Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hound Hunting - Chapter 20.



I never expected Glitch to remain at my place while we rested. I was even more surprised by his choice of sleeping arrangements. It isn’t like I have a hefty amount of options available to offer or anything. But somehow he had managed to repurpose my makeshift storage space that had been fashioned from an old net into a sling that dangled from the walls. Already his small frame was found swaying slightly as he drifted to sleep in his little slumber-sling.

Not wanting to waste time trying to let my wheels keep spinning, I climbed into my own cot and crashed. Dreams drifted toward me in that weird detached measure of moments that defies description. Had I been asleep for a minute, or was it hours? There is just no real reference available when you walk the realm the sandman.

Tendrils of twilight flicked and formed into a strange series of shapes. A path of purplish black congealed underfoot from flowing fog. The area around me seemed to shape itself into something between slate stone and a soft blue sky. This weird world was some mutable mixed up parody of the waking one. But then again – I suppose that is the essential essence of our dreamscapes.

As I walked along the landscape laid out before me by my unconscious mind I began to become aware of other things also on the move. There was the distant presence of bizarre beasts stalking through the shadows alongside a hushed tone of strangers speaking. I couldn’t make out much; just enough to give me the impression that things were out there.

This may not be my real body, but there is a certain required reality based response your mind demands even in dreams. To that end, every muscle I had tensed up in anticipation of an attack. My pace slowed to a more cautious one and all of a sudden I found my short sword’s steely strength lending its support to my hand. Whatever else I might meet here in the midnight of my mind wasn’t going to find me easy prey I decided.

But despite my expectations, no enemies presented themselves. My surroundings shifted continually, wisps of whimsy turning walls into water and my path became sand-choked shores. “Why are they gone,” a voice marked by youthful years still too soon to know maturity cried out. “Why did they leave us,” another pleaded passionately. As I tried to find any faces to match to the questions I found myself denied everywhere I looked.

“What are we supposed to do,” something else said. This time it traveled to me from somewhere to my rear and I resisted the urge to spin about and seek its source out. Instead I tried to train my ears towards it and focused on figuring out where or what it could be.

This isn’t real; I tried to reinforce that fact to myself. I needed to ground myself with the knowledge that I was asleep and that this was just a dream. But another issue with being inside of a dream is the blurring of being able to discern what is real and what isn’t. The longer I lingered in this surreal setting the more I was struggling to set the two things apart.

“You’re alone and afraid,” the stranger declared next. Now it was starting to sound older, a male depth to its tone. “There are things you don’t think you can deal with but there is also more to your mettle than even you have yet grown to understand. The best advice you can take to your heart is to learn what to hold on to and what to let pass through you. If you cling to too much in this world it can eat you up. But some thing’s can be beneficial if you bend them to your needs – even if only briefly.”

There was a specter of familiarity to those words, a reminder in how they resonated through me. I had the distinct impression that I had heard them before, or at the very least something similar. But through the distorted haze of dream I couldn’t clearly make out where. The pieces were there I just couldn’t find what framework to fit them into.

Without warning the maze-like mists vanished to leave me once more alone. A jolt of electric fire exploded through me and I gasped for air recoiling from it. When I did I found myself sitting upright in my bed again and blinking in an effort to banish blurred vision. The details of my dream were already falling away from me like finely ground sand clutched in your hand. However enough remained, just a fragment really that allowed me a smile.

The image of my Father formed in my mind, called forth from the imperfect memory of childhood. His features weren’t as clear to me as they once were – I couldn’t recall if his eyes had been a shade of platinum or blue-grey for one. Yet even if I couldn’t remember every detail of how he looked, his wisdom still remained etched into me. When he spoke to me, I listened longing to absorb any lore he offered. I had often dreamed of growing up wanting to be half the man he seemed to be to me.

