A Difficult Journey

            The Writer's Block, in his hands? No... this bodes unwell.

            Morning sunlight danced between branches and leaves that stretched ever upward. And between them, ferns waved in the soft wind. In the distance, a man's voice sung a sweet lullaby upon a bed of moss.

            I must find him! Snowbeast was left for me at the well... the well! Could he have used the river to escape Rachel and Jillian?

            Then came hooves, and a rabbit darted for cover.

            Wavy red hair sailed in the wind, behind her ageless face, as Miss Noble rode the alabaster steed through the shaded wood. Birds turned to watch the scintillating bronze of her cuirass and the shining copper of her hair.

            The trees towered over her, flat leaves turning to face the sun upon one side and spy upon the living with the other. And they whispered to each other, as their branches swayed in the breeze.

            The canine horse came to a stop, raised to whinny upon its hind legs, at a broad glade of moss and short grass. There were two adolescent children, an archery target and an old man who lay upon moss.

            Tasha frowned, as she did not recognize the singing old man. And she had no time to trifle with his presence. She called tot he children, "Paddy, Lulu, I need one of you!"

            The boy groaned as he let loose another arrow, which sailed towards the target and struck the huge strawberry at its center, "Yay, I get to eat that!"

            The girl, however, turned obediently and looked up at her mother. She had a look of concern in her eyes, but was happy to see the horse.

            "Lulu, it's about the--"

            "Writer's Block," the girl finished, unnotching her arrow. "We know, mom, the old man told us."

            Tasha frowned, tilting her head to one side, "I think Sir Nicholas Reehl is behind this."

            Snowbeast let out a frosty sneeze, at the mention of its master.

            "Climb on," Miss Noble instructed, as she leaned in her stirrups and extended a hand towards her daughter. Why did the Block come to me in a dream?

            Lulu took her mother's hand, and slid gracefully onto the back of the saddle, still holding her bow. Arrows sticked out from the quiver behind her bright hair. She simpered, finally getting a chance to ride the beast, "Where are we going?"

            "Subterra River," her mother answered. "We're going to catch Nick red-handed, before he even sees the light of day!"

            Dread welled up in young Lulu, as she had never entered the forest's depths. However, she knew she would be safe with her mother. Even if it was to be a difficult journey.



            A young man entered the tavern of Protagopolis, and took the stool beside a burly warrior, in shining iron armour. He turned to face him, "Olius would you mind --", however he stopped short when he realized it was not Sir Olius at all.

            A painted face of eerie, pale complexion turned towards him. There were smiling lips permanently painted in a ferocious grin, and eyes that looked unspeakably sad. They stared him down.

            The young man trembled in fear. And he looked nervously across the counter at the bartender who was just as scared. They exchanged knowing glances and the bartender said, "Mister Phemism, I think you should go. It's not safe here."

            There was a bulbous, red tumour upon the warrior's nose. It seemed to pulsate with unsurfacing emotions. And then his face erupted in a maniacal laugh.

            The Jonty! Dys gaped, and slowly slid off his stool, "You're right. I don't think I'm welcome here. I don't think any of us are!"

            The hysterics continued, and several people backed away from the bar, making the holy sign of the Writer's Block with both hands to ward away the evil curse of the Jonty.

            A middle-aged woman slowly pulled the quillsmith away, whispering in his ear, "You set him off, you fool!"

            "I'm sorry, René, I didn't know." And he, too, drew index fingers and thumbs parallel in the diamond shape of the Writer's Block.

            When everyone, except the Jonty, was safely out of the tavern, Dys ran home, as fast as he could. I must find help, if I am to get a decent feather for the Featured's new quill! But Olius will reckon I am daft to hunt the Fluffy Crow of Deepwood. Alas, where is Jack?



            The trees grew closer together. The stumps of fallen trees became fewer. The air thickened with moisture. And Snowbeast wheezed with icy breath.

            "Mother, look!" Lulu spotted something up ahead, and pointed over her mother's shoulder, standing up in the secondary stirrups.

            Beyond them, a gnarled monster of crude breeding was roaming the forest floor with beady eyes. It screeched, and trampled towards them.

            Then another came, from behind a tree.

            They had unshapely, blackened faces. Noses hung over mouths like old roots. And lidless black orbs stared back at the humans.

            "Notch an arrow," Tasha told Lulu, "I will jump."

            As they came closer, their twisted ears twitched with eagerness. One had a wooden club, spiked with wolves' teeth, and a shield of rotting bark. The other held a vine of twisting brown fibers, flicking it like a whip.

            Miss Noble balanced, precariously, both feet upon Snowbeast's head, I've seen Nicholas do this before.

            And her daughter drew an arrow from her quiver, hands trembling. And she reached down, to a pocket at her waist, and withdrew a purple berry.

            The club-wielding beast flailed its arms, and let out a terrifying screech. Its ugly face sneered, and tried to spook the horse.

            Snowbeast seethed with rage, staring back, and growled.

            Then, Tasha moved a foot up, onto Snowbeast's head, and thrust herself up into the air. Her hand had already unstrapped flail and unsheathed the sword upon her hips.

            Meanwhile, Lulu squeezed the purple berry upon the tip of her arrow.

            A shrill warcry echoed through the forest, as Tasha soared downward with a gleaming blade and spinning barbs.

            The whip lashed out, and the shield rose to break her fall.

            Immediately, her sword wedged itself stuck in the wooden club, and a wolf's tooth fell loose to the grassy floor. The shield pummeled her face, breaking in two, as the whip wove its way around her legs.

            And as the vine dragged Tasha away from her sword, by the legs, she sent the flail's three spiked barbs swinging towards the creature.

            Meanwhile, Lulu let loose a poisoned arrow, careful to avoid her mother, which struck the creature with the vine, piercing its heart.

            Snowbeast chose this moment to charge, and let loose a chilling breath of magic upon the unsuspecting creature as it struggled to pry the sword from its club. In seconds, it became an ice-encrusted statue.

            Lulu stepped out of the stirrups, and approached the club. She drew her mother's sword from it, and walked over to where her mother was struggling to get a vine unwound from her boots.

            Snowbeast remained where it was, struggling to catch its breath.

            "Not a scratch on you, eh?" Tasha laughed, as she examined her torn, leather riding boots.

            "Nothing you can't handle," Lulu said, as she gave her mother a hand getting to her feet, and cut away at the last shred of vine before returning the sword.

            "Shall we?"

            Her daughter smiled, and turned.

            However, Snowbeast had run away.

The End

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