Friday, August 10, 2012

Return of the Hapless Hobbits - Part II

The Abandoning of Elizabeth Warden

There they stood facing the wooden door behind which were imprisoned the lovely Elizabeth Warden and her dear father. However, having broken the incredibly massive Déjà vu Ischandar was loath to attempt to try the lock for the zillianth time and set off the alarm once again. This time, finally, instead of picking the lock, Ishcandar whispered to the girl behind the door, “I’m sorry, but I can not get you out of here just now. I will have my father bring the town guard here to rescue you. I’m sorry but we must get out of here in order to save you.”

With this, the girl began crying.  And so they left her, and her poor father, in their rush to avoid both the alarm triggered by touching the handle of her door, and more pressing on their minds in fact, the horrifying  Déjà vu.

They moved to the prison exit. Bernie disabled the thin wire, picked the lock and opened the door. They were in the outer corridor again. This time however the Déjà vu was not compelling them into the pale blue light again, so they went to the next door where the light had been before, and Bernie, none the wiser about any of it, listened carefully. There was no noise on the other side. He picked the lock and with a low “click” the door swung open. Inside the next room, the same room where the master of the Five Animals Hall had cured Ishcandar of the Tears of the Black Lotus poison in his finger, they found no one. The room itself was filled with tables and shelves packed with ancient dusty tomes, burning cauldrons, glasses with bubbling fluids, strange mists and vapors, brown and green bottles lining antique wooden shelves, and innumerable apparatus on various desks. The walls were lined with heavy wooden shelves or long tapestries. Ishcandar tried his best to find anything that looked even remotely like a bottle of wine. There was, however, nothing of the sort there, and even he did not dare attempt to swill down what he saw in the dim glass jars round about him. They passed through the room as quiet as Hobbits who are sneaking, which is to say in utmost silence. Not even a rat would have noticed their passing. As they passed the center of the room Ishcandar considered taking the red marble statue of the Phoenix on its pedestal. However, it was far too large and heavy for him to move, so they passed it without comment and kept moving. At the far end of the room in the corner there was a thick red curtain with gold tassles along the bottom.

Bernie moved forward and very carefully slid the curtain aside slightly, and peered out. He motioned for them to follow. And so they entered the central hall, known to them as White Tiger Hall, as in the center of the otherwise empty chamber was a white marble statue of a ferocious tiger. However, around the statue Ishcandar saw a pale blue glow. And then he noticed that in front of the statue there was a silloutte of a man in black platemale carrying a shield and a sword.

A voice echoed throughout the chamber. “There is no time left, … there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

The man was walking towards them. However, he made no noise at all. Not even the faintest stirring of sound.

Ishcandar took out the scrap of the calendar he had found. He looked at it, but he could not make out the month, day or year. However, he could see that there was a picture of a little angel holding up a clock with her little wings behind her back. He could not get a bead on the date, no matter how hard he tried. He took his eyes off the calendar, and looking up found that they were all standing in an old musty attic room. There they saw the girl from the calendar picture holding a clock in her hand, and staring out the attic window dreamily. It was a sunny summer day outside, old willow trees swaying in the wind, and beyond a grassy field was a lovely little brook burbling into a pond covered in lilacs and lily pads. The girl was crying.

The Girl That Was No More

The black knight stood in the room towering over the girl. He seemed poised to strike as his sword was raised over his head. They still heard the echoing voice repeating, “… There is no time left, …there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

The girl began turning the clock hands backwards with her little finger. And as she did she seemed to get younger and younger and younger. Ishcandar suddenly wanted to tear the terrible clock from her hands and began running towards her. But he felt as though he were moving in slow motion, and as she turned the clock hands backwards and grew younger and younger, the black knight, also moving in slow motion, slashed downward with his sword. It all happened so slowly, and yet too quickly for Ishcandar to do more than watch helplessly as the events tumbled forward. The girl grew younger and younger until she became a tiny infant, and less than that, and then vanished, as the knight’s sword swung in a long slow arc just over her head. Having missed his target the knight stumbled forward and tripped, falling headlong into a bookshelf, from which many books slowly tumbled into the air, scattering papers, including a wall calendar that had been poised on the top of the bookcase. The calendar’s pages broke free and tumbled through the air like so many leaves in the wind.

