The Ancestral Trail Trilogy Copyright Originally Published 1992 - Frank Graves Long Ago & Far Away
THE ANCESTRAL TRAIL TRILOGY
First Book - Long Ago & Far Away
The Ancestral World Odyssey
Since the beginning of time, creatures of the air, land
and water have lived in peace in the Ancestral World.
Landsmen, common beasts, birds and fishes
have dwelt in harmony with insects, reptiles and
mythical beasts. Ruled with fairness and wisdom
by the Council of Guardians, they have known
neither suffering nor the ravages of war.
Now an evil spirit has come to this land and is
laying waste to all that is good. The Forces of Evil
have gained ground fast and many of these
peaceful creatures have been killed or have fallen
under the Evil One's power.
The Life Force of the Ancestral World
is almost at an end.
When he who is the Chosen One
Shall tread upon the Ancient Path
And battle there to overcome
The Forces of the Dark
Then shall the Seven be restored
And even banished from this world
If you had asked Richard whether he believed in ghosts, witches, ancestral myths or dream people before he went on his trip to the wicked woodland, he would probably have given you a very strange answer because he neither believed nor disbelieved in things that went bump in the night. He was not of a nervous disposition, nor had he ever really been frightened by ghosts, the supernatural or, any of the other strange myriad creations and superstitions like some of his more nervous friends and relatives. But... 'That was before he had his unscheduled spectral nightmare'.
Ask the same question now and you'll get a resounding, "'Yes, I know for certain that they really do exist.'"
You could ask, why this shift in his position?
It all came about one evening when Richard, or 'Mutant', as he was commonly referred to by friends and family alike, mainly due to the very different colouring in both eyes, was happily returning from a shopping errand on his new mountain bike, he was in no hurry that afternoon, but on a sudden whim, came away from the road to the practice jumps through some of his favourite forest trails. One of which led him to stop at what had once been his favourite haunt, where the great old tree named 'Eternity', had thrived for centuries. This was the first really clear day because over the last week, the great forest had been battered and decimated by storms; this included the old tree that had been blown over by these record high winds sweeping across the whole district. The toppled tree had now left a very large crater in the ground. In no time at all, quite a few local people had benefited by the summer storms in various ways, the great old tree itself, had been quickly sliced up and removed by a local furniture maker while the rest of its timber, rapidly got spirited away through locals to be used as firewood. It was a heartfelt departure for Richard and his friends as all that remained behind now was the tree's root ball in combination with spindly sand filled roots and a very large crater. During the previous week there had again been further really heavy thunderstorms in the area that left the crater looking more like a big fishpond than anything else. The enormous tree's twisted and knurled washed roots stretching into the air like some huge spiked hair arrangement.
Richard wheeled his bike across to examine what still remained of the fallen tree; his thinking was that the upended root ball looked for all the world like a giant spider climbing up to the heavens, because the tentacle-like root system was so much more obvious stretched out of the ground, washed clean by those later heavy downpours. Richard noticed that the water level was only a small way off the lip of what had been that crater but somehow, now would become fair game among his various friends to be their newest swimming hole after school.
"Wait until I tell them, this is going to be great." he whispered to himself as he began sizing up various theme park type options in his minds eye; every now and again he could even see tadpoles darting back and forth below the water,
"Whoa! We could string a rope slide from that tree," his gaze travelled from a large branch of a neighbouring tree down to the root ball, it was then, that something caught his eye. It was partially hidden although clearly visible with one end sticking out from in among the now washed coils. He could see what looked for the world, like a very old metal box.
"Maybe it holds gold, or rubies, or... Gotta get it out before anyone else arrives to claim it as theirs."
Richard moved quickly, noting that although the container seemed very old at distance, it showed slight signs of what he presumed was rust. He even made out some sort of strange golden coloured motifs dotting the container; his mind automatically presumed that with those, it was bound to be buried treasure of some kind. It wasn't obvious to Richard that anybody had visited this site since the last storm passed through, he quickly decided that this box was going to be all his.
Richard moved around the clear blue pond, scrambling over the back of the heavy rooting system making sure he could reach his new found treasure without then toppling into the water; he began levering the old box until it finally dislodged from its muddy stickiness. Grasping it firmly, it wasn't heavy, he scrambled back down to ground level and established that the catch came away quite easily; he slowly but tenderly opened the valuable find.
Inside, was just an old rag that perhaps hid something else? Richard reached out and stroked the cloth, encountering something firm that hardness assured him that it was hiding something. Gingerly taking the utmost care, Richard carefully lifted the newfound bundle onto the ground before cautiously undoing the knot to release his newly acquired treasure.
His first sighting was of all sorts of unordinary and wonderful looking inscriptions printed throughout the inside of this cloth. More importantly, there were also two further items nestling inside their folds. The larger item being a shimmering helmet; made from what appeared to be beaten silver, Richard immediately realised that the seven golden discs surrounding it meant that his, was a very special find. Each disc contained differing writing and abnormal insignias dotted around their circular edges. Beside the helmet was what Richard then thought was a woman's amulet, it too, was intricately designed with similar peculiar motifs and symbols. He picked up the bracelet to examine it more carefully,
"Must be hieroglyphics or something," he convinced himself. There was no catch on the bracelet, but as he easily slipped it onto his arm to get a better look at it, it somehow seemed to tighten down to exactly the right size for his wrist.
"Wha?" he tried removing it, but found that he could not get it back over his hand; no matter how hard he tried to detach the amulet, it was solidly stuck fast around his arm.
"Naah! Must be some form of trick bangle?" He questioned, as he searched for a hidden release mechanism. Not able to work it out, Richard finally gave up and turned his attention back to the cloth, it did not take long for him to realise that in fact it wasn't any old rag, it was more like some sort of cloak; he carefully lifted the helmet out of its position within the material and placed it on the ground to examine it further. He lifted the cloak to the sunlight and inspected the fabulously designed imprinted gold insignias braided into the material that also had an attached cape; the shawl itself contained no sleeves or sleeve holes. Richard drew himself up to his full height and in one quick swishing movement, pulled the cloak around his shoulders.
"How cool is this?" Richard found himself using the pond as his personal mirror; looking down into the water, he noticed that the material had come alive. Checking his reflection several times, he something strange happening, he double-checked, looking down at the cloth, all he saw was lovely fabric. However, checking his reflection in the pool, what he saw was the material magically shimmering and dancing even though the pool was dead calm.
"Strange or even stranger," he questioned. "Maybe just a trick of the light I suppose. I reckon this must have been some kind of king's outfit, wonder what it's doing here?" His attention turned back to the helmet once again, Richard slowly lifted it from its current position to examine the glorious find, he then made an on the spot decision. Richard did not realise it just then, that his impetuousness was somehow going to change his life forever.
"Wicked! Perhaps it is a Viking's helmet from a bygone era, or even possibly belonged to some kind of ancient tribal magician, who knows? Imagine, now it's all mine, perhaps this lot is going to make me so, so rich." He drooled softly.
Savouring the few daydreams, he climbed back to the highest point of the large root ball and then slowly but, very deliberately, almost ritualistically, like some ancient king performing his own coronation, raised the beautifully crafted headgear high into the air above his head.
"I now crown myself… King Palooka of Anywhere." Richard chanted, "Ta-Ta-Taaaann-tarrraaa-Taaaaa and may my reign be a long and happy one, Ta-Ta-Taaaann-tarrraaa-Taaaaa ".
He then lowered the helmet slowly until it sat firmly on his head.
That's when everything kicked off for Richard
One minute, he stood on top of the root system trying on the fabulous helmet, but next, the sodden ground gave way to send him plummeting towards the bluish coloured liquid below. He landed with an almighty splash in the water-filled hole.
"Wha..." That was the only word he managed to splutter plunging deep below the now discoloured water, Richard never even saw the dunking coming as he hit the water and took off through an imaginary red blur at a speed that seemed to release him from its grip in seconds; allowing him to come up to take a large breath. His brain instantly panicked, instead of the root ball, there was a strange looking mountain with a zigzag waterfall in the distance, and this place had a completely different feel and look, his spinning brain could not perceive this sudden upheaval, the fall had sent him into an illusionary fantasy world.
"No, no, no, this can't be happening!" The feeling of utter panic struck out at his already strained nerve ends, Richard's great difficulty was to comprehend everything in absolute detail, understanding that this water was no longer his water hole, but instead, the liquid colouring had now become a tinkling incandescent red. He let out a terrific wail of despair at the huge ever-watchful mountain; his frustrating scream achieved nothing but to bounce desperate echoes of irritation and fear around the sheer walls of the ravine. It appeared as if nobody was even listening to his plight, or at least, that's what Richard thought as his head began reeling and he quickly passed into unconsciousness.
Richard slowly lifted his bruised and painful head off the ground, it felt as if there were a flight of migrating swallows passing through his senses; the feeling came and went in reeling formation as he desperately tried to understand what was happening.
"Ugggh!" Looking up, he nearly swallowed his tongue, Richard shook his head sharply to clear the foggy mists still surrounding his confused brain, but still; he couldn't believe his eyes. There, perhaps only in his mind's eye, a longhaired old man with a white beard that reached almost to the ground was leaning closely over the top of him. Richard began blinking rapidly, he was certain that his brain was clear and for sure, this was no ordinary old man, at that very moment his bewildered common sense couldn't quite understand what it was that now confronted him. His eyesight it seemed was playing tricks, for he was now seeing this hunched figure looking more like some kind of oversized, puffed up, grotesque chameleon. Its bulbous eyes, the wide mouth, the v-shaped head topped with what looked like a delicate wreath of flowers draped across it then trailed lazily down its back, hooking onto the spindly branches of an old tree.
"Arrgh!" Richard shook his head; blinking several times again to make sure that it wasn't just his usually overworked imagination simply playing peculiar tricks.
The larger than life beast was still hovering, he wondered if 'this thing' had been sent to seek revenge for the time he had mistreated their neighbour's pet frog with a stick.
"I didn't mean it," he whispered, desperately hoping this would not annoy this much-distorted beast that confronted him.
The thing leaned forward closely, Richard suddenly felt its hot putrid breath stroking his cheek, he turned his head away, hoping that whatever it was going to do, just wouldn't take too long or be seriously painful. In this befuddled state, he then had another stupefied moment, to one side he saw a boy with strange pig-like appearance, dressed in ancient leather clothing and whatever this boy was, he held a bow in one hand. The illusionary hog-type person ashamedly turned away so that Richard could no longer observe its face, strapped to his back was a quiver filled with strange looking arrows but, in that fleeting observational second, Richard made out that the boy's clothes were also dripping wet.
"What do you want? Who... who are you…" Richard managed to splutter.
"For some time we have been expecting someone to arrive, my name is Chimahl, I am the 'Guardian of the Ancestral Woodland'." The thing licked at its thin lips. "You've now ventured to our sacred world as was foretold; you must quickly learn the trail of ancestors." The old man's voice, unlike the rest of its mangled and harsh looking body, was tenderly soft and lilting in texture.
"I...I want to go home."
The huge monstrosity pushed its crackled wide mouth right up to Richard's face and pulled the thinly plated lips back over the buckled teeth, for just one split moment, Richard presumed that he saw what looked like two sharp red pinpricks of some death ray where the beast's bulging eyes should have been.
"You cannot return to your world, at least, not until you've accomplished all of the tasks that will be given."
Richard wasn't really in any position to argue with the huge chameleon-like monster.
