Having solved a string of issues in Halloween, the group chase a goblin called Morris (initials J.M.) through the random rooms and hallways of the House on the Hill. Bruce, opening a wardrobe and was sucked into another recursion, a land of broken spires and a harbour of black sailed ships. Once altogether again, Bruce cracks into Morris’ suitcase to allow three blind demon creatures to escape. In fighting the demons, Rain created an illusion of a giant red dragon. Once it scared away the demons, the dragon refused to be illusionary.
The group were left facing the giant red dragon as inhabitants from the city climb to their hiding place in a ruined house.
– – – – – – – –
Peggy and Celia stood together breathing hard after the fight with the devils. Algernon flickered his attention from the beings climbing the hill and the dragon above their heads, weighing the threats. Rain checked and double checked his connection to the illusion he’d created. It wasn’t there and he could do nothing but look to the others for help. The dragon roared and stared down at the party, its huge wings churning the dust and sand into the air. Bruce squared his shoulders and looked the dragon back straight in the eye.
“Ha.” The dragon laughed a single joyless sound, circled the group and landed on the remains of a wall.
“Good day to you, bro.” Bruce said, turning to keep eye contact with the flying reptile.
“You are a funny little human.” The voice of the dragon was deep and resonant and was neither funny or little.
“Not the line I had intended” Rain murmured low so only Bruce could hear as he also straightened up and stood beside him. Turning to the dragon he smiled and gave a small courty bow. “I for one am very pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Pavel, I thank you for your timely arrival.”
The head, the size of a small car swung round, two eyes slitted like snakes focused their attention on the silly little man in the ridiculous clothes.
“Hmmm, my name is Balthazar. Where are we and how did I come to be here?”
“My party needed help from devils so I…” Rain took a deep breath and plunged into his role head first, “…summoned you here. As to where we are, maybe we can work that out together.”
“Ah, do you think you can hurry this along, “Peggy pointed to the group of people climbing through the rubble, “We’re going to have guests soon.”
The great head, overflowing with sharp teeth, turned to the harbour and took note of the ’ eople’ Peggy referred to.
“I do no like the look of your guests. They have a beastial appearance and evil demeanor.”
“Where are you from?” Celia asked, curious as to where a creature of pure fantasy would feel at home.
The head turned to the sky as if the answer to the question was out there, “Mountains, my hoard, dwarves.”
“Ha, don’t know anyone called Smaug?” Bruce guffawed not taking his eyes off the creature. Though ready for action, he seemed more himself, calm and self controlled.
“You know of Smaug?” The head whipped back, “He is my uncle.”
“Bad news about your uncle, there.”
“Why, last I saw he was living well in Lonely Mountain.”
“It’s just, it sounds lovely. Maybe we could visit.” Celia interjected giving Bruce a withering look for goading the monster that could eat him in one bite.
“Hey! Maybe we could.” Rain perked up and turned to Peggy, “Peggy, Bathazar here is from…Middle Earth or wherever. Could he be used as a focus to get us out of here?”
“Yes…if he contains the spark, his memories of his home could guide us there. We need time though and that’s something we are running short of.” She now turned to the dragon, “You could fly us to some place safe then we translate back to your home.”
“You ride me, like a pack animal?” Bathazar looked disgusted, showing more teeth than was healthy for the human’s below. “Do you magic here magician,” The eyes turned back on Rain, “Take me back to my home.”
“First things first, our visitors have arrived.” Peggy announced running across the broken terrain towards the dragon, “We are short on options and don’t all have nice mail shirts like yourself.”
“Yes, Balthazar,” Rain replied, “Lend us your strength now and we will get you home.”
The moment of decision took almost the lifetimes of five mortals, but finally the dragon relented.
“Well, climb up.”
“All Aboard!” Bruce shouted giving each member of the team a leg up.
A dragon is not a creature meant for riding, it has no convenient hand holds or places to sit. Each group member found what they could in the way of a secure seat by wedging themselves between spines, hooking themselves to nodules and just plain holding on for grim death. When everyone was settled, the dragon bounded off the wall, flung out it’s giant batlike wings and took off into the sky.