Those words had been some of the last he had bestowed on me. Why had they been dredged up to return to me now? Maybe some part of me was trying to debate turning over everything I had found and dropping the case. I’m no expert on how people think, so I guess that is one possibility. However, I do know enough to say that it just isn’t in me to leave a trail no matter how dangerous or difficult. Once I get on the scent, I have to see it to the end. And now I had a scent to go on.

My Father had never wasted his words though, so I kept his counsel close to my heart and swore to myself to keep it under consideration. One look outside told me it was still dark; so it was either really late or very early. I wasn’t entirely sure which. But, judging by the hanging moon overhead that was situated low and to the west I was inclined to lean towards the later.

I needed more to go on, I decided. The amber amulet had provided me with a precious piece of evidence to use in my pursuit of the problem. But even if I planned on pacing back and forth all over creation trying to sniff something more out it wasn’t wise to presume that it would immediately point me in the right direction. It helped tremendously to have some scent to compare or simply look for, but I needed more to go on.

What I needed, I realized, was someone on the front lines of fighting malicious magic. Odds were fair that if something old and powerful was being put to use it would come under the attention of an Interdictor. They were experts at defending against magic and made it their job to keep their selves well versed in potential threats.

It wasn’t exactly a guaranteed payoff that if I reached out to the one Interdictor I used to associate with that he would be able to help (or willing). But I had to try, it only made sense that if something dangerous had been used that one of peers would have spread word of warning about it amongst them. Besides, Stane had never been known for having an axe to grind against anyone. Although, ironically enough the axe was his preferred weapon in almost any fight.

“Come on, Glitch,” I announced as my feet hit the floor. “We need to get to work and we’re wasting time.” When I looked up my eyes met with an empty web-work of weathered netting, now absent of the sleeping shape of the gremlin resting there not long ago. “Where has he gotten off to now…?” I asked myself aloud. A pair of pale pink eyes popped up out of the corner of my eye and startled me in reply.

“Right here,” he declared dutifully. “And where are we off to at such an early hour, if I may ask Master Spell-Sniffer?” I leveled my best disapproving scowl his way, which he somehow didn’t seem to notice.

“You know, you don’t have to call me that,” I pointed out. “I do have a name, after all; you are welcome to use it.” Glitch didn’t even grin back at me. “I know,” he admitted automatically. A groan gurgled up and out of me as I tried to deal with the growing feeling of becoming exasperated.

“Alright, let me put it another way,” I changed course and bluntly addressed my point. “My name is Nathanial Vaen; not ‘Master Spell-Sniffer.’ Please, do me the courtesy of calling me by name instead. I am the one paying you after all.”

Glitch cocked his head from side to side as he seemed to be considering my request. “But, are you not a spell-sniffer of some skill,” he asked me. I suppose he had me there, so I nodded in the affirmative. “Isn’t that a fitting title to refer to you as their superior by someone in your employment?”

“I guess I hadn’t thought of that,” I conceded casually. “Listen, Glitch, if you’re going to be working with me you have to understand I may be paying you but you don’t have to think of me like your boss. I’ll call you Glitch and you can call me by my name. It’s perfectly fine, don’t worry.”

“Whatever you say Master Spell-Sniffer,” Glitch agreed with a soft smile. I doubted I would ever win this war of words, so I dropped the matter entirely. “To answer your question,” I changed the subject back to where I had tried to begin. “We’re going to go see someone on the forefront of fighting fell forces. He might be able to help us make heads or tails of where something like that amber amulet might have found its way into Emberhelm.”

“He knows you’re coming,” Glitch queried. “Nope,” I fired back. “But I know he’ll be up and it’s the best chance to catch him with a minute to talk. So let’s get ready and be on our way.” Once more a puzzled look was waiting for me.

“Already prepared,” Glitch announced. “We’re just waiting on you, Master Spell-Sniffer.” One of these days, I promised, I would persuade that gremlin to stop calling me that. Still grumbling I grabbed my things and started throwing them on. Next time I hire a helper, I think I’ll have some form of ground rules agreed to before hand.