Cortex Dreams

Its left leg clanks and bends outward with every step it takes from an injury incurred decades ago from a forgotten enemy as it patrols its length of cavern for yet another turn.  With what limited memory the machine has it cannot fathom how many times it has made this walk, searching for foes long dead.  There are no feelings of regret or depression though, the Gnomish Clang-Vincer’s cortex just doesn’t have the capacity for anything approaching emotion.  All that powers the alloy monstrosity is a sense of duty.  It must protect the masters, until the end of its days.  So it marches on.

Today there is something different though, it senses movement in the dark.  Five shapes creep toward it, they likely believe they have the element of surprise but they are soon to discover their error.  As the first leaps from the shadows the Clang-Vincer brings its armored backside to bear in a rush of whirring gears and the enemy’s sword barely makes a dent.  It is readily apparent to the others attacking that they are not going to get the jump on the machine and a full melee ensues.

A blow to the side of its head jars loose a memory and while crushing one of the villains’ legs within the clamp on its right arm, the Clang–Vincer recalls the day his master placed the clamp.  It shone bright and polished in the light of the workshop, opening and closing with oiled silence.  Nothing like the creaking difficulty with which it moved now, loud enough to be heard even over the piercing wail of the clamp’s victim.  The blow to the head must have been vicious indeed as more memories, long buried, poured through the cortex brain.  With ease the machine let them flow as the combat continued.

Memories of how it used to serve its master through labor, not dealing death.  Lifting large metallic beams high and using its torch to weld those beams together so water may flow into another fountain.  This memory passed into another where it used that same torch to melt the armor off countless foes as it stood next to its mechanical brethren.  All the while their masters fled upward into the higher portions of the mountain.  As it attempted to raise that torch now the Clang-Vincer was reminded that the torch was gone, it had been long ago ripped from its place by one of the creatures responsible for the gnomish masters’ flight.

It noted dimly that though one of the present attackers lay weakly gripping their ruined leg, things were not going well.  One of them had discovered the Clng-Vincer’s own weakened leg and had brought a heavy mallet down on the bend.  It fell.

As the Clang-Vincer lay upon the dust of the cavern floor a final memory flit through its rapidly fading mind. No…not a memory, this was happening at this very moment!  One of the masters was before its eyes, they had come back!  Was this emotion it felt?  Was this happiness?  Finally they had returned, it tried to warn the little master of the villains who had just vanquished it, for they could not be far away, but speech had never been a gift bestowed upon this machine like some others had received.  At least it had survived to see a return of the mast…

“BE DAMNED YOUR ANCESTORS AN’ THEIR GOD CURSED MACHINES GNOME”, bellowed Krint Meadbrash as the dwarf tried to put pressure on his crushed leg and faltered.  The other dwarves in the group rushed to the aid of their fallen comrade as he screamed more curses at the Gnome, but  BindiBindabick just silently straddled the machine they had just fell.

“I think it’s trying to tell me something”, Bindibindabick whispered looking into the dimming red eyes of the once magnificent construct.

“What was that?!” The dwarf hollered, in anger trying to stand.  “If’in you try an’ convince me one more God Curs’d time that these THINGS have somthin’ akin’ ta’ a brain I swear I be leavin’ you down here!”

“Oh…nothing Krint, just trying to figure out where to start salvaging”, the gnome said with a hint of sadness, “I’m certain we’ve found something great here… something real great.”

Bindibindabick began his work while the others patched up the Dwarven leader of their little band.  He kept his head down so the others couldn’t see the moisture welling, threatening to fall.

Short Story – Fight Night

*Originally Posted to Sidetangent Magazine

Patrick slowly pulled his shorts up to his waist, the words “Tricky Pat” emblazoned in gold against the light green material behind him.  A part of him marveled at how quiet things were in the locker room this time, usually he could hear the crowd.  Mostly though, he methodically donned his gear and prepared for the coming battle.  He did note how odd the time of day was though.  Normally when he dreamed of fights they took place at the usual hours.  This was the first time he’d ever had such a dream where he mentally calculated the time at, what was it… roughly 3 am?  Not that it mattered.  Somehow he knew instinctively he was still fast asleep in his tiny apartment.  Maybe he’d wake up soon.

