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       Andrew's Mission - A Portallas short story, p.1

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Andrew's Mission - A Portallas short story

  For Sandy. May we both survive the teenage years that are about to hit us.

  Copyright © 2017 Christopher D. Morgan

  All rights reserved.

  This is a work of fiction. No actual person or event is depicted.

  No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without the express permission of the author except for use of brief quotations in book reviews.

  This short story has been written using British English spelling and conventions.

  5,980 words.


  A Portallas short story


  Christopher D. Morgan

  Andrew’s Mission is a Portallas short story that tells some of the backstory about one of the main characters from the Portallas series of books. Andrew is a young Woodsman in training now living in the village of Morelle, which resides in the western part of Forestium. We first meet Andrew in Forestium: The Mirror Never Lies, which is book one in the Portallas series.

  In Forestium, Andrew joins his best friend, Joshua, who decides to go on an epic journey to help find the truth about his long-lost father. In Andrew’s Mission, we discover how close the relationship is between Andrew and Joshua, as Andrew attempts to help save his best friend’s life by going in search of something that could very well kill him.


  Close to Death

  Joshua shook his head rapidly from side-to-side, sweat dripping from his face. His eyes were still shut and his breathing laboured. The fever that gripped him came on faster than anyone expected and he was now fighting for his very life.

  Delirious from the illness, he muttered incoherently as he writhed in his bed. His mother sat beside him. Helpless to do anything, she wiped his brow with a cloth from a bowl of water.

  Unaware of his surroundings, Joshua pushed his mother’s helping hand to one side with his flailing arm. His uncontrollable hands sent the bowl flying across the room. The two other Tenders in the room took a quick step backwards but it was too late. They were both soaked.

  “Hang in there, Joshua. Help is on the way.”

  Joshua’s Mother stood up and peered helplessly into the eyes of the other two women standing close by. Nothing was said in that moment, but they all knew. They, like her, were both powerless to do anything.

  She broke down into tears as they tried their best to comfort her. The two Tenders patted her on the back and did what they could to calm her. It was all they had to offer to help ease the anguish she was feeling.

  “Don’t worry, Merinder,” one of the Tenders said to Joshua’s distraught mother. “The Healer will be here soon. She’ll…she’ll know what to do.”

  Joshua’s mother turned to her son again. Tears streamed down her eyes as he lay there, the life slowly ebbing away from him.


  Andrew opened his eyes and stretched with a long and satisfying yawn. Dawn light had already broken and the soothing nighttime hum of Dengle bugs was subsiding. Leaping into action, he collected his quiver and a few arrows for today’s practice session and made his usual exit out through the window.

  Andrew felt invigorated. The ritual trials were just a few months away and he was keen to get in some more practice. As with every other morning for the past few months, he made his way across the village to collect his best friend. They had been practicing for the trials for some time now. Both were making good progress in honing their hunting and shooting skills. If all went well, they would complete the trials this year and take their rightful place as village Woodsmen together.

  Andrew traversed his familiar route onto the lower section of Joshua’s roof to get close to the window. With his usual deftness, he swung through the opening and landed right into the lap of one of the Tenders sitting on Joshua’s bed.

  “Oh! Um…hello. I wasn’t expecting…” Andrew fumbled his words as he scrambled off the bed and to his feet.

  Joshua’s mother and several others were stood around the bed. Andrew looked down to see his best friend writhing in agony.

  “W…what’s going on? Joshua?”

  “Come with me, Andrew.”

  The village Healer spoke in a calm and sombre tone. She led Andrew out into the kitchen and sat him down on a stool at the table. She was a gentle woman. Warm, kind, always with a friendly touch and a pleasing smile. She wore a distinctive white apron around her waist. It was decorated with various herbs and colourful plants. Her hair was always worn in a tight bun on the top of her head and decorated with yellow flowers.

  “Andrew I need to ask you some questions. It’s very imp…”

  “What’s going on?” Andrew asked, cutting the Healer off mid-sentence. He shook his head slightly and lowered his brow.

  “Have you been experiencing any headaches?”

  “Headaches? No, why?”

  “Any rash or pain in your joints?”

  “No, nothing like that. Why? What’s wrong with Joshua? Is he…”

  “Listen to me, Andrew. This is very important. What was the last thing you ate? Were you with Joshua last night?”

  “Um, well, I had a couple of Shrooms for breakfast…”

  “Last night, Andrew! Did you eat what Joshua ate last night?”

  “Um…” Andrew turned his head slightly to the side and pondered for a moment.

  “Think, Andrew! It’s important that I know. You could be in grave danger.”

  Andrew scratched his head and narrowed his eyes. He stared into nothingness and thought hard.

  “Actually, now you mention it,” he said slowly remembering, “we did pick some Shrooms together yesterday afternoon on the outskirts. I’d completely forgotten about that.”

  “Did they look like these?”

  The Healer held out her hand. In her palm were a couple of small Shrooms. Each of them had red stalks and a pale blue cap.

