Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Wizard’s Task: Part Four

If you have never had someone force their way past you, it is hard to understand the feelings of helplessness that lead first to frustration and then to anger. I registered that the big man had said he was here to help me in some subliminal way, but the larger part of my brain was in too much of a rage to care. I lurched to my feet, yanked my flashlight from the belt of the bathrobe, and launched a wild haymaker swing trying to hit the monster’s chin.  
Impossibly quick a big hand lashed out and caught the blow. His hand engulfed the flashlight and my hand to the wrist. He made a tsking sound and said,” No! Little man no hit Krunk. Me am here to help. Wolf wizard is bad.” He gave me a shake that nearly tore my arm out of the socket and then released me so quickly that I hit the floor again.  
I was still angry but in no position to fight the behemoth of a man. I had trained as a boxer for a number of years in my younger days and I could handle a scrap. Living on the road had landed me in a few situations where there was no way I could win with my fists. I had learned to talk and bluff my way out pretty quickly. I  asked,” If you aren’t here to hurt me, why did you force your way inside rather than speak to me?”  
Tears formed in Krunk’s big baby blue eyes. He ran a huge fist under his nose and sniffled. He said,” Krunk am afraid of Wizard and friends. Dmitri am tell Krunk to no get caught. Dmitri say bring man wizard stole back safe and quick. We go now.” He reached for me and a deep, scratchy voice behind him said,” You have failed your master, oaf”  
At the voice, Krunk flinched and whirled toward the door.  The chauffeur stood in the doorway. As I watched he removed his chauffeur’s hat and began unbuttoning his suit jacket with long green fingers. He tossed the hat and jacket onto the chairs on the porch and said,” Come out of there and leave the man be, Giant.” He began untying his tie. I caught myself staring. 
Githix the Goblin looked like pictures of the boogeyman I had seen in books as a child only on a smaller scale. His skin was a deep green and heavily scaled. His features were extremely angular with sharp cheekbones and a long pointed nose. His ears stuck out and ended in points several inches from his head on either side and I noticed that they had a few hoops pierced through them. He had wiry black hair that had been smoothed back with a great deal of oil or styling product. The most striking feature though was his wide, toothy smile that seemed to dominate his face. The goblin was tiny compared to me much less the giant and yet he looked extremely eager to fight. I had seen faces like that in dark alleys. I didn’t talk my way out of those situations. I had simply run like hell.   
Krunk frowned at Githix and said,” No fight. I take man and go.” In response, the Goblin stepped back off the porch and pulled a large knife from a sheath behind his back. Krunk spoke over his shoulder to me and said,” Man should run.” He squeezed through the door and with a roar launched himself at the goblin. I hurried to my feet and ran to the door just as Andris Wolfe stepped through. He looked angrily at me and demanded,” Where is the book?”  
“In the bedroom, stowed in my pack,” I answered. He hurried through the bedroom door and I followed. I saw him make an abrupt motion with his right hand and my pack flew across the room and into his hands. He reached inside and yanked out the book before letting out a big sigh of relief.  ” You did well to protect the book. I apologize that my enemies targeted you. Githix will have it dealt with shortly,” Wolfe said while hugging the book to his chest.  
“What is happening,” I asked. Andris sat the book on the bed and said,” Members of the Order of the Dragon have hounded me for a number of years. The half-giant you just met is the enforcer of their local leader Dmitri  Kornev. He is a fanatic and a madman who claims to be a descendant of Rasputin. The Order fears the power of the Druids.  I’m sorry you have had to see this ugly business.”  
From outside a terrible scream echoed through the night. Andris smiled broadly at the sound and said,” Githix has put the giant and his allies to rout. You will not be troubled further this night.” I asked,” How did he manage that?” Rather than answer, the Wizard walked out of the room motioning me to follow. I frowned and then went outside behind him.  
Githix was using an oily looking rag to wipe blood from his knife and was grinning with devilish glee. Andris threw his arms wide and said,”Behold the might of the Goblin King.” The goblin made a quick bow and flourish somehow sheathing his blade in the same motion. Githix said,” The giant wasn’t much of a fighter. A few goons from the Order joined into the fight. I handled it, and the boys are cleaning up.” Andris nearly purred,” Good. Come meet our friend.”  
Githix stuck out his hand and said,” Nice to meet you. I never caught your name.” I shook his hand noticing almost bone crushing strength that he was barely restraining and said,” It is nice to meet you, sir. My friends call me Ethan.” The goblin giggled a bit and said,” He called me sir,” while looking at the Wizard. Andris grinned and said,” Our new friend has manners. You are a king after all.” The Goblin scratched at his chin whiskers and said,” I am that,” before walking away from us and disappearing into the night.  
