The Only Way
The path he takes winds briefly through the forest before returning him to the primary trail. There are many routes one can take whilst wandering through this endless wood, routes spanning innumerable treks, routes straining to stretch even one. Most wanderers follow the paths carved by those who came before, few blaze trails for those who come next, and fewer yet walk the ground where no ‘man has set his foot. Albey is none of these, yet Albey is all of them, depending on the day; today he walks slowly until he doesn’t walk at all.
Nobody knows if the endless wood truly is endless; to confirm such a thing would surely take a ‘man’s Life before that ‘man had the chance to spread the word. There is one ‘man known to Albey, if he is a ‘man at all, who may have a chance at learning the truth to this mysterious land unfurled before them. A mechomancer, the only one of his kind, known simply as The Dirtbiker. He does not travel by foot nor does he travel alone; through the wood he rides his metallic steed, a mechanical vessel of metal and rubber which tows many a’cart behind it. There are too many to know them all; some provide The Dirtbiker with sustenance, some vanquish all who stand in his way, some carry that which is too heavy to be hauled. One is a trailblazer, a clearer of ground, and this cart paves his way. Some believe The Dirtbiker is responsible for all the rivers of dirt which run through the endless wood, but though he may be Mad, Albey knows better. No ‘man is eternal, no creature can outrace time no matter how fast his metallic steed carries him; The Dirtbiker’s Trail is a long trail indeed, as endless as the wood itself, but it did not come from Before, nor did the one who blazes it. Nobody did; in the Before there was only game. ‘Twas these denizens who carved the trails.
According to Iuqon, whose mastery of magicks was eclipsed only by the wellspring of knowledge cached beneath his white mane, the denizens of the endless wood used to be bigger in the primal days of the Before. Gargantuan, bordering on monstrous, even; the whitetail deer we know today were seen then as rabbits, squirrels, raccoons if they survived to grow large enough. They would prance through this wilderness unabated, guided only by the scents of those who walked with them and the sounds they made when they walked. Herbivores came and went in the same directions, returning to the same groves and pastures as time restored them to full bloom, but the carnivores were nomadic. The predators followed the prey from the shadows, sharing in their footsteps only when such provide a feast of fresh kill. Nothing lasts forever; the layers of Life passed covering the forest floor eventually gave way to long stretches of bare earth, the soil dark, rich and loamy, hard enough to hold the weight of those they carried yet soft enough to capture the footprints they left in their wake.
Today Albey lays in a heap of woe upon one such stretch of bare earth, and though the soil has been bleached of its earthen tones of brown, it still keeps a record of those who walk upon it, and faithfully at that. All too faithfully. Tears drip from Albey’s running nose into the shallow craters dug by The Triad on their way to the Tower, on their way to see it fall… and now that it has fallen, now that The Triad is broken, there is only one way left to go.
The road between the site of the Battle at Jericho Tower and The Lodge on The Hillside is a long one, tortuous and unforgiving, and many paths branch off it. Some lead to grassy clearings, some lead to other pathways yet; the path Albey fell at the mouth of is only the first of this many, and weeping in the dirt like an unfathered whelp will not bring him home any faster. He picks himself up and heads in the direction of The Lodge, not bothering to bat the dust off.
Only once does Albey take pause before returning to The Lodge, at the mouth of yet another branching path. He knows not where this path leads for he has never dared to walk down it, but he was told a rumor, one spread by the ‘man who claims to make his home there. Gobon the In’Fluence, the ‘man in white, a sickly, twiggish thing of yellow hair and yellow eyes who dresses himself in a white suit the color of broken eggshells. It’s a remarkably clean suit, one unstained by the wilderness around it, for its wearer is something of a sorcerer himself. He’s no apprentice, that Gobon, hardly to be considered adept when basked in the light which Iuqon once radiated, but nor was he useless. He tried to help The Triad, tried to steer them in a different direction, away from Jericho Tower and to his own home, a hollow space concealed by many trees. The Triad refused outright – Iuqon, never one to whisper into the minds of his comrades, did just that to Albey when they encountered the In’Fluence earlier in the day. He said Gobon was not to be trusted, that all would be revealed to him by sundown… well the sun approaches the horizon now, and Iuqon isn’t here to explain himself.
Mayhap they should have listened. Mayhap Iuqon was simply jealous that he was no longer the only ‘man gifted in the mystic art of magicks, mayhap Jericho Tower could still stand… or mayhap the Rotting Ents would simply have toppled it themselves. Mayhap their wretched ranks would still roam this endless wood.
Albey sighs. “Mayhap this was the only way,” he says, knowing it to be true. And that’s the most painful part, is it not? That all things have an end they must come to, no matter how good those things may be. “Mayhap The Triad was meant to be broken, mayhap I was meant to wander this wood alone.”
The Mad Poet straightens up. The Lodge isn’t getting any closer.
This has been the second subchapter of the Exordium of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
The Hillside Commons has a Facebook page. Here’s that.
If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~