Jeff and Cynthia standing beyond the edge of the lake; Cynthia had draped a towel over her bare shoulders.
With the children struggling along behind them with the buckets, Martin began to walk away from the lake. The carpet of grass felt furry under his bare feet and spread out before them in swirls of blue, yellow, red, and purple. Sort of surrounding the lake in an elliptical orbit were scattered a number of houses, and between many of the houses were pitched tents made from a transparent cloth.
The children began to scatter toward their various homes. Martin walked to where a fire had burned the night before in a pit and was surrounded by several sleeping bags. Robert and Vicki sat next to the pit and were shaving wood to be used for a fire.
"The locals really like your stories, Martin," Vicki said and pointed with her knife to where food had been set upon a sheet.
Martin placed the bucket of water next to the offering of food.
"There's more here than yesterday," he said, and a smile spread across his face. "Another day or so, and we'll have to start giving it back."
"But we don't want to make them mad," Cynthia said.
Martin turned toward where a towel rested against his sleeping bags. He sat next to the sleeping bags before removing his still damp swimming shorts.
"Not all of the families here have food."
Cynthia began to collect the wood that Robert and Vicki had cleaned into a pile. Martin noticed that she still wore only the towel, which was large enough to reach almost to her knees. The towel had started out as a black field and looked as though someone had decided to paint fire onto it.
Martin turned away from Cynthia to look for the sun and found it low in the sky behind the fountain. The spray from the geyser caused the full circle of a rainbow to appear around the sun.
When he finished putting on dry clothes, Martin moved to the fire pit and began to place some of the cleaned wood into it. Cynthia took the last branch from Robert and Vicki, and she placed it where the rest was stacked. Jeff gave them cloths, which he had dipped in the bucket of water so they could clean their hands. Martin went back to his sleeping bags and took a small yellow rock from a box in his pack. Returning to the fire pit, he scraped the rock against another rock over the wood. Sparks danced when the rocks came together, and liquid light dripped onto the wood. There was a flash, and the wood caught fire. He placed the yellow rock back in its box and joined the others around the food.
"What have we learned about this place."
"They worship that fountain," Robert said between mouthfuls of bread.
"Yes," Martin said. "I heard a slightly inaccurate version of the story of the fountain's creation from a bunch of children."
"Which says something about the adults around here," Cynthia said. "The hero Thorne thrust his spear into the heart of Kobalo." She held her hands before her chest as if she had been struck by a spear. "The blood gushed out of the wound, and Kobalo fell to the ground. Kobalo died, and the blood continued to flow. Thorne caused the body to become the land, and the gushing blood became the fountain."
"Thorne must have removed his spear," Jeff said as he looked at the lake. "Those kids were right about the fountain meaning everything to them. It is their life, fortune, healer, and even their oracle. They say the fountain has a voice if you know how to listen."
"Some of the people have traveled a long way to drink the blood of Kobalo," Vicki said and chose something sticky from the pile of food.
"The fountain is that famous?" Martin said.
"Wait until you hear this." Cynthia wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand. "The smith, whatever his name is, decided that the water had to come from somewhere."
"Oh, yes," Jeff said before she could continue. "Smith didn't like trudging all the way to the lake for water, so he decided to dig a well. But he never found water."
"All anyone knows," Cynthia interrupted him, "is that Smith sealed up the well and has never tried to use it since. When the story got around that the water comes from nowhere, people started flocking in from everywhere."
"Well, the locals are happy," Robert said. "I even found the Cat for the tourists."
"I'm not convinced that the locals are happy," Martin said; his laughter had died away completely. "They seem on edge. Anyone notice?"
"A little," Cynthia said nodding her head slightly. "They put on a good false face."
"They act almost as if the Umberaught is festering here."
The sounds of the crackling fire seemed to grow louder. Martin realized that it was nearly dark. He looked to where the sun was in the processes of setting behind the fountain. Among the tents, people were lighting or had already started fires, and lights shone from every window of every house.
Martin looked toward Vicki. Her eyes darted about almost as if she did not want to interrupt the voice of the fire again.
"I thought that Willow always warned us where the Shadowlight was growing."
"She has never failed to do so. It may be nothing, but I want to do a little shadow hunting tomorrow."
"Don't you mean we will do some shadow hunting tomorrow?" Cynthia put her hands on her hips.
"You can listen for rumors that might fit." He swept a hand about to indicate all of them. "Strange noises coming from one of the houses. Children screaming in their sleep at campfires. That kind of thing. But, don't ask any direct questions."
"And why not?"
Martin crossed his arms over his chest and gave her a long steady look. Cynthia stuck her chin out and returned his gaze.
"Because we don't want to frighten anyone." His eyes did not waver from her unblinking gaze.
"We could always investigate the local Cat." Robert's voice was replaced by the sound of nervous laughter from Vicki.
A smile spread across Cynthia's lips, and then she slowly turned her head to look toward Robert.
"It's best to investigate the Cat last unless you plan on staying there all day," she said.
The others laughed.
"I could be chasing smoke instead of shadows so please be discreet with your questions." Martin looked at the traces of smiles on their faces. "We don't need to start a panic."
The others nodded their heads in understanding. He then turned to check the fire and make certain that it would burn strongly throughout the night. Jeff covered what little was left of the food, and everyone moved to their various sleeping bags. As Martin pulled his own covers around himself, he noticed Cynthia on her hands and knees next to Jeff's sleeping bags.
"We don't need to visit the Cat," she whispered so softly that Martin had to strain to hear her.
The covers parted, and Cynthia sank into the sleeping bags. A moment later, the black and fire towel she had wore was thrown through the air and landed near where Martin lay. He turned away from the fire and looked once more at the fountain. The water shimmered white as if there were a light at the bottom of the lake. He heard murmured voices from Jeff's sleeping bags but could not understand what was said if they were words at all.
