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Chapter 1

Ludger G. Morton, CEO of his own design and engineering firm, was lost in thoughts while driving back to his secluded retreat, north of the city. The day had been hectic, like most Fridays always were. It seemed that the business could never afford to let him go for the weekend, especially for a long one like this week.

He was a young man in his early thirties, broad shouldered, and of short stocky stature. He was in trim physical shape and his body was molded by countless hours training in the martial arts. He had a full head of short curly light brown hair, and a closed cropped beard that held a mixture of colors from blonde, to light reddish brown and a few hints of gray. His piercing eyes were ice blue that day, but depending on his moods they could change form that to gray or green. Hopefully they would reach the green of relaxation by the end of the long weekend.

He liked the feeling of the wind rustling past his head in his old, open, emerald green, Suzuki Samurai, as he bounced down the rough road at great speed, his powerful hands holding for dear life to the padded steering wheel. As usual he was driving way too fast, but this being his private road, with no traffic allowed, he was enjoying it to the fullest.

He shot a quick glance towards Bacchus, his giant schnauzer, who was struggling to stay seated beside him. He said loudly.

“Do you like this?”

He could almost see the grin in the dog’s face. Bringing his attention back to the road, he thought about the empty log house awaiting him, at the top of a cliff overlooking that rugged lakeshore. He had mixed feelings about it, since the messy divorce he went through the year before. Under one hand it was the place where he felt the most comfortable. It was fulfilling his need for solitude and isolation.
On the other hand, it reminded of some of the bad fights he had with his ex-wife during the last few months of their marriage. She liked to live in their penthouse in the city, he preferred the country retreat.

After a year of her trying to run every aspect of his life, he could not tolerate her refusal to let him go, even occasionally, to the retreat. He promptly moved out of the penthouse to his log home, which was outfitted with all the modern conveniences. What ensued was a bitter, one sided, fight for the settlement. He did not want to hurt her in any way. She wanted all he had and more. The memory was still painful, but when he was at home he always felt better.

As he neared his home, a feeling of serenity entered his soul. The last few bends of the road unraveled. He could finally see the large log structure standing on its rocky outcrop, with the expansive balcony hanging a few hundred feet over the blue waters. The lake was stretching to the horizon, with green hills all around. A few gray and green islands dotted its surface like mossy rocks fallen on a paved road. One side of the house and most of the outbuildings were under the canopy of towering pine trees, giving it a semi-permanent shade. The sun was still high on this beautiful, early fall, day. The air was fragrant and crisp.

A broad smile lighted Ludger’s face as he spoke aloud to himself.

“Home…, finally…”

Bacchus, at his side, was wagging his stubby tail and whelping with joy. He never liked the city and was happy to be home, too.

He let the vehicle roll to a stop and enjoyed the view from higher grounds. He then drove slowly and parked by the main entrance. Bacchus jumped over the side of the truck and ran happily under the tall canopy of trees, barking wildly, and rolling in the thick carpet of pine needles. Ludger got out in a more conventional fashion, and he took his briefcase and the bags of groceries he had bought on his way over. He slowly walked to the massive front door.

Looking back he bellowed.

“Bacchus…, come on in. We’ll go for a walk later, after I’ve changed.”

He opened the door and walked in. He put his load down on a narrow table by the wall and disarmed the security system by keying his entrance code.

Bacchus came trotting in, at his heals.

“Good dog….” He said.

He picked up the bags of groceries and dropped them on the kitchen’s counter. He then put his briefcase on his desk. He went up to his bedroom suite, walked straight into the dressing room, kicked off his shoes, put his tweed jacket on a hanger as he quickly undressed. He walked into the shower and turned on the cold water. He let the frigid blast stimulate his body. After a few minutes he walked out of the ceramic enclosure fully revitalized. He vigorously toweled himself dry.

He looked at the reflection of his muscular body in a full-length mirror. His wide shoulders and thick chest tapered to a flat stomach. He found, with disgust, the merest hint of flabbiness there. His massive leg showed no sign of weakness.

He would have to work harder around the house, this weekend, to compensate for a week without much physical exertion, except for his thrice-weekly workout with Master Yakumi, his martial arts teacher.
Ludger put on a thick pair of woolen socks, a spongy cotton, sweat suit and his favorite leather moccasins. He went back down to the kitchen and unpacked and put away the groceries. Not sure yet of what he would like for supper he rummaged through the large built in refrigerator. He finally settled for a good size piece of beef tenderloin, a fresh tomato salad and some homemade béarnaise sauce.

Bacchus sneaked in behind him, and jumped on his back playfully knocking him down and started to lick his face.

“OK…,OK….” He said. “It’s time for a long walk, but before we leave, I have to go to the wine cellar.”

He ran down into the finished basement and walked in the large, temperature controlled wine cellar. He chose a 1979 Saint-Julien from his favorite estate Chateau Gruaud-Larose, a velvety smooth, robust wine that suited his mood for the evening. After leaving the bottle in the kitchen he left the house for a long brisk walk.

