Hannah proved to be right. It did look like we were passing through the town on our way up the mountain side toward the mines that used to rule this area before the skiers proved more profitable.

As the last of Telluride disappeared in our review, Ethan spoke, while we gathered our meager gear together. “So why aren’t we affected by whatever is controlling these two?”

“It’s probably a Stalwart thing,” I answered. “Whatever is doing this might not have the strength to control us from such a distance, but who knows what could happened when we get closer.”

Hannah spoke up. “Well then, let’s make sure we don’t get closer.”

“I agree. You guys ready?” They nodded. “It looks like we have some steep mountain curves ahead of us. They will have to slow down there and when they do, I say we jump.”

Ethan stuck up his hand like we were in fifth grade. “Couldn’t we knock them unconscious or something? Then we wouldn’t have to jump out. Not all of us have that protection Yig gives you.”

“For once, I think Ethan’s right,” Hannah said. “We also don’t want to just send Hank and Fiona up there. Who knows what would happen to them.”

“Okay, I guess you two are right, although whatever would have happened to these two must be happening to hundreds already. I just hope the rest of them are still alive. Okay Hannah, you grab Fiona. I’ll take Hank. Ethan I want you taking the wheel.”

They fought us like we were going to eat their babies. I got Hank’s hands off the steering wheel easy enough, but he slammed on the accelerator, like he was bent on sending us off the side of the switch back.

“I think we should have done this before we started up the mountain,” Ethan screamed, as he steered the car from the back seat. I saw a sharp curve coming and if we didn’t make it, the truck would send us tumbling over a cliff that even we could not survive the fall from.

With a grunt, I pulled Hank into the back seat with us. This took his foot off the accelerator, but we were still racing toward the sharp curve. “Go, Ethan, Go!”

Ethan scrambled over the seats and got elbowed in the head by Hank. He clutched at the steering wheel and yanked it into the curve, but it looked like we were going too fast.

Suddenly, Ethan fell forward so only his thrashing legs could be seen over the seats and I feared the worst. Then the vehicle came slamming to a stop with a squeal of breaks, but we still raced toward the edge of the curve.

I released a breath I didn’t know I was holding, when we skidded to a stop eight feet from the cliff face.

“Holy damn,” Ethan said, after peeking over the dash. “We aren’t dead.”

“No, I guess we’re not. Now please find some rope or something to help us tie these two up.”

He smiled. “Sure boss. And I guess there’s another good point to our plan—we have a car now. So we can either drive up to this mine or head down to Telluride and probably get a bunch of free drinks and stuff.”

“We’ll be heading up.” 

His smile disappeared. “I figured you’d say that.”

 

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No Breaks

October 24, 2011

The ride with Hank and his lady Fiona had been pleasant enough. I found it strangely relaxing to just be a passenger for a change and watch the thick forest roll past the windows.

Hank appeared to be good natured enough and yapped about this and that as we finished the short drive. During the drive down the last incline before we reached the small ski town ofTelluride, Hank chatter continued. “So if you don’t mind me saying, you three might not fit in to well down there. These folks tend to be on the richer side of the fence and well you guys look a little…ratty.”

“I guess we’ll just try to make do,” I grumbled. “I have money in the bank…I might have, um, lost my bank card, but perhaps I can figure something out.”

“It would be nice to get some new clothes,” Hannah voice had a wistful quality to it. “And ooo, maybe we could take a shower.”

“I’ll happily book us a hotel room, if I can get a new card,” I said. “Even I feel like I could probably veg for a day or two without feeling too guilty.”

“A day or two,” Ethan laughed.  “Try five weeks, buddy.”

“Now, you might think twice about paying the hotel rates here. You would probably be…” And then he just stopped talking. Seconds later, the car sped up. Speed signs were ignored, as Hank turned onto the road that lead to Telluride.

“Hank, maybe you should slow down,” I began. “The sign said thirty and it feels like you are doing sixty.”

There was no response.

“I assume I’m not the only one disliking this,” Ethan said, while grasped the door handle with white knuckles.

“Should we try to jump out?” Hannah asked.