He casually wondered who he was fighting, usually it was someone recent or an odd character from a show he’d been watching.  One night he’d fought the Italian Stallion himself after watching the entire Rocky series being marathoned on T.V.  This dream seemed even more lucid than usual, he thought.

Patrick had been dreaming of fights for as long as he could recall after deciding to get serious with a career in Mixed Martial Arts.  Before that, he’d had lucid dreams about selling mattresses at his old job.  He’d always “dreamed big”, a phrase his mother had coined after hearing his many retellings of adventures in his dreams.  Of course when he was a kid his dreams had been interesting, not just about work.  His dreams about fighting felt like extra practice to Patrick though, so no complaints there.  Not everyone could recall their dreams as perfectly as him, and he chose to feel lucky about that.

Instinctually he knew the time had come to enter the arena so he walked through the doorway expecting to hear his bagpipe intoned entry music blare over a cheering crowd, what good was dreaming about a fight that didn’t involve all the perks eh?  When his music didn’t play he stepped out of the entryway and glanced about.  No one sat in the stands.  Well… it seems this might be an odd little nightmare, he chuckled to himself, I mean, with no adoring fans how could it be anything but?  He made his way to the ring though, it sat empty as well.

He climbed in and stood for a bit.  When nothing happened he sighed and commenced to doing some warm up jabs and stretches to pass the time.  It was an odd thing but perhaps this little jaunt into his nighttime world held nothing but time waster this evening.  He wished he could just will the time away though, this was boring.

Suddenly with a bright light and a crash of sound the recently empty auditorium was alive with activity.  Initially, he was utterly overwhelmed, and he reeled from the cascade of it all bombarding his senses.  When his mind finally slipped back into a place of reason he wondered if he had suddenly gone a bit mad.  In the stands was a crowd now, but this smattering of figures were almost completely alien to him.

Some were half human, half animal.  He saw a man walking upon hooves with horns growing from his head sitting down next to what he assumed was a women covered in feathers.  Others were lithe men and women, although gender was difficult to tell sometimes, dressed in all manner of plant life.  One man was even dressed head to toe in thorny brambles.  Still, the strangest of the attendants were dressed in shadows in the back of the auditorium.  Nearly formless they were, and Patrick felt a shiver slip down his back when he saw them staring directly into the ring, utterly attentive.

By now he had pinched himself a number of times. He mentally begged his mind to awaken so he could remove himself from this accursedly strange dream, but to no avail.  Seemed he was stuck here until the dream ended.  It wasn’t the first time the pinch trick didn’t work.  Instead he tried to ignore the activity around him and decided to focus back on his usual warm up routines.  He didn’t notice the small man who slipped into the arena with him.

“Hello there Patrick,” the man said cheerily, “well met and good fortunes to you sir!”

Patrick nearly jumped out of his skin but maintained his composure.  “Errr… hi there,” Patrick blurted out as he took the man’s proffered hand into a handshake.  Patrick suddenly tasted bright green as they both shook.  It made no sense but, there it was.  Maybe he was getting the hang of this particular brand of dream.

The man was small and thin, dressed as oddly as many in the audience but perhaps more formal, if that was the right word for it.  He had a top hat upon his head that looked hundreds of years old and he had donned a tattered suit that appeared directly out of a twenties gangster flick.  Patrick decided not to pay any mind to his feet though.  He’d simply decided he didn’t want to accept how real those goat hooves looked.

“So,” Patrick said, deciding to roll with the dream.  “Just what is going on here and how is it you know my name?”

“Why, you are preparing for a fight Patrick,” the smaller man stated.  “I would think all of this around you would be a telling sign!”

“Heh, I guess so.  Although this isn’t like any crowd I’ve ever seen, I have to admit that.”

