The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 18

Word Art Epic Adventures glowing orange text over cloudy mountain background illustration, subtext Thursday Theme: What follows is a fictional account

EA#15:

Read From the Beginning or the start of Trial Two or Three

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Eighteen

I was in the black space.

I wish it were a space of nothingness.

But something was there.

My lowness was there. The feeling that the world as I knew it had been pulled out from under me. It was not unfamiliar to me. But it had been some time since I had felt it. That low place. That place where the mood dips so far down that the flow of life itself seems to dry up. A place where trying to fill the cup produces nothing. No joy, no love, no peace.

It was like a river that had gone barren. A land that was parched. A lifeless, hollow place of despair.

This place used to occupy my life with frequency and at times severity. When there I would question my very existence, even debate my options for ways out. But there is only one way out of life. And that was never a choice that I truly desired to take. As low as I had been, I never took that step.

But I had come close once.

And then there before me, a dark memory re-lived.

It all flooded back to me. That night after I was banished from the city of Ham. That night I lost my family, my children and my love, never to see any of them again.

It seemed to me then that perhaps the townsfolk had been right. Maybe I was an awful person, deserving an awful fate. Maybe it was my lot to be punished. The choices I had made in my life had brought me to this place. So I had no one to blame but myself.

I hated myself. I hated that I had done this. I hated that I had ruined my life. That I had lost all I cherished. That I couldn’t undo it. It was a nightmare I could not wake from.

And I felt so low. I was severely depressed. Feeling that way made me want to do something to end the pain. Not just ease the pain, but completely annihilate it.

It seemed to me that to do this meant only one thing. To take my life. To take away that very thing that kept me tethered to my pain. If I ended it all then, the pain would have subsided. I don’t know where I’d be, but I wouldn’t be hurting.

And who would miss me after all? I could not return home to those I loved. They would never see me again, anyways. And I knew of no one else to turn to. I didn’t even know where I would eat, where I would sleep, where I would make a new beginning.

My life may as well have been over already.

So I contemplated the ways which I could do the deed.

The thought struck me that if I wandered long enough in the dark, I may not have to do the deed myself. I may run into bandits who would oblige to slit my throat.

Or I may find worse. I may stumble into the lair of an archebeast. Or be found by the malik riding their fearsome cave dogs. Though the thoughts frightened me they also made me laugh. At least then I would not have to be responsible for my suicide. I could just let death find me and carry me away.

That said, my stupid sense of self-preservation would not let me be careless. As I walked that dark landscape outside Ham, I was on edge. I constantly looked over my shoulders. I twitched at every noise. I avoided wooded areas but dared not venture too far into the moonlight. It was unfamiliar to the comforts of the city life I had known.

What other ways, I pondered… Drowning, too difficult to pull off. Letting my blood out… all I’d need is a blade, and I didn’t even have one… Jumping to my doom, possible….

It is a dark and twisted place to go in the mind, to think of these things. It made my spine tingle and my heart cringe. I decided I did not like it. I would persevere.

And then I thought, to what end? My life is destroyed. My kids… I would never see their faces again, never see them grow. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye, give them a last hug and tell them why daddy had to leave.

And my love, Maniea. The most amazing person I had ever known. I would never again hold her in my arms, feel her skin against mine, see her face light up to see me, hear her gentle voice soothe me. And she was to be locked in some awful cell for the remainder of her life. I did not presume to think her safe in that place either, with those corrupt magistrates to have their way with her any day or night. I shuddered to think of it…

All of my family, my community, my work, my sense of belonging… it was all ripped from under me.

This part made me angry to think of. How dare these people condemn me, do this thing to me, to tear me apart and cast me aside like some piece of rubbish.

But the anger did not lift me much. The sorrow overwhelmed me. The dark, demoralizing, self-deprecating thoughts continued. The pain was unbearable.

I must do it, I told myself. I will kill myself tonight, I thought.

I turned all my resolve to hold this thought. I began seeking my salvation in the landscape. Where can I cast myself off, what cliff can I find, what river can I be swept away in, what waterfall can I dive from?

There! There was one.

It was a beautiful waterfall. It almost made me smile. In a better mood I would have really enjoyed this place.

The water cascaded off the rock face maybe twenty meters overhead. It shot forth into the air, free as free can be. It glimmered in the moonlight as it tumbled down the long drop. Mist and spritz and spray bellowed forth from the fall like a bubbling, spitting thing.

Now to make my way to the top.

It was a difficult climb. At first I found a small trail leading up the side of the waterfall. It got me maybe halfway before it became impassable on foot. But there was a potential to scale the rocks from there.

I don’t claim to be a great rock climber. And the rocks were wet and slippery. And it was dark. It occurred to me that I might not need to jump from the falls but may kill myself in my ascent.

Whatever works, I suppose.

I kept struggling my way up. I sought any footing I could, gripped any stone sturdy enough to support my weight. Once or twice a rock came loose from the muddy cliff side and tumbled to the ground below, clacking noisily all the way. I gasped and found myself holding on for dear life.

What am I doing? I thought to myself. I am trying to kill myself.

But somehow the act of tossing myself from the summit of the falls seemed a more glorious end to my life. And so my goal was still set: get to the top.

As I neared my destination I was panting from exertion and my arms grew sore. I did not know whether I would have the strength to finish my climb. I struggled and heaved my way, gaining ground more and more slowly.

Finally my hand grasped the top edge of the cliff. With one last push of effort I launched myself over that last span of rock wall and onto the grassy outcrop above.

It took me a few moments to rest and catch my breath, sitting on a small patch of land between the cliff I had climbed and the next one that sloped above me.

I looked to see the path before me, a thin strip of muddy ground that led towards the waterfall. I could see now that it was only part of the waterfall. There was a smaller section of falls just above it coming through a slit in the cliff. The stream must come from behind that wall.

I edged my way carefully towards this slit, pressing my hands against the slick rock face. Inch by inch, nearly slipping, I managed to reach my goal.

There I was, at the top of this powerful stream of water tumbling to the rocky basin below. There the stream continued its journey eastward towards it eventual destination in the sea some miles away.

I could join the sea, I thought. When my blood merges with the waters here, I can live my afterlife in the Elgan Sea. How nice.

I had made my decision. There was no going back. I ignored the tugging of life wanting me to turn around. I ignored the feelings of depression that had brought me here. I knew what I was about to do and why and I was prepared to do it.

Here goes. One, two, three…

“Magi!” thundered a familiar voice. The sound startled and shook me so much I nearly plunged headfirst over the falls.

The enormous, bumpy face of the giant, Gumpelthwomp, moved into my vision, peering straight into my eyes.

“I didn’t expect to see you again, Magi,” he said, opening both eyes wide with wonder. “What are you doing up there?”

What indeed…

Catch the continuation of the story soon to see what happens next in our protagonists’ strange journey.

 

Thanks so much for reading.

 

Please leave comments and share.

Blessings to you,

Matthew

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 17

Word Art Epic Adventures glowing orange text over cloudy mountain background illustration, subtext Thursday Theme: What follows is a fictional account

EA#14:

Read From the Beginning or the start of Trial Two or Three

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Seventeen

I was in my room. I was sleeping. I was dreaming.

It was relaxing. It was a relief. It was pleasant.

At first there was only that sense of ease and bliss. There was a void where my mind turned off. I am sure I must have smiled if anyone could have seen my face. It was the most joyous I had felt all that day.

“Ah,” I seemed to breathe to myself. I don’t know how, but I felt acutely aware of all of this. I don’t remember ever before or since being so aware of the act of my own sleeping.

It felt as though I were floating in air. Or swimming in a liquid world. A world without cares or trials.

And it was in that moment that everything changed.

I remember hearing the words of the woman’s voice: “Are you ready for your next trial?”

And in my state of ease I stupidly agreed, “Yes.”

My bliss dropped from me. Not all at once, mind you. But I became attuned to the fact that I was now standing on solid ground.

I looked down and I was wearing some of my old clothes, an outfit from many years ago. I felt odd and spread my fingers and hands before me as I gazed upon my form. Below my feet the grass danced softly in the breeze.

Then I witnessed the world around me and it was so familiar. Yes, it was my old home town! It was Ham! I could see it down the hill, past the outlying villas and farms that were near where I stood. I was in one of my favorite places to go for an afternoon with my kids!

That’s when I heard them. Their joyous little voices giggling and cooing as they ran after each other in circles all around me.

I couldn’t believe my eyes!

“Ara!” I called to my older girl, who was five. “Odi!” to my two-year old boy.

“Daddy!” shouted Ara back. And Odi’s name for me sounded more like “Deda!”

They ran up to me then and threw their small arms around my legs. Their embrace was so warm and loving, and I could not contain my joy at seeing them. Tears began running down my face as I reached out to them and held them so tight, like I would never let them go.

“My girl, my boy! It is so good to see you!” I told them.

“Silly Daddy,” Ara said. “We are always here.” Then she looked up at me with some concern. “Why are you sad, Daddy?”

My kids let go and I knelt down to their level. To my surprise Ara reached out to wipe a tear from my eye.

“I just love you both so much,” I answered her.

“Deda, love you!” Odi said and hugged me again. Then he skipped away with a supreme sound of joy. Ara followed with a massive smile and a hearty laugh, chasing her brother this way and that.

It was almost too much to be there in that place with them. It was like not a day had passed since I had been forced to leave them. They had not aged at all. That should have been a clue to me, but I was too overjoyed to see them. I just revelled in the moments I had then in my dream state.

And then a cruel twist wrenched me out of it. The vision before me spiraled away in swirling colors of black and blue and purple. I felt an overwhelming sadness come over me and I reached out to hold the vision tightly to me.

“No!” I called to the void. “Please, not my children! Don’t take them from me again! Gods, why?”

And as I crumpled into a heap, the swirling vortex subsided. It took me a moment to recollect myself before I opened my eyes again.

When I did I found myself in a new place. It was not as pleasant, but it was also known to me.

It was my old house. And as always it was in a shambles, it was a mess. And the air did not feel so inviting to me. It had a thickness, a heaviness, a cloudiness that I could almost palpably feel.

This was not exactly how I remembered being there in my past. But after all that happened and the experiences I had since leaving that place… I could not help but feel like it was a mire of bad energy.

And then I saw the cause of it.

My wife was there, tending to the home in her ways, now cooking something in the kitchen. This to her was an obligation and not a point of love. Nor did it mean the place was tidy or well cared for. There were always messes, heaps of clothes, things left undone. Dinner was a chore for her and when the meal was not received immediately and with great praise she acted as though it was a huge affront.

In that place I called home for so long I had some semblance of myself and my life and my own stuff. But it was never quite inviting, never quite comfortable, never quite safe. Whenever I entered that place it had always felt on some level that a part of me was being stifled and cut off. Like a light was being put out, a love squelched beneath a heavy weight.

For many years I did not understand this. I had sensations of displeasure but I did not see it for what it was. And over time, the woman I had told myself I had fallen in love with, whom I had called the love of my life, whom I had married before all her family and mine… That woman did not appear to me the same anymore.

She was different. Or I saw her with different eyes. She had beauty in her, she had heart, she had a strong mind in ways. But she did not attract my love or affection any longer. Something had pushed us apart over the years.

