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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
James Crow

Journey to the Center of the Mighty Pen

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(ooc: this is a portion of Death of the Mighty Pen http://patrickdurham.net/themightypen/index.php?/topic/17168-death-of-the-mighty-pen/, so a quick catch up if your new to the story this: The Pen is being destroyed by an army of darkness; James the....I'll have to get back to you on that, his hyperactive little girl friend (and not that way, geeeez) Scheherazade, the Cloaked Figure now known as the Shadow, and Lady Brighid the Keeper of the Hearth are going on a quest into the heart of the Mighty Pen for answers...or so that is what it would seem, bwhahahahaha!)

 

As Brighid traveled through...who knows where she closed her eyes and only reopened them when she heard Scheherazade exclaim, “Look at all the shinys!” And upon opening her eyes she saw that they where in an underground cavern.

 

The cavern was lit by some strange blue moss. The ceiling sparkled of rare and priceless gems. It was amazing! For a few moments, everyone was in awe. Then the Shadow spoke, still looking around, “Why are we here?”

 

James gave a deep sigh, as though he could be himself for awhile, “The Pen hid a special artifact here, used for making wishes. And we're going to find it.” Then he gave the group a large smile, “We're here to find a wish!”

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"Ooooo...a wish! A wish! A wish!" squealed Scheherazade excitedly. "I have a wish! I have looooaaads of wishes!" Her eyes sparkled in anticipation.

 

"Shhhh..." James replied harshly.

 

Instantly, Scheherazade's smile faded and she stared down at the floor of the cavern.

 

Brighid felt sorry for the young girl. Obviously, she idolized James. What was going on with him, anyway? When she first became acquainted with the two of them, Brighid got the impression that they were some sort of dynamic duo, off on adventures sometimes monumental and oftentimes insignificant. Now that this adventure was shaping up to be one of the important variety, perhaps James was going to crumble under the pressure. It still didn't give him a valid excuse to crush the young girl's soul.

 

"A wish, you say. What kind of wish? Whose wish? What do wishes have to do with anything real anyway?! In my experience, wishes are insubstantial, inconsequential...flimsy, fragile, frail...flaccid little appendages of one's dreams which just hang there pathetically while life...." Brighid stopped her vehement tirade as she noticed her companions staring at her with open mouths. "Never mind." She sighed. "James, please illuminate us as to what we're looking for. Is it a specific wish?"

 

The Shadow reached out through the shimmering radiance of the grotto and gently took hold of Brighid's hand. He gave it a slight squeeze.

 

From somewhere deep within the crumbled ruins of her broken dreams, crushed beneath the weight of fears and regrets, Brighid felt the slight stirring of a wish being formed.

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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James looked at Brighid and smiled, “A wish is real, it is how you can cheat Fate.”

 

Scheherazade pointed at James and said, “You've cheated Fate lots of times.”


James gave her a harsh glare and barked, “Quite girl.” Scheherazade quickly looked back at the ground, her long hair covering her face. But in the stillness of the caverns everyone could hear her trying to hold back tears. “Now back to what I was saying,” James said turning back to Brighid and the Shadow, “I have cheated death and chance, both are very easy. But Fate plays a different game. In life we have a destination planed for us called our destiny. Fate deals us a hand, and we play the cards we are given till we reach the end.”

 

Everyone looked at him confused. Even Scheherazade looked up at James as though he had gone mad. “But if that is true,” said the Shadow piecing it together, “then there is no luck in life.”

 

Or hope,” finished Brighid.

 

James let out a large grin as he leaned on a stalagmite, “Your right. There is no luck or hope, just how we play the cards we're dealt.” Scheherazade went to say something, but with one look from James she quickly turned it into defeated silence. James just ignored her and continued, “A wish, a miracle, or what ever you want to call it, are all the same thing. A way to cheat Fate. To rewrite your destiny!”


So who gets the wish,” asked the Shadow as he pulled Brighid a little closer.


