A Cold, Callous Shell

By Chase A. Folmar

Brighter than all the stars in the nighttime sky burned the red Eyes of Delaphyne, Queen Empyreal of ravaged and reborn Iskalruun. The sorcerous orbs glowered overhead like a thousand brands seared upon the black firmament, ceaseless in their scrutiny of the city below, while their devotion carried unwavering as season begot season and years drifted on into shrouded mists of memory. Always were they watching, alert for any imperfection which might sprout unbidden amidst the walled and immaculate paradise their mistress had cultivated with measureless authority, and always was their wrath unforgiving should one be found. 

Down those streets lined with veined and polished marble there thundered the steps of a Gardener. From Iskalruun’s heart he came, where the Queen’s ziggurat of alabaster stone rose phoenix-like to dwarf old towers refit in flawless ivory and still older gilded palaces now crowned with domes of tempered glass. His path led away from those structures resplendent in the sanguine glow of so many shining Eyes above, and towards outer, more remote quarters of the eons-old city, where lingering wounds of time would yet fester if left unchecked and unmanaged. Few else wandered this area at so late an hour, when censers of regulated incense purged clear the stenches of a day gone by. Those that did skirted past him with furtive speed and heads bowed low in subservient obedience, fearful of the striking visage his black robes cut as they bristled through red-tinged air. The citizenry, in accordance with the chorus of carillons denotating the curfew hour, were locking themselves away behind the phantom safety of shuttered windows and bolted doors—that deep-seated belief that walls still provided privacy from prying eyes was harder to shake than ravenous leeches burrowed into flesh. 

Such fear plagued not the Gardener. He smirked behind a mask whose smile was carved in silver so polished it reflected like a mirror all around it, basking in the crimson aura lit by one of Delaphyne’s Eyes that drifted overhead. Sent by the Queen to see what he could not, the path it took never deviated or faltered from its intended course, wherein awaited an emprise only one of his rank might complete. All the while he scoured for any signs of imperfection which might spoil the otherwise tranquil night. So far from the city’s heart, sources of infection and unrest were harder even for the Queen’s many Eyes to notice, their insidious rot festering away in shadowy, near-forgotten ruins and clusters of hovels riddled with that most despicable sickness named squalor. As one shouldered with the duty of caregiver to their city, the Gardener kept fierce vigil as he entered the domain of such depravity, the sword sheathed at his side swaying eagerly as if in assurance it would be ready should its deadly edge be needed. 

To his great contentment, all remained serene the further he delved. The Queen Empyreal, and thereby all the Gardeners in service to her desires, cherished such quiet: A sign of well-maintained order. Of peace brought about by precise and stringent purification. Without sacrifice, there can be no security. Through him did the piercing glare of Delaphyne enact that indisputable mantra upon those who might defy the laws she had so ruthlessly enshrined. Arbiter and executioner alike, his was the fervor that would weed out wickedness dwelling just out of sight, the voice which dared recite the Vyryn Scrawl’s esoteric words of sorcery, and the hand to strike down with remorseless steel any who dared resist. He carried no name with him, not since many years ago, when his face had first been blotted by the leering mask, and all memory of a life before flayed clean from his core. He was a servant now; a tool of forces greater and far more discerning than he as to the ways in which the world should be structured. 

The Eye led him at last down an unlit, abandoned alleyway, where age had riddled deep, pock-marked scars upon erected walls of stone, and ribbons of tawny vine spilled like opened welts down the desiccated faces of homes fit only for the misery of ghosts. Along the back edifice of one such structure did the Eye fix its fiery attention. Whatever lurked opposite that unremarkable wall had brought about his Queen’s displeasure, and so required swift and immediate removal. 

Breathing deep, the Gardener raised his hands and touched them to the opposing surface. Words more ancient than the very bedrock beneath the city were then drawn from his lips, words which had no origin in the tongues of man, and would fly wild and unrestrained should their intonations be even slightly imprecise. He could feel the power lurking in those spoken syllables, as potent now as when he had first been handed that worm-eaten river of parchment and learned the proper recitations of the Vyryn Scrawl. He had not then believed such limitless potential could course through his body; abilities which could make malleable the world that had wronged him so long ago, and bring even the most vicious forces of nature to trembling, submissive knees. 

How much he had learned since those bygone days! How easily the incantations now spilled from his rasping tongue! Presently, their influence sank deep into the porous material which he touched, a dark stain spreading as if an infection across the once featureless stone. When marred from roof to base, the Gardener stepped back, and it was with one last whispered word that their insidious intent took hold. 

To say the wall melted before his eyes would have betrayed only slightly the truth of that event. Thick, weathered stone shriveled to long tatters of colorless miasma in a matter of seconds, leaving but a cavernous hole, rough and wet and jagged, as if the wide, drooling mouth of some immense beast had bitten clear through. 

Through the freshly opened wound there stared a crowd of pale, wide-eyed faces huddled together in the dark room within. Of all sorts were their number, from lowly peasants in little more than rags to merchants-lords and eupatridae garbed in fine leathers and flowing silks. The lot were seated around a figure at the room’s center, a copper-haired woman just upon the cusp of twilight, whose violet eyes flashed with defiance despite the severity of her situation. Her role in the preceding events could not be doubted: Thin wisps of a faded dream still clung to her outstretched fingers, and from the lax, clouded look in many of the other faces, he knew they too had shared in that conjured ephemera. 

He crossed the still-dripping threshold before any others could move, blade in hand, its steel flashing terribly in the red glow which cascaded in. None of his opposition held weapons of any sort, at least none that he could see. Such qualms did not concern the Gardener or the mission he was to complete. They were all of them sinners, defilers against the city’s most sacred decree, and while the copper-haired woman, from whom the heresy had so clearly stemmed, would be brought for interrogation and torture, the fate waiting for the rest of them . . .  

Without sacrifice, there can be no security

“By the Laws enshrined by Delaphyne, Queen Empyreal within the walls of Iskalruun, I find each of you infected with the sin of dreaming. Thereby, I sentence each of you to die.” 

The Gardener raised his blade with practiced and habitual efficiency. Words of ancient power again bubbled up to rasp through his mask’s silver lips, guttural sounds unfit for the mouths of mortal men, and at their beckoning the sword he held blossomed into a flurry of snake-like, writhing points. Before any of his enemies could move, he swung. 

Screams and blood splattered in the wake torn through by those stalks of slashing steel. From his nearest victims was flesh rent to grisly ribbons faster than any eye could blink, and those who still dreamed were immediately plunged to the depths of waking nightmare. A desperate flight for escape surged throughout the crowd. Shrieks of panic and cries for mercy showered wildly within the enclosing walls. They only enraged the Gardener further, and so he struck again. And again. His weapon slashed ever faster to enact punishment fitting so heinous a crime. 


It was not the pleading cry, but the hands which seized his sword arm that brought a pause to the slaughter. The woman; the dream-caster! the Gardener realized with disgust, and tried to shake himself free from the unexpected nuisance. Yet for all his efforts, the woman proved more resilient than she appeared. She clutched hard, like a starved tick searching for a single drop of blood, until pulling back the glove which shielded his hand, she pressed her own flesh against his. 

The Gardener gasped. The room, the transgressors, even the ever-present red light, they all faded from clarity, as if an opaque barrier of glass had suddenly been drawn between him and his surroundings. In their place appeared a new reality. A different world of sensations. One he hadn’t known now for many years gone by. 

Soft grass rustling beneath his feet. 

The cool shade spread by tall and far-reaching trees. 

Twigs and branches and sharp-tongued shrubs biting at his skin as he swept by. 

The sound of his sister calling from far behind. She was saying something, addressing it to him, but he couldn’t make it out. It was repeated, again and again, though still it eluded his understanding. Straining to hear, he realized with a cold rush of horror that it was a word he no longer knew. A name he had abandoned, cast aside to be forgotten, along with everything else from that time. 

His name. 

Tearing himself from the woman’s grasp, the Gardener fell and dropped hard to the floor. His sword clattered uselessly beside him, returned to its original single blade, and in the lull his falter provided, the guilty who yet survived scattered off like hapless mice for cover. Their scrambling retreat hardly registered to the Gardener as he lay there, reeling from the shock of what he’d seen; what he’d felt. Instead, he stared only at the woman, her slumped and tired figure stationary amidst the frantically thinning crowd, with bright clouds of dream coursing free from her fingers once more. 

“What have you done to me?” wheezed the Gardener through the sculpted smile of his mask, noticing for the first time how stifled his own breath was behind so heavy an effigy. 

But exhaustion took the woman where she stood; her eyes fluttered, rolled back, and she collapsed to the floor beside him, gone to the world beneath an impenetrable shroud of slumber. The silence of sleep and the quiet of corpses were all that remained. 

Attempting to regain some semblance of control, the Gardener forced himself to his feet. He smoothed neat the rumpled folds of his robes and surveyed the aftermath his entrance had brought. A handful of heretics had managed to flee, true, but more had met the cold steel of his judgement. They lay scattered in gruesome and crumpled heaps across the room, the deep gashes cut by his blade having painted long-neglected floors in thick, darkly shining blood. The guiding Eye—and his Queen surely watching through its lens—took leave and wandered off amidst the skyline beyond, satiated with the spoils of his apparent success. The dream-caster had been detained, while the vermin attracted to so sweet and tantalizing a vice received the sentence due to them. Those that had escaped could be rooted out in time, and their punishment would be no less severe, no less final. 

Yet alone in the carnage he had so effortlessly wrought, the righteous pride normally induced by such an act did not stir within the Gardener’s heart. Each of those felled had been enemies to the Queen’s Law, dissidents against the very order meant to quash seeds of capriciousness and dangerous thought before they were allowed to spread. Their presence had brought nothing but vitriolic disgust upon him, and the sight of so many now lifeless should have eased the disdain which, only minutes ago, roared unchained and bestial inside him. Instead, all he bore was a cold emptiness at his center, an aching void slowly expanding outwards all around him. He shivered and felt creeping waves of nausea touch upon his stomach. The room had begun to stink with Death, its air no longer bearable through the narrow slits of his mask. Still breathing heavy, and desperate to escape, he scooped up the woman in his arms and trudged out the way he came, eager to regain the comforting embrace so many red, ever-watchful Eyes provided. 

The whole way to his Queen’s crimson-bound ziggurat, he could not find the breath which had before come to him so easily, nor escape the clawing chill of doubt which followed him every step of the way. 

Proud and wild soared the trees about him. 

Their leaves whispered old secrets as he passed beneath them. 

Roots flowed from their trunks like a thousand rivers coursing through the earth, and broke apart the faint path on which he ran. 

A voice from behind was pleading for him to wait, warning of the monsters lurking in the shadows at their backs, that they needed to keep together if they wanted to stay safe. 

He didn’t listen to his sister’s voice. He couldn’t hear the name she shouted as he bolted ahead, or the scream which cut her voice down. 

Onward he went, heedless of his own direction, until at last, turning around to gain his bearings, he realized the way had become lost to him. And that wherever he now stood, he was left all alone. 

He awoke with a start, the course linens of his bedsheets drenched in sweat. 

The Gardener cursed as he pushed himself up from the cot. Knowing that sleep would not return, he instead donned the black garb of his status and the mask crowning its appearance. For five nights past it had been the same, with greater and greater potency each subsequent night, until he could hardly close his eyes without reliving that same phantom memory from almost three decades gone by. 

His sister’s face and voice alike were haunting him with a clarity he had thought vanished. Those days had been buried for so long under so many years; before Delaphyne had crowned herself Queen Empyreal of Iskalruun; before the rot of warring rogues and thieving guilds which had so infested the blood-soaked streets of his city were routed clear and purged of all ruling powers. A child then, he and his sister had scampered through crowds unwilling to spare a thought for orphan strays like them, squeezing into places too small for most to reach and climbing high those areas too precipitous for others to follow. 

And yet, their presence had not echoed the truth of the past. Neither he nor his sister had ever seen woods such as those he travelled through behind his closed eyes. Born and reared by Iskalruun, the city’s streets had ever been their home, the wilderness beyond those soaring walls of stone utterly unknown to them. Songs of minstrels and murals laid in mosaic tiles formed their only conceptions of such places, the ones they had loved to recite back to one another on cold, frightful nights when a paltry fire or standing roof to shield them from the wind were just as fanciful to their minds. They were imagined things only, brought forth from the whispers they’d shared and the hopes they’d once kindled. Why, then, could he see their conjured shapes now? And why was his sister carried along with them?  

His questions kept secret behind closely-guarded lips, the Gardener took leave of the sparse quarters. Outside his barrack doors, the palace gardens spread pristine in the late hour’s silence. Here, every azalea stem in bloom and every drooping strand of wisteria grew in perfect harmony with one another, while the spray of dancing fountains cast cool mists upon the air no matter the time of day or season. The whole enclosure circled round the base of that mighty ziggurat from where Delaphyne ruled without equal, its plateaued facades towering overhead like an unscalable mountain, with angles cut so severe an untrained mind would break beneath their harrowing implication.  

