05/25/17

More About Manfred – FirstWorld Saga

I had recently been appointed as official Bard of Elannort. While we were planning for the siege and subsequent Battle of Elannort and Simon was lost in the past, I took the opportunity to interview Manfred. I asked him about his early days, the fall of his mentor Bedwyr, the coming of Gilgamesh and his battle with Gadiel and his hopes for Simon and the future. He was refreshingly honest with me and spoke about the three great mistakes of his life. You can download the transcript of the interview for free here or read it below.

KtB

6 Manfred palantir

Interview with Manfred

Manfred the Magician Leader of the Wise interviewed at Melasurej on 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Kris. Manfred, thank you for your time. I appreciate that you are worried and distracted because Simon is lost in the past and our enemies are gathering at the gates. I would like to ask you about your early days and the last time Gadiel threatened FirstWorld.

Manfred. You are welcome, Kris. We have done everything possible. I have faith that Simon will return and we will defeat the enemy. Ask away.

K. Can we go right back to the beginning? What is your first memory?

M. That’s a long time ago.

K. Forty-three thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine years to be precise.

M. You don’t have to remind me; I feel very old. I suppose my first memory is seeing Melasurej for the first time together with the rest of the Sages and feeling very small and impotent. I remember the scales in the great hall were perfectly in balance. It was the only time that I saw them like that. I was a very minor wizard and most of us didn’t have a clue about what we were supposed to do. We looked up to the seven Great Sages for guidance.

K. Did you ever see the Great Old Ones?

M. No, only the Great Sages met them and received their orders. They did not speak about it.

K. Where did you find guidance?

M. Fortunately the Great Sage Bedwyr saw something in me, though I don’t know what it was. He took me under his wing and I learned much from him. I guess that I was almost his apprentice.

K. What would you say were the most important things you learned from him?

M. Well, I learnt many small things, particularly how to use the power in my staff effectively. But it was the big things that I fall back on now. A belief that we are doing the right thing defending the Balance; that we can make a difference; that even when things are at their darkest there remains a small light of hope that will eventually lead to victory over adversity.

K. Bedwyr fell defending Elvenhome from Gadiel’s forces in YoC 11144. How did he pass to stone? I read somewhere that Gadiel himself wasn’t present. How did you feel?

M. I was devastated and felt so guilty. I felt that I should have been there with him. If I had been, perhaps he would have lived or I could have fallen in his place. He had sent me to discuss certain aspects of our battle plan with King Endymion. The enemy was on the borders of Elvenhome and threatening to cross the Buranan. We needed some special elven magic to wash them away as they tried to cross. He was planning to delay them and then fall back across the river. He had a small army of men and elves with him. It’s true that Gadiel wasn’t there and that’s probably why the rest of the Great Sages thought that one Great Sage was enough to deal with it. Adapa was never very keen on getting his hands dirty. There was a powerful being leading their army. Just like Gadiel seems to have recruited Weylyn this time, he’d done something similar then.

K. Was it another wizard gone bad?

M. No. I think it was a minor God of Chaos. He brought a host of Chaos creatures with him that terrified the humans in the defending army. I heard a first-hand account from an elven commander who survived the battle. Bedwyr was magnificent, moving around the battlefield, raising men’s spirits and destroying the chaos creatures. Eventually, he and the God came face to face. It was an almighty struggle. It appeared that Bedwyr would win and the God’s power waned as his supporters began to panic. With one final surge of power the God shattered Bedwyr’s staff, but the wizard wasn’t finished and jumped forward, grabbing the God around the throat all the while shouting incantations. The two of them died together. I arrived back at the battlefield just in time to see his body turn to dust and blow away. I was overcome by grief and anger and I shocked myself by the way I used my staff that day. I received a first-hand understanding of what the Hero must go through. Without its leader the enemy was routed and we carried the day. I vowed then that Bedwyr’s death would not be in vain.

K. Were the remaining Great Sages more open to fighting Gadiel after that?

M. Unfortunately not. My pleadings fell on deaf ears. However the dwarves and the elves were more open to action because they knew how close they had been to destruction. I had a feeling that the combination of Excalibur and the Blood Ruby would be quite a weapon. The King Beneath the Mountain, Darian son of Dail son of Dallin and the King of the Elves, Endymion, brought together the symbols of their cultures and handed them over to the elven smiths to create Fleischaker. The Sword immediately killed the two smiths who made it and we used all of the magic available to the three races to fashion Vasek to partially control it.

K. And you found a Hero in Gilgamesh to wield it?

M. Well, he found us actually. It was either fate or great synchronicity. He was the greatest Hero to have ever existed and really the first incarnation of the Everlasting Hero. He could control Fleischaker and revelled in using it to kill.

K. Do you think Simon will be the same?

M. Simon is very different to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was much more like Ubadah is. I think that Simon will learn to temper the Sword’s excesses with compassion. At least, I hope so for the sight of the Hero destroying entire armies is not something I’d like to see again.

K. Is that what happened on the Battle Plain?

M. Yes. Gilgamesh destroyed Gadiel’s army single-handedly. It was a terrible slaughter.

K. Were you not involved?

M. When the Everlasting Hero is in full flight, it is best to stand well back or you are likely to become collateral damage.

K. As Simon has already discovered to his cost with Juliana.

M. Indeed.

K. What happened between Gadiel and Gilgamesh?

M. To the best of our understanding, with farsight and hindsight, they fought themselves to exhaustion. They were so evenly matched that neither could seize the advantage. Then Gadiel tricked Gilgamesh. He offered him the thing that he sought most; immortality. When Gilgamesh dropped his guard, Gadiel tore his still-beating heart from his chest.

K. So why didn’t Gadiel carry the day?

M. In his moment of triumph, he picked up Fleischaker and the Sword reacted as it had with the elven smiths. It couldn’t completely absorb Gadiel because he has no soul, or at least not one like ours. However, it severely damaged him. Somehow, he managed to flee the field and sought refuge in the mountains. Along the way, he had to abandon the Sword, which otherwise might have completely destroyed him.

K. Why didn’t you finish him off while you had the chance?

M. I have made three terrible mistakes during my long life. I know that there are a myriad of smaller ones but there are three that gnaw at my conscience even to this day. The first was to lose Bedwyr. The second was to allow Gadiel to flee the field that day. I know now that I had the power to destroy him but at the time I was too afraid. He had just destroyed Gilgamesh and he now had Fleischaker. I’m ashamed to say that I too fled the field that day.

K. You may note a tear in my eye and a quaver in my voice. I was, still am, a craven coward. I have never seen you afraid, even when the wargs threatened to overwhelm us. There is hope for me if even you were too afraid to act.

M. Only a fool is never afraid. The test is whether we act through our fear or are frozen by it. I learned a great lesson that day. Your time to act will come, of that I’m sure. Try not to freeze.

K. Did the wise not act and follow him into the mountains?

M. The Council of the Wise eventually met. Five of the six remaining Great Sages decided that they would seek out Gadiel. Dammar decided to go off and do his own thing. Because of my prior involvement, I volunteered to go with them but I was snubbed. I was sent away with Mandred on a series of missions to live with primitive humans and help to preserve the Balance with minimum interference. It was the worst time of my life.

K. What happened to the Great Sages?

M. I’m not even sure that they did anything. My research in recent years has failed to turn up any information. One by one, over time, they passed to stone. Gadiel slowly recovered and here we are today.

K. You mentioned three terrible mistakes. What was the third?

M. All the things that Bedwyr taught me, I forgot them all. I was so wrapped up in my own misery that I neglected everything. The greatest event in the history of the universe was taking place under my nose and I didn’t even notice. I witnessed the Sundering and didn’t even realise.

K. What did that teach you?

M. Well, specifically it allowed me to identify Simon Redhead as our next Everlasting Hero. More generally, it made me work hard ever since to put things right. Jhamed had been born in Elannort just before the Sundering. I admit that I caused a bit too much trouble trying to get the wise to search for Simon. At the 776th Council of the Wise, I made a bit of a fool of myself. So much so, that I was renamed Manfred the Fool and banished from Elannort. Jhamed was grown up by then and he decided to travel with me. Our adventures would fill many a book, but we were always seeking the incarnation of Simon Redhead that would be our Everlasting Hero. Unfortunately, not everyone at the Council of the Wise was on our side. My efforts also alerted the enemy to Simon’s importance and they sought him too, to destroy him.

K. Do you think that we have found him, the right incarnation I mean?

M. Yes, I’m confident we have. I’m sure he’ll be back soon, the Sundering will occur as it did all those years ago and we’ll defeat the enemy at the gate.

K. Manfred, I appreciate your openness and candour and I fervently hope that you are right. Thank you for your time.

M. Thank you, Kris.

Certified as a full and accurate transcript of my interview with Manfred the Magician at Melasurej on the 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Great hall

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05/2/17

Julie’s Story – From Kris’s Archives

Julie Comforts Leonora Before Leonora Meets Dring for the First Time (Aftermath of Armageddon)

Julie’s Story

As told to Kris the Bard, Elannort, Year of Creation 50509

 While Simon was away being a hero, I took the opportunity to ask Julie about her background and ancestry. As it turned out, her genetic heritage matched with Simon’s, so that their son, Alexander, carried the perfect set of genes the Great Old Ones were seeking to seed humanity in the past, and he become part of the biggest temporal, ontological paradox ever. While Simon carries the Hero’s genes, Julie can trace her ancestry to the gentle race of beings that shared our world with humans in the days before the Great Old Ones interfered with our evolution.

I’ll let Julie tell her story in her own words.

“As you can probably tell from my complexion and hair, I’m not from Simon’s Anglo Saxon stock. My ancestors came from the area in the Middle East that was known as the cradle of civilisation. There were two great rivers – the Tigris and the Euphrates – and the land between them was fertile beyond imagination. Great civilisations grew and flourished there. It was the biblical Garden of Eden. I am a direct descendent of the King of Mesopotamia – Sargon the Great. He ruled from the city of Akkad around 2330 BC, that’s over four thousand years Before Armageddon Day. Our lineage goes back even beyond that to the days of the Sumerian Empire and earlier. My father used to say that we could almost be traced back to Adam.

“Many empires rose and fell over the centuries – the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Neo-Babylonians; the Persians, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Turkmen tribes, the Safavids of Iran, the Ottoman Empire, and finally the British Empire, which ended just a century ago. Throughout it all, somehow we maintained an association with the land, though we made and lost countless fortunes and were sometimes beggars and at other times we were rich beyond the dreams of avarice. We passed on our history by oral tradition. The land finally became part of the country of Iraq. It struggled for independence before the Second World War and was a monarchy for some time. There was a revolution in 1958 and a Republic was formed. Things went downhill from there.

“There was a military coup in 1963 and another in 1968 when the Ba’ath party came to power, leading to Saddam Hussein taking control in 1979. He was a terrible dictator and tyrant. I guess that Dring reminds me of him. My family were persecuted under Saddam. Many of them were killed. My grandfather and grandmother managed to escape as refugees in 1991 and finally made it to Australia where my father was born. I was born there in 2028. The West, particularly the United States, but also Britain and Australia, began the action that ultimately led to Armageddon Day when they invaded Iraq in 2003.

“It’s not clear why they invaded. Some say it was to secure oil supplies; others say it was for the American President to get revenge on Saddam for his father’s failure to finish him off in the 1991 Gulf War. They used the excuse that Saddam had hidden weapons of mass destruction, which he might supply to terrorists. It was a crazy time, after the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Saddam was a ruthless dictator, but he didn’t have anything to do with Islamic terrorists. The invaders quickly won the war, and Saddam was captured, tried, and executed. That’s when the problems really started. The internal conflict between various factions and the overall resistance against the occupying forces attracted the terrorists. It was impossible to secure a peace and the Americans were caught in a long drawn-out war of occupation. My beautiful country was destroyed. It broke my father’s heart.”

Julie wiped a tear from her eye at this point, I remember. So Julie’s ancestors came from the part of the world in her dimension that is Elvenhome on FirstWorld. I asked her, but there was no equivalent city to Elannort that she remembered in her dimension. The nearest place, she thought, might be Kirkuk.

I did some research and discovered that the ruins of the ancient city of Arrapkha lie beneath Kirkuk and they have never been excavated. Could they be the ruins of Elannort in Julie’s dimension?

Julie continued to talk about the after effects of the war that brought down Saddam Hussein.

“There was a backlash in the US to the war. Too many American soldiers were being killed. When the Democrats won office in 2008, they tried to bring the troops home – but it proved to be impossible. The Republicans won office again in 2012 on a platform of Christian fundamentalism. They had a policy of disengagement and removed America from world affairs. They built a wall across their southern border and expelled a huge number of immigrants. They became isolationist. They built a new generation of nuclear weapons for defensive purposes. Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalism was growing across the Muslim world. More and more nations succumbed to it. It gained footholds in Europe in Turkey and Kosovo. To Australia’s north, Indonesia became fundamentalist and began to arm itself. In the Middle East, Iran became a nuclear super power and annexed Iraq and several other countries. Without America to intervene, North Korea resumed its nuclear program. China dominated Asia. India and Pakistan became major confrontational nuclear powers.

“The bottom line is that there was an inevitable conflict building between two fundamentalist religions. The irony is that they essentially both believed in the same god. The Jews were caught up in it too. Israel had to arm itself to the teeth with nuclear weapons once America deserted it. The conflict  focused on Jerusalem. Each of the three religions claimed the holy city as their own. The conflict, when it finally came, resulted in a huge nuclear war – Armageddon Day.”

I am told that there are echoes of Elannort in Jerusalem. If only they could have achieved balance between the three main religions. There is a great similarity between Julie’s and Simon’s dimension and the one that I find myself in now – your dimension. Clearly, they only separated in the recent past. The one piece of good news is that this dimension does not seem to be heading down the pathway to Armageddon Day, at least not at the moment. I’ll let Julie continue her story.

“One day, when I was a young girl, I was at the market and an old woman, dressed in traditional Muslim dress, approached me. She was tiny and wrinkled like a prune. She spoke in Arabic, the language of my ancestors. She grabbed my hand and told me to follow her. She led me through the market and away down a narrow cobbled side street. We climbed a decrepit set of iron stairs into a dilapidated old building. I was afraid that I was going to be mugged at any minute. We entered a dark room. She closed the door behind us and sat me down on a bright Persian rug in the middle of the floor. She lit candles and incense sticks and produced a crystal ball from somewhere. She sat down in front of me and began to chant in a language I didn’t understand. The crystal ball began to glow and she looked into it. I saw nothing but a blue light. She obviously saw much more. Eventually, she looked up and spoke to me, again in Arabic. She foretold Armageddon Day.

“Until it happened, I had taken what she said as nonsense. But, when it occurred exactly as she had foretold, I realised that the rest of her story could be important, as well. She told me that I was destined to meet, and become the partner of, a very special man. He would have red hair and a sword. I would meet him for the first time while I was in great trouble. He would recognise me and sacrifice himself to save me. He would not die, but he would be gone for a long time. Eventually, he would return and rescue me. I was never to give up hope, because my soul mate would find me.

“I survived Armageddon Day because my mother bought me a ticket to visit my brother who lived in the country. She was so insistent that I went, that I took time off work. All of the rest of my family died that day. My brother returned with me to what was left of Melbourne to search for them. He died of radiation poisoning. Somehow, I survived.

“I was captured by Dring’s men soon after I returned to Melbourne. I was treated differently to most of the others. I thought, then, that Dring was looking for me for a specific reason. He was. I was the bait to catch Simon. I didn’t know very much about the bigger picture but Dring seemed to be working for some greater power, that I now know was Weylyn the Wolf.

“The moment I saw Simon, it was love at first sight. I just knew that he was the one. Dring had a knife to my throat and Simon sacrificed himself to save my life. They tortured him terribly, as you know, before you and Jhamed came to save him.”

Julie was in tears by this point and took some time to compose herself.

“I can never adequately express my eternal gratitude that you took up Kin Slayer, saved Simon, and then gave it back to Simon. I waited three years for Simon to return, but my faith in him never wavered. When we finally met properly, and we held each other, it was as if I had known him forever.”

Yes, I was embarrassed. I include Julie’s words, not because I’m a vain coward looking for recognition for my bravery, but to provide a full and accurate description of the conversation. I remember telling her that it was my finest hour and in a lifetime of cowardice one of the two great things I could be proud of. The other, of course, was facing Weylyn at the gates of Melasurej. Perhaps, there will be a third opportunity, because this conflict has a long way to go before it is finally resolved. If not, I will content myself with study and writing, because a full and frank account of what took place is vital for future generations, should they survive, to understand their history and the great sacrifices made by the Everlasting Hero and his Eternal Soulmate.

I asked Julie if she knew that she was a manifestation of the Eternal Soulmate? That each Everlasting Hero was bound to a different version of her? Of course, this was before the terrible loss of Alexander. I’ll end this report with what Julie said to me, in answer to that question.

“It is our fate. It is written in our genes. We have no choice. But, even if we had a choice, I could not find a better, more loving, more human person than Simon. Whatever the future holds, I count myself very lucky.”

Kris the Bard

Read the whole FirstWorld Saga story here. There are four volumes and Volume 1, Quest for Knowledge, can be downloaded for free.

