By Princess Artemis
© copyright S.D.Green, 1999. RGB characters and etc., © copyright Columbia, DiC.
The dark chestnut horse snorted in the cold air of the Wilderland. Upon his mount, Aric sat, with one of his hand on his leg, the other gripping the reins. The land around him was much as it always was: rolling, grass covered hills dotted with tall oak trees and the occasional pine, snow capped mountains on the horizon, faint wisps of high clouds and a dry, biting breeze. The thick clothes and leather armor Aric wore never quite protected him from the cold wind, but it was not so cold as to be truly uncomfortable. The breeze caught up his long, blond hair, in which he kept a few braids as well as a good bit clasped atop his head with a leather and silver thong. His horse muttered a deep noise, huffing and tapping one hoof on the earth. Aric patted his mount on the neck while casting his sky blue eyes about, searching for something he knew not what.
He had been searching for that unknown thing for four long years, from the very day he found himself in this lonely place called the Wilderland.
A faint sound of hoof beats and Aric turned to face the direction from which they came. His companion came, riding a white mare with dark speckles on her flanks. Shortly the rider arrived, sidling his mount near Aric's. "Seeking again, are you?" the dark-haired man asked, his tenor laced with the sounds of one who suffers long with foolish friends.
"I dreamed last night, Tras," Aric answered in his deep voice. "It's here, I know it."
Tras tossed his animated hands in the air. "You are constantly dreaming, Aric. What makes you think this time is any different?"
Aric frowned. He had never understood how Tras could lose his longing to leave Wilderland and find his real home. "I know it was near the time I came here."
Tras sighed. "The spirits would have told me if that were true. They do not lie. Always my spirits come to me with whispers from here, voices from there, telling me much that occurs under the sun. Never have they spoken of your Coming. They would, I am sure of it."
Aric shook his head sharply. If it were possible, he knew the spirits better than Tras, who communed with them. Tras had to call them, using motions and herbs in his rituals, and they did not always come, but Aric knew them and could find them. And he knew their hostility, their indifference...no, if Tras' spirits knew of his Coming, they would never repeat it. "I do not need to tell you again, Tras...your spirits hate me. I can feel it."
"As if we have never had this discussion before. I can not fathom why you would mistrust spirits that have helped you survive here. They give you fire, and food, and protection, and still you malign them." Tras sighed. "Fortunately the spirits don't hold grudges."
Aric was always one to trust to his own skills and mind. He knew Tras used the spirits to light fires and find food, and Aric merely followed, as it was Tras who took him in to his own home...but he knew he could make do on his own. However, in the Wilderland, it was lonely enough...one stuck with the few friends, few people, one could find. Aric gave up once again on the subject of spirits. Tras had tried to teach him spirit-lore, for he was extremely attuned to them, more so than many, as he said, but Aric would have none of it. He knew he could never convince Tras that his spirits turned cold eyes on him, or that he could even see them. It was a wasted argument.
The dream however, was real... "I saw others in this dream, speaking in my tongue, and calling me by another name. I have seen them before, I know it."
"Your speech?" Tras asked, surprised. "That is unusual."
"Yes, it is. I have never heard my own tongue spoken by anyone alive, much less in dreams."
The dark-haired man looked away, troubled for a moment. "No, I have never heard mine out of another's lips either. Perhaps it wasn't a dream, but a Vision...some have them, I hear."
"A Vision? I don't understand."
Tras looked up again, his dark eyes looking in Aric's blue. "I never told you about it...I have been here many long years, and heard a few tales, but I wished not to speak of them, for you are always searching for what cannot be found... But perhaps you can find it, find what few have, a way back..."
"Tell me!" Aric demanded, his longing to know and his wanting to return to his own place so strong he could hardly bear it.
"I will tonight. For now we must find food to eat. There is much of the Wilderland I have not said, but I will say it tonight."
That night, after the rabbits and fruit had been cooked and eaten, long after the sun had gone down and the sky lit up with the blaze of bright stars, Tras finally settled in to tell what he knew.
He sat himself down on a woven mat, getting comfortable. The packed earth floor was not something that made that task easy; Tras' home was in truth a dug out hollow in the side of a small hill, with a hole dug at the top so the smoke from the small fire could escape. He managed, however, to find a position comfortable enough to tell his tale. Aric sat near him on his folded cloak, silent; he would not interrupt the tale for anything, for it was one he needed to hear.
Tras began solemnly. "This is the law of the Wilderland as I know it, and as the spirits have told me. It is home to none but the Watcher, he who lives in the great tower about which Wilderland hangs and is kept from falling into nothingness. None save the Watcher know from whence we few come or where we go. And few of us there are, for not many come here, and the land is large. He alone knows the truth. But some it is said see Visions, dreams of the night, sights beyond our lives, beyond the borders of Wilderland.
