Iron Wood: Chapter 2: Homer City

After an hour or so had passed, Pudgy’s head was finally clearing.  The ley line communication was extremely texting on his body, but communication with the owls had been established.  The words of the Grand Claw were filling his mind, and resulting in his mind working overtime trying to figure out what to do next?  Rolling over onto his tummy, the little hedgehog was back on all fours, and started to slowly scamper towards the opening in the ring of oak trees that surrounded the node.  He did not make it very far, when the exit was blocked by an extremely angry looking silver fox.  

“You tried to run away again!”  Argente barked at him, while Mary approached from the opposite side, further blocking the exit.  Pudgy wiggled his nose, “Pudgy needed to talk to owls.  Pudgy was not going to go.”  Mary narrowed her eyes a tad towards  him, “I have not known you very long Pudgy, but I can see you wandering off and not telling anyone.  That is dangerous, especially if what you have described happens in this forest were to happen again.  There is no Cobalt Dragon to save the day anymore.  Mr. Bear can get here, but it will take him time to reach you.  You need to tell us before you head off somewhere!”

The little critter sat up and nodded, watching his two fox friends sit down and look expectantly at him.  “Grand Claw Glacier told Pudgy about Iron Wood.  It is the home of the eagles, and the owls are not allowed to fly there.  They told Pudgy, if Pudgy goes into the forest, Pudgy is on own.  To the east of here, located by three mushrooms that smoke, is the next ley line node.  That one heads north, and will take Pudgy to a big lake.  Then across the lake is the next node, which will take Pudgy to the edge of Iron Wood.”  Mary nodded, “I see.  Did Glacier tell you anything else?”  Pudgy nodded, “he said the lake was the home of the Beaver empire once.  He  was also unsure why the eagles would take Cobalt’s soul?”

Argente nodded, “I am confused by that myself.  If Cobalt was in the process of turning into an eagle, why would they stop the transformation process?”  Mary looked at the silver fox, “perhaps human souls are special somehow?  Cobalt was able to transform into a dragon, when dragons do not exist.  It makes me wonder if I could transform into a unicorn for that matter?”  Pudgy shook his head, “you could.  But the same issue would apply, unicorns are not natural.  You would die, just like Cobalt did.  The Great Spirit Unetlanvhi, would be displeased and rectify the status quo.”  Mary blinked, “Pudgy … are you still there?”  Argente nodded, concerned too because their little friend was not talking normally.  

A different voice came out of Pudgy, “sorry about that.  The connection still has not been dropped yet.  This is Painted Feather, I presume this to be Argente and Mary?”  The hedgehog wiggled his nose, as Argente pawed at his belly gently. “You get out of Pudgy’s head this instant!”  The shaman’s voice hooted softly as he laughed, “I will.”  The critter’s eyes blinked white a couple of times, and then he fell backwards.  With paws up in the air, the hedgehog groaned, “world spinning again …. Pudgy needs tummy stuff …”  Mary giggled, “ok, Pudgy’s back again.  Boy, how do you hang up this call?  Maybe we need to raspberry his tummy?”  Argente giggled, and watched as her critter friend sat back up.  

Pudgy started to roll, and scampered back towards the exit.  He squeezed through Argente and Mary, who both giggled as his quills tickled their sides.  The two foxes turned and followed after their hedgehog friend, who started talking again.  “Pudgy remembers Cobalt telling Pudgy, about a place called Homer City.  It is to the east of here, up in the mountains.  There is a power plant there, which has three big white towers that smoke.  That was where the electricity was made for the humans.  Pudgy knows how to get there, because Cobalt had to drive there once.  But Pudgy has a problem, at hedgehog speed, it would take forever to get there.  In the big red car, it would take an hour to drive there.”  

