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Old 10-22-2015, 01:08 AM
RVM45 RVM45 is offline
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Chapter Twenty-Eight

“This is the first ward we must pass,” Wizard said as he waved the satyr’s rod like Charlton Heston portraying Moses parting the Red Sea.

It brought to mind some verses from “The Rubaiyat”—though what in life doesn’t bring “The Rubaiyat” to mind?

“Into this Universe, and why not knowing.
“Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
“And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
“I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.”

The forest on the far side of the portal Wizard had opened was completely different from the forest we’d just left. There were giant fern trees and there were fiddleheads as long as my arm. Houseflies the size of my fist flew through the air while relentlessly pursued by dragonflies with two-foot wingspans. We encountered a millipede as fat as my bicep and thirty some odd inches long.

“It’s best to avoid those if at all possible. They’re poison. It probably wouldn’t kill you, but it might make you wish that it had simply slain you,” Wizard said.

“So you’ve been here before?” I asked.

“No and I will never be here again. So to be really technical, I’m not here now—since the present is a convenient fiction that we use to discuss the terminus between two immense competing infinities,” Wizard.

“It stinks!” Duncan exclaimed in disgust.

“Your companion has had his more human mental faculties repressed at some point, hasn’t he? No, I know that you wouldn’t be party to such an act. Thing is, as we journey towards the Source of All Things, he will retrogress far more rapidly than someone like you who mainly dwells in his forebrain. Abstractions have far more force and clarity to you than the mere shifting sands of external reality—don’t they?” Wizard said.

“Why didn’t Root come with us?”

“Root’s domain is bigger than a million Earths, but in the end he must needs live up to his name,” Wizard rattled.

“EE!?!” I interjected.

“He is ‘rooted’ to his domain—not that he couldn’t defy his geas if it suited him. You’re well aware that it is generally a bad trip when one defies his fate aren’t you? In any case I’m more than adequate to our purpose. Root’s presence would cause the timelines to become even more turbulent and chaotic. He roils as much destiny as you do when he strolls through when and other-when. Two F6 Cyclones wildly braiding and rebraiding timelines and fates would be redundant—now wouldn’t they?”

A giant creature waddled into the trail in front of us. How to describe it? It looked kinda like a giant mudpuppy but far thicker and heavier built.

Its head took up about a third of its body length and mass. It had a humongous mouth with bulging jaw muscles far bigger than Duncan’s thighs. That head was as long as a Volkswagen Beetle but wider. Its head was wide enough to completely block the narrow trail. It had equilateral triangles for teeth a full three inches wide at the base. Like a shark, it had multiple rows of teeth.

It belched and the odor of rot was almost a retch gas attack in its own right.

“Bad things happen if we step off this trail. I could face the creature but that would get you a pass. Other guardians would manifest to bar your way. It’s your powers we’re pursuing,” Wizard said.

“Fall on your belly and tremble in terror!” I shouted at the heap-big amphibian. “But recover quickly and drag yourself out of my right of way.”

The creature turned its head slightly to one side to look at me a little better. Its eye was as big as a jumbo grapefruit.

“Fight me and die,” it croaked in a voice that was as abhorrent to my ears as its breath was to my sense of smell.

“Earth and Sky Last Forever…
“The Aged are Miserable…
“Do Not Fear Death.
“It is Always a Good Day to Die.”

“Fight as one already dead and none can stand against you—except outside of a fearsome odor I don’t think that you can make the nut,” I told the ugly haint.

Padraig said not to use the Claidheamh Soluis when lesser means would suffice. I didn’t want to foul the radiant enchanted blade on this obscenity. I’d moved my thirty-nine inch saber over for a right hand draw lest I need two blades. I drew my saber and threw three Kunai daggers left-handed even as I advanced. Yeah, I’d spent many years and many many hours perfecting my weak hand throwing skills. My skills weren’t AWOL just because my chi had been shanghaied. Om

Since I’d lost my powers I had added some enhancements to my Kunai. I think that the five most deadly venomous sakes live in Australia. Each of my daggers had enough venom from the three deadliest snakes to kill a squad and a half of combat infantrymen each along with the two deadliest jellyfish toxins.

Each dagger went more than deep enough to inject its payload into the face of the creature. I wasn’t sure that would be enough. The amphibian must have weighed a ton or two. I also wasn’t sure about the time frame.

As I charged the obscenity my foot slipped on the muddy and slimy ground.

It was just as well. The mudpuppy moved faster than I’d have thought possible. If I’d been in the leap I’d intended it would have caught me in its fearsome jaws. Instead I slid under the thing’s head like a runner sliding into home.

I rammed my saber deep into its soft under jaw.

“Hold,” I told my saber.

That feature had been built into the sword by my armorers. Even without any supplemental chi from me the sword clamped the salamander’s jaws closed.

Ever seen those “Wasp” knives? Stab and push a button and it injects most of the contents of a CO2 cartridge into whatever you have just stabbed. It is supposed to totally destroy a swath of tissue the size of a basketball, freeze tissue another two or three inches past the completely destroyed zone and inject multiple gas embolisms into the client’s bloodstream.

I had three of the daggers with me. Two went randomly into the underside of the creature’s jaws. I managed to place the third dagger very close to where I thought the creature’s jugular and carotid should be.

I killed it or at least incapacitated it. Then the damned thing fell on me.

My mystic armor of raven feathers ruled out it crushing me any time soon but it was claustrophobic and I was in some danger of suffocating eventually. That’s when Duncan grabbed the thing’s head and rolled it off of me and incidentally off the trail.

I watched the obscene creature’s death wallows with some satisfaction.

“I suppose that’s a very good saber shot all to Hell,” I remarked.

“I’ll fetch it,” Duncan said.

Wizard had time to say, “Don’t get off…”

While I shouted, “No!”

Those fiddlehead as big as my arm—they were poisonous stinging nettles and they stung Duncan all over his body again and again. They lashed out as hard and as fast as the lash of a blacksnake whip. Duncan gritted his teeth and shielded his eyes and took another three steps until he could grasp the hilt of my saber.

“Loose!” I commanded the sword as it was still sticking the creature’s jaws together.

I suppose that he’d have managed to extract the sword anyhow, but there was no need to prolong his exposure to the poison plants.

“Here is your sword,” Duncan said as he presented it to me hilt foremost. He collapsed immediately afterward.

“He’s going to die,” Wizard said sadly.

“Is there no remedy?” I asked.

“There is. You possess the Claidheamh Soluis. You can purify his blood but it is dangerous. Will you jeopardize your quest over concern for a weak minded servant?” Wizard asked.

I gave Wizard the hardest and coldest stare that I could manage.

“Tell me how to do it to it,” I commanded.

“Draw your sword with one hand and touch his bare skin somewhere with the other. Draw the poison out of him and into you and then neutralize it,” Wizard said.

I drew the enchanted sword in my strong left hand and laid my bare right hand on Duncan’s sweat beaded brow. My right hand felt like it ha been thrust into a pit full of fire ants even while it was being electrocuted.

Duncan opened his eyes and they widened in terror. He tried frantically to pry my hand from his head.

“Master, you mustn’t!” he pleaded.

“After all this time,” I said a little sadly. “I’m not your master damn it! I’m your friend.”

The agony worked its way up my forearm. The pain of running my arm into a meat grinder would have been mild by comparison. As the pain moved up my upper arm it intensified if that was possible.

“If you haven’t destroyed the poison by the time that it reaches your chest, you must let go. You will die if the poison invades your torso,” Wizard shouted frantically.

“I will save Duncan or die trying,” I gritted between teeth that were chipping and shattering with the violence of the cramps and tremors that possessed my body.

The poison and the pain were well into my chest when Saul walked over and bit my left forearm hard enough to pierce it down to the bone. Sure enough some of the agony was siphoned off into the Hellhound. Alexander and Glass both gripped my shoulders hard enough to pierce the skin and each of them drew off a small portion of the poison and the agony.

