Mordellow (Not Final Title)

Discussion in 'Original Works' started by Egoladdin, Oct 8, 2010.

  1. Egoladdin

    Egoladdin New Member

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    This is an unfinished tale I'm working on, of a man named Arthur and his journey towards becoming a god. Or so it seems to him. Enjoy and feedback would be appreciated!

    ‘Pray, tell me Arthur, to whom does your heart truly belong?’ Her eyes had widened; tears that had been brewing ever since my stepping into the room were now flowing freely down her reddened cheeks, like miniature waterfalls glistening with torment and anguish. Her soul was not ready for me to depart quite yet; she was eager for the truth, yet knew too well that the truth itself may shatter her very being. My heart could not tolerate her pitiful sight, and so for a short while I rested my gaze outside the tainted oval window behind her; my eyes affixed on the vibrant fields in the distance, drawn out of reality and delved deeply into my flowing stream of contemplation. Or so it seemed to her, for it were naught but pretence – my thoughts had already been put in order, and my frame of mind was indeed set. I mustdepart my wife and home to the city of Mordellow the very next morn, looking not back at what I ought to leave behind, but rather looking forth at what was promised me; a land of riches beyond my wildest reveries, in the city of Mordellow, wherefore I shall become not king alone, but a god.

    ‘My heart, Margaret, belongs and shall always belong till the end of time to you, and you alone; there is not a single being in this world that is capable of changing that. Alas, even though my heart is yours to keep, it is my soul that shall pass you. For you see, I have compacted with the enemy of the world, and I’m terribly afraid that my essence is within his grasp – I no longer belong to the ways of my father, nor of his – I was led astray, indeed, into the cold dark hands of oblivion.’ My face remained unchanged; my outer appearance mirroring my inner emptiness.Over the years I have come to know this woman and to anticipate an emotion devoid ofsorrow would fall rather short of any expectation - I knew this woman in all her wholesome; every smile, every frown. I knew her, and my love for her forced me to dam my tears from flowing free.

    ‘Arthur...’ She sighed. ‘As much as it is in me to stop you from leaving, it is your will; what say does a grieving wife have against her husband?’ She inhaled deeply, and lifted up a white handkerchief she had been gripping in order to wipe clean the tears from her face.

    She looked back into my eyes, and with a reassuring look, she leaned closer. ‘My heart will never forgive me, however, if I do not inquire about your intention to return; if it is, at all, your intention.’ Her eyes, unmoving from mine, widened; her overall innocence made it more so difficult for me to speakwhat was indeed needed to be spoken.

    ‘I traverse whatever road my soul traverses, and it follows wherever its new master leads it.
    If it were in my hands, Margaret, I would take you with me. Perhaps though, it is for the greater good that you remain here, and keep our abode open and warmly welcoming; ready, perchance, for my eventual return.’Lies and deceit, as it were, happened to be part of my very being – perks of the damned, indeed.
    ***

    Daylight came by swiftly, robbing the sky of its starry glimmer. My belongings had already been packed the night prior, and so my departure was hasty. She was yet to wake, but when she did, I would have been long gone. I had made it a part of my plans to say good-bye, or at the very least leave her a letter before my parting; but alas, it was much too late already, and I needed to leave instantaneously had I wished to make it to Featherfloat Dock before the ferry leaving to Mordellow departed. The only way I could reach my destination was by horseback, and the stables were quite a distance away. My journey consisted of a long and burdensome walk uphill, past the northern fields and through the grassy thicket of the bordering woods before finally setting foot inside the stables. My horse awaited me, knowing so little that upon reaching the city of Mordellow, he shall be classed a royal steed.

    ***

    It had been around noon by the time we reached the Dock. The splendour of the sparkling azure instilled in me the hopes of what awaited me. My soul was no longer my own, yet at that very sight, I felt alive once more.

    ‘All aboard the Esquire; last man on deck helps in the kitch’n!’ The rasping deep voice resonated from on board the large ferry. As the crowd began to gather around the wooden stepping board leading to the deck, a stumpy ageing man stumbled forth into the opening.

