Chapter Four: Sleeper Awake!

April 25, 2018
           Jhost woke up abruptly – his eyes snapped open and the first thing that swam into his vision in the sky above was that it was punctuated with six small moons of varying sizes and colors that appeared to be hovering in the upper atmosphere. There was also some sort of a faint glowing halo in an unoccupied orbit of space between them.  Almost as if… one of the moons was missing? Whatever the case; he didn’t understand what or why it was so.  What he did know is that he was quite sore. He attempted to move; but couldn’t right away. He tried to speak; but out came a sound resembling something between a moan and a croak.  He felt like he’d been pushed off a cliff.  He tried again to stand; and only got part way before stabbing pains in his legs and shoulders forced him back down.

           “Easy Boy” – said the all too familiar voice of Duskin. For some reason this actually startled Jhost.

“Easy” Duskin said softly and passed him some warm liquid that had been heated by the fire glowing and crackling in front of him. “You were having another one of those bad dreams. Here… drink this.. it’ll make you feel better and take some of the edge off.”  he said. Jhost reached out with a shaky hand to receive the warm mug. 

            “Jhost?” he said out loud.  “Jhost……”.   He played the name on his own lips; but in his mind still didn’t recognize the name given to him. He peered towards Duskin with a quizzical look on his face.

            Duskin said “Well… the name sort of fits.  It’s both obsolete, and an ancient name.  One that hasn’t been used in a few millenniums, at least not since the first Interregnum.”  “It’s a Faire name, as I’d mentioned early on to you, but they’re thought to be extinct.” “The males were hunted out first, and then a few millennia later or so I think the females were also snuffed out. Damn shame. IF they still exist…they’ve likely been reduced to Nymphs, Witches, Enchantresses or some combination thereof. Hope hasn’t been the same since.”  

           “Anyway boy…. I gave you that name and while you don’t really resemble a Faire much, you sure as hell smell like one!” “Which in this day and age is still a highly unlikely and unusual prospect indeed.”

            Jhost sort of gave a blank stare back not really comprehending what Duskin was saying; nor sure if he should even respond.  He decided he’d pry more into what his name’s origins meant later.  So, he decided to change the subject to more pressing matters.

            “I feel horrible, queasy. How long did I sleep for?”  

            “Well… we walked about 6 Leagues (Nearly 20 miles) or so and just when it began getting dark you literally started passing out”.  “You missed out on a mighty fine roast mutton and some of the world’s best barrel aged whiskey last night my boy! But; I didn’t want to wake you.”

            The injury of missing out on even one of Duskin’s meals panged him to no end. He wasn’t sure he’d ever eaten so well in his life; whatever that was before he’d lost his faculties. “So where are we again?”  “I know you explained this yesterday…. But the details are fuzzy… I… I feel like I keep waking up from the same dream.”  Jhost asked.

            Duskin wiped the creamy froth of the warm drink carefully from his ash white mustache and beard.  Peered at him and said.  “Listen carefully Jhost.  I’m not sure what happened to you.  In fact…you even scare me a little and that’s saying something given I’m a dwarf not to be trifled with.  I sure hope you’re not playing me?!” Duskin’s piercing flinty eyes seemed to almost glow as he peered carefully back at Jhost.

            “No….. really Duskin” “I seriously have no recollection of anything prior to when you found me a few .. what’s it been now? About a month since we’ve been on this bricked road?” “I still really don’t know where we’re going.” “You’ve been kind… which is the only reason I feel somewhat safe.”

            Duskin let out a sigh, tossed the dregs of his drink into the fire which hissed loudly and made a few sparks leap out of the fire.  “That’s a damn shame Jhost… a damn shame…..”  “I was hoping you were a dragon rider, or maybe someone from the prophecy.” “But now… I’m having some doubts.  If you didn’t smell like something that should be extinct I probably would have left you on the side of the road.”  “Sorry to sound harsh about this boy, but…. I’m on a mission”. 

            Jhost just stared back dumbly not even sure how to respond other than to say. “You… you’re on a mission?” “Me… I’m just lost.” As his voice trailed off.

            Duskin realized he’d sounded a little harsh and softened up his following response by saying. 

            “Look….I’m sorry… it’s been a long millennium. Let me start from the top again and then I’ll let you decide if you feel like following me to my likely demise. We’re getting close to our destination – I can feel it!”

