Journey's End

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Journey's End

Postby WithyWyrm » Fri Mar 03, 2006 11:46 am

Disclaimer: I stole two lines from LOTR. Otherwise this oddity is completely mine. Any thoughts? Anyone?
~WW

Journey’s End
The Ship, The Song, and The Spear

A woman hurried along the shore, her bare feet dimpling the pristine sand. The sun swept away dawn’s grey mantle with golden fingers to admire her glittering reflection on the topaz sea; her smile lent a rosy glow to the pallid strand. Black against its color stood the wreck.

The woman jabbed a quill pen fiercely behind one ear and gathered up her skirt in ink-spattered fingers. Splashing into the rising surf, she circled the battered dinghy, taking in its shredded sails and a jagged hole in its upturned stern.

She nodded to herself. “Yes. It was here.”

A bubbly laugh sounded behind her. Just beyond the breaking waves a girl with long, green hair floated. She molded the sea-foam in her long webbed fingers. The woman glimpsed a silver tail just beneath the blue-green waters.

“Look quickly!” The Mermaid lifted her hands to reveal a cluster of slender towers and shapely, intricate buildings. The ethereal citadel hung perfect for an instant on the wave’s crest, then crashed into nothing on the shore. “The sand washes it away.” She looked at the woman with sea-grey eyes. “I saw it. It is yours?”

The woman nodded.

“Then follow the path.” The Mermaid flicked her tail to the west, where sand turned to hills and a distant spire beckoned. Not waiting for thanks, the sea-maiden sank into the waves.


The woman trudged through hills thick with sea grass. Grey clouds lumbered overhead in a rumbling argument. Soon lightning speared the sky and fat violet raindrops pelted down, soaking her clothes and bouncing on the ground until thunder faded to hungry rumbling and the clouds ambled off to the sea arm in arm.

As the woman wrung out her skirt and hair she came to a sheltered valley. Flowers ran riot up the hillsides. Brilliant streaks of towering goldenrod and Indian paintbrush mingled with wild petunias and mums, milkweed and zinnias. Morning glory twined about the stems, each indigo blossom furled into a delicate parasol. At the far end of the valley stood a round tower of white marble roofed in gleaming red tiles. From it rose the spire the woman had seen from the beach.

As the woman drew near, she realized the windows that seemed to glitter in the afternoon sun were intricate paintings—each pane a masterpiece of illusion. At the base of the tower a door stood wide in its painted frame.

The woman stepped inside and into a fairy glade. Moss carpeted the floor in rich abundance, tickling her feet. Light trickled down from each painted window and diffused into shadowy twilight under the eaves of half-hidden trees.

In the center of the room a dapper man perched on a scarlet mushroom, a plate in one hand, a paintbrush in the other. His clothes might once have been crisp and white; now they bore a myriad of shifting hues and shapes. He flicked a tiny speck of yellow off his trim mustache and painted another seed on one of the ripe strawberries gleaming wetly on his plate.

The woman coughed politely. “I’ve lost…”

The Painter sprang up on his thin grasshopper legs. “Of course you have! Why else would you be looking for it?” He bowed so deeply that his nose brushed the tickly moss. “Achoo! Pardon me, would you care for a strawberry?”

The woman took it gingerly, marveling at the fine brush strokes. The first bite filled her mouth with summer-kissed sweetness. “It’s delicious.”

“But not quite real,” the Painter sighed.

“Some would say it was better than real.”

“I am afraid such things are in the eyes—or the mouth—of the beholder.” He sighed again. The man shook himself; little flecks of paint flew into the air and became a rainbow of dust motes.
“Now then! Moaning can’t help me find the real thing, nor lead you to it.” He pulled a medium-sized brush out of his vest and crossed the glade with bouncing strides.

The moment his brush touched the twilit trees they faded to something flat, almost concave, as if they were ordinary paintings on an ordinary tower wall. To either side the wood stood tangibly; the woman could smell sharp, crisp evergreens and moist undergrowth. It was real enough to walk into—or out of. She saw slanted yellow eyes watching her and hurried closer to the Painter.

With long generous strokes he painted a rough wooden frame around a rickety brown door. “I almost never paint the same door twice,” he murmured. “But to find it is important—most important, if I guess aright.” With a last stroke rays of sunlight crept in through the door and warmed the woman’s face. He opened it and gestured outside.

