From The Kinfire Tree:
DESPITE HIGH SUMMER elsewhere, it was bitterly cold in the far north.
Icy winds came off the towering Legend Mountains in the distance. The giant slopes were covered in snow almost to the point where rock met land, capped with dark, threatening clouds. A storm brewed there and it boded ill for the two travellers. They were not dressed for it.
In sharp contrast to the whiteness, the wasteland they crossed was ochre in colour. Loose dust puffed up with every step as if they walked in low gravity and it blew up into their faces with every gust of icy wind. Already they were barely distinguishable from their surroundings.
It was an empty land, abandoned, lonely, and frighteningly different. There were no trees. There was no water. The only tangible objects on that vast plain were edged, black pebbles hidden in powdery dust that served to trip.
Averroes could not believe she was born here, that someone took her across this to the south.
They had been walking for hours. Vannis said she would instinctively know where to go, but she felt nothing other than burning thirst. They had not brought enough water; she had one swallow left, as did Kylan.
Would this never end? The barren ochre plain stretched in every direction. Only the mountains to the north relieved the disheartening vista. Now that stirred something within her. Did it mean they needed to walk all that way?
She groaned aloud.
“Averroes?” Kylan said hoarsely behind her. He was a wonderful companion, ever uncomplaining.
“I’m fine; just wishing I knew where to go.” Her voice, she found, was equally gruff.
“Wait, Averroes, I see … what is that?”
Kylan, when she turned, pointed at a patch of black growing in size as they walked. It was on the ground directly ahead, and she had not even seen it.
“I don’t know.” Her heart commenced an uneven rhythm.
As they drew closer, the black patch materialised into a perfect circle, recessed, about three feet in diameter.
“It’s not natural. Do you recognise it?” Kylan queried as they halted at the edge of the sphere. It was smooth like stone eroded by the ceaseless movement of water.
She shook her head and knelt to touch. It was warm and there was a minor vibration under her fingers. She placed her hand flat on the surface, and it moved. Snatching her hand back, she stumbled away from the edge and pulled Kylan with her.
A circular tube rose perpendicular to the ground and halted at about seven feet, still attached to the earth.
“What is that?” Kylan asked, passing a hand before his eyes to check his sight.
They heard a whooshing sound. What appeared to be doors retracted into the sides of the cylinder.
“I have read something about this. I don’t know what you call it, but I think one travels in it, up and down. I think we’re supposed to get in.” Kylan was clearly uncertain.
“This is technology, then? Can we trust it?”
“Unless we want to walk to nowhere without water, we have no choice. Vannis did say the half-Valleur were underground. Come, take my hand, we will do it together.”
They linked hands and approached.
The above excerpt is from Reaume’s The Dreamer Stones, and despite the terrible events that led to it, it’s one of the inspiring moments. Marcus names the little dog Tinker as they walk onward and the two become best friends 🙂
These are the last excerpts about animals in Lore of Arcana, this time from The Dragon Circle. Don’t know if I have the gumption to find similar excerpts in Reaume and Sanctum … reading these, knowing the situations surrounding each, well, it can stir up emotions.
- Two, three months ago, Galilan’s population housed in this manner would have spread over the countryside for many sals. Now he noticed empty lots where children amused themselves.
He smiled upon hearing a dog bark – kids rescued their pets first. There were bound to be a number of cats and hamsters, canaries … and you are now rambling.
2. Together they made their way through massive snowdrifts up to the longhouse. It was the logical place to find survivors. Closer, they heard at last the sounds of civilisation; children crying, the murmur of voices and, incongruously, a cow mooing, and a dog barked and it was the most beautiful sound.
They reached the door. Snow packed up against it, trapping within the survivors. Vannis waved a hand and cleared the powdery obstacle aside while Torrullin concentrated on the weight above; it appeared particularly unsafe.