    ‘D’ya hear me, lads? The capt’nwishes to depart ‘ere without any delays!’ His voice, now much louder, revealed signs of inexplicable urgency.

    Suddenly, there was a buzzing racket. The entire gathering, forced into a single file at the stepping board, flooded on board the ferry. The ageing man stood cautiously to the left side of the deck, signalling with both his hands to the multitude of men and women boarding the ship. I noticed that only a handful of passengers other than myself had with them any sort of animal, and those men, logically, were the last to board. I had the uniquely exceptional dishonour of being the very last of the last, and so my horse and I had the liberty of enjoying the luxurious view of the sea water whilst being crammed against the creaking rails of the already unstable ship – the very creaking rails that were responsible for bothkeeping us from falling to our deaths as well as supporting the weight of twenty or so men, and at least five full grown animals. After the multitude was on board, people began to spread about and the space widened, leaving much room for my horse and I to settle down, and unpack our weighty belongings.

    ***

    The trip itself stretched on; the sun seemed to linger over our heads with such mocking intention, that even the captain feared to show his face in daylight. It had been about a week and three days since the ferry’s departure, yet the faces of those around me seemed to age with such haste and malice that it often made me sick. I had been on many a voyage whereby time had no effect on my mind, alas, this journey was different; each second of being aboard the Esquire corrupted my very being, as if though prying eyes were upon me; ever watchful, ever glaring.

    ‘Hearken, ye who look out to sea, and face me, for your eyes rest upon nothingness.’ The deep disturbed voice echoed throughout the entire ferry, disrupting what cruel and wicked threads of thought were weaving within. I, as the rest of the men surrounding me, turned about in my place to look upon the face of the man that had woke me from my delusion. The Esquire’s captain stood tall before the small cabin doorframe, seemingly a hulking mass in comparison. His face was creased with emotion; not angered, yet not quite calm.

    He seemed weary, as if though he carried a burden much bigger than he. His posture indicated an authoritative leading figure, yet he was emptied of all strength and will. This had to be the very first time in days that he dared wander outside his chamber while the sun was arisen; one could tell by the palpable squint in his eye.

    ‘We have been sailing for days on end in peace and tranquillity,’ His eyes became wider as they adjusted to the intensity of the sunlight. ‘Not one hindrance have we faced, not one obstacle have we needed to overcome.’ He swiftly lifted up an already lit wooden pipe he had been holstering in his front pocket, placed it in his mouth and inhaled deeply. Silence befell the deck; none dared to hurry the captain’s words.

    ‘Till now.’ He grunted, releasing a stream of spiralling white smoke. ‘To our very calamity, if not demise, treachery has subdued the Esquire.’ There was a troubling certainty in his voice; a sureness of ill fortune.

    ‘What is the meaning of this, Captain Harwik? What treachery do you speak of, sir?’ One of the men at the front, a balding frail figure, enquired. There were sure signs of panic across the deck, yet the majority kept their calm, awaiting the captain’s riposte.

    ‘There is evil lurking here, old man. I have sensed it from the very beginning; I could feel its presence from the moment we set sail to the cursed city. It lingers here, in this very ship.’ He grumbled, looking around in obsessive suspicion. ‘It came to me in the dark, in the form of an old friend, and I slew it. I sniffed it out, and I ended its miserable existence.
    But even in death it remains deceptive, cunning. It haunts me yet, and I shan’t rest till it is forever gone.’ He snarled, as if though intimidating the evil he spoke of.

    ‘It came to you, captain? As a friend, you say?’ The old man, now both confused and fearful, questioned once more. He was not the only one who felt this way; in fact, almost all aboard the ship were now muddled and terrified.

    ‘Indeed, it did.’ His voice was now quieter and drone-like, as if though he was in deep contemplation. His eyes were fixed to the floor, unblinking. ‘It were Bartholomew, the man that led you aboard the ship. He came to me in the late hours of the night, holding but a candle and a blade. He came to me with the thought of murder.’ His eyes, now widened, shrunk back in their deep dark sockets, almost as if in complete and utter fear.

    ‘Murder, sir?’ The old man shrieked as the bustle of the crowd became amplified. Men were now turning to each other in disbelief, questioning one another of the captain’s words.

