The Story has little part of my own, but is the cooperative effort of many authors at AD. Originator is Andrew Ceroni, Contributors include Hanley Harding, Peter Bensen, Erin the Fox, and other Torturers of the English word and Storyline--including myself. This is the story up to this point, as I can see it--with Doc's outline
THE SLAWN GREEN OF BELLOWED WOOD
1) There's trouble in this Sphere of existence
2) The Spirits charged with maintaining metaphysical balance confer to decide what needs to be done
3) The forces of chaos in this Sphere -- the Negeel are led by one Gordred, who is gaining in personal strength and searching for magickal means to attack and destroy Slawn Green
4) Slawn Green could use an ally, though they don't seem to realize it at this early stage, having just routed the Negeels in battle, but their Prince is intuitively apprehensive about the future
5) Onfaerlagh -- on the other side of this world -- is a land of order, which is growing stronger every day, sometimes battling, but mostly absorbing, neighboring hostile cultures, under an evenhanded rule, and could be the key ally which will enable the Prince of Slawn Green to destroy Gordred and the Negeel, once and for all
6) The Eloi, an all but extinct race, were ravaged by the Morlocks (who, themselves, seemed to disappear from the scene, but still live on, in deep, dark places); but left behind a wealth of magickal implements and weapons, which are slowly but surely reappearing in the hands of a chosen few; the Eloi are a key to the balance, but are too weakened to provide active help, save for one old Eloi enchantress, a hermit, whose only close acquaintance is Retep, a gadabout adventurer and troubador, whose personal connections are key to the formation of a magickal fighting alliance between three questers and the magickal Princess Nire and Lady Suu'an (who were personall charged, hypnotically, by the Spirits, to exhort and empower the alliance to crush the forces of chaos; the Princess and Suu'an have time-stepped to jointly spirit the questers together and set them on their path to aid the Prince of Slawn Green
7) The questing trio have battled their way to the Fortress of Slawn Green, the quest leader searching for something he does not even know the identity of; the Fortress's occupants refuse to admit them until they have obtained the blessing of Princess Nire -- a shapeshifter, whom they cannot hope to get close to without Retep's help; one questor has come into possession of the Gaartak battle axe of the Eloi, a weapon against which there is no defense (save overwhelming numbers of opponents); and Suu'an is in possession of an Eloi transposition crystal, bequeathed to her by her (unrevealed) Eloi grandmother, which she uses for seeing, but is ignorant of its far greater hidden powers
8) The old Eloi enchantress has sensed that some major clash between chaos and order is in the offing, and desperately seeks to gain any magick to help her locate the last of the lost Eloi and restore them as a vibrant people; she is aware that many lost Eloi magickal objects exist, but they have been well hidden and well guarded... she knows that any who find such objects will have the power to grant great good or wreak terrible havoc; she is determined to examine any finders, to assure herself that the Eloi magick will be used only for good and to also avail herself of some magick, to help in the restoration of the Eloi civilization
Anyway... that's how I read it, so far. If we can all agree to agree... LET US MOVE FORWARD.
Some out there have ordinary lives, others do not. Reality is what may be seen and smelled, but can the Senses alter? What is known becomes questionable, what is unseen acquires form. A simple journey to a local grocery may travel to unknown regions, if the Senses shift. Where will you be when Time turns into an Ocean, and the Tide goes out?
Get into your mind... very deep into your mind... into the actual center, where the blackness looms complete. Now follow... the blackness, deep at the center of your mind, is the center of the all-encompassing space-time continuum... where galaxies collide and black holes devour all that chances close by... and you... have a ringside seat. But... this is not your ordinary space-time continuum... not that of Planck, Einstein, Sagan, or Hawkins. No... this is the metaphysical universe... a universe which co-exists with our own familiar reality... occupying the same ether, but operating on a different set of principles, altogether. A great epic is about to begin. Keep your mind open and ready to take in what is to come... or what is to come might take your mind in...
Adrift in the metaphysical space-time continuum are the Spheres of existence. They are uncountable. The only Beings (that we human-kind can ever hope to see -- and that, rarely, by only the most special among us) capable of knowing the totality and reality of the Spheres are the Spirits. Notice that the Ss in Spheres and Spirits are capitalized... for they loom far, far above the common existence of us mortals. The Spirits are charged with maintaining a balance among the Spheres. Whether Yin or Yang, they care not... neither order nor chaos interests them... they are charged with maintaining the grand balance. If that requires a bit of chaos over there, and a bit of order closer over here, then they will mote it so. The Spheres will be kept in balance, no matter what it costs, or how it affects us mortals... for we are much farther down the cosmic threads of existence from the Spirits than amoebae are from us! Does that make you feel small and insignificant...? Take heart, mortal... if you are able to ken the fullness of what you are about to experience, then you are special, too. And... never surrender to the terrors of the darkness. So... the Spirits gather... and communicate...
"Here, order has been the rule for a long time... the Fortress of Slawn Green has been the ordered focal point against which all chaos has hopelessly dashed itself..."
"That is still so... see the latest carnage, offering to futility..."
"But that one... Gordred. He has accumulated much power. And the Eloi, who were a balance to Gordred's clan, have been devoured by ones called Morlock's..."
"Onfaerlagh grows stronger, each generation, and has vanquished all who attacked. There is balance there..."
"Onfaerlagh knows not of Slawn Green, and Slawn Green, aught of Onfaerlagh..."
"They should be brought together. Then, chaos would have no chance of taking hold..."
"Suu'an... an able seer and enchantress..."
"And Nire... a princess, possessed of unusual capabilities..."
"And there... an Eloi mage... also useful..."
"Suu'an and Nire shall be charged. The Eloi mage may yet find a way to bring her clan back to the living... but that is not important."
"Surely... any counter to chaos is to be wanted..."
"The mage, one of the last of her kind, is not to be charged... if she falls, the Eloi will completely perish and become a forgotten memory. She is wise enough -- and capable enough -- to discern the forces at play, and will do what she feels will help the Eloi to return. But Slawn Green and Onfaerlagh will, of needs, have to make the necessary sacrifices to bring balance back to this Sphere."
"Touch the two, then..."
Nire was joyfully near-to-dancing along the path... deeper into a Spring grove of the most beautiful flowering trees she had ever seen... or inhaled... the perfumes were giddily overwhelming. This experience was not enough...! She deftly shape-shifted into the fox and began running crazily through this lush and aromatic paradise. As Nire came upon a brook, she lowered her head and eagerly lapped at water that was thoroughly exhilirating. Refreshed, fox-Nire found a nice patch of grass on which to rest. She was happily rolling around in the aromatic green when she noticed she could not control her rolling about. Try as she might, she felt as if a large hand were pushing her around on the grass patch. She now began to feel uncomfortably not in control as the light began to cycle through all the colors of a rainbow and her rolling about became dizzying. Then, blackness engulfed her as she let out several fox-yips and lost consciousness...
Suu'an suddenly awoke from a troubled sleep. Princess Nire had cried out for help... but... where... what from... how...? Suu'an pulled on a special robe and made her way to a chamber known only to her eyes. After closing the door and throwing the bolt, she went to a central table, covered with ancient texts, amulets and an Eloi crystal left to her by her grandmother. She pulled up a small, ornately-carved stool, and sat with her face close to the crystal. Strangely, it was glowing green, though she had not yet formally addressed it and requested to use its powers. She inhaled abruptly as she saw fox-Nire crazily spinning in space. Nire seemed to be unconscious... and then popped out of view! No! Come back into focus! Suu'an was afraid for her dearest friend and childhood companion. Desperately, Suu'an implored the Eloi crystal to restore the sight, but the crystal simply refused, although it stilled glowed greenly. Suu'an was upset... the crystal had never before refused her request... her grandmother told her the Eloi crystal would never fail her, but never told Suu'an why it would always aid her. The unknown truth, in this case, was... the crystal was simply unable to reach Nire. The Spirits were at work and no power of mortals could ever see what was deliberately veiled by Them. Suu'an wearily put her head down upon the table and closed her eyes. As she lost consciousness and began to fall off the ornate stool, she suddenly popped out of existence...
Do you see them, Reader...? Focus your attention over there... YES! That's the two of them... slowly drifting among the Spheres in that beautiful, multi-coloured bubble. No, you're simply not able to see the Spirits surrounding the bubble... for you are merely mortal. But, fox-Nire and Suu'an are now awake, happy to be alive and together, but frightened at the vision which has totally engulfed their floating bubble.
Fox-Nire had now shifted back to her human form. She and Suu'an were now wide-eyed and horrified at the battle which raged all about them. It was the Fortress Slawn Green under mighty attack. The attacking army consisted of large, hideous, furry-scaly creatures with slavering fanged jaws and gleaming razor-sharp clawed hands and feet. They seemed equally adept at walking upright or down on all fours. But it was evident that the Slawn Green's defenders were more than able to hold off their attackers. Numerous huge fireballs were arcing high from inside the fortress walls. Wherever they landed, fire galloped in all directions, stting hundreds of attackers on fire. Also, Slawn archers had blackened the parapets and were raining fiery poisoned arrows by the thousands upon the hideous attacking beasts. Where beasts had scurried up the towering walls, they were ably speared and fell screaming to their deaths into a great chasm which surrounded the Fortress.
But suddenly, there came a turning point. The attackers seemed to stop as the largest among them was pierced by several flaming poisoned arrows. At first he screamed, but another equally large beast ripped off his own cloak and stifled the flames. Both Nire and Suu'an could now hear father say farewell to son, passing the mantle of rulership on to the next generation. But passing on the mantle was not really his concern. Clutching at his only heir, fearful claws digging into arm muscle, he made his son swear to return and destroy Slawn Green and wreak the most hideous vengeances upon all the Fortress's inhabitants. As the father died, the son stood up and roared his vow to one day avenge his father's death with the suffering, blood and flesh of all who inhabited Slawn Green.
As Nire and Suu'an watched further, what little remained of the beast army began to slink away in total defeat, several of them bearing the dead leader's carcass. The archers let loose several more deadly fire and poisoned arrow volleys and the remaining beasts dropped the leader's body, howled and ran for the protection of the hills and swamps... all save one. The leader's son again stopped, amid the shower of flaming arrows, turned and again bellowed vengeance. As the last of the arrows fell to ground about him, the son slowly turned and followed the destroyed army's pitiful remnants. More of those unfortunates would die at his hand, later, for abandoning his father's body. The son's glaring, fiery-yellow eyes gave Erin and Suu'an to know, in no uncertain terms, that this beast would do everything in his power to make good on his vows of vengeance.
"You are charged with the destruction of this Gordred. Slawn Green must stand firm. The distant Onfaerlagh has resources which may be called upon, including powers of the Eloi."
"Fox-Nire...!" At the Spirit command, Nire instantly reverted to her fox-form.
"You will step between planes and guide Suu'an. You must time-dance from one plane to another." At this, fox-Nire began to goofily prance all around the interior of the bubble membrane, yipping happily. As she did so, the light inside the bubble changed from one color to another and Suu'an floated merrily about.
No, Reader... of course you can't see the bubble anymore... it is dissolved and Nire and Suu'an are sleeping soundly in their bedchambers... remembering nothing of what transpired... but both knowing what must be done. When they awoke, they immediately made ready to travel together on a long journey of search and discovery...
At the very moment the floating mist of a marsh morn dances over the sea grass of summer to vanish in the splintered sunrise, at the very instant when the twilight of night dreams mix with blossoming awareness of the day, then only can one see it. Sit stone still and then, ever so focused, peer through a mirror world where reality is but the musing of the present god. See it there? It looms above the ancient, tangled forest of Bellowed Wood, the fortress castle of the Slawn Green. Massive walls of granite block, lined with ten thousand archers, their swarm of arrows await to pierce the shields of any who would dare assault her, colossal towers support the catapults that would disintegrate any enemy’s advance. And there were many enemies. Layers upon layers of their bones line the edges of the meadow whose mossy rug creeps into the woods. But all of this was so long ago, long before the onslaught of the Negeel armies, that legion of darkness which wriggled its way from the netherworld to the forest of Bellowed Wood. The world knew of the Slawn Green no more. Never conquered, they evaporated into the morning wind, leaving no trace for the Negeel to follow. Ten thousand years melted into timeless mists of this morning. For these brief moments, one may see her. The question for us of course is why? Does she beckon us to wade across this dismal swamp and cross the bridge of Time itself? More importantly, having done so, can one return? Step into the waters, keeping your eye on the vision as the mist fades, for the time for the crossing is brief. Easing in, the marsh is dark and cool. Let us hasten..... Stepping carefully from the black marsh mud, our Nike cross-trainers finally fall onto grassy ground. Glancing back, the far shore from whence we came is no longer visible, only an endless swamp of sea grass and patrolling dragonflies over which lonely clouds move toward us as if to prod us onward.
We, the ragged band, peer at our surroundings.. The ragged line of tall timbers standing to our right is the outward edge of Bellowed Wood, seemingly impenetrable but into which a dirt path wanders, disappearing between the trees. The tips of a swath of bleached bones occasionally rise above the grass in parallel to the forest as a surreal and ghostly moat. To the left is endless rolling meadow beyond which is easily seen the tremendous edifice of the Fortress of Slawn Green. We turn in its direction. The sky behind fills with heavy leaden clouds, and the darkness of Bellowed Wood reaches out. Let us hasten again.
"Ugh" said La'Wrance, looking distastefully at the muck on his sole. "Fifty silvers I paid for these! Now I'll never get them clean." Mournfully he began picking at the mud, brushing off the dryer bits with the tail of his cloak. This wretched scene appealed not to his sensibilities, he thinking mournfully of the flagon of Ale left behind the previous night.
"Fastidious effete." snorted Haan Leigh. He was busy checking the string to his crossbow and adjusting the way his quiver was hanging. Only thirty quarrels left and he had a feeling he'd need them all before they reached Slawn Green. Something about those dragonflies didn't seem right. He was suspicious by nature, but dragonflies were supposed to flit hither and yon, not circle in patterned arcs. It didn't seem right. Not to mention that path into the woods. Nothing went into the Bellowed Woods. Not human nor animal nor spirit. A t least not by choice, and those who did never came back out. So why was that dirt path there? To invite someone in or to let something out? He checked his axe as well, and didn't notice he was clutching his bastard sword.
C'Eronyi had no such doubts. But then, C'Eronyi was given to certitude. It's what had kept him going thus far, through swamp and field, friend and foe, he'd vanquished them all and if he had scars, well, he still was alive to show them off with stalwart fellows at his back. If they followed only because of morbid curiosity he cared not a whit. They followed. He glanced at the bones and dismissed them as a distraction from his goal. Slawn Green. That was the goal. That was all that mattered. He'd chased that prize through time and Hell and he was not to be thwarted.
La'Wrance knew the look. H e'd seen it in the Bronx the day he'd taken the Nikes off that brother, and C'Eronyi had blithely asked the rest of them to dance. Their card had been a little overfilled, even with Haan Leigh pegging along, but then Suu'an had brought them through the fox trot to... here. Wherever here was. Haan might be watching dragonflies, but La'Wrance was watching the bones. He knew about bones. Those who could flesh out the bones with their mind, knew all Death is not natural. The flesh was sucked away from these bones, without the Soul and Essence draining away. Not all of them stayed dead. He clutched the Mach 10 closer and checked the Desert Eagle on his hip. "Careful with the rounds", he thought. "Don't think they make them... wherever here is! But I ain't trusting those bones. No sirree!"
C'Eronyi gestured. "There is Slawn Green. Let us hasten."...
Rolling hill after rolling hill stretched out before them. Green as emeralds. In a line, they trod up the first slope, and reached the crest. It took at least an hour. They paused, taking in the view before them. They again felt a certain dread of the moment and place. C’Eronyi slowly turned, his hands on his hips, as La’Wrance drew alongside him. “What do you think? How far?”
“Farther than it looks.” La’Wrance wrinkled his brow. “I haven’t got a clue. You ever see a landscape like this before.”
“No, but then I’ve never been in the West. I would imagine that…”
Haan Leigh broke in, “No, you won’t find anything like this. Trust me. I’ve hunted everything that moves on every continent, including the two-legged variety, and I ain’t never seen nothing like this. Look at the sky, even that’s weird.”
La’Wrance spoke, “We could go back, think this out. If we’ve seen it once, we’ll see it again. We know where to look now. We might still get back across the swamp before nightfall.” He spun on his heels, pointing behind them. “Let’s… What the hell?”
“What?” C’Eronyi turned in tandem with Haan, who rolled his eyes. The swamp was nowhere to be seen, “Shit.” He slipped the crossbow off his back, raised it and fitted a bolt into the groove. “I’ll go check it out, I can get there and back in thirty minutes. There looks to be a good three hours of daylight left. You two stay here. You’ve got a good view of things from here.”
C’Eronyi nodded in agreement. “Okay. I guess we have to skip the movies and popcorn tonight.” He chuckled. “We’ll be waiting for you. Be careful. Keep an eye toward Bellowed Wood.” He dropped to his knees, then squatted. “Hold it. La’wrance, give Haan the Desert Eagle and a couple of rounds.”
“Hey, I don’t think…”
C’Eronyi grimaced. “Not time for you to think yet. We’re saving your mind for the big stuff. Come on, give him the pistol.”
Haan reached out. “Thanks.”
“You take good care of it. Cost a lot of money.” La’wrance sat down.
“Right. Okay, I’m off. See you in a tad.” Haan tucked the weapon under his belt, slipped the rounds in pocket, abruptly began the long jog down the hill. The image grew distant.
“What now?” La’Wrance asked.
“We wait. By the way, okay if I call you ‘LW’?”
“Fine if you’ll tell me your first name as well.” La’Wrance smiled.
“Anthony. And no, I’m not a ‘Tony’.” C’Eronyi qualified.
“Okay, Anthony, I’m pleased to know you well enough to call you by your first name.” LW stretched out his arm in gesture. Anthony grabbed his hand and shook it. “Same here LW. Look, why don’t you keep an eye toward the swamp, and I’ll stay on the castle. Okay?”
“Sure.” Minutes moved to hours. Both were concerned by neither said anything. The sun was angling low in the sky behind the castle of the Slawn Green. Long shadows stretched out toward them across the hill. Finally, Anthony spoke. “Haan’s been gone way too long. He should’ve been back by now.”
LW frowned, and turned in the grass, facing Anthony. “I know but I didn’t want to say something and jinx it.” His eyes suddenly broke wide. “Good God!” The startling, shrieking scream abruptly and unexpectedly rolled over the hills. The deep growling cry reverberated in the air overhead. Then again. The two men froze in place. They glanced at each other with worried faces and pushed themselves to their feet.
“Shit.” Anthony muttered.
LW strained from pissing in his pants. “That’s a double shit, actually. It’s behind us, from the woods.” Another cry like a banshee filled the air, this time much louder, much closer. Their eyes scanned the slope, no darkening in the shadow of an impending sunset.
“What do you want to do?” LW was anxious.
“We stay right here and wait for Haan. You’ve got a gun don’t you, the Mag 10?”
“Yeah, but whatever that is, it sounds bigger than a Mag 10 would drop. Wish I had my Remington .300 with the Sniper Ten Power scope. It would have been good in the dark!” This time they both sat facing down the slope in the dimming light, down where they’d last seen Haan. The last thin pale rays of sun faded. Night drew down on them.
Anthony gazed up to the sky filling with stars. “I can’t see the Big Dipper?”
LW made the assessment in record time. “That’s not our sky. Not the western hemisphere, anyway. Look at that. On the horizon to your right. A peanut shaped moon. Gees.”
They leaned back into the grassy hill, watching the night and thinking of Haan. Sleep was impossible. Their nerves taught. Their eyes stared blankly into a sky as black as the inkiest abyss one could imagine. What seemed to be thousands of stars in no recognizable patterns, no identifiable shapes, peppered the blackness from horizon to horizon. And, the air had grown unusually cool and bore a heavy dampness. Anthony moved his hand across the grass. Wet. A thick dew was already gathering. He sat up.
“What’s up?” LW turned his head.
“It’s getting cold. I’m just slipping on the shell jacket.” He answered as he yanked the nylon jacket from his waist pack. “It gets any colder and I’m gonna have a bony white ass by morning, guaranteed.”
LW giggled, well, don’t show it to me. I'm sure I can live without seeing that.” Anthony stood, zipped up the coat, and took in a deep breath. “What’s that accent anyway, LW?”
“Really? You’re from France? How long have you been in the States?”
LW sighed. “No, not France. I’m from a place where there’s nothing to do 24 hours a day. Nothing worth seeing, visiting, or watching. Nothing. The little pisspot country of Luxembored.”
“Oh.” Anthony muttered.
“Yeah, 'oh'. Well, I’ve been here eight years. ‘Left right after the Economic Union materialized and everything started to slide into hell in a handbasket. I can give you my theory on the economic possibilities over the next ten years. Say…”
A long “Shhh…” from Anthony interrupted. “Lay down.” He whispered. LW heard it too. A low rustling sound was working its way up the slope, approaching. He drew the Mag 10. A round was chambered ever so quietly. Safety off. The sound nearly upon them. Footfalls!
“Who is it!?!” Anthony barked. “Who is it, dammit!” He shouted again.
LW rose, bracing his right wrist with his left hand, the pistol pointed downrange to the sounds still approaching.
“Oh, take it easy! It’s me, Haan. Haan!” He shouted.
“Haan? Gees, come on up.” Anthony replied. Haan’s form came into view. He was breathing heavily from the trek up the hill. “Glad to be back, never thought I’d make it.”
LW reached out and touched Haan’s arm. “Well, tell us. What happened? Where the hell have you been?”
“Don’t know, really.” His hot breath clouded in the air as he spoke. “The swamp’s still there.”
“What? But we can’t see it! It should be at the base of this slope. What the…” Anthony chimed in.
“From now on, fellas, you can’t trust anything you see here. Believe me. And I’m sure you’ve figured out by now we ain’t in the good ole USA. Fact is, I have no freaking clue where we are.”
“Sure you do! Then it worked. We’ve crossed time and place. We’ve slipped through somehow. That really is the castle fortress, then?” Anthony’s eyes squinted as he spoke.
“It’s got my vote. Sure is. The castle fortress of the Slawn Green of Bellowed Wood. No kidding. We’re here!” Haan exclaimed. “But I couldn’t find my way from the swamp. The sun was in my eyes, this hill was unobservable. I had to wait until nightfall and follow the depressions in the grass. I would’ve tried right then, but then that damned beast…!”
“Yeah. We heard it.” LW responded. “Literally scared the piss out of me. What was it?”
“Dunno. Didn’t hang around waiting for a Kodak moment either. I beat feet in my trusty cross-trainers and got out in the swamp again. Up to my chest. I could hear the damned thing, whatever it was, pacing on the shore, snorting and growling. I could smell it. God awful. You guys smell it?”
“No.” Anthony replied in deadpan.
“You didn’t miss anything. It reeked like a hundred dead animals laying out in the sun and rotting. A necrotic stink that was unreal. Made me want to puke. I…” Haan’s lips stopped dead as they all simultaneously turned to the downhill slope, and instinctively rising to their feet. The low guttural growl was low and close.
“What say we visit the castle, Gents?” LW asked, securing the Mag 10 in his holster, and picking up his jacket. They nodded to each other, turned toward the hills they knew lay somewhere in front of them, then briskly scampered in the direction of the castle as fast as the darkness would allow.
“Good idea, LW. Let us hasten……” Anthony led the way.
Suu'an looked at the book and smiled. Smoothing the linen close to her thighs, she luxuriated in the feel of the close woven cloth. She could never had thought about cloth so rich before she learned the dance; and the fox trot. Unconsciously she patted her familiar. "Erin go back?" she murmurmured. She didn't care for what she saw on the pages. The fox l icked her lazily and flumped on the ground. Finally it raised its head.
"Erin go back." it agreed "Only Erin know the way of the fox trot. Stepping wrong ruins the dance! These three step wrong."
Suu'an stroked the fox. Whether she felt below or scratched above her shoulder, she noticed not, the fox was like that, but only the fox knew the steps of the fox trot; that dance between worlds and time.
"They are in danger that they know not of" she said. "Let us hasten..."
As the trio of adventurers scuttled down the castle-side face of the hill, they had to take time to be careful of their footing -- a tumble, now, would not only divest them of their weapons, but leave them a near-helpless sprawling meal for whatever the hell it was which was now not merely roaming in their direction, but moving with certainty toward it's intended next victims. The guttural growl was now raised to a screaming roar as it moved steadily to the crest of the hill. It lowered a great ugly set of nostrils to the ground, in search of a scent which had not been inhaled for many years gone past... the scent of two-legged creatures, such as had lived in the great place beyond this hill... such as had died trying to force their way into the great place, on many occasions. The fights had been fierce and the meals had been good during and after the fighting. The foul stinking beast remembered that flavor... it craved more and now also had a revived greedy thirst for human blood.
As the adventurers reached the bottom of the hill, they filled their hands with weapons. Haan wielded his crossbow along his left forearm and held his axe ready in his right hand immediately after tossing La'Wrance the Desert Eagle back to who could use it best. If the beast caught up with them before they could reach safety, he would wheel, loose a bolt, then wield the razor-edged Gaartak with not only ferocity, but sheer joy. All things, living and inanimate, were little match for the hungrily destructive energy of the Gaartak.
"Spread out! If it overtakes us, we will attack it from three directions at once!" They moved more steadily over thick grass, constantly crunching age-brittled bones beneath their loping footfalls. The hideous creature was moving quickly down the hillface toward them. La'Wrance spun and got off a round with the Eagle for effect. He startlingly noted that the magnum round passed completely through the beast, with no apparent effect. Haan simultaneously fired a bolt and noted it disappear into the monster, also seemingly unable to inflict harm. Now, the creature was seen to resemble a rather great spider, with long tentacles emanating from around its mouth. It also seemed to be hard-shelled.
"It's gaining! Get ready," Andrew called out.
The beast's own weight was preventing it from maneuvering as it lumbered down the hill, hissing and screaming. Haan dropped the crossbow, tossed the bastard sword to La'Wrance, held out Gaartak at arms' length and deftly stepped to his left as he whirled about. Gaartak severed two tentacles and a leg, evoking a pained scream and much hissing from their pursuer. La'Wrance fired several shots into some of the creatures eyes, eliciting more pained screams and hissing, then moved in close, hacking at legs with the bastard sword. Andrew was also laying on with a will, hacking quickly with his falchion while stabbing at flailing tentacles with his dirk. As the beast lunged toward one, that one would retreat and the other two strike furiously. The creature's lurching, to and fro, became its death dance, as the now berserk trio laid on with grinning, taunting and the deft hacks of yellow-bloodied steel. Haan stood motionless for an instant, as the beast made to strike, but when it lowered its body and moved forward, Haan cleaved two legs at the body with one sweep of Gaartak. A tentacle knocked Haan to the ground, but fortunately, the hideous creature now collapsed as Andrew and La'Wrance moved in for the kill. As the final hissings of it subsided, the trio, in unison, began wretching from the foul stench which had worsened from the bloodletting. Where greasy yellow spaters fell upon bare arms, there was a great stinging of flesh. The waterskins were soon emptied from washing the poisonous stinking yellow ooze from the three mens' exposed skin. Haan walked over to the carcass and cleaved another leg off.
"What the hell is that for? The damn thing's dead!"
"My crossbow was under that leg!" Haan slung it over his shoulder and joined the others as they resumed their trek toward the now-visible entrance to the great castle. But strangely, the nearer they got, the less visible the castle became. and fog and night were fast approaching. As the wearied and stung trio moved forward, the great castle faded into nothingness. Some food and rest were direly in order.
"This makes no sense," said Anthony. "The closer we get, the less we see!"
"Wasn't the entranceway right there?" La'Wrance asked.
“We need a sign... a lighted sign," Haan said, pulling Gaartak from its place in his belt. "Right over there, ya say?" The other two assented. Haan raised Gaartak, guesstimated the needed throw and let fly. As Gaartak sailed through the air, it began to emanate an eerie greenish glow. Unexpectedly, it 'thunked' to a stop in mid-air, six feet off the ground. "Come on!" said Haan.
As the three moved forward again, Gaartak's glow seemed to spread like a telltale bloodstain, revealing the rough-grained texture of one, huge, horizontal door. As the trio began to walk toward the door, the green-fire of the Gaartak now highlighted a granite portico of massive proportions.
"Hmm, what else could we expect... a castle... and a moat around it," remarked Anthony, as they neared the outer edge of a steep drop-off. A few loosened pebbles skittered over the edge. A near imperceptible clattering arose, some seconds later.
"Moat, my half-frozen rear end!" exclaimed La'Wrance. "That's a chasm... and not of meager proportions my friends!"
"Rope," said Anthony, as he held out an arm. La'Wrance removed a coil from across his chest and handed it to Anthony.
"If I can toss a loop onto one of those prongs, we can cross over to the door."
"Better do it quick... Gaartak's energy is weakening the wood as we speak."
"It's my idea... I'll go over first and see if I can tie off the rope to something more suitable."
After several attempts, the rope loop found its mark on one of Gaartak's prongs, which quickly curled up. As La'Wrance and Haan dug their heels in, Anthony lowered himself over the edge of the chasm and began to carefully work his way across the chasm. Strange and eerily bone-chilling sounds arose from the black depths... sounds which spoke of nasty creatures below, which would happily make a meal of anyone unlucky enough to fall. As Anthony gained the inner rim, he could feel the Gaartak creaking its way loose from the deep gash which it had inflicted upon the massive wooden barrier. Fortunately, Haan's throw had been a strong one, burying one of Gaartak's cleaving edges deep into the wood, which was very dense. As Anthony scrambled over the inner rim, he saw that Gaartak was slowly emerging from the door, due to the strain of the rope.
"Give me some slack, here."
As the other two let off on their end of the rope, Anthony took hold of it, about two feet from the curled prong. Even at this distance, with gloved hand, Anthony could feel the destructive energy emanating from the axe. He held the rope lightly, easing all strain from the prong and it slowly began to uncurl its grip on the rope loop. As he gingerly lifted the loop off the Gaartak, he noticed several massive iron rings attached to the door. Anthony now tied the loop into a ring and called for Haan.
"Haan... come across and have a look-see at this door."
Haan and La'Wrance had found a good-sized conically-shaped stone, embedded on the ground, not very far from the outer edge of the chasm. Haan looped it around the stone twice. "Can you control this?" he asked La'Wrance.
“That should do, okay."
La'Wrance walked to the edge with Haan, then took a strain on the slack-side, as Haan tied the slack-end securely to his belt. Haan then lowered himself over the edge and made his way carefully across the chasm, with the un-visible creatures below now getting even more noisily eager for a tasty morsel from far above their plane of existence. As Anthony gave Haan an arm up, the Gaartak fell from the door with a sparking clang.
"I still can't figure out why nobody but you can grab hold of that axe."
"I dunno. When I came upon it, I simply reached for it and it began to glow after I picked it up. I almost had to drop it, it got so hot. Then, the glow and the heat went away, but starts up, again, whenever it strikes something. Lemme give La'Wrance a hand.”
"La'Wrance! I got the slack tied off. Come on over!” No reply came back.
"La'Wrance! You there?"
"Yeah... thought I heard something over here."
"Well, get across, then! Let whatever it is fall into the chasm. There's lotsa hungry things waitin' for a meal down there!"
"Thanks! That helps bolster my confidence, all right!"
La'Wrance slid gingerly over the edge and made his way across the chasm, followed by growling sounds. As Anthony helped La'Wrance at the inner edge, Haan readied a bolt for whatever might be intending to follow La'Wrance across. Gaartak had been re-slung on Haan's belt, which allowed the darkness to re-envelop them, but the growler could still smell the trio. And it was now also using the rope to get at its intended prey. Whatever it was, it put a heavy strain on the rope. Anthony quickly undid the slack-end of the rope from the iron ring and let it whip back across the chasm. A small, surprised growl emanated from the throat of their pursuer, who was deftly able to grab onto the falling slack end as his weight brought him down many feet into the chasm. It had let go of the taught portion to grab the slack end and slammed into the outer chasm wall with a thud and a grunt. Now, an angry roar came bellowing out of the blackness, echoing off the chasm walls and the great castle's walls. The growler was angry and, with an iron grip, was making its way back up the rope.
"Cut the rope!" exclaimed Anthony.
"We might really need it, later," countered Haan.
"We have no room to fight, on this ledge! Cut it away!"
Haan lifted Gaartak gingerly and tapped at the rope, which immediately burned through and whipped away into the darkness. Again, a surprised growl emanated from the chasm, as the unseen creature began to gain downward momentum. Growls and desperately-scrabbling sounds, mixed with rock-falls, were heard; then a heavy bouncing thud, followed by a loud, fearful howling, as the creature plummetted into the abyss. Then, as the final crash to the bottom arose from the chasm, it was quickly followed by the ravenings of a myriad of feasting creatures.
"Better it, than us!" quipped La'Wrance.
"Ah-men," agreed Anthony.
"We lost a good rope," lamented Haan.
"So that means we've gotta find a way to get inside this place," said Anthony.
"I'm taking another swallow of wine, against the cold," said La'Wrance. They all sat down against the great door and passed the wineskin around.
"Do either of you feel anything?" asked Anthony.
"Yeah," Haan replied. "I think the ground is shaking." And indeed it was... as a thick acrid smoke poured from underneath the great door.
"Burning sulfur! Quick, get away from the door." Haan struck the stone ledge with the Gaartak. As a stone split, so did Gaartak glow brightly, providing light, so the three could safely make their way around one of the huge granite door lintels without slipping into the chasm.
"Keep that hellish thing away from my face," exclaimed La'Wrance.
"Well, we could easily just spend the night walking the ledge all around the castle," said Anthony. "Maybe we could find another door or something."
"I'm beginning to think we may be just as safe outside as in," remarked Haan. Let's eat and get some sleep. We can better look for doors by daylight. I'll take first watch."
"Yeah," said Anthony. "You might have the best plan, there."
Plan, hell. I'm just tired and hungry... and gettin' a bit cold, too. Let's knock off for the day."
"That's my vote, Anthony," added La'Wrance. "I, personally, do not relish the idea of exploring this place in the dark."
"Yeah, okay. That's probably the best we can do for the rest of the night. This ledge is wide enough for us to conk-out on. Let's eat, guys."
As the three shared food, and some raunchy jokes, they each rolled over in their mind the great puzzle in which they were ensnared. Would they even survive long enough to find the right way to get back home? And what could be behind the massive castle door? The sulfurous fumes indicated some sort of alchemy... or worse, evil rites being performed. But, all three were too weary to worry further about it for tonight. Anthony and La'Wrance finally settled down as Haan checked his crossbow, while Gaartak lay handily by his side. He was weary, but not too tired for the first watch. He could then enjoy an uninterrupted (he hoped!) night's sleep. The feasting sounds from the chasm had long since subsided... the little beasties had apparently made short work of the big beastie which had so generously provided them a meal by falling into the chasm. A peaceful night was ensuing... His eyes peeked over the edge of the jacket covering his shoulders and face. It was still dark. His hand reached out and crawled across the dirt, the edge was within reach. He pushed his nose up and over the fabric. What foul stench was that? Haan whispered, “La’Wrance?”
“That was bad. Knock off the farts. Gees, you’ve been breaking wind all night. Cut it out; it’s hard to sleep.”
“Wasn’t me.” He pushed himself up on his elbows and sniffed the cold night air. “Yuk, you’re right. Must’ve been Antho…… “
“Shhh…” Anthony pursed his lips. He sat up and peered over the ledge into the abyss of the chasm. “We’ve got company.”
The three sat motionless, listening to the clawing, scraping sound from somewhere below on the face of the wall. A low, guttural growl echoed through the black canyon below. The foul stench rose up and over the ledge, the same disgusting odor they now knew too well. Anthony gingerly rose to his feet. The boundary of the narrow ledge was difficult to discern.
“Boy, that’s bad.” remarked La’Wrance. “Worse than ten thousand camels in heat. I remember a smell somewhat similar to that – I was in Egypt, lecturing in Cairo regarding the economic impacts of the dung from herds of Nile crocodiles. You see, what happens is they…. “
“We don’t have time for this.” Anthony interrupted. “Come on. Hug the rock walls and follow me. You know, you put your right foot in, you take your right foot out, you put your left foot in, and then you shake it all about…”
“Knock off the crap, Anthony.” It was Haan. He could be quite the piss ant when he wanted to be.
The trio made their way around the edge in total darkness, the castle’s fortress walls to their left, the inky blackness of the sky above, and the abyss to their right. And somewhere, crawling up the rock walls was… whatever the hell it was, a growling, reeking beast of unknown proportions. And from the sounds of it, he or she was no happy camper.
About twenty minutes had passed. They could no longer hear the clawing sounds from over the ledge. The men sniffed the air -- nor could they smell it. They noticed the texture of the fortress walls had changed, smoother, almost like polished gemstone. The sky was lightening to murky gray.
“Let’s stop here and take a break.” Haan offered. “We’ll be in full daylight soon.”
They sat leaning their backs against the walls, and watched a mist from the fields spill over the opposite side chasm, drifting down into the darkness like some surreal slow-motion waterfall.
Anthony spoke softly, “I’ve seen this before.”
“So have I,” muttered La’Wrance.
“And I,” said Haan.
“How can that be?” Anthony squirmed in place, turning to face his colleagues. “Where, when, how…?”
“Dreams.” Once again, La’wrance assessed the situation in an eye blink. “Somehow, we’ve all shared the same dream.” He scrunched his eyes, “Or was it a dream? I’ve been having the same ‘déjà vu’ feeling since we stepped out of the swamp, but I don’t understand it or what that feeling represents. I think…” Simultaneously, they raised their faces skyward. The long wailing reverberation of a horn, some strange melody of notes filled the air. A horn, yes. Then silence. Seconds later, again the same melodic sound repeated itself, like the lonely wail of a Viking’s horn. It was coming from the over the fortress walls. The trio stood in place.
"Come, let us hasten." Haan blurted.
"Hey, that's my line." Anthony replied as the three continued along the now widening ledge at a brisker pace. Smiles of anticipation washed across their faces.
Little did the trio know that Beyond the Slawn was within their reach. Beyond was the domain of Suu’an, Spirit of Essence, Totality of Quintessence, Guardian of the Cosmic Now. Her power was enormous and held the weight of Time. She ruled All. But she also had her limitations. She could rarely leave the confines of Beyond, and employed, with generous benefits, many ‘creatures’ of essence who traveled the lengths of space to tweak the fabric of Time’s continuum. Usually the magest of sages, she also had a devilish side, and enjoyed a good joke, especially of her own design. In extreme situations, she could ride with her familiars beyond Beyond. She decided this was just such a time.
“Erin, love.” she crooned.
The fox tilted her head, and laughed with her brown eyes as she scanned Suu’an’s thoughtful face. She felt her mind start to thrum and swivel, felt the build-up of energy that precluded a ‘flit’. Flitting was her specialty! She could find any destination in spatiality with pinpoint accuracy, unless she was imbibing in that most succulent of nectar, Prickled Pleffer Juice. She adored it! She started wondering where Suu’an had hidden the last shipment from Hardig’s Holistic Haven. Sighing longingly, she flicked an ear to show she was paying attention.
“There is only one weapon that will overcome the evil trying to conquer Slawn Green. We must journey to A’Dicton’re to procure the Blazing Frond of Imagination.”
Erin knew Suu’an was going to say that, and flicked her tail with eagerness, already compiling the coordinates in her head, needing only to start the frenzy of the Fox Trot.
“Come,” she panted, “we must go now, the time-twisting comes.” Suu’an placed herself into the fox’s mind, above her left eye, and felt the swirl of color reach into her being, and wrench… Meanwhile, back at the castle, the boys were arguing, again, about the loss of the rope. Little did they know they were to confront something much worse than the Skank Creature that was trailing them. To pass into the castle walls, they would first have to defeat a formidable gatekeeper. Juwella of De’bait. It would be a war of words!
The seamless emerald green wall of the castle suddenly rippled along its face as though fluid in a water fall. A window appeared, and through it, a helmeted head appeared, yellow eyes burning through the face guard. “You rang?” The creature bellowed.
“Is this the castle of the Slawn Green?” Haan asked.
“You are speaking to Juwella of De'Bait!" The sentry barked. "Show respect and fear! Who are you to mention the Slawn Green?” The ogre sentry growled. “Who are you to use that name. Be cautious with your words, foolish one. The Slawn Green of Bellowed Wood may wreak a horror upon you so terrifying that your meager, mortal mind cannot imagine its dimensions.”
“All I want to kn…”
“What you want… is of little import. To enter this fortress castle, you must have a sponsor known to Taar. Taar is Master of the Elite Guards, Vassal to Goore, and General Commander to the Slawn Green.”
Anthony nudged Haan and faced the sentry. “A sponsor. Like who, for instance?”
“The lovely, sensuous, gorgeous Princess Nire, daughter of Weena, Queen of the extinct kingdom of the Eloi, would be best. Taar goes nuts whenever she visits. But to seek an audience with Princess Nire, also known as Erin the Fox, hubbah, hubbah, you will need the assistance of Retep.”
“Weena? Eloi? Where do I know those names?” Haan rubbed his forehead. “Ahhh, yes, the Morlocks!”
Juwella's voice abruptly interrupted, blaring through his helmet and echoing through the chasms. “Mortals, your death will come sooner than you expect if you use the name of the Morlocks in the same conversation with that of the Slawn Green. I will slice the three of you in halves and then quarters for your insolence!”
“Okay, okay. Sorry. So, what about this Retep fellow?”
“Retep. Hahrumpf…” Juwella grimaced. “Yes, a former wandering minstrel of dubious talent, a scoundrel, a misfit and worse yet, a ravager of tavern women. For some reason, Retep has a way with the wenches. Hordes of foolish wenches fall at his feet. Well, you see, Retep is chieftain of the Nosneb Clan. He can help you. For a fee, that is.”
“And where may I find him?”
“You ask too many questions, mortal. You may soon lose your head. To find Retep, you must go to the Bellowed Wood. Follow the singular dirt path to enter. Any other entry will lead to certain and horrifying death. But be cautious and maintain your guard at all times in the Bellowed Wood.”
“Why?” It was La’Wrance who joined in.
Juwella blinked his eyes at the sheer insolence of La'Wrance and moaned. “I think that somewhere, someplace, there must be three villages missing idiots. Enough!” He bellowed. “Go now! Keep moving to your right to avoid the beast.”
“You know of this beast! What is it?!” La’Wrance blurted out, but the window disappeared as quickly as it had materialized in once again seamless wall of green. Juwella was nowhere to be seen. The three turned to their right and eyed the ledge, now a cobbled walkway of significant width.
“Well, I guess we’re off to see the wizard.” Anthony remarked.
“To the Bellowed Wood and Retep.” Haan replied.
“I wonder what kind of economic basis this region has,” La’Wrance mumbled. “Probably agrarian, the government obviously some sort of monarchy or dictatorship, could be a republican government in the offing though, if there is a growing discord in the populace. With enough opportunity for empirical observation, I might be able to posit a theory regarding possibilities for….” His voice trailed off as Anthony and Haan shook their heads and moved on ahead of him.
As they marched on, Anthony turned his head to Haan, “Eloi and Morlocks, what the hell are we getting into?”
"Let us hasten!" Anthony shouted before Haan had the chance. The gray cobblestone road bent to the right where a rope bridge now lay before them. The chasm below appeared bottomless.
“Ahead, my fellows, we’re off.” Anthony declared.
“Pas moi.” La’Wrance rebuffed. “I’ve told you, I don’t like heights. No way.”
“You have nothing to worry about, my friend. You are talking to a master at these kinds of things. You will be in no danger whatsoever. Trust me. Now, we need to get moving.”
“Okay, wow! You’re a master climber? Fine, I’m with you. I had no idea.” La’Wrance softened. Anthony smiled. “Well, not exactly, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”
“Knock it off, you two bozos! Get moving!” Haan was getting a tad irritated, as Haan was prone to do. “Just don’t look down, La’Wrance.”
The trio carefully worked their way across the swaying rope bridge. They put their right foot out, they took their right foot back, they put their left foot out, and then they … well, you know. They reached the other side of the precipitous cliffs with no problems. Stepping off, La’Wrance glanced briefly over his shoulder, and breathed a sigh of relief. Sounds trite, but that’s what he did. Anthony grabbed both their shoulders. “Turn around and take a last look, guys. We won’t be seeing this for a while. She’s magnificent.”
The trio turned in place. The emerald green walls of the fortress castle of the Slawn Green rose up before them. Towering turrets were filled with armored archers staring back at them in curiosity. A large burly, helmeted figure appeared at the top of the massive walls: Juwella of De’Bait. Juwella rose his right arm and pointed in their direction, his eyes bearing down on them as he bellowed, “To the Bellowed Wood you go! Do not dare to return but only with Retep and the Princess Nire, also known in this land as Erin the Fox. And be advised, oh ye foolish ones, that the all powerful Siren, Suu’an, may have something to say about that! And sharpen your wits, because before you are allowed to enter the mighty and sacred Castle of the Slawn Green, you and I, we, will have a battle of wits – a test of words! So, be advised! On your wayyy…..!” Juwella’s shrieking voice reverberated over the canyon walls.
Haan raised his hand to present Juwella with a ‘fingered gesture’, however Anthony grabbed his arm and lowered it. Without uttering a reply, the trio spun about and trod off over the first hill and in the direction of the dark and tangled forests of Bellowed Wood.
They trod on for hours through the rolling and flowered meadows. Hill after hill. As they crested yet another tall sloping hill, they saw the dark wall of Bellowed wood stretching from horizon to horizon. A silvery mist seemed to be pouring out between the trees and floating over the grass. La’Wrance raised his face to the sky. The sun was sinking rapidly in the sky, barely peeking over the horizon behind the Castle of the Slawn Green.. He halted in place and spoke, “What say we give it a break and camp here? This is good a spot as any. We’ll make Bellowed Wood tomorrow.”
Anthony dropped his waist pack. “Good idea. Let’s stop here. Haan, I think we should sharpen the blades and clean our weaponry. I have a feeling that bad things lay ahead.”
“Right.” Haan abruptly flopped on the ground, snapping off his own waist pack. They sat back on their packs. Silent. Watching the sky change to gray and then oozing to black. Stars appeared by the thousands and the air cooled. They could see the low mists rolling toward them from Bellowed Wood.
"Well Hann, the only 'hastening' we'll do tonight will be in our dreams."
“Night." The blackness of the eternal night enveloped them.
Erin started the intricate steps of the fox trot in her mind, and danced onto the Path of Worlds. The path was a cylinder of color, pulsating and shimmering, with star-stops marking the entrance to each world. Only the fox knew which star-stop reached each world. Suu’an always became slightly nauseated with the swirling convolutions of dance-journeying, preferring the stability of Beyond. Fox knew this, and laughed softly to herself. Though Suu’an was riding in her mind, she was not able to see into her mind. She could, however, feel Suu’an’s emotions, though not her exact thoughts. As they neared the entrance to A’Dicton’re, the fox readied herself for the last three steps, which would take them through the entrance. “Now,” she thought, and deftly spun into the steps. With a flash, the star-stop opened, and they were gliding down in a spiral to A’Dicton’re, the library world.
Interspersed among the verdant vegetation were cavernous, domed buildings of pearly construction. Each building housed the accumulated information of the worded cosmos. There were History, Science and Mathematics buildings. Construction, Destruction and Evolution buildings. There were Happiness, Sorrow and Ambivalence buildings. But the building they wanted was the largest of them all, the Imagination building. Pearled, jeweled, fluted and spired, the fox knew exactly which door would take them to their target, the Blazing Frond of Imagination.
In the beginning had been the Art-Planet, holding all the frond-trees of Art on it’s surface. As the eons past, the trees had been stripped of their frond resources, until only one frond remained on each tree. The custodians of Art-Planet had gathered these last fronds, and called the fox, who gathered the bundle on her back and taken them to A’Dicton’re to be preserved for posterity. And in case of cosmic emergencies, such as this.
Erin and Suu’an entered into Imagination, where they had to convince I’risht, keeper of the Frond, that the circumstances were dire enough to allow them to take the last Blazing Frond forth, to conquer the evil about to engulf Slawn Green of Bellowed Wood. Would they be able to?
Deep within the Bellowed Woods Retep pondered his predicament. It had been a fine affair at the Dorks Welcome Inn last night. He had been in fine voice, the crowd has responded well by drinking heavily, which pleased Matthu, the owner who had even tipped him on top of his fee. Unfortunately he had broken two strings on his kantarra and had no spares. He needed to stock up but nobody in town had brought in a valamp yet and their gut made the only strings worth having. It was time for a hunt, but he would need people for that and quickly. The good guides cost money, cost more than he had. The girl beside him stirred and he shuck his head in irritation. Then wished he hadn't, maybe he'd drunk more wiste than he'd thought. He looked at her, what was her name again? Ly'ndaa, that was it. A sweet young thing, a little too Noble class to be in the Dorks Welcome, but many of them slummed there, looking to find some excitement. Given her enthusiasm last night he assumed she'd found it. As he looked, his turned thoughtful. What has she said about her family? Sliding his arm from underneath her admittedly curvaceous form, he padded over to where her clothes lay in a heap, picking up each item and inspecting it closely. No woman of class would leave home without it, where was it? Are, there, tucked into a hidden pocket of her bodice, a House badge. Quickly he replaced it and strode back to the bed.
"Ly'ndaa, time to wake up!" he shook her gently, then more forcefully when she only graoned and huddled deeper into the covers. "Wake up I say. You don't want to be caught here by your family." Blearily she looked at him. "Wha?" She sat up, then grabbed a blanket to cover her chest. "A little late for that" he thought.
"It's a candle past first bells," he told her "We need to get you home before you're missed." She yelped and dove into the pile of clothes giving him a flash of a perfectly exquiset rump.
"Um," he began, as she struggled with laces and stockings and peticoats, "Isn't your cousin Geri, the winner of last years grand hunt?"
"What of it/" her voice was muffled by her blouse, but then she loked up wide eyed as she paused, "How, how did you know that?"
"I know many things." he smirked. "Don't worry, I'll not tell if you don't. But I need a favour. I need to get to talk to Geri about a new hunt. I need it very quickly. Can she get me in to see him?"
"Geri only hunts with other NObles." she snapped "Why would he talk to you?"
"Because I'm goin after valamp, and nobody has caught one in two years. It would make his reputation if he did."
She thought. "Maybe I can. How do I get a message to you?"
"I'll sit in the Dorks Welcome three candles after fifth bells" any messenger will find me."
"I'll try. Now lace me up at show me the back way out of here." He did the laces with a little less desperation then they had untied them the night before, and watched as she flounced down the stairs.
Millions of stars sprinkled themselves across an uneasy sky. Well after midnight, and the cool mists had returned to the hills and meadows. On the tallest turret of the Castle Fortress of the Slawn Green stood the gatekeeper, Juwella. His eyes scanned the dark horizon. He turned at the footfalls approaching from behind. It was Taar.
“Juwella, why aren’t you asleep? What is it that keeps my Gatekeeper awake this night?” He laid his hand on the shoulder of his friend and steadfast warrior.
“I sense great change. Great danger. I can’t remove it from my mind.”
“In a universe of parallel worlds my friend, there are occasional visitors as these. Like the others, they will leave… or perish. Their destiny is not in your hands, my friend.”
“Taar, my master, I feel a difference in them. They have power. The beast has returned. It’s been many years. Why now?”
“Yes, I know. I sensed his presence. Well, Juwella, you may be right. Gordred wishes to destroy them.”
Juwella’s brow wrinkled. “He has devoured every traveler through the mirror warp. Perhaps that was all precautionary and not just savage hunger, not just the unbound rage coiled within him. We should consider that. Gordred is the last of the fallen Negeel. They crawled their way up from the darkness of the Netherworld and conquered the Morlocks, assimilated them, and then went on to decimate the Eloi.”
Taar stood next to Juwella, looking over the parapet. “I know. My brother, rest assured I know Gordred well. Since you were feeding at your mother’s breast, I’ve tracked his moves and his crimes against men. His people, The Negeel, were unable to find the Slawn Green or even sustain themselves. They became a senseless, wandering horde, terrorizing the outskirts of the Bellowed Wood. Their numbers dwindled over the centuries to this singular horrid creature. Only Gordred remains. While he is alone, his power is great. He is the essence of evil. Evil incarnate. His revolting stench permeates this world. And, he may sense the deciding time is near. He knows the danger presented by the time travelers. Men like these once turned the Eloi against the Moorlocks. It can happen again.”
“Ultimately, there are only two paths, Juwella. Gordred eventually dies, or…”
“Juwella, my greatest fear has always been this, as remote as it may now seem, that if this evil, reeking creature were ever able to somehow compromise the Princess Nire, Erin the Fox transformed, or the Siren, Suu’an… if this terrible remnant of the Netherworld would ever find a way to take Princess Nire or her liege, Suu’an, as his own… then the power that would emanate from his bloodline would finish the portrait of darkness the Negeel sought from the beginning. Blood would run in rivers. The Slawn Green of Bellowed Wood might… I dare not think of it.”
“Taar, my master, then Gordred must be prevented from doing so.” Juwella looked worried. The pale light of the starred night scattered across his face.
“The solution may lie with the destiny of these three travelers. You sense the difference in them. So did I, but as you know, optimism is not one of my virtues. Their path is a long one. The dangers are immense. They have yet to enter the Bellowed Wood. So many others have failed, and their bones now mix with those of the Negeel legions we destroyed, even though the armies kept coming, endless as they seemed.” Taar backed away from the wall.
“Is there something we might do, Taar?”
“For tonight, my friend, sleep. Sleep and pray to the gods for this trio of seekers. For truly, they know not what they seek. Nor do they know that Gordred will never fall from the chase. His hunger for human flesh knows no bounds.”
They turned, side by side, the two weary men walked down the stone steps into the bowels of the fortress castle Slawn Green.
Retep hastily broke his fast and headed out into the town. He had only five days before the Summerfest gala to gather a group, hunt and return with a valamp and it would take a full day for the guts to dry enough to be useable. He cursed himself, darnack gut worked almost as wellbo nooo, he just had to jump in with both feet for the most ludicrous idea he had, just because it seemed romantic and he had a pretty girl in front of him. Of course, it would be an adventure and he had been somewhat bored of late. Besides, what a romantic tale it would make, the handsome balladeer venturing out on a dangerous hunt just to impress a pretty lady. He's have to keep her name secret of course, he wasn't fool enough to risk her family's wrath, but that would only add to the story. Still, if he was going to find a valamp fast he needed an edge and he knew just where to get one.
Mere Klaiwo'an lived in one of the seedier parts of town. How long she had been around was unknown, some people said she had been there forever and the town had just grown up around her. Others said that she was even a remnant of the times before man, left behind when the Eloi where driven out by the Moorlocks and before Gordred came. Why she was left was a mystery, but much about Mere Klaiwo'an was a mystery. She kept to herself an avoided cooman man as much as she could. Still she knew the herbs of the forest and some of the ancient magicks. The poorer folks who could not afford city physics came to her door with there hurts and petty favors, a love token here, a fortune charm there. The paltry offerings they left were enough for her to survive it seemed. Although she treated almost everybody with equal parts distain and even dislike, pining more for her departed Eloi, (for Retep was inclined to that thought) she had a small modicum of trust in him. Once, when she had a new incantation that wasn't working she had asked his help in the metering and melody. She had shuddered when asking, for she abhored owing a newcomer, as she called men, be he had worked one up for her. With her knowledge of the forest and its ways, she would surely know better than any how to find a valamp.
After losing his way a couple of times in the twists and turns of Lower Town, he found himself gazing at the entrance to a most unsavory alley that led to her hovel. At least he hoped it did. That last farmer had been very drunk, even so early, and rather unclear on directions. He grimaced and almost gagged at the smells coming from the abbattoir that lined one side of the alley wall. They were butchering darnack from the smell and although the meat was edible enough when heavily seasoned, and the pelts were prized, the animals stunck, another reason he tried not to use their gut, the smell seemed to still hang, even after drying. Pulling his cloak over his nose he pressed forward. It was easy enough to find the only hovel with light showing through the cracks in the wall, apparently Klaiwo'an had a stronger stomach than most to live here. Or maybe it guaranteed her privacy. He knocked.
"Get ye gone!" a voice have screamed half croaked, "I'm way to busy to bother wi' the like of ye. Tests to do! Incantations to write! Too busy I say." Such was the venom that he almost did turn about, but steeled himself. "Mere?" he called in what he hoped was an ingratiating tone, "Mere Klaiwo'an, 'tis I, Retep. Retep the musician, surely you remember." He waited for what seemed a moons turn before the door opened a crack. One bright eye looked him up and down with less than approval.
"Retep." she said, with what seemed a little less coldness, if the Slawn River in Spring Frost could be said to be warmer. "So, what brings you here? A love potion?" she cackled at her own joke.
"I, er, um, I need a favour." He stuttered.
"Don't they all boy. Did you come to steal my secrets? Men do that you know. Been stealing my folk's secrets for ages." Her haid suddenly swung past him and looked up the alley. "Alone are we?" she barked. "Yyyesss." he managed
"So who's the one you're trying to beguile this time? Some High Town strumpet?"
"Well No." he dropped his voice, "I need to find a valamp." At the high thin keening sound he stepped back in alarm before he realized she was laughing. "A valamp eh," she chortled, "And you think I have one here in my little home?"
"No, Mere, nothing it wouldn't fit, but I thought..." She stopped him with a surprisingly strong grip on his arm and thrust her face into his. He wished her main diet wasn't garlic.
"Don't be so sure, boy, bigger things than valamps been in my home. Why do you want one."
Standing there in the alley, with the smell of garlic before and the stench of darnack all around, he explained his problem. "Stay here," she snapped and banged the door shut. Two candles passed before it opened again.
"Here." she thrust a small leather bag at him. "If that muckety-muck Geri agrees to go he'll have hounds. There's two sachets there. Smear the blue one around their noses, It will give them ten times their smell ability. The other has valamp dung, use it sparingly to give them a scent." He thanked her profusely and turned to go when she gripped him again. "What abut payment?"
"I have some coin.." he started, but she stopped him.
"I had a vision last night. Three men are coming. I feel you will meet them on this hunt. One carries an axe. I must see that axe! It is of the Eloi, I MUST see it. Bring them here." The door banged and she was gone.
Haan leigh jerked upright and around at the footfall behind him. Damn, but he was tired. C'Eronyi should not have been able to get that close. He comforted himself slightly by the fact the movement had been inside the camp, not outside. Slightly, but not much. C'Eronyi settled beside him, awkwardly clutching the falchion, it didn't lend itself to sitting. They sat looking into the darkness.
"You need rest." C'Eronyi murmured. "I can stand watch now. I can't sleep anyway."
Haan Leigh grunted, the gestured helplessly at the black expanse around them. The sound of night birds whirred overhead and a shortened squeal told that one had found dinner. Haan Leigh shifted his weight and moved the axe across his knees. His voice was almost plaintive.
