“How are we going to climb this thing?” Aurora thought. They had just emerged from the forest at the base of the dormant volcano. Many more questions ran through her head while they stopped to survey their surroundings. The volcano looked to be about half the size of the mountain on the other end of Treomynd, and was a dark grey color. Small pebbles covered its entirety, making climbing a slippery endeavor.
She reluctantly let Renato explore a little while Lucio and Lothlorien went about their lunches. When they finished eating and resting, she put him back in his sling, despite the child’s protests.
“How do you suggest we get up there?” asked Lothlorien. “It seems too slippery to climb.” Aurora looked at the Guardian with relief. She was glad that she had the same thoughts.
“That’s easy,” said Lucio as he clasped his hands together. “I figured that if we want peace among all Guardians here, we need to make traveling easy. Normally I would not do something like this, but I think it’s necessary.” He turned his back to them to face the volcano before Aurora could ask any questions. He folded his hands and bowed his head, eyes closed. A soft chant filled the air, until his voice rose louder and louder. At last he shouted “Níedgenga áræran hlæder cnæpp!”
The volcano’s exterior shivered in place, and a loud cracking sound rose up from right in front of the group to the very top. A small indent in the shape of a thin line formed its way up around the volcano to create a crude staircase. It must have led up to the top, but Aurora was unsure because it disappeared from view around the other side.
“Well done!” said Aurora.
“Yes, well done!” said Lothlorien.
“Thank you,” said Lucio. He was panting a bit from the chanting. “Shall we?”
They went up the staircase slowly to pace themselves. Or, more accurately, so Aurora could pace herself. Eventually she had to stop, because her heart was beating more than she was used to. Lothlorien offered her a ride, and they went much faster after that. The staircase snaked its way up behind their usual view of the volcano, where they saw its edge barely kiss the ocean’s waves. They reached the top about an hour later. The staircase ended with them looking directly onto the Western Sparkling Forest. Lake Shimmer was aptly named, because the small blue oval glittered in the sunlight. The wind blew strong among the group, but not strong enough to cause concern.
“It’s beautiful,” breathed Lothlorien.
“It’s our home,” said Aurora. She dismounted Lothlorien to give the Guardian a rest and turned her attention to inside the volcano.
What lay inside was an even more gravelly indent that went down about half of the volcano’s height. There seemed to be some kind of hole in its center, but there was no way to know for sure. Lucio repeated his chant, and another spiral of stairs descended into the abyss. A slight sense of fear settled over the group, so Lucio led the way with Aurora and Renato behind, and Lothlorien took up the rear. They were sheltered from the wind, leaving them with unusually still, stuffy air. As they reached the center of the volcano’s interior, they slowed down to make sure they didn’t come upon something dangerous. What seemed to be a small tunnel loomed before them; it was just big enough for Lothlorien to walk through and completely dark.
“It will be best if you wait here,” Lucio told them. “I’ll create some light to line the passages and check for danger. If I don’t return in two hours, then something has happened to me.” He reached out and touched Lothlorien’s forehead just below her glowing horn. “Although I’m sure you will know sooner,” he said with a smile to the Guardian.
“Go,” said Lothlorien. “We will wait.” Aurora nodded and smiled. The Magician smiled back and disappeared into the tunnel.
It only took an hour before they heard Lucio’s footsteps come running back to the surface. Aurora was thankful, because she was running out of ways to entertain Renato without him running off into the tunnel She had sat on a step and tried her best to somehow make the small grey rocks look interesting to the toddler. Lucio emerged panting for breath, sweat beading on his brow. He reached out one hand to lean against the black stone.
“It’s incredible! It’s truly a wonder down there! I can hardly believe this is what would have come out of the creation!” he said between breaths.
“Well, then let us see!” said Lothlorien. Aurora echoed her enthusiasm and coaxed Renato back into his sling. They walked into the tunnel with confidence, with small tongues of fire emanating from little divots in the walls. The temperature quickly grew warmer as they descended down into the volcano, making the air stuffy. Aurora thought that they had continued downward in the same spiral shape, but she soon lost her sense of direction altogether. They went on for about fifteen minutes, until the tunnel ended abruptly and opened up.
