Chapter 1

The Scarecrow

The Realm is a universe of stories featuring lucky troublemakers, wandering adventurers, and lovers both star-crossed and blessed. There are tales of heroes and villains, of lovers and fools, of good and evil and the eternal battle for dominance over the Realm. This is one such story, a story of light and darkness … and it all begins with a scarecrow.

The scarecrow sat alone on top of a small hill overlooking a field of grain, the mismatched black buttons that were his eyes staring impassively over the amber stalks as they swayed in the wind. The sky remained ever at twilight and the distant light of the sun never dimmed or brightened, but this didn't bother the scarecrow. He simply sat on his hill lost in thought as time passed around him. The scarecrow was so stuck in his mental wanderings that he barely noticed an unusual rustling among the distant wheat.

"Just a trick of the wind," he thought to himself. His thoughts drifted back into his prolonged ponder until he again caught sight of strange movement within the wheat of his field, this time closer. Intrigued by the first interesting thing to happen to him since he could remember, the scarecrow watched as the odd rustle of wheat moved nearer in an unsteady path until something burst from the sea of grain and stumbled to a halt before him.

Covered mostly by quilts of black and purple, the scarecrow's visitor had the upper body of a child and its lower body that of a black-haired foal with a long white tail. She froze instantly at the sight of the scarecrow, her golden eyes looking all the brighter against her dusky complexion.

"Howdy," The scarecrow said, tugging down the edge of his straw hat politely in the girl's direction. "Nice day for it, huh?"

She stepped timidly toward the scarecrow, her movement careful but still bearing the slight awkwardness of youth. "F-for what?"

"For whatever," the scarecrow said with a carefree shrug before holding out a glove. "Nice ta meetcha!"

The young centaur quickly stepped back, a look of fear in her eyes.

"Don't you be scared, little Miss," said the scarecrow, giving her his friendliest smile. "It's just my hand. See?"

He pulled one of his hands from his sleeve, revealing both to be filled with straw. The little centaur girl gasped, her small hands quickly covering her mouth in surprise.

"A-are you okay?" she whispered, her eyes wide.

"Me? As good as ever. See, I can just … hey!" The scarecrow pretended to let his now-separated hand scurry out of his grasp and across his shoulders like a five-legged cotton spider. The little girl giggled as he made a show of trying to catch the wily appendage before finally pinning it under his hat.

"There," he said, twisting the glove back on the end of his arm. "Good as new."

"Um, you put it on backwards." The little centaur girl said.

The scarecrow feigned surprise as he held his hand up to his face. "Huh. Would you look at that?"

She giggled again as he twisted his hand back the right way around and held it out to her. She shook it carefully, her smile visible beneath her quilted hood.

"Well now that you're here, why not join me for a think?" the scarecrow asked.

"A think?" The little centaur girl asked as she sat down beside him, her legs folding under her lower body.

"That's right," he told her. "Don't worry; it's real easy. I should know; I've been doin' it for ages. All you gotta do is get yourself comfortable and just start thinkin'"

"About what?" she asked.

The scarecrow shrugged. "Whatever you want to think about."

The little centaur girl and the scarecrow sat in silence for a few moments before she pushed back her hood to reveal a head of stark white hair that contrasted sharply against her dark gray skin. "Um, I'm Samara."

"Nice to meetcha, Samara," the scarecrow said, dropping his straw hat on her small head.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked pushing up the hat so she could still see him.

"Right now?" Seeing the little girl nod, the scarecrow said, "Well, right now, I'm tryin' to remember just why it was I stopped for a think in the first place."

Samara giggled. "You're silly. What's your name?"

"My name? Oh, right. Well, Samara, my name's-" The scarecrow paused for a few moments before scratching the side of his head. "Y'know, I don't rightly know."

"Don't know what?" Samara asked, a puzzled look on her face.

"My name." The scarecrow paused before adding, "Maybe that's what I was thinkin' about."