The valley had disappeared, and she looked out on a rugged country full of sudden drops and hills and tufts of heather. A faint trail meandered among prickly shrubs to the north.

“Thank you,” she curtsied to the Painter.

“No, no,” he shook his head and bowed even lower than before. “I must thank you. Now go, find it! Life cannot go on before you do.”


As the woman followed the path she gazed at her surroundings. Boulders like squatting giants sheltered frail, velvety violets; impromptu hills jutted toward the sky while narrow ravines fell away into shadow. Ahead a burst of color and movement caught her eye.

Two mossy hill-boulders with twin shocks of heather on their crowns formed a half-valley; between them the remains of a camp lay overturned. A skewed tent, ashes strewn everywhere, and several repulsive rodent-like carcasses told a tale of chaotic departure. The woman wandered here and there, staring long at the blurred markings in the sand.

“I say, have you lost something?” The woman looked up and saw that what she had first taken for a clump of heather was in fact an untidy nest. In its midst perched a rumpled-looking Gentleman covered in an eclectic assortment of plumage.

The woman smiled. “Yes, I have. Have you found it?”

A second Gentleman popped up on the other boulder. “It—er, hem, found us, er, rather.” He waved a flamboyant scarlet tail feather toward a distant haze of green. “It went on—hem! Yes, that way.” The woman thanked them; as she hurried out of the deserted camp the Gentlemen looked at each other.

“That crimson bit there would look dashing on me, don’t you think? Could you bear to give it up?”

“If you can—hem! Find a way to, er, part with that, er, plume of yours.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly. It’s the glue, you know…”


The green blur resolved itself into a diverse gathering of hardwoods. Elm, beech, oak, maple, ash, poplar, and hickory crowded together. The tall and regal rose next to squat and crabby neighbors, green supple saplings sheltered under hale old giants. The treetops rasped and whispered with constant movement. As the woman looked closely she could see thousands of bustling shapes, changing the leaves from green to auburn.

The woman paused from time to time, listening. At last the sound reached her—steel clashing, and mingled battle cries. She race toward its source, her bare feet silent on the springy loam.

A sweet female voice rose above the muted din. Its tones shimmered almost visibly through the forest; every noise died away at the incandescent loveliness of the wordless song. It encompassed a beauty beyond words, wisdom beyond the sun and the stars, a depth beyond the sea, a passion beyond the sky’s vast measure. Not a heart durst beat while the last lingering note yet lasted. Even the silence that came after seemed a sacred thing. The leaves trembled in a rustling sigh.

“That’s it,” the woman whispered.

She came to a glade in the middle of the grove. It was deserted. Deep gashes scarred the nearest trees; furrows tore the earth. A sulphurous substance lay in scattered puddles, consuming whatever it touched. Something huge and sinuous lay charred against a great stone pillar carven with ancient runes. A shattered sword glittered in the center of the clearing. The pieces lay in disarray in the grass. Its hilt was nowhere to be seen. The woman stared at it pensively, rearranging the shards into their original shape.

“You know it well,” A voice called down from a ruddy maple.

“Of course,” she called back, “it is my own.”

A tiny translucent creature fluttered down and alighted on her hand. His hummingbird wings thrummed as he peered up at her with elongated elfin features. “If it is yours, why is it off without you? Such things should be kept in hand.”

“I put it away for a while,” she explained sadly, “and it never came back to me.”

“You are close behind it now! You will surely find it again.” His smile widened until his pointed ears seemed a mere continuation of the expression. “I must be back to work—we’re terribly busy, you know.”

She smiled as he whirred back into the treetops. “I do.”


Underfoot the earth melted into a rank, spongy mixture. Shaggy clumps of reeds hunched over bubbling pools that belched nauseous clouds of steam; dark shapes slithered in their depths. Red eyes glowed from the shadowy mist. The woman searched the boundaries of the fens until she found a molding white stone that gleamed like a skull in the gloom. Beyond it lay a torturous path that wormed into deep stretches of fog and stench and bottomless pools.

Time slipped away; white fog hung like a pall low in the sky. Sometimes white stones would guide her way. More often she strayed from the path and floundered in reeking mud until she found firm ground again. Now and then the woman found signs of life—a scrap of cloth caught on a scraggly thistle, a footprint deep in the spongy peat. Her eyes lit up, and she set forth with new strength.