They stood on a platform that overlooked the entirety of the volcano’s insides. The environment made just for the Fire Guardians lay about half a mile down. At first, it seemed like the volcano’s floor was a hidden forest blazing with fire. The leaves looked to be dead and dry, and the brown earth was rocky. The dying trees were burning in certain patches, with a small river of magma running through this circular chamber, cutting it lazily in half. Small clearings dotted the strange forest, and the trees stopped growing a good distance away from the river. The only light source came from the glowing magma and patches of fire. The size of this fire chamber seemed about the same as Lake Shimmer, if not larger. Another set of stairs lay to their right, no doubt made by Lucio.
“Everything is dead,” Aurora said as she held Renato close. “How can anything—”
“Look,” Lucio pointed at one of the patches of wildfire. It pulsated with life, and Aurora noticed that there seemed to be something moving within it. Then, the patch moved a little bit to her right, leaving behind no evidence of smoldering trees. “You will understand when we get closer. Guardians connected to fire are very fierce and dangerous because of their surroundings, but they are wise and loyal beings.” Aurora nodded and checked to make sure Renato was extra secure before heading down between Lucio and Lothlorien.
The dying trees soon enveloped them. Aurora felt herself panic when she realized she had no idea where the closest fire patch was.
“What if those fires catch us? They move so strangely,” said Aurora.
“Don’t worry about that,” said Lucio. “Those patches of fire indicate the presence of wildfire Guardians. They only live within the deepest flames. That is why you saw one of the patches moving. The fire seems to go with them. Back on Earth, they had to chase wildfires instead. I’m sure they are very happy now, what with humans stopping fires when they got too close to their villages. Let us move on and find some Guardians we can speak with.”
They pressed on into the dark, crispy forest. The light scent of burning wood filled the air, and the leaves and rocks crunched beneath their feet. Aurora was busy trying to process Lucio’s words when Lothlorien nudged her shoulder. She pointed with her horn a little ways off to their right. One of the fire patches was about 30 yards away, and coming closer. Aurora caressed Renato and backed up to run away. But Lucio placed his arm on her shoulder and told her to wait.
Sure enough, the forest fire came close enough that Aurora could just make out the features of five or six Guardians with golden horns that sparkled in the firelight. Their hides were a yellow-tan color, and their manes and tails consisted of bright flames that dances amongst the other flames that followed them. The wildfire Guardians reared and danced among the fire, whinnying with delight. The heat from the flames grew so intense that Aurora could feel her face turn bright red. When it seemed they wouldn’t get any closer, the Guardians stopped their dance and faced the group. Each one bowed low, giving their utmost respect. Lucio bowed back, with Aurora quickly filing suit.
“You are most welcome, my friends,” said Lucio. With that, the wildfire Guardians jumped up and started their joyous fire dance once more. They gradually moved away from the group, leaving behind the dead trees that showed no sign of damage. Aurora let out a sigh of relief and relaxed.
“You see?” said Lothlorien. “The only way a Fire Guardian will cause you harm is if you give them a reason.”
“I see that now,” said Aurora.
“However, there is one type of Fire Guardian I feel I should warn you about,” Lucio said while they started their walk again. “They call themselves Karkadanns. They hail from the southeastern parts of Earth, along with the Royals. Their land is strange compared to our little meadow. They were prized by war generals because of their ferocity. They are one of the biggest types of Guardians, and very muscular. If you see one, do not approach it, and you will have no worries. But they will attack if they feel threatened. They were widely respected by humans, but that respect has dwindled greatly over the past century.” Aurora gulped and nodded.
They eventually came to a large clearing in the trees and decided to stop and rest. There were no other Guardians among the forest other than the occasional group of wildfire Guardians. Aurora found that the forest did harbor life, as there were small brown doves that flitted away from the flames and nestled in the branches. When the wildfire Guardians were far away, they would even sing soft cooing songs.