Looking down, the beast men gathered in the broken down house. Each was wearing clothes like large lengths of cloth draped around their bodies. On their heads, turbans were pinned and desert face cloths were whipping free to reveal long animal-like muzzles full of wickedly sharp teeth. Eyes full of contempt and disgust followed the dragon and its load into the sky, as clawed hands tightened on nothing.
Something about the creatures struck a memory for Rain. As the dragon rose higher and started flying across the city proper, he saw the twin lion statues that lead to the underground cavern of his vision.
“This place! “He said getting the attention of the others, “This is the city I saw in my dream…the Spiral Dust vision.”
As they flew over the city, Rain pointed out the gate he had entered, the road he had travelled down and the plaza with the two lions.”
“We can’t leave.” Bruce said adamantly and Rain was stunned by his conviction. He nodded silently in acknowledgement.
“But of course you saw this place, this is Dreamland.” Algernon said as if it was all obvious.
“But why my dream, why not yours Algernon. Because of the Spiral Dust? And if so, who else’s?” Rain replied thinking of the Spiral Dust user they had all lost. The young hairdresser, Melissa Romero. He turned back to Bruce, “I’d come to believe it was just a dream, but this place really exists!”
“Then we have to go look.”
As Peggy and Ceclia discussed how they’d conduct the trance to translate, Algernon had set himself up on the back of the dragon. With his megre bodyweight he leaned left or right, jabbing his bony knees into the dragon’s neck.
“Keep that up little man, I need a back massage.”
“If you could just fly to the right when I lean in with my right knee.” He said, leaning in on that side by way of demonstration.
“Oh god! Please ignore the child.” Peggy said when she realised what Algernon was doing.
“Yes, we’ve been very fortunate to find such a powerful friend as Bathazar.” Rain added pointedly.
Algernon was irrepressible.
“Hey Rain, can you imagine and make me a big spear?”
“I’ll imagine you a hood and a gag.”
Above the city, a mountain range bare and formidable clawed the sky. For the topmost peak, the dragon flew finding a landing place where the group could disembark. With little instruction, the five humans made the circle of hands,including the dragon, and focused on translating. It was a profound disappointment when it was clear Bathazar was not part of the mindlink.
“There’s no spark of life.” Bruce said as the trace was dropped and the party looked at each other for what to do next.
“Do your magic! Why do you wait?” Bathazar’s large head came down into the circle of the five. No one could replied, except Algernon.
“The problem is you’re really not real.”
‘What do you mean?” Bathazar’s voice became thick with smoke and the threat of fire.
“We can’t take you home as we would have liked to.” Rain admitted.
“Maybe if you give us a few details about your home. We can lead the translation and get you back that way.” Peggy suggested.
Rain winced, “Wouldn’t he translate as a….like the raider from the wastes?”
“He belongs there, he’s created by that world. Why would he appear there as a blank?”
“But Rain made him here. He’s only Rain’s image of a dragon.” Bruce reminded Peggy and the group fell silent.
“Not real? I feel very real.” The dragon growled and leapt vertically into the air batting the group with his wings and the gusts off them. “Why would I put up with your rudeness and incompetence any longer? Tell me, why I shouldn’t just leave you here to find my own way home?”
“Well, you could…” Rain started, without conviction. Having dragged the creature into this recursion, Rain felt responsible for its welfare.
“You may be better off.” Algernon added. It was the last straw for the dragon who, with two mighty thrusts of its wings, pushed off the mountain peak and soared away.
“Okay Rain, now you can make us a vehicle to fly us out of here.” Algernon turned to Rain enacting the next step in some plan of his own.
“I’m not so sure, not after last time.” Rain gestured towards the dragon. It was a very appealing thought though, and it wasn’t long before Rain started trying to make transport to get the group off the mountain. Unfortunately, they were only the thin illusions that were difficult to maintain and only lasted a minute before evaporating. He didn’t know how the dragon came to exist in the first place and no matter how he tried, could reproduce it.
