Monday, March 31, 2008


The Ancestral Trail #23: Dagmar, Demon of Fire

Flames of Fury over Yellow Stone Peaks


On the Twenty-Third Day...

Beware the fire from demon sprung
By the bridge so weakly slung.
From the danger bravely run
The fight has only just begun.
Remember well what legends say,
There is a green hill far away.
The path you seek as hard you may,
But evil 'tis that rules the day.

The trio flail haplessly through the air as the hot currents carry them upward. Then, without warning, the hot air ceased and left the three friends to fall to the ground with a thud. A short distance away from where they land, they see a large patch of freshly turned soil where Loktar's pyramid once lay.

After catching their breath, the three consult the next riddle of the Book of Prophecies and continue on their journey, hearding for a range of yellow mountains in the distance. Their trek eventually leads them to a deep chasm in the mountains, the only path available being a wood and rope bridge spanning the divide. Realizing they have no other choice, Richard, Orkan, and Melek step onto the bridge.

At first their journey across the bridge is uneventful, but as they reach the midpoint, the worst thing possible happens. The ropes holding the planks together suddenly disintegrate and the wooden slats begin falling apart. Finally, the main cords linking the bridge break loose. Richard orders his friends to grab one of the ropes, and they do just as the rope swings them across the chasm. They chose the right rope, for theirs holds while the other rope snaps and falls down into the river below.

The three rested momentarily after experiencing the shock of hitting the cliff side, but they choose not to hang around for long and begin climbing. Eventually, Richard reaches the edge of the cliff and reaches to pull himself up. Suddenly, a jet of fire appears from behind him and strikes the rock face nearby. He turns around and sees a demon-like creature flying through the chasm, fire spitting from its mouth. The beast slows down and sends another stream of flame in Richard's direction, hitting close enough to sear the rope. The monster prepares for another attack to finish off the trio.

Just then, a battle-cry shriek fills the skies and large shrieks erupt overhead. Richard looks up to see the demon is now fighting with another creature: a giant red-feathered bird, which also spat first, though its flame is a brilliant blue. Richard is stunned by the scene for a moment, but remembers their predicament and climbs onto the cliff. He helps Orkan and Melek get up as well and the three hide behind some rocks to watch the battle.

The sky is filled with red and blue lights as the demon and bird try to roast each other in their flames. Eventually, after a long battle, the demon gives in and shoots like a bullet over the mountains in escape. Victorious, the red-plumed bird swoops down and lands near the trio. The female bird then speaks, revealing to Richard and his friends that she is Dion the Firebird, and she was sent to help them in their quest by Oganga.

Richard is relieved to hear Oganga had survived his battle with Boltor, and asks Dion if she has any news. Dion first gives the identity of the creature that had attacked: Dagmar, the Evil One's demon of fire. She says many forces are gathering to Golan outside the Ancestral City, and Juroot had overcome cannibal chief Zock, bringing the dwarf forces out of the Evil One's spell. Richard tells Dion that he only has one more pod to find, and Dion informs him that the final pod is in a place called Wizard's Well, past a place called Sorcerer's Falls.

Before Dion can say more, they hear the sound of wings beating and look to see Dagmar shooting a jet of flame in their direction. They dodge the fire and look up to see Dagmar now perched on a nearby crag. Sneering, Dagmar begins grabbing rocks with his claws and hurling them away, unearthing the lair of a small creature. As the creature tries to escape, Dagmar strikes out with one of its claws, grazing it. Richard thinks the creature escaped, until it falls to the ground in agony from the poison in Dagmar's claws.

Dagmar then fires again at the trio, who dodge and ready to attack. Orkan fires several arrows at the demon, but though they strike Dagmar's hide the creature is completely unaffected by them. Dion yells at her friends to run, since only she can fight him. She hurriedly gives Richard directions to Sorcerer's Falls before lifting into the air. Dagmar, seeing his adversary move, roars before chasing after her. Within moments the firebird and demon are locked in combat once more.

