WHAT BEGINS

Where does life start, where does it end, these are the answers we seek within.

Well, I didn't see this coming. Was just trying to get my advisor out of a funk and he turns around and tells me that I'm not actually the Overlord; yet. And wouldn't you know it, when I ask him what kind of test, he just tilts his head back and taps on his chin as if in thought but responds at the same time saying "You know that's a good question, normally we have enough minions to arrange for these sort of things. Bah, I guess I'll just know an opportunity when I see it." This of course leads me to asking if he was coming along, only to have him laughing long, and hard. … Long. And hard. Which I then point out that he wouldn't see what all I'd come across otherwise. That managed to quiet him down a little as he adopted a ponderous look while rubbing his chin in thought, "Yes, I suppose without the Heart's darkness to power the Neitherworld magic, I wouldn't be able to use the viewing pool in the throne room." He sags some and sighs loudly, "Guess I'll just have to dig out my old crystal ball." And with that hobbles off to wherever it is that, supposedly, he keeps such things.

And that, leads up to where I am now. Standing outside the cave entrance, and getting my first view of the Nordbergian wilderness… And by some quirk only a single minion at my side. The first thing I notice is that even though winter is about to set in, is that it is unseasonably warm for a polar land. Not warm enough to walk around in basic clothes mind you, but warm enough that the winter weather gear that the minions scrounged up for me is already making me sweaty. Taking a look back, to view the other minions standing at the opening they made, I notice what looks like sadness in two or three of the other's faces. But for the life of me, I can't figure out why if they want to come they weren't. This one made it down the other side with relative ease, so I don't see why they couldn't. Turning forward to move onward, I take notice of how the trees here are pines, and without any snow.

As I make my way down the trail, I suddenly hear a rustling like cloth being pulled away. Quickly alert, I stop, hand on the hilt of my sword, and looking for anything that might be moving to attack. Until I hear a blowing like sound as if wind were gushing into one's face. For a moment I think about how I would know that, but brush it off. Then of all things, I hear… knocking? "Testing, testing… is this thing working?" Scrunching up my face as I try to wrap my mind around it, and trying to ignore the silly feeling of talking to air, I ask, "Gnarl?"

"Ah, good, it still works, for a moment there I was afraid it wouldn't… some of my ingredients were older than I remembered. Although… now that I am using it… I really should have gone for a larger ball. This palm crystal is so tiny. I can barely make anything out." While he's talking, I'm looking around, for some reason I guess I'm thinking I could see him too. "I actually can't remember when the last time I used this thing. Had an inch of dust covering it too." Then more quietly as though mumbling to himself, "Hrm, I should probably clean that storage out at some point… or make some of the younger minions." Finally settling on looking slightly up, while facing ahead, I clear my throat before saying anything, "Gnarl?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes, yes. Sorry, old habit." Silence, and then a sigh, "Anyways, so, here we are, the outer ranges of the Nordbergian Wilderness. Such a peaceful place" He stresses peaceful with sarcasm, "All white, and, blech, fluffy. Nordberg is over the hillside, and through the woods. Last time any of us went out there, there were only wolves and hunters… and seals, lots, and lots of seals. Good for gathering life force, but not much else, except maybe angering a seal mother… hoo, hoo… when those fat, bloated, sea creatures get angry do watch out… they tend to flop around a lot, and if they catch you lying down, they can smother you real easy like. While crushing you under all that fat."

Before he can say anything more I clear my throat loudly. Making Gnarl respond with "Hmm?" When I'm certain that he isn't going to say anything else, I ask simply, "Anything else I might need to know?" There's quiet for a few moments before he responds. "Hmm, no, no I don't think there's anything else. Just wolves, hunters, and seals. Hrm… is my eyesight so bad I can't make out the snow, or is it not snowing?" I let out a light snort in a quiet exhale of breath. "No, it's not snowing. Which is strange, normally, this time of year, it should be coming down like a blanket over one's face." Again, something that I should have no way of knowing. ARGH! All these repressed memories is going to drive me insane. "True, true. Hrm, I wonder if… well I suppose we might find out if you continue on." Gnarl retorts stopping my mind from wondering. But making me curious. "Find out what?" Another pause before Gnarl answers, "Hehe, no sense in ruining the surprise, if I'm right that is."

Heaving a sigh, I shrug my shoulders and start moving on. It isn't long before I reach the bottom of the mountain side, apparently the cave entrance wasn't too far up, it just opened out over a cliff that dropped down for a long ways. I'm met with narrow paths that were raised above the water line, and just dry enough to walk over. I can see seal pups across the chest deep water lounging on a jutting rock. Barking at each other and playing. Gnarl makes a simple 'blech' when I look out to them. I can't help but smile at that. Moving on, and through a rough opening in the crevice of ice and rock, the pathway of snow and slush, starts to give out to hard packed dirt… which is odd, that it's hard packed, and not muddy. And soon enough trees start to line the beaten path.

