Chapter 2: “Seek the Path”

With my heart, not my eyes, Chindren recalled as he stared out among the trees, that was what she had said. He stood in the center of the small clearing not far from the cliff where the great bear had spoken to him. Despite her warning, he felt as though he could not simply leave her body out here in the open, and so had spent the past hour covering her with pine boughs he gathered from the surrounding area. He had scouted out the area first to make sure there were no other search parties in the immediate vicinity, and convinced that he was safe enough for the time being, had spent the rest of the time preparing a proper grave.

But now that he was finished and had paid his final respects to his unexpected new friend, he stood bewildered, staring out at but not seeing the trees that surrounded him, trying to figure out what it was the bear had meant. If anything, her speech had only left him more confused than he had been to start. At the time, he had been so overwhelmed with emotion at having to lose such a noble new friend that her words had barely registered, but burying her had given him a chance to mull over what she and the dying man had said.

Even so, he could not make heads nor tails of it.

The man had called him a “heretic,” which he still didn’t know the meaning of, but the way the man had spat the word out could not mean it was a good thing. He had also mentioned Chindren’s father. Chindren knew nothing of his father—could this man have known him? If so, Chindren wasn’t sure he wanted anything to do with him. The bear had called him “Windrider,” which though he liked the sound of it, still meant nothing to him.

Worst of all, Chindren could not imagine who would be after him, or why. The thought gave him a shiver up his spine. These men were not sent by my uncle to bring me home, he pondered, they were sent to kill me. But why? And by whom? I have harmed no one in my life.

Seek the path, she had said. Seek the path indeed. This, on top of everything else, frustrated him the most. He could see no path anywhere out of here, nor could he feel it with his heart as she had instructed him, so he stood in this clearing, frustrated and confused, trying to find a path that could not be seen with the eyes. Tired, Chindren made his way to the large rock in the center of the glade where his pack rested and clambered up to sit atop it. The recent excitement and horror had succeeded in taking his mind of his hunger, but now that things had calmed down he had become all too aware of it again.

He pulled the cheese he had been saving out of his pack, unwrapped it from its oilcloth, and began to nibble on it. The sun was now heavy in the western sky, and cast the clearing in long shadows. Chindren would have to find a place to camp for the night, hidden path or no hidden path. He began to pick up small pebbles that lay in crevices in the boulder and flick them off into the grass of the clearing. He did this several times as he continued to ponder the meaning of the bear’s message, when one of the pebbles made a strange sound as it hit the ground. He looked up to see where it had landed, which he judged to be somewhere near the far side of the clearing, but he could see nothing particularly interesting about the spot from where he sat, and so got up to investigate.

He wrapped up the rest of the cheese and stuffed it into his coat pocket, then walked over to the patch of ground where he estimated the pebble had landed, knelt down and began searching through the grass for the foreign object, but could find nothing at all but dirt, grass and the gnarled roots of nearby trees. Then he found it: a dirty old piece of broken glass. Glass was something only the wealthy had in Willowbrook, but a shard like this would not fetch much. He was about to leave it be, but decided one never knows when something might come in handy, and so fetched it up into his pocket instead.

As he stood, he was suddenly overcome with a feeling of profound serenity. This startled him to no small degree because he had never before felt such a strong feeling come over him so suddenly, and seemingly of its own accord. It was almost as though he was communing with some vast intelligence unapparent to him, yet there were no animals or beings nearby save for a few birds and squirrels scattered throughout the trees, and they were not paying him any mind. Chindren stopped and slowly breathed in the soft scents of the forest—the grass, the earth, trees, flowers and moss, and found the whole mix most intoxicating. He had always loved the forest for its peacefulness, but this was something entirely new to him. It was almost as if the very forest were alive and speaking to him.

The more he focused on the feeling, the more he was sure there was something more, something deeper than just a feeling of peace. The serenity was like but a droning chord beneath an intricate song, and as he focused on it, he began to feel as though he could start to unravel those deeper melodies.

The trees were talking to one another.

He didn’t know how it could be, but somehow these trees were able to communicate. It was not with words, or even with feelings that were easily translated into words as with his bear friend; this was a different form of communication altogether. It was a surreal blending of sound and smell combined with an overriding feeling of peace and serenity. The thoughts were not short and quick like those of man or beast, but slow and continuous, and he got the distinct impression ancient. But it was more than just a feeling; there was a certain wisdom about it. The trees knew things, saw things he couldn’t see.

As he stood there transfixed, he realized his eyes were closed yet he was still sensing the forest around him. He could feel the warmth of the late afternoon sun upon his face, offset by the cool breeze that blew gently across the glade, rustling the grass and the leaves of the immense trees before him. He could almost sense every tree, every branch. He felt as though he knew exactly where they were, even with his eyes shut. He turned his body away from the sun, and felt its rays penetrating him, casting right through him and sending a tingling sensation throughout his body. He held out his arms and smiled, reveling in this profoundly new experience.

