Monday, February 29, 2016

The Wizar'd's Task Part 5

It had been a few years since I had been behind the wheel. I was probably enjoying the experience much more than I should have when I glanced down and noticed I had run the 4x4 up to 75 mph. I hadn't noticed a speed limit sign in a while, but I imagined that these little mountain roads did not top 45. Slowing down didn't ruin the excitement, but I decided to turn the radio up to enhance my enjoyment. I tuned in the Classic Rock station and enjoyed the last half of Brown Eyed Girl.
Traffic was incredibly light. Cades Cove offers bike riders the right of way to the park by not opening their gates to cars until 10 am on Saturdays. Once upon a time, I had been an avid biker. Perhaps when this errand was behind me I would buy myself a mountain bike and get back into it. I was feeling good enough that I might actually  consider getting back into the real world.
As I turned onto the main road into the Cove my radio cut out as neatly as if I had pushed the power button. I glanced at the radio and was surprised to see the display still lit. Out of the corner of my eye I realized I was not alone in the cab of the truck. I swerved in surprise and had to fight the tires back onto the asphalt.
Sitting in the passenger's seat looking extremely calm was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He had chocolate hued skin and caramel colored eyes. His head was bald and his face was shaved clean. There was an odd shape to his eyes and ears that made him look exotic. I couldn't place his ethnicity. He smiled at me and in an oddly musical voice said," I'm sorry to frighten you, friend. I rarely see an opportunity to intervene in events that won't lead to calamity. It was imperative that I speak to you before you enter the enchantment the druids have laid around the Cove. Pull the vehicle over please."
His accent made me think of warm baked desert sands.
I quickly decided that anyone that could simply appear in the truck with me had power enough to be cautious. I found the next pull off and slid the truck to a stop. The man got out quickly and quietly and beckoned me to follow with a motion of his hand. As he slid out of the truck I noticed he was wearing loose fitting clothes that I did not know the proper names for. They were made of a white material that looked a bit like a shiny linen.
I quit staring and jumped out of the truck. The man was lowering the tailgate. I made sure that my largest knife was still in its sheath at my belt and then walked back to join him. With one long fingered hand he motioned for me to sit. I declined with a shake of my head. "Very well. I mean you no harm traveler. In fact, I have watched over you for sometime. I am Montu. It would seem your travels have brought you to a crossroads..."
The name tickled at my memory, but I was too frustrated and feeling the after effects of the shock of his sudden appearance to think on it. "Let me guess, Montu, you want me to give you the book. You want me not to make the delivery. You want to save me from some dark destiny. Blah, blah, blah. At this point this narrative is boring." For a moment Montu's face seemed to sharpen in anger. Something seemed to shimmer at his hip. As soon as he schooled his emotions the shimmer vanished.
"Quite the contrary, Ethan. I am do not fear the conflict that is to come. The Wizard has vouchsafed your survival by giving you the boon of his amulet. You arrive as a messenger, but I notice that you are also lightly armed for battle," he said with a motion toward the knife I had mostly concealed under my shirt tail.  Confused, I asked," If you aren't here to stop me, does this mean you want Andris's package delivered?"
He nodded and said,"The old wolf has planned well. His enemies may be right in their resistance, but I do not judge such things. I look to the coming battle with hope for the future. Where there is conflict there will be heroes and warriors. You could become one of those. I would offer you my blessing."
"Aw, Gosh. Your blessing. That gives me a tingle in my coin purse, Monty, but I think I can handle dropping off a book without your bye or leave," I said with enough venom I was surprised. Montu's eyes narrowed and his form flickered. As if I were seeing a Mirage his head became that of a Falcon. A crown rested on his feathered brow. The weight of his gaze drove me to my knees.
A growl rumbled in my chest but was drowned out by a booming laugh from Montu. Surprised I looked up at  his face which was completely human once again. He was smiling down at me with a look of genuine amusement. "The wolf has left a deep impression on you. Because of that I will ignore the anger that is not your own. I also see that I cannot arm you further until your delivery is complete." He offered me a hand up. I took it and leaned on the truck for a moment overcome with the rush of anger inside me.
Montu smiled and said," Once you have completed your chosen task come to the home you have forsaken and you will find me there. I will arm you for the upcoming war no matter which side you shall take." Shocked I simply nodded. He bowed his head toward me and vanished. From above me in the trees his voice called," Another would be savior comes to you swiftly. Be careful in your dealings, my friend, this one has allies even more terrible than your wolf."
I sighed and sagged back against the truck. I had just closed my eyes when I felt an arm snake beneath my chin and a voice hiss," Make the slightest move other than what I tell you to do and I will cut your throat." I started to nod and thought better of it. The arm was tight against my windpipe and I had to croak out," Whatever you want."
The voice hissed out again,"I have a very large pistol aimed at the back of your head. I am going to release you. You are to come around away from the road. Keep your eyes down as you walk. Do as I say and you will not be harmed." I agreed quickly. The arm withdrew with lightning speed. I watched the road and walked around the truck. It struck me that cars were passing by, but no one seemed to be paying me any attention.
I stopped and waited. The springs of the truck creaked and something flew over my head and landed on the far side of me. I closed my eyes. The voice came again. This time it was less of a hiss, but still muffled and strange. It said," You can face me now." I turned and was surprised to be looking down at a crouched figure. It had a mask covering its face that was a sort of likeness of a human face that had been stretched and flattened and the nose removed. It was either made of a dark blue stone or very convincingly painted. A pair of deep green and very human eyes stared out of the eye holes of the make.The mask was surrounded by a deep and heavy hood that met with a sort of poncho that covered the figure almost completely. One heavy gloved hand pointed a huge revolver at my face. The other held a huge wicked looking blade at the ready.
"Give me the book," the figure said. The cloak or poncho was too thick and voluminous for me to decide if the it was a man or a woman. Something about the voice put me in mind of a woman trying to make her voice deeper and more husky. I couldn't be sure. Apparently, the person didn't appreciate my musings. It thumbed back the trigger on the revolver and said again," Give me the book. I won't ask you again."
