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The Circle of Bones

By Alexandre Mandarino

The Circle of Bones

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The sound of the horse's hooves was pleasant to Hnuu's ears. After two hours of riding, the noises had turned into a familiar rhythm that calmed him, urging him to move on. Under normal conditions, this stimulus would not have been necessary for the calm warrior of the black spear; but that mission was unexpected and unusual. Hiiasaa, the chief and health-guard of his tribe-citadel, had summoned him in the middle of the night, at the exact time in which the dying ones yield to the whisper of death. The conditions and news of the recent weeks were strange, that's true; but even the old Fjaldas would not have imagined the mission Hnuu would face. These vague thoughts were cut by a sharp and low wooden branch, which scratched the warrior's face and made him realize he had finally arrived at the shores of the Old Anachronistic Forest. He dismounted from the horse; his numb feet felt the soft soil taken by moss.

He looked around and saw only the darkness of dawn. He approached his horse and whispered something in its ears; those were words in a language that only the descendants of the First Triumvirate still talked. The horse dropped his head, proudly showing he had understood, but still making himself available to his rider, in case he came to his senses and changed his mind. He would dismiss it there? At that time?

A pat on the side of its head and the animal understood that the instructions were actually those: it should return to the stables in the Light Houses. Just a few meters more and the horse had disappeared in the darkness, even for eyes like Hnuu's, who now felt relieved. He dared not risk the safety of a mount of that kind. It had been useful until that point, but that part of the Anachronistic had not been touched by elven feet for centuries and centuries. Well, by elven feet other than his feet. Yes, he, whom Hnuu should find. As the meeting approached the warrior started to question the wisdom of the decision taken by Hiiasaa. Everyone knew that the Formless should not be sought. But, by the tears of Cureiima, the Queen Fallen from the Cliffs, at least his horse would not have to take a chance at the Old Forest by his fault. He laid his hand on the hilt of the sword, very light on his belt, and took the first step into the Anachronistic.

His eyes now opened to the darkness, with the large and horizontal pupils taking up all the vitreous humor. Ten steps forward and his peculiar vision had transformed the dense darkness into something softer. It seemed, in fact, as if he was in the very last hours of the dawn, when the Moon becomes uncertain and beams its last rays before the Sun. But even though now he could see with relative ease, the forest still troubled him. The main problem wasn't not seeing in the dark, but knowing he was in the dark.

He lost track of how long he was walking there aware of the scant signs that had been confided to him by Hiiasaa. The small and shiny cave behind the concave waterfall; the junction of the high and curved rivers; the pristine clearing amid the grove of golden sequoias; the ferns and lianas that fell from the ancient ruins of statues erected by the Unspeakable. And the more Hnuu walked, more new wonders he found in the endless pitch. Packs of feline-wolves who licked themselves in a moonlight bath; the Stair of Sounds, where each step vibrated a note — and every tenth step played a short melody under his feet; the Patio of the Names, ruins where he heard, far away, his forename being said in all existing languages. He only could understand three of those languages — and it was that, more than all the rest he saw in that endless dawn, that made Hnuu feel small and helpless.

He didn't walk by the darkness at random, but following step by step instructions that Hiiasaa had made him memorize in the days before the trip. He was not allowed to know why, but it was essential not to put on paper such instructions. The map and the order in which such wonders and horrors would arise had to be memorized like an old cathedral of sounds, images and expectations that were being confirmed — or exceeding themselves — as they were been founded. The ancestor cuts made in an almost imperceptible and delicate manner on the hulls of the Blue Oaks; arrows in the sand pointing to the North, torn by the feet of forgotten pilgrims; the trail in the highlands that run parallel to the Cascade of Thunder; all of this took him closer to the Gap of Dews and thus to the presence of the Formless.

Hnuu was tired and surprised for not having to draw his sword even once when he saw himself in the Gap of Dews, surrounded by the Woods of Those Who No Longer Speak. Consciously avoiding to remember the origin of this name, Hnuu transposed it in a rush and finally, in the middle of the Gap, there it was: a blue hut built by The Formless ages ago... how many years ago?

He approached without quite knowing what to do. A condition that was not common to Hnuu, whom for decades and decades was known as the calm warrior of the black spear. The silence in the gap was complete. Not even his footsteps could be heard. When he stopped less than ten feet from the door of the hut, another event not trivial to Hnuu's life took place: someone surprised him from behind. A low and grave voice said:

— You're the first visitor I've seen here since these trees were bushes.

