Sitting under the awning of his home, the old man looked out at the village where he had lived for more than forty winters. Watching the snow still drifting down from the trees from the storm the night before, he called out to his wife, asking for another cup of tea before laughing at his own senility, realizing she had died before the first snow fall of the year. Feeling foolish for calling out to a woman who had been dead for more than three months, the old man leaned forward to pour his own tea, hiding his embarrassment from the other villagers who looked his way. With his cup filled the old man sat back to watch the smoke rise from the fire, loosing himself in his thoughts about his granddaughter until the wolf lying next to him growled low in his throat, letting the man know someone was approaching.
Looking up, he smiled as the granddaughter whom he had been thinking of, with her fiery red hair, tattoos, and imposing height, came towards him through the snow. Walking tall and proud, her feet crunching through the snow of the last storm, she approached her grandfather and mentor, bundled up in his furs against the cold he complained about whenever she visited him. Seeing him watching her at her approach as well as his wolf next to him, she smiled as she knew even with his complaining about the cold, her grandfather was a great warrior and shaman who when they hunted together could be as silent as a mountain cat. Approaching the two of them she stepped heavily causing the snow to crunch beneath her feet, announced her presence with the crunch of the snow underfoot, letting Ferot know someone was approaching.
"It is okay Ferot, I know she is coming, I invited her to come and sit with me today," the old man told his companion.
Hearing the old mans words, the old wolf returned his head to lay upon his legs, curled up in the pelt of a mammoth the villagers had given him years before as a gift for being the eyes and ears of the village. Many a bandit or orc raid had been beaten back with his keen hearing giving warning of their approach, allowing the villagers plenty of time to arm themselves saving many lives. In seconds his eyes were closed and the wolf slept though his ears constantly moving at the sounds around them revealed the lie the old wolf slept.
Never taking his eyes off of his granddaughter as she approached, he smiled to himself thinking she looked just like his previous wife, her grandmother. His wife had been a warrior in her own right as many women in the north would fight alongside their men when their villages would be threatened earning many honors of their own. With her red hair, most men feared her, saying her fierceness was due to her being touched by the gods as she had killed men with more than just her spear as she had been very good with a battleaxe. Now their grandchild with her own mane of red hair would follow in her steps carrying a spear and shield. Unlike her grandmother though, the woman child walking towards him could talk to the spirits as he could.
He was thinking about his late wife when the woman stopped at the edge of the awning and knocked to get his attention as she could see the mind of her grandfather was elsewhere. When he focused his eyes on her, she took a breath and asked, "You asked me to visit you grandfather?"
Smiling at his granddaughter, the old man offered, "Come and sit with me so we can talk, Wahleia." The man was silent after his invitation waiting patiently for his granddaughter to sit and pull one of the pelts that always laid around the fire for when guests visited to keep the chill away.
Looking at her grandfather once the pelt was in place across her lap with her newly crafted ironwood spear lying across her lap, the old man spoke, saying, "Your mother came to me this morning saying your intentions were no longer to move into my hut when I depart to the spirit world."
Looking at the fire, she answered, "I am sorry grandfather; I had every intention of moving into your hut and take your place as the shaman of our people. On my way to the mine in the escarpment, my dreams became troubled as I saw Mipal with men and creatures battling around him."
"So you go to find your brother then?" the old man asked.
With her grandfather's question, her mind leaped to the vision of another man she had seen. He was far from the largest man she had ever seen even as the men of the valley were exceptionally tall and fierce. The man in her vision was fierce in his own right as she witnessed him besting other creatures using more than just his sword as he wielded the elements as weapons; not like the sorcerers she had seen who required time to perform their rituals. In her mind she knew what he was as her grandfather had named him in the stories he told her as well as other children about his journeys when he was younger. In those stories he called the man who could wield the elements like the man in her dreams, a Wizard.
"No grandfather, I do not seek my brother. He has his own life and his own family now and I would prefer not to intrude into what he has." Taking a breath to build up her courage, she added, "I go to find a different man, one who will appear near where my brother lives now."
"What do you mean appear? Does he not live there now?" the old man asked intrigued by his granddaughter's words.
"I looked for him in the spirit realm but I could not find him. I have searched the realm for him twice, both times I have found nothing. My dreams tell me he will be there but now the man I seek does not exist."
"So you are saying you are willing to leave the valley and our people to search for a man that does not exist? Why would you do this granddaughter?"
There was quiet between the two of them for a moment while she collected her thoughts and built up her courage before she finally said, "Grandfather, I am to be his wife."