Seizing the chance Dion gives them, the trio flee from the battle scene in the direction pointed out to them. They eventually exit the yellowy peaks of the mountain, but even then the sights and sounds of the fierce battle are still visible and audible.

The three manage to follow a vague path leading out of the mountains, but soon they simply cross a path-less barren field of stone. In the distance they see a rocky outcrop, and far away they can hear the sound of falling water. Richard gets an intimate sense of the land ahead and says that Sorcerer's Falls is in that direction. As he points this out, a large shadow suddenly emerges behind them from the sun.

Orkan yells that Dagmar is back, but when the shadow's owner lands on the ground, they see the owner is actually Dion, whose beautiful body has been scorched beyond recognition. Dion informs Richard that Dagmar is dead, but he hurt her too badly to help them. Richard informs her that they know Sorcerer's Falls is ahead, and the trio part ways with the firebird, who plans on heading to the Ancestral City after resting for a while.

The three head again towards the rocky outcrop, finding and following a river in hopes of reaching a waterfall somewhere in the mountain. They follow the river uphill until they turn around a corner and find themselves face to face with a massive waterfall.

Unfortunately, they see no pathway for them to progress any further. With a sinking heart, Richard tries listening for Golan's voice through the amulet, but nothing is heard.


Dagmar is a dragon-like beast is known as the Evil One's Demon of Fire, a name bestowed upon him because of his ability to breathe fire. The creature meets the Chosen One within the Yellow Stone Peaks, though there is little to suggest that Dagmar dwells there - more likely he was sent out by the Evil One to hinder Richard's progress. Along with its ability to breathe fire, Dagmar also has a weapon within its claws, which contain a deadly poison enough to kill a small creature with one scratch.

"Richard craned his neck and saw a jagged shape flash through the gorge. As the speeding red blur swooped up into a steep turn, he got a closer look at the creature. Its body was covered in red scales and backward-sloping horns jutted out of its head. A constant gust of flames shot out from its sharp-toothed snout."

Dion is a giant firebird who, like Dagmar, has the ability to breathe fire, though her flames are a brilliant blue instead of a fiery red. She was asked by Oganga to seek out the Chosen One and assist him in his quest to finish his quest. She ends up arriving in the nick of time to save the trio from their encounter with Dagmar, though her battle with the demon nearly kills her and makes her unable to help Richard complete his journey.


With the twenty-third issue of The Ancestral Trail, the story begins to wind down to its inevitable conclusion. All but one of the Life Force Pods have been found, and the location of the final pod is revealed by the firebird Dion - even the location is known. Also remaining is one more captured guardian yet to be freed, so where will the three heroes find this final guardian, who we assume is of the Common Beasts?

As the main creature of the issue, Dagmar proves to be a creature of potential. He is called the Evil One's demon of fire, which is an intriguing title. What kind of work did Dagmar do for his evil master, and why does the demon reside inside these isolated yellow mountains? Perhaps the Evil One finally sent out one of his creatures to stop Richard, and the attack was only thwarted when Dion arrived.

Also in this issue, the previous pod's characteristic is associated when Richard looks at the distant crag where Sorcerer's Falls is located. According to the story, "Richard felt he had an intimate knowledge of the land ahead." Therefore, the pod Richard found in Loktar's tomb is the Pod of Knowledge.

As a final and personal note, the name Dion carries a bit of a different connotation for me. Most people might associate the name with the Canadian singer Celine Dion, but for me the name Dion is the same as a popular shopping store chain in South Africa. And since the original author of The Ancestral Trail, Frank Graves, is a fellow South African, I find that connection strangely amusing.


"Grab hold of this rope!"

"Thank goodness I got here in time. I am Dion, the Firebird. You had a narrow escape. I should have been here sooner. Oganga sent me to help you in your search."

