29 December 2008

Went to the Ocean Today

The pier was being confiscated by a gang of pelican-like flying creatures.

Neptune, looking as stoic as usual.

" I saw the footprint of a man's naked foot!"


The best time to go the beach is during winter on a cold, blustery day. The tracks were due to people, some seagulls, and some to the small herd of puppies chasing one another while wearing these funky sweater things.

28 December 2008

The Marshwigglers

I discovered these in an outdoors shop last Friday. These extraordinary cool shoes are officially called Vibram Fivefingers, but I prefer to call them The Marshwigglers.

27 December 2008

Some Christmas pictures

I know I haven't been writing much lately. . .what most would read, so here are some Christmas pictures I took the past few days.

Shopping in Morgantown.

I found these two hats in a closet. They had never been worn.

17 December 2008

The end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8

There might be some notes here that I've not deleted yet, but basically this is the gist of things.

I also left out a few pages where the fellows see the remnants of a mammoth-like creature because it seemed awkward-I'll try to add the mumakils (mammoth-woolly rhino creatures) in at a later date.

Warily, they approached the Gates. Malchius, Aidin, and Jorlath drew their daggers and Atma put an arrow in his bow. Finally, the great gates lie directly in front of them. Myridon led the way in silence. As they quietly entered the ancient city they looked around. Nothing seemed changed from their previous visit. Through the entire length of the city they walked. Atma stopped and peered closely at the ground.

“What do you see Atma?” asked Malchius.

Atma looked up and replied in a rather hushed tone. “Blood, and what appears to be the footprint of a man.”

After a long pause Myridon placed his hand on his great beard. “How old is this print?” he asked.

“One, two days. Perhaps even three.”

“Then it’s safe to say that their owner is far away. Still yet, we’ll split up and search the city. Something feels amiss about this place. Did you notice how quiet it is?”

“Yes,” replied Atma. “The very air feels full of dread, almost as if Megisteron himself passed through.”

The group separated and agreed to meet in half an hour. Malchius wondered if it was the wisest thing to wander about alone but kept this to himself. Fortunately, five minutes later Jorlath whistled loudly for the others. He was halfway up a set of stairs that led up the outside of a guard tower in the main gate facing the Layam. The others quickly scurried over and before anyone had an opportunity to question him he signaled for silence. Jorlath climbed down and told them what he’d seen.

“A troop of horsemen bearing the ensign of a black hand are riding north of the city. What their business here is beyond me but they’re galloping hard.”

“How many did you see?”

“Twenty riders and all carrying long spears.”

“Did you see anything else?”

“Yes. I saw a man lying on the ground at the far end of the city wearing the same black garb as the riders.”

“Come, Malchius,” said Myridon. “We will investigate. For now, you three will watch the riders from this abandoned guard tower and warn us if any return. Malchius and I will return presently.”

When they were out of earshot from the others Malchius asked Myridon. “Who are these riders of the black hand?”

“Bandits most likely. Perhaps they’re some of the ones from Maligmia. We’ll find out soon enough.”

They soon found the man lying on his back in the middle of the remnants of a large house or temple. Cautiously they approached him. He appeared to be dead until Myridon tapped him with his staff. The man let out a soft moan. Malchius bent down and poured water over his face. He opened his eyes and stared at his two new visitors.

“Who are you?” thundered Myridon in a commanding voice.

The man mumbled something unintelligible then closed his eyes. Malchius bent back down and poured some water into his mouth. Myridon repeated his last question. This time he opened his eyes and coughed violently and cracked out the word ‘Anvar.’

“Anvar. Is that your name?”

The man nodded.

“Why are you lying here like a dead dog. Where are you from?”

The man coughed violently once more. Malchius gave him another drink.

“If I tell you will you promise to spare my life and not return me to my master?”

“I will make no such promises. This, however, I will say. If you make any attempt to escape you will meet with an early death. For two of our party are deadly archers and can hit an apple a quarter mile away at dusk.”

“It seems I have no choice in the matter. Well then, here is my story.”

“Dagornash is my master. He is a powerful man in Maligmia and I was his personal servant. After we raided some villages about Velusia I became ill and he left me here to die...”

Anvar once more took hold of another violent fit of coughing that lasted a full thirty seconds.

“The riders we saw riding north of the city, Are these from Maligmia also?”

“Yes, they were anxious to return to their stronghold in the mountains. Dagornash is their leader.”

“Where is this stronghold?”

“An hours ride north of this city. There is a system of caves where we worked from.”
Malchius helped Anvar up into a sitting position.

“What does this Dagornash want with these outlying villages? Isn’t Maligmia a kingdom of great wealth already?”

“Quite right. Dagornash tells me nothing of his true aims.”

“Perhaps he was ordered to raid these villages,” said Myridon. “This Dagornash may be a vassal of Megisteron.”

“Never! He was a cold master but just.”

“Times have changed Anvar. Many upright men with good intentions go astray, especially in this age. Already Megisteron has turned the hearts of valiant men to evil and the love of many has grown cold. And did you not say he tells you nothing of his thoughts?”

“No. I still think you are wrong.”

“Very well. Wrong I may be, yet if I am not, he must be caught and punished or be driven from the land. We are in need of haste or we would have you show us his hiding places. As it is now, you will go to Velusia with Atma.”


“But they may recognize me,” he stammered.

“That’s a risk you’ll have to take. I shouldn’t worry too much about that if I were you. If you truly were a slave to Dagornash you should have no need for fear. Perhaps if you plead your case before Khiron he will show you mercy.”

Anvar had no reply. He slumped back to the ground and closed his eyes.

“Let him lie here,” said Myridon. “Go back to the others and tell them what we’ve heard. Aidin, tell Atma to come back and carry him to one of the guard tower rooms. I’ll return later. I want to examine this city a bit more while the light lasts.”

Malchius ran back to the tower.

“What did the dead man say?” asked Aidin.

“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough,” he panted. “Come. Jorlath should stay here and keep watch. We’ll carry him back here. No. I don’t think he’ll run off. He’s glad to have different company. The riders we saw earlier, he was a personal slave to their leader.”

Malchius, Aidin, and Atma went back to Anvar. He still seemed to be sleeping so they left him there while they searched for something to carry him on. Presently they found two long poles which may have been used tp prop up a roof at one time but lay half buried in a pile of rubble. They wrapped a blanket around the poles to make a type of bed. They placed Anvar on the device and carried him back to the tower just as night was approaching.

“Brr,” Aidin shivered. “It’s cold in here. Where’s my tinder box? I had it by me just before you came back.”

“I’ve got it,” said Jorlath as he entered the guard tower. “I thought of making a fire but then it may have drawn attention to who knows what dark creatures lurking nearby.”

“Wise choice friend,” said Mal. “Did you see anyone else?”

“Nay, only Myridon clambering upon some rocks on the far reaches of the city.”

“He should return soon.”

Atma climbed the crumbly dusty stairs of the watchtower to stand guard. The other three, after making Anvar as comfortable as possible, tried to get more words from him but he simply muttered the same story as before. Soon, Myridon returned quietly. In his hand he carried something in a tattered cloth rag.

“Ho! Wizard. What have you got there?” asked Aidin.

“Something useful I think.”

He opened the contents of his bundle and held up a clay pot. Carefully he removed the lid to reveal a chalky red powder to the curious travelers.

“What is it?” asked Malchius. “It doesn’t look so useful to me unless we can eat it.”

He stretched out his hand to take some.

“Stop!” shouted Myridon. “This is mummy powder, very useful and very dangerous. Just a little powder on the flesh will cause irreparable damage. It is used for killing. A simple dusting of this powder about the room of a sleeping man and he will die by morning. The riders probably dropped it on their way out of the city.”

“Mummy powder?” asked Malchius.

“Yes,” replied Myridon. “It is an extract of Tantleweed, commonly known as Dragon’s Breath. A fell herb that grows only in the courts and gardens of Megisteron’s palaces. It is not a hardy weed and requires constant care. This Anvar knows more than he speaks.”

He eyed the weary Maligmian lying in the corner. The wizard glowered at him and asked.
“Where was your old master journeying?”

Anvar tried to talk but his voice quavered. “Here, drink this,” Myridon said as he gave him a sip of his cordial. Anvar drank and hoarsely replied,
“It is to the west as far as the western isles on the great sea, Dagornash has set in his mind to travel. He has great stores built up from plundering to furnish such an expedition.”

“The great sea is a thousand leagues away and only a score of riders did we see. Are there more riders hidden in the hills?”

“We leave a few men behind to guard the stores.”

“Anvar, listen to me carefully. Can you lead me to these caves in a months time? I deem that they may be useful. We’ve very pressing business to attend to that cannot wait much longer.”

“That I think I can, though it won’t be easy. We can see anyone from afar and the few men that Dagornash has are vigilant.”

“Other paths exist that you may know not of and we’ve also men among us who can at times walk unseen.”

“I will lead you then. It is the least I can do to repay you for saving my life.”

Early the next day, well before sunrise, the company was on it’s way. They took care not to leave the ruined city of the dead by the main gate. Instead, they took a winding, twisting circuit climbing over great stone slabs covered with slippery lichen. An hour and a half later and they were finally on the outskirts of Palo-Enlil back on the trail.

**(name of trail? Enlil Way, Enlil road, Ancients road?)

Anvar thought that Dagornash wouldn’t take the trail** as they always used paths well hidden and unknown to most. As a precaution, they took it in turn to send a scout ahead, usually Jorlath. The return to Velusia was without any event(bereft of any danger) and except for one false scare they were in site of the city only two days later.

They made camp in the middle of an ancient field that night. They laughed and told one another stories of the previous month together. It was the first night since leaving Mt. Danyabad that any of them had a really good laugh. The night grew long. Jorlath was on watch but Malchius lie restless. He rose and walked up the dark hill where he found the Rodamine gazing into the darkness.

“Tell me, Jorlath. One the day you found me at your doorstep. As I was recovering consciousness, you said that I was a kingsman. Yet I had not the garb of one. Why did you say that?”

“Mizraim of late has been losing many men to the Plague. Many foreigners have been joining him as mercenaries. They are a sinister race and seem as if no blood runs through their veins. They refuse to wear the blue and black. When I first saw you, you were as pale as they. Something held back my arrow though it was trained on you. A great doubt shadowed my mind. It saved your life.”

“When I awoke you still thought me a kingsman, did you not?”

“Perhaps Malchius. I think maybe I did, yet I was not certain. Myridon allayed my doubts. But not to worry now. I have no doubts. I once thought you were a kingsman, now you have become a kinsman! Come, we have spoken much tonight, and that is not wise. Speech makes me weary though I enjoy your conversation.”

Malchius took over the night watch. Jorlath, the silent one, formally an enigma, had now begun to open up.

The next morning was cloudy and overcast and a rain was in the air. It was a very somber mood for Atma especially. He had grown almost a brother to the rest of the party, except Myridon. One found it extremely difficult to know just exactly what he thought. They trudged the remaining miles to Velusia and finally arrived at midday. They stopped and looked at one another each feeling somewhat self-conscious. Atma broke the silence by saying.