"Of those Visions I know this: they are glimpses into our existence outside of Wilderland, from before we came to be. Scant few indeed are born in Wilderland, and those who are can bear none of their own. Most of the few who live here come from another place, another time, for reasons we know not. The Visions show those who see them their original lives...sometimes even the moment they passed from one place to another, the time in which they came to the Wilderland. It is said by some that if one can find the exact place, the very point at which one came to the Wilderland, that they can go hence, and return to their true homes.
"No tale is told of how they fare after, for it is also said that only in violence do we come here, and only in violence can we leave. That is the law of the Wilderland as I know it."
As Tras finished his tale, he rubbed his face, and spoke more plainly. "I don't know who or what the Watcher is, but some say he brings us here. But I've had no Visions...and I have never heard anyone speak in my tongue." There was a note of sadness in his voice; it was now clear to Aric that Tras had not lost his longing for home, he had only put it away as a hopeless dream.
Aric sat in silence for a long time, mulling over what he had heard and what he knew. When he found himself here four years ago, he had spoken naught but his own tongue, and he saw the spirits about him, with fear and hate in their eyes. Six months of wandering, of fending for himself as best he could in the wild, Tras had found him and taken him to this his home. Tras had taught him the tongue of the Wilderland, the common speech of the few who lived here, and he had picked it up remarkably fast. Tras had even given him his name...but he never heard Tras speak in his own voice, only in the voice of Wilderland. And he knew not at all how long Tras had been here, only that it seemed a great deal longer than he had. Tras had even met several people, far more than Aric had himself...Aric had only met two other people in his four years, two who made their home many, many miles away and who made leather goods. Tras and Aric had traded many woven cloths and meats they had trapped for the leather armor they wore. Wilderland was empty of humanity but full of dangerous beasts.
And he had always looked for something...it took many months to realize it was home that he sought. The emptiness of Wilderland, the unkind spirits, the very air and sun had all been so wrong and at the same time so right that he knew he didn't belong here.
Tomorrow he would look for the point at which he came...perhaps find his way home.
Tras and Aric rode their horses back to the same area where Aric had been looking the day before. As soon as they arrived, Aric began purposefully walking this way and that, concentrating hard on the ineffable sense of something he had felt here before. In the mean time, Tras began speaking words to summon the spirits, in an effort to help Aric find the very spot he had first stepped into the Wilderland.
As Aric walked, he heard Tras' chanting and knew it would do no good. He felt the spirits, saw their cold eyes, and he knew they would not help him. Instead he felt their closer scrutiny and heightened animosity, felt them course about him, staring and fuming. "Tras! Please, do not call them!" he shouted anxiously.
"Why ever not?" Tras asked. "Surely they can help you!"
"Perhaps they can, but they will not. They stare at me, they hate me, and I do not know why. Please leave them be." There was a rare note of fear in his tone. Aric never feared the angry spirits before; they seemed somehow familiar to him, not something unknown...but now he felt helpless, as if he should be able to defend himself from them but could not. The more he walked, the more nervous he became, even to the point of drawing the short sword he kept on his back.
"What are you doing? Put your sword away. I will stop calling them," Tras finally gave in. He walked over to Aric, muttering something about paranoid friends and imaginary staring eyes.
When Tras stopped the summoning, the spirits immediately pulled back, still angry. Somehow Aric knew they would become violent rather than help him. That became more certain as he walked; suddenly he realized it was that feeling he should follow, the certainty of things he could not know...such as the knowledge that he could defend himself from spirits...
He walked slower, scrutinizing his feelings until he came to a certain spot. This he knew was the point where he came, for he could strongly feel the presence of his home, as if it were just hidden, just out of sight, so close he could touch it. Just beyond where he could mentally reach, there were others, another name, another place. "This is the spot, I can feel it...as though there is a portal I could step through."
Tras nodded. "I agree...I can...almost touch it. It is not my home, but I can sense it just the same." He smiled suddenly, amused by a thought, something he sensed from the invisible portal. "Any wonder the spirits fear you."
Aric glanced over at his friend, somewhat confused. Had Tras seen something he had not? No matter...he knew this was the way home, and that's all he really wanted right now. "What shall I do now?"
Tras shrugged. "I figure you should try to calm yourself, clear your mind. See what happens."
Aric nodded slowly then sat down. He tried to relax, do as Tras had suggested...and after several minutes, it seemed to work. The other place, his home, came into view...
Tras watched as Aric sat, simply observing. As strange as it was, he knew that Aric would find his way home. He felt happy for him, but sad as well. Tras did not belong here any more than any other person did, and yet Aric would return to a place he did belong. He was just a bit jealous, to tell the truth. He had been in Wilderland for just a little less than twenty years, and never once had he a dream or Vision of his own place.
Finally Aric relaxed enough to clear his mind, at least it seemed so to Tras' eyes...Aric was never relaxed, always thinking, always figuring and never just being. Tras smiled at the sight. It was heartening to see.
