[I’m not entirely happy with this attempt, but I didn’t want the effort to drag on. I may have waxed on a bit much to try and give the story some bones. I did try and use what the AI (courtesy Sudowrite) offered up. See what you think. Continuation from here. ]
Rhinna crossed her arms, and her eyes narrowed. “I see. And you came here to meet or follow him here?”
“I did not know he was here or if the man was really him. My husband disappeared months ago. I was cleaning out the attic when I found this book.” She held it up. “When I started reading from it, a door appeared, leading me here.”
The older woman cast a side-eyed look at the book. “Yes, the book. It leads to the Kingdom of Aldewater, but it is dangerous and not of this world. Many have vanished into its pages after reading its stories.”
“I am stuck here?” Arianna asked, her eyes wide. “So, how do I get back?”
Rhinna hesitated before speaking. “I might know, but I want to know more about your husband.”
“Dathon is a historian who works for the local University. Very soft-spoken and a scholar. An expert on Celtic tales.”
“Did he ever mention the Aldewater tree?”
Arianne stared at the creek. The name sounded familiar. “I have heard of it before, but that’s all I remember. Is it important?”
“The very pages of that book you hold were fashioned from it.”
The young woman examined the book. “So that is how I was transported to this world. By the magic of the tree.”
“Yes, the tree is the source of all magic in this world, and Dathon will stop at nothing to steal its power.”
Arianna shook her head. “What do you mean?”
Rhinna washed the rest of the blood off her arms. “He and his followers came to our village and demanded we give them our Aldewater tree. When we didn’t, he killed everyone he could get his hands on and set the tree and village on fire.”
“That doesn’t sound like my husband at all.”
The older woman stood up and brushed her hands off the front of her dress. “If you don’t believe me, come see what he did.” She turned and started walking toward the trail.
Arianna struggled to catch up. “It isn’t that I don’t believe you. I just don’t understand why he’d destroy the tree.”
“By destroying the tree, he releases the magic from it, which he captures in his cane.”
Arianna shook her head. She just wanted to return to her own world. “Will the book return me to my own world?”
Rhinna stopped in her tracks. “Go ahead and try.”
The young woman opened the book, but only blank pages greeted her. “I don’t understand. The book had writing in it when I opened it before.”
“That was before you came here. You will have to write in it to return to your own world; to do that, you’ll need Aldewater magic.”
She closed the book. “Which means I will have to get the magic from Dathon.”
“Or from another tree, there are few left in this world. There might be some residual magic left in our village’s tree.”
“Can you take me to your village then?”
Rhinna nodded and began walking along the trail again. For several minutes they wandered along the path. The sounds of nature and the smell of leaves soon dissipated, replaced by the acrid smell of burnt wood and another more odious smell, bitter and foul.
“What is that smell?” Arianna choked out, covering her nose.
The older woman stepped aside. “Death and destruction.”
In front of them lay the ruins of Elghast, little more than still smoking embers. Pools of blood lay in the streets, along with rendered cloth and discarded shoes. A few people walked about, forlorn looks on their faces, dirt, and blood streaked across their forms. Several looked in their direction and stopped in their tracks.
“Come this way,” Rhinna said. “The tree is over here.” She turned and moved along the main street into the village. Arianna followed closely. The few villagers nearby stood staring, their faces twisting slowly into sneers, faces reddening. A tall, broad-shouldered man stepped into their path.
“What is this? What is she doing here again?” he growled, pointing at Arianna.
Rhinna smacked his arm out of the way. “Magnus, this is not the same person.”
“She sure looks the same.” Magnus continued to stare with narrowed eyes. The other villagers surrounding them looked equally skeptical.
Ignoring them, Rhinna continued to walk further into the village. She did, however, pull Arianna closer. Soon they arrived at the village square, in the middle of which stood the blackened remains of a large tree. Large branches hung shattered and broken off at the trunk, with several lying on the ground. Wilted yellow and orange leaves also lay on the soil, with some hanging forlornly off the branches. “Here is, or was our Aldewater tree.”
“It must have been magnificent,” Arianna said, drawing a breath. She stepped closer and laid a hand on the trunk.
“Yes,” Rhinna answered. “But now it is an empty hulk.”
A voice, weak and soft, drifted into Arianna’s mind. “I am dying.”
She yelped and pulled away from the tree. “The tree spoke to me. It said it is dying.”
Rhinna gasped while the other villagers moved closer.
Arianna looked up at the older woman. “What do I do?”
“Place your hand on the trunk, and tell us what it says.”
She did so. At first, nothing happened, but then a quiet voice echoed in her mind. “Stop him.” She relayed the message.
The villagers and Rhinna exchanged glances while Arianna waited for more messages. More whispers came across to her, but they were unintelligible. Soon even that drifted away. After several minutes of silence, she pulled her hands away.
“That was it.”
Rhinna wiped a tear away. “Then the tree is now gone.” Sniffles came from the villagers. She turned to the villagers. “We must go to Freehold and alert the king.” Turning to Arianna, she said, “You must come with us. It is no longer safe to stay in the village without the protection of the tree.”
“How are we supposed to stop Dathon?”
“I do not know, but staying here is no longer an option.” Rhinna paused before continuing. “If Dathon is your husband, perhaps you can convince him to stop what he is doing.”
“How do I find him?”
“We shall ask the King for help.”
“Will he do this?”
Rhinna glanced over her shoulder at the Aldewater tree. “We’d better hope so.”
[I’ll take on what the AI offers up in the next post. If you want to bypass that detour, you can skip to the next continuation of the story. ]
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