The Life and Adventures of Sir Edelbert Spore

Previous: Volume 24

 

Volume 25

The Inner Limits

 

It was easy to forget how much of one’s thoughts were occupied by perception. Sights, sounds, smells, even the pressure of the air on his skin; all were incessant distraction from the deep inner void which was the landscape of the mind. It was more than darkness. Edelbert found himself trapped within a place which managed to feel oppressively small and overwhelmingly large at the same time. Where a raucous reticence buffeted him like a tornado. Rotten blandness permeated his awareness, oddly reminiscent of chicken. A buoyant weightlessness crushed his very being.

 

Time was interesting oddity inside the space of his mind. Awareness of change was nothing more than the stream of his own thoughts passing from one to the next. He understood time was relative to his actions and those of the units around him. Thinking was a free action though and he could have a multitude of thoughts within a barest instant. This left him with absolutely no way to gauge the passage of anything outside of himself. Moments stretched beyond the voided horizon, while eternities zipped by almost before they had begun.

 

He considered that he might be panicking. His thoughts were certainly racing and abnormal, although he couldn’t feel his heart which left him oddly unsure. He could assume that he was breathing since he was not croaked (he believed). Unless they had a spell for that too, but he doubted they had such Weirdomancy. Again, he could not be sure. A part of him worried that he might be screaming or flailing wildly. What effects his thoughts and feelings had on his physical actions while in this state were as unclear as any other question he had. He hoped he was calmly seated somewhere, smugly unphased by the deprivation to which they exposed him. Somehow, he doubted that too.

 

His head had become his entire world. He was little more than a formless consciousness suspended in inky void. It was terrifying. But that was only the beginning.

 

As the initial fear and panic subsided somewhat, his mind began to hurriedly wander from topic to topic. Inevitably he came upon the loss of the Mushroomish Kingdom, the loss of his family. He had yet to process the grief contained within him, and with nothing else to focus on, his feelings surged forth. The sense of loss became a palpable force within the mindscape in which he was trapped. Despair smothered and choked his consciousness as if he were breathing a toxic gas through his ears. Edelbert had never felt so sick or weak.

 

Turnip had been the Dirtamacer’s lifelong companion and stubborn friend. He would be missed like no other. Chief Mother had come to be as much her name as her role amongst the family. Phil possessed a joviality and calm which saturated any place he went. Many arguments had been quashed among the group by a single sentence from him. Arthur had been Edelbert’s protégé, his friend, and eventually his chosen King. Losing a Royal which was chosen directly by the Titans was a travesty not only for himself, but for the world. Sweet stubborn Peaches was gone too, probably resisting to the last moment with every drop of Juice.

 

Worst of all, at least for the Dirtamancer, was the croaking of Kernel. Not only was the Chief a dear friend and an invaluable warrior, but his death was also Edelbert’s fault. The tower and magic defense were his responsibilities during the Battle for Cliffside. He had failed miserably. Too much focus on the plan left him ignorant of other potential magical threats. He should have realized sooner that Foolamancy was in play and responded with force. Kernel died because of negligence on the caster’s part, plain and simple. It was devastating.

 

His thoughts were nauseous and bubbling, like a Changemancer’s cauldron. His vision was as dry as sand, a gritty blindness. His voice wailed and warbled uncontrollably while simultaneously unable to utter a sound. All of these while still within a great void.

 

The only stability onto which he could cling was the furious desire to win the battle of wills Hyde had forced upon him. He would not cave-in to the demands of those Tarzanian animals. It was the only way he could think to provide tribute for his lost home. The longer he fought the more schmuckers the enemy wasted. The only option he had to harm his captors was to maintain his sanity despite his current circumstances. With every iota of will he could muster he steeled himself, slowly hardening and sharpening his mind as if crafting a sword.

 

Eventually…Somewhere in the non-distance something moved. It was very small and subtle. Edelbert noticed nonetheless, seeing as it was the only other thing to notice. He was unsure how he knew this, but he certainly had felt something. His headspace was in some way or another occupied by an entity that was not him. Or had it always been, and he had never realized before?

