27# The Lovers

Photo: Sira Anamwong. Freedigitalphotos.net

mermaid

“If you come any closer I’ll drown you,” she said from the rocks.

“If I pull you out of the water you’ll die,” he said, reciting the line as he always did when he came too close to her.

The man and the woman from their separate vantage points stood sadly surveying each other from a distance, as they had done, year after year. The man had kept a weekly vigil by the lake for so long now, that people had stopped asking him when he would settle down and take a wife. Now the local people avoided him because they had watched him grow into someone strange. “Handsome, but witch-touched,” the old women would say about him as he walked alone down the street.

Tonight, a lilac moon hung over the heads of the lovers; the last pink of day mingling with the black of night over the dark waters and the sloping pines to the east. The man’s back was to the pine forest, he faced the water’s edge and felt in the pocket of his woollen coat for the gift he had brought.

“I have something for you,” he said, producing a wooden box. It was small, made of dark wood like mahogany, and criss-crossed with a lattice filigree of darting silver lines. It glinted in the moonlight as he held it out to the woman in the water.

“What is it?” She asked.

“Would you like to see it?” He stepped closer, somewhat timidly holding it out towards her. Seeing her reaction he cried,

“No don’t go back, you won’t hurt me!” but she was afraid. “My family will be watching,” she said, and made as if to swim away, but then he opened the box with a click, and laid it on the ground between them.

“What do you wish, more than anything?” He asked.

She looked up at him, blinking her wide iridescent eyes, then answered plainly, “for us to never be apart.”

The man smiled, and a light caught like a spark inside the box. It soon became a glow which spread into the air like smoke, and was sweet smelling, and made a noise like chimes as it floated above them.

“You can drown me now,” he said, and held out his arms.

“You have made magic!” She cried, feeling the smoke tingle as it settled upon her skin, each contact blazing like a star.

“Love makes even ordinary men magicians,” he said, as she gave in at last to her nature, leaning in to grasp him with soft, wet, ivory arms.

At last embracing, with a kiss they froze, and became two stone lovers. The box which had lain between them closed with a click. The waters lapped ferociously at the rocks, and cries filled the air like bleating gulls. A dark hand grasped out to grab the box, and pull it beneath the waves.

Years passed, but no one came back to the lake. It seemed as if the Lovers had been forgotten.

* * * * *

Centuries later, a young couple wandered down to the lakeside. The man was a stranger, but he held the hand of a local girl.

“That’s a funny sort of bridge isn’t it?” he said, pointing to a misshapen stone edifice by the rocks.

“Oh,” the girl shrugged. “Those are the Lovers.” Seeing his blank look she continued with a playful glance back at him. “A man, and a mermaid, it’s an old folktale – oh never mind.” They were quiet for a moment, and both stood surveying the huddle of weatherworn stone which now resembled a little bridge from the land to the water.

“My Grandfather thought there were really mermaids in the lake, so he would never let me come here.” She said. “I once had a joke with him – said that mermaids only drown boys, but he insisted that the mer-people had been very angry about their daughter getting seduced and turned to stone, and that they would likely try to do me a mischief anyway.”

She picked up a stone and hurled it towards the lake. It hit the surface, then seemed to hang right on the edge for a moment, before slowly sinking below the waters. The girl rubbed her eyes, there were ripples spreading all over the surface of the lake like a shudder.

“Let’s go,” she grabbed the boys’ hand and pulled him away from the water, but he said “wait a moment,” and dashed off towards the rocks. He had darted down towards the stone bridge snatching something up from the water’s edge, it was a box. The couple set off back the way they had come, as behind them, a green hand slunk back down below the water.

“Where did you find that?” The girl’s voice could be heard to say.

“I saw it just sitting there, on the rocks.”

“That’s funny, I don’t remember seeing it. What’s inside do you think?”

“Don’t know, I can’t open it.”

“Wait until we get back, we can use my brother’s tools.”

“But I don’t want to break it,”

“Then take it to the Friday market,” Her voice was barely audible now,

“There’s an old man I’ve seen down there who sells things like that…”

Soon they were gone, and the forest had swallowed up the sound of their voices. In time a light rain began to fall, washing over the faces, hands and bodies of the stone lovers, now merged together, indistinguishable from each other, half in, and half out of the water.

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25# The Egg Lord

Image Tuomas_Lehtinen. Freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100113575

Olthar waited at the lip of the cavern and contemplated its interior. Opalescent shafts of pearly light bounced off the lake’s surface, illuminating all the many nooks and dark corners of the cave but it was surprisingly empty, except of course for the Egg.

