Methven - Day One - Part Three
Carleton drew a vaguely California-shaped mass of squiggly lines in the dirt beside the fire.
"These are the Vomisa Mountains."
He made and X in the squiggles about a third of the way from the top and just to the right of their center.
"Dude, like, which way's North?"
Carleton ignored Blandy's question. Instead, he drew a fairly straight line at about a 45° angle up and to the left of where he'd marked our position.
"Læ's Clanhome is approximately here."
"Mantami says it's about ten days away."
"At this time of year, I'd say that's about right."
"Whence shall we journey, once we have delivered Mantami safely into the bosom of his family?"
"Mind if I call you 'Bill'?"
"Please do, Mr. Parkins."
"By all means, 'Carleton'."
"Well, first we have to get out of these mountains."
He drew a line straight to his left, to the edge of the squiggles.
"That may not be easy."
"Mantami mentioned there might be bandits."
"Bandits. And rats. And, potentially, more directly targeted threats."
"Yo! Whutup wid' rats? I gots that action in check, know whut I mean?"
"These rats are the size of pit bull terriers, Mr. Lowe. And they travel in packs. Hungry ones."
"And of our friends and allies."
Carleton extended the line further to his left.
"Some of them live here, at Tarnhold."
"A Methven..hmm..'ranch', I suppose is the closest Earthly equivalent."
"So, these folks at Tarnhold are cowboys?"
"Horse boys. The cattle on Methven are too dangerous to ranch."
"I gots ta' bag up on dat! Tha' cows is R.T.D.?"
Tong brayed laughter.
Carleton turned a chilly gaze on him.
"They breathe fire, Mr. Lowe."
Carleton ignored him, turning back to his drawing, instead.
"We'll rest and resupply at Tarnhold, before we head toward.."
He extended his line a good distance to the left.
"..the Dragon Mountains."
He slashed another line perpendicularly across our proposed path of travel.
"That's where you'll come in, Drew."
He indicated the line he'd just drawn.
"That is a thousand-meter-high cliff face. We can't get around it, because it extends to the sea in both directions and continues right around that whole section of the continent."
"So we climb it."
"Okay. Then what?"
He drew a largish circle to the left of the perpendicular line, with smaller circles above and below it. Then, still further to the left, he sketched another group of squiggles backed up against the three circles.
He pointed to the three circles.
"These are the Dragon Mountains. They're dormant volcanoes. Beyond them lie the Teeth of the Dragon and beyond them is the Dragon Desert. Our destination is here."
He drew a final X in the blank space to the left of the squiggles representing the Teeth, square in the middle of the Dragon Desert.
"The geography you describe is certainly anomalous."
"Sure is. And that's where you come in, Bill."
Carleton gestured toward his drawing.
"We're counting on you to find a way through the Teeth. Or under them, if possible."
"Surely you jest!"
Carleton dusted his palms off against each other and stood up.
"That's ridiculous! Impossible! Utterly absurd!"
"We have reason to believe it's very possible, Bill."
"I cannot imagine how you could be so deluded."
"We think someone has already done it."
Bruno chose that moment to reappear.
"She is asking for you."
Without a word, Carleton spun on his heel and headed for the smaller tent.
"I do not understand, Mr. Pith."
"He is inquiring about her health."
"She is conscious, but very weak. She came close to death last night."
I felt a good-sized twinge of guilt at that.
"Will she recover?"
"Yes, Mr. Wilde. In time, she will recover fully."
"So, dude, like what happened to her?"
"Transition through a Portal is always traumatic, Mr. Carstairs. Manipulating probability energies exacts an additional toll, particularly so when the universe of origin displays such low-order probability potential as does Earth."
"Magic's hard, 'specially in mundane places."
"That is correct, Mr. Pith."
"I didn't know you went in for mumbo-jumbo, Pith."
"Don't. Starhawk's a friend, though."
"I see. Or, rather, I don't see. But that's all right."
I switched my attention back to Bruno.
"So, Bruno, Carleton was just getting to the good part when you showed up and ruined the suprise. Maybe you can let us in on the payoff."
I pointed to Carleton's stylus, embedded there in the dirt next to Bruno.
"Carleton told us our destination is there, in the middle of the Dragon Desert. But he didn't say what that destination is, exactly. Care to explain?"
Bruno looked down at the impromptu map. He stepped back gingerly from where he'd been standing in the squiggles near the bottom of the Vomisa Mountains, tracing the line of our proposed route with his eyes.
"Our destination is Dimwrath, the lair of Kad Drakenfoe, a traitor and thief into whose possession the Totalstone has fallen."
"How lovely. And who might this Drakenfoe guy be, when he's at home?"
"Kad once was Chief of Station at Tacid, here on Methven. He absconded with the Totalstone and quite a large number of power gems and other valuable items approximately one Methven year ago. Since then, he has been a law unto himself."
"Drakenfoe, then, is his surname, rather than an appellation?"
"To the contrary, Mr. Wilson. Kad hunts dragons for sport."
"And we're going to tackle this guy on his home turf?"
"ARE YOU NUTS?"
"No, Mr. Wilde, I am entirely sane. Nor is there any need for you to shout, since I am standing quite near to you."
"Oh, well, excuse me. There's nothing for me to get excited about. You're just planning to stroll up to a guy who lives in the middle of something called the Dragon Desert--a guy who 'hunts dragons for sport', mind you--and take back his little play-toy. And we're going with you! Oh, boy!"
"If all goes well, we will have reclaimed the Totalstone and will be well away before Kad suspects anything is amiss."
"Well, that's reasurring! And, if all doesn't go well?"
"We will have to be flexible."
. . .
I spent the rest of this afternoon bringing this journal up to date. In retrospect, a lot has happened over the last 24 hours or so.
We had another meal about two hours ago. Some kind of pasta dish with a primavera-like sauce, only made with spices I didn't recognize. I asked Bruno about it.
"Kirru root and crushed flai."
Læ still hasn't made it out of her private tent. I don't expect she will, at this point.
Bill came over just a few minutes ago.
"What are you doing, Drew?"
"May I see?"
I folded the pages back, so that the artwork showed, but the writing didn't, and handed my journal to Bill. He squinted at it in the fading light.
"A good likeness of Læ. The more so because she is not available to model for you."
I took the journal back from him.
"Are you self-taught?"
"Not likely. I take a life drawing class every semester or so. 'Took' a life drawing class, I should say."
"You have ambitions to be an artist?"
"Me? Not hardly. No, I just dig looking at naked women."
"'Unto each his own', I suppose."
"So, what's up? You look like something is bugging you."
"Yes. Yes, I suppose that is a fair summation of my state of mind. Drew, do you see the setting primary over there?"
"You mean the Sun?"
"I do, although, strictly speaking, the Sun is the star about which Earth orbits. This is another star altogether."
"Oh. Good point, I guess. So..what about it?"
"It is definitely setting, is it not?"
"Have a look at this, if you would."
He handed me an elaborate and expensive compass. I recognized it from our purchasing trip to REI a month ago. It's a top-of-the-line, pressure-sealed model and it cost a small fortune.
"It's a beauty."
"Please, Drew, pay attention. Don't look at the compass itself, look at the compass needle."
"Line it up with the setting 'sun'."
"Because it's pointing North and South."
"And the 'sun' is..?"
"To the East."
All of a sudden, I felt very, very lost.
The sun was setting in the East!
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)