 

For the briefest of long times an occasional movement was all that occurred. Sometimes immediately distant while other times brushing past him from afar. The dimensionless element of this place made it very difficult to conceptualized what he was experiencing. Only his emotions seemed to make even the slightest sense.

 

Gradually, impressions of shapes and sounds began to flow from within the spacelessness. These were not actual shapes or literal sounds, only the hint of these things. It was like the way the barest whiff of cooking meat could draw out the experience of a complete steak dinner. Only there was no steak. There were no shapes.

 

Slowly these impressions began to imply forms. Great serpents slithered by just out of view, only sensed by the soft scrape of their bellies on a ground which was not there. Swarms of ravenous insects ebbed and flowed in all directions. Edelbert could feel their little legs skittering about. They consumed themselves even as their numbers grew. The beating of great wings warned of massive avians circling above the Dirtamancer; circling, circling, circling. None of the monsters would reveal themselves for him to see, but obscured as they were, he knew they came closer and closer. The ring of creatures constricted on him like a noose around a neck that wasn’t there.

 

Just as he thought he would be psychically strangled, a shimmering orange-green feather descended slowly out of the heightless sky, as if a particularly ugly peacock had just passed overhead. It came to rest a little way in front of where Edelbert’s chest should have been, just below his natural eyeline.

 

Looking down was no harder than tilting his head would have been, except it changed the entire relation of his presence to the mental world he was in. He was now level with the thing, except on a different horizontal plane than he had been before.

 

“Hello Edelbert. Good Evening. What will it be then, eh?” The feather said rather conversationally, almost bored.

 

Edelbert recognized the voice. In a deeply false calm Spore somehow called out. “Hyde. I knew you would come, and I have been waiting. I will never join Tarzania. This place cannot change that. Your beast figments and daemon illusions will not serve you any better than whips and chains would. Release me or disband me but save us both the trouble of this pointless debacle.”

 

The feather laughed as it spun swiftly and then burst into a cloud of orange smoke. The Prince blinked into his usual form, but with very different attire. He still wore a well fitted black bowler, a collared shirt, slacks and suspenders; but all except the hat were a white that was clearly aged and well worn. His right eye was now heavily mascaraed with stylized eye lashes painted on in a circle. Most notable was Hyde’s crotch. He wore a massive cod piece around his waist. It was comically large and obviously armored. Either the garment was necessary to contain a prodigious masculinity, or it was a misdirection to compensate for the opposite circumstance. Edelbert was inclined to believe the latter.

 

“Poor Edelbert. Allow me to enlighten you. Everything that has happened in the last two turns has been entirely a product of your own mind. Until now, I have not cast on you since the audience with Mother. I swear it on my name, title, and the Titans.”

 

Two turns? He had only been suspended in this place for TWO turns! It was almost unbelievable…and yet, the Prince was not lying.

 

The Fool continued. “No Sir, my Juice is far too valuable to waste on torture, particularly when your own mind will do the work for upkeep that we would be paying either way. Honestly, I’m impressed with how coherent you are. Most units are weeping and begging for release by the time I come to check on them on their first turn. You have made it two and are still defiant. Very well done.”

 

Edelbert took great heart from what seemed to be a genuine compliment and respect. Hyde was Royal, but Spore had previously seen very little evidence of it in the Fool’s behavior. “At the risk of sounding like a looping Mimicat; Hyde, I will never Turn. Croak me or release me. Those are your only options.”

 

Prince Hunter cocked his eyebrow and flashed his wickedest grin. “Everyone breaks eventually. I have yet to see this punishment fail. I admit you may be a contender for the endurance record, but it is only a matter of time until you break. Maybe I will set up a betting pool? It could be an easy way to scam some favors out of the warlords. It is always good to have a few commanders in my pocket.”

 

The Dirtamancer immediately knew what to do. “I wager that I can beat your record. In fact, I am certain of it. If I do, you will convince your Mother to release me.”

 

A sudden and total look of surprise appeared on Hyde’s usually bemused face. For some reason, his body language was particularly emotive, a significant change from his typical detachment. “Why would I do that? What could I possibly gain? You have nothing to wager.”