Mary nodded, “well .. at fox speed, it would go quicker i believe.  But the same problem would apply, if the owls instructructions are correct.”  Argente nodded, “it’s that big lake that concerns me.  It may be too far to walk around.”  Pudgy shook his head, “Pudgy had a dream.  A river turns into a lake, turns into a river.  Pudgy could make a raft to float across the lake, but what would be on the other side?  No, Pudgy think has an idea, but has to ask Comix first.”  Mary nodded, “our hawk friend could fly you there, and across the lake for that matter.”  The silver fox grumbled, “I guess I will be left behind again, on yet ANOTHER adventure!”  

By the time the trio returned to the location of Cobalt’s dragon cave, the lanterns had been repaired.  Their light was being cast out into the clearing, and illuminated the area around them.  The door was open, and there was activity within.  Mary padded up, and saw that the fireplace was going with a small fire.  The red panda Drew, and Patches the cat were looking into the fireplace.  “Drew .. Patches, we found Pudgy.”  Mary said as she headed inside, watching the two animals turn around and smile.  Pudgy headed inside next, then followed by Argente.  The white house cat ran up and started to hug her hedgehog friend.  “DO NOT DO THAT AGAIN!  We were so worried, Pudgy!”  Drew nodded, “I agree Pudgy.  You had the forest in a tizzy.  The Waffle cats fixed their house, and then returned the tools to the cave here while you were gone.”

The hedgehog hugged back, and wiggled his nose.  “Pudgy sorry for making everyone worry, but Pudgy has information.  Pudgy used the ley line node to call the owls…”  The little critter explained what he had found out, which made the cat and panda nod as they processed the information.  Patches meowed sadly, “you will need to go again … huh?  Can there be a time where you stay home, and we just be happy?”  Argente giggled, “I keep trying …it never lasts for long.”  Drew turned to look at Mary, and wiggled his nose causing his whiskers to bounce.  The snow fox giggled, and looked around the cave.  As the friends all relaxed, the fire crackled in the small hearth that had been built by the cavern’s former occupant.  The decision was made to sleep there tonight, because one by one the group fell asleep.  Drew was the last to succumb, since he had to shut and secure the door to the cave first.  

Once more Pudgy found himself floating over the treetops, this time during the daylight hours.  The eagle’s forest was thick, far more dense than any forest the little hedgehog had ever seen.  This time he kept a wary eye out for the Raven, but there was no sign of it this time.  In the distance, he could see the petrified tree towering above all else.  Covered with eagles, of all shapes and sizes.  “KAWW!”  The Raven cried out, and immediately dive bombed him from above.  Pudgy awoke, laying against the doorway to the cave.  Drew’s eyes were wide, as he had watched the little hedgehog literally be thrown against the doorway to the cavern.  “Pudgy, are you alright?”  

The critter nodded, watching his other friends wake up.  “Pudgy was flying over the eagle forest again.  For some reason, the Raven will not let Pudgy get close to see.  Pudgy does not know why?”  The red panda nodded, and curled his striped tail around his body.  “I can not tell if the Raven is trying to protect you, or if it is trying to hide what is going on with the eagles?”  Patches meowed softly, “I’m hungry…”  The hedgehog nodded, “we should head back to Pudgy house.  See what is left, so Pudgy can make breakfast.”  Drew nodded, and walked up on all fours, to the door, and undid the latch so it would swing inwards.  The little hedgehog moved out of the way, and then headed outside.  One by one the animals within the cave followed, and the panda secured the door when all had exited.  The parade formed, and everyone followed to the tunnel entrance located nearby.  

Through the wooden doors, down the tunnel, through the storehouse, and into Pudgy’s home they went.  Drew had to squeeze in a couple spots, but he was able to make it through.  Argente giggled, “I was having that problem earlier this year.  I think you are still growing.”  The red panda nodded, “I think you are right.  I am unsure how big they would get.  The dragon cave  does not have that problem, so far.”  The hedgehog was busy lighting his wood stove, and checking his cabinets.  They were all bare, with no sign of food anywhere.  Pudgy turned to Argente, “no food.  Let Pudgy check the storehouse.”  The little critter scampered into the former big meeting room, which was now modified to hold their supplies.  The stalls were empty, or held empty cloth bags.  Up and down the aisles he went, and what little food that had been left, was now gone.  Patches padded into the storehouse, “Pudgy, is everything alright?”