The scene faded and they found themselves back in the White Tiger Hall. The black knight was gone, but the pale blue glow remained. However the glow was also slowly fading, and then finally vanished from view. Ishcandar and Lido heaved a huge sigh of relief. Bernie, however, was shocked to the core by what had just happened. He had never experienced anything like that in his life, and was not sure that he had not gone completely insane.

“Bernie, let’s not worry about that now,” whispered Lido. “Let’s get out of here, and we can discuss it later over some tall drinks and dinner.”

“Oh? Drinks? That’s an excellent idea! Let’s go!” Ishcandar chimed in with a whisper.

When Hobbits Fumble

“Ok, ok,” said Bernie, seeming to snap out of it. Lido dragged him by the sleeve and they moved past the white tiger statue. They moved quietly past another red curtain. Inside they heard voices. They tip toed as quietly as possible. Lido moved passed as silently as a shadow. But oddly enough Ishcandar, still somewhat drunk, and a bit disoriented from the most recent events, scuffed his foot on the floor, making a slight noise. Bernie, who was still completely weirded out by what had just happened almost tripped over him when Ishcandar stopped momentarily to adjust his balance. This made another slight noise. Now one would think that only a titmouse would have noticed those two noises. But the master of Five Animals Hall had senses that even a titmouse would envy. He stood up.

Hearing motion in the room beyond the curtain, the two Hobbits and their rescuer very gingerly made haste across White Tiger Hall to the far curtain where Bernie was leading them. As they dodged through the red curtain the white haired master was drawing aside his own curtain. Ishcandar paused to look back and see if anyone had come to investigate. When the master saw the ruffling of the curtain on the far side of the room, and the little Hobbit face peering out from behind it, he grew quite angry.

“Men! Get them!” he barked behind him. A group of men in black robes burst out of the room and ran full tilt across White Tiger Hall. By then, however, the Hobbits and Bernie were already on the other side of the next room, running pell mell past a large marble statue of a bear. They followed Bernie and dodged through an open archway. They entered another room and ran to a door, which Bernie opened and ran though. They came to a small corridor and Bernie ran to another door, one of several, and dashed through. They followed. They ran down a corridor and ran through another open archway. Bernie, it should be said, was running randomly, terrified out of his wits by what he could not possibly comprehend.

“Bernie,” asked Lido, finally when they paused in a corridor. “Do you know where you are going?”

“I’m pretty sure this is the way,” said Bernie looking this way and that. There was a door. An old and musty door. It looked a bit familiar to Lido. As they heard the sounds of foot falls running in their direction, Bernie ran to it and tried to pull it open. It would not budge. He took out his lock picking tools and with shaking hands fiddled with the lock. Finally it opened. They dashed through into the darkness.

They stood still. Bernie, fortunately, had the wonderful ability to see clearly in the dark if he focused his mind on it. He did so.

“We’re in a spiral stair going down,” he whispered.

“That sounds familiar,” replied Lido hesitantly. “Are you sure this is the right way? I mean this is the way you came in, isn’t it?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” replied Bernie. “I don’t recall a spiral stair. There was a ladder. But anyway, we don’t have any choice; we certainly can’t go back. Besides, it has to lead out of here one way or another,” he concluded.

“I’ve been down here,” said Lido.

“You have? What’s down here?” asked Bernie and Ishcandar incredulously together.

“A lot of really weird stuff, actually,” replied Lido nervously.

“Can it be any weirder than the freakish thing that just happened in the White Tiger Hall?” asked Bernie, growing upset.

“Well, I have to say, it’s possible,” answered Lido slowly.

