by Paul D
Can two young people stop an evil plan?
Jan gasped at the skeleton in a shroud. “I hope they're not all skeletons.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” Sysco agreed.
“I'm the Sentinel,” the skeleton hissed. “I called for the Bearers of the Medallions, and you have come.” He spread his arms wide and everyone around him removed their masks and robes, revealing they were all skeletons.
“You will bring all of us life, or you will taste death.”
Sysco shuddered. This wasn't at all how he expected his summer to end.
* * *
Sysco Dalton stood on the small white porch outside his front door. He was curious about the people moving in next door and hoped they had kids about his age. Living in the middle of nowhere meant few people to do things with.
Four other houses stood nearby – but no kids. His good friend Chester lived a mile away – across the Pine River. The nearest town, Bridgeview, was fifteen miles south.
Despite the isolation, Sysco enjoyed living in central Arizona. He could explore as much as he liked, and adventure was just a step outside his house.
He walked off the porch and onto the grass, moving quickly. Large red ants roamed everywhere, and if he stayed still for long, they would bite him but good. When he arrived at the neighbors, he asked a middle aged man, “Need help?”
“Sure, jump right in,” he replied.
Sysco entered the truck, which was already getting hot. He saw a hand truck and stacked some boxes on it. When he entered the house with the hand truck, he found a lady who directed him to the living room where boxes were being sorted by a girl and boy.
The boy appeared to be about eight or nine, but the girl was almost his height, and he smiled. “Hi, I'm Sysco.”
The boy said, “I'm Nathan,” and the girl said, “I'm Jan.”
Unloading the truck took four hours. Mr. Simpson gave him forty dollars for his help. Sysco had never had that much money at one time and was in shock.
“You want to go exploring?” he asked Jan.
“Dad's taking us to town for pizza. You want to come?”
Sysco didn't have pizza often, and it was one of his favorite foods. “If it's okay with your parents.”
Sysco sat next to Jan in the backseat. He didn't think he would ever be smitten by a girl, but he felt as if he'd been hit by lightening. “Where did you move from?”
“San Diego,” she answered.
“You must feel out of sorts here in the boondocks.”
Jan smiled. “My parents wanted to escape the rat race.”
“Well, there are no rats here or even a race for that matter. What does your dad do?”
“He's a writer.”
“As in books?”
“Yeah, have you heard of the Dawn of the Dead Soul Eaters?”
“Are you kidding? J.J. Simpson is your dad?” he asked with disbelief.
“The one and only.”
Sysco was shocked that one of the best writers ever was living next door. They arrived at the pizza place in Bridgeview quicker than he expected.
He was caught up in conversation with Jan, and time flew much too fast. Upon their return to the house, he said, “Would you like to explore now?”
“I have a few hours before dinner,” she replied.
“Do you have a canteen?”
Jan gave him an odd look. “Ah, no.”
“I'll get one for you. This is the high desert, and taking water with you is always a good thing. Be right back.”
Sysco ran to his house and entered his room for the canteens. He filled them in the kitchen and returned to Jan. They set off walking up the dirt road in front of the house. When they reached the cattle guard at the end of the road, he said, “Take your time, and you can cross over with no problem.”
As they walked along, he told her about the red ants and other nasty things to watch out for. “There are a lot of cacti here, and some are very small. They will stick your feet if you're not careful.”
Sysco kicked a small rock, and it tumbled down the dirt road and trailed off into the grass on the right side. “The idea is to keep kicking the rock as long as possible,” he said.
Sysco kicked another rock, which also failed to stay on the road.
“You are not doing so well,” she said.
“Thanks for the encouragement.”
Jan laughed and kicked a rock, which stayed on the road. “That wasn't so hard.”
“Just lucky,” he responded.
She kicked it again and again.
Sysco sighed. “Looks like we got a ringer here.”
Jan smiled. “We goin' anywhere in particular?”
“Yeah, the top of the plateau is one of my favorite places. It has a great view from there.”
They left the road and walked up a wide ravine. As they went along, the ravine slowly narrowed until finally it was less than ten feet across. Boulders of all sizes – some as big as a house – were scattered all up and down the ravine.
Jan said, “I guess these boulders came from the top of the plateau.”
“Yeah, I wouldn't want to be around when one of them came down.”
The ascent of the slope of the plateau was slow, and they stopped frequently to rest.
* * *
Jan considered herself a shy girl; she'd never been popular or belonged to a 'click'. She'd always found it near impossible to talk to boys. Some people called her 'rail' because she had no figure at all. Despite those considerations, she was against the move from San Diego where she'd lived all her life. Although she felt out of place here in no man's land, Sysco was starting to change her outlook.
Most boys ignored her as if she didn't exist. Sysco made eye contact and interesting conversation as well. He talked a lot, which she thought was nervousness. “Do you have any friends around here?”
“Yeah, Chester lives on the other side of the river. I can take you over there tomorrow to meet him.”
“Okay, cool. I need to take another break. This walk up the steep slope is wearing me out.”
Sysco grinned. “Yeah, I know. I've walked up here many times, and it always wears me down.”
He pointed to a large rock. “We can sit there.”
They sat quietly side by side. “I know I talk a lot, but I can be quiet too – at least for a wee bit.”
Jan laughed. “I was worried when we moved here that I wouldn't make any friends.”
“Well, you've already made one, so put your worries in the cupboard for another day.”
“What have you got planned for the rest summer?” she asked.
“Just the usual: exploring, fishing, hunting, and of course swimming every day.”
“My parents were talking of sending me to a summer camp until school starts.”
“That would be a bummer – sorry, not for you, but for me. Chester will be leaving in a couple days to stay with his mother in Phoenix for August. I – never mind.”
Jan saw a defeated look on Sysco's face. “Finish what you were going to say.”
“I don't mind being alone. I'm used to it, but it would be nice to have someone around to do things with. Can you tell your parents to forget the camp this August? I promise to find something to do every day so you don't get bored.”
“Hummm, I'm not sure. Last year at camp, I got poison ivy, and it stayed with me much too long. The mosquitoes nearly ate me alive. I think I was sunburned almost every day, and to top it off, the food wasn't so great.”
Sysco grinned. “Sounds like loads of fun. I hope you don't return there for more fun this summer.”
“I'll tell my parents they can save a lot of money by keeping me here. After the move, I'm sure they'll be happy to hear that.”
Jan was surprised when Sysco gave her a quick hug. “Thanks, I promise to do my best to make sure you have the best summer ever.”
They continued their climb and finally reached the top of the plateau. Jan stood looking out over the vast valley. “This is spectacular. Thanks for bringing me up here.”
“Sure, we can come as often as you like.”
They sat down on a rock. Sysco said, “Would you like to go swimming tomorrow?”
“Sounds good. I like to swim.”
“I'll be at your house early in the morning.”
“Is five okay?” he quipped.
Jan laughed. “You wake me up that early and I'll smack you hard.”
Sysco grinned. “I'll be there around eight.”
“Now, comes the fun part, returning down the slope.”
The steepness of the slope made it almost impossible to walk. Sysco ran at an angle to the slope, and she followed his example. They descended much faster than she thought possible, and within minutes, they were at the bottom of the ravine.
They returned to her house where she found her parents sitting on the porch. “We were wondering when you would return,” her dad said.
“We got caught up in our exploring,” she said.
“We are going to a movie after dinner. Sysco, you can come if you like,” her mom said.
“Wow! I love John Wayne. I would love to go. I'll go eat some dinner. See you later.”
“Yeah, later,” replied Jan.
Sysco awakened early the next morning, ate breakfast, and went to the garage to get an oversize inner tube large enough for two people.
He rolled the tube across the back yard and tossed it over the gate. He bounced the inner tube hard toward the pond below, and it bounded down the slope and splashed into the pond.
He walked to Jan's house and tapped on the front door. Mr. Simpson opened the door. “Is Jan here?”
“Yes, she's coming now.”
Jan stepped onto the porch. “You ready for some swimming?”
“I need to put on my swim suit,” she replied.
“Come as you are. I always swim in my clothes. It gets very hot here, so wet clothes act as a temporary air conditioner.”
Jan laughed. “Makes sense in a crazy way.”
They went through the back gate and walked down the gravel road to the pond. “Where did the huge inner tube come from?”
Sysco smiled. “My garage. I have several smaller ones as well.” On the bank of the pond, Sysco said, “I like to jump right in or you can take it slow if you like, which is called the torture method.”
He leapt feet first into the water. “Yikes, it's cold today.”
Jan stayed on the bank. “I'm enjoying the view from here.”
Sysco laughed and slammed his hand against the water, making it splash on Jan. She screeched, “Too cold.”
“Come on in; you get used to it after a while.”
Jan backed up a bit and ran and jumped into the water. She came to the surface and sputtered, “Like jumping in sunshine.”
Sysco burst out laughing. “Last one to the inner tube is a rotten egg.” He took off swimming. Jan easily passed him and arrived first.
She grinned and said, “I'm on the swim team.”
Sysco said, “Come on.” He dove down below the inner tube and came up in the middle. Jan popped up as well. He stretched out his arms onto the tube. Jan did the same. “Now, at the count of three, we push up and sit on the tube.”
The morning in the pond went by quickly. Sysco said, “Do you want to take our lunch to river and we can explore there for awhile.”
“I like that idea,” Jan replied.
* * *
Jan stood with Sysco on the bridge, staring down at the muddy river. “There was a flood a couple days ago,” Sysco explained. “I thought it would be clear by now.”
“We can still explore,” Jan said.
“So long as you don't mind getting your shoes coated in mud.”
“These shoes are way past being old,” said Jan.
Sysco lifted his foot, displaying his worn shoes. “Mine are worse.”
On the other side of the bridge they took a steep path down the slope to the river. Lots of debris from the flood littered the ground. “Oh, my foot is stuck,” Jan said.
Sysco chuckled. “Some of this mud is deeper than it looks.” He walked over pulled at her leg. Her foot came loose, but her shoe was gone. He reached into the hole and pulled out the shoe.
