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 Mountain in the Clouds, Part 12

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

EA#09:

Read From the Beginning or the start of Trial Two

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Twelve

Gumpelthwomp carried me for at least half an hour, moving slowly but covering so much ground as he went. We crossed a river, went through a forest and arrived at a mountainous valley of rock.

The whole time he carried me, I couldn’t help but experience the life being squeezed out of me by the giant’s grip. It felt like my ribs would crack and my lungs were more empty than full. I attempted to shimmy my way to more room but that usually evoked a little extra pressure from the giant’s hand.

“P, P, P…” I stuttered somehow through the pain.

“What?” Gumpelthwomp asked, annoyed but confused.

“Ple, please…” I continued to stammer.

“Please what?” he said with an angry furrow in his brow.

“Please let… let me breathe,” I finished.

“Hah,” roared the giant whose hand nonetheless lightened its hold. My breath returned and the fear of death faded. My body had all the room it needed for all its parts again.

“Where are you taking me?” I asked.

“What’s your business?” was his answer.

“What are you going to do with me?” I tried.

“Gumpelthwomp crush you,” said the giant. “But first, Gumpelthwomp let other giants play ‘crush you.’”

I was sorry that I asked. I felt better before I knew for a fact that I was going to be crushed by multiple giants today.

Is this supposed to teach me strength? I thought to myself. Am I supposed to find hidden strength within me to pry open my captor’s claw and make my escape? Or better yet, grab the the giant and flip him on his head while at it… That would be some sort of strength, wouldn’t it? Super human… God-like…

Damn, my bones still hurt from those enormous fingers that had wrapped around me so tightly….

Without disturbing Gumpelthwomp, I tried to shift this way and that to get my muscles moving and to help realign my joints… Ow… Ow… Ouch… ah…

It helps to know some things about the body. Not everybody does, you know… Know about their own body that they live and breathe in every day.

I learned it in my time, in my line of work. And it has helped me time and again to face challenges in my life. To be able to know enough about my own physical makeup to help repair it along my journey in this world.

There are so many things that can be found readily to alleviate any… well, anyway, stories for another time, perhaps….

So there I was, regaining my posture. But still, I was locked in fear.

Fear for my very life!

What do I do now, what do I do now, I pondered over and over in my mind.

I thought one last thought, and that is: why don’t I ask that inner knowing about how I feel about my options. If I feel bad about it, throw it aside, and fast. If I like it, keep working with it, mold it like clay, keep forming it into something until…

Then the gods began to answer me in these ways:

First option, do nothing, which it truly feels like is the case, and that leads to certain death. Not a good option, not feeling good about it, actually quite rotten, it’s gone, now!

Or yell for help like you always know you will do when you are in danger. Nah, not much breath for that and it would likely upset Gumpelthwomp, can’t handle another squeeze, so no, that one’s out.

Maybe leave something, tear some shirt fabric off and throw it on a branch so that anyone following after could could track…

Ah, that’s if anyone is coming…

Well of course they are, aren’t they? Alright not feeling like the best option now either but table it. Might be handy as a last resort. Hell, throw it anyway, here goes.

Rip, shet, pfft.

Gone, good, caught that royal dogwood tree, right where it can be seen at eye level. Dark brown shirt strip on a…damn, brown tree in the woods… Alright, last resort, right?… moving on…

Well, if there’s anything to do at all, what is it? I mean, I have a limited amount of resources, no weapon, hell I can’t even more my arms.

Mouth! Yes, that’s it. Speak to the giant. But what to say?

“Ahem, Gumpelthwomp,” I looked in all directions in the air around me as if I were going to see the message I was suppose to speak next. It wasn’t there. Anywhere.

“Puny human, why do you trick giants?” his captor grunted.

“Um, well, there’s where you’re wrong,” I mulled over my response. “You’re wrong about me being human. Because I’m not.” I paused. I really had no idea where I was going with this.

“Huh?” begged the giant, truly confused.

“That’s right, I said it. I’m not a human. And I’m not afraid to say it again. Because, because,” I stalled. Then I had it. “Because I am a Magi.”

“What?” Gumpelthwomp stopped dead in his tracks and looked down at me with raised eyebrows. “You, Magi? You so small.”

“Yes, well, size is not what counts about the Magi, after all. We are the immortal beings who created the world, you know. We can be any size we wish to be.”

The giant’s eyes narrowed as her tried to follow everything I had just said, but he nodded in rapt agreement. Then he looked befuddled again and queried, “You god?”

“More than a god, a Magi,” I answered. “One of the nine celestial beings that formed the entire world of Paelstor as you know it.”

“Ok, Magi god, welcome Gumpelthwomp home,” said the giant.

As we entered the mountain pass and into the valley of stone monuments and craggy hills of rubble… there before me I saw a whole tribe of giants. And it was terrifying to behold.

There was nearly thirty all said, and they took up maybe an acre of land, just standing in a clutter at the back of the valley where the mountains closed in like a trap.

Most of them were men, but there were two or three females among them and to be honest they looked the most fierce. All of them had huge pelts of leather strapped in disarray across their bodies as armor. And each had a massive weapon, all lethal. I mean, really lethal. Like kill a family of deer in one blow lethal. And not leave them edible…

Gods, be with me, I said almost aloud. Please don’t let me die today. I know I can figure out how to get through this. I feel confident that the messages will be clear when the timing is right for them. And that the answers I will get will hasten me through this trial. And I know that I will come out on the other side, a changed man, forever blessed by the offering of guidance from your wisdom. See me safely through. Be with me now.

“Hey!” thundered Gumpelthwomp across the valley, bringing every giant to a stand still.

My captor held me up and said, “Prisoner Magi god!”

And the whole encampment erupted in uproarious applause and cheer.

READ PART 13 NOW

 

Thanks so much for reading.

 

Please leave comments and share.

Blessings to you,

Matthew

The Fool Recaps It All As He Finds New Footing In the World

Word Art Soul Connection black text over sun in blue sky photo, Subtitle Sunday Theme: Spirituality and transformationSC#09:

The Fool In Me

I am ever a fool. And that is a good thing.

For the fool always admits that he doesn’t know it all, that there is more to learn, that all experiences can be new.

So The Fool, which is the opening card of the Tarot’s Major Arcana, begins things. Whatever it is. We always have to begin new things from the beginning, and thus we always play the fool at some point or other.

To cultivate this energy of ever-allowing newness means you will always be learning, never assuming.

So the fool in me got started with this blog 70 posts ago.

A fortuitous number: 7 for the strong spirituality aspect of this blog, and 0 for The Fool card, just discussed. For this is a turning point where I take a short departure from this site into new ventures for my life.

I wanted to touch base on where this blog has been. As much for me as for anyone reading. It will be a good touching off point for when I return.

First, Let’s Recap

I had my 30 Day Blog Challenge to initiate my writings.

This was hugely transformative for me. The first 30 days got the energy moving and my hands typing.

In that first 30 days I worked on releasing toxicity in my life; building a mentality for finding abundance with my desire to write; and I began many threads of ideas and themes to work with as I continued blogging.

Since then I have written posts about fear, the nature of control and the idea of hell.