Pudgy whimpered, “all the food is gone!”  The hedgehog checked the second floor, and then the third.  Any non food item was still there, but clearly had signs of being moved around.  Pudgy scampered back down to the ground floor, and went down one last aisle.  He found his glass jars of pickled mushrooms, broken on the floor.  The salty brine was pooled out on the floor.  There was only part of a mushroom stem left.  The hedgehog narrowed his eyes at the broken jars, and then scampered past Patches and up through the tunnel.  The house cat confused, followed along, and watched the hedgehog reach the bunny warren door.  The critter knocked on the door, which was soon opened by Billy Bunny.  The gray and fluffy bunny pleasantly spoke, “good morning Pudgy, what is going on?”  

The critter had a slightly angry look in his eye, “Pudgy just checked the store house.  All the food is gone, and Pudgy glass jars are all broken!  We have no food left!”  Patches meowed sadly, “even my food Pudgy, is gone too?  I moved it out of the tree house due to the storms.  Where did it go?”  The male rabbit looked sheepish, “I’m sorry Pudgy.  We ate it all.  Bobbi has been so hungry, I do not know why?”  The hedgehog turned and scampered out of the tunnel and out to the garden which had been planted along the exterior of the exit.  All the vegetables had been pulled, and were gone.  Their entire food supply was ravaged by two rabbits.  Patches padded along, and then looked where Pudgy was staring.  “All the food is gone …eaten …”

“It is September …it is too late to grow anything now.  Pudgy needs to check the storehouse, top to bottom.  Need Mr. Waffle Cat to help, we need to lock the stalls so that the bunnies can’t get in again.  Pudgy does not need this now, have to save Cobalt.  But Pudgy woodland friends are important too, so I have to settle things here first, before I can go.”  The hedgehog said angrily, before turning around and scampering back through the tunnel.  He shot a look at Billy bunny, who shrunk back into the warren with a guilty look, and shut the door.  Patches followed along, hissing at the bunny cave door along the way.  Through the tunnel, past the mice pool, through the empty stalls, and back to the living quarters.  The animals looked expectantly at their friend, who was visibly upset.  “The bunnies ate everything, we have no food left.”

Mary frowned, “that is not good.  Argente, how much do you think we can still gather before winter comes?”  The silver fox nodded, “I think we should still be able to scavenge for food.  But the flood most likely damaged many sources of food.  Pudgy, if we gather it, how can we ensure it stays safe?”  The hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy going to get Mr. Waffle Cat, and we will build locking doors to the stalls.  Pudgy never though have to secure food from own friends, so left everything open.  Pudgy can not go yet, so Pudgy has to make sure everything is fixed and safe here first.”  As the animals nodded at one another, Pudgy shut the grates and killed the airflow to the wood stove.  The fire burned itself out, and was soon cold once more.  

Pudgy’s doors and windows were opened, and his woodland friends filed out of the underground home.  Drew scampered along with Pudgy through the forest, across the now deeper creek, and over to the Waffle Cats’ cottage.  Mr. Waffle cat was outside, checking the stacked stone fireplace exterior.  “Hello Pudgy … hello Drew, how are you today?”  The little hedgehog explained about the missing food, and what had happened with the bunnies.  The male bobcat nodded, “Hmm …it almost sounds like Bobbi Bunny may be pregnant?  I remember Mrs. Waffle’s sister, there was no filling her up.  She ate a 78 oz steak, and then two hours later was working on a large pizza.”  Mrs. Waffle cat exited the cottage, “she did not!  You exaggerate every time, making it seem like she ate all the food in the county.”   