I smiled. This was a situation I was used to. It wasn't the first time I had a gun or a knife waived in my face. Living on the streets teaches you to be an apt student of psychology. This was a mugging. This person doesn't want to fight with me. It just wants to get the book and go. The gun and the knife are props to scare me into complying. It also told me that there was a chance that I scared whoever was under that mask.
I took a calculated risk. I simply turned and began walking around the truck. "Get back here! I will shoot you," the voice called. I grinned and said," No, you won't. I am leaving. You are wasting my time." I kept walking. There was a scrabble of gravel and the figure vaulted across the truck to land in front of me. It was an impressive jump. It was also completely stupid.
I shoulder checked the figure hard before it could plant its feet firmly. The gun hit the ground and slid under the truck. The knife landed at my feet. I kicked it behind me quickly. The figure hit the truck hard enough to dent my door. It let out a very feminine sounding exhalation of breath and then moaned grabbing for its, her, midsection.
A gloved hand shot out to ward me off. A moment of doubt stayed my advance and I said," I don't like being mugged or threatened. Get out of my way or I will hurt you." The other hand came up in a placating gesture. After several deep breaths a much higher octave voice said," I am trying to stop you from hurting a lot of people. Please do not deliver your package to the ArchDruid."
I pushed her toward the front of the truck hard enough that she had to work at keeping her balance. I scrambled down and grabbed the revolver. It a big framed Taurus Judge. The heavy draw on the trigger was probably all that had kept it from firing when she had dropped it. I carefully thumbed down the hammer and stood back up.
She was running toward the knife in the road racing against oncoming traffic. I was certain the Prius bearing down on her had won when she launched into a roll, somersaulted out of it, and landed on her feet facing toward me from across two lanes of traffic. She had even managed to come up with the big knife in a throwing position.
I calmly stuffed the big revolver into my belt at the small of my back. A few cars passed as we watched one another. Finally, she put the knife away. I shrugged my shoulders. I got into the truck. I drove away calmly. I watched in the rear view mirror as she stood watching me drive away.
As the road became more steep traffic began to slow to a crawl. People on bicycles that I hadn't particularly noticed before started to pass me. I locked the doors of the truck and began to enjoy the scenery. There had been enough drama in the last two days that I felt I had more than earned the money Andris Wolfe had paid me.
I began to see rhododendron blossoms in beautiful shades of purple and white. To my right the stream burbled happily over rocks. I spotted the occasional inner tube enthusiast trying to get early access to the deepest floating spots. Other than one very scantily clan and voluptous young woman in a bikini that was essentially just a few thin neon yellow strings it could easily have been a scene from my childhood. It made me think of picnic lunches with the family. Easter dinner had been spent in Cades Cove more than a few years when I was young.
I couldn't reconcile those memories with the idea of delivering some druidic grimoire. It was unearthly and felt taboo. I had hiked trails in these mountains and it had given me the love of traveling on foot that made it much easier for me to adapt to life lived on the road. I loved to eat fire cooked over a campfire. I liked having everything I needed in a backpack hanging between my shoulders. When my life had turned to shit, the road had been a simple transition to a more primal and happier life. Returning to Cades Cove after being gone so many years felt like coming home. It felt very good. It had been a long time since anything had felt good.
I spotted the sign for the picnic area and hit my blinker. It took several minutes to get through the cyclists and hikers streaming out to the loop road. I managed to slide the big 4x4 into a parking spot near the horse stables. I sat for a minute considering my situation.
I had been attacked more times in the last couple of days then I had in the past two years living homeless. I knew now that there were wizards, druids, goblins, giants, and I suspected that Montu might pass for a god or at least a demigod. Living on the streets had taught me things too. You don't carry a knife or gun unless you are willing to use them to kill. More often than not they just gave the authorities something to charge you with when you were searched for the crime of being homeless.
State Parks should actually be called Federal Parks. Carrying a firearm into a park could have major legal repurcussions. The chances of me shooting my way out of trouble was very slim compared to the chance of getting arrested for simply having the guns on me.
Knives present a much lesser punishment, but I would be better off with something that would fit inside my pocket rather than a big blade hanging on my hip. I suspected that I looked more like a hiker than a homeless guy today. I didn't think that it would do any good to test it with Park Rangers who might find my presence objectionable.
I also didn't want to look insane walking into the meeting with nothing but my hands wrapped around an ancient book. I couldn't play things off as if I were planning to set up a picnic and spend the day reading. I decided instead to take a few things to look normal. I fished out my weather resistant messenger bag and made sure the big book fit inside. It did, but did not leave much room to spare. I added my utility knife which I knew was of legal length to keep me out of trouble, my smallest cast iron skillet which had made a fairly decent club on occasion, my real ID and personal papers, and the truck keys. I stowed everything else into my backpack and stuffed that behind the driver's seat.
The walk to the picnic area was a great way to stretch my legs. I fell into an easy pace. As soon as I crossed the road into the picnic area I felt a subtle change in the atmosphere. It felt familiar. I realized I had always sensed the peace and quiet of the place even when my cousins and I had been hooting and hollering children. This morning it felt sacred. Holy.
I knew immediately when I began being followed. Several people were moving on the banks of the creek opposite me. They were keeping pace but also keeping their distance. Through the exodus of tourists there were also a few hikers that were moving against the crowd in the same way I was. When I looked around I realized their eyes were all locked on me. Their gazes did not feel friendly or welcoming.
At the trail head at the back of the picnic area figures were standing together. One was standing slightly back from the other two. For some reason seeing them made my mouth go dry. I clutched the strap of my bag tighter and made myself put one foot in front of the other.
The three figures all studied me intently as I approached. They had the uniform that I identified with young Mormons. Each of them was wearing dark slacks, a white dress shirt, and a tie. Most Mormons I had met did not wear hiking boots or sandals as footwear. None of them had ever been bare foot.
The tallest figure was also the closest to me. He was a few inches over 7 feet tall. He looked like some Frank Frazetta painting of a Viking, all muscles, blue eyes, and pale blonde hair. He had a terrible scowl on his face and was staring daggers at me. He held out a huge callused palm toward me and grunted," Stop traveler. We have heard of your coming. We want nothing that Andris Wolfe can offer. Turn around and go back from whence you came with all speed."
