Cory has decided that he's spent way too much time away from home. And so the Elfen King and Minky and I find ourselves standing beside the King's house and waving to a gradually disappearing boy.
I'm standing there in the nude once more and don't even have that little throw pillow to put in front of myself. Oh well, I guess it's okay if I'm waving goodbye with something besides my hand. These guys have pretty much convinced me that body responses aren't something to be ashamed of here.
Minky looks over towards me and giggles. I give him a sheepish grin in response. His Majesty looks up at me and laughs outright, and then claps me on the small of my back, which is as high as he can reach.
"Something tells me that you will blend in quickly here, Nicholas", he tells me. "Just as Cory told you: pretend that this part of your body is just a thermometer to gage the hotness of the boys you meet. You won't embarrass them at all, I do not believe." And he chuckles.
Minky gives me a squeeze to emphasize that point, so I wrap my arm around him.
"I know, you guys, I know. But it still takes some getting used to. I'm still not all that comfortable standing around in the nude yet. And, to be honest, simply letting that part of my body respond in front of others goes against everything I've learned. I suppose I'll be able to handle it in time, though."
Cory is just a dot on the horizon now. So, with my arm still across Minky's shoulders, I look down upon our diminutive King.
"Thank you, your Majesty, for informing us about this weakness of the Baron's. And thank you for suggesting a method of defeating him that doesn't involve my having to dust him off."
"Hmmm..." he responds. "I am choosing to believe that this is another of your world's euphemisms. I realize that a bear's fur can be quite a dust attractor, but somehow I do not believe that you intend to clean his fur."
"Clean his clock, is more appropriate. And, yes, I meant the word 'kill'. You have saved me from having to consider this as a means of saving my Minky and all the poor people he holds under his command.
"Emily, the wife of the Goblin's God, Bargrivyek, gave me the power to resist the Baron's Midas stare. So now both Minky and I are immune to his power." I give Minky a squeeze and a smile, which he returns.
"Ah," the King intones, "this sounds better and better. Of course you still have his formidable strength and sharp claws to contend with. And don't be fooled by his massive size... he still has very fast reflexes and the ability to outrace a human being."
Gulp... "Gee, thanks. You're really pumping me up with courage."
His Majesty nods his head in understanding. "You are still facing a challenging task, you two. It is best to go into it knowing all the odds and having a complete understanding of your enemy's powers and abilities. You are going to be facing nature's most dangerous creature, even without the Midas stare to contend with. And you will likely be doing this with nothing more than a mirror to use as a weapon.
"Remember," he continues, "the Baron is not immune to his own Midas powers. If you can force him into projecting that stare into a mirror, he will become a wooden statue himself. And though he may not be a mental giant, if he sees you with a mirror he may figure out your plan. You will have to use stealth and cunning. And whatever you do, stay away from those claws!"
Well, with that said, I no longer have to worry about my body's response to watching Cory amble off into the distance. You can just refer to me as Mr. Droopy right now.
The King is walking back and forth, chin in hand, deep in thought. As he wanders, I'm careful not to disturb his thought processes. There is a lot of common sense and intelligence packed into that small noggin.
He stops his ambling and faces us. "I think the solution is to somehow carry an invisible mirror. If he can not see it then his suspicions will not be aroused. I would make such a thing for you but I am afraid it is beyond my meager abilities. There is such a mirror in existence, but it is in the possession of the Golem. You will have to borrow it from him for awhile."
"The Golem!" Minky squeaks. I feel his muscles tighten up under my arm. "But that is a creature nearly as dangerous as the Baron. No one goes to the Golem for favors. Indeed, few people who have approached the Golem have returned to tell of it."
Minky looks at me with pure panic in his eyes. Something tells me that this Golem fella isn't to be taken lightly.
"Tch, tch..." the King responds, "I would not send you there without protection. Tell me, Minky, what do you know of this creature?"