The stars filled the darkness of the nighttime sky, and the sliver of the moon set behind the fountain not long after the sun had disappeared. All of the fires around the lake continued to flicker and give off a reddish light. None of the houses became dark, and finally Jeff and Cynthia were quiet.
Martin turned so that he could see once more around the campfire; Jeff's sleeping bags were still while Cynthia's own bags lay empty and undisturbed. The night grew darker as Martin watched the red light of the fire shine across the others asleep among their covers. The stars appeared dimmer and more faded as if clouds were passing through the sky far overhead. Darkness crept around the corners of his vision; Martin blinked his eyes and shifted up onto his elbow. The light from the other campfires blurred, and the stars began to wink out of view. He looked at the campfire as it died down and beyond the fire to Cynthia's empty sleeping bags.
The fire sputtered but did not go out; he noticed that behind Cynthia's sleeping bags the darkness was thickest. By the dim light of the fire, Martin could see something reflected in the darkness. He felt the covers slide away from him as he raised himself onto his knee. Across the fire sat something made out of darkness that stared back at him. The thing of shadow grinned and raised hands that were too big to be human. Martin moved into a crouch as he watched the shadow's claws rend Cynthia's discarded sleeping bags.
Martin stood. The shadow leaped over the fire. It barreled into him. They tumbled backward. He pushed with his arm. The shadow was thrown through the air. Martin spread his awareness back to the campfire. The others slept, but Cynthia stirred under his touch. He pulled away from the camp.
Icicles of pain pierced his arm. Martin pushed at the hand there. The shadow towered over him. It grabbed his other arm. Martin struggled against the cold. The ground lowered below his feet. He looked into a face that resembled Cynthia. The mouth opened too wide and revealed sharp fangs. Martin tried to kick at the shadow's body. The face moved toward his own. He wanted a fire in its mouth. A small flash revealed a pointed tongue.
Martin hit the ground. The shadow's hands covered its mouth. He rolled away from it. It turned its head and spat a glob of light. Martin jumped to his feet. The face jerked back toward him. A mockery of Cynthia's hair flapped about the head. He turned and ran. He looked over his shoulder. The shadow was running after him, and the campfire receded behind them.
Martin tripped, and the grass clawed at him. He got to his hands and knees, and the shadow reached him. The kick pushed him through the air. Martin held his cold stomach. The shadowy creature stood over him. Martin spun on the ground. His legs shot from behind the shadow. It toppled to the ground. Martin was on his feet. The shadow began to rise. Martin's hands came together. Strength in his arms arced down. It collapsed under the blow.
He looked around. The campfires seemed far too close for him. Claws reached up. Martin jumped backward. The shadow climbing to its feet receded before him. Martin jumped again. He felt air between himself and the ground. It was farther away. He stumbled when he landed. The shadow ran after him. He jumped backward through the air. Martin looked into the darkness below him and wanted light. The air around him began to glow, and he could see the ground. He struck the ground. Pain shot up his legs.
Martin knelt over to rub at the pain. The grass around him was still lit by his body's glow. He could feel the shadow running toward him. He pushed his awareness out even farther and felt the people at the houses and the campfires. Focusing his awareness back on the shadow, he stood. The creature prepared to run into him. Martin pictured his surroundings filled with light. The shadow covered its face against the glare. The blackness of night retreated from around Martin. The shadow crumpled to the ground.
The shadow glistened under the light that Martin radiated, and its surface seemed almost liquid. The creature climbed to its feet, and Martin realized that its form was a naked copy of Cynthia. The shadow of Cynthia placed its hands on its thighs, brought them up over its stomach, over its chest, and then reached its open hands out toward him.
"Begone!" Martin flicked his arm toward it.
The shadow of Cynthia doubled over. Cracks of light spread over it. Its arms concealed its breasts. Light shone through the cracks. The shadow burst. Shards of darkness scattered in the air and then disappeared.
The glow from Martin's body flickered off, and he collapsed onto the ground. He lay on his side with his arms hugged against his chest and breathed raggedly through his mouth. The lights from the houses and campfires were visible off in the distance. Martin flopped onto his back; one arm stretched as far as it could away from him. The stars shone brightly overhead in the moonless sky. He tried to push outward with his awareness into his surroundings. He swallowed once, wet his lips, and took a deep breath as he prepared to try again.
He thought he smelled the faintest traces of Pine trees in the air. He sat up, placed his hands against the sides of his head, and lay back down. Martin closed his eyes, and his awareness spread out around him. He did not feel any traces of the shadow nor did he feel anyone else nearby. The grass felt soft and cool against his back, but Martin opened his eyes and rose shakily to his feet. He stumbled, at first, as he began to walk back into the collection of houses and tents.
A family slept huddled together under a single tent while the light of their fire protected them. In another tent nearby rested a family of two sisters with their husbands and all of their children. A man slept peacefully in his house while his wife dozed with a pillow over her head to muffle the sound of his snoring. Another basement was thick with darkness, and Martin kept away from the house. Robert slept calmly unaware of what had happened at the campsite. Martin felt Vicki's sleeping form enter his awareness and then his own empty sleeping bags. Jeff and Cynthia slept facing each other with their limbs entangled together; she was on her side, and his head nuzzled between her shoulder and her chin. They were too warm. His awareness shrank away from the campfire and collapsed back into himself.
Martin could not see. He shook his head wildly from side to side and gasped for breath. When his vision did return, he realized that he was sitting and that the campfire was still a short distance away. He climbed back to his feet and filled the distance back to the fire. As he stepped next to his sleeping bags, he reached his awareness out enough to straighten them.
