I do hope to finish this one day--originally the story just came to mind as something fun, an attempt to mix mythological and popular culture characters into something fantastical. So far it's over 6,000 words so hold on tight . . .
A winding road, a rainy night, a trip I'd thought benign
Until a strike of lightning felled a tree into my path
A swerve cast me into the ditch, two flats served as a sign
That I must soon find shelter from the storm's increasing wrath
No cell service to be had, my eyes searched through the darkness.
Not a sign of life around, so uphill I proceeded
'Til I saw a speck of light, a hope that I could harness,
Quickening my heart (and pace); a shelter sorely needed!
Soggy, tired, my vision poor from all the rain descending
I finally arrived upon a rusted iron gate
Woven in a tapestry whose vines seemed neverending
Then, before my eyes they parted and opened the estate.
Wary of such strange goings-on, yet earnest for the light
Of house above I set one timid foot inside the yard,
Then followed with my other, 'til at last I was alight
Upon the gray and crumbling steps, proceeding now on guard.
Pausing once to look behind, I could not find the entrance
Where I'd ventured through the gate and vines so damned unsightly.
Shivers wracked me as I walked the stairs with some reluctance
Surely it's a trick of light, I thought, and trembled lightly.
Faster steps propelled me to the threshold of this mansion
Where finally I steeled my will and rapped the knocker twice--
The door creaked open on its own (adding to my tension)
"Hello?" I called, to no avail, my wet clothes cold as ice.
A dim light in the room beyond the foyer told of warmth,
I wiped my feet and bravely ventured forth to dry myself
Discovering the lighted room was something so much more,
A library with blazing hearth, and books lined shelf to shelf.
Its floor a sea of waving green and blue, like it was grass,
With sconces on the walls that seemed to nothing mount upon
Burning white and bluish flames not held by any glass
And not casting a single shadow. What was going on?
Between the sconces on the walls were oils of awkward scenes
Of dragons fighting creatures I had never seen before,
Of fairytales and history, and something in between,
An unease settled over me. I turned back to the door
When, "Ah," said a voice behind, "you note my eldritch hobby."
I spun around to face a man I'd only seen in dreams,
"You're soaking wet, my boy. Could've dried off in the lobby.
But never mind." His grey eyes blued! "Let water fly to streams"
With one snap of his fingers all my clothes were dry and pressed
As if I'd never been inundated in the deluge
His steel eyes danced with firelight, he could see I was impressed
And curious; more so as he professed his subterfuge:
"I know you're a stubborn man who would not come if beckoned,
So I caused the tree to fall, your journey redirected
To my home. And now, your future changes every second.
To explain will take a while, your training's been neglected."
Part II: Godson
My mind was reeling from the circumstances of this night,
Lightheaded, I took a seat on the divan by the fire.
I looked at little closer at the man in the firelight,
Curious at he who had caused these events to transpire.
His hair clearly thinning, I could not discern his true age.
His eyes, when not belit by spellcasting, shone a dull grey.
His robe, upon inspection, carried sigils of a Mage
Somewhat like the runes I'd seen as a child in Dad's study.
"It's clear to me," he began, "that you are unacquainted
With the gifts that nature herself has bestowed upon you.
And now, as my days grow short and my perspective tainted
I with haste explain from where your parents had withdrawn you:
Few are born attuned to the cycles and the elements
As you and I have been: two or three each generation.
It is our responsibility to try and prevent
Catastrophic interdimensional devastation."
He paused, his grey eyes clearly taking stock of my credence
In his tall tale, my head wearing disbelief like a hood.
"Proof, then," he said, "to dispel all disbelief's impedence
For time is running short and you are unprepared. Not good."
With that, his grey eyes flashed a golden hue. A ball appeared
With figures inside having animated discussion.
"That is your father and I years ago. He was revered,
A great mage! Yet to love a mortal has repercussions
And oh, did he love your mother, that empathic poet
Who touched the mystic herself through her words and her great heart.
I, too, felt the pull of her presence, yet she'd not know it:
Fate decreed your parents' souls should never be torn apart."
With that the ball grew big as I; I began to hear sounds,
Voices coming from inside. I recognized the timber
Of my own father's voice; An argument on family grounds?
I peered at the image, and there he stood, arms akimbo:
We've made our decision, Corwyn, we wish to raise our child
In the mortal world. Others can serve as your apprentice.
His generation bursts with talent, whose names I've compiled:
Six, to be precise, that you may train in our defenses.
