G A N C
The Tree and the Fey
Born the eldest son of Huusog the Heretic of the Harlyk tribe, Ganc was raised in Damshack, a small frontier fortress on the western edge of the Hills of Hatred. His mother was the oldest of nine Birthing Matrons in the hill settlement, and by the time Ganc departed on his three legendary anumian quests, he had twenty-eight living siblings—twelve brothers and sixteen sisters, and even more dead ones—yet when he returned years later, the tribe was long extinct.
In those days, the hills were carpeted thick with lush timber forests of larch and pine, and it was Ganc’s tribe’s task to cut the timber used to build and fuel the ever-expanding orc kingdom. At first, Ganc was given minor chores—moving brush, stacking logs, and other light duties given to the young—but once he was big enough to wield an axe, the rest of his nights were spent falling timber. Soon he was broad of chest with arms thick like strong oaks themselves, bringing down trees faster than any orc in the village.
Huusog was rightly proud of his eldest son, who was diligent, hardworking, and now leading the axe teams. One day, he will make a fine chieftain to lead the tribe, Huusog would often boast to the other elders. After long nights toiling in the forests, hefting their mighty axes, father and son would often join the other laborers from the fort, celebrating their lives and successes until the barrels of heavy Trog grog were empty.
Yet the hills around Damshack deteriorated, grown barren from constant logging and forced open to the sky an hour in each direction. This was the unforeseen result of years of timber harvesting to fuel the kingdom’s expansion. So, each night the axe parties had to venture farther and farther away from the settlement in search of trees to meet their ever-increasing demand. At the same time, other orc villages were competing for the same resources, making the tribe’s task all the more difficult.
One night, Ganc was far from home on a ranging expedition on the western edge of the hills where it met the Georgian Forest. There he spied an unusual grove of trees that he could not identify—large of base, high of branches, and deep of root. Each of the giant trees (which he later discovered were iron oaks) would produce more lumber than a whole grove of larch, he predicted.
Ganc sidled up to the largest tree, his anticipation growing, and put his axe to its base. The first thunderous strike sent shivers up the barrel trunk, startling a family of lotus fairies sleeping peacefully in its branches. A second and third swings sent startled birds scattering, and two Brownies ran shrieking in terror. The angry fairies swarmed Ganc, poking and biting and screaming in high-pitched voices that pierced his ears with agony.
Like gnats and fire ants, the fairies were small and irritating, but they were easily overcome. Once Ganc had managed to swat most of them dead or drive them away with his axe, he returned to the tree once more to continue his task. After a few heavy blows that sent chunks of bark flying, a tiny feminine creature half his height appeared from the shadows behind the tree. Fey by the cut of her dainty physique, she had soft-green glowing skin that set her apart from the dark forest. Her long, braided hair was like radiant emeralds, and she was swaddled in loosely wrapped garments of green leaves and herbs.
Ganc was in mid-swing when she brazenly threw herself between the tree and falling axe. Fortunately, her attempt at suicide failed—for that’s what it must have been; in her reckless abandon, she slipped on an exposed root, falling, and the force of the axe just missed taking the top of her head. Instead, it sheared away her long twig-and-acorn braided ponytail.
Angered, Ganc yanked the doubled-bladed axe back, hefting it over his shoulder.
“You want to get yourself killed?” he said louder and more harshly than he intended.
Trickles of sapphire tears cascaded down her cheeks as she fiercely hugged the tree as if it were a long-lost and treasured family member. Ganc forgot about the tree as the peculiar creature, which began to plead its case to him in loud gibberish he could not comprehend, intrigued him.
At first, he tried to shoo her away, gently pushing her aside by hand and then with his axe, but when she resisted and clung ferociously to the tree, he became increasingly forceful. Finally, he picked her up bodily and tossed her into a nearby creek and told her to stay, pointing his axe at her menacingly and hoping she took his meaning.
She did not.
Again, and again, Ganc and the fey creature danced these steps. For her part, she would pull on his axe, tug on his arm, or wrap herself around the tree trunk.