“Ah..almost a pleasant sound to my ears.” Then turning to Jorlath said, “Farewell Jorlath the Silent. May your silence be a blessing for those who seek peace and solitude,” and then with a grin added, “You’re really great company when one wants to be alone.”

Myridon, Atma, and Anvar walked apart from the others. They talked quietly among themselves for some minutes. When they had returned Malchius noted a slight uneasiness hung about Atma but Anvar seemed more relaxed.

“We mustn’t delay any longer,” began Myridon. Already I feel time pressing a weight on me that I’ve not felt for ages.”

At that moment a horn sounded in the city. “Ah, that would be the sixhour bell. Quickly now! The gates will close in three hours time and I would be well to be in my fathers house before the hour is gone. Farewell...”

“Farewell Atma! Farewell Anvar!” they cried.

They watched the two march down to the main gates half a mile below them. Soon, the remaining four travelers turned their eyes towards the Aeldorland and began walking.

A tear appeared on Malchius’ cheek.

16 December 2008

Chapter 7 The Saga of Cheese Continues

There was little speech that evening. Everyone retired to an early bed. The night was with out incident and the dawn rose and went. They crossed the Beren the second time in the same place as before and made a sharp right turn. They started up a tall ridge south that led to the ring of mountains around the Layam. The going was rough and they found no trail to follow. Old gnarled trees of twisted firs and endless thickets of brambles were the only things that grew there. The air was dark and no breeze blew. Indeed the land seemed strangely quiet. Towards the afternoon, the brambles became less. Later they ceased altogether and the trees grew further apart, enabling them to see quite a ways into the forest. They spent the day following old animal trails that circumvented the Layam. That evening they thought they could catch a glimmer of light from Brontes cave but were never too sure. Atma promised Malchius that he would show him how to make Moglat howls. Around the campfire Atma made good on his word.

“Watch closely to what I do now,” said Atma. Malchius watched as the little guide cupped his hands to his mouth. For the next fifteen minutes he gave a series of long, how whistles. At the end of each whistle he made a sort of hoot-hoot-hoots. They watched and waited. Five minutes, ten minutes. Nothing. Atma then had Malchius try. Malchius tried for five minutes or so and again they waited. Still nothing.

“Ha, ha, ha Aidin laughed. “A rum lot you fellows are. Try again tomorrow night, Perhaps you’ll hoot one in.”

“I don’t understand” Atma said.

“Usually they respond when I call.”

“Perhaps they sleeping,” muttered Myridon who was lying down. “And I think its time we all got some sleep too.”

They took his advice and spent a quiet night. The next day was spent in much the same as before. Walking along narrow paths that overlooked the Layam. Nothing extraordinary happened that day nor the next. The night of their third day from Danyabad, however, was different. Jorlath was on watch and heard a snuffing sort of sound just outside the edge of camp. He grabbed a burning brand from the campfire and walked over the investigate.
“Who’s there!,” he said in a loud voice.

Slowly he extended the torch above his head to see better. A pair of golden eyes stared at him from behind a stone. Jorlath pick up a stick and threw it at the eyes.

“Ha! Take that. Come out from there whatever you are.”

The eyes disappeared and at the same time his torch went out. Quickly now, he went over to wake the others. Atma was the last to get up but when he rose he laughed and said,
“What’s the matter, Jor? Moglats got you on the edge?”

“Moglat or not, what I saw was evil-looking.”

The company each took a flaming brand and walked around the camp but nothing could be seen.

“Nothing here exclaimed Malchius. The others agreed and promptly went back to sleep. All except Atma who took over Jorlaths’s watch. Just as the sun was breaking over the horizon Myridon was helping Atma search for tracks. None were found, but Atma found a few tufts of long grey hair stuck in a bush near the spot where Jorlath saw the eyes. He walked triumphantly into camp as the others were eating breakfast.

“Look here!” he cried.

“Moglat fur or I’m a fool,”

“Ah, then I did see something last night,” said Jorlath

“Yes, probably a solitary moglat though. Myridon is still out searching.....hey, here he comes now.”

The wizard strolled in and reported nothing. He looked at the few tufts of grey hair. Atma brought in.

“This certainly is Moglat fur. Let’s just hope it’s the only one we see.”

He turned toward Atma. “And no more calling tonight. Understand?”

The group finished up and resumed their path towards path. Malchius saw Atma and Jorlath, who were out in front, stoop down and picked up something. They immediately walked back to Malchius and showed him a partially ripped food sac one of theirs. The wizard and Aidin, following last came up and looked at it.

“Well, seems your friend was a bit hungry, eh Atma.”

They continued on. That night a ring of torches was erected around the camp. The next two nights they did this every so often yellow eyes peered at them but they quickly left when someone thrust a torch their direction. Once a long howl was heard and after that no more eyes were seen for the rest of the night. Malchius questioned Atma about the howl who said it was only a wolf. This startled Malchius, but Myridon wasn’t so sure.

On their sixth day after leaving the Beren river they saw the Gates of Layam from afar. They halted for the rest of the afternoon, for the heat of the sun had already exhausted them. The night was cold and cheerless and none of them got much sleep.

Their seventh day from Danyabad began as the previous six. Atma cooked breakfast Aidin and Jorlath packed the supplies. Myridon and Malchius scouted out the land to see if any type of danger was lurking about.

“The plan for the day,” began Myridon, “is to make for the plateau of Girishad. There is, or was, a bridge that crossed the Girishad Trench that led to the plateau. Somewhere, according to Atma, you could descend into the plateau into a sort of hidden pathway at the bottom. There we’ll be safe from any prying eyes which could see anyone from afar if they were on top. After all, I’m not quite ready to have the world see me. Not that I mind meeting new people you see. But I’d prefer to meet them on my own terms. Exactly where the entrance to the hidden pathway is located is not certain, however, it is believed to be across a small river ten to fifteen miles further away. We’ll stop and make camp on the side of the bridge where it is still forested. We’ll stop and make camp on this side of the bridge where it is still forested.”

The travelers walked the trail at a leisurely pace. Except for one small hill, the ground sloped downhill at a gentle angle. Their path was covered with small mosses that dampened the sound of their feet. It also had a cushioning effect. Myridon said it felt like walking on a carpet such as a king or wealthy landowner might own. The flowers began to get more numerous as they descended. To Malchius it seemed a strange sight after having spent the past week looking at a cold cheerless land of rocks and little plant life. Scattered boulders scattered everywhere gave a slight feeling of apprehension to all. Malchius could almost picture a dragon or a giant hiding behind them. A great mound of turf had been dug up appeared in front of them. Jorlath questioned Atma about it.

“Ah,” he said. “In the winter, great beasts migrate here to feed. The mounds you see are the signs of the great wooly mumlak. They are a mysterious creature rarely seen nowadays. My fathers would hunt them for food and for their skin. They would come to the pools by the hundreds, it is said. Now to see one from afar is considered lucky.”

“What do they look like?”

“Hmm, well I’ve only seen two in my lifetime and they were far away. If we make it back to Velusia I will show you. We have artisans who can paint their likeness so that they appear almost lifelike. As to their description, they are huge. They are as big as a house and covered with long dark fur. The males have two long white teeth with which they fight one another. Their ears are enormous too. Perhaps that is why they are rarely seen. They have excellent hearing.”

“They seem more terrible than dragons,” replied Malchius. “What do they eat?”

Atma pointed to a few scraggly trees dotting the rocky mountainside.

“Mostly these. Although when hungry they will eat almost anything that grows. These great mounds of turf you see here are the remains of mamluks digging for food.”

They continued on down the mountain trail at a good pace. Aidin saw something rather strange about one particular boulder. It looked almost as if the top of it moved. He paused and took a second look. He saw it again. Something was moving on top of the rock. He grasped Atma by the arm and pointed. Atma looked and said to the others in a low voice,
“Caution friends. Perhaps my eyes deceive me, but I believe I see a gargoyle on that large boulder resting. If it is, we shan’t be in much danger for they sleep during the day and are more or less blind when the sun is out.”

“More or less?” asked Myridon. “What tell me exactly do you mean by that?”
“They’re nocturnal creatures. They sleep in the sun to warm themselves and hunt by night. It’s rather far away and could perhaps be a large moglat.”

“If it’s a moglat, it’s by far the largest we’ve seen thus far,” said Jorlath. “And this creature has no hair and scaly skin.”

“Wait here,” said Atma. “I’ll return shortly.”

“Wait,” said Myridon. “I’m coming with you. I’d like to have a closer look at this ‘hairless moglat’ of yours.”

The wizard and the Velusian tiptoed stealthily from boulder to boulder. Soon they were out of site. The others waited. Five minutes, ten minutes, and hour went by.

“Do you suppose they woke up that creature?” asked Malchius.

“I hope not,” replied Aidin. “Blind or no. I’d rather let it alone. That thing gives me the creeps.”

Jorlath looked at the creature for long whiles in silence. He felt as if the sleeping creature knew of their presence and was dreaming of how to catch them once night set upon the land. Presently Atma and Myridon returned. Their report wasn’t encouraging either.

“So,” said Malchius. “Did you find out anything?”

“Yes and no,” replied the guide. “Yes it is certainly a gargoyle and it appears to be alone. This is strange. Usually they congregate together for protection. I don’t know why this particular one was solitary but it appears to be an old gargoyle. Very old for their race.”

“It has a crest on it’s head, much like some of the birds found in Khirons palace. That is also strange. Maybe the others chased it out of the tribe,” said Myridon.

“Did you find any clues that suggest more in the vicinity?” asked Aidin.

“I cannot say for certain,” replied Atma. “They are even more mysterious than the mamluk or even moglats. Very little is known about their habits. Except what I told you earlier, not much else is known.”

“One more thing,” Myridon added in a low voice. “It is said that they only eat living flesh. The sun will set in only a few hours, but fortunately there is a full moon tonight. Let us make for the bridge in all haste. It wouldn’t be wise to be found walking in the open once that old gargoyle wakes.”

“The bridge crossing the canyon to the plain of Girishad was built five hundred years ago,” said Atma. “It was built as a shortcut to the mountains. Traders would hunt the mamluk and other large creatures in the mountains and sell their skins to traders. The bridge was a link from the mountains to Palo-Enlil. Nowadays only dwarves use it on their long journeys from Dangmar to South Girishad.”

The bridge was only a few minutes walk away when the party caught their first glimpse of the canyon. Evening was approaching so they hurried on, wanting to cross the bridge before the sun set. The minutes passed. Atma grew increasingly agitated. “The bridge should be visible now,” he thought. “Surely they weren’t lost. There is only one path leading from the bridge to the mountains.”

As they came to the edge of the canyon no bridge was seen, only two great pillars stood. Here and there the ground was strewn with bones. Most appeared to have been gnawed by some ravenous creatures.

“Well this is a fine one,” quipped Aidin. “How will we get across now?”

“Hopeless,” muttered his brother. “If we only had wings like that old gargoyle.”

Atma crouched to the ground. With a stick he carefully prodded and poked at one of the longest bones.

