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Anthology series

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A collection of short stories and poems that give God and Lord Jesus Christ all the glory!

Fantasy / Poetry
Mond Zuniga
Age Rating:

Destiny finds its person

The dawn had arisen from the promise of yesterday as destiny had said and done many times over. As the suns rays reached out into the landscape, its warmth gaining strength in the process, those that slumbered in the realm of dreams started to slowly but surely rise from the blessings of rest. The gentle touch of the winds slowly swerved above the ground, their warm and tender greeting in the early stages of morning the most pleasing company after the cruel and bitter cold of night. The morning dew started to slowly evaporate from the lilies of the open plains, and the stalks of the harvest had at long last ripened from the sweat and toil of the worker’s labors.

Such a pleasant sight. It was welcome in the midst of the farmlands in the north, were the cold was more common then the memory of the seasons of summer. The cruelty of unyielding cold, with the shrewdness of a serpents gaze, and the cold blooded nature of the dragon. Compassion was a rare trait in a land of consistent frostbite, and hope was a lamp light that gave the most comforting warmth in the uncertainty of nightfall. Wisdom was indeed a trait held in high esteem, yet her presence seemed absent in the days gone by. Love was considered a fool’s gambit when survival was prioritized more so then the trusting of another. So few could consider generosity, much less considered it worthwhile.

There lay a small village of common folk in the open forests of Winterroot, were farmers and hunters were eagerly pursuing their trade without consideration towards the outside world. All remained to each other too tightly to seek release, for warmth and fellowship was not something lightly considered, nor were there any brave souls bold enough to muster courage for venturing forth into the unknown world! There were no adventurers in the village, goodness no! Outcasts never ventured back into the fold! No soul brave enough to claim territory undiscovered by a sheltered and safeguarded people. No, no, no! Too heavy a risk, too much a burden upon already weary bones in the bitter cold. The unknown was too much of a terrifying a factor to take into account! And so the usual farming took place, and the trappers stayed within their secured perimeters, as per usual. The gold and silver coins almost expected to reunite with their former masters seven fold!

Such consistency was expected. Yet, on the warmth of this new day, an unexpected traveler with a grey beard untrimmed and shaggy came upon the village seeking lodging and food from his travels. “Though this travel has been much fun, and I wish to pursue further, I think it better to rest for the time being. My bones are weary and my stomach is groaning. I see a small village ahead with many crops in abundance. Perhaps my silver could be put to good use here!” the Prophet considered.

The village stood fifty yards uphill were the end of the village had an open view of the outside world. “It seems they’ve positioned themselves in a place we’re they can keep their flank more carefully safeguarded. A wise strategy in such a place where the snow is more common then the sun. It allows them to take note of old friends or potential foes much easier from the high ground,” the Prophet thought to himself.

The old man walked towards the entrance of the village, with watchmen stationed at their posts, gazing at the unknown traveler with shrewd eyes. “Stop right there! State your business, stranger!” the Watchman in the right flank ordered. The Prophet stood firm with an upright posture despite his ripe old age as if ready to show strength. “I am a traveling prophet merely seeking rest from a long journey. I wish to stay here to regain my strength, then be on my way,” the Prophet thundered powerfully. The Watchmen glared at each other for a time, but the one on the left nodded back. “Keep out of trouble. We don’t take kindly to strangers in our village. Seeing as you’re an older man, however, I don’t think you will be causing us much trouble,” the Watchman declared. The Prophet laughed at the guards comment. “It seems you have limited amount, if not no experience with prophets. Destiny does not abode well with disobedience from the desires of men. Prophets don’t bring trouble, usually it ends up finding them,” the Prophet mocked.

The faces of the watchmen showed a clear disdain from the perception of disrespect from the old man, but they chose to disregard it. “Keep moving forward. And stay out of trouble!” the Watchman warned him. The Prophet marched forward ignoring the guards calling out. The village had small tents lined up with all sorts of produce, breads, and meat going down the town center in front of small stone huts. The gurgling of the old man’s stomach bellowed into the air, crying out to be appeased. His eyes wandered to a bread stand as he then decided to bargain there. A fair young man with light brown hair and unusually bright blue eyes as the ocean blue working the stand noticed his new customer, his eyes brightened as hope was lifted up in his heart. “Morning, stranger! I’m Aldrich! New to this town, eh?” Aldrich questioned inquisitively.

“Perhaps by the end of this meeting we will become more friends then mere acquaintances, Aldrich. A pleasure to meet to! My name is Ethan, as vigorous and as courageous as the days of my youth! I haven’t lost any of that despite my ripe old age!” Ethan confidently assured. Aldrich took a liking to Ethan immediately. “You’re outspoken warmth and courage is a pleasant touch, Ethan. It’s refreshing and comforting in this part of Winterroot. I’m afraid bitterness has swept into our dominion and taken root in the hearts of all who reside here” Aldrich said with a hint of sorrow.