"Follow me; it is unsafe to remain here."
"W-What if... I don't want to carry out these tasks or come with you?"
"Oh well, it's your choice, you stay here and become like me. In our world, time as you know it is very different, so your stay could be extremely long or quite a short one, its all about how you conduct yourself. You must make up your mind quickly; this can be a very dangerous place, especially if you don't know the terrain or some of its terrible inhabitants."
Richard shuddered; he couldn't imagine himself looking like 'that', he desperately tried to remove the helmet still stuck fast to his head.
"You will not be able to remove those items just yet, they are still controlled by all seven Pods of Life," said Chimahl.
"It's a long story, come, I will help you to remove it but, not here. Those seven gold emblems on that head covering have been activated by the Pods of Life and the helmet chose to 'bring you' to the 'Ancestral City'. That was a 'great honour'. Once removed, you won't be able to put it back on your head until such time that all 'Pods of Life' are safely restored to their rightful place."
"Great, so how do you activate these so called, 'Pods of Life'?"
"Later, now follow us, don't get lost, because there are some really nasty things in 'this world'." The beast moved away fluidly, half-hopping, half gliding forward. Instantly the strange looking pig-like boy with the bow and arrow diligently fell into step close behind Chimahl. Richard, not wanting to be left alone in these strange surroundings, quickly made a decision to join the group. They made their way deep into the surrounding woodland.
"Better the devil you know and all that, this is crazy, what am I doing here?" He mumbled this under his breath as he reluctantly moved in behind the strange pair. Chimahl stopped, turned and studied the young man; it was as if he had clearly heard Richard's comment. "Fool!" Unexpectedly his greyish colouring changed to puce and a long red flaming tongue whipped out of the chameleon's broad mouth to crack like a bullwhip against a tree beside Richard, who immediately dived flat to the ground. "Thoughts like that are not very helpful for your well being," said Chimahl. "Consider this journey as your most exciting adventure."
The peculiar little band arrived at a large clearing, the sun blazing down through an open canopy in the trees above and straight onto a sparkling centre circle of crystalline type stones. Richard immediately recognised that this was where his captors held court because; it looked just like that sort of animistic place. The beast called Chimahl sat down on the central bed of shining white pebbles; some decorated with moss, and then wriggled about until he was comfortable. For the first time since encountering the thing, Richard noticed that there seemed to be a very faint aura that surrounded Chimahl's whole frame, perhaps it was just his imagination or possibly, the way the dazzling light from above caught the ogre shaped monstrosity, Strangely, Chimahl now looked somewhat more magisterial and oddly, had imperceptibly changed body colour to a more silvery sheen. The large beast cleared his fat jowls by opening and shutting the great mouth in preparation to deliberate with Richard.
"Now child, what be your name?"
"R-Richard, but some friends call me M-Mutant, I don't know why really."
"Well master Richard, we Guardians were expecting someone, uh, different... Sort of well... uh, bigger and more warrior-like somehow..." Chimahl paused. "You 'are' a bit scrawny, but then again, who am I to question the powers that be? The prophecy was someone that could see both good and evil would come to help us in this time of need."
"But I can't even tell right from wrong, let alone good from evil. Naah! You have the wrong bloke, now could you kindly return me to my home if you please." Richard whispered.
"Your eyes tell me you are the one selected... each bearing different colouring, one will locate good, the other will find evil. A long time ago, the prophecies foretold of our present predicament, it also foretold your coming, these prophecies are never incorrect."
"Oh yeah! Just because my eyes are different, there's no need to take the..." He came up short from saying what he really wanted to say because Richard wasn't quite sure just then, how far his rebellious boundaries would be acceptable in this world, so just left any niceties for the moment.
"The grey eye sees the dark side of life, the green eye sees good. Only you can weigh the balance."
"Whaa? That's nonsense." Richard retorted.
"Anyway, things change and now you're in our world and you are going to have to learn the ancient ways."
"What do mean, 'ancient ways'?"
"Humans like you, call them myths. It goes far beyond the conjuring up of phantoms and it's through these tales, that the minds of all people confront the mystery of the universe. Unfortunately for you, you will have to learn these first and only then, you 'may' be allowed back into your own world. Never fear, this boy will initially be your guide and mentor, that coat you wear is the 'Cape of Darnell' but remember, use it with care because each time that you lift the cape over your head you will become totally invisible to the outside world. However, you can only use it seven times, once for each pod then it will no longer retain its power. You must understand this well, it has only seven lives, so do not waste those lives."
"W-What if... I don't want to be taught these myths?"
Chimahl stopped talking, suddenly its long crimson tongue shot out and slapped against a nearby tree sounding very much like the loud report of a rifle shot. Richard jumped; it was so unexpected that it caught him completely off guard. Chimahl was busily chewing something but was now assured of Richard's full attention as he continued with his story.
"First thing, we need you to help us, my powers have weakened considerably since the battle took place, I am frail and will be unable to make the trip, it needs someone young and strong blooded to achieve this journey." The pompous wizard continued.
"Me help 'you'? …How?"
"This place is the original universal garden; you notice that we are seated beside the 'Tree of Life'. Once upon a time, all life started in this very spot; this tree has always been the beating heart of the universe, it sheds seven jewelled pods every few decades of 'your' time. The seven pods represent seven facets of goodness, which then regenerate the tree and hence the whole universe. Since time began, this has always taken place, although not anymore because somebody has stolen six of the newly formed pods. The responsibility of looking after these pods was always entrusted to our special Ancestral Guardians. Each representative of a pod has now gone missing, as have six of the seven pods. It is our task, now yours, to help by your following the 'Ancestral Trail'. We all have but a short point in time to find those six pods, and also to save the Guardians because we must place them back in their rightful position before we can conclude the Great Ceremony of Aght."
"What happens if they're not replaced?"
"Death and destruction throughout this world and throughout the universe and in time terms, it means that the world will die again. We must not let that happen! You will find that the world out there," he swept his arm in a wide arc, "is already dying because evil is on the rise."
"What do you want me to do?"
"There was a great battle between good and evil which was not won nor lost, it is ongoing and I'm afraid we now slowly lose this conflict against the evil forces, I must remain here to be a central focus, and you accompany the boy into the Ancestral World. He is named Pygman and he too, has a quest to follow. He understands this world and will show you some of the trees and animals out there. He's been there before and he too has a duty to try to help rescue the Guardians. Each creature you meet will have different stories to relate, some modern, some old, you must learn to listen carefully to them. That way, we'll be able to find out just who have stolen the Pods of Life from here and where the Guardians have disappeared to but, you must also be very careful. More advice, as you travel, try to find a common thread, that way, you'll begin to understand our ways more quickly. Now you have to go with him," Chimahl pointed to the pig-like boy.
"Remember to be vigilant while out there, not everything will be as it first appears. Not all creatures will be good, those you least expect, could be your worst enemies, while others you distrust will aid you in your quest. Your task is to quickly understand and judge which is which, you have to, the very life of those around you will constantly depend on your decisions."
"Can't I rather go home?" Richard murmured softly.
"You most certainly cannot. But before you go you must again energise your amulet with the last remaining pod, guard that bracelet with your very life, if it is lost the universe and everything within it are doomed to failure and evil will have prevailed," Chimahl's rolled tongue shot out and skilfully picked a sparkling white pod from the branches high above their heads, then delivered it delicately to Richard's feet. The pod began to shimmer, glowing purple colour as did Richard's amulet and helmet at the same time.
"Now you are able to remove the sacred Helmet of Roshta leave it with me, no doubt you may have need of it sometime in the future."
Richard removed the helmet and set it against the big tree.
"I repeat, at no time are you to lose that amulet. Keep it safe at all times, it's very special and it will constantly activate one of the emblems on your helmet, in that way I will give you limited guidance. If you still have it on your person, you'll return it to us at the end of your journey. If you should lose it or, give it away, you'll never leave this place alive. That bracelet will remain your main safeguard, if you need help, trust the amulet; it's your key to survival and our only link via the Helmet of Roshta. Guard it well, from this moment; you hold the universe and every living thing's future in your hands."
"Neat. It's like a two-way radio. Talking about that, what about my stereo and my torch, I think they're ruined. Who's going to pay for them? They cost a lot of money, you know?"
Richard asked. Chimahl didn't even seem to take any notice as he continued.
"All things from this wood are very sacred; I want you to try to understand our world by collecting from its life. Any little information or article you may be offered from the various places or inhabitants you visit, could give you vital clues as to where those pods and the other Guardians may be hidden. Now go, I'll await your return but remember, you must be strong and live up to the ancient prophesies at all times, because our time is fast running out, so don't waste it, we have but twenty six days to succeed otherwise, all will be lost."
"What happens if I don't succeed?"
"We will all eventually die terrible deaths; like all condemned men, my last meal before my own death will be you, because you will have failed us all."
Richard began shuddering uncontrollably.
"One last thing, be careful, the thieves amongst us are cunning, they may give you false pods as well as false clues, do not be deceived because these evil people have pods that look identical to that one," He pointed to the pod from the tree. "If you should open a false one of those to check, you will most certainly die. Make sure you have the real ones, hold the pod against that amulet you now wear, it will soon identify the real pods and it will help you to weed out the evil pods as well as your discovering which the real ones are."
With that, the extraordinary beast lay itself down on its bed of shining stones and immediately faded and disappeared, now Richard felt at his most alone since arriving in this place and that, scared him. Just before Chimahl faded completely, Richard thought that he saw a gentle, kindly old man and not the weird looking beast.
"What a mess," Richard thought aloud; bending forward he picked up the pod with its blood red stem. To his surprise, he found it wasn't a real flower pod, but more like some sort of a heavy gemstone that now pulsed with warmth to his touch. He gently laid it alongside the helmet. Carefully and slowly he prised open the pod, a bright shining light emanated from inside, it was almost like looking into the past through a fast moving video. He closed the pod and the light was gone.
"Wow, how cool, you and me going to guard each other my little pod friend. No wonder they stole the others."
He removed his cloak and carefully placed it inside a plastic bag taken from his shoulder bag and then crammed the delicate package back into his camouflage coloured rucksack alongside his expensive and slightly damaged cell phone.
"Okay! I'm ready for my adventure." Richard called to the pig-like guide.
They moved quickly, Richard following in the short boy's tracks along a narrow path; but he could not help noticing that they were now moving deeper into the dark forest in an entirely opposite direction from which they had entered that magical clearing
"One little, two little, three little bottles," he sang softly to himself trying to get up enough courage to continue moving forward behind the funny looking guide. "Pull yourself together," he chastised himself "Me and my big trap. I've always wanted to save the world, well now that I've been asked to do just that, all I want to do is go home. What a mess?"
The pig-like boy paid no heed to his ramblings and simply kept moving forward in the same direction, absolute fear had overtaken Richard's mind, flipping from one idiotic suggestion to another. He panicked and turned quickly to get away from these frightful surroundings to try to retrace his steps.
That's when it happened... He hadn't even seen the sleeping body propped against a tree as he fell headlong over something.
In an instant the body on the ground came alive and instantly shot upright, all Richard saw was the glint of what could have been a knife being raised towards his throat. At almost the same time the now alive body, suddenly lurched forward face down right next to Richard, The pig-like boy was now towering above both of them, sword in hand.
"Gghhh! Gghhh! You touch him; you have me to deal with." The pig-like boy kicked out at Richard's assailant's foot.