“No… no, I suspect it isn’t.  Though I would say you are certainly tied to the community surrounding you than you might think!  Ah, where are my manners.  The name is Robin, and I suspect you shall soon know more than you ever truly wished to know!”

With that the strange man leapt from the arena and disappeared into the crowd to take a seat next to two very tall individuals dressed in flowing moss robes and what looked like antlers in the shapes of crowns.  He was beginning to feel very out of sorts about this whole thing.  No matter how vivid his dreams it had never been quite like this, but nothing this strange could be real.  That he knew for certain…right?

Soon trumpets blared and he saw someone approaching the ring from the opponent’s entrance.  He sighed inwardly and was glad to finally be moving toward something somewhat normal for a change.  The man approaching the ring was no one he had ever laid eyes one but he looked to be about the same age as Patrick.

There was something about him that seemed familiar, but struggle as he might he couldn’t place it.  The strangest thing about the man was the venomous look he shot Patrick as he leapt into the ring.  He said not a word but stood across from Patrick with a very severe look in his eyes.  The newcomer spared only one other glance, a hateful one, for that Robin fellow in the crowd.  God, this kept getting stranger.  Nothing to do but give back a hard stare himself he supposed.

Something had bothered Patrick since he had seen the approaching competitor.  There wasn’t a referee to speak of anywhere.  Was this even going to be an MMA fight he wondered?  What sorts of rules were to be followed in this dream world?  He was about to speak up when the tall figure seated next to Robin stood.  The entire auditorium was abruptly silenced.  Patrick had grown so use to the din of these strange chattering people that he was caught off guard by the silence.

The tall man spoke.  “Good members of the folk, you are brought before this place today to witness a sortie of no small interest to the two men before you and to our mischievous friend Robin Goodfellow here.”

The man in the ring stepped forward.  “That is correct Lord Oberon,” he said pointing at the small man next to the antlered lord, “I claim that Robin Goodfellow, or “Puck”, as he so often names himself has stolen my life using this bastard in front of me and I aim to defeat him to prove it so!”

Patrick could do little more than watch in fascination at the proceedings in front of him.

“That is enough of that,” shouted Oberon.  “We all know your claims Jiri.  You have spoken them to all who would lend an ear.  I’ll not waste a moment longer of this court’s time on the ranting you are so prone to lapse into!”

The man named Jiri immediately ceased his yelling but returned his terribly angry face to Patrick.  Again Patrick was struck by the familiarity in that face but he could not quite place where he had seen this man before.  He noticed out of the corner of his eye that the woman next to the Oberon fellow had whispered something into his ear.

“Ah,” Lord Oberon said with a knowing smile.  “My lovely partner and Queen has reminded me that young Patrick has yet to hear the charges brought against him by the mortal man Jiri.  I will endeavor to inform him without bringing any tedium to those who have heard this tale spun so many times already.”

Lord Oberon stared directly at Patrick now and a feeling of awe shuddered through him as the otherworldly man spoke up.  “Jiri is obviously a mortal man dear Patrick and you are to us obviously part fey,” Lord Oberon began.  “I see the confusion in your eyes young man but you will merely need to get past it as I do not wish to belabor the point.  When you were a new babe born of a mortal woman and Robin Goodfellow here, he took it upon himself to play a trick on the man and woman you’ve grown to know as your parents.  He stole away the mortal boy who has grown into the man you see before you and left you in his place.”

Patrick enjoyed fantasy to an extent and he recalled hearing something about a “Changeling Trick” in the few novels he had read but he had no clue as to why something he had barely ever read about would lodge itself in his head enough to show up in this elaborate dream.  It was very strange, but what hadn’t been here?

Suddenly though Patrick realized what was so familiar about this Jiri guy.  He looked almost exactly like his father only younger.  He supposed it went well with the narrative being spun out by his subconscious but damn if it wasn’t being extra precise tonight!

