Journey to the West

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 


Chapter XII

Sharon splashed blindly in the water, panic now taking firm hold on her.
She was lost and alone swimming blindly in an ice cold swamp.  She was
certain to die and join the ranks of lost souls who her friend believed
haunted this giant fog bank.  Suddenly something grabbed her from behind.
She shrieked and tuned to see what it was, but all she could make out was a
dark figure with long appendages that looked like arms, trying to hold onto
her.  Sharon tried to fight, but she was already so exhausted she couldn't
put up much of a struggle.  The creature grabbed her and began pulling her
toward it.  She tried one more time to fight off the dark monster before it
dragged her to her death.

"Fight me not," a voice said.

"Akuta," she screamed with relief and now tried to grab the shadowy figure
tight.

"Relax or we shall both drown," he said and towed her behind him as he
swam.

In a matter of seconds Sharon could feel the muddy bottom beneath her feet.
Her friend kept an arm around her as he helped her up the inclined surface
and out of the cold water.  They were soon lying side by side on the soggy
ground, panting from the exertion.  "Thanks," she gasped.

"Come," he said as he slowly struggled to his feet.  "We must get out of
this dampness and warm ourselves before we grow ill."

"But we can't," she began to protest as Akuta pulled her to her feet.  He
kept his arm around her and together they stumbled up what seemed like a
steep hill.  As they climbed, the fog appeared to grow thinner as the world
grew clearer and brighter.  In no time at all, the two managed to climb
completely out of the haze.  They were soon resting on a rocky plateau at
the foot of a mountain range and looking back at the marsh.  From this
vantage it appeared to be a very wide basin filled to the brim with fog
that almost looked like thick, grey liquid as it rolled and curled.  In the
distance grey green tree tops seemed to rise out of the mist.  "Is that the
forest?" Sharon asked.  "Did we manage to cross to the other side?"

"Of course," Akuta answered her.  "Now come.  We shall find warmth just
beyond these rocks."  He helped her to her feet.

"How do you know?" she asked.

"I was told," the fairy answered confidently.

The two turned their backs on the misty basin and headed down what looked
like a rocky pathway that wound between several large boulders.  After
walking for a time in the rocky foothills they came around the side of a
large stone and were suddenly confronted by a group of short, little men.
The group consisted of about a dozen stocky individuals, all approximately
three to four feet tall.  They were all males, most of them wearing full
beards and all were dressed in heavy wool and leather breeches and jackets.
They were also armed, carrying short swords and heavy wooden clubs.  "Come
no farther," a wrinkled old man said.  His long, heavy, grey beard reached
almost to the ground, stopping halfway down his stubby little legs.  "Who
be ye?"

"I be of Esbereth, a lone traveler, and this my property," Akuta responded
and indicated Sharon.

"Property?" she said in shock.

He turned a cold look on her and spoke in a wind whisper.  "The mountain
dwarves have a different way of life.  Females are property.  If we are to
gain their help I must first gain their respect.  Keep your eyes down and
speak only to me when I speak aloud to you.  This is our only chance to
survive."

"For what purpose come ye to our lands?" the old dwarf asked, his hand
resting on the hilt of a dazzling, bejeweled sword.

"To speak of it is a private matter," Akuta replied.

The little man looked at him suspiciously, then turned and grunted; he
spoke in an odd language to his companions who disappeared down the path
faster than any creatures with such short legs should be able to travel.
"In good faith I give ye my name.  I be Korbod, leader of this camp."  He
squatted down on the cold ground.

"I be Akuta, returning your faith," the fairy said and sat beside the
little dwarf.

"We be private now.  Speak ye purpose."

Akuta glanced at Sharon and then took a deep breath.  "I be searching for
Turin Kareem."

The dwarf's eyes opened wide in surprise and he reached out to stroke his
beard.  "Turin Kareem," he breathed in awe.  "The doorway to life and
death.  Not even my people journey there, though it be said to possess rich
deposits of color crystal.  Why seek ye this place?"

"I be oath bound to a quest.  I must travel to the western islands and I
know this be a way," the fairy answered.