Jan cleaned out the shoe and put it back on her foot. As they walked along, they came across puddles of various sizes. “Look, Sysco, this puddle has a large fish.”
“That's a carp. They taste terrible. We can go fishing in a couple days.”
“Oh joy, can't wait.”
Sysco chuckled. “It's not that bad – not like watching grass grow.”
Jan smiled. “Well, that's a relief.”
They walked for several miles then turned back. When they returned, they jumped back in the pond to wash away the mud. After Jan came home, her mother said, “Have you been playing in mud?”
“I washed most of it away.”
“Leave your shoes and clothes on the porch and go get a shower.”
Jan sat on the couch. She had only been here two days and done so many things. Her mother entered the room and said, “Don't get to comfortable. We have a lot of unpacking to do.”
Jan groaned. A knock at the door got her moving. She opened it to see Sysco. “Can you--”
“Sorry, gotta help unpack.”
“I could help too,” said Sysco.
Jan smiled. “Come on in – and suffer.”
A few hours later, the last box for the kitchen was unloaded. “You want to go out for awhile?” he asked.
Mrs. Simpson said, “Jan has dinner chores tonight: preparing, cooking, and cleaning.”
“I can help with that too.”
Jan rolled her eyes. “You? Cook?”
“I cook all the time.”
“I think he's got it bad,” her mom whispered.
“You can stay, but I'm the boss.”
Sysco chuckled. “Women are always the boss.”
* * *
Early the next day, Jan met Sysco outside. He handed her a canteen, and she put the strap around her neck. They were going exploring. They walked up the road for about a half mile then started up an old road that went up the side of the plateau. It had deep ruts from years of neglect. “I doubt any vehicle could get up this road.”
Sysco nodded. “Maybe a Range Rover or a Jeep.”
“So, where you taking me?”
They stopped to rest a few times before they came to a narrow trail that led around the side of the mountain. “How much farther?” she asked.
“We are within spittin' distance now.”
“I'll take your word on that.”
The trail was narrow, and Sysco took the lead. “This cave will knock your socks off.”
Jan laughed. “Let's hope not because my shoes would have to go as well.”
Sysco stopped and Jan looked around. “So, where is this cave?”
He pointed at a small hole near the path, then he knelt. “You have to crawl inside on your stomach.”
Jan groaned. “Seriously?”
“It will be worth the effort, I promise.” He handed her a flashlight and started wiggling into the hole, and soon all she could see was the soles of his tennis shoes.
Jan lay down, turned on the flashlight, and scooted forward using her hands and feet. Within a few feet, she was able to crawl, and after another couple feet, she could walk bent over. Finally, she entered the cave and stood up. “I don't believe it.”
An old mattress lay on a wooden bed frame. Behind it was a number of shelves with rusted cans. The cave was filled with cobwebs and a musty smell filled the air. She played the light in front of her as she proceeded past the bed. “What is this here?”
Her light revealed a trap door on the dirt floor beside the bed. Sysco shrugged his shoulders. “Last time I was here there was an old rug on the floor. I never saw the trap door. You want to see what's below?”
Jan considered his question for a moment. “I guess we can look.”
Sysco grasped the metal ring in the trap door and pulled it into an upright position. They both shone their lights downward, but all she could see was steps leading down into the dark.
“Looks scary,” she said.
“You can stay here, and I'll take a look.” He started down the steps.
“No way am I staying here by myself.” She followed behind him.
Near the bottom, Sysco stopped and said, “Look at that.” Light played over a large book on a stand.
“Where is that light from?” asked Jan.
Sysco shone his light around the small room, but only the book was in the room. “This is really weird.” He continued down the few remaining steps.
“Where you going?”
“I want to see the book.”
She joined him in front of the book, which was opened about halfway. “I wonder what it says?” She ran her finger over the strange looking words.
The world shifted. It was like being on a merry-go-round. Dizziness caused her to fall to the ground. She felt as though she might throw up at any moment.
“What happened?” Sysco groaned.
“Maybe it was an earthquake. I'm just glad everything stopped moving.”
“I think you must have your eyes closed,” said Sysco in a shaky voice.
His words startled Jan, and she wondered how he could know. She opened them and saw green grass all around. Mountains cut the blue sky in the far distance. “This can't be real.”
“Well, if it is dream, we are in it together.” Sysco stood up. “We need to find shelter, food, and water.”
“And we need to find a way to get back home. My parents are going to ground me forever.”
Sysco pointed to several large birds in the sky. “Birds are a good sign.”
Jan watched the birds as they flew closer. “I'm not so sure; look how big they are.”
“They appear to be even larger than a pterodactyl. I hope they are not carnivores.”
Suddenly, the birds screeched and dropped from the sky.
“I don't think those are birds,” Jan said.
Sysco took Jan's hand as two dragons landed in front of them. “I don't think they're going to eat us yet,” he whispered.
We would never eat the Bearers of the Medallions.
Sysco squeezed Jan's hand. “Did you hear the voice in your head?”
Jan's voice shook when she answered, “Yeah, but I don't know what it means, do you?”
The dragon with red and black scales lowered one of its wings. Climb on top.
Sysco hesitated then released Jan's hand. “Looks like we're going for a ride.”
He walked up the wing and continued to the dragon's neck. He firmly gripped some of the scales. Jan sat beside him. “I'm afraid of heights,” she admitted.
“Me too. Maybe we should just close our eyes and pretend we're still on the ground.”
“Pretending will not change our situation,” Jan replied.
Sysco nodded in agreement. He watched the terrain as the dragons flew along. The plains were left behind quicker than he expected. Mountains stretched out for as far as he could see. “Are you nervous?”
“Mostly curious. I'm trying to imagine where we're being taken, but I can't think of anything that makes sense.”
Sysco saw something that glinted just ahead. He pointed to his right. “Look at that.”
Jan gasped. “It's a castle.”
“Yeah, a castle in the middle of nowhere. I have a feeling it's our destination. Remember we don't know if these are good guys or bad guys.”
“That's a disturbing thought.”
“Well, here's another one. How is it the dragons speak English?”
“Humm, maybe we're speaking whatever language is spoken here.”
“Hang on, we're on our way down.”
Three tall towers rose up over the castle, and the dragons landed on the closest one. They descended the dragon's wing and stood on the hewn stone. Jan took Sysco's hand. The dragons lifted off and flew away.
A tall man wearing a long black robe emerged from the tower. Sysco tried to read his facial expression, but it was impossible. He stopped and said, “Welcome to the Bearers of the Medallions.”
Sysco said, “Thank you.”
Jan added, “Where are we?”
“This is castle Urbright. Come I'll take you to the Sentinel.”
The tower was dark inside with only scant light from torches set in scones on the wall. The stone stairway was narrow allowing for only two people to walk side by side. “This place is creepy,” Jan whispered.
Their footsteps echoed as they walked. “Yeah, I'd rather not think about that.” The stairs circled downward. Finally, they came to a large landing, which filled the space from wall to wall.
The robed man led them to the opposite wall to a trap door in the floor. Sysco looked at Jan and said, “This is a little weird. That trap door looks very similar to the one in the cave.”
“What are the chances we go through the door and return home?”
Sysco laughed. “Sorry, I have a feeling getting back will be a bit more complicated.”
The robed man pulled back the trap door and pointed to Sysco. He released Jan's hand. Sysco stepped onto the wooden ladder and continued downward. At the sound of the trap door shutting, he looked up. The ladder above was empty.
* * *
Jan was surprised when the robed man closed the trap door and secured it with metal bolts. He said, “Come this way.”
Jan felt a shiver of fear. She didn't want to be separated from Sysco, but she didn't see that she had a choice.
She walked a short distance and came to another trap door. The robed man opened it and indicated for her to enter. She was only a short way down the ladder when the door shut. She was alone on the ladder.
There wasn't enough light, so she removed the flashlight from her pocket. She was surprised to see that the ladder below her ended in midair. “What kind of nonsense is this?”
She moved the flashlight around and saw a dangling rope not too far away on her left. How do I get there?
She climbed back up the ladder until she came to the bottom of the trap door. The rope was at least five feet away where it was attached to a ring in the stone ceiling.
An idea came to her. She pulled off her Levi's and tied one leg to the ladder. She slithered down the Levi's praying they wouldn't rip. She swung back and forth, then reached the rope. She kept a grip on the rope while climbing up her Levi's. When she reached the ladder, she put the Levi's back on.
She swung out on the rope and started her descent. It didn't take long for her hands and arms to get tired. She didn't have long to think about the pain because she noticed that the rope was almost at its end.
She turned on her flashlight again and looked around. A fancy looking staircase was on her far left. She shifted her weight on the rope and started it swinging. It took a long while of swinging back and forth before she was able to reach the staircase.
She grabbed the metal railing, released the rope, and climbed over onto the staircase. A faint light below caught her attention, and she started walking downward.
Her nerves were on edge as she could hear echoes from below. It sounded like a party, but she couldn't imagine what was really happening.
The noise grew as she progressed, and the light was brighter as well. The staircase ended at another large landing which was filled with people wearing masks.
She stepped down onto the floor.
* * *
Sysco sat in a dark cell in the dungeon. He'd been taken prisoner as soon as he reached the bottom of the ladder. He was worried about Jan.
His parents had warned him numerous times to keep his abilities secret. He didn't see or hear anyone and was sure his escape would just become an unsolved mystery. He pressed his body to the bars and closed his eyes. He felt as if he were floating on clouds, becoming lighter and lighter. He pulled himself into the space between the bars and left the cell.
He'd taken no more than two steps when he saw a flicker of light, then another and another. All two soon he was surrounded by men with torches.
One of them said, “Come with me.”
Sysco didn't feel threatened, so he followed the man. They continued up some stone stairs and entered a wide empty space. The man led him to a door and opened it. Sysco entered a small room.
The door shut, and he was alone, except for a large tub full of water and some clothing on a wooden bench. He undressed and entered the warm water. Once he washed up, he dressed in the clothing that was much too fancy.
He left the room to find the man awaiting him. The man motioned with his hand for Sysco to follow. On the other side of the room was more stone stairs. They climbed up. Sysco was getting tired of climbing stairs.
He heard music and laughter. A party? It seemed so unlikely that he wanted to laugh. He saw brighter light at the top of the stairs and was relieved to be near their end.
Near the top step, he came to a stop. Across the room was a grand wooden staircase and walking down it was a beautiful girl. It must be a princess.
When she stepped onto the floor, he realized it was Jan. He hurried up the remaining steps and ran across the floor to join her. He embraced her and said, “I'm glad you're okay.”
“Me too,” she replied.
The music ended and everyone turned to face them. The crowd parted and a man with a lion mask came forward. “Let's welcome the Bearers of the Medallions.”
All the masked people made Jan nervous. She couldn't understand why they were so excited. “I think they've mistaken us for someone else.”
Sysco said, “I sure hope so.”
The person with the lion mask moved forward several more paces then stopped and removed the mask as well as his colorful robe.
Jan stepped back and gasped at the skeleton in his shroud. “I hope they're not all skeletons.”
“Yeah, no kidding.”
“I am the Sentinel,” the skeleton hissed. “I called for the Bearers of the Medallions, and you have come.” He spread his arms wide and everyone removed their masks and robes, revealing they were all skeletons.
“You will bring us life, or you will taste death.” The skeletons surrounded them and walked forward.
Jan grabbed Sysco's arm. “What kind of nuthouse have we come to?” she whispered.
Sysco wrapped his arms around her and said, “Close your eyes, and don't open them until I tell you.”
She felt strange, then she was floating. She wanted to open her eyes to see what was really happening, but she was afraid of what she might see. After what seemed a very long time, Sysco said, “You can open your eyes now.”
They were outside on top of the tower. “I have already called for the red and black dragon.”
“How did we get here?”
“I will explain later, but we must escape here first.”
She saw a the dragon in the distance, and she also heard a commotion from the stairwell in the tower. “The dragon won't make it in time.”
“Grab tightly onto me and close your eyes.”
Jan did as instructed, and a floating sensation made her stomach do flip flops. She really wanted to open her eyes, but she had a feeling she would be terrified.
She felt something solid under her, and Sysco said, “Open your eyes and take hold of the scales.”
She looked at Sysco. “How did we get here?'
“Let's wait 'til we are on the ground. Dragon, do you have a name?”
I am called, Soars High.
“Where are you taking us?” asked Jan.
To where you desire to search for life.
“Do you work for the Sentinel?” Sysco inquired.
I'm under compulsion to do as he directs.
“I don't like the sound of that,” Jan said.
“Yeah, not good,” Sysco agreed. “But at least we're away from that castle.”
“Soars High, do you have aa idea of where we should go?” Jan asked.
The Seer of Archelon is known for wisdom.
Jan looked at Sysco. “What do you think?”
“Maybe the Seer will have an idea of how we can return home.”
“Soars High, take us to the Seer,” said Jan.
* * *
Sysco was so tired his head kept bobbing up and down, but he feared closing his eyes. He might lose his grip and fall to his death. “How much longer to the Seer?”
Not long now.
“I hope the Seer has some food. I'm starving.”
“Yeah, I could eat a horse,” Sysco added.
Finally, Soars High began his descent. It was so dark, Sysco could see nothing below him. Soars High landed, and they walked down his wing.
In the morning climb the highest peak, and you will find the Seer. With those words Soars High flew away.
Sysco turned on his flashlight. “I think I hear running water.”
The area where they landed was a small circle of grass surrounded by tall trees. Beyond the trees were three tall mountains. They proceeded slowly into the trees, and after a short way found a stream.
Sysco knelt down and cupped some water into the palm of his hand and tasted it. “Tastes okay.” They both drank.
“Look, berries,” Jan said.
Sysco walked to the bush and noticed bird and animal droppings. “It should be safe to eat,” he said. After eating berries, they returned to the grassy area. “These fancy clothes are going to get ruined,” he said.
Jan nodded in agreement, “My slippers are much too thin to do a lot of walking. Do you think it will be safe to sleep here over night?”
“I hope so; Soars High left us here. I can see no reason he would have put us in a danger.”
They lay down side by side. “It is hard to sleep without a pillow,” Sysco remarked.
“Even harder without a bed,” Jan added.
“Harder still in a weird place with talking skeletons.”
Jan laughed. “Yeah, and telepathic dragons. I hope the Seer can tell us how to get back home.”
“Yeah, I already miss pizza and Big Macs.”
Jan giggled. “Are you afraid?”
“Right now I'm just tired, but I can't sleep.”
“Maybe if you close your eyes and stop talking. . . .”
Sysco chuckled. “Maybe.”
* * *
Jan groaned and opened her eyes. She felt stiff all over. Sleeping on the ground was a new experience for her, and she wished to never do it again. She sat up and looked around. Sysco was nowhere in sight. She thought he might be at the river.
She stood up and stretched. She walked to the forest and continued to the river. Sysco was nowhere to be seen. She drank some water and ate some berries, then she returned to the grassy area. “Where could he have gone?”
She sat back down, then she called, “Soars High, do you know where Sysco is?”
When there was no answer, she thought he was too far away to hear her question, but then she heard, With the Seer.
Jan remembered her remark about her thin slippers. Sysco must have left very early to climb the mountain. “He should not have gone without me.”
“Soars High, can you carry me to the Seer?”
You will incur a penalty for not climbing.
“Please, come and take me to the Seer.”
While Jan waited, she wondered why Sysco would leave without saying anything. She was relieved when she saw the dragon in the distance. Maybe I should have asked about the penalty.
She couldn't worry about the 'what ifs'; the slippers were just so impractical. “Perhaps the Seer can tell me where to get shoes.”
When Soars High landed, she happily climbed up and settled down at the base of his neck. Soon they were air borne. Her arrival at the top of the highest mountain took little time. “Flying is so much better than walking.”
She climbed down to the ground. Soars High flew away. The gaping maw of a large cave was directly in front of her. She shivered at the memory of the other cave. “It will be different this time.”
She took several steps toward the cave and came to an abrupt halt. A skeletal crone blocked her path. Is this a world of skeletons?
“Those who cannot complete the mountain's challenge will endure a penalty,” the ugly skeleton declared.
“If I had proper shoes, the challenge wouldn't have been impossible.”
The skeleton laughed. “All things are possible with the right incentive.”
* * *
Sysco had been awakened in the middle of the night by a skeleton winged horse. Get on, the horse demanded.
He looked at Jan's sleeping form, and the winged horse said, Now!
Sysco climbed onto the horse. He hoped he could stay on and grabbed tightly onto the mane. The horse lifted up into the air. The ride was not as smooth as Soars High.
The ride was a short one, and the horse landed a short distance from a large cave. The Seer awaits you.
“I thought I had to climb the mountain.” He climbed off the horse.
The Seer is impatient. The horse lifted into the air and flew away.
Sysco stood, staring at the mouth of the dark cave. He had his flashlight, but he wasn't so sure he wanted to face the Seer. Why would the Seer be impatient? He wished he knew what was going on here.
Sysco entered the cave. His flashlight wasn't much help. He made his way slowly, hoping no nasty creatures lived here. He walked for a long while before coming to a vast chamber filled with stalactites and stalagmites. A greenish glow along with reflections in a pool of water gave the place an eerie atmosphere.
As he walked into the room, a large stone platform came into view. On top of it sat a beautiful woman with long black hair and an ageless face. “This must be the Seer,” he said to himself.
“That is correct,” she responded.
He wonder how her hearing could be that good.
“I have waited eons for your arrival.”
He was puzzled by her admission. “Why is my coming here so important?”
The Seer smiled and he shivered. “Only my child can bring this land to life again, and for a child, I need a mate.”
Sysco wanted to back up. “I'm still a child.”
The Seer laughed. “My knowledge is vast, and it includes an aging process.”
* * *
“What do I need to do to see the Seer?” asked Jan.
The crone skeleton smiled. “The task isn't difficult. Gather five green crystals from Pryor Mountain and return here.”
Jan called for Soars High, and soon they were flying high. Something didn't seem right to Jan, and she said, “Set me down near the top of the mountain.”
She started her descent of the rocky terrain. She paid close attention to where she walked because of the slippers. She believed she could reach the cave before dark and planned to enter it.
As she walked along, she thought about the life she'd left behind in San Diego. It was easy to disappear in a sea of people. In the boondocks she would stand out like a sore thumb, and here in skeletonville, she would never be mistaken as one of the locals.
She was uncomfortable being at the center of attention; she felt so out of place. She couldn't understand how her father could be so at ease when he spoke in public. He made it seem effortless. He'd encouraged her to take public speaking in school, but that was something she could never do.
Right now, she wanted to run away and hide. Confrontation made her anxious. She would do almost anything to avoid a fight. The thought of Sysco being in trouble disturbed her. Maybe it was just her imagination, but this attempt to send her away set off internal alarm bells. She had to face what lay ahead, and that scared her to death.
Her dress caught on bushes and branches and was ripped and torn in many areas. Her slippers were worn through in several places, but she had arrived at the cave. The sun hovered at the horizon. While she waited for dark, she plotted out the path she would take to the cave's entrance.
In the short time it took for dark to fall, Jan felt as if time was suspended. Her nerves kicked up again, and she feared that at any moment someone or something would find her. This place with skeleton people was too much like a nightmare from which one would wake up screaming. I wished I wasn't living a dream.
The time came when she couldn't even see her hand in front of her face. The starlight she'd counted on was thwarted by clouds. Her flashlight could give her away, but what other choice did she have?
She turned on the flashlight. A moment later she heard a slight sound, turned her head, and gasped at Sysco's ghost.
* * *
Sysco sat in a cell in the dark. The Seer's plans terrified him. He had not eaten any of the food or drink he'd been given. The Seer had not expounded on how she would cause him to age, and he didn't want to know. He planned to be long gone from here before she could alter his body.
When he was younger, he considered his abilities a curse. He didn't see any good use for them, and telling others of them would only make his life much worse. Once his parents learned of his ability, they threatened severe punishment if he used it. He didn't fully understand their fear and only practiced in secret.
Even now, he wondered how Jan felt about his ability. She had not said a word about what happened at the castle. He hoped she was safe. It was unlikely she would be able to climb up to the cave.
Sysco sat quietly and waited. It was better to appear defeated for then the enemy would not be so much on the alert. Also, his cell was one most people would never be able to escape from. The thick metal bars were set in solid stone. The metal door was held closed with long metal bars. Even Hercules would be challenged by this prison. He smiled at the thought.
He considered what he should do after his escape. Soars High could take him and Jan to a safe place, but even more important was finding a way back home. He considered for a moment that there might not be a way back, and he pushed that sad thought into the back of his mind.
When the ugly skeleton brought his third meal, he believed it might be near day's end. He emptied the tray in the farthermost corner of his cell and continued to wait.
Finally, he decided it was time, and he stood up and walked to the bars. He pressed his body into them and closed his eyes. He felt light as if he had no substance and slid between the bars. With each step he covered a wide space.
He was almost at the cave's entrance when the ugly skeleton looked in his direction, but she couldn't see him. He smiled and left the cave. A small light flickered across the way. He took a step and was at Jan's side.
Her eyes widened at his appearance, and he covered her mouth with his hand. “Sorry for frightening you. I will call Soars High, and we will get away from this terrible place.”
Jan and Sysco were flying on Soars High again. He had told her about his encounter with the Seer, but what she remembered most was his ghostly appearance, which she wanted to ask him about, but was afraid of his response.
“Where do we go now?”
Sysco shrugged. “I wish I knew. I want to go home.”
“Soars High, do you know of a safe place?” asked Jan.
In the between, no one will bother you.
“Between what?” Sysco inquired.
Between here and there.
Jan looked at Sysco. “What do you think? Want to try the between place?”
“Sure, it's worth a try,” he responded.
“Soars High, take us to the between,” Jan said.
It will take the rest of the night to arrive at the transit point.
“I could use some food and water,” Sysco said.
“Yeah, me too. Maybe Soars High is hungry too.”
“Soars High, can we get something to eat and drink?” asked Sysco.
The Endwith River is not far away. I will land there.
“You are being so quiet,” Sysco remarked.
“Quiet is normal for me.”
“I think my ghostly appearance earlier frightened you, and now you are apprehensive being around me.”
Jan sighed. “At the tower my eyes were closed, so I could ignore my questions about what happened and how, but here at the cave, my eyes were wide open. I wasn't prepared for what happened. The shock has left me with questions I'm afraid to ask.”
“It's okay to ask questions, Jan. The answers may not be as bad as you fear.”
“Are you alive or dead?”
“I'm very much alive.”
“Wow! That's a huge relief. I like you a lot, and I really didn't want to fall for a dead person.”
Sysco laughed. “Yeah, I can understand that. Other questions?”
“How did you get these abilities?”
“As far as I know, I was born with them,” he answered.
“How did you discover this ability?”
“I fell from a tree. My parents warned me about tree climbing, but I was determined to do it anyway. I was near the top of a tall tree when a limb broke. I was sure that was it and closed my eyes. My fall was very fast, but then it was like walking through a bog. When I opened my eyes, I was floating a couple feet off the ground.”
“That must have come as quite a shock.”
“Yeah, my parents didn't want to believe me at first, but then other strange things started happening with my body. When I was asleep, I would float to the ceiling. I was home-schooled for a year, so I could learn control over my abilities.”
Soars High descended and landed near a swift river. Once Jan and Sysco climbed down, he leapt to the air and skimmed the surface of the river. He returned with several large fish.
“Do you have matches?” Jan asked.
“No, and raw fish doesn't sound very good. Soars High is there a way to heat these up?”
Soars High opened his jaws and flamed the fish.
Jan said, “Looks very well done.”
Sysco grinned and took a bite. “Tastes better than it looks,” he remarked.
She picked one up and took a bite. “Hummm, not bad. I guess I must be really hungry.”
Sysco laughed. “Too true.”
After finishing the fish, they both drank from the river. They climbed back on Soars High. They talked about a variety of things, and Jan was surprised at how comfortable she felt with Sysco. It wasn't a feeling she was accustomed to with guys.
We have reached the transit point, announced Soars High.
Jan gripped Sysco's arm with her free hand. The exit from dark to what looked like twilight was immediate. All sounds of night became silent, except for the swishing of Soars High's wings.
“This place is eerie.”
“I don't think the skeletons can find us here,” Sysco said.
* * *
This place called the between made Sysco uncomfortable. It was like being stuck in an elevator and not being able to go up or down. “I really don't like it here.”
“I don't think we've been here long,” Jan replied.
“How can you tell?”
“Well, my watch – oh, it stopped working.”
“Mine too. Soars High, what lies beyond the between?”
No one knows.
“What do you think, Jan. Should we find out what this other place is like?'
“Could it be worse than the skeletons?”
“We could come back if we don't like it,” Sysco replied.
“Soars High, taker us to this other place,” Jan said.
It was difficult to discern movement in the between. There was no wind, only the sound of Soars High's wings gave any indication of anything.
Jan fell asleep, and Sysco tightened his grip on her to make sure she didn't fall off. Suddenly, there was a change in the temperature. Sysco started chattering. “Take us back, Soars High.”
There is no transit point.
Sysco knew what he had to do. His body started shifting, and he surrounded Jan in a bubble. The cold no longer would affect either of them.
* * *
Jan awakened and felt warmer than normal. She looked around. She still rode Soars High, but Sysco was nowhere in sight. Snow and ice were everywhere below her, but the cold didn't touch her. “Are you here, Sysco?”
The air around her wavered. “This is beyond weird.” After a long while, there was much less snow. Rolling hills covered with trees dominated the landscape. In the distance a line of smoke appeared in the sky.
As they drew closer, she saw that the smoke came from a large cabin that covered most of a hilltop. “Soars High, set me down near the cabin.”
After she was on the ground, Soars High returned to the air. She said, “Sysco, if you can hear me, now would be a good time to return to your normal self.”
The air around her wavered, and she shivered as a blast of cold air surrounded her. Sysco stood beside her with his arms wrapped around his chest. “It sure is cold out here.”
Jan knocked at the cabin door, which was taller than any door she had ever seen. The door opened revealing a giant of a man with one eye in the center of his forehead. A bluish fog swirled all around him. “Come,” his booming voice said.
Jan and Sysco entered the cabin, and the giant shut the door. “Ah, where are we?” Sysco asked.
Jan was curious by all the mirrors of various shapes and sizes on the walls of the small room. The giant smiled. “This place is called: Upon Reflection.”
Jan shivered and tugged at Sysco's arm. “Something or someone is watching us from the mirrors,” she whispered.
The giant waved his hand. “There's nothing to fear. The Essence of Grimoire watches everyone.”
“Grimoire is a book of magic,” Jan added.
“What's your name?” Sysco asked.
“I am the Servant of Grimoire. You are most welcome. Seldom do visitors come this way.”
“Is it winter here?” Jan inquired.
“Winter is always here. The Essence loves winter.”
Sysco shivered. “The Essence does not sound very friendly,” he whispered.
The cabin shook. “The Essence is not pleased,” the giant said.
“Sysco, we need to be careful of what we say,” Jan warned.
They took several steps forward, and a large mirror to their right shattered, and glass flew toward them. Sysco shimmered, and Jan was inside a bubble. Most of the glass dropped to the floor while some of it continued to stick into the opposite wall.
More glass shattered, and the giant fell to the floor. He looked like a giant pincushion. Jan ran toward a door across the room. She opened it and entered a large room with a pool in the center, and in the pool was a mermaid.
“Welcome, you have passed the first test.”
“Sysco, return to normal.”
Sysco stood beside her, and Jan said, “Why was the giant killed?”
The mermaid laughed. “Take a look back into the room.”
Sysco and Jan returned to the door and looked back. All the mirrors were whole again, and the one-eyed giant stood in the middle of the room. “This is a weird place,” said Jan.
“Yeah, but no skeletons, yet,” Sysco added.
Jan said, “Why are we being tested?”
“Be careful,” the mermaid warned, “you are only allowed three questions. Only those who prove worthy are allowed to proceed.”
“Proceed where?” Sysco whispered to Jan.
“To the next room,” the mermaid answered. The waters of the pool started to roil and boil.
As water flowed over onto the floor, Jan said, “I think we're in trouble here.”
Sysco shifted again, and Jan floated off the ground. She drifted toward another door. This time it took much longer to cross the room, and all the while the water rose higher.
She reached the door and entered another room. “Return to normal, Sysco.”
* * *
Sysco stared at the sight before them. The cabin was gone. Two moons hung in a night sky filled with stars. He looked around. “Is any of this real?”
“It might not be,” Jan replied, “the mermaid said we were being tested.”
“I never did like tests, especially surprise ones,” Sysco declared.
“What do you think we'll face now?”
“I have no idea, but I'm sure we won't like it.” Sysco took her hand. “There appears to be a narrow path here. Let's see where it leads.”
Jan called for Soars High, but there was no response. “Looks like we have a long hike ahead of us.”
The narrow dirt path was just wide enough for them to walk side by side. “Too bad it's not yellow bricks,” Sysco said.
Jan laughed. “Yeah, at least then we would know our destination.”
Jan listened to her stomach rumble. “The inner monster wants food.”
Sysco chuckled. “I believe food and water will continue to be a challenge. Keep an eye out for anything moving that we can eat.”
“Well, it's possible that some of the moving things might want to eat us.”
They walked along slowly with only light from the moons and stars. The flashlights were dead. “I need clothing too.” Jan's dress was in tatters, and her slippers were even in worse condition.
“Yeah, and money or something of value we can barter,” Sysco added.
“Our parents must be going nuts by now.”
“And all their searching will be for nothing,” said Sysco.
“Do you think we'll ever find a way back home?”
Sysco was silent for a long while. “I try not to think about failure to find a way back. Staying in the moment is all that will keep us alive. I'm worried about this next test. The next time we need sleep, one of us will need to stay awake.”
Jan nodded in agreement. “I hadn't thought about the dangers we may face when asleep.”
Jan was grateful for the heavily worn path because it made walking easier. They had not seen any signs of life as they traveled along. “Why do you think it is so quiet here.”
“Maybe it's the calm before the storm. Just don't become lulled into believing all is well,” Sysco warned.
“Maybe this is a test without danger.”
Sysco chuckled. “Staying positive is good, but if the first two tests are any indication, then this one will be a real doozy.”
“Doozy? You like to use weird words.”
Sysco smiled. “Not really, I just like the sound of it. 'Scuse me if I say, doozy.”
Jan laughed. “I shouldn't laugh. It will only encourage you to say more crazy things.”
“I don't need any encouragement. Crazy is normal.”
Jan heard and felt a loud rumble. “I wonder what that is?”
Sysco grabbed her arm and pulled. “Let's get off the path.”
They hurried into some nearby bushes and lay flat. The creatures that charged down the path looked like deer, except these had red glowing eyes, and their breath left puffs of smoke in the air.
After they were long gone, Sysco said, “I don't believe it.”
“What do you mean?”
“The deer were constructs – like something from a Jules Verne story.”
Jan said, “That is strange. Listen, the bugs are making a racket now.”
“I just can't get past the deer. It must have cost a fortune to make them. Why go to all that expense?”
Jan and Sysco left the bushes to continue on their way. They talked of many things, and as darkness started to fade into daylight, Jan said, “I hope we get past this test quickly and get Soars High back.”
“I was thinking about what we were told earlier that the Essence of Grimoire is watching us. I assumed it was a person, but what if it is magic itself.”
Jan nodded. “That makes sense. One thing we haven't talked about are the medallions. We have only one thing in common that could even be considered a medallion type object – our watches.”
“My watch stopped at 11:25. What about yours?”
“The exact same time. Maybe our watches are the key to using the magic,” Jan said.
“Anything is possible. We have no way of knowing the exact time, so it is going to be a bit of a pain in the neck.” He explained his idea.
Full daylight revealed a colorful land. Jan saw some small rabbit like creatures licking a blue rock. She stopped. “That is so strange.”
“Maybe the rock has some mineral they like,” Sysco suggested. “Hummm, those animals look yummy too.”
“You would eat fluffy?”
“All day and with pleasure, but we don't have a way to cook them.”
“Thank goodness. That would be so disturbing,” said Jan.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, Sysco said, “I call on my medallion.”
Jan said the same thing, and as they continued on their way, they continued their invocations from time to time.
When the sun was obviously overhead, they stopped their calling to their watches. “That was a flop,” Jan said.
“We still have tonight.”
“After today, we may have a hard time keeping awake,” said Jan.
Jan pointed out some small horse type animals that were licking on a green rock. “I think we should check out this rock,” Sysco suggested.
They left the path, and the animals scattered in every direction. When Jan came to the rock, she found that it was soft and crumbly. She held a small piece to the mouth and tasted it. “Yuck, too salty.”
“Well, that solves the mystery of why the animals like it.”
“Let's take some with us,” Jan suggested. “We might be able to barter with it.”
“I didn't think of that. Great idea.”
They both carried a chunk of rock as they returned to the path and continued on their way. After a long while, a loud sound caught their attention. “A river?” Jan wondered out loud.
“Sounds like a waterfall,” Sysco added.
They picked up their pace. “I hope the water has a good taste,” said Jan. “The desert that was once my throat is beyond parched.”
Sysco pointed to the left where a waterfall came off a tall hill.
“I wish we could go to the falls,” said Jan.
“It would be hard going without shoes,” Sysco said.
When they reached the river, they stopped for a short while to drink and fill their canteens. They crossed over the river on an intricately designed metal bridge and continued on the dirt path.
They stopped frequently to rest. Jan's feet and legs were worn out. “I'll be glad when we come to the end of the path.”
Sysco sighed. “I always wanted to have an adventure, but this is ridiculous.”
As daylight faded, they left the path and found a place to stay until the morning. Jan listened as Sysco told her about his life in Silver Springs. They talked for hours into the night.
“I think we should try to use the medallion now,” Jan said. “I call on my medallion.”
The took turns calling on the medallions without success. Jan's voice was getting hoarse when she was startled by a woman's voice. “So, the Bearers of the Medallions have finally spoken.”
Sysco gasped. “That's the Seer of Archelon.”
Jan took a tight grip on Sysco's arm. “Did you see her pointed teeth,” she whispered.
Sysco leapt to his feet and pulled Jan's to hers. “Quickly, start spreading the salt in a ring around us. It will protect us from the vampire.”
The Seer laughed. “It is funny to watch primitives and their worthless rituals. Now that the Medallions are awake nothing can keep you from me.”
Jan quivered as the Seer took one measured step after the other. The smile on her face sent terror up and down her spine. “You're sure this salt ring will work?”
“Watch and see,” replied Sysco.
The Seer's foot came down on the salt, and she screamed, “Impossible.” Her flesh started melting like wax from a candle. Jan didn't think the Seer's screams would ever end.
“That was horrible.”
Sysco nodded. “Yeah, now let's see if these medallions can help us with another problem. I call on the medallions to take us home.”
Jan frowned. “Well, that was a total bust. Medallions bring us something good to eat.”
Something unrecognizable appeared on a plate on the ground. “It looks disgusting,” said Sysco. “But I'll give it a try.” He took a bite and handed the plate to Jan. “It's not bad.”
After eating, Sysco said, “Medallions, bring us two heavy blankets.”
When the blankets appeared on the ground, Jan clapped her hands and shouted, “Oh, joy.”
They lay on the blankets to rest.
Sysco tossed and turned all night long. In too many of his dreams he saw the melting Seer. He wanted to forget, but it was too fresh to let go. Finally, he stood up, trying to sleep was a waste of time. He went to a nearby rock and sat down. “I wonder if the third test is over.”
He felt sick to his stomach. Even though the Seer was evil, her death was terrible. He hoped to never see anything like it again. He watched Jan sleep. He was glad she was at peace.
He left their camp and returned to the circle of salt. After the Seer's death, they had hurried away. He looked around and was surprised to find a black robe and a pair of shoes, which he picked up. There was also a necklace and a bracelet, which he left in place.
He returned to Jan and left the robe and shoes near her. He lay back down again, hoping this time to sleep without dreams.
* * *
Jan awakened feeling stiff and sore all over; sleeping on the ground would not be something she would ever get use to. She sat up and noticed the black robe and shoes. “It's a miracle.”
She stood up and departed camp with the clothing. Once out of sight, she removed her tattered garments and donned the robe. She tossed the slippers on top of the discarded dress and put on the leather shoes.
She started to return to camp, but a strange feeling came over her. She walked over to where the circle of salt was located. She looked around and discovered a silver necklace and bracelet. She picked them up and put them on.
Her view of her surroundings changed. It was as if her vision had improved by a thousand percent. Wee bugs crawled on a plant on the other side of the path. The colors were all so vibrant. “This is so weird and wonderful.”
She returned to camp and pushed Sysco's shoulder to wake him. He opened his eyes and screamed, “How did you come back to life?” He quickly scooted across the ground.
“What's wrong with you?” Jan demanded.
“Jan, that's you? It's your voice, but your appearance is that of the Seer.”
Jan told him what happened.
“Wearing that necklace and bracelet could be very dangerous. You should remove them.”
Jan went to remove the bracelet, but it was now a solid piece that couldn't be removed. She felt at the back of her neck and discovered that the necklace too was solid. “There's no way to take them off.”
Sysco stood up and examined them as well. “This is really strange. I've been wondering if our medallions will work now or if we have to wait for tonight.”
“One way to find out,” Jan said. “Medallion bring us some food.”
Two plates appeared on the ground. They both sat down to eat. “Things will be so much easier now that these medallions are working,” Jan said.
“Where do you think this food comes from?” Sysco asked.
“Does it matter? At least we're not starving.”
“Well, I was just thinking we could use the medallions to take us to where the food comes from.”
Jan nodded. “I like that idea. Maybe someone there can tell us how to return home.”
Once they finished eating, they gathered their things and rolled up the blankets. Jan said, “Medallions take us to the place where this food came from.”
They stood on a tall tower. Jan looked around. “Oh no, this is not good.”
“How is this possible? We are back to where the skeletons live,” Sysco added. “Since you have enhanced sight now, look around and tell me if you see anything that we should investigate.”
Jan was still adjusting to the strangeness of her unusual vision. She looked all around for a while, then said, “There's a hidden door past the entrance to the tower.”
The walked in that direction and continued past the entrance. Jan came to a stop and knelt near the stone parapet. She tapped near her knees, and a section of stone popped up. It took both of them to slide it aside, revealing a ladder that descended into the dark.
“Medallions, light our way,” she said. She started down the ladder with Sysco close behind. At the bottom of the ladder was a narrow passage filled with spider webs. “Medallion, remove the spider webs.”
“I don't understand why the medallions brought is here. The skeletons don't eat.”
“How do we know?” asked Jan. “They shouldn't move or talk either.”
They came to some stairs and walked downward. The light from the medallions was much better than torchlight or the flashlight. “I don't think anyone has come this way in a very long time. The air smells so musty,” Sysco said.
The stairs ended at a huge wooden door. Sysco tried to open it. “It's not going to budge. Medallions take us to the other side of the door.” They both stood in a huge chamber. “This makes no sense.”
Jan didn't move as she looked around a chamber that was modern in every way from a light switch on the wall to the tile floor where they stood. “This is out of place in a castle, especially one with skeletons.”