I frowned and said," I wasn't paid to negotiate anything. I am supposed to give some Archdruid a book. Once I have done that, I will be happy to leave. Are you the Archdruid?" The big man shook his head and started to speak. Behind him a whispered conversation erupted. He held up his index finger in my general direction and turned his head slightly to listen.
I reached into my bag to pull out the book and he growled,"Do not move" without bothering to look fully at me. From behind him stepped a man that would have been huge if I were not comparing him to the Master Race specimen standing in my way. He was 60 if he was a day with a heavily lined face covered in a dusting of short cropped snowy beard. Laugh lines around his blue eyes and at the corners of his mouth gave me the idea that he was a happy man. His buzz cut steel colored hair gave me the odd impression of a military man.
He smiled at me showing his teeth and said," Pardon Valken. He takes himself far too seriously, but he is good at his job. I am Darius. What have you brought for the Archdruid?" I reached into my bag with exaggerated care and brought out the book. Valken watched me as if at any moment he would spring at me. Darius made a little noise that sounded a lot like something my fifth grade teacher did when I turned in my homework late.
He smiled and said, "Excuse me a moment, sir. I will speak with our companions. While I do so may Valken examine the book magically?" I didn't see a problem with that and said so. Darius stepped away from us. I moved to hand the book to Valken. He sneered and said," It is not necessary that I touch. Please hold." He closed his eyes and breathed a deep breath. He looked as if he were meditating.
After several minutes of this I began to feel stupid. Nothing was happening that I could see. I started to sit down and Valken said," No." I started to speak and he snarled like a dog. I suddenly was gripped with the fantasy of punching him hard, directly in the balls. I giggled at the thought before I could stop myself. He opened one eye and gave me a glare both curious and somehow angry. It set me off in a laughing fit that I had to fight to control.
Darius returned. He eyed Valken and then me fighting to keep a straight face. He grinned immediately and said," As big as he is, it is surprisingly easy to hurt his feelings." Valken grunted at this. I laughed and said," He is ridiculous. I want him to put on a white tuxedo and say 'No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die" Darius nodded and turned to Valken. They had a discussion in a language I could not even recognize. I got no clue as to even the direction the conversation took.
When they finished Darius said," I am the Archdruid. I will be happy to receive this book from you." My bullshit detector went off immediately. I said," No you aren't." I wasn't sure why I knew it to be true, but I was absolutely certain. Darius looked offended and started to say something else. I cut him off and said," This little job I have been asked to complete will be done the minute the Archdruid takes this book from me. Until then I am just going to have to wait. Save us both some time and go fetch him."
"Her," said a voice from behind me. I turned and found a short woman looking not a day over 20 walking toward me. She had jaw length brown hair, brown eyes, and was pretty in a girl next door kind of way. I would have described her as cute rather than beautiful. Still something about the way she carried herself suggested that there was much more to her than met the eye.
She was dressed in blue jeans, hiking sandals, and a green flannel shirt which was tied up exposing a very pleasant midriff. She stopped about 4 feet shy of me and said," The Archdruid is a woman. I am she. You may call me Felicity. What is your name?"
I stared for a moment. She felt like the Archdruid to me. It felt right. "Ethan," I answered.
"Why do you work for the fiend Andris Wolfe, Ethan," she asked.
I hadn't thought too deeply about it. It seemed an easy answer to a very complicated problem. I was curious about his power. I was afraid of him, but I started to like him. It had been a long time since I had a friend.
All of those answers rattled through my brain, and then I answered honestly," I don't know."
"Do you know why Andris Wolfe wants me to have this book, Ethan?"
"He said that he wants the forgiveness of the Druids, but no I don't know," I answered.
"You have taken on a foolish and dangerous burden," she said.
All I could answer is,"I know."
 I slowly lifted the book and held it out to her. Behind me Valken let out a sound of objection. Darius stepped up beside me. Felicity reached out and took the book from me. She smiled and said," Thank you. Safe travels, Ethan. You have completed your work admirably."
I frowned and said," That is it?" The Archdruid nodded. I said," Um... Thank you." She nodded again and said," Goodbye, Ethan." I sighed and started walking. I had taken ten steps when a man's voice bellowed out, "Take it from her!" I turned in time to see a giant blast of fire spreading out from the group of Druids. Trees sizzled and burst into flames. Cars caught in the blast began to melt and then gave off secondary explosions as their fuel tanks caught. People around me including the druids vanished as the heat simply vaporized them.
The wall of flame passed over me in flash of light and a roar of sound. I felt absolutely no discomfort. Wolfe's amulet suddenly was a noticeable weight against my chest. I watched helpless as the fire spread another 100 feet past me. It consumed everything in its path and left behind only ash. I fell to the ground and was surprised to find the asphalt soft to the touch but cool under my body.
The flames ended as quickly as they began. In the distance screams and sirens began to fill the void of silence left by the fire. I stood up and looked around me. The once beautiful vegetation of the cover had been burned away along with the picnic tables, grills, and even some of the rocks seemed to have been slagged by the intense heat.
As I spun in place a blue vortex of light began to swirl from near where the druids had stood only moments before. I rushed forward hoping to find that they had survived through some magical means. Instead Andris Wolfe stepped from the light followed closely by Githix the Goblin. Wolfe surveyed the devastation with a look of smug satisfaction. Githix spoke toward the portal and goblins began streaming out of it. All of them were armed to the teeth and looked hungry.
Wolfe spotted me and said," Very good work, lad. It seems that you completed your task quite admirably. Give me a moment." He turned to Githix and asked," What do you think?" The Goblin King sneered and said," All of the wards were destroyed by your blast. We can invade en force. The troll warrens may slow us down a bit, but if you unleash your wolves at nightfall they shouldn't prove much of a problem." Andris smiled and said," Wonderful. Tell your boys that I will pay a bounty for the head of each Druid they can kill." Githix bowed low, gave a horrible call, and raced off into the trees followed by the rest of the Goblins.
I watched in horror unable to move or speak at the sheer bloodlust coming from the demonic looking creatures. They seemed all the more foul to be in this once peaceful and majestic setting. "Thank you, Ethan," Wolfe said as he bent down to pick up his book," I simply could not have done any of this without you."


