The boys awoke to the sound of great thunder the next morning. It was as if the storm was telling them to get on the move. Mantu snapped awake, afraid he had miscalculated the day and time. Naetoo was awake already and read the look on Mantu’s face immediately.
"Relax," Naetoo said. "Mom told me that the storm starts to build in the morning. You haven’t missed anything. Look, everyone else is still here too. It’s alright."
Mantu smiled, acknowledging that she read him right and immediately glanced over to see where Martaray was.
"Good morning, Stormtraub Martaray. May the blessing you desire fall at your feet this fine day," he said as he held out his hand to help her to her feet.
"Good morning, Stormtraub Mantu. May you find your blessings today as well," came from Martaray, as a screech that sounded like each word was scratched with her nail on a blackboard.
Mantu recoiled and winced as he looked at Bimeny. "We’d better go. We have to go find Rangar and Junt." They both grabbed their bags and ran, afraid that she might open her mouth to speak again. When they were well clear of the camp, they looked at each other and started laughing.
"Wow, could you believe that? And so beautiful, too. Her only chance of marriage is to find someone who can’t hear," Bimeny said.
"Beautiful? I hardly noticed," Mantu replied. Bimeny just stopped dead in the path, slack-jawed, and stared at Mantu. "What?" Mantu asked incredulously.
"Nothing," Bimeny replied. "You’ll be lucky not to be struck by lightning before we ever get close to the summit," and he quickly stepped past Mantu and started up the hill.
Malageth was right. It wasn’t terribly far, but it was very tiring. It was more than apparent when they came close to the summit. The landscape slowly became bizarre and un-natural looking. It went from a normal mountain path with pine trees and hemlock, to tomatoes growing out of the rocks on a cliffside, corn growing from another. Deer, rabbits and all manner of animals roamed around together freely and unconcerned over the presence of man or any other animal. Rare fire moss grew tall. Mantu and Bimeny had never seen such a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and animals growing in one place.
"I’ve got it!" Mantu said. "This is the first place everyone could try out their new blessings." Bimeny just looked at him and then it dawned on him what Mantu was saying.
"What a marvelous place," Bimeny said. "Let’s go find Rangar and Junt. We can leave our stuff with them and then go exploring," Bimeny said with a renewed vigor in his eyes.
"Okay, but first we eat. I’m starved," Mantu said. While they ate sandwiches made of fresh cut tomatoes and lettuce, they sat and stared in bewilderment at the testing grounds that were about them. They had a little of the meat left that Malageth jerked for them. When they had their fill, they resumed their walk until they came to a series of caves along the mountain path. Junt was sitting outside and spotted them.
"Stormtraub Mantu. May your blessings be many and your path smooth. Hello Bimeny, Stormtraub," Junt said. Her mother heard her daughter’s greetings and rushed out of the cave and greeted them as well.
"Stormtraub, Junt. May your desires be yours. Stormtraub, Aunt Rangar," Mantu said.
"Come in, be welcome," Rangar said.
Rangar was Malageth’s sister and carried the family’s features. She was also a strong woman, although her life was a good bit easier than Malageth’s. Her husband was a large man and blacksmith for the village and he was paid well for his trade. It was no wonder that he left the mountain climbing to his much thinner wife. A good thing too, Bimeny thought, as there wouldn’t be much room for anyone else in the cave if he had come.
It was still early in the morning and the boys had time before they had to make preparations, as the storm didn’t come until well after midnight. They stashed their stuff in the cave and set about exploring. They went to the summit site first to see what it looked like and where exactly it was. There were already a few people set up and meditating on their blankets. Some people were dressed differently in strange clothes and some wore feathers or skins. Bimeny never considered the fact that there would be so many others from so many other places. How did the storm know what each village needed and who was from which village? It was indeed puzzling. He looked around to see if there were markers or something that directed you to your town’s place, but he could find nothing to indicate areas or villages or anything.
The area of the summit was massive. There were even tents over along the far edge. Mantu and Bimeny could barely make them out, they were so far away. "There must be another path leading to the summit on the other side of the mountain as well," Bimeny thought to himself. He looked around to see where Mantu was, and spotted him at the edge of the bluff overlooking the valley where they lived.
Mantu had a stunned look on his face and was just staring quietly. "Wonder what is going on at home?" Bimeny asked him, as he put his hand on his shoulder. Mantu just shook his head ‘no’ slowly and pointed down the steep hill to the left. There were graves; a lot of them. All of a sudden it hit Bimeny what was happening.
