On the eve of his 20th birthday, Capitulum entered the cave, alone.

* * *

On the morning of his 72nd birthday, Capitulum stumbled out of the cave. He had grown a long grey beard that complimented his ancient robes. His wrinkled face was twisted into anguish as his labored breathing pierced the crisp air. As he slowly climbed the hill towards the grotto of his homestead, he assumed his father’s cottage was no longer standing. Sure enough, all that remained of his childhood was a jumbled ring of broken stones in a dead clearing.

Capitulum leaned on his staff—a slender piece of white wood, smoothed from years of use. As the old wizard gazed upon the familiar surroundings, he felt his legs give way. Gripping the staff, he slowly sank to his knees, feeling the prickly brown grass pressing into his shins through his threadbare robe. Letting the last of his strength dissipate, he fell rigidly onto his hands, grasping at the old nostalgic world and peeling large tufts of grass and dirt away from it. Makeshift parchment and letters spilled from an aged pouch he had strapped across his chest. He stared at the countless memoirs he had written, now fanned out before him, as they danced in the eastern wind. Once a valuable necessity of survival in the underworld, he let his written records scatter away, worthless.


Capitulum stood. To the east lay a town, that he prayed still existed. The sun was just now rising bleakly behind gray clouds, in that direction. Oh how he yearned to see daylight again. Though he had finally emerged from the Long Darkness relatively unscathed, it seemed the warmth of the sun would have to wait, as the land became overcast in a stiff and shadowless clarity.

Surrounding him on every side was a dense forest of evergreens, mature in size, but strangely unfamiliar to the wizard. Their seeds must have sprouted and grown old just as he did during his own mortal sequestration under the earth. Between the knotted boles, he spotted the road that led east. He donned his hood and gathered his windswept belongings.

As he wandered, the dim sun began to bleed through the canopy, blinking in and out behind obscuring leaves. Capitulum steadily followed the underused road, as it twisted and turned, threatening to vanish beneath the overgrowth. The surfaces of the rocks and trees around him began to slicken into a vivid green moss, as he neared the audible source of their flourishing.

This was the river that split the forest in two—the river his father had ferried him across a lifetime ago. Capitulum had stood on this spot a thousand times, waving to his father whenever he left for business in town. Capitulum had only crossed the river twice when he was twelve, to visit and return from Rookstone. While there, on a whim, his father had given him his first book, a manuscript of seafaring principles and boating techniques, to keep his young son occupied while he tended to matters behind closed doors. The book, which currently resided in his pouch, was lushly illustrated with diagrams and schematics—by a talented scribe, no doubt—with each page painstakingly reproduced from a master copy, he assumed. Ironic that the only watercraft steered within leagues of Rookstone was a shoddy raft his father used weekly to ferry himself across this river.

The boat was nowhere to be seen.

The river was much fuller than Capitulum remembered, spanning an incredible width. Its waters were tumultuous and much too dangerous for an old man like himself to enter, and it was unlikely that it narrowed within a convenient distance. Regardless, Capitulum was determined to cross.

All along the banks of the river stood giant fir trees, centuries old, thriving off the dampened environment. Their height was more than sufficient to lay across the river, had they been felled. Capitulum possessed no tools, but nevertheless he approached a particularly wondrous giant of a tree near the shore. He placed his hand upon the bark to steady himself, and set the end of his staff onto an exposed mangling of roots.

“I’m sorry, old one. This is not the fate you deserve,” Capitulum spoke, “but I must cross this river.”

Closing his eyes, the wizard concentrated, channeling his desire. Moments passed, and the sound of the rushing river slowly fizzled into nothingness. Birds no longer called their morning song, and the tree leaves swayed in unnatural silence.

With a tremendous crack, the sounds of the forest returned, nearly deafening Capitulum’s ears. Easing slowly, the massive tree—now broken at its base—began to teeter off balance. As gravity overtook it, the great tree slumped downward in a fury of splintering despair, and in an earth shaking boom, it crashed…


Startled birds flocked to the sky. Capitulum blinked.

“Fool!” the wizard cursed at himself. Hot in the face, he traipsed away from his blunder, swearing. The birds cawed overhead, as if to mock the error. With hesitation, he chose another, less mighty fir.

* * *

An hour passed and Capitulum shamefully crossed the river on a gnarled husk. He dared not look back at the multitude of his failed attempts behind him. It seemed his iron will was not as honed as it was in the perilous Underworld.



A huge man sauntered past her table. She noticed he was clad in mismatched leather pelts, and on his hip was a curved saber. As he disappeared behind her, she could feel his eyes staring at her. He heard him stop abruptly, but she did not turn look. Her attention was on the cup between her hands.

After a spell, he prodded his foot under the table, dragging the chair out from underneath. As he sat, he leaned towards her and she could feel his body heat radiating around him. The shine of his beady eyes glinted in her periphery, but still she maintained her glare dead forward as she drank from her cup.

“What are you doing here, kid?” His deep voice pushed through his bushy goatee. His breath was potent and unpleasant.

“None of your business,” she mumbled, putting the cup down.

“Well when someone comes in here dressed like some sort of fancy warrior princess, bringing all sorts of attention to herself, I tend to make it my business, do you understand? Do you know where you are? Do you even know who I am?”


The man stood up, the chair screeching away. He signaled to a man behind him.

In that instant, while his head was turned, her hand darted up and jerked his head down violently, slamming his face into the table. As Lucy stabilized her grip in his hair, she brought her dagger into view and pressed it tentatively into his twitching neck. Several tavern patrons around her began to stand and fumble at their belts for their weapons.

“Stay back!” she commanded. The room became still.

She counted three men behind her with a club and swords, and two in front, also with swords. The rest of the tavern only seemed interested in the spectacle, and the barkeep had gone out back, wanting nothing to do with it, probably. All sets of eyes but one were fixed on her—all except the younger man she had noticed when she had walked in, sitting in the alcove. He was squaring up the men around her, his hand on his hilt. If worse came to worst, the two of them could take them, she thought, or at least escape.

He caught her eye, and he smirked.

The man she held captive snapped out of his momentary daze and fumbled for the hand that held his hair. Lucy twisted his head sideways and pressed the dagger harder against his neck. The man winced and relented. A bead of blood dribbled down his throat.

“You want to know what I’m doing here so badly? Well now you know. It’s cleaning up the mess I’m going to make of you if you take this any further. Tell your friends you made a mistake and to sit down, and I’ll let you go back to not knowing my business.”

The man caught his breath and for a moment pondered his circumstances. At last he said “Y-you heard her, all. Everything is fine. My mistake.”

“Now when I let go of you, I want you to go about your way, leaving me the hell alone. I don’t want to kill you, but if you make things difficult for me, I will. Do you understand?” The man whimpered, slightly. “Answer,” she snapped.

“Yes, ma’am. Apologies, ma’am. I’ll be going about my way now.”

“Good.” She relinquished her grip of hair and the man fell backwards onto the ground beside her. He quickly oriented himself and hobbled away, as the quiet bustle of the tavern resumed. Wary of retaliation, she stood and approached the younger man in the corner.

“That was all rather… unexpected,” he said, as she settled in the seat near him.

“Unfortunately, not for me. Being a woman in this line of work often places me into dangerous situations. “

“Dangerous for whom?” the man mused.