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Chapter 1

The Empty Chair

Chapter 1,” wrote someone, sensed but not seen, at the top of the page of parchment in front of him.

This act was met with laughter.

Those sensing this new conflict sprang to action, recording the conversation as they heard it, after it had been translated from the raw meaning underneath.

Do you really expect to start a story this way?” they heard the one who had laughed, say. The voice seemed to have a derisive and overbearing quality to it. Whoever it was, he seemed to be taunting someone else, and deriving joy from the whole process.

The writer stayed quiet, and he seemed to be focusing on something.

You know,” said the derisive man, “You're far from the place you started, and yet you're trying to retrace your steps. Do you have any idea what you're doing?”

At the very least,” said the writer, “I know this part of the story has to get deleted...”

That's not what we're debating. Not yet, at least. You're trying to rewrite the main story, no?”

Maybe,” said the writer. “It's... worth a try, or something.”

Well then,” continued the derisive man, “By all means. Delete it, delete the story. And, while you're at it, add a new one. A fresh start. A new beginning. Oh – all the time in the world for that, no?” He chuckled. “All the time in the world...”

The writer, whose face was still unseen, took out a new piece of parchment and scribbled the words “Chapter 1 – Delucion” at the top. Despite his determination, he didn't really seem to be paying attention.

Oh, what an original chapter name,“ said the derisive man. “In case you forgot, that's supposed to be the title of the book. Unless you've... scrapped it, of course.”

The writer sighed.

Not having much fun, are we?” said the derisive man, chuckling.

We can't let this,” said writer,be the start of the story!”

Oh?” said the derisive man, laughing to himself. “Well... of course we can.”

The writer sat there, staring at the empty space on the page in front of him, saying nothing.

You see what's happening, don't you?” said the derisive man. “This, this is the start of a story too. Or, rather, it is one angle, and one part of this larger tale.”

But we don't need to just show a part. This isn't Del's story, this... talking here. This isn't right.”

Well, perhaps it works as foreshadowing... of the... landscapes and characters to come.”

No...” said the writer. He knew that it was possible that this way of starting would just distract and confuse the reader. And yet, without this interlude – to just start the main story – was that enough?

Of course it is,” said a tall and elegant woman who entered the room. “But, there are many ways to start a story, and all of them may be enough.”

Infinite ways...” said the writer.

Yes,” said the woman, nodding softly. “But the events of this story are already recorded, in the way they were at the time they were.”

Yeah,” said the writer, “even if, still now, the story continues, and perhaps always will...”

Indeed, we know not the ending.”

Maybe, then, I should just skip trying to tell how it's being told, and just tell it.”

Perhaps so,” said the woman. “It may be easier on you.”

Accepting imperfection, huh,” said the writer, taking in a deep breath. “Well, no harm in that.”

Except for imperfection,” said the derisive man, with a short laugh.

The writer looked toward him.

No...” said the writer, letting out a sigh. “If it's only to avoid imperfection, I can't hold back. There's something to tell, here. And in order to tell it, you know what must be done.”

The writer turned to his desk, and everyone present understood what was about to happen.

Let's begin.”

Chapter 1 – The Empty Chair

On a day much like any other day, the light of a familiar sun began to reach out over the horizon, somewhere past the Sowing Fields and the eastern cliffs that bordered the Endless Sea. It was at about this time that a man, simply known as George, remembered, in his sleep, that it was time to wake, before the coming light got the chance to coax his eyes open. A flicker of dull green amid a tangle of grayish-black hair above the covers was the only sign that he was awake.

Dully aware of his surroundings, one hand reached out blindly and grabbed a hardwood walking-stick that lay propped up beside his bed. He tossed aside his sheet, sat up in bed, and peered around the dark room. A vat of water and the murky window above it slowly came into focus as he drifted out of sleep. He considered it all for a moment, scratching his coarse gray beard as he struggled to pull the reason for getting up at this hour out of his memory. Then it dawned on him, and his lopsided jaw formed into a bemused smile. It was a simple enough answer; he had been in this routine for 43 unhurried years. The bed, which had been with him for a goodly amount of that time, fell back with a thud onto its three remaining legs as he got up, with a sure-footed step and a shaky cough.

