As the tiny-sized Aventurers of the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ Group rode the aphids away from the ant hole sized entrance way in the huge wall of the tower, they entered into the swaying shades of the enormous undergrowth. Tree sized twigs loomed overhead, gigantic leaves undulated slowly in the moonlight casting colossal shadows, and all around a myriad of insects crawled, slithered, and buzzed through the airs above. At some point along the path Juliette noticed that the strange pair of eyes that seemed to have been stalking after thoughts in her mind appeared to pad off around a corner and disappear.
The journey on the backs of the aphids was a reasonably steady one as they don’t tend to bob or sway, but move relatively level over ground. Just the same it was good to have the wicker saddles to keep them steady. The problem was when they would head down the sides of things, and if one did not control them with the reins they tended to wander toward any sort of green leafy food stuff they come across. But the journey under the stars was fascinating to everyone, and despite their feeling of incredible vulnerability, they did enjoy themselves with light banter, and the occasional “oohs” and “aahhs” at various sights of interest.
“It was nice of Biddy Mable to let me take Ember”, thought Juliette as she rubbed the kitten's neck. Ember sat quietly sleeping in her lap. The aphids climbed up an arched leaf that sat like a giant stairway on the stone floor, ascending upward onto the narrow branch of an ivy. Along the branch they could see a mass of aphids making their way in long lines toward the heights. Not far away they could see a cluster of Ladybugs, much larger than they, on another branch herding a jumble of aphids along a branch that ascended up into the canopy of swaying leaves. Juliette began to worry for the aphids when she saw that.
“It is the natural order of things”, said Storm Wizard sitting next to her. “You, as a worshiper of Minvar, ought to understand the natural order of things.”
“Of course I do”, retorted Juliette, “but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy when I see it. Does it look like I’m going to stop the natural order?”
“That’s the problem with religion”, he replied. “If Minvar told you to eat kittens would you do it?”
“She wouldn’t do that!”, flared Juliette.
“That’s not what I asked. What if Minvar in her infinite wisdom decided that a greater good would be served by you eating a kitten?”
“That hypothetical situation is completely invalid because it’s impossible”, she insisted.
At this point the aphids had stopped, and Tinkin, one of their aphid-men guides who had been listening avidly, said, “I think it is possible for Minvar to decide that eating kittens could produce an effect that might be for the greater good. Hypothetically speaking it is possible.”
Kintin, his brother, thoughtfully responded, “I find it highly improbable, as it would be unusual for Minvar, a Guardian of the Natural Order, to legislate something against the natural order. And for Juliette to eat a kitten would be, I suspect, very much against the natural order. Therefore, I tend to agree with her… it would not be possible.”
“Eating kittens is not part of the natural order”, Juliette stated triumphantly.
“If it’s not part of the natural order, then it should become part of the natural order”, said Storm Wizard with a certain malicious glint in his eyes.
“What is the natural order, is the natural order. I don’t think Minvar or anyone else can decide what is part of the natural order. It just *is* what it is”, said Juliette definitively.
Then Kintin advanced a new theory, saying, “but what if the being who created the natural order decided to change the natural order? Wouldn’t Minvar have to follow that? And in that case, wouldn't it be possible for kittens to need to be eaten?”
“But the Natural Order doesn’t change,” replied Juliette, rubbing Ember reassuringly behind his ears. Ember gave a little "meow".
“Well, when the weather changes, isn’t that a change of the natural order?”, inquired Kintin politely.
“Indeed, what if Minvar foresaw that the cat population would over take the world if you didn’t start eating kittens?”, asked Storm Wizard, glad to have gotten his sister Juliette agitated.
Tinkin and Kintin, continued to converse amongst each other over the topic, taking pro and cons in an oddly macabre dialectic. Is the natural order permanent and perfect, or does it happen to be that perfection is achieved by it's transmutability? And so on. Meanwhile the aphids began to wander around the branch looking for leafy green mounts of food. A couple of the aphids began happily munching away.
“Perhaps we should get moving again”, suggested Storm Wizard.
“Oh quite right,” said Tinkin and Kintin, and they began to reign the aphids back onto the path.
“The Ladybugs are behind you”, whispered Storm Wizard to his aphid. Alarmed, it began to move faster, and bumped itself into the aphid ahead of it, giving Morgana and Ben a jolt. “Hey, watch where you’re going!”, said Morgana over her shoulder as she gripped the wickerwork saddle. There was a brief burst of laughter in the air.