In his mind’s eye he began to see ethereal forms take shape, coalescing out of the fog of his thoughts. Each tree, each plant had its own distinct feeling that before had been mixed in a jumble of sensations all felt at once; but they now began to separate themselves until he could actually begin to see individual living forms in his mind. He was amazed to discover they looked nothing like they did to his eyes. They were beautiful. Iridescent lines of pulsating light traveled along flowing, sinuous forms, glowing brightly with the light of life that endowed them. It was as though he were looking right through the trees, seeing every vein of sap as a trickling thread of light that traveled upwards from the tree trunks and branched out hundreds of times to reach each leaf and then back again. The lines shifted and swayed in the breeze, shimmering and glinting like crystal as the glowing beads of luminescence danced along their length.

He looked down and was startled to discover he could see right through the ground to the network of roots below his feet, and was amazed at how far they extended, intertwining with one another and creating a veritable mesh beneath the surface of the earth.

Between the forms, clouds of soft light billowed and shifted through the invisible air, drifting to and fro on the breeze and filling the empty spaces with a substance that became so apparent, so dense, that it felt as though he were swimming through a sea of light, with each plant or creature a glowing beacon in an underwater world.

He could sense the breeze flowing through the trees in currents and eddies. Whereas before, he had been blind to the wind, he could now see its effect, twisting and swirling like dust in a tempest. As he watched, the currents of wind began to take on a distinct colour and form all its own, carrying upon its wing the scent and message of plants and trees hundreds of miles away, all merging with those here and continuing onward.

Chindren began to notice that the wind was taking a distinct path through the trees, almost as though it knew where it was going, or was being somehow directed. It had all looked the same to him with his eyes open, but he could now clearly detect an order—a direction—to the energies that flowed around him.

He had found the hidden path.

* * *

When he opened his eyes, the shock of the real world coming back to him was so startling he lost his balance and fell backwards onto the soft grass. He stared up at the deep blue sky with its cirrus clouds skirting its farthest heights, catching his breath, then broke out laughing. The whole experience had been so unexpected, so exhilarating, that for a moment the joy of having discovered this new ability overpowered the negative emotions that had up until recently been plaguing him. It was good to laugh again, he thought, as he sprawled his arms out to his sides and simply enjoyed the soft ground and bright, clear sky.

But dusk was not far away, and he had better get moving if he expected to be anywhere else but here when he set up camp for the night. He was also incredibly hungry, but he loathed the idea of having to hunt for food. However, if it came down to survival, he knew he may have to. He thought back to the bush of small red berries he’d seen earlier, but still couldn’t recall why it had stood out to him. He was certain the berries were poisonous. He had learned from a close call at a young age not to eat the berries of the forest, but something still tugged at his consciousness from the recesses of his mind. Perhaps he would take a sprig if he encountered the plant again, but was not prepared to backtrack this late in the day.

When he finally sat up, he became suddenly apprehensive: there was not a sound to be heard amid the trees. It was as though every animal had suddenly become silent. No birds chirped; no squirrels chattered. He could not even hear any crickets or clatterbugs. Only the faint wind rustling through the trees made any sound at all. Something was wrong; Chindren could feel it. His cheerful mood slipped from him like water on a gooseback. The wind turned suddenly cold, sending a chill to Chindren’s bones. He jumped to his feet. The wind also began to strengthen, until Chindren’s hair was flapping about his face. In the distance, Chindren could hear it begin to moan. A storm was coming; a big one.

Never before had Chindren witnessed a storm come so quickly and without warning. The sky, perfectly clear moments ago, had now begun to darken with ominous clouds, that spread visibly across the sky even as he watched it, shrouding the land in premature twilight. Chindren raced for the cover of the trees, and began desperately looking for some kind of shelter he could use to wait out the storm; but the sudden darkness made it difficult to see where he was going, let alone find shelter of any kind. He continued to run in the direction he was facing, which was roughly west, along the Northern bank of the Minnoa, but he could not make out anything in the near-darkness.

Then he remembered the bear’s message. Follow the path. It will lead you to where you need to go. Chindren closed his eyes, but his second sight did not come. Just as he opened his eyes again, his foot caught on a tree root and he flew forward, hands out to break his fall. But the ground did not come when he expected it to, and his entire world tilted and shifted as he continued to fall forward over the top of the hill he had just inadvertently discovered. His hands finally made contact with the ground, but the momentum of his body was too great and he only managed to roll over on his shoulder as he continued to bound headlong down the side of the hill. The wind was now tearing up the ground all around him and whipping dirt, twigs and leaves against his exposed skin. He had to close his eyes to protect them from the debris. As his feet came down in front of him, he bent his knees and pulled his legs close to his body as he was hurled downwards. The second time around, he was finally able to stop his somersaulting, but he continued to slide on the loose ground churned up by the storm.