The hedgehog chuckled, calming down, and explained what he was thinking of doing inside the storehouse.  The bobcats were on board, and soon they were heading to the dragon cave.  Supplies obtained, tools carried, and soon the building had begun.  It took the better part of the day, but eventually the food stalls now had locking doors, cages, and the main aisles were outfitted with gates to bunny proof the food stores.  During this time, Argente, and Mary had been gathering food and filling up the wagon that the silver fox could use to carry things.  The wagon was loaded with wild onions, wild garlic, mushrooms, edible moss, and many other survival foods.  Mary was beaming that she was able to help, and was almost bouncing when they arrived at the hedgehog’s home with a full wagon of found food items.  

The hedgehog scampered out happily, and hugged both of his fox friends.  Then happily bounced around the wagon, looking at the overflowing load of food.  Many trips back and forth were made inside of the hedgehog’s home.  Patches was standing guard at the interior door, in case of bunnies.  With piles of food everywhere, the hedgehog started to immediately clean and prepare the day’s meal.  One by one the animals began to file in once more, and sat down in their respective places.  The meal cooked was wonderful, and had a unique taste.  None could eat their fill, but all ate enough.  There were piles of food left over that still needed to be processed, so Pudgy was going to be busy.  

In the days that followed, more food was gathered.  Pudgy had found enough glass jars that survived the bunny attack to use.  He made pickled mushrooms, pickled onions, onion jam, supplies of dried spice bush for tea, edible fronds, and many stalls loaded to the brink with acorns and nuts.  Mr. Bear stopped by to check in on things, and was able to retrieve the grind stones.  With the assistance of the larger animals, the grist mill was relocated far away from the creek and outside of the tunnel exit.  Mr. Waffle cat was able to re-engineer the structure, as well as the grinding mechanisms. While no longer powered by the river, with the enhancements, Pudgy could turn the crank gears to make the mill work.  Someone else would need to gather the ground flour.  Since the hill had many rocky overhangs, they were able to wall off the sides of the mill with minimal effort.  

The dragon cave was outfitted in such a way that some semblance of privacy could be had by the cavern’s new occupants.  Argente taught fox school every day, with both Mary and Drew becoming proficient gatherers.  The bunnies stayed hidden away in their warren, not leaving except when only necessary.  The few times the animal saw them, was only when they rushed by to get back inside their warren.  It was usually the male bunny Billy, who kept his head down,and spoke nothing.  With the forest getting back to normal, and the beaver dam being repaired, Pudgy turned his thoughts back to his former dragon friend.  Every couple of days, Comix would fly in to check on the forest.  He explained he had been scouting the area, especially when he heard about the bunnies.  The human towns and developments had all been wiped from the face of the earth in all directions.

So, as Pudgy was busy processing a honey comb in his kitchen, the red tailed hawk landed outside.  He ducked down to enter through the open doorway, “hello Pudgy!”  The little hedgehog wiggled his nose, “hello Comix!  Did you find anything?”  The hawk shook his head, “no.  I headed all the way to where downtown Pittsburgh once stood, and there was nothing.  The buildings have all collapsed, and crumbled down into piles of debris.  I saw a bunch of animals milling around,and searching.  They were not having any luck, but the rivers were running high and thick with mud.  I think the heavy rains and their flood waters are still draining out of the mountains to the east.  Any more information about Cobalt or the eagles?”

The little hedgehog was pressing the honeycomb, and filling tiny clay jars with honey.  Being as efficient as possible, so he could extract all that he could, Pudgy relayed the stories of what had been going on.  What the owls told him, what the birds added along the way, and his prophetic dreams.  The hawk listened, and watched as Pudgy looked up at him with a pleasing look.  “Comix, can you take Pudgy to Iron Wood?  Pudgy has to save Cobalt!”  The red tailed hawk gave a call, and then nodded. “You bet Pudgy, I always wanted to go on a Pudgy adventure!  But we have to tell everyone first before we leave, or they will get upset.”  Once he was done with his task, the little hedgehog sealed the jars, and then licked off his paws.  The beeswax was placed in its own container, and would be used elsewhere.  