When Vannis grabbed the rough wooden handles, he prayed as he never prayed before. He loved Raken and he could not imagine the empty years ahead if she was not inside this building. If anything happened to her, Torrullin needed to stand in line. No quarter whatsoever. He drew breath, with Torrullin tense beside him, and pulled the door wide.
The smell of stale air and human and animal waste sent him reeling backward, gagging.
Torrullin stepped past him into the gloomy interior as voices rose in relief.
There were several people inside, but the gloom and noise made it impossible to judge who and how many. Torrullin brought forth a globe and sent it into the rafters, the glow illuminating the interior. He noted the rafters held up to the weight of the snow; the building would hold up to another onslaught.
Then none of that mattered as the reality of human suffering confronted him. Silence had fallen, other than for a child’s fearful sobs and the incessant barking of the dog.
3. In the glow, a crowd of faces young and old confronted Torrullin and Vannis, their faces pinched blue and drawn with hunger. There were far more than they expected to find, but far less than the number in Linmoor. They were also too many for the small space. Some took huge breaths of the freshening air.
“Can we take at least some of them to the Palace?” Raken begged, eyes bright with tears as she watched with aching heart how Torrullin made food for the solitary cow and dog.
The dog licked his hand and he stroked it before moving on to a group of chickens in another corner. He waved a hand and a bag of chicken feed materialised for them, some of which he scattered. A raggedy cat slunk out from behind crates and he called it over, lifted it to a high place above the chickens where he gave it food and let it eat there in peace.
Another character for you: Mordan of the Kinna. This is the man who has memorized the entire 10-volume Ancient Oracles.
Finding mention of animals (particularly dogs and cats) in my Lore has made me quite tearful in the reading. Considering that much goes wrong in the story, animals showcase the desperation here and there. Below are a few excerpts from The Drowned Throne.
- THEY WALKED ALL day, dodging deluges and rotten missiles, skirting dogs and rats and unnamed piles of fur and other matter, turning ever away from mean-spirited people.
Only once did they see a cat, the feline mangy and filthy, but well fed on the rat population. For the most part Silas inhabitants ignored them. Where trouble appeared imminent, they simply walked away.
It rained without cease.
2. “On the contrary, father, I sensed something of you there. A trace of goodness, and that made me sad. I also found a trace of ambition, and that made me angry.”
They continued walking. A skeletal dog yapped at their heels, giving up when it elicited no reaction.
Torrullin said, “It wasn’t your fault. I don’t need to hurt you further.”
“I want to know. How else will I understand?”
“Tell me about you and my mother, please. She spoke of you with love always. She explained why she left. I would like to hear you speak of her.”
Taranis opened his heart and mind to the memories. He put aside pain and guilt, spoke to his son with the same love and awe Torrullin heard in his mother’s voice long ago.
“It was in Moor that I met her, the day I arrived …”
Torrullin smiled. Millanu would always begin with the first day she laid eyes on the handsome man on the inn roof.
3. An hour after they set out they came across the first ruined village, blackened and partly razed, the enclosure in tatters. Chickens scratched hopefully among the ruins and a skeletal dog barked pitifully. It was a small place, a family not long ago embarked on the task of starting a new clan.
Saska burst into tears and Lanto breathed a shocked, “Oh no, terrible …”
Torrullin’s mouth set in a grim line. This was direct evidence of Margus’ malicious plans.
Saska emptied her pack of food for the dog as they skirted the village; looking back, she saw the poor creature approach the bounty warily, before wolfing it down in a flash, its tail wagging. She burst into tears again.
Lanto’s mouth also set into a resolute line and he did not look back. They never heard him mutter ‘crazy’ again.
4. Eventually Torrullin said, “We must look to the living now and do what we can tonight, or more will join Mordan in the realms of death. Come, both of you, come away.”
They found the meeting hall half-above and half-below ground. Nature had commenced the reclamation process; birds burst noisily into flight as they came down the stairs into the chamber, and clumps of weeds grew sturdily in the patchy sunlight of the broken roof.