The image faded then, and shrank until it disappeared;
The old man, whose name I now understood to be Corwyn,
Held up a hand to stay my questions: "I have but one year
To reconnect you to Magic's permutations again--
The mortal world sits once again upon the precipice
And I find myself at a loss that only you can fill:
The six your were too weak to apprentice,
Made insane and worse by those who would work against my will.
I guard this dimension, Godson--air shimmered at the word--
But I need your help, and the powers you have locked within.
My explanation done, it's time a decision occured.
Will you help?" I could but nod. "Then let your training begin."
Part III: Orientation
A thousand questions beggared my mind for final release:
How was this possible? How could I have not seen the signs?
Were there even signs to be seen? Was I a mere chess piece?
Anxiety compelled me to escape these odd confines--
I ran back to the front door--foolish, I now realize--
In hopes of what escape I cannot know--only to find
Upon flinging the door wide a vision before my eyes;
Where storms before had raged now there was nothing of the kind:
A copse carpeted by the same grass as Corwyn's study
Flowing blue-green underfoot and hedged 'round by silver trees.
A faint gasp escaped my lips. Suddenly, "What the bloody
Hell are you doing here?" came a voice as if on the breeze.
"Wha-ha-ha?" I stuttered, saw, on a branch, a broad smile.
"Speak up, boy! You stammer like that lout (rest his soul) Dodgson,
Hemming and hawing where there's work to be done all the while!"
A cat's face filled in around. "Ah, you are Corwyn's godson."
"A talking cat!" I managed, surprised at his appearance.
"I manifest as disembodied rows of perfect teeth,
And it's my feline nature that causes incoherence?
Why would one thing and not the other be beyond belief?"
"Who are you and where is this," I demanded with some force.
"I should be in the dark, the wet, standing upon stone stairs!
Better still I should awaken in bed, of normal course!"
"Ah," said the cat, "Perhaps you should, yet that's not my affair.
His grin, mocking and sly, grew wider. "I maintain the gate
Between the mystic dimensions. Corwyn told me you'd come.
He neglected to tell me that you'd be such a blank slate.
Well, tabula rasa, give me questions, if you have some."
Tiring of his tone, I looked behind me for the front door
Yet found none. All around was blue-green grass and silver trees.
Then recognition set in. "You're the Cheshire cat of lore!"
"One day you, too, boy, may write your own slanted histories,"
He said with an audible hiss. "But now, your first lesson:
What is, and what seems, are separated by perception.
We begin by demonstrating the difference; a frisson
Was experienced by the others at this deception."
"Others?" I inquired. "You mean the six who came before me?"
"Yes. False apprentices who had no place in taking yours."
"Taking my what?" "Your place, as apprentice. As it should be."
"OH, ENOUGH!" came a voice from the tree. "Puss, just teach the course!"
The smile vanished mere moments before the cat did the same.
From the tree's own bark emerged a silver dryad. "That cat
Is enough to drive anyone insane. Thinks it's a game
When all the dimensions are at stake." It sighed. "Well, that's that.
So Corwyn led you here to learn a lifetime of magic
In under a year. Typical." The dryad took my hand.
"Elemental nexi come in all kinds. First, pleagic."
A blinding flash--when vision returned, I would understand.
Part IV: Water Works
When the flash abated and my eyes once more saw clearly,
I stood on the dark red sands of a beach, dryad at hand.
"Water is the most important of elements, nearly,"
Said the nymph. "I'm partial to the circumstance of dry land."
I looked upon the dryad with fresh eyes. Clearly female,
Her slender limbs and lithe frame shimmered like silvery silk.
Strategically placed silver leaves covered select detail,
My mind wondered if such beauty was common to her ilk.
"This dimension houses several aquatic species
Long absent from your world," she daid. "So, to reconnect you
With the first aspect of dimensional superfices
I have called upon a friend to protect you."
"Protect me?!" I cried, "Why would I need any protection?"
"Our enemies have allies, and their efforts are strident.
Marlon will assist you and help you avoid detection
While you journey to the first keystone: Poseidon's Trident."
As if on cue a head poked above the waves and did shout
"Dryad, old friend, I have come to help as requested!"
A man's head on a man's torso, bobbing, calling out:
"Come then. From Neptune's own hand must the Trident be wrested."
I steeled my will, and with one last look to my dryad friend
I ran into the surf. Marlon would come no closer, though.
"Walk out to me" he said, and so through the waves did I wend
And understand why Marlon came no closer. Merman. Whoa.
Water as air, your journey fair he said, as his eyes turned
Blue with a flash, then back to their own sea-green. I began
To choke, grabbing at my throat and gasping for air that burned,
Until under Marlon pulled me and I could breathe again.
"Once you have reclaimed the magic taken from you at birth
You'll not need me or any other to spell you that way."