“Well, Atma? What happened to these creatures. It looks as if we’ve come to a feeding place for lions or something.”

“Lions don’t leave the bones of their prey half uneaten like what you see here. No creature that walks on four legs would do such a thing?”

“Well? What caused this?”

"Do you remember that gargoyle we passed earlier?”


“And do you recall that strange wailing sound last night?”

“How could I forget.”

“This is a gargoyle circle. And that is bad, very bad. Even worse than dragons gargoyles are.”

“This news is not encouraging friend. Perhaps we should turn back.”

“Is there any way to cross it”

“None that I can see.”

“Well, we certainly can’t go back, unless of course you want to ask the kind ole’ Mr. Gargoyle to fly you across.”

“No. I’d rather not, thank you. Perhaps there’s another way across.”

“No, there isn’t. At least not for twenty miles. And by that time the gargoyles will be awake.”

“So this is it , huh.... Pretty poor way to die if you ask me.”

“No come on everyone. Think. I don’t know about you but I’m not ready to die just yet.”

Atma walked over to the lip of the canyons looked down. It was a sheer drop five hundred feet if not more and twice that to the other side. He sat down and studied the cliff walls closely, Noting it’s jagged edges and cracks. One crack seemed darker than the others. He peered closer and stared. Something about the crack just wasn’t normal. He picked up a rock pebble and dropped it onto a small ledge jutting out from the crack. The rock hit and bounced back off. He watched it plummet to the ground. It seemed to take forever to hit the bottom. 3....4....5.....seconds he counted. He picked up another rock and dropped it on the ledge a second time. This time the stone hit the ledge and bounced into the crack.

“Why I do declare. I believe that’s some sort of cave.” he said and then to the others.

“Myridon!, Malchius!, Jorlath!, Aidin!” come here. Take a look at this.”

Michael, the first to arrive , got down on his hands and knees and peered over. Atma pointed to the dark hollow cavity fifty feet below. Atma’s bringing in the mountains made it easier to find a way down.

He envisioned a route down to the cave. A line of rocks were protruding from the cliff face just above it. They could spend the night in the cave if they could somehow make it down, for surely the gargoyle wouldn’t climb down there. It was going to be exceedingly dangerous at best and simple foolish at worst.

The Rodamine brothers and Myridon saw Atma plan it once and began to look for every spare piece of rope in the peaks. Minutes later they returned with about two hundred and fifty feet links. Atma and Malchius were just discussing the best route down when a loud piercing howl was heard. The five cowered to the ground.

“Was that the gargoyle?” asked Malchius

“Can’t be” replied the Wizard. “They don’t stir during daylight. It’s probably a moglat wailing from loneliness.

“Well it sure sounded like the one we heard last night.”

“I think this time Myridon is wrong,” said Atma slowly.

The wizard glowered at him.

“Just exactly what do you mean?” He said.

“I mean,” continued Atma

“That before they stir at night, if they’re extremely hungry or angry, they’ll wait and moan just exactly like. . .”

The wailing began again, only this time at another place. Moments later another sounded
“There’s more than one. . .they’re signaling one another.”

The Wizard looked at Atma.
“Now why, pray tell me, would gargoyles be signaling one another now--an hour before sunset? That is, even if they are gargoyles.”

“Something has disturbed them. Something very powerful. I can feel it in my bones. It’s strange though. I can’t seem to sense what the thing is. Just something very powerful.”

A chill went up Malchius’ spine at Atma words. For at times, he too sensed, or thought he sensed, a great presence in the lands. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Myridon interrupted his thought by saying. “You fellows are spooked. And spooked, quite well. I still say they’re moglats. Yet, I do agree we’d have a safer night down below. So let’s get going. The quicker we get down to that hole, the safer we’ll be.”

After Myridon, Atma, and Jorlath turned to get the bags Atma looked at Malchius and rolled his eyes.

“He hates it when he’s wrong. Did you notice how he started blinking his eyes when I told him about the gargoyles wailing? He didn’t expect that. It’s just like a wizard you know.”

Malchius smiled.

“Yes, your right. He’s very wise nonetheless.”

“The best solution,” said Atma minutes later, “is to climb down is to tie the two ropes together and wrap one end around a tree overlooking the cliff.”

”And when we got down? Asked Myridon.”

Atma looked at him puzzled and replied. “Why we’d be down of course.”

“Yes we would. We’d also leave a nice little calling card to any gargoyles that might come slinking about. We might as well say Hello Mr. Gargoyle, down here, yes that’s the way. Have you any idea on how to bring down the rope after we get there?”

“Well, not really.” said Atma.

“There’s only one way left,” said Malchius. The wizard and Atma looked at him. “Only one way, and that’s to climb down without the rope.”

“Rather dangerous don’t you think? With the possible exception of Myridon, that night was one of the longest nights any of them had ever experienced. All night long they shivered and shook. Several times the gargoyles shadows could be seen moving on the rock face as they soared in the moonlit night. Their thin crackling voices echoed strangely in the cool night air. At one point a voice was heard saying that they had simply vanished and the search was in vain. This uplifted the company’s hopes but they were soon dashed when moments later they heard another voice saying.

“Lorcan, you fool, don’t be such a coward. They’re around here somewhere and we must find them. Don’t you want fresh meat tonight or are you still hankering for some old fare?”

All night long the creatures searched but fortunately they never found the five in their cave. Dawn eventually came and the gargoyles left. Myridon was the first to stick his head out to take a view. Slowly, he scanned the horizon. He looked in the bright morning sky, above to see if the way up was safe. He was a bit amazed to see how steep the way down was. He pulled his head back in after a few more minutes.

“Could you see anything?”

“Nothing for miles around not even any birds. What’s up top where we would’ve camped-I can’t say. Well have to climb up and take a look.”

“Did you hear anything?”

“No. Nothing except the wind of course. You’ve welcome to look for yourself.”

“Malchius stuck his head out and almost instantly became woozy. The bottom of the mountain was perhaps a mile away. Malchius bit his lip and held his breath. Malchius, who was uneasy climbing trees, could hardly fathom the position he was now in. Knowing that he had to climb up to the top without rope didn’t made him feel any easier either. Down below, wisps of clouds flitted past. He could just barely make out a small stream snaking its way to the north. Not long after he struck his head back in.

“Back so soon?” asked Aidin.

“Ah, er, yes,” he said in a somewhat shaky voice.

Aidin grinned and looked out. He let out a long whistle and said.

“I didn’t realize how high up we were last night. Those white things we saw must have been the fog rising up form that stream.”

“We at any rate we’ve got to get back to the top, and the sooner the better.”

Malchius didn’t much like this proposition but he couldn’t stay here for the rest of his life. Aidin and Jorlath made ready for the climb back up. Malchius, who had just recent acquired a mysterious stomach ache laid down at the back of the cave. Myridon sat looking on the ledge, thinking.

Aidin led the way. Fearlessly he stepped onto the ledge and looked up at the rocky wall. For a long while he stood there until at last he said,
“I’m ready now. I see a line that looks safe. I’ll begin Myridon will follow. Young Michael, you had better stay with Atma and Jorlath until we reach the top. When we do, we’ll let down a rope. That should help a little anyway.”

Aidin and Myridon began their climb to the top. From the ledge Malchius watched their progress which seemed painfully slow. He wondered how long it would take him to climb to the top. They still had twenty miles to walk to reach the pass. What the gargoyles would do to them if they didn’t make it in time, Malchius didn’t want to think.

It took Aidin and Myridon an hour and a half to reach the top. They quickly tied one end of the rope to a sturdy looking fir tree and led down the rope. Atma caught hold of it and pulled the rope tight. He turned to Malchius,
“Well my friend, are you ready?”

“As soon as I’ll ever be,” Malchius replied.

“Good. Still nervous?”


“Even better. Nervousness makes for better climbing. It makes you strong when you are weak.”

Aidin tied the rope around his waist and almost effortlessly started climbing. In only half an hours time he reached the top. He threw down the rope which landed with a loud ? To Malchius’ ears. Jorlath picked up the rope and placed his hand on Malchius’ shoulder.

“It’s time. Come, for we must hurry, already it is two hours after dawn.”

Malchius stood on the ledge and grasped the rope.

“You’ll have to help me with the knot, I’m afraid.”

Jorlath tied the knot tight around Malchius’ waist. Carefully then, Malchius started up.
“Be sure to test the rocks first, then grasp the rocks firmly with your fingers when you put your full weight on them.”

Malchius made no reply, only nodded his head. Carefully his tested each rocky hold with his hand as Jorlath said. Halfway to the top he paused. It wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be he thought. Only about thirty feet to go and I’ll be done. Slowly he began climbing again.
“Now only fifteen more feet. He felt much more relaxed now. Atma, Aidin and Myridon were looking at him from above. Now only ten more feet to go. He placed his left hand over a dark colored rock and pulled his body up. The rock crumbled in this hand. With no time to yell, he felt his body come away from the wall and he fell. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth but he stopped. Aidin and Atma caught the rope in time. Malchius, now dangling in mid-air, caught a glimpse of the bottom. The wooziness came on him again but soon passed.

“Get back to the wall!” called Aidins voice from above.

Malchius swung on the rope haplessly for another moment, then swung himself to the wall. He made it to the top about fifteen minutes later. Aidin and Atma reached down and pulled his weary body above the lip of the canyon and there he lay, exhausted. Aidin let down the rope for the last time. Jorlath climbed up fairly easily. They ate a hurried meal while ???

Now the five were safe at the top. Atma filled the water skins. Then they were off for the pass. The time was mid-morning and they needed to get there before night. The travelers made only one brief halt in the afternoon. An hour before dusk they saw the pass in the distance a mere three miles away.

Hardly daring to pause for more than a few moments they started jogging towards it. They arrived just as dusk was approaching. Atma gazed uneasily in the sky. Their camp last night could not be seen but dark clouds hovered in the sky from that direction. He squinted his eyes and thought he saw something flying in the air but he wasn’t sure. He felt an uneasiness in his heart but told not the others what he thought he had saw. He did feel the need for haste though and said,

“Quickly now. We must cross the river before night comes.”

The others agreed and they hurried down the long sloping hillsides of the pass to the river. Atma led the way through the river just as the thin red crescent of the sun dipped below the horizon. A large thicket of rhododendron lay before them. Atma felt it wise to spend the night there and so they tramped on for another fifteen minutes through the dark shrubs. Together they plopped to the ground and went to sleep. Jorlath on first watch saw and heard nothing of the gargoyles. Indeed he heard nothing but the cool nighttime breeze. At midnight he roused Malchius.

Early the next morning Malchius looked up. They were actually in the plateau now. The gargoyles couldn’t get down to them or even see them. The walls of the canyon sloped inward as they reached the surface. A narrow sliver of light from the top diffused so that it seemed to be perpetual evening in the rocky labyrinth. The path was wide enough for two horses to walk abreast.

“We should arrive at the Gates of Layam tonight if all goes well,” said Atma. “No gargoyles can get through the top--even in the night.”

“Let’s make this a quick trip,” said Jorlath. “I’ll feel much safer.”