    ‘Aye, murder.’ The captain looked up and gazed into the old man’s eyes, which were now broader than his own. ‘But he is dead now, rotting away in my chamber, headless and unmoving. His eyes, as white and as lifeless as a creature of the deep, now melt away from their hollow openings, revealing naught but the evil that was within.’ A twisted grin formed between his cheeks; malice and corruption masked by vanity and pride.

    The entire crowd began to panic. Some of the women huddled closer together, while others joined hands with their husbands. Even the horses at the back were petrified, whinnying and writhing uncontrollably. One of the horses, a black saddled stallion, managed to knock its owner to the ground, causing even more havoc on the deck. Whispers of murder and treason resonated throughout the ferry, striking fear in all those who heard it. Some men at the front attempted to enter the captain’s chamber in order to marvel the supposed evil he had destroyed, but were unable to do so due to all the entrances, besides the main door, being barred.

    ‘That is not all, fellow men and women of Faurhold.’ The captain roared. ‘We have been deceived by this evil; all of us. For three days now we have been sailing in an erroneous direction, led by our deceased charter Bartholomew. We are in dangerous territory now, far away from our route, let alone our destination. Mordellow lies in the north, and we are as south to that north as ever. Look around you, people; we are not sailing through just any sea. Look around, for we are in Dorhar, the Isle of the Naught.’
    The crowd, heeding the captain’s orders, began to look about. Shock and surprise befell their faces as the beauty of their surrounding melted away, revealing the mutilated carcass of the Dorhar Sea.

    The Isle of the Naught was indeed what its name implied. There was a dark mist as far as the eye could see; which was not very far at all. Any visible water seemed murkier and darker in colour than the ship itself. The sea here, as it is said, caged horrendous beings the likes of which no man had ever encountered back in Faurhold. The setting was not this way an hour or so ago, for the sun shone down on the ship with fiery intensity, and the water was clear, as was the air fresh. Had the captain not affixed in us the realisation,
    Dorhar’s illusion of beauty would not have been shattered, and we would have went on sailing and observing the false magnificence of this cursed place till at the very end it came down upon us like the blow of an axe; terrible and bloodied.

    The smell of this dwelling was foul, as if though we sailed on a sea of corpses, shredding and ripping beneath the hull. The cold was nearly unbearable, yet nobody trusted one another so as to be closer than a few feet. The mist carried with it so much foulness and filth that the feint hearted collapsed. With the fumes came sudden faintness, and with the faintness came the visions; and I began to sway.


    ***

    ‘Speak nothing of marriage, my lover,nor of Arthur. Speak nothing of these that cease to
    exist.’

    ‘Margaret, it is me. I am Arthur.’

    ‘No, Arthur is dead. He no longer belongs to this life.’

    ‘It is me, my love, why do you not believe me?’

    ‘He is dead, my lover. Arthur died at sea.’

    ‘Margaret, I am here. I breathe yet!’

    ‘It is time, then.’

    ‘I do not understand; time for what, my love?’

    ‘It is time, my dear, for you to wake from this harmony and meet lady fate. Shake not hands with her, for in greeting she will consume you… Ah, I feel it now. The pale hands that grasp my body drag me away from you. They take me where I wish not to go. They seize me in my entirety. Go now; flee this dream, for I do not wish for you to witness this bittersweet departing. Leave, my lover, and open thy eyes to the light so that you may finally see...’

    ***

    Suddenly the ship jolted viciously, and I awoke from my unruly slumber. My eyes, due to the haste in which they had been opened, and, aided by the position of the noon sun, seemed for a moment’s length to burn uncontrollably. With great effort, I hauled myself up from the floor, and, in giving up midway due to the ache that possessed my body, I settled back downto the ground and positioned myself so as to sit upright, crossing one leg over the other. My vision was quite hazy and yet to fix, and so I looked around aimlessly in an attempt to identify the objects of my surrounding. As I scanned the area around me, it became apparent that not only was I not on the deck of the ship, but I was not aboard the Esquire at all. Indeed, as the sun shone down on me, I knew I was no longer in the Isle of the Naught; I was safe, as far as I could tell, from the perils of the Dorhar Sea. But where was I? By that time my eyesight had fully returned, and the pain that treaded my body had eased down to a mere discomfort, and so in a second, more successful attempt, I lifted myself up steadily from the upkeep of the cold hard ground and onto the support of my own two feet.