He began to prepare for his day, taking this and that from his rickety house and placing it in its proper place, either on his body or around the various and dusty cabinets, bookcases, and nightstands that adorned his home in peculiar positions. Though he knew the placing of everything was this way from the very first day he took over for dear old Fred, he thought little of it. After all, there were jobs to be done, festival food to dream of, and the 3-legged dog who was probably waiting for George just inside the clock tower’s open cedar door.

He bent down and carefully picked up the last book, a fantastic story of a mountaineering troll, one which was breaking apart at the spine. Getting to his feet, he quickly slipped it between two others, the bookcase wobbling with the disturbance. He donned his mottled coat of Luffish fur and hobbled out into the pre-dawn night, the door swinging on its one remaining hinge as he made his way past.

Somewhere in the distance, he could make out the sound of the twilaps calling out, as the sun, just rising, continued to turn the sky from black to deep blue. The town of Falborough lay quiet, and George, as he meandered through the dirt streets, saw only one or two lights on in the outlying houses. He suspected it was a child at play before school called him away, or light to keep a mother awake as she tried to hush the midnight cries of her little one. He chuckled at the thought as he made a left turn onto Central Road. On either side he could see a whole assortment of wooden and stone buildings, all with their dramatically sloping roofs, as if existing as sleeping, whimsical sentinels of the thoroughfare. A few epims were perched on the edges of the thatch slopes, their six wings grasped about their middle while their eyes, peeking curiously out of the tops of their heads, stayed shut with slumber. The only people he could see awake were two shapes conversing on the far bank of the Falturn, on either side of a water well. George registered the fact with simple gladness. He wasn’t the only one enjoying the crisp morning air.

He reached the clock tower and made his way along it till he stopped in front of the open door, took one last look around the city, smiling fondly, and pushed it open. Stepping onto the stone floor, his footsteps echoed in the dark, and he sniffed loudly as he took in the smell of damp moss and stone. He patted his pockets till he found flint and a chunk of steel. As he walked over to a lantern mounted on the wall, a furry something rubbed up against his leg. George stopped, stooping down and reaching out to pet Turner, the dog he’d found stray and crippled in the tower five years prior.

Been waiting for me, have yeh, Turner?” George smiled at him as the dog sat up on his hind legs, grasping his one forearm to his chest. “Well, today be a fine day, aye?” The dog licked his master’s face, excited to see him, and the old man laughed and took the dog’s paw in one hand, tapping the top of it. “You’re a good lad, Turner, and today I’ll give your home an extra scrub, to be sure.”

Turner yapped in reply, and sat next to George as he lit the oil lantern with a quick strike of the two stones. Light poured out along the cobbled walls and glittered in some year-round puddles settled complacently in the depressions of the stone floor. A few spiders scurried into the remaining dark corners. George surveyed what work he had, breathed in the musty air he loved, in its constant companionship, and got to it. His companion in tow, a pail in hand, he washed the unwelcome grime from the walls and floor, and whatever else had mysteriously crept into the empty tower over the course of the night. The hour drew on as he circled the floor and mounted the stairs, clearing the walls and floor of damp green moss and slightly more disgusting things that clung on desperately.

While attempting to scrub off some particularly stubborn muck from a stone step, George saw the flickering surface turn a dull yellow, and he stood up with some effort. Turning to a window-hole fixed in the wall, he spied light peeping in through the shudders, and, on instinct, he reached out to flip them open. As he did so, the light of the returning sun caused his eyes to pinch shut for a few moments, until he opened them finally and could see out onto the landscape of Falborough, and behind it, the rolling hills and flat farmland, these sights carrying off into the distance. He heard the townsfolk mulling about their business below.

A right good day,” he muttered.

Below, people bustled about, pushing and pulling carts filled with food, and, among them, kids, urged by their parents, hustling back to their homes with full pails of water. There were women hurrying, men sauntering, shops opening, and bright-eyed folk of all ages and manner, so it seemed, crossing back and forth over the Falturn Bridge, which connected the two halves of the small but lively town. George smiled, glad to see the day and its many happenings finally beginning, as the burble from a fountain falls from one bowl to the next, till the whole thing becomes a beautiful flow of water, tripping gloriously on its various ways down and up again. He closed the blinds, content now that he knew the world was as it was the last time he checked.

Turner, at the bottom of the stairs, yapped up at his master, who looked over and assured his companion that all was well with the sun, sky, and those below it. He grabbed up his bucket and set about finishing the last bit of work he had for the day.

