The snake train brought the group to a narrow path leading them into a mountain covered in shades of white, grey and green. Jumo had looked at the compass and told Ash that it pointed beyond the mountain. The tree spirit who had been waiting above ground reconfirmed that London was now definitely in the hands of the enemy, but that no harm would be brought to her if they hurried to rescue her. How much truth there was to this was truly unknown.
The path carved out by nature swirled onwards into a mass of bushes ahead and then in the far distance split into two. In one direction the pathway dived into the depths of the mountain and on the other, up and round to the side until out of sight. The sun sat midway in the sky.
‘It looks like that mountain is our next destination,’ said Bradley.
They managed to make good distance before deciding to settle in for the night. Jumo started a fire, as it was now his job to do so. Kurumi collected wild berries for them all. Aruna prayed and to the group’s surprise, Jumo asked to join her. Again they exchanged skills and as the glorious sky slowly began to draw its curtains they decided to camp down for the night.
‘Leafy, how far behind is the shadow?’ Bradley asked the tree spirit in a whisper.
‘I gather about two days, but I can not be certain.’
‘What you whispering about?’ asked Aruna.
‘Well, I feel lighter without having had any meat recently,’ said Jumo.
‘Yeah, me to,’ said Bradley.
‘We head out in the morning,’ said Ash cutting through the conversation. He turned and focused on some ants carrying leaves to their base. Kurumi looked quite lost in expression. Ash went cold again in speech and not for the first time. Aruna huddled next to her, ‘he just needs time alone, let him be,’ she whispered.
After breakfast had been eaten they continued up the mountain pass in defense formation. Ash in front followed by Kurumi, Jumo, Aruna and then Bradley. So far the ascent had been steady and nothing out of the ordinary needed attention until Ash held up his hand to signal for his friends to stop. They had reached a connecting pathway and it held a dark atmosphere. Light seemed to not hit the ground, as it should.
‘There is something wrong here,’ he said, ‘Jumo come and analyse this, it might just be me.’ Jumo walked to the front and stood for a while gazing strongly at every corner of the pathway. He concluded that the path had recently been used and that the rocks embedded in the wall appeared to be replaceable. They debated that it must be something planted by the enemy, but yet there were no other paths to take unless they trekked back to where they had come. There was no choice but to continue forward with extra careful caution.
‘Bradley, you go first,’ said Ash.
‘What, why me mate?’
‘You can shield us, what being the biggest and all.’
‘Ha, ha. So humour returns to you then!’
‘I’m serious though,’ Ash continued.
‘Right then, let’s go,’ said Bradley leading the way.
The first rock came swooshing out from the right; Bradley barely managed to evade it in time. The second made way for Kurumi who fell back into the arms of Jumo who then collapsed to the floor. The more they moved the more the rocks kept coming.
‘What you doing on the floor Bradley!’ shouted Aruna.
‘Not being hit,’ he replied. Immediately Aruna, Kurumi and Jumo dived to the floor, slithering their way along the path until they reached the other side. Ash did not follow his friends; instead he skipped in and out of the flying stones until he was safely pass.
‘Before we head into that mountain tell me something tree spirit, why does time feel different here,’ asked Ash.
‘Time is no different here than it is on earth or anywhere else in the cosmos, but quite simply here you pay more attention to it. You have much distractions on earth that you do not sit and embrace time by just being and doing nothing.’
‘No, I get that. It’s like things here slow down and speed up at times.’
‘Then master Ash, it is not time that is being changed for it is constant and endless just like energy. It is yourself that is bending and making change occur. Time and gravity can bypass any dimension and distance relative to the person interacting those elements.’
‘Space-time?’ asked Jumo.
‘It is said that in space objects with a large mass can bend and alter time and space around it creating a fourth dimension. Just imagine that you’re throwing a ball in the air and imagine the air bending and moulding around the ball to allow it to pass by,’ added Jumo.