"His wife?" the old shaman Lobok asked. Looking at his granddaughter he added nothing else as he looked at her as if waiting for a response. When she offered nothing else in her defense and the silence between them grew long, the shaman offered, I suppose Wahleia; I will need to meet this man you will leave your people to seek."
"Grandfather, I already told you I have searched for him already and I could not find him. I only know where he will be."
Reaching down to pet the wolf lying next to him, Lobok answered, "I understood what you said and you may be correct that the man you go forth to seek is nowhere to be found. What you do not have is Ferot as your guide as I do. With him leading me, I can go places where you, with all of your strength could not go. Now if you would give me your amulet, we shall go and see if this man of yours exists."
Wahleia did as she was asked, pulling her dream catcher from around her neck, handing the amulet over to her grandfather who instead of simply taking it from her grasped her hand with the dream catcher pressed between both of their palms.
Looking down Wahleia was instantly ill as she could see trees and rivers passing below her. Before she could get sick she felt a calming presence in her mind telling her there was nothing to fear but the idea of flying through the air was very foreign to her. Her sense of panic did not abate until they were over the ocean seeing how big it was and how she could not see to the other side as she could with even the largest lake in the valley.
She was still trying to understand how something could be so big when she felt herself leaning to her left and her view began to change as the land went from being behind her to being to her left and looking around she realized she could still see the ocean below her but now instead of being the green of the rivers and coast, she could see it was also blue of a shade she had never seen before. Not understanding how something could be so big and go on forever, she wondered if what she was experiencing was not part of her world at all but somehow belonged in the spirit realm. She had no idea how high they were other than being able to see across islands as well as what appeared to be fingers of a hand reaching out to grab an island that was larger than any other she had seen on their trip.
In time she could see they were getting lower as they first passed over the coast with several settlements she could see dotting the coast. A few she recognized from her own dreams though most she had not seen before, passing more villages, rivers and islands along the coast, she recognized the city where her brother lived with their stone walls and piers jutting out into the river where it joined the sea. Closing with the city, the trio passed through an open gate in the wall, this was all new to her dreams had never entered the city before and she was instantly lost in the maze of streets and people who called this place home.
Letting her feelings of frustration leak out as she had no idea which way to go she soon had a sensation of being pulled along one of the streets leading away from the harbor and into the city. Drifting along she was amazed at how tall the buildings were as she she had never seen anything taller than two stories back in the city she sometimes visited with Lubok. Not only were the buildings taller but the streets were paved with stones, side by side organized unlike the dirt streets in the city or the dirt paths in her village. Thinking how strange it was to put rocks in their streets, she began to move again this time stopping in front of a house for only a moment before she passed through the door to find a family sitting down to dinner.
The family there was larger than any back north with at least six kids ranging in age to just younger than herself all the way down to one who could have been no older than a year old sitting in a strange chair of some foreign design. The chair's design she had never seen before but she understood the need for the child to be restrained as the floor inside the house also had fitted stones for a floor; if the child was to fall the stone floor would be a hazard.
Looking around Wahleia was confused as there was no man in the room though the two oldest children could easily pass for young men as they were both big and strong looking. Their faces looked familiar to her but she was having trouble seeing who they resembled until movement out of the corner of her eye brought her face to face with a man with tattoos on his face, similar to her own and in her mind she knew the man was her brother Mipal.
Her brother's name was still echoing in her mind when she found herself moving again thing time back towards the river wall and over it was the gate they had passed though minutes before was now closed and they were moving up the river again. Being closer to one side of the river she could make out some of the trees they moved past thinking how strange they were compared to the tall oaks and pines of her home. These did not have branches though they were tall with what looked like a patch of hair at the top for her to recognize them as trees. Soon enough the trees changed again this time looking more familiar to the ones in the swamps back home though she could see differences in them they went by too quickly for her to think too long on them.
Moving along the river the vegetation changed, this time from the green of the jungle trees and plants, to open territory with rolling plains similar to those of her own home. Following along they passed other small rivers and more than a few villages that to her looked temporary like her own village. Wahleia would have taken a closer look at the people who lived along the river to see if they were more like her own people but her guide continued to move, following the river until they started to rise up the escarpment cresting to find yet another plain.
Instead of feeling like she had down below in the grasslands these lands felt wrong. She could feel the emotions of Lobok with her, and he too thought this place was wrong. Following the river they soon discovered why they thought this place was wrong, before they made it to the town as there were bodies laid out on the ground in a haphazard fashion almost as if a battle had taken place here. Getting closer to a few along the shore as they moved, Wahleia was not sure why but she had the feeling the bodies did not want her to be there.
