John W. Patterson
Word count: 3,900

Barrier Run

(Fantasy Adventure)

  
     "It's the fool who hears T'farke and his Volphean lies," Yebo 
said, "Now you set off to find the thing!" Yebo sat, winded, staring 
past Vict, past twenty-three years of keeping the boy's interest skewed 
away from fantasies.
     "I dream of it no more! Soon with my own eyes I'll see it! My 
words will stand alongside T'farke's. Rymlanders will no longer scoff. 
Volph ruins are a blight on our land, a guilty blemish in our history. 
Ignoring a race we slaughtered will never lessen our sin.
  We could at least honor the words of their dead and allow them even 
that memorial," Vict pleaded for details, clues about his goal, 
kneeling before the timeworn Yebo.
     Vagaries were the all Yebo had ever offered the boy. A barrier to 
enshroud the Barrier swung in place again. Exasperated, Vict rose to 
finish packing. Yebo slipped outside and began shouting. Vict crashed 
open the door to courtyard overlooking the horse pen.
     Yebo had run the horses off into the night.
     "Why, Yebo, why?"
     "I prefer you angered and alive. You will die crossing the Waste."
     Vict paced, thinking of what to say.
     "Two spans of El's Hand I have watched over you and taught you the 
ways of life and now I let you wander off into death? Never! None can 
cross the Waste!"
     "I will, Yebo. You've told me of Gyurt the Fearless, Rethshido the 
Red One, and the Nanoc's Conquest of Etycell. This is my vision, my 
shedding of childskin. I will reach the Volph Barrier and look beyond," 
Vict said, climbing down the stone trellis. He stood facing Yebo and 
reached out his hands.
     Yebo stepped aside, shaking his head and spoke, "Vict, all those 
heroes died -- Gyurt, nailed to the doors of Volph's Nort stronghold. 
Rethshido was shamed, whipped with chains, and yoked behind her horse. 
The Volph of Etycell sent her off, dying, into the White Waste. Nanoc 
was . . . " Yebo hesitated, "Your father vanquished the Volph at 
Etycell and set out to find Rethshido and -- "
     "Yebo, I've heard all this before. I am leaving now. Will you 
bless Me?" he asked bowing his head.
     Yebo raised his right hand to El's starry vault and his left 
rested gently on Vict.
     Silence . . . Vict sighed. More silence and finally Yebo began.
     "Most High God and King of all things," Yebo asked, "hear my cry 
and consider this elect one. Cover his head with grace, Your hand upon 
his hand, and Your light at his feet. Guide him through the Waste. 
Forgive us, El . . . for the Volph massacres. Our anger burned of 
Shaitan and mercy was cast into that same fire. Spare this brave one. 
Do not bring wrath upon him."
     Vict opened his eyes. Yebo turned away, brushing tears into his 
beard. Vict offered thanks as Yebo lumbered off, slamming the bronzed 
stable doors behind him. 
* * *  
     Vict rested, sitting on a whitened stump. He scanned the blinding 
Waste, fumaroles vented their poisons into the twilight breezes. Vict 
had smelled the Waste a half a day earlier. T'farke had written of the 
wasteland's mephitic spew. Reaching out from the Barrier, was a sulfur 
desert. Vict was excited to have gotten this far on foot and now, only 
the White Waste was left!
     He would camp here for the night and get a good start before 
sunrise. T'farke had mentioned a second sun, the Deathlight, would rise 
just above the northern horizon seven days into the Waste. Its heat 
would dry a dead man's bones to dust in days. Only after its setting, 
could any thing move about and live. Vict had brought a shovel to dig a 
cave to hide in during the day of the Deathlight sun. He would cover 
the cave mouth with silvered cloth and hope for deliverance. The shadow 
of the Barrier would loom far into the Waste and by the ninth day there 
was relative safety in the dimlit penumbra.
     A grove of nettle-grass trees grew at the base of the Barrier. It 
was here that T'farke reported food and water awaited the lucky 
explorer. Vict had food and water for about five days left. He hoped to 
find something to eat and water in the lowlands of Surt Amin, four days 
into the Waste.
     Surt Amin was an outcast of Rymlan. He had openly criticized the 
Volph Wars in the Common Text. Rather than face possible execution, he 
had fled to T'farke's fabled Oasis of the Waste. Many believed Surt 
Amin found a refuge there. Crin carrier lizards sporadically appeared 
on the outskirts of Crin with scrolls bearing Surt Amin's diatribes and 
limericks. The Waste had served to only sharpen his sarcastic wit. He 
railed against Ultre, ruler of Rymlan.
     Headsman Ultre of Great Rymlan always holds to the story that the 
scrolls are forgeries and some pitiful Crin peasant is swiftly 
arrested. An official gala execution follows and speculation ends until 
the next lizard delivers word again. Vict had traveled to Crin and paid 
handsomely for directions to a recent lizard find. At the base of the 
cliff before him a Crin merchant slept beside a captured carrier 
lizard. Before dawn the white monstrosity would be released with 
supplies to wander back to Surt Amin. Vict would secretly follow its 
trail.
     