On the other hand I wrote about the Light, releasing negativity and manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven.

I had a purging period.

And a truly wild Wild Card post yesterday.

There was a short series of poems about a gnome.

And a miniseries, The Birds of the Basin, that is nearing completion.

My personal favorite has been my Epic Adventure, The Mountain in the Clouds. This I will continue to write. It keeps calling me to my future.

For It Is Time To Face the World

I claimed at the end of the 30 day challenge that I was doing a new challenge to meditate daily. Truth be told, it didn’t go as planned. And I lost track. Oh well, I’m being easy about it. I did what I needed to, meditated where I could and now I am going to do what I feel guided to do next.

Who knows… It may be that despite how I think my second meditation challenge went,  this moment in time,  this revelation gifted to me tonight is the result of my efforts.

And that revelation is to follow through on the intentions I set in this blog. To write and to be creative and to forge the rest of my life around that, as I had always planned to since my youth.

So it is go time. Time to make a product that will actually face the masses and become a work apart from me, beyond its creator and received by the world at large.

For that is what I am lacking. Release. A release of my work, of any kind. So that is the next step I am guided to take.

Finding New Footing

I will be taking a hiatus from the blog for a while. Except as I am guided to, of course. And my epic adventure must see it’s conclusion.

I am not sure how long it will take, it matters not, but it is time to turn my laser sharp focus on a new goal: completing one project and releasing it. And then the next. And the next. And the next. That is what I want, after all.  To write and keep writing.

So I will find new footing now.

And I release all ties to this blog. The blogging can come as it needs to. I am at peace with it.

(Anyways, you have plenty to read while you wait. 70 posts to be sure.

So catch up. Stay tuned. And be easy.)

 

As always, thanks for reading.

 

Blessings to you all and my very best,

Matthew

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 11

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

EA#08:

Read From the Beginning or the start of Trial Two

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Eleven

The plan began to unfold. Everyone in town got busy with it. It was a wonderful thing to see. The hard work of hundreds of dedicated participants with one goal in mind.

Jax and Hayn were hoisting some posts together, while Bion directed the two in placing them just so.

Gill had a team of helpers moving supplies to their necessary placements.

Corporal Riley was coaching the town guard on their part in the execution of the master plan.

Even the Scimitar Man helped, training a few interested youths in a bit of swordplay.

Gods, that it doesn’t come down to swordplay, I thought. We are extremely outmatched by the giant taxmen.

Still I was thrilled to see everyone putting so much good effort in. The city was alive with hope, rather than the desperation that had been feeling so heavy before.

I truly hoped this was going to be work. If it backfired, we were all in for some truly giant trouble.

Everyone had listened to my idea intently. They’d almost immediately latched onto it, which had surprised me a bit. Especially considering my opening line had been:

“So we are going to put on a little fairy tale puppet show for the taxmen.” Eesh, what was I thinking. Many eyebrows were raised at that.

I had continued to clarify what I was intending:

“When I was a kid, I remember all the stories about giants and how ridiculous their courtship rituals seemed. The women giants always seemed to play hard to get. And the men giants would inevitably come in too fast with lips puckered. The women would pound them on the head with some frying pan or the like, and the men would nearly fall over, but would always continue the pursuit of the woman despite. It rarely ended well for the men, but was usually in the women’s favor. It always struck me as kind of funny when I was a kid, but I guess my older self thought, ‘well of course courtship and mating must be hard for giants or there would be a lot more of them in the world.’ I was naive. But now I think it makes sense and its gives me an idea.”

Still the others had looked at me blankly.

“Well, what if we confuse the giants when they come back? What if we make them think they’ve been beaten here by some women giants.”

“Say what?” Gill had had to interject.

“Yea, we create faces of giant women and place them on top of some of the buildings. We place the traps there and when the men get close we’ve got them right where we want them. You said it yourselves that you have traps ready, but were not sure where to put them. This way, we are in control of where the taxmen go, right into our snares.”

“You’re crazier than I thought,” Gill had muttered.

“No,” Corporal Riley had mused, “this actually sounds promising. Needs refinement, maybe. And it will require some determination from a lot of people in town. We need to make these giant faces quickly. And how will we get them to look like more than just heads on buildings? We need the appearance of clothes… lots of fabric we can hang down from the face. I don’t know, this is quite a project. Gill, can you help coordinate some artisans on giantess garments? Jax, Hayn, why don’t you get your friends in the lumber guild to construct some large frames for the heads. Bion, collaborate with your painter friends on designing faces. I can get my team placing the traps in good spots and we will build our giantesses there.”

“This is ridiculous,” Gill had protested. “Do we really think that giant men are going to fall for wooden faces with long fabric hanging from them?”

“Maybe not as ridiculous as it a sound,” the Scimitar Man had offered then. “Our a friend here is a not the only one to have a childhood stories about a giants. In a my country, they say a giants have a terrible eyesight. They cannot see a baby rattle from a deadly rattler.” He had said with a shrug.

So we decided to go forward with the project, with some improvements as we went. We were all hoping that giants indeed had these odd characteristic that had been passed on through childhood fairy tales. One, that men giants would invariably pursue women giants even while incurring their own injury. And two, that giants were half blind.

Gods help us, I prayed. A lot is resting on a couple maybes.

But I chose to believe that it was all going to work out just as it needed to.

And everyone was working so intently on it all.

The frames of the heads had come out well, and the faces were done very convincingly by the painters of town. They looked quite fearsome and, we hoped, attractive… We didn’t know exactly what male giants looked for, so we based it off what we knew from looking at the taxmen. Some of the women had curled lips, others moles or punchy cheeks. But ours all a touch of feminine charm for good measure.

The carpenters and lumberers lifted the frames into place on the building tops and propped them up. Then seamstresses, tailors and other craftworkers began dressing the heads with ropes for hair and large baubles of all kinds fashioned into giant jewelry. Jax, Hayn, and Bion looked on approvingly.

Long rolls of fabric were thrown from rooftops to the ground and townspeople from windows up and down the buildings tied belts, shirt cuffs and collars. Dresses billowed out below that, but were long so there was no need for legs. Then wooden hands were placed at the sides and mock boots at street level.

The fake giant women were all equipped with a voice, played by one of the actors from the town theater groups. These brave folk were given a personal guard and placed in hiding behind the giantess heads. Everything was almost set.

Gill was giving a stern congratulations to her teams who were rallying back to her after completing their tasks.

The Scimitar Man and his class of amateur swordsmen ended with handshakes and smiles before splitting up.

Corporal Riley commanded some last orders to her teams to finish their placement of the traps.

Then all of the townspeople were ordered to return home and stay inside. Every last citizen was to remain in hiding after the giants arrival so they wouldn’t spoil the trap.

It was going to be quite a show.

“Two days of preparing this insane plan, and I’m anxious to see how it will really turn out,” Riley admitted to me quietly.

“I know, it does feel pretty crazy. But I thought you were behind my plan?” I asked the corporal.

“I was. I am. But seeing it work will be another thing…” she trailed off, then went back to shouting at her crew who was slipping while carrying one of the trap parts.