When finally George was done, the aging man got up from his last bit of dirt, and that curious, unprovoked smile spread over his face once more. He hobbled down the stone steps slightly faster than he had climbed them, and headed toward the center of the room, where his dog sat patiently, wrapped up in his coat of scruffy brown-gray fuzz, giving him the permanent appearance of someone woken suddenly from a long, fitful sleep. George shook off his boots and sat down. The lamp light lit his smiling face, jagged, rough, and serene, while his gray eyes peered delightedly at his faithful ball of fur and love.

Well, have a good rest, Turner. I’ll be seeing you as the sun starts to fall again.”

With that, he laid down on a hammock, strung up to various poles and hooks that were part of a great contraption, wherein George, the caretaker of the riverside clock tower, fell asleep amid massive stone gears and wooden beams. The mechanics, from where he lay, sprawled around the building into intricacies that were built up and up to that final moment where they were meant to turn the tower hands.

It hadn’t ticked since anyone could remember.

The sun, however, sprang merrily through the sky, and lighted the clock face so that anyone who bothered to look could see that the time was, indeed, still fixed at 18 minutes to 8. One such person - a middle-aged, mousy-looking man by the name of Durvy - squinted up at it that morning, trying to figure out if he had gotten up too late. In the brief moment he had to think about the fact that the clock tower didn’t display the time, April, a woman with an ample claim to youth, came hurrying along Falturn Bridge, and, unable to see past her inordinately high armfuls of produce, toppled Durvy in his contemplation. The pair of them, and all manner of precariously arranged potatoes, squash, corn, and carrots, tumbled across the dirt. April scrambled to her feet, her long yellow skirt now sporting the grit and dampness of the ground.

Ah- no!” she cried to no one in particular, though Durvy, sitting stunned in the road, gazed at her, wide-eyed. April straightened herself, and looked at Durvy, whose breath was held as if the moment took it hostage.

I’m… I’m… dreadfully-”, he stammered out, breathlessly.

Are you alright?” she said quickly. “Durvy – please, don't be so worried.” She helped him to his feet. He dusted himself off and avoided her eyes, looking at the strewn vegetables instead.

I’m – terribly sorry…” he said. He stooped down, forced smile on his face, and picked up a squash and some cucumbers. “Here.” He was about to pass it to her, but when she didn't reach out for them, he looked and saw she was standing still, eyes passing over the ground, little eyebrows drawn together. He allowed himself the moment’s thought that she looked... cute, that way.

Hmph.” She grunted with dissatisfaction. Durvy was brought swiftly back to reality.

Ah- what’s wrong?”

She sighed.

Well, I could have sworn I bought five.” She pointed to the lone carrot lying in the dirt.

Oh,” said Durvy, standing up and offering her the vegetables once more. “Well, perhaps you’ll find them again. They could be – right nearby.”

Clang went the forge of the Steamer, as a cheerful boy of no more than seven came hurtling down the alley behind the soot-friendly stone smithy. Bouncing with the rhythm of his gait, four oversized carrots hung from his little fist. In his mischievous glee at having escaped the notice of the clumsy “adults”, he bolted around the corner and ran headlong into one. For a moment, his face pressed into a hard-muscled belly and the smell of soot, sweat, and ash, before he rebounded and fell backward onto the ground.

“Hmm? Thomas?” questioned the large shape looming over the boy. “What’s that you’ve got there?”



The man bent down, the darkness about his eyes, that had been cast by the light, fading a little. Thomas could see, instead, his kind, large brown eyes inset into the ridged harshness of his face, which seemed to overwhelm any of the more subtle features. It was Rylus, the Steamer, shaper of the earth, a stout and stocky man, his short body garbed with muscle that gripped tightly to him in large mounds. He wore an apron about his massive torso, and had pants that looked like they'd seen the grunge of forge-work for countless ages. He looked at Thomas with indiscernible sternness, sniffing loudly.

Well, you’re definitely in a hurry to get that great amount of 'nothing', somewhere.”

Thomas could only sit there, quivering. Rylus stood up straight again and was, as far as Thomas could tell, gazing off down the alley.

You best get going again. Watch where you run.”

With that, the short, boulder of a man trundled past, as the boy ran off again with his carrots, his little heart pounding, mostly in response to his thoughts of having to stay for more questions from “the big man”.

