Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Problem with Lateral Converts

By "lateral convert" I mean someone who moves from one branch of Christianity to another: Catholics who become Protestants (and vice versa), Protestants or Catholics who become Orthodox (and vice versa again), and so on. I may explain my own view of ecclesiology at some point, but for now I'll just say that I consider the main groups just mentioned valid forms of Christianity; I just don't consider any of them the One True Church.

Anyway, my own background is Protestant--Evangelical and Pentecostal, in fact--but I make a point of learning from other Christians. My theology is actually closer to Eastern Orthodox than Protestant in many ways, and I have studied Catholic and Orthodox positions as well as those of other Protestant groups. Within Protestantism, my best match would probably be a conservative Methodist group.

End of disclosure.

The problem is that in studying these various groups, I tend to run into converts from some other group who have gone the True Believer route. (Note: I am not a particular fan of Hoffer's, though some of his points are valid.) This is particularly annoying when one of them starts pontificating about what some group, usually the one he left, believes.

They are typically wrong.

This leads to an observation: the lateral converts I've encountered (personally or through media) tend to be ignorant of the beliefs they left behind. The Catholics-turned-Protestant I've met have been remarkably ignorant of Catholic doctrine. The Protestants-turned-whatever regularly demonstrate abysmal ignorance of Protestant views, often lumping very different groups together.

Even the scholars goof. I've recently encountered people who ought to know better claiming that the Protestant idea of "sola fides" (salvation by faith alone) meant a rejection of works of any kind: just believe you're saved; you don't have to live out your salvation. But anyone familiar with Protestantism can trace the opposite view easily, from Philipp Melancthon ("Sola fides iustificat, sed fides non est sola"--"Faith alone justifies, but faith is not alone") to the modern idea that "if you're gonna talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk." And I frequently hear Protestants claim that Catholics (more rarely Orthodox) believe in salvation by works. (Properly speaking, they don't.)

Nicodemus asked the Sanhedrin, "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?" (John 7:51) It's still a good question--even if you're talking about the group you left.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dark World: Back on the Trail

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

When they got home—when they reached the subterranean terminus, that is—Dr. Fleming looked around. “I had little opportunity for sightseeing last time.”

“Once we’ve rested up, I’d like to go exploring,” Darren said.

“No,” Clio replied. “Not unless we can reach Father from here. Can we, Shafer?”

“Call me Rick. No, you can go a lot of places from here, but the Dark World is different.”

“But the Tehros know about it, don’t they?”

“Not the new guys. The original group maybe did, but they died out, and the next group—the Veuti—found out, because they went exploring in the Dark World and never came back. But these guys don’t even know the old language. I think only Mantong did.”

“He didn’t even know English well,” Dr. Fleming said.

“He knew it; he just talked funny to bug people. He hated English-speakers.”

“How is it you’re stupid and well-informed by turns?”

“I’m not stupid. My momma used to tell me, ‘stupid is as stupid does.’”

With that, he selected a destination and left in the cart.

“Diplomatic to the last, Victor?” Darren said.

“He is stupid and well-informed—”

“Most people are. He just thinks it’s all a game. If you think about it, he’s knowledgeable most of the time; the information simply doesn’t matter to him.”

“It’s still infuriating. Let’s go get our bearings and figure out our next move.”

It was early evening when they emerged, and Dr. Fleming decided the first order of business was to find Miss FitzHugh a place to stay the night. “There’s a hotel a mile down the road. From what you’ve said, I doubt you bothered getting a room before coming out here.”

“I didn’t, but I don’t need your help. I can get my own room.”

“You could sleep in a tree, as is likely your wont, but you’re a friend of a friend, so I’ll treat you like a lady regardless of my feelings. Unless you brought cash, you may find it useful to have someone of good local reputation vouch for you.”

Thus only a few minutes later, a lady from out of town got a room courtesy of a good word and fifty dollars cash from Dr. Fleming, whose wealth was better known locally than his character, and a council of war convened in a corner of the hotel dining room.

