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Suddenly, the fabled World Tree loomed in the distance and, as he got nearer, Arabella’s hut came into view. He noticed a bastet sign over the door, the ancient protector deity in the form of a cat, and thought how appropriate for a witch. From an old olive branch hung wind chimes made up of a monster’s skull with a monstrous claw, sphinx’s paw, demon’s horn, dragon’s fang and vulture’s claw dangling beneath. Breeze from a fair wind make the chimes appear to perform a wind dance.
Before the Knight could even knock, Arabella threw open the door. She had a serpent look about her, much like the mythical Gorgon, with her eyes emitting a wild flame of searing light. She wore a wild necklace made from small skulls, raven stone earrings and serpent charmer seal pinned in her hair. When she reached out to him, it was as if a skeletal grasper, an ancient druid’s hand, had grabbed hold. She knew why he was there; Magus’ curse and his sickening love for Anabel. Was he fool enough to hope Arabella would show some sign of mercy toward him?
But the Knight was delightful entertainment, so Arabella studiously went about gathering ingredients for the healing pain that seemed unstoppable. This gave the Knight a chance to look around the hut. In the center was a huge, black cauldron surrounded by a fire circle. A vampire sign, hanging above the boiling cauldron, made the Knight to pause. He was sure Arabella didn’t see the sphere of fire as a purifying sign for vampires, but a means to an end to eradicate them. Next to the cauldron sat an executioner’s personal chair. Great, whoever would have thought humor would be the witch’s imperishable attribute?
In one corner stood a vulture statuette and in the other corner a claw statuette. No doubt the poor vulture was rendered an ominous trophy when it lost its claws to the wind chimes and the sculpture. Along one wall was a bookcase overflowing with potions, poisons and acids, a jar with eyes and containers with six-fingered claws. Stacked books, rightful occupants of the bookcase, were piled everywhere having been displaced for the witch’s pantry. On one hook hung a cursed amulet with a demon’s seal and on another hook was a dragon medallion etched with the dragon of eternity.
By the window a rather unusual dream catcher; its strings formed a finite pentagram and a fox’s brush (tail) hung from the bottom.
He watched as she began the secret ritual of gathering ingredients for her recipe; bark of Iggdrasil, black widow spider venom, eye of manticore, gold of death, dragon’s blood, manticore scale and witch’s wing. Was there really such a thing as a witch’s wing? She seemed to be searching for something else. Arabella consulted an ancient folio, but the only words visible to the Knight were “conjurer’s bond” along the book’s binding. She took her thief’s perish (key) from her pocket and opened a door cache he hadn’t even noticed. She rummaged around but came up empty-handed.
“I seem to be missing mandrake root”, said Arabella. “You must journey to the far reaches of our world…past the diamond maze mines, past the frozen treasure in the mountains known as the teeth of the north, over the sea water, rumored to be the domain of an Acolyte of the Abyss. If you make it to the golem’s heartland, you will find the mandrake root. You will know the plant from its gnarled root-like appearance.” She returned to the cauldron, dropped in some mysterious crystal, wax man, fog needle and fog powder. A wave of her wand and some incantations turned the brew into a fiery bowl. Once finished, she withdrew a thunderstorm talisman. It would protect him as a nature blessing and act as a weather forecaster on the high seas.
She said there were dual fates in front of him….an unknown future saddled with a crippling curse or freedom and life everlasting with Anabel. The choice appeared easy, but it would take an enormous amount of courage to win his freedom and Anabel. Did he have enough?
Forlornly, he returned home to get ready for his journey. He thought of Anabel and rummaged through his ghostly chest, aptly named because it contained all the ghosts of his frequent travels abroad.
He touched the small ornate box, a sea gift, which he dubbed keeper of beauty. It was a music box that played a dream melody and its top was adorned with a small mechanical bird. Inside were a silver fish, deep sea crystal, sea bottom shell, silver star and a silver actinia that resonated with the sound of the sea. The clasp was a silver embrace. He removed everything but the actinia and gently placed his mother’s glinting earrings in the treasure box.
He sat down heavily on the worn seat of his desk chair and began a writing piece, a symbol of secret confession of his love and fidelity to Anabel. He professed the eternal call of his love and passion as hot as a blazing polestar and beseeched her to accept his mother’s glinting earrings as a token of that love. He vowed to return and their union would be heralded as a true bridger of realms. He asked her to pray for a guiding star that would lead him back to her.
Then he began packing for the long journey on the road to the unknown. He reached for a familiar bag, one that had belonged to an old friend of his fathers, a physician of sorts. He tenderly touched the old quack’s bag then began filling it with necessities.
Finally on his way, the Knight bypassed the mailbox in search of a messenger. Scanning from every direction, the Knight caught a glimpse of a messenger’s helmet seemingly walking unattended atop a half-wall. When he called out, the entire form of the messenger came into view and the Knight thought it funny how this stranger had become his fate messenger, delivering his most ardent and deep feelings to a woman he didn’t know he’d live to see again.
Onward to Cloud City Customs where he would obtain a gladiator’s writ. This official document was printed on wiseman’s parchment etched with a golden watermark. Then a magic press would emboss the writ with the seal of courage and it would be sent to the Council of Elders for the reigning mage’s signature. This ensures the writ will act as an opener of doors kingdom wide.
