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Lost and Found -- Chapter One

The amazing Bill Ratner, who is probably best known as the voice of Flint on G.I. Joe, narrated and produced the audio version of my book, Lost and Found, some time ago. For a brief time I shared these files on my blog, but then (boring) stuff happened and I took them down. I am incredibly proud and excited to be able to share them here now -- only on Patreon.

Lost and Found is one of my sword and sorcery-type stories set in the world of Aphanasia and the print version is in my collection, Aphanasian Stories. (Titles are just not really something I excel at. Don't judge.)

Aphanasia is a world that I originally created when I was working on developing an MMORPG and that RP influence is readily apparent right from the start, and is something I totally embraced. When it came time to populate the world I was sorely tempted to plunk in all my favourite roleplaying characters but... I also knew that no one wanted to read stories about my RP characters except me and maybe the people who had interacted with those characters. So, I resisted that urge and instead wrote about my roleplaying character's children. Because one step removed is for the win, right? :)

Here is the official description:

Xavier has just escaped from Scholar, a mad man who held him captive and performed torturous experiments on him. Colby is a woman from far away who is on a mission to save her brother. Armed with little more than their wits, Colby and Xavier team up and struggle to escape Scholar’s men and recover the magical artifact that will save Colby’s brother before it’s too late. 

Dun dun dun!

I can not possibly overstate how much impact hearing Bill read my words had on me. It is one thing to write a story and have it out in the world, it is a very different thing to hear someone else reading it. The first time I pressed play and heard Bill say, "Lost and found. By Rhonda Parrish." I cried. Like, straight-up ugly bawling at my computer. It was validation and magic and I hope I never, ever forget that moment, because those are the moments that make all the hard parts worthwhile.

So, though your reaction to this story will certainly not be the same as mine I hope you enjoy it anyway. This is chapter one. I will post the next chapter in a couple weeks.


ETA: This chapter was originally Patrons Only but I've unlocked it so I can share it as a sample for everyone. If you like what you've heard, please support my Patreon -- the $1 a month tier gives you access to all my posts, including the rest of this audio book. 

***

  

Lost and Found

By Rhonda Parrish

Book One: There

Chapter One

The small side door, though it shut gently behind him, resonated like a gong in Xavier's ears. The squeaking of the leather hinges and the dry rubbing of the warped wood made him freeze in place, the door against his back. He held his breath, looking up into the starry sky above him. The four tentacles that sprouted from his back ceased swaying until the soft sounds of night reassured him that no one had noticed his escape from the castle.

His silvery eyes, adapted to see with only the faintest hints of light, served him well as he picked his way across the top of the hill. To his right he could see the outlines of small cages pressed up against the castle and could hear the snores of the dogs within them. Looking left, he could see a scattering of outbuildings and between them the flickering light of a sputtering fire. Some of Scholar's men were gathered around it and he could hear the sounds of a dice game. 

He moved carefully, but quickly, bolting from building to building and pressing himself against their walls, praying to every god he could think of that their shadows would swallow him up. He wasn't sure how long the guard upstairs would remain unconscious and how long it would be after he woke before he'd get his gag off and sound the alarm. Probably not long. His stomach rumbled with anticipation and hunger, and he clutched it with his hands, as much from habit as to smother its grumbling. He hadn't eaten in days because he'd been sure Scholar had been drugging his food. It seemed that he'd been right. In the food's absence his mind had begun to clear, but the lack of nutrition was taking its toll. That was a problem which would have to be dealt with later, for now he had to get off the hill.

Reaching the outbuilding farthest from the castle, Xavier flattened his body against the ground and crawled forward. He took a deep breath and looked down the slope as he reached the crest of the hill. The moon was high in the sky and lit the ground quite well, even without his exceptional eyesight he would have been able to dodge the larger boulders and more obvious holes. Praying the hillside didn't have any traps he couldn't see, he slid over the crest on his belly, gritting his teeth to hold back a sound of pain. The stones scraped against his chest, tugging at the bandage there, and the spiky grass licked at him like the driest of cat tongues. With one last backward glance, to assure himself the hill would hide him if he stood, Xavier rose to his feet and ran.