“I know,” I said to myself. “Tell me about it.”

I tried to remain strong. I believed that the plan would work. I made myself really believe in it. Put my trust fully into the gods’ hands to carry us through this. The gods had never let me down before, had they? Well, that’s debatable… Forget that, that was a different time. The gods have led me well so far since then. I have faith in their messages to me. I am trusting and believing.

Then the pounding of the enormous footfalls made me almost completely lose that focus. The giants were approaching. They were coming for their taxes. They were coming to complete their threat.

The powerful reverberations of booted giant feet resounded across the valley, just like last time. Even though they had long gaits, it felt an eternity waiting for their approach. As calm as I had been a moment ago, the longer the anticipation was, the longer I felt my blood pressure rise to a crescendo of terror. And the noise got louder and clearer as it neared.

“What is this?” growled a giant man’s voice.

“What do you mean, what is this!?” shrieked an actor in her best giantess voice. “We seized the city by force, what does it look like? You lazy clods are too late. When we women want something we just take it. Now what do you want?”

The tone changed quickly in the giant man’s response, “Ahem, excuse me, ladies, I didn’t mean to judge you too quickly. My name is Gumpelthwomp. I am the head taxman here, and we are here to collect our dues. I wasn’t expecting any competition. Is there any way we can talk about this? Maybe over a roast pig or two?”

I was so pleased to see the giant, Gumpelthwomp, respond as if the huge puppet were real. He was not quite puckered up for a kiss, but it sounded like he was trying to ask her out. And his body language was leaning ever closer to the female mock giant. His eyes glimmered and seemed to quite literally have stars in them.

The effect was unanimous around town as all the giant tax collectors came to be smitten by a well-acted fake wooden giantess in curtains.

The longer I watched the giant men chase the fabricated giantesses, the more I couldn’t believe my eyes. Were these behemoths of men really that thick-headed? Could they not see what was happening? They were each beginning to enact my childhood tales, readying their lips to lean in for a kiss from their favored giant woman.

It was all lined up.

The traps were sprung.

There was a large hammer that was released on the top of one giant’s skull, sending him reeling and spinning. As he did so he stumbled into some ropes tied across the street and toppled over into a pile of rubble placed in his way.

Another taxman was slammed in the sides of his face by two huge logs that were let loose simultaneously, swung from ropes. And down he went, lights out.

And another was blinded by black, powdery smoke in his face, coughing and sputtering as he backed up into a large toothed trap that grabbed his ankle.

I stood with the Riley and the others in one of the tallest guard watchtowers and witnessed the whole plan falling into place. All of the giants were being caught by the traps and were either knocked out, bound or fallen. The actors were perfecting their roles, luring the last clueless giants to their dooms.

Except for one. Gumpelthwomp.

Even though the head taxman had been the first to fall prey to the ruse, he had also hesitated long enough to witness his comrades being ensnared. And he did not set off the trap made for him. He looked around angrily, trying to spot someone to blame. And somehow he made eye contact with me.

“You!” he thundered, and hastened towards me. And hastening in giant steps is very fast indeed. He was there before I knew it, reaching out a strong, grubby hand to get me. Riley and the others threw up their weapons but the giant’s hand plunged straight through the stonework of the tower. I felt my body being lifted in a tight grip while my friends were tossed aside like bugs in the rubble of the falling structure.

Ok, this is not going according to plan. This was not right at all, I thought.

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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

 

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Matthew

Epic Adventures: The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 9

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

EA#06:

Start with Part One

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Nine


We were in the woods.

My friends and I.

Not the friend you may remember. These friends didn’t have wings.

But they had their blades ready.

The giants had marched into town so quickly that we found ourselves running just to get out of the way and not be trampled on.

We ran so hard and long that our bodies ached and our muscles throbbed. It wasn’t until we were out of the city streets and in the forest that we stopped.

The thundering roar of the giants’ pounding feet echoed throughout the valley. Houses were no match for them as they plowed through them.

My heart was racing as I managed to inquire: “Do they always destroy the city to collect taxes?”

Corporal Riley breathily answered: “No, this is unusually aggressive tonight.”

Yea, it’s unusual for me. I’m not usually so terrified. I saw my life flash before my eyes when those massive boots nearly crushed my body in a single easy step.

I had no idea they would be so big. I mean, I heard Gill say giants, but… They were twice as high as the tallest buildings in town.

And so sturdily built. I couldn’t imagine the small daggers and short swords and scimitars there were going to be of much use against the giants’ thick skins.

Wait, scimitar? That’s not a common weapon to be seen in parts like this… Well, whatever parts these were, they were not like the desert homes of the scimitar men.

Who was this scimitar man?

I didn’t have long to ponder it, for then we were on the move. The giants had come to be settled in the center of town and the orders were announced:

“Move in!” said Corporal Riley, who was a fierce woman wielding her spear lethally, winged helm barely containing the pulsing veins in her angry face.

The group was on the move back towards town and the giants, the corporal leading the charge, weapon held high.

Leaves and branches thwacked at us as we went, and I started to wonder how I had gotten caught up in all this.

Oh, right, my trial. This one was already feeling quite different from my first one.

Gill, the woman whom I had met less than an hour ago, had introduced me to some of her friends. Riley was one of them, as well as several guards: Jax, Hayn, and Bion. These were the ones who formed our little group. Plus the scimitar man, whoever he was.

Riley and the guards had spoken about rebellion. They were fed up with the giants’ tax and wanted to fight back. Talk was that they would strike soon, but it wasn’t supposed to be tonight. And it was supposed to be preemptive, not while being taken off guard by the rampage that the giants had just caused.

We broke out of the forest and hustled down the city streets towards the looming crowd of behemoths. All were on edge, weapons ready, faces intent. Except me. I felt like I was just going along for a ride I didn’t know I’d signed up for.

When we got close to the center of town, we could begin to hear booming voices. The voices ranted on, but it was hard to make out the words as the low tones sounded jumbled from this distance.

The power of those voices shook the very walls of my heart and rib cage.

Then I saw Gill, peering around a corner, watching the taxmen. She turned to see us coming her way.

“When did you get separated from us?” I asked.

“When you guys bolted for the edge of town, I ducked into this silo,” she said, pointing behind her. It was large and well-built. “I couldn’t imagine they’d want to run through that.”

“Smart thinking, Gill,” said Riley. “And a bit lucky. What are they doing now?”

“I think they are giving new demands to us. More taxes, or more destruction of our homes and businesses. Anyways, it’s hard to hear them…”

“Then I think we should move in closer and address this properly,” declared Riley.

Again, they were on the move, now seven, all weapons raised. Except for me. Even Gill had her short sword in hand.

The scimitar man saw me looking around at the weapons and said, “You look like you need some arms. Here,” he offered me a cudgel pulled from his back.

“What do I…?” I began.

“You hit things with it,” he said. “Not as much skill as a sword maybe, but does the damage. Just don’t hit yourself with it, it does take some finesse.” He winked.

I swung it a couple times, feeling clumsy. It was quite heavy, with a blunted mace-like striking head.

