I didn’t have time to do NaNoWriMo this year, so I decided to write another short story.
It’s an adventurous, silly little tale with no depth, no attempt at cohesion or realism or character development or sense or pretty much anything that makes a story “good“.
And, as always, no editing, proof-reading, or basic quality control (such is my style).
Alright, let’s do this…
It was Breakday in Sundale. Sundale was normally a busy little village, but on Breakday the children had to make their own fun. As usual, Bew spent her breakday trudging through the mudlands with her friends, Lurren and Griff.
The trio had never ventured so far from the village before, and the sunset was probably no more than an hour away. At this point, they were actually closer to the neighbouring village, Karmiss, than they were to home. Bew made sure to remind her friends of that fact every minute or so.
“Shut yer yabber-gob, Bew.” Spat Griff, never a fan of Bew’s sensible attention-to-detail. “We’re treasure huntin’!”
Bew huffed. She honestly didn’t know why she was friends with Griff. He was a large and angry lad, whose size and strength were sometimes useful, but boy-oh-boy was he dumb as a post. Also, he always carried a sharpened stick that he called his ‘spear’, and had a bad reputation for threatening to use it at every opportunity. Some of the younger children in Sundale called him the Moron Monster, but never to his face, of course.
“You wouldn’t know a treasure if it chomped ya on yer back, dingle!” Spat back Lurren.
Lurren was roughly the same size as her younger brother, but leagues smarter. The other children looked up to Lurren. She spoke often and openly about her plan to one day leave Sundale, and become a doctor in one of the big fancy cities to the south. Hardly anybody in Sundale had even been as far as Karmiss, much less to the cities. Then again, the old village-tales about Karmiss being a cursed place probably had a lot to do with that.
A few wordless wet minutes passed. Stomp. Squelch. Trudge. Stomp. Squelch. Trudge.
Bew was about to remind her friends about the sunset for the umpteenth time, when Griff suddenly yelled “Aha!” The friends halted, as Griff pointed toward something in the mud a few feet away from him. It was unmistakably metallic, possibly golden.
“What is it?” Bew asked, trying to shoulder her way past the large siblings to get a closer look.
Griff pushed her back behind him, with his stick. “It’s mine, is what it is, ya over eager jackrabbit!”
He took two hulking steps in the knee-deep mud, then reached down to pick up the object. It was a muddy golden cup, and as he wiped it with his shirtsleeve, Bew could see it was covered in priceless gems.
“It’s beautiful,” said Lurren, reaching out her hand towards her brother. “Here, let me take a closer look.”
Griff swatted her hand away. “I said it’s mine!” He barked. Then, in a flash of brilliant white light, the short-tempered boy and the bejeweled cup were gone.
“Griff!” Lurren screamed, lunging toward the two slowly-closing mudholes where his legs had been. She started digging in the mud, frantically searching for any sign of her brother.
Bew turned in a slow circle, carefully surveying the marshlands and, of course, yet again assessed how long it was until sunset.
“I know where the boy is.” Came a small, high-pitched voice.
“Who said that?!” Lurren yelled, pulling her elbows free from the mud “Who are you? Give me back my brother or you’ll pay!”
Bew traced the voice to a patch of tall reeds. She pulled back an armful, and revealed a strange creature. Its small purple body was roughly the size and shape of a village cat, but with a tiny human-like torso where the cat’s neck and head should be. Stranger still, it somehow sat atop the mud, instead of sinking into it.
Bew fell back in surprise, letting go of the reeds, sinking a little before Lurren hoisted her to her feet. Lurren gave her a questioning look, to which Bew, lost for words, simply shrugged.
“Well that hurt my feelings, girl.” The creature said, in a sarcastic tone. “Haven’t you ever seen a Trarkin before?”
Lurren pulled back the reeds and stood, dumbfounded in front of the creature.
Bew found her voice. “Hello um… sir?” She wasn’t quite sure how to address the apparent Trarkin, whatever that was.
“Sir? Yes I like it! Finally some respect!” Chirped the Trarkin. “Hello to you too, young lady. It is a pleasure to make the acquaintance of you and your delightfully silent friend over there.” He gestured to Lurren who still stood gape-mouthed. “My name is Ringring.” He paused for a few moments, before prompting, “Now is the part where you say your name, miss…”
Lurren snapped. “You said you know where my brother is!”
The Trarkin – Ringring – feigned offense, then added “My, you’re a feisty one. I think I like you. Yes, I did say I know where the boy is. It’s easier if I show you, rather than tell you. Come with me.”