“Really??” exclaimed Bernie. “Gah! I’m getting out of here,” he choked out as he moved back toward the door.

“Wait,” said Lido. “You can’t go back that way. As you said, they’re close behind us. You’ll surely be captured,” he reasoned.

“Ok, right,” said Bernie, coming back to himself again. “We better forge ahead, then.”

Down The Spiral Stairwell

And so they went very slowly downward. Since he’d been there before Lido knew that there was a nook in the wall in which there was a brass lantern. He mentioned it to Bernie who took it and lit it. Now they had light. With that they crept down the long spiral stairs very slowly.

As they made their way down the stairs Lido recounted the entire tale of what he had seen down there before, except he left out the part about the bizarre stick men from hell that he’d encountered. For all he knew they were still looking for him. Better not to mention it, he thought, as it might send poor Bernie straight over the edge. But he did tell them all about the strange apparitions he'd witnessed, and the hour glass that the master had instructed him to turn over. He tried to leave out the truly frightening bits.

“What would happen, do you suppose, if we broke the hourglass?” asked Ishcandar.

“You … would … ask … that,” commented Lido.

A wind began to blow down the spiral stairs. It was a cold wind. Lido got a chill. They noticed that the dust on the stairs began to stir. He noticed cobwebs billowing in the corners of the steps. It did not bode well, he thought, not for the last time.

“As strange as it may seem, you may be on to something, Ishcandar,” said Lido. “Perhaps if we do something to the hourglass, something will happen. But unfortunately, we don’t have any idea what.”

“I say that we take away from the master what he cherishes most. The hourglass,” pronounced Ishcandar boldly.

“You are a small man,” replied Lido, “but never let it be said that you have small dreams.”

Eventually they came to the bottom of the stairs. There they found a door just like the one they came through at the top. Above the door along the lintel Ishcandar read an engraved script that Bernie had pointed out.

“As above, so below,” he read.

Bernie, who was not well educated, wondered vaguely what it could mean, but he didn’t spend much time thinking it over. He opened the door. Inside they found a large circular room. It was completely dark. They saw by the light of the lantern, the glinting of metal on a table in the center of the room. Ishcandar pulled out his sling and a stone as he gauged the distance. He would have liked to have taken a pot shot at the hourglass, but it was really too far away.

Bernie looked dubiously at the Hobbit. He didn’t care for this plan at all. Who knows what in the world might happen if they broke the hourglass. To his mind, unstable as it had recently become, it sounded like a recipe for disaster.

“Sometimes I find it’s best to give him space to let him do what he’s going to do,” Lido said to Bernie, trying to shore up his confidence. “It always seems to work out for the best somehow,” he added unpersuasively.

Bernie raised an eyebrow. In any event Ishcandar found that he was out of range. He walked into the room. Lido followed him, watching the side of the room where he had seen the apparition the first time he had been there. Bernie remained in the door holding up the lantern, which was giving off a pale blue light.

In the center of the room was the three legged table, on which was a large hourglass inside a brass globe of sorts. It was very intricately designed. Sand was flowing from the top section of the hourglass to the bottom. Ishcandar felt as though he was moving in slow motion.

“… there is no time left,… there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

Ishcandar broke into a run in order to get himself in range of the hourglass as quickly as his little Hobbit feet could, but he was moving in slow motion and it seemed to take forever for him to make it a few steps.

“… there is no time left,… there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

“You keep saying that,” yelled Lido into the chamber, “but you will notice; we are still here!”

“… there is no time left,… there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

“I’m starting to get rather irritated with that statement! Quite peeved, in fact!” he said stamping his foot.

The Blond Boy Who Turned Pages Backwards

Ishcandar pulled out the calendar page again from his pocket. This time, oddly enough, the picture was different. Now it was of a little blond haired boy outside sitting under a tree reading a story book. Ishcandar could still not make out the date. When he looked up again, he found that they were standing in a field of grass. There, not far off, was the blond haired boy, who was staring out at a beautiful sunset. The boy was reading a story book. But he was turning the pages backwards. And as he did he grew younger and younger. Ishcandar tried to grab the book, but found he could not reach it in time.

