Chapter 10: Underground Tortoises (Elements of Vaalbara)

London, Bradley and Aruna had been carried down into an underground cave below the sandy surface. The falling sand formed a blanket for all of them to drop slowly and softly without injury. Naturally, the tree spirit floated down effortlessly. They had fallen down a long way. The only sources of light apart from the tree spirit came from glowing bobtail squids play-fighting in an area of dark water to the left. Other than these fascinating creatures of the underground world, nothing else could be seen. Bradley held on to London. She giggled at every swish and swoop the squids made. Aruna became anxious as she tried to see through the dark veiled atmosphere that sat before them. The air was cold, dense and scentless, but very fresh. They listened in stealth fashion as a popping and hissing sound echoed throughout the underground.

Suddenly, the ground below them moved. Then it moved again. They huddled together under the light of the tree spirit. The ground below now moved upwards and each of them struggled to keep their balance. Two beams of pearly white lights struck out ahead and lit up their surroundings. They could see clearly now. They were in a grand and spacious cave filled with golden bats resting on large crystal icicles of purple, blue, green and pink. They looked like gigantic jewels piercing through from the ground above. The water surface stretched far beyond sight and there were more things in the water than had first been noticed, like a swarm of sky blue fishes with legs, and jade circle-shaped creatures that moved with sudden bursts of water bubbling from behind.

There was no time to be daydreaming in the beauty of the unknown for the ground beneath continued to move still.

‘Leafy, what’s going on?’ asked Bradley.

‘You will see soon enough, but do hold on tight.’ Four enormous green muscular legs with wavy yellow patterns slipped out from the ground underneath them. Each leg was flattened at the front with long claws, which curled up to dig deep into the earth. As the ground continued to move a great sound of water shifting through a tube rippled. Beams of light appeared from behind. In shear amazement at the scene laid out before him, Bradley let his tight grip of London go.

‘My dear ones, you are now riding on top a desert tortoise. Do not fear, we will get a ride to the edge of the desert, and you will not fall off unless you truly wish to,’ said the tree spirit. There were six gigantic tortoises including the one they were standing on, each one’s head creeping out from within their shells. The lights came from their eyes. London had already escaped and was resting and laughing on top of another tortoise, her small body looked like an solitary autumn leaf on a large naked tree in winter. Gradually, they all smiled and laughed.

‘Ah-mazing,’ said Aruna. She skipped down the back of the tortoise onto its blue tail, and hopped onto another tortoise behind.

‘This is mental. Blue-tailed desert tortoises,’ said Bradley.

‘They’re beautiful,’ said Aruna. ‘Just look at the designs on their skin and shells.’

Yellow and violet lines smoothly waved its way across each of the tortoises’ bodies. The strokes were flawless, like the best work of art you could ever possibly see or imagine. This was nature’s purest design. The tree spirit floating above London swirled around and pointed one branch forward. At the tree spirit’s signal all the tortoises began to push ahead in unison. You could forgive Aruna and Bradley forgetting about the friends they left behind on the ground. They smiled at each other, sang songs and felt as if the world belonged to them.

Above ground the ancient woodland and forest was drawn nearer. Despite knowing deep in his heart London would be fine, Ash still nevertheless continued to show signs of irritation at being separated from her. Jumo was analysing everything that moved with careful detail for he knew from reading plenty of nature magazines that the desert was no place to take lightly. Even a grain of desert dust moving in the breeze would not escape his watchful eyes. Armies before them have perished in sandstorms and many tradesmen have lost their way and ended up becoming absorbed in sand tombs. Jumo was a book of knowledge for the group and when the group came across a new terrain he would pull on his vast knowledge to share with them. In fact each of them possessed knowledge, awareness and sensitivities that have led them thus far, and if it were not for their complete trust in each other they would have long ago met with some ill fate.

‘Do you think we will make it back home alive?’ asked Ash. Kurumi looked up, but could not find the right words to respond. She remained in her quiet usual thinking persona. Jumo thought for a moment, as one should always do before making a comment on serious matters.

‘Yes, I do,’ said Jumo with confidence.

‘How can you be so sure?’


‘Because we have you,’ said Kurumi. She looked in the opposite direction as the words escaped her. Both Ash and Jumo appeared startled by Kurumi’s direct words. Jumo smiled.

‘Silent rivers do indeed run deep,’ said Jumo. ‘She is right. You’re a leader Ash, that’s who you are and what you do.’

‘This is not some school project Jumo.’

‘Jumo means you’re the element.’

‘The element what?’ asked Ash.

‘I have been listening to the tree spirit carefully. You are certainly the element Ash,’ added Jumo. ‘Apparently, we can double our abilities and strength within our limits, but to be honest none of us knows how to do it, nor how to feel it. But you Ash, you feel it do you not. You know it is possible. I am guessing Kurumi must feel it in some way too, but she lacks courage and belief in herself.’

‘But-,’ said Ash.

