There's a meadow at the beginning. A meadow of timeless endurance, that nobly endows the life of ideas that burble up from the cosmic quantum that lies beneath. These cosmic quantum ideas or cosquanti as we came to know them, are processed by four witches in a castle that has itself chosen to remain a cosquanti and is therefore not manifest at all in the corporeal world. This is something of a problem since the witches are in fact manifest. Their solution was the meadow, of course. And the meadow does indeed fulfill this need, gladly displaying its cosquanti core as cows, loons, and many other strange entities, (Cows and loons are stranger than one would think) while maintaining a tenuous grip on some sort of reality.
This creation also has curious physical features such as a castle known simply as the manor, a large red barn on its southern border called since antiquity Holly's Palatial Estate and a magical path between which also continues around, circling the entire compound. It takes a day or a year to follow that trail around, yet many have done it.
In the southwest corner, apart yet a part, is a swamp called by the superstitious peasantry, the Swamp of Doom, giving it a somewhat dismal cast. Yet Father Sun shines there as well, despite the onerous swamp gases and vapors. It is also believed by this superstitious peasantry that dinosaurs roam the swamp.
Another group of superstitious peasants, our four creative witches in fact, call that odious swamp Silvia's Place after an ancient witch that once ruled there. Bad witch, or so it is believed In any case all the superstitious peasants avoid it.
Today the ancient witches still rule though you'd hardly know it while the meadow has long been the demesne of a dog. A peculiar dog, a bulldog in fact, a bulldog named Spike. Spike is universally recognized as the lord of the meadow mainly because of his endurance. He's a really long time resident who's always been there as far as anyone can tell.
Over the years, and they've been vast, it is said, Spike acquired some super powers. He could fly. He could see through walls, kind of. Thing is he was so strong that if he couldn't for some unfathomable reason see through those darn walls then he'd push them down. But despite his stories of longevity and strength his actual observable age, according to the oldest fauna, was still several decades, at least. It has been whispered that he's actually hundreds of years old and drinks the blood of tourists who stumble onto the farm but hardly anybody believes that. Now the crazy part; he's as spry and quick as a dog of, well . . . as a dog quite a bit younger, possibly several hundreds of years younger. Plus there's his superpowers. That part's crazy too.
The superstitious peasantry publicly deny his vast age despite the prevalent evidence but do accept he could fly since everybody saw him do it pretty much every day. That's convincing.
It was a new day and Spike began as usual by making his rounds. First, he looked up at the manor. Dark, silent, gloomy, spooky. Check. Then he toured the meadow proper, eyeing its flora. Green and lush with lots of flowers. There's the two goats, Brak and Jant, on duty, keeping it all neat and trim. Check. Next, he marched into Holly's Palatial Estate, glancing briefly into the large room with stalls where everyone slept. It looked fine. Upward he could see bats hanging in the dark places above the rafters while squirrels and mice scurried back and forth beneath. In the loft he could see the great ape Ishyate storing a bundle of hay while Elvenglock, an Elf resident, wheeled another in from the pulley up front. Check.
Elvenglock saw him and waved, and Ishyate seeing Elvenglock waving looked down and waved too. Spike sat down and, grinning up at them, began wagging his tail. I have not yet mentioned this superpower. When Spike wags his tail rapidly one of two known things could happen. One, there could appear from out of nowhere a person or thing or maybe a creature. Two, Spike could disappear and reappear somewhere else. It was the latter today and he popped instantly onto the loft.
“Hey guys, how's it going?”
Ishyate wiped his brow. “Excellent Spike, and you?”
Just then Elvenglock arrived and leaning against his wagon, smiled, and nodded, “Hey Spike! Wassup?”
“Nothing much, guys. Everything's fine,” Spike answered with a serene look. “Yessir, just fine.”
Then one of the goats started braying loudly below and Spike looked over, “Hey, what's wrong Brak?”
Looking up Brak answered, “Oh, there you are Spike!” He seemed upset. “Something has come for you!” He was skittering around, not holding still and looking out at the meadow with worried and frightened eyes.
Spike felt a stab of fear with Brak's announcement. 'Something?' What, what, what? Was all he could think but there were no answers here. Ishyate and Elvenglock were staring at him with wide eyes and fearful expressions. Below Brak was hiding behind the door peering surreptitiously out. He walked over to the steps and walked calmly down. He did not fly or teleport. When he got to the bottom, he walked quietly up behind Brak and looked nervously out into the meadow. At first, he could see nothing untoward, then he saw Jant crouching in the bushes. Then he saw the thing. Like a shadow, though not as big as you'd think, not physically anyway, still, and ominous, standing, waiting, a black shape with a black pointed hat and green face. The meadow was deathly still and there seemed to be a cloud directly overhead. Spike reared back and gasped. He knew who this was. It was Oxxy, one of the ancient witches. With eyes wide, he stepped slowly out the door. He stood staring for a long moment then proceeded cautiously, slowly, step by step, watching Oxxy closely. When he was close enough, he stopped.
“Hey Oxxy. Long time no see,” Spike said quietly.
There was no response, but Spike knew not to rush things. He sat down and began wagging his tail but not too fast.
Finally, in a whisper Oxxy murmured, “It is good to see you Spike. You are looking hale and hearty, that is good. Sugfissel's magic is strong.”
She was referring to the multi-dimensional being, Sugfissel, from whom Spike is, purportedly, an appendage. In Sugfissel's dimension time is different, so different in fact the Spike does not appear to age, at least he hasn't for the last three hundred or so years.
“Nice to see you too Oxxy. So what brings you out this way?” Spike was nervous having someone more powerful and with higher authority facing him. It didn't help that she cast an ominous image either. Brak was still hidden and peering cautiously from inside the Estate and Jant was staying behind the bushes.
After another long pause she spoke, “The others have left and I am ready to go.”
“Huh? What?” Spike said with a sinking feeling.
She gazed at Spike with a curious expression then continued, “In the north is a wizard, the great grandson of the fabled Treywiz.” She spoke with shaky determination. Spike had known Treywiz of old and listened attentively.
“His name is Teleron and I've heard he's evil, betraying his heritage. With him is another, another whose name . . .”
Spike listened carefully. He wasn't sure why the legendary Oxxy was here telling him these things, but he listened closely, nonetheless. He waited for her to continue but the silence stretched out.
Spike began wagging his tail again. Then he cleared his throat. With a worried look he whispered, “Uh, Teleron ?” It seemed as if Oxxy's dreamy eyes suddenly focused on him.
“To the north . . .” she began. “Agitha . . .” Then with a shudder and visible effort she continued, “To the north with Teleron is Agitha,” Pause. “Gladstar.”
“Yes?” Spike asked. He knew that name for it was the hereditary line that ruled this meadow and its environs, known since antiquity as Gladstar Farm. The three witches, who apparently have left or at least two of them with the third about to follow, have ruled for the last few hundred years and now it would seem there was an opening. “So uh, this Agitha?” Spike ventured.
“The last Gladstar,” Oxxy muttered weakly. “Tell her. Bring her here, bring her home Spike, bring her and the others home.” She stopped and took a couple deep breaths. “Tell her the farm needs her.” With that the black robe and hat collapsed in a pile in front of Spike. Clearly Oxxy was more than ready to go, she was gone. Spike gaped in shock then backed up until he bumped into Brak.
The visitation caused quite a stir among the fauna not to mention Spike who paced and fretted the rest of that otherwise beautiful day.
“What should I do?” he asked Brak who was munching on some grass, just doing his job.
Brak looked up and answered, “Braaak!”
Just the sort of thing you'd expect from a goat, especially from a goat named Brak, Spike thought angrily as he walked away. He'd pretty much asked everyone so far and so far; he'd gotten no advice. No one knew what to do, but it did seem like the farm ought to have a commander they'd murmur. Someone to watch Spike if nothing else but no one actually said that part out loud. Spike barely slept that night and when he finally did, he had an unsettling dream, a dream of himself going north. He was startled awake and could not get back to sleep.
When rosy colored dawn arrived Spike resolved, after gut wrenching deliberation, to ignore this horrid intrusion, this ridiculous go north commandment. Go north indeed! he fumed. Why that could be anywhere! North is big! He had no idea who this Teleron was nor this Agitha person but, well, he thought with a pang of disquiet, he did know the name Gladstar. He glanced across the meadow at the manor which curiously now seemed empty, somehow enormously empty and he began pacing. I can run this place just fine by myself, he thought. We don't need someone lying about that manor acting all dark and mysterious and not even giving us a sign that there's anyone there at all! We don't need 'em, I got this covered! Now he was grimacing and glaring at the manor.
“Are you okay?” Jant asked softly from behind him.
Spike jumped then turned around feeling oddly guilty. “Uh, well yes. Yes, I'm fine. How're you Jant? And Brak. How is Brak? The meadow looks marvelous by the way, perfectly marvelous and I'm just fine and everything is fine.”
Jant looked at him curiously with her head tilted, “You don't seem fine.”
“I'm absolutely fine I tell you,” Spike said muffling his confused anger.
“Oh. Okay then. Well I just wanted to let you know we're ready.”
Spike's eyes went round, “Ready?”
“Yeah, you know, to go north. Me and Brak got some nifty packs and Ishyate has an old but reliable pack. Elvisher said he wants to go too. We've already got a good store of provisions set up and . . .” she stopped at seeing Spike's look of distress. “Are you sure you're okay?” she asked.
“Huh? Oh, uh yeah, I mean yes, yes, I'm okay. Uh, set up, are you? Say, who said anything about going north?”
“Why it was Oxxy. You remember, right here in the . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, I remember. Sort of. You have to admit it wasn't all that clear. I mean how do you just go north? Right? That's a mighty big place, north, and I thought maybe we should, you know, maybe it'd be good if we waited to see . . .”
“I thought she was pretty clear,” Jant said giving Spike a suspicious look. “She said, plain as day, and we all heard it, well, me and Brak but we told Ishyate and Elvenglock right after, about how she said go north. Get Agitha Gladstar she said.” Jant seemed a little angry now and Spike backed up. He felt cornered, trapped. “look, we found a pack to fit you,” she held up a pack that he hadn't noticed her holding before. Then he noticed that she was wearing a pack.
“Well gosh,” he said nervously. “So, uh maybe we could leave in the morning, you know, get an even earlier start than this,” he waved at Father Sun who was barely risen. “Fresh start, that's what I . . .” he stopped when he saw Brak, along with Ishyate and Elvisher, emerging from the Estate with full backpacks and walking sticks. They were laughing about something and Spike eyed them with disbelief.
“Hey buddy, ready for a walk?” Ishyate called out as they neared. Spike just nodded, smiling weakly.
Ishyate had a compass and after careful consideration he pointed, “North's thataway.”
Brak and Jant's friend, Normin, a mountain goat who, along with his family, agreed to watch the meadow while they were away and stood to the side watching with great interest. He cheered as they filed past and some of the fauna joined in.
“See ya Normin!” Brak called as they passed. Spike brought up the rear and the cheering died off. Spike stuck his tongue out as he followed the others and Normin looked shocked.
They continued across the meadow passing between the manor and the Golly Orchard, then on past the Darnalong Stump where the Hallway to Forever started. Soon they arrived at the upper perimeter trail which they crossed then on past the ancient Sentinels standing tall and proud still. Once past these guardians they would be in wilderness and Spike went into high alert. He hadn't been off the farm in, well . . . he stopped and sat down. Why it's been . . .
“Catch up Spike!” Ishyate called back. Spike jumped and hurried to catch up. He couldn't remember when he'd been off the farm last and that bothered him. He'd grown increasingly fearful of the outside world over the last few hundred years despite his superpowers. With a jolt he realized he didn't know if he'd have his superpowers off the farm. The farm was very magical and he was sure living there had contributed to attaining those powers especially considering how long he'd lived there. Had to have some effect.
They found a path going northward and started following it. After going a goodly way they came to a rest area by a pond in a forest grove. The spot was beautiful and peaceful and they all settled down quickly with sighs of relief and joy at their surroundings. Brak and Jant immediately started munching on the grass while Ishyate and Elvisher had sandwiches. Spike found some biscuits in his pack, a perennial favorite and settled down contentedly.
“I think we're making good time,” Ishyate opined.
“I wonder if this path goes to Teleron's place?” Elvisher asked.
“Well, at least it's going north,” Ishyate replied with a smile. “I'm sure we'll find someone along the way who can give us directions.” He was enjoying taking charge of Spike's mission as much as Spike was hating it. Spike kept quiet though because he knew that if he was leading, he'd do just as Ishyate is doing. That part was galling too. But the big ape was impressive strutting at the head of our procession he thought glumly.
Just then there was a clamoring down the road that seemed headed their way. Spike and Elvisher jumped up and ran over to look.
“What's that?” Elvisher asked.
“I dunno but I can tell you this, it doesn't look good.”
At this they all hurried over to see. Soon it became clear that a procession of armed weasels were leading a covered palanquin regally along. Behind, somewhat hidden and creating the majority of the clamor they'd heard were a string of slaves chained together, followed by a wagon being pulled by a worn looking horse.
“I don't like the look of this,” Spike yelled, grabbing his pack. “Run!”
“Oh, I don't know,” Ishyate pronounced. “Looks like a government official, a sheriff probably, leading a string of criminals. Curious that Elves would work with weasels though,” he rubbed his chin. “Anyway maybe they can tell us how to get to Teleron's place.”
Meanwhile Spike was running willy-nilly into the forest followed by Brak and Jant who stayed with him as best they could. They'd gone for quite a way before the clamoring died down. They've stopped, Spike thought as he ran. When he'd gone far enough to where he couldn't hear any clamoring anymore, he slowed, trotting for a bit then stopping. Soon Jant appeared looking round worriedly.
“Over here!” Spike called quietly from where he'd hidden behind a pile of rocks. When she got there, he hissed, “Keep quiet. Where's Brak?” She looked at him with wide eyes and shook her head no. “I hope he makes it,” Spike whispered. “And I hope Ishyate is right, that they are just government officials.” He scowled. “But I kind of don't think so. From the moment I saw those weasels, armed to the teeth, I had a bad feeling about that caravan.”
“What're we gonna do?” Jant whispered.
“We wait. It's all we can do.”
It was quite a while later when Spike and Jant heard someone approaching. They kept hidden and silent until they heard Brak calling loudly, “Jant! Spike! Where are you?” Spike peered intently over the rocks making sure Brak wasn't being forced to call them before answering.
“Brak?” he called softly, still not showing himself. Jant was peering over now and watching closely. Brak stiffened when he heard Spike but looked in the other direction.
“Spike! Is that you?” Brak asked in an odd tone.
Then Spike saw a weasel sneaking around behind Brak and facing away from them. He snuck over behind and using a rock he'd picked up he whacked the weasel in the head. Then staying hidden he watched. Sure enough another weasel appeared on the other side, this time facing them. He picked up the crossbow from the weasel he'd whacked and taking careful aim he shot. Thwack! Right into the weasels chest.
“Just two?” he whispered loudly at Brak who was grinning widely.
“You got them both?” Brak asked.
“Yeah, two of them. Is that all?” Spike answered.
“That's all. Just two,” Brak replied, looking over to where Spike and Jant were hiding. Jant ran out and hugged Brak as Spike stood grinning and watching.
“What about the others?” Spike asked.
“The weasels got 'em” Brak said with a grimace. “They're chained with the other slaves now. They're waiting, hoping to find us I think.”
Then they heard the clamoring start up again in earnest, moving slowly away.
“Or maybe not,” Brak said with a grim look.
They took all the weapons from the dead weasels then headed north, cross country. They were super wary now, listening for even the slightest hint of suspicious movement yet they made fairly good time. Both the goats and the bulldog could move pretty quickly through forest without making much noise. Soon they could hear the raucous clamoring of the weasel pirates as they led their plunder further north, running parallel to them about hundred meters away. They slowed and kept pace with the pirates. They knew that at the very first chance they must try and rescue Ishyate and Elvisher.
Somber eyed dusk crept in yet the march continued on, then continued through the dark starry night. The trail turned west around midnight and they in turn. As golden dawn came alight with Father Sun's imminent arising, they arrived at a large fortress with several tall smokestacks that were belching black smoke into an otherwise pristine sky. The fortress was on a bluff high above a mighty river that was somehow made muddy with greenish oily slicks flowing downstream. The appearance was sooty, dark, and forbidding. Spike, Brak and Jant watched from a hidden spot in the forest as the weasels led their living booty, clacking and clanking across the drawbridge into the castle. At the end of the procession they could make out Ishyate and Elvisher chained and marching with the others. They retreated back into the woods a couple klicks until they found a hidden spot where they could rest. Weary from their all night march they were soon asleep.
Father Sun was at his highest when something awakened Spike. He wasn't sure what and looked around. They were nestled in a rocky overhang with a lot of shrubbery in front, enough to make their space an enclosure. Brak and Jant were still asleep and everything seemed fine, except something woke Spike up. He sniffed the air and listened closely. Nothing untoward. He'd just made the decision to slip out and check the area, see what if anything were going on, when the shrubs at their entryway parted and a head peered in.
He grabbed a weasel sword and demanded, “Who is it? Don't come in here!” Then he flashed the sword back and forth.
“What's this?” a voice attached to the head asked in accusatory tones. “Weasels, is it? Well, we'll see about that!” Then a longer sword thrust into the cave barely missing Spike. Brak and Jant, awakened by the voices were scrambling backward further into the cave.
The sword of the outsider flashed by Spike then pulled back.
“I'll not tolerate weasels here especially not of Teleron's ilk.” The sword thrust again, even closer.
“Wait!” Spike yelled. “We're not weasels! Stop please!”
The sword, which had drawn back preparatory to a third thrust, stopped.
“What say you?” the voice asked cautiously.
“We're not weasels. In fact we're hiding from the weasels.”
“If that is true then step out.”
Spike cautiously stuck his head out. A forest Elf stood watching him warily and holding a long sword above. Spike stepped all the way out, “See? Not a weasel.”
“But a dog nonetheless,” the Elf declared, “Good heavens fellow what has happened to your nose? Did Teleron do that?” Spike's flat nose, common to his breed, was apparently unknown in these parts.
“No, I'm okay,” Spike answered, “it's just my type.”
“Why're you hiding? Who's with you? Are the weasel's after you?” the Elf asked in quick succession, while looking around nervously and brandishing his sword.
“It's just me and my two friends. Brak, Jant come on out,” Spike answered calmly, hoping to appease the Elf. “I don't think the weasel's are after us but they got two of our friends and we're here hoping to rescue them.”
“Yeah? What's yer plan?” the Elf demanded.
Brak and Jant were out now and glancing around sheepishly. Perhaps goatishly would be more accurate and they watched through round eyes.
“We haven't got one,” Spike admitted. “We only just got here early this morning.”
“That a fact?” The Elf eyed them distastefully. “You always carry weasel swords?”
“Uh, no. We took these off a couple weasels who came looking for us after our friends got caught. That was yesterday. We been tailing 'em ever since and now we hadda chance to rest. So here we are.”
The Elf continued to regard them with suspicion. “Elfend, what do you think?” he asked. Spike saw a movement and realized that another Elf had been standing behind the first. He'd blended so completely into the forest that he was only visible when he moved. Spike gasped and he heard yelps from Brak and Jant.
“They seem a sorry lot to take on Teleron,” Elfend answered.
“A sorry lot indeed, yet they are filled with determination.” The first Elf paused. “I think they might be useful to our cause.” There was a stirring in the woods and a rustling between the branches and suddenly there were a dozen or so armed Elves visible and watching them.
“What is your cause?” Spike asked looking around nervously.
“We are dedicated to defeating the evil Teleron and removing his weasel scourge from our land.”
“Well, we're definitely against the weasels and this Teleron guy too if he's controlling them,” Spike said, “We want to get our friends back from the fortress and it's the weasels that snatched 'em.” Spike was speaking forcefully now, angry at what the weasels had done and were still doing.
“Well said!” the first Elf laughed. “I think we could use your fighting spirit. My name is Elvenjoy and these” he gestured at the now visible group, “are the Elvinheim Rangers, come seeking entry into Teleron's lair that we may bring an end to his reign of terror.”
