Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Wood Frog

Greetings Cogswaddle,

              Although I don't remember much of my living, and can remember nothing that would cause it, I do remember that the Darkmoon Faire -- unsettles me. The striped tents, the worn wagons drawn by even more worn beasts, the smell of the confections and the greasy treats, undigested beer mixed with vomit and sawdust, all of it conjures in my soul an uneasy dread. I don't know what possessed me to stop at the base of Thunderbluff.
              Perhaps it was the faded paper tickets that had been thrust into my hand as I collected my supplies for another trip into the wilderness. Perhaps it was to face some deeply buried element of my past before setting out in an attempt to make my way as a mage. Perhaps I was trying to purge an irrational fear and prove my growth in understanding to the Earth Mother and her champions here. Though, really, how would they know if I merely shuddered and rode past?
              Perhaps I needed some diversion from the constant struggle to improve my skills so that I might be strong enough to strike at the Scourge while there are still Scourge left to strike. (I have heard that our champions are daily making progress on their assault of the Lich King's citadel.)
              I suppose it does not matter why, but I stopped. It may seem odd to you that I would spend hard coin on treats and drink when everything tastes like shredded pasteboard and ashes, but due to some quirk in my unmaking, I still retain my sense of smell. I would propose that it is better than when I was living, though that may be just a delusion due to the lack of intensity of my other senses. I cannot, for example, feel "wet" nor "fluffy" and the concept of something being "rough" or "smooth" fades into nothing but a technicality or a memory. I can feel the tug of every single stitch that holds my patchworked flesh together, but can't tell if I am standing on grass, or glass, in fluid or fire.
              The Faire had not really gotten underway, there were few customers and the barkers were not yet into their full fervor. There was still plenty of activity, most provided by a young orc lad who looked to be "wound full up" as The Cogswaddle used to say. He dissipated some of his energy by banging forcibly into my shins.
              "Frog, mister Mage?" he grinned up at me, not the least apologetic, and oddly, for a child of any race, completely unafraid. "They make great familiars, once you get them trained, you know."
              I looked down at his all too earnest face, and realized, I was smiling. I don't think I've smiled in, well, I don't know how long.
              "Let's see these frogs," I muttered before I could stop myself. No living pet, even the gigantic cockroaches favored by some (a word is scratched out here) of my kind, had ever expressed any desire to remain in my company.
              "I have two kinds, but this one is kind of rare, especially around here. I think he's all the way from Felwood."
              "Felwood's not," I stopped myself from pointing out that Felwood was not really all that far away, "a pleasant place for a child such as yourself." With a start I realized that I had sounded like my father. I have little memory of him now, really, just that simple awareness. I think he would have been quite disturbed to know his personality were being carried forward by such as myself.
              "I didn't get him myself. I only get to hunt for the local frogs." He frowned, then looked at me like I might be crazed, and then in the space of a single blink was the solicitous and friendly salesman again.
              I knelt down to look at the frogs in their cages. Both of them, in amphibious synchronization, slipped to the back of their cages.
              "I don't have much luck with animals..."
              "They hop, they swim. They make funny sounds, too. They're easy to take care of, they eat bugs like the ones that always gather around you guys. That makes them pretty loyal."
              I really don't care to think much on my insect entourage. Many Forsaken have one, especially "fresher" ones. I was quite surprised at the number of different insect species that want to use one for a home or nesting ground. The Cogswaddle would have been fascinated.
              I've worked hard to keep my flesh stitched up with fresh supple leather. It keeps my insides in and, more importantly, the outside, out. It took me quite a while to work the bugs out. Well, most of them. I still find brain worms, but I have a theory that they come from another realm entirely. You might not believe how difficult it is to sew patches to some places on your body, try it some time, you'll see.
              Apologies for the digression.
              The frogs were obviously terrified of me, of their tiny prison, probably of the whole faire environment. I pulled out a couple of gold coins and bought them both. There are woods near Stone Bull lake. Freedom is most appreciated by those who've lost and then regained it. You should try it some time.
              I strolled the grounds with my pair of cages. The frogs sat in choreographed motionlessness, silent, terrified, and I imagined, with increasing hunger. By chance I wandered near what I took for a speaking cannon.
              "Down here, Patches," the squeaky voice piped from below the cannon's stand. "Whew! you're a..." I heard her sniff delicately. "A proud owner of stinky frogs. Eww."
              It took a moment to discover the actual source of the voice. A female Gnome. I don't know that I have ever seen one so close who was not festooned with knives, and trying to kill me. I think that may be true even when I lived in Stormwind.
              "They're frightened, I'm going to take them to the lake and let them go."
              "That's a darned site better than being eaten, I suppose. Hop in!"
              I stood, silent as my scaly cargo, eyes probably as wide. Though how one would tell through the necromantic glow of the enchanted fungus that fills my sockets, I can't really say. I hadn't actually thought of eating them up 'till then.