            Jhost looked even more puzzled by this dwarf’s latest statement but decided to just soak it in.  He took a sip of his drink and listened.

            Duskin, with hints of patience in his voice began.  “Jhost my boy…since you still don’t seem to know squat about who you are. Where you are, where you’re from, what time it is, or what in the world is going on around you. Allow me to take it from the top again and catch ya up on even more current events. As you’ve learned, the world is called Hope.” Duskin made a sweeping gesture with his right arm while simultaneously not spilling any of the brew in his large mug. “It’s the year three hundred and thirty-three thousand, three hundred, and thirty-three. Since the last sighting of Ona that is. It happens to be about nine o’clock in the morning.” “We talked about the seven major continents and the one we’re on now is ruled by the Thersian Empire.”  “It didn’t always used to be called that but that’s good enough for you to know for now”.  “I’ll dive into more of the history lessons later.”  “First off, the Thersian Empire as I’ve said before is arguably the largest, most powerful, and likely dangerous to come along in a very long time.  It’s crushed and beat the life out of most of the smaller countries; and they’ve all mostly fallen into submission.  So, on this continent they all pay homage to the High Emperor Lyrid Callhoon and his family.  Right now, we’re in one of the outer territories on the far southwest side of his Thersian Empire.  We’re searching for a small country, simply called ‘The Lost Duchy, that was never conquered, or at least not by the Thersian’s anyway. Why? You might ask? Well…the reason being is there is a particularly nasty black Drake the size of some of the biggest dragons that Hope ever saw! This Drake decided to make his home in this Duchy; and he’s managed to scare off pretty much every would be challgenger. The Drake’s name is “Curse”; and he didn’t want to have anything to do with the Thersian’s – let alone share his treasures locked away in those renowned vaults. I’ve been sent to retrieve an heirloom that I’m praying will help reverse the taint in this world, save my people, and bring back harmony with our real Maker.” Duskin paused and looked sideways at Jhost.  “Do you follow me so far?”  

            Jhost nodded and took another sip off the warm foamy brew (Tasting somewhere between a coffee, tea, and Hot chocolate – Chai Mocha) warming his hands; and seemingly helping him with the stabbing pains he’d felt earlier. 

           “Good said Duskin”.  “I have a ton more to share & teach you, but in the meantime, I’m going to prepare us a brunch since you overslept.” “Stories are better told on a full belly – as I always say.”  “Also; if you’re going to follow and keep up with’ll need stoke some fire in that belly!”  Duskin began pulling a few cooking utensils and food items from his pack.  He talked and worked at his cooking craft at the same time - paused his humming, turned and looked at Jhost over his shoulder, and started rifling through one of his many bags again. He heard Duskin mumble something about, …”let’s see if this boy can even read his letters.” About a minute later. “Ah ha! Found them!” Duskin turned around with several faded, ancient looking, and well used leather-bound books in his hands. “Boy…. This might give us more of a clue as to where you might be from!” Duskin seemed excited by this newfound revelation. “Here… let me know if you can read any of these here books!?”

           The first book Duskin handed over was a pale green book with yellowed pages. Jhost gingerly accepted what was offered. There was an ancient feeling about the thing, as if, it was not merely hundreds of years old, but thousands. He carefully started turning the pages, not recognizing any of the beautiful and delicate scribble. There were drawings as well, of various food items being presented on roughly every other page.

           Jhost looked up and saw Duskin staring at him, almost holding his breath. He said, “Does anything make sense from those pages? Do they speak to you? Do they tell you anything?” Jhost didn’t want to disappoint his good-natured host, and assented to waving his head from side to side to side to indicate a no. The look on Duskin’s face was one of disappointment. A few seconds later, Duskin quickly thrust another book towards him. This one was in much better shape, and definitely a lot newer. It was black, done in a decorative gold leaf. He started to turn the pages, looked up again at Duskin and waved his head in resignation– no.  Duskin seemed intent on not being defeated by this and quickly swapped another book into Jhost’s hands. “Well… maybe this one?” said Duskin.

