There was a knock on my door; an insistent banging that roused me from a deep sleep. What was I dreaming about? A tall and lanky male with sandy brown hair whose kisses surpassed my wildest fantasies, perhaps? I hoped it was him. However, he didn’t know where I lived, so the knocking wasn’t him. “Who is it?” I croaked out, cranky upon waking from a world I wished to return to. I didn’t dream like others did, but I still created illusive fantasies to lose myself in occasionally.
“Your little brother, Phantasos, Morph. Open up. Please.” I went to the door, opened it, and there he stood, wearing clothes that looked like a Frank Sinatra cosplayer’s wet dream. He tipped his fedora. “Are you glad to see me?”
“I’m not a fan of unannounced visitors – or surprises. But, it is good to see you. Come in.” I opened the door wider for him to enter, and he walked in, surveying my living quarters.
“Just like the Underworld. Why am I not surprised? You’re so predictable and slow to change. I’m sure this was high fashion back in the 1100s, but now people have electricity, mobile phones, computers, real furniture, appliances…”
I looked him up and down, pointedly. “You are one to talk, Sinatra boy. And I have all that, brother, if you must know. It’s just not the focal point of my home. I like the dark, I like reclining, and I like memories of home.”
“Gods, but that place is dreadfully dull. If I had my own place here, I would choose glamorous decorations to rival the wealthiest mortal.”
“You are free to do that.” I shrugged, growing impatient with his presence. “To what do I owe this visit, brother?”
“Rumor has it you are returning to the Elflands. I wish to accompany you.”
I grunted in displeasure. “It’s not a vacation, brother. It’s a business trip. There will be camping, eating rabbits, bland stews, and fire for light at night. It’s nothing you would be interested in. Why?”
“I wish to see the elf princess.”
“And why?” I prompted. I could not imagine why Phantasos would want to meet an elf.
“I have heard of her beauty and fame. It would be an honor to make her acquaintance. I would also like to meet your gnome friend.”
I grimaced. This made no sense. “You have never shown any interest whatsoever in the Elflands or meeting any of my friends. What is your true motive? Do not lie to me.”
Phantasos flopped down on some of the pillows I kept for relaxation. “Morpheus, I have no motive. I am lonely and have no purpose or meaning. I seek to change that. Just this one time. I swear I will not cause any trouble. I just need something to do. Anything.”
I considered having him help tend Cloud Nine, but suspected I might return with no business left standing. He was never good with responsibilities. I could ask him to watch my quarters at the God Complex and watch Kat and Killjoy, but I didn’t trust him. I would only trust him if I could keep my eye on him. “Very well,” I acquiesced. “No tricks and you follow my instructions. There are things in the Elflands that can devour gods. Or trap you for a thousand years in a deal that is beneficial to everyone but you.”
“All right. I will follow your lead. I swear it. I just need an adventure. Something to give me a spark of joy, the will to keep existing. It hasn’t been easy.”
I felt sympathy for him. I knew I would allow him to make the journey with me. Komenu walked in at that moment.
“I was eavesdropping,” he said flatly. “I wish to come too.”
I brought my hand to my face and swiped down in a version of the popular mortal facepalm gesture. This was getting better and better. “Komenu, why do you wish to travel with us?”
“For the same reasons as your brother. I was trapped in a lamp for a thousand years. I have no idea what to do with my life now. Making this journey might trigger some ideas for me to pursue. I have no future right now. I am lonely. Wandering, drifting. I want a purpose.”
Why – and when – did I become some kind of wayward foster brother for these beings? I didn’t want the responsibility. I just wanted to go get Benticle and see Gray Leaf and her daughter. Gray Leaf was dying. I was responsible for Tiamelle’s future, whether that meant binding myself to her for fifty years or finding a substitute. Phantasos and Komenu were not suitable substitutions. I sighed.
“Fine. You can both come. But this is my mission – and Benticle is my second in command. You listen and obey us. If you don’t, I refuse to be responsible for what happens. Do not show or speak gratitude to any creature in the Elflands, lest you wind up owing a debt you will not wish to pay. Trust me. Don’t make me regret this or I swear, I will throw you at the mercy of the four winds and let you find your way back.”