Ethan took immediate notice of Aldrich’s words with concern that inspired compassion. “What has caused such sorrow amidst the citizens? Surely winter has not brought such consistent fellowship into unyielding stone and distrust?” Ethan asked. Aldrich’s left hand scratched the left side of his head, obviously trying to craft a proper sentence with the right words chosen carefully. An incorrect blade could very well ruin his life. “It’s not the unyielding winter that has brought such sorrow in our midst, our town leader has a tight grip under those he lords it over. As a shepherd who gathers the fleece then abandons the sheep into starvation and blight, so he uses us a means to an end, then leaves us with little for us to survive, let alone prosper,” Aldrich whispered as he leaned forward to shield his blades from eager ears and prying eyes.

Ethan’s eyes flared with jealous fire, the shepherd within him protective over the unattended flock. “I will not have it. I will not tolerate the incompetence of an overbearing glutton taking advantage over those whom he is called to lead and then abandoning them in their torment. Where is this town leader? I would have a word with him!” Ethan boldly questioned. Aldrich was worried about his friends decision! “Surely he could not be that rash to challenge the town leader in his current state!” Aldrich thought to himself. “Sir, and I ask this with the utmost respect, wouldn’t it be wiser to eat something first? If you’re going to contend with the town leader, it would be wise to fight at full strength!” Aldrich suggested. Ethan laughed at the council. “And miss the opportunity to inspire you when your weak? Ha! No empty stomach will keep me from setting a firm example for the sheep!” Ethan boldly declared. Aldrich was taken back by Ethan’s words. “He intends to dispute with the town leader in his weakness as an example of the flock? Surely this is a man of the people!” Aldrich carefully considered.

“What a disappointment. My subjects have failed to deliver me their proper offering of respect. I will punish them accordingly to their own failure,” Barnum said. Barnum’s brown eyes gazed upon his portion with disdain, his scornful attitude towards the amount could rouse a terrible dragon! His blonde hair flowing down as rivers of the purest treasure and his appearance was both strong in arm and fair in beauty. His serpentine gaze fixed upon the guard’s who stood at his entrance. “Bring the people to the front of this building so I might make an example of those who fail to deliver,” Barnum ordered. The guards, armed with steel and swords sheathed on their side nodded immediately and scurried off.

Barnum’s breathed out a sigh into the air, his patience limited by the failure of his subjects. “I take responsibility for this dung heap of a hilltop, take them under wing and provide them with my wisdom, and they still refuse to show me the respect I deserve? There will be blood shed on this day. The hour grows darker as the coldness of the storm has numbed the hearts of my citizens. Such heartless peasants will understand the crime they have committed. A curse upon my very name, I declare unto them! A festering disease in the midst of the company, an unwelcome burden with regards to displaying my majesty!” Barnum thought to himself.

Barnum’s cloth was the finest quality of dark blue, flowing down the ground as his long blonde hair traveled down a little below the chest. He had a crown placed upon his head in honor of his own majesty, to display his glory amongst his lowly subjects. Such an attitude had the gluttony of a ravenous wolf and the filth of a pig that lay in the mud. He prepared his entrance to make sure all under his rule understood his authority.

Barnum pushed through the doors to find the blood of his guards flowing into the streets and their slashed corpses lifeless on the ground. Barnum took note of Ethan with a firm grip on his sword, standing defiantly against Barnum, his eyes ablaze by the abuse of the flock. “You starve these people to death by robbing them of the fruits of their toil, only to lead them like lambs to the slaughter for not presenting you with what you feel you deserve? I will deal with you according to your own folly, you wretch!” Ethan declared. “Who are you, you trouble maker for this town? What right do you have to slaughter my men and declare rebellion against those who govern them?” Barnum demanded to know. “I have not caused trouble, you hypocrite! You’re selfishness and pride have lead to the trouble of these people! You bear them down with heavy labors, robbing them of what little they have with heavy taxation, and then plan to slaughter those as an example for those who fail to meet your requirements? What kind of snake devours his own? Bring the man to me!” Ethan declared. Barnum was brought down to his knees “Get your hands off me, you wretched swine! I am your king!” Barnum demanded. Ethan raised his sword and said “You have starved others by your own gluttony, therefore, you will starve as you lack the blood to sustain yourself,” Ethan declared. Ethan’s sword was raised only to be restrained by the remaining guards left at the entrance. “And here I recall telling you I would have no trouble in my town, nor would I tolerate it at any given moment. Perhaps you should have heeded your own words, ‘prophet.’ Bring him down low and restrain him. I will deal with this interloper myself!” The guardsman declared. Aldrich’s adrenaline started racing as he decided it was time to act. Live or die, he had to make a choice. “Wait! You cannot kill him! Have you not considered his words? He’s a prophet! What would befall us if we slaughtered him without fair trial! How could you then show your sense of justice and fair play by simply leading him like a lamb to the slaughter?” Aldrich suggested!

