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Monday, 25 March 2013

The Last King of Shambhala - Chapter 41

Excited?  I am.  To be sharing with you the finale to the Ebben Alexandrov, Ariella-Maria and Eirik Lodbrok thread is exciting.  But sad.

Never mind, there are two more chapters after this.  And then a sequel book in the works, as well as a comic.

Anyway, enough of my wistful longings at the windowpane of dead yesterdays, if you are not up-to-date with the story, click below and catch up... and if you are *sniff*, you can read the summary below the list of chapters to remember what happened last:

Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40

This story follows on from Ariella-Maria and Lodbrok realising Ebben is stuck in a Mara, a type of dream that allows the computer network to extract the energy from his pineal gland.  And of course, discovering that, they eat dream roots and enter his dream to 'awaken' him by reminding him to do actions that remind him he's in a dream (e.g. check the time, look at his hands, look into his reflection, hold his breath, etc.).

But it is harder than that.  If the computer system realises they have entered, guess what?  Yep.  They are both destroyed.

And if Ebben consumes anything in the dream, he becomes stuck in the dream forever.  Which is a very long time.

Oh, and if the computer system does extract the energy of his gland, then the universe and everything inside it (including us) will be destroyed in a terror-filled Ragnarok.  So, high stakes.

Until Wednesday, have a great couple of days, Thor gives you his blessings,


Petta Road State High, Australia. Midgard, the land of the humans. Present day.
Ebben watched Shane return with two meat pies from the canteen.
“I hope this makes it up to you, Ebben,” he said handing Ebben a pie.  “A piece of pie for a peace truce?”
Ebben gave a small smile and took the pie from Shane.  “A truce until your mates are out of hospital?” asked Ebben.
“Don’t be like that,” said Shane taking a big bite.  “That was their way, our way, of greeting you.  Once you get past that they’re great guys.  More a joke than anything else.  They did it to me when I first came to this school, too.  You’ll see that they’re not bad guys.”
“I’m not holding my breath,” said Ebben bringing the pie to his mouth.
“Maybe you should,” came a giggle from behind.  “In a dream you can hold your breath forever.”
“Sarah?” Shane laughed.  “What are you doing here?  I thought you and Ashley had band practice.”
“I prefer to be called Sarah-Mary, actually,” Sarah said.  “Not just Sarah.”  She paused.  “And band practice was cancelled because that block head of an art teacher booked the room in advance.  What a real block head, you know?”
“Block head?” asked Ebben.
“Yeah,” Sarah giggled, shining a smile at Ebben and touching his forearm.  “There’s a real block head or two at this school.”
Shane cocked his head to the side and stretched a smile across his face.  “We’re just having something for lunch… you hungry, Sarah?”
“Sarah-Mary now,” she said, “remember?”
Ebben shook his head with a smile.  He moved the pie to his lips but stopped.  His eyes narrowed as they focused upon his own hands.
“What’s the matter?” asked Shane.  “Aren’t you hungry?”
“Let him be, Shane,” said Sarah.  “We’ve got all lunch time, haven’t we, Ebben?”
Sarah turned her wrist around so that Ebben could see the time.  The time read: XC:41.  He looked at his pie, and then back at the watch.  This time it read: 08:11.
Ebben felt about his pockets before producing a small handheld mirror.  He combed his hair while gazing at his hazy reflection.
“That looks familiar,” whispered Sarah to Ebben.  “I think I might have had a mirror like that when I was younger.”
“Sarah-Mary,” Ebben started, “do you think you could show me where the toilets are?  I need to go and can’t remember where they are.”
“Didn’t you just go?” chuckled Shane.  “Did you trade that old key of yours for my grandpa’s bladder or something?”
“Sure, I’ll take you to it,” grinned Sarah, getting out of her seat.  “When you’re new at school you…” She stopped.
Shane grabbed her wrist.  “Why do I miss out on this little adventure?” he said between grit-locked teeth.  “You’re gonna make me look like a loner eating by myself.”