The Wizard sat down on the porch and I took the chair next to him. We sat in silence for several long minutes before he said,” What I have asked of you is turning out to be more dangerous than I originally anticipated.” I nodded at him and said,”  I am still willing to make the delivery.” He let out a sigh and seemed to relax more into his seat. Another long interval of silence held before he said,” I thank you for your loyalty. I will do everything I can to be worthy of it and to reward it well.”  
Wolfe reached into a pocket and pulled out a large silver medallion on a heavy chain. He handed it to me and said,” I was not going to give this to you until after your delivery, but you have certainly earned it.” I looked closely at the medallion. It was heavy and seemed to be made of silver. The face was carved into an intricate but somehow rudimentary sun made up of a simple circle with raised beams radiating from the center, curving over the sides, and joining in a single point on the back. The silver looked incredibly old and I said so.  
“I crafted this myself in the mid 15th century to help a Wallachian friend of mine suffering from a terrible curse. Sadly, it did not have the desired effect on him. Still, the amulet is not without its uses and I have some sentimental attachment to it. Wear it as a mark of our friendship,” Wolfe explained. I slipped the heavy chain over my head and settled it around my neck. Andris said,” For it to be effective it must be worn against the skin. Remember this tomorrow and it will help to ward off any evil that will come your way. For now, though, I think you should rest.”  
Even as he said the words I found myself incredibly sleepy. My eyes fluttered and I yawned. Andris said,”Go inside and sleep. Worry no more about this day. Tomorrow is coming quickly.” I got up and stumbled inside. I walked woodenly into the bedroom and collapsed out the bed and was swallowed into dreams. 
“Hey, Mister! Hey! Over here!,” I heard a rather pleasant voice calling to me. I sat up and rubbed the blurriness from my eyes. The voice called again. I started to try and follow the sound but was distracted by my surroundings. I was laying in a field on the lushest and verdant grass I had ever seen. The field was ringed by beautiful trees in the deep green of summer leaves. Here and there dogwood blooms stood out in pinks and whites.  
A round-faced young girl who looked maybe 8 or 9 years old stepped in front of me. She had very pale skin and was barefoot. The dress she wore looked like it should have had teddy bears or duckies on it. Instead, pink flowers appeared to sprout from the green fabric at irregular intervals. She blinked bright blue eyes at me, smiled, and said,” There you are! I almost lost you.”  
Confused I asked,” Lost me? Who are you?” Her smile turned very sad and she said,” The old wolf guards your dreams. I had to be very careful to bring you here. My name is Mae. You are in danger.” From somewhere deep in the woods a wolf howled long and deep. Mae flinched at the sound and said,” We do not have long. The wolf’s son is coming to help, but even here with my help he cannot hold him long.”  
The howl turned into a snarl and somehow I knew there was a fierce fight taking place. Somehow the world darkened and the shadows beneath the trees became ominous. Mae knelt down in front of me and said,” Tell me what the Wizard has asked you to do.”  
A wave of fear and paranoia washed through me. Too many strange and wonderful things had come at me in far too short a time. I had left behind a “normal” life to live on the streets years ago because I was tired of feeling controlled and manipulated. I had stupidly let my curiosity involve me in events that were none of my business.  
Mae said,” Yes, Lady, the Wolf has a strong influence on this one. Your help would be appreciated.” The non sequitur took me out of my reverie and I looked up to see Mae begin an elegant little dance. It reminded me of a child’s dance recital but no human child could ever have moved like Mae. She stepped quickly and with deceptive grace moving faster and faster until her small form was a blur of motion spinning around me. It quickly became disorienting and I closed my eyes to fight a wave of dizziness. 
When I opened my eyes again I was no longer in the field. I was sitting on a damp and cold stone floor. The room was claustrophobically small and was lit burning torches mounted on the walls at the cardinal directions. This knowledge came to me without the necessity of looking around. It hinted strongly at me dreaming.  
In front of me, Mae stood beside a tall black chair that seemed to be made of some sort of stone edged in silver. Sitting in the chair was a small woman. She seemed to be wearing pieces of heavy metal armor though it seemed somehow incomplete. I didn’t know enough about armor to know exactly what was missing, but like the knowledge of the placement of the torches, I was certain of it.  
The woman had long hair black that seemed to have a red hue though that could have been an effect of the torchlight. Her eyes were deep set and large. I could not be certain of their color because her gaze was intense enough that I found myself unable to look at her for any length of time. I focused my attention on her well-formed lips that were quirked up into a cruel looking little smile. As if she noticed my attention, she broke out into a pearly smile that lit her face and made it somehow much more inviting and infinitely more terrifying.  