From behind the tree stepped out the black knight who swiftly swung his sword toward the boy’s head. Ishcandar could not, no matter how hard he tried, move quickly enough. The light of scene began changing, and everything was moving in slow motion. The leaves were billowing slowly, as was the grass, and people’s cloths, but the sun was setting ever so rapidly, and all of the shadows moved swiftly across the landscape forming fantastic and bizarre shapes as far as the eye could see. The clouds billowed past the stars as though time was speeding ahead, but the boy turned the pages with incredible slowness. A leaf fell to the ground, taking a hundred years. An ant climbed a blade of grass for a thousand years before ascending to the top. The twisting of time was utterly maddening, and it’s a wonder that anyone’s mind was able to survive it at all.

And yet, the Hobbits minds were not at all destroyed. They merely watched, astonished, amused, and even terrified, … but were not driven to insanity. Bernie, on the other hand, it must be said, did not have a mind so resilient as that. He stood in the doorway; gaping in absolute unmitigated horror, sweat pouring down his face, his entire body trembling uncontrollably. At that moment Lido was looking over his shoulder to see how Bernie was faring, and caught sight of his back as he turned to flee back up the spiral stairs, madness having overtaken him with horror.

The black knight was carving an arc through the air towards the boy ever so slowly. They could hear his voice from the armor yelling “Nooooooooo!!” as the boy turned into an infant, and less, and then vanished completely. The scene faded and they found themselves back in the dark hourglass chamber.

An Amazing Discovery from the Past

Against one wall they saw a blue glow as though being shined on by a stage light. The Hobbits watched as two apparitions formed within a scene. It was a scientific laboratory, much like Doctor Lobe's. There were two men standing there. One of them stood with his back towards the Hobbits, and the other facing that man. The second man was an aristocrat with blond hair. The other looked to be a scientist with a white lab coat, and gloves. At first it appeared that they were talking but no sound was being made. Slowly they began to hear the voices, at first as though from a great distance, and then more clearly until they could hear what was being said.

“What do you make of these discoveries, Doctor?” asked the blond man.

“It is certainly intriguing,” said the scientist as he turned towards the aristocrat. As he turned the Hobbits recognized the man. It was Doctor Lobe. But a much younger Doctor Lobe. “We’ve done a number of experiments thus far. It’s been very interesting, and I’ve managed to collect a great deal of very valuable data,” said the young Doctor. “I suggest you try it.”

“What do you think the risk is?” asked the blond aristocrat.

“I don’t know, frankly. We’ve tried a number of artifacts thus far, and nothing dreadful has happened. And we’ve gotten a better understanding of their nature.”

“Ok, I’ll try it,” said the blond man. He walked over to a suit of black platemale and as soon as he touched the gauntlet to take it, he vanished into the armor as though it came up and surrounded him like a ghost. The armor stepped forward and picked up the sword and the shield and held them.

“Doctor Lobe, I can see,” said the suit of armor in the voice of the blond aristocrat, “behind you!”

The armor stepped forward as Doctor Lobe stepped quickly to a box and turned some dials and flipped a switch. Lights flickered along the front panel. Then a blue glowing ball of light appeared in the scene, and the black knight merged with the blue glow and vanished. Doctor Lobe raised an eyebrow and stroked his beard with his hand. He then turned and went to another odd looking box with switches and lights on the table and began turning dials.

“Is it done?” asked a voice that sounded low and powerful.

“Indeed, it is done,” replied Doctor Lobe.

“Lord Dunn won’t be bothering us anymore,” said the low voice with a sinister laugh. “You had better take the next step.”

