With a package in hand, Morgan Haile emerged from his UPS van and started off toward the cabin. Rocking chairs on a wraparound porch gave the small log home an inviting appeal. Morgan welcomed the shade as he approached the door and ran a hand through his sweaty brown hair.
“Yeah, look at all the rain clouds,” Morgan scoffed.
The morning weather report called for thunderstorms and Morgan decided against his company-issue shorts. However, the temperature climbed to a scorching 95° by the afternoon. Morgan was in good physical condition, but his thick blood preferred cooler temperatures.
“Why do people need signature confirmation?” he thought as he knocked on the door a second time. He preferred deliveries he could just leave at the door. While he waited for the resident to stir within, he walked to the porch railing to look around. The cabin sat atop a winding gravel road on the edge of a sparsely-wooded forest. Morgan glanced over to a hollow that led out of the woods into a rolling field. He stared for a moment then directed his gaze to a nearby pond.
As he turned from the field, he caught a glimpse of something in the corner of his eye. He looked back to see a small house blur into view as if someone had magically smeared it upon the landscape. “That’s weird,” Morgan said to himself, “I haven’t had a flashback since college.” He closed his eyes for a few seconds and refocused. The house was still there. No explanations competed for his attention, so he knocked on the door again. He was loud enough to leave no doubt there was a visitor, but no one answered.
Out of frustration, Morgan set off toward the small house with the box and his electronic clipboard. “Maybe the owner is over there,” Morgan said as he tried to rationalize the appearance of the house. More than for his job, he wanted to confirm he had not lost his mind.
He approached the mysterious home and noticed how old it looked. Built of logs and sod with a thatched roof, it had a medieval quality. The entire exterior appeared wet, even in the dry summer air. “Okay, this is too weird,” Morgan said as he felt the side of the home. Out of habit, he walked up to the door and knocked. He did not tap hard, but the door came ajar. Hesitant to stroll inside, he leaned in to peek around. “Hello?” The interior was occupied by a limited amount of simplistic furniture, but nothing grabbed Morgan’s attention as much as the scattered drips of red water from the ceiling. He held out his hand to catch the substance and found it smelled like wine.
“Interesting,” he said after a taste supported the idea. He looked back to the cabin and still saw no activity. His curiosity peaked, he set down the package and clipboard and stepped through the door. Morgan was relieved to find the air inside cool and refreshing. He tilted his head back to let the wine drip on his face.
Morgan continued his exploration toward the rear of the house. As he stopped to peer out one of the back windows, he saw three men dash by on horseback. He bolted for the back door and flung it open as the trio galloped toward the other end of the field. One of the men pointed skyward. Morgan followed the man’s gesture and saw what looked like a small purple dragon just before it disappeared over the treetops. He ventured away from the house for a better look.
Morgan heard a loud crackling at his back. He spun around to see the house engulfed in flames. In mere seconds the entire structure was reduced to an ash shell and collapsed. Morgan was still staring in disbelief when the three men rode up behind him.
Though shrouded by riding cloaks, each man’s clothing seemed of an ancient style. Two of them had long light-brown hair. The other had close-cropped blonde hair and sported a goatee. All three carried swords.
“You there,” the blonde man shouted. “What are you doing?”
Morgan faced them and said, “I was just watching this house burn to the ground. What are you doing is the better question. What’s with the swords?”
“There was never a house here,” the man replied.
“I just walked through it. Don’t you see the ashes all over the ground?”
The three men traded suspicious looks. The blonde man dismounted and walked over to the layer of ash. “When did you build this house?” he asked.
“I didn’t build it. I thought it might belong to one of you. I was delivering a package to that house up there…” Morgan trailed off when he realized he couldn’t see the cabin anymore. Even the way he came appeared different. A dense forest occupied the area where the hollow should have been. “Alright, what’s going on here? You guys messing with me?”
“The poor fellow’s lost his mind,” one of the other men remarked to his comrade.
“Look,” Morgan said, “someone tell me how to get back to that house. I need to get to my van and go home. I obviously need some rest.”
“Your van?” said one of the men. “Do you mean a caravan?”
“No, my big brown van.”
“What house do you refer to now?” the blonde man asked as he kicked at the ash pile.
“The guy’s last name was Wright. It was just over the hill there. Do you know him?”
“I don’t know anyone by that name.”
“All right, I’m not interested in your little Renaissance dress-up games or whatever show you’re putting on with the burning house. I don’t even care what you were flying through the sky. It’s been a long hot day and apparently I’m having delusions from heat exhaustion.”