"He kicked me first, I was only resting, what was I supposed to do? One minute asleep, next being attacked?"
"Gghhh! Gghhh! He made a mistake, simply tripped over your body, who are you anyway, and what are you doing here?"
"I am Nikla the Librarian," His attacker sat up and faced Pygman. Richard was totally staggered to observe that Nikla was female, before he could say anything more, Nikla turned her face to him and gasped, she had suddenly noticed Richard's eyes and instantly recognised him as the Chosen One.
"You… you are," excitedly, Nikla rolled over began undoing a large book from off her back. "This is known as the Book of Prophecies and foretells the coming of Forta Electsimis. It is you, I recognised you immediately because your grey eye sees the dark side of life and the green eye sees good, you are the one sent to save us all, are you not?"
"How can I be this Forta eh… whatever?" Richard stammered.
"Gghhh! He means Forta Electsimis. It means the Strong Chosen One. Pygman giggled. "Chimahl also suggested something similar, but look at him, this weakling is no warrior, so how can this be so foretold? Gghhh! Gghhh!" The pig-like character scoffed.
"Our destiny is always foretold in this Book of Prophecies, how it does this, nobody knows. The only problem is that it is written in riddle that most people cannot interpret." The girl replied. "I was the 'seshet or scribe' and also the keeper of many sacred scrolls but of them all, this book was most important and that's why I stole it before it could be used by the Evil One after that war."
"War? W-what war?" Richard demanded
"Gghhh! Chimahl carefully omitted to enlighten you that there was the first great battle and that's how the Guardians and the Pods were lost to us." Pygman snorted.
"Okay, so we have a war, people missing, pods missing, me being kidnapped, an Evil One, a pig and a female scribe leading me to fight an unknown enemy, a book that tells fortunes... have I missed anything out so far?"
The dwarfish looking Nikla removed the large strapped book from off her back and began paging through it.
"Now that you have stated it so clearly, I can see it is exactly what the Book of Prophecies had prophesied. Let me read the last prophecy, maybe it will answer your question, the riddle will give us a clue that this manuscript does foretell the future?"
"Let me see." Richard tried to read words that the scribe was pointing at, "Nope cannot read that, what language is it written in? You are going to have to give me a crash course in those funny hieroglyphic looking things and about their meanings"
Nikla lifted the book and read the script
"When he who is the Chosen One
Shall tread upon the Ancient Path
And battle there to overcome
The Forces of the Dark
Then shall the Seven be restored
And evil banished from this world."
"Don't you see? It just has to be you? The book of prophecies must know the truth, if only we could understand the rest of it.
In the distance they heard clapping sounds, like thousands of wings flapping in the wind, the noise suddenly moving from all directions towards them. The pig-like boy stopped and sniffed wildly at the air.
" Gghhh! "Gghhh! Danger." The boy snorted.
"What is that sound?"
"Gghhh! We're in 'BIG' trouble " Gghhh!
Trilogy First Part : Long Ago and Far Away
THE ANCESTRAL TRAIL BY
The Wicked Water Beast (The Moss Beast)
On the First Day...
Should evil e'er the Victor be,
And darkness fall upon the land,
A Chose One from far will come
Who sees in dark and light.
On the first day, herein points the way.
To cross the river he follows the flow.
From air and water dangers.
Safety lies in earth below.
At path's end lies the slender way,
A hidden weakness saves the day.
"What is it?" Richard shouted.
"Gghhh! No, Grapfrits! Nasty swarming flying things, let's just hope they don't come this way."
"Follow me, they have very bad eyesight but use their smelling organs to locate their prey. They came through the forest some time back and I found a safe hiding place." Nikla quickly strapped the book to her back. Even with wearing a long white flowing robe, she raced away with Pygman in close pursuit. Richard tried his very best to keep up with the fleeing pair but, rounding a dark forested bend, realised that he could no any longer see them.
"Hey! Wait for me!" he screamed, he was becoming more and more terrified by the ever closing sound of flapping wings.
"We are here!" Shouted Nikla from somewhere in the dark forest canopy but, before Richard could move towards the caller, whirring sound of thousands of simultaneous beating wings seemed so close, Richard made up his mind immediately. Now that he had made his dramatic decision, there was now no chance of going back. He whipped off his shoulder bag and hurriedly extracted the cloak that he threw around his body before pulling the cape over his head. To his utter surprise, he found he could clearly see everything in front of him but, now knew for sure that his trouble was about to begin as the first of the flying creatures swarmed out of the tree line and straight towards his insecure position. Richard edged to his left and a little closer to a bush, just to manoeuvre himself out of the main body of the swarm's direct flight path.
"Oh dear, I'm dead," he whispered despairingly to himself.
The main group of the really ugly crab-like flying creatures swooped and dived left and right like a flock of swallows hunting prey, as quickly as they had appeared, so they swept past as if he wasn't there, Some of what Richard could only presume were making up the rear guard, swerved directly towards him. It was too late to do anything and as if on cue, the buzzing intensified and the whole area again became filled with what Richard thought looked like very ugly, thorny, flying crab-like oranges. The small prickly beasts slowed and began circling around the area once more. Richard could now clearly see the nasal spikes on these flying orange beasts, their closeness showed that the spikes tended to be more like sharpened knives protruding directly from their mouths. One attack from these hunting monsters meant it had all be over for him and his companions. One curious Grapfrit in particular began hovering closer towards Richard. Feeling very exposed, Richard drew a deep breath, seeing the thing at close quarters hovering right before his face, its swelling mouth pumping wildly, and to his horror saw a long needle-like probe extend directly in his direction. Somehow, it seemed to know he was around somewhere but could not locate him. The pointed spike missed Richard's ear by fractions, causing his head to whip side in a nervous reaction, at that moment, all he wanted to do was to cough. He strained to hold the tickle at the back of his throat; his will to live by not coughing was overpowering, it saved his life. Suddenly the Grapfrits gathered into a group and as if given some unknown command, hurtled off through the forest and out of sight.
"They must have got the Chosen One; he's not anywhere out there, we better let Chimahl know the bad news." Richard heard Nikla shout.
Richard did not move, he was still shaking like a leaf, trying to recover from the Grapfrit ordeal.
"Gghhh! If they killed him there should be bones where they fed on his marrow. If they did get him then we are in big trouble Gghhh! Chimahl will never forgive me." Pygman walked into view, he was following the narrow path, Richard waited until his pig-like companion was almost level with him.
"BOO!" Pygman dived to the ground, scrambled around on all fours for an instant before coming up smartly, sword ready to strike. Richard laughed so hard that the cough finally emerged and Richard chocked as he whipped back the cape to reveal his hiding place.
"That was not very humorous," said Pygman sheathing his sword. "We thought that the Grapfrits had got you." Richard was still giggling loudly when Nikla appeared.
"It would not have been so funny if they had located you, they are truly nasty. In seconds they would have eaten all the soft tissue from off of your entire being, then using those proboscis spike things, drilled into your bones and sucked out all your marrow which would then be delivered back to their queen Grapfrit. We 'must stick together' next time."
"Sorry guys, just could not resist that Pygman." Richard declared. "I thought they had found me, but obviously this cape really does work." He removed his tunic and placed it into his shoulder bag. Looking upwards he whispered, "Thank you Chimahl, I will never doubt you again."
Pygman chuckled loudly, "Gghhh! You are just very lucky; I could have killed you. Gghhh! Gghhh!"
There's a clearing and spring water around that corner," Nikla pointed in the direction the Grapfrits had just taken, "let's stop there because and we can see what the book can reveal," Nikla said as she turned and made her way back the way she had just come from.
"Book? Who believes in them, they are just some put together words, right?" Richard followed the scribe.
"Gghhh! Don't be so flippant, this is a different world, there's myth, magic and as you've already seen for yourself, there are monsters. Take heed of what the librarian says, it will hold you in good stead."
They arrived at a small clear spring that gently jetted cool water from its sandy base and at last there was sunshine from what looked like an eye that beamed down into this clearing. Richard had to blink for a few seconds to adjust his vision to the sudden brightness.
For the first time he could now have a good look at his female companion in the light, she was very pretty with almost autumn coloured, very shortly cropped hair, fine features showing that there was possibly good breeding and her clothes were toga-like with a long, but loose fitting Egyptian or Greek style dress tied at the waist with what looked like a golden rope.
"How can you move so quickly in that? Richard pointed to the long dress.
"Magic and a lot of practice," she said with a naughty smile. Nikla removed the large book and placed it against a tree stump then beckoned the boy to draw nearer.
"Now let's see what the next prophecy records." She turned over several pages of the big book and pointed to the text.
"Not even Guardians could understand these riddles, what do you make of this next rhyme?"
Richard tried reading it but, it was laid out in some ancient script form that he had never seen before, many of the strange words could be made out if they were a lot clearer, but most of the words were totally illegible Among them were some lovely sketches, mainly animals or beasts bordered the script.
"Hmmm let's see shall we?" Nikla waved her hand across the page.
"Whaaa!" Suddenly the whole border began moving around and the script started to change. Richard thought it looked like something he had once seen in a movie, just then everything moved back into place.
"Ahhh, does that text make more sense to you now?" Nikla asked, all Richard could do was nod as he read the text aloud.
Should evil e'er the Victor be,
And darkness fall upon the land,
A Chose One from far will come
Who sees in dark and light.
On the first day, herein points the way.
To cross the river he follows the flow.
From air and water dangers.
Safety lies in earth below.
At path's end lies the slender way,
A hidden weakness saves the day.
"I understand the dark and light portion, that's how I first recognised you as the Chosen One, but the rest makes very difficult reading. What do you think?" Nikla requested.
"Baloney is what I think; you can read anything you want into those words." Richard replied. "I think we better move to safety, that distant buzzing seems to be louder again, it sounds like they could move back in this direction."
Nikla closed the book and strapped it onto her back again. Richard lay flat on his stomach and took a deep gulp of the ice cold water before taking a plastic bottle from his bag and filling it. "Not going to take any chances," he replaced the bottle.
"Do not simply reject these prophecies out of hand," Nikla said.
"At this moment, I'm more concerned about reality of a swarm than words of a book, wherever that swarm of Grapefruits are; it's more than likely they are going to head back this way." Just then the familiar buzz of wings drifted through the forest again
"Gghhh. Grapfrits are returning, let's hide." Pygman suddenly pushed his way past Richard. "C'mon! Follow the river, it's our only chance. Weeeooee!" The pig-like boy moved quickly, followed closely by Nikla who wasn't hanging about for her new companion. Richard didn't need second invitations this time, he raced as fast as his long weary legs would carry him. Keeping up with the fleeing couple wasn't easy, the three jinxed and darted around a series of bushes and trees with difficulty, trying to follow the stream. At one stage Richard even overtook Nikla when they heard the spinning Grapfrits approaching and sounding like ten thousand hedge trimmers carving their way through the dense undergrowth close behind them somewhere, obviously hunting at full speed.
"Gghhh! River!" Both Richard and the pig-like boy shot straight over the top of a ridge, into mid-air, the long drop carrying them down, down into the swirling blue waters below some rapids. "Help, I can't swim!" The pig-like boy shouted as they fell.
Nikla had seen them hurtle into space and veered right towards a large tree.
As Richard and Pygman hit the water, Richard stretched out and grabbed the boy's hand as the two were sucked below the churning water. The powerful force instantly catapulted them like a two torpedoes below its depths. Desperately, hanging on to his companion's half trotter, half hand the rushing river bounced them down over a slimy stairway of cascading rocks and into a large pool where the mid-stream current wasn't quite as strong.
