“It should be here,” I think to myself for the tenth time as I look down at the map in my hand again.
I will the letters and lines to show me something different, but as I look up at the empty field in front of me I know something has happened. I have arrived at the centre of the forest in Webland. For weeks now, I have been travelling this forest always with the glimpses of the fortress towers as my guiding star.
I have followed a routine of waking, eating and seeking out a path amongst the trees. I bring my staff in front of me and step through the undergrowth, fighting whatever comes my way and as night falls I study my scrawled map, charting my progress. In this way each day blended into the next into the steady rhythm of a journey.
Now, finally at my destination. The white fortress has vanished. I look around the clearing and there is nothing. An empty patch of land, as if the place had been plucked from the world with no explanation.
My skin is sticky, my head whirring at panicked thoughts of where to turn next. The sun begins to set and the air in the field feels oppressive, even though I stand far from the press of the surrounding trees. The light slinks deeper into the circle of trees, but no night time breeze comes with its usual cool relief.
I hear the roll of thunder. It crunches up the sky not far from here. Its deep and long growls trying to break through the air.
Looking up to the sky for the streak of lightening and I wish the for the skies to open. The rainw would match my miserable mood, but the thunder only rumbles on, low and soft.
I stamp my staff into the soft ground and it glows with a dim light, helping me look at my map. When the first flash of lightening lights up the sky in the corner of my eye and I think to myself “1” .
“If I count, I will know when the storm will arrive. Perhaps by then, I will know which way to go.” I think.
My hand twists the staff tighter into the ground and just I loosen my grasp, the second lightning flashes. The crack isn’t in the distance, but bright, hot and loud above and all around me. It cracks down straight into the staff beside me, setting it ablaze and with a warm blast of air I am thrown from my feet.
Lying there on the ground, eyes opening to see the skies through blurred eyes, the first raindrops fall on my face.
“2?” I think as I sit up.
The raindrops fall now thick and fast matting my hair to my face. I blink through the rain as it trickles down my face. Wondering if perhaps I hit my head when I fell backwards. I stare for several moments, blinking through the rain at the white blurry shape. In the flickering light of the staff as it fizzles, sits a small creature made of only bones.
Its rib cage chest heaves gently up and down. The only sign that tells me it is not some lifeless figurine. Its bones are a little too white, like someone had painted over them and its rounded skull sparkles from the rain as it sprinkles across its smooth dome.
Sitting on its hinde-legs the creature’s stares at me with empty eye sockets. Beside it, I see the fire put out and leaving the black of stump of my staff smoldering with whisps of grey smoke.
The skeleton creature picks up the stump in its boney jaw and pads through the water puddles leaving strange footprints in the soft mud.
It drops it into my lap and looks up at me with an expectant stare. I reach down to grasp the stump and only have a moment to doubt whether this is a good idea, when my hand fuses around it. My skin seems to burn as my hand tightens around the stump. I hear the deafening crack of another lightning bolt and a searing shock jumps up my arm, through my body and the world turns white.