The fire still burned strongly, but Martin put more wood onto it anyway. He sat before the fire and looked into its depths. The fire cackled as the flames danced around the branches. Martin blinked his eyes and looked at the tips of the flames. Figures appeared to dance in the fire accompanied by cackling laughter. He reached with one hand toward the flames, and one of the dancers leapt onto his palm. He brought his hand away from the fire and watched only the one dancer. The figure took on more form as she continued to dance on his hand. She wore a shirt that was several sizes too large, and her unkempt hair whipped about her face.
The dance stopped, and the figure of fire looked up at him. The dancer threw back her head, and the cackling of the fire was her laughter. Martin closed his hand, and the dancer vanished. He looked back to the fire, which crackled between the branches, but the dancers were gone. Martin bowed his head and covered his face with his hands. His fingers rubbed at his face and then ran back through his hair.
Martin rested back on his arms and looked into the sky. The stars shone as faint little dots within a field of night, and they drifted leisurely across the sky. At the far edge of hearing, he listened to the roar of the water forced into the air by the fountain and crash back into the lake. Light spread across the horizon before him, and the stars faded away before it. The sun rose filling half the sky with a red glow.
Martin turned his head at the sound of Jeff's sleeping bags moving about, and then Cynthia slid from between the covers. She smiled at him as she stood and then walked toward her own bed. When she noticed the bags, she stopped and looked back at him.
"What happened to my sleeping bags?"
She took a step toward him before looking about to the tents and houses. When her gaze settled back upon him, she almost ran the few steps to his side.
"What happened to your arm!" She dropped to the ground next to him and touched his torn sleeve with her hand.
"I hadn't noticed."
He felt her fingers part the shreds of his sleeve and touch his arm.
"These cuts are deep. Martin," Cynthia held his face with her hands and looked into his eyes, "what happened?"
"The Shadowlight was here."
His hand covered her mouth.
"There is danger," he said and then slowly moved his hand away.
Her own hands slid away from his face and rested against the cuts in his left arm.
"The Shadowlight attacked last night?" One of her hands brushed across his chest to touch the other torn sleeve. "I thought it couldn't do that."
"Neither did I," Martin said. "The Shadowlight needs time to fester and grow. That's why houses must be so carefully protected."
"Any door or window left open at night is enough for it to get through. Tents have a tendency to be moved, and they don't have dark unused rooms."
"And out in the open with a campfire there should be no danger." He winced as Cynthia tightened her grip on his left arm.
"And where is Willow? Oh, sorry." She stroked his arm with her hand. "Why didn't she warn us?"
"I don't know. I don't understand any of this." He pushed his hands into his hair.
"How long have you been up?" Cynthia carefully moved his arms away from his head.
"All night!" Her grip tightened. "You haven't slept?"
Martin looked away toward the fire. He could feel her face close to his own and her gaze held intently upon him.
"It must have been a tough monster."
The fire had burned low in the pit, and most of the wood was gone. The others still slept, rolled up in their sleeping bags, and oblivious to what was around them. Cynthia sat on one knee next to him, and her hands rested gently against his shoulders.
"Well, your rendezvous with Jeff last night certainly didn't help."
Her hands fell away from his shoulders, and she leaned slightly away from him. She looked down at herself and appeared to realize that she was not wearing anything. She raised an arm to cover her chest and looked back into his eyes.
"What are you afraid of?"
He looked over Cynthia's head at the houses and the transparent tents where people would soon be waking. His gaze drifted back to her face.
"I'm not afraid of you."
Cynthia stood; she spotted her discarded towel and walked over to it. Picking up the towel, she wrapped it around herself and took a step toward Jeff. She looked from one to the other of the sleeping bags and almost stepped in Robert's direction. Cynthia made a half-turn and walked over to Vicki's sleeping bags. She knelt next to Vicki and shook her until she woke up.
"Martin was attacked last night."
"What!" Vicki threw back the covers of her sleeping bags. Cynthia placed a finger on Vicki's mouth for silence.
"Apparently the Umber. Apparently the Shadowlight was here last night."
"But I thought. That doesn't. How could it?" Vicki said as she rubbed a hand over her still tired eyes.
"Listen. Martin was hurt in the fight, and he decided to keep watch all night just in case it came back. I'm going to go bathe in the lake, so you can try convincing him to get some rest."
Vicki yawned and nodded her head at the same time. Moving to her sleeping bags, Cynthia picked up her clothes and started walking in the direction of the fountain.
Martin had not moved from before the dying fire and watched Vicki as she sat on her sleeping bags looking back at him.
"Are you going to give me any trouble?" she said.
He held his eyes upon her for a moment longer before he tried to stand and almost fell into the fire. Vicki scrambled off her sleeping bags and took hold of one of his arms. Leaning heavily upon her, Martin inched toward his sleeping bags.
"I guess I'm a little stiff," he said sort of mumbling the words.
"I'd guess you're a little exhausted."
Martin sank into his sleeping bags almost causing Vicki to tumble over him in the process. He pulled the covers up around himself, but Vicki wasn't leaning over him anymore. She had disappeared, and he couldn't tell where she had gone. A moment later, she was back at his side with a wet cloth that she placed against the cuts of one arm. He jerked his arm away. The cloth had sent cold up his arm and into his shoulder.
"Hey, you're the one who didn't clean these already," Vicki said as she moved the cloth toward his arm.
Martin grabbed her hand and the cloth with the hand of the arm she had not touched with the cloth.
"Warm water," he said.
"What?" She let him push her hand with the cloth back. "It's going to take time to boil water for you."
He squeezed the cloth and caused some of the water to fall to the ground.
"Please, only warm water."
"All right, I'll use warm water," Vicki said throwing her hands into the air and then turned toward the fire. She brought the fire back to life by placing more wood into it and then found a pan from one of the packs.