He turned back. There he was: almost seven feet tall, austere but patient; pale skin and black eyes with wide horizontal pupils. The white hair fell on the moss-green clothes. Layaan the Disappeared. The Formless. Hnuu immediately bowed his right knee on the grass and said, with his thumbs over the forehead:

— Layaan, the one whose after centuries and centuries had his name translated by children as The Disappeared. It is with humility that I come here after having ridden for two hours and walked on foot for two lives, asking for your help. Your people need you, Disappeared.

Layaan, puzzled, approached and gently made the other raise himself.

— I... I do not know about what you speak. I... You, you're like me. — and carefully observed Hnuu before saying:

Yes... Yes, it's true. You are from my people. My people... It is curious to think of myself again as something plural. As part of something other than this wilderness and these forests. But, yes ... I imagine that for you I really became the Disappeared. In fact, it amazes me that I have not simply been renamed as the Forgotten, or worse: have not been really forgotten.

— ...

— But my manners are rusty after all this time. Come on, let's enter. I have clean water, fresh begonias wine made by myself and egg-breads.

The interior of the cabin was far less austere than its facade. The light of the lanterns allowed to glimpse tables and shelves filled with books and maps; scrolls in languages Hnuu don't even remember that existed; family trees erected with care; on tables made of live trees were plants, ferns and small portals-of-fish where it was possible to observe micro-carps and sea horses in their eternal dance. The food was plentiful and soon Hnuu had rested from his arduous journey up there.

— So they call you Hnuu the Calm Warrior of the Black Spear? — asked Layaan.

— Yes. You know how those battle nicknames are, they flee out of control. — Hnuu said, embarrassed.

Layaan smiled:

— Yes, I know it very well. But I also see that you do not carry a black spear, but a sword.

— I left it in the Hall of Trophies of Hiiasaa, as a gift to him and our ancestors.

— Good to see that you cherish more the "Calm" from your nickname than the mention to weapons. They are always so fleeting. It is unwise to allow that others confuse us by what we carry with us. I see that you are a good warrior.

Hnuu smiled and got even more embarrassed. It was that legendary figure who said that to him, the very Disappeared. And now, in that dining room, under the fugacious light of the dawn that refused to die and shone in the wide windows of the cabin, that almost mythical elf did not seem so mysterious or even so different from Hnuu himself. As if divining the warrior's thoughts, Layaan said:

— The Disappeared ... It's a comic name, at least from my point of view. Obviously, to me, I never disappeared. So you rode and walked all the way up here at Hiiasaa's request? The old Hiiasaa... I barely remember his face. And neither remember you, my friend. I suppose I didn't meet you in the Light Houses before my departure. Do you have always lived there?

— Yes. I was born in the Light Houses and with the exception of one or another enterprise worldwide, have always lived there.

Contemplative, Layaan asked:

— How old are you, if you allow me to intrude?

— Two thousand years.

— Two thousand... So... That explains why I do not remember you. You were just a child when I left the world of our people. It's been all this time...

— You have been living here alone for two thousand years?

— Yes, now I see that... yes.

— If you allow me to make another question, why did you came here? Our people are gregarious and sociable, not only by nature, but by necessity.

— I... I had some disappointments. And I always enjoyed the solitude, as I recall. Yet... two thousand years...

Hnuu took another sip of the dry wine of begonias and let his host stay absorbed in his thoughts. After long minutes of silence, in which several images seemed to pass through Layaan's face, he finally got up and said:

But forgive me... You must be tired from the journey. The long dawn of these lands is finally going away and soon the sun will rise. You ate and drank and now needs rest. Tomorrow, under the daylight, I'm sure the novelties you'll bring me will be happier and if there is any bad news, they will sound not so dreary.

Hnuu was taken to a guest room that seemed to have never been used, although it was clean. There, under the curtains of liquid-jade that filtered the sun rays into twilight, he rested, although having a collection of not very well understood dreams.