He held his forearm in front of his face, trying to block the buffetting debris to catch a glimpse of where he was headed, but could make out nothing save the silhouetted tree tops against the dark sky. Suddenly the ground gave out beneath him and as he fell, he could make out the distinct rushing of the Minnoa river below him; then SPLASH! Frigid water engulfed his senses, entombing him in a sudden silence in comparison to the havoc above the surface. Chindren kicked his feet but his waterlogged boots and clothes made him feel like he was swimming in molasses. Finally he surfaced, and the rush of water and howling wind resumed their cacaphony. Chindren desperately flailed his arms out, trying to find anything grab ahold of, but there was nothing. The cold water continued to carry him downstream and he was unable to stop it.

He looked up to the sky, which was by now the only thing not completely blackened out, and could see the high ridges of the ravine to either side of him. Even if he could make it to one of the sides, there was no hope for him to climb the ledge. He would have to wait until the ground leveled out further downstream.

He continued to watch the sky, and as he did, a sudden flash of lightning lit up the area like a flash of daylight and then was gone. Had there been something in the sky? Chindren could have sworn he had seen something flying amid the chaos, like a dark speck against an even darker sky, but as he looked up now he couldn’t be sure. Whatever it was, it was big. Much bigger than a bird. The sky flashed again, but this time there was nothing.

Chindren decided to focus on staying alive, and so tilted onto his back and used his arms to keep his body afloat. He knew the river could get treacherous up ahead and didn’t want to be knocked unconcious by an invisible rock, but the water seemed to be taking him where it wanted him to go and there was not much Chindren could do about it, so he just focused on keeping his feet in front of him and his head above water. Several times he thought he saw large rocks sweep past him, nearly missing him, but in the darkness he couldn’t be sure.

Onward the river carried him.

* * *

As the coldness of the water slowly crept into his brain, Chindren’s consciousness began to drift away from him, as if taken upon its own path down the river. The roar of the water became a constant droning sound that filled Chindren’s being with its presence until it was the only thing he could sense or feel. Chindren started to feel as though he was the river, as though he were consciously controlling it, of the roar that filled him.

He fought to regain control of his mind, but it was useless. He was freezing to death. Amidst the panic and the chaos there was a certain peace. He could no longer fight it now. His mind drifted away, leaving his feeble body behind as it reached out and expanded, finally free of the confines of his corporeal form, of the ridiculousness of time and space.

He was back in Willowbrook with his aunt. But she was much older than he last remembered her. He was a man now, master of the house. He looked down at her and smiled. He remembered it all now. He had come back from his journey a hero, and the town had cheered his return. His uncle had passed away some years before his return and his aunt had been struggling to survive. Chindren could still remember the look on her face when strode through that front door.

He was so happy now. His life was finally fulfilled and he was at peace. He smiled at the townspeople as he walked leisurely down the main street. People called his name and waved at him.

Now he was a child, playing in the brambles outside of his farm home. He did not recognize this place. He was drawing in the dirt with a stick beside an old fence by a dirt road and watching the bugs as they went about their business along the sandy ground. In the distance his mother called him. It was time for lunch. He tossed the stick down and ran towards the little white house on the hill.

He was looking down upon his mother. She appeared to be in incredible pain. Dim candles lit the dark room. There were men here, gathered round. They too bore looks of concern. His mother screamed. The child was in distress. Chindren. She would call him Chindren, after her father.

A tall man with a long beard in a plain dark robe stretched out his arm as filaments of light like those he had seen in the forest began to emmanate from his fingertips and stretch towards her.

“Chindren!” she screamed.

Suddenly he was in a cold river, being swept downstream at an incredible pace. Somehow this was different from the other places he had been. This one was not pleasant like the others. He felt as though he had been here before.

“Chindren,” a voice echoed in his mind.

He looked up to see his mother floating before him. He smiled at her. It must be a dream, he thought: the river, the cold. He would awaken soon and be back among his friends in that peaceful world he had just left. But the figure was not smiling back at him. She looked frightened.

Chindren wanted to comfort her, to tell her everything was okay and not to fear—that he would be with her again soon; but he could not speak. Again something tugged at him from the back of his mind, a warning, perhaps. Not all was as it seemed.

This sparked the tiniest bit of concern in Chindren. He began to worry if perhaps his mother needed him to do something, but he could not figure out what that was. The figure reached out her arm to him. That was it, he thought. She wants me to take her hand. He struggled to lift his arm, which for some reason felt as though it were made of lead. Somehow he managed to reach out and take hold of her, and as he did his whole world twisted and started moving in the most peculiar way.

He noticed there was a river rushing by him. It was cold and wet and unpleasant and he wondered what on earth it was doing there. He realized he was holding onto the branch of a tree that had grown out from the shallow bank and began to pull himself up out of the cold water.