Ebben smiled at Shane and nodded for him to follow.  He let go of Sarah’s wrist and began to get out of his seat, but as he did so Ebben came through with a punch and got him square in the face.  Shane reeled backwards with a splatter of blood under his nose and on his shirt.
Ebben grabbed Sarah’s hand and yelled, “run.”
The two of them sprinted through the eating area hand in hand as the whole gathering of eating students ran after them.
“Down here,” Sarah called, pulling Ebben down a corridor.
“Why is everybody chasing us?” Ebben yelled.
“They’re not real.  Not Shane, not any of them.”
At the end of the corridor was a Block Head.  Its black armour glinted in the sunshine peeking through the overhead windows.
“I told you there were a few block heads at this school,” said Sarah as she pulled him back the other way.
The Block Head stamped after them, but as it turned the corner the groundskeeper stood in its way.  The big man took a swig from his flask, and pointed his broomstick at the robot.
“Let’s dance, Block Head,” whispered the groundskeeper.  “You should feel honoured to die by my sword… well, broomstick.”
Ebben and Sarah did not look back.
“Where are we?” called Ebben as Sarah pulled him through the school.
“We’re in your mind,” called Sarah, “except that the Jormungand computer network is trying to control it with illusions.  You have to regain control of your mind.”
“How?” called Ebben, looking back at the army of Block Heads marching in pursuit of them.
Each time he looked back there were an even greater number of them, as if the mere act of looking back multiplied the numbers exponentially.
“By defeating the Red Knight,” Sarah answered.  She stopped at an unlocked locker.  “Can you picture my butterfly swords inside here?  I’ll be able to hold them off more easily with a weapon while you go ahead and find the Red Knight.”
“Why will they be there?” Ebben prodded.
“This is your mind, Ebben,” she said, her eyes watching the approaching line of Block Heads.
“Okay,” said Ebben.  “But you can’t fight them by yourself.”
“She won’t be.”  It was the groundskeeper, swinging his broom around with ease.
“Good to see you, Lodbrok.”  Ebben turned back to Ariella-Maria.  “Okay, open the locker.”
Sarah swung the door open and pulled a school bag out.  She unzipped the bag and pulled her butterfly swords out, as well as a broad sword for Lodbrok.
“Now, how do I find the Red Knight?”
“Picture him at the top of the stairs ahead, and he will be there,” she said.
She hesitantly leaned in and kissed Ebben on the cheek.  She gazed into his eyes and smiled.  “That’s for luck.”
Ebben put a hand to his cheek and smiled.  “Good luck, Ariella-Maria,” he managed to say.
“You have a very goofy expression on your face, Ebben,” said Sarah.  “I didn’t really kiss you.  This is all in your head, remember?”
Ebben nodded and smiled, before turning on his heels and bounding up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs was a layer of mist hiding the floor, and there before him was the Red Knight.
Ebben bent down and felt about in the mist.  He smiled as his fingers wrapped around the handle of a sword.
“I will beat you, Red Knight,” said Ebben, “after all, this is my dream.”
The Red Knight swung his sword at Ebben, who dodged the attack and retaliated with a blow to the Knight’s stomach.
“That was a truly poor effort,” Ebben laughed, “particularly since I’d heard that you’re meant to be all powerful and scary.”
After a few moments inspecting the wound, the Red Knight clutched his stomach and staggered towards Ebben, thrusting his sword at the boy.
Ebben parried the effort and struck the Red Knight’s leg.  The warrior fell onto one knee before rising once more.
“As fun as this is, I want you and your computer system out of my head,” growled Ebben.  “Now you will die!”
Ebben lunged at the Red Knight with his sword, but the knight parried the boy’s attack and kicked him to the floor.
Ebben’s sword slid out of his grasp and skittered across the floor. The Red Knight stood over him with his sword poised to strike a fatal blow.
Ebben closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he had done in the desert.  Then, more out of instinct than conscious deliberation, he kicked out at the Red Knight’s chest, forcing the knight stumbling backwards.