The morning came after what seemed to have been weeks of sleep. The appetizer was complete: beet salad with legitimate girychri from the regions at the south of the river Uanyia; more egg-breads; jars of carrot juice; malyyr cheese cut in perfect dices. Almost all of it had been grown or produced at the fields by Layaan. In the end, while he politely wiped his mouth with napkins made of myyr, Layaan asked what was the reason of the warrior's visit, after all. Hnuu looked at him for a few seconds as if trying to address the issue under a more rational angle. Finally, he decided just to tell:

— Hiiasaa asked me to come here. He... knows you requested that no one looked for you here, but it is a curious matter.

— I made this request to him and others from the Light Houses, but it was so long ago that, to my own surprise, I am grateful that they have ignored it at this point. Your arrival is welcome.

— Thank you. It was with many misgivings that I began this journey. Not only about the danger of the trip, but I did not want to disregard the will of an elf so...

Layaan gestured with his hand, as one who dismantles an invisible castle of cards, indicating that the fears of the other had no reason to be. Hnuu continued:

— Well, there's no way of saying this in a normal manner, so... The issue is that many of ours have disappeared. They were mostly warriors in distant lands or mysterious journeys through absurd corners. But also small traders, farmers, beautiful ladies and even not very recommendable types.

— These disappearances have happened under what circumstances ?

— The most varied ones. As far as we could see, there is no linking pattern. Here, Hiiasaa asked to turn over to you this list of the names of the missing persons and, wherever possible, the places in which they disappeared.

Layaan briefly read the list and said:

— Yes, it seems it doesn't have a pattern. But... How do they know the places these folks disappeared?

— Well... That's the thing. They are not disappearances, in the strict sense.

— ...?

— Some of them disappeared under the sight of others who were around them or nearby.

— You mean they were seen disappearing?

— Yes. Some of them, yes. A few.

— Hnuu, tell me exactly what happened to those people.

— What exactly happened is a mystery, but the process, as far as we could intuit, was as follows: some of the missing were seen disintegrating in midair. And others, whose disappearances were not witnessed, had his remains found some time later.

— Remains?

— The circle of bones.

— ...? Hnuu, what...

— Their bodies fell apart in midair in mere seconds. No matter what they were doing: walking, talking, fighting, sleeping, eating, watching the horizon... There are no common aspects linking all cases. Only the conclusion: each of them broke up, their bodies falling into a horrible cascade and leaving in their places only a circle of bones. No blood, hair, organ remains, clothing, weapons, nothing. Just some of the bones of their bodies, always arranged in a hideous and mathematically circular way. Perfect circles.

— That's horrible. Did it happen only to our people?

— As far as we know. We have not heard any reports involving other races. Here — and took a piece of paper from his belongings -, this is a drawing of one of the remains of bones, made by Lambeeth, the artist.

Layaan took the paper and carefully watched the portrait. About ten or twelve pieces of bones of the body of an elf forming a perfect circle.

— This drawing was made after a handful of bones found within the very walls of the Light Houses. A lady. We thought of placing a portal-of-birds over the remains so you could see them here, using a second portal that I would have brought with me. But Hiiasaa was vehemently against it; he said it would be reckless, because he imagines that the attacks — if that's what they were — could have been engineered using some kind of portal. But of course, we investigated all the scenes we found, by various means. Our best magicians, men-of-the-law, warriors and ladies-of-poetry looked at all aspects of those sites.

— Did you call witches of men? — asked Layaan.

— Yes, sometimes. Some of the best wizards of the race of men living in the Valley of Gorúndua visited some of the scenes, in courtesy. They were stupefied, like us.

— No signs of portals?

— Of any kind. They are very rare, as you know — said Hnuu, with a glance at the portals-of-fish found on the tables of Layaan's room.

— Yes... They are acquired only with great difficulty, in distant voyages. Or manufactured by the arcane arts that escape me entirely. Hiiasaa used to produce some.

— He still does, but less and less. He is older now.

— Yes, I suppose.

— I still have to deliver to you one last thing: this bone. — Hnuu said, extending to Layaan a tiny bone of a ring finger. — Hiiasaa said that he could intuit this would be useful to you thanks to your former training. It belonged to the lady I mentioned and was part of the circle that formed the basis for the drawing I gave you. The old health-guard said that during your journey you should "point forward using the finger of a fallen."

Layaan took the small bone and looked at him puzzled. It was gelid. Was that a tremor on the finger that he felt while putting it down on the table? After a few seconds, he said:

— Well, from what I saw on this list, 89 of our people have disappeared this way.

