Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Five Hundred and four : The altar of life


Deep in the Marlowe Mine

“Are you ready, Jacob Marlowe?” Abi said.

Jacob gave her a slow nod.

“I will tell you,” Abi said. “It is my great pleasure to have you by my side.”

Jacob grinned at the compliment. Abi smiled. She nodded to him and they walked the last few feet.

The tunnel ended in a small cavern. It was dark but Jacob’s fairy elixir enhanced eyes could see clearly. He glanced at Abi. She seemed to be able to see clearly as well.

In the middle of the cavern stood what looked like an altar. Massive pieces of the red sandstone native to Colorado were stacked into a three foot high mound. On top of the altar stood the remnants of crude candles, carved and clay figurines, small bowls with animal fat and wicks inside as lamps, and other offerings. The ground around the altar was smooth and slightly darkened as if many thousands of people had come to kneel around the altar. The entire altar was covered in thick layer of dust.

Jacob pointed to one end of the chamber. There was a great pile of rocks and dirt. Abi gave him a curious look.

“Entrance,” Jacob said, in the silent language she’d been teaching him.

Abi looked at him for a moment and then back at the altar.

“Someone created this,” Abi said.

“Someone else caused this cave in to close off access to it,” Jacob said. “These tunnels were built long afterwards by someone else.”

Abi took a sniff.

“I don’t know if you can smell this, but there is a light odor of …” Abi said, and fell silent thinking.

“Magic?” Jacob asked as he took a breath to smell.

“No,” Abi said. “I was going to say humanity.”

Jacob scowled. He took out the knife and scraped up some of the wax from the candles.

“Tallow,” he said.

“Old,” Abi said.

Jacob touched the liquid at the bottom of the bowls.

“Animal fat,” Jacob said. “Ugh. Smells awful.”

Jacob was about to wipe his hands on his pants, then thought better of it. Taking a bandana from his pocket and wiped his hands on that. Abi grinned at him.

“This was a sacred place,” Abi said. “I wonder if it was on the Catholic registry.”

“Catholic registry?” Jacob asked.

“It’s just a fascination of mine,” Abi said with a wag of his finger. “Those Catholics — they know more than you’d expect and far less than they should. They’re always surprising me. I bet they know all about this place.”

Abi walked to where the dirt and rock were piled up.

“This,” Abi pointed to the rocks that closed off the opening. “This is the work of that soul stealer. Would you agree?”

“Keep what’s holy to himself,” Jacob said with a nod.

“That changes our timeline a bit,” Abi said as she walked around the cavern. “We’d thought maybe the soul stealer had come underground millions of years ago, but this …”

“Human’s made these,” Jacob gestured to what was on top of the table.

Abi nodded. Jacob glanced down the tunnel.

“It’s possible that the tunnels connected him to whatever was here,” Jacob said.

Abi went out into the tunnel to look at the tunnel and its connection to this chamber. She shook her head.

“These tunnels were created by an ancestor of yours,” Abi said. “There are clear marks of psychokinetic energy.”

Abi pointed to marks on the tunnel that weren’t visible to Jacob’s eyes.

“Your ancestor was blasting his way through and came upon this chamber,” Abi said.

“As it is?” Jacob asked.

Abi jogged over to the rocks and dirt that covered the cavern’s entrance. With Jacob’s enhanced vision, he could almost see her use her smelling, breathing, watching, and drawing in what looked like a cave in. She shook her head.

“This,” Abi pointed to the mound of rock and dirt, “was created the soul stealer.”

Drawing in the essence of the cavern, Abi walked around the edge of the cavern. She shook her head.

“He came in there.” Abi pointed to where the opening had been.

“Following the worshipers,” Jacob said.

Abi looked at him for a long moment before nodding.

“That’s probably right,” Abi said. “At some point, possibly immediately, possibly after some years, he closed the cavern. But why?”

“If worshipers were coming here, he would have an endless supply of souls to steal,” Jacob said.

“We may not ever know,” Abi said. She scowled. “Gilfand is really good at this. When he’s here, he will help us find a story to tell.”

Jacob nodded. Abi pointed up.