Realizing that this was probably the only chance they'd have to free Ishyate and Elvisher, Spike glanced hopefully back at Brak and Jant, who were both nodding yes, then turned back. “In that case we would be honored to join your noble cause Elvenjoy, for we too are oppressed by these vile creatures and would fight to bring their end. I'm Spike and these are Brak and Jant.”
“Well met!” Elvenjoy raised his arm in greeting. “Join us tonight.”
There was a cheer, then Elvenjoy led the band into the woods with Spike and the two goats joining them.
Elvenjoy led his band, which now included Spike, Brak and Jant, further into the forest and farther away from the castle where Ishyate and Elvisher were imprisoned. They traveled about an hour before they came to an Elf village nestled in the trees after the fashion of Elves.
“Behold fair Elvinheim!” Elvenjoy announced with obvious pride even though a person could barely tell there was anything there. “Rangers dismissed!” he barked and the other Elves left for their homes. “You guys come with me and I'll show you the guest quarters,” he said to Spike, Brak and Jant. “Tomorrow we meet to plan strategy.” He left them in a barn like structure, one of the few on the ground, with a lot of hay on the floor. They stretched out gratefully and were soon asleep.
They were awakened by a huge booming noise coming from the mighty river.
“Whoa! What is that?” Spoke yelped, jumping up. He ran outside with Brak and Jant to see what was going on and he could tell right off that the Elves were just as startled and confused as they were. The Elves higher up in the trees were exclaiming loudly and alarmingly about what they were seeing. Spike and the goats could see nothing from the ground but they could sure hear the huge booming, rhythmic thump, thump, thump like a giant drum. The ground seemed to reverberate with the force of it.
“She's heading for the fortress!” someone yelled as they ran by toward the fortress.
Spike looked at Brak and Jant with confusion. The Elves were pretty much all running toward the fortress so he asked, “Maybe we should go see what's happening at the fortress? Maybe we'll see a way to rescue Ishyate and Elvisher. Maybe rescue more, who knows?”
“Yeah, I think we should,” Brak said, joining the running Elves. “And these guys know the way,” he added over his shoulder. Spike and Jant began running, joining the excited crowd. As soon as they entered the clearing around the fortress they stopped and gaped in amazement. There, standing in the middle of the mighty river stood an angry hundred meter tall woman holding a long spear.
“Teleron!” she screamed in rage. “Teleron this is Mother Columbia and this poisoning must stop and it must stop now!” She stepped closer to the fortress. “Teleron you coward! Get out here and answer my demand!” She raised her spear and with a swoop knocked one of the bellowing smokestacks over.
Teleron appeared in a high turret holding a staff. He appeared calm, unfazed by the giant woman and the toppled stack. He lifted the staff and lightning flashed from its end hitting the giant woman. She smiled and the lightning bolts instantly changed direction and flew back at Teleron who barely avoided getting hit.
“Stop this smoke! Stop this pollution!” Mother Columbia demanded.
“Never!” Teleron screamed, then he aimed the staff again and a red beam flashed out instantly cutting or slicing anything it hit except the giant. Again she smiled and the red beam twisted around, going right at Teleron whose eyes got round. His bravado knocked back; the beam stopped before hitting him. Now he looked troubled. “Who are you? How do you do that?” he yelled out to the giant.
“Teleron, you damn fool! I'm a Goddess and this is my river. And this,” she pointed at the billowing smoke, “must stop now!” She pointed at the water and a spout shot upward then arced over and into the chimney as two more spouts followed suit making a loud sizzling noise that was quickly drenched in water. Even the broken stack was filled with water. Then she threw her spear at the opening where the pollution came out into the river. It crashed into the pipe with a mighty roar and the rocks above came tumbling down, then half the castle, weighted with water, began crumbling downward. Slaves were running out the front as fast as they could while the back of the castle collapsed and fell slowly into the river, effectively blocking the pollution. Then, with an angry glare she yelled in a voice of thunder, “Teleron you are warned. Do not provoke me again.” With this she stomped back up the river with thunderous booming steps until she blended into and became the river again.