Martin closed his eyes after he watched Vicki place the pan with the last of the water from their bucket over the fire. A few minutes later, he heard her walk toward him and felt her kneel next to his sleeping bags.
"I hope this is warm enough for you."
Warmth spread under the touch of the damp cloth against his arm. He smiled faintly as he felt the warmth surge up his arm and fill his shoulder. He sagged into the folds of his sleeping bags as Vicki switched to his other shoulder. The warmth stayed long after Vicki took the cloth away.
"He's resting," he heard Vicki say from where she sat nearby.
Martin drifted from the depths of the warmth and focused his awareness around the campfire. He heard and felt Cynthia walk over to her shredded sleeping bags.
"What am I going to trade for a new one?"
He heard the rustling of the sleeping bags as Cynthia lifted part of it into the air.
"Maybe, Martin will be willing to trade some stories for new bags," Vicki said.
Martin heard what sounded like Cynthia throwing the piece of the shredded bags back to the ground.
"He could have shouted, cried out, anything to wake us up," Cynthia said. "We could have helped him. Somehow. Lit torches or something."
Martin tried not to hold his breath and at the same time to keep from moving.
"He may have been trying to protect us," Vicki said.
"He treats us like children."
"He means well. But you're right; I wish he would let us help."
Martin pulled his awareness away from them and wrapped it around himself. He could not block his hearing, and so he listened to them move about the campfire. After some time had passed, he heard one of the others stir among their sleeping bags.
"We have a long day ahead of us," Cynthia said.
Martin wiped a hand over his face before he opened his eyes and looked to see Cynthia standing near Jeff.
"The Shadowlight tried to attack last night," she said. "You should see my sleeping bags."
Jeff sat up and looked about the campfire.
"Well, it's a good thing you weren't in them," he said. "Somebody had better wake Robert."
There was a hand on Martin's chest holding him down; he looked up the arm and into Vicki's face.
"You stay there," Vicki said as she prevented him from getting up. "If there's trouble, you're going to need all the rest you can get."
Martin noticed the sun had climbed part of the way into the sky and that people had started to move about at the other campfires. When he looked back to their own campfire, he found that they had gotten Robert up and were gathering around the sheet with the food on it. Vicki moved back to him with something made from bread and fruit, which she handed to him.
"We're going to have to be more direct with our questions than we thought last night," Cynthia said. "We have to deal with the fact that the Shadowlight is here and Willow is not."
"It's still early, so no one try to face the Shadowlight until we have gathered back here," Martin said before he took another bite of the food Vicki had given him.
"That goes double for you, Martin." Cynthia fixed her level gaze upon him.
"I'm the only one who has a chance of facing the Shadowlight when it has grown this powerful."
"How do you know you didn't disperse it last night?" Jeff asked.
Martin lowered his eyes.
"And we can't take the chance that it didn't run to one of the houses or something," Cynthia said.
"Do we split up to find it faster, or do we search in pairs?" Vicki said.
"There are an odd number of us," Martin said.
"You would probably want it, them." Cynthia pointed at Robert and Jeff, "me and her, and you alone." She looked back at him.
"If there really is danger, that is the best way to do it," Robert said.
Cynthia swung her gaze around to Robert.
"Martin can look after himself."
"Yeah, Cyn'," Vicki said. "So he got scratched. Stop treating Martin like a baby."
"All right." Cynthia razed her hands before them. "Are we ready?"
Robert started to hand around a cloth for them to clean their hands from the food on. Martin climbed out of his sleeping bags and stretched while the others stood from around the food.
"We'll meet back here; early afternoon at the latest."
The others agreed and began to walk away from the campfire. Robert and Jeff walked in one direction, and Vicki and Cynthia walked in another. Martin watched them move away from the campfire for a minute and then changed out of his ripped shirt. Once he had put his other shirt on, he walked in the direction, he hoped, he had used to return to the campfire after facing the shadow.
He wandered around a series of tents and ignored a house that he saw Vicki and Cynthia approaching. The next house in his path had a number of copperwood animals set before it. With the animals and close to the house, a man sat on a large copperwood chair. The man looked up and then stood as Martin approached him.
"Good morning," the man said stepping toward Martin. "You must be the Storyteller."
"Yes, that I am," he replied and shook the man's hand.
"I apologize. I was not close enough at the gathering yesterday to get a good look at you."
"If I wanted people to know me from a distance, I would carry a banner." He looked around them at all of the animals. "Your work?"
"Yes, I do all of the carving." He lowered his voice. "Although, the family does most of the polishing. My name is Nathen Carver."
"The detail is wonderful." Martin knelt next to an oversized Cathrice bird and placed his hand on its head.
"Does anything strike your fancy? After hearing the story you told yesterday, I might be willing to offer you something."
"I'm honored. But I don't have what you could call a permanent home. None of what's here looks terribly portable."
"I have a wider selection inside." Nathen waved dramatically toward the house. "If you would, please, follow me."
Martin followed him through the front door of the tall slender house and into an empty room. They walked through the doorway and into the hall where a stairway took them to the second story. Walking to the front room, Martin heard footsteps and turned to see a girl peak around the stairs. He recognized her as the girl who had told him about the fountain. A grin spread across her face, and she disappeared back up the stairs.
The room Nathen lead him to was filled to overflowing with objects carved from copperwood. Shelves also made of copperwood were covered with animals and vases and candlesticks and trees.
"I like this," Martin said walking up to an oil lamp that was nailed to the wall. "It's been used."
"Well, we do need to keep the room lit," Nathen replied. "You will notice one on each wall."
"And they have different designs." He walked around to a lamp on another wall. "I thought I noticed one in the hallway as well. Do you have them in every room?"
"Well, not in every room."
