The stained red clouds lay convulsing in a bed of swirling orange sky. Thick bloodied masses lumbered high in the atmosphere, while disfigured shales of mist swept smoothly past. The moon's silhouette sat back, black and mournful like a troubled onlooker, watching the sun sink in an agonizing infernal blaze over the towering mountains of the north. The sky was a maelstrom of crimson fire and splashing colors, but the dense trees, mountains and ground life huddled together, limbs and leaves still.
Wreath Silverblade was gloomy. She sat on top of a stony outcropping in the otherwise muddy ground. Around her stood arching oak trees, intertwining their branches to form a layered mesh of the forest canopy. The dense foliage created damp twilight darkness beneath it. Camouflage covering a bear pit as wreath had called it. Ambient rays streamed in golden falls through roofed cracks in the canopy and flirted with the dark wet leaves dwelling underneath. Wreath watched the leaves yearning for the life force. Following the flamboyant sun ray back up she stared at the sky blazing angrily in dusk's dying moments. A sneer extorted a wisp of steam from her mouth as she glanced from the dynamic sky to the chilling stillness surrounding her. She found little comfort in staring into the heavens; instead she scanned the site. A misshaped covering of animal hides strung out between two towering oak trees. Beneath it lay crude beds and the companions' belongings, settled on the only patch of grass present. Finally a small fire crafted for maximum heat and minimum light kindled, a pre-made dirt pile near it awaiting danger. Wreath settled down amongst the smooth coolness of the rocky earth and began to wipe the fresh blood from her broadsword. As she mindlessly caressed the blade with her leather patch and tarnishes, her glistening green eyes wondered across to the hulking stature, whistling mournfully.
No more than ten meters away stood the rigid figure of Arknane. Ark's massive hands gripped a splintering spear tensely; despite the bleeding cuts marring her hands. Stubborn curls of thick brown hair tinged with steaks of red rested on the warrior's forehead. A scar ran through her right cheek and up across the eyebrow like a cutout road. Many more scars tattooed Arknane's body but she didn't really care, not much drew her concern these days. Wreath sighed; she could still though notice the warrior's shadowed eyes casting momentary glances back down the trail. Her intimidating shadow also cast out down the trail, creating the outline of a gruesome beast. The sun sank lower and Arknane's shadow only grew, and so did her grip on the sword.
"Where is that damned fool Krandle?" mumbled Wreath, trying to attract or rather detract Arknane's thoughts.
"Where he belongs" spat Arknane, keeping her gaze on the trail "away from us and away from trouble."
" Well if he stays away from us much longer, we'll both starve!" replied Wreath returning her eyes to his sword. A low gurgling rumble caught Wreaths attention; Looking up she caught Arknane patting her stomach soothingly.
"The last nights have seen many hungry mouths" Wreath joked.
"Yes!" sighed Arcane, sending a strikingly cold gaze at Wreath as she turned her head away
"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to say that. I was just---"
Wreath halted empathetically, Arknane's shoulders already hunched up over her ears.
The grumbling stopped. Wreath shrugged her shoulders and stretched out awkwardly on the stony ground with a faked yawn and sigh. Looking with detest at the muddy ground. Arknane settled with shuffling closer to the fire's retreating warmth, careful to advert her eyes from Wreaths sight. Both women's cold, drawn eyes gazed back at the horizon, their reflective pupils dancing with its bright flickering lights and heavy smoke.
"Oh a town celebrating a festival, how delightful," mused Krandle. "Or maybe the fires of the Katheen Klans, come to help me, oops I mean us, no time to get selfish," he corrected cheerfully.
Krandle sat cross-legged fidgeting with his staff, and babbling mostly incoherently to a neighboring stump. The rotting stump hadn't replied yet, Krandle hoped it was just being polite, and soon would butt in with a reassuring comment about the fires. He had made his way here earlier after following a curious animal track. Once within the cool glade he decided that his body was not meant for hunting and he needed to, "regain his strength," as he had told the stump. All day the forest had been desolate and quite uneventful and now was no better.