“We were following a dragon.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you were. Which way to my van?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” the blonde man said with a look of genuine confusion. “Is this the crest of your king?” He pointed to the UPS patch on Morgan’s shirt. “Perhaps if you tell us your king’s name, we can steer you in the right direction.”
“Enough with the role play. We don’t have a king.”
“What land has no king?”
“Are you guys drunk?”
“No. We are trying to understand you…” The man’s eyes widened and he turned to his companions on horseback. “It’s him!”
The other men jumped from their mounts and hurried over. The trio each bowed on one knee before Morgan.
“Alright, this is just silly,” Morgan said.
“Forgive us, my lord. We had given up hope. I am Fallosin and my friends here are Astyneh and Jearim. We are at your service.”
“That’s good to know, but what are you talking about? You gave up hope of what?”
“Of your arrival. It has been five summers since we heard the prophecy. We have been at a loss and just had to continue living as we always have, waiting for our hero.”
“You guys just won’t give up, will you? Okay, I’ll play along if you take me back to my van.” Morgan took a calming breath and continued with put-on enthusiasm. “Of what prophecy do you speak, good sir knight?”
“That a stranger from another land would come to deliver our daughters from the evil that binds them.”
“I’m not here to deliver anyone’s daughters. I’m no doctor.” Morgan was the only one to laugh at his joke.
“Your jests are well deserved, my lord. We realize our mistake in not recognizing you. We should have known right away from your unusual clothing.”
“Whatever. You guys need a different hobby.”
“You must come to our village. Everyone will want to meet you.”
“No, what I must do is get back to my van.”
“Come with us and we promise to find this van you speak of.”
After a good deal of hesitation and another vain effort to spot the cabin where his van was parked, Morgan agreed.
During the ride to the village, Morgan attempted to wrap his mind around the bizarre scenario. “I just had to go exploring,” he thought. He figured the wet house’s appearance and rapid incineration would have been enough to ponder the rest of his days. But on top of that were the “dragon” and the strange men in medieval gear. “Perhaps I passed out from the heat and I’m still on the porch of that cabin,” he told himself and tried to believe it.
Soon after the party came upon a dirt road, Morgan saw the village. The settlement covered a flat stretch at the top of a low hill, backed by a forest and fronted by grasslands. Stone and wood houses of varying size made a disorganized circle around the center of the village. As they rode in, Morgan observed the residents. Dressed in much the same archaic fashion as the men who brought him, the villagers were all in the midst of different chores or activities. Some gathered in discussion, some bartered for goods at merchant stands, and others beckoned children home for dinner.
Tired of the horse ride, Morgan leapt to the ground as soon as they reached the edge of the village center. Jearim stopped beside him and sounded a horn. Those within eyeshot all turned at the sound and countless other villagers soon came in droves to discover the cause of the alarm.
“The Chosen One has arrived,” Jearim called.
“Great,” Morgan said under his breath.
The village erupted with cheering and applause. Morgan found himself hoisted onto shoulders and carried to a long table at the center of the village. Several villagers produced lutes and began a celebratory tune while Morgan was seated at the table with food and drink. He welcomed the bitter taste of the ale and thought it might make his visit more bearable. Morgan tried to ignore the many villagers that felt the need to touch his brown uniform.
“Greetings, Chosen One,” said the village elder as he shuffled up and sat down across from Morgan. He was a round fellow with a hearty voice and a short supply of hair. “I am Healhtun. We are graced by your presence. Is there anything you require before starting your quest?”
“What is this? Some sort of secret Renaissance commune?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What are you people doing here? I mean, does that Wright guy know you’re on his property? Is he here somewhere?”
“I don’t know any Wright, unless you mean Nohrtin our cartwright.”
Morgan called over one of the men who brought him to the village. The three men were entertaining a small group of villagers with every detail of their experience.
“What can I do for you, Chosen One?” Fallosin said, very proud of himself.
“Am I done here? I came to your village. How about taking me to my van now?”
“But your quest…”
“You are here to save our daughters,” Healhtun cut in. “And the daughters of the surrounding villages. They have been taken from us.”
“Oh yeah, that. Let me guess, the dragon took them.”
The crowd gasped.
“You are indeed wise, Chosen One,” Healhtun said. “As was expected.”
“Well I figured it had to be dragons, witches or trolls.” Morgan paused and took notice of the grave expressions all around him. “Okay, you people are taking this a little too far. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds fun and you’re very convincing, but I’ve got to be going. Maybe I’ll stop by again sometime and I’ll do the quest then. How’s that sound?”
