The evil wizard Fellmount has every intention of tracking down the two shamans who exposed his wicked deeds -- now Aser and Danner have no choice but to pay their respects to certain deceased relatives.
"How do you think Fellmount is going to go about finding us?" asked my clan relative Dan Ur-Jennan. "Will he sort of conjure a scry to look at and try to figure out where we are by what he sees? Or can he just say, 'Send myself to wherever it is that damned meddlesome shaman is so I can turn her into a pig?' Or will he have to hire a seer, seeing as we blew up his laboratory and his magic hat? But then, wouldn't the seer know that he was trying to kill us, and so he could only use an evil seer, but wouldn't that limit the seer's power?"
The River Ur was now only as wide as a small creek, and tumbled down shelves of rock as we ascended the path beside it, away from the clan, drawing the evil wizard Fellmount's revenge after us.
Danner tugged on Cloudraft's tunic as he climbed, causing him to stumble in spite of the walking stick he had cut. "Do you think he'll kill us outright, or will he toy with us, trying to prove his superiority?"
Cloudraft turned to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Danner," he said to his off-and-on apprentice and lover, "I may be a wizard, but I don't know what Fellmount will do. I was the one who thought he was a good friend, remember? Now please shut up about him killing us."
"Oh, sure, that's going to help us find a solution," said Danner to the younger baboon librarian, Guillaume. "'Shut up, shut up, shut up.'"
"Tell me about it," said the baboon. "I hear 'shut up Guillaume' from the time I yawn in the morning until I fart at night."
"That is a lie," snapped his older brother Narsai. "You are exaggerating. Yesterday I only told you to shut up one time, when you were chanting the lyrics to 'Bohemian Rhapsody' over and over. In the land from which we were taken, that sort of behavior would have earned you perimeter exile to take your chances with hyenas and the cheetah. You must develop a sense of self-control or you will be eaten by an unexpected predator or lose your job and have to take on employment as a doorman in a sleazy hotel!"
Guillaume asked Danner, "So does a doorman get told to shut up many times a day?"
She replied sadly, "Only if he speaks without being spoken to."
"Life's a bitch," commented the young baboon. He sighed. "And I hate knowing life could be worse."
"It gets better," Danner said. "Once you can buy your own beer."
"And get yourself blown to the ninth icy ring of Hell by a vindictive wizard," I added, unasked, turning to look back at them all.
"Then you do think he'll use some explosive force to kill us, or is it more likely that he'll conjure up a herd of cobras to spit in our eyes and bite us to death?"
"Shut up, Danner."
The water narrowed as we traveled, from streams connected by waterfalls to a series of tiny ponds fed by trickles, to a flat place among the rocks of the mountain where a deep icy pool reflected the trees and the steep rise. "Have you ever been here?" I asked Cloudraft. He shook his head. "This is the source of the River Ur. From here on up to the top of the western face of this mountain is where we scatter the ashes of our kin. We give ourselves to the watershed that gives itself to us."
Pulling cups eagerly from our packs, Danner and I dipped cold water, and raised our cups toward the mountain in thanks. While we sipped, we also filled the water skins of the company. And then it was time for me to do what I dreaded the most. I found a space of dirt between the rocks and embedded the tail of my staff. Various ghosts of various clans began to appear, faint and gray in the dimming light, turning to face the staff, and me.
"Someone is seeking us to kill us."
The ghost of my ancestor Stone Ur-Jennan approached. "Someone is always seeking to kill the Ur-Jennans. Why do you come to this place?"
And this was the essence of my reluctance: asking the deceased of Ur for help. It's hard enough to ask a neighbor for assistance in a task that you cannot do by yourself. But to have to ask a relative, you know, that's just miserable; and if the relative is dead, and thereby has an immortal memory, well, that's got to be the worst.
You go to the next farmstead down the road, and say, "Can I borrow a cup of flour? I ran out."
