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The Hidden Stairs my attempt at a novel

#1 User is offline   David Mouse 

  • telahm (guildsman)
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Posted 16 June 2010 - 09:49 AM

I'm not sure how many of you even remember me, but I used to post here regularly. Anyway, I'm working on a draft for a novel, and I thought I'd show it to you guys for feedback.

Here goes!

The Hidden Stairs

Book One: The Lost Children

Chapter One: The Walkers

It was a bright and sunny afternoon. Kids were playing outside and watching TV in. The air was filled with the warmth of Indian summer. Cars of all brands and sizes were speeding along the freeway. Some were driven by single men and women, some were full of teenagers, and some carried families.
One expensive sports car was driven by a thin, and obviously fake-blond woman wearing Dior sunglasses. A good-looking, athletic man sat in the passengers seat next to her, smiling as if for a toothpaste commercial. The woman did not smile, but looked down at the road, with the haughty expression on her face not fully concealed by her sunglasses.
The car turned toward the off-ramp, and the woman barked towards the rearview mirror, “We’re almost there.”
“Pity, I was getting comfortable,” a girl’s voice came from the backseat.
“Oh, shut up, Jenny,” the woman growled.
“Safe in my Garden”, by the Mamas & the Papas, was playing on the stereo. The man turned around and asked, “Couldn’t you kids get into music that was newer? Bon Jovi or Nirvana or something, at least?”
A boy’s voice answered, “If you like to be intellectually bankrupt, that’s your problem, Clyde.”
“Jason, I’ve warned you both again and again not to talk to him that way,” the woman snarled. The stereo switched to “Beautiful Day” by U2.
Sprawled across the backseat were a little girl with dark brown hair in a ponytail, and a little boy with short, light brown hair, both in T-shirts and shorts. Both were thin, with sullen, listless expressions. As the car left the freeway, the girl sat up and stared out the window at the suburb through which they were now passing, but without any sign of interest. When the car parked beside a house, the girl’s eyes did seem to focus on it, but only for a second.
The grown-ups smiled only too broadly at their new surroundings, in a manner reminiscent of toothpaste commercials. The kids did not smile, but neither did they complain or whine.
A moving van pulled up behind them and the movers began to unload their belongings into the house. The house was small, but had two stories, though the upstairs was much smaller than the ground floor, and it had only two bedrooms. The children would be sleeping on a bunk bed.
When the move-in process was nearly complete, the woman called to the girl: “Jennifer, take this box, and put it in a cabinet or something.” The box was filled with binders and picture frames, and similar miscellany, which no one needed at the moment but might. One of the frames still had a picture in it. Jennifer saw it and froze.
Her mother stared, “Why aren’t you moving, Jenny?” The girl held the picture up. Her mother looked sick, “That’s still around? I want the frame, but you can get rid of the picture, or keep it if you like; I don’t care.” Jenny took the picture out of the frame, and put it in her pocket.
Just then, Clyde shouted from downstairs that Jason had forgotten to pack the kitchen knives. “What!” his mother screamed, “I specifically told him to make sure they were packed away two days before we left!”
The boy just shrugged when confronted. There followed an impromptu shopping trip to obtain new kitchen utensils, by foot. Jason was obliged to carry the knives, and other utensils, himself, as punishment.
The four were walking home, when they saw another family coming toward them. The father was obviously a preacher, with a black shirt and white collar. He was bearded, with graying hair. His wife was middle-aged and a little plump. They had three kids with them, two boys and a girl, two of whom were teenagers, including the girl, but they lacked the air of alienation and resentment that teenagers usually have. The other boy was Jason and Jenny’s age. All were smiling happily.
The man looked at Anne, and smiled in recognition. Anne herself had an expression similar to a cornered animal, but the preacher came up to her before she could escape.
He asked, “You’re Anne Walker, aren’t you?”
Anne Walker replied stiffly, “Yes. Good to see you, Reverend Whittaker.” Though it sounded as if it weren’t good to see him at all.
“Well, it’s been ages since we’ve seen you!” his wife smiled enthusiastically, “Your children are all grown up!”
“Well, not quite,” Anne said stiffly, “and it’s been almost ten years”.
The preacher looked at Jason and Jenny with a twinkling smile. “I baptized you two, you know. It isn’t often I get to baptize twins. I don’t suppose you remember me?”
The children shook their heads.
“I remember you,” the preacher’s daughter smiled, “Your parents used to leave you at our house when they went out.”
Anne interjected “He’s the Reverend Michael Whittaker of St Peter’s Episcopal Church.”
“Yes, though the Episcopal Church seems to be going down the toilet these days. And this is my wife, Connie, and my children John, Lucy, and Eugene. And who’s this? Your new husband?” He indicated the man with Anne.
“This is my boyfriend, Clyde Martin.”
“You’re not married?” The preacher was slightly disconcerted.
“And give up alimony? My mom? Never,” Jenny spoke for the first time. Jason smiled slightly, but no one else did.
“Will you be in town long?” Connie Whittaker asked, trying to change the subject.
“We’ve just moved back,” replied Anne tersely.
“Oh, will you be coming to church?” The preacher’s wife smiled.
Anne Walker frowned slightly, “I haven’t been to church since I divorced Joe, and Clyde was raised in an atheist household.”
“I’m not so black-and-white now,” Clyde spoke cheerfully, “I’d call myself agnostic these days. I try to be open-minded.” The Whittakers looked at him as though he were frothing at the mouth for an instant before they regained their composure.
“Jason and Jenny have been to church since then. Clyde and I like to travel once a year, and we used to leave them with my sister in LA when they were little. She took them to church with her family. These days, we just hire a sitter or something.”
Ah, yes,” the preacher answered, “I remember your sister. Isn’t she Greek Orthodox?”
“Assyrian Church of the East,” said Jenny.
The preacher’s wife asked, “Well, where have you been living all this time?”
“Clyde got me a job with his company in Atlanta, then we were transferred to Los Angeles. Now I’ve gotten promoted to an executive position back here in San Francisco,” Anne smirked with pride.
“I don’t suppose you kids would be interested in coming to church sometimes?” Rev. Whittaker smiled at them again.
The twins shook their heads vigorously.
“Come on, you don’t have to sit through the service. There’s a youth group. I could drive you over, if you like,” Lucy smiled at them.
Jason and Jenny glared at her.
“Well, how about we meet to do a Bible study or something?” The Reverend smiled.
“Can’t you find other kids to brainwash?” Jason snapped angrily, and then turned bright red within nanoseconds, closely followed by everyone else.
An uncomfortable pause was broken by Jennifer, who growled, “You don’t have to be rude!”
Anne spoke, “Well, it’s been lovely to chat, but we’ve got to go. We have a dinner reservation tonight.”
As the Walkers walked off, Reverend Michael and his wife looked after them sadly. Eugene snorted, “What a bunch of jerks!”
“Oh, I don’t think the boy really meant it,” Connie said, “You saw how he blushed.”
“Mrs. Walker wasn’t like that when I was little. She used to bring us little presents and things,” John remembered.
“When she left Joe, I was shocked, but I wanted to be charitable,” Connie said, “I knew I didn’t know what had happened between them, and there might have been a legitimate reason. But now, it seems clear what her motivations were.”
“It’s sad for the children. They’re obviously not very happy,” the preacher continued.
“They were so sweet when they were little. Funny, helpful, and interested in everything. I didn’t recognize them at first,” his wife said sadly
“Are you sure they’re the same kids?” Lucy asked, “What’s up with their names?”
“They probably picked that up in Atlanta,” her father replied, “Well, do you kids prefer Mexican or Chinese?”