Next: Council of War

I'm going to do another recap, and I'll also wander into some theological topics for a little while. Then we'll get into a bit of a long arc in Dark World.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dark World: An Arrow Escape

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Hold your fire until the thing actually reaches the filaments,” Dr. Fleming warned Clio. “The whole point is to make sure our filament connects the thing with the power source above.”

“What if that just strengthens it?” Lassiter asked.

“It won’t. If it did, the thing wouldn’t bother with the globe. No, it needs the power to be converted into a more usable form.”

The Shiny One rose slowly with its load.

“Keep going,” the doctor muttered. “That’s a good monster.”

“Go toward the light,” Shafer said.

“Idiot—there’s no light up there.”

“There will be when she shoots that arrow.” Shafer spat again for good measure, and the doctor said, “Fire!”

The arrow’s trajectory brought it slightly through the Shiny One, and the damp filament left a strange and visible trail before it connected with another filament. Multicolored lightning blazed through the misty creature, which glowed brilliantly.

“The wall’s open!” Shafer called, and the others piled through just before a blast of incandescence filled the cavern.

Darren blinked as he tried to regain his vision. “Did that destroy it?”

“And the cave too, no doubt,” the doctor replied.

“Wall won’t open,” Shafer observed.

“Can’t blame it,” Lassiter said. “Is the thing really dead this time?”

“Yeah,” Shafer said. “Blew the whole thing that time. Besides, you can feel when a Dehros dies.”

“You’ve done this before?” Lassiter asked.

“Yeah. The Tehros use me as a decoy. I don’t mind—you get a better view that way.”

“So now what?” Dr. Fleming asked. “Can we go home?”

“Sure. And when we get back, you’ll have enough miles to come through yourself next time. Try it! It’s more fun to figure out for yourself.”

So saying, Shafer did something near the cart and directed them to get in. This time even he didn’t seem inclined to raise his arms and yell.

Next: Back on the Trail

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dark World: I Spit My Last Breath At Thee

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

They switched the flashlights off while everyone got reoriented. It was somehow easier in the dark. Finally a brief discussion established that they would try to leave the way they had come, so they turned on the flashlights and moved carefully toward the section of wall that led to the cart home.

Dr. Fleming examined the spot where the globes had been, only to find blackened shreds of something. A quick inspection of the floor revealed filaments of an unknown material. The doctor carefully collected samples, warning the others to avoid the crystalline shards on the floor.

“Don’t touch anything! It could very well be poisonous.”

“If it is,” Lassiter remarked, “there’s probably enough harmful material floating around as dust to kill us all.”

“Some dangers we can’t avoid, but there’s no point in multiplying them.”

“What are those filaments, anyway?”

“I suspect they are the wiring of the globes. They may not conduct electricity, but they probably carried whatever energy the globes used. Perhaps I can bring the equipment here someday to analyze all this properly.”

They reached the wall. Shafer was leading, Dr. Fleming and Lassiter lagged behind, still absorbed in studying the debris, and Darren urged Clio along; she was busily adjusting her bow to its normal draw weight. But they all stopped short as Shafer muttered, “Uh-oh.”

“What do you mean, ‘uh-oh’?” Dr. Fleming demanded.

“The wall won’t open. The Shiny One is holding it shut. I don’t think it likes us.”

“The Shiny One is the Dead One now.”

“Not dead, just terribly, terribly hurt. Pretty angry, too. It’s using a lot of power to hold the wall shut. We might be able to get through anyway, but it would just track us down.”

“Victor,” Darren said, “there’s luminescence in the pool that wasn’t there before.”

It didn’t take long to verify this: the glow was increasing slightly but noticeably. Soon a faint light emerged from the pool. It carried a globe as it slowly rose toward the roof of the cavern.

“It’s got a replacement bulb!” Shafer cried.

“That means there’s still power up there,” Dr. Fleming said. “Clio—Miss FitzHugh—could you hit those shreds up there with an arrow?”


“Even if I glue one of these filaments to it?”


He uncapped a bottle, dipped an arrow in it, then poked a filament and handed the assemblage to her. As she was fitting it to the string, Shafer walked up and spat on the filament.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Gotta have spit. It messes the creature up.”

“Like the guy in the diary,” Darren muttered.

