I hope everyone will welcome Ben (another of the Leskey clan) as one of our new writers, joining us for this challenge! He's given us a very intriguing fantasy story.
Black Rock of Tek-Fremsel
By Benjamin Leskey
Tinuntelu si Tek-Fremsel Reitkan, Shori Kostenli si 196 Indgrin
Following the story of a black stone and the events that it could perceive
In the center of Tek-Fremsel, standing by the road upon the forge property, there was a strong iron tripod about four feet above the ground. The black legs of this tripod went down at angles, deep through the soil and into the rock. None of the townsfolk knew just how deep; many years ago some inquisitive men had dug four yards down, but they had met solid rock before finding a leg’s end.
The top of the tripod had once been a cage, but the wires and bars now were ripped out like spikes, as though they had been forced apart from the inside. Nobody could know this had happened for certain, of course, since it had been standing there long before any of the townsfolk could remember. The open cage was now home to a few odd pebbles and some dry leaves, but the true focus was a single black gem. This oval-shaped stone, known as the Reitkan of Tek-Fremsel to some, was around six inches long, and had a translucent and crystalline appearance. It was considered an heirloom of sorts by the blacksmith, though he hadn’t paid it any mind for many years.
On a fine afternoon of the eleventh day in the Golden Quarter of the year 196 IN, the hot sun shone brilliantly over the green fields surrounding the town. All was operating as usual in Tek-Fremsel, the rare festivities of the new year having passed ten days ago. A woodcutter hauled his load of logs in from the north, destined for the sawmill below the hill upon which the town was built. A woman with a basket of eggs walked past the forge, heading for the market from which the smell of fresh bread and fruit was carried by the wind. And in the forge, the chief blacksmith hammered away on red iron, forging a set of horseshoes for his brother’s farm.
A strong young man now entered town, walking up the southern slope and encouraging his team of two draft horses to pull a heavy cart filled with iron ore over the hill. He passed by the tripod and stopped his horses before the forge, wiping sweat off his forehead.
“Oi!” he called to the blacksmith, walking towards him. “Duryk!”
“Tintelm!” shouted the blacksmith in reply, “You’re mightily early this year!”
Duryk stopped pounding on his anvil and strode to meet the newcomer as he entered the forge. They conversed for several minutes just inside the shade of the building, Duryk beginning to frown as their talk continued. Then he seemed to get an idea, and the two men walked out towards the tripod.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you could get extra profit by selling it though,” Duryk said. “I know plain money is best for you, but my merchant won’t be back from the north for another ten or twenty days and this is the best I can offer unless you want to stay around.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Tintelm replied. “The amount you’re offering me combined with the gem is enough, I won’t use it all at once. I just want to get this unloaded and head north as quickly as possible, I’m tired of the mines. Up there I can join the border guard and be free from the dust and dark tunnels. I never understood why my father loved that place.”
“The border guard is a dangerous place to be,” Duryk said with a bit of concern. “I know you’ll be careful, but I hear that the Northmen are getting very bold in crossing the channel. That new queen of theirs is really aggressive, they say that she is a wielder of ren, a rentem, and a good one too.”
“I know, that queen Yirji is a danger, but I’ll be careful, no use in my getting excited just to die foolishly. Anyway, let’s get on with the trade.”
“Right then, here it is.”
Duryk walked over to the tripod and stuck his hand into the cage, brushing away leaves and taking the stone out of it. He handed it to Tintelm.
“It’s not much to look at, but I know it’s worth something. A long time ago a jeweler was passing through, he told me I should sell it. I didn’t though, never been in need, and it’s just been sitting here for decades as a monument to whatever.”
“It’s a wonder nobody took it, out in the open like this,” Tintelm remarked.
“Nobody here knows it’s actually worth anything. Everyone just considers it a fancy rock, myself included. But there’s bound to be some nobleman or jeweler who likes that particular rock, and there’s your chance. I’m still just a bit reluctant to just give it up like this since it has been here so long, but you’re my friend, your father was my friend, and getting an early start on forging weapons for the border guard isn’t a bad thing for my profits.”
