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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
James Crow

Death of the Mighty Pen

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The Mighty Pen; a place of thousands of thoughts and thousands of possibilities, a place that is different to each person that walks its halls. On this particular day a pennite rises from room in the Tavern of the Quill and gets ready to head down the stairs. Downstairs a group of pennites is singing songs of the glory days, while some others play the instruments, and a particularly beautiful women dances on the table, her stunning dress swaying this way and that, and the laughter, the laughter that sounds like thunder echoes through the room.

 

Down the stairs comes the pennite that woke. He strolls to one of the tables, not paying head to the others. And as he sits the others fade into the phantoms of dust that there were. Dust, being blown around from the storm winds outside coming through the broken door and shattered windows. He sighs and the inch thick dust rises to greet him. Behind the pennite a man in a hooded cloak, as dark as the shadows he stands in, watches, then in a blink, he vanishes.

 

The pennite stands and leaves, noting the rooms he walks past, each rundown and in disarray. Yet he stops at one, just for a minute, shakes his head and leaves. The sign above the condemned door reads: Recruiter’s Office. As he steps out onto the cobblestone walkways he notes the Manor of Tongues, old and abandoned, the spitting image of the classic horror house, even with the wind blowing through it just right to make an eerie wail. Hugging his duster closer to him to fight the chill of the wind and the sight he laughs. “The Manor of Tongues has one of its own,” he muses. Behind him the cloaked figure watches, still.

 

The pennite finds his path has lead him to the walls of the Mighty Pen. Smiling, as he sees the FAQ Bulletin Board, so many memories of staring out and looking here. Another gust of wind blows and for the first time he notices movement at the corner of his eye. Spinning around to see the culprit was merely an old newspaper talking abut “new skins”. He follows it with a smile, when it hits a portrait as his smile fades. The faces of the elders of the pen, stare down on him, judging him. He gulps as a shiver runs down his spine. He looks at the other faces on display at the piazza, only to feel the same look. Scared he turns to flee, his heart skips a beat when he see his face looking back at him. “J-Ju-Just a m-mirror,” he stutters, gaining little of no composer back. He then continues his journey. As he turns and leaves, his reflection watches, and then vanishes.

 

Next he finds himself going through the passageway. On one side of him stands the Writer’s Workshop, windows and doors broken down like many of the other places he has seen. Half finished works, waiting for someone to give that one piece of advice to complete them, dance on the winds, rewriting themselves by combining with their brothers. “Should have gone there,” muses the pennite. As he turns to the building on his other side he finishes with a smile, “and possibly there too.” His cheeks turn a little red, not due to the chill of the storm. There standing before him is the Scarlet Pen, boarded up and broken like all the others. The only thing suggesting what it was it a lantern hanging from the sign, it’s flame long burned out and it’s red stain glass cracked and broken. He shakes his head, chuckling to himself, then resumes his trek. All the while, the cloaked figure watches him from the beginning of the passageway.

 

Now he comes to the final stop on the journey, the mighty Athenaeum. Merely just overgrown and forgotten, it was a place of his peers. He walks inside foliage from the great courtyard covers the marble floor of the Minstrels’ Hall. He stops, fear gripping him now more that ever, does he enter the courtyard. He takes a deep breath, and steps into it. He is shocked, the flowers that once must have grown here, are just thorn bushes, and the great oak tree that many an elder has sat and contemplated is….is……DEAD! Gnarly limbs reach into the sky, as if a giant bony hand was reaching out of the grave. He takes a step back in mere horror, only to hear a voice behind him, “They are never coming back, James.” James spins around to see the cloaked figure that has been stalking him, standing in the entranceway. “And I am going to destroy the Mighty Pen,” the figure finished.

 

James realizing what is at stake regains his composer. “Why?”

 

Simple, too much money is being use to keep open a graveyard.” James was stunned, and when he went to argue he found that it was true. “Now, if you would go back to sleep I shall return to my work.

 

“Wait,” James said thinking quickly, “If you must destroy the Mighty Pen, can I say goodnight to one person?” The figure’s face was in cloaked by shadows, but James could feel the question. “Please, it means the world to me, then I will go right to bed.”

 

Fine,” the figure said, recently.

 

“Thank you.” James took off to the tavern, rushed through the broken door, up the stairs, and found the door he was looking for. All the while the figure followed, to make sure bargains where kept. James prayed, prayed to the pennites’, to the elders, and to the gods, that she was there. Feeling the impatience behind him, he opened the door. There in the finest silk nighty was a girl, about fourteen. Kneeling by her bedside, saying her prayers. James smiled, “How are tonight.”

 

The little girls spun around surprised, “JAMES!” She cried as she jumped into his arms. “Its been so long,” she said, smiling.

 

James took the little girl in his arm and hugged her hard. “Yes it has. But right now it is bedtime.” He picked her up and carried her to her bed.

 

But,” she said.

 

James shook his head, “sorry but it is late.”

 

Please, tell me a story,” she said, using her best puppy face.

 

“Fine,” James said, shaking his head as she smiled. “Just one story then right to sleep, alright Scheherazade.”

 

Okay,” she said settling herself in for the story.

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Mr Moog paced, worriedly, around the room. NOT because of the fact that, for the past 3 days, Snypiuer had been asleep and NOTHING he had tried would wake him. Nor was it the fact that, as we know, the sleep of the semi-divine is FAR more than the sleep of mere mortals and Snypiuer was, obviously, in the throes of some dark nightmare. It wasn't even the fact that he hadn't seen that creepy cloak of Snypiuer's since he had taken it off and went to sleep (though Moog DID have a permanent case of the heebie-jeebies because of it). No, what had caused Mr Moog to become so 'on-edge' that he was about to crawl out of his skin was the fact that, after 3 days of fitful, semi-divine sleep that he was unable to be awoken from . . . Snypiuer had, suddenly, gone perfectly still . . . as if he were . . . listening to someone.

 

*3 DAYS AGO*

 

Snypiuer had been in a mood for weeks (if not months) that was growing, exponentially, darker by the minute. Pith, Silvia and Mr Moog understood, with crystal clarity, the danger this increasingly darkening mood placed EVERYONE in because, being his closest companions, they knew more than anyone how truly insane his quest to take the place of the long dead Blood God had driven him and, thus, they knew full well that even they had NO concept of the depths of his insanity nor what it may lead to - only that it was bad . . . very, VERY bad. This knowledge led them to do the only sensible thing . . . they made themselves scarce.

 

So, when they found themselves, suddenly, in Snypiuer's parlour, they knew things had come to a head. At the sight of Snypiuer, Mr Moog gasped and took a step back as Pith and Sil step to either side, giving themselves room to move. ALL of them filled themselves with so much magical energy, the entire room began to give off a low hum and the air around them crackled as they also pulled their weapons and took defensive postures. Snypiuer took in the scene: His closest companions, weapons in hand, at the ready and each filled with enough magical energy to level a small mountain, energy they were barely able to contain and ready to unleash it upon him at the slightest thought. He took it in in an instant and dismissed it even faster - as a God would dismiss the smallest of his creations. He spoke to them in a far off voice, "Darkness and evil portents require our attention. I need to speak to each of you . . . individually. Pith. Follow."

 

Snypiuer turned and entered his inner chambers. His companions let the energy they had grasped fade away as they put their weapons away. Pith followed and, as the door closed behind him, Mr Moog and Sil looked at eachother and shrugged. After a short time, Pith returned. Both Mr Moog and Sil stood, with looks of concern upon their faces, for Pith was dressed for battle. But not just for ANY battle. Moog and Sil had not seen him this prepared since they had fought in the fiercest of battles in the darkest times of Terra Lost. Before either could voice their concerns, he said, "I could NEVER had asked for better companions. A better brother or sister." He grasped Moog and hugged him, then they grasped each others' wrist and shook. He patted Moogs' shoulder as he turned to Sil and repeated the ritual. "Watch yourselves." He told them with an intensity and glare that shook each of them to their core. Then, with a coldness they had NEVER seen in him before, he softly said with a glance over his shoulder towards Snypiuers' door, "Watch HIM even closer." As he stepped away and began to rip a tear in reality itself to travel through, Mr Moog said with a false sense of bravado and humor, "Jeez Pith, you act as if you're about to storm the very Gates of Heaven!" Pith neither turned to look back nor slowed down as he replied in a flat voice, "Not Heaven my friend." As he stepped through and the rip sealed behind him, Moog and Sil saw he had stepped through into an utter darkness filled with screams.

 

Snypiuer's voice came from his inner chambers, "Silvia, time is short." Sil was yelling at Snypiuer before the door even began to close. Moog could hear her muted yells through the door for a while before they went silent. A short time later, the door opened and Silvia came through, dressed for battle the same as Pith. Mr Moog saw a flash of memory from Terra Lost - the last time he had seen her dressed this way. He timidly began to ask, "Sil, what's . . .", she cut him off and softly said, as she hugged him tight, "You take care of yourself . . . and him." She released him and stepped back, Mr Moog's eyes widened with shock and he shuddered - not because her eye suddenly became cold and lifeless as she handed him, what appeared to be a sliver of glass made into a knife whose handle was some sort of silver tape wrapped around one end, and said in a detached voice, "Remember what we talked about. This probably won't kill him, but it may give you enough time to escape." No. What made Mr Moog quake inside, with a fear he had never known, was the single tear he swears he saw begin to form in her eye. He couldn't move as she swept past him. The light from the doorway she ripped in reality blasted him from behind and left a feint outline of his shadow on the wall before him as the tear in reality closed - he didn't even hear when she whispered, "Goodbye my dear friend." He quickly hid the sliver of glass in his shirt and straightened himself as Snypiuer simply said, "Moog."

 

As he entered the chamber, Moog was taken aback at how old and weary Snypiuer appeared. He asked in earnest, "Boss, what's going on?" Snypiuer raised his right arm towards a coat rack in the corner near his bed, which he stood in front of. His cloak began to crawl across his arm, like a giant black snake, and stretched across to the coat rack where it hung itself - a living shadow that seemed to flutter upon breezes only known to it. Mr Moog had ALWAYS been creeped-out by that cloak. But, for some reason, it put him more on edge than usual as he attempted to NOT look at it. Snypiuer slowly sat down at the edge of his bed. "I'm tired, my old friend. I feel as if we are headed for dark times, the likes of which we have not seen since our days upon Terra Lost." Moog shuffled a bit as he placed his hand over the sliver of glass concealed in his shirt. Snypiuer sighed and hung his head. Moog's heart stopped as Snypiuer said in a low, tired voice, "It's just a piece of glass you know. Older than our time on Terra Lost, but just a piece of glass, none the less." He chuckled, weakly, as he rubbed his eye and continued, "A piece of glass with duct tape for a handle. Funny how something so . . . normal, could hold so much power - simply because it was from the time before Magic." Moog stepped to Snypiuer's side and placed his hand, gently, on Snypiuer's arm, "Boss, we've survived situations so bad, the Gods tell stories about us. What CAN'T we get through!?" The sadness in Snypiuer's eye made Mr Moog's heart break. Before Moog could say anything, Snypiuer patted the hand he had placed upon his arm and said, "When was the last time a Demigod, other than myself, walked amongst us? Or the Elders? The Halls of the Pen are silent. The Keep is a living thing and those who dwell within it are it's lifeblood - it's every breath. And they are gone. There is a darkness that senses the Pen is dying and it seeks to consume it. Keep that simple piece of glass close my friend . . . and watch . . . out . . . for . . ." as Snypiuer's words trailed off he lay down. Mr Moog shook him, "Watch out for what? Watch out for WHAT!?" A smile came to Snypiuer's lips as he woke enough to pinch Moogs cheek, ruffle his hair and snidely say, "Why, ME of course!" Snypiuer's hand fell to his side as he sank into a deep slumber.

 

Mr Moog removed Snypiuer's boots, arranged him, comfortably, in bed and watched over his friend. Snypiuer, almost immediately, began to sleep fitfully: Tossing, turning, muttering in his sleep. Moog checked for a fever, but there was none and, if he hadn't known that the sleep of the semi-divine was unlike that of mortals, he would have sworn Snypiuer was suffering from delirium - the storm that hit that first night and the feeling of impending doom that grew moment by moment over the Keep of the Pen is Mightier than the Sword was proof that it wasn't delirium, but it was, in deed, the sleep of the semi-divine that gripped Snypiuer.

 

*PRESENT*

 

But that was three days ago. Three days that Mr Moog, a simple piece of glass in hand, watched over Snypiuer as he slept - fitfully. Three days that a dark, dreadful feeling seeped into every nook and cranny of the Keep, building and growing stronger. Three days that that DAMN creepy cloak had been missing. Three days of waiting for Pith or Silvia to return. For Snypiuer to waken. For that DAMNED cloak to appear! Three days of frayed nerves and frantic thoughts.

 

Three days and now . . . it ALL had stopped. It was still THERE. But it had, simply . . . frozen in place - As if all of reality had taken a breath and was . . .

 

waiting . . .

 

listening.

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The creaking of timbers above his head were likely the first sign that the old man had overslept. Since he could not recall the last time he'd heard THAT particular timber to be groaning at all. As his eye cracked open, he realized he was also feeling a bit of something brushing lightly upon his brow, like powder being sprinkled, ever sparingly, upon the fertile earth. "Where the bloody hell did THAT thopught come from?" and, Up the old man popped. "What? Where am I? What ARE those younglings doing upstairs to cause such a ruckus?"

As his eyes come more into focus, he can see small wavelets of dust falling from the ceiling, rhythmically, as if a large hammer or maul was in use on the floor directly above his suite in the Pen.

As another puff of dust settles upon the grayed curls atop his head, the upset mage springs from his bed and approaches the mirror set up on the far wall. Tapping systematically, a short code is instilled upon the frame, and suddenly a face appears in the center of the Mirror. The lazy dragon appears half asleep himself as GeldrinHor bellows out, "Hey, aren't you supposed to be Tech Support? Tech this....what in blazes is going ON above my suite?" At this, the dragon's eye snaps wide, his earlier hazed look gone as if it never existed, and his pupil shrinking to a pinpoint. "Old man, what ARE you blathering on about?" As this leaves the Dragon's lips, another annoying puff of dust falls upon the head of GH's bed and the dragon spies it out as it lands softly upon the recently vacated pillow. "Can *I* get a clean up crew here toot sweet? I am NOT gonna be held responsible for those darn kids upstairs tearing apart ANOTHER suite with their amorous gymnastics. Is THAT clear?"

By now the Dragon is chuckling, small streams of sooty smoke escaping the confines of his large, reptilian nostrils. "Geld...get a hold of yourself man. Relax, we'll have someone up there in a few minutes. Geez, some Wizards surely wake up on the wrong side of the Keep, don't they?"

 

At that, the mirror darkens and GeldrinHor is stuck looking at his own homely, crestfallen face. Moments pass before he recalls his invisible Servant spell and sets it to cleaning his bed off.

 

The old man wanders from room to room, preparing himself for yet another crazy day when a bird uncerimoniously crashes into his closed window, falling abruptly to the ledge, a small "W" branded to the side of his head. Typical of Wyvern to send his reply via carrier pigeon when a simple Mirror Call could have sufficed, and would also have been more timely. Alas, the old Dragon liked to do things in his own fashion, and, as was ABUNDANTLY clear, in his own sweet time as well.

 

As the window sash was thrown, the darn bird fell OFF the ledge, rolled down the side of the building past the second floor balcony, missing the rail by mere inches, and falling the additional 11 feet to the floor of a very leaf strewn grounds of the Keep itself.

 

At finally noticing this, GH mused why the maintenance crew had gone slacking...why WERE there leaves all over the inner courtyard of the Keep? And where DID that darn bird go to? Where is everyone else? Does anyone else smell oatmeal cookies?

.

.

.

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Muse, after drifting around the upper halls making farting noises for about a month, finally tires of the sound and decides that farts "really aren't so funny". A large pustule of immaturity on the side of her soul-scrap bursts, (making a farting noise, of course) and the inevitable but incredible finally happens; she begins to GROW UP.

She drifts downward into the basement where Harmony lies, covered in dust and snoring slightly in nine harmonic tones, and looks around the room for something better to do. A white fur rug lies on the floor, and Muse eyes this with a grin; while she may be 'more mature' she hasn't lost her mischief or penchant for the random. Carefully, she plucks several hairs from the rug and lays them into Harmony's golden locks, which have grown into a golden mass, lying across the bed and onto the floor. As each rug-hair touches a golden one, the golden one becomes white, and shrinks to a few inches in length. Muse, tiring of plucking the hairs, grasps the whole rug & hurls it onto the hair-covered bed, cackling wildly; the rug smoothly envelops the small girl-form and reshapes it into the white, hair-covered form of a mountain goat. Harmony continues to sleep, shivering slightly at the strange sensation, and Muse decides to complete the 'new look' by placing her own nerd glasses on the goat. She then turns herself into a rubber ball, and begins bouncing herself loudly against the inside of the wooden door, shouting gibberish about Facebook, baboons, and Cartoon Network.

Harmony, upon waking to discover herself as a goat, decides that calmly accepting the change would probably be the best way to deter its happening again; however, she does get out of bed & snatch up a broom with which to poke around for Muse, who stopped shouting when Harmony got up, & rolled away somewhere again to avoid any possible consequences...

Edited by Harmony

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"Earth to James..." Came the small voice of the young girl. Shaking his head, "Whatwhowhenwherewhy!" The girl laughed, "Silly James you were going to tell me a bedtime story, silly." He smiled, then from the corner of his eye he spyed the cloaked figure. "right," James nodded, his smile fading slightly. Now for our first story.......

 

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This is the tale of Rolling Rock. It takes place long ago and far away in a land known as the Americas. The Cheif's daughter had just come of age to be wed. The Cheif then gathered all of his strongest braves. "YOUMUST PASS THREE TEST! THE PERSON THAT DOES WILL WED MY DAUGHTER," boomed the cheif. All of the braves nodded. Their first test, one of skill. They needed to find the egg of an owl.

 

All the braves returned, gift in hand.

 

The next test was one of strength. They needed to get bring back the skin of a great bear, killed only by their hands.

 

All of the braves again returned, gift in hand.

 

The final test was one of mind. They where to find the rare white rose, that blooms only on a full red moon.

 

All but one of the braves returned, empty handed.

 

The one brave missing was Rolling Rock, the Daughter's true love.....

 

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"You are looking tired, Scheherazade." James said. "no", came the weak yawn. "We will finish the story tomorrow, okay." She looked at him, her eyes telling him it was to short. James gestured to the cloaked man. this once, Scheherazade mouthed. thank you, James responded. With that the young girl turned over and went to sleep. Guess we have to wait till tomorrow so I can finish," James laughed. Then turning to the other man asked, "Is that a problem?" The figure, obviously annoyed, just fanished into the darkness.

"One night down", James wispered, "Let's see how many more I can get through."

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Harmony-goat stares at herself in the mirror for a few long moments, thinking to herself that she's rather pleased with her appearence, after all; the dainy black hooves, long smooth face, sharp horns, and spotless white fur coat...yep...not bad. Could've been worse. A rather refreshing change from the usual elvish child-like face with big brown eyes & long blonde hair. She might even stay like this for a while! She spots Muse in a corner of the room, making low growling noises & buzzing slightly, with flashing electrical discharges; She waves her tail at her merrily as she trips by, nodding her head to some unspoken tune.

 

 

(Muse sulks in a corner, shocked & frustrated at Harmony's amusement & tolerant acceptance of her transformation.)

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Mr Moog suddenly stopped his worried pacing and grasped the piece of glass tightly by it's handle, ready to lunge at Snypiuer when he groaned and shifted in bed. The distant sound of thunder rolled towards the Keep of the Pen is Mightier than the Sword as if it was a wave of demons from the darkest abyss. Mr Moog barely had time to think of Pith when the entire Keep shook as the thunder rolled over it. Snypiuer would still not wake up, but he appeared to sleep less fitfully. All day, wind rattled windows throughout the Keep and pulled tiles off of roofs pounded by rain - until night fell, once again, upon the Keep. The storm calmed and Mr Moog stopped his pacing all together. No, he was no longer worried. He KNEW there was danger beyond anything the Keep had ever faced before. He softly whispered to Pith and Silvia, "Whatever he sent you to do . . . you better hurry."

 

Moog stood beside Snypiuer's bed . . . and held the piece of glass over his friends heart - ready to pierce it at a moments notice. He wasn't taking any chances. Because, when the storm calmed, it was right after Snypiuer had once again stopped his fitful sleep and appeared to be listening. Whatever was happening in that other-world the semi-divine walk upon in their sleep, Moog knew the fate of the Keep hung in the balance and it was what happened during the time Snypiuer was motionless and 'listening' that would determine which way the scale tipped.

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The night came to soon for James. He didn't have a story. And when the Light parted and the Cloaked Man appeared, James sighed. been a good run he mummbled. "Let's go," he said to the Cloaked Man.

 

It was much like the night before, Scheherazade was waiting in her bed, ready for James to amaze her with worlds she had never seen. Her smile helped him a little but his heart sank further. "JAMEs," she asked, seeing his look. "time to finish the story," James said with a smile that sent a chill down her spine.

 

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The one brave missing was Rolling Rock, the Daughter's true love.....

None of the braves knew where he was. The Daughter started to cry. Night after night, the tears poured like that of an endless storm. On the fifth day the Chief called to his barves once again. "FIND ME ROLLING ROCK!" The braves searched high and low for the missing brave, and everywhere they went they left a sign, 'Whatch for rolling rock'.

 

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"the end," James said, his hollow voice echoing through the halls, like the last bells at midnight. James knew that the faceless man was grinning, he had won. And the Cloaked Man rose, "A deal is a de..."

"NO!" Shouted the Scheherazade, "That is not a good story. I demand another one."

"but i don..."

"I want to hear the one about the boy and the clown. I really like that one." James could not turn down that smile, so he simple nodded.

"..al" finished the Cloaked figure as he sat down, listening.

 

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It was raining that day, the circus was in town. I decided to go and see the show. Going to the ticket booth to pay, the man inside looked at me, shook his head,"Your money is no good here. Just go, enjoy the show." I eagerly walked in, humming to myself. But something, in the back of my head was bothering me with questions: why did I get in for free, why did he sart to cry when I passed him. The answears would come, to bad they would come too late.....

 

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*YAWN* "Sorry," Scheherazade said,"I love this story but I need to wake up early, so can we finish it tomorrow, pleasssse!" Again with that irresistible smile. And again James nodded. He knew what she had done, and was thankful. The cloaked Figure vanished ans James, went over and kissed the girl on the top of her head. "another night down," he whispered. As he left and closed the door, Scheherazade smiled.

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The mourning spead pass by, and the darkness once again approached the Keep of The Mighty Pen, heralded by the Cloaked Man. James stood outside the tavern, looking as though waiting for something. The man approched, James still looked into the distance. "WAITING ON ME?"

"no, just a long lost friend," James finally acknowledged the herald, and gave out a sigh. "Time already, huh?" With that he turned and walked up the stairs.

Scheherazade was ready, as the few nights before. And as James entered the room she greeted him as always. "James! Are you going to finish the story tonight?" She could not help but let her worry slip through in her voice. With a shake of his head and a grin he responed, "You know I can't do that. The Big Top is a fairly long story and it is already later than normal." Her grin returned.

 

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The answears would come, to bad they would come too late. Being only ten I found the circus to be larger than life. Where to start? As I thought that question I heard a large man's voice boom, "Come one come all, see the girl that's a living doll! Face of porcelain, hair of hourse, suffered the curse of living, yet fated to worse!" I started to go over, drawn by his voice. "You son, you right there!" His long, pointed finger, slowly rose and found me out of the crowd. "How would you like to be the first to lay eyes on this wonder?" I nodded, the large crowd parted and I went inside. He parted the tent to let me in, and as I looked back one last time I thought I saw in the crowd a couple of faces that looked familiar.

 

The tent closed, and I turned around....

 

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"Sorry," James said to Scheherazade, "But it is getting late."

"But..."

He held his finger up to his lip. "It is late, and time for bed. I will finish the story tomorrow."

"Cross your heart." He nodded. She rolled over, and went right to sleep. The Figure vanished. And James stepped into the hall, sighed, "tomorrow will be diffrent." With that he walked across the hall into his room.

Outside, in the storm the Cloked Figure once again stepped from the shadows, in front of him was the portraits of the elders and many other pennites. He approached the mirror that was there. For it came an almost inhuman voice, "does he suspect?" "NO," boomed the Cloaked Man, "AND WITH THIS CLOAK, I DOUBT HE WILL TILL IT IS TO LATE" 'good" The Cloaked Man then took his leave, once again into the darkness. And through the keep, an eerie wind blew. A wind that almost sounded of laughter...

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With the scrape of stone, the final block was replaced. It was clumsily made, for work in steel does not immediately lead to perfect masonry, but still much better than the half-disintegrated block which had just been removed.

 

Taking a step back to review his work, Ordolar saw that already the first stones he had made were beginning to crumble. Looking around, he saw the whole room was in worse shape still. He had been so intent on repairing the first wall that he had not noticed the disrepair of the Keep as a whole in all the weeks of work it had taken. Now it was clear; this was a fool's task, and the rot could only be treated at its source.

 

Ordolar turned, made his way back to his forge, and put on his armour.

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James waked in the courtyard, on a pile of dead leaves. "why out here? amusing, though." He heard the laughter of a young girl, different than Schecerazade, older it seemed. James eyes lit up, with a twinge of annoyance. "Not you," he hissed through clenched teeth. He heard the little voice pout some, then fly away. Relaxing in the leaves, felt good, and he closed his eyes once more, finally a moment to myself. Or so he thought till something bit him. Leaping up with a yelp of surprise, he spun around. The culprit was easy to spot in the autumn rainbow. It was a small pigeon. James smiled and picked it up. "Why look at that, a little carrier pigeon. Why would you be in these leaves, and where would your letter be?" The bird only responded by raising and lowering his wings, as if in a shrug. "Well that is okay little friend. Go home, or stay and rest here. Doesn't matter much to me. Though if you need water or food, you can always head into my room." It seemed to nod and flew up and towards the tavern. James let out a long sigh, knowing he still had a guest. "After you." There was a loud crack of thunder, and the storm returned, with its herald, close behind. If the Cloaked Man was surprised that James knew he was there, he didn't show it. He simply floated past James and towards the tavern. James went to follow but saw sothing in the middle of the courtyard. It looked like a sliver of glass with a duck-taped handle. And in the flickering light of the courtyard it seemed to be stained red. The image sent a chill up his spine. He wished to investigate, but had pressing matters. Turning he followed the Cloaked Man. The storm, masking the echoes of a larger battle.

 

The scene had become very familiar to James. Schecerazde sitting on her bed, waiting for him to come in and tell a story. The Cloaked man, standing in the doorway, waiting to destroy them all. But this time James was ready. He smiled as he went into the room. "ready for our story, little one."

"Yes, James. But, I need to wake up early sooo if it isn't to big of an issue, can we, maybe...." James nodded. He had forgot how long this story was, so he had knew it would take one more night, if he was to keep tricking the Cloaked Man. She clapped happily.

"WHY DO YOU NEED TO WAKE UP EARLY?"

James cringed at the Cloaked Man's voice. He knew that she couldn't tell the real reason, so that James could finish and start a new story the next night. "So that Muse and I can figure out what we are going to wear on Halloween so we can get the most candy trick-or-treating. Why else, silly?" James gave out a sigh as the Cloaked Man gave a harumph.

James then smiled and said, "Let us continue with the story."

 

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The tent closed, and I turned around. There, sitting in the only circle of light was a doll. Like any that my sis had. I crept close. I always hated dolls, and when this ones eye's opened I knew she wasn't any different.

little boy, littlee boy. come here

"stupid doll, stupid doll, how bout no!" I wispeared. Then the light flicked off, then on. And she was gone!

then I will come to you!

Came a voice behind me. I freaked and spun around. All I could see was darkness. I started to back up, only to trip. I fell on my back in the ring of light. Slowly the doll came in after me, first one foot, then a leg, arm, body and head. Her face was still lost in shadows.

why don't you want to play with me, since we are the SAME!

The lights finally caught the dolls face, and it was like looking into a mirror. Fear got me and I ran out of the tent.

 

My heart pounding. I looked around to tell someone, ANYONE, what I saw. But everyone was gone. The crowd, the carny, nowhere. I started to look around some more. Slowly what I had saw left me, and I heard that carny voice again. "Come one, come all. To the show that will not disappoint. The show under, the BIG....TOPS.....POINT!" I then heard a crowd cheer. I turned a corner, and saw the big top. I nearly fell over trying to see its top. The crowd must have already gone in, so I followed. But just as I went into the tent I saw a couple that looked somehow familiar, like some people I had left behind. But I wanted to see the show....

 

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"Okay," James said, "Time for bed. Tomorrow I will finish the story and the nice man over there will destory us all." Schecerazde put her hand up to her mouth, holding back her giggles. With another harumph, the Cloaked man vanished. James smiled and left, heading back to his room. But as he reached the door he heard a distant voice. The voice of an old friend.

'James, don't underestimate your opponent, he is not one to be trifled with.'

"neither am I" James hissed, a dark storm raging in his eyes.

 

Out in the storm, the Cloaked man stood, speaking as if to the storm. "I THINK HE IS TOYING WITH US! WE NEED TO DESTROY HIM!"

'no ' Whispered the wind.

"BUT..."

'NO! ' Roared the thunder. 'he will open the gate,' returned the wind. 'and as all hallows eve draws near, so does my true power.'

"AS YOU WISH, THEN I WILL SEE IT DONE." With that, the Cloaked Man vanished once again into the darkness of the storm.

'two pawns, one of black, and one of white. on all hallows eve, will become sacrificed ' The wind laughed, and was soon echoed by all parts of the storm.....

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James was having a nightmare. "idiots," he cursed at the people in his dream. He woke with a start, and realised that the day had simply passed him by. He saw the end of a cloak enter Schecerazde's room. James rushed in after it, the storm raging in his eyes.

Again everything was as it had been. She waited for him to tell a part of the story, and it waited to destroy everything he loved. James, calmed down, looked at Schecerazde and said, "Sorry I won't be able to finish the story tonight, had a bad day at work." She nodded, understandingly.

"TELL ME ABOUT IT," hissed he Cloaked Man. James and Schecerazde smiled at each other.

"Now onto the story!" Schecerazde said giddily.

 

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But I wanted to see the show.

 

Inside the tent was dark. I remembered the doll, but wasn't as scared because I could hear the crowd laughing at the clowns. There was four clowns, two adults and two children, under the lights of the big top. It started normaly, with the pies and seltzer water. The laughter started to grow. Then one of the children ran away, followed by a narrow beam of light. It ran into the stands, straight across from me. The laughter grew to a low rumble. The scene with the clowns changed. They started to look for the child, searching high and low. Slowly the spotlights changed to blue. They started to cry, their makeup slowly dissolving from their faces. "OVER THERE!" I shouted and pointed, but the laughter had grown to a roar and they could not hear me. I turned and saw that the child that had ran away was mirroring my every move, shouting, pointing, at ME! I turned to the other clowns and saw a sight that gripped me with fear. I KNEW THOSE FACES! I quickly ran out of the big tent, the echoes of laughter following me....

 

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"Okay, that's all for tonight," James said. Schecerazde, nodded and went quickly got ready to go to sleep.

"WHAT!? BUT....GRRRRRRR" The figure growled as he left. James started for his room, "sorry for not finishing the story," he whispered when he reach the doorway.

"That's okay James, you had a hard day. Just please finish it tommorow," Schecerazde pleaded. James nodded and crossed his heart. She then quickly went to bed, ready for the next night to come.

 

Outside the Cloaked man sat, talking to no one, and listening to no one. Just him, and the storm in his eyes.....

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It's impossible to prove a negative. Isn't it?

 

Tzimfemme crouched on a lab stool, pulled away from the lab bench to better encompass the room, with one foot holding down the fiber-optic tube stretched away from its housing and the associated nozzle resting across her knees. The air itself tasted sour, organic. Nothing moved, except Tzimfemme in a slow rotation around some unnamed axis, and once some anonymous rustling under a pile of broken glassware and fallen posters--until the naked mage had uncoiled and blasted the debris with a stream of mechanically channeled mana. It might not have been vermin, but how could it be proven that there were no vermin?

 

She hadn't slept in awhile. Not on, not in, not with, within or without. There might have been vermin in her nest. "Once." Once defiled, could it be purified?

 

This was a place of peace. "Peace." But why was it not a place where all that had to be said was said self to self, distilled down to essence, and only then delivered? That is not dogma. "Perhaps," Tzimfemme said, and gnawed on the tip of the mana nozzle, "I should have set it to verse." Rydia's ward could not be overcome, but the boss's servant, the dark elf woman with the blasphemous name, could be compelled to convey the necessity. So she was. But the Pen wards had intervened, and did Rydia know that sons were permissible, but daughters would die? The web of the quincunx lay slack. Power, generally speaking, did not. Power was tension was dynamism was power.

 

"Why the hell," added the naked mage, "did he end up with her anyhow? A Man of Terra, I ask you."

 

And Tzimfemme burned. The very air above her head was impelled into an updraft by her thoughts, and that in its turn spread out against the ceiling, dispersed its energy and tumbled down along the walls. Cooled metals creaked. Tzimfemme's head whipped around at the sound, the nozzle raised to fire, and another cloud rose--this time of dislodged scent. The naked mage's nostrils flared. She curled her neck and looked down upon what could be seen of the floor, shied, but then gathered herself and leaped. Two hops away from the doorway, the hose ran short and she released the nozzle. It coiled itself back into the wall, slowly at first, but as she leaped out of her quarters it accelerated and the nozzle slammed back into place with a screech--then the housing cracked along its edge and slumped out into the decaying room.

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Between evenings lay the shortening days of falling leaves, and all the possibilities of leaf piles. Scheherazade could not sweep up enough leaves by herself, and neither could the gnomie girl Minta, but Minta brought along "cool Halloween costume servants" and those zombies could tidy up a lawn even while the children climbed a wooden step-stool an' hopped down into the leaf pile, chattering all the while!

 

"But it doesn't snow in the middle of summertime!" Scheherazade protested, "not without autumn coming first!"

 

"It did too! An' me an' the other neato necro girls had to go an' find the other _other_ neato necros an' they had," Minta paused for a bit while a zombie swept a particularly noisy rake-ful of leaves back into place, "glass stuck in them here an' here." When she pointed to her heart she thumped herself on the chest and fell backwards into the leaf pile.

 

Scheherazade shook her head, standing on the top step of the stool and looking down at the gnomie. "I don't believe it. I'm going to ask if that's even _possible_. That would have killed them!"

 

"If they did die, I got dibs," Minta retorted, pointing up at the sky for emphasis.

 

The unclouded sky.

 

As GeldrinHor saw it, it was worth any backlash to hold back the storm's wrath from interrupting the children's play.

 

*****

 

"Holy--!"

 

Tzimfemme latched onto the edge of the elevator updraft with one hand and one ankle. The other hand recoiled from where the elevator updraft was not, and over the span of several minutes her weight slid backward until it balanced once more upon the foot still on the floor. She stared down into the shaft she'd so nearly leaped into, and saw the mountain goat. It stepped among the dysfunctional fail-safes with unconcern, ascending. The naked mage had to wonder, though, why its stance brought to mind not ordinary quadrupeds, but memories of the two-man chocolate wrestling teams, mount and rider circling the edge of the lake. She unhooked her ankle, settled back upon both feet, thought--

 

"Aha, it's looking ahead, not to either side! Now why's it not got wide-field vision?" she thought aloud.

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OOC: The more I write, the more details spin-out and the MORE I write. I know what i want to write, but getting there is becoming a bigger undertaking than I thought it would be. For the sake of the story, I'm going to do an abbreviated version and post the full story as a separate post when I finish it. And yes, this IS the SHORT version! After a while, I'll remove this OOC for the stories flow.

*****************************************************************

James made his way downstairs to the Taverns' main room.There, he found a familiar figure sitting at the bar, one he never actually met, but knew of. Mr Moog sat silently drinking with his back to James. Without turning, Moog said, "I have a story you must hear." James went to sit next to Moog, but stopped short when he saw blood staining Moogs' clothes and hands. Mr Moog noticed out of the corner of his eye and gave a soft giggle as he said, "Don't worry, he's not dead. Not even a relic that powerful could do anything more than annoy him. But that's not the story you need to hear." James had a puzzled look on his face, "Why would I need to hear ANY story?" Moog finally looked James in the face, "Because I finally figured it out and, quite frankly, you have NO idea what you're dealing with."

While James had never actually met Snypiuer's companions, he had heard stories about them. How they fought along side him on Terra Lost. How just being around him, they changed from mere squirrels into Archmages of great power. And he knew that, of the three, Mr Moog was the most jovial and light hearted. The steeliness of Moog's eyes and the hard tone to his voice was enough for James to realize that, yes . . . he, in fact, NEEDED to hear this story.

It took Moog hours to tell his story, but he began with, "This story takes place in a faraway land that lay beneath a moon and stars seen only by those who first came to the Keep from that land. It's about Terra Lost. But, more importantly, it's about a young man. It's about what you face."

He told of how the First Gods brought forth Order from Chaos and how doing so, caused the most powerful God to ever exist to fall into an eternal coma, of how the second most powerful God was wiped from existence and how only a handful of the rest of the Gods, even shielded and protected at the farthest reaches of Chaos, survived as nothing but shapeless entities, scattered across reality for millennia before they were able to reform. He told of the rise of Man. How he grew in power until, out of fear of their creation, his Creators fled beyond his reach - beyond Reality itself, taking with them what they could of the other Races. Of how Man then wiped out or bred out those that remained. He eventually told of how, through Science and Technology, Man became Gods themselves, spreading across the Universe and he told of the few who entered the Void, never to be seen again. He told of how Man, with all his power, retained a yearning. A longing that brought him back to his homeland and how, being Gods, each of them believed it was his or hers individual birthright to rule. He told of how this led to a war. A war that left all of Reality shattered, the Universe filled with the wreckage of galaxies torn apart and left barren - the remnants of what was left of their stars, wandering aimlessly. He told of how the last of Man, with no where left to fight, finally brought the war to their homeland. How no individual was able to defeat the others, for when one began to gain an upper-hand, the others would turn against him until another began to rise above and the rest then turned against him. He told of how the war ravaged Mans' homeland until the only life upon it was that which found refuge deep beneath its' surface and of how, in a desperate attempt to end the war, a portal was constructed. A portal that would reach beyond Reality and open a doorway to the First Gods in hope that they would return and bring peace. He told of how Man sensed the portal and, before it could be opened fully, they brought about a destruction so vast, even they perished. He told of how, for generations, the few survivors hidden deep below ground struggled and how they finally reemerged and once again spread across the land. He called it the 'Between Time', that time after the First destruction of Terra Lost by Science and Technology and the return of Magic.

It was during this part of the story that Mr Moog told of a young man. It was this part of the story that James realized was truly meant for him.

*********


Our young man was the third son born, on a farm on the outskirts of a small village, to a family blessed with many boys. As he grew, he took on the chores a child would do, but when he was about to begin helping in the fields and hunting, his mother died giving birth to a younger brother. His older brothers needed outside the house and his younger brothers too young to do much, it fell to him to keep the house running until his father was able to find another wife. Our young man became very efficient and was able to keep everything running so smoothly. When his father finally found a new wife, she was much younger and his father doted on her, so much so, that she convinced him that it would be better for everyone if our young man continued running the household - under her supervision. When he complained of how even his younger brothers, for his fathers' new wife gave him many more, were allowed to go on to help beyond the house, they all called him selfish. When he said he wanted to be more than just their servant while his brothers went off to start families of their own, he was told to be grateful that he would always have a roof over his head - not that that roof would be his, but that his brothers would always allow him to run the house.


No one even noticed he was gone until there was no dinner the night he left. They cursed his name when they had to hire three servants to replace him - his father afraid his, still young, wife would leave if he did not hire them for her. They only stopped cursing him when they all finally forgot him, even the younger brothers he helped raise forgot him as if he was never part of their lives. He never knew this, believing that he would be missed and, when he returned after finding his fortune, they would celebrate his return.


He traveled far and searched for knowledge from before the destruction, long hidden beneath forgotten ruins. As he learned more and more, he too forgot about those he left behind. His dream of returning with his fortune changed. As he uncovered the truth of Mans' past, he came to realize that, not only did he wish to reclaim that past, he wanted for himself. It was upon a solitary hill that he looked up to the stars one night and swore that he would walk among them as a God.


*********

James had been engrossed in the story, so he was startled when the cloaked figure spoke from behind him, "Didn't quite work out the way he intended, did it." - more a statement than a question. Moog didn't look up from his glass, "Been wondering when you would show up." James was puzzled and asked Mr Moog, "What does he mean, 'It didn't turn out' the way he thought it would?" Moog stared at his glass as he said, "It means he went looking for POWER." Moog emptied the glass with one drink and looked at James and in a flat tone finished, "He found it." Moog continued his story, telling of how it was the young mans' searching that led him to the Portal. Of how those who guarded the Portal became aware of him when stories began to spread across the land of a man who wielded power from long ago. How it was while searching a storehouse buried beneath the ruins of a blasted land that they contacted him and brought him to the Portal. How he was first brought to a village hidden in the caldera of a dormant volcano, at the edge of an endless desert, where he met the Guardians and the nurse. And Moog told him the reason the Guardians needed the young man.

*********

Our young man knew that the Guardians were creations of Man. Artificial beings known as 'Robots'. When he questioned them as to whether or not they were TRULY alive, they explained that they preferred to be called 'Cybernetics' and that their creators gave them the same rights, as well as treated them, as any other 'Living' creature. The nurse was something different. She was from the time before the destruction. Kept alive by the Guardians. Her name was Rebecca and she told him how the Guardians saved her after the Last Strike. How they pulled her from the rubble and healed her. How they replaced what couldn't be healed with technology. She said that she was a melding of man and machine, a 'Cyborg'. What caught our young man by even more of a surprise than the Guardians and the nurse, were the others. For generations, people from nearby villages would abandon their deformed children at a shrine placed at the base of the volcano in the belief that the Gods had marked them as sacrifices. The nurse would retrieve these children and raise them. She explained that the children were actually mutations, the reemergence of the races Man had bred out of existence. They explained that the Portal had been damaged and not only left partially open, was leaking radiation. The Portal sat deep within the desert and it was the leaking Portal that made it. That it was the radiation that activated long forgotten 'DNA' in villagers near the desert, allowing for the lost races to return. Our young man was in a village filled with the first Dwarves, Orcs, Elves, Trolls and the other races of legend not seen since shortly after the First Gods fled.


The Guardians explained that they needed him to fix the leak . . . and to fully open the Portal. They explained that they were not able to approach the Portal because of their 'Neural Net'. Because of their neural nets' power supply, the radiation would destroy it long before they could get to it, regardless of how they shielded themselves. He asked why Rebecca was unable to do it and they explained that she had suffered a massive head injury and they used a neural net like theirs to replace the parts of her brain that were destroyed. They went on to say that, because of their DNA mutations, the radiation was also far too much of a risk for any of the others there to approach the Portal. They had tried to get others, but they had all fled at the first opportunity - in fear. No, our young man was their best hope. He had studied and learned more than any other and, therefor, had an open mind and understanding of what was needed. But, despite all this, it was the promise of the power he would gain that led him to agree to go to the Portal.


They supplied him with three things, the keys to the facilities where the Portal was housed, an electron blade (hand-held energy cutter capable of slicing through any material on the molecular level) and a safety suit - a suit constructed of carbon nanotubes, meta-materials and organic nanites. They explained what they believed would need to be done, if the shielding on the portal was too damaged, sections of the main door could be cut away and used to patch it since it was made of the same ultra-dense material, they just cautioned him not to compromise the doors integrity so that it would still be intact and capable of securing the facility.


He made his way to the Portal and found that the damage was far greater than the Guardians had thought. He cut sections from the main door until it looked like a spider in a web, but it held. Our young man did not realize it, but even with his suit he was bombarded with vast amounts of radiation. By the time he had sealed the leak, his suit had transformed, the organic nanites mutating into a sentient hive mind and attaching itself to him in an attempt to keep him alive, repairing him on a cellular level as rapidly as possible. The attachment was so thorough, part of him became the suit.


Finally, he brought the Portal fully on-line. He was thrown back as a tear in Reality formed and Hethen, Sentinel of the Outer Planes stepped forth. Hethen looked at our young man and said, "You are Man, destroyer and betrayer. The Gods have allowed you to exists without us and now you dare to enter our realm!?" Before our young man could react, Hethen reached for him. Our young man grabbed the closest thing he could to protect himself with, the electron blade. Our young man slashed wildly at Hethens' arm as his hand wrapped around his throat. Hethen stumbled backwards in shock as the blade took his arm off halfway between his elbow and wrist. Seizing the opportunity, our young man attacked hethen as they thrashed about, they crashed into the Portals' control panel and knocking it into the Portals' containment grid.


The blast was felt throughout the land as the Portal erupted and then collapsed in on itself. The only thing that stopped the implosion was the main door of the facility lodging itself within the opening and melding with the Portals base, all of which took on the appearance of bone. It became a hole in all of Reality. Over time, the Gods reentered the land, as did the forgotten races and magic.


Our young man was pulled into the Portal and never seen again.


*********

James was confused, but before he could say anything, a warmth came over him and he felt calm and . . . love. Mr Moog smiled and said softly, "Mother!" James, though filled with a sense of complete happiness still feared to turn and look. He KNEW that a God stood behind him. "It's O.K., James. You can look." Moog said with a sparkle in his eyes. James turned and saw a young woman wearing flowing robes and bathed in light, his heart felt as if it would burst with joy. he felt like a child and wanted her to hold him and sing him to sleep. She smiled and the light faded, she became a simple woman, yet James still felt the warmth and love. he felt . . . safe. She tussled Moogs head and he . . . giggled. "Now Moog, you know that's not how it ends." she told him. James' warm feeling cold, slightly, as the cloaked figure spoke from the shadows, "Why don't YOU tell him what happened . . . Becs." She ignored him, but James could tell she was on edge, his sense of security faded.

She continued where Moog left off.

*********

It's true that the young man was pulled into the Portal and, while some BELIEVE he was never seen again, the truth is that he did return - though it took many many years. He returned and became one of the Archmages of Terra. And, once Terra was destroyed for the final time, he eventually made his way here.


By the way, it may interest you to know the name of the facility, it was the 'Stevens-Newell-Yarborough Portal Installation at the University of East Ridgecrest'. But that's just an interesting fact.


What's most important is, while lost beyond the Portal, he hid two things, the keys to the main doors of the Portal facility and the electron blade.


*********

The cloaked figure interrupted her, "That's not all he left there Becs." She finally looked at the figure and, while it was obvious she wanted nothing better than to turn and run, she said to it, "We TRIED to save him! Ari and Benny, BOTH of them were burnt out trying!" There was silence as they faced eachother, until the cloaked figure finally broke it, "Yeah. Well, you know what they say about good intentions." Anger flashed across her face as she took a step towards the figure. He said softly, coldly, "Careful Rebecca." She hesitated, but finally said, in a matter of fact tone, "He didn't LEAVE anything there. YOU took it."

The tension built as they stood, neither willing to give an inch. James was shocked when the cloaked figure, in a low, yet . . . almost tender tone, said, "He'd be dead otherwise." She gave a slight snort, "Like you said, 'You know what they say about good intentions'."

Mr Moog finally spoke up, "LOOK, what's important is the keys and the blade!" James looked at him, "Why are they important?" Mother answered him, "Because either one can unlock or cut open the main door. And there has been two individuals sent to find them." James was still puzzled. The cloaked figure spoke up, "The main door is covering the portal and keeping it from imploding fully, sucking everything into it and sending EVERYTHING back into Chaos. Open the door and . . . poof."

James sat as it sunk in. The cloaked figure walked up to him and said, "Clocks ticking and there's a storm outside."

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The story that Mr. Mogg and...Bec, had told him haunted him. But that was nothing compaired to the words of the Cloaked Man, "Clocks ticking and there's a storm outside." He had left them there, in the tavern to do....he did not know what. "why? why me? why these games?" Before James knew what was going on, he was in Schecerazde's door. Qustions and quest had to wait, first must come the end of a story, before a new one could begin. With that, he stepped into her room.

 

She sat there on her bed, waiting for him like she always did. Her smile, a greeting that always made him feel better. "James, where is Mister Silly? Is he not going to join us?" A look of hope crossed her face. Maybe this is the end of the danger, maybe they had won, she thought. But she saw the look on James' face, and she knew this was far from over.

"He was always with us," with that James looked at her, and she saw the storm in his eyes.

 

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I quickly ran out of the big tent, the echoes of laughter following me.

 

I ran, and ran. The beating of my heart, pounding in my ears, yet I could still hear the laughter. Finally I ran into the Hall of Mirrors. In there, the laughter ended. I caught my breath and looked up. My heart stopped, the reflection, was not my own! It was that of the people I kept seeing. The faces of a family, MY FAMILY. I fell over myself trying to get out. They where there at every corner, every turn. Finally I found my way out, but I did not stop running till I was home.

 

Running inside, I yelled, "MOTHER!FATHER!SIS!" They ran from every corner of the house, crying, happy that I was home.

Mother looked at me and said, "Where were you?"

I looked at her, tears stinging my eyes, "the circus." I saw her give my father a concerned look. It was not till later that I learned that the circus never made it to town. Their train had wrecked fifty miles outside of town. There was no survivors!

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

 

"the end," James said.

"Is it?" She questioned. Her face clearly showing distress.

James gave a comforting smile that put her at ease, "Of course not. This is but the begining. She smiled in return and went to sleep. James stood and walked out of the room.

 

James walked down the stairs of the tavern, the three beings still stood there. He walked right pass them, not saying a word. As he stepped into the storm he could see faces in the clouds, horrible faces. "What will you do, James?" asked Mr. Mogg. "YEAH, WHAT?" added a voice that James had learned to hate. James could also feel the warmth and love of the goddess.

"simple," James hissed, "I will repeat the mistakes!" With that said he turned and looked at the three others. They all took a step back when they saw the storm in his eyes.....

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A loud bubbling from the toilet in Schecerazde's elegent bathroom.

 

A bubbling twice. A bubbling thrice. The seat of Schecerazde's toilet all but flies off its hinges as it pops open like a jack-in-the-box at the Big Tops Point Circus. Somewhere in the spiralling towers of the Pen, a B-version of the "Jaws" theme cues up, played in the key of "drunk orc." The clear toilet water ripples as the tip of a tail stinger slowly emerges from its depths. It begins moving in small circles, almost as if registering its surroundings, before an almost dragonic claw reaches out and makes a deep scratch mark in the toilet porcelain. Wyvern's snout follows suit, his nostrils spewing dirty liquid as the backwards-ass snorkle attached to his left horn finally comes loose. The overgrown lizard hacks a soggy lump of wet ash onto the bathroom floor, then somehow manages to squirm his way out of the confines of the toilet, completely dismantling the bathroom utility in the process. He stretches his wings and shakes them every which way, spraying water recklessly over Schecerazde's otherwise pristine bathroom.

 

"Water..." Wyvern groans and clutches the scales on his noggin, shaking his head. "How did they ever convince me to go with water...? Sure, the troglyodyte agent said 98% off travel expenses when using sewage systems in th'Winter, but that wasss ridiculousss. If only I'd quadruple checked the safety of them Almost Dragonic Brand Pirahna Scale Scuba Scarves™..."

 

Wyvern hobbles over to the bathroom mirror and rubs it with the front of his claw, then begins grooming his scales to make sure his reptilian handsomeness is intact.

 

"Lousy carrier pigeon... ssstupid Geldrinhor..." Wyvern grumbles as he picks a tiny baby alligator off of his wing and tosses it into the hole where a toilet used to be. "All I wanted wasss info on whether those nekkid mage sightings were legit Tzim or impostersss, and wouldn't ya know it the pigeon bailsss on me. Want something done, ya gotta do it yerself."

 

Wyvern grunts and storms out of the bathroom, slamming the door open and stomping through a certain 14 year old's bedroom. The sounds awaken Schecerazde, who sits up in her bed with a look of fright, clutching her sheets for dear life when she spots the almost dragon. Wyvern freezes at the sight, then darts up to Schecerazde's bed to calm her, planting a claw on her lip to silence her.

 

"SsSssSshhhhhhhHH!" Wyvern glances left and right, not wanting to be spotted or to cause a scene. "L-look, lemme tell you a quick bedtime ssstory that'll put you right back to sleep, OK?!"

 

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Once upon a time, there was a dragon. A little girl wanted the dragon to tell her a bedtime story. So he ate her and-

 

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Wyvern doubles back as Schecerazde lets out a wailing scream loud enough to awaken the entire Pen. He tries to calm the poor child for a moment, but promptly gives up on that impossible task in favor of option #2: hiding under Schecerazde's bed in the hopes that he won't be discovered.

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The mountain goat picked its way to a point where its head projected above Tzimfemme's, looked long into the naked mage's eyes, then pulled back and headbutted the wall with emphasis. Tzimfemme winced at the meaty sound; the clack of impervious horns it was not. "Heh," she muttered, "do I know the feeling". She sniffed the air, then wafted some dispelling mana in the direction of the goat. Nothing happened. Tzimfemme shrugged and eased herself into the elevator shaft one limb at a time, lowering herself down along the goat's path. Fiber-optic mana cables had splintered into fans of glass, brutal to the skin, but she reached solid flooring with only a few shards stuck in her skin. The naked mage looked down at those largest shards caught near her ankles, emitted a whinnying sort of snort, and flicked her head back up to stare at the goat. "Follow or not, curse you, Mary-lady!" she snapped, as the braids fell back into her eyes, and dashed out of the elevator with reflections glittering at her heels.

 

Something called, high and pained. Was it Snypuier's memory, wrenching open a hole in the flows of mana through which chaos howled? Was it James Crow's storm winds rising and wringing noise from the disintegrating walls? Was it Wyvern, his tail pinched between the slats and the boxspring? No matter. Tzimfemme heard, and heeded, and chased after it.

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Schecerazde's scream of fear from the almost dragon echoed, through the halls, out of the Pen, and into the very pits of the Void. It was there that two eyes flashed open, a dormant storm once again waking.

 

Just as the mighty pseudo dragon hid under Schecerazde's bed did James appear, but much diffrent than before. His wore more cuts , gashes, and blood than clothes. His face and hair was unkempt. And his eyes, looking as though they had not seen rest in weeks, raradiated untold amounts of rage. Schecerazde's eyes grew wide, and her voice feld in fear. Even the mighty semi-dragon was taken back. "GET OUT!!" roared "James". James closed his eyes and took a step forward, a bank of fog crept with him. Obscuring most of the room. His appearance changed with every step, slowy putting him back too the way others knew him. "stupid magic," he mumbled, "stupid wizards...next time...Mister Mogg...stuff'em.....coconuts!" He finaly was at the foot of Schecerazde's bed, and for the first time saw the fear in her eyes. "it is okay, i am sorry for my entrance. just my new 'friends' insist that i stay with them, so my time is limited. so one short story, then bed okay." Her fear vanished when she saw his smile and nodded, forgetting about the monster under her bed.

 

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There once was a frog,

who spent all his time on a log.

Some would bet

it was his fear of getting wet

that kept him out of the bog.

 

Though that was not true

so here is a clue,

it started when the princess can down,

she fell in and ruined her gown,

so by royal decree

she had it be

that the frog would give her a cue.

 

So he waits on the log,

in the middle of the bog,

for her to come back

so that he may act,

and then she will reword her watch frog.

 

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"so how was that?" James asked. All she could do was laugh, but it was soon interupted by the sound of chains. "i must go now, so close your eyes littel one, and don't open them till mourning." She quickly burried her head into her pillow. Wyvern did not, so he saw the prison chains form on James' wrist, and his so called "friends", he knew them by another name, the Jailers of the Aether. They pulled James back into the void, he did not put up a fight. Then too the surprise of many a carrier pigeon flew in and tried to pull James back. James shook his head and mouthed the word potion. The bird flew off into James' room, as James was pulled into fog. "I will be back tomorrow, Schecerazde!" James shouted, then was nothing. Wyvern saw his chance and started to move when he heard a faint sound, it was Schecerazde. She was sobbing....

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Wyvern grunts and snorts obscenities as he squirms his way from under Schecerazde's bed, his horns catching a number of mattress springs that pop loose with an awful "TWAANNG." The overgrown lizard mutters something about close calls, only to stiffen and bite his bottom lip as he hears Schecerazde's quiet sobbing in the background. He tilts his head and scratches the back of his horns a bit, then heaves a smokey sigh of defeat and slithers his way up to her bedside.

 

"Errr... L-look, don't cry lil' girl. Here."

 

Wyvern reaches deep into his bag of holding and pulls out an Almost Dragonic Brand Wyvern Fan Club Lifesize Plushie Doll™, which amounts to a gigantic horrific imitation Wyvern that's falling apart at the seams. Schecerazde's expression turns to one of disgust as she takes a good look at the doll, and she opens her mouth to protest only to have her words muffled as Wyvern drops the giant doll into her "arms."

 

"There, ssssleep tight." Wyvern flashes a warm toothy grin, and turns to depart from the room just as one of the wings of the giant Wyvern plushie falls off. "Hrmph. The Jailerssss of Aether huh? Hope those guys ain't around here, they've been bad news ever since I sold'em that Almost Dragonic Brand Combination Frock™"

 

Wyvern reaches the exit of Schecerazde's chamber and raises a claw to her door, only to pause when his tail nugdes against something light and feathery. The almost dragonic ancient glances down over his shoulder, then does a double-take and glares down over his shoulder at the sight of a certain carrier pigeon. A carrier pigeon with a "W" brandished on the side of its head. A carrier pigeon that may or may not have recently attempted to save James Crow's life.

 

"YOU!!!" Wyvern grits his teeth and practically trips over his own tail as he snatches the bird in his claws, gripping it by its little carrier collar. The bird flails back and forth and chirps protests "Ssslacking on the job again I see! Don't give me none of that tweet tweet bull, I sssmell the pigeon liquor on yer breath. Gimme my message back!"

 

Wyvern pulls the unopened envelope addressed "Geldrinhor - Tzim sightings?" from the pigeon's back and tears it open, making sure the contents are still in tact. He leafs through a series of photos detailing orcs and witches with obvious imitation fangs, wigs and bullwhips. Laughably bad Tzim imitations, but get a leacherous lizard desperate enough and he's liable to believe anything.

 

"Now, yer gonna show me to Geldrinhor's quartersss, or I'll give you flying lessons with a slingshot."

 

Wyvern stuffs the photos into his back pocket and holds the pigeon up like a compass. He exits Schecerazde's sleeping quarters and heads in an Eastward direction down the ghostly rundown remnants of the Pen's Banquet Hall, unaware of the figure he's about to encounter...