It was perched right in the middle of all that water, on its ceremonial pedestal. It looked exactly as it had been described to him as a child, just as it appeared in all wall paintings and parchments, even on the skin of the Egg Guardian who carried the roughly inked glory of the egg on his back; now a wrinkled tableau which upon his death would be re-applied to his successor in the same position and fashion as was tradition. The Egg Guardian was dead now of course, and so his novice would shortly have to take his place, unless there was no longer a need for a new Guardian, that is, if he, Olthar, chose to be the new Egg Lord, and right now there was not a lot to stop him.

He wiped sweat off his forehead, his glance never falling away from the latticed crystal orb at the cavern’s heart, and Olthar mused how pathetic his people had become because no one had mustered the courage in a thousand years to pursue the Egg Dream. They believed that the legend was sacred, and that the Egg was sacred for the hard lessons it had taught them, but that times had moved on, and that it was better to be ruled by the Egg, than to rule by it. It was better, the law said, that adventurous individuals stay away from such quests rather than risk bringing misery to everyone: a return to the immorality which had plagued their society for eons before the last Egg Lord died and the Guardians were formed.

Olthar was not a conformist, and in truth, he had often wondered if the Egg legend was just a load of nonsense which adults told to children in order to teach them not to go wandering off, or not to disobey orders. Now here he was, and nothing all that terrible had happened, not to him, at least. Sacrifices had been made, the Egg Guardian was dead, but he had been very old. Olthar consoled himself with this thought as he began finally to wade into the cool blue waters of the lake.

As he waded, he recalled all the stories he had been told about the egg:

That it was light as a feather to lift (but only to the evil, the pure of heart would never be able to lift it’s burden).

That it was blindingly bright, (and only those with dark purposes in front of them could bear to look upon it).

That to possess the Egg would instantly confer upon the bearer the title of Egg Lord (and bring with it the promise of immortality, unless stabbed through the heart with a golden arrow at sunrise on the first day of the new year).

That to be the Egg Lord was to posses superhuman strength and senses, (skills which had allowed previous Lords to maintain their empires).

Fiinally, that the Egg came with a price which no one knew and which was different for everyone. It was widely believed, however, that this price was insanity, as most Egg Lords spoken about in legends had allegedly met their ends by their own hands. Even when devoted followers had hidden all the golden arrows, in all the stories, always one would remain to be the instrument of the Egg Lord’s death at the dawn.

Olthar wasn’t particularly interested in these stories however. He didn’t believe in mystical promises of strength and power. The Egg was a merely to him, a valuable commodity, and now that foreign traders had been coming to the islands and trade relationships had been established, the time had come to place faith in more earthly assets than the magic of one crystal egg. As he ascended the platform upon which the Egg was placed, Olthar was caught for a second by its extraordinary beauty, the way it absorbed and refracted the light so smoothly as if alive and pulsing. He wondered what gave the Egg its marvelous phosphorescence, and how much it might be worth to the foreign men of his science who desired to know the answer to such questions.

His fingers reached out for the Egg; he heard it singing to him, a ringing resonance which made the tiny hairs arms of his arms stand on end. He remembered errant snippets, the last words of the Egg Guardian as he had tried to persuade Olthar to turn back:

…there are new safeguards, we knew the old stories wouldn’t be enough to keep people away anymore, times have changed, – listen, if you try to take the Egg now…

But Olthar had gotten impatient, the old man had not been allowed to finish his sentence, and the people of the Egg had become swiftly and brutally reaquainted with the act of murder.

Now these thoughts ebbed and flowed within Olthar as he picked up the singing Egg and held it aloft. He felt its beauty surging through him, all its light and wisdom and strength, and he laughed out loud joyfully, only turning at the sound of stone grinding behind him. He was forced to watch helplessly as a giant wall of rock descended on the only entrance and exit to the cavern, cutting him off from the outside world.

Then there was silence.

The light from the Egg continued to reflect its rainbows across the gentle lapping waters of the lake, a rich scene which Olthar, devoid of golden arrows, would be at liberty to enjoy forever.

21: The Swan Man

Image anankkml, freedigitalphotos.net

ID-10032367

I know this way into the woods.

I heard the blacksmith’s daughter say that he lives here still, even after we all thought he had gone long ago. She had seen him once, the Swan Man, picking up wood for to make a fire.

“For why else would you need wood?” She asked, “and if there’s a fire there’s a hearth, and if there’s a hearth then he isn’t gone at all.”

