Sci Fi short story contest entry. Elan searches for the cause of the failing magic.
|Having completed his evening chores and secured the animals, Elan, son of Andor, entered the family's hut with a question, as he often did. "Father," he said, "you told me that the "Harsh Lands" are beyond the mountains, but what is beyond that?"
Andor, as First Elder of the village, often answered questions from inquisitive people. Most wanted to know why the magic was leaving their land. Hunters often found no game, and more recently, crops withered in the field. Of course, there was no answer to that except "the magic does as the magic will." But it seemed that Elan asked the most troubling questions of all. He sighed and spoke sternly to his son. "Elan, It does not matter, since it is dangerous and forbidden as well as impossible for anyone to go there. Now check the fire and go to sleep. There is much to be done tomorrow."
Elan respectfully replied, "Yes, Father.", but was already thinking about what he had been planning since his thirteenth summer. That was four summers ago, but he had finally made up his mind to explore the world outside the village, starting tonight. Elan knew little about magic, but he knew the answer was not in the village. He planned to get up after his father was asleep, pack some supplies and set out on his adventure. If his mother had still been alive, she would have known what he was planning, but he knew that his father saw only what he expected to see.
When he was sure his father was asleep, Elan quietly began packing a large leather pack with clothing, some dried meat, fruit, cheese and two skins of water. After sharpening his hunting knife and strapping his bow, a full quiver and a small ax to the pack, he quietly left the hut. His father would not even know he was gone until morning. Even then, Elan knew, there would be no search until at least midday since he was often up early exploring the country around the village.
It didn't really matter which direction he went since the village was surrounded by mountains, so he chose to head in the direction the sun would rise in the morning. He followed a path he had used last summer on a hunting trip, encountering no other villagers along the way. By the time he reached the first low hills, the soft glow of the approaching sun was already visible. In the first light of day, he was able to find and kill two rabbits which he quickly added to his supplies. That would help him extend his food supply.
By mid-morning, he had found a small clearing within a copse of large trees and stopped to rest and eat. There was a stream nearby, with cool, clean water running down from the mountain allowing him the opportunity to refill the skins. He built a small fire and cooked one of the rabbits. He ate most of it, saving some for the trip up the mountain. Elan was an experienced hunter and tracker but had never ventured farther than halfway up the southern mountain, and that was with his father, two summers ago. This would be an entirely new adventure.
After a brief rest, he continued, beginning the climb of the eastern mountain. The oaks and maples of the valley had given way first to aspens and poplars, then to tall pines as he began to reach the higher elevations. It was a little past midday when he finally reached the top of the mountain and he was frankly surprised that he had encountered nothing more dangerous than some wild boar, though they had shown little interest in him. Perhaps, the journey would be easier than he had first thought.
As he began to descend the other side, though, he began to sense the danger almost immediately. He was startled, not by a sound, but by the sudden quiet. There were no sounds of birds or small creatures scurrying through the leaves and branches of the forest floor - only deathly quiet. He carefully pulled his bow from his pack, nocked an arrow, and cautiously began to move down the mountain. He began to see large black birds with the widest wingspan he had ever seen gathering and circling high above him.
Elan scanned the area around him and finally saw it. A large cat crouched behind a fallen tree to his left. The cat rushed toward him as Elan swung his bow around releasing the arrow just as the beast leaped, catching it in the throat. It landed on him, knocking the bow from his hand and crashing him to the ground. Claws dug into his skin but he managed to keep the sharp teeth away from him by grabbing the arrow lodged in the creature's throat and pushing up on it. At the same time, he pulled the hunting knife from his belt and plunged it into the cat's chest ending the struggle as quickly as it had begun.
Elan pushed the cat from him and got a good look at it for the first time. It was larger than any he had seen before with a strange pattern of black and orange fur and no tail at all. He was about to examine it further when the first of the huge black birds dropped from the sky landing directly beside the cat tearing at it with its sharp beak and talons. He backed away, grabbing his bow, then started to run as more of the birds landed and began to attack each other over their prize.
Going down the mountain was, of course, easier than going up, although the encounter with the vicious cat and those huge birds had left him cautious if not fearful as he made his way through the denser than expected pine trees. About halfway down the mountain, the sky turned ominously dark. With the smell and feel of a storm in the air, Elan decided to stop when he saw a cave entrance off to his right.
