This is my entry to the Dungeons and Starships Sci-Fi/Fantasy one-shot competition.
It achieved a worthy fourth place.
The room was dark, it consisted only of a bed and a chair, both occupied. The bed by a man, eyes shut and in ill health and the chair by a woman, his wife, sobbing and holding his hand.
The man had been struck ill by a mysterious affliction, the symptoms were unheard of and the wife had nowhere to turn, her husband was dying and no one could do a single thing about it, doctor after doctor had arrived to examine the patient and each of them had turned round and said 'I'm sorry, but there's nothing that I can do. Perhaps I can refer you to another doctor.' Each time she cried for an hour at the possibility, nay, certainty of losing her husband.
So she sat. Her husband occasionally waking to her saddened form, he would tell her, 'Don't worry dear, for I am set for heaven, somewhere this illness can't follow. You may not be set with me but soon it will be your time, and we will be reunited.' This always made her smile, it was only when he closed his eyes again that she allowed herself to grimace.
That all changed when she received a letter explaining a solution to her problems.
It read 'I heard about the state your husband is in and I wish to help. My house is behind the bakery, come when you can.'
It at first made her sad, the realisation that her husband was indeed ill and it wasn't all a nightmare, then it made her angry, 'Why would someone do this to me?' then it made her confused and intrigued, 'How can this person help where many doctors have failed?' then it made her, dare she say it, happy. Someone, she didn't know who was willing to help her, the world isn't as bad as it seems.
'come when you can.' the women read again.
“Husband darling, I have received an urgent letter and must attend to some business.” The pale near lifeless form of her husband taking no heed to her words. The wife picked up a long brown coat from a hook on the wall slowly pulled it on, taking one last laborious look at her husband and pushed the door open and squinted slightly as the bright spring sunlight hit her eyes.
The town in which she lived was a small village in the shadow of a great mountain. The small stone houses lay blissfully in the wake of this mountain, it was a common practice for the mountain folk to thank the spirit of the mountain in their prayers. The wife had been doing this a lot for the past few weeks, praying for the health of her husband, hoping the spirit would hear and give her an answer, and it seems that this mystery note might be it.
She walked briskly until she reached the bakery, she relished the smell of bread but went on with the thought of a possible answer in her mind. There was an alleyway next to the bakery which she guessed was they way to go, she tread slowly through the dark, damp, smelly, cramped space and only stopped when she saw a sign that said 'Galerion's Mystic Emporium'
'This must be the place' she thought, taking care not to breath through her nose. The door was pushed open and she stepped inside.
The shop was the most odd thing the wife had seen in her entire life. Bird cages filled with bones, were hung from the roof. The shelves were full of what looked like shrunken heads and jars filled with horrible things floating in green goo. The floor was dusty and on more than one occasion she had to scrape a cobweb from her black hair. Taking a brave step into the dark store she called out “Hello! You sent me a letter about my husband.” and took another brave step. Out of the corner of her eye, she could swear she saw something move, this only made her steps faster, until she reached the counter where no one was sat.
“Hello!” She called again, and thrust her palm onto the small ringing device sat there.A shuffling was heard from behind a large, dusty red curtain. Then it swung open to reveal a hunchbacked old woman wearing a dull purple robe.
“Welcome child.” she whispered “I didn't hear you come in.”
The wife, quite taken aback by the old lady's odd appearance, stared for a while before replying. “Why are you whispering?”
“I don't want to wake the mountain goat. So, you came here on business, yes?”
“Yes, you sent me a letter saying that you could help my husband. Is... that true?” the wife asked.
“Why yes, I know of something that would let your husband live.” said the shopkeeper mysteriously.
“Where is it? How much do you want for it?” asked the wife. She was becoming quite desperate.
“I do not have it with me, although I do know where it can be found.”
“You must tell me!”
“If you are so sure-”
“I am sure!”
“Well then...” the old lady turned and started to look at the books on an oak bookshelf, tracing her finger over the spine of each one sat there, until she found the right book. She pulled it off the shelf and placed it with a thud on the counter, causing dust to fly out from underneath. The old woman opened it and looked through the pages until she found the appropriate one.
“Aha! This is it. The Sanguine Rose.”
And so it was, there was a drawing of a singular rose, stood upon the top of a mountain on a small plateau.
“And how can a rose save my husband?” Asked the wife angrily.
“This is no ordinary rose, dear Ariana, for it holds the unlimited power of the spirit of the mountain. Anyone who carries it in their possession is cured of all ailments and will be unharmed by all attacks on the body, it even grants the wielder eternal life.”