Rylus chuckled in a low, short rumble, heading to the back of his workshop to collect two anvils, one under each bulky arm. With this added weight, the ground gave a little easier beneath his sandaled feet as he headed back, and had to step sideways into the already widened door of his forge.

A tall, wistful looking woman was standing in front of his counter, staring intently at a large, gold-plated shield that hung just beside the main entry way. She muttered silently at it, as if feeling over the ornate designs with the intricacies of her thought. Her shoulders hung a little high, and her face was full of gentle sympathy. She wore a long skirt that didn’t waver with the shuffling of her feet. When Rylus entered, her gaze swung to him, and her mouth hung slightly agape. He didn’t look at her, but went about his business instead.

“That shield there, the one you’re looking at?” he said plainly, “It’s not for sale. I’d only lend it out. Not that there are many creatures about that require such shielding.” He placed the anvils on the hearth of his forge, letting them drop with a loud, clamorous noise. The woman was startled, but then appeared to calm down, and turned fully to face him.

Rylus,” she said, her voice calm, delicate, and light. “I’m heading out again today. May I borrow some provisions?”

The air hung with ash and heat, mixed with the morning freshness pouring in from outside. Rylus looked up at the woman. His small eyes seemed to shrink to beads in his large face. His brow furrowed as he spoke.

Well, is that what you came for?” He paused and wiped his dirty hands on his equally dirty apron. He sighed. “Fine then, here you go.” He reached below the counter and took out a small cloth sack, tied with a rope of woven grass. He placed it near her, and then went to throw more coal in the fire.

With a quick bidding of thanks, the woman began to move toward the door.

Putting the bellows in its proper place, Rylus spoke.

Roger – you know where he is, right now?” he asked in casual gruffness.

The woman turned around, face glowing with unaccustomed brightness.

Well, right now, I suppose he’s on his way to school.”

She paused, looking to see if there would be a response, but there was none, except for sigh. Her smile faded a little.

Good day, then.” she said.

The woman, named Cecile, headed back into the day and towards her home, her faded viridian dress fluttering behind her in the summer breeze. A short time after, Rylus grabbed his hammer and began slamming it with loud clangs upon the anvil. About him, all manner of dusty weaponry and armor hung in this fiery home in which he worked.

And there went Roger, not a half a mile away, pounding down the road past the Falturn Bridge with little flat feet, chasing his friend, and thus, rival, Willard, in a game of hunt. Having come from the far side of the village, Roger had already used his bow and sword after exchanging positions of hunter and beast several times, but he still had his hands, which could wrestle down even a large beast like Will.

Since school was nearing, little Will shot down a side path to prolong the chase, and on his way he jumped and weaved past pulp-pressers and collections of stone, past the Grand Market, and the arched entrance to the Main Hall. He ran around this hall, hearing his friend’s footsteps, and he knew that on the other side he'd have a straight shot back toward school, and the end of the hunt. He could almost taste his victory as the goal came into sight.

But when he heard a soft, crackling voice ring out, he stopped in his tracks.

My boy, I have a question for you.”

A very aged old man sat on the back steps of the hall. He wore a cap that went over his eyes, with a nose that stuck out, as if to make itself known. He had a long white beard that stretched to the ground, and no apparent mouth to be seen. Will stared up at the old man, mouth wide, a little shocked at being suddenly addressed.

Uh,yes?” He looked up, trying to see who it was, then immediately straightened himself, realizing that it was the old man, or rather, The Old Man. “Oh - Old Man, what do you want?”

Yes, yes,” said the Old Man.

There was a pause just long enough to be noticeable. He reached out a little bony hand and grasped his walking stick, which was at least twice his size, as a little grin formed beneath his beard. “My boy, Willard, why do you never, ever look behind you? Hmm?”

Will was trying to make sense of this, and why the Old Man had started chuckling, when Roger was upon him. Will toppled over and shouted loud objections, but finally gave up as Roger took the familiar victory pose (which made the game so darn rewarding), putting his foot on Will’s chest, a hand on his hip, and his other pointing out at the horizon of trees. The Old Man just sat there and chuckled, leaning on his staff. And then, not a moment later, Roger shot off again towards school, now with him as the beast.