              "It's a carnival ride, aimed right at Stone Bull Lake, sort of, wind willing and you get your timing right." Her voice faded and got much faster, "the Dark Moon Faire is not responsible for injuries acquired while participating in this game, enter at your own risk, your experience may vary, not all participants are winners, or even survivors." She smiled and gestured at the ladder.
              I looked around. Fortunes were being read, games played, winning handfuls of tickets exchanged for prizes. No one spared us more than a cursory look. I can always cast slow fall, I rationalized, and this was bound to be faster than walking all the way there. I climbed the ladder and handed the frog cages to the Gnome. She held them down wind at arm's length while I settled into the cannon, making sure I was solidly footed on the thin pad that separated me from the charge below my feet.
              "I haven't killed anyone yet," the Gnome smiled as she handed me the caged amphibian lumps, "at least during the launch phase. Try to cancel the spell just before you get to the target or you'll overshoot. Go too far and you mightn't even land in the lake. Good luck!"
              "Is 'mightn't' even a real word?" I had the hazy memory that The Cogswaddle had made up his own words, too.
              Before I could ask if all Gnomes did that, she gave an affirmative squeak and then yanked on the firing mechanism.
              My vision blanked momentarily and I found myself spinning through the air, the cages clutched to my chest. I arced up into the sky over Mulgore, and realized that my "wings" were little more than a slow fall spell with a fancy glamor.
              I laughed.
              I held the cages at eye level as we sailed through the air, "Down there will be your new home." They didn't seem too excited about it. Both creatures had their eyes tightly shut. I tripped the latches to their cages and let the little doors fall away.
              It looked like I was headed for some trees, so I decided to use my own spell to make sure I made it over the lake in one piece. Unfortunately, I was too focused on the frogs. The spell triggered, and I enchanted the frogs. (Go ahead, laugh. I do.) The target sped by underneath, it had been hidden by the trees and I had been too distracted to see it. The wings vanished and I found myself dangling from the cages. It tipped the opening up and the cages, as well as myself, slipped away from the all ready too abused frogs. Each of them spread their legs wide, slowing their fall even further. They began to make swimming motions, a spastic but still synchronized aerial amphibian ballet. I admit, I laughed.
              The ground raced at me from far too far away. I entered another stand of trees at much too high a velocity to expect any sort of comfortable landing.
              There was much snapping and crunching, and everything went black for a while. I was wondering if this was it. I'd survived my youth, my apprenticeship, sewing vestments for the Silver Hand, the Plague, death, slavery to the Scourge, the Barrens, the rites of the Earth Mother, to what? Fall to my final death while trying to free a pair of terrified frogs?
              Just as I was beginning to accept the concept of spending an eternity surrounded by the sounds of the forest and the scent of pine sap, my eyesight and my sense of feeling returned.
              "Ouch. That's going to leave a mark." The Cogswaddle's phrase escaped, deadpan, just as he'd always said when receiving some small injury. I smiled again. Save for my inability to move, my awareness of a hundreds of popped stitches, the unnatural, even for me, angle of my legs and arms; I would have said the day was shaping up nicely.
              I felt something land on my chest. A large spotted frog turned to face me. It's large eyes, with their bifurcated pupils blinked once. It was disconcerting that they didn't blink together, the left eye lead the right by a mere fraction of a second. The beast's nostrils flared, and its ping tongue lashed out. If I had eyelids, I'm sure I would have blinked too late. I felt a sticky pull from above my brow, and the tongue recoiled, a fat brainworm stuck, wriggling, on the gluey tip.
              "No, that's mine!" I tried to shout, but it rolled out of my mouth in the same deadpan as earlier. Now I really had to consider eating the damnable frog, if I could catch it.
              I watched as part of my life was swallowed whole by my green spotted assailant. I watched, as the wriggling lump of memory rolled down the amphibian's throat.
              The tree frog inhaled deeply, and froze.
              His pupils swelled, completely crowding out the golden green of his irises, only a thin grey line bifurcated each black orb.
              I groaned. How would I ever know what I lost? I knew only that I had lost... something.
              The frog inhaled again, without, it seemed, exhaling first. His throat swelled into a round ball nearly half his size. I felt the stirring of the Nether, a weaving together of the fabric of reality and will. The Wood frog's eyes locked onto my own and then he began to croak even as my own groan died in my open mouth. The ratcheting call echoed in my own windpipe, amplified, tuned oddly between the frog's extended croak and my own groan. I saw and felt the thick purple miasma of memory flow from the wood frog to me.
              The party had gone on for some time, and little clumps of guests had broken off to carry on their discussions without interruption by others nearby, an interesting combination of courtesy and isolationism at the same time. I looked up to see a pretty young woman and a handsome young man hurrying towards me. It was as looking in a mirror, but not. My twin brother, Benton, was more focused on the young woman than myself, as, to be honest was I. We three had been friends since we were small. Only recently had that friendship taken on a sort of otherness that was both heady and frightening at the same time.
