I’m working on a 7,000-10,000 word short story for the Dark Crystal – author’s quest contest. Here is the first chapter.
The world was indeed darkening. It stretched further past the plain of Skarith at a far faster pace than she had hoped; than she had feared. Even the wise urRu Ritual Guardian, urZah, had not foreseen the extent to which the blight was raking its brittle, dusty fingers across their world. It had reached the Gnarled Stonetree.
The Gelfling sighed. Maybe urTih had miscalculated. Though she couldn’t blame her teacher. It was her responsibility to gather and compile knowledge about the putrid darkness consuming Thra. When she’d left the Vapra clan’s ancestral city in search of the Valley of the Mystics she was called Kin. Her journey traced across the world to the east where she was to train with the urRu alchemist, urTih. Spending her adolescence under the guidance of her mentor, Kin grew into Kyn’ae, the Gelfling Alchemist of clan Vapra.
Newly reborn, Kyn’ae assumed something had gone wrong. She did not feel any differently than before the naming ritual and the supposed completion of her training with the urRu. She still felt like Kin. Worse actually. In fact, she felt less confident and less capable the more she thought about it.
Staring out at the withering black limbs and cancerous knots that dotted the skin of the Gnarled Stonetree, Kyn’ae wished that the Vapra Elders could’ve chosen another to train with the urRu. Of course, Kyn’ae knew that there was no other. The next Vapra Alchemist was always the daughter of the last.
Her failure ate at her insides. She resentfully cradled the knowledge that the Vapra Elders would receive her in silent disappointment upon learning her charged task remained incomplete.
Mother left only to train, she thought through gritted teeth.
The hallow wind whistled as it spit grains of dust across the skin left exposed by her alchemists robes; robes she felt unworthy of.
Mother had gone away expected only to return as the next Gelfling Alchemist of the clan Vapra. Ky’nae, however, was laden with the added trial of revealing the name and meaning of the growing darkness that leeching out from its seat in the plain of Skarith.
Ky’nae felt the crippling responsibility that pressed down on her for the nameless blight yet remained so. She had begun to wonder if the force that stalked her world always remain so discouragingly inarticulate in its purpose, so frustratingly undefined in its substance. All this was regardless of her own impassioned efforts and those of the Mystics with whom she’d spent so many years.
Her thoughts were so loud that she almost didn’t notice there was an unfamiliar signpost thrust into the dry ground. It marked the path to the Swamp of Sog to the North, the Caves of Obscurity to the South, and Claw Mountain to the West, and the Valley of the Mystics pointed back the way she’d come. Someone must have erected the markers recently since when Kyn’ae had been Kin she had to rely on deciphering the clues embedded in the bark of the Gnarled Stonetree, which was the purpose of the ancient tree, to reveal her desired path. She stepped closer to the Stonetree and touched the twisting, arthritic black bark with her slender white fingers. Her fingertips burst with a bright empathic ache that shone a dull red. The throbbing glow, while to her was almost too much, only revealed the faintest expression of the true pain the blight was causing her world. Even so, that subtle and incomplete awareness was more than enough to jolt her hand back sharply. She cradled it near her racing heart.
Kyn’ae said some words of healing that urIm, the Healer, had taught her and the red glow shifted from a dull throbbing to a soft radiant blue that hummed with a restorative benevolence before fading completely, leaving her fingers warm and once again white. Her words had also begun to heal a patch of the Stonetree’s bark which glowed a prestine grey, the way it had been when she’d first encountered it all those years ago.
Kyn’ae was mesmerized by the division around the grey spot where it met the charcoal black of the blighted bark. Charged with the blue energy of urIm’s words of healing, the division looked to her like a defensive wall holding back the black blight. The blue barrier crackled and sparked and she saw it was trying to expand over the blight, to dispel it and restore the Gnarled Stonetree.
As the blue barrier expanded outward along the trunk she saw a solitary triangle and she remembered.
The symbol shot through her guilt and pessimism and exposed the faintest glow of hope. But, faint as it was, it was indeed hope. The blue barrier expanded further and revealed yet another triangle that encapsulated the first, only this one was oriented the inverse of the other.
“The shape of the sacred,” Kyn’ae whispered to the nothingness in the dry air.
As the glowing blue barrier continued to stretch out along the skin of the Gnarled Stonetree, she counted seven triangles. Each one fit inside the other. Each one larger than the one before, and each rotating between upright and upside-down, each regressing until the last disappeared completely from view.
Originally, these markings were left to guide wanderers to safety. For Kyn’ae (then Kin) it was meant to lead her to her education in the Valley of the Mystics. But fate had imbued the markings with an added purpose for Kyn’ae, and her alone. The markings had sparked her consuming fascination that remained unnamed until urSu viewed what she had simply been calling curiosity. She was in fact searching for the knowledge of shape and form. A quest that had only ever been undertaken once before and which the Mystics had assumed had ended long long ago. Incomplete then and impossible if ever attempted again.
When she’d first seen the retreating triangles as Kin, something flashed inside her mind in such a profound and visceral way that could never be articulated in such a feeble and coarse manner as speech. Not even when she recounted her experience with Master urSu through dream fasting could she even attempt to pay the revelation the importance it commanded.
How does one even express in words such a moment?
The experience had seemed to encompass years of Kin’s young life, staring with unfocused yet tautly alert eyes at the markings yet only seconds had passed in truth.
UrSu had connected with her frequently during the course of her training in hopes of gleaning more insight into her experience with the interconnectedness of shape and form. She’d wondered then as Kin, and now again as Kyn’ae, the Gelfling Alchemist of clan Vapra, whether the increasingly smaller triangles really vanished at all or if they continued off in an invisible state of unendingly smaller and smaller shapes.
She remembered urTih’s expression when she’d first inquired about that possibility. She’d smiled at his straining to remain somber and calculating, but his eyes betrayed him.
“You speak of the twins and their quest for the shape of the sacred,” urTih had said after a prolonged and controlled silence.
There was a loud, angry pop that jolted Kyn’ae back further from the Gnarled Stontree. Its black bark sizzled and smoldered sending acrid plumes of opaque smoke rising up around the edges of the blue barrier. It floated up through the rigid black fingers of the Stonetree’s branches, escaping into the hoarse screech of the winds above its enormous bulk.
The blight was pressing back.
The blue glow sparked violently in opposition to the blights counter-offensive as it reasserted its dark possession over the old tree. Very quickly the bright markings that had filled her with the faint, but encouraging hope she so desperately needed, the triangles were once again swallowed by the sinister black bark.
She felt the dull red pain again but when she examined her fingers they were still the white, slender fingers of a Gelfling woman of the Vapra clan.
The twins. Kyn’ae stared long at the aged and wind beaten signpost jutting out from the ground.
It may have been a tired, resentful, and discouraged mind grasping out for the delicate, immaterial strands of hope floating just beyond her fingers, but regardless of hope’s legitimacy, it was still hope and it glowed a bright benevolent blue that charged her with optimism and purpose.
She smiled and turned to follow the marker that pointed north, toward the hope she’d already convinced herself was a tangible and knowable thing. A thing that waited silently to be recovered from its womb in the Cave of the Ancients beyond the Silver Sea.