And then the scene faded, and the Hobbits found themselves standing in the hourglass chamber again. Lido and Ischandar both realized that the man in the black armor must be Lord Dunn. How strange. As far as they had learned or ever heard, Lord Dunn had been one of the great barons who had come with the expedition across the mountains from the Kingdom of Oswald to try to find and rescue the King’s twin children, Sun Prince and Moon Flower. There had been a great avalanche high in the mountains back blocked their way back to Oswaldia, and so the Lords followed the mysterious Queen Watho and her brother to Glendale Valley. The Queen, it was rumored, had captured Lord Dunn’s affections, and the other barons became angry with him, or jealous perhaps. The army was divided and so Lord Dunn and his followers made their way, with the Queen’s guidance, to Hobbington, and populated that ancient mountain city for the first time in hundreds of years. In the end, though a mighty hero and savior of the people, Lord Dunn, it was said, hurled himself off of the Dunn’s Brook Bridge Tower in a fit of madness, though the reason why was shrouded in mystery. Some said his lover, Queen Watho, drove him mad. Others said that his discovery of ancient artifacts beneath Hobbington were the cause. Now, it seemed, there might be another explanation for the Lord’s disappearance after all.

Lido took out a piece of paper. He scribbled on it “Lord Dunn is black knight ghost in Dunn’s Tower”. He stuffed the paper in his pocket. It was a precaution in case somehow he slipped backwards in time and forgot, or went mad, or some other calamity befell them. At this point Ishcandar was nearly within sling shot range of the hourglass.

Playing Mind Games with Time

“There is no time left, … there is not time left, … there is no time left…” the voice echoed throughout the chamber. Suddenly Ishcandar noticed a shadow, like a panther, circling the chamber near him.

“Who are you?” asked Ishcandar. The shadow beast growled. It had a leering sound in its voice and spoke, “It’s dinner time.”

“But you said ‘There is no time left’”, replied Ishcandar. With that the shadow seemed to shift towards Ishcandar. It seemed to be moving to intercept the Hobbit and get between him and the hourglass. Lido stood gaping, his sanity not terribly far from it’s limit. The shadow shifted closer to Ishcandar another twenty feet suddenly.

Ishcandar stopped and took out his calendar again, asking the shadow panther, “Do you know what this is?”

The shadow beast turned to look at the page in Ishcandar’s hand.

“Time is on my side,” said the shadow panther with a sinister laugh.

“What do you propose to do?” asked Ishcandar nervously.

“It’s dinner time,” replied the creature.

“You do realize, that Hobbit over there as a bit more meat on his bones, don’t you?” asked Ishcandar impulsively.

“That’s true,” admitted Lido to the shadow beast, “but I have to say, that Hobbit has such a distinctive pickle flavor. I’m sure he’s quite tasty!”

“Ishcandar,” said Lido, “I think maybe we should get out of here.” He looked over his shoulder as he began to back away. Bernie was gone, but the door was still open. Lido was turning toward it in slow motion.

Ishcandar decided to tear the calendar in half. As he tried he felt his hands age. They got creaky with arthritis, became wrinkled, cracked and his fingernails grew long. Remembering what he’d seen before, he turned himself to the right. As he did so, he heard the shadow beast growl.

“There’s no time left, left, left…” echoed through the hall. Ishcandar as he turned grew younger. His hands healed. But he kept turning and so grew younger and younger. He kept turning, until he was nine years old.

“Ishcandar, what are you doing?” shouted Lido. “You’re too young to drink!”

With this Ischandar deeply regretted his action, but he saw no choice but to keep turning. It was a strange compulsion that had taken him over. With that Lido gave up, and abandoned Ischandar to his dreadful fate, and turned to run through the door.

As he did, he saw the black knight silently enter the chamber, running past Lido in slow motion. Lido crept away up the stairs, keeping his eye toward the door through which he could see the knight running into the room in slow motion. He watched terrified as Ishcandar turned into an infant, still turning himself around.

The black knight came running toward Ishcandar with his sword raised.