As he hung there, breathing heavily, his thoughts began to come back to him. He remembered the wind and the storm and falling into the river, and some very peculiar dreams, but he couldn’t figure out for the life of him how he had managed to grab that branch, which he now clung to for dear life.

The sky had cleared considerably and the storm had seemed to have passed, but it was now quite late and natural darkness was already close at hand. There were even a few starts beginning to show.

The banks of the river were much lower here, and as Chindren began to pull himself out by the branch of the tree, he managed to reach ahold of a clump of grassy land in his other hand. Pulling by the branch, he managed to hoist himself up so that his waist was resting on the soft bank and only his feet were dangling in the river. His limbs still felt like clubs, but were now shivering violently trying to get some feeling back in them. His whole body shook, making it hard for him to pull himself up any further, but grabbing ahold of two fists of grass, he managed to do so, rolling himself over onto the bank and out of the water.

He lay there a moment, between the bank of the river and the trunk of the tree whose limb he had used to pull himself free of the deadly river. His teeth were chattering and his whole body shook with convulsions as it tried to warm itself despite the sopping wet clothes the cool night air. He began to strip his soaking clothes off and longed for his pack with his blanket and canteen, far behind him in the glade somewhere atop the ravine. He began to search hopefully through his coat, which now lay in a sopping bundle beside him and was relieved to discover his flintstone and cheese had not fallen out in the river. He pulled out the bundle of cheese and began to devour it.

Chindren sat there, cold and naked, shivering so wildly he could barely hold the cheese to his mouth as he tore off big chunks of the hard cheese with his teeth and ate with abandon. After he devoured the cheese, he grabbed his undergarments and tried to wring them out as best he could, despite his frozen hands. When he had done all he could he laid them out to dry atop a nearby bush and went back to his things.

He picked up and shook off as much water as he could from his coat, which having been slicked with oil was at least somewhat waterproof. It was now soaked right through of course, but he turned it inside out and draped it around his shoulders as he sat in a scrunched ball, back to the tree and tried to conserve the little body heat he had left.

The minutes ticked by. Unlike while he was in the river, this time the pain did not go away. Chindren simply focused on staying conscious as he watched the silhouettes of tall stalks of cattails lean to and fro in the breeze. The night was lonesome and empty, and though his teeth were no longer chattering, every muscle in his body was painfully clenched. He sat with his arms around his legs pulled up tight against his body and his chin resting on his knees with the damp overcoat providing a small degree of insulation and protection from the breeze.

He watched the final remnants of light disappear from the sky and the stars come out to shine. There was no moon to be seen in the heavens that night.

The story continues…

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Published in: on January 14, 2009 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Welcome to Lolen, the brand new, original and completely free blook!

Just want to get started? Click here to start from the beginning.

What is a blook exactly? Well it’s a blog-book, or in other words a book that you read in blog form. What’s so cool about that? Well it takes us back to the days of books by installment. Many of Charles Dickens’ and Alexandre Dumas’ classics were published a chapter at a time in periodical publications. [They were also paid by the word, which is why you might find their styles a little bit verbose.] I’m not claiming to be akin to Dickens or Dumas, of course, nor am I paid by the word (or for that matter, at all yet), but with Lolen, you get the thrill of reading a new chapter every so often, and I get the thrill of releasing them to you a piece at a time!

It’s kind of like an ultra-modern yet old-fashioned tune-in to read the latest episode of a book on the world wide web sort of thing! Heck you could even print them off for that added feeling of reading a real book. 😉

Best of all, because it’s based on a blog, you can add your comments to each chapter and see what others are saying about it. Perhaps there’s some foreshadowing someone picked up on, or a debate as to who a mystery character will turn out to be. And even better still is the fact that I’m coming up with these as I go, so if you play your cards right you can even influence the development of the story by suggesting intriguing twists or plot developments!

I’m even hoping to eventually support wiki-based illustrations that readers can draw and submit and people can vote on their favorite illustrations for a particular scene in the book! In the meantime, feel free to submit illustrations for key scenes of your choosing and I will publish them (with credit) to the appropriate chapter.

But enough about the medium; let me introduce you to the initial storyline and the basis for the idea.

Lolen is set in a time long-past, just after the “dawn of time”, which marks the beginning of mankind’s ascension to sentience. Long before what we currently think of as the beginning of history, the planet was alive with sentient beings who possessed the ability to control the Earth and its energies in ways we have since forgotten. Theirs was a proto-science, an understanding of things that came not from external observation, but from a unique ability to intuitively understand the very nature of a thing, and thus control it in ways we cannot fathom. That ability was called magic.

The idea for Lolen has been brewing in my head for a little while now and originally started as a desire to write and publish a full-fledged novel (something I still want to do). In fact, I’m a computer programmer by trade, so I’m no stranger to the blog world, and it just struck me that I could marry these two paradigms—the ancient art of storytelling with the ultramodern social blogosphere.