After several failed attempts Rain had to admit defeat and the group started the long slow descent back towards the city. Pulling a bound journal and pen out of his bag, Rain now turned his attentions to Algernon.
“You couldn’t or wouldn’t mention your mistresses name with Hazel Perkins, but you wrote something down. I wonder if there are other things that are easier for you to write than say.”
Algernon did not complain but took the notebook and pen, writing answers down as Rain thought of questions to ask. The questions were simple, writing the answers was not taxing and it filled the time as they travelled.
Algernon Balthazar Theobold
I’m not related to the dragon.
Age is determined in years… Earth Years. I don’t know how old I am.
My mistress is /was Doctor Lucinda Strangelove
“Is/was? Is she undead?”
Is she still my mistress?
“No!” Rain shook his head vehemently, “You’re free.”
Bruce guided the group down the mountain side, following a wildlife trail. The path led down to a natural wash cut into the soft rock over centuries of run off. The sides of the wash grew stepper as the wash itself became broader and covered in small bushes and dried weeds. Above, on the ridge, Peggy noticed movement, the black hairy chintous leg of something large reaching down the cliffside. She looked again closer and this time saw another purple, horse-sized spider already climbing down as the second topped the ridge and followed its companion.
“Spider! Spider! Spider!” She screamed, sending out a wave of Strange energy at the second of the beasts. It hit, dazing the creature and sending it falling onto the party. Bruce, who had been focused on the path ahead, did not move in time as the giant spider fell on him, knocking him to the ground. Rolling out of the way, Bruce cleared the body and legs of the stunned beast and was back on his feet, his crowbar in hand. The ambush foiled, the first spider scrambled up behind Algernon, its fangs bared to strike. Algernon fell under the weight of the spider, the teeth sinking into his shoulder. Poison pumped into Algernon and his cries were muffled by the creature’s bulk.
“Algernon!” Rain yelled, catching Bruce’s attention, but a spider was between them both. Swinging high, Bruce brought his crowbar down hard on the spider that had fallen on him. A crack of carapace echoed through the ravine and the spider collapsed to the ground in a mess of legs.
Celia moved around the now dead spider and attempted to hit the one on Algernon with two daggers. From her angle the spider was more legs than spider and she failed to get past the armoured hide to do any damage. The spider, having injected its venom into one victim turned and attacked Celia, fangs extended. Squirming under the weight of the spider, Celia avoided the fangs but couldn’t break free. A handcross bow drawn, Peggy fired on the spider at point blank range. The tiny bolt embedded itself in the carapace and the spider squealed.
Frozen to the spot with indecision, Rain could think of nothing but reaching out to the creature and extracting a thought. The psychic damage made the spider twitch, but nothing more. Rain was awed by the age of the beast, the knowledge of hunts against the goat- legged creatures from years past and the sharp intellect of a cunning creature.
“These things are smart, old and smart.” He said out loud to the group.
Rolling to one side, Algernon retrieved his large crossbow and aimed it straight up at the underside of the spider that had attacked him. The bolt hit and sunk deep. Bruce now strode up to provide the death blow and the spider crumpled, it’s weight falling on Celia.
Peggy helped Celia push the spider off as Rain raced to Algernon and was horrified to see the bite wound already red and covered in a purple mucus. Algernon was conscious, but the bite wound was hurting him and his skin was grey and clammy.
“Bruce…?” Rain wailed, his hands waving in the air with no idea what to do.
Bruce had a look and didn’t think it was too bad.
“You’re just a little shocky from the attack,” He said turning back to the track, “Get yourself up and walk it off.”
“Bruce! He’s been bitten!” Rain protested. “At least can we rest.”
“Not here. We’ll look for some place safer.” Bruce turned away and Algernon got groggily to his feet.
“Here,” Rain took Algernon’s other side and helped him up. “Lean on me.”
The group walked slower now, set by Algernon’s pace. Algernon did not feel well and it didn’t take long for him to start shivering. Rain leaned Algernon against a rock and called for Bruce once more.
