Dreamcatcher [Jon Doe]
Space is left for a foreword.
"Jon, don't wander too far!" My uncle called out as I ran past the gates of Mulsantir. We'd just gotten off the ferries, and he was talking with the caravan manager, likely about the number of wagons we would need for the goods he was bringing along the Golden Way to Kara-Tur. He would purchase wools and pale ale from my father every other year, and bring home massive profits as a merchant, as well as strange souvenirs for my older brother, my little sister, and myself. Odd dresses, a fat cat statuette, he was the source of any amount of spice in our lives.
Being the eight year old boy that I was, and having been stuck on a ferry for a few hours, which is forever at that age, raced towards freedom as afternoon was waning towards dusk. I vaguely remember shouting back to him that I would be back before dark. We were in Rashemen, the land of warriors and witches - not the herbal midwives or educated sorcerers, but something far more wild and primal. And my fledgling adventuring streak had since recovered its bruised ego from a run in with wolves that almost went badly. I had a healthy respect for big, furry monsters, but it would no longer be enough to keep me behind fences.
Twiggy legs, their skin more white than pink due to the lack of adventuring to be had after the last mishap under my parents' protective eyes and my uncle who knew would be skinned if I was harmed, carried me down the Golden Way a small distance. Travelers, some on horses with escorts, others alone and with well-worn clothes, streamed past me on their way in before nightfall. I took a few steps into the forest - aware to make sure I knew which direction the road was - and chased small game gleefully, tormenting the poor squirrels and other rodents in the area with my clumsy gait.
It grew dark before I realized, eyes adjusting to the dimness of the sunset. I turned to head back in, my feet taking me back to the road...until I saw a flicker of light to my left. Eyes darting, a light bobbed a short distance ahead. I waved, and it swayed. Someone to play with, perhaps? I dashed after it, leaves rustling in my wake, the promise to my uncle forgotten in that moment.
My winds lost, the flickering vanished. I turned around, but could not make sense of where I was. Wolves howled in the distance, now that I was paying attention. I started crying, wandering aimlessly as snot dribbled down. Every creak was a monster coming for me. I eventually tripped over some tree roots, getting wedged between them. With some wriggling, I was able to free myself, and dug my way under them, a wall between me and whatever was out there.
That practice went on for a few sunrises and sunsets. Wandering, seeking the road during the day. Occasionally finding what I hoped was edible. I carried a broken branch, my weapon and walking stick. One that I needed when I became ill. It was a struggle to get up, and find food. I barely made it back to the hole I had spent the previous night in before I collapsed, my breathing ragged and body on fire. I had consumed a stimulant, poisoning myself with the dosage. Too concerned with what would actively hunt me over what I would have killed myself with.
When I came to, the first thing I heard was the crackle of flame. The smell of damp earth. My heartbeat, sluggishly pumping away. Fear, when I became lucid. Someone walked towards me, tilting my head up and giving me bitter water. The figure seemed white and black to my bleary eyes, the fire exaggerating his angular features as he forced me to swallow.
I slowly regained my senses and strength. Once I was able to sit up, there was no sound for a while, barring the campfire. I was nauseous, and focused on just getting air into my tiny lungs.
Eventually, the man spoke up, in a tongue unfamiliar to me. He repeated what he said a few times as I looked at him in hazy confusion. Eventually, he switched to Common.
"You are...not from here," he half-asked. I weakly shook my head. "Will take back to Mulsantir." He received no objections from me. But...
"How did you find me?" I eventually rasped. The man looked around and shrugged, waving his hand vaguely into the woods. He had stumbled across me by luck, or by fate. A hunter and forager, who traded with settlements. Shurik. He had me rest once more, to set out in the morning.
We walked for a day before I noticed he was concerned with something, though he would not speak of it. He would occasionally look for trail signs, leading back to civilization. But we never got there. Three days passed thusly, as I regained my strength. Curious, I would ask him how to read the signs, though his answers got increasingly agitated as time went on. He calmed down when he hunted - out of practice or necessity.
Eventually, I think we changed direction. Instead of aiming for Mulsantir, we entered a lodge. He traded pelts and herbs with the wyches, in exchange for medicine and other supplies. They spoke in the local tongue, which I was unfamiliar with at the time, before the wych came over and examined me. I distinctly remember her picking me up by my arm, and me thrashing with the indignity of it before I was on my rump in the dirt.
I learned later that he had come to her for help. His trail readings had been going wrong consistently. She hypothesized that the land had claimed me, and would not release me, which was certainly odd for a male. We stayed near the lodge for a few days, where I was adopted by some of the warriors in their free time to train with their children in hunting and battle. However, we had to move on. Shurik led me deeper into the woods.
If one to ask me where I went and what I saw, I don't think a lifetime is long enough to describe it all. Rashemen - the land of the spirits. Half alive, half patiently waiting to guide the next generation onwards. A feeling of peace pervaded the woods there, perhaps because the people were so in-tune with what they needed to do.
Shurik taught me how to survive out there. How to dominate over beasts. How to shelter myself. Reading tracks. And eventually, how to fight. I became a better shot with the bow as time went on, but he was quick to teach me that many animals can take an arrow and gore me in the same step. Those were not pleasant lessons...
I remember the leaves shifting when I first heard The Call. Glancing skyward as the winds blew through, the trees singing in their rustling voices. In that moment, I just stopped. All of the motion was drained out of me. I could only listen.
The trees, speaking in their ancient dialect. The stream nearby, laughing as it ensnared the first few fallen leaves, carrying them downstream. My own heartbeat, slowly matching a pulse I couldn't place. Feelings ricocheting in my body that no words can show to light. Then I was free once more.