“To make this matter simple,” Lord Oberon droned on.  “Jiri has committed a crime in the realms of the fey recently, slaying one of our kind.  In his efforts to save himself he has endeavored to reverse the Changeling prank pulled by your true father and return to the mortal realms leaving you to be punished in his stead.  I must say it is a bit of wrangling with our laws that has even I impressed, perhaps a bit of our people does truly reside in him.”

Robin Goodfellow stood.  “So there it is Patrick,” he said as his eyes twinkled with a secret joke.  “Try and win this bout please.  I would hate to see you put to death for the crimes of Jiri here.”

“Do you have anything to say to this Patrick?” questioned Lord Oberon, clearly hoping to get on with things.

Thoughts and fears raced through Patrick’s mind as he contemplated all he had just heard.  What could he even say to all this?  The dream was beginning to feel far too real.  If things hadn’t been so odd he would swear this was not a dream at all.  Hell, what could he do about it anyway?  Real or no this was going to go down it seemed.  Nothing really left but to fight, at least he knew a thing or two about fighting.

“No…Lord Oberon,” Patrick stammered.  “I’m ready.”

“Excellent,” sighed Oberon.  “Let the match thus commence.”

Jiri launched himself at Patrick with little warning.  There was no bell, no indication that the match was to begin but Lord Oberon’s words.  The crowd exploded into cheering the moment Jiri leapt at Patrick.  It was due solely to Patrick’s instincts that he leapt out of the way and only caught a glancing blow to the side of the head.

Patrick staggered to the side and soon realized that Jiri was nowhere near done, he was coming at Patrick in a feverous blitz of jabs and punches.  It was frightening in its ferocity but the man’s attacks had no art to them, no style at all.  It was soon into Jiri’s onslaught that Patrick saw an opening and cracked Jiri across the face.  They stumbled apart.  Jiri wiped blood from his chin and looked up at Patrick.

“So you truly do know how to fight,” Jiri rasped.  “I was told you fought other mortals in this realm but wasn’t certain if such fights could prepare anyone against someone trained by the fey.”

Patrick was confused again, why was this man talking to him?  You don’t just hold conversations in an MMA fight.  He pondered it for a moment and then came to the conclusion that he just needed to accept that this was not going to be any kind of fight he was used to.  He steeled his resolve.

As they circled looking for another opening Jiri spoke once more.  “What was it like living a borrowed life?” he asked.  “Going about your day to day routines knowing you didn’t belong, knowing that you could never be like the people around you?”

Patrick didn’t answer, his life had never felt “borrowed”, but instead went for a few kicks that didn’t connect and they danced away from each other again.

“If it was anything like my life,” Jiri spat, “it was a living Hell!  Time and time again I was reminded I could never be like those around me, never as beautiful, never as strong, never as clever!”

He came at Patrick in another rush of haymaker punches.  Patrick knew if one of those connected solidly he would never survive it.  This man was certainly stronger than Patrick was.  He knew if he waited though an opening would present itself.  Nothing about Jiri’s style spoke to any kind of actual stylized training.  Just brute force displayed itself here.

They fought for what seemed like ages, Patrick would land a blow that Jiri seemed to shake off with pure rage and Jiri would never hit Patrick more than a glance.  It became readily apparent there would be no break at 5 minutes, that time had likely already come and gone.  No, Patrick felt certain there were no more than one round in this fight.

Suddenly one of Jiri’s jabs went longer than he had likely expected it to and Patrick was there to take the advantage.  He used the momentum of the wild jab to pull Jiri to the ground and was soon starting a grapple.  Finally, if he could get Jiri into one of the holds he was so well known for, a tap out could spell the win.  They didn’t call him ‘Tricky Pat’ for nothing after all.

Jiri seemed to get that the game was almost up and he struggled harder than any man Patrick had ever been up against to work himself free.  Time seemed to slow and Patrick caught the leering looks from the audience and was reminded how odd those peering into the fight were.  He registered on some level that he had the backing of the crowd, they wanted him to win.  It spurned further energy into his efforts.