Janet and Panic were jockeying to contact me when the pain abruptly stopped.

“It’d done,” Wizard said.

Then something happened that horrified me more that anything that I’d ever seen happened. My sleeve and all the flesh fell off my right arm. The ligaments that held my arm bones together outlived the rest of the soft flesh only by a couple heartbeats and the bones fell to the muddy trail as well.

“Duncan, I need you to do something for me,” I said.

“Anything,” he said.

“Kill me. I don’t want to go on living like this,” I said.

“Whose enchanted sword do you carry?” Wizard asked. “Who brought the Claidheamh Soluis to Ireland?”

“Nuada Airgetlám,” I said.

“And what does his name mean? Why was he called that?” Wizard persisted.

“It means ‘Silver Arm’. He lost an arm in battle and he couldn’t become King of Ireland because in those days the King must needs be a perfect physical specimen. Then the physician Dian Cecht and the wright Creidhne created an arm of silver for him. Later Dian Cecht’s son replaced the silver arm with an arm of flesh and blood,” I answered mechanically.

“Draw the Claidheamh Soluis and ask it to lend you its power,” Wizard said.

I drew the sword from its resting place.

“If I’m to go on living I need an arm of silver like Nuada Airgetlám’s,” I said to the glowing sword.

The pain of drawing the poison was mild compared to the pain of growing an arm of purest silver starting at the humerus and deltoid and moving down at the pace of winter molasses. When I was done I held the arm up to examine it.

I’ve always had extra-wide shoulders and thick arms—at least since I became a man. I never had pretty cannon ball deltoids, long biceps, horseshoe triceps and Popeye forearms. I did now. The silver arm was as perfect as it was possible to imagine an arm being. Oddly enough my left arm, my torso—the whole rest of my body to be brief…

Well I was strong but I never had an aesthetic physique. I’d always been built for sheer double-wide brute power. Now I had a physique like one of the heroes in a Frank Frazetta painting.

“Airborne,” I congratulated the sword on the transformation it had wrought in me.

“Odin opened one door for you. The satyr’s Johnson opened the second door for you. You need to open this door yourself. Your friends may step through the portal but they won’t end up beside you. You might as well have them remain with me,” Wizard said.

Alexander and Glass dug their claws deeply into the flesh of my shoulders but Janet, Panic, Saul and Duncan obeyed my gesture to stay.

A jet-black dodecahedron the size of a desk calendar went spinning wildly while following an irregular pattern somewhat like a helix went careening close by me. It missed me the first few times but it continued to grow and it spun faster with every approach. Finally it was big enough to totally envelop me and I went tumbling wildly into yet another alternate universe.

What greeted my bloodshot eyes as my feet touched down in the strange place? There was an enormous stone idol. I suppose that it was supposed to be a Buddha. I had a third eye in the center of its forehead. It sat in a lotus position and it had a big potbelly.

Two things popped into my mind simultaneously. Have you ever heard Brother Jed preach? Some heckler invariably asks him what he thinks of Buddha and Brother Jed invariably replies that Buddha is nothing but a big potbelly. Then there is the Zen aphorism that if you meet Buddha on the road and he stands between you and satori, that you must cut him down without an iota of forbearance or hesitation.

That’s all well and good, but this huge limestone idol could have held King Kong in the palm of one great hand…

And Potbelly had started to rise.

“Dude, it is like: you are obstructing my forward progress. Move or feel my steel,” I shouted.

“Who do you think you are?” Potbelly demanded in a booming voice that sounded like the descriptions that I’d heard of giant icebergs calving into the Antarctic Ocean.

“My name is ‘Spoil O Warren’. I am a King and a Priest in my own country—but this world isn’t my true home. Saul of Tarsus said that idols are dead stone that neither sees, nor hears, nor knows. You seem to be an exception to that general dictum though,” I started.

“You’re a Christian? I seldom get a chance to crush a Christian in this side-pocket of reality,” the giant Buddha said.

