Chapter XIX


The Best Laid Plans
By: DOlarnick



NOTE: A "ken and a half" is the exact equivalent of a week and a half, plus one half day including the allotted 13 hours of the day, the scribal equivalent of a sixtieth of a second.


It had taken a ken and a half for Craven Justice, Odan the scribe, the diminutive, white, canine, Bijou, to reach the borders of the Red Gryphon Inn.

"A strange sweet journey, indeed," thought Craven, reflecting upon his good fortune now that their destination loomed ahead of them -- less than two miles to go down the road - he thought, judging from the twin watchtowers that jutted out directly ahead of them.

Even Cravenís good fortune exceeded his normally optimistic outlook: Malef was nowhere to be seen, his step-brotherís dogged determination was only surpassed by his strength of body. He was positive that Malef would track him down - unless he was still caught in the crystal cavern - the thought chilled Craven, obviously worried about his step-brother being nowhere to be seen, but his absence was a relief, in and of itself.

Craven knew the moment he would reached the Red Gryphon Inn, Karl Strangeís mandate that no harm shall befall a guest of his inn would afford Craven the opportunity he needed. Oh, itís not that Malef will ever give up, he thought, but the sanctuary of the inn would grant him the time to solve the mystery of Gaeneís murder -- oh, that pure and sweet, innocent love, he thought, brushing away a tear from his eye; time to solve the mystery of his own, obscure past. Life in the Phantom Realm, he thought, always shrouded in mystery: Who were his parents? Why did they abandon him? Perhaps, tonight, while alone, he would speak to the crystal skull - the thought sent a shiver down his spine. The skull, what power did it hold?

The scribe babbled on. His wonderment at the surroundings amazed Craven. One minute the scribe seemed a man of the world, cock-sure of himself, the next, and a droning simpleton. Was it an act of deceit that went too far?

The sound of the scribeís voice was grating, and drove Craven to mental distractions - it was a dangerous road that he traveled down, one filled with mysterious events. Of this he was certain. He had seen magic incantations performed before - at least through his eyes -- when his mystical lute, Odellis, whispered to him in her seductive, musical tales of a long, forgotten past. "Damn, how I hate magic," he thought.

Craven thought back to the strange transformation that he had witnessed during their journey when a moment of darkness engulfed them and the transformation had occurred. The thunder, the lightening - yes -- Craven was sure there was magic about, unrestrained magic, dangerous magic, magic that followed them, daunted them.

The scribe jabbered on.

"Past events recalled," sang the crystal skull as it lay within the saddlebags of Chorea, her spastic gait jarring the skull of Odan, irritating him, but still he continued to record the events of the past week and a half. The skull spit out a scribal crystal into the bottom of the saddlebag, one that would sing of the history of the Phantom Realm:

(PAST EVENTS)

Water surged up into the air -- momentarily suspending itself -- as the great white beast, Bijou, emerged from the depths of the raging waters of Nymph Falls. Bijou shook his huge body - a blue-white gemstone living within his chest flashed brilliantly in the reflection of the noontime sun.

Cascades of water flew off the dogís body, as he shook himself dry, soaking a nearby pigeon that screeched in protest and flew off to seek the safety of a tall pine tree. The tree hid within it the wood-elf, Jon Skysinger, eyes and ears of Karl Strange, warrior-priest, and sworn protector of the populace of Talos Valley.

Bijou sniffed the air to catch Odan's scent. It assured him that the scribe had traveled down the winding rock-strewn road, south, to the Red Gryphon Inn. He dipped his muzzle into the frothing waters and retrieved the crystal skull he had hidden in the water's edge. Holding the skull between his jaws, he ambled down the road after Odan, and the silver-skinned changing dwarf called Craven Justice.

"I must hurry," thought The Bijou, "the young one dies within the skull."

"A simpleton, Craven, that's what I'll pose as. What a wonderful idea for you to come up with," said Odan, as if agreeing with the silver-skinned dwarf's very thoughts.

"Yes," murmured Craven Justice, trying to comprehend the images that burst into his mind.

"Simply astounding," said Odan, as if in agreement with Cravenís mental process.

"Yes, Odan, we'll win some gold with you in the pit, no doubt -- and at tremendous odds. Just trust me. Lose until the odds are right, and then we'll strike and make our fortune," said Craven, patting the scribe on the back as they walked down the road.