— These are those we know for certain. We suspect there are many others. We believe that this phenomenon has started a few months ago. Three at most. When we saw that we would not discover what it was causing it, we decided to ask for your help.

— And of course I will help you. I'll leave this afternoon, as soon as I prepare my weapons and my horse.

— You can count on my help. — Hnuu said, humbly.

— It would be an honor to ride next to a warrior of your stature, but I would be unwise to deprive the Light Houses of another combatant in the midst of this situation. And I'm married for so long with solitude that she would be sad if I left her behind, knitting.

Hnuu departed on a new horse, recruited by Layaan at the spirit-mews located at the Woods of Those Who No Longer Speak. "Take the north, not the south, even though this is the direction to the Light Houses," said the host to the warrior. "The Old Anachronistic Forest has bended directions that play with time. To the North, in diagonal, you will reach the tribe-citadel in half an hour. "

Three hours had passed since Hnuu's departure and Layaan was ready. In addition to Trafalgar, his horse, he took as companies his sword, the bow and arrows of ivory-smoke, provisions of dark lettuce and spices against heat and cold, the annotations and the bone of an annular finger delivered by Hnuu, among other offal meant for hobby and leisure. As soon as he locked up his hut with astral and physical protections, Layaan mounted Trafalgar, pulled out the bone finger and confirmed what he had already guessed. The severed limb was actually trembling and — worse — confirmed his more terrible suspicion: the finger resting on the palm of his hand was pointing to the East.

He had never before travel to the East without suffering terrible losses.

The first day passed without major events, unless we count the flock of golden birds from the Sacred Nest of Beyond-Bay that bowed their curious wings over Trafalgar's head. The dead female ring finger on the palm of Layaan always pointed to the East at the few times it was handled; since the elf loathed that remarkable artifact, he kept it almost always inside his purse.

The second day was populated by large, sunny glades; by the chanting of crickets and insects that not even Layaan could promptly identify and by small doses of sleep next to bushes, watched by Trafalgar. The trip was so far marked by the horizon, whose crooked line sang songs of promises of arrival and memories of things that were yet to born. The pace in the third day was different, since Layaan found himself attacked by a small group of Covered Reavers; from their denuded left hands — the only part of their bodies not hidden by the gray-lynx leather — came horrific screams. Trafalgar jumped on them, imposing, while Layaan didn't have the opportunity to wield his sword: the recognition that they dealt with an elf was enough to scare the Covered.

The night fell without dreams but illuminated by stars that, in those parts of the Not-Yet-Discovered Forests, spun in a rhythm noticeable to the naked elven eye.

When the Sun reached the top of its throne the next day, Layaan stopped to bathe in the legendary Cascade of Stalagmites, where vast amounts of crystal water flowed from what the old ones used to say were the remains of a woman-giant from an extinct race. It was difficult to confirm this at that point. The truth is that the ride was already restarted for many hours when Layaan finally realized that the trip had resumed.

It was in the tenth day that Layaan realized that he finally had reached a part of the forest that he did not know; he looked to the sky and tried to guess, by the direction to which the clouds were blowing, whether that area still belonged to the Not-Yet Discovered Forest, to the Mimic Woods of the East or even to the most eastern part of the Old Anachronistic Forest. Finally. He was lost. He smiled with satisfaction and rode harder toward his inevitable escape.

It was in the tenth day and a half that Layaan understood that, for the first time in centuries, he thought with interest about things that made him laugh.

It was in the twentieth day that Layaan realized he did not know if he was in the tenth or thirtieth day of the ride. It no longer mattered. Only the East counted, indicated by the bone ring finger that refused to point to its rest. He understood from the beginning that if Hiiasaa had sent his best warrior on a journey into the wilderness to seek a shade who had lived as a hermit for two millennia, there was something different happening. And this; this mix of excitement and slight fear made him enjoy his trip in a new and strange way.

It didn't matter to him that a nine feet tall ogre with two heads — both lisp — had attacked him in the middle of the night, as happened on the fifteenth day. Nor that naked fairies with hair made of tubes of silk and green deadlocks had approached him in his bed of leaves, as in the twenty-third day. What mattered was the path; each patch of grass just two inches long, indistinguishable from each other and at the same time entirely different thanks to what they had witnessed in their immobility; every hiss, howl, singing or voice (voice?) that talked to his soul along the road; every and any merchant dwarf lost with bags of pots and pans in the middle of the field, weaving conversations with his loneliness; and one or other drop of dew that he perceived to be different, for carrying in themselves — and only there — the tears of an entire genealogy of trees versed in their near extinction. Everything was Layaan and he knew that against these wonders he was also another wonder himself. And this way he was nothing.