"Of course, they are too fancy." Martin picked a small carving of a cauldron off of a shelf. "You must have something special in the basement."
"No, not in the basement." Nathen began to fiddle with his hands.
"Nothing fancy in the basement. Something that produced a lot of light, maybe? Or little lights strung around the walls?"
"Light in the basement," he muttered shuffling his feet. "About the basement."
"Yes, Carver, what about the fire in the basement!"
"It went out."
Martin dropped the tiny cauldron; it bounced once and then rolled under the shelf.
"How long?" He walked to stand before Nathen. "How long has the basement been dark?"
The man backed away from him, wringing his hands together, and looking at the floor.
"I can't remember."
Martin pushed past the man and ran back into the hallway. He flew down the stairs three at a time.
The hallway of the first floor was white washed and empty except for an oil lamp that still burned on the wall. He ducked into the front room. The walls were bare; the room was empty except for the lights. He ran down the hall and found the back rooms the same, white washed floors and ceilings, and barren of all furnishings except for the lamps.
Nathen Carver stood before the stairs; his face was pale, and down the stairs came a flood of people. Two women, obviously twin sisters, were the first to reach them. The one who was his wife clung to Nathen's shoulders and started to cry. The other stood holding a child's hand; her husband must have been out of the house doing something. Another women, and mother to the twins, had her arms around the girl Martin had met at the fountain.
"What am I going to do," Nathen said to him. "What am I going to do!"
"It's going to be okay," Martin said quickly. "Those people I came with. They know what to do. We can find them. Bring them here. And they can make your house belong to you again."
Nathen did not move, but his sister-in-law whispered to the others to move back. Martin took a step toward them to help usher them out when he noticed that the room was cold. He turned his head and looked at the door to the basement. The family continued to back away from the room, but Martin stepped toward the door. He stretched a hand out toward the wood of the door, and his fingers tingled from the feeling of cold.
Martin pulled his hand away from the door. A shadowy arm struck for his hand. He jumped back. Someone screamed. The children were all crying. Darkness spread around the doorframe. Light shrank through the door. The women turned and ran. They ran upstairs.
"Not that way!" Martin jumped to Nathen's side.
Their feet disappeared up the stairs. The door exploded. Martin landed in the hall. The light was striped from the room. The exaggerated shadow of a man stepped into the room.
"Get out!" Nathen ran at the shadow. "Get out of my house!"
"No!" On his feet, Martin entered the room.
A hand grabbed Nathen's head. He tried to collapse. The shadow held the body up. Martin reached his hand out. He pulled against the air. Nathen's body jiggled off the floor. Another hand grabbed his chest. Claws sunk into him. Blood spread across Nathen's shirt.
Martin swung his hands together. A flash of light blossomed there. The darkness shied back. The shadow grinned. It released Nathen's head. Martin stepped against a cold wind. The shadow threw the body into the basement.
Martin roared. He jumped at the shadow. The light struck its chest. A fist struck him. He crashed into a wall and fell to his knees. His light was gone. The shadow stepped toward him. He noticed a dent of light on its chest.
"Squeeze," he said making a fist.
The light spread. Its shoulders constricted toward the center. The face of shadow appeared surprised. It turned toward the basement.
Martin pictured a leash of light between his fist and the shadow's chest. He swung his arm back. The leash tightened. The shadow flew across the room.
The room broke. Cracks spread over the floor. They ran up the walls. The house vibrated. The floor crumbled downward. The walls buckled in.
"Out!" The light flared on Martin's arms.
The ceiling sank down. He raised his arms. The light spread up like fire. It burned a hole. Martin climbed through. He ran for the stairs. The floor jumped down. The room filled with smoky darkness. He touched the ceiling, imagined his fingers sinking into it, and created hand holds.
He climbed hand over hand to the stairs. His arms shook with the ceiling. He flung himself onto the stairs. They tried to give way. He scuttled to the next floor. The darkness flooded upward. He heard crying. Martin wanted his body to glow. He saw the girl under a table. Her grandmother was partly buried under something.
Martin skidded to the girl. He picked her up. She flung her arms around his back and screamed. The floor tried to squash them against the ceiling. He pulled the light together.
"Out!" he yelled.
The light burst upward parting the ceiling. He jumped on top of a broken wall. From there, he jumped to the ground not ten feet below them. Martin staggered to his feet with the girl in his arms. The ground slid toward the house. He walked uphill against the flow.
There was more light. The girl was crying in his ear. The earth rumbled as it rushed downhill. Behind him there was the roar of splintering wood. Glass shattered.
He took another step. There was sunlight. He staggered upward. The girl sobbed. He raised another foot. People were shouting. Martin lowered his foot and looked up.
He had been walking against the side of a mountain. People had gathered at the top, and someone pointed down at him. His legs folded, and he fell to his knees. The girl tumbled to the ground before him. There was blood in her hair. He brought his hands up and searched her head for cuts. There was more blood on his arms. He tasted blood in his mouth. Martin moved his hand to his face and realized that his nose was bleeding.
Ripping off part of his sleeve, he covered the bleeding nose. The girl had curled into a ball. Martin looked around. It appeared as if he were on the side of a deep pit. A house lay broken against one side of the pit; its top stories rested upside down next to the ground floor. At the center of everything was what remained of the Carvers' house. It looked as if it had been pulled down dragging the surrounding earth with it. One wall stood above the rest supporting nothing, and as he watched, it leisurely toppled over.
The ground moved. The girl screamed. Martin scooped her up, climbed to his feet, and started walking again. He heard shouts from the people above him. Looking up, he saw a line of people start to descend toward him. He took a step toward the line of people. Cynthia was at the head of the line reaching down for him. The ground stopped shaking.
"Just a little farther," Cynthia said. "You can make it."
