For this week’s post I’m going to recycle an old story. Going by the date on the document I wrote it in 2002, for the Elfquest fanholt I was a member of. There will be some tweaks in this version, but in essence it is the same story I wrote then.
First some background: Rock, the protagonist in this story, is a Wolfrider. Wolfriders are elves, but they have a dash of wolf blood which gives them some wolf characteristics, such as enhanced smell and hearing and a tendency to react like a wolf might in certain circumstances. It also makes them shorter than ‘normal’ elves, so Rock is somewhere between four and five feet tall (but perfectly proportioned, of course). Wolfriders have descriptive names, which is why this one is called Rock. Culturally they are hunter-gatherers, and humans are to be approached with caution, since most of them are hostile to elves.
I should probably also add that Rock is a bit of a lothario (which isn’t uncommon in the Elfquest universe).
This story is a crossover, and I should give credit to Marten Toonder (a famous Dutch cartoonist) for coming up with the original idea; I merely hijacked it for my own purposes.
I originally published this story on Rushwater Holt under the title Fairy Tales a Go-Go.
Whatever the thing on the ground was, it wasn’t anything that Rock had ever seen before. He sniffed the object carefully, trying to get a better idea of what it might be. The outside smelled leathery, but the strange, white, flat things within it had a completely unique smell. They were covered in black markings, like the pictures Honeyhue made on rock faces sometimes, but these were tiny, and didn’t look like anything recognisable.
He turned over one of the flat white bits and sat back in amazement. This was definitely a picture, but far more detailed than anything he had ever seen, and made with many different colours. He looked up, at the sky from which the object had fallen, seemingly out of nowhere, then back at the picture again. It showed a forest, similar to Rushwater, with a little path winding through the trees. On the path was what looked like a human child, but it was hard to determine since it was shown from the back and was covered in a bright red cape. The details were so vivid that Rock almost thought he saw the child move, and he tentatively stretched out a finger to touch the image.
An overwhelming sense of disorientation hit him as soon as his finger came in contact with the picture. His head was spinning, he felt a wash of nausea, and then he hit the ground with a thud that made his teeth chatter.
Hit the ground? But he had been sitting down to start with! His eyes flew open and he looked around himself in sudden panic. The environment was strange, unknown, yet with a hint of familiarity he couldn’t quite place. Then he stood up and turned around, and jumped back in startlement when he found himself looking into the eyes of the red-caped child he had seen on the picture. Another quick glance around confirmed the impossible: he was in the forest he had seen on the image.
“Hello, are you here for the story?” the child said. Rock could see now that she was a girl, but the shock of the sudden transition to a completely alien environment combined with the presence of a human so close to him, even if it was only a child, brought out the wolf in him. He crouched into a defensive position, bared his teeth and growled.
“Whoah, dude! What’s up with you?” the girl said, taking a step back. “I’ve met some weirdos in this job, but you take the biscuit. What’s with the growling?”
Rock looked at her in confusion. He could understand every word she said, but too many of them didn’t make sense to him. All he understood was that she didn’t seem to be frightened of him, just wary, and that she didn’t seem threatening. He relaxed his pose a bit and stopped his growling.
“Well, can you talk?” the girl said. “I don’t like doing all the talking on my own.”
“I can talk,” Rock said after a moment, fully righting himself again. He was a mere hand’s breadth taller than the girl, and somehow it felt better that he could look slightly down on her. “Where am I?”
The girl’s eyes widened in surprise. “Dude, you don’t know where you are? Then how and why did you get here? You must have had the book!”
Rock concentrated on the unknown word. “Book?”
“Yeah, the living book,” the girl said, nodding. When Rock’s face still didn’t show any sign of comprehension she sighed. “The living book that lets you experience fairy tales first hand. It’s a magical book.”
Magic was a word Rock understood, and he recalled the strange object that had contained the picture he now seemed to be in. “That leathery smelling thing with the flat white sheets in it?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s a book,” the girl nodded, now talking as if she were speaking to a small cub.
“It fell out of the sky,” Rock said. The girl frowned.
“Hmm, odd,” she said. “Anyway, we’d better get going, or I’ll get fired. I’m crossing the boundaries already by talking to you. We’re not supposed to speak to or acknowledge the visitors, you know, but I get so bored in between visitors that I really can’t be bothered. Maybe I should switch to some of the stories where the visitor gets to be the main character.” She seemed to be talking more to herself than to Rock, and he focused on the one statement that he was sure had been aimed at him.
“Get going? Where to?” he asked, still as confused as when he had first fallen down.