    ‘Why do you haunt me yet?’ I questioned aloud; my voice barely a croak. I had no immediate recognition of the place I had awoken in, but it seemed eerily familiar, as if though I had been here once before, a very long time ago. Or perhaps I had read of this dwelling in one of the books back in Faurhold, a rather bizarre yet enriching book of faraway acreage titled ‘The Majestics of the Hardbound Lands’, in which I took deep interest. It would have been quite suitable for this area to be described in such a book, for this place was indeed not far from majestic. The sunlight, though intense, tranquilly illuminated the luscious fields of marvellous green pasture and radiant red and white flowers as they sway in the cool breeze around me. The soothing sound of the birds chirping musically resonated throughout the meadows, bringing them to life. The invigorating aroma of the flowers, carried from the distant woodland by the northern winds, renewed my once dire senses, heightening my state of awareness.

    In the distance, surrounding the fields, were large clusters of towering trees of many kinds; oak, birch, gum, ash, maple, shade, willow and even pine. Before them were low shrubs and thickets of bush that spread all around the premises, encircling the meadows. There seemed to be a rather small opening in the far off distance, leading into the forest. A path, from where I stood, made of the finest marble and stone, ran towards the opening. The path to the forest was criss-crossed, at about midway through the track, by another more prominent road leading from east to west. There were no signs or markings at the crossroad which told the way, but rather stood a large and foreboding ornament – a statue made of hard marble – of a cloaked figure facing the forest; its left arm down by its side and its right arm extended out, as if though pointing, towards the woodlands.

    The road which extended from the east to the west seemed to branch off into different paths on each end, while the track ahead of me led only to the forest opening. I could not risk getting lost, and so I decided to head north into the woods.Passing by the crossroad, I could not help myself from looking back at the statue which stood there, concealed and frozen in time and place. It looked terrifyingly real, as if though at any given moment it could spring back to life and confront me. I averted my eyes from its sinister presence in haste, and continued to tread the northern path.

    Upon reaching the opening to the woodland, I decided to halt my march. I stood there for a short while, just before the forest entrance, pondering whether or not this was indeed the right path to take. I took a deep breath, and turned my head back to face the crossroad.Perhaps, I thought, that by seeing the pointing statue once more, I would be slightly more-so consoled. Alas, consolation was not granted me, but rather perplexity and fear. For the cloaked statue was there no more. It had vanished in the time it had taken me to reach the opening. Without much hesitation or thought, I looked back towards the forest, and with inordinate swiftness, raced through.

    ***


    Nightfall came at last, bringing with it the terrors of the dark. I had since been on the march through the forest, being careful as to not tread outside the marbled path. It seemed rather strange for such a well maintained road to be present in this isolated region. Though the reasons for its existence are obscure, I could not be more thankful for it being here. For one, it provided me with a direction to travel in, and for two, it led me far away from that cursed statue. I couldn’t help but wonder though; why was it pointing this very way?

    ‘So as to lead you here, Arthur.’ A high nasal voice came about from behind a set of thickly clustered shade trees. By that time I had become quite drowsy, but the abruptness of the voice startled me into full awareness.

    ‘Who goes there?’ I yelled, backing cautiously away from the trees. The branches and leaves began to rustle, slowly at first, and then with a strange hiss, they began to swish about ferociously. With a blinding flash, the trees shifted aside, and from behind them appeared a tall, ageing man.

    ‘Why, it is I, Denefir!’ The old fellow exclaimed. He beamed at me a wide grin, almost as if expecting me to recognise him. I didn’t, though, as this was the very first time I had laid eyes upon this man. Surely, if I knew him from elsewhere, I would have recognised him from his prominent features. His eyes, for instance, were tainted in bright blue; even the whites of his eyes were hued in that colour. His nose, slender and crooked, seemed to lean over his thin lifeless lips like a towering canopy. His ears, long and protruding, drooped down the sides of his skeletal face. There were no signs of any visible hair on him; even his brows were bare.

