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The wizard blew out the steady candle. Morning had arrived, and he had no need for the flame that had flickered softly since twilight. He cast a glance at the wine-red curtains, causing them to fly open in such a manner that it frightened the raven resting on the sill. With a screech and a fluttering of black wings that shone in the dawn, it was gone. “I never tire of seeing you do that, Toharcheleus,” a woman’s voice said, so softly that it competed with the rising sun. “Good morning, husband.” The wizard looked up at his wife. She was fully dressed already, her shiny hair brushed and pulled back and topped with a small silver crown found among other treasures. “To you the same, my dear,” he said. His voice was still young. Then, “You awaken early, Tiqua. Is something the matter?” “There must be creeks. In the woods,” Tiqua announced, the sound her dress was making slightly smothering her words as she crossed the stone floor. She reached her husband’s great black mahogany desk and sat down in the high-backed chair across from him. The daring red of the gown she was wearing seemed to be in sharp contrast with her studious surroundings. “If the Batlinkns are going to polish the Signpost when they find it during the Hunt, they should, if they were to be respectful, do so with their bare hands. And their hands must be clean,” Tiqua’s eyes, the darkest thing about her, pulled her husband into her newest idea. Toharcheleus looked up at the high windows in the ancient castle’s retired throne room. The two had found the haven, along with an abundance of eerily fresh food in the areas surrounding the castle grounds and in the cellar, shortly after Tiqua had found Gold. Now, the throne room was a study, a place where Toharcheleus could practice his magic and faithfully serve the Batlinknistic people. And what the Batlinknistic people wanted was gold. Toharcheleus cast a tired look at his wife. He sighed, and leaned back against the comfortable furs that cushioned the throne that he had adopted as a chair. It nearly dwarfed him in size. The presence of the large, heavy desk before him, covered in papers and pens and an endless array of ink stains that he had neglected to magic away seemed to be blocking him from his wife’s enthusiasm. His eyes closed, a signal he was in thought. The project they were attempting had marveled and shocked him at first. After his wife had found the very first piece of Solid Sunlight and named it Gold, the Batlinkns had been finding gold all over the place. The name the first piece had received soon became the popular and definite name of the Solid Sunlight. But the Batlinkns, the people of the country of Batlink, soon exhausted the gold supply. There came a time when a Batlinknistic had to search three days to find a single piece. Yet for ten long years, the gold still did not wear out completely. And Toharcheleus’ Magic told him that for however long Batlink existed, this three-day Hunt for gold would exist as well. Against Toharcheleus’ contrary belief, the Batlinkns thought searching for gold was marvelous fun. Naturally, when the Batlinkns came to him with a request, he accepted, not knowing what it was. The request was a difficult one. The Batlinkns asked Toharcheleus to create a Hunt for gold that they could enjoy. No Hunt was to be the same for two people. They wanted a Path, on which they could find their Hunts – a side Path
on the Path, obvious to it’s Hunter, but that would not be seen by any of his or her companions. They would follow their Path – and it would run into no others – until they reached a signal, a Signpost or some other obvious thing, and then they were able to search for the gold. Toharcheleus had granted their wish, so far partially. It was not yet finished. He had taken two years to create the formula for the Paths and perform it. Three months ago, he had slipped out of bed in the middle of the night (he slept only from two in the morning to four in the morning) and went to the throne room. There he had created a wooden Signpost out of mahogany his magic had created. During the whole procedure he had not known if he was awake or not. After creating the general shape of the Signpost, his hands, or his magic, he could never tell which, had carved into the smooth mahogany words written in the finest penmanship the wizard had ever lay eyes on. On the top arrow, the one pointing up, he had written Gold The Way You Stand, on the one pointing left he had carved, Gold This Way, and on the one pointing to the right he had crafted the words Gold That Way. Then he had crept back into bed and fell into a deep sleep. Since then, he had carefully poured molten gold into the engraved letters. With his Magic, he had swirled the gold so that it was not plain and simple, but intricate – an intricacy