His statements were met with random sobs and disappointed grimaces. “Oh, come on. It’s not like your daughters are really gone.” As he finished his sentence, he noticed the only females in the crowd were young or elderly. Morgan did not see any women his own age and was unsure of what to say next. He assumed their absence was part of the act, but he began to doubt himself. Furthermore, he figured his attitude toward these people only helped diminish their desire to lead him back to his van. Morgan decided to go along with their story in the hopes of a speedy departure. “All right, all right. How long will this take?”
The utter sadness that surrounded him lifted in an instant. Tears became those of joy and Morgan was clapped on the back by everyone within range. He smiled and said, “Sorry. I thought I had another quest today, but I just remembered it’s next week. So tell me, why were your daughters taken?”
“We do not know, but since that day we’ve just continued living as we always have, waiting for our hero,” said Healhtun.
“So a dragon took them. Was it a dragon like the one I saw you three chasing?” Morgan said to Fallosin.
“Oh no,” Fallosin replied. “We can handle them at that size. This dragon is fully grown and very dangerous. It is called the Diamond Dragon.”
“How am I supposed to defeat it?”
“The prophecy said you must acquire a special weapon first,” Healhtun said.
“Who made this prophecy?”
“A wandering wizard.”
“That figures. What kind of weapon do I need?”
“A sword with magical properties, made long ago by master swordcrafters and in their possession still.”
“Okay, so how do I find these swordcrafters?”
“They are a race of elves called the Jaa’a-Nii and they live further to the south. Beyond the Wayward Forest and the Fountain of Léviowed, in the desolate and seemingly lifeless lands of the…”
“Let me cut in right there. I’m a little new here, so how about you set me up with a map.”
Though far from his intention, Morgan developed a growing interest in the story and the adventure that called his name. Whether it was a dream or live action role play, he felt a strange desire to stick around. He had always been a sucker for a fantasy story and this had the makings of a good one. “How soon do I leave?”
“Right away, if you wish,” Healhtun said as he stood up. He gestured for Morgan to follow and told Fallosin to bring a choice of mounts. “Your path lies this way.” Healhtun pointed toward a dirt road that extended south out of the village and into the grassy plain beyond. “Do you not require a cloak before setting off?”
“It’s pretty warm out. Why would I need one?”
“I thought heroes always wore cloaks.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Maybe I’ll take a light one.”
“Find this man a cloak,” Healhtun bellowed to some nearby villagers. Then he faced Morgan and said, “You must know how pleased we are to finally see you. We have just had to continue living as we always have, hoping one day you would arrive.”
“Yeah, you said that.”
“Know that by fulfilling this quest, you will return the missing pieces of so many lives. Dreams that many thought hopeless will soon be realized. You are a brave man, Chosen One.”
“Call me Morgan.”
Fallosin rejoined Morgan and Healhtun with two horse-sized dragons in tow. The animals walked on all fours, but when they halted, they stood on their thicker hind legs. Leather muzzles sealed off their snouts and stopped just before their fierce black eyes. One of the dragons was a dark blend of blue and purple with a tan underbelly and smooth skin. The other was a pale shade of gray and scaly. The dark one sent a couple blasts of smoke from the nostril holes in its muzzle.
Morgan was taken aback at the sight. His theory of the village being a secret society was crushed. He fell back to the idea that he was unconscious on the porch.
“I thought dragons might offer more haste to the quest,” Fallosin said.
“Good thinking,” agreed Healhtun.
“Wait,” Morgan said. “I don’t know how to ride a freaking dragon.”
“Not to worry,” Fallosin replied. “These aren’t Frii’kens. They’re Dran-shiks. Frii’kens are much too wild for transport.”
“Nevermind. Just tell me how to fly it.”
“Before you begin your lesson,” Healthun said, “I should warn you there is a condition for interacting with the Jaa’a-Niis. You must speak only in rhyme. If you fail to do so, I cannot guarantee your visit will be pleasant.”
“Nothing like a last minute warning,” Morgan said with a smile.
“After you retrieve the sword, return to the village and fly north to the Tower of Rock that looms over the forest. That is the lair of the Diamond Dragon, there you will find and free our daughters. Good luck, Chosen One. Though I’m sure you have scant need of it. We eagerly await your return.”
Morgan chose the smaller beast and after a crash course in dragon riding he was soon able to maintain a safe and steady elevation through a clear blue sky. With little confidence in his saddle’s stability, Morgan opted to let his dragon do all the work for the first few miles. The turbulence alone was enough to manage, but added to that was the odd flight control system. One set of reins connected to the dragon’s muzzle and the other set attached to the top edges of the dragon’s bat-like wings. Morgan was hesitant to use the latter pair as they were secured to rings that had been clamped through each wing. He imagined those reins were painful for the animal.
“Guess it’s just you and me now,” Morgan said to the gray dragon. “I’m going to have to give you a name. I mean I can’t just call you ‘Dragon.’ Let’s see, what’s a good dragon name?” He studied the beast while he pondered. “How about Graywing?”
The dragon did not acknowledge him.
“Yeah, I like that. Graywing it is.”
Morgan used the time alone to consider his situation yet again. Slowly, he came to accept his adventure as genuine. Though he did not understand it, he felt the experience had endured far too long and was much too realistic for any other explanation. “Aside from a psychotic break,” he thought. “Either way, I should just try to enjoy myself. Real or not, how often does such an opportunity come along?”
According to his map, Morgan had just passed over the Wayward forest and soon spotted the Fountain of Léviowed. The structure was rather hard to miss. In addition to monstrous proportions, the road widened around the fountain, so its presence was even more obvious. Once again, Morgan’s curiosity took over and he indicated to Graywing they should land.
Morgan was instructed to use the secondary reins to pull the dragon’s wings back when he was ready to land. With reluctance, he tugged the reins. The dragon then plunged into a downward spiral and brought them to the fountain’s edge. Morgan almost lost his grip and his lunch.
“At last,” Morgan said, once he stepped out of his saddle. He welcomed the solid ground like a long lost friend.
A couple of cars could fit bumper to bumper in either direction of the fountain’s base. Vibrant green water spilled over three more levels that rose from the center. Each level was adorned with voluptuous female statues that dumped water from jugs. Morgan was hesitant to drink the water for the simple reason of its color. However, he was quite parched and could not resist. He scooped a handful and slurped it. A look of shocked recognition spread over his face.
“That’s Mountain Dew!” he said to Graywing. “I’d know that sweet elixir anywhere.” He downed several more handfuls and said, “So much for hydration.” He stood back for a moment and marveled at the structure in a new light. “I wonder how they keep it carbonated.”
Morgan drank his fill and then noticed Graywing stared at the cascading waters. “You want something to drink?” he said to the dragon.
Graywing continued to gaze at the fountain with a certain longing.
Scenarios swarmed through Morgan’s head of what might happen if he removed the dragon’s muzzle. He imagined the restraint had to be quite uncomfortable. Morgan walked up to Graywing and put a hand on one of the muzzle straps. “Now, if I take this off so you can drink…” Morgan broke off his question and reflected on the absurdity of his predicament: he stood next to a fountain of Mountain Dew in a medieval land and hoped to reason with a dragon that would probably love to flame-broil him.
A gentle nudge of the dragon’s snout against his arm pulled him from his reverie. Despite his misgivings, Morgan couldn’t help but think she understood him. After further deliberation, he decided to go with his instincts. He unbuckled the straps and pulled the leather binding off the dragon’s snout. Morgan avoided any sudden moves as he stepped away.
Graywing’s jaws opened wide several times and flexed muscles that had been bound too long. The dragon gave Morgan a sudden glare, which made him nervous, but she did not advance on him. She walked over to the fountain and dipped her head over the side to lap up some of the bubbling green water.
“See, Morgan is your friend.”
The dragon turned to face him and edged closer. She did not stop until her head came level with his. With no small amount of hesitation, Morgan stood his ground. Graywing’s mouth opened and revealed two rows of long shark-like teeth. Morgan had second thoughts about his decision until the dragon’s forked tongue shot out and licked his face.
“I’ll take that as a thank you,” Morgan said as he wiped a layer of sweat from his brow. “I’ve got another idea. Why don’t we take off these other reins as well?”
Morgan removed the leather straps from the rings in the dragon’s wings. Graywing showed her approval by a nuzzle and breath of steam in Morgan’s face. Morgan improvised a new set of reins in which Graywing held the middle of the strap with her front claws. Then the two were airborne once more. They veered west from the fountain and soon found themselves in the bleak landscape of the Jaa’a-Nii realm.
The aid of a dragon afforded considerable haste to Morgan’s journey. He and Graywing drew nearer the center of the dry and rocky terrain, but had yet to see the oasis marked on the map. However, as they crested yet another large barren ridge, their destination came into view. It was a distinct interruption of color in the predominantly brown landscape. The water pool glistened in the sun and was lined around the back with a semicircle of assorted trees in full bloom. Small boulders made half a ring around the front with a walkway entrance in the middle.
Morgan, who had become more comfortable with dragon flight, leaned Graywing forward to signify a landing. Their spiraling descent brought them down in front of the walkway. Morgan dismounted and patted Graywing on the back as he went to explore.
Aside from the unusual abundance of trees in such an arid environment, Morgan was more impressed by the crystal clear water of the spring. Roughly the size of a swimming pool, Morgan estimated its depth at 10 feet. He squatted at the water’s edge and saw a sphere of blue light at the bottom.
"Well, this is the spot marked on the map, but I don't see any elves," Morgan said. He looked to Graywing and asked, "You think I have to obtain the blue orb first?"
Graywing swished her tail and seemed to nod.
"Yeah, I thought so too."
Morgan removed his cloak and waded into the warmth of the water. While he still had footing, he took a couple deep breaths to prepare his lungs. After he submerged himself, he reached the bottom with little effort and hovered over the sphere. Nothing could be seen through the ethereal light. Morgan was not sure what to do, so he decided to swim up for another breath. However, as he started up, it felt as though an invisible surface barred his attempt. Adrenaline and fear rushed into his veins as he began a frantic search for upward access.
His wild movements brought him back over the blue sphere of light. Morgan put his feet to the bottom of the spring in a final attempt to break through the unseen barrier. He was yanked downward as soon as his feet touched the sphere. The sensation of falling lasted only seconds before his backside was introduced to a rather unforgiving surface.
For a moment he was swathed in darkness. The slapping of bare feet on a rock floor echoed all around him and lanterns of blue light appeared throughout the room. The owners of the lanterns were short greenish figures with pointed ears, hooked noses and yellow hair. They wore only tan loin cloths and some carried spears. Morgan recalled his conversation with Healthun and remembered the warning to speak in rhymes. His mind raced for something to say.
“Relax your weapons…I am not here to threaten.”
“Why are you here?” asked one of the elves.
“I am the Chosen One and I was told you have a sword for me. I was told I should seek… the Jaa’a-Nii.” Morgan was proud of himself for that one. He started to think the rhyming restriction would be no problem.
The elves exchanged knowing glances and one of them said, “Yes, yes. Follow. We will take you to the chief.”
“Wait,” Morgan said as he got to his feet. “Why are you not speaking in rhyme? I was under the impression you did so all the time.”
“Why would we?” the elf said.
Morgan was unsure how to transform his confusion into poetry, so he just shrugged his shoulders.
“Foolish human,” the elf responded. “Follow.”
The elves led him through a series of dark uphill passages to an area above ground enclosed by high walls. With the floor space of a football field, the canyon reverberated the hammering of swords, accented by the occasional hiss of a sword cooled in water. Dozens of elves populated the enclosure with their various swordcrafting workstations. An uncountable assortment of shallow alcoves occupied the bottom half of the walls. Each recess housed a pedestal in which a sword stood on end. Every conceivable type of blade was represented and Morgan stopped for a proper appreciation.
“Keep moving,” said the elf behind him. “You should not keep the chief waiting.”
“Does he even know I’m here?”
The elf swung his spear across the back of Morgan’s knees, which put Morgan on his back. He found a jagged blade in his face and the elf on his chest before he knew what happened.
“Watch how you speak to me, human,” the elf said and grinned with a set of nasty pointed teeth. “If you were not the Chosen One, I would have your head.”
“Hold!” echoed a voice from the other end of the enclosure. “Bring him to me.”
Morgan’s attacker was quick in his obedience and led Morgan to the top of a cliff midway up the canyon wall. Overlooking the canyon from a modest iron throne, the chief was flanked on either side by underlings. He was much heavier than the other elves and had less hair. However, the chief distinguished himself in a loin cloth of black with red lining. He also adorned his neck with a thick mess of beaded necklaces and his ears were pierced multiple times.
The elf that assaulted Morgan bowed low and said, “Chief Fannorstan, the Chosen One has arrived.”
Morgan offered a slight bow of his head. “Greetings, Chief Fannorstan, and thank you for seeing me. I have come for one of your swords to aid me in my destiny.”
“I have been told as much,” Fannorstan replied, seeming uninterested. “This way.”
Morgan followed Fannorstan’s waddle up a walkway that curved around the canyon wall from the clifftop. The ledge rose to a point halfway back to the entrance, much higher than the other sword alcoves.
“You have come for a very special sword indeed,” Fannorstan said as they walked. “The Singing Sword.”
“The Singing Sword?” Morgan repeated as his enthusiasm plummeted. He had hoped for something a little more fantastic, like a sword that shot flames or lightning. “What is the weapon used for?”
“You can abandon the silly poetic speech. I’m not sure who started that tradition, but I would like to kick the fool’s backside. Humans wanting to be a hero of this land or that have been coming here for many seasons, seeking every manner of sword. Many Jaa’a-Nii have become so accustomed to the practice they take offense when visitors do not speak in rhyme.”
“I was told it was of dire importance.”
“Someone has made it out that way. And we’ve just had to continue…”
“Living as you always have?” Morgan interrupted. He wanted to test the strange word pattern he had noticed in his earlier conversations.
“Yes. We put up with the occasional hero poet coming to our lands. But it is not every day the Chosen One arrives. Ah, here we are.” Fannorstan gestured to the only alcove on the walkway. “The Singing Sword.” The weapon lay across the top of the pedestal in a brown leather sheath. Its handle was also wrapped in leather and the guard made a slight wave.
“Why is it not standing as the others?”
“You shall see when you unsheathe it. But you mustn’t do it here.”
Morgan and Fannorstan returned to the clifftop and cheering filled the enclosure from the multitudes below. Something told Morgan they were relieved he had come for the sword. The rejoicing subsided and Fannorstan motioned for Morgan to accompany him into a cave behind his throne. The passage ascended to the rim of the canyon, which allowed a view of the activity below as well as the surrounding horizon.
“There is our spring,” Fannorstan said as he pointed out into the desert-like plain. “Send us word of your success.”
Fannorstan was back into the cave before Morgan could reply, so Morgan walked over to the canyon’s edge. He thought a speech was in order. With the sheathed sword overhead, he shouted so all would hear. “The Chosen One now has the Singing Sword. My thanks to you, because I did not have it before. Now to my quest, I must cater…” At a loss for a closing, he added, “See you Jaa’a-Niis later.”
Morgan heard them celebrate further as he bounded off and slid down the rocky hill away from the canyon. The oasis was not far and he was glad to see Graywing again. She seemed just as pleased at his return. The dragon took notice of Morgan’s new sword right away.
“How does it look?” Morgan said. “Let’s see what this sucker does.”
As Morgan drew out the blade, a man’s voice boomed.
“Well, I hack down the wicked like I’m chopping through a thicket and my blade still retains a gleam…”
Morgan dropped the sword back into the sheath and looked at Graywing. “Okay,” he said with a laugh. “Let’s try that again.” Sure enough, the boisterous voice returned as soon as the blade could be seen.
“I’ll punish your foes from their head to their toes. You best be glad I’m on your team.”
The sword was sheathed again. “I figured it only sang when you needed it to,” Morgan said. “I guess that’s why the Jaa’a-Niis were so eager to be rid of it. Well, whatever. Now we have an annoying sword to somehow aid us in our journey.”
The sun made a red-orange retirement from a cloudless sky as the duo backtracked their path to the north. They soared over the Fountain of Léviowed, the Wayward Forest and finally came upon the village. All that lay ahead of them was the lair of the Diamond Dragon. Morgan had no idea what he would do when he got there, but felt compelled to finish the quest.
Graywing seemed to know the way without guidance. Within a half hour past the village, the Tower of Rock that Healthun spoke of loomed up out of the forest. Morgan urged Graywing to land a safe distance away for reconnaissance.
Hidden by dusk in the edge of a treeline, Morgan surveyed the colossal mound and thought it more of a separate mountain than a tower of rock. A wide track spiraled from the base to the top and led to a couple of adjacent cave entrances. Smoke wafted intermittently from the opening on the right and the other was blocked by a huge boulder.
“We should probably attack while it’s unawares in the cave,” Morgan said to Graywing as he stepped behind a tree to relieve himself. On his way back to remount, and glancing at the mountaintop, Morgan tripped over a root. When he fell, the Singing Sword slid from its sheath and burst into song.
“I have set forth, into your lands, aided by my handsome friend. You would do well to abandon your plans and prepare to meet your end…”
“Gotcha!” Morgan said as he recovered enough to stow the clamorous blade. He looked back to the mountain and a cold chill leapt up his spine. Smoke no longer puffed from the cave. Morgan searched the skies as he made a cautious approach to Graywing and climbed into his saddle. He took up the reins along with a large helping of anxiety.
Graywing crouched to leap into the air, but halted when an immense shadow crossed the ground in front of them. Morgan looked up and saw a dragon the size of two school buses glide overhead. Its scales were such a shade of silver they glinted like diamonds in the moonlight. He watched in awe, unmoving, until the enormous creature swooped down to the ground with a thundering quake. The Diamond Dragon then reared up on its hind legs and let out a bone-rattling roar.
Morgan was thrown from his mount, but not by the dragon’s landing alone. Graywing had bucked him off and took a defensive position to block Morgan from the towering dragon. When Morgan fell, the Singing Sword was given another opportunity for exhibition. However, the melodious weapon’s performance was cut short by a quick restraint on the part of its owner.