“Go love another tree, ya green pest,” he snarled. “Ya got choices, you know.”
He gestured to the forest beyond, pushing her to the edge of the grove. Killing irritant fairies and other forest annoyances was common practice when gathering lumber, but for some mysterious reason, Ganc didn’t feel he had the right to kill this particular dainty fey creature. He stopped, staring at her. What a peculiar thing you are, he thought.
Like a cat that couldn’t stay away, she returned, hugging the tree, fiercely kissing it as if it were a long-lost lover.
Ganc retrieved her fallen ponytail from the ferns.
“All right then. You win,” he said. He placed her ponytail in a small pouch at his waist and, without waiting for a response from the little fey creature, turned and headed back to his village.
The next evening, he retraced his steps to the grove—and this time, he brought with him a sturdy rope. As he expected, the little fey creature appeared again and once more tried to intervene in his labors, so he tossed her to the ground and tied her up tightly in a twist of knots. When he was certain she couldn’t squirm out, he gentle put her down against another nearby tree.
“Its safer and wiser for both of us if you stay here, out of the way,” he said, patting her gently on the head.
She let loose high-pitched wails, struggled against the bonds, and kicked the forest dirt with her heels. But she stayed where he wanted her to stay.
What is so damned important about this one tree? he thought as he swung his axe. There are so many others in the world, more than you can shake a stick at. Ignoring her temper tantrum and amused by his own thoughts, he set to the long task of falling the giant oak. Thankfully, for his ears and for his nerves, her sobs became less despondent and gradually lessened to a minor squeak as he worked, and by the time the tree came crashing down at last, she was silent.
Job complete, he untied the girl.
“Go on now,” he said, nudging her with his foot. “You’re free. Sorry about that.”
She rose slowly, her head hanging like a wilted flower, and staggered drunkenly over to the fallen tree. There, she fell to her knees on a pile of shards and splinters, sobbing. She slowly caressed the broken timber, and he could see her hand was now black and desiccated.
“What’s wrong here, little one?” Ganc asked, kneeling beside her.
Her once emerald dress of leaves and herbs aged and yellowed before his eyes. Yellow shifted to orange, to brown, and finally to black. Creases turned to cracks, and the dress dissolved, crumbling into fine dust that was whisked away by an enchanted wind.
The fey creature’s green hair, once thick and illustrious, thinned and fluctuated between the color of coal and that of ash as it fell to the ground at her side in mounds. Her skin grew ashen gray, cracking with the sound of a falling tree. Her body shivered and then began to shrivel, her skin pulling tightly over her bones like leather. Strength and form failing, her body finally gave way, and with a faint squeak, she fell as a pile of ash upon the remains of the tree.
She was no more.
Ganc had witnessed a lot of weird occurrences in his short life, but this was easily chief among them. For a brief fleeting moment, he felt a pang of guilt but did not understand why. The villagers would call him a liar and a fool if he told them about this fairytale, so he elected to keep it to himself. But just in case he ever needed proof of his story, he gathered up the ashen remains of the fey creature and put them into a small leather pouch at his waist, the same pouch in which he had put her ponytail the previous day.
Free of the interfering creature at last, Ganc set to delimbing the tree. But now when the axe came down, sparks flew from the blade with a mighty ringing crack. Again and again, he tried to chop a branch and then smaller limbs, but each stroke was to no avail. Only after repeated failures did he note that blade’s sharpness had become as dull as the town seer Magmelda’s drunken stories.
The once mighty oak he’d conquered was petrified solid, hard as black granite…and worthless.
Frustrated that his prize tree had solidified into unusable stone, Ganc turned his attention to the other larger trees in the grove. He found that they, too, were just as lifeless, rough, and hard as granite.
The green fey creature was somehow linked to the tree, clearly, and it seemed she was just as connected to the grove as well. Whether the trees had kept the girl alive or she’d sustained them, Ganc couldn’t tell which.
Refusing defeat, he switched tools, returning the next night with a sledgehammer. If he couldn’t cut the petrified tree, he could at least smash it. And smash it he did.
