The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Fourteen
The giants were gone.
The city of Titanton was free.
All thanks to me. Well, I like to tell myself that anyways. But really, it was thanks to everyone in town pitching in, as well as a number of key players who really banded together with tenacity.
Jax, Hayn, Bion, Gill, Corporal Riley and the Scimitar Man had ridden home with me on our six, swift drake horses.
On the way, I finally had gotten to know a little more about our foreign friend as I rode with him on his mount.
“My apologies,” I had shouted over the roar of drake hoofbeats. “I never got your name…” my voice almost swallowed up by the din.
“What?” the Scimitar Man had called back. “It feels like a, game?”
“Name!” I’d tried again. “What’s your name!?”
“Apalandro!” he had answered proudly.
What a name, I’d thought. Not what I’d expected for one of the fierce desert warriors of fame.
Apparently, he’d sensed my hesitation and had said, “I know, it is not a becoming for a Bukata barbarian, is it? That’s a why I have to leave my country. I was not a like them. My a name said it all. My a life has been anything but barbaric.”
I remember being impressed that he could cast his voice loud enough to be heard. And I was intrigued by his story. I wished to know more about this man named Apalandro from Bukata.
We were all relieved, the seven of us, that the city welcomed us back with cheers and not the screams of terror that would have meant the giants had won.
No, Titanton was thriving! Everyone was ecstatic and could not believe the plan had worked. According to the townsfolk, the giants who had been pummeled, ensnared and knocked over by the traps had all done their best to hide the pee stains as they fled town in a panic! It had seemed many of them believed they’d been bested by some ghostly force. Some had even shouted to the effect, “Spooks, spooks!” “Let’s get out of here!”
The giants who had been bound made blundering fools of themselves trying to weasel their ways out of ropes and wraps to their freedom. The ones who had fallen stumbled to their feet only to fall again, regain their footing and fall once more. It was more like the giants had come to town not to collect taxes, nay, but to perform a comedy.
That’s how the story was relayed to us anyway. But all the townsfolk were so pleased to see us return home safely.
I, too, was very relieved. After that giant, Gumpelthwomp had taken me I really feared for my life. But through some strength of will… yes! That’s it! I have figured out the lesson of strength!
“Welcome back,” said the voice of Angie, my host from the city in the mountain in the clouds. How fitting that she should arrive just then, just as I gained clarity on what I believed I was meant to learn from this challenge.
The winged woman was there before me then, walking forward with platinum armor glimmering in the late afternoon sun. Her walk was poised and calculated, one foot placed just so in front of the other, giving an extra air of importance.
“What lesson have you learned from your trial, dear one?” inquired my host.
I breathed in heavily and looked at her, “Well, I suppose I learned quickly what sorts of things were not my strengths. I had it in mind that it had to be a physical skill of some sort, but it wasn’t about that kind of strength. It was more about mental strength.”
“Go on,” she urged me.
I continued, “I had to be aware of stream of thoughts so they wouldn’t run rampant and get caught up in fear. My full focus was on soothing myself to feeling a little differently, hopefully better, about whatever was happening.”
I paused, then, “For instance when the giant, Gumpelthwomp, had me in his grip, I panicked so much at first. But as I eased into the situation and discovered where I was free to act, I was able to persevere. But it wasn’t the way I’d expected. I found my power in words. It was my ability to think and create ideas that got me through the challenge. That was my strength.”
“To hold onto your belief in your own ability to create,” the winged woman elegantly completed. “Anything you needed at the time you needed it. Hold onto beliefs if you wish to see them in reality. That is a strength.”
She gestured before her face and her ornate headdress shone as though covered in gold. Then she wrote runic symbols in the air in a blue, misty conjuring of smoke. They were unintelligible at first, then morphed into the Common language, at which point I read the word “bird.”
No sooner had I read these words than did a bird appear before my eyes, just where the blue smoke letters had been hanging in the air. The bird flew off into the sky and caught everyone’s attention.