‘And then there are our individual elemental markings, which we can summon. However, the shade of your lining pattern is different from the rest of ours. Your colour is stronger,’ continued Jumo. Ash checked the lining on the palm of his hand once again and looked at Kurumi’s, and then Jumo’s markings. It appeared Jumo was telling the truth for it was but the subtlest of difference, but different still.

‘I fear none of us can release our elements,’ said Jumo.

‘Why not,’ asked Ash bewildered.

‘Because-.’ Jumo went quiet.

‘Because we all believe in you too much,’ said Kurumi.

‘If you can not release your element, then none of us can believe that we can possibly release our own,’ said Jumo. ‘You think you do not know who you are, or what you want to do, but you are living the you, and being who you can be right now.’

Deep down Ash knew they were right. He had spotted them on occasions whispering in the background and at night watching over him, as if he were carrying some precious package that needed protection. If they were a band of strangers Ash would think that perhaps those around him were conspiring to do him harm. Perhaps his current separation was another test. A test for him to relinquish his over protective and watchful eye upon. After all, she was no longer a baby.

‘Just what are we really saving earth for? I’m trying to understand what our world means. All the pain and suffering,’ said Ash.

‘When you figure that out, do not hesitate to let the world know. Though, if I must be honest I think you are exploring a question that has no definitive answer,’ said Jumo.

‘You really do sound like the tree spirit at times, are you sure you both are not related.’ Kurumi laughed, blushing under Ash’s quick glance. Ash started to sing.


It’s all right, it’ all right, honey it’s all right
Long as I know, long as I know that you love me honey, it’s all right
One more thing I want you to know, if you ever worry, if you’re all alone
Remember darling that I’m as near as your telephone.
And if you need me honey
All you have to do is call me honey, believe me, it’s all right.
(He hums and changes melody)

If I go, a million miles away
I’d write a letter, each and every day 
’Cause honey nothin’,
Nothin’ can ever change this love 
I have for you
Ooh, make me weep, 
You can make me cry
See me comin’ 
And you can pass me by
I know that nothin’, 
Nothin’ can ever
change this love 
I have for you


Jumo and Kurumi walked behind Ash and listened with a smile. His voice was like a breeze of comforting fresh air washing over them both, like smooth velvet dipped in honey. Jumo moved closer to Kurumi and whispered, ‘I’m glad Ash is back.’ Kurumi smiled and replied, ‘me too.’


The journey below with the tortoises was simply magical as they passed through impressive caverns with an evenly warm temperature throughout. London constantly laughed and giggled all the way through. Plants and insects glowed and illuminated the dry earthed pathway. Bradley was in front, followed by London and the tree spirit, then Aruna. They marvelled at the unknown without fear. The shells of the tortoises were thick with large mounds and patterned rings like a tree stub. Bradley climbed onto London’s tortoise and sat next to her.

‘What is it dear Bradley?’ asked the tree spirit.

‘How did you know I wanted to ask a question?’ replied Bradley in a low whisper. He looked somewhat embarrassed. ‘Well, anyway Leafy. When I was holding onto to that dragon-snake thingy, I noticed a shadow on the desert ground. It stretched right across, but there weren’t any clouds in the sky,’ said Bradley.

‘Ah, I had hoped I would not need to tell you about that. The shadow of our enemy travels slowly by day and fades at night. If that shadow should fall upon any one of us then not only will our enemy know that you are on these lands for certain, but you will also lose your mind. Your mind will be sucked into darkness,’ said the tree spirit. ‘Beyond that, I do not know what dark devilry that shadow holds.’

‘Right,’ said Bradley flabbergasted, ‘best not to tell the others then.’

‘Master Bradley, you grow wiser by the hour,’ replied the tree spirit.

‘Why, thank you my dear mental Leafy.’

‘I feel better now! Can we somehow return to the others?’ shouted Aruna.

‘Yeah, we should stick together,’ added Bradley.

‘It would appear that you are all growing by the hour,’ said the tree spirit. The tree spirit swirled around in a ball of colours and suddenly the tortoises began to sink into the ground.

‘What’s happening Leafy? Aren’t we supposed to be going up?’ asked Bradley.

‘Sometimes we must go down to come back up,’ replied the tree spirit, ‘now relax and close your eyes.’ Bradley put his hands over London’s face and one by one they closed their eyes. The tortoises sank deep into the ground and to the amazement of Ash, Jumo and Kurumi. London, Bradley and Aruna popped out from the sand several metres ahead, feet first. Ash ran over to London and embraced her. The others reunited and Aruna immediately told of their adventure underground with the torch-eyed tortoises. Jumo took notes and listened eagerly.

They continued forward side-by-side laughing and joking. The woodland was but a short distance away and already the group could hear the various layered sounds of creatures and insects. The dazzling sun and flaky moon sat deep and high into the sky. Not a cloud, not a sign of rain, there was nothing to bring their spirits down for now at least.

B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp