Part 19 - Trouble In Forest Arden

Dropping our linked hands my siblings, Kyle, and I rose.
Before us stood Brieanne, seething. "Do you think that you might come to my Greenwood to bring death through your stupidity and that we should all feel it equal trivial? That since I am the only one who knows how far the killing reached it should be disregarded? The bodies stepped over like so many soulless stones? That I should turn an ear as deaf as yours to all the little ones crying in their dens as they starve? Should I turn my nose up to all the mothers who now do not have their children because you acted without thought to what might happen. Because you don't give a damn about anything and think we fools for having hearts?" Brieanne's voice dropped lower as her anger rose.
Clarissa, I thought, just what have you gotten yourself into?
"GET OUT OF MY FOREST!" Brieanne roared.
"Shields, NOW!" Brandeigh shouted, motioning for those in the clearing to duck behind something or come behind the magical shields put in place by Lorius.
As if in answer to Brieanne's scream there was a sharp crack from above. A massive, fire scarred branch dropped from a tree above Clarissa. As it plunged downwards smaller branches in its path were torn apart creating an avalanche as chaos broke out among the animals.
The hounds around Brieanne turned, snarling savagely at those nearest them. A gray stallion sat back on his hunches and began screaming, his ears pinned. Bolting forward, the wild eyed beast slammed into Julian as it ran into the forest. Unfortunately, nothing was broken.
Kyle summoned his goblet and began to gather mana in it.
In the aftermath, Brandeigh quickly glanced around checking, it seemed, for serious injuries.
Kyle did not bother to point out that he *did* sense something where
Brandeigh did not, which was terribly noble of him.
Brandeigh's anger flowed from every pore of her body.
Brieanne looked at her godmother, startled. She glanced down at the crushed trump and then back up to Brandeigh, confusion on her face. For a moment, she looked as if she might ask something, but then stopped and starred at Julian who was picking himself up off the ground.
"Are you okay?" Genuine concern.........
"Daughter. I wish you would have warned me prior to taking the matter of Clarissa's chastisement into your own hands." Julian did not look pleased. Then again, did he ever?
"Didn't mean for there to be such a mess. Just she was so stupid and awful and made me so mad I couldn't even breath." Brieanne shook her head, wide eyed and amazed. "All pretty wild though, huh? The ground looks like it broke out in hives or somethin'...."
"YOU ARE INSANE!" Clarissa raged, rising. She began to brush stray bits of ash from her shoulders. The branch had not done it's intended damage.
All things considered, neither one of them seemed very sane at the moment. Clarissa, apparently, was out killing defenseless people and Brieanne was killing her in games, I suppose.
Brieanne turned, but looked merely annoyed. Clarissa began to rant and Julian's daughter ignored her completely, making quite a big deal out of extracting a leaf from her hair.
"Is this the answer this crazy family has to everything? Violence?" Clarissa shrieked. Well, it did seem to work in the past and if something is not broken why fix it?
Clarissa glanced sideways toward Larissa and Rylan. "Can't you people use you MINDS! Did I once say people dying was okay? Do you even know where my discussion was going - discussion, that's what reasonable people do, not threaten to kill people," she looked directly at Larissa, "go psycho over silly insults," a glance to Rylan, "or blow up defenseless trees to whack people." Trees, as I learned while traveling in shadow, are anything but defenseless.
Cousin Clarissa turned her attention back towards Brieanne who rolled her eyes and removed several more leaves while petting the hounds, which had calmed considerably.
"Well," Clarissa continued, "frankly, this is just the sorta pig ignorance I shoulda expected from a backward, inbred kingdom that thinks its the center of the multiverse because of some silly squiggle in the ground!"
Her words were meant as an insult, but I had to choke back my laughter all the same. Clarissa might be family, but she had yet earn the right to insult us and have it mean a damn thing.
"I was willing to give you all the benefit of the doubt," she rambled on, "but I was right, you are all just one big, psycho-homicidal family, and, well, its probably a good thing for the multiverse that these Door-people wipe you guys out, and if they're anywhere near as crazy as you, I hope you'll all go up in a big, glorious bloodfest, as you seem so fond of! I'm outta here."
Door-people? Is that what this was about?
The door, which matched Krysta's drawing, loomed tall and silent in the clearing. It was slightly ajar.
I wondered if someone had been stupid enough to try and open it.
"You lot be good," Brieanne told the hounds as Clarissa flounced out of the clearing.
"I've seen the horrors of war with the Omphalos first hand, lady," Kyle called to Clarissa's back, "and I have suffered the leeching death they bring. If you allow the falling of a branch and the baying of a few hounds effect you so, then I assure you, it is not something you are prepared to face. I'll have to relive those horrors many times again to learn what I may about our enemy, and nobody here would do any less. Save you."
"Hey," Clarissa called over her shoulder, "try not to attack me in the
back as I leave, hard as it may be for you to do."
Unsmiling, I spied Krysta at the opposite edge of the clearing quickly making her way far from this mess.......
Larissa waved hello to the three us, as if noticing us for the first time. "Well, it appears we will have more help with those invaders. Shall we go check it out and then make up a battle plan or does someone have a better suggestion?"
"Aye, quick action is in order," Kyle said. "I think we should consider a strike onto *their* turf, however. We should plan on taking a prisoner." He paused, as if considering something, then continued,"No, make that two, in case we damage the first one." Almost bitterly, I thought of Tyler lying brain dead in Amber's dungeon.
"Aside from these Doors," Kyle nodded, speaking to my brother, "the enemy possesses an artifact capable of draining the power from a Pattern, a sort of torus. I don't know if it is unique, though I hope on the Unicorn's horn that it is. I propose that we take it from them. To do that, we'll need to unlock the secrets of these Doors. It looks like Bleys and Lorius have made some inroads that direction already."
"Neat trick getting through that... 'specially since you said you weren't coming," Julian's daughter said to the still glowering Brandeigh. "But can we deal with this Door now so we can get going with the other one soon?"
"Aye, that we'll do," Brandeigh said, her accent thicker than usual due to her rage. "In a few minutes though."
Krysta slithered towards us from the edge of the glade. "Where is this other door? Do you have an idea on how to take care of it?" Everyone ignored her, but I assumed we would have the answers to the "where" part soon enough.
Lorius, being true to character, began to levitate and floated over to the Door in the clearing. "Interesting...hmmm... Clarissa riled this thing up good, didn't she? Too bad you missed with that tree branch," he smirked at Brieanne. "Before we can talk about whatever other Door you found, though, we need to defang this one."
With a flourish a sweatshirt appeared in his hands, pulled from thin air. Lorius tugged it on over his head. It was white with a picture of the Door inside of a red circle. A diagonal line cut through the circle, and through the picture of the Door as a result. Placing his hands on his hips, Lorius gazed down at us and smirked.
"I take it this thing was booby-trapped? What was the nature of the attack?" Kyle asked.
Brieanne beamed at Lorius. Rather, at Lorius' new attire. "I want one of those!" she called to him. "And be careful. When Uncle Bleys made the last one puff out it left a nasty scorch mark on the ground and it was only one of their test ones. I bet this one could really blow!"
"Just get on with it, Lorius, theatrics excepted," Julian said in monotone. Then, a bit more perky, "Greetings, Brandeigh. Hello to you as well, Shannon." He pointedly ignored Kyle, though I certainly can not blame him. Mash potatoes were only the, shall we say, icing on the cake.
"Julian," I nodded, but did not smile.
Brandeigh sighed loudly, agreeing with our Uncle. "Just get ta work on the bloody thing; I've no time for your special effects today."
"Carefully," Brieanne called up to Lorius. "And from a distance if possible. The Doors don't do too much when everybody's there 'cause they tried to go back through them this morning when BhangBadea and I racked 'em up. But the mages are nasty and throw fireballs and just destroy everything. I nailed 'em right off from high while the hounds hit the soldiers below. Then Bhang stepped in and just rolled through the rest. Worked pretty well 'cept for the fireball part."
Brieanne gave Brandeigh a cautious look. "Guess you can tell 'em yourself about that Silver guy or whoever he is, huh?"
"That's a tale what can wait, or Kyle or Lorius may begin it." My sister was very angry. "And dinna think ta change the subject. Ye and I will be having a long talk about what just happened young lady. Now come along or I'll drag ye along. It makes no differ ta me."
Brandeigh marched forward, stopping when she reached Brieanne. She reached out and grabbed one of her goddaughter's ears and began to drag Brieanne off to one side of the clearing.
Brieanne winced when Brandeigh first took hold, but allowed her self to be cajoled away, the hounds following closely.
Lorius began to circle the door, pondering it.
Some gestures on his part and a green force field arose.
"Now, this field of mine can't quite take a nuclear blast, but it should be able to contain anything this 'Door' can put out. So no more nasty spells from this thing. Of course, good Uncle Julian wants the thing gone and I don't blame him." Lorius moved behind the door so he could speak to us while continuing his work.
"We need to return to the cabin after this THING is dealt with, and plan on how to handle the appearance of the second door in the Moonshadow Hills. Most especially since it has a garrison. Those who wish to return to Carl's Steadying can do so now, if they prefer," Julian said definitively, briefly turning his attention to his daughter and Brandeigh.
"I am going to Carl's." With that Krysta strode from the clearing. Small loss.
Larissa turned to Rylan, "Do you wish to go to the cabin now or remain here a bit longer?" Rylan agreed to leave and the pair drifted away from the clearing and the door.
"Kyle?" My voice was neutral, uncaring, but Kyle must have seen the concern in my eyes. Though I doubted he would venture anywhere in Julian's realm willing, he had been through quite a lot in the past few hours. It was a wonder he did not look like hell warmed over. Amberite stamina, I suppose.
Kyle and I watched as the greenish field around the Door suddenly became active, beams of light slicing through the field. Many of the beams struck the bronze Door of the Omphalos, which emitted a high pitched whine, almost a scream. Finally, there was an explosion, slightly muffled.
I wondered how much of the pyrotechnics had been nessicary and how much had been Lorius being tawdry. My brother, of course, looked inordinately pleased with his display which finally died into nothing more than wheezing of sparks and smoke.
When the thick smoke dissipated there was nothing there. Only a scorch mark staining the grass showed that there had ever been anything unusual in the clearing.
"Hasta la vista, Omphalos," Lorius said with a smile. Even Julian looked pleased. Had Lorius out shown Bleys? Surely not.......
I clapped once, smiling. "Impressive, Lorius. I do not suppose we know yet just where the Door originated from to begin with?" Even I may hope.
"Bravo, cousin. Now we just need to learn how to use the things. But this will do for now." Kyle nodded his approval.
"Of course we should learn to use the bloody things, perhaps somehow turn them against their creators, dear cousin." Lorius said, smirking as Julian walked over to inspect the charred land.
"I understand how they are pinned here, the problem seems to be keeping them from popping up a Door wherever they want, whenever they want," Lorius continued. "They must have some limits on the power, but aside from mounting an expedition to their world, or capturing and successfully interrogating one of their adepts, we cannot know for certain."
"Speaking of which, I believe that your daughter, Sir," Lorius said with curious deference, "knows where the second door is located."
"Brieanne," Julian's voice boomed through the trees.
"Prince Julian," Kyle said, seeming as though he expected Julian to ignore him, "If I may have a word with you while we await
Brieanne's arrival?"
Julian scowled, stepping between Kyle and the rest of us. "This better be good, Kyle. I have no time for games."
Kyle looked Julian straight in the eyes, no easy feat, and addressed him in a calm, respectful voice. "Prince Julian," he said, "it seems that we are in perilous times. It would be best for all if we managed to work as a team for once. That incident only a moment ago is only a symptom of the problem."
I winced. Kyle was laying things on a bit too thick. If he called Julian by the title of "Prince" once more I was prepared to be sick.
Kyle continued, "I am willing to put to rest our own differences, and to make amends. In fact, I have something in that regard which I'd like to offer you, which also has a bearing on Amber's current situation. The time and the place I will leave to your leisure, should you chose to continue this discussion."
"We will talk on this later, Kyle." Julian paused. Then added another "Later" for emphasis.
Was Kyle offering to apologize to Julian? I hoped not. Hoped? I did not believe it.
Brieanne returned to the clearing without my sister.
Julian turned to his daughter. "Now that this Door is neutralized, we can deal with the other one, and perhaps learn more from it than simply how to raze it to the ground."
"Least the other isn't quite so in the middle of things," Brieanne nodded. "Should be easier to contain."
"Lorius......if I give you where about I think the Door is, can you take us there? It's an awfully hard walk otherwise." Brieanne's faith was well placed. I did not doubt my brothers ability.
The sorcerer smiled, all confidence. "Of course I can take all of us there. Nothing more to see here, anyhow, and I think Kyle will agree with me when I say that I want to take apart one of these things and see how we can turn the tables against them. And of course I am sure you want some live arrow practice on their soldiers while we are at it.
"So tell me where it is, Brieanne, and I'll get us there faster than a hellhound with a burr in it's tail."
"Hmm...." Brieanne ran one hand through her hair, then planted both fists on her hips. "An instant trip or overland? I can give you a mental image or navigate whatever you conjure up."
"Your choice," she said with a shrug, gazing in the direction Clarissa had gone.
"Sounds like lots of fun, but I am afraid I shall have to abstain." I smiled. Then, to Lorius, "You will tell me everything you find out, will you not?"
"Of course, dear sister, I shall inform you of our adventures," Lorius said confidently.
"What about you, cousin?" He turned to Kyle. "Are you going to stay here and ravi...I mean, protect my sister? Or do you want to play 'Meet the Omphalos', too?"
I turned my head, unwilling to let Lorius see the smirk on my lips.
Kyle replied with, "I regret that I, too, must abstain from the
festivities. I am still recovering from my father's loving embrace, and I'd
be of little use in a mass melee. I'll need some time in a fast shadow to
bring myself up to par."
"I think a teleport will get us there more efficiently, and makes us less of a flying target," Lorius said to Brieanne. "Besides, I don't want Uncle Julian to get airsick." Julian was silent, making no attempt to contradict this. Maybe he just did not think Lorius was worth the effort.
Lorius added, "I also solemnly promise, no mental tricks, either. No spying, and no mashed potatoes. Just give me the position we need to go and that's it."
Several hounds emerged from the foliage and ran towards Brieanne in a playful fashion. The forest girl knelt and stared into the eyes of a big, black creature. They were obviously communicating.
After a few moments, Lorius began murmuring "If I could talk to the animals..." but stopped when Julian fixed him with an icy glare.
"See, Kyle," Lorius smirked. "THIS is why you don't piss off the denizens of Arden. He's in armor, and his daughter can talk to hellhounds. Word to the wise, cousin."
Brieanne continued to 'talk' to the hounds for a few moments, after which, the hellhounds gleefully bounded from the clearing.
Lorius shrugged and took Brieanne's hand. She in turn clasped her father's shoulder. With that, they vanished and we were alone.
"This has certainly been an unusual day," I said, eyeing the clearing. The burn mark was the only blemish to Arden's beauty. "So what now, Kyle? Some dragons to slay in a far off realm or maybe we can traipse back through the trump and visit the lovely Crimson world once more."
Kyle furrowed his brow at the last comment, seemingly missing the sarcasm. "Hmm, yes, we *do* need to check on it. But we'd best be prepared first. I need to recover Gwythnir and there's only one way I can think of at the moment to locate her. Even then, it's an off chance."
I reached for my trump deck. "Shall we go to the Castle then? We can relax and figure out where to go from there."
Kyle did not object so I pulled Amber from the deck and reached for her, anxious to be away from the hellhounds and sometimes antisocial forest dwellers. On to the saner members of the Royal Family who lived in the Castle, where the only people who smelled like dogs were the stable hands.


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