"Not in the marmalade!" William yelled, bolting upright in his bed.
Looking around, dazed by the sudden shift into the conscious world, William found himself face to face with the angry stare of Aldrosius Dragveeni Unicumius Monotrillio Extremenea Sarvellen the Seventh. The faunlike unicorn was glaring at him in the dimness of their room, the heavy bags beneath his heterochromic eyes lending an air of even further disapproval.
"Will you stop with the shrieking," Aldrosius hissed.
"I didn't know I was shrieking."
"Uh, what have you been doing the last three nights?" Aldrosius held up his hand. "Oh yeah, keeping me and Wenselaft awake with your nightly hollering."
William glanced at the third bed in the room to see the resident wizard sprawled across it with pillows and blankets strewn around the floor.
"He doesn't look like he's awake."
"Not anymore, he got so desperate he finally fainted. Last time I checked, he was still breathing."
The irritated nonchalance in Aldrosius' voice made William give the unconscious wizard a worried glance. He did not want any of his companions dying off before they had even begun a proper quest.
Aldrosius heaved a sigh. "Anyway, you've got to stop doing this; we'll get thrown out of the inn at this rate. Either that or the inn keeper will think that we‘re engaging in some unwholesome activities up here. Don't know about you, but I‘d rather not deal with rumours about what we do behind closed doors."
"I can't help it." William shrugged. "I keep having these totally absurd, yet strangely vivid, dreams. I think they might be of some importance to my quest."
Aldrosius let out an exasperated sigh. "Again with the quest?"
"Well, the Chosen One should have a quest; I've sort of gotten the idea that that's an important part of the job."
"If it is, then I doubt your dreams would be a reliable source for one."
"Why not?" William said. "You once said that finding a quest isn't a matter of walking into a store and asking to see their selection of quests. You said it's a complex process mortals are unfit to figure out."
"That didn't mean that weird dreams equal the subject of a quest. What I meant was…" Aldrosius shook his head. "Forget it; I'm too tired to think about it."
"But you can't ignore possibly prophetic dreams."
"Yes I can. When you're the third-to-last of your kind, stuff like that tends to lose some relevance." Aldrosius moved toward his bed.
"But it would be a nice solution." William laid back on the bed. "I mean, we've been looking for my quest for a while now and it's kind of dull."
Aldrosius turned, his silver fur and single horn gleaming among the shadows. For a long while he did not say anything, but William could tell that he was leaning towards a reluctant agreement.
Being an immortal creature of vast age and equally vast bitterness, Aldrosius made it a point of principle to disagree with almost everything. As the unicorn had explained to William on their first encounter, he found the world to be a singularly dreary place filled with stupid optimists who never lived long enough to realise just how awful everything was. His only source of joy seemed to be the knowledge that he would eventually, if he tried hard enough, die, and that meanwhile he could get some laughs out of the aforementioned stupid optimists.
Shifting his weight from one hoof to the other, Aldrosius nodded. "Suppose so. I wouldn't bet my worthless and miserable life on it though."
Well, William figured, that was about as good of a concession as he could expect from the unicorn.
Just then a moan came from Wenselaft's bed as the wizard arched his reedy body in an apparent attempt to get up.
"Try not to vomit on the bed," Aldrosius said. "We can't pay for the washing."
"What happened?" Wenselaft rolled around and sat up.
"The usual, you fainted and William's having prophetic dreams."
The wizard blinked at this. "What?"
"I've been having weird dreams lately, and I think they're about my quest," William said, pulling himself up once more.
"So that's why you've been screaming at night," Wenselaft said. "I just thought that life had finally crushed your self-esteem. Though when it happened to me, there was less random screaming and more whimpering."
Sometimes William could not help but think that he had chosen a pair of very glum travelling companions. On the other hand, they presented him with the nigh constant challenge of keeping his own disposition sunny and hoping that some of that inner sunlight would influence his friends.
Though so far the results were not too promising.
"Wenselaft, do you think you'd be able to interpret my dreams?"