“Are there other ways to look at strength?” Angie asked pointedly.
“Um, I’m not sure. If there is not physical strength, then there is mental strength. I certainly had to maintain my composure, and believe that there was always a solution. Oh, and that I had the right tools for the job. And the right people. Oh, that’s it. I found strength in my fellows, my friends. The people in that town, in Titanton, the ones that I met. Riley and Gill and everyone. The scimitar man, er, Apalandro. Even Jax, Bion and Hayn… everyone contributed their own unique knowledge, or talent, their own strength to the joint effort of defending the city. Then I suppose I learned there is strength in numbers. Well, when they are aligned to the same task. And we were. And we succeeded. We overcame enormous odds.”
To my surprise the winged woman named Angie laughed greatly then, a truly youthful-sounding giggle. She smiled a broad smile and circled around me, head lifting from where she had dropped it during her laugh, pointing eyes shyly to the floor the moment before…
Then she said, “Good joke, Troy. I like the sense of humor on you. The giants were a tremendous foe to overcome, indeed. It was obvious to know that a battle of muscles would not prove fruitful for you against such beasts. So it had to be a different sort of strength.”
My host paced a bit and continued, “Your ideas and plans, the traps in town and the deception you played at the hands of the giants… they were your strength. They were not in themselves solutions, though they both worked. But they were a force you could work with to keep yourself motivated on succeeding. And you did succeed. You found inner strength and you found outer strength, your friends, to assist you. You even asked the gods for help. And that sort of power is available to you, of course. The gods answer in their own ways.”
She burst out laughing again, “You even asked the Nine, more or less. At least you did impersonate one. I do hope they don’t take offense when men pretend to be one. Haha. The Nine Magi! Tell that to your Wenter friends when you are next home!”
“How do you know about, I don’t, I’m not from the Wentry…” I tried.
“We know much about you, Troy, that is why you are here,” she replied. “There is nothing to be afraid of here, there are no laws against the Wentry in Neverwhere. In fact, I’d say your view of things is more accurate than the other traditions. So rigid, most of them. Not facing the reality before them in their own modern world.”
She shook her head and blinked her eyes quickly. “Well, in any case, we are all truly pleased with your success in your ascension trials. Well done, dear one. You have passed remarkably well!”
My host bowed in honor before me. It felt like such a blessing for her to offer that sort of gesture to me, her guest, her student.
And me, still feeling not much more ascended than the day before or the one before that.
“Yea, uh, well, thank you,” I answered awkwardly. Had I always been like this with beautiful women?
My inner emotion of nervousness must have gotten the best of me. I may have thought about getting out of sight, but I never meant to go invisible!
Yea, I disappeared. It just came on, all of a sudden. I saw everyone’s eyes wide open with surprise. At first I looked around, but saw nothing. Then I looked down to see my own body gone. Just gone! It was so bizarre to lift my hands before my eyes and not see them.
I patted my chest. Ok, I still have feeling in both my hands and my torso. So what’s going on? I touched my face. Still there. Ok, this is crazy. I can’t just vanish.
And then I was back. I was visible again the next moment. Like I just popped out of thin air, back to where I had been. But I had been there the whole time. Ah, what…?
“What just happened?” I asked of my befuddled companions. The only one not surprised was Gill. Actually, she was laughing.
“Aha!” she cried out. “I didn’t know if I should tell you before, but then I thought it’d just be funny to see your reaction. That was my invisibility spell.”
“Magic!?” Corporal Riley said, aghast. “I didn’t know you did magic. Why have you kept this secret?”
“I do,” Gill said nonchalantly. “I guess I don’t do it much anymore and, well, I didn’t want everyone making a fuss. Surprise.”
Riley pressed on, “Invisibility? That’s some pretty potent stuff, Gill.”
Gill retorted. “Actually it looks pretty flashy and high level magic and all but it’s really not.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Apalandro interjected, “I never a see anything like it.”