    ‘I know no Denefir.’ I stated rigidly. I was still standing quite a distance away, and had no intention in moving any closer towards this man, if one could indeed label him as such.

    ‘I am no man, my dear boy.’ His grin was still set, and his eyes unmoving from my own. He then began to move, quite swiftly and unnaturally, towards me.

    ‘Stay put, creature!’ I howled, hoping that perhaps this towering fiend might somehow feel threatened. He wasn’t though, as he kept inching towards me, in every way that is abnormal and irregular.

    ‘I told you to stay put! Do you not understand me?’ I blurted out, in both inquisition and fear. ‘What in the name of…’

    ‘What am I?’ The creature interrupted, its smile suddenly turning into a cheerful chuckle. ‘I am neither your friend nor your foe. You may say I’m neutral towards you and your mortal destiny, if what lay before you is indeed a destiny.’ His smile eased, and seriousness befell his face.

    ‘For you see, I have encountered many a strange man, much like yourself, who have gone out to wander outside their territories, following no guide other than false promises and faulty bearings. But allow me to tell you this, Arthur of Faurhold; the path you have chosen should not be treaded. The road you take in order to reach your journey's end is a tremendous mistake; one’s fate should never be tampered with, no matter the hopeone so blindly believes to see.

    ‘But, who am I to change your views, foolish man?’ He sneered, baring his sharp maligned teeth. He spoke to me as if though he knew me, and that was something both terrifying and rather unwelcome.

    ‘Indeed, creature, who are you to change my views? You have spoken more about me than yourself. Most peculiar, I shall admit. It certainly makes one wonder; is there perhaps something you mean to hide?’I countered, my voice remaining rather mellow.

    ‘Hide?’ He yelled amusingly. ‘Why, I am quite good at hiding!’ And with that, he clapped his bony hands and vanished into the thin open air. ‘See?’ He chuckled loudly. ‘Of course you don’t!’ He teased, in a mocking yet playful manner. ‘Not with those trivial man-eyes you open so widely. Hmm…’ He paused, as if though in deep pondering. ‘Funny isn’t it? How much I resemble the truth.’ His voice came from behind me this time. ‘I am right beside you, yet you cannot even see; most peculiar, indeed.’ He ridiculed.

    ‘Show yourself you –’ Before I could end my sentence, an invisible hand gripped me around the throat and began to lift me off the ground.

    ‘You scheming bastard, and tell me what you are!’ He ended my sentence the exact way I had meant to. ‘That was what you intended to say, was it not?’ With a quick jolt he lifted me further then finally, after a moment or two in suspension, he released his solid grip and I collapsed to the floor, gasping desperately for air.‘Try not to insult us…’ He clapped his hands once more and with a flash of blinding light, reappeared before me. ‘We Dugans tend not to like it very much.’ He informed, looking down at me in an unexpectedly kind manner.

    ‘D-Du-g…’ I choked. That was the only thing that could come out of my burning throat.

    ‘Yes, Arthur of Faurhold, Dugans.’ He suddenly fell to the floor, crossing his skeletal legs.

    ‘We are the ones you read of in that book of yours, many long years before this day. Even though your memory now fails you, I assure you, what you have read about us is nothing but fabrication. “Creatures of the woodlands who feast upon unsuspecting prey” is how they describe us. Lies, I say! We like our prey to be very suspecting.’ He snickered.

    ‘Like you, in a way.’ He continued; a menacing look covered every inch of his bizarre face.

    ‘Well, except less man-ish. Shame, indeed, you could have been my little snack.’ He teased, although signs of genuine disappointment littered his face. ‘No, we Dugans are much more and much less than what your authors penned us to be. Although, to be fair, the fault isn’t quite their own; Dugans are a devious race. We like to, more or less, play what you men call mind games. Tis’ in our very nature to be quite untruthful to those who wish to confine us to the pages of a mere book. Imagine that! Our entire existence narrowed down to ink and paper. What mockery!’ He seemed to be quite irritated with the concept.