Barnum immediately responded. “Stay that blade, guardsmen,” Barnum ordered. The Guardsmen reluctantly sheathed his sword, but his grip upon Ethan was no less unyielding. Barnum looked in Aldrich’s direction, as if pleased by the very words of sparing Ethan’s life. Would that it were of pure and earnest intent. The stroking of Barnum’s ego became all but clear as he caressed his flowing blonde hair with his left hand. “Gather the town’s folk and prepare him for trial! I wish to display my wisdom in the midst of this petulant group of rabble rousers! Organize a group of our people to be a jury and let him represent himself as a lawyer! If he truly is a prophet, ‘may the gods be with him.’ Oh, what utter nonsense!” Barnum scorned disdainfully with his right hand relaying the order. Ethan sighed with relief but did not waiver in retaining focus. “Aldrich, come here at once!” Ethan demanded. Aldrich scurried over to his location with all due haste. “The Lord I serve made the heavens and the earth. I have confidence he will safeguard us despite the uncertainty of our situation. You have your part to play in this little game! I trust you will know when the time is right!” Ethan informed. Aldrich nodded, though his own nerves were still uptight. Ethan laid his hands upon his right shoulder. “May the Lord I serve grant you wisdom to proceed forward at the proper moment!” Ethan declared unto him.

Ethan was immediately dragged off by the guards, Aldrich’s eyes reflecting upon the events that were transpiring with the uncertainty bringing sorrow and anguish unto his very doorstep. The seemingly certain doom approaching his new friend. There was clearly a battle to be fought, how much more a war to be won! “What am I to do in the midst of all this conflict? I have little silver and gold to be mustered, and I would need something of value in order to seek wise counsel! Much more so to find protection of the utmost quality!” Aldrich considered to himself in silence.
He pondered the situation at hand, with a fire burning in his heart. He then received an idea! “There is a man who owes me two-hundred gallons of oil! If I consider having him settle a partial part of the account, I will have no trouble gaining the protection that I need!” Aldrich considered. His legs rushing to his debtors location, to pay the debt to an old friend.

Ethan’s chains mercilessly shackled his wrists with a chilling grip. The iron will of Barnum’s guardsmen no less disheartening then the unyielding will of their leader. Oh, if compassion would only reveal her tender mercies! If only her presence was not hindered by the bitterness of a calloused heart! Ethan was not swayed despite his view of the situation. The rats gnawing at the decay of the corpses and the foul stench of rot permeating the air. “Oh, what a horrid sight indeed! Yet not the slightest bit disheartening. If I am to preserve the honor of my lord by both word and deed, it would be of the utmost importance to rejoice gratefully with my head held high! No man of mulish stubbornness will cause me to despair in his clutches! HA! It will take more then this to keep me down!” Ethan boaster confidently. His heart lifted him to sing a pleasant tune.

Though I lay in bonds of iron,
With the rotten corpses of despair,
Though my enemies would surely torment,
Without remorse or care,

Though such residence is rather dismal,
With the taint of flesh and blight,
Though my chains are so unyielding,
I will endure with all my might!

Though my hands are chained in shackles,
With fetters that hinder my ability to flee,
Though I may lay in the darkest prison,
My heart will sing so joyfully,

Though I seem abandoned by my god,
With the present season that his servant is in,
Though sorrows may try to tempt me,
I will surely resist such sin,

Though my heart should surely curse,
I lift a thanksgiving offering to raise,
Though I linger near death itself,
My heart will boast and praise!

“Singing ever triumphantly, I see. It’s as if you actually believe you’re capable of escaping with your life, let alone prevailing over Barnum,” the Guard spoke coldly. Ethan took note of a lurking figure partially covered by the shadows near the side of a pillar. Ethan smirked confidently. “You assume my joy comes from the outcome of this situation, or that my life is of the utmost value. That is your biggest weakness. You assume that I have anything to profit from this fight,” Ethan eluded with a soft yet powerful tone. The Guard sneered at such a remark. “What fool do you take me for? Why else would you overthrow a town mayor if not for the spoils of war? There’s no logical reason behind it!” the Guard scorned harshly. “That, is where you are wrong,” Ethan suggested with a sigh.

The Guard roared with unyielding fury at Ethan’s handling of the situation. “Your piety is misplaced and your sense of justice all but flawed! What else does a man have in this unyielding cold then the fruits of his labors that are so limited in number?” The Guard asked with frustration. “The very sheep you have abandoned into poverty and starvation, are the very treasures you have failed to value the most. That, is why you and your master will fail,” Ethan reminded. “You will regret such words, ‘prophet.’ My name is Piercer, and I will see to it,” Piercer declared. “Try me,” Ethan muttered shrewdly. Piercers eyes locked onto his, Ethan’s eyes no less bold. Piercer immediately climbed up the stairs out of sight.

The mirror reflected upon Barnum’s glorious appeal as if it was boasting of his praises in endless amounts. “Oh, how lovely my complexion is and how delightful it is to stare at my perfect beauty! It is truly a delight for any soul to merely gaze upon me, let alone consider my greatness!” Barnum boasted aloud with the utmost confidence. “You truly are a great being, sire,” Piercer declared respectfully. Piercer slowly walked into his masters personal chambers, glittering with gold and silver décor and with furniture decorated with cloth of the finest quality. He kneeled in his masters presence as if ready to give a report. Barnum acknowledged his presence with a simple sleight of hand as Piercer arose from his knees. “How fairs our doomed prisoner?” Barnum mockingly asked. Piercer chuckled cunningly, his eyes as shrewd as serpents coldness when it bargains with his pitch deep and carnal. As a hunter delighted in stalking his prey, so Piercer took pleasure in the process of foretelling judgment. “He was singing joyfully in his prison. It’s as if he expects to survive, let alone prevail over you,” Piercer informed.

