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The Knight, sporting the spirit of victory of a tireless racer reentered the tavern. A drunken skeleton of a man was leaning heavily against the brewing machine, which was embossed with a heavy seal of hops seal. The Knight ordered drinks all around then filled his heavy brass cup with velvet ale to the brim several times. With his impending drunkenness, the cup became too heavy so he traded it for an oak mug. The innkeeper’s monkey bandied about stealing any gold coins left unattended. But no amount of drink or merriment could assuage those eyes from haunting his every thought. After she disappeared out of sight, he found a flower from her hair on the ground. He gingerly fingered it now, enjoying the scent of roses and amber tear. He reached into his cape, brought out his pocket luck box made from obsidian splintered from a huge specimen and placed the flower there for safekeeping. He couldn’t believe his almighty luck and surely finding her was a symbol of requital for all he had been through. He felt a wind of change coming his way.
Anabel’s once heavy heart of time past gave way to the light-bringing sign that was the Knight. She had been a flower of suffering, crushed by the burden of obedience. Now, suddenly, the star of romance shown in the night sky and her dark, dreary world suddenly became a mosaic of life drenched in colors from a rainbow stone. Metaphorically, no longer was she a wailer in black wearing a widow’s shroud; but rather like Alice in Wonderland chasing the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole. No longer would there be any mourning of the soul or melody of despair; she was happy for the first time in her life.
Suddenly, The Knight couldn’t remember the last time he ate, so he wandered over to the bar counter with its own shining split filled with scrumptious unique dishes. He gorged himself on simple food, special food, unique food and rare food. The tavern even dabbled in some exclusive food, like spotted-winged parrot egg soufflé and grim eagle owl egg quiche. Once his thirst and hunger had been quenched, he went outside for a few puffs on his smoking device. He shook ash particles from his cloak and noticed wizard Transformer Magus had set up a tent nearby. Dressed for the part in necromancer’s clothes and holding a magic caster, Magus lured patrons with the promise of a word of the dead using his all-seeing eye. The Knight threw down a few imperial thalers and the wizard looked deeply into his wizard’s ball. He looked up at the Knight with a severe stare and claimed the Knight had fell victim to an ancient bloody hex. Magus said the Knight was suffering from the plague button curse and only an incarnation sign from a heaven descendant could break the curse. He would not find happiness or true everlasting love until then. The Knight’s blood volume boiled at this folly and with the brute force of a hell hound, he grabbed Magus and shook him until coins fell as if from a cash register.
The next morning the Knight felt what could only be described as green sickness. There had appeared a black mark on his hand. Was it the mark of trouble or the mark of a victim? Could it have been a poisonous bite from the food he ate? Had he ingested a dead mushroom or did someone introduce some poisonous vapor in his drink, resulting in a near deadly gulp? Had he been the victim of some harmful poison? Or was it truly the curse of which Magus spoke? Could it all be just a web of lies? He had a pounding headache and felt like he was losing all mental firmness. Quickly, he gulped a precious cup of healing potion and began to ponder what he would do next.
Once he regained stability, he took his bag from the baggage line hanging overhead, filled it with more healing potion and set out to visit Arabella, the witch. He needed to fight the curse that was physically depleting him and to make Anabel, the only woman who had ever stirred him, his own. Arabella lived in the middle of the Elvyn Forest. As he walked, he heard the forest sounds, was aware of forest eyes following his every move and felt the forest breath all around him. He was totally enveloped by the forest spirit. Any moment, he expected to see a forest fairy leap out at him. After walking for half the day, he came across an old forgotten relic. He walked past the column of the fallen and stopped at the ancient throne that had been etched with the founder’s face and the founder’s monogram. The founder had been a member of the galloon of forgotten legion and was revered for the example of bravery he displayed. This seemed like a good time to consult the Elvyn Forest map he had tucked into his traveler’s diary before beginning this trek.
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.