It was a strange world she was in. A world imbued with the strangest hues and flora of the strangest design. Yet there was a strange sense of familiarity about it. The tree under which she sat and pondered about this world’s intricacies was short and stout. It had the most slender of branches, branches that could almost be passed off as leaves. Set upon these branches were scores of thick pointed leaves the weight of which caused the branches to bend towards the ground and even touch the ground at places. Like the braided hair of a woman she thought they were. The entire sky was suffused with a dull yellow color that gave the illusion of warmth but in this world the color of the sky did not affect things the way they did in her world. A perpetual fog permeated the world around her. None of the objects in this world cast any shadows. Besides the sound of her measured breathing not a single sound could she hear from anywhere in this world. There was no wind. Nothing moved unless she touched it. The framed door through which she had entered this world stood before her. She only had to proceed through it to escape this dream world and grasp reality. But it was also the door through which she had chosen to escape reality and enter a world that challenged every notion of reality she had built up over the years.

It was cold, she was alone yet she felt calm and unafraid. It was a fantastical realm yet everything had parallels with reality. She walked on through the haze the sound of her footsteps and the sound of the grass crushing under her feet magnified by the silence of everything else. The braided branch trees she saw every where. No bird nested among its branches no fruits hung of them. Where had all the birds flown away to she wondered. The sun gave life to every living thing she had been told. Yet there was no light that gave life here only the light that kept away the darkness. She walked on for a while. The grass beneath her feet grew sparser and the trees she could see became fewer. It began to brighten and the ground began to grow translucent.  A few more steps and there was nothing more on the ground. It was like standing on glass floor. She was enveloped by a brilliant yellow light. That was when she realized that the light had always been coming from below the ground. That was why nothing cast shadows like she expected. After her eyes had adjusted to the brightness she began to perceive shapes and movement beneath the surface. She lay face down on the ground pressing her face as close as possible to the ground. She saw what appeared to be the same trees she had seen before moving gently this way and that their slender branches waving like tentacles of a jellyfish. One of the creatures was moving upwards heading to where she was lying down. It’s movements were so graceful she wished she could reach through the ground and touch it. The creature was now so close that only the ground separated her from it. The tree like structure formed only the upper part of its body. Below that it had a heart shaped head with hundred’s of blinking eyes set upon it. They all blinked at the same time when it looked her. The creature began to come even closer. It began to pass through the ground and came so close that the top of it brushed against her face. She tried to push her hand through the ground to touch it but the ground remained solid. The creature shrank away at this gesture and floated downwards gracefully until she could see it no more.

There was nothing more she could discover here. The door to reality called to her. She headed back through the door. She looked back one last time at this world and thought of the world that lied beneath it. A world she could only see but not touch.

Seadregor Mageblood

Seadregor Mageblood. The name drew puzzled expressions from strangers everywhere he travelled. Yet his face remained impassive never betraying any emotions. The cold calculating stare he perpetually maintained caused even the most inquisitive to swallow any words they might have directed towards him. A cold winter morning found Seadregor walking on the cool sand, the scent of the sea overcoming him at every step. He felt invigorated and purposeful and it also brought forth a memory from his past.

A hundred years before this day when he was only an elf of five years, he was hobbling along the path from the spring to his dwelling in the trees, carrying with him a water-filled urn. It was time to water his Cedar sapling and his pheasant who accompanied him everywhere sat calmly on his shoulder. His forest homeland of Mirkwood was a lonely place and he had little companionship to speak off in his younger years. For as long as he had known it was only him, his birth parents and the wilderness. He had been outside the forest occasionally and seen creatures of different races. They meant nothing to him. The wildlife and the forest they inhabited were all that he cared for.

The seed of the cedar was a gift to him from his parents. He nurtured it like a child making sure to caress and water it over time. On this particular day, he was alone as his parents were away on one of their frequent excursions beyond the borders of Mirkwood. A butterfly fluttered away as he began pouring the water gently over the cedar. He heard a few parakeets shrieking in the distance. A few moments later they emerged through the foliage, the resulting cacophony causing his ears to perk up. Something had disturbed the calm of the forest. Wild horses running through the forest sometimes caused this. He listened intently and made out presently the sound of several sets of hooves racing through the forest. Something was different though. Their distinctive sound told him that these were domesticated horses with shoes fitted onto them which meant humans were riding them.

The horses were getting closer but he heard a different sound now, that of branches cracking along with a rhythmic thudding sound that seemed to be heading straight towards him. A few moments later through the fog, a troll emerged. Seadregor heart began racing but he remained rooted to his spot looking up at the creature with a mixture of awe and trepidation as it continued moving in his direction. A few moments later as he continued watching it the troll simply passed over him leaving a trail of dust and a fetid odour in its wake. The horses he could tell now were only a few paces behind. He snapped out of his reverie and moved instinctively to the front of the sapling. He would never let anything happen to his cedar.