"Your arrows are useless against Dagmar. The battle must be between him and me - you must all leave now, and finish your quest."

"I'll be okay. Dagmar's dead, but he almost finished me off too. I won't be able to help you know. I'll rest here for a while then get back to the Ancestral City to get my wounds taken care of."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The Ancestral Trail #22: Zyton and the Curse of Loktar

Sinister Steps in the Chambers of Fear


On the Twenty-Second Day...

Deep in geometric gloom
Do not open long-sealed tomb.
The curse of Evil then will fall,
Not on one, but surely all.
Seek instead the golden prize
That evil guards with six-fold eyes.
Follow where alone he goes.
Above, the prize. Below? Who knows?

As Richard and Melek gape in astonishment at Melek's sudden disappearance, the stone from which the scribe had fallen tips back into place. Orkan proceeds to prod the area where Melek disappeared, but Richard warns him not to get too close. With caution, they search the area, but all they can find are Melek's glasses. Unable to find anything on the hilltop, they climb down the slope and search the hill base, but they find no sign of their friend.

After a while, they regrettably abandon their search. Orkan bemoans the loss of the Book of Prophecies; Richard quickly snaps at him for dismissing Melek over the book. Hoping Melek would head for the pyramid wherever he was, Richard leads Orkan down to the valley floor, through dense trees. The pyramid grows closer with each step, the details of its shiny surface becoming more clear as the distance shortens.

Upon reaching the pyramid's base, Richard pulls out the Path Finder and point it at the structure, walking around the building to find an entrance. Eventually the arrow glows at a slab at the base, but Orkan and Richard can't get it open no matter how hard they push. They think for a moment and consider that maybe the actual entrance is a little higher than they think. Looking up, they see an indented slab in the pyramid. Orkan climbs on Richard's shoulders and feels out the slab - a soft click is heard and the slab slides open.

Orkan climbs into the newly opened passage and pulls Richard up to him. The two of them then head inside a lobby, a door on the far end. They head for the door, but their progress is halted when the floor beneath them suddenly descends, taking them with it. The floor carries them down like an elevator, carrying them deep into the structure's basement, before the lift finally slows down and stops. Richard and Orkan find themselves in a new chamber, which possessed only one item: a block of stone covered by a flat lid.

Without consulting the Path Finder, Richard believes the pod is inside the stone tomb and heads toward it. The lift that brought them to the chamber heads back up as the duo get off, leaving them trapped inside with no noticeable way out. Upon reaching the tomb, Richard begins looking for a way to open it. As he does, Orkan heads a sound on far end of the chamber and looks over the tall stone block. To his horror, a three-headed lizard-like creature is approaching the tomb from the center of the chamber. The strange beast sees Orkan and immediately charges.

Just as Orkan orders Richard to get away, Richard suddenly finds a switch on the tomb and presses it. The lid of the tomb begins to open. The three-headed creature sees the tomb opening and stares in horror before without warning turning and running to the far end of the tomb, disappearing without a trace. Richard, who didn't see the monster, is forced to hear Orkan reveal what had happened, and both wonder why the monster turned tail.

Before they could discuss it further, they hear a sound near the lift. The stone elevator suddenly drops down and a figure steps off, sending the lift soaring back up. It's Melek, calling out for Richard and Orkan. His friends, stunned to see their friend back, rush over to him, asking him where he had been.

Melek tells them that the slide had taken him into a maze of underground tunnels. Through sheer luck, he had managed to find an exit, after which he could consult the Book of Prophecies. He had then rushed to the pyramid to warn his friends not to open the tomb. Melek was able to read the inscriptions on the pyramid's outer wall, and the hieroglyphics tell exactly what curse is upon the pyramid. The tomb is that of a man called Loktar, guarded by a three-headed monster called Zyton. Should the tomb be opened, a self-destruction mechanism is activated that will cause the pyramid to sink into the ground.