The hidden path was smooth and fairly level. No great obstacles were lying in their path. Water was found in plenty from the sides of the walls. The little waterfalls, found every few hundred feet, were the homes of great ferns. Mist would rise from the ferns giving them a dream-like quality. Malchius noted how much they resembled the Sephirotic Tree. One closer inspection he found that they had no fruit. He plucked one of the fronds and began chewing it. Quickly he spat it out. It would be days before he got the nasty taste out of his mouth. Sometime in the afternoon they came to the end of the path. The familiar sands of the Layam Desert came to view again. The last few hundred feet of the path grew brighter and brighter as the top gradually separated. Soon, the five travelers found themselves blinking in the bright sun on the edge of the desert. The Gates of Layam were clearly discernible in the distance.

“We’ll rest here for a spell and fill our water skins with water,” said Myridon. “We’ll have to hurry quickly to the Gates now that we know that dragons are about.”

“Wither our plans once we venture back to Velusia?” asked Aidin.

“Nay, this time I think we’ll bypass the city entirely,” replied Myridon. “Atma will lead us back to the outskirts on the far side of Velusia by lesser known paths. Khiron has perhaps forgotten us now, yet if wind of our journey gets to his ears he may try to confiscate the Sephirotic leaves. Atma can return to his home if he likes.”

“Yes. It would be good for me to return. I miss my family very much. I should like to go to the Aeldorland soon if all goes well. I want to see this fair land of yours.”

“You may get your wish sooner than you think,” said Myridon as he stretched himself out and closed his eyes.

One hour later found them stepping on the hot desert sands. Their eyes were peeled to the horizon looking out for any great beasts lurking about. Fortunately, none were in sight. The Gates loomed larger and larger as they drew nearer. Small scrubby plants began to appear now, then a small stream. They were only a half-mile distant from their goal when Myridon pointed to the sky. Dozens of great vulture-like birds were soaring overhead.

“I wonder what lies yonder?” said Malchius. “Some great beast must lie ahead.”

“And not quite dead if the vultures are still aloft,” said Jorlath softly. “Caution friends. Keep a sharp lookout everyone. We’re not home free just yet.”

* * *


Return to the Gates of Layam (Palo-Enlil)

08 December 2008

One version of the end of chapter 6

* * *

“Anyhow we’re all safe and sound with most of our baggage intact, which is more than most people can say who’ve met dragons in the wild.”

“Yes, I guess you do have a point there.”

“I sincerely doubt that we’ll encounter a dragon for the last few hours march. However, it’s a risk that must need be taken. We’ll reach the gates of Layam, I think, next Thursday. If we hurry we’ll arrive sometime mid-morning. From there, we’ll return the way we came. Malchius, I, along with the others will return to the Forest of Ambia and make further plans for Malchius to take the Sephiroth to the villages.”

A half hour later they were on their way again. Malchius looked back to take one last glimpse of the Sephirotic tree, but saw nothing but a thick mist. Carefully, they climbed back to the base of the mountain Danyabad. They began to breathe easier as they descended. This had the effect of making them feel more lively and of course made Aidin more talkative than ever.

Unlike the others, Basnu had openly doubted the existence of the Guardian. At first, he kept this to himself, but at times he uttered a phrase or half-muttered sentence that expressed his contempt of such an idea. Nevertheless, he did have an image of the Guardian in the back of his mind. He didn’t know why but this fact bothered him. It also made him uneasy, edgy, and rash when the others discussed it. Now that they were actually on the mountain he found that the part of his mind that still half-believed in the protector of the Sephiroth was practically silent. So it came as no surprise when he heard Malchius’ description of how he acquired the Sephirotic leaves he became fully convinced Malchius merely imagined an unseen ‘presence’ and that the cold air and harsh climate caused it.

Basnu had a love for his people that few among the Velusians could match. The outbreak of the Plague or enemies affected him so much so that he took it as a personal attack. Three years previous, dragons had wandered from the Northern Reaches and had killed some sheep and cattle. Krenos called for one hundred men to guard the outlying houses and fields. Basnu was the first to volunteer. He proved himself to be a capable hunter and tracker of the beasts and soon became a leader for others to follow. Capable as he was as a hunter, his rashness and over eagerness put the other men in needless danger. Krenos overlooked his shortcomings for he never failed to let any dragons live. Months later, the remaining dragons migrated back north and the men went back to their homes.

Just before a steep bend in the path Atma and Basnu, walking ahead of the others, started talking.

“Do you think Malchius’ leaves will be enough?” asked Basnu. “I mean, after all, suppose they accidently get mashed or lost in one of these crevices?”

“Remember the words of Merops, answered Atma. He said that only one. . .”

“Yes, yes, I know what he said. But after all this trouble we’ve gone thru and jolly nearly getting killed what would a few more leaves matter in the long run?”

“The Guardian. Have you forgotten him?”

“What Guardian, He didn’t see anyone or anything up there. He only felt something.”

“They say he will know.”

“Oh come on Atma, that’s old wives talk. Think of the good we can do for the Rodamines. No more long expeditions into the northern marshes for fenwort. No more deaths among the newborns. And don’t forget Saris.”

At the mention of Saris something like a sharp pang hit him in the heart. Saris, Atmas betrothed, had died two years ago and the bitterness of her death was still fresh in his mind.

“Saris’ death couldn’t be stopped. Nearly everyone had somebody from their family die, from the Plague.”

“Yes, and that’s it. . .if it ever comes back. We’ll have the cure. We’ll be ready for it. Don’t you see?”

“So what are you proposing?”

“Simply this tonight I’ll be on watch. We’ll just climb back up and pick a few more leaves.”

“Hmm, that does sound interesting. However, I still refuse to go.”

Basnu in a still lower voice said, “Well, think about it for now. Perhaps you’ll change your mind later.” And with that he strolled away back down to camp. Atma gazed down at the others. His hands in his pockets looking for all the world like nothing happened.

Atma began thinking about Basnu’s words. True, the extra leaves would help the Velusians. Perhaps Saris’ death could have been thwarted by some of the leaves extract. But Merops said only one leaf was to be taken. Why? The words planted in his mind by Basnu began to grow. His mind ran wild thinking of the good and worthy causes he could do. Oh, if only he had more leaves. However, the old prophet’s words kept coming back into his mind. Merops was always right in his prophecies. His father had told him of the time during the years of plenty that Merops foretold of a great farming. Sure enough, the next year a great famine struck the land. Merops was also correct in his prediction of the Magna incident, Atma swayed back and forth between the two choices. Finally he let out a long sigh and muttered.

“He’s right, I simply mustn’t be greedy with the Sephirotic Tree. Tonight, I must stop Basnu from going back up the mountain. The fool will be killed if he’s not.”

He felt a heaviness leave his mind, and presently joined the others around the campfire. Eventually, the group reached the large block of ice where they had rested on the way up. They flopped down to the ground beside it and gazed at the Beren River below. It was decided that they would camp here for the night. Atma secretly wondering if Basnu had anything to do with the decision.

Basnu and Atma didn’t say much to each other the rest of the evening. The rest of the gang was all up in happy spirits and already they were making plans to storm Mizraims castle and save Arweena. Gradually one with one they fell asleep. Basnu looking around to see if all was clear nudged Atma awake. Atma, feigning sleep, rolled over and groaned.

“What do you want?”

“Well, do you want to come or not? It’s now or never. We’ve over got a few hours till the others awake. Fortunately, the full moon will help us.”

“No, I’ve decided not to go. I’m not climbing it. And you’ll be asked to do the same.” Humph! Basnu grunted as he stood up and crossed his hands.

“Then, it seems that I’ll go alone. You’re a fool to miss out on an opportunity like this.”

“Perhaps in your mind I am. Nevertheless I wish you luck. You’ll need it for the Guardian.”

“Bah on your fanciful “Guardian!” he whispered hoarsely. “I’m off!”

And with that he stormed off into the moonlit night towards the Sephirotic tree. Atma gazed after him for a few minutes till he was only a dim vague shadow in the night. He rolled back over and stared at the fire.

“Might as well keeps watch if Basnu’s gone, he thought. There’s no telling when he’ll come back. As the hours crept by Atma becoming drowsy and drowsier. His head nodded on his chest when suddenly just as dawn was approaching he heard a low blood-curdling shriek somewhere high on the mountain above him. He quickly roused the others and told them of the situation. Myridon became very cross and said.

“Why didn’t you tell me last night. We could have stopped him.”

“He’s my brother. I knew how rash gets at times. Usually he settles down. I didn’t think he’d actually make it to the Sephirotic tree.”

“Come on! said Malchius.” We’ve got to look for him”

Off they rambled up the mountain sides in the general direction of the Sephirotic tree. After an hour’s scrambling and much yelling Jorlath came across a dark object in the snow. He turned it over and saw with a horrified expression the body of Basnu. He was dead. Clenched in his hand were six golden berries. He waved the others who came around. Atma, who arrived last with Malchius, upon seeing his brother fell upon him. “Basnu! No! It can’t be! Why? My brother, why?”

The others stood around silently while Atma went, Jorlath touched Atma gently on the shoulder and said, “My friend, your brother was a noble man. Not many would risk their lives for a token.”

“Yes, he was a brave man. But, alas he was foolhardy." He related the conversation held last night. After a moment Myridon said.

“I believe he meant to do well. He will be long remembered by the Rodamines. Yet, his rashness led to his undoing. He will be sorely missed.”

Aidin suddenly cried “look!” At his hand!” The others looked at Basnu’s hand and saw the berries emitting a thin silvery colored smoke. Within seconds they were completely gone, only a bit of ash remained.

“And so ends that,” exclaimed Myridon.

“Let us bury him,” said a solemn Atma.

They carried the body of Basnu to a relatively sheltered spot on the mountain, and piled stones over his body. Atma said nothing as he sat and watched the others. The rocks made an uncanny sound in the cold silent air. The mound became bigger and bigger until the body of Basnu was completely covered.

The company stepped back. Atma, arms straight down by his sides, knelt down. The others, too, bowed their heads in respect.

After some time the company began the long trek down the mountain. The sky was cloudless and no wind blew. Each one kept his thoughts to himself. The stones underfoot made an uncanny sound in the cold silent air. At last the silver-colored Beren River came in sight. Soon they heard the tinkling of the water over the stones in the river. Myridon broke the silence by saying.

“Tonight, we’ll camp by the Beren. I’ll keep watch tonight. I’ve got much to think upon. This has been a long day for us. Tomorrow, will start off a bit later than usual.”

02 December 2008

Chapter 6

Things get complicated here. I've at least 3 different versions of this chapter.

Here is a the most complete version of the opening of chapter 6. Like the others posted so far, it is in serious need of editing and rewriting, but I felt the need to post (something) on this blog.

Chapter 6

Malchius had not seen any of the others for quite a while. The afternoon was getting late and it was high time he got back to the others. He saw a little ways off, a smoke or haze, that seemed to be coming from the very rocks themselves. The haze was perhaps half a mile from where he was standing and he really should have returned to the meeting stone, but as it was, his curiosity got the best of him.