"It be the only way for the living," Korbod answered.  "But be ye aware, it
may not be a path of return?"  He looked over at Sharon who quickly dropped
her gaze, and then he again addressed the silent man.  "I be told a tale of
ye.  I be told ye property be human and ye seek our land to prepare for
war."

Akuta seemed stunned.  "Indeed my property be human, but look I as a
warrior to single handed defeat your people?  I prepare for no war.  Our
people have been at peace many seasons and we rely on you for much trade
and for your color crystal and the fruit of your artisans' hands.  Who told
you this?"

Korbod nodded his head.  "I trust ye, tall one.  Never have the tall ones
lied before.  The one who tells these tales comes of a tribe that has grown
strange of late.  Come to my camp for refreshment.  We shall provide warmth
and shelter where ye may relax and enjoy ye property.  After ye have rest
may we again discuss this quest."

The two men rose.  Akuta motioned Sharon to follow as the two of them
headed off together down the trail.  Akuta slowly dropped back to speak to
the doctor.  "Enjoy your property?" she muttered under her breath.

"He thinks you are my female and that I shall couple with you.  Please
remain quiet.  And remember to look not into his eyes.  Always look down,"
he wind whispered to her.

In a short time they reached a camp at the base of one of the mountains.
It was hemmed in by a narrow box canyon.  The camp was actually a small
village and reminded Sharon of the cliff dwelling Indians of the American
southwest.  The steep rock wall was honeycombed with small, dark openings,
each one reached by a narrow ledge that led to a series of steep steps
carved into the cliff wall.  Considering their stocky builds and short
limbs these creatures must demonstrate agility to negotiate the stairs and
terraces of their village.  Korbod let them to a large cave that opened
onto the floor of the little canyon and told Akuta it was to be his while
he was on a quest in their land.

Akuta and Sharon had to duck to enter the cave, but once inside they found
ample room to stand.  Their quarters were composed of this outer chamber
which appeared to be an enlarged tunnel that led back to a spacious inner
room curtained off by heavy fabric hung across a low doorway.  The floor of
the inner chamber was covered by soft furs and one wall had an actual
hearth carved into it with a chimney shaft running up the inside of the
stone.  A glowing fire greeted them as they entered.  "Relax.  Remove your
garments and enjoy the fire.  My property will bring ye bath water and
clean attire.  Ye shall speak with me this night," Korbod said and then
turned and left the cave.

"What do we do now?" Sharon asked.

"We are cold and wet and tired.  Let us follow his instructions."  With
that, Akuta began to remove his tattered and damp tunic and then unfastened
his breeches.  Sharon was a little uncomfortable at the thought of
stripping in front of her friend, but she was damp and the fire felt so
inviting.  She slowly shucked her wet, smelly clothes and stretched out on
the furs next to the hearth beside her fairy friend.

* * *

The boy had just about finished getting ready.  He was sitting on a stool
in front of a big mirror putting on the last touches of mascara when he
looked up at a face in the glass.  He quickly turned to confront the man
standing behind him.  The two looked at each other in silence for a time,
and then the boy spoke.  "How is it you found me?" he asked in Tuathan.

"I had help," Scott admitted.

"And what plan you now?"

"I want you to come back with me."

The boy turned back to the mirror and continued fixing his eyes.  "Why
cannot you leave me here?" he asked as he reached for a red wig that sat on
a styrofoam head nearby.

"There's trouble in our land.  There may even be a war unless we prove
you're okay."

"This is a plot of the overseers," Danni said, adjusting the hairpiece.
"If I return they shall kill me, or your king shall."

"Don't be silly.  Nobody's going to hurt you," Scott reassured him.

"You know not the overseers."  The boy stood up and reached for a frilly,
pink dress.

"I know Robin.  I know we'll protect you from whoever these overseers are."
Scott suddenly realized how convincing the boy was now that he had
completed his transformation.  "How on earth did you get into this in the
first place?" Scott asked.

