Hello there, dear reader.
My name is Death.
A bit morbid, I know, to have me introducing this book. A bit morbid to even think of me, really. But our author has a very odd mind and has decided for some very odd reason to invoke a muse.
So, here I am.
I realize that it is quite the irony to have me beginning something, but I’ve never quite had the opportunity to before, so I suppose this will be an adventure for both of us.
But since the author has promised me this whole page to talk, I suppose I will use just a bit more of this space.
When I gaze upon those who have passed on, I see their lives as one would peer into a foggy glass. Not a full picture of what lies inside, but just enough to get a sense of that person, in the never-ending sea of life.
Much like the stories you will read after this, a look into pieces of distant worlds, or lives right next door. Of people who have lived and will die, but who will never be forgotten.
Shall we begin?
OFF THE MAP
DARREN HAD TO RUN to catch up with Samuel. Samuel had said that there was a rare species of Mortem flos up ahead and he absolutely needed to document it. And then Samuel had used his ridiculously long legs to dash up the path and Darren was stuck running after him.
Darren came panting up behind Samuel a few minutes later, cursing his asthma the entire time.
Samuel had bent down and was no longer a full two feet taller than Darren. He held up a hand for Darren to stop, and pointed to the flower he was sketching. It was as black as the night and had a bright red stem. Samuel had the sketch almost finished in one of his huge leather-bound books.
Samuel had said that he was going to document every plant, every animal, every species that existed in the world. Darren had thought it pointless at first, an idiot on an idiotic quest, but discovered that Samuel had three huge bound books just from the deserts to the south.
And those were completed before Darren had ever met him. After they had met, Samuel had said that they were going to this forest, and Darren had no room to argue.
Samuel seemed very much at home in this forest, which was not on any map that any reasonable person had.
Darren thought that Samuel seemed to see him as a young tree, something that could be guided and molded, and Samuel had been training him in their short time together. And Samuel loved his flowers.
“Cut it off just before the root, Darren,” Samuel murmured, as if the flower could hear them.
Darren took a pair of clippers out of his bag and did as Samuel asked. He had been learning how to do what was more or less gardening and note keeping. He was good enough at the former for Samuel to let him gather flower samples.
Samuel carefully put the cut flower in a small bag in his backpack. His bag was enchanted, and would keep the flowers fresh, and he kept the bag organized to a T.
Samuel scratched his long reddish beard and said, “Come, there is more to see.”
Darren sighed. “Can’t we just rest? I’m tired, Samuel.”
Darren sat down on a rock.
Samuel shook his head.
“You should not camp near a Mortem flos, Darren, strange things happen to those who do. Come.” He clapped his hands. “I shall carry you until we can reach a campsite.”
Darren was too surprised to protest when Samuel shifted his large backpack to one shoulder and put him on his back.
Darren looked over the top of Samuel’s odd woven hat and wiped his glasses a few times to make sure he saw everything clearly. The view was certainly different from almost seven feet up than it was at about five. He could see the tallest branches instead of tripping over overgrown roots.
Samuel marched through the forest for what seemed like hours, chasing the sun until they reached a place free of trees.
Then Samuel put Darren down and Darren looked over the cliff they were on, over the never-ending forest and fiery sky of the setting sun.
He couldn’t bring himself to look back. He promised himself that he would never look back.
Samuel made Darren help with parts of the campsite. Darren tried and failed to set up a tent and Samuel showed him how to make some stew that smelled foul but tasted like rosemary.
Darren wrapped the blankets around himself many times and sat in the tent shivering, until Samuel said to come out. It was even colder out there.
Samuel spent the rest of the night teaching Darren about the constellations and Darren tried very hard to remember what Samuel said about their stories and powers, but it was very late and very cold.
* * *
Darren woke up covered in blankets and Samuel’s jacket. Samuel was talking and laughing in his booming voice to some woodland spirits that had come to visit.
Each sprite was only as big as a fist. They were pure green, although there were varying shades. The little balls squeaked in delight right along with Samuel’s laughter.
“Oh Darren!” Samuel said. “Come here, I should teach you to talk with them!”
Darren rubbed his eyes and glasses and walked over and sat by Samuel.
Samuel explained that the chattering and squeaking meant different things–Samuel had already written down their language in one of his books.
They talked and Darren did his best to answer until lunch.
The sun was high in the sky and the sky was free of clouds. Darren did his best to pack up the supplies and Samuel helped him with most of it.
They walked along for most of the day in silence, as Samuel always said to listen to the trees and Darren had no idea what that meant but he tried.
Later, Samuel walked ahead, as he often did, and started to sing a wordless melody that felt a thousand years old.
Darren stopped short.
In front of him stood a girl about his age who had a black cloak on. She had hair as red as fresh blood and she seemed to blend in with the trees.
Darren let out a shaky “H-Hello.”
Samuel had stopped and said, “Darren? Where are you?”
“Oh, down here I just met—”
“Fleur,” the girl said. “My name is Fleur.”
“Well hello Fleur,” Samuel said in his booming voice, looking back to meet them. “Will you be coming with us?”
Fleur looked at him and smiled, “I believe I will.”
“Where are your feet?” Darren asked.
He had only now noticed that her feet were–-well, nowhere; she seemed to float, never quite touching the ground, where her feet would be was just air.
Samuel and Fleur looked at him like he was an idiot.
“She’s a ghost.”
Fleur kept watch over the camp that night, and she and Samuel stayed up all night talking about the stars.
Fleur also stayed back with Darren and talked with him when Samuel went plowing on ahead.
She helped Samuel with the ghost part of his journals, and Samuel was very thankful for the help.
“Are you going to stay with us then?” Darren asked one night, when Fleur was sitting on a rock staring at the moon.
“Well,” Fleur smiled, “I suppose I’m following Samuel for the same reason you are.”
“And that is?” Darren asked.
Fleur had a sad smile on her face when she turned her eyes back to the bright blue moon and said:
“I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Both of them were silent for a while and then Fleur said, “Where are we going?”
Darren looked up into the sky of endless stars and looked at a
constellation Samuel had shown him.
“North,” said Darren. “We’re going north.”