The Fire Within: Part Eight
Yardly returned to the Font alone, though Marbelle and her soldiers were waiting, hidden, in the tunnels beyond. Waiting for Yardly's signal. Waiting to storm their birthplace.
The plan was simple. Yardly would go in and eliminate Igneot. Then he would signal the others to follow. It was a ludicrously stupid plan, of course, and Yardly knew this. It could only have been dreamed up by someone from Moltara. Someone tied to the Daken Nar. The idea that someone like Igneot could be taken down simply by someone he couldn't immediately sense coming wouldn't have even been considered anywhere else. Even if it was someone as skilled as Yardly who had been sent.
Still, Yardly hoped it wouldn't come to that. He hoped that Andesite's escape had dominoed to exactly the outcome he had envisaged.
It had not.
Igneot was waiting in the tent when Yardly entered.
“Alex Yardly,” Igneot greeted him. “I understand you have been sent here to take care of me.”
“I had hoped you would run,” Yardly said. “To Moltara City, with Andesite and anyone else you could carry.”
“I will not abandon my post unless I need to, Alex Yardly,” Igneot said. “Come then, let us get on with things.”
Yardly took a Virtupets blaster from his pack.
“You believe that will help you?” Igneot asked.
“It's worth a try,” Yardly replied.
Igneot’s eyes moved for only a moment to the floating mass of rock on his table. It flew across the room at his command, hitting the blaster. It’s heat instantly fried the circuits, and caused Yardly to drop the sparking mass. The rock returned to its previous position, floating above the table.
“What next?” Igneot asked.
“I could ask you the same question,” Yardly replied. “What is your plan?”
“I wish to speak with Madame Marbelle,” Igneot said. “Give her your signal.”
“You are sure?” Yardly asked. “If she finds you alive...”
“She will know I am still alive, Alex Yardly,” Igneot replied. “Daken Nar, remember? Now, send your signal, please.”
Yardly obeyed, pouring the powder he had been given into Igneot's fire. It produced a green flame, sending green smoke up the chimney and out into the cavern.
“Now, let’s go outside and meet her, shall we?” Igneot suggested.
The pair left Igneot’s home, finding that Yardly’s signal was already having the desired effect. Marbelle's monks were already spilling into the Font from all of the exit tunnels, surrounding the settlement. Those that lived in the cavern appeared to have been instructed by Igneot to stay indoors - Marbelle received no obstruction on her path to Igneot.
“Madame Marbelle,” Igneot greeted the Elephante with an almost friendly nod. “It has been too long since you stepped amongst these rocks.”
“I see Alex Yardly has failed,” she replied. “Or, was his offer of help less than genuine, I wonder?”
“Sending a surfacer to kill a mystic would never work,” Igneot told her. “If he couldn’t sneak up on you, why would you imagine he could do so to me?”
“Then why does he still live?” Marbelle asked.
“Because the Path of Fire is not the path of death,” Igneot told her bluntly. “When I took my vows and became a mystic, I swore that I would never again bring pain to another.”
“You know nothing of the Path,” Marbelle snorted. “I have seen the teachings of the old ones, from the first days of Moltara. I have seen the writings of Obsidian herself, carved into the rocks above the core! There is a fork in your Path, I have seen the truth!”
With that, she unleashed a blast of fiery energy from her hand towards Igneot. The Gnorbu, not snarling or flinching in the slightest, merely lifted his own hand and the energy faded before it even came close to him.
“You believe you are the only one to venture so close to the core?” he asked. “You believe you alone have seen the writings of Obsidian? You are mistaken. I have stood at the base of the Shining Chasm just as you have. I have heard the whispers of our ancestors. I know what they speak of.”
“Then you know the truth?” Marbelle asked. “That fire is chaos?”
“I know of the theory, yes,” Igneot said.
“Then you go against the teaching of Obsidian?”
“If I must, yes,” Igneot replied politely. “You seem to forget another fact of the magma - it is fluid. Ever changing. So is the Path. What Obsidian believed she did so because of her years of learning. But the mystics in the generations since have built upon her knowledge. We have come to a new understanding, and it is this you have failed to perceive. Fire may be chaos, but the Path is not - the Path of Fire is about living in tune with Moltara. Not about becoming it. The Path is surviving in the chaos, it is not adding to it. Please, Madame Marbelle... You must see? The Path is one of peace, not of war. The Font is no place for fighting, no place for violence. You are all welcome here.”