Jiri panted as pressure was added to the locking hold Patrick had on him.  “Don’t you understand…,” Jiri gasped.  “I can’t lose…this fight…they will kil…l me.”

“If I understand it correctly,” Patrick grunted into Jiri’s ear, “I die in your place if I to lose pal!  That ain’t happening!”

Suddenly, Patrick felt this was all very much real and he doubled down his efforts.  Jiri screamed.  It’ll be over soon, Patrick thought, I have control and nothing short of…

*SNAP!* Patrick felt Jiri’s arm break and the surprise of it caused him to release the man.  Jiri scrambled away grimacing in pain.  Tears streaked out of the broken man’s eyes as he stood, his arm hanging uselessly at his side.

“I’LL KILL YOU CHANGELING!” Jiri screeched and he flung himself at the prone body of Patrick.

Patrick felt his nose crush when Jiri’s fist plunged into his face and stars lit up before eyes.  He didn’t know how he got away from the next few blows but he found himself inexplicably on his feet across from Jiri.  He was feeling dizzy but he knew he needed to stay aware an on his feet if he were to survive the berserker rage that would soon be headed his way.  He simply counted himself lucky that the punch had come from Jiri’s less dominant arm.

“You have no clue what it was like you bastard!” Jiri screamed.  “Mortals aren’t meant to live among these creatures,” Jiri swept his hand across the audience, “they don’t hold disdain for us mortals, they don’t hold love!  They are indifferent!  I am nothing to them!”

Patrick kept waiting for the attack but it seemed like Jiri simply wanted to talk more.  This was fine with him.  He needed to clear his rattling brain.

“You know what it took to get noticed,” Jiri continued, “I had to kill one of them!”  He rasped out laughter.  “That’s right, they sure took notice then!”

Patrick felt much stronger now so he took a few steps closer.  “You know what Jiri?” Patrick asked, panting.

“What!?” Jiri sneered.

“None of that is my fault, until tonight I had no knowledge of ANY of this!”  Patrick lunged forward and clubbed Jiri in his broken arm and the man howled.  “You can’t use me to solve your problems, I’VE NOT WRONGED YOU!” Patrick screamed as he brought another punch across the kneeling Jiri’s face and the man went down.

Patrick knelt and reached back to add another blow to his competitor’s face but his hand was brought short and he once again tasted bright green.  He looked up.

“He’s out cold son,” Puck said, “You’ve surely won the day”

Lord Oberon stood and eyed the ring.  “It seems Patrick has proven himself the victor over the mortal Jiri,” he said.  “Very well, take Jiri away for his execution as he has exhausted his last bastion of safety.”

“Wait!” screamed Puck. “You’ve forgotten something my lord.”

“What could I have possibly forgotten trickster?” though Oberon spoke will a cool voice Patrick felt a simmering rage beneath the words.

“It is the right of a victor in combat to choose his foe’s fate, dear Lord Oberon.  I believe that young Patrick here has all rights to choose Jiri’s punishment.”

Lord Oberon looked as if he were going to leap into the ring himself and show Puck just exactly what he thought of the smaller man’s babbling but Queen Tatiana laid a hand upon the Fey King’s arm and stated serenely “it is one of our oldest laws my dear Lord, and despite the dangerous game our trickiest cousin plays his words hold merit.  Young Patrick is part fey and he has all rights of our court for that reason”

“Lord Oberon noticeably cooled.  “My lady Queen speaks true, as such we leave this murderer’s fate to you Son of Puck.”  He turned to the audience.  “It is time to take our leave.  We no longer have business here.  Jiri’s fate will be decided, but we have no just cause to stay behind and hear it rendered.”

“Agreed,” the Queen said, “we leave this matter to Patrick and even his father Puck who spoke on Jiri’s behalf.”

With that the strange gathering dissipated as suddenly as it came and a great silence replaced the gathered masses.  The auditorium was empty.

Puck turned to Patrick.  “It seems things are up to you now young man, you’ll need to decide what to do with this troubled lout here.”

