The Frozen Glass

Writing Prompt: Story Generator

TheFrozenGlass

It was past dark when Ren came in sight of old Prophet’s Church, and the local militia were gone. Perhaps in the first days, when the fires of revolution still burned in the minds of the people, those guards had not shirked their duties. Those days were decades past now, the great people’s revolution now reduced to boring history.

No one had worshiped in this building in decades, since it was abandoned by royal decree. Newly crowned King Darenth had not ordered it burned or torn down—that would imply the land’s newest monarch thought the Prophet’s rantings meaningful—but had instead ordered it left to decay in obscurity. Forgotten, like the Prophet herself.

Still, the church was in better shape than the Prophet. You could not behead a church.

Ren’s trusty velociraptor, Shrike, hunkered down as Ren reined him in at the stone fence. Time and opportunistic villagers had left its stones depleted. Shrike hated the church, hated what waited inside it, but that was because raptors were, by nature, distrustful of magic. What had brought them into the world could easily send them back out again.

“There now, girl.” Ren slid off Shrike and stroked his hand down the raptor’s long neck. “Don’t fret. I’m going in alone.”

Tonight, Ren knew, he would finally hold Elen into his arms. He would free her from her magical prison and bring her home to his father, to marry. He would tell her he loved her.

The inside of the church was in worse shape than the exterior. While stone and mortar had weathered the years gracefully, the wood inside was peeling, broken, and rotting. Ren chose his steps carefully. He was going down to the cellar, but he preferred to take the stairs.

He felt his way down stone steps in darkness, using the wall as his guide. Only once concealed by the cellar did he produce his wand and light it with a word of power—Solyr. Long ago picked clean by scavengers, the cellar was empty of all valuables save one—the full-length mirror with the golden frame and frosted glass. The mirror that had called to Ren from his dreams. Elen’s prison. A prison for the woman he loved.

The scavengers hadn’t touched the mirror. They hadn’t even been able to see it. Ren could see the mirror because he knew the old words, like Solyr and Vanis, because he had learned those words from his father. King Darenth’s mastery of those words had allowed him to seize the throne. All Ren wanted was to free Elen.

He walked to the mirror and set the wand aside. He focused and waited until a blue tint grew at the edge of his vision. He said the words that brought him to Elen six weeks ago, on the first of many nights they spent talking, commiserating, falling in love. “Revel.”

The frosted glass melted from top to bottom, revealing a surface beneath like the side of a soap bubble, transparent but always shifting. Elen waited beyond the frost. Her brilliant smile when she saw him lit Ren’s world brighter than the glowing wand.

“You’re back!” She was everything he wanted. “I thought I’d never see you again!”

Elen was close to his age, old enough to marry but only just, with golden hair to her shoulders and a green dress—the same dress she always wore—that rose to her neck and fell to mid-calf. She had soft curves and a nose that was just a bit rounder than his. She owned his heart.

“I found the word,” Ren said, and Elen’s eyes grew wide. “I can free you. We leave this church tonight, together.”

“You found it?” Elen clasped her hands together at her breast. “Oh Ren, I knew you wouldn’t fail me. I love you! I love you! I love you!”

Each repetition made the words more powerful, and Ren felt his face flush and his body heat. He thought of all the nights they had spent talking in this cellar, her on one side of the glass and him on the other, and the bond that grew as they learned they shared the same dreams, and beliefs, and hopes. Her to be free once more, and him to free her.

“I need you to stand back,” Ren said. He couldn’t wait to touch her, to hold her, to kiss her, at last. “Stand well back, Elen, and I should be able to make a hole in the mirror.”

“Will it hurt?” She swallowed and stared from behind the glass that kept them apart. “The Prophet told me it would hurt. She said I would die if I went free.”

The Prophet again. Ren worked to hide his anger. The Prophet deserved to lose her head for all the awful things she had done, least of which was imprisoning her own daughter in this mirror when King Darenth took power. No one deserved to suffer forever in a mirror.

“It won’t hurt,” Ren said, because he wanted to reassure her. “And you won’t die.” That he did know, having researched every book in the old king’s library regarding enchanted mirrors. “You’ll be free, we’ll be together, and we’ll rule the kingdom as husband and wife.” He smiled. “In a few decades, of course. After Father passes.”

“I’m ready.” Elen stepped back. “I trust you, Ren. I know you’d never hurt me.”

Ren focused on the golden frame, on the bubble glass, and waited until the blue tint came. It was all around the edges of his vision now, crackling more than normal. Was that a warning? Ren didn’t care. He focused on the word, fixed it in his mind so he could think it as urgently as he said it, and spoke. “Liber.”

The surface of the mirror shimmered like a still pond struck by a heavy stone. A wind grew inside it, tossing Elen’s blond hair and pressing her dress close against her body. Frost appeared at the edges of her hair, and her teeth chattered. “Ren!”

“Come out, Elen!” Ren shouted. “Walk toward the wind!”

“I can’t!” Her eyes were wide now, the frost spreading across the glass. She reached for him, struggling. “Help me, Ren! Help me!”

Something was wrong. He had said the word of power wrong, but he couldn’t let her die in that mirror. He couldn’t let her freeze.

Ren dashed forward and, for the first time, reached through the mirror. He strained for her and Elen for him. Their hands touched, warmth upon warmth, and for the barest of moments time ceased to be. There was just Elen, her hand in his, her smile and her love.

The world melted around him.

Ren stumbled into hard stone, except it was not stone, not any longer. It was glass, clearer than any he had ever seen and tall as the sky. A golden frame surrounded a mirror shape in the wall of glass, and behind that glass and endless sky was a dark cellar and a glowing wand. Elen stood in it, staring at him, smiling, her hair still tipped with frost.

“Elen?” It was cold in this world of sky and glass, and Ren saw his breath mist as goosebumps rose on his arms. “Elen, what’s happened? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine now, Ren.” Elen’s smile grew as she watched him through the glass that had once separated them. “No, beyond fine. I am perfect. I am avenged.”

“What?” Ren didn’t understand any of this, and he pushed his hands against the glass that separated them. It was no longer a bubble, and it was hard and cold. “Elen, what are you doing out there? How am I in here? What is this?” He loved her!

“Your father’s reward.” Elen’s smile turned chill. “My mother’s gift.”

She was the Prophet’s Daughter. The Prophet had imprisoned Elen, hidden her, damned her, and King Darenth had killed the Prophet. Elen should be grateful!

“Elen, no. I love you!” Had she lied about everything? He realized he didn’t care. “I’m not my father. We can overthrow him, Elen! We can rule together!”

“My mother can’t rule without her head.” Elen picked up his glowing wand and turned her back on him. “And your father can’t pass on a kingdom to a son that doesn’t exist.”

She was mad! She was going to leave him here, in this mirror, where no one would find him, because he loved her. Because he wanted to save her. “Stop! Please! Don’t do this!”

Even as he shouted, even as his heart pounded and his head thumped, Ren knew she wouldn’t listen. He knew, because he remembered those words. The Prophet had uttered those same words, in that same tone—before King Darenth chopped off her head.

“Farwell, Ren Darenth.” Elen climbed the steps. “Farewell, you blind fool.”

Ren was still screaming when the cellar grew dark again.

THE END

 

About the Story:

This month, the mods made their own “story generator” and everyone rolled a set of random numbers to determine what elements they would have to incorporate into that month’s story. This resulted in a number of stories with similar elements, but those stories ended up being very different. It was a remarkably fun exercise, and I was surprised by how much of this story “wrote itself” as I worked to incorporate all the elements I had rolled. Below, the story generator matrix:

934irgw

My roll ended up as the following:

Paranormal Romance
Royal Heir
Church
Wand
Too Trusting
Evil Wizard/Witch

AND…

DINOSAURS

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/25494789@N02/27894292603″>Chapelle de Cazeneuve</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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Nightmare Man

Writing Prompt: Nightmares

KabukiMask

The outsider arrived on an overcast day in shelter season, wrapped in furs of black and brown. A mask of blood-stained wood obscured her face, a demon visage with leering eyes and bared teeth. Metal rods ending in small balls jutted from her boot tips, thumping the ground with each measured step.

From the moment she entered Papa’s smoke-filled tavern, I couldn’t stop staring at her. She journeyed freely without servants or a husband or anyone, really, a life I’d live if not for Papa’s condition. The common room grew silent save for the woman’s boot tip rods thumping the wooden floor. A sword remained sheathed on her back.

The leering eyes on her demon mask passed over my sullen patrons, the sad fire sputtering in my hearth, and fixed on me, standing behind the beaten bar. Excitement filled me that I’d not felt for almost a year, since the last outsider arrived. That same excitement faded once he fled, babbling, down the mountain.

“My name is Kinto Kusaragi,” the woman told me, “and I’m here to kill your Nightmare Man.”

I looked to Papa, staring at nothing, and then at Will, my towheaded younger brother. Will nodded, face solemn. He could handle things while I was away. He could handle Papa if the necessity arose.

I prepared myself for another long trek up the lonely mountain, another day of listening to boasts and threats. Another bitter disappointment. “Very well then. Let me get my coat.”

* * *

There was no delay once Kinto Kusaragi stated her purpose – this was not, I suspected, a woman who tolerated delay – so we set out together despite the overcast sky. For those who still lived in Stone Hamlet, a blizzard was the least of our worries. We had thick furs, sturdy homes, and sturdy hearths, and enough salted meat and porridge to last through the winter. What we did not have is sleep.

Our waking lives were repetitive, exhausting slogs through necessities and chores. We put off sleep for as long as we could, fighting exhaustion until we couldn’t. Some of us, like my poor Papa, had lost themselves entirely in the visions that raced down the mountain every night.

It was the Nightmare Man who shoved those horrors into our heads, who sent the things that drove us awake, screaming, and suckled on our fear. Worse yet, once you’d suffered through enough gifts from the Nightmare Man, waking just continued the dream. That was why Papa stared.

“Tell me of your village,” Kinto said, as she followed me up a narrow mountain path of packed dirt bordered by rocks and scrub. “Tell me of your life here, before and after. I wish to know everything.” The bulk of the lonely mountain towered over us, jagged edges and snow-capped peaks.

The last outsider to answer Mayor Rollin’s plea for aid, a big dark-skinned man with his huge axe and clinking mail, had asked nothing as I led him up the path. He had called himself Rourke the Crusher, a hero of great importance, and a lonely tavern keeper like me was beneath him.

Kinto was different, interested, so I told her of how things had been before the Nightmare Man came. Of the festivals and dances we used to hold during Harvest Months, the chalk art my mother made before she died. I told her how the nightmares drove Mayor Rollin insane, how Lady Rollin grew mad with grief and fear and ended her children before ending herself. I told her the names of those who fled or died.

I told Kinto of my Papa before he lost his mind to fear, the way he could stop a brewing fight with a stern glare and set a room to laughing with a single bawdy joke. The way he treated me and Will the same, always. None dared question a woman working behind a bar, not in front of it, while Papa watched.

Papa protected me until he couldn’t, and I was determined to protect him too. That’s why I remained in Stone Hamlet despite the horrors that ripped me apart in nightmares every night. That’s why I risked my sanity and safety despite my urgent desire to do anything but run a tavern and tend a bar.

As we ascended Kinto mirrored my every step, metal bars thumping, along with her boots, into the snowy imprints of mine. Odd behavior, but I put it off to paranoia about traps. Perhaps I was not so friendly as I claimed, or in league with the Nightmare Man. A woman who fought demons would not survive without being cautious.

We found the Nightmare Man’s two-story cabin at the end of the mountain path, the one so many of my people trudged up and down every day. The smell of bags of rotting fruit was awful, gifts our sheltered tormentor ignored as he often ignored us. Bribes and pleas.