 

Edelbert knew his hook had landed. “You have already said that I am inevitably going to Turn, right? If I do, then I will owe you one. I’m sure that we can agree, a Master Dirtamancer is much more valuable to have in your pocket than any warlord, even a Chief.”

 

“I might consider it.” Hyde looked around conspiratorially. “It stays our little secret though, even once you have returned to active duty. I would also expect that you would owe me more than one. Convincing Mother to release you would be a monumental task. Acquiring you was a powerful motivation of hers for many turns. The cost has been and continues to be high. You aren’t cheap, even as a prisoner.”

 

“Okay then,” Spore rebutted “How about this? If I win then you will ensure I am released from Tarzania alive. However, if I cave, then I will respond to you as if you were my Chief Caster. So long as your orders do not counter any duties which I am given by either Queen Jane or the Chiefs. I will be at your service indefinitely.”

 

A brief bulge of Hyde’s eyes betrayed his hungry eagerness. “I find that quite acceptable. Pinky Swear?”

 

That was almost too easy, Edelbert thought. “Well I would, but how am I supposed to swear without any pinkies?”

 

“Hmmm, good point. Let me see what I can do.” Hyde’s eyes closed for a few moments and then he exhaled a great cloud of sparkling orange smoke. It passed over Edelbert’s awareness, totally enveloping him.

 

The smoke cleared and Edelbert was standing there, once again with a body of his own. It was an overwhelming and glorious feeling. The sensation was off because he could still not feel his heart, but anything was better than nothing at that point.

 

Hyde stepped forward toward Edelbert and in a regally official voice said. “I believe that should suffice. Do you swear to the agreed upon terms, Sir Spore?”

 

“Agreed.” Edelbert held up his pinky attached to an arm, his arm. It felt weird, but he locked fingers with the Fool and committed to the agreement.

 

The tiniest spark of Juice bubbled up from somewhere within the Dirtamancer. He had no idea how this could be, but he felt it as clearly as an explosion at his feet. The feeling was sublime; far better than any meal, Flower Power, or orgasm he had ever had. A strong reminder that he was not only alive but a uniquely powerful and gifted Caster. It was a monumental boost, which he sorely needed. The smallest bit of Juice had blown his mind.

 

Spore smiled with a deep and genuine pleasure. “I hope you are prepared to lose, Foolamancer.”

 

“So cocky.” Prince Hunter smiled back. “This should be fun. My time runs short and I must still attend other prisoners. I will be back in a few Turns to check on you.”

 

Hyde’s image dissipated in a blink. At that moment of departure Edelbert’s own form began to fuzz and blur. He could feel his body slipping away even as he desperately tried to hold on. His jaw evaporated and he screamed in determined fury. Then, suddenly, he snapped back into clear focus. For some reason, his self-image now held strong.

 

Being something within the nothingness changed the fundamental basis of the void where he now stood (a loose term in a place with no ground). Having dimensions somehow allowed him to extend those dimensions to the spacelessness. Distance existed even if it was unfathomable. Up and down had returned, even if only relative to himself. His eyes and ears molded the mindscape as well. Not being capable of hearing anything had been far more off-putting than the sound of nothingness.

 

There was no question that this place was still a torture most foul, but at least he had something to grasp onto. A thin line existed from himself into reality which he could desperately cling to. Something was better than nothing, no matter how small.

 

Time began to respond like a river once again. Currents and eddies swept Edelbert along, helpless but to go with the flow. The stream was wide and powerful indeed.

 

The bug, beast, and bird figments also quickly returned. Rather than slowly approaching from the periphery, the monsters seemed to appear within close proximity of Edelbert’s outstretched limbs. Never close enough for him to touch them but near enough to be startling. It was as if they were stalking around him hidden by thick foliage. Glimpses and whispers were more than enough to make one feel hunted.

 

Over time Edelbert realized that it was his attention which seemed to repel the illusions. If he were to focus on a hulking mass creeping toward his front, then that creature would gradually dissipate back to where it came from. The longer he ignored them, the closer and more real they would seem to become. Slowly he began to make a sort of game of it. The figments would push toward him while he constantly fought a strategic battle of focus. It even started to be a kind of fun.

