Short Story Contest Entry: Turambar

Discussion in 'Original Works' started by Turambar, Oct 19, 2012.

  1. Turambar

    Turambar Harebrained Staff Member

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    Well, I don't like the end result. My writing is rusty and I didn't have time and inspiration enough to make it something great. I finished it because I wanted to finish it, despite the fact that I was rather out of inspiration about several parts.

    But it's not a time of hiding, so I am posting anyway....

    (Working) title: No Beer
    Word count: 4428


    Enjoy!... ish
     
  2. Turambar

    Turambar Harebrained Staff Member

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    It seemed like they made a point of hiding the entrance. Of course they did. It must have been two thousand years since last time the cave had been set foot in. And it takes a lot to keep every single human away for so long. Even if the mountains were quite remote.

    The large crevice, for instance seemed natural. The ledge about four meters up also seemed natural but, somehow, didn't quite make geological sense. Standing on the ledge, and only then, it appeared as though the crevice receded deeper into the rock face. Anything could happen over the course of time, of course. Mountains could, given enough time, grow and caves might carve out, pretty much in any way, shape or form. But this, Jonathan knew, was no accident. This was exactly what he had been looking for.

    Jonathan was probably the most unlikely explorer in history. Although he got himself the obligatory Fedora hat, he wasn't rich. He didn't hold any university titles, wasn't good with the ladies, or above all else, came from Indiana.

    Jonathan, on the whole, was a simple man., He was the third son of a market vendor and by no means the natural heir to the squash and turnip empire that reached about as far as the voice of his father could carry. That was always reserved for his older brother Kurt. He was the one who could scream his lungs out all day without losing his voice. Which, to Jonathan, was all there was to it.

    Jonathan tried, though. But he didn't quite last. So, at the age of sixteen, he took up apprenticeship with a blacksmith. At the age of seventeen, he tried to make it as a carpenter. At the age of eighteen, it was masonry. Also at the age of eighteen, but being a bit older, he tried to make it as a farmhand, for as far that provided him with any career perspective.

    Jonathan, eventually, figured that he wasn´t of the working sort. He was 32 now and behind him lay a trail of jobs in rather unlikely - but rapid succession. Work, for him, consisted of doing as he was told and waiting for the end of the week, when he would either get paid – or sacked. He never got married, to great shame of his father. Although he met a lot of people, not least of which through employment, he never met the right sort of woman. That or the women he met figured he wasn't of the right sort, whichever it was.

    For all the simplicity in his life, though, he did pick up somewhat of a hobby. He always had taken interest in books and as a hand in a bookshop, he came across a small but intriguing booklet on a past civilisation. It seemed old but well preserved and, at any rate, not prepared to give up the secret of its age. The leather bound manuscript seemed to be the collected notes of a scholar, whose sole interest concerned a small but rather influential civilisation. That and a recipe for almond cookies, which Jonathan found to be quite excellent. My Little Lexicon, as Jonathan named it, suggested that a people called the Altreans had some sort of unhumanly powers. Or, at least their leaders did. He was pretty sure it had laid about the shop for a long time, unnoticed. So he decided, against all his principles, to nick it.

    Not being very adept at the cunning art of thievery, he didn't get paid at the end of that week.

    That was six years back now. That little notebook transformed Jonathan's life. He had spent all waking hours reading and studying it. The outline of the Altrean civilisation had been vague at best. The barbarians which finally overthrew them seemed to have made a point of erasing their existence from history and that included setting fire to all buildings of any importance and grinding the ruins to dust. Quite literally, or so it seemed. There were little to no mentions of what happened to the Altreans, but it wasn't unlikely the same fate befell them as their palaces and libraries. Oddly, contemporary historians seemed to support this atrocious act.

    He had spent ages in libraries, trying to find more evidence of these Altreans. He was surprised to find that no books were covering the Altreans. Only vague mentions were put forward in books about contemporary cultures. Most sources the mysterious writer of his lexicon put forward were simply not available any more. It was as though they had been deleted from humanity's memory. If anything, that made him decide he would make it his life's work to bring Altreans back from oblivion.