And it was like nothing that he jumped from the top of the Giraffe's Gorge Falls, at an unspeakable height, to retrieve a piece of poetry written for him centuries ago (two millennia?) by Fazaala, of the same blond hair that waved in his confused memory. And it was like wonder that he rose from the waters at the Lake of Things That Pass (newly baptized by himself), without his bow and arrows but with the papyrus of verses in his hand, rescued and intact thanks to the resistence of the Paper-Memory made at the Light Houses; a paper that incessantly dialogued with speech and thought and, therefore, would never let anything written on it get lost — except by the conscious will of its owners or unaware desire of its original authors.

The joy of the trip was mixed with concern for the dead elves and the bones placed in circular shapes, but Layaan knew he had been in that forests for so many and many and many centuries exactly to do something similar to the journey he was now undertaking. Now he could better understand his choice of loneliness, made at the time for reasons he no longer remembered well. Trafalgar looked sideways, imposing, glad for being part of something that he knew his friend had been anxious for, even without realizing, for so much time.

And time was the third traveling companion of the two, until it became the actual leader of the quest. Layaan slept under the canopies of Blue Oaks and dreamed with Strobe-Fireflies; he drank water from creeks he knew contained traces of the Sacred Melted Snow of Zang'or; he looked at the treetops at night while they hid and once more revealed the Moon. And the Moon was another Moon at each unveiling.

Since time is a loyal friend only in its time, it wasn't long (or was it short?) until Layaan got lost in a maze of barbed wire haphazardly erected by the Saragoça Spiders; until he lost part of the scrolls and inscriptions sent by Hiiasaa while passing by the house of the Fire Nymphs that walk naked; after this everything started to look like in the legends of the old and dead villagers from the First Kingdom of Men. Truly boring and tragic ones they were; but these were the outlines the trip decided to adopt and dress.

Layaan walked for days on end through the deserts of Qu'aar and the bone finger in his hand — or in his handbag — always pointed to the same East. The same distant, unattainable and, until a few days ago, promising East. It was toward this East that Layaan went up and down dunes, collected muddy water from underground Fairy Wells and regretted not having brought with him one of his portals-of-fish. Beside him trotted Trafalgar; crestfallen, ashamed for not presenting the strength to take its friend on its shoulders.

The end of the desert was marked by the arrival of a huge storm, which Layaan received in despair and frenzied pleasure, open-mouthed at the sky of dark purple clouds. Later on, bushes of green cotton — known thitherto only as a legend by the elves — served as mattress for rider and mount; ahead, huge iron-bamboos that adorned the way were a sign they had reached the mythical land of the sacis, goblins that were black as night and with one leg, who attacked them in groups of more than two hundred at a time. It was there that Trafalgar fell in battle, just before Layaan poured what was registered in the history of the black goblins as the Scream of Death of the Two-Legged Pale Knight. Heads rolled and the blood of sacis showered the field, that would serve as a tomb and tombstone for the horse.

Transparent snakes telling tales of sailors lost at sea appeared ahead, only to guarantee safe passage for Layaan while remaining silent after realizing his was the one they spoke about in whispers: the last untold story. With the sword in his hands and just the poem and the ring finger in the bag, Layaan walked through that nameless land for days and days, eating the fruits that appeared along the way and sleeping in occasional fairy rings, because in those parts fairies would be the lesser of his concerns.

The days, months and years of travel were mixed, their sizes rescaled; by this time the journey itself was multiplied in number, with each small stop making the original destination and the final purpose be forgotten and at the same time get closer. More and more the quest was becoming a second exile to Layaan and, for the first time, he thought of himself as the Disappeared that Hnuu talked about.

The Formless.

Only now he could fully understand that nickname. It had been employed regarding his future, not his past exile.

It was with these thoughts that Layaan, emaciated by famine, prostrated by the desert and with the sword in one hand and the dead finger on the other (where he had lost the purse? In the fight against the Men of Salt? Or at the cave-prison from where only the voice escapes?)... No. Wait. The poem is still here with him.