Melek quickly realizes from Richard and Orkan's horrified faces that the tomb has been opened. The three quickly try to close the half-opened slab, but the mechanism won't allow them as a death-like stench wafts from inside the stone. Richard remembers Zyton's escape and the three of them head to where the creature had disappeared. A quick search of the floor leads them to a worn stone tile, and when Orkan presses it a door opens in the wall. The three enter the new passage to a flight of stairs and Richard presses another switch to close the door. As he does, he notices a hand emerging from Loktar's tomb.

The trio head up the stairs as swiftly as they could, but it doesn't take long for them to hear the sound of the door open at the bottom of the stairs, the stench of Loktar's rotting body signaling his corpse is chasing them. The three press on until they find themselves at a dead end. Richard quickly pulls out the Path Finder and quickly finds it glowing upward. They look up and see a metal grill just above their heads.

Wasting no time, Richard unbuckles Kika's belt. The magical item shoots up and wraps around the bars before lengthening downward for Richard, who gives the belt a sharp tug. The tug causes the metal bars to burst apart, providing a way out. Richard goes first and climbs out onto the edge of the pyramid. To one side he sees his prize: a Life Force Pod, sitting in a small niche. He grabs the pod and pockets it.

As he takes the pod, the pyramid suddenly begins lurching and sinking into the ground. Orkan and Melek climb out of the passageway to join Richard, and moments later the cadaver of Loktar arrives below, staring up at the companions with his empty eyes. A sudden lurch in the pyramid throws Loktar off balance, sending the corpse barreling back down the stairs.

Moments later, hot air blasts from below the pyramid's base, growing in intensity. The three try to hang on, but eventually the winds become too strong for them to hold on and they're lifted into the air.


Zyton is a three-headed lizard-like creature that lives within the pyramid that houses the tomb of Loktar. Zyton's purpose is to guard the tomb and prevent anyone from opening it, thereby causing the pyramid to destroy itself. Little else is known about Zyton, except that it appears intelligent enough to recognize when it's life is in danger from the pyramid's self-descrution.

"Advancing towards the centre of the room was a strange creature, a half-bird and half-reptile. Its lower body was that of an iguana, but a pair of wings sprouted from its shoulders. Three separate necks, scaly at the base, became more feather towards the top and each ended in a head equipped with a curving, toothy beak and glittering gimlet eyes."


The twenty-second volume of The Ancestral Trail offers up one of the more bizarre and esoteric portions of the story thus far. The monster-of-the-issue for this issue, the bird-lizard creature Zyton, is barely even in the story, and when he does appear, he does little beyond getting spooked and running away. By the way the story is structured, Zyton is most certainly a creature that was around before the Evil One appeared - he is, after all, guarding the tomb of Loktar. And when Richard and friends came alone and opened the tomb, Zyton took off and is never seen again. One wonders where Zyton is now? Is he terrorizing the nearby countryside now that his job is finished, or did he die without a master to control him?

The discussion of Zyton of course leads to Loktar. Who exactly is Loktar, and what kind of person was he to build a booby-trapped pyramid as a tomb? We never find out, but we can guess. We can guess he is of magical origin, as his corpse is reanimated when the tomb is opened. Is he an ancient sorcerer, or perhaps a mad wizard? Again, we never find out, and perhaps it is for the best. Leaving something vague like this gives The Ancestral Trail a bit of history that we can fill in the blanks with our own imaginations.


"If you go on like that, you'll end up disappearing like Melek! We don't know how that trap was sprung and there could be more waiting for us."

Orkan: "What are we going to do without the Book of Prophecies?"
"What are we going to do without Melek, not just the Book of Prophecies. For now, I think we should head for the pyramid. Getting the pod is our main priority and Melek knows that. If he can, he will head for the pyramid."

Richard: "The pod's in there, but the entrance is hidden. Orkan, where would you put a door so that people wouldn't find it?"
"Where they couldn't get at it. Maybe higher up the pyramid?"