“It was the best of times!” the black knight called out. With that the shadow creature shifted again, Ishcandar had the impression that the creature swept past him and changed form.

“It was the worst of times!” squeaked Ishcandar, the infant, and with that the shadow turned back into a panther, growled ferociously, and leapt towards the hapless Hobbit.

“It was the best of times!” cried Ishcandar, and he began turning himself in the other direction, hoping to grow older. In fact, that worked, and he did begin to grow older as he turned.

“There is no time like the present,” said the black knight, and with that Ishcandar suddenly returned to his normal age.

The shadow panther leapt at the knight, sailing over him, and the knight slashed upward with his sword, grazing the creature along its right side. It landed and rolled into a ball and then sprang again with a ferocious growl.

“There is no time like the future,” called out Ishcandar to no effect. The knight lunged with his sword again catching the shadow beast, piercing his leg.

What to Say, and What Not to Say

Meanwhile Lido watched the scene from outside the chamber. He marveled at how time seemed to be flowing at different rates within the room, to the point where even some parts of Ishcandar appeared to be moving quickly, while other parts looked to be moving in slow motion as though wading through molasses. It was a terrifying experience. He felt truly on the verge of losing his mind. He decided he should not try to re-enter the chamber, and so he stood outside, transfixed to the spot, a look of dread covering his face.

“You’re out of time,” said the shadow panther to Ishcandar. Lido watched with horror as Ishcandar vanished, softly fading away. However, Ishcandar was actually still there. Or rather we might say he was still at the location. But he was trapped inside a kind of bubble that had trapped him outside of the realm of time. What he saw there no one will ever know, for it was as though he could see every time at that spot all mixed together into a vast, breathtaking and unimaginable vortex that swirled around the bubble stretching off into eternity. Fortunately, the young Hobbit’s drunken mind was undisturbed by any of this. He found himself rather amused, and tried to focus as best he could on the time at hand.

At that moment, the knight leapt forward, and grazed the shadow thing with a sweeping slice of his sword. The panther-like creature landed and turned toward the knight with a terrible growl. It appeared to be bleeding some sort of shadowy substance which vanished into thin air.

Lido, desperate to find his dear friend, thought to run into the chamber to search for him. Lido is a very loyal little fellow, and in particular to Ishcandar. As it turns out, Lido felt that Ishcandar, of all people, was someone that he aspired to be like. Rich, friendly, adventurous, and good with the ladies. Poor Lido.

Lido activated the Ring of Telepathy. “Ishcandar! Can you hear me?”

“I can hear you!” said replied Ishcandar from within the time-bubble.

“Where are you!?”

“I’m not entirely sure! I’m trying to watch the knight battle the shadow panther!”

“I can’t see you!” thought Lido loudly in his mind.

“Yes, somehow I am trapped inside some sort of very peculiar bubble. It would be hard to describe what I’m experiencing. In any case, be careful what you say about time. Come into the room, and help me! The knight is fighting on our side. He seems to be trying to kill the shadow panther!”

“Time makes fools of us all!” shouted Lido through the doorway.

Everyone there experienced a strange thing when he said that. Their collective wisdom was instantly siphoned off somewhere, and they all felt suddenly dumbfounded, and even a little bit retarded, perhaps. It was apparently, just the wrong thing to say. The Shadow Panther smiled as it circled around the black knight, calculating its next attack shrewdly.

“Ok!” said Lido, impressed, “Now I have a real cunning plan,” he said thickly. It may be that he became too stupid to be afraid. Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside the room. It felt strange indeed, but he did not go insane.

“Time is the great healer!” he shouted loudly into the chamber.

Lord Dunn stood up a little taller, and felt stronger. What wounds he'd received and fatigue he felt vanished suddenly.

“It’s knight time!” Ishcandar shouted, somewhat excessively delighted with his little pun.