“I don’t really understand what to do Robin,” Patrick said.  “If they want me to kill him they’ll have to find a different butcher, he seems to have had a hard enough life as is despite killing someone, if that’s true of course.  I for one know nothing of the charges brought against him.”

“Oh he did commit the deed,” Puck sighed.  “I and many others were there to see it.”

“Well I’ve got nothing to go on but your word Robin, and the word of all those strange folk who called me one of their own.”

“Very true Patrick and I understand your hesitancy.  In fact, I have an idea for how to punish Jiri in a manner that may be helping him as well.”

“What might that be?”

“Well,” Puck said as he pulled a small bag from his belt.  “I have here a powder that can be administered to our sleeping friend that will make him forget his entire life with the fey.  He will awaken here in the center of this ring with amnesia and will likely be able to carry forward a normal life in the Mortal lands”

“So he would begin a new life at nearly 28 years old!?” Patrick stammered, “Gods that would be terrible, not knowing what you’ve forgotten, always wondering if you’ve left someone behind.”

Puck sighed.  “It is better than death my friend and it is the best I can do for him.  I have long regretted this particular trick played.”

Patrick regarded him with angry eyes.  He had a lot of questions for his supposed father. “Sprinkle the powder trickster,” Patrick said with no small amount of venom.  “This all came about because of you, do what you can to help him and then I have questions”

Puck knelt and sprinkled the powder on Jiri’s eyes.  “I’m certain you do have questions Patrick but alas my borrowed time in this realm appears to be over, and it seems you are waking up!  Hopefully we meet again soon my so…” He was gone.  The last Patrick saw was his twinkling eyes as he faded away.

“Come back here you!..” Suddenly Patrick was in his bed, with sunlight streaming into his eyes.  All a dream of course, he thought, but that was some damn dre… “OUCH!” he screamed as he felt his crushed nose.  He ran to the bathroom and sure enough his nose was as broken as it had been in the dream.  What the Hell? He thought.  Then he suddenly he raced downstairs and grabbed his keys and coat.  There was somewhere he needed to be.

He reached the arena in record time and used his key to get in.  No one seemed to be around, no big surprise, this is one of the few days almost everyone took off of training.  He rushed down the arena steps and right up to the ringside.  Sure enough the body of a man lay unmoving in its center.   He swallowed his fears and confusion and climbed into the ring.  Jiri stirred.

“Wher…where am I,” the battered Jiri whispered.  “Who are you?”

“I’m… I’m a friend,” Patrick said quietly.  “Let’s get you cleaned up shall we?”

Patrick watched as Jiri slipped into unconsciousness again and wondered what he could offer this man.  It didn’t matter though, Lord Oberon had stated that Jiri’s fate was his responsibility now and despite the fact this wasn’t likely what the Lord of the Fey had meant Patrick intended to help Jiri have a happier existence going forward.  Not to mention he intended to keep the fey out of it!

Short Story – End of the Adventure

*Originally posted to Sidetangent Magazine.

With one final swing of the sword Melvin lobbed the head from Ja’raq the Destroyer’s body.  The tyrant of the realms of Yinaril fell hard and lifeless to the ground.  Melvin watched from atop the battlements where he had faced the feared beast of a man, below him the remnants of Ja’raq’s army had been routed by the combined might of the goodly folk of Yinaril.  Dwarves had fought aside Elves, despite ancient grudges, after Melvin had somehow negotiated their truce.  Good men and women of all nations had fallen under his banner to rid the world of the dark sorcerer’s iron grip.  It was done.  It was finally done.