Meanwhile, following up in the rear, Brian and Daniel happened to have trouble getting their aphid to stay on the path, and so it was that they took to wandering along the side of the stem, nearly pitching themselves out of their saddle to the ground far below. Eventually, Daniel got the hang of it, and so by the time they climbed to the top of the vine they managed to have better control. At that point they had crested the top of the vine, and looking over the edge of the tower they could see all the great wide forest below. It was a terribly, terribly long way down, they thought as they swayed on the broadside of a huge leaf. Down the wall of the tower they saw the vines that would be their road of escape from the fearsome Thurwulv.
Tinkin and Kintin at that point got off their aphid, and they announced that the journey from there would get more dangerous and troublesome, as they had a long way down to climb, and there would be few places for rest along the way. They suggest it might be a good idea for everyone to take a rest there. Because the aphids liked to wander, the branches sway, and they got easily tossed around in the wind, the aphids were difficult to control, and the riders found it tiring to hold on for the ride. And so it was agreed that a rest was in order, and the aphids were tethered with rope lines to nodules on the vine and were allowed to feed while everyone layed down on the branch using bits of bracken for pillows.
Conversation wandered back to the eating of kittens.
“The question was not so much about eating kittens, but about whether or not one should blindly follow the Elkron”, Storm Wizard pointed out. For those who live in other universes than Elthos, it should be mentioned that the Elkron are the Great Celestial powers of the Cosmos, much like what we on earth called Gods in the days of yore when people believed in such Beings.
“If Minvar announced that I had to eat kittens, I think I would go to the temple and ask about it”, said Juliette.
“What if Penelope, the abbess at the Monastery, was eating kittens herself?”, asked Storm Wizard.
"Meow!", said Ember.
“Why would you betray your own instincts to follow Minvar, is my point”, he continued.
“Minvar doesn’t betray instincts”, Juliette shouted at Storm Wizard and tried to hit him.
“Oh my”, said Tinkin, “our philosophical discussion has resorted to blows of violence! For shame, for shame!”
“You know”, said Kintin, “I think you making the assumption, sir, that the natural order is more moral than what Minvar might say. But looking at the natural order it doesn't seem all so clear that such would be the case, does it?”
“I am arguing that you are blindly following this external thing, while we have no evidence that Minvar is morally correct. I care that my sister has chosen to follow someone else’s concept other than her own.”
“So you are advocating that instead of blindly following the Wisdom of the Elkron, you prefer to blindly follow your own precepts?” asked Tinkin.
“I don’t follow my own blindly. They are based on my observations of life.”
“But your precepts can be completely wrong!”, said Juliette.
“I prefer to follow my own experience than the word of some external power.”
“Aha!”, said Kintin, “it is just as I told you, Tinkin. This is the exact difference between a Wizard and a Cleric, right there!”
“Exactly”, said Storm Wizard.
And so they sat and ate a meal of leafy green sandwiches on the top of the vine, along the edge of the parapet at the top of the tower on Black Hill, overlooking the vast forest below. Tinkin noticed that some of the members of the party were wounded, having not had time yet to recover from their last battle.
“You haven’t been… *battling*, have you?” he asked nervously.
“We were attacked by wolves”, replied Storm Wizard.
“Wwwooolves?!” said Tinkin, a look of horror crossing his round little face.
“Yes, and a nasty little wolf-wizard, too”, Storm Wizard added.
Tinkin and Kintin looked shocked and terrified.
“Oh that’s a big lie. We never saw any such a little wizard.”
“Oh really?”, asked Tinkin a little relieved.
“We never saw it, and I still don’t believe it.”, replied Juliette firmly.
“Well, maybe it was his imagination, then”, Tinkin said half to himself.
“Well, we see you are not all entirely well. We happen to know of a place where you can take healing, if you wish", Kintin went on.
“Really?”, asked Juliette.
“Yes. We are not far from the sacred cave of the Holy Aphid.”
“The Sacred Cave... of the Holy Aphid? Where is it?”, asked Ben, who was among those in need of restoration.
“Not terribly far. It is just over the edge of the cliff at the edge of this stone, down the wall, and there we will find the cave. We can take you there if you like. It is less than a half day from here.”
There was little debate. Everyone was in agreement. It would be good to take healing from the Holy Aphid, they decided unanimously. And so they took off in that direction over a relatively clear section the stone wall. It was to them an interminably far distance along a wide flat stone desert, but it had the virtue of not having edges that the aphids might crawl over the egde of. So they bore with it and plodded on. It was a long trudge taking many hours.
