Katsumi Walker put down the book her grandpa had given her. She brushed her blonde hair out from in front of her eyes and looked up at Grandpa Walker. He towered over her. She was only six, and he was older than the hills, at least in her mind. She thought of him as almost all powerful. Grandpa Walker had fought in the great wars before her Mommy was born, though he didn't look like it. He hardly looked older than her Daddy. He had seen the Great Ice. Daddy liked to talk about how his father had ripped apart monsters with his bear hands, although Grandpa's hands looked human to her. Surely he could answer this question.

"Grandpa, what's a god? This book you gave me is full of gods and things, but they all just act like people with magic powers. A lot of them are really mean, too." Katsumi looked up at Grandpa, who knows everything, and waited for his reply. "Do they have anything to do with God, or is this one of those weird things with words that look the same but aren't?"

"There was a time when people worshipped many gods, Katsumi. Long ago, before the great ice, before the golden age. We have only a few stories of those times. We don't know if the gods were real, but I suspect some of them were...then the stories got distorted. Or people didn't realize anyone that powerful could be flesh and blood, like them, despite their acting human." He paused. "You see...I've met gods...at least, in truly ancient times, they would have been seen as such. You've heard of them too, but you don't think of them that way."

"I guess not. Wait, are you talking about the..."

"Yes, I am. Did I ever tell you about how I met them? How it was when the Age of Ice ended?"

"Was that when you had bear hands?"

Grandpa Walker laughed. "Among other things. That was back when the earth was still frozen over, before the great wars. It was truly a dark age..."

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Arise from Your Slumber

A tale of the Eternal Champion and other stories

by John Biles

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We called it the Age of Ice. For centuries, the planet had been largely frozen over, with life beyond bare survival possible in only a few locations. This had gone on for hundreds of years, and we had no idea why. To those of us who remained, only vague legends had been passed down as to what might have caused the ice or what had gone before it.

Our community had passed down a legend that once a great city had stood where we lived now, though its name was forgotten. That was in the golden age of mankind, when billions of humans walked the earth, dove beneath its waves, and flew through the skies in birds of steel. We lived on what had once been the Empire of the Rising Sun, ruled by a line of divine emperors whose wisdom was legendary. This line had lasted for thousands of years, ruling over a land of shapechanging foxes, armored warriors, shadow lurking assassins, and wise monks. They had built great palaces that climbed into the heavens, and covered the land with steel and stone.

No one knew for sure what sin had called down the wrath of Heaven or what mistake invited in the power of Hell, but one day, that Golden Age had come to an end. The greatest heroes of the land had fought and died and the world had become a land where winter never ended. We lived around a lake, one of the few unfrozen bodies of water, preserved by some magic we knew not. A little beyond the great hills around the lake, the sea of ice began. The great kingdom of some sort of creatures known only as Gaijin, some sort of blood sucking violent monsters, was said to lie beyond the sea, but no one had ever crossed it.

Our small community was known as Watchertown. We called ourselves, Those Who Watch and Wait. Four centuries ago, this town had been founded to keep watch over Great Crystal Mountain. While the freezing of the world had brought great evil, it had brought some good as well. The secrets of the magic of the Golden Age had been largely lost, yet new magic had been discovered. One of those arts was that of Prophecy. It was said that the heroes of old had not truly died, that they merely slept and waited for their wounds to heal. Crystal Mountain had been raised by them to protect them until they were ready to return and banish the ice. Sadly, the legends had become somewhat confused as to exactly who these heroes were. Lions and red-bearded kings and swords stuck in rocks and dresses and horns and magical doorways had all gotten tangled up together. There was something about trees and fruit too, and rings and some one-eyed guy with a spear and a goddess and her lover.

When I look back at it, I realize we really weren't sure what we were doing. Perhaps the simple fact of the presence of earth and rocks and trees and water was what kept most of us there. Yet, we preserved the hope that one day the sleeping hero or heroes would wake and save our world. The prophecy said that one day a woman would come from the mountain with salvation in her hands and fire in her hair. When the winter queen came from the north, then she must return to the mountain and wake the sleeping heroes that they might renew the earth and bring it to a new spring.