Komenu said, “You forget I was there, and I know their ways. Perhaps I learned a few things while stuck in that lamp. I was well educated.”
“I’m not as worried about you as you” I pointed to Phantasos.
“I gave you my word, brother. You wound me.”
“And you don’t sound completely sincere. Even now.”
“I am. I accept the consequences if I break my promise.”
“Fine. We leave tomorrow morning, break of dawn. Pack light, be prepared for dirt, stink, and rough living until we reach Gray Leaf’s castle. I have issues to take care of before then. I will see you here. Don’t be late.”
I had no idea where my brother was staying. He had an eternal place in the Underworld dreamlands, but most deities had a house in the mortal world. We couldn’t resist observing, collaborating, or meddling with humans. Phantasos was a trickster and could be an amiable figure or a conniving misanthrope.
Komenu, I knew even less about. Once a whisper of a spirit, he became more solid every day away from his lamp. He was staying at Cloud Nine, out of sight, watching and helping out behind the scenes. I hadn’t learned anything new about him or his people. I felt owed some information and we would be having a discussion soon.
When morning came, I took inventory of everyone’s packs and we set off. There are many doors to the Elflands, and I knew a few of them. I wasn’t about to share that information with my two travel companions, so I made sure we slipped in without them knowing, and it was a good two hours later before they noticed there were more trees and unpaved roads than buildings and people walking by on streets.
“We will soon be at Benticle’s residence and you will be respectful to him.” I saw his home up ahead and was excited to see my friend again.
Phantasos looked around. “We’re there already? I didn’t even notice. How did you do that?”
“Never you mind. I’ll warn you now, the gnome has fifteen children and two goat nannies who bite. That’s the least of what will happen to you if you piss off his wife. Gnome females have bad tempers and are slow to forgive. Be quiet and follow my lead.”
I knocked on the mossy door and heard a female scream from within. “We don’t want any, you troll-faced pool of lizard’s piss. Be off before you have no hands left to knock with.”
“Greetings, it’s Morpheus. I’ve come to see Benticle, ma’am.”
The door opened abruptly and a wrinkled puffy face peeked out. “Morpheus!” the voice crooned. “Come in. It’s so good to see you.” Her tone changed as she howled, “Benticle, it’s your friend. Get your ass out here. I have things to do!” Her tone switched back to molasses as she bid us to come in. “Have a seat in there and he’ll be with you shortly.”
We sat on a wooden seat with handmade cushions that looked like they’d seen better days. Phantasos picked one up, sniffed it, and then tossed it to land on a nearby chair. He made a disgusted sound. “Foul-smelling. Is that made from horse shit?”
“Shut up,” I hissed. “Trust me, you do not want to offend here, brother.” I sat patiently on the couch. I was used to the pungent smells of a gnome habitat. Komenu didn’t seem bothered either, but he remained standing, whether because he was still not solid enough to sit or because he wished to avoid touching the dirty couch was unknown.
Benticle entered the room and smiled. “Morpheus! So good to see you, friend.”
“It is good to see you too. Truly.” I stood up and we clasped arms in greeting. “This is my brother, Phantasos. And also traveling with us is Komenu, the djinn we procured from Gray Leaf.” Benticle nodded at both but did not offer a more personal greeting, which was usual for gnomes.
“We ate already, but I can fetch a small supper if you are hungry?”
“We ate before we came, but appreciate the offer. We could use a place to bed down in if you have space, though.”
“There is space with the kids or you could bed out back with the nannies. I added new hay to their sleeping stalls. It might be preferable to the noise that will undoubtedly keep you awake if you sleep in the children’s room. Besides, the goats will get up many times to go kick the ones who won’t shut up and bite the others who keep asking for a drink or to go piss. Also, the goats don’t shit where they sleep like the kids do. But, your choice.”
“We will sleep with the nannies. Thank you.” I bowed my head and elbowed Phantasos in the ribs when he opened his mouth to protest.
We spread our sleeping bags out on the hay and slowly fell asleep. Throughout the night, there were random screams from the kids as they were disciplined and intermittent braying from the goats as they warned the children to shut up and slumber. I’d had worse sleep.
To be continued…