The oak had been strong in life, the toughest tree he’d ever felled; in death, it was tougher still. Ganc slammed the heavy mallet against the tree trunk over and over for as much as an hour before he managed to break free three or four good-sized chunks.
Sweaty and aching, he took a long pull from his water skin as he noted the sun high overhead—it was nearly midday. Midday? He wiped his brow, blinking up at the interminably bright sun. How could he have not noticed time slipping away, moon giving way to sun, darkness to light?
How long have I been at this tree? he wondered. The events with the little fey girl the previous night were foggy in his mind, becoming dreamlike. Had that been last night or the previous night or…? He could no longer recall. Had she been real or the delirium of an idle mind, one left to wander unchecked over long tedious hours of labor? In the past, he had often made up stories, his imagination carrying him to distant lands to see what he might find there while muscle memory allowed him to cut down tree after tree.
Damshack was a timber town, his father was fond of saying, but this substance—stone wood—was stronger and more resilient than any lumber he’d ever come across or even heard of, stronger than granite, truth be told. It surely has to be of some use to us, he thought.
Determined to find out, he loaded a few of the heavier chunks into a sack and headed for home. He was hot and tired and needed to get out of the cruel sun—orcs were forged of sterner stuff, that was certain, but the relentless sun wilted even the toughest orc.
Back in Damshack, Ganc took the petrified samples to Magmelda the seer. When she wasn’t drunk and spouting crazy tales of horror, she was a damn fine seer—or at least that’s what his father said. She analyzed the heavens, took stock of the anumian spirits’ comings and goings, and advised his father and the other tribe elders on matters of importance. Her wigwam was crammed to near overflowing with odd instruments—animals and insects in cages and strange, unworldly artifacts people had brought her in hopes of garnering information and knowledge. If the petrified wood were worth anything, she would know.
When he tossed the heavy samples on her workbench, explaining how he’d come by them and demanding information, she shoved them harshly to the ground with a hiss before wiping the surface clean. “What did your father say to you about going into those haunted woods?”
“Have you seen the size of the trees that grow there?” he said. “There is enough timber to last a lifetime—two or three, maybe. I’d be a fool not to go there.”
“You think you’re the first orc to venture into the Georgian Forest, dreaming of vast riches? You’re lucky to be alive.”
He scoffed, dismissing her nervous notions with a patronizing eye roll. “And yet here I am, alive.”
“Ignorant, ignorant fool you are.” She pointed at the fragments on the ground, “Is that wood? Is it? No, it’s not. It’s dangerous fey mysticism and alchemy. And what do you know of such things?”
“That’s what I am here to find out. You’ve obviously confused our roles.”
“You want that kind information?” she snarled, her voice cracking. She placed what appeared to be a stack of tattered brown gambling cards on the bench. “Then draw.”
Ganc wanted no part of Magmelda’s superstitious shenanigans—he’d heard myriad stories, often troubling and usually scary, about those who dared to play with her haunted fate cards. “I have no use for spirits. I just want to know what to do with this warped wood.”
“The information you seek, I do not have,” she said. “For that, you must consult the anumians.”
“I need nothing that badly,” he said. He bent down to retrieve the petrified wood fragments—many in the village thought her a fraud, peddling snake oil and gimmick shamanism.
“Ganc, son of Huusog,” she said in a rising voice, “the knowledge I possess is a blessing from the anumians and from no other.”
Paid for with your sanity, he thought, but he kept his lips sealed. Even though she was mad as an anumian hare, he still felt a whisper of fear of Magmelda, as any gods-fearing orc should. Crazy is as crazy does, he knew.
She suddenly gathered his hands in hers, inspecting the dirt and grime and his thick, hardened calluses. “There is more to life than chopping trees. You want this, yes? Only the anumians can reveal your true life’s purpose.”
“I know my purpose,” he said, yanking his hands from hers.
“Would you change that purpose, if you could?”
“And it’s in your power to call these anumians?” he said. “Not just a twisting tale by a sad old woman seeking attention?”
“Why did you come here, if you believe me a sideshow con artist?”
