Authors: K.B. Sprague
SPARX Incarnation: Mark of the Green Dragon by K.B. Sprague
© 2016 by Kevin Sprague. All rights reserved
Cover designed by Damonza
Map by Josephe Vandel of MapForge
Published in Canada by GaleWind Books,
an imprint of Whisperwood Publishing, Ottawa.
SPARX Incarnation: Mark of the Green Dragon (mobi): 978-1-988363-05-9
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to actual persons, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.
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This novel is dedicated to my loving wife
And our three little sparks
As a tree with the passage of
With the vows of my former life fulfilled or pardoned by my untimely departure, I am now released of them, and make one and only one vow anew. By sun, wind, rain and earth I take this final oath, to protect the woodlands and the meadows, the lowlands and the marshes, the stands of tall pines and the fields of grass. I hereby declare my acceptance of the earthen form granted to me – Hurlorn of Deepweald – and accept all duties and responsibilities commensurate with that great honor.
- The Spirit Hurlorn Oath
he grove is as perfect a place to write as a lumbering beast might find. It is as bright as the day and sheltered from the wind. Though by the creak in my limbs, I daresay rain is coming, so I must make haste. And Hadamard is waiting.
It is an awkward thing, to tell a tale in this state, so huge and halting and overgrown. And a burl over one heavy eye has it sealed shut since early spring. The other is sure to follow. But I have my quill, at least, specially fixed to a long, deft claw by the ranger in these parts, whose father I knew very well, and I have my paper from my friend the birch. The monument in the centre of the clearing is wide and flat, and serves just fine as a tabletop. The inkbottle is small and awkward though, and its contents may very well dry up before I ever get the lid back on. That cannot be helped.
This part of the story, this first record of events, I will tell as I saw unfold. It is the beginning of my story, the middle of others and, most importantly, the beginning of the end for some great thing. It is that which set things in motion.
Beware in the telling, as I have little patience to spare once stirred into action. I may skip a few years, or tens of years or maybe even a hundred years. Watch for shifts in the timeline. I am not always careful. And bear in mind that I may have to break off at times to accommodate the weather and such, and possibly lose my train of thought in the process. Oh, what I would do for a writing desk, a lamp, and a roof over my head! Such simple luxuries are now lost to me.
How did I become such a gnarled old thing anyway? Any who see me must wonder. The entire notion is ridiculous, I admit, but knowing that won’t change bark to skin. Is there such a thing as magic? What else could it be? That will all become clear, soon enough, in the telling.
This tale begins before thick, heavy scales burdened my body. My legs were nothing like tree trunks and my shoulders did not bear the weight of a leafy crown. Don’t get me wrong… I am not complaining. I can still get around. Slow? Well… mostly yes, but also quiet and well camouflaged if I stick to the tree lines, the copses, and the gardens – but not the bog. That which once sustained my former being is now poison to the heart root through which I drink. That quaggy water would be the end of me. The bog is doom, and I know of many who would agree, if only they could speak from their muddy graves…
And if I could speak as I once did, none of this would be necessary. This task would be trivial if I did not have to write it all down. But I am without choice in the matter – my spoken words are the baritone notes of a deep wind instrument, my sentences are melodies, this tale a song… all I have are these inked words and the Hurlorns’
. But who will hear if I do not get this out, in writing, to those who need to know? Who will know to listen for the rustling of leaves in the summer breeze for a message across, as the vow states,
the woodlands and the meadows, the lowlands and the marshes, the stands of tall pines and the fields of grass
? Who will hear the Hurlorns whisper my song?
Let us now begin, before the rain hits and spoils the pages…
The bog is a peaceful place. The blood shed there has long soaked into the black earth, and although a battle rages, it is unseen if you do not know where to look, and unheard by the untrained ear. Ever it looms though, dark and ominous and terrible and free, but silent and invisible to the simple folk that live among the rushes. They are the Pips, and they are
- The Diviner
Memories best forgotten
bulging moon peered in through the reed-screened window. A single, flickering candle burned low and threatened darkness. On the verge of sputtering out, the flame renewed itself, steadied, and blazed on, unbroken. I sat cross-legged on my night sack, studying the deepwood box on my bedside table.
Paplov muttered to himself in the next room as he sorted through documents and drafted important papers for the lord mayor. “You should be paying more attention,” he repeated all too often, amidst mutterings of “Ha ha… didn’t see that coming – did ya?” and snarls that ended in “…you rat.” The first was a criticism directed to me, I’m sure. The latter rumblings seemed to follow part of an ongoing negotiation that played out in his mind, complete with all its semantic thrusts, feigns and parries.