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Wizard's Task Part 4

If you have never had someone force their way past you, it is hard to understand the feelings of helplessness that lead first to frustration and then to anger. I registered that the big man had said he was here to help me in some subliminal way, but the larger part of my brain was in too much of a rage to care. I lurched to my feet, yanked my flashlight from the belt of the bathrobe, and launched a wild haymaker swing trying to hit the monster's chin.  
Impossibly quick a big hand lashed out and caught the blow. His hand engulfed the flashlight and my hand to the wrist. He made a tsking sound and said," No! Little man no hit Krunk. Me am here to help. Wolf wizard is bad." He gave me a shake that nearly tore my arm out of socket and then released me so quickly that I hit the floor again.  
I was still angry but in no position to fight the behemoth of a man. I had trained as a boxer for a number of years in my younger days and I could handle a scrap. Living on the road had landed me in a few situations where there was no way I could win with my fists. I had learned to talk and bluff my way out pretty quickly.I asked," If you aren't here to hurt me, why did you force your way inside rather than speak to me?"  
Tears formed in Krunk's big baby blue eyes. He ran a huge fist under his nose and sniffled. He said," Krunk am afraid of Wizard and friends. Dmitri am tell Krunk to no get caught. Dmitri say bring man wizard stole back safe and quick. We go now." He reached for me and a deep, scratchvoice behind him said," You have failed your master, oaf"  
At the voice Krunk flinched and whirled toward the door. The chauffeur stood in the doorway. As I watched he removed his chauffeur's hat and began unbuttoning his suit jacket with long green fingers. He tossed the hat and jacket onto the chairs on the porch and said," Come out of there and leave the man be, Giant." He began untying his tie. I caught myself staring. 
 Githix the Goblin looked like pictures of the boogeyman I had seen in books as a child only on a smaller scale. His skin was a deep green and heavily scaled. His features were extremely angular with sharp cheekbones and a long pointed nose. His ears stuck out and ended in points several inches from his head on either side and I noticed that they had a few hoops pierced through them. He had wiry black hair that had been smoothed back with a great deal of oil or styling product. The most striking feature though was his wide, toothy smile that seemed to dominate his face. The goblin was tiny compared to me much less the giant and yet he looked extremely eager to fight. I had seen faces like that in dark alleys. I didn't talk my way out of those situations. I had simply ran like hell.   
Krunk frowned at Githix and said," No fight. I take man and go." In response the Goblin stepped back off the porch and pulled a large knife from a sheath behind his back. Krunk spoke over his shoulder to me and said," Man should run." He squeezed through the door and with a roar launched himself at the goblin. I hurried to my feet and ran to the door just as Andris Wolfe stepped through. He looked angrily at me and demanded," Where is the book?"  
"In the bedroom, stowed in my pack," I answered. He hurried through the bedroom door and I followed. I saw him make an abrupt motion with his right hand and my pack flew across the room and into his hands. He reached inside and yanked out the book before letting out a big sigh of relief. " You did well to protect the book. I apologize that my enemies targeted you. Githix will have it dealt with shortly," Wolfe said while hugging the book to his chest.  
"What is happening," I asked. Andris sat the book on the bed and said," Members of the Order of the Dragon have hounded me for a number of years. The half giant you just met is the enforcer of their local leader Dmitri  Kornev. He is a fanatic and a madman who claims to be a descendant of Rasputin. The Order fears the power of the Druids. I'm sorry you have had to see this ugly business."  
From outside a terrible scream echoed through the night. Andris smiled broadly at the sound and said,"Githix has put the giant and his allies to rout. You will not be troubled further this night." I asked," How did he manage that?" Rather than answer the Wizard walked out of the room motioning me to follow. I frowned and then went outside behind him.  
Githix was using an oily looking rag to wipe blood from his knife and was grinning with devilish glee. Andris threw his arms wide and said,"Behold the might of the Goblin King." The goblin made a quick bow and flourish somehow sheathing his blade in the same motion. Githix said," The giant wasn't much of a fighter. A few goons from the Order joined into the fight. I handled it, and the boys are cleaning up." Andris nearly purred," Good. Come meet our friend."  
Githix stuck out his hand and said," Nice to meet you. I never caught your name." I shook his hand noticing almost bone crushing strength that he was barely restraining and said," It is nice to meet you, sir. My friends call me Ethan." The goblin giggled a bit and said," He called me sir," while looking at the Wizard. Andris grinned and said," Our new friend has manners. You are a king after all." The Goblin scratched at his chin whiskers and said," I am that," before walking away from us and disappearing into the night.  
The Wizard sat down on the porch and I took the chair next to him. We sat in silence for several long minutes before he said," What I have asked of you is turning out to be more dangerous than I originally anticipated." I nodded at him and said," I am still willing to make the delivery." He let out a sigh and seemed to relax more into his seat. Another long interval of silence held before he said," I thank you for your loyalty. I will do everything I can to be worthy of it and to reward it well."  
Wolfe reached into a pocket and pulled out a large silver medallion on a heavy chain. He handed it to me and said," I was not going to give this to you until after your delivery, but you have certainly earned it." I looked closely at the medallion. It was heavy and seemed to be made of silver. The face was carved into an intricate but somehow rudimentary sun made up of a simple circle with raised beams radiating from the center, curving over the sides, and joining in a single point on the back. The silver looked incredibly old and I said so.  
"I crafted this myself in the mid 15th century to help a Wallachian friend of mine suffering from a terrible curse. Sadly, it did not have the desired effect on him. Still the amulet is not without its uses and I have some sentimental attachment to it. Wear it as a mark of our friendship," Wolfe explained. I slipped the heavy chain over my head and settled it around my neck. Andris said," For it to be effective it must be worn against the skin. Remember this tomorrow and it will help to ward off any evil that will come your way. For now though, I think you should rest."  
Even as he said the words I found myself incredibly sleepy. My eyes fluttered and I yawned. Andris said,"Go inside and sleep. Worry no more about this day. Tomorrow is coming quickly." I got up and stumbled inside. I walked woodenly into the bedroom and collapsed out the bed and was swallowed into dreams. 