           This one was also old, not nearly as old as the first, but had that feeling that it might be nearly a hundred years old or so. This book was very faded out, pale yellow in color, and had a picture of a white rabbit on the cover. He was careful, and began to gingerly turn the yellowing pages that were loose, crumbly, and might make an effort to fall out. Again, he was careful with this book, cradled the binding in his left hand, grabbed a bunch of pages and turned about two-thirds of the way into the book – while not even looking. When he peered down, he was startled! Jhost’s eyes got big, and bigger again as his eyebrows pulled up and away from his eyes. His face started turning into the beginnings of a smile – dimples showing amidst some stubble that was constantly in a fit of trying to grown into a beard.

            Jhost looked up at Duskin, then back down to the book, and said: “Bob’s - Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe!”

Duskin’s black armor clad right arm shot skyward – worn wooden cooking spoon in his left hand – and gave out a loud shout of “WOOO HOOO!!!!” “My boy can read!!!” Duskin seemed quite pleased with himself underneath all that snow-white beard and stache of his. He became very animated, looked intently at Jhost and said. “Jhost!!! You speak Luvaari!” “And, that’s not at all too bad a thing.” “One of many riddles about you has just been solved.” “You’re definitely not a local… likely somewhere from the far northern Luvaari Republics. Maybe even from the pioneer lands to the far west, but you’re definitely not from around here.” “Someday we’ll have to figure out exactly where home is for you.” “But for now, this might even explain part of the riddle as to why you’re fairly near the “Lost Duchy.” “Perhaps you might know more than you think? Perhaps you’re on a quest to free the mythical ‘Lady of the Lost Duchy yourself – who knows?!” “What I do know.. is that you can read, and that’s a start, and you’re likely Luvaari.” “Also; if you’re lucky, I might be able to make you some of Bob’s infamous chocolate chip cookies!”

            Duskin was soon plating up the brunch he’d whipped up, and began scooping healthy amounts of food onto two beautifully decorated plates encompassed with gold leaf. Jhost couldn’t make heads or tails of how in the world Duskin could fit all these things into that little backpack of his, but more on that later. Breakfast not only smelled awesome but looked fantastic! Practically a breakfast fit for a king. Breakfast consisted of thick cut bacon, an egg scramble consisting of something like spinach, braised pearl onions, and some sort of diced tomato along with several aromatic spices. When he received the plate, Duskin paused over the meal, and gave a reverent thanks to someone, or something, called… “Ona”. A name that he’d heard Duskin reverently refer to from time to time. After this prayer.. they both dove into their meals with gusto!

            “So… where was I.  Ah… yes.. there’s several other bits to fill you in on. But first, let’s finish the story about the Drake called Curse. Curse is a bit of double meaning if you catch my drift. Not only is that his name, but he really is a… curse. Curse you see, knew that one of the most important lynch pins in securing a foothold for evil on this continent would be to conquer the Lost Duchy. Originally the Duchy was a part of the North Elven Republic.  So you see, these Northern Elves in an effort to keep the peace with their Southern Elven cousins, decided to each maintain a Duchy in each other’s kingdoms. However; there was a schism a few millennia ago, and a civil war broke out amongst themselves and it’s been hell ever since between the two Elven races. Damn shame if you ask me… a very damn shame. A lot of good elven blood has been spilt between the two. There’s been an armistice now for about the past few hundred years but only because of all the invasions coming in from the east. However; things are back on extremely shaky ground right now. I have a hunch there’s a Therisian or two stirring the pot again in the hopes that their civil war breaks out wholesale again.

           Jhost was trying to follow the story between bites and said: “You mentioned this … Curse… being a Drake… what exactly is that?”.

           Duskin paused, chewed his food thoughtfully and said: “Great question”. “You’ve heard of Dragons before right?” “I mean… who doesn’t know what a dragon is?”.

          Jhost nodded in assent. “Yes… I know what a Dragon is…but my fogged out memory seems to think they’re a myth.”

Duskin in hearing this poured himself another round of that frothy brew; shook his head, and looked up. “Jhost, I think you are a Dragon rider! Or… you were, until you collided with those Howlers!”. “And…just like the Faire, the Dragon Riders are also supposed to be extinct!” “At any rate, think of a Drake as being a smaller version of a Dragon. Pretty much the same thing”. “However; Curse, is a freak amongst his kind, and grew to the proportions of even the largest recorded Dragons.”

          “How big are we talking about?” Asked Jhost.

          “Well my boy, you see that massive tall tree over yonder?” “The one with the reddish leaves on it?”

