Chapter 1.

Chapter 2: Escape sequence

Actually it is less like a light and more like a shimmering. The guards don't notice it at once, looking solely at Helge-Dag after his angry and very loud outburst. When they notice, it is to late. An angel comes out of the light. Not one of the chubby Xmas angels, mind you. An angel of death.

Could have been a young man, at first sight. Could have been a young woman, on second. On third, it is a blur. But the fluid grace, the angles of the movements, speak of femininity. A femininity like that of a she-lion in a pack of sheep.

There is a chain mail or some such covering her; it shimmers like mother of pearl. There is a slender sword in her hand; it shimmers like pearl. Then the shimmer of the armor becomes a blur; the shimmer of the sword becomes a lightning. The lightning strikes. For the first time in his life Helge-Dag sees what death is actually like, when not played on TV. It is ... disturbing. Very disturbing.

The armor might or might not have protected the man; but for some reason there is no armor at all in a gap at the throat. The glittering blade seems to seek it out on its own. It hits, it cuts, it twists. A demonstration of blood pressure follows. There is nothing leisurely about way the blood escapes from the severed artery. But the sword has already left the scene of crime when the guard hits the ground, blood still gushing like water from the tap.

Helge-Dag just stares. He cannot think. He cannot even feel. A sense of unreality settles on him, even more than what he has felt these last few hours. It's like he is sitting front row in a cinema. It is all so overwhelming, too real and yet not real at all. How can there be so much blood in one human body? He stares at the fallen guard, sprawled on the floor, and he stares at the blood, spreading and darkening. At the same time, he sees the rest of the room. It is as if his eyes are forced wide open, much wider than ever before, and he is forced to see everything at once. And time itself has slowed to a crawl, time and everything in it. Everything except one. She dances on top of time, a dance of death, like that Hindu god, the third one, who dances the end of the universe. And Helge-Dag sees it, yet he cannot take his gaze off the spreading redness on the floor. All he can think, over and over, is: How can there be so much blood in one human body?

Every moment in that dance is choreographed by a master. It is as if she has seen this room and the people in it years ago, and spent her life preparing for just this occasion. She does not stop to think, she does not do one task at a time. It is all one fluid motion, attack and evasion combined, as if she knows in advance every move the clumsy armored guards will make. It is a terrible beauty in those precise, measured movements, in the calculated strikes of that glittering sword, a viper trailing blood. Blood everywhere, running, pooling, steaming, the smell of it filling the room, choking him. Suddenly in response comes green bile, hitting the floor like an artist's thoughtful addition, and then mercifully the tears in his eyes blots out the horrible scene as he hangs in his chains, puking his guts out.

All sound has died away except for his retching, dry now. He blinks the tears somewhat out of his eyes and turns his head. He sees the outline of her, standing beside him, facing him, that bloodstained sword raised over her head. Then it comes down. He screams, then falls, falls into darkness.

He is on a boat. A small boat, being rocked by angry waves. Rocked, rocked, back and forth, almost thrown about. Back and forth, back and forth. No, something is not right. This is not a boat, this is not the sea. He opens his eyes, and confusion reigns. The sky is green and gray and filled with a web of golden sparks. And the legs don't help at all, the legs and feet.

Reality swirls into place as he lifts his head. He realizes that he is hanging over a shoulder, an impossibly broad shoulder, and an arm like steel is holding him in place. The rocking movement is the rhythm of footsteps, halfway between walking and running. There are other feet, on a path glittering with a net of golden sparks ...

"Anwa cnaroup" says a deep, yet surprisingly soft voice right by him. The man who carries him. It is not the death dancer in pearl chain mail, but someone in leather. Someone with much broader shoulders. Helge-Dag tries to straighten himself into an upright position, but it is very awkward the way he is hanging. "Setanir" says a woman's voice, and the man replies with a half-hearted "Aaww." It sounds strangely canine for some reason. Then Helge-Dag is lifted down, easily, and set on his feet. He stands, shakily; a strong arm is steadying him, large brown eyes in a round face is watching him with obvious sympathy. He turns his head, and the pearly woman is there too. By her side is yet another woman, or girl, closer to his age, very different. There is nothing boyish about her, face or body. Particularly body. The blue dress is held in with a broad belt that does nothing if not emphasize the hourglass shape of the woman's body, a shape that seems fetched straight from a teen boy's disturbed dreams.

