This is a continuation of a story begun in the post “Chapter 1. Part 1.” If you enjoy it, please like and share it with others!
CHAPTER 24: STARTLING WORDS
I came to discover that there was more skill to Fwik and Fwish’s game than I thought. There were different strategies to employ on the throw. You could try to throw it upward only a little bit so that your opponent wouldn’t have much time to try and catch it, or you could launch it out of reach into the air and fight it out on the ground to try and get a better chance at catching it on the way down.
Teleon was not good at the game, but I had the feeling he was letting us beat him because he would always toss the rock to the same height in the air and close enough for his opponent to reach it quickly. I tried to call him on this fact but he merely shrugged off my accusation, smirking as he did.
We played seven or eight games of “Ouch” –which Fwik instructed me must be said “in a certain way that conveys real pain when speaking the name of the game”— before the recon parties returned. Chak and Plink were the first back followed closely by Shishu and Brew. They were all breathing heavily, and it was the first time I had seen real fear on Brew’s face since she became an Umbra.
“What’s wrong? What did you guys find? Why are you back so soon?” I asked.
Chak started to talk in between gasps for air.
“We have practically no chance of making it into that mansion,” he said finally.
“What? Why?” I asked loudly as he and the rest of the group caught their breath. Thrump and Pathena reemerged and joined the group in waiting for an explanation.
“There’s no way in but the front gate, and it’s guarded by a huge tree frog. This thing is the size of an oak tree!” said Chak.
“I’ve heard the legends about this frog,” said Pathena. “He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t sleep, and he always finishes the job. He is downright deadly in a frontal assault. He could rip Thrump in two with the flick of his tongue. If we could get behind him, we might have a shot at taking him down, but there’s really no hope of that since he’ll have a closed door to his back.”
There was a palpable tension in the group. I was watching Pathena. When she finished talking she had an intense look of thought. Finally, she spoke again.
“Dr. Lee,” she said hesitantly, “How did you get in and out of the mansion when you were in the service of Mendrax?”
“My dear, I had considered this angle myself, but I will be of little use in this mission. I have only been here once. I spent a year inside, but once we were through the gate in the brick wall I was brought the rest of the way by an Umbili inside a cardboard container along with other prospective helpers to Mendrax. I didn’t see how to get here or how to get in, and I spent most of my time inside the mansion confined to a single room with other trainees where the voice of Mendrax would emit from a small black box in the wall. I’ve never even seen the dude’s face! The only thing I do know is that the Umbili servants of Mendrax sometimes spoke of a password. I assume that it was how they gained entrance. I’ll bet that the frog requires a password.”
“But that doesn’t really matter does it? Even if we have the right password, surely the Umbili we fought at the river would have told Mendrax exactly who was coming and the frog won’t let us through even with the right password!” said Plink.
“She’s right,” I said defeated.
“Actually,” said Dr. Lee hesitantly, “that is likely incorrect.”
“What do you mean?” asked Plink.
“He means that the frog doesn’t work for Mendrax,” interjected Pathena. “I mean, he does, but he’s not loyal to Mendrax’s cause, he’s loyal to his system.”
“You’re going to have to explain,” said Chak.
“Well, there are a lot of legends that surround this frog in The Settlement. He’s very old. He’s older than The Settlement, older than the City of the Syllogy. He was among the first created by the Higher-ups to live in the Wilderness of the Syllogy. He works for himself and gives his services to the highest bidder. He’s in it only for the money and the glory to himself.”
“Go on,” said Chak.
“The legends say that he gives travellers three guesses at his password. If the travellers guess it correctly, then he lets them pass free and clear. If we were to get the password correct, he would let us go into the mansion quietly. If they don’t get it right in three tries, then he… well… he…”
“Rips you apart,” finished Flye.
“But the difficulty with all of this is that we are without the password, and no one has ever guessed it correctly,” said Dr. Lee.
“No one?” I asked.
“No one,” said Pathena.
“Never?” said Chak.
“Never,” said Dr. Lee.
“I’m sorry, but why would Mendrax even use a frog like this where there is a possibility that he would just let us walk right in to his mansion unannounced? Why wouldn’t he just get a guard who always attacks without question?” I asked.
“I asked Mendrax that same question when in his service. He said that the frog’s success rate was too attractive. Remember Nicholas, Mendrax is a proud Umbili and he wants to beat the Higher-ups after giving them every seemingly possible advantage. He knows assuredly that the frog won’t fail, but he would love to have the ability to say that the frog might have failed, if only the Higher-ups were cleverer.”
I glanced back at Teleon to see what he thought of this new revelation from Dr. Lee, but Teleon was gone. I spun around looking for him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
“So where does that leave us?” said Chak bleakly.
Pathena’s mind was buzzing again. Everyone except Shishu looked either thoughtful or despondent. Shishu merely stood there with a stony look on his face.
“I hate to bring up more bad news, but the Ostrogles are pretty tough stuff too,” said Brew. “I don’t see how we’ll get by them during the day.”
“They have poor vision at night and sleep two hours when the sky is darkest,” said Shishu in a monotone.
“But Mendrax is more active during the night than the day. He’ll have other defenses during that time.”
“It’s sort of a moot point. This whole mission is a failure. We can’t get in. It’s hopeless!” said Plink.
“I tend to agree,” said Chak.
Brew was just as unsure as her partner. Shishu was the only one showing no emotion. There was a heavy moment in which the gravity of the situation weighed on us all.
“It is by no means hopeless,” Shishu said sternly. “The Higher-ups are on our side. We need not fear Mendrax when the Higher-ups are on our side. They would not have instructed us to go into the mansion if they did not intend for us to get in. They will protect us.”
Shishu said this last bit as a matter of fact. He was not trying to give us false hope; he simply stated the truth. There was a long and edgy silence as Brew, Chak, and Plink stared at Shishu.
“I agree with Shishu,” came a voice to finally break the silence. It was Dr. Lee. “I know not of Higher-ups, nor their promises of protection for I am new to their ranks. However, I feel kindling within me something I have not felt in ages… something I have not felt since my family died. Hope. I know the legends and the stories. I know of how Higher-ups led the great Umbili Jing against the rebellion of old. I’ve heard tell of the victories they gave to the first two Umbra in the wilderness. I know of how they brought the first humans here and gave them The Settlement as their own. I’ve heard of their legendary protection of The City of Falling Water against the Felvais forces of Fennegal. Their history of victory needs no introduction.
“When I served Mendrax, we were not even permitted to speak the name of Teleon, or mention the Higher-ups, because he feared them so. I have never seen more powerful works from any Umbili but Mendrax, but I will never forget the tremble in his voice when he spoke of the Higher-ups.
“If they are truly with you, you need not fear. You will succeed. You need only now ask, are they truly with you?”
Dr. Lee’s words were spoken into the darkness of the night and dangled in the air. It wasn’t like before on the beach when we were all laughing at his speech. His words had weight this time. These were the words of a truly humble creature speaking humble truth, and it couldn’t have been more powerful.
There was still an awkward hesitation among the group, but then Thrump stepped forward and said, “I agree with Shishu. We can take the mansion. The Higher-ups are on our side.” This was the tip in the scales that we needed. As Thrump moved toward Shishu to stand next to him, I joined him. Brew looked pensive, teetering on the brink of decision.
“They’re right!” she cried at last. “We can do anything if the Higher-ups are for us.” After that it was mere moments before the rest of the group had joined us and we began our plan of attack. Chak leaned in, finally, with a smile on his face.
“I am reminded of a time on earth when the great Empire of Babylon thought they had an impenetrable fortress. We may be able to learn something from good king Cyrus.”
Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 25.”