There was a rift. A disconnect. Her needs for herself and especially her need to be the mother she strived so hard to be had supplanted any sense of relationship we may have ever had. And though she seemed to slave away at being a good wife, claimed that she was, there was a feeling of lack on my part. We didn’t touch anymore, or embrace. We kissed out of obligation. We barely talked unless it was about the kids. Or it was a quarrel or disagreement. Or a command.

She liked to boss me around. She liked to make me feel bad, guilty, shameful. It gave her power. It allowed her to control me. And I allowed it for too long.

So I did not like being in that place. It did not feel like home. It was not comfortable. It was highly uncomfortable.

And there she was. The wife. The one I had proposed to live with until death parted us, no matter the good or the bad.

What a forceful way to bind love.

Love should be easy. It should be in honor, in respect, and in admiration. Love should uplift, not burden or tie down.

She saw me. She gave me that scowl she often gave me. “You’re home late,” she said gruffly.

“Oh, you noticed,” I mocked.

It felt like it was yesterday. I almost believed I was there. There were so many days like that. Walk into my home only to be scolded.

“Where are the kids?” she asked, incredulous.

“Behind me.” No sooner had I replied than their laughing faces came in the door after me.

“Hi mom!” Ara called out.

“Mama, mama, mama!” said Odi excitedly.

“My little bugs!” said their mother, going to touch their faces with her palms. She was always sweet to the kids. At least there was that. “What has your father let you get into today, huh? You are covered in grass stains and dirt.”

And then there was that. More of that. It seemed I always did something to annoy her and she always had to tell me about it.

“You went to that place again, didn’t you? Even though I ask you not to? You really should be more careful when you’re out with the kids, you know. There are many dangers outside of town…” she droned on.

I think she said more, as her mouth continued to move, but somehow my ears stopped listening in that moment. The dream phase faded as I stood there watching the scene from my past. The room clouded over in grayish mist and everything in it began to be swallowed up.

I found myself again alone, standing now in a nothingness like smoke.

Then a new scene appeared. A much happier time and place. It was my love. Maniea. We were in our favorite part of the gardens.

“My sweet love!” I called to her, sitting beside her now on a bench holding hands. Her deep tan complexion and bright white smile filled me with an exhilarating feeling, like it always had before.

“Troy! You’re here!” she said with a hint of sadness.

“What’s wrong, my dear? Is everything ok?” I peered into her penetrating eyes.

“They know about us,” she began. “The pawn boy saw us kissing and ran off shouting. It will only be a matter of time…”

“Then we get out of town!” I exclaimed. “Now, before it’s too late. We can grab what we need at the market and head west. Or south. Hell, we can swim across the Elgan Sea to T’hordale for all I care. All I want is to be with you, my love!”

“That’s sweet,” she lamented. “You know I would do anything to make this work. But I cannot leave like that. I have family. My daughter…”

“Is old enough to be well on her own,” I tried.

“What of your kids?” she begged of me. “You cannot leave them, they are so young. They will miss you dearly.”

“That is a great burden, yes,” I sighed heavily. “I wish more than anything I could take them with me. But they have their mother, and more family here to help them. They will be fine. They will understand. When they are older, we will find each other and they will know why I had to leave. We cannot stay here, Maniea. The town will have our heads for our crime, you know that. The law is what is it.”

“I know,” she dropped her head. “And that is why we must stay. We have committed our crime and the law must have its way.”

“You must not say that!” I scolded her. “The law be damned. We are in love! Can’t the world see that and just accept it? Why this barbaric punishment?”

“Please,” she grabbed my hands tightly with hers. “I cannot run away. Be brave for me, my love. We must stay.”

“If we stay than we are surely doomed!”

I remember walking off in desperate frustration after I said that. I relived it now in my dream and it was painful to experience again.

Gods, why are you showing me this, making me feel this again? This is excruciating! Wasn’t living through it once enough for one lifetime?

As I rounded the rows of hedges in the garden and passed through an opening, the scene changed once more.

This was a dark scene and one I surely dread not behold again. It was the moment that we were caught, later that same day as the sun set over a forlorn horizon.

“Maniea! My love!” I tried calling out, but several large hands held me fast by my arms and shoulders and I could not break them.

“Love!?” mocked a terrifying voice. “You said you loved me. What a joke. You don’t know what love is!”

My wife spat on me and jeered before me with her friends and family just behind her. All of their faces looked so ugly and hateful and the terrible words they used that day have haunted me ever since.

Maniea was being carried away from me by a couple magistrates wearing their navy blue uniforms.

The head magistrate stood on the porch of the pawn shop and held up a large parchment before his face. He read aloud for the crowd of people to hear:

“On this, the nineteenth day of Delnan, before the witnesses of the families of this matrimony between husband, Troy, and his wife, Eleanor, and all those present, I hearby declaim the offender, namely Troy, a perjerur and adulterer in the highest degree. His paramour, the once lady Maniea, now unsuitable to wed, is his known accomplice in this wicked crime. By the power vested in me and in my office, I sentence the offenders to permanent banishment from the city of Ham. And furthermore shall their names, faces and stories be expunged from all records and their estates shall be reapportioned in accordance with the law. If either offender shall ever be seen in this city again, they risk punishment by death. It is so.”

To drive home the declaration the head magistrate lifted his right foot and slammed his boot hard, twice, upon the wood planks below his feet.

“Hah!” shouted Eleanor. “That’s all? Banishment? So they can run off into the world with their disgusting affair? That isn’t the typical sentence for this reprehensible crime!”

“She’s right! She’s right!” cried many of the crowd. “Hang her! Hang the bitch! Burn the body!”

Others called, “Cut off his balls! Make him a eunuch!” Many laughed at this.

“Silence,” demanded the head magistrate. “I know what the law dictates, but it is the purview of my current direction with the office of the magistrate to abide by a certain sense of civility that befits the world in which we live today. These laws are outdated and barbaric. While the crime still stands, it is my desire to redefine their punishments. But it is as you say that their crime may continue in their banishment. To that end he alone shall be removed from the city whilst the former lady shall be kept evermore in custody of the magistrate’s office. None shall see her but the rats and roaches.”

The crowd seemed pleased enough by this change in sentence, especially Eleanor who grinned from ear to ear.

The whole episode replayed as a nightmare.

Gods! Help me out of here! Do not show me any more of this dreadful time and place!

And it was as I pleaded. The terrible show was over. A blackness enveloped me then. A painful nothingness surrounded me. I was left in my grief, my despair, my deepest depression.

READ PART 18!

 

Thanks so much for reading.

 

Please leave comments and share.

Blessings to you,

Matthew

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 16

Word Art Epic Adventures glowing orange text over cloudy mountain background illustration, subtext Thursday Theme: What follows is a fictional account

EA#13:

Read From the Beginning or the start of Trial Two or Three

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Sixteen

I was in a reverie. I was lost in the past.

A series of memories unfurled before my inner eye. Scenes of days gone by, people I used to know, place I used to frequent with joy.

Maniea. My love.

So long ago. It had been so long since I saw her last… Gods, was it how many years?

And I never thought I would see her face, hear her voice again.

I was dripping with spa water as I stood by the bath, aromatic steam encircling my crown.

It was in that condition that my friend found me again.

“Troy!” said Jaran. “What happened? You’re pale as a baby archebeast.”

“I saw her,” I stammered in response.

“Saw who?” he asked.

“Maniea, the love of my life. Only it couldn’t have been. How could she be here…” I sat down in a heap on the marble floor.

“My friend,” Jaran soothed me. “It is ok. You have seen a vision. This happens sometimes. Especially when you are relaxed. The bath house is known to have that effect.”

“But what does it mean?” I begged of my winged friend. “Is it real or just a trick of the eyes?”

“Visions are not to be taken lightly,” he explained. “You have been given a gift. To see interdimensionally.”

I had heard him talk like this before, but to be honest it often lost me. I typically loved his advice, but sometimes I struggled to follow him. There were some concepts I didn’t quite grasp.

“Jaran, my good friend for these many years…” I shook my head. “I really wish I could understand what you are saying. What do you mean, about this gift?”

“There are many gifts, Troy,” Jaran continued. “To see, to hear, to know things that cannot be accessed through your five senses. These are not extraordinary powers. All have the abilities to understand their experience of life in these ways. What you have seen is simply an energetic connection to the one you love. Perhaps you were thinking of her, or she of you, and you tuned into each other to share this experience.”

“Are you saying,” I almost could not contain my excitement then, “that she still lives? That she thinks of me? Did she truly send this message to me?”

“My dear, dear friend,” he answered. “You are more powerful than you know. And she is, too. Do not doubt what you have just witnessed.” He paused a moment, then inquired, “You say she sent a message? What did she say?”

“She told me she would see me soon,” I breathed as if I didn’t believe it myself.

“Ah,” Jaran smiled. “Then there is nothing to worry about. It shall be so.” He laughed then most heartily and it put me at ease. “Now, shall we enjoy some downtime in the hot springs?”

“Thank you, but no,” I said to him. “I think I have had enough of this place for the moment. You go ahead and enjoy yourself for a bit.”

“Not a problem at all,” the winged man said. Without pause he removed all his clothes until he was stark naked before me. I was a little shy about it and turned my gaze away as he entered the waters, laid back into his comfort and let out a sigh of ease. His eyes closed, his hands clasped behind his back, and his legs crossed in the water.

“Well, dear friend,” he sputtered, mouth at the edge of the water, “do what you need to for now. I am sure Angie will find you soon if you are ready for your next trial.”

I left him there and found my clothes where I’d left them in the hanging basket in the drapery room. My flesh was still a bit damp and it took a bit of effort to slip the fabrics over my limbs.

As I was dressing I noticed a form behind a sheer curtain of silk. She was naked but I could not see much detail. No, I could make out the curves of her body. She was beautiful, and I caught myself staring. My sense of propriety got the best of me and I averted my gaze.

A moment later Angie emerged in a loose gown that looked as though it might well slip off her body in a light breeze. She sauntered towards me without pause or hesitation, only confidence radiating from her being.

“Troy,” she smiled at me. “Have you enjoyed your time at the baths?”

“Uh, yes and no,” I stuttered slightly.

“Why so shy?” she queried.

“It’s nothing,” I offered, trying to divert the conversation. “I didn’t know you had come here as well. I didn’t see anyone for some time…”

“I come here often,” Angie replied as she walked past me, hips swaying under the thin, sensual fabric that caressed her body. “I find it very relaxing,” she continued. “It helps me tune in to my source.”

When she said that I had this overwhelming feeling strike me right in the solar plexus. It seemed to suggest that what she had said was true and that what Jaran had just spoke of was accurate and that my vision and experience of my love visiting me was not only possible but real. I couldn’t deny this inner knowing that crept over me, putting me at ease like a warm blanket of love.

“What was that?” I found myself asking aloud.

To my surprise Angie knew just what I meant, like she had read my mind. “That is your connection to your source telling you that all is well. Isn’t it a lovely feeling?”

She left the drapery room through the curtain and I followed. As she walked through the bath house she appeared to glide, as if her feet were not even touching the ground. And though her stride was short she had already managed to cross halfway down the length of the pool. Jaran was still there, basking in the hot waters, eyes closed and completely still.

“You may return to your room and sleep until the morning,” Angie said. Her voice sounded near though she was a ways ahead of me. “You will begin your next trial then.”

