Absentia: Land of Lost Dreams

A Dark Disney Tale

Chapter 1

In the failing light of the day, in a forest on the edge of nowhere, stood a grove surrounded by trees of many species. In this grove stood a wigwam made from the hide of an animal whose race no longer existed on this Plane. The forest grew in a land where time had passed by, and where very few inhabitants still resided.

Something was happening in that man made structure, the forest denizens felt it, squeaks and bomburs huddled in their holes, tree mice and hawklers hunkered in their nests. The trees themselves grew still as even the Four Winds were silent. Something was about to happen, whether it was good or not remained to be seen.

Outside of the structure a figure stood guard. Sleek and compact yet physically well built, the Guardian wore a hooded cloak of dark green overtop boiled leather armour. A strung longbow leaned against the tent close at hand and a long sword hung in a scabbard by his side with the name Albion etched along its side. The Guardian scanned the tree line surrounding the small clearing, taking aims to spot any irregularities. His ears were also attuned to the sounds of the forest, a moment before the ritual that was now being held inside, he heard the tiniest chirp of the wood beetle as though it was next to him. Lastly his sense of smell was so keen that if a stranger approached from upwind the guardian would be aware, before he even came within a half-mile. But no wind stirred now.

The forest noises were completely silent now. The denizens of the woods shied away from the area as the ceremony in the wigwam started to take place. The few rare times that it was allowed to occur always caused this effect, but the Guardian had gotten used to it since being with his charge for the past few months.

There was little remembered leading up to the meeting with the Shaman. It had explained to him that he was summoned, brought forth before the evil, which had spread to so many lands already, could take him as well. The consequence was that most of his memories would be lost, at least temporarily, although his sense of self was still intact. He vaguely recalled thievery was a part of his lifestyle, if that was true he questioned if he truly wanted to recall the rest. He was neither angry nor upset now; he had adapted to the change and now willingly served the Shaman as her guardian.

He could feel the heat emitting through the skins of the wigwam. Beads of sweat covered the outside as the cold air made contact with the heated animal skins. The Shaman told him it was necessary to create this sweat lodge to thin the Veil. He never pretended to understand he knew exactly what she was talking about but he usually understood enough, and he trusted her implicitly. He figured she was communicating with someone over a vast distance, judging by the sounds made from inside when she performed this ritual. It wasn't his job to worry about such things; he was here to protect her during this vulnerable time, this was his duty.

The crack of a branch made the fur on his back bristle. He swung his muzzle in the direction of the sound and sniffed. Whatever was there he could not detect them with his nose. Not wanting to remain in the open, the Guardian grabbed up his longbow and quiver then dashed into the tree line opposite the intruders. The trees were not very dense; they were mainly pines, which robbed the undergrowth of sunlight and left the ground bare, but mixed within the pines were trees that grew a strange four-pointed bluish leaf and stood a good forty feet high. It was up one of these that the Guardian quickly scrambled to, it was a little awkward with the longbow around his back but he finally found a good vantage point of the tent and the opposite tree line.

A minute went by before he heard another sound, but this time he saw movement to accompany it. A bulky form stood at the very edge of the grove, partially hidden in the shadows of the great pines. The Guardian recognised it immediately from the horn protrusions and granite like skin.

A Gargoyle.

How it arrived so soon after sunset worried him, for during the day a Gargoyle was naught but a stone statue, incapable of movement, speech, or waking thoughts. This means that The Sorcerer had to have placed one near to the camp to get here so quickly. Unless it was simply ill luck which let them camp so near to one of his sleeping agents. Their race came in different shapes and sizes, some with forms so dissimilar that it was a wonder how they were part of the same species at all.

Now however was not the time to worry about it. The beasts were intelligent, crafty, swift and strong; the Guardian had not yet killed a Gargoyle though was nearly done in by just such a creature upon his arrival here, if not for the intervention of the Shaman.

He selected an arrow from his quiver, which he had hung upon a short branch in easy reach, notched it and drew back. He aimed for an eye, one of the most vulnerable spots, when the second Gargoyle appeared. This one was smaller then the first and was likely more agile. The larger of the two was still the most dangerous he surmised. Again he brought his bow up and took aim only to growl a curse as another one lumbered into his view on the East flank of the wigwam.

"Bloody Hell." The Guardian cursed under his breath.

Without a second's more hesitation he let his arrow fly at the large one, it hit home but he didn't stop to congratulate himself, already drawing for the smallest of the three, the arrow he chose had a head made from the horn of their race, he only had two. The howl of pain from his first target distracted the small one even as his second arrow pierced its chest, pinning him to a tree. That was a killing shot even for a Gargoyle and before his eyes the little one sputtered blood from its mouth brought up by a punctured heart and laid still. The big one roared in rage as he tore the arrow from his eye and snapped it in half.

The surviving one let out another bellow upon seeing his lifeless kin pinned to the trunk; it seemed to the Guardian that the monster actually exhibited remorse at its fellow's death, something he didn't think they felt. The third still hung back, whether it was unsure of what to do or because it was being cautious the Guardian wasn't sure.

The larger one scanned the trees opposite him, looking for their attacker. "Come down here coward, face me like a Gargoyle." It yelled up to him in a deep bellow, the remaining eye of the beast grew intensely red. "You killed my friend, come here so I can crush you."

"Well now, to me that seems like a reason not to come down, wouldn't you say?"

The creature grew incensed and strode towards the wigwam. The Guardian drew and fired but this time the creature brought one of its wings around and batted it out of the air.

"You're beginning to annoy me pest. I'll take yourwoman now and drive my fist through her heart, then you will know the pain I feel."

Quick as a heartbeat the Guardian was down the tree and speeding towards the great beast that stood twice his size. With his long sword drawn the Guardian leaped at his foe and managed to stagger him back a few steps, momentarily surprised at the speed of his cloaked adversary. But it quickly regained its composure and whipped its tail around, the Guardian ducked under the ferocious living club, the breeze it created with its near miss pulled back his hood, finally revealing to his attacker just whom he was facing. A look of dumb surprise crossed its features at first, and then it let out a mocking laugh. "A fox that walks like a man? This is the Shaman's great guardian?"

"I never claimed to be great, but guardian I am." The fox leaped to the attack once again but the move was actually a feint, as the creature swiped at his head with its talons the Guardian rolled to the left and swung his sword at its right calf. Surprisingly the Gargoyle was quicker then his appearance for he leapt above the blow and flapped its wings once to keep it airborne for a fraction of a second, enough for its tail to come around again and land a blow to the fox. The Guardian was thrown back; his sword flew from his grasp as he skidded along the ground creating a bare patch amongst the fallen pine needles. The leather armour kept his bones from being smashed but the wind was taken from his body. Spots popped in front of his eyes and he could feel the ground vibrate as his nemesis strode towards him to finish the job. But the Guardian was not only quick of body he was also cunning. He grasped handfuls of dirt and needles and waited for his vision to clear. With one hand the Gargoyle picked him up by the front of his cloak; he could feel the rank breath of the beast as he was brought closer to its face.

"Hmph, it seems you were right. You aren't so great after all."

"Perhaps," the Guardian replied, "but I just need to be little greater then you."

With that he brought his right arm up in an arc that the beast clearly saw, he caught his arm with his free hand, a look of triumph in its remaining eye, to which the Guardian now filled with dirt and needles with his other hand, pushing it hard into the socket. The Gargoyle cried out in rage and pain hurling the fox away from him. The Guardian twisted and tumbled in the air, righting himself and landing more or less on his feet. He spotted his sword in the failing light and ran for it.

The Gargoyle cleared the grit fromits eye, saw his quarry through its tears and leaped to where the fox was headed. The Guardian was quick but the legs of the Gargoyle were powerful and he landed just ahead of the Guardian, snatched up the sword and made to cleave the fox in two. The Guardian drew forth a dirk from his boot although his doubts were great of being able to parry the great blow.

It was stopped short by the arrival of the Shaman. She stood there in the awakening moonlight, sweat glistening upon her naked skin, her long black hair falling over her chest, a simple loin cloth adorned her waist, all this would have given a human pause, even if they were enemies, but no Gargoyle under the Sorcerer's power would ever hesitate in the sight of such beauty. What gave him pause was the thought of presenting her to its Master, and the reward he would receive in gratitude.

"My Lady." Her Guardian exclaimed desperately, "You must flee, he means to…"

"I know what he means to do, my friend." She said in a calm tone devoid of fear.

"The Master will be very happy to finally meet you." No longer did it see the Guardian as a threat, it only had eyes for his prize. The fox made ready to attack but a quick look, a shift of the eyes from the Shaman stayed his hand.

"No doubt. But now is not the time and it will not be you who delivers me. No nameless one, your page in this book has come to an end."

"Pfah. You overestimate your powers human cur."

"And you underestimate them. Thankfully your entire race is not as easily swayed to darkness."

From the shadows of the trees a low grumbling sounded, akin to granite being ground under foot. As the Gargoyle slowly turned towards it, not quite believing what it was hearing, a shape sprang from those same shadows. The Guardian leapt to the side of his lady and pushed her away as the Gargoyle, the third one he spotted earlier, bowled the behemoth over, its iron jaws latched to its throat. The enemy thrashed and fought against the weight of its attacker, but the paws of the stout dog-like Gargoyle kept it pinned, its talons cutting deep into the flesh of its prey.

The Guardian was at a loss, never had he heard his lady speak of a Gargoyle turning on its own. But a reassuring hand upon his shoulder led him to trust her. Soon the struggles subsided as the oxygen was slowly cut off from the creature, then with a final shake of the new arrivals head, the enemy's neck snapped and that was the end.

The canine Gargoyle lifted its head; its tongue licked the blood from its muzzle then shook its head in an effort to clean itself. The Shaman moved away from her protector and approached it. The Guardian followed close by, picking up his sword that the deceased had dropped, but keeping it in hand. "My Lady, I don't understand. Are you saying that this creature is not under the Sorcerer's sway?" How can this be?"

The Shaman bent down beside their saviour and stroked the rough grey skin on its head; the creature leaned into her, almost tipping her over until she braced herself for its weight. She smiled at the gentleness it now displayed in contradiction with its violent nature a moment ago. "He was not born to darkness like the others." She looked around to her protector and gave him a wry smile. "Perhaps we can discuss this after we dispose of these bodies and with myself more appropriately dressed."

If a fox could blush he would have, instead he looked away, cleared his throat and sheathed his sword. "Ahem, well, yes, I mean of course, why don't you do that and the creature and I will…ah."

"His name is Bronx."

"Bronx is it?" At the sound of his name Bronx's yellow eyed gaze looked up at the fox. "Well, then. Pleased to meet you Bronx." He leaned towards the mystic. "Can he understand me?"

"Yes, but his breed doesn't speak, they are much like he acts, dog-like and incapable of spoken word." Her Guardian showed an amused grin, which she caught and laughed in response. "Present company excluded of course, but do not take that as a sign of a simple mind. Bronx is very intelligent, we've been having conversations for the last two weeks, but I'll explain all that later. If you'll excuse me." The fox nodded as she slipped off to the wigwam, before entering she turned back to him. "I thank-you for your protection. It was very brave of you."

He turned and bowed his head. "I only wish I could have done more, my lady."

"You did all that was required, Robin of the Hood." She then disappeared between the flaps.