How mad would would you be,” spoke James, “if I said, all things are revealed in due time.” The Shadow glared at James and squeezed Brighid's hand tighter. Scheherazade let out a little giggle. At that sound James marched over there angrily and slapped Scheherazade hard across the face. “DON”T DO THAT AGAIN!” he roared. She looked at him stunned, tears forming in her eyes. Brighid covered her mouth in shock, and even the Shadow took a step back.

 

Nobody moved as the sound echoed over and over through the cavernous ruins, till all was once again silent. Then the mournful bells of James' watch sounded and he turned, in that moment Brighid saw James' eyes grow paler. Then he said, “Let's go, time grows short.” The others stood there a bit longer, frozen in that horrific scene that had just taken place. Then everything seemed to unfreeze. The Shadow let go and followed James, as Brighid rushed over to comfort the now hysteric girl. But as she did she had to wonder if her mind was playing tricks on her, cause it looked as if James was going blind.

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Brighid held the sniffling girl close, smoothing back her hair from where it clung to her cheeks wet with tears.

 

“Scheherazade, listen to me. If you know why James is acting this way toward you, you must tell me. Don’t be afraid. Why is he so angry?”

 

“I…I don’t know why; really, Brighid. I think James hates me now, and I don’t know what I did.”

 

“We’ll find out; don’t worry. First we need to find this wish he’s looking for. I get the feeling we don’t have a lot of time, so just stay out of his way until we do, okay? Let’s get moving and catch up to them; I don’t like being down here alone.”

 

Brighid was reluctant to leave the soothing blue glow of the cavern and follow James and the Shadow into the tunnel. When she was on the run she had taken shelter in caves whenever she came upon them, and most nights she woke up from her nightmare and felt suffocated by their oppressive darkness. At least when she had slept out under the stars their bright twinkling had helped to soothe her back to sleep.

 

She took one more look at the jewels sparkling on the ceiling – when will I see real stars again? Above this earthen labyrinth, outside the walls of the Pen, miles to the north above my stone cottage – and then pushed her fear and trepidation aside, prodding Scheherazade to move on ahead of her down the darkened tunnel.

 

They only walked a minute or two before catching up with James. He had lit a small snub of a candle, just enough to cast an eerie glow around the outline of his upper body. Instinctively, Scheherazade fell back behind Brighid.

 

The tunnel felt like it had suddenly dropped several degrees and was getting increasingly damper. Brighid reached out to feel the wall and recoiled reflexively; her fingers were covered in a slippery slime.

 

“Ewww…” she hissed under her breath as she wiped the muck off on a fold of her cloak.

 

Without warning, she bumped into the Shadow who had stopped and was standing still in the middle of the path.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t see you!” she apologized. “I can barely see anything down here and you don’t exactly stand out against the darkness.”

 

“And that’s exactly what I’m sorry about, Brighid. Don’t you think I wish—“

 

“Shut up, you two!” James growled, turning around to face them. “You can have your little reunion later on, when – or if – my plan works.” The candle illuminated his facial features grotesquely, and there was no mistaking the opaque film which had partially spread across his eyes.

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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James spun back around and they continued down the dark tunnel, only the small light of the candle lead them. Brighid felt a tug on her cloak and hear a soft voice say, “i'm hungry.” She let out a scream. Brighid turned to see the monster that grabbed her, it was.....only Scheherazade who was standing there in shock.

 

Then another hand touched Brighid on the shoulder, and she let out another scream as the Shadow said, “Don't worry I'm right here.”

 

I WANT TO GO HOME!,” screamed Brighid, her fear of the dark finally over coming her. She collapsed onto the floor and she started to cry.

 

Both the Shadow and Scheherazade tried to comfort her. The Shadow looked at James and said, “Brig the light over here.” But James just stood there, keeping Brighid's form out of the lights radius. The Shadow started to stand up and repeated, “Bring over the light James!”

 

Brighid looked at James, blurred in her vision. “please,” she begged.

 

He just looked at her and growled, “Stop wasting time,” then turned and started to walk away. The Shadow chased after him determined to get the candle from him. But when he got close James simply said, “How about we all go into the dark.” Then he blew out the candle.

 

NO!” cried Brighid as she closed her eyes. Then she heard sounds of oooo's, awww's, and James laughing. She decided to open her eyes and witnessed the most amazing thing she had ever seen.