    ‘Human history has been recorded for centuries now; I see no downside to it.’ I grunted, pushing myself up to my knees.

    ‘Of course you don’t, you are human.’ He retorted. ‘Humans are adept to the organisation and order of knowledge. Dugans, my friend, are adept to wisdom, nature and life. Besides, your history is but a mere chapter in our eyes. We see you come and go, live and die, while we remain ever watchful, ever glaring. We have preceded your race and we shall outlive it. We have inhabited these lands long before the first man was birthed or created, long before your civilisation chose to exalt itself far above all other. Your race remains bound to nature, toiling away in the soil like earthworm, while it is we who watch you from every corner, every conceivable dimension, and guide you along the way. So tell me, Arthur, what right do you humans have in telling our story?’ His tone was justly serious; creases in his brow began to take shape.

    ‘We have all the right in the world, Denefir.’ I answered. This had been the first time since his introduction that I had used his proper name, and he seemed playfully delighted by that fact. ‘Much like how men tell the tales of their gods, so it is with you. We glorify those whom are higher than we, and only through the telling of their stories – only through knowledge – can they truly be glorified.’ The expression on Denefir’s face suddenly changed. His familiar smile grew back, widening his cheeks.

    ‘Ah! But you see, Faurholdian, you do not glorify us as you do your gods. You merely cast us into a crook and label us as creatures. Creatures, Arthur, with no thought, no wisdom,no will. Your race degrades us with every word in what you call history. In their eyes – in your eyes, Arthur, man is the lord of all. Man is, man was, and man will be. This is simply what your people believe; it was carved into their hearts and fashioned into their minds. Man has no escape from this wicked thought. Your race, Arthur, the very race that pens our history, does so in the same way a king speaks a peasant’s story. We are to you nothing but creatures, when in reality, my friend; the creature is the malevolent intention within your soul.’ By the time he finished, his serious side had completely resurfaced.

    ‘Well, lucky for you, Dugan, I have no soul.’ I couldn’t help but using this as a retort.

    Somehow, it seemed like a witty reply to end his discussion.

    ‘I know this, Arthur. I have my way of knowing things, if you haven’t yet come to notice. I am a quite the high ranking Dugan of my time, and my time is forever!’ He boasted, lifting his head up to the sky in pride.

    ‘Refresh my memory then, Denefir. What exactly is a Dugan?’ I queried, hoping this time he would provide me with a proper answer.

    ‘Well, we are quite an extensive race, but I shall try my hardest to condense it all for your tiny human brain to digest.’ He chuckled, poking the side of my head jokingly. He shifted his body closer to where I sat and leaned in as if though what he was about to say was a forbidden secret.

    ‘Long before man’s arrival into existence, the world was bare. The lands were naught but dark and foreboding. Whatever greenery you see around you now was a thing of dreams, for the barren landscape supported no physical life. The world was dry and cracked, for there was no rivers or oceans or streams. The only form of life that the ancient world could support was the ethereal. Spirits born of nothingness roamed the planes of the universe.

    These spirits, the Urshudaku as they were later named, mindless and void, wandered the very lands we now reside. With their birth came forth the entity of time, and as time passed forth, their void was filled. The Urshudaku became simple creatures of flesh and spirit who, with nothing else to prey on, began to turn on each other. With the feasting came physical growth, and with growth came mental development, until eventually, they metamorphosed into logic driven creatures. The Urshudaku, now possessing both strength and intellect, began to divide amongst each other.’

    ‘Divide?’ I found myself questioning.

    ‘Good and Evil, my dear Arthur. The White, or the Urshudar, warred against the Urshurah, the Dark; for there were no shades of grey in the ancient times, only Nharr and Shahru, good and evil.

    ‘For thousands upon thousands of years, the two sides were in conflict. Both factions grew larger by the century and a colossal war was nigh. On the eve of the 508 thousandth year, the battle began. For thirteen years the clash dragged on, until at last, the Urshurah prevailed. They enslaved the Urshudar under the land, in the deep caverns of Sisheer, for a near thousand years.