The wife, named Ariana, stood speechless observing the small insignificant rose in the book. “How do you know my name?” She asked with an air of indignation.
“I know many things, and it is good for you that I do. Remember that child.” She answered with haughty indifference.
“Well the... What is the location of this rose?”
“You are in luck child. The rose resides atop the very mountain this village lies beside. Though you must hurry if you are to reach the peak. I fear your husband's time is running out.”
Ariana thought for a short second and looked around the shop inquisitively. “Thank you merchant, I am forever in your debt. In the future, if you need anything, be sure to ask me.” She ran out of the small alley shop and headed home to prepare for her trip.
“Don't worry child, I'll soon have what I want from you.” whispered the hunchbacked old lady turning and leaving through the dusty curtain she came from with a cackle.
* * *
The door flung open and Ariana walked in proudly. “Husband, husband!” She said happily, “I have found an answer. It will require a lot of exertion on my part but for you I will do it.”
Her husband slept peacefully as she talked.
“I will prepare to climb the mountain and bring you back this answer. I only wish you would wake so I could say a proper goodbye.”
The wife grabbed a selecion of items from around the house, warm clothing and hard wearing shoes, and stuffed them into a bag. It was a quick affair, the longer she took to get this sorted out, the less time her husband had. It was this thought that drove her.
With all manner of things packed tightly into a bag slung over her shoulder, she kissed her husband lightly on the forehead and left the house. She was half way across town when her husband awoke violently, blonde curls matted against his face, sweating profusely. He had screamed Ariana when he awoke, expecting to see her smiling face looking down on him, the nightmare in which he had been situated for the past few weeks had subsided and his illness had abated, he felt only refreshment in his eyes but worry littered his mind. Where was his wife? The loving soul who had been taking care of him all this time.
Only time would tell.
* * *
The foot of the mountain was upon her, she glanced upwards towards the peak craning her neck as far as it could go. It would be a tough trek. Ariana took one step onto a carved path up the mountain when she heard the knocking of hooves against the rock. Above her was a mountain goat, standing proud, beige wool gleaming, two large, curving horn protruding from its head. Then it opened its mouth.
“I am Galerion!” It boomed.
Ariana was shocked, not just for the fact that a mountain goat had crossed her path and boomed a welcome, but also that she recognised the name.
“The shop I entered, 'Galerion's Mystic Emporium' is that... You can't own it, your a goat.” said Ariana unconvinced of her own logic.
“Dear girl, I have every right to be the propriator of any business I desire. That fool of a woman is somebody I hired to keep the customers happy whilst I attend to more pressing matters.” The goat, who sounded very old, spoke in a voice of contempt, “Whether or not I have any eligibilty for shop ownership is nothing for you to discuss. Now, to the matter at hand, I have found it necessary to help you, as you will not succeed if left to your own devices.”
“And how do you know that?” Asked Ariana “I happen to be a fairly competent climber.”
The goat merely cocked an eyebrow and stared mirthlessly at the woman stood a metre below him.
“Dear girl, where do you think that fool woman gets all her information. If it were not for my Divinatry skills, I doubt either of us would be standing here at this time and I certainly would not be the successful owner of a chain of businesses extending past the mountains.” Galerion the mountain goat stated matter-of-factly. “And your climbing abilty has nothing to do with your success, there are things on this mountain you wouldn't be able to pass without my extensive knowledge of magicks and all things arcane. Plus, I know this mountain like the back of my hoof.”
The wife stood resolute, thinking as to her next course of action. After a minute, she dropped her arms to her side and agreed for the help.
“You have chosen... Wisely dear girl.” The goat bowed his head then motioned for her to follow him. “Onwards... To adventure!”
The mountain was a worthy foe for the woman climbing its harsh faces and traversing the rocky paths, Galerion, through means he didn't want to discuss had boundless energy and used his time waiting for Ariana to catch up shouting words of encouragement. “A thousand swords for a thousand years could never hope to break the walls of your mind, whereas a well placed word can do it seconds.” He always quoted. However, after hours of grueling exertion and many suggestions from Galerion, the two set up camp in a cave facing out across the land beyond the mountain.
“What is like beyond the mountain, Galerion?” asked Ariana sleepily.
“I'm sorry dear girl, but that you will never know. Now get some sleep, you'll need your energy for the next day.”
And the girl fell quickly into a dreamless sleep. The goat watching out over the lands, statuesque in his restless vigour.