Barnum started chuckling while covering his mouth with his fingers, as if trying not to release spit from what he heard. “How could he be singing in a time when his death is all but certain? Such a petulant fool! What did he tell you?” Barnum asked. “He said his life and the profits gained by defeating you weren’t his aim. He says you’re abandoning of the flock is what inspires him to fight. I told him he would regret his words and he said try me,” Piercer explained. “Well what does he think we’re having this little show trial for? Of course we’re going to ‘try him!’ We never suggested it was going to be fair!” Barnum mocked harshly. The two laughed and mocked ruthlessly until their faces were red.

The hammers stroke thundered it’s call into order as the mutters and whispers fluttering about in the air we’re silenced with brute force. The stillness of the court was immediate and precise, Ethan stood bound in shackles of iron. His wrists clamped and his ankles chained, but neither restraints nor swords could dull the flames of his spirit. Barnum placed the palm of his right hand on his face, his index and middle finger pointing up as he viewed his prisoner with glee. “You have been brought here inciting rebellion against an established government, an attempted coup against my guardsmen and my life, and the slaughtering of my hired hands. What say you to these accusations?” Barnum asked with power and strength.

The doors slammed open as Aldrich and a lawyer came walking down the center aisle. Aldrich took his seat in the front right side of seating. The lawyer came to Ethan’s side, a hand placed on Ethan’s right shoulder for reassurance. “My name is Henoch, and I will be Ethan’s defense for this matter,” Henoch declared. Barnum sneered at the lawyers remark. “Very well,” Barnum said coldly. “What are the charges against Ethan?” Henoch requested. “The charges against Ethan are as follows, rebellion against an established body of government, an attempted coup against my guardsmen and my life, and the murder of multiple government officers in an attempt to restrain him. I will ask you again, what say you to these charges?” Barnum demanded?
Ethan boldly declared “NOT GUILTY! You know as well as I do that I confronted your guards on the quality of your leadership. When doing so, one of your men attempted to restrain me from simply debating with them on the overbearing taxes you place on the people and I acted in self-defense. When you walked out the front door of your residence, you saw your dead guards on the floor and I fought back for my own safety!” Ethan stated.

“And why would you even contemplate debating over the way this town operates? If you do not like it, then simply leave!” Barnum stated. Ethan snorted in contempt. “Do you see the people starving with barely anything to live on? There may be many vendors in this town, but it seems to be more costly to own a business at all! How can you abandon these people to their slow demise?” Ethan demanded to know. Barnum had a spark of annoyance from Ethan. Ethan’s words were like swords swinging viciously at his very body. “Ask the people! Do I starve them to death? Do any of you linger in famine and want?” Barnum requested to know.

There was silence but then a brave soul stepped forward. “You demand excessive payment for leadership that restricts us more so then protects our freedoms! How can you call yourself a leader when our children are starving, and their parents can barely make ends meet for themselves much less for their own kin! You’re a glutton, Barnum!” Aldrich declared. This was met with enthusiastic cheer by the crowd gathered that day. Even the jury started raising a clapping hand for the bold statement.

Barnum’s fury was building by the second, a scorching mark of boiling red covered his face as he attempted to retain his composure. He was clearly aggravated by his townsfolk beyond measure. He snapped his fingers from his right hand, the guards unleashing their swords as a reinforcement of authority, the townsfolk gasping at the withdrawing of steel. Barnum’s tactic shook Henoch to his core. But he considered the need to be strategic at playing this game. Henoch saw how his opponent intended to play, and he made it abundantly clear in his eyes. Barnum would suffer no rivals.

“You expect me to take care of this town and making sure that it is safe and protected without proper payment for my labors? Look at the guardsmen and understand! They protect you at my orders! Do you not understand that workers are worth their wages?” Barnum declared. “Your desire to be served seems to outweigh the benefits of your leadership capabilities. And how much do your guardsmen truly need to survive? This is the first time our village has had this problem since the time you ascended to leadership, and it seems their presence comes at more of a cost then the people freely defending themselves! What say you to that? If these people desire to govern themselves, will you respectfully step down from your position and lay down your authority?” Henoch demanded to know.

Barnum was infuriated by the notion, let alone having to answer it. “What am I to do? If I tell them no, they will rise up in rebellion! But if I say yes, I’m ruined!” Barnum thought to himself. Then an idea came to him. “If you truly desire for me to step down from leadership, fine! But I ask you, who will protect you from the sphinx that lurks in the caves in the west? If it should rise up, who will fight for you? My men will leave with me, leaving you defenseless!” Barnum suggested. The people looked at each other in fear. They were starting to reconsider their freedoms for the certainty of security.

Aldrich eyes shot down, trying to consider what he should do. “If I remain silent, Ethan will surely die and this town will remain in a tighter grip! But, what can I do against the Sphinx?” Aldrich thought to himself. An unyielding fire burned within his heart. He was then inspired to muster courage to make a final push. “I will go and deal with the Sphinx! If I defeat him, you will step down from your position and leave this town for good,” Aldrich declared. Barnum burst in laughter at the notion. “You might as well allow me to remain in leadership and spare your own life! Your only a seller on the market! How do you expect to take down the sphinx?” Barnum demanded to know. He stepped forward between Ethan and Barnum’s position and declared “The god who has inspired me shall help me prevail over him! This battle belongs to him!” Aldrich declared boldly.

