Fantasticoe Home Page
Fantasticoe 2000 Contents


Ripple in the Sand

Tim Mauldin

     Falmoran's eyes were focused on the wall. Her mind was focused on something distant, something unrealized, something out of reach. Her hands lay before her on the table like cadavers, rotting since the beginning of time and now finally prepared for this burial, in this sarcophagus with the all-encompassing weight of stone pressing in on all sides.

     There was a time when this was all worthwhile, when everything seemed beautiful.

     Her eyes shifted, but not to view anything of more importance. Only to fill the need for movement.

     I have no delusions now.

     All around her was white, bleached, faded out. Everything of that same familiar shade, touching her like a kiss. She did not resist, even though to her it was revulsion.

     There came a knock at the door, echoing across her consciousness…sound.

     "Enter," she commanded.

     She could hear the door opening: a subtle, whisper of displaced air. A voice spoke to her, out of breath, "Captain, there is a visitor."

***

     Coming to an abrupt halt before the colossal gates, the horse snorted deeply, sweat soaking the rough hair of its coat. Its rider looked up at the twin ivory portals. They were crafted of fine latticework, appearing delicate, almost fragile. But the one who examined them now knew better than to assume such things merely on the basis of untrustworthy eyesight. The gates were surely as solid as they were beautiful.

     The rider, holding the reins in one hand, moved the steed in nearer to these ivory sentinels, and called out in a strong voice, "Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw requesting entry!" The fortress wall towered far, far into the harsh gray sky, its stone sharing the pale hue of the woven gates. In sheer magnitude it was one of the most remarkable works of masonry that the rider had ever seen.

     "Repeat your name!" commanded a voice from a slit in one of the massive stones.

     "Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw! I have come at the request of Lady San-ta-meen and the lords Pellapadosian and Marquin."

     This was followed by several drawn-out moments of silence. The horse snorted and skittered on the humus-rich soil of the forest floor, while the rider stared expectantly at the opening far above.

     "You may enter!" declared the same voice. There was a note of weariness in the proclamation. "Back off a bit, I'm going to open the gate. And dismount, you will have to leave the animal here."

     The rider pulled minutely on the reins, and the steed back-stepped several paces. Surprise showed on the rider's face, but the second request was met as well: the horse left riderless, held loosely by worn, leather reins. The gates opened outward jerkily and slowly, although soundlessly, and the rider could see a figure standing in the opening, dressed in a dark gray tunic and dust-colored stockings. Around the figure's neck hung a silver medal of office and a variety of chains, each holding a single key.

     This ambassador approached while the gates were still in the process of opening and cut a rather simple bow, as to an equal. She introduced herself, "I am Lady Falmoran San-ta-meen, daughter of Lady Adria San-ta-meen which you seek. I function as head of the Karma watch, at least for the time being. It is a great pleasure to receive you, Lieutenant Farshaw."

     The rider bowed in return, "It is an honor to be greeted by so distinguished a personage as yourself, Lady San-ta-meen. I hope you have not been too long awaiting my arrival?"

     "No, indeed, we have not." This was followed by a grim smile. "We are fortunate that you have come at all. But let us not speak longer in these elements. The gate would serve better closed, and us inside it."

     "What of my steed?"

     The captain's features gathered shadows. "The beast must be left here, outside the fortress walls. Believe me when I say that this is much preferable to the alternative. You will be better informed as to why soon enough. For now, please it you to trust our judgment."

     The rider, prepared to object, became unsettled at these words. "Of course," she replied. Attaching the lead rope and tying it around a sturdy trunk, she stroked the bay's mane and bestowed a kiss upon its brow. After whispering reassurances to relax it, she rejoined the captain and together they entered between the filigree gates.

     Beyond lay a grassy expanse of magnificent proportions, as if verdant green had been poured into the basin of the walled citadel by some mighty hand. This emerald carpet was broken at regular intervals by rows of fruit trees of every kind--apple, peach, plum, cherry--extending from outer wall to inner keep.

     Karma Keep itself was a marvel, dominating its surroundings while seeming to elevate them by its presence. Its gleaming white spires, towers, and battlements sparkled against the cloud-flecked sky, clashing with the living green of the immense courtyard. Near the summit of its luminous minarets, stained glass windows of extraordinary artisanship displayed images that could not be made out at such distance, but that were wrought of an even brighter, more remarkable shade of snow. Everything sparkled, everything gleamed, and everything had the appearance of alabaster. It was unreal, and elicited comment from the visiting Lieutenant.

     "Your home is very beautiful."

     The Captain did not bother to look up as they walked, nor did she look at the Lieutenant as she responded. "My thanks. I'm glad that it strikes you so."

     They continued down the ivory-hued granite path, sunlight turning the large cobblestones into mirrors that sent back distorted images of the booted feet that passed over them. As they passed under the portcullis of the inner keep, its spikes glittering like ponderous icicles above them, the Lieutenant's attention remained in the grasp of the magnificent construction. "It must have taken a great number of skilled artisans to build this," she observed.

     "I'm sure it did," the Captain answered succinctly, pulling open the inner door. Once inside, they followed a series of passages akin in wonder to the outer visage of the keep. Intricate lamps glowed from frequent alcoves along either side of the pure corridors, and carvings of detailed and exotic scenes stood out on both ceiling and walls. The floors were of expensive marble tile. Everything was so clean, so perfect, and so intensely white that Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw spoke very little from that point onward, marveling to herself that such a place could exist deep within a rarely charted wilderness, distant from major roads and the current of foreign society.

     But there was more than that. Yes, it was beautifully built, even breathtaking, but it was also empty. As they delved their way deep into the complicated structure, the Lieutenant noticed less than a handful of occupants. Who knows what secrets this place holds, she thought. I will have to be on my guard. It has been a long time since I last had to deal with the possibility of danger.

     They reached a large set of double doors, crafted of some pearly variety of wood and carved with a peculiar hunting scene that included, among other dissonant components, a stag and a life-sized tiger. "My mother will receive you in here," declared the Captain as she pulled open one of the heavy portals. Motioning the Lieutenant in, she added, "It was a pleasure escorting you."

     The Lieutenant cut a short bow and replied, "The pleasure was mine." She caught a glimpse of sadness in the Captain's brown eyes as she passed into the well-lit room beyond.

     It was a formal receiving chamber, if a rather simple one. The dimensions were modest, remarkable when one considered the immensity of the fortress as a whole. The ceiling stood at merely twice the Lieutenant's height, and the room was about thrice as long as it was wide, requiring some degree of approach, but not a great deal, not nearly as much as in the majority of courts that she had attended in the past. The room contained eight pillars, four on each side, that delineated the path to the dais on the far end. A collection of small lamps provided illumination from alcoves in these pillars. On the stone dais, and appearing to be of one piece with it, rested three massive seats, two of them occupied, those on the right and left placed slightly farther forward than the central one. The room contained no other furniture of any kind. The entirety of it lay unadorned; all of the magnificent carvings that graced the walls and ceilings of the rest of the fortress stood noticeably absent.

     The woman seated in the central position rose as the Lieutenant entered. She had a dignified carriage, with an intelligent but prematurely lined face from which peered piercing blue eyes like frozen stars. She wore a long, crimson robe of office, and a strange band of golden metal encircled her head of brown-gray hair at a severe diagonal, cutting across her prominent forehead. All of her color was quite a sight against the pure white background. "Can I presume that I am gifted with the presence of Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw of Coranor?" When she spoke her words flowed smoothly one to the other, like a gently moving river.

     The Lieutenant supplied a moderate bow, as to one of slightly higher rank. She heard the wooden door shut softly behind her. "Indeed, Lady, with your permission, I will introduce myself." She waited for a nod from the woman on the dais. "Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw, previously of Coranor, currently of Pel Faen. Come from said location on a summons from Lady Adria San-ta-meen, first consul of the independent city-state of Karma, and second consuls Lords Pellapadosian and Marquin, also of the independent city-state of Karma."

     "You are well met. I am Lady Adria San-ta-meen, first consul of Karma. And to my left is Lord Tiberian Marquin, second consul of Karma." The other figure stood. He was a middle-aged gentleman with a slightly receding hairline and a full beard, black mixed with gray. He too wore a robe of office, this one of sea blue, but was without additional adornment. There was something very out-of-place about the way he held himself. His shoulders slumped forward noticeably, and his eyes were downcast. Nothing in his mannerism hinted at his position; if it were not for the robe, he would have fit in better at the counter of a local alehouse than in the receiving chamber of an extravagant fortress. He did not offer a single word of greeting--an even greater anomaly.

     Lady San-ta-meen continued speaking as if nothing were amiss, "Lord Pellapadosian, also second consul, is regrettably unable to attend this meeting."

     "I am honored to make the acquaintance of both such noble personages," Lieutenant Farshaw replied, carefully hiding her surprise at the state of Lord Marquin, "and am sorry for Lord Pellapadosian's absence." It struck her that Lord Marquin was the first male she had seen since entering this strange fortress. Not that this was necessarily important. It could have been coincidence; after all, she had seen few representatives of either gender. She would hear what Lady San-ta-meen had to say before leveling any queries.

     Greetings completed, the lady returned to her seat, the strange Lord Marquin mimicking her in slower fashion. Locking eyes with the Lieutenant, who remained standing in the center of the hall, her voice took on an intensity that it had lacked during the pleasant formalities, providing her smoothly spoken words with additional emphasis, "We have been experiencing a very distinctive problem as of late with which I believe you could be of great help. An affliction has gripped our home, one that we have assuredly brought upon ourselves. It is debilitating, striking at our lives and our livelihoods, our very ability to survive." She paused for a moment to let the direness of this prelude sink in. Lord Marquin was sitting with his head in his hands, and the Lieutenant perceived quiet, furtive noises that sounded like weeping.

     This unsettled her a bit. She filled the silence with a question, "What is this affliction's nature?"

     The Lady's gaze was powerful and full of purpose, "The affliction's nature is of lesser importance than its cause, and it is this cause that makes your expertise so valuable. Since the citadel's founding nearly four centuries ago, Karma's citizenry has always included in its number at least one specialist known as an 'artifact collector.' This individual's function is a relative necessity within the traditional mindset of our stronghold, and those who perform this task are often highly respected. To put it simply, the profession involves the discovery and acquisition of artifacts of a magical or particularly valuable nature. While some might label this pursuit as knavery, believe me when I say that if it were not for these individuals Karma keep would not likely continue to be inhabited and many of our bloodlines would have died off centuries ago. But I will not seek to defend our customs; suffice to say these individuals exist, and are employed by the consulate.

     "A little less than two months ago, one such collector was found, collapsed, in the forest several miles from the fortress walls. He had left weeks earlier on an expedition to the south in search of the Naelok Moranon coastline, where faeries are rumored to dwell." The Lady scanned Lieutenant Farshaw's face carefully as she spoke. She found nothing: while the Lieutenant had certainly heard of the faeries of the Naelok Moranon coastline, she was no more familiar with them than Lady San-ta-meen herself. "When we revived him, he was in a terrible state, sobbing and weeping uncontrollably, bitterly proclaiming the loneliness of his life. He would periodically moan that he wished he could 'take it back' and 'make it up to the faeries.' As hours passed, he fell deeper and deeper into the darkness of depression, becoming utterly oblivious to his surroundings by the end of that day. On his person we found a single artifact: a smooth, crescent-shaped gray stone."

     The Lieutenant's eyes had hardened. What sort of place is this, that they steal from the fey?

     Lady San-ta-meen's recount continued, her thoughts focused elsewhere than on her audience, "The artifact was placed in the vault with the others, and our wizards were given the task of divining its nature. This process was carried out with great caution, as we had all been made rather uneasy by the collector's state.