Phet set about clearing away the birds, chasing them out with respect. In one corner, a thin grey cat nursed two tiny kittens, keeping a wary eye on the intruders. This time Lanto scratched in his pack and offered the little mother food and water. She ate as she lay, unwilling to disturb her little ones, and purred when Lanto stroked her.
“What’s the plan?” Saska asked. Her voice echoed in the empty chamber, briefly startling the cat. Lanto calmed her with gentle hands.
Phet returned to perch unobtrusively in a corner. He ignored the feline and, after a brief bristle, she ignored him.
“We have to get into the lion’s den; it is the only way,” Torrullin said. “Luring his soltakin out will bring only a small number, and darklings will probably not take the bait. If we can get inside and let it be known we have penetrated his stronghold, he will pit his might against us to answer the arrogance of our trespass with his own.”
Animals in the Lore series: I have mentioned Jess, but this time it’s a lone dog and his appearance is a sign of that maybe, just maybe, someone still lives …
Breathless, she stopped. She wanted to scream at him, but he was right again. She needed to find someone, anyone. Please, let there be someone.
They moved forward, creeping up the steps that linked the terraces, stopping often to listen. They neared the hut, crept around to the rear to peer through a window and fell back in fright, but it was only the dog inside that put up frantic barking at faces peering through the window.
Unless the dog was not frightened of whatever may yet be in the area, they could probably assume it was safe. They peered again and this time the animal watched them with wagging tail. There was no one inside. Flies buzzed around half-made dough on the kitchen table.
They crept from hut to hut, the dog trailing them, and grew bolder as they went. They found nothing, no one, except evidence of hasty departure everywhere. They began talking loudly, making a noise, preferring it to the unnatural silence, and hoped the sound of their voices would lure out of hiding any frightened person. Dogs started barking and that, too, they found good, but no one came to them; nobody was left to come out.
On the fourth terrace, near the gate into the second enclosure, Kisha stopped. “I can’t take any more.” The Kinfire Tree
It occurred to me recently that animals play a role in our stories and yet there are none in the Lore I have written … or are there? Besides the periods the characters are on horseback, and besides the mythical cathron I have spoken of before, are there animals, as in cats and dogs, in my stories? To that end, I went through the four Arcana books as an exercise, and the moment I opened The Infinity Mantle I thought ‘ha, how forgetful are you, Elaina?’ because I remembered Kylan and Jess.
Kylan is a Herbmaster from Farinwood, and is in the Great Forest the night the action begins, and Jess, his faithful furry companion, is at his side. It goes wrong (excerpt below – quite lengthy, but do read it!) and it hurts Kylan, really does, so much so that, in The Drowned Throne, Jess comes back into the story (second excerpt).
I will tell you more about the times other dogs, and cats, too, come into the story, but for now, here’s part of Jess’ story.
HE STOOD ON a brown square two by two feet and next to it a green square, then another brown, another green and so on; he was on a giant checkerboard!
At each corner there was an oval pile of sticks and mud, as many nests were made, only larger. Curious, Kylan closed in to investigate, glancing about and crouching low, making as little sound as possible. He did not sense danger, but it paid to be careful, it paid every time.
There were five eggs in the nest and there were five in the next and the next. In this strange place everything was uniform and, well, designed. Again he glanced around, neck hairs beginning to prickle. Nothing, but that did not mean there was not something.
Frowning, he returned his attention to a clutch of pale purple, spotted eggs. He leaned over to touch, feeling warmth and an inner vibration that proved life. He would have been surprised had they been cold and lifeless, but this was a lot of potential living here.
A checkerboard hatchery, strange as that was? And what was he doing here?
Looking up he saw an enormous dome, muted blue. Well. A brown-green checkerboard, purple eggs and a blue dome. Was he in a child’s drawing? A giant’s game?
Despite wariness, he chuckled; it was too farfetched to be taken seriously … must be a dream … or a premonition.
His amusement vanished and he swallowed convulsively.