Lucio scanned the clearing before they entered. It was covered with tall brown grass and nothing else.
“Look!” he said. “A Royal!” He pointed at a black Guardian grazing a little ways off in the clearing. He raised his head to reveal a short, deep green mane and a gold chain fastened around his neck. His horn was a lustrous gold as well. Instead of fleeing the field, the Royal trotted up to the group as if he were about to charge. Lothlorien walked in front of the humans and lowered her horn in defense, making the Royal stop a few yards away.
“Are you the ones responsible for this bleak place?” asked the Guardian in a deep rasp. Aurora was taken aback by the question.
“I am the one responsible,” said Lucio as he stepped forward. The Guardian grunted.
“Then come with me, our leader wishes to speak with you.” He turned and trotted out of the clearing. Aurora quickly hopped on Lothlorien’s back while Lucio ran next to them. They followed the Royal until the forest disintegrated into the magma river. Another Royal stood near the magma, staring at the hot liquid. By the look of his massive gem-encrusted collar, Aurora recognized him as the Royal that gave the obsidian stone for the creation. He heard them approach and turned to face the group. The other Royal had disappeared.
“Magician of Light, I fear that I may regret living in this small world we call Mt. Igneous,” said the lead Royal.
“I am sorry to hear that,” Lucio said in a sincere voice. “What has troubled your kind?”
“Us Royals do not have what we need! We are able to survive, but live, not so! We were accustomed to the palaces of sultans, but we started to disappear when the Sultans only manifested a desire for our horns. A time of desperation caused us to agree to live in this world, but we miss the comfort of human commodities! We need music and halls to dance in. We miss the silk beds made by the harems. The wildfire Guardians are at peace, and the Karkadanns have each other to wrestle for battle glory. You said that our memories would provide us a place to live, but we have no home!” Aurora was stunned by the Royal’s pleas. A Guardian a part of a royal court? Never!
“I sincerely apologize,” Lucio said in an even tone. “I promise that I will make up for what the creation lacked.”
“Can you do that, Magician?”
“I will try my best. We are the only humans on this island we call Treomynd, and we cannot live within Mt. Igneous. Therefore, I will have to improvise. But I am confident I can create a hall similar to your sultan’s halls on Earth.” The Royal’s ears pricked forward.
“Then what must we do?”
“Go and find a clearing of trees against Mt. Igneous’ walls. There I will make an indent in the earth and form a new hall with all the things you miss most.”
“We will have a place chosen within the hour!” said the Royal. He galloped away, whinnying in the distance.
“Are you really going to create a music hall?” Aurora asked.
“I must,” said Lucio. “Dancing and music are very important to Royals. I can’t imagine why it wasn’t a part of the creation. I suppose all magic is flawed in some way or another.”
They waited for the Royal to return, and managed to catch a glimpse of the Karkadanns Lucio mentioned. There was a group of eight Karkadanns sparring in a small field across the river, much to Aurora’s relief. They looked to be twice the size of Lothlorien, with twice the muscle. Their golden horns were much thicker at the base and shorter, and had a sharp curve upwards. Their hides were a light tan, and their manes cut short like a donkey’s. Their tails were short and had only a small tuft of hair at the very end; the rest was simply skin.
After about 45 minutes, the lead Royal emerged from the forest with six more royals in tow. Their manes were either a deep red or black, and their hides ranged from deep blue to red. The group was escorted to the other end of Mt. Igneous, where a massive clearing appeared against the black obsidian wall.
“Thank you friends,” Lucio said to the group of Royals. “I will make your hall, but it will take time. While I do this, I ask that you please watch over Aurora and her son Renato, as well as my companion Lothlorien. Please keep them safe and looked-after.” The lead Royal bowed in response.