"Sure," the neighbor says, "here you go, take three in case you need to make gravy again before you get to the miller."
But go to your Cousin Cheff or Auntie Skeef, and the answer is, "Oh, they don't teach you how to keep track of supplies in Shaman School?" or "Too busy being a shaman to go to the store?" or "You're an Ur-Jennan, can't you earn a living, or what?" or the ever-popular "I can't keep on supporting you forever, you know."
Why should asking for help be a humiliation? Why should we often rather suffer than undergo the treatment that accompanies a request?
The goodwife next door tearfully wails that her husband has lost his job at the castle. In no time, the neighborhood if not the entire village rallies and supplies casseroles each day and bread and milk for breakfasts for the afflicted pair. Yet when she tells her mother the same tale, the mother screeches, "What, you don't have anything put away for emergencies? Why in the name of heaven did you marry such a loser? No one loses a job unless they were crooked, or stupid, or crooked and stupid! Oh, yes, I'll help you out, but you remember I told you this would happen!"
Oh, good, carve adversity into the granite face of the universe.
To the ghost of Stoner I said, "The wizard who cursed the Jennan Well may be seeking us even as we speak. Can you cover us with your spirits while we rest?"
Stoner gave Cloudraft a chook under the chin. "This attractive and nicely alive wizard can't help you?"
Cloudraft sputtered and waved his hands to disperse Stoner's fingers. "No, I can't, Fellmount is far more powerful than I am. Do not touch me. Leave me alone and discourse with your relatives," said Cloudraft, sitting and wrapping himself in his blanket. "I'm tired and I have no idea where we are or who you are and I just want to go to sleep."
The ghost of Stoner peered at Danner. "You're going to have to teach him better manners, you know."
"He's a wizard, they're above manners unless someone has them on the ropes," Danner replied.
"Ayyeeee," one of the revenants called, "Just so you know, there is a necromancer casting about the ether, seeking two Ur-Jennans and their wizard companion."
Cloudraft covered his head with his arms, muttering to himself.
"How's he doing the casting?"
The spirit rushed near to us, spectral arms raised to show ancient metal bracelets on his arms. "Can you believe this honker is using a crystal ball the size of a basketball?"
I read the specter's name on the bracelets, "Seeve Ur-Trabben, where would he get the crystal ball? His tower was destroyed."
The ghost shrugged. "Looks like he offed some seer and took over her operation."
"No!" cried Cloudraft. "I can't believe that Fellmount, who was such a close friend, is such a despicable villain, a traitorous and irresponsible -- "
" -- Creep from the Deep", intoned Stoner.
" -- Rat-head jerk," chimed the revenant with the metal bracelets.
" -- Fat-ass greaseball hot-dog-on-a-stick violator," said Danner, with a dreamy look of fatally insulting someone.
As the ghosts screamed laughter like the sound of a rising evening wind, I waved my arms and wagged my staff back and forth. "We're not here for a comedy club! Can you cover us from his search and keep him from finding us for the night?"
Seever rattled his bracelets. "Keep your staff embedded in the ground, Aser, and we shall keep watch and cover you with our gifts. I was a seer, back in the day. If he casts this way, I can invade the crystal ball. I know their mazes well, and I can make him see penguins dancing with gangsta rappers or reruns of Andy Griffith, but he will not find you."
"I thank you, and the Life that guides the world thanks you," I told the ghost.
"You're welcome," Stoner said, "but don't get too comfortable. None of us want to have this place blown off the map, you know. Our ashes could end up anywhere. Tomorrow, cross the ridge and bear north. There's an enchanted village whose magic will keep you hidden."
"How are they enchanted?"
The specter rolled its lidless eyes. "Who knows? Who cares? They're so boring that we never even drift their way. There are worse things than being dead, that's for sure."
Yeah, like having to ask your kin if they can pick you up from work for the next week while your donkey is in the shop. Or borrowing money from your mother.