to match the letters they were embellishing. He had programmed it to separate clumps of gold in the blink of an eye. Spreading the gold this way insured that no one could steal a large amount at one time. He had used his Magic to create a sort of brain in the Signpost. Toharcheleus had made sure it was primitive enough to not have a mind of its own, but smart enough to be something more than just a piece of meaningless wood. It would have to locate a Hunter, preferably one who had been hunting for more than three days and less than five, and appear before that hunter (and freeze time, to ensure that it would be able to successfully end many Hunts per day), bringing along with it one piece of gold visible above ground. It would have to sense the victorious change in emotion that signaled the gold had been found. Next, it would disappear, whizzing off to find a new Hunter. It was amazing how quickly the process had been done. The Signpost was almost finished, and things were looking up. How hard could making a water flow in the forest be? Many little streams would be as hard to handle as one large one, but they would, over time, be able to control themselves. The streams would become a water supply for the people of Batlink, and they would lighten a Hunter’s load by eliminating the water factor from the pack on his back. Toharcheleus opened his youthful yet wise eyes. “Well?” his wife asked. “Please?” Tiqua had begun all this, anyway. “Of course I shall make creeks. I shall have the Signpost stop near them, as well,” Toharcheleus heard himself promising, and settled back into the comfortable throne. His wife smiled. Her fingers roamed up to a silver cage that hung around her neck. It was in the shape of a perfect sphere, and it was delicately carved – its bars so thin that you could barely make out they were there. From every junction of the curved bars there grew a spindle of silver that reached inward to create a center cage, and flush within that lay Gold. Toharcheleus found it amazing that Gold was in the shape of a mathematically
correct ball. Tiqua rose and floated away, still fingering the cage in which her treasure of all treasures slept. Toharcheleus poured a bit of water out of a small vial and into a silver basin. He set to work commanding the water element to create millions of streams that would fill the forests of the large country Batlink. He worked until the sun went down, and then spent a quiet evening with his wife.
CHAPTER ONE: WHERE?
4,000 Years Later
The day was one of those days when it is stifling hot in the morning and chilly in the afternoon. He wrapped himself tighter in his ragged cloak, dropped his pack on the barren ground, and gazed out at the view he saw. It was sunset, and the forest that lurked behind him was in a mask of deep shadows. He stood on the cliff, the same color as his cloak, and looked at the long drop below him that ended in abundant foliage of pine trees. A wild dogs’ bark floated eerily up from below, and somewhere else in the textured green ocean a reply came back, ricocheting off his ears in a disturbing manner. Something moved on the moss-covered cliff face below him, and, fearing it was dangerous, he picked up his pack and skittered off on the copper Path he was following. The view would still be there on the journey back, and he had no time for marveling over pretty vistas. He was sad to see the sun go for the night, as everyone in Batlink was, but comforted by the fact that the sun would always rise again when morning came. He lived in a time that current humans cannot remember. It was when magic was still in common practice by wizards. Every country inhabited at least one wizard, and the power and might of that wizard or group of wizards determined the political and economical power of their country. The animals lived nowhere in particular. You would find elephants and polar bears enjoying a patch of late afternoon sunshine together, or an African wild dog romping with a white fox. The people all spoke relatively the same language despite their clear accents, and the religion was the same in most parts of the world. Yet there can never be a perfect utopia. Good and Evil were still the main factors of Earth. He followed his Path. He was on Hunt. It was three days after his fifteenth birthday, and it was some age-old tradition, so old that even the Journals could not find an answer for how it came to be, to set off the day after you turned 15. He had set off with hundreds of others, as did everyone, for many people turned fifteen-years old every day in Batlink. His Path was copper, not silver, as he had been disappointed to find out. Only people with silver Paths made it big in the world. He would have been devastated if his Path had been iron – or even worse, wood. Those poor people with wooden Paths, and those lucky ones with golden