         Jhost and Duskin were on a smallish knoll off to the side of the cobble stoned road they’d been traveling on that afforded them a good view of everything in 360 degrees. In the distance, northerly, along the road and perhaps a quarter mile away stood a large deciduous tree with reddish leaves on it. It was beautiful to behold and stood around one and fifty feet tall.

          Jhost did some mental math and said: “So…this Drake is about one hundred and fifty feet tall, the wings from tip to tip about three hundred feet (About 1/3rd larger in wingspan than a 747), and the body would likely push four hundred feet or more?” “That’s crazy!!!! Just…crazy big!”

          Duskin looked over… “That’s not the half of it my boy!”

          Huh? Jhost looked quizzically over.

          Duskin said. “We’re going to kill it!” “or rather… YOU are going to kill it!” You’re a dragon rider - remember! Ha ha!!! You know about these things!

          Jhost wasn’t feeling comfortable with this at all.

         “Look Duskin… you’ve been the epitome of a good host and all” “But for starters, I’m damn lost.” “I don’t know what a Dragon Rider is, or a Drake, or where I am. We’ve talked for around a month & you’ve been nothing short of incredible in trying to ‘learn’ me. But holy hell! I don’t know the first thing about fighting! Or.. at least I don’t think I do.”

         “Don’t you worry about a thing Jhost my boy!” “I’m a gonna be helpin ya!” “Now… let’ me finish more of my story.”

          Duskin reached over, & from the small pitcher he’d been warming by the fire topped off Jhost’s empty mug with more of that tasty froth.

          “Let’s see..there be wayyyyyy more to this story to be a tellin. Which is why.. I know you’re the one!” “You see… There’s a prophecy about a man, falling from the sky, who will be…. roughly translated…and called, the “Curse Breaker.” I know that’s you! It’s gotta be you!” “I mean…how many people are brave, or dumb enough to take on and kill a Howler squadron!?” “Now that’s a sight and story that’s never been told!” “Let alone, survive that fall and still be alive, and talking to meself, … a Dwarf who’s not to be trifled with!” “Ha!” As Duskin let out a guffaw of a laugh & slapped his gauntleted hand on that black plated thigh of his. And not the least of it my boy; you happened to fall into my path, while I was on my way to take on this Drake called Curse. So you see? The Curse Breaker has appeared! To kill this very same drake called none other than…. Curse!” “I mean….. what are the odds?

          At this point Jhost just gave up on even trying to dissuade Duskin from thinking he wasn’t a “Dragon Rider.” In his mind he played this out.. as if..what was the point in letting down this amazing host, and, world renowned chef!? This guy could cook!   

         “Jhost my boy… we’re gonna kill this Drake, and rid Hope once and for all of his poison, or… die trying!”

         Jhost looked up. “Duskin, there’s so much you’ve been telling me that it’s hard to absorb it all.” “It’s slowly starting to sink in, I know that whatever I allegedly collided with knocked me senseless and nearly killed me.” “I do remember something about falling through the sky.” “We now know I’m not from around here, and can at least read a language from the north…what did you call it again?”

         Duskin: “The Luvaari Republics”… “or… at least any of the environs in proximity to them.”

        “Ok… great.” “That’s a start at least.” “I’m just concerned that you think I’m something I’m not.”

         Duskin nearly snorted that frothy brew out of his nose. “Jhost my boy… I think you’re full of shit if there ever was! You’re at least part Faire! I can smell the magic about you. I’ve seen your body heal from wounds that would kill a Giant.” “In a weeks’ time your scars all but disappeared.” “Don’t think I don’t notice that you’re uncomfortable in your own skin.” “This dwarfs been around! I’ve seen things that would scare Angels. I’ve climbed on the backs of Colossi and sailed around this world countless times. You my boy, are unnatural.” “Even if…you.. don’t know it yet!” “running across you on my way to certain death was not happenstance”.  

