As Ryley looks toward the door, two figures come in out of the dying Arizona sunshine. One is a big hulk of a man, blond and large enough that he would not look out of place on an American football field, or perhaps not out of place on a dragon boat in the tenth century AD. The young woman with him is petite, delicate, and possesses hair as fiery as Sven's is blond. Both look around the bar, intently, carefully.
They are, perforce. the man and woman from Ryley's vision and dream. Likewise, the eyes of the man and woman find and rest on Ryley in turn.
"I think I'd better fade into the background for a bit, lad," Kyle says to Ryley. "Just in case."
Ana takes the lead; she can tell he has something, something like she does. She steps forward and walks with a distinct purpose towards Ryley. She holds out her hand. "I'm Ana ... I think we are supposed to be meeting you here," she offers in a gentle voice.
Ryley stands up, running a hand through his blond hair somewhat nervously, "I'm Ryley Coyne. Pleased to meet you. I saw you coming in a dream so I know you're here for me. Since you don't seem to be the type of 'girl' that my mother warned me of so recently, I'm guessing we are supposed to be going somewhere together." He extends a hand to Ana.
She chuckles a bit as she shakes his hand. "You are like me then. I've already had a run in with one of them. Ok, more like two, but I think once we gather together, we'll be a force to be reckoned with. My mother is Frigg. And this is Sven, mother calls him my thrall but I call him my friend and companion."
Ryley nods. "My mother is Brigid," though it seems a bit exposing to tell that to someone so recently met. Ryley shakes Sven's hand as well. "I can't say I've had any such adventure. I'd been renovating this place to make it seem more like a 'piece of Ireland to rest in' when I met my mother and an uncle. Since then I have been finishing work and thinking about moving on. Not wanting to attract attention to the work I have just set my hand to."
"Greetings, Ryley Brigidsson," Sven says, shaking Ryley's hand. Yeah, he has a grip to him. "We are pleased to work with you."
"You've been on the road it would seem. I can speak well for all of food, drinks and servers of the place. Perhaps some rest and a meal and we can talk about what is next?"
"A meal would be welcome," Sven says. "I do find it passing strange that a bar and restaurant devoted to the Emerald Isle would be found in the desert lands. To say nothing of yourself."
Ana chuckles. "Food would be great. It's been a long drive. Then I need to figure out a good place for rest, what's the best hotel in the area?" She smiles at Ryley and Sven. Her long red hair is shimmering even in the bar's lighting. "So what do you recommend?" She is always game for trying something new and Irish pub fare is not something she'd tried before.
Ryley points out several things on the menu that he likes as more or less 'traditional' fare and speaks to the quality, since he has been eating the same fare for the last few weeks. One of the bartenders is happy to take an order from the group.
"So Ana, where did you and your man, Sven travel from? You said it had been a long drive. Obviously too you've had a run in with 'titanspawn'. How is it that you found yourself to be looking for me anyway? I find that until recently I have lived much of a normal man's life. Was it the same with you?"
Ana nods. "I'm a doctor, in Minnesota, or at least I was, until one of my cousins was asked to arrange a meeting with my mother. Who I might add, I had no idea about. Sven was sent to, ah, kidnap me, but I turned the tables and thus earned his surrender."
Sven looks a bit sheepish at this.
"I thought he was insane until he took me to my cousin's strange land, which was not on Earth, I defeated another of his men and told him to come meet me if he dared. Knowing from the meeting that Sven's life would have been untenable there, I took him back with me ... also, I had come to respect and like the man and felt he would be a good person to teach me the finer arts of fighting. I'm not so much of a fighter. It was only my workout that included kickboxing that let me win, and apparently my special heritage."
She pauses to let Ryley ask any other questions, before continuing with her story.
"Anyway, my mother, Frigg, came to me and explained my nature. She also told me that I was her daughter and then told me about the threat from the titanspawn. She told me that the gods of many pantheons were pulling together to try and fight this, and told me to come here and find you. On the drive down, someone pretending to be in distress turned out to be titanspawn. We managed to stop them and they gave their parole."
"Have you not faced any foes, Ryley Brigidsson?" Sven asks.
Ryley grins at Sven. "No need to be so formal, friend Sven. Ryley is just fine. As to fighting any foes, I'd have to say no. I've been a bit of a bar room brawler back in Ireland but I can't say I've fought any real foes so far. We'll have to see what the future holds."
Ana watches him and cannot help but keep careful watch around the place. "I hope that you will keep alert. It seems that once we come into our power, we are like beacons to one another and to the Titanspawn." She knows he is fairly new to this, it's just the way they're going to have to learn to live. "But I am glad to know you have some idea of fighting. My only idea was kickboxing in a gym, hardly a true fighting style."
"Well, let's hope it will serve us well enough should it come to that. My mother mentioned that too. Coming into our own power or Legend. I wonder what that means aside from how we'll be easier for the Titanspawn to see? Of course we can pick out each easier as well and maybe some of the works or tools of our parents as well. It's all fine to be in fight should it come up but it's always good to have the right tools for the right job."
"It is said that the children of the Gods, in the curse and power of their own Legend, draw such troubles to themselves," Sven says. "The troubles of the mundane world, as well as those which are caused by the spawn of the Titans, come unbidden to those who are walking on the long path to Godhood."
"If you have not met any such," Sven says to Ryley, "then perhaps the fortune and luck of the Tuatha de Danann is more than just a myth and legend. Now that two of you have met, I have no doubt that where we must go and what we must do will be made clear to us one way or another. And the Titanspawn will stand athwart our path."
At this point, the bartender has returned with beers, and more importantly, food for everyone. The "Irish Burger" that Sven has ordered defies the rule that you shouldn't eat something larger than your head, its enormous beef patty stacked high with toppings.
Ryley looks at Sven and then to Ana and back again. "I think Sven has a huge advantage over us, Ana. While clearly a warrior skilled, he has some skalds, where I would call them bards, in his family. Where all of this business of gods and goddesses is so new to us, for him it is simply the way the universe is and the daily fact of the matter that the actions of the gods and titans are simply seen as such. My hat is off to you my friend. With you in our small company how can we not be successful?
"Well I have an idea of fighting yes but I have a lot to learn if I'm to be one of the fighters. Though I have to say when I talked to my mother and my uncle I could feel it stirring in my blood. How about you, Ana? How does all of this make you feel? You were clearly looking for me. What happens now?
"For myself, meeting her explained a lot of things and I wish I had been kinder to my father as a whole. There's no easy way to explain it to a young boy who is lonely for a mother. Of course my father and I can both be damn pig headed too." When the burger comes out, Ryley orders another beer and a touch of whiskey as well. "It looks good, Sven, but I have always been put off by the size of it. Good luck and let me know how it is. Maybe I could space it out over two meals."
Ana smiles gently. "I'm sure your father knows that deep down you care about him. I have to admit, my parents were great. I was raised by parents who loved me, so it was rather a shock to find out they were not my real parents. That I had been given to them to raise." She stares at the burger and then sees her own meal, a lovely beef and mushroom pie that was nicely sized, along with a good Irish beer.
