*WARNING: The main character in this series has been known to curse often. If swear words offend you this may not be a good read for you.*
*Note: Webserials by nature are published with a much faster turn around time than most other writing. As such, the writing tends to be rougher than one would expect from a book. These chapters all get a read through before publication, but lack the long view overhaul that my other works get before publication.*
Go to: Index
Narrators, and Questmakers, and Life, Oh My!
Aside from the fact that she was lost, there seemed to be nothing remarkable about Victoria Marmot.
Victoria paused between the dark shadows of the trees, the light ominously fading from the sky overhead as she looked around in search of some clue as to where she was.
She peered into the dimming twilight that played between the trunks and branches of the trees around her and listened to the ominous silence of the forest.
“Actually, I’m listening to some asshole narrating my every move while remaining hidden. Who is that?”
Her jet black hair glimmered in the fading light, the startling green of her eyes reflecting the confusion that perplexed her cheeks.
“How the hell does confusion perplex someones cheeks? That doesn’t even make sense. And who the fuck is talking out there! Show yourself!”
“What do you mean it doesn’t make sense?”
“Cheeks can’t be perplexed with confusion, that makes no sense.”
“Of course they can. Loo—”
“Who the fuck am I talking to? Why can’t I see you? And why on earth are you just narrating what I’m doing?”
Slowly a shadowy form began to take shape in front of Victoria, causing her eyes to widen, perhaps in horror, perhaps in wonder.
“Definitely horror. You just appeared out of fucking nowhere. Who are you?”
“Is that any way to address your narrator?”
“Yes. Your narrator.”
“I wasn’t aware that I had a narrator.”
“You didn’t, your story didn’t start until just recently.”
“But I’ve had a whole life up to now. It’s not like I just popped into existence. Unlike some people I could mention.”
“Yes, well, you may have existed, but you weren’t up to anything interesting. At least nothing story worthy. This is the place where things are about to get good.”
“Is it? Because I was just thinking that things were about to get really bad. Lost in the woods, sun setting, creepy fucking voice knowing my name and describing my movements in the darkness and then a shadowy woman in skin tight leather appearing out of nowhere… Not exactly on my list of indicators that things are going well.”
“Well, that shows what you know. This is the start of your first real adventure.”
“Even so, why do I need you, exactly?”
“You don’t, but they do.”
“The folks reading this account.”
“What account? You’re just doing voice overs in an empty bit of forest.”
“That’s what you think. I’m also transcribing this for posterity.”
Victoria stared at the shadowy figure with a face of perplexion.
“Is English not your first language?”
“What do you mean?”
“Perplexion is not a word.”
“No, you’re making that up and you’ve used a bunch of cliches already. You’re really not doing this very well.”
“Well, tough cookies, little girl, I’m all you’ve got.”
“Look, not that I’m convinced that you’re not just some crazy woman in the woods, but why don’t I narrate my own story?”
“Who’s crazy then? Planning on going around referring to yourself in the third person throughout the rest of your life?”
“Why does it have to be third person? Why can’t I just narrate in the first person?”
“Don’t you have to be some sort of angsty teenager to pull that off?”
“Who says I’m not?”
The gorgeous redhead half hiding in shadows leveled her gaze at the young woman standing before her. Her glare attempted to convey her disdain for this minuscule deception. She was only too aware of the young woman’s level headedness. After all, who didn’t run away screaming when a woman popped out of the shadows at you narrating your every move? Only a young woman made of stern enough materials for the Quest at hand.
“See, you’re just narrating yourself in the third person! You sound like a self absorbed lunatic. Why can’t I just do it in first person? And does it have to be aloud?”
The shadowy figure shook her head.
“You know I’m right here, you could just shake your head, you don’t have to narrate it.”
“It’s not for you, it’s for them.”
“Right… ‘them’… Look, what were you going to do when it got to the bits I was thinking anyway?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“Like what about when it gets to the part where the main character thinks ‘I must be going mad to be talking to a crazy woman pretending she’s my narrator in an ever darkening forest instead of running for my life?’”