“We could, but if we’re about to enter some huge battle, I’d rather not start it all bruised and bleeding. Besides at least there’re no other cars on the road and I’m also curious where they’re taking us.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Ethan complained.

“On a lark, I had Detected Darkening on Hank and Fiona before we entered the vehicle and they were both fine, but now there’re threads of darkness lancing through them,” I said. “These two aren’t evil, they’re being controlled. We owe it to them and probably everyone else around here to take care of whatever’s doing this to them.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that too,” Ethan mumbled. “No down time in this crew.”

The small shows of the ski town whipped by them in a blur as the vehicle continued to build up speed.

“This is crazy,” I said more to myself than the others. “Wherever we’re being brought it isn’t part of the town, in fact, I haven’t seen a single soul here.”

“I think I know where we’re headed, Jack,” Hannah said without making eye contact. “We’re being taken to the mines.”

 

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Stormcrow

October 17, 2011

They had two choices.

Hike over a 14,000 foot peak or walk down the road. Jack might have preferred staying close to nature, but his two associates threatened to mutiny if he even brought up the subject of climbing over a mountain again.

He could have done with a few more days at the mining camp too. Sure the food left something to be desired, but he felt himself healing, growing calm. So naturally Ethan bugged him about once an hour to get them moving.

It took thirty minutes for them to reach the lonely mountain town ofOphir. The dirt road that ran through the place was as quiet as the houses that lined either side. It didn’t take long for Hannah to say, “Is it just me or does this place seem deserted?”

“I doubt anyone would abandon valuable homes like these,” I said.

“Well if they are, maybe we should poke around. There could be valuable stuff inside and…” Ethan’s voice trailed off under our glares.

“Just keep it tight. We’re well rested, but low on weapons. If someone gives us trouble, well… just be ready.”

We passed through the whole town without seeing a curtain move or hearing a dog bark. “Let’s just keep going,” Ethan said. “That place didn’t have as much as a soda machine anyway. How close is the nearest real town?”

“That would be Telluride and I think it’s another ten miles, but only the first two are uphill.”

Ethan just groaned.

The hike stretched out, eating into our daylight. Wild blew the yellowed aspen leaves across the road. Hannah picked up some of the prettier ones and wove them into her golden hair.

During one of our breaks, where we waited for a puffing Ethan to catch up, she said, “Doesn’t seem to be much traffic on the road today and the little there is, is mostly going north. Hardly any is heading south.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re-”

I never got to finish because, as if trying to prove her wrong, a huge suburban pulled off the ride of the road. The dust cloud hadn’t even been dispersed before a grizzled face stuck out the driver’s window.

“Are you folks okay?” Everything on the man’s face was an inch long. His hair, his scruffy beard, and even his eye brows were all the same length. “Did yer car break down or something?”

“Yeah, we lost a vehicle.” Hey, it wasn’t a lie.

He smiled, looked Hannah up and down and smiled again. “You just trying to make Telluride? They have a tow truck over there. My name is Hank by the way.”

Ethan had finally caught up to us. “We’ll take the ride,” he said between gasps.

“You know anything about the roads being so empty today,” I asked, while drawing closer. Hank appeared to have a woman with him.

“Nope, but I can’t say it’s bothering me. I’m heading up to Glenwood for business and brought my lady along. This is Fiona. What my boss doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” Hank said with a wink. “As long as you folks are okay riding in back, I’d be happy to drive you to Telluride.” 

No cars had passed either way since Hank had stopped. The building storm began to pepper us with rain and before I could even answer Hannah and Ethan had already crawled in. Casting one last glance up at the darkening clouds I joined them.

 

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There is Always One More

October 10, 2011

Hannah and I hadn’t hurried back to the cabin that night. When we did arrive, we shared each other’s warmth for that was about all we had. Ethan had gotten up long enough to make a fire in the old oil drum stove and it kept the place cozy enough for sleep to claim our exhausted bones.

The next morning we woke up feeling less than perfect. The clean mountain air was refreshing, but we were still in the same clothes we had been wearing before Edgar had summoned the Migo all those weeks ago. My clothes in particular were hanging by strings after all the Flesh to Mists Bestows I had to endure. Hannah joked more than once about me being some type of backwoods Tarzan with so much of my chest bare.