"Tasty," she says after taking a bite.
"Two meals?" Sven looks amused at Ryley's words. The rate at which he is devouring the burger seems to defy laws of physics.
"As far as what happens now, I think that we will be given direction by the Gods," Sven says. "I do not see us reaving across the Southwest of Amer-i-ca like Vikings," he chuckles.
"If there are any old, blessed places nearby to here," Sven suggests, "a trip to such a place would make such direction easier. Or even a natural, wild place. Surely there are such places, especially in a desert."
Ryley's eyes light up. "Well there is just such a place, actually. I was just passing through there not more than a couple of weeks ago. Sedona. Judging by all the gas station literature and some of the bar conversations I half overheard, that would be the place. All sorts of spiritualism, energy and all manner of things going on there. The land itself is said to have vortexes of various types that channel, magnify and project various kinds of energy. It's true we are close to the desert as Sven says as well but maybe in Sedona we will feel a pull to something that may steer us along."
Sven nods his head furiously, but he waits until he has mostly stopped inhaling his burger to look at Ana. "This is the sort of place we should go to. There may even be natural roads to other realms of the Mittelmarch, such as the world I took you to meet your cousin," he says. "What do you think?" he asks her eagerly.
"You have not traveled to any of the worlds of the Mittelmarch, have you, Ryley?" Sven says. "Just as you have not yet met Titanspawn?"
Ryley tilts his head, "You would be correct. I don't seem to remember a time when I have crossed to other worlds, nor does the term Mittelmarch mean much to me. It sounds like we Irish might talk about a Fairie Trod though. It all sounds very exciting. I suppose the next question is when are we going? It's a few hours from here. I'm suggesting a good night's sleep and then leave early in the morning. The hotel I'm being put up in is nice enough to be sure. I would imagine they have a room for the night."
Ana smiles softly. "Sounds good. We have a car, so you can ride with us if you like, three would be better than two alone."
"Well it sounds good to me as well. I think we'll travel together but I think I'll take my bike. It'll be two vehicles true enough, but that may work to our advantage. We could split up if need be. There are times where one of us might act as an outrider for the other. I'm sure I could teach you or Sven to ride the bike so we have vehicular versatility," Ryley adds with a grin. "I've got some good sized saddlebags and maybe I could stow a tool box in your trunk in case we have some needs. I'm pretty handy as a whole."
Ana nods. "That shouldn't be an issue. We can probably stow whatever you need us to." She looks to Sven and has to chuckle as the large warrior shovels the huge burger into his mouth.
She eats some more, then says, "Seems like we were led to you, you are being led to the next one, and so on. This is getting more and more interesting, but I'm betting it's going to get harder, the more of us are together, the bigger a target we'll be for the Titanspawn."
Ryley nods. "This had been my thought as well. As things move foreward we may have to travel in singles or pairs to go under their abilities to percieve us. We'll proceed like this until we know more. Quite a group we make, eh?"
Sven nods enthusiastically. "Then let us take Sven's advice and find a motel to spend the night ..." he looks at Ryley "It would be wrong of us to claim guest rights in your house here." He pauses a beat. "And then in the morning, we go to this Sedona, and see what is to be seen, hear what is to be heard, and do what is to be done. Perhaps meeting more of us. Or learning where we might do that."
Ryley nods. "It's a solid plan. After we're done with our meal we can go to the hotel where I am staying and get some rest. I'll come back in the morning early enough and make sure all of my affairs are taken care of with the owner and then we can be on our way. This should put us in Sedona by lunch time I would guess. After that I'm not sure what to do but do some reading and wandering around and see what strikes us."
Ana smiles. "That sounds like a plan. I'm glad we were guided here, at least for my first meeting with another Scion. I don't feel too out of place and I feel like we can at least get along. I'm sure there will be some whose parents are diametrically opposed and probably won't be very easy to get on with."
"There are rivalries between scions of Pantheons, I understand," Sven says. "The children of the Gods quarrel with each other when the Titans and their spawn are not present to fight against." He pauses. "And sometimes even when they are."
Ryley nods. "Oh I suppose it's rather like a rugby team. Lots of ability and drive to win but some of the guys will really tick you off when they're not playing the game with you. Or like any group of brothers I've seen. They may have a care for each other but they'll fight just as quick as well. I suppose we should just hope that the way is clear for us until we determine where we should be going."
Ana nods. "We should go get some rest, the trip isn't going to be short and who knows when we will have another time to truly rest without worry. So lead on, Ryley."
Before Ryley leaves he will go to see Kyle the owner,"Well this looks to be it my friend. We have made this place what I hope you wanted, a piece of Ireland in the desert. Our own 'fey hill' I suppose. It's been a pleasure and may your business and all you are prosper. It'd be fine of you to ship my tools back home. I've taken what I'm likely to need on the journey. Send the check home as well. I'll wire them for portion of it. Thanks for everything and practice at darts. That dart board is good as gold in some places." Ryley shakes hands with his new friend.
Kyle readily agrees with Ryley's requests. "You take care out there, Ryley," he says, shaking his hand. "America is a big country, a big land. You can put Ireland in it and never find it again. Come back, whatever you find. Or don't."
"Ja," Sven says. He stands up, stretches and then he looks to Ana and then to Ryley. "Shall we settle the bill and then rest until morning and our trip to Sedona?"
The next morning, the caravan, with Ana and Sven in her car and Ryley on his motorcycle, is climbing out of Sun Valley, en route to Sedona. Sven's words were prophetic. Last night, over breakfast, Ana and Ryley discovered they had not quite the same dream, but a dream of the same place.
Ana's dream involved her climbing up to a rock formation that the internet later identified as "The Devil's bridge." It was a long steep hike, Ana feeling the perspiration on her neck, and the very un-Minnesotan dry heat.
Ryley's dream also involved the same Arch, but he was standing on top of it. Also on top was a squat, red-colored creature with skin made of stone. In Ryley's dream, the creature claimed that a geas is on Ryley to face him, or to be forever branded a coward. The dream ended before Ryley made the choice.
"Well I think it's clear enough to me where to go. It looks like for me, once we are there, I have a fight on my hands. I'm choosing to think of it as a rite of passage. At least I hope so."
Ana and Sven wait until Riley is on his bike to head off. They know where they are going, the GPS is showing the turns ahead. Her sports car is quite fast but she keeps the speed down to let Riley stay even with them. She knows it's going to be the start of a long journey and she is just happy that Sven and now Riley are with her.
In short order, with Ana and her GPS leading the way, the caravan reaches Sedona. A hiking trails map that Ryley spots in a convenience store while filling up on gas shows that there is a spider's web of trails all around the red rock canyons in the area. And indeed, there is a trail that leads to a formation called "The Devil's Bridge," just as Ana had found on the internet.
"I did not dream as you dreamed," Sven says "It occurs to me that it would be propitious to go to the spot at one of the cardinal points of the day. Sunrise, sunset, noon or midnight. If there is something to be met there, that would be the time to do it."