Presently, he reached the spot and sure enough, smoke was rising from a mound of orange-red colored rocks. He stepped closer for a better view. Suddenly, Malchius felt the ground give way beneath his feet. He grasped vainly but everything he touched fell down with him. Fortunately, except for a few bruises, he was unhurt. He scrambled to his feet and dusted himself off. He had meant to climb up and out of the hole he had fallen into, but something held him back. It was not a hole he had fallen into but rather a sort of tunnel. Not a very long one for he could see a golden-colored light coming through the other end.

‘It’s fairly safe,’ he thought. ‘Perhaps climb up at the other end.’

So, to the other end of the tunnel he went. What Malchius saw the moment he stepped into the golden light nearly took his breathe. He found himself standing at the base of a natural amphitheater. The place was rocky as the rest of the mountain but, unlike the areas lying outside the tunnel, none of these rocks were ice-covered. Mounds of smoking rocks and a faint hint of sulfur met his nostrils. But the most exciting thing about the place was the large tree that grew in the middle. He had never seen anything like it, and he knew the search was now ended and the old legends were true.

He took a drink from the spring that rippled from the base of the tree. It was the coldest and most refreshing water he had ever tasted. The tree itself resembled an enormous fern. The bark was thin and papery and gave off an agreeable odor. The Sephirotic Tree was laden down with large copper-colored fruits that looked like apples, but on closer inspection, he found they were more rounded like oranges and bigger.

Malchius remembered Merops’ warning about the Guardian. He walked up to the great leafy fronds and plucked a single branch of leaves, and placed them in a small leather pouch. Gradually, the desire increased until almost without his realizing it he plucked one of the great copper fruits off a limb. He had to wrench and twist it fairly hard to do so.

‘What harm could there be if I take just one fruit?’ It’s very selfish for any Guardian to have such a wonderful tree all to himself. Why think of the people one could help if a wise and benevolent ruler, an immortal.’

"Oh!" he said aloud.

He was startled at how loud his voice sounded in that lonely and desolate place. He felt an urgent need to make for the tunnel. He turned and made quickly for it. Now, what happened next Malchius could never quite explain. Halfway there he seemed to hit a brick wall. It seemed to him that the very air became thicker. At the time, he said later, it felt like he was swimming against some invisible current. Very slowly Malchius made his way back to the tunnel. When he was just in reach of the entrance, the temptation to turn back to the Sephirotic Tree reached a peak. He slowly turned to catch one more glimpse of it before returning.

"I’ll just sit here for a spell. Surely that’s not forbidden."

But deep inside himself he knew that this was the one thing he must not do. Now it is a curious fact of nature that the longer one goes about trying to justify an act that is itself not wrong, but, will almost inevitably lead to a wrong, one generally succeeds. That is exactly what Malchius was doing. He convinced himself that he wanted one more look at the fruit. He stood up and took a step toward the Sephirotic Tree. At once, the invisible wall seemed thinner. He took another step. The boundary lessened even more. He took three more steps and the wall pretty much vanished altogether. Malchius sat down. His mind was clearer than it had been a moment ago.

"No. I’d better simply return. I’m sure to be late now as it is."

He stood up again and made for the tunnel. Immediately, the air thickened as before only this time it was stronger. Malchius knew he was in trouble. He had already wasted precious time tarrying here and now was caught. Resolutely, he set himself, tightened his belt, and ran for the tunnel. The barrier was stronger than ever yet he made it. He stumbled to the ground in exhaustion. After a few minutes a deafening boom! roused him to his feet. The ground trembled and shook and he had trouble with his footing. Malchius ran through the tunnel blindly with his last remaining strength. Half a minute later he came out the other side safe and sound albeit extremely dusty.

He easily climbed out and soon was on his way back to camp. Soon, he saw the familiar dark blue of Myridon sitting hunched over a fire. Myridon was intensely interested in the description of the Sephirotic Tree and the sight of the leaves made him even more frantic with excitement. At this time the others began arriving.

"Some kind of invisible wall of resistance, eh?" remarked Basnu.

"Now I wonder if that was the Guardian?"

"Couldn’t be," replied Aidin.

"Why not?" asked Atma.

"Invisible walls and great invisible beings aren’t the same," said Aidin. "What’s your opinion Myridon?"

"I have no opinions," said the wizard. "However, I will venture a possible explanation. The Guardian was not there at Malchius’ arrival. In his absence he contrived this spell to keep out trespassers. There is another possible explanation as well. The invisible wall was the Guardian. At any rate we can’t go back and look."

"Why not?" queried Basnu.

"Did not you just hear Malchius? Only by a great will was he able to muster the needed strength to leave the domain of the Sephirotic Tree and if it were not for the earthquake that may not have happened."

25 November 2008

The end of chapter 4 and chapter 5

Here the story starts to resemble a very bad Monty Python sketch- complete with bad grammar, incorrect verb tenses, and wooden dialogue.


Basnu stopped, turned, and started walking back. He stopped over something on the ground and gingerly touched it being careful not to disturb the thing-whatever it was. Aidin and Jorlath walked over to where he was standing. Basnu looked up. The worried look in his face made the others anxious.

"What is it?" asked Aidin.

"I don't know." replied Basnu.

Aidin squatted down to have a closer look.
"It looks like some kind of animal track."

"Right ." said Basnu. He wrinkled his face ever so slightly.

Jorlath frowned. "Say, that's not what I think it is, is it?"

"I'm afraid so."

"You mean it belongs to a dragon."

"Yes, a small one. It might belong to a large bird. Do you see this line in the dust over here?" He pointed to some marks two feet away from the tracks.


"This could be where it was dragging its tail. Dragons can be ungainly on the ground. It's when they're flying they are most dangerous. It's quite probable to outrun one if we see it in time. This track is about a week old. It's far away by now."

"Let's hope so." exclaimed Aidin.

* * *

Day three began as the previous two. Their waterskins were running low and no storms or oases were in sight. Midmorning they came upon a stream let but it was dry. Atma and Basnu tried an old trick of theirs of poking into the dusty bottom in hopes of finding water below the surface yet it was to no avail. Wearily they trudged on, keeping a slow but steady pace due east toward Mt. Danyabad. Few words were spoken, indeed few were needed as they all knew their fate if no water was found. It was agreed by all that they would eat only hurried meals and march as long as possible. Time in this dry, bleak, and barren wasteland was certainly not measured in miles but in marches. No one mentioned it out loud but everyone instinctively knew that if no water was found by night the next day they would have to return and try the path through the mountains. Hours later the sun setting cast the sky into a brilliant display of red and gold but still no water in sight.

Just before dawn Atma woke. Something in the dead still night air caused him to sit up and listen. The wind was picking up in intensity. "Could it be a rain storm coming," he wondered. He listened closely. The light feeling in his heart sank once more. He woke Basnu who lie sleeping beside him.

"Basnu, do you feel what I feel." A groggy Basnu sat up and listened. A minute later he replied.

"Yes, a storm is certainly coming, but not a rainstorm. This is a Kasumba, a dust storm. Come, let's wake the others."

Malchius stretched uneasily and often being told that a dust storm was coming, he just about lost all hope and lay back down.

"How much time have we until it arrives?" asked Myridon.

"One hour maybe two," replied Basnu. "Can't say for certain. We must make preparations. We should cover up everything to keep out the dust."

For the next half-hour they feverishly worked to put all their belongings into their packs. The packs themselves were wrapped in blankets. They improvised turbans and waited.
As the dawn grew lighter the storm hit. They hunkered down to wait it out. They forgot their thirst as the storm grew in intensity. Then, sometime around mid-morning, no one was absolutely certain for the sun was completely hidden, a lull came in the storm. Aidin and Malchius threw off their blankets looked around. Atma and Basnu who knew better told them to get back down for in a Kasumba there is always a break midway.

"There's more?" asked Jorlath.

"The worst is yet to come, Atma replied.

"By the way, where is Myridon" asked Basnu.

"Over here," coughed the wizard. He had found a bit of a hole in the sand and was lying face down in it. He was completely covered up. Only bits and pieces of his dark blue clothing could be seen.

"I'd forgotten how bad these Kasumbas can be." He coughed. AMalchius are you all right?"

"Never better," he replied from his blanket and stuck his head back under.

"A morbid thought just occurred to me," said Jorlath.

"What's that?"

"Our tracks will be hidden, No one can find us now."

The storm began anew. This time the storm seemed interminably long. However, in the end, it abated. The sand had gotten into everything. Their hair, clothes, packs, even their food. Nothing was untouched. The six weary, thirsty, and now extremely dusty travelers dusted themselves off and drank the last bit of remaining water they had left. They were more than halfway across the Layam now and decided to risk their chances to the other side.

"The human body can live without water for three days," explained Myridon. "Granted that you aren't quickly trekking through a desert. If we don't walk during the hottest part of the day we should be fine. Remember the Beren River is only three days away. The chances of finding at least one small stream between here and there is good."

The rest of that day they walked. The sun had set and still they walked. It was not until two hours after sunset that they took a break. The next morning at dawn found them marching eastward. Atma had a dream that they found water gushing out of a cave. He felt a strange excitement in him but kept silent.

"I see a lake, but it's in the sky," said Basnu.

"It's a trick of the eyes-an illusion," said Myridon.

An hour later Jorlath started murmuring Awater....water....water...." A minute later he stumbled to the ground. His brother and Malchius helped him to his feet, only to have him fall down again.

"No! I can walk for myself. I'm not quite dead yet."

They walked in single file with Atma leading the way. They came to a large sandy dune and stopped. There was no way to circumvent it. It would have to be climbed. Atma led the way marching steadily and resolutely forward. At the top he stopped and let out a wild yell. He threw down his pack and began running madly forward down the other side of the dune.

"Stop! Wait!" shouted his brother hoarsely, but his voice was so hard, dry, and cracked that Atma didn't hear him.

The others scrambled after him. At the top of the hill Malchius collapsed. It was about the third hour of the day, two days after the dust storm, and he had come to the last of his strength. The others struggled up the hill to his side. They heard a strange twinkling sound. Jorlath thought it was Basnu crying. He lifted up his head and saw, only a stones throw away, a scrubby little cactus. And beside it, a gurgling and bubbling stream of water. Moments later they joined Basnu on the streams edge, drinking.

The water was muddy and tasted rather bitter but nobody minded. They drunk to their hearts content and filled their water skins. Aidin spent a great deal of time trying to filter the water thru a small handkerchief, yet the result wasnt much different, bitter albeit a little less muddy.
Malchius began unpacking his belongings when Myridon said, "Don't think we intended to stay here long."

"Why not?" asked Malchius.

"We've come to a rare spot in the desert, an oasis-no water for miles. Where do you think the desert creatures will come at night? They'll come to this very spot. We'll do well to be many miles from here when night falls."

"Trust Myridon, Mal," said Basnu. "An oasis at night is no place for a small group of men armed or no. I still haven't forgotten those tracks we saw three days ago."

They rested for ten minutes more and then struck eastward again. They hoped to sight the Beren River late the next day. Once there, they would be out of the Layan Desert and have good clean water.