"Whoa!" Spluttering they surfaced, Richard immediately tried taking stock of their position.
"Gghhh! Who cares, I think they might have got her this time."
Meanwhile, Nikla found what she thought was a cave at the base of the large tree, it was dark, she knew that hidden in here she would be safe. She felt around the dampened walls, her hand touched a straggly guide rope. Carefully she followed it along the dark oozing passage, without warning and it being too dark she had to feel her way along when the floor just dropped away, she clung onto the rope for all her life's worth.
Further downstream and with Grapfrits headed their way, Richard noticed they had drifted towards some tall water-reeds situated just off to the side in what was a becalmed inlet. Richard checked seeing a dense crop of brown coloured grass plastered across the far side bank. The river current slowly began guiding them back towards the central current and the short brown grass bank. Richard immediately decided that the reeds would offer them better protection and hiding from the menacing Grapfrits. Pygman wasn't helping much as Richard assisted him stay afloat. Richard's eyes constantly searched the skies checking to see if the Grapfrits had followed them. For the moment, their surprising underwater journey had quickly taken them away from the flying beasts, but Richard knew that it wouldn't be too long before the flying oranges possibly figured out where they were.
"What would have happened if I hadn't learned to swim?" Exhausted as he was, he knew that the small recessed inlet was his chance; he was tiring quickly and with Pygman's extra weight to drag along, Richard knew if they didn't get to the land soon, there was the danger of them both drowning. Close to collapse, he put his head down and pumped both legs and arms in one last huge effort to get out of the mainstream and reach the calmer water and reeds that he had seen from mid river.
"Whew!" Richard took in a deep breath and lifted his bobbing head to the heavens. "Safety, at last," he puffed, they reached the green moss covered inlet, the pig-like boy snorted loudly and was also close to collapse. There was only a short distance to traverse and safety of a small-pebbled beach; that lay at the far side of this calm water stretch. Richard didn't like the idea of them having to swim through a thick slime coating the still water ahead. Looking towards land he fully understood they could not return back up the hill and that they also had no choice but to get across the slime to reach the narrow beach skirted by steeply sloped jagged rocks forming a boundary both left and right of that becalmed beach.
"The reeds for now... That's our best chance."
Richard half pulled his unhelpful companion to the shallows until they could both stand comfortably. By reaching the cover of the reeds, his inspiration knew no bounds, he perceived a brilliant idea that he had seen on television somewhere. He snapped off two reeds, checked to see if they were hollow through the centre, finding they were unfilled. After several attempts, he quickly managed to convince his companion that the reeds would make temperary but ideal snorkels, only just in time.
Above the roar of the water they heard the clapping sound heading in their direction. "Quickly in among the reeds, just place the reed in your mouth and duck below the water."
"Shut up you stupid fool. What are you trying to do, get us both killed?"
They somehow camouflaged themselves below the waterline among the reeds. Richard found that it not as easy as he had thought it would be, trying to breathe through the small reeds they had very little option, from below the water Richard heard the flapping sound reaching fever pitch as they passed overhead. It took an time without end before the buzzing slowly faded when the searching Grapfrits moved further on down the river searching for prey.
After several minutes Richard surfaced to find the boy already standing and gazing in the direction that the Grapfrits had taken.
"Gghhh! That was clever; we tricked them, didn't we?"
"Do you think they'll be back?"
The boy pulled his lips together.
"Let's wait awhile just to make sure."
"What's your name again?"
"My real name is Orkan but obviously people around here tend to call me Pygman, I've got used to the name and I quite like it."
"I understand what you are going through, because I too, have a similar problem to you. I was born with the name Richard, yet friends always insist on calling me mutant, the reason is that I have different coloured eyes. I hate that name with a passion." Richard complained bitterly,
"You called them friends? They cannot be that if they know you hate the name." Pygman offered.
"Chimahl said you had a quest. What did he mean?"
"Gghhh! As you will have undoubtedly noticed, I am slowly changing into a pig. I am a normal person from a similar world to yours I believe, but my friends and I were exploring some caves and suddenly this evil thing called Sundra kidnapped us. He brought us to this place and we all started turning into pigs. Fortunately I escaped to the mountains, now I am trying to find my way back there to help them escape as well. The main problem is that my brain is continually switching away from its human thoughts and then I can't help acting a little like a pig. There's nothing I can do about it, only because I helped the good folk during the battle, did Chimahl then promise that if I help you to restore the pods of life to the Tree of Life, then the combined power would be strong enough to be able to change us back to humans again. That's why we must find the pods; it's our only way back home. Chimahl said that I was between a pig and a man so let it be known that my name was to be Pygman until we had managed to retrieve the pods when I would get back my original name, everybody uses Pygman, so that is my name while here."
Richard had earlier noticed a large raw scar on the boys arm.
"What happened there?"
"Gghhh! During the battle I was trapped by three soldiers, I was lucky enough to escape alive. Many common beasts died that day, even more were captured and like those that went before, will all steadily fall under the Evil One's power or be killed off."
"I don't think that those flying knives are coming back. Okay Pygman, so where do we start?"
" Gghhh! A good beginning will be to get back to land."
"Well, we can't go that way," Richard said pointing to mid-stream "We'll have to make for the shore. Ugh! I don't fancy swimming through that, but we have no other choice." Richard had been taught the lifesaving method of swimming, he took a firm hold of the nervous Pygman's shoulders and started out towards the pebble beach finding the going like trying to swim through exceedingly thick soup. The thought of reaching land and safety urged him forward and when he was no more than four body lengths from the shore, suddenly the water around him started bubbling, exhausted and fed up he nearly made the mistake of stopping to see what was happening.
"Now what?" Richard became alarmed at this sudden occurrence; it felt as if there was something wriggling beneath the water. "What the...?" Richard jerked his hand upwards as he realised that the green slimy substance had come alive and was now creeping across the water and trying to move under the touch of his hand. "There's something alive down there."
Both became very alarmed with this new twist, pulling like a superhuman track athlete, he first tried to leap away onto the riverbank but the green slush held firm. He was so close to the shore but, for all it mattered, he could have been a million miles away .
"Wheeeooee!" Pygman pulled himself free from Richard's grip and forced his way onto the sloping beach. Whatever was holding Richard, hadn't managed to restrain Pygman from exiting the water, to Richard's surprise, instead of helping him his companion raced away to safety behind one of the jagged beachside rocks.
"Wait Pygman! Help me!" It was too late, Richard was left alone to face the danger by himself. Still struggling desperately he turned and faced the moving moss, Richard stopped struggling, instantly transfixed at what he could now see taking place in among the green moss. It had suddenly come alive, moving, swelling and heaving like some huge living being. He was certain that his eyes weren't deceiving him, something had caught his attention on the far side of the green poolnear the silvery stream. Whatever it was, now stirred to generate a large ripple on that side of the calmer green water. Richard struggled frantically to extricate himslf from the substance and reach the small-pebbled beach. It was useless he was stuck fast, all he could do at that particular moment was observe the parting moss moving in his position. The centre of the silent pool began bubbling like a huge boiling cauldron, it suddenly seemed as if the pool was like some form of massive Jacuzzi, the turbulent surface erupted with white tumultuous bubbles, from somewhere below the water's depths rose the ugliest beast that Richard could have imagined.
The first part of the creature to emerge was the top of its head; silvery coloured, thick horrific scales covered its crown with thousands of layered mirrors that all reflected the morning sun. In that fleeting moment, a strange thought crossed Richard's mind that it had been almost dark when he initially set off on his bicycle journey, yet here, it was mid-morning. Huge saucer-like black eyes show themselves above the water line, followed by immense bull type nostrils that began snorting blue water in all directions. As the rest of its head started appearing above the water the extensive mouth appeared to be smiling at him with gigantic fangs that protruded in all directions from out of the massive head. This mirror infected beast continued to rise up slowly, showing that its body that resembled some kind of gigantic snake. Richard froze stiff when he saw the beast's horrific looking enormous hooked claws, they resembled the fearsome talons of a gigantic eagle; the slimy torso moved upward very slowly, the moment seemed to take forever as the huge body extracated itself from within a torrent of falling thing somehow reminded Richard of massive steam engine he had once seen pulling out of a station. It too, had this same way of gasping, snorting and wheezing as it prepared to pull away from the platform. The commotion and racket being caused by this dreadful thing was deafening as it finally reached its zenith height.
"A-A-A... w-w-water beast," Richard gasped.
In his mind, the thing looked like an imagined macabre green dragon extracting itself from the water to eat him. Instead of breathing fire, this apparition blew white and green mist in all directions as if to orientate itself. This he instinctively knew was some type of killing machine. He desperately wanted to run away, but his feet and body were held fast so that he couldn't move and what little strength he had, had now deserted him. Somehow he felt as though his legs, which could now touch ground were like two wooden poles planted into the muddy ground.
"Who's disturbing my sleep?" Richard opened his mouth to speak, but found that no matter how hard he tried, nothing emerged. All he could think of was that he was going to be eaten alive by this terrifying scaly water monster.
"Aha! It's not often that I have such a beautiful young man come to provide dinner. Feel the fear because you have transgressed my domain. What are you doing here?"
Richard stuttered and stammered something and found that whatever it was that he was trying to say just didn't come out of his open mouth at all; his gibberish mumblings were so illegible that it somehow reminded him of someone being underwater trying to hold a decent conversation. The more he tried to speak, the more garbled his words seemed become, it was as if he was trying to communicate in some weird Martian language.
"Come on; say something or your life will end right now because I prefer conversation before eating," said the thing.
"My name is R-R-Richard," he finally stuttered. There, he had managed to get his name out and only because he couldn't imagine anything more horrific than this freak monster that was now confronting him. This thing petrified him because he didn't want to contemplate the thought of his small body sliding down that thing's throat.
"What are you doing in my water?"
Somehow the thing seemed genuinely interested in Richard, it was somehow weighing up the shivering human or to see whether he would make a good meal.
"Do you know who I am?"
"I'm Nya-Nya, the Moss Beast." The thing didn't actually talk as such; it seemed more to croon its words, almost as if it was trying to sing to Richard. "You have not told me that you are the Chosen One. The Evil One will reward me handsomely for capturing you." Suddenly it became very angry, instantly it reeled around and moved with mind blurring speed towards the bank where Richard was standing. Richard, although terrified, stood his ground,. if Nya-Nya was going to kill him, it was going to be now. The thing carried its huge bulk through the water like a gigantic ocean liner creating a broad wave as it moved straight towards him, then stopped within inches of the frightened boy. A huge rush of water like a bow-wave around the front of a ship created a heavy backwash that raced forward sending Richard tumbling up and onto the pebble beach.
Before Richard could gain his senses this terrible sound broke the relative silence and continued to echo around the ravine walls. He shut his eyes tightly expecting the worst to happen to him at any second. Spa-lash. splosh, splash, the sound of something hitting the water made Richard open his eyes to see what Nya-Nya was about to do to him.
"Gghhh! Get away from here! Go away! Gghhh!"
Richard suddenly understood what was happening. Pygman was standing with his back to Richard throwing rocks at Nya-Nya to protect the half-dazed boy lying against the granite wall. From his prone position, Richard watched Nya-Nya's reactions from between the boy's spread legs. The huge beast in the water was flailing its body from side to side in what seemed like utter frustration at having lost its prey.