“To play the story,” the girl said. “Sheesh, you mean you don’t even know the story either? I’m Little Red Riding Hood, the most recognisable of all fairy-tale characters! Well, except for Puss in Boots, maybe,” she added with a slight frown. “Anyway, I’m going to my grandmother to bring her some food because she’s ill. Just walk along and watch, okay?” Rock nodded, not knowing what else to do, and the girl walked off, shaking her head.
Rock followed her until they came to a small lodging. It looked like one of the huts the humans built for themselves, but more solid. He curiously examined the construction until he heard a very annoyed cough from Little Red Riding Hood, who had gone inside the hut. He hastened after her, and she shot him a dark glance before turning to the large bed beside her. Rock’s eyes opened wide, for the bed contained a wolf, one of the largest he had ever seen, and it was wearing some sort of headscarf thing.
“Hello grandmother,” the girl said. “I have brought you some food from mother.” Rock raised an eyebrow. Surely the girl could see this was a wolf and not a human? He walked a little closer, then was shocked beyond belief when the wolf started to speak.
“That’s nice of you dear,” it said, and Rock felt like his legs might collapse. A talking wolf? Was there no end to the strangeness of this place? The girl and the wolf, meanwhile, continued as if nothing strange was happening.
“My, grandmother, what big ears you have,” the girl said.
“For better to hear you with, my dear,” the wolf replied.
“My, grandmother, what big eyes you have,” Red Riding Hood continued.
“For better to see you with,” the wolf said. Rock followed the exchange with open mouth.
“My, grandmother, what a big mouth you have,” the girl now said.
“For better to eat you with!” the wolf growled, and suddenly it jumped up and towards the girl. Rock reacted in an instant. The girl may be odd, but she had been nice to him, and he was not going to let any wolf eat her, no matter how odd that wolf was too. He growled a challenge and threw himself in between the wolf and the girl. For a moment the wolf looked extremely startled, then he drew himself up and looked over Rock’s shoulder at the girl.
“Who’s this idiot?” he asked. Little Red Riding Hood shrugged.
“Some weirdo who has never heard of books or fairy tales, it seems. And he likes to growl a lot. Listen dude,” she continued, turning to Rock. “I don’t think this is working out. Maybe you’d better go on to the next story, that one is a first person one.”
Rock stared at her with uncomprehending eyes, too confused to speak. She sighed again and grabbed his arm, dragging him outside and pointing at a little hill to the left of the house. “That way,” she said. “Maybe Sleeping Beauty will have more luck with you.” She gave Rock a little shove in the right direction and he walked off in a daze.
“I never liked her anyway,” Little Red Riding Hood muttered to herself, then returned to her position at the start of the story.
It wasn’t long before Rock had crossed the hill and his eyes met with the sight of a gigantic lodging. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before, and at first he wasn’t even sure it was a lodging, but when he got closer he saw it was made with rectangular rocks, just like the smaller hut he had just left, so he assumed it was human made. It was going to be complicated to enter it, he thought; the entire building seemed to be surrounded by a huge mass of brambles. Complicated and painful, he amended to himself when he noticed the large thorns on the branches.
He reached the edge of the brambles and stopped, peering at them to look for a suitable opening. When he stretched out his hand, however, he was surprised to see that the branches bent aside, as if a hidden treeshaper was working their magic on them. By now he was getting accustomed to the strangeness of this place though, so he shrugged and took a step forward. The brambles bent neatly aside to let him through, and after he passed they closed the path again. For a brief moment in the middle of the hedge he felt trapped, but it wasn’t long before he was through and he found himself on a large grass field with plants and blooming flowers at the sides.
He walked towards the building with growing curiosity. There were humans and animals in between the building and the hedge, but they were all fast asleep, and none of them reacted or woke up when he poked or prodded them. A sleeping bird, flat on its back, its wings spread wide, sent an eery shiver up his spine, but he ignored it and quickly walked on.
He wasn’t sure how, but somehow he knew he was meant to go to the highest place in the building. He walked through large rooms and up steps, passing more and more humans on his way, every single one of them asleep. Then he finally reached the highest place, where he stopped in front of a panel of wood, smooth and rectangular, with a metal knob in the middle left of it. He scratched his head for a moment, at a loss of what to do, but then he remembered Little Red Riding Hood going through a similar piece of wood in the hut, and she had turned the knob.