Only when the sun began to throw its last tentacles of streaming light over the mountains did he finally let any memories of his waiting companions come to him. A frown fell upon his face as he mimicked the angry voice and face of Arknane shouting at him in his mind.
"I guess it's better than this hallowing pit of boredom I'm in, hey?" questioned the kinder to the stump. "I wonder if they have seen those fires?"
With the newfound hope of some excitement, Krandle launched himself of the dirt towards the trail, deer strung across his scrawny shoulders, exchanging good-byes to the stump as he passed. A screeching tune begun whistling from his cracked lips, and ignoring the curiosity of the distant fires, Krandle headed for the closest, and dimming patch of blinking light.
"Howdy folks!" shouted the kender gleefully as he trotted into the fires housing light.
Pointing triumphantly to the deer, he hoisted the heavy carcass onto the ground. Krandle cringed as he realized there weren't any happy and thankful faces. Wreath took a breath to speak but was cut hurriedly off.
"Fast lil' bugger. I'll give 'im that, but I got 'im, I did. Deer's have always been in my fancy, especially since that night when Arknane tripped on that stump chasing one like a mad bull. Ended up with a wallop of a bruise."
"I should throttle your gleaming little face with the damn deer" Arknane interrupted sharply. Unfortunately Krandle's eyes only flashed brighter with the hope of a game. She noticed this and was about to dim those bright eyes considerably when a bellowing sound echoed over the camp. All three froze in animation; the horrendous sound became distinguishable. Enormous flapping wings swept over them all, leaving each companion motionless for moments.
"Put out the flames!" cried Wreath to Arknane.
Instinctively Arknane heaved the pile of dirt over the small fire sending a gust of filthy smoke into the air. The dust disappeared, everything disappeared, the light vanished. Left in impenetrable dark, Arknane stumbled round blindly. All that could be discerned was the flapping as it became louder and louder. Arknane's knee whirled blindly as she stumbled and collided savagely with a hard object forcing her to her knees. Gushing wind whipped at her bleeding cheeks as a fierce growl echoed above. Snap! came a sound off to her right.
"Wait!" bellowed Arknane as she forced herself up onto her feet.
Again she heard the sounds of her fleeing companions. Arknane sprinted off in that direction. Leaves and limbs ripped at her lumbering thighs, slowing her pace. Blood streamed from her legs and she began to waver amongst the dense foliage. A menacing roar bellowed over the trees causing Arknane to freeze in a horrible shudder. She could feel the creature's closeness; its knowledge of her and its unmasked confidence. Just as the black fear flooded into her lungs she felt a grubby hand close over hers, yanking her quickly beneath a layer of growth. Behind her hovered a thick black and bodily shadow, supporting enormous web like wings and a long thrashing tail.
"Wow! A real dragmmmpppp---!"
Wreath's smothering hand quickly shut Krandle up. Looking up into the night sky, small spits of flame could be seen spurting in frustration from the creatures nostrils. The wings beat with doom, whipping up the dirt and the lingering smoke. For moments the three crouched awkwardly frozen, like statues cast wrongly.
"Come out Wreath you coward!" boomed he beast's voice as it circled! It's gleaming red eyes scanning the trees like search beckons. "Why keep running, all that you have is lost." Now its scaled claws lowered, rustling through the trees just above, sending a shower of leaves to fall around them like tiny probes.
"Left are you only with a dim-witted kender, more interested in a mouse than your life. And the other one Arknane, the one such knight so cowardly as to flee while her fellow knights fought bravely on!" the creature provoked.
Now the ghastly scent of sickly breath filtered down upon them. All three gasped back their cries of nausea from the sickeningly evil stench . "He will get impatient," whispered Wreath in a half wheeze, and motioning to the others to stay frozen.
Silence fell upon them. The dragon was silent, as if it wasn't even there. All around them the trees and shrubs lay silent holding their breath. A creaking sound broke the silence; about fifty meters away a tree ripped solidly out of ground, its gnarled roots thrashing around in desperation. The creature proceeded further, ripping trees out with horrendous strength in search of his prey. The search continued on some distance away from the three, but like devastating bolsters the uprooted trees were flung in every direction, some crashing down inches away. Wreath stood up from her crouched hiding. Quickly Arknane stretched out to retain her, but Wreath dodged her. Arknane was about to really inhibit Wreath when she saw her eyes glowing supernaturally, Arknane stopped dead and watched. With graceful elegance Wreath calmly stepped out into a small clearing as projected trees battered into the ground around her.
