Journey to the West

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 


Chapter VI

Scott was in shock.  He entered Akuta's room in the halls of healing only
to find it empty.  The body of the guard was gone.  Scott had to grab for
the side of the doorway to steady himself.  First he lost Alex and now
Akuta.  He just wasn't prepared for such a double blow.

"Scott?"  He turned and saw Sharon standing in the hall.  He reached for
her, hugging her tightly and venting his emotion.  "Scott, I know what
you're thinking," she said.  "He's not dead, just stupid."

"What?"

Sharon explained the situation to her friend.  She was grateful that an
anchor was found that could pull Akuta back out of his despondency, but
like Jennifer, she couldn't believe he really thought he could journey to
the netherworld and bring the dead back to life.  That was all to Orpheus
and classical mythology for her.  Scott was a bit more accepting in his
view of Akuta's plan.  He had seen many things since coming to this world
which were no less strange than Akuta's proposed journey.  Looking at it
from a human point of view, it was preposterous, but from a Faerie
perspective it just might be feasible.

"Scott, do you know what happens to a body once it dies?" Sharon asked.
"I'm a scientist.  I can look at it objectively.  The body almost
immediately begins to decay.  The process is not pleasant.  Once this
begins, I don't care what 'magic' he finds, Akuta is not going to be able
to restore life."

"Well, maybe..."

"Maybe nothing.  What about the funeral?"

"What about it?" Scott asked.  Sharon went on to describe the argument
Akuta had with Robin and Rood just a few short minutes before.  Robin
wanted to set the ceremony of passage but Akuta refused.

The ceremony was the Faerie equivalent of a funeral.  The dead body was
wrapped in a cocoon of highly combustible flashweed, a plant native to the
wet regions of Tuatha.  The priests and spiritual leaders harvested the
long, grass-like leaves.  Once it was dried, they wove the material to
completely encase the corpse.  At the ceremony, a loved one would set the
cocoon ablaze.  With its intense heat focused inward by the weaving
pattern, the flashweed could totally reduce the body to ash in a matter of
minutes, including the bones.

"His argument was that we can't cremate Alex.  If his body is gone then
Akuta won't be able to restore him to life when he comes back from his
impossible quest," Sharon explained.  "The temperature is helping to retard
decay, but it is inevitable.  Scott, we can't keep a corpse around for too
long.  These people don't practice embalming.  I have no idea how long he
thinks this journey will take, but a couple of warm days and we'll have a
real problem."

Scott acknowledged her concerns, and then headed off to the worship grounds
to find his friends.  Alex's body was there, waiting for the ceremony.  He
was pretty sure that if Akuta was anywhere, that would be the place.

* * *

Caseldra was sitting patiently in the outer chamber, just outside the door
to her father's laboratory.  She had not been there long, but to her it
seemed like years.  Robin had asked her to do what she could to hurry the
old wizard along in his task, and she tried, but Elnar was in one of his
moods and chased her away.  The girl then went with her lover to check on
Akuta and was instrumental in awakening him.  But did she receive thanks
for her part in the task?  No.  Robin, Rood and Akuta got into an argument,
and when she tried to solve it, Robin again ordered her back to the
wizard's chambers.  She had only suggested that Elnar might have a map to
the western islands when the king turned on her and asked her not to
'meddle.'  She wasn't even sure what he meant by that human word.

It was dark outside, and evidently getting quite late, so she sent Jennifer
off to bed and came back to her father's chambers.  After the way he
groused at her earlier in the day, Caseldra had no desire to interrupt him
again.  So she uncovered a chair and sat in the cluttered outer room.  For
the first few minutes she sat patiently, but Caseldra was not a patient
woman.  She then tried to read a book to pass the time.  There were plenty
of books lying around, but most of them were spell books and grimoires, not
exactly stimulating reading.  She then sat and played with her dagger,
slowly drilling a hole into the cushion of her chair.  Finally succumbing
to total boredom, Caseldra sat on the floor and began carving on the chair
leg, trying to whittle a female form out of the plain turned wooden
support.