     "Within the week, it became clear that something was wrong. The men of the citadel began to have severe depressive spells; several became unable to perform their duties and would remain locked in their chambers for days at a time. The women, for their part, began missing their cycles. This became a cause for further alarm when a known virgin, Lord Pellapadosian's niece, revealed that she was a full week late. This left no room for further self-delusion; we had to accept that our problems were being caused by a universal disruption of some sort. Furthermore, on the eighth day of the collector's return, all of the domestic beasts that had been kept within the fortress walls were found to be missing. From horses to kittens--all had drifted away without a trace. When by the third week none of the women in the citadel had yet experienced her usual cycle, and when three of the men in the castle had gone so far as to end their own lives, we knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

     "By that time one last disturbance had begun that I am certain originates from the same source. At night in the keep, the walls hum--a loud, nerve-grating sound that does not allow sleep. It returns every night, and with it often come horrible hallucinations of a kind I am unwilling to mention. Even the most self-assured and stable individuals can be heard screaming…."

     Lady San-ta-meen stopped to shut her eyes tightly, as if she were trying to block out some unbearable vision. After a few long moments she appeared to have succeeded and, regaining her tongue, continued the account. The Lieutenant took in everything, determined to recall each individual detail. The woman's practices might disgust her, but the tale she was telling inspired sympathy--and trepidation. "After some reflection, it became obvious that it was the crescent-shaped artifact that the collector had brought which was causing all of this trouble and pain. We were suffering a curse for our transgression in taking such a valuable item from the faerie-folk. The function of the artifact remained, and remains still, unidentified, partly due to the fact that many of our wizards were spending their days lost in mazes of regret and self-torment. But it was obvious that the relic held significant importance, and that it did not belong to us. We had heard tell of a Den-in Farshaw, experienced traveler of the world, who spoke with and even dined with faeries. So, as the fourth week passed with yet another suicide and more sleepless nights, I decided to send one of the collectors out looking for you. I am overjoyed that he succeeded, for things have become much worse in the interim. The citadel is now run exclusively by women, with four additional deaths, including Benevere Rustin, captain of the Karma guard and a very loyal friend of mine. I now exercise complete sovereignty, as neither Lord Pellapadosian nor my dear Lord Marquin retain the will to take adequate care of their own lives, let alone to monitor the proper functioning of the citadel. And the visions…" she closed her eyes again for a moment with an expression of pain, "…have become much worse. We do not know what is to be done; I do not know what is to be done. If one of our own returns to the Naelok Moranon with the stone, it might only incur further wrath upon the carrier. And there is no guarantee that our curse would be lifted." The Lady's eyes, which had seemed so firm and certain before, were now starting to lose some of their outer shield of self-control, the stars melting in the heat of emotion. "Do you think that…you could help us? Could you go to the Naelok Moranon coastline with the stone and plead our case? We will reward you greatly: we have mystical artifacts in our possession the likes of which have only been dreamed of by those outside our walls. Our tradition has proven to be…quite lucrative over the years."

     Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw looked at the powerful, but beset, woman before her and considered the situation. These were profaners, these people. Stealing from the faerie-folk was an incredibly serious offense, one that made her blood run hot with anger. Also, she was unfamiliar with the Naelok Moranon faeries. The Derspeet faeries, whom she had befriended, were only a very small segment of the grand scope of fey society. Those of the Naelok Moranon could be far different. Who knew what unique and perhaps dangerous views they could hold. Did these profaners truly deserve her help? Why should she put herself in danger to help these thieves who did not understand even the basic rules of common respect? But perhaps it was more complicated than that. Perhaps it would be best not to judge so harshly from a position of knowing so little. And then again, even if the inhabitants of Karma had deserved all that had afflicted them, they had already suffered such a great deal; perhaps that was sufficient. And Den-in Farshaw realized that she was one of the few human beings who could have any chance of connecting with this strange coastal fey civilization, could have even a hope of appeasing them.

     And so the words came from her mouth before she was absolutely certain that she meant them. "I will try my best to help you," she answered.

***

     Darkness filled the subterranean hallway; shadows swirling around each other in a desperate, gray dance. This part of the fortress was not often used, making it more economical for the lamps to remain unlit when they were not needed. So, one by one, as they moved farther down the faded expanse of corridor, the Captain Falmoran San-ta-meen set the alcove-lights on fire, bringing back the pearliness of the stone and driving away the unnatural dusk.

     "Have you lived here your entire life?" asked Lieutenant Farshaw of her silent companion. Farshaw walked a step behind, noticing the marvelous carvings that were revealed piece by piece as fiery lights sprung back into being.

     The Captain answered, moving with her lamp from one alcove to the next, "Yes, the community is very closely knit." There was a pause that the Lieutenant interpreted as hesitation, and then the Captain finished, "I belong here."

     In the distance, through the flowing murkiness, the Lieutenant could see what appeared to be the outline of a door. "You keep the artifacts quite isolated," she commented.

     At this the Captain stopped for a moment in her progression. When she spoke her voice was conversational, but there was a hardness behind it, "They are of great importance to us." She completed the last few alcoves, and pulled over her head one of the various keys that hung from chains on her neck. It was unusual, its end shaped like a small, metallic diamond. As for the door, it was quite small, but what it lacked in size it made up for in artistry. Engraved subtly in its wood lay two faces in profile, one looking in from either side, and from each side also extended a pale arm. Hands grasped opposite wrists in the center of the portal, and where palms touched there was drilled a small keyhole.

     As the key slid into the lock, there immediately arose a metallic click. The Captain pushed softly on the door, which swung effortlessly on hidden hinges. Beyond lay a room cloaked in darkness. Ducking under the low clearance of the doorway, the two entered.

     While the Captain lit the room's braziers, Lieutenant Farshaw examined her new surroundings. On several tiers of shelves around the perimeter of the room, items of every imaginable shape sat in inanimate conference. Water gourds, ivory statues, swords, leather bags--these and many other identifiable things were surrounded by items without names: nothing to associate with, they clustered in her mind as new concepts, unrefined by the usual years of familiarity. Nothing in the room looked particularly magical, nothing glowed or spoke to her, no silvery arcane symbols took hold of her attention, but magic held its dominion here. She could feel it creaking in her bones and running through her like a phantom liquid. She could feel its tides heightening her awareness while clouding her senses. Taking a deep breath, she concentrated.

      Having redirected her attention for a moment from that unpleasant sensation, she noticed the walls. They were of rough-hewn gray stone. The only hint of white in the entirety of the room's construction was the entrance.

     As the Captain turned from lighting the last brazier, Farshaw could see quite clearly the grimace on her stern face. She had to be feeling the same currents, those same wrenching, unsettling flows. "Be careful of all of this," she warned. "Some of it is very dangerous."

     The Lieutenant did not doubt that. "I will touch nothing unadvised," she assured her escort.

     In the center of the room sat a very large, square table without chairs, its surface at chest level. This the Captain now approached, motioning Farshaw to her side. Pointing, she said, "There."

     Now, for the first time, Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw set eyes on the cursed crescent. It was of smooth, light-gray stone, and it described a gradual curve that ended in sharp points. It was thick, with oblong girth, and relatively small, measuring about the length of the Lieutenant's forearm. And, oddly, it did not reflect the burnt-sienna light of the braziers in its polished sheen, remaining unaffected where it lay on the aging table.

     Staring hard at it for a few moments, trying to fend off nausea from the currents that still flowed inside of her, the Lieutenant finally turned to her companion, "Are you certain this is the cause of all of your...troubles?"

     The Captain, steadily holding her gaze, replied, "We are certain."

     Farshaw perceived that Adria San-ta-meen's daughter had no intention of touching the dusky artifact. Reaching out to it, refusing to delay any longer and further abet this tension, she took hold of the crescent moon.

     She shivered. She could feel…something from it, not necessarily malignant, but not born of her imagination either. Tying it to her belt next to the wire-wrapped hilt of the sword she wore, she spoke, "I wish to leave this place now."



***

     Den-in Farshaw finished tying the turquoise braid in Lamp's mane. Whispering comforting words, she softly stroked his back; the last affection she would be able to show him for a long time. Just how long of a time she was uncertain. Naelok Moranon lay quite some distance off, and would be reached even slower without Lamp to carry her forward. But she refused to risk the alternative. If this heavy object at her side caused human-trained animals to fade away as if they had never existed then she could not lead this beautiful creature and close companion into such a pointless fate.

     Better to set him free. He would return to Pel Faen--she had named him for his uncanny sense of direction--and wait for her there. The braid, by its color, would assure her substitute at the Mallot school--Bren, a close friend of hers for many years--that she was safe and well. And she would try to return as soon as possible. There was a large part of her that wanted to return immediately, but her mind was set, and she had given her word; she would not abandon these people or fail the fey in returning what was rightfully theirs. The time when she could have deserted with a clear conscience was long past now.

     So she commanded Lamp to run. The horse galloped away with his usual faithfulness: trusting wholly to her judgment, asking no questions. As he disappeared in the thick vegetation, she wished him a silent goodbye.

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

     Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw, born Denitria Innaeus Farshaw in the city-state of Paskin, the year 405 S.D. Her mother and father, who owned a small fletcher's shop, soon came to the realization that they had given birth to a prodigy. The child displayed a natural proclivity for the written word, and was reading all manner of history, literature, and the occult by the time she reached adolescence. Of even greater note was her profound empathy. Unconsciously, she would form close ties with everyone she met. It would be an understatement to say she was well-liked, and this was mostly due to her ability to appreciate the unique situation of each person that intercepted her life. Her sympathy was as much a quiet legend as her intelligence was a vocalized one.

     It was still early in her life, at the age of thirteen summers, that she grew tired of the pampered sound of her name. The young girl believed that a more concise, less embroidered name would be more likely to demand respect as she approached older years. Denitria Innaeus was transformed to Den-in; and while her parents did not approve, the youth knew it was a first step on the path she wished to follow in life. She would not be diverted.

     At the age of sixteen, after completing her self-education in libraries and bookshops and the harsh reality of city streets, Den-in Farshaw joined the Paskin militia. Having declared her intention to her disbelieving parents, she approached the barracks on a warm spring day with only a small sack containing a book and a single change of clothing and signed her name to the enrollment voucher, one of the few recruits to accomplish this unaided. It was a harsh existence, but she excelled in it as she had the majority of things in her still-fresh life.

      Her first experience with battle was traumatic. Death on such a pronounced scale was not something she had encountered before, and it was not simple for her to accept. She cried for hours that night, torn by uncertainty, fear, and disgust. But Den-in Farshaw was incredibly clear-minded, and had realized long before that the only true way to advance from humble beginnings in her society was through military distinction. And so she did not leave, and she did not give in to her pain, but she remained to make her mark on an unfair and class-divided world.

     In time, she grew to be close friends with the leader of the Paskin forces, Lieutenant Baren Felstar. She still was without official rank when Felstar called her in to advise him on a recent dispute that had erupted between Paskin and the neighboring city-state of Cattraval. Farshaw took this opportunity to propose a peace treaty, one that she had already been considering after hearing rumors of possible skirmish. As Lieutenant Felstar read it, he realized that what he held in his hands was a work of genius. With that treaty a battle was averted, and Den-in Farshaw received her first title of rank.

     By twenty-five summers, Farshaw had demonstrated again and again her ability to handle conflict. She was raised to the rank of Lieutenant, supreme commander over the city's military forces, and served in this position for five years before quitting the military altogether. During her command she dealt with more than a dozen conflicts with Paskin's neighbors; and, out of them all, only one ended in battle. Many deemed her holy. When she left the military, she also felt a need to be free from Paskin, its worship and her past there. Leaving the social class that she had earned behind her for hope of greater fulfillment, Den-in went in search of a new home.