What will the result be? Who knows!

What happens when we reach the end? Well, no promises, but perhaps there will be a real published copy made available that might even include the best user-submitted illustrations and comments from the blog. Maybe there will be contests and final copies to give away… it’s too early to say!

Alas, the story begins as we follow the unexpected arrival of a wizard-child, in a time long ago when wizards were forbidden from raising children of their own…

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 5:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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Chapter 1: A Small Fire

It was a small fire. But as he sat there, shivering and bundled in his woolen blanket and oiled overcoat, Chindren couldn’t help but smile at his success. He took a deep breath of the cold, damp air and let it out in a puff of breath as he rubbed his hands over the flame. In the distance, squirrels chattered and birds called out to their mates, beckoning them out of the rain. Chindren pulled a piece of hard bread out of his coat pocket and gnawed at it, his stomach growling with hunger. I must ration myself, he thought wisely, else I will not last long.

Though he had never ventured far from home before, he knew the area from the few times he and his uncle and cousins would come out this way in the cart to get supplies from the next town. In fact he knew it well. While his cousins would kill the time bickering amongst themselves, he would be staring off into the rustic scenery as they drove by, observing every nook and every cranny—every moss-covered rock or broken tree limb.

He had camped about a quarter-mile south of the main road—far enough away that he couldn’t be seen from the road, but not so far as to be out of earshot. He wanted to hear every cart and carriage that drove down the road, in case someone decided to try and come after him. He had toyed with the idea of not leaving Aunt Evelyn a note, but he knew if there was anyone at all in the world he could trust, it was her.

He had spent the first few days travelling down the East road, and camping in the brush not too far away from it, but he would travel no further by road now. It had rained the whole time, which he was partially thankful for, as it would help to conceal his tracks, but it was cold and miserable and he had almost forgotten what it felt like to be warm. This was the first night he had been able to start a fire at all. But the rain was letting up, and he had already travelled far enough on the road. He had no intention of going into town and so tomorrow morning he would set south towards the Minnoa river and onwards into the southern lands.

Even as he sat there, rubbing his hands together trying to catch a bit of warmth from the small fire and his teeth chattering in the cold, he had never felt so alive. He was filled with an invigorating feeling of empowerment and of being for the first time in control of his own destiny that he barely even felt the cold. Water dripped off his brow and hung like crystal earrings from his earlobes, dripping occasionally onto his slick overcoat. His leather shoes were completely soaked through and his feet were numb, but the constant walking had kept them warm enough to avoid any fear of gangrene, and at least his blanket was dry enough beneath his coat. He put the stale piece of bread back into his pocket and pulled himself under a haphazard shelter of felled tree limbs that provided at least a modicum of protection from the constant rain. The fire would not last long, he knew, but he was asleep long before it went out.

* * *

He awoke to the sound of a red-tailed hawk patrolling the skies in search of a much needed meal, and was startled to open his eyes to a clear sky. He shrugged off the damp remnants of sleep and arose from his slumber perhaps as refreshed as anyone has ever been after a night out in the rain. He stretched his arms high into the sky as he worked his tired muscles, tight from the scrunched form he had slept in to keep warm. Then he noticed the column of smoke in the sky trailing from the west southward.

So they were coming after him.

It was probably his uncle, he thought, out to save his own hide from the humiliation of having a child run away from his care. The rain and clouds had concealed it before, but the dark, tapering column was now plainly visible high up on the western horizon. They’re perhaps a half-day behind me at most, Chindren thought, and much faster on horseback than I am on foot. He got up quickly and did his best to hide the fire and broken tree limbs he had slept under. He grabbed his pack that lay beside the small patch of burnt ground where the fire had been and the bowl he had set out the night before to collect rainwater. He topped up his canteen, which was mostly full already, having had an abundant supply of rainwater from the previous night, and set out cross-country to the south.

The morning was crisp and cool, and though it had finally stopped raining, the air still had a bite to it that he could not seem to shrug off; but as he made his way through the rough ground and broken brambles he began to work up enough body heat to combat it. Unfortunately this did nothing to bide his hunger, and his stomach growled in reminder of this unfortunate state.

By midday, his hair was finally dry and he was beginning to feel in better health. He breathed in deeply the cool late-summer air as he looked out upon the land that was now his only home.

Then he heard something that made him stop dead in his tracks: a dog baying. He stood silent for a few moments to make sure he had indeed heard it and was about to shrug it off when he heard it again, from somewhere behind him to the north. They had found his trail. Fortunately his pursuers would have been forced to abandon their horses at the road as the terrain was far too difficult to maneuver with any speed on horseback, but with dogs tracking him he had little hope of outrunning them. He was wet and sweaty and they could probably smell him a mile away.