Paths. Everyone dreamed of getting a golden Path. It meant that they would have fame, fortune, and good luck. Barely anyone got to Hunt on one of these rare Paths. It was almost unheard of. Yet at least he would be a normal person, and not the failure that he appeared to be. He was mulling this over, and the forest was growing darker, when he heard the thunderstorm begin to roll in. It sounded angry and loud, definitely not the kind you would want to get stuck in the middle of. All thoughts were wiped from his head as he ran pell-mell down his Path, which was helpfully glowing dimly as to guide him, away from the storm that was about to ravage him and his surroundings and into the safety of forest. There were shelters all along his Path, and on many occasions he had gone right through one. Where was one when he needed one? He came to a branch in his Path. The first drop of rain came speeding down, and then froze, right before his nose. He froze, as well. What was a raindrop doing frozen in the middle of the air? He could almost hear his incompetent brain making a racket, trying to find an answer for this mystery. Then, it came to him: he had found the
Signpost. He felt stupid. But then again, he felt stupid most of the time, so it was not an unfamiliar sensation to add to the many strange, unfamiliar sensations in the woods. He smacked himself – he smacked himself whenever he felt stupid, and he smacked himself a lot – and then dropped his hand quickly. The smack that had been applied to the side of his head had made a much louder sound than usual. It was an alien sound. The reason, he realized, is because it was the only sound in the forest that he could hear. Time had been frozen, and so had sound, and all other life. He was the only person moving at the time. He jumped, experimentally, and was surprised – he thought he had made a vibration in the ground. Enough experiments, he thought. It was time to polish the Signpost. He dropped his pack, and for the first time, due to his heightened senses and the lack of any sound, he realized that there was a puff of dust when the pack made contact with his Path. He was confused. He knew his pack was not dirty. So it had to be his Path. But then he realized that copper did not send up puffs of dust, and was too afraid to smack himself for fear of that alien sound. He looked at his Path, wanting to dust off the dirt. He did not want his Path to be dirty, for it was not good luck. He placed his hand on the spot where his bag had landed and drew his hand toward the edge of the raised Path. Then he froze, the second time that night. It would not be the last. His Path was made of red clay. How could one’s Path be made of red clay? How could he have not realized that it was red clay? He had never before heard of someone’s Path being made of red clay. He looked up at the Signpost, hoping for answers, for some symbol of help, and froze again. This was the first time he had seen the Signpost, but he knew something was missing from its magnificence. There was no gold filling the inside of the carved shapes of the words the wizard Toharcheleus, who was nearing his death – it would be five or so more years - had carved near 4,000 years ago. He had heard the first Hunt described many times from his mother. They say it was the wizard’s nephew who boasted this honor (Toharcheleus would never disclose if it were true or not), and his story was that of which has been told around fireplaces and in stone drawing rooms many a night. It described the Signpost in great detail. Thick, heavy boards of mahogany, three in all, were mounted on an even thicker post that sprung from the ground. On them were carved the three phrases that had become famous, all in a miraculous font that had been carved two and a half inches deep into the wood. Two of the signs had been sanded down so there were points at the end, and only one was in the shape of a rectangle (the top one). The most beautiful feature about the Signpost was definitely the words. All people over fifteen agreed on that. It was hard not to. The deeply carved letters were filled with gold. Toharcheleus had not filled the letters up to the top with molten gold; he had left an inch of empty space. Then he had taken his magic and lifted and swirled it, creating a beautiful, 3-D inside that looked like curly-cue waves and water droplets, or stormy nights and flames devouring wood, and the glory of the world that surrounded him. The engraved words were simply engraved words. No gold, no filament-like shapes, no nothing. He drew a sharp breath. Enough of this silliness. Nothing was wrong. He was fine, the Path was made of red clay because Toharcheleus had made a mistake, and it was the light that was playing tricks on him and causing him not to see the gold. He walked off his Path to wash his hands in the stilled stream beside his red clay Path. It was a curious sensation, washing ones hands in water that was silent and created no ripples