By the time I left the bathhouses Angie was so far ahead of me that I could not see her amidst the rows of gardens and hills of Starhome. My skin had since dried and my clothes felt more comfortable. The thick odors of the essential oils still clung to me. My body did feel more rested and my muscles were no longer so achy.

I made my way down the long causeway back to the room they had provided for me. Rows of white columns guided me on, tendrils of wisteria showering down their sides. Their purple flowers reminded me of a summer long ago that I was particularly fond of.

Maniea and I used to spend many hours in the gardens of Ham where they grew on the highest hills in town overlooking the Elgan Sea. That was our escape from the crowds of the bustling city. And it was the one of the only places that our forbidden love affair could develop unbeknownst to those who would know us and tell our secret. So we reveled in those days amidst the flowers and butterflies. We often lay under the shade of the shele trees, ancient giants from the days when the elven empire commanded most of southern Taltane.

The gardens had been the perfect place for us to hide and to get to know one another. And the wisteria had been our favorite to gaze upon as we fell in love.

She was perfect for me, Maniea. She had all the qualities I had ever sought in a mate. And she loved me well. And I her.

As I reminisced I began to feel sadness upon me again. It seemed there was a lie being touted about that my trial of joy would begin in the morrow. To my mind I was already being tested.

Ok, I told myself. They are just memories. Things of the past. They cannot touch me now. I am where I am now. And I actually have a newfound hope that I may one day see my love again.

I tried to focus on that thought to lift my spirits. But it was hard not to feel that depth of sorrow at the loss of my love.

Then I thought of others whom I loved dearly, have lost also and felt disconnected from. My children, gods be with them. It had been as long since I had seen them.

Alas, I was falling into despair in that moment.

I was not enjoying this trial. Whether it was upon me or soon beginning. I was not enjoying it at all.

I found my room, pulled the drapes shut, removed my clothes and lay under the covers, trying desperately to turn off my mind…

READ PART 17!

 

Thanks so much for reading.

 

Please leave comments and share.

Blessings to you,

Matthew

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 15

Word Art Epic Adventures glowing orange text over cloudy mountain background illustration, subtext Thursday Theme: What follows is a fictional account

EA#12:

Read From the Beginning or the start of Trial Two

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Fifteen

Joy.

That’s my next trial.

Doesn’t sound like a trial… What challenge is this? To feel sad in order to know joy better?

My host wouldn’t explain.

And I did want a break.

Angie, from the city in the mountain in the clouds and my host in my challenges of ascension, was before me. We were back on the other side of the portal back from Titanton in Neverwhere, which was a made-up place of magic, it seemed, where I was being tested on my abilities to overcome whatever hardships or lesson are presented to me.

“Welcome back to Mitstarhomvalla,” she decried, waving her hands across her in a wide arc, indicating the city and all its inhabitants. “Congratulations on your second triumph!”

A number of winged men and women all around cheered and applauded.

I nodded to a few of them in appreciation. “Your city has a lovely name. But it’s a bit of a mouthful to say. Do you mind if I call it Starhome?”

My host smiled, “Of course. You are not the only one to do so. Here comes another” she indicated with her head in the direction behind me.

When I turned I saw my friend walking toward me. I hadn’t seen him much since first arriving, when he had carried me on his back and flown me to this place.

“Troy, my friend!” he bellowed warmly.

“Jaran!” I called back and as we met we embraced in a firm hug and gave strong pats on each other’s backs. “Ah, it’s good to see you again.”

“You, too,” my stout friend said. “Well done on your trials, thus far. Will you take a respite now?”

“I was hoping to soak in a warm bath,” I answered. “My whole body is aching from being handled by that giant, Gumpelthwomp.”

“Haha,” laughed Jaran. “What a name. So you seek the bathhouse? I could use a soak in the hot springs myself. Why don’t we walk that way together. You can tell me all about your harrowing adventure.”

And so we did walk, and I did talk of my adventure in Neverwhere. I told him of my trial of discernment and how I had bested the maze. And I recanted the terrifying yet comical tale of the giants and my test of strength.

Jaran listened intently, as he had always done. His eyebrows had this tendency to furrow, his head would cock down and towards me as we walked, giving me his full attention. He nodded often, verbally agreed at times and occasionally chuckled at my stories.

We left that plaza, that place that seemed to be the heart of my testing ground where Angie portaled me back and forth to my trials. We went down a set of marble steps and past a long colonnade that didn’t want to end.

And there were other strong structures and beautiful forms throughout our walk. Columns and walls and arches. Between them lay green lawns lined with pear and fig trees, or spruce and pine. The smells were sweet and savory at once and hung in the air, tickling the hairs of my nose a face.

As we walked some of the locals passing by offered me smiles and deep bows of respect. If I didn’t know better it’d seem I had already completed all seven of my trials, yet five still loomed ahead.

And now that I have some experience of it, I was beginning to have a more apprehension around what was to come. Even the next one, joy… though the theme sounded benign enough, I had a feeling that it was not going to feel so joyous during my crossing of the next threshold.

Ah, but all that aside, for now… Time to relax.

We arrived at the bathhouse and were greeted by pleasant aromas: lavender, orange peel, cardamom, patchouli, and myrrh. There seemed a hint of vanilla and maybe even a sprinkle of frankincense. It was a warm mix with deep notes and both pleased the senses and calmed the mind. I was instantly transported to a higher place of my being, not my body, but to my soul. I was already beginning to unwind.

The sounds contributed to that effect as well. There were noises of soft, soothing water all throughout the spa: the trickling of waterfalls; the drippings of little channels and rivulets of water creeping along the edges of all the walls and rooms around us.

Only they weren’t exactly rooms. They were open air baths, with steam flitting about the airs above. Thin lawns traipsed up and down the lengths and widths alongside pools.

At the time there was not too much activity. Only a handful of patrons were relaxing in the waters. Some were just climbing out, anxiety dripping away from them as they reached for their towels to dry off.

I could get used to this sort of thing. If it didn’t have to come at the cost of being almost squashed by giants or nearly slashed to bits by a blade trap…

Well, I’m here now. I might as well get comfortable and let go as I can.

“Oh,” Jaran stopped himself short. “I just recalled, I needed to get something delivered in short order. I was on my way before you invited me here. I will have to return when I have completed my task. Please enjoy your stay until I return.”

“Oh, ok,” I stuttered, a bit surprised. “Well, I’ll see you soon.”

My friend hurried out of the bathhouses back the way we had come. It wasn’t like him to be forgetful, I mused. But we all have our days.

Ah, his loss. For now, I relax.

I entered the drapery room and placed my few belongings, shoes, shirt, pants and belt, into a cubby made of pure silk. With only my loincloth and a towel, I returned to the heated baths in the hot springs.

I placed my towel by the edge of the pool and eased my toes into the water. It was refreshing, but at first a bit shocking to my pain receptors. When the nerves adjusted to the heat, I continued to place my feett and ankles in.

A moment later my legs and knees were joining, then my thighs, hips and waist. At this point I paused to let my body continue to warm up to the heated pool.

The odors of essential oils wafted past me again, mixing with the steam of the springs and opening all of my pores. I leaned against the edge of the pool, which was surprisingly comfortable for marble.

Water noises continued to pitter around me and put my ears to rest as well, followed by my brain. I sank lower into the hot, soothing waters until I was up to my chin. My head felt heavy where it lay on the edge of the bath.

I had my, ‘ah!’ moment then. The moment at which you feel complete relaxation in body and mind. You almost can’t stop yourself from letting out a little noise like that classic vowel sound of release, ‘ah!.’

My mind drifted off. It left my body.

It heard these words:

I am who I am claiming I am.

I was in the clouds. The air was light and the sun barely setting. Purples and pinks merged with deep blues.

I was walking forwards, lazy step by lazy step, towards the cloud in front of me. It was a big billowy one with rounded steps curling up the side of it.

On top of the cloud there was a seat. I small, golden throne sat there on a red and gold rug that was no bigger than the chair itself.

I was drawn to air walk towards it, found my grip on its arms and sat down with minor effort. My hands lay comfortably on top of rounded protrusions that looked and felt like gems. A green emerald on the left and purple amethyst on the right.

My skull touched the headrest where another crystal, a yellow citrine, was fashioned so that it cupped my cranium.

The voice in my head continued:

Listen, dear one. You are well on your way. You are climbing out of the depths. You are leaving the darkness behind. You are being drawn towards the light. You are becoming more light every step of the way. You are doing very well. You are well provided for. You are connected to your source. You are blessed beyond measure. You are being called to a greater good.

Release your fears. Release your worries. Release you doubts. Release any anxiety. Release any feelings of condemnation that may still cling to you. Release judgements cast upon you that do not reflect who you know yourself to be today.

You are a worthy creation. And you are worthy of all that you desire. And you are worthy of love.

Remember these words, dear one. Remember to listen. Remember to love.

Remember this claim: “I am who I am claiming I am.”

And then the vision stopped abruptly. I splashed my hands in surprise, opening my eyes to see a radiant beauty before me.

Her face was so full of love and calm. She smiled and reached out her hands to me. I didn’t realize it until now, but my head had slipped underwater and I was just coming out of it, flailing wildly in the middle of the pool.

I grabbed her soft palms with my outstretched fingers and she clung to me tightly. As I came to my senses, I remembered to extend my feet again and stand in the water, calming myself back to composure.

“I guess I must have dozed off. It’s not like I’m used to nearly drowning myself at the baths…” I said awkwardly. “Thanks. Thanks for your help.”

The woman smiled again, sun shining brightly behind her so that I had to squint to look up at her.

“It’s alright,” she said. “You’re ok. I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be alright.”

The longer she spoke, the more a bell of recognition was going off in my mind. My pupils constricted more as I adjusted to the light and I looked more closely at her. Something familiar…

“Gods!” I called out in amazement. “Maniea! My love!” I reached out to embrace her and asked, “How are you here?”

Only I was met by nothing. I touched nothing, and there was no one there before me. She was gone.

“What is this cruel trick!? My next trial has not begun yet. I am simply trying to rest! Why torture me with this vision, gods?” I rued my makers.

But I heard her voice call to me: “I will see you soon, my love.”

It was bittersweet but soothing to hear those words. I wanted to see her now. But that’s only because I hadn’t expected to see her at all. In fact, I hadn’t fully expected to see her again, ever. But to hear her tell me that I will see her soon… Now all I wanted was just that.

Damn, I thought to myself, I suppose this is going to be some trial in seeking joy… And I don’t seem to be getting a real break, quite yet…

READ PART 16!

 

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Blessings to you,

Matthew

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 14

Word Art Epic Adventures glowing orange text over cloudy mountain background illustration, subtext Thursday Theme: What follows is a fictional account

EA#11:

Read From the Beginning or the start of Trial Two

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Fourteen

The giants were gone.

The city of Titanton was free.

All thanks to me. Well, I like to tell myself that anyways. But really, it was thanks to everyone in town pitching in, as well as a number of key players who really banded together with tenacity.

Jax, Hayn, Bion, Gill, Corporal Riley and the Scimitar Man had ridden home with me on our six, swift drake horses.

On the way, I finally had gotten to know a little more about our foreign friend as I rode with him on his mount.

“My apologies,” I had shouted over the roar of drake hoofbeats. “I never got your name…” my voice almost swallowed up by the din.

“What?” the Scimitar Man had called back. “It feels like a, game?”