*** 

"Hey Mister! Hey! Over here!," I heard a rather pleasant voice calling to me. I sat up and rubbed the blurriness from my eyes. The voice called again. I started to try and follow the sound, but was distracted by my surroundings. I was laying in a field on the most lush and verdant grass I had ever seen. The field was ringed by beautiful trees in the deep green of summer leaves. Here and there dogwood blooms stood out in pinks and whites.  
A round faced young girl who looked maybe 8 or 9 years old stepped in front of me. She had very pale skin and was barefoot. The dress she wore looked like it should have had teddy bears or duckies on it. Instead pink flowers appeared to sprout from the green fabric at irregular intervals. She blinked bright blue eyes at me, smiled, and said," There you are! I almost lost you."  
Confused I asked," Lost me? Who are you?" Her smile turned very sad and she said," The old wolf guards your dreams. I had to be very careful to bring you here. My name is Mae. You are in danger." From somewhere deep in the woods a wolf howled long and deep. Mae flinched at the sound and said," We do not have long. The wolf's son is coming to help, but even here with my help he cannot hold him long."  
The howl turned into a snarl and somehow I knew the was a fierce fight taking place. Somehow the world darkened and the shadows beneath the trees became ominous.Mae knelt down in front of me and said," Tell me what the Wizard has asked you to do."  
A wave of fear and paranoia washed through me. Too many strange and wonderful things had come at me in far too short a time. I had left behind a "normal" life to live on the streets years ago because I was tired of feeling controlled and manipulated. I had stupidly let my curiosity involve me in events that were none of my business.  
Mae said," Yes, Lady, the Wolf has strong influence over this one. Your help would be appreciated." The non sequitur took me out of my reverie and I looked up to see Mae begin an elegant little dance. It reminded me of a child's dance recital but no human child could ever have moved like Mae. She stepped quickly and with deceptive grace moving faster and faster until her small form was a blur of motion spinning around me. It quickly became disorienting and I closed my eyes to fight a wave of dizziness. 
When I opened my eyes again I was no longer in the field. I was sitting on a damp and cold stone floor. The room was claustrophobically small and was lit burning torches mounted on the walls at the cardinal directions. This knowledge came to me without the necessity of looking around. It hinted strongly at me dreaming.  
In front of me Mae stood beside a tall black chair that seemed to be made of some sort of stone edged in silver. Sitting in the chair was a small woman. She seemed to be wearing pieces of heavy metal armor though it seemed somehow incomplete. I didn't know enough about armor to know exactly what was missing, but like the knowledge of the placement of the torches I was certain of it.  
The woman had long hair black that seemed to have a red hue though that could have been an effect of the torchlightHer eyes were deep set and large. I could not be certain of their color because her gaze was intense enough that I found myself unable to look at her for any length of time. I focused my attention on her well formed lips that were quirked up into a cruel looking little smile. As if she noticed my attention, she broke out into a pearly smile that lit her face and made it somehow much more inviting and infinitely more terrifying.  
After what seemed an eternity Mae said," Behold the Lady Artemis. She has granted you an audience Sir Messenger." Sitting on my bottom on the floor somehow seemed inappropriate. I rolled onto one knee and bowed my head. Artemis spoke in a honeyed voice," You are troubled, Ethan. The troubles of your mortal life seem to have landed you in the plots of an immortal. I can help you, but first you must lay aside the burden that has been put upon you."  
Again distrust swirled up in my heart. I scowled and said," Nothing that has been asked of me could possibly hurt anyone. I am tired of being harassed." As I said this I knew it to be true. I was angrier than I had ever been before. How dare these creatures invade my mind and try to manipulate me! At this thought a massive blow was struck against the walls of the chamber. Dust drifted down from the ceiling. Artemis frowned and Mae said," The old wolf has claimed this one. His tendrils have sunk to deep." 
Artemis nodded at her sadly. She stood from the throne. As she did pieces of armor materialized around her covering her completely except for a narrow slit in her helmet where her fierce eyes shone out at me. A sword appeared in her newly armored fist and she advanced on me. She said," It is better than I destroy you than allow you to sink into the madness of Lycaon. Understand that this is meant to be a mercy."  
Before I could think she seized me by my hair and wrenched my head back to expose my throat. A snarl escaped my throat and on instinct alone I surged forward from the floor throwing off her impossibly strong grip. I lost a handful of hair at the roots but this only fueled my rage. How dare the daughter of the one that cursed me touch me? I would have her blood! 
Artemis was thrown by my rush and retreated bringing her blade up between us. She hissed," You are possessed, mortal, but you are not beyond hope. Fight this madness! I can see your heart. You have the strength." Her words struck at me like molten drips of smelted metal. Driven past tolerance I bared my teeth and began to dive for her throat.  
Mae came between us in a rush. Her tiny form struck me with the approximate force of a freight train moving at the speed of sound. I was blasted through a stone wall and began falling into nothingness. I could see the outline of the torchlight from the hole I had made. The room seemed to be simply a vault of stone. On top of it was a massive thing tearing away the stone with claws the size of shovels. The monstrous thing took note of my fall, saw Mae and Artemis staring down after me, and crashed through the hole with frightening speed and terrible purpose. Snarls and screams chased me down into oblivion.  

*** 

I woke up screaming. I was windmilling my arms as if I were falling. I slammed one hard against the headboard of the bed. The pain brought me sharply awake. I was crying and my throat was sore from the screams. I rushed from the bed and spent several minutes gagging and heaving into the toilet.  
When my stomach calmed I washed my face in the sink, brushed my teeth, gargled some mouthwash, and pulled on my clothes. I was pulling on my boots when I noticed a thick manilla envelope sitting on the nightstand. Still queasI pulled it to me and tore open the seal. One hundred dollar bills wrapped in bundles of $10,000 dollar increments fell out. I didn't take time to count them, but I knew I was holding more money that I had ever seen before or would ever see again in my life. There was a very expensive cell phone wrapped in cellophane and stuffed inside a ziploc bag. There was also a note. 
My Dearest Ethan. 
This business has not proceeded as smoothly as I hoped. I hope this finds you compensated beyond your expectations. I see in you a companion of utmost quality. I have complete faith that you will complete the task I have charged you with. Githix has programmed the GPS function of the cellular device to guide you directly to the meeting place with all possible haste though the route is simplicity itself. Githix purchased for you the vehicle you will find parked directly outside your cabin. The keys are under the floor mat.Once your task is completed he tells me he has also programmed in a destination where we can meet and discuss the future. I look forward to that meeting. 
A.Wolfe   
I only thought for a moment before stuffing the contents of the package into my pack. The money would need to be covered against rain, but that could wait until later. As quickly as I could I gathered everything I owned or could scavenge from the cabin. I might have a small fortune now, but there was no reason to assume the money would provide for all eventualities. The last thing I grabbed was the Wizard's book. I wrapped it in one of my weatherproof jackets and tied a cord around it for safety. 
I headed out to the porch. Parked there was a big black truck with four doors. I hurried to it, found the key, loaded my gear and climbed inside. The truck rumbled when I started it. I found myself grinning in spite of the stress of the delivery.   
I couldn't decide if I was anxious to be done with the burden or I was looking forward to the adventure. Clearly Andris Wolfe had enemies. It was entirely possible that they might try to stop me on my journey. Right or wrong though the time had come to bring a book of Forbidden Knowledge to a Druid. That alone had me smiling broadly as I spun the tires leaving heading up the mountain.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

Apologies and Explanations

Writing a story for me is not formulaic. I have heard there are skilled technical writers who mechanically crank out story after story as easily as making a grocery list. I'm not that writer. I rarely think about what I am writing. My stories evolve in my head as if they are being told to me from some higher plane. The muse inspires and I follow her humbly to the blank page and put in work.

I have written quite a bit about my belief on writing on my other blog. You can read a post about divine dictation here. It fairly succinctly sums up my belief about where my stories come from. I feel a need to get words on the page regularly, but often the words are simply not destined for these pages.

I still feel bad that the last time I posted anything on this blog was September 10th of last year. I actually winced typing in those words. It is something of an embarrassment. Still, my excuse is a good one. I have been working on writing that I want to see print. Like Brian Griffin of Family Guy fame I have been "working on my Novel"...two of them actually,

One of the novels directly relates to the work I post on this blog. Knoxville Knights is meant to allow me to flex my writing muscles, tell stories from my Urban Fantasy universe without having to tie it into the larger narrative of a novel, and get a taste of my work in front of an audience without the rather Brobdingnagian task of being a published author. Interestingly enough it is the second of those two novels that has taken up most of my writing time.

I am writing a romantic comedy. If the story were not so compelling I would feel a little wrong admitting that fact. Being so deeply entrenched in the Nerd Mafia I feel no fear of losing geek credentials by putting out something so far from my traditional fare. Aside from all that I am telling a story that is close to my heart. It is simply a story of love and loss, friends and lovers. I think perhaps all writers have a story like this in them. It is hard to imagine Chuck Palahnuik writing one I must admit.

I am also working on another Novel from the aforementioned Urban Fantasy Universe. What started as a very ancillary character captivated my attention and has suddenly become a focus of his own work. This happens at times. That is the danger of going too deep into the minds of characters during development. Sometimes they simply take over.

I do apologize for only posting three times in 2015. I would promise to do better, but honestly I cannot do that. I will post here when I can. Over the next few days I plan to finish up The Wizard's Task series and post another story I have been working on specifically for these pages.

There is another use for this blog I have tried not to bring too much attention to. It sets a good part of the history and framework for my universe into stone. I can give fictional history lessons here that don't fit neatly into my main narrative, or rather I can go much more deeply down the rabbit hole and flesh out details that don't fit neatly in other places.

For those of you that have waited since September, I apologize and I will do my very best to make the wait worth it with the conclusion of this story. I will do my best not to make you wait so long going forward. No promises though. I tend to spend a lot of time talking to the voices in my head and one of the loudest is Andris Wolfe. Not even I am completely sure of what he is up to in the long run.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Wizard's Task Part 3

I spent most of the rest of the trip asking simple, perfunctory questions of Andris Wolfe. It seemed that the delivery of the book was important. The summer Solstice would take place on Friday June 19th 2015 at 6:35 pm. Wolfe believed, from what he knew of their rituals, that the Druids would use the occasion to destroy the book. By me delivering it in the early morning on Wednesday  the Druids would have time to review the book and with any luck they would agree to talks with Wolfe. He was remaining in the area for that very reason.  
The goblin drove us through Sevierville, through Pigeon Forge, and took us toward Cades Cove from the Gatlinburg side. I was surprised when we turned toward Townsend. Andris explained," The fork in the road moving toward Cades Cove also marks the domain of the Druids. If I were to take you further it would be seen as a Trespass against them. I would not insult them in such a manner. I also want to provide you with a means of transportation to and from the meeting. As my emissary, I would be remiss to not see to your comfort before having you complete my request. All of that aside, the Druids do not make it their habit to venture into the tourist areas of the park. The dawn meeting is set to facilitate their affairs with the larger world." 
I gave him a puzzled look not able to quite formulate my question into words. I wasn't sure if he was reading my mind or my facial expression but he explained," I know that there has been something of a modern interest in Druidry, but what you might call these pagans come nothing close to the original practices. Since the Roman cull of the Druids they have become extremely xenophobic. While this is understandable, it is something I would like to remedy. A belief system needs believers if it is to flourish." 
I lifted the book slightly and asked," Why have you not begun to train Druids yourself if keeping their faith alive means so much to you?" His toothy smile returned and he said," I would only consider teaching druidism if the Druids were truly extinct.  Luckily the Smoky Mountain Circle has remained strong since 300AD or there abouts."  
"If my history serves me at all the Roanoke colony wasn't established until 1587. I think Erik the Red visited in the early 1100s, but there has been no evidence of European settlers in North America before then." I said appreciating my degree in American History for the first time in many years. "After your delivery is completed I would be more than happy to enlighten you to the Croatoan Mystery. The Druids worked their magics to escape the Romans. As I understand it one of the ancient druids who founded came here before the birth of Christ. Way points were established which allow Druids to move from one place of power to another. It is a fascinating bit of spell construction. Those are stories for another time."  
With my interest piqued I began rattling off history related questions. So much of what he answered just made sense. It wasn't information that any college professor would present, but I learned more in a half hour of back and forth with the Wizard than I had in years. He spoke willingly and at length. It seemed to please him to pass along his knowledge and secrets. My mind seemed filled to bursting when we arrived at a  cabin rental office.  
Andris bade me to follow him inside. The goblin waited in the car. As we exited I heard loud hip hop music with a heavy baseline begin to pour from the car's speakers. The car began to shake slightly with what I presumed was Githix seat dancing to the beat. I could just make out his over large arms waving about through the dark tint of the Cadillac's windows.  
 Wolfe conducted business with an almost brutal efficiency all the while keeping the grin on his face. I ended up with a small cabin of my own rented to me until Monday. The young girl behind the desk also agreed to arrange for a vehicle for me that would be available later this evening. Andris gave her specific orders to make the vehicle "fun". That gave me a slight pause, but I realized I had embraced the adventure and would see it through to the end. I was surprised that the Wizard paid for everything with an American Express card.  
We came out of the office and Andris went to the driver's window. The music vanished, the window dropped rapidly, and the Wizard spoke in low tones to the goblin. I heard one gruff response before my pack was pushed out the window. The Cadillac sped away. As it exited the parking lot the bass line returned louder than ever before. Wolfe watched the car fondly before turning to me and saying," Githix has gone out to fetch us some food, supplies, and entertainment. He will take his time because that is his nature. Go and make yourself comfortable." He passed me my pack and the keys for my cabin. I took a moment and stuffed the book reverently into the top of my pack.  
The sales girl came out a moment later and introduced herself as Amber. She guided me to a golf cart, and together we rode through row after row of little log cabins. We rode in silenceI appreciated that she did not need to fill it with meaningless chit chat. I quickly lost track of the turns we took.  We finally stopped at a cabin that was a little bigger than the ones I had seen on our drive. She asked me for the key saying that she would show me around.  
The porch was covered and had four heavily padded chairs set around a round table. I had always enjoyed sitting on porches to watch the sunset and made up my mind to do exactly that. Living off the grid, I had not had many opportunities to enjoy simple pleasures.  
Amber showed me into a small sitting room. The comfy looking loveseat and chairs excited me more than the big TV and fancy satellite box. She showed me the tiny kitchen and dining area. There were delivery menus stacked neatly on the table. She smiled and said," We used to stock a mini bar, but if you need anything like that just let me know and I will have it delivered to you."  
Amber took me through the bedroom. It was a large room compared to the rest of the cabin with a King sized bed, another large TV connected to another satellite box, and a swing run through a ceiling beam. I eyed it in embarrassment that turned into a deep blush when Amber caught me looking. She arched an eyebrow and said," Let me show you the washroom." I followed her through the other door in the bedroom.  
The washroom took up as much of the cabin as the bedroom. It had a hot tub surrounded by mirrors from every conceivable angle including the ceiling. Separately there was another tub and shower with multiple shower heads. There was also a washer and dryer tucked away behind a set of folding doors. I looked around fascinated before finally sitting my pack on the top of the washer.  
I followed Amber back to the front door where she told me several times to call her if I needed anything. The words had an odd weight to them that I thought meant she was flirting. I had a sneaking suspicion that she was heavily attracted to the possible wealth Andris Wolfe had rather than any true interest in me.  I shut the door and put on the chain. 
I had made the decision several years ago to forsake the traditional life that American society offered and to live life on the road. I did not miss any of the bills, jobs, or structure that life had imposed on me before my choice was made, but I dearly missed baths. The first time I had read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy I had been fascinated with Douglas Adam's obsession with Baths. I tried it. I loved it.  
I wanted nothing more than to make use of both tubs, but the lifestyle I was used to had taught me that necessity has to be seen to before entertainment or pleasure. I needed a bath, but I needed to wash my clothes more. Nothing I owned would be considered clean by civilized society. Having my own private washing machine and dryer was a luxury I had not had in years. I had learned to appreciate the laundry mat but that always left me with at least one change of clothes dirty. With the Goblin on a supply run and the Wizard seemingly vanished, I decided to take a few hours for myself and clean up.  
Living on the road in modern America isn't as simple as a "normal" person packing for camping. Even the poorest person tends to gather a metric ton of possessions during the normal course of their everyday life. When you don't have a home to go back to you either have to carry it with you or leave that stuff behind.  
The bare essentials you need to sustain life are not simple. You need a means of obtaining food because there is no way to carry enough food to last a meaningful period of time on your back. You need a means of obtaining water, but you also need a small quantity with you all the time. Going without food is feasible for a short period of time. Going without water is not. You have to have the means to obtain more of both. Beyond that you need a serviceable way to maintain your biological needs.  
To that end I carry two old army canteens that I refill as often as possible. I carry two metal flasks for the same reason. On the side of my pack I had a large steel thermos that works equally well for water or soup. Since I don't always have a reliable means to wash the thermos is seldom contains soup. Water fountains normally aren't too hard to find, but finding one that isn't being observed long enough to fill up all of my containers almost never happens. Because of that I saved up and bought myself two camel pack reservoirs that fit inside my pack. All told it is possible for me to carry nearly three gallons of water.  
I took a moment to run the tap water and let it get cold before tasting it. It was cold and clean. I took all of my hydration gear to the kitchen sink and spent some extra time in cleaning it. I refilled one of the camel packs immediately and hung it over a chair in the sitting room. It simply wouldn't do to get caught unprepared if the situation suddenly changed.  
Next I dug out all of my hygiene kit. Being clean and presentable isn't necessary to survival, but it does make survival in society easier. A scruffy beard and long hair comes in and out of fashion, but at times it is a dead giveaway that you are living off the grid. A resourceful person can find tons of place to fuel up and pass time if they don't look like a bum. I always keep myself as clean cut as possible, but long hair and a beard are small problems compared to dirty clothes, stains, bad breath, and body odor.   
I laid out my kit and started taking inventory of stuff I was running short on. I would need batteries for my electric trimmer, water purification tablets, some odds and ends for my medicine and first aid kid, some ziploc bags, and mouthwash. I started to make a list using the little tablet and pen provided left by the phone in the sitting room. The money Andris paid me would easily replenish my pack. I even started considering luxuries like a crank powered radio when there was a knock at the cabin door.   
Suspicious, I peeked out the window.  The Wizard was standing with two women. They both were carrying gym bags. One of the women had a large canvas bag that held something huge and square.Wolfe had several shopping bags gathered by their plastic handles in one fist.  He caught me looking and winked at me in an overly exaggerated manner.  
I rolled my eyes and moved to open the door. Wolfe said," Greetings!" I stood back and let everyone inside. I eyed first one woman and then the other carefully. They were identical twins. They both towered over the Wizard putting them a little over 6 feet tall. They had tan skin that seemed to indicate that they spent a good deal of time in the sun or in a  tanning bed. They were both extremely fit and shapely. They both had dark brown eyes. The only difference I could find was in their hair.Both of them had straight, dark brown hair  One of them had dyed a wide streak of her hair forest green. The other, in the same area, had dyed her hair a dark blue.  
Wolfe sat his packages on the kitchen table, and then he made quick work of tucking things away into the refrigerator and the cabinets.  It seemed excessive even if I stayed in the cabin until Monday. The women disappeared into the bedroom area without a word. I went to Wolfe and asked," What are you doing?" He smiled and said," Seeing to your comfort," as if that simple statement was all I needed to know.  My mind went to a dark place and I hissed," I will not sleep with a hooker!"  
The wizard laughed loud and long. He laughed so genuinely that tears formed and trailed down his cheek bones to disappear into his beard. I stood in shock and waited for him to subside. Eventually he quieted and motioned for me to take a seat at the kitchen table. I sat down and he sat opposite me. Just louder than a whisper he said," Calliope and Callista are not prostitutes. They are Muses. They are friends of mine, and they have skills that will help to prepare you for the work ahead." 
I frowned and said," I am handing off a book." I left it unsaid that this did not sound like a skill. He smiled and answered," Callista is a beautician. She will cut your hair, and if you like, she can give you a shave. Calliope is a massage therapist. She is sitting up her table now. After you are groomed, bathed, and properly laundered she will give you a massage to help you relax. They are also well versed in history and what you might consider the supernatural. I could think of no better companions for your evening to prepare you for what is to come." 
I apologized for my assumption. He waved my apology away and said," I can understand your concerns. The twins are muses. Very little inspires a man more than beauty and the vitality of a sexually attractive woman. They have been known on occasion to inspire men to greater heights in just that way. Just know that if you manage to bed one or both of them it would not be because they were paid to do so." I blushed and said," That won't be an issue." He gave me a fatherly smile and nodded.  
He rose quickly and said," My apologies but I must take my leave." He reached into his pants pocket and drew out a thick envelope. " I have grown rather fond of you, and to reflect that I have doubled our agreed upon rate. This is half in advance. Either of the twins can contact Githix and have any requirements you have seen to at no cost to you." He handed me the envelope, shook my hand, and then hurried out the door. I watched him go feeling confused at his abrupt departure. 
I took a deep breath and then walked into the bedroom. Both women were standing waiting for me to arrive. I introduced myself, they each introduced themselves, and then they smiled and spoke in unison," Pleased to meet you." Callista had the green stripe in her hair. I vowed to remember it. She motioned me toward the bathroom and said," Come and I will cut your hair and, if you would like, I will shave you."  
I nodded and followed her. Calliope followed us into the bathroom.  A chair had been set up. I sat down and Callista stepped behind me with a pair of shears. She did not ask any questions, but she immediately began to cut. Her hands were strong, but she seemed to make a point of being gentle. I had never been comfortable having my hair cut. Yet, with the twins I felt no apprehension.  
I watched my hair falling from me in the mirror. Calliope asked," Would you like something to drink or eat?" I answered in the affirmative and she left the room. I heard the sound of electric clippers and I closed my eyes. Gooseflesh broke out on my neck. I had always hated having my neck and around my ears trimmed. Callista was a quick hand. I relaxed into the seat and felt her begin to cut away the scruff of my beard. She evened up my eyebrows, and after asking permission plucked away my uni brow. I surrendered completely to her attention and began to enjoy the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen. I didn't even tense up when she shaved my face and neck clean with what felt like a straight razor.  
When she finished I had almost dozed off. A warm wet towel cleaned my face, neck, and finally behind my ears. Callista removed the drape and had me check my reflection in the mirror. A hand lifted mine and prodded my finger nails. One of the muses asked," Would it be acceptable if we gave you a manicure and pedicure?" I nodded my agreement and felt her go to work.  
The manicure and pedicure was followed by a massage. The treatment left me more relaxed than I had ever felt. They brought me a small plate of sliced apples and cubed cheese to nibble on at my leisure. When the massage ended I was lead back into the bathroom where a warm bath had been run complete with bubbles. The twins left me to undress and bathe in private. It was amazingly relaxing and I spent more time in the tub than I should have.  
I got out, dried off, and found a heavy bathrobe had been laid out for me on the bed. I slipped it on and opened the bedroom door. The sitting room was empty though a light jazz was playing through the sound system just loud enough to project into the kitchen. I hadn't even heard it through the closed bedroom door.  I went into the kitchen and found Callista and Calliope laying out a feast at the table. All my favorite foods seemed to be in attendance.  
I knew the pampering and the bath had taken some time, but I couldn't see how they had managed to cook up everything is so short a time. The center piece was a well done meatloaf that looked strikingly similar to the ones my Mom always made. There were several ears of corn, a large dish of baked Mac and cheese, a huge bowl of lumpy mashed potatoes,enough brown gravy to cover the meatloaf and potatoes both in a big tureen , cornbread muffins piled high on a plate, green beans, and a skillet of fried squash. My stomach gave a loud rumble of appreciation.  
Callista said," There is a cheesecake in the ice box, and when the buzzer on the stove goes off the chocolate chip cookies will be ready. Let them cool for a few minutes before you eat them. There is also vanilla ice cream in the freezer." They rose in unison to leave. I asked," You aren't going to stay and eat with me?" Calliope smiled and said," The repast here would not satisfy our dietary requirements. We can keep you company, but my sister and I will not partake. We believe you would find it disquieting to eat in front of us . The Magus believed that you would want to perform carnal acts with us which we would not have been put off by, but we know that is not the case. Given your history it seems respectful to take our leave. Enjoy this meal and be not troubled." I stood quietly and watched them leave. It confused me, but not enough to warrant worry.  
I fixed myself a plate. There was far too much food for me to eat alone. The food was heavenly. Everything tasted as if it had been plucked from my childhood memories.  I didn't eat enough day to day to have a large appetite. I got a little of everything and had the largest meal I had eaten in months. When I finished, I was pleased to find a few pieces of Tupperware. I packed a considerable amount into them before I covered everything in foil from one of the cabinets. Everything went into the refrigerator except the cooling cookies and the large piece of cheesecake I dropped onto a plate and summarily devoured.  
I was full to the point of drowsiness, relaxed, and almost in a stupor when another knock sounded at the door. Darkness had fallen while I was in the bath and I realized it was quite late. I tried to peer out into the dark through the window but all I could not make out anything. I called out," Just a minute," hurried to the bedroom , grabbed my heavy flashlight, tucked it into the belt of my robe, and opened the door just a crack.  
The man on the other side was more than eight feet tall. He was broad enough that I couldn't see anything past him. As soon as the door opened he put a large fingered hand in the opening and pushed. I am thin, but I have plenty of muscle power when I need it. When the big man began pushing I put my back into the effort of keeping the door closed. My feet slid across the floor and I was pushed back as if my weight and strength were completely without consequence. I retreated several steps, tripped over a chair, and sprawled onto my butt.  
He said,"Sorry," in a rumbling basso voice and stepped inside. The man was completely bald and the biggest person I had ever seen. His shoulders would have touched the ceiling and he was forced into a strange crouch when he came inside. He barely even fit through the door.  Once he was inside he seemed to look around a moment in confusion before centering on me. He smiled showing huge squared teeth that would have been comfortable in the mouth of a Brontosaurus and said," Hello! Me am here to save you from Wizard."