Late one afternoon the lit torches punctuated the deep nave blue ice of the tribal cave on the walls and their dancing shadow’s. The cave, vacant and void of life, and just as unchanging as time itself, as unchanging as the sky, the stars. Maybe it was the stars that made the change, or maybe it was fate. No one would ever know. Or would they? In that moment, whichever moment that might have been, for again no one ever would have known, had it not happened.
A boy cried out, and came dashing down the access tunnel from the surface, past the lit torches mounted on the wall. The flames turned aside as he dashed past, calling to, it seemed to the future, “Dr. Vi’tar! Dr. Vi’tar! Come outside and look…Something is happening to the sky!” He cried as he entered the main meeting place.
Dr. Vi’tar and Aliza looked up from a basket they where working on.
“What do you mean?” Asked Dr. Vi’tar, as other members of the tribe walked from their rooms.
“Just come and look!” Shouted the boy from the main floor.
“Alright, Alright, I’m on my way.” Said Dr. Vi’tar as he and his wife got up.
Aliza walked up the surface access tunnel at Dr. Vi’tar’s side. Light from the most recent double sunsets filtered down the tunnel melding with the light from the torches near the surface. Dr. Vi’tar and Aliza stepped from the cave entrance into the view of their sky. To their right just rising over the mountains, opposite the setting suns was a splash of white, more spectacular then anything their sky had ever offered before, in all time. It was a blazing white trail that extended beyond half the sky. Much of it was still in the process of rising into view, as the planet rotated the tribe into the dark of night. The pinnacle of the white display was a ball of fuzzy white.
Other tribe members had come from the cave entrance, with their heads tilted back they starred into the sky.
“What does it mean?”, Asked one of the tribe members.
“Yes, tell us Dr. Vi’tar?”, Asked another, as more questions followed, “Is it a sign?”
“Does this mean troubled times are coming?”
“Could it mean there is going to be a disaster?”, Asked yet another tribe member.
“Is it a sign from Zan the Great?”
“I’m not sure what it means, but it sure is a beautiful sight.” Said Dr. Vi’tar, “But I do believe it means something. Perhaps we shall discover tonight. I think we should have a special prayer to Zan the Great!”
“That’s a good Idea.”, Said Aliza as she ran her fingers down Dr. Vi’tar’s back.
Others agreed as well with the insightful thought.
And that’s when it all happened. Aliza doubled over in pain. She let herself down to the icy ground. Dr. Vi’tar fell to his knees at her side. That’s when a wave of pain rolled through her body, she went stiff, and let out a scream, a scream to the stars above, a scream to the gods, to time itself. The air was sterilized by that scream, It filled everyone’s ears, and seemed to stretch on through the Valn’tar Mountains forever, and up to the stars as well, it seemed to reach out to their timeless nature, shattering it forever. Had time stopped? Or had it just begun? Aliza was in labor.
Dr. Vi’tar had several tribe members help carry Aliza down to a small two-part room off to the side, from the main access tunnel to the surface. Dr. Vi’tar called out for his tools, and helped Aliza get comfortable on several layers of moss. He did this with the cool composure that no other tribe member seemed to carry in times of high stress.
The hours droned on in many ways resembling the many untold centuries that had gone before. The screams continued.
Much of the tribe had gathered in the small ice cave to live out the birth with her.
Everyone was curled up against the walls of the cave colored a light ice blue, wiggling their toes in the soft wet cold moss covering the entire bottom half of the floor, and crawling up the walls. The Nomadic people living in this valley and particularly this cave had found a way to take up sections of the floor and form them and dry them to make a kind of covering for their bodies. The leathery texture was comfortable, but it was more than clothing. It was their primary source of food, light, fire, and ultimately life. That’s what they wore now to protect them from the dry cold air, as Aliza made one last plea for help and another shot at delivery.
The babe was starting to come out. Doctor Vi’tar, his crude tools scattered about the floor next to him, was pulling at two legs and something else that was intertwined around them. It was the cord, this must be the end he thought as he pulled, his wife went from gritting her teeth and continuing to push, to screaming. This baby was ripping and tearing his wife, blood spurted all over him, his mind raced, what was happening, what should he do? He thought. He saw his wife and son dying before his eyes. He pulled and slowly agonizingly slowly his son began to come out. He continued to pull and his newborn son was free, the cord must have been around his neck, the baby wasn’t breathing. He rhythmically squeezed his thumbs over the babies chest and a clog of yellow gunk came from the nose and mouth. Just when he was about to give up the tinny little boy shuddered, his tinny bloodied arms shook with amazing strength. Suddenly there was a tinny gasp, followed by a gargled scream. Blood poured judicially from his wife staining the mossy covered ground and ice. Doctor Vi’tar stuck his hand in the babies mouth clearing it’s throat of further clogs, then he cut the partly shredded cord connecting mother and son with a shard of ice. Some of the family members began to meliorate his wife as he examined his brand new son.