Here with him.

The poem is still.

No wait.

The voice escapes.

It was with these thoughts that Layaan, emaciated by time, prostrated by nostalgia from what was yet to come and with the sword in one hand and the dead finger on the other, a poem stuck in his belt, came to a clearing that gave off an odor that he never had felt before.

He walked to the exact center of the clearing and sat, his legs crossed on the grass. He opened his left hand, which bore the dead woman's finger and saw that piece of bone was spinning nonstop. There. He had finally arrived.

The East.

No longer needing that piece of death that sickened him, he flung the finger away and saw that it turned to dust in midair. The white powder fell slowly, spreading on the grass dotted with bits of sunshine. Layaan took the paper in his belt and once again read the poem written by Fazaala, given to him at that day in the open air under the porticoes made of green stones at the Gardens From the High.

Reread it; and read it a third time. He closed his eyes and inhaled the words and the verses and with them all his remembrances of poems, paintings, songs, sculptures, portals-of-art, orbs of invented memories, plays with puppetry, recitals and festivals-of-dance he had already seen or created; he exhaled all the kisses and joy that he had once felt or offered. He opened his eyes, folded the piece of Paper-Memory and shaped it carefully in a pocket in his belt. He leaned on his sword — his only friend there — and walked forward.

A few yards ahead he saw that a spot on the fringes of the clearing was occupied by the ruins of a tower. Its design was distinct from any school, period, style or race he knew — and he had spent a large part of two thousand years reading about — and finding — things like that. The tower of rounded stones now was little less than nine feet tall and its roof had collapsed... how much time ago? There weren’t debris on the floor anymore, now taken over by the grass. Lots of time.

And then he recognized the sound.

Mild but still unmistakable. He had heard it only once, two thousand and five hundred years before, on a quest with Hiiasaa. Yes, there it was, mimicked in a corner of the tower.

A portal-of-men.

With almost three feet tall and three feet wide, it hissed. But what was shown from the other side was just pitch.

Layaan wielded his sword tightly, took his left hand to his forehead in respect to the great Miira and crossed the edgeless porch, dipping in the dark.

The darkness on the other side was milky and the eyes of Layaan expanded their wide horizontal pupils to the limit. Some kind of snoring from sinister creatures sounded far away, echoing through the air. Layaan soon realized he was in a small room in the dark; he groped and found a window. Looking through it, he saw massive stone temples, its sizes rivaling with those statues from Tegorh in height, but lacking the beauty and curves of those; conversely, they tied for ugliness with the scrawls of the writings of the kur people, the ones from the dunes. Square windows of glass, from where emanated purple and green ethereal lights were watching the misery of that village. He realized he was in a temple of sorcerers.

Layaan raised his sword and left the room by the only door he found. It was unlocked. He pushed the timber and found himself in a long and narrow corridor. On the walls, he saw horrific scenes; he had never seen things so badly painted and lacking balance since his visit, again, to the kur lands. When he reached the end of the hall he stopped, horrified. Voices.

A group of beings spoke in a language he never had heard before. It sounded like the noise of the Men from the Plains of Dry Ice while they were sleeping; but the voices were reaching treble ranges even more annoying. He looked around the corner of the hall and saw that the voices were coming from an adjoining room, whose door was wide open. The room where he was now had no light, so he could take advantage of the dark.

At least.

It was there that the deaths of his people were being engendered. It was now just a question to discover how that was being done and put an end to the miserable operation. He approached the door further and finally could see them.

They were horrendous.

Fat and with flaccid skin, with a whiteness that lacked the elegant pallor of the elves or even the Men of the South; they were lifeless, as if they had never seen the sunshine. They wore ragged and frightening clothes; the trousers were of a coarse blue fabric, which not even the Ogre Sailors ofPuulth would dare to dress. Two of them were drinking a black and bubbly liquid and belched from time to time. He could see they were five and by manner and dress, by the tone of voice and words, clearly sorcerers of the dark.

He ventured further along in the doorway and then could glimpse a strange map on the table at which the slag met. It was made of thick and varnished paper, as the Tomes of Copper from the worshipers of Frth. Tiny statues of mockeries of elves, men, dwarves and even dragons were handled by the wizards. He realized that the joy of some was accompanied by the groans of others, in shifts. It was a personal battle.