Barnum’s eyes leered at Aldrich with a cold-blooded shrewdness. His eyes were bent on finding some sort of flaw from the aspirant, but found no reason to pursue any further. “How will we know if the sphinx hasn’t killed you?” Barnum asked. Aldrich released his scarf and showed it to Barnum in plain sight. “If this scarf remains near the entrance of the cave one week after my departure, then you will know I have been slain and Ethan’s life will be in your hands. If I prevail over the sphinx and return alive, you will release Ethan from captivity and you will step down from your position of authority. These are my terms,” Aldrich wagered.

Barnum’s finger began caressing his chin. His mind was made up. “Very well. One week after you depart from here, if you succeed within the time frame and return, then you have won the game. However, should you fail, I will be forevermore allowed to wield my authority until I draw my last breath. Do we have a deal?” Barnum wagered coldly. Aldrich looked Ethan and Henoch and they both nodded. “We have a deal,” Aldrich agreed approaching Barnum and shaking hands in agreement.

The frost covering the landscape was merciless. Wandering travelers stumbling with many different steps as the snow was unevenly proportioned. All that remained besides the abundance of snow were the black trees rotting in decay from frostbite. Aldrich marched forward to the sphinxes domain with a jingling sword equipped on his lift hip, his back burdened by the heavy load of supplies for his journey. He was wrapped with the heaviest clothing the people could grant him. A farewell parting gift for his sacrifice. “I’m surprised I have lasted this long. Usually I become fatigued rather quickly, but my strength has increased quite a bit. I’m truly thankful for that,” Aldrich thought to himself silently.

He traveled down the western trail, the dead trees occasionally dropping snow and alarming future prey to steer clear of potential predators near by. Such sounds didn’t startle him but he chose to remain alert. Aldrich approached a cross road, his eyes caught sight of an old woman standing next to the broken signs near the crossroads. Aldrich approached the woman with caution. “Greetings, ma’am. I’ve come seeking the sphinxes lair!” Aldrich informed her. The old toothless woman gave a confused look to the young man. Her face perplexed by the statement of the young man. “What business does a pretty young thing like you have seeking the sphinx, hmm? Speak quickly!” The Woman demanded to know. Aldrich was confused, but decided to play along.

“There is an overbearing leader in my town who wants me to defeat the sphinx. If I can do that, I will regain my peoples freedom!” Aldrich stated. The Woman started smiling and then laughing at the boys quest. “In a bit of a fool’s gambit, aren’t we handsome thing? Think you can take down the sphinx? Very well! If you can answer my riddle, I will tell you we’re to go!” The Woman offered. “Very well, stranger. Tell me your riddle and I will answer it!” Aldrich challenged.

“Brick and mortar, solid stone,
Sword to plunder, blood and bone,
Gold and silver should reside,
Ears would be wiser to confide,
Lot divided, portions granted,
Rebellion crushed and soon disbanded,
Sturdy fortress, steadfast keep,
Beggars starving, widows weep,
Royalty fancies to be inside,
What is the name of this place where all these things reside?”

“Let’s see. Brick and mortar are used to build something, so I see a reference towards a building alongside solid stone. Sword to plunder with blood and bone, gold and silver should reside ears would be wiser to confide. Swords are used to plunder gold, and wise counsel is as valuable as silver and gold. Therefore, in order to wage war to plunder, you need wise counsel and potentially silver and gold to pay for that wise counsel. I see lots being divided and portions being granted. A portion is an amount of something you receive. So in other words, it’s a set amount of something. Perhaps, land if you we’re building something? Sturdy fortress, steadfast keep. Both are structures within a potential plot of land with beggars starving and widows weeping. With royalty fancying to be inside this place. A difference between the rich and the poor,” Aldrich considered.

He then looked up and found the answer. “The name of this place is a kingdom!” Aldrich replied. The Woman looked at Aldrich’s figure from toe to head, and grinned with a shy blush appearing on her face. “Such a wise and handsome thing aren’t we, pretty thing?” The woman noted flirtatiously. Aldrich tried to politely smile, the awkward tension building as she used the word ‘we.’ “With the utmost respect, I can’t defile myself like that. I would collect my reward and ask for the proper direction,” Aldrich requested softly.

A tone of sorrow was released after his words. “The path on your right is the proper way. Be warned, pretty thing, your right arm is only as powerful as the understanding and the skill to wield it. To know this, is to achieve victory over the sphinx,” The woman informed. “Most gracious thanks, ma’am,” Aldrich replied. “Do I look like a ma’am to you?” The woman grumbled as she walked away. Aldrich scurried away as quickly as possible.

Ethan’s chains were tightened more so then ever, but his resolve was reinforced as hardy steel. His eyes looking straightforward, undeterred by his imprisonment in the shadows. “May the God I serve protect Aldrich in his journey and grant him the wisdom and strength to prevail over the sphinx.” Ethan said to himself softly. “Do you actually believe your champion will return with victory? You’re naïve, ‘prophet.’ None have outwitted the sphinx. Your quest is folly,” Piercer declared. Ethan chuckled. Piercer was taken aback by his laughter. “What’s so funny, ‘prophet?’ Have you lost your sanity?” Splicer asked. “Your sphinx is another beast yet to be conquered. His decency is more proper then your master, I would regretfully note,” Ethan stated.