“No really, it’s just a beginner’s spell,” Gill said. “I learned a bit of illusion magic from my grandmother. And studied a couple books. But this is really just a simple trick of the eyes sort of spell. Basic illusion magic, even the street magicians know this kind of thing. Nothing like the wizards who can change form and time and energy and all that sort of… you know, it’s just, it’s nothing big…”
“Uh, yea it is,” Riley almost scolded her. “Having any skill with magic is pretty big to me. I’ve never known anyone who did magic before. Not in person anyway. Just stories.”
“Was your grandmother a Shone?” I asked Gill.
“Actually, she was,” Gill replied. “My grandmother emigrated from Shony to the River Lands when she had my mother. I forget why exactly. But she had to keep her magic under wraps in the shires and cities of Watermire Province. That’s where I…”
Gill trailed off looking puzzled.
“But wait,” Riley paused. “Why did you do the spell on Troy just now?”
“Oh, right,” Gill explained. “It was a delayed onset. I mean, he told the giants that it would take some time for the spell to kick in. So I put a bit of delay on the effect when I cast the spell in the valley.”
The spell. “Wait,” I said, “is that what I saw happen, when the firecrafts seemed to hit something in the sky and explode?”
“No,” Apalandro answered in a hurt sounding tone. “The firecrafts are a supposed to explode in the sky so they make a light show.”
“True,” Gill attempted to conclude, “but it was my spell that they hit. Just seemed a convenient time and place to cast it. So the explosions would hide it and disperse the effects through the valley in the falling debris and smoke.”
“I did think a the flashing was a little bit a different that time…” Apalandro mused to himself.
“Wow, Gill,” Riley commended her with a part on the back. “I am truly impressed by your ingenious spell casting. You might give some of the mages of Shony a run for their money. Brains are more useful than any magics, I don’t care how strong.”
“We’ve already established the lesson of strength,” I joked to some mild laughs. Then I gasped, “So that means the giants! Just now!”
“Yep, they probably had scare there a moment ago, too…” Riley nodded. “I hope they all collided into each other and start a giant invisible brawl among them…”
“Well let’s just trust that they are done with Titanton for good and will find somewhere else to go,” Corporal Riley added. “And that they don’t come back here, angry at what happened with the spell.”
“I can put that fear to rest, my child,” Angie said. “My scouts reported the band of giants turning invisible, as you said, and they did indeed collapse into a heap of confused bodies. But after they reappeared a host of human soldiers happened upon them and bound them for capture.”
“Unbelievable,” Riley gaped.
“No more than anything else that has happened to me lately,” I said with a smirk.
“Dear one,” Angie said to me. “We applaud your success in your first two challenges. Now you must be weary. Please, take some respite before you continue. We will start the Trial of Joy when you are ready.”
“Trial of Joy?” I asked profoundly baffled. “That sounds like a contradiction of terms. How can joy be a trial?”
“You will have to wait to find out,” answered my host, dodging my question. “But I will tell you this. It will involve overcoming sadness.”
Ah, there’s the trial, I thought to myself. Why did I have to ask? Now I will be trying to relax all the while wondering what saddening adventure awaits me next.
Or I could use that mental strength I talked about and forget about it. Just turn my attention to other things. Like how nice it will feel to take a hot bath.
Where did she say that bath house was again?
“Back to Mitstarhomvalla?” Angie asked me.
“Where?” I begged.
“The city in the mountain in the clouds,” she said proudly.
“Yea, please,” I answered eagerly. “I need to soothe my sore muscles. Take me to the baths.”
She answered my request with another magic portal. I had a brief moment to wave farewell to my Titanton friends from the land of Neverwhere. “Gill, Riley, everyone, it’s been a pleasure. Apalandro,” I called. “I do hope we can meet again.”
I saw smiles on their faces, then was swallowed up in energies and tossed through dimensional doorways back to the place of my respite: the city in the mountain the clouds.
At least, for a bit…
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Blessings to you,