CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED and NINE
The Altar of Life
Deep in the Marlowe Mine
“Are we ready?” Sam asked no one and everyone at the same time.
Jacob, Liban, and Mari nodded. He went to check the rigging.
While Sam and Mari got supplies, Liban and Jacob had made a foot high rock border around the vent hole. They’d used magic only to dry and solidify the mortar. They needed the border to help hold up the structure and they needed it to be strong. They allowed the fairy queens to “help” by testing to be sure that the border was strong and stable. It with stood even the fury of Queen Fand.
Sam and Mari had appeared with a variety of beams, tools, and supplies. While Liban told Sam about their plan, Jacob got to work. In no time, Sam and Jacob had built a small simple wooden support structure.
Because they didn’t know if or when the vent hole let out a blast of scorching heat, they’d agreed to make the top of the structure out of heat tested metal piping. The bottom supports of the structure needed the flexibility and power of wood. The trickiest part would be the junction.
Luckily, Jacob and Sam had created these before. When the fairies offered to help, Jacob just waved them away. The fairies put together the metal pieces while Sam and Jacob made the junction. Everyone watched with nervous anticipation as Sam and Jacob moved the connection between wood and metal into place. Even the fairy queens cheered when they were done.
The structure looked like a something you might see around a deep community water well. There was a metal roll of thick wire on a heavy spindle with a large handle to lower and raise the wire. Jacob, Liban, and Mari would clip onto the wire, and Sam would lower them down into the hole.
Sam checked to make sure that Jacob, Liban, and Mari’s harnesses were on correctly. As one last check, Abi checked the harnesses and the structure one last time.
“I’ll go first,” Mari said.
“Actually,” Liban said. “I would prefer it if I went first. That way I can see what is going on for myself. If there is danger, I can make sure you don’t come down.”
“But, I am expendable,” Mari said.
“Yes, well, I am more expendable than you,” Liban said.
“Neither of you is expendable,” Sam said. “This is ridiculous. Jacob?”
Jacob had hooked his rigging onto the wire and was just about to jump into the hole.
“See you later,” Jacob said.
Before anyone could move, he raised a hand in “good-bye” and jumped into the hole. The wire went out easily. Sam tried to stop the wire, but it was unraveling too fast. Abi went to help. Together, they were able to slow the wire’s descent and bring it to a halt.
Liban hooked in. They lowered her down and Mari hooked.
“We’re going to unravel it enough for you to get to the child,” Sam yelled down to Jacob.
Jacob held an upturned thumb to his father. Sam and Abi let out the wire. The fairies and Jacob began their slow descent into the heat vent.
It was hot. Heat radiating from the earth’s core was magnified by the grey sandstone walls.
Jacob felt sweat just pour from him. At the bottom of the wire, drops of sweat from Liban and Mari hit him. He felt like his clothing was melting. The rubber at the bottom of his hiking boots melted every time he touched the grey sandstone walls of the vent.
As if he were in the middle of a bonfire, his ears were filled with a roaring sound. He was desperately thirsty. For all the heat outside his body, he felt cold, almost frozen inside himself. He knew from volunteering on the large fire crews that when he felt hot inside, he would be cooked all the way through. For now, he tried to enjoy the odd sensation of coolness inside while hot on the outside.
Their progress was slow and steady.
“You’re almost there,” Sam yelled, as if Jacob couldn’t see for himself.
“Thanks, Dad,” Jacob yelled back.
Not sure what his father could hear, he waved his hands. Their descent stopped.
Jacob swung around so that his head was lower than his rear. This way, his head was closer to the fourth fairy queen.
The queen appeared to be covered in some kind of glass or possibly rock. The covering did not appear to be something that emanated from her body. Rather, it seemed as if she was put inside this vessel. Inside the structure, there was a young girl — possibly thirteen or a small fifteen year old. Outside of being desperately thin, she had the look of a fairy, except that her skin was white or whitish-red. Her hair was short or possibly she was bald, he couldn’t tell. The irises of her eyes had almost no color or were possibly the lightest blue.