Martin looked up into Cynthia's face; the skin of her face was sliding away from her skull and leaving white streaks. He blinked his eyes, and her face appeared whole. Tears streamed from her eyes and over her cheeks. Cynthia got her arm around him, and the line began to coil back up. He held onto the little girl who still had her arms clamped tightly around him. He was being squeezed between Cynthia and Jeff as his feet tried to keep up with the others.
People shouted all around him; the roar filled all of his awareness. The ground leveled off, and the pressure eased on his body. Someone helped him from falling as he stumbled back to his knees. Many hands pried the girl off of him and carried her away. People were all around him, and a damp cloth was held against his nose. His insides constricted and started climbing up his throat. He pushed against the people around him forcing them back. His insides pried his jaw open and leapt from his mouth.
The weight of people pushing against his awareness moved back, and their roar grew more distant. Martin realized he was doubled over on his knees with his arms being pressed together between his legs and his chest. His body continued to squeeze together, but nothing more came out of his mouth. He felt someone's hands on his shoulders; a body held against his own.
His stomach stopped trying to throw stuff out of his mouth, and the noises he heard himself make started to sound more like racking sobs. His face was being cleaned with a cloth that was damp with warm water.
"You're okay," he heard someone say at his ear. "You're going to be all right."
It was Cynthia; she was cleaning his face with the cloth, and her other hand was resting against his back. His hands came up in a rush and grabbed her arms. She dropped the cloth. Martin placed his forehead against her shoulder and started to cry. She wrapped her arms around his back and held on tightly.
"They're dead," he finally managed to say between sobs. "They're all dead. I was too late. Too late."
"You saved the girl, damn it!" Cynthia pounded him on the back with one of her hands. "She's going to live! That has to be enough!"
Martin sank backward to rest on his knees and looked at her. Robert, Jeff, and Vicki stood around and behind Cynthia; Jeff stepped closer and handed him a bowl. He took a drink of what tasted like warm beer. Sputtering and gagging, he spat most of it back up. Jeff's hand was on his shoulder, and Martin tried taking a sip of the beer.
"What?" Cynthia said leaning toward him.
"Willow is here," he managed to say and then took another sip from the bowl.
The others had started to glance about and at the people lingering nearby.
"She must be listening. She was watching me last night."
"How can you tell?" Cynthia took the bowl from his hands.
"I felt." He smiled. "Because I could smell her."
"Then what is she doing?" Jeff asked.
"I don't know, but I want to talk to her."
"How you going to manage that? She's never answered you before."
"She will this time. I need to be away from the town." He looked directly at Cynthia. "And alone."
"No." She brought the bowl down against her leg. "Look what happened the moment we left you alone."
"If anyone had been with me." He looked around at the concern on their faces. "You would be dead now."
Cynthia leaned away from him and looked at the ground.
"Where will you go?"
Martin stretched his head upward and looked away from the fountain, the houses, tents, and campfires.
"Over there," he said looking where he wanted. "Where the land rises, and you can look back over the town. No one else will be there." He tried to stand; Robert and Jeff rushed to his sides to support him. "I cannot wait if I want to do any good before dark."
"Have you looked at the sun?" Cynthia laughed half-heartedly and came to her feet. "It's still morning."
"What?" He swung his head back in order to look into the air, and he saw that the sun had not climbed halfway through the sky. His giggles turned into a cough. "Time or not; I must go."
Martin turned with the support of both Robert and Jeff to the direction he wanted to go. Cynthia ran away from them and disappeared among the people still standing about. His eyes lingered on where she had been, and the others did not venture to say anything. They started walking away from the pit with Robert and Jeff on either side of him. The people parted before him; many of them appeared lost in a daze.
They walked from among the other people and had started away from the houses when Robert and Jeff stopped. Martin looked in the same direction they did and saw Cynthia running toward them. She was carrying something, and they waited for her to reach them.
"I thought you might want this," she said holding out his redwood staff. She handed the staff to Robert and replaced him at Martin's side.
"Thank you," he said, "I hadn't thought of that."
"Well, how had you planned on getting all the way to the hill? Crawl?"
Martin resumed walking with Cynthia and Jeff at his sides, and Robert and Vicki walking behind them. When the ground began to rise, he stopped again and looked back at them.
"This is where I go on alone," he said.
Robert handed him the staff, and then Cynthia and Jeff stepped back.
"Don't wait here. Head back to our campfire."
"I hope she'll talk to you," Cynthia said.
He smiled and then turned back to walk toward the hill. He carried the staff in his hands more than he used it to help support himself. When he reached what he felt was the top of the hill, he looked back toward the fountain. The others had done as he requested and appeared little more than stick figures as they walked back to the houses. He watched them for a while before turning to gaze over the hill.
"Willow!" he shouted as loud as he could, and then his voice trailed off in a cough. "I know you can here me! I need you!" He walked toward the center of the hilltop. "I'm terrible at working out puzzles! I don't understand what is happening!"
The breeze drifted toward him from the direction of the fountain and was scented with a trace of Pine needles. Martin walked back to the side of the hilltop and planted the end of the staff in the ground. He looked down over the fountain as it continually threw water into the air and at the tall skinny houses scattered around it. He noticed the depression where one house had been and looked like the remains of an excavation or cave-in. His chest hurt as he took his next breath, and his hands tightened around the staff.
"Now do you understand," Willow said in his ear.
Martin cried out in surprise filling his lungs with the scent of Pine trees. He tried to turn, but Willow held him still with her hands on his shoulders.
"A cavern," he whispered, "under all of them."
"It's been festering and growing down there." Willow held her head close enough to be almost touching his ear. "It has been sapping their souls and draining them of their dreams."
"Why didn't you warn me? Why did you stay away?"
"I have been trying to keep you away." Her grip tightened on his arms.