when you plunged your hands into it. He then went back to his Path. He was still uneasy. He knew something was happening to him that should not have been, and he did not like how it felt to be different. Nevertheless, he took out the oils, spread some on his hands, and spread the slimy, brownish liquid all over the Signpost. It did not look any shinier, he thought. The Signpost dried quickly. He stuck one finger in the engraved words and felt his heartbeat slow down and then speed up to a dangerous rate. There was nothing in the engraved words. Nothing. Forget it, he told himself. Relax. Look around you. Listen to the sounds of the – There was the problem. There were no sounds, and there was nothing he could ever do about it. He felt sick to his stomach. He had to get the sounds back – he had to start looking for the gold. For someone so stupid, the boy was also very determined. He chose the happiest path, The Way he Stood. He was on his hands and knees, looking and looking, brushing the red clay, peeking in the hollows of the trees on either side, scrabbling in the dirt beneath his path. It should be on the way he chose first, and it should be easy to find. Gold was always on the way the Hunter chose first. He looked for thirty minutes of frozen time, but nothing was on the Path. He was getting desperate, and his eyes hurt from the red dust. It still puzzled him. How he could have remained ignorant of the clay was beyond him. His brain was still searching for an answer when his frenzied hands brushed over a nondescript bump in his Path. He stuck his grimy fingernails into the surrounding area of that bump. Pushed up the dirt around it, loosened the clay until he could wrench the small object from the path. He clutched it in his hands, hopeful, and raced to the stream. Frantically, he dropped his left hand into the eerie water and rubbed the object until all the dirt was in a strange formation around his hand. Then he pulled it out again. It was a gray pebble - nothing. The object of hope in his hand, that one glimmer of light, it was nothing. Furiously, his stomach wrenching, he flung it violently into the stream, where it didn’t make a splash, or a sound, or a sign – and that was when it came to him. He, Toboco Mokast, was on a doomed Path. He remembered it from an older story. The words were fuzzy, but he knew enough about the story to know that he would never find any gold on this Path. He was stuck in time, and the world was stuck along with him. He would die, and the world would die along with him. He would cry, and the world would cry along with him. Toboco sat down with a plonk! on the doomed Path and began to cry, and at that moment, it was very good that the world was frozen in time, for the sight was so ugly that any living thing would never forget how terrible it is. Toboco Mokast’s crying, they say, was so horrible it even dimmed the bright, supportive light of the Signpost. Toboco had dull eyes, and was continuously pushing stray locks of greasy, brick red hair out of his seeing range. As a result, he had bright red grease-bumps (for that was what was called acne in those days) all over his forehead. He had a bloody foot from where he had stumbled over a rock a little while after getting on his Path, and, having done a terrible job at patching it up, it was oozy – a sure sign of infection. He usually glowered out at the world from beneath a bushy, non-inquisitive, dark red brow, and today was definitely no exception. The expressionless eyes that peered out from beneath that brow only made this disposition worse. His 1930’s chubby face framed chewed up
lips and red, uneven cheeks. When he cried, he blubbered, and when he blubbered, it was not a sight to behold. Toboco pushed a strand of his hair out of his eyes with dirty, grime-covered hands, and wiped his hands on his clothes, which were stretched far too tightly over his body. He was very fat – he loved to eat. Today, he had not had lunch. He was in a terrible mood. He reached into the bag and pulled out a stray, bruised apple. He bit into it, letting the brown, crumbly dryness of the wounded part envelope his yellow teeth. Spluttering, he spit it back out again, lifting his lips in a sneer of disgust. He flipped the apple around in his hands, looking for a firmer, fresher part. Most of the apple was bruised. He sent bad thoughts to his mother for giving him a bad apple on the trip. His mother. His mother had searched on That Way. Maybe he should search That Way as well. However, as he looked at the Way his mother went, he felt no desire to go down that short stub of his Path. It looked dark, uninviting, and different. He glanced at This Way. This seemed better. A little more sunlight filtered