“Name!” I’d tried again. “What’s your name!?”

“Apalandro!” he had answered proudly.

What a name, I’d thought. Not what I’d expected for one of the fierce desert warriors of fame.

Apparently, he’d sensed my hesitation and had said, “I know, it is not a becoming for a Bukata barbarian, is it? That’s a why I have to leave my country. I was not a like them. My a name said it all. My a life has been anything but barbaric.”

I remember being impressed that he could cast his voice loud enough to be heard. And I was intrigued by his story. I wished to know more about this man named Apalandro from Bukata.

We were all relieved, the seven of us, that the city welcomed us back with cheers and not the screams of terror that would have meant the giants had won.

No, Titanton was thriving! Everyone was ecstatic and could not believe the plan had worked. According to the townsfolk, the giants who had been pummeled, ensnared and knocked over by the traps had all done their best to hide the pee stains as they fled town in a panic! It had seemed many of them believed they’d been bested by some ghostly force. Some had even shouted to the effect, “Spooks, spooks!” “Let’s get out of here!”

The giants who had been bound made blundering fools of themselves trying to weasel their ways out of ropes and wraps to their freedom. The ones who had fallen stumbled to their feet only to fall again, regain their footing and fall once more. It was more like the giants had come to town not to collect taxes, nay, but to perform a comedy.

That’s how the story was relayed to us anyway. But all the townsfolk were so pleased to see us return home safely.

I, too, was very relieved. After that giant, Gumpelthwomp had taken me I really feared for my life. But through some strength of will… yes! That’s it! I have figured out the lesson of strength!

“Welcome back,” said the voice of Angie, my host from the city in the mountain in the clouds. How fitting that she should arrive just then, just as I gained clarity on what I believed I was meant to learn from this challenge.

The winged woman was there before me then, walking forward with platinum armor glimmering in the late afternoon sun. Her walk was poised and calculated, one foot placed just so in front of the other, giving an extra air of importance.

“What lesson have you learned from your trial, dear one?” inquired my host.

I breathed in heavily and looked at her, “Well, I suppose I learned quickly what sorts of things were not my strengths. I had it in mind that it had to be a physical skill of some sort, but it wasn’t about that kind of strength. It was more about mental strength.”

“Go on,” she urged me.

I continued, “I had to be aware of stream of thoughts so they wouldn’t run rampant and get caught up in fear. My full focus was on soothing myself to feeling a little differently, hopefully better, about whatever was happening.”

I paused, then, “For instance when the giant, Gumpelthwomp, had me in his grip, I panicked so much at first. But as I eased into the situation and discovered where I was free to act, I was able to persevere. But it wasn’t the way I’d expected. I found my power in words. It was my ability to think and create ideas that got me through the challenge. That was my strength.”

“To hold onto your belief in your own ability to create,” the winged woman elegantly completed. “Anything you needed at the time you needed it. Hold onto beliefs if you wish to see them in reality. That is a strength.”

She gestured before her face and her ornate headdress shone as though covered in gold. Then she wrote runic symbols in the air in a blue, misty conjuring of smoke. They were unintelligible at first, then morphed into the Common language, at which point I read the word “bird.”

No sooner had I read these words than did a bird appear before my eyes, just where the blue smoke letters had been hanging in the air. The bird flew off into the sky and caught everyone’s attention.

“Are there other ways to look at strength?” Angie asked pointedly.

“Um, I’m not sure. If there is not physical strength, then there is mental strength. I certainly had to maintain my composure, and believe that there was always a solution. Oh, and that I had the right tools for the job. And the right people. Oh, that’s it. I found strength in my fellows, my friends. The people in that town, in Titanton, the ones that I met. Riley and Gill and everyone. The scimitar man, er, Apalandro. Even Jax, Bion and Hayn… everyone contributed their own unique knowledge, or talent, their own strength to the joint effort of defending the city. Then I suppose I learned there is strength in numbers. Well, when they are aligned to the same task. And we were. And we succeeded. We overcame enormous odds.”

To my surprise the winged woman named Angie laughed greatly then, a truly youthful-sounding giggle. She smiled a broad smile and circled around me, head lifting from where she had dropped it during her laugh, pointing eyes shyly to the floor the moment before…

Then she said, “Good joke, Troy. I like the sense of humor on you. The giants were a tremendous foe to overcome, indeed. It was obvious to know that a battle of muscles would not prove fruitful for you against such beasts. So it had to be a different sort of strength.”

My host paced a bit and continued, “Your ideas and plans, the traps in town and the deception you played at the hands of the giants… they were your strength. They were not in themselves solutions, though they both worked. But they were a force you could work with to keep yourself motivated on succeeding. And you did succeed. You found inner strength and you found outer strength, your friends, to assist you. You even asked the gods for help. And that sort of power is available to you, of course. The gods answer in their own ways.”

She burst out laughing again, “You even asked the Nine, more or less. At least you did impersonate one. I do hope they don’t take offense when men pretend to be one. Haha. The Nine Magi! Tell that to your Wenter friends when you are next home!”

“How do you know about, I don’t, I’m not from the Wentry…” I tried.

“We know much about you, Troy, that is why you are here,” she replied. “There is nothing to be afraid of here, there are no laws against the Wentry in Neverwhere. In fact, I’d say your view of things is more accurate than the other traditions. So rigid, most of them. Not facing the reality before them in their own modern world.”

She shook her head and blinked her eyes quickly. “Well, in any case, we are all truly pleased with your success in your ascension trials. Well done, dear one. You have passed remarkably well!”

My host bowed in honor before me. It felt like such a blessing for her to offer that sort of gesture to me, her guest, her student.

And me, still feeling not much more ascended than the day before or the one before that.

“Yea, uh, well, thank you,” I answered awkwardly. Had I always been like this with beautiful women?

My inner emotion of nervousness must have gotten the best of me. I may have thought about getting out of sight, but I never meant to go invisible!

Yea, I disappeared. It just came on, all of a sudden. I saw everyone’s eyes wide open with surprise. At first I looked around, but saw nothing. Then I looked down to see my own body gone. Just gone! It was so bizarre to lift my hands before my eyes and not see them.

I patted my chest. Ok, I still have feeling in both my hands and my torso. So what’s going on? I touched my face. Still there. Ok, this is crazy. I can’t just vanish.

And then I was back. I was visible again the next moment. Like I just popped out of thin air, back to where I had been. But I had been there the whole time. Ah, what…?

“What just happened?” I asked of my befuddled companions. The only one not surprised was Gill. Actually, she was laughing.

“Aha!” she cried out. “I didn’t know if I should tell you before, but then I thought it’d just be funny to see your reaction. That was my invisibility spell.”

“Magic!?” Corporal Riley said, aghast. “I didn’t know you did magic. Why have you kept this secret?”

“I do,” Gill said nonchalantly. “I guess I don’t do it much anymore and, well, I didn’t want everyone making a fuss. Surprise.”

Riley pressed on, “Invisibility? That’s some pretty potent stuff, Gill.”

Gill retorted. “Actually it looks pretty flashy and high level magic and all but it’s really not.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Apalandro interjected, “I never a see anything like it.”

“No really, it’s just a beginner’s spell,” Gill said. “I learned a bit of illusion magic from my grandmother. And studied a couple books. But this is really just a simple trick of the eyes sort of spell. Basic illusion magic, even the street magicians know this kind of thing. Nothing like the wizards who can change form and time and energy and all that sort of… you know, it’s just, it’s nothing big…”

“Uh, yea it is,” Riley almost scolded her. “Having any skill with magic is pretty big to me. I’ve never known anyone who did magic before. Not in person anyway. Just stories.”

“Was your grandmother a Shone?” I asked Gill.

“Actually, she was,” Gill replied. “My grandmother emigrated from Shony to the River Lands when she had my mother. I forget why exactly. But she had to keep her magic under wraps in the shires and cities of Watermire Province. That’s where I…”

Gill trailed off looking puzzled.

“But wait,” Riley paused. “Why did you do the spell on Troy just now?”

“Oh, right,” Gill explained. “It was a delayed onset. I mean, he told the giants that it would take some time for the spell to kick in. So I put a bit of delay on the effect when I cast the spell in the valley.”

The spell. “Wait,” I said, “is that what I saw happen, when the firecrafts seemed to hit something in the sky and explode?”

“No,” Apalandro answered in a hurt sounding tone. “The firecrafts are a supposed to explode in the sky so they make a light show.”

“True,” Gill attempted to conclude, “but it was my spell that they hit. Just seemed a convenient time and place to cast it. So the explosions would hide it and disperse the effects through the valley in the falling debris and smoke.”

“I did think a the flashing was a little bit a different that time…” Apalandro mused to himself.

“Wow, Gill,” Riley commended her with a part on the back. “I am truly impressed by your ingenious spell casting. You might give some of the mages of Shony a run for their money. Brains are more useful than any magics, I don’t care how strong.”

“We’ve already established the lesson of strength,” I joked to some mild laughs. Then I gasped, “So that means the giants! Just now!”

“Yep, they probably had scare there a moment ago, too…” Riley nodded. “I hope they all collided into each other and start a giant invisible brawl among them…”

“Well let’s just trust that they are done with Titanton for good and will find somewhere else to go,” Corporal Riley added. “And that they don’t come back here, angry at what happened with the spell.”

“I can put that fear to rest, my child,” Angie said. “My scouts reported the band of giants turning invisible, as you said, and they did indeed collapse into a heap of confused bodies. But after they reappeared a host of human soldiers happened upon them and bound them for capture.”

“Unbelievable,” Riley gaped.

“No more than anything else that has happened to me lately,” I said with a smirk.

“Dear one,” Angie said to me. “We applaud your success in your first two challenges. Now you must be weary. Please, take some respite before you continue. We will start the Trial of Joy when you are ready.”

“Trial of Joy?” I asked profoundly baffled. “That sounds like a contradiction of terms. How can joy be a trial?”

“You will have to wait to find out,” answered my host, dodging my question. “But I will tell you this. It will involve overcoming sadness.”

Ah, there’s the trial, I thought to myself. Why did I have to ask? Now I will be trying to relax all the while wondering what saddening adventure awaits me next.

Or I could use that mental strength I talked about and forget about it. Just turn my attention to other things. Like how nice it will feel to take a hot bath.

Where did she say that bath house was again?

“Back to Mitstarhomvalla?” Angie asked me.

“Where?” I begged.

“The city in the mountain in the clouds,” she said proudly.

“Yea, please,” I answered eagerly. “I need to soothe my sore muscles. Take me to the baths.”

She answered my request with another magic portal. I had a brief moment to wave farewell to my Titanton friends from the land of Neverwhere. “Gill, Riley, everyone, it’s been a pleasure. Apalandro,” I called. “I do hope we can meet again.”

I saw smiles on their faces, then was swallowed up in energies and tossed through dimensional doorways back to the place of my respite: the city in the mountain the clouds.

At least, for a bit…

READ PART 15!

 

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Matthew

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 13

Word Art Epic Adventures glowing orange text over cloudy mountain background illustration, subtext Thursday Theme: What follows is a fictional account

EA#10:

Read From the Beginning or the start of Trial Two

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Thirteen

I was there.

At the giant party from hell.

I was in the clutches of Gumpelthwomp, the head taxman, who had carried me from Titanton not long ago and marched me to my doom.

