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So Fooyan's Prologue 4

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hough the forest is cold, it is not an unaccustomed cold, and soon sleep takes him to that faraway, unnamed place where the monks taught him to go for advice in dire times.

In that place of dreams, he carries only what he wore as he drifted asleep, a sign neither ominous nor hopeful. But the land is fire-charred, battle-scarred: the ghosts of sword and spell drift across his vision, and So Fooyan hears the relentless pounding of hammers on forges, shaping metal for war.

So Fooyan pauses, listening as the sounds of disparate hammers pound closer and closer into rhythm, merging into a single, methodical beat.

An ill omen, this coordination--but for whom?

Even here, though, there is snow; and in the snow he sees the tracks of a lone wolf. Another dream-sign, surely, echoing his waking experience with the ghostwolf.

From a tree's barren branch, a magpie cries out, then launches itself to fly in the direction of the tracks. In the far distance, a riderless horse's silhouette moves across the hills. This is one sign So Fooyan *does* recognize: Death, come to collect her souls. And if she is doing so in the dream realm, then either she has already begun to in the waking realm, or will be soon.

With an ungracious squawk, the magpie returns and drops a large leather hat at So Fooyan's feet. The magpie moves as if to land on his shoulder--only to be knocked away by a stone.

[The magpie is a symbol, though not a cause, of death and misfortune.]

Standing not far away is a man-in-shadow, tossing another stone from hand to hand. Only one of the hands is encased by a gauntlet, and that gauntlet is flame. "Care to travel further?" he asks, a smile implied in the tone.

So Fooyan bends down, and picks up the leather hat. He tries to roll it up, as he has seen woven hats rolled up and stored.

The hat folds itself almost eagerly, a strangely warm and comforting presence in his hands.

Though the man-in-shadow seems much in part with the burnt and scarred land, So Fooyan remembers the proverb "Despise not the help one receives. One could have received much worse." Then, with a bow, he turns to follow the man of the fiery hand.


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