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FICTION: Tails of Aspabibia, Part 88

Fawn peered at Viker out of the sides of her eyes. He was busy wrapping up the last of the equipment. "That's dogwash, isn't it, Viker?" she said.

"Like the myth of the Kelpys?" asked Shadow licking the water from his fur. Viker paused and stretched his muscular hind legs before answering. "Like I said, no one alive today has ever seen a Kelpy," he said. "But legend has it that once they were a large and influential part of the lake culture."

"They were even revered, weren't they?" asked Pearl moving to help Viker with the last of the gear.

Fawn Doll followed her with narrowed eyes. "That was before any creatures from the land above came down here," she murmured fluffing up her fur.

What you've missed: Two talkative, rebellious kittens, from a royal family of vocal, rambunctious cats, connive, plan and then descend into the cellars and caverns below Aspabibia, one seeking milk, glorious milk, the other seeking adventure, glorious adventure but disaster occurs and one misadventure leads to another and another.

"In the mind of the Kelpy, it belongs to no one and to everyone," Viker went on. "We are all merely the stewards of our worlds."

Red Pearl looked at her sister. "You certainly are a fountain of information," she said sweetly. "Been studying?"

Fawn cocked her head and raised her chin. "I find it interesting," she said. "Just as you seem to."

Red Pearl smiled. "As you know, I've always liked history," she said. Glancing from one to the other, Viker said, "The ancients wanted to protect the Kelpys. They knew that most inhabitants of the land above would fear an essentially shape-shifting Kelpy."

"I can understand that," Pink Buddha said. His eyes were darting from corner to corner.

"Shape shifting," Rue Shadow said. "Now you have my attention."

"So what happened?" asked Red Pearl leaning against the rim stone next to Viker.

"Well," he continued, "the Kelpys finally convinced the powers that were to permanently deed all the Lakes Of The Gemstone to them. The Kelpys agreed - wanted, actually - to stay out of sight. Mostly for their own safety. It seems that visitors had become far too curious."

"So this belongs to them?" Red Pearl asked motioning to the languid turquoise water.

"Like the rest of us, they're caretakers," Viker answered. "Stewards."

"A lifetime land lease," Buddha said with a nervous laugh.

"Or in this case, lake lease," said Shadow.

"In the mind of the Kelpy, it belongs to no one and to everyone," Viker went on. "We are all merely the stewards of our worlds."

Fawn crept up to Viker. "But there aren't any Kelpys around now, right?" she asked.

"Who knows," he answered, "Maybe they just don't want to introduce themselves."

"You're making me nervous," Fawn Doll shuddered. "Let's talk about something else."

Viker laughed. "Look, we've mapped almost every inch of this place and we've yet to run into any Kelpys," he answered. "Except for bats, salamanders and bugs the place seems deserted."

Red Pearl had draped herself over the rim stone and was dragging her paw through the water. Wisps of steam floated up from the surface. "What makes it so warm?" she whispered in surprise.

"It's fed by underground thermal springs," Viker explained. "Way down deep. Some of the other springs are hot enough to scald the fur right off you."

"Can't wait to see those," Pink Buddha muttered.

"We're not going anywhere near those," Viker responded.

"Too bad," Red Pearl said. "They sound interesting."

"They sound dangerous," whined Fawn Doll. She was picking at the white slime that stained her fur. "And you know how I feel about water."

Viker finished loading up the knapsacks and then checked Shadow's bandage. "Looks like the bleeding's stopped but you'll have to keep that dressing out of the water."

"How am I going to cross a lake and keep my dressing out of the water?" Shadow asked.

"You'll ride on my back," the Feral Prince said with a slap of his tail.

After their lanterns were lit, Viker herded them out on to the graceful curve of calcite that formed the rim stone dam. One by one, they slipped into the pool. Almost immediately, their cloaks of slime began to wash away. They floated off over the surface like a pale, ghostly blanket of oil. Then, ever so slowly they dissolved into a gauzy film and were gone.

Only Fawn Doll complained about the temperature of the water. Too hot for her delicate fur.

TAILS OF ASPABIBIA
by Linda Towne
Part 88
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