For a moment she stood, arms raised to the night sky. Her body came to life. Twirling circles of air encapsulated her hands as they begun to dance tragically through the air to the sound of the world's magical energy. The air itself seemed to fall limp and suck into Wreath's hands, as she began to sing the spells song.
"Ah, I hear you," laughed the creature. The flapping begun again with newfound ferocity and intent, accelerating quickly towards the three hiding shadows. Amidst the chaos, beautiful words of unknown origin echoed from Wreath's lips. Krandle's image started to waver as the singing picked up. The vibrant singing converged upon the two, sending them into a trance and causing the gloomy background to seep through Krandle's image. Finally with a blink the rest of his body flashed out of existence, leaving behind only an outline like between that of an air bubble. Gathering more momentum the trance orchestrated into a symphony as the Dragon charged for them. Next to follow was the warrior Arknane, who, unaccustomed to magic, stared horridly at her own fading body. The penetrating sound of an inhalation echoed through the hushed woods.
"Run!" screamed Wreath, as her body also vanished. Instantly the three invisible forms dashed frantically back toward the encampment. They charged madly through dense foliage and thick, sapping mud. An intense light shimmered behind them, igniting the night air and silencing the forest. With a furious crackling roar a gigantic orb of searing flames shattered down upon their heels, renting the ground underneath them and hurling flaming dirt and trees through the air. The incinerating shock wave vibrated violently through the forest, battering into the three. The immense force launched all three into a wild tumble. They crashed through the forest as the flames licked the trees behind. Down they tumbled, sliding down a depression of slippery mud. They could only glimpse momentarily at the way before them, lit by the chasing flames. Finally, the ground leveled onto grass. As they rolled to a halt, the flames whipped back inwards and vanished into the dark. A momentary glimpse back saw a devastated trail of mud and seared trees, then all light vanished. Slowly the three raised their heads from the sloshing mud. Instantly Krandle, patted down his body, expecting to find half his limbs missing. No one spoke a word; they waited for any signs of danger. Slowly the ringing of adrenaline died down. Deep in the distance, the sound of the creature's triumphant snarl roared.
"Looks like he thought he got us. Arrogant little bastard, ain't he?" chuckled Wreath from behind a casing of mud and grass.
Realizing the deep darkness, Wreath commanded the light spell. From the point of her sword kindled a mystically strong light, without heat but useful.
Arknane shot a stern glance at Wreath, which failed into a smirk at the sight of the mess. "This is no time for jokes, anyway he could just be finding some more friends to help?"
No one decided to respond.
Hesitantly, Wreath dragged herself from the ground, followed slowly by the other two. Looking around, Wreath pointed out the direction of the camp. And with that they started of back to the camp. Krandle hopped off gaily in front of them, leaving the two to fall into step and into conversation.
"How did Droth detect us?" asked Arknane while her eyes scanned the night sky. "Either we didn't lose our tracking friends earlier as well as we hoped, or the lil' fool drew more than his fair share of attention while hunting!
"Why did we bring the little toad, we'd get in more trouble with him walking down Townsand main road with bodyguards than with a pack full of draconian!" mumbled
"We had no choice but to leave. All of us" returned Wreath.
"Left. Ha. Fled you mean, like scared morphets!" Taunted Arknane.
"You know we had to leave, we were of no use, nor were those thousand like us who stayed," replied Wreath. For the rest of the walk Wreath stayed silent, her eyes turned to the ground ahead with shoulders hanging low.