"Gghhh! C'mon get up!
Richard somehow found the strength to scramble to his feet seeing the beast suddenly stop moving to again start moving towards them, he grabbed Pygman.s arm and tugged him up the side of the cliff and more importantly away from their immediate danger.
"Let's get out of here before it attacks us again!"
But it was too late for the beast had anticipated their move and was now dragging itself towards them.
"Come on, you are trapped, there is no escape."
"Pygman, the rope."
A golden coloured rope suddenly dropped from the cliff above. Richard weighed up their chances; he saw that the beast was now moving on land towards them, there was no choice. The two scrambled up the rope, whoever was behind this pulled the rope upwards very slowly, they used any footholds they could against the cliff face clambering away from danger. The beast raised itself then lunged high again and again with its massive talons but each time the two were just out of reach. Nya-Nya gave a despairing roar as the two concentrated on getting to the top.
"Nikla! …It's you, we thought those Grapfrits had killed you off. Here you are and you saved our lives, without your rope we were as good as dead." Richard hugged the librarian, who pulled away somewhat embarrassed.
"You see, you should have listened to the words of the book, I found an underground tunnel which led me down here, it had not been used for a long time. You were lucky because some of the walls had broken down over time I found this golden rope."
"Wow! Talk about luck."
"Luck has 'nothing' to do with it; it was prophesied by the Book of Prophecies, was it not? When I heard the screams from below and saw what was about to happen to you, I just knew what I had to do."
"Nikla come here let me give you a hug."
The girl turned and moved away, Richard looked at Pygman and shrugged as he then realised that something about her was now different, she had changed out of long dress and that she was dressed in a white leather short huntsman suit not unlike the one that Pygman was wearing.
"What? She saved us, why shouldn't I give her a hug?" said the bemused Richard.
Pygman simply shook his head forlornly. Nikla collected up the rope and handed it to Richard.
"It weighs nothing, it's so light?"
"It will help us again I think."
"Gghhh! You carry it, I have enough with my bow and my sword, Nikla carries the book, your turn to carry something besides that strange bag of yours." Nikla took the rope and wound it around her waist. There was a distant buzzing noise.
"Oh-oh, are you thinking what I'm thinking? Let's get away."
The three raced upwards along the path, it lead straight back into the forest, they moved quickly, darting and twisting until Pygman stopped.
"Gghhh! Welcome to the 'Ancestral Forest', it's good to be with someone that's normal when you enter this place."
"W-what do you mean? Why is this part called the ancestral forest?"
" Gghhh! I've been in here before. We must tread carefully."
"What's in this forest?"
"Apart from ancestral and cultural spirits of the forests, there are nature spirits, which inhabit rivers, mountains and all trees; all of these spiritual beings are to be found here which are known in your world as Gods and Devils. There are those who will seek to harm us, we must be very careful." They sat down and chatted, Richard was surprised at how deep and grown up Pygman's voice sounded. Richard decided that Pygman wasn't in fact a boy, but must be a young man that looked at first but in true fact, was a fully-grown adult, what he hadn't noticed before were that Pygman's muscles were firm, powerful and fully formed, this was not the body of a teenager. He was standing confidently, his brown coloured ill-fitting wet tunic made from some form of sacking, otherwise no other clothing covered him except for the small quiver of strange looking arrows strapped across his back, a short bow in his hand and a short sword attached to a thick belt.
"What happens now?" Richard asked.
" Gghhh!" We should follow the line of the river."
The main thing that intrigued Richard was that the young man's pointed and jutting ears ran almost the full length of his head from top to bottom. He wondered how he had come to be in such an uninviting place; there was more to his explanation than Pygman had let on earlier.
"I'm not..." A sweet sound of singing came drifting along the river.
"Quiet." Richard placed his finger to his lips. "Can you hear that?"
"Gghhh. What could that be?" snorted Pygman.
"What do you think it is?" Nikla was obviously very nervous, "maybe we should first consult the book? Everything that the prophecy predicted has already come to pass. Tunnels, rope, water beast and Grapfrits, they were all forecast by the book weren't they?"
"Why do you keep snorting like that?"
"I can't help it. It just happens."
The singing grew louder and clearer.
"It sounds like an angelic choir of some sort, let's go and find out who's making that beautiful sound."
"No. It's bound to be something nasty."
"We've got to search everywhere Chimahl said."
"He did not."
"Are you coming or what?"
"No, there's nothing good down there."
Pygman's stubbornness was going to be hard to get along with, thought Richard.
"Well, I'm going."
He lifted his bag and began walking in the direction of the singing voices. Reaching a thick clump of bushes, kneeled down to see whether he was close enough to ascertain who was singing. Suddenly he heard the rustle of bushes slightly to his left.
"What the... Possibly another beastie, I had better hide in this bush." The bushes to his left rustled again, Richard's taught nerves caused him to jump and spin around to face whatever it was rustling the bushes, he was undecided whether to move away or stay. His brain suddenly reeled and screamed as he felt himself being knocked over sideways...
Trilogy First Part : Long Ago and Far Away
THE ANCESTRAL TRAIL BY
The Man-Eating Maidens (Tolosh of the Garoon)
On the Second Day...
Rock conceals and grass deceives
But Heroes win the day.
An arrow gold behind the leaves
Shows the brave the way.
Peril, water, death await.
Avoid the tempting hand.
Purple eyes that have no fate
Twice arrive but not too late
To pluck from death the shining Grail
And lead them to another place.
Richard had tripped over an upstanding root, his eyes scanned the dense bush for signs of what could have made the noise; possibly it was watching him from some nearby hiding place and was waiting to pounce. Shikatic, shikatic, the rustle of dry leaves being trodden underfoot somewhere to his left forced the boy to sink deeper into his unsafe hiding place. His ears strained to catch the slightest sound now, but all he could hear was the rippling of water and the gentle singing sounds being carried on the wind. Maybe it was just a bird or rabbit scratching for food in the undergrowth thought Richard. After what he had been through so far, he wasn't prepared to move and give away his hiding place until he was sure what was out there. Shikatic, shikatic, there it was again, but much closer this time. Richard crouched as low as he could go but the sound drew ever nearer to his hiding spot, the bushes suddenly parted and there stood Nikla.
"You are no good at hiding yourself, you must learn from Pygman, he can hide anywhere, he becomes almost invisible when he wants to." Nikla removed the book and seated himself.
"Now my young friend, it's time to see what is next in store for us," she opened the book. "Ah-ha!"
"I do not so like Ah-ha, that way it sounds like trouble but go on, what does it say?"
Rock conceals and grass deceives
But Heroes win the day.
An arrow gold behind the leaves
Shows the brave the way.
Peril, water, death await.
Avoid the tempting hand.
Purple eyes that have no fate
Twice arrive but not too late
To pluck from death the shining Grail
And lead them to another place.
"What does that mean? It's all gobbledegooks." Richard said.
"I don't know either but so far the book has got it right, hmm, 'have no fate' I somehow think means someone is going to die?"
Richard lifted the book that he could now understand and mused over the riddle, absent-mindedly he turned to open book over.
"Wait, what's that? There seems to be a sparkle there," she pointed at the middle of the book's spine. "I've never seen that before." Nikla gently moved her hand across the spine of the book. She moved her hand up and down in a rocking motion until very carefully extracting what looked for all the world to Richard like a thin bladed golden letter opener except that inlaid into the blade was some sort of dust covered glass or stone.
"Wow! What do you think it is?" He took the thing from Nikla.
"I really could not say, but whatever it is it has been hidden in here for a very long time."
Then as Richard slowly began to move the knife around the stone in the blade seemed to come to life and change its coloured spectrum dependent on the direction Richard pointed. Suddenly Nikla gasped.
"I think it might even be the ancient Espial Diviner, it's one of the oldest treasures that even the guardians had deemed been lost centuries ago."
"A wotsits diviner? What does that mean?"
"Legend has it that the Espial Diviner will guide you to your heart's desire, it is supposed to be the ultimate path finder to your dreams. You notice it only began working when you touched it, you have the power within you grasp, that is... If it truly is what I think it is you have somehow, made it find you because you are the Chosen One, don't you see?"
Richard moved it in a large arc, the colouration spanned from a strong red through to a gentle blue when he pointed it in the direction of the singing.
"You see, it glows strongest where the wailing is, so must we head in that direction?
"Gghhh! Help! Help me!"
Richard and Nikla raced toward the voice, it had come from the direction of a huge old log.
"Where are you?"
"Help me somebody!" I am near an old tree."
"There, we're close," Richard peered over the top to see Pygman lying spread-eagled on the ground and covered with literally thousands of what could only be described as blood red coloured earthworms.
"Be careful where you tread, once one attacks, they all attack. Try to reach my sword."
Richard gingerly leaned over the log, he didn't need being attacked by worms and waited for an opportune moment, Nikla grabbed his feet to make sure Richard didn't slip and with one swift movement, he extracted the sword together with a few worms. Nikla instantly used the letter opener thing as a knife slicing through the few that Richard had collected.
"Whew, got it. Now what?"
"Quickly before they suffocate me, cut me loose."
Being careful not to harm Pygman, Richard set about cutting through the moving mass because each cut meant the worms released a foul smell.
"Smells like a sewerage farm," Richard declared
It took a little while but finally, Pygman was able to wriggle clear and dived to safety over the fallen log. For a while all three removed the remnants of the red worms.
"What were those?"
"Gghhh! Gghhh! don't know but, I sat down and next thing they had swarmed over me."
"They are a distant relative of leeches, much longer and they would have sucked you dry." Nikla said sort of innocently with a smile on her face.
"Gghhh! Gghhh!" Pygman snorted as he disappeared walking on all fours, sniffing at the ground.
"Pygman, what are you doing?"
"Gghhh! Couldn't let you go near the river maidens because I've seen what they're capable of. Quiet, I can still hear them."
"What river maidens?" Richard demanded urgently.
By now, Richard was sure that the river maidens had to be something terrible, like nothing that he had encountered in this world so far. Nothing here resembled 'anything' that he had ever seen before. Knowing something of the terrain and what it represented, Pygman carefully knelt behind some bushes indicating to the others to join him before very deliberately parting the branches so that they could have a good look at the river maidens without fear of being seen.
"Gosh. They're beautiful," Richard whispered, he was instantly in love with all five girls. There, seated along the banks of the river, sunning themselves, five lovely young girls busily tended to each other, it was almost like something from a painting, and their bodies glistened against the faint sunlight being thrown down from above. Richard presumed that they had all been swimming in the river and were now drying themselves on the warmed rocks while out of the water.
"Gghhh! Water is evil," stated Pygman in hushed tones.
"Like Nya-Nya?" Richard enquired. "There is a Nya-Nya in all water, not only in the mountain pool."
"You mean it could be here as well?"
"Gghhh! Maybe not here, but then again, it could be."
Richard wondered why the maidens weren't afraid of Nya-Nya. Surely, living in this dangerous place, they should know of the terrible thing that lurked in the waters around them.
"Let's go and talk to them and warn them of Nya-Nya," he said enthusiastically, relieved to see other humans in this bedevilled place. Richard decided to become their knight; he would be able to rescue them from danger.
"C'mon, we must go to their rescue."
"No. Stay where you are."
Pygman grabbed at Richard's arm and almost urgently pulled him down behind the bush again. "Let me go, we must warn them." Pygman was far stronger than his body conveyed; in one movement he wrestled Richard to the ground and rolled him onto his back.