“I’m truly grateful, Duryk,” Tintelm said.
“Well, it’s just a rock after all. You’ll be wanting your share of these too.” He took a pouch of bronze coins and counted some out, handing them to Tintelm, who placed them along with the stone in a leather wallet he kept within his clothing.
“Say, Duryk, do you want one of the horses and the cart too? I’ll throw those in for free, I only need one horse to ride up to the border, and you’ve been generous to me.”
“I can’t decline that offer. I’ll help you unhitch them and then get that iron unloaded into my forge.”
Later that evening, Tintelm reached into his wallet and took out the stone, inspecting it as he relaxed in his room at the inn. It felt quite cold in his hands, much colder than the coins that had been beside it in the wallet. The lamplight flickered through it, emerging in wavering gray lines that danced upon the floor and walls. He stared at it for a minute before placing it back in his wallet and lying upon the bed, falling asleep immediately.
Tintelm crunched down a breakfast consisting of some sort of vegetable before leaving the inn. Metal jingled slightly as he saddled his horse. Then he swung up and set off, his horse’s hooves thumping dully against the packed dirt. For a few hours he rode uneventfully, occasionally singing quietly to himself and listening to the harsh calls of the crows that frequented the area.
After a little while a faint humming could be heard, masked by the rustling leaves of the vibrant forest that lined the road. Easily mistakable for the sounds of insects, Tintelm did not notice it at first, continuing in his song as he rode.
In a sudden reaction, a shockwave burst from the black stone, pounding once against the leather wallet and thudding against Tintelm’s body. He jerked away in surprise, reaching with his hand to feel what had just happened. Then a massive burst of air seemed to explode beside him. The force threw him off his horse, and he crashed onto the road heavily. Out of the forest came several people, their heavy footsteps trampling the bushes and grass before they reached the road. Tintelm scrambled to his feet and snapped his knife out of its sheath.
“Who are you!?” he shouted. “What do you want?”
“We want you to drop the knife and hold your hands in the air,” came the reply. “Do it now if you want to live.”
Tintelm’s knife clattered against the coarse stones of the road as he released it. Two of his attackers came forward and took hold of him.
“You will accompany us,” said the first, who stood slightly away from the others. “Let us go.”
Tintelm was pushed forward into the forest by one of the bandits; the second followed close behind, and the third smoothed back the bushes they trampled. For about a minute they walked in silence, moving deeper into the forest.
Then Tintelm stumbled and almost fell, but as he did so he drew a second knife and spun around, lunging forward towards the bandit nearest to him.
“Don’t move!” he shouted. “Lay down your arms if you value the life of your comrade!”
There came a scoffing laugh from the bandit in the middle of the group. “So if we move you’ll kill Trendry? Then you’ll have lost your hostage and we’ll be in quite a rage, how’s that supposed to help you any?”
For a moment Tintelm didn’t reply. Then he made as if to speak, but as he did so there was a powerful blast by his hand. The shock sent the knife flying out of his grasp, and threw Tintelm himself off balance so that he landed upon the ground.
“Ow!” exclaimed Trendry. “That knife cut me, you’ve got really poor aim, Prendry!”
“Don’t complain,” said the one who had laughed. “You’ve got all this power, and you go and get yourself taken hostage by a kid with a dagger.”
“You should have been up here then, see if you could react better than me.”
Tintelm grunted as he collected himself. “What was that?” he said. “What did you do?”
The third bandit now drew up to the group. “That, my friend, was obviously ren. We are rentem, proof that being a chosen one doesn’t mean everyone likes you.”
“Maybe we’d like you better if you didn’t waylay us on the road.”
“Bah, you’re all scared of us either way, like the cowards you are. Alright, get up, let’s move!”
On they trod again, in silence. Tintelm didn’t seem to have any more hidden weapons, or perhaps he didn’t think it worth the trouble just to be struck with the strange blast again.
Then, as they stopped, the leading bandit threw Tintelm roughly to the ground, hard earth instead of dry leaves meeting his fall. The two other bandits stood around, the one arriving last speaking.
“Now then, boy,” he said, “Give us what we’re looking for.”
“No, stop there,” said Prendry. “That’s entirely the wrong way to go about it, Drendry.” He crouched beside Tintelm. “Look here,” he said. “You’re carrying something, something that feels quite nice, maybe some metal or a stone. Just hand it over and tell us what it is, and then we’ll let you go. We won’t even take your money.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Tintelm said.
“Oh, really? You must have recently acquired it, maybe it is colored silver or black.”
There was a pause, and Tintelm reached for his wallet, taking out the black stone and handing it to Prendry. The bandit took the stone, smiling as he examined it. It flickered with light as the sun shone in the small clearing.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked Tintelm.
“No, I don’t.”
“I hesitate to use it without first discovering its purpose, tell me where it came from then.”
“It was just lying around back in the city, in a tripod.”
Prendry thought for a moment, then turned and tossed the stone to Drendry. “Here, see what you can find.”
Drendry carefully turned the stone in his hands. “I really don’t want to get involved with that Order of Araman, but he or one of his followers might be our only chance of discovering what it is.”
“He might turn us over to the king though,” put in Trendry.
“It’s not like we’ll be meeting in a situation where we can be captured. We’ll just meet the wise Araman outside his settlement or something, with our power it’ll be easy to escape after he explains what this thing is.”
“We’ll think about that later,” Prendry said. “For now, both of you take this boy back to the road. I’ll head immediately to the meeting place, catch up as fast as possible and don’t leave tracks.” He took the stone from Drendry and walked off into the forest as the other two bandits took hold of Tintelm and began escorting him roughly back.
The stone felt pleasantly cool against Prendry’s hand. It was calming, a small piece of tranquility that existed unmoving against the flow of ren around it. Then it pulsed once, a reaction to a rustling power high above them. The force nearly made Prendry drop it, and he brought it up to examine it.
There was a rustling from above, and he jumped back as a woman fell from the trees. She was wearing a white robe, and the hem floated just above the forest floor, impeccably clean.
“Who are you?” he said, placing the stone in his pocket. A humming sound came from his hands.
“I am Telmilee,” she said. “Tebur of Araman the Wise. And before you ask what I want, I’ll just take it from you and be off. Farewell!”
There was a tremendous burst of air, and the woman flew forward, knocking the unprepared Prendry over, and in the same motion grabbing the stone from his pocket. She stopped for a moment, holding on to the trunk of a small birch, then launched from it again until she grabbed the next tree. Using this jagged yet fast movement, she caught up with the two bandits and Tintelm within a minute.
“Greetings, gentlemen!” she said.
They turned around as she raised her right hand in the air with a flourish, then bringing it down. Two columns of dust and leaves, but mostly air, crashed down upon the bandits, who fell heavily under the pressure. Tintelm was so terrifically startled by this that he jumped backward and crashed into a tree. Telmilee walked over to him.
“I’m here to help you, to some extent,” she said. “My name is Telmilee.”
“I am Tintelm,” said Tintelm, still shaken. “Why are you here?”
“I just told you, to help. Of course, this is the other reason.” She held the stone out to Tintelm. “Put it back in your wallet.”
“Where did you come from?” he asked, taking the stone.
“I came from the house of Araman.”
“Then you are of his Order? I can see you are indeed a rentem.”
“Yes, I’m wearing this robe as proof. Now, I present this choice: Come with me and meet Araman, who will help you understand this stone, or you can continue on your way and be assaulted by all manner of outlaw rentem who may or may not kill you.”
As Telmilee finished speaking, there was a loud pop from behind her, and a sharp stone flew past like a dart, embedding in the ground so that it was barely visible. She and Tintelm both quickly turned to see Prendry approaching them. A gray aura was visible around his hands, and he was in quite a rage.
“Rise, my brothers!” he shouted, and from his hands flickering circles sped.
The fallen bandits had apparently only pretended to be incapacitated, for they were launched into the air by similar force, and they threw more of this humming air at their two targets.
Tintelm was still holding the stone, and as he threw his hands up to protect his face, he dropped the stone. But then, a strange thing happened. The stone did not fall, but instead it seemed to wrap around to the top of his right wrist, where it stuck. He began looking down towards the slightly shimmering stone, but he was interrupted as the four pulses arrived in that moment, and from the stone there was projected a wide dark field suspended vertically in the air in the shape of a hollow hemisphere, rippling as the pulses touched and then vanished into it. Behind this field, Telmilee’s own power had burst forward in a surge of air, but as it collided with the hemisphere the wind dissipated into a falling cloud of pebbles and dust.
There was a pause for several seconds, as no one there understood what had happened. The stone, meanwhile, retracted the hemisphere into itself and remained attached to Tintelm’s wrist.
“The stone is on my wrist!” Tintelm shouted, swinging his arm wildly. “It’s attached!”
“Remain calm,” said Telmilee. The air swirled around her, and then burst out in a gale that ripped across the bushes and leaves to the bandits, sending them flying into the trees.
“Stop! Please wait!” shouted one of them. “We surrender!”
“Then run away, I won’t stop you. If you attempt to attack me again, however, I shall destroy you. Do not oppose a Tebur of Araman!”
The bandits immediately took the offer and made a hasty retreat. Telmilee had the air whistle around her threateningly, providing extra motivation to their flight. After they had gone some distance, she turned her attention to Tintelm.
“So, what is the matter with your arm?” she said, then recoiled in surprise. “The stone really is attached!”
Indeed, the stone was beginning to turn faintly red, and it throbbed slightly to the beat of Tintelm’s pulse as it hungrily absorbed blood.
“I’m feeling quite dizzy,” Tintelm said as he struggled to his feet, using his left arm to hold his right up across his chest.
“Can you walk?” asked Telmilee. “I’m not sure what’s going on here, but your only option is to go to Araman. Nobody else would know how to help you.”
“I can walk, but first tell me: Why did you come here? Why did you help me?”
“That’s simple, I came because I could sense that stone from miles away and I helped you because I’m not a stone myself. Now let’s get going, it would not be good for your health to delay any longer.”
Tintelm was nearly fainting by the time they arrived at Araman’s settlement. The black stone was now completely dark red, and it emitted a cold aura, no longer tranquil. Telmilee was helping Tintelm walk, on his left side; she could not touch his right arm without the stone angrily pulsing at her and causing Tintelm to shiver violently. Now as they entered the circle of huts and tents that surrounded a central stone house it flickered a small transparent hemisphere around it in a reaction akin to fear.
The circle of huts contained many people, some in white robes attending to the speech of an elderly man, others performing various ordinary duties. As the stone came fully within the settlement, however, many of the people stopped what they were doing and turned towards it. Some came closer, examining with curiosity the strange feeling surrounding the stone.
“What is this, Telmilee?” asked the elderly man, who had left his speaking position.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “But we need to get him to Araman now.”
Two strong fellows relieved Telmilee of Tintelm, who was now unable to hold himself up. They bore him up towards the stone house and pushed open the door, Telmilee following. The door led into a large room with two staircases leading up and down, and several pillars holding up the beams. There was a table in the center with a tall candle upon it, and a smell of burnt herbs.
Telmilee removed the candle from the table and the men placed Tintelm there.
“Where is this?” he asked faintly.
“You are now in the house of Araman,” Telmilee replied.
A man came slowly down the stairs, his white robe softly brushing against the walls. As he entered the room, his great height became apparent, as he towered over all those in the room. He walked over to the table and gazed at the stone with calm gray eyes.
“Bring me bandages,” he said quietly. At once the two men nodded and left the building. He then addressed Tintelm in the same passive tone, “I am Araman. I will save you from this death.”
He reached forward and touched the black stone. Tintelm shook, and the stone recoiled, the flickering within it dimming and drawing back.
“It attached to him when we were attacked by several rogue Tebrakrentem, master,” Telmilee said to Araman. “He tried to protect his face and it emitted a strange field, similar to Syrej but stationary and of unfamiliar feeling, before binding to his arm.”
The men returned, carrying several bandages with them. “Here, as you have requested, master,” they said.
“Thank you,” replied Araman, taking them. “Now leave us, guard the door and do not let anyone inside this room.”
They exited at once, closing the heavy door behind them.
“What shall I do, master?” Telmilee asked.
“You are my Tebur, you shall watch and observe. Stand away from this table.”
Araman returned his gaze to the stone, and the stone stared back. There was a nearly imperceptible flash of golden color as he touched it and he was holding the pure black stone. Tintelm’s arm was now bandaged.
“You are healed,” Araman said.
Tintelm tried to hold his bandaged wrist before his face, but so vastly underestimated his strength that he slammed it into his forehead.
“Ow!” he exclaimed, sitting upright. Then, “I feel fine! I’m healed!” He slid off the table and flexed his arm.
“You are truly great, master, I could not perceive what you did.” Telmilee said, coming closer. “Tintelm, there is no pain?”
“None! I do not know how to display my gratitude to you.”
“I ask no payment,” Araman said. “My duty is to help humankind, in particular those who wield or are affected by the absence of knowledge regarding ren.”
“That is a ren stone then? I suppose that explains why it attracted those bandits who captured me with their strange power before Telmilee rescued me.”
“Do not call it strange. It is as natural as you are natural. The unnatural thing is this stone.” Araman held the black gem before his face, but he closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again. “This stone is evil. It is formed from the blood of creatures of ren, invisible to the eyes of those humans who have no conscious connection to the flow of ren. Those who forged it disregarded all morality in order to build a truly powerful shield. Tell me, where did you obtain this?”
“I was given it in Tek-Fremsel by the blacksmith Duryk, it has always been there in a black tripod before the forge.”
“I see. And where were you going before these bandits attacked you?”
“I was on my way to join the Border Guard in Tek-Syvad.”
“A noble cause. It will be necessary for you to remain in my care for six days before your body can recover its natural defenses against the wild ren-flow, but when this time passes, if you wish, I will give you a horse and send you upon your way again. All I ask in return is that you remember the name of Araman and what I have done for you. Telmilee, direct him to an empty hut, let him be fed. I will deal with this stone, I shall seal it in the void, for I cannot allow this desecration to exist.”
“Yes, master.” Telmilee said.
“I must give my thanks again,” Tintelm said, as Telmilee accompanied him to the door. “I will indeed remember your name, for how could I forget?”
As they departed the building, Araman set the stone upon the table and went downstairs. He returned with three bottles. From the first bottle he poured fine iron powder in a circle around the stone; from the second, silver powder; and from the third, small oak shavings. Setting the bottles on the ground, he looked upon the stone and said, “May you now rest.”
There was a deep pulse in the air. “Exter Fasrej Weilisiren,” Araman said. The materials surrounding the stone flew outward and vanished into a mist. The stone rose in the air, and from it ripped its last resistance, fields of great power crashing against the slowly condensing mist. There was a deep pulse in the mist. Araman raised his hand, and a golden light flashed once within the mist. The world sped away through a circular window, and the stone was suspended in a golden void, empty save for invisible pillars that resonated with endless rhythm, extending in infinite height through the nothingness. The window closed. There was a deep pulse in the void.
Copyright 2017 by Benjamin Leskey