“Because I don’t believe it—I only believe what I can see for myself.”
“And you have the experience to know what is true and false, what is real and what is illusion?”
Ganc gnawed on a fingernail. The seer was tricky and undoubtedly meant to confuse him with riddles. “How do I know the information I receive from these spirits is truth and not just you making up stories to entertain yourself?”
“All who enter Magmelda’s wigwam arrive the same,” she said. “They come seeking answers and facing their demons and doubts. But know this: anumians don’t always answer in a way you would expect. They are spirits of An and speak in mysteries and dance in riddles.”
She pinched Ganc’s cheeks sharply with both hands, a grandmother addressing a grandchild, “When all is said and done, you will certainly know the truth of it. You may not like it, but you will know it.”
“And what is your price for all this?”
She studied the chieftain’s young son, and he knew what she thought of him—full of youthful exuberance and enthusiasm but also stupid and poor. Finally, she said, “A favor owed.”
“A favor?” he scoffed. “Here’s your favor: I’m here to tell you that you are a tree short of a forest.”
“You think me old and senile, do you? So, what’s the risk in owing an old woman a favor? I’ll be long dead before you rise to chief, if that’s your delusion.”
He shook his head. “No. The price is…it’s too high.”
“Do you believe calling anumians a trivial matter, do you? As easy as falling out of one of your trees?” She shook her own head. “You waste my time with your foolishness. I don’t provide counsel freely, you little cheap-ass.”
She snatched a broom from the corner and struck him savagely over and over, often about the head, neck, and shoulders. “Leave. Leave, I tell you, and never return with your same dim wit.”
Ganc shuffled to the door, ducking and fending off the assault. When he reached the flap, he turned away, and she swatted him soundly on the buttocks. “I have a good mind to tell your father.”
“To what end?”
“To beat your end. He should know you entered the Georgian Forest, killed a dryad, and put our village in peril with the elves.”
“You exaggerate,” he said. But he also knew Magmelda had a gift for the dramatic and ready access to his father’s ear. With a few quick words, like an axe stroke, she could cause him much suffering and misery. His thoughts lingered on the heavy wood fragments he held and the rough calluses on his hands, his primary payment for years of swinging an axe and hefting lumber. He felt a hot welt from Magmelda’s broom on his neck and was reminded of how the rest of his body felt similarly at the end of each night.
I never should have come here, he thought with a heavy sigh. Not without armor and a plan.
He turned his gaze back to the elderly seer. How old could she be—eighty years? Ninety? More? If so, then how much could a favor really cost me? he thought. She could drop dead just from wielding her broom.
He lifted his brow in question. “Thompo said a seer’s guidance, once paid, remains a secret forever. Truth?”
“True if Thompo said so.”
“My trip to the Georgian Forest will remain our secret?”
He gestured for Magmelda to shuffle and reshuffle the tattered cards as he gathered his courage. He’d faced wild boars and bears with just spear and nerve; why was this so much more unnerving, scary even, he could barely explain. He supposed it was because he knew what to expect from a charging boar. It wasn’t a netherworldly secret sharer.
Reluctantly, he reached for the top card.
“Stop,” she said, slapping his hand. “First, what boon do you request from the spirits?”
Ganc held out the chunks of resin wood that had solidified to stone when he’d chopped down the oak. “I want to know what these can be used for.”
“Is that it?” she laughed.
Both the question and her laughter irked Ganc. “Have you ever seen wood turn to stone? It could be worth more than gold. Do not mock me.”
“If dryad wood were worth more than gold, your father would have leveled the whole damn forest, would he not?” she said, shaking her head. “Your tree stone is not gold nor even copper.”
“How can you be certain? Surely…it…I mean—” His muddled mind set his tongue to stammering. Maybe she had a point.
Magmelda tapped the top of the deck. “Someday, you will be chieftain, and then you will owe me a favor. A valuable favor from a great lord. I cannot for your sake or my own allow you to throw away your potential or even your life on such a trivial, inconsequential question.”
Ganc squirmed under her penetrating gaze and heavy words.