The Walkers, plus Clyde, went to a steak house that night. After they ordered, Anne announced, “You may be interested to know the Clyde and I are considering marriage.”
“Wow. Your pay raise must be huge,” Jason said flatly.
“And if we do decide on it, Clyde will adopt you.”
The twins’ eyes came wide open. “You can’t do that!” “I won’t be a Martin!”
Anne rolled her eyes, “Typical show of gratitude for a man who gives you more money than any child should have, and does an unaccountable amount of favors for you.”
“Which reminds me, I need a hundred dollars,” Jenny addressed Clyde.
Clyde pulled out his wallet, “Are you getting drugs or something?”
“No, don’t do it! Don’t reward them!” Anne shrieked.
“Don’t worry, he likes it. And a hundred for me, too,” Jason smirked.
“Okay,” Clyde sighed.
“And forget the adoption.”
Clyde looked helpless. “It was your mother’s idea,” he said.
“And I have another one. You start at your new school the day after tomorrow.”
“Why did we have to move now? Why couldn’t we have done it before school started, so we wouldn’t start the school year in LA, and have to start all over again with new everything after only a couple of weeks?” Jenny asked.
“Back to my point, I’ve decided that you will enroll in sports at your new school,” Anne smiled too broadly.
The kids glared in horror and rage.
“Baseball for Jason, soccer for Jennifer,” Anne finished.
“You can’t make me,” Jason hissed. “I won’t do it,” Jenny screamed.
“Oh, yes, you will, and if you try to pull anything, I’d like to remind you that everything you think you own—all your books, music, computer games, and the computer and TV you barely thanked Clyde for giving you for Christmas and constantly fight over—all technically belong to me, and I’d like to see you sit in an empty room for hours during the weekends,” Anne continued to smile with fake serenity.
The twins scowled in peaceful protest. “He could have gotten us two computers, at least,” Jason muttered.

There was no reason for the Walker twins to go to bed early. Jason was up almost till midnight watching the Discovery Channel, and Jenny lay in the upper bunk, which she had rushed to claim earlier, listening to early Billie Holliday on her iPod. Her face lacked the sullen expression it had worn all day; it had no expression at all. Though she was not asleep, she seemed completely unconscious, if not embraced by peaceful death. Sleep finally came to her after the first chorus of “Gloomy Sunday”.
In her sleep, Jenny suddenly noticed a vague white light shining around her, but she couldn’t see where it was coming from. The light was getting brighter. She tried to move away from it, but it shone so strongly that she couldn’t escape from its glare. She ran as fast as she could but it was all she could do to keep it from surrounding her. She saw a doorway. She ran through it, and found herself in her room, which was dark, apart from the light shining through the door. She closed the door, and blocked the light from coming underneath with a blanket. She sighed with relief, comforted by the cool, protecting darkness. It was very cool. In fact, it was cold. A strong wind hit her. She reached for a blanket but couldn’t find one. She tried to go to bed but she couldn’t find it either. She couldn’t even find the lights. She stumbled and crawled, trying her way through the room, unable to recognize anything she touched. Then, she saw another light. Not bright and shining like before, but a gentle, green glow. She looked up and saw a dove with an olive branch in its beak flap to the ground. At the center of the light there hovered a magnificent winged lady, who Jennifer knew to be a fairy. The fairy wore a green gown, a crown on her head, and had wings like a butterfly’s. She looked down at Jenny and smiled sadly. “My dear girl,” she said, “do you like this prison you have chosen to accept?” The girl did not answer. The fairy continued, “You have lived in it so long, you and your brother as well, that you no longer know any other way to live. Tomorrow, you and your brother shall be set free, to rediscover the meaning of freedom. The stag and the wolf will be your guides. If you still wish to return to your prison after having seen it, that will be your choice.”
Jennifer suddenly awoke to find that Jason had turned the TV off and heard him snoring in the bunk below. The room was dark, but not so dark as she had dreamed, for the not-quite-full moon and stars shone through the window. The alarm clock on her shelf said it was 1:30. She laid her headphones and iPod on her bedside shelf, then rolled over and returned to sleep.

#2 User is offline   CompTrekkie 

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 11:48 AM

Humm, I think I am hooked. It looks very interesting. Now I am dieing to know what the stag and wolf will show them and what is up with there names. :-)

#3 User is offline   David Mouse 

  • telahm (guildsman)
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Posted 17 June 2010 - 05:17 PM

Chapter Two: The Hidden Stairs.

Jenny awoke late to find the sun shining and Jason watching CNN on TV.
Jason looked over at her, “Finally awake?” “Lay off, I usually wake up before you,” she said as she jumped to the floor, “I had a weird dream last night.” “What happened?” “There was this bright light, and I ran and hid from in… well, this room, actually, and it was dark, which I liked at first, but it was cold, and then I didn’t like it, and then this fairy appeared, and said we’d be set free from our prison tomorrow, which probably means today.” “That’s what you get for falling asleep with your headphones on,” Jason chuckled. “Well, maybe,” the girl muttered.
Since Jason was monopolizing the room with the television, Jenny took her iPod down for breakfast. Her mother was upstairs, and Clyde had gone for a “workout”. Jenny giggled to think what would happen if Anne found out what it really was. When she came back up, Jason was watching Prime Suspect on DVD, so she went to the bathroom and performed her hated morning routine. When she was dressed, he was still watching Prime Suspect. She asked him to stop so she could play King’s Quest III on the computer. “You can play it now,” he said, “It has practically no sound.” “Yeah, but I can’t concentrate with the sound of you watching TV, particularly something as dense as that,” Jenny pointed to the image of Helen Mirren on the TV screen. “And what will I do?” “Go downstairs and read or something,” Jenny suggested. “I don’t feel like reading much these days,” Jason sighed.
This was true. Jenny hadn’t either. Jason and Jenny owned a large quantity of books, of various kinds. They had both read all the works of L. Frank Baum and E. Nesbit, among others, while they were still living in Atlanta, and Jenny had continued her interest with literature, history, and classic cinema, while Jason leaned more toward bugs, spacecraft, and subatomic particles, but their interests still overlapped, and owned copies of many of the same books. But lately, both had found reading too much trouble.
“Well, you have your own iPod, don’t you?” “I don’t want to listen to music now. I want to finish this whole story, and I’m only on the second episode. You can join me if you like.” Jenny was annoyed, “Well, I don’t want to watch anything. I want to play on the computer. Couldn’t you watch Charlie Chaplin or something?” “Oh dear,” said their mother as she entered the room, “can’t decide how to sit around inside. Why don’t you go outside and play catch.” “No!” Both twins shouted. “That was not a suggestion,” Anne sneered slightly, “We’re going to go get your uniforms when Clyde gets home, and you’ll play catch in the yard until then. It’ll be good practice for both of you. Get dressed before you go out, Jason.”
After their mother strode from the room, both kids stared at each other disconsolately. “Maybe we should tell her where Clyde went, and the stuff we’ve been saving,” Jason suggested, “Then she might get so mad at him she’d forget all about sports.” “And destroy our source of income?” Jenny scoffed, “No. That wouldn’t rescue us from playing sports at school anyway.” “So we just have to go along with it,” Jason scowled. “Oh, well,” Jenny sighed, “who needs to play King’s Quest III when you can live it?” “Except Gwydion gets away from the evil wizard and finds his real family,” Jason replied. “And his real name,” Jenny added, “I suppose that’s why I dreamed the fairy saying that stuff about freeing us from our prison. You know, if it were real, she would have meant today.” “If it were real, we wouldn’t be here anyway. I’d better get ready before Mom comes back,” Jason got up and walked toward the door.

