The Salvation of Ganchimi
Neither one of us could see anything in the darkness of the hole. I knew that if we were going to explore this new passage, we would need light, but I was much too eager to withstand the urge to proceed into the blackness.
The shaft of the entrance was made of stone; each one carved into magnificent shapes that almost certainly caused the stonemason a fuss when he sought to mortar them together. Attached to the wall just below the north edge was a ladder that dropped straight down into the pit. After a few quick kicks against the ladder to test its stability, I maneuvered to put my feet onto the rungs.
“I’m going down,” I said.
“I thought you said we would open it and then close it up again!” Madeline was furious by now and gave me a look to secure such knowledge. “You know not where this leads!”
“I’ll return directly. I’m just going to have a look.”
“But you cannot see anything.”
“Then you remain here, for I am bound to continue.”
“At least prepare a light so that when you traverse the bottom you will not stumble. Perhaps it is rocky below.” I could still hear the enchantment in Madeline’s voice. She wanted me to go down the ladder into the unknown, but she wanted to appear as though she had concern for my welfare by remaining safely above where she could witness the exploration from a trouble-free vantage.
“Very well,” I said as I started a few rungs down the ladder, “But you need to fetch the porch lantern for me.”
“I shall be quick,” she said hopping to her feet.
“Be watchful for Mother!” I shouted to her as she scurried away. In the darkness (to which I could not tell the depth) I could feel the gentle licking of a breeze upon my skin, pleasant and fresh. It would seem that one should expect for such a place to have the smell of damp soil and musty tones, but it was quite the opposite. The space was soothing and the movement moderate, ancient to be sure, and relatively inviting. I could hear a distant sound of water dripping.
A few moments later Madeline returned with the lantern, a flint stone for lighting and a bit of paper with the tip dipped in oil. She sparked the paper and lit the lantern. With the light from the lantern I could see that the ladder went well into the earth. If I were to guess, I would estimate at least thirty feet. Once at the bottom, the floor appeared to be paved from the same stones that lined the passageway from above; each stone carefully crafted into intricate designs and vigilantly placed together in a grand walkway of interconnected marvel. The walls, however, were a bit different. Each stone held a symbol of glazed color, all of which I’d never seen before. The glaze within the stone symbols was rich and smooth, looking as if they were made from molten jewels poured into the stones before they were set in place. When I held the lantern up to them, they seemed to glow with a soft radiance that appeared to come from within rather than as a reflection of my light. The room itself was rather long and narrow. Ornate pillars lined each side of its shallow walls and it led in a single direction sloping downward and to the east. In fact, I’m not sure if I should call it a room for it was much more like a tunnel (though tall and wide enough that if it were in a house, you would consider it a room). At the other end (which I could barely see from the light of my lantern) there appeared to be the entrance to another room, slightly warm with light.
“What do you see?” Madeline called from above. But I didn’t answer. I was strangely compelled to discover what lay ahead. “Joshua, what do you see?” she called again. I remained silent. Holding the lantern up, I followed the room toward the opening. I crept along silently, withholding the temptation to pitch a quick “Hello?” into the darkness. As I drew near to the doorway, I could see that it was clad in highly polished limestone and the lintel stones were ablaze with much larger jeweled symbols. The sound of dripping water that I heard while waiting on the ladder grew stronger.
I walked through the doorway and into what was a massive room. Even though it was almost completely dark, I could tell its gigantic size for the sound of my own breathing had become deadened within its atmosphere. I could hear the sound of my lungs easily in the previous room, but in this room, my breathing was swallowed up by the abyss of nothingness. There was, however, a flame burning in the room. It seemed fairly small but I came to realize that it only looked small because it was a great many steps away from me. So it is that perspective and dimension are lost when darkness is all-encompassing. I walked toward the flame (now feeling drips of water on my head) eventually finding that it was a pyre burning from a pooled vat encased in a well-like stone formation made from the same glazed stones as the hallway. Slight sputtering sounds could be heard as water dripped into its flame.