"Gghhh! You listen to me, or else I'm going to leave you here on your own. Do you understand?" Pygman was upset. Again, there was that look of concern on the young man's pig-like chiselled features. Richard rolled over and started getting to his knees. Chimahl had said that he must be careful. Could his guide be lying to him? Richard thought back to the way Pygman had run away and almost left him to fend for himself against the Grapfrits. He decided not to take any more chances until he was certain what role his guide played in this whole affair, had Chimahl been offering a warning when he had said something about not taking anything at face value? Could this just be a dangerous bit of deception from his guide? Richard wasn't sure what was going on, he had to make decisions on his own from now on; he glanced back towards the direction of the water then at his companion.
"No," he thought, "these were only five pretty young girls and, they were in terrible danger." He looked quizzically at Pygman, his face pulled in disagreement even showing his hardened resolution to help these young maidens seated beside the riverbank.
"Gghhh! You may or may not be a Chosen One but, you are also very stubborn and foolhardy, I can offer advice and sometimes guide you so, before you go barging into something you know nothing of, stay where you are. Watch carefully, they are not what you think they are. In this wood, you never accept anything as being what it seems at first." There was that ominous warning again, Richard thought.
"Wheeeooee!" Richard almost jumped out his skin.
"Will you stop doing that? It scares me stupid." Pygman waited, suddenly the girls became highly agitated and then, like one person, all five dived back into the river and started splashing and shrieking very loudly again.
"What's happening to them?" Richard asked urgently.
"Look over there," Pygman pointed at the far bank where they would have swam if the Grapfrits hadn't have been chasing them, Richard couldn't see anything as he looked at the brown grass growing on the far side of the river bank. His eyes strained hard in the semi-darkness of their position to see what Pygman was pointing at. Suddenly he saw some form of movement; it wasn't entirely clear to him what it was that was moving over on the far side bank it seemed as if the racket that the maidens were making had awakened something against that bank, it started moving. As whatever it was, rose to enter the water, Richard suddenly caught his breath.
"Gghhh! Gghhh! Wait, do you see him?"
"Yep, look at his clothes, they're strange," the thing turned towards the screams, "Look at his face."
"Leopardman, "Nikla whispered.
It looked like any human man dressed in some form of ancient peasant cloak except; he had purple skin and strange yellow and black cat-like eyes.
"Help us please kind sir. We're stuck fast to the bottom of the stream and something's tickling and pinching us. Please come and help us out of the water." She held out her arms invitingly to try to get him to respond to her plea.
"What will you give me in return for helping you?" The girls giggled and one of them yelped as if something had pinched her.
"Please help us!" One of the girls implored.
"We'll become your personal servants if you manage to get us out of this place."
"All of you?" A cruel smile formed on the man's mouth and his eyes seemed to widen in anticipation.
"Yes, yes. Please help us." The leopard offered his hand and suddenly his face contorted with horror as the maidens pulled him into the water.
"Look... Tolosh, there are many of them."
Richard's eyes searched the grass, there in full view was a hairy little man no bigger than an average sized doll, the most striking thing about it was that when it opened its mouth wide and yawned, its head seemed to open up like a divided apple being split in two halves. Richard could see that each half contained nothing but a series of jagged fangs that looked like those in a shark's mouth that he had once seen in a museum. The teeth were all pointed and razor sharp, like those found on a carpentry saw, one bite from that mouth would probably be enough to rip an enormous hole into anything that the little creature wanted to make a meal of.
"You see. Gghhh, there are more dangerous things than Nya-Nya in these waters."
"What is 'that'?" asked Richard, "and what about those poor girls swimming out there? Aren't they in serious trouble?"
"That is a Tolosh, don't move, just keep watching the river bank." The little figure walked into the water and disappeared below the surface like a tiny monstrous submarine. Richard's attention was drawn back to the far bank. Suddenly the grass seemed to come alive as hundreds of little men got to their feet, yawned, scratched themselves and entered the water in similar fashion almost like an otter family would do. Richard trembled at the thought of these little beasties lurking below the normally calm water. When they were all gone, he could see that what had looked like grass, were only the hairs of these little men who had all been sleeping against the river bank that was now nothing but a wall of brown mud.
"W-W-What's going to happen to those girls now?"
"What do mean, 'nothing'? Did you see those teeth on those beasts? I'm going to help them."
Again Pygman grabbed Richard and pulled him to the ground.
"Gghhh! The river maidens only enter the water when they think they're going to be fed, it's a cleverly laid plan, that leopard man is finished don't be fooled by the young girls, they're only disguised Tolosh, if you try to go to their rescue, which is what they want, then you'll also be eaten alive by those Tolosh below the surface."
Richard got up and nearly retched, the water by now was blood red, there was a feeding frenzy happening the savagery of the Tolosh was beyond Richard's comprehension. In less than a minute, what had been the leopard man was stripped to the bone. These little monsters then snapping the left over bones with their saw like teeth, Richard stood there mortified. As quickly as it had begun so there was stillness and the clumps of grass started to reappear on the muddy banks once again. The five young girls had seemed to have disappeared; Richard started to move forward before both Nikla and Pygman grabbed him.
"The girls are gone; you said they would be safe."
"Listen... The girls are Tolosh, go near them and you will suffer the same fate." Richard and Pygman were so wrapped up in their own argument that they hadn't seen that someone else was now approaching the riverbank.
"Help us please kind sir. We're stuck fast to the bottom of the stream, and something's tickling and pinching us. Please help us to get out of the water." Again, she held out her arms invitingly to try to get him to respond to her plea.
"Oh no. Gghhh. Another leopard man we cannot let him face the Tolosh."
Richard didn't care now and broke away from the others, shouting at the top of his voice he charged towards where the leopard man was about to meet his maker. Pygman and Nikla raced behind Richard, all three were screaming different things, the man swung around to face the intruders.
"What's the problem?" The man had a very distinctive drawl as he asked the question
"Tolosh, they're not maidens, they're Tolosh." Richard noticed the man's eyes; he immediately remembered something from the book of prophecies.
"Tolosh? What are Tolosh?"
"You go near them and you're dead! They've just eaten another leopard man like you, he fell into their trap and all that's left of him are some bones below the water. They are like Piranha, they attack on mass and it was horrible."
"That must have been Rasitta, he was ahead of me and was a great fighter."
He moved forward to Richard, then without warning had a long blade knife held against the boy's throat.
"I am Maerkat, now who did you say you were?"
"He is a Chosen One, you must let him go." Nikla insisted.
"Oh really? Who says he even going to live any longer?"
Richard felt the knife push harder against his windpipe and even felt a trickle of blood.
"I saved you from them didn't I? A-ask yourself why." Richard stammered.
Suddenly Pygman shot forward sword drawn and pointed right between the leopard man's eyes
"Gghhh, harm the boy, you're dead and I will personally feed you to the Tolosh."
Maerkat glared at Pygman even though not attempting to lower the knife. Nikla stepped forward.
"If you want to kill anybody as revenge for your friend, then take me, for the boy has been set a task by Chimahl, Keeper and Guardian of the Life Force. He is possibly the 'only one' that can overcome the Evil One so, spare him and take me."
"Hmm," Maerkat sneered. "Perhaps I do owe him my life. I am a man of honour so this boy's life is spared and I will help you. Where are you bound?"
"Our mission is to locate all Life-Force pods, here..." Richard dug into his bag and removed the amulet that Chimahl had given him.
"Have you perhaps encountered anything that look like crystal flower pods while on your travels?" Richard held the amulet up towards the sun, suddenly all the background pleading and wailing subsided, it was instantly very quiet and all attention was then instantly concentrated back on the maidens and the water.
"We can help you," spluttered one of the girls, "there is just such a trinket below these waters, all you have to do is dive for it." She held out her arms invitingly to try to get one of them to come to the water. Pygman turned to Richard and smiled.
"Gghhh! You see, if we were unsuspecting travellers like the last gent, we would have immediately jumped in to try to get the pod. Their friends would make a meal of us. They're extremely cunning little people, you must understand, they rely on the fact that anybody passing this way will be gullible enough to listen to them."
Richard breathed a huge sigh of relief, considering himself lucky that he had Pygman with him as a guide, his brain was confused because he wasn't sure how he was going to navigate himself around all these dangerous pitfalls. Could he trust the guide even though at the time, he hadn't been warned about Nya-Nya. Pygman had more than made up for his actions now.
"We're not going to come near you because you're the Tolosh and you'll not be feasting on us today. Anyway you are liars, I do not believe that one of these lies below those waters, you lie to us to get us to your trap?" As Richard taunted them, the maidens became more hysterical, jumping up and down frantically continually imploring for help by screaming even louder in an attempt to entice the two into the water, Pygman could see that the grass was once again beginning to slide into the water.
"Come!" Pygman started pulling Richard back toward the bushes the maidens realised that their food could be disappearing.
"We will show you the crystal flower pod, I'll get it for you, but you will have to take it from me as I cannot move from the water while my feet are stuck fast."
Richard muttered under his breath to his comrades.
"Show me the pod first, then I will enter the water to collect it from you." He took three steps to his right and nearer the enemy as one maiden ducked below the water and out of sight Richard looked across the water and could only see muddy banks at the far side, he shuddered to think what lay below this calm looking pond.
"C'mon they are just wasting our time." They moved out of sight of the maidens and into the forest, ducking down and creeping back behind a bush where they could observe the young girls and the river. They waited and watched, as the little hairy men began climbing from the water to again lie down against the mud bank, making that side of the river look as if it was covered with brown grass once again. Likewise, the maidens stopped their shrieking and extracted themselves from the water to settle and wait for their next unsuspecting victim. Suddenly the maiden that had disappeared resurfaced.
"Here it is, I have the pod, where are they? Yoo-hoo! I have your pod, come and get it."
"Gghhh! Before long some of these will become man-eating fish that swim all the way to the sea where they grow up to become gigantic sharks that eat everything they can find." Pygman said.
"You mean this is the breeding ground where all the fierce sharks originate?"
"Gghhh! Not all sharks, only those large ones that circulate the planet, fearing nothing or no one. These Tolosh here, represent all of the man-eating fish of the world."
"Like the great white shark?"
"Gghhh! Yes if that is a man-eater, this is the start of life for all the man-eating fish that go to the sea, some turn into shark-like beasts, while others become vicious small fish that hunt in packs. Whatever they become in the outside world, they are totally unafraid of man. It is as if they were set on this earth to destroy man in their waters, they're simply swimming carnivorous animals but out of the water they're helpless. From here, the balance of nature is constantly maintained, now what do we do to get that pod?"
"Gghhh! Maerkat, Nikla, you stay here and watch to see what happens, any problems give us a signal. Follow me!" Without waiting, Pygman quickly sprinted through the opening in the bush and raced towards the Tolosh girls.
"Don't..." but it was too late to stop him. Richard thought that his pig brain must have taken over again and gave chase watching his companion hurtle towards the maidens and in one movement Nikla's rope whipped through the air wrapping itself around the maiden's wrist. He gave one sharp tug and the pod flew from her hand just as Richard dived like a goalkeeper to take the pod before it dropped back into the water next to the bank.
"Got it!" But as he looked up he could see the water beginning to bubble a few feet away, he quickly rolled away just in time to prevent the many clawed hands trying to reach him and pull him into their domain.
"Gghhh! Too close for comfort, let's get out of here."
"I don't believe it," laughed Richard. "It's changing into a big fish."