The bright stain of red, had dissolved into the immense blanket of black-blue ripples, which was hurriedly swept across the sky. Seeing the retreat of the enraged, sun the moon began to beam pompously, hanging solidly full half-mast in the sky. With the eerie silver rays of the moon and the crisp wind of the deep night, came the beckoning thoughts of sleep and rest. Arriving at the camp, the three cleaned some of the dirt from their beds and stowed away their weapons. Accustomed to open camp, the companions had no hesitation settling down in their make shift beds, comfortable out in the open with the tress as a shelter. Earlier years would have seen the same threesome drift harmlessly off to rejuvenating sleep, but tonight, as of late, Arknane stayed vigilantly on as a watch, mainly to the sky. For some time, Wreath too scuffled around with her surroundings and answered the giddy question from Krandle about dragons, until finally falling slightly into restive doze.
As always, Krandle gave up the curious thoughts plaguing his little mind, especially the dragon. and plummeted into a blissful slumber, his mouth perched in a smile and eyes, though closed, still kindling with life. His redwood staff lay clenched tightly within his fingers, as firm as the clenched sword of Arknane that watched protectively over them all until dawn.
Suddenly Wreath stirred from her sleep. A wave of nausea struck her before she even opened her eyelids. It felt as if her brain was being bought to the boil. Slowly Wreath peered up into the surroundings. The surroundings started to surge like permeable waves, distorting and jumbling up everything around her. Confused Wreath huddled close to the churning ground, keeping her eyes flashing from side to side while her hand searched blindly for a weapon.
"Krandle? Arknane?" she whispered, trying -- if not yet found -- to stay undetected.
No weapon was available, and no answer came from her companions. Wreath was stranded, inert, without help or a weapon, and would dare not overt her probing eyes from her search for the danger amongst the spinning landscape to find either. Even the trees and scrub land began swirling frantically around, losing all shape dimensions and depth like reflections in a pond splashed with a rock. The crude howl of wolves changed to roars and screeches beyond her recognition. And all around her bulbs of blurred lights flashed, bleeped and burned angrily down upon her. She stayed frozen, only her eyes dashed around. Confused and scared, Wreath stood waiting for a sword to attack her, wanting to fight something. As she stood unnerved by the confusion the swirling surroundings began to creep into a new focus and the surroundings slowly reconstructed themselves into features.
"Oh paladin!" cried Wreath. The trees really had transformed identity. Directly opposite her the oak trees transformed into a towering structure embellished with vibrant colors and mesmerizing patterns. Then right underneath her a road paved with small rocks took on shape. Following suit, everything else around her transformed into other buildings, parks, roads and alien machines.
A terrible spell had been cast upon her, Wreath concluded that much. Her thoughts though on the spell abruptly vanished as she lurched into violent upheavals of food. This only caused her world to whirl more rapidly. Wreath grasped a nearby object to hold her stable. Like a snake, the object wriggled and withered in every attempt to relinquish her hold and send Wreath toward the flowing ground. But she needed to feel something tangible and she was not going to let go. Just as the grasped object seemed to be giving up its struggle a gangly figure appeared, sending the startled Wreath of balance and onto her back.
The man seemed to come forth from a rippling distortion of space, as if summoned from the magic's very energy. Wreath's eyes tightened as she struggled to peer up at the figure, which seemed not to be swirling chaotically like everything else. Expecting to gawk into the eyes of the dragon in human guise, Wreath had regained her feet and reached clumsily for her sword. Withdrawing it, she found to her amazement grasped in her hand a rolled up scroll of some sort, which was soaking wet from rain that Wreath could not quite recollect. With some trouble she laid a wavering hand on the figure's shoulders for more stability, forgetting for a second that this might be a deadly foe. Steadied once again Wreath looked up at her opponent and immediately stumbled back onto the ground with a dull thud.
The figure standing in front of Wreath was no draconian, but some sort of human being staring back at her with a half-cocked smile? Brilliant colors of handsome cloths adorned this mans thinly stature. The cloths were thick and so deeply layered and patterned that it seemed almost perfect, as if made by Paladin himself.
"Having a bit of trouble on your feet aren't you mate!" cackled the laughing voice of the figure.
The man pointed at Wreathes foot. "You're bleeding dude, need some help?."