When Morgan returned his attention to the dragons, he was amazed by what he saw. Graywing made a high-pitched whimpering noise and nuzzled the belly of the Diamond Dragon. The much larger dragon replied with a similar noise, only louder. Morgan then realized the great beast was Graywing’s mother.
Morgan smiled as Graywing walked over to say farewell with more licks about his face. He hugged her neck and she blew a big puff of steam in his face. “Our time was short,” Morgan told her. “But it’s been an adventure. I’ll miss you, Graywing.”
The two dragons were soon in flight to the summit of the mountain. The Diamond Dragon perched over the blocked cave and shoved the boulder loose with a massive hind leg. Screams of joy pierced the still night air as an assembly of three dozen women charged from the cave.
“Oh yeah, the whole point of this quest,” Morgan said. In the excitement, he had forgotten why he was there.
Morgan sat down on a stump and waited for the horde of women to descend from the mountaintop. As the stampeding mob came close, he stood to greet them with open arms. Their imprisonment had left them haggard. Dirt covered their skin and clothing and their hair begged for a brush. Even still, Morgan marveled at their underlying beauty. Just beyond arm’s reach, the women stopped in their tracks and stared behind him. Morgan turned to face a host of seven black-armored knights astride black horses who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
“The king requests an audience,” the lead knight announced.
“Oh yeah?” said Morgan. “Well, I’m sure he won’t mind if I take a moment to bask in my victory.”
“No,” came the flat reply.
“I can’t even get a few hugs and kisses?”
Morgan was directed to a riderless horse and whisked away. He waved at the maidens as he galloped off into the night.
The group rode through the night without rest. Just when Morgan thought he would have to leap from the horse for relief, they arrived at their destination. A mammoth castle looked down upon them with uncountable towers, parapets and battlements. Atop a rise in an open field, the gray stone mass was breathtaking. Even more wondrous was the endless array of gardens and fountains in the courtyard.
Despite the fantastic things he had experienced, Morgan was curious how word of his success had reached the king so fast. He wondered if a handsome reward awaited him. “After all,” he thought, “isn’t that how it works for a hero?”
Several knights escorted Morgan through the ridiculously vast expanses of the castle’s lower halls. They followed a path of red carpet and ascended a wide marble staircase. The excessive décor continued into the throne room, where an oversized and ornamental golden throne sat on a dais at the rear of the chamber. Morgan was instructed to await the king’s arrival, but he was not kept in suspense for long.
The king entered from a side door at a brisk pace to his throne and dismissed the guards as he went. Morgan felt a pompous wind blow in behind the king because he did not even look Morgan’s way until seated on his throne. Morgan was amused at the extravagance of the king’s purple velvet clothing, polished gold crown and flowing black cape. On the other hand, he found it odd the king carried a legal pad. “He probably wants to make notes about my adventure so it can be spread across the land,” Morgan joked to himself.
The king rested his legal pad on one leg and scrutinized the peculiar appearance of the hero in front of him. Morgan stood unabashed with a black cloak over his UPS uniform and a sword at his waist.
“Stories of the Chosen One’s arrival have been circulating my kingdom,” the king began. “I knew immediately I had to meet you. Tell me, how did you come to be here?”
“Well, to begin with,” Morgan replied. “I’m not really the Chosen One. This probably won’t make any sense, but I was delivering a package to someone’s cabin and saw an old house pop up out of nowhere. Struck me as odd, so I went to check it out. Turned out to be very odd. Wine was dripping from the ceiling and when I walked out the back door, it burst into flames. Then I ran into a few guys that mistook me for the Chosen One and it went from there.”
Morgan’s account reminded the king of the previous day when he spilled wine on a page in his notepad. Quickly, he turned back a few pages to make sure the page in question was still gone, and it was. Since he did not recall the exact wording of the affected passage, the king jotted something down on his legal pad. As he finished, a piece of wine-stained paper appeared in his hand. Along the right side of the page, were blurred and connected words.
He begged me to accompany him to my old
statue garden. There I discovered my life,
as I know it here, beautifully depicted through
a series of new statues. I almost felt humble.
This is the only place I shall ever call home.
An uncertain horror enveloped the king as he noticed the words tainted by the wine - “doorway…to my old…life…through…humble…home.” The king glared at Morgan and said, “What was the name on the package?”
“Something Wright. Why?”
“Yeah, that’s it. How did you know?”
The king ripped up the new copy of the page in disgust. Although he had tossed the original into his fireplace after it was stained the reality of his words had come to pass. He masked his surprise at the effect of the spill with a conceited composure and replied, “Because I am Thomas Wright.”
