This is part 6 of the tale. Don’t forget to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 Somehow, I manage to make it to the foot of the mountains without
Somehow, I manage to make it to the foot of the mountains without running into any more drunken trolls or rednecks. The few homes and businesses drop back farther until I have to kick in the Jeep’s four-wheel drive and power it up the hill. I step out and am greeted by a chorus of chirping crickets and hungry bullfrogs from deep within the mountains.
I take a minute and breathe in the air. Pine and moss meet in a subtle aroma that stirs a thousand memories in my mind. Nothing concrete comes forward, just a mental soup of distant sights and sounds from my childhood. My responsibilities as a knight and a constable don’t offer me many quiet moments of peace, and the brief respite from the night is worth savoring. I take a moment longer than I need, then prepare myself for the next part of my job.
I check to make sure my sword and spellslinger are still holstered. Then I reach for my backup piece, a compact revolver, and strap it to my ankle. The night has drained me of most of my reserves, and I figure I better have some bullets to fall back on if my sword or spell arm fail me.
I take my flashlight with me just in case, but it only takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the light. My family isn’t exactly sure what type of people form the rings we’re descended from. Mamaw always had a theory that it was more than likely from a few different races. But the Brown family stretches back to a time when it was safer to downplay any ring-related heritage you might have. Whoever we came from is lost to time, but I still get a few reminders of who they were. Sometimes it even comes in handy.
My papaw had to wear glasses with lenses thick as molasses whereas I have great eyesight, so no one can really predict how our ancestry is going to show itself. The only real constant seems to be the slight point of our ears. I never had to worry about glasses or contact lenses. I don’t have the kind of damned-near eagle vision that most elves have, but after a few moments, my eyes adjust to make pitch-black darkness seem like I’m only in a dim-room. It comes in handy during law enforcement and infuriated the hell out of other kids when we played hide-and-seek.
I retrace steps that I must have trodden a million different times by now. When the beaten path gets rougher, I sidestep new natural obstacles that would’ve broken my neck without the enhanced vision. After a while, I close off my thoughts and focus on the familiar path, trying to distract myself from what lies ahead. Closing up a ring, turning my back on people who might need help. The exact opposite reason why I became a cop.
Something snaps to my right, too heavy, and too few legs to be an animal. I pretend not to hear and listen as the steps grow closer. When they’re right beside me, I unsheathe my sword and spin, pointing it straight at my attacker.
The troll freezes in his spot. He’s shorter than the two I tangled with earlier, a lot shorter, coming up just short of my chest. His eyes go big as saucer plates, and his lip begins to tremble. Smaller, the fur isn’t as thick on him either, the tattered rags several sizes too big. A kid, I realize. I just drew my sword on a kid.
He bolts before I can say anything, recovering from the shock faster than me. I swear and sheathe my sword as I start after him. That look in his face is too damned familiar. In this line of work, it doesn’t matter what side of the ring you come from. Kids in trouble all look the same.
I call after him, but if his uncles or whoever the hell was in the bar didn’t speak any English, I doubt he will. His trail is easy to follow. Sure, he might be smaller than his parents, but he’s still got enough weight on him to barrel through the mountains. Something in trolls must make them run uphill too because he pulls away from me while I huff and puff after him. Luckily, he’s making enough noise that I can still track him.
And then the sound vanishes. Without a trace.
My heart stops for a moment in dread, and I pull out my ankle piece. I don’t want to scare the kid any more than I already have, but I’m worried about what else could be in these mountains. Something that could drop a troll that fast and that quietly is nothing to mess around with, but I don’t care. If something out there is hurting kids in my town, then one of us isn’t coming off this mountain.
I step into the clearing, and my mouth drops open. The ring is still open, the air rippling and the ground swirling as if made out of liquid. Nothing had gotten the kid, he had gone back home, but the ring isn’t right.
When the calamity that struck the Oldest Deep’s world ripped into ours, the ring came in the form of a deep crack at the bottom of Crater Lake. Somehow the water rose, and the temperature dropped ten degrees colder than it was, killing off all but the hardiest fish and replacing them with eel-sharks. Creepy looking things, but tasty with a bit of lemon and tartar sauce. When Iymira’s world had died with enough bang to punch a ring in the mountains, it brought down every tree within a square mile. To this day, nothing grows there. Rings that open from destructive forces reflect the death and tragedy that cause them.
This one looks nothing like it. A line of mushrooms circles the area. They’re big as my head and are in shades of red, yellow, and brown that I’ve never seen before. Clearly, the fauna isn’t native, but there’s something beautiful in the colorful arrangement. This isn’t a ring brought on by destruction. Someone opened it, and from this side by the looks of it.
Shit. More questions, fewer answers.
I stand for a second and look at the ground. With it in transition, it would be easy enough to close. Just hack off a few of the mushrooms, severing the connection between this one and the next one. That’s what the Council ordered me to do.
But I took an oath, a couple actually. One of the things that made the job of constable and knight compatible with me (complicated, but compatible) was the general idea behind those oaths, protect the good guys, take out the bad guys. And in my book, no one needs more protection than a kid in trouble, I don’t give a shit what side of the ring they come from.
So, I keep my gun handy and step into the rippling land, ignoring my orders as I sink into another world.
To Be Continued…