The two adventurers don’t end up in Pergola, however. They travel all the way down to that little land of albinos that we all know and love…Tenebrous. The thing is, they don’t come out the same phenocryst that Torin came out of and knocked himself unconscious on a metal pole. They come out in a storeroom, that’s for sure, but it is a totally different storeroom than the one that Torin materialized in. Anyway, Negasi and Leenah shimmer into view in this old room and look around in confusion.
“This doesn’t look like The Lands Above,” says Leenah.
“And it’s not Pergola either,” says Negasi.
“Well, where are we?” Leenah asks. Negasi scratches his ear and looks doubtful for a moment, then says:
“I’m not sure…but look over here.”
He walks across the room and points to a rotting door in the wall. He tries to open it but it refuses to yield. Apparently it is locked or boarded up from the outside (as far as Negasi can determine).
“This requires some thought…” he says, putting a hand to his chin. Then, after a few seconds:
And with that, Negasi raises his long leg and kicks the door down with one swift motion. Leenah stands back in surprise.
“I didn’t realize you resorted to violence that easily,” says Leenah.
“Ah, what’s life without a little violence now and then,” says Negasi. “Besides, there wasn’t any other way I could see.”
He steps outside, into the familiar gray atmosphere of Tenebrous. As Leenah is following him out, he turns and says:
“Could you grab a couple of those empty paint cans, Leenah? We might need them.”
Leenah obediently fetches a couple cans and hands them to Negasi. He stuffs them into his left pocket (the one without the erresdy powder in it), and miraculously he appears to be carrying nothing.
“How did you make those cans fit?” Leenah asks.
“Typical adventurer’s sleight-of-hand. Why, I’ve seen Torin stuff a fan as tall as he was into his pouch, followed by a huge cushion and a carpet! It’s no big deal when you know how to pack.”
“No arguments there, Neg, but can you please tell where we are?”
“Complete this common, derogatory expression: ‘What the…’”
“Tenebrous? We’re in Tenebrous?”
“Right-o, Leenah. Right smack in the lowest of The Lands Below.”
And so it is. Looking around them, Leenah and her companion see a land with no sky above it. Only a granite-like material is above their heads. The landscape around them has occasional treelike protrusions growing out of the ground, connecting with the granite. Some have doors carved into them, some are covered with vines and creepers. In fact, they have just stepped out of one of these “trees.” The door has several planks nailed to it, revealing that it was boarded up after all. The ground is covered with patches of sparse grass and twiggy shrubs, hilly and uneven.
“So you used too much of that powder,” Leenah finally says. “I knew you should’ve used one handful instead of two.”
“Well, it’s too late now, Leenah. We’d better find a way back up, and fast.”
“I don’t know, I just think that sounds more productive than dawdling around, doing nothing.”
Leenah and Negasi walk across the strange fields, silently taking in the landscape. They pass by a huge hollow in the earth, where an amphitheater sits. Leenah suggests that they go down there and ask for help in their predicament, but Negasi shakes his head. There seems to be no one down there to ask.
Finally, they come to the ridge of a high hill that slopes almost straight down into the mists and out of sight. Beyond the slope is a small street and a town, but both seem quite out of reach for the two adventurers. But on the top of the hill, just a few feet away from them is a pale tree with a door cut into the side. Steps lead up to the door, and attract Negasi and Leenah’s curiosity. Leenah kneels before the short door and knocks on it gently.
“Eh? Who is it?” asks a small voice from within.
“Leenah of Escarpa and Negasi of Earth. We need your help, whoever you are, to reach The Lands Above.”
A small man opens the door and squints out at the pair. He is wearing shaggy clothes and has a small crop of black hair on his head.
“Need help to get to The Lands Above, eh? Well, come inside here and I’ll see if I can help you.”
He turns and walks inside his little home. Negasi and Leenah squeeze in after him and enter a small room filled with crystals. Some of them are attached to the walls, some of them are hooked up to what look like complex machines, and they all glitter even with what little light enters the room.
“The name’s Noah,” says the man. “And I welcome you to Tenebrous. But I heard you say that you wanted to find a way to another land, yes?”
“Yes,” says Negasi. “We need to find a way to The Lands Above from here. But is there any such way?”
“You know,” says the man, “It’s strange. A week or two ago, there were no known ways ‘up.’ But now I’ve been hearing reports of phenocrysts being discovered all over the place, especially in the Columns that were hollowed out.”
“The Columns?” asks Leenah.
“Yes, those tall pillars that stretch from the ground to the Shell,” says Noah. “What I think is that some of the shards from above are making their way down here, to Tenebrous, of all places. But most of them aren’t two-wayers.”
“Well, do you know of a phenocryst that goes up, Noah?” asks Negasi.
“That I do, cat. In fact, one of them pushed its way into my basement just a few days ago. I tried sending a flower up it, and I presumed that it worked. It didn’t explode, that is.”
“And you think it will send us up safely?” asks Negasi.
“Hopefully. And I’ve heard stories about a young man who passed through here a couple weeks back. You, young lady, look just like the descriptions of this boy sounded. Not literally, of course.”
“Torin!” cries Leenah. “You mean Torin?”
“I think that’s what they said his name was, miss. And for someone so similar to someone who might be responsible for bringing the shards back down to Tenebrous after all these years, I’d like to give you something.”
Noah walks into a small closet and comes out holding an odd device. It has a flat piece of crystal mounted on it, and below that is a small array of crystals arranged in a precise, almost mechanical pattern.
“It is a combination VidCryst-Instant Teleportation Module. You can communicate with anyone you can visualize through the VidCryst and transport yourself to any location through the Teleportation Crystal Array. It only works if erresdy powder is used with it, though. There hasn’t been any import of that stuff here for decades, though.”
“I happen to have some of that stuff in my pocket,” says Negasi, “And I’m sure I can find room in my other one for this gizmo.” And with that, he takes the VidCryst-Instant Teleportation Module, opens his left pocket and stuffs the whole thing into it, and still he appears to be carrying nothing at all. Leenah and Noah look surprised, but then Noah says:
“We’d better get down to my basement if you two want to get to The Lands Above. This way.”
The little man leads Leenah and Negasi through a small door and down a narrow flight of steps, almost as narrow as the stairs in the witch’s house in KQ5, you remember, those stairs that were “too narrow for Graham to ever fit through”? Anyway, the basement Noah leads them to is a small one, with a tiny octagonal window looking out down the steep grassy slope and the town beyond. And sure enough, pushing through the soft roof is a jagged yellow shard. Negasi steps over to it and examines it with interest.
“It looks operational to me,” says Negasi. “Noah, are you sure it will work?”
“It should work.”
“Well, that’s good enough for me. Leenah, I’ll go first and see if it’s safe, then you…”
“Oh no you don’t,” says Leenah angrily. “I’ll go first. Just give me a handful of that powder and I’ll go up by myself.”
“But what if we don’t arrive in the same place? We might wind up in Asthenia or even back in Escarpa, for all I know…”
“Just give me the erresdy powder now!” snaps Leenah. “We’ll wind up in the same place if we use the same amount. I’ll take one handful, you take one handful. Wait one minute after I go, then follow me. We should wind up in one of the worlds above, and if it isn’t The Lands Above, then we’ll just go back down.”
“Okay, princess, okay,” says Negasi, raising his paws. “Your wish is my command! Help yourself,” he says, holding his right, powder-filled pocket open. Leenah grabs a handful of it and kicks the cat out of the way with her boot. Negasi is startled at her sudden sour behavior, but at the same time he is secretly pleased that she is starting to become more than a fragile waif so early in their quest.
Leenah flings the powder into the air and vanishes, up the phenocryst.
“Well,” says Negasi, turning to Noah. “Thanks for the gadget and the free use of your phenocryst.”
“It’s no more mine than yours,” says Noah. “I think in a few more weeks everyone in Tenebrous will have a shard of their own, though. Tell that young man, if you see him, that we, the citizens of Tenebrous are grateful that his journey has brought about the union between the worlds.”
“You think that something as drastic as that actually happened?”
“Why,” says Noah, looking a little confused, “Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Well, I think you’re right,” says Negasi, turning around, throwing a handful of erresdy powder in the air. In an instant, he vanishes, leaving Noah alone and pensive, wondering what the heck is going on.
Leenah, meanwhile, materializes out of the end of the phenocryst. She orients herself and looks around. She is standing in a green grove of enormous trees. The tops of them are barely visible far above her, forming a greenish roof several hundred feet above. The sky is dark and she can make out the shapes of three moons beyond the canopy. Before she can do anything more, Negasi suddenly materializes out of the same phenocryst, crashing into her and sending her sprawling across the soft grass.
“What the – I told you to wait a minute before following me!” she screams, getting to her feet and dusting herself off. Negasi is still sprawled on the ground, trying to reason with her.
“I’m sorry, I forgot, Leenah, I didn’t…”
“That’s enough! Now, where are we? This doesn’t look like The Lands Above…”
“Oh brother, not again…” mutters Negasi. “And it does look like Pergola this time.”
“Pergola? I’m in Pergola again?”
“First time for me,” says Negasi.
“But this is not where we want to be,” says Leenah. “How are we going to get to The Lands Above now?”
“We’d better find a phenocryst, but I don’t know just where…”
“Why don’t we just find that phenocryst that Torin sent me back to Escarpa with?”
“Because, in case it’s slipped your mind, we don’t want to go to Escarpa again, we want to go to…”
“The Lands Above, right, right.”
“And as I recall, there are hundreds of shards near the tops of the trees. They come through the worlds above us. I’m sure there are some that go up as well as down.”
“I hope so. But I’m feeling hungry. I haven’t eaten in several hours.”
“And perhaps that ‘jumping worlds’ routine has hungered us both out,” says Negasi. But maybe if we climb one of these trees, we may find some food growing up there.”
Negasi springs for the nearest tree and clambers up it. He stops at the lowest branch, some twenty feet above the ground, and looks down at Leenah.
“I don’t suppose you have any claws, princess?”
“Not funny, Negasi. How are you going to get me up there now?”
Negasi throws a thick vine down to Leenah, nearly hitting her in the face, perhaps intentionally. But the princess catches it and begins climbing up.
“Well well! Mrs. Bitternut was right!”
“What do you mean, Neg?”
“You’re a good climber, Leenah!”
“This is no time to flatter me, Negasi.”
“Please…it’s Neg-ah-see, not Neg-assy. That sounds like a new derogatory name to call someone.”
“It’s your name, not mine. Now be quiet so that I can concentrate on climbing this thing.”
Negasi quiets down quickly and waits patiently for Leenah to reach the branch he is sitting on. When she does, he steps aside and politely gestures for her to continue up, but Leenah shakes her head.
“I’m not going up first. You can see up my skirt too easily from down here.”
“But Leenah, I…”
“Just go up first, Neg.”
“All right, all right. So much for ‘ladies first.’”
Negasi scurries up the tree like a squirrel until he is out of sight in the thickening leaves.
“Hey! There are lots of fruits growing up here, Leenah! You should take a look!”
The princess slowly climbs up the long vine that is apparently attached to a tree limb above her, finally reaching the circle of branches that Negasi is seated in. Sprouting from the many branches are small, pear-shaped, indigo fruits, appearing black in the night atmosphere.
“Do they look safe to eat?” Negasi asks.
“I guess so…”
“There’s only one way to know,” says Negasi. He breaks off one, pierces it with his sharp teeth and sucks some of the nectarlike juice out of it.
“It’s fantastic. It’s liquid-filled inside, but I’m sure a few of these might fill us up.” The two gather several of the fruits, and naturally, Negasi agrees to carry them in his pocket, and they continue climbing, this time side by side, Leenah on her vine, Negasi on the bare bark. Whenever one of them slows down, the other waits for him or her to recover. It seems like they’re finally making up.
Once or twice Leenah’s vine reaches its end and Negasi is forced to locate another one for her to use, which he does successfully. As they progress up the gigantic tree, the moons above them begin moving west and the stars become brighter above them. Anyway, they finally reach a point where both cat and girl are tired out, and they find a good sleeping place for the night: a hollow in the tree trunk surrounded by tall branches that make the risk of falling out of the hollow next to nothing. Negasi slumps against a branch and Leenah does the same. They stare at each other while trying to catch their breaths. After a few minutes, Negasi passes Leenah a few of the fruits, which are hardly squished from their difficult journey up the tree. As Leenah drinks the juice of one of her fruits, Negasi asks:
“Would you like some light so you don’t have to eat your meal in darkness, Leenah?”
“Why? Do you have a lantern or something?”
“I have this glowing crystal that I got form Noah’s house,” says Negasi, pulling it out of his pocket.
“You stole that from Noah? Why?”
“He had dozens of the things. I’m sure he won’t miss this little one. Besides, I’m sure we’ll be able to return it to him one day.”
Negasi sets the crystal in the center of the hollow. It illuminates the branches and leaves with a bluish light. As Leenah begins eating her fruit again, Negasi asks:
“So, Leenah, how did you get to Pergola in the first place anyway?”
Leenah looks up from her fruit. “It’s a long story, Negasi.”
“We have the time.”
“Well, I discovered a flask of erresdy powder in my parents' chamber one day. I asked them what it was and they told me everything about how there used to be phenocrysts all over the land and people traveled back and forth between worlds. At the time I asked them, there were hardly any that they knew of, and they told me not to risk my life looking for one. But I didn’t believe them, so one day I set out to find a phenocryst.”
“The one you found wasn’t the same phenocryst we traveled to Tenebrous in, was it?”
“No, it wasn’t. It was in a cave at the foot of a tall cliff, several miles from my parents’ palace. I threw a handful of powder into the air, like my parents had said it was done, and the next thing I know, I’m standing in a glade in Pergola.”
“Torin landed on the roof of the canopy,” says Negasi. “But he traveled through another phenocryst.”
“Yes, I knew that. Well, The Pergolans were then on me before I knew it, and one of them knocked me out with a small hammer. It must’ve been no larger than a couple hundred duqaws…”
“Duqaws? What’s a duqaw?”
“It’s a unit of measurement. Two hundred would be about this big,” says Leenah, holding her hands about half a foot apart.
“Oh yeah. They use the same measurement in The Lands Above.”
“Really? Anyway, They tried to talk to me and gawk at me like I was some animal, but I was usually able to drive them away. But this went on for days and days…”
“Until Torin showed up?”
“Yes. I’m so grateful to him for getting me out of that mess too.”
“And what happened after you went home to Escarpa?”
“Oh, I reformed at the base of another cliff. It was incredibly close to my home, though, and I had no idea how I could’ve missed it, but I ran home as fast as I could, and my parents were overjoyed to see me. I told them about Torin, but no one else.”
“Because…because I was afraid they’d think I was in love with him.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Oh, for about twenty years there’s been this prejudice towards foreigners from the other worlds. I don’t know what caused it, but I was always looked down on by a lot of the people because I looked like a person from The Lands Above. I don’t know what they would think if I fell in love with one from that land.”
“I think you’re lucky, Leenah.”
“Well, a tall, beautiful maiden like you and a short, furry Escarpan don’t really go well together.”
“I know. I guess you’re right, Negasi.”
Negasi lifts a fruit to his mouth and sucks it dry, throwing it through a narrow gap in the branches.
“I hope that fruit doesn’t squish any sleeping Pergolans down there.”
“If they hadn’t tied me up and treated me like they did, I would hope not,” says Leenah. “But I still have no idea why they were so cruel to me.”
“It might have something to do with the rifts between the worlds,” says Negasi. “We have to find out why.”
“I know. We also should find out how I can go live with Torin and leave Escarpa with an heir to the throne.”
“That we should…But let’s change the subject now, Leenah. Did you know that most of your worlds’ names have different meanings in my planet’s language?”
“No, I didn’t. Does Pergola mean anything?”
“A pergola is a high, domed roof.”
“It means ‘darkness.’”
“That’s fascinating. How about names of people, Negasi? What does my mother’s name mean?”
“Di? It means ‘bright and sunny.’”
“And my name?”
“Leenah? I think it means ‘dweller by the meadow.’”
“And your name, Negasi?”
“My name? It’s African, and it means…‘he will become a king.’”
With that, Negasi curls up, facing away from Leenah, and drifts off to sleep. Leenah tries to wake him several times, but he doesn’t speak again.
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