"Well, not much, truly. I know he is supposed to be constructed of mud and twigs and things. He is a creature that was molded by a powerful wizard to act as a guard. The wizard was supposedly killed in a duel with another powerful wizard and so now there is no one that can control the Golem. It is said to live in Golem Hollow in a cave and that it never ventures out. The wizard put his most powerful magical devices in that cave and set the Golem as guard. I've heard that there have been a few foolish people who've attempted to go into the cave in order to take possession of the magic items."
My Minky boy looks at me. "Nicky, if no one who has ventured inside that cave has ever come back out alive, what chance do we have? And we are going in there to do exactly what those other people tried to do, to take one of the wizard's magical items."
I look down at the King to gage his response to Minky's answer. He is just nodding his head in response.
"All that you say is true, mink boy. It was a most powerful wizard that constructed this creature. He was killed in a duel over a thousand years ago. It was so long ago, in fact, that no one even recalls the wizard's name."
His Majesty starts walking towards a fallen log lying beside his tree home. He waves us to follow him. The log is a perfect height for both Minky and me to sit on but the small King has to scramble a bit to get up on it. When we are all seated comfortably he continues his narration.
"The wizard animated his Golem by sticking a piece of paper to its forehead with a life invocation written upon it. The paper had a word written on it in a language foreign to anyone on this world. Though, some time ago, I found that the word was written in a language that is in common usage on your own world, Nicholas. The language is called Hebrew and the word is spelled like this..."
His Majesty breaks a branch from the log we are sitting on and uses it to scratch some symbols in the dirt below us. I am able to make out something like "אמת".
"This is the word "Emet", or "truth" in the Hebrew language," he tells us. "The wizard used this piece of paper as a means to activate his creature. By taking off the first letter of "Emet", he spells "Met", which is Hebrew for the word death. And that is the word that deactivates the monster."
The bantam-sized king reaches into the pouch hanging at his waist. He produces a piece of paper and shows it to us. There are but two Hebrew letters printed on it - "אמ".
"Substitute this piece of paper for the one on the Golem's forehead and it will become immobilized." With that he hands me the paper.
"l'll tell you what," I say, looking the King in the eye. "My Momma didn't raise a fool for a son. This reminds me of an old wives' tale. It goes something like this – if you want to capture a bird you simply sprinkle salt on its tail. Now, any darn idiot knows that if you can get close enough to a bird to put salt on its tail, then you are close enough to just grab the fool thing. So, just how do I get close enough to this Golem to swap papers on his head without him grabbing me and squishing me or whatever he does to people?"
The King grins back a response to me. "You let the Golem grab you, of course. Make sure you keep your arms above your body so that they are free once the creature has you in its grasp. He will bring you to his chest in order to squeeze the life out of you. But just as soon as he raises you within snatching range of that paper, then you make the substitution."
You could change my name to Pop-eyed the Sailor Boy, the way I'm staring at this guy now. Hells bells, I'm supposed to let this thing pull me into squishing range?
"Ummm... I've changed my mind. I'll shoot the damn Baron. Conjure me up an M16 with a scope on it and let's take it from there."
Now, I don't know what I said that's the least bit funny. But both Minky and the King have fallen off the log and they're rolling around on the ground laughing their fool heads off. Maybe I'll stick that piece of paper on their foreheads instead.
"Humph," I say, somewhat aggrieved. "Go ahead and laugh," I tell them. "But I'm the one that has to get within squishing distance. What if I drop the piece of paper? Or what if that other paper is, like, stapled on his head or something?"
This just seems to kick the King's laughter up another notch. When he's through rolling about and making a royal ass of himself, the guy looks up at me with tear-streaked cheeks.
"You have all but admitted that you would not find it in yourself to pull the trigger on a gun and take a human life, Nicholas. And the Golem will move slowly once he has you in his grasp. He prefers slow strangulation by compressing his victims. You will have ample time to make the switch. Just DO NOT drop that piece of paper, however."
"I'll shoot the damn Baron," Minky giggles, still in stitches over my comment. He looks up at me with a grin plastered on his face. Damn, how can I be angry with such a cute face peering at me?
When he finally gets his breath, Minky says, "I'll be there right along side of you, Nicky. If you drop the paper I will retrieve it. I will be busy kicking it in the shins anyway, to slow it down a bit."