Willard grumbled uncomfortably, looking up at The Old Man. He thought of saying something, but couldn't come up with anything, and just left the Old Man to his laughter, as he rocked back and forth. Not only was he concerned about losing the game, but at this rate he might be late for school, too. It was true that he'd rather not go at all, but, well, since he was going, it was better, he guessed, not to be late.

Three large buildings drew into sight, all situated within a large circle, where, in the empty spots, a garden grew with various intertwining paths and waist-high hedges. Or nose-high as was the case for Will, who wandered up to the edge of the circle. He looked around for Roger, and instead spotted a bright-haired older girl who had the look of having eaten something sour, and like she was busy purging the last of its taste. Will wandered toward to her, hands in his trouser pockets, and stopped a few feet away. A variety of people of all sizes glided around them in pleasant conversation.

Her eyes shifted over to him and his dirty nose, raggedy clothes, and sprout of unwashed brown hair. She saw the way he was patiently looking up at her, and averted her eyes, which continued to shift this way and that over the crowd.

A long moment passed. She, who went by the name of Stephanie, snapped her eyes back towards Will, who had been hovering in her peripheral vision. She let out a short sigh.

Yes? What do you want?” She said quickly, taking care not to sound kind.

Um... Well… um...”

Will, who had been standing there for quite some time, had forgotten what he'd initatially wanted. “Um, what’re you doing?” he asked hopefully instead.

A thin eyebrow shot up and she shifted her weight onto her other leg. “None- of your- business, if you want to know.”

Stephanie went back to looking over the crowd, but the boy still stood there, looking at her.

Well I was just wondering…”

Ah - Were you.” she said absently, interrupting him.

Ah – yes, I was just wondering if you happened to see Roger run by here.”

Um, Roger? No.”

Just then, she seemed to spot who she'd been looking for, and rushed off without another word. Will stared for a few moments as she disappeared, then, his mind returning to Roger, he went to go look for him. But, not seeing anyone, he hoped his friend was actually in school – not hiding in some bush – and he made his way through the garden, towards his class.

Stephanie, who had, a few moments prior, been accosted by a young one, marched feverishly beside Fara, a girl of about her age with a longer neck and steady eyes – eyes which were looking ahead, rather than at her friend. Stephanie was the first to speak, watching Fara intently.


Not good.”

What do you mean, not good?”

Just... not good. We’ll talk about it later.”

Stephanie involuntarily grabbed her own arm, looking down at the ground now while Fara kept looking toward the school. They climbed the steps and headed inside their large hall, where a handful of doorways lined either side. Stepping into one of the rooms, they sat down on opposite sides.

The teacher burst into class as they took their seats. It was Durvy, and he seemed no less flustered than usual.

Well. Well.” He put a stack of papers on his desk, following his usual greeting. The class was still engaged in mid-morning chatter. “Well, I am quite sorry I was late.” A few people heard him and looked over, some leaning back in their chairs. “Ah, I do believe everyone is here, so... let us begin. Yes.” He spoke as he began unloading things from cabinets and boxes. He took out a bundle of large dusty maps, as well as some animal heads, glass jars filled with liquid, and musty old books.

Yes, well, um, yes.” He dove into a cupboard so no one could hear him, and they exchanged looks. “…what we would call myths, or legends, or foolish nonsense if you…” He unloaded a singularly massive jar of what looked like moldy fruit, and it took some effort. “...had, um, any say in it, most likely. Well I, personally find them... most fascinating.” He stopped to wipe the dust off his hands. “In any case we will learn about them today, and a great deal of other things, which will mostly likely have something to do with…”

Excuse me, sir,” someone in the back of the class interrupted. It was Fara, who stood up. She sighed, an impatient look on her face. “You said that everyone is here. Just wanted to clear that up.” She made a small nod to the seat next to her, and sat down again. There was a murmur of a name throughout the room. Durvy squinted over to the window seat at the back of the class.

Oh, he's gone, is he?” he said, sounding slightly disappointed.

A chair rested there, like all the others that were filled. All the people in the room stared at the empty chair for a moment, but hardly was anyone was surprised. Still, for a short time the classroom was silent, with only the sound of twilaps to be heard, chirping outside the barely opened windows.

And somewhere past those windows, out beyond the unmarked city borders and various buildings, past the bustling market places, halls and homes, was the chair’s occupant, standing outside the bustle, life, routine, and demands of the lost town of Falborough.

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