by Matthew MacNish
The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment
He watched the grey mist fall languidly off the glassflat surface of the cold, dark lake, its twisting vapors the only thing that moved in the silence. Morning stalked still and secret through the trees as dawn approached, nothing more than a subtle, desperate lightening of the far domed firmament.
Ancient. Timeless. Infinite.
The lingering dew awoke every sleeping odor held within an earthen mouth: dirt, worms, decay, fungi, wet leaves, pine, life. The world stirred.
A ripple on the water. A fluttering of leaves in the trees. The whistling warble of a nearby songbird. A gentle waft of warmer air against the skin.
He stood, stiller than a statue, his hand firm around his bow, his toes cold and stiff in the chilled leather of his boots. His breathing was slowed to a pace that rivaled hibernation, but his mind was sharp and focused. He drank the world in through his senses as he stood, and watched, and considered.
It had been a long night, spent in vigil, the threat of danger never far away. This was the frontier, and his people knew of the coming enemy. They were resigned against it.
His duty was to watch, and then to warn. Perhaps to fight one day, if, Mother of the Forest forbid, it came to that.
He shrugged, stretched his neck, and spat. His people were peaceful, but they would defend their land with determination. Damn the horde to the stony depths of the deep black wastes. They could choke, and writhe, and wither into nothing there for all the care he gave them.
Suddenly he heard a cry, a ghostly call so ethereal in the lifting fog of the charging morning that it begged the question: am I still within this life or have I crossed over into some Other World where time and matter are but rumors of their former selves.
And then he knew.
It was the lakebird of the boundary waters, heralding the breaking dawn with a call as clarion as the horn of a rider diving headlong into the great red battle at the end of history.
Yet, for him, it was but the beginning.