through, and the storm had not blown its winds down so harshly – the air was less textured. He stepped onto it and continued his search. Cellinita entered the drawn room. There was a thin scratch along the side of her cheek, on which she had rubbed oil until it shone. Her thick blonde hair was positioned high on her head, and when one looked at her they could tell she never let a single strand of hair come loose. The face she bore was narrow, the nose curved slightly upwards, the eyes a deep, hot, brown. Her lips were quirked up, and her skin was paler than any other woman’s. She wore an expression of strangled curiosity, and the redness of her features clashed terribly with the long black robe and gown she wore. She crossed the room to where her husband stood to see what her gift was. “What is it?” “Gold.” The voice that spoke to her harshly drew out it’s o’s. “What’s gold?” “You’re looking at it, woman.” “Where did it come from?” “Batlink.” ` “Get it away. Why did you get it?” “A gift for you and a beginning of war.” “I hate it when you do that.” “Cellinita!” her husband stood up and ran his long, black fingernail down the scratch she proudly bore. It was his mark. He was tall, even taller than she was, and his features were even redder and even more mangled. His eyes were a chilling black, and expressionless. Anyone who saw Cellinita and Zolonel, and they were an unlucky few, said they were the perfect villains, cruel, harsh, and unforgiving in manner. “You will like the gifts I give you.” “Fine. Why are there words?” “Stop asking questions!” “Why are there words, Master?” “This piece of gold,” Zolonel said, holding up a small, lumpy, yellow rock that shined with glory, “It was supposed to be the gold a boy named Toboco would find. Of course, he would get himself unstuck sooner or later-“
“Unstuck?” “Shut up! Unstuck – yes, unstuck in time.” “Oh.” This time, Zolonel just cast a withering glance at his wife. He had taught her the history of Batlink. She knew all about the Paths. “I had to take the gold from the Signpost as well. This piece,” he threw Toboco’s gold into his wife’s hand, “There wasn’t enough of it. It would have gotten lost in the summoning,” he sat back down. Zolonel was a wizard like Toharcheleus. However, he was a wizard who chose to make his home a living hell, and put his country through terrible times. He was older than most wizards, his face a wrinkled mess of experience. His wife was considerably younger than him, but just as cold. He had built himself a castle, ruined his people’s crops, and picked the strongest out to be his army. He charged ruthlessly against neighboring countries, taking the stronger ones and adding them to his army, killing the weaker ones. His army was composed of anyone strong enough to be in it, so there were a few women among his ranks. He always led. His magic never allowed a sword to come within an inch of him – not even his own. Instead, he killed ruthlessly with magic. He did not care who lived or died. But he was getting old, and his more cunning side was working. He was tired of fighting. So he had hatched a plan. He had picked a boy who would be stupid enough to do what needed to be done, without realizing it, and who would be useful later on. He did not want to have one of his own creations steal it. No, that would make them seem almost nice. This way, he ruined Batlink from the inside. And they would be too confused to wage war on him. Toboco had endured three weeks in frozen time. Only his own sounds reached him. Nothing stirred, the twigs never bounced back when he pushed them out of the way, and the birds sat frozen on their branches, beaks open in what seemed like an eternal song. He wished them to sing. He had moved the bounding rabbit away from the fox that was about to pounce, fixed it in the fox’s jaws’, and then put it back where it was. He had adjusted the raccoon’s eyes so they were facing opposite directions, and made the muskrat open its mouth wider than physically possible. He was bored, out of food, and thinner and weaker than he could ever remember. He had kicked the Signpost so many times that his foot was bruised on the side, and the infected cut had gotten worse. He had searched all three Paths many times over. But mostly, and to him, most importantly, he was bored out of his mind. Toboco wandered, limping, over to the part of his dusty Path where the raindrop hovered in midair. He poked his finger through it, wondering at the sensation. Gathering it in his hands, taking careful care not to allow it to mold out of its perfect shape, he brought it over to the warmth and light of the Signpost. It glowed, golden, in the yellow light. Toboco shrieked, and allowed his eyes to widen. Against the light brown grime that covered his hand, and bathed in the luminance of the Signpost, it really looked like a gold drop nestled in his cupped paw, and in his state of disrepair and complete hopelessness even the most foolish excuse was enough to make him happy – and this did the trick. An ecstasy poured over him. He was truly contented – he had found his gold. All of a sudden he heard a growl and a crack as the fox captured the rabbit, a twitter as the bright, constant bird’s eyes began to move again, and a loud, near-by rumbling. There was an