By luck or brilliance it happen to be just the right sort of pun, however. Lord Dunn began to move more swiftly until he was seemed to Lido to become a ribbon streaking through the air at nearly blinding speed. The shadow panther growled wildly, and coiled to strike at him, but the knight was faster still, to the great alarm and shock of the beast. He raised his sword high and cleaved downward through the creature so that his sword passed straight through it's hideous head, hitting the stone floor so hard that sparks flew in every direction. The shadow panther shrieked with a dreadful cry, and vanished. All of the time distortions gently ceased.

Lord Dunn was leaning heavily on his shield, his black platemale seeming to shimmer in the process of coming into normal time. The effort he just expended in that final blow was enormous, and though healed, he was nevertheless exhausted and panting heavily.

The time shell that surrounded Ishcandar dissolved and he found himself standing in the chamber. Time seemed to have returned to normal for them all.

The Time Hunter, Lord Dunn

“Thank you, Sir knight!” said Ishcandar with a bow and graceful flourish of his hand.

“Lord Dunn?” asked Lido.

The knight in the black platemale stirred slowly. He stood up and sheathed his dark sword and slung the black shield on his back.

“Indeed, I am he," said the black knight. "Finally, I have slain that wicked beast!” panted Lord Dunn with evident relief and satisfaction. “I had been chasing it for a long time, indeed. The beast had committed many crimes,” he said grimly. “But now justice has been done, and the wicked thing is gone.”

“We are most grateful to you, Sir, that you chose this time to succeed,” said Ishcandar.

“I did not choose it,” he replied sincerely. “Had it not been for the luck of you two Hobbits, and your quick wits, and courage, I might never had succeeded, but had continued following after it forever, coming only close enough to slaying it to behold each time-ravaging-murder that it committed, and being blamed for each one, as had happened countless times already. I must thank you both, indeed, it is I who am very grateful,” concluded Lord Dunn with a bow.

“Did this help you at all?” asked Ishcandar holding up the calendar page.

“You ought to burn that,” said Lord Dunn. “It has grave powers, and could cause you troubles, perhaps, if you hold on to it for long,” he suggested vaguely.

“I should burn it?!” asked Ishcandar, loath to lose anything so powerful.

“You may bring it to the temple in Hobbington. The monks at the Heavenly Harmony Pagoda should know what to do,” he said.

“What would happen if we destroyed the hourglass?” asked Ishcandar.

“I dread to imagine,” said Lord Dunn looking over at the device in the center of the chamber.

“What if we turned it on it’s side?” queried Ishcandar again.

“It is an interesting question. I don’t know,” he said.

“We have a dilemma, my Lord. You see behind us, at the top of the spiral stairs, I fear there are very ruthless men waiting to kill us. Is there another way by which we might exit this chamber?” asked Lido, his wisdom returning to him in its entirety.

“This chamber,” answered Lord Dunn thoughtfully, “is called ‘The Wheel of Time’. From here, I have found that you can go… anywhere.”

“Can we go to ‘anywhen’?” asked Ishcandar, his (somewhat scanty) wisdom also returning to him.

“I have seen the Shadow Beasts use this chamber to go to other places, and other times. I am not entirely sure of how the mechanism works. But it has to do with the placement of the hourglass, and the position of the globes on the table. They are very precise about how they use it, I believe,” said Lord Dunn.

“He said ‘Beasts’”, murmured Ishcandar to Lido looking around fearfully.

“In this armor I am able to hunt them. The armor, it seems, anchors me in time somehow.” said Lord Dunn, “and the sword is the only thing I know of that they are vulnerable to. The shield, of course, is able to deflect their attacks. The only thing I have lacked thus far is the ability to catch up with them. The creatures seem to swim through time somehow, speeding up or slowing down at will. They are very elusive!”

“That’s awful,” said Lido.

“Unfortunately, I should tell you, that I am nevertheless trapped. It would seem that somehow I am caught in some sort of Time Eddy, and have been unable to escape it. I shall soon fade from you, I fear, and you will see me no more,” said Lord Dunn gravely.