Ryley nods. "Sven has a good point. If one is trying to get to the Fair Realm there are conditions of entry. As to when to enter, I would say given its name, that morning or noon might be the best. Probably noon since it would be hottest."
"I agree," Sven says, looking at Ana. "In a desert land, noon may not be the hottest point of the day, but it is a cardinal point, a sign that the power of the sun over the desert land is at its greatest.
"We should make sure we have plenty of water and set off to be at the arch at noon," Sven says.
Ryley nods. "We'll need water to be sure and maybe some jerky or nuts as well to keep us going. Looks like we are in for a bit of walk. It's fine, of course, isn't there some fair amount of walking in any good quest story?"
Looking at Ana, "My mother gave me a cane that is more than it appears. Is it the same with you and that amulet that you're wearing?"
"It is common for the Gods and Goddesses to gift their Scions with items of power. One might say," Sven says, looking from Ryley to Ana. "that it is traditional for them to do so. And in this time of tumult, perhaps, necessary."
Sven looks up in the general direction of the sun and then back at the two Scions "We should set out soon, if we are to be there at Noon. Shall we get our supplies and set out?"
Ryley will grab what he feels he might need for his walk into the park to get to the 'Arch' and undertake his trails. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit scared and excited about this at the same time. I searched for magic much of my life only to find in a foreign land. I'm seeing now that my mother probably protected me from the most of it and my dad looked out for me where he could. Keeping me focused on real world things. This should be interesting rather like the Chinese saying I suspect."
"The Chinese saying?" Sven says. "What does the Celestial Court have to do with this matter?" He shakes his head as Ana explains good-naturedly to Ryley that Sven is not often on Earth.
In the heat of the day, the three hikers, properly outfitted, head out into the desert trail above Sedona. The terrain is pretty, with striking rock colors and formations that probably look even more amazing at sunrise and sunset, but still are stunning even in the high sun portion of the day.
There are few other hikers at this time of the day, and so for long stretches of the trail, they see no one and nothing other than the local wildlife, mostly jackrabbits and a couple of snakes.
Finally, the arch that haunted the dreams of Ryley and Ana both looms ahead. The time is 10 minutes to noon. There is no one there, but Sven stops and stares at the shadows pooling underneath it.
"There is a portal," Sven says quietly to Ryley and Ana. "I can sense it. I've a gift for finding connections to the Mittlemarch, the other worlds. There is a portal underneath that arch," Sven says.
Ryley looks at Sven with some surprise and a grin, "you are a handy man to have around, friend Sven. You're a wonder; part skald, warrior, guide, counselor and loyal king's man besides. Anna is lucky to have you service." Ryley shoulders whatever pack that he might have with him to take with him. He makes sure he has his cane as well, "I'm off to the Middlemarch. Wish me luck." He sets off with with the sun at his back, erstwhile spear in hand and a smile on his face.
Sven looks at Ryley and then at Ana. "I will remain here with Ana. It is possible that the challenge will come to us, as it comes to you. Such it is in the Eddas."
Is it an act of will, or unknown skill, or perhaps just being in the right place at the right time and knowing at the gate is there? Do tourists wandering underneath the arch ever step through? Ryley doesn't know, but what he does know is that as soon as his body is completely in the shadow underneath the arch, he is no longer on Earth.
The sudden shift to a cool desert night, the stars in the sky wheeling overhead, and the shining moon where there used to be noontime sun is all undeniable evidence. Although it is a moonlight night, the area around the arch is visible enough that Ryley is sure he didn't simply go from day to night, either.
The six foot tall lizard-looking man, with a long barb-tipped spear is the other undeniable evidence.
"Ah, not an accidental traveler this time," the lizard man speaks, in clear and perfect English. "You've come armed, rather than stumbling into the trap. You know where you are?"
Ryley will looks up at the stars overhead with one eye on the lizard man. "It's true I am not an accidental traveler. I know that have I willingly stepped in between worlds. Perhaps you could tell me where it is that I am precisely? I'm here for knowledge after all. Are you here to help with my education?" he says with a grin.
Ryley glances at his 'cane' does it still look and feel like a cane? Is the lizard man reacting to it as if it is the weapon of Irish Warriors? Ryley will remain wary but loose.
The cane is still a cane, but Ryley can feel a slight tingle in it, as if it was wishing, wanting, and needing to be something else, something more.
"I am not a teacher," the lizard man says. He is framed against the stars, and Ryley is certain, from his travels on his motorcycle while here in Arizona, that the stars are definitely not right. Definitely not the stars and constellations he knows.
"You dissemble, like one of the bards of the Tuatha De Danann, or one of Loki's brood," the lizard man says. "And I think you know exactly where you are, to bear a weapon, even one that is cloaked in another form."
He levels the spear and points it in Ryley's direction. "Now, the truth, and not in so pretty words. What do you want here?"
With his starting-to-be-characteristic grin, Ryley transforms the cane into a spear so they are equally armed, "Pretty words? Well I think I'm pretty thick tongued, among my relatives, but you have made some good half guesses."
"Have I?" the lizard man demands.
"My blood comes from the houses of the Tuatha De Danann and I am armed. To the rest you are wrong to be sure. This spear and the power of words have always been strengths of the Tuatha. The truth is often struggled for. So, come ahead and take it, if you dare. When I vanquish you I'll have questions of my own for you, Lizard."
Despite his bravado Ryley knows he stands under strange stars in some half world with a more than capable combatant. There is a very large of Ryley's brain is wondering 'where the hell did that come from? Being the son of a goddess is one thing but he doesn't feel any different. Certainly not any more quicker or stronger much less very parcticed with Brigid's Gift. The murmurs in his head become a fearsome sound as he advances on the Lizard Man: "What are you doing, Ryley boy?"
Ryley manages to parry the lizard man's spear, slapping it aside with relative ease. It wasn't particularly elegant, but the lizard man's attack was awkward and weak.
Ryley's response is devastating, and he thrusts the spear into the lower stomach of his opponent, the latter's attempt to dodge out of the way a hard miscalculation. The creature isn't quite impaled but takes a nasty stomach wound that would have been fatal on an ordinary person. The lizard man doesn't like it much and it could slow him down or make him more unable to attack, if Ryley can exploit it.
Ryley is surprised at his good fortune and like any good Irish sportsman he is quick to take the advantage. He intends to unbalance the lizard man since he seems as if he might be unbalanced from his dodge attempt, and get him flat on his back or flat on his stomach, whichever physics favors. If the spear comes loose as well from his clawed grip so much the better.
Ryley slides back enough to not get fallen on or struck by a desperate lunge but is ready to attack once is his opponent is down.
Ryley executes the attack perfectly. The Lizardman is slowed by his grievous wound, and in short order lands on his back, completely incapacitated, and he lands on his injured stomach. His roar of pain is the roar of a wounded and defeated dragon, crawling futilely against the ground.
Ryley remains on guard in case the Lizardman begins to rise. "Well, Dragon you have fought well but apparently 'accidental tourists' do not keep a warrior's skills strong. I have some questions and I have defeated you. Answer my questions and you can go away from this place to treat your wounds and fight somewhere else in the 'Middelmarch.'"
The Lizard man remains in position, not rising. He(?) hisses but regards Ryley from his prone position.
"Swear it by your divine parent," the lizard man says. "Swear by her name, and I will answer your questions. You have the look of the Tuatha De Daanan on you, breaking such an oath on your part would be a terrible breaking of a geas. So swear that you will release me as you say, and I will answer your questions."
Ryley bristles slightly at the threat but is unwilling to deny the power of the geas, since it is pervasive in Irish myth. "I swear on my mother, Brigit's, divine name to release you when you have satisfied my curiosity."
He extends his hand to the large lizard, "Rise, dragon. there is no reason for to remain prone as if there is no life in you."
The lizardman rises to his feet, a little ungainly.
"I will ask my questions all at once and then you may answer afterwards. I reserve the right to ask three more questions after you have answered the initial questions.
"What is this place? "How did it come to be here? "What is your purpose of being here? "How did you come here? "Are you here by duty, mischance or choice? "Are you trapped here? "Are there paths out of this place? "Where do the paths lead? "Are there rules to how the paths or this place operate?"
The Lizardman waits for Ryley to speak all of his questions before answering.
"You are in the Sandfell," the Lizardman says. "This is a realm of the Mittelmarch, bordering Earth. It has been here since the creation of the world, although the gate itself is likely new.
"I wait here for prey. I am not from your Earth, but the taste of human meat fills a need that no other sustenance can provide. And a patron of mine set me here, to hunt as I would. And so I wait for the door to open, and a hiker to come within reach. So very rarely does prey step through the portal so boldly and knowingly, as you have done, child of Brigit.
"This is but the opening to the Sandfell. If you were to be so bold, you could explore the entirety of this shadow world, or the paths that lead out of it. They lead to other worlds, of course, although at least one opens out onto Earth, to the south and east.
"The rules for traveling to the worlds of the Mittelmarch vary on the world and the path. There are those who can open paths at their discretion. I smelled it on the man who travels with you. Most must obey the rules to open paths and travel the worlds.
"Does that answer all your questions?" He widens his grin into a toothy one.
Ryley nods at the large lizardman. Thoughts race through his head. It feels strange to leave him here but I'm betting this place is part of local legends and maybe even the lizardman itself. Have I asked good questions? I should name the spear once I am gone from this place since that's what Mother encouraged. Part of my own Legend I suppose.
The Lizardman studies Ryley as he digests the answers he has been given.
Realizing his questions, to this point have been answered he will ask one more, "You have answered my questions to be sure, and I while I have no desire to have further combat, how do I get back to where I came from?"
Ryley will be on the lookout for subterfuge and a possible advantageous attack from the lizardman and ready to defend himself.
"It is well past the noon hour," the lizardman says. "The Gate that you used will not likely work, unless you are a Gatecrasher of some kind. You might wish to exit the Sandfell by another exit, if you are unable to traverse the boundary now."
He points down slope. "The nearest gate back to your Earth, that works on a continual basis. It is some miles. And there may be," he grins widely with his teeth showing, "dangers".
"Well, facing dangers in the nature of the Hero on his Journey, it's true enough, and there is little to be done for it. If, on the other hand, dragon, you think to have some revenge on me because of your defeat I find it mean spirited and would be quite determined to find you once more and express my displeasure.
"Good luck with your recovery and hopefully no 'danger' will find you. Travel well, dragon." And Ryley moves off in the direction that the lizardman has indicated.
The way pointed out by the defeated lizardman (who rolls his shoulders in pride at being named a dragon) soon leads to a pathway, and a pathway to what amounts to a road. Sure, it's a beaten-earth road, but it's definitely distinguishable, even in the desert night.
Ryley walks for about a mile, passing by rock formations similar to the ones he had seen back on earth when he, Ana, and Sven drove up to Sedona. Underneath the constellations of the night sky of this world that is not earth, they have a somewhat more malevolent and imposing appearance. In point of fact, as he goes on, Ryley gets the sense that, in some way, the rock piles are watching him, or more appropriately, are aware of him in some fashion.
Reaching the top of a ridge, he sees an arch similar to the one he stepped through to meet the lizardman. What's more, the daylight of Earth leaks out from underneath that ridge, just as the darkness pooled underneath the other gate.
The walk on the beaten earth road under strange stars is nerve-wracking enough for Ryley after his fight that it is difficult to relax. As the landscape moves from vaguely familiar to the more sinister, as he moves through the rock formations that become more menacing, his nerves continue to become like a bow drawn over a fiddle, each note tighter and higher than the last at each bend of the road.
When he sees the similar archway and the light of Earth from it he stops for a moment, squatting down and leaning on his spear, to gather himself since it wouldn't do to run screaming through the portal and kiss the ground.
As he regards this sight, maybe a quarter of a mile away, he hears the sounds of scraping stones, and out of the corner of his eye, Ryley can see one of those rock piles is changing form and shape, resolving itself into a humanoid figure. A large humanoid figure. One might even call such a figure a troll.
He stands at that sound, trying to figure out where it comes from. As the pile of stones resolves into a humanoid form that he would call a troll Ryley brings his spear into a guard position and looks around himself. He judges his path to the gate and measures the obstacles in his path. He remembers something from J.R.R. Tolkien's book, that trolls did not bear the sunlight. "It seems unlikely since they are made from stone, that it might work but some myth has a basis in fact, right, Ryley old boy?" he says to himself out loud.
He considers making for the portal at a dead run, hoping that fleetness of foot might win the day. There is a part of him too that does want to fight the troll too. It's hard to walk away from a scrap when it's with a piece of legend itself.
There is only one rock pile moving and forming itself into a troll, but there are plenty of rock piles and formations which aren't moving. The area of the desert is lousy with them. A straight shot to the portal and, presumably, freedom, will, as a direct line, put him within reach of the forming troll. A longer, more circuitous route might also work, although has the risk of letting the Troll to get himself (itself?) a chance to intercept him.
He decides for the straight path since he doesn't want to get trapped within the rocks with a troll. He goes to the direct route with as much speed as he can safely make towards the portal. If he has to fight the troll then it's better to be closer to the portal. With a solid grip on his spear he heads for the portal.
He sprints, and it looks like he can make it but the rockpile is just a little faster than him. Ryley is going to have find something within him to cross that last little gap. Without it, he is going to have to face and fight the troll for the right to get back to the world he knows. The troll is large enough to go under, or make it a decent shot at sliding underneath it. The troll does respond with a descending fist, intent on smashing Ryley into putty before he can get past him.
Ryley just manages to avoid getting smashed by the rocky fist and slides through the troll's leg and behind him as the fist comes down in his wake. A few chips of rock fly up in Ryley's face from the punch, and the creature slowly turns around. Ryley didn't slide far, certainly not out of reach of the troll, but the troll will take a few moments in turning around before he can do that.