“Our friends are above us here,” Abi said. She pointed to a small hole in the ceiling. “That’s the vent that allowed the soul stealer to hurt our Delphie and your father so badly.”

“And however many more,” Jacob said. “Why would they build a cemetery above … this?”

“Sacred land,” Abi said. “The entrance to the cavern is shut off. The mine goes willy nilly under the town and anywhere your ancestor was interested.”

Abi shrugged.

“People could feel the sacred nature of this land,” Abi said. “They put their beloved dead there.”

Jacob nodded. He looked around the cavern, focused on the altar, and then looked at Abi.

“Where is the creature trapped here?” Jacob asked. “Is it still here?”

Abi squinted for a moment at him. Her squint became a scowl.

“I …” Abi said.

“What is it?” Jacob asked.

“I’m not sure,” Abi said. “That is all. You said something about magic.”

“It smells like magic,” Jacob said.

“What kind of magic?” Abi asked.

Jacob shook his head.

“What do you mean?” Jacob asked.

“The magic that Delphie performs in her chapel?” Abi’s voice came in fast words. “The Navajo ceremony that brought your soul back to your body? Perses’s … well, everything? You were with Hedone when she was transformed into a Goddess. Hell, there was literally an Olympian battle at your wedding. You’ve been inside a sacred cabin of light. Is it …?”

“Fairy magic,” Jacob said. “But not as sweet as Fin or spicy sweet like Mari …even hot chocolate sweet like Edie.”

Jacob shook his head.

“Were you at the ceremony?” Jacob asked.

Abi tipped her head to the side as if to say “Which one?”

“Uh …” Jacob said. “At some point, when I was on the Isle of Mann, you know — trying to break the curse — there was a big ceremony. Fin was there. The Queen. Lots of different types of fairies —a big, small. There seemed to be thousands.”

“I was with Rodney Smith at the earthquake site,” Abi said.

“Are you sure?” Jacob asked.

“Yes, I am sure,” Abi said. “My queen’s favorite child is the Blue Fairy. She sent the entire corps to the earthquake site at the request of the Blue Fairy. I was with Rodney because he is my granddaughter’s beloved.”

Abi smiled.

“I hope my frankness is alright with you, Jacob Marlowe,” Abi said. “I am not usually so forthright. Besides, I hate those formal affairs. They are ridiculous and dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Jacob asked.

“It won’t surprise you that the Fairy Queens don’t get along,” Abi said. “Should the Queen get offended, it would be up to me to see that she is made right.”

“Made right?” Jacob asked with a grin.

“Usually means death for someone, who is also fulfilling their duty to make right their own Queen’s ego,” Abi said with a shrug. “Who needs that? I’d rather be doing something. Plus, I hadn’t spent a lot of time with Rodney. He’s everything Yvonne had said he was.”

She smiled at him and started looking around again.

“What were we talking about?” Abi asked.

Jacob scowled at Abi and she smiled.

“You went to a celebration and…” Abi started.

“There was a fairy there,” Jacob said.

Abi’s eye’s shot to Jacob’s face. Unnerved by the heat of her full attention, he shifted from side to side.

“There were two …” Jacob looked away for a moment and nodded. “I think just two, fairies that also had their own attendants. I thought they were fairy queens.”

Abi didn’t appear to breathe.

“This smells like them. Well, Fand, too,” Jacob said. Under his breath, he added, “Sort of. Similar and different too.”

“Shit, shit, shit!” Abi said. Her voice changed and she spit out what he thought were expletives in a language Jacob had never heard before. She looked at him again and said, “Shit!”

Jacob rushed to her side.

“What is it?” Jacob asked.

She gave him a long look. He could almost see the wheels of her mind work. After a few moments, she sighed.

“There’s tension between the Fairy Queendoms,” Abi said. “Four fairy queens were dropped to this planet. As you know, Gilfand and I found only one. It didn’t occur to us that there would be more. I mean, we didn’t know what it was, so how could we know there were more? It was some years later when we met a second. She was being cared for by some early humanoids.”

Abi gave a soft smile. She lifted a shoulder in a shrug.

“Her humanoids brought her to Ireland in 6 or 7000 BC,” Abi said. “That’s how Gilfand and I found out there were more.”