One of the beings, the fatter and more transparent of the quintet who wore on his face a morbid mask of glass that covered both his eyes, shook something in his hands and threw it on the table. The white objects clumsily fell on parts of the map and a second mage who drank the viscous black liquid left part of the beverage leave for his own nostrils, in a demonstration of surprise that even the rude merchants of sexual artifacts from the muddy streets of Bruuba didn't anymore those days. It was then that Layaan felt.

At that exact moment, with the fall of those small objects on the table and the subsequent withdrawal of one of the statuettes off the map, he knew one of his people had died.

It was all very fast.

With a sharp cry of hate, Layaan raised his white sword and jumped in a reckless and suicidal act against the group of dark wizards. At that moment, he was a terrible figure, thanks to all the obstacles he had to face: sunken eyes, pale skin even whiter and withered, greasy hair and the body showing the effects of the continuous aggression by the elements, other creatures and hunger. Only four hits and the five magicians fell dead at his feet — a few shrieks and without outlining any type of reaction than the beginning of a semblance of flight.

Still carrying the hatred for the coward murder by distance of so many of his peers, Layaan heard a whisper and turned around, sword in hand. Ahead, in a corner of the room which he had not given attention yet it was a clumsy attempt to create a variety of portal-of-birds. It was a wooden box with a glass top on its most frontal side; through this glass paraded endless and meaningless scenes: fights, kisses, monsters made of iron that swallowed people and were by them controlled in their bellies; food inside rectangular paper boxes and cans of iron; dead sliced flesh, as displayed in the markets of the border town of Thethis — and even there this had been banned a long time ago.

That sad frame was not a portal. What un-existed at the other side were just puppets of lights, not living things. He looked at the table and noticed that the map of the battle between the wizards was a sneer of the geography of his world. All cities and rivers and forests and rugged coastlines were in the wrong places and without their names. Things without names are dangerous.

Beside the dismal dropped statuettes were the small white objects. Getting closer to them, he saw they were dices, but with several sides; five of them. Made of bones, like the six-sided dices that he had seen centuries ago in bars and brothels at the port of Klirhg, that rough mixed city of men, ogres, dwarves and expelled elves. He saw that the dices had the same number of faces that the amount of cities and kingdoms of his people. They were thrown by the sorcerers from a round container made of a material that he could not identify.

Realizing that those set of objects was what was butchering his people Layaan collected the maps, statues, the round container and even some tomes written in the ugly language of the wizards, packing them in a thin white bag, made of the same unidentified material of the dice launcher. The elf's fingers soon realized that the material was not natural and certainly should have been created by the wizards in their dark pits. It wasn’t a good idea to take it to his world, but he would not risk leaving any link of the murderer engine lying there. When he finally joined the last of the bone dices, the five shone inside the bag and Layaan, feeling his body become light and immaterial — formless — realized that those objects were the portal that connected that world to his people, for some meanness of destiny. He let himself go with the flow. His journey there was completed.

He opened his eyes and saw he was back to the glade. He got up groggy for the trip back and went to the tower. As envisioned, the portal-of-men inside had vanished, closed by the passage of its correlate — the dices — through its entrails. Layaan gripped the bag of artificial material in his hands. He needed to bury those objects under some altar or sacred tree of banishment.

He involved the bag in broad leaves of various trees that bordered the clearing. One of them was a Blue Oak, his most beloved species. Singing songs so old that even the gods didn’t remember who had composed them, Layaan prayed to Maari, she-guardian of the pantheon of the great trees, and to Buuryo, the demigod protector of soil, and began to dig a hole with his hands near the roots of the Oak. Half an hour later, the objects had disappeared under the roots of the tree of banishment and forever disintegrated by the strength of its immaterial sap. He knew the old Hiiasaa would have loved to study those dark artifacts and, therefore, knew that Hiiasaa would be immensely grateful for destroying that collection.

This, of course, if he went back to the Light Houses. The tribe-citadel was further away than ever. His old cabin in the Gap of Dews, in the middle of the Woods of Those Who No Longer Speak was a distant memory. Layaan put the sword in his belt, ran his fingers over the memory written in the form of verses and looked at the various directions that slipped between north, south, east and west. It was a matter of harvesting one as a lotus flower.

He let the wind decide.



 
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