The Sword of Paracelsus: Traveling Companions, Part 4

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Even as Morgan spoke, Baxter’s expression changed from one of slavish solicitation to abject horror. What a baby! thought Morgan. But in the next moment he realized that Baxter’s terror-stricken eyes weren’t focused on him at all. They were riveted on something high above his head—something in the tree.

“The rope!” screamed Baxter. “What’s that climbing down the rope?”

Morgan looked up. Never had he seen a creature like the one that was at that very moment rapidly descending the wildly gyrating rope like a frantic, furious, agile ape. Its multi-colored proboscis was something halfway between the muzzle of a mandrill and the beak of a toucan. Its flaccid lips rippled over its sharp yellow teeth like two flaps of rubber. Its wiry body was covered with tangled red fur. Its long fingers and toes ended in deadly curved black talons.

“Run!” shouted Morgan as the thing prepared to jump. Without looking back to see if Baxter was following, he snatched up his backpack and took off down a long, broad avenue through the majestic trees.

There was a pale light at the end of that aisle. As Morgan pounded over the carpet of fallen needles, his breath coming hot and fast, he realized that he was nearing the edge of the forest. Breaking out from beneath the redwoods, he found himself running through a downpour. Ahead of him lay a narrow stream, dark beneath the gloomy sky. Beyond it rose a range of gentle hills, gray and indistinct behind the veil of cold rain.

Over the stream splashed Morgan, up the muddy bank on the further side, and straight ahead into the dim and rocky highlands. As he entered a narrow defile between the roots of the lower slopes he saw what looked like a cave or a black hole in the side of the hill. At the same instant he heard the voice of Baxter hailing him from behind.

“Use it!” Baxter cried hoarsely. “Why don’t you use it?”

Use what? thought Morgan.

And then it hit him. Stopping dead in his tracks, he spun on his heel, drew the sword, and swung it up over his head. He could hear it crackle and snap as the raindrops struck the searing steel, bouncing off in little puffs of steam. He could see the face of Baxter, mouth wide, eyes like half-dollars, as he came charging up the slope with the ape-like creature hard on his heels.

“Into that cave!” he shouted as Baxter ran past. Then, gripping the hilt with both hands, he whipped the sword around in a bright, sizzling circle. The monkey-thing stumbled backwards and threw up its hands in self-defense.

For a moment Morgan stood facing his snarling foe, panting and shaking, the marvelous sword vibrating in his hands like a live wire. Then the creature dropped on all fours and slunk off sideways down the hill.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Morgan climbed the slope and ducked into the dark hole in the hillside. There, after carefully returning the sword to its place inside the bolg, he collapsed against a wall and fell into a deep sleep.

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