"Dances With Wasperines"
Glimpses, Part 1
By Stephen McLaughlin

The clinging grip of the horizon had just released the sun when Woot stirred in his treetop perch. Nestled in a crook between two branches and draped in the living greenery of a great spicenut tree, Woot slowly woke, rubbing his eyes. Peering up through the leaves of the tree, he saw that the clouds overhead were thinner than usual, and rippled as if the sky were the surface of a puddle in a rainstorm.

Today was the day.

No one had been able to predict when the day would come, for Woot had asked the elders of all of the villages he had visited in his travels. He had even journeyed alone for days through the forests to visit the Loremaster Evu in the great city of Vash Naroom. For naught, as it happened, for the Loremaster was missing, and no one else, not even the Elder, could tell him anything he didn’t already know: “When reality is stretched thin, the Dream Plane will open unto the world.?

So Woot had lived in this great tree, outside what had once been his home village of Treak, waiting for the signs to appear.

As he waited, Woot’s thoughts turned to the last time the sky had shimmered above him, in the morning of a day much like today, two years ago.

* * * * *

Life in Treak went on as it always had; the villagers had begun the day’s labors: collecting water from the broad, cupped leaves of the dewfronds; maintaining the walkways and bridges that connected the lofts built into the trees upon which houses stood; gathering fruits and nuts from the various food trees of the forest. Woot himself was high in a large spicenut tree outside the village, picking the dark, fragrant clusters.

No one noticed the ripples in the sky, wavering and uncertain, but everyone heard the noise. A cacophony of dream voices, all raised at once, all reacting to something. Firds took wing, hinkos skittered higher into the canopy, and eebits scurried in random directions, tails flailing. Then came the rumbling: greater than the sound of the waterfall at Kybar’s Face, more massive than the growling of stomachs at Poad’s Inn before the harvest feast. The forest floor trembled, shaking dozens of startled bikneets to the ground.

A swath of the forest began to glimmer; ground, trunk and branch overhead painted with a silvery glow. The area vibrated with energy, seeming to separate from the rest of the woods and reverberate in sound and light. The woodwork of the homes and pathways of Treak rolled and shuddered, trapped in the glow like twees in a thunderquake.

Led by a trickle of wild rabbages and bungaloos, the flood of motion and noise quickly picked up energy. These little feet and paws pittered and pattered across the roots and ground cover, trampled seconds later under the flat stomping feet of carrillions and the sharp wooden claws of forest jiles. The crashing wave of the stampede hit the village, forever changing the pattern of the forest before it.

Woot was so shocked by the event that he clung motionlessly to the tree from which he had been collecting spicenuts. He numbly watched as his home and people were devastated by the onrushing stampede. Some of his brethren leapt from passages and windows to run for cover. The strange silvery light shone off of bright metal trinkets tumbling from the fleeing village elder’s arms.

A few villagers simply stood in awe of the oncoming dream creatures, unable to act even as their homes were shaken apart. They tumbled to the ground along with their homes to be overwhelmed by the oncoming horde. Reflex alone kept Woot clinging to his perch, safely out of harm’s way. His unique vantage point ensured that he was the first to see what the stampeding dream creatures fled from.

A sea of yellow-black fur, wave after wave of snarling, yelping, gnashing mouths, flew along the forest floor, pursuing the stampeding Dream Creatures. A dash of wasperines larger than any Woot had ever seen or heard of kicked up huge clouds of dust and debris as they sped through the clearing created by their quarry.

Confusion and desperation hit Woot hard in the chest; his mind was filled with questions that had no answers. Where did these wasperines come from? What was their purpose? Didn’t they realize the destruction they were causing? Rage and frustration building within him, he did the only thing his instincts allowed: he ran. Woot ran toward the wasperines, hoping to find the source of their magic or the reason behind their sudden appearance.

Legs pumping rhythmically, arms pounding out the air before him, Woot slid up alongside the horde. Matching the timing of the wasperine stride, he even began to gain on the leader of the dash. Lungs burning, muscles straining, he slowly caught up with the front of the pack. Worries about tripping tree roots and stumbling stones crossed Woot’s mind, but he dismissed his fears, seeking only to try to keep the stampede away from the next village.

Ahead, a giant carillion’s pained yell rang out. The colossal beast reared amidst the stampede, forcing part of the dash to swerve or be crushed beneath the creature’s flanks. With the wasperines swarming around him, Woot found himself inside the dash itself. As he entered, a feeling of calm washed over him. The creatures around him did not lash out at him ? indeed, they hardly seemed to notice him as he ran amidst them. Their small, dark eyes focused on the horizon ahead of them, and did not waver. It seemed as though the wasperines weren’t even aware of the stampede they drove before them. But strangest of all, there was a lack of sound from the creatures; no snarling, yelping, or howling. It was as if the dash itself made the noises he had heard earlier, and now that he was inside it, the sounds no longer existed.

As he ran with them, Woot realized that he was not prey, nor were his village or the terrified stampede ahead intended to be. He was one of them, and he ran with them. Woot felt rejuvenated, not at all tired despite his exertion; it seemed like running was all he ever did, it was all he could ever want to do. All of the worries he’d felt about the destruction of his home or the safety of his friends were replaced by a soothing joy. Running had no past to regret, or a future to worry about. Running was now, and now felt good.

Time slowed down as the dash sped through the forests of Naroom. Woot couldn’t make out individual trees as he ran past, and the sound of the stampede faded into white noise around him. The only thing in Woot’s mind was the thrill of running, of being part of the dash, faster than the wind. Hours and miles passed, though at different rates.

Woot’s attention gradually moved to a point in the distance that seemed to swallow the shimmering light surrounding him and the rest of the dash. It grew larger as he approached, and appeared somewhat off the ground, disconnected from the world outside. ‘What happens there??Woot wondered, thinking only that he would run through this portal as he had run through the woods. Closer and closer the portal drew, and with it, Woot’s hopes increased. Would he run through to another place where he could run forever? Was that what the Dream Plane was like?

Collision. Separation. Expulsion. Woot was thrown through the air beyond the gate, landing roughly in a wide-open plain, sliding to a stop. Having not the strength to look around, let alone stand, Woot collapsed in a crumpled, exhausted heap and slept. His dreams were filled with images of isolation and exclusion. First, his home was destroyed, and now he was left out of the Dream Plane. The dash ran on, Woot knew. Who was he to run with?

When he awoke, Woot was unsure what had happened. Had he passed through? Was this the Dream Plane? Wandering brought him to the Weave village of Loom, on the border of Naroom. The villagers had heard the rumbling, had seen the dash of Wasperines cross through the rift to the Dream Plane. They had many questions for one another; Woot learned that he was still in the Moonlands, safe and out of danger. The village Elder’s questions were difficult to answer. Woot didn’t know what force propelled him alongside the wasperines, or where they were going on the other side of the portal.

He felt fine, save for a lingering desire to run with the dash again. He left Loom, stopping at villages on the way back to Treak, or what was left of it. He was amazed at how far his run had taken him. Climbing up into that same spicewood tree, he set up to wait. He would answer the questions that filled his mind, if it took a lifetime of waiting. He would run with the dash again.

* * * * *

As Woot’s memories rippled and faded into the present, he could barely make out a faint glimmering of the wood around him. In his heart, he heard the rumbling begin. It was happening.

With a whoop, Woot leapt from the tree to the forest floor.

He began to run.

Read Part 2 "A Quest Ended"

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