Washing his paws off in the sink, the hedgehog headed over to the side panels in his home.  Getting out the backpack, tools, and mining helmet; he sat them on the table.  “Pudgy needs to make a different backpack.  Something that hawks and owls can grab onto easier.  Pudgy backpack is getting shredded with talons.”  Comix gave his input, as he bounced along the concrete floor, and soon the two were hard at work.  As time passed, the backpack was outfitted with a long pole, which was sewed into, and reinforced by straps.  It was similar to a perch that birds would sit on for a cage.  In the case of Pudgy, it meant he could not exit his home with the pack on, since he was too wide.    

Comix watched as Pudgy put the jars away, and then locked the cabinets.  All of his cabinets were not outfitted with latches, so that the bunnies could not get inside.  Pudgy filled his backpack with what he could carry, including food and water.  Hedgehog rations were small, and easily packed within the repaired backpack.  Patches the cat padded inside through the open door, and saw Pudgy working on his backpack.  “OH NO!” The cat yelped out, and then shot out through the open doorway.  Comix chuckled, “well …i guess the Pudgy alarm just went off.”  The hedgehog nodded, and finished working on the pack.  He loaded his supplies inside of it, and then picked it up off of the table.  Turning to Comix, “thank you for helping Pudgy.”  The hawk nodded, and started to back up, and then turn so he could duck under the doorway.  

The hedgehog followed along, until he could position his backpack through the doorway.  He set it outside and beside the door.  Heading back inside, he grabbed his mining helmet, and put it on.  Checking the wood stove to ensure it was out,  the hedgehog scampered through the home, and out of the doorway.  By this time, all of his woodland friends had been gathered by the house cat, and were rushing over to the underground home.  Argente was the first there, and her brown eyes were burning brightly.  “PUDGY!  Do not leave yet!”  The silver fox slid on the muddy ground, and soon barrel right into the hedgehog.  He was knocked down, but thankfully he had his helmet on.  Pudgy’s muffled voice came out from underneath the female fox, “safety first …wear your helmet.”  

Argente giggled, “maybe I should stay like this.  You can’t go unless I move…” The fox said while feeling the hedgehog wiggle against her left side.  Comix started to laugh, in his shrill tone.  The remainder of his woodland friends arrived one by one, and watched as Argente moved so the hedgehog could scamper out between all of them.  They looked sad, but knew this day was coming.  Pudgy spoke clearly, “thank you all for helping get the food provisions back in order.  The storehouse is full, and Pudgy home is full of food.  It should be enough to last for quite a while.  Patches, Pudgy needs you to stay on bunny patrol.”  The house cat nodded, “on it Pudgy, they won’t eat all the food again!”  The critter turned to face Drew, “keep working on the dragon cave, and get it ready for winter.”  The former human nodded, “Mr. Waffle Cat has been helping me, so it should be ready by the time you get back, Pudgy.”

Mary looked a bit sad, “I was hoping this day could be delayed longer.  But I know you need to go …do we get hugs first before you leave?”  The snow fox asked with a small mock pout, which drew laughs from the assembled group of animals.  The hedgehog bounced happily, and started to hug everyone.  Mrs. Waffle Cat meowed softly, and hugged Pudgy tight.  “Be careful Pudgy, who knows what all is in that forest?”  Mr. Waffle cat nodded, and chuckled as he got a hug too.  Drew nodded, “I will tell Mr. Bear and Grandpa Bear that you departed.  We’ll keep an eye on the forest while you are gone, Pudgy.”  The critter hugged everyone a second time, which drew many smiles and giggles, before heading over to pick up his backpack.  