    ‘The time had finally come though, for the White to exact their revenge. During the years of the latter ages, the Urshudar gathered together and rebelled against the forces of evil. The revolution had barely lasted a single year, and the Urshudar emerged the victors. The reason for their victory, however, lay in secret, in the dark depths of Sisheer.

    ‘Unbeknownst to the Urshurah, the Urshudar had been forging a mighty weapon from the enchanted metals of the Sisheeran mines; an amulet, not much bigger than your palm, indeed. Upon its forging, it had given the forces of good a power yet unknown to the Urshurah; the power to create life from nothingness. The time had come, and the Urshudar had created a powerful ally, a large army of a newly formed race; the Dugans.’ He pointed to himself, smiling.

    ‘You were created from an amulet?’ I looked at him awkwardly, both puzzled and sort of amused at the idea.

    ‘Yes, the Urshu-nhar; the one thing solely responsible for both our being here. For you see, without it, the Dugans would not exist, the rebellion would not have been won, and your race would have never been born.’
    ‘Your existence affected the course of human history?’ I enquired curiously.

    ‘Oh indeed, my dear Arthur, however that part of the story would be best left to another time.’

    ‘Ah, I see. Carry on then.’ My interest in their race was building at a reckless rate.

    ‘Well, you might have already noticed this, but we Dugans are gifted with the ability to read the fine writing of nature. We can scour through one’s mind, or soul, if need be, and read his thoughts and intentions as if though they were our own. Handy little trait, especially during mealtime.’ He added, beaming a mischievous grin.

    ‘That’s how you knew my name.’ I mumbled. It was all beginning to make sense now. How he knew so much about me, about my journey, my thoughts, my intentions, all of it.

    ‘Indeed.’ He nodded. ‘I know all there is to know about you, except for one minor detail.’ He looked at me, puzzled. ‘Souls do not simply wander away from their masters, Arthur.’
    Signs of suspicion began to emerge.

    ‘You wish to know of my most dire mistake, then?’ I asked, almost rhetorically.

    ‘No, I already know of it. What perplexes me, Faurholdian, is how it is you remain human.’ His voice, serious once again, seemed to ring in my ears.

    ‘I wish you wouldn’t enquire about such matters, Denefir.’ I replied boldly. I could sense a fear in my own voice, and I knew all too well that he could sense it too. ‘Such predicaments are my own, and even though time and time again I desire to share the heavy load, I simply cannot. He forbids me.’ I looked down; a potent sadness began to take hold of me.

    ‘Yes, a dark force within you blots the writing so as wandering eyes may never read.Dark and terrible indeed is your soul’s captor. Tell me, what is it that he has promised you?’ He sat up and crossed his arms.

    ‘The world, Denefir; he has promised me the world in its entirety, and with it a throne to be seated upon. He vowed to lead me to it, to the city of Mordellow, whereby I shall be crowned not with precious stones alone, but with all the stars and orbs of the cosmos. He promised me everything, Denefir, and I’m quite afraid none of it appears to hold anytruth.’ I looked down in order to avoid his piercing gaze.

    ‘Dark forces, Arthur, with trust become yet the more savage. You should have avoided his encounter, long ago, when matters were quite undeveloped. I wish not to tell you this, but it is indeed far, far too late for prevention. What you need, what you must look to find, more than anything in the world, is a cure.’ His eyes flicked from mine to the ground and up again. ‘I may be able to aid you yet.’ He nodded.

    ‘How will you help me, Denefir? Do you possess abilities that extend beyond those of the dark? Do you, perchance, wish to steal my soul back from his cold grip? What is it that you can do,Denefir, that would be of any help to me now?’ I questioned doubtfully.

    ‘No, not I; I am but a guide, Arthur. I cannot claim your soul back from the darkness you so sparingly cast it into, no. I can, however, lead you to one who could…’ He uttered, slowly and clearly, so as to make sure I heard.

    And hear it I did. A glimmer of hope, like a distant star hidden deep within the translucent veil of the night sky, penetrated past the fears and doubts weighing my heart. A shining beacon, indeed, of faith and redemption. I dared not open my mouth to let my tongue roll free a stream of words, nor to move an inch of my rigid body, in fear that any contact with reality might shatter this salient illusion. But it wasn’t an illusion; it was reality itself, shedding its guise as a wicked tormentor and revealing itself to be a kind and beautiful maiden of hope.

