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Fragment Worlds

Copyright Marc Gilbert ©2001

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

Chapter 5 - A New Beginning

Dazrii, the young apprentice mage, and her friends Chala and Siltis followed the course of the stream for the rest of the day. They walked slowly because of Siltis' injured leg; they didn't want the cut to reopen. Everyone was a little jumpy due to the attack of the mutated " thing" from the stream earlier. Siltis' hand never left his sword hilt. They peered around suspiciously at every sound, but they saw nothing other than the crusty soil, rocks, the flowing stream and the burned remnants of trees and farms.

They occasionally approached some of the farms, looking for survivors, be they animal or man. They didn't find anything alive however, and to their relief they didn't find any humanoid corpses either. As they had hoped, it seemed that nearly everybody living near Eramist had found refuge behind the magical dome. What would these farmers do when they eventually came back and saw the damages? Where once there were thriving farms they would only see blackened remnants of walls and charred piles of bone where their animals once stood.

The three companions were afraid of what they would see as they traveled deeper into the countryside. Certain small villages would have been too far away to evacuate to the safety of the magical domes created in the biggest cities, assuming the rituals had worked in the other cities. Those villagers' only hope of survival lay in finding shelter in a cave. Thus far they had seen a couple of caves in their travels whose sturdy walls and floors had withstood the trauma of the comet's impact; within the relative safety of the thick stone walls they found debris and litter that had escaped the incineration outside.

When the sun disappeared to their left, it occurred to them that the rotation of their fragment had a different pattern than the way the world moved when it was whole. The cardinal position was changing each day now. Yesterday the sun would have set behind them instead of to their left, if they had stood at the same place. It was all very disorienting. They were very tired, they realized. It was time to make camp, get a little to eat and some much needed sleep. They had spotted a building not too far off that looked promising.

The building proved to be a small farmhouse, or what was left of it. Its ceiling and two walls were missing. They had been blown away by the great wave of fire and burned; only ashes remained and the lower part of the other walls. They examined the floor, which was full of ashes and burned furniture. Surprisingly it looked still fairly solid; only a small area had collapsed. They discovered a trap door in what once would have been the kitchen. Cautious preliminary exploration proved it led to the cellar. It seems as if the builders had taken advantage of a small cave on their property to extended the size of their cellar.

Siltis and Dazrii prepared a fire just outside the building, taking remnants of furniture for wood, while Chala re-entered the trap door that led to the cellar. She thought it might be possible to find some food stored there which would help stretch out their trail rations. Just as the two outside had the fire nicely started, they heard Chala screaming. They jumped to their feet and ran toward the trap door. Siltis, cursing his injured leg, was last to arrive.

"Are you ok?" shouted Dazrii, while hurriedly descending the ladder that led to the cellar.

Chala's voice came up from below, "Yes! Sorry I scared you, but you should see this!" The healer's voice sounded excited.

"It's fine, Siltis. You can take your time," Dazrii said, entering the cellar. "So Chala, what did you find to make you scream like that?"

Chala gestured for Dazrii to follow her further into the cellar towards where it merged with the cave. "Look there, towards that corner." She pointed in the direction of a small animal nosing around on the cave floor. "I was poking around for food when this little creature jumped out of its broken hutch. I hadn't noticed the hutch before and wasn't prepared to hear anything or see something move, so I screamed"just reflex."

The little creature in the corner looked like a rabbit but without the front legs and, instead of the fur ball a rabbit would have for a tail it had a long hairless tail like a rat. There were six other creatures like this one in the hutch. There were also half a dozen dead rabbits, half-eaten.

Siltis entered the cave finally, grimacing slightly in discomfort. His companions pointed toward the creatures. "What are those things?" he asked, curious and a bit on guard.

Chala hazarded a guess, "It's as if the animals that escaped death in the cataclysm have mutated. They've changed at the same speed that their environment changed. The thing in the stream we saw this morning surely had the same fate."

"You're sure that we're talking about rabbits and fish here?" Siltis asked, not completely believing what she said.

"It's plausible," returned Dazrii. "Look at it over there"it has the same face as a rabbit, the same fur, the same springy legs""

Chala continued her musings, "Dazrii said earlier that she'd noticed a fluctuation in the magical currents. So, it is possible that other things changed too, especially the living. Maybe the magic tried to balance things back, adapting the living to their new environment."

She slowly edged closer to the broken hutch, careful not to startle the strange creatures inside. "Look at them. We can see that while they are still similar to rabbits they also look like scavengers now. "They eat dead meat," she said, pointing at the half-eaten rabbits. "They also look faster and stronger. It jumped nearly to the ceiling when I saw it first. They're now more apt to survive in this harsh environment. We haven't seen a lot of grass or greenery in this new world. It had to eat something else now to survive and it found dead animals. That we have a lot of now."

"Well, maybe" Siltis answered. "At least this one doesn't seem to want to attack us and eat us; they seem to prefer already dead meat. Carrion eaters."

The other two replied with uncertain smiles. Withdrawing from the cave and back up the cellar stairs, they returned to their campfire. They busied themselves with preparing the food Chala had managed to find in the cellar. They did not talk much over supper, trying to digest the new information they'd found today. And, though they were all thinking along the same thread, they didn't want to share their thoughts with the others. What would become of the sentient races that had survived the cataclysm but were outside the domes? What would become of the ones protected by the dome when the cataclysm occurred? Is Magic still exerting its peculiar balancing influence which would change them also? If yes, what would happen? What would they look like? If not, had they unknowingly committed an error by being under the protection of the dome? Would they be able to survive in their new environment without the gift magic had given to the others?

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