From the zenith there flocked more Eyes than could ever hope to be counted, as if moths drawn to a flickering flame, and they zipped back forth from their point of origin with no thought save for the desire to obey their mistress. So pervasive were their numbers that all the grounds through which the Gardener walked lay enameled in utter crimson, until even those last shreds of darkness found in the deepest shadows were consumed away, leaving only that singular, monochromatic pallor to shine. 

When at last he reached the lowest steps of the ziggurat, two choices were presented before him: A stairway broad as a city avenue, flanked on each side by moonstone statues carved in the likeness of fierce unicorns and mighty gryphons in flight, would allow ascent to the structure’s peak. The Queen upon her supernal throne rested there, watching all below with her endless Eyes. If he ascended, he might seek solace in Delaphyne’s vengeful absolution, supplicating himself before the judgement which lurked behind her burnished veil. Through sorcery even he did not understand, he could be made free from the continual reminders of the past echoing louder and louder in his thoughts. Or, should he choose otherwise, a narrow passage set below those vaulted stairs would gain him entrance to the depths of the ziggurat’s interior, where those held in contempt of the Queen’s Law, those like the dream-caster from the night prior, were stockpiled out of sight and out of mind. 

Whether fear or portentous fascination swayed his decision, the Gardener could not say. Drowned by his heart’s delirious beating, he found his own thoughts barren the moment he began descending into that all-consuming path of shadows. 

No red light shone in this subterranean hold. 

Where tranquil stillness had reigned undisturbed above, below raged a maelstrom spun with lamentations of pain so intense that all rational human sound had fled from their utterance, leaving only primordial howls of anguish to tear without pause through the vast, hollowed-out space. From the honeycombed cages stacked against walls and dangling by dark iron chains came the source of that infernal wailing. It belonged to bodies twisted by malevolent machinery to positions horribly unnatural to behold; bodies flayed of flesh and robbed of limbs; bodies forced to the absolute extremes of emaciation while breath still labored through their lungs. Everywhere they stretched, victims of every cruelty imaginable, succumbing to endless, unforgiving pain. All still alive. All forced to endure long past the inevitable threshold of Death. 

Without sacrifice, there can be no security

The Gardener scoured the labyrinthine scaffolding erected amidst so many cells and at last found the woman he sought. Sat hunkered low on the other side of her bars, the dream-caster appeared asleep, her rust-streaked hair falling like a funerary hood down her face, and it was only after he kicked at the metal posts separating the two of them that she stirred and acknowledged his presence with sad, bloodshot eyes. No longer incarnadined by his Queen’s unblinking sight, the Gardener saw a beauty in this woman he had not noticed those several nights before; proud, steadfast beauty unblemished by the creeping tides of time and the recent cuts and bruises which now darkened the curves of her face. He stared for a moment, caught in the lure her loveliness had sprung upon him, before truly seeing the deep wells of sorrow hidden just behind those amethyst eyes, and the heaviness of a guilt so immense it could not be spoken of weighed down to their absolute abyssal depths. 

A silence he could not traverse on his own stretched between them. 

“You are the butcher from the night before,” she spoke at last, through chapped, blood-caked lips. 

Behind his mask, the Gardener winced and did not know why. A knot had tightened in the recesses of his throat, and he was not sure what sound might escape his mouth should he try and speak. 

The woman continued. “Yes, I recognize it as you. The masks worn by your kind might hide the faces you were born with, but they do not hide the hints of humanity beneath. See enough faceless men and soon the intricacies of one gait against another, one stance among many and the tread that they each take, become as varied and distinct as shades of hair spread through a crowd. So, butcher, why have you returned to me? Are you here to finish what you began?”  

“You are a prisoner of the Queen Empyreal,” hissed the Gardener instinctually. “Surely you grasp the fate in store for you? Surely you hear the screams?”  

“I am to be punished for daring to foster dreams, as forbade by the laws of your veiled Queen. I will be tortured without mercy, through every hour of every day, until, lain stranded upon the brink of that black river of Death, I will be brought back to safety before I am allowed to drown. Then I will be tortured again. And again. And again. Until I am either forgotten or my torturers grow bored of my suffering. Then, I might at last die.” 

“Well?” asked the Gardener, “Have you naught to say against that?” 

“Should I?” 

The Gardener gestured to the bedlam which surrounded them. “Most plead for their lives, knowing that the end is to come.” 

The woman sighed. “Should my life end in this place, so be it. The weight of my past only grows more burdensome to bear the longer I am left to languish. I will be glad to have it all behind me, the wrongs I have done, and the blood which stains my hands—knowing that in this city, I have at last begun to make things right. I only wish my end might be granted quickly, and not prolonged past the borders of sanity.” 