When I was a child I thought about the stories told about him. Late at night when we were bold and wouldn’t sleep, and cried out to be up and running again, not laying in our beds, that’s when my grandmother would tell us these tales.

Afterwords I would still lie awake but pretend to be sleeping. I would stare at the ceiling and imagine him.

“The Swan Man is a sorcerer,” grandmother would say. “He got his powers from the dark one. He steals the girls and leaves the boys and no one knows what he does with them.”

“But when does he come?”

“At night dear, when the moon is hidden behind a wreath of cloud, or there is no moon at all to show him up. He swoops down and pecks at the window pane, tap tap, and you must not get up to let him in! Oh no. For he steals little girls who stay awake.”

“I don’t believe in magic” I told my grandmother one night. I ran outside and I shouted it at her from the gate. She clasped her hands as if in prayer and cried and it was only my sister who convinced me to come back, to apologise, to go without supper and not run off into the woods like the wild thing my grandmother said I was.

I grew up and thought no more about the Swan Man.

People sometimes spoke of him but sure don’t they always talk about those things when night falls and cups are filled and the long walk home needs company and company needs tales to entertain them.

Now here I am at the entrance to the woods. The Swan Man is real, and I know it. I too saw him because I waited, I waited in the spot where the blacksmith’s daughter told me to wait and I saw the thin figure of man flit by. It seemed he was nothing but a long shadow, he came and then was gone, but I know his way.

Now none of the others will so much as glance at me. My sister and her husband are gone and left the cottage gaping, empty.

“Why could you not have married?” My sister had called at me as the gate swung shut. But John pulled her away down the lane and he would not look back.

“Oh why did you have to interfere?” She had said to me when Wedlow’s boy got sick and died.

“He says you cursed his name! How could you be so foolish? Did we not take you in, and were we not kind to you? This is a poor way to repay your only family.”

It was Wedlow’s cottage and I couldn’t sit in it anymore on my own after they had gone. I knew he would come for it. I had been tired of his interfering, of complaining that we didn’t look after the land as we should. I told him what I thought of him and that might have been that, but his hag of a wife saw me. She saw me at the edge of the woods, waiting for the Swan Man. Soon after his boy died, everyone knew where I had been.

I have no option now but to let the Swan Man take me in. I have no money put by, but I am fit and can work. Perhaps he will find a use for me. The journey to the nearest town is too far, and no one will take me. I’ll press on then, and by nightfall I should reach him. I wonder will I know him? Will I see the Swan, or the Man? Or nothing?

The trees are closing in but I can still see a path. Faintly I can trace a way through these grasping branches, though my feet are caught by thorns, and mired in sodden leaves. Creatures scurry past my ankles and I can feel the wind at my back, and the air growing moist, and cold.

I see no light up ahead yet, no dwelling, but he if he needs wood then he must have a hearth…

There, a clearing, a hovel in the rock, a fire. There he is, the thin shape, dark as a shadow; his face is pale like the moon but he is no swan. What a sorrowful face! Such beautiful eyes! Why is he so young, still? He must truly be a magician.

We are watching each other now across the fire. He beckons me over to where the cages are; where he is standing there are many cages, many wings held up over faces. There are furs on the ground, and he has burrs in his hair.

“There are only sleeping,” he says, “I don’t harm them.”

But I don’t look down at the cages. I ask him if he will help me. He agrees.

“I’ll make you like the others,” he says, “if you have no other option.” I don’t know what he means, but I nod my head.

He makes me stand in a circle he has made with stones, and dead bird’s beaks. He goes into the cave and fetches things I cannot see.

“Put your arms up,” he says, “no higher, all the way up.” I comply and as I do, I say:

“They saw me at the edge of the woods,” he shakes his head.

“You should never have come looking for me,” he answers, scattering bones at my feet.

“They think I’m a witch, that I’m just like you.”

He stops what he is doing at this to look at me sideways.

“I thought you didn’t believe in magic?” He asks. He knows!

“I don’t.” I say,

“You’re lying,” he replies, and carries on about his work. “Open your mouth.”

I open my mouth, and in it he places a long, white feather.

“I never came for children,” he says as he stands outside the circle, now motionless, and yet so full of purpose.

“One day I will die, and you must tell them that. You’ll have no master then.” I nod my head again, and wait, afraid.

He was right, perhaps I always have believed in magic.

Now I turn my eyes to creatures in the cages slumbering. For an instant I think I can see faces flash underneath white feathers, but they are just the faces of birds. White swans; big beasts in bigger cages.

