Upperworld of Wisdom

TIME ISLAND

Nyx announced, “Welcome to the Upperworld of Wisdom,” as we soared over the top of the great Crater of Chaos at the southeastern rim.

No longer inside the crater, I could see from horizon to horizon. The heavens opened up into an unworldly atmosphere, split into red, blue and black skies.

Ava descended and glided a hundred yards off the ground.

To our right, the reddish-brown walls of an eroded river gorge came into view.

No matter how beautiful the scenery, I became anxious to find my brother.

“Are we getting close to Hunter?” I asked.

“Not quite,” Nyx replied. “We’ll have another daynight’s journey ahead of us.”

“But, I thought we’d see my brother tonight.”

TIME ISLAND - EARTH TRUNK WITH TRIANGULUM

“Patience, Princess Julia. All things happen in perfect order.”

She explained that the crater thermals had not been as strong as normal, causing a delay. Kraken’s attack slowed us down. Also, Erda avoided night flights whenever possible.

We had to spend the evening at Doubting Castle.

Wanting to complain, I realized it would do me no good. I learned to never whine or nag around Momma.

It always made things worse.

Relax, Julia, I thought, enjoy the scenery. People would die to see such fabulous landscapes. As Daddy always said, “Live in the moment. Now is all you have.”

“That is our Utopian River Gorge,” Nyx said, “one of our eight great river systems. The roaring river has carved out a magnificent canyon measuring eight hundred feet deep and ninety miles wide.

The previous summer, I had visited the Grand Canyon with my family. The Earthly landmark looked like a narrow creek compared to the gorge we flew over.

TIME ISLAND

Beyond the Utopian River, the snow-capped Mountains of Mistakes, rising above the clouds, stretched beyond the horizon.

Erda yelled, “Hang on,” and yanked on the reins.

The gryphon dove straight down, leaving my stomach in my throat.

She leveled off fifty feet above a yellow cobblestone road that hugged the east side of the gorge.

“That is the Open Road,” Nyx said. “Hunter traveled that road, the Great Way, with Morph and Eve.”

So, that’s the famous road of life that Professor Johan wanted to see.

TIME ISLAND

My father claimed that the highway of life, those were his words, would take you to magical places and untold treasures.

Wait until Daddy finds out that Hunter traveled the Open Road with Morph.

Pine trees and noble firs and hemlocks grew from the edge of the cobblestone road to the top of the Druid Hills, creating the primordial Palatine Forest.

The smell of fragrant pines reminded me of home sweet home.

We followed the ancient roadway several miles until Nyx announced we had arrived at Doubting Junction.

Ava turned inland over the crossroads and over a massive boulder monolith, Stonehenge. Now I know where the name came from.

Below us, a dozen blazing fires belched black smoke into the blue sky.

DUNGEON OF FIRE

Erda looked back at Nyx and pointed down.

Knights on horseback, soldiers wearing armor and carrying lances and broadswords, rode about the campsites tending to the flames. 

“Those are funeral pyres,” Nyx said. “A battle has taken place. We shall find out what happened when we arrive at the castle.”

The smoky air smelled horrible, like when strands of tangled hair burn in your hair dryer.

You know that sickening odor, don’t you?

We flew through the white smoke and followed a winding road up and over the Palatine Hills.

Soon, Doubting Castle came into view, rising above the virgin forest.

I marveled at the magnificent six-story-tall stone castle.

Eight main towers with conical spires jutted into the Millennium sky. Four domes surrounded her central spire with red, white and blue flags waving from the tops of the pinnacles.

By the time we arrived at the castle, the black sky had crawled over the landscape, crowding out the blue sky, creating a twilight atmosphere.

I expected Ava to land at the draw bridge, the entrance to the castle.

Instead, the gryphon flew up and over the towering fortress walls.

DUNGEON OF FIRE

Along the castle perimeter, a dozen armed ballistas and catapults had been positioned behind the balustrades, ready to hurl lethal javelins, rocks and flaming balls of pine-sap pitch to any intruders who dared attack the castle.

Bizarre characters dressed in medieval clothing—tunics, doublets, capes, cloaks and surcoats—waved to us while we circled the main tower.