Piercer snarled at his prisoners comment. Ethan chuckled. “Didn’t I tell you? Your response is a testament of the lord you serve. Tell me, how do you think your actions reflect upon his leadership capabilities, hmm?” Ethan asked. Piercer heard and regained control. “Your time is almost up, ‘prophet.’ Your boasting will avail you nothing,” Piercer noted. Ethan chuckled at his opponent, it’s very sound almost showing mercy to his opponent. “Surely your constant need to tempt me into despair is a clear testimony to your downfall, jailer. I pity you,” Ethan noted. Piercers eyes gazed shrewdly at Ethan’s remark, there bright yellow shades colder then a blizzard storm howling at the terrible clock strokes of midnight. Piercer tilted his head slowly and walked up the staircase.

Aldrich continued to journey towards the western realm where the sphinx resided. The snow becoming as bitter in its response then a woman’s heart broken by the treachery of her lover. The trees as black as charcoal tested by the flame. “The land becomes colder by the day, yet my resolve is no less sharp then when I began this journey. Perhaps such storms and tests of faith are the groundwork for something more. I will trust that there is hope despite my situation,” Aldrich thought to himself.

A black hooded figure with a flowing black robe appeared before him at yet another cross roads. Aldrich approached the figure cautiously, this unnatural sense of anxiety lurking as a lion stalking his prey in the high grass in the covering of nightfall. The two stood staring at each other, the hooded figures eyes as yellow as the morning sun, their flare as harsh as a dragons vengeance, with his appearance and beauty as craftsman’s finest effort. “This man is a sorcerer from the south. They are cunning in their craft and shrewd in their judgment. I need to reinforce prudence,” Aldrich said. The sorcerer took a step forward with his left foot. Aldrich immediately placed his right foot behind him, placing his posture in a battle stance. The Sorcerer began to speak. “Why are you traveling to the sphinxes domain? What business have you taking on the beast renowned for its wisdom?” The Sorcerer asked. Aldrich gazed at his posture, open with his feet and without the slightest concern about his opponent’s ability to respond. “I have nothing to say to you as to where I travel or my intent as to why. Tell me this: How do you know I am attempting to best the sphinx? Where did you hear such a thing?” Aldrich requested. “That woman you met earlier on the prior crossroads, she is one of my own brood. She’s a witch. You also answered her riddle correctly, something I find quite, intriguing. Tell me this: how is a young man like you answering riddles of such sorts? A simple market boy, answering complex riddles, let alone daring to take on the sphinx?” the Sorcerer asked.

Aldrich ears heard his words, and his sense of judgment was on alert. “The fact that he knows I sold bread on the market… Wait, Barnum said that exact same thing when he scoffed at me. There’s a correlation between this sorcerer and Barnum. What he intends to do, I don’t know. I should be cautious,” Aldrich stated. “I have nothing further to discuss with you on this matter. I’m moving forward regardless,” Aldrich declared. The sorcerer lifted his right hand with his palm facing in Aldrich’s direction. “Entangle,” the Sorcerer declared. Black chains of dark energy came to wrestle with Aldrich as the Sorcerer started to walk away. “That should halt your progress,” the Sorcerer declared.

Aldrich started wrestling with the darkness that desired to control him. At first, he felt his strength being sapped slowly but surely. “I, need, to, release myself, from these chains!” Aldrich declared. “Stop struggling. You will surely fail,” the Sorcerer declared over him. Aldrich’s heart burned with fire another time. “In the name of the God I serve, I release the bindings placed upon me!” Aldrich declared. The Sorcerer immediately looked to see his spell had failed and Aldrich with a sword in hand, about to swipe his own neck. The sword landed a successful blow, and the Sorcerers head fell to the ground, tumbling a few feet away from his dead body. Aldrich slashed the blood from the sword into the air, and then returned it to its sheathe. Aldrich panted heavily from the attack, his mind trying to contemplate all that had been done.

“How did he know that I sold bread on the market? There’s no way he could have known… Unless. Unless this sorcerer is working for Barnum. Barnum is sending agents to make sure I fail. It all makes sense now!”Aldrich though to himself. Aldrich immediately started running, turning right on the fork in the road.

Barnum screamed in furious rage inside his personal chambers. News of the sorcerers downfall was brought to his ears. Frustration started to build up as his heart began seething with hatred, his feet anxiously pacing throughout the room. “What am I to do about this? That insignificant gnat slaughtered my sorcerer and is now at the doorsteps of the sphinx! What if he actually conquers the beast?” Aldrich considered aloud. “Mi’lord, if I may?” Piercer objected as he barged in unannounced. Barnum was clearly frustrated, but nonetheless obliged. “Proceed,” Barnum declared.

Piercer kneeled before him. “Mi’lord, send me to deal with the pest. I will personally dispose of him. His friend was no match for me, and neither will he,” Piercer declared. Barnum gazed at him for a time, turning his back on his minion for some moments. “Go. See it done and be sure to succeed, or your will lose your head,” Barnum declared. Piercer gazed at Barnum shrewdly with vicious spite, but nonetheless agreed. “It will be done,” Piercer declared.