To his amazement his son appeared to have come through the ordeal with amazing courage, and stamina. The relief of having his son alive after death at birth was almost more than he could take. Some one gave him a piece of dry moss. He wrapped the soft fuzzy mossy topside of the cloth against his son, after cleaning his son off with it. He held his son and looked down to see who gave him the cloth, it was his oldest son Aton, Who looked up with a smile and a longing face. Dr. Vi’tar suddenly entified in his own mind the ambition of his oldest son. He bent down and showed his oldest his youngest. Aton's face and eyes looked into Z’lots face (the name him and his wife had chosen for a boy). Z’lot stopped crying, and looked back first at his father then at Aton. His valiant and nascent arm stretched out and brushed and played on Atons soft young face. Then young Z’lot looked back at his father. The two made eye contact, and in that moment Dr. Vi’tar noticed two things that would nag at the back of his mind for years to come. His son gave a hint of understanding of the universe he had just entered. He looked at his father with a sense of love almost thanking him for bringing him into the world. Dr. Vi’tar took that moment to envisage what sempiternal things those eyes would see. But something else was different, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Almost as if the very existence of his son, his meaning in their lives needed to be reconceived deep within his personal inner-sanctum.
"Are you OK?" She inquired reversing him from his reverie.
"I'm fine, I should be asking you that.” He said with a smirk.
She was week; he could see that in her eyes.
"Get some sleep." He said in a commanding tone as he returned to venerate his son.
Dr. Vi’tar took Z’lot circumspectfully to the entrance of the cave and ventured out to the edge of the valley were there was a massive escarpment down into a cavernous gorge. The air was brisk outside.
He held his son up as an offering to the stars and their God and creator Zan the twisted one who was depicted in the stars over head which formed their entire dialect.
Aton watched his father perform this task on his babe brother from the mouth of the cave. Knowing that it had been done to him too. Aton could see his babe brothers legs and arms stood out at odd angles all silhouetted against the two setting points of light, their two suns, delineating the vast narrowly curved horizon of Ice Mountains, the Valn’tar mountains. At that point Aton realized what great fun a brother would be. They could run and play in the caves, hiding and finding, slipping and sliding. The thought galvanized his thoughts with inspiring adventures, but his brother was different, how different he would soon find out.
Z’lot looked on those stars for an eternal moment. They burned an image into his mind. Those very same stars would be his entire life, what drove him to do what he did; they would be what he spoke and what he believed in.
* * * * * * *
Aton stood in the ice cave his breath nearly crystallizing in the air before him as he breathed in and out. Aton was trying to stay quite for he knew any sound he made would be magnified elsewhere. The walls of the cave around him looked wet. They shone with a weird kind of luminescent electric blue turning his skin a funny pale color. Divots in the walls gave it an odd unnatural texture that seemed to grab at the imagination, equally as well as the echoes that poured in from multiple directions simultaneously.
Just then a shadow flashed across those divots in the walls. Aton tensed did the shadow really come from down that end of the hall, was it really on the left or could it have come from the opposite reflective side wall. He heard foot steps, but they came from a side tunnel, and echoed back from his left.
Aton dropped to one knee trying to decrease his profile. To anyone who might dash past the hall in front of him he would appear to be a bolder of ice.
But Nasher was not just anybody. Nasher new well the tricks of hide and slide, and had an equal understanding of the echoes and how they where shaped and formed by the walls. He stood his back against the dark wall noting Atons caution as he dropped to one knee. Aton was looking the other way. A few quiet steps along the wall brought Nasher to a crack in the floor and wall just big enough for his toes. Nasher used it to as a launch point then to send his shoulder into Aton’s side sending the two of them spinning across the ice and partway up the low ice wall. Nasher broke free and spun out nearly sending himself to the ground as he dashed off down the back tunnel, “You’re IT!” he shouted as he rounded the corner.
Aton slammed his fists on the ice then. Nasher was barley 2 years younger than he and yet he was bested again! Aton crept down the tunnel Nasher had ran down, and Aton could see Nashers sliding foot prints on the dew covered ice.
