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.


21 November 2008

The end of Chapter 2 and Chapter 3

more of chapter 2 and chapter 3.
(Some of the formatting was lost when copying this from my computer)

The second day from Melodigone brought them to the lip of an enormous chasm. Stretching across the gorge, lay a suspension bridge.
“Do you think it’s safe?” asked Aidin. “These cords are old and look at that one over there. See how frayed it is.”
“Safe or no, it’s our only way now. Mizraim’s troops will be in sight any minute,” replied Myridon.
Aidin edged himself onto the first few wooden planks. Carefully, he walked across, steadying himself with both hands on the ropes that served as the sides of the bridge. The bridge teetered and tottered, but soon he was safely across.
Jorlath went next. He calmly walked across without making so much as a sound. Myridon followed with Malchius close behind. The wizard calmly stepped along plank to plank. Halfway across the two men heard a loud “snap!” Myridon whirled around and looked at Malchius and started to say something but Malchius had his finger over his mouth indicating silence.
“Did a rope snap?” asked Myridon.
“No. It was a branch broken just around the corner,” he whispered. “We must get across-now.”
Myridon and Malchius quickly scrambled to the other side.
“We must be off!” said Myridon. “Someone is coming around the turn.”
Myridon and Malchius paused for just a few seconds when Jorlath said, “Ahead. Look. There is a bit of rocky ground. There are some trees we can hide behind till whoever it is passes.”
The stand of fir trees grew so close together that they had little trouble finding suitable hiding places. It was also dark under their overhanging boughs so that whomever passed by would have trouble seeing them from the road. Malchius was the last to find a suitable hiding spot but he laid himself flat in a small trench just behind two great trees and just in time. For at that moment, around the bend and to the bridge, came marching a troop of Mizraim’s soldiers on horseback. A Gwawriddur came to the bridge, dismounted, and examined the bridge. After careful inspection he called out in a loud voice.
“Aye, captain. This bridge looks to be in bad condition. See how frayed these cords are. It’s odd. Seems as though the ground here is disturbed. Someone’s been through this way recently or my name ain’t Leb Gofin.”
“All right Leb,” the captain replied. “It’s probably one of these new merchants gotten lost, no doubt. He’s no account to us. We’ll return to the south road and take the north-west pass through Midgarton. We should have been closer to Pellinore by now or we’d follow these tracks. Quickly now, or we’ll catch it quick if we arrive late.”
And with that the Gwawriddurs turned and galloped away. The last rider just vanished behind the corner when Myridon stepped from behind the great fir tree he was hiding behind. He gazed keenly at the dusty road as if looking at something of great importance. Soon, he turned around and said.
“They’re gone. I wonder what brings Mizraim’s men out in the wilds. And I didn’t like what he said about these new merchants either. Some of them are thieves I hear. I should like to find out more about them.

”These traders may well be the wandering vagabonds we see walking through our lands,” said Aidin. “In the past, few men traveled in the wilds, but recently, they have become quite common.”
“They’re a sinister lot, always sneaking , as if they’re afraid of being watched. It makes one wonder what they’re hiding-or from.”
“Perhaps they are,” said Myridon in a far off voice. They continued on without further incident that day.
Before them rose an enormous hill covered with fir trees and short stubby junipers. The path led straight to the top of the Aglotor which couldn’t be seen for it was covered with mist.
“The Aglotor,” said Myridon. “The mountain that stands as lonely sentinel to the Kablam mountains. Say farewell to the foothills friends. You are enter the Kablam.”
“The Aglotor doesn’t look so big,” remarked Malchius.” “It is higher than anything I’ve seen in my life so far, but not by much.”
“Rash words, Malchius. But it’s better to tell you beforehand than to find out for yourself later. When you climb Aglotor you must go slowly, for the body cannot tolerate such drastic increases in altitude quickly. Drink plenty of water. If anyone feels nauseated tell me. I will give you a drink with willow root and fireweed. It is a potent brew and works quickly to clear the mind. Now, before we climb, we’ll rest a spell.”
“We would be wise to fill our water skins now,” said Aidin. “If I understand Myridon, this is the last stream before Velusia.”
“Correct,” replied the wizard. “We’ll replenish our water here. Tonight we will see the city in the mountains.”
The next half hour the four rested by the cold waters of the Greenhead river. After filling their water skins they packed their belongings and began the long trek up the Aglotor. The trail was well-marked but steep. At times, they were a mere inches from the edge.
“Watch your step,” warned Myridon. “One false move and a quick death will meet you.”
“I feel half-dead already,” panted an exhausted Jorlath.
Halfway up they rested. Malchius sat down on a lichen covered rock and unslung his pack. Aidin and Jorlath plopped down on the trail but Myridon simply leaned on his staff. Their sweat soaked through their shirts and now clung to the shoulders. Presently Aidin said.
“Say, have you noticed how cold it is. Just ten minutes ago it as stifling hot.”
“It’s the altitude. You’re not used to the elevation. Drink from this bottle. It will help you. Just a sip, for it is potent.”
Aidin took more than a sip but the wizard didn’t seem to notice. Myridon thought for a bit and decided everyone should add a few drops to their water bottles. The effect was startling. Everyone perked up and felt much better. Even the ever silent Jorlath started talking. Aidin remarked casually to Malchius that his brother hadn’t talked this much since the last Feast of the Eclipse, three years ago. “Jorlath,” he said, “was in charge of the wine. Apparently he tasted more than was good for him and the next morning was nowhere to be found. Later, he told me, he had an errand to run in a distant part of the wood.”
The group straggled up the last few hundred feet of the Aglotor. The top leveled out and there they took another rest. Soon they were off again. The trail led straight on through a maze of juniper and rhododendron. Gradually the trees grew sparser and the land became rockier. They could now see quite a ways into the forest. “Look!” cried Atma and pointed. Everyone turned and saw, off in the distance a few hundred feet away a long line of rocks piled into altars.
“Well, it looks as if we’ve arrived,” said Jorlath.
“Not quite,” replied the wizard. “Remember, we’ve still got one more valley to go thru and then a small hill after that.”
“Surely we’ll be there in a few hours. What’s one more hill after the Aglotor?” said Jorlath.
On they trekked to the stone altars. A few minutes later they approached being careful not to touch any of them and walking around their left side as was the custom in that land. They went a few feet further and sat down on the leeward side of a large rock. Aidin took off his pack and handed out a parcel of gimtels to everyone.
“Gimtels for breakfast, gimtels for lunch, gimtels for dinner. I’m sick of gimtels. Do they have anything good to eat in Velusia?” asked Malchius.
“They have niblets,” replied Myridon.
“What are niblets?”
“Oh,” he laughed. “It’s rather like gimtels.”
They made camp that night on a little promontory overlooking Velusia. According to Myridon, the distance from the stone altars to the promontory was a mere two miles. After a meager lunch of biscuits and travelers cakes they trudged along the path. The trail went downhill again. An hour later they arrived at their destination. They set up camp around an old campfire and rested. When they woke up, Myridon was nowhere in site.
“Now where could he be off to now,” muttered Malchius.
Probably looking at the trail ahead,” replied Jorlath who now had a terrific headache and was back to his silent self once again.
“There. I see him,” said Aidin. “ Up to your right Malchius. Do you see him? He’s halfway up the hill looking at something. Come. Let’s join him.”
They scrambled up the hill to meet Myridon. The wizard was leaning on his staff and gazing intently at a point below him. When Aidin, Jorlath, and Malchius arrived he didn’t look at them. He merely pointed his finger down below and said “look.”

Below them stood the city of Velusia.