His voice, though underwater, clearly echoed some small mirth
At my discomfiture. "A little warning next time, eh?"
He smiled and gestured that we should move on. "Poseidon's hold
Lies at the very bottom of the sea." As we swam down
Into the depths it grew dark, but, surprisingly, not cold.
I followed Marlon closely half thinking that I would drown.
I could faintly make out the silhouettes of wooden ships,
Some with masts intact. Clearly not the vessels of mermen.
"Marlon," I asked, "Long ago my people would essay trips
On such vessels." "Aye," he said, "And perhaps they will again."
I eyed him quizzically. "All dimensions once were as one,"
He said, "until humans decided they alone would reign.
Other creatures, such as we merfolk, of that would have none;
The consequences of that disagreement still remain.
We who held our independence high made a magic pact
Secreting our peoples away from human influence
Until the time we are accepted as equals in fact.
Present matters, I confess, make me question our prudence."
After not too much time the water once again grew bright.
"There," whispered Marlon, pointing to the mouth of a deep cave
From whence issued many illuminating rays of light.
"Poseidon's hold. Inside you will find the Trident. Be brave
But not foolish, for it is guarded by his dark minions."
As if on cue, three enormous seahorses swift and steady
Burst from the cave and straight toward us. "We've reached his dominion."
Marlon stopped and struck defensive pose. "I hope you're ready."
Part V: Underwater Rumble
The charging seahorses grew ever larger as they swam
Closer. I looked from them to Marlon to the derelict
Vessels around. "Dive!" I shouted to him. "Marlon!" His name
Got his attention off our foes. "Let's avoid this conflict!"
I said, pointing to the wreckage in the surrounding bed.
"In there quickly!" He nearly yanked my arm out of socket
Dragging me alongside him into the darkness and dead
Framework of the closest ship. "What I need is a halter,"
I suggested flippantly as a BANG against the hull
Rocked the wreckage, raising a cloud of silt and shaking loose
The timbers overhead. "What's a halter?" cried Marlon while
Poseidon's overgrown avengers tightened up the noose,
Determined to make their way inside the broken vessel.
I quickly explained my meaning. "Couldn't you do a spell
To make me quick or something?" I asked as Marlon wrestled
A timber, bracing the hull. He shook his head. "Men excel
At differing kinds of magic, or at least they did once.
My powers are a mere extension of my nature--
I can help you breathe here, or swim, but that's it for the nonce.
Yet still we can use your idea to harness these creatures."
He quickly explained his meaning. My eyes grew wide quickly
As his tail turned to feet. We put our plan into effect,
Tying seaweed, travelling the hull and pounding thickly
Boom Boom Boom and hope the beasts would act as we would expect.
Success!! The giant beasts continued pounding down the hull,
Traveling toward us away from the end that sat farthest.
Once in place, Marlon and I silently swam out the hole,
Letting us swim around behind and mount the 2 largest!
They wrestled to free themselves but eventually we
Had our mounts secured. The third stayed around but kept distance
Not wanting to leave its sisters to our captivity.
We directed the beasts post haste toward the cave's entrance.
We came within a hundred feet of the cave's mouth itself
When Poseidon's next wave of defense let itself be known:
Another giant creature swam along the deep sea shelf.
All giant mouth, teeth and flippers, Charybdis had come home.
"What now?" I asked Marlon. "Make a run for it to the cave?"
Yes. Corwyn's voice? I looked around but saw no trace of him.
Go Now! I set my mount forward, his urgency conveyed!
Marlon followed close behind me, racing toward the cave's rim.
I edged into the cave's entrance only seconds before
The beast. Marlon made it by inches. The third seahorse, though
Wasn't quite so fortunate. Smaller than this beast by far,
It didn't come close to filling Charybdis' giant maw.
Once inside the cave I saw a stone figure seated there.
Poseidon, ten feet tall though seated, held in his gray hand
The Trident, glowing with appeal. Approaching with great care,
I grasped the Trident. The statue's eyes flew open. "You dare!?"
Part VI: Earth Shaker
My hand upon the Trident, Poseidon't eyes shone fury
As the earth and sea around us started rumbling, shaking.
New awareness permeated my cells, letting blurry
Vision become refined perception despite the quaking.
I could now discern the minutia of the sea's currents,
Feel a connection to the denizens of the blue around me--
Like Marlon, warily eyeing the light cast by Poseidon's Trident.
In a flood of revelation I ripped the spear free.
"Fool!" boomed the statue's voice as the quaking came to a stop.
The Trident weighed heavy in my hands, pulsing with power.
