• Published 22nd Dec 2011
  • 54,633 Views, 2,326 Comments

Over the Edge and Through the Wood - JarOfHearts



a human gets cut off from his group while traversing a mountain. finds himself in a strange land

  • ...
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Taking a Tumble in the Wood

Chapter 1
(Revised)

Taking a Tumble in the Wood

Edited by Cosmic Afro

On a midsummer's eve, in a quiet mountain forest, a lone rabbit quietly nibbled at the roots of a fern, keeping an eye out for the fox that had been pursuing him through the many passing seasons. The rabbit took this opportunity to think about what most rabbits thought about this time of year, or anytime at all really. Food, and where was he going to get more without being eaten.

As the rabbit leisurely bounced his way past a particularly steep slope, a strange sound drifted down, carried on the wind. The rabbit, who shall be henceforth known as Dave, was immediately on his hind legs, ears erect, scanning the hillside for the source of the noise. Suddenly, a screaming and cursing ball of legs, arms, and cloth came rolling down the hill at an alarming speed.

Dave darted under a grouping of tree roots as the rather loud oddity passed.

"...Gak ugh GODDAM‐oof son‐of‐a‐"

THWUMP!

Dave scurried away as fast as his legs could carry him, leaving behind a battered and bruised hiker, sprawled out on his back, or rather, backpack, who was in the process of reciting the seven words you can't say on television.

"‐UCKER!"

The hiker's eyes were firmly squeezed shut, as he finally finished his pain-fueled rant.

Ahhng... shit. The hiker mentally cursed.

OK.

Time to go through the mandatory injury checklist... number 1. Head.

The hiker flexed his neck experimentally, eyes still shut, wincing as few scrapes twinged. He concluded, that while in less than stellar condition his head was, in fact, still firmly attached to his neck and thus by extension, the rest of his body.

Alright, good.

Now on to appendages.

The hiker repeated the process, flexing his fingers and arms, along with his legs and toes. His body once again protested as the cuts on his body made themselves known.

Ow... better than I expected.

Satisfied that nothing was broken too badly he moved on.

Next.

Torso.

The man patted himself down, feeling for any roots or branches that he might have impaled himself on. After making sure his chest cavity wasn't the new home of any wayward bits of forestry, he continued with his self mandated checklist.

Terrific.

Now then...

...genitals.

*grab*

Good, everyone accounted for.

Finally, brain check...

Let's see...

Name: Troy McAucland
Occupation: College student
Age: 20
Current Location: USA, Washington...

...in a forest...

...somewhere on a mountain.

"Awesome."

Troy opened his eyes to see a blue sky, a rather rare sight in the state of Washington, in the beginnings of turning a purplish hue as the sun neared the horizon. The young man lingered on the sky for a moment, before closed his eyes and slowly drew a deep breath.

"I gotta get moving," muttering as he exhaled.

The man stood slowly, easing himself up, and began to check what items had remained with him on his trip down the mountain. His hunting knife was still there, securely strapped to his belt above his left leg, along with a small hatchet above his right, his khaki cargo pants were torn and stained from the ride down, but more or less intact. He had brought the hatchet for the overnight portion of the hike, he had hoped to make a fire with his friends and do the traditional ghost story cliche'. "Couldn't hurt to have one." Had been his thought on the matter, as it weighed next to nothing. However, the ax-shaped bruise forming under his khakis made for a rather sharp counterpoint to that argument. His large plastic water bottle was nowhere to be seen, the only reminder that it had even existed at all, was the carabineer still dangling from his belt loop.

He still had his old Scout Pocket knife; it had a can opener, a screwdriver, and two blades. One was large and the other was small, both perfect for whittling. One of the most valuable things in the wilderness.

Lighter, MP3 player (not broken, SWEET!) cellphone...

CELLPHONE!

The hiker slapped himself on the side of his head; of course, he could call his friends! or maybe the police! get SOMEONE out here to save his sorry ass!

He raised the marvel of modern technology... no bars.

After a short tirade, he mentally chastised himself.

OF COURSE IT NOT GOING TO WORK IN THE MIDDLE OF BUTTFUCK, NOWHERE

THERE'S NO CELL TOWER FOR MILES!

He leaned against a nearby tree and stared at the sky, filtered through a screen of greenery, he sighed, This is why you spent all that time in the Scouts, remember? The boring skill lectures, drills, and exercises? All so you'd be ready for that one miserable day you thought would probably never come?

