The Fire Within: Part Three
The Font was what they called the largest of the settlements in the Moltaran Caverns. It was a large cave, roughly half the size of Moltara City. Individual caves led off to installations like the Arcanium or the Petpetorium, built up like Petpetpet mounds in the rock. Most of the magma Neopets lived in even smaller groups beyond the Font, in caves that didn't appear on the maps. The rest of the world considered that they lived in isolation, but now Yardly knew that wasn't true - the Daken Nar ensured that, no matter where they were, no magma Neopet was ever alone.
They called it the Font because, at the centre of the cavern, there was the Magma Pool. There, the pure magma bubbled up out of a deep vent, forming a magmafall that ended in the deep lake in which Neopets bathed to become magma. It was magical, Yardly understood. Neopets entering the lake would not be burned by the extreme temperatures due to the unique properties of the pool. As the Font was the source of the Daken Nar, it was also in effect the capital of the caverns system, and home to the defacto leader of the mystics - Igneot.
He made his home in a small rock outcrop not far from the Magma Pool. Smoke rose from the roof, a constant fire burning deep within. Andesite did not bother to knock as he walked in, pulling back the curtain. The magma Gnorbu was deep in thought inside, studying the movement of a floating sphere of molten rock on his table, a fire burning in the hearth behind him.
"I have been expecting you, Andesite," the Gnorbu said, a sad smile on his face. "It is good to see you again."
The Gnorbu's eyes drifted towards Yardly.
"You," he said. "I do not know you. Why has Andesite brought you here?"
"My name is Alex Yardly," the Gelert replied.
"That isn't what I asked, child," Igneot said.
"I have been asked to deal with the issue of Madame Marbelle," Yardly said.
Igneot gave a nod.
"I thought as much," Igneot said. "Sending an outsider, sounds so much like something Third Cog would do. I apologise if I seem cold, outsider, but this is a difficult issue, and the mining companies are not helping the situation."
"Then you believe the mining companies are to blame?" Yardly asked. "I expected to find disagreement here. You are with Marbelle?"
"Do I agree with Marbelle's opinions on sealing off the caverns?" Igneot asked. "No. Do I approve of the methods she uses? No. But, does that mean I must welcome people who would tread over our heritage? This is not a matter of black and white, Alex Yardly. Not being on the side of one does not mean you are with the other - my side is that of Moltara."
"I apologise if I have caused offence," Yardly said, quickly realising he had.
"No, no," Igneot sighed, waving a hand and sitting down heavily. "This business, it has us all on edge. Every day, more students are swayed by Marbelle's arguments. Every day, we plunge deeper into the abyss. The mining companies like Third Cog do nothing to help the situation, picking places like the Shining Chasm to dig."
"I understand from Andesite that it is an important location," Yardly said.
Igneot let out a grim laugh.
"Important?" he asked. "Alex Yardly, have Andesite take you to the Chasm. You will see how important it is to us."
"Igneot, I cannot..." Andesite protested.
"Nonsense," Igneot said. "You need to feel it again, and I give you permission."
"Very well," Andesite said with an obedient nod.
"I will need to meet with Marbelle, I think," Yardly said. "Perhaps if I can talk to her, I will be able to understand her better."
Another laugh from Igneot.
"What makes you think Marbelle will consent to speak with you, Alex Yardly?" he asked.
"I know about the ways of Moltara, Andesite has explained about the Daken Nar," Yardly said.
"Oh!" Igneot said. "Andesite has explained, has he? Well, that certainly qualifies you as a master of our lore. Never mind that mystics like I have studied the ways of the magma for decades and still have things to learn. No, you have listened to what an exile told you on a boat ride, that makes you qualified to speak with the mystics?"
"I meant no offense," Yardly said.
"Yet it is what you are providing," Igneot said. "You know nothing of Moltara."
In his rant, Igneot had stood, and now he only seemed to realise just how angry he had become.
