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Diamonds are Forever: Section Ten

       Last updated: Thursday, July 22, 2004 01:46 EDT



10. Paging Arne Saknussemm...

    "I really don't know about this," I found myself saying for the twentieth time.

    Rokhaset waved a hand at me to be quiet, so I shut off the transducer that bounced my voice into his range and turned to Jodi. "I meant Mammoth Caves as an example, I guess. I mean, look how far away it is. You know how long it takes to get through anything except a tourist section of a cave- a lot of the time you wouldn't measure things as miles per hour, but more like hours per mile. Or hours per hundred yards, in really hairy terrain."

    Jodi nodded. "But Rokhaset has some idea of what we're able to handle, I'm sure. He's not narish. Maybe he knows something we don't and that's why he asked for more maps."

    "Maybe. But I think I'd best make sure." I got up and went over to where the High Spirit was standing, seeming to look into thin air, and turned the transducer back on. "Rokhaset-"

    "A few more moments, Clinton Slade, and then I will answer your questions."

    Rokhaset was actually looking at our maps, which hadn't been easy to arrange. Once more, the fact that the makatdireskovi allowed us to talk as though we both actually understood each other's language had tripped us up. We'd gathered all the info we had on Mammoth and other, more nearby, caves, only to realize-the next day, when he arrived-that Rokhaset could neither see the pictures and diagrams nor read the words on paper. It had taken a couple hours of panicked discussion, and then a few more of hours of jury-rigging by Jodi, to arrive at a solution. But with the help of an old video camera and some low-power broadcast kitbashing, Jodi had made it possible for Rokhaset to receive images of the books and maps in the same way they had been intercepting transmissions all along. Another hour had been required to help Rokhaset interpret the diagrams in a way analogous to our own so that he could then try to coordinate what he was seeing with what his people knew about the underground world. Now the High Spirit was trying to put together what he knew with what we knew and see if there was, indeed, any chance of us reaching the Lisharithada's domain in time via another route.

    A few moments later he turned. "I believe it can be done."

    "Are you sure?" I asked. "No offense, sir, but you gotta remember that we're surface people, and makin' our way through underground passages takes time. Hell, that's something like a hundred miles from here. Even topside I'm not sure we could cover that distance on foot, an' that's straight-line distance, which ain't what you're dealin' with underground."

    He made a weird sound I interpreted as laughter. "True and more than true, Clinton Slade; and yet it can be done, I think, though it shall be far from easy." He turned to Jodi, who was testing connections on her latest improvisation. "Are you ready, Jodi Goldman?"

    "Try it, Rokhaset. If you can duplicate the transmission pattern, we should be set."

    Given the manner in which Rokhaset and the makatdireskovi communicated, and the fact that the makatdireskovi received and interpreted TV and radio broadcasts, Jodi had wondered if it could, through Rokhaset, replicate the transmission in the other direction. After some consulting with the semi-sentient geobiomystical device and his advisors, Rokhaset had announced that it should in fact be possible; if so, he would have an ideal way of communicating the chosen route to us.

    For a moment, the TV in the room just showed wavering patterns of static. Then, so suddenly we jumped, a test pattern and sound appeared, just like on any standard broadcast station. Except, of course, this was on one of the channels that shouldn't show anything but dead air.

    I swore I could almost see Rokhaset grin. "Ah, so it works. Excellent. Then I can show you and you can record this into your portable computers."

    We hooked our laptops up through the RF modulator and checked to make sure the signal was being recorded. "Let 'er rip, Rokhaset."

    A map of Kentucky appeared, with purple highlighting the Slade homestead and bright green marking Mammoth Caves. The highlighting was shaped like an octagon instead of a circle, the way we usually do it, but aside from that and Rokhaset's apparent preference for using our colors in painful ways, it looked just like one we would produce.



    A bright red dot came into view, looking to be somewhere in Muhlenberg county. "The Lisharithada are based here, very nearly halfway between the great cavern complex you call Mammoth Caves and our own homes. You must disrupt their operations here in order to prevent the ritual from being carried out.

    "Now, I fully realize the distances involved, and if you indeed had to travel in the normal fashion through ordinary caverns, there would be no way for this to work. However, one of the reasons both we and the Lisharithada have remained in this area for so many ages is simply that more remnants of the Old Ways have survived here than in nearly any other part of the world. One of these remnants is a portion of Nowëmosdet. "

    I remembered the word from earlier, but I'd presumed it was just a term for cavern. "What's that?"