Chapter 5

The company sat silent, so that they could scarcely hear one another breathe. Malchius subconsciously had been holding his breath. As Malchius watched, he took a deep breath. The dusty particles of sand irritated his nose. Before he had a chance to stifle it he sneezed. Immediately the dragon looked up. It cocked its head to the side then looked their direction The group froze. Myridon gazed coldly at Malchius then whispered hoarsely.
"Nobody move!"
His warning was in vain. For the great beast started lumbering over toward them. Vainly Atma and Basnu and Myridon scanned the rocky territory behind them looking for somewhere to hide. The dragon walked closer-moving its head back and forth sniffing the air. Myridon found what looked like a small cave a hundred feet away behind them. The dragon was now fifty feet away.
The dragon was a beautiful shade of brown with mottled yellow specks on its back. The creature began fanning its wings slightly. Faster and faster they began to beat. Soon it was hovering over the ground. Its large red eyes caught the light of the setting sun and seemed to glow. The great serpent was fixed on the unfortunate travelers.
“Okay, everybody listen!” he whispered. “When I say fly follow me, understand?”
The others nodded.
“Basnu, get out your bow and make ready your swiftest arrow. You are to shoot as soon as I say fly.”
Basnu nodded and made ready.
“Okay, now...everybody...FLY!”
Basnu loosed his swiftest arrow. It pierced the left eye of the great beast. The others were running furiously after Myridon to the cave. The arrow infuriated the dragon and let out a tremendous wail. Instead of halting like Myridon thought it would, the dragon charged. The dragon didn’t see Basnu hiding and so ran past him. The others were only yards away from the cave entrance. Only a few feet more remained when Malchius tripped and fell violently. There was no way he could possibly reach it in time. Quickly, Basnu let loose another arrow. This time it glanced harmlessly off the creature’s scaly back. It stopped and wheeled around. Basnu bit his lip in terror. He placed a third arrow and aimed for the other eye.
“Run!” Myridons voice cried. “Don’t look back. Run!”
Malchius picked himself up and clambered over the last few rocky yards to the cave. Myridon at once threw down his pack and furiously looked for something to distract the dragon from Basnu.
“Where is it! Oh, where is that thing.,” he cried.
The dragon was almost on top of Basnu now. Myridon found the thing he was looking for--a little glass vial of red fluid--and ran out of the cave.
Malchius shouted “Stop! Look!” and pointed.
Out from behind a large rock stepped a giant of a man. He had long black hair and a long black beard woven into three great locks. His clothing was very simple-leather shirt and pants, and leather sandals. In his hand he carried a great wooden pole, which he might have used as a staff or perhaps a walking stick. To the humans, however, it looked like the mast of a ship.
The giant began pummeling the dragon with it’s great club. The dragon slashed wildly with its tail but missed every time. Once in a while it knocked rocks towards the cave which kept the travelers on their toes. The repeated blows took their toll and gradually life left the great beast. The great man gave the dragon one last smash on the neck for good measure. He kicked the great reptilian monster and loped over to the cave entrance and sat down. He wiped the sweat off his brow and began laughing.
“That was mighty fine sport. I haven’t had such a good time in years.”
He looked down on the company, still huddled below.
“And who might you be little ones,” he roared.
Myridon stood up.
“The name’s Myridon,” he shouted.
“Mirror gone? What in the world are you up too old man?”
“Not mirror gone, Myr-i-don.”
“Myridon, eh. Funny name it is.”
“I’m rather fond of it myself.”
“What’s your business in my land?”
“We are just passing through and by chance stirred up this monster. We’re grateful for our lives.”
He didn’t think it wise to tell the giant their true plans.
“Just passing through, eh. You must have some important reason to pass through the Layam. Why didn’t you take one of the mountain paths?”
“To be quite frank, we didn’t expect to find any of the great beasts still living and so naturally we took the easy way.”
“So I see. And who are your friends?”
Malchius stood up and introduced himself.
“Greetings, Malchius is my name,” he quailed. Trying not to shake his legs too much.
“Malchius is a fitting name for you, little one. It means the far-seeing one in the tongue of the giants. But that is rarely spoken now as we are few and far between. And you others, what are your names?”
Aidin, Jorlath, and Atma stood up and introduced themselves one by one. Brontes peered closely at each one.
“And I’m Basnu!” Basnu said as he walked over to where the others stood.
“Well, well. A nice party you are,” roared the giant, “and just passing through my land, eh. No men have passed this way for hundreds of years. Not since my grandfathers father lived have any men been bold enough to take the Layam road.”
Brontes wisely suspected them to be up to some sort of mischief, perhaps servants of the emperor Megisteron of the realm of Maligmia east of Danyabad. Which shows you that he was a wise giant as far as giants go but he was of course quite wrong.
“Come, little ones, you will follow me to my dwelling. Tomorrow, if all goes well, I’ll escort you personally to the end of the Layam, as far as the Beren river.”
His first words frightened them. Friendly though he seemed to be, no one wants to go to a giants cave. But having told of his help to accommodate them through the final length of the desert raised their hopes again--a little. The company followed Brontes to his cave . He led them along through a rocky maze for half an hour behind the small cave where they first met. They came to a large round door which Brontes moved with little effort. The gap revealed the entrance to a very large cave. Slowly they walked in. The giant directed them to a long slab of rock. Here they sat down and waited while Brontes went further inside. They looked at one another. Malchius looked down at his feet. He couldn’t help think of the stories told him as a little boy sitting on his father’s knee.

“In the wild parts of the world,” he would say in a hushed tone. “Lies a mysterious sea. And on this sea are islands. Small, rocky islands known but to a few people. Now some of these islands are inhabited but not by men. Giants live here. Great and hideous creatures too. Some have only one eye, some have three. And they’re nearly always hungry. They especially like little boys.”
Malchius never dreamed he would actually meet one of these great men and soon forgot the stories after childhood. He certainly never expected to be sitting in ones cave after having his life saved by one, but here he sat and there he was. Myridon had nothing to say to the others so they sat in silence. A few minutes went by and Brontes reappeared carrying a large basket filled with food. He had the weary travelers spread a blanket over the stone table. He then proceeded to empty the contents of the basket on the table. There were all sorts of cheeses, loaves of piping-hot bread, and honey, and butter. Cautiously they eyed the food, thinking it was somehow poisoned or other.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Eat, my friends,” roared Brontes. “Surely you don’t still fear me?”
Slowly at first but eventually the travelers ate till their hearts content. The giant ate in silence and eyed them curiously while sitting in his great high chair high above them. After the meal was finished a great flagon was passed around. Each sipped the thick dark syrupy liquid. It was hot and warmed them right down to their toes. The guests felt much at ease after their droughts of the hot liquid and then Brontes began.
“Now. It’s time for the telling of your tale--the true tale. What is the real reason of your passing through my lands?”
Myridon cleared his throat and began.
“Our intention, Master Brontes, is to find the Sephirotic tree. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?”
“I’ve heard of it. It was supposedly destroyed well over a hundred ages ago. It was sone kind of magic tree they say. Gave one the who ate its fruit long life. Some even say they would never die.”
“Yes,” replied the wizard. “It’s been said to be destroyed in the great flood of Tuaz. It’s also been said that as the flood waters rose the twin brothers Remeul and Sereul took a branch of the Sephirotic tree and fled to the plains of Dangmar. And there in a hopeless race against the rising flood waters perished.”
“The plains of Dangmar are in the far eastern parts of Haran, and unless I’m mad. You’re in the wrong part of the world,” interrupted Brontes.
“Quite right, quite right,” said Myridon hastily. “But before they died Windmar the eagle, then the most noble of birds, saw them from afar. Down he flew from his lofty eyrie and beheld Remeul holding his dead brother in his arms. Close to death himself, Remeul in his last few breaths told Windmar of the tree. Windmar took the limb in his talons and flew to Mt. Danyabad. Upon when reaching, dropped the limb into a stream and there it was forgotten for many generations of men.”
Brontes laughed. “And so you believe this tale? That the tree of Ealdor is still growing?”
Myridon (who hated to be laughed) at replied.
“If the stories are true then we will find it.”
“Hmm,” the giant murmured. “It’s a mad venture you’re undertaking to be sure. However, I’ll help you on your way. With me as your guide, you’ll reach the Beren river in a few hours. But I must warn you. You will be on your own from there on. For I must return to my cave before dark. Even I daren’t remain in this place after dark. Dragons by day are easy foes. Dragons at night are another matter. Then they have the cover of night to conceal themselves and can attack you unawares.”
Malchius shivered slightly at this and asked. “Are there any dragons east of the Beren?”
“No, at least not to my knowledge,” replied Brontes. “Very little lives in and around Mt. Danyabad. A few small harmless creatures and of course some plant life.”
The group felt reassured at these words. Already their hearts were lifted and they felt the spirit of adventure rising in them again.
The next morning came early. They woke and found breakfast already laid out for them. Quickly they ate the honey bread , eggs, milk, and cheese. As they were finishing up, Brontes strolled in and flung down an old dirty sac. The bit of dust made by the impact caused Malchius to cough.
“Already for the journey, little ones?” he said.
“Yes, Master Brontes,” Malchius responded.
“It’s time we were off then. The sooner the better.”
Malchius took on last look at the cave. The huge earthenware vases in one corner. The ragged bundles and tattered oddments in another. It was certainly a homely-looking place. Not at all like the Rodamines caves in the Aeldorland. It was ‘well-lived in’ as he father would say.
Brontes led the troop back through the stone labyrinth till they came to the original path. Malchius looked around for the dead dragon but could only find a large black area on the ground where it had died.
“Whatever happened to the dragon?” he asked Myridon in a hushed tone. “Did Brontes make a meal of it or something?”
“No. I can assure you he didn’t eat it. Scavengers, don’t you know?”
Malchius shrugged his shoulders. “But it only died yesterday.”
“The desert is a very desolate and dangerous place my friend. Food is very scarce here. Only the strong survive in these parts. You probably haven’t noticed but you’ll almost never see an injured or crippled animal here. If you do it’ll be killed for food in a matter of hours.”
“Sounds rather gruesome.”
“Perhaps, but it’s the way of the wild. The death of one means the life of another.”
Brontes led them along a sandy path. His enormous gait forced the others to keep up an enormous pace. An hour later when they stopped for their first break by a small stream, Malchius and Aidin immediately flopped down to the ground and began drinking water.
“Ugh! This tastes horrendous,” exclaimed Malchius. “What’s in it?”
Brontes began roaring. For a solid minute he kept laughing. He pointed to a dark mound upstream. Moments later Myridon, Basnu, and Jorlath started laughing too. Aidin looked at Malchius and shrugged.
“Beats me,” he said. “Come on. Let’s check it out.”
They walked a few feet away only to catch a whiff of something terrible.
“Ugh! I think I know what it is,” said Malchius to Aidin but Aidin was down on his knees coughing violently and didn’t hear him.
Apparently a large animal had died and was still lying in the water. Brontes walked up and examined the carcass carefully. He poked and prodded at it with a stick then hastily returned.
“It’s just as I thought. A dragon has killed this beast only a few days ago. Sometimes when they kill they leave the bodies in the water. Days later they return to the feast. And look. Here’s a dragon track leading towards my home. This most likely was the monster I slew yesterday.”
Brontes led them in a wide arc to a point upstream the dead animal. Here they drank clean water to their hearts content. The Beren river was in site now. They could hear the tinkling of the water splashing against rocks. Pretty soon they arrived at its banks. Then Brontes, true to his word, left them and returned home.
“Well now,” said Myridon. “That was an adventure. Now the thing to do is ford the river and make camp. The Beren is not a deep river but it is very wide.”
Aidin took one of his boots off and placed his feet in the cold river. The cold sent shivers up his body and momentarily took his breath away.
“Cold enough for you?” laughed his brother.
“Indeed yes.”
“How’s it taste?”
“Quite good really. Certainly better than Bronte’s little brook.”
At this the others laughed. Fording the Beren proved no great obstacle. In half an hours time all were safely across. Basnu slipped once, about midway, but was still only wet to his knees.
“Well, stage three of our journey is complete,” exclaimed Myridon.