The thought of my Minky boy kicking some mud and twigs monster in the shins brings a grin to my own face. Oh lordy – what have we two gotten ourselves into? Things just seems to get more complex and muddier the more we learn and the closer we get to getting this deed done.
I simply sigh and slip off the log to stand next to my supine friend. I reach down a hand and help him to his feet. The nimble little King pops to his feet unassisted.
"Well," he says, "I think I've done my duty towards kith and kin. I've at least provided you with the next steps you need to take on your quest. Please swing by again in the future and regale me with the story of your exploits."
"All right, your Majesty. I just hope you don't have to read about it on my tombstone. 'Here lies Nicky, squished by a ball of mud'."
"Nonsense, my boy. You will do admirably. Now, if it's all the same to you two, I have to conduct singing lessons for a quartet of frogs this afternoon. They sound absolutely hideous right now and are robbing me of my early morning sleep."
With that said, the tiny king disappears in an eye wink, leaving Minky and me alone. Minky uses our new found privacy to cuddle up to me and put his face into the hollow of my neck. Oh boy, my thermometer is rising again!
My boy toy and I manage to find us another little hidey spot a ways away from the Elfen King's tree. We are lying back, in a state of bliss, after I have just successfully taken Minky's temperature... hahahah!
I roll over to my sweety and simply look him up and down. He is napping on his stomach and I'm looking at the curve of his body and counting my fortune in having captured the heart of this boy. His long, golden hair is in disarray after our tumble on the ground, with pieces of twig and leaf entwined in it. Still, it's the softest looking, most eye-catching mane of hair I've ever gazed upon. And his body is a deep bronze color that's the result of spending a lifetime wandering nude in a land with almost perpetual sun. Evidently they've done something with the sun's rays to make it safe to tender, naked skin.
I let my finger draw little spirals up and down his spine. I've soon got him giggling and twitching from my tickles. Minky rolls onto his side and pulls me into himself. We simply lie there, content, wrapped in one another's arms.
"Cowy is wight. You two aw weally hot."
The voice is coming somewhere by our feet and we both glance down. There is a small, red-headed figure squatting cross legged just below us.
"Number Three," Minky and I both shout simultaneously. I reach down and grab the little guy and pull him into a three way hug. It ends with us tickling him and making him suffer for watching us.
"Awwwww..." he yells, kicking his feet, his face a mask of laughter. "I suwwenda... I suwwenda... ha, ha, ha, ha!"
But we aren't letting him get off that easily. I'm holding him by the wrists while Minky raises his toga and blows belly bubbles. Little 3 is laughing uproariously.
But suddenly we no longer have a small boy in captivity. In his place is a rather large and somewhat odorous skunk. Minky spits out a mouthful of rather nasty tasting fur and it's my turn to laugh my butt off at him for a change.
We release our captive and he immediately changes back into the small, red-headed boy we both love so much.
Number Three is giggling while he watches Minky pick little black hairs from his tongue. Minky is staring daggers at the boy, though.
"At least take this horrible taste out of my mouth," he commands.
Number Three grins and nods his head at my Minky boy. Minky smiles back and smacks his lips. "Mmmm... minty!"
I sit up cross-legged, reach over and muss up that thatch of red hair. Then I grab the little twerp by the sides of his head and pull him in for a huge forehead kiss.
"So, tell me," I say, as I release him. "Have you been watching us since you left us in the Forest of Tears?
He nods his head in the affirmative as he sits up cross-legged and knee to knee with me. Minky does a knee walk up behind me and scootches up to me, wrapping his arms around me from the rear.
"We watched you in the cawdwon most of the time. And we wuz weal caewful to watch you close so we could help you if you needed it. We only stopped to play Indian twice cuz we was watching so caewfully."
"Numba Two thought we would have to zap that dwagon befoe he toasted you guys. But you handled him weally neat."
"Ummm... just HOW closely did you guys watch us?" I ask him. "Cory at least pretended he was looking the other way while Minky and I were on our blankets. Did you guys look the other way or maybe pick that time to play Indian?"