"When I escaped to this world I met a human who taught me to ride a big
wagon of many cars on metal bars.  It took me far from the dwelling where I
arrived in this land.  Later I was hungry and cold.  I met a girl who took
care of me.  We came to this city and she helped me to find this job.  She
even taught me to speak the language."  Dannemel easily shifted to a
heavily accented and broken English.  "I talk real good, hey Jack?"

"Do you really want to stay here and do this?" Scott asked.

"Of course not," the boy said, returning to his native language.  "I wished
for adventure and to flee the overseers.  I enjoy not parading as a female
to entertain human reversals.  For the most part, they are evil men.  If I
truly believed you could protect me, I would return with you."

"Then believe me," Scott said looking into the soft, feminine eyes.  "We
shall protect you."

"You're on, Danni," a hefty girl said as she suddenly came into the crowded
dressing room.

"I must go.  If you like, we may talk more later."  The boy picked up a red
feathered boa and slipped out of the room.

"Where you from?" the hefty girl asked as she sat down on a folding chair
and began to remove her makeup.

"What?" Scott asked in surprise.

The girl pulled off her wig revealing a man's bald head.  "What country you
from?  I heard you two jabbering in here in some foreign language.  That
Danni's pretty wild.  He an illegal alien?"

"Kind of," Scott admitted.

"I knew it," the hefty man said as he slipped out of his dress.  "I told
Moe one day the INS was gonna come raid this place."

Suddenly the curtain on the doorway swung open and an attractive blond
woman resembling Marilyn Monroe came in.  "My lord," she said in an anxious
voice.

"Lurlene, aren't you supposed to be waiting tables tonight?" the hefty man
asked as he unfastened his corset, allowing his ample stomach freedom.
"What're you doing back here?"

The blond woman just smiled, and then grabbed Scott by the arm, pulling him
out into the hall.  "My lord, I had to take this body."

"Rood?"  Scot realized the woman was actually his friend in a magical
disguise.  "What did you do?"

"I used changeling magic to switch bodies with this woman," Rood explained.
"I had some difficulty out there.  This seemed like the easiest way to be
able to come back here and search for you."

"Lurlene, what the hell are you doing here?" a little man asked as he stuck
his head out of an office next to the dressing room.  "You're supposed to
be waiting tables.  Get your ass back out there."

"I'm sorry.  It's my fault," Scott said, trying to cover.  "She was
bringing me back to meet one of the performers."

"I don't like anyone bothering my girls before or during a show.  Now get
out of here.  You," he said, grabbing the fairy in the body of the woman by
the arm.  "I want to talk to you."

"No, I have to go..."

"Get in here," the man growled.

Just about that time two girls, one of whom was Carlotta, came running back
to the little office.  "Moe, there's a big blond guy out there who's
totally flipped."  She suddenly noticed Scott.  "You," she said pointing at
him.  "It's your friend.  He's screaming and fighting with Todd and Frank,
claiming he's Lurlene."  Everyone suddenly looked a Lurlene.

The blond woman shrugged her shoulders and gave an uncharacteristic crooked
grin.  She then noticed Carlotta standing next to her and jumped back as if
stung by a bee.  She pointed to the dusky waitress and announced, "That
woman is really a man!"  Everyone continued to stare as if Lurlene had
totally lost her mind.  She suddenly looked down at her own body in shock,
and reached down between her legs with her hand, exploring herself.  "And
so am I," she said in even more stunned surprise.

"Girl, what's wrong with you?" Carlotta asked, reaching out a sympathetic
hand.

Lurlene only jerked further back into the corner in which she now found
herself trapped.  "But I am not a girl," she whined in confusion.

Scott quickly had a flash of insight.  "Please, let me help her," he said
as he elbowed his way to Lurlene's side.  "I'm a psychiatrist.  It's
evident that this young lady is suffering from an acute personality
disorder."

"Personality disorder, my ass.  She's a drag queen," Moe growled.

"Yes, well I think I can help her...him."