As he waited with bated breath, a dozen or so humans came riding through with spears and javelins clearly intent on taking down the troll. The presence of Seadregor distracted them but they showed no signs of slowing down. He closed his eyes and braced himself. Just when he thought his world was about to end he felt pulled sideways violently, through a short distance before he landed hard on the ground. Everything went dark. He awoke to feel water on his face and the sight of a wizened wizard looking down on him. He stood himself up trying to get his bearings. Dust hovered in the air around him. He ran back towards his sapling only to find its trampled remains. His pheasant lay on the ground feet upwards struggling to turn upright. He picked her up and caressed her gently until she let out her last breath. He felt the wizards bony hands gently grasp his shoulder as tears streamed down his face.

In a few fleeting moments of inter-racial conflict, Seadregor had lost the things that were dearest to him. For Seadregor the age of innocence had ended. For Mirkwood, it was the beginning of the end. Humans had discovered this virgin paradise and there would be no place for him in it anymore. The wizard had led him away and cared for him in his younger years. Till the end of his days, he trained Seadregor in both the skills of weaponry and the arcane. He adopted the second name of Mageblood in honour of the wizard who had saved his life. Seadregor never saw his parents again and was not to return to Mirkwood for many years. This incident from his childhood had only led him to follow one purpose in life. With the divine Melora as his witness and guide, he vowed to silently and swiftly eliminate anything that tried to harm the elements of nature again.

Darkness Before Light

A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks. Before he found himself in this strange place he had begun his day like any other waking up to the sound of his parrot squawking in his ear. After completing the usual getting out of bed formalities he set off with the singular objective of reaching the Grand Central Aerostation before 7 a.m. He stepped outside to see the overhead Skydome appear clear and bright. A few minutes of brisk walking brought him to the station just in time to hear the pleasant female voice announce that the next Skyship to Chennaiki was about to depart. Several hundred people were milling about in the cavernous main hall of the station. He went to the familiar North – East corner where his food shop was located. Several thousand years after the cavemen had arrived the one constant that defined humanity was its insatiable appetite. He looked into the security panel that scanned his iris to disable the physical barrier that secured his tiny shop. He thought to himself that when he could afford it he would upgrade his security to the DNA enhanced one. He activated the automated cleaner and sat down to do business. Ruski his parrot flapped her wings and flew out of his shop as she was want to on a slow day. The day dragged on until it was time for lunch. Even though he sold food he always ate home-cooked food as a custom. It was also time for Ruski to feed on her corn. It had been an unusually long while since she had flown away. He flicked on his electronic display to ascertain where Ruski was with the help of her radio tracker. It indicated that she was just outside the entrance to the station. He would have to go fetch her. He set the shop to Away mode. It faded from view with the message “WILL BE RIGHT BACK” projected into the air in front of it. He made his way through the densely populated station towards its entrance. He could see Ruski perched on a branch of the ancient oak that he always imagined being a solemn & sombre guardian of the station. He called out her name hoping to avoid stepping through the giant security frame which he had never grown comfortable with. However, she seemed oblivious to any sound whatsoever and remained focused on pecking at something too small for him to perceive from where he stood. He took out his World Identity card which he would have to swipe at the entrance on reentering the station. He walked out of the station, hunger signals plaguing his brain at every step.

He heard a sparking sound followed by a distant boom. He looked up towards Ruski again and the Skydome began fading to black extinguishing all light with it. The world around him was plunged into darkness. All worldly sounds stopped. He could only hear himself breathe. He closed his eyes unable to process this abrupt change. Was it real? It would surely go away when he opened his eyes. He heard someone calling out his name. He opened his eyes to brilliant sunlight filtering through the oak tree. It took a few moments to adjust to the light and to subsequently realize that it was Ruski who had been calling out his name. For the better part of a decade, he had been trying to make her talk and yet only at this inexplicable moment of his life, she chose to speak. He called out her name. She responded by saying “How are you doing, ‘Omar’?” and proceeding to settle on his shoulder. He looked around him. He saw two horses tied to a strange contraption with wheels arriving towards him. He had seen one of these animals as a child in the animatronic centre several years ago. They seemed like noble and majestic creatures then. Now they just seemed aggressive and unruly and he moved away from their path. He turned around to see the entrance to the station. It looked as it usually did with the exception of the giant security frame that usually adorned its entrance. He stepped into the station unhindered by human being or machine. People in strange attire strolled about leisurely. It was strange to see so few people at this hour at Grand Central and moving at such a slow pace too. Didn’t they realize how much they would have to struggle to avoid standing in the Skyships? He headed towards the North-East corner of the main hall hoping that getting back to his shop would put everything back in perspective. When he reached there, however, he saw that where his shop should have been there was nothing but a stranger sitting with a sizable quantity of footwear spread on a piece of cloth. He appeared to be beckoning prospective customers as they passed by bellowing loudly the price of a pair. To Omar, it seemed he was insulting them and yet almost none took any heed of him. He went up to him and asked: “Where did my food shop go?” .The man looked at him with a quizzical expression before simply saying “Where in the world do they dress as you do? I would love to sell that stuff here”. Omar looked at himself. He was wearing a regular all-weather one-piece suit. It was the most popular attire among the commoners. Omar shrugged and walked away comforted by the fact that the people here spoke the same language.