If the eggs were warm, something was entrusted to keep them that way. Perhaps the dome was an incubator and perhaps even now the mothers returned, winging back on giant wings. What, in Taranis’ name, would they prove to be? Crikey, he may have stumbled into a hornet’s nest – he hoped they were not hornets!
Come now, buddy, this is a dream, no more. And they would have to be seriously huge hornets.
There were muted explosive sounds around him, and at first he thought the eggs were blowing up, but then there was light everywhere. Someone switched on a hundred suns inside his head, in front of his eyes, he was blind … no, that was not right. His eyes were simply unaccustomed to the sudden light.
There had been a switching-on process, therefore the explosions – huge, artificial, twenty feet high lights. So, it was an artificial place … well, he figured that already; he just could not figure what for or what it meant to him. Then he realized the lights were probably on to spot a possible intruder … he was the intruder!
Taranis, what now?
Something unseen landed on his chest and there was a smelly slobbering about his face. Attempting to push the creature away, encountering warm fur, shaking his head from side to side to prevent the assault claiming a nose or eye, and wondering why he could not see his attacker in the brightness, Kylan shook himself awake.
He was beside the fire on his sleeping roll where he lay down a couple of hours back. The fire was low and marked the time passed. Jess obviously decided she had waited long enough for a meal.
Kylan sat up groggily, laughing in relief, body coated in sweat, dark hair plastered to his face with the aid of slobber.
Wiping his face with a shaking hand, he said, “Ah, Jess, you smelly mutt, thank Taranis that was a dream! You can’t know how great your timing was.”
Jess, of undetermined breed, cocked her head to stare at him with soulful eyes. His green orbs darkened as he recalled other incidents. She pulled him from dreams before and frequently warned him of snares in the Forest when she should not know of their existence.
“I have a feeling you do know,” he muttered, and Jess cocked her head the other way as if in agreement. He laughed. “Or maybe I’ve been alone too long …”
Jess jumped up and barked at him, her wont when she disagreed with something. He laughed again, less surely this time.
“Maybe I’m not hallucinating, but the alternative is unthinkable. If you do know, girl, then what does that make you? Folk will quarter you for harbouring magic, but all right, I’m not going to say anything … and, as you’re so sharp, please explain what that crazy dream …”
He slammed up against the huge oak behind him and hung there suspended two feet from the ground.
Cannot move … what is this? Another dream? A dream within a dream – had he not awakened earlier? He wore only breeches and the rough bark of the old tree dug viciously into the exposed skin of his back … it hurts!
It could not be a dream, but reality versus fantasy was the least of his concerns. A force encircled his neck and drove air from his lungs.
Jess barked furiously, jumping up and nipping at something not there. Her hysterics caused a fluttering and a raucous noise, as all birds in the immediate vicinity took to wing.
He attempted to loosen the stranglehold on his neck, scratching at his throat and raising bloody welts. All the while his legs flailed seeking a way to lever away from the tree back to solid ground.
The night was eerily silent.
Jess ran cowering under a bush to whimper there. Kylan sensed his struggles were useless; he hung above the ground, eyes seeking escape, ears attempting to pierce the breathless quiet for clues to the source of his torment. Barely breathing, he saved what little oxygen he had left for when an opportunity presented itself, if it would, dear Lord.
What is this? There is no defence against this … this sorcery!
TARANIS! Taranis, help me! I cannot do this alone!
Then, as unexpectedly as it began, he was released.
He tumbled to earth gasping in great gulps of air that seared his throat and lungs.
Jess slinked out. “It’s all right, girl,” he murmured. “You were wonderful.” Stroking her he looked around, no longer trusting their surroundings.
It was silent, but all was as it had been. There was his sleeping roll, his bag of necessities, with cooking utensils to one side and herbs drying where he hung them earlier that afternoon. The fire popped merrily and that was not right. He did not put wood on after waking with Jess slobbering over him and an almost dead fire did not find fuel on its own.
Dare he think Taranis heard him? Dumb, that would be a first, a god saving someone directly. Sick of being frightened and confused, he shouted, “What is going on here?”