     It was during this time period that she was first rumored to have consorted with the Derspeet faeries that lived in the woods near the city-state of Kal-Rhud. None know for sure what went on between Den-in Farshaw and the fey, but it is known that she settled in the nearby city-state of Coranor, where she served as ambassador to Kal-Rhud. How she attained this position in so short a time, though, remains a mystery. It was not long before rumors began to circulate of her association with the faeries, and slowly a mystique grew up around the young diplomat. She performed her duties exceptionally well, and enjoyed them, but eventually she grew tired of the stares of the populace and the distance of the people of the court. As she reached her thirty-eighth summer, she moved onward.

     Several years of wandering passed before she finally reached the small self-governing province of Pel Faen. Tired from a life too long for its years, she found a new calling away from the eyes of the worshippers and jealous rivals of her past. In the Mallot School, as a teacher, she found peace and a new purpose, to use all of the knowledge and experience collected in her overly long life to enlighten those young minds that surrounded her. No longer needing class or rank to get what she wanted, she was left with her basic gifts, her intellect and her empathy.

     Slowly, her memory blurred in the mind of the world.

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

     Den-in leaned closer to the fire. The night sent chilling needles into her skin, and the small flame before her was not doing a sufficient job of fending them off. Around her, the dark hollow of the glen was filled with the sounds of nocturnal orchestration. The wind whispered softly and carried with it the echoes of the night birds and the murmurings of a nearby brook. The violin chords of insects seeped through the inky air. Overhead the moon, its eye half-shut, stared down at her.

      She had eaten a short time ago; a rabbit that had been hiding in a brake had taken too slow notice of her. She had felt sorry for the small creature, but felt no guilt from the act. Eating was necessity; it was up to her to kill and gather to keep herself alive.

     A few days before, she had passed within sight of a small village, such a rare thing to view in this wilderness. She had understood the unkindness she would be doing by approaching, so she had continued in her path through the arid wood. It was not her first time to wander like this, cut off from civilization, but this ordeal was particularly harsh. The stone was working its ways on her, stealing the nature from her body, causing her to feel disconnected from the world that surrounded her. If she had been male, she was certain she would never have made it so far; her will would have been consumed by the stone's poisonous regrets. As it was, it tortured her, making her feel abnormal and anomalous. It was more than just the absence of her feminine cycle, already displaced five days; it was something deeper, enfolding her spirit's light in a thin wall of glass: aware of life but irrevocably separated.

     There it lay, on the dry leaves near the area cleared for the fire. She felt often that she wanted to throw it in the brush and leave, walk to some door in the village she had passed and have a hot meal, take in the nourishment of human contact; but she knew this would never happen. She had a path and she would follow it. Even if she did leave this crescent hope-thief to its own devices, she doubted that would liberate her. It had laced its wires too deeply--only the Naelok Moranon might hold the mercy to set her free.

     The cold would not leave her. She added more wood to the fire. Its flames rose, but gave her no warmth. She would sleep soon; there was not much fuel left, and she did not see the point of collecting more.

     Instead she collected her thoughts to focus on the journey. A week's worth of leg- and soul-weary days had passed since she last stood within the walls of the ivory fortress, and she was still not free of the woods. If she was as certain of her position as she believed herself to be, they would begin thinning the next day. Within three days I will be quit of them, she thought to herself. Then, presumably, it would be rolling hill country all of the way to the coast, with only a few geographical abnormalities. Monotonous, interminable rolling hills, bare to the sun's searing radiance. And no chance of solace in the arms of society, they would only grow to know what she now knew: the loss of all interaction, the dull pain of separation. She would place this pariah illness on no other person, and so she would travel with solitary longing across the endless, unwelcoming grass.

     It would probably be best to go to sleep now, before she dwelt any further on such useless thoughts. This night was the worst yet. With the morning might come some succor.

     Without bothering to quench the fire, she curled up in her cloak and fell into dream.

*

          In the eyes of the child, there was faith.

     She saw the little girl, sitting on the edge of the wooden crate in the crowded hall. All around them voices babbled, pointless conversations reflecting pointless lives, but she could feel it pouring from that little girl. Faith. Trust in the rightness of all things. The girl's curious gaze took in all that was around her, and what she saw was right. In her inner world, all things were returned to being just and equal, their nature overwhelmed by unyielding innocence. All of the vice and malignancy breathed out by the people became to her shining lights, fueling her desire to move on, to experience it all.

     Such purity in youth. They did not see the cold truth of reality.
     But then, perhaps she was right.
     Perhaps she held no delusions.
     Only the others.
     And Everything
     Was
     Just
     As
     It
     Should
     Be
     Wondrous
     Hopeful
     and
     Pure

*

     Den-In awoke from the dream to a creaking, splintering hum. It was terribly loud, coming from all around her. The leaf-strewn ground, the trees, the fire-pit rocks were all set to a tone far too amplified for hearing, far too barbed for thought. The moon itself seemed to shed pernicious sound. Her mind torn by the cacophony, she huddled, trying to block out the noise that originated in her own head as much as anywhere else. Her eyes leaked tears to the forest floor, squeezed out between tightly closed lids.

     The screaming noise continued for a span that her mind had no ability to measure. Out of it rose a coercing force, filled with a voice, her own voice, that spoke to her, "Look up! Look up!"

     Wrapped in psychic pain, she had no power to resist. Slowly her head rose, and her eyes pried themselves open.

     All around her there were cages, metallic beasts awash in a lurid half-light glow that provided no comfort, revealing as it did only the plights of misery. They were of a height and breadth fit for dogs, but inside…Den-in moved closer to one, peering at the huddled mass within.