“I was going to narrate that stuff in italics when it was important enough to include in the text.”
“Aha! So that means I could just think the whole thing and it would be fine.”
“But then what will I do?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Leave me the hell alone? Were you really just here to narrate anyway? Seems like you could do that from anywhere.”
The shadowy figure pondered that question, unsure if she should reveal her true purpose to Victoria before it was time.
“You can stop that, really. And it’s fine if your purpose is secret. Just… let me narrate the damned story. You’re creeping me out even more than this eerily quiet forest.”
“Fine YOU can narrate, but I’m not leaving, and if I think you’re skipping parts I’m taking over again.”
“Fine,” I said, unsure what would constitute leaving things out. How could you skip parts of your own life?
“So, any suggestions about where I should head from here?” I asked the shadowy woman. But even as I said the words she faded from sight and made no response.
“Great,” I said to the empty forest. “Well, that was terrifying and weird. What the hell is supposed to happen next if that was just my narrator?”
As if on cue, a faint glow began shimmering in the distance, and, the rest of the forest having gone completely black while I talked to the crazy woman who thought she was my narrator, I decided to aim for the light. After all, things were clearly about to get interesting.
As I trudged through the sparse underbrush under a canopy of branches and starlight I cursed the asshole who had abandoned me once more. That was the last time I would pick up a guy at a café. What kind of asshat kicks you out of his car because he discovers that you hate Justin Bieber? I couldn’t decide if he was more of a douchetart for liking Justin Bieber or for kicking me out of his car for not liking him. They were both pretty grave offenses. And he didn’t even drop me at the next gas station, or the next phone booth, or anything reasonable, just right on the side of the small winding road that we had been taking to the volcano tubes. Of course, I probably shouldn’t have left the road, but after 20 minutes of standing there without a single passing car, I had thought I heard voices in the forest and had decided to walk towards them and see if I could find anyone with cell coverage. My cheap-ass pay as you go plan clearly didn’t cover this area.
Twenty minutes of searching hadn’t gotten me anywhere near the voices I had thought I’d heard, but it had finally dropped me in front of the crazy woman who was narrating my life as it happened. Of course, perhaps she had been the voice I had heard… but I didn’t think so. Anyway, now there was this soft light in the distance and I was going to head towards it because… well what the hell else was I supposed to do? I wasn’t even sure where the road was anymore.
Suddenly, the light in the distance flared brighter, bright enough to blind me temporarily, and when I blinked my pupils back into functioning, there was a smallish tree before me that hadn’t been there a moment ago.
YOU WERE TAKING TOO LONG.
“What the hell? Is that another narrator?” I asked, looking wildly around the forest that surrounded me.
I AM NOT A NARRATOR. I’VE BEEN TOLD THE ALL CAPS WOULD BECOME TEDIOUS AFTER A WHILE.
My eyes finally settled back on the tree in front of me, and, not seeing anything else around that had changed and deciding that weird was just the order of the day, I addressed my next question to it.
“Who are you?”
I AM THE TREE OF LIFE.
“Really? Like the one from Norse mythology? I thought you would be bigger.”
NOT THAT ONE.
“There’s another one?”
YES. THERE IS ME.
I took a good look at the smallish tree before me. The trunk was only about twice the height of an average human, and now that I looked at it closely I could see two small beads of light looking out at me from two dark, recessed holes. I took a step backwards, and saw that the overall shape of the tree was sort of like that of a figure wrapped in a hooded cloak… holding a scythe…
“You know you look a lot like—”
I AM THE TREE OF LIFE.
“Sure, but, you look just like a wooden version of—”
THE TREE OF LIFE
“Who happens to look just like a character named D—”
I AM THE TREE OF LIFE. ANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ME AND ANYONE ELSE IS COMPLETE COINCIDENCE.
“But you’re even speaking in all caps.”
TREE OF LIFE
“But you’re holding a scythe and everything.”