I looked up but could not see the ceiling. There was, just to the south of the fire pool, a small stone altar on which was laying a torch made from bundled liput branches. Taking the torch, I placed it into the fire and soon I could see that the room was much larger than I anticipated. I still could not see the ceiling, but I did notice that surrounding the flame pool were several long, narrow paths of the same liquid leading out in all directions. It looked much like the construction of a wheel; the center pool being the hub and all of the vats stretching out into the room as spokes. There were several feet between the fire pool and each of the spokes, apparently meant for walking around the fire pool without having to jump over the spokes.
I knew that it was time for me to return to Madeline as she eagerly waited for me at the entrance, but once again I could not resist the urge to act blindly without knowing the result. With this fearfully unfamiliar craving, I found myself doing something I never would have had the courage to do before. I began circling the fire pool and touching my torch to each one of the spokes. As the flames touched the surface, each row burst into raging rivers of fire that angrily sped the full length of the room causing an instantaneous explosion of brilliance that brought light to the entire room.
I could see now that the room was enormous and round with darkened portals just above the floor leading out into different directions. The room itself was a little bit smaller than the size of an elfin wheat field but much bigger than the fishing pond in the Nefton Woods. High above, I saw the massive roots of our Vasior tree spreading out across the ceiling of the cavern like a great chandelier decorating the heavens. Some of the larger roots had grown across the ceiling, down the walls and into the darkened portals. The roots sparkled with the reflection of the flaring rivers of fire burning beneath. From these roots, small bits of moisture collected and dropped to the stone floor below. But something more spectacular caught my eye.
Just beyond the stone altar (which if you recall was in the south of the room) I could see that two of the rivers flowed perpendicular, eventually surging into another pool of fire much bigger than the pool at the center. And just beyond this pool, in a cove cut into the stone walls, I could see something shimmering in the light of the flames. I moved closer, and caught my first glimpse of what was to be Ganchimi’s salvation.
Just beyond the large pool of fire, through the blurred heat, a sword and shield rested, both of which were embedded upright in the stone wall. My heart leapt with wonder while at the same time a great wave of fear swept over me. My first inclination was to jump over the pool and through the flames. It would seem that my curiosity had taken hold of my valor. But in the end, logic won out over curiosity because the flames were much too hot. Instead, I stood with my eyes fixed upon the treasures that were just out of my reach.
The sword was rather unimpressive, its design that of a wooden handle that swept down from a silver pommel, past a quillon guard (which was bent in opposing directions) and into the steel of the less-than-polished blade. In its roughness, it held a beauty and perfection that echoed life and substance hidden beneath simplicity. The shield, however, shone forth from the roaring fire with a majestic collection of symbols similar to what was on the walls of the hallway. The symbols marked the outer edge of the shield while in the center was the same image of the dragon and warrior as was on the door which led me to this place. And in that moment, I was captivated by the sight of what (unbeknownst to me) would be my burdensome future.
I don’t know how long I stood there engaged in my stare before my I was abruptly shaken by the voice of Madeline, holding another lantern and calling from the doorway of the room, “Joshua?!” Her voice echoed through the grand room breaking the silence. And with her beckoning I heard rumblings from the passageways that surrounded the rooms. The dark corridors that stretched out from the main room became lively with sounds of grunts and snarls, as if something (or many things) had been aroused from slumber at the sound of Madeline’s voice. I could hear the sound of claws clicking and scratching upon stone walls and floors, gradually building in intensity as they moved closer. Something was awakened and was stirring our way. Madeline became white with fear. She dropped the lantern and ran toward me but found the floor difficult to navigate because of the lines of fire that divided the room.
Now one would think it wise that we would have run out of the room, up the sloping hall and up the ladder, but we did not. The growls were approaching much too fast and whatever was heading toward us would certainly have overtaken us by the time we made it to the ladder. I ran to Madeline (who was now near to the pool in the center of the room). I grabbed her by the hand and led her up to the larger pool of fire. Just as we reached the edge, the ferocious beasts bounded out of the dark corridors. I counted five in all. Each one covered in smooth brown flesh, with rounded bodies joined to four long, bony legs. Each creature was suited with paws very similar in fashion to human hands, only they were fixed with thickened ivory claws that took the place of the fingernails. The heads were rounded as well, with dog-like snouts that bared viciously sharp teeth. They turned to us and screamed an intense howl of attack. Moving through the open spaces between the rivers of fire, they filed nearer to us from the pool in the center. I grabbed Madeline by the hand.