As Caseldra played with her dagger, she looked about for a model.  Surely
there must be a picture in one of the books or scrolls she could use as a
subject of her impromptu sculpture.  In digging through the nearest pile of
dusty old tomes she came upon a thick black book with gilt writing on the
cover.  "The Book of Death," it said in the blocky runes characteristic of
high Tuathan.  Caseldra carefully opened the book and looked through it.
The volume was an illustrated treatise on the Faerie theories of death and
the afterlife.  She thought she should take it back to her chambers to show
Jennifer.  Here were the documented stories she had tried to explain
earlier.  She turned a few more pages and found an illustration of
Gilgamesh, standing on the shores of the western island.  The following
pages held a description of the spirit's journey to the west.  It mentioned
a passage through an underground world known only by the dwarves and called
Turin Kareem in their language.  An impulse grabbed Caseldra and she
carefully pulled, ripping the page from the volume.

The sound of a tremendous explosion came from the laboratory.  Caseldra
jumped to her feet in startled shock as the wooden door swung open on its
hinges and a thick cloud of grey smoke rolled out.  The girl quickly
stuffed the torn page inside her tunic and then ran toward the open
doorway.  Just as she reached it, Elnar came stumbling out, wiping tears
from his eyes and coughing.  "My father, you have destroyed your work room
again?" she asked as she put an arm around the little old man and helped
him to the chair on which she had been carving.

"I used too much dragon's bile in that last infusion," he muttered as he
brushed the dust and soot from his robes.  "But at least I have completed
the tool you requested."  Elnar looked up to give her a triumphant smile.

"Father, you have fashioned the device that will tell us where the fugitive
is hiding?"

"It should if you use it correctly," he answered and tried to rise.

"You rest, I shall go fetch it," Caseldra volunteered.  She turned and
stepped through the doorway into the laboratory.  If the cluttered rooms of
her father's domain were a bit daunting, the sight that greeted her was a
hundred times worse.  The large table was overturned and its contents of
beakers and bottles shattered and broken, their ingredients spilled on the
mess covering the floor.  The entire room was at least ankle deep in
papers, books and other odd bits of broken glass, spilled containers and
destroyed furnishings.  "My father," she called over her shoulder.  "What
exactly is it I seek."

"A needle," came the reply.

* * *

"My lord, no one feels more for you than I," Rood argued.  The four of them
had been at it for some time now.  "I grieve with you for your loss, but I
cannot support you.  First, you must know how dangerous such a quest would
be.  There is very little chance you would survive."

"Then I shall join Alex in death," Akuta answered back.

"And even so, you know not how to find the land of death.  No living man
has ever journeyed there and returned to chart the course."

"It is west.  I shall search in that direction."

"And second," Rood persisted, "we must have the ceremony of passage for
Alex."

"NO!" came the quick and angry reply.

"My friend, we have no choice," Robin added.  He had been silently watching
on, not wanting to add undue stress to Akuta.

"No!  If I return I will be able to restore him.  But if you destroy him
now, then truly all is lost."

Robin and Rood exchanged glances, and then looked to Scott for help.
"Look," the human said.  "Alex was my friend too.  We were even lovers
several years ago.  This hurts, but I have to level with you.  We've got to
do this.  His body won't last.  In a short time it's going to be a pretty
unpleasant sight."  The tall fairy looked at the human, shock plainly
showing on his face.  Scott felt a sharp pang of guilt at hurting his
friend in this way, but maybe the shock of blunt reality was the only way
to get through to the grief clouded mind.  For a moment Akuta looked as
though he would explode in anger, and then his lower lip began to tremble
as his eyes glassed over.  He suddenly fell on Scott's shoulder, hugging
him tightly and sobbing his heart out.  The two were locked in their
embrace of mutual sorrow for several minutes, but slowly, the fairy's sobs
began to lessen in intensity.

Robin stepped forward and placed a hand gently on Akuta's shoulder.  "My
friend," he said, "we shall have the ceremony on the morrow."  This time
the guard made no protest.  He only held more tightly onto Scott.

* * *

Once she realized the extent of the task ahead of her, Caseldra quickly
went in search of help.  She stopped by Akuta's chambers and spoke with him
before leaving again in search of Robin, Scott and Rood.  On finding them
she quickly filled them in on her dilemma and the group escorted her back
to the wizard's laboratory.  There they found Elnar and Jennifer standing
in the doorway of the room surveying the damage.

"Never could figure out how much dragon's bile to use," the little old man
muttered.  "Too little and you have a fizzle with no reaction.  Too much
and kaboom, you destroy the workroom again."

"I was worried about you when you didn't come to bed," Jennifer told the
fairy girl as the others approached.

"What now, old father?" Rood asked with a grin.  "I understand you need
help finding the tool you were supposed to deliver."

