Quail Johnson (Corvis)
Name changed to Corvus Tasmanicus by Peregrine.
The ping of metal on metal and the occasional hiss or loud booming voice are Quail’s first memories. Quail is the son of dockside blacksmith John Johnson and wife Martha. He has lived in Hartwich all his days, helping his father when needed and spending the rest of his time running the busy streets all up and down the wharf. For the most part, Quail’s life has been rather uneventful. That is, until recently.
The past few months have introduced several new characters into Quail’s world. These include Smitty the typical dirty street punk who thinks he’s more important than he really is. Then there is Marcus, the garrison sergeant and friend to John who is teaching his son some skills in self-defense. Next is Sarah, the musically gifted girl at the candle & net shop whom John is crafting a xylophone for. And finally there is Vaush, the quiet young boy who’s always in the company of the mysterious customer from the Rush Estates.
Some of these relationships have been strengthened through the fires of shared risk and aid, while others have been permanently severed. For Quail and Sarah, they have come to each other’s mutual aid. When Sarah’s father and remaining crewman (Joseph) are stranded upon the rocky cliff-side, it is Quail and his father who help rescue the pair from a watery death. Sarah returns the favor by being instrumental in the recovery of Quail from kidnappers. In this she is aided by Vaush, who ultimately discovers Quail hidden in a smuggler’s hole aboard an outbound cutter.
The responsible party for Quail’s abduction is a small group of street tuffs. A group that includes Smitty who is seeking revenge for a failed attempt at stealing one of the blacksmith’s swords. Though the gang has been responsible for a number of other kidnappings, they usually focus their attention on the unwanted or easily dismissed. Quails disappearance is different in that it is readily noticed and there are several people willing to make a lot of noise looking for him. In the end, the boy is found and the perpetrators dealt with. For Smitty this means a quick death at the hands of Robert, Vaush’s mentor.
After the kidnapping Quail’s mind is not at ease, always worried that the kidnappers will come back. He thinks someone is constantly following or watching him. It’s a feeling that he just can’t shake. A recent trip in the company of Sarah to the Old Woman provides some relief, for Neriah is well known for her doctoring through the use of medicinal herbs. To Quail she gives her care and he manages to regain some of his previous calm.
Unfortunately for Quail, this new found calm is shattered by the strange disappearance of his parents and the apprentice, Steven. Searching his home, Quail unknowingly steps through the ancient and unpredictable portal created by Seth Bytallis. Where once Quail was in the relative safety of his home, he finds himself in a swampy forest being hunted by a strange tree-like creature.
Seeking safety and sleep in the crook of a tree branch, it isn’t long after a young girl of the forest who gives her name as Peregrine finds Quail. She offers to help him get home if Quail will retrieve a certain stick for her. Quail readily agrees and they set off through the forest. In their journey they encounter a force of nature that Peregrine calls Mother. Mother gives chase to the pair and is eventually left behind at the border of her domain, but not until after she has blasted Quail with a magical bolt of green energy. Quail survives the attack, and he and Peregrine continue on their journey to a place she calls “Grandma’s House.”
While walking through the forest the pair encounters “meanie-greenies” or what most refer to as “goblins.” Quail is stunned by their mere physical existence, but accepts them as only a child of seven can. Making it past the forest goblins, Peregrine eventually brings Quail to a tunnel opening in the side of a hill. This she says is the way into Grandma’s house.
Before entering Peregrine introduces Quail to the use of glow-in-the-dark moss that provides limited visibility. Having traveled a considerable distance into the hillside, Quail discovers a small room with four statues of the major elements: earth, air, fire, water. This last one offers up a spear that becomes the major key to the rest of the vault. Quail also takes a number of other items, foolishly omitting the rope, which is found in a pile in the middle of the room. It is a long and harrowing journey through the various rooms that guard the vault. For some unspoken reason, Peregrine is unwilling to assist or give any real clues as to how to navigate the dungeon. All she will say to his various questions and complaints of being so confused is, “You must do what you must do.”
Through subsequent deadly rooms of earth, air, water, and fire Quail unravels the means to proceed to the final goal, the Keeper of the Elements. Here he finds a way to have the statue release the four artifacts, including the “stick” that Peregrine needs to send him home.
Exiting the vault is far less dangerous than entering. Having the wand, Peregrine finally takes lead while showing Quail how to use his new sword, Zephyr, and the water breathing orbs. They exit the underground structure using a subterranean river that pours out into a cave. Unfortunately, a tribe of forest goblins, that are successfully navigated, inhabit the cave. It is only once outside that the pair encounters trouble.
As the two adventurers work their way down the hillside path, a trio of goblins is coming up. With nowhere else to go Peregrine is committed to using her new wand and has the earth and nearby plants swallow the creatures whole. Not long afterwards, an alarm from above sounds out and a chase through the forest commences.
The pursuit is eventually evaded with a night spent in a treetop lookout, but not until after Peregrine returns to Grandma’s house, retrieves her special headgear, and dispatches a handful of goblins with a magical swarm of insects.
The next few days are a constant game of hide and seek played against those that would gnaw upon their bones were Peregrine and Quail to be discovered. At the worst point, while Peregrine is out searching for food and water, Quail encounters a single goblin hunter. He survives the first bolt that smacks into a tree truck mere inches from his nose. The second penetrates his backpack only to be stopped by a water gourd and several pilfered coins from the vault.
Rushing from forest cover, Quail is confronted by his hunter, a goblin wielding a small sword and wooden shield. It is a heated battle for survival; one that has both making several attempts to take the other’s life. The goblin draws first blood with a thin cut across Quail’s left cheek. Followed by another slash on the boy’s upper right shoulder. Quail manages to land a few blows of his own, but his opponent’s leather armor affords the protection needed. Quail begins to feel the edge of panic and knows that if he doesn’t end this soon, the goblin will.
It is only with a powerful strike to the goblin’s knee that Quail eventually brings his opponent down and is able to dispatch the creature with a final cut to the head. The shock of having killed something, even something so hideous as a forest goblin, doesn’t have time to set in as Peregrine emerges from the brush and forces Quail to move away from the ugly scene.
With time and distance between Quail and his bloody victory, Peregrine takes the boy to the ancient ruins of the San’feer. Here she uses bones and guts of a rat to fashion needle and thread to sew up Quail’s wounds. Chewed bark from the specter-tree provides anesthetic to dull the pain. The following day is one of weary and slow travel, leading to exhausted rest. In the morning, Quail suffers from a high fever and sweets. Infection has set in from his wounds. The two are forced to stay hidden and rest for the next several days. Only after three days and nights is Quail able to come to his feet and make progress through the forest.
As they continue to travel further north, Peregrine becomes more cautious with each step. She tells Quail they’re entering the heart of goblin territory and there is a “goblin stronghold” ahead that must be skirted. The two are successful until Peregrine has a net dropped over her from above, accompanied by a signal of alarm. Quail quickly employs Zephyr, cutting through netting like so much old cobweb and the two begin a mad dash before being fully encircled.
At one point, Quail and Peregrine find themselves being herded by nets and goblin hunting parties. To overcome one such group of pursuers, Quail inadvertently discovers another magical property of the sword, a blast of wind that knocks several goblins on their butts. The two are able to quickly put distance between themselves and the goblins, eventually leaving them completely behind.
That same evening, Peregrine brings Quail to a glade cast in glowing moss. Its one major feature is a sizable pond with an island at the center. Upon the landmass is a single gnarled tree consisting of two intertwined trunks. A land bridge from shore to island spans the peaceful waters that reflect the light of the surrounding moss.
As Peregrine and Quail begin to cross over, Quail notices two disturbing features. The first is a pair of large, glowing, yellow eyes within the forest. Peregrine informs him that they belong to the Guardian of the Glade and that he should refrain from harming any of the trees or drawing any weapons. The second to give Quail pause for concern is all the dead bodies resting below the surface of the pond. Many exhibit great gapping wounds from sharp claws and large teeth. Most corpses belong to the foul races, but not all.
Upon the island, Peregrine decides Quail has earned some modicum of respect for his efforts in surviving Grandma’s house, retrieving the wand, and fighting off the goblins. She elevates his stature by bestowing a new name upon him, Corvus Tasmainicus, or Forest Raven. Peregrine also confesses she is unable to send Quail to his exact home, but that she can place him into the heart of a forest nearby. “It all depends upon your will as to whether you make it there or not,” she tells Quail.
With a tap of the wand the tree reverses its twisted nature and produces an open portal of liquid light. With farewells and thin vales disguising gratitude, Quail steps through the portal in hopes of making it home. His progress is short lived.
For Quail, leaving the forest requires more than simply walking out or being transported by ancient means; it takes the permission of Mother. Quail’s attempt at departure is quickly recognized by this manifestation of nature herself and is immediately snatched from the ether.
“And where do you think you’re going?” comes the voice of hatred and contempt.
“I only wish to go home, to my family and friends,” pleads Quail. “Please let me go. I just want to go home.”
“But you are home,” croons Mother. “There is nothing beyond the forest for you.”
“Yes there is. This is not my home. There are my friends, my family. I must go home.”
“Oh how wrong you are little man. But I grow tired of your presence already. Go!” commands Mother. “Discover what is no longer yours to claim.”
And with these words Quail is released from the grasp of Mother and continues on this journey. But as he travels, he hears the voice of Mother reciting a poetic curse that leaves the boy questioning what he will find on the other end.
“This forest claims thy life and death
Now and beyond thy final breath
Happiness thou shall fail to find
In world of thy kindred kind
Leave living home of all that’s green
Thou life and mind will wane serene
Upon thy soul and skin this sign
I mark what’s thee forever mine”