For centuries we had waited by the mountain, waiting for the chosen one to come. We had gathered from every corner of the Earth, mingling those of many different lands here over the centuries as small groups came to join us. There were perhaps as many as four thousand of us living in the small villages along the shore of the lake, surrounded by the massive hills that somehow kept out the freezing winds. We knew there were ancient buildings inside those hills, and we tunneled into them to find ancient artifacts. Some of these artifacts were quite valuable, others useless, like these odd strips of multi-colored tapered cloth that resembled badly made headbands. We found these in profusion inside the larger buildings of steel and glass.

We lived a simple lifestyle, farming and copying books. Also, we mined the hills for artifacts and resources, slowly picking apart pieces of the buried buildings. We had lived like this for centuries, slowly assimilating those who somehow learned of us. Most of humanity had died or somehow vanished at the beginning of the age of ice. Those of us who were left were a strange mixture of all those who had gone before us. Names and languages had jumbled together over time. My family was the Walker clan. Some of my ancestors had come from the land of the Angels, far to the west, supposedly. I knew I was no angel, though. I was one of our best scribes. I had learned much of the ancient writing systems of this land before the time of the ice, and my duty was to find and copy the old books into our modern tongue and script.

Beyond our valley, the world was covered by ice and stalked by monsters. Luckily for us, they had no unity, and the few that stumbled into our valley were easily dealt with by those of us skilled with magic and weapons. In the last few years, the monster attacks had grown worse, more numerous and more coordinated. A band of refugees arrived, telling tales of an albino queen, who was uniting the monsters into an army to rule the world. She lived in a great palace in the ice. Rumors said she could turn her enemies into stone statues, or perhaps ice statues, never to live again.

We combed our tomes of ancient lore. I found one that seemed to tell a tale of such a queen, who had been defeated by four children from another world, or perhaps the queen had lived in another world and the four children had travelled from ours to defeat her. One of the big problems is that the Ancients never saw fit to explain these things clearly. A second tome seemed to indicate these children could be summoned by some sort of horn. However, it had to be the right horn.

Perhaps this was the threat of which the prophecy had spoken. Yet how could we summon our rescuers? For months, this danger had hung over us, when one day my cousin Jinpachi found a woman staggering eastward towards our valley from the Great Crystal Mountain. She had red hair and clutched a horn in one hand and a clear gemstone in the other. She collapsed into his arms when he approached her, babbling in some language he did not know.

She was beautiful, despite her bizarre, torn clothing, the dirt on her face and hands, and the thinness that comes from long periods without food. Jinpachi brought her to me, hoping I might know the language she was speaking. I was shocked. She was babbling in the ancient tongue. She kept saying something about rabbits and ravens and not knowing what to do and being hungry. We laid her down on the bed and went to get her some food. After she ate it, she fell asleep, the two items still clutched in her fingers.

The gem was very cunningly carved and truly beautiful. I guessed it was probably a diamond, though a very large one. The horn was ornately painted, but also splattered with blood. There was some sort of inscription on the side, but not in letters I could read.

I sat and worked on my copying and translation until eventually she awakened. "I...where am I?" she said. "I'm so hungry..."

I smiled and got her some more food. "You are in the village of Watchertown, in the Valley of the Hot Winds. I am Dairoshi Walker, a scribe."

"My name is...is..." She clutched her head. "I can't remember my name." She stared at the crystal and the horn. "These...I'm supposed to do something...Wait...Did I have a sword when you found me?"

I blinked. "No, not that Jinpachi noticed."

"I must have thrown it in the lake." She nodded. "I got that right, eventually..." She trailed off blinking. "What was I talking about?"

"You threw a sword in a lake?" That sounded like some old legend, but I couldn't remember which one.

"Maybe that wasn't...I really have no idea what I'm talking about...Someone died...someone I cared about. Then...uh. Maybe I need more sleep."

