Lewis and Lewis.
Stacey opened his eyes, and for just a few seconds, he couldn’t for the life of him figure out where he was. His apartment ceiling looked utterly alien. He moved to the edge of the bed and sat, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Nope, nothing alien here, just a mess, as usual, clothes strewn about. But the look of his Spartan room was enough to kick off a migraine, and he even tested his eyes, rolling his gaze up and down, all around, but there were no tell-tale twinges of pain behind his eyes, and the top of his head felt screwed on properly.
He couldn’t remember what he had just been dreaming, but he knew it was big, and weird, and that was funny, because big weird dreams he couldn’t remember were another sign of an impending sick headache. But he felt fine, if a little bit groggy. Had he been drinking? His mouth certainly didn’t feel pasty.
Stacey abruptly stood and walked to the window, peeked through the curtains, and it looked like a bright Spring morning out there. Everything appeared normal, but something nagged at the back of his mind. Was it something he needed to remember? Something he was supposed to do?
He glanced to the side and started, body tightening, but his mind quickly resolved the pattern of what he was looking at—two black socks on the carpet, slightly entwined, each stretched out, unnaturally posed, as if the two socks were frozen in the moment of death struggle—he almost laughed, because for just a second he was sure a snake was moving there, right here in his bedroom. His eyebrows came down and together, and his forehead clenched. What? What was he trying to remember? Something about a snake?
The Aurora Borealis, lights in the northern sky, why was he thinking about that? For a few moments, he could almost see the swirling lights, but not just in his mental view, but in his actual vision, but he knew he had certainly never seen the lights, he had never lived far enough north. He shook his head, yet checking for signs of one of his sick headaches, and now he was starting to freak himself out, he was getting weirded, suffering some willies, because things just didn’t seem right...real?
Maybe he should run to the park, do a few circuits? Who was he kidding, he’d die of an asthma attack before clearing a mile. And he was certainly not going anywhere near that park. But why in the world would he think that, there was nothing negative about the park, so why did it suddenly fill him with dread?
Stacey heard something out in his apartment. He quietly padded from his bedroom into his small study. For a moment he paused, sniffing, something didn’t smell right? Not smoke, but something else threatening, some chemical smell, and the books stacked all about his study, there was something wrong. He blinked, but couldn’t read any of the titles, not the titles of the books in stacks, nor the books in the shelves. Didn’t he have his contacts in?
Okay, something weird was going on, because his eyesight was perfect, he most certainly had his contacts in, he could see everything properly, except for the titles of the books. With disbelief he stepped toward the nearest bookcase and reached for a book. He snatched a book by random and held it before his eyes. All the text was blurred out, as if someone had replaced his real book with this fake book, and he knew what he would find before he even cracked the book open, the lines of text inside would be nothing more than fuzzed lines of gray, and when his now trembling fingers split the book in half to a random page, that is exactly what he found, gray lines that looked like a cartoonist’s bare suggestion of writing in a book.
The cover of the book was something he didn’t remember, something generic, a minimalist presentation of science fiction, or science fantasy, a guy standing in space, perhaps an alien world, with an atom in the sky in the place of a moon. But no, it was not an atom, as he had first interpreted, but the planet Saturn, or a rather childish delineation of Saturn, with a wobbly ring about a bloated ball.
Stacey dropped the book. This wasn’t real. He felt uncanny. As if he were dreaming, and yet this obviously wasn’t a dream. He knew reality, he knew this was real, and yet half of him realized this wasn’t real, he knew and recognized everything, and yet at the same time he knew this was an alien place, that nothing was familiar. And he felt weird, unsettled, as if something stalked him. He turned abruptly and found himself in a defensive stance, his fists up, he was cocked and ready to fire, and yet nobody was here, nothing was here, there was no threat, nothing was coming from the bedroom—nobody attacked, and yet he felt it, all about him, wrongness, danger.