Malchius’ first view of Velusia was the enormous palace of Lord Khiron. The palace was laid out in the form of a large square. At each corner of the city, rose a tower of white stone with spiked towers. A long low wall with numerous doorways ran between the towers. In the middle of one wall, a brownish-red gate nearly seventy feet high led to an inner courtyard. He could see numerous small buildings of the same brown-red hue inside. This particular structure in turn had four towers as the outer wall, only smaller in height. From the middle of Khiron’s palace there arose four great bronze minarets. From the location of the sun, the central minarets cast a brilliant light on the courtyard. The outer spiked towers cast long shadows over the small stone houses and shops that surrounded it. In there shade rested what appeared to be people and a number of small shaggy beasts of burden.
Velusia was situated on a tall hill in the westernmost part of the Layam foothills. A walled city, the Velusians had never been taken by surprise. Some of the townsfolk wondered why such a great and grand wall was ever needed. The truth was that when the area was first discovered the place now known as Velusia was inhabited by many dangerous creatures. Dark and shadowy, these beasts cast fear into the hearts of all who met them. They were known to the early inhabitants as Nemotaurs. These great scaly creatures were created by some mad sorcerer to do his evil bidding. The sorcerer eventually left that part of the world and his name was forgotten and all the Nemotaurs had long since passed out of memory.
“What a beautiful city,” remarked Malchius. “It’s looks just like a golden crown.”
“Yes,” replied Myridon. “It is a sight.”
The four men gazed at the city of the mountain folk. The setting sun made the rooftops shimmer. Malchius could make out people moving on the streets far below.
Later that night the group was sitting around a small campfire they had built. The dinner of salted veal, cheese, and bread was eaten and all were waiting for Myridon to explain the plan for tomorrow.
“Velusia is a great city but dangerous,” he began. “Be on your guard. For though everyone and everything may appear safe it is a hangout for all sorts of hoodlums and outlaws. Upon entering the main gate, the Lord’s gate, you be accosted by beggars asking for money, trinkets, or anything. You must not give them anything. It merely encourages them and besides that they’ll follow you around for your entire stay. And that is what you don’t need.”
“You keep saying you, Myridon. Aren’t you going with us?” asked Malchius.
“No, too many people would recognize me. The less people know about this journey the better. I would only arouse suspicion.”
“How are we to know what this friend of yours looks like?” asked Jorlath.
“Look for a man wearing a green tunic and a scar on his left cheek. He knows of your coming and will be expecting you any day. You’ll meet him in the market square besides Khiron’s palace. I have instructed him to look for three travelers.
“After we meet this acquaintance of yours...”
“Atma is his name.”
“This Atma. What are we to do then?”
“He will take you to his house where you will spend the night. The next day we will meet on the other side of the city. There you’ll find a series of rock formations known as the cairns. We’ll meet in the grassy circle in the middle of those. From there our journey will resume.”
Malchius and the two Rodamines had more questions but Myridon waved them off.
“Enough for one night. You’ve plenty enough to go on for now. You’ll simply have to hold your questions for the cairns.”
And with that he laid down for the night. One by one the others fell asleep. Each dreaming of the adventure that lay before him.
The company rose bright and early. The sun had not yet risen but the sky had the orange glow that precedes a clear and sunny day. Quickly they ate breakfast. Half an hour later they were ready to leave. The wizard gave them last minute instructions and concluded his remarks by saying.
“And remember, don’t tell anyone of your journey!”
With that he turned and began his high climb above Velusia. Malchius and company headed down the path that led to the main gate. Forty-five minutes later they arrived.

Chapter 3
On and on they marched. Always uphill toward the market square passing house after house that all looked alike. The homes were built of the same flat rocks that comprised the surrounding countryside. Children standing in doorways dressed in rags would shout Avelza!@[1] and then start giggling as their parents pulled them inside. Dogs lying down in the middle of the dirt streets would look up, yawn, and then close their eyes. Velusia was a very old city. No one could remember when it was first settled but it was believed that hundreds and hundreds of years ago two brothers had a heated argument and parted ways. One brother gave rise to the Velusian and the other to the Rodamines. Still, to this day, there is very little difference in the physical characteristics of the two races. It is not known to outsiders how the Rodamines have the almost supernatural ability of camouflaging themselves in the forest but the Velusians cannot do such a thing.
The palace was in sight now. Just before reaching it, they turned left down a side alley to meet their contact. As they walked down the semi-deserted muddy street, somber aged men unkempt and wearing old rags stared silently at them. Many were covered with sores and blisters that looked nasty. Malchius tried not to stare at them but on one occasion he simply couldn=t help himself. He stared at one old sick beggar just a moment too long only to have him spit in his direction. Obviously, this was a part of town that strangers weren=t welcome. They hurried on and presently came to the large open square filled with people selling their wares. It was market day in Velusia and they had come in the middle of the day when it was most busy. They decided to divide and meet an hour later, this time on the other side of the market square. Malchius strolled past the hundreds of little tables and shops. He was greeted by a group of women and children sitting on the ground selling their goods on makeshift tables and blankets. Malchius was unaccustomed to such an atmosphere. It didn=t take much time at all for the Velusians to recognize him as a foreigner. As a result, he was mobbed by people trying to sell him anything from little copper colored dragons, fruits and vegetables, to wooden cups and bowls. He managed to get through the court without too much trouble but not after having purchased a couple of apples and a little leather pouch he thought would come in handy later.
An hour later, Malchius met up with Aidin and Jorlath. Aidin was standing beside a short, wiry, and extremely muscular man. Whether he was thirty or sixty was not to be seen. He was thinner than Malchius and the Rodamines and wore a green tunic with a green cape. The dark complexion and smooth skin gave him a regal look. Malchius immediately compared his gaze to that of an eagle. In his hand he carried a large sac filled with food purchased in the market.
AI want you to meet Atma. He is the man we are looking for."
Atma bowed before Jorlath and Malchius and said, AVelza, I and my people welcome you to Velusia. I trust that you have arrived without too much difficulty."
Malchius acknowledged the name of Myridon and replied, AWithout too much trouble. We had a small scare from a troop of Mizraim's soldiers, but they passed us by without noticing."
AYou are good to have such friends," said Atma to Malchius. AThe Rodamines are the best forest guides in this part of the world. However, where your going you'll need more than concealment. We'll talk about that later, but hurry, you must come to my place. It is not safe for travelers in the marketplace after dark. You can meet the rest of my family there."
They followed Atma along the dirty, twisted, and narrow corridors until they came to a typical Velusian house. In Velusian culture, families (typically very large) live together in the same house. The multistoried houses usually have a shop on the ground level. Every morning a thick wicker wall is drawn up and a table is set out containing goods and wares designed to lure people into the family store. The women generally mind the store during the day. The children are sent about the city on errands. Sometimes they carry a bag of goods and attempt to sell them to any who will buy. The men work outside the city gates and farm and hunt. At night, the wicker wall goes back down and the day is done. Only three sides of the house were showing, the fourth side was actually part of the village wall. Malchius peered over the wall. Off in the distance he could just make out the top of Mt.Danyabad far to the north. Its peak covered in snow even in the middle of summer.
A servant girl named Cara greeted them in the doorway.
"Velza, and welcome. We've been expecting you."
Aidin, Jorlath, and Malchius bowed and entered. As he did, Malchius saw a large fireplace. Many pots and pans were cooking on the fire and making all sorts of hissing and sizzling sounds. The smell of baked bread, and bacon, and eggs, and all sorts of other good things to eat made Malchius only that much more hungry. A group of ten people sitting cross-legged on the floor in a circle talked noisily. Upon viewing the strangers they became silent. Atma introduced the three to the group and they in turn introduced themselves. They were all close friends of Atma and Myridon and many already heard rumors of their plans.
An old wrinkled wizened man with a long scraggly white beard stood up, leaned on his staff, and greeted the newcomers. Damu, as he called himself, was an elder of the city and one of its most respected men. Whenever a serious dispute arose over a matter, he often was called upon to judge the matter. In his younger days he traveled the length and breadth of the Kablam mountains including the wastes of the Layam Desert. So, it was only natural that he be consulted for advice before the expedition left. Everyone waited for Damu to speak.