“Search your soul, Ganc, son of Huusog,” she pressed. “What do you really want to know?”
He considered for a long while before finally speaking again, his words slow but certain. “Damshack is suffering. Will the trees around our village ever return? Look at what we’ve done, cutting down the forest. I fear we will perish or be forced to move if we can’t find new timberlands.”
A razor-sharp smile slowly crept across Magmelda’s thin creased lips. “Now, that is a question worthy of the anumians. Draw.”
Before he could reconsider, Ganc pulled the top card, hesitating only a moment upon feeling the rough parchment between his forefinger and thumb and recalling all the frightful stories he’d heard of others who dared request a boon from the sky spirits.
“Go on,” she said, indicating the card.
He flipped it face up on the bench and found Fate staring back at him. At the top of the water-stained and timeworn card was a starlight constellation depicting a woman—Fate—pulling the Infinity String, a metaphysical fiber without end spiraling beyond view, lost in the vast cosmos. At the bottom of the card was a threadbare tapestry of the universe.
Magmelda motioned for Ganc to step back. “Be careful now.”
Then, as if she had expected it, three additional cards came to life, pulled magically off the top of the old deck by an animated prehensile linen string that appeared from the dark ceiling above. Thin and wiry, its long coils wrapped around each card like a snake. Then, the cards dangled and danced in the air before being slapped down hard on the bench surface like a smithy’s hammer impacting on iron. Each landed face down.
Ganc whirled on his heels as more strings appeared from the dark recesses of the wigwam, spinning around him like autumn leaves dancing on gusts of wind. Each string’s size and coloration differed—some were muddy brown, others jet-black, and still others white as the new-fallen snow. The strings came together to form an abstract feminine hand that lifted Magmelda’s deck of fate cards from the bench and gently handed them to the seer. Once Magmelda’ accepted the cards, the strings vanished as quickly as they came.
She licked her lips and cocked her head sideways as a wolf howl echoed across the distance hills. Her eyes narrowed to slits. “Fate is a messenger for those to come.”
Her voice echoed. Come… come… come…
But Magmelda’s voice wasn’t the only thing that shifted in the moment.
Her eyes erupted in red flames, burning with a hellish intensity.
Ganc shrieked, and the young orc fell to the floor as if pushed by an invisible hand. The hot flames charred Magmelda’s eyes from her skull; smoking pits of darkness that smelt of burnt flesh were all that remained. Her smile shifted to a sinister sneer. She laughed a short, hacking cackle.
“What is happening to you?” Ganc said, slowly finding his footing again while maintaining a distance from the demented woman and her haunted visage. For a few seconds, he considered putting the seer out of her misery—a quick strike to the heart or a slash across the throat would end her.
She moaned. “Complicated your destiny will soon be.”
“What does that mean?”
She waved her hand over the cards. “Three cards. Three anumians. Three quests.”
A hard blow of panic struck Ganc hard in the chest.
“Three?” He fought an overwhelming urge to flee, to run into the Georgian Forest and never return. He swallowed hard and tasted terror. “I only agreed to one quest…and…and you talked me into it. Not three.”
“Fate says otherwise.”
“Gods damn you.” Ganc said, his mind reeling. What if he was given an impossible task, like swimming across the Great Sea or carrying ice into Hell without it melting? Anumians delighted in the absurd.
“Three? Does it have to be three?” he said, approaching the bench and the cards of doom. He wondered what might happen if he chose to toss them into the fire without ever looking at them. He could envision furious anumians. “What if we made it two?”
Magmelda bent low to inspect the three cards with her missing eyes. “Be grateful there aren’t more.”
“Unguu hates me,” Ganc moaned, banging his forehead with his fist repeatedly. “He hates me. He hates me. He hates me.”
“Stop that. Unguu hates everyone. You are just higher on the hate list today. Now, turn over the first card. The spirits do not enjoy waiting for drama.”
“And what if I don’t?” Ganc asked. “What if I just go back to the—?”
