The Chronicles of Ishmirban, The Fire Stone. Part Two.
Wednesday 13th June 2001 (Earth)
The Year of The Winged Keppet. Ishmirban (Tak'heynie)
It was huge and black. As its wings unfolded Chase lost his grip on the animals thick mane and fell; catching sight of the creatures dark underbelly as he turned in the air in slow motion, he could see blood. The creature was bleeding. Suddenly seeing brilliant sky, the two suns blinded him for a moment and he covered his face just as a dark shadow of the creature's hind leg came crashing towards him! He called out expecting pain from the creatures flailing hoof or the jagged cliff face below as he hurled towards it. But there was no sound. No pain.
And then he woke up... still clutching the sheets as though to save himself from falling, but suddenly filled with excitement, his heart beating hard against his chest. Holy Shit! Surely that wasn't a bloody Keppet?
He'd fallen into a restless sleep thinking about this. What did this creature he'd have to 'bond' with look like? Would he make a fool of himself trying to ride it? If he couldn't ride it, he wouldn't be able to go on the hunt.
Chase quickly looked over at Amy, glad to see she was still asleep. He smiled, relieved she hadn't seen his sudden panic or hear him call out. She was holding tightly to the little toy panda just as he was still gripping the sheets. Breathing calmly, he quickly slipped from the bed and quietly made his way around to the bathroom.
As he ran his finger over the embossed circle in the wall, the window appeared and as soon as it opened the sweet heady scent of the village filled the room, quickly followed by music and other strange sounds. What was going on?
Outside was hot. The sky and the sea were still the bluest of blues and appeared hazy and merged together as one. Chase wondered if he and Amy were missing the night time and sleeping through it somehow. These thoughts soon left him as he gazed over the roof tops of the Shellacs below, towards The Park.
It must have been at least ten times the size it had been! Somehow it had grown! It looked as if the biggest circus, the biggest fair and the biggest regatta had come to the village.
Strange boats littered the shore line. Richly decorated marquees edged The Park, flags and banners waved in the breeze.
Chase grinned, "Oh wow, this is great!"
Narrowing his eyes a little he scanned The Park. Up until now, he'd never realised how good his eyesight was. He wanted to take in everything. He blinked again and suddenly everything was clear and close enough to see every detail. Embossing in body armour, sparkling beads braided into hair, detailed tattoos, body paint, jewellery, even the strange rigging on the ships. He could taste and smell the excitement in the atmosphere and felt he could reach out and touch the softness of the coats of the strange little furry creatures that yapped around at everyone's ankles or even touch the gold embossing most of the larger animals were wearing on their bridles and saddles.
"They must be keppets! Thank God for that!" He laughed to himself, looking again at the animals and was pleased to see they looked nothing like the monstrous winged creature he'd partially seen in his dream and more like a small horse.
Chase quickly stripped off and stepped into the shower allowing the warm water to wash over him but then, this time was very curious to see what happened to his clothing. How was it always clean every time he took something off? Did some tiny creature steal it away and return it spotless in seconds? He never found out because suddenly he was startled by a scream!
"What's up-what's up?" he called grabbing a towel, which materialised as he rushed back into the bedroom.
"You!" yelled Amy, her hands over her eyes.
"What about me?"
"I thought -I thought you'd left to go on this-this hunt thing!"
"Nooo, I'm still here, yer can see!"
"Yes! I can see! You have to get a door put on the bathroom!"
"Okay!" he grinned, "Or you can do it, seein' yer the one who keeps on about it. I really don't care!"
"Rude boy!" snapped Amy folding her arms. "I've never known a boy take so many showers!"
"Stop yer moanin' and come and look outta the winder- it's amaz-"
"Window!" she quickly corrected.
"Yeah okay, just come and look. Yer won't believe it, it's amazin'! The Park's grown, it's massive! And there's hundreds of people out there, most of them ridin' horses, well, they look like horses."
"Could they be keppets?"