About this time two husky men came flying through the doorway into the
crowded hall, one of them sporting a bloody nose.  "Moe," the other one
shouted.  "Call the cops.  Some little girl just came in and started
tearing the place up."  Moe ran back into his office while Carlotta
questioned one of the two bouncers.  "I think she's a friend of the big
blond guy who keeps shouting that he thinks he's Lurlene.  We were trying
to get him outside when this kid came up the stairs and attacked us."

"Caseldra!" Lurlene and Scott said at the same time and quickly fought
their way back toward the doorway.

Out in the club proper everything was in chaos.  Half of the people in the
room seemed to be screaming in terror while the other half seemed to be
enjoying the general brawl that was occurring.  Over by the door Scott
spotted Caseldra.  She seemed to be struggling with Rood.  Dodging flying
furniture and bottles, Scott and Lurlene made their way to their friend.
"My lord, someone has stolen his mind," Caseldra shouted as she tried to
restrain the tall man who towered over her by a foot and a half.

"Oh my God!" Rood suddenly exclaimed as he caught sight of Lurlene.
"That's my wig and my dress.  You bitch!  You stole my wig and my dress!"

"Changeling magic," Scott explained as Rood made a dive for the blond woman
at his side.  "Where's Danni?"

"Who?" the little fairy girl asked, still holding on to the struggling man.

"He was on stage in a red wig and pink, frilly outfit."

"That woman ran out the door when the fighting began," she replied.

"That was no woman.  That was our fairy," Scott shouted and headed for the
door.

"My lord!" Caseldra called and ran after him.  Rood grabbed the curly blond
wig off the shorter drag queen revealing a net cap holding down short black
hair.  Lurlene ducked under his arms and dashed out the door after the
others.

On the stairs Scott found Jennifer.  "Did you see a girl in a red wig and
pink dress go by?" he asked.

"See her?  She almost knocked me down the stairs," Jennifer said.

"Come on!" Scott shouted and ran down the steps taking them two at a time.
In moments he, Jennifer, Caseldra and Lurlene were on the dark side street.
It was totally empty with no sign of the person they were pursuing.

"How ran he so fast in these uncomfortable sandals?" Lurlene asked,
slipping off one of her spiked heels.

"Who's that?" Jennifer asked as she noticed the wigless drag queen for the
first time.

"Rood, could you please do something about that?" Scott asked, pointing at
the man in the dress, the exasperation showing in his tired voice.  The
little man in the hair net smiled a crooked grin.  His image wavered as if
seen through the heat of a summer day and then the tall blond guard was
standing in his place, wearing the same smile.

"Now what?" Jennifer asked.

"Well, we had him but we lost him," Scott complained.  Suddenly they heard
the sounds of police sirens approaching.  "I think this might be a good
time to get lost ourselves," Scott added.

* * *

Korbod talked with Akuta long into the night.  Sharon listened to most of
the discussion while trying to keep her eyes dutifully downcast and
appearing disinterested in the proceedings.  But when she thought she could
risk it, she glanced up at the two men.  They were as different as night
and day, the tall, thin, blond fairy with the delicately chiseled facial
features and the short, stocky little dwarf, half of his face covered by a
long, grey beard, while the rest of it was lined and seamed with wrinkles.
After a time the two men seemed to come to an agreement.  Korbod rose and
quietly left the cave.  Moments later, several of the dwarf women entered
bearing trays of roast meats and flagons of heady ale.  They carried the
trays into the inner chamber, and then quickly departed again.  Akuta and
Sharon then retired to the inner chamber to enjoy their supper by the fire.

"I couldn't follow most of that," the doctor said at last.  "You both spoke
too fast for me."

"Korbod shall give us safe passage to Turin Kareem and shall provide you
safety on one condition."

"And that is?" the girl asked.

"That I remove a problem they have by taking it with me into the darkness,"
Akuta replied.

"Into what darkness?" Sharon questioned, and then added as an afterthought,
"And what do you mean provide safety for me?"

Akuta looked deeply into her eyes.  "Turin Kareem is the gateway to the
other world.  It is a cavern of darkness that leads through the mountains.
Korbod shall provide you safety while you await my return.  You cannot
journey through Turin Kareem.  It is too dangerous.  You must stay behind."

 

 

 

 

 

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