Or so it seemed at first.

My captor held me up before all the giants in that rocky, barren valley. He said, “Gumpelthwomp get Magi god!”

The whole crowd of giants exploded in applause. The sound not only deafened me, it rattled my bones. And my captor’s grip tightened as he laughed.

Then one of the terrifying women giants asked, “What Magi god? And so small…”

“Uh, Giggazzibar,” answered the head taxman, who loosened his hold on me as he stumbled forward. “Magi god say he make all the world. He create everything. With his friends.”

“With the eight other Magi,” I picked up, putting on an air of importance. “We Magi are the original creators of this world you know. We even created the rest of the gods.”

To my great joy the crowd of oversized, peanut-brained brutes ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ in response. There were many heads nodding and eyes lighting up.

“So Gumpelthwomp ask friends what do with Magi god?” said my captor proudly.

“Eat him!” shouted one in return.

“Fight, fight, fight!” bellowed another.

“Nonsense,” roared the one called Giggazzibar. “Why eat god who create us? And you are fool who fight him. No, we should ask for wish. We give Magi god sacrifice and get wish.”

“Excuse me,” I interrupted, surprising Giggazzibar. “I, uh, we Magi do not accept sacrifices. A gift is fine. My freedom is enough.”

“Gift then,” continued the giantess, barely paying me any mind and returning to the others of her kind. “We give gift and Magi god give wish. What we wish for?”

“Well,” I offered, “wishing isn’t exactly as you may think it is. So, you know, I just say that so you don’t get your hopes too high thinking that you will see your wish right away. The world wasn’t made in a day, after all. It’s takes time for wishes to manifest. You’ll need some patience and faith that it will come, when it is ready to.”

“Magi god talk lot,” Gumpelthwomp commented.

Giggazzibar joined him, “Yea, seed take long time make plant. Nothing new. Wishing faster doesn’t grow faster.”

I was pleased she was going along with it.

“Ok, what we wish, Gigga?” Gumpelthwomp asked her.

“What we need?” Giggazzibar returned, looking to the other giants for input.

“Food!” shouted out one.

“Food!” Gigga repeated. “Always need food. Good.”

“Bad,” my captor intervened. “Always have food. Make better wish.”

There were grumbles and nods of agreement among the group of giants.

“Fight!” another giant intoned.

“Fight,” returned Gigga again. “Fight always good.”

“Bad,” Gumpelthwomp grunted, more annoyed. “Look around. Always fight for giant. Magi god can do more. Anything we want. Even impossible thing. Better wish!”

“Good point, Gumpel,” the intimidating female giant responded. “Better wish. Ah. Make giants invincible.”

The others nodded and chattered in agreement.

“Yes, make giants invisible. Good. Yes, good,” Gumpel said, eyes narrowing.

“Invisible. Yes, that’s what Gigga say. Invisible. Make giants invisible.”

I laughed inside, but didn’t make it apparent to my captors. Sure thing, I thought to myself, invisible giants… no one will ever hear them coming.

“Well,” I began. “It’s not easy to make giants invisible. But I am a Magi, so it can be done. Lucky you have the Magi of the Air element.”

“Oh!” Gumpel answered as if he knew what I meant. “Yea.” Then, “Why that?”

“Right. Well, the air…” I fumbled. Why did I say that? “Well, the air is where you are seen. So to make you not seen, air is the element that is needed. To make you invisible I need to make you not in the air.”

“Oh, right, right, right,” Gumpel muttered and the whole tribe of giants responded with nods.

Gigga erupted, “Make us invisible, Air Magi god! Make us invisible now! Or I’ll eat you.”

“Aha!” I called attention to all the giants… I’d counted at least thirty by then. “To make you invisible will take a bit of conjuring on my part. Just sit back and allow me to do my work. It may not make sense or look like anything you’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t make it any the less powerful. Sometimes the strongest forces are the unknown.”

Nothing happened, so I nudged Gumplethwomp’s knuckles with my elbow and coughed. “I need to be put down so that I can cast the invisibility spell.”

My captor dumbly nodded and placed me onto the rough terrain of valley floor.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. They were being fooled so easily. Now, to figure out where I was taking this impromptu escape plan.

I rolled up the sleeves of my travel robes and rubbed my palms together, then waved my hands around as if casting a spell in the air before me. I twirled and swayed, adding movement to my hips to give more credibility to my magic. The giants seemed to take to it right away, offering me looks of intense fixation and awe.

So I built my momentum.

First I jumped to the right and waved my hands above me, drawing energy from the heavens and pouring it over myself. Next I turned quickly, a half circle to my left and carried my fingers towards the ground, uplifting the power of the earth and sweeping it towards the sky.

I heard gasps of excitement from my captive audience. Within I felt a huge grin creeping over me. I held it back just a little, evincing only a small crinkling of amusement from the edges of my lips.

“Ahzoo!” I resounded.

“Balabaloo!” I decried.

“Ohtah! Nana! Jembalana!”

These were magic words I had heard once. Or at least I thought they were, as best my memory could recall. They had seemed so foreign but powerful the first time, but now when I said them again they sounded ridiculous.

The behemoths standing all around me in the valley did not think as I did. They were nothing but impressed by the show I was putting on. One set of giant hands began a slow clap.

“Quiet!” I bellowed. “It’s not done yet.”

I brought my left hand in front of my face and rounded my thumb and forefinger together in a small circle. Placing this little ring to my lips I blew as if it were a whistle. Here and there, in different directions in the air I blew that magical, invisible flute.

Then I opened my arms wide and heaved in a huge breath of air, puffing up my lungs grandiosely, and billowed forth a powerful blast of Air Magi magic in a huge arcing circle around me, back and forth, over and over until my blood felt thin and my head light.

Ok, I thought, they’d better buy it.

“There,” I announced as I caught my breath. “You are now invisible. Behold!”

All of the giants looked puzzled, staring around at each other, then at their own bodies.

“Behold what, Magi god?” Gigga complained. “I still see everyone.”

“Me too,” said another, then another of the enormous monster people.

“Uh, that’s because,” I delayed, “well of course, it takes time for the full effects to take hold. Give it at least half an hour and you will all be invisible. The first invisible giant clan in all the world of Paelstor.”

Gumpel and Gigga rolled their lips and nodded in acceptance of my explanation, and the others followed suit. Some shook hands or patted each other on the shoulder triumphantly.

“So, now that you are invisible, what will you do?” I queried my captors. “Surely I am free to go and return to the Magi home with my brethren…”

“Breath her in? What that?” Gigga furrowed her brow.

“Never mind,” I returned.

“We smash Titanton!” Gumpel suggested emphatically, throwing his weapon overhead, a massive spiked mace.

“Why settle for Titanton?” I tried to shift his attention away from the town I believed had just been saved from that very fate. “Why not head for the capital? You could rule the world from there. You know, invisible as you will be, they wouldn’t even see you coming.”

“Very smart Magi god,” Gumpel admired. “We be invisible giant warriors. We go to capital. Tell king smash smashy buh-bye. We be king of land. We have gold and glory and cattle. We be mightiest giants of Paelstor.”

To hear it said was confusing and amazing to me. What a wonderful experience it has been, I thought, meeting these giants of my childhood fairy tales in person. Still, I would be much happier to be done with it altogether now.

No sooner had I imagined it then I began to get my wish.

“Giants, we know you are in there!” said a voice I recognized.

“How you know?” Gumpel asked.

“We see you standing there,” the familiar woman’s voice continued.

“Oh yea,” the head taxman acknowledged. “We be invisible soon. Magi god made it so. You better run, commander, we finish job now. We smash Titanton.”

I was able to make out Riley’s voice answering from the hills. “Corporal, not commander. And I am not actually the corporal that you think I am. I am a Magi also. I am here with the others and we know that the one before you has made you invisible. We are his brethren after all, and we have simply come to take him home. We are not here to meddle in your affairs, and suggest you take up his suggestion to head for the capital.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Gumpelthwomp contested. “It was one thing that this man I not know tell me he Magi god. I trust Magi god man. Now you want me believe that you are, too? The annoying pest I deal with every week when Gumpelthwomp come for taxes?”

He erupted in laughter and so did his fellows, filling the valley with thunder.

“If you really Magi, prove it!” the taxman dared.

“Ok,” said corporal Riley.

What happened next surprised even me.

From the edges of the valley, first from one side, then from many others, rocks began to roll. The tumbling took on a catapulting effect as other stones and rocks were knocked loose, joining the fall down the cliff sides encircling the valley.

Within moments there arose a cacophony all around us. The earthen stampede crescendoed into a low rumble that moved the ground below. In the wake of the demonstration dusty clouds of smoke swelled up, making everyone cough.

“Do you yield?” shouted the accented voice of the scimitar man, even as the last tumultuous sounds of the rock falls came to a clattering finale.

“Fancy rock slides,” Gumpel grunted. “So what?”

“We thought you’d say that,” said Riley with a hint of amusement in her tone.

Without a moment to wonder there appeared flaming projectiles from all sides of the valley. They shot right towards the middle of the crowd of giants.

Several stories in the air above their heads the burning darts exploded into a chorus of flashing orbs of light and color. The air filled with bursting noises.

The event didn’t seem to pose a threat of any kind, but it certainly caught a lot of attention. All of the giants were gaping with wonder at the sight of it.

As the twinkling spectacle faded a cloud of smoke settled in over our heads.

A smell of sulphur singed the hairs on my nose. The smell bothered the giants tremendously, who all held their huge nostrils shut with their fingers and thumbs.

“Ok, Bagi god. We see your bagic,” Gumpel said through his muted nose. “Bake the spoke go away, it burds by dose.”

“The smoke will go away on its own, momentarily,” I heard Gill’s voice call out.

“Sbell bad, Bagi,” Giggazibar joined in. “Dot dice sbell, dot dice.”

I almost burst out laughing to see such powerful foes leveled to this. But I held it in. I didn’t want to bring any doubts to my disguise.

“Now, I am free to go?” I asked my captor.

“Yes, Magi god,” Gumpel replied, letting go of his nose. “We thank you for invisible spell. Now we be king giants of Paelstor. Hahahaha!”

“King giants!” Gigga called, and “King giants” was the response from the others. They continued this call and response as they marched out of the valley.

When the echoing of their enormous footfalls faded into the distance, I was aware of someone talking not far from where I stood, dumbfounded by the events that had just occurred.

“You ok there?” asked Gill. “You kind of got into more than you’d asked for, huh?”

“Yea,” I said, turning around to see her walking towards me along side corporal Riley. The two were followed by Jax, Hayn, and Bion as well as the scimitar man.

“I’m ok.” I continued. “I survived. I mean, I’m a Magi after all!”

My grin was met at first by blank stares from my companions. Then they all burst out laughing.

“How in Paelstor did you convince them you were a Magi?” Corporal Riley wondered of me.

I shrugged. “I just told them I was.”

Her look of amazement said all, and my inner guidance agreed. It was almost unbelievable that my ruse worked.

“But I have a couple questions for you guys,” I pondered. “How’d you get here so fast? And what were those flashing lights?”

“The lights were firecrafts,” the scimitar man explained. “In my country they are a used for amusement, for a shows, for a holidays. Just a light and flash, that’s all. No harm, right?” He smiled and cocked his head proudly.

“And your travels?” I still wondered.

“We have the fastest drake horses in the region,” Jax answered. “We were on your trail as soon as that giant grabbed you from the guard tower. Uh, after we got out of the rubble of it.”

“Yea, and good work leaving that bit of shirt in the woods,” Hayn added. “Really helped us track you.”

Bion grunted in agreement.

“Well, shall we head back to Titanton?” Riley intoned.

“Couldn’t be more thrilled to,” I replied.

And we began to make our way back, riding atop the backs of the six mighty drake horses.

I believe that should conclude my trial of strength. I think… I guess I will find out at Titanton.

Stay tuned next Thursday to the next chapter, Trial 3, of The Mountain in the Clouds, an Epic Adventure.

 

Thanks so much for reading.

 

Please leave comments and share.

Blessings to you,

Matthew

The Birds of the Basin, Part 4: The Marabou

Word Art Young Titan Zone black text over red brick background. Subtitle Tuesday Theme: Expanding idealistic young minds.

YTZ#08:

The Wings Fly Again

Catch up on Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 if you missed them.

Now on to our story.

(What follows is a fictional account.)

The Birds of the Basin, Part 4: The Marabou

The four northerners blinked.

Demoiselle the beautiful crane eyed the Frigatebird from the south.

Saddlebill the jealous stork rolled his eyes and lifted his striped beak in the air in disgust.

Shoebill the grumpy other stork grumbled and complained as he went.

The Blue-Footed Booby clumsily wobbled along, armor clinking with every step.

After the crash with Al, the four northern Talen Guard had flown with Frigatebird up to the middle levels of Talpost. The Albatross had been carried off in a large sling by the southern Guard that found them.

They came to rest on a wide balcony, Blue completely fumbling his landing. There they were joined by more of the southern Guard.

A large portal opened into a tall, ornately carved hallway that resounded with the clacking of their dozen taloned feet quickly moving through it. The hallway went one for some time, with different partitions marked at intervals by a pair of sharp columns of razor-like stonework that looked like giant talons.

At last they reached an antechamber with a magnificent pair of staircases. The stairs had this illusory appearance, as if they spiraled up in just a way that could make your body feel as though it were moving even while being still.

Small, arched windows lined the sides of the alabaster white walls along the stairs. Down the center, the railings had poles topped with a variety of southern birds in golden statuette form.

“Nice place,” Bill said, taking his eyes from Demoiselle back to the Frigatebird, then back to Demoiselle.

“I like it,” replied the southerner. “Call me Frigate, by the way. I’m at your service while you’re here. Anything you need while at Talpost, don’t hesitate to ask, got it?”

“Thanks very kind of you,” cooed the crane. Bill shook his head.

“Can I get a plate of pollyworms and a glass of water?” demanded Shoe.

“Oh, and can I get some shrimp boats?” Blue squeaked excitedly.

“Uh, you can ask the cook for that,” Frigate managed. “Uh, I meant more like things that a Talen Commander can do for you.” He motioned one wing towards his commander’s badge on his chest plate.

“Oh, I see,” Blue yipped. “So you command the kitchen staff, huh?”

“No, I don’t, I,” Frigate began.

He was cut off by Shoe, “Ignore Blue, he does that. Uh, he’s read so many books his brain actually overloads and skips a beat sometimes. Don’t mind him.”

Blue nodded along in agreement. Shoe covered his eyes with his wing and shook his head.

“In any case,” Frigate picked up, “I’ve got your back while you’re here. You know, I haven’t seen many northerners in a while. Long while. Don’t many come down here.”

The large bird’s dialect became more noticeable as he talked. There was a quaint charm and masculinity about it, but was also coarse and unusual.

Demoiselle noticed and all but batted her eyes at the southern bird.

“Yea, ok, well, it’s good to have new friends. In the South,” Saddlebill tried. “Thanks for, uh, inviting, uh, leading the way. You know Demoiselle and I have been through a lot together…”

Demoiselle blushed and chided Saddlebill, “Stop. We’ve been work colleagues for some time. We have been through some wild cases in our time. But tell me, Frigate, I want to know more about you. Where are you from originally? What’s it like in the South? How do you stay in such great shape? I’m sorry, that’s probably too many questions at once…”

Frigate perked up and smiled, flexing one of his wings in attempt to show his muscles. “That’s ok, Dem,” his familiar use of her short name sounded like gravel to Bill’s ears, “I work out ten times a week. Daily regimen keeps me fit and for my line of work it seems like a no brainer to be built tough. No offense there, my friend, we all have different strengths. I’m sure yours is well hidden,” he said, gesturing with placating hands towards Saddlebill, who scowled at the comment.

“I am not out of shape,” replied Bill in frustration. “I just happen to be of a breed of bird that is more lithe. I am actually quite fit for my species, thank you, and I work out just as much as you.”

“Bill, you do…” Demoiselle was saying before being cut off.

“Lithe?” snickered Frigate. “I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like thin and that’s what you are. Anyways, it’s not meant as offense, my friend. Just small talk, right?”

Frigate nudged Bill with the elbow of his wing.

Bill glared back and said nothing.

“So, is our pilot going to be alright?” Demoiselle said, changing the subject.

“Yes,” answered Frigate. “He’s being brought to the infirmary now. They’ll take good care of him. Ah, at last.”

As he said this he walked towards the stairs and lifted a wing in anticipation of someone. Following his gaze revealed an odd pair of birds walking towards them.

There was a stout and sturdy Hornbill Stork, coated in heavy mail, who seemed to move from his belt line. He shook his hips back and forth with each step, proudly displaying his hammer hanging at his side.

Next to him was yet another stork, The Marabou. He was a legend, even in the north. His life had been filled with successes in all his enterprises and now he was the Governor of Talpost. He was very old and moved much slower than the Hornbill. Yet he had an air of wisdom and grace his companion lacked.

“Welcome,” The Marabou greeted. “This is Hornbill, my Chief Defense Advisor.”

“Hi,” was all the Hornbill said.

“First,” began The Marabou, “let me say how grateful I am that you are here. I’m sure you are aware that we have a situation with the Rage Fest which is currently being waged on the other side of this cliff face from us in the Mogra Yute Basin. We have called upon you to assist us in placating the strife between our two neighbors, the Forram bull men and the Targen tiger peoples.”

“Though we were expecting a bit more help from our northern allies,” complained the Hornbill. “Typical. Can’t spare an extra nothing.”

“Hey, I don’t like your attitude,” Shoe retorted. “Say that a little closer to my face.”

“Gentlebirds!” The Marabou intervened calmly. “Let’s not waste time on civilities. We have work to do. The festival games are getting more rowdy and threatening the peace in the Basin. A precarious peace we Tal have worked hard to maintain for many decades. The games are supposed to calm the tension. But this year tensions are rising instead. I fear war could result if our two neighboring nations cannot settle down. I am hoping that you can step in and do just that. Settle things down. Do whatever it takes without a fight and without causing a stir. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, your Grace, understood,” Saddlebill said. “But I do have one question. It sounds to me like the south has contended with these politics for some time. So why do you need us? Can’t you just send local representatives to resolve this?”

“In the past we have held sway with our neighbors, but not as of now. They blame us for their current troubles,” The Marabou sighed. “It’s a long story. But when they see us approach, they immediately get guarded and antagonistic towards us. We are hoping that when they see you in your northern colors, they won’t have any negative attachments to you. They may listen to you if you go to them as concerned outsiders.”

“Possible,” Demoiselle mused. “To me this sounds like a stretch.”

“Please,” The Marabou whispered. “We are at a critical juncture. The horns of war are ready to blare throughout the Basin. You’re our only hope. We need to settle the issue of the champion’s prize. He must have something worthy of choosing that is better than seeking glory for their country.”

“Because the glory would be, what, war?” Shoe muttered.

“Precisely,” The Marabou enunciated. “If the champion maintains the kind of rage these games have been fueling, he may choose to repay that anger in battle. It won’t matter which side begins the fighting, because others will follow and both nations will plunge into a war as dominoes that fall one after the other. But the dominoes will instead be the bodies of bulls and tigers strewn about the basin floor, never to compete in another Rage Fest again.”

“Wow, dramatic, isn’t he?” Shoe commented as if he couldn’t be heard.

“Yea, I love a good show,” Blue added. “But I’m a little confused.”

“It’s ok, Blue,” said Shoe. “All he’s saying is the winner might start a war, then the whole Basin will be fighting and there will be lots of casualties. But he just said it more poetic-like.”

“Oh, ok, thanks Shoe,” said Blue.

“So the stakes are high after all,” Demoiselle said. “I wish the Great Blue Heron could hear all of this.”

“Don’t worry, Dem, it’s all going to work out for us. Just remember, we’ve got these two,” said Saddlebill, thumbing a wing towards Shoebill and the booby named Blue.

Stay tuned next week for the Rage Fest

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Please comment and share if you enjoyed the story.

Blessings to you,

Matthew

Epic Adventures: The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 10

Word Art Epic Adventures glowing orange text over cloudy mountain background illustration, subtext Thursday Theme: What follows is a fictional account

EA#07:

Read From the Beginning or the start of Trial Two

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Ten


Everyone was staring at me.

Ok, I hope this goes well.

“So you’ve got a plan?” asked Gill.

“Yea, um. Well, I think,” I stammered. “It sort of depends.”

“Oh, great,” said Gill, throwing her hands up.

“Let him speak,” Riley pressed on. “What does it depend upon?”

“Well, we know the giants are impossibly large. Physically we have no strength to match them. We could bear our arms and go to battle, but the chances of much success for us there is, well, I don’t know how I want to put it…”

“We get the point,” Riley said.

“Well, don’t get me wrong,” I added. “I don’t know what kind of skill you all have with your weapons. Or what plans you had… Anyway, if we can’t outmatch them, maybe we can outsmart them.”

“I like where you’re going with this. Got some ideas?” asked the corporal.

“Here’s the tricky part that it all may depend on,” I began. “The only way I feel we can win this is to scare the giants.” I paused. “So, anyone know what they’re afraid of?”

“Hah,” Gill bellowed. “Give me a break. This is your idea? Scare the five story tall monsters with enormous clubs and axes?” She stood there shaking her head.

“Well, now, let’s not completely discount it, Gill,” Riley cautioned. “Think of how fast the wheat buffalo turn and run when they see a small grass mouse. Maybe there’s something the giant’s respond to in fear.”

“Yea, but wheat buffalo would only come up to a giant’s ankle,” Gill continued to naysay. “How are we going to scare something so big? Many somethings so big?”

“Perhaps there is a way,” said a highly accented voice. It was the scimitar man. Everyone turned their full attention towards him.

“Go on,” said Riley.

“Well, in my home country, we have many big animals that can cause a many problems,” the scimitar man explained. “They are large sand worms, very big, maybe as big as giants. They come around every month and eat our livestock, scare our families. So we figure out a way to get a rid of them. We scare them from a coming in town.”

“How exactly did you do that?” Gill asked.

“We set a traps. Many, many traps. We lay them all around the town. We place their favorite snacks, we think, so they come. We put bison meat in a traps. The sand worms came and eat it, a, then the trap is sprung. The sand worm gets dropped down slide and thrown off cliff.”

“And this crazy plan actually worked?” Gill seemed dubious.

“Yes, after second time,” the foreigner answered. “The sand worms learn that there is too much danger when they come to that place. They always get a thrown and hurt. They never come back a now.”

“Wow, that sounds unbelievable,” said Riley in awe.

“It is a true,” the scimitar man said defensively. “I helped set up a the traps. I see it work.”

“Oh, no doubt,” Riley covered herself. “When I said it was unbelievable I was just, well, it’s just a saying. Just to describe my amazement.”

“Oh,” the man said, unsure.

“There you go,” I joined in. “This man’s story is proof. His town has stopped the sand worm attacks. I’m sure those sand worms didn’t seem easy to defeat at first, but they outsmarted them and won!”

“Eh, those sand worms, I can hunt alone,” the scimitar man boasted.

“Well, except for this guy,” I said pointing at the foreigner, “sand worms sound huge and threatening and deadly. Like our giants! So, what are these giants scared of? How can we frighten them from ever wanting to come back to Titanton, ever wanting to ask for tax again?”

I was hopeful that the energy of the group would respond and start coming up with ideas. Then we would fire back and forth and inspire each other, try out plans in our minds, then settle on one that sounded like a sure bet.

None of this happened…

Crickets chirped…

“No ideas?” I asked. Then I looked directly at some of them for answers, or at least attempts at answers. “Hayn? Jax? Bion?”

They all looked sheepishly at me.

“Sorry, boss, I don’t know much about giant scaring,” said Bion, shrugging his shoulders. The other two shrugged in kind, trying to appear helpless.

“Gill, Riley, stranger?” I continued. “No one’s ever heard some old nursery rhyme about giants and what they’re scared of, have they?”

Riley looked lost for ideas while Gill was silently fuming at this line of thought.

The scimitar man only spoke up to tell us his name. “I am not stranger, my friends, I am Ashz of Atarzir. Kind to me and to you,” he said with a bow.

“Ok, so no one, huh?” I was beginning to sweat along my brow and temples.

Hold on, I told myself. Regroup, self, recenter. That’s worked for me in the past. To focus my mind on being at ease. That way the answers come with ease as well. There’s got to be something we can pull together between the bunch of us that can solve our problem here. Well, their problem. I mean, I guess it’s mine now, too…

So, giants. Wow, that’s not a topic I’d ever thought I’d be discussing in reality. They were always fairy tales. What did they do in the fairy tales? Well, they were always stealing treasures and hoarding treasures. Nothing new there, modern day trolls apparently steal tax money.

What else? Giants were fearsome to meet as an enemy, but it was also told that they had a romantic side when it came to courting other giants. They were said to bring flowers and trinkets to potential dates just like anybody, but were also quite inept and silly about courtship ritual. Men were supposedly quick to smooch their lips for a kiss, while women often flattened men’s heads with a frying pan in order to flee. The stories claimed that they loved this cat and mouse chase.

How could that help in this situation? I don’t know. Let me keep pondering…

“So, good try, there, Troy my boy,” Gill jested. “Looks like we are going back to utter fight for survival like we first planned.”

“But that sounds like suicide to me! Why would you throw your lives away like that?” I returned with great frustration. Gill jumped.

“Alright,” Riley intervened. “You have just joined us today, and you cannot know the pain and trouble these giants have caused for us. For some time now. We are not acting with desperate intentions, but we are in dire need of a solution and our options are few at best.”

“Options?” I asked. “What options? What was your great plan to win this fight? Were you really going to go to blows, sword for sword? You against those behemoths?”

“Well, yes, and no,” Riley replied. “We were never intending to face off one-on-one like it almost went tonight. They took us by surprise. We had a plan, yes. Shoddy as it was, it was all we could hope for. We were going to wait for the taxmen to collect their money, then strike as they left with their guards down. We planned teams all over the city to help fight back. We had traps in mind to trip and tie them up. We were a matter of days from completing our plans before we were going to enact them. But now the stakes have changed and we need a response in two days… Anyways, it was a long shot. We had no idea where to set the traps because we couldn’t know where the giants would end up walking…”

“That’s it!” I shouted. Everyone raised their eyes. “I think I’ve put it together. Listen, when I was reflecting on my childhood impression of giants, I remembered how silly their courtship practices seemed to be. Goofy male giant chases down resolute female giant until invariably the man gets pounded on the head by the woman.”

“Ok, I thought I’d heard enough before,” Gill seethed, “but this is too much. What are you going on about, Troy?”

“Yes, I am having trouble following, too,” said Corporal Riley. “Please explain what this has to do with anything.”

“Well,” I said, “you said it yourself. You were preparing traps to catch them. But you didn’t know where to place them, or how to ensure that the giants would find them in order to set them off. Well, I think I have a way to plan every step they take. And then we can lead them right into our traps.”

“You’ve got my ear,” Riley said with a grin.

Even Gill seemed to pique her interest.

All six of the company looked to me in anticipation. Gods, be with me.

READ PART 11 NOW

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Please leave comments or share with a friend if you enjoyed reading.

Blessings to you all,

Matthew

The Birds of the Basin, Part 3: The Landing

Word Art Young Titan Zone black text over red brick background. Subtitle Tuesday Theme: Expanding idealistic young minds.

YTZ#07:

The Birds Are Back in Town

Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.

Without further ado:

(What follows is a fictional account.)

The Birds of the Basin, Part 3: The Landing


The four armored bird people awoke to a start.

“Bumpy weather, here,” Al called over the roaring sound of the wind.

“What’s going on?” Saddlebill shouted.

“Like I told ya,” Al returned. “Weather. We’re over the Falnon Mountains. We’ve got bad storms below, so I’m trying to hold us steady at this altitude a little longer before we make our descent. Keep an eye out for a break in the clouds.”

“Keep an eye out?” Shoebill reeled. “Rich, coming from the pilot. Aren’t you keeping an eye out?”

Al was unphased, “I just wanted to help you feel proactive. Hang on tight.”

As soon as he said this he leaned his body so far to the right that they began descending at a sharp angle. Everyone riding Al’s back began slipping in their seats. They quickly followed his instructions and found a tight grip on the harness so they wouldn’t fall off altogether.

“What do you think you’re doing, trying to kill us?” roared Shoe.

“Whee!” squealed Bluefoot in utter delight.

Then the Albatross was veering this way and that, left then right, down and then over, once making a loopy-dee-loo, and kept on plummeting. He had a strong intent.

The clouds were so thick, and moisture was becoming heavy in the air.

The thunder made them all jump then. Flashes of lighting pulsed on the fringes of their vision in those dark, grey clouds. A warm, electric tingling could be felt in the air, then the cold wind and the increasing rains.

“Are you crazy? We’re going right through the storm!” raged Shoebill.

“Pilot, take us out of this weather, this instant!” commanded Demoiselle.

“Aiy aiy, cap’n,” Al commented. “There.”

The huge bird took a sharp turn that almost tossed Bluefoot off the back of the harness. Saddlebill caught him by a loose pauldron. Blue dangled in the air for a minute until Demoiselle and Shoe could help bring him back in.

“You ok, there?” Saddle asked Blue.

“Yea, wow, that was a rush. Thanks, guys. Thanks, Bill. You guys saved my life.” The goofy Blue-Footed Booby came in to squeeze each of them in a hug.

Al was still making his descent, but he had found a break in the clouds where the weather eased up. He flew straight through the middle of it and when they arrived on the other side, they saw the peaks of mighty mountains.

The Falnon range spanned from the north of the Mogran continent, Mogra So, to the wild southlands, Mogra Yute.

It was to Mogra Yute that they were heading.

“Great,” said Demoiselle. “Good piloting. Very impressive. How far are we from the Talpost?”

“Ah, thanks honey buns,” Al crooned.

“Pipe down, I never gave you the right to call me honey buns,” scolded Demoiselle. “Never call me that again.”

“Yea, right, hehe,” said the Albatross, sounding a bit defeated. “Anyways, I’d say we are about ten, no fifteen…” he was straining his head to look this way and that and muttering numbers to himself.

“Excuse me, Mr. Professional,” Shoe chided then. “Are you saying you don’t know?”

Al stiffened his body noticeably beneath their talons. “I take that as an offensive. Hmph. I am a professional, and I know where we are, and I know where we are going. And I know how long it will…”

He trailed off again.

Saddlebill tossed his wings up in frustration.

Shoe began laughing.

“I don’t get it,” said Blue.

“Ah, yes, here it is!” Al shouted excitedly then. “Just as I suspected.”

They rounded a tall peak, morning sun shining brightly on its jagged face, and saw a hubbub of activity. There, before them, was Talpost, the southern watchtower fortress of the Tal Nation. It was perched high in the mountains and hung like an upside down bell from the underside of a massive cliff face.

Talpost was accessible only by flight, which was convenient for the Tal and a powerful defensive position. The entire landscape below completely denied access to the fortress by land or water.

There were small figures of Tal in the distance, flying to and fro among the various ports of entry along the fortress. Patrols of sentries circled the perimeter.

On top of the cliff from which the fortress hung lay an enormous beast, the likes of which they had never seen before. It seemed benign, as if it were natural for it to be there… a whale-sized, white fur beast, tufts puffing like pillow stuffing all down its long back. It’s eyelids kept lifting to reveal huge, lazy eyes, then falling again as the beast breathed out a cooing sort of snore. It was fast asleep, laying its head down on its bunched up wings.

“I’m actually speechless,” Shoe muttered, mouth agape.

“May that last the rest of the trip,” Saddle cajoled. “Gods willing.”

Demoiselle smiled a quick response to Saddle, but was far too distracted by the sight of the beast on the mountain.

“Ohh, can we meet the big, puffy, pillow monster?” Blue whined. The others all shook their heads.

“Welcome to Mogra Yute,” Al said. “Hope you had a wonderful flight. Please consider the A.A. Blaze next time you’re looking to go to that exotic destination.”

“Fireworks!” Blue shouted, pointing ahead where some dusty flashes of colors were being shot into the air.

“Those aren’t fireworks, Blue,” Demoiselle said, “those are Talsigns. Don’t you remember?”

“Oh, yea,” said Blue. “But what do they say then?”

Dem laughed to herself a little.

Al answered the question, “They are just verifying my flight number and giving me landing instructions. Hold on a minute.”

The Albatross began tugging with his beak at something underneath him. He yanked a pull tag on a contraption a few times, then his own Talsigns were being sent, flashing orange and green and blue and purple dust.

“Thank the gnomes for that… Um, hang tight,” Al said with a gulp.

“Why?” asked Saddle.

“I uh, well I meant to send one sign and I think I sent the wrong one,” said Al.

“What sign do you think you sent, Al?” Bill pressed.

“Uh, the kind of signal a pirate might use to raid a port,” Al offered shyly.

“How in the world could you mix those up?” Demoiselle yelled.

It was too late. Arrows and darts started hurling past them. One whizzed so close to Shoe’s head that he froze in place.

“Like I told ya, hang tight!” Al said and dove straight towards the mountainside below. He got far too close for comfort, but in the last moments pulled up and leveled off, heading straight for the Talpost while staying as close to the ground as possible.

“Just send another signal, Al, be reasonable,” Demoiselle pleaded. “If we stop and explain ourselves, they will understand.”

“How will we explain ourselves with bolts sealing our beaks shut?” Al responded. He continued his mad dash towards the fortress mountain.

From above, Tal sentries were diving towards their position.

“Overhead,” Saddle yelled.

“I see them, hold on,” said Al.

The great albatross aircraft that carried the four Talen Guard began swerving like an expert pilot, dodging rock faces and navigating ravines with ease. The sentries found it hard to keep up with his pace and his finesse. One or two of their pursuants struck a crag and careened out of the sky in a heap on the ground.

“Wow, this is fun!” Bluefoot hollered.

“I told you, guys, I’m a professional,” said Al, smiling broadly over his shoulders.

“Then why don’t you look where you’re going!” shouted Saddlebill futilely.

Al did, but it was too late, for there was no time to move.

There before them was a large rock slab that formed a tall, jagged pillar between one hill and the slope below. They crashed right into the vertical barrier and the bird, the four Talen Guard, and all their gear went hurdling into a semicircle on the mountain side below.

“Anybird hurt?” Al was frantic. “Please tell me you guys are ok.”

“Fine here,” said Demoiselle, lifting herself from the ground.

“So, professional, huh?” Saddebill grunted as he got up and dusted the rocks from his wings and armor.

“Ow,” was all Shoe could offer, also dusting himself from the mountain debris that covered him in a grayish powder.

The Bluefooted Booby, on the other hand, was more covered in his own feathers, even managing to get some in his mouth. His armor was barely hanging onto him anymore.

“I blame Blue,” joked Shoe. “It’s his influence that did us in. Booby never could make his own landing.”

The Blue-Footed Booby didn’t respond. But he did pull a feather out of each of his ear holes.

“Oh, thank the gods you’re alright!” said Al, sighing with relief.

“Wings up where we can see them!” commanded a strong voice from up the slope.

The five birds, pilot and passengers lifted their wings above their heads slowly. They looked to see a patrol of Southern Talen Guard approaching them, headed by a tall black-feathered bird.

“Who are you, really?” asked the lead guard from the south.

“I am Demoiselle, from Oshinora,” said the Demoiselle Crane, bowing politely. “This is Saddlebill. ”The Saddebill Stork bowed quickly in kind.

“Don’t do me any favors,” Shoebill scoffed at Dem. “I’m Shoebill Stork, at your command.” He, too, bowed.

The Blue-Footed Booby bumbled forward and bowed off-hand, saying, “Bluefoot, here, how can I be of service?”

“And Al, humble pilot of the A.A. Blaze,” added the Albatross. “By the way, I think my wing’s a little broken.” He held up his right wing and it was crooked like a broken twig.

“Well, then, fellow Guard, we’d better get you to the infirmary.” said the lead guard, offering forth a long, ruffled wing to help Al. “My name’s Frig. Sorry for the miscommunication earlier. We received an… odd message.”

Frig gave a pointed look at Al, who winced a bit in guilt then tried to shrug and silently beak the word “sorry.”

“What kind of bird are you?” Demoiselle asked the charming southerner.

“I’m a frigratebird, ma’am.” His wing stretched out to indicate the massive Tal fortress hanging from the cliff just over their heads.

“Welcome to Talpost,” he said with a smile.

Stay tuned next week for Part 4 of the story.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

Please share or comment if you enjoyed!

 

Blessings to you,

Matthew

Epic Adventures: The Mountain the Clouds, Part 8

Word Art Epic Adventures glowing orange text over cloudy mountain background illustration, subtext Thursday Theme: What follows is a fictional account

EA#05

Read Part One First

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Eight


I awoke.

I’d fallen asleep in a hammock. In a grove of hemlocks. In the highest city in the world.

And I had been drinking stargrape juice. It seemed I was still gripping the cup in my arms. The cup that was really just the rind of the melon, halved open with a knife and lightly mashed inside to juice it.

What a delicacy, I thought, smiling broadly. I could get used to this place.

“How was your rest?” the female voice of my host called out from somewhere.

“Very well, it seems, by the shape of me,” I said. I peered around, trying to adjust my eyes to the light. It seemed bright as sunlight. But it couldn’t be. Not up here in the clouds in the evening. With what seemed the threat of a storm looming in the distance.

I spotted the winged woman walking towards me from down the causeway. She held her hands behind her back, but moved demurely in her legs, head cocked down coyly. She was amazingly beautiful. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed earlier.

Something about the way she was moving…

“You deceive yourself,” she spoke, as if hearing my thoughts.

“Excuse me?” I parried deftly.

“Lying does not become you, one who has the power of discernment. There are not many who pass the first ordeal of the ascension. You have done so, though you doubted you would. You have triumphed and we all triumph with you. We are with you, Troy. You have all our backs from here on. We believed in you when you did not, and you proved yourself able to do what must be done in order to prevail.”

It was a blessing to receive such praise from the woman. She had such a forthright way of speaking that it all hit me much more powerfully. I truly felt the love and respect coming from her, and from all of them.

It was a lovely feeling, but it passed moments later.

I wonder if such glorious states of being really can last… if it could even be maintained for long. It’s so overwhelming, almost too much emotion. The amount of love…

No wonder it had to pass… now wonder…

“Are you ready for your next trial?”

“May I ask you a question, first?” I breathed.

“By all means,” answered the winged woman with the ornate headdress.

“What is your name?” I queried.

“Ah,” she laughed, to my surprise. “My name is Angie. Simple, right, you must be thinking?” She smiled.

“No, I wasn’t,” I said in awe.

“Are you ready, now, Troy?”

“Ready,” I said.

“Then we will be on our way.”

The portal opened up again. This time I think I must have eaten something. Or maybe it was that stargrape juice. My stomach did not want to settle while I spun through the myriad of magical interdimensional doors with lights and colors whirling all around me… no, by no means. My stomach wanted rather to hurl all over the non-floor of the place.

When we stopped on the other side, I had to pause on my hands and knees, holding my solar plexus, wondering if I were truly going to heave. The muscles of my face tensed up, and I glutched the grass tightly in anticipation.

But like the glorious feeling I’d had earlier, this passed as well. Not soon enough.

“Are you alright?” asked my host.

“Yes, fine, thank you. I always do that when I travel through magical doors.”

I got to my feet and looked around. I was in a village of some type. No, never mind, a town. Or bordering on a city, the more I looked at it. Well, city is a malleable word, I’d say. More townish. Villagey city-like town place….

Anyways, it was teeming with life. There were street vendors and pawners and tradesmen milling about selling wares. People seemed comfortable and business flourished.

But it was still a place of want. There was a more rustic feel to the buildings, and more dirt in the streets than not. They were not paved like the capitals cities back home in the rest… well, wherever the rest of Paelstor is. Somewhere through the magic door and way down the mountain from here…

“Where are we?” I asked.

“Neverwhere. We’re not far from your last puzzle,” she answered, gesturing with an open palm down the hill behind us.

I looked and saw in the distance the labyrinthine hedge maze that I had just faced earlier.

Was it still today? I thought. How long did I sleep this afternoon? The moon was… but wait, this is the magic place again. The time here is different.

I think…

Angie became very serious again, like she had been before the maze.

“You are about to face your second test. This will be a test of your strength.”

“My strength?” I tried to stop her.

She continued, “Yes, but perhaps not in the way you are thinking.You must find your own strength, your true strength. I cannot tell you more. You will discover your path if you enter this place. But be cautious. This town holds many secrets.”

My host was turning away when she paused and added, “But that should be no problem for one as discerning as you.”

Then she walked off a few steps where a set of flat metallic bars materialized out of the air. She stepped one foot after the other up the floating stairs. The higher she went, the more she vanished, until all of her body and her entire magic staircase were gone.

It struck me how fluidly that happened before me. And it struck no one else in town.

But someone struck me next.

“Move, you sleeser,” barked an angry man at least a head and two shoulders taller than me and built like an ox.

“I was standing still,” I said.

“That’s my problem,” he snapped back. “You were in my way. Now move!”

He shoved me hard under my collarbones and I went flying back through thecrowd and landed in a heap of wood and straw. As I lifted myself out of the shaky wooden cart and pulled loose hay out of my mouth, I thought, Great, real show of my strength, there. This test is already going so well.

I wonder what my strength is. I was never a swordsman, or adept at the magical arts. Maybe fishing? Eh, I enjoy it. But I wouldn’t say my great haul, that ten pound lobster fish, was much of a prize in the fishing world…

“Are you ok?” asked a kind voice.

She was there in front of me in a moment, reaching out her hand to help me onto my feet. She wore simple peasants clothes. But her face shone through the muck and dust. It was the face of an angel.

“Uh, yea, yes,” I stammered in response. “Yea, I’ve been pushed harder before.”

“Really?”

“No, not really. Not physically anyways…” why did I add that bit?

“Ok, well, Mr. Physically fit but otherwise questionable, I’m really sorry about that guy. You’re new to town, I can tell. Part of living here so long. Yea, that guy over there,” she pointed at the ox who had pushed me. He was hassling a group of old men down the street, holding one of them by the scruff of his shirt.

“He thinks he’s one of them,” she nodded knowingly. But I didn’t know.

“Them?”

“Oh, right. Not everyone has their own neighborhood giants to worry about. I forgot, it’s just us.”

“Giants?” I wondered.

“Yea, giant assholes more like it. Taxmen. They’re the taxmen. They come every fortnight for their price. A penny for every grain of rice.”

“That sounds steep,” I joined her. “I wouldn’t want to see that tax bill.” I wasn’t sure what else to say.

“You’re a funny one, huh?” she said. “Name’s Gill. Welcome to Titanton.”

She reached out a grimy hand. I took it and shook.

“I’m Troy. Nice to meet you.”

I couldn’t help but squirm with a silly feeling of exhilaration. It was mostly her, but the idea that the town was named… it was too funny to me. To think that this country-like city bears the moniker of the Titans. If only Gill could see the T’hor Hill Lands of legend, where the mightiest of kings have lorded for centuries unhindered…

“So,” I said. “Tell me more about this ox, uh, giant-wannabe over there… What’s with his attitude?”

“He and a handful of thugs have decided it’s better to join them than fight them. Since the giants keep coming, every other nightfall on Urday, these guys start the whole thing early, demanding payments. Once the giants arrive, the men give the money like offerings, and they worship. They actually get on their knees and offer prayers and praises. This mostly just makes the giants laugh, but they entertain these men because they know they are useful.”

“Sounds like a bunch of fools,” I mocked.

“Truer words could never have been said. Where are you from, Troy?” she asked me.

“I’m from somewhere. But right now I am in Neverwhere. And from the sounds of it, this is the night, and the giants will be heading this way any moment.”

“You’re right about that,” said Gill.

“Then what do we do?”

She laughed and shook her head, hands on the sides of her hips.

“We hide. You’d better come with me and get out of sight if you don’t have a place to stay.”

I realized I would indeed be in a bad spot if I were caught in the streets when the giants did arrive.

“No place,” I answered. “I think I will take up that offer to get out of sight with you, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“I wouldn’t be offering if it were,” she said with a wink.

She grabbed my arm and began leading me away from the busy street. It appeared that everyone had the same idea. All the tumultuous activity I had seen before was gone. The last vendors were finishing packing up their wares and closing shop for the day. Everyone was rushing to and fro, possessions barely clung to their grip, slipping from their bodies as they ran.

I guess this town’s got a bully problem.

READ PART NINE

Thank you for reading. Please leave comments or share if you really liked the piece.

Blessings to you all,

Matthew