He made his way down the stone stairway that he had only so recently climbed two steps at a time chasing his foe.  Near the base of the stairs he nodded to his companions.  Elation played upon their faces, though it was tempered with sadness at the friends they had lost.  Melvin knew he would never forget these strange folk.  Nayoodle the gnomish princess, as brilliant a mind as he had ever met holstering her queer pistols and finally looking at ease enough to grieve over the loss of her brother.   Krint Meadswallow the dwarf, drinking that mug of dwarven ale he’d been saving ever since vowing to never imbue another pint until the dark lord had been toppled, seemed he wasn’t wasting any time.  Thignitch lie in the corner regrowing the arm he’d lost to the dark one’s Majicks, of all the friends Melvin had made in his adventure the turncoat Troll had to be the oddest.  Finally, Harrish the Mage who had been with him from the start, the reason Melvin was even in this world.

“We did it Harrish, Lord Ja’raq is finished!” Melvin said wearily to the young sorcerer.  As he looked into his friend’s face he recalled meeting him for the first time in the grove after Harrish had pulled him into their world.  He had used that forbidden bit of magic that had almost resulted in the mage’s execution at the hands of his own guild.  When Melvin thought back to that day in the grove he smiled a bit.  How could he have ever been that frightened boy? He recalled reeling with nausea from the sudden pull into Yinaril from his seat on the school bus headed home and chuckled.

Home… that’s right, he couldn’t wait to return to his true home.  Despite his love for these friends and the world of Yinraril it will be wonderful to finally see the familiar faces of friends and family from his true world.  He had had enough adventure to last a lifetime, he’d been poured into one of the many fantasies he’d often read and certainly learned a thing or two about getting what he wished for.  Melvin longed to sit on a couch and sip a coke or something.  Let the adventures play out on his television, and weekly games of Dungeons and Dragons for heaven’s sake!

He smiled broadly at Harrish, “You look pensive friend.  Trust me, I watched his head fall, Lord Ja’raq is truly done.”  Harrish looked up at Melvin with misty eyes, “yes I know Melvin my friend.  I’ve no doubt of that…I can feel it in the air.  Likely his forces note the change as well.  Beasts losing their borrowed intellect and turning against all near them as they haste to retreat to the darker forests once more.  The Trolls, withholding our friend Thignitch of course, have no doubt begun to flee as well.  They lost the fight the moment Dwarf and Elf set aside their bickering.  No, this is not what troubles me… but for now I think we could all use a retreat from worries and troubles, no?”  It troubled him to see Harrish worried still but Melvin laughed heartily and slapped the thin man’s back.  “Yes, let’s celebrate with the others.  You can return to brooding later Harrish, I know it’s your favorite pastime but take a break!”

The next few days were the happiest Melvin had known since arriving in Yinaril.  His life was not in danger, no friends were cut down before his eyes, and everyone was merry making instead of bickering.  Finally, after three long years Melvin could feel at ease.  There were formalities to attend to of course.  He nearly laughed aloud at the looks of relief on the faces of the leaders for the forces of man when they discovered Melvin held no interest in either succeeding Lord Ja’raq or taking their places.

Melvin wept bittersweet tears at the goodbyes he gave to his demihuman friends as they took their leave to the various places they were needed.  Nayoodle had a throne to return to and much to rebuild now that the goblins were thrown back beyond the gnomish kingdom.  The last of her royal line, she would have much work to do.  She placed a tiny kiss upon Melvin’s cheek as they both showed little restraint in their weeping.  They knew this parting was final.  Krint and Thignitch left together.  Theirs was the strangest friendship kindled through these journeys, as there has never been love between a troll and a dwarf in all the history of Yinaril.  Truly though, Thignitch was the only of his kind to ever side with the forces of good to anyone’s knowledge and Krint had much to do with the Troll’s change of heart.  Melvin doubted they would ever part ways.  Soon all that was left of the troupe of heroes Melvin had only so recently commanded into the darkest parts of Lord Ja’raq’s kingdom was Harrish and Himself, just like they had started out.