Unfortunately, it didn't last long. In a few short minutes, Aric convulsed and made a strangled sound, a gurgling, horrible noise. Tras leapt up and ran to his side, grabbing his heavy clothing and shaking him....
Peter opened the door to the old warehouse, and instantly his shoulders slumped. Egon came up behind him and peered around. This looked bad. Very bad...
"What the heck is that?" Dr. Venkman asked incredulously.
The creature that inhabited the large warehouse was a thing to make even Ray nervous. A long, lithe body covered in hard, silvery scales, along with sharp, razor edged spines all along its back and sides, and long, thin hands armed with similar talons made for a very unsettling sight. Silent malice came off the creature in waves.
Ray bounced up to the doorway and pushed the other two Ghostbusters inside. He looked up at the huge creature floating menacingly above them and let out a low whistle. "Wow."
Egon took out his PKE meter and adjusted it. The creature had an odd reading, not at all ectoplasmic. Negative valence indicated a corporeal entity...but even then the readings were strange. "I have a bad feeling about this."
"You and everyone else, m'man," Winston said quietly as he too entered the warehouse. He unholstered his thrower and took aim. "Well, we came to do a job..."
Peter nodded. "We better get to it. Come on, brain trust, tell us what to do."
Before any answer was forthcoming, the great snake-like creature cast a frosty eye on the four, then floated lazily away from the door, leading the four farther into the building. As they followed the creature, they discussed their options in hushed tones.
"I don't know if we can trap it if it has a negative valence," Ray said uncomfortably. The average demon couldn't faze the boisterous man, but a corporeal being they were unprepared to face was something that rattled even him. As he spoke, the strange snake glanced back at them, still gliding slowly, silently away.
"We could have brought the destablizer if we had a clue this thing had a body, but we didn't...so now what? Should we leave and come back with more firepower?" Peter asked, obviously liking the 'leave' idea.
The creature had made no threatening moves, but it was more than clear to Egon that it was a malicious entity. He could see its darkness as easily as he could see its spikes. Long exposure to the spirit world had developed that sense in him, as well as in the rest.
"Why is it, exactly, that every tall dark and nasty we meet has an attitude to match?" Peter asked of no one in particular. "Couldn't we run into a big and ugly with a basket of flowers for once?"
"You'd think we would. But if we did, I figure we'd just throw in the towel; that has to be a sign of the End," Winston added, his tone quiet. It seemed they all felt the malice the creature exuded.
Peter complained, "Someday, I'm gonna cash in my favors with Fate...she owes us a break." More and more, a certainty of evil to come settled on the four.
"It isn't today," Ray muttered darkly, almost fearfully, some shadow of foreboding in his voice, dampening his usual high spirits. "Something tells me it isn't today."
"Perhaps you are right," Egon said. "I don't like to follow such unscientific 'hunches', but I for one would feel much better if we came back better prepared."
"That clenches it. The big guy says go; I will go," Peter said with surety. "C'mon, let's go."
Egon turned slightly to face the others, and perhaps that was his mistake. Peter, Ray, and Winston backed away carefully, not wishing to take their eyes off the slowly fleeing creature. Suddenly, three pairs of eyes widened, and Egon turned his head to look back at the snake-beast. A split second ago, it had been far above and at a good distance; now he looked it in the face. In silence it had moved before, and the same held true now--Egon heard no sound at first, only saw a quick movement and felt rough jolt. It took some seconds for the sickening, slickery, wet sound of displaced flesh, the gurgling, frothy sound of his breath, and the horrified crying sound of his friends to register in his ears. He looked down, and raised a hand to touch what he saw--five long talons protruding strangely from his chest.
Now how did that happen...?
It meant nothing somehow...
"It impaled me," Egon said in numb shock. Or tried to say; it came out more of a bloody gurgling. Another rough jerk and he fell, feeling nothing, seeing dimly the stunned faces of his friends....
"Aric! Wake up! If you don't, I swear to every deity that ever walked the Upper Plains I will kill you!"
Tras was frantic. Something had gone terribly wrong, and he had no idea what. He dragged Aric several meters from the point if his Coming, but still he was lost in some daze and choking on it, making sickening sounds. He shook his friend soundly again, but it didn't work. He looked around at the horizon, desperately wishing that the Wilderland where not so blasted empty...someone else might know what to do!
"Forgive me, Aric...but do not think I was not driven to it!" Tras shouted, pulling his arm back. He struck Aric full in the face with his open palm, hard enough to leave a bruise. Aric inhaled sharply, but still did not come out of his strange trance. Tras growled in frustration and struck him again. "I suppose you shall make me loosen every one of your teeth before you deign to wake!"