The wife awoke quietly to the image of her stalwart companion staring unblinkingly just as she'd left him. She removed the blanket covering her and propped herself up on her arms.
“Finally awake are you.” said the goat, unmoving.
“What time is it?” The girl asked groggily, rubbing her eyes.
“It is nearing the seventh hour. I suggest you make haste with getting ready, we still have quite a climb.” The goat walked to the entrance of the cave and looked up towards the peak whilst the girl cleared up her things, she had put the last thing in the bag when she asked how far it was to the peak.
“Not far dear girl, not far. A few more hours climb and we should be there.”
And so they climbed, the higher they climbed, the thinner the air got and the harder it was to continue the climb, on several occasions she had to stop and catch her breath, much to the dain of Galerion, who insisted they move on every time she mentioned her tiredness. “I must insist that we persist, the peak won't come to us.”
“Thats... all well... for you... Mr. Boundless energy... I... on the other hand... need to catch... my breath” she managed to say, she sat gulping in breath after breath until she was ready to go again.
“Lucky for you the rest of the way is easily walked up.”
“Then lead the way Mr. Goat. I will follow.”
And he did, the incline was steep but not so that it was necessary to climb and Ariana found it easier to traverse this part than any other part of the mountain. She relished the feeling of being so close to achieving ones goals, that great sense of achievement for a job well done, it was rare to have that at home. There isn't much pride in preparing a fantastic meal or keeping a tidy house, she almost thanked her husband for letting her have this, but then she realised, the illness wasn't his fault and she shouldn't enjoy and part of it. Getting joy from anothers pain is tantamount to torture.
Galerion lead the climb for many hours and it seemed almost that the journey would never end, but a great door of immense size and intricacy told her that she had reached the top. Darkest Black with complicated patterns and images gilded in red, along the join, where a normal door would swing to allow passage, was a large eye of such complexity that Ariana imagined it must of taken many great artists many great years to perfect. The small mountain goat trotted up to this imposing door and placed a hoof squarely in the middle, although Ariana could not see or hear him, Galerion muttered a small incantation and stepped back. A great line of light flashed from the opening of the door, it grew larger and whiter until it was impossible to see, courageously the girl took steps forward into the whiteness, she was guarding her eyes with her arm but when she got her vision back she was met by a small circle of land as drab and as grey as the mountain she had been climbing, but in this space was a man, dressed entirely in armour.
“Hello?” said Ariana demurely, using the greeting as a question.
There was a creaking sound, many creaking sounds, the armoured man was turning round and in his hands the Sanguine Rose was kept, as earthly green and vibrant red as the day it bloomed.
“Dost thou come to release me?” His accent was foreign and his speech thick and old. Ariana turned round to confront Galerion, he hadn't mentioned other people, but he was nowhere to be seen, the great black door had closed and she was trapped.
“Dost thou come to claim the Rose?” Ariana turned round again to face the stranger.
“Yes, I come to claim the Rose, my husband is ill and I need it to cure him.”
“Then thou art a more courageous soul than I. Take it, your cause is noble and your heart, true.” The stranger held out his hand, holding the Rose securely. Ariana reached out and grabbed the stem, whilst the stranger let go and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank you young one for displacing me from my immortal coil. I ask only you hear my words...
...Every Rose has it's thorns.”
The stranger dropped to one knee, then the ground, turning to ash floating on the breeze as he fell.
Ariana stood aghast at the sight, the Rose clenched firmly against her chest.
The deal is done, the Rose has passed.
Now take on these words, for they will be your last.
For each passing of the moon you shall perish, the victim of her darkness.
For each passing of the sun you shall be rebirthed, the reciever of her bounty.
For each passing year you shall feel no pain, no hunger, no fear.
For each passing century you shall live.
For each passing millenium, death will be your ally and life your foe.
Until time is decided, that another is worthy of your enthrallment.
May the thorns in your skin let the Rose be joined with you until time is decided.
And may the Rose never leave this mountain top, pervayer of the lands below, until time is decided.
And I ask you to ponder this... What colour is the night?
* * *
The tinkling of a bell could be heard throughout 'Galerion's Mystic Emporium' and the old lady stepped from beyond her red curtain greet the customer.
“Dear brother, how lovely it is to see you again.” She greeted the newcomer with open arms and warmness. The old man however was not convinced by the act.
“You were only ever nice to me when you'd done something bad. Have you been messing with mortals again?” The old man asked with unquavering conviction.
“Ah, you know me too well, but let me ask you. What colour is the night?” A smile cracked on her face.
“Sanguine. My brother.”