“Hello?” Jacob asked.
He knocked on the glass.
“Go away,” the girl said through the glass.
He wasn’t sure why he could understand her. He looked up and Abi gave him a thumbs up. Clearly, she’d used her magic to allow him to speak with the fairy.
“Your sisters are waiting to meet you,” Jacob said. “I have come to take you there.”
“You cannot,” the girl said. “I will die in the frost of the world. I will be hunted down. I will be destroyed.”
“No,” Jacob said with a smile. “You won’t. Your sisters are here.”
“There is a creature out there …” the girl started. “Terrifying. He steals people souls and …”
“He is dead,” Jacob said.
“Dead …” the girl said, silently. After a moment, her eyes flicked to Jacob. “You look like the man who placed me here.”
“I am so sorry, I …” Jacob started.
“He saved my life,” the girl said. “I cannot be in the world. I was able to live here in my pod, but the creature broke through the outer shell and …”
“Your pod?” Jacob asked.
“They descended in pods,” Abi yelled down to him.
Abi could hear their conversation. He wasn’t sure why but just the thought gave him great relief.
Jacob felt something crawl over him. Liban had shrunk herself to about ten inches. She was crawling over Jacob to speak with the child behind the glass. Surprised the appearance of Liban, the child screamed.
“Child,” Liban said, in an attempt to calm the child.
At the same moment, Mari flew down in her fairy corps tiny form. The heat messed with Mari’s aim. Jacob caught Mari with his hand. She climbed down his body and stepped out onto the glass structure.
The child was open mouthed in wonder.
“We are your kin,” Liban said. “I am Liban, the child of one of your sisters. This is Mari. She is the child of another one of your sisters.”
“You are a fairy queen,” Mari said. “Your sister queens await you above.”
The child pressed her face against the glass to see Liban and Mari.
“What is a fairy?” the child asked. “What is a queen?”
Liban launched into an explanation of the fairy world, the queendoms, their magical abilities, and where they were located. Mari added what she could.
Overwhelmed by the flood of words, the child looked at Jacob. He simply smiled. After a few minutes, she returned his smile. Jacob put his hand on Liban’s arm. She looked at him and stopped talking.
“What is it?” Liban asked.
“She may not be child, but she’s been alone for a long time,” Jacob said.
“Oh, yes,” Liban said. “Too much explanation. I get so excited that I … Sorry.”
Jacob grinned at Liban, and she nodded.
“How about this?” Jacob asked. “I’ll let you out of your pod. You can come with us to the surface to meet your sisters. If you wish to return to this pod, I give you my solemn word that I will return you. No questions asked.”
The child looked at Liban.
“I give you my pledge, as well,” Liban said.
“Of course,” Mari said, which made the child grin.
Jacob leaned back to look up. He mistakenly touched the wall of the vent with his head and yelped in pain. The vent filled with the smell of his burnt hair.
“Dad?” Jacob yelled.
“What do you need?” Sam yelled down to him.
“The circular saw with the glass blade,” Jacob yelled up. “Sling to carry the glass up.”
“Circular saw,” Sam repeated. “Sling.”
“Yes,” Jacob said as loudly as he could.
“Got it,” Sam said.
Jacob looked at Mari.
“Would you mind going up?” Jacob asked. “Dad’s going to need your help guiding it down to me. I’m going to send Liban to update the queens so that they don’t freak out when we get there.”
Mari nodded. She changed her shape to that of a small child and easily climbed back to her harness. Pointing to her harness, she moved up the rope as if she were on a pulley. There was a great deal of talking when she reached the top. Liban and Jacob looked up.
“That’s a good idea,” Liban said to Jacob.
“I need you to manage what I cannot,” Jacob said.
“When shall I go?” Liban asked.
“When Mari gets back with the tools,” Jacob said. “She can help me take the top off the pod and negotiate the child out without burning her.”