Clio added her spit, and said, “‘From hell's heart, I stab at thee. For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee.’”

“Aye-aye, Captain Ahab,” Darren murmured. She grinned and prepared to release the arrow.

Next: An Arrow Escape

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dark World: The Shiny One

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Darren had scarcely prepared his next arrow when a mist filled with corruscating colors and angry, discordant jangling rose from the pool. Though only a faint shadow of the thing described in the journal, it was definitely the same, and it was still so full of terrible, awesome glory that Darren and his friends all murmured, “Oooh! Shiny!”

Then Dr. Fleming broke the spell. “Right. Now we’re done with that, let’s kill the thing.”

Darren raised the arrow, vaguely surprised that the creature was rising toward the globes as well. It probably was drawing closer to absorb more power, but he had the odd feeling it was also going to wipe off the doctor’s concoction. He released the arrow without thinking, and it struck its target with a deafening din that shook the misty creature like smoke caught in a violent gust.

Darren himself had scarcely recovered when Dr. Fleming pressed another arrow into his hand. A quick glance showed Shafer and Clio trying to find their way off the floor and Lassiter rising painfully with the help of a wall. Darren targeted the second available globe and fired.

A typhoon was raging through a synesthetic sea that only gradually and painfully began to coalesce into a familiar order. Pain was the one great constant: everything else might be an illusion, but the pain was undeniably real. Eventually other sensations tagged along and organized themselves, and some memories and thoughts also emerged. Finally a sensation turned out to be the name “Darren,” and it was being repeated. The recognition of his own name prepared Darren to identify the speaker as Dr. Victor Fleming.


“Ah, good. Then we aren’t dead. At least I can’t imagine us sharing an afterlife.”

Darren had arrived at the same conclusion, but he decided not to pursue the topic. “Can you see?”

“Yes. Or hallucinate, anyway. That second shot must have overloaded the system: its harmonics converged and probably almost destroyed the place—and us. I’d like to see what’s left.”

“Are you sure we can see? Most of the light came from the globes; it was getting pretty dim at the end.”

An inarticulate noise of disgust followed. “I should have thought of that. I’ve still got my flashlight...”

Darren found his about the same time. A quick check revealed that their companions were still alive. Lassiter was attempting to crawl. Clio was evidently running through a mental checklist prior to exerting herself. And Shafer was sitting up unsteadily and babbling, “Let’s do it again!”

The next look showed that the giant chamber still existed, though the floor was strewn with debris. There was no sign of the Shiny One.

Next: I Spit My Last Breath At Thee

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dark World: Assault on the Globes

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Dr. Fleming got what he wished for, and Darren what he prayed for. The globes did not pulse, and eventually everyone agreed it had to be daylight. So they did the best possible thing; they ate some of their provisions and slept as best they could.

The doctor said it was probably early afternoon when they got up, and he eyed the globes warily. “On the one hand, it would be a good idea to cover them now and try to prevent the monster’s formation. On the other hand, I’d prefer to wait until they begin pulsing so the solution will be fresh and the energy can perhaps help harden it. I’ll definitely want everyone as close to the stairs as possible: if those globes do explode, even one of them, it will be infinitely worse than when Darren struck the globe last night.”

“You realize,” Darren said, “that there’s a flaw in your brilliant plan.”

Dr. Fleming didn’t even scowl; in fact, he half smiled. “Which is?”

“Those are spheres. I doubt I could achieve better than fifty percent coverage on even a remarkably good shot. It will take at least two shots to cover any one of them more than that, and at least one of those shots will be unprotected: I’ll have to fire on the inner side sometime.”

“You’ll fire on it first. The globes are fairly close together; this arrow has a larger charge than the others, and you’ll aim it at the center point of their circle. It shouldn’t create the murderous din of a direct hit, and it should largely cover the inner surfaces. You can shoot from cover at the outer surfaces of at least two of the globes, so the overall coverage should either prevent the Shiny One from forming or overload the globes.”

“But everyone else will be on the stairs, ready to run outside?”

“I am confident, not foolhardy.”

“Good to know. When do we do it?”

