There are infinite stories to be told, each one more interesting than the last. Whether this tale is more interesting than the last one you read is up to you. What was the last world you visited in a book? Did you spend time with King Arthur and his knights? Did you visit a magical wizarding school? Maybe a trip to Narnia? Or perhaps you had an adventure with a young boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux, the hero of the fantastical world of Fantasia.
If indeed you did just return from an adventure with Bastian, you might be interested to know that you're about to take another trip with him. And although you might have been on your adventure with him as early as yesterday, it has been nearly three years since Bastian's return from that magical land, so if you don't recognize him right away, hopefully you soon will.
Bastian Balthazar Bux was on the verge of turning 16 years old, and in the three years since he'd learned of the world of Fantasia, he'd lost a lot of the weight that made him a chubby 12 year old. He'd grown out his hair a bit, grew several inches, and become a more avid reader to the point where he was spending so much time at Mr. Correander's book store that the old man had finally offered the young man a job last summer.
It wasn't the most glamorous job in the world, just keeping inventory, some light dusting and making sure every book was in its proper place. But it kept him busy and he had a chance to visit different worlds during his free time.
Bastian had read through every book in the library at least three times. Every book that is, except for the Neverending Story. He'd only read through that book once, having saved the characters within from a horrible entity known as the Nothing. As a token for his heroic deeds, the Childlike Empress had presented Bastian with AURYN, a medallion with two intertwining serpents that he got to keep as a reminder of his journey.
Of course, any power AURYN might have had has long since faded. I'm also completely sure that this fact won't be disproved later on this tale.
"Bastian, have you finished with the inventory yet?" Old Man Cooreander asked as he emerged from his office, a cup of tea in his hand. It was nice having Bastian around to do the things that the older man could no longer do around the store. It was Correander's hope that someday Bastian would take over the reigns of the bookstore completely. The old man didn't trust many people, but he trusted Bastian, at least enough to realize that his life's work would be in good hands on the day he could no longer run things.
"Just finishing now, sir," Bastian said as he stamped the last book. "I just have to put them on the shelf."
"After that, you're free to go for the night," Correander told the boy. "I'll see you on Sunday."
"But it's Thursday, I can work tomorrow and Saturday, and even Monday. It's a four-day weekend," Bastian told him as he picked up a stack of books, carrying them to the shelf.
"Exactly, I think you need a break. Some time off to just be a boy," Correander told him as he took another sip from his cup. As much as he enjoyed the young man's company, and wanted Bastian to someday run the store, he didn't want to see him wasting his youth indoors all the time. "You've been a loyal ]employee for the last year, coming in every day, even when there was no work to do."
"This place feels like home to me," Bastian replied as he placed the last book on the shelf as if he were tucking it into bed for the night. "I can't imagine not being able to come here."
"But you're a young lad. When's the last time you played outside? Ran barefoot through the grass, or just lay in a field and stare up at the clouds?" Correander asked, remembering back to his own childhood. "I do enjoy your company, Bastian, but I do believe you need to enjoy your childhood while you have it. Go home, enjoy yourself and I'll see you on Sunday."
"But- but I- Can't I just-" Bastian said as he was ushered to the door against his will, grabbing a random book along the way. Before he could get out a complete sentence, he was out on the street, with the door closed behind him. As soon as he turned around, he found the 'closed' sign staring him in the face.
Bastian returned home to his empty house, having not seen his father's car in the driveway. He was probably still at the office, working late as usual. With the bad economy, Barney Bux had to work even longer hours to make ends meet. While Bastian had offered up his earnings from the bookstore to help with the bills, his father refused. He told Bastian that was his hard earned money, which was to be put back for his own personal use.
Leaving his backpack on the couch, and his jacket slung over the chair, Bastian headed to the kitchen to get himself a snack before heading up to his room to get in a few chapters of the book he'd borrowed before bed.
Having filled his stomach, Bastian headed upstairs to lay down and get in a few chapters of the book before bed. As he walked past his dresser, the AURYN had caught his eye. It was hanging from a hook on the wall, having not been touched in a very long time. Not since the night he returned from his trip to Fantasia. The Childlike Empress's gift held a special place in his heart, and he always feared losing it if he ever wore it out in public, so on the hook it remained, lifeless and unmoving.
At least, that was what Bastian had assumed. But both you and I know better, don't we?
As Bastian passed the dresser, AURYN seemed shinier than usual. As if it had been newly polished. The two intertwined serpents forming a circle seemed to have a faint glow to them all of a sudden. Bastian took AURYN off its hook and placed it around his neck, deciding it was finally time to wear it again, even if it held no power. It was as if he'd felt compelled to wear it, like a voice calling out to him to take it off the hook and place it on his body.