The wizard scowled up at the tall blond.  He didn't care at all for Rood's
playful sense of humor and penchant for jokes at his expense.  "Go find
it," he growled.  " It is in there...somewhere."

"It might help if we knew exactly what 'it' was," Scott said as the group
gingerly picked their way into the sight of the catastrophe.

"A needle, of course," Elnar replied.  "A long, golden needle."

"A needle?" Scott exclaimed.

Jennifer looked back at the little man still standing in the doorway.
"Like you sew clothes with?" she asked, and then said, "Eww," as she
stepped into something gooey and smelly.

Rood had already stationed himself in one corner and began to sift through
the ankle deep rubble slowly working his way inward when he noticed Elnar
still standing in the doorway, watching their progress.  "Old father," he
called.  "Are you not going to help us?"

"I am not going in there!" the little man said.  "There is no knowing what
dangerous concoctions may be under that mess.  The explosion mixed all my
ingredients and potions together."  All five workers paused and looked up
at Elnar for a moment, their feet and ankles coated in the grey muck that
covered the floor under the papers and other debris.  Robin then sighed and
bent back to the task at hand.  Slowly and cautiously the others followed
his lead.

"My lord, I...Oh bright stars, what a mess!"  Rowana stood in the doorway,
looking over Elnar's shoulder into the room.

"Look, my liege," Rood called.  "The good lady has come to lend a hand in
our impossible task."

"For what purpose are you digging through this foul mess?" the red head
asked.

"Searching for a needle," Jennifer and Caseldra said together as if they
had rehearsed it.

"A hay stack would be a cinch compared to this," Scott muttered under his
breath.

"A haystack?" Rood asked, clearly puzzled.

"Nevermind."

Robin stood and gestured to an untouched expanse of mess.  "Please join us,
lady.  You may be the one to find this elusive metal sliver."  Rowana
shrugged her shoulders and stepped past the wizard and into the destroyed
lab.  She made a face as her sandaled foot squished into the slime that
covered the floor, but she didn't complain.  They all continued on in their
search with Elnar supervising from his post at the door.

"Be careful.  You are going too fast.  You missed a spot over there," the
little old man called, pointing to Rood's area.  The guard stood and glared
at the magician for a moment, and thought of several barbed comments to
make, but instead bent back to the search.

An hour of sifting through the debris seemed to get them no closer to their
goal.  The humans were slowing down drastically, obviously feeling the
effects of the early morning hour, when another visitor appeared at the
door.  "My lord, have you...Why ever are you making such a mess in there?"
It was Melcot who now looked in over the little wizard's shoulder.

"We are searching for a needle," six voices said in a chorus of
exasperation.

"You've arrived just in time to help," Scott added.  "Hop in and start
digging."  Melcot gingerly stepped into the muck and mire and began rooting
through the mess.

"This is hopeless," Jennifer whined.  "We're never going to find a thing as
small as a needle in all of this."

"But the task should be an easy one," Elnar chided from the sidelines.  "It
is not just any needle.  After my infusions it is charmed."

"Big deal.  How does that help us?" the human girl complained as she stood
to stretch the stiff muscles in her back.

"The charm causes the needle to seek out Tuathan blood.  It should find one
of you."

"Yeow!" came a scream and everyone jumped.  The shout had come from Rood
who had leaped into the air in pain and surprise.

"Don't move!  That's it!" Scott called and reached over to pull the thin,
two inch, golden shaft out of the captain's hip where it protruded through
the fabric of his breeches.  "This little thing feels like it's alive,"
Scott said as he held onto the needle.  It seemed to tremble and quiver
between his fingers.

"It will be safe if none of you approach too closely.  The humans may carry
it with no harm," the wizard told them.  As the group of searchers slowly
made their way out of the shambles of the destroyed lab, they tried to wipe
the muck from their feet.  Caseldra hurried off to find towels for the task
while Elnar explained his magic.  "The needle must be inserted through a
piece of float wood and then rested in a bowl of pure water.  It will then
point toward Tuathan blood.  You may use it to find your missing servant."

"What's float wood?" Jennifer asked.

"Cork," Scott replied, and then turned to the wizard.  "So this will act as
a fairy compass?"

"If it points to any Tuathan blood how shall we know it to be the right
Tuathan that we seek?" Robin asked.

"In the human world how many of us are there?" questioned the old man.

"I will not send my consort alone on this task," the king growled.