 

Fighting a war on three fronts was a hectic chore under the best of circumstances, being alone and outnumbered added to the pressure. It wore on him to keep up the frantic pace necessary to stave off the onslaught. Over time he realized the inevitability of his defeat. He was wearing himself thin to maintain a stalemate, but as soon as he slipped, he would be engaged in a truly losing battle. Something had to change.

 

Possessing no better idea, Spore drilled his focus down on one group of assailants. The insects had seemed both the most difficult to halt and to ignore, so they became his first target. With intense concentration he bore into the chittering swarm. As he continually pushed them back farther and farther from himself, he grew more and more hopeful that if he could apply enough distance then the bugs would disappear for good. He wanted to squash them entirely. It seemed to be working for the most part too.

 

Just as Edelbert felt he was going to win out against the insects something slashed him from behind with a claw or talon. The pain was enormous. His whole perception flashed a blinding red. In the moment of distraction, the insects had surged forward once again. Oddly there was nothing near enough to have struck the Dirtamancer. The slashes on his shoulder and thigh made it quite clear something had been there only seconds before.

 

Although the pain was an unpleasant distraction, Spore could see no recourse from his previous plan. His onslaught against the figment bugs resumed. It was a slow process, but it felt this time as if he were making faster progress. The tidal insects rolled steadily backward as if returning to a chitinous sea somewhere in non-space.

 

Edelbert had not had any contact with any of these illusion things except the moment he felt imminent victory. It dawned on him that it had been a deliberate attack to halt his own coup de grace. If he could maintain focus regardless of assault, then he could win. It gave him a chance at least.

 

He poised himself to maintain focus despite the circumstances, a skill he had sharply refined over many turns of castings. He had once learned from Kernel that Warlords used a similar technique to battle on despite wounds or mild incapacitations. It had often surprised him how similar Leadership and Casting could really be sometimes, at least philosophically.

 

Once again, he could feel the strength of the insects whither. Although he had prepared himself, the onslaught of distraction was similarly enhanced. A mighty roar erupted within his left ear. Talons slashed down across his buttocks. Then thin fangs pierced his right wrist, as if bitten by a common viper. Despite these the Caster held his focus.

 

A resounding POP! echoed out as if a massive cork had been pulled somewhere in the darkness. The hordes of insects began to flow swiftly off toward a single point. As they struck that spot they blinked away. Just as the last of them dissipated a silver comet blasted out and directly toward Edelbert.

 

In a pointless gesture, the Dirtamancer threw up his arms to shield himself. Rather than crashing down and obliterating him, the comet streaked in a whirl too fast to cleanly track with the eye. In a shining flash, a wall of razor-edged legs surrounded him. What had to be millions of centipedes swirled around him like a cyclone. Each of them must have been huge, their segments seemed as thick as logs.

 

“YOU WILL BE CONSUMED” Boomed a voice from somewhere within or beyond the writhing wall. “YOU HAVE BEEN JUDGED BY THE ONES WHOM YOU LOVED. THEY FOUND YOU INADEQUATE.”

 

It dawned on Edelbert that the torrent around him was not a swarm of centipedes but a single enormous bug. This thing was an intelligent individual. He faced the Gigapede.

 

“BEAR THE BURDEN OF THEIR TRUEST THOUGHTS. YOU ARE A MOTE OF DUST. A SPECK OF NOTHING.”

 

A sharp hum erupted from all directions. There was no obvious source and the sheer volume vibrated his entirety. He snapped his eyes shut from fear that they would shake free. As the deafening sound permeated his being it somehow faded into a riotous white-noise. Amidst the cacophony Edelbert began to catch words and short phrases. He realized that the sound was not one single vibration but the rush of many smaller sounds. Whispers blared at him as if from ten thousand trumpets.

 

you are weak

 

“…pathetic…”

 

“Your golem smelt of elderberries!”

 

Innumerable explosively quiet insults and criticisms blizzarded down upon him. Somewhere amongst the noise Edelbert thought he recognized a voice.