Pygman reeled in his rope with the thrashing maiden still fixed to it, he pulled her onto the bank, slowly the fight seemed to leave her as she began to metamorphosis back into a real grass type Tolosh once again. The transformation continued until the creature looked as if it was about to die, the young girl had been tall and slim, but now as a Tolosh, was now hairy, short and dumpy.
"Here, a present for you, now let's cook the fish and eat it."
"What? I couldn't eat something that a few moments ago were a young maidens, I'm not a cannibal you know."
"But this isn't a woman. Gghhh! See, this is a river fish that will swim to the ocean and maybe turn into a shark. Gghhh! They taste very good when cooked I've heard. If they don't turn to sharks when they reach the sea, then next year they'll come back here to die and become food for the Tolosh anyway. So what's the difference? Either we eat it now or it becomes fodder for those creatures. Life in the wild isn't easy you know, it's a constant cycle, birth generates life and then comes death."
"All the same, I'm not eating 'that', let's get away from the water, there are too many awful beasties in it."
"Wait. Remember, they've just eaten and she is probably carrying an entire load of new spawn that won't turn to fish if she doesn't live."
"You're right," Richard turned towards the river and the remaining young maidens.
"This Tolosh will die if not allowed back into the water, we want something from you."
"Someone that you've eaten must have been carrying this pod." Another Tolosh on the far bank stood up and before their very eyes, started changing into a beautiful young maiden. The Tolosh grew tall and its hair fell away from its body like a tree shedding its leaves in autumn. Its saw-toothed mouth drew back and with a loud 'Plop', fell into the water revealing yet another beautiful river maiden replacing the one that was on the bank, she moved into the river and joined the others.
"It was a female that had the body of a beetle, very hard shell but not as nice tasting as this last one."
"Trufor?" Nikla blurted out. "It must have been her, she is the only Guardian that it could have been."
Pygman yanked the rope sideways and it came away, the Tolosh maiden struggled for quite some time flipping and flopping along the ground to make it back into the water. It should not have bothered because as it made it back, the Tolosh pounced on it in a wild scramble and devoured the thing in seconds.
"I would never have believed this. Oh, why did I have to come to this place?" Richard looked up to the heavens and shook his fist in anger, "They call 'me a Mutant' " back home? Guys, if only you could be here and see this. 'Everybody is a Mutant here."
Richard now realised that he had a lot to learn before being allowed to leave the woodland as he opened his bag, extracted a plastic bag and gently tucked the pod of life into the bag.
"Do you think that there's much further to go? This place is terrible, it gives me the creeps and I'm bushed."
"Just remember what we saw at this place today, you have it in your power to upset the balance of nature, but you didn't," Nikla said. "One day if the world keeps using the rivers as they are now, then these types of wonderful things will die before reaching the safety of the sea. That way, the Tolosh won't go to the sea and the rivers will become far more dangerous for everyone."
"I hope not. Anyway, after what I've seen today, you would never catch me in a river again."
"Why not? There are far more dangerous things floating in the rivers today."
"Gghhh! C'mon we've still have a long way to go." Pygman moved off and Richard followed him while the others fell in behind, the sight of the hostile Tolosh attack meant that very little was said,
"Two down and five to go," this encounter had made up his mind that he was now more determined to find the missing pods and Guardians.
They moved up a long winding path that took them high over a long open valley spreading way below them. As they reached the top, Richard noticed that the forest reached the very edge of the long ridge to their right. No sooner were they away from the ridge and into the heavy undergrowth when Pygman grabbed Richard and yanked him roughly into the centre of a thick bush.
"Gghhh! Shut up," hissed the guide placing his hand firmly over his companion's mouth. Richard then heard the sound. It was a steady rhythmic thumping sound ahead of them.
"T-they're coming this way. Gghhh! If they see us, we're dead meat, not a sound from any of you. Gghhh! Do you understand?" Richard could see that Pygman was terrified, what terrible thing could possibly scare his companion who had already thrown stones at Nya-Nya and grabbed hold of a live Tolosh he thought. This had to be the worst yet, his fast moving brain cried out and for the first time he knew the meaning of 'Super-Fear'...
Trilogy First Part : Long Ago and Far Away
THE ANCESTRAL TRAIL BY
Baal, He Who Mounts The Clouds (Baal the Giant Spider)
On the Third Day...
Beware the silken ways
By evil spinner spun.
Yellow orbs that hasten days
Destroy when serpent comes
Some may perish, some feel pain
Tribulations not in vain
Three will tread these paths again
To save the precious one.
The sound moving toward them sounded very much like that of many soldiers marching in step.
"I think it could be a troop of Cozards," whispered Pygman.
Whatever these Cozards were, they had scared the wits out of his pig-faced companion; Richard could feel Pygman's body actually shaking from fear of the beasts heading quickly in their direction. Both lay face downwards, not daring to look up at the approaching unknown horrendous foe, rage, fear, and excitement all coursed through Richard's veins as the steady thumping moved to within inches of the bush alongside the pathway, then stopped. Richard felt Pygman automatically stiffen, had these Cozards detected them? Richard felt his whole body break into a profusion of sweat as they both lay waiting for whatever it was, to do what it was going to do followed by the sound that both of them dreaded most, it was the rustle of leaves as they both realised that the bush around them was being parted. Nothing for it but to look up and see what this particular enemy looked like before it attacked them. Richard suddenly made up his mind that he wasn't going to just lay face downwards to be attacked as he moved his head he felt Pygman's strange trotter like hand trying to restrain his curiosity by keeping him looking at the ground. Tearing Pygman's hand away he turned to face his assailant but what met his eyes instantly made him wish that he had remained ignorant of their attacker. He however, was determined not to lie down and be eaten by this huge black and hairy monster, Richard jumped to his feet and back peddled as fast as his legs would carry him, the thing just watched the petrified boy as he half fell, half tumbled backward through the bush, something in the back of Richard's brain told him to stay and try to protect his still prone companion but his brain screamed for him to run away. His eyes came to rest on a dead branch which he quickly lifted above his head in what he considered looked like a threatening pose.
"Move away from my friend," Richard summoned up all the courage he could muster as he challenged the creature, the thing, gazing down on his companions was an enormous ugly spider with twelve hairy legs as opposed to the eight that Richard was used to, this was definitely no ordinary bathroom variety type spider. Richard eyed the two yellow pincers at its mouth and noticed that they seemed to be drooling in anticipation of a meal. The other thing that struck him quite forcibly was that the spider wasn't black as he had first assumed, but was striped with different colours like a psychedelic rainbow. It must have been his immediate panic that made him first presume that it was black, he decided. "My! My! What a temper you have young man."
"I warn you, if you don't move away I'm going to flatten you with this stick."
"Are you now?"
"D-don't think you scare me. I've destroyed many of you sort before," challenged Richard. The 'many' that he was referring to were those that crept up the plughole and into their bath at home. None of them were this big though, but Richard wasn't about to reveal this to the beast at this stage.
"Oh, you have, have you?"
"Yes. So you had better move back." Richard moved forward so that he was just out of reach of the beast, he valiantly waved the wooden branch towards the spider. "Certainly." The spider didn't walk as such, but seemed to hop back a step.
"Now, does that suit you? You cannot get away from me even if I took a hundred steps backwards I would still be able to annihilate you and your friends."
"Pygman! Get over here." Pygman looked up cautiously toward the spider and in one movement caused through panic was suddenly standing behind Richard.
"Weeeooee! Gghhh! What's that?" Richard's confidence wasn't really growing in leaps and bounds as he realised that he had not got the better of this particular beast and that it wasn't going to attack them immediately but did intend to tease them for a while before doing what it was going to do.
"It's only a large spider," he said unconfidently. "Admittedly, its big as far as spiders go, but still only a spider." The thing suddenly became agitated and shuffled and hopped around seemingly as if the ground beneath its many feet had become red hot.
"I'm not just any spider. I'm Baal, the Spectral Spirit Spider that steals water life from our enemies and travels through the universe replenishing the liquid givers of life by eating my enemies. But my master is the Evil One and I have heard a story about the Chosen One. I think that could be one of you and because I am unsure which, you must all die."
"Huh!" Richard was unimpressed. "I suppose you can fly as well?"
"Go now!" Maerkat cried, jumping to his feet, sword drawn. "Pygman, get them away to safety." Nikla raced towards them as Pygman hustled Richard back through the thorn bushes and supposedly out of harms way for a moment.
Maerkat swung his sword in an arc that was a silver blur that travelled almost faster than the eye could follow. Again and again he sliced at the almost tree trunk like legs of the spider's front legs. The creature reared up whistling and screeching with agony as the bushes where seconds before had been an opening snapped back closed. Maerkat had managed to sever two of the beast's talons that now lay twitching on the ground, the large spider retreated quickly while the leopard man turned and scrambled through the bushes to rejoin the others.
"That was Baal!" He panted. I've come across him before, he's quick and very deadly and I only managed to cut off two of his legs but, that won't slow him much because he'll soon grow two more in their place. Our only chance is the trees, if he should catch up to us in this clearing we're done for. Follow me!"
Maerkat darted lithely ahead of them around the bushes and into the forest, twisting and turning in an intricate maze that would have bamboozled any pursuer, stopping several times to allow the others to catch up. Puffing and panting, no sooner had they reached him and he was off again looking like a dappled spectre amidst the heavy foliage.
"How could the guardians have lost the war when it had forces like Maerkat?" Richard panted.
"I think we have travelled enough," Pygman suggested. Maerkat stopped and looked back, there seemed to be an instinctive rapport between these two soldiers.
"We must be wary, Baal will not give up the chase so easily though." Maerkat listened intently, sniffed the air then went down on all fours placing his ear to the ground; there was utter silence, not even the normal forest sounds of birds and crickets were to be heard. "You're right, first let's find our bearings and get away from this area." Maerkat indicated for the others to be seated as he cleaned off the dripping mess from his sword and replaced it into its scabbard.
"Here take this and see what direction we should follow." Nikla handed Richard the Espial Diviner
"I will check the next riddle." Nikla took the Book of Prophecies off his back.
"Who knows, it's been sort of right so far, maybe it will help us this time." Richard said rather sarcastically.
Nikla gave him a disapproving glance as she opened the book.
Beware the silken ways
By evil spinner spun.
Yellow orbs that hasten days
Destroy when serpent comes
Some may perish, some feel pain
Tribulations not in vain
Three will tread these paths again
To save the precious one
Richard listened but was more intent with his little plaything, moving it back and forth watching the colours change, the most obvious direction was indicated when the stone turned almost golden. It seemed to be trying to convey their direction but all it seemed to Richard was that it pointed directly toward thick and thorny brushwood.
"It's that way then, let's test your theory Nikla."
"It's not 'my' theory, ye of little faith. It's your destiny being foretold."
The group moved towards the thorn bushes, Richard noticed an array of honey dripping and luscious looking berries adorned the plants.
"I'm hungry." He stretched out to pick one, "they look as if they're ripe."
Maerkat's hand shot out and pulled Richard's arm away.
"Never touch those; it's the Killer Sunrise bush. One touch and you're dead, they may look delicious but each berry contains an aging poison that will pack the rest of your life into less than half a minute. For a few seconds you will gain the most incredible strength and then as quickly you'll just shrivel and die a most foul death. I know, because some of my comrades once fell to that plant's deadly poison, one minute they were young fighting soldiers, the next they were bare bones on the ground, the affect is almost instant."