As the hedgehog put it on, Argente noticed the modifications.  “Pudgy, your backpack looks different.”  Comix nodded, “we modified it so I can hold onto it easier.  Pudgy said that the place with the smoking mushrooms is a power plant, and it was about an hour away by car.  That means I should be able to reach it by nightfall.”  The silver fox nodded again, “so Pudgy, how long do you think you will be gone this time?  Hopefully not months and months like the last time,” Argente said as she shot him a look.  Pudgy looked up at her, as he tied his straps tightly around his body.  “Pudgy thinks 1 day to get to the lake, 1 day to find the next stone, 1 day to get to iron wood, and then that is where Pudgy is unsure what happens.  We need to find that Raven, and see what is going on with it?  If we can find him or her, Pudgy can understand why it trapped Cobalt’s soul.”

Comix nodded, “we should get going Pudgy.”  The hawk started to run along the ground, and then took off to fly up into the air.  The hedgehog scampered out, and then positioned himself so that the perch rod was positioned in such a way that he could be snatched up by the hawk easily.  The animals watched hesitantly, and could hear the hawk flying above, and then banked through the trees.  With talons extended forward, the red tailed hawk swooped in sntached up the hedgehog.  Pudgy waved, “bye everyone, Pudgy be back as soon as Pudgy can!”  The hawk cried out, and took off flapping his wings hard.  Through the treetops they flew, and into the open sky.  Higher and higher, until Comix could stretch his wings and glide on the wind.  The ground passed quickly by underneath them.  

Where Cobalt’s house once stood, was now a large water filled lake.  Waterfalls cascaded down rocking field places, and fed into the stream that ran along the road that once stretched along the bottom of the hill.  The forests had grown thick, and covered all the human housing plans that surrounded the area.  Farmlands had turned into meadows, and roads into pastures.  The deer hopped along, and played in the tall grass under a warm late summer sun.  Pudgy was giving directions as the hawk flew, and they were following roughly the main highway that led into the mountains of central Pennsylvania.  While the roads had crumbled, their path could still be observed from the air.  Occasionally a bit of metal remained, printed Route 22 / 119, and only a couple hundred miles to Penn State University.  

Higher and higher into the mountains Comix flew, having to occasionally flap his wings hard to regain altitude.  The forests were thick, and full of all manner of leaf bearing trees.  The trees were starting to turn colors, and yellow was peeking through the sea of green.  Pudgy wiggled his nose, “fall is coming.  Pudgy hopes winter stays away for a long time.”  The red tailed hawk nodded, “I hope so too Pudgy.  I do not want to fly in snow.  I’m from California, snow only happens elsewhere.”  The hedgehog laughed, “Welcome to elsewhere!”  The two laughed happily, feeling the warm air grow cooler, as they ascended.  The mountains of Pennsylvania were not as steep as out west, but that was due to their age.  Weather had worn them down, and the trees grew upon them fully.  

Following 119 to the north east, they passed a sign that said Black Lick 1 mile.  Just as the sun was starting to set in the southwestern skies, Pudgy saw the mushroom shaped structures.  Three pale brown structures rose up from wide bottoms towards the sky.  Comix nodded, “I see, those are cooling towers for the power plant.  No wonder the owls called them mushrooms, they do resemble them sorta.”  The hawk banked, and flew straight north,  watching as the land started to open up.  Piles of black rock were littered along the road, and in huge overloaded dump trucks.  Pudgy remembered what Cobalt told him.  Coal was mined from deep within the earth,a dn loaded on train cars and dump trucks.  The coal was then taken to places like this, where it would be burned to heat huge boilers that would create steam.  The steam would turn the turbines, and electricity would be made.  

Pudgy’s vest started to wiggle, “Comix .. Pudgy vest wiggling.  The ley line node is nearby!”  The hawk had to circle a couple of times, but as they passed three tall but skinny smoke stacks, Pudgy pointed.  “There, head for the electric substation, with the big transformers.”  The hawk adjusted his wings to start to pass over a wide rectangular paved area.  Row and row of metal electrical stations were lined up and connected to a myriad of transmission lines.  Comix felt him being pulled, which was Pudgy’s transport stone aligning with the node.  When the pull became too strong to ignore, the red tailed hawk folded his wings back and went into a dive.  They were crashing towards a large boulder in the center of the electrical transmission yard.  The former human watched as it began to glow, and soon sucked the two of them inside.  