I WILL NOT SAY IT AGAIN.
“Are you sure? You seemed to be enjoying it.”
THAT’S ENOUGH OUT OF YOU. WE HAVE OTHER THINGS TO DISCUSS.
SUCH AS YOUR QUEST.
“I have a quest?”
ISN’T THAT WHY YOU’VE COME HERE?
“Is it? I thought I was just lost in the woods.”
NO ONE IS EVER JUST LOST IN THE WOODS.
NOT IN STORIES.
“And this is a story is it?”
YOU HAVE A NARRATOR DON’T YOU?
“Ah… yes… well, sort of. I… might have fired her.”
“Don’t worry, Death, darling I’m right here.”
I AM THE TREE OF LIFE!
“Of course you are, sugar.”
The crazy woman who appeared from nowhere had done so yet again and now she stood between the talking tree and I with her hands on her hips and her red hair catching moonlight from a moon that wasn’t there.
GWEN YOU CANNOT LET THE GIRL FIRE YOU. YOU ARE NEEDED.
“I didn’t. I just decided to let her narrate things for a while. That’s not my main job and you know it.”
“Gwen? You know the talking tree?” I asked, not sure which of those things was more unsettling. Was I being set up by a ridiculous cast of hallucinations? Surely I was going mad? Or dreaming. Maybe I was dreaming.
“You’re not dreaming,” said Gwen, clearly reading my mind… or my narration. Whichever. It was still creepy.
MAY WE RESUME DISCUSSING THE QUEST?
“Sure, Death,” I said, deciding to roll with Gwen’s use of the tree’s denied identity.
I AM THE TREE OF LIFE. PLEASE REMEMBER THAT.
“Ok… but Tree of Life is entirely too long for a name. So what can I call you for short?”
HOW ABOUT ‘LIFE?’
I smiled at the thought of addressing this character as Life, but decided to roll with it. Hey, I was just a girl lost in a forest. Who was I to judge?
“Ok, Life. Tell me about this quest.”
WELL, WHICH QUEST ARE YOU ON?
“I thought we covered this, I’m not on a quest.”
“She hasn’t gotten to the QuestMaker yet,” Gwen threw in helpfully.
THEN WHY IS SHE HERE?
“She was on her way there, I was about to redirect her a bit, but then you started glowing.”
I DID NOT. I DON’T GLOW.
“And your name isn’t Death.”
“M’k.” Gwen sounded as though she was merely placating the ma— er… Tree. Life. Whatever you wanted to call him.
“Any chance you guys want to fill me in on what’s going on here?”
“You haven’t been issued your Quest yet.”
“Haven’t been issued my Quest? Is that supposed to make sense to me?”
ALL WILL BE MADE CLEAR IN TIME, said Life, before fading from sight.
“He’s normally not that dramatic,” said Gwen. “You just have to visit the QuestMaker before you start, is all. Life showed up early and now he’s trying to add a little flair to make up for it.”
Gwen could say what she wanted, but having so many improbable things happen, especially the fading in and out of existence bit, in so little time was really starting to make me question my sanity. Twenty minutes ago I would have told you there was zero chance that I had been roofied, or worse, given an unwilling dose of acid, but now I was pretty far from convinced.
Trees did not appear and disappear from thin air. And they didn’t talk to you in all caps either.
Gwen barely gave me time to shake my disbelieving head when she grabbed my elbow and linked arms with me. It seemed a highly improbable gesture for her.
“Are we confidants in an Austen book now?” I asked.
Gwen smiled and was suddenly wearing a giant Georgian ball gown that tangled up my legs as I attempted to walk to next to her. Luckily her grip on my arm kept me from falling.
“Sorry about that,” she claimed, real concern touching her voice. “Useless things, dresses.”
I managed to regain my balance as the enormous skirts disappeared again leaving her wearing just the tight leather getup she’d been wearing earlier.
“So that’s a ‘no’ on the Austen bit?” I asked, once my legs were back under me.
