“Good Ember”, whispered Juliette after Morgana came fleeing back from the pulsating horror, returning to the relative safety of the overhanging twig. Morgana was terrified of what had just happened to her mind. She had never imagined that such temptation could overwhelm her. And yet, it did. The pulsing green and red light grew bright again over the mist. The low humming vibarion of the giant mosquito made their bodies quiver.
Within a few moments Daniel was persuaded that going out into the glowing green and red light would give him tremendous, incomprehensible Power. Morgana, having been rescued by Ember, saw his expression and began to slip the kitten into Daniel’s arms thinking the bedazzled young man would also be saved, but he wouldn't have it. He tried to swat the kitten away, but Morgana twisted herself at the last second and Ember slipped to the ground and ran over to Juliette.
Daniel walked resolutely out into the pulsating mist and turned to face the floating monster above, a look of exquisite agony covering his face. Morgana and Ben grappled him and barely managed to wrestle him to the ground. Storm Wizard tied the rope around Daniel’s hands and legs and with great effort they managed to control the lad. He struggled and fought but once all of the members of the group worked together he was unable to resist them, despite his strength, and so he sat twisting and writhing on the ground, cursing and pleading to be let go.
At that moment a huge sound of a gigantic creaking door cascaded over the stonework and in the vast distance the adventurers could see that the tower door had opened and out stepped a huge man onto the parapet. He was, compared to them, a veritable giant, hundreds of times larger than they. Out onto the parapet he stepped looking around with furtive glances in every direction. He sniffed the air. He stepped into the moonlight.
None of the young people in the “Steel Wool Sheeps” Adventure Group had ever seen him before. He had long white hair, white eyebrows, redish colored skin, and wore a black eye patch. He was dressed in a short red shirt, with a black sash, and wore black pants and black leather boots and a silver buckle on his wide black belt. At his side he carried a rapier with a silver hilt. This was not a handsome man. He had a cruel look about him, and his lips were distorted into a crooked and harsh grin, split by a scar from his nose to his chin.
When the man came out, the great pulsating mosquito rose high up into the air and vanished off in the enormous foliage, the dreadful humming of its wings fading into the distance. And so the pulsing ceased and Daniel sat up dazed.
“What happened? Why am I tied up?”, he asked. Ben explained as he untied the lad.
“Quickly, quickly, the cave is not far from here. We must go before the monster returns”, stammered Tinkin.
Brian groaned as he tried to stand up. “Did you have to free me ... so hard?”, he asked with another groan.
“Sorry ... Well, would you rather be in pain, or not have any blood left?”, asked Juliette.
“oh ... well ... pain is good.”, replied Brian weakly.
“Minvar be Praised!”, she said, and hefted herself onto the back of her aphid.
It was time to go. Everone boarded the aphids as quickly as possible, and the tiny caravan scuttled across the stone toward the next Great Gap.
The Great Gaps were separations between the parapet’s outer stonework. To our tiny heroes they were enormous, and they dropped off into dark chasms below, though in fact they were only a foot and a half tall. Yet had any of the “Steel Wool Sheeps” fallen into them it would have been more than a hundred foot drop onto rocks and jagged wooden splinters at their tiny size. Fortunately the chasms they found were spanned by ivy, or stones, or other helpful crossings. The one ahead was spanned by a twig that had fallen across it, and so the aphids climbed up on it and were half way across before someone shouted.
“Look down there! Something is moving!” shouted Ben.
And sure enough in the darkness below them, along the wall of the stone block that they were departing they could dimly make out a long slender and colossal shadow slithering its way toward their bridge. It climbed onto the end of the bridge and began to make its way toward their position. It was covered in a hard gleaming shell, fifty sections long, with its hundred legs it moved with a ruthless efficiency which made it much faster than the aphids. The horrendous creature clicked it's gleaming pointed mandibles and made straight for them, it's terrible eyes glittering with wicked anticipation.
“Run for it!” shouted Juliette. They spurred their aphids onward as fast as they could, but aphids don’t usually like to rush anywhere and so they plodded along, but not very quickly. Until, that is, Juliette said, “I think there are Ladybugs behind us”, and this caused the poor little aphids to panic. When aphids are frightened, as it happens, they can actually dart forward short distances rather quickly. And this is what they did. And so they crossed the bridge in what was record time for aphids.
When they made it to the other side of the bridge they immediately climbed straight downward along the side of the stone at the center point of the Great Gap. Daniel held Brian, still groaning, as best he could, and looped the rope around him so that he was tethered as firmly as possible to the wickerwork. The rest held on for dear life. And the chase was on. Down into the dark trench the line of aphids scurried; behind them the centipede crawled with inexorable speed, rapidly closing the distance. And just before it managed to get is hideous mandibles onto the last aphid in the line, the one that Daniel and Brian were riding, they all slipped into a small archway with a strange glyph above it that formed a hole in the wall, just a little larger than an aphid, and clambered downward into the darkness. Behind them the hole was covered over by the slithering body of the centipede, it’s horrible mandibles clattering against the stone entranceway which it was too large to enter.