    ‘Yes, Arthur, far grander creatures inhabit these lands. Not all hope is lost, in fact, it rarely ever is. Men might surrender to hope, but hope never ceases to exist.’ He reassured. ‘I shall take you to a friend of mine, an individual I have known for quite some time now, and if luck has its way, she may be able to aid you.’

    He extended his right arm forth and awaited me to grab hold of it. With a grunt, I reached out and grasped it, and in a single movement, he heaved me towards himself and threw me atop his back. Surprised as I was, he managed to hold me up effortlessly.

    ‘Do not be alarmed now, for I am about to show you what Dugans can really do!’ He yelled as I tightened my grip. ‘Here we go!’ And with that, Denefir began to grow and expand in all directions. His figure remained the same, yet his size continued to inflate drastically, till moments later, he was thrice my height.

    ‘Ah! Now that’s more like it.’ He shouted. Or, it certainly seemed as though did. With his size, a mere whisper would echo throughout the entire woodlands. ‘Makes travel all themoresimpler!’ He inclined cheerfully, as he weaved his way past the ash trees and into the expansive lily fields beyond.

    ***

    ‘Still asleep are we, little one?’ A rather strong nudge awoke me. I hadn’t yet opened my eyes, but I knew that the Dugan was still moving. ‘You can’t just laythere all morning now, Arthur!’ Another nudge, this time even more rigid than the last, forced my eyes to abruptly open.

    ‘Clearly you don’t understand the way humans function, Dugan!’ I yelled in annoyance. ‘We need our rest in order to replenish wasted energy. I don’t know about you, though, for all I know you could have been sleep traveling!’ I mocked, shifting my body to sit upright on the Dugan’s shoulder. ‘My, you’ve grown more, haven’t you?’ He seemed to be four times as large as I remembered him last.

    ‘If I didn’t grow you’d have fallen right off me, Arthur. Not much use in taking a dead man on a friend’s visit, now is there?’ He paused and looked up. ‘Well, unless it was a banquet.’ He jeered, lifting his right arm to poke me, almost knocking me off his shoulder.

    ‘Easy there, colossus.’ I yelled towards his right ear.

    ‘Pardon my memory, Arthur, I keep forgetting our size difference.’ He stated humorously, almost as if though he was enjoying the contrast.

    ‘Fascinating, I must say. Vanishing is one thing, but this, this is an entirely new level.’ I remarked. ‘I assume this is how your race attained victory in the revolution, then.’ Surely an army of gigantic beings could crush any contending force with complete ease.

    ‘Well, yes. However, to each Dugan warrior his own; many of us simply used other trickery to subdue the enemy. I, for one, preferred to slash through their legions like a stone through parchment.’ He informed with pride.

    ‘Wait, you mean to say that you were part of the revolution?’ I asked in bewilderment. He didn’t quite strike me as one of the warrior Dugans he spoke of.

    ‘Oh, yes, my dear Arthur! How do you think I know so much about it? Dugans cannot simply read other Dugans, nor do they pass on their history as humans do. One had to be there to know of the battle, Arthur, unless they learned of it from the ancient Dugans themselves, like you have.’ He explained.

    ‘I see.’ I nodded slowly. ‘You mentioned something about stone through parchment just then. What exactly did you mean?’ Surely his favoured method of combat should be as interesting as he is, I thought.

    ‘Ah, yes. Do you recall the statue you encountered at the crossroads before entering the woodlands?’ He asked, tilting his head towards me.
    ‘Yes, what of it?’ I lifted an eyebrow.

    ‘I can transmute into stone, Arthur.’ He sneered, moving his left arm behind his head in order to clutch a drooping black hood. His grin widened as he flicked it on.

    ‘You’re not it, surely!’ I gasped, remembering its eerie presence.

    ‘Oh, but I am! I led you to myself, Arthur. How’s that for fascinating?’ He chuckled loudly as he marched through the thick forest foliage.

    ***