The sword that had fallen from his grip flew back into his hand as if Ebben had used telekinesis powers.
“I’m shutting you down, Jormungand,” Ebben growled, thrusting his sword about in a combination of attacks at the Red Knight.
He blocked each one before striking Ebben’s shoulder.
Ebben clasped his shoulder and watched blood seep through his shirt and then his fingers.  But when Ebben released his grip, the wound had completely healed, as if the Red Knight had not struck him at all.
“I’m not playing your games any longer,” Ebben yelled.
The Red Knight began chanting an incantation as Ebben raised himself to face his opponent.
Suddenly, something landed on the boy’s head.  It was light and it moved.  He gingerly placed his hand on his head and felt something furry.
He flicked it off.  It was a tarantula.
Ebben put a hand to his mouth.  The floor was covered in spiders, and so was the roof.  Spiders of all different shapes and sizes.
A few of them ran up his legs, and cockroaches began crawling out of his ears and mouth.
Ebben glared at the knight before him, and felt about for his mirror.  He pulled it out, and as he looked at his distorted reflection he whispered over and over, “this is all an illusion.
The Red Knight shook its head.
“This is an illusion,” Ebben affirmed confidently.  And when he raised his head, the spiders were gone.
The Red Knight knocked the mirror out of Ebben’s hands with his sword.  As it hit the concrete, the mirror shattered.
Ebben swished his tongue about his mouth.  He felt a tooth loose.  Suddenly it dislodged itself and fell to the ground.
He put a hand to his mouth, and another tooth landed in his palm.
The Red Knight disappeared in a ball of flame.
The walls and roof began closing in.  Ebben looked for the flight of stairs he came up, or a window or door to escape from, but there were only brick walls shrinking in around him.
He ran to one of them and tried pushing against it, before slamming his fist into the bricks.
Ebben screamed and swore.  “That freakin’ hurt,” he yelled, and he looked at his bruised knuckles.  As he did so, his hand seemed to have six fingers, then four fingers.
“This is an illusion.  It is all in my head.  I am safe.  This is my mental domain and it follows my thoughts.”
Ebben lifted his head off the desk and scanned the room.  His physics class all had their heads down, scribbling on sheets of paper.
“Two minutes,” said Mr. Juste, Ebben’s physics teacher.  Mr. Juste was sitting at the front of the classroom with his head buried in an Asterix comic.
Ebben looked down at his desk.  He shuffled through the sheets in front of him.
“A test?” Ebben whispered as his eyes flicked from question to question.  “I don’t even know what these questions mean, let alone the answers.”
“Two minutes before extraction,” came Mr. Juste’s voice, except this time his lips didn’t move.  “Be careful not to damage the gland.”
Ebben looked at the round analogue clock on the wall.  It had three hands.
“This is an illusion” Ebben said, standing up.  “I’m still in the illusion.”
“What, are you wearing the emperor’s new clothes?” shouted Shane from the back of the classroom.  “Invisible clothes… that’s a great illusion.”
Ebben looked down at his naked body.  “God, I really do hope this is an illusion,” he muttered to himself as he walked out of the classroom.
As he made his way down the hall, he saw Lodbrok and Ariella-Maria.
“Thank god, you’re here,” huffed Lodbrok, “we can’t hold the Block Heads back any longer.  We have to leave your mind.”
“No, it’s okay now.  I can do this.”  Ebben stopped what he was saying. Ariella-Maria was quietly looking him up and down.
“Hey,” he cried, putting his hands over his private parts.  “Stop looking at my… you know.”
“Well, I’ve never seen a guy naked before, what am I supposed to do?” Ariella-Maria blushed.
“It’s obviously a trick of the Red Knight’s to distract you from finding him and destroying him and the Jormungand computer system,” Lodbrok said.  “Don’t get distracted by the tricks, keep your focus.  You haven’t got long.”
“Yeah, less than two minutes now,” said Ebben, and as he finished what he was saying, Ariella-Maria and Lodbrok faded away.
Suddenly a pair of crows flew through a window and flapped down the corridor.  Ebben sprinted after them.
“Where are we going?” he yelled after them.