“Taranis cannot help you, human, although it amused me no end to release you when you invoked his aid. It really does take more than one human in trouble for the beloved Taranis to take note.”
From the dark beyond the fire came the most dangerous creature Kylan had ever encountered. As a Herbmaster he often went where others did not and saw different creatures and strange animals on four legs and six, but never this. Jess’ hackles were raised. No amount of calling on the Deities would help him, and likely they did not hear a lone human.
The creature was blue with an underlying pulse of purple – colours like the eggs. It had been a premonition; he was not afforded the time to figure it out, not that he would have come to this conclusion. It was naked, obviously female and highly alluring. Her skin tone was not repulsive in the least. Her hair was long and blue, swaying in the night air.
Shaped and sized as a human female, she was extraordinarily sensual, until he saw her eyes, until he looked.
They were voids, transparent pools so deep they were eternal. If he stared too long he would certainly drown, spiralling into infinity, over and over and over and … he hurriedly looked away. He did not know how he knew her eyes could kill, only that they would.
She laughed. A knowing sound that was also the sweetest he had heard. He knew who she was, but until now had not believed she existed. She was a myth, a legend, a tale.
… spiralling into infinity …
This was Infinity, the blue dara-witch.
According to legend, she was the mother of all gods, immune to death and sorcery. The tale further stated one could live forever if one subjected one’s soul to her eternal will. This before him was no dream and no legend. His brief glimpse into her eyes that were not eyes revealed to him clearly the price for eternal life was death, in any way she devised, and endlessly repeated for her twisted pleasure. It was eternal death and it was endless.
He had to get away NOW.
Faithful Jess came to his rescue for the second time that night.
She leapt from his side over the fire in a brown and black streak of pure and intent energy. She was at Infinity’s throat in lightning seconds, but when she got there, there was nothing to sink her teeth into. Infinity was an apparition; real and as capable of great damage as any solid entity, yet as untouchable as the night air in which she appeared. She was energy in visual form.
Jess, however, served as a momentary distraction. Infinity spun and, as Jess leapt, Kylan dived for the fire and grabbed a burning log from a blaze that should have no such item. Wondering if a piece of wood burning magically could burn flesh, not knowing what exactly he would do with this spontaneous weapon, he knew only his heart was frantic and any moment could see him surrender to mindless fear.
He too leapt over the fire before fear did overcome. Positioned facing her, he brandished his flickering weapon.
Infinity laughed, clearly delighted. “I am not a forest creature you can scare away with fire, human! My, but you are a spirited one! I will enjoy this. I will allow you sixty of your human heartbeats to escape me and then I shall hunt you.” Her voice dropped as she considered the sport ahead, turning husky with anticipation. “Do not think you can escape your fate, beautiful man. There is no way out … see?”
The blue woman twisted to where Jess only moments before spun at bay behind her, snarling and contemplating her next assault. Infinity lifted her arm, and fingers shot darts of azure flame, which she tossed at Jess.
In that exact instant Kylan acted.
In the moment following, frozen into his memory forever after, four events occurred simultaneously.
He thrust the burning brand directly into Infinity, his need to do something energizing every move and thought; Jess exploded into a pillar of cobalt flaming vapour, yelping piteously; Infinity erupted, transforming into a whirlwind of gale force strength, and a voice burned into his mind, admonishing him to “Remember! Remember the words, Kylan! Always know I am with you!”
And he knew no more.
KYLAN’S THOUGHTS OF the wedding were marred when he heard a plaintive wail from the trees to his right.
He could not place it, and frowned as he listened intently. There it was again, softer now. He knew that sound, and it called to him, tugged at his heart. He sat up and stared in the general direction.
When it came again, he knew why it affected him … it sounded like, like … Jess! She was hurt; sounding like the time when that darn tabby turned on her, scratching her beloved nose to shreds.