10/1/16

Rheanna of Rhakotis – From Kris’s Archives

10a Rheanna great library

I was fortunate to study for a long time under the tutelage of Rheanna the Custodian of the Great Library at Rhakotis. She was a wonderful teacher and became a good friend. She was a very polite, formal and reserved person. She was always immaculately dressed and coiffured. I believe that a description that has been used by other writers describes her well – she was a very fragrant woman. She believed in strict protocol and took the Rhakoation tea ceremony very seriously. She always had Simon’s best interests at heart and worked tirelessly to help him. Ultimately, she took a big risk to help him in his great quest.

It was difficult to get behind the gracious, well-mannered and highly polished exterior to find out about the real woman beneath. Rheanna was a very private person and rarely dropped her guard. However, one very emotional day, I got to see the real Rheanna, the person behind the powdered face-mask. Rheanna lived in a different dimension a very long time ago. She had no family and there would be no descendants who could be around today. I have kept her confidence all of these long years. I don’t think she would hold it against me now to share some of her secrets with my readers. She was always the tenacious researcher who vowed that no reference be left unread and demanded that no story be left untold. She would agree that now is long past the time when her story should be told.

It was an ordinary day in Rhakotis. The Great Library was its normal whirl of efficient, quiet activity. We had been studying an ancient text for several days without success. It was written in an ancient language which we had never seen before. It seemed to predate the Great Old Ones. It was on a piece of extremely fragile parchment and Rheanna had painstakingly transcribed the symbols onto paper that we could use to study them. It had taken many days and many pots of tea before we cracked them.

It became clear that the text concerned the sentient species that existed before the rise of humankind. At the time, I was already aware that Simon had met Marduk, the Gardener of Eden, and The Captain on the Ship of Souls. The physical description in the ancient text confirmed their pedigree. I mentioned this to Rheanna and was shocked by the response. She began to tremble, or perhaps shake would be a better description. She appeared flustered and lost her normal calm demeanour. Her eyes began to fill with tears and she struggled and eventually failed to withhold a series of sobs.

It took some time and several pots of tea to get Rheanna to calm down. She apologised profusely for her behaviour and then, slowly and reluctantly at first, but with increasing alacrity  and clarity she told me her story.

****

“Like you, I was born in Karo to a very poor family. We didn’t have very much but we were happy. My father was a fisherman. He didn’t own a boat but worked as a deckhand for someone else. My mother was an orphan and had grown up on the streets. She did odd jobs, cleaning and sewing to help support us. I was their first child. She couldn’t read or write but she would tell me stories from memory. I first heard about Gilgamesh from my mother and longed to see the Hero and his Sword. Isn’t it funny how things turn out?” Rheanna paused for a moment, wiped a few tears from her eyes and seemed to pull herself together again.

“I was about to turn six when there was a double tragedy. My mother was pregnant and I was hoping for a little brother to help to look after. Her pregnancy was difficult and her labour long and debilitating. The baby was large and in the breech position. When he was eventually free, he was stillborn. My exhausted mother passed out and bled to death. When I heard about Ju’s tragic death on that cold birthing stone, it took me back to my own past. My father was devastated but had to keep working. Two weeks later, he was swept overboard by a freak wave and drowned. I learned about it on my sixth birthday. I have never celebrated my birthday since. I was left alone in the world.” She seemed stronger now. The tears were gone. It was as if she had come to terms with these tragedies long ago and put them behind her.

“There was worse to come though. My grandfather, my father’s father, still lived and he begrudgingly took me in. I was no longer allowed to go to school but had to slave for him all day. If I did the slightest thing wrong he would beat me with a stick. At night, he made me share his bed and the things he did to me made the stick seem pleasant.” Rheanna shuddered at the memory but was not to be deterred.

“I could only put up with it for so long. One day, I stole what little money there was in the house and stowed away on the ferry to Makkah. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there but I just had to get away. Half-way through the journey, a great storm sprang up. Afterwards, I heard people say that it was like nothing they had ever seen. It was as if it were supernatural. I was hiding behind some baskets of fruit on the deck and both the baskets and I were blown overboard as if we were feathers. I sank into the cold water and saw my brief life pass before my eyes. I kissed my mother for a final time and received a hug from my father. The water was filling my lungs. I had no strength left. I closed my eyes and died.”

****

Well, as a bard you can imagine that this story had my complete attention. Rheanna looked at me as if to say, ‘I bet you don’t believe me!’ In truth, I found her story compelling and I believed every word. You only had to look into her eyes to know that she spoke the truth. I didn’t press her and we took more tea and spoke about the weather. Eventually, she continued.

****

“I woke up in a bunk bed on another ship. I thought that a passing ship must have spotted me and plucked me from the water. There was no one around so I got up. It was a small wooden sailing boat. I left the cabin and went on deck. It was foggy and the air smelt strange. I know now, from Simon’s experience, that I was in Limbo. At the time, I thought that we sailed through a normal fog. I saw a light under another door and opened it. I entered a warm cosy cabin. At the time, I couldn’t have been paying much attention. I only remember red wallpaper, though Simon described it more vividly. I now know that I was indeed dead and that I sailed on the Ship of Souls with an old man who looked after me and taught me many things, not least an inquisitiveness to find the truth in history.  He looked a lot like Manfred. He was a Great Sage and his name was Al-Alim.” Rheanna’s expression was dreamy now, as if she were being transported back to a favourite place and time.

“I don’t know how long I stayed there. We seemed to exist outside of normal time, which I now know to be the case. Other than a crew man who brought us food and drink, we never saw anyone else. Then one day a bell rang and Al-Alim told me it was time to see the Captain. As I left the cabin, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror on the wall that I had never noticed before. Instead of a frightened, abused child of six, I saw a proud young woman of at least sixteen. How it had happened in just a few days I could not explain.”

****

Rheanna paused again and looked at me. She held my gaze and it was as if she looked into my soul. Only wizards have done that to me. “I believe that I can trust you,” she said. “What I tell you now, I do in absolute confidence. You must never tell another living soul, especially Simon or Manfred. Do you promise?”

Of course I promised and until now I have honoured that promise. Now that it is all behind us, I fell free to tell Rheanna’s story. After all, why else would she tell a bard?”

****

“I was taken aback by the Captain. She was a strange-looking stick-like woman with funny eyes of different colours and only three fingers on each hand. But she was friendly enough and soon put me at my ease. The text we deciphered today took me back to that meeting. She spoke of a tapestry, that I didn’t understand until we learned so much more recently. She talked about fate and free will and how we all had choices to make. She told me that she could give me a second chance, because I had a very important role to play. I could stop the tapestry from unravelling. Al-Alim had prepared me well because I readily agreed to my assigned task. I looked forward with anticipation to the life I had ahead of me. I used some words then, that I have heard you utter too. I accepted a Quest for Knowledge. I know that I have a vital role still to play as I think do you. I have dedicated my life to finding out the information that Simon needs or will need to defeat Gadiel. The Ship of Souls sailed into Rhakotis harbour late one night with the lighthouse burning and the Great Sage Adapa guiding us in. Al-Amin and the Captain saw me off. Each had some parting words for me. ‘There are few wizards left in FirstWorld these days. Not all of them can be trusted. But, when Manfred calls be ready to answer,’ Al-Alim said. I began working in the Great Library in the lowest position that existed. I worked my way up to eventually become Custodian. I never forgot those words and when the summons to the Council of the Wise came, I was ready. ‘One day you will have a choice to make. Will you honour a wizard or a bard? Simon will face the same dilemma. Be guided by his choice,’ the Captain said. I’m still waiting for that day to arrive. I think that you and I are destined to meet again.”

****

The look Rheanna gave me made me shiver. I wasn’t to know then what was ahead of me. Unknowingly, I was able to play a pivotal role in helping Simon break the time loop that we were all stuck in. Rheanna played an important part in making it happen and she was forced to choose between her loyalty to Manfred and her friendship with me. The Captain’s words came to pass.

Rheanna was vindicated. Unfortunately, she never knew whether her work turned out to be successful or not. Simon and Jhamed disappeared from our timeline. Rheanna continued to study and held the post of Custodian of the Great Library for a record number of years. She published many books – almost as many as I have. She lived to a ripe old age but never married or had a family. Her line ended with her death. After her death, in her honour, Manfred had an extra statue erected in the Avenue of Heroes

KtB

09/23/16

More About Manfred

I had recently been appointed as official Bard of Elannort. While we were planning for the siege and subsequent Battle of Elannort and Simon was lost in the past, I took the opportunity to interview Manfred. I asked him about his early days, the fall of his mentor Bedwyr, the coming of Gilgamesh and his battle with Gadiel and his hopes for Simon and the future. He was refreshingly honest with me and spoke about the three great mistakes of his life. You can download the transcript of the interview for free here or read it below.

KtB

6 Manfred palantir

Interview with Manfred

Manfred the Magician Leader of the Wise interviewed at Melasurej on 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Kris. Manfred, thank you for your time. I appreciate that you are worried and distracted because Simon is lost in the past and our enemies are gathering at the gates. I would like to ask you about your early days and the last time Gadiel threatened FirstWorld.

Manfred. You are welcome, Kris. We have done everything possible. I have faith that Simon will return and we will defeat the enemy. Ask away.

K. Can we go right back to the beginning? What is your first memory?

M. That’s a long time ago.

K. Forty-three thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine years to be precise.

M. You don’t have to remind me; I feel very old. I suppose my first memory is seeing Melasurej for the first time together with the rest of the Sages and feeling very small and impotent. I remember the scales in the great hall were perfectly in balance. It was the only time that I saw them like that. I was a very minor wizard and most of us didn’t have a clue about what we were supposed to do. We looked up to the seven Great Sages for guidance.

K. Did you ever see the Great Old Ones?

M. No, only the Great Sages met them and received their orders. They did not speak about it.

K. Where did you find guidance?

M. Fortunately the Great Sage Bedwyr saw something in me, though I don’t know what it was. He took me under his wing and I learned much from him. I guess that I was almost his apprentice.

K. What would you say were the most important things you learned from him?

M. Well, I learnt many small things, particularly how to use the power in my staff effectively. But it was the big things that I fall back on now. A belief that we are doing the right thing defending the Balance; that we can make a difference; that even when things are at their darkest there remains a small light of hope that will eventually lead to victory over adversity.

K. Bedwyr fell defending Elvenhome from Gadiel’s forces in YoC 11144. How did he pass to stone? I read somewhere that Gadiel himself wasn’t present. How did you feel?

M. I was devastated and felt so guilty. I felt that I should have been there with him. If I had been, perhaps he would have lived or I could have fallen in his place. He had sent me to discuss certain aspects of our battle plan with King Endymion. The enemy was on the borders of Elvenhome and threatening to cross the Buranan. We needed some special elven magic to wash them away as they tried to cross. He was planning to delay them and then fall back across the river. He had a small army of men and elves with him. It’s true that Gadiel wasn’t there and that’s probably why the rest of the Great Sages thought that one Great Sage was enough to deal with it. Adapa was never very keen on getting his hands dirty. There was a powerful being leading their army. Just like Gadiel seems to have recruited Weylyn this time, he’d done something similar then.

K. Was it another wizard gone bad?

M. No. I think it was a minor God of Chaos. He brought a host of Chaos creatures with him that terrified the humans in the defending army. I heard a first-hand account from an elven commander who survived the battle. Bedwyr was magnificent, moving around the battlefield, raising men’s spirits and destroying the chaos creatures. Eventually, he and the God came face to face. It was an almighty struggle. It appeared that Bedwyr would win and the God’s power waned as his supporters began to panic. With one final surge of power the God shattered Bedwyr’s staff, but the wizard wasn’t finished and jumped forward, grabbing the God around the throat all the while shouting incantations. The two of them died together. I arrived back at the battlefield just in time to see his body turn to dust and blow away. I was overcome by grief and anger and I shocked myself by the way I used my staff that day. I received a first-hand understanding of what the Hero must go through. Without its leader the enemy was routed and we carried the day. I vowed then that Bedwyr’s death would not be in vain.

K. Were the remaining Great Sages more open to fighting Gadiel after that?

M. Unfortunately not. My pleadings fell on deaf ears. However the dwarves and the elves were more open to action because they knew how close they had been to destruction. I had a feeling that the combination of Excalibur and the Blood Ruby would be quite a weapon. The King Beneath the Mountain, Darian son of Dail son of Dallin and the King of the Elves, Endymion, brought together the symbols of their cultures and handed them over to the elven smiths to create Fleischaker. The Sword immediately killed the two smiths who made it and we used all of the magic available to the three races to fashion Vasek to partially control it.

K. And you found a Hero in Gilgamesh to wield it?

M. Well, he found us actually. It was either fate or great synchronicity. He was the greatest Hero to have ever existed and really the first incarnation of the Everlasting Hero. He could control Fleischaker and revelled in using it to kill.

K. Do you think Simon will be the same?

M. Simon is very different to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was much more like Ubadah is. I think that Simon will learn to temper the Sword’s excesses with compassion. At least, I hope so for the sight of the Hero destroying entire armies is not something I’d like to see again.

K. Is that what happened on the Battle Plain?

M. Yes. Gilgamesh destroyed Gadiel’s army single-handedly. It was a terrible slaughter.

K. Were you not involved?

M. When the Everlasting Hero is in full flight, it is best to stand well back or you are likely to become collateral damage.

K. As Simon has already discovered to his cost with Juliana.

M. Indeed.

K. What happened between Gadiel and Gilgamesh?

M. To the best of our understanding, with farsight and hindsight, they fought themselves to exhaustion. They were so evenly matched that neither could seize the advantage. Then Gadiel tricked Gilgamesh. He offered him the thing that he sought most; immortality. When Gilgamesh dropped his guard, Gadiel tore his still-beating heart from his chest.

K. So why didn’t Gadiel carry the day?

M. In his moment of triumph, he picked up Fleischaker and the Sword reacted as it had with the elven smiths. It couldn’t completely absorb Gadiel because he has no soul, or at least not one like ours. However, it severely damaged him. Somehow, he managed to flee the field and sought refuge in the mountains. Along the way, he had to abandon the Sword, which otherwise might have completely destroyed him.

K. Why didn’t you finish him off while you had the chance?

M. I have made three terrible mistakes during my long life. I know that there are a myriad of smaller ones but there are three that gnaw at my conscience even to this day. The first was to lose Bedwyr. The second was to allow Gadiel to flee the field that day. I know now that I had the power to destroy him but at the time I was too afraid. He had just destroyed Gilgamesh and he now had Fleischaker. I’m ashamed to say that I too fled the field that day.

K. You may note a tear in my eye and a quaver in my voice. I was, still am, a craven coward. I have never seen you afraid, even when the wargs threatened to overwhelm us. There is hope for me if even you were too afraid to act.

M. Only a fool is never afraid. The test is whether we act through our fear or are frozen by it. I learned a great lesson that day. Your time to act will come, of that I’m sure. Try not to freeze.

K. Did the wise not act and follow him into the mountains?

M. The Council of the Wise eventually met. Five of the six remaining Great Sages decided that they would seek out Gadiel. Dammar decided to go off and do his own thing. Because of my prior involvement, I volunteered to go with them but I was snubbed. I was sent away with Mandred on a series of missions to live with primitive humans and help to preserve the Balance with minimum interference. It was the worst time of my life.

K. What happened to the Great Sages?

M. I’m not even sure that they did anything. My research in recent years has failed to turn up any information. One by one, over time, they passed to stone. Gadiel slowly recovered and here we are today.

K. You mentioned three terrible mistakes. What was the third?

M. All the things that Bedwyr taught me, I forgot them all. I was so wrapped up in my own misery that I neglected everything. The greatest event in the history of the universe was taking place under my nose and I didn’t even notice. I witnessed the Sundering and didn’t even realise.

K. What did that teach you?

M. Well, specifically it allowed me to identify Simon Redhead as our next Everlasting Hero. More generally, it made me work hard ever since to put things right. Jhamed had been born in Elannort just before the Sundering. I admit that I caused a bit too much trouble trying to get the wise to search for Simon. At the 776th Council of the Wise, I made a bit of a fool of myself. So much so, that I was renamed Manfred the Fool and banished from Elannort. Jhamed was grown up by then and he decided to travel with me. Our adventures would fill many a book, but we were always seeking the incarnation of Simon Redhead that would be our Everlasting Hero. Unfortunately, not everyone at the Council of the Wise was on our side. My efforts also alerted the enemy to Simon’s importance and they sought him too, to destroy him.

K. Do you think that we have found him, the right incarnation I mean?

M. Yes, I’m confident we have. I’m sure he’ll be back soon, the Sundering will occur as it did all those years ago and we’ll defeat the enemy at the gate.

