She released her awareness and sent it probing through the ridge-line that stood on both sides of the gorge. She encountered several extensive layers of coal, but they weren’t exactly where she wanted them.
She probed deeper and came to the one she wanted. It ran along the ridge and lay just below the floor of the upper end of the gorge. Better still, there were large pockets of that coal-gas Keselo had described. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” Ara murmured. She’d have to crack a few rocks to release the coal-gas, but that wouldn’t be much of a problem.
Then she stopped, and her awareness seemed to freeze inside the coal-bed. The prevailing wind in Crystal Gorge went up toward Dahlaine’s part of the Land of Dhrall, and sending perpetual fire in that direction could be disastrous. Fire was nice enough, Ara conceded, but only if it went in the right direction.
“I think I’ll have to work on this a bit,” she murmured to herself, rising back up through the hard stone and gleaming quartz.
She sent her memory back into the distant past, long before the Land of Dhrall had been separated from the rest of the world. At that time, this region had been covered by a dense forest of primeval trees that, in a certain sense, had been the grandparents of what Keselo had called “coal.” The region had been marshy, so the tree roots had not been firmly attached to the ground beneath them, and even a minor windstorm had uprooted them. She realized that those short-lived trees had been the ultimate source of what Keselo had called coal, and of the gas that was the source of the blue fire. That explained what had seemed to Ara to be a contradiction. Down at their core, swamps and mountains were not really unrelated.
The more Ara considered her scheme, the more she came to realize that success or failure would depend almost entirely on the direction of the wind—and its strength. There was a certain kind of windstorm that might just work out fine. The natives here in northern Dhrall called them “whirlwinds,” and Keselo had referred to them as “cyclones.” They were enormously powerful, and that made Ara quite dubious. A bit of experimentation seemed to be in order here.
She sent her awareness on up to the northernmost region of the Matakan Nation and started to play with the wind. It wasn’t easy, of course. Whirlwinds seemed to have minds of their own. After several tries, however, Ara came up with a way to steer the silly things. She would have to warn the outlanders, of course, but she knew exactly whom she should turn to when the time came.
Ara considered her options then. It seemed to her that the fire driven by the whirlwind should be enormous. First it would purge Crystal Gorge, that went without saying. There were all those secondary passes to the south of the gorge as well, though, and Ara wanted to clean those also. If she did this right, she could obliterate an entire hatch of the servants of the Vlagh in no more than half an hour. “That might persuade her to go play somewhere else,” Ara murmured.
There still seemed to be something missing, though. “I think that maybe I’ll need a second fire—somewhere near the southern mouth of the gorge. The Vlagh can be very stubborn sometimes, so I’d better make it clear that she’s not going to be able to come this way ever again.”
She sighed and began to probe the southern end of the gorge. It was getting just a bit easier, she was forced to admit. Coal had a distinct odor, and Ara had noticed that she could actually taste what Keselo had called “coal-gas.”
There was definitely a deposit of coal near the southern end of the gorge, and as Ara homed in on it, she suddenly burst out laughing. She was positive that it hadn’t been intentional, but Gunda’s fort lay right above the deposit. The fort itself was relatively impenetrable, but the fort bathed perpetually in blue fire would take “impenetrable” out to the far end.
“First things first, though,” she reminded herself, and she went in search of Longbow.
Night was descending on the Trogite breastworks to the north of the gorge, and when Ara touched Longbow’s mind, she found that he was already asleep.
“Don’t get excited, dear one,” she told him. “It’s only me.”
“Again?” Longbow’s thought replied. “Do you want us to run away some more?”
“Not really,” Ara replied. “Warn our friends that a windstorm’s coming, so they’d better take cover. Caves might be the best. The wind won’t be just a gentle breeze. You’d also better pull all of our friends off the rim of the gorge. The wind might be a bit hard to control, so the gorge rims—both east and west—could be dangerous. There’s also going to be fire down in the gorge, and it might spill over now and then.”
“You don’t sound too sure of yourself this time.”
“I’ve never done this before,” Ara admitted. “It should work the way we want it to, but let’s not take any chances. Go back to sleep, Longbow. I’ll take care of everything. I hope so, anyway.”
Then she drifted away. She still had one more important decision to make. Right at first it had seemed that Yaltar, who was really Vash the younger god, might be the most suitable Dreamer to unleash this upcoming disaster, but if it was going to be the whirlwind that would drive the blue fire down through Crystal Gorge to the Wasteland, weather would be far more important. Enalla, known now as Lillabeth, had already contributed much to this third war, but Enalla lacked a certain amount of subtlety, and she was a long way away. Since the whirlwind would be their main weapon this time, the Dreamer would almost have to be a girl, and that left Balacenia, of course. The more Ara thought about it, the more convinced she became that Balacenia—known to the humans as Eleria—would be the perfect Dreamer to permanently block all passes from the Wasteland to the Domain of Dahlaine of the North.
Ara reached out to Mount Shrak, where Zelana was minding the children, and gently touched Balacenia’s sleeping mind. “Sleep on, dear child,” Ara said, “but join your mind with mine that we may once again confront the servants of that called ‘the Vlagh.’”
“Well, it’s about time,” Balacenia replied. “Did you forget that I was here?”
“I never forget you, dear one,” Ara replied. “Yours is the finest mind of all the children—and of the old ones as well. Do you think that you could unleash a whirlwind?”
“I see no problem with that,” Balacenia said.
“Perhaps not in bringing it to life, dear one, but we need to send it down along a specific path.”