"Yeah, I guess so, come and have a look," he beckoned impatiently.
Finding his discarded clothing clean once again, Chase quickly dressed in the bedroom while Amy called from the bathroom.
"Oh my goodness Chase-" she said, hardly stopping to draw breath, "there's hundreds of people out there! They're all dressed in so many beautiful colours- we're going to look so drab. Oh and they have boats too! I think they're boats. Do you think they're boats? I didn't think we were allowed to go into the sea. I wonder where they've come from? How do you think The Park can grow like that? Do you think it's this hunt thing they're getting ready for?"
"I guess so- come on, get dressed-whatever," Amy was wearing her fluffy- penguins- on- ski's- pyjamas, "I'll make us somethin' to eat, then we'll go down and see, okay? Or we could skip breakfast. Yeah, let's just go! C'mon! Hurry up!"
"Chase you can't go if they're hunting animals," said Amy returning to the bedroom, "you just can't! It's too cruel!"
"Huh, we'll see!"
Chase was delighted with his keppet. It looked like a small horse, except it's long multicoloured mane and tail were the wildest things he'd ever seen. All the keppets were amazing colours. His was a mottled strawberry roan with dark red legs, dark red almost black eyes and a very pretty face with two little horns just above where a star would have been.
He was told she had chosen him and once they were 'bonded' she would be with him forever or until one of them died.
"That'll be me in the next two minutes then," muttered Chase under his breath.
Chase soon found out she was more temperamental than a horse or a pony, more like a jackass, he thought, as she threw him to the ground for the second and third time, snorting and leaping about like a wild mustang.
"I haven't fallen off in years!" gritted Chase impatiently, putting his foot sharply back into a large bucket stirrup and heaving himself into a lavishly decorated saddle with great difficulty as the creature plunged about.
Amy, who was with Prelli, Kish's Jezzle, covered her eyes when ever Chase fell off. Luckily he wasn't hurt as they were in some kind of 'keppet bonding' ring, where the ground was strangely soft. This was meant to exhaust the animal and make it difficult for it to thrash about. This wasn't the way Chase had been taught to break-in horses but was quickly reminded, as he met the ground again, this was no horse!
Chase wouldn't have minded the humiliation of falling off if there hadn't been so many people watching. He could have sworn the seats they were now sitting in weren't there when they first arrived. Did everything just suddenly 'grow' and appear here?
The strange crowd cheered wildly every time he fell off and every time he got back on again. Many of them kept reaching out to touch him and each time this happened, any pain or discomfort he felt, disappeared. Many more threw little strips of coloured cloth. This, he learnt later, was to show their appreciation of his riding skills.
At first, when Chase realised he'd have to 'bond' with the keppet he suggested to Kish, he'd be allowed to take it out into the sea. Breaking her in the water would be easy, but Kish and others who overheard, seemed horrified, almost frightened by this idea, as if riding into the sea would not only harm him and the animal but would most likely kill them too!
Chase thought, maybe there were more strange things lurking under the waves, which the purple creature had 'accidentally' forgotten to tell him about. He'd whispered to Amy if she'd heard anything about what lived beneath the sea. She looked puzzled for a moment and then whispered back...
"Only what I told you earlier, that we're not allowed to swim in it. I was thinking about swimming and ...well...I-I I'm not sure... I may have just dreamt it..."
"Or been mind melded." added Chase with a frown.
Most of the crowd were gathered to wave off the figgie hunt. There must have been another hundred of these extraordinary people, all mounted on their various coloured keppets, every one of them, as Amy had said, wearing vibrant coloured sashes across their bodies, ribbons tied round their upper arms and braids plaited and twisted into their long hair.
Some of them carried peculiar nets and looped sticks or ropes, while others held something that looked like a long whip with an odd ball attached to one end. These they spun over their heads at great speed, until they made weird high pitched whooping sounds.