Looking down to find the dilemma with her foot Wreath gasped, She too was clad in such elegant attire as the opposing man, her rusting chain mail had dissolved into lengthy garments of rare, black-as-night fabric. In her hand was that scroll that previously she had mistaken for her sword.
"Paladin forbid!" Wreath exclaimed as she stared at her body. Her slim body had grown into a largely muscled figure. Where her firm breasts had once perched high on her chest, now supported large pectorals. And an awkward weight dangled between her legs. Anger burst through her veins.
"You evil sorceress bastard! What have you done to me? I'm, I am a male! Turn me back. Now!" Wreath screamed at the figure still standing opposite him.
The scream, though, ended in a high pitch wail, and his whole body had begun to tremble uncontrollably in spasms, as his hands and legs rapped themselves up.His whitening eyes began to revolve back in into his head as his bottom lip lapsed into a frantic tremor. The anger confusion and fright took control of him.
His memories were beginning to feel more like the spontaneous words of a creative traveling storyteller.
"What have you done to me!" screeched Wreath as he misjudged the figure's distance and swiped at the turbulent air.
"I don't think it was me who did this to you!" laughed the man, perplexed at what exactly had been done.
"Then show me the cowardice fiend, Come out here and take me!" he cried.
"C'mon, Dude. You need some help, Let me steady you for a sec!" strained the voice of the gangly man.
Wreath lunged at the man with the scroll, but tumbled harmlessly straight into a wall, banging his head with high velocity.
"C'mon, Pal. What's up?"
Wreath sat up, raising a hand to his bleeding head. Like the wake of a tornado, the nausea started receding, a retreating tide in Wreath's mind. As the tide went out, It took all of his memories of the ancient land. Left upon the sand lay his now realer memories. Painful flashes of scenes racked Wreath's brain. Many indiscernible pictures and scenes flashed through his mind, Constantly, though, flashed a symbol of an inverted pie and cloudy scenes of a dark valley. Other strange scenes flashed, relating to the symbol, but Wreath could not figure them out at the moment. Instead he sat, arm supporting himself with an awkward bend, staring emotionless at the man's face.
"Your hurt. Your foot's bleeding, Man," came the exasperated voice of the man once again.
But Wreath's previously twisting and buffeting eyes had drawn a sheet of dark velvet across them, and his twitching mouth now lay half pierced, as if a canine tongue was about to flop out and drool over the mans shoe. "Do you know your name at least?" mumbled the man with a darkening frown. He waited irritably for an answer. Wreath's head only lulled slightly to the side, causing the man to throw his hands in the air. "Look, Buddy, I got better shit to do than look after some crack head." He waited longer for a response. "Fine. You can just sit there in stoned-fucking pleasure or whatever fucked up fucking ludicrous mind fucking drug your on and become some sort of fuck up. I don't care, Jesus, fuck. I don't even care 'bout Jesus, fucking waste a time both of yas!"
"No." came a calm reply from Wreath laying dumbfounded on the ground.
"No, No fucking what? No you don't wanna keep that fine watch and you wanna give it to me, no your not in love with your mother's fucking dog, What frickin' NO!"
"No, I don't know my name, do you?" replied Wreath, staring wide eyed at the stranger.
"Yeah, dead shit, your name's James fucking Bond, Bloody crack heads!" exclaimed the man while he scraped the mud from the bewildered man's shoulder.
Wreath suddenly felt nauseous again. Staggering blindly to a nearby garden he expelled churns of clumped liquid, and then collapsed onto the surrounding grass. The grass now felt real. He could feel the cool dew soaking into his pants. All his surroundings were beginning to feel real. Like a dowsed flame, Wreath's memories of his dreamy companions and adventures where turning into fantasies frolicking in the obscure depths of his right brain.
"James Bond was it? Really? Yes, actually that name does sound very familiar. Yes that must be my name," came the controlled voice of Wreath, "But I actually don't think my middle name's Fucking," said Wreath jokingly at the last part.
The gangly man's face split into tight wrinkles as his frown turned into a gigantic cry of laughter.
"You're a nutter, Man, a fucking crack-up nutter. Wait a second, Dude, are you fucking me round? There ain't no hidden cameras round here? Here, gi'me a look at your bag, fucking hidden camera pranks!"