After what seemed an eternity Mae said,” Behold the Lady Artemis. She has granted you an audience Sir Messenger.” Sitting on my bottom on the floor somehow seemed inappropriate. I rolled onto one knee and bowed my head. Artemis spoke in a honeyed voice,” You are troubled, Ethan. The troubles of your mortal life seem to have landed you in the plots of an immortal. I can help you, but first, you must lay aside the burden that has been put upon you.”  
Again distrust swirled up in my heart. I scowled and said,” Nothing that has been asked of me could possibly hurt anyone. I am tired of being harassed.” As I said this I knew it to be true. I was angrier than I had ever been before. How dare these creatures to invade my mind and try to manipulate me! At this thought, a massive blow was struck against the walls of the chamber. Dust drifted down from the ceiling. Artemis frowned and Mae said,” The old wolf has claimed this one. His tendrils have sunk too deep.” 
Artemis nodded at her sadly. She stood from the throne. As she did pieces of armor materialized around her covering her completely except for a narrow slit in her helmet where her fierce eyes shone out at me. A sword appeared in her newly armored fist and she advanced on me. She said,” It is better than I destroy you than allow you to sink into the madness of Lycaon. Understand that this is meant to be a mercy.”  
Before I could think she seized me by my hair and wrenched my head back to expose my throat. A snarl escaped my throat and on instinct alone, I surged forward from the floor throwing off her impossibly strong grip. I lost a handful of hair at the roots but this only fueled my rage. How dare the daughter of the one that cursed me touch me? I would have her blood! 
Artemis was thrown by my rush and retreated bringing her blade up between us. She hissed,” You are possessed, mortal, but you are not beyond hope. Fight this madness! I can see your heart. You have the strength.” Her words struck me like molten drips of smelted metal. Driven past tolerance I bared my teeth and began to dive for her throat.  
Mae came between us in a rush. Her tiny form struck me with the approximate force of a freight train moving at the speed of sound. I was blasted through a stone wall and began falling into nothingness. I could see the outline of the torchlight from the hole I had made. The room seemed to be simply a vault of stone. On top of it was a massive thing tearing away the stone with claws the size of shovels. The monstrous thing took note of my fall, saw Mae and Artemis staring down after me, and crashed through the hole with frightening speed and terrible purpose. Snarls and screams chased me down into oblivion.  
I woke up screaming. I was windmilling my arms as if I were falling. I slammed one hard against the headboard of the bed. The pain brought me sharply awake. I was crying and my throat was sore from the screams. I rushed from the bed and spent several minutes gagging and heaving into the toilet.  
When my stomach calmed I washed my face in the sink, brushed my teeth, gargled some mouthwash, and pulled on my clothes. I was pulling on my boots when I noticed a thick manila envelope sitting on the nightstand. Still queasy I pulled it to me and tore open the seal. One hundred dollar bills wrapped in bundles of $10,000 dollar increments fell out. I didn’t take time to count them, but I knew I was holding more money that I had ever seen before or would ever see again in my life. There was a very expensive cell phone wrapped in cellophane and stuffed inside a Ziploc bag. There was also a note.  
My Dearest Ethan. 
This business has not proceeded as smoothly as I hoped. I hope this finds you compensated beyond your expectations. I see in you a companion of the utmost quality. I have complete faith that you will complete the task I have charged you with. Githix has programmed the GPS function of the cellular device to guide you directly to the meeting place with all possible haste though the route is simplicity itself. Githix purchased for you the vehicle you will find parked directly outside your cabin. The keys are beneath the floor mat.Once your task is completed he tells me he has also programmed in a destination where we can meet and discuss the future. I look forward to that meeting. 
I only thought for a moment before stuffing the contents of the package into my pack. The money would need to be covered against rain, but that could wait until later. As quickly as I could I gathered everything I owned or could scavenge from the cabin. I might have a small fortune now, but there was no reason to assume the money would provide for all eventualities. The last thing I grabbed was the Wizard’s book. I wrapped it in one of my weatherproof jackets and tied a cord around it for safety. 
I headed out to the porch. Parked there was a big black truck with four doors. I hurried to it, found the key, loaded my gear and climbed inside. The truck rumbled when I started it. I found myself grinning in spite of the stress of the delivery.   

I couldn’t decide if I was anxious to be done with the burden or I was looking forward to the adventure. Clearly, Andris Wolfe had enemies. It was entirely possible that they might try to stop me on my journey. Right or wrong though the time had come to bring a book of Forbidden Knowledge to a Druid. That alone had me smiling broadly as I spun the tires leaving heading up the mountain.  

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