After calming down the young man quickly removed the straps securing his backpack in place, and did a quick inventory check.

His tent was gone, it must have come loose after the first cliff, his Magic cards were a little bent, but still in the top portion of his bag, along with "the Spoils" cards. The first aid kit, snacks, clothes, water purification tablets, and food. He had gotten some MREs from a military surplus store for the hike. Though he would later learn they weren't ACTUAL military MREs but more of a prepackaged easy to cook meal. Turned out the real thing was a really good way to get constipated. Either way, his food was still secure. The sleeping bag he had brought was still tightly attached to the bottom of his backpack, and his camelback had miraculously endured his hasty descent and was still about half full.

Removing the first aid kit, the young man tended to his wounds, disinfecting and bandaging any cuts or scrapes he could reach. The sting of disinfectant ebbed into a dull throb after each application, marking his progress as each blemish was suitably cared for in turn.

Satisfied with the bandaging, he placed the kit back into his bag. With his first-aid properly stowed Troy hefted the bag onto his back and began to reattach the corresponding ties and snaps. Before finally snapping and tightening the gargantuan belt strap around his waist, taking the weight of the bag off his back and onto his hips. After he had secured what was essentially his entire life to his back, Troy McAucland made his way towards the setting sun.

After a few minutes of traversing through the bush, he soon found himself reminiscing on the last week, primarily about how he had been convinced that climbing a mountain was not only a good idea but "Fun". His buddies from the college had roped him into it. After deciding it was best to stay away from the pitfalls of campus life, mainly, drinking, smoking, and... well... you know, he had made a point to make friends with the few people of like minds, though 'friends' was a strong word. More like acquaintances. Anyway, they had said they were going to hike over one of the main trails that snaked over Mount Rainier during spring break and wanted him to tag along. He had done some heavy-duty hiking before and he thought it would make for a nice change of pace...

...and the assholes had left him in the dust, their final words to him:

"See you at the bottom!"

Scribbled on a piece of paper and stuck in his tent zipper after they had apparently decided it would be funnier to forgo the last wake-up call.

So, naturally, no one was around when he fell off the first cliff... or rolled off the second. The backpack had been quite helpful in the whole rolling process and had done an amazing job at cushioning the blow when he had landed. It was probably the only reason his spine was not currently in the shape of a pretzel.

Arriving at a shaded clearing, our unfortunate hiker gazed at the setting sun, it had almost completely dipped below the horizon line and the sky was starting to dim turning a deep royal purple, contrasting the golden lining of the clouds in the far off distance.

With no time to waste, Troy began to search the immediate area, he had to find a place to sleep or risk exposure during the night. Looking around frantically he spotted a large tree with knotted roots jutting out from the ground, it looked like it had tipped over during a wind storm, but was still supported by some of its roots and another tree. The result was the enormous Fir was still alive and the tree had grown to accommodate its new angle, the roots had grown into something resembling a cage, even creating a roof.

"Dibs..." Troy said with a smile.

He set his pack within the shelter and he began to collect twigs and branches from the surrounding bushes and trees. Finally, after collecting a satisfactory amount of tinder and sticks, he built a fire just outside of his temporary shelter. The light would keep any animals away and keep provide warmth at the same time.

With that done, he spread out his sleeping bag and removed the emergency blanket from his pack. Unfolding the dull gray foil, Troy silently wished he still had his tent, without it to protect him from the weather he could only pray that it wouldn't rain during the night. While the root canopy would keep him mostly dry if it did, he would still be soaked come morning. And while the backpack had a liner it certainly wasn't waterproof.

After lining the ground with his emergency blanket, he set his pack at the head of his sleeping bag, a perfect pillow.

After answering the call of nature in some bushes, Troy returned to his camp, where his boots were promptly removed and set next to his backpack. Not bothering to change, he nestled into the warm folds of his sleeping bag. Though thanks to the aches and pains from the fall, getting comfortable was something of a challenge.

As if to aid in his body's rebellion, his stomach growled in protest as he tried to get some rest. Doing his best to ignore his corporeal sufferings, he focused on trying to think about his next move. This as it turned out, was a bad idea, for he had been stifling all of his worries after his crash landing. When he had made his way to shelter he had firmly set an objective, something to focus on, but now that he was finally in a position to stop and think, his worries and doubts came in force.