At last bog gave way to bare black stone. Tufts of yellow grass clung here and there in cracks and crevices. Wisps of fog scudded like lonely ghosts across the ground. Firelight glowed in a tiny halo that held off the twilight under the mists.

A Crone bent intently over her dark, round cistern. The flickering peat fire cast its uncertain light upon her ancient features. Skin lined deeply with age and memory clung to her fragile skull beneath wisps of cobweb hair. Her grey cloak fluttered eerily in the breeze, as though she might spread her arms and glide away.

The woman knelt beside the Crone and gazed into the well. Its dark waters sank deep and clear as crystal, down into the unfathomed holdings of the earth. In its heart something glimmered as it sank ever deeper into shadow. It gleamed dimly, a bare spark in the night of eternity.

The woman looked away. “It’s gone, Mother. I cannot reach it.”

The Crone looked at her with eyes black and sharp. “Why dost thou call me that, child? No daughters or sons have I borne.”

“But you are wise, and I am less so,” the woman rejoined. “And what is a daughter but a learner?”

The Crone cackled. “Thou art wise already, methinks, for thou hast learned to speak in riddles. But thy difficulty is scarcely a riddle to one such as I.” The old one bent over her cistern and dipped her gnarled claw into the still water. In the Crone’s hand appeared the golden thing, still infinitely remote, yet golden bright against her yellow skin. “Perhaps, child, things are not so distant as they seem. Hist!” The crone pointed into the mists. “I hear it even now upon the mountain. Go, and thou shalt be in time.”

The Crone raised her black stick in farewell as the woman plunged on into the mists. The stone underfoot grew steep and broken. The mists fell away. Black against the dying sun the mountain loomed before her. Blacker still yawned the cave that wounded its mighty flank. Smoke poured from it, thick as blood.

Pressing a sleeve over her mouth, the woman stumbled beneath the stinging cloud until her feet found a stair that led downwards and inwards. When the smoke thinned the woman saw that she stood halfway on the wall of a pit.

Its dark sides rose in a torturous climb broken only by the single, winding stair. Red light glared from a well of fire, as harsh and garish as the Crone’s had been still and deep. A bubbling cauldron on a crooked tripod spat sparks of red and vermilion. They lashed the shadows into a weird and lifelike dance, restless as the unburied dead, roving the soot-blacked pit. Twisted structures of metal and wood cowered in the corners like tormented beasts. In the midst of all stood the Sorcerer.

His hair hung to his knees, fiercely white against robes of harsh onyx. Thin and hawkish, taller than the tallest of men, he towered over the two figures huddled at his feet. A man in bloody armor gripped a broken spear; a lady in a long, ragged dress clutched his arm. The Sorcerer raked the sky with yellowed talons. His howl of triumph rent the air.

The woman caught her breath. “This is it.” She whipped out her quill.

“The well!” The Lady screamed.

The Warrior lunged to his feet and flung the spear, not at the Sorcerer himself, but straight into the pit of flame. As it touched the flames the spear quivered with a life of its own and sped deep into the heart of the mountain.

The Sorcerer’s cry changed to a shriek of fear. He stumbled toward it, reaching as though to call the weapon back. The mountain shuddered; the well split into a fiery chasm. The Sorcerer hovered on its hungry lip, talons outstretched, a pale vulture deprived of its prey. With a look of utter hatred he fell into the abyss. The light went out.

Like the sigh of a thousand souls, a breeze passed through the darkness. The smoke drifted away. Far above silvery sprites wandered into the velvety heavens. Each joined in the elegant dance, untroubled and unchanging over the joys and sorrows of men. Their shepherd looked down with his pale, round face and lent a silvery glow to the pit and its occupants.

The woman trotted down the stairs, blotting her quill on an inky palm. The Warrior and the Lady stood hand in hand and stared at an ugly crack in the floor. It was all that remained of the firewell and its master. The woman beamed at them as she jabbed the pen behind her ear. “Well done, both of you! Very well done.”

The Warrior looked at her strangely. “Do we know you?”

“Do you?”

The Lady stepped closer. Her fair hair hung draggled around an angular face, sharpened by weariness and toil, pale and ash-smudged. But her eyes shone bright and quick as they searched the woman’s face. “Yes,” she said at last. Her voice was low and musical. “Yes, I think we do.”