     As the shape grew more defined, she stumbled backward in shock, the fear inspired by the horrid pitch that still filled the air and the spaces inside her head fed to satiation by what she had seen within. Faerie. A faerie bruised, battered, broken, and lying still behind the frigid bars. One wing was snapped, his eyes were closed, and his faintly green-tinted skin showed areas of dark gray where he had been struck with incredible force.

     She peered with growing dread at the other cages surrounding her, so many that the glen seemed more steel than earth. Every one held a faerie, traps filled with the mystic beings that had given her so much in her life. Broken wings and broken spirits, they lay still in a forest of harsh metal.

     And she recognized them. These were the Derspeet, that had taken her in when she was left near death in that other forest far to the north--that had helped her, fed her, and become such dear companions to her with the passing of time. She could pick out the faces even in such dim light as filled the valley. Senia, who had first discovered her battered form and brought her to the Nabis Ree, the faeries' home. Depran, who had always eased the troubles of her life with the kind thoughts he gave to her. Somaelaa, who had first objected to her presence but with whom she had grown very close with passing years. Canta, her dearest, closest friend, glittering eyes now closed with pain. And there lay Secania-Choraa, the dryad who had blanketed the wood with the vibrancy of life, watching over all within it. Those and all of the others that she held close to her heart lay prone in unnatural receptacles, their light overcome with shadow.

     The sound of hooves approaching echoed through the catastrophic hum. As Den-in watched, her thoughts unbalanced and weak, a horse and rider approached, galloping between the closely packed cages. They moved toward her with breakneck speed. Uncertain of herself in a way that she had been only twice before during all of her life, Den-in reached for the sword at her side, but it would not come free of its scabbard. Preparing the best she could in her abused state, she moved out of the way of the approaching steed. The rider pulled back hard on the reins and earth was upturned as the horse reared. A figure glared down at her from above. It was the Captain Falmoran San-ta-meen.

     "Well, well, looks as if we have found another one." The Captain sneered as she walked the horse in circles around Den-in's confused and trepid form. Den-in could see the mount clearly now. It was Lamp, but there remained none of the softness that normally filled the beast's eyes. Den-in knew that he was no longer hers. The Captain laughed, "What troubles you, faerie? You will be safe soon enough…watched after, and safe, and where you belong."

     The humming abruptly ceased. The cages, the captain, the warmthless light, all drifted away like ghosts on a wind.

     Den-in fell weakly to her knees on the leaf-strewn ground, the crescent stone lying cold before her. The silence was overpowering as the sun slowly rose in the east.

***

     She had her hood low over her face to block out the flame that was cooking the world as it drifted slowly in its hateful daily progress. She felt cheated by this powerful messenger of heat that, while burning her frame, did nothing to warm the lost spirit within. Such emotions are irrational, she would say to herself, but this did little to change the reality: that she felt as if a gate had been slammed shut between her and all else that was. This distance was the most horrible piece of the puzzle that her life had become since taking possession of that damned rock. It was worse than the absence of her cycles, worse than the walk over hundreds of leagues of unknown land towards an unknown destination, and even worse than the hallucinations and their mind-smashing sound that stole the sleep from her nights. Every piece of her body, every fragment of her mind, and every misty remnant of her soul yearned for contact--not necessarily an interaction with people, but simply the ability to relate with the air she breathed. To have something, anything, from the outside not feel alien to her, and to cease feeling like an abhorrence to the nature that had once been her home…

     With these confused, deeply melancholy thoughts whirling like upset fireflies in her psyche, she continued in her long trek across the endless plains of emerald life.

***

     Glass, everywhere and everything, glass. Filling her world with translucency and awe, glass. She had reached her destination, and what she found was glass.

     Behind her lay the rocky wasteland that she had struggled over for the last four days, full of stones, jagged and huge. As difficult as it had been, it had presented a welcome change after the rolling hills, their verdancy forming a less obvious but far more treacherous variety of wasteland. At least amongst the rocks there had been shade, and some release from the interminable sameness of the hill-country.

     She had no shade now, as she looked down from a jutting precipice at what should have been a beach, if its reality had not refused the obvious definition. The waves crashing on its far side certainly declared it as such, but their sound belied them: a continuous ringing as they fell and as they receded, like a toast at an extravagant feast whose instant was dragged out for eternity.

     Because this beach was made of glass.

     It stretched out before her--one immense, slightly rippling sheet of foggy crystal extending to either side beyond the limits of sight. In all ways it resembled what she would imagine a beach to look like, except that there was no motion: no sifting of sand by the wind, no washing of land out to sea. The waves alone remained free from stasis.

     Is this it? Is this what I have searched for all this time?

     No answers rose up to greet her.

     Seeking a way down, she finally found a narrow path that appeared to continue to the bottom. She followed it and--cutting between high rock walls that towered into the darkening sky--emerged onto the crystalline landscape. Nightfall was approaching, and the yellows and reds of the sunset…

     …were not reflected in the glass.

     It was true. In fact, nothing reflected in its surface. As Den-in moved across it, she could feel her vision encompassed by gray, her perception giving in to monotony. The sea was no longer visible--her vantage was too low--and the stone cliffs shrunk slowly behind her as she continued. This setting seemed familiar; and, looking inward, she realized why. What she saw was her own existence of the last few weeks, her disconnected reality made physical.

     This is the Naelok Moranon, she thought.

     The stone at her side began to throb.

     That commanding force that she had felt during her hallucinations now again pulled at her will. She could hear her own voice filling her mind, drowning out the ringing of the distant waves, "Turn!" She was more fit to resist this time and did for several long moments--her body tense and still on a rise in the glassy beach, her mind flooded with desperate conflict--but in the midst of this she realized the pointlessness. Was this not what she wanted? Was not direction exactly what she was lacking? Perhaps it would be best to let it lead her where it wanted. And so she let go…

     Given this power, provided with no resistance, the stone directed her utterly. The sensation was a disturbing one. Den-in had felt disconnected from the world around her; now, she felt disconnected from her own body as well. The absoluteness of her separation frightened her, and her spirit began to fight again for control, but it was too late. She had passed her dominion to the crescent and would not be able to regain it until the stone allowed her.