earsplitting series of twangs, which, after some consideration, he took to be the twigs snapping back in place. A cacophony of human noise surrounded him for a second or two – he took that to be his own noises being released into the air. The last of these was a wild yelling and a few stomps. He looked around him as the world sprang back into life. He looked back at the spot where the Signpost had been. His happiness had tricked it into thinking he had found the gold. Gold. Toboco looked at the raindrop to find it was not there. Instead, a small trickle ran down the side of his hand, a small stream where none had been before. Toboco didn’t care. He was soaked, and wanted to leave the forest as quickly as possible. He ran down the Path, his feet sending up puffs of dirt – barely noticeable – that soon stopped as the rain pounded into him and his Path. He did not even stop to look at the view he had admired three weeks earlier. His Path disappeared behind him as he ran, and built in front of him. His foot was in such pain that he could feel it getting numb. Nothing happened on the way home, as journey-backs go. It took him considerably less time to arrive at The Path, and when he did, it was midnight. Nothing stirred. No one was coming out of the trees on any side of him, and the moon struggled to be seen behind a storm cloud that was unleashing its fury upon the land. He breathed a sigh of relief. Now was his chance to get out unseen. He darted out of the mossy woods. He knew they gave him Stealthily, he dragged his panting self towards town. He needed gold. He needed to steal some gold. What other way was there? He could never come home empty-handed, as it would be a disgrace. Tiqua would despise him. Tiqua. That gave him an idea. The first Tiqua had died four years ago, and the wizard Toharcheleus had mourned her death in his old age. The populace had created a statue of her, wrought entirely of gold, and placed it in Main Ground. Toboco thought of Main Ground, its flowering trees and flaming roses, its velvety grasses and well-kept bushes, and, lastly, the stone wall that rose up from its side, part of a great plateau on which the wizard’s castle stood. The rain poured down that night, thundering over all of the country. It destroyed the huts on Brird’s Lake, flooded the moat around the Kings Palace, and rendered fish helpless after swollen waters flung them on dry ground. It deleted tall trees with sharp bolts of electricity, and it frightened many a commoner to the safety of a base hutch. It soaked Toboco as he struggled into Main Ground, and caused his legs to mold into the muddy grass, filling his shoes with refreshing but heavy water. Toboco slapped himself for not thinking to wash his feet in the stream during the three weeks silence controlled him on his Path. He crawled past the holly bushes, shlomped past the weeping willows, and squelched past a few boulders. The rain and lightning was blinding him, deafening him, the howling winds causing the willows to reach out their long, green fingers and slap him, and his gray cloak to flap against him. Reaching the statue of the late Tiqua, he plastered himself to it. The willows tried to reach him, but their fingers were not long enough, and his cloak had plastered itself to the solidity of the smooth stone. Toboco slid himself over to the place where Tiqua’s hand reached down and rested in the grass. It was a place of beauty, and everyone always felt more peace when they stood by it, or sat on the statue. Gold held balance over Toharcheleus, and through him, it held balance over all of the people in Batlink. As long as it was in good, trustworthy hands, Toharcheleus and Batlink would be safe. The statue was much larger than life, and its’ shape was Tiqua kneeling, smiling down with golden lips as large as a horse’s leg at the
populace. Her hand rested against the long grass in which children frequently romped, and her dress was the one she was wearing at the Unveiling of the Path – a queen’s dress. In her upward palm there was a large necklace – an exact replica of the one she always wore. Inside, however, was the real thing. Gold lay on a platform built inside the cage. It was quite easy to reach in and grab, which is exactly what Toboco did. And as he grasped it firmly in his shaky hand, feeling the waves of happiness wash over him, the wizard Zolonel laughed as he felt the balance of Batlink die.