This time Bruce examined Algernon and was surprised at how hot the youngman was. Taking a second look at the wound, the colour had changed to a dark purple, purple puss dripped out of the twin wounds.
“Hmmm.” Bruce pulled out his first aid kit a grim expression on his face. Rain hovered completely useless as Bruce poured alcohol onto the wound and Algernon flinched as it burned.
“Listened to me, Algernon. You’re not here at all, but in a comfortable safe place…” Rain said, taking Algernon’s free hand. He pushed the Strange energy through his words, enthralling Algernon into oblivion. As Bruce cleaned out the wound, Algernon lay blankly staring up at Rain who was equally locked into position speaking slowly and gently to his brother. As Bruce finished wrapping the wound, Rain let go the enthrallment and Algernon blinked. His shoulder felt better, but the fever still burned. Calling on the Strange, Rain made ice. Wrapping it in his rainbow jacket he put it under Algernon’s neck.
“We have to deal with the poison, not the symptoms.” Bruce commented, more to himself than anything. Rain snapped back.
“Look, I’ve don’t what I can! Why don’t you do something.”
Algernon rummaged around in his pack and pulled out a vial that Peggy had identified as a type of pick-me-up. With shaking hands, he popped the cork and swallowed the contents. Quickly a flush of colour spread across Algernon’s face and the fever broke leaving him feeling light headed but better.
The group continued to travel down the mountain. One side of the gully gave way as the path followed a cliff. Exposed to the elements, the group struggled to keep to the path and not plummet down to the desert below. Buffeted by an updraft, Celia pinwheeled for a moment trying to rebalance. Limbs shaking and her vision swimming, she swung herself back to the cliff wall.
“We should probably rope together.” Bruce said sheepishly after the fact as Rain pulled out the paracord from a sleeve.
Successive fights, wounds and the effort of the climb down were taking their toll on the group. Peggy finally stumbled and fell dazed onto the path and it was clear that a resting place would have to be found soon. Bruce’s keen eyes did spot a darkening of the rock wall ahead, a small cave opening.
“Bruce, are you up to checking it out? You have the better eyesight.” Rain asked peering at the place Bruce had mentioned.
“Alone?” Celia asked. This was no place to go it alone.
‘“Never alone,” Rain acknowledged, “Just first.”
Bruce stepped into the shadows of the cave, it was dark in comparison to the exposed cliff path. He missed the shape of a outcropping and fell onto something cool and yielding, sinuous and smooth. Rolls of muscular flesh moved quickly, wrapping his feet and legs. From behind, Rain created a tiny sun high in the ceiling of the cave, it’s light filling the space with cold brilliance. The thing around Bruce squirmed getting a tighter purchase on its prey.
Ah! Light! Blinding! Were the creature’s surface thoughts which were basic and beastial.
“Let go of my friend and we’ll turn off the light!” Algernon responsed, but the creature didn’t or couldn’t comply.
The segmented body of a giant centipede tightened itself around Bruce, each breath becoming harder and harder to take. As the creature’s body stretched across his vision, thin places between the chitin were exposed.
“You’re not going to let a bug stop you, are you Bruce?.” He could hear Rain say, feel his encouragement and the Strange course through him. With all his strength he pushed on the tender flesh under the armoured segments, twisting as he did. Eventually he wrestled his way clear, rolling out of reach of the thrashing beast. With a flick and a scuttle the creature retreated to a small opening that went deeper into the cave, it’s whole body slivering into a hole not much bigger than Bruce’s head. Heaving himself up, Bruce went to give chase.
“Let it go.” Celia said wrapping her coat around her as the wind that had battered them all afternoon brought the first signs of rain.
“Yes, “Algernon entered the cave gathering rocks, “We’ll plug the hole and any others we find before resting.”
Either way, Peggy wasn’t going anywhere. As she and Celia found a comfortable place to rest, Algernon lit a torch and used it to look down the hole. Two black eyes shone back briefly before turning away, the long body of the centipede slipping past his light. It wasn’t long before Algernon could see the end of the passage and the end of the centipede slipping into darkness. Searching the rest of the cave, Bruce found a number of other holes that were quickly plugged with salvaged rocks and sand, pounded into place by Bruce.