Clerical work did not interest me that evening. I had already clocked several hours during the day, and declined Paplov’s invitation to help him with “a special task of great importance.” Since becoming a full apprentice, every other task seemed to be “a special task of great importance.” I figured it was just his way of spicing up the boring work that he wanted to offload. Most of the time, I let him get away with it, but not that night. That night, I hit the sack early, but with little intention of sleeping any time soon. In my own mind, thoughts were churning.
The casket lay quiet, motionless, as did I.
Over the years, I had heard many tales of terrible abominations lurking deep in the woods, and in the dark reaches of rivers, and in out-of-the-way corners of the bog. There were the boogalies more dead than alive with flip-flopping feet. They would come to eat you if you didn’t finish your plate. And wolf men that waited in the woods for stray travelers to mount on a spit and roast alive. Then giants in the hills that stripped the flesh off their victims and ate it raw. But not even campfire tales alluded to anything quite like what I once saw in the forest, perched on a mossy boulder at the edge of a rocky grove.
The flame continued to waver as it pumped short, fluid bursts of liquid orange into the cool night air, darkness merely half a shadow away. And as the fire gasped for breath, the half-shadows grew fuller, longer. And when the light finally snuffed out, the subtlest of shades came out of hiding. The box became swathed in a faint net of threaded shadows, crisscrossing over diamonds of pale moonlight.
I might otherwise have been swinging on my hammock high enough to make the hanging posts creak. Or humming, whistling, singing, or even musing about secret findings or forthcoming adventures… were it not for that box. Fyorn’s gift held my every thought within its confines, my every suspicion under its lid.
Still, as I lay deliberating, I heard no rattle from within and saw no drips of black ooze spewing from its seams. Nothing stirred whatsoever. In fact, the box, in-and-of-itself, was not intimidating or frightful to look upon in the slightest. It was elegant. Only the haunting memory it elicited gave me cause for concern. Thinking back to that afternoon long ago in Deepweald Forest, it all seemed so unreal; a vivid hallucination let loose from the over-active imagination of a curious young Pip on a maple sugar high.
I closed my eyes and thought back to a time out of memory. I thought back to when I could fly.
Like a bird, I soared over water, swaying reeds, mounds of grass and even treetops. The cool wind numbed my cheeks, flowed through my hair and dried out my eyes. And when a strong gust rose, I skipped along the turbulence with unparalleled elation. The air pushed at me so hard and blew past me so fast that it sucked the breath right out of my windpipe. I struggled against the forceful hand that drove me ever downwards to the mudflats, and fought against crosswinds aiming to rifle me into a rogue tree skeleton.
Oh no… Here it comes
I’m losing… I’m gonna hit… I’m gonna
I opened my eyes.
I was only dreaming then, but even long after in those early moments of morning slumber when the sensation of freefall returns, and when I feel my body rise and fall on a current of air, I still believe I can fly. Even when fully wakeful with my thoughts set adrift, I sometimes have to pause to remind myself that I never really flew in the world that I know to be real. It simply never happened, and could never really happen at all.
But what about that black orb with the central eye and legs like a spider? And that crooked old tree creature that attacked me? And that swarm of biting insects so early in spring?
I was not dreaming then. It all happened. I know it happened. The permanent mark on my arm kept the memory grounded in reality – a reality I had kept secret all the years since.
Yes, it had been nearly four years since the incident in the woods. And over those four years, I had successfully avoided the journey back to my uncle’s cabin. Paplov still went to see Uncle Fyorn regularly though. The woodsman shared important information with him that helped with his duties as councillor, plus Fyorn was the only one who knew where to find the rare deepwood Paplov needed for woodcarving. It was just a hobby to him, but he enjoyed it fiercely and often spoke of how one day, soon in the coming, he would pass his town duties over to me and dedicate his days to woodcraft.
Looking back, I believe that I just felt awkward about returning, and I wondered how Uncle Fyorn would react and what he might say. He had taught me how to snare rabbits and spearfish through the ice, not to mention the countless other survival skills I learned from just being in his presence. That kind of connection embodies a certain level of trust. Fyorn wasn’t my real uncle, but Paplov always referred to him that way.
That day, Paplov set out alone to Fyorn’s cabin in early morning, with plans to return by evening. My excuse for not accompanying him this time: “I have studies to catch up on and things to do at Webfoot Hall.” Paplov accepted my reasons without pause, perhaps because they served him well. You see, for months now I had begun to act in some formal capacity as his aide in diplomatic affairs. Paplov was busier than ever lately, traveling from town to town on official business, in response to a sudden spike in the need for deal making.