 

The Dirtamancer could hear Princess Peaches laugh as if they were in the same room. “That silly old fool knows nothing of true Flower Power.”

 

In the distance Tarzan roared “A waste of upkeep.”

 

The cheery voice of Perry Winkle stood out amongst the torrent. “Rhythmless hermit. Not worth my time.”

 

King Arthur regally addressed the Caster “You were too weak to become a Ruler and too weak to defend my Kingdom. Good riddance.”

 

Lord Silas Laughter hissed as if through clenched teeth “Eddie Dirt, grovel before me. You will forever be mine!”

 

Doc Brown hollered out. “You deserve no comfort!”

 

Lady Dee Ceased softly whispered in his ear “I’ve gotten better action from a corpse.”

 

Chief Kernel Claypool ordered him “Give in. Croak already.”

 

A Zorak Lieutenant chittered out “Moltar scum!”

 

Vi hummed “To think I had ever respected you. What a buffoon you are.”

 

Edelbert felt as if he were being crushed beneath despair. The hatred and loathing seeped into him from all directions. He could not withstand it and screamed for release.

 

Among the many whispers Turnip called out to him. “You are and always have been a terrible friend. Ordered me around like I was below you somehow. All the while you gained benefit from my abilities on every turn. You disgust me.”

 

Within Spore’s drowning heart he gasped the tiniest of breathes. He KNEW that Turnip would never say that, or even think it. Whatever that voice was, it was not Turnip. Everything around him was a lie; the voices, the chittering, even the Gigapede itself. If these things were real, then there would be no need to lie at all. This realization allowed him to shift the very basis of his surroundings. The coiled monster began to unravel as if being strung onto a giant spool. Watching the many legs and segments whizz by was nearly nauseating, an odd sensation when one has no stomach.

 

A small green hill appeared, on which Edelbert now stood. In the grass slithered an uncommonly large but otherwise normal centipede. With a guttural cry the Caster leapt forward and crushed his boot down on the writhing and apparently confused bug. The squish was immensely satisfying.

 

A shocking clarity came over him as a fog was lifted from his mind. It was the difference between working on a folding desk amidst an army encampment or working in a quiet study. The same basic task, but very different challenges all the same. Edelbert’s mind had just been seated at a giant marble desk, in a plush silk armchair.

 

A long pleasant moment of serene silence passed. Edelbert stood atop a berm in his mind, otherwise floating amid nothingness. He was comfortable for the first time in a very long while.

 

The calm was broken by a deafening screech from somewhere far off. A golden twinkle in the distance approached across the void. As it came nearer and nearer, behind it emerged a wave of stars. It was as if the shimmer was dragging behind it a nighttime horizon. Little lights blinking into existence from within an obscured sky.

 

The twinkle streaked toward Edelbert, but before it reached him, it juked upward and blew past. A massive birdlike thing circled around behind the caster and came to rest hovering a little ways away.

The flying creature was oddly chimeric. It was held aloft by leathery wings draped from two massive arms. The equestrian head was reminiscent of a growling horse, except it had a feathered mohawk in place of a mane. It also possessed two long fangs which poked out of its lips, much like a great poisonous snake. Its back side was heavily feathered, including the wings. The creature’s underside however was covered in an impenetrable sheet of shimmering rainbow scales. It stood on legs which ended in massive Man-like hands tipped with awkwardly large claws. It was both a misshapen and majestic entity.

 

Only an unexpected thump boom from behind the Dirtamancer was enough to draw his attention and he reflexively rolled away and to his left.

 

A blue mass rushed by and ramped off the small hill. The beast landed out in the darkness with a powerful stomp. As it touched down though, a pulse of grassy field burst forth and filled out as far as could be seen. They were all three now out among a starlit grassy plain which spanned the horizon. The darkness of the sky was still ominously deep and the horizon still infinite

 

Among the grass, the blue Maw creature moved at a full gallop. It had a wide and overly large head shaped oddly like a broad spade. Rather than teeth, its hanging jaw was jagged and uneven, almost like crumbled stone. Dotted all along its head, shoulders, and neck were dozens of little glowing green eyes. Except for being totally hairless and blue, the creature’s body was like a gorilla or other ape. It ran on all fours and appeared almost as if it was running to keep up with its own head. It came around underneath the chimera then stopped with a furious roar and a spray of spittle.