“More?” Jacob asked.

“Than one fairy queen,” Abi said. “The third raised herself, basically. She is … wild, crazy, beautiful. She’s spent most of her lifetime in a temple high up in the mountains of India, where she is much revered. You’d like her. Her name is … well, I can’t say her name or she will hear us.”

Abi fell silent. Her eyebrows squeezed together as she seemed almost overwhelmed with anxiety and self-reproach. Jacob had been in battle with Abi. They’d killed the soul stealer and wandered for hours, or possibly days, in these tunnels. Abi had, not even for a moment, looked even concerned, let alone worried. Jacob scowled.

“And the fourth?” Jacob asked, what seemed like the obvious question.

“Are you here for a history lesson, Jacob?” Abi snapped.

Jacob raised his hands in a gesture of “Whoa.” Abi shook her head. She looked away for a long moment before turning back to him.

“You are right,” Abi said. “It smells like fairy in here.”

“What does that mean to you?” Jacob asked.

“It means that we need to proceed with great caution,” Abi said.

“Is that why we haven’t lifted these stones and seen what is trapped below?” Jacob asked.

Abi nodded.

“Do we need Gilfand?” Jacob asked.

Abi shook his head. Jacob opened and closed his mouth. He wasn’t even sure what to ask Abi. When she walked to the sandstone, he followed her.

“I can easily lift this and we …” Jacob said.

“I am aware that you can,” Abi said, cutting him off.

Jacob reached out and touched Abi’s hand. To his surprise, her hand turned over and she let him hold her hand. He didn’t say anything. He just waited until she was able to speak. Suddenly they were standing in the large, open entrance cavern with the creek running through it.

Jacob raised his eyebrows.

“I need to think,” Abi said.

“My mother used to think things through by talking to my father,” Jacob said. “Or me.”

Abi’s eyes flicked to him.

“Valerie, too,” Jacob said. “Of course, Jill does as well.”

Lost in thought, Abi’s eyes were on Jacob but her mind was miles away.

“I’m good at listening,” Jacob said.

Abi’s eyes didn’t leave his face. He gave her a soft smile and went to where he’d stashed another backpack with food and water. He got out two protein bars and bottles of water. He gave Abi an orange and a protein bar. They ate quickly and drank down the water.

“What do you have to lose?” Jacob asked, seemingly out of the blue.

Abi sighed and turned away from him.

“There is tension between the fairy realms,” Abi said. “I believe we are on the brink of war. Fand disagrees with me, but …”

“War?” Jacob asked, but Abi continued speaking.

“The prince … Fin … is consumed with the idea that we need to modernize the queendom,” Abi said. “All of his efforts go toward making this happen. He has pushed, prodded, and poked at the Queen, his mother, until she’s agreed to his reasoning.”

Abi sighed again.

“You have to realize that Fand was cursed,” Abi said. “Her body scattered to the wind … without power … for a long, long time. Humans had multiplied in that time. Whole civilizations had risen and fallen. Fand’s queendom, and the world for that matter, had done well without her … influence.”

Abi’s eyes flicked to Jacob.

“You know who’s done really well without her?” Abi asked.

“The other Fairy Queens?” Jacob asked.

“Exactly,” Abi said. She sighed. “Fand is a Queen. She expects to be treated like a queen. As she should, really. No one had seen her in an age.”

“She was insulted by one of the other queens?” Jacob asked.

“Worse than that,” Abi said. “The other queens bragged to Fand that they were responsible for the fortunes of human beings.”

“They didn’t need Fand to return,” Jacob said.

“They believe that the world is too small for four fairy Queendoms,” Abi said. “Fand should return to her slumber and ‘leave the running of the world to those who can do it.’ That’s what the fairy that was raised by humanoids told me and Mari after she and Fand argued. You know her as Mab.”

“Queen Mab?” Jacob asked. “From Shakespeare.”

“It’s not her name, just one he gave her,” Abi said.

Jacob nodded.

“Fand was furious,” Abi said. “But, Queen Mab was right. She and her sister had done a great job running the world. They’d ended world wars. Kept fairies as well as their entire realms quiet and hidden from modern eyes.”