The Arch, and Earth, are maybe forty feet away.
Ryley gets to his feet as quick as he can and runs for the Arch. Realizing that he might not be able to outrace the troll, he hatches a plan that relies on speed, quick wits, brave reflexes and trust in his divine mother. He runs as fast as he can using his ears and a glance backwards at the troll. He is assuming the creature will pursue him once it turns itself. Ryley hopes to at least gain ground, but when the troll is barreling at him, once he sure he is close to the arch Ryley will turn back toward the troll and plant the spear, raising it so that it might pierce the monster's neck area or chest. Hopefully velocity and Brigid's handiwork will do the job, killing the troll, and then he can make it to the Arch and back to Earth.
The troll turns and lumbers after Ryley. Its speed is like a freight train, slow at first but building up momentum with every pump of its rocky legs. As it nearly catches Ryley, the scion of Brigid is able to turn around and plant the spear. As hoped, the spear catches the troll in the chest, and the rocky creature drives himself onto its point like a horse forced onto a pike.
The troll waves its arms around, trying to reach his target, but the wound is grievous. It manages to pull off the spear, a gaping hole opening from the weapon's impact, and troll falls backward. If it's not dead, it's certainly disabled and no longer a threat.
Ryley regains his feet and his weapon. "Remember that you have recieved some form of mercy from the Tuatha should they pass this way. You are fearsome to be sure and have my regard." He will does not hesitate in making his way to the portal and passing through it, back to Earth.
Ryley steps through the portal, and finds himself back on Earth, judging from the red rock landscape, the sun in the sky, and the distinct lack of trolls or other mythological beings.
And, it must be said, a distinct lack of his fellow scion and her companion. He's not back in the park where he split up with Ana. Instead, looking around, it appears that Ryley has is on the edge of a Safeway parking lot. The shadow caused by a couple of planted trees appears to be the frame around which the gate he passed through uses as the barrier.
Coming toward him, across the parking lot, and making a beeline for him, is a russet-haired man. "Hey," he calls, waving a hand as he approaches the spot where Ryley has emerged. He picks up his pace as he marches in Ryley's direction.
Ryley looks around and tries to puzzle out what a Safeway might be. Maybe a covering or a staging ground for the portal? He looks over the parking lot, trying to see what the place is. From what it looks like, it seems like a large grocery store of some kind. Why the portal should deposit him in its parking lot is an open question.
He wonders about Ana and Sven and where they maybe now. Hopefully no harm has come to them and the roads for them will be straight and fair. He also is disappointed that his bike is elsewhere as well, but there is little to be done about this now. As the russet-haired approaches, Ryley looks in his hand to see if he is holding a cane or a spear.
The man doesn't seem angry or worried, but he does seem to be rattled or somewhat agitated. "Hey," he waves a hand again and approaches. "You come from the Other Side?" he asks
Ryley can't help but smile. "Well I'm from the other side of the pond to be sure." He jerks his head back towards where the portal was, "If you mean did I come from there ... well no, I came through it though but I'm from Ireland." He extends his hand to the man. "I'm Ryley. Maybe you could tell me where it is that I am exactly?"
"Arizona," the man says with a grin. "Sedona, Arizona, to be precise," he says, taking Ryley's hand. He looks over Ryley for a moment. "You came through that portal from Ireland? You've got an Irish accent," he says. "Lucky, ICE isn't going to think you came over the border from Mexico.
"A friend of mine from up on the reservation asked me to keep an eye out here. Said a couple of people might be here invoking the old magic. A big nordic guy, a woman, and a guy from across the sea, is what he said. Guess you're the third?"
Ryley nods with a grin. "Well as I have never been to Mexico and would surely fry if I went any farther south. I'm not wild about the heat here in Sedona, though I'm adjusting. It's good that you've seen my friends and that they are okay. We went into the Portal at different times and maybe's that affects things."
Ryley will describe where they went into the portal. He is curious how far away the other end of the portal is. "Ah, up on one of the trails," the man says. "That makes more sense than a parking lot."
"Did my friends come through with any of their equipment? I guess the other thing is did they say where they were going or how I might get a hold of them? I'm pretty sure that we have some things that need to get done sooner than later."
"I don't know," the man says. "I'd say that I don't know how my friend told me to come to this parking lot to find you, but he's always had odd abilities. He wants to meet you back at the Rez, maybe that's where your friends will be. Leastwise, that's my best guess, or else he'd have me taxiing them, too.
"You can call me Calvin," he adds.
Ryley nods. "Well it's good to see they made it. Your friend is probably sensitive to such things like Sven is. I'm curious to meet your friend. I've been meeting a lot of interesting people lately. Well, Calvin it's nice to meet you and I'm sure appreciative of the ride to the 'Rez'. Is it very far?"
"It's a couple hours drive up to Tuba City, that's where we're going," Calvin says. "It'll be a pretty drive, though, once we get into the painted desert. The miles," Calvin promises "will just fly by. And you do want to see your friends, again, I'd imagine. The ways of the portals are not something I understand," he admits. "Coupla years ago, I would have told anyone they were crazy if they said there were places you could disappear or appear out of thin air, even in Sedona. Times, they are a changin'.
Calvin leads Ryley to a sun-bleached blue pickup truck, and slides in and unlocks the door for Ryley to climb aboard. He soon starts the truck and puts it in gear, driving toward the highway.
"Anyway, the old man is a Navajo, and knows about all this stuff. He has strange ideas that the world really was born from Gods and spirits, instead of the way you and I learned in school. Not sure what to make of that..." He looks keenly at Ryley.
Ryley grins at the last statement and Calvin's scrutiny of him, "Well, a while ago I would have been with you and not your friend but as they say, 'there are greater things under Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.' I guess the 'world' is bigger than we think it is. It's hard to say where myth and science align or not. It's not a bad ride so far, though."
During the ride, in a lull, it would occur to Ryley that the ability to sense the gates like Sven and this Shaman seems to be useful. Is it trained or is it god gifted? Does one require as certain sensitivity? He wonders is some sort of map might exist if one is not sensitive enough or lacks the gift. He'll have to ask when he meets Sven again or this Shaman friend of Calvin's.
Two hours of desert driving and chatter later, the truck reaches a relatively poor portion of the Navajo Reservation. Its beautiful terrain and topography are framed in the foreground by what Ryley sees as blinding poverty. Ryley takes in the beauty of the desert and the abject poverty with little comment. While the beauty stirs the Irish poet in him, the poverty does the same. Life has both dark and light in. It's not that it doesn't affect him or matter to him but at the moment he can't think of anything to do to help. He does wonder what the world would look like if the Titans were to return.
Calvin drives to a small shack on the edge of town, a building of crumbling burned brick that looks like it was something else, perhaps a school or a police station or hospital, long ago.
An elderly Navajo sits crosslegged on a mat in a main room in this crumbling building without real doors, or windows, and few items except some mouldering items in various corners of rooms.