 

They where on the crest of a mountain overlooking a small deserted village in a small valley below. They where still underground but it was all lit up, almost as if in twilight. Then she saw hundreds of....floating lights? They where of every color, dancing to a tune of there own. “They are a form of Willow-wisp,” James said, “They are what lights this part of the cave, impossible to see, unless it is pitch dark around you. They are the light in the dark, hope in the void of depression,” he let out a sigh of relief, “We are getting close.” It was so peaceful, so quiet. Then the quietness was broken by Scheherazade stomach rumbling.

 

James spun around, glaring at the girl, he started to walk towards her. Brighid couldn't stand by this time and put the girl protectively behind her. “She is just hungry, James,” she said trying to defuse the situation. But when she looked in James' dead eyes she saw only anger, and she wasn't gonna be enough to stop it. The Shadow saw this to and stood between her and James. James stopped, then turned and marched angrily down to the village. But Brighid had enough, she marched right after him. As she passed her lover she looked at him and whispered, “Take care of Scheherazade, I'm going to talk to James.” He gave her a worried look. “Don't worry,” she said reassuringly, “He won't touch me.”

 

I'll kill him if he does,” replied her lover.

 

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

 

Brighid chased after James and followed him into a group of jagged rocks. After a while she found herself at the foot of a beautiful lake. It was stunning shade of blue, almost as if it where liquid sapphire, with those strange lights dancing just inches from the mirror like reflective surface. Then she hear a drop of water hit the lake and looked at the place it landed, and saw in the rippled refection, James, tears slowly falling from his eyes. When she tried to look around for him she couldn't see him anywhere, so she looked back at the refection and asked, “Whats going on here?” the anger still in her voice.

 

She watched as James wiped the tears from his eyes and down. “I'm sorry,” he said, no hint of anger in his voice, only pain. “I was trying to make the choice easy for you, but it so hard to push those you care about away,” another tear fell into the lake, “Did you know that Fate doesn't like to be cheated,” he said, trying to change subjects. “So even trying to cheat her comes at a price, and you will have to make that choice, I wish it didn't have to be you, and I'm sorry I can't make it easier for you. I am so USELESS!” With that he throw a rock into his reflection. Brighid watched as the mirror liquid, sapphire, mirror mended itself, but when it did she was surprised....James was gone. Then she almost had a heart attack as James' voice came from behind her saying, “Take care of Scheherazade for me.”

 

She spun around and saw James giving her that playful grin he had when they first met. She glared at him as he walked past. “that wasn't funny,” she chided, “And what are you doing know?”

 

He started to remove his shirt and replied, “Yes it was, and taking a dip in this lake.” Her look of why went unanswered. Then he continued, “So you should leave.” Then as he started to remove his pants she got the hint and turned around. “Though I guess there are always other options,” he said teasingly. And before she could ask, 'what does that mean exactly,' he dived in.

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Brighid kept her back to the lake until she heard James enter the water; she turned and sat down upon the mossy bank. She felt drained by the fear which had overcome her just moments before.

 

What is this place? I thought the tunnels under the Pen were full of nasty beings: orcs or goblins or sleazy, slimy, sycophantic subservients sent here to maim and mangle according to their masters’ bidding. But we haven’t encountered any dangerous creatures. Yet this feels to be a far more menacing place, one filled with depressions, fears, and melancholy.

 

As she watched James swim smoothly through the lustrous blue water, a thought entered and sat squarely within Brighid’s understanding: the four of them were wandering within the vast psyche of the Mighty Pen itself. This was not shaping up to be an adventure filled with swashbuckling heroics, but one rife with soul-searching.

 

That’s why I found James in the courtyard covered in blood but I couldn't find a bullet or stab wound. He carries the wounds within his soul, and my healing herbs contain no efficacy against that type of trauma.

 

The Shadow and Scheherazade joined Brighid next to the bank.