It was strange to have this much down time, for it wasn’t something I had experienced since the last time I was… well here at the old miner’s cabin. Hannah and I went on walks while Ethan complained about how hungry he was and tried to scam up some food, which again was mostly a few unlucky squirrels.

Later, while Hannah and I walked through a field of brilliant yellow flowers, she turned to me and asked, “So what’s the game plan now, handsome?”

“Yes, I know what you mean, I’ve been thinking about that too. It isn’t like we have even enough cash to get a hotel, let alone rent an apartment or something. What I probably need to do is scam up some wheels and head back up toIdahoand finish what that bastard Vile Darken started.”

Her face grew tense. “But what about me or even Ethan?”

I paused for a moment, but then asked, “Weren’t you sent here by Apollo to aid me? Is there anyway to know whether you’re done? Have you done what he asked? Would he let you know if your mission was complete?”

She laughed. “Slow down, big boy. In general yeah, he would let me know if my time here was done. It might take him a while, he is a busy God after all, but I haven’t had so much as a vague dream hinting that I should be moving on yet. I’d guess that Ethan probably hasn’t either.”

“That could mean that we still have another challenge to face. You would think that after axing the Creeper, keeping the Migo from invading Earth, and everything else we pulled off that we might be done here.”

“Maybe we have one more mission to complete, Jack.” 

“If that’s true, then the next question is, will it be wrapping up a few loose ends or will it be our biggest challenge yet?” I looked up at the dark storm clouds building in the north. “Why do I think it will probably end up being the latter?”

 

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Full Circle

October 3, 2011

A part of me, the very damaged and battered part, had wanted to rest after the battle, but Hannah had been able to heal me with her unused mystical strength. The place oscillated with foul waves of corruption and we motivated to climb down the western face and the sun was just beginning to grace the land by the time we returned to the healthy forests of Yig.

I never did find my big hammer though.

After Ethan made a crackling fire, we crashed in the shade. Hannah snuggled up into my arms while Ethan grumbled about how he needed to get himself a girlfriend. We rested that day and spent the night there as well. No one was more shocked than I, when we didn’t get bothered by so much as a skunk.

The next morning, we wandered roughly west by north-west. After all we had been through, it was strange to not be in the middle of some huge conflict or have someone trying to cut off our heads.

An odd feeling was coming over me as I took in the scent of the majestic pines. It was hard for me to place, but then I realized that it might have been a feeling of peace. “Maybe I might be able to relax a little,” I grumbled to myself, but Hannah only smiled and slipped her little hand into mine.

We hardly had any equipment left, let alone any food. Ethan fried a few squirrels, which made Hannah sad, but she still ate a few bites. After our small snack, we pressed on.

Before too long, we found a dirt road. It was leading downhill so we followed it. Eight miles later we found ourselves onOphirPass.“I know a place up here,” I said more to myself than the others and hurried up our pace so we could try to make it there before dark.

Just as the sun started to dip behind Lizardhead to the west, I found it. The old mining camp.

“What is this place?” Ethan asked, as we walked past the polluted orange streams and approached the old dilapidated cabin. Rusted metal tools lingered in the brackish mud and other streams flowed bone white where they exited the mountain.

“Why did you bring us here?” Hannah asked. “It seems evil.”

I laughed. “This is where I started this mess. I was staying here to heal up when I first got toColorado.”

“So this is one of those big full-circle things, huh,” Ethan asked.

“It could be, or it could just be a safe place for us to crash.”

“I still think it looks creepy,” Hannah said drawing closer to me.

“I wasn’t bothered here before. I think we’ll be alright. The real question is what will we be doing now? No serious threat is plaguingColoradothat we know of and I think we’ve done way more than our share cleaning this place out. I still need to finish what Vile Darken started inIdaho. I-”

“Can we at least sleep on it, boss?” Ethan said, while already claiming a place on the filthy floor. 

Hannah moved into my arms. “Sounds like a plan to me. Let’s go collect some wood big guy.”

I smiled and we were already kissing before we had left the cabin.

 

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