He tried the motion, and was pleased with himself when the metal turned and the wooden panel could be pushed backwards. Stepping into the room he looked around, his eyes drifting over the cobwebs on the shelves which contained more of the leathery smelling objects – books, he reminded himself – and the large thing in the middle of the room, which looked like it contained one of the trolls’ wheels. His eyes came to rest upon a human woman at the other side of the room, who was lying on a large, raised platform which had four pillars on either corner and a canopy resting on the pillars. The woman was dressed in a flowing white garment and had long, curling blond hair and a face which, to human standards, could probably be considered beautiful. She too was fast asleep.
Rock stepped closer to the platform she was lying on and studied her. Yes, not too bad looking, he thought with a shrug. Certainly no Wildstar, but then, who was? He turned away again and went to take a closer look at the object with the wheel in the centre of the room. Crouching down next to the intricate construction he thought he could faintly smell blood, and he soon traced it to its source: a sharp object towards the top of the construction. The blood smelled like it belonged to the sleeping woman, and Rock suddenly remembered what Little Red Riding Hood had called this story: Sleeping Beauty.
He walked to the sleeping woman again and concluded that it must be referring to her. Still, that didn’t give him any indication of what he was supposed to do, and he remained standing next to her, waiting. It wasn’t too long before he saw an eyelid tremble, and then the woman opened both eyes.
“Well, what art thou waiting for?” she said, a hint of annoyance in her voice.
“For you to wake up,” Rock replied. “Seems it worked.” He grinned, but the woman frowned.
“Thou art supposed to kiss me,” she stated, sitting up, the annoyance now more clear. Then she added, “and art thou not a tad short to be a prince?”
“Kiss?” Rock asked, deciding to ignore the comment about his height. “What’s that then?”
The woman’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Thou dost not know what a kiss is?” Rock was glad to hear the confusion in her voice. It was nice to know he wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a clue what was going on, even though he was beginning to enjoy this.
“No, no idea,” he said cheerfully. “What’s with the strange speech anyway?” The woman blushed and looked down.
“Sorry, I get rather caught up in my role sometimes,” she said, then looked at him again. “You really don’t know what a kiss is?” Rock shook his head with a smile.
“No, I honestly have no idea. Can you explain it to me? I’d be happier too if I knew what I was supposed to do.”
The woman blushed again. “Well, umm…” she stammered. “A kiss is when… You’re supposed to…” She stopped. “Umm, it’s sorta intimate,” she apologised.
Rock raised an eyebrow. “It’s intimate, and a total stranger is supposed to do it to you?” The woman shrugged helplessly, and he grinned. “Well, I’m good at intimate things, or so they say, so no need to be shy about it.” He smiled encouragingly, and the woman let her eyes wander over his body, suddenly seeming to really take note of his physical appearance. A smile crept across her face.
“Well… Maybe it’s not that intimate, actually,” she said, shifting position so that the flowing dress accentuated her curves better. “A kiss is when two people press their lips together. It’s supposed to wake me up in this story.”
“Ah, you call that a kiss?” Rock said, grinning broadly. “Yeah, I can do that. But it seems a bit superfluous now, doesn’t it?”
“I could always lie down again and pretend to be asleep,” she said. “I do that anyway, so there’d be no difference really.”
Rock chuckled. “If you say so.” She lay back again, somehow with slightly more flesh exposed, Rock noted, and closed her eyes again. Rock stepped up to the platform, bent over and pressed his lips on hers, softly, but with enough pressure that their lips moulded together pleasantly. Her eyelids fluttered and opened again, and Rock grinned at her.
“You’re right, not very intimate at all, really. What happens after you wake up then?”
“The palace wakes up as well,” she replied.
Rock nodded. “And then?”
“I thank my prince, who hath come to rescue me,” she said, grasping his hand and smiling up at him.
“I take it that’s me?” She nodded and Rock grinned again. “And then?”
“We get married, and that’s the end of the story.”
Rock ignored the unfamiliar word and concentrated on the latter part of her statement. “End? What, no more intimate stuff?”
“Well, I suppose that comes after marriage.”
Rock sniffed. “So you’re telling me that this entire story is just me kissing you and that’s it? Not much of a story, is it?”
“Well, when you put it like that, I guess not,” the woman conceded.
“Can you improvise?” Rock asked, a wicked grin spreading across his face. “I told you I’m good at intimate stuff. For instance, did you know that that ‘kiss’ is a lot better in some other places?” He traced his fingers along the inside of her arm and watched as she shivered and licked her lips.
“I suppose I could make an exception for you…” she whispered.
It was a while later when Rock walked away from the palace, a satisfied grin on his face. This was turning out to be a lot more enjoyable than he had initially thought. Sleeping Beauty had pointed him towards another hillock, beyond which she had assured him he would meet someone called Snow White. She hadn’t said anything more, but Rock was by now confident that he could work out what he was supposed to do, or that he would be able to improvise his way around it.