The hedgehog watched as pale blue magical energies swirled around them, as they were pulled through the earth.  The two animals settled in, with Pudgy calling out to his hawk friend.  “How are you doing Comix?”  The former human nodded and looked down at Pudgy, “tired, but the new perch on your backpack makes holding you easier.  I wonder how long this ley line is?”  The hedgehog nodded, and soon both friends were quiet.  Time passed, though how much could not be told?  Eventually when boredom was almost becoming overwhelming, the exit node of the line could be seen.  The exit was pick black, which meant it was night outside.  The hawk readied himself, and soon they were shot out from deep within the earth to the sky above.  Comix unfurled his wings, and stretched out to a gliding position.  

As the former human levelled off, Pudgy could see the skies were clear.  The moon was half full, but waning.  The stars twinkled in the skies, and seemed to reflect from the surface of the ground.  Pudgy wiggled his nose, “Pudgy thinks we over water Comix!”  The hawk yawned, “I think so too Pudgy.  I need to land somewhere.”  As the red tailed hawk descended, he started to see suitable landing spots in the trees.  When he had selected an appropriate spot, he flew in and released Pudgy.  The hedgehog dropped onto a thick branch, and clung on  until he could see where he was.  Comix banked around for another pass, before landing further back on the branch behind Pudgy.  Both sighed happily, and started to rest.  With his hawk friend falling asleep almost immediately, the hedgehog found himself on a new adventure, and sleeping once more in a tree.  

The hedgehog had figured out how to safely sleep in a tree from his time with the owls.  So after selecting the proper crook of branches, he waged himself inside, and then started to lash himself to the branch with a free strap.  That was just in case he were to shift position in his sleep.  Once safety was ensured, the hedgehog drifted off to sleep.  The tree rocked back and forth gently in the window, and the night was still warm, so there was no trouble sleeping.  Dreams were a different story however,  because soon Pudgy found himself flying over the eagle’s forest once more.  Pudgy called out as loud as he could, “YOU CAN’T STOP ME RAVEN!  I AM HEADING THERE NOW!”  

The little hedgehog yelled, challenging the mysterious black bird.  The words of the hedgehog drew attention from the forest and soon Pudgy could see the raven flying fast towards him.  This time he curled up into a ball and stuck his quills out in angry mode.  This time he was going to get some answers, and the hedgehog struck the raven hard.  The two animals started to fall down into the forest, dazed and world spinning.  As the trees closed in overhead, Pudgy felt himself being caught by someone.  Fingers wrapped around the hedgehog, and soon the smiling face of the goddess Hecates appeared, with her long white hair braided.  The hedgehog wiggled his nose, “hello goddess Hecates.  What is going on?”  The goddess giggled, “Well, you ran right into my daughter for starters.  Poor Angeliki, you knocked her out.  I never saw you make angry quills before.”  The ancient woman said with a small giggle escaping from her dark burgundy lips.    

Pudgy looked over into the goddess’s left hand, and saw the dazed raven was laying with its feet sticking up in the air.  He turned back to the goddess, “Pudgy is so confused.”  Hecates nodded, “I have some answers to your questions, and will do my best.  For now … rest …you are safe. Shhh …”  The little hedgehog felt himself calming, and his quills moved back into their normal relaxed position.  The goddess’s eyes glowed with a soft golden light, as she looked over hedgehog and raven.  Thankfully, Angeliki too was recovering, though she was clearly annoyed by the hedgehog’s sneak attack.  She would have words with him, once she could stand without the world spinning off its axis.  In time both hedgehog and raven recovered, and were set before the goddess on a stacked stone wall.