"Where are we, C'Eronyi? Who are we? Why are we here? I know you but I don't. And L'Wrance? What are his weapons and how do I know how to use them? What is at this Slawn Green that is so important?"
C"Eronyi turned, his dark hair glistening blue in the light from the two moons. "Many questions my friend. I have no answers. I have a compulsion that I must enter Slawn Green. Where it came I know not." He sighed. "I was a scribe once, you know. One night, not even night, that last red turn before the sun sinks, I was gazing over the city when a breath of air brushed my ear. It thoght it air, but my eye was drawn to a small fox trotting across the street. Foxes are unusual but not unknown in my city but this one stopped and looked at me. Not as threat, this one LOOKED at me and the air spoke. “Slawn Green it said. Find Slawn Green.” I thought myself a little under drink but asked 'Where is Slawn Green? The air moved and a woman stood before me. Short, with dark hair and brilliant eyes and it the fox came to stand beside her. She stroked it and it seemed tha the fox was somehow larger and stood at the womans head as equal. What is in Slawn Green? I asked. "You must disover that for yourself," she said, You will have companions. We will show you the road. Then it seemed to me the fox smiled and became both larger and smaller and I woke in the place where you found me."
Haan Leigh grimaced at this non explanation. He was used to more staitforward stories, but he was tired. He wrapped himself in his cloak and settled back, but first struck the axe into the ground.
"Watch the blade, it seems to glow when danger happens here." Soon C'Eronyi was left with nothin but his companions snores, the night sounds and his own thoughts, one which kept repeating through and through.
"Let us hasten"
Half asleep, dark shadows of brooding memories crawled across Gordred’s eyes. He squirmed, whimpering as the anxiety of the nightmare squeezed his mind, the pain forcing his hulking frame to curl about the base of a huge boulder. Gordred groaned in grief as the image returned. He tried to fight it off, tried to force sleep, but to no avail. His face twisted, his eyes scrunched in sleep.
“Gordred, my son!” Barsood, his father, screamed through the thick smoke of the battlefield. In agonizing pain, the General Commander of the Negeel armies turned in place, staring in wonderment at the bloody carnage surrounding him. Total devastation. The great catapults of the fortress castle of the Slawn Green had literally torn his armies to pieces. The few forces that remained were slaughtered by wave after waver of arrows propelled by the long bows of the Slawn Green archers. He coughed blood. The feathered tips of two arrows protruded from his chest. Barsood slipped to his knees as the heavy weight of his armor and the weakness in his limbs sapped his strength. His hand reached out, then fell to the ground to support him. He looked again to the sky and saw the bizarre Cheshire Cat grin of the moon peeking at him in the dim light from over the clouds. The arms of tree branches reached out from the ancient oaks of Bellowed Wood sneering with delight.
“Gordred, my son! It is finished!” Barsood shrieked in despair. “Remember your father who loved you with all his heart! Remember the Negeel whose blood courses through your veins!” He fell to the earth, the blood red tips of the arrows erupting through his back. He grunted with the dull pain. His arms and legs were numb.
Gordred cried out in his sleep, “Father! Don’t die! Please, don’t leave me now!” He wept.
“Remember me, my son! Remember me who loves you! Remember the great power of the Negeel that will someday muscle your arms and steel your heart! The charge is passed to you, my son!” Barsood rolled to his side and gasped. His face contorted in rage as blood filled his lungs. It was impossible to breath.
“Do this… revenge my death, my son. Revenge the honor of the Negeel! Seize the temptress queen of Beyond and merge her blood with ours! Only then will you crush the Slawn Green, consume the very flesh of their women and children, and wipe their seed from the world for all time. Send them… into the abyss...” he wheezed. “My… son…” Barsood’s head dropped to the grass with his last words. He lay motionless encircled by the heavy, horrible stink of death.
Gordred moaned. His bulging, tearing eyes pushed back the fleshy fabric of his eyelids. He thrust himself off the ground and squatted on his haunches. Gordred’s muscled frame, half covered with fur and half with reptilian scales, swelled in the blackness of the hills. The long razored claws of his hands and feet gripped into the sod. His face rose, appearing blue in the starlight. He stood. Close to fifteen feet tall at the shoulders, the long shadow from his immense hulk stretched across the meadow before him. His jaw opened wide, fanged teeth glowed in the night, and he braced. His scream filled the night. “Father! Your revenge is certain! I will tear their flesh wide! I will drink their blood. And, I will grind their bones to make the flour for my bread!” Again, his shrieking howl rose above the hills. He turned toward Bellowed Wood, and growled from the depths of his chest.
Seven miles to the northeast, C'Eronyi’s eyes opened wide, startled at the distant scream racing across the hills. He stood, the hair on his arms and legs raised up by a sudden, swelling wave of gooseflesh. “My God.” He whispered.
Haan and La’Wrance stirred from their sleep. "What..."
"We must hasten, my fellows. And now!"
The scream shook La'Wrance severely. This was not his style of fighting at all. He had started as a Soldier for the Corscicans, but had to flee when a Pepe had ordered him hit. He found work with the Sicilians, but found himself the sole survivor of a corrida, after a vicious fight and final attack upon the Don's estate. He had fled to America, only to find a sentence for him there from Sicily. So he started to work for Interests in South America, until the Death Squads received an order on him. He moved to Africa, where a tribal leader eventually ordered him killed, but he escaped. He had first met Haan Leigh and C'Eronyi in America, and found it strange to meet them together alongside a marsh in Egypt, after escaping a couple of Legionarie NCOs--the Legion taking a dim view of deserters. He had been forced to escape the tribal leader, though, and the Legion seemed like a nice place at the time.
All this fighting in the bush was starting to get to him. Take that damned scream! L'Wrance was a straightforward assassin, used to gunning people down in the streets. Ever since he had left France, it had been running through one damned field after another, with Someone or Something attacking himself instead of the other way around. It was enough to give a man piles!
Haan Leigh was a pain too, swinging that axe around all the time. L'Wrance was not adverse to knifework, had even swung a sword a time or two, but a bloody axe? Then there was that freaking bug! Who ever heard of a bug that big? Reminded him of being on roving guard at the Don's estate, when forty soldiers had started dropping off the wall in the back. They had moved towards the house, and he had gone over the back wall. The bug was a different matter, with no wall to climb over. Now there was that bloody scream.
L'Wrance knew these other two were into this Hero shit. All he wanted was a good place with good pay, maybe an occasional killing to do. He was not about to let these two companions start him looking at a grave from the wrong side. This Bellowed Wood stuff, who needed it! The castle, up close, did not even look to have many jewels or such laying around; it probably did not even have a good Safe. L'Wrance knew he would have to take over this operation eventually, if for nothing else, simply to stay alive and make a little money. Another Day, Another Coin by God.
As Suu'an left her mind and materialized, the fox rubbed the spot above her eye with her foreleg, it was always twinging with the comings and goings of immortals. Sheez, sometimes, she thought they didn't realize she had had a life, at one time... Once, she had been a princess. Of little regard, but a princess, none the less. She had grown up within a diverted family. Her father, her father had taken on a quest, which took him from her, her mother, and her five siblings. The pain became muted, and the manly example was gone, didn’t exist in her mind. She hadn’t known him well. However, she had known worlds. First in books, than in dreams, and, finally, in reality. She found an ability to transport herself within her mind. A mouse, at first. A bug, a slug. It didn’t matter. She wanted it all! Her family thought her strange, a bit of a mutant, an anomaly not worth pursuing. She didn’t mind. They would have ruined it for her, if they had known the extent of her travelings.
She smiled, as she trotted alongside Suu’an. She had been one of the first ‘other beings’ she had met. Suu’ans smile and understanding had helped her see her true self, wayfarer of the Path to Worlds. Princess Nire owed her very sanity to Suu’an, felt such love and affection, she would defend Suu’an to her very death! Somehow, Suu’an had sensed the fox’s thoughts, smiled down at her affectionately, and with respect. Fox grinned toothily back at her.
“We will acquire the Frond, my lady,” she murmured, “Irish’t is our friend, she will see reason.” Laughing gayly, Suu’an fondled foxes ears, and replied, “Yes, my friend, I know, but, will she come with us?” Fox could only hope it would be.
Reader Reviews for
"Slawn Green of Bellowed Wood--Unedited much"
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|Reviewed by Hanley Harding
|This collaboration has obviously been undertaken by some pretty strange people! Where the hell did they come up with all these weird ideas and characters?! These poor puppies obviously need some heavy duty psychiatric help! That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!
|Reviewed by Erin Kelly-Moen
|Cool!! It will be much easier to reference material, Lawrance. Great job! :)|