 

“I don’t know how long James intends to stay in the lake, but we should build a small fire anyway; it’s damp and he will be chilled once he emerges. Plus, I could sure use a cheery glow midst all this gloom, even if it is only temporary. Scheherazade, do you see the small copse of trees on that side of the village?” She pointed about a quarter of a mile to the left. “Go gather what you can for kindling and a few small logs. As soon as you return, I’ll light a fire and brew you some tea which will take away your hunger.”

 

The girl set off to do as she was asked, relieved that the path did not take her close to the lake where James was still swimming.

 

Brighid turned toward the Shadow and studied what she could distinguish of his facial features. Whenever his form started to solidify it altered, like smoke in a shifting breeze. He’s here but not here.

 

Seeing the look of overwhelming sadness come into Brighid’s eyes was too much for the Shadow, and he gathered her into his arms as firmly as he could, but his grasp was tenuous at best and was only present at all when he concentrated on the memory of the night they had spent together.

 

Brighid closed her eyes and the sensory memories of that night settled over her. She felt the shadow brush her hair to the side, exposing her neck to the dampness. She leaned back into the moss as he placed gentle kisses upon her skin, but the kisses were just an echo of the firmness she had felt that night when his mouth was warm and she had felt ablaze under his touch.

 

Reaching for Yasmina’s mirror within the pocket of her cloak, she held it up behind the Shadow’s back and opened her eyes. As she feared, all she saw reflected was her own face, gazing longingly up into the empty space.

 

“I've got the wood!” Scheherazade declared triumphantly, dumping the small bundle on the ground next to Brighid and the Shadow.

 

They both stood abruptly, careful not to look in each other’s direction, and Brighid busied herself with lighting the fire and concocting a tea. She removed a metal pot from her bag. “Scheherazade, please fill this with water from the lake.”

 

By the time the girl returned with the full pot, the fire was burning cheerily and Brighid placed the pan on a flat rock just outside of the flames. She set the bag of herbs within the water to start brewing the tea. Reaching within her bag, she withdrew two drinking cups created out of the bones of some unknown animal.

 

“I’m afraid I only have two cups with me. We’ll have to share.”

 

“I’m afraid I can’t partake of your tea, Lady Brighid,” the Shadow replied ruefully, “so why don’t you share with Scheherazade, and James can have his own.”

 

Brighid gazed fondly at the Shadow then filled the cups with her nourishing brew. Passing one to Scheherazade, she almost spilled the other when James startled her from behind.

 

“What a cozy little scene this is! Just like one big happy family enjoying a lakeside picnic,” he said bitterly.

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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Brighid quickly composed herself and held the glass of tea up for James saying, “Here, drink this. It will take the chill from your bones.” James took it as he walked by and headed for the other side of the fire, almost walking into it. Scheherazade, looking at James fearfully, slowly gravitated towards Brighid. James sat on the ground and as he took a sip of tea Brighid noticed his hand. It had what looked like a large, painful, oozing sore on it that she didn't remember seeing before. “that looks like it hurts, let me see it.”

As she started over to him he said, “No, its fine.”

He then quickly put his hand in his pocket. She reached him and knelt down beside him saying, “Its okay, I'm a healer.” He just pushed his hand deeper into his pocket. Brighid sighed, she remembered dealing with stubborn patients back home, though those were children, not grown men. “Let me see the boo-boo.” She then garbed James' arm and started to pull it out.

“I said it is fine,” James protested. But Brighid just pulled harder. “Let go,” James growled. Brighid just redoubled her efforts. Slowly the hand started to come out. And as it finally left the pocket, James slapped her across the face with his other hand. “LET GO OF ME YOU WITCH!” he roared. She took a step back holding the side of her cheek, stunned. Scheherazade latched onto her side, once again frightened by James' strange behavior.

The Shadow rose and growled, “That's it, I'm gonna.....”

What,” James growled back, pointing at the Shadow with his wounded hand, “You are merely a dream demon.” The Shadow stopped. James saw Brighid's puzzled look from the corner of his almost blind eyes and smiled. “You didn't know, Brighid? Your lover is a demon bond to that world of dreams. Perhaps he always was, maybe the whole affair was a dream to make you abandon your home.”

Brighid just stood there, shaking her head. “Don't listen to him,” the Shadow pleaded, “He is lieing, trying to turn us against each other.”