     "Who are you, dead man?" spoke the towering shadow.
     "Vict, son of Nanoc . . . of Rym --" Vict coughed, collapsing.
     "Son of Nanoc? That's a new one, "the derisive voice laughed, 
"Here, drink.
  Slowly, not that much! There now, enough! Stand now, Vict, wanderer 
of the Waste, withering prune of humanity."
     Vict was sunblind and could barely see the blurred outlines of a 
small man,
  hopping before him. Losing the lizard's trail, Vict had wandered for 
three days in the Waste. Surt Amin had watched his fruitless progress 
and waited until he collapsed to approach. He tried to speak but his 
lips split and cracked only gibberish.
     "Are you a babbling idiot or a bumbling headhunter from that 
canker sore, Ultre? That murderous pig has killed enough Crin now on my 
account," the little man said, "They nearly broke off all trade with 
me. If it wasn't for their hankering for visionleaf, I'd starve out 
here." 
     "Are you Surt Amin?" Vict managed to ask.
     "No, I'm sweet Rethshido. Kiss me you dried up thing," Surt Amin 
affected an effeminate tone, "Who else would live out here you sunbaked 
dolt? Sit up, wash your face in this."
     Surt Amin threw a basin of water over Vict's head. Laughing, Surt 
walked toward his self-made paradise at the head of a runnel coursing 
alongside Vict.
     Vict attempted to stand and follow Surt Amin. He soon discovered 
why his hands were numb. He was bound to an old Volph yoke trailing 
behind him. He shuddered to think where Surt Amin got it. It had seen 
better days but held him good enough. 
     "Surt! Come back here and untie me! I'm no Rymlan cow!"
     "You'll follow me now and shut it up," Surt Amin answered, "or you 
can pridefully strut the Waste looking for me another day, Vict of 
Nanoc's loins."
     Vict dragged himself to his feet, pulling his burden behind him.
     Surt Amin's hole in the ground was just that. Some past tremor had 
cleft the Waste and the resultant arroyo was as near to an oasis as you 
could get. Artesian rivulets pooled in shallow basins deepened by Surt 
Amin and supported sparse but plentiful succulents. An odd plant that 
smelled of sweet wine grew in vine over Surt Amin's desert hotel. It 
was the source of visionleaf.
     "Don't bruise those leaves!" Surt Amin shouted at Vict, "That's my 
next month's crop and I was going try it out on you first if you 
liked."
     "What are these blue growths covering the leaf?" Vict asked.
     "Fungus, mold, the active ingredient -- the leaf is the food," 
Surt replied, "and the Waste poisons the air down here just right."
     "Why call it visionleaf?"
     "How long have you been in that sun up there anyway?" Surt Amin 
chuckled, "The blue mold takes your mindsoul off to places beyond the 
Barrier. Once you eat visionleaf your head doesn't fit in this little 
dirty world of ours anymore. You want to go back beyond the Barrier 
again and again. You never harden to its effect. In fact, you become 
more adept at staying longer with less leaf. One day, they tell me, you 
are embedded in the other realm and merely bide your time living here 
in the here and now. Visionleaf is a taste of unseen tomorrows. You 
can't explain it until you already understand it isn't to be 
explained." 
     "Nonsense! T'farke didn't mention any visionleaf or such things," 
Vict argued, "What you describe is dream and imagination. I seek the 
Barrier surrounded by this Waste all around us. I will not drug myself 
into accepting any false ideas. I seek a hard and fast thing I can 
scale, touch, or smite. I don't want to end my search in my mind."
     "A little visionleaf will not end your quest," Surt Amin offered, 
"It will serve only to illuminate the Barrier, to let you see it afar, 
to guide you through its peculiar distractions. Don't cast it aside 
without any way to understand me. Here, a small leaf perhaps?"
     "No!"
     Surt Amin popped the leaf in his own mouth, chewed, and swallowed. 
He looked at Vict, smirking. He untied Vict from the Volph yoke.
     "I met you a week ago, right here, in this very spot," Surt Amin 
said, "I sat over there eating visionleaf and watched us argue over 
visionleaf here and now. In about - let me look up first -- yes, in 
about an hour, the swine-faced Ultre's men will be here for me. You 
will leave very soon for the Barrier with all my visionleaf. You find 
riding a Crin carrier lizard the only way to cross the Waste. You must 
leave now, Vict. It is inevitable."
     "Surt, let me help you. I am trained in all manner of --"
     "My many-legged lizard friend, Treg is waiting up there for you," 
Surt Amin said, "I've instructed him to carry you to the Barrier. It 
will leave you there. It will not wait for you, Vict. I promised it 
freedom if it would do this folly."
     Surt Amin began harvesting the visionleaf and packed them in a 
satchel. Vict held the bag of dreams while Surt Amin set the vine on 
fire. In seconds, his house was also ablaze. Treg, the lizard, peered 
down over the edge of the arroyo, perplexed as its former master set 
the fire.
     Ultre's henchmen, near giving up the search, see the smoke and 
ride hard toward the dark, writhing column. Surt Amin, sitting atop a 
dormant fumarole pinnacle, waves Vict away. He holds a Crin crossbow in 
his lap.
     "I kill half of them before they even spot me," Surt called out to 
Vict, "I think I give up after that. I'll be part of a grand parade 
down main street in a few days. I like going out in style!" Surt Amin 
took an old visionleaf out of his sand-colored robe, put on his 
sunblinders, pulled up his hood, and looked very stoned.
     Vict looked back at Surt Amin as Treg asked, "Go now?"
     "Yes, Treg," Vict said, feeling odd talking to his lizard steed.
     A dust storm was brewing. Surt Amin swallowed the last of the 
visionleaf, sobbing. His thoughts went back to the day he found Rethshido
the Red One. He had seen her dying on the Volph yoke behind her dead horse.
The soonest he could reach her, even within the visionleaf's power, was not
soon enough. Rethshido had looked up at him and with her last breath asked
if he was Shaitan or El.
     Surt Amin let the first crossbow's whisper speak harshly into the 
brain of the nearest rider. His cry was lost in the howling winds. A 
million darts of sand assailed Ultre's men as Surt Amin locked in on 
another dead man, and another, and another. He tossed his weapon aside, 
smiling, and waited patiently for the spared ones to find him.

