John William shot through the tree and hit the ground with a tumble. “What is this place?” he groaned, feeling his head for lumps. A dense forest of trees poked his thin frame and scratched his cheeks.
“Welcome to Azra’s Pith, boy. We are standing in the heart of
– one of the most magnificent
gems of the realm. You won’t find grander trees, richer soil, or purer river
water anywhere else… in my humble opinion,” the frog uttered in a smug tone.
“What is your name?” Copious
“John William, my name is Ferdinand. The first thing you should know is that I am a hopper. From this moment on, the word frog will fall on deaf ears,” Ferdinand declared.
John William rubbed the haze out of his eyes. “This is all so unbelievable. I must be dreaming.”
“Well, believe it, John William. You were chosen to enter the realm. That is why you found the key,” said Ferdinand.
“Me, chosen… why?” John William pulled sharp twigs and leaves from his hair.
“Not sure. I suppose that remains to be seen. I must take you to see King Paraclete.” Ferdinand stretched his long gangly limbs and let his pudgy belly jiggle.
“Um, no thanks; I want to do some exploring first if you don’t mind.” John William crouched down to tie his laces and prepared to do some hiking.
“What – of all the – of course I mind!” Ferdinand squeaked through tight lips. John William winced as the agitated hopper’s bulgy eyes looked like they might pop off his head. “All newcomers to the realm must sit before the king! You are no exception!”
“The king will have to wait; I make my own way from now on,” said John William. “It was nice to meet you, Ferdinand. Thank you for getting me here.” He started walking in a random direction.
Ferdinand stood with his broad mouth gaped open. “Oh, really! Fine – you won’t last a day. I guarantee it, young man!” The hopper stormed off in a huff.
John William wandered through Copious forest awhile in search of something amazing like ancient ruins… or, if he was really lucky, something magical.
His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Lathering even the tiniest drop of spit was impossible. With a hollow growl, his stomach reminded him he had not eaten since the toast early that morning. The sound of rushing water lured him down to the river.
He plopped down on the river’s edge and plunged his aching feet into the water. The strong current nearly carried him off his seat. Cupping his hands, he gathered a fistful of fresh, cold water to pour into his mouth. A chill traveled up his spine as the water spilled over his tongue.
He sat back against a tree trunk and took in his surroundings. The sunset revealed itself as an orange glow bursting through the tree line, marking the end to a very long day. He filled his lungs with crisp forest air.
A short distance away, a vibrant red bird made a landing near the river. It dipped its feathers in the water. John William froze, trying his best not to scare it away. The bird let out a little chirp and morphed into a girl with a cloak the same vibrant red as her feathers and long flowing hair to match.
John William looked on in disbelief. She cautiously looked around, then headed away from the river. He fumbled around with his shoes without bothering to tie them and staggered after her. “Wait!” he shouted.
She looked back with startled, bright green eyes, then scurried off. John William chased after her. “Please, I won’t hurt you! I’m lost – I don’t know where to go!” He propped his hands on his knobby knees and gasped for air. Her gentle hand brushed his shoulder.
“Are you okay?” she asked, shifting her wild red hair out of her eyes.
“Y-y-yes, I’m okay; um… I’m new here.” He bumbled over his words. “What – I mean, what are you? Are you a bird?” he asked. She giggled through her fingers. He felt a silly grin spread across his face. “I’m John William.”
“Celeste.” She smiled back. Distant shouting and banging echoed off the trees.
“What is that?” John William panicked.
“I’m not sure. It’s coming from
– let’s go see!” Her
eyes sparkled with excitement. She grabbed his arm, and they both scurried
through the trees toward a small group of archaic wood buildings cluttered
together. The town hugged a turn in the river where large rocks obstructed the
current, making a tranquil pocket of water. Still River
John William and the girl huddled behind some trees and peaked into the town’s front gate. Inside were creatures that looked like giant raccoons. Big, bushy tails stuck out of their colorful garments as they strutted around the town, wielding blades. One of them peered through the gates. John William sank into his coat. The bandit had fierce, beady eyes with a thick, black stripe of fur across his face like a thief’s mask.
“Bandits!” Celeste whispered.
Find out what happens when John William and Celeste meet the bandits. Pick up John William and the Bandits of Basswood Today!