He started to step closer to Brighid, then he froze in horror as James said, “If that is true, then what is the Shadows name?”

Scheherazade finally looked out from behind Brighid's cloak and gasped in terror as she saw James wounded hand. “You are still infected by the Butcher's virus!” she exclaimed.

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“I think this is a good time for you to explain yourself, James. We all followed you down here expecting answers, but all you’ve done is vent your anger and insult us. We don’t even know what you’re angry about, though I can venture a guess based on your mood swings, the innuendos you keep dropping, that strange watch you’re wearing, and now the appearance of the Butcher’s virus: you’re almost certain that your time is up and you still don’t have clue as to how you’re going to get out of your predicament.”

 

Brighid stared steadily into James’ rheumy eyes. She could tell by the way he sat disconsolately on the ground, his shoulders slumped in defeat, that what she said was true. James looked down into the mug of tea for several moments before he replied.

 

“It’s true; I don’t know what I’m going to do and time’s running out. I have a vague plan. It involves the wish I mentioned, but there is no guarantee it will work. And now these cursed sores are starting to appear,” he growled, holding his infected arm up to the fire so they could all see how the virus was starting to spread across his body.

 

“I think I can stop the spread of the virus, James. And no, it’s not witchcraft that I possess, but ancient knowledge that was taught to me when I was being trained as Keeper of the Hearth. You have nothing to fear from me.” Brighid started removing sachets of herbs and a small pot of ointment from her bag. “But there is something I need you to explain right now, and please answer simply and clearly: who is this shadow man and why do you say he is a demon confined to my dreams? If he is the same man that was found wounded on the shore of Lake Penrith – the man I healed and fell in love with…and perhaps murdered – then how is it that he had a corporeal form at that time? Several of my villagers saw him. I know I wasn’t in the dream world the whole time! I need to know, James – did I carry him with me into the dream world and murder him there? Am I the reason he’s now without a physical body?”

 

James regarded the woman gravely from where he sat across the fire. The Shadow placed his hand tenderly on Brighid’s shoulder and she whispered to him, "I don't know your name." She buried her face in her hands and sobbed, “Isn’t there anything that can be done?”

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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James just looked at the scene in front of him. 'How did this get so far out of hand?' he thought, 'Well might as well come clean.” He started to stand and let out a sigh, looking up into the dark he said, “The truth, I'm not good at.” The others looked at him with mixed emotions. “I wear 'mask' to protect myself, and those I care about.” He looked at Scheherazade giving her a smile, shrugged, and simply said, “Sorry.” Then he leaned on one of the the rocks littering the 'campsite', and looked down. “In my past, the truth never helped me. Though I never lied.” He looked at Brighid, and smiled, “Don't worry about the illness, the watch will buy me enough time. And sorry for the crack on your talents, I know it's not witchcraft. Just trying to make your choice easier.” He let out another sigh, “That's not going to happen.” He looked up at the stone ceiling far above them. “This place is the treasure and portal room. Home to some of the most dangerous and powerful items housed in the Mighty Pen. And the item we seek is here, a wishing stone.”

The group waited for more. But when James didn't speak for a few minutes Brighid grew ferocious. She stood up and said, “You still haven't answered my questions about my love! And keep talking about choices and a price, what do you mean?!?”

James slid down the stone he was leaning on and sigh, “Right, him. When he saved Scheherazade she got some of his memories. She told me of course and I started to piece things together. You did kill him, sorry.” Brighid turned to her love and tears started to well up in her eyes. “But he is like me,” James continued, “He made deals. He asked demons for a wish, and they granted it. He wish to see you again, Brighid. But the demons twisted it and made him a herald of destruction.” She wasn't able to hold back the tears and they started to pour down her face. The Shadow moved close to her, holding her, trying to comfort her. Wanting to cry with her, but couldn't. James continued, “That is the price of free wishes, the one we're after is different, this is a fair price. A destiny to rewrite a destiny.” The group look at James as he smiled, “Though it is a bit of a pain. It takes two people with a wish, me and him,” James pointed to the Shadow. “Then a person to choose, that is you,” indicating Brighid.