“Good. Now, after all of this, you certainly deserve some say in the ending. I don’t suppose you want another adventure?” The woman looked at them wistfully.

“No, my lady. What we want—” the Warrior paused and looked at his companion.

The Lady smiled and stood beside him. “What we want is to live happily to the end of our days.”

The woman smiled. She took the quill from behind her ear.


The Moon leaned on his staff, watching the constellations end their intricate dance and fall asleep one by one. To the east a glow soft as a rose petal eased the sharp clarity of night. The world seemed softer in its light; even mortals slept quietly.
As the sun stirred just beneath the horizon, the Moon sighed and turned away. In her light the brief lives of men grew restive. Like foam on the waves or the turn of the tide, they were gone in a moment; precious few truly found what they sought. He wrapped himself in his cloak of blue and joined the stars in celestial slumber. Far below on the earth’s russet cheek two figures came at last to journey’s end.

}~{

© C.A.Z. 2006
Last edited by WithyWyrm on Tue Mar 07, 2006 10:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby *yona* » Sat Mar 04, 2006 3:18 pm

WW: Wow! That was wonderful!
I especially liked your manner of putting imagery into it throughout; 'fat, violet raindrops.' It just felt right, although raindrops are never Violet. Periwinkle, leaden, or slate grey, they are, but when I tried them into that sentance they didn't work right. Violet just has a better feel, can't explain it.
'...Thunder faded to hungry rumbling and the clouds ambled off to sea arm in arm.' Loved it. Particulary the arm-in-arm. Maybe marched might have been used instead of ambled, in my mind the hurried scudding off of rainclouds after a storm seems more purposeful then ambled.
I liked all the descriptions:
The beach, the hills, the heathery valley, the forest, the swamp, the black barren rock, the mountain and the dark cave, to the moon and his musings. Loved the mermaid, with her 'molded seafoam'. {Makes my wonder about your Aquatic tale, and the mermaids there.}
Exceptionally well done images.

"...rearranging the shards into their original shape.
“You know it well,” A voice called down from a ruddy maple.
“Of course,” she called back, “it is my own.”
A tiny translucent creature fluttered down and alighted on her hand. His hummingbird wings thrummed as he peered up at her with elongated elfin features. “If it is yours, why is it off without you? Such things should be kept in hand.”
“I put it away for a while,” she explained sadly, “and it never came back to me.”
“You are close behind it now! You’ll surely find it again.” His smile widened until his pointed ears seemed a mere continuation of the expression. “I must be back to work—we’re terribly busy, you know.”
She smiled as he whirred back into the treetops. “I do.”

I love this passage! [I love the whole thing, this passage just seems to sum up the spirit of the whole.] It is beautiful and delicate, and... tantilizing! I'm afraid I cannot resist tantilization. What is it that the pixies do? And what does the shattered sword symbolize?
As a matter of fact, what does the story tell of? I can tell it is something about the writer, and her tale, but the deeper shades , although I almost think at times I can make them out, consistently elude me.
This is a beautiful piece of writing, and a pleasure to read. Please let us know a little deeper into the misty meaning, it is too good to be allowed to remain a elusive mystery.

Thanks for putting this up for us to read!
Yona
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Postby WithyWyrm » Tue Mar 07, 2006 10:43 am

yona:
Thank you! I'd try to answer your questions...but I'm not precisely sure myself what this strange world entails. It's a wonderful thing to wonder about, but the story is too vague, I think. Hmm. I'll work on that.

As this is a WIP, I've made some new revisions to the first post.

~WW
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Postby *yona* » Thu Mar 09, 2006 7:24 pm

Wythy! (Do you mind if I call you that? It sounds so airy and springy, like wisps of cloud on a summer breeze, larks in the tall grass, little white flowers cascading over the branches of the bush that bare them... I just really like it. Of course if you prefer not, I'll address you as WW. Just let me know.)
This is still a beautiful little piece.
I love it, even if I can't understand every bit of it. Thanks, again, for putting it up, I've enjoyed it very, very much!
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Postby WithyWyrm » Thu Mar 09, 2006 7:40 pm

It's also a handy nickname. :wink: Of course you may call me Withy; I rather like it too. I sign my posts WW because the initials refer to more than one identity. :roll:
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