Weeks later they had arrived at the guild house for the Sorcerers of the Grove, Harrish’s home.  Melvin and Harrish had been greeted, if a bit icily, by the headmaster and given quarter.  Headmaster Klain, it seemed, had never truly forgiven Harrish for stealing the book of rituals that brought Melvin to Yinaril.  A decision by majority had been reached though and Klain must simply live with the fact that Harrish’s execution was voted down.  Never minding that the proof was in the pudding that Melvin was certainly a necessary asset to winning the war against the forces of darkness!  One would think an apology was in order but old sorcerers, it seemed, were anything but quick with admitting they were wrong.

A few days later Melvin had finally talked Harrish out of his study and into the grove for a walk.  He worried for his friend as the Hedge Wizard had been distant since the day of their victory, and even more so since their return to his guild.  The retreat into the grove had been a quiet one though.  Melvin could not seem to catch his friend’s attention for long.  Harrish looked… almost fearful.

Finally, Melvin stopped walking.  Harrish continued forward, not seeming to notice his fried was no longer at his side.  “It was here Harrish,” Melvin said quietly.  “Right here is where we first met.  Remember?”  Harrish stopped suddenly and turned, he looked terrified.  Melvin wrinkled his brow, “dammit Harrish, talk to me!  What is wrong man?”

Harrish peered at him sadly “I’m not certain I know how to approach my worries Melvin.  I… I have wronged you terribly…”  Melvin gave a nervous chuckle, “Harrish, you’ve been nothing but a friend to me since I arrived!  No matter what you’ve done, how could I feel like you’ve wronged me?”  Harrish spoke forcefully, “That’s just it though, I brought you here!  Here, to this world that caused you naught but pain and torment almost daily!  Certainly there was merit, my own guild’s council said as much when they spared me but… but how am I to live with what I have done!?”

Melvin rushed forward and embraced the man “Harrish is that all?  I regret nothing that has befallen me here in Yinaril!  You had to bring me, the prophecy demanded as much!  I don’t consider myself all that great a man but the events needed me.  Yinaril was saved due to your decision to bring me here, and when I finally go back home I’ll probably make a mint turning this into a movie or something ha ha!”

Melvin’s laugh died down when he saw Harrish’s face turn white.  Harrish voice was choked with grief, “so we’ve finally arrived at the point of no return it seems…”  Melvin grimaced, “what are you talking about Harrish?  What’s all this point of no return chatter?”  When Harrish’s grief stricken face turned to look into Melvin’s eyes, the boy knew instinctually what was coming, “you can’t go home Melvin… at least… not to the home you know.”

Melvin reeled.  What was his friend telling him!?  Distantly he heard Harrish gushing forth the information hidden so long from Melvin.  The spell wasn’t one way but time moved differently in Yinaril.  The three years spent here were transferred into three centuries back in his home world, everyone he had had ever known, his family, his friends had likely all died before he had even spent a year of life in Yinaril!  He felt sick.  This isn’t how it was supposed to be!  This isn’t how these things worked!  Sure, in fantasy adventures time moved differently in the “real world” but it was always the opposite.  Yinaril was supposed to be the place where time got the fast forward.  He was supposed to be sent back to his world at nearly the same time he left right!?  He was supposed to appear back on the bus in mid conversation with Jimmy Smith, like… like nothing had changed.

Harrish placed a comforting hand on Melvin’s shoulder but it was knocked away in a furious swipe.  “You damned monster!  How long have you known!” Melvin shrieked.  “I’m afraid… I’m afraid I’ve always known Melvin,” Harrish replied quietly, “why do you think I nearly lost my life in casting the spell…?  Such magic is forbidden for a reason.”

Melvin sunk into the soft grass of the grove, he had nearly unsheathed his sword but his fury had quickly subsided into pure sadness.  “I think… I think I would like to be alone for a while Harrish,” Melvin whispered.  “I understand,” said the man who had ruined his life.  Before exiting the grove Harrish turned, “I could still send you back Melvin, but… there is no telling what your world would hold for you.  It’s… actually my hope that you’d wish to remain here though.  Though you no doubt despise me at the moment… I still call you friend…”

Melvin said nothing as Harrish left him alone in the grove.  He thought of everything he’d lost, and he wept.