Bobos trudged across an unfamiliar landscape, dogged by a sense of dread that he could find no source for and a feeling that he was being pursued. A reddish sun, bloated and fat, sank near the horizon, bathing the rough terrain of rock and scrub in harsh relief. On bare feet both tough and calloused, he trod silently on a barely discernible twisting path that led between small hills and mounds.
He didn’t know where he was going but a sense of pursuit drove him forward. He could not explain it, and though he looked back frequently he never saw anything but stunted brush and clumps of wild yellowed grass. No sounds filled the still air; no cries of birds or scurrying of animals. The landscape was eerily silent.
Not for the first time, he wondered where he was. He couldn’t remember how he got here and his thoughts seemed muted and fuzzy. He shook his head to try and focus, but it was useless. The world seemed somehow… off. As if unreal. But even as Bobos made that observation it fled from his head, already forgotten.
He continued automatically along the path until it suddenly stopped at the crest of a final hill. Stepping to the edge, Bobos found himself looking down a small but steep bluff. He turned around to see where he might have stepped off the path, but when he did so, no path could be seen at all; he could not even determine from exactly which direction he had come. It was if the trail had been swallowed up.
Turning forward again, he ranged along the edge of the bluff until he found a small gap cut into the rock like a deep scar that led down to the floor of the valley below. From his vantage point, he could see a dense forest further in the distance.
The way down was steep and treacherous; more than once he slipped on loose pebbles and had to catch himself. But the feeling that he was being chased was becoming stronger and he hurried along as best he could.
When he reached the bottom, he was surprised to see that the trees that had looked so far away from atop the bluff now loomed close, their branches moving to a wind he could not feel. He paused just outside the boundary of the forest, peering intently within, but the foliage was too dense to see more than a stone’s throw away.
Glancing over his shoulder again, he shrugged mentally to himself and stepped into the woods. With that one step, the light dimmed and the air began to grow chill as the thick canopy obscured the dying light of the setting sun. The wind began to pick up, first in small gusts, as if unsure, then in stronger blasts. After several hundred yards, the darkness became absolute except for the lightning now beginning to flash in the distance.
The sudden descent of night frightened Bobos, and the bolts that coruscated through the air caused the trees to appear to dance in the tempest, their branches casting moving shadows that made it look as if whole armies of unnaturally long-limbed spiders were crawling across the leafy forest floor.
Bobos shuddered. He didn’t like spiders.
The sight made him shiver and he shrank down to the ground, pulling his body close and wrapping his arms around his legs, trying to conserve heat, trying to hide from the fears that once lurked in secret in his mind but now flew unfettered in the wild gale that had begun to rage through the trees. He withdrew into himself, closing his eyes, rocking back and forth. For a long time he sat, just how long he could not say, but eventually his ears caught a sound echoing faintly in the wind.
At first, he wasn’t sure he had heard anything at all. Then, after long minutes, it came again.
His head perked up. There was no mistaking it this time: something was calling his name. Bobos cocked his ears, trying to determine the source of the sound, but he could not pinpoint it. Eventually, though, his eyes picked up a very faint green glow filtering through the dense stands of trees ahead.
There it was again, the sound, and now Bobos noticed that the glow pulsed in time with the syllables of his name.
His curiosity aroused, Bobos pushed aside his fears for the moment and got to his feet, steeling himself. Then, abandoning all caution, he plunged into the woods. Branches whipped by his face and roots appeared in his path to trip him up, but he pushed on. Vortices of air spun up to block his path, kicking up leaves and sticks and dirt, but he skirted past them. Forward Bobos went, lured by the green glow that was growing brighter as his rapid pace ate up the distance between him and his unknown destination.
As he ran, time seemed to both speed up and slow down: at times he thought he’d been moving for hours, at other times it felt as if he had dashed into the trees just mere moments ago.
At last, though, he broke through a final cluster of gnarled trees and briars, skidding to a sudden stop to find himself standing on a shelf of mossy turf on the very edge of a large pond inside a clearing among the timbers.
The green glow was coming from beneath the waters as if an emerald fire hovered and burned there.
Bobos looked up, but in the dim light, all he could see were trees. The sound seemed to be coming from all around him now as if the entire forest was whispering his name. Then his attention was pulled back to the pond: the green luminance was moving, rising from the depths.
Bobos stared in fascination.
The glow came closer, its light casting eerie and menacing shadows that flickered in and out of existence. Bobos’ heart was now pounding out a drumbeat of dread and in spite of the chill air, he found himself sweating profusely. His anxiety reached a crescendo as the light broke through the surface, its verdant light suddenly blinding now that it was free from its watery prison. It hovered there, just feet above the depths, making small but quick movements light a will-o-the-wisp. Then slowly, very slowly, the luminescence dimmed and began to shrink into itself, to take shape and form.
The shape of a woman.
Bobos stared, mouth open.
The glow was nearly gone now; just faint traces limned the woman’s body. But her eyes: they burned hazel with a stark intensity as if all her previous incandescence had been distilled and focused to those two points. She stood tall and strong and fierce, her long locks of hair swirling lightly in the air in a halo.
On one arm she bore a shield.
Bobos hesitated. She seemed… familiar… in some way. He did not recognize her, but some part of him seemed to resonate with her being, and he knew instinctively that there was some connection between them.
The woman continued to stare with unfocused eyes into the far distance, as if she had not yet fully become of the world around her, unaware of Bobos’ presence. Then, slowly, very slowly, her gaze receded from the heavens to center on the here and now.
The fierceness left her gaze as she looked down at him, and her hazel eyes now sparkled with a tenderness that softened her features and pierced his heart to the core. He felt a wave of warmth and joy sweep through him as he stood basking in her welcoming, loving stare, a swell of emotion that swept away any and all vestiges of fear or anxiety.
He fell to his knees, tears coming to his eyes.
The woman beamed at him then, her smile flooding his shivering body with invigorating warmth, swelling his heart with joy.
Wordlessly, she lifted the shield before her, beckoning.
Then she spoke and her voice was a whisper both serene and strong.
“Take up the shield.”
Bobos could only stare, too entranced to act, to comprehend.
“Take up the shield” she repeated.
Confusion must have shown on his face, for her voice sang out to him a third time.
“Take up the shield. It is your destiny to be a great warrior, a servant of the Light.”
“Th- the Light?” Bobos stammered. “Bobos doesn’t understand.”
The woman laughed then, but it was not a mocking thing; rather it was full of good humor and love. “That is not important. The Light will work through you, even if you do not understand, even if you do not believe. The Light has chosen you, and even if you are not of the Light, you will always be for it.”
“Take up the shield,” she said one last time. “It is your destiny…my beloved Bobos…”
Hearing his name, the spell that had momentarily held him was broken and Bobos stepped forward and leaped into the pond, swimming towards the woman of light with desperate strength.
She stretched out her arm, held the shield out to him.
Bobos could almost touch it now. He reached out…
She vanished like a candle snuffed out.
Darkness suddenly poured in and reclaimed the night, and Bobos found himself floundering in a whirlpool that had formed beneath him. It pulled on him as he struggled to escape its embrace.
No! he cried to himself, knowing that he had been on the verge of understanding something important.
But the waters heeded him not; they rushed in with a relentless pressure and began to drag him under. He strained mightily, desperately for the surface.
He had almost reached it when he felt something grab his ankle from below and begin to haul him down…