 

But,” she said, “I don't want either of you to die.”

 

James shook his head, “Not death. The one you don't choose has his destiny erased. There is no coming back from that, ever! And I know you don't want to hurt either of us. Even though I tried to make it easy for you, you saw past it. But that is why it has to be you.”

 

Is there any other way,” she started as James started to grin, “You said there is always other choices.”

 

James nodded, “I did. You can sacrifice both of us to make a wish for yourself.” She took a step back, the look of why all over her face. James just kept grinning, “Two destinys, a more powerful wish. With it you could have almost anything, or even go so far as to free the Pen from this current evil. Or we could leave, that will solve nothing though. But the price is fair. Even ask Scheherazade, she is very familiar with wishes.”

 

Brighid had almost forgot about the little girl. She turned and saw Scheherazade nodding, tears falling from her face as she stared at James. “Dummy!,” cried the little girl as she ran into James' arms.

 

James looked up at Brighid, still smiling but this time tears where coming from his eyes. “I am willing to make this sacrifice,” he started, “and, I believe, so is your lover,” the Shadow nodded. “So,” James finished, “Now that you know, what will you do, continue or go back. Your choice?”

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Up the hill a short ways, unseen among the brush and boulders, lay a cloaked figure. He lay quite still, only occssionally shifting slightly to ease the pain in his left side from all the old injuries. Though some distance away, the area was very quiet, owing to no wind in the enormous cavern, besides which the man had rather acute hearing. He could hear everything said, but he did nothing. For now, he just listened, and waited.

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“I need some time alone with…with…the Shadow. Please.” James nodded his consent and led Scheherazade away from the fire.

 

“I am so sorry,” Brighid said sorrowfully. “I have been hoping all these months that your death at my hands was really just a dream. It has never made sense. Why would I have done such a thing? I had fallen in love with you.”

 

“I had fallen in love with you, too, Brighid. Your beauty, strength, and compassion far exceeded any woman I had met before Fate brought us together. I couldn’t believe my luck – disaster and near-death brought me a change in fortune. The pain I endured as I clung to life while you nursed me back to health faded into nothingness as soon as I regained consciousness and looked into your face. That night we spent together, as you fell asleep peacefully against my chest, I decided that I did not want to go on without you in my life. I planned on begging you to run away with me as soon as we woke.”

 

Brighid didn’t try to stop the stream of hot tears which coursed down her cheeks. Guilt and grief – both had been her constant companions since that tragic night.

 

“I think I understand what happened, though it doesn’t lessen my guilt. I should have been stronger! Fate knew what was in your heart, and also knew that I would forsake the vows I took as Keeper of the Hearth and leave with you. I would have followed you anywhere. Instead, I was led to take your life.”

 

Brighid let the Shadow hold her while she sobbed. How can he even bear being in my presence? I killed him. I KILLED him. I deserve to die!

 

After a moment, he lifted Brighid’s face and kissed her softly. “There is no need for you to feel guilt. You did not kill me knowingly; it wasn’t your fault. I still love you. I always will…no matter what.” He kissed her lips, her cheek, her neck, and then whispered in her ear, “My name is Alexander.”

 

“Okay, okay…enough’s enough,” James said jovially, trying to lighten the mood. “It’s time for Lady Brighid to smear me with her healing goo and then we need to get this show on the road. That is, if you’ve decided how we’re going to precede, Brighid.”

 

Brighid reluctantly took a step away from Alexander and looked back and forth between the two men. She had no idea what she was going to do, but she didn’t want to admit that just yet.

 

“Yes, I’m ready. But first, let’s get rid of those disgusting lesions!”

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Silent sandals were betrayed by the light scraping of soil as a familiar weatherbeaten, bronze face and shaggy grey beard stepped into James and Scherezade's view.

 

"Ah, hello."

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Brighid regarded the newcomer warily but relaxed when it became apparent by James and Scheherazade's expressions that they knew this bearded stranger. He seemed vaguely familiar to her, but she couldn't place him. In any case he didn't seem dangerous, but what was he doing in this part of the underground caverns? She thought they were alone down here; for all she knew, there could be several other wanderers hiding in the shadows...

