(c) Nin Harris. All Rights Reserved.
In Memory of Janet Yanosko Elkins, one of the first and earliest readers of this frenetic, hypertextual web and all souls, friends and loved ones lost along the way, somewhere in the Great Dreaming.
Ackbroll squatted beneath the shadow of a teak tree, watching The Wild Maiden of The Trees as she circled the gradon that dreamt within states. All around them, Nemorosum Somnium moved and rustled. It was a feral force that troubled even the Maiden in all her wildness. It troubled Ackbroll even more so, for he was significantly less untamed. His patron, the antlered one, had warned him of this many moons ago. Now, as the Wild Maiden grew frenetic and urgent, he finally understood. The wind affected even him, the murmuring of the trees bending and shifting his own memories, despite the protection of the antlered one. Ackbroll had been named protector here, even if he could have left, his own sense of responsibility would not let him do so.
The susurration that was the conversation between twigs, the veins of corresponding leaves and the wind created an intricate weave that contained the consciousness of a thousand trees and more. It drowned out the thoughts of humans and animals alike. The susurration had the penunggu in the trees cackling and hooting, half-wild with starvation and a glee born of both deprivation and power. The madness of the forest had kept away the tourists who provided them with fresh blood, and fresher meat, but had given these malicious protectors of the trees something else. A new strength, a new dreaming. This could not bode well, Ackbroll thought. He sucked at his upper lip and made an irritated sound. There was no help for it, he had to act soon. Timing was everything. No time for elaborate plans here. He took his slingshot, and loaded it with a mangosteen fruit. It was firm, but soft. Firm enough to be used as a projectile. Soft enough not to hurt too much if used. He looked up at the elegant teak tree and patted its trunk in a familiar, affectionate gesture.
“This may hurt a little,” he said to both the tree and the forest.
He eyed the gradon, whom he knew to be the queen of dragons, as well as the source of the disturbance within the heart of the forest. He aimed his slingshot. He fired.
It would have been a loud shout of outrage, had it not hit something other than a very diminutive target. Ackbroll dropped his slingshot, squinted and then sighed.
“Broke my wing! My wing! Stupid spear-boy!”
Ackbroll dropped to his knees and peered at the Flitterer.
“Weren’t you banished from Nemus Animae?”