Prologue: Land of Confusion—Part Four
The long train of wagons, tall wooden boxes, almost like house on wheels, painted in bright colors, snaked its way through the rolling hills. Music filled the air, an odd assortment of instruments made a strange sort of harmony; it was a lively up-tempo beat that had those walking alongside the wagons practically dancing.
The people were in good spirits despite the cold that hung on in spite of the spring's rapid approach. Their clothing was as bright and as mismatched as their wagons, seemingly chosen at random and with little concern for the discomfort to a person's eye they caused. It seemed each person was trying to remind the world what spring looked like.
Except for the very old or the very young, who rode on the wagons, everybody else walked along besides the brightly colored boxes on wheels. If spring had yet to come to the world it could still be found in these colorfully dressed people; their steps were light, almost buoyant, as if they were constantly on the verge of dancing. Children ran between the wagons, playing with huge dogs the size of small ponies. For all the rough play and romping, the pulled tails and pinched ears the dogs remained passive, accepting of it all.
As the wagon train wound its way across the valley floor the lead wagon, a yellow box trimmed in red; the spokes of its tall red rimmed wheels alternated red and yellow, slowed to a stop. The wiry frame, grey haired driver spotted an unusual sight this far from civilization. A trio of young people stood in the middle of the valley floor, two were holding a heated debate with each other while the third stood a little ways apart. She was tall and of the three was the only one who seemed to be dressed for the cold with a heavy green jacket that hung to her knees, and a large black bag sat on the ground by her feet. Her pale brown hair fluttered in the wind and while she seemed to be paying close attention to the argument taking place she was also the first to spot the wagon train headed in their direction.
The second woman was an average height, but with a solid build. Her luxuriant black hair was raven dark—a couple shades darker then his black locks—and fell in thick waves well past her shoulders. He was taller then both women but she wore heavy black boots that were laced up the front and added several inches to her height; her pants were loose fitting, a mesh of dark forest green and lighter desert brown were tucked into her boot tops. Her black shirt wouldn't even be considered decent small clothes; it was tucked into her waistband and was snug around her torso but left her arms and neckline bare exposing a small expanse of her cleavage.
His shoes, if they were shoes, were white and laced up the front. His pants, like his coat, was black, but the pants looked like woven canvass while his coat was made of something else; it wasn't leather, though it did look a good deal like it, but it had a shine.
The older of the two girls, the one with the brown hair, said something to her companions and their argument stopped. The raven haired girl twisted her head around, she blinked owlishly, then gave her head a shake as if unable to believe what her dark eyes were seeing. The man's gaze followed hers and he said something that she apparently didn't want to hear as she silenced him with a gesture. She said something back and he shrugged indifferent to her response. The other girl said something trying to sooth down whatever rough edges there were.
The other wagons began gathering behind the lead wagon in a small cluster as children and adults as well as a good number of dogs formed up around the house on wheels. Raen quickly scrambled down from his perch as the strangers approached. The trio barely looked at each other as they marched towards the wagons.
They stopped a few paces short of the traveling village and exchanged wary glances. Silence hung like a heavy frost over the assembled group; waiting, anticipating the sharp crack of thunder. After a moment the grey haired man stepped forward and bowed, pressing both hands to his chest, and although he wasn't quite certain of it, he said, "You are welcome to our fires. Do you know the song?"
Max frowned in thought, then glanced at Max. He had thought his life had been as strange as it could get and it was, but he doubted there was anything that would have prepared him for waking up in the middle of the wilderness on an unknown world next to a pair of women, one a twenty year old, raven haired woman who happened to share his first name and the other a twenty five year old who unlike him was dressed for the weather. His jacket, made of imitation leather, was fine for right now, but it was the middle of the day without a single cloud in sight. He was positive it was going to get a lot colder once the sun went down. He was fortunate enough that he didn't have to worry about any of that, if it became necessary he could regulate the temperature in his immediate area.