“In a few hours. I noticed that the globes glowed last night, probably at moonrise, and I have a fair idea when they’re likely to start tonight. We’ll strike just before that. I wish I could use rockets to get complete, simultaneous coverage with fuses for delayed action, but I didn’t pack any.”

And so it was that some hours later Darren fired a heavily wrapped arrow almost straight up into the midst of the globes. The detonation caused at least as thunderous a reverberation as the previous night’s direct hit, and Dr. Fleming recovered in time to help Darren to his feet. Darren gazed up at the darkened inner surfaces of the globes, but the doctor directed his attention to the usually placid surface of the pool, now strangely turbulent even after the aftershocks had mostly died away.

“The Shiny One has had a wake-up call, and I don’t think it likes it a bit.”

The globes began to pulse and the pool to shimmer, and the doctor added, “I’d been going to ask you to hit the center again, but all things considered, I think our work here is done. Head for the stairs and prepare to fire on the globes from there.”

They ran for cover, but they couldn’t help looking back at the pool’s choppy, scintillating surface.

Next: The Shiny One

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dark World: Another Fine Plan

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Dr. Fleming examined the chemicals critically. “I should’ve packed more,” he muttered, “but even one or two successes should be enough.” He began concocting something with occasional help from Lassiter while the others watched.

Soon Darren decided to have a look at the journal the doctor had mentioned, and that only left Clio and Shafer unoccupied, which was bad enough. Clio eventually joined Darren, and Shafer started wandering around the area.

“Find anything interesting?” Clio asked Darren.

“Depressing is more the word. The first few had no idea what was going on, but eventually a couple of people wandered in together and the survivor chronicled what happened. They were mostly scientists, so they tried to find a solution. Only one came at all close, and that was an accident.”


“He got mad and spat at the thing. He said it recoiled briefly and its colors changed in a way that made him think he’d hurt it a bit. But it must’ve gotten him anyway: the entry breaks off suddenly.”

“I think my strategy shall prove more effective,” the doctor said. “I am going to use those arrows to send a chemical solution up to the globes. If I can coat the globes, even one or two of them, that should destroy them all. They appear to be harmonically linked, so hitting one should stress the rest.”

“What does the solution do?” Darren asked.

“It’s a general insulator. When the affected globe tries to send energy to the pool, the coating should block the energy, producing an overload. At the very least, the lack of one globe may be enough to keep the monster from forming or emerging. But I hope that overloading one globe will destroy the rest as well.”

“You said it might show tonight. Will you be ready if it does?”

“Not entirely. I’m rushing the first few; if we see the globes begin pulsing, we’ll have to use whatever we have and hope for the best. Since you’re going to pray anyway, pray that it will be punctual.”

Next: Assault on the Globes

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dark World: Expecting the Worst

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“The key appears to be those globes,” Dr. Fleming said, pointing upward. Seven globes hung high above them, each a different color. “When the full moon rises, those globes light up and somehow energize the pool—and the Shiny One within it. A door at the upper end of those stairs”—he gestured toward an arch through which steps leading up could be seen—“opens, and the Shiny One goes out to seek its prey. I was hoping merely to be ready by that door and simply bolt outside and try to escape or hide before the Shiny One appeared. But now that you are here with some of my equipment, I think I shall try to destroy the menace.”

Lassiter brought out his gun and inspected the globes. “If they’re just glass—”

“It won’t work,” the doctor said. “I tried that right after reading about the globes. Whether it’s the range or the material, a bullet is not the answer.”

“Perhaps an arrow is,” Clio suggested, readying her weapon. “A bow has greater range and accuracy than a handgun.” She aimed briefly and released the arrow, which flew upward and struck one of the globes with a faint clink. She scowled. “Do you want a try, Darren?”

Darren took the bow and an arrow, and she went off to retrieve her first shot. “I’m stronger, but she has better aim,” he explained. “Still, those things aren’t much of a challenge.” He adjusted the tension on the string, increasing the draw weight, nocked an arrow, and fired.

This time the sound was more noticeable. In fact, it was impossible to ignore, as if Darren had struck a crystal bell with such force that all the neighboring bells resounded in sympathy. Darren and his friends fell to their knees before the acoustic onslaught.