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James smiled and gave a bow, as Scheherazade gave a curtsey, to the newcomer. “So, what brings you here?” James asked, holding out his hand so Brighid could mend it. Because of the distraction, she didn't notice that James gave her the wrong hand, or that this one looked as if it were just recently cut open on some jagged rocks.

As Brighid did her magic and treated James' hand, James gave Scheherazade a sly smile. Scheherazade just giggled. Alexander walked over to the newcomer and asked, “Do you know of a stone that grants wishes residing around here?"

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Ozymandias blanched at the questions. "Ah. May I answer the less awkward one first? No, I don't- but we have been gone, and I don't think anyone knows how long."

 

He met their eyes earnestly enough, but the fidgeting of his hands betrayed that there certainly was something wrong. That, and something else about him- something hard to define- looked off.

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"What do you mean by we've been gone for who knows how long? Who are you referring to -- me and my companions, or yourself...in a collective sense?" Brighid asked with slight agitation. She was getting tired of receiving half-answers and was a bit panicked to think that the four of them could have been wandering around down here longer than just a few hours.

 

"And give me your other arm, James. I've worked around diseased people my whole life and have built up an immunity to most viruses, magical and otherwise; you don't have to worry about me getting infected." She gave a reasurring smile to James, realizing that he was trying to protect her from the lesions.

 

Scheherazade giggled and then replied to the stranger, "Yeah, what do you mean we've been gone for a long time? We haven't even slept once...and we haven't had anything to eat!"

 

Why is this guy acting so anxious? Brighid wondered to herself as she applied the salve to James' infected arm.

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The Elder of the Mighty Pen shuffled his feet, looking embarrassed. Scherezade spotted it first- he has no shadow; no wait; it's there, but oblong, and so short that his foot had been hiding it?

 

Ozymandias looked back into the young girl's eyes in response first. "My friends and I. I don't know where we were, but it wasn't this world. And most of us never learned how to tell time."

 

His gaze and head drooped. "But then we came back, and the keep looked like this," he waved a halfhearted arm upward, toward the Mighty Pen Keep proper, then fell quiet.

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James gave his other hand to Brighid and sighed, “Spoilsport.” Then noticing Scheherazade giggling looked at her and said, “Whose side are you on.”

“Both,” she replied proudly, with a grin.

Then James looked at the almost shadow less Ozymandias said, “Yeah, having a bit of end of the world fun up there...wait a minute...” James raised an eyebrow and continued, “Friends? We? Came back!?! Seems to me there is a tale there. Do you know where they are, do you need help finding them?”

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Brighid followed Ozmandyias' gesture up to the ceiling of the cavern; again she was struck by the enormity of the place. A few stray willow-wisps floated like lanterns above her, punctuating the gloom with cheerful illumination. In many ways, at least when they weren't plunged into inky darkness, the caverns were beautiful and it was difficult to imagine the impending chaos and destruction that was threatening her friends above ground.

 

"Are you searching for your friends or merely surveying the damage the Pen's suffered in your absence?" Brighid asked Ozymandious. "And I think the wish stone that we're seeking is of ancient origin; isn't it, James? It seems as Elder of the Mighty Pen that you would be aware of its existence."

 

Ozymandious stroked his grey beard thoughtfully, as if he was trying to decide what -- or how much -- information to divulge next.

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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James' fellow Elder glanced at him, but otherwise looked very interested in the ground. "Not exactly, but we're spread out across the Keep. None of us went outside." He smiled a relieved little smile at this. "No, no thank you. We're all usually hard to catch. And - no, no, and probably. I never got told," he answered both of them.

 

Half or full-answers, he still seemed to be dodging only the one question.

Edited by Ozymandias

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“Well, started James, looking at the old Egyptian puzzlingly, “The....OUCH!!...Not so tight you witch!” He said glaring Brighid, who at this point was bandaging the goo covered hands so James could use them.

“I'm not a witch, I'm a healer,” she replied, giving the bandages another tug.