“Well maybe you can tell me what’s going on here. What is this place?”
“This is a world of my design. I am a writer and somehow, through my writing, I evoked some sort of magic and this is the result. I can’t say for sure what happened, but I can say my world will not be disrupted by the likes of you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your story ends here. I knew something was wrong when I heard the Chosen One had arrived. I checked my notes and found I had never finished that story.”
King Wright took up his pad and jotted down a few lines of text. He looked back to Morgan and smiled with anticipation. A few long moments passed and the king wrote something else. Still nothing happened.
Morgan watched with a sudden epiphany. “So you’re saying whatever you write comes true here?”
“Normally,” said the king. His irritation was evident.
“But for some reason, it doesn’t affect me.”
“Oh, you’re so astute!” Wright ripped a page from his pad and tossed it. He scribbled away on a new page and a group of four armored knights entered from the rear of the throne room. They advanced with swords drawn. “You will die one way or another,” Wright said as he took a break to look up.
As the knights clanked ever closer, Morgan realized his only course of action. He unsheathed the Singing Sword, hoping it would distract from his nonexistent fencing skills. However, on this occasion, the sword’s enthusiastic baritone voice was shrill. The operatic note it released rattled the knights’ armor and caused them to drop their weapons. Morgan then hurled the deafening sword toward the throne. Wright had attempted to counteract this with his pen and paper, but released them to cover his ears. Morgan sprinted to the throne and seized the items before Wright could recover.
Wright lunged to retrieve his belongings, but Morgan checked his attempt and shoved him to the ground. Always the bookworm, Wright was in unfamiliar territory when it came to fighting.
“Call off your guards,” Morgan ordered. As he made the statement, the Singing Sword reverted to its original tone and started another strange song.
“You have no power here,” Wright said with a smirk as he got to his feet.
“I can destroy your pen and paper.”
“I have more.”
“Perhaps. But not with you.”
King Wright was hesitant to admit Morgan had the upper hand. He never imagined his power could be compromised. And the fact it was made possible by his own hand made it that much more unbearable. “If I can just reach my chambers,” he thought, “I could write this fool’s obituary.” As a false offer of submission, he waved the guards back.
Morgan walked over to recover the Singing Sword. While his back was turned, Wright darted for the side door that led to his chambers. Morgan dropped everything and raced after him. He caught up to the fleeing king and kicked one of his feet mid-run, which gave the king’s face a sudden rendezvous with the stone floor.
Morgan turned to the guards. “Seize this man! He is a sorcerer enslaving the minds of everyone in this land.”
“He is our king,” one of the knights replied.
“Or so you thought. What did you do before he was king?”
The knight considered the question. “I do not recall.”
“There you have it. Sorcery.”
With lingering uncertainty, a couple of the knights came and restrained the king.
Morgan reclaimed the Singing Sword and examined the blade. “I should have known,” he said. “The seemingly useless object would prove otherwise in the end.” Morgan quieted the sword in his sheath and retrieved the king’s pen and paper.
“Let’s make a deal,” Wright pleaded. “I’ll write whatever you want. You can be the king. Or live forever. What do you want? Money? Women?”
“No thanks.” Morgan took a seat on the throne and flipped through the legal pad.
“Well I hope you have enjoyed playing the hero because now you have the hero’s choice: defeat the villain and be stuck here or let me send you home.”
“I kinda like it here. Beats delivering boxes.”
“You think this is it?” Wright said with a snarl. “I’ll be free sooner than you think. Just you wait.”
“Bind his hands,” Morgan said to the knights. “And make sure he has nothing to write with.”
The king wrestled against his captors as they drug him away.
“Wait,” Morgan called, “before you’re locked up, I have to ask. Why does everyone say, ‘we just continued living as we always have’?”
Wright huffed and said, “It was just some generic comment to suspend my tales when I didn’t want to complete them.”
Wright paused with a worrisome look. “What will you do with my writings?”
“First I’ll read them. Then I’m going to finish all your stories.”
© 2008 Josef J. Hoskins
Original fiction debuting at Residential Aliens
Discuss this story at ResAliens Forum at SFReader.com.
(Note: Story illustration above © 2005 Steven Lekowicz.)
Josef J. Hoskins is a husband and father of two, who disguises himself amidst society as a mild-mannered case manager. His writing efforts span a variety of genres, but predominantly take shape in the forms of fantasy and science fiction. He is currently at work on a fantasy novel trilogy and a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in Haruah, Backwoodsman Magazine, Now, Treadwater, and Residential Aliens.