"Uhhh...I'm gonna puke," groaned Mara.
Adan sighed. "Mara, get off. You're crushing me."
Mara rolled off, pressing Adan's face further into the ground. "Crushing you, huh? How much do you think I weigh? I'll crush you all right. You don't leave me behind you freak. I go where you go. I'm the chronicler remember. I ..."
"Shhhh," said Adan, pressing a finger to his lips. "Something is coming. And it's big."
"Don't shhh me. I know how you like to change the subject. And ..." The ground rumbled, and the two struggled to stand. "All right. I'm shhh-ing. There is something coming."
Adan grabbed Mara by the arm and started running for a hollowed out tree about a hundred yards away. It was massive, about the size of redwoods he'd seen in Eureka, California with his dad years ago. The sky above was a light magenta and the foliage around him was thick. Everything had the look of conceptual paintings Adan had seen of Paleolithic Earth. Was this really Clarion, he thought.
The ground vibrations made his teeth chatter.
Only twenty more yards to go. He hoped nothing was lurking in the dark recess of the rotting tree. But there was nowhere else to go.
"AAddaaann!" Mara hollered.
Adan turned briefly to see an enormous creature gaining on them, but it was still about a football field away. The beast was something between a wooly mammoth and a T-Rex, a monstrosity.
Finally they reached the tree. Adan jumped straight in, pulling Mara with him. His feet sunk into some sort of muck that was hard to see.
"Gross...what is..." started Mara.
"Quiet," Adan whispered. "They just might lose us."
The feeling was like an earthquake. Adan was certain the towering tree would collapse on top of them. The beast pounded its way to the tree then veered to the right of it. The ground continued shaking.
Then all went silent.
Adan saw Mara's face in the shaft of light coming through the tree. He nodded with a finger to his lips. He heard breathing and grunts, but they were different types. There was more than one creature outside, and they were behind the tree. There came a sound of splintering wood, and Adan and Mara were tossed backward, deeper into the tree. The creatures were tearing it apart. There was no way out. Adan reached for his rune bag, frantically thinking of the best rune for protection.
Then horns sounded.
They were loud but pleasing. There were many, too many to distinguish, but they formed a magical chord that reverberated through the air, even in the recess of the tree. The sound seemed to come from the left beyond the hillside, and the creatures began receding to the right into the forest. Adan slowly emerged from the hollow. Ahead in the sky was the word W E L C O ME written in letters that burned like fire. This was indeed Clarion.
"Mara, come out. It's all clear. Just be really quiet."
"Ugh! I'm standing in worms!"
"They're harmless. They're just the larvae of wood-eating beetles"
"They're just the larvae of wood-eating beetles." Mara looked up to see the letters in the sky. "Cool."
"Listen, we're alive, right? And this is Clarion. So we have to stay quiet. Our voices are what scared the beasts. Anyway, the town should be just over that hill." Adan stood still and felt a sinking feeling as he felt the rune bag at his side.
"What's wrong?" asked Mara.
"Gram's never did her spell. We can't use the A-V plasm. We have no way to talk to her or know what Odin is feeling."
Mara looked up and whispered, "Well, the Welcome sign is still lit. Let's hope there are no cannibals in this town over the hill."
"Cannibals? Why would you bring up cannibals? You and your zombie movies. You need to..."