Aric shook his head, finally beginning to breathe normally. Tras sighed in relief, sagging his shoulders as the tension suddenly left him. After a few seconds, Aric opened his eyes and looked up at his friend. Tras saw such fear there as he rarely had seen in Aric; fear was not something that plagued his character. But now he was terrified of something, so much that he quickly shut his eyes and covered them with his hands while his body shuddered in fright.
"Aric, what now? Is it not enough that you must scare me out of my wits, now you must do it to yourself? Why are you afraid?" he asked, putting a hand on one of Aric's shaking arms.
Aric said nothing for a long time; instead, he ran a hand over his chest, as if to assure himself it was still there...or that something wasn't there that he thought should be. He turned his head to look toward the place where he came, and with a shuddering sigh and tears in his eyes, he whispered, "I can't go back...I died there...I can't go home...."
The ride back to Tras' home was a long and silent one. Aric held a hand to his chest, deep in thought, confused and terrified by what he had seen. It wasn't a dream, as much as he would have liked it to have been. He knew the others, they with their strange, colorful clothing and metal weapons, calling him by a name he did not know and looking on him as a friend...but at the same time, he could not place them. They spoke in his own tongue, in a voice he had not heard in many years, with warmth and fear, humor and horror, and he did not know who they were!
And for a few seconds, a few frightening moments, death had breathed down his neck, with its sharp, blood stained daggers laughing up at him from his own chest. The spirits hated him everywhere. He looked down, just to assure himself once again that he was intact. He died, and he remembered dying, and dull though it was, he felt the pain of it as he had not when those talons really had pierced him. He scratched at his thick clothing, trying to erase the strange feeling of hot blood running down his belly. He closed his eyes, trusting to his horse to guide him, trying to forget the sound of his own doom calling and friends he did not know crying out for him. He did not think he would ever be rid of the memory of it. It made him sick and dizzy.
Nevertheless, now more than ever, now that he knew that surely it could not be, he wanted to go home.
He said as much to Tras.
Tras looked over at him. "What more can you do? You nearly died trying this time." His voice was not without sympathy.
"I don't know. But...there are people waiting for me...friends I can't remember. I heard their voices...so gripped with horror...I can't stop hearing them!" Aric covered his head with his arms and leaned far down, against his mount's neck. Would he ever forget this wretched day?
Tras rode his horse a little closer to other, enough so he could reach out and place a hand on Aric's back. They continued on in silence, each consumed by their own private thoughts.
It took many hours and several cups of herbal tea for Aric to finally succumb to sleep. Tras watched him the entire time, still deep in his own thoughts. He wondered if there was anything he could do for his troubled companion; if nothing else, he should be able to help him sleep better than he was. Aric slept fitfully, troubled by nightmares.
There was something he could do, or rather, the spirits could; they could help him forget. Tras had not wanted to use their power in this, for Aric's sake, since he mistrusted them so...but he could not sit and watch him in this awful condition without doing something, especially something that was within his powers to do.
"He will not care when it works," Tras whispered to himself as he grabbed his bag with the herbs he needed. He searched through it until he found the right one, then went about summoning a spirit of forgetfulness.
It did not take long for the spirit to come when it was called; Tras quickly whispered his request into the air and waited while the spirit did its work. His concentration on maintaining the summon was shattered by a shrill cry of pain; Tras' head snapped up and he watched in shock while Aric held his hands over one eye and gritted his teeth, trying not to cry out any more than he had.
Tras' jaw dropped, then he shouted at the spirit, "What in the Lower Plains are you doing? Forget! Forget, not hurt!"
Aric relaxed a slight bit; plainly whatever was causing him pain had stopped its assault for the moment. Tras heard the spirit's faint response, ...You question me? Dare you? I came at your call as I must, and I do as you asked, and now you question me?
"Of course I do, when my friend wakes up howling like a shot wolf! Forgetting doesn't require hurting, I know that and so do you!"
What does it matter to you how I do your will? We light your fires, we do as you ask, it is nothing to us. And you reverence us. So I come, to make this one forget; I must do it, I'm bound by the summon...so I'll make him forget. No one remembers anything in the darkness of death...Aric tensed as the spirit again attempted to finish its work.
Tras gaped for a second. Then he scrambled up the herbs and chanted an end to the summon as quickly as he could. Never once in all his years of dealing with the spirits had it occurred to him that the spirits might chose to do his bidding whatever way they wanted. He never remembered them being so destructive before; but the spirit was right, killing someone was a perfectly valid way to erase memories.
As soon as he ended the summon, he felt the spirit sneer and whisper in his ear, You know us and commune with us, but he knows us far better and he HUNTS us. All of us can see it on him, so many angry spirits have left their mark, enough that not one of us is so deluded as to think he would not hunt us all down if he could. Do NOT call us on his behalf again; we want no part with him. If we must, if you force us, we WILL do your bidding, but you will not like how it is done. The spirit fled, leaving Tras in a state of shock.