His feet moved quickly and his body struggled to keep up with them and stay upright rather than roll to the bottom, but he made it, and without feeling anything more than rocks under his bare feet and grass against his ankles. As one particularly sharp stone pressed against the sole of his foot he half-smiled at the knowledge Scholar's adaptations to make his skin tougher were aiding in his escape from captivity.

He stumbled toward the swamp, looking fearfully over his shoulder every few steps. Entering the ankle-deep water at the edge, he thrust bog plants out of his way with arms and tentacles both, and ran as torches began to flicker in the windows of the castle.

Shortly he reached a thicket. The size of the trees spoke to their age; they towered above the murky water and their branches were draped with vines and moss. They stuck knobby knees above the surface to keep from rotting, and their roots spread out beneath to trip the unwary. Xavier stumbled over something obscured by water, and fell to his knees. 

Pain shot through him, emanating up and out from his left knee as it impacted a stone underwater. Smothering a cry, he struggled to his feet and lurched ahead. He kept going even when the water rose to meet his waist.

He ran until dawn touched the sky, coloring it a pale shade of grey where it met the horizon. Blinking and squinting in the dim light, he emerged from beneath the treetops. Weaving around partially submerged boulders, he made his way to a small patch of earth which jutted up out of the water. Stumbling over his own feet, he fell to the ground, looked one last time over his shoulder and collapsed. His eyes closed, his tentacles stopped moving and as the sun crept over the horizon he succumbed to exhaustion.

"Drek."

~*~

As the sun peered over the edge of the world Colby tucked the tarp that had served as her tent back into her pack. After pulling the laces tight, she squatted down to slip her arms through the straps and then rose to her feet and started back toward the road. Damp, cold and hungry she had slept poorly and started packing up camp long before dawn. The sooner she found the stone and took it back to her brother, the sooner she could eat real food and sleep in a soft bed again.

It had been a long night. There had been a rainstorm the afternoon before and even though it had blown over in less than an hour, Colby had failed to find any dry wood in its wake. She'd searched through the magical scrolls she'd brought with her but found nothing that could help, so her fire, if such a weak flame could rightly be called that, sputtered and smoked all night. It threw off very little heat and since it couldn't be used for cooking, supper had been dry rations. They tasted like leather, but they would provide all the sustenance she'd need on her trip.

After a great deal of walking the road she was following vanished into the swamp. The plains ended so abruptly that it disconcerted her – it was almost like the bog had been dropped into place by a god. She looked over it and felt the first hints of despair. The watery wasteland was so vast she knew it was going to be an enormous challenge to find the Reptar, even with her map.

The everglade stretched for miles in front of her. The stagnant water was only ankle high here at the edge but no doubt got deeper further in. Bog plants and gnarly trees emerged from its muddy depths, breaking up the stark landscape. The sound of insect swarms assaulted her ears and from somewhere far off a bird called out. It was a lonely land, devoid of joy or laughter and reeking of death.

Colby sighed, adjusted her backpack and gnawed on her lower lip. Far off to the east she could barely make out what looked like a castle built high up on a hill. If the swamp could be home to a castle, she thought, that meant it was inhabited, so a chance of success existed after all.

"I can do this," she told herself, her voice wavering. Straightening her shoulders she nodded, "I can do this."

Searching out the highest ground, Colby took a step in. As she walked the earth squelched beneath her boots and gave way slightly under her weight. It was like walking on a firm sponge; each step she took made indentations in the sodden ground that quickly filled with putrid fluid.