‘That is correct Jumo. Everything that is solid has a gravitational or electromagnetic pull and to this extent we can repel and deflect objects that orbit close to us if we react accordingly. Your energy transfers and extends both in the physical and spiritual dimensions and by spiritual I mean that of one’s emotions also. Each of you here is orbiting together and pulled into each other’s orbit through attraction whether it is physical or spiritual, or both. In this sense we can deflect objects and people away by mere thought. On earth, these thoughts often transpire themselves into body language and actions only because much of the spiritual connection has been lost,’ added the tree spirit.
‘You said energy is constant?’ asked Kurumi.
‘Yes, the energy is all around us and it is always there. We simply harness it and transfer it into different mediums, which are of use to us. You do not create electromagnetic energy on earth such as electricity, you simply harness it. Here, more than on earth, you can harness energy using yourselves as the medium to transfer, store and transmit it. If you can understand this, then my children you will be in a state of being and awareness like no other creature. Allow your minds to be free, unlearn the structures of things previously learned and be free to all eventualities and possibilities.’
They stood at the foot of the mountain peering up at its peak-like spires pondering what misfortunes will befall them on their continued journey. Ash stepped back and held Kurumi and Bradley by the hand. ‘Whatever is in store for us we will face it together,’ he said. Jumo and Aruna joined holding hands.
‘You can depend on us Ash, so lighten the burden you carry on your shoulders,’ added Jumo.
‘Yeah mate, we’ll get London back for you. She’s our family also,’ said Bradley. Tears rolled down Ash’s cheeks; with eyes closed he tilted his head back and took a slow deep breath. The sky was awash in a mirage of blue tones, so crystal and sharp enveloping the snow capped mountain range. Though there were no clouds in sight, light rain began to fall. The journey up now became a challenging one as their feet stumbled in pumice rocks and moss. A never before climbed mountain has no man-made path nor signs or placards of encouragement. It is a brutal effort filled with fluctuating temperatures and foot traps. The air got thinner with each step. Jumo, always thinking ahead had broken sticks from a nearby bush to use as walking aids, which were very much welcomed and most certainly used. After a few hours into their ascension Aruna spotted movement in the corner of her eyes.
‘Look over there, I saw something!’ she shouted. They all gazed into the direction at which Aruna was pointing. A waiting silence settled in for what seemed like eternity and then from out beyond a rock at the edge of the mountain range a furry white creature with black patches casually strolled out.
‘It’s a snow leopard,’ said Ash, ‘so beautiful.’ The snow leopard pranced along the rocks scanning each of them as it did.
‘Ash, it’s heading in your direction,’ said Aruna in a low voice. Ash remained calm and kept his eyes fixed on the snow leopard as it edged closer to him. A small tremor struck through the mountain followed by a more violent quake causing rocks to tumble. Everybody kept alert and dodged swiftly the rocks that had fallen. However, the snow leopard’s leg became trapped under a fallen rock.
After the quake stopped Ash climbed forward until he was close to the snow leopard. Its gentle eyes showed fragility akin to that of an infant. It made no sound. Ash smiled. He was now face-to-face with one his favourite animals. He had always wondered what an elusive snow leopard was like in real life. He held his breath and moved closer to it. The snow leopard did not attempt to move. Instead, it closed its eyes. Ash moved closer still, leaned forward and pushed the rock off its trapped leg. The snow leopard got up looked back at Ash and ascended the mountain. Ash looked back at his friends only to find them looking up at something else. He turned round to find a line of snow leopards and arctic foxes above. The snow leopard he had rescued slipped into line and slowly one by one each arctic fox and snow leopard disappeared beyond the rocks.
The group rested for a while. The tsingy was now a dot in the distance. The shadow was slowly moving like a slug in a back garden, but despite its slow advancements its purpose and intent was constant, forever propelling creeping forward. The constant darkness kept each of them on edge, always mindful not to rest or sleep for to long. Out in the open a drifting white sea of clouds floated across the skyline. Such was their height the clouds appeared to form valleys and mountains.