“Now, we know why this is the source of the food,” Sysco added. “Normal people must be somewhere around, but why?”
“For no good reason, that's for sure,” Jan added.
They walked slowly and carefully so as to not let their presence be known. After awhile they came to a vault door like one used in a bank. “Somehow, I doubt that money is on the other side of the door.”
Jan laughed. “Yeah, I agree. Medallions, take us to the other side of the vault door.”
Jan stood and stared silently at babies suspended inside a machine.
“What kind of monstrous experiment is this?” asked Sysco.
“One that would never be attempted on Earth,” said Jan.
“You are most correct,” an older man dressed in white stepped from behind one of the machines that held babies. “This is the future of the world.”
Sysco grabbed Jan's elbow and stepped back several paces. The man in white smiled. “There's nothing to fear. You are welcome here. Visitors from Earth are few and far between.”
“What are you doing to the babies?” Sysco demanded.
“Nothing harmful; in fact I'm giving them life beyond the grave.”
Jan shook her head. “I don't believe it.”
The man smiled. “Ah, but the skeletons are proof of my success. They will never die.”
Jan shuddered. “When we saw them last, the Sentinel told us he wanted life.”
The man in white nodded. “They want flesh and blood again, but the process can't be reversed.”
“What process?” inquired Sysco.
Jan whispered, “Do we really want to know?”
“The flesh is weak, and the body suffers so many ailments.”
Jan shuddered at the man's words. “Medallion, put this man in the darkest dungeon.”
The man vanished, and Jan looked at Sysco, then she said, “Medallion take all these babies to a safe place where they will be cared for.” The babies vanished.
Sysco said, “Medallion, take us back to the top of the tower.”
They both stood there for a few minutes. “These poor people have suffered so much. How can we help them?” Jan asked.
“I don't know,” answered Sysco, “but the Sentinel asked for life, and at the end of life is death, so perhaps that is the answer.”
Jan pointed at the sky. “I think Soars High is back.”
“Yes, so it seems.”
When the dragon landed, Soars High said, You are done here. I will take you now to Pryor Mountain.
Jan put her hand on her watch and said, “Maybe we ought to--”
Sysco covered Jan's hand with his own and said, “I agree, we ought to get on Soars High right away.”
The flight was a long one, and every time Jan started to speak, Sysco would shake his head and put a finger to her lips. “I'm glad we have this time to chill out and relax,” he said.
Sysco directed their conversations to mostly trivial things. Jan didn't understand his concern but went along with him.
Finally, Soars High landed in a clearing in the middle of a vast forest. In the middle of the clearing was a very old tree with a huge door at its base.
As soon as Soars High flew away, Jan gave Sysco a stern look and said, “What is your problem?”
“Soars High is the one who brought us to the Sentinel, to the Seer, and to the Servant of Grimoire, and in each case we barely escaped with our lives. So, you can be sure that whatever lies beyond the door in the tree, it will not be good for us.”
Jan sighed. “I have a suggestion. Let's put our hands on the door and use the medallions to guide us.”
Sysco smiled brightly. “I like your idea very much.”
They walked to the door and pressed their hands against it. Jan said, “Medallions show us a safe passage.”
They both jumped as a much smaller door popped open from the larger one. Jan squatted down and said, “Medallion light our way.” A tunnel was revealed. She looked up at Sysco and held up her hand. He knelt beside her and grasped her hand. “Medallions, take us to the end of the tunnel.”
Jan and Sysco tumbled onto the ground. Jan looked around for a second. “I don't believe it! Home. Sysco, we are home.” She gave him a hard hug. “Our parents will be so mad and glad too.”
“What are we going to tell them? No one would believe the truth.”
“We could say we got lost,” Jan said.
“Okay, let's get out of here.”
They left the cave and walked hand in hand along a narrow path. “Your necklace and bracelet have changed,” Sysco said.
Jan examined the bracelet. “It's not a complete circle any more. That's a relief.” She removed it and took off the necklace and pushed them into an inner pocket of her robe.
“Jan, your normal appearance has returned.”
Jan clapped her hands. “Wow, that's a relief.”
Sysco said, “My watch is working again, but the band is a solid piece like your bracelet was – I can't remove it.”
Jan looked at her watch. “The same has happened to mine. We can get the watches cut off. I'm just glad to be home.”
“Me too,” Sysco agreed.
When they reached the road, Sysco said, “I know a back way where no one will see us coming.”
As they walked in the direction of the bridge that crossed over the river, Jan said, “I would like to go swimming.”
“Hopefully, we can go soon.”
They were almost at the bridge when Sysco stopped and said, “We can go through the barbed wire fence here.”
Jan noted that there was a dirt path winding across a field. “I guess a lot of people go this way.”
Sysco took the lead. Once they crossed the field, they came to a narrow gravel road that went around some large ponds. Sysco went left. “This road will come up right behind your house.”
A short while later, they stopped behind Jan's house. “I hope to see you soon,” Sysco said. “If I'm not in too much trouble.”
Jan nodded. She opened a small gate in the fence and stepped into her back yard. She walked to a small enclosed porch and continued up some steps to the screen door. She winced when it creaked as she opened it.
She stepped slowly and lightly, trying to remain as quiet as possible. She entered another door that led into the house. She stopped and listened for voices. Hearing silence was a good sign. She walked into the small living room and hurried down the hall to her room.
She locked the door and quickly changed, then she went to find her parents. She entered the living room and heard voices from the front of the house. The door was open.
She heard the creaking of the back door and a loud whispered, “Jan” caught her attention. She returned to the back porch.
Sysco had his finger to his lips. He carefully walked to her and whispered in her ear, “I have two dogs that should be yipping and yowling, so why are they so quiet?”
Jan pushed Sysco away. “Everything looks normal to me. Maybe the dogs are in the house.”
“Something is wrong here,” Sysco insisted. “Our watches are the clue. If we are home, they would not work as medallions.”
“You have a point,” Jan said. “Medallions take us back up to the path around the mountain.”
They stood together on the path, looking down at the valley below. “How can it look so much like home?”
“We have memories,” Sysco answered. “Those memories could be used against us.”
Jan took the bracelet and necklace from her pocket and put them back on.
“Why are you doing that?” asked Sysco.
“The Seer has special abilities. I need to find out what they are. I'm determined to do whatever it takes to get back home. Medallions, take us back to Pryor Mountain.”
Once again they stood in front of the door in the tree. Jan said, “Medallions, take us a person of wisdom.”
Jan and Sysco levitated up to the top of the tree. “Look,” Sysco said, “an opening in the top.”
They floated down inside the tree. Sysco said, “Medallion, light the way.”
They continued down for a long distance then came to a stop in front of another door. “I'm really getting tired of doors.”
Sysco chuckled. “Yeah, me too.” He knocked at the door, and it was opened by an old man who was at most two feet high.
“A gnome?” Jan whispered.
The gnome smiled. “Yes, indeed, I am the Gnome of the ancient tree. I'm delighted to see that the Bearers of the Medallions have finally come. What took you so long? I sent for you eons ago. Stop standing and gawking. Come in and sit a spell.”
The Gnome's squeaky voice made Jan smile. “The Sentinel also asked why it took us so long.”
“You saw the Sentinel and escaped his clutches? You lead charmed lives.”
“Can you tell us why we are here?” asked Sysco.
“Greed is the bane of all mankind; unfortunately, some are more greedy than others. The Sentinel was an ordinary man, but that was thousands of years ago when he had flesh. Like other ordinary men, he feared death, but he was also a stubborn man who was determined to cheat death.
“However, he couldn't cheat decay, so now he seeks to become flesh once again. The Sentinel along with the Witch's Weird called for the Bearer's of the Medallions, who would have the power to restore flesh to the Sentinel and the other Shrouded Ones.”
“From what you said, you called us as well,” Jan said. “What is it you desire?”
“The Sentinel and the other Shrouded Ones are the living dead. It would be better for everyone if they were the dead dead.”
Sysco said, “Why do I have a feeling that using the Medallions won't solve this problem?”
“The Medallions can be used for seeking answers and for protection, but they are not a weapon,” the Gnome explained.
“How do we get back home?” asked Sysco.
“My calling of the Bearers of the Medallions and that of the Sentinel hold you here until one of the calls ends.”
Jan said, “I have another question.” She pulled back the arm of her robe to show the bracelet and the top of her robe to reveal the necklace.
The Gnome moved back until his back pressed against the tree. “The Seer of Archelon is one of the most powerful creatures of the dark.”
“Not any longer,” Jan said, “we defeated her. How do I use the bracelet and necklace?”
The Gnome shook his head. “They require knowledge of the dark arts. It is best to not attempt to use them.”
Jan sighed. “I understand. Since we are going to be here awhile, do you have any food?”
While they were eating, Sysco asked the Gnome, “Can you tell us about the Witch and the Witch's Weird?”
“The Witch is an ally of the Sentinel. She is also the twin sister of the Seer.”
Jan stopped eating in mid-bite to stare at the Gnome.
Sysco said, “We might--”
Jan dropped her chicken leg on her plate and interjected, “You mean, me. I look like the Seer, but her twin would know something was wrong right away. Whatever you are thinking, forget it.”
Sysco sighed. “Sorry. Gnome, tell us about the Witch's Weird.”
“The Weird has the Sight and is also a soothsayer. It is by the tossing of human bones that she was able to call the Bearers of the Medallions.”
“How did you call us?” asked Jan.
The Gnome removed a leather pouch from the belt around his waist. He opened it and poured some glittering colorful jewels into his hand. “These are from the crown of Queen Vanjah, who ruled the kingdom of Arnah before the coming of the Sentinel. A terrible war ended her reign and her life. All that remains of that kingdom are these precious jewels, which carry its power.” He poured the jewels back into the pouch and handed it to Jan. “You will need all the power you can gather to succeed.”
Jan stared at the pouch. “These must be worth a fortune.”
“They are a small fraction of the jewels from the crown. When their power is invoked, they dissolve. Take care how you use them.”