Quickly - or as quickly as he can - pulling his eyes off the girl, he looks at his own hands. And only now it sinks in: The steel bands around his wrists and ankles are still there, but the chains attached are very short. They are cut cleanly off, like cheese cut by a sharp knife. So that was what she was doing when he thought she was beheading him - she was cutting his chains! Also a new healthy respect for her sword fills him. Steel, cut like cheese. He better not be on the wrong side of that sword, ever.

"Who are you? Where am I? What is going on?" He looks from one to another. Then the Daughter of Pearl turns to the other girl, grinning. "Casa egg?" she asks. The two of them launch into a hectic debate in an utterly foreign language. "Nobody here speak English?" asks Helge-Dag forlornly. "Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Parlez-vous Francais?" Not that he parles Francais, but it would still be kind of reassuring. "Vimaw gaw" suddenly insists the pearly one, who seems to be in charge. The others nod. The man grabs Helge-Dag's arm. It doesn't hurt, and there is no threat or malice in his expression; but escape is impossible. Even for his size, the guy is unnaturally strong. And he is looming over them all, must be around two meters high, and still he is so broad that it does not seem natural compared to his height. There is something disturbing, something not quite natural about him. But then again, people have said that about himself occasionally. He shrugs, and lets himself be dragged into motion.

As soon as they start walking, the sparks are back. He barely even noticed that they were gone, but they were. Now they are back, a net of pulsing golden sparks covering the road. Or path, whatever. It is wide enough for riding and perhaps a narrow cart, but it sure isn't meant for cars. The path is just dirt and gray sand and tufts of grass; yet now it is also covered with sparks several meters ahead of them. And then the landscape starts to move. To race past them. Helge-Dag is so surprised that he almost stops, but the strong hand pulls him forward and he puts his feet under him as best he can. Yes, the landscape is blurring by, like they were on a fast train rather than walking a path. The impression is that they are not actually walking the path at all, but walking on that golden web, which again is racing along at the speed of a fast car. It is very dizzying, but he finds that if he focuses on the path itself, it lies steady. It was straight when they started, but now it is quite winding and also goes up and down hill.

'Magic' realizes Helge-Dag. 'Or at least a sufficiently advanced technology.' He is not sure which of these alternatives is the most disconcerting. Probably magic, since it is against his religion. Not that he has been a good Christian at all, lately. There was that incident of those magazines, for instance... "Dear God, don't let me die and go to hell" he whispers. But nobody answers.

He has gradually become accustomed to the weird racing path, when the curvy girl points to something ahead. Then they are there, and the sparks die away. They break off the path, and into a dense underbrush, then into forest proper. Except the forest is all wrong, of course. This one is not made up of ferns, quite, but the trees are still just plain wrong and look like something out of Science Illustrated. There is still not a leaf in sight. They break out of the forest soon, though, and in a glade is yet another set of standing stones. The four of them gather in the middle, and dress girl takes up a small booklet from which she reads in a clear, chanting voice. Then the familiar effects start: Fog starts to gather and obscures the view. There is a humming noise and a sense of great heaviness. And then they fall through a silvery void. He is not sure for how long. He stumbles to his hands and knees as they land, but the strong hand pulls him up immediately.

They are in another ring of stones, but in much better shape. It is surrounded by blue statues, portraying monstrously huge and muscular warriors with four arms, all of them bearing weapons made of blue metal. A light blue shimmering dome of light encloses the stone circle. A force field, thinks Helge-Dag. The voluptuous girl looks very tired now, she is leaning on the boy's other arm. She starts to sing, and the dome fades. They walk out from the stones, and only now does Helge-Dag notice that there is a small crowd standing safely away from the stone. The people start to cheer. Mostly children and young ones, but also a few adults are there. The people are dressed in simple yet colorful clothes, dresses and robes and tunics. They are milling around the small group now, talking excitedly in the foreign language of theirs. They all move towards a village that is sprawled on a nearby hill. The houses are strange: They are not quite oval, but all corners are rounded. The houses seem to be made of stone, but as they approach he can see no boundaries between stones; it is like the whole thing was carved out of a single giant boulder, or perhaps grown. Only windows and doors stand out, and even those have rounded corners.

Curvy-girl takes his hand, too. She seems to be regaining her strength amazingly fast, and now smiles warmly at him. Pointing to the village ahead of them, she says with obvious delight: "Satyaloka!"

Chapter 3.

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