“Oh my goodness, what in the world is wrong with me?” he breathed, and his faint voice nestled within his whisper scared him more than he already was terrified, and that was it, that was the alien element—the fear—Stacey actually felt fear; he was suffused with terror, he reeked with fearsweat, and fear was an alien sensation, to Stacey, but he certainly knew it now, this was fear, this was sick dread. He was a little boy on an alien beach and great fins were cutting the dark waters, fins as large as sailboats, reflecting the light of three moons.
Moons, that was another thing, multiple moons in a brilliant night sky.
Stacey blinked his eyes, reaching for the doorjamb, dizziness suffusing him, because that image of himself, a boy on that beach, that was too real, the image in his mind was almost an image in his eyes. He could almost hear the fins cutting the waters. He smelled sea salt.
He placed the fingers of his right hand upon the underside of his left forearm and dragged his nails hard and deep, going from about wrist to elbow, and he truly scratched, leaving snaggy scratch trails which went from white to red in an instant. Yes, it hurt. He just damaged himself. The pain was real. This was no dream. He stood here, in his study. But nothing was right. Everything was too gray, like the faked lines on all the books.
“Wake up Stacey, come on, wake up,” said someone.
Stacey jumped, glancing about him. The disembodied voice was right here. It was real.
“Stacey, you dingbat, open your eyes, come on, please Stacey, just open your eyes,” the voice said, desperate, pleading.
“Jack?” Stacey said, looking at the ceiling.
That was Jack’s voice, he knew it. Jack.
Stacey put his hands in his hair and tugged. He seized great handfuls of hair and yanked.
Jack? From the park, that Jack? The kid. They met in the park, coincidentally, yes, that was it, coincidence. Coffee. The Coffee Dump. The strange businessman that was not Murakami. Joshua’s bellowing laughter. Michael’s strained, terrified face, the too-big eyes looking through round lenses, round eyeglasses. Pancakes. Tentacles. Pancakes and tentacles. Old Ben standing in the corner. The girl, the ghost girl, Sandy, making gestures in the air on an invisible tablet.
Yes, that was all in the dream he had just been dreaming. And Kali, looming above, six fists flying. And a vast snake, Oros, all of this was in the dream. A whacky, distended dream that just went on for far too long.
“Stacey, please, you can’t die, just wake up, please, open your eyes!” the weeping voice pleaded, too real, right here, right now, all surrounding, everywhere at once.
Stacey opened his eyes and gasped. The weird, vivid colors were all about him. And shifting his gaze, there was Jack’s worried face. Jack, dressed like...Robin Hood!
“You look like Robin Hood,” Stacey said, blearily.
Jack burst out in laughter, relief flooding his face.
“Thank God!” Jack bellowed. “Oh thank God! We were sure you were dead!”
“Why are you dressed like Robin Hood?” Stacey queried, lying upon his back, in grass and soft soil. Another man was there too, a strange man, a beefy man, bearded, looking at Stacey with worried eyes.
“I know! I know! It’s not fair!” Jack laughed, tears pouring from his eyes, pulling Stacey up into his arms, hugging him. Jack, kneeling in the grass, squeezed Stacey for all he was worth. “I got Robin Hood, and you got freaking Aragorn! I should have traded with you while you were dead. I mean, I got the Errol Flynn Robin Hood, why couldn’t it have been the Kevin Costner or even the Russell Crowe Robin Hood!”
Stacey didn’t know what any of that meant, but he looked about himself, over the kid’s back, and he remembered the fantasy world, High Vale, he remembered it all, the running through the night, his hand buried in the ruff of a giant wolf, and there he was too, Wolf the wolf, his wolfish face actually smiling at Stacey, long tongue hanging out of the wide smiling mouth, panting.
“Thank you,” Jack said, reaching out and ruffling the wolf’s fur. “You saved him, thank you! And it looks like his eye is going to be okay, too.”
“You are very welcome,” Wolf the wolf said, in his deep, elegant voice. “I am quite fond him, as well, you must understand.”
“Wolf the wolf,” Stacey said, smiling at the great beast, pushing himself into a full sitting position, but Jack wouldn’t let him go, and so he found himself seated in the grasses crookedly, pulled into Jack’s embrace. It was very uncomfortable, but he couldn’t bring himself to push the kid away.