A grin came across Cravenís face. The image of an inept scribe winning his final match -- at overwhelming odds -- being paid off by scores of astonished bettors, each and every one of them decrying the luck of the dwarf for having bet on the simpleton scribe had Craven rubbing his hands together in anticipation.

"Our fortunes are in your hands," proclaimed a smiling Odan, "Then on to the quest --"

"Quest? What quest -- Look there, Odan. The White Beast is back. Is he after me - have I angered him?"

"Nonsense, Craven - you saw how he defended you." Astonished, Odan found himself talking to himself, as Craven hid behind a boulder. Odan heard the distinct sound of a bolo twirling in the air, imagined Craven ready to fling it through the air, and have it sing its deadly song.

Craven Justice reached down for his bolo to unfurl it. He stood off to the side of the road, hidden behind a boulder, awaiting the inevitable charge of the onrushing beast - but none came.

Glancing out from behind the boulder, he saw the dog plunge into the underbrush, then heard a howl, a mournful sound. The beast reappeared, bounding back onto the roadway, ambling toward Odan, a canine smile beaming from his face. Bijouís innocent expression caused Craven to stop his deadly twirling so abruptly that the weighted lead ends of the bolo thwacked him in his right ear with a stinging blow. "Damn!" he exclaimed, his hand rubbing the side of his pointed ear.

The scribe knelt down, spread out his arms in welcome, a warm smile upon his face. He held the white dog around its neck, and began talking to the beast, calling out his name in hushed, affectionate tones. Odan wiped a tear from his eye, "My wonderful beast, how good to hold you around again."

Craven backed away from the kneeling man. He saw the sparkle of a gemstone the size of a henís egg embedded within the dog's chest. "Must be worth a small fortune," he thought. His mind wandering back to his recent days as a miner of precious gems.

"Scribe, can we pit the beast? Surely nothing could best him," asked Craven, visions of gold and silver and precious gems crossed his mind.

"Oh, don't listen to the bad man, my wonderful Bijou. He only jests," soothed Odan, as if the dogís feelings had been hurt, thought Craven.

"I meant, put him to stud. What warrior wouldn't want this dogís offspring at his side in battle? Weíd make a fortune on his pups," said Craven, quick to follow up on his thoughts.

The huge white beast placed his head over the scribe's shoulder, and panted heavily with obvious joy at the scribe's touch and voice.

"He is back," thought the dog, "I must protect him to my death."

Odan stared at Craven. He knew, as gifted as the dwarf was, he lacked the arcane knowledge to understand what was unfolding before him: The Quest! Which path would they take, thought Odan, enjoying the pounding of his heart within this youthful body.

"Pit Bijou," said Odan, "Shame on you. Pit me. Thatís where weíll make our gold. Where would you find anyone fool enough to bet his riches against the Howling Beast? Place him in the pit? Never."

"Heíll cause trouble wherever he goes. Warriors will battle over him," said Craven. Odan paused, "Looking like this, yes," said Odan, "but like this, he represents a threat to no one." A crafty smile came across Odanís face, as he reached down to rub the gemstone in the dogís chest. The illusion of a bichon frise now enveloped the beast. "Now, who would look to hurt a poor defenseless dog such as yourself?" asked Odan, patting the beast on his huge head.

Odan smiled, thought back to a time long since passed, when as a foundling he had been thrown into a pit filled with starved and howling beasts that surrounded him -- death was near -- only to have the Bijou appear by his side in deadly defense of him.

Poor Craven, if only he understood. But he will come to understand. It was written within the living gemstones, untold possible futures, gemstones that Odan must carry with him when he meets Moultrance - to settle a debt older than the beginning of time itself.

"Craven, one moment. Over there," said Odan pointing towards a glistening spider web. "There's a spider. Iíll sit down beside it," he hummed to himself, "I have a message to deliver."

Craven Justice watched in astonishment as the scribe sat down on the ground, crossed his legs in front of him, stared directly into a shimmering web being woven by a black widow spider. The insectís fangs dripped with a deadly poison. The manís daft, thought Craven, fooling with that deadly creepy web crawler.

