contest entry for Twisters Group; won Round 1
|(W/C: 3,139 )|
The Essence of Time
“You broke it, you fix it,” Mia snickered.
Picking up the broken wooden case with the remaining metal inner workings of the mantel clock, I mentally flogged myself. Master Zey will be so displeased with my clumsiness. I should have carried only one box instead of three boxes filled with supplies for next week’s antique clock symposium.
“I don't want to be around when Master Zey sees the mess you made of his precious timepiece,” Mia commented, shoving her textbooks and notebook into her backpack. She ran to the front door as Master Zey was entering from the side door of his workshop.
“What's this noise I hear from the workshop? Did someone drop a clock?” Master Zey asked as his Asian eyes widened at the sight of the mangled remains of the beautiful mantel clock.
“I am so sorry, so sorry, Master. I tried to carry in too many supply boxes and I didn't see the table. I bumped into it, knocking the clock onto the floor. I will fix it. Please do not be angry with me,” I pleaded with my head bowed and hands folded in submission.
“Young Christo, how many times have I cautioned you to be careful? You like a bull in china shop, not watching where you place your feet and body.” Master Zey putting his tirade in check.
Bending down Master Zey picked up the light blue crystal disc that was the face plate to cover the delicate hands of the clock. The crystal had a fine fracture line running across its surface.
“Young Christo, come with me,” Master Zey commanded returning to his workroom.
Moving about the room with care, Master Zey avoided brushing against the tables that held his current restoration projects. He stopped in front of a curio cabinet on the far side of the crowded workroom. Opening the ornate glass doors precisely, Master Zey reached into the back of a low shelf, he grasped a solitary blue sapphire. The gem did not look appear as the sparkling gem one would expect to see mounted on a gold setting. No, this stone was uncut, smooth from the years of being handled, and the surface seemed to absorb the light into itself.
“Master Zey, what can I do to repair your clock?” I whispered standing still beside him.
“Young Christo, the clock you knocked to the floor is very old. I have most of the parts here to repair it, but time is one thing I do not have,” Master Zey spoke solemnly.
“Master Zey, I do not understand. You've taught me how to repair all manner of clocks. I can help you repair this one.”
“Ah Christo, I know you have the skill and you are a good apprentice. We can put the clock back together, but the one thing I need is Time to restore it.”
“I understand Master that you have many other projects to finish before we can dedicate hours to repair this clock.”
“No, no, Young Christo, you do not understand! I do not have Time. I must have the Essence of Time to put into the clock.” Master Zey sighed, regaining his usual calm by rolling the stone over and over in the palm of his hand. He looked at me with his inscrutable gaze.
“You must take this stone,” Master Zey said pressing the blue stone warm from the tumbling in his hand, into my hand. “You must take it to the Mystic Mountains and find the Wizard Tycock. Give the Wizard this blue gem and ask him to dip it into the Well of Seasons. After the stone has absorbed the seasons, being it back to me quickly so you and I may place Time back into the clock.”
“But Master, how am I to find the Mystic Mountains and this Wizard Tycock,” I asked.
“Trust yourself, Young Christo. You are a smart guy. Look at the stone, it will guide you,” Master Zey replied.
As I looked at the stone, a faint glow emerged taking the shape of a small map.
“Quickly you go now, Young Christo!” Master Zey yelled grabbing my arm and abruptly swung me toward the misty portal whirling behind him.
It was impossible to keep his eyes on any stationary object. Swirling clouds and the sensation of his stomach lodged in his throat continued feeding the vertigo his brain insisted was real. The blue color of the void faded as the ground quickly came into view. Curling into a ball Christo forced his mind to accept he would land feet first and roll with the impact.
Umph! The impact and rolling forced the air from his lungs and the grass-covered ledge cushioning his impact. Once the tumbling stopped, Christo took stock of his body. Legs stretched without pain. Moving his arms he let out a sigh of relief that nothing was broken. Opening his eyes revealed the vista of the rocky mountaintop shrouded in mist.
Remembering what Master Zey said about taking the stone to the Wizard Tycock in the Misty Mountains, Christo felt a moment of panic. Where is the stone? Do I still have it? Opening his closed fist the gemstone was still in his hand. A new map glowed on its surface, pointing south. The mountain he saw upon his landing was east of his present location. Surely there would be a trail to follow and a bridge to cross to arrive at his destination. Securing the stone within his shirt pocket Christo begins his journey.
The day was mild and he estimated that it must be almost noon. Looking at his watch he was not surprised to see the hands turning counter-clockwise. Master Zey warned that objects that mark time in our world will operate oppositely in Misty Mountain.
Christo came upon a small waterfall and pool. He knelt down wanting to dip his hands into the cool water to wash his face and take a drink.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a faint voice called out from behind a rock.
Turning around Christo did not see anyone.
“Look down and don’t look for something you think you’d recognize,” the voice stated.