K. Manfred, I appreciate your openness and candour and I fervently hope that you are right. Thank you for your time.

M. Thank you, Kris.

Certified as a full and accurate transcript of my interview with Manfred the Magician at Melasurej on the 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Great hall

09/1/16

Manfred’s Vision (as directed by Gadiel) – Aftermath of Armageddon

Extract from Aftermath of Armageddon – available here for $4.99

11 Manfreds and Gadiel - Copy

A short while later, they gathered in the Temple of Muses. It seemed to be the appropriate place to carry out the communication. People travelled here from all over FirstWorld to receive guidance and inspiration. Often, they reported hearing communications from beyond their comprehension and were moved to write, sculpt, or compose work that had previously seemed impossible. Manfred solemnly handed his staff to Taran. “Guard it well, my friend and do not hand it back to me unless you are certain that I am fully compos mentis.” They had prepared a comfortable seat for him, in front of a small table. He sat, closed his eyes, and took the Palantir in both hands. He focussed his mind and muttered a few words of magic to guard his thoughts. He opened his eyes and looked into the centre of the Palantir. At first, he saw nothing. Gradually the ball seemed to suck him in. Clouds floated in front of his eyes, swirling grey and brown, as if he looked into limbo. He focussed his mind and thought a single word. Gadiel.

The response was instantaneous. The ball went black, so that he appeared to be looking into endless night. He heard a voice in his head and felt a presence try to invade his mind. He focussed hard and his defences held. So, you know me, Manfred the Magician, and you are prepared for me. Perhaps I underestimated you. The fool Weylyn certainly did. But I sense that you don’t know me really. You have heard the name, Gadiel. You have heard me called the Dark God. You remember my victory over Gilgamesh. You were responsible for my pain weren’t you? You caused the Sword to be forged. I will not forget that, Manfred. You will feel the pain that I felt that day. However, I recovered and now I’m stronger than ever with not just a universe but also a multiverse to conquer. You are such a fool, Manfred; like all of the wizards my brothers made. Every one was flawed. I sense your bewilderment. Poor Manfred, he doesn’t understand. You think that I’m a god, a creation of the humans. You think that I’m the spawn of some great evil hidden in the depths of the mountains and unwittingly released by the dwarves. You think that you can defeat me, using your reborn hero and his sword. You poor misguided fool, Manfred. Know me for who I am. For I am indeed one of those you call the Great Old Ones, though they imprisoned me here on this backwater planet because I did not agree with their views and plans. They should have killed me, but it was against their beliefs. Had I been in their position, I would not have hesitated for an instant. The conquest of the multiverse is but a stepping-stone on my pathway to revenge. They buried me deep in my mountain prison and secured me with all of the science they could muster. But I was able to break free eventually, with the help of the dwarves. Know me, Manfred, for I am Satan. Hah, I feel your fear and I feed on it. Yet you still think that I can be defeated. How can it be? My brothers created everything here, so it stands to reason you are all weaker than I am. Oh, I see, you think your hero will save you again. Last time was an aberration. However, it will never come to that again. I have already dealt with Simon Redhead. I will show you. Look into the Palantir. It has the ability to show you things that have been, things that are, or things that are yet to be. I will show you one of each. Enjoy them, Manfred the Fool, and admit your defeat. Open the doors of Melasurej to me and I will make your death a merciful one. Resist me, and you will know pain without end, for I have the power to make you live for eternity. Manfred convulsed and pulled his hands free of the stone. He felt weak and light-headed. His companions had concern etched on their faces.

“What did you see?” Rheanna asked.

“You have much to research,” Manfred replied, “but there are things I must still see.” He placed his hands on the Palantir again and focussed his mind and his eyes. This time he seemed to be sucked into the ball and float above the scenes that he witnessed. He saw and heard everything but could not interact.

****

Simon lay on the cold cobbles of a cellar floor. His arms and legs were shackled to the wall. He seemed barely conscious as he struggled to lick a few drops of moisture off the clammy cellar wall. He moved as if he were in great pain. He was naked, filthy, and bleeding from a great many places. As he struggled to move, he cried out in his torment. The door opened and an ugly gaoler lumbered in. “I told you, no noise, scum.” His booted foot thudded into Simon’s chest and Manfred heard a crunching sound like ribs being shattered. The second kick crushed Simon’s exposed testicles, with a soft thud. The third caught him on the side of the head and seemed to render him unconscious. The thug gave him one more kick in the teeth and left him lying in his own excrement and blood. Before he left the room, the bully turned back towards his prisoner. “I’ve hardly started with you yet. Tomorrow you will learn what real pain is, red boy.” Manfred watched for a long time. There was no movement. At least, Simon would be spared tomorrow’s pain. Manfred felt as though his heart were breaking with anguish. “Noooooo!” he screamed. Instinctively, he knew. Simon was dead.

****

The scene changed. Manfred gratefully exchanged the foetid air of the cellar for the cleansing smell of a sea breeze. He stood on a bridge over a great river. He recognised it immediately; he was in Ur on the bridge over the River Eden. He was facing south, seeing the river break into the many strands of the Eden Delta before it flowed into the Gulf of Eden. The peace was quickly shattered. A fleet of ships, unlike anything he had seen before was sailing unnaturally quickly upstream, against the current. Each ship was built in the likeness of a great beast, with the prow carved into the beast’s head. As they passed under the bridge, he saw a serpent, a scorpion, a reptilian representation that resembled an alligator, and a feline shape with the head of a lion. The boats contained heavily armed warriors, all dressed in colourful armour in the form of their chosen creature. He turned around to watch the ships tie up at the wharves and the warriors leap ashore. What little resistance they met was quickly dispatched. Manfred’s heart fell as he watched the city of Ur begin to burn.

****

The smell of smoke grew stronger as the scene changed again. He stood in a burnt, destroyed landscape. Everywhere was black with ash. A few smouldering stumps were all that was left of trees. A polluted river flowed through the destruction. He didn’t know where he was. Something moved and caught his eye. A man emerged from the river. He was a thin, small man with strange orange hair and deformed hands and feet. He turned towards him and Manfred saw his anguished eyes; one grey and one green. The man spoke to him. “Please, kill me. Look what they have done to my Eden. The One Tree is destroyed. The elves are all dead. Why do I still live? Please end it, now!”

****

Manfred blinked and he was back in the Temple of Muses at Rhakotis. He leaned back, emotionally fatigued, and released the stone. His companions watched with concern but said nothing until he was ready to speak. “What did you observe while I was connected to the stone?” he asked them.

Taran responded. “You sat still as a rock and stared into the centre of the stone. You went deathly pale and on occasion cried out in anguish.”

“I have been given a glimpse of the past, the present, and the future – at least as Gadiel sees them or wants us to see them. I have learned something incredible about Gadiel. I fear sharing the information with you, lest all hope be lost, which is what Gadiel wants. Yet, I must honour and respect you and I cannot carry this burden alone.” He told them everything, sparing none of the horrific details. Many tears flowed and it was some time before they could speak again. Then they resolved to continue the fight, to make sure that Gadiel’s visions would not come to pass.

KtB

08/19/16

Two-Headed Lemur Creature – Extract from Quest for Knowledge

2 heads lemur-640px

The next part of the journey passed in a bit of a blur. Simon was preoccupied. He was analysing events and coming to a realisation. At some point, there would be a “ching.” He thought about Old Man Willow and his song. Once, that dimension had been a wonderful place to live. Now its inhabitants must live in fear and tyranny. Walking on the grass brought a penalty of death, how could people live like that? Yet it was a world where Law ruled, not Chaos. Jhamed had once said that Hitler represented Law. Simon had wondered then whether that meant Churchill had represented Chaos. He realised that it wasn’t a case of black and white; everything was shades of grey. For society to be successful and fair to everyone it needed a balance between Law and Chaos. Law didn’t represent “good”; it stood for order. Chaos didn’t represent “evil”; it symbolised anarchy. Churchill didn’t support anarchy; he battled for balance. Democracy, for all its faults, was an attempt at securing balance. The fanatical religious zealots in his world, whether they were fundamentalist Christians or Jihad Islamists were just two different faces of absolute Law. If that were the case, then where did evil come in? Which side did Gadiel favour? All humans, and he supposed all elves and dwarves too, were born with the capacity for both good and evil. Evil was not restricted to either Law or Chaos, it was all pervading. Ching. Everyone had a choice. Hitler probably wasn’t totally evil. Churchill must have had some evil in him. Was the bombing of Dresden really necessary or was it just an evil act of revenge? The victors write the history books and take the moral high ground. Everyone has a choice. He had a choice. I will take up the Sword. I will use it only for good. I will use it to serve the Balance.

Simon wasn’t sure how much time had passed while he had been cogitating. He was vaguely aware of them walking long distances over a variety of terrains and in a range of weather conditions. It appeared that few realms enjoyed perfect weather. Strange how the Law dimension had the best weather. I wonder whether it was a coincidence or if their control extended that far? They had also sat around for long periods while Jhamed had scouted ahead. His companions had respected his need to think and had not disturbed him. Jhamed, no doubt, had seen it all before. Taran was naturally perceptive about such things. Dawit appeared to be lost in his own musings.

Simon felt a great relief. He had come to a decision. He would take control of his own life. He was not a pawn of fate. He sighed and relaxed. Unbidden, words and images came into his mind. He saw the visions again from his dream. You are close. I can feel you. Come for me. We will be reunited. The Trinity will be renewed. Be careful! The witch is strong. She is stronger than I am. She is stronger than you are. Together, we are stronger than she is. The Trinity will be renewed. Soon we will feast. Simon felt gnawing hunger. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. The tiny red hairs on his body stood on end as he shivered.

Jhamed returned from a scouting mission. Simon took him to one side. “We’re close, aren’t we?”

“How do you know?” Jhamed asked.

“The Sword has spoken to me.” Simon recounted his dream and his recent communication, all except the gnawing hunger. “I think I understand about the Balance now. I am ready to take up my Sword and serve the Balance.”

“Excellent!” Jhamed smiled. “I love it when a plan comes together. We’ll rest here tonight and a couple more portals will get us to Dishley tomorrow. We’ll need a plan to tackle the witch.”

They were in a dimension where either Chaos or Sergeant Pepper appeared to be in control. They spent the night sheltered under tall, purple-leaved trees. A full green moon cast an eerie light that battled with the red glow from their fire. The resulting yellow light illuminated a number of inquisitive forest creatures which came to stare at the travellers. They looked like some form of lemur, except that they had two heads, which continually chattered and tried to pull their body in different directions. At one point they started and rushed off back to their burrows or up into the trees. All except one, which hid by the travellers’ packs. The cause of their alarm sauntered into view. It was white, albino perhaps but there was not enough light to tell for sure. It was as big as an elephant, but it more closely resembled a lion. Its huge, shaggy head had a gaping maw, filled with razor sharp teeth. This was a predator close to the top of the food chain. I hope it’s not hungry, or we will be on its menu.

Taran and Dawit were on their feet in an instant. Taran notched an arrow to his bow. Dawit wielded his axe. The elephion sniffed the air, stopped, and looked at them. It stood tall and let out a roar that would have done the Melbourne Cricket Ground proud on Grand Final Day. All the night noises of the forest stopped. Simon stopped breathing. Taran made ready to loose his arrow. The creature gave them another disdainful look and then sauntered off. Simon released his pent up breath. Phew, that was close, must have already eaten. The two-headed lemur-like creature chattered excitedly to itselves and helped itselves to some biscuits from one of the packs.

Dawit and Taran took turns to keep watch. They insisted that Simon and Jhamed sleep since they were unarmed and would have a big day ahead of them. Simon slept fitfully. His dreams were full of hideous crones with black cats and ravens. The witches stirred huge cauldrons and concocted potions, which they force-fed him to make him reveal the location of his Sword. He tried to refuse, but they were truth serums and he could not resist. The witches found his Sword and used it kill all of his friends. The Sword ate their souls and then the witches ate their bodies.

Simon woke in a cold sweat. The moon had gone. Jhamed was snoring softly and the fire was low. Reflected in the faint firelight, Simon saw four eyes watching him. They were small, yellow eyes; animal eyes, yet they shone with the fiercest intelligence that he had ever seen. The two-headed lemur creature had seated itself on the group’s food and sat watching Simon. Simon deliberately blinked his eyes to try to clear them of sleep. He could have sworn that the creature had winked at him, with both heads at the same time. If I didn’t know better, I’d reckon we’d all taken LSD or something. The creature chattered to itselves. Words formed in Simon’s head. Remember Vasek. Only Vasek can control the Sword. Beware Fleischaker! It consumes the souls of friends as well as enemies. The two-headed lemur creature gave him another two winks and skittered off into the forest. Simon slept again. When he awoke, he wasn’t sure whether he had dreamt everything.

Scales Balance

Get Quest for Knowledge free here.

KtB

06/6/16

How KtB met CJA – KtB’s Version

CJA was correct when he wrote about my arrival in Melbourne. It would have been strange to find me knocking on his door. All his life he had wanted to be a writer, but he had always let other people’s priorities get in the way. I was the catalyst that got him started seriously.

Subconsciously, I think that he recognised that even as he opened the door. Many years previously, he had written a short story about a red-headed hero named Simon who roamed the dimensions with a diminutive travelling companion. How can you explain that? I think that the Balance had something to do with it. You can download that story, The Wasteland, for free here and make your own comparison.

Most people would have slammed the door in my face that night, but CJA welcomed me in. We shared a meal and a bottle of wine. By the time we had finished talking, it was getting light outside. We have been together ever since.

The picture show’s CJA with Volume 3 of the FirstWorld Saga – A View of the Past; available here as an E-Book for US$4.99

Author with book cover - Book 3

06/4/16

How CJA met KtB – CJA’s Version

After KtB posted about my birthday on our Facebook page the other day, a few people have asked, “How did you two meet?” and, “What is your relationship?” So, I’m going to repost a couple of blog posts that told both our sides of the story.

CJA

Kris the Bard arrived in Melbourne in 2005. He had no memory of where he had come from. He had no belongings, except the clothes on his back, no money, and just one idea in his head – to find CJA. Kris has a number of genetic conditions. One of them he caught from a certain rat’s bite outside the gates of Melasurej when he went against form and stood up to Weylyn the Wolf. He bought enough time to save Manfred the Magician’s life and allow Simon Rufus to defeat Weylyn. Another, he was born with. He never knew why he had no hair at all on his body until he came to Melbourne and was diagnosed. He has a genetic defect which causes his immune system to attack his hair follicles.

You can imagine how surprised I was when this strange, bald man knocked on my door and expected to be welcomed like a long lost friend. The Guardian of Tomorrow had told him he was to be a writer and must have implanted my name and address before sending him through the portal.

He was not supposed to remember anything about his life on FirstWorld. Something went wrong and, over a very short period of time, it all came back to him. He recreated the first three Chronicles of the Hero, which he had written previously in Elannort and Rhakotis. Then, in 2008, he wrote the final volume, Volume 4 of the Chronicle of the Hero.

I was enthralled by his writings and saw the potential to turn them into fantasy novels (no one would believe they were true). I have been working ever since and the FirstWorld Saga is the result.

I had been recently divorced and was living alone when Kris turned up. He still lives with me and I have never remarried. Many people have asked about our relationship. Is he more than a friend, they ask? Yes, he’s my muse.

Nat Turner’s original working drawing of Kris the Bard is shown below. Kris liked this and has been using it as his avatar ever since because it appears to show eyebrows and some hair. Below that are scenes from Aftermath of Armageddon and Quest for Knowledge – two of Kris’s finest hours. Kris is one of very few people to have successfully held Kin Slayer.

Kris


07/25/15

Free Download – Short Story 999,999 at www.FirstWorld.info

This short story is available at  free downloads.

Imagine going into cryogenic storage, being forgotten about and sleeping until near the end of time. Imagine you are a leader of men, an alpha male, and the world is now only populated by gay clones who think you are their Messiah.

This is a stand-alone short story, set close to the end of time.

However, we will meet Julius Auxelles again in A Vision of the Future.

We hope you enjoy it.

This story has previously been published at Wilde Oats

CJA & KtB

 

07/8/15

The Idiocy of Piracy Claims – Why I Don’t Mind if My Books are Torrented – Updated

I published the post below in February, and I still stand by it. I would like to add something though.

The thing that makes me furious is straight-out theft for profit. While I struggle to earn a few dollars a month from my book sales there are various rip-off artists who steal books and sell them to collect all of the income for themselves.

SCAM 1 – Take a book, modify the cover to add ‘Edited by Ima Thief’ and upload it to Amazon etc to Ima Thief’s account.

SCAM 2 – Find a legitimate free copy of an e-book, on-sell copies of it on Ima Thief’s website.

SCAM 3 (the most common) – Offer free e-books, with full information taken from Amazon, but when you click on the download you either get a computer virus instead of the book, or get scammed out of your personal information. Either way the author gets associated with Ima Scammer’s nefarious activities.

The other thing that is unacceptable is plagiarism. As writers we often publish free extracts from our work, which essentially become public domain. BUT if someone else choose to publish them they MUST credit the author. Even worse is taking huge chunks of someone else’s work and passing it off as their own, even to the extent of complete works. This is simply unacceptable theft of the worst order. It amazes me how many, even well-established, authors think that they can get away with this.

Some tips:

(1) Set up Google alerts for all of your books and you will get e-mails to alert you if they appear on strange web sites.

(2) Periodically put a few paragraphs of your work into a search engine and see if it comes up with anything.

Good luck fighting to get them taken down; it’s a tough battle that crosses too many jurisdictions.

ORIGINAL POST

The internet is awash with some crazy numbers concerning the cost of internet piracy, put about by some copyright owners, mainly movie studios, and swallowed hook, line, and sinker by many Governments.

If you estimate the number of illegal downloads of anything and multiply by the cost of buying that service – be it a seat in a movie theatre, the cost of an mp3, or the price of an E-Book – the numbers are enormous, certainly in the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars that are bandied about.

But let’s take a reality check.

Scenario 1 – a teenager with a fast internet connection and lots of disk space downloads 1000 movies per year. Let’s assume each one costs $20 to see at the movies or to purchase as a DVD or digital download; so that’s $20,000 per year cost to the industry? Of course not! He flips burgers two nights a week. He can afford to go to the movies once per month. Maybe he sees a film he has downloaded – in which case the download is cancelled out – maybe not, but the most he can afford to spend is $240 per year. I bet he never finds the time to watch most of them.

Scenario 2 – a poor person in Thailand downloads Western movies to watch. She shows them to her family and friends. Thirty people watch one movie per week. The cost to the industry is 30 * 50 * $20 = $30,000 per year? Of course not! They can never afford to go to the cinema. It costs the industry nothing.

Of course, some people in Thailand and many other countries will burn the movies to DVDs and sell them to Western tourists. Don’t blame the poor sellers, blame the tourists. In reality,the copyright owners are doing a service in providing foreign aid to developing economies. That $5 the tourist paid will go around the local economy multiple times.

Scenario 3 – a person who can’t afford pay TV, or an internet subscription, is caught up in the hype surrounding Game of Thrones and downloads via torrent. It’s the only way he can watch the show. It hasn’t cost the copyright owner a dime, because if he hadn’t downloaded it, he would never have watched it until it eventually made it to ‘free to air’. He might tell his mates about it and they may decide to buy the show. Word of mouth advertising is priceless.

OK, mea culpa, I cannot tell a lie. In my writing penury I have been known to download old TV shows that I would never otherwise have watched. I could not have signed up to pay TV and I would never have afforded to buy them on DVD if they were even available. I am guilty of internet piracy, but I have not cost the copyright owner anything. I reckon this is true of the vast majority of downloads – if they weren’t available for free they would never have been watched/read/listened to by the downloader.

I have never downloaded a pirate E-Book – there are too many already being given away for free by authors, but that’s another story that I have written about before.

Nevertheless, if I were to find my books available on a torrent I would be happy. Why? Well, first of all, I have an optimistic view of my fellow humans. I reckon if they can afford to pay, and (importantly) if they see they are getting value for money and are not being ripped off (as we are in Australia) they will generally pay. The majority of people who are downloading my book could not afford to buy it. A lot of them will download it and never read it. Some will read it, and a few will enjoy it. That’s the reward. People who would never otherwise have read my work will enjoy it – and perhaps they’ll mention it to a mate who can afford to buy it.

CJA

07/6/15

The Ballad of Gilgamesh – An Extract

As told by Kris the Bard at the Fisherman’s Arms, Two Rivers, Year of Creation 50506

The times they were tough in days of yore

The hounds of hell were at the door

We were in the middle of the 30 years’ war

When a boy was born in Erech

 

He was born into a family poor

His father went to fight the war

His mother left with no choice but to whore

To survive in the town of Erech

 

He was a small and puny boy

His childhood yielded little joy

Neglected and bullied, little food and no toys

He grew up on the streets of Erech

 

Wiry and tough as he learned how to fight

Wherever trouble was he was a common sight

His reputation was to stand for right

He matured on the streets of Erech

 

Then one fateful night a rich man he spied

Raping the woman he would take for his bride

In his hands the rich man died

Murder on the streets of Erech

 

As fast as he could from the town he fled

For the friends of the man would soon have him dead

His flying feet to the Buranan led

Never more to set foot in Erech

 

The mighty river has never been crossed

Except by an elf-friend, many lives it had cost

Braving its torrents all had been lost

And never returned to Erech

 

With the hounds on his heels and the river in sight

He had but two choices, jump in or fight

Two ways to die, but which one was right

For the youth who had fled from Erech

 

He plunged into the water and knew he would drown

As the eddies and currents dragged him deep down

The men on the river bank left with a frown

And returned empty-handed to Erech

 

And so the youth died, or so everyone thought

A tragic young life that had all come to nought

He’d ne’er be the Hero that everyone sought

Young Gil who’d been born in Erech

 

But Gil didn’t die in the river that day

Washed up on the bank near the forest he lay

A forest forbidden, elven and fae

No place for a human from Erech

 

Nothing is written on what happened that day

The elves I have questioned have nothing to say

To enter the forest a price he would pay

That young refugee from Erech

 

What things that he saw, we never will know

But two days later from Elvenhome he’d go

With new purpose, new name and so

Was reborn Gilgamesh of Erech.

 

The complete Ballad of Gilgamesh can be downloaded as a PDF file for free.

07/6/15

The 52 Wizards – From Kris’s Archives

Dammar & Manfred

Dammar & Manfred

The 52 Wizards

When the Great Old Ones left our universe and abandoned their experiment, they created 52 wizards to look after things and to serve and maintain the Balance. After much research, I have managed to compile a full list of their names. I am indebted to Rheanna, Custodian of the Great Library in Rhakotis, for her help in putting this list together. I hope, in the future, to research each of their lives, identify their achievements and purpose. and document when they turned to stone.

Kris the Bard, Elannort, Year of Creation 50511

The First and Greatest of the Sages

Adapa the Arrogant

Great Sages

Al’Alim the Proud

Bedwyr the Brave

Bilal the Blind

Cadell the Crazy

Calum the Calm

Dammar the Damned

Fate

Destiny the Deceitful

Minor Sages

Elim the Enlightened

Ereodor the Erratic

Finord the Straight

Finbar the Bent

Gaylord the Gangling

Gaston the Chef

Hadoc the Magpie

Hroc the Crow

Insular the Insignificant

Indigo the Indignant

Jerusalem the Sacred

Jericho the Fallen

Kristian the Monk

Kenneth the Keen

Lailoken the Fool

Lohengrin the Happy

Manfred the Magician

Mandred the Menacing

Naois the Warrior

Nolan the Noble

Owin the Fighter

Orin the White

Pryderi the Carer

Pwyll the Fox

Quinn the Wise

Quill the Writer

Reaghan the Regal

Ronan the Poet

Scilti the Messenger

Sheridan the Wild

Taliesin the Bard

Tanguy the Fighter

Urien the Useless

Unwin the Unfriendly

Vaughn the Tiny

Valen the Strong

Wynne the Fair

Weylyn the Wolf

Xavier the Missionary

Xanthus the Ancient

York the Bear

Ysbaddaden the Giant

Zander the Protector

Zenethyr the Seeker

KtB

05/11/15

CJA Comes Out of the Closet – Interview

Melbourne based fantasy author of the FirstWorld Saga, Christopher Jackson-Ash, has recently announced that he is gay.  In this interview, he is questioned by his FirstWorld collaborator and muse Kris the Bard.

KtB Thank you for taking the time to share with your fans previously private aspects of your personal life.

CJA My pleasure, although I’m a little nervous.

KtB That’s understandable. Let’s start at the beginning. When did you realise you were gay?

CJA That’s a very difficult question to answer. I think that I always knew that I was ‘different’ but I never really understood what the difference was. There were no role models when I was growing up. Nobody talked about homosexuality. Anyone suspected of being gay was bullied mercilessly at school. In addition, I was incredibly shy as a child and just kept to myself as much as possible. Even when I finally worked it out, I suspect that I hid it from myself as well as the rest of the world for a long time.

KtB Did you have any mm sexual experience growing up, like many teens have?

CJA No, nothing. As I say, I was very shy. I was too shy to approach girls, which I assumed was what I was supposed to do. If a boy had approached me, I would have run a mile.

KtB Don’t answer if you think it’s too personal or embarrassing, but when did you lose your virginity?

CJA I lost my virginity with a woman when I was 22 and I had my first experience with a man when I was 44.

KtB That’s very late in both cases, but nicely symmetrical. What happened between those times?

CJA I married and had a family and tried to pretend that everything was fine.

KtB What brought things to a head?

CJA The pressure just built up inside me and in the end I had a nervous breakdown.

KtB How did you recover?

CJA Well, the most important thing was to be honest with myself and finally accept that I might be gay.

KtB You still didn’t know?

CJA Well, I had nothing to compare anything with.

KtB Was there a moment that you knew? Did you have a Road to Damascus conversion?

CJA It’s funny that you should ask the question that way, because that was exactly what it was. There were several opportunities that I passed up for various reasons. When the moment finally arrived, I was terrified and excited at the same time. And then I kissed a man for the first time. It was as if a switch had been flipped in my brain. I had finally come home. The irony is that I had always hated kissing women.

KtB That must have been very liberating and yet frightening at the same time.

CJA Yes, it was. I had a wife and two teenage sons. They say that it’s a terrible ordeal for teenagers to come out to their parents but I think it’s far worse for a parent to come out to their children.

KtB How did your wife take it?

CJA Not very well, as you might imagine. Then, I think she thought it was a passing fad as part of a mid-life crisis. She gave me six months to go out and ‘experiment’ and then make a decision on our future. If I chose to stay with her, I would promise never to have sex with a man ever again.

KtB That was very reasonable of her.

CJA I thought so at the time. Then, about half-way through the six months she pulled a dirty trick. It was my birthday. In the morning, she gave me a nice present. Then, around 11 am, she came in and gave me a well-rehearsed speech. In essence, she said that as I hadn’t made up my mind by now then I never would. So she threw me out.

KtB Wow, not so reasonable after all.

CJA It was part of a well-planned strategy, I believe. She had used it before to pressure me into marriage in the first place. We hadn’t been going out very long. I was in an emotional state after being dumped by my first long-term girlfriend, who I thought that I loved. My wife-to-be knew that I wasn’t up to another emotional break-up, so she gave me an ultimatum; marry or break-up. I was weak then and succumbed. This time, I think that she thought I would come crawling back, begging for forgiveness, and she would again be in a position of power.

KtB But you didn’t succumb the second time around?

CJA In reality, it was something of a relief. I would never have left her, so in effect she gave me my freedom. In hindsight it was the best birthday present that I ever received.

KtB Have you thanked her?

CJA I have tried, but she hates me and won’t speak to me. It makes family gatherings very difficult.

KtB Talking of family, how did the children take it?

CJA It was tough for them at first. They were grateful that I’d stuck it out until they were old enough to understand. They are now fully accepting of my sexuality and good friends with my partner.

KtB How long ago was this?

CJA It all happened around 12 years ago and my ex-wife still won’t speak to or acknowledge me. I left home that day with all my worldly goods in the back of a leased car. I let her have just about everything. Shortly after that, the business I had given 10 years of my life to failed and I was left penniless.

KtB It sounds awful.

CJA Actually it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was very liberating. I was finally free to do what I wanted. I had spent all of my life trying to be what others had wanted me to be. I met my partner, moved back to Melbourne, adopted a bohemian lifestyle and began to write.

KtB And then we met.

CJA I had an idea for what became the FirstWorld Saga in my head for 30 years. Then you showed up on my doorstep and brought the complete story with you.

KtB We have written about that on the blog before, so we won’t revisit it. You couldn’t survive by writing. What other work did you do?

CJA Well, I’m a chemical engineer by profession and after a varied career I specialised in the risk management of hazardous installations; plants that could blow up or release toxic materials. So I did a bit of consulting from time to time to keep body and soul together.

KtB Did you come out to everyone and what was your experience of coming out?

CJA I never came out to the people I worked with, until today, if they happen to read this. I like to keep my business and private lives separate. I came out to close friends and extended family members. The results were varied. I lost a lot of friends, who I had been friends with for years who couldn’t deal with it. I told my 90 year old Auntie in trepidation. She said that it didn’t make any difference to her; I was still her favourite nephew.

KtB She was great. Did your life change?

CJA Well apart from the obvious ways, it was a bit of a revelation. I was used to being a middle-class, white, heterosexual male – the dominant majority. Suddenly, I became part of a minority; a minority that still suffers awful discrimination in Australia and terrible fates in various places around the world. To be gay is still a death sentence in many parts of the world. It is often a death sentence here too, especially in rural areas. The suicide rate amongst gay youth in Australia is dreadful and is something I feel very strongly about. My eyes have been opened.

KtB Yes, it is a big problem. Let’s move on though. Do you consider yourself to be a gay writer?

CJA I’m not sure what that means. My sexuality doesn’t define me. I’m not a different person because I’m now in a relationship with a man, compared to when I was in a relationship with a woman. I’m happier, but inside I’m still the same person. So, I’m a writer who happens to be gay. I sometimes write stories with gay characters, but more often my characters are straight. I hope that I can now write them both with some insight. I’m not pushing any particular so-called ‘lifestyle’ with my readers. I have no hidden agenda.

KtB But every writer includes something of themselves in their work, don’t they?

CJA I suppose it’s inevitable. Sexuality is not a choice. Being gay is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ as some religious fundamentalists would have you believe. I can no more change my sexuality, than my left-handedness or the colour of my eyes. They used to force left-handers to use their right hands and look at the psychological damage that caused. It is genetic and we’ll understand the biological reasons behind it one day. So you can look at the FirstWorld Saga as something of a metaphor for that. Simon Redhead carries Hero genes. The story shows his battle to come to terms with what that means and to finally accept and embrace his role as Everlasting Hero. Did he really have a choice? It was in his genes. I had no choice either.

KtB That sounds like the perfect place to leave it. Christopher Jackson-Ash, thank you very much and I hope that the last part of your coming-out is well-received.

CJA Thank you, Kris, that wasn’t too painful. I hope so too.

04/25/15

50 Word Fiction – Blood

Blood

The throat was slit and the initial gush of blood slowed to a steady trickle into the bucket. The man stepped back with satisfaction, wiping the long blade on a piece of rag. The watcher smiled and licked his lips; black pudding for tea.

CJA

04/8/15

Great new songs from @joshwoodward

You probably know that I use Josh Woodward’s music as a backing for my book trailers. He’s a really talented guy. Check out some of his new songs.

Honeyed Tongue

Too Many Valleys

The Rival Within

Here’s the full version of I Will Not Let You Let Me Down, which I used as the instrumental version on Aftermath of Armageddon.


Watch the videos of Josh singing and playing all of the instruments at Josh’s web site.

Happy listening,

CJA

04/7/15

My Writing

My Writing

A poem is dashed off easily,

Especially if there’s no rhyme,

Flash fiction: an interesting story

That doesn’t take too much time.

 

Short stories are the bane of my life,

Struggling to find the twist in the tale.

A bottom drawer full of half-finished novels,

All that work to no avail.

CJA

04/5/15

Find Out More About Manfred

I had recently been appointed as official Bard of Elannort. While we were planning for the siege and subsequent Battle of Elannort and Simon was lost in the past, I took the opportunity to interview Manfred. I asked him about his early days, the fall of his mentor Bedwyr, the coming of Gilgamesh and his battle with Gadiel and his hopes for Simon and the future. He was refreshingly honest with me and spoke about the three great mistakes of his life. You can download the transcript of the interview for free here or read it below.

KtB

6 Manfred palantir

Interview with Manfred

Manfred the Magician Leader of the Wise interviewed at Melasurej on 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Kris. Manfred, thank you for your time. I appreciate that you are worried and distracted because Simon is lost in the past and our enemies are gathering at the gates. I would like to ask you about your early days and the last time Gadiel threatened FirstWorld.

Manfred. You are welcome, Kris. We have done everything possible. I have faith that Simon will return and we will defeat the enemy. Ask away.

K. Can we go right back to the beginning? What is your first memory?

M. That’s a long time ago.

K. Forty-three thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine years to be precise.

M. You don’t have to remind me; I feel very old. I suppose my first memory is seeing Melasurej for the first time together with the rest of the Sages and feeling very small and impotent. I remember the scales in the great hall were perfectly in balance. It was the only time that I saw them like that. I was a very minor wizard and most of us didn’t have a clue about what we were supposed to do. We looked up to the seven Great Sages for guidance.

K. Did you ever see the Great Old Ones?

M. No, only the Great Sages met them and received their orders. They did not speak about it.

K. Where did you find guidance?

M. Fortunately the Great Sage Bedwyr saw something in me, though I don’t know what it was. He took me under his wing and I learned much from him. I guess that I was almost his apprentice.

K. What would you say were the most important things you learned from him?

M. Well, I learnt many small things, particularly how to use the power in my staff effectively. But it was the big things that I fall back on now. A belief that we are doing the right thing defending the Balance; that we can make a difference; that even when things are at their darkest there remains a small light of hope that will eventually lead to victory over adversity.

K. Bedwyr fell defending Elvenhome from Gadiel’s forces in YoC 11144. How did he pass to stone? I read somewhere that Gadiel himself wasn’t present. How did you feel?

M. I was devastated and felt so guilty. I felt that I should have been there with him. If I had been, perhaps he would have lived or I could have fallen in his place. He had sent me to discuss certain aspects of our battle plan with King Endymion. The enemy was on the borders of Elvenhome and threatening to cross the Buranan. We needed some special elven magic to wash them away as they tried to cross. He was planning to delay them and then fall back across the river. He had a small army of men and elves with him. It’s true that Gadiel wasn’t there and that’s probably why the rest of the Great Sages thought that one Great Sage was enough to deal with it. Adapa was never very keen on getting his hands dirty. There was a powerful being leading their army. Just like Gadiel seems to have recruited Weylyn this time, he’d done something similar then.

K. Was it another wizard gone bad?

M. No. I think it was a minor God of Chaos. He brought a host of Chaos creatures with him that terrified the humans in the defending army. I heard a first-hand account from an elven commander who survived the battle. Bedwyr was magnificent, moving around the battlefield, raising men’s spirits and destroying the chaos creatures. Eventually, he and the God came face to face. It was an almighty struggle. It appeared that Bedwyr would win and the God’s power waned as his supporters began to panic. With one final surge of power the God shattered Bedwyr’s staff, but the wizard wasn’t finished and jumped forward, grabbing the God around the throat all the while shouting incantations. The two of them died together. I arrived back at the battlefield just in time to see his body turn to dust and blow away. I was overcome by grief and anger and I shocked myself by the way I used my staff that day. I received a first-hand understanding of what the Hero must go through. Without its leader the enemy was routed and we carried the day. I vowed then that Bedwyr’s death would not be in vain.

K. Were the remaining Great Sages more open to fighting Gadiel after that?

M. Unfortunately not. My pleadings fell on deaf ears. However the dwarves and the elves were more open to action because they knew how close they had been to destruction. I had a feeling that the combination of Excalibur and the Blood Ruby would be quite a weapon. The King Beneath the Mountain, Darian son of Dail son of Dallin and the King of the Elves, Endymion, brought together the symbols of their cultures and handed them over to the elven smiths to create Fleischaker. The Sword immediately killed the two smiths who made it and we used all of the magic available to the three races to fashion Vasek to partially control it.

K. And you found a Hero in Gilgamesh to wield it?

M. Well, he found us actually. It was either fate or great synchronicity. He was the greatest Hero to have ever existed and really the first incarnation of the Everlasting Hero. He could control Fleischaker and revelled in using it to kill.

K. Do you think Simon will be the same?

M. Simon is very different to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was much more like Ubadah is. I think that Simon will learn to temper the Sword’s excesses with compassion. At least, I hope so for the sight of the Hero destroying entire armies is not something I’d like to see again.

K. Is that what happened on the Battle Plain?

M. Yes. Gilgamesh destroyed Gadiel’s army single-handedly. It was a terrible slaughter.

K. Were you not involved?

M. When the Everlasting Hero is in full flight, it is best to stand well back or you are likely to become collateral damage.

K. As Simon has already discovered to his cost with Juliana.

M. Indeed.

K. What happened between Gadiel and Gilgamesh?

M. To the best of our understanding, with farsight and hindsight, they fought themselves to exhaustion. They were so evenly matched that neither could seize the advantage. Then Gadiel tricked Gilgamesh. He offered him the thing that he sought most; immortality. When Gilgamesh dropped his guard, Gadiel tore his still-beating heart from his chest.

K. So why didn’t Gadiel carry the day?

M. In his moment of triumph, he picked up Fleischaker and the Sword reacted as it had with the elven smiths. It couldn’t completely absorb Gadiel because he has no soul, or at least not one like ours. However, it severely damaged him. Somehow, he managed to flee the field and sought refuge in the mountains. Along the way, he had to abandon the Sword, which otherwise might have completely destroyed him.

K. Why didn’t you finish him off while you had the chance?

M. I have made three terrible mistakes during my long life. I know that there are a myriad of smaller ones but there are three that gnaw at my conscience even to this day. The first was to lose Bedwyr. The second was to allow Gadiel to flee the field that day. I know now that I had the power to destroy him but at the time I was too afraid. He had just destroyed Gilgamesh and he now had Fleischaker. I’m ashamed to say that I too fled the field that day.

K. You may note a tear in my eye and a quaver in my voice. I was, still am, a craven coward. I have never seen you afraid, even when the wargs threatened to overwhelm us. There is hope for me if even you were too afraid to act.

M. Only a fool is never afraid. The test is whether we act through our fear or are frozen by it. I learned a great lesson that day. Your time to act will come, of that I’m sure. Try not to freeze.

K. Did the wise not act and follow him into the mountains?

M. The Council of the Wise eventually met. Five of the six remaining Great Sages decided that they would seek out Gadiel. Dammar decided to go off and do his own thing. Because of my prior involvement, I volunteered to go with them but I was snubbed. I was sent away with Mandred on a series of missions to live with primitive humans and help to preserve the Balance with minimum interference. It was the worst time of my life.

K. What happened to the Great Sages?

M. I’m not even sure that they did anything. My research in recent years has failed to turn up any information. One by one, over time, they passed to stone. Gadiel slowly recovered and here we are today.

K. You mentioned three terrible mistakes. What was the third?

M. All the things that Bedwyr taught me, I forgot them all. I was so wrapped up in my own misery that I neglected everything. The greatest event in the history of the universe was taking place under my nose and I didn’t even notice. I witnessed the Sundering and didn’t even realise.

K. What did that teach you?

M. Well, specifically it allowed me to identify Simon Redhead as our next Everlasting Hero. More generally, it made me work hard ever since to put things right. Jhamed had been born in Elannort just before the Sundering. I admit that I caused a bit too much trouble trying to get the wise to search for Simon. At the 776th Council of the Wise, I made a bit of a fool of myself. So much so, that I was renamed Manfred the Fool and banished from Elannort. Jhamed was grown up by then and he decided to travel with me. Our adventures would fill many a book, but we were always seeking the incarnation of Simon Redhead that would be our Everlasting Hero. Unfortunately, not everyone at the Council of the Wise was on our side. My efforts also alerted the enemy to Simon’s importance and they sought him too, to destroy him.

K. Do you think that we have found him, the right incarnation I mean?

M. Yes, I’m confident we have. I’m sure he’ll be back soon, the Sundering will occur as it did all those years ago and we’ll defeat the enemy at the gate.

K. Manfred, I appreciate your openness and candour and I fervently hope that you are right. Thank you for your time.

M. Thank you, Kris.

Certified as a full and accurate transcript of my interview with Manfred the Magician at Melasurej on the 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Great hall

03/28/15

500 Word Fiction – The Girl with April in her Eyes

Check out the Facebook group. This is from a picture prompt.

The snow blanketed the valley, softening its harshness and muffling the few sounds of daily life that escaped the tiny wooden shacks that her people called homes. It was a deceptive beauty, she knew that now. No amount of snowball fights or snowmen building could make up for the pain of an empty belly. When winter had come early they had revelled in the play, anticipating the festivities that mid-winter always brought. The elders had managed to hide their concern, but the festival had not been as happy as in other years and the feasting had been modest. The frosts of the new year had been as hard as any could remember. They had all shivered together under all of their bed coverings in an attempt to stay warm. The worries could no longer be hidden. She heard her parents talking quietly deep into the night, while she pretended to sleep. Their talk made her heart freeze in fear, more than an icy dagger ever could.

Her menses had started when the snowdrops should have been pushing their heads through the last traces of snow. It had taken her by surprise and the deep snow was stained red, like her face was by a mixture of embarrassment and fear. The tears her mother cried at the news only increased her fear.

Two months later, with snow still choking the prospect of new life, she had become resigned to her duty. She wasn’t hungry for the first time in months. All of the valley dwellers had come together to provide for her bridal supper. She was dressed in warm new clothes, the best the seamstresses could sew. Her head was full of half-understood gibberish that the old men had spoken.

She was alone now. Her people cowered in their shacks. She crossed the footbridge that marked the end of their valley and turned to take one final look. Although it was April the dark spires of leafless trees seemed to plead with the sky to bring forth sunshine. The sheep were bearing dead lambs in the barns; the cows had ceased giving milk; the few chickens spared the pot were no longer laying. The cold beauty of the snow masked how close to death her entire people were coming.

Better to give herself and save her people than cower with them and suffer a miserable death. She stifled a sob, resolved to be brave, and turned to leave. The youngest virgin of child-rearing age in the valley turned, crossed the bridge, and headed towards her fate.

03/28/15

Unleashing Chaos – Extract from A View of the Past

VoP Cover Small

If the Blackshirts had thought a few flashing globes were frightening, they were scared witless at dusk the next evening. As the sun disappeared in a fiery red glow in the western sky, it seemed as though the eastern sky was a mirror. Except that as the fire dimmed in the west, it grew in the east. It expanded until it seemed that the entire atmosphere burned. Then, in the midst of the inferno, a black chasm opened like a giant maw. No doubt, the Blackshirts thought it was a doorway to hell. For out of it poured a myriad of creatures previously witnessed only in nightmares or ancient myths. From his vantage point in Cambyses’ hovel, Simon watched the terror spread. The elves had all been instructed to stay inside until they received a signal, but they all peered out in fascination as the arriving army, seemingly impervious to the Blackshirts’ bullets, cut through the defenders’ ranks with ease, bringing death and terror in equal measure.

The foot soldiers were the stuff of ancient legend. Cyclops, giants with a single eye in the middle of their foreheads and a single horn on the top of their heads, looked like giant grey-scaled rhinoceroses walking on their hind legs. They carried huge clubs with which they bashed their opponents to death. Meanwhile, centaurs, half horse and half man ran on four legs and fired arrows tipped with poison from their bows, while minotaurs with the heads of bulls and the naked bodies of men carried curved swords or multi-tailed whips in their human hands. Women were not excluded from the battle. A whole phalanx of gorgons marched in their naked glory, only the slithering serpents that replaced their hair detracting from their feminine beauty. Harpies fluttered around them, winged naked women with clawed, eagle-like feet and razor-sharp talons on the ends of their wings. Other creatures with no semblance of humanity lolloped around the edges of the army; hydras with their nine monster heads snapping at the air, two-headed slavering dogs dripping poison from their fangs, and small goat-like creatures with protective scales and poisonous horns frolicking like baby lambs. At the centre, glowing red as its scales reflected the light from the sky, a huge four-winged dragon blazed flame and noisome smoke from its serpentine head. It was flanked by a pride of red manticores, with the bodies of lions, human heads, and tails that mimicked the dragon’s. It seemed that they had a taste for human flesh. Manfred shook his head sadly. “Oh Simon, what have you unleashed?”

The dragon breathed on the iron gates of the ghetto and they melted into slag. As the smoke cleared, a figure emerged. Twice as big as a normal man, he wasn’t completely solid, but shimmered as if he might be a holographic projection. He was a young man, hardly more than a youth. He was tall and slim with long powerful legs and strong arms. His black hair was cut short and his face was covered with matching stubble. He was naked. His body was covered in wiry black hair. His face was young and handsome but disfigured by a fresh scar that ran from his left ear to the side of his mouth. A large phallus hung between his legs. It was adorned with a red, five-pointed star. Manfred spoke again. “Ubadah?”

Simon left the hovel and drew Kin Slayer. He faced the figure, holding the Sword high in the air in front of him. The naked god nodded and smiled at Simon. “We meet again, Simon Rufus. Our part in the bargain is made; we hope that you will take care of yours now.”

“I thought…” Simon tried to frame a sentence.

“You thought that you had killed me. You banished me to Limbo, where I would have stayed for an eternity except that you brought me back. By believing in me and getting others to believe in me, you gave me new life. This time, I have a name that I can be proud of and an entire realm to govern. We are enjoined in Chaos, you and the Singing God. When you have killed the fallacious god of Law known as the Father, you will have earned the right to join me as a true god of Chaos. There is room in this realm for two gods if you so choose. See, I have forgiven you for your terrible crime of genocide. It was but a small thing in the greater picture of the multiverse. Now, I must muster my troops and show these people we mean business. Do your stuff, Simon Rufus. Welcome to Chaos.”

Simon said nothing but sheathed Kin Slayer and bowed his head to the Singing God. He was a destroyer and creator of gods. What did that make him? He watched the carnage disappear out of immediate sight and thought on Manfred’s words. This time he might have unleashed far more than anyone could cope with. He pulled himself together and gave Cambyses the word. It was an orderly process, rather like a practised emergency drill when a building catches fire. The elves left their hovels in turn, marched briskly to the dimension portal and disappeared through. Cambyses was the last, followed by Manfred, Jowan, and Dring.

“Though this purgatory is finally over for us, I wonder what new hell awaits the innocent citizens of this realm. I too wonder what you have unleashed here Simon Rufus, though I thank you with all my heart for saving my people.” Simon followed him through the portal.

He left one scene of chaos to find another. While one was a scene of terror, this was a scene of absolute joy. The elves were beside themselves, seeing grass and trees again. They gambolled like lambs on their first spring morning, seeking out the fresh cool water of the brook and casting off their rags as they bathed for the first time in centuries. It would take Jhamed and Manfred a long time to round them up and get them in their beds to feed and rest up before the journey home. Simon and Dring headed back to the portal. Their work was not yet done. Jowan followed them. “You would do well to stay here until we have done what must be done,” Simon told him.

“It is my destiny to come with you,” he replied.

“You will be in great danger. Kin Slayer will protect me and Dring cannot be harmed. You will have no protection.”

“I will take care and trust fate,” the little man said.

CJA

03/21/15

The Journey to Dishley – Extract from Quest for Knowledge

First World Map

First World Map

The Journey to Dishley

Simon watched as Manfred and his companions disappeared from sight. His head ached. He had not slept well. He had been troubled by dreams again. In the dream, he was bound naked on a large pine table. A hideous crone mocked him. He struggled to move, but unseen bonds held him motionless. When he tried to scream, no sound came. He tried to send a message to his friends. It is time. Reunite us. I will serve you. Come for me. Simon shuddered. The words still echoed in his head.

Jhamed approached. “Are you ready to leave? We have a long ride ahead of us.”

Simon nodded. “You will take it slowly, won’t you? I’ve never ridden a horse before you know.” And I’m scared shitless.

“Don’t worry, Simon. You’re a natural. Before you know it, you’ll be out-riding all of us. I’ve seen it many times before.” Jhamed had this unnerving habit of talking about previous versions of Simon he had known and assuming they were all the same. He was usually right.

Five riders left Elannort on that crisp spring morning. The four companions were joined by a young groom from the stables. Like the previous group, they had packed to travel light, as they would leave their horses behind when they crossed the first dimension portal. They each carried a backpack, containing essential provisions. Dawit had his axe slung at his waist and carried his shield on his arm. Taran wore his sword at his waist and his long bow slung over his left shoulder. A quiver of arrows jostled with his backpack. Jhamed, as usual, carried no visible weapons. Simon assumed that he had several blades hidden about his person. Simon carried only the empty scabbard that had been presented to him at the Council of the Wise.

They headed north-west along the road that led to Two Rivers, the town where the rivers Hope and Doom joined to form one massive watercourse that entered the Great Inland Sea at the town of One River. These two great rivers drained the Mountains of Death and were virtually impassable except at the One River Bridge. The area bounded by the two rivers and the Mountains of Death, to the north, contained the well-named Forest of Doom.

Simon was apprehensive. Jhamed, of course, was a veteran of inter-dimensional travel. Taran had been on one quest before to save elves and bring them home to FirstWorld. Dawit had never tried his assumed powers and there was a chance that he might have to return to Elannort with the horses. Simon had made one recent trip, most of it inside a hessian sack. The three inexperienced travellers were keen to learn from Jhamed. He, as ever, appeared to be happy to have centre stage and show off. The five riders rode abreast along the well-paved road while Jhamed entertained them.

“The multiverse is in a constant state of flux. The gateways between dimensions are continually changing. Because FirstWorld is in the centre of things, it has many fixed gateways. Without these, we could become lost, wandering through the dimensions forever. I am an expert, no I am the expert in inter-dimensional travel. Even wizards cannot keep up with me. I have the ability to map the dimensions in my head and see where the portals are. I surprise myself, sometimes.”

“Lucky you’re modest with it,” Simon joked.

Jhamed ignored Simon’s barb and continued. “The fixed gateways are located in a largely unpopulated area between the Lost Road and the Fools’ Road. In the old days, there was quite a lot of traffic between the dimensions, hence the quality of the two roads. These days, the roads see few travellers. We will not stay on this road for long. We need to head north, to a gateway that is located just to the west of the Fools’ Road. Manfred suggested we leave along this road and cut across country to confuse any spies that might be watching. I think he’s gone paranoid in his dotage. Only people with the correct genetics can access the dimension portals. It’s an innate thing – either you have it or you don’t. The portals themselves are almost invisible. Only a trained eye can see them. The fixed ones have been marked, with discreet symbols, to aid travellers, but most portals have to be identified by the effects they generate. If you look closely, you’ll see a kind of shimmer in the air, almost like a heat haze. If you travel enough, you’ll learn to spot them.”

“You can take objects through with you? Why can’t you take other people?” Simon asked. It doesn’t make sense to me.

“When you first came to Elannort, I put you in a sack and carried you. My back still aches, by the way. Had you not had the ability to travel through the dimensions, when I entered the portal you would have been left behind and I would have arrived with an empty sack. That’s the way it works. Any inanimate objects you are in contact with make the transition. No living things without the correct genes can make the trip. That’s why we’ll have to leave our horses behind.”

He paused, uncharacteristically, as if thinking about whether he should say more. He laughed aloud and continued, “Manfred tells me that the time portal is different. When you make that trip, Simon, you will find that you arrive at your destination completely naked. He says it’s a built-in protection so that you cannot take technology back in time before it was invented. Just imagine how that will go down, a pale, naked, red-haired boy turning up in the middle of a Council of the Wise.”

Simon blushed and Jhamed laughed again. Just my luck. Anyway, I’m not going to visit a Council of the Wise. Let’s get this part over first. I can worry about my dignity later.

“That I would like to see.” Dawit joined in the laughter. Taran was more circumspect, but he smiled quietly to himself. The young groom, Simon noted, seemed as embarrassed as he was.

They continued to ride at walking-pace. They had seen no one since they had left Elannort behind. They had passed a few farms, where the occasional dog had challenged their authority, but otherwise they had had the road, and it seemed the world, to themselves. It suddenly dawned on Simon that he was riding quite effortlessly and without worrying. I don’t think I’m ready for a gallop yet, but I’m doing OK. I must be a natural, like Jhamed said.

Before long, Jhamed led them off the road and onto a dirt track. The horses didn’t miss a beat and Simon was pleased with himself. The fields were large, bordered by tree-filled hedgerows. Spring was evident everywhere, from the blossoms in the hedgerows to the chirping of nesting birds. The fields were newly ploughed and planted, just bursting into life, or filled with livestock, mostly cows and sheep. Lambs gambolled around their mothers. It was an idyllic scene, Simon thought. Pity we are on our way to meet death and mayhem. How long will this place survive, if we fail?

They rode on in silence. Simon was lost in his thoughts. He reviewed again the events of the last few days that had brought him here. It was still hard to believe. Soon he would have to claim his sword, and then use it. He didn’t know whether he could do that. He would soon have graduated from medical school. He would have taken the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. How could he pick up a sword to injure or kill someone? Above all, I must not play at God. The phrase from the modern version of the oath stuck in his mind. They expect me to be their saviour. They want me to defeat a god. What will I become, if I pick up that sword? Do I have a choice? He thought about the words that Manfred had used as they had talked at Wizards’ Keep. He heard Manfred’s calm, strong voice in his head. You have a role to fulfil, Simon. It is your destiny. Do not fight it. Embrace it, for it is the role you were created for. He pondered on the idea of fate and whether he had any control of his own destiny. He must have spoken aloud, for his friends all had a view they wished to share.

“There is a natural order of things,” Taran said. “Elves believe that everything has its place and there is a place for everything. Sometimes it is difficult to work out where that place is, but once you find it you will know that you are home. I suspect that you will understand this when you hold the Sword. You have a destiny, Simon. You cannot avoid it. Whether that is fate or just a law of physics, I do not know. I only know that it is useless to resist. When you hold the Sword in your hand, you will become something greater than the sum of your parts. Remember then who you were, or you may never be that person again.”

“What a crock of cow dung,” Dawit spluttered. “The only certainty is that things will change, usually for the worse. Either you can let the currents take you where they will or you can push against them and try to make your own pathway. Take the Sword that is rightfully yours and use it in a way that you choose. Don’t let it rule you, or you will be lost in the currents. In any event, you will never be the same person again. Dwarves believe in taking responsibility for their own actions, not taking the excuse of fate.”

As usual, Jhamed wanted the last word on the subject. “We are very much alike, you and I. I am a creature of fate. My whole life has been leading to this point. It is my fate to be the companion to the Hero and the dogsbody to wizards. I think it is written in my genes. Likewise, Simon, it is written in your genes that you are the Hero. You cannot gainsay that destiny, any more than you can deny your left-handedness or your red hair. You can decide how you will use your power, but you cannot refuse to accept it.”

They had reached a point on the track now that Simon recognised from his arrival in FirstWorld, which meant they were getting close to the dimension portal. He mused on what his friends had said. Why must I accept it? I could dye my hair black and learn to use my right hand. Lord Acton said that all power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Gilgamesh was corrupted. I will not accept it. Again, he heard Manfred inside his head. Would you risk everything in the multiverse because you are too weak to pick up your burden? Carpe diem. Carpe gladium. Per aspera ad astra.

“I’m still very confused. I really don’t know whether I’ll be able to take the Sword. I don’t understand why it’s all down to me.” He stopped trying to explain because it sounded like he was whining.

They halted before a grove of ash trees. The black spring buds had almost disappeared and the trees were well into leaf. Branches from two of the trees formed an archway, adorned in new spring green. The air under the archway shimmered and rippled, as if a rock had been thrown into a still pool of water and disturbed the surface. They dismounted and said farewell to their erstwhile travel companion. Simon was suddenly very nervous. Jhamed spoke to them.

“We will have to traverse many realms to get to Dishley. Some of them may not be pleasant. Stay close and follow my lead at all times. Do not draw your weapons unless I tell you to. Say nothing to anyone we meet unless it’s absolutely necessary. I will try to secure a route that avoids meeting people, if it’s at all possible. At times, I may need to leave you and scout ahead for a suitable route. I don’t know how long this will take, so don’t ask. Is everyone ready?”

They all nodded, although Simon felt queasy. I’m scared. Not so much for my life, more for my soul. Jhamed stepped through the archway and disappeared, cutting off Simon’s chance to dwell further on his predicament. Dawit followed and he also disappeared. Taran gently guided Simon to the portal. Simon took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and stepped forward. Here goes, come what may.

Simon stepped into a very different world. It seemed to be around midday. A large, pale red sun burned weakly through a grey sky. The four companions stood on a rocky beach. A brown sea lapped gently on the shore. The air was heavy, but they had to breathe hard to get enough oxygen into their lungs. There was a sharp, sweet smell in the air, which seemed to attack the back of Simon’s throat. When Simon tried to look out to sea, a brown haze prevented him from seeing very far. Jhamed provided some commentary.

“In this dimension, Earth has reached the end of its days. The planet has been polluted to death and the sun is nearing its end. There are few inhabitants left. There is little plant or animal life, so the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is getting less and less. It’s not a place to hang around in for long, but it has the benefit of being quiet and peaceful. Don’t eat or drink anything while we are here. There should be another portal about two miles along this beach. We’ll have to walk slowly to conserve oxygen.”

The walk was very slow. It took them nearly two hours to reach the next portal. No one spoke. They trudged forward step after heavy step as if they were in a trance. Jhamed kept them away from the water’s edge, which was just as well. No one else seemed to notice the dark shape in the sea that tracked their slow journey. It all seemed very surreal to Simon. He struggled to breathe and began to feel very tired. It was soon an effort to keep his eyes open. It’s like I imagine dying in the snow, falling asleep and gently passing away. It took a kick up the backside from Jhamed to refocus himself. It was too much effort to complain about it. After they stepped through the next portal, which was a cave entrance in the crumbling cliffs, he regretted his previous analogy. The wind chill hit him like a knife. The snow glare almost blinded him. He remembered a similar dimension from his earlier journey. He hadn’t liked it then and he didn’t like it now.

They all took many deep breaths of the cold, fresh air. Taran was the first to speak, shouting against the whistling wind. “I have never felt so depressed in my entire life. There was a heaviness in that realm that weighed me down so much that I wanted to die. It was a world without trees. I could not live without trees.”

“It was a terrible place,” Dawit agreed. “I fear that it reminded me of the fate of the dwarves. There are echoes of that place in First Delve these days.”

“Are we going to stay here and chat until we freeze to death?” Jhamed shouted. “Come on, there’s a portal not far from here. It should take us to a dimension where we can rest and eat.”

Despite the wind against them and the blowing snow that almost reached blizzard proportions, they moved much more easily here. Simon drew his cloak around him and surged forward, following Jhamed’s lead. The chill air quickly blew away the lethargy, to be replaced by a dull aching in his bones. They made good progress and quickly came to the next portal, which made its presence known only by its strange impact on the blowing snow. The snow seemed to take a deviation around the portal, so that there was a small area of clear, shimmering air in the midst of the blizzard. Thankfully, the four companions entered the portal and emerged onto the bank of a beautiful river on a warm summer’s day. There was no one around, so they removed their coats and made themselves comfortable on the neatly mown grass.

“We can rest here for a while and have something to eat,” Jhamed told them. “We are making good progress.”

“I am already lost,” Dawit said. “If we were to misplace Jhamed for any reason, we would be lost in the multiverse forever.”

“That concerns me too,” Taran agreed. “What concerns me more is that we were followed in the snow dimension. I was too befuddled to know whether we were followed in the dead world, but I’m sure that there was a large white shape following us in the snow. Did anyone else see it?”

“It was probably a snow bear.” Jhamed’s statement was firmly put and clearly meant to end the discussion.

“Well, nothing has followed us through the portal,” Simon said. “Let’s sunbathe and eat. What is this dimension, Jhamed? How long before we get to Dishley?”

Jhamed looked a bit sheepish. “I haven’t been here for a while. It should be safe enough; it’s a dimension where Law holds sway. Let’s eat.”

They unpacked some of their provisions and set up a very pleasant picnic on the manicured lawn. Behind them swans and ducks floated on the easy-flowing river. Simon lay back in the sun and daydreamed. I remember a picnic by the Yarra when I was a child. Mum bought hot chicken and fresh baked bread. We played cricket afterwards. He was raised from his reverie by the sound of jackboots. Before the four friends could do anything, a group of soldiers, two abreast, marched into view along the concrete path adjacent to the lawn. They were smartly dressed in identical black uniforms and carried weapons that looked to Simon like old-fashioned muskets, such as he had seen in museums. Their leader barked a command in a language that Simon didn’t understand and the soldiers stopped, wheeled, and faced the picnicking quartet. There were ten soldiers in two rows of five. The front row dropped to their knees. All ten soldiers cocked their muskets and pointed them at the group. The leader shouted something that was obviously directed towards them, but Simon was unable to understand the language.

Jhamed cursed and then whispered instructions to them. “By the Balance, what an idiot! Curse my complacency. Stand very slowly. We are trapped between the soldiers and the river, outnumbered, and out-gunned. Their projectile weapons are primitive but dangerous. They only have one round and then they have to reload. We need a diversion so that we can get back through the portal.”

“Wait. I have another plan,” Taran whispered. The soldier’s leader barked at them again. “Do you see that grove of willow trees by the river bank? If we can make it there, it may provide some sanctuary for us. I feel the trees in this realm. There is a memory of elves here. Willow trees are sometimes evil. I hope these ones turn out to be benign. On my signal, run to the trees in a zigzag pattern. Leave everything behind.”

“We still need a diversion, or we risk being shot,” Jhamed whispered. As if on cue, a naked man appeared. He ran, more quickly than an Olympic sprinter, between the soldiers and the companions. He zigged and zagged, genitals flapping in the breeze, like a dog running away from the butcher’s shop with a stolen link of sausages. He shouted vague obscenities at the soldiers. He raced off along the concrete pathway and the soldiers broke ranks to chase him. As he passed by, Simon noted his impressive physique. He looks like Adonis. “Run! Now!” Jhamed shouted.

The four companions rushed to the grove of willow trees as fast as their legs could carry them. Taran began to sing in a silky voice, smooth as creamy mocha coffee, in an ancient language that Simon could not understand. It sounded poetic and melodic. He could almost feel the words evoking ancient memories and emotions inside his head. He could smell the luscious scent of ancient forests, where no human had ever walked. He could hear the joyous noise of elf-children playing in the trees. He could feel the love between elves and trees. He saw, not a grove of gnarled old willow trees, but a huge forest as far as the eye could see. He heard a plea for help, in the spirit of days long past. The willow branches seemed to reach out towards them to welcome them warmly. They rushed into the thicket. At the centre was an old willow, huge and weeping. Its trunk was as thick as several pillar-boxes, rotten and empty. Taran guided them through an opening so that they were inside the hollow trunk. There was room to stand, but it was a tight fit and they were pressed closer together than normal propriety would allow. There was a loud click and a dimming of the light. The hole had closed behind them. They were locked in. Taran continued singing for a while and Simon felt gratitude mixed with unexplained sorrow. Eventually, Taran spoke.

“We are fortunate that Old Man Willow still lives. He is the last one who remembers the old times and the elves. His children and grandchildren, who cluster around him, think he is crazy. He weeps for his loss, for he remembers elven children playing in his branches and singing with him. He says we will be safe here until the sun vanishes. He apologises for the discomfort.”

“Please thank him for his generous hospitality,” Jhamed said. “Your song reawakened memories I thought long forgotten. I visited the Hanging Gardens with my mother and she sang with the One Tree.” He snuffled, and Simon thought he saw tears streaming down Jhamed’s face. “I’m sorry for our predicament. I should have known better. This realm has gone entirely over to Law. It is governed by rules and bureaucracy gone mad. I’m afraid we have just broken about a dozen local by-laws. The penalty for walking on the grass, let alone sitting down and having a picnic, is death. If we are caught, we will be tried, found guilty, sentenced, and executed by firing squad.” Simon was shocked. Executed for walking on the grass! What sort of crazy world is this? Jhamed continued. “We were fortunate that our well-endowed friend was nearby. We will wait for cover of darkness and then sneak away to the next portal. Try to get some sleep, if you can.”

“Sleep! Sleep! Are you crazy?” Dawit exclaimed. “What happens when they give up chasing the naked man, or catch him, and come back for us? Who is he, anyway? We have been followed throughout our journey. I’m beginning to think it’s you who is senile, not Manfred. It cannot be coincidence that he was there when we needed him. I can’t spend half a day inside a tree. It’s inhumane treatment.”

“I agree with Dawit,” Taran said. “About the naked man,” he added hurriedly. “Someone or something has been following us. It would seem that whoever it is has our interests at heart, at least for the moment. You could learn a lot from an afternoon with Old Man Willow. You are a dwarf; you are used to living in the dark, in a cramped underground mine. Surely inside a tree is not so bad?”

Dawit muttered something incomprehensible as Jhamed butted in. “They will not come for us today. They might come back, keep watch, and demand our surrender. They cannot step on the grass without falling foul of their own laws. They need the requisite paperwork completed before they do so. It will take at least a day to get it all approved by the magistrate. Relax and rest, we will leave at sunset.”

“When all this is over, I will take you to see the caverns in First Delve. Then you will understand that life underground is not all cramped darkness. They will astound you. I guarantee it.” Dawit was still fretting about Taran’s remark.

“I look forward to the day when we have the time and the freedom to do so. I will gladly go with you, if you will also visit Eden with me to see the Hanging Gardens and the One Tree. After you have heard the song, you will never be the same again. Listen carefully to Old Man Willow, he has but a vague memory of the song, but he will sing to us now.”

The next thing Simon was aware of was a loud click, as the tree opened up and the four companions stumbled outside into the darkness, partly illuminated by a rising half-moon. Where did the afternoon go? I must have fallen asleep. He remembered Dawit and Taran arguing about the merits of their homes. Then Old Man Willow had started to sing. It had been like listening to a summer breeze soughing through the boughs. There had been no discernible words, but like Taran’s song, it had evoked feelings, good feelings. He had been transported to a time long past, when the world was young and life was simple. He now felt as rested as after the best night’s sleep on a feather bed, as full as if he had just enjoyed a banquet, and as happy as if he had just lost his virginity – until he thought about it. Damn, that feeling didn’t last long. When will it happen for me? There was no one around, so the companions collected up their belongings and quietly crept away. Taran sang a song of thanks to Old Man Willow. Simon thought he felt a wave of gratitude flow back in return. “He will die happy now,” Taran said. “We were well met, this day.”

The next part of the journey passed in a bit of a blur. Simon was preoccupied. He was analysing events and coming to a realisation. At some point, there would be a “ching.” He thought about Old Man Willow and his song. Once, that dimension had been a wonderful place to live. Now its inhabitants must live in fear and tyranny. Walking on the grass brought a penalty of death, how could people live like that? Yet it was a world where Law ruled, not Chaos. Jhamed had once said that Hitler represented Law. Simon had wondered then whether that meant Churchill had represented Chaos. He realised that it wasn’t a case of black and white; everything was shades of grey. For society to be successful and fair to everyone it needed a balance between Law and Chaos. Law didn’t represent “good”; it stood for order. Chaos didn’t represent “evil”; it symbolised anarchy. Churchill didn’t support anarchy; he battled for balance. Democracy, for all its faults, was an attempt at securing balance. The fanatical religious zealots in his world, whether they were fundamentalist Christians or Jihad Islamists were just two different faces of absolute Law. If that were the case, then where did evil come in? Which side did Gadiel favour? All humans, and he supposed all elves and dwarves too, were born with the capacity for both good and evil. Evil was not restricted to either Law or Chaos, it was all pervading. Ching. Everyone had a choice. Hitler probably wasn’t totally evil. Churchill must have had some evil in him. Was the bombing of Dresden really necessary or was it just an evil act of revenge? The victors write the history books and take the moral high ground. Everyone has a choice. He had a choice. I will take up the Sword. I will use it only for good. I will use it to serve the Balance.

Simon wasn’t sure how much time had passed while he had been cogitating. He was vaguely aware of them walking long distances over a variety of terrains and in a range of weather conditions. It appeared that few realms enjoyed perfect weather. Strange how the Law dimension had the best weather. I wonder whether it was a coincidence or if their control extended that far? They had also sat around for long periods while Jhamed had scouted ahead. His companions had respected his need to think and had not disturbed him. Jhamed, no doubt, had seen it all before. Taran was naturally perceptive about such things. Dawit appeared to be lost in his own musings.

Simon felt a great relief. He had come to a decision. He would take control of his own life. He was not a pawn of fate. He sighed and relaxed. Unbidden, words and images came into his mind. He saw the visions again from his dream. You are close. I can feel you. Come for me. We will be reunited. The Trinity will be renewed. Be careful! The witch is strong. She is stronger than I am. She is stronger than you are. Together, we are stronger than she is. The Trinity will be renewed. Soon we will feast. Simon felt gnawing hunger. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. The tiny red hairs on his body stood on end as he shivered.

Jhamed returned from a scouting mission. Simon took him to one side. “We’re close, aren’t we?”

“How do you know?” Jhamed asked.

“The Sword has spoken to me.” Simon recounted his dream and his recent communication, all except the gnawing hunger. “I think I understand about the Balance now. I am ready to take up my Sword and serve the Balance.”

“Excellent!” Jhamed smiled. “I love it when a plan comes together. We’ll rest here tonight and a couple more portals will get us to Dishley tomorrow. We’ll need a plan to tackle the witch.”

They were in a dimension where either Chaos or Sergeant Pepper appeared to be in control. They spent the night sheltered under tall, purple-leaved trees. A full green moon cast an eerie light that battled with the red glow from their fire. The resulting yellow light illuminated a number of inquisitive forest creatures which came to stare at the travellers. They looked like some form of lemur, except that they had two heads, which continually chattered and tried to pull their body in different directions. At one point they started and rushed off back to their burrows or up into the trees. All except one, which hid by the travellers’ packs. The cause of their alarm sauntered into view. It was white, albino perhaps but there was not enough light to tell for sure. It was as big as an elephant, but it more closely resembled a lion. Its huge, shaggy head had a gaping maw, filled with razor sharp teeth. This was a predator close to the top of the food chain. I hope it’s not hungry, or we will be on its menu.

Taran and Dawit were on their feet in an instant. Taran notched an arrow to his bow. Dawit wielded his axe. The elephion sniffed the air, stopped, and looked at them. It stood tall and let out a roar that would have done the Melbourne Cricket Ground proud on Grand Final Day. All the night noises of the forest stopped. Simon stopped breathing. Taran made ready to loose his arrow. The creature gave them another disdainful look and then sauntered off. Simon released his pent up breath. Phew, that was close, must have already eaten. The two-headed lemur-like creature chattered excitedly to itselves and helped itselves to some biscuits from one of the packs.

2 heads lemur

Dawit and Taran took turns to keep watch. They insisted that Simon and Jhamed sleep since they were unarmed and would have a big day ahead of them. Simon slept fitfully. His dreams were full of hideous crones with black cats and ravens. The witches stirred huge cauldrons and concocted potions, which they force-fed him to make him reveal the location of his Sword. He tried to refuse, but they were truth serums and he could not resist. The witches found his Sword and used it kill all of his friends. The Sword ate their souls and then the witches ate their bodies.

Simon woke in a cold sweat. The moon had gone. Jhamed was snoring softly and the fire was low. Reflected in the faint firelight, Simon saw four eyes watching him. They were small, yellow eyes; animal eyes, yet they shone with the fiercest intelligence that he had ever seen. The two-headed lemur creature had seated itself on the group’s food and sat watching Simon. Simon deliberately blinked his eyes to try to clear them of sleep. He could have sworn that the creature had winked at him, with both heads at the same time. If I didn’t know better, I’d reckon we’d all taken LSD or something. The creature chattered to itselves. Words formed in Simon’s head. Remember Vasek. Only Vasek can control the Sword. Beware Fleischaker! It consumes the souls of friends as well as enemies. The two-headed lemur creature gave him another two winks and skittered off into the forest. Simon slept again. When he awoke, he wasn’t sure whether he had dreamt everything.

CJA

03/14/15

A Vision of the Future Cover Revealed – Sneak Preview – Coming Soon

 

A vision of the future book cover small

By Nat Turner

It is now seven years since Simon Redhead was saved from the nuclear destruction of his dimension and taken to FirstWorld. During that time he has struggled to embrace his designated role as Everlasting Hero. Nevertheless, he has defeated Weylyn the Wolf, negotiated a sort of truce with Gadiel, liberated Tamarlan, and rescued the lost elves. In the process, he has killed so many enemies and several friends that he questions his own morality. His actions have cost him much – the loss of his son Alexander, time napped by the Great Old Ones, and his kochari Julie lost in a locked-in coma. He would give or do anything to get his family back. Or would he? In the end he must face the ultimate confrontation with Gadiel. The Balance must ensure that he is prepared. In A Vision of the Future, the Hero and his Companion travel the length and breadth of time and space at the whim of the Gods. Simon must serve the Gods of Chaos and the Gods of Law, as well as The Balance. He will be tempted by their potential rewards but will negotiate a tricky path to the End of Time that allows him to finally face Gadiel. On the way, he will be given opportunities to save the dwarves, destroy Gods, and provide the three races with a golden-age of peace and prosperity. However, the ultimate confrontation cannot be delayed indefinitely, and Gadiel and Simon must meet to determine the fate of the next Cosmos, and perhaps the current one. Will Simon and Kin Slayer have the strength to defeat Gadiel?  Is it just raw power that is needed?  Will Simon have learned the lessons that he needs to come to terms with his morality? Can Gadiel give Simon his heart’s desire? And what is the great secret that Jhamed has been keeping, even from himself?

CJA

03/10/15

Simon at the Slaughter of Hamadan – The Trinity – Extract from Aftermath of Armageddon

This was a defining moment for Simon. Single-handedly (in more ways than one) he massacred over ten thousand enemy fighters in a single day. It has been conjectured that the Trinity refers to the Hero, the Sword, and the Horse. Snowmane was pure white before the battle, but was stained permanently red by the blood and was renamed Bloodmane. Simon realised the power that he had and resolved not to use it unless there was no other way. The outcome was deal with the ‘devil’; a deal with Gadiel that all of his friends except Kris the Bard counselled strongly against.

The following is the Slaughter of Hamadan from Manfred’s perspective.

Manfred woke before dawn. If truth be told, he’d hardly slept at all. He climbed the stairs to the top of the High Tower in the dark. It hardly mattered, he’d trodden them so many times in his long life that he could do it with his eyes closed. He knew every step intimately and counted them off as he climbed. He pulled his cloak more tightly around him. The mid autumn morning air carried a hint of winter. He thought of the dwarves in the mountains as the first snows began to fall, and wondered how they would fare. The leaves would be turning in the Forbidden Forest and the elves preparing for the long winter nights ahead. Today would be a huge celebration in Elannort – the Harvest Festival. The people had much to celebrate – the harvest had been very good, the best for many years; the city was well prepared for any attack; they had survived Gadiel’s previous assault, and the Hero was back from the dead to protect them. Why wouldn’t they celebrate?

Manfred didn’t feel like celebrating. The town was just beginning to awaken. The first rays of dawn illuminated the early risers as they stretched and yawned. They were probably tasked with getting the whole pigs roasted in time for the feast. A dog barked in the distance. Manfred ignored them all; his focus was much farther away. He withdrew his staff from inside his cloak and took a seat with his back propped against the parapet wall of the High Tower. He faced the portal. He held out his staff at arm’s length and focused on its tip. He hadn’t tried to farsight over such a long distance for many millennia. He hoped that he still had the skill.

He imagined the geography. He visualised the map in his head and followed a line roughly east southeast.  The portal arch began to shimmer and then turned a translucent white. He maintained his focus on the tip of his staff, so that he observed the portal out of the corner of his eye. This made the already blurred image become even fuzzier. He saw the blue expanse of the Great Inland Sea; it was calm and peaceful. He saw the brown vastness of the desert sands, flowing like a river into the waking dawn. He saw the sun rise, red and angry, over the minarets of Hamadan. He saw the enemy encampments, with their flags of chaos fluttering in the morning breeze. He saw a single red-haired rider on a white horse ride out to face ten thousand enemy troops. His tears blurred the vision further. He cried for Simon. He cried for the enemy.

Manfred maintained his concentration all day. He ignored Taran and Dawit when they joined him. He half heard their concerns as they watched Simon face so many. He noted their joy as Simon first scythed them down. He felt their horror as the massacre continued.

When it was over, Taran and Dawit had to prise him off the cold floor. He was frozen in position, his ancient joints locked. They helped him down the stairs and to his private chambers. The sounds from Elannort spoke of a town in celebration. The three friends ate and drank sparingly, in silence.

Eventually Manfred spoke his thoughts. “I fear for Simon’s soul tonight. It is not easy for any man to kill, even if he has killed before. To slaughter so many is beyond comprehension. I knew that this would happen. I sent him to his fate. I need to help him, but he is beyond my farsight. Have we done evil today? Have we stooped so low that we now meet our enemy on his terms? I fear that I shall see those men in my nightmares every time I close my eyes. What will Simon see?”

The question hung over them. Dawit fidgeted uncomfortably. Taran eventually spoke. “You must not blame yourself, Manfred. Gadiel has initiated events that could only lead to the slaughter of one side or the other. We have right on our side. If the Hero is to be successful, he must learn how to kill. As much as we’d like to think it, he is not the shy fearful boy that we once knew. If he is to fight Gadiel and stand a chance of winning, he must become hard, battle-hard. You knew that this day would come. If he is the true manifestation of the Everlasting Hero, he will come through this and be stronger. Has he not dealt with everything that has been thrown at him so far?”

“Including torture and death,” Dawit added. “Taran is right, Manfred. The boy we once strived to protect no longer exists. He is the Hero now. We must respect him as such. We should rejoice, and honour his mighty victory.”

“You are both right. Come, fill your glasses. Let us drink. I give you Simon Rufus the One-Handed. The Everlasting Hero.”

Three voices spoke as one. “The Everlasting Hero.”

The wonderful artwork is by Nat Turner.

KtB

03/8/15

Kris the Bard’s Foreword to A Vision of the Future

This is the unedited Foreword to A Vision of the Future. It may help to explain something about probability and time lines, or it may serve to confuse further :).

CJA

After Simon Redhead left me behind and disappeared on his travels, I devoted myself to research. I must say that it is a much less dangerous and stressful life than spending my days with a Hero with a soul-thirsty Sword. However, something inside me yearns to be involved, and I blame a rat’s bite for that. I was intrigued by the possibilities of probability in the multiverse. Was everything now possible? If so, the multiverse would be infinite, which could lead to a very different end game. I studied in Rhakotis under the tutelage of Rheanna, and she provided enormous help deciphering fragments of texts from the Early Days while Jeohab and Satania were still on FirstWorld and wizards had not yet been created. I learned much, but two significant realisations dawned on me and I wonder if they have come to Simon too.

Firstly, not everything is possible. We are the products of our pasts. The events that brought us to the present are set in stone and cannot be altered. We might travel in time and change something but our own time line cannot be modified. We might create a new dimension in which a copy of ourselves lives with a different time line, but we will go on with our own time line unchanged. More than events, we are the product of our genes stretching back over generations to the dawn of time. Our ancestors’ genes and their and our past actions have brought us to our present position, like it or lump it. There is a fixed line stretching back into history. If you like, it’s our particular strand of the tapestry. Because of this, not every future probability is possible. There are only a limited number (and by limited I mean anything less than infinite) of adjacent probabilities that can occur. The past limits our choices for the future. As they say on Simon’s world, ‘If I didn’t study engineering, I won’t become a rocket scientist.’ Well, it’s something like that, and you get what I have in mind.

What does this mean in broader terms? I believe that it implies that the multiverse is finite. The ancient texts point to a catastrophic event occurring if the Balance tips entirely to Law or to Chaos. The likely progression in all dimensions is towards Chaos as entropy increases. The event is described both as the ‘end of days’ and the ‘end of existence’. It is probably the end of space and time as we know them. If the multiverse were infinite, this catastrophic event could never occur because there would always be a dimension where Law was not defeated. It seems to me that Gadiel has an interest in hastening the End of Time, but I’m just a simple Bard, so what do I know?

When I started this adventure, I never expected to emerge from it as a philosopher. In fact, the highest probability was that I would be killed. Perhaps, I am the exception that proves the rule.

Kris Bard of Elannort and Scholar of Rhakotis in ‘The Chronicle of the Hero Volume 4’ Melbourne, Australia 2008 AD (Christian Epoch)

02/28/15

Julie’s Story – From Kris’s Archives (More than she told Leonora)

Julie Comforts Leonora Before Leonora Meets Dring for the First Time (Aftermath of Armageddon)

Julie’s Story

As told to Kris the Bard, Elannort, Year of Creation 50509

While Simon was away being a hero, I took the opportunity to ask Julie about her background and ancestry. As it turned out, her genetic heritage matched with Simon’s, so that their son, Alexander, carried the perfect set of genes the Great Old Ones were seeking to seed humanity in the past, and he become part of the biggest temporal, ontological paradox ever. While Simon carries the Hero’s genes, Julie can trace her ancestry to the gentle race of beings that shared our world with humans in the days before the Great Old Ones interfered with our evolution.

I’ll let Julie tell her story in her own words.

“As you can probably tell from my complexion and hair, I’m not from Simon’s Anglo Saxon stock. My ancestors came from the area in the Middle East that was known as the cradle of civilisation. There were two great rivers – the Tigris and the Euphrates – and the land between them was fertile beyond imagination. Great civilisations grew and flourished there. It was the biblical Garden of Eden. I am a direct descendent of the King of Mesopotamia – Sargon the Great. He ruled from the city of Akkad around 2330 BC, that’s over four thousand years Before Armageddon Day. Our lineage goes back even beyond that to the days of the Sumerian Empire and earlier. My father used to say that we could almost be traced back to Adam.

“Many empires rose and fell over the centuries – the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Neo-Babylonians; the Persians, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Turkmen tribes, the Safavids of Iran, the Ottoman Empire, and finally the British Empire, which ended just a century ago. Throughout it all, somehow we maintained an association with the land, though we made and lost countless fortunes and were sometimes beggars and at other times we were rich beyond the dreams of avarice. We passed on our history by oral tradition. The land finally became part of the country of Iraq. It struggled for independence before the Second World War and was a monarchy for some time. There was a revolution in 1958 and a Republic was formed. Things went downhill from there.

“There was a military coup in 1963 and another in 1968 when the Ba’ath party came to power, leading to Saddam Hussein taking control in 1979. He was a terrible dictator and tyrant. I guess that Dring reminds me of him. My family were persecuted under Saddam. Many of them were killed. My grandfather and grandmother managed to escape as refugees in 1991 and finally made it to Australia where my father was born. I was born there in 2028. The West, particularly the United States, but also Britain and Australia, began the action that ultimately led to Armageddon Day when they invaded Iraq in 2003.

“It’s not clear why they invaded. Some say it was to secure oil supplies; others say it was for the American President to get revenge on Saddam for his father’s failure to finish him off in the 1991 Gulf War. They used the excuse that Saddam had hidden weapons of mass destruction, which he might supply to terrorists. It was a crazy time, after the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Saddam was a ruthless dictator, but he didn’t have anything to do with Islamic terrorists. The invaders quickly won the war, and Saddam was captured, tried, and executed. That’s when the problems really started. The internal conflict between various factions and the overall resistance against the occupying forces attracted the terrorists. It was impossible to secure a peace and the Americans were caught in a long drawn-out war of occupation. My beautiful country was destroyed. It broke my father’s heart.”

Julie wiped a tear from her eye at this point, I remember. So Julie’s ancestors came from the part of the world in her dimension that is Elvenhome on FirstWorld. I asked her, but there was no equivalent city to Elannort that she remembered in her dimension. The nearest place, she thought, might be Kirkuk.

I did some research and discovered that the ruins of the ancient city of Arrapkha lie beneath Kirkuk and they have never been excavated. Could they be the ruins of Elannort in Julie’s dimension?

Julie continued to talk about the after effects of the war that brought down Saddam Hussein.

“There was a backlash in the US to the war. Too many American soldiers were being killed. When the Democrats won office in 2008, they tried to bring the troops home – but it proved to be impossible. The Republicans won office again in 2012 on a platform of Christian fundamentalism. They had a policy of disengagement and removed America from world affairs. They built a wall across their southern border and expelled a huge number of immigrants. They became isolationist. They built a new generation of nuclear weapons for defensive purposes. Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalism was growing across the Muslim world. More and more nations succumbed to it. It gained footholds in Europe in Turkey and Kosovo. To Australia’s north, Indonesia became fundamentalist and began to arm itself. In the Middle East, Iran became a nuclear super power and annexed Iraq and several other countries. Without America to intervene, North Korea resumed its nuclear program. China dominated Asia. India and Pakistan became major confrontational nuclear powers.

“The bottom line is that there was an inevitable conflict building between two fundamentalist religions. The irony is that they essentially both believed in the same god. The Jews were caught up in it too. Israel had to arm itself to the teeth with nuclear weapons once America deserted it. The conflict  focused on Jerusalem. Each of the three religions claimed the holy city as their own. The conflict, when it finally came, resulted in a huge nuclear war – Armageddon Day.”

I am told that there are echoes of Elannort in Jerusalem. If only they could have achieved balance between the three main religions. There is a great similarity between Julie’s and Simon’s dimension and the one that I find myself in now – your dimension. Clearly, they only separated in the recent past. The one piece of good news is that this dimension does not seem to be heading down the pathway to Armageddon Day, at least not at the moment. I’ll let Julie continue her story.

“One day, when I was a young girl, I was at the market and an old woman, dressed in traditional Muslim dress, approached me. She was tiny and wrinkled like a prune. She spoke in Arabic, the language of my ancestors. She grabbed my hand and told me to follow her. She led me through the market and away down a narrow cobbled side street. We climbed a decrepit set of iron stairs into a dilapidated old building. I was afraid that I was going to be mugged at any minute. We entered a dark room. She closed the door behind us and sat me down on a bright Persian rug in the middle of the floor. She lit candles and incense sticks and produced a crystal ball from somewhere. She sat down in front of me and began to chant in a language I didn’t understand. The crystal ball began to glow and she looked into it. I saw nothing but a blue light. She obviously saw much more. Eventually, she looked up and spoke to me, again in Arabic. She foretold Armageddon Day.

“Until it happened, I had taken what she said as nonsense. But, when it occurred exactly as she had foretold, I realised that the rest of her story could be important, as well. She told me that I was destined to meet, and become the partner of, a very special man. He would have red hair and a sword. I would meet him for the first time while I was in great trouble. He would recognise me and sacrifice himself to save me. He would not die, but he would be gone for a long time. Eventually, he would return and rescue me. I was never to give up hope, because my soul mate would find me.

“I survived Armageddon Day because my mother bought me a ticket to visit my brother who lived in the country. She was so insistent that I went, that I took time off work. All of the rest of my family died that day. My brother returned with me to what was left of Melbourne to search for them. He died of radiation poisoning. Somehow, I survived.

“I was captured by Dring’s men soon after I returned to Melbourne. I was treated differently to most of the others. I thought, then, that Dring was looking for me for a specific reason. He was. I was the bait to catch Simon. I didn’t know very much about the bigger picture but Dring seemed to be working for some greater power, that I now know was Weylyn the Wolf.

The moment I saw Simon, it was love at first sight. I just knew that he was the one. Dring had a knife to my throat and Simon sacrificed himself to save my life. They tortured him terribly, as you know, before you and Jhamed came to save him.”

Julie was in tears by this point and took some time to compose herself.

“I can never adequately express my eternal gratitude that you took up Kin Slayer, saved Simon, and then gave it back to Simon. I waited three years for Simon to return, but my faith in him never wavered. When we finally met properly, and we held each other, it was as if I had known him forever.”

Yes, I was embarrassed. I include Julie’s words, not because I’m a vain coward looking for recognition for my bravery, but to provide a full and accurate description of the conversation. I remember telling her that it was my finest hour and in a lifetime of cowardice one of the two great things I could be proud of. The other, of course, was facing Weylyn at the gates of Melasurej. Perhaps, there will be a third opportunity, because this conflict has a long way to go before it is finally resolved. If not, I will content myself with study and writing, because a full and frank account of what took place is vital for future generations, should they survive, to understand their history and the great sacrifices made by the Everlasting Hero and his Eternal Soulmate.

I asked Julie if she knew that she was a manifestation of the Eternal Soulmate? That each Everlasting Hero was bound to a different version of her? Of course, this was before the terrible loss of Alexander. I’ll end this report with what Julie said to me, in answer to that question.

“It is our fate. It is written in our genes. We have no choice. But, even if we had a choice, I could not find a better, more loving, more human person than Simon. Whatever the future holds, I count myself very lucky.”

Kris the Bard

02/27/15

Julie & Leonora – Extract from Aftermath of Armageddon

Julie was awakened from her dozing by the familiar sound of the bolts being drawn. She checked the position of the sun through her small window. That’s strange; it isn’t time for food yet. The door opened and one of Dring’s thugs appeared. She never bothered to learn their names; they all looked and behaved the same. He dragged a skinny young girl into the room. “Teach her and prepare her!” He barked the command and left, bolting the door behind him. The girl sank to the floor sobbing. Julie sighed and got up from the bed. Here we go again.

She’d seen so many young girls pass through, since Dring had grown tired of her. She served him now as a trainer. This one was smaller and younger than most of them. She must have been a small child on Armageddon Day. Very few young children had survived the repercussions of that terrible day. She ministered to and mothered the girl. Eventually she stopped crying. Julie knew that she’d very soon be crying again.

Julie bathed and dressed the girl. Eventually she began to open up and revealed her name; Leonora. She was blonde and pale; skinny and malnourished. She was barely into puberty with no breasts to speak of – just as Dring liked them. Julie wondered what her fate would be. Perhaps Simon would come soon and save them. That thought kept her going when things got tough.

Later, as they shared a meal of some sort of thin soup and stale bread, Leonora began to talk under Julie’s gentle questioning.

“How old are you?” Julie asked her.

“I remember that I had just started school a few days before Armageddon Day.”

“That would make you five years old then; you must be around thirteen now. How did you survive?”

“We lived out in the country, well away from the city. My parents and my older brother all survived. It was tough for a long time, but we managed to grow enough food to survive. There’s a growing community out there. There have even been babies born, although many of them have died because they were born deformed.”

“Why did you come to Melbourne? It’s not safe here.”

“I had no choice. A group of men arrived in the village one day. They were friendly at first, but when the men went off to the fields, they attacked us. They killed my brother and repeatedly raped my mother before killing her too. They tied me up and took me with them. Here I am. What will happen to me?” Leonora’s eyes were red, but no more tears came.

“You have been captured by the man who runs Melbourne. He calls himself Overlord. His name is Dring.” Just speaking his name made her shudder. “I was once his favourite girl. You will become his next toy, I’m afraid. The good news is that he tires of his toys quickly. The bad news is that once he tires of you, he casts you aside for his men to ravish until you die.” Julie watched as the horror registered on Leonora’s face. She hadn’t gilded the lily. The young girl had already seen too much evil but she deserved to know what was coming her way. “As horrible as being with Dring is, it is preferable to what comes after – so do your best to pleasure him as he wants, it’s your only ticket out of here. Do you understand?”

Leonora nodded her head. Julie wondered whether she did understand. She was probably still a virgin. Even if she wasn’t, Dring wasn’t like ordinary men. He was cold; not just emotionally but physically. When he touched you, it felt like ice. When he entered you, it felt as though all of the warmth was being sucked out of your body through his penis. When he’d finished with you, you were a frozen, shivering wreck. Julie figured that she’d let Leonora discover this part of the horror for herself. Perhaps she would think that all sex was like that.

“Why are you still here, then?” the girl asked.

Julie smiled. The girl had intelligence; that was good. Perhaps she could grab on to some of Julie’s hope and survive her ordeal. “I will tell you my story, so long as you promise me that you’ll believe everything I tell you, because it’s all true. Do you promise?”

Leonora seemed interested. “I promise,” she said, smiling for the first time. Julie thought how beautiful and innocent she looked.

“As you can probably tell from my complexion and hair, I’m not from your Anglo Saxon stock. My ancestors came from the area in the Middle East that was known as the cradle of civilisation, from a country now called Iraq. My grandparents came to Australia to flee the persecution of Saddam Hussein. He was a ruthless dictator who played a key part in the chain of events which led to Armageddon Day. I guess that Dring reminds me of him.

“I suppose that you have never seen a market. In the old days, groups of traders would get together on certain days to sell their products on stalls. There would be fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, all sorts of manufactured goods, and stalls selling food and drink to be consumed there. It was an exciting place to visit. There would be entertainers there too, singers and musicians, jugglers and magicians, and sometimes fortune-tellers.

“One day, I was at the market and an old woman, dressed in traditional Muslim dress, approached me. She was tiny and wrinkled like a prune. She spoke in Arabic, the language of my ancestors. She grabbed my hand and told me to follow her. She led me through the market and away down a narrow cobbled side street. We climbed a decrepit set of iron stairs into a dilapidated old building. I was afraid that I was going to be mugged at any minute. We entered a dark room. She closed the door behind us and sat me down on a bright Persian rug in the middle of the floor. She lit candles and incense sticks and produced a crystal ball from somewhere. She sat down in front of me and began to chant in a language I didn’t understand. The crystal ball began to glow and she looked into it. I saw nothing but a blue light. She obviously saw much more. Eventually, she looked up and spoke to me, again in Arabic. She foretold Armageddon Day.”

Leonora yawned.

“Until it happened, I had taken what she said as nonsense. But, when it occurred exactly as she had foretold, I realised that the rest of her story should be listened to. She told me that I was destined to meet and become the partner of a very special man. He would have red hair and a sword. I would meet him for the first time while I was in great trouble. He would recognise me and sacrifice himself to save me. He would not die, but he would be gone for a long time. Eventually, he would return and rescue me. I was never to give up hope, because my soul mate would find me.”

Leonora was paying attention now. “What happened? Did he come?”

“I was captured by Dring’s men soon after Armageddon Day. I was treated differently to most of the others. I thought, then, that Dring was looking for me for a specific reason. He was. I was the bait to catch Simon. I don’t know very much about the bigger picture but Dring seems to be working for some greater power. Simon is the enemy of Dring’s boss. Simon’s sword is very powerful and Dring tried to get the sword from Simon. He almost succeeded. Simon was captured and horribly tortured. Some of his friends managed to rescue him. I have been waiting for three years for his return. Dring keeps me as insurance, in case Simon returns. He hopes to trade me to save his own miserable skin. It won’t be long, now, before he returns. If you can be brave and hang in there long enough, Simon will save you too. Do you believe me?”

Leonora nodded her head. “I’ll try, Julie, but I’m so very afraid. Tell me what I must do.”

Julie explained Dring’s sexual proclivities and appetites and suggested things that made her blush and Leonora wince. It was a hell of an education, Julie thought. “Do you have any last questions?” she asked the timid girl.

“Why are your eyes different colours?”

“It’s genetic. One member of each generation of my family has carried the gene, for as long as anyone can remember. That’s a long time; my family goes back thousands of years, to the Sumerian Empire…”

Their conversation was interrupted by the noise of bolts being withdrawn. The burly thug appeared, carrying female underwear and a skimpy black dress. “Get dressed!” he grunted. “Dring will see you soon.” The guard watched and did not try to hide his lust as Leonora changed into the sexy outfit. Julie thought that it made her look like Lolita.

“Here,” Julie said, “I have some red lipstick. Let me paint your lips.”

The guard looked on appreciatively as Julie applied the rouge, making Leonora’s lips stand out from her pale face and blonde hair. He rubbed his crotch suggestively. “When Dring has finished with you, I’ll show you what a real man is like, my pretty.”

Leonora shuddered, but looked at him and smiled. “I’ll look forward to it, but it may be some time.” Julie smiled too. The girl had spunk. Now, if only Simon would turn up soon, perhaps they could both get out of here.

CJA

02/21/15

Two-Headed Lemur Creature – Extract from Quest for Knowledge

2 heads lemur-640px

The next part of the journey passed in a bit of a blur. Simon was preoccupied. He was analysing events and coming to a realisation. At some point, there would be a “ching.” He thought about Old Man Willow and his song. Once, that dimension had been a wonderful place to live. Now its inhabitants must live in fear and tyranny. Walking on the grass brought a penalty of death, how could people live like that? Yet it was a world where Law ruled, not Chaos. Jhamed had once said that Hitler represented Law. Simon had wondered then whether that meant Churchill had represented Chaos. He realised that it wasn’t a case of black and white; everything was shades of grey. For society to be successful and fair to everyone it needed a balance between Law and Chaos. Law didn’t represent “good”; it stood for order. Chaos didn’t represent “evil”; it symbolised anarchy. Churchill didn’t support anarchy; he battled for balance. Democracy, for all its faults, was an attempt at securing balance. The fanatical religious zealots in his world, whether they were fundamentalist Christians or Jihad Islamists were just two different faces of absolute Law. If that were the case, then where did evil come in? Which side did Gadiel favour? All humans, and he supposed all elves and dwarves too, were born with the capacity for both good and evil. Evil was not restricted to either Law or Chaos, it was all pervading. Ching. Everyone had a choice. Hitler probably wasn’t totally evil. Churchill must have had some evil in him. Was the bombing of Dresden really necessary or was it just an evil act of revenge? The victors write the history books and take the moral high ground. Everyone has a choice. He had a choice. I will take up the Sword. I will use it only for good. I will use it to serve the Balance.

Simon wasn’t sure how much time had passed while he had been cogitating. He was vaguely aware of them walking long distances over a variety of terrains and in a range of weather conditions. It appeared that few realms enjoyed perfect weather. Strange how the Law dimension had the best weather. I wonder whether it was a coincidence or if their control extended that far? They had also sat around for long periods while Jhamed had scouted ahead. His companions had respected his need to think and had not disturbed him. Jhamed, no doubt, had seen it all before. Taran was naturally perceptive about such things. Dawit appeared to be lost in his own musings.

Simon felt a great relief. He had come to a decision. He would take control of his own life. He was not a pawn of fate. He sighed and relaxed. Unbidden, words and images came into his mind. He saw the visions again from his dream. You are close. I can feel you. Come for me. We will be reunited. The Trinity will be renewed. Be careful! The witch is strong. She is stronger than I am. She is stronger than you are. Together, we are stronger than she is. The Trinity will be renewed. Soon we will feast. Simon felt gnawing hunger. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. The tiny red hairs on his body stood on end as he shivered.

Jhamed returned from a scouting mission. Simon took him to one side. “We’re close, aren’t we?”

“How do you know?” Jhamed asked.

“The Sword has spoken to me.” Simon recounted his dream and his recent communication, all except the gnawing hunger. “I think I understand about the Balance now. I am ready to take up my Sword and serve the Balance.”

“Excellent!” Jhamed smiled. “I love it when a plan comes together. We’ll rest here tonight and a couple more portals will get us to Dishley tomorrow. We’ll need a plan to tackle the witch.”

They were in a dimension where either Chaos or Sergeant Pepper appeared to be in control. They spent the night sheltered under tall, purple-leaved trees. A full green moon cast an eerie light that battled with the red glow from their fire. The resulting yellow light illuminated a number of inquisitive forest creatures which came to stare at the travellers. They looked like some form of lemur, except that they had two heads, which continually chattered and tried to pull their body in different directions. At one point they started and rushed off back to their burrows or up into the trees. All except one, which hid by the travellers’ packs. The cause of their alarm sauntered into view. It was white, albino perhaps but there was not enough light to tell for sure. It was as big as an elephant, but it more closely resembled a lion. Its huge, shaggy head had a gaping maw, filled with razor sharp teeth. This was a predator close to the top of the food chain. I hope it’s not hungry, or we will be on its menu.

Taran and Dawit were on their feet in an instant. Taran notched an arrow to his bow. Dawit wielded his axe. The elephion sniffed the air, stopped, and looked at them. It stood tall and let out a roar that would have done the Melbourne Cricket Ground proud on Grand Final Day. All the night noises of the forest stopped. Simon stopped breathing. Taran made ready to loose his arrow. The creature gave them another disdainful look and then sauntered off. Simon released his pent up breath. Phew, that was close, must have already eaten. The two-headed lemur-like creature chattered excitedly to itselves and helped itselves to some biscuits from one of the packs.

Dawit and Taran took turns to keep watch. They insisted that Simon and Jhamed sleep since they were unarmed and would have a big day ahead of them. Simon slept fitfully. His dreams were full of hideous crones with black cats and ravens. The witches stirred huge cauldrons and concocted potions, which they force-fed him to make him reveal the location of his Sword. He tried to refuse, but they were truth serums and he could not resist. The witches found his Sword and used it kill all of his friends. The Sword ate their souls and then the witches ate their bodies.

Simon woke in a cold sweat. The moon had gone. Jhamed was snoring softly and the fire was low. Reflected in the faint firelight, Simon saw four eyes watching him. They were small, yellow eyes; animal eyes, yet they shone with the fiercest intelligence that he had ever seen. The two-headed lemur creature had seated itself on the group’s food and sat watching Simon. Simon deliberately blinked his eyes to try to clear them of sleep. He could have sworn that the creature had winked at him, with both heads at the same time. If I didn’t know better, I’d reckon we’d all taken LSD or something. The creature chattered to itselves. Words formed in Simon’s head. Remember Vasek. Only Vasek can control the Sword. Beware Fleischaker! It consumes the souls of friends as well as enemies. The two-headed lemur creature gave him another two winks and skittered off into the forest. Simon slept again. When he awoke, he wasn’t sure whether he had dreamt everything.

Scales Balance

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KtB