It was another idyllic, perfect day, golden sunlight pouring down through the trees, the endless waves of grass waving in the wind, almost as if the hill was alive with green flame. The air was heavy with the fragrant scent of spring, and the trees themselves seemed to be alive, their branches heavy with fruit. It was paradise.
Lael and Adam were both young, ten years old at the most, although if you asked them they couldn't really tell you how old they were. Nobody kept track of that kind of thing here. There might be celebrations at important intervals of their life, but it was nothing set in stone. They climbed the side of the hill with reckless abandon, never slowing down or even showing signs of exertion. They both carried with them solid sticks for protection, though neither knew from what. There were dangers, certainly, but no one considered it odd that two young children might wander so far from their homes. Dangers in this place were oddly manageable, for the most part.
Both were ideal-looking children, though that might have varied depending on who you asked. Lael was thin and spry, with the sort of precocious innocence etched into her face that some might have found completely annoying but seemed to be the norm. Black hair, uncut since her birth, reached her waist. She wore boy's clothes, brown, plain, baggy trousers tucked into a buttoned shirt at one end and misshapen boots at the other. Adam, on the other hand, though wearing much the same clothing, was scruffy and filthy, with wild, ruffled, dirty blonde hair framing a face with fantastically blue eyes peering out of it. Well, they would have been considered fantastic if everyone's eyes here weren't fantastic in one way or another.
"Lael," he said, after romping their way adorably through more and more of the ridiculously idyllic forest, "Are you sure this is the way?"
"Absolutely. I saw him here three days in a row. He's a wizard!" Here it should be noted that Lael's voice was like a clarion call from an angel's trumpet or some other suitably overdramatic metaphor.
"Oh, I'm not saying I don't believe you," replied the boy. After a moment of idly swinging his stick at the grass in front of him, he shrugged and continued. "Actually, I do suppose I'm saying that. Come on. We've been on adventures before. I don't remember it ever being this hard to find someone in this forest. Plus, I hear there are like....I dunno...giant spiders here or something. Pretty sure someone said that."
While it may seem normal to react to news of giant spider activity with a level of horror and alarm usually reserved for the awakening of dark eldritch gods, Lael seemed remarkably unconcerned. "So what? We've got our sticks."
Adam nodded and shrugged, as if this were a perfectly reasonable answer and not the dumbest thing he had ever heard in his life.
It was only a few more steps until they came across one of the said giant spiders.
It was huge, monstrous-easily the size of either child, hairy, black, drooling venom. In fact, it would have normally seemed impossible for its spindly legs to support a spider of this mass. It clambered down one of the trees from its impossibly huge webbing, rushing straight towards the two children.
"Watch out, Adam!" Lael shouted, taking up a battle stance with her stick that, while it seemed elegant, and certainly looked intimidating, was probably not a very practical stance to take. She stood straight up, her feet and legs snapped together, stick held behind her, wind blowing through her hair. Adam assumed a similarly impractical stance. Neither seemed to think of running.
The spider ran towards them, hissing and gurgling and making other distinctly un-spiderly sounds, when, ten feet from them, it burst into flame.
"FUCK!" The voice was gravelly, raw. "I mean, really, come on!"
Adam and Lael paused, then slowly turned around. Behind them was a man dressed in robes that seemed to be fashioned out of the most stylish bits of various forest animals pieced together. His face was weathered, worn-far older than any face they had ever seen before, far more flawed, as well. His nose was crooked. Dark brown eyes squinted out at them, almost completely obscured by a bulbous red nose. A wild mass of gray, tangled hair merged seemlessly with a similar beard. Flames flickered up and down one massive, outstretched hand.
"Fuckin', christ, man. All I want is some peace and quiet. And here you come traipsing through my woods, getting into battles and starting up that awful orchestral music. Orchestral, really? For an encounter in the woods?"
Adam and Lael glanced at each other, confused. "M...music?" Adam stuttered.
"Yes. You know. The kind that plays when you go into battle...Fuck, you wouldn't notice, would you. It would seem as natural as breathing to you."
Lael got over her intimidation quickly, clasping her hands together in excitement. "You're a wizard!"
"Yeah. Okay. Sure, I guess." The wizard looked at the flames running up and down his arm, and then shook them off. "Yeah. Why not."
"Can you teach us magic?"
The wizard glared at the two children again. "What? No. No no no. I am not getting drawn into this happy horseshit, okay. It's not what I'm here for. I'm not here to be part of your little world."
"Oh, come on," said Adam, doing the most unnatural thing in the world and searching through the spider's burnt corpse for anything useful. "We walked through these woods to find you. The least you could do is teach us some magic."