"You should rest more. Once you feel better, we can try to figure out who you are."

She got more rest, recovered her health, but she still couldn't remember who she was, only that some task still awaited her. We named her Gabrielle, after Gabriel, the angel who bears a horn. The horn and the crystal held great power, our magi were able to tell, but what power, no one knew for sure. Could she be the one of prophecy? The time of its fulfillment seemed to be drawing near...yet she didn't even known her own name.

She was a great help to me. Somehow, she spoke the language of the Ancients and read their writing far better than I. With her help, we were able to find the true uses of many items that had baffled us, like these odd hats with eyeballs on springs. Such wealth the ancients had to afford to make such silly things.

Several months passed and still her memories did not return. Only at night, as she lay dreaming, did she sometimes shout out names or sentences or give some vague clues to her past. It never made any sense. Who were Sensei, Orlando, Benedict, Vivian or Hawkmoon? What is a Robo? Where do Dragons live? Who might she have been trying to save from drowning in a river, and what is a Crusade? When waking, she remembered none of these things, except to explain that the word "teacher" in our language was "Sensei" in the old tongue. She vaguely remembered being taught to read and write and do math and things about rocks, and weather and health and the like, but couldn't remember who taught her. She was especially adept with gems and jewelry, able to identify many metals and gems by sight.

She also proved, much to her own surprise, to be remarkably adept with a sword. She could vaguely remember tossing a sword in a lake at some point before we found her, but couldn't remember why. Since the only lake for hundreds of miles was ours, I could only conclude she had wandered far before she arrived here.

We spent a lot of time together, and I found, somewhat to my surprise, that I felt a growing affection for her. Unfortunately, I was somewhat shy, and didn't know how to express my feelings.

As it was, our time together was cut short. One day, a band of refugees staggered into the valley. They brought bad news. The Winter Queen was on the march towards our valley. We had at best a week. Her army numbered in the thousands. It seemed we were doomed.

"We must find some way to awaken the sleepers within the mountains, or we shall surely die," Thomas Lo, one of the elders of our land, said at the great meeting the elders called. "Who will go to the mountain and seek to enter it?"

Gabrielle stood up. "I'll go. I...I don't know what I can do, but I'm willing to try."

I couldn't let her go by herself. I stood up. "I'll go too." I was terrified...no one had ever returned from the mountain who set out to find its secrets. If she hadn't been willing to go, I would never have volunteered.

For a moment, everyone was silent. Soon, other hands were raised. A small band of five of us were chosen to go. Myself, Gabrielle, Chimofugi, Alan, and Toriya. Three warriors, a scholar, and the mysterious Gabrielle. Not a band of which much might be expected, but all we had.

The trek across the ice wasn't too hard. It took three days, but we had all travelled across the ice before. The mountain was a huge cone of crystal, frighteningly smooth and translucent. It shimmered in the light of the rising sun, tiny rainbows scattered through itself, the result of flaws. Up one side of the mountain ascended a staircase, hacked from the crystal by some unknown force. Halfway up it was a door, also of crystal, though this one was red, not a translucent clear crystal. No one who passed through the door had ever come back.

As we ascended the steps on the north face of the mountain, we could see tiny black specks far off across the plain, moving east. The army of the Winter Queen. Over the specks, the sky was grey and cloudy. She marched with a storm. Toriya sighed. "She's coming faster than we expected. We have to hurrry." She swept her long black hair out of her eyes. "Damn wind keeps blowing my hair in my face."

Alan smiled. "If it wasn't so LONG, you wouldn't have that problem. Women aren't supposed to have long hair, you know."

Gabrielle laughed. "What's so funny?" I asked.

"The more things change...It would take too long to explain, I think."

We reached the door. Except for being made of crystal, it seemed very ordinary. Two hinges and a pull handle. Gabrielle grasped it and it came open. A long passage slanted down into the mountain. Toriya fumbled for a few minutes and got our lantern lit. We headed into the blood-red passage. The hallways were eerily free of dust or any sign that anyone had ever passed that way.

