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10) Trust

The real struggle began as the next day they asked Blenbu to force the pace whilst they consoled Sarpo. Now that those remaining had all accepted the situation there was a comfort in the group even though they were physically more stressed. Sarpo was gravely disturbed but not deeply. His relationship with Naro had grown out of his habit of relationships, even when drinking he had always found himself in a relationship; some might say because he was drinking he became attractive as a challenge. But he had met Naro after he had been straightened out, and he felt comfortable with her. And she with him. As they grew together her own interests had taken her to Uu, Uu being one of her countrymen, and he had gladly gone with her as they were good people.

But it was never his decision, his Path; it was always hers. This was not a bone of contention but a reality that he was comfortable with; it did leave a gap, a gap he never understood. Whilst at Uu's ashram he met many good people and this gave him strength - mind with mind heart with heart, but the gap remained. The gap had only been filled with the link, that first day with Mpho, Yunio and Namzo, from then on there was no gap only increased strength, meaning, and a deep irrefutable knowledge that he was doing the right thing.

Naro had sensed this and one day when they were walking she had told him "My time with you especially at the ashram has been the most consoling of all times, I have been so happy, so fulfilled."

He smiled at her deeply, not being good with flattery. "Thank you," he said genuinely.

"But this journey with Namzo is beyond you and me," she said and he looked at her warily "it is so so . what word can I use? Important." There was a silence, "That doesn't say it," she finalised.

He nodded, giving her time he waited.

"Remember, you and I, us, we cannot get in the way," she reiterated, and turning to him she forcefully pulled his face into hers. She stared down at him as he was slightly off balance and made him promise that the journey was most important.

As she lay there with pain shooting through her from her joints he remembered, and that night when she had told him his place was with the other three, he had felt a resignation. They had been good together, but it was temporary - they were not or never could have been family and now it was time to part one way or another. She made her final decision for them; her decisions had brought him here, he would trust in them one final time.

But however much he knew there was still a sadness in her going, and for most of the day he laid his heart bare to Mpho, in between the condolences of other travellers. Those that had stayed with Namzo instinctively knew Suivo had taken them to their deaths; better them than all of us, thought Nandito - as did others.

By the evening Sarpo was exhausted physically, and drained by his outpourings. Soon after food he apologised and prepared to his bed. It felt uncomfortable but the remaining three linked. Once they realised that Sarpo was grieving well, they began to consolidate their views of the new group. There was a sense of contentment, compliance and completeness. The link knew there was harmony, that however they dealt with it their new group accepted what was happening. It was what Nature intended.

"We have to work more with this group," they thought "they will need our help."

"We can help as well," Namzo's deer streaked past the linked three, and sped off into the distance. And with that the link was broken and they went to sleep.

Next day Sarpo was drained but joined them, and quickly juiced up with the link. They were now united again, and concertedly they began the day. "Today or tomorrow, we will reach the plateau, and the walking will level off, but not for long the plateau is not our journey's end," Namzo confided.

In fact it was early into the following day that the group forced themselves over another craggy valley when to their surprise they found this wide sandy green plateau as far as the eye could see. It was so beautiful Tshepiso hoped it was the end of their journey.

"I wish it was," said Namzo wistfully "this is the land of my fathers'. But this land is not safe ." From the cloud, he thought. "but we can enjoy the plateau as we cross it. It will also give me a chance to regain my mountain lungs, the lungs I was born with."

"If your lungs have been struggling what will happen to the rest of us?" Tanbo asked jokingly.

After a while Blenbu said seriously "we can all acclimatise our lungs". True but a bit of a dampener, thought Mpho

As they crossed the crisp open plateau all felt good, even braced against the cold. With the third day lessening the attachment to the discontented, they all moved ahead in the comfort of each other's company. They made good time, and by the end of this day they could see a distant lake and mountain crags behind them. "Easy times over tomorrow?" smirked Tanbo as they sat to their evening meal.

That night they approached the link with a comfort and abandon, the pleasure of the plateau had eased their guard. The thinner atmosphere, even the sand itself with its interspersed green, seemed to offer comfort as they travelled. There was an easiness about the whole scene, Sarpo had even occasioned to think the whole group could still have been with them.