He says the words.

For a moment I remember being small and crawling up to see the moon peeking at my window, and hearing a tap tapping on the pane.

The world is ablaze with light and I am floating in white feathers. He must have let the birds out, I think for an instant. Then I am doubled over, the blaze is in my head and limbs. I cry out and extend my arms only to see wings before my eyes, and the voice of a bird calling.

“They’ll never catch you now,” the Swan Man says, as I arch and flap and ache and feel a joy to reach up for the sky.

He throws his hands to the air and I am aloft.

I am going to fly over the village. I’m flying to the old cottage, so I can watch them break down the door and find no one there.

Somewhere in the woods, the Swan Man is building me a new cage.

**************

18: The Land Without Hope

Image Evgeni Dinev, Freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100120506

I woke up in the Land Without Hope, and had almost forgotten that I had been chosen as one of the legion in a long line of demonic sacrifices. For a second I couldn’t fathom where I had landed. It was only when I looked up from the horizon and realised that the black sky was utterly devoid of stars that I knew that I was in that other place, that no one comes back from. Stars, for us, represent hope, a past, a legacy. Without stars you don’t know where you came from, and you can’t go home again. Your soul has no celestial way of navigating, and in this place, no earthly purchase either.

But stars must also be striven for and towards. In that darkness I saw no possibilities at all, and heaven knows I looked.

The Land Without Hope was pockmarked, and strewn with old objects that no one had a use for anymore. As I looked about at the the strands of metal peeking out from under dunes, and the old bones, and the tattered books, and the odd socks, I felt a misery in knowing that here, I belonged at last. Finally they had found a place for me where I would not stand out.

I smiled slightly as I discovered the truth of it. A lot of humour has no hope in it at all. Or rather, as Manthorn would say, joyless laughter is the very sound of hope leaving. You deploy it because there is nothing else to say. That empty laughter filled the foothills of the Land Without Hope. Foothills that held black-hearted vultures at their peaks. They made the laughter ring. Purple-eyed fiends who feed on empty-socketed creatures roaming the tundra.

I surveyed them for a moment and wondered who had rejected them. I was there as a sacrifice, thankfully, I knew that. It made me think that at least I would be swallowed up whole and not left to wander like one of those pathetic creatures which had ceased to be human. You could only see them after a few minutes, their melting bodies blended into the monotony of the yellow scrub, and hid amongst the shapes of trees, casting no shadows. There were strange trees in that land. Their branches were twisted into shapes of suicidal agony. I remember thinking how melodramatic it all was – whoever had fashioned this landscape had wrought pain and anguish into its folds in the most unimaginative fashion. No wonder the vultures are laughing, I thought.

Getting tired of that hellish landscape I sat down, and became maudlin and introspective. I wondered when exactly the Demon King would come for me, when I might be eaten, and what he might look like. Did he speak? Was there any point in negotiating? I looked down at my hands, the palms had healed. There were no blisters now. Nothing to remind me of the hours spent trying to escape from those bonds, from the ropes that bound me, and from the darkness of the cell I had languished in for months; even when it was a fate I had initially chosen for myself, for a while I still fought it. It broke my heart to see those smooth hands, devoid of scars. It made me appreciate the loss of my humanity. They told me once, -and I from my prison cell believed them – that humanity is a thing you can’t win back in the Land Without Hope.

One of the melting walkers approached me. Its limbs dissolving as I looked. There are so many of them. I thought. They were everywhere, the more you looked across the wasteland the more undulating, stumbling corpses revealed themselves. I wondered if this walker would get close to me before it melted away all together. In the corner of my eye I saw another one rise, and another, moaning, their mouths a sticky maw of frustration.

I looked down at my feet, and sought around for something to throw. I like throwing, I had always been good at it. I had the aim of a professional, and more passion than the other girls. I could always throw farther, I never stopped to think about what I looked like when I pitched the stones into the water. When I killed the Priest of Gold it was with a stone. The blow shattered his skull. He died a good death and that was all that mattered. I did what I was told because I didn’t feel then I had any other choice.

“They put you in the path of destiny, and on you blithely go.” Manthorn said to me, when I he saw I had taken on the commission. I had put on the ceremonial robes of an assassin.

“You do know where they will send you, don’t you?” He asked, one eyebrow raised so high as if were looking for a way to float off his old face altogether.

“You do this, and no one is going to think to thank you afterwards. You don’t get a handshake and a pat on the back.” Light was streaming through the slit in the wall onto his gown. It was a pale dying Winter light. I knew there would be no more Summers where I was going.