“‘Make things right?’ It was you who led those sinners astray; you who are to blame for the spilling of their blood.” 

She gave a strange smile as he said this. “Is that so?” 

The Gardener’s robe flapped like leathery wings as he lunged forward and grabbed at the woman’s cage. He realized as he loomed there, pressed up against the iron bars as if trying to break through them, that he had torn the silver mask from his face, so that brown eyes bulging wide with rage could look freely and unfiltered upon her. 

“Do not toy with me, dream-caster!” He growled through the bars, no longer attempting to hide his anger or the fear that stoked its flames. “You did something to me that night! You showed me something unbidden, and now I cannot escape its grasp!” 

As the sun remerges after a storm’s eclipsing darkness did the woman’s eyes alight at this, and she spoke softly, as if revealing a secret long kept hidden but begging to be found. “The same as I did for all of those slain by your hands. I allowed you to dream again.” 

His worst fears crystalized to truth and threatened to tear him through. How could he admit to indulging in such a sin? Surely it must have been a trick of some kind, an illusion so lifelike it could deceive even one as faithful as he. 

But that cacophony of wistful memory sparkled too brightly in his mind to be anything else. He remembered now: how he and his sister had dreamed themselves free from the patchwork stone sprawl of their birthplace, fraught with unseen danger and irreparable decay, traversing instead through far-flung woodlands luminous with verdant wonder; dreamed that their lives might be better with enough coin in their pockets lifted from the bulging purses of oblivious strangers. They had thought themselves invincible, swift as snakes striking at their prizes from the safety of tall-growing grass, and that no repercussions could ever catch thieves as sure-footed as them. How cruelly that fantasy had come crashing down! 

“The waste you spew with your wayward tongue will not be allowed to flourish here! There is no place in Iskalruun for things as useless and poisonous to the mind as dreams.” Try as he might, even with all the strength of the Vyryn Scrawl at his fingertips and the full extent of his Queen’s irrefutable power at his back, the Gardener could not stop tears from welling in his eyes. “Nothing is to be gained from their indulgence! Nothing but misplaced idealism and the lie that there can be safety found in this world.” 

“You think because it cannot be grasped in hand and conquered it is not valuable? That because it is wild and capricious and free, it should be brought under heel and thrown aside?” 

Without sacrifice, there can be no security.” The mantra came to his lips more as habit than any conscious answer to her question, seared there after so many years of obedience to his Queen. How long ran the litany of mankind’s failures to bolster the weight of those portent words? The phlegethon which sent soaring Vyrkylos tumbling to the earth. The great plague that swept across Abinur. The razing which befell the ancient port of Xorull. The dregs of Iskalruun itself, before so many burning red Eyes watched at all hours from on high, when he and his sister’s brashness brought upon them an enemy they had not been able to escape: A thief the same as them, but one whose age had grizzled his skin to scowling armor, and whose blade lashed out like feral claws when he’d caught wind of their attempted pilfering. They had run fast as their little legs could carry them, and he’d been so scared at the footsteps pursuing them, so afraid of the evil Eyes approaching and their intentions should they be caught, that at some unknown moment during their chaotic flight, his sister had fallen behind without his knowledge, and he had not paid heed to her cries for help. His sister had suffered Death’s cold embrace that day, at the hands of one whom he had been helpless to fight back against or control—stolen from him forever because he had lacked the power to stop it. He repeated again: “Without sacrifice, there can be no security.” 

A pained smile suddenly overcame the woman’s features. Her attention drifted from the Gardener, retreating behind a cloud of distant memories to a past only she could see. “I once thought as you do. I sought to bend the world to my whims, to rebuild it in the image of the vision I saw fit. I let my mouth grow foul with reliance on those words within the Vyryn Scrawl, and the intoxicating power they granted so long as I fed upon them further. I was feared, just as you are, because I too was afraid of what might happen were I not—and so I wrapped an illusion of power around my fear, a shield through which no arrow of doubt might fly. I severed myself from everything I had been before, until but a cold, callous shell remained.” 

For several moments the Gardener could not find words to speak. The two stared upon each other again, but this time, it was as if he gazed upon a reflective pool whose waters now rippled after a stone had been cast to break its placid surface. The shape itself remained, still looking back up at him, just recognizable as the outline of what he knew, but lost were the details once familiar within, succumbed to a shuddering chaos completely alien to the eyes. 