"Uhh… I sort of didn't pass that course at the University of Higher Sorcery."
"Oh, come on!" Aldrosius folded his arms. "You'd have to be an oracle to have prophetic dreams."
"Well," Wenselaft began. "Any person in possession of magical or divine powers could have them. And since William's the Chosen One and endowed with divinely sanctioned abilities, it's possible."
"Don't go giving him any ideas." Aldrosius glared at the wizard, who in turn wrapped a blanket around himself for protection.
"We'll have to find someone who can analyse my dreams." William stood up from his bed, filled with his usual dauntless resolve.
"Try a head-healer," Aldrosius muttered.
"We'd need an expert." Wenselaft chewed his lip. "And those are expensive."
"I'm sure any one of them would be happy to assist the Chosen One for free." William smiled.
Aldrosius sniggered. "You obviously don't know experts of theoretical dream reading. They're just about the most vicious people you can come across. Not quite on par with professional villains, but pretty close."
"Really. I once saw one of them punch an infant for getting in his way. You so much as mention dreams around them, and you don't happen to be carrying a pouch of gold with you, they'll tear off your face."
Wenselaft let out yelp and buried himself beneath the blanket.
"Then," William said, moving over to the wizard to pull him out of his hiding place. "We'll have to find an alternate solution. Wens, get out of there."
"Face-eaters!" Wenselaft wailed, unwilling to relinquish his woollen shield.
"There are no face-eaters here. Even if there were, I'd take care of them with my sword."
Wenselaft's head reappeared. "There aren't? Oh, thank the gods."
Aldrosius sighed. "Since you seem set on wasting our time with this loopy hunch of yours, I might tell you that there's a statue of the Four Bardic Oracles in a nearby park."
William tilted his head. "How's a statue going to help us?"
"I'm sure our resident magic-user can provide you with further information." Aldrosius smirked, directing a crafty look at Wenselaft.
Wenselaft furrowed his brow in deep thought. "The statues can be used as a Summoning Beacon, right? If you… Yo-you're not saying that we… that I-"
"Precisely, Master Wenselaft." Aldrosius' smirk grew wider. "You can use your powers to summon the four oracles from Eternity into their statues. You did pass Summoning 101, didn't you?"
"Yes," Wenselaft said, his voice rising to dangerous heights. "But what if they're not happy about being summoned? I'd hate to be beaten up by people I idolise."
Aldrosius snorted. "You would be the sort to get beaten up by dead people."
"No one is going to be beaten up by anyone, not if I can help it in any case," William said, hauling Wenselaft to his feet. "We're going to consult the Four Bards."
His heroic order issued, William pulled on his cape, grabbed his sword, and marched out of the inn. Once he had reached the nearest street corner, he turned around to see his two companions trailing behind him with varying levels of reluctance.
Aldrosius had a sour look on his face, the kind usually connected to being the one who had been dragged out of bed at inopportune time. Then again, William thought, that was probably a fitting description of the situation from the unicorn's point of view.
Wenselaft was looking around at the darkened street with his typical fearful skittishness. As if anyone would dare to attack one of the friends of the Chosen One, William rolled his eyes, no one was that suicidal.
The three of them made their way along the night-time streets of Metonym, only momentarily inconvenienced when a drunken brawl had spread from a tavern out to the streets.
"Maybe I'm still dreaming," William mumbled as they took a detour to avoid getting caught up in the brawl.
Aldrosius chuckled. "Well, if you are, I probably shouldn't do this."
With a swift wave of his head, Aldrosius slammed his horn across Wenselaft's stomach.
The wizard doubled over, clutching his abdomen. "Oww! Why?"
"Had to be certain." Aldrosius shrugged. "You wouldn't want me to test it on myself, would you?"
"Ah," Wenselaft hissed, rubbing the bruise that must have been forming under his robes. "I guess not."
The trio walked through a small grove until they reached a clear patch of land with a stage like podium. On the stone podium were four statues of a woman and three men holding musical instruments and seemingly playing what William could only imagine as the most jamming pastoral ballad imaginable.