Will I die out here?

What if no one finds me?

Should I eat now or ration what I have?

What about water?

What if I get attacked by a mountain lion?

The young man decided to answer these questions as they came.

First, I WILL survive this. There is no room for doubt in that department..

Second, if no one finds me then I'll find somebody, the rangers make patrols in these woods for a reason.

Third, I can't cook the MREs this late and not attract animals, maybe in the morning, then try to find anything that might extend my current food stock, like berries or something. Until then I should try to stretch my meals within reason.

Fourth, I still have those water tablets, if I find a river I can refill my camelback, morning dew is also an option.

And fifth, I bought the hunting knife so I could handle something like that, the paperwork for a Glock wouldn't have gone through in time.

Reaching down and removing the sheath from his belt, Troy examined the knife. The sheath was made of some cheap fake leather, and the blade it housed was almost nine inches long, the handle was engraved with the likeness of a wolf, and was formed perfectly for his hand.

Truthfully, if it came down to it, the knife would probably not be much help. Despite this, it did still offer some modicum of comfort as he gripped the smooth handle, the knife gave him a chance if only that.

Exhausted by the day's events, Troy clutched the large blade as he drifted off into unconsciousness, dreaming of home, hot food, and the internet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*groaaaan*

God, this mattress is uncomfortable.

Troy opened his eyes, gazing into his tree root ceiling.

Right, this bullshit...

The young man slowly worked his way out of his sleeping bag, laced his boots, and began to pack away his campsite. Returning everything neatly to its designated niche, lastly strapping on the knife he had removed during the night, before donning his backpack. Only when he left his shelter did he notice something was very different and very, very wrong.

Firstly, the trees had become shorter, the canopy had been over 25 feet above him at the shortest, but now the treetops were barely five feet above his head. The fire pit he had made for the night had disappeared and the clearing was notably smaller.

The Hell?

Cautiously, Troy continued his trek west, with the rising sun at his back. The forest had changed, everything had a hostile feeling to it. The atmosphere was oppressive, unlike the more neutral and tranquil forest through which he had been previously hiking through. This was a truly wild place, nature in her purest most terrifying form. The sudden change of atmosphere was unnerving, to say the least.

...The fuck is going on?

Did everything look like this before?

A loud gurgling made him jump, he had forgone dinner, and his stomach was not going to let him forget it, or forget breakfast. Settling for a granola bar, the young man looked for anything that might be edible to add to the meager meal. No berry bushes revealed themselves and he couldn't recognize any edible plants, in fact, he didn't recognize any plants, aside from the trees, at all.

As he traveled, he noticed that he was walking along the base of a sheer cliff, located to his left. As he continued alongside the jagged wall, his doubts came back from their morning coffee break.

Since when was there a cliff here?

Should I climb it?

It might help me find... something.

Better not, especially with my luck with cliffs lately, and‐HOLY SHIT THAT'S A BIG HOLE!

He had passed a large boulder that had been obscuring his vision, revealing a vast cave. Troy gazed into the gigantic cavern; the entrance looked big enough to fit three Boeing 787s stacked on top of one another with room to spare. He attempted to peer into the massive expanse, but the light was unable to penetrate the interior of the crevasse due to the sun's unfavorable angle. Wielding his cellphone as a flashlight, he delved into the cave. He had barely crossed the threshold when a sudden gust of wind rushed past him... then back... then past him again.

Raising his makeshift flashlight, Troy managed to illuminate a small portion of the cave. What he saw was as impossible as it was terrifying. There, sleeping soundly, was a bear. Not just any bear, any other bear would have been beyond bad, but this bear was a special kind of trouble, reserved for monster movies and horror films. The bear's coat was a deep navy blue speckled with what seemed to be luminescent stars. Also, it happened to be the size of your average apartment complex.

"Mmnghf"

He shoved his fist into his mouth to stifle the scream that was desperately trying to escape from his throat.

DONOTSCREAMDONOTSCREAMDONOTSCREAM... or pee, DON'T PEE!

DO NOT PISS YOURSELF TROY!

DO NOT!

Animals can smell fear and I'm pretty sure fear smells like piss.

So whatever you dooOOO HOLYSHITWHATTHEFUCK!