“One hell is the same as another.”

“No, you see that’s where you are wrong.” He answered. “They could send you to any number of hells for killing a High Priest.”

“Who decides?”

He shrugged. “Who can say? I don’t know the inner workings of these people, these chancellors. I’m just an old magician.”

I shook my head at him and put on the gloves.

“Find me a rock.” I said. “A stone.”

Manthorn’s face grew pale and a thousand years swam about in his eyes.

“There are convicts who could do this job, true believers, I don’t know why you want to do this. Only a fool would volunteer to martyr themselves for no good reason.”

It was my turn to shrug at him. “I have reasons enough.”

Now, standing in that place alone with the walker in front of me, I felt the anger return. When you loose everything over and over again it becomes meaningless, and yet you don’t for a minute learn to stop accumulating things to love. At last I was in place where there was nothing, absolutely nothing to love. I could never loose anything ever again.

“Aah!” I picked up a chewed sandal, bearing the teeth marks of an animal, and I threw it. The walker recoiled from the the blow and stopped in its tracks. I picked up another object, a metal poker this time.

“I have an appointment with the Demon King.” I said to the walker. “You’re going to take me to me or I’ll run you through.”

I knew it didn’t matter what I did to that shape, it couldn’t look anymore monstrous than it did now. Perhaps it knew that. The shape just slunk away. For a while I followed it until its limbs just evaporated into the wind and left a rancid odour that stayed in my nostrils wherever I went. And go I did. I searched up and down for my destroyer, but he never came.

It was only one day – I say day, but there is no time in the Land Without Hope – that I happened to feel a shift in the thick dust of the air. I looked up from the shapes I was drawing in the sand to see a figure materialise.

“Manthorn!” I ran to him, not even looking where I was going, but he vanished.

This went on for a sizeable eternity. This game of cat and mouse with Manthorn’s shade. In the meantime I traced my way through the wasteland avoiding the staggering shapes and the tortured trees and instead seeking out things to keep from amongst the debris. Perhaps it is a human thing, to want to always be hanging on to something. More often than not I lay in the dust and wondered is there really nothing left to loose now? –As I acquired marbles and watch straps, letter openers and combs with broken teeth. I picked them up and left them in piles. I made my mark on the landscape without hope, and slowly but surely, I felt a purpose, growing here and there in the heaps of things that he been thrown away. But I had a use for them.

When Manthorn finally became corporal it was a shock. He appeared behind me while I was stacking some chipped statuettes, one on top of the other to make a tower.

“So this is what you’ve been doing all this time.” He said, his tone caustic, his eyes fading in and out of his head where the magic waxed and waned.

“You’ve come through at last then, that took some effort didn’t it.”

“I thought you would be a bit more pleased to see me.” He folded his arms. I got up and walked right through him, just to be insolent. Just to show him I lived in the Land Without Hope now and didn’t care about his magic.

“Are you are just here to have a look round is that it-” I paced, encircling him like a cat. I heard him sigh.

“I thought this might happen. I told you they’d send you somewhere like this.”

“Enough of that.” I found myself shouting, but away from him, I had turned my back. I was still looking up at the void that was the sky and fighting something that felt like tears but which never manifested. “You may as well make yourself useful – help me find the Demon King and get this over with.”

“The Demon King.” Manthorn just repeated my words back to me. It made me howl in frustration. I felt for a second like one of those walkers with their gaping sorrowful mouths.

“You heard me.” I said. Manthorn nodded. “Let me take you then.” He said. “Follow me.”

I remember thinking what’s the old fool up to. But I followed him anyway. We stalked through the dunes and past the piles of oddities I had collected. Manthorn made a show of examining a fair few of them. He bent over the sad little heaps of broken treasures and hummed and haahed over them. I wanted to hurry him on but I had somehow lost the heart to.

We came at last to mountain of dust and dirt and scree that blocked out anything beyond it. Here the walkers wouldn’t venture, and even those damned trees wouldn’t grow.

“Is this the place then?” I asked Manthorn.

“See for yourself.” He said, and beckoned with one ghostly hand forward.”May I ask what you intend to do?”

“Do?”

“Well yes. When you encounter the Demon King.”

I paused. I looked back and saw in the distance the mounds of broken things and felt a weird pride in them. In my collections, how I had made something out of nothing.

“Manthorn,” I said to him, “find me a stone.”

