Hadja going, huh? But this journey has far to go before reaching its end, in a way that's consistent with the 'try not to plan ahead' philosophy (success can be difficult). Here's a little beef to make up for the leanness, however poignant, of Wednesday's update. I'd just like to say that the time I didn't spend writing then I did spend working on the top-secret project to be revealed Monday. And indeed, I wish it were so, since that would've been a lot more fun than the distinctly un-fun things I actually did with that time. Enough waxing - let's get cracking.
In the beginning of this part, there was the void. And the void was with Hero, and the void was Hero, or at least Hero was the void, insofar as nothing can ever be described as being.
There was also the stump, and the stump looked upon the void and said "$#^!@" (which may have been some exotic form of scat), because the stump did know how things worked here, and it could well anticipate the consequences of its impetuous action. Eventually it sighed and shrugged, which latter action it is truly a shame there was no one around to witness and tell us how it happened, and then the stump worked some ancient magic of a very arcane sort, and pretty soon Hero popped back into cheerfully oblivious existence.
Hero felt he had rather spiritually and physically strayed from the proper path in his time with Stumpy, and after looking around for his good friend (who had, in the manner of the ecological crisis, made itself scarce), he set off through the snow, but his feet were no longer cold for some reason and the words 'ideal gas' and 'but this isn't a closed system!' kept running through his head. He didn't let it trouble him.
Eventually Hero reached the limit of the snow and entered into a dense patch of woodland. The trees were, as 'dense' would suggest, thick, and the branches were nettlesome in more ways than one, and once again he wished he hadn't broken his sword, although if he hadn't who knows what would have happened with Giant. Briefly his mind turned to Stumpy's words on that stubject, but they remained a puzzle, and Hero was not the type to muse. He recalled his pocketknife, but couldn't seem to find it anywhere on his person, and concluded he must've left it with Stumpy. So he ducked the branches and made his way through the growth as best he could.
After a time he came to a clearing where a witch was dancing around if not downright cavorting. Hero knew this was a witch not from the bubbling cauldron in front of her, or the fungi she was chucking into it at a rapid-fire pace, or the oddly-shaped hut nearby with colored smoke pouring from the chimney, or even from the pointed hat sitting nearby. It was the "Hallo, I'm a Witch" tag she wore that gave it away.
"Hallo," said Hero. "So you're--"
"'--a Witch, then'...yes, dear," said the witch. "Hallo. You must be the dimwit Master Stumpworthington was complaining about."
"Master Stumpworthington?" said Hero. "Oh, do you mean Stumpy?"
"That's right," chuckled the witch, "although he likes my suggestion better. Nobody knows what he's really called; I'm not even sure he has a name. But I'm babbling, as is not even slightly usual with me. That part of your quest is over, and it is in order to move on that you've come to me."
"Do I have a quest?" said Hero. "Neat! Actually I was hoping you could brew up a magic potion of some kind for me."
"I can do that," said the witch. "Do you have anything particular in mind? I've got all the standards: invisibility, invincibility, flight, shrink, grow, courage, cowardice, tepidity, timidity, poison, antidotal, false death, real death, what is death, what is life, life prolonging, life abbreviating, language abbreviating, eloquence, consequence, confluence, transformation, transmigration, transfiguration, transportation, trans-Siberian, stay the same, stay the course, change too much, shortchanged, overlordal megalomania, peonic fortitude, hate, mild anger, general irritation, let's be friends, let's be enemies, and of course" (she gave a wistful smile) "love."
"Er..." said Hero, who was still trying to figure out why you'd need a potion to stay the same. "I don't think I need any of those things. Why would you need a potion to stay the same? Don't you do that anyway?"
"Oh dearie me, no, dear," said the witch. "Why you're changing all the time. You'd be surpised how hard it is just to stay similar to yourself. Are you sure you don't want a love potion?"
"Yes," said Hero.
"Youth today," sighed the witch. "Very well. So you want a potion but you can't even tell me which one, and you don't want any of the usual or even the unusual. A special challenge! I like that. Let's whip us up a mystery potion, then. I hope you're better at dancing than you are at thinking."
"Dancing?" said Hero. "What's that got to do with anything? Don't you just throw mushrooms into the pot, chant nonsense words, and stir counter-clockwise until something turns blue?"
"Goodness, no" said the witch. "What do you take me for, some hackneyed cliche job of a seen-one-you've-seen-'em-all kind of Witch? All that stuff's just for PR. The real magic's in the dance. And before you ask, or in your case gape, only a fool would be dancing about naked at midnight during a full-moon - why you'd catch your death of werewolves long before the cold gotcha. We do the cha-cha round these parts."
"Right," said Hero a bit uncertainly. "I'm not sure I know the steps, though."
"Yeh, no worries," grinned the witch. "It's the spirit that counts. Plus I'll step on your toes until you get it right. Shall we dance?"
So they danced the cha-cha through the night, and it was wild and wyrd and wonderful, and also painful for Hero's toes. But for once, sensing a strange importance, he took discomfort in stride. And at the end when the first light of the sun hit the cauldron's contents, they were, in fact, blue. The witch gave Hero a full bottle.
"But what's it do?" he said.
"What about 'mystery potion' is confusing you?" she asked cheerfully. "You won't know what that stuff does until you try it. Best be careful - if you're in the wrong circumstances it might well seal your doom, not avert it."
Hero bade the witch a grateful farewell, and went on his way carrying his precious cargo. Although he still had no goal and could not imagine of what quest the witch could've been speaking (he wished he'd asked), he was filled nonetheless with a strange new determination, and covered many miles before the onset of evening necessitated a stop.
Just as the sun was setting, Hero came to the edge of a cliff, beyond which was a land desolate and barren and also laid waste and devoid of inhabitants, that looked as though it had been scorched. There was no green, and a haze hung in the sky. Hero felt strongly compelled to divert his course, but whenever he tried to walk away an invisible force brought his feet back to the cliff edge, and soon he realized there was nothing for it: the wasteland had to be attempted. As he sought along the edge for a suitable site to spend the night, he came across a very large sign posted in the ground, with a spear leaning against it. Hero took up the spear and examined it - it was very finely-crafted, and he determined to take it with him. Only then did he look up at the writing on the sign.
In big red letters there were printed these three words:
"Here Be Dragons."
Hero settled down and did his best, but in the darkness of three hours later he was forced to conclude that he could not even be one dragon, much less several. So he put the odd instructions out of his mind, and lay down on his makeshift bed, and fell asleep.
to be continued...