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The Journey to Dishley - Extract from Quest for Knowledge

The Journey to Dishley - Extract from Quest for Knowledge

Travelling through the dimensions, Simon is aided in his quest by an unknown ally

The Journey to Dishley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you know?” Jhamed asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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