The raven looked angry at Pudgy, but did not speak.  The ancient woman nodded, “with the humans gone from this world, the gods and goddesses are disappearing.  Followers who worship, believe, and remember the gods need to be around for us to survive.  Those divine beings that remain have tasked me to speak with the Great Spirit to ensure our survival.  Without accommodation from Unetlanvhi, we will cease to be.  This also applies to my daughter as well, Angeliki, since she is from both that of the mortal and divine worlds.”  The hedgehog nodded, listening to Hecates, and then turned his head so that he could see the Raven.  “Pudgy doesn’t want Angeliki to disappear!  Pudgy sorry for attacking you Angeliki.  Pudgy did not know you were a raven.  Why did you chase Pudgy away in Pudgy dreams?  Why did you take Cobalt’s soul and give it to the eagles?”  

The raven called out angrily, “you should be sorry. That really hurt, Pudgy!”  The goddess laughed, “I am sorry for not appearing sooner Pudgy, to explain what is going on.  Both my daughter and myself have chosen to remain unseen for a time since our last acts on the surface world of the mortals.”  The goddess paused for a moment, watching the hedgehog twitch his nose, before she spoke once more.  “In the animal’s anger and haste, they activated the Gaia stones to contact the Great Spirit Unetlanvhi.  Their pleas were heard, and an audience granted, with judgement rendered.  All humans, and their works, would be erased from this world.  This was not the first time this had occurred, and most likely would not be the last as well.  As the humans disappeared, panic and chaos set in.  The world cried out, and the gods began to feel the tremendous pain emanating from the world.  Then one day, the gods and goddesses began to disappear as well.”

Angeliki hopped out of her mother’s hand, and up onto the stone wall.  She bounced along, so that she too could look at her hedgehog friend.  The goddess spoke once more, once her daughter was in position.  “Before all human souls were lost, we stepped in to shield as many as we could safeguard.  The gray void that your dragon friend spoke of, is the place where we stored the human souls.”  The hedgehog wiggled his nose, “the humans were being erased?  You mean that they can never come back again?”  Angeliki nodded, “yes Pudgy.  However, my mother was able to start the animal conversion.  Cobalt represented the first attempt at conversion.  His sense of purpose, and will to protect you, resulted in his dragon form.  However, the Great Spirit was displeased.  Dragons do not exist within this world, and only exist within the fantastical stories of the humans.”  

Goddess Hecates nodded, “Unetlanvhi called upon the gods to determine what had happened?  When we revealed what we had done, and that only certain humans were chosen to be saved, the Great Spirit’s wrath calmed.  He allowed the conversions to continue, as he too wanted to see how the humans would adapt to the changed world?  The decree was issued, that no mythical animal could be within the world.  So, when your dragon friend’s time had expired, he passed away on the shoreline of the island of bears.  Human souls are powerful, and can be repurposed an unlimited number of times.  It was during the conversion that I dispatched my daughter to capture it.”

The little hedgehog looked up at the goddess with pleading eyes, “but what did you capture it and give Cobalt to the Eagles?”  Angeliki nodded, “Pudgy …wake up.  Wake up Pudgy ….”  The little hedgehog shook his head no, but involuntarily he opened his eyes.  In the distance, the sun was starting to rise over the eastern horizon.  Beneath the trees, lay a vast stretch of water, stretching far in both the northern and southern directions.  It was the river that turned into a lake that would turn once again into a river.  Quietly he stammered out, “no!  Pudgy was just getting to the good part!”  The little hedgehog wiggled his nose, and grumpily looked out over the water, watching a couple of ducks fly past.  Hopefully after the next day’s travels, he could talk to the goddess and her daughter once again?  The critter had so many questions, and not enough answers.  What else did he not know?

By Cobalt

Cobalt is a normal guy that goes to work. Pudgy is his hedgehog friend who lives in a hobbit style home nearby, and goes on epic adventures. All Pudgy stories are copyrighted to Cobalt. Doomcock, Harvey Cthulhu, and Xanadoom is copyrighted to Overlord DVD.

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