Maybe this is my strength, I laughed to myself. I swung it a few more times. Then again, probably not…

I was beginning to count on not needing the club at all. Especially with another glance up at the giant’s enormous bodies. And their own massive weapons. Maybe this can be done without a fight, I prayed.

Corporal Riley raised her hand in a fist then and brought us to a stop. We were just behind the taxmen and the crowd of people that had gathered in front of them, barely visible from where we were, what with the buildings and boots blocking the way.

“Up here,” she called, and ran into an inn.

We followed her up floor after floor, winding our way up the stairs to the top where a door opened onto the roof of the inn.

Riley burst through the door, catching the attention of a tax collector whose enormous head turned to glare at her.

“Well if it’s isn’t the constable herself,” he grumbled.

“Corporal,” she corrected.

“Yea, yea,” his thunderous voice boomed. “What do you want? I see you’re ready to fight, you and your pathetic bunch. Are you really so daring? You do realize that you have no chance against us, right?”

He began bellowing out a laugh that resounded across the valley. He smacked the giant next to him, who at first looked like he was choking before joining in with a guffaw. Then all the taxmen chortled uproariously, which quickly became unbearable on my ear drums.

When the ruckus settled, the first giant pretended to wipe a tear from his eye and asked again, “So what are you trying to accomplish, exactly?”

Corporal Riley was nonplussed. She answered, “We will not be oppressed by you and your taxes anymore. Is it true that you are asking for more? We have given you all we have to give. Take any more and we will all starve. Then where will you get your tax money?”

“We only asked for a farthing more,” said the tax collector. Then he started sniffling back another laugh.

“Yea, a farthing by our standards or in giant terms?” Riley demanded.

“You know us too well, old constable. As you wish. We asked for ten silvers more from each household, every tax period.” The giant grinned from ear to ear then, holding his arms across his chest.

“That’s ludicrous,” she retorted. “No one in Titanton can afford that.”

“Ah, that is true,” the giant said with zest. “That is why I offer you a second option. One that doesn’t involve us flattening all of you today.”

“What is it?” Riley asked tentatively.

“You said no one can afford it. That is a lie. There is someone who can. Your lord and liege has gold beyond his limits. He needs to pay his fair share of tax to us, too. That way he can siphon the demands placed on his people. That seems fair to us. Do you agree, constable?”

“I am a corporal!” Riley shouted back. “And I cannot answer for the king.”

The taxman leaned his face close to Riley and growled, “That’s why you will tell him yourself. You will convince him that he must do this. If he doesn’t, he will watch us smash his town to rubble before his eyes.”

This was the one time the corporal faltered a bit, with the giant’s crooked mouth breathing hot on her face. She learned away, trying to get more space from him without appearing to back down.

“I think that is the best offer you can get, right now, little bug,” the giant said. He moved away from her again and threw his hand up in the air to rally his fellow giants to leave. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

The taxmen turned to retrace their steps out of town. As they went, one giant threw an elbow into a roof and another kicked in a wall.

“We will be back in two days,” the head taxman said over his shoulder.

“Two days?” asked Riley.

“Aww, are you going to miss us? We’d come sooner, but we have other towns to harass, you know. Lucrative business, tax collecting.”

He guffawed again, and this time I clapped my hands over my ears to block the noise.

Then, like the end of a bad dream, it was over and all the giants had disappeared back into the mountains.

“Enough is enough!” Gill rallied us then. “They are asking for too much. We’ve already had enough of them. It’s time we put an end to this.”

“I know, I feel your pain, Gill, but how?” Riley sighed. “These are treacherous waters we are in. The stakes have changed. And we all know they are perfectly capable of decimating us in the blink of an eye.”

“Not if we’re smart,” I started. As all eyes turned to me, I gulped. I hope I know what I’m doing…

READ PART 10 NOW

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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

Wild Card Adventure: The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 7

Word Art Wild Card Day handwritten font on illustration of cards, Subtext Friday Theme: Any theme
WCD#04:

Gimme More Story

Second verse, same as the first!

I am repeating last week’s wild card theme because, man oh man, I am excited to find out what happens next.

Today’s wild card is…..!

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

Read Part One First

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Seven

There it was.

A stone wall.

I risked my life almost drowning in the watery passage that brought me here. And I followed the endless sconces along the walls of this stone tunnel. And for this?

A dead end.

The old man did warn me, I suppose. Why didn’t I listen to him?

In any case I was worn out so I took a seat on the floor, back to the wall. It was cold, as expected. And hard against my spine and sits bones. But it was a relief to have time to pause and recenter my energy.

Maybe it’s something about almost drowning that takes it out of you. Or this endless trial I set myself upon. What was it even about again?

I tried to remember how it started. How I was flown into a magnificent city in the mountains, high above the clouds. How a winged woman asked if I wanted to complete seven trials as part of some ascension process. How she brought me to the start of this labyrinthine hedge maze. And how I asked the three people for their help in solving the puzzle to reach the center.

To what end? What was at the center of the maze? What was it? My host said something about discernment, right?

Discernment. What does that mean to me? Well, I can discern that I am at the end of a long tunnel that goes nowhere. I can discern that I almost died underwater on the way here. I can discern that the old man was odd, but friendly, and he seemed… yes, he did seem truthful. I did get that sense.

So why did I ignore his advice to stay out of this passage? If he wasn’t lying, then…

Aha!

It struck me then what the point of all this was again. It was about discerning who was telling the truth and who was lying.

I was going on the tip of the first man, the farmer who told me that his father saw a secret tunnel near a square pool, and that it led all the way to the center. I accepted this advice with caution at first, but when I saw the evidence of the tunnel in the pool itself, I was convinced.

Was I completely wrong about it? Did I want to believe the first man because it suited me? What about the other man? Or the woman? Which one did I truly believe?

The third man, the lovelorn treasure hunter, had told me that he already found the center of this place and that the treasure was taken. But I didn’t even know if there was a treasure in here, or if that’s what my host wanted me to find. My host never asked for a treasure.

I went with the thought that if my host wanted me to enter the labyrinth, there must be a reason. So I discounted the treasure hunter’s story as a distraction. And I just didn’t believe him, so that aside…

What about the woman? Well, that was an interesting conversation. She told me that the maze was an illusion. And so what if I were in a magical testing ground? What am I supposed to do with her advice? I can’t just walk through walls, can I?

Can I?

It struck me that it hadn’t occurred to me to try. All this time I have been following the rules I knew. I walk through the spaces I find empty before me, around walls and through doors. I never thought I could just… what if I just tried it?

Feeling some resolve, I got quickly to my feet. I paused, took a deep breath, then walked forward confidently towards the stone wall before me.

Ouch.

Um, no that still felt like stone. Definitely not an illusion.

Or was it a matter of how much I believed it? If I really focused on the wall not being there, maybe the illusion would lose its power over me and I could pass.

So I clapped my hands together and rubbed them briskly. Then I tapped my fingers to the sides of my head near my temples and closed my eyes. I concentrated really hard on letting go the need to believe that this stone wall were as solid as it looked. I visualized it becoming an open doorway that would let me pass through it with ease. I thought and thought really hard about it for some time, squeezing my eyelids shut so tight. Then I reached out.