Aton went right then left and the tunnel opened up into a long crack running slightly up on the right and down on the left while angling deeper into the mountains. This was the most treacherous of the game territory and their parents always scolded them about playing in this area of the under-mountains. Aton clambered over boulders of ice twice and thrice his size. He moved quickly hoping to catch Nasher before he made it to where he knew the others would be hiding. They would get a warning and move back up the tunnels before he could catch them. Aton caught a glimpse then of Nasher as he ducked under a bolder of ice that was wedged cleanly between floor and ceiling. Aton new the boulder well for it marked where the crack of ice tumbled down into a ice flow of contorted chimneys and inverted cliffs made of ice. It was the perfect hiding place because anyone who didn’t know how to get down was stuck above and those below could get away fast. But Aton knew how to get down and so did Nasher, and quickly. Aton ducked under that boulder and leapt out to his left sticking his feet in the all-too-familiar groove of ice he used to get his body going down the shoot. His rump landed softly on the steep and slick ice as his body shot down the tunnel ice contortions speeding by on all sides. The tunnel filled with whoops as Nasher yelled his warnings to the others. The ice around Aton got darker for a few moments then lightened slightly as he bounced from the tunnel on his rump. Nasher was just ahead of him skidding up a side wall also on his rump. Aton used his hands on the cold ice to gain momentum for the turn. Aton sped up the side wall only moments behind Nasher the two flew off a ledge landing with their feet under them and moving fast. Aton would not be able to tag Nasher those where the rules but he could see others already fleeing up the tunnels. Aton skidded left using a stalagmite of ice to bounce into a different tunnel to his left following another ghostly figure of white flowing hair. He knew it was Tori’ana at just 3 years younger than he, he would be able to catch her, despite her agile abilities. The tunnel turned uphill into a long steady slope. Tori’ana dashed up the tunnel at full speed Aton followed light on his toes gliding over the ice. Tori’ana began to slow and knew if she didn’t keep her momentum she would soon find her self not only sliding but caught as the IT. So she began to weave back and forth from wall to wall using them as grip. Aton would catch her he knew it. He was already fast on her heels and planing his strike to her zigzagging. Then out of the blue ice skidded Zeek, Tori’anas little brother, again only a year apart. Zeek skidded right under Tori’ana sending her long silvery hair flying as her feet went over her head. She came down hard then on her upper neck rolling as she did and sliding to the side as Zeek shot into a side tunnel on Atons right. Aton could barely keep from running the two over, he sent his hand down low and brushed Tori’anas head as he went past and shouted over his shoulder, “You’re IT!”
Now it was Tori’anas turn to get someone. She ran the ring of concentric tunnels around the main meeting place. All the while listening to the subtle echoes in those tunnels, they would tell her where the others where going. They where going back down, it sounded like the east side this time. The east side was a labyrinth of crisscrossing cracks coursing through the mountain like veins. The others liked to hide in the cracks where it was dark.
Aton had wedged himself in to a crack next to his cousin Z’mo. Z’mo was still a smaller kid but he was agile enough to slither, it seemed, up and down the cracks with amazing speed. Aton had to wonder how he could keep from falling into the depths of the Valn’tar mountains. Z’mo was farther back in the crack with a good 20 zelters to the next tunnel, and a good zig in the crack that would slow even Z’mo down. Aton didn’t have to worry about anything because he had already been the IT last time. The ice here was so clear Aton could see to the other tunnels, albeit a little distorted as it might have seemed. They could both hear the giggling of the others as they all found their hiding places. Then the heavy breathing as Tori’ana came down from the tunnels above. Suddenly everything went quite. This game they played had taught the kids how to truly be sneaky if they wanted to. Long minutes passed without a sound. They held their breath and Aton tried his best to stop the pounding in his chest. Suddenly Z’mo shrieked and Aton looked. Tori’ana had slipped into the crack above them and climbed through the crack. Her hair dangled down into Z’mos face. A hand reached out and slapped Z’mo on the side of the head just as Z’mo broke all bonds with the ice around him and fell into the darkness, “You’re IT!” shouted Tori’ana, as she turned and smiled at Aton.
Aton was astounded. Wouldn’t Z’mo break his leg or something? There where howls from below and Aton couldn’t tell if they where from pain or excitement, until he heard a very familiar voice scream out, “You’re IT!” And then another, “Am NOT! You’re IT!”
Aton knew that voice. It was his cousin Flex, and probably one of the most annoying cousins at that.
A few moments passed and he heard another voice, “Gotcha! You’re IT!” That was the voice of Gi’za, She was just as pretty as Tori’ana but twice as annoying as Flex.
Then another voice boomed out through the tunnels, “Time to quit! Come-on kids!” And so ended that days game of slide and hide. The kids found each other on their way back up to the surface tunnels.