A couple hours later she stepped into a small clearing and saw, splayed across a boulder there, the body of a creature the likes of which she'd never seen before. He, for there was no question about his gender, resembled a man but had reptilian-looking skin; mottled and green. Horns, like a ram's curved from the top of his head and in addition to a pair of arms, two sets of menacing tentacles sprouted from his shoulders and hung limply at his sides. It wore a pair of tattered breeches but his bare torso revealed well-defined muscles. She took a step back, away from him, and he raised his head to look at her. Silvery eyes pinned her in place.

"Please…. Don't go...," he whispered through chapped lips. His voice sounded like sandpaper, rough and ragged.

Colby paused and tilted her head to one side, watching. Dozens of scars marked the bits of his chest and back that she could see – even his arms and tentacles were marred. Many looked old, but one wound upon his chest still bore a dirty bandage. 

Though he was frightening to look at, he didn't seem to be dangerous. In fact, he looked as though just keeping his eyes open was an extreme test of will. Still, she hesitated to step forward.

"Are you okay? Do you need help?"

"Please...don't go," he whispered again, then closed his eyes and entered the world of unconsciousness.

Colby stared at him. "What in the nine Hells am I supposed to do now?" she thought. Though she didn't recognize his race, he seemed intelligent and in need of assistance, but she had little time to spare – and how could she know that once he recovered he wouldn't eat her or introduce her to some other, equally horrific fate? Yet, she couldn't just leave him lying there in the middle of a swamp full of predators. 

Colby chewed on her lip, and watched the steady rise and fall of his back.  His breathing seemed strong enough, but the bandage she'd glimpsed on his chest indicated unseen injuries. How would Bayne feel if he heard she'd left someone here to die because she was in a hurry to get the stone that might save him? She didn't know if he could live with the guilt, but she certainly couldn't. Yet, how could she deal with it if her brother died because she stopped to aid a stranger?

"Drek," she swore under her breath.

She slid her pack off her shoulders, set it down beside the tentacled stranger and rested her hand upon his shoulder. His skin felt smooth and feverishly hot. He stirred slightly, but did not wake. Nevertheless she spoke to him, hoping his sleeping mind would absorb at least part of what she said.

"I'll be back, I'm just going to find shelter."

Looking over her shoulder at the being and all her supplies, she hesitated once more then turned and ran further into the morass.

She splashed through the bog, sticking to high ground whenever possible and moving at a steady pace. Her sharp eyes scanned the territory in front of her as she ran, marking the trunks of the sparse vegetation with chalk so she could find her way back. After only a quarter of an hour of searching, the gods blessed her and she discovered a cave. A quick scan of the interior showed it to be small, but abandoned. It wouldn't be the soft bed she'd been craving, but it would provide shelter for her and the injured being.

On her way back to the slumbering stranger, Colby gathered sticks, and several slimy vines. Rolling them into a ball she carefully retraced her steps. 

He still slept. In fact, it didn't look as though he'd moved the whole time she'd been gone. Kneeling in the mud, Colby worked quickly. Using her tarp, along with the sticks and vines she'd gathered she managed to fashion a stretcher. The bottom end would have to drag on the ground, but she could think of no other way to transport the injured creature and her pack to the cave by herself.

She positioned the litter beside him, and by alternately pushing and pulling at his unconscious form eventually managed to maneuver him atop it. Once she had him lying safely across the tarp, she used some more vines to secure him.

Colby pressed her hands against the small of her back and stood up, stretching. She blew a stray bit of hair out of her eyes and gazed across the swamp at the sun. The morning had long since passed and she knew it would take the better part of the afternoon to drag her improvised litter to the cave. Shouldering her backpack once again, she looked at the sleeping stranger.

"I sure hope I'm doing the right thing," she whispered. Turning her back on him, she knelt to grasp the sticks and started off, dragging him behind her.


***

Chapter Two -->  https://www.patreon.com/posts/lost-and-found-25852131  

Story by moi

Audio by Bill Ratner 

Cover art by Darek Zabrocki 


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