I took what he gave me, his face still creased in wonderment, and I climbed to the top of that ridge and gazed out. I had pulled at the earth with my hands to get a purchase and I felt the beginnings of pain. It made me stop for a moment and try and remember why that sensation mattered. I looked down at my palms and saw they were blistered. I looked out and down and there, sitting on his own heap of rejected ornaments, was the Demon King.

When I looked he looked too. His eyes were the most truly hopeless thing in the Land Without Hope. In fact, they were the epicentre of all it held. Reflected in his eyes I saw the vultures with their black plumes, and the branches of the strangled trees. I saw the melting walkers and the darkness without stars. I heard the joyless laughter as if it were carried on a whirlwind around that figure sitting squat, and unfathomably huge in the middle of that hoard. His head held eight horns, he had four thick legs, his two arms where constantly moving over the objects under his stump-like feet.

I felt my pulse race, I gripped my rock. I had to ask myself, why doesn’t he rise? Why doesn’t he rush at me with those horns and tear me to pieces. Why is he just watching me with those eyes?

Then he rose, he came slowly towards me. A new realisation came over me. I couldn’t work out what it was.

Throw it

The voice said.

Kill me

I froze. There was an eternity in which I watched the Demon King and he waited. In his eyes then I saw all the sorrows I had ever known, and all the dejections, the bereavements. I let my arm fall slack. I waited for him to make everything right, to fulfill his side of an ancient bargain but he never came at me.

You can destroy me.

The voice said finally, pitifully.

I cursed him then, and put down my rock. I let it just roll away.

The Demon King slunk back. He began to diminish in size until he could burrow under the mountain of broken objects, until he was gone.

Manthorn appeared at my shoulder, suitably smug.

“You didn’t fancy becoming King of the Land Without Hope then?”

“No.” I said. “Now there really isn’t any hope at all, is there. No hope of being devoured I mean. Of leaving here.”

Manthorn wiggled his eyes brows in answer, his arms folded again. I turned my back on the Demon’s hoard and made to walk back down the mountain. But Manthorn called after me.

“The Demon King isn’t gone you know.”

“Oh?” I called back. Utterly disinterested now.

“-But you know now that there is no devouring. You either walk away or you take his place.”

“Fascinating”

“Wait.” I waited. I don’t know why, perhaps Manthorn still had some real magic in him that was not for conjuring illusions.

“When you picked up that rock you meant to kill him. What did you hope to achieve?”

I struggled with the answer.

“To fight back. I suppose. I don’t know. Perhaps I hoped I could change everything by killing him.”

I felt a sudden twinge, I dropped to my knees, winded.

“You hoped did you?” Manthorn said.

I looked up then, my hands round my ribs. The guards had broken them when they threw me down the stairs after I had killed the Priest of Gold. I had forgotten the pain, but it came over me in a relieving wash. As I said, I felt the pain in my ribs but I looked up, I felt my gazed being dragged skywards. Stars were bursting out all over the night, burning through the blanket of darkness like stray coals on a carpet.

“Why is it doing that?” I cried out to Manthorn, but his figure was shimmering and loosing its focus.

“There,” I heard him say, and he pointed out towards an island forming up ahead of us in the night, suspended in the sky. It was a green place, it was bright, I almost thought I saw the twinkle of water gushing out into nothing.

I gasped as I felt my blood surging in my veins, and my eyes now truly watering with tears.

“Only humanity has the capacity to find something to hope for in the Land Without Hope.” Manthorn said from the mountain top.

“I’ll never reach it from here.” I shouted out in disgust at him, the novelty of the pain was wearing off, but he was laughing with joy

“Anything visible, feasible or tangible is surmountable. To enter the Land Full of Hope, all you have to do is hope for it,”

Then, as is characteristic with all magicians, he vanished.

I sat up and having nothing else to look at or for, stared out at that glittering island in the distance. I grasped my ribs with my blistered hands and I stood. Somewhere down below I thought I heard the Demon King howling.

“Come on.” I shouted down to him, painfully motioning him to get off his hoard and follow.

The Demon King looked up at me with curious eyes now.

“We are going on an adventure,” I told him, “now get moving.”

He shuffled to his feet, his horned head bowed, sulking, but compliant.

“And find me a stone.” I said.

How? The voice asked.

I cleaned some sand out of my eyes and thought of Manthorn.

“Try hoping for one.” I told him.

The Demon King looked at me perplexed for a moment, before a memory appeared to surface in his eyes and we set off as somewhere behind us, the eyeless corpses began rooting through the piles of dis-guarded things as if finally seeing them for the first time.