He didn't know what to make of it, discovering that this alien world was inhabited by humans and that they spoke English. It was sort of like watching an old episode of Star Trek, where Native Americans or Mid-Western gangsters populated alien worlds and spoke perfect English. He started to think that maybe Max was right and some ultra secret government agency had captured them; that right now, in the real world, they were in fact hooked up to a vast array of sophisticated monitoring machines while their minds functioned in a matrix like environment. Only that didn't feel right to him. It might be because of his hybrid nature or some alien intuition, but he knew this world was real. As real as the one he planned to return to.
Managing a fair imitation of the older man's bow he said, "We appreciate your generosity." The statement was sincere; he really did appreciate the offer so long as it was sincere. "But I'm afraid I don't know what song you're looking for—"
"But maybe if you hum a few bars," Max suggested with a dry sarcasm. The eyes of everyone around went wide, faces paled or turned red and more then a few shocked gasp filled the air. It was clear her words had offended a good many people present.
Max didn't understand what was so important about a song, but he knew offending the only people they've encountered so far was not the smartest thing to do and shot a dark glare in her direction, hoping she would pick up on his meaning and keep her mouth shut and let him handle the diplomacy. "Excuse my associate," he started, his voice was stern and most there understood it was said more for her benefit then anyone else's. "The last few hours have been difficult…"
Max snorted at his choice of words and shook her head. Difficult was having to juggle the Alec drama with the Joshua situation while balancing work and Logan. Being transported, by unknown means to a possible alien world was so far beyond difficult as to make it look like rainbows and cupcakes.
"You wouldn't, by any chance, happen to know where we are?" Max knew it was quite possible the lamest question he could have asked, but it had to be asked.
"We have maps, if that will help," the old man offered. He looked around the valley, his eyes sparkled in the early afternoon sun. "This looks like a good spot to make camp." He turned to those around him and said, "Tell the others, we'll make camp here."
"You don't have to alter your plans for us," Max said quickly. The maps would be a great help, but he didn't want to inconvenience these people, especially if they were willing to so helpful.
The old man's smile was like a warming breeze. "You must truly be from a far way off indeed," he said with a chuckle. "The horses could surely use a break, they've spent all day pulling our homes and this is as good a spot as any we've come across, better then some. Besides, I have to admit I'm a little curious as to what could strand three people in this wilderness without them knowing where they are."
"You probably won't believe us," Max told him.
The old man's smile never faltered as he said, "The wheel weaves as the wheel wills." It had the sound of something said by rote, and just a little too fatalistic for either Max. Even Alexa seemed a little concerned. "I am Raen, Mahdi to this band of Tuatha'an."
"Max Evans," Max replied extending his right hand. Raen accepted the offered hand with only a brief moment of hesitation.
"Alexa Bond," she said extending her hand as well.
Raen accepted her hand more easily then he had Max's noting the girl's thin frame, hollowed cheeks, and dark circles under her eyes. There was concern etched in his eyes and he wondered if the girl was perhaps ill.
"Max Guerva," Max said offering the older man her hand.
"Come," Raen said accepting her hand. "Let me introduce you to my wife Ila," he continued leading them into the camp. As they moved forward Max hesitated, eyeing the dogs warily. Raen noticed and mistook her pause for apprehension and said, "There's no need to fear the dogs. They've been trained according to the way of the leaf."
"It's not fear," Max assured him. "Dogs just don't like me."
"Truly," Raen said with a frown, but as he took a closer look even he could see the wariness in the dogs as they watched her.
"It's a hereditary thing," Max shrugged. "I'm more of a cat person."
Alec was an average sized man with short cropped dirty blond hair that had been allowed to grow out in recent months. His ice blue eyes could charm the devil himself. His pants were standard issue BDUs in forest camouflage with the cuffs tucked into calf high boots that were laced up tight. He was thankful for the warmth the drab olive colored knit sweater provided.
He lazed against the thin bole of a fir tree. Negligently he kept five pebbles of varying shapes and sizes in the air, spinning in an oblong circle. As one stone fell he tossed another into the air then caught the other before it came close to hitting the ground. On and on the cycle repeated itself. He looked like a man who had more important things he could be doing, but would be damned before he actually found a reason to do one.
