Frank woke up glazed in sweat. His hair was a stringy, damp mess. Turning the light next to the bed on, the nightmare seemed to melt away. He gingerly lowered a foot to the floor, tapping a toe against the deep blue plush rug. Assured that the floor was solid, he stood up and began to pace. He tried to remember the details of the dreadful dream, but it was like trying to snatch a rabbit out of its hole. It was gone, but the sensation that there was something important in the dream was inescapable.
He looked at Claudia, envious of her peaceful slumber. He wondered what her dreams were like; he assumed that they were normal. He assumed that they weren’t like his. He tried to lie back down, but the sheet was cold and damp on his back. He glanced at the clock’s angry red glow and decided that it wasn’t too early to start his morning routine. He shuffled through the darkness, nearly stepping on Jeremy.
“Watch out!” growled Jeremy sleepily. Frank felt frustrated tears surging into his eyes.
“Shut up!” he bellowed, causing Claudia to stir in her sleep. “Why did you need to start talking?” Frank whispered. “I lived with you for five years, and we were fine the way we were.”
“It’s too early to deal with your crap.” snapped Jeremy. “Doesn’t a cat have the right to speak his mind? Fascist.” Jeremy curled himself into a tight ball and sleepily closed his eyes.
“Who are you calling a Fascist? Behaving like that, I’d call you a Fascist. Up with the feline agenda! Down with the oppressive bourgeois humans!”
“Sleeping.” sang Jeremy.
“No, you started this. I don’t need to have my cat comparing me with Hitler.” raged Frank angrily.
“What are you talking about Frank?” asked Claudia, freshly awoken.
“Nothing.” he responded elusively. “I almost stepped on the cat. Go back to sleep.” Groggily, Claudia rested her head on her pillow again and fell back asleep. Jeremy purred contentedly as Frank left the bedroom. He meandered about the house like a mouse in a cheese-free maze. He sat on the sofa and watched the morning news until he felt himself nodding off.
Tawdry McGuffin was staring at him as he dozed underneath a twisted elm tree. Kicking at the black iron leg he had crafted, he cleared his throat. The phlegm filled rumbling roused Frank. Startled, he leaped to his feet, the black iron leg almost giving out under his weight.
“ I went through the trouble of making the thing, the least you could do is actually put it to use. Thing’s made for walking, not sleeping.” grumbled Tawdry.
“I didn’t ask you to make them. And once I can find someone to fix my leg and arm, you can have them back.” Frank was still furious with the misshapen goblin. The bent and gnarled creature had taken the Ring of Runes, which identified Frank as an enemy of the Marmots. He found himself desperately clinging onto the hope that Tawdry McGuffin truly was an ally. The goblin had followed Frank, demanding a payment for his services. Frank had tolerated Tawdry’s presence, promising him gold when they found either the White Lord or Aurora.
Frank had hoped that the small goblin would fall behind during their travels, but Tawdry McGuffin wasn’t one to turn his back on any promised gold. The strange pair walked through the barren wilderness. The sun seemed to be perpetually setting as they traveled; Frank took it as an indication that the battle for Brightsphere wasn’t over yet, but the outlook was grim.
In the stillness of the gloaming, the pair came across a horrible sight; an army of men lay in the dirt. Mud stained banners which once streamed a bright white on the breeze. In the midst of the ruined army was a man dressed in white armor. His hair stained red with blood, a spear piercing his chest, the White Lord was weeping. Resplendent even in his agony, the pale seemed to be looking towards the heavens, praying for a miracle.
“You’re going to be late for work!” admonished Claudia, snapping Frank out of his renewed slumber. He tried to shake the dream from his head, but it wouldn’t leave his skull. He couldn’t get the image of the dead man out of his mind.
“I’m not going.” Frank said. “I need to go to Dr. Morrison. There’s something really wrong.” Frank’s brow was furrowed with worry, his eyes filled with fear and confusion.
“If you don’t think it can wait, I understand. I’ll go with you if you want.” said Claudia, afraid that Frank would hurt himself. Frank, still crumpled on the sofa, wasn’t moving.
“I’ll call work for you.” said Claudia.
“Please, don’t tell them why. I don’t need them knowing I’m a loon.” said Frank in near monotone. Claudia saw that he was staring into space, not focused on anything. She had always wished that this day would not come around again. She felt like a mouse captured by a cat; no matter how much freedom seemed possible, there was only one fate in store for her. She made the call, telling Frank’s boss that Frank needed a personal day, and that he’d be back to work tomorrow. She wanted to tell his boss the truth, but she knew she couldn’t. It would simply be too wicked.
“I can heal your leg and arm, but there’s nothing I can do for the White Lord.” announced Morris, the healer. He had followed the army, doing his best to tend the wounded as they fell. “This has pushed my powers to the limit. It was terrible! The Marmots fell on us; as wild and violent as a brush fire. The White Lord called for formations, but his men were all ready dying around him. Then, the trees bloomed with fire, trapping both armies here. I felt a hammer or axe smash against my helmet, and when I awoke, the Marmots were gone and the White Lord was left, dead on his feet.”
“Who leads the Marmots?” asked Frank, revenge stirring a fire in his heart.
“It was a power more than a man. It was shapeless and barely visible. It was unlike anything I ever saw.”
“Sounds like bad news to me.” remarked Tawdry McGuffin sourly. “Without the White Lord, the people will fall into submission. It happened before, and it will happen again.”
“Not if the White Lord isn’t dead.” replied Frank, a crazed grin on his face.