Aric looked over at Tras with his one uncovered eye and frowned. "Now do you believe me? Now that they have said it in their own voices?"
Tras just blinked. Now, on hindsight, he felt like a fool for not trusting Aric concerning this; his only excuse was misplaced pride. He just hadn't wanted to admit that someone was better then him at sensing the spirits. Especially not someone who had never communed with them nor had the opportunity to train his senses on them.
Then again, the spirit had said that Aric was a hunter. This was not something he had ever done in Wilderland, not to his knowledge...but in his own homeland? Suddenly he remembered what he had felt through the strange portal to the other world. Aric had been more than a spirit-hunter there; he had made great study of that realm, so much that he had made ways to catch the spirits in traps! "Ah...I am sorry. I knew why they feared you, but I never realized that would make any difference." Tras got up and moved to Aric's side. "Let's see what my lack of foresight did to you."
Aric carefully removed his hands, revealing several cuts under his eye. One more extended from the inner corner of his eyelid, right across the bridge of his nose. They were deep enough to need stitches. He was very fortunate the spirit had not been forced any longer than it was; he would have certainly lost his eye. The cuts gave Tras the impression that the spirit had intended to reach right into Aric's skull. "Well, this is nothing I can't fix," Tras muttered, reaching for his bag.
Aric set a sharp look on Tras, but he held up the herbs he had retrieved and Aric's gaze softened. "Medicinal. I am not that dense," the dark-haired man said with a smile.
"One wonders," Aric replied.
"Yes, yes," Tras huffed as he found some thread and a fine bone needle. "Careful what you say, I could be less than gentle...."
"And add insult to injury?"
"Ha. Now come here and let me put you back together."
The next morning, Aric sat gazing out the makeshift door of Tras' home. He had slept little better after his friend's heartfelt but badly executed attempt to help him. He sighed heavily. Another dream, Vision maybe, not of his death in the other place, had visited him; it was, in its own way, as disturbing a nightmare as the ones that did recount the terrifying sight of claws coated in his life-blood.
There were four waiting, not three...and for them he could not remember, he longed, no, pined. He heard them a little clearer, saw them a little sharper; the pain it evoked was keener than any sword.
He wanted to go home.
Even the pain of death was not enough to deter him; in fact, it made the desire that much stronger.
If he had ever wanted to find that missing link, that which he had sought for four years, it was nothing compared to what he felt now. For he knew what it was he searched for, a place not to belong but a place he did belong, a place where he was as the light to the stars, as fire to the sun... Somewhere there was a sun without heat, stars with no light; and here he was, wandering heat lost of purpose, light with nothing to shine from. He hurt for the stars, and hurt for the light.
He held his head in his hands and wept for a long time.
Not long after, Tras sat beside him. "Aric," he said softly.
Aric lifted his head and looked on Tras, tears still in his eyes.
Tras sighed sadly. Then he said, "We are going to the Tower."
"Why?" Aric asked, confused. "For what reason would we go there?"
"The Watcher...," Tras started, then paused. "It has been said that through Visions some return to their homes, but nothing is said concerning what happens after. This I have told you. I see from what happened yesterday that they who leave Wilderland by that path do not find their home. I think they die, just as surely as you would have if I had not been there to rescue you. The Watcher may know a better way...The Watcher is lord over this land, and if any would know, it would be him. The Tower is dangerous, but...." Tras sat in silence for a moment, then continued. "I know you cannot stay here as you are...it would unconscionable not to try every option, seeing what pain you are in." It seemed that perhaps Tras also wished for home....
Aric wiped away the last of his tears. "Thank you, Tras."
The dark-haired man nodded and smiled softly. "Come, we must prepare. We have far to go."
It took several days to ride to the center of the Wilderland, to where the Tower stood. They rode as hard as they dared and stopped seldom. At the end, they came within sight of the Tower, and marveled at it.
A great black edifice it was, with long spires like needles reflecting the sun. Looking up, they saw that the Tower came to no visible end; it simply rose on an on, far above the mountains, far above the clouds. After a short time gazing at the sight, they continued on, spurred by their nearness to their goal.
When they did finally arrive at the gates of the Tower, they found that the walls where built from what looked to be polished metal. The gates stood tall, formidable and monumental as the mountains. It took both men great courage to approach them, as it seemed they might have been advancing upon the throne of time itself.
But approach they did, and after passing under the dagger-like points of the open portcullis, they came to a tall black door, devoid of any mark. After the two dismounted, Tras knocked lightly on the door, which made no sound. After a moment's hesitation, he pounded harder. This time a great, deep noise, like the rolling of thunder and the sounding of enormous bells echoed through the gates, seeming to fill the world. Tras pulled his hand back, trembling.
The sound died down, and the door swung inward of its own accord. For several seconds, Aric and Tras simply stared into the Tower. It was not until a deep, soft voice bid them enter did they dare step inside.