    "You might call it 'Nowë's Road,' I suppose. In the old days there were many interconnected tunnels, like cities, and passage between them was made easier by a sort of network of canals invested with Nowë's power-the Nowëmosdet. Two long segments of it still exist in this area. One connects our area with that of the Lisharithada, and this is of course what they have closed off to make it difficult to traverse. The other section was traditionally used only by the Lisharithada as it goes in the other direction. It is ironic, in a way."

    Jodi and I looked at each other. "What do you mean?"

    "One could say that it is the Nowëmosdet that is responsible for our current emergency. You will recall that I did not question you as to what 'Mammoth Cave' was; this is because I am all too familiar with that system of caverns, at least in general. While the Lisharithada are, as I have described, now very hostile towards your people, the thing that finally pushed them into action is that your people's exploration of the great cave system is fast approaching the point where you might discover Nowëmosdet, which would be potentially disastrous even though you could not normally use it as we would. No matter how natural looking, your people would become curious about a straight-line cavern so long and even in design, and would quickly arrive at the Lisharithada's domain. Thus, despite the fact that parts of what you call Mammoth Cave are of historic significance to us, the Lisharithada have determined that they will destroy it all to prevent your continued intrusions."

    "And just incidentally kill thousands-maybe tens or hundreds of thousands-of us along with it. Nice people."

    Rokhaset gave a humming sound that carried the same force and tone as a sigh. "Once they were. In some ways, they are still very much like us. But without Nowë's guidance... No matter." The image zoomed in, showing the network of caverns that made up the longest, if not the deepest, cave system known to man, a duplicate of one of the maps we'd shown him. Suddenly, an entirely new network of caverns spread across the map, filling in areas never explored by humans, extending across most of the state and beyond into every area that had stone to support caves-and some, near as I could tell, into areas that normally shouldn't have caves at all.

    Rokhaset didn't need to tell us where Nowë's Road was. Even without his highlighting it was sharply obvious, a geometrically perfect line running from near the intersection of Flint and Mammoth's networks directly to the west-northwest almost half the distance to the homestead. It terminated in another tangle of caverns, and then started again on the other side to end somewhere below our feet.

    "As you can see," Rokhaset said, "if you can reach Nowëmosdet, you will be able to proceed straight to the realm of the Lisharithada. Taking into account your size and what I have been able to deduce of your abilities, I here trace the path you must take to reach the Road of Nowë."

    We watched as the route started at the Historic Entrance, following the route for the now-defunct Echo River tour through the Rotunda and the Historic Tour route to River Hall before diverting to pick up the River Styx and the Echo River. Then it suddenly jagged off toward the connection to Flint Ridge, which was near the middle of Cascade Hall.

    "Wait up there," Jodi said. "Looks like the connection that leads to the Road is more over to the Flint side, Rokhaset. Why come in through Mammoth?"

    "Two reasons, Jodi Goldman. Firstly, if I am not mistaken, Mammoth is more open and will permit you to in all likelihood make better time, even if you must approach over a somewhat longer route. Secondly, the approach from the Mammoth direction will make it easier for you to reach the tunnel here, which is unexplored by your people and eventually leads you to Nowëmosdet. This tunnel will be found at the very top of the chamber. While maps such as this are terribly inadequate for showing elevation, on the Flint side you would be ascending quite steeply before you even reach the level of this known passage. And then you would have a further difficult climb to reach the critical tunnel."

    "Whee. Abandoning the tour in mid-stride. That'll liven up the tour, sure 'nuff."

    "Get ourselves banned from the cave too. Oh, well, not much we can do about that, nu? Just remember to have everything packed and move fast. It'd be embarrassing to have the whole state devastated because we were too slow and some well-meaning tourists caught us." She studied the map. "Still, I don't want to be a nudje, but that stretch of Nowëmosdet is like to be forty miles long. And filled with water. What, you think we're fish? We're not doing that in two days, that's for sure."

    The High Spirit nodded. "I understand this completely. There is a way to give you the endurance and speed needed. But it may not be entirely safe."

    "Give us endurance and speed? How-" I broke off, staring at him. "Are y'all out of your mind? I don't doubt the stuff works on your people, but it's prob'ly pure poison to us! 'Sides, y'all need it, right?"

    "You are quick in grasping the idea, Clinton Slade. Yet you are not entirely correct. The elixir, made according to the ancient recipes, is said to have been the same for your people as well as my own. It is born of the power of the world that sustains us both." He shifted his stance slightly. "It is true that the Powers have changed, so there may be some difference in effect, which is why I say there may be some risk. Yet I sincerely believe it shall produce the requisite effect, and, most importantly, surround you with the aura of one who belongs in the Earth, so that Nowëmosdet will accept you and assist you."

