“This is the end…beautiful friend.”
The thief ran until he thought his heart would burst
the path undulating and
in front of him. Several times he thought he couldn’t make it,
too confused about which way to go,
and he slowed,
but the air was alive with sound and something,
kept him moving in what he hoped was the right direction.
‘I will trust the forest, I will trust the forest…’
He arrived at the top of a hill and saw the warrior woman sitting cross legged in the grass.
The thief stumbled gracelessly over and unthinking,
dropped to one knee in front of her.
“I am here. Use me.”
She turned to look him full in the face and at the sight of her otherworldly violet eyes he gasped.
* * * *
At first the movement through the forest looked to be no more than wind in the tall grass,
leaves swaying on their branches, wildflowers bowing.
The urchins of the wood,
moved like shadows,
like small silent creatures who fear the light and the hunting owl.
One of them carried a knurled wooden box,
bound with silver and brass and strange translucent scales
which flashed like summer lightning,
and the air was alive with sound.
The children felt the pull of the song and
and the surge of raven wing.
They also felt the feardark that heralded the arrival of Rapaz,
like a reopened wound, like a curse,
and they moved faster…
* * * *
One moment the hillside stood in pale sunshine and
the next shadows had dropped from the skies,
the air alive with sound.
The two people standing together moved as one down the curve of the hill
toward the ruins,
stumbling in the murk,
the unnatural dark.
The sound of tearing rock driving them to their knees
as the ground beneath them groaned and swelled, massive stones spearing up through the ground.
And then, in the midst of the chaos, suddenly,
Rapaz was there.
* * * *
The Thief and the Warrior crouched together in the stinging wind, shielding their faces. Rapaz stood between them and the ruins, a cruel smile on her face.
‘What was it you were singing?’ she rasped at the woman,
and the sound of her voice drove into their skulls like rusty nails.
‘Journeys end…?’ and she laughed raising her arms to the bruise colored sky, her hands blazing with energy.
‘And now it ends for all time’, she spat.
That was when the dragon landed.
* * * *
Legends describe dragons as huge flying lizards, clumsy and with cumbersome tails.
This amuses the dragons.
They are more delicate and streamlined than that. Faster. Deadlier. Intelligent.
Rapaz and the dragon eyed each other and she screamed,
‘What are you playing at you miserable little wretches? There hasn’t been a real dragon in millennia, and your peasant magic is no match for mine. Did you really think it was your strength, your choice, that kept me penned here all these ages? Fools!’
The dragon tilted its head and said, ‘The years have made you waspish Rapaz. You know what true magic is and what it will allow.’
The witch howled and turned back towards the two cowering in the grass…but they were gone.
* * * *
As soon as the dragon landed the thief hissed, ‘Go, go NOW..’ and they pelted towards the ruins, the ring of ancient rock that the warrior could hear, humming and beckoning.
Almost at the edge, a sudden explosion rang and they both threw themselves to the ground. A fireball streaked past them and exploded, stopped by an invisible barrier. Blinded for a moment they stumbled apart. That was the opening Rapaz needed. She hurled another fireball at the dragon and flew cross the charred and shriveling grass to where the warrior and thief staggered.
‘You’ve lost handsome one, she hissed ‘You should have stayed with your petty schemes and card tricks. Now watch as it all vanishes.’ The witch pointed a clawed finger at the warrior woman and spoke a word. Power, in a tightly concentrated stream, slammed directly into her chest. She was thrown into the air but before she could collide with the ground the dragon was there, catching and lowering her with one glittering wing. Even from far away the thief could see the wounds still smoking and smell the reek of burned flesh.
He turned and dived for the ring of stones. He passed across the invisible barrier and instantly all was silent. A wave of dizziness drove him to his knees. When it passed, the spell was broken and the warrior woman stood there tall and determined. She raised the stone towards the sky and it blazed forth in all its power; green, violet, red, blue. The sky broke open….
He never remembered the moment the enchantment ended and he looked himself again. What he did remember was the dragon breaking apart into thousands of black thick pelted bees that swarmed into a huge cloud and blocked out the broken sky. What he did remember was a hideous anguished cry from Rapaz trailing off into the air as she disintegrated into a pile of rough black dust. What he did remember was the way the ground seemed to pulse under him and he seemed to want to say something very badly. But all thought escaped him and he followed his mind down into blankness..
When he woke his chest was stiff, bandaged with coarse fabric and green leaves. The urchin sat at his side.
‘Where is she?’ he asked without moving
The urchin smiled and pointed towards the calm blue sky. ‘She and the stone are there, back where stars belong. She was meant to be the guard and carrier only, but when the time came neither she or the stone wanted to be parted. So they are there, together.’
‘And Rapaz?’ he asked
‘She is there.‘ he said, tilting his head. A pile of grainy black ashes mounded in a heap, not too far from the ring of stones.
‘And there she will stay until the wind takes her.’
The thief looked at the urchin with pain in his eyes. ‘I didn’t know if the spell reversing ourselves would work. It is only a cheap magicians trick after all. But we had to try something.’
‘It worked,’ the urchin replied. ‘It gave her the moment she needed to break through the ring while Rapaz was concentrated on who she thought you were. It was a close thing but you did it.’
The thief swallowed and in a voice tight with unshed tears, ‘I didn’t say goodbye….’he trailed off.
‘No need to,’ the urchin said softly. ‘She’s not really gone, just moved. And you can visit her anytime you look up at the night sky.’
‘Now what happens?’ The man asked haltingly.
‘Now? Now life. Now living. You have battled the worst and won. You are changed of course. That is the nature of all life. To change and to continue.’
The man struggled to speak the worrying words. ‘But continue… with what?’
The little Guardian laughed, not unkindly. ‘That is the story not yet written. But it will be. Trust in that, in yourself and in the forest.’
And then he was gone.
The man stared at the sky for a long while. The slowly got to his feet.
‘A story needs to be written.’ he thought ‘And a story needs to be told.’
He strolled over and stood staring at the heap of black ash for a moment and then kicked it over, scattering the dust, feeling it grind underheel.
‘That’s thirsty work.’ he said cheerfully to the sky and started walking in the direction of the nearest town.