He warily approached the cave, listening carefully for any sign that it was occupied. He didn't hear anything but noticed that air was moving through the cave and soon discovered it was more of an outcropping of rock, sealed by a rockslide in the front but with an opening on either side. He built a fire at each of the openings, cooking the other rabbit on one of them and eating that with some dried fruit and cheese. The storm he had sensed soon arrived, with blinding lightning, booming thunder, whipping winds and torrential rain. The fires were both extinguished by the storm, but Elan was so exhausted he didn't even care. Even with the violence of the storm, he was soon sound asleep.
He awoke, refreshed, as sunlight began to filter through the trees. Realizing he had already lost part of the day, and certain now that he definitely wanted to travel in the daylight, he hurriedly picked up his pack and headed back out. The way down was considerably steeper than the way up had been. He was soon nearly running, grabbing trees alternately on his right and left side until suddenly, there were no trees and he found himself running, then stumbling, falling and rolling on loose stones and dirt, finally coming to a stop as the ground evened out.
He checked his pack, finding that his bow was broken and he had lost most of his food and one of his two water skins. Looking ahead, he saw a desolate expanse of dirt, so dry that dust devils blew across it. He might have turned back then if he had not seen a flash of light in the distance. It must be a reflection of sunlight, he first thought, but then it happened again... and again! It was a red light, redder than the rising sun, yet much smaller than the sun. Besides, the sun was already fully up and this light came from the land.
Though there was no dry land like this in his village, Elan instinctively knew that it was dangerous to venture into it, especially with just one partially filled waterskin, but his curiosity won over his caution, as it usually did, and he started out in the direction of the flashes of light. When he began to feel a tingling on his arms and head he stopped, fearing that he would be struck by lightning. Yet there was no storm - not even a cloud in the sky. He moved on slowly with the tingling briefly getting stronger, then stopping abruptly.
The air was suddenly hot and thick with a nauseating smell that made it difficult to even breathe. Elan drank the last of his water, knowing that he would not find more in this desolate place, curiosity driving him forward toward the flashing light. He was strong but had never encountered anything like this. He was finally getting close to the flashing light when an ear piercing screaming sound came from the same direction as the light. With his entire body aching. his lungs burning and his ears now in pain, he finally collapsed, exhausted. His last thought before darkness took him was that he should have listened to his father.
Elan woke feeling groggy, but much better. He was in what must have been a very large hut with men and women in very strange clothing talking and leaning over some kind of long, curved table with many points of colored light and what looked like a small, floating village just beyond the table. He was lying on some kind of bed that was very soft but had no straw in it and his wounds had been covered with some kind of soft cloth. Unable to make sense of any of this, he suddenly realized that a woman in a long white coat was standing next to him, smiling.
"Glad to see you're up.", she said, "I was afraid we might lose you. We dressed your wounds as best we could, but we really don't have any medical facilities here. My name is Marty. Can you tell me your name?"
"Elan, son of Andor.", he managed to croak, suddenly realizing how thirsty he was.
"Well, I'm pleased to meet you, Elan. Here, this should help." She handed him some kind of tall pottery containing a colored liquid. He smelled it, then gulped it greedily discovering to his surprise that it seemed to be the juice of some kind of fruit he did not know.
"Who are you? What kind of hut is this? What are those lights?", he blurted.
"Hold on now,", Marty answered, "I'll answer your questions if I can, but first tell me how you got past the barrier."
"I don't know what barrier you mean.", Elan answered, "But I did feel like lightning was about to strike as I was moving toward the red light if that's what you mean."
Marty turned toward one of the men and shouted, "Kevin, looks like containment power is failing somewhere in grid 7 Alpha. Check that out, please. Oh, and facility concealment must be out also in that grid. May have been a power surge from that last plasma storm." Then turning back to Elan, she said, "This is going to be very difficult for you to understand, but we control nearly everything about your village and many other villages from here, including your beautiful weather. We keep out the worst of the predators and provide the seasons as if this were the most temperate climate on Earth."
She was certainly right! Elan did not understand much of what she was saying but could tell already that this would be the most fantastic adventure of his life. He looked up at Marty with wonder and excitement in his eyes and said, "Tell me. What is Earth?"