No, he couldn’t outrun them. His only chance was to make it to the Minnoa. He would swim downstream for several miles to where the river turned into Barrowgate Falls, and the rapids that preceded it, then pull himself to safety before the current swept him over the falls. The river would mask his trail from the dogs, but he knew they would probably pick it up again before too long, as there were not many places he could go between here and the falls, and swimming upstream was out of the question.

His heart sank at the thought of being wet again after only having just dried out for the first time in days, but it was the only option. If he merely crossed the river they would easily pick up his trail again on the other side. He needed to buy himself a few hours’ lead.

He heard the dogs bay again, this time slightly closer, and he took off at a slow run. He was already tired from having walked all morning without a break, but could not afford respite now. He scolded himself for not bringing more food, but there had been little in the house to take, and he hadn’t had enough time to properly prepare his escape. Luckily he still had a piece of hard cheese wrapped in oilcloth that he was saving for later.

Knowing his bread would be worthless after his pending swim, he pulled it out and began chewing on it awkwardly as he ran down the side of a rather large hill the other side of which he had spent the last hour gradually climbing. Fortunately the ground was easier here, and consisted mostly of sparse pines and a blanket of pine needles.

The same hawk he had heard that morning cried out. It was warning him. The dogs were close now. The river was perhaps another mile—he wasn’t sure if he was going to make it. He needed something to slow the dogs down… but what? He couldn’t very well stop and fight. Just then, as he was nearing the bottom of the hill, he heard a deep growl and looked to his right as he skidded to a halt on the soft ground.

It was a huge black bear. The bear rose onto his hind feet and growled again, raising his snout to the sky and bearing his teeth. Chindren dared not move a muscle. The animals he had befriended in the forest back home were small critters, nothing larger than a fox. He had never in his life encountered a beast such as this. Chindren’s heart raced; he tried to calm himself down and find the inner peace that allowed him to commune with the animals, but he was so exhausted from running and his heart pumping with fear that he could not.

The bear fell back onto all fours and slowly walked towards him. Chindren was paralyzed. Breathing hard through his mouth, he swallowed hard. Slowly he held out the bread he was carrying as the great bear approached. The bear sniffed it twice and grunted his lack of interest, then bore his teeth again when the dogs barked in the distance.

Go, child, something in Chindren’s mind seemed to echo. Chindren looked at the bear. Could it have been him? No, her, it was definitely a her. Wait, how did he know that? He could feel her; he could feel the bear! It was unlike anything he had experienced before. This bear was wise—wiser than he had expected any animal could be—and old, and she was trying to help him!

Without another thought he took off. He was relieved, thankful, and frightened out of his wits all at once that he dared not stay another moment. He glanced behind to see the bear facing North, waiting for the dogs. His foot caught on a bramble or root and he almost went over, but luckily managed to turn around and keep his footing. He had completely forgotten about the piece of bread in his hand until he saw it flying through the air in front of him. No time for that now, he thought as he watched it fall into a leafy bush full of little red berries. Something about the berries looked familiar but his mind was on other things and he was too intent on escape to remember what it was… something his Aunt had taught him; that was all he could remember.

As he continued to make his way across land, which had now turned to a wide grassy meadow, he heard the dogs baying again behind him. Then the barking turned to a vicious barking and finally a yelp, then silence. He silently thanked his new friend, but hoped she had only wounded the dog and not killed it, for he knew it was not the dog that was his enemy. Then he heard a sound that made his blood run cold: a gunshot. He wrung his fists in anger as he ran across the field, as he thought of what they must have done to the bear. Tears streamed down his face as he ran, chilling his face in the cool afternoon air.

Why had they brought guns? Surely they had no need for a gun to capture and bring Chindren back to Willowbrook. Unless it was not capturing they intended to do at all. Chindren’s mind raced with the implication, but he could not fathom why anyone would want to kill him. Just as he had no friends among the townspeople, he similarly had no real enemies that he was aware of. He left them alone and they returned the favour.

The thought that these pursuers might be out to harm him had made the blood drain from Chindren’s face. Maybe they were just hunters thinking they’re on the trail of a deer. But surely the dogs would know the difference in scent of a human from a deer, and unless they were the poorest trackers ever, they could surely tell a bootprint from a hoofmark. Something just didn’t add up.

Despite his exhaustion, Chindren now ran in a cold sweat. He no longer ran for his freedom; he ran for his very life. He glanced behind him again and could see movement in the trees on the far side of the clearing, just as he was himself reaching the cover of trees on his side. He jumped over a thornberry bush and nearly lost his footing as he came down a small drop on the other side. They will be upon me any moment now, he thought frantically. Just as he was about to crouch down and hide in the ditch he had so accidentally discovered, he realized there was a faint whooshing sound, as if water falling over rocks. He ran a few more paces, through a think outcropping of trees and out into the open air, high atop a ravine that overlooked a great river, still churning an incredible amount of water despite the lateness of the season. He had made it to the Minnoa.