Marbelle shook her head.
“Nonsense,” she said, as if Igneot’s words had passed straight through her. “We have come here for the Font and we shall have it.”
Igneot gave a sad nod.
“Very well,” he agreed. “I will not fight you for it. If you desire the Font, I shall stand aside. Do what you will with me.”
“I will take pity on you, Igneot,” she said. “I would not dare exile you to the city of the surfacers. No, you will be allowed to be exiled to the deep caverns. Wander in the darkness, and you may come to the enlightenment that I have found.”
Monks led Igneot away, to one of the tunnels leading deeper.
“Now, what to do about you,” Marbelle said, turning her attention on Yardly.
“I performed your orders,” he said. “It is not my fault they did not work. I could not hope to challenge Igneot, you know that.”
“Perhaps you could have if he had not been given early warning,” Marbelle said. “I still do not accept that you didn't arrange Andesite’s escape.”
“I could hardly teach him to evade your senses, could I?” Yardly said. “I have done everything you asked.”
“Then you will do more,” Marbelle said. “We hold the Font. It is time for the next step - Moltara City. We will storm the tunnels. You will help us.”
“Very well,” he said. “But I have a condition,” he said. “Andesite will no doubt have fled there and will be rallying the other exiles to defend the tunnels. I have no weapons against magma Neopets. If I am to help you, you must give me access to your abilities.”
“What do you mean?” Marbelle asked.
“I must be allowed to bathe in the Magma Pool,” Yardly said.
“A surfacer?” she laughed. “Perhaps you haven’t been listening - I'm no Igneot.”
“I will not access the Shining Chasm,” Yardly added. “And once this is done, I will repaint myself, rid myself of the magma. It will be as if I was never part of your Daken Nar. And while I am magma, you will be able to sense if I am telling you the truth - no more doubts. You will know if I am scheming with Igneot, or anyone else.”
Marbelle scoffed again, but Yardly’s suggestion had taken root.
“Very well, Alex Yardly,” she said. “I grant your request. You will lead our charge into Moltara City, and we will see what you are made of.”
She led him with a procession of her monks past Igneot’s home to the Magma Pool, the spring from which the magical lava flowed and the source of all the magma Neopets in Neopia. Normally, it was guarded by a Tonu who barred entry to all except those approved by Igneot. Now, he had apparently been ordered to stay away, as the path lay clear.
Two stone Hissi heads stood at the edge of the pool, which bubbled and steamed as if it would burn Yardly the moment he touched it.
“Do not underestimate the honour you are being given, Alex Yardly,” Marbelle instructed.
“I will not,” Yardly replied.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped forwards, submerging his left leg in the pool. His brain for a moment panicked, as if he should be in pain, but to Yardly's surprise the only sensation he felt was a mild heat on his fur. Spurred on, he stepped in with his other foot and began to wade forwards in the pool. Gradually, the heat in his body rose with the level of the lava.
At last, towards the center of the pool, the bottom became deeper than he could stand on and still be above the surface. He crouched down, bringing his whole body beneath the surface and starting to swim beneath the molten rock.
He emerged after a few minutes, paddling back to the shore and standing between the two Hissi heads. He could still feel the heat of the pool though, until he looked at his hands and realised that wasn't what he was feeling at all.
His body had been transformed. His fur was gone, hardened to black rock that was peppered with cracks and shapes. Between them, he could see the glow inside. The Fire Within, he realised. His soul, for want of a better word, peeking through the cracks. The heat he could feel, he realised, wasn't from the pool. It was him - the fire was of him now. He felt connected to it, to the lava flowing in the pool behind him, and the lava tubes further out in the caverns.
There was a beat to it, he realised, like a pulse of Neopia. The heartbeat of the magma... And between that, he could feel something else, like beacons of light on his senses - he could feel them all, every last magma Neopet, their souls.
“Nefnar,” Marbelle said. “That is what we call what you can see. Our souls laid bare - the Fire Within.”
He could do more than see them. He could feel them - not quite their thoughts, but their emotions, their health... everything. It would have been overwhelming, if the heat inside his body wasn't somehow comforted by it.
“Welcome to the Daken Nar,” Marbelle told him.
To be continued…