“How do I invoke the jewels?” Jan asked.
“When you pour them into your hand, you call on the power of the crown to perform as you wish.”
Sysco nudged Jan's arm. “I think we can trick the Witch's Weird.”
Jan shook her head. “This is such a bad idea. Gnome what would I need to do to look exactly like the Witch?”
“It is much easier than you think. The bracelet belongs on the other wrist. Cross your wrists.”
Jan held her wrists together, and the bracelet passed over to the other wrist.
“Now,” the Gnome instructed, “take hold of your necklace and shift it behind your neck.”
Jan moved the necklace.
The Gnome said, “One last thing to do, and you will look exactly like her.” He pulled a small knife from a sheath at his side. “The Witch has a small half moon scar under her eyes.”
Sysco squeezed Jan's hand. “You don't need to do this.”
Jan turned to look at him. “To get back home I will do what I must.”
Sysco winced as he watched the Gnome mark Jan's face with the knife. Blood freely flowed, and he wanted to be sick. After cutting Jan's face, the Gnome heated the point of the knife and retraced where he had cut. When he finished and cleaned Jan's face, her half moon scars were clearly displayed.
“How do I look?”
“Perfect,” the Gnome replied, “all that remains is to remove the Witch and replace her.”
* * *
Sysco held both of Jan's hands. “This plan is so very dangerous,” he said. “We can still do something else.”
“I believe the Gnome is right. The Bearers of the Medallions are being hunted and will be 'caught' by the Witch. I think my part will be easier than yours, Sysco.”
“I don't like the idea of being a prisoner,” he said.
“Neither do I. Now, we need to make sure of the details of our plan.”
The Witch's lair was on the other side of Pryor Mountain where a vast series of caves dotted its base. Jan and Sysco hid in some bushes while they waited for dark.
They spoke in low tones as they kept an eye on the lair. One cave was much larger than the others. The Gnome said it would be where they would find the Witch. Jan jerked at Sysco's hand and pointed to the cave.
A huge form emerged from the cave. It was a female giant of at least fifteen feet in height. It was the Weird. She lumbered down the slope to the grassy plains. She sat down and removed her boots, then she began to loosen the ties of her tunic.
Jan covered Sysco's eyes with her hand. “You might be ruined for life at the sight.”
He laughed. “Maybe, maybe not.”
Jan watched while the giant undressed and then walked into the river. “She's getting a bath.”
Sysco grunted. “You going to do a play by play?”
Jan smacked him with her other hand. “Now is the perfect time to get into the cave unseen, but you need to focus on our plan and forget about the naked bathing giant female beauty. Can you do that?”
“Sure, no problem. Lead the way.”
Jan chuckled. “Nice try. You go first.”
Crawling from bush to bush made for slow progress, but they made it to within a few feet of the entrance to the cave. The last few feet would be difficult because there was no cover. Jan watched the giant carefully. “Go, now.” She pushed at Sysco's shoulder and he ran for the cave.
She saw her opportunity and ran to join him. They needed to find the Witch quickly. Jan opened the burlap sack that Sysco carried. She removed the shackles and chain. She place shackles on Sysco's wrists and ankles and used the chain to lead him.
Jan said, “Medallion, take us to the Witch, who is the twin of the Seer.”
Jan pulled Sysco along with her, feeling her nerves jumping like grasshoppers on hot coals. She feared discovery at any moment. The dim light in the cave came from small fires scattered about.
She stopped at a small inner cave and unlocked the shackles. “Now,” she whispered.
Sysco shouted, “Let me go. I'm not telling you anything.”
The Witch stepped from the small cave. “This is a surprise, sis. What have we here?”
Sysco removed the bag of salt at his left side and threw the contents onto the Witch. Jan watched the Witch melt into a puddle. “Twins in every way.”
Sysco covered the puddle with dirt. “Now comes the hard part,” he said.
Jan locked his shackles again, pulled back the hood of her black robe, and walked with Sysco to the entrance of the large cave. The giant was sitting on the ground next to her boots.
Jan wasn't happy with this next part, she continued with Sysco down the slope toward the giant. The sounds of their descent caused the giant to look behind her for a moment.
The giant stood as they arrived. “You have found one of the Bearers,” the giant said. “This is very good.”
Sysco shouted, “Good for whom?”
The giant laughed.
Jan said, “Medallion, send this giant to the middle of the deepest water.” She placed her hand on the giant's leg and it vanished.
Sysco held out his arms, and Jan unlocked the shackles for his wrists and ankles. “It had to be done,” he said.
“I know; still, it wasn't easy. We still have the Sentinel. I just wish this nightmare was over.”
“It will be soon, Jan, then we can return home.”
Jan looked at Sysco and said, “I'm not exactly thrilled with the idea of returning to Castle Urbright.”
“I know. The Sentinel and the Shrouded Ones are not exactly pleasant to be around. I suggest we approach as we did with the Witch. You go as the Seer, and I as your prisoner.”
“With these half-moon scars under my eyes, I must go as the Witch, who I believe would go in a coach drawn by the construct deer.
“The Sentinel must be convinced that it really is the Witch, and who else would be so bold as to advertise their approach to the castle in such a public display?”
Sysco nodded. “Do I travel inside the coach?”
Jan shook her head. “I think not. This part of our task will be harder on you.”
Jan pulled a knife and pointed at Sysco. “Back to the cave to prepare for our journey.”
* * *
Sysco sat on the dirt floor. Two men who looked like shrunken mummies stood with spears pointed at him. The Witch's minions had been fooled easily enough by Jan. He had been left here such a long while ago, and he wondered what took so long to get the coach and leave.
He saw a small troop of shrunken mummies approach. Sysco was jerked to his feet and surrounded then marched toward the cave entrance.
When he left the cave, he was surprised to see a vast army of mummies. He was led down the slope, and the coach pulled up. A wooden structure built like a giant X was on top of it.
Several of the mummies lowered their spears and gestured toward the X. He frowned and climbed up on top the coach where he was bound to the X, facing the rear of the coach. Jan emerged from the cave, looking exactly like the Witch. The mummies stamped their feet and pounded the butt of their spears onto the ground. Jan entered the coach. As soon as the coach started moving, the vast army followed behind.
The path for the coach was rough. Sysco grunted at every bump. His body would be covered with bruises by the time they reached Castle Urbright.
Sysco expected the coach to stop at night, but it went on moving. He was able to get a little sleep, but every time there was a violent jerk of the coach, he awakened.
The following day was much worse. Hunger and thirst left him weak. He was so tired he could hardly keep a thought in his head.
By the second night, his wrists and ankles had been rubbed raw by the ropes. He was afraid for Jan now because he doubted he would have any strength left to assist her.
He remembered little of the third day, except pain. When the coach came to a stop at night, he was surprised.
Bright moonlight gave an eerie glow that surrounded the castle in the distance. “Clean him up,” a harsh voice demanded.
He looked down at Jan. Her fierce countenance was so out of place.
When his bonds were cut away, he collapsed to the coach roof and was carried down to the ground. A mummy on each side dragged him through some bushes. He saw a small stream and was pulled into it. He drank some of the water while the dust from the journey was washed away.
He was dragged back to the coach and all too soon was back in place held captive. The coach continued on its way with the army close behind.
* * *
Jan was distressed because of Sysco's suffering, but there was nothing she could do to help him. She was relieved this journey was near its end. The thought of meeting the Sentinel again gave her the creeps. This plan had to work. She couldn't entertain failure even for a moment.
Two hours later the coach came to a stop at the drawbridge to the castle. The guards issued a challenge that she answered, “The Witch comes with a gift: one of the Bearers of the Medallions.”
As the drawbridge lowered, she wondered what the skeletons had to fear that they left it up. I don't want to know the answer to that question.
The large army remained outside the castle while the coach rumbled over the wooden bridge and continued along on a narrow street then came to a stop at a footbridge. She left the coach.
“Bring the Bearer to me,” she commanded. Jan was disturbed by Sysco's condition. He was unable to walk on his own. Two of the mummies helped to support him.
She crossed over the footbridge and on the other side followed a raised walkway which led to a tall tower. Her nerves were on edge now because she would soon confront the Sentinel.
Skeleton soldiers stood guard at the entrance to the tower, but they did not impede her entry. She walked up the stone steps to the next level.
She recognized the large area where she'd been before. The room was crowded with skeletons, and on a tall dais sat the Sentinel. She heard footfalls behind her and looked to see Sysco being brought into the room.
The Sentinel stood. “Welcome, my dear wife. When you swore to never speak to me again, I knew this day would come. I'm sure our reunion will be one to never forget.”
Jan stood frozen in place, trying to imagine what to do next. She forced her feet to move, and she walked toward steps that led to the top of the dais.
Her progress up the steps was slow. She had only one opportunity to get this right. Finally, she stepped onto the top of the dais. The Sentinel's smile was horrific. She had no desire to come any closer. She took a step then another. She stopped when she was within arm's length of the Sentinel.
“I brought you something,” she said as she pointed to Sysco.
The moment the Sentinel looked in that direction, she leapt forward and said, “Medallion, send the Sentinel into the midst of a volcanic fire.” She put her hand on his leg, and he was gone.
Jan took the pouch of precious jewels and poured a few into her hand. “I call on the power of the crown jewels to take me and Sysco back home and to make Sysco strong again.”
Jan landed hard on some dirt and she coughed. She looked to her right at a loud thump and saw Sysco.
“Are we home now?” Sysco asked.
Jan left the cave with Sysco close behind. Once they emerged into sunlight, she said, “I'm happy to see that your wrists look normal again?”
“I feel really good. Ahh, you still don't look like yourself. You should remove the bracelet and necklace.”
Jan removed them and said, “I need to sneak into the house and replace the black robe.”
“And use makeup for the half-moon scars under your eyes,” Sysco added. He took her hand, and they started along the narrow path.
When they reached the road, Sysco said, “We can go the back way, and no one will see us coming.”
“I was starting to doubt we would ever get back home. Do you think we are really back this time?”