“Not if I can help it,” she replied. “But the woods are dark, and you could trip on anything, skirts or no skirts, and we still have to find the damned QuestMaker and then get you home before your parents worry.”
I stopped where I was and narrowed my eyes at her.
“I don’t have parents to worry. Shouldn’t you know that if you’re my narrator?”
“You’re the one narrating now, which means I don’t have the backstory anymore.”
“But you did have it?”
“But it reverted back to you when you took over.”
“So that means?”
“It’s yours to reveal when you see fit.”
“And you don’t remember it at all?”
“More suspicious than anything else that’s happened to you since you entered these woods?”
She had a point.
I decided either I was having one hell of a trip, in which case I was seriously going to kick the ass of whoever had drugged me, or else I was going completely insane. Either way, as I didn’t seem to be hurting anyone, or myself… yet, I decided to follow the crazy redhead in the leather tights.
“They’re not tights. They’re leather pants.”
“Why are they so tight?”
“So I can sneak up on things?”
“Can’t you just dissolve and reappear in behind them?”
Gwen just looked at me.
“Ok, so maybe I like the look,” she conceded eventually.
“Fine, but they’re leggings,” I insisted.
We kept walking in silence for a while. I was just about to ask her what exactly we were doing wandering these woods in the middle of the night when there was a faint shimmering between the trees a few yards ahead of us.
“What the hell is that?” I asked, even though I knew better than to expect a real answer.
“That,” said Gwen, “is the QuestMaker.”
“And what exactly is that again?” I asked Gwen as the shimmering slowly resolved itself into a something more solid.
“It’s how you’ll be issued your Quest.”
“You make it sound like an automated system.”
Gwen said nothing, and instead of inspecting her inscrutable emerald eyes I turned back to whatever was materializing in front of us.
And then I had to rub my eyes to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating… or I guess that I was still hallucinating the same way as before… Look I’m not sure what rubbing my eyes did, but holy shit if there wasn’t a slightly balding man sitting at a giant oak desk nestled between two trees with a boring brass name plate that read QuestMaker. All one word.
“Number 337, please,” called the man behind the wire-rimmed glasses.
Gwen pushed me forward.
“Number 337?” asked the man with the shining head.
“Uhh… I don’t have a number,” I stuttered, wondering what the hell had happened to my life over the past hour. I felt like I was trapped somewhere between the twilight zone and the dmv.
The man simply pursed his lips delicately and glared at me for a moment before gesturing silently to a short post with a number dispenser sitting atop it.
I dutifully pulled a number. It was 337.
“Number 337?” the man asked again, after I’d taken the slip of paper.
I glanced around the woods just to make sure that there was no one else here aside from Gwen. Then I stepped forward to the front of the desk.
“May I see your number miss?” asked the balding man, who, I now realized, also sported a tiny wisp of a mustache above his upper lip. It looked more like dirt than anything else, but I decided it was best not to mention it.
“You do realize I’m the only one here, right?”
“You number, please, miss.” He held out a hand imperiously. I sighed and gave it to him.
“Ah, very good. Now what can I help you with today, miss?”
Here I turned to Gwen for a moment, but she didn’t offer any help.
“Actually I’d love to go home, if you can help at all with that.”
“Certainly!” The man nodded and stroked his wispy lip warmer while picking up a pencil and hovering it above a small form paper.
“How many perils lie between you and your home?” he asked eagerly.
“Ummm… whatever is between this forest and the nearest road and… a 45 minute drive?” I replied, uncertain what qualified as a peril.
The man put down his pencil and looked at me.
“That is not a Quest,” he said, pointedly. Suddenly making the face of all public servants who are convinced that you are wasting their time.
“I’m not looking for a Quest, I’m looking for a way ho—”
“What she means,” interrupted Gwen, as she stepped forward and gave me a bracing squeeze as though we’d been pals for ages rather than her being a lunatic I’d met in the woods just over an hour ago. “She needs to get home before her Quest can really start.”