  					* * *	
     Treg asked Vict, "Why carry digger?"
     "Oh this -- it is to dig a cave once we near the Deathlight sun."
     "Sun of Dying?"
     "Yes, Treg, the same," Vict answered, a bit annoyed.
     "Sun of Dying little now, no death, no heat. Digger heavy, throw 
away."
     "Are you sure?"
     "Sun of Dying burn brighter, then it die too, no death now. Digger 
heavy, throw away now, Vict."
     Vict tossed the shovel aside. He couldn't believe he was heeding 
the counsel of an eight-legged lizard. He opened the satchel of 
visionleaf and looked closely at one. He reclosed the bag.
     "Treg, you ever eat this stuff, this visionleaf of Surt's?"
     "Sometimes, funny dreams, want that one now. Give Treg, need to 
fill empty head with words."
     Vict gave Treg the succulent leaf and listened to the gross 
slurping and smacking.
     "Thanks Vict, that was very kind of you to share," Treg began
conversing in unusually fluent Rymlanese, "Well, I venture to guess old
master Surt is nearly executed by now."
     "I don't like to think about that. How is it you speak like this, 
Treg?"
     "I haven't the slightest idea of what you refer to," Treg replied, 
stopping his swift gait, "Perhaps, it's the visionleaf. Never mind all 
that. Ahead is the Barrier. Ominously horrid, isn't it?"
     Vict slipped off Treg's back and stood staring at what earlier he 
had mistaken as a massive wall of distant storm clouds. Before him 
towered a lifetime of overcast days, a Cyclopean expanse of sorrow in 
stone. Stained with the tears of endless agonies and defaced by the 
hammered blows of utter failure, it loomed infinite over him. Its top 
lost in the dark clouds of confused distances, it stretched out to the 
limitless horizon of hopelessness. It swallowed all light and sound. It 
echoed a deafening silence of doom and   smothered him in fear, thick 
and gauzelike. At its base, Vict spied the nettle-grass trees, twisted 
and deformed by their proximity to the Barrier.
     "Treg, we can find food and water soon according to T'farke. Let's 
--" Vict began.
     "Excuse me, kind sir Vict, but the bargain was for transport to 
right here. I will be leaving now. Not hungry, not thirsty, good luck 
Vict."
     Treg turned and skittered away faster than Vict had ever seen the 
thing move. With it, of course, went all the visionleaf. It was fine. 
He was finally at the Barrier. It was yet a half a day's walk to reach 
its base and Vict was ready to eat.
     In truth, there were all sorts of fruits and nuts available in the 
nettle-grass forest. Vict feasted until exhausted. Uncomfortable in 
this foreboding gloom as night approached, he climbed the tallest tree 
and positioned himself to drowse the darkest of nights away.
     He slept as poor as expected. Upon reaching the forest floor, he 
was dismayed to find clawed tracks circling the tree in which he 
camped. He reached for his shortsword and remembered putting it in the 
other satchel now long gone on Treg's back.
     "Shaitan's tail!" he cursed himself.
     He walked over to the cobbled base of the Barrier. Touching it, he 
thought he heard distant cries of fear, shrieks of pain. He pulled back 
his hand, ever so slowly.
     "Curious, the stone is not cold but warm, not rock hard but it 
gives a bit, like cork-bark." Vict noticed a well-worn path along the 
wall and wondered what patrolled this Barrier wood. He followed the 
twisting path all day, snacking on the myriad of fruit and nuts. Such a 
concentration of earthly delights seemed almost contrived, well-tended 
somehow. Various animal tracks were all about him.
     "Great Rymlan's towers!" he yelled, stumbling over a root and 
falling down face to face with a badly damaged human skull. There were 
gnawed and splintered bones everywhere. He pondered the unfortunate 
stranger's remains and broke into a faster pace.