“Darren,” Lassiter gasped, “do…not…do…that…again!”

“I didn’t do it,” Darren said. “Did I?”

Dr. Fleming was on his feet, gazing imperturbably up at the globe. “If you mean, did you generate all that force directly, no. I think the impact caused the globe to release a little pent-up energy, which set up a general resonance. Were it not for the extreme unpleasantness involved, I’d almost like to keep hitting the globes to see whether they would eventually break under the strain.”

“I think we’d break first,” Lassiter grumbled.

“Perhaps. Still… Darren, could you hit it even if the arrow were heavier—say, five to seven times heavier?”

“I think so. I couldn’t hit it very hard—”

“The general area should be sufficient. And how many arrows are there?”

“Twenty-five,” Clio answered, bringing Darren’s arrow back.

“And you re-packed the chemicals, Lassiter?”

“Yes, Doctor.”

Dr. Fleming smiled. “Then I think I have an idea.”

Next: Another Fine Plan

Monday, September 6, 2010

Dark World: Lair of the Shiny One

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Darren had no proper sense of time, but he was beginning to get tired of holding the bar and listening to Shafer’s whoops and singing well before he saw something ahead that he took to be their destination. Sure enough, the cart was headed for a large subterranean vault with a kind of pool or well that seemed to go down for miles. But as they drew closer, the most important point was a familiar figure sitting on some steps reading.

Shafer reached over and took control of the bar, much to Darren’s relief, and the cart soon slid gently to a stop. The group got out and without thinking passed through a wall and entered the cavern.

Dr. Fleming got up and ran to them. “You all came?”

Darren smiled happily. “Of course, Victor. We’re all your friends, more or less, so we all—”

“No, I mean you all left that infernal vehicle! That means you’re stuck here, too, as I understand it.”

Clio was in the rear, and she turned and touched what was now clearly a solid wall. “Mr. Shafer,” she began, and Darren thought her face might crack with the smile she forced on it, “you can get us back through, can’t you?”


“Mostly?” Her tone was flat, and so was her smile. “What does that mean?”

“Well, the Shiny One can block us a bit. The Dehros guys can really mess up Tehros; that’s why the Tehros players dislike them. The Shiny One will keep at least one of us from going back unless we destroy it or something, and it’ll eat whoever stays behind.”

“When?” asked Darren.

“At the rising of the full moon,” Dr. Fleming muttered. “Does anyone know where we are so I can try to estimate when that is likely to be?”

“Shafer said you were on the other side of the world,” Darren replied, “so I guess we’re in the neighborhood of New Guinea.”

Shafer nodded, and Dr. Fleming checked his watch and scowled as he performed some rapid mental calculations. “If this is the southern hemisphere, it’s springtime, and the days are getting longer. Still, it’s already afternoon. If that thing is punctual, we have a little more than a day to prepare; otherwise it might show up in six hours or so.”

“What is it?” Darren asked, and though he was staring at Shafer, it was the doctor who answered.

“Apparently it’s some kind of energy creature that rises out of that pool. The delightful savages who brought me here left a journal from one of the thing’s previous meals as a guidebook. It’s been here for a while—I guess you could say it’s more of a guest book—and each person or group to try its luck signs in. At least they’ve told me what to expect.”

Next: Expecting the Worst

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dark World: Choice of Tehros

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Shafer led the group to a multilingual display with pictograms next to writing in more languages than Darren could even recognize. Clio, who knew ancient as well as modern languages, peered at the display.

“Wait—Atlantis? The real Atlantis?”

“Wet place,” Shafer said. “Hardly worth the bother.”

“This one with the lion looks fairly recent,” Darren said. “Huh. ‘Narnia.’ Never heard of it, but somehow I’d like to go there.”

“Winter all the time,” Shafer remarked. “And a really grouchy witch. I didn’t mean to hit her with that snowball; I was aiming at her stupid dwarf.”

“Well, we’ve had enough of witches anyhow,” Darren muttered, “and we need to find Victor. Where’s that symbol?”

“Over here,” Shafer replied. “It’s the Shiny One.” He paused. “Of course, we could go somewhere else instead.”

