Thursday, April 9, 2009

Divine End

Backing toward the exit of the great hall Vantil hesitated allowing the last of the forest beast’s passage before turning to follow. As he entered the doorway a wave of energy washed over him. It was an evil energy that drained the strength in his muscles and made his bones ache. The centaur fought back the urge to vomit and willed his limbs forward, shakily they obeyed and he lurched on with a host of bloodthirsty goblins at his heels. “Just get outside.” He repeated to himself over and over again. A spear glanced off his shoulder and several other blows landed on his haunches some of them getting past his armored skin and inflicting small wounds. With sweeping back-handed swings of his empowered staff he attempted to beat back his tormentors but his diminished strength kept the blows mostly ineffective. Nearly halfway through the outer cave Vantil called out to Lantana, channeling his divine power to return strength to his body and leapt ahead of the goblin hoard which was spreading out wide behind him.

Just as he left the mouth of the cave and joined his friends on the narrow trail the light of his staff and his conjured globe of illumination were snuffed out. Their shaman was powerful indeed to dispel his magic. The goblins thought to blind them in the darkness of night. Vantil smiled at the thought, the beasts he had brought from the forest needed no light and neither did he. Without hesitation, the forest invaders charged up the trail back to the small plateau they had started from. They would force the goblins to attack them from the thin ledge where they could only stand two abreast.

When they reached the plateau the old druid took up position at the center of a semicircle in front of the ledge shoulder to shoulder with the bear and the two cougars while the various predatory birds circled above. Vantil noticed that one of the wolves and nearly half of the stags had not made it out of the cave. His friends were tired and afraid yet they were bound to him and would stay and fight as long as he desired. For many heartbeats they stood there and waited yet no goblin charge came. The druid and his troupe had surely stung them hard why were they not following?

Several more minutes passed on the rocky outcropping while the wind whistled about the mountain. It took Vantil’s full attention to keep the forest creatures still and somewhat quiet as the minutes crept by. Finally the moment came, long before the druid even saw the beady eyes of the monsters coming up the trail growls rose up from the wolves behind him, low and menacing. The hackles of the cougars raised and the bear rose up high on his rear legs pawing at the air in anticipation. As the first of the goblin clan came into view Vantil began casting a spell. He allowed the magical power to build inside him yet, he held on to the final phrase, waiting for the right time to strike.

When the goblins spotted the remaining intruders on the plateau just ahead of them they began whooping and chanting as they charged along the trail. The forest friends waited, holding their line. When the goblin force closed within striking distance a volley of spears flew out to the clearing eliciting many screams of pain from the wild beasts. Within seconds the goblins were upon them and a vicious melee ensued. Talons, fangs, and claws along with hoof and staff met the wicked goblin steel and for several heartbeats neither side moved. Slowly though, Vantil and his companions gave up ground their wounds mounting.

As the goblin force reached the lip of the plateau Vantil rose both his hands high into the air and shouted the final trigger of his spell while gesturing forcefully back down to the trail. Instantly a blinding blue-white bolt of lightning lanced down out of the clear night sky crashing into the center of the goblin line. One of the monsters was reduced to a dark spot on the stone while two others were blasted off of the ledge to fall on the icy rock below. Again and again the heavens rained down Lantana’s fury leaving the goblin ranks over a dozen less than when he had started casting. The whole mountain shuddered with the power of the strikes causing even the druid’s allies to tremble in fear.

Again the monsters hesitated, terror on their faces and, as before, the brutish Bloodfist pushed up behind, prodding them forward. Vantil took the small reprieve in battle to move behind his front line and began casting healing magic upon his companions who badly needed the help. The goblins surged forward seeing a hole in the opposing line but they were met by the large black form of a bear. In frenzy the bear charged ahead. Putting his head down and accepting several deep wounds in the process it bulled ahead taking the leading monsters and shoving them back. Vantil, noticing what was going, on shouted to his long time friend to stop but it was too late. Sharp claws dug long lines in the stone and the bear roared primordially as it continued to push forward slowly crushing the life out of many of the goblin warriors. When finally the pile of bodies became too heavy to push the bear stood back and rose up tall on its rear legs. With another roar the beast began swiping at the monsters in front of it, massive paws killing several instantly and throwing more than a few off of the mountain trail screaming the whole way down to their doom.

