Nothing but the steady, dull drip of water on stone and a red haired man watching the puddle at his feet. Ripples spread across the surface with every drip, merging and returning again and again. There is nothing else to hold his attention, three blank stone walls and a fourth of steel bars, red with rust from the damp, dank air. Incarceration has not been kind to him. His hair lies limp and greasy around a gaunt face, his skin grey and his eyes lifeless and staring. A broken man, with little to live for but his memories.
X X X
A forest glade, the sun shining, birds singing and the merry clink of other peoples hard earned coins in his purse. He was alone but he preferred it that way. Alone was safe, people were only liabilities; he had had the chance to learn that in the past. Letting someone in was dangerous and he never took risks.
A flash of colour caught his eye and reflectively he pulled his dagger. Someone there? No one should be here. A "mark"? Had he been followed? No, looking closer it appeared to be a tear, as you would get in clothes, about the height of a man but hanging, suspended in the air. Moving nearer he looked in. Through it he could see a violent swirl of colours; blue, purple, green; but he didn't look long before am arm, seemingly woven from threads, reached out and pulled him in.
X X X
He regained consciousness slowly, swimming up through the enfolding swathes of oblivion until he could open his eyes. His immediate thought was that he was dreaming but he discounted that almost as quickly. His next thought was hallucination but the pulsing walls of tangled, multicoloured threads seemed too sharp, too focused to be a figment of his imagination.
As if triggered by his voice a section of the tangle bunched together. It twisted, forming brief unsettling shapes then blurred for a moment and a woman stepped forward. She was the most beautiful person he had ever seen but something told him she was not all she appeared to be. She stopped just in front of him and bowed.
"Greetings Ian Starshine. We are glad you are awake. We have been waiting a long time for you."
"Who are you? Where am I? How do you know my name?"
My name?...my name?...my name?
"We have many names but in your world I believe we are known as The Snarl. Where we abide is hard to describe but do not be alarmed, you shall be returned home soon. As for your name we have been waiting a long time for you."
"You said that before. What do you mean waiting for me? For what?"
"We are sorry, we shall explain. We wish an heir."
"Yes. We have chosen you. She must be raised in your world until she comes of age to claim her heritage. Will you help us?"
"Um, OK I guess. What...what do I need to do?"
To do...to do...to do
The woman smiled
"Merely lay with a beautiful woman."
X X X
He stared down at the new life in his arms. So fragile yet so full of vitality as she stared back up at him with large, dark eyes. His daughter.
"Haley, I'll call her Haley."
There was a sensation of speed and he looked up, not to see the ever present pulsing walls of threads but instead the forest glade where he had been taken from, oh so long ago. Nothing had changed, even his footprints were still there in the soft loam of the forest floor, as if he had just stepped there a moment before. Was it just a dream after all? A soft gurgle brought his attention to the weight in his arms and he smiled. No, not a dream but a mystery none the less.
"Our little secret."