Both Jenny and Jason found “catch” the stupidest excuse for a game ever invented. What point could there be to throwing a ball back and forth?
“It’s not really a game, just mindless physical activity,” Jason growled, as he threw the baseball. There was a slight chill in the air, so he wore a jacket.
“Knowing Mom, that’s probably her point. She’s hoping to dumb us down into athletes,” Jenny gloomily threw it back.
“You heard what she said about friends,” Jason hissed, and threw the ball back to Jenny again, “She wants us to be normal.”
“Why should she want kids who didn’t learn to read until first grade, much less kindergarten, and who don’t know every country in the world known to exist in the past five thousand years, all the recorded phyla of all life forms living and extinct, all the Best Picture Academy Award winners, and all the recorded monarchs of England, Scotland, France, Spain (before and after unification), Prussia, Austria, and all the other Germanic countries, Poland, Russia, Turkey, the Roman/Byzantine Empire, the Muslim Caliphates, Persia, India, China, Japan, Egypt, and Ethiopia by heart, and have read the complete works of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Homer, Dorothy Sayers, Tolstoy, Tolkien, Sophocles, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Conan Doyle, Goethe, Aeschylus, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift, Agatha Christie, and all the Bronte sisters, to name just a FEW!? And don’t even CARE about any of those things?” Jenny demanded angrily, punctuating each point with a vicious hurl to her brother.
Jason paused, and held the ball for a minute. “Hang on, I don’t know all that. I don’t know all the countries in history, just the ones in Eurasia for the past three thousand years, plus Egypt, and all the ones in the Americas for the past five hundred. And I only know the monarchs of Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Egypt, Persia, and China. And I haven’t read the complete works of all those people, just Shakespeare, Austen, and the novels of Dostoevsky.”
Jenny smirked with conceit, “Sorry, I forgot you were the soulless materialist in the family.”
Jason scowled fiercely, “Well, you only know the phyla. I know every class, order, and family. And hundreds of species! And all the observable stars and galaxies, AND the entire periodic table!” With this, he flung the ball back at Jennifer.
“You’ll probably grow up to be a psychotic, evil welfare-statist. Science geeks usually are,” Jenny smirked and tossed it back daintily, “I bet you don’t even know the first Emperor of Persia.”
“Cyrus the Great!” Jason snarled, as he threw to his sister again, “And I bet you don’t know the four fundamental forces!”
“The strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity,” Jenny called out triumphantly, as she threw, “What’s the assumed name of Hester Prynne’s husband?”
“Roger Chillingworth!” Jason gritted his teeth, “And you know, Jenny, it’s funny to hear you talking about me growing up, when everyone knows girls mature faster than boys. I’m gonna enjoy watching the hormones get you and turn you into a pubert right before my eyes.”
Jenny caught the ball and froze, “I don’t want to think about that. It won’t be for a while.”
“You know we’re turning twelve in less than two months. In a year, you’ll be covered with pimples!” Jason giggled.
“And in ten years, you’ll be on death row for an armed robbery or something. Or worse, you’ll be making bombs for some leftist group,” Jenny flung the ball back at him.
“’Sticks and stones may break my bones’,” Jason grinned as he threw.
Jenny caught the ball and smiled oddly, “You know, on second thoughts, you’re throwing really well. You’ll probably be a professional pitcher.” She laughed as she threw at him.
Jason caught the ball with a fierce scowl, and threw it high in the air.
Crash! The ball flew through a window in the attic of the house next door.
Jenny’s eyes were wide with terror. “That was Clyde’s autographed Mark McGwire ball! The one he said he’d trade his grandmother for! He’ll kill us, no matter what we do!”
“No sweat, we’ll just go next door, apologize, ask for the ball back, and offer to pay the damage. Clyde and Mom will never know,” Jason was assured.
Jenny grumbled, “Better hope our neighbors are that nice.”

The house next door was much larger than the Walkers’. It was stone and terracotta, with two full stories and an attic. It was surrounded by a stone wall, overgrown with vines. A gate connected it to the street.
The twins walked to the gate, and looked for a doorbell. “There doesn’t seem to be one, or even a knocker,” Jenny noticed.
“Hello,” Jason shouted, shaking the knob of the gate, “anyone there?”
The gate came open.
“Some security,” Jenny muttered, as they walked through. The front door did have a doorbell, but no one answered when they rang. They tried knocking to no avail, and the door did not open as easily as the gate. So they walked round to the back of the house, calling “Hello” and “Excuse me” as they went.
There was no sign of life beyond the lawn and flowers in back. “I guess no one’s home,” Jenny said, “or maybe they just can’t hear us?” There was a row of glass doors facing the lawn, and a tile deck with a table and chairs in between the lawn and the house. Jason noticed that one of the doors was slightly opened, “Look!” He opened it all the way and went in. “Are you breaking in?” Jenny asked caustically. “The door was open, and I won’t touch anything. Come on,” he called. Jenny followed him in.
The living room seemed rather odd. The furniture was composed of metal rings and spirals, except some large wooden chairs. The center table was of thick, black iron. All was slightly covered with dust. “Hello?” Jenny called tentatively. “Anyone there?” Jason inquired. There was no answer.
Jason grinned. “Looks like they’re gone. They won’t know we were here either!” He giggled. “Yeah, and their window facing our house just broke on its own,” Jennifer rolled her eyes. “Look how easy it was to get in. It’s a miracle burglars haven’t licked this place clean,” Jason retorted. “Well, we may as well look for the ball now we’re in here. Just be prepared in case someone suddenly wakes up or runs into us, so you can explain before they call the police.” They entered a hallway through a door in the far wall. The hall was dimly lit by gaslights, and was completely lined with marble, white on the floor, green on the walls, and black on the ceiling. They could see the front door at the other end of the hall, and other doors on the sides. They could see a gap in the wall on the right side, which they approached.
Jenny noticed the portraits on the walls. There were old men with long flowing beards and white robes, beautiful women in flowing dresses, and bearded young men in armor.
As they had thought, the gap was a space for a staircase leading to the second floor. Above, there was a wooden hallway off the landing, also lit by gaslights, and a window at the end. There were more doors leading off this hallway, which the twins searched to find stairs to the attic. There were odd books with titles like High Kings of Arion, Geography of Geatmark, The Fall of the Geats, and Herb-lore of the Fairies in all the rooms. There was a grand bedroom with a four-poster bed with silk curtains, and a crystalline mirror. Next door, there was a study with an ornate stone desk with carvings of what looked like lions at two corners. “Weird,” the twins said out loud. “But I kind of like it,” Jenny thought. There was a green curtain at the back of the room. Jason pulled it back and found a stairway leading up. “Here we go,” he said happily.
The attic was lit brightly by a large window to the left from the stairs, and sure enough, the window light shone through was broken, and the baseball lay by the opposite wall. “Ha!” Jason grinned brightly, “We’re in the clear. Now let’s get out of here before Mom starts wondering where we are,” he said as he picked up the baseball and put it in his pocket.
Jenny paused. There was an assortment of tables and chairs strewn across the small attic, and a bench across the far wall. But what most captured her attention was what appeared to be a large, vertical stone panel on the wall directly across from the window. She walked over to it. It had the image of an ornamental gate engraved on it, and a bas-relief of a stag and a wolf at the center. There was some sort of strange writing engraved across it.
At that moment, a familiar voice could be heard shouting, “Jason! Jenny! Time to go!”
“That’s Mom. Come on, let’s go, before she throws a fit,” Jason said. “Just a minute,” Jenny replied softly. She touched the engraved stag, and to her surprise the panel split open into double doors, revealing a narrow passageway leading down a flight of stairs into darkness.
“JENNIFER! JASON! WHERE ARE YOU?!” The voice was louder now.
“Jenny, come on!” Jason was already back down in the study.
Jenny gazed with fascination down the dark stairs. She reached forward through the doors, feeling a slight breeze blowing into the dark stairway. “I wonder what’s down there,” she thought, “A wine cellar, maybe? How long have these stairs been hidden?”
“Jennifer!” Her mother and brother shouted in accidental unison.
“Okay, I’m coming,” she called. She tried to turn to leave but she couldn’t. Her hand wouldn’t come back out of the doorway. She looked around in a wild panic, and looked through the window at the peaceful neighborhood for what she already suspected might be the last time.
Jason ran back up to the attic, “What are you doing? Do you want to get in trouble with Mom, not to mention arrested for breaking and entering? Are you coming?”
“I’d love to, but I can’t! My arm is stuck!” She winced with frustration.
“What, in midair?” Jason snickered.
Just then, after desperately trying to pull her arm away, Jenny managed to pull herself onto the top step, and was unable to move any part of her body backwards.
“What is this?” Jason asked angrily. “Come on,” he said, as he grabbed her by the shoulder.
No sooner had he done so, than he found he couldn’t move his hand back. He let go and shouted for help, but his hand was suspended in the doorway above his shoulder.
Their mother was still shouting their names, “JASON! JENNIFER! COME HERE!”
“What’ll we do?” cried Jenny frantically. “Just don’t move forward!” Jason shouted. Scarcely had the words left his mouth when Jenny involuntarily took one step down. “No!” Jason cried. Their mother was still shouting outside.
“Wait, I’ve got an idea!” Jason took the baseball out of his pocket and threw it out the window. It enlarged the hole in the glass, but nothing else happened. Their mother kept shouting.
Desperately trying to move backward, Jenny fell down a couple of steps. “Just don’t move at all!” Jason shouted, and accidentally pulled himself through the doorway.
“I can’t,” Jenny shouted, “it’s pulling!” It was true; the invisible force that had first prevented them from moving backwards was now slowly but surely pulling her down the stairs. Jason also, unable to move back, was gradually stepping further down.
“Help!” They both shouted, but no one answered. Jenny stood up, but had to make several steps further down the stairs.
They found themselves inexorably forced to walk further and further into the darkness, but the pull only got stronger the farther they went.
“It’s pulling us to the bottom!” Jenny screamed as they were forced to break into a run.
Running down the stairs is always dangerous, particularly in pitch darkness, for the light from the doorway was now all but extinguished. When they inevitably slipped and fell, they did not hit the stairs, but found themselves flying through the air, downward, downward, to the bottom of the stairs, faster and faster. Jason tried to slow down with his legs, but only managed to skin his shins.
They whirled through the darkness in terror they knew not how long, until finally Jenny saw a glimmer ahead. “Light!” she screamed. That flicker turned into a light stone floor, lit through a doorway on the right, just before it grew huge before her eyes and slammed into her. She groaned with pain and relief, just before her brother landed on top of her at full speed.
“Ow! Couldn’t you land to the side or something?” Jenny spat angrily. “Well, excuse me, it wasn’t my idea to come down here. What possessed you to open those doors?” Jason growled. “I was just curious! I didn’t think I’d be sucked down the stairs,” Jenny retorted. “Well…” Jason started, then froze, staring out the doorway. Jennifer turned around slowly and looked out. The sun was shining low in the sky, over a vast green forest that spread as far as the eye could see, except for a range of mountains taller than any they had seen or heard of in the distance to the left. There was no human habitation in sight. The twins got up and walked to the opening. They were in a cave on a small hill, with stone steps leading down to the forest below. They looked up and saw that the cave was dug into a huge rock that stretched far above them, but not nearly as high as they had come down the staircase. Above, only the blue sky could be seen.
They looked at each other. “Either this is a dream…” Jason began, and Jenny finished, “…or we aren’t in Kansas any more, Toto! I think we’ve traveled to another world, Jason!”

View PostCompTrekkie, on Jun 17 2010, 10:48 AM, said:

Humm, I think I am hooked. It looks very interesting. Now I am dieing to know what the stag and wolf will show them and what is up with there names. :-)

Why, thank you!

We've only just begun.

#4 User is offline   David Mouse 

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 09:10 PM

Chapter Three: Brendan.

The two children simply sat in the cave in a shocked stupor for several minutes, both hoping to wake up at any minute. Eventually, Jennifer asked, “What should we do?” Jason suggested, “ Maybe we could go back up the stairs?” Jenny gingerly reached towards the stairs and felt a flat, smooth, hard surface of no discernible temperature. “Looks like what ever sucked us down is keeping us here,” she said.
“Nice work, Jenny,” Jason scowled, “I didn’t think starvation was your idea of fun.”
“So it’s my fault?” Jenny answered angrily.
“If you hadn’t had this weird fascination with those stone doors, we’d be home right now,” Jason shouted.
“No, we wouldn’t, we’d be on our way to the athletic draft board, and, besides, if you hadn’t thrown that ball through the window in the first place, we’d never have gone inside that house!” Jennifer hollered back.
“You were making fun of me!”
“So were you!”
“Maybe it’ll come down in a while,” said Jason hopefully, looking toward the stairs. “Hope springs eternal,” Jennifer muttered, “It must be magic. If this isn’t a dream, there’s no reason for it not to be. Well, we’re in the middle of nowhere, so it looks like we’re going to have to survive on our own. What’ve you got?”
Jason had some string, an Agatha Christie novel, several handkerchiefs, some loose change, an old mood ring, and a small kitchen knife. “Where’d you get that knife?” Jenny demanded.
“When we got knives yesterday I carried one in my jacket pocket and forgot about it. It could actually be useful out here,” the boy replied.
“Maybe, but you just give it to me. Boys can’t be trusted with things like that,” Jennifer hissed as she grabbed the knife. “Fine, have it your way,” Jason muttered, “but how will you carry it? You don’t have a jacket.”
“Give me those handkerchiefs,” Jenny answered. She wrapped a couple of handkerchiefs around the blade of the knife and put it in her pocket.
“Well, what do you have?” Jason asked.
Jenny had her house keys, an electronic clock that seemed to have stopped, and the picture she had picked up the previous day. Jason stared at the photo with wide eyes. “It’s the same house?” he asked incredulously. “I know,” Jenny sighed, “What are the odds?”
“So what do we do now?” Jenny sat and pulled her knees up to her chest.
“Well, we can either sit here in this cave and wait to die of cold or starvation, or we can go out into the forest and look around for food or something,” Jason answered.
“How can you tell what’s edible and what isn’t? You screamed when Mom tried to make you join Boy Scouts, and you never learned anything that useful about plants. And even if you did, the plants are probably all different here anyway,” Jenny frowned.
“We might find something, at least. There’s bound to be people around somewhere. Why else would someone have built these stairs?”
“This could have been their magic garden or something,” Jenny replied, “but it seems we have no real choice. Let’s not get too far though. We’ll need this cave as shelter at night.”
And so they walked out the cave entrance, down the stone steps, and into the forest.
Jenny’s speculation that none of the plants would be recognizable proved well founded. None of the trees fit into any of the categories they had learned, and neither did the flowers. They saw berries, and even fruits, growing several times, but had no idea what was poisonous and what wasn’t. They noticed that everything seemed unusually large. The grass came higher than they were used to, and what looked like blue roses were the size of their fists.
After walking for several minutes, they came to a large clearing. The sunlight and smell of flowers could not overcome their fear, however. The Walkers didn’t care for the outdoors, anyway. They had really enjoyed living in large cities.
They heard a sound from across the field. Water! Though they were not really thirsty, as it had scarcely been an hour since Jason had thrown the ball, they knew the dangers of dehydration, and rushed to the brook that flowed through the middle of the clearing and drank. Then Jenny looked up and froze.
“Get back,” she said. “Why,” Jason gurgled, then he saw. Just a few feet up the brook paced some speckled, hairy creatures that looked like wolves, and were tall enough to reach the twins’ shoulders when standing. The twins started to back away from the brook. The wolves suddenly turned and growled at them. The twins screamed out loud and ran for their lives.
They heard the large dogs rushing after them as they desperately ran towards the trees, wishing they had stayed in the cave, or better still, wishing they had never come down the stairs, but it was too late.
What hope they had of losing the dogs in the trees proved ill founded. They rushed blindly, with the sound of yelps and barks right behind them. Jenny looked back and saw a speckled wolf coming at her with sharp bared teeth. She wished she hadn’t looked, even before she tripped and fell, sure that her life was coming to it’s end before she had had a chance to see the complete version of Metropolis. She lay still, hoping death would come quickly.
Suddenly, the sound of canine growls was obscured by a human yell. A man rushed out of the trees to where Jennifer was lying, and flung out at the wolves with a large staff. Whack! One was hit and ran yelping off. Smack! Another turned growling at the new arrival, before it was knocked off its feet by a well-aimed whack. In seconds, all the wolves were fleeing.
The man smiled slightly at his handiwork, then turned and frowned. The girl could not be seen anywhere on the ground. Then he looked up, and smiled.
“You can come down now.”
Jenny eyed him suspiciously from the tree she had climbed into while he was beating the wolves. He was tall, so that Jenny’s eyes would be at the level of his chest, thickly muscular, and broad shouldered. His hair was black, with flecks of grey scattered about, and he was heavily tanned. He wore a jacket of leather, greenish trousers, and leather boots. He looked to be in his late thirties. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” Jenny growled, “but thanks.”
“Are you lost?” The man asked, his dark green eyes glowing with concern.
“I’m perfectly fine, thank… AHHH!” Jenny screamed as she slipped and fell into the stranger’s arms.
“Are you all right?” The stranger cradled her gently; his eyes twinkling with friendly amusement.
“Put me down!” The girl shrieked. The stranger let her down gently.
“Well,” Jenny glared irritably, “thanks for your help, now please go away.”
“Wasn’t there someone with you?”
“Oh, Jason! Where is he? Jason!” Jenny called, preparing to make a break for it at the first reply.
“What?” Jason came running back, a little sweaty from exertion and fear, “Are the wolves gone?” He stopped short when he saw the unfamiliar man and glared, “Who’s this?”
“My name is Brendan Dayasingh. I heard you running from the speckled wolves, so I rushed to help,” the man answered.
“He did drive them away,” Jenny added.
“Thanks,” said Jason shortly.
“And who are you?” Brendan asked.
The twins looked at each other.
“Benjamin and Gwendolyn Tennyson,” Jason said quickly.
“Is that the best you can do?” Jenny was annoyed, “We’re Claudia and Jamie Kincaid.”
“No, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie!”
“Who are you really?” Brendan arched his eyebrows.
“Jason and Jennifer Walker,” the twins looked down.
“Do you two need any help getting home?” Brendan asked, looking at them seriously. His gaze made them slightly nervous.
“We’ll be fine,” Jason said quickly. “We can get home easily,” Jenny followed.
“How can you? This forest is completely uninhabited by humans. It’s several days’ hike to the nearest village,” Brendan’s eyes were furrowed with concern.
The children’s hearts sank.
“We can make it back,” said Jenny, trying to sound hopeful.
Brendan frowned, “Please don’t be offended, but you didn’t seem to be able to avoid those speckled wolves, which are really timid, so long as you don’t get too close, and only chase if you run.” He paused. “But I suppose if you came out here safely, you could make it back. I beg your pardon. It was a pleasure to aid you. Farewell.” Then he turned and strode off through the forest.
Jason and Jennifer felt the forest grow darker as he walked away. They heard sounds of creaking and the calls of birds echo through the trees. They looked at each other.
“We don’t have a choice, do we?” Jenny muttered.
“Yeah, we do. We could choose between an 87% chance of death by starvation or consumption by wild animals, and a 50% chance of, shall we say, ‘worse than death’.”
“I think I’ll take the fifty.”
They turned and ran to where Brendan could still be seen several yards away, calling after him as they went.
“Do you need help after all?” He asked, arching his eyebrows as he looked at them over his shoulder.
“Yeah, we’re actually completely lost, and have no choice but to trust you or face nearly certain death in these woods,” Jenny panted as she caught up to him.
Brendan laughed, “Well, where are you from?”
The children looked at each other awkwardly. “Uh, very far away,” Jason answered. “Yeah, very far,” Jenny answered. “So far we have no idea where we are, and have no idea what place this is,” Jason finished.
Brendan looked quizzical, “Then how did you get here?”
“Magic,” they said in unison. “I guess,” Jenny added.
Brendan laughed, “Sounds like you really are lost. How about I take you to the nearest village, and we decide what to do with you there?”
The twins scowled, “We aren’t luggage, you know!”
“All right, I meant we’d decide where you’ll go, together. There’s an innkeeper couple there who’re friends of mine, and they hear a lot of news from their customers, so they might know how to get you home.”
“Okay,” the twins shrugged at each other.
“Then let’s go, it’ll take five days to get there if we walk fast,” Brendan held up his staff, which Jenny noticed was a good bit thinner than either his arms or his legs. His whole build seemed remarkably thick.
And so the three of them set off northward through the forest, toward the distant mountains.

#5 User is offline   David Mouse 

  • telahm (guildsman)
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Posted 18 June 2010 - 11:47 AM

Chapter Four: Ariadne.

They were only able to walk for a couple of hours before dusk enveloped the forest, and their pace was hampered by the twins’ discomfort with their new environment. Their guide offered to carry them, but they hastily refused. Brendan stopped to make camp by a deep pond fed by a spring. He then built a fire and passed around some meat and bread from his pack.
The twins looked at it oddly.
“What’s wrong?” Brendan asked.
The twins shrugged and ate the food.
“Can you tell me anything about where you came from?”
The twins did not answer.
“Well, I’ve never seen clothes like yours before, so I suppose you’re from the islands? But you don’t look like islanders.”
The twins hesitated, unable to decide between potentially dangerous honesty (who knew what the people here might do to inter-dimensional travelers?), and stepping into a lie that they might not be able to back up. For example, there might be some sort of commonly known facts about these islands and their inhabitants that could easily give them away.
They said nothing.
“What are you afraid of?” Brendan furrowed his brows with curiosity.
“You,” Jason and Jenny answered in unison.
“But why?” Brendan frowned slightly.
“Where we come from, everyone knows not to talk to, much less trust, strangers,” Jason narrowed his eyes.
“That’s wise, I suppose, but do I seem dangerous to you?” Brendan smiled slightly.
“You do have a sword and daggers, which I’m sure you know how to use, on your belt,” Jason noted dryly.
“Do you think I’d use them on innocent children?”
“You can never tell about people,” Jenny murmured darkly.
“Surely you can trust your friends and family?”
“We don’t have any friends, and not much family, and, no, we don’t trust them,” Jason stared into Brendan’s eyes.
“Are you orphans?”
“No, we live with our mother and… stepfather,” Jason answered.
“Don’t you trust them?”
“No!” The twins shouted in unison.
Brendan paused.
“When did your father die?”
“He can’t be dead, or Mom would’ve stopped getting alimony checks,” Jenny stared at the fire, “Our parents divorced when we were little, and we haven’t seen Dad since. I don’t even remember him… very well,” she added hastily, remembering the photograph.
“Your father abandoned you and your mother, and let her marry another man?” Brendan was shocked with a hint of outrage.
“Dad didn’t leave, Mom did,” Jason answered, “and she took us with her when she ran away with Clyde.”
“It happens all the time where we come from,” Jenny looked with amusement at Brendan’s hanging jaw.
“Is there no one you trust?” Brendan looked grieved.
“Well, maybe I used to trust Aunt Nora and Uncle Sargon, but that was a long time ago,” Jenny looked up at the stars and shivered.
“Not that any of this is your business,” her eyebrows narrowed as she looked back at Brendan.
“Where are we, anyway?” Jason looked up at the surrounding trees.
“The forest of Mamtrika in the kingdom of Jaglamel, in the land of Arion,” Brendan answered.

After Brendan had passed around a water bottle, which the children knew it wasn’t healthy to share, but thought, once again, they had no choice. He then gave them some blankets, put the fire out, and they lay down to sleep. Brendan slept with his sheathed sword by his side.
Jenny shivered between the blankets on the ground. She had no idea what the future held, or what the next day would bring. She did not know how she would survive, or whether she would ever get back to her nice, comfortable home. Brendan had checked for roots before he spread the blankets out, but the ground was still much harder than she was used to. She began to think that soccer was a… well, not fair, exactly, but reasonable, price to pay for all her comforts, which she missed with all her heart. She shivered again. The night was not very cold, but it was cool, and a slight breeze blew.
Jenny opened her eyes and looked out into the dark forest. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, so the forest did not seem so dark as it had. She saw the moonlight shining through the trees, and the leaves rustled in the breeze.
Suddenly, she saw something moving in the trees. A shadow was approaching quickly. Jenny wondered if more wild beasts were after them, but as the figure approached, it began to resemble a horse and rider.
“Wake up,” she said softly. Brendan and Jason were already sleeping, and Jason was snoring slightly.
“Wake up,” she repeated, nudging Brendan, “someone’s coming.”
Brendan sat up and turned to face the approaching horse, then smiled as it came to a halt beside them. Jason awoke as the rider slid to the ground and Brendan stood and bowed. Jenny noticed that the horse she was riding had five toes on each hoof and a short, but sharp, horn on its nose.
“Greetings, your Highness,” Brendan addressed the new arrival.
“You know you needn’t be so formal with me, Brendan,” the rider answered as it pulled back the hood of its cloak to reveal a young woman’s smiling face. The young lady was tall, taller slightly than Brendan, though she seemed to tower above the world around her, slender, and beautiful. Her silver-brown hair flowed down her body, as did her cloak and the green gown she wore underneath. Her skin was lighter than Brendan’s but still very tan.
“But I do, to a lady of your quality and standing.”
“I think we know each other too well for that, but never mind. I’ve come to tell you that…” She stopped and looked at the children, “Who are they?”
“Oh, a couple of kids I found fleeing from wolves near Wizard’s Rock.”
“Oh, the poor things! What are they doing out here?”
“I’m not sure, but they said they thought they came her by magic.”
The lady looked at him seriously, “Do you think…”
“Those two? I doubt it. They probably would have been eaten if I hadn’t run into them, not that they seem particularly grateful.”
“Who are they? Where are they from?”
“They say their names are Jason and Jennifer Walker, but I’m not sure where they’re from, and they won’t say, except that they’re from very far away, and they didn’t know where they were. I don’t think they’re from Arion, but they don’t look like either islanders or Nordicans.”
“Maybe they don’t understand how they came here themselves,” the lady looked at them oddly.
“Yeah, yeah, enough about us. Who are you, and what did you come for,” Jason burst out. Jenny blushed and punched him in the arm.
The lady was taken aback, and Brendan looked embarrassed, “I think they’ve had a very unfortunate upbringing, so don’t judge them too harshly.” The lady burst out laughing.
“Apologize, Jason!” Jenny hissed.
“Don’t worry, it’s refreshing to hear something so direct. In my position, people often dilute their words so much I have no idea what they’re talking about. Though one should show a little more courtesy to one’s fellow creatures,” she finished slightly sternly.
“I don’t have any fellow creatures, except maybe her,” Jason pointed at Jenny with his thumb.
“Well, anyway, I suppose one rudeness may deserve another. Pardon me. This is her Royal Highness, the Princess Ariadne Suressian of Merovingia,” Brendan introduced and bowed toward the lady.
The twins bowed also.
The Princess smiled, and then turned to Brendan, “I came to tell you that… things are moving. I know how you love wandering through the wilderness but you must come back. I’ll need your help soon. I’m sorry I can’t say more,” she looked at the twins, “but…”
“No problem, I get it, can’t reveal secrets to outsiders,” Jason interjected.
“Well, yes, that’s it exactly,” Ariadne looked at him.
“Let me guess, this whole land is under the sway of an evil overlord, and you two are part of a noble rebellion dedicated to overthrowing his despotic regime and restoring freedom to the land,” Jenny smirked.
“How did you know that?” Brendan gasped.
“Call it a hunch. Don’t worry, I’ve no proof, and I’m not an agent of said evil regime.”
“Well, I’m sure you’re not,” smiled Ariadne, “but as your brother said, secrets are secrets. I’ll be headed to Gulabinagra. We can meet and talk there.”
“The King and Queen remain loyal supporters?”
“Yes, but they are so frightened! And they should be. If their loyalties are discovered, Jaglamel will be homogenized into a province, probably along with several surrounding provinces. And they must try to protect their people from the Imperials at the same time, and who knows what suffering the homogenization process would unleash.”
“Not that the rest of Arion would ever find out, save through rumors and our own efforts, which they have every reason to mistrust” Brendan added dryly.
“Many throughout the land know, or guess, what the Emperor’s rule means,” Ariadne reassured him, “Rumors of the worst they perpetrate abound across the land, and even the lucky majority still feel the effects of the Plasmodium’s policies.”
“Dragging them down to poverty, and some suspect that the Imperial program is the cause, not the cure, but they are still safe and secure, and cannot believe what the Emperor and his followers are capable of. Some who realize what they are doing to the land think they mean well,” Brendan snorted in disgust, “and others who realize their motivations think they are doing well. Most don’t like the regime, and many sympathize with us, but they are afraid, and set in their ways, so they do nothing. I don’t blame them; many have their own families to consider.”
Ariadne looked into his eyes, “The people of this land can endure a great deal, but only so much. And we already have many supporters throughout the land, even if they’re afraid and not desperate enough to admit it. And we may not need a mass uprising to achieve victory anyway.”
Bremdan smiled back at her, “I know the Emperor and his Plasmodium cannot last forever.”
“I thought you couldn’t talk about it around us?” Jenny interjected.
“Nothing I’ve said is secret, at least not among the rebels, and you have fallen onto our hands, so ,” Ariadne smiled at her, and then turned to Brendan, “I must go now. How soon can you come?”
“I was going to take the kids to Torehal village anyway, so I can just go on to Gulabinagra from there by river.”
“I will await you eagerly,” Ariadne turned to the children, “As for you, I hope you find your way home safely. As the Fairies say, shalom, and safe travels to you all.” With that she mounted her horse and rode off into the night.
Brendan gazed after her in a way that made Jennifer think she must be dreaming, because, after all, since when did things like this happen in real life?

#6 User is offline   David Mouse 

  • telahm (guildsman)
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Posted 21 June 2010 - 08:11 PM

Chapter Five: The Land of Arion.

Jason turned to Brendan, “She’s really nice.”
“Lucky for you. I bet some people would’ve sliced your head right off,” Jenny snapped, “Brendan probably isn’t too happy that you insulted his lady-love.”
“What!” Brendan jerked and blushed.
“Well, you are in love with her, aren’t you?” Jenny looked at him under lowered eyebrows.
Brendan stood erect, and held his head high, “Princess Suressian is a noble, brave, and capable leader in the rebellion. I am honored to aid the rebellion and still more honored to aid and support her in any way I can. I admire her greatly, and I think I am privileged enough to call her a friend, but neither of us are the kind to engage in such fancies. She is dedicated to the work of liberation, and so am I, and when I am free, I prefer the solitude of the wild. Even if I were so flightily inclined, she is a Royal Princess, while I am the son of a poor man from a small village in Rohana, and such fancies would be pointless.”
“Oh, good,” Jason sighed, “I was afraid we’d be stuck with a torrent of love poetry until we got to that village.”
“I’m glad there are rational people in this world,” Jenny smiled, “Where we come from, everyone talks about ‘following your heart’ and ‘surrendering to passion’ so much that you want to take them at their word and throw up at their feet.”
“It sounds like your society is on the brink of collapse,” said Brendan briskly, “Now aren’t you sleepy?”
As they climbed back between the blankets, Jenny asked, “What’s going on here?”
Brendan stretched, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, who is this Emperor, what exactly is the Plasmodium, what is this land like, and how did the Rebellion start?” Jenny answered, “And while we’re about it, where exactly are you and the Princess from?”
Brendan grinned, “I see you are from far away indeed. I suppose you want to hear a bit of our history?”
“Yes!” Jenny was excited. “Always the history buff,” Jason muttered.
“Well, even a short version of the tale will last long into the night, but I suppose you won’t sleep unless I do,” Brendan lay down before he began.

“The land of Arion has always been divided into many kingdoms, some great, some small, some rich, some poor, some wet, some dry, some forested, some open, some mountainous, others flat. All, however, were united under the High King of Arion, who ruled from the city of Roshnashar, or Gadonquer in the Fairy tongue.
“The smaller kingdoms generally minded their own affairs, but if a dispute arose between them, or one king broke the laws of the land or became wicked, the High King or his judges would intervene. Representatives elected by the people of each kingdom met in a Senate to help make laws and discuss issues important to them all. Legend says that the High King was once elected by and from the kings of the land, but for many thousands of years the title was passed through one family who held it by hereditary right, the Mirhehsan family of Khastagharz.
“I’m not enough of a scholar to know the whole history, as to why the system changed, but I believe there was a great war, a fight for the freedom of the entire land, and one man rose up as the leader on the our side, named Bahram Mihrehsan. He and his friends and followers were victorious, with the aid of the Fairies. His descendants have been Kings of Khastagharz, and High Kings of Arion ever since.
“From that time on, the land had been relatively peaceful, apart from a few raids and attacks by the Nordicans on the Northern coasts, and the occasional rebellion by megalomaniacal wizards and others of similar inclinations. There was peace and friendship throughout the land, and the people bore through what hardships they had, and helped those they met. The Fairies aided all suffering and helpless people and wandered through the land constantly.
“The real change began around forty years ago, when the High King Gabriel and his family were killed while traveling through the mountains, and a cousin named Kyril came to the throne. At the time, it was believed that they were simply attacked by brigands, but now many suspect that the new heir was behind it.
“The new High King endorsed a faction called the Plasmodium, and appointed many of its members to his government. With their support, the High King began to take a more direct role in the government across the land. Some of the ordinary kings were unhappy, but many thought it did not matter whether Arion was ruled by one King or many, so long as he ruled well. Many were happy with the new laws, which were seemingly to protect more people, and the new services provided at the expense of the High Royal Treasury, although these required higher taxes. Eventually, however, many, royalty, nobility, and commoners alike, became suspicious of his motives, and suggested that he was seeking control of not only the smaller kingdoms, but all life across the land. He and his Plasmodium accused his critics of heartlessness and greed, and some fell silent, but others continued to disparage his government, and argue in the Senate.
“After around ten years, a hard, deep winter spread across the land, creating starvation, sickness, and hardship in every kingdom. The learned claimed that such a winter could not be natural, and must be caused by magic, and, again, it is now the Emperor who is held responsible Besides the cold and hunger, many were killed by wild beasts, better suited to the cold than men. My own father died then..”
Brendan dropped his head, then raised it and began again.
“The High Royal government and the Plasmodium, which became increasingly hard to distinguish, took emergency measures to provide for the population, which involved greater control of food, transportation, and other such things. At this time, the High King declared himself Emperor. The Senate narrowly approved, saying the title alone meant nothing, and Arion had been drifting together for centuries, so the change was appropriate.
“However, the new Emperor continued to pursue control and suppression of all that displeased him, from the wealthy to the dissenters, and began to persecute them more openly. Disappearances and stories of violence began to spread, while all began to notice that poverty across the land was only getting worse. However, the Emperor only used this to gain still more control. His opponents met and organized a new political party to oppose him and the Plasmodium. In addition to scholars, industrial men, and common people, royalty and nobility formed much of the core of what became the rebellion. The Suressians of Merovingia, the Princess Ariadne’s family, were leaders from the beginning. King Hector and Queen Ethel denounced the Emperor’s activities from the start, and all their children joined the fight against him. At first, they sought to oppose the Emperor peacefully, through the Senate and other avenues. But even when they managed to win a majority of seats in the Senate from the Plasmodium, the found the Senate itself greatly undermined in its power.
So they turned to force. First through stealth, then open warfare. The new Rebels managed to win some victories and drive the Imperials from much of Arion. But then the Plasmodium unleashed its power against the land, and the Emperor crushed the resistance through it. Earthquakes shook the land. Volcanoes erupted. Storms raged. Some mountains even toppled over. To say nothing of cities and towns often leveled, and the lives lost. Many others were imprisoned, particularly what supporters of the rebellion they could find. The rebels among the royalty were targeted. The rebel leaders tried to flee and regroup in a place of hiding, but much of their leadership was captured. Of the Suressian family, only Ariadne and her youngest sister, Katherine, managed to flee to join the rebels in the mountains, where they hid until they found the secret place called Aravinda where they are centered today.
Meanwhile, the Emperor abolished many of the ancient kingdoms, and reorganized them into provinces under his direct control. To further his mark on the land, through his own and the rest of the Plasmodium’s magic, they undertook to homogenize the new provinces. Mountains were flattened, forests were destroyed, populations relocated, cities obliterated, and rivers diverted. That was ten years ago, and the homogenization of the remaining kingdoms into Imperial Plasmodial provinces has continued. The Plasmodium itself was placed in control of the government, with the Emperor now revealed as its head. The Senate still exists, with representatives from the remaining kingdoms pleading for survival. As a symbol of his new regime, the Emperor renamed Roshnashar Shahnazabad, to sever ties with the past.
The erstwhile rebels took what innocent civilians they could into hiding with them, and settled down in Aravinda. There they were able to build homes grow everything they needed, and live in freedom from the Plasmodial regime. After they began to prosper, some wanted to return to continue the fight against the Emperor, but others resisted, saying it was better to remain in safety and protect those we could. Princess Ariadne was one of these, until Princess Katherine wandered out into the open three years ago, and was captured by the Imperials. Since then, we have come back out, established multiple hidden bases across Arion, and begun acts of subterfuge and guerilla warfare once again. Full war has not broken out again yet, but some say that it is only a matter of time, while others still hope the Emperor can be reasoned with.”
“And what do you think?” Jenny asked.
Brendan seemed to frown in the darkness.
“I do not see how any understanding with one such as the Emperor is possible,” he muttered darkly.
“When did you join the rebels?” Jennifer looked at him.
“In the chaos of the first war, the earthquakes and so forth, my village was devastated, and I fled along with the others. I wandered for awhile, until I joined the rebel forces, and then I went into hiding with them.”
“Was Ariadne involved in the first war?”
“She was Senator of Merovingia for some time before she fled. She was elected when she was fourteen,” Brendan chuckled slightly.
“How old is Princess Katherine?”
“She would be about fourteen now. I knew her, before she was lost.”
“Any danger she might talk?”
“If she had, they would have found us by now. The Merovingians are a tough breed, and the Suressians are the toughest of all.”
“How many children did the King and Queen of Merovingia have?”
“Apart from two children King Hector had by his previous wife Eurydice, who died during the Cursed Winter, they had nine, including Ariadne.”
The sound of Jason snoring broke the silence.
Jenny lay back and looked at the stars, “You said your father died when you were little. What happened?”
Brendan sighed, and began slowly. “Our village was attacked by snow wolves. Huge, vicious creatures that make the speckled ones you ran into look tame. He was the strongest man in the village, and he went out to fight them with the other men.” Brendan was quiet for a moment, then continued, “He was… mauled when they brought him back. He was half- conscious, and they put him to bed and Mother and I tended to him for days. He woke up fully, several times, and each time I thought he would recover and live. But the bite of the snow wolf is poisonous, and its poison acts slowly. Even if it weren’t, the wolves bit deep. I remember sitting with my mother at his bedside when his eyes opened, he smiled, gave one hand to each of us, and said… Then he died.”
“That’s sad,” Jenny yawned.
“It’s a common tale of the Cursed Winter. Lots of people are known as winter orphans.”
“What happened to your mother?”
“Well, when spring finally came, my mother couldn’t support the two of us, so she left me with another family in the village and left the village to look for work.”
“She ditched you?” Jenny giggled.
“She sent me money and letters regularly until I left the village, but I never saw her again, and I don’t know where she is now.”
“Where did she go?”
Brendan shrugged, “She never said. Why are you asking me all this?”
“Just curious. Do you mind?”
Brendan smiled, “I’m just glad you’re finally talking to me.”

Comments would be appreciated.

#7 User is offline   David Mouse 

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Posted 24 June 2010 - 10:02 AM

Chapter Six: Through the Woods

Jennifer walked alone through the woods. She did not know where she was going or where she was. She was a little scared of the woods, because she did not know what could come at her, and she had some idea of finding safety.
Then she noticed the light encroaching on the forest, and she ran. Once again, she could not seem to escape from the light, but it finally faded away, leaving her in darkness. Her relief turned to new horror, as she found she could not see at all. She rushed blindly, not knowing where she was going, and fell on the ground in the inky blackness. She saw the green light descend from the sky again, and the fairy followed.
The fairy looked into Jenny’s eyes and said, “My dear girl, why do you run from the light? Do you fear what it will reveal?”
Jenny looked down and did not answer.
“How do you expect to find your way in this darkness? Your guides will show you the way, but whether to follow it is for you and your brother to decide.” The fairy pointed her wand into the darkness. Jenny followed its direction and saw a large black stag emerge from the forest. Jenny walked up to him and petted him. He seemed to smile, as he looked at her through dark green eyes. While Jenny’s hand was still on his back, he turned and lead her off into the forest. Jenny looked back, and saw that the fairy had disappeared though the green light remained, though it now seemed to follow the stag.
Jenny and the stag walked to a large slope above a river. The river was loud and rough below, and Jenny was glad to be with the stag. But then she felt the ground give way beneath her, and she slid helplessly to the river below, screaming as the stag disappeared from view above.
She landed in the shallows, and crawled to shore easily, but her terror had returned, and she cowered on the ground for some time. When she looked up, her heart sank further, for she saw in front of her a large wolf with bright golden fur.
She froze for several seconds, while the wolf looked at her through bright blue eyes. After several seconds, he snarled at her. Jenny jumped to her feet and ran away. She knew the wolf would pursue her, but she saw no other alternative. He did, and jumped and pinned her to the ground within seconds. Jenny turned and pulled him down on his side, then backed away before he got up again. He stood facing her, but she noticed that his tail was wagging. When he pinned her to the ground again, he licked her face. She smiled, and scratched behind his ears. When she stood up again, the wolf bolted into the woods, and she chased after him, laughing.
She and the wolf played in this manner for some time, until the golden wolf suddenly stopped and growled at a patch of trees. Jenny stood behind and watched. The stag emerged and looked at her. She smiled, and pet his neck, but felt it freeze as it looked at the wolf. The stag narrowed its eyes and lowered his head, aiming his antlers at the wolf, who bared his teeth and growled. Jenny rushed to separate them, “It’s all right, you’re both my friends,” but the wolf jumped over her onto the stag, who threw the wolf into the bushes. The stag turned and charged the wolf, but the wolf jumped aside, and bit the stag. “Stop it!” Jenny screamed as rushed to separate the two animals, “Why do you have to be enemies?” Then she noticed a multitude of small eyes in the darkness surrounding the clearing. The owners of these eyes crawled into the light, to Jenny’s horror. Rats, insects, snakes, and creatures far worse, all seemed to ooze into the small clearing. All their eyes and movements were aimed at the fighting stag and wolf. Their intentions were obvious. “Stop fighting with each other!” Jenny screamed as she tried to pull the animals apart, “Look at your real enemies! Fight them! Fight them!”
Then Jenny woke up.

The first thing Jennifer Walker experienced when she awoke was annoyance, both at the uncomfortable hard ground and her own weakness in speaking so trustingly to Brendan the previous night. She thought that the shock must have gotten to her, or else he had simply beguiled her with talk of Emperors and rebellions. Wasn’t she smarter than that? Besides this, however, was a deep anger and fear at the new circumstances she found herself under so suddenly. She realized that she had not really believed in what had happened until now; an aching back made it seem much more plausible.
She sat up with a sigh and looked at her brother, who was still lying down. “You awake?” “Yeah,” he answered. “Where’s Brendan?” Jenny looked around. Brendan’s clothes were lying by the water. They stood up, looked around, and spied Brendan in the waist-deep water under the waterfall at the far end of the pond. Both noticed in their shock that what they had taken for a tan was apparently his natural color. Brendan turned towards them and waved, “The water’s really nice; not too cold at all.”
The twins’ eyes widened, before they were closed with screams.
“Pedophile! Pedophile!” they screamed as they fled the campsite, “we’re stranded in the woods with a pedophile! Help! Help us! Save us!” Three seconds later, they tripped and fell in their blind rush.
Brendan came after them, after putting on his trousers. Jenny fell first, and Jason was a couple of yards ahead. Jenny started to get on her hands and knees, when she saw Brendan standing over her.
“Where are you two going, and what is a pedophile?”
Jenny crawled to her feet, nursing a skinned knee. Jason stood up slowly. His hands were bruised.
“A pedophile is someone who does stuff to, or with, children, if you get my meaning,” Jenny looked at Brendan through narrowed eyes, “Ergo, getting away from you is the only thing that matters.” Brendan’s face turned from confusion to anger, and he grabbed both children by the arms.
“Is that what you think of me? Is that the only thing you can think of when someone tries to help you? Is that what you think I slowed my pace and shared my food with you for?” Brendan spoke harshly.
“You have to assume any adults you meet are like that. It’s the only way to be safe.” Jenny hissed back, trying to twist her arm out of Brendan’s grasp.
Brendan’s eyes softened. “That’s the only reason you can imagine anyone taking interest in you? That’s all you see in the people you meet?”
“Even if it’s not that, they’re usually pretty crummy,” Jason growled.
“Well, I wanted to help you find your way home, because I regard it as my duty to help those in need, but if you can’t believe that, you can go where you like,” Brendan spoke softly as he let them go.
“Hah! You coward! We stood up to you, so you’re afraid to do what you want with us, and now you’re just going to leave us to starve!” Jason sneered.
Brendan roared with frustration, “Are you determined to think the worst of whatever I do? Are you intent on finding as many ways to insult me as you can?”
“Oh, look, the old guy’s feelings are hurt,” Jason snarled, “I bet…”
“Jason, shut up!” Jenny grabbed her brother by the front of his shirt, “He may be serious, and he is our only way out of here. We might as well give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Jason shrugged, then shivered, “Okay.”
Brendan crouched down and looked at them, “I’m sorry I frightened you back there. I thought I’d be done washing before you woke up.”
“It’s okay,” said Jenny, “I guess.” Brendan put his hand on her shoulder and started to smile.
“Don’t touch me,” she shrieked.
“I’m sorry.” Brendan stood up, “I’ll stay out here while you two wash in the pool.”
“Take a bath in a pond? Out in the middle of the woods? Are you kidding?”
“All the more need to bathe, since there’s so much dirt out here.”
“Forget it,” Jenny said adamantly.
“As you wish,” Brendan shrugged.

After a short breakfast, the three set off through the woods again. Jason and Jennifer found that they’d been in some amount of shock since coming down the stairs, and were now feeling terror at their situation and despair of their future of very tangible kinds. These feelings marred the beauty of the forest and their journey through it from the time they set out, when in other circumstances they would have called it a pleasant walk for the first couple of hours. When they became tired from trudging, they began to want to cry. The fact that the ground became rougher did not help. Brendan had to help them up slopes a few times, and their protests gradually diminished to inarticulate screams, and then to mere whimpers of terror. Brendan came to see that they were really afraid of him, and his anger at their attitude toward him turned to pity.
After about an hour, Jenny stopped short in horror.
“What is it?” Brendan asked.
“Oh, no,” her voice trembled, “I knew this had to happen and if there are any toilets in this entire universe, they’re all miles and miles away!”
“She has to relieve herself,” Jason said.
“It’s no trouble, just hide behind a tree and squat.” Brendan smiled.
“But there’s no toilet paper… or anything to, er, clean myself with, either.”
Brendan pulled one of the blankets out of his rucksack, “use this, but roll it up afterwards, and carry it until we reach a stream, and wash it there. Give it back to me when it’s dry.”
Jenny was too scared and tired to object to the menial labor, and could only be grateful for Brendan’s sacrifice, however temporary, of the blanket.
Later in the afternoon, Jason began to vocally complain about the situation, which made Brendan’s pity wither slightly. They were then charged by what looked to Jennifer like a striped ox, and Brendan pulled them both to the ground behind a fallen tree trunk to hide. Even after it had gone, the kids shivered on the ground for a little while, while Brendan tried to get them to stand up, and he noticed that Jason was crying. Jenny was surprised, as neither of them had cried for more than two years.
By the time nightfall came again, both Jason and Jenny were worn out from terror and walking. They had made much less ground than Brendan was used to in a day’s trek, but he understood that this was harder than what they had been used to.
The kids wrapped themselves up in the blankets and shivered miserably, even though it was rather warm. Brendan heard Jason sobbing and reached out to touch him.
“Get away from me!” Jason shrieked.
Brendan pulled his hand back, and said nothing.

Two days later, Jenny scraped her leg on a poisonous plant. Her leg actually hurt, and Brendan carried her to a stream, where he washed off her leg with herbs. In a few minutes, she could walk again, but her leg was still sore. Brendan offered to carry her, but she refused. “You could at least lean on me,” Brendan suggested. “Don’t touch me!” Jennifer shrieked.
That night, she whimpered with pain between the blankets, and felt a hand reaching out to comfort her. “Leave me alone, Brendan!” she hissed.
When morning came, they trudged through the day with no interruptions. At night, the children cowered under their blankets while Brendan looked up at the stars. As he reached out to them both again, they shouted in unison, “Don’t touch me!”
Three days after that, they had to climb a steep, rocky hill. About halfway up, both children slipped and rolled back to the bottom. When Brendan got down, he saw that both had been scraped and cut badly on the rocks. Jason had curled up and started crying again, while Jennifer laid on her back, beat her arms over and over against the ground, and shrieked at the top of her lungs. Brendan touched them both gently, but they shrugged him off.
“I’ll carry you up on my back, and I’ll look at your cuts when we get up to the top.” The children were silent, and then both sat up and grabbed onto his shoulders, and clung tight as Brendan carried them up. At the top, Brendan cleaned and bandaged their wounds, and then they continued slowly, as the children limped along.
At night, as Jason cried himself to sleep, Brendan put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Jason paused for a moment, then grabbed the hand and clung on for dear life. Brendan wrapped his arm around the boy and held him close.
Jenny just shivered under her blankets.
The following day, they had to cross a small river. It was shallow enough to cross on foot, but the water came up to the kids’ chests. Brendan tied one end of a rope around his waist and gave the other end to Jason and Jenny to hold on to, and strode into the water. Halfway across, Jenny slipped and was swept downstream, until Brendan dove after her and dragged her back to where he had left Jason holding onto a rock in the middle of the river.
That night, both children shivered in the darkness. Brendan reached out his hands to them both, and said hands were grabbed and squeezed with all the twins’ might. Then they snuggled close to Brendan for protection against the dark, and he put his arms around them like a mother hen.
The next day, they came to Torehal village.

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