Though I sensed Marlon's fear had eased, Poseidon blew his top:
"Return the spear to me at once, mortal!" he said with a glower.
"No!" yelled Marlon, his face donning composure like a mask.
"Without the sacred Trident he is locked in the stone form,
Limited to the creatures he can summon to his task!"
At this, behind Poseidon's figure came a fearsome swarm--
Electric eels, their girth like a man's leg--and coming fast.
"You made it into this cave, mortal. Let's see you get out."
The god's foul laugh made my skin crawl. How could I surpass
His power in his own demesnes? Oh, I roared such a shout
Of rage and frustration; attuned to water and its ilk,
Yet cursed by the newness of my sea-sensitivity
I pounded the Trident upon the cave's floor, expecting silt
To rise and nothing more. Instead the Trident's ability
Burst forth from memory. The Greeks feared Poseidon with cause:
The Great Earth-Shaker had used the weapon to start earthquakes!
And now my pounding in frustration gave the sea-god pause
As I had started one underground, and all by mistake!
Rocks filled the cave entrance behind, blocking Charybdis' maw.
Yet the eels dodged rockfall with ease and sped towards us fast.
Marlon swam to my side, both of us still mounted upon
The giant seahorses, to face the writhing, shocking mass.
I focused on the power of the Trident in my hands:
Could it help me focus any magic that I had gained?
I willed the shaking stop 'til all that fell were grains of sand.
Surprised at this success, toward the eels the Trident I aimed
Visualizing a swirling vortex in my mind's eye,
A sideways whirlpool to carry eels back from where they'd come.
As the image took shape in my head, so it did in life,
As the creatures first slowed, then began to rotate as one.
Indeed a vortex began to form, building momentum.
My concentration, my effort, did not come without price.
Though the attempt was successful and the eels overcome,
My Control over the spinning water proved imprecise:
Indeed, the vortex continued to grow in size and strength
Even as I willed it to stop. Marlon clung to the throne
As long as he could. Exhausted, we were pulled the full length
Of the cave, sucked out the back and up, landing on dry stone.
Part VII: The Cat's Pajamas
We landed hard, two thuds and a clang, Marlon, Spear, and I.
I choked on air, gasping under Marlon's lingering spell.
Struggling, I looked to Marlon lying stunned and sprawled nearby
When a familiar voice said, "Didn't think that through well,
Now did you?" Panicked for breath I dove back into the sea.
Raising my eyes above the surface I saw the cat's frown.
"Oh, for pity's sake, I haven't got all day you know. Breathe"
His yellow eyes flashed blue without warning; I almost drowned.
Sputtering I made my way onto land--softer this time--
Just as Marlon began to stir. "Are you alright, my friend?"
I asked. He watched the cat's face as it materialized
Around its looming grin, then looked at me. "We're in hell, then?"
"Haw, haw." mocked the Cheshire as its disembodied head rolled
Upside down, then completed the circle. "How amusing.
I'll have you know I was sleeping soundly when Corwyn told
Me to come get you. It was not a plan of my choosing."
"Not to sound ungrateful, but why not send the dryad back?"
I asked. "Do you see a tree 'round here?" came his rude reply.
"I assumed that once you'd found the keystone you'd be on track
To make your way. Sadly competence seems in short supply."
Keystone? Ah, the Trident I thought, casting my eyes about
For its location. I retrieved it nearby on the stone
Shore. Soaked and feeling quite haggard, I wished for a drought
Upon myself, trying to emulate what Corwyn'd done.
"Water fly to streams" I spelled, and I thought it worked at first--
But only at first. In the next instant I went from dry
To parched, almost overwhelmed by the sensation of thirst.
I heard Marlon gasp as the cat let fits of laughter fly.
"Ha ha!" laughed the Cheshire. "Do I wish I had a mirror
So you could see yourself!" And his form began to show through.
He dropped to the ground guffawing as he became clearer--
Upon recognizing the clothes the cat wore, I laughed, too.
"Hello Kitty Pajamas?" I whispered through my parched lips.
The cat stopped his comical laughing momentarily,
Wiping tears from his eyes. "When you have in your fingertips
A relic like the Trident that bends electricity
You might be a bit more specific in what spells you cast."
I wanted to ask Marlon what he thought the mad Cat meant,
But for my thirst. I needed something to drink, and fast.
I mimicked drinking from a glass so as to circumvent
My affliction, but all that did was send Marlon my friend
Into a laughing paroxysm of his own. Stymied,
I sought my reflection in the sea. My hair stood on end,
My skin clearly dehydrated and my clothes were grimy.
"He-he-here" said the cat as a glass of water appeared,
Which I downed in a single movement, Marlon approaching.