22 November 2008

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 in which our travelers meet the ancient prophet Merops, explore the ruined city of Palo-Enlil, and lose a great deal of formatting.

Presently they came to a row of trees. They walked along in single file until they came to a road that made a sharp left. Curious now, they explored this side. Halfway down the line a gate appeared in sight Jorlath whistled.
ASo this place is inhabited after all.@
AIt certainly seems that way,@ answered Myridon.
AI think we=d better stay away,@ said Basnu.
AI wonder, is it safe to enter?@ asked Atma.
AYes, of course it=s safe to enter,@ replied a strange voice.
The group whirled around and standing behind them was a little wrinkled old man, bent with the years, with a long flowing beard. He wore a single long white tunic of rough wool that went down to his heels and carried a staff in his right hand.
AWhere did you come from?@ Asked Aidin.
AWhy, I=ve been here the entire time. You just didn=t see me, not everyone can, or so they say,@ he added as an afterthought.
They looked astonished at the little man, especially the Rodamine brothers who later admitted that no one of their families had been able to conceal himself so cleverly.@
AMy name is Merops. I am the caretaker of the Garden of Cathmarten which is where you are now. Follow me into my home and have a rest from your travels.@
They followed his advice and went in after him, Basnu and Myridon last. After the gate, they came to a lawn, then through a twisting maze of apple trees. Next, came a small brook, which they waded across, and then through some more apple trees. Eventually they came to a clearing, if clearing it was. For what met their eyes was a blur of reds, yellows, blues, greens, and every other color imaginable. Everywhere their eyes looked they saw gardens. All types of gardens too. Flower gardens, vegetable gardens, herb gardens , and others. In the middle of it all stood a long, low, wooden house. This, he said, was his home. He invited them to sit on a flat grassy area in front of his house.
AWelcome to Cathmarten. I=m sure you=ll stay for awhile. Many travelers have rested here on journeys. Though I dare say its been a good score of years plus five since the last ones were here. I trust that you=ve had a pleasant journey since leaving Velusia?@
AHow do you know where we come from?@ asked Myridon.
AI know many things that go on in the wide world,@ he replied.
AAnd just how do you accomplish this?@ asked Malchius.
AAh, you shall see.@
The old prophet contorted his face ever so slightly and began whistling a strange tune. As he did, a large owl nearly a foot tall with very bright eyes alighted beside him. Merops began a different sort of whistling. After five minutes of this language, the owl began making tu-whoo-whooing noises that sounded similar to Merops’ whistles. Then, with a great flurry of feathers, the owl flew off.
AYour hurried departure has worried the lord of Velusia. He has sent men to look for you, however, they have returned. What troubles you?@
AWe didn=t know we were being followed, replied Malchius@
>We thought that there would be the chance hence the reason for our quick departure,@ said Myridon.

He told Merops of the northern dragons and the new traders. Merops nodded then with a grave look began.
ADon=t believe a word of it, my friends. Dragons have not been in that part of the world for many hundreds of years. The deaths that you speak of are the result of bandits and outlaws. My messengers bring word that Megisteron of the far eastern realm of Longurio is building his empire again. These traders are merely his outlaws and agents sent out to corrupt the land and spew the venom that he has brewed for many a dark year.@
“Megisteron!@ said Myridon. AHe died in the first age of the world. Surely it cannot be he.@
AAye, its true that the Megisteron you speak of disappeared, but the fact remains that he didn=t die. He was disembodied, and only for a time. Few on or in the earth nowadays remember his disappearance. I am one of the few. It is an evil tale but one you should be told. At least in part, for the telling of the full tale would take practically forever. Still Megisteron will be vanquished from earth.@
AWill it be soon or even in our lifetime?@ asked Malchius.
ANo, my friend, not during this age of Tellus. Megisteron is very powerful and a long liver, a longaeva extraordinary.@ He cleared his throat and continued. AAs you have heard, Megisteron became disembodied in the previous age of Tellus. From man’s perspective, however, he in a sense, died.@
AI don=t understand?@ asked Aidin.
AI think, perhaps, it would be best to begin with a short history.@
AMany years ago during the first age of Tellus, Megisteron, then called Avitar, was the eldest son of a great king. As the heir to the throne, his father wisely sent his son on journeys throughout the empire to acquire knowledge and wisdom. For it was his belief that exposing one to many different cultures would help prepare Avitar for the throne. So, he traveled far and wide encountering new people, ideas, and beliefs. On one of these journeys he got lost in a great wilderness. He and his traveling companions wandered around hopelessly for weeks. Everyone in his company died except Avitar. It has been said that they were murdered but the truth may never be known. He somehow lasted a few days longer and apparently discovered the Tree of Ealdor in an oasis.@
AYou don=t mean to tell me he ate from the Sephirotic Tree?@ asked an incredulous Atma.
AYes. Sad but true. He happened upon it one day in his youth. He took of the fruit and at once his eyes lit and he became more aware than ever. Armed with a new vigor he made his way back home. At first, no one noticed any difference in him. Yet gradually as the years went by it was noticed that he didn=t seem to age. People called him >youthful.= Not only did he seem ageless, he also became more crafty. In the past he was a generous man, always helping others. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, he grew more wicked. As his father the king aged, outlaws and marauders from Lanste overran his people land years later and most were killed. Megisteron was one of the few to escape. Some say he bribed the Lantsians but the truth may never be known now. Anyhow, Megisteron lived in the mountains for a long spell, building his army of Nephilim in secret, and plotting the day that he would rule an empire.@
ADuring the last age, a great war took place in the realm of Longurio. Megisteron had assembled a vast host of great warriors called the Anu-Naki. The smallest stood seven feet high and carried a spear of iron. They were a terror to behold in their wrath yet it led to their ultimate undoing. For years Megisteron led these fell warriors in many battles. Most fled in terror from the mere sight of his army yet there were a few with heart and courage enough to withstand him for a time. Yet even most of these he eventually overcame. With Longurio finally in his grasp his eyes wandered even further. In his greedy mind, the entire world could be his. Yet in the greatness and height of his power he was betrayed. Sardon, his personal body guard and closest friend, if indeed Megisteron had any true friends, stabbed him in the back while he slept. However, Megisteron didn=t die instantly as Sardon had hoped. In fact he never did die. He fought with Sardon and even in his weakened condition killed his ally. Megisteron was badly maimed yet the fruit he tasted in his youth made death impossible.@
AHmm,@ Basnu nodded, AThat is a tale I=ve not heard the like of, but you said that he died, or became disembodied, did you not?@
AMegisteron in a sense died,@ the old prophet replied. AMegisteron hid himself in a deep dark cave for time out of mind. The body remained dormant yet his spirit he let roam free at will. It traveled hither and thither about the world seeking knowledge of evil in dark places. One day he will again rise to great power. Perhaps that time is near.@
AIs there then no hope? Surely somehow he can be stopped.@
AAny who eat of the Sephirotic Tree will never die. It is also written that a great hero will arise and bind him in a secret place until the doom of man has come, but for now, we must wait.@
APerhaps it would have been better if this tree had never existed. What good is a fruit that gives one immortality if it also gives birth to evil?@
ANay. The tree itself does not give birth to evil. The evil is in the one who eats the fruit. The smallest grain of evil in a man=s heart will grow to vast proportions over time. Avitar, as I said before, was a good man once, a king among men. But alas, evil dwelt in his breast though he knew it not. The seed of pride, common to all men, was in him. Through the years it grew unheeded until finally it became too great to control. He pride overthrew him.@
AShould we even consider taking the fruit if all this be true?@ asked Malchius.
ANo! Under no circumstances. It will be the destruction of you and all Tellus in time. The leaves you may, for they have the virtue of overcoming any sickness. That is what the Sephirotic Tree was originally planted for. There are other uses of the Sephiroth but reserved for others in another time. Iluvatar in his great wisdom knew that in time mankind would become eventually become a lesser creature. Through the years his lifespan would shorten and gradually he would become like a hapless beast. Already many men have lost a great portion of their rationality. It is partly for this reason that the King=s Wars were fought. But come. We=ve talked about Megisteron long enough for one day. Look. The fog has lifted and the sun is making merry again.@
They looked and sure enough the fog had lifted from the valley. Merops led them to a stone tower behind his house. He took out a silver key and unlocked the great door. It was dark inside and had a slight musty odor but they could see well enough that it was designed to be some kind of observatory for watching the heavens. Bits of hay littered the floor and in the corner stood a single ladder. They climbed to the top and entered another room through a small hole. This room contained a chair and a table upon which lay open an enormous book bound in rich-smelling leather. The words were written in golden ink and when the sun hit them at a certain angle, they glimmered.
AThis is where I like to sit and collect my thoughts. Nearly everyday I come here to think and write. The book you see here is a history of the peoples of the world. Much of what is written here is of people and lands you=ve never heard of. Not that nothing important ever happens in Selidorn and Velusia, but your lands are rather secluded from the rest of Tellus. Now, where did I put my pipe. . . Ah, yes, in my pocket. Must remember to put it out next time.@ He scratched his head and continued. AEh, what=s that? Oh, not that you would understand or anything. You=re too young and inexperienced.@
ASome of us, but I think I do know what you=re driving at,@ said Myridon.
The only opening was through a long horizontal slit in the wall approximately equal to Merops stature. Nevertheless, it afforded them a fairly good view of their location. Cathmarten lay in the center of a great bowl of trees. They were in the center of a great fir forest and felt themselves rather fortunate they stumbled across his doorstep when they did. The trees grew so close that a perpetual gloom seemed to penetrate the surrounding land and an uncanny silence haunted their senses.
ATonight, my guests, you will see a rare event in the heavens. The star of Henoch will rise above the horizon for the first time since the Great Disaster. Henoch will then be the brightest object in the night sky. This portends great events in Tellus, but whether good or bad remains to be seen. But tonight, we will see what we shall see.@

* * *

Hours later, the star of Henoch was gone. Merops led them down into the lower room where they were to spend the night. He bid them a good night and closed the door. They felt it strange that Merops didn’t seem to want them to enter his house, but after discussing came to the erroneous conclusion that ’after all, a hermits a hermit and probably felt shy about having so many visitors inside.’ Malchius wasn’t so sure. He felt a slight bit of tension between the prophet and the wizard.