"Good afternoon, son of the Tuatha De Daanan," the elderly Navajo says as Calvin and Ryley says. "Welcome to my most humble hospitality. We do not have any feud between us, do we?"
Ryley bows slightly to the old man and gives his characteristic grin, "Thank you for your welcome, shaman. It's true I am of the Tuatha De Daanan and there is no feud between us that I have been told of. I will take your welcome gladly and offer my own that we might have peace and wisdom between us."
"Then we may speak without poison upon our lips, or lies upon our tongues," the shaman says. "You may call me Sicheii."
"It means grandfather," Calvin stage whispers.
"Your friend Calvin was good to me and helped me get here with your knowledge. My friends are here it seems as well. I'm not really sure what we are supposed to be doing once we have gone through the portal. My experiences there certainly continue to change my view of the world and the larger universe. I have questions and I find that I am without my motorcycle. I don't suppose you could just materialize it for me?" The last question is clearly meant with humor.
"The children of the Aesir have passed beyond my ken. Perhaps they did not pass the test that they faced, as you passed yours," Sicheii replies. "I see their path and yours, for the nonce, splitting apart, moving away. Perhaps they will intersect in the future, but for the moment, you and they share divergent fates.
"I know where your motorcycle and possessions are; Calvin will return you to them once our business is done."
"I would be happy to, grandfather," Calvin says. "But why did you have me bring him?"
"He is a child of the Gods, and has a great geas upon him," Sicheii says to Calvin. "Greater than perhaps he knows." He looks at Ryley. "Tell me, young one, did your divine parent tell you your true purposes, both the greater and the lesser?"
When the mention of a greas hits the air Ryley freezes for a moment. From his memory of myth a geas isn't a good thing and to go against it brought only the worst tragedies.
Ryley bows slightly to the old man. "Greetings Sicheii, it is good to know that there is no war between us, nor poison or lies. Your vision of myself and the other scions seems great and I'm sure that your gaze turned to me in anger would do me no good."
The grandfather smiles and nods but does not interrupt Ryley.
"My mother said only that the Titans were stirring again and they endanger the world. It may lead me to the east and among other scions. My mother is part of a loose alliance against the rising threat. Of my purpose, well to follow the 'family work'. Obviously if there is knowledge you can give me I would be most grateful. I had no idea that I already had a geas on me. I find myself hungry to know all that you can tell me." Ryley takes a seat. "I have noticed yourself and the man travelling with Anna can sense the 'gates' or 'paths'. Is this a skill that one may learn or is it an inborn gift, given to only a few?"
"It is something usually reserved to the children of the Gods," Sicheii begins. "A gift to see the true frame of reality, and see that the world is not one. The world is not alone. It is not a berry sitting alone on the desert sands, but rather still on its thicket, close to and near to the other berries, if you but know they are there.
"It is time for you to unlock your potential, Ryley," he says. "We can summon the power within you, and unlock your second Sight. But I require a price for this gift."
He pauses and continues "I wish to apprentice Calvin to you as your squire," Sicheii says.
Ryley looks at the old man with some surprise on his face. "A squire? Surely you can't think that I'll be such a hero that I would have a squire? I'm not sure that I can offer Calvin much, either. I have always been on my own and aside from school, some rugby and drinking in pubs I'm not sure I'm even good around people. What you're offering me, with your training, Grandfather is a gift I have seen and recognize its value but I'm not sure what I could offer a life of travel and almost certainly some strangeness. The world is wider than I thought even six moths ago in Dublin but I have much to learn and little to offer aside from company in what is almost certain to be an increasingly strange land."
Ryley turns suddenly Calvin. "What do you think of this, Calvin?"
"I am stunned. Grandfather," he looks at Sicheii. "I do not understand what I might learn from such a journey. Is not Ryley's path a solitary one?"
Sicheii shakes his head firmly. "I see several paths ahead. Without someone to guide him across this land, Ryley will be lost, swallowed up in this vast land. And he will provide you the knowledge you need of the Ghost Worlds. He has already traversed and survived the dangers of one, there will be more such trips.
"It does not do to send out a warrior of the Fianna alone," Sicheii says. "You will follow this godling, and serve him, or serve me no more."
Calvin swallows. "If this is what you wish, Grandfather, and if Ryley will have me ..." He looks toward Ryley in turn.
Ryley looks to Sicheii and to Calvin. "I have to admit I thought that my path would be a solitary one as well. That being said I have met some exceptional people, in even a short time, and we have traveled together to our mutual benefit. I believe that you have much to teach. Knowledge of gates and the larger world have much value to me. If your price is taking a squire then I agree to this. In his time with me he will learn from all that he thinks to ask me that I have knowledge of.
"Calvin, you now serve as my squire and companion to hold in my service so long as it benefits us both. Are you agreed to this?"
Calvin looks from Ryley to his grandfather. "Grandfather, I do not know the proper forms on how to best ..."
Sicheii interrupts. "Just make a strong and true promise, and the eyes of the Overworld and the eyes of the Underworld each will see it and bear witness to it."
Calvin clears his throat.
"I, Calvin, swear to follow Ryley Coyne, and serve as his guide, squire and companion in his travels in America, the Ghost worlds, and where else our roads lead. I will stand by him in desert, forest and grassland, by the sea or on top of the mountains. I so say and so I will do."
He pauses, looks at Sicheii who gives a tight lipped smile of approval.
"Gawd, I feel like I've just gotten married," Calvin says
Ryley laughs out loud. "I wouldn't worry too much about it. Think of it more like we have entered into an agreement. One of mutual benefit. As Sicheii has said, it's much more about clear intent. I have noticed for myself that when someone treats me like a scion of my heritage it sort starts my head on fire and I respond to things in a way that is by turns more grand and confident at the same time. I'm not sure I really understand it but really I'm just like you. A guy trying to make his way in the world. My experiences have told me that the world is more than it appears but I like the fact there is is more wonder in the world too. I know there are other scoins out there and our parents have made an alliance against the rising of the titans. I feel like I have to be better informed and get in the fight as it were so I can help out. I suppose part of it is like any child I'm worried about pleasing my mother.
For us it means that I have a bunch of things to learn and well America is just a lot bigger than I had it in my head and I have no idea where I'm going as of yet but I'm sure to need a hand." He extends his had to Calvin.
Calvin takes Ryley's hand and clasps it firmly. "We have an agreement, Ryley," he says with a grin.
"Good," Sicheii says with satisfaction. He looks at the horizon and the sinking sun. "I give you until sunrise to prepare. Sunrise, sunset, midnight and noon are the propitious times for these sorts of rituals. You are the son of Fire and dawn would be best for this. Calvin can find you a hotel room, and food, and anything else you need until then.
"I suggest," Sicheii adds, "you purify yourself, and do not smoke, or heavily imbibe."
Ryley nods. "Thank you both. I'm hoping I'm not such a dullard that this doesn't take too long. I feel like I'm already late to the dance as it were. I know that these things take as long as they do so I'll try for patience. I'm sure I could use some sleep if nothing else."
