Tales of Strange Adventures

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Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"Call of the Dragon, Part I"

"Call of the Dragon, Part II"

"Ruins and Hopes"

"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3

"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4

"Childhood of a Fighter"

"The Pledge" Cornell #5

"The Rock of Discontent"

From here on, downloads will only be listed at the Downloads page!

"A Tale of the Gods"

"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6

"Life's Values"

"Tangled Elves"

"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"

 

 

 

The Rock of Discontent

  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

 SECTION 1 / SECTION 2 / SECTION 3 / SECTION 4

“… for the alreu who honors the craft as well as the earth, he shall live in peace and joy. So Deswellyn has proclaimed when He brought the craft to us.” The Most Holy Priest Vertrauend ended his sermon and smiled at the congregation. “Thus I release you from my overly long and boring speech so you may roam the kennel once again. Beware of the darklings, and honor to Deswellyn!”

Immediately the temple cave burst out into sudden activity as nearly a hundred alreus followed the cleric’s suggestion and did their best to rush out the entrance before everybody else. It was a beautiful cave, but every alreu present had already spent many hours investigating every nook and cranny of the temple which was hewn directly from rock. Not that anyone could have told immediately – so meticulously had the cave been crafted that it looked like the interior of a building on the surface, complete with a window that seemed to show a landscape outside. Panels along the walls looked like oak wood until one touched the stony surface. All in all, it was truly a work worthy of Deswellyn, God of Craft and Invention.

“Flinkie?” a female voice asked, halfway to the entrance, and her owner about to be trampled by twenty rather inconsiderate alreus behind her. Only at the latest instance did Magd’a manage to leap out of their way, clambering quickly on top of one of the benches. When the stampede was over – about two heartbeats later, apparently – she looked back to the bench where she had listened to the sermon. And indeed, Flink was still there, oblivious to everything around him.

Oblivious until another alreu woman shook him gently. And produced a snarl on Magd’a’s pretty face when she recognized Maedel.

“Huh?” cried Flink with a start when he woke up and saw Maedel grinning at him.

“Deswellyn will be displeased with you,” she said.

“Whatever for?” Flink asked. “I’ve come to the… Uhm, where is everybody? Shouldn’t the priest… I haven’t…?” Consternation flushed his face when he saw Maedel nod. “Oh.”

“Oh, indeed!” Magd’a said when she had made her way back to the bench and slid her hand possessively around Flink’s, ignoring Maedel completely. “How could you, Flinkie?! Sleeping during the service to Deswellyn?! It is He – honored be his holy name – who protects our kennel!”

Flink’s eyes once again did double duty flashing from one woman to the other while his mouth underperformed with an uncertain, “Uhm…”

“The priest himself said his sermon was boring,” Maedel commented drily.

Magd’a didn’t look at her when she said, “It doesn’t matter. This is Deswellyn’s temple, and it is he whom we honor not the Most Holy Priest.”

“Uhm,” Flink raised his hand, hoping to defuse the situation (and maybe raise the temperature in the cave; it had mysteriously dropped again once the two girls had come within a yard of each other), “at least I’ve come here, right?”

“Flinkie! You don’t mean…?!”

Maedel chuckled. “Oh, you didn’t know? This is probably the first time in – what? – two years that he’s set foot into a temple. Right since he became an adult and could get out.”

Magd’a’s eyes widened as she stared in utter shock at the male who suddenly wished that he could pass through the stone beneath him, no matter that it would lead him right into the living room of Unnett who had promised him a severe beating (just because Flink had inadvertently destroyed the better part of her glass collection, stumbling into the careful arrangement – such a minor reason, and he had been only eight years old.) Anyway, Magd’a’s stare drove all the – suddenly pleasant – memories from his mind. “Flinkie!”

Apparently, he thought, I didn’t quite manage to defuse this.

“Oh,” Maedel folded her arms before her chest, “you measure an alreu’s faith by how regularly he attends services? Do you?”