These desperate attempts by the people of Stone Hamlet’s to purchase even one night’s uninterrupted sleep were as unimportant to the Nightmare Man as we were. Our screams and our terror kept him fed, not these rotting sacks of fruit, and he took that gift whenever he wished. What need had he of fruit?

“Close your eyes, child,” Kinto said softly, and I complied. The way she called me child was not dismissive – it felt protective, even – and I had no desire to witness the horrors that sent Rourke the Crusher fleeing down the mountain. I was willful, but I was no trained fighter. I could only get in her way.

“Palor Sellius!” Kinto’s voice thundered up the path. “Your time here is at an end! Leave, or die!”

Nothing from the cabin. Nothing but silence on the wind. Then the sound of the Nightmare Man’s mad laughter, echoing off the rising walls of the mountain path and digging into my ears. His laughter was the worst of it – the glee he took in driving us slowly insane – and I bared my teeth and clenched my fists. Yet despite my closed eyes, my endless shudders, I would not turn and run. Not until Kinto ran too.

“Leave!” Kinto thundered. “Or die!” And though my eyes were closed, the ring of her sword leaving its sheath came so clearly I could practically see the blade glistening in the fading sun. Red as blood.

“Fool of a woman.” I heard a door open and the Nightmare Man’s heavy footfalls as he stumbled out. I pictured a wheezing man grown fat on the nectar of our nightmares, and what bribes he deigned to eat. “You really wish to lose your mind?” And with that, a monstrous scream chilled my blood.

“Pathetic,” Kinto replied, and I heard those metal bars clanging forward. “Anything else?”

For the first time in a long time, I dared hope. I did not know what had produced that roar – I dared not look, for fear of losing my sanity – but that roar had driven Rourke the Crusher back down the mountain, hollering at the top of his lungs. Evidently, Kinto Kusaragi was made of sterner stuff.

“Unexpected,” the Nightmare Man whispered, excitement twisting his words. “Face this!”

A mournful keening set my muscles rigid and brought sweat to my sides. Yet Kinto strode on, metal balls thunking in the dirt, and I heard his wooden stoop creak as the Nightmare Man stepped back.

“Impossible,” he said, and I heard the first hint of real fear. I wondered if he had forgotten what fear was like as he lived in his cabin all these years, ruthlessly inflicting terrors on my people. “No! Get back!”

A roar arose that stole my ability to think. I could not imagine what sort of horror had made it, what sort of horror Kinto Kusaragi must be confronting with her glistening sword, but I did not hear her run.

“You cannot frighten me, Sellius,” Kinto told him, and then I heard a meaty thunk and the Nightmare Man’s gurgling. “Go in peace.”

I opened my eyes – I had no choice but to open my eyes, hearing those impossible words – and found Kinto withdrawing her bloody blade from the middle of the Nightmare Man’s chest. He collapsed, eyes wide and words slurred, as blood spread around him like a stuck pig. His nightmare power was broken.

I stared at the man dying on his stoop. “How?” I stared at the woman who ignored a horde of horrors to murder him. “How did he not terrify you?”

One of Kinto’s hands rose to her wooden demon mask. She removed it to reveal the weathered, golden face of a woman about Papa’s age, a woman whose milky white eyes stared at nothing. She was as blind as I was when I squeezed my eyes shut, guided only by her metal rods and her sharp ears.

“We all have our gifts,” Kinto said, a satisfied smile spreading across her face. “Mine is killing rogue illusionists.”

THE END

 

About the Story:

This contest’s theme, “Nightmares”, obviously lends itself to stories with a darker bent, and initially, I pondered going right down the horror route. However, while brainstorming ideas, I ended up randomly coming up with the idea of a “Nightmare Man”, which then sent me down all sort of thought experiments as to what a Nightmare Man would be.

This story flowed naturally from there, coming together very quickly.

Photo Credit:

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/25045966@N05/2381835393″>Kabuki Mask – Noh , Oni(Hannya)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;