The holes in the seer’s face widened in shock and outrage. Black gouts of smoke poured from them, twin chimneys in her features. “You must. Fate is waiting. Even now, strings of destiny dance around us on parallel worlds. I can see them poised, ready to act if you don’t. Fate deemed you worthy of three. Three cards. Damned will your soul be, if you don’t reveal them—a curse worse than a curse, guaranteed.”
Ganc shivered at the thought of being cursed—though he wasn’t entirely sure what that might entail. He opted to imagine himself blind and forced to beg by the fort’s front gate. Perhaps he would be inflicted with leprosy or insatiable hunger. Or both. His skin itched and a hollow fear gnawed at his gut.
How bad could a quest be? he asked himself. He had heard his father tell so many stories of gallant quests as they gathered around a fire and shared drinks. Surely, the quests couldn’t be that difficult. As long as he was healthy and alive, he would have a fighting chance. Maybe his sons would one day tell of his bold quests.
With greater certainty, he approached the bench, imagining a statue of himself at the center of Damshack—a thriving metropolis one day—posed heroically. Maybe even a holy day named in his honor.
Smiling and unafraid, he said, “Here goes naught.”
He flipped the first of the three cards.
Unafraid vanished, as did smiling.
“World Serpent,” he gagged. “Hate me!”
“The world devourer,” Magmelda said, her voice low with cold admiration. Pinpricks of sparkling light shone in the pit of her eye sockets like those of distant galaxies. The black smoke streaming from her sockets shifted from black soot to white steam.
A light tremor shook the wigwam, rattling Magmelda’s belongings. A white cat meowed, and a black dog barked. In the distance—far, far distant, well beyond imagining—came a faint pounding, like that of a herd of stampeding mountain aurochs. With the sound came a vast beastly roar. Again, pounding, shaking the wigwam ever greater, over and over, the reverberation growing in intensity as it approached. Louder and louder still.
The light in Magmelda’s empty eye sockets grew with the intensity and inevitability of the approaching storm.
“The World Serpent cometh,” she said simply.
“What, here?” Ganc flipped open the canvas door and peered into the blackest night he had ever seen. Damshack had been swallowed completely by a dark void of nothingness. He pulled away from the gaping maw beyond the wigwam door, suddenly fearing he might fall, as if the doorway were a precarious cliff’s edge.
Rustling feathers and a loud raven squawk and gurgling croak drew his attention back to the room. In the rafters and all about them was a conspiracy of ravens—dozens, more perhaps, perched everywhere where there was space, their eyes staring with deep hatred and accusation.
“What’s happening?” Ganc shouted.
“Damshack is suffering. Will the trees around our village ever return?” he heard the seer echo his words.
As a child—and later as an adult drinking Trog grog—he’d heard many tales of wonder and mad conspiracy theories about Magmelda and other seers and their anumian calls. He had considered most of the stories to be based on some flimsy filament of truth, embellished in the retelling for entertainment’s value. Now he realized with despair that it was possible they’d actually been simplified in the retelling, their true horror dampened or even lost. This moment was worse than any story he had heard tell. He covered his ears to protect against the howl.
“Is this what you expected?” he screamed.
Magmelda opened her mouth to free a gushing furnace blast of hot breath, striking Ganc full in the face and searing his skin and hair as if he’d been standing in front of a fire-breathing dragon. Her eyes, nose, and mouth unleashed torrents of steam and ash as if from an erupting mountain—as if from a powerful creature of myth and legend.
She tore at her eye sockets, her mouth snapping open to the point that her jaw clicked as it dislocated.
“Crush the stone trees to dust,” came a deep harsh, nearly unintelligible voice, one far too big and overwhelming to come from such a tiny seer. Ganc knew what he must be witnessing: the spirit of the World Serpent was contained within Magmelda. The orc matron suffered under the weight of possession, forced to channel the omnipotent anumian.
“And when they are nothing but fine powder, these trees, take their dust and sprinkle it at the stump of every tree you have ever chopped down. Take care not to use too much lest you not have enough for the task. Your crimes against tree and forest are great. If you do this thing, the trees will return as you desire.”