He hadn’t walked far when he heard footsteps behind him, and he quickly hid in the bushes. As soon as he was hidden from sight he wondered why he had done that, since the place he was in didn’t seem to be dangerous at all, despite being populated by nothing but humans, and decided it must have been force of habit.
He was just about to leave his hiding place again when he saw the owner of the footsteps appear on the path, and it made him hesitate. It was a human woman, old and bent and uglier than any human he had ever seen. She had an air of malice around her which made him wary, and he decided to stay where he was for now, and follow her unnoticed.
It wasn’t long before she reached a little hut, not much different from the one that Little Red Riding Hood had gone to, and knocked on the door. The top half of it was opened by a young woman who proceeded to have a short conversation with the old woman which Rock couldn’t understand as he was out of earshot. Rock noticed that this young woman could also probably be called beautiful, to human standards, although this beauty made him uneasy. Her hair was midnight black and appealing enough, but her skin was deathly pale and her lips looked like a smudge of blood in the whiteness. The combination reminded him too much of all the tribesmembers he had seen after they had died, and he got the disconcerting feeling that the old woman was talking to an animated corpse.
Then the hag produced an apple, took a bite and offered it to the young woman. The latter hesitantly took a bite out of the other half, and immediately dropped out of sight behind the still half-opened door. The old woman emitted a cackling laugh that sent shivers down Rock’s spine, and shuffled back down the path.
For a moment, Rock was undecided about what to do. Should he go after the hag, or check that the young woman was all right? Then he remembered that this was supposed to be a story, and he decided to wait. Which he didn’t need to do for long, since he soon heard voices approach from the other side of the house.
When the owners of the voices appeared he got yet another shock, despite having thought that nothing could surprise him anymore: they were vaguely human-like, but they were shorter than Rock and very squat, and all seven of them had long, grey face-fur. They carried tools that Rock had only ever seen being wielded by trolls, and he wondered whether these beings were related to them. They were certainly ugly enough for it, even if their skin wasn’t green.
The seven of them entered the hut, and soon Rock heard exclamations of shock and surprise. He wondered whether it was time for him yet to make his entrance, then shrugged. So far he’d done things as they came to him, so why not this time? He left his hiding place and knocked on the door, which was soon opened by one of the short, face-furred men.
“Umm, hello,” Rock said.
“Come in, fair prince,” the man intoned. “You have come upon us in an hour of need, perchance you can offer us aid.”
By now it was becoming second nature to ignore the peculiarities of the language the people in this place used, and Rock stepped into the hut, glancing around at the interior. The first – well, in fact the only thing that drew his attention was the young woman whom he had seen at the door, lying on the table in something which looked a bit like the ice he had seen on the calmer rivers in Rushwater sometimes, when the winter was unusually cold, except this ice was more transparent and didn’t drip water all over the ground. The woman was fully encased in it, and Rock stepped closer to take a better look.
“Ere, aren’t you a bit short to be a prince?” one of the other men said. Rock turned around and raised an eyebrow while he looked him up and down.
“Yeah, you should be talking,” he said. “Seems to me I’m taller than you.” The face-furred man shrugged.
“I’m a dwarf, I’m supposed to be short.” Then he caught the reproachful gaze of the other six dwarfs and threw up his hands in a defensive gesture. “Oh, okay, I know. Stay in character.” He coughed, then continued, “Please aid us, fair prince. Our lady was poisoned, mayhap you can wake her.”
“Wake her?” Rock said. “If she’s been poisoned, she’s dead.”
The dwarfs gave each other an uneasy look at this hint that Rock wasn’t familiar with the story, until one of them ventured, “I think princes have special powers?” Rock stared at him for a moment, then narrowed his eyes.
“This isn’t another one of those kissing things, is it?” The dwarfs nodded happily, in unison, and Rock sighed and turned to the table again.
Some careful prodding revealed that the transparent stuff was at least as solid as ice, and that the woman was indeed completely encased, with no openings. He walked around, continuing his prodding and remaining unsuccessful in his attempts to reach the woman, until one of the dwarfs coughed discreetly and whispered, “Umm, the lid?”