Dang... all I get for an answer to that question is a set of eyebrow wiggles and a giggle. I guess that means they didn't look the other way. I suppose I'm just going to have to carry a bolt of cloth around to cover us with when we are feeling amorous. Either that or get used to the idea that it isn't such a big thing on this world... sigh.
"Did you know that Nicky was made immune to the Baron's Midas stare and that we have somewhat of a plan now to go after the Baron?" Minky asks him.
Once again Number Three nods his head in the affirmative. "Yes," he tells us. "We hoped that Emily and the Elfen King would bwing you this faw along. Now the only thing you need befoe going afteh the Bawon is the magic miwwow."
"That is what I am hea to talk to you about – the magic miwwow. It is not weally magical, it is just a highly polished sheet of metal. What is magical is the bag it is kept in. It is a bag of invisibility and anything placed inside that bag becomes invisible just like the bag."
"And, they aw many magical items inside the Golem's cave. Some of them can be vewy dangewous to you if you mess with them. And you will not see the miwwow because it will be in its bag. You will have to feel awound fow it. Be cautious of what else you touch."
"Also, the Golem is not quite so slow as the Elfin King believes. So we have designed a 'slow down' spell fow you to use. We aw allowed to pwotect you, we just aw not allowed to help you in yoa quest."
With that explanation out of the way, the young Warlock reaches into his robe and produces his little crooked stick. I still wish that boy would get himself a decent looking wand. He taps us both with the stick and then slips it back into his robe.
"Now, eithew one of you can cast the spell. You must simply say 'of mud and twigs awt thou composed, and with this spell thou awt now slowed'."
With his mission accomplished our little Warlock gets a worried look on his face. He says, "I told you we aw allowed to pwotect you. But that is just fwom some of the cweatues you meet on the way. In the final battle with the Bawon we aw not allowed to do anything. You two will be on yoa own. But we want you to know that yoa plan is a good one and we believe you can do this thing. Just have faith in yoa selves."
With that, little Three leans forward and gives me a hug. He wraps his arms around Minky who is resting against my back.
With his bottom lip quivering, he intones, "May the gods pwotect you now and fow evea."
No alteration this time to an eagle or songbird, our little buddy simply disappears. I'm left with a feeling of trepidation, not so much from what he said, but from the fear or sorrow that was etched on his features.
Minky slides around and settles himself in my lap. One arm wrapped around me, he presses his face into the crook of my neck. Number Three's expression must have effected Minky similarly.
"We will do fine," I tell him, hugging him tightly against myself. "We have the most potent magicians on the planet watching over us. And they only take occasional time out to play Indian, I might add." I say this last part with a chuckle, attempting to inject a little levity. It seems to work as I get a giggle from my boy toy.
He pulls his head back to gaze into my face. He has a sweet, loving expression painted on his features.
"Whatever happens, Nicky, I want you to know this. I want you to understand that my life only became complete when you entered into it. With you I am whole. With you I am happy. If our time together is fated to be short then so be it – I would not trade our time together for anything."
"Shush," I tell him, squeezing him once again to my chest and tucking his head into the crook of my neck. "We still have a lifetime together. I'm not going to allow anything to happen to either one of us. Count on me, sweety face, okay?"
I get a nod from him in response. Although we both understand that this is only so many words, spoken in the desire to comfort and protect. There are too many unknowns, too many possibilities for failure, even with outside help. Especially when even that help expresses concern for our safety.
We sit, entwined, for a number of minutes: me gently rocking and hugging my sweet soul-mate. Then Minky says...
"Wait here for a minute, Nicky. I need to fetch something." Having said this, he slips from my lap and stands up. Then he trots off into the forest.
I've only a minute to wonder what he's about, before he has returned, a small bolt of cloth in his hand. He obviously has paid a visit to a clothes tree. He starts a tear in the cloth with his teeth and then rips off a piece along its length.
"Hand me the piece of paper with the invocation spell, Nicky"
I glance around and see that I've set it to the side. I'd had my hands full of Minky and couldn't hold onto the paper. Reaching over, I pick the paper up and hand it to him. He places it into the center of the long strip of cloth he's ripped off from the bolt. Carefully, he wraps the cloth around the paper strip and then ties the ends of the cloth together. Finally, he slips the cloth over my shoulder and tucks it under my arm.