     Peering out through her eyes, she could see a structure in the fading light of the distance. Over and down the ripples of glass she moved, somehow not slipping but ever moving forward, pulled by the power of the stone towards that distant construct. As she approached nearer to it, she could see that it was rounded, like a dome. Composed of the same dull crystal as its surroundings, it seemed to flow directly out of the glass of the beach, bubbling up to form the only unique sight that had crossed Den-in's vision since arriving.

     As she reached the glass dome, Den-in could feel the stone retract its power over her. Restored to her sovereignty, she almost fell from the distorted sense of balance that immediately struck her. It took her several moments to remember how to use her own body, but once she had she was flooded with relief. No longer was she lost in the frightful realm of nonexistence; her body, at least, was her own.

     The stone, however, continued to throb. There was obviously something else that it wanted her to do; even though it was no longer forcing her. She looked at the dome, only a bit taller than she herself, and the voice that was her own spoke again, "Restore what was lost!"

     Of her own volition, not knowing what she was looking for, she began to walk slowly around the dome. There it was: an empty place, a hole, in the shape of a crescent.

     Den-in took the stone from her belt; she could feel its throbbing deep in the muscles of her arms. Turning to the opening, she spoke with conviction, filled with the nexus that was this moment, "Let all things be made right." She placed the stone in the opening.

     Fluid glass began to pour into the empty space around the stone as she watched, fixated. Melding with the crescent, the dome began to glow softly, its light isolating Den-in on a mysterious island, cut off from the fading sunset of the outside world. The crescent itself began to lose solidity, becoming transparent, and its tint changed from dull gray to sky blue. This transparency traveled outward from the crescent into the dome, until the whole of it resembled a mystical window. Then the crescent let out a bright blue flash, illuminating dusk like cerulean daylight. It was too quick for Den-in to shield her eyes, and for a moment her vision was engulfed in pure blue.

     The Naelok Moranon realized itself.

     All around her, through a lingering blue haze, she could see glass forming from air. Pure and vibrant, it responded to the call of the azure crescent, creating itself in a vast multitude of varying incarnations. Glass spires twisted into the dark sky. Glass cliffs gave birth to crystalline valleys. Glass waves hung suspended, prepared to crash but never to know that fulfillment. Glass pyramids came into existence where before there had only been a rolling sheet of dull gray crystal. Many-faceted structures resembling jewels glittered from the dome's glow. And around the dome itself arose four rings, large enough for a horse to pass through and connected by a low wall.

     And it was all ethereally beautiful. The soft glow from the dome was reflected in each and every structure, reaching from one to the other out to the farthest extent of the crystalline miracle that once had seemed a beach. Also caught in the reflective trap were the waves of the sea, rendered magnificently in the rings and cliffs which encircled Den-in and rushing upward from the glass under her feet. And in this glowing, watery reflection shared by every surface, she also saw herself, standing by the glowing dome with the sky-hued crescent behind her, her face--and her thoughts--filled with wonder.

     For she could feel it all, everything. Flowing into her senses, filling her spirit with awe, the Naelok Moranon became part of her as she became part of it. No longer was she disconnected. She felt the intertwined majesty of the world around her, and she was joined with it--enfolded in that comfort. Breathing in the remarkable smoothness of air, she laughed. The sound carried through the remarkable landscape, becoming a shared reflection as surely as the glow or the sea.

     But, where are they?

     She saw no living thing but herself in this beautiful place, and it seemed certain that if there had been another life here she would have been able to see it.

     So where are the faeries?

     Inside her, there came a reply, not her own thought but something separate, something originating elsewhere but finding its expression inside of her. Its voice was soft. We are here, and know you. If it eases your mind then we will come forth.

     Glass rippled in every structure, and forward out of the ripples emerged more glass, flowing like a liquid to settle into forms, tall and painted with the same images as their surroundings. Out of the ring in front of Den-in poured one such figure. It seemed to only vaguely resemble a human form, all of the details having been wiped away. It stood nearly half-again as tall as Den-in and was free of all distinguishing features. Den-in's entire body lay reflected in it; she could see her own face peering out of its chest. A frothing wave crashed in its visage.

     Again speech arose inside her head. She could only assume it originated with this being standing before her. We hope these forms do not disturb you; we do not often come forth. We wish to express gratitude for your restoration of that which was lost. Warmth suffused Den-in's psyche.

     Den-in understood that it could hear her thoughts, and so did not bother to speak out loud. Perhaps, when spoken, her language would have been alien to this creature. It gave me pleasure to return it, she answered. And it had--she was still filled with overpowering joy.

     This figure and its companions were of such a strange nature that she felt compelled to ask, Are you of the fey?

     Foam receded in its crystalline face. Yes, we are of the fey. The story of how we came to be as we are now is long, but you are curious. A brief explanation will suffice then. Our heritage is that of the fey of the coast, joined with the sand and the breaking of the waves. That existence was transient; generations passed quickly, as permanence is impossible for those under the influence of the sea's unceasing pull. With our generation, a decision was made to create a new way of life. Throwing off old associations, we formed a new bond with our world, one that would not fade or alter with time. And that is how we became what we are now.

     The explanation was vague, but Den-in thought she perceived much that was unspoken. Even if the "how" escaped her, the "why" was evident. She needed to ask more questions. She had gone through too much pain to continue without answers. Have the people of Karma been deemed worthy of release from their curse?

     Before responding, the glass faerie paused. We are sorry for your pain. The voice in her mind was full of empathy and again brought with it a pleasant warmth. Den-in felt the reassurance it was trying to convey, and answered, genuinely grateful.

     Thank you.