"Why?" He tried to look at her but only bumped his head against her own.
"Down there it is stronger than both of us."
"But those people need help."
Her left hand fell on the redwood staff. The world spun around, and Martin found himself looking at Willow.
"You must not free the Shadowlight!"
"Your presence is like a focus for the shadow. Since your arrival, yesterday, it has already manifested twice."
"Make sense when you talk." He held the fingers of one hand to his forehead. "If there was a way down, there must be a way up."
"And the Kobalo fell to the earth; blood still flowing from her heart!" Willow raised her arms above her head. The sleeves of her tie-died shirt left her arms bare. "The Thorne beast commanded the earth to yield and consume Kobalo."
"Are you saying that the cavern is the body of Kobalo?"
Willow lowered her arms back to her sides and locked them over her chest.
"Then what? I already know that the blood of Kobalo still flows." He pointed toward the fountain.
"If you tried to stop the shadow." She shook her head from side to side and placed her arms around his back. "It is powerful enough to lay waste to this land. You must not free the Shadowlight."
Martin let go of the staff and heard it clatter to the ground. Their eyes met, and he touched her chin with one hand. He pushed his mouth against her own. One of her hands moved to the back of his head and held there. The air in his lungs felt like it was fueling a fire. They both gasped for breath. He took a step back, picked up the redwood staff, and held it cross wise between them.
"You cannot stop me," he said.
Willow brushed the back of a hand against her lips, and then she simply wasn't there anymore. Martin stood alone on the hilltop.
He turned from the hilltop and the scent of Pine needles and walked back toward the fountain. He did not walk quickly along the path that would take him back to the houses, and he would occasionally lean upon his staff to support his steps. The houses and the tents parted before him, and he did not see anyone moving about. Once he saw a number of people sitting in a circle within a tent. Robert, Jeff, Vicki, and Cynthia were waiting for him around their own campfire. Cynthia approached him and tried to help him back to their circle. Martin handed her the redwood staff and walked the rest of the way without aid.
"Did you find Willow?" Cynthia asked once he was seated before the fire. "What did she say?"
"She said that the Shadowlight is in a cavern under our feet."
He looked to their faces. Robert and Vicki's eyes had become vague, and her mouth hung slightly ajar. Jeff's hands lay open across his lap. Cynthia's face was pale, and then she covered it with her hands. She shook her head and scratched at her hair with her fingers.
"What are we going to do?" she managed to ask.
"I don't know." Martin lowered his eyes. "To get at it, I would have to rip apart the ground. Willow said anything I tried would only free it."
"Free it into the day or into the night?" Jeff said.
"Willow said it's strong enough not to care." He looked to where the sun was still far overhead. "If I don't do something soon, it will be into the night."
"If the Shadowlight is that powerful, then why isn't everyone already dead?" Cynthia glanced in the direction of the cave-in but quickly looked away.
"My guess is that something in the water from the fountain is giving them hope."
"The Fountain of Kobalo is our life," Jeff said and chuckled quietly. "It is their healer, their fortune, and their oracle."
"That's what we should do," Vicki said bitterly. "Ask the fountain for help."
Martin looked directly at Vicki, and so, he noticed, did everyone else.
"What do you mean?" he asked her.
"Well." She shrugged her shoulders. "The locals believe the fountain has a voice. Maybe we could convince the fountain to flood the cavern and drown the Shadowlight."
"Vicki, that's brilliant." Martin climbed to his feet.
"Where are you going?" Cynthia asked.
"To talk to Kobalo."
"How are you going to manage that?" She scrambled to her feet.
The others were standing as well and moved toward Martin.
"The same way anyone else can." He turned toward the fountain. "By swimming into Kobalo's heart."
"You need more of a plan than that." Cynthia grabbed Martin by the shoulder and swung him around.
"I don't have time for one." He moved his hands out toward them. "Events have been set in motion. My arrival here was the catalyst. You saw what happened to the Carvers' house."
She took her hand from his shoulder while the others looked to the ground.
"We're going with you." Her gaze did not waver from his face.
"Hey, I don't hang around for the fortune and glory! I'm helping if you like it or not."
"You don't have the Power." He held his arms before her and clenched his fists. "Your blood would freeze at the first touch."
"Then teach me!" She reached for his hands.
"I can't." Martin shook his head and took a step away from them. "Not in five minutes."
He noticed Cynthia nod her head once in silence as he turned away from them and toward the fountain.
"Good hunting," someone other than Cynthia said.
He marched between the houses and the tents to the fountain. The plume of water appeared to be supporting the weight of the sun. Discarding his shoes, Martin waded out into the lake. The water soaked into the material of his pants. When he was waist deep, he filled his lungs and entire body with air. A flash of blue and gold in the water made him turn. Willow stood at the lake's edge; the water splashed at her bare feet.
Martin dove beneath the surface of the water. He dug against the bottom of the lake to push himself forward. The bottom dipped down beneath him, and he kicked for the surface. He pushed himself out of the water, took another breath, and dove back down. He followed the contour of the lakebed as he swam toward the middle. The closer to the fountain he swam; the more bubbles filled the water.
The water pushed him back from the fountain. His pants hindered his movements. Martin swam with one arm while he used the other to unfasten his belt. He kicked the pants off and swam against the current.
The push of the water grew more forceful. The bubbles were thick enough to hinder his vision. He felt outward and was tickled on every side. The water pushed him up, and he clawed against it forcing himself down.
His lungs demanded attention. He cupped his hand and pictured the bubbles gathering in his grasp. Bubbles converged on his hand forming a pocket of air. He brought his hand to his mouth and drank in the air.
Reaching the bottom of the lake near the opening for the fountain, he clawed along the bottom. The fountain looked like a flood of bubbles escaping to the surface, and it roared like a tornado. His feet were flung skyward. Martin gripped the rock. He forced his fingers to sink into the stone.