"Is it Ted?" Samara suggested. "Tony? Ronald? I've got a cousin named Ronald."

The scarecrow shook his head. None of those sounded like they fit him.

"How about Michael?" she persisted. "George? Alfred? Robert?"

"SAMARA!"

The loud shout made both centaur and scarecrow jump a little. Samara rose to her feet and cupped her hands to her mouth to shout, "Daddy! I'm here!"

Another rustle appeared in the distant rows of wheat, this one moving quickly straight toward the hill. Staring at the tops of the thrashing stalks, the scarecrow spotted a head of black hair poking just above the wheat and heading their way. The stalks eventually parted as another centaur stepped from the wheat, this one clearly an adult. His hair and skin were as black as his horse half, though a series of red tattoos could be seen across what was visible of his body beneath the quilted clothes.

"Samara!" The man exclaimed as his daughter ran to his waiting arms. He hugged her for a few moments before kneeling to look her in the eye. "You can't run off like that, Butterfly. The rest of the Realm isn't as safe as Luniven."

"I'm sorry," she said, bowing her head. "I was just curious … but look! I made a new friend!"

Samara's father looked at the scarecrow, who gave him a friendly wave.

"I see," the centaur said, raising an eyebrow at the scarecrow. "I'm sorry if she bothered you, scarecrow."

"Ah, she weren't no bother," the scarecrow said. "In fact, she's been tryin' ta help me."

"He can't remember his name." Samara said, sympathy in her eyes as she met the scarecrow's gaze.

Samara's father stared at the scarecrow, a strange sadness in his eyes. "Can you remember nothing of who you were?"

"Not a thing," the scarecrow told him, "But I think if I can remember my name, everything else will fall into place."

Samara's father smiled at this. "Maybe you're right. Well, thank you for looking after my daughter, scarecrow. We won't disturb you further. Come along, Samara."

"Bye, Mister scarecrow." Samara said as her father took her hand and led her away. Just before they stepped into the grain, however, she pulled free from her father and ran back to the scarecrow.

"Your hat," she said, pulling his hat from her head and holding it out to him.

"Thank ya kindly, Samara," The scarecrow said, taking his hat. To his surprise, she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.

"I hope you remember who you are, Mister scarecrow," she whispered before rejoining her father.

The scarecrow watched as Samara and her father walked farther and farther away, the rustle of grain that marked their location finally vanishing all together. For a moment, the scarecrow wondered what lay past the fields of grain that had been his home for so long. He must've come from somewhere before stopping here, after all. Try as he might, nothing came to his mind.

"Huh," he said, his stitched smile wide as his attention fell to the straw hat in his hands. "Almost forgot about you. Nice of Samara to-"

He stopped suddenly, his hat in mid-twirl. Memories rushed his mind: memories of wandering the fields of grain, picking stalks of grain, and carefully weaving them together to form the six letters he now saw woven into the inside brim of his hat: W-A-N-D-E-R.

"Well, I'll be!" The scarecrow said, slapping his knee. "My name's Wander!"

He barely had time to enjoy this revelation when his hat slipped from his fingers. It fluttered a few feet in the breeze before falling to the ground. Wander moved to pick the hat up only for it to again slip from his grasp. Undaunted, he moved toward it and tried again only for it to spring into the air as though caught by some sudden gust. He made a clumsy grab for it, but the hat twisted capriciously through the fingers of his gloves. This time the hat kept going, flying erratically over the oak stalks.

"Hey!" said Wander, chasing after his elusive headwear.

His long, spindly legs carried him across the ground and through the grain with great speed, yet his hat still managed to keep ahead of him, dancing through the air above the stalks as though possessed by some mischievous spirit. Wander ran through the fields with his arms stretched upwards, not paying attention to anything but his hat right up to the moment that he shoved past the last stalks of wheat, put his foot down on nothing, and fell over the edge of the field into the endless twilight sky.