"This paper is too important to lose. Now it will be with you safely while we travel. Just remember to take it out of the cloth before we go into the Golem's cave."
I give him a smile and a nod in return. Then I pull him back down into my lap. It's late in the day and we may as well spend the night where we are. We can head for Golem Hollow in the morning. But I want an uninterrupted night with my Minky boy. And if our little Warlocks are watching, they better be prepared for an eyeful. They may be 800 years old and full of the wisdom of the ages, but I intend to give them an education tonight.
It's a tree full of song birds that act as our alarm clock as the sun peeps over a mountain's rim. I'm thinking how much more pleasant that is compared to the burr of my old alarm clock back in my bedroom.
My bedroom. That gets me to thinking of my old life, back with old poop-head, my step-dad. It seems like a lifetime ago but has actually been such a short time. Then I glance down at the sleeping frame of an outrageously beautiful boy. My heart swells and my emotions brim the corners of my eyes with tears. I've packed such an enormous amount of joy into such a small amount of time. Minky is right, even if it ends today or tomorrow, I've already had a lifetime of happiness and contentment with this boy.
The need to relieve myself is strong, as it is most mornings. I lift myself from the bolts of cloth we'd spread on the ground last night to make our nesting place. Quietly I make my way the few feet to some low growing bushes in order to relieve myself.
I find myself glancing around apprehensively. It seems like every time I get up to pee in this world, something happens. I either spot a pond full of naked nymphs or something invisible brushes against me. Then I giggle, realizing that those were unusual circumstances, to say the least.
I'm halted, mid-giggle, with a hand pressed to my shoulder. I know it can't be Minky, I'd just observed him sleeping. My muscles contract involuntarily, cutting of my stream as I glance over my shoulder. A large man, whom I've never seen before, is standing alongside me. I dart a look down to my sleeping companion to see two other men standing on either side of him.
"Who... who are you?" I ask.
"We are from the Baron's village," the man tells me. "He has sent all his people into the land searching for the mink boy and his companion. I am sorry: I personally mean you no harm, but we will have to take the two of you with us. My own little child's life hangs in the balance and I love her dearly. Like all our children, she stands mute testimony to the power of the Baron – she is a wooden statue. Now please, we will not get rough unless you resist."
I glance once again towards the boy resting on our blankets. He has been shaken awake and, by the look I see on his face, he has immediately discerned the trouble we are in. Minky looks around, apprehensively, until he spots me. He seems to relax, somewhat, knowing that I am here and unharmed.
One of the men reaches down his hand and helps Minky to his feet. Neither of those men appear to care much for the job they've been sent to do, either. They are treating my boyfriend gently it seems.
One of the men standing alongside Minky tells us...
"We do not know what the Baron intends for the two of you. We only know that he is angry and anxious and wants you brought to him. Those in the village who are too weak or young to travel and search for you have been turned into statues. He told us that the very lives of these loved ones rely on the success of bringing you back to him. The entire village has been sent out to search."
He pats Minky consolingly on the shoulder and says, "Please understand – it gives us no pleasure to take anyone to this beast. But we will do what we have to do in order to save the lives of our own loved ones. Do not attempt to escape us for we are fox, wolf and lynx. You cannot outrun us even in your mink forms."
With that said, the man standing at my shoulder gently pushes me towards Minky. He slips the cloth from around my neck that Minky put there last night.
"I will use this to bind the two of you together at the wrists. This will slow you some so that we can better control your movement as we return to our village."
Looking at my Minky boy, I see a determination in his eyes. I'd expected to see a look of resignation, because, despite his words, I don't think he's ever given us much hope of success. But he gives me a half smile and says, "get ready, Nicky."
Minky quickly intones, "Of fox and wolf and lynx art thou composed, and with this spell thou art now slowed."
The men had started to react when Minky told me to get ready. All three had been reaching forward quickly to restrain us but now their movements are like men struggling in deep mud. Minky ducks beneath the reaching hands and grabs the cloth from the hand of the man clasping my shoulder. I quickly wrench myself lose from his grasp and we step a few feet away.
We watch the men, fascinated, as they ever so slowly turn to confront us with a look of perplexity and amazement on their faces. To them it must seem as though we zipped past them at phenomenal speed.
"Bend over, Nicky," he tells me. And then he proceeds to loop the cloth numerous times around my neck. This cloth contains the important de-activation paper for the Golem.
"Now," he says, "let us change and then run until we drop. We do not know how long that spell will hold. When they are released they will come after us with all the speed of a lynx, fox and wolf."
Even as he speaks he's changing to mink. I quickly copy him and before we dash into the forest, I look towards my would be captors. They are slowly changing forms themselves.
It has been hours now, and we are both trembling on our feet. Our small mink bodies are wiry and energetic but time and distance have taken their toll. We stagger into the hollow of an ancient, overturned log. Other travelers have used this resting place and we find it filled with soft boughs and even some cloth.
We used every trick we could think of to throw off our pursuers. These aren't just men following us, but in their animal forms they have the vision and olfactory senses of the animal bodies they inhabit. We laid down false trails and then doubled back. We leaped from tree branch to tree branch to keep our spore away from sharp noses. We waded upstream in every brook we came across and swam across ponds.
The long, long day has had its effect upon us. We curl together in our mink forms and fall into immediate sleep. The night falls gently but we aren't awake to sense it.
It is the sun shining into the eastern facing hollow of the log that wakes me. I have to pee again, and the thought makes me shiver. I guess I've equated my morning pees with impending doom. However, the bladder is not to be ignored for long and so I stick a leery head from the log and sniff the air. Next I probe my head far enough out to cautiously peer at our surroundings.
There are deer browsing not far from us. We are in a meadow it seems. There are two does and a fawn. It seems likely they are only what they appear to be, as the men we met said all the young had been changed to statues. And, indeed, the deer appear startled when I emerge from the hollow log. But they settle down quickly when they see my diminutive size and go back to browsing.
I'm not about to change forms - I'll just pee as a mink. So I trot off a ways from the log towards some bushes. I'm still feeling nervous about peeing. So I'm looking all around as I loose my stream. Then I realize it's the first time I've peed in mink form. Hmmm... good deal, I haven't wet my toes or anything.
"Ahhhh... how do you spell relief?" Whoops, I'd just said that out loud. Now I hear an answering response from the log.
"I believe you spell it r-e-l-i-e-f, do you not?"
I chortle back at him as I trot back up to the log entrance. "Nope, you spell it p-e-e... hahahah."
I get an answering tongue lolling grin back from my Minky. He rises to his feet and stretches his lithe, furry body. Then he walks over to me and commences bathing my face with his tongue.
This has me twitching my tail in pleasure. "I remember how I hated it when my Mom would spit on her handkerchief and use it to clean my face," I chuckle. "But you can bathe me all you want to this way."
"Oh my gosh," he says, "my mother does the same thing to me. Well, when we are in human form, anyway."
Then he sighs. "Gosh, I miss her, Nicky. But I am grateful that she is safe with the Warlocks right now. Then he looks at me with defiance in his eyes. "And when we defeat the Baron she will be safe at our home once again."
I nod my head and smile my response. But that causes my thoughts to turn in a different direction.
"Minky, what do you think she will think of me... of us, I mean?"
"Oh, Nicky. Do not worry about that. The person I love will have my mother's love as well. I promise you this. I know you miss your own mother, Nicky. And even though you haven't met her yet, you have another. And she will love you as a son."
I didn't realize it was possible to cry as a mink, but I just can't help myself. I have missed my Mom so much. And my step-dad treated her death like it was a personal imposition on him. It will be nice to be hugged by the sweet woman that raised such a wonderful boy as my Minky. And now I feel myself pulled into a four legged embrace, one I'm more than happy to return.
"My mother sang me songs when I was a pup. Did yours, Nicky?"
I nod my head yes, in response. "Yes, and when I got scared at night she would let me crawl into bed with her and then she'd sing me back to sleep."