The wizard glared at the both of them again, and suddenly there were flames flickering up and down his arm once more. Adam and Lael took a step back in alarm.
"No. You don't get it. I'm not here to be a part of your world. Do you understand me?" The wizard glanced at his flaming arm, then sighed, and the flames died once more. "Don't...don't come looking for me again, got me? I'm not even here."
"What? We come all this way and we don't even get anything? I..." Adam seemed at a loss for words. Nothing had ever happened like this for him before. "You aren't part of our world?"
"That's right, brat," the Wizard hissed. "You get nothing. I owe you nothing."
Lael harrumphed adorably while Adam through his stick in a dramatic expression of pre-adolescent rage. "Man, our small farming village is so BORING," he said.
"Oh, give it ten years or so," said the Wizard dryly.
The Wizard watched from his small cottage in the woods as the two children descended back down the hill. Ugh. The people here....it was hard to put your finger on, but they never seemed....quite right. It was something in their faces....there was always the lack of blemishes and such to make you think that they weren't quite human, but it was something else, too.
"Fuckin', fuck," he mumbled to himself absently. He lumbered over to his desk, a massive oak thing absolutely cluttered with notes. Not that it mattered, whichever piece of paper he picked up always seemed to be the one he wanted anyway. He took up the stein he had been drinking before and took a long swig from it, leaving foam on his mustache as he took up the notes again.
He hadn't been sitting for long before there was a tearing, grinding sound, as if the air itself were being torn open. He jumped out of his chair, knocking it over, as the reality in front of his fireplace fell apart, leaving a window into a bleak, unending desert landscape of red sands and black rocks, where the very sky itself seemed to be a firestorm. Out of this nightmare stepped a figure draped in black robes, his face hidden deep in a hood. Its hands were pale, knotted, the nails yellowed and clawed. A silver brooch held a cloak at its throat, it was in the shape of a snarling wolf's head. It stepped into the cottage and stalked quickly toward the Wizard.
"Jesus Mark, what's with all this ridiculous bullshit," said the Wizard. "You look…fuck. I can't even describe it."
"I know, awful huh?" said the thing in the dark robes, apparently Mark. Its voice was like a death rattle. "I wanted to go for a more original look, but….eh…I'm not the one who makes these decisions." It shrugged. "So, hey man, what's going on with you? How are things?"
"Ugh, not even sure I even really want to do this anymore," the Wizard replied, gesturing towards his notes. "But, I mean, you know. It's not like I've got anything better to do."
Mark laughed, an awful sound, like a dying pig. "Man. You've just barely got started. You should at least see it through."
"Yeah," said the Wizard, chuckling as well. "But that's easy for you to say. You guys are doing all the fun stuff."
"Oh, shit yeah man," said Mark. "It's fun as FUCK. I mean, I have my…eh….issues, with this world, but it's been pretty fun blowing shit up. Oh, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. Were you settled in this location?"
"Well….yeah….I mean, I pretty much just got all my observation spells and shit set up the way I like them. Why?"
Mark made a small apologetic sound. "Ahhhhhh. The guys….uh…they were hoping to come through here about next week."
"What the fuck!" said the Wizard, gesturing wildly. "You guys have the whole fucking world to dick around in, and you have to come to the one part I'm in? I thought I'd have ten years!" He stopped when Mark put up a hand.
"Don't worry, don't worry, we were just wondering. Just strategic considerations, man, it's okay. We'll give you the time you need here, I'll let them know. You mind if I use your spells, though, for a bit? Scope out the area?"
"Fine by me. How long you gonna be staying here?"
"Not too long, maybe a week? I go more than a week without burning a city to the ground, man, I start to feel bored." Mark laughed his hideous laugh again. "Hey, speaking of which, you know if you ever get bored with this project of yours, you're welcome to join us."
The Wizard grimaced. "And wear that outfit? No thanks. I'm pretty much bored with blowing stuff up by now, anyway. After the last world….eh, it's just not doing it for me anymore."
Mark shrugged again. "All right, man. Hey, I've got to go back for now, we've got a siege planned. I'll be back tonight, though, all right? I'll let the guys know to leave your shit alone."
"Yeah, go ahead. I've got some notes to work on. I'll see you later."
"Yeah, nice seeing you man," said Mark, and then he stepped back into his hole in reality, back into the scorching, ruined desert. A flash of light, and the hole was gone, reality restored.
The Wizard sighed, picked his chair back up, and sat down at his desk.
"Fuck," he muttered.