by Grant Smuts
The Man Who Walks in Storms
The Ragged Man
As I awake, as my mind quickens, the rain falls harder. Thunder rumbles around me. Lightning bursts as I open my eyes. It is easy to think that the storm came from my awakening.
There are many sages who allege that the world has been constructed by the mind. That men follow blindly the dictates of the categorizations in which they place necessarily uniform things seems to indicate that this must be the case. Without form, the mind must be forced to expand beyond its bounds. So, to limit it, (lest the mind slip off the slope of sanity into merciless oblivion) the mind constructs from the void a shape in which it might be confined.
Yet the ways of men seemed to preclude the possibility that the world simply does not spring from their minds, but from the minds of those infinitely greater.
I lay bound beneath stone and littered with ash and debris. Yet I see no truth in these bindings. There is nothing that could confine me now, incomplete being though I am.
I sense him in the distance, moving further and further away. I sense, also, the minds of those long-forgotten, tossing and turning fitfully in the surge. I believe there is no truth to be found. No reality in which they might be spared. I feel them, as surely as a man might feel his own heartbeat thrumming softly in his chest.
I push upwards. The earth flies clear.
I look about, seeking raiment. I find only rags – the wizard’s bandages and his old tattered robes. It will have to do.
I have become… less. Yet also infinitely more. I seek my reflection in the pools of the nearby glade. I am monstrous. A thing out of the legends and nightmares of men. I dare not seek my former kin, for they will drive me away. I chaos embodied. Despair given form. An incomplete, wretched thing. As I think these things, the sky above festers with clouds; and it begins to rain. The storm, I would come to realize, would become a home to me, a place where I would belong. There was nothing remaining for me here, in the wreck of Nexfera’s laboratories. So I followed the voice that seemed to call my name to the west. I knew that somewhere out there, my grief would find solace, and my vengeance, satisfaction.
I am no longer Sylvine. I am the Ragged One, the beast that walks in storms.
As I wandered, I discovered that my prey would prove constantly elusive. Perhaps he senses me, as I sense him, wandering the world with the mutilated portion of my spirit. He is a part of me, and I of him. I will never forget his face. A face of madness, and mania, if such a thing can be said to have a face.
And I recall my dreams. I have stood in the wake of the dancing dust and thought of weaving with the needle of wind, words upon which my desires take flight. Soaring across the endless ebb of a dying world.
I have stood here in the valley of crowding absences wishing for worlds that the gods have not yet seen fit to countenance. This avenue leads to the sea where a man may drown himself in truth. I saw, bundled in the arms of the madman a shining hope for the future, praying for the storm and the past to consume it, seeking misery.
Half a prayer. Half a prayer? Something is wrong. Some sin was committed.
What madness lies here?
The Dream Nomad’s Child
I remember his abominable experiments. Remembered the homunculus he created. And if I suspect correctly, he would have handed the homunculus back to the people once they tracked him down. I will seek out this child. Our destinies are bound, united by the abomination Nexfera, who took some form of ourselves away from what we are. The gall. Yet perhaps together we might forge a destiny, we incomplete beings.
Yet as I followed their trail, I began to see that the Dream Nomads had returned to Gehara. What madness drove them back to that blighted plain?
Only monsters remain there now. Sure enough, I saw the Nomads embroiled in battle with the Beasts of Nevine. I watched their caravans sink beneath the sands, pulled down below by the grasp of those nightmarish monsters, blasted apart by their power, swallowed whole by their gluttony. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that this suicide mission was as much a part of Geharan culture as anything else. No wonder they seem to dwindle with every generation. I brought the storm to bear against the ancient beasts and scraped a victory for a single boy. As luck would have it, he carried the young homunculus. He looked up at me, fear in his eyes, and he fled west.
West… what lies to the west?
From this point till there there is nothing. Is there? Only the jeweled forest of Viridia… and… Valharrow.
A dozen holds lie between here and that city. And I sense that our destinies must be guided there. What might a false human do?
Valharrow. Half a wish.
Half a prayer.
Is it enough?
If it isn’t, then I will guide him. But first there is another matter.
There is still a wizard to deal with.