After walking for a distance down the path, we come to a simple knoll that looked to have at one point contained some sort of barricade. Gnarl just sighs, if I didn't know better I'd swear it was a happy sigh too. To the right the path continues on, and to the left there is a clearing with broken lean-tos, rusting pots, and rotting posts. And a large fluff of matted fur; and not a second after I notice it I hear a sharp gasp… at first I thought it was Gnarl, but am surprised when the minion next to me starts vibrating in place excitedly.

It's quickly on all fours, but drops suddenly before it catches its' weight on its' other three legs. Making it look like it's about to charge leaning its' forward weight on the left front leg. Pulling its' lips back into a snarl it growls as threateningly as possible. And I'm inclined to let it be; but apparently my minion has other ideas. Before I can even blink to look in the other direction; my lone minion dashes from my side to the wolf like a bolt from a crossbow. Straight up to it without any hesitation, or fear. And before my eyes the growling, snarling wolf changes to a slightly whimpering canine that looks like the most pitiable animal you ever did see.

Before the minion it had lowered its head, and was laying back down. The minion just stroked it's fur, and whispered in its' ear to it. Slowly, I walked up to minion and wolf and kneeled before it, holding out my hand. It raised its' head to look at me before sniffing my hand. After a short sniff it apparently found something it like cause it licked at my palm and fingers greedily. With my other hand, I slowly stroked its' fur, and while doing that slowly pulled my wet hand away. Before wiping it on my backside. Carefully I move to its' injured side, and moved to examine it. But it apparently could still see me, cause it whipped its head around and started growling.

Quickly I raised both hands, palms out. The minion moved to the head and petting the wolf telling it "It okay, master not hurt you." Slowly I moved forward, and as gently as possible lifted the leg. The problem was immediately clear. "Damned hunters! Always setting traps, and harming innocent murderous wolves." Gnarl suddenly snaps, and startles me, nearly making me drop the wolf's leg that was still caught in the bear trap. Under my breath, but still loud enough to be heard I respond, "Not now Gnarl. Trying to help the murderous wolf here, and you suddenly shouting isn't helping." Gnarl immediately follows with something of an apology, "Err… yeah, didn't mean to nearly get you mauled by an injured wolf that you're standing right next to."

I just shake my head slightly, with a smirk on my lips before returning my full attention to the trap. I quickly notice a chain dangling from it, and follow it to a stake good and deep in the ground. The wound where the trap dug into the leg has already stopped bleeding, and seemed to be trying to scab over. So the wolf would have had to been trapped here for at least a day, maybe more. A quick look around tells me that there hasn't been any other wolves this way at least since it got trapped, if at all. So likely its' also hungry on top of being injured.

I quickly find the catch release latch, and brace myself to try and pry the trap open. Looking to the wolf, and knowing it likely wouldn't understand me, I try to prepare it. "I'm just going to open the trap so you can get your leg out, but it's probably going to hurt, a lot. So, just don't bite my face off when I do, okay?" Even if the wolf just looked at me with a blank stare, the minion apparently understood what I meant, and immediately went to work distracting the wolf from me about to open the trap. It didn't stay distracted long.

As soon as I started opening the trap it jerked its head back and tried to snap at me, but the minion kept a firm grip on its neck and prevented it from biting into my own. After a minute of straining against the rusted iron of the trap spring, it opened enough that the wolf was able to jerk its' leg out of the trap itself. Once it was free, I cleared away as quickly from the trap myself, as I could. The trap's jaws snapping back with a sickening crunch, and a deafening clang. Nothing of mine was in the trap, nor the wolf or the minion, but when I looked closer I found the reason for the crunch. In removing the trap, it ripped some of the flesh from the scabbing wounds, and bit down on them as it closed.

I already knew that the wound would reopen once I got it out of the trap, but it was bleeding out really quickly. I pulled off my top coat, then my under coat, and then took off my top shirt. Once down to just the two shirts I quickly realized just how cold it still was out here, and put back on my two coats. I freed my sword from its scabbard and used it to tear my shirt into strips and cloths. Using some of the larger pieces I quickly wiped the wound, then using another large cloth wrapped it around the leg, and then used the strips to wind around the cloth swap to tighten it and hopefully slow the bleeding. We'd probably have to backtrack to get to some water where I could more thoroughly clean the wound and redress it.