Chapter 2: Balance Erupted Toboco stared down at the sphere in his hand. It glowed softly in the light that came in through the hole in the top of his hideaway. He took no notice of his surroundings, which were the haystack in his parent’s barn. He rested, squished into a ball, inside the pile of haystacks that his older brother and he had created when they were young. It was a large pile of hay, off to the corner in the barn’s loft. He and his brother had created a sort of cave, a hideaway not obvious to the average person’s eyes. Here he squished himself, gloating over his steal. He decided it was time to “come home.” He crawled out of the stacks, almost fell down the ladder, and scurried out of the barn. He peered out into the sunshine. The golden wheat waved at him in the sunrise, and the chickens were beginning to call. He noticed the light that fell over them fell with a little waver, and he wondered why. He saw Tiqua stroking a cow. Tiqua was his next door neighbor – not the wizard’s deceased wife. Most people just called her Tik, which was easier to say. She had extremely dark brown hair that fell in soft waves down her back. The girl was smart, strong, and determined to do her best. She was fourteen Despite her dark hair, she had a sweet, sunny face, serious when it needed to be and beautiful all the time. She never wore a bonnet, which offended many of the women in town and had rendered her mother “a push-over and a disgrace”. Toboco thought he was in love with Tiqua. He was not. right now, he sauntered over to the girl. She heard him coming from afar, and turned to see who it was. When she saw him, her face fell, then quickly brightened itself out of habit. “Hello!” she called out. “Tiqua!” Toboco called back. “Are you glad to see me?” No, Toboco, Tiqua thought to herself. I am never glad to see such a slum-bucket as you. However, she said, “I am always glad to see anyone. What did you find?” “It’s amazing!” Toboco finally reached Tiqua. The cow snorted and backed away as the smelly, ugly, untrustworthy boy came up to her. She turned her large white head in disgust. “Wow! I would love to see it,” Tiqua said. How polite I’m being, she thought to herself. “Look,” Toboco laid Gold in her outstretched hand. Tiqua stared at it. Even covered in the grime that had rubbed off onto it, Gold still shone brightly, like the soaring sun that illuminated her hair and Toboco’s disgusting figure. However, Tiqua had no idea that it was Gold. She had woken up feeling strange and unsettled that morning, but she had pushed it aside and blamed it on nerves – she was to be on Hunt a month from now. After bathing in her family’s shower – a rock pipe that brought water down from the Waterfalls of Batlink (turned on and off at the source of the water by movable rock, triggered by a button in the stone), she had gotten dressed in her skirt and corset. She considered herself extremely lucky to have the corset, however brown the blue had become and how dirty the once-white strings were. It was a gift from a passing noble lady, who had given it to her in return for three fresh caskets of water. She wore it every day, over her shirt or dress, and was rarely seen without it.
Then she had wandered out to meet Nissa, the cow. Nissa was skittish that morning also. Tiqua had only calmed her down when Toboco came and upset her even worse. However, once the gold was in Tiqua’s hands, the cow relaxed, and the darkhaired girl felt the last bit of the strange feeling disappear. Zolonel felt peace come back into the nearby country. His eyes grew hooded, his face dark, and his lips curled back into a sinister growl. He swore. What had happened? Tiqua wanted to just hold on to Gold forever, to let that peacefulness reverberate through her, to seep out into the light of dawn and relax the land around her. “Kjorlbrammeck!” Zolonel shrieked, his eyes freezing with hate and disgust. He whirled around as hot breath blew his hood flat against his head. The monster that greeted his eyes only satisfied his rage. A great head, connected to a greasy, feathery neck, one that looked a bit like the neck of a chick, still wet from birth, met his gaze. The body was black, long, and lean, and a huge horn came out from the middle of its’ rough back. The horn could have been used to clutch onto in flight. “There you are.” “Whaddaya think?” Toboco asked Tiqua. “Is it a good one?” “Amazing,” murmured Tiqua. “I wish I could find a piece of gold like this one you’ve found.” “I bet you will,” he said. “I want you to get that gold!” screamed Zolonel. “Now! Go, go, go!” his face was red with frustration and anger. The beast, terrible, slimy, and deathly dangerous, had been created by the magician himself in one of his creativity bursts, although one might say he had stolen the frame and looks from a cacophony of chilling horror stories. Kjorlbrammeck turned and disappeared, melting into the frights of the castle. Zolonel crossed the room and smiled when he heard the bloodcurdling roar, and the gate creaking open by a forest of men all crawling over themselves to get to the pulling ropes, as he called them. Zolonel had never had any interest in architecture, or how his castle worked – his men had been threatened (and the threats had been followed through many times) with the death of loved ones. He sometimes killed their loved ones just because they were loved ones. He hated love. He had no idea how it worked, even though he felt it a lot. He felt it when he killed. He felt it when he disposed of people’s joy, when he kicked the kitchen dogs, even when he threw zaps of magic at the bugs that sometimes flew around his food when the summer came round and the muggy air brought them to their fullest population. He felt it when he spurred his horse and watched its’ eyes expand in fear and mouth froth, and he felt it when he watched his subjects watching his horse’s pain. He felt it when he watched Kjorlbrammeck crash through the strong wooden gates, then swore as he realized the cost his creation had caused him. Tiqua looked up at Toboco. “Thank you, I sure hope I will. You may take it back now.” Tiqua was always over-polite to Toboco, to try to take the slob out of him, and make him a decent person. However, it never worked.