"I'm sorry for laughing, but your face looks like it's been seared!"
It might be prudent to listen to the cat's coaching."
A sudden sound burst from the water. We three turned as one
To see Poseidon's form composed entirely of brine,
Creatures of the deep swimming inside. "Now your test is done,"
The giant bellowed, "And you will return that which is mine."
Alarmed, I looked at Marlon, who shrugged. "I was unaware,"
He said, giggles suddenly gone. The Cheshire wasn't phased.
"We are out of your desmesnes, Poseidon. How would you fare
Against us on the shore? Begone, wet one." I was amazed
At the cat's audacity, yet the sea-god wasn't vexed
As the cat turned round. "Such bravery from one so attired."
The apprentice lives because I was unprepared. The next
Guardian I will alert myself. Your luck has expired."
He said this last as he turned his stare on me with a grin
That put a damp chill back on my dry bones. Without warning,
His giant form became one great watery fist of spin,
Drenching us and taking the Trident. The cat was moaning,
And he was insufferable and inconsolable:
"Why do I let myself get talked into these bad dramas?
Apprentices with powers that are uncontrollable,
Middle of the night errands--And just look my pajamas!"
Part VIII: Meanwhile, Back At The Mansion
We stood on the stony beach, three of us soaked to the bone.
Marlon fairly sparkled, looking quite invigorated
By Poseidon's bathing deluge. Bravely I tried to hone
My aquatic talents once again: Evaporated!
As I cast the spell I kept a picture in my mind's eye
Of myself standing on the beach in normal dry attire.
The quickest blue flash and consequently there I stood--dry.
Marlon grinned appreciatively, but the cat looked dire.
I offered to attempt the same for his fur and nightclothes,
Only to be rebuffed with a hiss. "Water and felines,"
He said, "Do not the best magic make, as Poseidon knows."
He grinned with menace in his smile. "He'll get his in due time."
"I don't understand," I said. "You summoned a water glass
When I was parched before." "No," he replied, "That was Corwyn.
For though he must remain in the mansion so none surpass
His defenses, he will help as he can. I'm the doorman,
Remember?" With this word the world flashed again, and I found
Myself standing in the middle of the cat's oasis,
Blue-green grass flowing as before. I turned and looked around.
The door to the mansion appeared from its hidden stasis.
"Go on," said the cat, feigning the ultimate high dudgeon,
"Your godfather awaits. Take the fish-man with you inside."
The Cheshire disappeared without a grin; the curmudgeon
Wasting no time in seeking to dry the water from his hide.
I opened the door and ushered Marlon through with good speed.
"Ah," came the Wizard's voice, "you have proven most resourceful,
Godson. You were only meant to touch the Trident; indeed
I never dared to hope that your will could be so forceful!
Poseidon won't soon forget what you have done, so Marlon
Must remain here under my protection. As you will see,
Though your first foray was impressive, you've only begun
To reclaim the powers of your birthright." He looked at me.
"Questions burn behind your eyes," he observed. "How could you send
Me to fight against a God?" I asked. "I sent you nowhere."
Came the calm reply. "We were about to cautiously wend
Our way through basic lessons when you bolted out the door.
I hardly had time to ensure you landed someplace safe!
Each doorway in this mansion leads out to many places,
Only one leads back inside. You should've heard Cyrus chafe
When I asked him to retrieve you from Poseidon's graces."
He paused while I wrestled with a moue. "Cyrus? The Cheshire
Cat?" He nodded. "So the obnoxious feline has a name."
I said with a bit of a sneer. "Our enemies conspire
Against us and the cat treats it as if it were a game!"
The sorceror sighed. "Cyrus and the Dryad thought that I
Had sent you at first, but your surprise at his appearance
Struck him as odd. With you in the Dryad's care, he popped by
And I clarified for him your seeming incoherence."
Humbly embarrassed by my immature behavior,
I could not help but wonder at my lucky survival.
Corwyn shrugged. "It merely shows you may well be our savior.
Poseidon was indeed not expecting your arrival!
But mere surprise would not have kept the god at bay for long.
Instead you showed ingenuity, if lack of purpose.
Let us proceed to clarify where that first spell went wrong.
Magic will not save you every time, if you lack focus."
Part IX: Focus Pocus
For the next several weeks Corwyn pressed me to focus,
Emphasizing how Magic was more like science than not.
The result of concentration, and not hocus-pocus,
Magic, he said, "Springs from connections to what we forgot."
He put me through batteries of tests and demonstration,
Underscoring the significance of minute detail--
A mastery of molecular manipulation--
Literal mind over matter, if we were to prevail.
Within the month I honed my talents exponentially
Practicing with Marlon within the confines of the house
In a room Corwyn had prepared for us specifically--
Half underwater and half above--I would try to douse
Marlon with conjured balls of water I'd pluck from ether;
He would dodge and dive and try to trick me with his own spell,
One time changing me back (underwater) to an air-breather!
Ah, but it was for my own good. My defenses built well.
I learned to make whirlpools and aquatic battering rams,
Made the liquid solid to serve as a shield in a pinch,
Mastered the element and tricks to get me out of jams.
With control like this, I thought, the next element's a cinch!
My encounter with the Trident had proved fortuitous
In another way: the ease with which I'd harnessed the spear's
Earth-shaking power showed, in a manner circuitous,
My affinity for the Keystone of our Earthly sphere.
Cyrus often came to observe, paying close attention
To my progress in a manner I found somewhat opposed
To his professed apathy. A magical suspension
Kept him far above our water games, lecturing reposed.
"As Marlon told you," said the cat, "all dimensions were one
Before humans decided that they should reign over all.
Such arrogance proved catastrophic; nothing would be won
By these actions. Pride itself caused magic and mankind's fall.
The cost man paid for this catastrophic diaspora
Proved nearly immeasurable. Where once was connection
Is now a mere thread, a shadow. The box of Pandora
Opened when mankind got its wish: a grand dissection
Of the world. With so many magical creatures removed
From this plane, mankind's affinity for magic dissolved.
The few men left whose elemental talents could be proved
Became outcasts--demons whose 'evil' could not be absolved."
The cat peered over his sunglasses to look down at me.
"You are a rarity, apprentice. Raw talent infused
Thoroughly into your being . . . you're a disparity
Even among young sorcerors. Let that not be abused.
Nor wasted. Protect yourself!" And with this Cyrus
Hurled a vial at the ceiling above me, raining rock!
Marlon dove deep as he could while I instinctively flashed blue iris,
Conjuring an umbrella of solid water to block
The torrent of stone that pummeled relentlessly downward,
Then stopped as Cyrus scowled. "In order to achieve our goals
You'll have to do better than that. Know, then, moving onward:
That bottled spell of Corwyn's was nothing next to the Trolls."
Part X: Look Out Below!
At the mention of Trolls, newfound courage dissipated.
Marlon's head peeked from underwater. "You could've warned me!
I'm no apprentice, and that was unanticipated!"
Cyrus merely grinned his toothy smile with malicious glee.
"Not without warning our friend here, who had best be prepared.
The Trolls won't advertise their defenses, and they're alert,
If Poseidon warned them. No possible trap will be spared,
No quarter given if he's captured. In fact, they'll convert
You into a troll yourself," he said, turning to me in
All seriousness. "Let us go and see how Corwyn has
Prepared for your departure." He disappeared. I, being
No Cheshire myself, walked to Corwyn's study as soon as
Marlon and I had said our goodbyes. Upon entering
The study--perhaps the Mansion's most striking of places,
With its living blue-green carpet and sconces a-flaming
Blue and white--I noticed the rucksack, and smiling faces.
"You've progressed well," spoke the sorceror, "but the land of Trolls
Holds hazards beyond what you may be able to repel
By your skills alone. Take this with you; bottled spells and scrolls
Which may help you. Or not. The future is so hard to tell."
I took the sack, opening it to find a handful of vials
Glowing different shades of gold and green, and two stained sheets
Of parchment rolled and tied with twine. "The others failed their trials,"
He said in a practical whisper, "even with such cheats
To aid them. As to the Trolls themselves: underestimate
Their tenacity and deviousness at your peril.
Trolls loom large in the land of the Earth Element; the fate
Of the last apprentice sent is unknown. There's a beryl
In the sack as well, that may be of use in distraction;
Trolls are as dim as their habitat. Their fondness for gems
Cannot be overstated. The cause of this attraction
I do not know for sure, but from whatever source it stems,
We can use it to our advantage." I stared right at him.
"You don't know what happened to the last apprentice sent there?"
Corwyn turned his head as he spoke next; guilt riddled within:
"No. The depth of the rock, and Troll magic, both interfere.
That's why Cyrus is going with you." "I beg your pardon?!?"
Screeched the Cheshire. I confess to some hilarity at
Seeing his grin disappear as the rest of him hardened.
The sunglasses nearly fell off of Cyrus' head, poor cat.
"My Godson's chances of survival increase if you go.
It's as simple as that. Besides, some companionship
Might improve your disposition, if you really must know.
Maybe my Godson, from your shoulder can remove that chip."
He winked at Cyrus, but the cat started having a fit.
"Know this, Corwyn. Since I trust your judgement in these matters
I will accompany the apprentice. But enjoy it?
Tell me you've not been keeping court with rabbits and hatters!"
With that Cyrus disappeared completely. "He won't be long.
Cyrus acts superior but he's so predictable.
Believe me, he's happy that I asked him to tag along."
I professed that I found it all incomprehensible.
"Trolls," he clarified, "live underground. They may have been men
Ages ago, but no more. Immortal lifetimes they've spent
Digging for gems with enchanted picks and hammers, and when
They pick one tunnel clean they start another. But the scent
Of an intruder in their demesnes is all that it takes
To send them on the hunt. Fueled almost entirely by greed
The Trolls will track you relentlessly. And when the earth quakes
You can be sure it's from their passing nearby. Use all speed
Available to you to find the Keystone of the Earth:
The Hammer of the Troll King. Once you have reached the hammer
And reacquired the power of that element, a dearth
Of time will you have to escape. Which, despite his clamor
Is why Cyrus will accompany you. You'll get you in.
He'll get you out." At this, the cat appeared, ready to go.
He had donned a miner's cap with a light, strapped to his chin.
He glanced at Corwyn, who nodded, and said, "Look out below!"
Part XI: Out For A Troll
Cyrus' glee admittedly took me by surprise. Ever
The cynical Cheshire, this ebullience was something new.
"I see you've packed your own sack as well. Got something clever?"
Asked Corwyn, a wry smirk struggling to hide as a moue.
"Mere essentials, since you insist I go along," replied
The cat. "Still, If I must go, then I'm determined to make
The best of it. Let no one say Cyrus was ruled by pride.
Hmph." At this, Corwyn led us to the door he bade us take.
"I'll be on the alert should you call for my assistance,
But be on your guard--as you travel further underground
I'll eventually lose track of you due to the distance."
He turned to Cyrus, "Remember, Booth still hasn't been found."
With a pained look in his eye, Corwyn left us by the door.
"Booth?" I asked the Cheshire discreetly. "Ask me later on,"
He whispered conspiratorially. "When we have more
Time for such discussions." He grabbed the doorknob. "Well, come on!"
We walked through the door with a shimmer and landed in black.
As my eyes adjusted to the Trolls' native habitat
I strained to see gems in the tunnels, glints the dark would crack.
I whispered, "Cyrus, your light." "Not yet," he said, "Look at that."
He pointed with his outlined arm in front of where we stood.
I saw little at first, but rather heard clinking as gems
Fell to the ground. "Trolls," growled the Cheshire with menace. "It would
So help to have a plan." "What, flood them with the Thames?"
I joked aloud. "I get the impression that there's nary
A drip nor drop in these caves." Cyrus said, "The walls are dry,"
(Oh, his grin bade me mourn the proverbial canary)
"However Trolls do need to drink, there must be some nearby."
I closed my eyes and concentrated, seeking all traces
Of water within our immediate vicinity.
Contact! "Scattered about in dead-end, tunneled out places
I can sense pools, recently touched by a divinity . . ."
The Cheshire's eyes widened at the thought. "Poseidon was here!
Giving hints as to your appearance and, I"m sure, your goals.
Since you were with Marlon before, they shouldn't know I'm near.
That gives us at least one small advantage over the Trolls."
"Cyrus," I said, "I need to know as much as possible
About these creatures if I'm supposed to defeat their king.
Tell me their strengths and weaknesses, show me what's plausible,
What manner of spell I might invoke if we do this thing."
"First," spoke the Cheshire, "beware of their hammers enchanted.
The hammers themselves predate any particular Troll.
Forged in ancient fires, before wisdom their greed supplanted,
Their power and accuracy can pluck a diamond whole.
Whatever else should you allow to come to pass while here,
Be resolute in your efforts to avoid their clutches,
For once captured by a Troll it all too soon becomes clear:
One Troll makes another from any being it touches!
Now wits as well as magic are key to our surviving,
For the Trolls," the Cheshire said, "come in all shapes and sizes.
They turn to stone in sunlight, with no chance of reviving--
With minds as dim as these caves we're in, any surprises
They may have in store can't be too complex: dead falls with spikes
At the bottom, perhaps, tripwires for nets . . . anything more
Would be beyond their brains to construct . . . however it strikes
Me that Poseidon may have given the Troll King hardcore
Advice on dealing with our quest for the Keystone of Earth."
Though Cyrus' words minimized any chances of winning,
A smile played its way across my features. "My mind gives birth
To a wondrous plan, my friend, that should set you to grinning."
With this, I explained my thinking to my associate,
And as I told him of my plan his grin did indeed spread.
"The hardest part, I think, will be learning to imitate
Poseidon," I concluded, "raising his form from the wet."
And so, at Cyrus' urging, I settled in the darkness,
Seating myself on the floor, guarded by Cyrus' visage,
Focusing my will on shaping a god in the blackness;
Poseidon's form! I willed that water shape in a mirage.
Connected to one of the shallow pools by gossamer
Thin tendrils, my vision of the sea-god imposed its form
On nearby Trolls, bellowing "Is this how you monitor
For the apprentice? Bring me to your king, insolent worms!"
The dimwitted Trolls, cowed by this image so imposing
Led my false Poseidon through the labyrinth to their king;
What would have taken months to navigate, their disclosing
Shrank to hours. Now, with the path known to me, my trap could spring.
As the Trolls led my ersatz Poseidon toward their liege,
I'd summoned a globe made of mist for Cyrus' perception--
For his eyes alone, a mirror with which we'd time our siege;
The cat followed the action while I wove my deception,
Playing the role of Sea-God with much dramatic license,
Causing ripples in any puddles I happened to pass,
Manifesting as best I could a divine indignance,
'Til I faced the Troll king at the end of the winding path.
"Mighty Poseidon," spake the king of Trolls, "Why you return?
You come to claim slave before he ready? I tell you truth
When here before--him we caught still not completely turn
Into troll . . ." And as he pointed I heard Cyrus gasp, "Booth!"
Part XII: Troll Booth Charge
Cyrus' outburst--Booth--nearly shook my singular focus;
I held my simulacrum steady and said to the King,
"Other obligations serve to pull me from this locus,
So ready him for my return, the wretched looking thing ."
My false Poseidon then dissipated as I said to the cat,
"Tell me now just who's this Booth and what's his significance?"
Cyrus turned from the globe's visions to me, sighing. "Know that
Booth, whom you see as mere Troll, once held much more prominence.
He was the second apprentice, the only of the six
Whose body was never found." He rubbed his chin. "There's a chance
The process may be reversed, but it seems a hopeless fix--"
Cyrus shifted his miner's cap as his parts did a dance
In and out of perception, first his tail and then his ears--
A physical manifestation of his thought process;
Tangibility waxed and waned as his mind turned its gears.
"We can modify our plan and retrieve Booth with finess,"
I ventured. My companion's smooth, persistent shifting ceased
As I told him how we would proceed. "That should work nicely,"
He said with that grin, "both your power and Booth get released
As long as we coordinate our timing precisely."
Excited now, the cat placed his paw in the crook of my arm.
And I summoned my Poseidon in front of the Troll King.
Cyrus watched the globe again keeping an eye out for harm
As I addressed the foul monarch through vision shimmering:
"Bring the slave here that I may examine him thoroughly,"
My simulacrum decreed. The Troll King's hammer glistened
In the dark as he extended it toward Booth slowly.
The transformed apprentice and would-be slave numbly listened,
Approaching false Poseidon and drawing nearing the King.
As the sea-god I appeared to examine him; in fact
I was secretly signaling Cyrus our trap to spring.
"You have failed, Troll," I snarled. "They are here, be ready to act!"
Incredulous, the monarch of all the trolls inquired of me, "Where?!"
Bending Poseidon eye to eye, I spoke with my own voice:
"Here". His eyes grew wide with fear that permeated his stare
As my false god expanded, the beginning of our ploy.
Cyrus then began our charge, turning on his cap's bright light
Before blinking us, physically at last, into the cave.
I had shifted the water's molecules exactly right
So the puddles acted as mirrors; "There's no one to save
You from the light of the Sun, Trolls!" I shouted in the gleam
Of Cyrus' light, reflected by highly polished puddles
And by gems piled and embedded throughout the cave. My scheme
At its fruition, I gathered Booth into a huddle
And, as King, confused, cowered from the bright, touched his hammer.
A flood of earthbound power awakened to my senses.
"Thanks, dullard," I crowed. Booth made an incoherent stammer
As Cyrus whisked us from the caves, and the Trolls' defenses.
We reappeared in the mansion where Corwyn awaited.
"Excellent, you've rescued Booth as well, and just in time, too!
Our enemies grow bolder and are well situated--
Cyrus, Nick's missing. Take them both to the North Pole with you!"
"No time for celebration, " the cat said in somber tone.
"NOW WAIT!" I shouted. "First Booth and now Nick? Who is this Nick?"
"The only man who every day keeps Christmas as his own.
Saint Nick. Santa Clause. Pere Noel. Now grab on to me quick!"
As always, to be continued . . .