His companion though was the exact opposite; nearly point for point. Even though he was standing still, it was a stillness that hinted at sudden violence and seemed on the verge of constant action. His amber eye stare was hot enough to set the forest ablaze. They were a stark contrast to the coolness of his inky black flesh and long ash white hair. His cloak was a dark brown that would just about fade into any patch of darkness. The rest of the clothes were of dark hues; browns and greens and blues. A pair of heavy bladed scimitars hung at his waist, a quiver full of arrows stuck up over his shoulder and Alec was sure there were any number of other weapons secreted about his personage
"Do you mind? You're really making tired with all that fidgeting," Alec mumbled.
Drizzt frowned at the young man. The word Drow meant nothing to him, while Elf simply made him chuckle. It was strange to meet a human that didn't fear or distrust him; a human that had no inkling of the atrocities the Drow people have committed through the long years was an impossibility. Or so he had thought.
He didn't mind resting or waiting, unless there was something urgent that needed tending and right now learning where he was and how he came to be here required immediate attention. Only Alec's plan had made sense as well. A few hours, even half a day and night could save days in delay if they chose the wrong direction.
They had made their camp, if it could be called that, off a broad road, as wide as any on Abeir-Toril; enough for at least eight wagons abreast, which meant that at one end there would be a city of some substance. From the tracks the last several weeks had seen an increase in travel, which was an indication they were near the tail end of winter, still the weather would have to warm significantly for trade and travel to resume what he was assuming was heavy traffic.
Drizzt doubted if he would have heard of any city connected to this road, while the sun was an angry red ball, that was where the similarities ended between it and the star that warmed Abeir-Toril. This sun was significantly smaller and barely seemed capable of providing sufficient warmth.
"Another couple of hours," Alec said in a slightly offhand manner before adding, "or there abouts."
For all the indifference he displayed Drizzt suspected Alec was just as impatient as himself, yet the young human had been trained as a soldier. Trained so well that the cold was little more then an afterthought to him, if that. The one time he spoke of his past his words had been edged with a mocking bitterness. Enough that Drizzt found himself slightly intrigued by Alec; at what could have caused one so young to be so jaded. In human years Alec wasn't that young, older then Cattabrie and Wulfgar when he first meant them. Drizzt would wager Alec had seen twenty years under his planets sun.
"Any family?" Alec asked suddenly. Drizzt thought it was more to hear himself talk then to dig vital information out of him. "Friends?" He continued before Drizzt had a chance to answer the first part. "Anybody that's actually going to notice you're missing."
"A few friends," Drizzt answered slowly, before hedging slightly by adding, "in time. Possibly. Or they may assume the wilderness claimed me.
Alec grimaced slightly as he said, "Pretty harsh."
"Abeir-Toril is mostly untamed wilderness with few cities of any note. City or wild one must take extreme care. Death comes swiftly to the unawares."
"And you've probably made your fair share of enemies?"
It wasn't quite a question but Drizzt still answered, "There are a few that will smile fondly at the news of my demise and raise celebratory flagon or two."
Alec nodded thoughtfully. The simple circle had somehow metamorphed into two; one arching several inches higher then the other. "So when they go looking for you and can't find you, they might assume you've been done in by one of the many enemies you've accumulated over the years?"
"Quite possibly," Drizzt answered.
"Bet they're the type of people who are gonna keep on until they know for sure." Drizzt didn't say anything as it seemed Alec was talking to himself. "Question is whether they can find you and if they can if they'll be able to bring you back?" He looked at Drizzt and frowned slightly before adding, "I know my friends wouldn't be able to do it, and if you're anything to go by I doubt if the technology on your world is anywhere near as advance as mine."
Drizzt squatted easily across from Alec, holding the young man's gaze. "There are those on your world skilled in traversing the higher realms?" Alec simply looked at him, his blue eye gaze never wavered, but Drizzt thought he spotted a hint of skepticism in them. "Converse with those that dwell in the outer planes?"
Alec snorted before saying, "Next you're gonna tell me magic is real? I mean, come on… No offense or anything Drizzt, but have you—" He stopped suddenly, the stones fell to the ground unnoticed. He was on his feet so fast that Drizzt never saw him move. "Something big is coming fast, from the west…" He closed his eyes. "…they're moving at a good clip, long strides. Longer then a person's. Heavy too, like a small horse." He opened his eyes.
Drizzt was already staring up the road; poised on the balls of his feet ready for whatever might be coming. Run or fight.
Alec wasn't sure which.
It was only a minute, a little more before a large shape crested a low rise west of their position. At the distance Drizzt couldn't make out much, but he could tell the solitary figure approaching was more then large, comparable in size to that of an ogre only this creature dressed far better then any ogre Drizzt has ever encountered; from the long coat that reached to his knees with its voluminous pockets, to his heavy boots.
"And I thought Joshua had an ugly mug," Alec mumbled almost too softly for Drizzt's sensitive ears.
Drizzt frowned as he wondered exactly what Alec was. There was magic that could increase a person's senses, but Alec had been an instant from denouncing magic. In the natural order there wasn't a human whose senses could match a Drow's much less exceed them. Alec though had, not just better hearing, but better sight as well.
The creature slowed, a clear indication they had been seen, but he continued to come forward if at a more sedate pace. He seemed more dignified. His nose was broad, yet fit his wide face perfectly. Tufted ears stuck up through a shock of thick black hair, while his eyebrows drooped past his chin framing his face. The creature was twice his height or near enough. His shoulders were broad enough to make an ogre appear lean. Despite his bulk and size he appeared passive; his ears seemed to twitch in a nervous sort of apprehension. Dark eyes the size of teacups settled on Drizzt with an intense curiosity, he took in the Drow's weapons and seemed to consider if coming closer were such a good idea.
Drizzt had no doubt he was trying to decide what his best course of action would be, but his eyes still burned with unsatisfied curiosity. Deciding it was time to see if their luck had improved significantly, Drizzt held up his hands and hoped the stranger would be able to understand the common tongue as Alec had. "We are travelers, lost and seeking directions to the nearest city." He bellowed at the top of his lungs.
A smile split the broad face and he came on just a little faster then before, but nowhere near the trot he had been maintaining when he first came into view. He slowed and came to a stop a few feet in front of them. "We are really lucky you came along Big Fella," Alec started and the creature's ears twitched slightly. "We would've been sitting here all day trying to pick a direction."
Again Drizzt frowned at Alec, the human's tongue was as glib as he suspected. Drizzt had no doubt the man could spin a yarn a mile long about their arrival and searching for guide without ever really telling a shred of truth or actually lying but with everything centered around him.
"Excuse my companion," Drizzt cut in. He kept his voice friendly, yet forceful enough to overwhelm Alec. "He sometimes forgets himself, and the few manners he possess vanish."
"It's quite all right." His voice rumbled like far off thunder, not too far off. Just beyond the next hill, or the one after that. "Elder Hamma is always explaining about how hasty humans are. How they jump about so—" He blinked suddenly, his ears drooping slightly and he gave a short bow to Alec. "Please forgive me. I shouldn't have said that." He straightened saying, "But you do fight all the time. Even when there is no need."
Now Drizzt knew why the creature didn't take as much interest in Alec as him. Humans were known while Drow were not. He now knew one thing about this world he hadn't, and wondered if Alec had picked up on it. He believed so, he showed a quick pair of wits.
Alec waved off the apology, as if embarrassed by it though Drizzt doubted if that was the case. Alec was the type capable of finding an angle most wouldn't even know was there and then be able to squeeze everything he could from it. "No need to apologize for what's true." There was a thoughtfulness in his eyes that hadn't been there a moment before.
"I am Drizzt Do'Urden."
He extended his hand and watched it disappeared inside one that was the size of a large ham. It was accompanied by another bow, this far moor formal then the one previous. "Loial, son of Arent, son of Halan. Your name sings in my ears, Drizzt Do'Urden."
It had the feel of a ritual greeting. Not returning it would be the height of rudeness. "Your name sings in my ears Loial, son of Arent, son of Halan."
Both then turned expectant eyes on Alec. He shrugged indifferently as he mumbled, "Gotta get it over with sooner or later." He extended his hand to Loial and waited for it to be engulfed by one large enough to cover his entire head. A mischievous grin quirked the edges of his lips. "Alec X Five—Four Nine Four, son of Petri Dish." Then he bowed, perfectly imitating Loial's. "Your name sings in my ears Loial, son of Arent, son of Halan."
Loial bowed and said, "Your name sings in my ears Alec X Five—Four Nine Four, son of Petri Dish."
Alec's smile was small, as if he knew secret, some joke, that nobody else did. "Where was it you were going before we waylaid you?"
There was still an hour or so before the sun disappeared over the horizon far to the west, but the little warmth it provided had fled long ago. A dozen fires burned brightly and the aroma of cooking filled the air; stews and breads and pies, reminding Alexa of how long it's been since she's had anything to eat.
Not far from the fire she had all to herself, a number of Tuatha'an were congregated around Max attempting to replicate one of the King's early chart toppers. From what she could hear they weren't all that bad, making due with an odd assortment of fiddles, harps, and other instruments she had no name for. It was vastly different from what she was used to; guitars and drums and the occasional keyboard.
The ipod Max had produced from inside his coat was a clear indication of the advances in technology in only a ten year period. In ninety-six the only mp she knew was Clint Turner, her little brother's best friend who joined the Army right out of high school. As far as music went CDs were king of the music industry and PnP software had the sound of something parents didn't want their children watching until they'd been living on their own for a dozen years or so.
Max appeared to be a very disinterested observer in the proceedings, his presence was only required to operate the delicate piece of technology. He seemed to have about as much interest in musical arrangements as she had in rebuilding a Four Fifty-Four Chevy large block.
A young boy was paying particular attention to whatever Max was saying as he explained how to operate the ipod. He was nodding at Max's instructions and after several minutes, Max clapped the youngster on the back and stood up, hitching the heavy grey cloak around his shoulders.
It came as a bit of a surprise that this group of brightly clad people possessed one article of clothing in such a drab color. It was even more shocking that there were two as they managed to find a soft brown cloak for the other Max, an offer she had refused at first, but for all these people's talk and claim of being pacifist—followers of this leaf—they hadn't relented for a moment and Max found herself in possession of the cloak. She wore it over one shoulder, just letting it hang there as she entertained a group of children with some juggling, a bit of street corner magic and sleight of hand. The youngsters were eating it up. Even a few of the adults were mesmerized by Max's effortless skill.
"So," Max said as he approached. Alexa slide over a little and Max squatted easily by her side for a moment, simply enjoying the warmth of the small fire. "How you holding up?"
She liked Max. First impression, he was a nice guy, probably too nice and she had her own problems, beside the obvious—stuck on an alien world—to deal with; beside the gold band on his ring finger spoke clearer then any words about his potential availability. If she had been looking, she'd have to look someplace else. It was a little disconcerting that between her and Guevara, she was the one Max decided needed a White Knight. Alexa knew that compared to the brunette she didn't exactly exude confidence, but still she was as capable as the next woman. She grunted sourly knowing she should simply count her blessings that she hadn't ended up here alone and felt an instant jab of bitterness and discord because she was happy other people were in the same situation as her. There was a playful note in her voice as she said, "Could ask you the same question." She may not have the chance of getting him, especially not on her time table, but she wasn't dead just yet. Adam had taught her that.
Max nodded, a slight acknowledgement of the truth in her words. Being stranded on an alien world didn't faze him as much as he thought it should. What did come as a bit of a surprise was how easy the Tuatha'an accepted their story; that people could come from a different world, a world fundamentally the same in so many ways, yet radically different at the same time. "The wheel weaves as the wheel wills," Raen had quoted. Max had a problem with such fatalism. It was sort of like saying, "Let god sort 'em out."
With a little more force then was necessary Alexa poke at the fire with her stick stirring up a few ambers. She had just started enjoying her life. Adam treated her like a queen, an equal while spoiling her outlandishly. She didn't want for anything. The last few weeks, months… Year of her life was going to be the best of her life. Adam had swept her, quite literally, off her feet and was showing her the world, the entire world. Months spent lounging off the Italian coast in a private villa, with day trips here and there. At times it was exhausting, but she wouldn't change a thing.
The best thing about it, she had watched Adam come alive again. Not simply play at living, but truly seize the moment and live in it, relish it. For a man that had lived millennia, that may live millennia more, that she was able to make the world new for him, even if it was for only a moment, was a gift beyond anything he could ever bestow upon her.
A fresh wave of nausea caused Alexa to grimace. Once again the realization that none of this really mattered to her. Not the food, not the music… Not even these strange people that had taken her and the others in. Not even their strange and so enticing belief system, this Way of the Leaf.
None of it.
She had a week supply of her medications, most of them, but once they were gone her life could be measured in the ticks of the hour. In a way she was oddly content, knowing the end was finally here and there wasn't a damn thing that could be done to stop it.
"I was just starting to enjoy my life," she muttered in a melancholy tone, "finally had a reason to think about a future." She gave a sardonic laugh and jabbed at the fire again. She knew it would probably be better if she kept silent, but she wasn't in the mood for silence. "Adam is going to tear Chairo apart looking for me. It's gonna crush him when he can't find me." She tossed her stick into the fire. Her gaze drifted back to his ring.
Max reached out and gave her forearm a strong, reassuring squeeze. "You have to believe you're going to get back."
There was such a sureness in his words that she could almost believe him. Almost. "Do you believe?" She asked pulling her arm away from his touch. "Truly believe you're going to get back to whoever it was that managed to put that gold band on your finger?"
His gaze drifted past her shoulder, south and east. "Liz is here," he said softly and nodded in the direction he was looking. "Somewhere that direction."
Alexa frowned. That hadn't been the sort of answer she was expecting. "How could you…?" Her voice dipped low. "Is it one of those alien things?"
He grimaced and for a moment wished he had kept that information to himself. "Yeah," he finally said, "it's something like that."
A thin smile crept across her lips. "I hate you," she told him only half joking. Exhaling she figured it was time to change the subject, only there wasn't a lot of things she felt comfortable talking about.
She glanced up as she felt Raen settle next to their humble little fire and saved them from any sort of prolonged silence. "That ipod," the word sounded odd coming off his tongue, "it is a wonder no one has ever seen before. It plays music none has ever heard. Hundreds of songs." Alexa and Max shared a smile and Alexa could only imagine if a chocoholic had been given the keys to the Hershey plant in Pennsylvania, they would probably sound a lot like Raen at this moment.
"Are any of them the song you're looking for?"
Raen shook his head at Max's question. "We've only listened to a few, and one…" A bemused chuckle accompanied another shake of his head. "…I do not believe we would ever be capable of producing such music."
"I'd be surprised if your people couldn't make it work somehow Raen. What they've done so far is nothing short of amazing."
Raen accepted Max's praise with a friendly smile. "Hundreds of songs," Raen enthused sounding positively giddy. "Have you seen Max juggle? She is very good, as good as any Gleeman I think and she told the children a story no one has ever heard before. About the Grinch who stole Christmas. I must say I am very intrigued by this Christmas, a day of goodwill and cheer on which people give presents to one another." He inhaled deeply and reigned himself in a little. "I have a feeling this is going to be a very good year. Come, Ila has supper ready."
AN: This ends the prologue. Next up, a week at most will be the first chapter: A Hard Day's Night. Second chapter to follow soon after. That one will deal mostly with Buffy and her group along with a little bit of Faith.
AN: Sorry about the delay in Minutes To Memories. I finished it some time ago, but my brother is being lazier then usual when it comes to typing anything up. He told me that he was going to be starting back up anytime. Take it for what you will. Hopefully he'll get something finished one of these days.
Hope you enjoy.