"Mantu! Snap out of it! You’re not going to die. I’m here and I’m not going to let you, you hear me?" Bimeny turned Mantu to face him and looked him in the eye. "Those people were alone. You’re not. I’m here and so is Rangar. You’re going to be fine. Come on, let’s get out of here," and Bimeny carefully guided Mantu away from the summit’s edge and back to the cave.
It occurred to Bimeny that the stones were of no use after the storm, and although many would keep them as a keepsake, many others would just pitch them. This could be a great place to finish out his set or find better ones. He looked at Mantu, who was busy in conversation with Rangar, and he slipped out of the cave to go hunt some stones. He had made up his mind not to tell Mantu if he did find any that were interesting, because Mantu didn’t need any more uncertainty. He was nervous enough as it was. Bimeny wandered around visiting other people who were here for, or with someone who was here for, the Stormtraub.
The Stormtraub was a much bigger event than he thought. He didn’t realize so many people would be there. He found a path up a little ridge above the caves. He climbed up there just to sit and collect his thoughts and to watch the storm building. There was a lot going on, and he wanted to sort it all out, and that was tough with all the craziness going on. So he just sat on the ridge above the caves and looked out over the summit. He could see up behind him a large rock with an odd shape. It looked almost reptilian, and there was a hole in it about where an eye would be, as if it were a lizard or snake-like creature. He looked out over the summit again.
The Storm was huge! It was a swirling mass of red clouds with gold streaks mixed in it along the edges of each cloud. It was simply beautiful. It was captivatingly beautiful. Bimeny thought he could just sit and watch it for hours. It made new patterns every moment and you almost were afraid to look away because you might miss the perfect one.
The caves themselves were a mystery. Where did they come from? Who dug them out and why did the storm come here? There were lots of mountains. Why this one? Bimeny had more questions than answers. As he sat there, he looked down and saw a funny-shaped rock at his feet. It wasn’t anything special, but it was rather curious looking. Bimeny picked it up and slipped it into his pocket so he could look at it later when there was more light. It was getting dark and he thought that he had better get back to the cave.
Bimeny saw a lot of people who were having second thoughts much worse than Mantu. It seemed like for every clash of thunder, as the storm continued to build, there would be a new batch of people who would bolt from the caves and start running down the hill, only to be retrieved by loved ones and reassured that everything would be alright. It was painfully obvious that some just weren’t going to make it.
Bimeny figured he’d better hurry before he saw Mantu and Junt heading down the hill for home. The storm was huge now and covered most of the sky over the summit in a swirling bright red cloud that had streaks of gold that lit up and glowed when the lightning struck. It was swirling faster than it was earlier and it was beginning to form a kind of vortex at its center.
When Bimeny returned to the cave, he saw Mantu standing and staring at the red cloud. He winced every time the lightning struck. Bimeny knew he had to say something to make him feel secure in his decision.
"Mantu, I have good news," Bimeny said.
"What?" Mantu said. His voice was quiet and strained, as if speech took great effort.
"The graves," Bimeny said.
"What about them?" Mantu said, not taking his eyes off the storm.
"I’ve spoken to others who were visiting loved ones at the graves. They’re here with their other children. They all said the same thing. The only ones who died were the ones who bolted and ran when the storm came. If you don’t run you will live through it. Guaranteed!" Bimeny lied.
"Really! You’re sure?"
"Yep. Positive," Bimeny lied again. Mantu exhaled deeply.
"That’s a relief. I was really scared. Let’s go tell Junt."
"Why, is she scared also?"
"Well, no, I guess not, I mean, she doesn’t look nervous,"
"Well, let’s not mention it unless she says something about the graves or dying. She may not have thought about it, and why worry her now if she hasn’t," Bimeny said, backpedaling as fast as he could.
"Yeah, you’re probably right," Mantu conceded.
"Good. Get your stuff and we’ll go find you a nice spot to set up," Bimeny said.
Mantu snapped his head around to look at his brother, his eyes as big as saucers, "WHAT? NOW?" he asked.
"Well, yeah, if you don’t set up now, we’ll have to hike halfway across the summit to find a spot. Get your blanket and stonekeep. Come on, I’ll go with you," Bimeny said with confidence.
Mantu got his bag and headed back towards the cave entrance. Rangar saw them heading out and stopped them.