This went on for a very long time. Alan started doing that irritating slapping his hand against his leg in ryhthm thing he always does when he's nervous. The faint rythmic slaps echoed through the silence. Silence. Silence.

The tunnel suddenly widened out into a large chamber. Two ugly statues, wrapped in black robes with hoods, stood on the far wall, and between them, an orange door. As we headed towards the door, one of the statues spoke. "None shall pass."

We all stopped short. "Hello?" I asked.

"None shall pass."

"As in noone ever?"

"None but the one who is to come."

"Could you be a LITTLE LESS OBSCURE?" Toriya shouted.

"No." said one of the statues.

That was too much for Toriya. She was always the jumpiest person I've known. She drew her axe and charged at the statue. It pointed a finger and she vanished.

All of us jumped back at that. Alan swore. Chimofugi backed up further. Gabrielle shrieked and hid her face in my chest. I said, "Uhh...Is she dead?"

"She sleeps now and awaits the end of our vigil."

"So she's not dead?"

"No."

Everyone relaxed. A little. "So do we go forward or what?" Chimofugi finally said.

The statues remained silent.

"Well, it's the only way forward. We have no choice," Gabrielle said hesitantly. She turned and stepped forward. One step. Two. Three. Soon, she was almost at the door. The silence hung over us like an axe. Finally, she opened the door. The statues spoke, "The first gauntlet is opened unto you. One judgement is over. Four more remain."

Beyond the door lay another hallway, this one of orange hue. The four of us moved down the hallway. It turned and spiraled upward, leading to another room. This room was full of statues of warriors clad in some sort of plate armor with swords. A yellow door lay beyond. "Nine of ten says we have to fight them..." Chimofugi said.

Gabrielle gripped her sword nervously. Despite her skill, she didn't seem to really believe she ought to be able to fight as well as she did. I was less nervous, despite not being as skillful as her. I had at least had confidence in the abilities I possessed.

As we stepped into the room, the statues came to life. They swarmed forward. It soon became apparent that they were slow, clumsy, and lacked skill. It also became apparent we couldn't hurt them. Slowly, we pressed our way through the room to the door. We were all getting rather battered and most of us were bleeding at least a little.

"What are we going to do with these things? Can they follow us through the door, do you think?" Gabrielle asked.

"Good idea." I managed to open the door. We stepped through. They kept coming.

Chimofugi swore. "I'll stay here and hold them off. You guys get going."

"We can't just leave you! Even in this corridor, they'll overpower you eventually."

"Do it!" He shouted. "Go before I get tired and there's no point!"

We went, running down the yellow corridor, which became a staircase. At the top was another room. It held a green door. The door was labelled, "Whoever opens this door will die."

We all stopped and stared at each other, then the door, then at each other again. Far off, we could hear the sound of fighting. Finally, Alan strode forward.

"Don't touch it! You'll die!" Gabrielle shrieked. I was too nervous even to speak.

"Maybe we all will die. Everyone dies eventually. At least my death will have meaning." He pulled the door open. Nothing happened.

I laughed. "It must have been meant to test courage."

Then Alan vanished without a trace. Gabrielle shrieked again and well...so did I. For about a half an hour, we didn't move. Finally, I stepped towards the door, which was still open. It began to swing shut. We ran. We ran into the green corridor, and the door slammed behind us. This passage gently curved downwards. We could hear faint murmerings around us, voices whispering messages we couldn't quite hear. Well, I couldn't. Gabrielle tried to plug her ears.

"What are they saying?"

"They're trying to convince me to turn back. To flee while I still can. They say I'll never be able to blow the horn."

The horn. I'd almost forgotten it. "Get it out. Show it to them."

"They're right. I'm no hero...I'm just a girl. Why did I ever volunteer to do this?" She buried her face in my chest again. "I'm sorry...I can't do this...I can't go on..."

"Yes, you can. Don't give up. We can't afford to give up."