As soon as they did, the door closed behind them, and a dim, distant light began to glow, faintly illuminating the room in which they stood. It was almost empty save for a tall staircase that went up for several stories. Neither man dared speak at all.
Moments later, a dark shape came into view atop the stairs. It motioned them to join it, and so they began to ascend the dim stairs. Not long after, the shape disappeared, leaving them alone on the stairs. They continued up to the top, where they found another door, far more ornate than the last. This door shed a faint golden light.
The form reappeared, and this time the shape was clearer to them. It seemed to be a woman in a long crimson robe decorated with gold embroidery. When she spoke, her voice was very soft and subdued, as befit the atmosphere of the Tower. "Set aside your weapon and your bag; they are neither permitted nor required."
After a moment's hesitation, Aric unslung his scabbard from his back and laid the weapon on the floor, while Tras lowered his bag of herbs. When the woman was satisfied, she whispered, "Enter in, the Watcher waits." She pushed open the door and held it.
It seemed dark inside, until the two had stepped fully through the doorway. Then it seemed too bright, stinging their eyes. When they finally adjusted, they saw that it was not so very bright at all; it had simply been extremely dark before. When they looked around, they saw that they stood in a throne room, surrounded by tall windows that looked out upon the vast Wilderland. One look out the nearest window told them that they were very high up indeed, far higher than they should have been for the climb.
Upon the throne sat a large form; at the fore, above the waist, he was as a great eagle with dark brown and red striped feathers; below he was as a powerful lion. He sat as a human sat, upright, and not on haunches as one might expect such a creature to sit. He had long arms as well as wings; each finger tipped with a curved talon. He was an impressive sight.
But far more intimidating and powerful than his body were his two large piercing eyes, shining like a crucible of gold; they were the eyes of one that easily sees into the heavens above and into the hearts of men. It was clear now why it was called the Watcher.
Aric and Tras stood stock still before the Watcher, waiting to be addressed. Aric almost felt as if he were committing an act of supreme hubris just to come here...but not entirely. He truly felt as though his errand was worth disturbing the very lord of the Wilderland.
"And indeed it is," said the Watcher in a deep tone, sonorous and solemn. The Watcher raised a taloned hand. "I know for what you have come, and I shall give to you what you truly seek. For I am not one to deny the deepest desires if true and faithful they be. Come closer; do not be afraid."
The two men ventured a few steps closer, then a few more, until the Watcher was satisfied. In the end, they were both close enough to reach out and touch him. The Watcher's glowing eyes narrowed slightly, in a smile of sorts; his curved beak could not smile as a human could.
"You," the Watcher said, motioning to Aric, "give me your name. And then after I must know yours as well."
Aric blinked, venturing to ask, "Why do you ask? Do you not know?" Tras turned an altogether incredulous look on his friend, shocked he dared question the Watcher.
But the Watcher seemed pleased. "I do know, far more than you realize. But be truthful; I want your name and nothing else."
It did not take long for Aric to realize this was not an ordinary question. The Watcher did know, he was sure of it, which made the question something other than a simple desire to know what to call him. Now he must tread carefully. Why would the Watcher ask his name?
What was in a name...what indeed, if not his very identity? He had come here for this very reason: to be no longer Aric, to leave one false name for a true one, one false home for a real one.
"Egon...my name is Egon."
The Watcher nodded and turned his attention to Tras. "And you?"
Tras looked over at his companion, troubled. He blinked back a few sudden tears and choked, "I have no other name. I am Tras."
The Watcher's eyes crinkled in deep warmth. He seemed very joyful somehow. "You have said. I will return you to your world, Egon, as I said. And Tras, I will also give you what you seek. Hear me carefully, for I wish you to have some understanding as to how you came, and how you shall return. I see such desire to understand, and I have no reason to deny it."
"I am the Watcher. My Wilderland is empty indeed, and I am glad it is so. By my outstretched hand do I bring them who have died before the days numbered for them under the sun. I would be scarce pleased if many were to end so. Here I bring them so they may finish out their years, as I brought you two. But only I may bring, and only I may send. Those who find the doorways to their worlds as you did invariably die. For as you know they return to the very moment they came, and they came in death. So must they go.
"I can send you home, Egon, in death as you came, but as you came from death into life in the Wilderland, so too will you go from death into life in your land. But Tras...even I could not send you home, for it no longer exists. If you had not taken upon yourself your name at last, I would have sent you hence...to a world that is naught but dust and ash. I know it pains you to hear it, but hear this: Many, many died before their days were yet gone, and many have I brought here. Over the years they have slowly come, and now, dare you to imagine it? There are hundreds here!"
Tras stammered, then finally said, "Hundreds?! Hundreds?!"
"Yes, Tras. You will hear the voices of your own people again."