Aldrosius pointed to the dashing lutist in the middle. "That's Laloure the lead lutist, also known as the Great Singer of Vague Truths and son of the goddess Fhunide. Next to him is Pythiacri, the Ever-glaring Watcher, on rhythm lute. The lady's Sibyrnia, the Visually Impaired Piper-"
"Visually Impaired?" William asked.
"Yeah, even a thousand years ago people didn't want to be seen as politically incorrect by calling someone blind to their face." Aldrosius then pointed to the young man sitting behind the other three musicians. "And last, some would also say least, Mimiango the Drummer."
"So, how do you summon them?" William turned to Wenselaft.
The wizard pulled a small crystal ball from his pocket. "With this."
William peered at the clear sphere. "That's not much of a crystal ball."
"These things are expensive. And… well… you saw my house before you blew it up."
William did indeed remember the wizard's house, though calling the now destroyed hovel a house was doing a disservice to real buildings. As William saw it, accidentally destroying Wenselaft's home was an architectural form of euthanasia. The hovel needed to be put out of its misery.
Putting aside thoughts of Wenselaft‘s former hovel, William said, "How does summoning work then? Do you go into a trance and chant things in an archaic language?"
"Not really." Wenselaft shook the ball. "Hello, operator?"
The ball was filled with a soft glow. When the light dimmed William could see the image of a blue skinned woman looking back at Wenselaft.
"This is the Divine Directory. How may I help you?"
"Yes, uh," the wizard stumbled. "I'd like to contact the Bardic Oracles, please."
"Your signal's pretty strong, sir, are you near a Beacon?"
Wenselaft nodded. "Yes, the statue in Metonym."
"Okay, I'll just patch you through then."
The image disappeared and the ball rose up from Wenselaft's hands, sending out four beams of light into the sky. Another quartet of beams shot out of the orb and hit each of the statues. As the beams went away and the ball returned to Wenselaft, the statues seemed to move. To William it appeared like the statues were turning into real people and voices floated in the air. Eventually the strange voices faded away and the statues opened their eyes.
Laloure, the legendary demigod, looked down at the trio before him and said, "you summoned us?"
Aldrosius stepped forward, as Wenselaft seemed to be suffering from a sudden onset of hyperventilation.
"Yeah, we did."
Sibyria tilted her head, her unseeing eyes blinking in surprise. "Aldrosius, is that you?"
A wry smile spread across the unicorn's face. "Been awhile."
Pythiacri laughed. "Yeah, awhile. It's been, what, a thousand years?"
Aldrosius shrugged, ignoring the astonished look William was giving him. "Give or take a few decades."
"How've you been, mate?" Mimiango asked.
"Miserable as always, I bet," Laloure said.
"I've been absolutely desolated."
Laloure nodded. "Sounds about right. But what do we owe the questionable pleasure of being summoned here?"
With a fluid move, Aldrosius stepped behind William and shoved him forward. "This guy here needs some advice."
Looking up at Laloure and his companions, people who's exploits in heroism and music had made them the stuff of legends and myths, William was dumbfounded. For a moment he stuttered, trying to force some coherent words. For a moment he felt as awkward as Wenselaft.
"Wait a moment." Laloure bent down to inspect William. "You're that new Chose One, aren't you?"
"Yes," William finally coughed out. "I've been having some weird dreams lately and-"
"And you figured the most illustrious oracles in history would interpret their meaning for you."
"How did you know?"
"Wouldn't be much of an oracle, if I didn't know why you called us here. Predictable, really." Laloure gave a small chuckle at his own brilliance and straightened his back.
"There you go again." Pythiacri rolled his eyes. "Mind giving one of us a chance to talk."
Laloure sighed. "Since when haven't I given you a chance to express your opinions?"
"How about all the freaking time? You think you're so fabulously talented, god-boy-"
"My mother has nothing to do with the band. You're just jealous of my skills and artistic vision."