Piercer then left his masters presence. As a Barnum started staring in the mirror, he smiled at his ow reflection and his own beauty. “Such admirable quality, I am! A truly fine specimen amidst such common folk! All will yield to my glorious majesty and they will pay me a heavy tribute worthwhile of my glory!” Barnum declared.

The cave exuded a feeling of mystery as Aldrich gazed into its entrance. It’s entrance towered by the height of a mountain proudly declaring its reign over those within its domain. The unknown bestowed a feeling of uncertainty in Aldrich’s mind as he pondered how he would best the sphinx. “What kind of creature will he be, and how will I be able to overcome him?” Aldrich thought aloud. “Enter into my domain, little one,” A deep voice from the entrance of the cave bellowed. Aldrich shuttered at the voice. “Who are you? And why would you ask me to enter into your domain?” Aldrich asked. “I know why you’re here, and I know what you intend. Enter without fear, or doom shall bend,” The voice muttered from the cave once more. Aldrich’s eyes glared at the entrance to the cave. He was shaken to the core, but then recalled what the witch stated. “Your right arm is only as powerful as the understanding and the skill to wield it,” the Witches voice echoed in his mind. “The Sphinx said, ‘enter without fear, or doom will surely bend.’ My right arm, the understanding and the skill to wield it… I need to enter with courage. Only then, can I prevail!” Aldrich understood.

Aldrich left his scarf near the entrance, then proceeded forward into the abyss. Aldrich slowly crept into the cavern, his glimpsing at torches flaring eight feet down a winding trail with his head just barely missing the base of the mountain. “What could possibly be at the end of all this?” Aldrich thought to himself. He continued to journey through earthen trek, his footsteps lightly treading so that he would not stir sound waves into the air to alert anything that lingered in the shadows.

Aldrich turned right near one last set of torches, and then, destiny was before him. There the Sphinx gazed at him with a sharp glare. His body towering thirty feet tall, and his length thirty feet wide. His head was the head of a man, but his body had the strength of a lion. Aldrich looked at the sphinxes size and was impressed. “So this is the sphinx Barnum dreaded so much,” Aldrich thought to himself.

“You are here to liberate your town, yes?” the Sphinx asked. “He also knows I seek to liberate my town from Barnum. What does he want?” Aldrich thought inquisitively. “Mighty sphinx, if I am not rude, how is it that you and many others know of my quest? A man named Barnum said that we would have to be worried about you destroying our town!” Aldrich asked graciously. The Sphinx looked at him curiously, but expectantly. “Barnum has used sorcerers to enslave me here and to use me as a power source for their dark purpose. I pose no threat to any of you, nor do I have any intent of foul play against you. But, there is something I find interesting about you. Your tongue is courteous, gracious, and diplomatic in my presence, something I find most enjoyable and admirable. You treat me with respect. Perhaps our paths have crossed for a higher purpose then we have given due credit for,” the Sphinx observed.

Aldrich considered the Sphinxes words carefully. “Perhaps you are right, Mighty Sphinx. The question becomes, for what reason?” Aldrich asked. “What is your name, little one?” the Sphinx asked. “Aldrich,” Aldrich replied. The Sphinx raised an eyebrow at the man. “Your name means an old and wise ruler. There is a strange amount of coincidence in my dominion,” the Sphinx said.

The Sphinxes eyes shrewdly judged Aldrich, considering his capability. “You’re not ready yet,” the Sphinx stated. Aldrich panicked and started to speak. “What am I to do then?” Aldrich asked. “I need to test your wit. Only then, can I trust you with new strength,” the Sphinx stated. Aldrich swallowed deeply, but mustered courage to rise to the occasion. “Very well. Test me,” Aldrich requested. “Solve this riddle. If you answer correctly, I will trust you with new strength,” the Sphinx declared.

“An anointed figure with oil, honor bestowed to lead,
Protector of another’s toil, the preservation of the chosen seed,
Where one should rise from the soil, and the abundance of blessings without length,
The storms would come to boil, as he musters all his strength,
The rising of a chosen stalk, the firmness of a lions stride,
With the choicest stock, his confidence to confide,
He continues to be fruitful, furthering his family line,
If his sons play a total fool, justice shall be divine,
Where his portion is exaltation, if he abuses the rights of the poor,
He falls from the heavenly realms, to the place he was once before.

What, am I?” the Sphinx asked.

Aldrich considered the riddle at hand very carefully, the palm of his hand placed upon his chin with his face pointed to the floor he began to problem solve. “An anointed figure with oil, honor bestowed to lead. Whatever this answer is, it’s clearly involved with some form of leadership. Protector of another’s toil, the preservation of the chosen seed. This person is clearly protecting someone’s work. Another’s toil and the preservation of the chosen seed. The word seed, doesn’t literally have to be the seeds scattered upon the soil. It could also be an implication towards children or family. One rising from the soil and the abundance of blessings without length. Whoever this leader is, they are blessed and rising up. The storms would come to boil, as he musters all his strength. The word storm doesn’t have to be taken literally. Therefore, a storm could be a conflict of some sort. The rising of a chosen stalk, the firmness of a lions stride. A stalk can only arise from the ground after a storm has arisen. A lions stride next to a stalk rising from the storm could be a reference towards finding strength after a storm. A lion is a king among beasts and doesn’t back down from a challenge. Choicest stalk, confidence to confide, being fruitful, furthering a family line, sons playing the fool after his reign. Though his portion is exaltation if he abuses the rights of the poor, he falls from the heavenly realms back to the dust from whence he came…” Aldrich considered.