Passing the station under the mechanical semaphore signal he watched in awe as the guarding automaton spun the signal as needed. It took years of master instruction to perfect the signaling, which acted as a digital detector for recognizing life forms. The heart of the mechanism was the famous mechanogle gear, a sharp-toothed gear invented by the dwarf Mechanogle himself. He belonged to the Nibelung Grip, a race of dwarfs who, according to an ancient oversea yarn, possessed a treasure. The exact treasure was any loyal mechanic’s secret and bound to remain as such. But it was rumored to be some sort of portal activator, which the Knight admitted was way beyond anything he could imagine. Next to the mine opening was a charcoal chest, empty except for ash particles, waiting for the next mine cart’s load. The steam mechanism began hissing and he heard a work alarm sounding. The mechanical heart of Mechanogle’s invention also served as a site-seeing operation and he positioned himself under the station clock by the old turnstile in time to see a half-full train cabin and empty passenger car steam past.
After finishing his business with Customs, the next stop was more personal. The chapel was dark and calming. A sad gargoyle, carved into the elfish bas relief, looked down at the pitiful somber figure. He entered, walked past the confessional, lit a ritual candle by the altar, then sat down and silently offered a healing prayer for the heaviness of sin encompassing him. In the corner stood a heraldic colossus which was embossed with the sectary sign of the galloon of forgotten legion. A mortuary wreath had been placed at the foot of the statue. Memories flooded back, and he swore he could hear the haunting hymn of dawn from his childhood. A priest emerged from the darkness and placed his holy hand on the Knight’s shoulder. Understanding this as a sign of penance from the Knight, the priest had a very special gift for him. The Knight stood and followed the priest toward the dark ambon in the mirror nave to the left of the grand altar. The priest reached into the sepulcher and pulled out a small phylactery containing the griffin amulet. This ancient relic was rumored to house an ancestor’s spirit that would aid only the life line of the bloodred order. Silent, the priest handed the amulet to the Knight and walked away. He knew he would understand its power in due time and, as he left, the Knight dropped a royal gold coin into the donation box.
Outside, he walked around a crypt with a statue of angel, past a headstone whose markings had weathered, towards the cenotaph with the larger than life iron horse engraved with an aristocrat’s sign that memorialized a dead ambassador. The ambassador had been a legendary peace keeper, but had been lost in a far off conflict, his body never recovered. As the Knight’s mind wandered, he touched the family ring on his finger, the only truly fancy ornament he wore every day and swore he was seeing his father’s own aristocratic finger. He caught a glimpse of a coffin fastener and coffin seal on the ground, along with a broken statue, remnants of the dwellings of these unfortunate souls. There was a wreath of spring encircling the horse’s neck made up of yellow spring flowers, white snowdrops, red fireflowers and blue irises. At this moment, he wanted desperately to speak to his father. Because of the war, his father currently ruled under the sign of rocky throne and the Knight felt his father’s disappointment in him as a sign of denial. Would his failure constitute legend elimination among the clan or would he return a hero? Tears of impurity ran down his cheeks and his heart was no more than a strangled ruby. There was no wise saying to assist him now. Failure was not an option…he would return for Anabel and the werewolf throne.
Following the next bend in the road, the guard’s room just outside the castle armory came into view. As he approached, one of the guards immediately raised his guard shield. But upon recognition of a Knight of the first order, the guard relaxed. The Knight pulled out his tower key and unlocked the massive metal door of the armory. Once inside, he took in the huge array of weaponry….along one wall were ancient weapons like the bow and arrow of stoppage, dragon’s whip, knife of peril, blade of terror, cannon of purification, dagger of mercy, demonic whip, ritual blade, saw of sorrow, shackles of chaos, steel mite, torture whip, torture hook, wheel of sorrow and whip of terror, all rumored to have been used in the greatest battle pit of all, the march of the undead, or the war of good vs. evil. The armory also housed a medal of slaughter displayed in a replica hangman’s pit that had been worn by the infamous happy hangman, who delighted in his work and whose image, riveting with its power of fear, made people shudder. In a corner stood a heavily rusted iron maiden, an ancient torturing device not known for its presumption of innocence. But taking center stage was the infamous Spectral Blade. This blade freed the castle from the elemental of the abyss and would forever be revered.
Ignoring the death shackles, grave blade, silver arrow, silver bow, proper shield, shield of filth and shield of order, he moved to what interested him this day. Under a weapon stamp crest, he picked up a leader’s blade, sword of law and tower shield. He also helped himself to a few of the black stars. He left the armory suitably armed.
No stranger to the local blacksmith, his visits there were always very profitable for the smithy. That infernal armor of his was always getting dented, or welds coming undone. He insisted that the armor look near perfect. He handed over his blades and the smithy got to work igniting the purifying fire and using the steam tool and steel grinder to soften and shape the blades. Then this man, who had an iron chest, used all the force of his heavily muscled arms to swing the heavy hammer, which really looked like a giant’s hammer, against the great anvil. Each pounding produced a sparkle flamer from the hot blade until he was satisfied with the hard steel edge.
His belongings packed, weapons secure, and gladiator’s writ in hand he walked purposefully to the harbor. His ship would sail before sunrise, at first dawn’s ray, and he would stay aboard that night, the harbor acting as a spirit’s barrier between him and Anabel. He forced himself to regain his soldier duty decorum and tried to block out the scorching fire in her eyes. As he looked out over the sea, the waves rippled under the moon shine and the northern star was bright. His quest for the mandrake root had begun.