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Prologue – Excerpt

A hundred voices in my head,
This is the day you have been waiting for
Everyday, in every way
All around the world,
(Blaze the path – make people happy – Blaze the path)
I am almost falling
(Blaze the path – flashing light bulbs – Blaze the path)
I am almost flying
Be strong.
(Excerpt from the last recorded annals of the Secret Society of Corporate Heroes)

The last known recording by Master Mind, special force agent of the (not so) secret society of corporate heroes was made on (date withheld).  The current status of Master Mind is classified.  The current location of Master Mind is unknown.

The last sighting of Master Mind was at a clearing in the centre of the Forgotten Woods, which has been described by witnesses (a band of Pernicus hunters who had been passing through) as a scene of unsurpassed frivolity, loud and drunken revelry of a group of disparate individuals holding brightly burning baubles.

Here is an extract from that last recording.

“I walked out of the house and down the path to follow the streets away from the city.   Often in the city, the stars above compete with the artificial lights below.  But tonight is a clear, and starry night.  The air is fresh, and a slight breeze is blowing in from the east, cooled by the sea stretching to the end of the millennium, just beyond the edge of the city.  Even before I have reached the front gate, I have lit my cigarette and drawn down on the filter.  This will be my last cigarette.  I exhale the smoke from my burning lungs.  I feel my blood race, my heartbeat slows, my frantic mind begins to settle and clear.

I climb the hill towards the main intersection, which will take me where I need to go.  There are few cars on the road at this hour.  It is past midnight.   For me, it is the waking hour.  It will not be long before the visions and voices will come flooding into my head.  I hold them at bay with a determined will and remind myself that as long as I am at the Vortex by the time they come, I will be all right.  The visions and voices are stronger at night.  During the day, there are generally enough distractions to quieten them.
Just before I reach the intersection, I turn into the narrow lane between the rows of terrace houses.  The windows are shuttered and dark, but behind the locked doors the occupants succumb to their own dreams and nightmares.  Oh to rest.  What is that like?  I cannot remember the last time I lay down to a fitful street.  If I was to stop, I might never get up again.

I am close now.  I can feel the tug of the Vortex sweep across my face, and over my body.  The numbness is returning – it always is stronger on the left side running from my left eye, following the line of my cheek bone, ever so slightly kissing my lips and throat before it slides down my left arm, then down my torso before finally coming to rest in my leg, gnawing away under the skin.   The bugs are running rampart.  You cannot see them as they crawl over each other below the layers of my skin, but they are there.  If I focus on them, they still for a moment like cockroaches at night when you surprise them by turning on the light, and then they quickly scuttle away into the dark crevices, gnaw, scuttle, gnaw.

Soon I will hold my trusted staff again, and I will feel whole.

There by the wrought iron gate of number 23, the Vortex takes hold.  I am drawn into its embrace.  Reality makes a feeble effort to tug at my brain, before the light shimmers.  I feel as though I am falling and in that moment of fear, I take flight.

The Philosopher appears before me.  There is a blazing sun rising behind her.  She always plays this trick making it difficult to capture her features.  I have tried many times before to remember what the Philosopher looks like, but can never grasp those nuances that make us – well, three dimensional.  A crescent moon is setting beside her.  Her robes shimmer like reflections on water.  Without a greeting I feel the words enter my consciousness – It is now time.

Her energy swirls around me.  I feel as though I am falling, no I feel as though I am flying and then I am there at the centre of the Forgotten Woods, a no-man’s land stretching between the plains of the Zetoec and Pernicus Realms.  It is very foggy here, damp fingers clasping at the tall dense trees that rise like regal sentinels watching, waiting for battle.

Behind me, I feel the warmth emanating from the blazing campfire.  Here the phalanx is gathered, telling tall tales about dastardly deeds and devious plots they have encountered on their recent travels through the realm.  The rumour mills are working overtime it seems, but there is a thread of truth woven within these tales.  I fear the truth may become lost in the whorls of ridiculous innuendo and false promises.

I am not immediately compelled to join those banded around the fire.  I wait at the edge of the illuminated clearing.  A part of me is listening in on their animated debates.  A part of me is somewhere else, scanning the dark woodlands beyond.  For a moment, I thought I heard a rustle in the undergrowth, and I turned my head in that direction.  It would be dangerous if the secrecy of this meeting place were to be uncovered by the darkness that has taken a stronghold in the realm.  A contemplative sigh escapes from my lips.  My left fist tightens around my staff. There was nothing.

I am not sure how much longer I will hold out.  The latest battle has drawn away much of my spirit, but the phalanx appear strong and hopeful.  Perhaps I am simply getting weary and need some rest.  I wait another moment, before I make a turn to hobble back to the revelry.  Before I return though, I must prepare the smile to hide my fears and the depth of my sad contemplations.  It would not bode well for the others if they saw my thoughts.  They need to be strong for their time is coming, and that is an uncertain and treacherous journey.   It was at this moment, my eyes focussed.  Right before me, from out of the mist, there is the trace of a small child, which puzzles me immensely.  Although a child, I hold my staff ready for battle, the red gem clasped at its head begins to pulse, for these are days when trickery can appear so innocent. I pause.  Here there is no trickery.  There is no need to battle.  Pure energy flows from this child’s heart.  There is something about this child that I recognise in myself.   Is it the way in which he stands with lonely abandon?  No there is something stronger, a connection far more primordial.

I ask the child, “What are you doing out here in the Forgotten Woods?  Are you lost?” to which the child replies, “I am looking for my mother, can you help me?”

I accompany the child.  As we approach the edge of the clearing, there is a fallen tree.  Members of the phalanx had often used this tree as a landmark to leave secret messages for each other as they traversed the realm and beyond.  The tree trunk was infused with ancient magic and protective wards.  To help this child as I promised, it would be unwise for him to travel with me with all my current attire.  We are sure to be marked as members of the dissentious rebels.  So it was here, at the edge of the clearing in the centre of the Forgotten Woods, that I hesitated for a moment, removed my robes, laid down my trusted staff, and placed my mask.

I felt my lips whisper, “It is now time”.

“What did you say?” asked the child.  He seemed so confident and sure.

“Oh, nothing.  It is now time to find your mother.  Shall we go?” I said.

Posted by the Philosopher.
There is a moment in fear when your essence in the universe is so distilled it is crystal clear.

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