“Well this is a cosy home.” Rain handed out rations (that had once been muesli bars) from within his coat to the rest of the group, “Are we sleeping here?”
As if in response, a gust of wind brought a splattering of rain to the cave, guttering Algernon’s torch.
Bruce swayed on his feet as he looked back at the wall where the centipede had fled.
“Get some rest,” Rain said to him handing over what looked like a small dense loaf of bread, “Algernon and I will keep watch, I can keep the light going as well.” He pointed to the tiny sun lighting the cave but providing no warmth.
As the others slept, Rain and Algernon continued their writing game.
“Why is it important to be safe? Who do you protect?”
It’s always been my job to be thrust into hazardous situations and survive…I know that it’s never safe, but it’s comforting to ask anyway. Dr Strangelove always said “Of course it’s safe!”
I protect myself. I feel like I need to protect my new family now too, even if they don’t realise I’m protecting them.
“Knowing what you know, what would you want to be doing?”
Get away from Earth and all its recursions. It’s not safe. It’s really not safe at all…
“Where do you think it is safe? Back to your world?”
That might be safer…but I don’t think there is safe either. Nowhere is safe from !@$^@$!$@^^@%!$!$&^&
Rain took a moment or two to try and make sense of the gibberish Algernon had written. It wasn’t in any Earth script, Rain wasn’t sure if it could be considered writing at all. Rubbing his tired eyes, he thought for a moment before asking his next question.
“Describe !@$^@$!$@^^@%!$!$&^&?” He wrote using the same symbols and marks.
Huh, what do you mean?
“I don’t understand !@$^@$!$@^^@%!$!$&^&. Paint a picture with words of !@$^@$!$@^^@%!$!$&^&?”
“Who said that? I don’t know any !@$^@$!$@^^@%!$!$&^&” Algernon said out loud. Bruce shifted in his sleep.
Now Rain was intrigued. Here was a mystery. Was Algernon being his secretive self again? Rain didn’t think so, the look on Algernon’s face was of surprise, confusion and a little concern. His protests seemed genuine, but how could he not remember writing something, even if you didn’t know what it was. Rain pointed to the page, to Algernon’s own words.
“Algernon, You wrote it down.”
“But I didn’t…I’m mean…I don’t think I did…” Algernon’s voice rose, bouncing off the rock of the cave to eventually peter out as he realised that there was something very wrong. Rain, on the other hand, was like a hungry bird chasing what he thought was the tail of a very tasty worm.
“Where does !@$^@$!$@^^@%!$!$&^& live?” He said louder than he intended
“I don’t know !@$^@$!$@^^@%!$!$&^&!” Algernon replied even louder, frustrated and scared of the black gap in his memory.
“Will you all shut !@$^@$!$@^^@%!$!$&^& up? I’m trying to get some sleep!” Bruce complains and rolls back over. The two boys went back to writing in the journal.
“When did you first feel the lack of not knowing?”
I don’t know.
“Since being with us? Did you have this ‘not knowing’ with Strangelove?”
“I guess when you first asked me about !@$^@$!$@^^@%!$!$&^&”
“Since being with us, since studying the Strange and all the creatures of it. Something scary, so scary nowhere could be safe.” Rain mulled the problem through out loud. On a whim he asked, “Who is Nakarand?”
“The being behind the Spiral-eyes.” Algernon replied simply. This was in fact information Algernon himself had uncovered and shared.
Nope. Dead end.
Rain rubbed stratch his head unconsciously. He had run out of questions. He knew Algernon had been studying creatures of The Strange, but when asked if he knew anything big and powerful he’d claimed to know nothing. Was that this effect at work or was there genuinly nothing to know? As Algernon fell to silently watching the others rest, Rain brooded on the implication that vital information was somehow being deliberately withheld from within Algeron’s own mind.