Maerkat drew his sword and began clearing a pathway making sure that he never touched any of the thorny plants or its enticing fruit while cautiously, his companions followed the new path also making certain not to make any contact with the lethal berries. They reached a clearing and Richard's heart sank because the Espial Diviner had led them straight into a trap, this was clearly Baal's lair.
"Nikla, that toy has led us straight to Baal, look at those, those are spider cocoons and I'll bet I know who the owner of this establishment might be."
"Don't understand it." The young scribe shook her head.
Maerkat was so frustrated, as he walked around the hanging cocoons he slit them open only to reveal Baal's prey inside, there were animals, people, and even fish housed inside; this definitely was a hunter's storage area. One of the cocoons emptied its contents onto the ground, bones snapped as the morbid remains scattered, Pygman saw the glint and picked up a beautiful badge from the ground.
"The Mighty Mulkat, he was a fine warrior and landsman," sighed Maerkat. He recognised the trinket. "He had the fiercest of tempers and the reddest hair you've ever come across. This was his family's insignia, handed down over many generations and was supposed to bear magical powers. He tried explaining them to me at a festival but, I was too sleepy to listen, I wish I had paid attention."
Pygman flicked the ring to Richard.
"You better take it, perhaps with your so-called magical powers it may do something for you, it didn't do him much good though, did it?"
Richard simply fixed the badge to his shirt, suddenly a high-pitched whistle, everybody instantly knew what it meant as the huge spider broke cover of the bushes and surged into the clearing.
"This time measly creatures," Baal wheezed, "you will not escape!"
"The bushes! Back the way we came."
Maerkat's reaction was lightning fast, the others had no chance of moving.
"Did you think it was that easy to escape old Baal?" the spider screeched.
The three were suddenly trapped as Baal began to feed a sticky silk at all of them simultaneously. The more they struggled the tighter the substance seemed to constrict them. Out of the corner of his eye, Richard noticed that Maerkat was making his way back, surely the thing would see him.
"Hey Baal," Richard shouted trying to keep the things attention focused on himself. "You think you can keep us like those others?"
All Baal's many eyes swivelled toward Richard; this allowed Maerkat to move out of sight and around the back of the beast. His sword raised, he sank it deep into the hind legs, again and again he hacked until the spider's heavily weighted body had nothing behind to hold it up properly and it sank slowly to the ground. Maerkat then jumped onto its back and repeatedly sliced into the soft upper hairy flesh, green slimy stink laden liquid gushing like a fountain from the cavities caused by the sharp sword, but, Baal was tough, he was a survivor like Maerkat although his concentration was now no longer fixed on the three being wrapped with his sticky solution. Pygman had somehow managed to get to his knife and quickly slit through the web, in no time at all he had set his two companions free just in time as the huge spider retracted what legs remained forming himself into a ball and rolled over several times as Maerkat jumped to safety.
"Quickly we must help him." Pygman drew his sword.
"Get away! Save yourselves, I'll take my chances!"
Pygman was undecided, when Nikla grabbed his arm and tried to lead him away.
"Gghhh! We can't just leave him?"
"Yes we can," Nikla replied. "First rule of war, don't waste lives unnecessarily, remember that and now, respect his wishes. Go!" She then gave Richard the same treatment, Pygman looked back once again, there was a questioning expression on his face.
"Run!" Maerkat shouted. "If you don't you'll waste everything, get the boy to safety. I can look after myself."
The distraction was enough for Ball to pounce, its pincers sank deep into Maerkat and the leopard man coughed a deep gash oozed blood and in the grasp of the enemy he seemed to go limp. Pygman watched in despair as Baal although very weak and supposedly dying himself, tried to lift the nearly unconscious Maerkat to its mouth. With one last superhuman effort Maerkat struck out and his flaying sword seemed to pierce each and every eye of Baal before he became limp. Pygman turned, he raced after his companions, there was nothing more he could do here and Maerkat had been right, Chimahl had given him the task of keeping Richard safe. As he ran he heard first the deep despairing wail behind him that was then surprisingly followed by a high pitched whistle, this was repeated several times. Pygman and his companions met up and moved deeper into the forest but unbeknown to them this constant whistling had also roused another creature. The thing moved quietly through the undergrowth following the heat trace of what had harmed its master; it must now find and destroy this enemy of Baal. It was Nikla that first heard the rustling of Lotan's approach.
They all stopped to listen; the crackling of dried leaves beneath the thick body was the only sound to give away Lotan's position. Like a flash, something dropped down out of the overhanging branches and in a sudden blur encircled the Richard. It, like Baal was multi-coloured, and strong as it began squeezing the boy with the grip of a huge coil of rope.
"Yowee!" Richard screamed as he quickly realised what it was.
"Weeeooee!" Pygman squealed.
"P-Pygman it's a s-s-snake," gasped Richard. Its head turned to face its two victims. Both of them gasped for this was no ordinary snake. It looked like the reptile was suffering from a severe bout of mumps. It seemed to have several weirdly shaped bumps protruding from various places around the area where its neck should have been. Now, as its ugly head with its hypnotic eyes moved slowly to and from before them, Nikla could clearly make out that the bumps were only contained around the head and didn't extend further down the snake's slippery body.
"Sssiiss, sssiiss." The forked tongue moved rapidly in and out of its wide mouth as it sensed and tested the air and its trussed victim, Richard tried to move but found it absolutely impossible, like a huge python or boa constrictor, the thing had him trapped tightly within its powerful coils and could take its time before making a meal of him. Suddenly Pygman had one of his ideas.
"Gghhh! We've got to help him, split up, it cannot then get both of us then. Any ideas?"
"The rhyme, yellow orbs...?"
"Of course." Pygman panted before Nikla could complete the sentence.
"Yellow orbs that hasten days. It must mean those berries that Maerkat said aged his people. Only problem is I don't have any."
"Yes there is a bush of them just over there."
The two quickly moved off to find it leaving Richard to think he was being left to die, he gasped, not daring to take his eyes from the weaving reptile's head as it swayed slowly back and forth over him. Richard had always been petrified of meeting a snake that was ever since he had read Rudyard Kipling's version of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the mongoose, who had confronted a vile snake. From then, until now, the snake had always represented the most evil thing alive; he now knew that there were far more dangerous things lurking here than the snake, but that still didn't help him from retaining his absolute rigid fear and horror of any form of slithering reptile.
"I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to undermine your status as a spirit."
"C-can you speak?" Richard asked.
"Yessss," the snake hissed its reply without even moving its mouth as it continued to rock back and forth and Richard felt its grip tighten ever so slightly.
"W-what're you going to do to me?" Richard requested, hopeful that the thing was only fooling around.
"Don't russsh me, I'm thinking whether between you and your runaway friends, whether together you'll make up a decent meal."
That was it, Richard felt the blood actively draining from his face and his legs begin to wobble as he thought of himself sliding down this things throat. Richard wondered whether to offer Lotan a pod in exchange for their lives. There was no way he could be able to reach his rucksack while he was so tightly trussed up by Lotan.
Pygman meanwhile had taken an arrow and spiked three of the poisonous berries simultaneously onto it. He then withdrew his sword and carefully stripped a few of the toxic berries off the bush onto the ground. He knelt and gently lifted them one by one on the end of his sword into a small leather pocket at the side of his quiver.
"Must remember they are stored in there, they could be useful now, back to the snake." Nikla followed the soldier.
"Hope this works."
As they drew near they could hear that Richard was now desperately gasping for breath. Lotan swayed back and forth, there was almost pleasure in its eyes when Pygman raised his bow with the lethal arrow and pointed it straight at him.
"Sssss one chance is all you have, arrows normally just bounce off me, that is, if they can hit me at all."
"The mouth, go for the mouth, its vulnerable there." Nikla urged.
Pygman slowly drew back the bow but the snake's head was weaving in anticipation.
"Hey! Hey!" Nikla drew her knife and raced to one side of the huge reptile, it turned as it was being distracted by this new attacker and that gave Pygman the opportunity he was waiting for. He released the arrow and it flew straight and true right into the back of the huge snakes throat. The huge beast shook its head violently trying to dislodge this tiny object from within its throat and Richard suddenly noticed that the six strange bumps seemed to be swelling like boils trying to explode outward from around Lotan's head.
"Gghhhh! Get away Nikla!"
The two raced to safety before turning to see what effect the arrow might have. Lotan reared up, dwarfing his two enemies into insignificance as he just seemed to be expanding and expanding, the ripples moved from the reptile's head and along the length of its long body, around the coils where the unfortunate Richard was now being squeezed even more tightly before its eyes seemed to bulge and pop out.
Its furious thrashing felled bushes and trees like matchsticks while Richard was hurled onto the ground with Lotan's tail slashing wildly just above his body. The power was awesome to behold as both Pygman and Nikla stumbled backwards to avoid this monster trying to reach them. Lotan suddenly stopped its thrashing from above their position the snake gazed down as if about to attack then they were amazed as Lotan's skin simply wrinkled into folds, the face became instantly bagged and even the wide mouth with rotting gums spewing saliva all overtook the reptile in seconds. Nikla raced around the beast to Richard.
"Are you all right?"
"Just about, what happened? I thought that I was done for." Richard was anxiously scrambling about in his bag for something.
"Pygman saved the day once again."
"Oh no! The pods gone. My bag must have opened when that thing was thrashing about, Chimahl's going to kill me."
Lotan just seemed to fall to ground and go through his last death throes, twitching ever so slightly now and again. The three began hunting around the clearing for the pod; it was Nikla that first spotted it.
"It's there." Nikla pointed to the other side of the clearing near to where Richard was standing. "Get it and let's get out of this place."
Richard turned and saw the glowing pod but rather than see danger, he suddenly had the feeling it was there.
"Move away from me Nikla, get Pygman, I fear that we are not yet quite done yet."
Nikla did not hesitate and raced towards Pygman and the bush moved near Richard to reveal a very injured, but very dangerous Baal equidistant from the pod. Richard knew he had very little chance if he made a dash to retrieve it, then again he knew that they could not go on without it. His two companions watched the stalemate situation in horror, finally Pygman made up their minds for them
"Richard, run! Get away, Baal will kill you too, we'll have to return, you at least have an amulet... Leave it!"
Richard moved like the wind and all three tried making their escape.
"So predictable," Richard heard Baal's tortured voice behind him.
"Well, at least we know that other people are also searching the forest." Richard pulled back and moved across and placed his hand on Pygman's shoulder.
"Thanks for your help. We'll make a good team. Baal is too injured at the moment to chase us very far; perhaps you're right, live to fight another day and all that?"
"Gghhh!" Pygman looked slightly embarrassed.
"Weeeooee! Richard shouted at Pygman whose nervous laughs were intermittently dotted with deep snorting as the little group left the area safe in the knowledge that two of their enemies were now dead and very injured.
"I think that we've dealt with those two for the moment and they won't be back in a hurry," said Richard.
"I'm going to keep this badge for good luck it almost willed me not to be stupid. Come my friends, we've still got to find the Guardians or the pods."
They moved along cautiously because the light of day was fading and in case Baal made a miraculous recovery and lying in wait they knew they had to be on guard. Richard saw Pygman lean forward and raise his trotter-like hand to his ear as if straining to listen for some noise. He turned to Richard and shook his head to indicate that there was something in the pathway ahead of them...
"Not more trouble, is it never going to stop? What is it now?" Richard shook violently.
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