He took long slow strides forward, bounding from tuft to tuft into the metallic whispering of the reeds, avoiding where the earth opened its wet mouth to drag back his feet. As they travelled the fog lifted leaving a black sheen to his bare skin that shone iridescent in the returning sunlight. Ostromo scuttled close at his side, moving like a deranged crab.
“There is only death ahead. The Fulgren Sea stretches to the edge of the world and is filled with unspeakable monsters ready to topple the unwary off into the aether. The Heaven Bear lies in wait to devour us. There is only death, even if we escape the demon grass.”
Hormud spat from dry lips, “In Om they told me the edge of the world was beyond Krakorum, in Krakorum they said beyond Phin, and in Phin they said the great sea beyond Yelo poured into a cavern beneath the earth. Beyond this sea of grass we will find people who will say the edge is yet further.”
They walked in silence for what he hoped was miles but with no landmarks it was impossible to tell. With the pain filling his mind it was becoming difficult to be sure if they were even keeping a straight course.
Upon finding a partially submerged boulder, large enough to allow him to sit and see above the grass, he concluded he would stop and attend to his wound, rest, and think a while.
Movement, there is movement everywhere. He strains his eyes at the thin green walls. Reeds behind reeds and between reeds, little corridors that inch off just when the eye is beginning to reach. From a thick clump a patch of fog creeps. The rot in his side spreads quickly in this fetid swamp, the gobi powder doesn’t help any more, take it by the fistfuls, just numbs the mouth. The wizard, where is the wizard? More fog, tendrils filtering through the grass in fingers curling against the ground and up to reach for him. The wizard calmly walks past and into their hands. For a moment they are confused, as if consulting each other on this new creature, touching each other and him gently, tentatively, and then they grab him. Twisting around him like snakes, squeezing and thrashing as a wail erupts from the grass behind them, dragging the thrashing form off faster than Hormud can see. He can’t shout or he would, he would cough but he can’t. Flicking the sheath off the sword into the mud he dived from his rock hacked at the grass until covered in it’s green juices. The grass twists and grabs as he rushes through to follow the fog, twisting in his arms and hair, thicker and thicker, slowing him down intolerably. There are shouts behind him as he runs, but they are given no heed. This is no madness, no thoughtless fury, they have arms so they must have bodies.
Ahead is a clearing two men might lay side by side and think. The white peak of a horesman’s cap is plain through the grass. Bursting through the verge of the clearing he sees, sitting cross legged on the small mound, an Onjen head turned back, eyes popping, the grass all about creating a collar for him, twisted around his neck from outside the clearing to make a flared disk of reeds. The rider looks unsurprised. He cuts him free and the grass falls to form a dress for the sitting man. Now clear, a second figure is obvious. Ostromo is wrapped in the skin of a tiger and stares up at the panting warrior.
“The wind devils have told you secret things. Do they tell you where to find safety?”
“At the edge of the world.”
“And there will be wealth at the end of the world?”
“You shall win three kingdoms and before you shall march ten generals of gold and behind each shall follow ten thousand horsemen and a hundred thousand men. Your name will outlive a hundred hundred years.”
“I am more interested in tomorrow.”
The little wizard pulls the skin tightly around him, hiding him, laughing as he disapears until all that’s left if a shacking tiger, cackling with prophecy.
“You keep something from me Ostormo. You saw more than that.”
His head, balder and older than it ever was, is dripping and wet.
“Why yes you empty headed goat herder,” with great effort he gets to his feet, letting the tiger skin hang like a robe, “I keep something back.”
He falls backwards through the reeds as a call comes up as from an arena crowd, aye aye, grass devils, here is the man you seek.
He grasps at their treachery but the arms are already around him.