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Chapter 1 - The Bus

Mary finds herself in a strange land after falling asleep on the bus. There she meets Grenville, the headless immortal knight with greet manners, among other strange and wonderful people...

Chapter 1 - The Bus

Chapter 1 - The Bus
It was the strangest thing. Mary didn't quite know what to make of it. One minute she was on the bus to her grandmother's house, and now here she was standing at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. At least, nowhere she had ever seen before. It didn't have any highways or buildings or anything she was used to before. It was like being in the countryside. Very deep in the countryside, for that matter. Aside from the road the bus had came on, there was nothing but beaten trails. Miles of grass and field could be seen, and far, far away, if one looked close enough, they could see mountains in the distance, though nothing else. Mary began to wonder why there was even a bus stop there at all. No wonder it had been the last stop.

Of course, now she was stuck there, with no more money to take her back the other way. If only she hadn't fallen asleep, she would have gotten off miles ago. What she thought it was miles ago, that is. After all, she had no idea how long she had been sleeping nor how far the bus actually went. Alas, with no way to go back, she decided the only logical thing to do now was go forward. Maybe, just maybe, she could find someone trustful enough to take her back. She couldn't stay here forever anyway.

As she took the dirt pathway before her, she really wished she had brought different shoes. The ones she was wearing currently weren't really made for dirt and grass and such. They were made only to look presentable. Though, it wasn't like she had to be presentable here. There was no one here to be presentable for. No one in this patch of land that was to say. She only hoped that the next patch of land that could possibly containing life wasn't too far away.

Her shoes weren't much for comfort either. After what seemed like an hour of walking, her feet were already hurting. And to think, she may have had a longer way to go. Disgruntled by the thought, she decided to take a break. With a little huff of frustration, she plopped down in the grass. After a moment, she realized how good it felt on her legs. Aside from the park she and her mother used to go to before she became too busy, she had never really got to enjoy the presence of nature. It was all metal and concrete and buildings where she lived. The only trees were in planters, and the only grass was in designated areas where it was all properly tended to. This grass was different. It was wild and free, with no one to tell it where to grow or how to grow. No one was here to take care of this grass, it depended solely on itself.

There was something particularly different about this grass though. Maybe she was just very weary and letting her imagination get away with her, but to her it felt as though the grass was moving, as of its own free will. Not in a threatening way, or an abrupt way of any kind, more so as in a playful manner. It tickled at her legs and gently waved around in good spirit. Putting her finger into it, she found a little long blade wrap lovingly around her finger, as if trying to shake her hand. She giggled at this. What kind of place could she possibly be that had friendly grass? After all, last she checked, grass did not have a mind of its own, let alone a personality.

Now very curious as to what else this land had to offer, she got back up to follow the trail again. The grass wriggled in a good-bye wave, and she decided that since no one was around to think of her as crazy, she gave it a little wave back. She was then on her way, a little more cheerful than she had been before. After a while, she soon found herself amongst a vast field of sunflowers. She found this particularly lovely, as she had never seen real sunflowers before. Just as the grass before, they all seemed to bend toward her as she walked through the field, and she began to wonder if everything in the land had a personality. As each one drooped over to greet her, it was as though she were walking through a beautiful sunflower tunnel. It was just dark enough in the tunnel to offer wonderful shade, and the smell was magnificent. Where ever this place was, it was almost dream-like.

That's when she began to wonder if that's what this place really was, only a dream. Maybe she hadn't been woken up by the bus driver at all. Maybe she was actually back on the bus this very minute, sleeping away as though it were nothing. Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted as sun light shown back on her again. She had exited the sunflower tunnel without even really noticing. That's when she saw the subtle outline of a figure standing on a hill in the distance. The sun impaired her sight a bit, but from what she could see it was a lanky figure. Then she noticed the figure's head, and how it seemed to be very oddly shaped. Then again, whoever it was was probably wearing a hat. She journeyed closer so she could see them for certain. If they seemed trustworthy enough, they may be able to get her back home.