“I hope so, I don't much care for that skeleton place and hope to never return. Maybe we can do something peaceful tomorrow – like fishing.”
“Or sleeping,” Jan added.
Sysco laughed. “So long as it is on a bed – not the ground.”
After about half an hour Jan opened a small gate in the fence and stepped into her back yard. She entered the house and hurried to her room. She changed her clothes and hid the robe and bracelet and necklace.
After she concealed her scars, she went out the front door and found her parents sitting on the porch. “We were wondering when you would return,” her dad said.
The casual tone of his voice came as a relief. Although she had been in the other place for days, time had moved forward only a small bit here. “We got caught up in our exploring,” she said.
“We are going to a movie after dinner. Sysco can come if you want to invite him,” her mom said.
“Oh, I'll go tell him now. Be right back.” She jumped off the porch and ran next door. She pounded on the front door and Sysco opened it.
“Not much time passed while we were gone. We are going to a movie after dinner. Wanna come?”
“Sure, what's playing?”
“Does it matter?”
Sysco chuckled. “Guess not.”
“Good, gotta go for now – see you later.”
“Yeah, later,” replied Sysco.
* * *
Sysco was up early the next morning. He went to the garage and grabbed two fishing rods and a tackle box. He walked to Jan's house and tapped on the front door. Mr. Simpson opened the door. “Is Jan here?”
“Yes, here she comes now. What you doing today?”
“We are going fishing.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Thanks,” Sysco said.
Jan stepped onto the porch. “You ready for some fishing?”
“I forgot my sun screen,” she replied. “Be right back.”
They walked to the road and continued down to the bridge. They stood for awhile and watched the muddy water flow below. “There is a fishing pond about half a mile away. We pay three dollars each to fish for an hour and keep what we catch.”
“Okay, hope they are biting.”
“We will get some special bait.” Sysco took her hand and they continues across the bridge. He led her to a barbed wire fence and spread the wires to get through it.
The grassy field had a few cows in the distance. He set the poles and tackle on the ground and knelt on the grass. He opened the tackle box and removed a glass jar with some air holes in the lid. He took a spade from the box and dug some dirt to put in the jar, then the starting digging up worms and put them in the jar. “The fish love worms.”
Jan said, “Yuck.”
In a short while they continued to the road. A small general store was on the right. They walked past a house on the right and turned up a short dirt road that led to a second house. “This is where my friend, Chester, lives.”
* * *
Jan noted right away the condition of the house and yard: it needed a lot of work. Sysco knocked at the door, and a gruff looked man opened it. “Chester is still in bed,” he growled. “Good for nothing kid. Come back this afternoon. He might be up by then.”
Jan and Sysco returned to the road. “Alton is more bark than bite,” Sysco said. “We can stop by on our way home.”
A short distance past the second house was another dirt road on the left. Sysco turned off on to it. Ten minutes later they came to a huge pond. There was a concession stand with drinks and sandwiches where Sysco went to pay for the fishing.
They walked around to the other side of the pond and sat down under a large tree. Sysco put a lead weight on each line and baited the hooks. He handed a pole to Jan and said, “Toss in your line and maybe you'll catch something.”
“Maybe I'll catch some Z's.”
Sysco laughed. “You might be right.”
The tree was not comfortable to lean against, but Jan was able to relax. It felt great to be home and somewhat surreal because of all that had taken place beyond the trap door. “It seems like a bad dream.”
“At least we are awake now,” said Sysco.
“When I came home, I hesitated at every door before opening them.”
“But nothing happened, right? In time you will forget all about it.”
Jan sighed. “Oh, how I wish I could believe that. I expect at any moment a skeleton might show up.”
“Naw, not around here. Even the fish don't want to show up.”
Jan laughed. “You go fishing a lot?”
“Not really. It gives me something to do when there's nothing else to do.”
“Sounds normal in a crazy way,” said Jan. Her fishing line jerked, and she said, “I think I caught something.”
“Hopefully a fish,” Sysco replied.
Jan reeled in her line to see a frog on the end of it. “Gross, that thing is so ugly.”
“Yeah, bull frogs are ugly and noisy. Swing your pole my way, and I'll take care of it for you.”
In no time at all, the bull frog was returned to the pond, and Jan's line was back in the water. She felt a bit out of place. In San Diego when she left the house, there were lots of people everywhere with lots of noise as well. Birds chirping was about the only noise around here.
She relaxed and enjoyed the quiet. A nudge at her shoulder awakened her. “You ready to head home for lunch?” asked Sysco.
Jan blinked a couple times, feeling a bit disoriented. “No fish?”
Sysco laughed. “Not yet, we can come back after lunch, if you want.”
After Jan returned home and ate lunch, she stayed in her room to finish unpacking. Her mother called her to help get dinner ready. Her unpacking was almost done.
After the meal, Jan sat on the couch watching the news on tv, but her thoughts were elsewhere, and she missed most of it. Her father said, “Have you ever seen anything like that? A volcano spewing black lava.”
Jan leaned forward. “Black lava? I'll be right back.”
She ran next door to find Sysco. She told him about the black lava. “Could it be the Sentinel?”
“I don't see how that's possible. I'm sure it's nothing.”
“I hope you're right, Sysco, because if you are wrong, the Witch's Weird might be here as well.”
Watching the news was pure torture for Sysco, but Jan insisted that reports of black lava might not be a natural occurrence. He looked at her sitting in an overstuffed chair. His parents would be at work until late in the afternoon. The lunch time news only lasted for an hour, but it could have been a lifetime.
He looked at Jan who had a grim expression on her face. “Can we take a chance that the Witch's Weird and the Sentinel were not sent here?”
Sysco sighed because he agreed, and it seemed so unfair after all the dangers they had already faced. “See if the jewels work here,” he suggested.
Jan opened the pouch and removed one jewel. “Bring us pizza,” she said. No pizza appeared and the jewel didn't dissolve. “Well, so much for that idea.”
“I really don't want to return to castle Urbright.”
“You don't need to go, Sysco. I have the jewels.”
Sysco brushed his hand over hers. “Don't be silly. We will go together, of course. I just don't like it. My concern is will we be able to get back there?”
“There is only one way to know – get the canteens, and I'll make us some sandwiches.”
Sysco held Jan's hand on their walk back to the cave. With each step he felt as if a weight pressed down on him, making his legs feel as if lead weights were attached to them.
Silence hung in the air around them like darks clouds threatening rain but not delivering. Finally, Jan said, “I'm so afraid.”
Sysco squeezed her hand. “I'm right with you. Those skeleton people give me the creeps.”
“My fear is more imminent. What if we can't reach castle Urbright? We have no power to stop the Sentinel or the Witch's Weird if she is here.”
“You can drive yourself crazy with 'what ifs',” Sysco replied. “We will know soon enough.”
They stopped to rest numerous times as they walked up the rutted road, leading up the mountain. After a long while, they turned off the path and followed it until they came to the hole in the ground. Sysco turned on his flashlight.
Jan went first and he followed closely behind. He could feel his nerves jumping because he knew within minutes they would discover if they could return once again. His first relief came inside the cave at the sight of the open trap door. Jan walked down first. Her voice echoed, “No book.”
Sysco stepped down off the last step and looked around, playing the light on the dirt floor. At the sight of a skeletonal footprint, he said, “How is this possible?”
Jan joined him and stared down at the print. “How did the Sentinel know?”
“The Sentinel was sent into the heart of a volcano, so I doubt he was the one who took the book, but a skeleton from castle Urbright came here and did this. I think the Sentinel will need the book to escape the volcano.”
“How do we stop the skeleton from taking the book to the Sentinel?” asked Jan.
“I'm asking myself the same thing,” admitted Sysco. “I have an idea, but it is a long shot. You remain here, remove all your clothes, and put on the bracelet, necklace and robe of the Seer. I will go back up the ladder and return when you are ready. Oh, remove the make up as well.”
* * *
Jan heard Sysco's words and understood his reasoning, but she hated his idea with all her heart. The Seer was evil personified. Even pretending to be her made her feel like taking a bath forever. Jan laid her clothes aside and dawned the black robe. It felt strange to have no undergarments. She was very self conscious because the arm openings were wide enough to see her breasts if she wasn't careful. Also the black robe was more of an opaque black, which in bright sunlight showed off too much of her form. She prayed for dark or clouds.
She finished dressing and called,” Sysco, I'm ready.”
The creak of the stairs announced his descent. When he reached her, he said, “Take a couple of the jewels in your hand.”
Jan follow his direction and his hand gripped hers with the jewels. “Think it may be better if we speak in unison, 'take us to castle Urbright'. On the count of three, one, two three.”
“Take us to castle Urbright,” they said together.
Jan stood on stone and looked around. Sysco hand was held tightly in her grip. They released their hands, and she noted that the crystals were gone. “Looks like it worked,” she said.
Sysco said, “We need to bring back the Witch's Weird first. She has no magic. We could just leave her at the castle, saying she can't leave.”
Jan nodded. “I like it.” She said the words as Sysco suggested. Within moments a giant woman dripping water descended from the sky. When the woman saw the castle, she screamed in protest, Her screams continued as she entered the castle and disappeared.
“I guess she doesn't like this place,” said Sysco. “I also have an idea for the Sentinel.” He went on to explain.
Jan held a crystal in her hand and said, “Bring the Sentinel to this place and put him on Soars High where he forever rides in the sky over the castle.”
Sysco shouted, “Look.” Soars High flew over the castle. A skeleton rode on the dragon.
Jan was pleased to see that her words worked.
“One last thing,” Sysco said. “We need whoever took the book to come here, leaving the book behind. Put them on Soars High as well.”
Jan did as suggested and soon there were two figures on Soars High. “Now we go home,” she said.
Once again, Jan and Sysco stood in the cave. She noted the book was still absent from its stand. She said, “I believe I've had enough of adventures for awhile.”
Sysco grinned. “Yeah, me too.” He took her hand. “Let's go home.”