When at last his voice returned, it was with the soft mutter of a lost and terrified child finally realizing he might seek out the help he needed instead of flailing about aimlessly in the dark: “Who are you?” 

The Gardener left from the ziggurat’s lower entrance many hours later. He again wore the meretricious smile of his mask, though any pride or allegiance its presence once bore to the Queen he’d served had vanished. Instead, its sole purpose was to now hide the sheen of sweat dampening his face, and to obscure his quivering eyes which lacked the strength to look higher than his own feet. Fear hounded his steps at every turn within the palace grounds, fear that a fellow Gardener, their long shadows emerging from the sleep that had been denied to him, would discover the act of betrayal committed and waylay his escape from this city caught in the decadence of its own demise. 

The woman —Lyramyr, the name she had revealed—lay dead far behind in her cell. The Gardener had given her a quick death in the end, the mercy of his single blade before fastidious claws of patient and greedy torturers could fully wrap their cruelty around her. She deserved as much, that he was certain, the tears which had fallen alongside the confession of so many sins striking like a mallet against the most tender regions of his heart. 

His own guilt plagued him as he withdrew from the palace grounds and hastened through the waking city beyond. Traces of pale sunlight rippled anxiously upon the horizon, already dispelling the darkness of night and false promises made susceptible in the guise of red, staring Eyes. But the coming dawn could not banish the shadows which festered at his back, stalking him through familiar streets now mournful to behold, writhing in the shapes of so many dead who had once filled them. He saw the fear in their eyes afresh; heard cries of pain and felt blood dripping from his fingers again. And carried with them all was the face of his sister. With each life he had taken, that bright, innocent face of his childhood died all over again, until so marred was her memory by bloodshed she’d all but disappeared, swept away and forgotten with the same ease as so many supposed ‘sinners’ before. How utterly he had believed those assurances given to him by so infallible a face as worn by his Queen! How willingly his intoxication had grown, both to Delaphyne herself and the Vyryn Scrawl she offered: Ever believing the lie that he might prevent those same atrocities which had befallen his sister from repeating again in the future, should he be one who wielded such power! 

Little had he known just how far he’d fallen down sheer-faced chasms bearing only oblivion at their ends. The yawning maw of blackness below had already stolen so much from him and who he had been; no doubt it hoped to further devour all he could ever be, leaving but an empty vessel devoid of thoughts its own: A nameless pawn to desires unable, or unwilling, to fathom entities so small and insignificant as he. 

Only a dream had saved what little of himself still remained. 

Besides that, one other thing had been given to him, whispered by Lyramyr before sharpened steel had freed her from a torment worse than death. He hugged it close to his chest the whole way through Iskalrun and the pernicious luster embalmed upon its every surface, ignoring fearful glances cast by passing citizenry, slipping unseen beneath the patrolling sight of so many red, relentless Eyes. With it he breached through the city walls, and did not cease his flight until the sickly smudge of its battlements faded far into the distance. There he disappeared amidst the slopes of sharply rolling hills and wild brush bursting up between the trunks of tall, sturdy-armed trees, heedless of any path or possible direction, the safety of that most precious gift he carried his sole concern. 

The shallow shores of a riverbank finally brought him to a halt. Stopping to catch his breath, he ripped clear the false visage that had for so long been his face and with a mighty heave threw its burdensome weight into the swiftly-flowing waters afar. It lingered upon the surface but for a second, the cruelly-carved angles warping the world reflected in its face one last agonizing time, before it sank below the rushing currents and mercifully disappeared from sight. Alone at last—alone for perhaps the first time in his entire life—the Gardener began to mouth with trepidation the name Lyramyr had gifted as her final act of mercy unto him. 


It sounded foreign on his lips, yet precious all the same. It was, thereafter, his, and he would not allow it to be taken so easily this time. He had been given not simply a gift by Lyramyr, but a great responsibility as well, a task that he must now set out on and fulfill as she had instructed. After all, how many others had lost everything as he had? Lost their way, their past, their very humanity? How many still suffered under the oppressive weight of the red Eyes of Delaphyne? 

And so, sitting beneath the shade of arched, soaring branches bristling in emerald and listening to the unspoken whispers rustling ever through their leaves, Yram set to work sowing the seeds of a dream. 

About the Author:

Chase A. Folmar lives in Virginia with his wife and their horde of rescued pets. His short fiction has appeared in Whetstone: Amateur Magazine of Sword & Sorcery, Witchhouse: Amateur Magazine of Cosmic Horror, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine. You can find these and his other projects on his website, chaseafolmar.com.