Down a cool dark tunnel the adventurer’s travelled. It seemed like a long time before they came into a larger opening, and then they began to detect light. It grew lighter and lighter and they found that they had entered a huge cavern and were heading toward a large archway at the far end. From this opening there could be seen a warm glow of light. And when they arrived they found that it lead through a short tunnel into a much larger chamber, and one that was lit by glowing lichen along the walls and ceiling. It was a stately chamber, with tall fluted columns, crystal pillars, silver pools of water, and a large round stone at center, upon which they saw an old aphid sitting, surrounded by a large gathering of aphids all pointing their little bodies toward him. With their antenna they made gyrating motions toward him, all in unison. And around him the aphids were all making clicking whirling sounds with a rhythm that was quite enchanting, and this was their singing.
“They are ... worshiping ...”, said Ben incredulously.
The song went on and on and eventually it finished and all the aphids left the cave. Only the old aphid on the stone remained. He was a rather small aphid, though he looked somehow quite venerable, which is probably hard to imagine, but it was true nevertheless.
“Come forward children”, he said, in a strange accent.
“Hello Mr. Holy Aphid”, said Juliette, to which he smiled benignly.
“I heard you are a healer, sir. Would you be willing to bestow your healing on us?”
“It is not common for us to have humans among the aphids, and so it is a remarkable time for us. And we are ... honored”, said the holy aphid. “Bring forward your wounded and I will heal them”, he said kindly.
“We’re all pretty badly wounded”, Juliette said, “but my brother Brian is the most wounded. Perhaps you could heal him first.”
The old aphid made a clicking whirring sound and two aphids scurried out of the chamber, and returned shortly with leaves and moss and herbs in baskets on their broad green backs. They put the ingredients into a silver depression in the stone where there was a pool of clear water, and the old aphid stirred it with his antenna while chanting in his whirling clicking language.
“Come forward children, and drink of the healing potion”, he said finally.
The children all stepped forward and took sips of the water. Brian was first, and found the herb-waters to taste very nice, and very soon afterwards he found that he felt much better. In fact, he found that he felt wonderful. He sprang up and stretched with great joy. The other children did the same, and everyone very quickly felt wonderful.
“Thank you”, said Juliette. “you have probably saved our lives.”
“It is an honor”, replied the old aphid. “And now, let us feast.”
Within a few minutes hundreds of aphids had entered the chamber with all manners of foods, which they laid on the stone tables around them. And everyone ate and enjoyed. There were leaves of various kinds, mushrooms, flavorful mosses, braised bark that seemed almost like meat, and many kinds of drinks each of which tasted uniquely lovely. Nothing on the table tasted bad, and everything tasted good. Only Daniel, who preferred a grilled steak to anything, seemed only partially satisfied, but everyone else in the group was quite content with the fare.
And so Tinkin and Kintin, who had been happily feasting with everyone else, began to recount the philosophical discussion from earlier in the journey to the old aphid. And this topic was bandied around with great earnestness by the aphids, with the holy aphid presiding over the discussion and nodding his head slowly as various points were made.
The main question that rounded the room was, should one follow the Elkron blindly? Some argued that Blind Faith was the best kind, as it shows complete trust in the Elkron, which is deserving because the Elkron know more, and therefore their decisions are greater and wiser than anyone elses could be. But others rose the question of whether or not the Elkron are always wise, or sometimes foolish? Several aphids pointed out that the Elkron were habitually in disagreement with one another, siting numerous examples, and therefore some of them had to be wrong about at least some things, for it would be impossible for them to disagree with one another if they were all equally knowledgeable and equally wise.
“They can’t all be right”, said Storm Wizard.
The aphids agreed with Storm Wizard's statement after a brief debate wherein one surly aphid proposed that perhaps everyone is right, for themselves, and that rightness is really merely an opinion held by each individual for his or her own convenience. But that argument fell apart quickly when it was pointed out that some things must exist, and that two contradictory opinions would rule one another out, making such a universe impossible to sustain. The conversation went on for quite some time, until the end end of the feast when the aphids brought out beautiful jade pitchers filled with of Water of Roses. Crystal bowls were brought out, and everyone drank a toast to the holy aphid’s health, and with the drinking of the Rose Water, everyone felt even more wonderful than before.
“Sing us an aphid song!”, requested a giddy Morgana, and so the aphids sang one of the great songs of the aphids. It was translated by Tinkin for them. The song was an amazing combination of celestial knowledge, folklore and herb lore, and the three aspects combined into an adventure story about an early-dynasty aphid hero-mage and his heroic wife who discovered these connections, and saved the western forests from a great and terrible ruin long ago.
Slowly but surely the evening wound down, and the aphids retired to their sleeping places. Only the old wise aphid sat with the adventurers, still nodding his head in pleasant reverie.
Storm Wizard wondered where their destination would be. But everyone was very tired, and so Juliette inquired if the holy aphid would allow them to spend the night in the aphid cave.
“We are happy to be your hosts. We have nice accommodations that will be very suitable for you. I will have one of my people take you there.”
“Thank you very kindly, dear sir, for your wonderful hospitality.”
“May you be blessed, dear child. I am pleased to meet you, and wish you well on your journey”, said the holy aphid, and then he nodded off into a quiet slumber.
An aphid brought the party through a long tunnel to a balcony of delicate arches that overlooked the outside of the tower, from which could be seen the forest below, and along the side of which were a series of doorways that lead into very pleasant rooms with beds, and pillows and fresh linens and basins next to which sat pitchers filled with cool crystal water. In bowls on wooden tables were various aphid snacks and treats. It was exceptionally nice accommodations.
And so the young people went into their rooms and went to sleep.
Previous Episode: The Great Ivy Highway - Part 2
Next Episode: The Encroaching Doom - Part 1