AMONG THE WARPING PILLARS OF SKANDELT
by Douglas Ogurek
 
BESIDE A BABBLING brook struggled an upside-down turtle. Downstream, five equidistant pillars, each over thirty feet high, sloped and twisted.

Beneath the first pillar, a wizard, motionless, held out a toilet seat. His robe was black, except for a white line that stepped down its front.

 

A man clutching a four-foot-long plastic gun leapt over the turtle. He sprinted toward the wizard. The man wore glasses with large purple and green lenses. ‘Watch this.’

The wizard did not move. ‘Continue on, and do not touch the pillars.’

The gunman caught his breath. He hoisted the gun and addressed the vacant valley on one side of the brook. ‘Behold.’ He aimed upstream.

The wizard, facing the opposite direction, did not move.

The gunman pulled the trigger and said, ‘Geew.’ The gun made no sound, and nothing shot from it. ‘Glah, missed.’ The gunman held up his index finger and winked at the valley. ‘Tell me, wizard, where I can find the nearest village.’

‘Ah, wizard. I grow tired of wizards, magic. All that.’ The gunman aimed at the forest on the other side of the brook. His gun was black, with green and purple highlights, and it had many curves. ‘Where is the nearest village with many inhabitants?’ The wizard remained motionless. The gunman pulled the trigger. ‘Geew.’ Nothing fired. ‘Glah, inches off. Inches.’

‘Accordingly.’

‘Please, great wizard, the nearest highly populated village.’

‘The Ses Lowlands lie a certain number of miles from here. Those Seslows should like your weapon.’

The gunman faced the valley. His eyes widened and he held up his hands. ‘How many miles? What direction?’

The wizard turned the toilet seat slightly. The white line on his robe only shifted at ninety-degree angles. ‘Why do you want to travel there?’

‘I will give you a taste.’ The shooter pointed his gun upstream. ‘See that tree?’ There was no tree.

The wizard, still facing downstream, did not move.

‘There is a bird in that tree.’ There was no bird.

The wizard remained motionless.

The gunman spoke toward the empty valley. ‘Good people, I shall hit the very branch on which that bird perches. And the bird, uninjured, shall take flight.’

The wizard did not move.

‘Wizard, do you not want to witness this?’

‘You waste your ammunition.’

The gunman pulled the trigger. ‘Geew.’ Again nothing fired. ‘Glah, look at that. Feathers everywhere. That will not happen in the Ses Lowlands.’

‘You waste your ammunition. Unless you target a periph.’

The gunman faced the valley, hoisted his gun. ‘If it be the will of the people.’

‘Periphs are monstrosities.’

‘And how many of the creatures reside in the Ses Lowlands?’

‘Many. You’ll see them, the abominations of nature, with their muscular bodies, and their blocky heads, and their floppy ears. They have destroyed twenty of our warping pillars.’

‘No no. People. How many people live there?’

‘The periphs fling their aloly glop at our pillars. It deteriorates them, until they crumble.’

‘People, I mean people. How many people?’

‘Ah, enough to encroach on Skandelt. They keep periphs as pets. Breed the monstrosities, teach them to fling their destructive glop.’

‘Please tell me the way.’

The wizard tossed the toilet seat into the brook. He followed it as it floated downstream. ‘If that reaches the third pillar, I will tell you. If it gets stuck, I will not.’

The seat reached the third pillar. The wizard plucked it from the water, then pointed northeast. ‘Fifty miles.’

‘For that, I will display the pinnacle of my marksmanship.’

‘That is not in the plan. Continue on. Fifty miles that way.’

The gunman faced the valley, sank onto one knee. ‘Good people, the wizard will now toss his white ring into the air, and I will shoot through it ten times before it returns to the earth.’

The wizard placed his feet together and put the seat around his neck. He held flattened hands on either side of his head and stood straight.

‘Toss it up, wizard, and we shall give them something to remember.’