    "And the fact that you won't have time to make it before we have to leave-which will have to be in very few hours, to be honest-and that y'all need it for your people?"

    "If you can be of assistance at all, Clinton Slade, it will be because one of your people, wielding H'kuraden and striking from invisibility, will be worth many of my warriors combined. But the true drawback is this: I have but two elixirs at this time, for as you have so correctly noted we shall need far more time to finish making any from your own H'adamant. So only two of you may go, and no more."

    "That's gonna be me and Jodi, then," I said, before she could say anything.

    She looked surprised. Pleased, but surprised. "Hey, look," I continued, shrugging, "I've given up trying to keep you out of it, Jodi. And to be honest, you're probably better at the caving end of things than anyone else here. Ours is a pretty specialized knowledge of how to rob Nomes, not explore caves. That was Winston's gig, more or less, and he's been dead quite a stretch."

    "Well, what do you know. Maybe you can be domesticated after all," Jodi said smugly.

    Ignoring the gibe, I turned back to Rokhaset. "Okay, let's say we get there. Where, exactly, do we go in this area they obviously control, and what'll we be fighting? How many, what's their weaknesses, that kind of thing. Jodi's done some fencing, as one of your warriors found out, and I'm not too bad in a scrap, but we still probably ain't going to be taking on a whole army at once."

    "In the main, their troops will be very much like our own in appearance, but more willing to inflict injury. Still, they have avoided your people over the years, while we have grown used to you. They will be very disoriented by the fact that you cannot be sensed easily, if at all, with H'kuraden, and you have advantages of reach and height which, in the caverns they favor, you will be able to exploit."



    He fingered the Egyptian beard-like tube on his chin. "Your goal, as I mentioned earlier, is to disrupt their ritual. You must work your way inward along this path from Nowëmosdet; in one way this route works in our favor, as the center of their mystic workings is located considerably closer to this branch of Nowëmosdet. Once there, you must shatter all crystalline items you see with your iron. This will completely negate the ritual and their power will be broken for many years to come, in which period perhaps we shall, together, find some means of returning sanity to Nowë's realm. It is of course possible that they can overwhelm you if you are slow or unfortunate, but I think you have an excellent chance. The only thing that might stop you..." He trailed off, evidently having thought of something quite unpleasant.

    "Go on, might as well know the worst."

    "The Lisharithada, Jodi Goldman, like ourselves, are capable of wëseraka-life-shaping, causing the life of the Earth to take the form which best suits our purposes. Alas, in this as in all other things they have turned their power to destruction. They have developed the seradatho into efficient creatures of war. Most of these will still pose little greater threat to you than their masters; many of their offensive abilities are designed to deal with our people, not yours. However, if by bad fortune you encounter a Magon..."

    "If we do, how will we know?"

    Rokhaset gave one of his eerie laughs. "I assure you, Clinton Slade, you will know. A seradatho H'a magon is more than twice the size of the greatest of the seradatho you saw rebuilding the road, and is a being bred purely for destruction. It can strike us matturan at its approach, leaving us helpless before it. Even if its powers cannot directly affect you, it is huge, armored, equipped to tear and break and dissolve. Flee if one approaches."

    That was a nasty image. "And why shouldn't we expect one?"

    "Because they are extremely difficult to breed, and even more difficult to control, given their temperament and peculiar abilities. I do not believe they have more than one or two Magon, and they will almost certainly concentrate these major weapons at the area they expect us to attack, not the opposite direction. With any luck whatsoever, you should reach the ritual center and destroy it before they could even decide to redeploy the Magon , let alone have it reach you."

    I winced. "I don't like trustin' to luck. I'm bringin' everything I can."

    "We can't bring too much with us, Clint. That's a long hike, with a war at the end."

    "Sure 'nuff, but I ain't goin' to a war unarmed. May not be able to smuggle a rifle past the entrance staff, but might could do some other stuff."

    Rokhaset shrugged. "I have seen the power of some of your... gadgets, Clinton Slade. But the problem will be to have the chance to bring them to bear. Still, if it does not slow you down, there is no harm in bringing whatever you think might aid you." He reached into a pouch in his woven harness and extracted two octagonal crystal vials and a blue crystal, broken in half. "The mikhsteri H'adamant-the diamond elixir. Save it until you arrive at the entrance to Nowëmosdet, for we do not know how long it will last for a human, in this age of the world."