At that, Ringring turned and began walking – atop the mud – northeast, and even farther away from Sundale. Lurren immediately followed but Bew looked back at the distant village. After a moment of justified trepidation, she reluctantly caught up with her friend and their strange new companion.
The party trekked through the mudlands for thirty minutes, exchanging introductions and small talk. Bew liked Ringring. He was energetic and a little bit loud, but he seemed nice, and always had a positive remark to share.
Ringring stopped. “Here we are, ladies!” The Trarkin announced with a charming smile and a theatrical flourish.
“And where exactly…” Bew said.
“Griff is inside…” Ringring pointed towards a small, barely-person-sized hole in the side of a rockface. “There. I’ve seen folks disappear in these mudlands before, and they always somehow end up in that hole.”
Lurren wordlessly made her way over to the hole, crouched down on hands and knees, and crawled inside. Bew took a moment to thank Ringring for his help, then rushed to follow her friend.
As Bew disappeared into the rock, she heard Ringring yell “Be careful down there!”
After a short crawl-sized tunnel, the space inside the rock opened up into a hallway about the width of two of Pearl Bernham’s apple carts. The cave was dimly lit by torches placed every hundred feet or so, and appeared to slope downward for at least a mile.
“Come on.” Lurren ordered as she snatched the nearest torch off the wall and marched down into the cave. As always, Bew followed.
The pair walked for fifteen or so minutes in near silence, the space between wall-torches widening, and the only sound that of their footfalls echoing off the cave walls. Bew imagined the sun was almost set outside by now. She wondered if anybody would come looking for them when full dark comes, and they haven’t returned.
A scraping sound ahead. Like wood on stone.
“Wait.” Bew whispered, but Lurren continued on. “Lurren, wait!”
Lurren turned back toward Bew and yelled “What!”
At that, a man appeared over Lurren’s shoulder and knocked her into the left side of the cave with a large fist, causing her to drop her torch to the floor.
In the low light, Bew could make out that the man appeared to be made of wood. He was light brown shade all over, with small cracks in places and no facial features. He stalked towards Lurren’s slumped body, his movements jolting and awkward.
“Hey!” Bew yelled, trying to divert the wooden-man’s attention from her injured friend. “Hey! Over here, ya dumb tree!” Bew had never been good at insults.
The wooden-man turned.
“Yeah that’s right! Yer just a dumb tree! I bet ya got termites in ya stinkin’ backside!” Bew couldn’t believe it, but she was actually enjoying yelling insults at this thing. She made a mental note to practice insults when she got home.
The wooden-man charged her, his movements clunky but quick. She rolled to the right, barely avoiding his attack. He skidded to a stop then turned to charge again. Bew made a break for Lurren’s fallen torch, reaching it just before she was tackled to the ground. She spun and grabbed the torch in her right hand, then held it under the wooden-man’s stomach.
He sprang back from her as his torso and head caught alight. The wooden-man frantically patted at the flames, which only caused his fists to catch too. After a moment, he was fully engulfed in fire. He fell to his knees and then prone, a blazing bonfire in the middle of the cave floor. He reminded Bew of a log in Pa’s fireplace.
Lurren moaned, and Bew rushed over to help her to her feet. Lurren rubbed her head and cast a glance at the flaming corpse, then gave Bew a look of respectful disbelief. “Wow, Bew. Thanks.”
Bew beamed. She had met a Trarkin, realised she enjoyed insulting things, and fought a man made of wood. What a day she was having. Then she remembered her mission, and, full of confidence and swagger, Bew replied. “Nah it were nothin’. Now let’s get back Griff.”
Bew led the way, Lurren following her down further into the cave.
A large dark shape slowly oozed into the middle of the cave up ahead. Bew and Lurren stopped, roughly fifty feet from the creature.
Bew heard a voice in her head. “Be not afraid, child. I am not your enemy.” A quick look from her friend suggested that Lurren heard it too.
The shape approached, and as it entered the ring of torch-light, Bew saw that it was some kind of giant slug, roughly the size of a horse. Its skin was a brownish-gray, the torch-light reflecting slightly off of its slick, wet-looking surface. The girls both recoiled in disgust, taking a few steps back.
The voice repeated “Be not afraid, child. I am not your enemy.”
The slug turned slightly, and Bew could see a kind of leather holster strapped to its back, containing an arsenal of deadly weapons. At a glance, she could see a magnificent shining sword, a large double-headed axe, a small crossbow, and a few other weapons for which Bew did not know the name. The slug did not move from its side-on position, almost as if presenting the weapons to the girls.
“I am not your enemy.”