"Some night, Nicky, we will have to sing to one another the songs our Mothers have sung to us. I can not think of a more pleasant way to fall asleep."
"Well, I can," I intone, and I poke my nose in a place my nose has no business poking. I get an answering chuckle from my Minky.
"I stand corrected, Nicky. That is the one other way that that makes for a pleasant sleep."
We are both giggling and chuckling when, suddenly, the deer in the meadow make a bolt for cover. This causes us to pull back into the dark recesses of the log and peer carefully out. It is an instant reminder that we are under pursuit and that we don't know if we've managed to throw our trackers off of our scent or not.
Neither of us can sense the presence of others though. And I've found that my sense of smell is unbelievable as a mink. My eyesight is vastly improved, too. But, whatever it was that frightened the deer seems to have been just a shadow as they soon return to the meadow to browse. It is our reminder, though, that we have a job to accomplish, and we can spend no more time in the comparative safety of this hollow log.
"How much further do we have to go?" I ask him.
"I believe we are in Golem's Hollow now. We could have been here in less than an hour's travel time yesterday, but all the doubling back we took stretched our travel time to a full day. I think it was worth it though, Nicky. I think we have lost our pursuers."
"So, do you think you will be able to find this cave for us?" I ask.
"Yes," he says, "let us stand upon this log and I will show you the lay of the land."
As we climb upon the log, one thing becomes immediately apparent. We seem to be surrounded by a series of foothills. And towards the West, in the direction that Minky's snout points, I see a hill, isolated and in the center of the others.
"That is where the Wizard established his cave," he says. "It is said that he created the hill and the the cave itself from magic. Then he transported his magical belongings to the cave and made the Golem to stand guard over his treasures. It was said he did this in order to go into battle and then guard his magical items in event that he lost the battle."
"Well," I answer, "we know he lost that battle. And the Golem has protected his belongings since. But, what do you think, Minky - if we are successful in retrieving the magic mirror, what other devices are ours for the taking?"
"No... no, Nicky! You must not think that way! Remember what Number Three told us. We are supposed to take care in even touching any of the other items in the cave."
"Yeah," I respond, "yet I can't help wondering if there aren't devices there that would help us defeat the Baron without putting ourselves into danger."
"Minky... just to touch some of those things would put us into more danger that the Baron could ever present."
I have to hand him that. His logic is pretty hard to refute. So, after breakfasting on a few hentles and cues'cumbers, we make our way towards the hill in the center of the hollow. And it's with a definite sense of foreboding, I can assure you.
We arrive at the hill and make our way around it, looking for a cave or obvious opening. As we approach the southern side of the hill, we spy our objective. It's a huge cave opening, at least twenty feet high. But the grasses grow up to the very entrance of the cave and it's obvious there has been no traffic either by it or into it.
Just a few minutes find us standing before the entrance. Minky changes form to a boy, so I follow suit. Reaching towards me he unravels the cloth he wound around my neck just the other day. Handing me the cloth, I reach into it and pull out the invocation spell, the all-important piece of paper with the Hebrew lettering.
"Are you ready, Minky?"
I can see by the trembling of his frame that he isn't, but then - hell, I'm not either. So, hand in hand, we commence to walk into the cave.
The tall opening doesn't seem to narrow any. If anything, the ceiling grows even taller until it reaches the height of thirty or so feet. It's a huge cavern that must stretch a hundred or so feet across. And in the very center stands the most obscene, offensive-looking creature that my worst nightmares couldn't begin to conjure up. It isn't just composed of mud and twigs. The smell tells me it's also composed of offal and of various body parts of animals and men. It seems to have absorbed the very bodies of the creatures that it has snatched and suffocated in its grasp.
And it's obvious that it has stood its ground for a very, very long time. Spiders have strung their webbing round and about its obscene body. The webbing reaches to the ceiling and to the floor of the cavern. But, it's awake now, and it's staring right at us. A good ten feet high, it looks like something from the very bowels of hell. And then it commences to walk towards us, breaking the strands of cobweb that speak of its years of inactivity.
God almighty, what have we gotten ourselves into?