The whole cavern behind the enormous bear shifted, this time a pinkish purple clawed appendage wrapped itself around the giant freaking bear and pulled it closer to the wall. Which wasn't a wall of any sort. It was another bear. But THIS bear was BEYOND HUGE.

HOW!?!

WHAT!?

WHAT!

WHAT!!!

HOW DOES THAT THING EVEN FIT IN HERE?!? HOW BIG IS THIS CAVE?!

WHAT!!

HOW, WHAT!

WHAT THE FUCK!

I MEAN WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK!!!

The terrified hiker's knees began to buckle as he tried to comprehend the scene that lay before him.

DO NOT FAINT!

DO NOT PASS OUT!

RUNMOVEGETTHEFUCKOUTOFHERENOW!

His legs happily obliged, as Troy McAucland set a new world record for the 500 meter 'Run Like a Bitch'. Sprinting through the underbrush as gracefully as a his body would allow, adrenaline coursed through his veins. He ran with everything he had, the fire in his heart fueled by an all‐encompassing fear. After clearing the cave and making decent headway, he removed his fist to release the scream from his throat, though it came out as more of a gurgling gag. While this was good for keeping the volume down, the terrified hiker was still screaming within the confines of his own mind.

MOVE IT.
MOVE IT.
MOVE IT.
MOVE IT.
MOVE IT.
MOVE IT.

MOVE IT.

MOVE IT...

Move it...

...Move it...


...Crap.

Troy sprawled out, face down, in a patch of soft-looking dirt. Rolling onto his side he panted like a dehydrated dog. After taking a long pull from his camelback, he slowly attempted to sit up and cringed at the pain running through his legs. Cramps.

Double crap.

...Well, I needed a break anyway, so where...

As his head slumped to the side, he could see right through the bushes closest to him, and into the clearing on the other side. There, it looked like some sort of pass was positioned behind the clearing, a gap in the cliff, but what caught his attention wasn't the pass itself, it was its apparent guardian.

A beast that held the appearance similar to that of a lion, but had the tail of a scorpion and wings of a bat.

The young man slowly turned his gaze up into the sky, took a deep breath, and muffled another scream.

SERIOUSLY!?!

WHY GOD?!

WHY ME!?

NO!

no.

Calm down.

Calm.

Compared to Bearzilla back there,

This thing is a freaking kitty cat.

Troy shuddered at the memory of the cave, and what lay within.

Yeesh, not going back that way EVER. Period.

Ok...

... let's go for another look, shall we?

Gazing through the underbrush he located the creature. The beast seemed to be lounging in the sun, and for some reason, he couldn't explain it looked oddly familiar.

FIFTH GRADE!

That was it!

In the fifth grade, they had to do a project on a mythical creature from ancient times and do a report on how the legends affected the given culture.

The wings had thrown him for a moment, but he had remembered it as though it was yesterday.

The Manticore, Greek in origin.

Derived from a mistranslation of the phrase 'man eater' this creature would eat the entirety of its victim, flesh, hair, shoes, clothes, and bone, no exceptions. In ancient times if someone went missing, the disappearance would sometimes be attributed to a manticore.

Another wonderful piece of info, the poison in the stinger of a manticore could either paralyze a full-grown man or kill one outright, there were even rumors that it could shoot poisoned spines from its tail. However, from what he could see of the chitinous mass resembled that of a normal scorpion, albeit scaled up a bit. So while the likelihood of projectile spines was low, Troy ultimately decided it was best to err on the side of caution.

Besides I really didn't NEED to get past that thing, He thought idly as he scanned the pass, if I just continue and follow the cliff face I should just pass it by and it would...

...wait, what was...

Through the pass, over the tree line, and off in the distance, he could barely make out an unnatural white structure.

Something was out there, maybe some kind of outpost or way station, Anything was better at this point, it was the first man-made structure he had seen since he had left camp yesterday.

Soooooooo...

How DOES one get past a mythical creature that was literally named "Man Eater"...

For a moment Troy felt completely lost.

Maybe I could at least take a picture of it with my phone,

At least then if I get out of this alive I'll make it into national geographic or something.

Flipping his phone open, he navigated the colorful menus to find the camera option when something stood out, the alarm clock function...

A thought struck him.

Quite an appealing idea in fact; one that could get him past the creature without a fight, but at the cost of his phone. His eyes drifted to the battery indicator; only a sliver of juice left and still no bars, soon enough the phone would be completely useless.