"Nor shall you need to.  The stone of the homing crystal will act as a
shield to disguise the attraction.  Anyone wearing such a crystal may be
invisible to the needle's charm."

"For once, old father, it sounds as if you have succeeded in your task,"
Rood said, still rubbing his sore hip.  "We must find a bowl of water, a
bit of float wood and some homing crystals.  Then we may be off."

"Let us go bathe and change into more human attire," Robin suggested,
looking down at his hands and feet.  They were a pale azure color from the
irritation of exposure to all the odd concoctions.  "Wading through this
wizard's accident has turned my skin the color of the blue tower's
capstone."

"The blue tower!" Melcot exclaimed.  "That was why I came in search of you.
Has not my lady told you?"

Rowana glanced down at the floor.  "I had forgotten in all the haste of the
search."

"The blue tower sends a challenge.  Lastel, their leader demands you
produce their missing boy at once or be prepared for war."

"Then they know of Dannemel's disappearance," the king said as he wiped his
hands on a cloth provided by Caseldra who had just returned.

"It is a ruse, lord," Rood suggested.

"Yes, very likely.  The youths were here to cause trouble and act as spies.
Now they use this excuse to provide hostilities.  My first duty is to meet
with the high council."

"They await you even now, lord," Melcot told him.  "It was to the high
council that Lastel first offered his challenge.  They await your
response."

"My lord captain and my consort, prepare you for the journey to the other
world.  I shall meet with you back here at sunrise.  Make haste."

* * *

Caseldra and Jennifer returned to their chamber to bathe.  Jennifer relaxed
in the warm water while her girlfriend slipped out into the other room.
Soon the little fairy returned with soft, fluffy towels and led her human
lover to a bench before the hearth in their chambers where a warm fire was
blazing.  Jennifer leaned back and let Caseldra brush her hair, almost
drifting off to sleep on the spot.  She finally forced her eyes open and
stood, deciding she had to get some rest even if her lover didn't need any.

As she looked at the platform that served as a bed she saw clothing had
been carefully laid out, jeans and a sweater for her and a much smaller
pair of jeans and a t-shirt for Caseldra.  "What's going on?" she asked,
suddenly alert.

"It is nearing sunrise.  Dress quickly in the human clothes so we may
depart with the others."

"But Robin didn't say..." the girl protested.

"Would you stay here and miss the excitement?" Caseldra asked as she pulled
the t-shirt over her head.  "I have a homing crystal as is needed for me."
She glanced at Jennifer who still stood, paralyzed by indecision.  "Rood,
Scott and the king would go alone.  Surely you know they shall find
trouble.  It is up to me to keep them from it."  Jennifer finally shrugged
her shoulders and reached for the clothes.

In a short time they were entering Elnar's library.  Scott and Rood, both
dressed in jeans and sport shirts were ready for the trip and were only
awaiting Robin's return.  They immediately began to argue with the girls
about their coming along, but lapsed into silence as Robin entered the
room, still dressed in his Tuathan tunic.  "What's up?" Scott hesitantly
asked.

"My love, I must stay.  It appears that this threat of war is much more
serious than I had suspected.  Go quickly and return with the youth.  I
shall in the meanwhile stall the council and the blue tower.  Your swift
success may be the solution to this entire problem."

"I'm not going without you," Scott protested.

"Think you I would allow these three in your world unsupervised?" Robin
wind whispered to his lover.  "Now go quickly.  The sooner you are gone the
sooner we may celebrate your return."  He pulled his human lover close in a
tight embrace.  Their lips pressed together in a poignant farewell
overshadowed by the promise of reunion.

Scott broke the kiss and turned quickly before Robin saw the tears in his
eyes.  He yanked open the door on the wardrobe and glanced at Caseldra.
"Well, come on if you're going," he said gruffly.  The two girls climbed in
together and disappeared.  Then Rood and Scott followed them, Scott turning
to look back at Robin as Rood pulled the doors closed.

Robin touched his fingers to his temples, then his shoulders, then held his
hands out in supplication to the spirit of the universe and said a mental
prayer for his companions' speedy return.  He then sighed and started back
for the throne room.  At the door to the Keeper of Magic's chambers he was
met by Rowana as she ran to him.

"My lord," she said as she tried to catch her breath.  "Come quickly."

"What is it?" he asked in anxious concern.  "Is it the blue tower?"

She managed to shake her head then took a deep breath.  "The body of Alex!
It is gone!  Someone has taken it!"

 

 

 

 

 

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