Needless to say, the wolf protested to being carried, and insisted on walking on its own. The only reason I could think of that it even followed us, was that the minion coaxed it to follow us. It wasn't long that we returned to the icy beach of a shore, and it was then that I realized that I didn't have anything to prepare the water to clean the wound. Trying not to focus on how I knew that the water was like sea water, and thus would burn treating the wound, I quickly made a mental list of what I was missing. Pots, pans, more cloth, and fire. Breathing a sigh of frustration, I realize that I'll be backtracking even more; mostly to gather dry fire wood, but also to grab some of those pots I saw at the abandoned camp, and hope they weren't rusted through.

Ordering the minion to stay with the wolf, I started my trek back, gathering what wood I could find, needles for kindling, and what little dry grass I could find, which was ever more odd about this northern land. When I finally reached the old camp, I barely had an armful of tiny limbs and large twigs, certainly not enough to start a fire. Finding a dry spot, a still intact wool that was used for wrapping fire logs, I place my meager pickings upon it and scoured the camp. Finding some still usable logs I added them to my pile, and luckily some flint and stone. The pots and pans left much to be desired, and I'm almost certain not a whole piece between the lot of them. Still I picked out the better looking among them, found some intact cloth, of all things, clean too. Well, as clean as discarded cloth left to rot could be at any rate.

Although it'd probably ruin my sword's blade, I scrapped what rust I could from the pots that I was able to, and while looking for a fire rack, found some still intact jugs… empty, thankfully. So, placing everything on the wool with the wood, I realized that it was perhaps best if I built the fire here, instead of on an ice shore. Shaking my head at my shortsightedness, I hefted two of the larger jugs and started back to the shore, again. When I made it there, I could see the minion playing games with the wolf, and chuckled at the child like antics. Washing the jugs out, before storing water in them, I then ordered the minion to follow me back. Already it was late in the evening, and soon dusk would fall.

For a wounded wolf, we made good time back to the camp, I quickly started a fire, placed a single log on, and started to boil the water. This didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would, and turned out the pots at least weren't in that bad a shape. Using some of the water I rinsed out smaller jugs, and by the time I filtered out as much of the sea salt as I could, I had three smaller jugs of water, and one large basin pan filled with steaming hot water. Using this, and the minion's distraction, I cleaned as well as I could the wolf's injured leg, and bound it again. Apparently this was enough to put the wolf to sleep. And let it sleep I did.

Asking the minion to stay once more, I took up a bow, and found some still usable sinew to string the bow, and found some arrows. Night had already set in, and hunting down small wildlife, for some reason, was easier than it should have been even if it was still early. But I'd managed three small hares, and a pheasant of some sort. The fire was almost out by the time I got back, and so I put on another log, and stoked the fire. Quickly draining, and skinning the hares, and used the sea salt to cure two of them, I sat the third on a pike over the fire. Small though the fire was, with my winter clothes it was all I needed to stay warm that night.

At some point the cooking hare must of woken the wolf cause as I was curing the other two hares, I heard it whine. I didn't really know how to prepare a bird, so I simply tossed the pheasant to the wolf, and it tore into it was gusto. It was actually kind of nauseating to hear the crunch of bone and flesh. But I was able to keep my stomach down. After setting the hares to dry on a moderately usable rack, I turned to the cooking hare, and tested the meat… it was almost done. I took the time to count out how many arrows I had left. Ended up having to brake two of them to remove the bolts from my kills. All told only eleven arrows, and nary a quiver to hold them. Still there were some twin to bind them, and so I did.

Using the light of the fire I scrounged through the surrounding camp near the fire, and found a sharpening stone, three more arrows, and a small knife, rusted at the hilt. But the blade was still usable. And a jar of lubricating oil was just at the edge of one of the broken huts. Barely saw it in the shadowed recess, but managed. So, I started to sharpen the knife. Once I was finished, so to was the hare. Using the newly sharpened knife I cut up the hare, and could see the minion salivating at the meat. I knew I wouldn't eat it all, and so shared a larger portion with the minion. It readily gobbled it down, noisily, and messily.

There wasn't much to sleep on, but at least I found something to roll up and lay my head on, and so, settling in for the night, I laid by the fire, wondering just what else I would come across in this wilderness. The fire crackling, and popping lulled me to sleep rather easily, my last thoughts before succumbing to my body's demand for rest was on the oddity of my first encounter being with a wild wolf, and befriending it… largely due to the minion at my side. And at why the minion was able to make friends with it so quickly and easily. But with that, my mind slid off into dreams, of darkness, of light, magic, and an ageless enemy working against me and my conquest. And that damnable laugh of theirs, at every turn.