“But, Flinkie, I always thought you attended Glaeubig’s temple!” Magd’a still did not spare Maedel a single glance, not that Maedel was worried about it. The twitch in her neck muscles whenever the other woman spoke was proof enough that she heard Maedel’s words. “Don’t you honor our great god Deswellyn?”

“Uhm…” Flink said as eloquently as he was able at the moment.

Maedel chuckled again. “Next she’ll accuse you of being a darkling, Flink. You haven’t taken up the faith of evil Shenaumac recently, have you? Magd’a, you should check the third pocket from Flink’s left on the inside of his vest. There’s a stone icon of Deswellyn. He’s been carrying it since he was seven. And, by the way, his name is Flink, not Flinkie.

Now that was reason enough for Magd’a to dart a deadly glare at the other woman, and for a brief moment Flink feared she would actually inspect his pockets. Of course the icon was still there; it was always somewhere on his person, and to his complete surprise, Maedel still knew where he kept it in his various pieces of clothing. (Not that there were many variations he used, but still – it must have been well over two years since they spoke about it.)

No, there was another reason why Flink feared Magd’a would look for the icon. She’d realize right away it had been created by a child – roughly six years old at the time -, and if she would glance at its back, she would read the words “For Flink from Maedel”. Not exactly something that could improve the maintainer’s daughter’s mood.

Magd’a still stared at Flink for a few seconds – and she reminded him unpleasantly of his mother, whenever she tried to uncover a lie of his. (Well, “tried” was definitely the wrong word. He couldn’t remember a single time he had been able to lie successfully to Mother.)

Before Magd’a could say anything, Flink quickly spoke up, “Say, Maedel, how come you attended service here? You’re still at Glaeubig’s, aren’t you?”

“I had my reasons,” she replied with a mischievous grin towards her rival.

“Oh, well,” Flink said, looking around quickly. “Say, if the service is over, can we go now? I mean, we could go to, uhm, Shaft Fourteen. There’s a new contraption in place to make maintenance work easier, and it’s really neat, and I saw it just yesterday with Master Kennel Maintainer, and –“

Maedel’s face instantly darkened while Magd’a’s lit up. “Oh, Flinkie, that’s a wonderful idea! My father told me about it, but I haven’t had time to look it up! Let’s go right away!” Already she grasped his arm, pulled him off the bench. (All right, so he helped a bit. As a matter of fact, he helped so much that he was three steps ahead of the women before they started moving.)

Moments later he burst out of the entrance to the temple, remembering only outside the confines to stop and wait for the others. But then, a voice spoke from above, “Finally, cousin. I thought you were planning to set up shop with that priest.”

Flink whirled about to discover Ungestum perched on a ledge right above the entrance, well away from Deswellyn’s sacred symbol. “Cousin, what are you doing here?”

“Well,” Ungestum grinned as he scampered down from his perch, “I was wondering about the rock, of course!”

“Which rock?” Maedel and Magd’a asked simultaneously. The women stood behind Flink, well apart from each other, but both at exactly the same distance from Flink (which amounted to practically none at all).

A shiver ran down Flink’s spine as he suddenly realized that the impossible had happened. Just when he thought he had gotten out of the mess in the temple cave, he had just run into a worse disaster. Oh, why hasn’t Ordentlich forgotten to maintain this part of the kennel properly and the ceiling will collapse on me in a heartbeat or two?

Obviously the kennel maintainer had done his job, and Flink carefully extricated himself from the women – making sure to be more than two steps away from Ungestum, should a headstart become vital. “Uhm, this one,” he said and pulled the rock from his vest.

“You had it on you?” Ungestum cried, his eyes riveted to the shimmer of the rock. “Er, smart move, cousin.”

The women also stared at the rock, as fascinated by the dots and their images as everyone else had been. “Are you going to give it to someone else?” Maedel asked with a quiver in her voice – obviously already sketching out in her mind what she could do with the rock.

Ungestum laughed. “Oh, of course he will! Won’t you, cousin?” Confidently he stretched out his hand, fully expecting to receive the rock.

“Uhm, that’s right,” Flink said, wondering how fast he could run. Ungestum had won the dash at last month’s Feier festivities, after all. Then, tensing his leg muscles, he held the rock out to Magd’a. “For you, valued daughter of the second kennel maintainer. In the hope that your skills will outshine mine, I give this item to you.”

“To her?!” both Maedel and Ungestum shouted in unison.

Magd’a took the rock from Flink’s hand, surprise painted over her face – and slowly replaced by satisfaction.

Well, Flink decided, he might just as well find out more about her reaction at some later point.  Quite frankly, neither did he look forward to experiencing Ungestum’s reaction first-hand.

His feet kicked up clouds of dust as he rushed away to safety.

 

 

“Mother, I’m home!” Flink announced when he squeezed through the hole in the right wall of the kitchen. The entrance really had gotten rather difficult to master in the last few years; as a child he had never had to worry about his girth. (Without all his running about the kennel, he was sure he would weigh at least twice as much, considering how good his mother’s food was.)

“Mother?”

Nobody answered.

Well, one of Kandiert’s children wailed in the corner, toying with kitchen utensils as before. (No knives, nothing dangerous, Flink quickly noted, and wondered how many miles the triplets’ parents logged each day trying to catch their children again.) But Mother wasn’t here, and –

Oh, right. Deswellyn service. Mother always liked to chat with Holy Priest Glaeubig after the service; sometimes it took her more than two hours before she got home.

He shrugged, walked over to the oven and checked the pots whether anything edible (although cold) could be found in there. Some soup was left over, he found and smacked his lips. The infant in the corner immediately copied him, looking at the adult with great interest.

“Yes, right,” Flink sighed. “You’re Sonnig’s child. Come over here, little one, will you?”

The infant’s grasp of language was not as good as Flink had hoped, so the child stayed right where it was. Flink shook his head, fed the stove with wood and quickly heated up the soup, then filled a bowl. He walked over to the child, carefully fed it with a spoon. He didn’t need to worry about getting soup spilled on him, for the infant made sure to get every drop of soup into its mouth. “Sonnig’s child,” he shook his head.

Then he realized that the child would probably cry once Flink began to eat himself, so he grabbed the infant and placed it outside the cave. Like any alreu child, this one instantly started squirming in his arms and raced off as soon as it had firm ground under its limbs. “Why don’t you pester Unnett?” Flink cried after the child. “I’ve heard she’s got a great glass collection!”

Afterwards he filled himself another bowl of soup and proceeded to spoonfeed the most starved person in the world, who needed food much more than one of Sonnig’s children. When the bowl was empty – and unfortunately, so was the pot -, he dropped both bowls into the cleaning bucket, patted his stomach in satisfaction and went into his room.

And stopped.

The shelves were torn off the wall, the ground littered with the many artifacts he had gathered or made himself. Most were splintered, trampled upon, apparently. His closet was open, all the drawers hanging out at odd angles or thrown onto the floor. Their contents also were spilled over the floor carelessly. The mattrass was pulled off his bed, slashed open with a knife, the goose feathers a white cover on the mess on the floor. His blankets, all five, were cut to ribbons. He could tell them apart by the colors, that was the only way he knew that all five had been destroyed.

Flink’s very first thought was to blame the mess on Sonnig’s infant. You never knew the kinds of disasters alreu children could produce, and they were the only ones who ever destroyed anything.

But the infant could never have done this. Neither could it – probably – have reached the high shelves, nor could it have used a knife so expertly.

No, someone had willfully destroyed Flink’s room.

While searching it.

He frowned and took a step into his room. Something crunched under his foot. Instantly he froze, lifted his foot and saw that he had just finished the devastation on his precious collection of glass marbles. Hastig had made them for Flink’s tenth birthday, their colors perfectly matched.

And now they were only shards.

Flink frowned. Something flowed through his veins that he did not know. His stomach was about to lurch, his heart was icy cold, and his muscles were tense all over. What was happening to him? Was this some kind of disease?

Or was it that strange emotion wise men told of?

Could it be that he was – angry?

“No,” he said cheerfully and forced a smile on his face. “What am I? A darkling?!” He laughed, then returned to the kitchen to fetch the broom and begin tidying up his place.

The icy cold remained in his heart.

 

 

“Do you know how it works?” Magd’a asked excitedly, looking at the wooden contraption built into the ceiling of Shaft Fourteen, with ropes tightly strung across it.

Flink nodded. “Of course I do,” he said confidently and failed to mention that it was because her father Ordentlich had practically hammered it into Flink’s skull with his words. He had been astounded to find out that on some occasions Ordentlich could string more than two sentences together. (Actually it must have been dozens. Despite his astounded fascination, he lost count rather quickly.)

“It’s a pulley system, basically,” he continued and pointed to the ropes. “The carts are attached to the ropes, and for the workers, they’re dangling right behind them. You can lower them so the worker can easily shovel the ground into them.” He frowned, squinted down the tunnel. They were relatively alone here, for the moment. Only the foreman – Arbeitsam, he thought his name was – was nearby. Probably watching out for the kennel maintainer’s daughter. A dire thought passed through his head. He’d better watch out to keep lazy good-for-nothings away, too. Flink could swear he had seen Ungestum a little earlier, lurking around the back of the shaft, keeping well away from any of the work. Fortunately his cousin hadn’t noticed him, or there would have been a rather unpleasant conversation about the rock.

His attention quickly returned to the present when he saw movement down the shaft. “See, there’s a cart coming up now. You can see the ropes moving, right?”

Magd’a was squinting as well and eagerly nodded. Right now, the cart was just a pale shadow moving in the twilight, but soon it would become a heavy, massive load – one that a blind man would have trouble not noticing. (At least that was how Flink felt, considering how often he had been one of the alreus shoving the large carts up a shaft.)

“Remember the workers we passed three hundred yards back? They are pulling the ropes, with the wheels taking up most of the weight. It’s a lot easier than pushing the carts yourself!”

She smiled. “May Deswellyn bless the constructor of this! Oh, Flinkie,” Magd’a reached out for his hand and pressed it tightly, “you’ll make such a great kennel maintainer one day!”

“Uhm,” he started to reply, then his mind kicked into high gear, and he continued, “Isn’t that a bit rash? I mean, your father is still second maintainer, and I’m sure he’ll make first in no time at all. I’m just a simple alreu who does his bit for the kennel, so –“

All right, so he’d gotten out quite a bit more than just the customary “Uhm…”. It didn’t help him a lot, for Magd’a placed her hand over his lips, effectively shutting him up. “Now, Flinkie,” she reproached him teasingly, “you’re more than a simple alreu. The kennel…” Her hand slipped from his mouth to trace patterns on his chest. “You know it so well, don’t you? Better than most others, I’ll just bet. And if you know Tieferbau’s nooks and crannies so well, who knows how well you can come to know –“

Flink never would learn what Magd’a was alluding to. He noticed the cart coming up suddenly stopping, a groan issuing from the wood above their heads – and above them, further up the shaft, another fully loaded cart was bending down the entire construction. Bending it down, and about to race along the rope downward, right into the two of them.

In an instant he slung his arm around her waist. Her words were cut off abruptly, a surprised – and happy – smile pasted on her face. But it lasted less than a heartbeat when Flink roughly slammed her against the wall, pressed his own body tightly against hers.

“Flinkie!” she exclaimed, about to follow up with more words – when the cart thundered by them.

Its metal side cut across Flink’s back, tearing up his vest. A large variety of items fell from the back pockets, scattering over the shaft, rolling and bouncing down the uneven floor. He didn’t care. He knew what was going to happen next, and with both hands he cradled Magd’a’s head against his chest.

For the briefest of moments he wondered why there was quiet. Had he misjudged, had he…?

Then the wood groaned maliciously. The iron hooks that fastened it to the ceiling shivered, under the weight of so many carts along the long line of the pulley system that suddenly were freed, tearing at the ropes, the wood – and the hooks.

A heartbeat later they came loose.

And tore down the ceiling, part rock, part earth.

Whatever it was, it came falling down, right onto Flink, Magd’a and all the unfortunate alreus in Shaft Fourteen. And all that Flink could think about was holding onto Magd’a, keeping her head safe against his chest, protected by his hands that suddenly seemed tiny against the onslaught of earth falling onto them.

 

 

“Flink?!”

Ordentlich’s face suddenly appeared in the alreu’s vision. Hadn’t there been darkness just before? Oh, right. The sounds of shovels hadn’t been an illusion after all, and then hands had scraped the dirt carefully from the back of his head, laying open the bubble of air around his face. And now…

The kennel maintainer brushed more dirt aside, tears in his eyes. “Flink, you were with – my daughter –“ he stuttered, while freeing Flink.

Magd’a! the thought flashed through his mind, and instinctively he tore at the body right next to him, pushing her up, up into the air.

“My daughter!” Ordentlich cried, clasping his powerful arms around her still figure, dragging her loose from the dry, cold ground. She looked so pale, Flink thought, fighting to help her father. “My –“ Ordentlich’s words were cut off by a sob, tears flowing feely across his cheeks.

But the sob was a happy one.

Her chest heaved slightly, ever so slightly – and then she coughed, her eyes flying open and seeing her father, and – “Flinkie?” The words escaped her mouth like a wraith, soft, almost unheard.

“I’m –“ His own reply was cut off by a cough very similar to her own, as he spat earth from his mouth.

Ordentlich smiled and stroked his daughter’s cheek. “He’s here, too, dearest and most valued child of mine. Don’t you worry, my darling, the Most Holy Priest is on his way, and you’ll feel much better soon. Rest now.”

Her eyes focused for a moment on her father’s face, saw the smile and responded with one of her own. Then her eyes closed, her hands quivering as they tried to find Flink’s. He didn’t know what else to do, so he reached out to hold her fingers.

Ordentlich nodded at him, grunted something incomprehensible and slapped him on the back. (Which knocked all the air he had so laboriously breathed out of his lungs. Flink couldn’t care less.) A heartbeat later the kennel maintainer was gone, ordering about the work crew with more grunts. As gruff as they may have sounded to everyone else in Shaft Fourteen, Flink would swear for the rest of his life that they were the most joyous sounds Ordentlich ever uttered.

And he himself grunted just as happily as he laid his head down to rest on Magd’a’s stomach, feeling it rise beneath him.

 

 

The priest Glaeubig’s magic had driven the exhaustion and hurt from Flink’s body. He hadn’t exactly felt as fresh afterwards as if he had woken from a good, long sleep, but a dive into the communal pool on Level Nine had helped a lot. So had seeing Magd’a enjoy the water as much as he did, so very much alive that he felt like shouting and doing flic-flacs all over the wide rock ledge around the pool. Well, feeling like doing something often was the same to Flink as doing it, and Magd’a cheered every flic-flac of his with a loud, encouraging yell.

They stayed by the pool for an hour, talking, chatting, about everything that came to their minds. Everything save the collapse of the shaft.

Eventually Magd’a said she would return to her cave. “I have a little something back there a certain someone gave me yesterday,” she smiled. “That someone thought I could put it to good use, you know, Flinkie? I wouldn’t want to disappoint him.” Then she planted a kiss on his cheeks and sauntered away to dry off and change back into her regular clothes.

Flink unconsciously rubbed his cheek, grinning stupidly while his gaze followed her leaving the poolcave. Once she had vanished from sight, though, it was as if a switch was thrown. The images of Shaft Fourteen’s collapse filled his head, the thought of all the people in there, the workers further down the shaft who were surely…

He shook his head vigorously. Ordentlich’s men were still working to rescue those trapped in the shaft!

Flink remembered the pressure of the dirt entombing him down there, trapping him, the way his mind had begun to fade…

He was already on his way to change before he realized that he was heading down to help the rescue efforts.

Read on in
SECTION 4