Their link added greater harmony to this general goodwill spoiled almost immediately by a vision of the dark cloud welling up from Mpho's mind. They knew it was nearer. Namzo's deer appeared to all "we will help you all, do not worry", they watched as it disappeared into the night.

They took the chance to overlook the camp, and all was peaceful. Tshepiso, Nandito and Tanbo had formed a bond, and the other five had then naturally inclined to each other. All were Naro's people, and had joined out of love for Uu. They took pleasure in the simple things, and their contentment was a pleasure to perceive - especially after the disruptive assertions Sma had made. They took a closer look. Gium, Bper and Faa were sleeping. The sleep was peaceful, their colours were gentle, no barbs or difficult edges, and yet they were not open to the link's presence. Outside their tents Ging and Yo's conversation remained uninterrupted, unaffected by the link. The link thought this strange, but the deer told them not to worry we will look after them.

They moved farther afield and tried to move the link towards the lake. The further from their bodies the less they appeared to sense. As they neared the lake they began to see a shimmering effect hovering over the lake, and Sarpo thought back to his contact with the Phors. Then the lake and the shimmering united as one, and all they could sense was lakeness, a wide expanse of lakeness that told them two days and pointed to an apex at the lake's edge. That was where the climbing would start again. They settled again and began to physically enjoy the lake and plateau, this world offered so much joy and yet humanity just sought every means to destroy it. They sat there into the night letting their minds drift into the distance enjoying the night and the stars.

The next morning they decided to link in the camp, and caused little disturbance. The others sat with them initially and the combined clam prepared them well for the day. But the link was the link, the four of them. Even Tanbo had lost his edge, but was still separate. The trust in the group allowed all to perceive that meditation benefitted, and that was enough. For two days they enjoyed the calm that took them round the lake to the apex ready for their climb.

Many eyes watched their progress.

They had decided to camp early ready for the haul up into the heights of the planet. For the first time snow that had only been a pleasant contrast to distant black pinnacles of splendour now became a prescient hazard, treading in snow and ice would be a new experience for some. Not immediately though, maybe by the end of a day's walk. They called the group together to ensure that all were organised ready for the snow and ice. In truth this was only a confirmation of equipment they had pulled together under Namzo's guidance when leaving the ashram. Blenbu thought back to his days in the Dales in Winter, invention had taken the challenge out of such climate - thankfully for this group, he mused; equipment was neither heavy nor bulky, taking away some of that strain.

But pulling the group together gave Namzo a chance to impress upon them the need for alertness. Up higher the ground could give way, shale would add a hazard especially if covered in snow. But the discussion was more concerned with morale than a need for what was said, they had been walking together long enough. It was verbalising the trust, thought Namzo, and smiled. No dissent meant that all left the meeting comfortable and were not stressed before an important night's sleep. Most joined the link to meditate but Gium, Ging and Yo rated sleep more important. Soon they were all bedded down, but Mpho's night was disturbed by the encroaching black cloud.

Bright sun greeted this climb, but it was not a sun of warmth. They moved off in single file ensuring that they could see two people within 10m, in some cases three people with some such as Ging and Yo being couples.

Towards the end of morning misty rain descended, a rain that was steely and bitterly cold to their bared faces. Visibility shortened and it was sometimes difficult to see two in front. Namzo made them reduce walking distances causing occasional bunching. Late afternoon after a miserable day they reached a place to camp, so Namzo called it - to Mpho's concern as she was beginning to feel the cloud's presence. The link knew of her concern in no uncertain terms that night.

That night her uncomfortable dreams turned to nightmare. She saw the ashram, and the cloud. From inside the ashram she felt the smugness of Keido as the distant cloud was sighted. He even gloated over Namzo's group, the bubble is the only protection against such man-made disasters. They prepared to batten down the hatches, and inner and outer seals were double-checked. No nuclear entry here, he thought. But he was wrong. As the gangs had appeared in the West survivalists had planned their own bubbles, even deep bunkers. For the gangs this was an affront to their control, so they applied their chemists to the task of destroying the seals. Sadly some of these chemists were experts and very soon chemical bombs were used along with the nuclear type to destroy the opposition. The gangs were now long gone but their history was stored in the cloud. Quickly corrosion and radiation consumed the ashram leaving a destructive waste, the slow amorphous giant drifting in its slow gentle but sure pace - undeterred now by anything man put in its way. The cloud's climb up the mountains began as if Nature was determined to wipe out all the bipedal miscreants who had forgotten their roots, their birthright.

