The unipegataur flew shakily into the hex, heading straight for the acres of pink flowers. The goal was direct, but the path was not. Its uncroaked wings flapped unevenly, making it buck and pitch and sway through the air. Occasionally, it veered so sharply that it flung off a bit of decomposed flesh.

On its back, the black-haired gaunt caster closed her eyes tight. She didn't really notice the flight pattern; it was no more nauseating than she'd felt before she'd started this journey.

It plummeted and swooped to some kind of stop, hitting the road of yellow bricks so hard that its front right leg buckled under its weight. Wanda Firebaugh slid from its back into a lurching landing of her own. She didn't look back, even as it collapsed on broken legs behind her. Instead, she staggered the few steps forward into the field of blossoms. She couldn't see straight; her eyes were full of nothing but a swaying red blur of pain. But her hands knew the shape of what to do -- grasp stem, pluck flower, squeeze stem, feel the relief. Her hand darted to her head, and aahhhhhh...

She hadn't even needed to kneel -- it had been just that easy to reach and pluck. And so what remained of her brain decided to celebrate this flower trip with a smiling stroll.

Somewhere in the trees bordering the Garden, she knew the High Elves were encamped. They didn't often partake of the buds (they had more than enough Flower Power of their own), but they seemed to enjoy being near visitors anyway. Even dopey visitors... no, especially dopey visitors. Already, she could hear their laughter, even through her trance. Were they laughing at her? Or at Judy, who was almost certainly comatose somewhere in the field?

Wanda didn't much care to find out. Idly, her mind painted a trio of uncroaked warlords to surround and defend her. But even her imagination was piecemeal, and so were her warlords -- one with the top of its skull sheared off, another with a hole clear through its chest, the last with a hole through its waist.

Safe in her imaginary stack, Wanda fell to the ground and let herself drift...


...Some time later, she realized that she was strolling again. A rainbow of pink washed around her, and distant laughter rose and fell out of her understanding. She walked and walked, she knew not where. It didn't matter where -- she'd never leave the pink. She wanted to forever stay here, walking, so light on her feet, floating, floating...

...She dreamed of flying. It was an old dream, a common dream. Boring? The word wandered through her mind in search of something to connect with, but all it found was more pink.

Flying, yes, flying. She saw a wizened grey face... that barbarian knight she'd croaked a while ago -- him and his unipegataur, what did he call it? Shadowpax? Such a good mount -- able to bring her back to this garden so much more quickly. The buoyant feeling of flying was almost as good as a bud. why did it only add a new sensation of longing to her head? She breathed the scent of flowers, trying to wash away that new itch, but it only curdled and burbled, a hurdle encircling her. Her feet shuffled and skipped, trying to change her pace. That itch... She felt a chilly breeze waft through her billowing pink warmth, and it almost lifted her feet.

It was the urge to get out.

Almost immediately, the pink blankets re-enfolded her in cozy warmth. Of course, she'd stay. It wasn't like she had anywhere to go, anything to do. Even her dream was a shapeless ocean of petals and leaves, entirely uniform in every direction--

No, there was one shape -- a distant pillar of white, gray, and pale gingham blue. Wanda's eyes dragged against this lone mirage. Her Ruler didn't move, assuredly even more adrift in buds than Wanda was. As in every time she glimpsed Judy, Wanda felt a bit of her old headache clawing at her.

The Prediction...

Sometimes, Wanda saw other objects around her Ruler -- signposts, battle banners, even a small scruffy black dog running in circles. In recent turns, she'd seen the new prisoner (her heart flowed with warmth at the thought of those stormy blue eyes) tiptoeing behind Judy, raising a large stick over her head, and then... but the images always dissolved by then.

Even now, Wanda tried to hold the image of the prisoner close, but she could only clutch glimpses -- a jagged grimace, a clenched fist, a twitch of short blonde hair -- before they faded into the pink. Where did you go? Where you are going? She stumbled and fumbled and mumbled...

...How can I follow?

The chilly wind returned. Fate. Shapes became faces -- mostly unwanted faces. This woman would change her life (...more than she already had, certainly.) Jillian... and the Ruler of Haffaton... But of course, it had to be on Olive's terms, and Olive wanted the prisoner humbled and hobbled first. Of course, Chief. I shall humble the prisoner... as easily as cutting the legs from a gwiffon.

Wanda paused in her ramblings, now turning in place. She wanted more pink and less breeze, but no place she turned was any warmer. Where? What? How? If only... She sought a clue, anything, if only, if only... In the wafting thump of her heartbeat, she heard the distant, familiar, elvish laughter...

Piping laughter, rising and falling, like dawn's birdsong. Birdsong... the trilling of fifes became sharper, plus a lute strum or two. Wanda's feet began to shuffle and scuffle, a slip and a skip in her flower trip. Her mind warmed to that cozy softness where memories had no words...

...and then she let the words come to her instead. With a shuffling, swaying gait, she strolled and sang:

I suppose it would be pleasant
To live within the present
And not in yesterday.

She whistled as she skipped.

I'd be free from my sorrow,
And I'd gladly face tomorrow
If I only knew the way.

She hopped a bit, curtsied, and continued:

I could look into the mirror
And not be full of fear or
The symptoms of decay.

She twirled and declared:

Every day would restore me
With my destiny before me
If I only knew the way.

Standing still, she gazed skyward.

I know...
My Fate will show
A path for moving on.

In a sunbeam, she reached toward a smiling Jillian.

And although I know my Ruler will be gone,
I know the night
Will change to dawn.

Jillian linked her arm with Wanda's, and Wanda chirped:

Every day, I would be loyal
And celebrate my toil
Without a slight delay.

They skipped and hopped in unison.

How my outlook would brighten,
And I'd gladly meet the Titans
If I only knew the--

She stumbled and slammed face-first into pavement.

Through the stabbing pain of a crushed nose and the pounding blackness of clamped eyelids, cold wind pierced her head. Her throbbing ears half-caught the carried echo of raucous laughter that sounded a bit like the words, "Fall on the yellow brick road."

But the most searing sense was somewhere deep in her chest. What had once been an... an imaginary chain wrapped tightly was now... flapping loose. A snapped link, a clinking length slithering rapidly away across the ground. And Wanda's mind could only manage to form the F-word...


Even as she pried open her eyes to stare at the bright bricks, she felt other little sparks in her head vanishing -- one uncroaked warden after another, snuffed out.

She lifted her head, seeing the ghostly Jillian dashing away across the field. She couldn't speak or cry out... her only thought was a hope that Jillian would look back.

Just then, Jillian did look back... and laugh. Then, she vanished.

Wanda blinked, her vision entirely free of pinkness... except for that splash across the horizon. Suddenly, it flared to yellow -- the sun had risen... and Wanda still had no move, no juice.

She slumped back down onto the bricks, exhaling the limp remnant of a whistling tune, and sank into a dreamless sleep.


This story was originally entered for Vendanna's [previous] contest.

Inspiration for the story came from this Song = "If I Only Had a Brain", The Wizard of Oz, www dot youtube dot com/watch?v=zyhUHJKfR5Y&t=156


(NOTE: User was awarded 75 shmuckers for this post.)