*

After two hours of what now felt like forced march, Ludger had finally made peace with himself. His mind was at ease and he was totally in touch with the environment. It was a feeling that he only attained when he was at his retreat. He was aware of all that was around him, from the smallest blade of grass to the tallest tree. It felt as if energy was flowing between the earth and him.

He stopped in a shady area of the trail, where he could admire the scenery. He sat on a large rock to catch his breath. After a few moments of dazed contemplation, he noticed that he had worked out a ferocious appetite. He looked down to the spot where Bacchus was resting and said.

“Lets go have supper, I’m starving.”

The dog, showing great excitement, started running toward the house. Ludger happily followed and reached the door on Bacchus’s heels. He went in straight to the kitchen and prepared a big bowl of homemade lamb stew with rice for the dog and put a big bowl of fresh water on the floor next to the stew. He then went up to his dressing room and took another cold shower to wash of the sweat from the hard walk.

While he was under the cold stream, Ludger thought that he heard the telephone ring, but dismissed the idea. He quickly got dressed in a fresh sweat suit. He went back to the kitchen to get supper started. As he was at work preparing the tomato salad, he noticed that he had indeed received messages while he was away. The prompt light on the telephone answering machine was flashing urgently. Ludger grudgingly went to the infernal contraption to retrieve his messages.

He pressed the playback button and after a loud beep the deep voice of Tony Spisson, his partner in the design firm, came on.

“Ludger…, we need you immediately, at the office, to straighten the City Hall deal. There are problems with some of the suppliers. Call me as soon as you get in. Bye….”

After a short pause and another beep, his ex-wife Maggy started lecturing.

“Ludger…, the ceiling of the penthouse is cracked. Since your name is still on the lease papers, I think that you should pay for the repairs! My lawyer will be calling you next week.”

In just a short minute Ludger’s hopes for a nice relaxing weekend had just been shattered. In a daze he went to the counter, where the bottle of wine had been sitting. He opened it. Before pouring himself a glass he decided to let it breathe instead as he felt he needed something stronger. He went to the wet bar in the living room and poured himself a shot of Laphroig single malt in a heavy bottomed glass and quickly drank it. The powerful taste of the peaty draught sent shivers down his spine, but it brought him back to reality. He put a few ice cubes from the ice machine in his glass and splashed himself a healthier dose of his favorite poison.

“How dare they try to ruin my peace and quiet at home.” He said aloud, under the quizzical stare of Bacchus. “I’ll show them…. I’m going to a place where no one will ever find me for a few days. I will totally ignore those messages.”

Looking down at Bacchus, he continued.

“Tomorrow morning we’re going hunting.”

Ludger was fuming. He could not believe the nerve of these people. They knew better than to bother him at home. He was pacing back and forth in the kitchen and suddenly decided to sit down and have another sip before supper.

He took his glass to the living room, then sat down in his favorite leather easy chair. He had a sip from his second glassful and turned on the giant projection TV. The latest James Bond movie was scheduled to start in a few minutes, on one of the pay-TV channels that his satellite dish was programmed to receive. Dazzling promos of future attractions were being showed. Ludger lowered the sound volume.

He twirled his glass between his fingers listening to the tinkling of the ice cubes, and he concentrated on the patterns that the pungent deep amber liquid was creating. He absent-mindedly took in the bouquet and finally had another sip. The familiar sound of the movie theme filled the background. He had finally decided which hunting spot he would drive to in the morning. The world was old enough to go on without him for a few days, without collapsing.

As the theatrical story evolved before his eyes he finally paid more attention to it. He started to relax a little. As he finished sipping his glass of frog, Ludger went to the kitchen. He finished preparing his meal. He brought his supper to the living room, on a rolling table, poured himself some Gruaud-Larose in a tall crystal glass, and started eating with enthusiasm.

After the last morsel of food was devoured, he reclined in his comfortable easy chair to enjoy the remainder of the movie. Later in the evening, as he noticed that his bottle was empty, Ludger was drowsy and could no concentrate on the picture. He was feeling the effects of the alcohol. He finally fell asleep in his comfortable chair.

*

Consciousness came back to Ludger’s foggy mind around 2 am. He could only see electronic snow on his giant TV screen. He turned off the set. Bacchus was pacing restlessly the living room, as if something dreadful was about to happen.

As Ludger was trying to calm the dog, the lights went off suddenly. In the dark he fumbled toward his desk and found it with his left knee. Cursing, he took a large electric torch from a drawer, then went to the electrical panel. He found out that it was a power failure, not an overload as he had first thought. After a few minutes, automatically his powerful diesel generator rumbled to life and the lights came back on.

He climbed the stairs to his bedroom, his left knee still smarting from the impact with the desk. He rolled into bed without first undressing. He fell asleep almost immediately.