AThese three men, Aidin, Jorlath, and Malchius will be leaving on a journey which must at all costs succeed. They are endeavoring to go to Sagarlugma, the forbidden mountain, what they call Danyabad.@
But the Velusians only reply was "you are looking for the gold of our ancestors."
As wild as some of the tales he heard that night, Malchius knew that they contained a kernel of truth. He had never met a man who had an original idea in his life. All stories were merely retellings of ancient tales. He had been taught that by Myridon. One tale interested him more than the others. Another man related the story about Danyabad being the abode of the Spirit of Xon. He has vast repositories of gold, silver, and precious jewels. It was also said that the food on his table will sustain a man for a lifetime. Could it be that this was a copy of the Sephirotic Tree? When pressed for more information, the old man could tell him nothing more of Xon's Table in the mountains.
Several voices gasped and some were silent. Yet all thought the thing extraordinarily brave, if not dangerous. Danyabad was the one place where no man was known to have walked. Any who placed so much as a foot upon her sacred flanks were rumored to die a slow and painful death. A shadow seemed to lie upon the mountain and at times, a red glow in the clouds surrounding her peaks could be seen.
"The goal of their quest is to obtain the leaves of the one tree. Now they will have need of three things; speed, stealth, and fortune. Atma and one other will guide them through the mountains. For though the paths are well-marked, danger lurks around every bend."
"Wait," said Aidin's voice. "I've got one question before we begin."
Damu nodded and Atma said "speak."
"I don't mean any disrespect to Lord Khiron you understand, but why do we need to hold this meeting in secrecy. I mean, after all, we're out of Mizraim's dominion now aren't we?"
"To be sure, my son, to be sure, said Damu. "The reason for all this secrecy is this. If Lord Khiron hears of this expedition of yours, he won't let you out of the gates."
"Why not," Aidin continued. "It's no business of his what we're doing. Why meddle in our affairs?"
"Khiron has issued a decree that severely limits travel east of Velusia. In recent years many shepherds and livestock have mysteriously disappeared in regions east of Velusia. That in itself wouldn't be extraordinary. These have disappeared without a trace. No bones, tracks, or other clues have been found. Perhaps they were kidnaped. Others say a dragon from the wilds has returned. The most likely explanation is some new group of vagabonds."
"But surely he'd let us go," said Malchius. AI mean, after all, our journey is pretty important."
"Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn't," said a short man hunched up in a corner. "But it's better not to take that chance."
"Very well," said Malchius. "Nevertheless, it's a chance we'll have to take. He'll or his guards will see us leaving and are certain to ask us questions."
"Certainly so," said Damu. If you leave during the day which is certainly not wise. You must begin your journey at night. Tonight that is."
"How are we to get outside the village after night?" said Aidin. "The town gates are locked and heavily guarded once night arrives are they not?"
Damu peered curiously at Malchius, Aidin, and Jorlath and smiled. "That is correct. Yet there are more ways to leave a city than gates. Tonight you will be lowered over the city walls in baskets. Are you afraid of heights?"
The three nodded their heads, Malchius only after seeing the two Rodamine brothers do so.
"Good, then it's settled. Tonight you will leave our fair city. Atma and Basnu will accompany you on your journey through the mountains. They are the youngest among us and have the keenest sight. Atma you=ve met. Basnu you have not."
A stern dark-eyed man sitting by himself stood and bowed. He was dressed in a dark blue tunic and cape as Atma. At his side was an exquisitely carved bow and about his shoulders there hung a quiver of arrows. His gaze was stern and his manners courtly.
"Rumors of your journey came quick to my ears," he said. AI was the first to volunteer to be one of your guides."
"Basnu and Atma are brothers," Damu continued. "You will have the greatest possibility of success with them. But let us make haste, for the time of your departure is at hand."
As skeptical as the Velusians were they were more than willing to give advice and aid. The next three hours were spent packing equipment for their mountain trek. Atma and Basnu seemed to think that Malchius and the Rodamines had entirely too much extra gear, so more time was spent lightening their packs than actually packing for Atma and Basnu.
"Speed is the key," said Basnu. "When we go through the Layam Desert, it may be necessary to outrun a dragon or two."
Malchius wondered how anybody could outrun a dragon but he kept this thought to himself. When the time came to depart, the original three travelers left behind four sets of clothing and half a bag of assorted odds and ends that the Velusians were more than happy to take care of in their absence. Aidin was sorry to have to leave behind a favorite pair of boots. "But," said Damu, "One set of boots is enough for one man. Why go through all the trouble to carry another?" He couldn't help but notice that his extra boots fit the elder Velusians quite nicely. Eventually everything was ready so up to the roof they went. They looked around them to see if any night watchmen were around. No guards were in sight so the other Velusians, directed by Damu, helped the company into the baskets. Slowly but surely they were let down over the wall. Once on the ground they climbed out, unloaded their gear, and waved to their companions. They waved back and hauled the baskets back up, and just in time to. For only a minute later a watchman came strolling down towards them on top of the wall, whistling an old merry tune and carrying a torch. The company crouched down in some nearby bushes till he passed. Atma then turned and said "Follow me," in a loud whisper. On he led them. Across a small bubbling stream and through a mass of twisted and gnarled trees. How he ever found his way through to the cairns in the dark was a mystery to the others. Nevertheless, he led them, always uphill. Around the middle of the night they caught site of the cairns in the moonlight. The tall piles of rocks resembled huge skulls in the moonlight. As they approached, a sense of dread seemed to come upon everyone. They marched directly towards the cairns huddled close together.
Unbeknownst to Malchius and company, Myridon was already at the cairns. They were not expecting him until sometime the next morning so as you may well expect they weren=t a little surprised at seeing him. As Myridon saw them approaching in the twilight an ornery thought came to his mind. Stealthily he climbed atop a medium-sized cairn that overlooked the center. A few moments later Malchius and company arrived. The wizard watched them set up camp and amusedly listened to their conversation.
"This is for sure one of the evilest-looking places to make camp," said one.
"And to not have a light makes it even worse," said another.
"It makes my blood run chill," said a third.
"Can't we risk just a little light?"
"No!" said Malchius. ARemember Myridon's words. Were not to have any lights here. Too close to Velusia. If we were to be found out the Lord Khiron would never let us out of his sight again.@
Thus they all sat, glumly looking over the twinkling lights of the village below and talking.
About ten minutes later Jorlath said "Hush!" and put his finger over his mouth.
"Hear that?"
The others listened intently but heard nothing. Presently they began talking again when a few minutes later click...click...click...click...was heard somewhere overhead.
"There it is again. Do you hear it?"
The others nodded in agreement and all ears were perked up. But nothing more of the clicking sound was heard. Again conversation resumed and again a click...click...click...click....was heard. This time everyone froze still and waited for a full five minutes but again nothing was heard. Everyone was by this time quite jittery. So it was no surprise when Myridon made the clicking sound for the fourth and final time, let out a tremendous cackle, and leaped down into their midst Basnu had a small accident of sorts. By then the wizard had revealed himself as the phantom cackler and the others thought the jest uproariously funny. However, it was to be a few more days before Basnu saw any humor in the situation.
Myridon agreed to take the first watch that night. The others, huddled together, fell asleep one by one. The next morning was bleak and dreary. The grass which they were sleeping on was covered with dew. A fog lay over Velusia so the only the tops of Khiron's palace were visible. Quickly, Myridon roused them from their sleep.
"Quick, quick, we must be off soon. We want to put as much room between us and Velusia as possible."
"Why? What's the big hurry?" queried Jorlath.
"I don't want anyone snooping around after us, that's why," he replied crossly. "If we hurry we can reach the Gates of Layam by tomorrow night."