Climbing on to his bed, Bastian reached into his backpack and pulled out the book he'd *borrowed* from Correander's bookshop. It wasn't the Neverending Story, that was safely back at store, waiting for its turn to be read again.
"The adventures of Tom Sawyer," Bastian said as he opened the book.
"What's gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!"
The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never looked through them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for "style," not service—she could have seen through a pair of stove-lids just as well. She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still loud enough for the furniture to hear:
"Well, I lay if I get hold of you I'll—"
She did not finish, for by this time she was bending down and punching under the bed with the broom, and so she needed breath to punctuate the punches with. She resurrected nothing but the cat.
"I never did see the beat of that boy!"
She went to the open door and stood in it and looked out among the tomato vines and "jimpson" weeds that constituted the garden. No Tom. So she lifted up her voice at an angle calculated for distance and shouted:
There was a slight noise behind her and she turned just in time to seize a small boy by the slack of his roundabout and arrest his flight.
"There! I might 'a' thought of that closet. What you been doing in there?"
"Nothing! Look at your hands. And look at your mouth. What is that truck?"
"I don't know, aunt."
"Well, I know. It's jam—that's what it is. Forty times I've said if you didn't let that jam alone I'd skin you. Hand me that switch."
The switch hovered in the air—the peril was desperate—
"My! Look behind you, aunt!"
The old lady whirled round, and snatched her skirts out of danger. The lad fled on the instant, scrambled up the high board-fence, and disappeared over it.
Bastian was instantly drawn into the book, and couldn't put it down. Chapter after chapter, he enjoyed the tale of Tom Sawyer, despite having read it at least twice before. But Bastian loved reading, and always took the chance to read whatever he could get his hands on, whether it was a book, a magazine, or the back of a cereal box.
After a while, Bastian's eyes began to get tired. He had been reading for the last two hours and it was getting pretty late. He couldn't keep his eyes open any longer, and fell asleep mid-sentence as the book fell on to his chest while the young man drifted off to sleep. As the book fell forward, AURYN began to glow brighter and brighter.
The second AURYN's power began to manifest, it immediately woke up something else that residing in a different land, far from Fantasia. Something evil, that had sensed AURYN and the powers it held. In a soft whisper, a pair of menacing emerald eyes opened.
"What do you reckon?"
"He might be drunk, would explain what he's wearin',"
"What's with that hair? Is it a girl or a boy? I can't tell one way or the other."
"Don't know, but I ain't never seen no clothes like that,"
Bastian moaned slightly as he rolled over on to his side, expecting to feel the softness of his bed. Instead he got a face full of grass. He opened his eyes and sat up, seeing his was sitting outside in broad daylight. Surrounding him was a group of kids, all dressed like they'd stepped out of a Mark Twain novel. There wasn't a single modern fashion among them.
"Do you reckon he's a witch?" asked one of the kids.
"Where am I?" Bastian asked as he got to his feet. "What is this place?"
"This is St. Petersburg, stranger," one of the kids said. "I imagine you're a long way off from wherever it is you came from. That's a funny looking outfit you have on."
"I was about to say the same thing," Bastian told the kid as he started to stand up. He was still in the same clothes he fell asleep in, but the book he had in his hands was missing. "I don't even remember how I got here."
The school bell started ringing as all the kids let out a groan and wandered off to the schoolhouse. Only one child remained, the barefoot boy wearing a pair of blue overalls with a white shirt underneath, with brown curly hair that was in need of a trim.
"Where's everyone going?" Bastian asked.
"School," the young man replied, sizing Bastian up, wondering if he could take the guy in a fight.
"Aren't you supposed to be at school, too?" Bastian asked.
"Naw, I can miss a day or two, or maybe more. It won't cause nobody no harm," the boy told him. "The name's Tom Sawyer."
"Bastian Balthazar Bux," Bastian said the two shook hands. The second he heard the young man's name, Bastian realized what had happened. He touched his chest, feeling AURYN placed safely around his neck. "I need to find a way to get home."
"Hey, what's the funny necklace around your neck?" Tom asked, pointing to the intertwined serpents.
"It's AURYN," Bastian told him. "Wait! That's what pulled me in here! All I have to do is wish myself back home."
Bastian closed his eyes and concentrated, but nothing was happening. "Why isn't it working?"
"Maybe you should go lie down, you might be catching something if you think that fancy trinket can take you anywhere," Tom laughed.
