Betwixt and Between

Part One: Prologue


"I sing above my vision, I sing above my face: a fat, old amphibian, speaker for the dead.

Gather 'round, ye animals, gather 'round this lake, take upon your vigil, wallow in the wake.


It was glorious of glories, a maple April day, with a pocket full of horseflies and eyes as bright as rays.

They said, Walk away, walk away if you can. But he took one leap out the village, and our caravan began.


He traveled to a forest, nestled in the sky, he ran beside the buffalo, wrestled with the lion.

Every day was Saturday, a summer-waking morn, his skin turned golden amber from the shine that toad had borne.

While riding with an eagle, and laughing with the sun, he spied an old, hairy, fairy man upon the river Young.

Sol said, Fly away, fly away if you can. But he settled next to the oarsman, said, I'm my own man,

And this is my life.


Heed above my meter, heed above my fate: can't go back, back again.

Got a reason to be fevered: summer-waking morn, back, back when the boy boy boy was born.


Now crossing to his fortune: while enchanted by the queen, a lone, shady shelter stood, beckoning his lean.

In the time it takes a pillow to figure out a face, out from in the white trees, she rose to take its place.

The battle for his spirit then caused him to remain, and he fought as a thousand visigoths and cursed the night in vain.

She said, Run away, run away if you can. But at last they heard a voice say, I'm my own man,

And this is my life!


Off to in her castle, laid upon the stairs, she showered him with daffodils and tied ribbons in his hair.

He woke for bare a moment, and she wouldn't let him weep: with lips of only roses, she kissed him down to sleep.


So royal, loyal subjects, now let your ears unbend: for hear ye, this traveled tale must sadly meet its end.

What's fate done to our hero? Well, I cannot reply. Last that I saw him was a reflection in her eye."


When Emmat, the self-styled Green Bard, finished his song, everyone applauded: quietly, as befitted such a tale, but still with enthusiasm. He beamed all the way across his froggie face with pleasure at the reception. It was a new song, for this area, and everyone usually loved a new song, but new songs did have the possibility to flop. A young bard was always afraid that his songs might not catch interest, particularly when they were his own. In this case, he had not written the song himself, exactly, but he had adapted it to the audience and to his own voice, changing a line or a musical cadence here and there, so he could claim this version, at least, as his. After all, what better for the hero to be, in this lakeside, largely amphibious and reptilian town, than an Amphydae, a Fleshshifter frog-- like himself? The last version he'd heard, the hero had been an Ave, like that particular singer. Personally, he preferred the version with the frog. No one wrote about frogs, except in humorous tales, but they were obviously out there!

There were a few non-native, mammalian travelers in his audience, but they hadn't seemed to mind the Amphydae references. One, a ratty fellow with an impressive set of whiskers and attentive little ears, seemed to take particular enjoyment out of the song-- or at least interest! After the next couple songs completed his set, in fact, the furry Fleshshifter-- Emmat couldn't actually remember the name for a rat shifter-- drifted up to him while he downed wine to wet his parched throat. After his six years on the road as a traveling minstrel, his tolerance for alcohol had increased, but he had yet to shake his disgust with the cheaper, lesser brews they made in less prosperous towns, and stuck stubbornly with wine.

The rat dropped down onto the bench beside him, an amiable grin on his pointed muzzle. "That's quite a singing voice; you're a promising young fellow," he began, starting off the conversation with a compliment. Emmat beamed again, deciding that he liked this older shifter. After the shifter, who introduced himself as Tavarez, had bought him copious amounts more of good wine and made very pleasant small talk about his music and travels, Emmat's opinion had only continued to improve. Not only was this fellow traveller friendly and complementary, he was well-versed in the making of music-- though he admitted to no musicianship, himself-- and far, far more widely traveled than Emmat ever hoped to be.

When Tavarez brought the conversation around to his newly-adapted Amphydae Hero song, Emmat was happy to oblige him with the tale, as he'd heard it, and what history of the story he knew, which, admittedly, was not much. "I find it amazing the way tales travel, don't you?" Tavarez commented obliquely when he'd finished, pausing to take a sip of his own brew-- one of the bitter ales the town produced, itself. Though Emmat nodded sagely with agreement, he had no idea what bearing that comment had on the Hero's tale. Was the rat simply referring to how the song had changed?

As if he had caught his wondering, Tavarez grinned, and explained. "That particular story, you see, I know a bit more about than your average listener, and though your rendition with the central figure as Amphydae was quite striking, I'm afraid your hero shows very little resemblance to the real thing."