Amy took to Prelli straight away and wasn't afraid to ask her any questions. Prelli was very much like Kish to look at, only she chose to be a little shorter, her eyelashes were longer, her body curvier and where Kish had long dreadlocks laced with coloured cords, Prelli had brightly coloured beads and gems entwined through her long plaited purple hair.
Prelli told Amy the braids and ribbons worn by the riders were to show how excellent they were at hunting and riding, and that the rigget, the long whip and ball, was spun very fast to 'wake the figgies up', while the ropes, looped sticks and nets were used to catch them.
Running around the hooves of the keppets were dozen's of small blue-grey furry creatures. They had long fluffy tails, large watery eyes, stubby noses and yapped loudly like little dogs. One took to Amy straight away, encouraging her to pick it up.
"What are these called Prelli?" she asked curiously.
"They are dægos Amy. They can sniff out figgies," explained Prelli cheerfully. "They are very friendly. This one likes you, yes? This is very good luck. It means you will have lots of spring-offs and will never be without a good supply of figgies!"
"Oh, that's good... I think," frowned Amy, stroking the dægo as it purred happily in her arms.
Although Amy loved the thrill of the hunt at home and had been drag hunting, she was against all blood sports. She'd already rowed with Chase before they arrived. He'd accused her, quite wrongly she thought, of being 'a city-girl snob' trying to stop 'natural country ways.'
"They're probably vermin of some kind that raid their corn fields or kill their livestock or somethin'," Chase told her. "Have yer ever seen what a fox can do to a shed full of chickens or a barn full of newly born lambs, huh? It's not a pretty sight. They kill for the sake of killin' Amy; they don't just kill what they take to eat."
"Yes they do! They take them and hide them so they can eat them later!"
"And what flippin' story book did yer read that in, huh? Kish has already told me his people don't kill. They've got these huge killer creatures sealed up in their old cities because they wouldn't kill them, even though they had the means too. Remember all those little statutes coverin' that Great Council Auditorium we were in yesterday? They're all the people these Terrins killed. Thousands and thousands of them. Millions most likely. Yer shouldn't condemn som'thin' yer know nothin' about!"
"But they hurt you in that Auditorium!"
"That was different!"
"So," Amy breathed in an angry sigh, "will you still go with them if they are hunting and killing animals?"
"Yes! I've been invited it would be rude not to!"
"And if they all jump off a cliff to their deaths, will you follow too?"
"Ah, now yer just bein' silly!"
The little dægo purred loudly as Amy rubbed behind its ears. She couldn't imagine such a cute little bundle of fur killing anything.
"Prelli?" she asked, "what do figgies look like? I mean, what are they?"
"I am not sure you have anything like them Amy. Let me show you."
Prelli touched Amy's forehead with a long finger and instantly a strange image appeared in Amy's mind.
"Oh!" she said stumbling backwards, nearly dropping the dægo. "I-I can see one! Even with my eyes open, I can see one!"
This was nothing like when Kish had made her feel better before, after emerging from the gell capsule or from drinking far too much alcohol. It was as though she could see what was in Prelli's mind. It was a weird sensation, as she could still see everything around her too.
"They look like... dark green fury... vegetables!" Amy laughed, "I thought they were creatures."
"Creatures? Oh no Amy- is vegetation! Inside there are hundreds of seed pods. They need to be hunted to make them roll, otherwise they sleep all day in shade."
"T-they sleep! And they... roll?" stuttered Amy confused.
"Only when hunted; they are very lazy, if they do not roll and get hot, they do not split open and if they do not split open, they cannot spread their seeds. Then if they do not spread their seeds they will soon fester and The Great Absorption will take them. Eventually there will be none left."
"Oh! I thought they were creatures you hunted down and killed!"
"Oh no Amy;" smiled Prelli, "we do not kill. It is not our way."
"B-but you hurt Chase at that- at that meeting yesterday, I mean- " Amy shook her head, suddenly realising to Prelli it wasn't yesterday at all, only earlier in Prelli's year long day.
"I mean, well umm you-you really hurt him!"