Looks like my choice has been made for me.

Now where to hide it?

He quickly scanned the immediate area, a notch in the tree looked like a good spot to hide the device, if that manticore could track him by scent he was toast.

After hiding what he hoped was his key to salvation, Troy slowly began to make his way around the clearing, trying his best to remain both silent and downwind.

Once he had neared the cliff face, he waited, making sure not to rustle any of the underbrush as he kept low.

The manticore was still there, and appeared to be sunning itself with a look that Troy could swear was contentment.

*DEDEDEDE*

The mish‐mash of animal appendages bolted upright at the strange high-pitched noise. It slowly scanned the clearing, searching for the source.

*DEDEDEDE*

Its head snapped in the direction of disturbance and quickly strode towards the sound, presumably to find out what had the gall to enter the territory of a manticore and make such an obnoxious racket.

As soon as the manticore disappeared into the bushes, Troy was on the move, moving as quickly and quietly as possible. He made his way through the pass. The incline was fairly steep, but he made it over with little trouble.

*dededede*

GOOOAAAA!

The frustrated animal roared, attempting to flush out its prey, obviously annoyed that the source of the beeping had somehow managed to elude him for this long, in his own forest no less.

I think I need to make myself scarce.

With that thought the hiker beat a hasty retreat towards the small white tower in the distance, delving deeper into the woods.

After trudging his way through the underbrush for about an hour, Troy found himself facing a rather large river. He strolled along the shore of the river looking for a suitable place to cross, noting that the water was surprisingly clear. What was also surprising was the river's seemingly random change in depth. He had thought there would at least be some uniformity when it came to how deep certain areas were, but this river seemed to change depth radically for no reason, in one spot it looked like it might only come up to his ankles, and in others, he couldn't even see the bottom.

Mentally shrugging, he found an area that seemed accessible, and began the rather straightforward process of crossing, as it was shallow enough that it didn't even require the removal of his boots. After reaching the opposite shore, he began to make his way towards his supposed salvation before promptly catching his foot on some unseen obstacle.

*Fwump*

Fortunately, Troy with his expert timed reflexes was able to cushion the fall with his face, ensuring no important organs were damaged in the fall. It was tempting to just lie in the grass cooled by the shade of tree lofts, but the thought of civilization was enough to galvanize him back into action. Though with the added ache of his face and foot added to his laundry list of complaints, he was growing increasingly short on patience. It was barely noon and he wanted this day to be over.

After collecting himself, Troy began to look for whatever it was he had tripped over. After a moment of searching, there in the shade and obscured by the tall grass, lay a gigantic mirror. How could he not have seen it? It was almost as big as he was! Troy examined the mirror, it was pristine and it was obvious after quick examination that it hadn't been out here long, as the grass had not grown around it, but rather it looked like the mirror had been placed there. As if some giant had wandered by and left it there for some unknown purpose.

Before Troy could ponder the mysterious mirror's existence any further, a loud wailing noise suddenly came from downriver. As he turned to look for the source, he noticed that the river had started to roil and writhe, almost as if agitated by the noise.

What the...

Ok.

Fine.

Let's find out what new freak of nature I have to face now.

After making his way around a bend in the river, before him stood (swam?) a giant purple sea (river?) serpent. This thing seemed to be the standard Sea serpent, except it had arms. It had a mane of gelled blonde hair, and what appeared to be a rather pomp mustache (although one side was a deep purple, so there was that.) The creature was bawling at the top of its lungs, like an infant who had dropped his favorite pacifier.

Alright let's do a headcount here:

Giant freaking BEAR... check
GIANT GIANT FREAKING BEAR... check
A god damned Manticore... check
And the Loch Ness monster... double check

Troy facepalmed, where in hell was he?

And why, spitting in the face of all reason, common sense, and self-preservation, did he feel compelled to help this poor creature?

NO, TROY!

NO.

That THING can eat you.

IT WILL EAT YOU!

Just move along and everything will be fine.

Troy started to head in the direction of the tower, but the wailing continued to eat at him. The creature seemed to be in great distress, and the thrashing it made in its sorrow made the river impossible to cross. If he needed to go back across the river for any reason he would be in a bad way.

Oh God damn it.

If I get eaten I'm going to be so PISSED!