Abi shrugged.

“I feel very disloyal saying that,” Abi said. “Fand was my first child. I love her. But she can be so …”

“Power hungry?” Jacob asked.

“They all are power hungry,” Abi said. “I was going to say ‘infuriating.’”

Abi stopped talking.

“Why does this come up now?” Jacob asked.

Abi sighed.

“There was a fourth fairy queen,” Abi said. “She was dropped onto the world and disappeared. I have been looking for her for years, since that time, really.”

“And you think she’s …” Jacob pointed in the direction of the altar they’d found.

Abi nodded and pointed to her nose.

“Smells like fairy but not the ones you know,” Abi said.

“I see,” Jacob said. “If it is a fairy, and we free her?”

“Fand will, to use a modern term, freak out,” Abi said. “She will assume that I found this fairy queen to supplant her. She will likely disown me and put pressure on Fin to end our relationship, kill our children, and return to her.”

Abi looked around the large cavern.

“She will assume that all of this,” Abi gestured to the cavern around her, “all of our efforts, were done out of disloyalty to her.”

“Not for Delphie?” Jacob asked. “Delphie’s been talking about all of this for more than a year!”

Abi shook her head.

“Fand doesn’t see the needs of other people,” Abi said. “It’s not in her make up.”

“Yikes,” Jacob said. He fell silent for a moment. “Oh, I get it. Fin is focused on modernizing the queendom. He might not notice his mother’s displeasure …”

“Or care,” Abi said.

“Until she kills his children?” Jacob asked.

“Even then,” Abi said with a shake of her head. “He would never believe that his mother did it. Our relationship would be over. It’s likely that he will attempt to kill me or he will die trying to kill our children.”

Abi sighed.

“I know it’s selfish, but I was really enjoying this time in my life,” Abi said. “Fin and I, our children, everything is so peaceful. We’ve been so happy. I love living with you. Gilfand has his Brigid and …”

Abi nodded.

“You see an end of that?” Jacob asked.

“I fear it here,” Abi put a hand on her heart.

Jacob nodded in understanding.

“Who are you to the other fairy queens?” Jacob asked.

“First woman,” Abi shrugged. “They call me, ‘mother,’ as in Mother Earth. They call Gilfand, ‘father.’”

“You matter to them,” Jacob said.

Abi shrugged.

“I exist for them,” Abi said. “They may hate me but they respect me enough not to mess with me or my life.”

“It’s just Fand then,” Jacob said.

“Oh, Fand, my Queen,” Abi nodded. “She’s threatened by my power.”

“But the others are not?” Jacob asked.

“They don’t compete with me,” Abi said.

“They don’t?” Jacob asked. “Why is that?”

“Good question,” Abi said.

“Is it because they think you are not as powerful as they are?” Jacob asked.

“I’m more powerful than they are. Combined,” Abi said.

“Is it Fin?” Jacob asked.

“What do you mean?” Abi asked.

“You and Fin’s mother are competing …”

Abi shook her head and laughed.

“No,” Abi said.

“I wonder …” Jacob said. He looked at Abi and nodded.

“What?” Abi asked.

“What if the queens were to rule together?” Jacob asked. “As sisters? They are out of balance because they are missing a member their family.”

Abi looked at Jacob and blinked.

“The four fairy queens hold the four directions or the four fairy corners of the world or …” Jacob said. “They’ve been without one, so haven’t been grounded.”

“But …” Abi started.

“Queen Mab and the queen in India balance each other out,” Jacob said. “Fand and this queen also would balance each other out.”

Abi blinked at Jacob and shook her head.

“So Fand is weird because …” Abi started.

“Because she is,” Jacob said. “I’m not saying that adding another would make any of this easier. I’m just saying it might balance them out. After all, she’s been in the ground. She may be the Queen who grounds the heady out of control magic of the others.”

Abi shifted. She walked around the edges of the cavern and then walked straight back to Jacob.

“You have a plan, don’t you?” Abi asked, evenly.

Jacob nodded. She winced and hesitated. A minute passed before she sighed and asked the question.

“What do you have in mind?” Abi asked.

Jacob grinned at her and Abi shook her head.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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