Tras' eyes glistened brightly; the very thought of it staggered him, overjoyed him to the point he could say nothing. It was a dream come true, after so many years of living alone, with only the spirits for company...and a few lived with Aric...Egon...who forever pricked his longing by his endless searching. It was better than a dream come true--it was a dream to be lived.
The Watcher turned back to Egon and said, "Are you ready? Come, stand beside me." Egon did as he asked, standing very near to the Watcher now, enough to feel the heat of his eyes of molten gold. "Now turn away. Tell the murderous snake I desire an audience with her. And," the Watcher said with a chuckle, "forget not your seeing glass."
Before Egon could react to what he thought was a very odd statement, he felt something push him roughly, a familiar sensation...like claws sinking in flesh...and just as before, there was no pain.
Peter sat in the rec room, late at night, and ready to kill. He couldn't sleep tonight, hadn't been, really, for a week and a half. He stared at the static-filled television, no, glared at it, as if to set it on fire by anger alone.
To say he was furious would be a travesty. To say he was out of his mind with rage might have hit it closer.
A stitch popped on the armchair, then another and another as his white-knuckled grasp tightened. The snake-thing was loose. That bloody murdering bastard was still out there. The hissing TV finally broke Peter's last straw and he threw the remote at the box. The remote impacted with enough force to break it in pieces.
The sound of breaking plastic...something snapped, and Peter growled an incoherent animal sound, grabbing everything not bolted down and throwing it with as much force as he could muster. A lamp shattered into a million bits, exploding against a wall with such force the shrapnel cut Peter in several places.
But he was so far beyond care...Damn the snake for murder, damn Egon for dying! Another glass lamp crashed, this time through the window.
It took several minutes for it to sink in that two strong men were restraining him from his rampage. It took several more minutes for Ray and Winston to wrestle Peter to the couch. "What are you doing, Pete?" Winston asked, out of breath.
The sound he made in response was not quite human. So Ray and Winston sat on him until he began sounding less like an enraged animal and more like an upset Dr. Venkman. "This isn't getting you anywhere, Pete," Winston said after a while, finally letting up a little.
"I know, I know...," Peter growled. "Get off me."
The other guys got up, letting Peter go. "I'm gonna try to sleep again."
"Good luck," Ray wished quietly.
Peter stormed into the bunkroom and slammed the door. But before his rage could build again, he heard a sharp intake of breath, coming from the floor. He slapped the lights hard, then gasped in shock.
There was a strange man laying face up on the bunk room floor, dressed in what looked like a whole suit of leather armor and strange, rough cloth. He had several cuts on his face, all nicely stitched up. His hair was so long and uncontrolled it looked more like a mane than anything else. A big, white mane with braids.
Peter was in no mood to be friendly, so he kicked the man, sort of gently, in the side. "Hey, wake up! I'm not too keen on trespassers, especially crazy ones."
The stranger groaned, in a deep voice, then opened his eyes. Unfocused blue looked up at him for a second, then the man rubbed his eyes and tried to look again. He sat up and regarded Peter with a strange expression, a mix of elation, disbelief, and fear. "En kelic? Sil en kelic tarka?"
"What the hell are you talking about? Are you drunk?" Peter was not in the mood to deal with this.
The man rubbed his eyes again, obviously disturbed by something blurring his vision. Something about the man's manners struck him as extremely familiar, enough to cause him to pause, but Peter was sure he had never met him. His skin was dark tan and more wrinkled than most men as well built...he had obviously spent a great deal of time in the sun, a lot more than your average New Yorker...maybe homeless? No...he was wearing leather armor for goodness' sake.
Then Peter caught sight of the five small, bloody holes in the chest piece of the armor, just as the man began running a hand over it slowly. Peter narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the stranger. The man looked at the little bit of blood on his fingertips, whispered something unintelligible, then looked back up at Peter. He stepped very close, much to close for Peter's comfort.
"Pyatir? Sio Pyatir? En kelic?! Natasi a lun...luen...."
"GUYS!! Get in here!" Peter shouted.
Ray and Winston ran in as fast as they could. They skidded to a stop, gaping. "Whozzat?" Ray asked, surprised.
"A reject from Braveheart! How the hell should I know?" Peter frowned again, looking back at the stranger a few inches from his face. His eyes were familiar...
"He's hurt," Winston declared, but without much conviction. The man didn't move like he had as many holes in him as his armor did.
A light seemed to dawn on the stranger, and he turned and walked over to Egon's nightstand. Before anyone could stop him, and oh how Peter would have stopped him, he yanked open a drawer and took out the red-rimmed glasses he found there. He placed them carefully on his nose and looked back at the three Ghostbusters.
The left hook Peter had prepared for the medieval freak that dared desecrate Egon's things was quickly yanked back, causing Peter to yelp. That wasn't a medieval freak in Egon's things, it was Egon.
But that was not possible. They had buried him not two days before, dead literally at the hands of that snake-monster.
"Wow," Ray gaped.
"I second that," Winston added in dull shock.