Troy could never stand to see a grown man cry, though, this was not an actual MAN, but he continued back to the blubbering beast nonetheless.

I am such a freaking idiot.

It's probably crying over how lost its dinner, and now I'm going to go and replace it...

WAAAAAAAAAAAhaHAAABWAUA!

Damn it.

Troy stood in front of the giant serpent, the creature was still unaware of his presence, as the act of crying was firmly holding its attention.

What should I do?

Well, this guy can definitely cry, maybe he can talk?

God, this stupid.

Troy did his best to keep the hesitation out of his voice as he called out.

"Oi, BIG GUY, WHAT'S THE MATTER?" The man shouted over the noise.

The beast seemed to calm himself down a bit and looked at Troy, the blubbering creature seemed to pause, unmistakable confusion played across its face as it gazed at the odd little creature that had approached him.

Can't blame the guy, if a lamb roast walked up and tried to comfort me, I'd be confused too... Troy thought to himself.

The serpent sniffed loudly and began to gurgle in something Troy couldn't understand. The creature was able to talk, just not in any language he knew.

The creature began to motion with its arms from his left to his right, then up and down, then began to cry again.

"Sorry, I don't have any clue what you're saying," Troy spoke over the crying which had died down into manageable sobs.

From the way it had motioned it had looked like it was searching for something, Troy's thoughts drifted to the mirror. No way.

"HEY, this way, follow me!" Troy made big sweeping motions with his arms, trying to get the creature to follow as he headed back upstream.

The giant serpent seemed to get the idea and followed him, still, it choked out a pitiful sounding sob every now and again. Troy eventually reached the bank where he had found the mirror, it only took a minute to find the thing, the grass didn't do a very good job of hiding it if you knew what you were looking for. Though it obscured the mirror just enough so anyone would have trouble spotting it right away. After he managed to get a good grip, Troy carefully lifted the mirror.

"This what you looking for, guy?"

The creature beamed, quickly snatching up the mirror, and chittering something at Troy, which he guessed was a thank you. The serpent began to examine itself in the mirror, smiling at his own reflection, the river immediately calmed, becoming crossable once more.

Troy continued on his way, but before he was beyond the sight of the river the purple serpent squawked something at him and gave a quick wave before diving below the surface of the lake.

Smiling, the young man felt glad that he had taken the time to help.

You're still an idiot... He mentally scolded himself, still, it had felt good to help, good karma and all that. Plus being able to cross the river if he needed to would be a nice bonus.

It was nearing sundown when he finally arrived at his destination, he was expecting a tower or outpost or something along those lines, but what he found was a castle, seemingly abandoned.

Troy, after all the bizarre things that had happened today, had fared pretty well on the terms of keeping it together, but this was too much. He slowly fell to his knees, all he could do was just shake his head and hold back the tears of frustration.

"Where am I?" Troy whispered, and then whipped his head to the sky.

"WHERE THE FUCKING HELL AM I?!!

He screamed, this place made no sense, there were creatures he had never seen before and should, by all rights, NOT exist! There was a castle in the middle of the forest, for the seemingly sole purpose of TAUNTING HIM! Nothing made sense; there wasn't anything here that made any sense! Troy rolled to his back, kicking the ground and flailing his arms, completely ignoring the pain from his wounds as he writhed on the ground, possessed by the frustration and stress that had built up since he had come to this FUCKED UP WORLD!

After he had exhausted himself with his little fit, he lay on his back for the second time, watching the sky begin to take on a slightly darker hue.

Terrific, just PEACHY.

All that, FOR NOTHING!

FOR FUCKING NOTHING!!

Troy started to kick up another fuss, but the pain, coupled with his exhaustion from his previous tantrum, prevented him from getting into the full swing of it. He sighed and looked at the castle. Was there any hope at all? Were there any people in this strange land? Even if there was, could he find them? Besides, who builds a castle and just abandons it...

Wait.

Wait, wait, wait.

Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait...

Who just abandons a castle?

More importantly who made THIS castle?

Troy leaped to his feet and turned to stare at the giant stone structure, the fact the castle was here meant that someone HAD to have been here. On top of that, you don't just abandon something that takes this much work to build without a damn good reason. If he could find a clue in the ruins he MIGHT be able to find out who built this thing, and more importantly where they'd gone. Then maybe he would finally he would get some much-needed answers.