     Now it answered her question. There is no curse on the Life-Crescent. Any disturbance that may have occurred was due to an improper alignment of natural forces. The Crescent belongs here. Its function is to feed us the energy necessary for continued existence. Taken from that function, it is likely that it would disrupt the proper balance of its surroundings. As we could not continue to exist without its assistance, and would have soon died off had it not been returned to us; so it could not exist outside of its native environment. Whatever it may have done was a distress call. Hopefully no damage was caused by this frantic longing--and if it was, we are sorry for it--but the Crescent was lost, and needed to find its way back home. Whatever this Karma is that you ask of, it assuredly was returned to normal as soon as it ceased to be near the Crescent.

     The comprehension was for Den-in like a bright light where before there had been only shadow. Things only needed to be set right.

     Yes.

     Of course, she thought.

     Not all of her questions were resolved. But if the crescent is so basic to your survival, why have it in a place where it can be stolen? And how did the thief reach it if it holds the power behind everything that surrounds it?

     Immortality has its price. The avenue that we found to eternity had to have a flaw. The flawed nature of our existence is what makes that existence possible. And so, outside forces must be given the ability to interrupt our life. The human who entered here was full of the fear and repressed hatred that his kind have for the faerie-kin. These emotions aggravated the necessary fallibility of our civilization, allowing him to take the Crescent before his presence was noticed. When the Crescent was in his possession, we had no more ability to stop him. So, that simply, our lives nearly progressed to their end. We lead a fragile existence, but it is the existence we have chosen.

     The two had stood quite still for the duration of this internal conversation, the other glass faeries forming a ring around the inner shrine. Den-in's eyes were focused on reflected waves where the faerie's own eyes would have been, had it had any. These were so unlike the faeries she was used to, the sprightly beings with their wings and their laughter and their ecstatic love for the woods. Here resided something new entirely: the fey who had taken control of nature, bent it to their will. It was peculiar to see such a choice made by the faerie-folk. All her preconceived notions of the fey were challenged.

     She knew that these thoughts were being heard by another, but she was taking in so much at once that she could not avoid meditation. So she lay wrapped in her musings, the other not seeming to care about the extended lapse in conversation. As moments of silence bred yet more kindred moments, she happened to glance down.

     She stopped. There, in the chest of the crystal fey a heart-stopping vision revealed itself. It is not true. It cannot be true. As before, in the faerie's chest lay reflected Den-in's own image. Looking at this image now, Den-in could see her cloak lying on the glass nearby. From her back sprouted two large gray wings. Surely the reflection was lying! She reached behind her, and grabbed hold of a long pinion.

     "What is going on?" she whispered.

     I wanted to reward you for returning our Crescent, by showing you the truth.

     The truth…

     Yes, you are one of us, you are fey.

     But no, I am not…I am Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw. "I am Lieutenant Den-in Farshaw…"

     Yes, but you are also one of nature's blessed.

     But…how? I am human. My parents were human. I never had these wings…

     You may not have been born fey, but you have been for some time. The wings have simply been waiting for your realization. I have provided that for you.

     This is a trick…She did not know to what purpose, but she knew it had to be.

     No, not a trick. Merely a transformation. We all pass through transformations.

     She felt the new muscles in her back, meant to move wings…meant to move her wings.

     How?

     It must have been a matter of desire. You have created in your thoughts what you wish to be, and it has become your reality.

     If this is…real then where do I go from here? What if I want to be human?

     I do not have an answer to that, Den-in Farshaw. It is up to you. You are strong inside and your desires will shape your future. Our blessing goes with you.

***

     Den-in lay on the ridge overlooking the glowing landscape below. She slept, and within her mind a dream was being born:

*

     In the eyes of the child, there was faith.

     She saw the little girl, sitting alone in the center of a white marble room. In each corner of the room rested a white pedestal, towering over the child. On each pedestal a different scene unfolded. On one lay a raging battle full of death and despair, little people consumed by ferocity and insecurity locked in mortal conflict. On another, the dignified operations of a court unfolded--courtesans and court jesters, kings and queens and all of the trappings of polite society. On a third, a room full of students sat facing an unknown speaker, their attention enraptured by the words that reached them, their lives--however long or short--lying ahead of them. And on the last pedestal a tranquil forest grew, barely visible figures flitting about in the shade of vegetation, full of joy and appreciation for the moments that make up life.

     She could smell it in the air, exuding from that young girl. Faith. The child saw all these echoes of past lives that surrounded her, and she knew that they were just as they should be. She looked at death and saw the renewal of life, looked at learning and saw potential, looked at diplomacy and saw wonder, looked at wild nature and saw purity. She saw in all these things their inherent beauty, not jaded by long exposure but revealed anew by innocent eyes. She took in the world that wore so many tired souls down into their graves, and she saw that everything was right. Through all the pain and suffering, she knew, the radiance of hope would prevail.

     Den-in Farshaw tilted her head back in an upward glance: the ceiling lay open to the sky. Gaze fixed on the beyond, she unfurled her wings.

     

Acknowledgments for "Ripple in the Sand"

     There are several people that I would like to thank at this time for helping me to get this tale to where it is today. First off, I would like to thank Hobz for saving me from plagiarism. Far be it from me to take away from George Lucas what is rightfully his. Secondly, (and not minorly) I would like to thank Jenna for her interest in the Captain, giving me the courage to carry through with something I'd been indecisively mulling around in my head for a while. I think it is a change for the better. Down with all two-dimensional characters! Also, thank you Jamin and Aliya (and Jenna, of course) for the copy-edit. Oh, and thanks to anybody else in the class whose suggestions I might or might not have integrated. And thanks for the compliments. Lastly, in an attempt to fulfill my full brown-nosing potential, I would like to thank Terry for having this class in the first place. It was wonderful.

Copyright 2000, Tim Mauldin


Fantasticoe Home Page
Fantasticoe 2000 Contents