"Thank you grandfather," Calvin says. He looks at Ryley. "C'mon. We'll get you to a motel. Find you some food, too. Purify does not mean fast, right, grandfather?"
"No, it does not," he says. "An empty stomach would not be wise. Go, eat, rest. You are not late, Ryley. The dance has yet to truly begin."
"Good," Calvin says. "I'll bet you've never had fry bread tacos. We'll pick them up on the way to the hotel, and then you can get cleaned up and sleep until just before dawn. All right?"
"Tacos, or really anything with meat sounds lovely, really. And so too does sleep. I find that while it might have not been a long day for me I'm definitely somewhat stretched out." Ryley is glad to hear from someone more educated on things that he is not late in getting involved in the wider world of scions. He won't say anything about it right now and just enjoy the feeling of relief.
Fry bread tacos do turn out be very different than the u-shaped things Ryley encountered back home, and even different than the cuisine he had started to get used while in Arizona working on the Bar. It's no less tasty for the thicker bread and differently spiced meat and other things (including, apparently, grilled cactus).
Tired, and filled, Ryley soon finds that he is indeed more tired than he thinks, and sleep comes all too easy in the dilapidated but otherwise functional motel room.
Ryley finds himself being shaken awake. "Ryley. It's an hour before dawn. We need to get moving and ready," Calvin says urgently, shaking his shoulder some more.
Ryley shakes his head, "Wha? Oh! Man I must have been more wiped out than I thought. I'm hoping that the shower wakes me up. Maybe there's something in the cactus that makes a person sleepy like turkey," he grins.
"Perhaps," Calvin allows.
Ryley showers quickly and dresses make sure that he wears comfortable jeans and the coolest shirt that he has. He checks his pockets and motorcycle jacket for all of his essential things. It reminds him if he is going to stay in this area of the world some sort of shoulder pouch or backpack might be better than his old battered jacket.
He snatches up his cane and jacket satisfied that he has everything. "Come boyo, school's almost in session."
The drive in the dark back to Sicheii's hut is quiet and unassuming. Calvin drives slowly, despite the open terrain and empty highway, as if prolonging the trip. He says nothing, staring at the road, hitting the brakes suddenly, as a four legged figure bounds into the roadway. The brakes manage to stop the vehicle ten feet away from the animal, which stands placidly looking at them both.
"Mule deer. Not your spirit animal, I hope," Calvin says. After another moment, and a long stare at Ryley, it bounds off, getting off the road and leaving the path clear. Aside from this incident, there is nothing of note until they arrive. Sicheii stands outside, waiting patiently, as if he had stood a thousand years in that very spot, unperturbed by wind, sun or rain. The lines of his face and his whole body look like dark rock in the false down light.
"This is your last chance to refuse this gift," Sicheii says to Ryley, turning and walking, as if expecting him to follow. He walks up a twisting path on a small hill, which gives an unobstructed view of the rising sun to the east. At the top, a circle has been painted in the dirt in a white bright enough to stand out in the early morning. "You will stand in the circle, naked, and when the rays of the sun hit you, the chant and prayer Calvin and I say will infuse you with what you really are.
"You will no longer be human," Sicheii adds. "But you will be what you are meant to be. That is no small thing."
Seeing even the first portion of the sun he remembers stories that are scattered around Ireland and England about Imbolc and Brigid's role in them. He is warmed by it. A little self conscious he strips down. "I'm not sure I was ever really too good at bein' human. Maybe this will go a little better and I'll be able to do more good." Ryley steps into the circle waiting for the sun.
Slow seconds, and a minute passes as the dawn approaches. Sicheii starts chanting words in a tongue Ryley does not recognize, and Calvin picks up the chant. The first rays of sun start to peak over the horizon to the east, the sky lightening and lightening. Golden rays of light spread across the ground toward Ryley and the circle. The chanting grows louder, more sonorous, more inescapable. The words mean nothing, the beat is everything. It is a prayer to the sun, to the powers of the sun, perhaps to Brigid herself. Ryley is unsure, and yet the sound is empowering, invigorating.
The light covers Ryley and the circle. There is the sound of thunder, and Ryley feels like he has been electrocuted. Every inch of his skin is a live wire of electricity and sensation. This slowly ebbs, draining upward, from the feet to his head. It is the fire in the head that remains an extra moment, and then it too, fades.
But the fire, and the strength of fire, is in his blood. Ryley can feel it. It is a part of him now.
The chanting stops, and Sicheii and Calvin look at Ryley. "How do you feel?" the former asks.
Ryley shakes his head, blinking. He paces around the circle, clockwise, without stepping out of it. He is taking stock of himself before he answers, feeling the wind and the beginning of the day's sun on his skin, his feet against the earth. That feeling of being so a part of the world that there is a heaviness to things. Also that clear sense of the Otherworld so close that it is easy to feel close to him.
He looks up at Sicheii and Calvin, "Like I'm on fire a bit, struck by lightning, heavy and light at the same time. Good," he nods to them.
"Good," Sicheii says. "Then we have succeeded. Scion."
He takes one more slow pacing around the circle, not wanting to lose the feeling, and steps out of it where he began his circle. "Yeah, really good, but I think I'd like to get dressed now."
Calvin laughs nervously and looks at his grandfather.
"The ritual is complete, you can put your clothes on again," Sicheii says. "After all, you have things, great things, to accomplish and do, son of the Fire Goddess. It would not do to keep her waiting. Or to disappoint her."
Ryley can't help but laugh nervously, himself, as he gets dressed. "I guess great things sounds as good as anything else but I've no idea on what to do from here. I know that there are a group of scions involved in this venture from what my mother said. I'm not sure if I should try to find them or or to go it on my own, with Calvin, of course and see what we might learn of the Titanspawn.
"Is there a way that you can teach me to be sensitive to the gates? Even if I can't use 'em knowledge of them is useful."
He sits down with both men. "Is there a way to show where the other scions are? While I wholeheartedly agree it won't do to keep my mother waiting but she won't suffer me well if I fun 'round with no plan and no idea what I'm doing in the world. I need your guidance and wisdom, Grandfather."
Sicheii looks at Calvin. "Did you not see any signs of Ryley's goals, or destiny, when you found him at the Gate?"
"No, Grandfather," Calvin says.
"Hmm," the elderly man returns to looking at Ryley. "If your mother the Goddess did not give you instructions on what to do, then she did so for a reason. She may be as capricious as fire itself, but you are her son."
The old man considers this for a long moment.
"You should take him to the Four Corners," Sicheii says to Calvin. "And let him walk through the Gate there and take the road to Fifth Corner." He looks at Ryley again. "It is a sacred site, in one of the otherworlds. You wish to learn to see the Gates? The spring there will give a gift, an answer and a fortune, in exchange for answering three riddles.
"It is where I was given the Sight," Calvin says encouragingly. "If I can answer the riddles, Ryley, surely you can."
"Riddles, huh? Well I'm not feeling like I'm the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I'm feeling good right now. It's time to get into the fight and do what I can to help my mother and the other scions who have taken up the clarion call. Besides Calvin can help me along the way right? To be more clever, yeah?" he adds with a grin.