“You can keep it a while, if you wanna,” he told her, always eager to try to please her. “No, no, no, it’s fine, please take it. It is your piece, after all,” Tiqua tried to give it back. “But-” “I don’t need it!” She said, too sharply. “I’ll find my own in a month, Toboco.” “Alright,” Toboco held out a shaking hand – he hated it when Tiqua yelled. “There,” she said, and dropped it in his hand, his shaking, unsteady hand. But then he dropped it (on account of his shaky hands), and it rolled onto the grass and bounced down the hill. The two adolescents stood staring after it. Toboco leaped, he hoped heroically, and landed inches from it, inches from the glowing orb that he coveted and was his. Kjorlbrammeck had thundered through the sky, screeching over his country, the country he had been born in, but quieter, quietly now that he was in Batlink. He moved like a lightning bolt, faster, even, over sun-streaked fields of grass and gentle forests. No storm brewed behind his back, no tornado, no black skies. He looked like an eagle, slightly deformed, flying in early morning on a day the same as any other. That was the way Zolonel had wanted it, so that was the way Kjorlbrammeck wanted it as well. The monster knew exactly where Gold was. He had known since he was created. He had felt it been moved. Kjorlbrammeck soon arrived above the two farms where Gold resided, waiting. Tiqua screamed when the “Giant Chick” – that was the only way to describe it – landed in front of Toboco. She hated it on sight, yet she was fascinated by it’s impossibility. It was like a small, fuzzy dragon, except for the horn on its back. She screamed even more when the monster picked up Gold. Kjorlbrammeck placed his foot over the place where it lay, and, ugly talons encircling it, made it disappear into folds of slimy flesh. When the monster clutched Gold, Batlink reeled in confusion. In shops, rolls of fabric were the wrong color, trinkets broke when people touched them, and tools worked the wrong way. Food spoiled in the marketplace. Innocents were being captured left and right. People felt tense and uneasy, and somewhere a disease had broken out. Toharcheleus, now well over his four thousandth birthday, felt disturbed more than anyone. Sitting in the old throne, his eyes widened, and the project he was working on shattered into a thousand pieces, breaking out of its clay pot. The writhing creature that came out of the red shards was black as a nightmare and wild as a dream. It was an unfinished creation – these are the most dangerous, they usually turn against you, which is why Zolonel was never foolish enough to make one – and it slithered off into the shadows. It was not gone. This was the first time Toharcheleus had lost control of his magic. “Curse it,” Toharcheleus said. Then he sat down and located Gold. Toboco lay in the field, his eyes closed, his face ashen. Nearby, Tiqua crouched, panting. She straightened up and stroked Nissa. The cows’ eyes flicked from side to
side. She mooed. The sound echoed through the morning, shattering the stillness. The loud reverberations awakened Toboco. “Wha- wha happened? What’s going on?” he muttered, owing as - “Tik! Move out of the way! It’s a giant chicken! I’ll save you!” he started thrashing around. Tiqua stared at him. She was too tired to correct him, plus she wanted to see him realize it wasn’t there any more, that he was wrong. Toboco scrambled to his feet, he was panting, tired, and frightened. He looked around and saw a deep gash in the ground that could only be a footprint. His face flashed a range of negative emotions before he bolted toward his house. “Wow,” Tiqua muttered as she watched him grow smaller and smaller before finally crashing into a closed doorway. Sighing, she turned to Nissa. The cow was calmer now, but still frightened. She led the cow back to the house, nervously twisting and retwisting the trail of the lead rope that was tied around the cows neck in her hands. Tiqua was scared, she was sure of that. But she was confused, as well. Whatever had happened there was definitely out of the ordinary, she knew. She had never heard of the monster in any of the old stories she used to hear, sitting around. It had to be a new creation. She reached the door of her house, and prepared to open it before it was banged open by a smaller someone on the inside. “TIK!” she heard, and all of a sudden she and Nissa were covered in a flying ball of flesh and another of fur. “Tik, Tik, guess what? Guess, guess, guess!” “What, Tobri
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