Christo was perplexed. Looking down the grass was green, long blade swaying in the gentle breeze. There was a boulder with wildflowers growing to one side of it. The boulder had a rough surface spotted with patches of gray and white lichen on it. A butterfly caught Christo’s eye as he watched it land on a flower. Eyes appeared on a raised bump on the boulder. A bright yellow tongue darted out of a mouth grasping the butterfly, pulling it back into its mouth. The rough bump shifted in appearance. A small troll with a wide mouth and gray eyes stood upon the boulder. The creature wore mottled gray and black hunting clothing allowing it to blend perfectly into the coloration of the boulder.
“Tromp is my name,” the troll announced sweeping the cap off its head revealing a riot of curly black hair.
“I am Christo. Why should I not touch the water?” Christo inquired.
“Because it is not what it seems,” Tromp replied.
“But I’ve traveled far. I’m thirsty. The water is clear and inviting.”
Plucking a flower Tromp moved to the pool’s edge. “Watch,” Tromp drops the flower in to the shimmering liquid. The flower dissolves into ribbons of color.
“This is not a liquid to quench your thirst. Follow me.”
The two traveled a winding path down to the valley below. Tromp stopped before a tree stump. Reaching behind the stump to release the latch, the top of the stump rose revealing stairs descending into the ground.
“Welcome to my home,” he motioned for Christo to follow him down the circular stairway.
Crystal scones were hung on the wall along the stairway and each emitted a soft light as they approached.
“Tromp, what are these orbs that light up as we pass by them?” Christo asked as he tried to figure out how the orbs glowed.
“I never thought much about them. They were already here when I moved in. It may be they sense our presence.”
At the end of the stairway a large round room with all the usual creature comforts lay before them. A bed, a dining table with four chairs, more crystal scones on the walls evenly spaced apart.
Tromp went to the food storage area. Taking wooden cups from the cabinet, he set them on the table with a wooden pitcher. He poured a liquid into each cup. “You’re human, so I don’t suppose you’d be wanting any dried crickets to munch on.”
“Uh, no thank you,” Christo replied.
“Here, this is water,” Trump handed a cup to Christo.
Looking into the cup the liquid appeared to be water. It was clear, had no smell. Christo took a small sip. It was cool, smooth, sweet water. It refreshed him instantly.
“Tromp, thank you for the water. I have a mission to complete. Would you tell me where I may find the Wizard Tycock?”
“Tycock! Why do you want to see that crusty old wizard?” Tromp asked.
“I must find the Wizard Tycock as soon as possible. My teacher, Master Zey has sent me to find the wizard and to bring back the Essence of Time.”
Tromp moved around the small table placing bowls of nuts and dried fruit on it. “The Essence of Time you say,” Tromp finished setting the table. “Please come, sit down.”
Christo looked at the small chairs. They were the proper height for Tromp, but he was afraid he would break one if he sat upon it.
“Remember, nothing is as it seems,” Tromp moved the chair back toward the stairway. Christo followed with amazement growing on his face. The chair was small when it was next to the table, but now next to the stairway, it appeared large enough to support his weight. Christo sat down, the chair fit him perfectly.
“How is this possible? The chair didn’t change shape!”
Tromp went back to the table to pick up the bowl of nuts, Christo watched him carefully. The bowl was small in Tromp’s hand. As Tromp carried the bowl to Christo, the bowl and its contents tripled in size to match Christo’s portions. It was a small bowl in Christo’s hand, but quite large in Tromp’s hand.
“How is it that your size does not change?” Christo asked the troll.
“I am a denizen of this place and time. You are not. Objects will grow or shrink as you have that effect on them.”
Christo ate a few of the nuts and passed the bowl back to Tromp. It returned to the small size Tromp was accustomed to.
Christo took the sapphire gemstone from his pocket. “I need to take this stone to the Wizard Tycock.” A small map glowed on its surface. He showed the stone to Tromp. “Where do I go from here?”
In Tromp’s hands the stone appeared as large as a world globe. It did not shrink. Turning the stone around Tromp pointed to the location of a path. “You need to follow this path across the stone bridge. Once across the bridge, take the path that leads upward to the summit of Misty Mountain. I cannot take you there, but I will pack a few things that will help you in your journey,” Tromp handed the stone back to Christo.
Christo watched as Tromp took a sack filling it with containers of nuts, dried fruits, flasks of water and dried crickets. “The dried crickets taste like protein crispies,” Tromp smiled as he placed blankets, a crystal glow stone and rope into the sack. “Take this sturdy walking stick to help you with the climb. Stay here tonight and get a fresh start in the morning. It is a two-day journey to climb Misty Mountain,” Tromp tied the sack to the end of the walking stick.
At dawn’s first light Tromp bid Christo farewell.
Reviewing the map on the gemstone, the brightest marker pointed east and up. The path from Tromp’s tree stump abode wound upward through the forest. With each turn and rise in elevation, Christo committed each changing view to his memories.
Pausing at the stone bridge, Christo looks up at Misty Mountain. There are three paths to choose from. The one on the left veers off to the north face of the mountain. The one on the right leads to the southern face. The path before him leads up the western face. The path is clear and zigzags with the switchbacks up the mountain. Removing the sack from the walking stick Christ converts the ties to carry the sack over his shoulder. Gripping the walking stick he continues up the western face of the mountain.
The climb is tiring, but Christo pushes onward. Memories of the lessons Master Zey taught him over the years take over his mind; the patience of handling small gears, placing them in order, not over winding the mechanism and the reward when the clock keeps perfect time.
Darkness engulfed Christo as the sun set behind him. Discovering a small shelter cut into the side of the mountain next to the path, Christo thinks to himself how convenient. The shelter is empty, but someone laid dry wood for a fire in the fire pit. A buck of fresh water is on the table.
Who would have done this, Christo muses. He didn’t see any other traveler on the way up, nor did he meet anyone coming down from the mountain.
Christo ignited a fire in the pit. After a meal of nuts and dried fruit, he repacked the supplies. The dried crickets would have to wait. Folding one of blankets into a cushion he settled down next to the fire pit, drifting off to sleep.
“No! You may not enter!”
Christo startled awake to the strange voice. Disoriented he looks at the red embers remaining in the fire pit. Looking toward the entrance to the shelter, yellow and green eyes flashed from the doorway as a deep growls fill the air.
“No, I say! You may not enter! The human is under my protection!” A large staff barred the doorway. Shimmering light flickered upon the doorway. A wolf snuffled at the door. A tossed stone caused the light to flicker brightly causing the stone to crumble to dust.
Jumping to his feet Christo grasped the walking stick in a defensive stance.
“No worries friend, the wolves may not enter. In fact, no shall enter unless I grant it,” a shadowy figure moved pass the doorway inside the shelter.
“Here, let me relight the fire for you.”
Christo heard the soft crunch of kindling as it was laid within the fire pit. A spark ignited dry wood bursting into flame.
The cloaked figure placed thicker branches on the fire until flames illuminated the inside of the shelter. “Please friend, relax, place your staff aside, I mean you no harm.”
Christo, reluctant to release the only weapon he had available, eventually relaxed his stance. The stranger pulled the hood of the cloak back from his face. Long silver hair tied behind his head with leather strip shined in the fire light. A sparse beard and mustache surrounded his mouth. Dark green eyes peered from a face unlined by age.
“Christo, I believe is your name. Master Zey has set you on a journey.”
Christo nodded his head slightly.
“I am the Wizard Tycock you seek. Please let us sit down. Commanding wolves and marauders not to enter takes much out of this old body.”
Christo slowly lowered himself to the floor keeping the walking stick close to his body.
The Wizard Tycock pulled a small bag from his pocket. He sprinkled the dried herbs into the water of the metal teapot set on a hot stone next to the fire pit. “Tea restores the body and the soul. Please tell me, how my old student Master Zey is doing.” He asked of Christo.
“Master Zey owns an old watch and clock repair shop in our town. He teaches the finer art of repairing time pieces to those that will listen and learn. I am one of his oldest students,” Christo bowed his head. “There was an accident in the shop. I bumped a table and his favorite antique clock fell to the floor. He sent me to find you so you could put the Essence of Time into the sapphire stone I carry,” Christo replied.
“May I see the stone, please,” the Wizard held his wizened hand forward.
Placing the stone in the old Wizard’s hand, Christo never took his eyes off of him.
“Umph! I remember when I gave this stone to a young man named Zey. I see he remembers what he learned from me by sending a bright young man to ask for my help,” said the Wizard Tycock as he examined the stone with a jeweler’s loop.
“How far away is the Well of Seasons from here?” Christo asked as the Wizard Tycock returned the stone to him.
“Not far at all. In fact, if you look outside the doorway, you will see it,” the old wizard said as Christo gazed out the doorway.
No longer was there a stone path and scrubby little bushes. Before him lay an oasis of oak trees surrounding a low stone wall.
“Come with me, my young friend, let me show you how to dip the stone into the Well of Seasons,” said the wizard as he pulled a small mesh bag from his inside his cloak. “Let me have the stone.”
Christo watched as the Wizard put the stone in the mesh bag tying it securely it to a long rope.
The two approached the stone wall. Christo peered over the edge. “How deep is it? I don’t see the water,” Christo commented.
“Take the stone and lower it into the well. Wait for the splash to know you hit the water,” explained the old wizard.
Christo leaned over the edge again to lower the stone to the water, intently listening for the splash.
With the speed of a ninja, the Wizard grasped Christo’s legs flipping him into the Well of Season. A moment later the Wizard heard the muffled splash. Holding the end of the long rope, he pulled the stone from the well.
“Thank you for your service Christo. Everything in this world has a price. You asked for the Essence of Time to be restored to the gem. The Well of Seasons takes your life in exchange. I’ll go now to see how Master Zey is faring and help him restore time to his antique clock,” announced the Wizard Tycock stepping through the Portal.