              The woman reached out to take both my hands. My brother's face darkened.
              "Fenton, have you seen Lizzie, we've misplaced the birthday girl."
              "Yes, perhaps you could round her up for us," my brother added, placing his hand on the young woman's shoulder.
              I pointed over to the group of Clerics in their Embroidered Tabards (knowing that we could have done much better,) "She's talking to the priests about their order, though I think she's a bit young to be recruited, she's the only one who seemed to be interested."
              "Thank you," the young woman brought both my hand to her lips and kissed my pinkie, I relished the touch of her dry but soft lips on the back of my fingers. She ducked under my and brother's hands and sped off to round up her sister.
              My brother muttered, "thanks," and turned to race after the young woman, taking her arm when he drew even to her.
              I knew then that our days of carefree youth were just about over. I knew it with a certainty that startled me. I vowed to pull back from their relationship, to let it develop as it would, and it felt right to do so, but still, my heart clenched in my chest and I felt an irrevocable loss. My brother turned at that moment and I raised my glass to him and smiled my widest smile, filling it with every bit of filial love I could muster.
              The woman's younger sister spun briefly out of the crowd wearing one of the priest's shields and wielding a lamb shank like a mace. Meat flopped against the bone and grease flew. The dodging group burst out laughing. My brother turned towards the laughter, his own smile fading even before his face left my view.
              "Lizzie, what are you..."
              "It's my birthday, and I'm learning to be a Palindrome."
              "Paladin," one of the priests laughingly corrected her.
              "She's going to be a powerful one, too," another piped in.
              "Just look at her form."
              "I think she's showed off her form enough for now, it's time for cake." My brother snatched the lamb shank and whispered something in Lizzie's ear.
              I could see the droop in Lizzie's shoulders, but she straightened right up and announced "Time for cake, everyone!" She handed the shield back to one of the clerics.
              My brother headed back to the main table with both sisters on his arms.
              The cleric with the shield stopped in front of me, his companions in echelon behind him. I found the military bearing of these priests comforting, even attractive. I understood why Lizzie was impressed. "We didn't mean to make a disturbance..."
              His young face was earnestly concerned that they had overstepped their bounds. I smiled at him. "Lizzie is Lizzie, always will be. No harm done."
              "Seriously, she's a natural."
              "She's been training," I explained, "But don't mention that to anyone, it's supposed to be a secret." I remembered catching her sparring with a couple of the local militia who'd come to our shop for uniforms and insignia. I'd agreed to help Lizzie out by asking her to run our orders out to the tiny militia outpost a couple of times a month. Those trips took considerably longer than her other deliveries, her sister thought it was because she had a suitor, and I let her think so. I knew that Lizzie's only suitor would be battle, beneath her carefree exterior was a burning desire to set things right, to avenge the deaths of her parents.
              "Ah, I see," The cleric smiled and his blue eyes twinkled. "In time perhaps she'd like to come to Lordaeron to finish that training."
              "She just might." I reached out and lifted his tabard into the light. I looked at the rough embroidery of the silver hand. "Come by our shop later, I have some things to show you that I think you'll like."
              "Thank you, I will." Even in the fading light of the day, his eyes were a shocking light blue, I could almost see the Light spilling out of them.
              "Fenton, get over here! What sort of host are you?" Lizzie shouted from behind the head table. She was almost dancing, up on the curb of the canal, knife in hand, ready to cut. It would be a miracle if she stayed dry the whole evening.
              "Come, friend, there's cake," I clapped the cleric on the shoulder, and we made our way to the table.
              The memory faded, save I know that Lizzie did not, in fact, manage to stay out of the canal that night.
              I heard the echo of the ringing croak fade in the forest. The tree frog's left eye lid lowered slowly, its right eye still focused on my own. The left eyelid opened slowly to reveal a pupil shrunken to normal size. This was followed by the same slow closing of the right eye, and the same slow reveal of a perfectly normal frog's eye. The frog inhaled, but did not move save to relax its front legs and lower its chin to my chest.
              I sat there, a broken patchwork doll, knowing that I have, a twin named Benton, and my own name had been Fenton.
              Fenton Threadneedle.
              Of Stormwind.
              Who, with his brother, owned a fine tailoring and embroidery shop along the rebuilt canal.
              Who watched his brother court and marry their childhood friend (part of the line is scratched or torn out.)
              Who travelled to Lordaeron to make vestments for the Order of the Silver Hand.
              Who is long dead.
              When I could move again, I placed the frog in a protected pocket of my robe and limped back to Thunder Bluff.
              P.S. It has been two days; the frog has not fled. I choose to take this as a hopeful sign. Of course, I have been wrong before.

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