"I've been hearing people talk about the Four Corners area since I got to the States so it must be something to see. How far is it and when do we get started?"
"Three hours' drive from here," Calvin says. "It is more of a mystical spot than a scenic one. Being able to stand in several states at once has a power to it. A border to transcend borders and worlds, which is why a gate has been there since the four states were formed, I think, Ryley.
"There's been a gate there far longer than that, Calvin," Sicheii corrects. "That gate is why the borders just so happened to be drawn the way they were. But if you are to go, you should go as soon as possible," Sicheii says with a smile. "The fate of the world will not wait much longer, child of the Fire Goddess."
"Well," Ryley stands up brushing his hands on his jeans, "we have most of day before us. Maybe we can make it to Four Corners by noon and get some food in us before then as well. Is there anything else I should know, Grandfather?"
Sicheii shakes his head firmly. "There is no further wisdom that I can give you, Ryley. What wisdom you gain, now, is the wisdom that you will earn on your journey." He offers Ryley his hands. "May you, for all of our sakes, and the sake of the world itself, find that wisdom that you need, the strength to act on that wisdom, and the fortitude to see it through to its conclusion."
Without a further word, Grandfather walks away from the spot, back down the hill, alone, his shadow ahead of him long in the rising sunlight.
"You affected him profoundly," Calvin says, a little choked up. "I'd never seen him like this."
Ryley can only shrug as he watches Sicheii's long shadow move away. "I have no wisdom or quip for this one, my friend. The road is out before us and we have wisdom to gather and our strength to grow and use. Let's hit the road."
Calvin laughs. "I thought a child of the Goddess of Poetry would always have words, for any occasion. It seems I have much to learn about the Tuatha de Daanan. But you are right, let us go."
Ryley shakes his head. "I've always been more of a smith and tinkerer. I love music with some time in on the guitar. It never occurred to me to sing, speak or write anything. I'll have to think about it. I suppose," he shrugs.
A half hour later, Ryley is on the road again, Calvin driving north and east away from the Indian reservation and toward the northeast of Arizona, where it borders Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Four Corners. A side road from the highway, well marked and advertising the spot, invites them to go onward, and the hot sun pulls at both Ryley and Calvin by the time they reach the checkpoint where the Navajo Nation charges admission to get to the spot. A little further on, the flat, scrubby desert is broken by the granite slab at the actual site, a small visitor's center and a fair number of not-yet-sunburned tourists ostensibly doing the same thing as Ryley and Calvin.
"Drink up, first," Calvin says. "Then we will find the portal and step through."
The flags of the four states, the US Flag, and two tribal flags flutter in the light breeze as if in agreement.
"It seems irreverent not to ask about the two tribal flags before we undertake our larger journey. Is there anything I should know before we begin?"
"Oh!" Calvin says. "There are four states here," he points up at the flags of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. "There's the US Flag, of course, but two tribal nations also overlap The Four Corners. The Navajo, whom you've been a guest of these last couple of days," Calvin says. "And the Ute Mountain Tribe has some overlapping land over from Colorado. So they get a flag up here, too.
"We just need to walk with resolution and purpose. Ignore the tourists. People tend to ignore stuff like we do, anyway, or rationalize it. We walk to the disc, and then follow me up and through Fifth Corner Gate. Keep your eyes on me. If you don't, you might wind up elsewhere in the Mittelmarch."
Ryley nods to Calvin's information about the tribes and also his instructions about what to do getting to the Gate. "Got it. Do as you do and ignore the tourists, though I suppose I would qualify as one. I love the names of these things. You can hear the myth and truth of it by its name. Fifth Corner Gate. It's a wonder at how much information is out there if you know what you're looking at or hearing. I wonder how much, too, has been lost as my mother and others retreated from the world."
Calvin nods. "They never completely abandoned the world, Ryley. In some cases, they were just much more subtle about it. And there are places in the world, even in this country, that are tied to them and their ways. Often in secret of course, as you have seen."
The actual process of activating the gate is without fireworks or major fanfare. Calvin walks to the disc for the four corners, waiting for a couple of kids to finish their fun of "Standing on four states at once" while parents snap pictures with IPhones. At a moment when the coast is clear, Calvin steps smartly on the disc and then starts walking northeast, ostensibly into Colorado.
It is about at the tenth step that Ryley realizes that Calvin isn't quite walking northeast, or any other cardinal direction. And, since he is following, neither is he. Ten more steps, and Calvin stops and turns around, holding up a hand for Ryley to do the same. When he does so, the changed landscape is apparent. No buildings. No tourists. The sky is a lighter shade of blue, more of a baby blue. The sun ... the sun is a dimmer shade of yellow, as if mixed with a hint of orange.
The four corners marker is still there, sort of, now sporting a spike, like a obelisk. It's not tall, maybe twenty or thirty feet high. But, it's not pointing straight up. It's not pointing at an angle to the ground. It's pointing in another direction entirely. A direction that Ryley cannot see ... but somehow does.
Ryley takes a moment to marvel at the change in his environment - the color of the sky and sun, as well as the obelisk and its strange direction. He tries to detect whether there is a feel of 'otherness' about the place now that he is here in it. He drinks in his environment without moving around much since not only has Calvin not indicated it but who is to say where any wandering might lead him.
"Well, it's certainly something to be sure. I think the change in environment makes it somehow more startling. What is next, Calvin? Since you are my loyal and well-learned guide."
"We find the spring," Calvin says, "and prepare to riddle." He starts walking along a path, not much more than an animal trail, up a slope and down the other side, leading to a small bowl-shaped area ringed by similar hillocks. In the center of this is a free-flowing artesianal spring filling a small pool. It is as Calvin is trudging down the slope, coaxing Ryley to follow him, that Ryley realizes that, in some sort of sense, the obelisk, although pointing in another direction, was pointing here. Looking backward, the way they came, the point of the obelisk is aimed directly at their path, and the spring itself.
"There is no telling who or what the guardian of the spring will take as a form," Calvin says. "Some see people they know, people they knew, or people they wished they had met. Others meet entirely random people."
In Ryley's case, as it turns out, it's a mermaid. She surfaces in the pool as Calvin and Ryley approach. The bottom half of her body is indeed fishy, with green iridescent scales shimmering wetly in the sunlight. Above the waist, she is extremely human looking, and in fact, vaguely familiar. Blond hair, with an icy, cool look in her eyes, she regards the two men, bemused.
"I see you brought someone else this time," she says to Calvin. She punctuates the sentence with a couple of words in an unfamiliar language.
Calvin, embarrassed, waits a moment and nods. "This is Ryley. He has come for the the gift of the Sight."
"Have you, now?" she says to Ryley. "Are you prepared to play the game?"
Ryley steps forward to spare Calvin any further embarrassment, "It's true I have come to gain the Gift of the Sight. Perhaps, good guardian, you could explain the game to me so that I might play it to the fullness of its measure? Do you have a name or something that you are called?"