“Aton I need you to take this pile of basket shavings and put them in the shavings room. Then your dad needs you to clean the mush out of the moss room.” Said Aliza.
“But mom I hate that smelly mush!” said Aton
“Just do it, your dad has another expedition tomorrow and we need that room cleaned up.” Countered Aliza.
“Where’s he going, can I come this time?” begged Aton.
“No tomorrow you have your studies.”
“But I did those yesterday.”
“Well ask your dad, if he says yes then you can go.” Dismissed Aliza as she walked from the torch lit room.
Atons shoulders slumped, “Hey mom I’m going to watch the sun set first ok?” he shouted after her.
“Ok just don’t stay out too long, remember your chores.” Echoed back Aliza from farther down the tunnel.
Aton walked back up the tunnel leading to the surface. The last of the sun filtered down on his shoulders as he stepped from the cave entrance. And again same as the day before the splash of white rose to his right from beyond the mountain peeks. Dr. Vi’tar stood there with Dra’var and Criz in the middle of their home valley pointing and talking about certain features of the white splash. Aton went over to them, “Hey dad can I go with you tomorrow on the expedition?”
“No, your not old enough.”
“But dad I’ve got all my studies done.”
The light slowly faded and Aton watched as the stars slowly twinkled into their customary positions in the sky.
“Hey Dr. Vi’tar look at this, I think I see a second tail swooshing away from the center.” Remarked Dra’var
“Yea and look at this! It’s changed position, last night it was closer to that star there!” Commented Criz after examining the positions of the stars relative to the position of the white splash.
“What should we call it?” asked Dr. Vi’tar
“How about blath?” asked Aton
“Blath? What’s that supposed to mean?” scolded Dra’var after screwing up his face.
“Well it bathes the sky with white, so lets call it a blath.” Defended Aton, nearly taking offense to Dra’var’s face.
“Ok we’ll call it a blath, but what do you guys think it really is?” asked Dr. Vi’tar again.
“Maybe it’s a new kind of star. Something we’ve never seen before.” proposed Aton.
“Hey look the way the white shoots away from the stars.” Observed Criz.
“What would make the white shoot away from the stars?” asked Aton.
“Maybe it’s being pulled toward the stars.” Said Dr. Vi’tar.
“So what happens when they meet?” asked Aton suddenly becoming very worried and fearing the worst.
“There’s no telling what would happen.” Said Dra’var.
It was dark now both suns had completely set and all that remained was a glowing skyline broken by the teeth like shards that where the Valn’tar mountains. Now however their sky was full of stars. There was a great spiral of stars extending off in different directions like the spokes of a wheel, and filling more than half the sky.
Just then a gust of wind blew down from the great claws of the Valn’tar mountains before them. The wind was brisk and cold, the small group of survivors found their way back into the safety of the cave.
* * * * * * *
Z’lot was just two days old now. Aliza was breast feeding him as Dr. Vi’tar slung his backpack over his shoulder and grabbed a torch from the wall, “I’ll be back soon honey!” he said as he ducked through the low entrance to their room and disappeared around the corner, the dancing light fading as he went leaving the room with only one torch. The shadows became more ominous then threatening their livelihood it seemed. Aliza knew better than to be scared by such superfluous things, and she began to hum a song to baby Z’lot, rocking back and forth on the side of the makeshift bed.
Dr. Vi’tar walked the ridge around the main meeting place and followed the steps down to the main floor. The others where there already stuffing supplies into their mossy backpacks. Torches where strewn around the floor. Dr. Vi’tar stepped over the torches and into the group, “Hey guys are you ready to go?”
“Sure!” said Al’trex as he walked from a side room. Dra’var tossed him a torch then and Al’trex caught it smoothly with his right hand as he stepped into the main room with Dr. Vi’tar.
“Which way are we going this time?” asked Al’trex as Criz threw his backpack over his shoulder and took up a torch from the floor.
“I think we’re going down the north western tunnels.” Replied Dr. Vi’tar.
Aton knew where that was, he had been playing down there just the other day. It was where the under-mountain ice falls were.
“Can I at least come part of the way?” begged Aton from his study chambers on the ledge above.
“Ok, but just part of the way, and don’t tell your mother.”
“Great!” said Aton as he nearly jumped for joy.
It was still early in the morning and thus still dark out. The walls of the tunnels were as black as night. The divots in the walls looked like aliens as the torch light danced across them. The flames of those torches lapped like the tongues of a great number of dogs against the divots in the ceiling. None of that changed much as the small group of explorers ducked into the crack in the under mountain. The small line of expeditioniers weaved through the jumble of ice boulders. They came to the giant boulder wedged between the floor and ceiling then and Dr. Vi’tar turned to Aton, “Your going to have to go back now son.”
“Oh but dad I always come down here!” begged Aton.
“You know your not supposed to, the tunnels get very dangerous after these falls! I shouldn’t have let you even come this far, but I know that in only a few years your going to be coming along on these, so you get back to your studies and your chores. Ok son?” reasoned Dr. Vi’tar.
“Ok dad, just make sure you come back safe.” Said Aton, as he turned around and began to walk back up the tunnels with his shoulders showing defeat.
Dr. Vi’tar watched his son go, wishing he was old enough to see the wonders of the mountain depths, and the majestic splendor they always seemed to surprise everyone with.
Dra’var said, “Come-on guys lets keep going we don’t want to waste valuable torch time!”
Dra’var slipped down over the edge of the ice flow then making his way through the jumble of ice formations. Criz wasn’t far behind him, Al’trex behind him, and Dr. Vi’tar followed the group.
Once down they gathered together and made their way across the frozen lake at the bottom of the flow. The ceiling was high here, with stalagties and stalagmites scattered around the edges. Light from the tourches reflected back from the ice crystals and formed odd shaped rainbow patterns at the edges of their vision. Dr. Vi’tar walked through the group and began to examine the markings on the wall they had made on their last expedition in this direction. Dr. Vi’tar stood and began to walk down one of the tunnels. The others followed, barely remembering where this tunnel went. The ceiling got lower and a crack started on the left and widdened on the right. Dr. Vi’tar handed his tourch to Criz and dropped his feet into the crack. Dr. Vi’tar schooched his rump against the ice wall and slid down finding the foot hold he was expecting below his right foot. Then wedging his shoulder in the crack he switched feet on the foot hold and slid his right foot farther down into the blackness straining for the next mini-ledge. Criz moved over him with the tourch helping Dr. Vi’tar to see into the dark depths. Dr. Vi’tar found his next foot hold on his right and used the first foot hold as a hand hold now as he lowered himself even farther down the chasm. Criz followed then and Dra’var moved over Criz and dropped him a torch.
“Here you go, wedge that farther down on the left.” Said Criz to Dr. Vi’tar.
Dr. Vi’tar moved farther down pressing his feet into the divots of ice in the wall of the crack and slid his back down the opposing wall. He reached the bottom then and pulled the touch farther down and propped it against the wall at the bottom of the crack. From there they would normally go farther down a crack to the left. Criz worked his way down the first crack but slipped and came bouncing down the wall and tumbled into Dr. Vi’tar. Dr. Vi’tar slid down the crack farther back and wedged his ankle in another crack.
After the last of the echoes fadded away Dra’var called down, “Is everyone ok?”
“I’m stuck!” Called back Dr. Vi’tar
Dra’var started down the crack to asist Dr. Vi’tar. Meanwhile Criz worked over Dr. Vi’tar. The two where down on their bellies now, as Criz tried to work around Dr. Vi’tar to free his foot from the crack. With both bodies wedged into the narrow space the light was blocked away.
“I can’t see!” cried Criz
Dra’var was far enough down then to hold his torch into the space so Criz could see how Dr. Vi’tar’s foot was stuck.
“Hey there is another crack back here.” Said Criz as he pulled Dr. Vi’tars ankle free.
“Really?” asked Al’trex who was just clamboring into the first crack from above.
“How big is it?” asked Dr. Vi’tar as he tried to turn over in the confined space.
Criz clambored over the new crack, “Hand me a torch I want to see where this goes.”
Dra’var handed Dr. Vi’tar a torch who passed it on to Criz.
Criz turned around in the crevasse and took the torch and held it so he could see into the great new depth, “Hey guys this one goes down the other direction.”
Dr. Vi’tar peered down the widing crack where his ankle had been and saw the crack that went so far down it disappeared into blackness.
“Let’s go check it out! What ya say guys?” Asked Dr. Vi’tar
“It’s a lot steaper than the other way.” Observed Criz grimly
“Doesn’t matter, we’ve never been down there.” Said Dra’var from above them who had now clambored down to the lower ledge.
“You lead the way Criz!” said Dr. Vi’tar
Criz handed the torch back to Dr. Vi’tar and used his hands and feet above him to steady himself as he lowered himself into the crack. Dr. Vi’tar held the torch off to the wider side so Criz could see where he was going.
Dr. Vi’tar started down the narrow slit in the ice right behind Criz and Dra’var dropped down to his stomach and inched back into the same small space right behind the others, with Al’trex right behind.
Criz disappeared and shouts where heard from deeper in.
“It gets steeper, and your not going to believe what I found down here!” shouted back Criz