Legends of Cobalt

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Miles to go

“Huh, this is new.” Grazer reigned the wagon to a stop at a crossroads under a cloudy midday sky. Thick forest walled in the rutted road. Two gnarled trees as thick as barrels blocked the road ahead of us.

“Maybe we can go around?” Pehebs leaned against the back of the driver’s bench and tried to scout a path around the trees.

“That could take a few days,” Grazer shrugged.

“Give me an axe.” Bucephalus jumped off the wagon, twigs snapped under his feet where he landed. ”we can hack our way through.”

I pulled the hand axe from the chest and handed it to him. “This is the only axe we have.”

Bucephalus sighed and tossed the axe back into the wagon. “Maybe we can move them.” Bucephalus marched toward the downed trees. The road squelched beneath him as he went. 

“I don’t think you can do that,” Grazer called.

Bucephalus wrapped his arms as far as he could around the first tree. He squatted in the mud and let out a monstrous roar. Bucephalus lifted the tree a few inches off the ground and dropped it again.

“If someone helps me we can do it.”

“I don’t think so, friend,” Grazer shook his head, “You’re stronger than all of us, and you could hardly lift it. You four will have to continue from here on foot. This is where I have to leave you.”

“You are not coming with us to Spinel?” Wyanet asked.

Grazer took Wyanet’s comparably small hand in his and patted it. “My part was to take you as far as I could. I would have taken you to Ringtown if I could, but it seems the Wildmother has other plans for me. I have a farm to tend and people to feed. You will have to continue without me, while I stay back to help those I can.”

“I understand.” Wyanet pulled her things out of the trunk. “May the spirits watch over you and keep you safe. Thank you for bringing us this far.”

“This last day has been a pleasure.”

Grazer helped pack the last of our things. We jumped down into the mud and walked to the font of the wagon. 

“Take care of each other. Spinel is another day’s walk farther South,” Grazer collected the reigns, “Try not to camp in the forest overnight. The closer you get to Spinel, the more strange and unnatural creatures you will find. According to some of my brothers, even the trees walk about looking for blood.” Grazer coaxed the horses toward the road heading West. “The Wildmother bless and keep you safe until our paths cross again.”

“What do you think is in the woods?” Phebes used my shoulder to lift herself onto the first log. 

 “My t’unwin in the River Runner tribe told me stories as a child,” Wyanet vaulted over the logs with her spear, “Of a being from the spirit world that appears human. Her stories claimed the monster lived deep in the dark forests of the land and devoured lost children.”

“My foster-father had a similar story. He always warned Grom and me not to wander the forest where we lived alone. He told us the lands of Faery and Shadow found gaps between our world and theirs and played with their victim’s minds to trap people who came too close. He told us the magic seeping through from those other places could warp the land around their portals.” I jumped over the trees with little effort.

“Enough with the spook stories.” Bucephalus hauled his bulk over the first log. “There is real danger in this forest. It’s a piss poor idea to scare yourself even more with stories of witches and monsters.”

“We have a day’s journey ahead of us.” Wyanet asked, “Do you expect us to stay silent the entire way?”

“I expect you to pay attention and not draw any attention to us.” Bucephalus pulled his flask out, got it halfway to his lips and returned it to his belt. “We shouldn’t linger any longer.”

Wyanet pulled her spear from the muck. “Lead the way. You have been there before.”

“Try to keep up, I don’t want to sleep out here.”

Phebes walked beside me. “Who’s Grom?”

“My foster brother. Our father found him on the shore before he found me. We grew up together.”

Wyanet walked behind us. “You have never mentioned him before.”

I shrugged, “It never came up or felt important. Last time I heard from him was before I met you, and I haven’t seen Grom since I left the grove.”

“Where has Grom gone that you don’t talk to him anymore?”

“He joined a merchant ship and left the grove a week before I did. We wrote a few letters back and forth, but it cost too much and I never knew where he was going.”

“Of course,” Bucephalus grumbled ahead of us. “You know someone with a ship, but still refused to leave or help me leave.” 

“I don’t own a ship and neither does my brother. He goes where his captain orders him to.”

We slipped into an exhausted silence and continued to slog through the thick mud. The sun dipped below the horizon without any sign of a city. Skeletal tree branches loomed over us, waiting to pluck us from the ground. Thin fog wrapped around our ankles. Phebes tripped and landed face first in the mud for the third time in an hour.

“Get her up.” Bucephalus kept walking. “We can’t stop.”

Wyanet pulled Phebes from the mud and held her up. “We need to rest. We are tired and will not make it to Spinel if we do not set up camp.”  

“No,” Bucephalus replied. “It’s too dangerous to stop.”

I helped Wyanet support Phebes. “It’s getting dark. We won’t be any safer on the road.”   

“We are making camp.” Wyanet walked Phebes to the edge of the road. “We will all take a watch through the night and continue in the morning after we have rested.”

“Keep going if you want. We’re staying here.” I pulled a length of rope and the spare blanket from Wyanet’s rucksack. Wyanet wadded through the trees collecting wood and sticks while I strung up a makeshift tent.

Bucephalus dropped his rucksack, war hammer, and shield beside Phebes. “Help her get a fire going. We’re going to want it.”

Wyanet and I fought well after sunset to get the fire lit. We shared a meagre meal of stale bread while Phebes slept. I crawled into the makeshift tent beside Phebes after I ate and used my rucksack as a pillow. I closed my eyes and let my physical exhaustion drag me into unconsciousness.

***

“Da…mi…an,” a melodic voice like honey sang my true name. “DA…mi… AN.”

I opened my eyes and felt beside me for my companions. The mid-morning sun glowed beyond the edge of the tent. Wyanet and Phebes had left the tent. I grabbed for my sword, but couldn’t find that either. I scrambled out of the tent and into an empty campsite.

“Phebes! Wy!”

Thick fog swirled around me and made it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.

“Ceph! Where are you guys?”

“Your friends abandoned you.” A seven-foot-tall Elven woman floated out of the fog. Her luxurious blonde hair flirted with a breeze that only touched her. A slender loincloth pulled a thin gold chain tight around her hips. Her statuesque hands reached out and cupped my face. The Elven woman pressed her lips close to mine. “Come with me, Damian. I can make you the happiest creature in all the worlds. You can have everything you ever wanted, for the price of a kiss.”

On instinct, my hands went to the Elven woman’s hips. Her skin felt soft and warm beneath my hands. My mouth moved towards hers. Every fibre of me wanted to kiss her.

A hot, hurricane wind whipped the fog away. Boiling, tropical sunlight tore through the gnarled tree branches engulfing everything in radiant light. The elven woman screeched and shoved me away. I stumbled backwards and tripped over a root. My arms windmilled around to catch my balance.

***

I jolted awake in the dark tent. I tapped the ground beside me and felt Wyanet there, fast asleep. Phebes felt me move and pressed closer to me, snoring softly. I grabbed my sword and wormed my way out of the tent. 

Tree branches throughout the foggy forest creaked and scraped at the sky. The dying fire hissed and popped with damp wood.

“I wish I could tell you that the more nightmares you have, the easier it gets.” Bucephalus poked at the fire with his war hammer. A plume of sparks climbed into the air with the smoke.

I ignored Bucephalus and watched the shadowy woods. “What’s that?”

The story will continue, August 13th,  2020.

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Written by: Sweeney (@oceansoul316 on twitter)

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