* * *

The majestic river flowed in a more or less easterly direction toward the deadly falls several miles downstream. Even here, the water was choppy and full of rocks and white water. It was also a hundred or so feet below.

As he stood there, looking out over the wide river at the tall bank on the other side and no apparent means to get there from where he stood, Chindren took a moment to catch his breath. He had precious few moments and had to think of something quick. Already he could hear the yelling of his pursuers behind him. Chindren looked down again. There were sharp jagged rocks not ten feet out from the point where the clifface met the river. The area in between looked sound, but he had no way of telling how deep it was as the angle he stood at and the motion of the water made it opaque. He knew the river was quite deep in places, but death by falling or a shotgun blast to the chest made little difference in the end.

He glanced along either direction along the tall bank but there were few footholds and in many cases trees and taller sections of cliff came right to the edge, making it impossible to traverse with the urgency he faced. Then he noticed a few paces off in the other direction along the bank an old tree’s roots had jutted out beneath the ledge and hung down like thick vines towards what looked like a small ledge, partially hidden from where he stood. With no better option presenting itself, he quickly but carefully made his way to the tree, being careful to keep a sure footing on the loose rock. He carefully lowered himself over the edge of rock that still supported the huge tree and dangled his feet below until he made contact with one of the thick, twisted roots.

Letting go with one hand, he turned his head downward to get a better view when his foot slipped on the root and, unable to hold himself up with one hand, he went down. Luckily he landed somewhat painfully on the large root he had initially stepped on, and grabbing another with his hands was able to save himself from ending up with some finality on the rocks at the bottom of the ravine. Just as he did so, he heard voices atop the ledge. Quickly, he pulled himself deeper into the tangle of roots that he now saw extended deep into what was almost a small cave, no doubt carved out by the thirsty roots over dozens of years.

Breathing as quietly as he could—which was no small feat unto itself, given his current state of exhaustion—he hugged his body as close to the deepest roots as he could in attempts to conceal himself from his topward observers.

“He came this way; I’m sure of it,” one of the voices said.

“Are you sure he didn’t double back and take off down the bank?” another said.

“Impossible. He wouldn’t have had time.”

Oddly, Chindren didn’t recognize either of the voices. It must not be his uncle after all. Perhaps they were after a criminal on the loose and had mistaken Chindren for a fugitive. But he wasn’t about to take any chances.

“Well he sure didn’t jump.”

“You so sure ’bout that? Why don’t you take a go at it and we’ll know for sure.”

“Always the joker, eh Clint? You better watch that lip or it’ll be you who goes over the edge, with a few ounces of lead in your chest for ballast. Don’t forget who’s got the gun.”

“Yeah I saw how you handled that bear. Sloppiest damn shooting I ever saw.”

“It did the trick.”

Chindren closed his eyes at the thought, barely able to muffle the whimper that wanted to escape his throat.

“Alright, you take East I’ll take West. He couldn’t have gone far. Wait a minute, what’s this?” Chindren held his breath, his heart pounding in his ears. He squeezed his eyes shut. Just then, from somewhere atop the cliff and out of sight he heard a familiar growl. Chindren’s eyes popped open just as a body came hurtling over the ledge, screaming as it plummeted toward its rocky grave below. Shouts and another gunshot sounded from somewhere above Chindren, then another growl, and another gunshot.

“Nooo!” Chindren yelled without thinking, anger and rage having replaced his fear. He pulled himself out of his hiding place as he frantically pulled himself up to get a view of what was happening above him. On the edge of the cliff lay a rather large man holding the side of his torso as blood pooled on the rocks beside him. He was breathing heavily but was mortally wounded and unable to move.

The shotgun lay several feet away from him on the other side of his body. Six or seven feet away beyond that lay a huge bulk of black fur, matted in places with dark red. The bear was also breathing heavily, but much more slowly. Chindren scampered up the ledge and quickly grabbed the shotgun that lay beside the big man. Chindren had never seen the man before.

He pointed the shotgun at him and demanded, “Who are you?” but the man remained silent. Still enraged by what the man had done to the bear, Chindren booted him in the side, which made him grunt, and demanded more sternly, “Who are you, and why were you following me? Answer me!” he said, when the man made no attempt to reply. He aimed the gun more deliberately at the man’s head.

“Sent…” the man finally managed to speak, “to find you, Heretic.” Chindren didn’t know what a heretic was and so let the man continue. “The Father of Mages knows…” He coughed a horrid gurgling sound, bright red blood trickling down the side of his cheek. “He knows of you.” With this, the man, clearly in a lot of pain, lifted his head to look Chindren in the eye. “And your father,” he said with contempt. With his final ounce of strength, the dying man managed to spit at Chindren, missing him but making his message clear. “Death to all you heretics. Death to you all!” His trailing words were drowned in a final gurgle of blood that spewed forth from his mouth as his head fell backwards with a thwack onto the stone. Chindren threw the shotgun down and went to the bear.