* * *
“That is impossible.”
Ganc’s flustered voice shattered the silence. The dark wigwam, lit by a shallow fire in the hearth, was as it had been before the calling of the World Serpent. Quiet, peaceful, relaxed. Gone were the ravens and the thunderous hooves and the hot stinking dragon’s breath. He didn’t miss any of them.
“That will take a lifetime. Many lifetimes,” he said. “Do you know how many gods-damned big trees there are out there? Each one is harder than mithril.”
Carrying ice into Hell might’ve been an easier ask, he decided, and I might have taken it, given a choice.
Magmelda, apparently no longer suffered the soul-bruising effects of channeling the Anumian spirit, ignored Ganc’s hysterics. She pointed an accusing finger at the second card on the bench. “Enough. Turn it over.”
“Give me time, you have to give me time,” he said, gasping as if he’d just finished a long night’s work. “I need to think about this mess.”
Ganc’s heart raced, pounding as furiously as the drums of an orc war party on the rampage; his chest thundered so hard, he thought he might actually faint. He held onto the bench to steady himself as he came to grips with what he’d just witnessed. Maybe the whole thing had been shaman theatrics, or maybe she’d drugged him with mushrooms. He’d seen Thompo high many times, hallucinating on mushrooms. And while Ganc had always thought it hysterical to watch Thompo chase non-existent rabbits, he didn’t find it funny now—not in the least.
“I don’t get paid by the hour,” she said.
“Who gets paid by the hour?” he said, blinking back to reality.
Magmelda ignored his question; instead, she pulled up a chair and sat down with a great display of weariness. “Please, just draw. I’m tired, and I need sleep.”
Ganc was tired as well, and the desire to sleep flooded over him like a cool river on a hot summer evening. “Smashing idea, good. How about we both get some sleep and come back at this tomorrow after we’re good and rested.”
“No!” Magmelda said, striking the bench hard with her fist. “Were you not listening? Fate is here with us now, waiting. The threads are all around us. She will not abide this foolishness much longer.”
As recently as yesterday, Ganc’s life had been neat and easy—eat, sleep, axe, and timber. How quickly his world had changed.
Why was a seer allowed in Damshack in the first place? he thought. She’s dangerous—gods damn siege weapon of destruction, that’s actually what she is. She should be protected from the town. No, wait, the town should be protected from her. Why would my father allow a devil serpent such as her amongst the common folk anyway? When I am chief, the first thing I will do is burn her at the stake. It is my duty to protect my family and friends from—
She slapped him harshly across the face. “Ganc, stop trying to wiggle your way out of this. You must finish what you started.”
He recoiled, rubbing his face. “See here, we need to discuss this first. I mean, I’m good with the whole ‘crush the iron wood’ quest, ‘fertilize the forest.’ That’ll keep me busy for what, the next fifty years? I doubt I’ll even live long enough to finish this first question. The way I see it, my life is already dedicated to anumian pursuits now. Call me Ganc, the forest guardian. I’m fine to stop here—let’s get something to eat.”
She slapped him again. “Your path is as clear as a bridge spanning a river. Stay the course.”
“Stop that. I don’t like it, and I’m bigger than you. Besides which, I hate you,” he blurted. He thought for a moment about retracting such a harsh statement, but then he decided they both could live with it. If she’d been acting responsibly, she would have informed his father and thus prevented him from making such a brash, probably life-changing decision. He was too young to be—
She slapped him again, harder this time. Her third slap rattled his teeth.
“Stop it,” he snarled, rubbing his other cheek. “As your future chief, I command it.”
“Command me again when you are actually in charge. And hate me all you like, child—you owe me a favor, and I intend to collect. I’d much prefer to collect that favor here in Damshack, but if I must travel to Hell, so be it.”
Finding that thought oddly appealing, Ganc turned the second card.
C H A P T E R O G R A P H Y
S E A S O N 1 . 1
S E A S O N 1 . 2
Hatred of Chaldea
Gravers of Chaldea
P E R S O N A L D E T A I L S
R E L A T I O N S H I P S