  Menacing shadows crawled in from the west. An overwhelming sense of 
dread drifted down from the swollen ramparts of the Barrier. Animal 
odors hung fresh in the thickening dampness. Vict searched out higher 
ground, gripping his empty scabbard.
     At that moment, a loud crashing and scraping noise filled the 
forest all about him. Before Vict could react, the thrashing burst from 
the undergrowth at his immediate right.
     "Treg! You monster! What brings you back now? I nearly --" Vict 
shouted.
     "I brought your weapon and the visionleaf back," Treg rasped, "I 
couldn't leave you out here defenseless and bored as well."
     "Half of the visionleaf is gone!"
     "The Waste is a very boring place to cross my friend," Treg said
with an enormously wide smile, "I saw that you will need this stuff soon.
Now, I must really leave for good. This wood is no place to be after
nightfall.
     "We've chatted long enough," Treg reared on his four hind legs, 
spilling all the satchels empty, and sniffing the evening mists. "They 
are near. Scatter the visionleaf behind you and run toward the quake-
split section over that way. Goodbye, Vict." Treg vanished as quickly 
as he had come.
     "Treg! Treg!" No answer came. Vict grabbed his sword and the 
visionleaf. He ran like a wild dog in the direction Treg had pointed. A 
chorused wailing nearby reminded him to throw the fragrant leaves down 
as he ran. Soon the wails became snarls and throaty barking. There was 
fighting amongst his pursuers. Was it the visionleaf? He hoped the 
diversion would buy him the time he needed. Ahead, barely visible in 
the waning light was a fissure in the Barrier. An ancient earthquake 
had shifted the base in opposite directions. A jagged outcropping of 
the wounded edifice lent itself to climbing. In no time Vict was 
hundreds of spans up the monolithic face of the Barrier. Below him, the 
howling raced into the distant night. He had evaded them for now. Curling
up into a fetal ball, Vict pursued an elusive slumber on the unyielding ledge
beneath him. El granted him rest and safety through another passing of
Shaitan's shadow.
     Wings of the dawn carried the the new day above the eastern rim of 
the Waste. Vict was bathed in golden warmth, the skin of the Barrier 
sweated under his palms. He marveled at this wall's endless length and 
vast heights. Why was it here? What formed it? Did it keep him away 
from somewhere or something? What did it hold that might endanger his 
world? He had to at least try to find some answers before venturing 
home.
     As he stood to his feet, he spied something glinting in the 
morning sun. It looked round like a small mirror. He scaled the wall 
higher to get a closer look. It was further away than he estimated. It 
was no mirror but a battered Rymlan war shield. He scanned the cliffs 
for more artifacts. On an adjacent ledge was a ragged piece of faded 
burgundy cloth! Vict scrabbled across to it, out of breath. It was 
Rymlan weave -- a soldier's robe and blanket. Then he spotted the 
handholds carved in the Barrier, leading up and out of sight.
     Vict climbed, shivering, sweating, and praying. After an hour or 
more, the ascent terminated at a cave entrance. A steady wind blew out 
of its depths. Vict peered in and then sat resting. He would wait for 
the sun to rise at a better angle to light his way into the cave.
     Not far into the cave he came upon the bonepiles of several men. 
It was a Rymlan graveless arranging of the bones. Vict noticed the 
weapon pile in the far corner. Searching through the stash he came upon 
a fine Rymlan sword. Carrying it back out into the sunlight, he wiped 
it clean and read the engraved hilt.
     "Nanoc of Rymlan"
     It was his father's.
     Vict's grief song echoed down the Barrier slope, over the nettle 
wood, and was lost in the winds of the Waste.