"I don't know what you're on about. Please," Wreath pleaded pulling away from the man's hold on his bag. "Please, now that you know my names James, well rather, I know my names James, may I ask yours?"
"Great, so you really don't know your name!" cried the gangly man in a roaring laughter.
"Now, why would you tell me my name than tell me I don't know my name, You just said before that my name was Bond, James Bond!" Now if the gangly man had been in fits of laughter before, this sent him into a cardiac arrest.
"Please stop laughing. I really don't understand where I am. Or really just who I am, I thought I was some --- oh never mind, I mean you wouldn't happen to know an Arknane or a Krandle would you?"
The man soon stopped his rolling laughter and suddenly peered down at Wreath's pocket. The gangly man smiled with an inquisitive look and reached down into Wreath's pocket and withdrew simple dark blue case, the size to hold a pair of glasses. The case popped open at the flick of a switch, revealing a red padded interior. Peering into the case, both men saw a collection of white tablets, all marked with the inverted pie symbol.
"Man you have been scattered tonight, haven't ya?" he exclaimed, eyeing the collection with an admiring nod.
Wreath replied with a worried look.
"Say you want a cigarette?" asked the man.
"Yeah, um, I guess so," replied Wreath quickly, perching it between his lips and lighting it up.
"Hey you know how to smoke?"
"Yeah. Guess I do.....Wow!" Wreath said, staring at the cigarette puffing away in his mouth. "Do you have dragons here?"
"Well looking at all this It looks like your memories've been scattered a million miles, I don't even suspect you'll be getting them back. Must have been some fricking trip. Sorry, Dude, but your back in the boredom reality now.
"Yes," he continued, "the dream of wonder, of escape in your case, a fucked-up-tripping-drug-molestation, but in ethics still, a dream.
"Actually!" the man exclaimed, reaching deep into his trench coat pockets. "Here you goes," exclaimed the gangly man, as he pushed a magazine into Wreath's arms. Puzzled Wreath straightened out the magazine cover in front of him.
"Women's Day," He read aloud.
"Yeah!" replied the man with a sigh. "You were looking for everything you need to know bout this world. Well you have in your hands what about eighty-percent of us know and only want to know.
"Bill Gates: Is He Satan?" Wreath read aloud from the first headline, than consequently stared questionably at the man.
"Yep, there are your gods, Gates or Satan take your pick, I s'pose you could always go Christian. Oops I shouldn't put that idea in your head. He retorted placing a cigarette lovingly in between his dry cracked lips. Leaning over with a tilt of his head the man read out the other headlines, as crops of shaggy hair fell over his face. Microsoft gets bigger and Star Wars: the Phantom Menace. There's your sorcery, Nuclear bombs threat in Kosovo, as your wars and Bill Clinton impeachment trial as your glorious tales." He pointed out the magazine headlines with a sad grin on his face. "A god, though, ain't that important, hell any supernatural force has basically been disproved or shunned these days!
"Then again, beer's my god," Chuckled the man with twinkling eyes that sparkled through the layer of hair. "My mother always told me to have a passion!" smiled the man, eyeing his bottle, with distrust as if it had tipped out some of the content on it's own. Promptly the man cast the dregs into the bush and revealed from his deep coats some more beverage.
"Well I have important matters to attend to!" the gangly man proclaimed with a wave of the new bottle. "Anyway, I'm feeling a tinge in my lonesome heart right at this minute. And if I'm not mistaken, which mind you I am usually not, I think its nay the ill effects of too much ale but sorrowful feelings for a kid such as you ending up in such a mess. I tell you what I'll do. Here's ten bucks for you to make your fortune among the gods, I know it's not much but, hey, look at me, I ain't got much either!" he said as he pushed the note past James' waiting hand and into his pocket.
"Well, where should I start?James questioned.
"Go up to that coke machine and turn left pass the Macdonald's down the street, next then the Nike factory, and you'll find your place amongst your gods."
"And what's that?"James said.
© 1999 7zark7, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
This extract is chapter one of a larger piece of work.