An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

A Mysterious Pool Kelven

A full day had passed since Tyra had vanished. Kelven was completely and totally alone, with only the mournful whisper of the wind blowing between the stony, unyielding branches to keep him company. He had seen no sign of his sister, of the black wind or of the Changelings that were said to live in what he had always believed to be a haunted wood. It certainly did not feel haunted now. There seemed to be nothing at all except for the dead, stone tress that had stood, entirely unchanging, for century after century.

It was enough to make him want to scream.

He had maintained his westerly course as best as he was able, though he had occasionally found himself walking in an almost trance-like state, veering to the north or the south. Once, he had become so completely turned around that he had actually passed the same tree three times before finding his bearings again. He kept telling himself that it could not be much further, that the forest could not go on forever, but the truth was that he had no idea how far it stretched. The Fellwood marked the northwestern border of Relen’kar, and no map or chart that Kelven had ever seen recorded what was beyond it. For all he knew, the cursed trees could stretch on for another thousand miles.

I’m going to die, he thought bitterly. I’ve lost Tyra. I’ve failed to keep my promise to mother. And now I’m going to die her here in this forsaken wood. Ashes and embers! How did this happen? Just a few short weeks before he had been a travelling storyteller, a real traveling bard. It might not have been the glamourous life he had always hoped for, but it had been a good one. He always had food to eat, a bed to sleep in and even a bit of extra coin to spend as he chose.

Now all of that was over. Even if he did somehow manage to find Tyra, they could never go back to their old life. Yes, they might be able to find Uncle Broas, but even if they did, Kelven could not imagine ever telling another tale again. It was far too public and he would be forced to live in hiding. The Queen had spies everywhere, spies who would surely be scouring the Realm for a sandy haired storyteller fitting his precise description. More importantly, they would be looking for someone bound by the distinctive iron and amber manacle, which was growing increasingly uncomfortable around his wrist.

Anger and frustration were becoming familiar companions and he could feel the bubbling up again, along with something that he simply could not identify. It was as though he was teetering on the very brink of madness. With no other outlet to channel is rage, he picked up a stone—of which there were no shortage in the Fellwood—and threw it with all the fury-born force he could muster. Somehow, the hurtling projectile cut through the branches of the trees.

And landed with a distant splash.

Water! For a moment Kelven could hardly believe his ears. Then he broke into a run, or at least as much of a run as his weary body would allow him, racing in the direction he had thrown the stone. Soon, he found himself rushing—almost falling—down a steep incline. When he reached the bottom, he stood on the shore of a small, crystalline lake. It was not wide, but it appeared to be deep, like a great pool of liquid darkness that reached down into the very heart of the world. Ringed as it was by an unbroken line of purplish trees, there was an otherworldly sort of beauty to the entire scene. It felt almost peaceful, like a sanctuary from the curse that pervaded the rest of the Fellwood.

Kelven bent down to test the water with his hand. It was cold and clear and he suddenly realized how thirsty he truly was. His throat felt like dry parchment. He bent down to cup his hands and drink, then paused. A strange lake in the middle of the cursed forest. It looks clean, but could it be cursed itself? Poisoned? He almost laughed at the thought. How could it even matter? He only had a single, stale swallow left in his own waterskin. Without a fresh source, he had little hope of surviving. Perhaps the Nine were watching over him. Perhaps they had guided him to this very spot, to drink and be saved.

The thought was encouraging and drove him on. He bent low, filled his hands and brought the cool water to his mouth, drinking deeply. It was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted. Pure, clean and refreshing, the first swallow seemed to bring him a renewed energy. He drank again, and again. Each mouthful was more satisfying than the last.

When he felt he could not possibly drink another drop, he began to splash the precious liquid on his face, using his own reflection to wash away the dirt and grime. He briefly considered stripping down and going for a swim, but quickly decided against it. Tyra was still missing and the water had given him both a burst of fresh energy and a new determination to find her—wherever she was.

It was only as he was filling his waterskin that he first noticed the ripples on the surface of the water. At first, he assumed they were merely the effect of his own disturbance, but when they persisted, he found himself looking up, towards the center of the lake. The entire crystalline was beginning to churn violently. Waves rose from the depths of the water, crashing over themselves in a crescendo, building into a mighty, roiling roar.

“Run!” cried a voice. Kelven could not tell where it had come from—perhaps it had only been his own mind—and he did not care. At that particular moment he did not think he had ever heard a better idea in his life. He had no idea what was causing the great disturbance, but he wanted no part of it. Tying his waterskin closed, he began scampering back up the hill from which he had come. The steep incline had been far easier to run down than it was to ascend, but he pushed himself on, using tree stumps, branches and even outcroppings in the rocky ground as leverage. He refused to look back until he reached the top of the incline, but the roar of the waters was growing louder and louder.

When he finally crested the hill he collapsed to the ground, crawled behind a nearby tree, placing it firmly between his back and the lake. Only after a long moment did he take a deep, calming breath and look back around the tree. What he saw was a nightmare rising out of the mysterious pool.

Stay Up to Date

There are all kinds of ways to keep up with the latest instalments of An Unfolding Tale. Subscribe to the newsletter for exclusive content, or follow the Tale through RSS or social media!