"AURYN brought me here for a reason, I know it," Bastian told him. "Just like it brought me into the Neverending Story. Maybe Someone here needs my help, and I can't go home until I find out who."
"You mean like an adventure?" Tom asked with a devious smirk. "I think you came to the right place, but first you'd better get some new clothes. You stick out like a sore thumb in them things."
Bastian looked down at what he wearing and realized Tom was right. He was going to have to blend in if he wanted to get out of there and back to the real world. A short while later, Tom returned to find Bastian hiding in the cemetary, bringing him a shirt and pants. Bastian removed his clothes and hid them in a tree trunk before emerging in a pair of brown pants and a red button down shirt.
"You didn't bring me any shoes," Bastian told him as he stared down at his bare feet. "I can't wear my sneakers into town."
"You don't need shoes, its only a week away from summer," Tom replied. "Them things are only for fancy occasions, like school and church. Not that I wear them to those things unless my aunt forces me into them."
"Okay, whatever, let's just go," Bastian said as they started walking along as he tucked AURYN safely under his shirt. "So, what kind of people are there to help in this place? Did you already beat Injun Joe and free Muff Potter?"
"Now how in tarnation did you know about that?" Tom asked as he looked at the stranger. "Are you a witch?"
"I read it in a book," Bastian replied. "You're pretty popular back where I come from. I come from a place where your adventures are told in a book. I've read your story several times."
"You don't say," Tom said with a grin, not believing people would want to read about his adventures. "Come on, we gotta find Huck. Then we'll get to adventurin'."
Huckleberry Finn, a boy who was taller than Tom was sitting on a large rock that stared out into the river. He had long shaggy blonde hair and was wearing black pants and an unbuttoned blue shirt that was hanging open. He was tossing rocks across the water, trying to see how many times they would bounce on the water before falling in.
"Hey, Huck!" Tom shouted as he led Bastian to his partner in crime.
"Tom!" Huck said as he got off the rock. "Where the blazes have you been? I've been waitin' here for hours."
"I got caught up with our new friend," Tom told him. "This is Bastian, and he needs to have an adventure before he can go home."
"Well, I believe we can help him," Huck said as he shook Bastian's hand. "Should be plenty of adventures to keep up to our necks in trouble."
"Huck Finn!" Bastian said, nearly blushing. "I loved your book! The movies never did either of you guys justice."
"Movies? What the heck are movies?" Tom asked as he scratched his head.
"Nevermind," Bastian told him as he sat down on the rock. "This doesn't make sense. Why did I come in after the story was over?"
"Ain't you never read a book?" Tom asked. "Stories don't stop just because you reach the end. It'd be a pretty boring world if every story stopped at the end of the book."
"AURYN brought me here for a reason, and I need to find out what that reason is. Maybe there's a local library that where I can look at some newspapers to see if-" Bastian said as he heard Tom and Huck laughing. He looked up and found the two friends playing a game where they slapped each other's hands as hard as could before the other could pull away. "What are you guys doing?"
"Havin' fun, ain't you ever heard of it?" Tom asked as Huck slapped his hand before he could pull back.
"That... doesn't look like much fun," Bastian told them.
"Well, what do you consider fun?" Huck asked as he pulled his hand away before Tom got him.
"Well, reading, and enjoying stories," Bastian replied as the two boys just looked up at him.
"Is that it?" Tom asked. "Reading? You never go outside and have fun? That seems like the opposite of fun? What's the word for the opposite of fun, Huck?"
"... Not fun,"
"Well, it's how I enjoy myself," Bastian said as he turned his backs to them. "Now, where's the library-"
Before he could finish his sentence, the two boys dragged Bastian off into the woods by the arms.
In the large castle, several worlds away, a dark and sinister figure walked around the room, plotting a scheme, dragging a long emerald cloak around as the figure paced.
"I can feel it," the figure said. "The barrier between worlds is breaking down. Maybe not enough to do what I want, but just enough to get what I need. If I can breach the wall between this world and AURYN, I can get it. It has been so long since I've left this castle. But AURYN can fix everything. AURYN can give me the power I need to exact my vengeance. I just need someone to go fetch it for me."
Bastian fell to the ground as he heard laughing coming from the forest around him. "Tom? Huck?"
"Gotta find us!" Tom's voice said from the trees.
"What kind of game is this?" Bastian asked as he stood up.
"Hide & Seek, dummy!" Huck shouted from further in the woods.
Bastian sighed as he started looking around. "Fine, but when I find you, can we head to the library so I can find a way home?"
Tom laughed as Bastian came closer and jumped behind the tree, finding... nothing. He heard the rustling of leaves and rushed over to another tree, jumping behind it and finding it bare as well.