"Pox on your vision! If we'd have it your way, the public wouldn't have an inkling of what we're trying to say."
"I suppose you'd want us to just forget about the mysteries of oracleship and just go ahead and sing about ultimate matters of the universe like they're some everyday shopping list." Laloure leaned closer to Pythiacri.
"Guys!" Sibyria waved her flute around. "Quit with the bickering! How are we going to spread worldwide peace and understanding when you two can't agree on creative details?"
"Details?" Laloure and Pythiacri shouted in unison.
As the three-way verbal battle went on, Mimiango got up from his spot and walked to the front of the podium.
"Sorry about that lot, they can be right jerks at times. Geniuses, sure, but they can't stop trying to one-up each other." The drummer smiled apologetically. "Don't suppose you'd just tell me about these dreams?"
"Well, the way it usually goes is that I'm standing in a field made of what looks like scraps of paper. And birds are flying around my head singing in a language that I can‘t even begin to describe," William said. "Then I see a mountain of black rock in the distance, only the mountain seems to be coming at me. Finally, when I'm at the foot of the mountain, it erupts and spews out shards of something, maybe cardboard or wood, and the birds start shrieking and I'm buried by those shards of whatever."
"Is that all?"
"Well…" William thought. "Those are the repeating elements, though sometimes I'm naked or wearing a dress. And once it was raining strawberries."
Mimiango made a pensive sound, rubbing his chin. "The field signifies an ancient text, and the black mountain could either be somewhere in Yonderness or it could be the Screaming Girl Mountain. The shards coming from the mountain are the pieces of the Puzzle of Infinity, and the birds are chanting the name of the Unpronounceable Terror."
"Uh, the Terror is one of the offspring of Annyigrade the Goddess of Evil." Wenselaft, having survived his panic attack, fiddled with the sleeve of his frayed robe. "Glaroprick the Overfiend once constructed a puzzle to summon the Terror into this world, but four of the pieces were stolen by Adeornir, and his friends stole the pieces and hid them around Hypnosia."
"Right on the money there, wiz." Mimiango nodded.
Wenselaft giggled like an adolescent girl, clearly elated by the compliment.
"So, someone's going to summon the Unpronounceable Terror," William said.
Aldrosius folded his arms. "That someone more than likely being Falcrion. Glaropick probably left the Puzzle in Screaming Girl, so Falcrion could've found it and decided to put it to use."
A wonderful sort of realisation dawned on William. "And I have to retrieve the missing four pieces, so that he can't get them first."
It was times like this William wished he had a travelling orchestra with him. This would have been a perfect time for them to play a heroic theme. He had a quest!
"I think the mystery's been solved then." Mimiango smiled.
"Thank you, Mimiango," William said. "You really are worthy of your status."
The oracle chuckled. "People might not pay much attention to the drummer, but I do have a good view from the back. Anyway, I better take this lot back to Eternity before they start a posthumous music battle."
Mimiango returned to his post by the drums and played a quick riff, which as far William could tell was meant to reverse the summoning.
"Oh! We're going to continue this little discussion in Eternity, mister." Pythiacri poked the neck of his lute in Laloure's direction.
"Indeed we will and I intend on proving you wrong."
"I swear, I'm going to go solo!" Sibyria growled.
With that, and a brief wave from Mimiango, the Bards turned back into statues.
"Oracles sure are temperamental," William said. "Who knew?"
Aldrosius gave the youth a deadpan look. "I did.. Then again, what else would one expect? Oracles are essentially artists, more often than not artists of the con variety. And even when their honest like the Bardic Four, they're still a group of clashing creative egos."
"Well." William clapped his hands together in a decisive way. "At least we now know what I'm supposed to do."
Aldrosius sighed and glanced at Wenselaft. "This is going to be stupid on an epic scale and the two of us are stuck in the middle."
"Oh gods, I hope I don't die," Wenselaft moaned in reply.
Stories and artwork Copyright 2009-2011 by Mette Pesonen. Copying in whole or in part is prohibited. However, you may link to this page.
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