Then Aldrich looked at the Sphinx confidently with the key to destiny. “The correct answer is a king!” Aldrich stated. The Sphinx smiled at Aldrich. “You are true to your name, Aldrich, and not without reason. Be prepared!” the Sphinx boldly stated. Aldrich posed confidently in front of the Sphinx, eager to face the next challenge. The Sphinxes eyes began to glimmer gold as a radiant beam formed between them. A treasure chest began to manifest before them, with a key forming in Aldrich’s hand. “This, is my treasure. A gift to you in your quest against Barnum. May it serve you well in the liberation of your people. I have one more gift for you: my blessing. To lord it over those you lead, is to shackle freedom into chains of iron, and despair. To lead as a servant in the midst of your flock as a shepherd, is to gain victory over the world. To understand this, is to understand where true victory lies,” the Sphinx stated.

Aldrich nodded. He stepped forward in front of the chest and placed his key into the keyhole, the sound of the wood creaking as the chest unlocked. A light glimmered from the chest and shot out as a crown of light came slowly upon his head, then dissipated. “This is the crown of life. It is for the one who remains faithful and true under trials and tribulations. It is also a reminder of who you were born to be. Aldrich, claim your destiny and become the leader you were meant to be!” the Sphinx declared. The Sphinx began to slowly dissipate. “Where are you going?” Aldrich asked. “So as those who linger upon the things of the world must eventually fade, so to must I. And as I fade, so to does the power of your enemies!” the Sphinx declared.

The Sphinx at long last dissipated into dust, from whence he came. Aldrich looked down and he felt strength beyond any other before. A fire burned like an inferno in his heart. A still small voice said “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is within the world,” the Fire stated. Aldrich heard within his spirit, and at long last, understood. “My strength, is not something I can boast of. It is a gift, from the Lord I serve,” Aldrich thought silently.

Piercers eyes gazed golden yellow as he approached the cave and Aldrich approached him, almost expectantly. “You still live? I’m surprised the Sphinx hasn’t killed you yet. Very well, I will do it myself,” Piercer stated. “How interesting. You say that as it’s an easy task. I thought your master would have taught you to be more prudent,” Aldrich noted. Piercer snarled at his opponents mockery. “Your tone is a nuisance. Fine. DIE!” Piercer linger with a sword. Aldrich evaded Piercers lunge and unleashed a dagger from his side and plunged it into his neck. Aldrich’s hand gripping his opponents neck to remind him of his failure. Aldrich finally released his opponents corpse into the earth. “It would be wise to move forward. I only have four days left to get back to my town!” Aldrich stated.

Aldrich had left on Sunday morning. The sun rise crept upon a new Wednesday as Barnum awoke from his beauty rest wondering of what happened to Piercer. “He’s returned! He’s returned! Aldrich has returned!” A townsfolk cried out. The words reached Barnum’s ear and he panicked. He kept out of bed and took a couple steps forward, only to become weak and stumble on his own two feet. “Why? Why do I feel so weak right now? What’s happening to me?” Barnum wondered.

“Open up! Open up I say, Barnum! You’ve betrayed your own people by lying about the Sphinx and attempting to murder your own citizen! You have much to answer for!” a mob of citizens started shouting behind his bedroom door. The door burst open and the citizens grabbed Barnum and brought him before Ethan. “And so justice is delivered right into my hands,” Ethan chuckled. Barnum looked in sheer horror as his body became weaker, his mind terrified of what was to come. “How, can this be? How could best the Sphinx?” Barnum stuttered. Ethan looked at him. “Your Sphinx, is ill in comparison to the Lord I serve. Take him out of the town, break the ice on the river bed and throw him into it! Let the cold hearted linger in their own dominion!” Ethan ordered.

Barnum shrieked and begged for mercy, but received none. Aldrich gazed upon Ethan and was delighted to see his friend in good spirits as always. “I see your heart is as tender as it was in the beginning!” Aldrich said with a sense of joy and relief. “As I said from the beginning, As vigorous and courageous as the days of my youth, despite my ripe old age!” Ethan boasted confidently. Aldrich chuckled at his confidence despite adversity.

“Would you be willing to have the honor of leading us since you have endured so much trouble?” Aldrich asked. Ethan smiled at him. “I’m a wandering prophet. Wherever my Lord wants me to go, I go. I cannot stay, but I do believe, if memory serves me correctly, you’re the one who liberated me from the Sphinx. Shouldn’t you be the one to take responsibility for this place?” Ethan suggested to them all. There were cheers of approval coming from the crowd. Aldrich looked at the townsfolk. Ethan started to walk away and he looked at him smiling and said, “Farewell, my friend. I truly believe our paths have crossed for a reason. And I truly believe with all my heart, that we shall meet again!” Ethan stated as he walked away.
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