    Jodi and I took a vial each and stowed them away in side pockets of our packs. Rokhaset then handed Jodi the broken crystal. "Keep this with you; it is attuned to its other half, and with it I can follow your progress and time the arrival of my forces to coincide with yours; perhaps we shall even meet in the domain of the Lisharithada and see victory together."

    "I sure hope so." I shook his stony hand again, then turned to my fiancee. "C'mon, Jodi. Let's do this thing."

    11. Three Hour Tour

    "You sure they'll let us take this stuff in?" Jodi asked.

    "F'cryin'-Jodi, stop askin' the same question again every few minutes. I wore a pack the last time I went in, no one said nothing."

    "Yeah, yeah, I know, but I'm nervous! Me, okay, I'm not carrying anything all that bad except a couple nasty iron bars, but you-oy, if you trip-"

    "It's not nitroglycerine, Jodi. It won't blow up without the right trigger. I could carve little doggie statues out of it if I wanted to. No one's gonna search me-unless y'all look so nervous that they think there is somethin' wrong, and then we're in big trouble. I got a permit for my gun, so that shouldn't be a problem. Not that I wanna use either if I don't have to, seein' as how big noises in caverns could lead to cave-ins which would ruin our party right quick."

    "Right, right."

    Leaving had been hurried. We had to pack everything we could fit into a reasonable space-we couldn't afford to draw too much attention-and picking and choosing while arguing with Grandpa, Mamma, and everyone else about why we were going and no one else hadn't been easy. Easier than the goodbyes, though, since none of us knew if we'd see them again. Even Father had gotten pretty choked up, which doesn't happen, and so that'd set me going, which got Jodi to start in, and I guess pretty much everyone ended up with sniffy noses and red eyes before it was all over and we drove off.

    Fortunately for our hoped-for future, Jonah had asked what I was going to do about my car. Given that we were planning on violating federal law in breaking off on our own and all that, it would probably be pretty stupid to leave my truck parked overtime in the lot. Father and Adam would be coming after us about an hour later to pick up the truck and bring it home; if we lived through this, we'd come back home with Rokhaset and the others, rather than suddenly show up back at Mammoth anyway.

    Mammoth Caves wasn't hard to find, at least. Major parks get good publicity like signs and all, which I appreciated, as it wasn't going to be likely we'd find anything like that down in the caves. In fact, we'd have to move fast through areas we only knew from tour maps and photos at first. While lagging behind might get us the chance to split off from the tour group at the right point, we didn't dare take the chance that someone might catch us. Put bluntly, if someone did try to catch us, Jodi and I would have to stop them instead.

    The whole situation was really pretty annoying. If this disaster had happened back around 1991, we'd have been able to get right down to Cascade on the tour, but economics and conservation concerns had put an end to that one. At least one thing was in our favor: the past month or so had been pretty dry and the Green River was low. That meant we'd have dry path to run down for most of it before the splashing started. According to what I could gather, we probably wouldn't hit water much over five or six feet, leastwise not in too many places, which was good; not that me and Jodi couldn't swim, but in hiking clothes with packs, that was a different story.

    I ran my finger around my neck; it was getting hot in here, even though I had the air conditioner on. We both had wetsuits underneath the hiking clothes. Any serious caver has them, though I'd only needed mine once. The water in caves at this latitude averages down around 55 degrees, and that's more than cold enough to give you hypothermia right quick.

    We pulled into the parking lot, found the entrance and schedules, paid our tickets, then had to sit around for twenty nerve-racking minutes as the next tour prepared for departure. No one questioned our packs, which I thought was a near miracle, given that Jodi looked so jumpy. Maybe they just thought she was claustrophobic or something. Finally, the guide called us together and we all started the long hike-down a path, the two of us trying to hide how hot we were getting now while the guide pointed out the occasional squirrel. About the point when I felt like I was getting set to melt, we started down the stairs through the huge, vegetation-fringed opening that yawned darkly to swallow the staircase and us tourists whole: the Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave.

    Despite our hurry, I had to appreciate the sights. Mammoth is a damn impressive place. The Rotunda, a massive hall, opened up before us, and Colin Blair, the guide, began describing the operation that had taken place in the early 1800s to extract saltpeter for gunpowder from the mines. It seemed a bit ironic to me that the operation began somewhere around the time old Winston had grabbed his first big score from the Nomes. I resisted the temptation to ask how the quakes had affected the cave; the last thing Jodi and I needed was to draw attention to ourselves.

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