It was still there. The wall was still there. Damn.

Part of me wondered if I lost the belief in it as I reached out my hands. The slow, tentative movement I made must have given away my doubts in the illusion. So the wall felt as permanent as ever.

The other part of me thought maybe this was all a ridiculous waste of time. Maybe the woman was lying herself. Maybe this place really was quite solid and real.

Yet why could I not shake the feeling that she was telling me the truth? I just didn’t know what to do with it, but it felt like she meant what she said. Every word.

It reminded me of the old man. I got the same sense from him. That he spoke truth and meant every word he said.

Still, I just didn’t know how that helped me now. Maybe I can see the truth of their statements and the lies of the others. But what now? I am here, stuck at the end of the tunnel. Do I really need to swim back through that passage and show my face at the other end? Even if I made it back again, which I had some doubts about…

I was pacing back and forth and gesticulating about as I mused through my thoughts and didn’t really think about where I was. I had completely let go of the idea of the maze or the illusion or having any control over it whatsoever.

So I can tell you I was quite surprised when I came back to my senses. As I looked down, I saw my hand sticking out from the stone wall. From the inside.

Come to find out I had paced myself straight into the illusion of the wall and turned to face the tunnel behind me.

So it was an illusion! Why did it let me through now? I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore.

I was so excited to discover this secret. I felt like I now had the skeleton key to the maze, like I could go anywhere from here on. If it were all an illusion, nothing should stop me.

So I turned back into the where the wall had been to see what lay beyond it. Beyond the illusion of the dead end.

And I saw it hurtling towards me. A large spinning wheel of spikes. It filled the passage in front of me and screamed along the walls, shooting sparks into the dim corridor.

I completely panicked and began running back the way I had come, back towards the water.

Then I stopped myself.

Wait, if I now knew that the maze was an illusion, then so must be this deadly trap.

Though it did seem quite a risk to take in order to test my brand new theory. It was a matter of life or death now. Do I get skewered or do I master this place once and for all?

My animal instinct said, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

It was hard to ignore.

But I did ignore it. I knew that I had come this far and that I seemed to be having great luck. I also felt that I had to prove that I was understanding the lesson in this challenge. The lesson is to be in my discernment. And if I may discern that the old man and the woman outside the maze were both speaking from truth, than I may believe both his warning of the danger and her knowledge of the illusion.

So I braced myself. My heart pumped a million beats per second. My whole body tensed in anticipation of the impact. I couldn’t keep my eyes closed and winced at the terrifying shriek of the trap careening towards me.

And when it got so close that the noise overwhelmed me and wanted to make me jump through the walls for safety…

Then it just passed right through me like an invisible thing.

I couldn’t congratulate myself more right then. I had passed the test.

And then I dropped through the floor. I started tumbling through a void. There was nothing there, no form or light or color at all. Just me, falling.

Ok, I thought, I get it. If it’s all illusion then none of it is here and now I am falling out of the illusion. I get the lesson. Now this has gone too far. Give me something to stand on, at least.

And so I landed. Strangely, it didn’t hurt. It felt more like the ground materialized under me because I asked for it, rather than what it might have seemed, that I fell from a great height and hit the bottom. I just landed in an easy standing position in the grass.

I noticed quickly that I was back in the maze. But I was in a new part of it that I had not seen before. There were hedge walls towering all around me, but there was also a spaciousness to this place. The hedges were fashioned more like a design than a puzzle, as if it were a garden on a nobleman’s estate.

As I turned I got more confirmation of the specialness of this place. It was a beautifully landscaped cloister, with beds of of flowers and groves of trees all around it. Everything looked fashioned after the gardens of the gods themselves. Marble columns and stone structures were built here and there, with vines of ancient wisteria lifting up and upon them, their multitudes of flowers draping off the edges. The sweet smell of lilac filled the air, and I located several bushes of them in blue and purple and pink.

Then I saw the chest. In the middle of the cloister was a mound of earth raised up like a square altar. On top of the mound was a gilded chest, ornately carved with detailed craftsmanship.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I hastened over, climbed up on the mount and lifted the lid on the chest. It was more heavy then I could have imagined and it took me some effort.

At last, I had it open and peered inside.

Nothing.

Great. Another trick. Was this, too, an illusion?

My only guess what that it was. But was it an illusion that the chest was empty or an illusion that there should be a treasure chest at all?

My thoughts were interrupted by a slow, steady clapping from behind me.

“Very well done,” said a familiar voice. I turned to see the old man in the brown robes, the self-declared heart of the maze.

“What is this?” I asked him, pointing at the empty chest.

“You see it as well as I do,” said the maze’s heart.

“Yes, it’s an empty chest. Why did I work so hard to get here only to find an empty chest?”

“Did you work that hard?” asked the old man. The question irritated me to no end.

“Give me a break! I went where many dare not. I chased your pet cockatrice, almost drowned in the water, and braved the spike trap that could have killed me… and you think it was easy?”

“Aha, you assume much, young man,” he chided me. “I didn’t say you did it the easy way. But did you really work that hard? Those on the outside already told you what to expect. I told you as well. And you didn’t have to fight anything or build any castles. I just mean to point out that you really did not have it that hard.”

“Ok, old man, I see what your saying. But I’m still mad about the threats to my life. So you’re the heart of this place. What does that mean? You built it? Why make it like this?”

“So that people like you may find their own way. I cannot tell you. No one can tell you your way but you. That is why you must be in your discernment. You must decide what is true for your life, and what choices you must make in your truth. You cannot be misled or discouraged by the words of others. That even included me. So I compliment you on not taking my advice earlier.” He winked then. “But I still think you were stupid not to.”

“What was I supposed to do? Just sit there and chat with you?”

“Yes, you could have. Did it ever occur to you to just be, just let it be? Sit down with one who knows, who is trying to help you, and who may impart some new awareness that may benefit your life? You didn’t even ask me the right questions.”

“Alright, old man. So let me ask. What is your name?”

“You already asked me that. I told you my answer. But for fun, why don’t you just call me The Hermit.”

“Ok, Hermit, whatever. What brought you to be here?”

“It was my choice.”

“Why? What was so bad in your life to choose to live here?”

“I didn’t say anything was bad in my life.”

“Then why live here? What was your purpose in coming here?”

“My purpose was to do what I do best. That is why I live here. To do what I am meant to do.”

“And what is that? What are you meant to do, what do you do best?”

“I have conversations with confused travelers.”

I grumbled and cast my arms to my sides. I felt like I was getting nowhere again with this guy.

“I can see you are frustrated,” said The Hermit. “It may be hard for you to understand me from your perspective. I get that.”

“So what is it, then? Why did you say you were the heart of the maze? Am I supposed to take you out of the maze?”

“I am the heart of the maze, as I told you. That means that this place was built by me. By my love for all life. My heart went into this place. It is a testing ground for those like yourself. Those who are lifting themselves to new heights. Heights that I may perceive but you must learn. And you all must learn in your own ways, from the places you are when you enter.”

“You say all. Are there others? Have there been others to succeed? You only told me about the failures.”