Proudfoot was expanding into the southern mire and encroaching on Webfoot territory, while prospectors from the Bearded Hills were bidding for rights to bog iron in the western mire. Even Harrow, to the north, had commissioned boggers to scour the area in pursuit of some yet unknown interest, overturning every mossy boulder and exploring every dark crevice and ancient cave in the bog lands.
I went along with Paplov to the in-town meetings and attended important events, sometimes without him. I could even stamp or sign important documents on his behalf when he was not available. Still, the work I did never seemed to be quite enough. Paplov pushed me to accept more and more duties and responsibilities. It was getting in the way of everything.
After spending the better part of the morning getting my assigned tasks out of the way and the rest of the day at the riding range near the city gate, I returned home sore, with the sweet pain of hard work and hard play soaked into every muscle and every joint.
Paplov returned home that evening as planned, with an offering from Uncle Fyorn. He hung up his old grey-green traveling cloak on a peg near the front door of our hut, and then produced a wooden box from his side bag, straight from the gnarly old woodsman himself.
“Maple candy,” he said, his hand shaking as he held the box out for me to take. “Uncle Fyorn sends his regrets that you missed out on your favorite treat again.”
“I’m not a pipsqueak anymore,” I said.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
I shrugged, and at the same time felt a tingle on my arm where the tree had left its mark.
“Well, he hasn’t seen you in a mighty long time,” Paplov continued. “He probably still remembers you as… just a sapling.”
“We’re all just ‘saplings’ to him,” I quipped.
Paplov nodded. “I suppose you could say that,” he acknowledged, then put his hand to his chin. My grandfather had been looking older lately – seventy if he was a day, with little more than wisps of white fluff to show on the top of his head. Somehow, his hair still managed to look messy though, especially on a windy day, which was just about every day. Even his eyebrows were messy, bushy and white with an inquisitive flick to them. But his beard was always in order, soft as down and stroked smooth to a point. His face was kind and his smile warm, but when he tried to push the box on me, I sprung back, fish-eyed. He laughed dismissively at my skittishness.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It won’t bite!”
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the box was not
. A latch of dull black metal kept the lid firmly in place, fashioned in the likeness of a crow’s head with a hooked beak for a clasp.
I should have told Uncle Fyorn what I had done straight away. Why would he give me something in a box like this, after all these years?
“Take it,” said Paplov, “I can’t stand here all day.”
I took the box and shook it back and forth. Something inside knocked and rattled inanimately. I waited and listened. There was no “tap… tap… tap” like fingers on wood, the sound that had drawn me to the
in the first place.
“Sound enough like candy?” said Paplov, with a smirk.
I just nodded casually, and then gave the lid a sniff. It did smell sort of “mapley.”
I went to my room without so much as a “Thank you” to Paplov and placed the box on my night table, then debated as to whether or not I should open it.
I had to remind myself again that I was not that scrawny, naive little Pip that fled the woods that day. I was taller, springier and well-balanced. I was stronger and much more experienced. On Paplov’s insistence, for nights on end I had studied the teachings of the old gods and the new ones, the elemental forces, the laws and customs of Webfoot and neighboring districts, on top of accounting, languages, navigation, and maps of lands and oceans both near and far. Still, despite all my training – a future diplomat’s required curriculum – I had no real explanation for what happened so long ago, that spring day at the cabin. Really, who would believe me?
could hardly believe me.
Branches don’t just lash out on their own like that. They just can’t.
I stood up, paced about my room and drew in a few deep breaths. I stretched my fingers apart as wide as they would go. Even in moonlight, I saw that the scars from the axe blade were still there. I clenched my hand into a fist; the tissue felt tight. Standing over the table, I pulled the box to the edge. It was more ornate than the one in Fyorn’s attic had been, and professionally made. The lid bore a depiction of Gan, the Hidden City, inlaid with red-dyed horn.
The time is
Finally, I lifted the latch and opened the box a crack. The sweet scent of maple flowed out, nothing more. I peeked in. There were no giant spiders inside, just the maple candy, as Paplov had promised.
I shrugged my shoulders and tried one; it wasn’t as good as taffy, but it wasn’t bad either – oversweet. I took my uncle’s offering as a sign of goodwill. He wasn’t mad at me, and if he had been, it was water under the bridge.
The next time Paplov visits, I am going too.
That day came sooner than expected. Before long, I had a compelling reason to have serious words with Uncle Fyorn. Not because I wanted redemption, or maple taffy, but because I needed his advice. Uncle Fyorn knew the woods and the lowlands better than anyone did – like the back of his weather-beaten hands. And he seemed to know a great deal about abnormal things. In particular, he was the only one I could think of that might know something about a certain artifact that originated in the bog. Above all else though, he was the only Elderkin I knew personally.