“There's no proof of that,” hissed James. Scheherazade started to laugh. Then he and Scheherazade noticed that Brighid had stopped. She was looking down and was crying. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw the shadow man Alexander out of the corner of his eye.

Ozymandias looked on the scene with interest, and so did another. Another on top of a hill, watching events unfold.

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What is my problem? Brighid thought angrily. I've turned into such a wimp, crying every time I think about what I did to him.

 

"Sorry, guys." she said through her tears. "Whenever I look at you, Alexander, I can't help but think about killing you. And now...now you're a shadow, and it's all my fault! I was holding out some hope that this elusive 'wishing stone' was going to fix everything: cure James completely, stop the insidious infestation of evil from crossing over into this world, restore the Mighty Pen to its former glory, and bring you back to me, Alex...bring you back to yourself."

 

Fresh tears fell from Brighid's luminous eyes.

 

Alex stepped forward and gathered her into his arms.

 

James looked down at his bandages with disgust.

 

Ozymandias looked up from the small patch of ground he had been studying.

 

Scheherazade's stomach growled, "Borborygmus!"

 

Gathering her composure, Brighid straightened her shoulders and wiped away her tears with the backs of her hands. "I think we've had enough of an emotional interlude for now. Let's get focused and find this wishing stone, James. It may not work, and even if it does, it may not work exactly as I hope it will. But if we don't at least try, we're already defeated."

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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"Okay," James said, "Lets go use the stone, it will fix everything."

 

"But none of us knows where it is," said Brighid.

 

"Riight," responded James. Then after a thoughtful look around he grinned. "Lets split up and look for clues! I will go with Scheherazade. Brighid, you get Alex and Ozymandious." Then he leaned in closer and whispered, "keep an eye on him, he looks a but shady."

 

Brighid nodded and whispered back, "good idea, he is acting a bit funny."

 

"Who?" asked James, looking confused.

 

"Ozymandious, who were you talking about?"

 

"Alex," James reponded with a wink.

 

Brighid gave gave James a funny look, then Scheherazade pulled on Brughid's cloak and whisper in her ear, "It's cause he's a shadow." Brighid gave James a stern look. But couldn't help but show a small smile as James and Scheherazade started to laugh. Then the two rascals walked off towards the small village. Leaving Brighid alone with her lover, and a freaky egyptain....by this point stuff like this had started to seem, normal.

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“Well, Ozymandias, it looks like you’re stuck with the two of us. I hope you’re handy with a sword because Alex is unable to wield a weapon in his present state, and I’m proficient in the art of dagger thrusting only.” She winked at him light-heartedly.

 

“A well-placed thrust of a dagger is all you need in some cases, Lady Brighid,” replied the old Egyptian. “But not to fear, I've been known to hew my way through hordes of various foes a few times. You’re safe with me.” He winked back half-heartedly; guiding these two adventurers through the countless corridors and catacombs under the Pen’s underpinning had not been on his day’s docket.

 

Plus, they were a little bit too nosy…and far too presumptuous; the Pen’s magical items were hidden for a reason.

 

Brighid ignored the lack of Ozymandias’ enthusiasm. “Before we get started, why don’t you tell us exactly what it is we’re looking for? All James told us was that we’re in search of an ancient stone full of the magic needed to grant a wish. Stones, like people, come in many shapes and sizes; how do we know where to start looking? For all we know, the stone could be literally right below our feet.

 

Ozymandias couldn’t help but give a darting peek downward to the small patch of ground he had been studying earlier. Brighid was unaware of any suspicious behavior, but since becoming a mere shadow of the physical man he once was, Alexander’s powers of observation had been finely honed, and the Egyptian’s furtive glance told him what he needed to know.

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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As James and Scheherazade walked towards the town she looked at him and said, “I'm hungrrrry!”

James said, “And where there is a town there has got to be, what?”

“FOOD!” Scheherazade finished with new found energy. James nodded and smiled.

When they got to the town they stopped at one of the buildings. It looked exactly like....but it couldn't be. “James,” whispered Scheherazade, “This looks familiar.”

James gave a quick look around and with a gulp replied, “They all do...It looks just like the Mighty Pen!”

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