The stranger, or Egon, or who ever the heck he was, adjusted his glasses as only he could, and nearly choked out, "Anyasi, ti, ti...ah kallih risa sa, ah teras risa alin...en kelic...." He sat down on the edge of Winston's bed, running a hand on his chest again, a look of mixed joy and fear on his dark face.
Ray could never resist a look like that on anyone, so he sat next to the man and just put a hand on his shoulder.
He looked over at Ray and whispered, "Sil en kelic, Raya. Sio s...s'itya...." After wiping his eyes with his bloodstained fingers, he cocked his head, then pointed at himself, "En Yegun." Then at Ray, "Sio Raya." Then at Peter and Winston, "Dueh Pyatir a Ouinston. S'itya?"
Ray looked back at the others. "I'm getting a PKE meter." He got up and ran out, then came back in again. He adjusted the meter to Egon's biorhythms, and it reacted quite strongly.
That proved it, scientifically anyway...Peter shifted his weight from foot to foot, then launched himself headlong at Egon, with the basic plan to squeeze the breath out of him. Ray beat him to the punch by a fraction of a second, while Winston was close behind. "Egon!! Don't you dare die on us again!!" Peter said with unabashed relief.
Egon returned the gesture, then scooted back away from the guys, in an attempt to catch his breath. He smiled at Peter, but the fear still hadn't left his face. He seemed to have developed a habit of rubbing the chest plate, touching the holes softly. But as far as Peter was concerned, he was much too happy to see Egon alive to give serious thought to such things.
A few minutes later, Peter did, however, remember the little glass bits, and said ow rather loudly.
Egon sat outside, on the roof of the Firehouse, gazing at the New York skyline. It had taken some doing, but he was finally beginning to understand English again. Still, his voice and his thinking were peppered with the accent and syntax of the language of Wilderland. He had yet to hear the end of it from Peter, who swore that if he heard the name "Pyatir" again he'd beat the tar out of him. Kanyana...that is, Janine, had found his language troubles infinitely amusing, taking every opportunity imaginable to mention how much more poetic it sounded than his regular speech. But this he would forgive her, for he knew she had grieved his passing in ways no one else had.
As quickly as the concept of reading had returned, he devised a writing system for the Wilderland tongue, knowing that it was only for the sake of memories, as no one understood it in this world. But he could not bear to lose it, just as he could not part with the leather armor or the clasp decorated with silver he had worn in his hair for so long. His hair he had cut, returning it to its original state, except for one of the long braids. He had lived four years in the space of eleven days...it was hard to grasp, but he remembered all of those years with striking clarity. He remembered Tras, and wished him well. He remembered the Watcher, and thanked him in silence. The memories of this world came somewhat slowly, not ponderously, but slow enough.
He looked down at the pink shirt he wore, and ran his hand along his chest. Under the shirt, there were five small scars. He could still see the claws, and the blood, still hear it...at night, in fearful dreams, while waking, in brief, anxious flashes. He knew he would never know the end of that fear. He knew it would haunt him to the end of his days. But someday it would not terrify him as it did now...someday.
Three days ago, they had come up against the snake-creature that had killed him the first time. He remembered Winston saying he had been whiter than a sheet; he did not doubt it. He had been shaking, was still shaking, at the image of that creature and its claws. But the Watcher was right; all he had to do was tell it...or her, as he had said, that he wanted an audience. The snake-like creature had disappeared with a shriek, in a burst of light. The light was the very eye of the Watcher.
Yesterday, Ray and Peter had managed to convince the graveyard where they had buried him a few weeks ago to exhume his body, to see if it was still there. Egon smiled a little at the morbid irony of that train of thought. Much to their dismay, and to his personal surprise when they told him, it was. He wondered idly if Tras would have Aric to bury somewhere. He supposed there were precious few who could claim the honor of visiting their own grave.
Soon, the sun set behind the skyline, and the lights of the city came up. Egon looked up, seeing so few stars, so different from the hard, brilliant ones of the Wilderland. After a little more stargazing, such as it was, he stood and went back inside the Firehouse.
He slept early, trying to make up for the restless nightmares he knew he would have, but he was fortunate this night, as he had very few. Instead, he dreamed of other things, giving voice to slight words no one else would ever understand.
No one knew what it meant, those words he still whispered in his sleep; no one did, not one but Egon alone. In sleep he called back the words of Wilderland, words he could not share in waking life, for fear he would not be understood. But he trusted the others would get the sentiment, if not the specifics.
"Ah kallih risa sa, ah teras risa alin." The sun has heat, the stars have light.
"En kelic." I am home.
Author's Note: This was almost entirely inspired by a dream I had several months ago. It mulled in my mind for a while, then decided it wanted to be written. In the process, I found its purpose for being, so I'm happy :)
No skewering Egon without reason for me! *snicker* Poor Dartboard...