Jacob’s hand instinctively went to his singed head. She put her hand on his head and he instantly felt better.
“I will speak with the queens,” Liban said.
“How do you think they will handle it?” Jacob asked.
Liban sighed. She squinted at nothing at all before looking at Jacob.
“This is a big change,” Liban said after a moment. “But we are at a moment of enormous change.”
Not sure what she was talking about, Jacob simply nodded.
“To my mind, it’s better to change because of an addition to their sisterhood than change due to war,” Liban said.
“Abi told me about the war,” Jacob said.
“While you’ve been working in this mine, our world has inched ever closer to war,” Liban said. “Our envoys are waiting for word from their queens whether they should begin the battle.”
“That’s close,” Jacob said.
“Closer than we’ve been in a very, very long time,” Liban said.
“Maybe I should not have put Queen Fand back together,” Jacob said.
“Don’t say that,” Liban said. “Putting her back together has created a spring in the fairy world. We are more joyous than we’ve been in centuries. The queen and others have given birth to new offspring. This is true for the other realms as well.”
“Then why go to war?” Jacob asked.
“You should know by now, Jacob, that the happier, wealthier, more successful we are the more we want to destroy it all,” Liban said.
“I thought that was just humans,” Jacob said.
“It’s a trait we share,” Liban said with an absent minded nod.
Liban looked up.
“She’s coming down,” Liban said. “You’ll be all right here with just Mari’s help?”
“I should be fine,” Jacob said.
“You’re going to …” Liban started.
“Do as you suggested,” Jacob said with a grin. Liban blushed. “I will open the pod with the circular saw. I will give the child to Mari and carry the glass to the top. While there is a fairy reunion, I will work on the glass to make sure I can put the child back if she needs to live there, as she has insisted.”
“Thank you,” the muffled voice of the child came through the glass. “I appreciate you taking care of my home.”
“You are allowed to have the home that suits you,” Jacob said.
“Yes,” the child said. “Your ancestor said the very same thing. Thank you.”
Liban touched Jacob’s arm. In her child size, she climbed over Jacob to her harness. As Mari came down, Liban went up. As Jacob watched, the fairies squished by each other. It was such a weird and wonderful sight that he wished Katy had been there to see it.
Thoughts of Katy made him miss Jill. He sighed.
“It will be really great to get out of this mine,” he thought.
He looked down to see the white skinned fairy queen smiling at him.
“Thank you for your assistance,” the child said.
“Here it comes!” Sam yelled down to Jacob.
The circular saw made its way down to Jacob. A moment later, he had the sling. He nodded for Liban to start her way up to the surface. She touched his arm for a moment before starting up.
Jacob was alone in the vent to the core of the earth. The cool spot inside his core was beginning to warm up. He needed to get out of there. He slung the sling strap over his shoulder and turned on the circular saw. The noise was deafening. Feeling movement, he felt more than saw Mari join him. She put earplugs in his ears and safety glasses over his eyes.
He touched the circular saw to the glasslike outer shell of the child’s pod. The cutting was as surprisingly easy as it was hard. The blade cut through the glass to create a seam. As he got closer to the pod, the blade began to slip. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t break through the pod.
Mari pointed to the pod and then the child.
“She’s blocking it,” Mari said.
“You have to allow me inside,” Jacob said to the child.
The child pointed to the seam in the glass and the glass cracked along the seam. Jacob lifted the glass from the pod and deftly stuck the glass into the sling. He held out his arms and the child allowed him to lift her into his arms.
“I need to…” Jacob said.
Whether by Mari or the child, Jacob found himself quickly rising through the vent. It took only moments for them to reach the top.
“Ready to meet your sisters?” Jacob asked the child.
“I would very much like that,” the child said.
They reached the top of the structure. Jacob passed the child to his father as Abi helped him out of the vent. Liban managed to grab the sling as Jacob collapsed to the cool cavern floor.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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