"The real thing?" Emmat repeated in disbelief. "What-- don't tell me there really is someone that song's about. It's just a story, a fable. Made up." He trailed off uncertainly at the way Tavarez's grin only widened. "Isn't it?"

"Why don't you rest your throat a bit, and let me tell you what really happened," Tavarez suggested, and the Green Bard curiously agreed.



He blinked, woke, felt dazed, and looked around at the sound of an unfamiliar voice.

"Heyla, Vagrant! Wait, man!"

The small, slight man, dazzled by the late spring sunlight, only barely gathered up enough wit to wonder why he had been walking down a dry streambed. Just a moment before, he had been far underground, listening to a haunting song that wove in and out of his thoughts like fish in the underground stream that had flowed beside him. Everything had been dark, and cool, and he'd been safe, if only for a moment, because--

No... no. Last he remembered, he'd been dozing off over a vat of dying cloth, with not even the voice of the normally chattery clothier he had been working for to keep him focused and alert, because the old man had taken to his bed with some kind of ailment of the elderly, perhaps due to the previous night's storm. It had been the last of the season, and the clothier seemed content to indulge himself in its effects for the last time before summer. The clothier's son, come from across the village to help with the unfinished work, was much less chattery, more industrious, and quite a bit less engaging, for all he was a friendly young man. The clothier's son had, in fact, been stirring the scarlets when he'd fallen asleep.

"Wait, I say!"

And, apparently, the clothier's son had followed him, as he'd gone wandering into a dream and wandered away from his task.

Or... wandered into reality out of a dream of a task, in a sleepy village of Caynvi Fleshshifters that only existed in his sleeping mind....

Either way, he'd left the task, dream or real, undone, and quite possibly ruined. "Oh, gods," he moaned under his breath, mortified, then quickly, sincerely apologized to the approaching Caynvi, "I'm sorry, Rommel... I did it again. I must have ruined those violets-- it's the first time he's trusted me with them-- he told me they have to be watched--"

"No, no, they're fine," the easy-going canid-man, Rommel, assured him before he could descend into his habitual near-groveling apologetics. A patch of black fur surrounded one warm, brown eye, above an amiable smile on his blunt muzzle. His other eye was surrounded by white, making it seem as if he saw, perhaps, into two worlds. He didn't, though; apparently, only Vagrant did that. "Father warned me about you drifting off now and then," Rommel continued nonchalantly. "So I set Lyra to watch them both while I went after you."

"You didn't have to follow me, I--"

"I didn't want you to go falling somewhere and hurt yourself," Rommel grinned more broadly. "And don't say I shouldn't worry."

"But you shouldn't...."

"But nothing," Rommel interrupted firmly. "Father's quite fond of you, you know; he'd kill me if I let you toddle off to break something, tripping into some rodent's hole or stumbling into the creek or something."

Vagrant didn't have anything to say to that; he just bobbed his head shyly and said again, "I'm sorry. I'll come back and finish the violets now."

"Come on, then," Rommel chuckled, and led him all the way back to the cottage, their soaking vats of cloth, and the old clothier, a shaggy-furred, dog-friendly Caynvi, who had roused himself to see them return. He welcomed the shy Vagrant back with a smile and open arms, forgetting that he was strange, foreign, and completely undependable. It was as if he saw Vagrant as a lost soul who he welcomed into his home, or a prodigal son he had forgotten about until he suddenly drifted back into his life, or something else Vagrant could not even imagine.

Vagrant didn't even try to imagine, because, as he stepped into the cottage that evening, he realized he would soon have other things on his mind. Summer was coming. He could sense it, smell it in the afternoon air as he hung up the finished, dyed, and not ruined cloth to dry overnight. Over dinner he was distant and distracted, tasting summer in every bite, and he ate little. He pled weariness early in the evening, escaping to the closet of a room that was all his gracious host could spare him and yet more than he'd had in many other houses, only to lay awake and staring at the ceiling. It was as if he could feel the first oppressive heat of summer, as if it had already rolled over him. Four walls could never hold him in, then. Four walls weren't safe, then.

Summer was coming, and with it the madness.

It was time for him to leave.


Chapter One



Song borrowed from Five for Fighting's "Two Frogs", on the Message for Albert album

Draclin'geyar are the Creative Property of Silver Midnight; Fleshshifters are the Creative Property of Drakiera