Looking back as her guide led them away she was sure the skeletons as she was sure that was what they were began to move, though she moved away too quickly to be sure. Her suspicions were confirmed once they got closer to the town as here there were more bodies only these were upright. Sensing the intruders the ones closer to them began to move in their direction shocking her they were actually alive though mindless as two nearest the water were knocked into the river by others behind them, all of whom were trying to reach for her. Other than the shock at the dead not being dead, Wahleia could feel nothing and soon their guide had them following the river again passing other villages inhabited by the dead.
Thinking there was no way the man she was to marry could survive having to cross those plains with the hordes of undead roaming looking to make the living the same as themselves. Leaving the hordes of undead behind on the plains; Wahleia was the last to realize they were now climbing into the mountains, thinking the ones back home were bigger than these. Thinking these thoughts she was the last to realized they had stopped in front of a huge cave opening and after the plains Wahleia did not think the smell of death and being unclean could get any worse, but as they got closer to the mouth of the cave she found out she was wrong with the feeling of being unclean intensified even more.
Passing through the entrance she could feel that she was being watched but by whom she did not know until she stopped and stared in disbelief at the skull in front of her and in her mind she shouted dragon and to her amazement the dragon skull began to move.
The movement of the dragon was slow with many starts and stops as various pieces of rock, which had buried the dragon were dislodged to tumble to the floor of the cave. The dragon skeleton which Wahleia had only seen the skull seconds ago was now not only intact but now staring at Lubok, their guide and herself. The three of them took cover.
Looking in their general direction, the dragon's voice echoed in their minds, asking, "Why are you here spirits?" When no one answered, the dragon tried again, saying, "Come forth spirits, I know you are here, I can sense all of you."
Lobok was the first to speak, saying, "We did not come here to disturb your rest. We came here looking for a man."
"A man? No man has ever stepped foot in my cave in over a mellinium. If any man attempted to step foot here then they would be nothing more than a snack for me. Dinner on the hoof for me, you might say," the dragon chuckled, causing the entire cavern to reverberate with small rocks being knocked free from the ceiling." Continuing, the skeleton added, "You would not either if you did not reside in the spirit realm. Step forth so that I might see you, do not be afraid for now, I cannot eat a spirit and as you cannot pass through my portal as a spirit you have nothing to fear from me. Step forth spirits, my interest in you is for some conversation only."
The old shaman Lobok was the first to step around the rock he had taken shelter behind and the skull with its empty eyes turned towards him as if it could see him. When the dragon did not immediately attack, he stated, "My guide says the man we seek will come this way."
"Your guide is wrong. No one has come this way in several thousand years, since the founding of this world. There have been wizards and others who have tried but all of them have met their ends out there against the undead that roam. If any were to approach, their flesh shall nourish me and their bones will be added to the army outside, wandering aimlessly forever seeking to make the living like themselves."
Taking a deep breath, Wahleia stepped beside her mentor, asking, "You said you guard a portal, has a man come through your portal?"
In their minds they could hear the dragon laughing for a moment before answering, saying. "It is good some people still think; but alas my answer remains the same, no one has entered my cave from that direction either and if he did then he would still end up outside guarding my cave."
"You would not allow anyone to pass through your portal from either direction?"
"That is my curse, immortality in exchange for being a guardian. One should always be careful making agreements with gods, even a dragon as old as I can be tricked."
Both shamans were caught off guard as they could feel sadness emanating from the skeleton before them but before they could ask another question, the dragon spoke again, saying, "Now I have said enough and before I have a desire to find out whether you are edible you should leave."
Neither of the shamans expected the pull from behind them, and they were caught off guard, as their guide wasted no time in leaving the cave taking all three of them high into the sky and to Wahleia's disappointment back towards their home.
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Wahleia realized she was still holding her mentor's hand. Looking at him, he had the same befuddled look as she did though his first words were to the wolf at his feet, saying, "That was not very funny old friend."
To Wahleia's amazement holding Lobok's hand, she could feel the wolf's amusement. Removing his hand from the back of the wolf, she felt the amusement fade away. Letting go of her amulet, she sat back just as her mentor returned to his resting place. Looking at the amulet, he said, "Well granddaughter, you were right in your inability to find the man you seek as I think all of us got more than we bargained for." Never taking his eyes off of the amulet, he added, "For now I think I will simply see what you have seen and not worry where this man of yours will appear."
For the next several minutes Wahleia waited as her mentor focused on the amulet she called her dream catcher. What the old man saw in those minutes brought one word to his lips, "Wizard".
First editor Chipster82