|Vast stretch of desert, entirely unfamiliar to the author.|
That behind us, I have found the southern coast to the lands I knew full well to exist. Where I have gone awry, to the reader's delight, is that I recognize nothing of these lands. According to my map, I should have found enormous, savage snow-capped mountains, down which fearsome rivers of lava ran to most dramatic effect. Spruce carpeted the sides and caves enticed the adventuresome eye, both for ready-made shelter and allure of what prizes they contained.
Nope, couldn't find a shred of this. No mountains, no lava, no spruce. Just a vast desert covered in sand and more sand, with traces of cactus and sugar canes, plus a low and miserly scrub-brush about which there seems no magnificent promise. I skirted the coast, scanning for anything remotely familiar, as disappointment filled up my vessel before catalyzing into dread: if I couldn't recognize the land I expected, flying due north across Sewall Sea, what were my odds of turning southward and drifting to the familiar lands?
But I kept on, and sure enough, it began to rain. Now, I'm not blaming the Great Sewall for this inclement weather, but... Listen, O my reader, when you're alone and drifting upon the sea, exposed to all the elements with nothing but your (frankly musty) topcoat for shelter, the last thing you really need is even a gentle springtime shower. (Come to that: what in blazes season is it anyway? I have no idea, it does neither grow warmer nor chill down with the passage of time.) It's one thing to be strolling about Bartram Island, chopping down a tree, reclining amid the flowers, when caught by an abrupt storm. All one has to do is laugh it off and trot back indoors. But out here on the ocean, where the winds blow unimpeded and the hull of one's humble craft is threatened by innocent octopodes, I could really do without the rain.
|If you could be a horse, what kind of horse would you be?|
You may see the herd of horses, dappled brown, grazing and unaffected by the downpour. A little further on I found a herd of solid black or mostly black horses, and as the channel wended around, finally a herd of brilliant white horses. All of these wild, all of these content to group together and feed where they could find sustenance. Well, for that matter, were I a horse I should view these lands as deliciously untamed, rambling and abundant with grassy life. How freeing, to gallop off at top speed, reveling in one's savage rank, then to dine when and where one will, having one's fill without the suffering of another creature. Oh, to be a horse!
I sailed past these, watching them with disappointment as they shrank into the background. They regarded me not, but champed and ground with their powerful molars, the droplets pelting their tough hides to exactly zero effect. Inspired, I attempted to bolster myself and adopt the equine stoicism: I sat up straighter, raised my head, and stared off into the horizon that was my destination.
This did no good. I was still freezing my flanks off.
Night fell, the sinking sun absconding with its warmth—not that there was much to be had this side of the quilt of overcast skies. And now the terrifying beasts came out, erupting across the landscape like a disgusting fungal affliction. As they marched, I was acutely aware that shoring up anywhere would be an impossibility: the archer-skeletons would peg me off from a great distance, and the unnamed creeping horrors (oh, dash it all, let's name them now: Explodicons) and the A.C.M.s would wade out, undeterred by plunging oceanic depths, wading inexorably to me should I drift too close.
So I did not. I refrained, bolt upright and chilled to the marrow in my substandard skiff, regarding them from a rueful distance as the moon slowly rose into the sky, and even still the rain did not relent. These are the times that try men's souls, indeed...
Wait, where did that come from? P-... Paine... that was Thomas Paine! I recalled the words of one of our nation's founding fathers! Improvement! All is not lost.
But on I drifted, into the penetrating blackness, lost along an unfamiliar coast bristling with the hostile vanguard of evil. My life-force was but a flicker, a guttering flame somewhere beneath layers of drenched wool and clammy flesh. My craft drifted around a cay, the landscape unfolded before me, and I saw a miracle:
A house! A full-fledged house of educated construction! No mere hovel, this was a large dwelling for, oh, only God could know how many others! Had I found a human settlement? It seemed so, but this world was yet full of many cruel tricks, half of which (only half, I hoped) had yet to reveal themselves.
I oared closer, and I saw (as dear reader does) the witch slowly making her way up the embankment. She was hunched and sodden with the deluge, naturally, but one careful foot after the other found its way up the sand to the base on the hillside. Her intent to reach this house was clear, but was this her dwelling or did she mean harm to its inhabitants?
My mind raced but I hadn't sufficient evidence to arrive at an informed conclusion. Either this horrible person was simply retreating to its shelter, or a number of innocents were soon to fall to her assault. Which was it? What should I do?
Steeling my nerve, I checked the location of my enchanted bow, Typhoon, and withdrew Biter from its swaddling. I steered toward the shore and rowed ahead at full speed, ready to throw the whole of my being into battle.