...And who knows, maybe someone still lives here,

Like a caretaker or something.

Though it was unlikely, given the dilapidated state of the place. Still, it was a castle, and it was mostly intact.

Either way, beats the hell out of sleeping in a bunch of tree roots. Troy thought to himself.

The path to the castle was blocked by a deep chasm, not particularly wide, but big enough so he would be unable to cross easily. As he approached, Troy noticed the remains of a bridge that had fallen apart, he also noticed that the bridge was rather small, only big enough to support a thirteen or fifteen-year-old child, at most. Anything bigger would have been beyond the bridge's structural capabilities and it would have collapsed. Though it was too late for that, as the bridge had already snapped in the middle, and without the proper tools, was completely beyond repair.

Well THAT'S a bust.

Troy leaned against a dead tree and tried to think of a way to cross, it was unlikely he could repair the bridge. Hell, even in its prime, it probably wouldn't have been able to hold his weight anyway.

Troy let his back slide down the trunk until he was sitting comfortably against the deadwood. His thoughts whirling like a maelstrom, trying to come up with something, anything. He had come this far and the sun was starting to set, there really was nowhere else to go.

*gurgle*

And he needed food badly.

The proverbial hamster in his head had been running the wheels for a solid ten minutes, turning the gears, but getting no result. Going around wasn't an option, who knew how long it would take to get around the ravine, and it was unlikely he would find another bridge. Troy tried to get up, to move, to do SOMETHING to better focus his blank mind.

*crack*

In the process of standing his head had connected with a branch on his way up. It hurt.

"FUUUUUUUUUCK!"

Troy screamed at the top of his lungs, his hunger, his exhaustion, his anxiety, and his pain coalesced into a heaving ball of rage near-psychotic in scope, and it demanded release. He had been battered by bullshit all day, he had hoped for a rescue copter or a ranger station, he would have settled for a rescue dog, but what did he get?

...He got castle FUCKING Grayskull, and he couldn't even go inside.

The only thing he could do was look in longing, FUCK today, today could KISS HIS ASS!

Troy spun around and began to attack the tree that had the audacity to raise his ire with his hatchet. After the third strike he stopped, and the gears finally clicked into place. Troy smiled as the hamster took a much-needed breather.

Troy went to work on the tree, carefully chopping out chunks from one side, so it would fall over the chasm. The dead tree was right on the edge, in the perfect position for Troy's intentions. Bit by bit, chips of wood started to collect at the base of the tree. Slowly the massive bulk of wood began to list, then, with a final creak and crack, fell over the ravine creating a makeshift bridge.

"HAHA, EAT IT NATURE!" Troy laughed, dancing a small jig with his hatchet raised above his head.

Troy gave the newly appointed bridge a shake, testing its stability, it was fairly solid. Satisfied, he mounted the piece of timber and began to cross, slowly proceeding on all fours. During the crossing, he noticed that the wood had begun to rot in the middle, and while the tree was still solid, it wouldn't stay that way for long.

Hmmm, probably should do something about that...

*gurgle*

...later.

As Troy came to the other side of the ravine, he hopped off the log and headed towards the castle. The place was overgrown with vines and weeds and looked fairly weathered. As he approached, Troy noticed several markings above the door, they appeared to be horses, along with pegasi (pegasis?) and unicorns. Under the markings was some sort of writing. The writing had an equine look to it, with pictographs depicting horseshoes, saddles, and other horse-related paraphernalia. Though some of the other bits of writing looked fairly normal, with bundles of wheat and some animals, but these were in the definite minority.

Ok, so these people liked horses... maybe worshiped them?

Cows are sacred in India, maybe this is something similar?

But what does it actually say?

Troy was no linguist, so pondering the meaning of the writing at this juncture was pointless.

The door leading into the massive structure was made of metal, and after a good shove swung open to reveal, in the fading light, a large altar in the center of an even larger hall, the altar itself was a round pedestal with five spokes pointing out in five directions and had a moss-covered stone orb in the center. As Troy examined the altar, he noticed that each one of the spokes had probably at one time held something. The indentations in the spokes seemed to suggest that there had been other orbs at a time, placed around the large central one.

After a moment of close examination, something struck Troy as odd, the layers of dust didn't match up. On the spokes themselves, the dust was thick, undisturbed for probably thousands of years. While in the indentations, the dust was light, probably only a few months old at the most. Meaning whoever had built this castle, had also left something behind when it was abandoned. Either there wasn't enough time to take them, or perhaps the objects weren't valuable enough to take with them at the time.