Rock glanced at him and back at the woman, and noticed now that the transparent container did indeed seem to have a detachable top on it. The material had confused him, but now he determinedly grasped the lid and lifted…
…And staggered under the weight of it. Whatever this stuff was, it was frighteningly thick and heavy, and as he tried to replace the lid he stumbled against the table and tipped it over. The container crashed on the floor and smashed into eight times eight times eight shards of various sizes, spilling the woman onto the ground. She groaned, coughed, spat out a piece of fruit – the fruit she had bitten earlier, Rock presumed – then sat up and glared at him. The dwarfs, meanwhile, were clawing their hair and face fur in distress.
“You clumsy oaf!” one of them called. “We have to pay for our own props! Do you have any idea what glass coffins cost?”
Rock backed towards the door, thinking this was probably a good moment to leave. As he ran further into the forest, towards where he presumed the next story would be, he still heard the angry voices of the dwarfs shouting after him. It didn’t surprise him at all that few of their words made sense to him.
“I hope you have a good lawyer, I’ll sue you for this!”
“I’m going to file a complaint with the Magical Library!”
“Snow White’s going to need a whopping big compensation payment!”
The voices faded into the distance and Rock shook his head. He was getting fed up with this, and wondered how much longer he had to spend in this strange place, if he actually managed to get out at all. The last thought sent a shiver down his spine, and he quickly walked on, concentrating on his environment for distraction.
The forest slowly made way for low shrubs, then grassy plainsland, then nothing but sand. By the time he reached the sand Rock was tired, moody and very hungry. Not a single animal had crossed his path, and when he thought about it he remembered that he hadn’t even seen any tracks. That fact suddenly frightened him, and he glanced around yet again, hoping that somehow he would see a familiar landmark, a sign that he was home again.
Instead, he saw a cave. It loomed in a rock face that Rock had somehow not noticed before, and it had an air about it that said ‘enter me’. Probably another story, Rock thought gloomily, and trudged into the gaping darkness. Soon, however, the darkness started receding, and he saw a golden glow ahead which became brighter with every step, until he rounded a corner and stopped in his tracks.
The cave opened out into a huge chamber, which was filled top to bottom with little round discs made of gold, and an innumerable amount of gems in every colour imaginable. The effect was dazzling almost to the point of blinding him, and Rock shielded his eyes with his arm until they got used to the glare. The sight of it reminded him of the few stories Nettle had told about the troll caves, except this seemed eight times eight more bright than any description he could remember from the barterer. Still, the thought of trolls made him wary, and he proceeded along the little path between the glittering heaps with a lot more caution than previously.
There was chamber after chamber of treasure, and Rock soon tired of the glittering and sparkling, especially since there was still nothing edible in sight. Then he rounded yet another corner and found himself in front of a slope which led to a faintly visible object at the top of it. Rock started climbing up, soon finding that the slope was a lot higher than it had seemed from the bottom.
When he finally reached the object at the top he was disappointed by its size and appearance. It was made of dull gold, slightly oval with a handle at one end and tapering into a round tube on the other end. He picked it up and peered into the tube, but couldn’t see anything. He was about to place the object back where it came from, when he suddenly felt an irresistible urge to buff it up a bit and see if it would be prettier if it was shiny. It felt odd, since he had never had such an urge before, but then he shrugged and rubbed the sleeve of his woven shirt against the dull metal.
Immediately a trickle of smoke started wafting out of the small tube, quickly turning into thick, fast coils, and Rock dropped the object as he backed away. It remained suspended in mid-air, but Rock was now frozen in terror as the smoke started thickening and taking shape, until he was facing a slightly hazy human-like figure, although it had no legs but just a mass of coiling smoke which disappeared into the object’s tube.
“Your wish is my command, Master,” the figure boomed with a voice so loud it reverberated through the cave and made Rock’s teeth chatter.
“What?” he said.
“Your wish is my command,” the figure repeated. “Anything you wish, I can do for you.”
For a moment Rock was silent, his face still a mask of fear and confusion. Then he brightened up. “In that case, I want to go home. I’m fed up with this world,” he said.
“As you wish,” the figure said, unperturbed.
It was fast. Again Rock experienced the nauseating sensation, the dizziness and the bone-rattling smack on the ground, then his nostrils filled with the sweet, familiar smell that was Rushwater in the season of newgreen, and he opened his eyes to the well-known landmarks and the paths that he could follow with his eyes closed.
He sat up and glanced aside, where the book was still lying in the grass, albeit now closed. Carefully he picked it up, took the few steps that separated him from the river and discreetly dropped it into the rapids.
It bobbed up and down a few times as it floated away, then it sank and didn’t resurface again. Rock stood staring for a moment at the spot where a few ripples indicated that something had recently disappeared there, absent-mindedly wiped his hands on his legs, then turned around and took the path that led to the Holt.
He didn’t look back.