A grumble or two later with some quick packing and they were off. Led by Atma and Basnu, they made their way up and down the mountain paths. At places, the path was destroyed by rockslides and they had to climb up above to look for a way to the other side. Malchius had never been so high in his life and thoroughly enjoyed the views offered by the heights. At noon the company stopped and had lunch.
Towards three in the afternoon they approached an area of large unweathered rocks. Carefully they picked their way through. At times they had to lead across the stones over crevices that were many feet deep. The rocky area soon became a smooth path that ended almost as abruptly as it began. Half a mile further they came to a slight bend in the road that looped around a small hill. Here they discovered a large field surrounded by the remnants of a stone wall. Basnu walked over to a pile of rubble lying nearly in the center of the area and pulled a few stones loose. The others walked around for a minute before sitting down. A minute later Basnu walked over to the others carrying something in his hand.
"Look at this necklace I've found," he began. In his hand he held up the rather large gaudy piece of jewelry. It was made up of some very heavy red rocklike structures that weighed heavily in the hand. "I found this lying under some of those black stones," he pointed back to where he had just returned. "Seems to me that I'm in good fortune. To find a treasure is to have the good grace of the gods."
Myridon closely examined the beads. His expression grew stern and grave. "This is a trinket from Maligmia," he said at last. "The beads are not beads at all. They belong to some great serpent. Handle it as little as you may! Even better, return it to the ground from where it came. Perhaps it was placed there in hopes of being easily found by some unwary traveler."
"Truly, Myridon," began Basnu. "only a harmless toy. What evil can come of it?"
"The enemy has many devices by which it spreads its poison. I've spent many a long year studying its arts of dark magic. Oftentimes, a token is planted or given to a man, perhaps as a gift, and sooner or later evil befalls him. "
Malchius recalled the incident with Graul of Ettrune. He wondered if he was from Maligmia. He was about to mention the incident when Aidin began.
"The hour's getting late. I say this is as good a place to make camp as anywhere. No ones been here for years. And I can't possibly walk one more mile today."
"Yes, we'll stay here tonight," replied Myridon. Basnu walked back to the rubble pile. During the night a tremendous thunderstorm broke out. It was not a very windy storm but had many flashes of lightning and thunder. For a full three hours the giants of the air illuminated the night sky in a brilliant display of lights and noise. Later, a steady rain fell and by morning, just ere dawn, a great fog enveloped the entire land.

Walking along slowly in the rear, Basnu noticed a flash of light on a distant hill to his left. He stopped, turned, and saw it again. A moment later another flash appeared on the hill just beside them. He whistled to the others to stop.
"What is it, Basnu?" asked Myridon.
"Signals. And from the looks of things someone knows we left Velusia without the consent of Khiron."
The whole group was now looking at the surrounding hillsides. Another flash of light appeared.
"What are they saying?@ asked Malchius.
"Something about ...lost persons...foreigners...and quickly. I=m not really certain. Atma, do you know?@
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm unable to make any sense of it either. They don't seem to be using the common signals. Which means...@
"They know we left,@ interjected Myridon. AWhich is all the more reason to make haste. Tighten your belts, for we won't rest for a while. Certainly not while so near Velusia. Atma and Basnu, are there any shortcuts you know of?@
Atma and Basnu looked at each other and quickly talked about any possible ways.
"No,@ Atma replied. AThe road we=re on now is really the fastest way. We could take one of the high roads.@ He gestured towards the upper slopes. "But that would slow us down considerably. The high roads are not often used and are in disarray. We could find ourselves lost in a hurry.@
"That's a risk we'll have to take then,@ said the wizard. "We simply cannot afford to have Khiron's sweep patrols disturbing our plans.@
The group began to scramble up the hillsides to find the nearest high road. Up and up they climbed, stopping every few minutes to catch their breaths. Pretty soon Basnu gave a shout. He had found one of the dry, dusty paths that skirted the upper sides of the mountain. Malchius, right behind him, looked down and saw their former path hundreds of feet below. They rested once more before continuing on their new road.
For some reason or other, the flashes of light could no longer be seen. Atma and Basnu talked about it and decided that it wasn't worth the trouble for the sweep patrols to continue. As it was, however, they were still wary of being seen. They could be spotted easier on the high roads but then they would probably not even be looked for up there.
Gradually the wind grew stronger and stronger. Soon it began to snow. Myridon pulled his great hood over his white hair and beard and Malchius tightened his cloak. Atma and Basnu apparently loved this kind of weather for they were trotting merrily along and talking incessantly. The two Rodamine brothers listened and watched the surrounding hills. They continued on. During the next several hours the snow had turned to a light rain then finally stopped. A dense fog began rolling in and grew denser and denser. It blanketed the whole mountainside so that they could only see a few feet in front of them. Myridon had already ordered everyone to stay together as he was well aware of the dangers of getting lost in such circumstances.
Not only was the fog dense it was also wet. Their clothing became so damp they had to stop and change clothes. The rest of the day went pretty much the same- tramping through the everlasting clouds. At dusk they halted and made camp. A little higher up above the path for in the very rare chance somebody or something happened along on it.
Next morning at sunrise they were off. The same thick mist still covered everything in sight.
"Drat this infernal fog,@ muttered Myridon as he stumbled and fell on some slippery rocks.
Malchius reached down to help. Seconds later the wizard was up again and they quickly hurried to catch up to the other four who had forgotten his previous days instruction to stay together. They soon caught up with them and after a brief scolding they sat down together on the road.
"We simply must get down to the lower road,@ said Aidin after hearing of Myridon's accident.
"Yes,@ said Atma. AIt is not good for us to be here. I feel something amiss within me.
Something unfortunate may happen if we don't descend.@
"Hmm, I wonder now,@ said Myridon. AWould anyone else be down there?@
Basnu cleared his throat and began.
"Probably not. Not that we can say for certain you understand. But I think it's safe. You'd be wise to trust my brothers intuition also--for he is seldom wrong.@
"Look" Jorlath said and pointed to the sky. The others looked but could see nothing.
"What is it?@ asked Aidin.
"A large storm is coming. Do you not see the dark clouds?@
They looked a second time. Far away they saw dark storm clouds. From where they were the clouds appeared small but they were rapidly coming nearer.
"Soon, perhaps in two hours time, the storm will hit us,@ Jorlath said. "And I'm not going to be stuck up here. Patrols or no patrols, I'm going down. Myridon, what do you say?@
"I'm surprised I didn't see them earlier. Yes. We must get down from here. Besides we'll see better without all this fog.@
So down the mountain they went. Atma and Basnu led the way through the short woody plants and lichen covered boulders. For half an hour they continued at a steady rate.
"We should be seeing the main road anytime soon,@ said Basnu. "So keep watching. We don't want to miss it.@
"It seems to me that we should already be there,@ exclaimed Jorlath. "We=re not going downhill anymore.@
"It's quite possible to be anywhere. If this evil fog would simply go away we'd be better able to see. It=s as if we=re destined not to find it.@ said Malchius.
Myridon put up his hand for everyone to halt.
"Perhaps you're right.@
"Oh come on, you can't be serious,@ said Malchius.
The wizard looked at the Velusians.
"Perhaps you two know. Is weather like this common in these parts?@
Atma gazed up and looked around.
"Never in my life has there been anything like this. This is the work of evil. I feel it in my bones."
"Hmm... Your words trouble me my friend. Nevertheless, the path must be found and found quick. I've wandered little in this part of the world yet I know of many dangers that may beset hungry, weary, and lost travelers.@
For five minutes more they walked. Basnu thought he found the path but he wasn't certain. Over the years, torrential rains had eroded the countryside and great gullies had formed to change the look and lay of the land. Myridon walking slowly in the rear let out a long low whistle.
AIt seems to me that there weren't nearly as many pine trees on the path as now."
The others kept silent. Myridon knew that they were lost yet he didn't tell the others. The pine trees grew closer and closer together. Soon they were surrounded by them on all sides.