But valuable enough for someone to come back for, and fairly recently too.

Troy examined the rest of the room, pillars near monolithic in scale supported either side of the ceiling and several archways dotted the walls, leading to different parts of the castle. Moving from the large entryway and into one of the many winding halls, he delved deeper into the forgotten depths of the strange ruin. After some wandering, he found a wood-burning stove, in what he assumed was a kitchen at some point, as almost everything else had rotted away into barely identifiable mounds. He could recognize tables and chairs, though they were completely useless, as they crumbled at his touch. He continued to explore the castle by the light of the moon that filtered through the cracks and windows, the sun already had set, and he was getting tired.

I need to explore as much as I can, if anything is living here and I don't find it before it finds me, it will be nothing but trouble when I'm mistaken for a midnight snack.

Eventually, he found two staircases leading up to two large towers. Deciding to explore the leftmost tower first, he hobbled up the staircase, eventually reaching the top. At the top of the staircase was a pair of double doors, both of which were made from some ornate black stone, fitted with what looked like marble stars and moon halves for handles, even under many layers of dust it was beautiful. Troy tried the handles, but the doors wouldn't budge, after a few good shoves it was clear the door was locked.

After making his way down, he made his way back up to the tower on the right, climbing the spiral staircase at a steady pace, but stopping to take a breath every once in a while. Finally reaching the top, he found another pair of double doors, this time made of pure white marble with golden laced clouds adorning its surface, the handles made the form of a blazing sun. One of the doors was askew, allowing him to gently push inward which revealed the interior of the tower. Inside he found the remains of a four-poster bed along with some decrepit drawers, a wardrobe that had fallen on its side, and a desk that had almost completely fallen apart. Everything in the room had been quite ornate; Troy could see gold peeking out from layers of dust in some places. While the room had been white, the lack of light and many layers of dust made it appear a dull gray.

Troy examined the bed. The posts had fallen in and the mattress had completely rotted away, leaving only the springs, and a few tattered bits of cloth that disintegrated when disturbed.

After climbing down the stairs, he made his way to the main hall again, approaching the final doorway connected to the primary wing of the castle. The walls had collapsed outward and he could see what appeared to be a separate building. Seeing no point in going that far out of his way, Troy decided he would leave that particular part of the castle for later.

Searching for something to block the entrance with, he found that the doors had broken off from their hinges long ago. With a bit of work, he got them mostly back into place with their corners resting slightly upon the wall covering the majority of the entrance. While it wouldn't do much in the way of stopping an intruder, the noise from the falling doors would definitely wake Troy up and give him fair warning of whatever was coming.



Troy trudged to the center of the main hall, tiredly setting his backpack up against the altar, and laying out his sleeping bag, mess kit, and MREs. Returning to the kitchen, he recovered a few pieces of ancient wood that had once served as a table leg, along with a few bits broken off for the tinder. The wood burned wonderfully as he cooked some pasta for dinner, using the remaining water in his camelback. After a quick meal, Troy immediately went to his sleeping bag, removing his boots before he settled into it, and getting comfortable. Troy began to reflect on the day's events, every bizarre twist and turn left him with more and more questions. Though one thing stuck out in his mind, one question that stood head and shoulders above all the others.

Where in the world was he?

The answers he could come up with were not all that encouraging.

One, he was in a coma after taking a bad spill in the woods and was now unconscious. Where he was either lying wherever he had landed or had been discovered by one of the forest rangers and was in a hospital. An unlikely scenario at best, coma patients had usually almost zero brain activity. So vivid hallucinations were probably not one of the results.

Option two, this was a dream. Impossible. The pain was far too real to be imagined, and as fantastic this world was, it wasn't as chaotic as a dream. Besides, everything had been obviously strange, and strange things in dreams didn't seem odd until you woke up.

Option three, he was in a different dimension/universe/plane/realm and now was stuck here till whenever. Highly unlikely. But not impossible.

So where did that leave him...

Here, I guess.

This place was real enough; he would have to find somebody or try to figure it out himself. Troy's mind began to relax as he started to fall asleep, but found his mind drifting to the locked tower.

Might be a clue there...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it."

—Hunter S. Thompson