“No. The Shiny One it is. Do you press something, or…”

Shafer sighed and passed his hand over the symbol, not touching it, then circled it. A strange object like a metal cart without wheels drew up beside them, and Shafer motioned for them to get in.

“The one up front has to hold that bar. You don’t have to steer; you just control the speed.”

“You don’t want to do that?”

“No, it’s more fun sitting next to the guy who does it. That way I’m up front with my hands free.”

Darren suddenly noticed that Lassiter and Clio had taken seats in the back, so he resigned himself to holding the bar.

“Why is it important to sit up front with your hands free?” he asked as he got in.

Shafer just gave him a troubling grin and motioned for him to push the bar forward. He did, and the car lurched forward. After the initial surprise, however, Darren was able to hold the bar steady, and they began accelerating smoothly right through the wall as though it didn’t exist.

Darren glanced back. “Imagine all that being so close to Victor’s place.”

“It isn’t,” Shafer said. “I don’t know where it is. But you can reach it from any cave if you know what you’re doing. But don’t talk; this is time for whee.”

“For what?”

But they were now passing through what should have been solid rock, and for no reason Darren could imagine, he could see it rushing toward him and around him and even through him, all at incredible speed. And Shafer called to the others, “You have to hold your arms straight up! Whee!”

Next: Lair of the Shiny One

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dark World: Delvings Deep

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Once they were outside, Lassiter asked Shafer, “Are we driving or walking?”

“Oh, walking’s okay. I guess we’ll do this the quick way.”

Shafer led them into a nearby copse and with the aid of some flashlights soon found a rocky outcropping. “You see, the classy way is to go to one of the 500 or so buildings in the country with an elevator that goes below the basement. But this is quicker, and you avoid the crowds.”

He pushed through some greenery and into a small tunnel or cave.

“You mean there are 500 buildings in this country that are specially constructed for...” Darren stopped, unwilling to guess at the arcane purpose.

“I think so. Let’s see—fifty states, though Alaska and Hawaii—”

“Forty-eight states, and Alaska and Hawaii aren’t among them,” Clio corrected.

Shafer paused briefly; then he laughed. “Oh, yeah: nineteen thirties. Yeah.” He continued into the cave.

The entrance opened out slightly—just enough for them to all crowd into the slightly subterranean chamber.

“It’s got to be underground, and it’s better if it’s natural, not a building. If you’re really into Tehros, you could get in from a mountaintop or maybe even a skyscraper roof, but it burns miles.” He looked around at the others. “Okay, this is where you close your eyes and hold hands and sing.”

“Sing?” Clio asked. “Sing what?”

“It doesn’t matter. You don’t even have to sing; it’s just more fun. Come on: ‘Merrily we stroll along, stroll along, stroll along...’”

Darren counted the steps they were taking. The chamber had been large enough for perhaps four steps forward. They had gone twelve when they stopped. “Why twelve steps? And how?”

“Well, ’cause thirteen’s unlucky. You can open your eyes now.”

Darren did. They were standing before a large, actual room—not a cavern—and an odd device barred the entrance. A glance back hinted dimly at the small cave they had come through.

“How did you know this was here? And how do we get past that thing up ahead?”

“I can’t remember how it all works; it gives me a headache. You’re supposed to use a mystical talisman to pass the barrier—a to-ken. But I usually just jump the thing.”

He demonstrated, and the others followed suit.

“Now what?” Darren asked.

“Now we choose,” Shafer said, and he seemed suddenly serious, more awed than odd for once. “This is the entry to Tehros.”

Next: Choice of Tehros

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dark World: The Horror Sign

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Clio!” Darren cried. “Where did you come from?”

“A small village called Deephaven, where my mother had relatives. Rosa took me there, hoping it would help me forget what happened. But I slipped away—stranded her there, unfortunately—and came looking for your friend the doctor. And now I find someone else has beaten me to him.”

“Why couldn’t you make an appointment like everyone else? We’re trying to rescue him.”

“So am I.” At Darren’s incredulous expression she explained, “I can’t get my revenge until he’s safe. Besides, I’m beginning to think I shall need help reaching Father or getting him back.”