“Welcome back, Wolf the man,” Wolf the wolf said. Somehow, the two tusk-like fangs protruding from its upper jaw hardly looked threatening, not in such a friendly face.
“That’s just weird, but I like it,” Jack laughed. “We finally made it to Narnia, Stacey. Talking animals and everything.”
“High Vale,” Six corrected. “Narnia must be some other online world.”
Jack and Stacey shared a laugh, thinking the bearded man was making a joke, but the look on his face revealed the truth.
“C.S. Lewis, Narnia?” Jack tried. “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Aslan?”
“Never been there,” Six said, shrugging. He had no idea.
“I’m Wolf,” Wolf the man said, extending his hand to the crouching beefy man.
“Six,” Six said, clasping Wolf’s proffered hand, but strangely, he grabbed him about the wrist and squeezed, and Wolf found himself gripping the beefy man’s wrist in the same fashion, as if he had always shaken hands in that way.
“Six?” Stacey queried, unsure of what the number meant.
“He’s Lord Somebody or Other, but we can call him Six,” Jack explained.
“How in the world did you get a dire wolf as a guide?” Six said, studying the great animal. A small head peered over Six’s shoulder, some small creature creeping from the beefy man’s cloak.
“Whoa, who’s the little guy?” Jack said, smiling at the furry little face.
“This is Rex, my guide, he’s a ferret,” Six said, snatching the too-long creature from the back of his neck and rolling it about in his hands—the ferret chittered and tried to bite his fingers—and then Six tossed the little animal to Jack.
Jack caught the animal, careful of its sharp teeth, but it cuddled against Jack’s chest, cooing and squeaking.
“What a cutie, hello Rex,” Jack said, “but where’s my guide? How come I don’t have a guide?”
“You both are recent IBBs, so your guide should appear whenever you need a little help, but I’ve never known any IBB to get a wolf, let alone a dire wolf. Plus, guides never help out in a fight, so I don’t know what’s going on there.”
“Ibb? What’s an Ibb?” Jack asked.
“Newby...noob. It’s an acronym—I.B.B.—it means In the Belly of the Beast, to get to High Vale you have to come through the snake, everyone does, it’s kind of a nasty joke, but I guess it makes us all appreciate High Vale that much more, you really suffer a lot of delusions, and then you end up having to dig out of the snake crap,” Six explained. He extended his hand and Rex the ferret twisted out of Jack’s hands, leapt to the ground, and scampered across to Six, and easily scrambled up his leg and body and up and around to whisper in his ear before disappearing again into the beefy man’s cloak. He stared from Jack to Stacey, incredulous.
“What?” Jack and Stacey said as one.
“Rex says neither of you were IBB, that you’re not IBBs, but that’s not possible,” Six said.
“I don’t care what kind of a game world this is,” Wolf the man said, “but I’m not going into any snake’s belly. We kind of worked out a deal between us, me and...the snake.”
“And I...got away,” Jack said, unable to tell them exactly what measure he had inadvertently employed to make that escape. That would be just a little too humiliating, but still, the thought of all that goop dripping off the snake’s face, that thought made Jack almost snicker. He covered by rubbing his arm across his mouth, but still could not suppress the most minor of giggles. Tossing your cookies on a snake god! Throwing up on its head! He chuckled but still suppressed the bubbling laughter. If he allowed himself to reflect on the experience even for a full second, he would fall to the ground with laughter. He would laugh his ass off, literally, if that was literally possible.
“But that’s not possible,” Six said, shaking his shaggy head. “It’s part of the introduction, you have to get swallowed. Everyone takes the fruit. Everyone breaks the commandment, and you spend thirty days and nights digesting in the belly of the beast. I don’t think you really spend that long, not really, but it sure seems like it. You feel your skin dissolving. It’s great.”
Jack and Stacey looked at each other, then burst into laughter.
“It’s not funny,” Six said. “It’s all really wonderful.”
“We didn’t exactly come here by choice,” Wolf the man said.
“So, somehow the two of you managed to elude being consumed, both of you did this, and to the best of my knowledge, that’s never happened before—everyone gets swallowed. And nobody, absolutely nobody starts off with a dire wolf as a guide.”
“I’m kind of known for that,” Wolf the man said. “It’s kind of in my nature, to buck the system.”
“He’s a boxer,” Jack said, proudly, as if that explained everything. “And he did say buck the system!”
“Pugilist!” snarled Crood, sitting up, a giant hand clasped to his head. An angry red knot the size of a goose egg lumped in the very center of the creature’s forehead.
The three men scrambled to their feet, moving away from the giant, who sat glaring at them with eyes as red as a seven-day drunk.
“Forgot all about that thing,” Wolf the man said.
“I thought it was dead,” Jack said.
Wolf the man’s black shillelagh twirled in his hands and Wolf the wolf was already circling wide around the clearing, always facing the giant. Six crouched with his sword in hand and Jack had an arrow knocked.
“Should have cut off his head when he was down,” Six said, shaking his head, keeping close to Jack and decidedly behind Stacey. “I don’t know if these things can even be killed.”
“Well?” Wolf the man said, “I’m standing right here.”
“And I am standing right here,” Wolf the wolf said, now on the far side of the clearing, behind the giant.
“Done,” Crood snarled, struggling to his massive hooves. “Crood done. No fight.”
“Want me to turn around?” Wolf the man said, actually turning his back on the giant again, black shillelagh now still, held parallel to the ground before the man.
“What are you doing?” Six whispered, eye bulging in fury or fear.
The crooden stood swaying, his massive egg-shaped head tilted forward, viewing Wolf the man, his enemy, through the tops of his blood-filled eyes, flexing his six fists. He seemed to be considering it, delivering another massive sucker punch to the back of the man with the black stick.
Jack was ready this time. This time, he would not hold back. As soon as the giant roared, Jack would loose the arrow.
“No trick,” Crood snarled. “No fight. Pugilist, you win.”
Then the giant coughed, bent forward at the waist, and vomited up a mass of bloody noodles, or maybe it was snakes. The giant wadded the bloody, squirming goo into a ball, and then tossed this mess at Wolf the man’s feet.
“Crood see Pugilist again. Promise,” the giant snarled, and then turned and lumbered away through the trees at the edge of the clearing, great hooves clopping loudly.
“Watch out, Stacey,” Jack muttered, “the thing can be quiet when it wants to, it’s probably going to sneak around and come at you from another angle.”
“Good call,” Six whispered, “get ready.”
“I don’t think so, that’s not the way games work,” Wolf the man said, “unlike the real world, there seems to be honor running throughout this place, plus Wolf the wolf is following him.”
He thought of when he faced down the snake, when it threatened to eat him, after everything, as it poised above him—he had trusted the great serpent at its word, that it would not kill him, that it would not eat him, digest him. He trusted it. But in the real world, any such snake would have struck down and swallowed him. But this place was not the real world. Somehow, in many ways, he preferred this place to the real world. At least you could count on consistency here. Honor seemed to have more to do with consistency in action than any oath or code of conduct.
“See, guides don’t do stuff like that,” Six said with disgust. “You’ve got something working in your favor, that’s for sure. One of the old wyrms must be looking out for you, Stacey, and Old Ben said you were my man.”
Wolf the man, lowered his shillelagh to the ground, tapping the soil.
“Here, I am Wolf. That’s who I am, Wolf the man. And hey, if Old Ben said it, it must be true,” he said. “Let’s get onto the next part of...all this. I’m your man.”
“This isn’t a game, not to me,” Six said. “This is my life. And from what Old Ben says, this is your life, too.”
“Well, I for one, am all for it,” Jack said, in his perky way. He snatched Stacey’s cloak from the ground and shook it out, and then offered it to his friend. “I can’t wait to see just how far down the rabbit hole actually goes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Six said, turning on Jack, anger in his face.
“You’re kidding,” Jack said. “Where are you from, anyway, I mean in the real world?”
“Texas, originally,” Six said, anger evaporating. “But I’m all High Vale, now. This is all I’ve got. Right here.” He slid his sword into his scabbard.
“You have never heard of C.S. Lewis?” Wolf the man said, tugging into his cloak, aided by Jack. He felt better in the warm cloak, because in truth, he was still a little shaky. He prodded at his left cheek with his fingers and found the skin beneath his left eye tender, and felt bruised to the bone. But he could see fine out of his eye.
“Wolf the wolf licked you clean, he must have some kind of healing tongue or something,” Jack said, looking closely at Stacey’s face, studying it. “But it does look like you’re going to keep a very nasty scar, or two scars, or one big scar that goes up to your eye, and comes down on one side just beneath your eye.”
Jack traced the scar beneath Stacey’s eye. It went from just beneath the center of the left eye, down to almost the jawline, and on the other end it trailed back from the corner of the eye into Stacey’s mane of hair.
“Looks cool,” Jack said. “Now you’ve got a great scar to go with the big white stripes.”
“Never heard of C.S. Lewis,” Six said, and then he did something with his hands, very reminiscent of the girl in the back of the truck, when she accessed her invisible tablet. “But I can look him up, if it will make you happy.”
“What are you doing?” Jack said.
“Sorry,” Six said, distracted, but then he turned a window in the air, now visible, he turned it like a screen so that both Jack and Stacey could see. It looked more a Macintosh window than Microsoft, but more real, it was palpable, hanging in space, like a very real screen. Six resized it, and zoomed in, all accomplished with little flicks of his fingers and swipes of his hands.
“Awesome,” Jack breathed, and Wolf the man crowded in close to have a better look. “Just what you thought, the Ghost Lady was looking at one of these.”
A full text biography appeared titled Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis, and details leapt out. Six deftly pulled a photograph of Lewis, the historical figure, straight out of the window and left an image of the man hanging in space. The face was full color, and both Jack and Stacey recognized the author, and amazingly, the face peered back at them, good-naturedly smiling, and nodded its head at them. Jack and Stacey leaned back, away from the smiling man’s face, as if he might pose some sort of threat, and the simulated author tracked them with his eyes. His face moved and breathed, and blinked normally. It was breathtaking, like meeting the author face to face—meeting a live, breathing version of the author more than fifty years beyond his death.
“Wow,” Wolf the man said. “This is incredible.”
“Standard Wiki stuff,” Six said, frowning briefly at them. “Okay, I see he was an author, and religious figure, that lived a long, long time ago, like back when the dinosaurs did the peppermint twist—that’s an expression, right? But I don’t see anything about a rabbit hole.”
“No, that’s Lewis Carroll,” Jack said. “Alice in Wonderland. Come on, you’ve heard of Alice.”
“So C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll, they’re not the same guys? Let me guess, another old-timey author, right? What is it with you guys and old books, anyway? Nobody actually reads text anymore.”
“It’s kind of our thing,” Jack said, sounding a little wounded.
Wolf the man sighed and closed his eyes, briefly, and rubbed his forehead with both his hands.
“What year is it?” he said, suddenly opening his eyes and looking hard at Six.
Six flicked his fingers and the window disappeared.
“What do you mean, what year is it?” Six said, frowning at Wolf.
“What I mean is, what is the date? For you, what’s the date?”
“For me, what’s the date? The same as it is for you, what kind of question is that? It’s April 23, 2285,” Six said, shaking his head.
“Did you just say twenty-two eighty-five?” Jack yelped.
“Yes,” replied Six, “twenty-two eighty-five. The twenty-third of April. So, what about it?”
Wolf the man placed an arm about Jack’s shoulders. “Well, Jack, it is along the lines of what we were thinking, at the pancake house.”
“A house...made of pancakes?” Six said, staring blankly. “Does this have something to do with the rabbit hole, and Alice, and C.S. Lewis?”
“But that’s like,” Jack said, looking up, inside his head, “that’s like three hundred years. Are you saying that Six time travelled three hundred years to us?”
“No,” Wolf the man said, “it would more like us travelling more than two hundred and fifty years forward, to his time, but that’s not what’s going on. Not exactly.”
“Well what in the hell is going on, anyway?” Jack cried, punching Stacey in the arm.
“Six, our friend here, is in a simulation for the Year 2016,” Wolf the man said.
“I am not in a simulation for the Year 2016,” Six snapped, “that’s ridiculous. I am in my year, the only year, you know, the year of today? There’s no such thing as time travel. Yes, we are in a simulation, but not like you’re thinking, this is a real world, created in the real world, matching it molecule for molecule, and in some cases, this is more real than the real world. This is just merely digitized reality, only it is somewhat enhanced, in every way.”
“You are really confusing me,” Jack said, “all of this, none of it makes any sense.”
Wolf the wolf came trotting back into the clearing and sat down on his haunches next to Wolf the man. Without thinking Wolf the man dug his hand into the fur at the great wolf’s throat, and scratched and tugged idly.
“He’s gone?” Wolf the man said.
“Yes, moving swiftly, perhaps more than a mile away already, muttering all the while how he will one day twist your limbs slowly from your body. But I think he meant it all with the utmost respect, as he has never been bested before,” Wolf the wolf said, taller sitting—by a few inches—than Wolf the man standing.
“What year is it?” Wolf the man asked of Wolf the wolf.
“It is the Year of the Snake,” Wolf the wolf replied.
“No, out in the real world,” Wolf the man clarified his specified criteria.
“I am sorry, but I do not comprehend the phrasing of your question,” Wolf the wolf said, grinning and panting.
“Well I’m sorry,” Jack snapped, “but I do not comprehend the phrasing of anything that’s happening. I don’t know who we are, where we are, when we are, or why we are. Does that cover everything?”
“How we are?” Wolf the man supplied, helpfully.
“What we are?” contributed Six, grinning wickedly.
“Okay, knock it off already, that’s not what I meant. Yes, I’ve taken Journalism 101, it’s a pre-college course at my high school, I know the questions, but I’m just not digging any of the answers.”
“Digging?” Six said, “what’s that supposed to mean?”
Wolf the man turned his left arm over and looked at the underside flesh, and traced the fingers of his right hand down along the four furrows in his skin. Little beads of blood had dried up and down the scratches.
“What’s that from?” Jack asked.
“It’s from me, when I woke up in my apartment, or a very twisted version of my apartment,” Wolf the man said.
“When you—” Jack began but Wolf the man cut him off.
“I guess the only thing we need to go on, Jack,” Wolf the man said, slowly, somewhat sadly, “is that none of this is possible, when we are, at least the when we are from, but it is possible when Six is, and so we are just going to have to accept what we have, for us, that this is all reality. Hell, it’s the only reality we have left.”
Jack frowned, puzzling it out in his head, and then he grinned, and put out his fist. “I can live with that. All for one?”
“And one for all!” Wolf the man laughed, slapping down his fist on top of Jack’s, seizing it, squeezing. And Six, looking puzzled, but attempting to participate, put his hand on Stacey’s, and then Wolf the wolf’s great paw came down on them all.
“We’re your guys,” Wolf the man said, grinning at Six.
“Lead on Macduff!” Jack laughed.
“It’s actually lay on Macduff,” Wolf the man said.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to lay on Macduff, I’d prefer if he would just do the leading, if it’s all the same to you!” Jack laughed.
“Do you have all your gear?” Six queried. “We’re in the noob zone, so I can teleport us to my manor, but I have to warn you, things will start snapping when we get there.”
“Hold on, just be one second,” Jack said, racing into the small cottage, reappearing in seconds, a small leather knapsack held on his left arm. He looked to be stuffing a wine bottle into the pack as he emerged through the open doorway. He closed the door and patted the wood, then joined the party in the clearing. “Did you know the two books are in this pack? Both of them, 1Q84 and Simulacron-3, but now both have leather bindings! It’s like everything that was in my normal backpack is here, only it is changed, transformed into urban rustic, if that makes sense.”
“Don’t forget that,” Six said, nodding with his chin toward the slop at Wolf the man’s feet.
“What, I’m supposed to bring this along? In case we get hungry?” Wolf the man said.
“No, that’s probably an artefact,” Six said. “Probably a real biggy.”
“Allow me,” Wolf the wolf said, snagging the mess of what looked like bloody noodles with one of his protruding tusks. The great wolf shook the mess and the entire globule broke apart, revealing something perhaps twelve inches long, and glistening black.
Wolf the man retrieved the item from the grass. It appeared to be some kind of equipment, perhaps a piece of armor.
“That’s a bracer, probably magical,” Six said, and whistled appreciatively. “I’d guess it’s worth one hundred diamonds, and probably a whole sack of gold besides.”
“Magical?” Wolf the man said, sighing, “really?”
Wolf the wolf coughed and nodded his nose at Stacey’s arm.
“Place the bracer upon your right arm, it is armor to protect your strong arm, and may be used to deflect the full cut of a sword, or the strike of an ax,” Wolf the wolf explained.
“You are full of information, aren’t you?” Wolf the man said, and as he moved the bracer near his right arm it suddenly snapped into place, like a bear trap, upon his right arm, covering his arm from wrist to elbow, but unlike a bear trap, it felt good. It felt really good. Like a spandex legging for the arm—an arming? Only not so shiny.
“Whoa,” he said, “I feel it all through my body. I feel strong.”
The armor fit him like an athletic bandage, and it was smooth, and flexible, and somehow comforting.
“Probably hitpoints,” Six said, “as well as pluses, to your strength, dexterity, speed, and healing. The big artefacts usually cover a lot of bases. And considering that came out of an unbeatable crooden warrior giant, I’d say it’s a powerful artefact.”
“Hey,” Jack noticed, “it matches your fingerless gloves, and your boots, and hey, really, everything you’ve got matches, that is just so not fair.”
“Didn’t you get anything from the snake?” Wolf the man asked.
“Yeah, just a promise that he was really going to mess me up next time we meet,” Jack said, uneasily. He didn’t really want to think about the snake or the next time they met.
“How in the world did you survive the snake, without being swallowed?” Six demanded.
“I ran,” Jack said. That was true. Boy, did he run.
“You can’t outrun Northern Eyes,” Six said. He was looking at Jack as if he were telling tall tales and mighty whoppers.
“Well, I got to the forest, and I climbed a tree,” Jack said, defiantly.
“That’s still not going to do any good, even if you could reach the forest,” Six said.
“Jack’s telling you the truth,” Wolf the man said, “but we can talk about all this later. Right now, get us to where you need us to be, and I’ll deal with your problem, whatever it is.”
“Yeah, right,” Six concluded, turning his mind to the weightier matter of what awaited them, and the impossibility of it, of them surviving, of Stacey the Wolf being able to deal with the dragon warriors. True, Six had witnessed the man taking on a crooden warrior giant, almost single-handedly—he had witnessed the man absorb a punch that would kill an elephant—and if it was also true that the man had somehow bested the serpent, well, maybe he could handle close to a hundred dragon warriors.
Six held out two black stones, one on each hand, offering them to the two men.
“Keep these safe, in one of your deeper pockets. These are traveling stones, and will allow you to move wherever you need to go. I’ll guide you this first trip, but after, you will pretty much have carte blanche in High Vale, though I’d strongly suggest you stay out of PVP zones, at least for a couple of weeks, until you get your footing.”
“Lay on Macduff,” Wolf the wolf said.
“Or, you know, just do, do, do dat tang!” Jack snapped, grinning.
“I have no idea what either of you mean,” Six said, “but we’re going now. Stand close, hold onto your hats, and try not to vomit.”
“All for one,” Jack breathed.
“And one for all,” Wolf the man returned.
They vanished, leaving little trace of their ever having been in the clearing, save for the decapitated corpse of a once beautiful white destrier.
A little girl came out of the trees and strolled about in the clearing. Then, laughing, she hurried to the small cottage and entered, closing the door behind her.
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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