The main goblin ranks were so decimated at this point that the Bloodfist troops along with their shaman and captain were not far from the spectacle of this large bear killing their people with such ease. Olrich was tiring of the incompetence of the lower ranked goblin warriors and decided that this battle needed to end.

“Bloodfist! Ready your crossbows!” The captain yelled. “Aim for the head of the beast, it will make a fine rug!”

Without hesitation a dozen crossbows were loaded and readied.

“Fire!” Olrich ordered.

A volley of bolts raced over the heads of the mass of goblins, nearly all of them biting hard into the face, neck and chest of the proud animal. A strange wheezing howl of pain escaped the throat of the bear as it reeled back on its heels. Blood bubbled out of its throat and mouth and it barely held on to consciousness. With renewed courage the goblin ranks howled and charged the badly wounded bear. Leaping up on the poor creature they hacked at him with axes and daggers bearing him down on his back. They slashed on like a school of frenzied piranha until the once powerful bear was reduced to a broken pile of flesh and shredded fur.

Back on the plateau Vantil watched on in helpless horror as the bear he had watched grow up from a cub was buried beneath a wave of goblins and butchered. Another spell came to him then, one that Vantil was loath to use but found necessary as he was quickly running out of spells and friends. Working as quickly as possible through the complex casting the druid scooped up a small stone off of the ground and threw it into the midst of the remaining goblin warriors. As the stone traveled the power of Vantil’s spell took hold. The stone turned fluid in flight and split into three pieces before falling to the narrow trail. Having already taken horrific losses at the hands of the powerful druid many goblin warriors scrambled to avoid the fast changing stones. When they finally came to rest among the goblin ranks the stones had fully transformed into a man shaped figures of solid rock. One of the forms stood a full eight feet tall and the other two seemed to be miniature copies of it yet, remained roughly the same size as the goblins. The newly conjured elementals wasted no time attacking their new enemy using their heavy, hammer like fists to decimate the monsters around them; the conflict ensued anew.

For nearly half an hour the battle on the ledge raged. Goblins fell by score and one by one the woodland band was killed in the bloody fray. The elementals had created chaos among the goblins but they had eventually fallen beneath the sheer number of goblins. Still Vantil’s force fought on, now desperate to survive while the goblins continued to grind against them. Out of healing magic, his elementals defeated, the distressed centaur stood and watched as the goblin troops regrouped. The mountain trail once empty now lay littered with the bodies of nearly a hundred goblins and up on the plateau only Vantil and three wolves remained, all were tired and injured. The odds were not in the druids favor as the majority of the Bloodfist troops still stood as well as the wilted shaman and not quite twenty more commoners. Still, he knew he could not concede defeat; the shame of giving up now would never leave him. So, he stood trying to catch his breath and prayed that the last spell he had would be all he would need.

Surprisingly, it was the goblin captain who marched at the head of the monsters’ line when they advanced. They marched up the trail confident that this would be the killing strike, the blow that would rid them of these unexpectedly deadly intruders. Vantil watched the line carefully as they advanced, paying particular attention to the fact that although Olrich was at the head of the line, the Bloodfist troops were at the back, with their troublesome priestess, readying their crossbows. He began scanning the surrounding mountain terrain looking for some way to use his only remaining spell to his advantage. His gaze fell upon the large outcropping above the trail and there was a moment of clarity within the old druids mind. Vantil smiled as he prepared casting, his plan crystallized and he felt Lantana’s hand guiding him.

As the centaur finished his spell the goblins broke into a charge. The now familiar sound and tremor made by goblin boots on the narrow stone trail made the druid smile all the wider. High above the trail the large rocky outcropping lost its stability. The supporting stone had been softened by Vantil’s magic and strained to hold back several tons of granite. With a sharp crack a massive section of stone broke away from the high ledge and slowly rotated away from the mountainside. Cries of alarm went up from the goblin ranks as stone crumbled above them and began to fall. Chaos ensued within the ranks, even the stoic Bloodfist troops, trained for battle from childhood, scrambled for their lives.

The mountain shook violently feeling as if the entire thing would collapse beneath them and the rumble of falling stone became deafening. Dust and snow came down so thick that the massive stone outcropping couldn’t even be seen as it tumbled down the mountain. For several minutes after the mountain stopped shaking Vantil and his remaining friends stood at the far end of the plateau tucked in tight to the vertical stone of the mountain watching for signs of life. Ever so slowly the dust began to settle and the air cleared. Elation and dismay came to the druid in equal parts as he surveyed the destruction. Shattered stones lay everywhere and a few broken bodies were spotted among the rubble but a twenty foot section of the trail was completely gone. It looked as if they had won the battle but they would have to find a different way off of the mountain.

As he was about to turn away from the chasm that was once a stone path something caught his eye. A faint glint of starlight off of something metallic, something- moving! Vantil held his breath and brought his staff to the ready. A mound of dust shifted slowly and small stones rolled away from it as a figure crawled forward. Barely five strides from the lip of the rift emerged the goblin captain. He moved slowly, obviously injured and dazed. So shocked was Vantil that any creature had survived the falling monolith that he could only look on as Olrich reclaimed his falchion and unsteadily regained his feet. Blood oozed from many wounds and dripped steadily from creases in his armor forming puddles on the dusty ground.

Noticing that Vantil was standing before him the goblin locked his gaze on the druid slowly brushed some of the dust off of his tattered cloak and adjusted his armor. Once he seemed satisfied, Olrich spat a bloody glob of phlegm on the ground and gave the druid a toothy sneer. The pair locked gazes measuring each other and readying for their next move. The wolves behind Vantil began barking and growling at the new threat as they stalked forward. Neither the druid nor the goblin captain realized the danger at that moment but they soon would.

The noise was amplified and reverberated by the mountain. Like the one last straw which tips the balance of a scale the pitch and noise of the wolves bark was just enough to topple the already disturbed and precariously perched snow drifts far up the mountain. It started slowly at first, just one small pile of slushy snow breaking free of a rocky crag. Once started though it could not be reversed, the snow slide continued picking up material and momentum as it fell. The mountain began to shake again beneath the forces of gravity and mass. When they finally realized their peril it was too late.

At last the rumbling of the mountain caught the attention of the centaur and goblin causing them to break off their visual sparring. Without looking they both knew what the noise was, they knew what was coming. Vantil turned to point and shout to his remaining friends. “Go!” He screamed, imploring them to run up the trail for their lives. The wolves obeyed immediately breaking off at full speed. When he turned back, remembering that he had left himself open to his opponent he felt a strange, cold sensation in his midsection. Looking down he found Olrich standing right in front of him with that wicked smile upon his lips and holding the hilt of the sword that was buried in the centaurs’ torso. Instinctively Vantil wanted to pull the steel from his stomach but instead he reached forward with both hands and grabbed Olrich’s sword arm holding him fast. Confusion crossed the goblins ugly face for just an instant before realization dawned on the captain. As that light came to the goblin the avalanche embraced them both sweeping them off the plateau and down the mountainside.

The wall of snow blasted the tired old druid and wrenched the blade embedded in him bringing excruciating pain. He cried out once, but not in pain, his shout was one of hard fought and bitter-sweet victory. His sensation of falling changed smoothly to that of flight as his consciousness left him. Never did his vision go dark, instead the night sky lightened dramatically to him revealing the most perfect sunrise he had ever experienced. The cold and rugged mountains fell away and he was flying fast over the foothills then the open plains, he was on his way back to the forest. The old druid no longer felt the heavy burden of his age and steward responsibilities all he knew was the soft call of Lantana which fell upon his ears like the soothing sound of water rippling over stones in a stream. She was calling him to her side, back to the forest for the last time.

When the snow settled that cold night in the mountains all was quiet, the high stony trail and the plateau where such a large and deadly battle had just taken place was swept clean by the snow and falling stones leaving little trace that the event had ever taken place. Far below, scattered all about the jagged mountain were the discarded bodies. The snow would melt this spring and the scavengers would eat well. The long and mournful howl of a wolf rose up in the peaks, it was joined by a second voice and they sang their sorrow for many long moments. When the wolf-song ended the moaning wind returned as the only sound and the stars and moon above were the only witnesses to the passing of centaur and goblin.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I've been surfing through a lot of D&D today and came across this. I just couldn't resist posting it. Despite the subtitles I found it humorous.


Last Meal at Homebound: Epilogue

Feargal stepped over the lifeless corpse of the orc he had run through. With the danger currently averted, he fixed his eyes on the crossbow bolts protruding from Magda’s back. Terrified, he froze for a moment too frightened to move. It took an enormous amount of will, more than he’d needed to rush the orc who’d nearly killed him, just to take the first step toward her. His mouth felt dry as cold ash as he approached her unmoving body in unblinking, wide-eyed horror. Had he waited too long? Was he too late?

Coming ever closer to her, the table-boy’s hands began to tremble and shake, though not from cold. His empty stomach clenched and he felt bile rise in his throat at the revelation that he indeed, was too late. In order to confirm what he already knew in his heart, he reached down to touch her back once he was close enough, laid his palm upon it to test the rise of her breathing. When her back did not rise he began to cry softly, silent tears ran from both eyes and his nose became wet with mucus.

Needing further evidence, Feargal reached down again and, careful not to touch the wet spots on her clothes where blood had pooled he rolled her body to its right side. Doing so revealed to him once and for all the reality of Magda’s state as he looked into her eyes. Her lifeless, unmoving lids remained mostly open as the half-moons of her hazel irises sat floating in milky pools of white. He gasped.

Accepting now that she was truly gone, Feargal noticed the note she had written as he stood next to her, childishly pecking at the loaf she had given him to eat. The moment seemed as far away to him as the earliest of his childhood memories now as he eyed the parchment, protruding slightly from the front pocket of her apron. Unable to withstand the aching curiosity, he reached for it as he gently laid Magda back down to the place where she would be found days later.

He stood and stared at the fold she had made, wondering at the bravery she showed after writing the words the fold had hidden, displaying courage he didn’t have, and could never know. Already ashamed, he opened the fold as his curiosity could shame him no more than his cowardice already had. He wasn’t the best of readers, but easily understood the two words scribbled in Magda’s familiar scratch:

“Avenge Us.”

Was all it read.

The simplicity of the note coupled with the terrible reality he had endured made his head ache. The room began to spin and his legs turned to water. Losing his balance he dropped the note, faltered drunkenly to the bar like so many barbarians he’d witnessed do before and vomited. Another thing he’d seen his clan-mates do countless times.

“Magda!” he said through the bitterness of his own bile. “I’m so sorry…” He began to cry again, sobbing for a few moments before he heard more heavy footfalls approaching the front door. He ducked quickly behind the bar, wiping his eyes to clear them as he crouched against it.

He eyed the rear exit across the short expanse from where he remained crouched. He looked upon the now unblocked door. Forgetting that, although she died doing so, Magda had pulled the barrel down and far enough away from the door that Feargal believed he had room to squeeze his narrow frame through.

Trying hard not to burst into tears for a third time, the table-boy spoke aloud to himself. “Once again Magda, ye saved me miserable life.”

Hearing the heavy orc footsteps approaching ever closer to the front door, Feargal moved quickly. He remained stooped as he walked, taking care to pick up Magda’s note as he passed and step lightly over her body as well. When he reached the door, he cracked it open only slightly and peeked through. When he saw no orcs beyond the threshold, into the alley between the tavern and Magda’s shed he opened the door as far as he could. It clunked softly against the bottom of the overturned barrel giving him just barely enough space to squeeze his hips through if he turned sideways. Daring enough exposure to be seen, Feargal stood long enough to gracefully sneak through the open slit. Within minutes, Feargal, table-boy no more, disappeared into the snowy realm moving east. Toward makeshift shelter, toward food and perhaps, even heat.

Toward the Pinefore.

* * * * * *

Magda felt what she thought was pain in the back of her head, it was faint, like the last linger of a fading headache and seemed far away but she was certain to have felt it. The pain and its cause were quickly forgotten though as her eyes opened and she found herself among clouds.

Clouds? Indeed. She floated above them, soft billowing clouds as puffy as the mounds of cotton she helped harvest during her time in the green havens of Alfheim during the summers of her adolescence. She felt the warmth of unblocked sunlight on her back; the light, o’ warm light! The kind she hadn’t felt in decades, the kind of sunlight that reminded Magda of her childhood. And nothing at all of the gray days of her time spent in Snoam-Schlabach, or the hazy shade of the Pinefore in the days when she hunted her own game to supply her tavern when first starting, before that crooked merchant fellow brought her the supplies when she could afford them. What was his name again, Fungus? No, that couldn’t be it. That life was so, so far away now, she could barely remember it, and didn’t think she wanted to. She wasn’t sure why she was among the clouds, and even less sure why she felt warm wearing only her lengthy skirt and the bustle beneath her favorite white shirt, the one that opened just enough at the bosom to give the eager barbarians in her tavern enough reason to tip.

Tavern… yes, I own a tavern. Don’t I? What was it called again? Homebrew?

Suddenly Magda felt her body involuntarily lower itself, it moved from just above the clouds to within them. Not knowing what to expect, Magda was surprised to find that the clouds were not solid at all, but misty. Like thick fog, the thickest she’d ever seen. The feeling of the clouds as their mist sprayed upon her face was exhilarating. The warmth of the cloud-mist was a surprise as well as the fact that she believed she could still feel the sunlight on her back, even among the cover of the clouds as she now was.

A moment passed and Magda’s body floated ever downward, now below the cloud canopy she eyed a wondrous, green plain. Expecting her stomach to lurch in fear she was surprised when it did not. She was ever more surprised at her realization that, although she must have been thousands of feet in the air, she never felt safer.

Looking across the plain she saw an expanse of green grass, golden fields of barley and wheat. Hills covered from bottom to crest in heather, stony silver-peaked mountains to the north. No war scorched battlefields, toppled pines or burning pyres.

No snow. Not a single, bloody flake. Heaven.

At a speed which might’ve frightened her under normal circumstances even more than her current altitude, Magda floated ever downward. Accelerating toward a small village that appeared vaguely familiar, like the people you meet that you’d swear you met before in a dream; a memory of a memory perhaps. It was a place that may have existed in reality, or perhaps existed only in her mind, it didn’t matter. It was here now and Magda longed to be a part of it. It was so quaint, so simple and beautiful. It reminded her of… Home.

Magda was homebound.

Before her feet could touch the ground Magda found herself now behind the counter of a grand tavern. Absently, she realized that her right hand held a damp towel that she’d put inside of a glass ale-mug. She didn’t know how long she’d stood there, daydreaming about floating among the clouds while endlessly polishing this spotless mug. Silly girl! What a silly thing to be dreaming about anyway! If we humans were meant to fly as dragons do, the gods would’ve given us wings as they’d given them. Forgetting what she was doing she looked into the pristine parlor. Marveled at the quality of her window dressings, the intricate carvings of the mahogany in the tables her customer’s plates rested on, at the regality of the tall, straight-backed chairs, the polished oak of the spotless floors. There was a hearth in the corner off to her right. It was large, but dark with neglect from years of going unused. It seemed unnecessary here and Magda now wondered why she had it installed in the first place when she’d had this place built. Ah well, ‘tis decoration now, she mused.

Her eyes, now affixed away from her furniture found themselves on her guests. Happy, ale-soaked beards and full, bloated stomachs appeared the norm among this patronage. Her senses seemed to expand suddenly and the rich smell of roasted lamb filled her nostrils. Yes, lamb. No mutton was to be served in this fine establishment and no filler to be added there either, that was for the certain! What type of establishment would do such a thing anyway? Not the kind Magda Dervish would be proprietor of. That too was for the certain!

While her eyes scanned the patronage a man approached the dark mahogany of Magda’s pristine tavern bar. His body was immense, hulking and huge in every way. His brow was sloped and furrowed; his eye-whites slightly yellowed holding dark irises within. His teeth were somewhat straight, though his canine cuspids protruded upward slightly, jutting just outside of his closed lips like miniature tusks. His jaw line was incredibly masculine, but borrowed an animalistic chiseling that made him look unique. His skin was the color of olives just plucked from the tree. He was not handsome; in fact, Magda thought to herself, he’s not even completely human.

As he came closer Magda felt no fear, though she would insist on never having met this man if asked he seemed vaguely familiar to her, as so many here did upon first glance. Making his way to the bartable, he gently lay his massive, scarred hands upon it. He spoke gruffly, but softly, Magda was sure she’d heard this voice before, in a place far away from here.

“Magda,” The half-orc said softly. “Where Boss?”

“Darling, I don’t know where your boss is.” She said with sincere concern.

“Where Chief?” He said hopefully.

“I don’t know where your chieftain is either, my dear.” Magda said, although she believed she would give just about anything to help this sad, somehow familiar creature find him.

“Where bear? Did I kill white bear?”

“I don’t know Love, but I’m sure you could if you wanted to.” Magda replied, again with utmost sincerity. Without thinking, she put the mug in her hand in its place beneath the bar as if she’d done it a thousand times before.

“Yeah.” Said the half-orc with a chuckle. “I could. Prolly did.”

Before he could answer Magda found herself pouring the warrior a frothy mug, “Would you like an ale, My Dear?”

The warrior half-orc nodded eagerly. “Uh-huh.” He said.

“Here ye go.” She slid the icy mug across the wide expanse to his massive, awaiting hands. “What’s yer name, friend?”

The warrior’s eyes squinted momentarily as he took the glass mug into his hands. He looked as though thinking brought him slight discomfort; it seemed to Magda as though his own name was right there, on the tip of his tongue. Just out of the reach of his memory.

“It’s Vrock.” Magda said. “Isn’t it?” She said with an uncertain tone, though she knew it to be true. “Your name is Vrock.”

“Son of Grock,” The half-orc continued. “Bane of Frobolds, Killer of Snake-Men, Rescuer of Princess, Terror of White-Bear…” he said the last four words clearly and boldly.

Magda smiled as she listened to him speak the titles he’d said to her so many times, so long ago, though her own memory became suddenly jogged at his last words. They hit her with the impact of a falling tree.

“…and Friend of Boss and Chief” Vrock finished. Boss and Chief, Cor’Nal and Ademar. Their names came to her as a wave upon the shore, as though they’d washed out for a time, but returned with the tide. Where were they? Why weren’t they here with Vrock?

Because Vrock is dead and they’re still alive. A voice in her head said. The voice was familiar but different, distant. The voice was her own.

And so are you Magda Dervish.

Suddenly, she understood. Her conscious mind let go of what she’d held onto in the material world. The restraints her subconscious had used to protect her melted away as twilight fades into darkness.

“I’m dead.” She said aloud as Vrock looked at her quizzically. She looked deeply into his eyes, wanted so badly to help him realize what she’d just come to understand.

“Huh?” Vrock said.

“Sweetheart, I don’t think yer supposed to be here.” She said sadly. “I don’t think this is your place.”

“I’m… lost?” Vrock said, a hint of fear in his voice, it was a sound as unfamiliar to him as it was to Magda.

“I’m afraid so.” She said, fighting tears.

“Where I go?” he raised his eyebrows, hopeful that his friend Magda, she who always gave him such tasty ale, would know.

Magda reached out across the bartable to rest her hand on one of Vrock’s massive paws. “I don’t know, my darling. I wish I did.” Vrock looked crushed. “But you can stay here as long as you like.” His expression perked up slightly, the way a dog’s ears do when it hears something it doesn’t see. “Maybe, eventually, Boss and Chief will meet you here. Though, and I don’t expect you to understand why, I hope not too soon.” With that last bit Vrock nodded, he didn’t understand and Magda didn’t know if he ever would. Perhaps it would take the coming of Ademar and Cor’Nal to guide Vrock to whichever afterlife he belonged in. But she was certain it wasn’t this one, certain it wasn’t here.

Bored now, Vrock moved away from where he stood, stepped awkwardly over to a table, pulled out a chair, tested its strength as he’d done so many times before to make sure it was sturdy enough to handle his girth and sat down, alone.

Her realization empowered Magda enough to give her the courage to scan the room with her eyes a second time. She remembered seeing vaguely familiar faces the first time when she had just “arrived”. Vague in the same manner that Vrock had been when he had first approached her bar. Surprised, she quickly saw in the table just right of Vrock she saw a man whom she knew immediately, the orange-fire hair and beard tinged with gray she’d recognize anywhere, her chieftain, Piter MacBrady. Next to him, on his right was one of his elder sons, on his left, his beautiful yellow-haired daughter, Anna. He looked happy, content. So too, did Anna.

Magda looked out again into the faces of her crowded establishment, she saw many of the wounded she’d tended in her triage that passed on while under her care. Many others she had known in peaceful times, older folken that passed under natural circumstances, others still who went before their time, some of them children. She saw someone she recognized from childhood, an aunt, sitting and enjoying a meal with a man Magda had never met but instantly knew to be an ancestor from several generations back. As she came to this realization the ruggedly handsome, brown bearded man looked to Magda and gave her a knowing wink. She recognized the reflection of her own eyes in his. Magda smiled and sighed. Finally, in the corner, Magda looked again toward the cold, unused hearth. Saw another ruggedly handsome man. He sat at a table by his lonesome, near the hearth; he’d been looking at Magda but for how long now she didn’t know. He was short and stout like Magda herself, and barrel-chested. His arms were thick, muscled with the toil of lumbering. His eyes were sad, misty with unblinked tears though he seemed happy to see her. Magda recognized him immediately; her eyes became shrouded in their own mist.

“Me, Papa!” She whispered, fighting the urge to rush to the man she hadn’t seen, the man who hadn’t held her in his massive, pine-smelling arms since she was a schoolgirl.

Seeing her father, fighting the urge to rush to him Magda made the conscious effort to look for someone whom she hadn’t yet seen. Someone she was ashamed to have at first forgotten, but someone whom she expected to see now, ever by her side as always. Instinctively, Magda looked to her right and saw, behind the bar, a tall stool with a seat and back; fancy even for an establishment such as this. Draped upon it was a pristine, white apron. Immediately she knew who it belonged too, knew too that he had survived against the odds. Knew it was she who had made it so. She heard her own words in her ears:

“If I fall, I don’t want you t’ be brave, ye hear? I want ye t’ flee.” Did he listen? He must have.

“Don’t stay back fer me, I can take care o’ m’self.” More of her own words in her mind.

“Likely I’ll be playin’ possum anyways.” Did he play possum as she said she might do? Was their any other explanation? No, Feargal was alive; his tale was not yet told.

Magda smiled to herself as she began to untie her apron, happy in the knowledge that Feargal still lived, happier still to be with her father.

She wanted to make sure she looked perfect before she went to her daddy. She slipped the apron over her head, tossed it over her own stool to rest behind the bar and checked her hair with her hands. Satisfied, she impatiently walked around the open end of the bar, turned and stepped quickly toward the cold hearth. Within moments she was standing over her seated, smiling father.

“Hello, me little lass,” Her father said looking around the room. “This is a nice place you’ve got.” Absently, he reached for one of her thick-fingered hands.

A short pause as Magda’s voice struggled to escape through her nervously contracted windpipe. “Thank you.” Was all she could muster.

“What do you call it?” He asked, smiling through tears of happiness.

“Homebound, Papa.” Magda said without hesitation, through tears of her own. “I call this place Homebound.”

The End