“To your Pineal Gland, the seat of your consciousness,” cawed the birds.
They flew down another corridor that sloped downwards.  Looking through the windows as Ebben chased after them it was clear that this corridor led down under the earth’s surface – or the earth’s surface in this dream anyway.
At the end of the corridor was a door, but guarding the door were two Block Heads.  They marched towards Ebben with their arms raised, poised to fire their lasers.
Ebben grinned, and threw his arms forward.  From his arms came an energy force that threw the Block Heads against the rock wall behind them, and made them shatter like glass.
When Ebben reached the door he kicked it open, unhinging it, and ran through it.
Ebben woke up.  He was strapped in a seat in a small dark room filled with television screens.  Two large machines, one with a spinning drill and one with a clasping mechanism, hung over his head.
Opposite him was the Red Knight, who was also strapped into a seat.  And on all the television screens was a man with skin that switched between green and purple, and who wore fluoro-coloured clothing.
“Welcome, Ebben, to the Jormungand computer network, your human system is about to be terminated,” screeched the man on the screen over and over again, madly jumping about.
Ebben struggled to break out of the straps as the clasp was positioned over his head and the drill came down upon him.
He screamed out his lungs, but there was no sound.
But then, he heard a distant, deep voice speaking to him.  With the screeching voice of the computer system Ebben could hardly make out the words, but he recognised the speaker.  It was the scarecrow apparition.
“This is not real, it was a false awakening designed to confuse you,” came the scarecrow’s voice.  “Wake up, Ebben.”
Ebben lifted his head off the low surgical table he was laid out on.  He was in a white room with mirrored walls.  At one end of the room was the Red Knight, inanimate and propped up on an electronic chair.
As Ebben looked at the mirrors he caught a glimpse of the scarecrow behind him before the mirrors smashed.  Behind each mirror was a wall of wires and flashing lights.
Ebben unhooked a number of wires protruding from his head.  They all led to the walls around him and the chair the Red Knight sat on.  He looked at his hands to check he had not had another false awakening.  This time his hands looked as they should.
“I’m back,” he panted.
He picked himself up and crept towards the Red Knight.  When he was close enough, he shakily removed the helmet, but there was no head.  Just robotics.
“Hmmm…” said Ebben, still a little dazed.  “So the ruthless tyrant of a king was just a robot controlled by the Jormungand computer program all along.”
Feeling his key vibrate and glow, Ebben walked towards one of the walls and started to push his way through the wires.
It became dark very quickly, but he continued to push through until he came to a small room, perhaps the size of a cupboard, where all the wires appeared to eventually end up.
“The hub,” he whispered.  He cracked his knuckles.  “How in the world do I turn it off for good?  I don’t even know where to start.”
In front of Ebben was a computer much more advanced than anything he’d ever seen before.  It had a screen and a control panel, but used no familiar controls or operating system.  In fact, Ebben couldn’t seem to achieve any type of response from it.
“I created the Jormungand system,” hummed the scarecrow.  The apparition was standing beside Ebben.  “Let me terminate it.”
Ebben moved aside and watched the scarecrow work the computer.  In reality however, Ebben knew that the scarecrow had taken control of his body and this third person perspective was an illusion as his consciousness momentarily fell back into the subconscious dream world.
When the scarecrow finished, Ebben reclaimed control of his body.
“It is done,” said the scarecrow.  Ebben felt his consciousness zone back into the real world.
“Why did you help me?” he murmured, massaging his forehead.
“Like I said, you and I are the same being.  I am not outside you but within you, sharing the same body, mind and soul space – inseparably bound.  And so if you die, I die with you.”  With that, the scarecrow faded into the shadows.
Ebben broke the surface of the waterhole and hungrily took in air.