 

A powerful voice rolled off the viper tongue of the great flying monster. The sound boomed and reverberated as if trapped in a small room. “I are the Questzalcoatl. Ours is the voice of truth and we have come to witness your Fate. Your beastly ego has grown wild for far too long. It hounds your mind and weighs down your vision. Now it comes for your life.”

 

The Maw leapt toward Edelbert and cleared the distance between them in a few bounds.

 

With forceful emphasis Edelbert slammed his palm into the air in front of the beast. The blue monster crumpled and fell. “I will not play this game any longer. You have already shown me that this world is a part of me. This beast cannot croak me. Quite the contrary. This beast is me, and therefore, under my control.”

 

With a wave of his hand Spore dismissed the Maw. It turned to dust and drained away into Edelbert’s chest. “And now Questzalcoatl, begone with you as well.”

 

This time nothing happened. The beat of its wings never faltered. The edges of the beast’s mouth curled as it chuckled softly. “There is nothing wrong with your mind. Do not attempt to adjust our settings. We are controlling this reality. If we wish to make it harder, we will turn up the difficulty. If we wish to make it easier, we will buff you to a hero. We will control the Numbers. We will control the Erf. We can roll your self-image, make it falter. We can shift your focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to a crystal clarity. Sit quietly and know that we can control all that you see and hear. We repeat… there is nothing wrong with your mind. You are a participant in a great adventure. You are about to experience awe and mystery which will push you to your absolute limit.”

 

Edelbert found himself dumbstruck. “I have no idea what that was supposed to mean and similarly little clue as to who you are. I repeat. Be gone. Either disappear or leave, whichever is appropriate in your case. I tire of this.”

 

“Your desires are irrelevant. Fate has decided the course you will take. To resist is futile.”

 

“That sounds suspiciously like a threat.”

 

“Our words come as promises. A sea of stone ever rumbling. Caverns which lead to revelation. Love unlocks an impossible path. Fungi will plant its spore deep within the corpse of a predator. Fog which is swept away by a dark castle. Time will grind even the strongest stone.”

 

“If these things are indeed Prophecy then why tell me at all? I do not see how a poem can aid my escape from this torture. You seem to have missed that I am not a Predicamancer.”

 

The Questzalcoatl simply smiled and took flight toward the horizon. As it did so, the stars began to randomly disappear. On a far point of the horizon the grassy plain began to crumble. Hexes dropped away into the darkness, dissipating into nothingness.

 

For a time, Edelbert stood and watched the shift. It swiftly dawned on him that the horizon was rapidly approaching, and he had no desire to see what happened if he fell too. He crested the small hill and then watched as his new world evaporated to nothing. Only Edelbert and his mound remained.

 

Time quickly disappeared again. It was different now somehow. He didn’t feel as scattered, as disoriented. He had no need for anything else. Spore simply sat on a quiet hill hex.

 

Despite the banality of eternity, Edelbert’s calm was no longer affected. He pondered, wondered, and imagined.  His own curiosity and creativity kept him moving.

 

A door appeared a little way off in the darkness on a small patch of grass. The door was simple wooden affair with iron fittings. If there was any oddity to its appearance, it was the lack of a handle or latch.

 

There they sat, just Edelbert and the door.

 

(Coming Soon) Volume 26 - Teatime Doubly So

 

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      • falcore51

        Missed your writing Salvage, glad to see another installment. 

        • Bandaid

           I know how hard writers block can be so special thanks for continuing the story Salvage.

          As for the contents, I will never understand how the "We croaked everybody you loved, now you are part of us" mentality is supposed to work. I mean, if I was Edelbert I would have pretended to convert after a believable amount of resistence, waited until they started to trust me and then lit a volcano up under their collective asses. Or something along those lines.

          The description of Edelberts (wacky) experience was well done, especially the multiple ways of attack on his morale.