         Duskin continued his story:  “So…let me recap this for ya one last time.  You’re on a fringe territory of the Thersian Empire, on the planet Hope.  There’s a great evil brewing in the east and coming this way.  When it hits, and it will, it will be like a tidal wave, ..or Thunderclap if you will - of evil, taint, and misery to spare. I’m heading to what was formerly an Elvish duchy here not more than a few more days from us now to the northwest.   It’s rumored that the rightful heir, the Duchess “La’Mere” may still haunt the fringes of her Duchy in the hopes that one day the Drake can be killed or driven away by a champion. However; I doubt she’s still alive.  She, like the rest of the believers have been waiting for a champion that was prophesied to fall from the sky like a shooting star and that he would be a man that would be able to start a chain reaction breaking the twelve curses in all the lands of Hope to restore order with our Maker.  Strangely enough Jhost… you sort of fit all those descriptions.”  “However; even I’m not fully convinced. Something seems amiss about you… and anyway, that champion shouldn’t be due for at least another 1000 seasons”.  I do find the odds of me being in the vicinity of such an occurrence here, in this era, in this place, and timing though to be almost too impossible to believe.” Duskin said as he shook his head from side to side.

          Duskin shoveled the remaining bit of food off his plate into his mouth, never once touching a white whisker; and continued with his mini saga.

          “The Drake holds the key though.  I’m not sure if that’s literal or figurative if you catch my drift?”  “All I know is that I’m going to somehow to find a key, or way, to unlock those vaults so I can retrieve that heirloom; even if it means my certain death once and for all.”  “The drake needs to die.  It’s too smart and crafty to be tricked by us getting in and out unnoticed.  Perhaps you’ll be able to help?  Duskin said giving a sideways stare in Jhost’s direction.  “However; No one returns from La Mere’s cursed dark lands alive.” “I mean to somehow. Some way… change that if it’s the last thing I’ll ever do.”

          Jhost couldn’t contain himself from interrupting and asking.  “What’s so important about this key? This heirloom you speak of -  I don’t understand.”

          Duskin said:  “The key!  It’ll be the key to dwarven salvation!  Since the last big invasion from the east which happened twenty seasons ago, one of our capitols was cut off very deep inside what is now enemy territory. The Tusk, are these big, foul, and nasty, walking warthog like creatures who have been spawned for war, were able to overrun the countries of Mezor and Fumor. Obsidia in Mezor has likely been lost forever.. alas”.  At this…. Duskin’s voice almost seemed to crack a little.  Quickly recovering he said: “However; our other key capital in Fumor – in your tongue “HomeForge”- continues to withstand the siege.  Even after these long, bitter, twenty seasons.  Even the dwarven stores though are fast coming to an end.  They cannot survive another season or two before they give out, succumb, and die.  I must be able to help them out.  I’m likely the only one who can.

         Jhost, now starting to feel a little better after finishing his food, and now third cup of the broth asked.  “Twenty seasons?!  In a siege?  How is that possible?” 

         Duskin… looked at him and said.  “Well… at least you know what a siege is my boy!” “Let me tell you…. This has been a siege worthy of the ages!” First… we’re dwarves!  Dwarves don’t go down easily.  We are the masters of stone, and the earth.  Our ancestors helped shape and cultivate Hope my boy!  Ah…how far we have fallen.  We were Colossi once upon a time. However; once taint took root in the world, we continued to devolve over time into Giants. Giants…bah!  Now look at us… we’re nothing more than mere dwarves…nothing more than shadows of our former selves and glory. We are now practically bugs to what we once were.”  At this Duskin let out a sigh.  Reached over into a jacket nearby, deftly jerked out a stained leather wrapped flat flask and took a long swig.  He offered it to Jhost who declined.  He continued.

         “HomeForge is our capital city; carved from the living heart of a volcano.  We dwarves still try to match some of the craft of our forefathers you know!?” “Ah…the city is a site to behold.  It won’t be conquered from an external force. That much is certain.  However; it can be conquered by starvation or possibly from within.  Even we dwarves have some limitations.” Sadness entered Duskin’s flinty eyes. “Right now though… the worst thing my brethren are feeling inside is the loss of hope.  There’s nothing worse boy.  The loss of hope leads to the darkest places one’s soul can imagine.”

          At that moment, the fire gave out a loud popping noise sending a few sparks flying outside of their makeshift fire pit; almost as if to emphasize the point that Duskin was making about the impacts of the loss of hope to the health of one’s soul.

          Jhost felt compelled to ask: “So…. Let’s for the sake of argument we somehow miraculously kill this Drake that’s roughly the size of a small fortress, find a key we don’t even know exists, or what it looks like from the sounds of it, then what?”