“Many did fail. And some succeeded. Those who brought you here, the winged ones. Some of them are among the victors.”

“Are you saying I will grow wings from after this?”

The old man showed signs of his jovial nature again, letting out an amused guffaw. “If you want wings, that may be possible. But knowing you, you’d likely disregard them and do it you own way.”

“I did that, yes. I ignored your advice to stay out of the passage. But would I have otherwise learned what I did, had I not gone?”

“Perhaps. There are many ways to learn. You found the one you needed at the time.” The Hermit squinted his eyes at me and asked, “So now, what will you do? Will you take me prisoner? Lead me out of my home, to give to your host as a prize for your triumph in here?”

I paused for a moment, thinking his question odd. When he first told me who he was and that I would need to kidnap him from the maze, I felt a moral dilemma in the thought of actually doing it. Now, it was more like a feeling that it wasn’t the truth.

“Wait,” I started to realize something. The Hermit looked on with some excitement in his eyes. I continued, “The winged woman who brought me to this challenge asked me to find the center of the maze and bring back what I found there. But she never said anything about what it was, or that I should find the heart.”

I thought longer. Then I remembered…

“You were the one who told me about the heart of the maze… Why, why deceive me?”

“I had no malicious intent,” begged The Hermit, offering open palms in supplication. “I told you the truth.”

“Yes, you told me the truth. But you asked leading questions,” I scolded him.

He shrugged, “Matter of perspective. Questions are not truths. I played my part.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” I said. “It was my choice what I did with your words.”

“Exactly. That is why it is so imperative to be in your discernment. You must decide what is true and you must decide how to act on that knowing. That is all this is about.”

“So there is nothing here, then. No treasure to bring back?”

“Who said anything about a treasure?” said the old man, flabbergasted. “Anyways, what better prize can you have than being able to discern the truth for the rest of your life?”

“Then for that, I thank you,” said I, sincerely.

“I think it’s time you are going, now,” said The Hermit and before I knew it or could even respond, the world was swirling before my vision again.

When I came out of the spell I found myself back in the city in the mountain in the clouds. And my friend was there on the edge of the plaza with a dozen winged people. And the woman who had led me into the challenge, my host, was there before me smiling broadly.

“Welcome back, traveler,” she said. “What have you brought me?”

“I have brought nothing. I found only an old man and his bird.”

“Then what have you learned?”

“I learned that I can be discerning about what is true and how to act on it.”

“Then who was telling the truth?”

I thought about this one another minute, then had my answer.

“They all were.”

She seemed surprised by my answer.

“In a way, they all were telling some version of truth, as they saw it. Or parts of their accounts were true. But the only one I believed completely was the woman. Even though it was hard to know what to do with her advice… I may have discounted it at first. But when she spoke it felt as though she meant to tell me the truth and not mislead me. Just like the old man in the maze. They spoke with the intention to be truthful. No manipulations or lies. It was only up to me to decide whether I believed any of them or not.”

“So you have learned a powerful lesson. You know that you can be in discernment and that you can be a truth seeker.”

“Yes, I suppose I have learned that.”

“Then you have passed the first trial. And you may rest for now.”

She nodded to one of the attendants, “Show the traveler to his quarters for some rest and see that he gets all he needs.”

A woman nodded and came to my side to escort me away.

Good. I was looking forward to a little rest after that.

A voice inside grumbled the thoughts I didn’t want to hear: Rest? You’re going to need it where you’re going.

Great.

READ PART EIGHT

Please leave comments on what you learned from this first trial. And share with friends who may enjoy the story, too.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

Blessings to you all.

Matthew

Epic Adventures: The Mountain in the Clouds, Part 6

Word Art Epic Adventures glowing orange text over cloudy mountain background illustration, subtext Thursday Theme: What follows is a fictional account
EA#04:

Read Part One First

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Six

There I was. And there was the heart of the maze. Which was actually the old man. And there was the square pool.

And there was this large cockatrice cleaning its arms by the pool, licking the feathers on the back of its wrist over and over.

A puff of feathers came off on the beast’s tongue. It noticed me looking at it right then, turned and paused, mouth open, tongue drooping out, feathers still clinging to it.

Ok, this was a pivotal moment, I felt. This was the clue I was given. Find the square pool, then locate the secret passage there that leads all the way to the center of the maze.

Then again, I was standing next to the heart of the maze.

It puzzled me once again, despite the knowing I received that this old man was the energetic heart of the maze. If he were the heart, then what was the center? And what’s there at the center that I would need? Does this man have something I need?

“It strikes me,” I began to say.

“You found the tunnel?” he asked nonchalantly,

I was taken aback. “Yes, how did you know?”

“Saw you staring at it a moment ago.” He snorted and seemed to be eating something again.

There was also now a small fire burning under an iron pot. He was stirring something inside the pot with a ladle and occasionally poured a spoonful into a bowl he held in his other hand.

“It’s not a magic potion, it’s just soup,” the old man said.

“Is it good?”

“No, it’s bitter worm soup. Does that sound good to you? No. Well I only have it for my health. Keeps these old bones from falling apart at my age. Got a nasty aftertaste. But the syrup I add makes the first taste kind of sweet.”

“Sounds, useful, I guess.”

“So are you thinking of going into that tunnel?”

Before I could even answer he blurted: “DON’T!”

“I was told that…”

“Yea, someone told you there’s a secret path. Ok, fine, believe them over me. Never asked you to trust me anyway.”

“Well, it’s just that, he said it would be here and I didn’t know what to expect. But now that I’m here, and I see the tunnel with my own eyes, well it strikes me that there may be some truth to it. I mean, it’s too coincidental.”

The man shifted his robes and peered at me over his bent nose. “Son, do you know how many times?” He trailed off. “No. Look. There’s always people trying to solve the puzzle of this place. I’ve seen them, met a few, talked to them even. All the same. ‘Someone told me something and here it is,’ they say. Well, do you have any proof that what is on the other side of the tunnel is what you want? Do you have any way of knowing that you will be safe in this passage? No, you don’t!”

I paused for a minute, pondering his words. He went back to his bowl of soup, slurping small sip by small sip, making the most wretched face each time in response to the taste of it.

“Well, I suppose I have one way of knowing. I have you here to tell me. Is this passage safe?”

“No!” was all he said.

“Then what am I to do next? Sit here and have soup with you?”

“Would you like to? I’ve got another bowl, here. I do warn you, this stuff’s got a kick.”

He produced another small bowl from his brown sleeves and began filling it with the bitter worm soup. The name alone made me want to gag.

“No, really, that’s alright,” I replied. “Maybe next time. The face you make when you drink it tells me enough.”

“Suit yourself. Your young bones are probably doing fine anyways. Unless you go in that tunnel. Shame to risk your life for it.”

“So are you telling me this tunnel might kill me?”

The man smiled but it was a hardened smile.

“Look, you will believe what you want to believe,” he said. “You don’t have to take my word for it. Hell, I might just be some crazy old man living here in the labyrinth. What do I know about anything?”

He began to cackle madly then, at which point I might think to take him up on his own description as a crazy old man.

Yet, I had a nagging feeling inside that told me he was trustworthy.