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All was dark, save for the game. The man who only sometimes remembered a place called "Egypt" anymore could not recall how long it had been so dark.

 

The chess game stretched an unknowable distance in every direction, but even that had ceased to have significance to the man, now that he had been playing for so long. His steps along it economized every bit of force and reaction just as much as his thoughts had been focussed on the game, and only the game, after so many years.

 

Jackal eyes stared at him as he paced, waiting. Silent. The man still stroked his former long mustaches (become full beard long ago) in thought as he walked. Suddenly, he stopped. Something turned in his head that was stiff and unused, his opponent could tell. Still the jackal eyes stared, and the man's opponent said nothing.

 

"That corpse you planted last year in your garden,

has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?"- the man's dry, cracked lips blurted.

 

"Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

Oh keep the Dog far hence that's friend to men,

Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!"

 

The jackal eyes blinked. The man paced just a little quicker. His nostrils flared.

"Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

 

The man paced rapidly now, gesticulating, voice booming. The shadows around the two players grew even longer and grasping as he moved.

 

"Ladies and Gentlemen, nobles and tramps

Cross eyed Mosquitoes and bow legged ants

I come before you to stand behind you,

to tell you a story I do not know."

 

Just as abruptly as he began, the man stopped, hunkering down by one of his rooks. Picking it up, he slowly turned it in his fingers, staring curiously at it, eventually pinching the small castle between his thumb and forefinger. Man's eyes met jackal's eyes. "I will show you fear in a handful of dust," he said to the jackal-headed man across the impossible chess game between them.

 

His opponent blinked again, cunning eyes now clearly writ canine confusion. The man lifted up the chess piece as if to display it to his opponent. He grinned ruthlessly. "I smell a Wyvern," he clarified before flicking the rook into the Egyptian god of the dead's right eye, and being spirited out of the darkness, and a long way through a different darkness even as Anubis reeled and howled in anger and surprise.

 

The Shadow creatures he had summoned so many years ago had finally found Ozymandias, one-time ruler of Egypt, one-time leader of the Pen is Mightier than the Sword, and kept carrying him until his sandals touched down on unkempt, but familiar lawn.

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As Wyvern travles down the empty halls he is startled by an unexpected figure. In front of him is a young girl, the one he just left sleeping in her room. Wyvern is just startled for a moment, then he starts back on his quest to find Geldrinhor's quarters. But Schecerazde bloocks his progress. "i need the bird," she whispers. The almost dragon looks at her, then laughs. "I said give....me.....thE......BIRD!!" Wyvern stops lauging and looks at the young girl. She has been crying, alot, and she was not joking around.

"Why?" Boomed the great Wyvern.

"He knows how to find James?" A tear fell from her eye. The almost dragon remembered James being dragged away by the Jailers of the Aether. The almost dragon let out a loud sigh, and let the stupid bird go. "Thank you Mr. Wyvern!" Schecerazde ran up and gave him a kiss on the cheek as she ran down the hall, followed by the stupid bid. Better without it, thought Wyvern as he countinued down the halls.

Schecerazde and the pigeon zoomed into James' room. "Let's see," she said as shee garbed a bag from a shelf labled, DO NOT TOUCH. "What do we need?" The bird went brought over a potion marked, HYDE. "Perfect, a hiding potion, that will come in handy. Now we need a weapon?" She looked around and found nothing. She looked to the pigeon who only shruged. "Let the hunt begin!"

 

"Well that was disapointing," Schecerazde said as her and the pigeon made the courtyard. "All we have is a pack, one potion of 'hyde' (when will James learn to spell), a rusty pen (with no ink), and a one winged giant plushie doll. Not the best start, but we need to go save James!"

"WHY?" Came an all too recognisable voice. Schecerazde turned to see a man, cloaked in a robe dark as the night, with eyes that prophesied a storm that would soon come, the Cloaked Figure!

Schecerazde stood her ground, "Because he needs me."

"DOES HE?" With that the cloaked man vanished and a new man took his place. She had never seen this man before, he looked as if to be an old pharaoh. He gave her a strange look. She stuck her tounge out at him, winked and ran deeper into the keep.

 

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James woke in a damp, cold cell. Footsteps on the stone outside drew closer, and he could hear a Jailer's voice. "So the Queen wishes to see him? After what he did?" The footsteps grew closer, and closer. James' heart started to race as fear griped him. If only help would arive, he thought. But no time for that, I have to stop the Cloaked Figure, now that I know who it is!

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Amist the quite holds of the Mighty Pen a mirror refelected another world. And from that world came four figures. An odd unwyvern, a bird man, a little girl, and finaly a man with a storm behind his eyes. The little girl pulled on the mans sleeve and asked, "What happened?""Simple Schecerazde," he replied, "we are home.""I know that James!" she said, matter of factly. "But why can't I remember anything from the other world?" "Must be one of those worlds that you can only take one thing out." He looked at her puzzled face and smiled. "You took me, and..." He took a close look at the two beast, "birdy and....Wyvern? Kept their changes.""Then what did you take?" He went to answear, but found himself lacking one. He could not remember. Puzzling, what could be more important than the reason he went in there? After awhile it seemed he had the answear on his tounge when..."CHIRP!" James glared at the foul feathered, brianed bird man that cost him his thought. And he would have yelled at him if not for seeing the reason. The Mighty Pen was ablaze!

 

After a few minutes James realized that the fire wasn't moving. Finding himself puzzeled, for yet another time this night, he went over and touched it. It felt warm but not hot and something else. "What's going on with the fire James!" Yelled Schecerazde."It's sleeping?!?"All of a sudden a new, but all too reconniseable voice boomed once more, "WELCOME BACK. WHAT YOU ARE SEEING IS THE DESTUCTION OF THE MIGHTY PEN." James turned and saw the cloaked man. Schecerazde ran to James' side."When we left it was a...""STORM? YES, FUNNY THING ABOUT THE STUFF YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND. YOU MAKE IT UP. PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING. NOW WIPE THAT LIPSTICK FROM YOUR FACE."James quickly looked at his reflection in the mirror. Indeed there was bright red lipstick marks on it. For a second he remembered why. But it was gone in a flash as Schecerazde giggled. With what was left of his self esteem he looked at the little girl. A sly smile played across their lips. They both turned to the cloaked figure. "One more story," James said as the little girl nodded.The cloaked figure glared at James. Finally he sighed, "ONE LAST STORY!"

 

Schecerazde knew the drill. And it felt good to once again be in her bed. All of a sudden the large almost_almost dragon came in. She finally got a good look at it. The beast had only one wing and a machine washing label hanging off of him. It was the stuffed Wyvern that Wyvern gave her. It had come to life. She smiled as he crawled into bed beside her. "Wonder what that old almost dragon will say when he sees you, Nrevyw?" There she waited, once again. Just as James and her did last time, half a story each night. She couldn't help herself and let out another giggle. Slowly the door opened, but it wasn't who she expected!!

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It was just a rabbit! ...wearing an eye patch and cape. It hopped in, said "..." and hopped away. A voice could be heard from the hallway "Hurry! They're after us! Run run run or we'll be well done!"

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Some characters have plot shields. Wyvern has an aura of pratfall.

 

So when he and Tzimfemme collided in the hallway, their limbs went flying upward for maximum comic effect before they crashed to earth, and then one slipped again on a bit of storm runoff which moistened the floor (indoors?) and pulled them both down again just as the other had regained balance. Photos, torn loose, floated improbably above the pocket they'd fallen from and dusted the immediate area. Tzimfemme grabbed for the shred of newsprint about to sink into the water, but Wyvern pounced on it first; she closed her hand over his fist instead, and promptly let go.

 

His skin had a strange texture, not in the least like dragons' skin, even less like the zombified dragonskin smock Minta had turned up in one day after going on a dragon-hunting expedition with her non-gnomish friends. Nor was he hydra-like. Tzimfemme tipped her head back and took another look at Wyvern, who seemed now to be swathed in gray, cut off in a cloud bank, suspended over meteor showers in an indifferent sky--

 

"Hello? Hello? Tzimfemme?" He waved his claws in front of her face, realized he was waving faux-Tzimfemme photos in her face too, removed them in a hurry--

 

She watched yellow wildflowers scatter from his claws and sound waves of his speech etch into the wax surrounding him, and couldn't help but cluck with rueful laughter.

 

"Never mind," she told the tableau, "it's just nonsense." He frowned, sneaked a peek at the stack of photos, and straightened up the edges of the stack. "Let's go find others. Any others, anywhere." It's your quest, isn't it, only wyvern that we've ever known anywhere? "Find something which makes sense."

 

They were bound to be disappointed.

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