"I'm not supposed to be here! This isn't my place! This isn't my role! I never do this sort of thing...I'm a supporter, a helper...not a heroine! I'm supposed to have a normal life, damnit..."

"I don't understand. I mean, I wish I didn't have to do this..."

"I'm supposed to be a .,..a...I don't know...I just...one of us is going to die!"

"What makes you say that?"

"One of us has gotten wiped out by every test! And there's at least one more..."

I began slowly leading her down the hallway. "Then I'll be the one to go."

She blinked. "No...I don't want to...see that happen to you...I'm..." She tried to shove the horn into my hand. "Take it. You blow it. Maybe we should blow it right now..."

I handed it back. "I...I'm scared out of my wits too. We have to go on." I wanted to run away so bad..."Besides, to go back, we have to open the door that kills whoever opens it. No point in going back." By that means, I steeled myself to go on.

We reached the inevitable room. Images whirled on the walls. A man being sent again and again to hurl a sword into the lake. An old man making a wardrobe from an ancient tree and putting it into one of the back rooms of his house. A man with a calico cat and a jaunty cap sitting on a log talking to a grim man with a golden hand. A wizard and a party of dwarves driving a young hobbit insane trying to be a polite host. A young maiden begging a knight to rescue her. A red haired girl crying for help as a monster that looks like her mother slowly kills her. The last image caught my eye. It looked very much like Gabrielle.

She noticed this too. She stared at the image and sank to her knees. "Mother..."

"That's you?"

"Oh god, she's dead...dead...dead...So long ago. She's been dead for a thousand years and I never got to say goodbye."

I knelt by her and tried to comfort her. "I'm sure she knows you're sorry." I spoke soothing words and looked around, trying to figure out what we were supposed to do here. Only the images, constantly changing, confronted us.

"What was your mother's name?"

"I can't remember! I can't even remember my own name...So many names in my head...It's all whirling about. Like I've lived again and again and again and they're all trying to come out...Help me!"

I held her tightly. "Your name is Gabrielle, whatever else it may have been or may be. You are the one who must blow the horn and wake the sleepers. Come on...We have to go on."

She struggled to her feet. "Yeah. I...how can you be so brave?"

"I'm scared out of my wits. If you weren't here, I'd just crumple up in the corner and wait for the world to end...Maybe I will anyway...but for you, I...I can go on."

She smiled and kissed my cheek. I nearly fainted. "Thank you." She straightened herself up. "I guess we open the door now."

I shrugged. "Can't think of anything else to do."

We passed the door. Nothing happened. "I don't understand...why didn't one of us get eliminated?"

"I guess maybe we REALLY beat that test...I could have gone on without you...but I didn't. So you didn't get left behind...Maybe there was some way we could have beaten the other tests without losing anyone...I don't know."

"Well, I'm glad you're here." This trip was short. A minute's walk, round a turn, and the next room was there. The hallway was blue. The room beyond had a purple door. The ceiling was high and vaulted. In the center of the floor was written,

"What right have you to be here?"

I blinked. "Uhh...."

We both stared at each other. I had no idea what to say. "Umm...because if ...because...uhh..." I babbled incoherently.

Suddenly, I found myself frozen in a block of crystal. Clearly, that was NOT the right answer.

Gabrielle shrieked. "LET HIM GO!!!!! Take me instead! I can't go on by myself!"

A voice spoke. "You must. It is your task. It is why you came."

"I don't want it! Why do I have to blow this stupid thing?" She shook the horn in the air.

There was only silence. I wished I could comfort her...help her...but this was her task alone. She stared at me for a long moment, then turned slowly and walked to the purple door. It opened. Through the door, I could see a vast chamber. A beam of light shone down through the purple crystalline ceiling. I watched as Gabrielle strode to the center of the chamber. She looked down at the floor, and read the words aloud, "Arise from your slumber."