“This is the Claidheamh Soluis and this sword is named ‘Salamander Slayer’. Fall to your knees and tremble in terror!” I commanded him.

The great potbellied statue of white limestone stamped furiously down upon me. When he raised his foot four and twenty blackbirds did not fly in every direction. I’d say that it was more than twice that many ravens.

“I’m over here dumbass,” I said.

As I swung the Claidheamh Soluis and it lengthened enough to sever the giant’s Achilles tendon—if a stone idol can be said to posses tendons.

“**** a brick!” Potbelly cursed.

I thought it an odd expression coming from a giant idol. The giant tried to clap his hands together to swat me like I was a mosquito. He kept them pressed together for an instant but then my greater strength forced his hands apart.

My thirty-nine inch saber wielded by my brand new silver arm didn’t seem to give up anything to the much older and more famous sword.

As he strove to smash his hands together once more, I cut off all the fingers off of one hand with the Claidheamh Soluis while Salamander Slayer cut the fingers from his other hand. Neither sword was long enough to sever a single finger without turning to beams of purest light and growing far longer that their physical length.

The stone man cursed and then swore while he hopped on his one good leg.

“It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye isn’t it?” I taunted him. “Or in your case, eight perfectly good fingers.”

I strode upwards as though there was a set of five-foot steps leading up to the idol’s face. When I was high enough to look him in his eyes I thrust a sword of light into each eye.

Potbelly swatted me aside with one fingerless palm before I could put out his third eye. He drew in a huge moaning breath and then blew a huge fount of burning napalm at me.

Several things happened all at once. My armor of enchanted raven feathers shielded me from the blast. Since I seemed to have my powers back, I tried a wind attack but I no longer commanded wind. Panic materialized above the head of Buddha with Duncan, Saul and Janet on his back.

“You don’t have a wind nature anymore,” Panic shouted. “Something that the government did to you turned your wind nature into water nature.”

Hell’s belles and cockleshells and skeletons all in a row!

That is one good thing about wind nature. There’s always plenty of air around to turn into wind. Where in Hell was I going to draw my water from?

Ah yes, with the mind of a water dipper I draw my water from the estate that is beyond right and wrong—AKA the watery chaos.

Air can be compressed but with enough chi water can be superheated and pumped up to ten of fifteen thousand pounds per square inch.

Lao Tse said that water is one of the weakest and most pliable of materials but it is unsurpassed for attacking the hard and unyielding. It was kinda cheating to use jets of superheated steam the way I did though.

I cut the giant statue into pieces small enough to hide with high pressure blazing hot jets of water that rivaled a supercharged laser beam.

“Well this dude wasn’t all that tough,” I said.

Just then the great half of the head of Buddha righted itself and cackled with a note of senile glee and exultation.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to count how many fat ladies are singing until you can see the whites of their cracked eggs?” Buddha demanded.

“Did you ever hear of the spell of parts?” He bellowed.

The statue broke into hundreds of pieces and each piece became a small replica of the original—potbelly and all. There were Buddhas the size of a GI Joe—a potbellied limestone GI Joe. Some were the size of a toddler. There were some the size of a market weight pig and some the size of a man.

For some reason they all started to grow ever more froglike. They squatted obscenely with great swollen bellies and private parts out of all proportion to the rest of their body. Then they started aiming some sort of golden rays at me out of their third eyes.

I opened my arms and sprayed huge flowing streams of water at the Stone Frog Buddhas. An instant later Panic sprayed them with his black miasma. The miasma was black because it sucked all the radiant energy out of something. Soon all the statues were covered in thick layers of ice several feet thick. Then I summoned birds from every point of the compass to do what birds do to statues. Honestly, I don’t think that the bird guano bound the Stone Frog Buddhas any better than the ice already was—but it was funny.

“I will soon melt this ice and be ready to fight once more,” Buddha shouted.

“You do that dude,” I told him. “I’m leaving and you can sit here in this tiny universe being all growly-bad and intimidating until Hell freezes over. Don’t bother me none.”

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