Within Odanís clasped hands a gemstone appeared. The scribe lifted the gem into the air. The crystal suspended itself, rotated and musical tones came from within it. The gem hovered between the scribe and the spider. It began to sway up and down. Cascades of light escaped from it encircling them.

Craven Justice saw the scribe's lips move as if he were speaking, but no sound came from his mouth. Craven half expected the damn arachnid to talk in response, but heard no words escaping from its maw.

The spinning crystal continued to sing its song, float in the air. The spider shot out a silken web-stream, encased the gemstone, drew it in, gathered it between its hind legs, and sped off into the forest.

"Wait," cried out Craven, "the gem -- why did you allow the spider to take it?"

"To tell its queen that it is time to repay an old debt," said Odan," but I can reveal no more to you. As you know, that would be forbidden."

"I know," sighed Craven, shrugging his shoulders, nodding his head in disappointed agreement. The dictums of the Scribal Priesthood were never revealed to outsiders, but certain customs were known: A scribe always delivered his message and none but those who were meant to hear it ever did. Of this he was certain.

The black widow spider scurried off into the forest. The blue-black crystal gem held securely between its hind legs. "Imagine a human who speak Arachnid," she thought. "They never will believe that back at the mother-web."

The spider kept hearing the pleasant tones coming from the gem stone, singing a story that was beyond her understanding, but surely a tale that Queen Vespoisona's emissary, Egeria, would understand.

A great honor surely awaited her. Perhaps she would be eaten by Queen Vespoisona, herself, to be born again as a full bodied, warm-blooded web-walker, a seducer and feeder of men.

Within the vast cavern of Nymph Falls, through Fyrestorm Mountains, into the many paths of the Vent, stood the webbed city of Queen Vespoisona and her deadly daughters, as the spider entered its realm.

Egeria, emissary of Queen Vespoisona, first daughter in line of succession, glided through the main web room. She had chosen her human form to appear before Vespoisona, knowing that it pleased Vespoisona to appear weak and fragile in her presence. One must never to appear as a challenge to the rule and might of her mother, the queen.

The main web chamber - surrounded by silken bundles of waiting death, captured warriors who had foolishly wandered into her lair, awaited their death. First they would be forced to mate with the queen -- and then their beheading. How often they heard her words before the awful sounds of a comrade - forced to perform an abomination -- filled their ears with moans and screams of passion, followed by cries of fear and pain and death.

"Can you walk the webs?" she would whisper, while in her human form - of course they couldnít -- only one man in the history of the web-walkers had - Odan.

"Egeria, what a pleasant surprise. Have you have filled our web with provisions?"

"A pack of night-stalkers - hyrillas -- are being prepared for dinner right now. A battle ensued. Their pack leader destroyed; his head crushed in by the blow of a mighty Orincle."

"Hyrillas in Talos Valley! Karnakís personal protectors! Heís sure to be after Strange. Weíll feed well in the web during the coming months," said the queen.

"My very thoughts, Mother - err, my queen -" corrected Egeria, remembering her motherís wrath at times, when being referred to in a matronly manner.

"Your father was a tactful being, too, for an elf. A great ambassador he fancied himself as; sent down to negotiate with me - rather crafty - showed great promise in learning to walk the web - but failed." Vespoisona sighed from the memory. "Lasted a number of months -."

"Until one night, during a display of magnificent rage, you caused him to lose his head over you," stated Egeria, her thoughts going back to the time she stood witness to her fatherís failed attempt at learning to walk the webs, and his beheading.

"Yes," said Vespoisona, as if reading Egeriaís mind, "And then you feasted upon him, gaining his humanity along with his structure."

"Yes, my Queen. I owe you everything for making me what I am today: The oldest surviving daughter of Queen Vespoisona, Mistress of the Web of Death."

"And donít you forget it, my sweet, virginal beauty. Perhaps one day you will inherit this all," said Vespoisona, as she held all eight arms out, pointing out her wealth.

Then Vespoisona transformed herself into her female form, drawing a sigh of relief from Egeria, knowing that Vespoisona rarely kills her offspring while in human form.

"Come, sit beside your dear mother - do we not look like sisters - except for your elven features, that is. Makes you look a bit like your father. Fortunately for you, you inherited my beauty."

"Of which I am eternally grateful."

"Well, thatís what we mommies are for - except when having their children for breakfast, that is. Now, tell me, what brings you here so late in the day?"