"No Amy, the power that hurt Chase was his own. Has this not yet been explained to you?"
"No, not really." blinked Amy as the little dægo licked her face.
Prelli smiled, "Do not worry Amy. Hunting figgies is good and for every figgie we capture, hundreds more will grow. It is the way."
Chase had now stayed astride his keppet long enough for Kish to be sure they had 'bonded', which meant it would obey his every wish and would no longer throw him off.
"You learn very quickly Chase! This hunt will be fun!" said Kish as he presented Chase with a colourful red and gold sash. Suddenly everyone was there, clapping and cheering as Kish placed the sash over his head, to wear across his chest and a ribbon to tie around his forearm.
"What's this for?" frowned Chase looking at them.
"You have been thrown many colours Chase, making this your first trophy. A Keppet Bonding Trophy! Wear with pride! Not many of us have a red and gold keppet trophy, see for yourself." Kish waved a hand into the crowd but there were so many colours Chase wasn't sure what he was supposed to be looking at.
Kish gathered his reins to turn his silver-grey Keppet. It reared up, flailing its scarlet legs. He made several hand gestures to the other riders indicating the hunt was ready to leave and another great cheer erupted around The Park.
Amy watched Prelli and Kish say goodbye. They spoke in a strange purring language as they embraced, stroking and kissing each other. Kish had pulled Prelli up into the saddle with him. Looking around Amy noticed everyone was doing the same. It made her feel a little embarrassed and awkward and thought it odd they made such a point of saying 'good bye'. Surely the hunt would be back in a few hours?
Chase on the other hand couldn't wait to get going. While all this was going on he'd been cantering his keppet round and round in circles. Then, suddenly noticing Amy standing on her own he cantered over to meet her, his keppet snorting down its nose and leaping about excitedly.
"We're off in a minute," he puffed, "Isn't she great!" he patted her neck and pulled on her long mane, "It's like I only have to think what I want her to do and she does it!" Chase gently pulled on the reins to slow the creature and the keppet circled Amy, still snorting and tossing its head. "And we're not huntin' creatures okay? It's some kind of giant green truffle..." he grinned, "or brussel sprout or somethin'."
"Oh yes, I know, Prelli just told- umm showed me."
"What she do? That brain bending thing again?"
Amy nodded. "It's werid, but I could see it!"
Chase nodded too and then carefully added, "We'll be gone for about two or three of our days. Will yer be okay? Prelli will look after yer, and there's stuff she thinks we might need from-"
"Two or three days! That long? Why? Oh y-yes I suppose I'll be all right. I didn't realise you'd be away that long."
"Neither did I. Kish said if yer want, yer can come next time but yer have to learn to ride one of these first. I told him you might be a bit scared-"
"I won't be scared!!" cut in Amy hotly, "It'll be something to look forward to," she said, not looking forward to it at all.
"Yer okay Amy? Look, I won't go if yer don't want me to, just say."
"You mean that?" Relief that he would stay if she just asked him to, filled her with such joy, Amy found it very hard not to show it, but she could see how eager Chase was to go.
"Oh no- y-you go, I'll be fine."
"Sure? Great! Okay. See yer later then, bye." And before Amy could change her mind, Chase waved as he cantered off to join Kish at the head of the hunt.
"Bye Chase! B-Be careful!" she called as the dægo jumped from her arms and ran after the hunt. Everyone galloped out of The Park, veering left to gallop along the white sandy beach towards the dark greens and greys of The Great Forest on the far horizon.
"I hope he's going to be all right," said Amy suddenly feeling very frightened and alone.
"She will be fine. Dægos love hunting." smiled Prelli.
"Oh! I meant Chase."
"Chase will be fine too. Come Amy, we have fun now!"
"Oh I see, while the cat's away, the mice can play!" Amy laughed nervously. "Is that a proverb? Oh damn! I did all that homework for nothing!"
Prelli looked puzzled, smiled again and said, "Play? Oh yes we play! It is Tublix time! Come. Follow!"