Aware of Mpho's nightmare the link pressured the group to press on. Earlier this day the steely rain bit into their skin, the rain driving needles into whatever skin was open to the elements. The wind was powerful, and as they walked they felt its desire to scoop them into its stream. No joy left in the walking as all focused on the next step occasionally glancing up to see the requisite two companions. After two or three hours of this Namzo found rocks that provided marginal comfort, and they got some respite. He knew that there was not complete comfort but he need to know how they all were. Apart from misery and fatigue there was nothing worse, he had great hopes for all.

Intake of food gave some invigoration, and onward and upward they moved thoughts focused on the next step, eyes focused on where they placed their feet. As the day ended the wind cooled as did the rain and sleet, there was almost clarity of view. That night they linked gaining some sustenance but Namzo was so concerned about the worsening conditions it dampened any possible joy. He had never seen such wind. The next day they awoke and linked. Namzo asked them to join him in determining the day's journey. They focused their attention on upwards, and all they could feel was wind-power. The wind just blew them and blew them, it even seemed to want to blow the link away. The deer spoke "we need the wind, you will understand". Mpho turned back and they joined her. In the distance they saw the cloud beginning to pour over onto the plateau, chasing a small dust cloud they feared could only be dying animals.

The next morning the deer appeared before Namzo and stayed with him. It was a mountain deer but even she was beginning to struggle with the wind and rain. Before his eyes it transformed to a fox-like creature, the nearest he could think of was a stone marten. But this was no forest dweller. It had a dark shaggy coat similar to the yak, clearly suited to providing warmth short stubby legs with powerful tensile claws, and a stubby but sturdy body so strong he imagined now wind could budge it. "Now follow me," Marten said.

The wind was now incessant, a gale that could move houses, thought Namzo. He feared for the others. He turned to look back. "Let them be," Marten said "we will look after them." By now he was exhausted with the elemental battering. He had told them to keep close. The visibility was so close if he went back he couldn't see them; he had to trust in his friends in Marten's friends. He even tried to link but there was something about this wind that prevented even that.

"It will get worse," Marten said "follow me closely." So Namzo focused on the creature's tail, and walked bent double trying to brace against the wind. He made slow progress until a gust almost took him with it. "Onto your stomach," Marten said "if you try to walk the wind will take you. Onto your stomach." Namzo lay down and crawled. His guide slowed and Namzo crawled. In fact although slower this was a bit easier, as on his stomach the wind had little purchase. He seemed to crawl for hours patiently following his hope, his mind too shattered to think beyond his movement. He even gained a rhythm. Left hand forward, right hand forward, pull, scramble with the legs and slide. His mind began to focus steadily, left hand, right, pull, scramble, slide. Slow but sure - left hand , right, pull, scramble, slide. He was so intent he didn't notice the steep slope gentling. And then without realising he found himself in a tunnel. He felt trapped "Calm yourself, Namzo. This is safe," Marten quietened "This is meant to be, have trust." He dismissed his fear, almost as if dismissing the world he was leaving. Blenbu trusted him, put his trust in Nature. Becalmed now he continued his routine - left hand, right, pull, scramble, slide. It had become so much of a habit, he began soon to forget the tunnel. This seemed to go on for more hours as he followed the marten's tail, but he followed the routine until eventually the marten led him into a cave where he lay down exhausted. The marten said "wait", and at that exhaustion took him into sleep.

Meanwhile Mpho and Yunio were climbing the visibility gone, they halted and called out Namzo. No response. Namzo, they called, but no answer the wind took their shouts and spread all before it. They tried linking together but could find no answer. "We must trust," they said, and began walking. Without realising they bumped into Namzo. "Follow me" he uttered briefly, and bent double he moved forward. They too followed shielding themselves best from the wind. "We must now crawl", and slowly they made progress. "Follow a routine," he told them, and they too developed their own crawl "concentrate on it". Once the mind focused on the pattern, they continued near exhaustion yet keeping it sufficient distance as if over their left shoulder. Namzo took them into the tunnel, felt their panic, and becalmed it "Remember the routine," he commanded. On they continued until they fell into the cave. "Wait, I must go," and at that he went, leaving them exhausted in sleep.