“What we’re learning now may help us find your father. Mr. Shafer, you said you didn’t know exactly where they took Dr. Fleming. What do you know about his whereabouts?”

“They took him a long way off. I hope it isn’t where I think. They’re probably going to let the Dehros deal with him though.”

“Wait! Does this piece of of paper mean anything?” Darren showed the man the scrap with the odd symbol. “I don’t know why, but it fills me with loathing.”

Shafer looked at it and shuddered. “Yeah, it makes everyone feel like that. Too bad. That doctor guy was a nice enough jerk.”

“Where is he?”

“Other side of the world by now.”

“What? How could he get there so quickly? And more to the point, can we get there and help him?”

“You can try. But you’ll never get out of there alive.”

“Just get us there. You don’t have to stay and fight.”

“Oh, that’s okay. I haven’t been killed in ages. I could use something to eat, though.”

“Lassiter, round up some travel supplies while I get your friend a sandwich. We need to leave as soon as possible.”

Since Lassiter had unpacked when they returned from Boston, he was able to re-pack quickly enough. He collected food and water for an overnight trip, and he got the doctor’s pack of equipment just in case.

Meanwhile, Clio ducked out and returned carrying a bow and a few arrows. “Quieter than a gun and every bit as lethal,” she muttered in response to the stares.

Darren helped Lassiter pack as Shafer began eating, and soon the strange vagrant was ready to take his sandwich along. Lassiter started for the door, Darren right behind him. But for a reason Darren himself couldn’t quite understand, he paused to scan the room: What was it? A faint, unaccountable darkness? A slight breeze where no current of air should have stirred? Something…

“Coming?” Lassiter called from the doorway.

The scan became a glance. “Yes, coming.” Unsure and unsatisfied, Darren headed for the door and the familiar darkness and breeze beyond.

Next: Delvings Deep

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dark World: The Straight Dope

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Well, at least we know it’s Shafer,” Lassiter said after examining the unconscious man.

“What I want to know is where Victor went—or was taken,” Darren replied. “I can’t make anything of the tracks; they end at the road, and there might have been a car waiting, though I didn’t hear anything.”

“Let’s take Shafer inside and bring him around. With a little luck, he’ll tell us what we want to know.” So saying, Lassiter picked the man up and carried him inside, and Darren followed, puzzling over the strange sign on the scrap of paper.

Darren found Dr. Fleming’s medical kit and produced some smelling salts, but the results were not what they might have hoped.

“Put that away,” Shafer mumbled. “Try food. I always wake up for food.”

“Do you wake up for a thrashing?” Darren asked.

“No, that puts me to sleep.”

Lassiter growled something unintelligible and grasped the foil cap that was still clinging to Shafer’s head. “Wake up, or I’ll take this off and tear it up.”

Shafer’s eyes opened wide. “You wouldn’t!”

“I would, and so would Darren, here. We could each take an end and make a wish. Now talk! What happened to Dr. Fleming?”

“The guys who followed me caught him. It was really funny: they figured you would come out to see me, so they grabbed that doctor guy when he came instead.”

“They’re still after me? Why? And who are they, anyway? Mantong’s people?”

“Yeah—the Tehros. They’re pretty nice, except when they hit me in the head.”

“So Mantong’s a Tehro?”

“No, ‘Tehros’ is their game. There are two groups underground, and each one has a favorite game. Tehros is about crossing distances and mountains and stuff, and Dehros is about tearing people limb from limb. The guys who play Tehros are okay, but the guys who play Dehros are monsters. The Tehros—the guys who play it—hate the Dehros, and they think the Dehros came from the dark world. So they try to shut any openings to it and kill any Dehros that come through.”

“Then they think I’m a Dehros?”

“Well, yeah—you know, the werewolf bit, the Nazis... I try to tell them, but they won’t listen. They’d throw me out, but I got as many miles playing Tehros as they do, so they have to let me keep playing.”

Darren’s patience finally gave out. “So where is Dr. Fleming?”

“I don’t know, exactly.”

“But I’m sure you’ll find out,” said a familiar voice from the doorway, where Clio FitzHugh stood with gun in hand.

Next: The Horror Sign
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