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"Where do you want me to start?" said Lahr.
They'd left the clearing only a few minutes ago, with the Woodsman literally carving a new path through the trees and undergrowth. The Scarecrow slipped ahead and lost himself in the woods. Dee and Lahr followed at as short a distance as they could while still retaining the ability to hear themselves over the Woodsman's grinding.
"Well," said Dee. "How about... where am I?"
"This?" Lahr spread his long arms. "Is the Forest!"
Dee raised an eyebrow.
"No... it has no name. Well, there is an old name, but it translates as 'the trees'. It used to be all there was. From the East to the West.... mountains to sea."
"Yeah, but what..." Dee tried to think of a word that would make sense to Lahr. "...planet? World? Dimension?"
"Ohhh..." Lahr made an odd expression. It wasn't confusion... more like worry. "You speak of the spheres?"
"I guess, yeah."
"I don't know of the spheres... only that there ARE others. Most don't even know that much. But why would they, eh?"
"Who would know? Mazoz?"
"And the shamans. They travel them in their dream-walks. But the things they see are sacred; they will not share them. Not even with each other, usually."
"Maybe I could convince-"
"They would kill me, and most likely eat you."
"Ah. So... Mazoz? Who is he?"
Lahr took a deep breath.
"He is... not a good man. A great man, yes. But not a good one."
"I figured that. But WHO his he?"
"Son of Zoz the Powerful... ALSO not a good man. Grandson of Imoz the Wise, forger of the White. Now HE was a good man. ...if not quite as wise as he needed to be."
" Is this history lesson helpful to getting me home?"
"I believe so, yes. There has always been some knowledge of other spheres. From the time before words. But the shamans were the only ones who could see them, until Imoz. Grandfather of Mazoz."
"Yeah, I got that."
"He studied under..." Lahr waved his hand. "...that doesn't matter. What DOES is that he could wield the Power in All in a way that the shamans would not."
"Power in All?"
"Yes. The Everywhere and Everything. The Power that Hold and Flows. The Substance of All Things."
"Sounds like you're talking about magic."
Lahr frowned, as if he'd never heard the word before.
"Nevermind. Go on. "
"Well, he forged the White. Wove it out of... and into... the Power in All. You've never heard this?"
"No. What does this 'White' do? Can it get me home? To another sphere?"
"It... COULD... if it still existed."
"What happened to it?"
"Imoz destroyed it, of course. Many years ago."
"Of course!" Dee sighed.
"The power was too much for one man to have. And Imoz was wise enough to know this. So he shattered it. It broke into seven fragments. Two he kept for himself, and the others he gave to the other great rulers of that time. The Two Kings of the North. And of the East and West. And the council of shamans. That part wasn't so wise."
"Which part? Giving one to the shamans?"
"To ANY of them! He should have... buried them! Or dropped them into the sea! The fragments still held much power. Too much. And because they were broken... imperfect... they drew out the imperfections of those who wielded them. Drove them mad. That is how we got the Covenant. And the Great Wars. And the Cult of-"
"Okay, I get it. Fragments are bad. Move on."
Something tickled the back of Dee's mind, and suddenly her backpack was very uncomfortable. She shifted it to the other shoulder, but it didn't help. She decided to ignore it.
"Well... even Imoz was not immune to the influence of the fragments he kept. They... combined with the knowledge he gained from studying the White... allowed him to seize the city from the warlord that ruled it. He renamed it Verdentia. Though he was wise, he was not a good ruler... not a leader of men. Those talents came from his son, Zoz. He inherited the throne and the power that went with it. Like most men, Zoz was not satisfied. He waged war on... well, everything. The Covenant. The Northern Kings. The People of the Forest. He expanded the land of Verdentia twice over. He ruled a very long time. A very bloody time. Some say it was a Covenant assassin that killed him. Others say that his son Mazoz grew tired of waiting for him to die."
"Which brings us to today. Finally."
"Almost. Mazoz tried to continue his father's wars. Continuous fighting, broken only by scattered years of peace. But he was... different. More patient. And not in a good way. There was some of his grandfather's wisdom in him. While Zoz used the Green and the Blue... the fragments of the White that Imoz kept... merely as tools of war, Mazoz was more curious. He studied them. Put them to more... creative use. He unleashed the Woodsman upon the Covenant and the People of the Forest, freeing his soldiers to die by the thousands in the North."
"But didn't these people have their own fragments?"
"Yes. That's why the wars kept going. Even with two fragments, Mazoz had no advantage over his enemies. The White is a whole... it cannot be used against itself. Nor can any piece of it be used against another."
"So Mazoz can't use his power directly against someone who has another fragment."
"Yes. But they can be used to create soldiers of iron. Or make men stronger and immune to all but the most grievous injury. Or summon horrors from the fields beyond the Void. It was wisdom and cunning that gave Mazoz the advantage that could never achieve in power alone. He defeated the northern kings. He even defeated combined tribes of the Forest, which was much more impressive then than it would seem now."
"Not any more, but yes. We... they... gathered a great army and marched against Verdentia."
Dee pictured an army of lions, tigers and bears charging toward a line of death machines like the one marching in front of them. It didn't seem like much of a fight, even if the animals were giants with the minds of men.
"I guess that didn't go well," she said. "Against the machines, I mean."
"It went quite well-" Lahr scowled as if he'd tasted something foul. "NOT that bloodshed is something to be proud of. I don't mean that at all. The assault was almost successful. Mazoz never created very many of his machines. Why would he? They are... very efficient. But the army of the Forest was thousands strong. And they had magic of their own. The shamans could make the very forest fight alongside them. And they were united by a queen, Glynda, who wielded the Violet. She called down mighty storms upon Mazoz's soldiers and machines. They broke Mazoz's line. They smashed the machines and scattered the soldiers. Or ate them. Mostly they ate them. Glynda and the shamans attacked Mazoz directly."
"And he beat them?"
"The power to summon creatures is not among the fragments that Mazoz possesses. Yet, he still called a dragon out of the sky. It landed in a pillar of fire that killed all who stood close. Some say even Mazoz himself cowered before the thing he had summoned... the mighty Usaf."
"It's name was Usaf? Did it... talk?"
"No. But the name of the beast was written upon its metal wings in strange symbols. When it had belched fire upon his enemies, Mazoz took the dragon to Verdentia, where it remains. Thus ended the last Great War... and the Tribes of the Forest. They were the last to ever try and stand against Mazoz."