Bew was hit with a sudden compulsion to take one of the slug’s weapons. She walked towards the creature, and could feel Lurren beside her doing the same. Bew looked over at her friend, but strangely felt no kinship. Lurren shot back a look of anger, then broke into a run towards the slug. Bew ran after.
Lurren reached the slug first and picked up the axe, immediately taking a wild and furious swing at Bew as she neared. Bew narrowly ducked the swinging blade, and made a desperate grab for the shining sword. She lifted the sword just in time to block a heavy blow from Lurren.
“Good.” The voice in Bew’s head said. “The girl is your true enemy.”
Lurren growled and hammered another blow against Bew’s sword, the smaller girl using every ounce of her concentration and strength to hold onto the weapon. As Lurren raised her arms to swing again, Bew leapt back a few feet, allowing herself a bit of room to think and plan how to attack her considerably stronger opponent.
“See how badly the girl wants to kill you, child.”
Bew noticed Lurren’s wild axe swings were leaving her left-hand side unguarded, and took a diving leap in that direction, just as Lurren would have taken her head. Bew flew past her friend and tucked into a roll, putting at least ten feet between the two of them.
“End her now, child. End – “
The voice abruptly halted, and Bew glanced back to see something protruding from the slug’s forehead. She turned slightly further and saw Ringring standing with the small crossbow, raised in the slug’s direction. Bew’s compulsion to fight faded, and she dropped her sword to the cave floor.
“Hello, ladies!” Ringring said, with his usual flourish, waving the crossbow.
The two girls turned and stood staring at each other for a moment, a silent apology passing between them, although Bew noticed Lurren had not yet released her weapon.
Ringring interrupted, “Ahem… I’ve severed the psychic connection, dears. But in case you haven’t noticed… that thing isn’t exactly dead yet.”
Lurren growled, and made a break for the slug, who was turning to leave. As she neared, she raised her axe with both hands and brought it down with a mighty blow, slicing the slug in two.
“Well, that probably did the trick.” Ringring laughed, as the slug oozed its foul-smelling innards onto the ground.
Bew turned back to ward Ringring, and asked “How did you – ”
“How did I know it was controlling you?”
“I’ve met that thing before.” Ringring said. “Nasty beasty. Been wanted to kill it for a long time.” He looked puzzled. “I have no idea how it got down here though.”
“Thank you for saving us from ourselves.” Lurren said as she approached, offering Ringring a grateful hand on his diminuative shoulder.
“Well, what can I say?” The Trarkin replied with a sly grin. “I took a liking to you two. Now let’s find your friend.”
Ringring led the way, heading deeper into the cave. Bew and Lurren followed close behind.
The trio came to the end of the cave, where a sturdy-looking wooden door stood. It was starkly out of place in the naturally rocky environment, but after the wooden-man and the mind-slug, a door was hardly shocking.
“Guessin’ my brother’s behind this thing.” Lurren said, raising her axe to strike.
“Wait.” Said Ringring, causing Lurren to pause mid-swing. “You might like to try the handle first, dear.” He gestured to Bew, who stepped forward to do just so.
The cold, brass handle was stiff, but turned with a bit of effort. Bew pushed the heavy door, and it opened into a large, brightly lit room, which was clearly man-made.
Bew stepped into the room, with Lurren right behind, and Ringring at the back. Both girls gasped when they spied Griff at the far end of the room, encased in some kind of cage made of orange light. He still clutched the golden cup, but his stick was nowhere to be seen.
The boy turned toward them and yelled, “Lurren! Get me outta here, Lurren!” Bew had never heard Griff sound so afraid. He sounded like he was using every bit of willpower he could muster not to cry. “He wants to eat me!”
Just then, an ancient-looking man in a black robe hobbled out from behind a pillar near the middle of the room. He ran his eyes over the girls and a sickening smile spread across his withered face.
“Welcome to my dinner table, girls.” The old man said, gesturing to the room with a robed hand. When he spoke, Bew noticed his teeth looked like fangs.
“And well done, Ringring!” The man said, nodding at the Trarkin beside them. “You’ve really outdone yourself this time.”
Bew turned in shock as she noticed Ringring stepping away from her, guilt plainly written on his down-turned face. He said nothing.
“You didn’t know?” The old man asked, with amusement in his voice. “Oh, this is delicious!” He bellowed, his words echoing around the cavernous room.
Bew was stunned. She simply couldn’t speak. Lurren’s silence suggested she felt the same.
“Yes, the Trarkin has been helping me for centuries! Such a useful little fellow, sometimes. Normally, he journeys around the mudlands, placing the cup where some poor, wayward wanderer will stumble across it.” The man licked his lips. The sight made Bew want to vomit. “Very rarely does he walk such a feast right through my front door!”
Lurren directed a guttural, feral growl at Ringring, who dashed away and hid behind the old man. She broke into a sprint towards them.
The old man made a swift, lazy gesture with his right hand, and both girls were engulfed in an orange, glowing cage of light the same as Griff.
Bew banged frantically on the confines of her cage. Lurren screamed in an unintelligible rage. Griff simply watched, saddened, as if the girls’ capture had extinguished the very thought of escape.
The sorcerer sneered at the Trarkin cowering behind him. “You can leave now, worm.”
Dejected, Ringring shuffled toward the back of the room. He paused to look back at Bew, her sad eyes silently pleading for him to not leave. In that moment, a look of determination flashed over Ringring’s face and he tackled the old man, sending them both sprawling on the floor.
Immediately, the light around Bew flickered out, her cage dissipating. She looked around to see both Griff and Lurren had also been freed. The sorcerer kicked Ringring away from him, and staggered to his feet as Lurren hurled her axe and Griff hurled the bejeweled cup. The surprisingly nimble old man dodged the axe effortlessly, and the cup bounced harmlessly off of the his arm, clanging to the floor.
“Oh you’ll have to do better than tha-” Something sharp thrust out of the old sorcerer’s chest, a burst of charcoal-coloured blood spraying before him. He stumbled to his knees, a look of shock on his withered face. Over his shoulder, Bew saw Ringring gritting his teeth and pulling Griff’s sharpened stick out of the sorcerer’s back.
“Go!” the Trarkin yelled. “This won’t slow him down for long.” Already the man was clambering to his feet. “I’m sorry for bringing you here. Now go!” Ringring repeated, as he stabbed the stick into the old man’s side.
Bew shot him a look of thanks, then turned to Lurren, who was hugging her trembling brother. “Come on!” Bew yelled, and made a break for the door. She heard her friends’ sprinting steps behind her.
Bew reached the heavy wooden door and dragged it open, holding it for Lurren and Griff to run straight through before exiting herself.
“GET BACK HERE!” The old man roared, and an orange cage of light shot up inches from Bew’s heels just as she slipped out of the white room and into the cave.
Lurren slammed the door shut.
Bew, Lurren, and Griff hurried through the cave, uncertain if the sorcerer would follow. Bew’s heart pounded.
They passed the mind-slug, and Griff briefly stopped to pick up the sword that Bew had dropped. “This’ll be worth somethin’!” he beamed. Bew was amazed that he was still thinking about treasure after all that had happened.
“What’s that?” Griff said, pointing at the still-smoldering pile that was the wooden-man.
“Man. Made of wood. Bew killed it.” Lurren replied between breaths. Bew noticed Griff’s look of surprise at the last bit.
Finally, they reached the crawl-sized hole that lead to the surface, and Bew dropped to her hands and knees, leading the way. Griff blurted “I’ll get stuck if I get crawlin’ in there!”
“Shut up and go.” Bew heard Lurren say to her brother, which seemed to be enough to convince the big lad to try. Before long, the three friends emerged out of the rock and into the mudlands. Bew breathed a sigh of relief, relatively certain the sorcerer would not follow them now.
The night was black as pitch, and the group slowly – and carefully – trudged their way in the direction of Sundale. After a few miles, Bew pointed out a dozen lit torches, moving around in the distance.
“Our families!” Bew squealed with delight. “They’re looking for us!” She doubled her pace, no longer concerned about slipping in the darkness. She did not check to see if Lurren and Griff followed.
“Hey! We’re over here!” She yelled, waving her hands in the air as she approached the nearest torch-bearer, who then signalled for rest to come.
It was Yim, the baker. “Bew! Yer Pa’s gone right mad with worry!” He hugged the cold and muddied girl, as if to prevent her disappearing in the time it took for the other villagers to gather around.
The dozen villagers all formed a welcoming bay of light, as Lurren and Griff arrived, joining Bew and Yim. Bew’s Pa handed his torch to Jessim, the farmhand, and rushed to embrace her tightly.
Nobody approached Lurren and Griff right away, but that was likely due to the shining sword in the boy’s hand.
After the euphoria of their reunion dwindled, the trio shared the tale of what had happened to them. Their story was met with wide eyes and astonishment, and a lot of questions.
On the way back to Sundale, Bew pleaded with her Pa to gather a rescue party to go back for Ringring as soon as possible.
“It’s too dangerous.” He said. “Best we just leave the mudlands alone from now on, Bew.”
“Come sunrise,” she said, staring daggers of determination into her Pa’s eyes. “I’m going to save my friend.”
So, yeah, that’s it. Comment if you like (or hate) it, share it, do whatever.