  “That’s them!” he exclaimed with wide eyes, pointing his finger at them. “We found them not far from Lake Morelle. We were going to bring them back to show them to you as a matter of fact. What are they? I’ve never seen them before.”

  The Healer sat back on her stool and sighed. She then leaned forward and took Andrew’s hand.

  “Listen to me very carefully, Andrew. Did you eat any of these Shrooms?”

  Andrew looked the Healer in the eye and shook his head.

  “No. Joshua kept them in his keeper bag. Why? Are they poisonous or something? He’ll be OK, won’t he? I mean, you can heal him…right? You can make some medicine for him, can’t you?”

  The Healer looked down at the Shrooms still in her hand.

  “These are Anamita Shrooms. They are very rare and very deadly. There is one thing that could help but I cannot make it.”

  “What do you mean? Why not?” Andrew snapped. He stood up, nearly knocking the stool over as he pushed it behind him. He started pacing back and forth.

  The Healer didn’t move. She followed him with her stare. “It’s a very exacting potion that I need to make, Andrew, and it won’t work unless I have all the correct ingredients. It has to be made fresh so I don’t have any in my stores.”

  “Well, can’t you…just make it then?” He fixed his gaze on the Healer as he continued to move back and forth.

  “There’s one thing that I need to complete the mixture for it to work. I have already sent some Tradesmen off to find some in Temerelle but that is mo
re than two days from here.”

  Andrew stopped pacing. “Well, what do you need? Maybe I can find it myself.”

  Joshua’s Mother came into the kitchen. She was clutching her hands to her chest. Her eyes were puffy and tears were still rolling down her face. Andrew turned to her and then back to the Healer.

  “Just…tell me what you need. I’ll leave right now and find it for you.”

  The Healer put the poisonous Shrooms onto the table and turned to Andrew.

  “There is a spider. It’s called a Wood-widow. Its venom is very potent, so you must be careful. But if its venom is mixed with the ingredients I already have, it may work as an antidote and,” she said, as Joshua’s mother held her hands to her mouth. “I may be able to save Joshua. You must bring me the spider alive.”

  “What does it look like?”

  “It is bright red with black, hairy legs. About the size of your palm. It is a very illusive spider that lives high up on the branches of a Bangle tree.”

  Andrew thought for a moment. Then, his eyes widened.

  “There’s a Bangle tree at Lake Morelle. Maybe I can find this Wood-widow spider there?”

  “Go. And hurry! Joshua is already very weak and I don’t know how much time he has left.”

  Andrew turned to look at Joshua’s Mother. She was staring at him with beseeching eyes.

  “Don’t worry. I’ll find one and bring it back. Joshua will be as good as new in no time. Don’t you worry.”

  With that, Andrew turned and ran out the front door.


  Andrew's Mission

  Andrew headed into the forest ran as fast as he could until he could run no more. By the time he reached the outskirts of Morelle, he was panting heavily and clutching at a stitch in his side. Stopping only long enough to catch his breath, he picked up the pace again and continued jogging.

  The trail he followed was a familiar one. Twice a week, he and Joshua would visit Lake Morelle together for target practice.

  After about an hour, the densely packed Ashfer trees began to thin out. Progressively more daylight streamed in as the treetop canopy revealed ever larger patches of violet sky.

  High above, a small flock of Raetheons circled overhead. They shrieked. The piercing sound echoed around him. Andrew suddenly became acutely aware of his surroundings, like a switch had turned on in his mind. His senses came alive.

  A breeze picked up and the trees rustled all around him. Chirvels leapt between the branches. The small, furry creatures scurried along branches and up and down the vines dangling from canopy, their long, bushy tails providing them with excellent balance. Clinging to anything they touched, they defied gravity as they moved effortlessly in every orientation.

  Quite exhausted, he was now walking but still at a brisk pace. Still some way to go before he reached Lake Morelle, Andrew suddenly heard something that made him stop dead in his tracks.

  He knew that sound. It was the unmistakable low growl of a Wood-boar. It sent shivers down his spine. Andrew felt his shoulders tighten. He looked quickly side to side, trying to find the fierce beast.

  At close range, a fully grown Wood-boar could easily outmanoeuvre even an experienced Woodsman. Nearly twice as big as an adult, and with claws as sharp as its fangs, the ferocious animal is a fearsome predator in these forests. On his own, Andrew would be no match for it.

  The trees rustled some more. Wind whistled through the canopy. Andrew’s senses were now so heightened, the forest itself was suddenly alive with a cacophony of sounds from all around. It was disorientating and Andrew couldn’t determine the direction the growl came from or how far away it was. Andrew’s face turned pallid. Beads of sweat forming on his forehead joined together and fells down his face leaving watery trails. He did his best to control his breathing and kept as quiet as he could.

  Suddenly there was a snap, like a twig breaking. Andrew spun around. His eyes darted from tree to tree but it was in vain. Try as he might, he couldn’t spot the beast. A pair of Chirvels dislodged a few leaves above him. The leaves tumbled, spinning slowly to the ground before disappearing into the leaf litter.