Martin moved one hand to the other side of the opening. The bubbles felt like they were running up his arm. He moved his other hand. The water bashed against him. A hand came loose. His mouth filled with water. The roar was everywhere. He brought his hand down, took hold, and pulled against the fountain.
His shirt vanished. Shreds of it ran with the bubbles. The water began to sing. Kobalo was all around him; once she had been empty and at peace. Someone had ripped at her skin with a shovel and had managed to pierce her lung. The wound had been closed too late; the darkness had snuck in. Blacker than night, the darkness had spread throughout the cavity. It had left no space and found her chest an unyielding barrier. The darkness clawed and pounded and scratched, but it could not escape. The wound must be healed.
The water was calm. He wanted his body to glow, and then his surroundings filled with light. He could see the rock of the wall, and a wall of blackness that wasn't rock. He swam to it and pushed himself through.
There was air. He couldn't see. It was cold. The darkness forced him back. He stopped spinning through the water and returned to the hole. Sweeping the water around him, he wanted it to help push him through. In the darkness, he was surrounded by air. His light revealed nothing. He took a breath but didn't hear a sound. The darkness pushed at him. The water froze on his skin. He hit with a splash.
He swam around and around in the water to build up energy. He pulled light from his body until the water glowed with it. He leapt at the blackness. The darkness surrounded him. The light was nothing. He opened his mouth. No words came out. He made sounds that could become words. He fell toward the water.
The sound started deep inside. It rampaged through his body. The shout burst from his mouth. He stopped falling. He made a sound, not a word, not music, but a single syllable of sound. The darkness pulled back. He could see his own body.
He started to swim through the darkness. It shimmered and pushed against him. Cold washed through him. It left a trail that burned. Martin screamed. He began to fall. The darkness revealed rock below him. He clawed at shadows. They slipped between his fingers. His fall slowed. He collapsed against the rock floor.
The darkness swarmed in around him. He closed his hands into fists and squeezed his arms against his chest. The light spread around him. He could see a wall of loose dirt before him. He walked toward it. The wall of earth extended before him, and somewhere overhead he could see a copperwood animal.
The shout began deep in his being. It spread like fire from the pit of his stomach and throughout his chest. He folded the light around himself like a cloak. The shout sang from the top of his head to the tip of his toes.
The dirt moved. The animal glowed. A hole appeared. The darkness screamed. Martin flew through the air. Shadows tossed him about. Everything rushed for the hole. He pinwheeled about. His arms flailed wildly. He kicked at nothing.
The loose dirt punched him. He hugged it. His lungs fought for breath. The darkness ripped at him. It rushed past. Something grabbed his leg. He slid upward. Martin kicked out. Frozen knives sliced into him. He kicked wildly. The fingers let go. The darkness swirled around him and disappeared up the hole.
Martin was blinded by light. His feet fell over his head, and he slid to the bottom of the dirt pile. He gasped repeatedly for breath and blinked his eyes until tears ran down his face. His body shook from the cold, and finally he could see around the brightly-lit cavern. He tried to raise his head but couldn't find the strength to move. Closing his eyes, he lay against the stone floor, but the light wouldn't stay away. He turned his head to the side and looked about the cavern. Pillars had been carved into the walls, and they stretched overhead to join in the middle. Martin took a deep breath and climbed to his feet. His leg burned with pain, and he fell back to the ground. Putting his hands over the cuts in his leg, he pushed away the cold and healed the cuts. He sprawled out against the rock and then climbed to his feet. Everywhere he looked was bright with light.
At the far end of the cavern, Martin thought he saw movement against the wall. There was the turn of a head, a flash of blond hair, and then she was gone. He walked toward the wall limping slightly on the one leg. When he reached the edge of the cavern, he found only a message carved into the rock wall.
"I have done nothing wrong, Willow," he said turning about but finding no one. "How could I free the Umberaught unless it was trapped?"
Martin kissed each letter of the message, and the rock filled in the cuts until there was only the unharmed surface of the wall. He moved away from where the message had been and put his ear to the wall. His awareness sank through the rock, and he touched water on the other side. He pushed against the warm rock, which gave before his touch and dove into the water.
He swam through the chamber until the current found him and pushed him up through the fountain. The walls parted to become the bottom of the lake, and Martin climbed out of the fountain before he could be thrown into the air. He breached the surface and took a breath. Cynthia was standing at the lakeshore. Martin dove below the surface and swam toward her.
"I knew you would return here," she said when he was close enough to start wading. "That is if you had lived. What happened?"
"You tell me?"
"Everyone heard an explosion. Then this geyser of darkness flowed from the cave-in." She cleared her throat. "It was. It looked like wisps of fire or dancers leaping for the sky. Each one reached higher than the one before it."
"And then?" Martin stood with his feet in the water facing her.
"And then they faded." She shivered. "They grew too thin to keep their shapes. The darkness became a mist that could not stand against the sunlight."
A smile split his face and stretched from ear to ear.
"It was scary, but it was also beautiful."
"Hold you arms like this," he said moving his hands toward her.
"Like this?" she said mimicking his arms with the palms held up.
Martin stretched his awareness out around him. He reached out and found Jeff and Vicki near the entrance to the caverns of Kobalo with a large crowd of people. Robert had found the Smith's well and was waiting just in case he had come out there. He found their campfire and his towel folded near his sleeping bags. He picked it up and dropped it into Cynthia's arms. She cried out in surprise.
"Careful, you almost dropped it in the water," he said.
"It." She folded the towel over. "It just appeared in my hands."
"I know. I need it." He stepped toward her and reached for the towel.
"Why?" Her face turned red. "What happened to your clothes?"
"You don't want to know."