"I apologise," he said with another sigh. "Please, allow me to explain. I hear tales of Terror Mountain, that there is a group of nomads living in the wastes that have little contact with the outside world. They have come to understand their surroundings far better than the average inhabitants of the mountain. They have over fifty words for snow, I hear. I have never seen Terror Mountain. I have never seen snow. But I understand these people, these nomads. Down here, we have just as many words for fire. There is the Daken Nar, the Dark Fire that connects the magma people. There is the magma, the lava, the Sirnar, fire conjured by magic. There is Ghaadnar, fire that explodes upwards with anger. Then there is Nefnar, the Fire Within... what you might call someone's soul. We speak about this world below the surface in a way you cannot follow, and everything, everything is informed by the whispers of the Darken Nar. Whispers you cannot hear."
"I'm not some outsider who believes he can change the world overnight - if you find me ignorant, I am willing to learn. As for Marbelle, I believe she'll see me," Yardly replied. "If nothing else, to try and use me as a hostage."
"How will that help your efforts?" Igneot asked.
"I've been a hostage before," Yardly told him. "It didn't last long. What I need from you is her location."
Igneot nodded, turning to the floating orb of molten rock on his table.
"Very well," he said, running his hand over the surface. "You would do well to head to the Shining Chasm, as I suggested. Marbelle and her followers have fortified themselves in an old... I believe you might call it a monastery? We call it Hariq, the home of the violent fire."
"Sounds like a lovely place," Yardly said.
"The early mystics built the place to study a lake containing magma geysers," Andesite explained. "It has been abandoned for many generations."
"Well it isn't any more," Yardly said. "Thank you for your help, Igneot."
Yardly provided a small bow.
"I wish you luck, Alex Yardly," Igneot said with a nod. "You shall need it."
Outside of the tent, Andesite matched Yardly's strides.
"The lava chutes do not go near the Shining Chasm," Andesite explained. "We will have to walk the distance - several days."
"I remember the maps," Yardly agreed. "You know the way?"
"Perhaps... Two decades ago when last I visited," Andesite said. "I imagine the tunnels will have changed since then. We would be best to get a guide. A local will be unlikely to agree - the Shining Chasm is not the sort of place outsiders and exiles are normally permitted to go."
"Are there any people from Moltara City who can guide us?" Yardly asked.
"Yes..." Andesite said. "Though I doubt you will like him."
"If he gets us there, that's the important part," Yardly said.
Andesite gave him a skeptical look, but nodded all the same.
Luthor Cogingham lived in the most out of place looking of the caves within the cavern that was the Font. It was adorned with gears and cogs, and a plume of steam was coming from a pipe that shot out of the entrance. The purple Shoyru was inside, busily scratching his thick beard as he tinkered with some machinery by the fire. At the sound of Yardly and Andesite entering, he instinctively reached for a nearby hammer, but quickly let go once he got a look of who it was.
"Ah!" he said. "Sorry about the greeting, you can never be too careful around these parts though, friend."
He eyed Andesite suspiciously though, keeping the friendly air for Yardly alone.
"You are Luthor Cogingham?" Yardly asked.
"That's me!" he said, offering a greasy hand. "The closest thing there is to the law around this backwater place."
"The law?" Yardly asked.
"Mr. Cogingham is officially the sheriff of the caverns," Andesite said. "By appointment of Moltara City's Mayor, I might add, not Igneot's. As such, it is a largely ceremonial position."
"I deal with proper crime," Luthor said. "Not the sort of tribal disputes these nomads come up with. I'm here on the orders of the Mayor. Now, what can I do for you? Has this local robbed you?"
"No," Yardly said. "We need to hire your services for something else."
"We need a guide," Andesite added.
"Ah, well why didn't you say?" Luthor laughed more to Yardly than Andesite. "Things are so quiet that I have this as a side job, you see? Totally above board, approved by the Mayor, I might add. Where do you want to go?"
"The Shining Chasm," Yardly said.
"Ah," Luthor said with a knowing wink. "So you're with Third Cog, eh? Wondered when they'd be sending someone to deal with the Madame. About time, I say. Would be my pleasure to take you, squire."
To be continued...