When they tried the door, they found it couldn’t be budged.
“Trapped! I knew it all along,” said Basnu. “Those two are up to something.”
“If they were really up to something don’t you think...”Jorlath said in a slightly perturbed voice.

“And what did he mean by saying, ‘You little ones will be safe here.’ I don’t think he meant our height,” said Aidin in a lowered voice. “Something’s got to Myridon. That bit about Megisteron worried him. I’ve known him for years, as even tempered as they come. Yes, he’s been surprised tonight.”
“But I don’t see why they needed to keep us out here...in the cold,” he bundled his tunic closer and put his cloak on. He was always the first to feel the oncoming winter.
“Something’s got to him anyhow. What do you know about Megisteron?”
“Hmm...lots and nothing at all.”
“How do you mean by that?”
“Well, I’ve heard some of the elders when talking about some especially mean rascal in years gone by say that he was ‘as mean as Megisteron.’” I’d never given much thought to it. Turns out this chap may be living after all.”
Aidin said, “So long as he stays on his side of the Wall, I for one don’t mind.”
“Do you think he’ll have men guarding the Sephirotic Tree?” asked Basnu.
“I don’t see how if it’s as inaccessible as Myridon says.”
“That’s if it even exists now,” said Basnu in lowered voice, but no one seemed to hear him.
The night drew on and one by one they fell to sleep. The tower was deathly quiet and no sound could be heard from the outlying forest, except perhaps for the subdued conversation of the two men in Merops house.

The sun was well above the eastern horizon when the rustling of a key in the door awakened them. All four started to their feet but relaxed when Merops and Myridon entered. The wizard seemed a bit more haggard than yesterday but Merops was as cheery as ever.
“I only hope you slept well in my little observatory,” the little man replied. “It must have been a bit crowded but I don’t usually have more than one guest or two at a time.”
They replied that it was quite comfortable and were really quite glad to sleep indoors for a change. They ate a hearty breakfast of porridge, eggs, buttered toast, and coffee on a small courtyard that lay hidden in one of the many gardens.

AOne more word. Take only a few leaves. If more then one is taken the Guardian will be aroused.@
AWho is this >Guardian=?@ asked Aidin.
AThe Guardian is the one who takes care of the Sephirotic Tree. It is said that he remains unseen to most eyes but at times can be seen if in the right place at the right time.@
AAnd this >Guardian=, is he human?@ asked Basnu.
AThat is beyond my knowledge. Yet let it be known that he is certainly a great being.@
AWhat will he do if we take a fruit?@ asked Basnu.
ANo one can take a fruit and live. That is the miserable creature Megisteron.@
AWhy, did he elude the Guardian?@
ANo, my friend, that is another tale altogether. One that would take a hundred and one days to tell in full. But I will tell you this much. Many ages ago, the Sephirotic Tree was not guarded. There was no need for it. Alas, but that age has ended and a great peace has left the world. Yet even now those who are brave enough to venture such a courageous journey are rewarded with some of its leaves. That is all the council I can give you now. I am old and my powers of sight aren=t quite as they were in days past. But with courage and a little luck I believe you can succeed. A
And with that they thanked him many times and promised him part of the leaves when and if they returned.
ANo, my friends, the Sephirotic leaves are not for me. For to eat of even a small portion of that fruit would mean many more years of life for me. Not youth but life. Do you understand? The Sephirotic Tree doesn=t give you life. It gives you existence.@
“Hasten now on your journey!” he said. “And tarry not in the Layam.” They bowed graciously to their host but found no words to reply. Merops stood leaning on his gate watching them. Just before they came to a sharp bend in the road, Myridon raised his hand and looked back. Merops in turn raised his. Soon after midday the travelers left Merops of Cathmarten and continued on the desolate trail towards their goal.

The path zig-zagged along for a few miles before they found themselves on the great Eastern road once again.

* * *
ASay,@ said Aidin. AWho made this path we=re traveling on?@
AA very good question, my friend,@ he answered. AAt one time the Gates of Layam were the entrance to a great city named Palo-Enlil. The Layam desert wasn=t then a desert, but a large lake. Traders would come on this path from Velusia and other villages to do business. Over time a series of earthquakes made the Layam run dry. With no water source the people left. It is now populated with wild animals. Once a year the chieftain of Velusia sends a messenger to the Gates to see if water has returned. The desert will never return to its previous state, and except for a few oases, it will always remain dry and barren.
I heard the stories of a few traders and they say that loud wails can be heard sometimes at night when on the other mountain trails nearest the desert.@
ALet=s hope your right,@ said Myridon.
The afternoon was spent much the same as the morning. Climbing up the narrow rocky paths and ambling down the other sides. An occasional hawk or eagle could be seen flying in the distance. Upon reaching the top of one path, Atma pointed out a large yellow area in the distance.
AThere it is,@ he cried. AThe Layam desert.@
The others gathered around and gazed. Before them lie the dry and barren sands of the Layam Desert. It didn=t seem very big from where they stood. Especially when compared to the towering heights of Mt. Danyabad on the other side of the yellow plain. It was far too late to think of reaching the Gates that day and so made camp.
After dinner, the company crawled in their tents and promptly fell asleep. All except for Malchius, whose turn it was to stand watch. Malchius whiled away the time by trying to count the stars but this only aroused boyhood memories when he would lay under the summer stars and make up his own constellations. He thought of Heldur and Laeknir, his two best friends.
Laeknir was forced into King Mizraims army as a cooks helper when he was only twelve. Laeknir, well. . .He wondered about the misery his father and mother were going through back in their little village far, far away.
AProbably going off to the village priest to offer a sacrifice to the goddess Naedrus. Sometimes I wonder if Naedrus really exists at all. She jolly well didn=t help me when I encountered one of Mizraims dead deer.@
Basnu relieved him at midnight.
Morning saw the group up and on their way in a bit of a hurry. Their goal that day was to reach the gates before dark. Except for a brief ten minute rest, they traveled without stop past endless ravines hundreds of feet deep, and over piles and piles of rocks. As the sun was sinking below the horizon the large gates loomed up before them only a few hundred yards distant. They patted each other on the back and ambled to the large rocky arches. Two great pillars of stone seemed to beckon them on. The last thin crescent of sun was showing when they all collapsed to the ground. Tired and exhausted, everyone went to sleep almost immediately. Atma was supposed to take the first watch, which he did, however after fifteen minutes of gallantly trying to stay awake he too succumbed to sleep.
Next morning, as the dawn grew clearer, Malchius awoke first. He had not slept well on the stony ground which happened to be the only place for them to make camp. This was fairly unusual, considering that yesterdays march was the longest undertaken by them to date. If there was a reason, he wanted to know why.
Quietly, so as not to arouse the others still sleeping, he crept away to have a walk through Palo-Enlil. He grabbed a bit of a torch from Atma’s bag, along with a tinder box, and crept silently away. (When he was well out of sight, the sound of a snoring Aidin could still be heard for some time). Soon, even the sound of a snoring Aidin passed away. He lit a torch and looked. Everywhere about him, piles and piles of carved stone lay in heaps. He came to a relatively open space and found himself at the head of a long row of pillars. He couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him. In the flickering glare of torchlight, he could, when he looked carefully, just make out the remnants of paintings on the pillars. The majority of the scenes were life must have been like in Palo-Enlil. One scene showed a large group of dark-skinned peoples pulling an enormous column towards a pit in the earth. In another part of the same scene, the same pillar lay at an angle in the ground and many black things surrounded it. He held the torch closer, but the paint was too damaged by the years to see much. He turned to a different pillar that revealed a hill with many white and brown blotches.
“Ah, these must be sheep or cattle,” he said to himself.
On he walked. Another showed a half-man half-bull in the act of slaying a prisoner. Still another had a large lizard-like creature beside three of the white cloud-like things as the earlier painting. He wondered if it were a dragon. If so, he certainly didn’t want to meet one out in the middle of the wilderness.
What was curious was that in nearly every case, a tree with eight limbs (four on each side) laden with fruit, appeared somewhere in the frescoes. But what exactly it symbolized, the long forgotten artisans took to their graves. He came to the end of the row of pillars and discovered a set of stairs leading up to the top. It took him longer than expected. The sense of entering a very sacred and holy place came over him.
Now, hot and sweaty, he sat down on what well have been a seat, though now it was so cracked and crumbly he could not tell. As the dawn grew clearer, he heard the croaking of unfamiliar birds overhead. In the absolute stillness of the new day, in a strange land, his mind was stimulated and aroused to new thoughts.
The grandeur of the forgotten city resonated with him on many levels, some unknown to his conscious mind. The task that confronted him would alter his mind forever. Many times during the day doubt racked his mind and slowly unraveled his nerves. Malchius passed through a row of massive pillars. If he looked carefully, he could see the remnants of long forgotten artists on the sides.
Sometime later, (he had in fact finally fallen asleep), the sound of voices came crying up from below. Soon the figure of Basnu appeared with Atma just behind him. He stood and shouted to them.
“Hoy! Away! Up here!”
It was some seconds before they heard him. Malchius gingerly walked down the steps of the pyramid to meet them.
AThis was simply an amazing place,@ said Malchius. AIt must have taken hundreds of years to build these pillars.@
AOnly ten were needed,@ replied Atma.
AOnly ten years?@ Malchius said.
AYes,@ said Basnu. AForty-thousand people working nonstop in only ten years time built the city of Palo-Enlil. It is said that the hammers could be heard from miles away. It was one our ancestors greatest accomplishments. These gates at one time rivaled even the great ziggurats of Kish.@
AIt=s been said that many Kishite slaves helped in their design,@ said Jorlath.
AThat is true also. It is one of the tragic stories of history. Sitobezzia, the ruler of Palo-Enlil, made a treaty with the emperor of Kish. In the agreement, ten-thousand slaves, captured by Kishites in their many wars, were to be sent here in exchange for gold. Gold, of course, was mined here which also explained the great deal of trade.@ said Basnu.
AAnd all destroyed by earthquakes,@ murmured Aidin.
AHow is it no one has tried to rebuild the city?@ asked Jorlath.
Atma gazed keenly towards the desert.
AIt has been tried. However, it will never be rebuilt again. The last and greatest earthquake that destroyed Palo-Enlil was foretold by the prophet Oris in his writings. I don=t remember the full rhyme but the last part went something like this.

Woe to thee on that evil day, When red will be the sun
And valleys tremble and mountains quake, with no place to hide or run
The crown of the hills shall be broken, dark will be the sky
Know then all ye peoples, The undoing of Palo-Enlil is nigh

Myridon whistled. ACome. It=s time to be moving off.@
Fifteen minutes later they were off. The group solemnly walked past one of the largest columns. Malchius walking last gazed up. There ominously perched on top of the column was a large vulture. It cocked its head, looked down on him, and croaked. The others stopped and looked up at it. They continued on.