    					*  *  * 
     Yebo lifted his hands again to the heavens to beseech El for lost 
Vict. Many days had passed without much news. Surt Amin shouted 
something about Vict at his execution in Great Rymlan. They said Surt 
was Waste-maddened, his mind full of poison. He laughed all the way up 
the gallows. Ultre's men massacred the entire populace of Crin as an 
example for all Rymlan to remember. Ultre had gone too far this time 
and revolt was near.
     "How long, El," Yebo began praying, "will you be silent over this 
evil?
     "Yebo," Vict whispered from beneath Yebo's open window, "El will 
be silent no longer."
     "Vict! You're alive!"
     Vict reached up and helped old Yebo out of the window. They 
embraced and wept without words.
  
     "The evil of man," Vict explained to Yebo, "builds the Barrier. 
Hate feeds, advances the camp of Shaitan. I climbed to the peak of its
immense blackness. Within were the ruins of Volph! Eytcell had just slipped
under its foot. Now it creeps across the Waste towards Crin. It'll grind
the spilled blood and bones of the Crin into its vile bowels and then
Great Rymlan.
     "Ultre will die this night. Blood and fire will fill the streets 
of Rymlan soon and the Barrier will swallow it as well. We cannot stop 
it.
     "That fool Surt Amin and his visionleaf hopes delivered him and 
all the Crin into the Maw of Shaitan. Their souls are locked for all 
time in the Barrier. I heard the screams of the dead in the wall when I 
touched it.
     "Demon-ridden wild boar and hyenadon run the perimeter of the 
Barrier at night. Fattened on dates and pears, the unwary are devoured. 
El's Hand has delivered me back to warn you, Yebo. It is time to flee."
     "Has El made sure these things to you, Vict?" Yebo asked with 
trepidation, "Your eyes are distant with the dark visions of Shaitan --  
your words burn with wrath."
     "El has spoken, Yebo, long ago and clearly," Vict continued, "We 
stopped listening and no longer recognize His voice. El will let 
Shaitan awaken our hearing."
     Yebo nodded in agreement. Vict sent away the servants. Yebo 
readied the horses as Vict wandered through the house of his childhood 
one last time. Vict and Yebo rode towards the moonrise, gazing back at 
Great Rymlan's towers. They began the Barrier Run as later chronicled 
in The Saga of Vict the Prophet.
  
     Shadows sweep through the grounds of Headsman Ultre's manse. Crin-
born citizens and soldiers for hire slaughter Ultre's guards. A quick 
court is held. Ulte is bound, beaten, and hung by the neck alongside 
Surt Amin's ripened remains. The Barrier pushes forward as riots and 
bonfires spread down Great Rymlan's boulevards -- blood and fire fill 
the streets.
  
     The sword of Nanoc was still thrust hilt-deep into the Barrier's 
hide. Alongside it was Vict's shortsword wedged in a new fissure. The 
Barrier shuddered once deeply, faltering slightly as it slouched upon 
Great Rymlan's fiery outskirts.  
  
  
                         The End

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