The air began to glow. Slowly, a figure appeared in the beam of light. He was hard to look at. Or was it a she? I soon realized it was a succession of figures, speaking with one voice, but ever changing in form, dress, age, and sex. "You have come, my friend," he she they it said. To my surprise, the figure was not the only thing changing. Only the horn remained constant. Before the

"I...I have,"

It was as if a dozen similar events were all happening at the same time. A story told a thousand times, all taking place at once. I wished I could be a part of it.

The one who knelt, stood, while the one who stood, knelt. Raising the horn to his her its their lips, the hornbearer blew the horn. A single note echoed through the chamber. The mountain shook. The note persisted, hanging in the air, even after the horn's bearer ceased to blow. The shimmering figure split apart, while the horn bearer solidified, and became again, only Gabrielle.

A voice spoke. "The Winter is ended. A new year begins. The land awakens from slumber and so must its champions. The dead shall walk the earth again. ARISE AND RIDE FORTH!"

The beam of light grew and filled my sight, my mind, my whole being. When it cleared, I stood upon the mountainside with my companions. Even those I had expected never to see again. We stood at the top of the steps. Above us, the mountaintop had shattered. From its top, figures streamed forth. They rode to the four corners of the globe, and as they rode, the snow melted in their wake. Plants grew where only ice had stood. We looked east, and saw the army of the Winter Queen. It turned to face this threat. It had no hope of victory.

For at the forefront of those streaming from the mountain to the east flew nine figures born on wings. They weilded lightning and fire, air and water, the power of the earth, the majesty of time itself. Leading them was a woman with long blond hair divided into two long pony-tails. A crescent moon shone from her forehead. The jewel that Gabrielle had borne hung before her, and its light drove the Winter Queen's army before it. By her side stood a man dressed in black clothing, some of the strangest I'd ever seen. In one hand, he held a cane, and in the other a rose. We could hardly see the battle from the mountain, but it was brief. The Winter Queen called down snow on the heavenly host. It melted and turned to gentle rain. She hurled bolts of ice, and they shattered in the glow from the gem. Finally, she cried out with a great shout and lept skyward at the woman who bore the crescent moon upon her brow.

For a moment, the world was silent. The queen of the host spoke in the ancient tongue and the gem shone with a bright light. The winter queen hung suspended in the air as the queen of the host's eight attendants and her consort spoke also in that tongue. They called upon the power of the planets and their energy surged over the winter queen. She shrieked and fled. As she fled, the ice retreated. Soon, as far as we could see, the ice was gone. Her army disintigrated, fleeing for its lives.

The people of our village fell to their knees. The gods had come for whom we had long waited. Our salvation was at hand. The new age was begun. Gabrielle smiled. "We did it."

"I...Who are you?" I wondered exactly what...who she was.

"My past doesn't matter any more. I'm Gabrielle now, though I have had many names. You've seen some of what I've been... is what I am now. Let's go home." She smiled at me and kissed me again. This time it was mutual.

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Katsumi said, "But when did you get bear hands? And how did you get your hands back to normal? Wait, was that grandma who..."

A door opened and Grandma Walker stepped out. She smiled. "There you two are. Have you been telling her lies about me again?" The laughter in her voice belied her words.

Grandpa Walker smiled. "Just giving her a little history lesson, about things like my bear hands. Now there's a story to be told..." He laughed. And the story began again, as it always does....

The End is only the beginning of another story.


Author's Afterwords:

This is probably the WEIRDEST story I've ever written, and undoubtably the one I'm most worried about if it sucks :) For one thing, I don't normally use weird experimental writing techniques :)

This story was inspired by reading Michael Moorcock and watching Sailor Moon at the same time...:) It taps into a lot of miscellanious fantasy story lore in my head, especially the Eternal Champion and Sleeping Hero concepts. The sleeping King under the Mountain is a common theme of heroic literature...though in this case, there's a few queens as well :)

I hope you like it. I hope it makes sense...I have the vague feeling I made this way too short.

PLEASE comment...I really, for once, don't know what I'm doing hardly :)

Mail me comments here!