He rose and, glancing at the others, noticed they were intent on their tasks. Some talked, some repacked gear, others slept, even Kisha. He did not want to disturb her, she got little rest, her sleep plagued by nightmares, and the others obviously heard nothing. Maybe he imagined it; maybe he dreamed the sound of Jess’ distressed wail. He would look a right fool if he drew everyone’s attention to a dream sound.
He had to be sure.
Kylan loped off into the trees, going where he thought he heard it emanate from, hearing nothing, and then it came again. A wail of pain, asking for help. By god, he thought her dead, more than dead; burned, vanished. Had he not looked hard enough? Had he missed her, left her behind? As he ran, he castigated himself. She had been hurt and he abandoned her.
“Jess?” he called out, and whistled his special tune for her. “Where are you, girl?”
He stopped to listen, and heard a soft bark of recognition up ahead.
“That’s my girl!” he called out. “I’m coming …” He whistled again to let her know it was him, he was on his way, and his tears ran unchecked. He heard her bark again, hearing in it faint, pleased excitement.
Slowing down to hear her, not to miss her, he searched the undergrowth, she was close, and kept up a faint whistling …
Ahead there was an old elm, green with moss, its foliage untamed. He knew it, had been here before. He rounded its broad girth … and stopped dead in his tracks.
He sank to his knees, feeling as if he were going to die; from guilt, and sadness so great the human heart could not possibly hold it.
“Oh, Jess, sweetheart, I’m sorry.”
His tears were a torrent now; he was sobbing, seeing his beloved childhood companion, loyal always, often his only friend, ensnared in a vicious contraption. A poacher’s trap! How it could be there in that beautiful place was a mystery, given folk were terrified of the Forest, but there it was, and Jess, dear, sweet Jess, was caught in it. Both her hind legs were cruelly snared, the rusty wire biting deep, exposing bone, and she was emaciated, resting on bent front legs, her head drooping to one side.
When she saw him, she lifted her head valiantly, and stared at him with liquid brown eyes, no reproach, only happiness, as if she had known he would come and make it all right. Such trust, such loyalty, his heart could not bear it. She tried to wag her bushy tale, but no longer had the strength. Her usually shiny brown coat was matted, dirty, and lifeless.
How long? Nearing two months, surely, since Infinity surprised them that night. Surely she had not been trapped here all that time? No, she ran off, he had not searched hard enough, and she floundered into that trap … later, it had to be later.
“Still, Jess, I’ll get you out, girl.”
Gasping through tears, Kylan felt for the knife in his pocket … not there! God, no! Then he remembered he placed it beside him when he laid down to rest … no!
“Don’t you worry now, my angel, we’ll make another plan.”
Kylan crept forward, whispering soothingly, and rubbed her forehead gently, her dry tongue licking his hand, little sounds of pleasure. His heart breaking anew, he bent to the task of undoing coils of wire. Hands bleeding, slipping, slipping minutes later, he knew he was beat. He needed wire-cutters, a saw, something – he would have to go back.
He did not want to leave her. To walk away would break her sweet heart, but he had to free her, he would be back. Explaining all this to her as calmly as he was able to, knowing she would understand, she was a clever mutt, he searched around and found big leaves holding water. He stared at those leaves a moment.
They seemed artificial, deliberately placed, but then he shook it off as fanciful and carried them like the most precious gold to his Jess, and sobbed as he watched her lick with great effort, her eyes never leaving his. He patted her gently and ran a soothing hand along her flank …
“I’ll be back soon, Jess, I promise.” Crying, he backed away, the hardest thing he had ever done, her eyes following, reproachful now, worried. “Hang in there, girlie … I’m coming now-now …”
He ran with the hounds of hell chasing him.
Kylan was soon lost, could not find the clearing – how on god’s good earth could he not know where he was? He shouted, called, anyone? Anyone!
Ran and stumbled … oh no, oh no, oh no, Jess, Jess! I am sorry, sorry …
***A long read, I am aware, but Jess’ story, and Kylan’s grief, got to me all over again. By the way, the eventual outcome of Kylan’s dream is a good one 🙂