The wizard did not move. ‘Use your weapon for a purpose. Use it to shoot every periph that you encounter.’

‘Would the Seslows find that appealing?’

‘They find destruction appealing.’

The shooter raised his gun and shouted toward the empty valley. ‘Come, let us bring our talents to the Ses Lowlands.’ Then, screaming, he charged northeast.

 

The wizard, motionless, leaned against the centre pillar. The toilet seat hung on his clasped hands. A man with a stringed instrument on his back flipped the turtle onto its feet, then stumblingly approached the wizard. A flap covered the musician’s mouth, and one of his eyes was missing. He opened the flap. ‘Do you need help?’

‘Not in the plan.’

‘This brook makes a peaceful sound.’

‘That is your interpretation. Continue on, and do not touch the pillars.’

‘Yes.’ The musician closed the flap. A brown bird alighted on the curving top of the pillar on which the wizard leaned. It chirped. The musician directed a hearing tube toward the bird. He closed his eye, rocked, and wiggled his fingers. The wizard shifted slightly. ‘These pillars were designed for visual impact, and should be appreciated accordingly.’ The musician held up his index finger. When the bird took flight, the musician jotted in a notebook.

‘What is your plan here?’ The musician opened the flap. ‘A quest.’ ‘There is always a quest, isn’t there?’ ‘We all quest.’ He closed the flap. ‘And what do you seek? Riches? Glory? A princess, perhaps? Or do you seek to discover yourself?’ The musician opened the flap and rubbed his one eye. He did not respond. ‘You have come to me. I have not come to you. I am not on a quest of any kind.’ The musician reached back, then flicked the strings of his instrument. ‘A musical quest. Will you please direct me to the Ses Lowlands?’ The toilet seat moved slightly. ‘The Seslows have no appreciation for music. They have no appreciation for our pillars. The Seslows …’ The musician, taking the instrument off his back, limped to the brook. He closed his eye, then plucked one note. He returned to the wizard. ‘Will you please tell me the way to the Ses Lowlands?’

‘That is not in the plan.’ The wizard moved his wrists.

‘Your plan.’

‘What is your purpose in the Lowlands?’

‘Periphs.’ The wizard grunted and shifted his shoulders. ‘What will you do? Bludgeon them with your themal?’

‘No.’ The musician slapped the instrument. ‘I will draw inspiration from them.’

‘They are monstrosities, and should be destroyed accordingly.’

‘I have heard their call. Have you heard it?’

The wizard frowned. ‘They destroyed our pillars…’

‘And I’ve heard that they like to be petted. Have you ever petted one?’

‘… with their aloly glop.’

The musician played discordant notes. ‘I did that. Not the themal.’

‘The periphs destroyed forty of our pillars. Is that beautiful?’ The musician pointed the themal at the toilet seat. ‘Your instrument might accompany mine.’

‘Ah, this is no mere instrument.’

The musician tuned the themal. ‘I know your voice.’ He closed the flap, then played loud harsh chords.

‘They destroyed…’

He played loud harsh chords.

‘… sixty of our pillars were …’

Loud harsh chords.

The wizard pushed himself off the pillar, then tossed the toilet seat into the brook. ‘If that reaches the fifth pillar, I will tell you the way. If it does not, then you shall continue on without my telling you.’

The valley remained vacant and the forest still while they followed the floating seat toward the fifth pillar, which wound and curved more than the others. Just past the fourth pillar, large rocks stopped the seat.

The musician gripped his themal. The flap muffled his voice. ‘Have you heard of frins?’

‘Another monster. Ah, the thin black bodies with the pointed ears. They’ve marred many of our pillars. Abominations.’

‘This is inspired by the frins.’ The musician’s fingers swept over the frets and the music sliced between the pillars. The wizard smelled a fragrance he recognized. His skin tingled.

When the music stopped, the wizard retrieved the toilet seat from the brook. His robe hung so that the white line appeared to curve. He looked through the seat. ‘We will try again.’

 

 

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