That seemed to mollify the man with the lip fuzz.
“But of course. Delayed Quests are no problem, no problem at all.” He returned his gaze, and his pencil, to hovering above the small form paper. “Now then… I see that you have distinctive looks. Black hair, green eyes, a scar on the forehead…”
“I don’t have scar on my—OW!! WHAT THE FUCK?!”
I clasped my hands to my forehead and looked around to try to determine what the hell had just hit me in the face. My hands came away with blood on them.
“Oh, dear. What was that? Terribly unfortunate about that pendulum, I really must get that fixed. Now then. Your distinctive looks would suggest a ‘chosen one’ Quest, but there are other factors. On a scale of 1 to 10, one being perfectly average and ten being royalty with magical powers, how special do you feel?”
My head hurt too much to even wrap my brain around what he was asking me. I threw out the first number that came to mind.
“Not very special then… alright, we won’t put you on one of those… although… Have you discovered any latent powers coming to life recently? Abilities that you’ve never known about coming to light, that sort of thing?”
“Not unless you count hallucinating a woman, a talking tree, and a bureaucrat in the woods, no.”
The man blinked at me from behind his wire rim spectacles.
“She hasn’t got any powers emerging just yet,” Gwen threw in helpfully.
I would have turned to glare at her but my head hurt too much. At least the bleeding had begun to slow.
“Yet?” I asked as I tried to mop up the blood on my forehead with my shirt sleeve.
“You never know, dear.”
“That’s true, apparently I never do. I thought you would though.”
“You’re narrating remember?”
I simply sighed because talking was giving me a pounding headache.
The man behind the desk cleared his throat.
“Now then, how about companions? Would you like, a buddy, a love interest? Someone who makes you look smarter than you actually are? Someone who makes you feel special?”
“For the Quest, miss,” desk guy clarified helpfully.
“Umm… a buddy I guess. I don’t need someone who makes me look good or anything. Just a regular human would do. Maybe someone useful?” I was basically rambling.
“Give her a love interest too. Make it a total hottie.” I glared at Gwen. It made my skull screech with pain, but it was totally worth it.
“I don’t need a—”
“Shall the love interest be male or female?” asked the man from behind the desk. I took a moment to appreciate that they were asking, and had a brief insane moment of feeling almost guilty for not wanting to take advantage of such a progressive offer from a QuestMaker. Then I shook my head, and instantly regretted it. I sighed through the pain.
“Look,” I said, through gritted teeth, “it’s awesome that you offer up various options and don’t make assumptions, but I DO NOT need a love interest of EITHER gender. Thank you very much. Being issued a love interest sounds like ordering a mail order bride or something.”
Gwen merely shrugged.
“I think they make things more fun,” she said. “Someone to fight with in the really tense moments.”
“Why can’t I fight with a buddy?”
“That’s just mean. Buddies are always understanding.”
“Until they aren’t.”
I decided there wasn’t really any need for me to talk any more so I simply let Gwen and fuzz lip determine my Quest for me. My head was now pounding harder than the worst migraine I’d ever had and I couldn’t bare to pay attention to them any more. I sat on the ground in front of the desk and held my head in my hands while Gwen and the bureaucrat yammered away over the details of who knew what. I only listened in enough to find myself horrified at hearing Gwen say, “oh yes, him! He’s perfect!” Before I tuned out again.
Finally, Gwen pulled me to my feet and when I looked around next I could find no trace of the man, the hair on his lip, or the giant oak desk.
“Three to five business days,” said Gwen, as if that were supposed to be good news.
“What?” I asked, my head still ringing with pain.
“Until your Quest starts. You just go about your business as usual for a few days and then in 3 - 5 business days your Quest will begin.”
I gave the barest of nods, but even that felt like I’d hit myself in the head with a hammer.
“Alright, Victoria,” Gwen said, still holding me up. “Shall we get you home?”
“That would be lovely, but how are we going to get a ride from here?”
“Don’t need one,” she said, and the world faded to black around us.