The floor gave way and they fell. Down, down they plummeted for what felt like a very long time until at last the pace of their fall began to slow, as it often does in dreams. Soon they were floating, drifting, meandering like feathers in a cloud, always descending, never resting, always tangled in strings and strands of tangible luminosity.
At length the intensity of the light started to fade. Shapes emerged out of the searing whiteness:
Tall-masted galleons slipping over the crests of steep-piled violet cloudbanks. Birds with human faces, men with golden wings, flying fish with silver scales. Orange suns and white half-moons. Red-tailed comets wrapped in shrouds of sparkling mist …
Bristling forests. Phalanxes of sharpened wooden stakes. Spears rushing upward from the dark earth. Runnels of flowing flame. Mountain peaks, black-headed against the sky, stumping and clumping like jack-booted soldiers across a blasted plain …
“Get your foot out of my face, wouldja?”
Morgan groaned. “Baxter?” he said, opening his eyes.
“Who else? Get off!”
Morgan blinked and rolled heavily onto his stomach, disentangling his leg from something that felt like a sack of flour. The something turned out to be Baxter Knowles, who was sprawled out beside him on a rough, grassy hump of ground. From what he could see, they were lying about fifty feet from the shadowy margin of a vast evergreen forest.
Moaning again, he pushed himself into a sitting position and tried to stand when—whoosh!—a red-hot streak, like a lump of molten lead, came screeching down over his head and plowed into the earth a couple of yards beyond his feet, sending up a skittering shower of dirt and rock.
“Let’s get out of here!” he yelled, gripping Baxter by the arm. “I think the elevator’s exploding!”
Baxter shot him a terrified look. “Which way?”
“There!” Morgan answered, pointing in the direction of the forest. Together they bolted for the dark spaces between the trees.
As he ran, Morgan felt his head whirling with confusion. There were stands of pine all over La Punta Lira, but none that he could recall in the vicinity of the abandoned hotel. He had certainly never seen a forest of this size anywhere near Santa Piedra. The trees looked like redwoods, but they were fantastically huge—hundreds and hundreds of feet tall, with massive, thickly ribbed trunks and thick, low-hanging branches.
I don’t think we’re on the Point anymore, he decided, remembering Eny’s account of her journey to the Sidhe. But he didn’t have time to explore that idea, for in the next instant a flight of arrows whizzed past his ear, striking the boles of the trees in a rapid series of dull wooden thunks and plunks. Then a boulder crashed down out of the sky, shattering a small hill to their right.
“This is no elevator explosion!” shrieked Baxter, as another ball of fire exploded at his heels. “It’s the end of the world!”
“No,” Morgan shouted back. “It’s another world!”
As if to underscore his point, one of the massive redwoods bent forward and sprouted a pair of arms just as they came up under the skirts of the forest. A vaguely human face emerged from among the tangle of its branches and the roots, ripping themselves from the ground in an eruption of flying soil, assumed the shape of huge wooden-toed feet. In the next instant the tree-man—for such it had become—lunged towards them with a menacing leer.
“I know what this is!” shouted Morgan, whipping the sword from his belt and tearing away its flannel wrapping. “A Fomorian! A shape-changer!”
With that he raised the blade and swung it over his head. It snapped and crackled with a cool blue flame. Instantly the tree-man stopped dead in his tracks, cringing and covering his bark-skinned face with his twiggy hands. Then he turned and crashed back into the depths of the forest.
Morgan stood bewildered. For a few seconds he stared after the monster, oblivious to the howls, shrieks, and crashes raging around him. Then another loud explosion reminded him that he and Baxter were still in grave danger. He wheeled around, looking for the source of the sound. That’s when he caught sight of his companion’s face.
“What’s the matter with you?” he said, astonished at Baxter’s expression.
But Baxter didn’t answer. He was gaping open-mouthed at the quivering blade in Morgan’s hand. A hot flush suffused his pudgy cheeks and a hungry glitter burned in his wide gray eyes. Morgan had just enough time to notice all this before a second blast drew his gaze to the horizon.
Turning away from the forest, he found himself gazing down a trampled green slope towards a palisade of massive wooden stakes and pilings. This wall, which reminded him of a frontier fort, rose to a lofty height on the far side of a swiftly running stream. Between Morgan and the palisade stood a barrier of another kind—an army of Fomorians two or three hundred strong.
He knew they were Fomorians, though they appeared before him in a wide variety of forms. Some were casting spears, firing crossbows, and manning catapults in the shape of huge men—giants like Falor son of Balor. Others had planted themselves as powerful oaks along the banks of the stream, where they were busy hurling boulders at the wooden fortress with their great knotty limbs. There were bears and wolves among them, and long-legged birds, and two-headed boars. There were tusked creatures like elephants and long-toothed hags in black cloaks. Most alarming of all, there were shifting mounds of stone, like small volcanoes, rumbling from one end of the field to the other, spewing flames and projectiles of hot yellow magma. Apparently there was no end to the shapes they were capable of assuming.
Morgan didn’t know exactly where he was, but he thought the fort or town on the other side of the water looked a great deal like Eny’s description of Baile Daoine Sidhe, the stronghold of the Tuatha De Danann. If that were the case, a safe haven was near at hand. It was just a question of getting there.
One thing was certain: whoever they were, the inhabitants of the place were defending themselves heroically. He could see the glitter of their armor between the spiked battlements. He could hear their cries and the hiss of their arrows as they fired upon their enemies from the top of the wall. He watched a company of them put out a blaze where a portion of the palisade had been ignited by a flaming missile. He marveled at the skill of their marksmanship as here a horned Pookah, there a horse-headed giant fell beneath the deadly aim of their unerring spears and darts.
Somehow, he thought as he stood there at the top of the rise, we’ve got to get inside those walls. But how?
He fingered the hilt of the sword. In this world as in his own he had seen the Fomorians cower before the mysterious blue blade. His experience with the tree-man led him to believe that, even against such overwhelming odds, he’d have a pretty good chance of cutting a pathway through the besieging horde if only he could move quickly and keep the sword in play. He thought the plan could work, desperate as it was. And yet he hesitated to try it.
What would happen, he wondered, if he continued to display the weapon’s wondrous blue flame openly—here in the Sidhe, in front of the whole Fomorian army? Would it betray him into the Morrigu’s power?
And what about the Danaans? What would they do if they found the sword in his possession? Would they take it from him?
Now that I’m in the Otherworld, he thought, I don’t want to do anything to mess up my chances of finding my dad.
He had always assumed that keeping the sword secret and hidden was vital to the success of his quest. That’s why he had concealed it so carefully from his mom, his grandma, George Ariello, and Rev. Alcuin. That’s why even Eny herself knew nothing about it. But now he was faced with a dilemma.
He could see the gate of the Baile plainly, down the slope, straight ahead, and directly across the stream. It looked to be about a hundred yards distant. His mind made up, he spun around to tell Baxter what he was thinking.
But Baxter was already there—standing at his elbow, so close that Morgan gasped and jumped involuntarily at the sight of him. The same strange, eager light was still burning in his eyes. His hand was outstretched as if he were about to lay hold of his companion’s arm. Morgan drew back and took a tighter grip of the sword. Baxter’s arm fell to his side.
“Come on!” Morgan said. “We’ve got to make a run for that fort!”
(To be continued …)