“Don’t die,” he cried, tears welling up in his eyes. “You saved my life.”

Do not cry for me, little one. Chindren felt the emotion more than heard the words, and knew them to be the true voice of the bear’s spirit. Still, it only made him cry more. I am old and my life has been long. You are young, but destined for things you cannot yet fathom. My life is but a small price to pay for the hope that lies within you. Seek it, and you will discover your true calling. There is so much you do not yet know, Windrider. Listen to the animals. They will guide you; but you must go. There are others who yet seek you. These were but two. I have bought you time, but you are not safe yet. Follow the hidden path and it will lead you to where you need to go.

“Please,” Chindren begged. “I will help you. I will tend your wounds. I need your help, I cannot find the way alone.”

You will find it, Windrider, if you seek it with your heart instead of your eyes. You have the gift. Know this. There is no time for me; I am already lost. But we shall meet again. Go now. Seek the path.

Chindren rose, tears still streaming down his face as he watched the great bear, his friend, take her last laboured breaths, steam rising from her open muzzle. Chindren bent and wrapped his arms around the bear’s huge form. “Thank you. Thank you great one, for saving my life. I will never forget you.” But the bear spoke no more. Her breathing continued to slow until it finally stopped altogether, and a final cloud of breath escaped the bear’s lungs to dissipate in the chill air.

Chindren stood and wiped away the tears upon his cheeks. “I will avenge your death, great one. Whoever sent these men will pay for your death in their blood. I swear it.” With a final surge of rage, Chindren picked up the shotgun and with a yell, hurled it off the edge of the cliff to crash into the white waters of the churning river below.

The story continues…

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 1:33 am  Comments (1)  
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Prologue

In a dark land, not long after the dawn of time, a child was born to a wizard. Though unplanned, the birth of this child was seen as a miracle to his parents. Unfortunately, as it was against custom for wizards to bear children of their own, he was sent away in secrecy to be raised by his paternal aunt in a land far from his birthplace. There, the child grew and was raised as any child would have been, never having known his true parents, or even their identities.

As a boy, even without knowledge of his true origin—or perhaps because of it—he was outcast. His childhood was far from a joyous one, and though he was well-loved by his aunt and his adopted family, he never felt as though he truly fit in. Chindren, for that was his name, would spend long hours alone in the forest that surrounded the town. No one knew what he did there, though there were rumors and whispers of dark and evil things. In truth, Chindren had befriended the animals of the forest and had found in their gentle spirits the friends he was so sorely lacking amongst his own kind. Over the years he had developed a certain intuition that allowed him to communicate with the animals—not with words as people use (something he now regarded as clumsy), but with the flows of spirit that he learned bound all things living and inanimate.

When forced to deal with others of his kind, he was often amazed to witness mankind’s seeming deafness to the voice of spirit, which he learned manifests itself in truth and honesty, and quickly came to loathe the deception and deceit that all too often lurked beneath the surface of those he encountered. From a young age he swore himself an enemy of deceit and much of his time spent alone in the forest was devoted to meditation and the self-enlightenment one achieves from the pure pursuit of truth and honesty.

Though he was true to himself, he found he was forced to assume an air of mystery when among his own kind; for he had learned that men were frightened of things they did not understand, and could often turn to force to eliminate that which was different from themselves. This seeming hypocrisy of being forced to be less than truthful tried his soul constantly. He wanted nothing more than to be himself among his peers and to in his mind also free them from the shackles he could so plainly see, but it seemed that no matter how he tried, there was always some dark and hidden force lurking in the shadows preventing it.

This only served to further his isolation, and as Chindren grew up, he grew also further and further away from those around him, to the point where even his adopted brothers and sisters appeared to him no different from the townsfolk he so methodically avoided.

When he reached the age of individuality at a dozen and one quad seasons, he was already all but alienated from society and desired nothing more than to leave his memories of this unforgiving town behind him and start anew. He remained close only to his aunt by this time, for of all the people he had known and grown up with, only her spirit was as kind as those of the animals of the forest, and he loved her dearly as he would the mother he never had.

It was therefore only inevitable that his aunt should awaken one morning to find a note beside her pillow and Chindren gone in the night. She cried for him that morning; but though it hurt her to see Chindren gone, in truth she had known this day would come for a long time.

Her husband had been enraged to discover, days later, that she had hidden Chindren’s departure from him. He had yelled again and again that he could not understand why she had just let the boy go if she loved him as she so claimed, but she knew it was out of love that she had; and though she loved her husband as well, she also knew he would never understand her reasons, and so remained silent as he beat her for the humiliation she had caused him among the townsfolk. As he did, she prayed only that Chindren would one day return to her.

And so begins the story of how Chindren left the hamlet of Willowbrook behind to foray out into the world for the first time, and to begin the journey that would define the man he was soon to become.

The story continues…

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 1:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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