He heard a female voice announce “The train to Chenna will arrive on platform No 8 in 15 minutes”. Fifteen Minutes he thought. Skyships arriving at the station were only announced a few seconds before their arrival. The people here seemed to have a lot of time on their hands. He tried to spot this machine that was called a train by walking further into the station. He noticed that there were several sets of strange metallic lines that ran along the ground. They stretched on endlessly as far as the eye could see. He made up his mind to follow these lines hoping that they would lead to some familiar place. He set off at a steady pace trying to remain oblivious to all the out of the ordinary objects that were spread throughout this world. He didn’t realize that Ruski had flown off his shoulder. His train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a loud continuous whistling sound. It seemed to get closer to him with every step he took. Unmindful of it however he pressed on. A few moments later he could no longer ignore it and started to turn around. Before he could he found himself bodily pushed sideways with considerable force. He lost his footing and fell face-first onto the adjacent set of metallic lines just as a giant metal machine rolled by with considerable speed on the same set of lines he had been walking along. The wind generated by the machine as it passed by caused his neatly coiffed hair to lose structure instantly. He lay on the ground paralyzed as he just watched the worm-like machine for the few seconds it took to completely pass him by. It took him a few moments to regain his bearings and sit up. It was only then that he noticed a girl his age standing next to him. Unlike the other people at the station, she looked at him with a sense of familiarity. Ruski hovered into view and perched on her shoulder saying “Careless Omar! Careless Omar!” Ruski failing to learn to talk until now was probably a good thing he thought. She offered him a hand but he stood himself up with some effort. She moved sideways off the lines and onto some regular ground. He found himself following her on his still unsteady legs. He decided that he had to talk to her. The metallic lines were getting him nowhere & she seemed familiar though he couldn’t quite place her. Before he could ask her anything she said: “So were you going to take the Skybus to Chennaiki before you came here?” He was taken aback. A normal question in an unfamiliar place. The answer was simple yet he replied after a considerable pause. “No, I own the fast-food stall at the corner of Grand Central”. “Oh that shop which always seems to be on Away mode”. He felt indignation welling up inside. But he stymied his words. She was the only one who would probably be able to explain his current predicament. How did you end up here she asked. To this, he had no answer. He explained vaguely the events of the morning. She nodded her head when he spoke and at the conclusion of his tale let out a sigh. This reaction disappointed him immensely. He finally burst out. “Tell me, tell me everything you know and tell me how I can get back. Lunch hour is the best time for business”. She looked at him with a bleak expression. “Why are you so eager to get back? Aren’t you curious about this place?”

He said “Sure I am. My first few minutes here and I almost get run over by a metallic worm. I’d love to come back some other time. But right now my livelihood is at stake”. “OK, Follow me,” she said. “Wait, what’s your name?” he asked. “It’s Romana, and I know a little something about you too. Your parrot told me.” He followed her as she led him across a nearby field until she stopped in front of a little door. Romana had abundant hair that bounced off her shoulders as she ran. When she stopped he noticed that a part of her hair was moving by itself. He stood staring at the back of her head with a vacant expression until he saw a little chameleon pop it’s tiny head out. He was about to warn Romana when her hand reached out behind her head and the chameleon jumped onto it. “Don’t be alarmed. That’s my pet, Hector”. He heard a tiny squeaking voice say “where’d you find this one?” It wasn’t Ruski, it wasn’t the girl. “Your chameleon can talk?” “Sure here every animal can talk,” she said. “Oh, so Ruski is still a failure”. “Hey, I heard that!!” Ruski squawked. The door before them seemed to lead into a room that was below the ground. She opened the door. “It’s dark in here. I don’t wanna take another tumble here again” he said. “The darkness is important. Hold my hand if you are afraid” she said as she closed the door behind them. She led him down deeper until the darkness was absolute.

“Now close your eyes, tell your parrot where you want to go and count to three”. He heard her also say “Grand Central Aerostation”. He opened his eyes to the familiar sight of the oak tree and the sound of Ruski’s squawking. He was still holding Romana’s hand. He let go and raced forward into the station. It was still lunchtime. The station seemed more chaotic than usual. He heard someone say “They are saying electrical problems caused the Skydome to go down for an entire minute”. Romana had caught up with him. He turned to her and asked “Now tell me where we just came from. Did we go into the past or something?”  Romana smiled and said “I don’t know for sure if it’s the past or another world that runs parallel to ours. The only thing I do know is that it only reveals itself when our world is in darkness and only an animal you are connected to can lead you there”