“That’s awful, too,” said Ishcandar. “Is there anything we can do to help you?”

“I wish there were, my young Hobbit friends,” he said, a certain bleakness entering his voice.

“We saw a vision of you with Doctor Lobe earlier. We saw you in some other time, perhaps. He looked much younger then, and so it must have been an earlier time, I should think. It seemed as though it was the moment that you first took the armor from Doctor Lobe,” Lido explained.

“I am trapped in a kind of whirlpool of time. I cannot tell what your time is, but I do recall, I think, that the year I took the armor was 141 New Kingdom, though,... I can't be certain anymore,” he said.

“That was ten years ago by our reckoning,” said Ischandar in wonderment. It was the same year, as he recalled that Lord Dunn had reputedly hurled himself into Dunn’s Brook. Ishcandar noted to himself that their little adventure had netted them a great treasure’s worth of information for the Guild, but he said nothing of that at the moment.

Lord Dunn walked silently to the hourglass. He put his hand to it in order to turn it on it’s side, but his hand passed through it as though the mechanism and the table were made of shadows. Ishcandar put his hand to it, and turned the hourglass on its side. There was a blue light in the hall, and they saw an archway appear, from which glowed a pale blue light.

“You must go that way, and without delay,” said Lord Dunn, pointing. The young Hobbits were eager to be on their way, but loath to leave Lord Dunn in his current helpless state. Already they could see that he was becoming translucent and his voice echoing faintly.

“We will help you if we can!” said Ishcandar earnestly.

“Beware of Doctor Lobe… doctor lobe… doctor lobe…,” his voice echoed as Lord Dunn faded away and vanished. And with that the Hobbits ran across the chamber and leapt through the archway.

Off to a Far Away Place

They found themselves running pell-mell into a small vale surrounded by rocky hills and cliffs. There was snow on the ground. Ahead of them they saw an old worn down shack. There was an old woman in the front yard shoveling snow. She grunted and heaved snow from the path with her broom. Something about her gait seems a bit odd.

“My good woman,” shouted Ishcandar to her, “kindly tell us, what year is this?”

The woman was so startled that she dropped her broom.

“Oh my goodness! You gave me such a fright! Where in heaven’s name did you come from?” she demanded, with her hands raised to her cheeks.

“Over there!” said Ischandar pointing behind them. Glancing back he noted that they had apparently just exited the solid wall of a cliff that overhung behind them. He ignored that, and acted as though it were an entirely normal thing, and repeated his question.

"Why I'm not sure..." replied the old woman still flustered. "I think it is the year 151, or so," she said, bewildered by the fact that two Hobbits had mysteriously come through the side of the cliff, and were asking such a bizarre question.

"Thank you kindly, ma'am. And could you also please tell us," asked Lido, "where in the name of the Elkron we are?"

This question seemed to fluster her even more. However, after a few moments of gaping she said, "Well, if you want to know, this is my home! I live here!" she said finally.

The Hobbits grunted.

"Ma'am would you be able to tell us where the closest town is?" asked Lido.

"Oh, the closest town is Hamfest, over that way," she said, pointing a bony finger over the hills. "But how rude of me! You must be cold and weary from your travels. Why don't you come inside and I'll give you a nice warm bowl of soup," said old Biddy Mable.

And so it was that the Hobbits found themselves in front of a cozy fire, with delicious warm bowls of soup, chatting amiably with poor lonely Biddy Mable. She was so happy to have guests, she was besides herself. The Hobbits were very well attended indeed, and eventually they found her company as warm and soothing as the delicious herb soup. They noticed how cozy and comfortable her home actually was after all, with so many pillows and a pantry full of foods and herbs, and a warm fire, and nice looking beds for guests. The only thing missing, thought Ishcandar as he began to doze off, was a certain lack of wine...

Previous Episode: Return of the Hapless Hobbits - Part I
Next Episode: Interlude: The Little Brass Box

No comments: