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

All the recognition Flink got from kennel maintainer Ordentlich was a short grunt and a wave of the hand to assign him a position. After that extensive and elaborate explanation, Ordentlich returned to watching the work with dire eyes.

Well, except for a tiny glint in his eyes about Flink’s coming back, despite having been on the brink of death a mere hour ago.

Flink himself quickly got to shoveling. It took him a few minutes of work to realize that he was nowhere near the dangerous areas of the shaft, where another collapse might happen any minute. He could see one of those spots from up here in the tunnel – alreus were busy propping makeshift pillars against the ceiling, and even busier moving dirt out of their way to those trapped below.

The Most Holy Priests Glaeubig and Vertrauend leaned against one of the toppled carts, staring down the shaft emptily. Despite the goodly girth of Vertrauend, both men seemed haggard and drawn out. Casting all those blessings, Flink knew, taking care of poor alreus’ wounds.

Like Magd’a and me.

With renewed fury he attacked the ground, shoveled bits and pieces of the pulley construction aside – the system that had caused the collapse in the first place. “Deswellyn curse the idiot who invented it!” he muttered, earning a silencing stare from the foreman.

No words. Shovel duty.

Tombcave.

A lithe body slid by him, touching him lightly on the arm. Angrily Flink wanted to shout, but remembered at the last moment that he wasn’t allowed to. So he turned a frustrating eye to the other alreu – and gave a start when he recognized Maedel, in a bright one-piece tunic, a shovel in her hand.

What’s she doing on shovel duty? the thought flashed through his mind. Girls don’t have to…

Then he felt her grip tighten around his arm for a brief moment. Her red lips were moving, and it took Flink a heartbeat or two to realize that she was mouthing the question, Are you all right?

He smiled instantly, nodded and pointed over to the priests.

Good! her lips said, and he could have sworn that the next word she mouthed was a mischievous Flinkie.

He grimaced and pointed heavily at the ground before them. Maedel only smiled when she stuck her shovel into the dirt to join him in the work.

More ground was sent flying out of the way, into a cart that would be shoved the old-fashioned way. Along with it went more of the pulley – wood, rope, iron hooks, nails that had held the contraption together – and all of it only enfuriated Flink.

He didn’t even pause to notice this very un-alreu emotion coursing through his veins. Too much had happened lately, the destruction of his room, the collapse of the shaft – by all the gods, he had imagined seeing Decirius’ messenger of death looming over him, ready to pluck his soul from his body and carry it to the land beyond!

Wood. Broken, useless.

Iron. Bent, marred, useless.

Rope. Torn and frayed, and –

Suddenly he stopped and picked up a piece of rope. The fragment was about a foot long, one of its ends as frayed as all the others, the other… Some strings were loose, as frazzled as you please, obviously torn loose when the weight of the carts proved too much, and the entire intricate pulley system went to meet Decirius.

But the rest of it ended cleanly, the strings severed as if they were cut by a knife.

Coldness pervaded Flink’s heart. That rope had been cut! Cut just so much it wouldn’t become apparent right away, and that it would take a few minutes for the weight of the carts to do the rest.

“Sabotage!” he cried in disbelief. There wasn’t an alreu who could do something like this! Cause the death of other alreus?! The highest law of the community called for anyone who killed another alreu to be banished – and anyway that was such a terrible deed, that… Only a darkling would do this – if they existed.

“Flink!” Maedel hissed. “It’s shovel duty!”

“Shoveling’s over,” he muttered. His fingers closed on the piece of rope with such fury he was sure he would squeeze it apart. “Ordentlich’s gotta know about this.”

“About what?” Maedel asked, fear painted clearly on her face. Never had she seen Flink so… so… much like a human! Only they could be so cold, so determined, so…

She would have plenty of time to think of the proper adjective, for Flink was already dashing up the tunnel to see the maintainer. He had no time left to explain anything to Maedel. Someone had sabotaged the pulley. Darkling, dwarven invader, whatever – someone had killed all the workers down there, had nearly killed Magd’a and him.

Kennel maintainer had to be told.

 

 

The rock fell from Magd’a’s hands. “No!” she cried, desperately trying to catch it before it hit the ground. Her hands missed, and the rock smashed onto the stone floor of her room, splinters flying from its gray surface.

“Oh, Flinkie, I’m so sorry,” she whispered, wondering what he would say once he learned that she had destroyed that precious rock. He had entrusted it to her, after all, her dear Flinkie had, and now she –

More shimmering metal shone through the new cracks in the rock. And it didn’t look like a deposit of ore anymore, it looked like something was hidden under the stone. Something artificial.

Quickly Magd’a snatched the rock from the floor, brought it to her worktable and used her tiniest hammer to chip off the rocky hide. (Perhaps she should have used the knife next to it. Most Holy Priest Vertrauend had enchanted it that it could easily cut through rock – no, it could also cut through metal, she resolved, the hammer was better.) More metal became visible, almost like silver, but more like… platinum, she realized after a moment.

Platinum? Embedded in a rockface?

Now that was very odd, wasn’t it? How could an artificial item be trapped inside rock?

Well, magic could account for that, surely. But who would go to that length? And why?

She continued hammering at the object before her – she couldn’t call it a rock anymore, now that she knew there was something else inside. And slowly she came to see what it was inside.

An amulet. Oval, with a rectangular base, made from platinum. In the oval part a strange scene was worked into the metal, one that she couldn’t quite understand. Or was it symbols? She didn’t know.

The rectangular part she could understand at least a little. There was an inscription in it, carved into the metal when it was still hot. But it was human writing! Magd’a never had bothered to learn anything about their writing – she was the kennel maintainer’s daughter, after all, and wasn’t expected to leave for the surface, ever.

“What does it mean?!” she cried in her lonely room, far away from any possible response.

A dark, male voice answered from right behind her, “It says, ‘Shenaumac is the answer’. Not that it will help you, Magd’a. Cousin should have given it to me right away. He might have saved your life…”

 

 

The rope seemed to be burning in Flink’s hands. Where was Ordentlich? Why wasn’t he where Flink had last seen the kennel maintainer?

Who could have sabotaged the pulley system? Who could have wanted the deaths of all those alreus down in the shaft?

Not to mention Magd’a and Flink himself! Deswellyn may protect him, but hadn’t he gone through enough lately? Hadn’t it been quite enough that his room had been searched and destroyed in darkling fashion? That he had to decide whom to give the rock, while Ungestum was always nearby, flexing his muscles as if he were about to thrash Flink if he gave the rock to anybody else!

By the gods, Ungestum always sent shivers down his spine. But he was different from everyone else, that was the reason why Flink liked – no, had liked – being around him. You never knew what he was going to do, you just couldn’t rely on his being polite all the time, being nice all the time!

And with the rock? Well, Ungestum had turned up the pressure a bit. Unfortunately, that one time Flink was the target, and he still didn’t understand just why Ungestum wanted the rock so very much. It seemed to him that the rock consumed all his thoughts, so much so that…

… he just might search Flink’s room. And not care about destroying all the items gathered there. All for finding the rock.

He stopped dead in his search for Ordentlich. His thoughts were racing like alreu children, without goal, save the next meal, and the escape from adult arms.

Ungestum had wanted Flink to give him the rock. But Flink had given it to Magd’a instead. The rock was gone from Ungestum’s reach, and he must have been angry. No, not just angry, so furious that he – would desire vengeance.

But, kill someone? An alreu?!

“No, that’s ridiculous.” He shook his head.

Right now the rock was with Magd’a, and she was safe at home, in her room. Oh, her father was around here somewhere, and her mother probably would provide food for the workers, so she was all alone. And of course, there were no doors, so anybody could enter.

Anybody.

Including an alreu who would go to any length to get the rock. Any length. Like a darkling.

“Deswellyn bless me!” Flink cried and ran up the shaft.

 

 

“Magd’a!” Flink shouted when he rushed through the living room of her home, leaping over a chair to bounce into her room. “Magd’a!”

“Right here,” Ungestum answered.

Flink skittered to a stop, staring at the scene before him. Magd’a lay prone on the ground, blood flowing from a wound to her head. And Ungestum… Gods! He gently touched a finger to her wound, blood covering the finger, and then he – put the finger with a grin into his mouth, sucking greedily on it. “Oh, cousin,” he whispered, “have you ever tasted the blood of the living? It’s so good. Better even than your mother’s soup.”

“How dare you –“ The words smothered in Flink’s throat, dried up, dying. Ungestum grinned. Magd’a’s blood ran from his lips, and he grinned. “Darkling!” Flink coughed.

Ungestum shrugged and smiled. “Right, cousin of mine. It’s not a bad word, you know. Shenaumac is the answer to our perils. His will be done. His might be –“

His grin seemed to pierce the confines of his face as he rose and spread his arms. He wore a linen shirt, died a light brown. It slowly darkened to blue, and black symbols spread all across the linen – and over Ungestum’s skin. The image of a knife burned itself into his forehead, drops of black blood dripping onto the bridge of his nose.

“Shenaumac’s might,” Ungestum continued slowly, his eyes reddened, “be mine!”

Cold dread rose in Flink, and he remembered the way he had felt at home, when he had closely studied the rock. It was the same feeling, absolutely the same. And he could even pinpoint where it came from, a platinum amulet around Ungestum’s neck.

It turned dark. The only platinum lines remaining were in the shape of a bloody knife.

Ungestum chuckled darkly. “I am a priest of Shenaumac now, cousin. A most unholy priest. Won’t you kneel down to a cleric as your mother taught you?”

Flink stared at the other alreu, wondering if that could be the same person he had known from birth. He felt the power of the amulet vibrating in his own soul, pulling at it, as if it were hungry for more blood.

Kneel!” Ungestum commanded harshly, all ease suddenly vanished from his face.

“No, I will not,” Flink said hesitatingy, as if the words stuck in his throat. His gaze was drawn to Magd’a, the wound bleeding on her head. She was still breathing, still alive. But with that wound, she would…

Something hot hit his arm.

Flink yelled, shook his arm furiously, trying to shake off the pain. Slowly it receded, but a singed spot remained on his sleeve, as Ungestum said gently, “Did you feel that, cousin? There’s more where that came from. You don’t like pain, do you? No, you never did. So just kneel down and lower your head to me, then there won’t be any more pain. Isn’t that fine, cousin?!”

Like a statue, Ungestum stood in the middle of Magd’a’s room, his face a friendly mask, but the dark brand on his forehead gave him away all too clearly.

“Cousin?” he asked menacingly and flicked his finger. A blood-colored ember shot from the finger, hit Flink’s other arm like a burning arrow. The alreu dropped to the ground, beating at the burning spot furiously with his free hand. “That is good,” Ungestum commented. “You are already on your knees, cousin. Now just bend forward, bend your head to me. And then you will feel no more pain.”

Magd’a moaned softly. Her eyelids fluttered madly, her breath labored.

“You will not die,” Flink decided, ignoring the pain in his arm, “not after I just kept you from it.”

And before Ungestum could fling another magical ember at him, Flink rolled aside, scrambled across the floor under Magd’a’s work table. “Bad move, cousin!” Ungestum yelled. Flink could already see him raising his hands for more shots – and he had no desire to take any more pain. Quickly he rolled backwards and shot both legs at the underside of the table, kicking it over, so its top would provide cover. All of Magd’a’s tools tumbled down, scattering over the floor.

Just in time. A hail of embers flew towards Flink, and all embedded themselves into the wood. Sparks sprayed wide enough that he could see them from behind his cover. Worse, the smell of smoke rapidly reached his nose. These embers must have been more powerful than the first hits, powerful enough to burn the table, and therefore powerful enough to – well, yes, Flink, exactly that, so why don’t you try to stay out of their way, all right, fine, thank you!

Despite his best intentions, Flink couldn’t stay behind the shielding table. He rolled himself up tight, tumbled out from his shield like a bouncing ball – he was very good at that, as Mother had often noted with a sigh when he barely avoided smashing into one or the other obstacle.

After only two feet he suddenly spread himself flat against the floor – just at the right moment, for two more embers rushed through the air, bare inches over his shock of wild red hair.

“What do you say, cousin?” Ungestum yelled happily. “Aren’t they neat? Come on and get burned!”

“Aren’t you strong enough to beat me up?!” Flink cried in all innocence. “I thought that’s what you always said, and I mean, you’re bigger and stronger and smarter, and now you’re a priest, and – goodness gracious! – Ungestum, you’re –“

He fully expected one or more of the embers to flame right into his head. Instead Ungestum laughed harshly. “Oh, that’s a good try. You’re planning something, aren’t you? My little cousin planning to –“ Abruptly he stopped, and his laughter turned mirthful. “What am I saying? That’s absolutely ludicrous! My cousin Flink trying to kill anybody? Oh, goodness gracious, you’re on, cousin!”

Flexing his muscles, grinning madly, Ungestum stomped towards Flink, ready to give him the thrashing he so richly deserved. The younger alreu slowly rose, ducking from the expected beating, and Ungestum chuckled again. “I’ve been waiting so long for this, cousin.”

Ungestum pulled back both fists to slam them into his victim. The dark platinum amulet danced in the air, on a silver chain. And just when the fists were about to rush forward at full force, Flink suddenly unfolded, and his own hand shot forward. In the hand a knife from Magd’a’s table glistened and glowed with magical force, as the blade sank into Ungestum’s chest, right next to the amulet. The knife slid into the flesh, deep in, cut through a rib easily – then reached the heart. Blood sprayed over Flink, warm, moist, awful.

“COUSIN!” Ungestum yelled, any further words cut off by utter pain – and his blood rushing out of his body.

 Flink held the knife tightly, even when Ungestum collapsed, the body sliding off the knife. Flink’s hand hung in the air, clasping tightly the knife, its blade dripping with blood.

Just like the dark brand on Ungestum’s forehead.

Terrorized Flink leaped up, dropping the knife and trying to wipe his hand clean on his shirt. It barely worked. And Magd’a moaned again.

An instant later he was by her side, tore his shirt into strips and wound them tightly around her head. Staunch the blood flow, that’s the first thing to do, he knew. Then he rushed to her bed, grabbed a cushion and two blankets with which he proceeded to cover Magd’a, so her head lay on something soft and she would stay warm.

Then there was the second thing he ought to do. Fetch the next priest. Fast.

 

 

Shouldn’t people who save somebody else – twice! – be rewarded? Not to mention one who discovered a darkling in the midst of Tieferbau?

That surely would be the kind of questions a human would ask, standing in the main cave, facing a tribunal of judges presided by second kennel maintainer Ordentlich himself. The fat alreu sat on a high chair, prominent members of Tieferbau’s community to both sides of himself, watching Flink with an unreadable mien.

None of those questions were anywhere on Flink’s mind. He knew Magd’a was alive. Perhaps thanks to him, it didn’t really matter. She was alive, that was all he needed to know.

And he knew that Ungestum had died by his own hands. He could still feel the warm blood on his hand, the feeling of the knife sliding into alreu flesh. He had killed an alreu. There was only one judgment he could expect, and he fully deserved it.

“Flink,” Ordentlich slowly began, “the highest of our laws states that no alreu may kill another and stay in the community. We recognize that you acted in the interest of not only an alreu woman in peril, but that of the community, as well. The danger of a darkling among us cannot be underestimated.

“I am afraid it does not matter. You have broken the law, and therefore –“ He stopped himself, bit his lower lip as if his calm was about to break. Then, a moist gleam appearing in his eyes, he continued, “Flink of Tieferbau, you are hereby banished from the kennel for the rest of your life. The notice of this will be distributed to every other kennel of alreu make. Nowhere shall you be welcomed, nowhere shall you be permitted to lay down your head, nowhere may you explore the shafts. Do you understand?”

Flink stared straight ahead. It took him a moment to realize he had been asked a question. “Uhm, yes, Master Maintainer, I do.”

“Then you have one hour to pack your belongings and leave the kennel.” Ordentlich rang a bell he had kept in his lap. The trial was over, and Flink felt as if the same applied to his entire life. Slowly he turned about to head back home. Only it would be home for just one more hour. Then he would never see his mother’s kitchen or his own room again. Never run into the kitchen, bouncing about to ask his mother what was for lunch or dinner or whichever meal it might be. Never eat her marvelous food again.

A frown slid over his face, as he nearly missed a step.

It meant that he would never see his mother again. Not unless Sorgend came to the surface, to meet him, but – he couldn’t very well wait around the entrance to the kennel all his life, could he? And wouldn’t his mother worry all the more about him?

But – never was rather a long time.

“Flink, wait a minute,” a deep voice came from behind, and a fat but well-muscled hand clasped his arm. Maintainer Ordentlich, the calm façade dropped from his face, stood behind him. “I am so sorry, son. You… My daughter is alive because of you, and now we’re… No, I’m banishing you from Tieferbau. I tried to dissuade the other judges, but –“

“I have killed an alreu,” Flink said quietly. “I deserve my fate.”

Fire flared in Ordentlich’s eyes. “Deswellyn hear me, you don’t! What you deserve is to stay here and lead a happy life, what you deserve is –“

“Master Maintainer?” Flink interrupted him. “Would you please look after my mother? If I knew she is being taken care of, that would make me feel much better on the surface.”

“Yes, of course, I –“

“Thank you.” Carefully Flink extracted himself from the maintainer’s grasp and took up his walk to Mother’s kitchen again, one last time. He would not cry. He would not, could not protest. For once in his life, he would make things easy for his mother, as easy as they could be under these circumstances.

 

 

“Where do you think you’re going, idiot?!” Maedel shouted at Flink, right in front of the exit from the kennel. Sunlight was shining on her, outlining her frame as well as that of Magd’a, holding on to the other woman’s arm and sobbing softly. “Flink, you’re gonna turn around right now, and we’re going to fight this silly decision! You won over a darkling, a darkling cleric! None of those old fools should stand in our way!”

Flink frowned. “I killed an alreu,” he repeated.

“He wasn’t an alreu anymore!” Maedel said. “Ungestum had given himself to Shenaumac. No alreu does that, so the law does not apply. Isn’t that right, Magd’a? Say something!”

She raised her head a little, stared at him with bloodshot eyes. “Oh, Flinkie, please be careful out there, will you? Wear warm –“

“Shut up,” Maedel cut her off. “So, Flink, what’s it going to be?”

He sighed. There was no way he could explain to either of them how he felt, how the memory of the – the deed terrorized him. Perhaps Maedel was right, perhaps there was a way to fight the decision. But Flink couldn’t even conceive taking up a fight like that. Goodness gracious, the very thought! An alreu – fighting?!

Maedel grimaced. “If you’re so set on being a stupid fool, then by the gods, so am I. Wait outside half an hour, and I’ll have my gear ready to go with you.”

“You’ll –“ Flink started to say but was interrupted when Magd’a suddenly raised her head all the way, firing a harsh stare first at Maedel then a soft glance at Flink. “Then I’ll come with you, too, Flinkie! You won’t be alone, ever, I promise! I’ll…”

A cough interrupted her, shaking her body, and Maedel quickly slung her arms around her, kept her from keeling over. “You can’t even walk without help, woman! How could you hope to make it on the surface?”

“I… will!” she whispered determinedly.

“Oh, really? And I’m supposed to help you doing that?”

Magd’a steadied herself finally, although her breathing still was heavy. “Yes, that’s… right.”

“You’d…” Maedel frowned. “You’d accept my help?”

The other woman smiled weakly. “For our Flinkie, I will.”

And then both their plans went awry when yet another cough ran through Magd’a, stronger than the one before. Her entire body went into a spasm, and Flink rushed to her side to help Maedel lower her gently to the floor.

“She needs a priest,” Flink whispered, stroking Magd’a’s cheeks.

“I’ll get one,” Maedel said quietly. “Promise me one thing, fool. Once you’ve gotten over this stupid idea, come back. For either of us.”

“Uhm…”

Maedel raised an eyebrow, and she looked uncomfortably much like his mother.

Whom he would never see again. Unless he did as Maedel asked him to. And then there were these two women who had turned his life upside down in the past few days and…

“I promise I’ll come back,” he said after a moment. “For both of you.” He leaned forward to kiss Magd’a on her cheek – she smiled, as long as the spasms didn’t rush through her -, then he kissed Maedel on the cheek.

Maedel smiled and put a finger on his lips. “I’ll hold you to that promise. And I’ll bet, so will Magd’a. Now get out, your hour’s almost up.”

Flink nodded, got up and walked out of the kennel’s exit. At the threshold, he turned and cast a look back. Both women were watching him, and Maedel quickly turned her head away so he didn’t see the tears in her eyes. “I promise,” he repeated, too softly for either to hear, then he left Tieferbau and began his time in exile.

 

T H E   B E G I N N I N G