Ludger had not been sleeping for more than an hour, when some tremors, affecting the entire house, awoke him with a start. It felt like an underground rumbling similar to blasting in a mine. He got up, his head throbbing, his knee sore. He looked outside to find out the cause of the commotion. He was surprised to see the sky lit by some beautiful aurora borealis. The northern lights were dancing in the air making never-ending patterns. He was too tired to admire the spectacle. Promptly returning to his bed, he fell back in a restless sleep.

*

Ludger was a disembodied entity floating in the mist over his home. He could feel the sweet nectar of the mist in his mouth. He was suddenly travelling at a terrifying speed through darkness, as a gigantic blue ball was receding from him, quickly disappearing. Like expensive special effects in a sci-fi movie he was now flying at warp speed through a starscape. Another giant globe was now on a collision course with him. Before he had time to think about the imminent impact, he was again floating over his home. Blackness slowly engulfed him…

He was now floating over a parched desert landscape. Two suns were baking blackened rocks and sand mercifully. He could not feel their heat. On the horizon he could see a dark ominous mountain range, but his view was partially hidden by a localized accumulation of fog. His vision started to blur as he felt a certain lapse of consciousness. He was now over a lush cultivated field by a majestic river. Some farmers were picking their crops and loading wagons, which were pulled by large muscular oxen. In the distance stood a large city of low wooden buildings, surrounded by a large wall of sturdy tree trunks. A procession of oxen powered wagons were entering the city through a large gate, complete with massive wooden doors. Some were going to an open-air market that was stretching as far as he could see. Others went to tall circular buildings that looked like grain silos.

Ludger tried to talk to some of the farmers, but they did not seem to notice his presence. The scenery again started to shift before him. He was now over a large trade city by the sea with a busy port full of large square-rigged sailboats. Before Ludger realized it, he was again in another location. This time it was a large city, sprawling on both sides of the mouth of a river. It was surrounding a large egg-shaped island whose broader end was facing the open sea. At the center of this island stood a magnificent stone palace with graciously slim towers right out of fairy tales.

Surrounding the elegant palace were elaborate gardens that were themselves surrounded by a massive wall and a wide moat. Another thick wall was around the perimeter of the island, which was linked to the mainland by seven stone bridges. From there the city had grown in concentric rings around the island on both sides of the river.

The scene slowly started to dissolve and again darkness was upon him…

Ludger was now a passive witness to events unraveling in front of his eyes at an accelerated pace.

Everything had an unfocussed look about them.

First, a tall dark haired man in a jet-black cloak was standing in the middle of a battlefield littered with bodies. At his feet lay unconscious a gray haired robust man in a intricately ornate suit of armor. In his hands he held a large convoluted key and a small intricately carve golden wand with a large stone at its tip. The tall man took an abandoned sword from the field. Holding it point down with both hands, he plunged it in the chest of the old man. To his dismay, as the old man expired, the golden wand’s contours shimmered and suddenly disappeared. With a murderous look in his eyes he pried the large key from the hand of the dead man and walked away.

A powerful young man, with tousled red hair sits with a group of men. They are discussing the chances of resisting another attack from the northwest. Back to the tall man lecturing in an alien tongue to hordes of strange creatures, in a valley between dark mountains.

He was now over the farmland that he had seen earlier. It was devastated by severe drought. The river itself had narrowed to a creek. At the city with the palace, the gardens are now parched and unkempt. In a garrison-city the soldiers are weak and tired after a long battle. In the trade city, a fat man dressed in painfully colorful robes, was talking to envoys from a distant land. Around the city the citizen are growing restless in these times of famine.

In a distant land a distinguished older gentleman is pondering the possibility of attacking the Kingdom to protect his own empire from eventual attacks.

All of these scenes were making Ludger’s mind hurt in an attempt to understand their vague meanings. As they sped up he could not discern their contents any more. His numb brain registered only vague concepts. Suddenly the images froze and he was looking into the violet eyes of a sensuous young woman, who was brushing her long dark red hair in front of a mirror. He tried to talk to her, but she was not aware of his presence. Again blackness engulfed him…

Ludger was in front of the tall, dark haired man, who was pointing a thin sword at his head. This time it felt as it was real as he could smell some exotic perfume emanating from the man. With a voice that sent chills through Ludger’s bones, the man said.

“You do not belong here, and I will make sure that you will not meddle with my affairs.”

With that said, the man thrust the sword at Ludger’s head. When the gleaming tip was about to pierce him, he woke up, startled, in his own bed, his body covered in cold sweat. A hint of exotic perfume clung to his clothes.

Ludger put his head back on his pillow. He felt somewhat hungover. He promised himself, as one usually do, to never drink again, for fear of having to relive such vivid nightmares. When his heartbeat slowed down to a reasonable rate, he wondered if his dreams had any hidden meanings. He finally decided that the psychological implications were too dreadful to even consider. He turned to his left side in his favorite sleeping position and promptly went back to a deep slumber.

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From 1990: One Way Ticket To Talenthar

The Sass

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