"I can do this," Bastian said as he closed his eyes and focused. "I can find them."
The young man took a deep breath and listened, hearing a giggle coming from not too far away. He carefully approached the tree and quickly threw himself behind it, tackling Huck to the ground.
"Got ya," Bastian said as Huck threw some leaves at him. "Now to find Tom so we can get out of here."
"Good luck, Tom's the best at hidin'," Huck said as he put his arms behind his head and continued to lay there. "We'll be out here all day."
A few minutes turned into twenty minutes, then an hour. Bastian was about to give up when he saw a toe sticking out from behind a tree. He silently crept up to it and jumped around, having found Tom fast asleep behind the tree.
"Seriously?" Bastian asked as he nudged Tom with his foot. "Wake up!"
"Wha-?" Tom asked as he bolted awake. "Oh, sorry, just got bored waitin' for you. You're not very good at this game."
Bastian just sighed as he rolled his eyes. "Can we go now, please? The sooner I find out who needs my help, the sooner I can get home."
"This guy's no fun, Tom, let's just get him to the library so we can get back to enjoyin' ourselves," Huck said as he joined the duo.
"It's way too hot to be hanging out indoors," Tom said as he ran past Huck and Bastian. He rushed back toward the river, tossing his clothes off as he went before jumping into the water. "Come on, unless yer chicken!"
"It is kind of hot out today," Huck replied as he walked with Bastian toward the river. "Look, Tom's a bit wild, but he's a good guy and my best friend. Is it gonna hurt to have some fun for a few hours? Besides, the books ain't goin' nowhere."
Bastian looked at the water. "I- I'm not very good at swimming."
"I'll show ya," Huck smiled as he pulled his shirt off and tossed it next to Tom's trail of clothing. "Come on, the sun's only get worse!"
Huck jumped into the water as Bastian sighed. He pulled his shirt off, but kept his pants on like Huck as he felt AURYN around his neck. He decided not to take a chance losing it in the river as he took it off and placed it on his shirt as he jumped into the water with the other two boys.
Much to Bastian's surprise, he actually started enjoying himself as he splashed around the water with Tom & Huck. Huck even helped him learn to swim in the time they spent in the river. After a few hours, Bastian began feeling more at home in the water.
"That was fun," Tom said as he climbed on up on the rock to dry off. "How do you feel now, Bastian?"
"A little better," Bastian said as he noticed Huck was staring down uncomfortably into the water. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm just fine," Huck laughed a little nervously as he started wading toward the rock. "Sun'll be settin' soon. We can have you at that library in no time."
"That'd be great," Bastian said as he climbed up on the rock along with the other two boys, where their clothes were out of view. It was then a pair of dark eyes opened from within the woods. As the three boys lay there, Bastian just stared up into the sky as he felt the warm sun sitting him. "I haven't this much fun in a long time. Not since Fantasia."
"What's Fantasia?" Tom asked as he sat up on his elbow to look over at Bastian over Huck's body.
"It's hard to describe, but it's a beautiful place where your imagination can make anything happen," Bastian told him. "It's full of adventure, and heroes, and villains. And there's a girl, the Childlike Empress. She's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."
"I don't know, my Becky's pretty beautiful," Tom smiled as Huck sat up between them.
"What do you say we get our stuff and take Bastian to the library?" Huck asked as Tom looked up at the sun.
"Yeah, it'll be dark soon, we'd better be on our way," Tom said as he jumped off the rock and walked towards his clothes. Huck and Bastian followed, but as Bastian picked up his shirt, he found something missing.
"AURYN. It's gone!" Bastian said as he started to panic. He looked around, not finding a trace of it anywhere.
"Someone must have come along and snatched it," Huck said as he saw strange footprints on the ground. "Those tracks are fresh. Come on!"
Huck and Bastian started running along, with Tom hopping behind as he pulled his pants up. He quickly caught up to the other two as they tracked whoever stole Bastian's amulet. After a few minutes, Huck looked back at the others. "Trail's gettin' really warm. I think the thief is just up ahead."
"Well, what the devil are we waitin' for?" Tom asked with a mischievous grin. "The three of us can take whoever did this. No one steals from Tom Sawyer's friend!"
The three young men jumped out, ready to clobber whoever was standing there. But once the trio got a good look at the thief, it took all of their might to not empty their collective bladders at once.
"Friend of yours?" Huck asked in a scared voice.
In front of the boys stood an eight foot tall winged monkey, baring large fangs. I n his hand he was holding AURYN. As he screeched at the trio, his five foot wingspan stretched out, completely blocking out the sun.
Next: Road Trip!