"Going to pick your place for the storm?" Rangar asked. "Why don’t you take Junt with you and she can pick a spot next to you, so you will be together. You’ll be weak after the storm. This will make it easier to find you. Besides, Junt is a little nervous and it will be good to have her cousin sitting near her. Bimeny, would you mind reading the rite over Junt? I’ll go ahead and start getting some stew ready for dinner. After you get set up, come back here and we’ll eat, it’s nearly done now, so don’t take too long. You can eat and then return to your blankets. Bimeny will read your rite over you and then come back here where we will wait. As soon as the storm comes and goes we will come and get you. So hurry along. Be careful and watch your step. It’s getting dark out there."
Junt went wordlessly and got her things, and the three of them headed out to find their spot. As Bimeny made for the cave entrance, Rangar whispered to him. "Keep an eye on them both. They’re just a little bit frightened right now. I’ll make something to calm them down while you’re gone."
"Holy smokes, look at all the people. It may take us half an hour just to get to a clearing large enough for two people," Bimeny said. But his two followers were numb. They both had that glazed-over look and Junt still hadn’t spoken at all. "Come on," Bimeny said, and he led the way. Bimeny noticed that the crowd was a little thinner near the edge. Apparently, many others had looked over the edge earlier too and decided to move back a bit. But it was dark now and they were so numb that they probably wouldn’t notice if he threw their blankets down on top of a grave, so Bimeny found a spot as close to the cave as he could.
"Here’s a good spot," Bimeny said. They just stared at him. "Set your blankets down here and spread them out. Here, put the head up this way," Bimeny directed. They both complied. "Do you have your Stonekeeps?" he asked. They both pulled their Stonekeeps out of their tunics. Apparently, Rangar had them both put them around their necks to keep them from losing them.
Bimeny pulled a piece of fire moss out of his pocket and set it between the two blankets, and lit it with the flint from his pocket. The moss glowed. "There," he said. "Now we can find our way back here when it is time."
The wind stoked the fire moss into a hot, glowing ember that could be seen for some distance.
"Let’s get back to the cave and eat. I am starved," Bimeny said. They just stared at him. He led them back to the cave and saw lots of other people leading their glazed children around as well. "Does the storm put them in some sort of trance or what?" Bimeny wondered to himself. They got to the cave and Rangar had bowls of stew ready for them. "Great! I’m starved," Bimeny said as he grabbed a bowl.
"Wait!" Rangar yelled. "Our Transcenders must eat first!" They all just looked at her. She quickly looked at the bowl and the spoon which was frozen halfway to Bimeny’s open mouth. "Those two bowls are for our Transcenders. It’s... it’s... a tradition! Yes, a tradition," Bimeny sensed something was amiss, and returned the spoon to the bowl and handed it to Junt, and then got the other one for Mantu.
They just held their bowls and stared out of the cave. "Eat!" she said. "You will need your strength." They both ate a spoonful of stew. It was as if their throats stopped working, they couldn’t swallow. Finally, they both managed to eat a couple of spoonfuls. Rangar was smiling, she got another bowl for Bimeny and herself and dished them both some stew. Bimeny ate it ravenously. He was starved, and watching those two try and choke down a couple of spoonfuls when he was starving was misery. He kept watching them as he ate. He wanted a head start if either of them started to bolt.
All of a sudden, Junt began to giggle. "This is all so strange," she said.
"Yeah, it is, isn’t it?" Mantu said as he started to giggle too. Then it hit Bimeny, she spiked the bowls of stew with something. He leaned over to her without taking his eyes off of the two.
"What did you put in it?" he whispered.
"A draft of peace," she said.
"Will they be okay? Will it make a difference to the storm?"
"No," she replied. "People have used it forever. It’s perfectly safe," she said.
The two continued to giggle and continued to eat the stew until Rangar said, "It’s almost time. Bimeny, why don’t you take them out to their blankets and read the rite over them. I’ll start the strengthening potion."
"Right," Bimeny said. "The potion Mom sent is in my bag. Come on, you two. Have everything? Still have your stones?" he asked. The answer was more giggles as they showed him that they were still around their necks. He escorted them out to their blankets and set them down. He noticed that the storm was really starting to kick up. There was significantly more lightning and wind. First, he went to Junt. He knelt down beside her and started the rite.
"Greetings, Great Storm, I commend my soul and my life into your keeping. I trust you to imbue me with your blessings in accordance to your desires. I will use this blessing to help my fellow man and will not do evil with what you give me. You know the needs of the community. You know the desires of my heart and the stones from the dirt that have come to me. Focus their energy within me and make me your instrument of truth. In this I trust, in you, I believe. I await your blessing. Please come to me now."