I...never told Shurik. At the time, I did not understand. I cannot claim childhood innocence, nor idiocy. What stopped me? The secrets of the oath were laying their foundation. And, perhaps, I was scared to lose my only lifeline and mentor if I described that ghoulish paralysis...Afraid that I was defective, broken, useless, a burden...
Nobody talks to angels We hide our demons within Afraid to step out of the darkness Weighted down by sin Can't retract these salt-stained tears And the blooded fury of the mind To deny my place in the world Can't we just rewind?
When your eyes close, no one knows The fire that sleeps within And as time passes by Oh, you make my heart spin If the world receives our memories A song all our own
When your eyes close, no one knows The fire dormant in your soul And as the moments fly, I keep an eye You make my heart whole Know that, though, at the edge of the world Wherever the winds dare to blow They carry our memories with tenacity That song will be all yours, that song will be our own This great melody, roaring over land and sea Yet your spirit calls louder yet With dragon's eyes and wild cries No adventure to forget I ask of you, so please answer true When I take your hand Is it mere maidenly blessings you give Or could we be something more grand?
Dragon's Dare Curry
Boil dragon legs to create a broth. Simmer with rice to create risotto. Add five peppers and two flaming cloves. Salt to taste.
Fall became winter as I tagged after Shurik like a scruffy, disproportionate duckling. He taught me what he could to live off of the (plentiful) fall harvest, as well as helped me learn how to shoot. I also started learning the Rashemi tongue from him, if only because I did not know the names of some of these nuts and fruits in Common when he taught them to me.
He also taught me how to hunt. The whole deal. How to drive quarry where I want it. How to follow trails. How to drain the blood from what I caught, remove the entrails, and offer them to the spirits. How to tell which animals were bearing young or not, or were ready to pass on.
Shurik would leave me alone on occasion. A day, and then two, and then more. He would always return...
He also watched as a pack of hungry winter wolves chased me through the vale, before I was able to leap into a tree and threw rocks at them. It was not my most graceful hunt. I was furious that he would have let me die...but it is the fate of the weak to rely on the strong. And so, I did not leave his side as the depths of winter settled into the naked forest.
Winter is never comfortable for those who live outside. Auril's misty breath chills all it touches, and Talona waits to dig her claws into the weak. At this point, we took up refuge in a barrow at the southern end of the country. Nor were we alone...
A shorter man, of dark, wild hair was our comrade for the deep winter. Gill, he was. It was clear he had no love for Shurik, but I think he took to me. Probably in pity.
He was certainly the wild man most people dream of! Dressed in naught but leaves and moss. But the leaves smelled nice, and the moss was springy and comfortable. When it was cold, he would hold me near the fire and tell me stories he had heard from wanderers through the region, as well as tales of the mischief of the spirits.
When the birch tree guarding the entrance of the barrow regained its leaves, he told us it was time to move on. He directed us to follow the sun until noon for a week, but promptly kicked us out. When I turned around, I could no longer find the place we had stayed...
When your eyes close, no one knows
The fire dormant in your soul
And as the moments fly, I keep an eye
You make my heart whole
Know that, though, at the edge of the world
Wherever the winds dare to blow
They carry our memories with tenacity
That song will be all yours, that song will be our own
This great melody, roaring over land and sea
But I would show you better yet
With dragon's eyes and wild cries
No adventure to forget
I'll stand with you before panorama view
And grin at biting wind
To see your smile stretch far the mile
And the paths we walk be twinned
I ask of you, so please answer true
When I take your hand...
Is it maiden's meek coloring your cheeks
Or could we be something more grand?
We journeyed for two days in relative peace. But three is a magic number, and magic was not kind.
The forest was looking like a small martial force had moved through it. Plants ripped apart, heavy boot marks in the mud. Shurik told me to stay back while he scouted ahead...
And then the stench of death- No, undeath hit us. It explained why the spirits were absent this far south. They were likely being tortured by foul practitioners. We ran forward, figuring it was just some foolish wizard, thinking the undead would be easy prey once their source of magic was gone.
Armor glinting with live warriors. Humans. Gnolls. As well as undead. A cabal of wizards, wearing camouflage vests over their red robes, were leading the way, deeper into the forest.
Shurik streaked out before I even had time to process the scene before us, shouting at them in the Rashemi tongue. Words he hadn't taught me yet. He caught one of them by surprise, keeping his body low as he came up from behind and got the man through the gap between the ribs.
And then he was dead. Foul energies seeped into him, adding another man to the army. I was too shocked to move from the foliage, even as the gnolls raised their noses in the air, awaiting more assaulters.
But they left. It was the last I saw of Shurik. When I finally snapped out of it, it was dark. I moved some distance away from the trail - in case they were the vanguard - and spent the night staring into the fire.
I remember walking and hunting, but not really...thinking. Doing what my body needed, as I had no appetite. Dazed and broken. I couldn't get the carnage out of my head, or the loss. Not surprising, given how young I was...
Music pierced the fog. Oh, how beautiful it was. It dragged me from the murk of self-loathing. I stalled where I was, changing course to follow it. It called me, more than just beauty, but something threatening to swallow me and erase the darkness, as well as my sanity...
When I next came to, a masked woman was removing her hands from my face, where a wet cloth lay. An ethran. A healer. I couldn't read her face, though her posture seemed...hesistant to be treating me.
I called to her, in her tongue. I'm sure my pronunciation was terrible, between being half-delirious and being a foreigner. We were at the foot of a large tree, almost golden. Blood was spilled nearby...
Warned her. About the red mages and their destruction. She spoke in a lilting tongue - to the tree - before disappearing. I was too weak to do anything, my legs burning as feeling returned to them. Nauseous.