As she came closer to the figure, she found that he was, indeed, wearing a hat. Well, it was a hat of the sort at least, though it was no ordinary hat of the sort. Covering the strange figure's face was an old fashioned knight helmet, which was odd, as he wasn't wearing any other armor. In fact, he was dressed pretty modern, wearing a green t-shirt, a black hooded jacket, blue jeans, and a pair of rugged, black Chuck Taylor sneakers. She couldn't help but wonder why he was wearing this helmet so strangely.

"Um, excuse me, sir?" she asked quietly.

"Pardon?" he asked, spinning his head around in surprise. "Someone...someone is there?"

"Y...yeah, me," Mary said, looking up at the figure.

His helmet visor turned toward her, gazing at her through the holes etched in it. He said in a surprised but pleasant voice, "Why, so there is! That's very odd. You know, I haven't seen a person in these parts in...well, forever, so it would seem."

"I would believe that," Mary said shyly. "I must have walked for miles without seeing anyone. Well, besides you..."

"Yes, I'm about the only one who comes around here anymore," he said. "Most of the people anymore like hanging around the castle."

"Castle?" she asked herself out loud. Talking to the figure again, she asked, "So...where AM I exactly?"

She had never heard of castles being anywhere near her hometown before, especially within a bus ride. She was wondering how far this bus had taken her...IF it had. She still was leaning toward the theory that she was dreaming. It seemed a more logical of an idea anyway. The figure answered, pulling her out of her thoughts once again, "This is Sokolatopia, the land of King Baklava. Have you never heard of it before?"

"No," Mary answered sheepishly. "I...I came from the bus."

"The bus?" he asked, tilting his helmeted head. "I wasn't aware the bus ran this year...then again, I haven't kept up with the bus in a while."

"This year?" she repeated. "Why, doesn't the bus run every year? Or even have a daily schedule for that matter?"

"Oh, I should say not," he answered. "I've never heard of a bus doing that before. No, the bus only runs every five years. Or so I I said, I haven't kept up with the bus in a while."

"Every five years? So it's not coming back until then?" she asked, a little frantically now.

"No, I'm afraid not," he said. "Once it is gone, it won't come back until the next five years."

" am I to get home?" she asked, concerned now. If this wasn't a dream, she was in quite some trouble.

"Well...of that I am not sure," he said in a confused voice. He put the chin of his helmet in his hand as if in thought. Finally he concluded, "Of course, there are other ways to travel than bus, I'm sure we can find one. Where is it that you are from, anyway, to have not have heard of Sokolatopia?"

"Vandersberg," she answered. "It's a large city, with many buildings and streets."

"Hmm...I have never heard of such a place before," he answered. "Then again, I've never been outside Sokolatopia before. You have to forgive me, my mind isn't what it used to be..."

"Oh, quite alright," Mary answered. "And you have to forgive me! My name is Mary. Sorry for not introducing myself sooner."

She put out an opened hand, and the strange fellow shook it. He replied, "I am Grenville, sorry for not doing the same!"

"Well, Grenville, now that we are properly introduced," Mary started, "might you tell me more about Sokolatopia? After all, I may be here for a while..."

"It's an old place, hundreds of years old even," Grenville said. "It was already hundreds of years old before I was around."

"You make it sound as though you've been around for hundreds of years yourself," Mary said. "You couldn't possibly be that old! You hardly look like you're past your twenties in build."

"Well...yes, that is a story all on its own I suppose," he said quietly, as though he had given away something he hadn't meant to. He scratched the back of his neck (or at least what little of it was exposed under the helmet) nervously.

"Well then, perhaps you should tell me more about yourself then," Mary said in an interested tone.

"O...okay," he said slowly, " have to promise me that you won't get frightened. Will you do that?"

"I'm unsure..." she answered. "I can't promise I won't be frightened of something I don't know about."

"You must, though!" he said. "I...I don't want to frighten anyone..."

"I suppose I will promise then," she said. "Though I will only promise to my best ability."

"I will accept that," Grenville said, tilting his head again. He seemed to use head movement in place of facial expression, since his face was not exposed. "Now, to get to the story I suppose..."