[1]Velusian word for 'good-day'

Chapter 2

The next few days Malchius spent recovering in Aidin and Jorlath’s home, a lookout post, he later found out. Soon, he felt well enough to travel to the Rodamine’s largest settlement, Melodigone. Situated in the center of the Aeldorland, it served as the unofficial capital of the Rodamines. They were by nature a very secretive lot. They preferred brown and green colored clothing that blended in well with the forest. They preferred to live apart from one another. Only a very few Rodamine houses were actually built beside other houses. Their dwellings, usually no less than half a mile apart from their nearest neighbor, were built over cave openings. The front part of the dwelling consisted of an entrance way with a place to hang coats and store shoes. The living quarters were in the cave itself. Inside, were many rooms of various assorted shapes and sizes, depending upon the natural arrangement of the cave. When building a Rodamine house, the would-be owner would first explore the cave extensively, (one didn’t want to seal up some unsuspecting creature lurking inside, as was more common in those days). When a suitable cave was found and thoroughly explored, the village would congregate to that one spot. The first thing done was to seal off any unwanted openings. Then the entire cave would be reinforced with timber hewn from Timbril trees which were as strong as iron and resisted rot. The Rodamines would then cover the interior walls with a certain sticky, resinous-smelling mortar that hardened into a shiny waterproof coating. Finally, the inside of the house was paneled with dark walnut or oak.
In time, Malchius came to meet and know more of the Rodamines. He became especially good friends with Aidin and Jorlath and spent many long hours traveling with them learning about the different plants and their medicinal properties and how to make himself practically invisible in the forest. At nights, he listened to the stories of old Rodamines around the Fire of Zelid. Zelid’s Flame, as it was called, burned constantly. Zelid had started the fire more than one hundred years ago, and it had not gone out since. The younger Rodamines were in charge of tending the fire. If ever one of them was foolish enough to let the flames die, he would be banished from the land, or so said the Elders. Myridon was not often seen as nearly as Malchius would have liked. He grew strangely curious about the wizard and one day questioned Aidin closely on the subject.
“Myridon is a wizard. He is a mastermind. He has made long and in-depth studies of men and their ways. If he seems odd, well, that’s because he is. He doesn’t like repeating himself when giving directions. Oftentimes, he mumbles to himself. Oh no, it’s not spells he’s uttering or anything. He just does it. Most wizards mutter a lot to themselves. It’s funny now that you mention him,” continued Aidin. “I recall now the day that he said to me in that weird singsong voice he sometimes uses.”
“He is not long hence,” he imitated the wizard.
“Who?” I asked.
“The Jemdat-Nasr,” he replied, “and then rolled off two dozen verses from the Scroll of Mamre as if it were nothing.”
“Really now. I wish he’d explain it more to me,” said Malchius. “But naturally I haven’t seen him but once since coming to Melodigone. Where is he?”
Aidin merely shrugged his shoulders. “In his own good time, to be sure, in his own good time.”
As if in answer to his thoughts, there came a knock at the door. It was the wizard himself. Without so much as a word of greeting, he walked in and handed Aidin a large sack.
“Be a good man and take this to Olmo, would you. I must talk with Malchius.”
“Glad to see you as well,” Aidin smiled and got up to leave. He was fond of Myridon, but his lack of etiquette at times made him wonder. When Malchius and the wizard were alone, he began.
“Actually, I’ve been expecting you for quite some time. I knew you’d show up sooner or later. As it so happens, it was sooner.”
“Expecting me? Why, you’ve never met me in my entire life,” said Malchius. He felt a slight bit unsettled at the word expected. As if he were to be the ritual sacrifice or some needed ingredient in an old witch’s brew.
“Quite correct Malchius. We’ve never met in the flesh. But I recognized you at once by the signs.”
“The signs?”
“The little things; your manner of speech, the way you walk, the angle of your eyes, and other traits of your countenance which any wizard can see.”
Malchius felt his face. It seemed perfectly natural to him. The wizard eyed him closely.
“Do you remember a day during your sixth year when an old man, carrying a tall crooked staff, spoke some words over you?”
Now, in Malchius’s village there lived quite a number of old men who fit this description. “Not particularly. Plenty of men could have.”
“This particular man wears his beard in a manner unlike most others. In a great pleat, for he cuts it not, and it is red in color.”
Malchius thought and thought. At last he remembered the strange red-bearded stranger. He had bumbled into him accidently while playing one day. He felt bad and helped carry some parcels for him. “I think so,” he replied.
“Do you remember the words he spoke over you before you and he parted ways?”
He thought again. “Actually I do.” (He remembered it vividly now. At the time he thought it to be the strangest thing to say to a six year old, but later put it out of his mind entirely).
The wizard crossed his hands and looked even more closely at Malchius. “Now think very hard. What exactly did he say?”
“Well, what he said... was this. In the days of your coming of age, a great evil will befall the land. The opportunity will arise for you to save them. When that time comes, the fate of many lives will be in your hands. You have been chosen to find a method of saving them. Only you will have the ability.” He put his hands in his pockets. “That’s all he said. No more, no less.”
“That is another sign,” continued the wizard. “Fate has decreed that you should find the method in Melodigone.”
“Who was he, and how did you know about that accident?”
“That was no accident. It was an incident. I know him well. Asareal is his name. He’s an oracle. The Oracle, if you please. Some lesser minds think him a rough shod penniless soothsayer. But his words come to pass. As opposed, say, to the prophets of Nae-drus.” He pronounced this last word with a great deal of contempt.
“Do you not fear the Goddess?”
“The Goddess? The Goddess of what?” Myridon uncrossed his hands and placed them at his sides. “I’ll talk more about the Venerable Naedrus later. For now you must learn under me until your education is complete. You will be my pupil. I am strict and exacting in my work. I’ll expect the same for you. Laziness will not be tolerated here. We all work and very hard too. You”ll like Melodigone. There will be ample opportunity to enjoy yourself once you find your feet as we say here.”
“I’ve got a question I’ve been meaning to ask for quite some time.”
“Tell me. Who are the Jemdat Nasr?”
“A good question. I’m glad you asked. It shows you’re curious and keen on knowledge. The Jemdat Nasr are men set apart from others to rule. Jemdat Nasr are not necessarily based on lines of heredity, although rulers sometimes pass on their particular traits to their offspring. They have an uncanny ability to, while not exactly predict the future, foretell many events to come in great detail. They have a very high intelligence and uncommon powers of logical reasoning. (Mentat) Most are quite vocal and tend to get emotional when upset. This in particular sets them apart and causes great friction at times with their typically quiet and soft-spoken tutors. Few, if any, writings have been left by Jemdat Nasr. It is still not certain the reason for this. Certainly they had the ability to write, which was very rare in past days.”
The weeks grew to months; winter and spring passed. One day early in the morning the next spring a young Rodamine, a few years younger than Malchius, came running by in great haste.
“What is it Daron?” asked Malchius. “What”s all the rush on such a fine morn?”
“I need to see Myridon. Is he here?” he panted.
“He’s off gathering Goldsword leaves. He says they’re necessary for one of his poultices.”
“Will he return soon?”
“Noon perhaps. Certainly no later than mid-afternoon. Sit down a bit, can’t you? I”ll get something to drink.”
Daron agreed and sat down on the ground. Malchius returned a minute later with a great cup of mead for the weary Rodamine. For himself, he drank only water.
“Now friend, pray tell me what’s on your mind. You’ve been gone a week if not two.”
“I bring bad news Malchius. There is a new darkness in the land. All over Selidorn there are reports of a strange new pestilence. The disease, this new plague, is unlike any other. A wife sits down for a brief rest. Soon, sleep descends upon her. A sleep she never wakes from. Death does not come at once though. Some sleep for months before succumbing to the grave.”
“It is an evil tale that you speak of if it be true.”