“We’re going to jump through the flames to the cove,” I said as I moved back a few steps. I could see the creatures prowling closer as I clutched tightly to Madeline’s little fingers. Without resistance, but giving a thorough scream, Madeline squeezed my palm and we leapt through the flames. We hit the cove floor and rolled against the wall. I could see a bit of smoke rising from Madeline as she quickly rose to her feet. I’m sure she witnessed the same as we had both singed our clothing and the bared hair on our heads, arms, and legs.
The creatures moved swiftly up and gathered at the edge of the flaming pool, snarling and spitting as they clawed their jagged paws at the licking flames. Up close they were rather large; nearly the size of a fattened sheep in need of a sheer; much bigger than both of us children. The creatures circled each other and cried out impatient, predatory screams.
“What are we going to do?!” Madeline screamed. She was ravaged with fear and rightly so, for how many seven year old girls are there that can recall being within such a dreadful tale? In the reflection of her tearing eyes, I saw the glimmering weapons high above me in the stone wall. I turned to the wall, found my footing and pulled the shield from its rack. I dropped it to the ground near Madeline and turned for the sword. I reached up but was unable to dislodge it from its keeping. All the while, the pacing creatures were constructing their eager courage for an attack through the flames. I pulled and pried, but the sword would not come loose. Just then, through the flames lunged one of the creatures. Hurdling well over us, it hit the sword and the full weight of its stature rattled the blade loose, knocking it to the floor. Partially stunned by the impact, the beast hit the floor but quickly regained his momentum. The beast turned to Madeline just as she picked up the shield and crouched beneath it in the corner. She was still quite a petite young girl so she was able to hide her entire self within the safe-keeping of the massive weapon of defense. Holding on with all of her might as the beast pounded against the shield, she screamed in terror for help. How could it be that such a small girl was able to manage such a large fortification?
I scrambled forward and grabbed the sword just as the beast turned toward me. The weight of the blade was great, but my intense desire to save my beloved sister pulsed strength into my trembling arms. And though I felt the noticeable heave of potency, it seemed that the sword began to bear its own weight, merely guided by my movements. Holding the blade straight toward the fearsome monster, I awaited his assault. The other creatures cheered with shrieks of delight as this single brute lashed out a roar and rose forward to take my life. Closing my eyes, I swung the sword with all of my strength and knocked the beast to the ground with such incredible force, so much so that I felt the stone tremble as it thumped to the ground dead. The other creatures knocked against one another, stumbling to get a footing in order that they might attack. One by one they jumped through the flames. And with each lunge, we waged our battle.
The first two came through and were knocked into the burning pool. The third leapt toward Madeline but was deflected into the burning pool as well. The last came through, but my swing was misaligned and the beast knocked the sword from my hands. I spun toward Madeline and together we stooped behind the shield. Getting a foothold against the wall, we pushed the fiendish monster toward the pool, but our combined strength was not enough. It seems that the shield worked well as a defense but not as an offensive weapon. Pushing the monster would not work. The beast pushed back with incredible strength and clawed at the edges of the shield, nearly missing our limbs. Standing upright on its hind limbs, the beast grabbed the shield and pushed us against the stone wall. It tore the shield from our hands and drew back its claws to strike. In despair, I considered this to be the end of our adventure. At that moment, through the flames jumped Father, armed with and swinging his axe from the woodshed. The dreadful creature turned from us and arched upward in surprise. With a single blow, Father conquered the beast, causing a dreadful bawl of terror as it fell to the floor and rolled into the pool of fire.
Standing at the edge of the pool, Father wiped the sweat from his brow with his shirt sleeve. Dropping his axe, he scooped us up from the floor and into his arms, holding us ever so close. I could feel the sweet warmth of his breath on my shoulder as he embraced us.
“Oh, Father!” Madeline exclaimed as she clung tightly to his arm.
“I thought you went to the Borough,” I sobbed while closing my eyes and resting my chin on his shoulder.
“I see you found the door,” he whispered. “Mother is going to be most displeased. Come, we must be swift in leaving this place before more of the Pickers return.”