Too high in the sky to get a good look at their faces, I knew one thing—none of them were human.

Knights on horseback trotted down the main street of the courtyard. The armored soldiers carried lances, broadswords, crossbows and scutum shields. Their horses wore champfreins over their heads and mail coif on their necks, shoulders and flanks. In the twilight, the stallions’ pointed head ornaments gave them the appearance of silver-headed unicorns.

Erda landed the gryphon on an arched bridge that connected a single stone tower to the central spire.

We dismounted the gryphon and I followed Nyx across the bridge, through an iron-gated archway.

Two knights—boar soldiers—stood guard at the gate.

Half my height, the hairy beasts had yellow tusks protruding from their lower jaws. Their shiny suits of armor rattled as they saluted Nyx. The husky boars wore pig-face basinet helmets and carried lances with royal shields.

DUNGEON OF FIRE

Snorting as they saluted us, the pair of knights made me feel safe.

The inside of the circular tower, illuminated by oil lamps mounted all the way up three flights of spiral stone steps, reminded me of all those fairy tale stories Daddy read us where the princess stayed in a lonely tower. I couldn’t remember if the girl was Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel or Cinderella or Snow White or Maid Marion. One of them, for sure.

Nyx led me up the winding staircase to the top of the tower, to a bedchamber.

She pushed open an iron door that revealed a simple room with a bed, table and two chairs. A wood-framed mirror hung on the wall. In the corner, orange and yellow flames danced in the stone fireplace.

“We shall spend the evening here,” Nyx said. “Please, make yourself comfortable. I request that you remain in this room.”

The Utopian grinned and closed the door.

The blazing fire cast my shadow on the grey stone wall. It followed me as I walked across the chamber to an arched window, the only one in the room.

Opening the wooden shutters, I took a deep breath.

The twilight had turned to darkness.

Torch lights burned in the courtyard far below.

DUNGEON OF FIRE

Unrecognizable figures moved about in the shadowed darkness.

Three Millennium moons glowed in the black sky filled with sparkling stars, some so bright they made me squint. 

My mind played the tune, When You Wish Upon A Star, as my thoughts turned homeward.

I wonder if Jeremy is still visiting me. Please God, don’t let him get discouraged because I’m in a coma. Keep his love for me alive while I’m gone.

I hope Momma isn’t drinking too much.

The terrorist threats can’t be real. No one wants to hurt Daddy. Do they? If they met him, they would know how loving and gentle he is.

Once I get Hunter home, Momma will be happy again. 

My thoughts were interrupted by the creaking of rusted hinges.

The door swung open.

DUNGEON OF FIRE

Nyx carried a silver tray with food—bowls of porridge, ambrosia and mugs filled with amrita.

We sat at the oak table by the crackling fire.

While we ate our dinner, Nyx explained that the bloody battle at Doubting Junction had been fought on the Daynight of the Wolf.

That was just yesterday, I thought.

The boar soldiers, commanded by Malagig the Paladin, were defeated by Ex and his army of monstrous bugbears, led by Bodvar the Wearbear. The battle, waged over Hunter and Eve, left many brave soldiers dead and wounded.

“My brother fought in a battle?” I asked, frowning. “Is he okay?”

“Calm down, Princess Julia. Hunter defended himself honorably, and he was not seriously injured.”

“Thank God.” I sighed in relief. “Where is my brother now?”

 “Hunter travels with Morph to the seaside castle of Escalot.”

“Why is he going there?”

“Unfortunately, Eve was captured by Ex and taken prisoner on the Walrus. The Extractor ship was last seen sailing south down the Utopian River toward the Sea of Esteem.”

“You mean, Hunter’s going after Eve?”

DUNGEON OF FIRE

Nyx nodded, yes. “Morph ordered the great ship Argo to set sail from the port city of Hermopolis, to rendezvous with him and your brother at Kallipolis, farther up the coast.”

“Hunter’s going to get himself killed over a girl he just met?”

“Most likely, your brother has made the highest choice.”

Not sure what she meant by the highest choice, I said, “He needs to come home with me, immediately.”

“We shall see him tomorrow.” She leaned over the table and patted my hand. “You may ask him yourself.”

DUNGEON OF FIRE

 

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