He then stepped over to Mantu and knelt down. He repeated the rite. When he was finished, he looked at Mantu and said, "Okay, just lay back and relax. I’ll be back in a little while. Stormtraub, Mantu, Stormtraub, Junt." He stood up and looked at the storm and watched its lightning strike at places all over the summit. It was a huge lightning strike each time. Bimeny realized how dangerous this was, and for a brief moment wanted to grab his brother and run. But he stepped back, took a last look, and started back to the cave. The wind was really blowing now. It was all Bimeny could do to stay standing. He saw the storm start making hits all over the summit. He decided to make a run for it.
Unfortunately someone had seen him earlier and knew the path he would travel to get back to the cave. Raleck had spread his blanket near the path back and watched Bimeny break into a run, and at the last second, stuck his foot out and tripped him. Bimeny tripped, falling forward with his face hitting the dirt. He saw stars. Raleck jumped on top of him and started punching him. Bimeny went limp in moments. Raleck drug him over to the edge, laughing, and used his feet to send him over the edge.
THUD! He felt sticks and branches. Thud! "Ouch!" Airborne again. Thud. Soft dirt. Sliding, sliding. ‘Grab hold of anything you can get your hands on,’ he thought. A root, still sliding, "Darn, pulled loose." "Ouch!" a rock, hand slipped off, sliding, another root "GOT IT!" BANG! Lightning hit him and he went flying to the ground. Thud!
"Oh, that hurt." And everything went black.
It was morning when he came to. But where was he and why wasn’t he in the cave? "Why do I hurt every place?" he asked himself. His head hurt fiercely. Then he remembered. "Raleck!" He tried to sit up. "Oh," it hurt. Bimeny decided to just lay there for a while and take it all in. The view was pretty good and somehow he felt that if he lay there a little while awake it would all hurt less. He could see the valley far below him. The sky was a beautiful blue. You could not tell the storm had ever been there.
Good, bad, or indifferent, it was over. He had to get back and tend to Mantu. He hoped he was alright. He looked down, it was steep and a long, long way and he didn’t see many handholds. Up was his only choice. But he ached, and grabbing hold of the first handhold he could reach let him know how bad his hand ached. It appeared he had burned it somehow. He couldn’t remember just now, everything seemed to hurt.
He grabbed his pack. As he did, he noticed that he had something bluish stuck to the outside of his arms. What were they and how did they get stuck to his arms? He tried to peel one off but it wasn’t going to budge. He figured that he could take care of it later, once he was back on top. But first things first, he had to get back to the summit.
He reached around until he found a handhold and pulled himself up. Then another and another, until he reached the summit again. He had fallen a long way and it took most of the morning to get back to the top. But he finally made it. Now, where were Mantu and Junt?
He managed to walk back to the cave and went inside. The light outside the cave caused Bimeny to be silhouetted against the bright light. "Hello, where is everyone?" He couldn’t see very well because his eyes were not yet adjusted to the dark.
"There you are, we were worried to death, where have you been?" Rangar asked.
"I was attacked by Raleck again. He pushed me over the ridge and I fell a long ways. It took me most of the morning to climb back up," Bimeny said as he felt along the wall and edged his way over to sit down.
"Are you hurt?" Rangar asked.
"No, not bad. I tumbled a lot and I’ve got these things stuck to my arms that I can’t get off, but I’m more tired from the climb and hungry than anything. How’s Mantu and Junt?" he asked.
"They’re fine and resting. It’s hard to tell what blessings they’ve received just yet as they’re still changing, but they’re both fine. Here, let me get you some stew." She went over and picked up a bowl and ladled some stew into it. Turning to Bimeny and handing it to him, she said, "Here, eat this and we’ll look at those things on your arms in a little bit." It was dark in the cave, so she really couldn’t see them all that well, and she returned to her blanket. "Maybe after a little nap, if it’s alright with you. I’m beat. I’ve been up with those two all night now. I just need to rest a little while." And with that she fell fast asleep.
Bimeny ate his stew like he had not eaten a thing in a month. It was warm and satisfying and made him feel like maybe she had slipped him a bowl that was spiked with the draft of peace. He couldn’t remember ever feeling that good ever before and what pain he had was now gone. When his belly was full he grabbed his blanket and curled up in the corner. He too smiled and went fast asleep