"You haven't opened the tomb, have you?"

"The curse! It's happening!"

Saturday, March 08, 2008


The Ancestral Trail #21: Stridor, Lord of the Snowy Mountains

Facing up to the White Death


On the Twenty-First Day...

Tread lightly on the rocky heights,
A sudden fall, a triple plight.
An evil comes, an evil goes
Buried under sliding snows.
Remember though, when far ahead,
Trapped is not the same as dead.
Nor is haste the same as speed
Nor the led the one to lead.

The trio trudge their way through the heavy snowstorm, realizing they will be dead soon if they do not find shelter quickly. Despite knowing this, their progress slows as they reach the mountains. They tie Melek's rope around their waists so as not to lose themselves in the storm. As they walk up a treacherous slope, Melek suddenly loses his footing and slides down the hill, dragging his companions with him.

Their fall is stopped by a snowdrift at the bottom of their descent. Orkan recommends that they look for shelter and wait out the storm. He heads around the snowdrift and, to his luck, finds a large crack inside the side of the mountain. The crack leads into a narrow passage inside the mountain. Desperate to escape the storm, Richard and Melek follow Orkan inside.

The corridor eventually opens up into a large cave within the mountain, natural stone shelves jutting all over. The three also notice several partially eaten carcasses of animals lying all over. Trying to ignore the rotting meat lying all over, the three decide to consult the Book of Prophecies while they wait out the storm.

They debate the meaning of the prophecy, particularly the last three lines, and as they do the storm outside dies down. Eventually they emerge out of the cave with the sun finally in the sky and the mountains covered in fresh snow. As they walk out into the silent mountains, the silence is suddenly broken by a distant howl.

Richard asks Melek if he knows the source of the howl. Melek entertains the idea of a snow cat before recalling reading about a creature called Stridor, the supposedly missing link between man and ape who lives in the Snowy Mountains and guards the way to the Forgotten City. Richard realizes that the carcasses they found in the cave were part of Stridor's larder and says they need to get away quickly.

Before they could leave, a couple more howls are heard, these ones closer. They look down the mountain and see a giant ape-like creature running towards the cave, a dead deer draped across its back. Recognizing the creature as Stridor, Richard and his friends start to run, but the thick snow slows them down. Stridor, on the other hand, moves through the snow easily.

Richard led his friends in the hope of gaining some advantage uphill, but the snowstorm had altered the landscape such that he no longer recognizes direction. He pulls out the Path Finder to find the right direction, but before he could use it Stridor catches up and looms over him. Ignoring Richard, Stridor grabs the Path Finder and gazes at his new toy with primal fascination.

Richard doesn't hesitate, knowing he cannot lose the Path Finder. He draws his dagger and plunges it into Stridor's foot, causing the beast to drop the instrument and howl in agony. Richard grabs the Path Finder and races back to his friends as Stridor holds his foot in pain.

The fierce howls of pain from Stridor ripple throughout the mountain until a delicate shelf of snow on a high precipice crumbles, causing an avalanche of snow. The trio and even Stridor are swept away by the river of snow, carrying them past boulders and trees down the side of the mountain. By the time the avalanche subsides, Richard and his friends are buried beneath layers of frozen white.

Richard, trapped under the layers of snow, begins clawing his way furiously upward. He eventually breaks through to the surface, gulping in fresh air as he does. Freed, he looks around and spots a shoe peaking through the snow. He grabs the foot and pulls, yanking Melek from his own tomb of ice. They look around for signs of Orkan, but see none. Just then, a sword bursts through the snow, and Richard and Melek watch as Orkan hacks his way to freedom.

At Richard's behest, they rub their hands and faces to restart circulation in their blue skin. A quick check of the Path Finder points down the mountainside to more hospitable hills, and the three waste no time in trekking in that direction. They pray that Stridor, if having survived the avalanche, wouldn't follow them.

