PrologueThe rain begins as I’m slogging through woods that are thick with plant cover and strewn with debris. I don't feel the raindrops much, though: they have to drip down through the tree branches to get to me, and I'm not that worthwhile of a target. Anyway, if the god of water is angry with me, he’s had plenty of time to take aim; I've been traveling through this dense undergrowth for days.
Walking and thinking... walking alone, thinking alone. I should have come to some decision by now. Sariel’s fears were well founded: I am hopeless. I am ill-equipped and inadequate for this task. But I made the decision to do this, to try. And so now the question is: what do I tell them?
Do I tell them the tale of Chess, the master thief -- Chess the storyteller? The one who they say is as indomitable as water. Who freed a goddess from her earthbound imprisonment. Whose tenacity brought him and his companions safely through an alien world filled with gods and demons. Whose lust keeps him enslaved to a witch with power as fearsome as her beauty. Whose devotion to a dream keeps him alive…
Should I tell them that I am an acolyte of the goddess -- sent out to spread her message to those who suffer out here in the wilderness: to bring them home to her. Should I say that?
I stop for a moment and look around. The light is dimming, but the broken branches show definite evidence of foot traffic through here. I was right to travel in this direction: people are close by. I let out a long breath. Am I relieved or scared? My long sought-after first audience... What kind of story will they want to hear?
Should I, instead, tell them a story about a completely unremarkable kid, a boy of no importance, who, forced to leave the safety of his home, got lost in the woods with a couple of girls. Tell them - not a soaring myth - but a prosaic folktale: the story of a journey. And how, past many obstacles, the boy and girls somehow manage to survive. Not just survive, but thrive. And they build a home. Yes, of course, I have to tell them about home...
I am muttering to myself and not watching where I'm going. I step in a low spot, between tree roots, and nearly twist my ankle. A puddle of water there covers most of my boot. I'm shivering now: cold, nervous, hungry. I have cut myself so low on rations that the calories are barely keeping me on my feet. I hope the people, when I find them, will give me something to eat... if they don't kill me.
Idiot. I should have plenty to eat. After all, Sariel showed me native plants that could be eaten safely. But I don't trust myself to identify them, not in this subdued forest light. And how much can I ever really trust Sariel, anyway? If I poisoned myself out here, or fell, paralyzed by hallucinations, would she merely shrug? And Ileana... if I never came back, would Ileana even notice?
I force my mind back to the story. “They survived... they survived...,” I repeat to myself. And now they wish to extend hands to others. To the people who are out here, lost in this toxic wasteland our world has become. People who have almost given up hope -- people who are just like they were.
Should I tell the story that way? Both versions are true. What will make people listen?
I'm not up to this challenge. I started out with so much energy, but now I feel like crying. I should just sit down and let the rain wash over me. No one will miss me, not even my family.
But my feet keep moving forward. Suddenly, there is firelight ahead, flickering through the dark trees. Soft voices float out to me through the forest's version of quiet.
No more time for self-doubt. I have a tale to tell.
Continued next page...
Through every forest, above the trees,
Within my stomach, scraped off my knees,
I drink the honey inside your hive
You are the reason I stay alive
Closer, the Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, 1994
Okay, I will try - really try - not to dissect the story itself, here. I will suppress the urge to tell the origins of every idea, because I can hear Joss Whedon singing in the background, accusing me of killing the narrative.
So I will just mention that the story originally grew out of a college-age fascination with all things “fantasy”: Tolkien, Arthurian legends, and some Dungeons and Dragons. But, in the years after college, the story was mostly forgotten, because other things got in the way. And other reading material, including lots of nonfiction, diluted my fantasy reading.
But there are two things that may definitely be encountered in any genre: first, a concept or a proposal or a possibility that is different from any the reader had previously considered – in other words, a new way of looking at something in the world; and, second, profound or funny or personally meaningful quotes. I love to discover both of these things while reading, and I kind of wanted to share some of the ideas that I have found.
And then, somewhere along the line, the old college story came back to my mind. But now I wanted to give it a more modern, realistic setting… with just a hint of dragons and wizards. And trans-apocalyptic sci-fi. And polyamory.
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