"See, hundreds of years ago, as I said before, I was a knight for the king's army. Not King Baklava, mind you, but the king at the time. His name was Chruscik. He was a fair man, but not an entirely great ruler. Needless to say, this caused some conflict, and some riots rose against him. I, as well as the rest of the knights, did not care about this though. All we cared about was serving our king, as we had been taught was right. With the commands ordered, we were sent out to control the riots.

Battles became brutal, and soon we were killing each other. I am a man of a peaceful nature, and didn't like having to take another man's life. However, out there, it was his life, or mine. Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way. Despite that I was trying to fight to my best ability and kill people against my morality, I still couldn't help but hold back. I found myself combating one on one with a particular rioter.

I attacked him, but never hit to do any real damage. I was hoping he would just fear me and run, but he didn't. He attacked me, and wasn't holding back like I had been. With a smash to my head with the end of his sword, he knocked me back, causing my helmet to fly right off. With my head exposed, he took the sword and beheaded me in one powerful swipe."

"Ugh," Mary cringed at the thought.

"Ghastly, I know," Grenville replied. "Now, you would think that without a head, I would certainly be a dead man. Of course, after your head has been separated from your body, you don't die right away..."

"I've always heard that," Mary said. "Though I've never known anyone who survived long enough to ask..."

"Oh, yes, it is quite true," Grenville concurred. "And most people do not survive such a horrible fate. However, I thought fast...a pretty hard task when one no longer has a brain attached...and with my last dying breath, I felt behind me and grabbed my empty helmet. I put it on fast enough to keep my soul from leaving my body through my severed throat, and it became sealed inside.

I soon came to find that I was now somewhat immortal. As my body had thought that it had already died, it no longer aged, no longer needed to be feed, or anything. However, with my soul still inside, it flourished on. It did not rot nor waste away. No natural cause could kill me. With this partial immortality, I survived on for years and years past my time. My opened neck soon grew over, and I was able to remove the helmet without releasing my soul, but the fact still remained...I had no head. So I kept the helmet on ever since, using it in place of a head, and that is how you find me today."

"My, that is quite an ordeal!" Mary said. " certainly couldn't be true...could it?"

"I assure you, it is," said Grenville. "In fact, this is why I made you promise that you would not be frightened, for I will take off my helmet and show you..."

"I promise," Mary nodded. "Head or not, you are a kind man. You will not frighten me."

"Thank you," Grenville said, a little surprised at the compliment. "Now for the revealing..."

And with that he put his hands on either side of his helmet and pulled it off. Mary gasped out of surprise, but kept it brief as to not make Grenville think she was frightened. Just as he had said, no head was to be found. There was only a stub of a neck, grown over with flesh where the head used to be. He said, though Mary was now unsure of how he said it, "Horrible, isn't it? To live without a head? Even the helmet is as empty as old mother Hubbard's cupboard."

He handed it to her. Sure enough, there was nothing inside, just empty and hollow, nothing but metal. She handed it back to him, feeling slightly uncomfortable holding another person's head. That is, at least what another person used for a head. Holding it in both hands he put it on just as easy as anyone else would put on a hat. Tilting and turning it to just his liking, he let it go and let it presume doing its duty as a replacement head. He then tilted his head as he did in place of his facial expressions, and continued, "Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have just died there like a normal man would have."

"Oh, now, don't say that," Mary said, trying to comfort him. "You have been oh so helpful to me. If you had died there, I would still be wandering here, wondering where I was..."

"That is a good point," Grenville said, looking up as though thinking it over. "I suppose you are right. Though you are found, however, you are still not where you need to be. We must find you a way home without the bus."

"THAT is a good point," Mary said. "But how? Not to pester, but you know more about this land than I do."

"Indeed I do," Grenville agreed. "Though I am not sure of how to get you home myself. However..."

"However?" Mary asked as Grenville trailed off.

"The king! King Baklava might know a way," Grenville finished. "He IS king, after all. He should know many things to be so..."

"Yes, to be a king he would have to know the land," Mary said enthusiastically. "How could he rule it if he was unfamiliar with it? And if he knows the land..."

"Then he knows how to leave it," Grenville finished for her, his enthusiasm rivaling hers. "Yes...then we shall go see the king then!"


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