At the same time, I still didn’t know what to do. It seemed the longer I sat with this old man and his snacks and soups, the more time I wasted in actually finding the center of this place and completing my first trial.

“I’m going in,” I said with some resolve.

“I know,” he intoned knowingly. “I seriously do not advise it. But I know you must. I knew it when you first came in.”

“Is there anything you can tell me that can help get me through safely?” I asked him. “Any warnings or suggestions?”

“I’ve already told you. Just don’t go in. That’s my only suggestion. But we’ve already established that you’re not taking my advice. So what does it matter what else I say?”

“Sure, I understand. Alright, it’s for me to find out. I can do this.”

“Good pep talk. I’d say good luck in there, but think I should take your measurement instead.”

“Why’s that?” I said, puzzled.

“For your casket.”

On that uplifting note, I pulled myself together and walked towards the pool.

Well, first, I walked towards the cockatrice. It seemed that the bird creature of lore was my first potential danger on this path. I imagined those talons could rend me to pieces in seconds.

“He doesn’t bite,” the old man reassured me. “He’s more like a cat. He prefers to play with his victims first.”

Good one, I thought to myself, shrugging off the man’s wry wit.

I bowed my head towards the beast and paused. My sole intention was to remain calm and respectful in its presence. To let it know I meant no harm.

“I am trying to reach the pool, if you please. I do not wish to bother you, but if you could make some room for me to pass…”

It felt funny to speak to the huge bird plunked there on the ground before me, staring at me like I were the oddity here.

But it worked. The creature slowly picked itself up and shifted to sit a few feet to the side.

“Thank you,” I said and walked to the side of the pool.

From there I could clearly see how the water got deeper in the middle, then went down towards the back end. There the view dropped off into a dark opening that clearly led beyond the hedge wall at the far end of the pool.

Ok, here goes. Big, deep breath.

I dove into the water. It wasn’t as cold as I had expected and as I opened my eyes I could see fairly well. I swam straight towards the dark hole and entered a wide tube. I continued to swim through the tube for some time, but began to worry. How much longer could I hold my breath?

I swam on, and felt my muscles ache with less and less oxygen to fuel them. It was still so dark, and there was no sign of light or any other dictation of coming through to the other side of the tube.

But I kept pushing forward, striving to get through, to find the way out.

My arms began to flail and my hands groped the sides of the tube. My lungs began to feel so empty and I wanted to gasp for breath. The thought of swallowing water became overwhelming as the real threat of drowning loomed in on me.

Maybe the old man was right. This was a foolish idea. Could I go back? Could I make it back the other way?

It seemed too far. I had only to press on and hope.

Then it was too much. I started to reel and writhe in the water. I couldn’t hold on, I let go, I let my body float in that water…

Then my body rose above the surface. Instinctively I threw my head out of the water to take a tremendous gasp of fresh air into my lungs.

The air was not fresh, really. But it was air, and I breathed in it like it was life itself. Never before had it felt so good to breathe.

Was that all, old man?

Ok, it’s easy to joke after the near death experience.

I paused there, treading water, until my breathing returned to normal. I couldn’t make out anything in there. It was pitch black. It didn’t feel like a large space. In fact, as I reached out my arms overhead and around me, I found that it was a very small space indeed. I was surrounded by stone. It felt to me like a block was cut out here on purpose, simply for the air pocket.

Thank the gods I swam long enough to reach it. I wonder if there are more…

Well, it looks like it’s back into the depths. Another deep breath in. And hold it.

I swam more confidently this time, believing now that I could reach the other side. Knowing that I had come this far, and that there was a purpose to it. I kicked my feet like I had flippers, and flung my arms in front of me deftly.

At last I saw a light ahead. I swam furiously towards it, getting low on air again.

I rose to the surface, coming out of the water onto my feet. I found myself on a sloped floor rising out of the tube into a new tunnel. It was lit well by a sconce on the wall. The stone wall.

Stone? It looked more like the inside of a castle than a hedge maze. Certainly not what I was expecting.

I could see that this new stone tunnel curved ahead of me in such a way that I could only see a short distance in front of me.

And just at the end of my visibility I could make out another light. Perhaps another sconce on the wall.

A short walk further on verified this. And there was another light equally far ahead of the second one.

Now when I looked in either direction I had the sensation that I was in an endless stone tunnel full of sconces. And the curve just made me feel a little askew, like the world was stretched out and warped around me.

I almost felt dizzy in that moment. I shook it off and continued to walk, passing sconce after sconce with torches lit and burning. From bright light to half dark to more light and then more dark. It was a repeating pattern and seemed to be getting me nowhere.

And then there I was. I was nowhere. I was at the end of the tunnel. No more path, no more sconces. A stone wall stood before me. There was nowhere else to go.

Gods, give me a break here.

READ PART SEVEN

 

Thank you for reading.

Please share and leave comments if you can guess what happens next.

Blessings to you,

Matthew

Wild Card Adventure: The Moutain in the Clouds, Part 5

Word Art Wild Card Day handwritten font on illustration of cards, Subtext Friday Theme: Any theme
WCD#03:

I know where I am wanting to go

I have been enjoying writing my blog these past few weeks. I have been enjoying it tremendously.

What I have been enjoying most of all is one particular strain of writing. I am enjoying it so much I do not want to stop writing it, or wait for next Thursday to come back around to do it.

So I built this Friday theme, my Wild Card Day, with the intention to do whatever I want, whatever I feel called to, even if it repeats a week’s theme.

My girlfriend also asked for more of the story, and that was my cue to just go ahead and follow my gut instinct. So I will keep writing the story.

Today’s wild card is…..!

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

Read Part One First

The Mountain in the Clouds, Part Five


I crossed the threshold.

Forget that, I crossed the threshold long ago. I think it was when I was flown into the tallest chain of mountains known in all the land. Flown to a city of winged people living high in the clouds. Transported from there to some challenge of my discernment where I am told to find the center of this labyrinthine hedge maze and bring back what I have found.

But if none of that stuff counts as the threshold, then this was certainly it. Standing there in the middle of the maze with an old man who seemed to be at home there. An old man who asked if I might be willing to abduct him for the maze to present my prize to my winged host. A strange old man and his cockatrice companion who had followed us, then hunkered down beside the square pool for a sip of water.

The square pool that the first man outside the maze, the farmer, told me to find in order to progress. This was where I am to find the tunnel leading to the heart of the maze.

And then there is this old man telling me that he is the heart of the maze.

“Are you hungry?” the old man asked me.

“Uh, no. Not particularly. I wasn’t even thinking about food,” I answered.

“Well I was. I’m famished.”

The man gathered his robes and sat down. Only there wasn’t a chair. He just sat in the middle of the air, as if there were something very solid under him.

Then he pulled something out of one of his sleeves. He unwrapped it and began eating. I could tell then that it was a snorthog sausage on a pepperbread roll. Where did he pull that tasty snack from? My mouth watered.

“You sure you don’t want one?” he pressed me. “I’ve got extra.”

This time my stomach wouldn’t let me resist. “Yea, I guess I am a little hungry. Thanks.”