“How are you doing, our little saviour?” came a familiar voice.  It was Lodbrok with a grinning Ariella-Maria by his side on the rock ledge above.
Ebben slicked his wet hair back.  “That was the worst nightmare of my life.  I don’t think I ever want to go to sleep again.”
“Well, there’s a formal dinner back at the mountain in your honour,” Lodbrok said.  “A few died, but many more survived because of our heroics.  We are being called heroes I believe.  Well, you… and us too for our role in reawakening you from your illusion … a role I would have embellished if Ariella-Maria hadn’t insisted on being so modest and truthful about it.”
“Truth is, I couldn’t have done it without you guys,” said Ebben, and added a little quieter, “and, oddly, without the help of the scarecrow.”
“Today, you saved many on the Glass Mountain from being slaughtered and freed the people of this world from slavery and oppression, Ebben.  You have no idea how proud of you we are,” said Ariella-Maria. 
“The Block Heads literally froze on the battle ground when you defeated the computer network, and the giants instantly surrendered,” explained Lodbrok.
“We knew he was the one, didn’t we Lodbrok?” said Ariella-Maria, smiling at the swordsman.  She looked back at Ebben.  “You should always trust a girl’s intuition.”
“Oh, and Mani also discovered something while translating this wall,” said Lodbrok pointing to a particular spot.
“How long have I been under water?  Can’t have been half long enough for Mani to translate the wall?” Ebben mumbled, cocking his head to the side and squinting his eyes up at his two friends.
“I don’t know how long all up, but it’s been about three hours since the Block Heads froze,” replied the beserker.
“And you guys weren’t worried at all?” asked Ebben.  “That seems like a long time.”
“Like Ariella-Maria said, we knew you were the saviour,” chuckled Lodbrok.  “And saviours never die before their job of saving is finalised, so we played about in the ocean and went sun tanning while drinking the local ale.”
“Lodbrok is kidding,” said Ariella-Maria.  “Of course we were worried.  Both of us had practically bitten our nails off and would’ve eaten our fingers too, if Mani hadn’t started giving us regular updates.”
“What did Mani say about the writing on the wall?” asked Ebben.
“Very interesting stuff,” beamed Ariella-Maria.  “He said these writings talk of you needing to defeat four adversaries in your quest to stop Ragnarok.  The adversaries of Ragnarok are represented by colours, the first of which is Red.  The second is Black.  And the final two were unknown at the time by the people who wrote on the walls of this chamber.”
Ariella-Maria grinned widely.  “The writings also say that you will be joined by a beautiful and elegant young woman who is guided by an astral being, and a warrior who is completely useless and smelly but adds slapstick humour to the quest.”
Ebben and Ariella-Maria laughed, and Lodbrok shook his head.
“The writings do not say that, Ebben Alexandrov,” chuckled Lodbrok. “They do say, however, that the young woman is about to fall into a waterhole after being pushed in by a beserker who gushes charm and charisma.”  With that he pushed her into the water hole.
“Hey, that’s unfair, I was totally not ready,” she protested when she came up for air.  She swam over to Ebben and gave him a hug.  “It’s good to see you safe.”
She kissed him on the cheek.  “That one isn’t in your mind, hero,” she said with a wink and a soft laugh.
Lodbrok dived in after them, and when he rose to the surface he lifted Ebben above his head and dumped him into the water.
“Ditto on what the ghost girl said,” he hollered with a toothy grin as Ebben came back to the top.  “It is good to be back together again – the three mighty defenders of the universe.”


Me.  In Paris.
Tune in Wednesday for the finale to the Cyan, Aleksandra and Mikael thread, and Friday to catch the final chapter to the book.  And don't forget to subscribe to keep informed about The Last King of Shambhala's sequel, The Mysteries of the Black Sun... as well as bonus content from the books, and other works by Daniel Grant Newton ... including a comic book prequel to the Akashic Records Series, illustrated and written by yours truly.

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