“Of course, Magician. Please go about your task in peace.” Lucio nodded and faced the wall. He stood there for nearly half an hour, until he sat down cross-legged with his hands on his knees. Aurora knew he was in a meditative state now. Meanwhile, the Royals stood their guard politely around the rest of the newcomers, and even made a small bed of dead leaves for Aurora to sit on. Renato saw it more as a playground, and had a blast diving into the pile and crumpling the leaves in his plump little hands. Aurora was happy to simply let him have his fun while she reclined against a tree next to him. Lothlorien stood with the other Royals, talking to them softly. She seemed to be making a rather positive impression on the lead Royal.
Everyone was interrupted by the soft chant coming from Lucio. The wall began to shake and crumble in the shape of a half circle, until the wall gave way to reveal a massive wave of lava tumbling down. This only lasted for a second, because the lava immediately turned cold and black, and worked its way outward to form the walls of a large hall like clay. The magma buckled and straightened, until it was flash frozen in place. What resulted was a beautiful obsidian building with massive domes on each corner. Glassless windows stretched from the ceiling to halfway down the walls, giving the onlookers a good view of the inside. The lava started to form small objects along the wall against Mt. Igneous. What they were, Aurora could not tell because of the distance. Eventually, the lava cooled completely, and Lucio sighed and rose from the ground.
“I hope it is to your liking,” said Lucio. He looked tired, but happy. The Royals were almost too stunned to speak.
“You have outdone yourself, Magician,” said the lead Royal. “This is finer than any hall of a sultan. Lucio bowed in thanks.
“Then why don’t we celebrate with a dance?” asked Lucio. He gestured for everyone to go inside. The Guardians trotted up the steps on the side of the building like foals running for pasture. Aurora, Lucio and Lothlorien walked up behind them. The site inside made them gasp.
“I feel like I’m standing in ‘A Thousand and One Nights,'” whispered Lucio. Aurora didn’t know what he was talking about, but she could tell that this room was made in the image of a far off land. The edges of the room were lined with silk pillow cushions, with the rest of the floor a sparkling mosaic of colorful stones. There was a large indent in the wall from which the lava came, and it was filled with pedestals holding all kinds of musical instruments. There were drums, wind and string instruments of all kinds. The Royals darted all over the room, talking excitedly amongst themselves. The lead Royal came up to Lucio and asked:
“I see all of the instrument of our Earthly home, but where are the musicians?”
“You will have none,” replied Lucio. “Simply think of the tune you want to hear, then stomp your right hoof once on the musical platform.” The lead Royal walked over to the instruments and gave the platform a hard knock. Certain instruments floated in mid air and started to play themselves. The drums beat, and the strings came to life with a tune that made Aurora want to run off into a desert land and live with the people there (Click the video below to hear the song that inspired this dance).
It was amazing to watch a group of Guardians dance. They were surprisingly graceful; from the way they moved their heads to their lightness of foot. They pranced evenly to the beat of the drums in slow formations. Aurora and Lucio made themselves comfortable on the silk cushions and watched for what seemed like hours. There was no way of telling what time it was, but Renato started to become fussy when he is ready for bed. Lucio asked permission from the lead Royal to stay the night in Mt. Igneous, and he greatly obliged. The Magician led Aurora and Renato to a small opening next to the musical platform. A short tunnel brought them into a small room with a bed and a cradle, among other basic necessities.
“You really do think of everything,” Aurora told Lucio with a smile.
“I thought you and Renato could use a room for when we visit here. I hope it can be a regular occurrence. The Royals seem happy enough.”
“You could have given them a collar bigger than the lead Royal’s and they wouldn’t have been that pleased,” said Aurora as they both chuckled.
Lucio left her and Renato to settle down for the night, and the room felt surprisingly comfortable. The cushions on the bed were soft and fluffy, and the temperature was just warm enough that Aurora could settle under the blankets without overheating herself. Renato was asleep in his cradle in an instant, and Aurora closed her eyes to the distant sound of the Royal’s intricate dance.
Bonus video! The song I have below provided inspiration to the vibe Mt. Igneous gives off when you’re outside looking at how tall and ominous it is, and the abrupt change in the tune inspired what it’s like to see inside for the first time. Sorry none of the videos play directly on this post though, gotta love copyright!