Their respite was broken short for some new danger appeared before them. The mountain shook again, but unlike the last time when rocks fell and skipped along the mountain surface this time the falling rocks joined together to form three human rock figures. Each of them stood there making a grinding noise as if transmitting some kind of message to each other. In their haste, the group left everything behind and made for an escape.
‘It looks like we’re not going either over or around that mountain. Let’s head towards that opening up above,’ said Aruna.
‘Go, I’ll buy us some time,’ said Jumo.
‘Don’t be an idiot mate,’ said Bradley, ‘whatever they are, they’re made of rock.’
‘I can see that Bradley! Now go!’
They pressed ahead with great speed whilst the three rocklins slowly advanced towards Jumo. He picked up a rock and threw it at one of the figures. Unfortunately for him the rock he threw shattered into pieces upon impact. Ash joined Jumo. He jumped down towards the rock figures and darted around in circles causing them to react with lazy punches and swipes. He had them lined up perfectly before lunging at one of them with a mid-air two-footed kick. He had sent one rock figure crashing into the other and then the other like dominoes crumbling into hundreds of pieces.
‘Great distracting Jumo!’
After being sure nothing more would happen they both climbed back up to where their friends were waiting. Kurumi, Bradley and Aruna had watched the whole scenario from above in full confidence not to interfere, but dared not enter the mountain passage for it was dark and cold.
‘Done,’ said Jumo with a smile. He stepped forward into the opening, but his leg got caught on something. He looked down. ‘Oh, no.’
His friends saw it all in slow motion and would later play it back in their heads again and again. Jumo was thrown backwards into the sky by one of the rocklins. As he was thrown back he threw his compass towards Ash and before Jumo hit the ground the other two rocklins on either side crushed him in mid-air. Dust was all that remained. Jumo was gone. It was a swift killing, so quick it did not seem to be a part of their reality.
‘Jumo!’ screamed Ash. He lunged forward, but Bradley held him back and pulled him into the dark abyss of the mountain where the rocklins did not enter for it was not their domain to inhabit. The group ran into the darkness, their tears leaving a trail on the cold stone. Finally Bradley could run no longer, his heart pounding against his rib cage.
‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe… Jumo, Jumo!’ He screamed with panted gasps. The tree spirit hovered above him changing its colours soothingly, trying to regulate his breathing whilst providing light to the hole that they were in. Aruna held Kurumi deep into her body. Kurumi repeated the same thing in Japanese over and over – nande, nande – to herself. Ash tried his best to comfort Bradley whilst he grieved himself.
‘I was always so rude to him,’ said Bradley, ‘now, I can never say sorry.’ They all stayed rooted to their location. Their cries vibrated out and across the mountain, resonating with the nature that surrounded them. Six had now become four. So exhausted from emotions they slowly fell into an uneasy asleep. The hours that drifted by in that dark tunnel could do nothing to heal the emotional pain seeping into the walls.
‘Get up everybody,’ said Aruna.
‘What is it?’ asked Ash.
‘We can still save London and everybody back home. We mustn’t forget why we’re here. Let’s go!’
‘Tree spirit, take us out of here,’ said Bradley bringing himself to his feet.
‘Follow me and do keep up.’ They jogged behind the tree spirit as it swooped round corners, up and down holes and ledges. Without questions they followed in trust and determination and so when the tree spirit dropped out of sight Ash immediately followed without hesitation, as did the others. At times they found themselves sliding down within the mountain aided by the dim light of the tree spirit, as if on a caved water-slide. There was no use in screaming or making any sort of noise for they had shared and expressed every emotion and sound since the start of their journey in Vaalbara. They slid for at least ten minutes and as the tunnel slowly levelled up so did their descending speed until Ash was able to stand. He helped the others up one by one. They followed the tree spirit in between narrow pathways leading sideways and above and below rocks until finally daylight could be seen filtering through a narrow crack. At which point it dawned on Ash that they must of had slept the night inside the mountain’s womb.
B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp