Chapter 9: GHOST MOUNTAIN
Natalia and Catalyst crossed the grassy field between the forest and mountain, and hid in the crevice of a boulder at the base of the mountains.
“Let's just wait here for a few minutes and catch our breath,” said Catalyst as he kept an eye out for the herder.
“Sure,” replied Natalia breathing just fine. She wanted to stay away from the huge Basajaunak as well.
“What are you doing on my mountain?” shrieked the spirit of a woman long dead as she passed through the boulder shielding Natalia and Catalyst. They jumped back in fear.
“I hardly think it's your mountain. Natalia, put your glasses on,” said Catalyst. He realized who/what it was they were now talking to, as he pointed to the thousands of spirits that filled the sky and flew into, through and around the top of the mountain.
If Natalia wasn't a believer before, she was now.
“Hrm!” grunted the spirit while giving Catalyst a snooty look. The smell of dead leaves blasted from her nose as she disappeared into the boulder.
“Snobby witch,” said Natalia, taken aback by the smell.
“Maybe. Who knows what any of them were before they died,” replied Catalyst.
“He knows nothing,” thought Natalia as she stood smiling at him.
“Well Natalia, we're here. What do you think?” asked Catalyst.
Looking round the enormous boulder that shielded them, Natalia was not impressed. Everything was so grey and dirty.
“Catalyst, it looks as though someone painted it with sad,” replied Natalia.
“I really hope the Clique hid the crystals in there,” said Catalyst hoping to change the subject before it went any further.
Natalia replied, “We won't find all the crystals in there. If we find any it will only be one. Remember what the Elf said: the Clique had them split up until the next phase. And don't forget the diamond ring. So who knows? But one thing I do know, the Clique is in there and they know we're coming for the crystals.”
“What? How do you know that?” asked Catalyst.
“The Elf told me yesterday. You were right there when he said so,” replied Natalia.
“I was watching, not listening, well not really anyway. I just wish you had told me,” said Catalyst in a worried voice.
“How does it feel when people keep the truth from you when it's something really important for you to know?” asked Natalia as she remembered him doing the same to her.
“It doesn't hurt to keep you in your place. After all, you’re just a boy and you need to learn,” thought Natalia.
Embarrassed by his own behaviour, Catalyst could say nothing to Natalia, although she could see that he finally got her point.
“Let's get that crystal before they do whatever it is they’re trying to do,” said Catalyst, not wanting to stand there red-faced any longer.
“Okay,” replied Natalia as she followed Catalyst up a small makeshift stairway. It was built into the side of the mountain and led to an entrance that would allow them to ascend the mountain from the inside.
Looking down upon Natalia and Catalyst as they began their climb stood a member of the Clique with his cloak hiding his face. He ground his teeth at the sight of them.
“Bailey failed!” said the cloaked figure.
“They’re here then?’ asked a voice from the shadows.
“Yesss!” replied the cloaked figure, answering the voice from the shadows as a second cloaked figure came out to see Natalia and Catalyst as they made their way up and into the opening.
“Speaking of failure, here he comes now. Shall I just grab them myself?” asked the first cloaked figure as they watched Bailey hobble and limp as he struggled to catch up to Natalia and Catalyst.
“No, let Bailey earn his reward one way or the other, but send a fetch to collect our spy and have them meet me in the upper cavern,” replied the second figure.
“Right away, Sirdis,” replied the first figure as he left to do as he was told even before the echo of their voices had faded.
Standing there watching the bumbling oaf Bailey as he climbed to the opening just made Sirdis even angrier. Not being able to take any more he walked away in disgust, but not before kicking a few rocks toward the vile old Elf.
Seeing the rocks crash down beside him, the Elf couldn't be sure if it was by accident or not. Fearing for his own life should the Clique know he had so far failed them, the Elf did his best to hide as he climbed toward the opening in cripplingly hard jumps.
As Natalia stood looking at the stairs that circled up through the Hollow of the mountain, Catalyst readied his rope dart just in case.
“Oh no way am I climbing that,” said Natalia, glaring at Catalyst for bringing her to such a dangerous place.
“Why not?” asked Catalyst, knowing exactly why Natalia didn't want to go anywhere near the steps.
“Are you nuts? Do I really have to tell you why? Look at these stairs! They stick out six inches from the wall. They’re only four inches wide, maybe. There’s not even a handrail. How would you suggest I climb this?” demanded Natalia.
“Just follow me. It's not that hard, trust me. I've climbed it before,” replied Catalyst as he took the first step leaning tightly into the wall, chest first, and stepping side-to-side making it look easy.
With sweat running down her forehead, Natalie watched Catalyst climb higher and higher.
“There's no way I'm going to make this, Catalyst,” yelled Natalia.
“Just try Natalia. You’re wasting time – remember the Clique know we're here,” shouted Catalyst back.
Stamping her foot hard, Natalia walked to the wall and leaned into it, one step, two step, three step fall, Natalia landed a whole three feet beneath where she had been leaning.
Trying once again, Natalia leaned into the wall harder and in a few simple steps got the hang of it.
“This is awful, Catalyst,” said Natalia, trying hard not to look down.
“I believe you, Natalia, but look – you’re doing it anyway, so it can't be that bad. Besides, you’re coming to the wider part of the stairs now,” replied Catalyst from the landing.
Reaching Catalyst, Natalia looked down at the distance they had just climbed. The stairs circling around and down made Natalia feel as though she had climbed them in record time.
“Why would anyone build such a stupid staircase?” asked Natalia as she looked at Catalyst with squinty eyes and trying to find a way to blame him for it.
“I can answer that,” replied a spirit as she popped her head out of the wall. She gave Natalia such a fright she almost fell off the landing altogether.
“I've got you,” said Catalyst grabbing Natalia just in time to save her life.
Still floating halfway out of the wall, the woman waited until Natalia was okay and then continued to explain, making Natalia feel as though she was in class.
“The staircase was built like that because of the war between the Basajaunak and the Elves. You see the Elves used this place as a midway point when they needed to rest or were wounded or their commanders had to meet. This place was perfect and since the Basajaunak have such big feet, the Elves made the stairs extra small so that when the Basajaunak attacked and tried to climb them, well let's just say this Hollow was rightly named Basafalls,” said the woman.
“Wait a minute, how come I've never heard of such a war?” asked Catalyst.
“How old are you?” asked the spirit.
“I'm two hundred and fourteen years old,” replied Catalyst calmly as he tried to show up the woman and what she was saying.
“Oh my, you’re just a baby, aren't you?” replied the woman, putting Catalyst in his place.
“Anyway it all happened so long ago, I'm sure not even the Elves themselves remember it, or even the Basajaunak for that matter. Anyway I hope that answered your question, little girl,” said the spirit as she slipped back into the wall.
As the Elf himself was now in the void of the mountain, he could see Natalia and Catalyst were on the first landing of the stairs. He knew that with his half-foot, damaged hand and poor depth perception, he couldn't climb up the tiny stairs without falling. But having been inside the Hollow many, many times before, the Elf knew things about it that very few others did. With all the dust and rubble, however, finding what he was looking for would not be easy.
Feeling his way along the massive mosaic that covered one of the Hollow’s walls, the Elf searched for a circle so precisely carved that even in the best light and cleanest conditions it would be almost impossible to see it unless you knew exactly what you were looking for.
Catching his finger and ripping it open again, the Elf kicked the wall in pain, only to realize too late he had kicked the wall with his half-foot. Pain surged through his body. The Elf let out a cry so harrowing and so loud it filled the entire void of the mountain, letting Natalia and Catalyst know he was there and that they needed to hurry.
“Don't worry, he won't make the climb,” echoed Catalyst’s voice.
Finding the circle trip switch, the Elf gave it a gentle push. Sliding it in just a bit, and with a quarter turn to the right, a piece of the wall dropped back. It slipped to one side, revealing a small room no bigger than a closet with a pole that would take the Elf to the first landing of the staircase.
“Damned stairs,” whimpered the Elf as he wrapped his hands and legs around the pole. He had no choice but to lock his feet into place and start pulling himself up.
As Natalia and Catalyst continued to make their way up the staircase that never seemed to end, Catalyst stopped dead in his tracks. Natalia walked right into his back.
“You know, Natalia, if you walked any closer we would both be wearing my cloak,” said Catalyst.
“If you think you’re getting more than three inches from me while we're on this staircase, you’re out of your mind,” replied Natalia, giving Catalyst a small pinch to remind him she needed him.
“Why are you stopping anyway?” asked Natalia.
“We're at a hard part now, and you’re going to have to do this by yourself,” replied Catalyst.
Natalia stared straight at him.
“Okay, here we go,” said Catalyst as he stepped forward and bounced with all his weight. He sank the stone plate he was standing on and wooden poles shot out from the wall. The thirty stairs in front of them tucked themselves silently away.
“It's a trap, just in case anyone got this far,” said Catalyst.
“There's no way I'm climbing over those,” said Natalia, and meaning it.
“I know, you have to run, jump, grab and then swing your way across,” said Catalyst as he left Natalia behind.
“Come on, Natalia, you can do this. It's not that hard,” laughed Catalyst.
“Really? Because you make it look really hard,” grumbled Natalia.
With Catalyst on the other side and out of her way, Natalia took her best Olympic pose and with one good run she flew through the air, grabbing the first pole and swinging right around it with ease, then throwing herself to the next one. She filled the air with the most spectacular flips and swings until she reached the other side, finishing off with a solid landing right at Catalyst’s feet.
“That, Catalyst, is how you do it,” said Natalia proudly.
“What! Wow! I've never seen anything so good. How did you do that?” asked Catalyst.
“I told you before, but you don't listen. I'm a gymnast. For me, that stuff is as easy as drinking water, and if this whole place were filled with poles like these, I would have been at the top for so long now that I would be sitting there waiting for you,” replied Natalia, knowing that the last five years of gymnastics had not been wasted.
“Shall we keep moving?”
“Yeah, right, let's go,” replied Catalyst, still smiling at what Natalia had done. “Wait, listen, can you hear that?” he whispered as he held Natalia back.
As she listened hard, Natalia could hear a faint whimpering cry coming from somewhere, but where?
“I hear it, but I don't know where it's coming from,” replied Natalia.
“It's that rotten, vile Elf. I can't believe he's still here. I thought for sure, with half his foot gone, he would have given up chasing us up this Hollow. Then again I thought he would have given up when I took half his foot off,” said Catalyst.
With her eyes as wide open as they could be, Natalia started to scan everything around them in a panic.
“It's okay for now. He's not close. Just be extra careful,” said Catalyst, trying to ease Natalia’s mind.
“Why doesn't he give up and go away? How many times do we have to beat him before he understands that he won't win!” said Natalia in her bravest little Russian girl voice.
“If the Clique are as awful as I think they are, then they’re going to want him dead if he doesn't succeed in stopping us from getting the crystals,” replied Catalyst.
“If that's true, then it's a good bet he's not far from catching up to us,” said Natalia as she began to urge Catalyst along.
“Wait, slow down. We're not out of danger yet, Natalia. This staircase is one trap after another. Stay behind me for now,” said Catalyst as he stepped in front of Natalia.
“Oooh!” sighed Natalia knowing when to step back and let someone else take the risks.
Having climbed a very painful climb, the Elf reached the exit at the top of the pole, only to throw another trip switch to slide the wall open and reveal one more pole leading way, way up the void of the mountain. Clenching his fists to squeeze the blood from his hands and wiping it off on his shirt, the Elf took hold of the pole and locked his feet. Fearing for his life and what the Clique would most assuredly do to him, the Elf held back his cries of pain and did his best to hurry to the very top of the pole that would take him to the top of the staircase.
“Now we have to do this in perfect step, Natalia,” said Catalyst.
“Do what?” asked Natalia.
Catalyst reached into a small hollow and pulled, and out shot steps from one side to the other. Now Natalia could see what Catalyst had meant by in perfect step. As the steps came to a stop, Natalia was dreading the funeral that flashed before her eyes – it was hers.
“That's what we have to do,” replied Catalyst.
“How are we supposed to do that?” demanded Natalia as she stood with her arms crossed and tapping her toe.
“Look, it won't be as easy as pole jumping. One wrong step and well...you know,” said Catalyst looking down to the bottom of the void.
“Catalyst, you’re doing it again. You told me that the poles were the hardest thing we would have to do, and now look where we are! Stop keeping secrets from me,” said Natalia in a calm voice that Catalyst could tell was full of anger.
“I told you they were a hard part, I didn't say hardest. I’m not keeping secrets from you. I haven't been here in I don't know how long and won't remember most of this until we actually get to whatever it is we need to cross,” replied Catalyst kindly, as he could see and hear the stress of it all was starting to get to her.
“Just follow me and remember it's every second step we need to step on and we need to move in time,” continued Catalyst as he reached into the Hollow one more time and pulled, starting the sequence over again.
“Step, one, two, three, step, one, two, three, step, one, two, three,” counted Catalyst with Natalia right behind him, repeating the numbers in her head. The second to last step Natalia counted, step, one, two, three, four and slipped. The step pulled back into the wall leaving her hanging on to the last step. It pulled from Natalia’s hands. Before she could even begin to fall, Catalyst had his rope dart out and shot it past her.
“Grab the rope, Natalia!” yelled Catalyst as he braced his legs against the wall and the lip of the drop. With one good jolt Catalyst barely stopped himself from going over the edge as Natalia hung on to the rope for all she was worth. Her hands were burning from slipping down the rope and tears were running faster than her sweat. Catalyst slowly pulled her up. He took her by the hand and she flipped herself up and over the lip of the drop and was once again standing with Catalyst. Her heart was beating so hard it could easily have beaten its way out of her chest.
“It's okay. You’re safe now,” said Catalyst as he used his sleeve to wipe away Natalia’s tears. Seeing her hands, Catalyst ripped his shirt and wrapped her burnt palms.
“Here, let's sit for a while,” continued Catalyst as he helped Natalia to the ground, and with only silence filling the air, he looked at her.
“So, now that you’re safe, tell me...was it exciting?” asked Catalyst.
“Yes, a little,” replied Natalia as she tried to laugh off the tears.
“Good, we should get going now,” said Catalyst as he offered Natalia his hand up.
In spite of what had just happened to her from following Catalyst to begin with, Natalia was happy enough to follow him once again, until he came to a quick stop and she slammed face first into his back.
“Now what?” she asked.
“I just need a minute to remember what's here,” replied Catalyst as he stood looking for their next move. “Ah, okay, now I remember. We're not short on time here, but we don't have a lot either. If we move as we're supposed to, then we'll have enough time and maybe a few seconds longer, so don't stop, don't look back, just keep your eyes on the handholds and do exactly as I do,” said Catalyst.
“Okay, I will,” replied Natalia, still suffering from her near-death experience.
The Elf had made his very painful climb up the pole to the top of the void and was now making his way back towards Natalia and Catalyst, leaving a trail of blood behind him from his open, pus-filled wounds.
With his knowledge of the traps and puzzles, the Elf had very little trouble moving backwards through them as they were set to work against those corning up through them. Moving faster in his descent than Natalia and Catalyst could move their ascent, the Elf now stood in the shadows on the other side of the puzzle that Natalia and Catalyst now faced. His eye was raging red from his hatred of them both so it was a wonder they couldn't see him.
“Now watch this, Natalia,” said Catalyst as he stepped onto another stone plate, and then a noise rang through the air as stone blocks that filled the hand and footholds started sliding in and out. They moved in sequence, opening and closing a path along the wall, moving across, then up, then across, then down and across, all the while closing the path behind itself until it reached the other side and reversed its sequence, leaving only one way to go, the wall’s way.
The sequence carne to an end and with a nod from Natalia, Catalyst stepped on the plate once again and carefully climbed through the puzzle with Natalia only a few handholds behind. Looking to his left and straight ahead to his right, Catalyst caught sight of the Elf as he stood in the shadows staring him right in the eye.
“Go back! Go back!” yelled Catalyst to Natalia as he started to climb back across.
“Thought you could get away from me?” screamed the Elf standing at the other end of the handholds and letting Natalia know exactly why Catalyst was in such a panic.
Rushing to get back across, Natalia lost time with the puzzle and her hands were pushed out of the holds, forcing her off the wall. Dropping and grabbing two handholds beneath her, Catalyst could see she wasn't going to last much longer.
Jumping off the wall towards Natalia with all his strength, Catalyst grabbed her by the waist with one arm and the lip of the drop with the other.
“No!” screamed the Elf with rage and disgust as he watched them pull themselves to safety.
Knowing there was no way he could make the jump from one side to the other with his half-foot and damaged hand, the Elf winced as he took hold of the handholds and started crawling across the wall just in time to follow the end of the sequence.
“Here he comes! What are we going to do?” demanded Natalia in a panic, squeezing Catalyst’s arm hard.
Very calmly, Catalyst pointed to his feet, gave Natalia a little smile and waited.
As the Elf climbed through the middle of the puzzle, too far from either side to jump to safety, Catalyst simply stepped off the stone plate starting the puzzle sequence again and waited.
“Ah!” cried the Elf in pain. Catalyst stepped out of the way so Natalia could see what was happening. He stood smiling as he watched Natalia’s eyes light up with relief. She watched the vile, evil, rotten old Elf hanging against the wall with both his hands caught underneath the stone blocks that filled the handholds. Natalia started to worry as she realized the Elf was now hanging in the middle of the wall they needed to cross.
“Now what are we supposed to do, Catalyst? The Elf is blocking our way,” said Natalia.
“Not really, see all the blocks and where they’re stuck? Now we can just climb around him,” replied Catalyst cheerfully.
Looking at the wall, Natalia could see that with the hands of the Elf lodged the way they were, it threw the whole sequence out of order. Smacking Catalyst while she smiled was really the only thing she could do.
“Let's go, Catalyst. This time I'll lead the way,” said Natalia.
Sure, why not. After all, the hard part is done,” replied Catalyst jokingly as he followed Natalia.
Laughing at the Elf as they went passed, the Elf raged in turn.
“I’m going to boil you! I’m going to devour you!” screamed the Elf as he suffered humiliation at their hands once again.
Landing on the other side without a problem, Natalia turned to the Elf and laughed again.
“Hey, Elf, the only thing you’re going to do is lose all your fingers trying to get out of that,” replied Natalia.
“Come on, Natalia, I don't want to see that,” choked Catalyst as he continued up the staircase, and with one last look at the Elf, Natalia followed.
As the Elf hung from the handholds, the blood that ran from where his fingernails used to be began seeping into the crevasses of the stones and little by little the blocks began to slide back.
“How much further, Catalyst?” asked Natalia, sounding fed up with the stairs.
“Look, see that landing up there? That's where we have to go, but first we have to get across this part,” replied Catalyst pointing up to the landing and holding out his arm to stop Natalia from walking any further.
“Why are you waiting? Let's go,” said Natalia as she looked at the large cobbled floor that lay in front of them.
“Not so fast, Natalia. Some of these stones are only hanging on by a thread. Step on the wrong one and you will fall to your death. And since I can't remember where to step, here's what I need you to do. Lie down and look over the edge and underneath the floor, and tell me which ones to step on to cross, okay?” said Catalyst.
“How am I to know which ones you need to step on?” asked Natalia.
“Just lie down and look – you'll see,” replied Catalyst.
“Okay,” replied Natalia, doing as she was asked and getting the added bonus of seeing the Elf still hanging where they left him.
“Now tell me, what do you see?” asked Catalyst.
“I see stone pillars holding up parts of the cobble and a stupid upside-down Elf,” replied Natalia.
“Good. Now tell me, where's the first pillar? How many cobbles is it over from where you are?” asked Catalyst.
“Oh, right. I see what you want,” said Natalia shifting to get a better point of view.
“Now as I go I'm going to mark an X on each of the cobbles you'll need to step on to cross, all right?” said Catalyst.
“Are you ready?” asked Natalia.
“Yes,” was all Catalyst said as he took a deep breath, hoping that Natalia could count as well as she could swing.
First row, from your left to right, fourth stone,” yelled out Natalia, not wanting to be misunderstood in her directions.
“Okay, but why are you yelling?” asked Catalyst standing only three feet away from her.
“Perhaps you'd rather not be sure of what I'm saying as I'm saying it,” replied Natalia.
“No, no, that's okay, yell away,” said Catalyst after considering for a second.
“Okay then, as I said: First row from your left to right, step on the fourth stone,” yelled Natalia as she looked over the landing to make sure Catalyst was where he was supposed to be. Then she continued:
“Second stone straight in front of you...now one to your left. Now only the second stone to your left...now third stone straight in front of you. Now two stones to your right.” Checking to make sure Catalyst was all right, Natalia continued:
“Now look at the one in front of you and step on the one to its right...now two stones straight ahead...now one to the right...one stone straight ahead and you should be on the other side,” yelled Natalia as she stood up, looking to make sure Catalyst got the directions right. There on the other side stood Catalyst, safe and sound.
“I've left an X marked on the cobbles you need to step on when you cross, okay?” yelled Catalyst.
“Okay,” yelled Natalia as though she couldn't see the X's already.
As the Elf hung from the wall with his fingers trapped under the blocks, his right hand was bleeding heavily from having had its last nail ripped off while tearing open the pus-filled wounds of the other three fingers. The oozing grossness filled the cracks and allowed the block to slip a crooked inch. The blood from his left hand meant the block holding that now had enough lubricant that it pulled itself free, returning to the back of the handhold and taking all four of the Elf’s fingernails with it.
As the feeling returned to his fingers, the Elf let out another cry that echoed yet again throughout the void, sending chills up and down Natalia’s and Catalyst’s spine.
Hanging against the wall with the fingers of his right hand still trapped, and the blocks no longer moving, the Elf knew what he had to do.
Clenching his jaw as tightly as he could and bracing himself for the most pain anyone dare inflict upon themselves, the Elf pulled back hard while he twisted his fingers against the enormous pressure of the block. With one bone-breaking painfully huge pull, the Elf ripped his fingers free, leaving behind one nail and three fingertips, bone included.
Leaping with what little strength he had left, the Elf jumped back to where he had started. Barely managing to grab the lip of the drop, the Elf pulled himself to safety. Holding his two hands in front of him, dripping with blood, the Elf set off after his prey.
As Natalia readied herself to cross the cobbles, Catalyst could hear Bailey coming.
“Natalia – don’t panic – but there comes that rotten Elf,” called Catalyst, sounding rather calm about it.
With her eyes wide open, Natalia watched the stairs for a moment as Bailey climbed after them, taking a quick look at the marked path across the cobbles.
“Stop! Listen, Natalia, you need to take off your socks and wipe the X's off as you cross,” said Catalyst.
“Okay,” called Natalia as she hurried with fear at the thought of the Elf coming up the stairs behind her.
“It'll do you no good! I heard everything you told him! Everywhere he had to step!” screeched the vile old Elf, hobbling as fast as he could.
Wiping off the X's as fast as she could as she stepped from cobble to cobble, Catalyst picked up handfuls of loose dirt and threw it over Natalia’s head, covering the floor behind her until she was standing beside him, leaving the path a matter of guesswork.
“Now let's see him try and cross that,” said Catalyst.
“I would rather not see him at all, if it's all the same to you,” said Natalia.
“Let's hurry just in case. Maybe he really did hear everything,” said Catalyst pulling Natalia behind and disappearing from the Elf’s sight as they made their way up the last of the stairs.
As the Elf reached the cobbled landing there was no sign of where he should step. He had lied about hearing where Natalia told Catalyst to step because his pain had drowned out most of what was said. He stood there beaten once again, and while moving backwards through the traps and puzzles was safe enough, the Elf knew he just didn't remember the cobbled floor well enough. Snivelling, he fell to his knees then lay down to look under the landing, studying the layout of the pillars. The Elf’s only hope was not to forget.
At the top of the stairs and standing on the last landing, Natalia and Catalyst stepped into a room that led to an even bigger Hollow. Walking over to the entrance Catalyst stopped Natalia.
“Walk into that and you'll end up with a bloody nose, Natalia,” said Catalyst.
“Walk into what?” asked Natalia seeing nothing.
Gently putting his hand up and reaching forward, a soft white wave rippled across the archway.
“That, and what's more, the harder you hit it, the more strongly it reacts,” replied Catalyst as he moved Natalia to the side.
“See this? This is what we have to solve,” said Catalyst as he pointed to some carvings etched into stone tablets that were set in a square in the wall.
“I've got to tell you, I've never solved it and never made it past this point,” said Catalyst, hoping that Natalia could solve or help solve the riddle.
Taking her sock from her pocket, Natalia shook her head and wiped the face of the puzzle.
“Hmmm, let's see, a man, land, the moon, I think a sundial, a woman, water, the sun and some stars, with one empty space. Well, Catalyst, the empty spot is so you can shuffle the tablets around, and the rest is a timeline of creation. All you have to do is put them in the right order,” said Natalia wondering why he couldn't figure out such an easy riddle.
“Oh, I've tried, and the story goes like this. Watch,” said Catalyst as he started to arrange the tablets.
“Time gave birth to the universe, the universe gave birth to the sun, the sun needed the moon, the sun and moon warmed the water, the water gave birth to life, the land gave life a home, life was woman and she gave birth to man,” said Catalyst as he lined up the tablets.
“Now look, the barriers still there,” said Catalyst as he poked the surface into a visible wave again.
Standing there studying the puzzle, Natalia noticed that sliding the tablets around had removed some of the dust covering the empty spot.
“There's something else carved on here, Catalyst,” said Natalia as she wiped off the rest of the grime, revealing a faded symbol.
“Yes, I know that's there, but I don't think it means anything. There's only eight tablets and as you said, the ninth spot is for moving the rest around,” replied Catalyst.
“Well even if one tablet is missing, it still has to mean something. So let's take a minute and think about this. I wish I could see this better,” said Natalia staring at the faded blocks.
“You can't see that? It looks like the weighted ends of two catapults behind a broken triangle, with what looks like an eye floating in its middle and the letters, F.E.M. O.N. from your alphabet,” replied Catalyst.
“Why didn't I see this?” said Natalia, peering at the carving.
“We've been going about this all wrong. We thought because this is your world, the order of the tablets had to be based on your beliefs, but it isn't. That symbol is of the Illuminati and it is scratched over the symbol of the Freemasons. How do you know my alphabet?” asked Natalia.
“My father's Human. These Illuminati and Freemasons I've never heard of.”
“Well in my world they’re two groups of people, of who knows how many, lying in wait to take over Earth for what they would call the New World Order. I’m betting if we arrange these tablets to fit with the creation story from Earth, that shield will come down,” said Natalia.
“By all means, Natalia. After all, that Elf could be on his way, so the faster the better,” replied Catalyst, pointing to the puzzle.
With a blink of her eyes in fear at that thought, Natalia began to arrange the tablets.
“Okay, the stars first, then water, then land, then the sun, then the moon, then man, then woman and to conquer it – all time, said Natalia as she moved the last piece into place.
“You did it, Natalia. The barrier is down! In five minutes you did what I've been trying years to do,” said Catalyst excitedly.
“Well you know, Catalyst, if you want something done get a boy, but if you want it done right get a girl. Now come on, we don't want to be here after that stupid Elf figures out how to cross that landing,” said Natalia smiling proudly as she took Catalyst by the hand and walked into the barrier. With a thump, Natalia landed right on her butt.
“Now what?” moaned Catalyst as he offered Natalia a hand up. Looking back at the puzzle, Natalia took Catalyst by the arm and holding on tightly, pushed him into and through the barrier.
“What was that?” demanded Catalyst, pulling free from Natalia’s grip.
“You could have got me hurt, or worse, killed!” continued Catalyst, looking as angry as he was afraid.
“Catalyst, in the creation story from my world, man was made first, followed by woman, and since the markings of the Freemasons under the Illuminati are on that puzzle, it stood to reason that they were involved in making it. Since they used Genesis as the code to unlock it, you had to go through first, taking me with you,” replied Natalia.
“At least now I know why I could never solve it,” said Catalyst bringing the subject to an end.
“What was that?” asked Natalia with her jaw clenched and eyes open so wide they looked like targets.
“Just the tablets sliding back into their places. Look, the barrier is back up,” said Catalyst poking it into another rippling wave.
“I thought for sure it was the Elf,” said Natalia as her heart raced.
“He's still on his way, so we should keep moving,” said Catalyst.
“Good idea, but where?” asked Natalia, looking at the void.
“Put your glasses back on, Natalia. It'll be easier for you to see where we are going,” replied Catalyst. He stood watching the smile spread over her face as she saw the Hollow glow with a faint hue.
“Wow! These things are fantastic,” said Natalia as her eyes followed the glow up and around a path that led to a bridge a few hundred feet above where they were standing.
“It won't be an easy climb, not with all these rocks and tight squeezes, but it looks as though we're at the end of it now,” said Catalyst.
The Elf had studied the layout of the pillars long enough. He was frustrated by the fact that he used to know the Hollow of the mountain as well as he knew himself. He took his first step across the cobbles and then another one, all the while kicking the dirt off where he was stepping, leaving a clear and visible path should he need to escape the Clique for having failed to stop Natalia and Catalyst.
Stumbling up the stairs to the last landing, worried and afraid for his own life, the Elf couldn't help but remember how the Clique had dealt with him and how they helped him escape from the Gallows and removed the drill worm from his head. He also remembered their threat to put it back should he fail them.
“All this for my freedom and a few meals! I was better off in the Gallows,” mumbled the Elf as he vomited with worry.
When he arrived at the Genesis puzzle, the Elf took a good look around the room for anything that may have been hiding, hoping it would open the barrier for him. Frustrated but not surprised, the Elf found no one.
“I remember you,” said the Elf as he stepped in front of the code and shuffled the tablets into their correct order.
The Elf sighed, knowing the barrier was now passable. Stepping through the archway, and with his hearing now damaged from his head being smacked off the wall as well as being smacked by the Basajaunak and Catalyst and one Blemmye chest/face, not to mention infection, the Elf had to search every nook and cranny for Natalia and Catalyst as he moved towards the crossing.
Natalia and Catalyst came to a drop that looked as though it went on forever. There was a bridge carved from stone that stretched so far it faded into the shadows of the void. Natalia and Catalyst just stood staring at it in wonder.
“Now what? This bridge is so long we'll never cross it before the Elf catches up to us,” said Natalia as she began to shake with fear.
“Natalia, it's a trick of the light. Remember looking up at this bridge? We saw how big it is and it's still the same size. As for the Elf, it sounds as though he's stumbling around back there and I don't think he'll catch us, not now,” said Catalyst.
“Maybe not but he'll see us if we try crossing the bridge now. He won't be far behind us then,” said Natalia, making Catalyst feel it would be better to be behind the Elf instead of in front of him.
As Catalyst stood looking around him for a place to hide, the shadows, as dark as they were, offered little comfort. Spying a lip under the bridge, Catalyst could see his only choice was no choice at all.
“Come on, Natalia. We'll have to hide under here. There's a small ledge under the bridge. Just hold on to me,” said Catalyst as he took her by the hand and led her to what she believed was a bad idea.
“Sh,” whispered Catalyst in case the Elf moved closer and might be able to hear even the smallest sound.
“Look, Catalyst, rungs,” whispered Natalia as she pointed to the underside of the bridge. As quietly as they could, they climbed up and out of sight, bracing themselves between the rungs and the bridge.
The Elf stopped at the crossing and searched the shadows for his would-be prey. Even though Natalia’s perfume was thick in the air from her sweat, the Elf’s nose couldn't tell him where they had gone.
“There's no way those two could have crossed this bridge without me seeing them. They didn't have time,” blathered the Elf as he bit his tongue in rage trying to quiet himself before being discovered by the Clique.
With the sound of the Elf’s fading footsteps, and his finger pressed against his lips, Catalyst nudged Natalia to start across the bridge as they crawled their way underneath. Moving slowly, however, did not mean moving quietly, and hearing the scrambling of feet from above, Catalyst reached out and grabbed Natalia’s hanging coattail, lifting it out of sight just in time. The Elf hung over the side of the bridge so close to Natalia and Catalyst the stench from his rotting pus-filled wounds nearly blacked them out.
The Elf couldn’t see anything, so he waited. He continued on his way checking and checking again over the edge of the bridge as he mumbled his desire for their death.
“We have to be quieter,” whispered Catalyst as he reached for another rung. Natalia moved as softly as she could as she led the way.
Having reached the other side of the crossing, the Elf was now standing in front of a circular stone room that stood apart from the rest of the Hollow.
He smiled fondly as he remembered days past when he would stand in that room beating, whipping and torturing prisoners and those who had betrayed him.
Finally reaching the other side of the bridge and being the first one off the rungs, Natalia looked over the edge of the cliff.
“Catalyst, that Elf is just standing there with a really creepy smile on his face,” whispered Natalia.
Catalyst poked his head up just far enough to see over the edge and watched the Elf for a moment wondering what he was doing. He turned to Natalia and raised his finger to his lips, signalling Natalia to be silent.
Hearing footsteps approaching, Catalyst looked back over the edge and saw a cloaked figure descending a stone staircase. He walked up behind the Elf.
“Just what do you think you’re doing here?” shouted the figure.
The Elf spun around dropping to his knees with a look of fear on his face that meant he was begging for his life. The figure removed the hood that covered his face.
Covering his and Natalia’s mouth so as not to make even the slightest sound, Catalyst couldn't help but watch. Standing before them was an Elf that, if Catalyst didn't know better, he could have sworn was his father. But his father was Human, so it was just a coincidence that he looked similar.