  Andrew began walking again. Slowly at first, his eyes shifted left and right as he kept looking to see where the beast might be hiding in the underbrush.

  His pace quickened. Fear propelled him to move quickly. He kept looking over his shoulder. His trot became a run. Faster and faster he continued to accelerate. Soon he was running as fast as he could. No longer looking back, Andrew sprinted through the underbrush, leaping over fallen logs and ducking beneath dangling vines. His anxiety triggered a rush of adrenaline that pumped energy into his legs.

  Was that the noise of his own feet or of something chasing him? There was no time to check. There was a break in the trees ahead. If only he could reach it. With his energy reserves almost spent, Andrew closed in and leapt for the gap. On the other side, he found himself confronted with the clearing at Lake Morelle.

  Andrew ran into the clearing and right up to the water’s edge. He quickly reached for his bow, then pulled an arrow from his quiver. He turned, bent down onto one knee, loaded the arrow and pulled the bowstring back to his cheek. Panting heavily, he knelt there, holding his aim directly at the gap in the trees through which he had just emerged, poised to release his weapon.

  Seconds past—perhaps a minute or two. With sweat pouring down his face and breathing heavily, Andrew waited…and waited. Nothing emerged. After a while, Andrew slowly released the tension on his bow. His arms were shaking. There was a pain in his fingers. Holding them up to his face, he saw where the bowstring had almost bitten into his skin. He took several deep breaths. Shaking his hand and fingers, he put his bow back over his shoulder and stood up.

  His anxiety returning to normal levels, Andrew snapped himself back into the moment. He took in the familiar surroundings. Lake Morelle was situated within a large clearing. In the middle of the lake was small island. Other than a few bushes, the only thing on the island was a huge, Bangle tree. Stretching high up into the sky, it dwarfed the forest treetop canopy that enclosed the clearing from all directions.

  Jutting out on either side of the tree were long, near perfectly horizontal branches. There were about half a dozen on each side all spaced evenly up the length of the tree. Dangling from each branch were various, colourful Finkle fly nests. Each was a teardrop shaped bunch of matted twigs, leaves and other forest materials. These made for excellent target practice, which is what made Lake Morelle such a favourite hangout for Andrew and Joshua.

  Thickets of Bramock bushes encircled the water’s edge right around the lake. Each of the waist-high shrubs contained several dozen long, thin reeds with pointed ends. The hard berries in the centre of each bush reddened when ripe. Bramock thickets were a good source of arrows and slingshot projectiles. All these made Lake Morelle an excellent place for target practice. But now was not the time for such trivialities.

  Today, Andrew was on a mission. His thoughts turned to his best friend and what the Healer had told him. Joshua was fighting for his very life.

  Andrew and Joshua had been inseparable from a young age. Joshua had saved Andrew’s life on more than one occasion but this time it was Andrew’s turn to be the hero. If Joshua died, Andrew knew it would be because he failed in his mission. There was no way he was going to let that happen.

  Although he had been here many times, neither Andrew nor Joshua had ever actually been to the island in the centre of the lake. The fierce Snapper-Jacks that lived in the water have been known to take Raetheons and Chirvels that got too close to the water’s edge. Although small, there were plenty of these bloodthirsty fish in the lake and they could strip a carcass bare within minutes. Andrew didn’t even know how deep the water was. Neither, for that matter, did he know what other dangers might have lived in the water. He looked closely at the Bangle tree but it was just too far away to spot anything as small as a spider. There was only one option. He had to cross the water to reach the t


  The Wood-widow

  With the thought of Joshua close to death still urging him on, Andrew stepped into the water and began slowly making his way out to the island. The farther he waded, the deeper the water became. By the time he reached the halfway point, he was holding his keeper bag and weapon belt above his head with the water right up to his chest. He found it difficult to maintain his footing in the soft, squishy mud.

  Suddenly, there was a low growl. It sent shivers down Andrew’s spine. He turned around quickly, water still lapping at his chest. There, through the gap in the trees wandered a fully grown Wood-boar. It was easily the largest Andrew had ever seen before, it’s shoulders about the same height as an adult.

  The beast sniffed at the ground, following the path Andrew had taken right up to the water’s edge. The rabid animal looked up and fixed eyes on Andrew. It growled again, showing its huge fangs. The ferocious animal paced back and forth by the edge of the lake, clearly reluctant to step into the water.

  Andrew turned and waded as fast as he could towards the island, forcing himself through the mud. Just then, there was a disturbance in the water just around to the left of the island. Small ripples at first but they quickly grew in size and began heading towards Andrew’s position. Several Snapper-Jacks leapt out of the water in the middle of the disturbance as the shoal of hungry fish sped towards him. Andrew struggled with every step to lift his feet out of the soft mud. With the disturbance in the water getting closer and closer, the water around his chest eventually lowered and he finally clambered onto the mud bank of the island just in time. He sat and watched as several Snapper-Jacks leapt from the water close to the bank with the growling Wood-boar now directly across the other side by the water’s edge.

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