          Duskin was lightly pulling at his snow-white beard near his chin and was quiet for a moment. After a few moments pause, he looked up into Jhost’s eyes and said. “Well boy, if you kill Curse the Drake, then you’re supposed to marry this La’Mere I spoke of earlier. You’ll be fulfilling a prophecy, and by so doing will be the rightful suitor and heir to the Lost Duchy. All I ask in return is you bestow my heirloom back to me.”

          Upon hearing this, Jhost actually coughed up part of his drink and struggled not to choke at the same time. “Marry?!” “Marry who again?!” “Duskin…what in the world of Hope are you yakking about?” “You can’t be serious?” “I mean…. I don’t know if I have a family, relatives, have another love interest or not!?” “Do you mean to tell me that if I kill this … this Curse.. that I’m supposed to marry this … La’Mere.. or whatever her name is?”

          Duskin peered intently at Jhost. “I’m pretty sure you’re not shacked up my boy.” “You’d know it if you were, and…. I don’t see a ring on your finger, let alone the imprint of one.”

          Jhost interrupted – “Seriously? Even if you’re right…what if she doesn’t like the looks of me; or, if I don’t find her attractive?” Jhost was grasping for words, and visions of creatures and tragic sagas he only vaguely remembered from fairy tales swam into his fogged memory. “Duskin…. You can’t be for real. On top of that… you can’t force romance.”

          “Whoever said anything about – romance?” “If you kill Curse…you won’t have a choice.” “You’d be royalty.” “And with royalty comes other obligations that are sometimes bigger than romance. Think of it as part love, part duty, and part honor.” “Besides…you have nothing to worry about on account of her charms. She’s a fabled beauty that one; if she’s even still alive.”

          Jhost resigned himself yet again and gave up on even trying to talk sense into this old coot of a dwarf. He could tell he’d get himself nowhere so decided to ask a slightly different question.

          “Ok, so what about this – heirloom – you’re so hot and heavy after?” “What’s that all about? What is it exactly?”

          Duskin looked away from Jhost, eyes peering northwards and said: “Jhost my boy, I’m after my great grand-pappy’s Warhammer – appropriately called – Siege-breaker.” “And that’s all you need to know about it.”

          Jhost was thinking: “This old coot is crazy as shit, wants me to kill a Drake the size of a Dragon that likely doesn’t exist; but damn… this foods awesome!”

          Duskin was thinking: “Oh my Ona” “This boys in for a world of hurt” “He can’t seem to concentrate very well”.

          There was a long pause. The fire continued to pop & crackle sending out periodic sparks with contrails of white wispy smoke. Duskin gave the signal that Jhost was all too familiar with & started helping to clean up the camp site. It didn’t take long to tidy the site up. Dishes & cups were wiped out & prepped for the next stream, forks & knives were deftly stowed away. The fire was starved for fuel and burned out quickly enough on its own.

          Jhost looked down at the sad facsimile for a pair of leather boots he’d been wearing. Duskin noticed him looking downwards. It’s the one thing that Duskin didn’t have in his inventory that they could rig up to fit Jhost very well; given that Jhost’s size and feet were roughly a third larger than Duskins. The ankle high leather boots had lasted about a month; or nearly a half thousand miles, and the toebox area of the boots had been cut out, and then wrapped into a sort of an extension in order to make room for Jhost’s toes which stuck out. Duskin grinned and said, “My boy, that’s a sad pair o’shoes you got there; but, look on the bright side. La’Mere is perhaps one of the wealthiest suitors on all of Hope!” “You’ll never be found wanting again in the shoe department - that’s what I’m a sayin!” Jhost just shook his head and wondered what he was getting himself into; after all, it wasn’t' as if he had any idea where to run off to in the first place. On top of all that, his feet hurt like hell; but…what could he do?

          They continued along on their trek bearing roughly northwards. By and large the bricked road they traveled on was in decent shape. It was apparent that it wasn’t used very often; and it didn’t escape Jhost’s notice that the closer they got to this ‘Lost Duchy’ – the road definitely appeared to be even less frequently used. The weather was pleasant, and the countryside verdant. There were a couple of distant white capped mountain ranges keeping sentinel on the horizon. It was one of these ranges that they closed distance on while the white puffy clouds above them traveled in an easterly direction. They kept a healthy pace for the duration of the day. All the while Duskin continued his makeshift mentoring in an effort to educate Jhost about the world of Hope in which he was now a part of. Jhost found himself more often than not getting distracted, his mind wandering. It was getting easier to focus, but he also felt that Duskin’s tutoring would often get to the point of information overload.

          With the sun finally getting lower on the horizon, Jhost felt it was high time to break Duskin’s monologue for a bit and asked the simple question. “Where is everyone?” “It seems like we haven’t seen any civilization on this journey; and now it seems to be getting worse since I haven’t even seen any major wildlife in the last few days as well.”

          Duskin paused. “Well Jhost, that’s a great question!” “Right now the Thersian Empire has issued a Calling, or summoning to service.  Depending on where you come from Jhost, I think some countries might call it a military ‘Draft’. It means that every able-bodied male between the ages of 16 to 45 cycles has yet again been called to the front.  It appears the evil out of the east is invading again, and this time they have no intentions of losing.  The last Armageddon, or so we thought it was at the time, was about 20 seasons ago.  However; that looks like it may have just been a scouting trip.  This looks like it might be the real big one!” “Now boy…. Two things.  One: you don’t look scared enough (he grimaced) about what I’m telling you, and Two: I can’t tell how old you are but I’m guessing somewhere around ~33-37 cycles? It’s illegal to not answer the call unless you’re infirm and crippled in some way.  So we need to somehow get you an alibi, or something, in case you get caught jaunting around without the right papers or pardon. Understand?”

          Jhost nodded distractedly since a huge bumble bee had wandered into sight; and said “I think so”.

          Duskin looked over – “Jhost! Are you paying attention?” This is serious. “Boy….. since it’s illegal to not answer the call, not only will it be looking like you’re a Call-dodger, but it’ll make you a target for all types of mischief.  I’m not sure how or what we’ll do but we’ll figure some kind of a disguise out for you”.  “As a matter of fact…when I first found you I thought perhaps you were a Call-dodger and that you’d been beat up & left for dead.”  “Anyhow…. That’s most of the reason we haven’t seen anyone on this journey. Anyone and everyone right now around these parts is either heading to the front if they answered the ‘Call.’ “Or…. Migrating towards whatever fortifications they can get themselves to, or safer grounds.” “Now…the other part of your question is a bit more disconcerting.” “Since animals don’t like Drakes, and Drakes don’t like animals, I suspect we’re getting close to the Lost Duchy.” “We’ll be able to confirm this tonight when the moons and stars are more visible.” “I’m excited Jhost! All we have to do is keep an eye out and follow the light!”

             As Duskin & Jhost neared the mountain range that started to command their view, the terrain started getting more interesting and dramatic. They traveled for about another hour before they came upon a place both to their liking. The trees were becoming more common, and they found a nice flat spot to make camp off to the side of the road that also had a fair number of trees to provide some privacy from potential prying eyes. The pair got back into auto-pilot mode. Jhost went out to collect the firewood, and some water from a nearby river that they spied upon while coming up to their campsite. Within a half hour a  cozy new hearth was birthed.

           A faint sprinkling of distant stars started to twinkle in the sky above their heads. Duskin immediately started in on making dinner, deftly frying up, and sautéing three things at once in the cast iron skillets that hovered above their crackling campfire. Duskin didn’t seem overly concerned about the light attracting unwanted company. So Jhost was a bit more at ease; at least up until Duskin said the following. “Jhost my boy, tomorrow we either kill a Drake, or a Drake’s gonna kills us.”

December 2018

First (Web) Edition

Jhost (tm) Series, and The world called Hope is Copyright © 2018 and TM 2018 by Matt Ployhar. All content posted to page copyright ©2017-present, and intellectual property of Ployhar. All Rights Reserved. No use or reproduction of characters or artwork permitted. This story & book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Do not use, edit, re-upload, or redistribute any content in any way. Visitors may view content belonging to the author and nothing more. Any use in any way is strictly forbidden. All of these works are not public domain, never have been, and never will be. Do not use, re-upload, edit, etc. any text, image, or character. Artwork of Jhost uploaded to artist's portfolios share these rights and reservations.Any similarity between persons alive or dead is purely coincidental.

Online published in the United States of America

First Printing, 2018

Jhost™ is a primary character from my original fantasy fiction novel. Jhost is navigating his way in a world called Hope - he does not recollect. The story of Jhost has been around since 2003 and began to be unveiled summer of 2017 to present. (April 25th, 2018)

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