As they traveled they noticed something peculiar about the forest below the tower. It was no longer covered with snow as it had been when they’d arrived at Black Hill, and more recently when they fought the battle against the wolves. Today the forest had barely any patches of snow on the trees, and the air was much warmer than it had been. It made them wonder how long, exactly, they had spent in Weeleena's Tea House. As they contemplated this oddity, Morgana began to notice a humming sound coming from somewhere above them. She nudged Ben, and they both listenned intently. Then everyone grew silent. Something was coming.
From beyond the branches and leaves there came a low-toned vibration. It grew louder and louder until it became almost a dull roar all around them. Over the past hour a mist had formed in the area and now it began to pulsate with a red and green glow. Red. Green. Red. Green. It pulsed rhythmically, hypnotically, getting brighter and brighter. Out from above a wide green leaf there emerged a huge mosquito the size, relative to them, of a horse, with glowing eyes that pulsated red and green. The aphids stopped in their tracks and froze stock still. Tinkin and Kintin rapidly whipped their aphids and hustled them with shouts under a overhanging twig, beneath which all of the aphids quickly scuttled.
The gigantic mosquito landed on the twig above them causing an avalanche of dust, small rocks, and bracken to fall onto the members of the party. Ember dug her sharp little claws into Juliette, trembling.
“I smell humans,” said a huge low voice that sounded like it was speaking through a tympani drum. “... I smell ... blood.”
No one said a word. Everyone held their breath.
The pulsating light washed the mist all around them, and then, inexplicably, Brian sat up with a strange look in his eyes. He stood up and began to climb down from the aphid on which he had been sitting. Storm Wizard threw a pebble at Brian to snap him out of it, but it had no effect. And so Storm Wizard leapt down and tried to grab him. Daniel also did the same. However none of them were fast enough to stop Brian from walking out into the pulsating light. The poor boy turned around, and looking up his face was transformed into terrifying mask of horror. A long narrow pointed and barbed tube came slowly down from above. It was aimed directly at Brian's chest.
At this Storm Wizard looked around for a safer place to hide, and nearby he spotted some moss in which there were lots of nooks and crannies. But it was too far, and they decided they needed to try to rescue Brian before anything else. Juliette leapt down from her aphid, and ran out into the pulsating mist to grapple Brian in an attempt to wrestle him to the ground. He turned on her trying to push her away, saying “The Power, The Power!”, in a terrible unwholesome tone. Juliette and Daniel tried to pull him back beneath the twig as the long proboscis of the mosquito came closer and closer toward Brian’s chest, it’s long barb glinting in the green and red lights. Ben ran up and threw his weight into the matter, and between the three of them they managed to drag Brian, resisting mightily, back into the shadows beneath the twig. The proboscis returned back from whence it came. There was a loud hum and the branch gave another rain of dust and stones. The mosquito was maneuvering around looking for a better angle of attack. They considered making a run for the moss. But it was too far.
“Brian… Brian… come to me", resounded the hypnotic voice from above.
Brian began struggling and shouted, “Let me go! Let me go!”
At this point it was decided to attempt to subdue Brian. Storm Wizard was unable. Daniel then tried, but he also failed. Ben then made an attempt using his staff a little over zealously, hitting him with a dull thud. Morgana tried as well, but her attempt only managed to buffet him. Finally, Juliette gave him a stunning kick in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him, and indeed subduing him, nearly killing him in the process. He slumped over and fell unconscious onto a piece of bracken.
Meanwhile Tinkin and Kintin were cowering in the darkest corner of the shadow beneath the twig. They were too frightened to move. The aphids all cowered with them.
Again the voice from above, “Come to me Brian. Come to me.”
When nothing happened the pulsating light became brighter. Juliette felt some hideous force pass across her mind. An ominously seductive invitation to Greatness and Power such as she had never felt before. She searched her mind to discover where this hideous thought was coming from. It felt that some great dark Being was offering her this power, and she resisted it with all her might. And so, after a few moments, it moved on like a horrible searchlight. Storm Wizard battled the mentality next and was able to deflect it. As did Morgana who was trained to have a strong will. But she was unable to resist, and after a moment she began to succumb to the voice.
Juliette, thinking fast, slipped Ember into Morgana’s arms, and whispered “Help her, Ember, help her resist the force!” With this Morgana regained power over her own mind and shook off the overwhelming presence.
With the handing of Ember over to Morgana, Juliette immediately felt that the entire sense of eyes watching her mind vanish. And this fact puzzled her greatly. Was it Ember’s eyes who had prowled her mind? Or was it that whomever’s eyes they were, watched whomever held Ember? She could not tell. And it disturbed her considerably.
But for the moment, the party was able to resist the horrible temptation, and hid cowering in the shadow beneath the twig from the monstrous mosquito and his hideous power.
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