The journey down the mountain takes them through several valleys and hills, eventually taking them away from the endless snow of the Snowy Mountains. They pass by a broken bridge that once spanned a mountain river, and eventually see what they think are buildings hidden among the hills of the mountain's base.

They approach the hidden village, which Melek comments must be the Forgotten City. They walk through the architecturally magnificent city, marveling at how beautiful it looks. But the lack of people, coupled with large heaps of skulls in some homes, tells them that this city, which has no outer walls, must've fallen to the Evil One. Realizing there is nothing for them in this once-peaceful and welcoming place, Richard checks the Path Finder once more.

The Path Finder points towards a peak near the city. Sensing the next pod is nearby, Richard and his companions begin the long climb upward. Several bones litter their way, reminding them of the Evil One yet again. They near the end of their exhausting climb when they suddenly hear a distant howl behind them. They look to see a familiar figure running down the snowy heights they left a long ways back. Stridor had survived, and he was pursuing them.

The trio quicken their pace, hoping to get out of Stridor's sight so he would give up on them. They reach the top of the hill and find themselves overlooking another valley, where a peculiar pyramid structure sits. The Path Finder points directly at the building.

After Richard points out that the pyramid is their next destination, Melek bounds past him enthusiastically. Richard suddenly remembers the last line of the prophecy and calls out for Melek to stop, but he is too late. Melek stands on a large rock on the edge of the valley's edge, and without warning the rock tilts forward as if on a hidden mechanism. Melek falls down the slide-like slope and tumbles out of sight.


Stridor is a giant ape-like creature that dwells within the Snowy Mountains. Little is known about Stridor except that he is suspected to be the missing link between apes and mankind. Because the Snow Mountains are situated very close to the Forgotten City, it is also assumed that Stridor guards the way over the mountains towards the city, though the reason is never clear. He is a fierce hunter that likes to kill large animals for food. He stores his food in a larder in the mountains. Stridor doesn't seem to have any connection to the Evil One - his existence is his own.

"Far below, he could see a thickset, furry creature coming up the hill towards them. It was round-bodied, with long arms and powerful legs, all covered in a furze of straight, brown hair. A large deer was slung across its powerful shoulders. As it approaches, Richard saw that the creature's face was strikingly human, rubbery and wrinkled into dark, clean-edged segments. Now and then the creature stopped and sniffed the air, his gaping nostrils quivering as they pointed in Richard's direction."


With the twenty-first issue of The Ancestral Trail, we get a headlining creature that is one of the rarest sort we've seen in the series: a creature that has no close or obvious ties to the Evil One. The last creature not to be directly linked to the Evil One was Hulkan the Mole Monster back in issue fifteen. Having these creatures are helpful reminders that the Ancestral World wasn't a completely safe land before the Evil One conquered it; Melek indicated that Stridor has existed even before the Evil One's arrival, so along with the Klaws and Spectors and Narkums of the world we also get the Stridors and Hulkans and (possibly) Zibellas.

Concerning Stridor himself, the ape-like creature proved to be quite a pathetic foe. Instead of killing Richard and his friends for his larder, he went for the Path Finder because it piqued his curiosity. This allowed Richard to strike a blow against him, thus allowing them to evade Stridor after the avalanche. And even when Stridor started chasing them again near the end of the issue, the ape-man is never heard of again once the trio reach the valley with the pyramid. One wonders how the Ancestral World will plan on dealing with Stridor if and when the Evil One is killed.


"We've got to get to the mountains as quickly as possible and get some shelter. If we stay in the open, we're dead."

Richard: "What was that?"
"It could be a large snow cat, or it could be something worse. I once came across a reference to a creature called Stridor who lives in the Snowy Mountains. He's believed to be the missing link between apes and mankind. He guards the way to the Forgotten City."
"Something tells me we've stumbled into his larder. We'd better get away as quickly as we can."

"Rub your faces. We must get our circulation going."

"Trapped is not the same as dead!"

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