“I saw it with my own eyes, Mal. The children’s screams and the mother’s cries are ceaseless. Wailing can be heard in every village and hamlet. Every family in Selidorn has at least one family member that has succumbed. Mayhem and panic are everywhere.”
“Is there no cure?”
“None has been found. That is what I want to speak with Myridon about. I hope he returns soon.”
Malchius felt troubled in his mind. He looked at the horizon. It was going to be a warm day, one of the first warm days of the year.
“Have you heard about my village?” asked Malchius.
Daron looked to the ground. “I didn’t want to tell you this Malchius, but you’re father is dead. He was one of the first victims.”
Malchius stomach knotted. He put his hand over his face and closed his eyes.
“I see,” he said in a low voice after a moment. “It’s probably the same evil that caused the death of my mother. Is no one immune from this plague?”
“Nay, not even your King Mizraim is immune. The princess too has succumbed to the black sleep. Arweena, the only child of Mizraim and Pritha, has fallen ill. None of the king’s healers and wise men could make her better. Slowly, her condition worsened to the point at which death seems inevitable. King Mizraim, in his state of mind, has executed all his wise men and healers. He has issued an edict proclaiming that any man who can heal his daughter will have her hand in marriage. Furthermore, as he has no son, this man would also be the heir to the throne. However, any man unsuccessful would be killed. A few dozen men have already tried to cure the princess but all have failed. Naturally their deaths had discouraged any other would be suitors. Despite the pleas of his wife, he obstinately refuses to change his mind. His anger has grown and he has become even more of an evil tyrant. Taxes were raised and longer working hours were ordered for the villagers. Most say it is the wrath of the goddess punishing them for their iniquitous ways. They’ve tried supplicating the goddess at her temples and shrines. Yet, it is to no avail. The scourge continues.”
“I do hope Myridon returns soon,” said Malchius quietly.
Daron and Malchius sat looking at the ground. Presently, as if Myridon read their thoughts, he came walking out of the forest with a small bag slung over his shoulder. Quickly, Daron retold the wizard all he spoke of earlier. Myridon listened intently while stroking his great beard.
“No, this is no natural malady. I’ve studied all the known diseases that afflict man and this is something I’ve never encountered. This is no common plague. This is a contrivance of some new evil in the world.” But from where he thought it came from he did not say. He turned to go but stopped suddenly and turned. “Malchius, I want you to come to my study later. There is something very important I want to discuss with you.”
“Certainly,” Malchius replied. The wizard then turned and abruptly left, walking with quick long strides towards his home. Malchius followed him with his eyes as the wizard walked away. Myridon almost never invited people to his private study. It was practically an unwritten custom that no one ever went there. He never understood why.
At sunset, a knock was heard rapping on Myridon’s cottage. “Come in, come in,” the wizard’s voice said in haste. Malchius entered.
The study came as a bit of a shock. Unlike the Rodamines dwellings with sparse furniture, stores of dry goods, paintings, .................................................this place was large and crowded. In one corner stood a wooden object that rather resembled a cabinet except that it had no doors. Inside, he saw the most elaborate system of gears, pulleys, wires, and levers he had ever seen. Myridon called it an astronomical timekeeper. It predicted eclipses, comets, cycles of Luna, and a host of other phenomena. Atop his (very dusty) mantlepiece lay a long thin white cloth. On it ran a row of bottles in assorted shapes and sizes, filled with insects, snakes, and other creatures. One wall was completely covered with calculations and crude sketches of stars and planets. Various instruments were strewn about and a skull that looked twice as hideous as normal, as it was twice the size as it should be, sat on an iron pedestal in a corner. It was a very crowded room, not quite altogether messy, yet it had a somewhat structured sort of disorder. One could almost, in fact, call it an orderly mess.
“Hmm,” the wizard muttered. “Now there is something.”
“Yes?” Malchius leaned closer to the wizard.
“Can you believe that it was a law for people to not eat meat?”
“I had no idea.” The wizard was hunched up over a great book and surrounded by a great many candles. He hadn’t a clue as to what Myridon was talking about. He was mumbling to himself again.
“Because now...” he tapped on the book. “Apparently nowadays mortals don’t live long enough for the ill effects to become noticeable. That and the fact that once one eats meat, one is addicted to it. You can take your greens and feed them to the chickens. I’ll have a side of beef any day. There, you see.”
Malchius figured this was not what he wanted to discuss so he began, “about what you wanted to talk about earlier.”
“Ah, yes. I’ve been thinking about this new disease. There is one substance that may counteract this plague. However, it is located in a very remote corner of the world in a very dangerous place, if it even exists at all.”
He listened eagerly. “Pray, go on. Tell me more.”
Myridon paused and then began. “Mizraim, father of the Egyptian race, had many prophets, wise men, and seers. He collected them from the surrounding lands and brought them to one place, Pellinore. With their help, a vast center of learning was built. The Solon was the larger building containing all the most sacred scrolls. It was in the center of the Solon where one man was chosen to enter a day. Smaller side rooms held young men studying under the wise to learn their arts. It so happened that I was chosen to enter the Solon on the first of Tera, the tenth month of the Egyptian calendar and the longest day of the year. By chance as it would so seem, I opened a scroll expecting to read about a certain incantation that interested me when I found another smaller scroll sealed inside. I spread the smaller onto the table and saw written in a strange tongue words which seemed of ancient antiquity. I quickly transcribed the words and hid them on my person to translate later. For years I tried to understand the meaning of the lines. I made progress yet it was achingly slow. Seven years later I succeeded but what was written was so strange that it seemed a fantasy.”
“What did it say?”
“Come with me and I’ll show you.”
Malchius followed Myridon into another dusty room crammed full of old books, scrolls, and parchments. He glanced at some of the titles; Edicts of King Nabol, Dance of the Heavenly Spheres, The Speech of Beasts, Parables of the Mermithids. He made a mental note to ask who the Mermithids were. At his elbow lay an open book and he saw that it was written in some foreign tongue. He peered closer and saw that the letters were long and wavy with no spaces between them. Myridon opened a particular large book and set it upon the table. Carefully, he opened it to reveal a hidden compartment. Inside lay a scroll that looked to be of immense antiquity. “No,” said Myridon in response to Malchius’ anticipated question. “This is not the scroll, merely a copy of it.”
“It looks older than anything else in this room. Who made the copy?”
Myridon gazed at him under his great bushy eyebrows and said slowly, “I did.”
Malchius had never asked the wizard his age. He assumed him to be approximately seventy years, but he distinctly remembered that Elton, the oldest Rodamine who claimed to be one-hundred and seventeen, had once told him that Myridon was old. Much older than himself. He thought this rather strange and reconciled himself to the thought that old Elton was half senile. Yet little things every now and then hinted that the wizard was much older than he had suspected. Much older than anyone else in Tellus.
Myridon cleared his throat and began. “This scroll tells of the tales of an ancient race of men that lived in the far eastern parts of the world. Apparently, these men were larger, more clever, and more powerful than their descendants walking Tellus today. They were akin to the gods. Now this tree, the Sephirotic Tree, if memory serves me right, was used as food for this ancient race of men. For mortal food could not sustain them. A Tree of Life it was said to be. An elixir made from some part of this tree gave one an increased longevity, a life lasting hundreds of years beyond the norm. If this was true, and I have no reason to doubt it was, other properties might be associated with it; increased mental powers, extreme physical strength, in general a keener use of the senses. This tree would give one the sight of an eagle, the hearing of a rabbit, the smell of a wolf, and the cunning of a dragon. Perhaps even other strange powers could be attained. Now, the might of these men was great; yet, their pride was even greater. Lesser men appeared on Tellus in those days, men more akin to the mortals of today. They grew jealous of the great men and desired to be like them. They waged many battles to gain access to the Sephirotic Tree for it was hidden in a secret place and the powers of the great men were bound up in it. Finally, there was a terrible war and the men of elder days were driven from the land and most of their records and chronicles were lost or destroyed in the Great Disaster. I’ll read the manuscript here.”