He pulled out another wrapped sausage and passed it to me. I was a bit embarrassed by how quickly I uncovered the food and devoured it. The meat was perfectly cooked, too. And the roll was soft and well spiced.

“Want another?”

“No,” I replied, wiping my mouth. “No, thank you, I am much better now. I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”

A small tugging in my gut asked if I might be taking his kind offering too hastily. I didn’t know this guy after all, why was he giving me food? Is it safe?

A second tugging came after, which felt like more of a knowing. It told me, nah, don’t worry about it, the man is harmless and honestly just trying to sate my hunger.

I went with that one. The second intuition felt right.

“Suit yourself,” the strange man said, pulling out yet another serving of sausage for himself.

I shook myself out of the moment.

“So what’s this you were saying about you being the heart of the maze? I don’t understand. Why would I be sent here to find you?”

The man in the brown robes looked at me with a mouthful of juicy sausage lodged in his teeth, half hanging off his dried lips. He made no efforts to hasten his eating and continued chewing for a few moments.

Then he said, “You still haven’t figured that out? Yea, what was I expecting? Nobody ever figures it. I told you, I am the heart of the maze. But I asked you some questions earlier, myself. Questions you never answered. What do you plan on doing now? Now that you’ve found me? Now that you’ve found the heart of the maze?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t know what to do. I know I was looking for the heart of the maze, but I didn’t expect it to be well, uh, you. I didn’t expect this at all.”

“Tell, me, did you expect any of this today?”

“Truth be told, no. I didn’t have any expectations coming into this. It’s all be given to me to experience. I didn’t choose any of it.”

The man furrowed his brow at me, “You didn’t choose any of it?”

“Well, I guess I did choose to accept the challenge. When I was asked to complete seven trials, I said yes.”

“Yes, it that all?”

“I chose the questions I asked of the three people outside the maze.”

“And?”

“And I chose whom I believed and whom I didn’t. I’ll beat you to the next one. I chose to walk into the maze, even with all I had been told, even knowing nothing of what to expect inside. And I chose to go left.”

“Good, I appreciate you catching on. What else did you choose, once you were in the labyrinth?”

I thought for a moment. “Well, I chose to rest after my initial walk. I sat down and rubbed my feet. Then your feathered friend over there,” I gestured towards the cockatrice. “He came by and I chose to follow him. And you. I chose to follow you.”

“And you chose to eat some of my food. Ah, now that we are caught up I will let you in on a secret. You shouldn’t have eaten my food.”

That nudging in my gut came back strong and I began to reel on the inside, thinking how I might find a way to throw the food back up. I felt queasy and sick, even terrified that I might have been poisoned and may soon be dying a painful death.

“Hahaha,” cackled the man sickly. “Sorry, just joking with you there. Hope I didn’t scare you too much.”

“Not at all,” I said trying to hold back the puking sensation building within me.

“I know, dirty trick, huh. Old man’s got to get his jollies somewhere. Not that I have a lot of conversation on this side of the hedges. Did you enjoy the snorthog, anyway?”

My stomach began to settle and I tried to ignore the sweat that had pooled up on temples.

“Yea, the snorthog was delicious, thank you. Uh, whom may I thank by the way?”

“Name? Oh, yea. Um, that’s not important.”

“What do you mean, it’s not important?” I balked. “A name is who you are. It’s your life, your identity.”

“Not really,” the old man said.

“Well I disagree.”

He sighed and continued, “A name is just a label for what you think you are. The form you are in, the shape you take in this life. You just believe it because it feels so real. Your name is just what you call yourself this time. It is not your true identity. It’s not your true essence.”

“Then what is?” I asked.

The man seemed impatient with me, as if I wasn’t getting some lesson that should be plain to see.

“Look, I’m not here to give you a course in spirituality,” said the old man with no name. “You can believe what you want to believe. That doesn’t change what is.”

‘What is.’ That’s good, I thought. ‘What is’ is making no sense to me right now.

“You said a minute ago that you don’t have much conversation on this side of the hedges. Do you mean that you have not always been living here, in this maze?”

“You are astute, I will give you that. And you are correct. I have not always lived in here.”

“Then why are you here? How long have you been here?”

The man looked skyward as if trying to recollect something.

“Ah, how long, I don’t know. It seems eternity to me now. I even forget my old life. And the people I used to know.”

Then he jolted, as if snapping out of some reverie he didn’t want.

“Anyways, that’s the past. I left it behind. I detached from it. Not important to me anymore. Not here and now where I am, doing this.”

“And what is it that you are doing here and now?” I inquired, feeling like this was going nowhere.

“Why being the heart of the maze, of course!”

My brain began to spin. This conversation was going in circles.

The old man in the brown robes who was sitting in the air as firmly as if he sat on solid wood began laughing again.

“I know, right?” he said. “I’m infuriating to talk to. That in a way is part of my purpose.”

His purpose.

Ok, time for me to think. Talking was getting me nowhere with him anyways.

“Let me think a minute,” I told him as I turned to find a place to sit comfortably.

“By all means. Understandable. Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.”

After getting adjusted to my seat on the ground, I turned to see the old man now lying fully reclined on his back, as if he were swinging in a hammock. But the hammock was thin air.

Ok, get a grip, I began thinking. This shouldn’t be surprising. Not after all I have seen and done so far. He likes to sit and lie down in the air. That’s fair. If I could do that, I would be doing the same thing. What a nice, convenient skill that must be to have.

Now, on to my mystery. Who was this old man, this supposed heart of the maze? Why did he leave his old life behind in order to dwell in this confusing place of shrubbery and magic and giant mythical birds? What was his purpose here?

I recanted also my journey so far. I recalled being told by the two men outside the gate that this maze was dangerous, even deadly. Yet so far nothing has threatened my life or even caused me harm. In fact, it seemed that everything was actually working in my favor and trying to help me.

And about the woman. She told me that the maze is an illusion. So I would ask her: explain the bird and the old man. And the snorthog sausage I ate. How could all that be an illusion?

Then the task I was given by the winged woman…

Why was I sent in here to find the center of the maze? What was I to find there? What did I need to do with it? Did I even know?

I had so many stories and thoughts of this place running in my head and none of them wanted to coalesce clearly in my mind.

Then I had an “aha” moment.

I think I’ve got it.

The man is the heart of the maze. No, really, I feel like this makes sense. The man himself is the heart of this place. His old life is the world outside before he came here to be the heart. He is the life that creates this place. No wonder it all seems to respond to him so easily.

As to why he does it? It is task to be here for people like me to come along and try to figure out this challenge. To see clearly the truth of the matter and solve the puzzle.

And the three outside? I still don’t know who was lying or telling the truth, but the answers are all here, on the inside of the maze.

And there was one way to figure it out.

I planned to walk straight to the middle of the place. Straight down the path laid before me. The secret tunnel.

The secret tunnel that lay just beyond the cockatrice. It was in the pool. I could see it now. The pool led below the ground into a secret, watery tunnel!

That’s it!

Now to get on my way and finish this!

READ PART SIX

As always, thank you for reading. Please comment and share if you liked it.

Blessings to you all,

Matthew