    It appeared the mysterious writer was sure there should have still existed a small sanctum preserved from the onslaught of the Barbarians. Though one chamber of knowledge should have survived, all has been pillaged, ransacked, burned and destroyed but this last temple to the powers of once. It had described it as being hidden up in the mountains up the face a small river valley had once carved out. The writer had tried to be more precise – but made little progress. He was sure there was a cave involved. Man-made and hidden from view. After years of study, though, and based on recent cartographic advancements, Jonathan was able to make an educated guess on where to find this place. Who knows, there might be something left of it and, surely, this was as good a place as any to start reintroducing Altrea to the world, wasn't it.

    Soon, Jonathan quit his job (or didn't get a new one when he was fired, he couldn't remember), and set out into the world to find this mythical place. He didn't make it to the mountains. He didn't make it very far out of the city either. After a day of travel by oxen cart, he stranded at an inn, where he was robbed of all but his pants and had to return to the city the next day. It was clear he had to set his plans aside for some time.

    Two years later, though, his father died. Although Jonathan didn't inherit the market concession or anything to do with his business, he did get a small amount of money which, to Jonathan, constituted to a small fortune. Not even two weeks after his father was buried under the ground did he set out for a second attempt. This time, more serious. Fully equipped and with his own donkey. And a fedora hat.

    And now, after 4 months of tracking, filling quite another 5000 word story, he finally reached that one valley he had been searching for. It took him another three days of tracking what he was looking for.

    This was it. There was no path leading up to the cave and the crevice would be quite a challenge climbing up into. He tied the donkey to a nearby tree, grabbed a few things like rope and a torch and hoped for the best. It was hard to keep down his excitement, climbing up, in a speed he didn't quite held conceivable just a few minutes ago. And he was right all along. A small scream of joy escaped from Jonathan's mouth and echoed back from the cave behind the ledge. This was it.

    He lit his torch and the flicker lit up the cave, stretching back thirty feet or so. The dank smell of caves and old tombs filled his nostrils as he made his first tentative steps in. The whole thing looked slightly haphazard and not very impressive at all, considering the importance he gave it. A few times, he was sure he reached a dead end, whilst suddenly the cave would split left or right, becoming ever lower and narrower.

    Suddenly, without warning, Jonathan stepped into a space which could only be described as an old, weathered tomb. The space itself was actually quite small, but the rocks were carved with intricate patterns which, no doubt, once represented people, flowers, deities. Now, though, everything appeared worn and cracked. The hair in his neck suddenly stood on end, his skin shrunk under the pressure of a million goose bumps. He wasn't alone, he felt it in his bones. Thoughts about residual magic flowed through his brain.
    'Who Dares Enter My Tomb!', a voice suddenly bellowed.
    Jonathan wondered whether that was a voice, maybe his own, reverberating through his skull, but dismissed the thought, since he was pretty sure there wasn't so much echo between his ears. He certainly didn't see anyone, but felt it would have been rude not to answer.
    'Jonathan Harper', he managed. He didn't quite know how to address a bodiless voice, so he decided to keep it at that.
    'Right, mister Harper', said the voice. 'Can I call you Jonathan? I'm sure all your friends do'
    'Y-es?', said Jonathan. He felt he had few options. Refusing certainly wasn't one of them and, anyway, the voice was right in saying everyone called him Jonathan anyway.
    'Right. Jonathan it is.'

    And then it stopped. Silence filled the cavern. The ever present rhythmic, echoing drip of water on rocks slowly infiltrating Jonathan's thought, whilst doubt seeped into his mind. He was talking to this voice just now, but that didn't seem quite right. It certainly went against everything he had learned as a child. No monsters under the bed. No man in the closet. No ghosts in the hour of the wolf. Those were just dreams, weren't they. This surely wasn't any different, right? Jonathan decided it was a figment of his imagination. It must have been the thin air up here or exhaustion or something.

    Slowly, he dared to move again, and focussed on the ancient carvings. They were of a kind he had never seen before, but certainly had resemblance to the sketches he had found in his little booklet. His free hand followed the curving lines of a relief, holding the torch in such a way that the flickering light offered most visibility. If these were meant to signify anything at all, then surely contemporary wisdom wouldn't be of any help whatsoever. Even though Jonathan had very little background in history or archaeology, he was sure this was something completely different. New. Unknown.

    'A beer' said The Voice, now closer to his ear.
    Jonathan froze. He slowly turned to face the direction the voice came from. Nothing.
    'S-show thyself', Jonathan managed. He wasn't going to be tricked by his brain any longer, instantly regretting his remark. What exactly did a bodiless voice look like and did he, really, want to find out?
    'As you wish', said the voice. A thin mist started flowing from cracks in the wall, gently falling to the ground. Slowly, Jonathan's feet disappeared from view. As the flowing stopped, the mist started to congeal at a single spot in the middle of the room, rising and rising to the height of a tall man. The pillar sprouted arms, a head became visible. Slowly, the mist formed more details. It wore an ornamental robe, pointy shoes and a staff. The surface of his face hinted at the wrinkles of an old man, but the mist remained somewhat opaque. Jonathan made a mental note on deciding whether he was seeing a ghost after all this was over. He had no time to think about this all, since, now the misty figure started to move. It tested its feet and seem to decide all was well.
    'Well' it said. 'How about that beer'.

    Poor Jonathan was still dumbstruck. His brain was trying to catch up with the reality it was presented with, if reality it was.
    'Beer?', he asked, addressing the most pressing matter at hand.
    'Yes. The yellow liquid, bit frothy at the top, slightly bitter. Beer. I am sure they haven't forgotten about beer in all my absence?', asked the ghastly figure, which Jonathan decided was definitely male and probably elderly.
    'Well, no. I mean, yes. No. We still have beer. But why beer?' his brain was racing in all directions. These people were magic, right? Maybe they needed beer to work it? Beer had never been mentioned in his booklet. But then again, it hadn't said anything about how this magic would have worked.
    'Could it be... could it be that you need it for your magic?' he asked. He felt quite clever, having worked that out.
    'What? No! Of course not! What fool would think that beer and magic are even remotely related. The thought alone, haha', said The Voice, leaning on his staff, whilst shaking in laughter.
    'Soo... why beer?”
    “Dear mister Harper. Jonathan. Have you ever journeyed for a long time? Or thrown in prison? And never had anything else to eat and drink than water and stale bread, yes?'
    'Yes' said Jonathan. He didn't have to lie on both accounts, but wouldn't want to elaborate in front of this audience.
    'Ponder this. I am within this cave, my tomb, for what must be over two millennia, although it is hard to keep track sometimes. No company. Nothing to do except watching stalactites grow. It gives you time to over think your life. And death, come to think of it. But anyway, one of my favourite mental exercises is to think of what the first thing I would want to do should someone find me and savour the thought from that moment onwards. It took me a long time. But the ultimate answer answer is: beer. So, I threw it out there. Ow well. There's always hope.'
    'I see...' said Jonathan.

    The conversation died. Jonathan hadn't prepared for all this, who'd have thought he'd walk into a ghost of sorts, here in the last remaining structure of the Altreans. He gave his shoes another thorough inspection.
    'Well?' said the apparition. Jonathan looked up.
    'Well what, sir?'
    'Well, you must have a lot of questions. You found this place, so you must have a lot of questions, am I right?'
    'Right. Let's see...' Jonathan gave this a good thought and came up with the question that floated to the top of his head.
    'Who are you?' he said.
    'Who am I? Who am I?' a smile appeared on his face. A smile wide enough to classify as grin. 'I am Ronthar, High Priest of Altrea. Last one, I suspect.'
    'Your Eminence...', said Johnathan.
    'Yes, my Eminence', said Ronthar, lazily. 'I've been called that for.. what? Twenty-three years of my life? I'm not quite sure it carries over after you die. No one has called me Eminence for at least a hundred times as long. Call me Ronthar.'
    'Right, mister Ronthar err....' said Jonathan. 'So what happened to the Altreans? They all err... died out?'
    'Slaughtered, I am sure you realise. Slaughtered by the barbarians of the north.' said Ronthar.
    'Yes.... but how? Altrea was quite powerful at that time?'
    'Ah. You have to realise that Altrea, although powerful, was not very large. Ultimately, there weren't too many people defending it. Of course, we kept a few regiments of footsoldiers, but they hardly saw any battle. They all had splendid uniforms, though. All to allude to that one claim to power we had.' said Ronthar with sadness in his voice.
    'You are talking about magic?'
    'Yes, magic. We made sure all our enemies were infused with the fear and knowledge that, although small in numbers, we controlled the occult powers of magic. It was quite effective. Up to the point where they had enough and decided to attack anyway. That's where they found out that much of our magic was illusion. Altrea, ultimately, burned.'

    'So, about that magic. We know that it's got nothing to do with beer, right? And you seem to be err... a ghost? Err.... I suspect there's at least some magic to the illusion? Right?'
    'Ah. Magic. There's always that question about magic. How does it work?... How does it work?...'
    Jonathan gave the late Ronthar an expectant look. Ronhar sat down on the cover stone of his own sarcophagus. Jonathan always learned not to sit on a grave in respect of the deceased but couldn't quite figure if that would apply to your own.
    'Magic, if you could call it that, is no more than trickery and fooling. Slight of hand, if you like'.
    'Like a conjurer at a carnival?', said Jonatan, remembering too late it was rude to interrupt a high ranking member of the clergy, whatever the religion might be.
    'What's a carnival?...', continued Ronthar. 'It's a bit like conjuring, yes. But the trick is, of course, to make sure that the audience realises that it is, in fact, not.'
    'Not?...'
    'No.' Something in the voice of Ronthar alluded to the power he once no doubt wielded.
    'So what was it like, then? Changing lead into gold?'
    'Alchemists are fools. They do not realise that it is impossible to change the nature of a substance. The substance is and will remain of the essence it is made such as History remembers it to be. In stead, the trick is to fool History in to forgetting.'
    Jonathan drew a blank. He couldn't make any sense of what his spectral company just said.
    'What?' he said.
    'History is... like a book. History records and keeps track of everyone and everything. Much like the ledger of a bank, if you like. We found... ways of changing and removing things in the book. Adding, we never learned. That would have been fun.'
    'Soo... you would write in the book that an ounce of lead would be, in stead, an ounce of gold?'
    'Gold? No. You see, there's not much gold in the entire world. It's very easy for History to keep track of all the gold in the world and very hard to tamper with the figures. That simply wouldn't work.'
    'So... what would?'
    'The trick is to meddle with the very big and very uninteresting matters. An ocean. A mountain. A forest. Take this mountain for instance. It's very big and stony. If I remove a stone from this mountain, it's still a mountain. Although history is very meticulous, it doesn't seem to care about removing a stone. It still records one mountain, even though it is now slightly less than a mountain.'
    'Yes?' The world's authority on Altrea felt like a novice in the presence of Ronthar. 'So what good would that be?'
    'It is the basis that you need to understand. There are possibilities to fool History into accepting some things which are close to – but not quite – what they are.'
    'So... if you have a mass of people, you can take someone out and history wouldn't notice?
    'Hah, no. People are closely kept track of – but the idea is sound. You are looking for a species for which History has less interest. Sheep, for instance. We kept track of all the sheep in Altrea. We had special interest in sheep pregnant with two lambs. Before it gave birth, we would remove the lambs from the womb. You see, History would record a flock of say 81 sheep, of which one pregnant. It doesn't seem to expect two lambs. Usually, history would simply record an extra lamb if moments after giving birth to the first lamb, a second one appeared. We would confuse history, however, by pulling both out at the same time. If, that is, they were of the same sex. Of course, the mother would die in labour, but that happens all the time. One sheep would live with the flock. The other one came with us.'
    'But what good is a sheep?' said Jonathan, still not getting it.
    'Well, the sheep would be Magical. In case of a yew, her milk wouldn't spoil. The wool and leather, however, were what we were really after. History wasn't aware of these products. The leather made bags used in other magical activity, such as hiding things from History's view, as it were. And what of non-existent wool? We had some fun with that...'

    Ronthar appeared to be lost in memories, still sitting on his own tomb. Jonathan decided he looked like an old, fragile man. Not at all the sort to shout at people entering tombs. It made him wonder what two thousand years of isolation would do to a man, even if he were a high priest.
    'You mentioned being a High Priest? How does religion come into it all?'
    'Not very much, really. We appeared godly to those not in the know and we spun a story around the magic we did many generations before I came into office. Very few people actually knew what we were up to, you know. It was the only way to be sure the secret endured.'
    'Then what of your leaders? I read Altrea was a kingdom?', asked Jonathan.
    'Well, we had a king, if that is what you mean. In reality, he had very little power. He had a lieu of advisers, mostly high-ranking priests. We made sure the king was under the same spell as everyone. Even he thought we were much bigger than life. Everyone knew that the High Priest was the one in charge, though no one really dared to suggest it in the streets', said Ronthar, staring at his feet.
    'Why was that?' said Jonathan.
    'You can't question the authority of a king, can you?'
    'What about this place? Is it magical as well?', said Jonathan.
    'It is quite. It's my masterpiece. Kaeldor did the stone that hatched a chick. Baelor changed wine into water. Tordar let the commander of the Slavonic army float in thin air, that alone prevented a war you know. Yaedra set fire to the sword of a foreign emissary, very clever to fool History into thinking iron can burn. But this here is quite something else. You see, that mountain, I had several workers remove stones one by one at irregular intervals from this mountain. History doesn't know this place. It's very magical.'
    'Is this why you haven't... died?' asked Jonathan
    'Oh, I died ages ago. I went here to die when Altrea was on the verge of collapse. I died here. It's just that history hasn't caught up with the facts. It can't since History doesn't know about his place. I remain, though I cannot step out of this cave.'
    'Does it ever catch up?' asked Jonathan.
    'Oh. History doesn't like to be cheated upon. You see, History is very meticulous. It will make sure – dead sure – you know that he knows. Magic, therefore, can be quite dangerous. If you overdo it, history will have you meet a grave ending before long. Laedor almost re-wrote natural history when he cross-bred a lion with an eagle. In stead, he wrote history by being smashed by a fiery rock from the sky. Yaedra died of leprosy. First person ever to catch it. Of course, no one actually knew about this all' said Ronthar
    'And why is that?'
    'Well, this was all inner circle knowledge. Only a few knew. In fact, I think you are the first and only person who hasn't been hand-picked from the novices to be inducted into the secrets of our knowledge. It would take years of training and menial chores to get the nuggets of knowledge I bestowed upon you today.'
    'Then... then why are you telling me?'
    'You don't know, do you? You really don't get it... Perfect!'

    With those words, Ronthar got to his feet. He suddenly seemed to be much more energetic than before. Only a small puddle of condensed water was left on the coverstone. Rontar gripped his staff with two hands and raised it into the air. As he crashed it into the ground, all the water droplets coagulated and dropped to the floor in a very short shower. Suddenly, Jonathan felt very alone again.
    “You see, I've been lying in wait. Waiting until the world has forgotten about us, about Altrea. Only then, would the magic we did shine again. I could make anyone believe I am God under the right circumstances. The Barbarians made sure we would never gain such power again through the magic we did. The magic died when they figured out that our tricks are actually no match for brute force. But, it appears, from your words, that history, human history, has forgotten. You didn't know me, you didn't know anything about the magic or religion. And only a vague concept of our monarchy. It is time to rise once more and rule this world!' Ronthar's voice echoed through the cave again.
    'But. But you're Dead' argued Jonathan.
    'Ah. History doesn't know that. It just saw one body and one soul, both connected and alive enter this cave. No doubt, it expect one soul and one body, connected and alive, leave. I have said before that this cave is quite magical.'

    The cave went silent again. Jonathan didn't dare to move again. It took him minutes to breath normally again. He couldn't doubt what had preceded anymore because the puddles of water on the floor and cover of the sarcophagus. He made a step towards the sarcophagus and dipped his finger in the moist. It was wet. His torch started to burn lower. Maybe it was best to leave this place. May it was best to blow up the entrance. Very slowly, as though trying to avoid attention, he turned around and made for the small exit of this forsaken place. When he stooped to get out, he heared something behind him.

    'Boo'

    Jonathan felt himself feel forward, but he didn't contact the ground. He looked back. Above him towered his own person. The body of Jonathan snickered.
    'They said it was impossible', it simply said, whilst it looked at Jonathan. 'You know, you weren't the first one to present yourself to me. The last one was a monk around three hundred years back. He had it pretty much figured out. I drove him mad. There were seven others, no less. But the time wasn't right. Now, though, it is time. Finally, I will step out of my tomb!' The voice sounded very familiar to Jonathan, but had an eerie stress to it.

    Ronthar broke into a laugh as he stepped over Jonathan. The maddening cackle of Jonathan's own voice slowly died away, as it progressed through the narrow passage out of the mountain.
     
  3. Firiath

    Firiath Halfling barbarian

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    This is probably the best fantasy short story title ever. I haven't read the story yet, but now that I've read the title it had better be good! :p
     
  4. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    *applies paddles*
    Clear!

    We have a heartbeat! :)
     
  5. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    *kicks story thread back to revive it*