“Now in the days of Manu the Great there lived the Elgul. In the realm of Survan they dwelt. Of permanent dwellings, they had none, for the desire for sleep seldom overtook them. The fruit of the Sephiroth is their only nourishment, an herb that imparts the very essence of life. Now, the Elgul prided themselves of having great knowledge and spent much time studying the stars. And so it came upon a time that certain men, more crafty and wise, unrelated to the Elgul, desired to learn the secret of their power. They multiplied in secret and after many years had numbers to fight the Elgul. At first, the Elgul laughed and mocked them. Later, after many deaths on both sides, Gebarmezi, leader of the Elgul, decided to forever destroy the lesser men. Before he struck the final blow, rumor of the destruction of Tellus could be felt and heard. Inconceivably, vast dark clouds of ash arose and the sun hid its face for months. Great rains came and Tellus grew cold. Most of the inhabitants of both races died during this time of great tribulation...”

The wizard paused, looked at Malchius, and continued. “There was more written but it has faded through time.”
“When did these events occur?”
“This was the first age of Tellus, the Golden Age. Be thankful that era has passed. It was a time of grievous evil and utmost strife. Never was there a time like it nor will there ever be again.”
“Things seem to be fairly bad now. I don’t see how it can get much worse.”
“You have much to learn yet, little one. Nearly four-hundred years have passed since that age has ended and Tellus is a very different place. Even the very landscape of the world has changed since then. The sundering of all peoples into the far corners of Tellus has been for the better of the race.”
“It has been said that most of the rest of the world live like beasts.”
“Don’t fret about it. In time, much of the knowledge that was lost then will be rediscovered, be it a hundred years or a thousand. It’s a tragic fallen world, but in it lies a hidden beauty. One can see traces of it in the lines of a tree, a flower, and in the meandering woodland stream, especially in man. Some have it in lesser measure than others. In the Jemdat Nasr this beauty, or Rama as it is properly called, lies in greatest measure.”
Malchius felt another one of Myridon’s lectures coming on and braced himself accordingly. The wizard was the wisest man he knew. He also felt the wizard shared this same opinion.
“It’s sad. The story of most men is “What Could Have Been?” When I studied under the great masters, there was a friend of mine. Uriel was his name but that is unimportant. He excelled in quite literally everything he set himself to do. Whether it was in writing, lore, singing, or athletics. He was better than any of us. He had quite a bit of rama in him.”
“Whatever became of him?”
“He left the Places of Learning and wandered the world. For all anyone knows, he is still wandering Tellus. He became a beggar, which was probably the only thing he wasn’t good at.”
The student listened intently. Some of it, however, he thought far-fetched. He asked the wizard more questions.
“How far away is the Sephirotic Tree?”
“How far, you ask? It’s never been measured. Many days journey through seven valleys, but since none who ever start-return-who knows? A month, perhaps two. Distances are measured differently in the East.”
“Hasn’t anyone else heard of it?”
“I’m sure they have. But alas, they’ve put it out of their minds as old wives tales and fantasies. People nowadays don’t think about things like that. They’re more concerned about what they’ll eat and what they’ll wear to the latest festival. Come. I will show you a map of the East.”
Late that night found Malchius and Myridon poring over a very ancient-looking parchment. The names of the places on the map were foreign to Malchius’s mind.
“Where is this strange land?” asked Malchius.
“Cannot you guess? This is a map of Selidorn. The village where you grew up, he pointed to a spot in the middle of a huge expanse of green, is located approximately here. In the middle of the Selidorn forest or what you’ve always called simply the Forest of Ambia.”
“Why is it called Selidorn?”
“Years and years ago, back before your grandfather’s grandfather’s time, there was a rebellious young prince from a small forgotten kingdom of the North. He tried to overthrow his father’s throne but failed, and was banished from the kingdom. He, along with his two wives and children, moved to the then unexplored forest. In time, he made a home for himself, grew prosperous, and became a sort of self-styled lord of the forest. This forest is named after him.”
“I had no idea.”
“You’ve led a very sheltered life.”
The map was filled with strange names of strange places. Cethe, Dangala, Heldurland, Nun, Nurngeld. Malchius noted the distance from where his village stood to the Aeldorland, home of the Rodamines to get somewhat of a perspective of distance.
The wizard cleared his throat and began again. “According to the manuscript, the Sephirotic Tree is located in the realm of Survan. Survan is dry, desolate, and cold. It comprises the lands surrounding and Mt. Danyabad. I personally think it is elsewhere. The upper slopes of Mt. Danyabad are covered with snow year round. Surely no tree can grow there. The obvious place to look would be at the base of Mt. Danyabad. There, though the elevation is still very high, plants and shrubs can still grow. It is a very rugged and dangerous place. At any time rocks and boulders may come down from the upper slopes and landslides are quite common. The most dangerous part may not even be the mountain but getting to it. For you see, the path to Mt. Danyabad leads through the Layam Desert. And if the desert itself isn’t that troublesome, the creatures that live there are. Dragons breed in the Layam. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a dragon, but it’s a rather unnerving experience, and dragons guarding their young can be positively dreadful.”
“What do these dragons look like?”
“Have you ever seen a lizard?”
“Oh yes, many times. We used to chase them as boys.”
“Well, a dragon is rather like a large lizard in many ways. Picture a large lizard with the wings of a bat. The body is covered with brilliantly colored scales. Their venom is perhaps their most dangerous feature. For it contains a poison that burns as fire and blinds the eyes. They can spit on a victim from many feet away. If that happens, unless you’ve got a small army with you, you’ve little chance to survive.”
Malchius, who had never seen a dragon in real life much less in a book, conjured up images in his mind of strange-looking overgrown lizards chasing him about.
“Once the Layam is crossed there’s the Beren River to ford. It would be dangerous to cross it in the spring when the snow melts, yet, in summer it should be fairly easy. A few hours march and then one finds oneself at the base of Mt. Danyabad.”
The wizard and Malchius talked late into the night. When Malchius finally laid his head down for the night, it was with an expectant heart. The conversations with Myridon had kindled in his heart a ray of hope, small though it was, of saving Arweena from the Plague. Princess Arweena was said to be the most beautiful lady in the land. Songs were sung of her beauty and grace even among the Rodamines who acknowledged no king.
The next morning Malchius was busy looking at a series of maps in Myridon’s room. He traced an imaginary path from the Aeldorland to Mt. Danyabad. The distance seemed short enough. Only he wished there was more detail on the areas surrounding Mt. Danyabad. Myridon walked in and sat down.
“Have you made up your mind?”
“The new day brings not only new light but new fears in my heart, wizard. There are too many griefs if you know what I mean. The tales you spoke of last night sound good and true, but look at it closely. They...may...be...only...myths. I want to find this...this...Sephirotic tree, but it’s so dangerous. What if I get lost? Will I have enough food? How do I kill a dragon? Has anyone ever killed a dragon-do dragons really exist? He wondered. Perhaps this plague will go away by itself. He felt the wizards glance go stern and cold. He continued. “Oh, can’t you see? I want to go, but I’m frightened. I’m scared. I was a tremble of nerves escaping from the Gwawriddurs. Even now, when I hear a strange noise in the wood, I get in a panic.”
Myridon put his hand on Malchius’s shoulder. “You must choose the path that lies before you Malchius. As long as you waver between the two roads you waste precious time. Time is given to all men to make decisions, but to those who don’t, failure is their fate and the rewards that lie at their respective ends are given to others.”
“You’re right. I can’t meander here in hiding for the rest of my days. Tomorrow I shall depart from this fair land and begin the quest, alone if need be.”
“Oh, you won’t be going alone. I think I will go with you. Surely you didn’t expect me to stay here while such an interesting expedition is on. Besides, I’ve not traveled East for many a long year. I’m anxious to find out any news of Megisteron. The eastern Kablam mountains have stood as a barrier between Megisteron’s hundred league wall and Selidorn for time out of mind, yet my heart fears that he has crossed that natural barrier, if not himself, then in the guise of his agents.”
The Kablam mountains are dangerous at best, deadly at worst. A watch will be needed every night. Choose among the Rodamines someone trustworthy and true to go with us, preferably two. If you want my advice in this matter take Aidin and Jorlath. Both are skilled hunters and their knowledge of lore is great for such so young. Ask them today and be quick. Summer will be here soon and by then it will be too late.”
The next morning Malchius found Aidin preparing to leave for the forest. It was morel-gathering time and he was hoping to gather a large basket for dinner that day.
“Hullo! Aidin.”
“Hello yourself Mal. What brings you out on such a lovely spring morn?”
“Aidin, my friend, I’ll be leaving soon, tomorrow at the earliest. I may be gone for a few months, maybe more. Furthermore, I’ll need some help along the way.” Malchius spent the next fifteen minutes explaining his expedition plans to his friend. Aidin, after listening intently, looked at Malchius with a sardonic grin.
“So, you’re asking me to join you on this perilous quest to the east in the Kablam mountains to look for a magical tree that may or may not exist which could cure any disease while risking life, limb, and perhaps my sanity.”
“Er...well if you want to put it that way.”
“All the while encountering who knows what kind of evil creatures lurking in the wilds. Not to mention lack of food and water, getting lost, or some other such misfortune.”
“I do admit it is rather a long shot.”
“And furthermore, you offer me no guarantee of payment or remuneration in case of my death unless in the almost inconceivable chance you succeed by saving Arweena from the plague and become heir to the throne of no less a tyrant than King Mizraim.”
“In a word, yes.”
“Well now, my fine friend from Ambia, this is without a doubt the maddest scheme I’ve ever heard of in my life.”
Malchius lowered his head and stared at the ground. “Look. I understand and all if...”
“I’d be more than happy to go with you.”
“Really! But you just said...”
“Relax Mal. Don”t take everything so literally,” he laughed. “Jorlath will come too, I’m sure. I”ll ask him myself. It would be better since I know his quirks and nuances better than most. He left early this morning on some errand of his to On, but should return before nightfall. I’ll let you know his decision tomorrow at dawn. Till then,” with a wave of his hand Aidin was off.
Next morning, just as the sun broke the horizon, Aidin and Jorlath came walking through the morning mist towards a waiting Malchius and Myridon. Both had sacks slung over their shoulders and held tall staffs in their hands.
“Well now,” began Myridon. “Three’s company but four’s a crowd. Yet we’ll certainly need all the eyes we can get when we reach the mountains. I’m glad you two decided to come along on this little trip of ours. What did Malchius say to convince you to join our little party?”
“Nothing greatly reassuring,” laughed Aidin. “I’m doing it for the sheer adventure. Jorlath, well, I’ll let him explain.”
“When Aidin told me of the powers of the Sephirotic Tree, I was immediately skeptical. These were strange rumors he spoke of, but being a great lover of herb-lore, my inquisitiveness overcame my doubt. If this is indeed an enchanted tree, I wish to find out for myself.”
“A wish that may be granted soon enough,” replied Myridon. “Indeed I don’t need to tell you that we”ll be taking no leisurely stroll through the mountainside. We go to seek life and bring it back, but we may find death instead. Four men won’t be enough. I have decided that more help is needed. I’ve already sent word to a city on the outermost parts of the Kablam. The city is Velusia, and that’s where we’ll obtain a guide. Velusians are a kindly people and their knowledge of the mountain paths are great. If they have a fault it is that they are a very superstitious race. They’ve many customs and rituals in their land that we would do well to observe. As we pass through their lands you will notice tall carved wooden statues of men. These are said to be the likenesses of the founders of the Velusian people. When we see the statues as you meet the Velusians you’ll notice that they look nothing alike. Yet, the Velusians still believe that the statues are what their earliest fathers looked like.
And so the four left the relative safety of the Hinterland and began their journey with high hopes and good spirits. The rising sun smiled upon them and wished them luck for they certainly would need it.
Melodigone was curious in the fact that it was a village without roads. All of the paths were footpaths carefully disguised to resemble the deer that inhabited that particular part of Selidorn.
At precisely two in the afternoon, the four travelers reached the Great East Road. The Great East Road ran from Velusia to the Eastern Sea in roughly a direct line. Great stretches of it were in disarray and overgrown with grass, but for the most part it was well-tended by the various folk who lived beside it. In fact, King Mizraim spent prodigious amounts of time in its upkeep through the Forest of Ambia.
The place in the road where the four came out was greatly overgrown with grass that came nearly to their shoulders. Great stones, tumbled down from the hilly slopes, lie in the path. One could still see where horses had trampled through not many days prior. After another hours walking, the road became more orderly and smooth. They made camp that night just out of sight from the path under the boughs of a great oak.
The night became chilly yet they lit no fire lest it should draw attention to any of Mizraim’s Gwawriddurs which might be nearby. They kept watch that night but saw no one. None got much sleep that night; thus, the next day, well before dawn, they were found walking briskly on the Great East Road. For two solid hours they marched. Presently, they came to notice that the lands around them were tended and well-groomed. Velusia was still three days distant and the Aeldorland two days hence. Neither Myridon, nor the Rodamines, could remember anyone living between the two lands. Carefully, they ambled on looking for signs of habitation. As they left the well-tended area, the road fell into disrepair. Malchius, in a sense, felt less relieved. Later, he said that he felt as if someone or some creature, was watching him. The others felt the same though no one mentioned it at the time.
“I say,” began Aidin. “I get the feeling I’m being watched. Whose land are we in now? I don’t recall any people living here between Vellington and Velusia.”
“You are being watched,” replied Myridon. The wizard sighed heavily and began again. “We are all being watched by the one who keeps this land. We must not stop here. It’s not a dangerous place but it is wild.”
Aidin whistled. “Stop!” said Myridon hastily.
“But why?” asked Aidin.
“Listen to me. Not everyone on Tellus is a good or evil creature. Some beings are in fact neutral. This part of the road passes through one of these neutral beings land. We must pass quickly. Not that they are dangerous, but wild untamed watchers can be unsettling to some.”
Malchius stopped and turned to gaze into the forest. Only to be quickly reprimanded by Myridon. “Don”t you hear that wonderful music?” asked Malchius.
“What music?” asked Jorlath.
“Why the music...Now that’s funny,” he replied. “I just heard it. A wild, high melody of flutes or was it a harp? Anyhow, I’m not too sure.”
He listened again but heard nothing. Jorlath looked at Malchius and shrugged his shoulders. The two marched on. “I hear it again,” said Malchius. “Don’t you?”
“I might have heard the wind blowing louder than usual in the leaves,” Jorlath replied.
“It came from over there,” he pointed in the general direction of a stand of tall pine trees growing in a circle not one hundred feet away. Although now that it comes down to it, I’m not certain.”
“Let’s wait here for Myridon and Aidin to catch up. A moment later both came walking.
“Something about this place...” began Malchius but got no further. Amazement, or perhaps dread, he couldn’t really tell, was in their faces. It was as if they were under some spell or in a trance.
“We must move more quickly,” said the wizard in a strangely flat voice. “Haste. Must make haste.”
His tone unsettled Malchius. He glanced at Jorlath. As always, hardly any perceptible change in his countenance could be seen. The music began anew. This time everyone heard it. A distinct drumming sound came from seemingly all about them. Malchius tried looking to his side and found that he could not do so. Fear descended upon them. Madly, they began running along the road. The drumming grew louder, they quickened their pace. Myridon soon realized with terror that they were being led or driven to some doom. Then, almost as suddenly as it began, the sound stopped. They collapsed to the ground together in a heap.