Author Topic: Short Story: "Ouroboros"  (Read 567 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Biologist

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 318
    • View Profile
Short Story: "Ouroboros"
« on: March 06, 2017, 04:11:34 PM »
Hello! It's been a while since I posted any new stories here. Mostly this is down to me not having time to write things, and lacking any ideas that I wanted to turn into a story. I've finally found the time to begin writing a new one, and I've had this idea for some time now. Fair warning, it will likely take me some time to post the completed story, but for now here is the prologue, with the first chapter hopefully to follow very soon (I'm still finishing/proofreading it).

As always, I hope anyone who reads this enjoys it.

Ouroboros

Prologue

     Archibald Hassenburg drew in a deep breath, the first in centuries. He opened his blue eyes, peering through round brass spectacles perched atop his nose. A faint light suffused the earthen chamber in which he rested, though he could not make out the source. Reaching down and to his right, the brown-furred rabbit picked up his bowler hat and dusted it off. Standing slowly from his sleeping pallet, he straightened his brown pinstriped suit jacket, brushed off his trousers, donned his hat, and turned to see a diminutive, dark-furred female otter standing before him. She wore a green, pocket-lined cloth vest and an agitated, uncertain expression.

     “Myra?” he began. “Myra, you made it after all! How long – ”

     “Shhhh!” The otter gestured sharply for silence. “Quiet! They’re coming for you. We must leave this place now, before we’re discovered.”

     Wordlessly, Archibald followed the otter down a short passageway toward a narrow opening into the night air. A small, magically illuminated stone near the entrance was the source of the glow he’d seen before. He wondered if it always glowed, or if it had responded to the otter’s presence. Many symbols were painted on the wall near the stone, but one stood out in particular: a serpent grasping its own tail in its jaws.

     Looking out from the chamber’s entrance, Archibald saw that he was standing on the side of a large hill; it was steep and dotted with caves, and was very nearly a small mountain in size. Sniffing the air, the rabbit was surprised to catch the scents of ash and char, and he saw a plume of smoke rising above orange flames to the south.

     “My home,” his guide grunted by way of explanation, “What’s left of it.” The otter shook her head sadly. “Come on, we need to keep moving.”

     Archibald shook his head as well, though from confusion rather than sadness. So many things were jumbled in his mind, like the letters of those cryptographic puzzles he enjoyed so much. He followed his guide without complaint, trusting that his memories would return to him in time. She led him away from the fire, around and down the far side of the hill, through dense thickets and into wooded terrain.
Finally, after what he judged to be about four hours of walking in silence, his companion signaled to him to stop.

      “This should be far enough. We can rest here for a short while, then continue. It’s best if we don’t speak, though. There may be other patrols nearby.”

     The rabbit nodded his understanding. He sat down on bare dirt damp from a recent rainfall, hardly noticing as it stained his rumpled trousers, once sharply pressed. He studied the otter more closely, as best he could in the moonlight, and sighed at his own foolishness. No, of course, this wasn’t Myra. The resemblance was uncanny, though. Perhaps…. No. It couldn’t be. His instructions were quite clear, and Myra wouldn’t have disobeyed him. Would she? He sat back against a broad oak tree, dug his paws into the pockets of his jacket, and tried to gather his thoughts. Thinking was difficult, like trying to climb a wall of smooth, oiled stone.

     He knew his name, his origin, and most importantly his mission. The mission was everything. The details were fuzzy, though. Other things seemed wrong, too. Who was searching for him, and why was his newest friend so anxious to avoid them? What had happened to start that fire he’d seen from the hill? He drew in a deep breath and tried to focus, but an uneasy feeling sent shivers down his spine. He had the distinct and terrible feeling that he was either too early, or too late. Archibald closed his eyes.

     Perhaps some corner of my mind holds the answers I need. I must relax, and let the memories come.

Part One

Four hundred years in the future.

     Archibald awoke to another perfectly ordinary day in Prairie Bridge. The bustling, cosmopolitan city, located not far from the old boundary between the Rabbit and Wolf clans, was greeting the day with its usual riot of sounds, sights, and smells. A gray pall hung over Prairie Bridge, a combination of sullen clouds, gauzy fog, and smoke from the nearby foundries. Laborers and automatons would be moving finished products from the factories to markets and shops throughout the city.

     The rabbit crossed the wooden floor of his bedroom and opened the wine-colored curtains at his window. He gazed out at the fog wreathing the streets below before moving to the washbasin to complete his morning ablutions. A short time later, clothed in a housecoat, he made his way down the staircase to house’s dining area, where he began boiling water for coffee. Stepping out onto his doorstep, he discovered a small note resting atop his morning paper. Gathering the note and paper, he went inside, set the items down at his dining table, and poured a cup of coffee. Sitting at the table, he opened the note first. It read thus:


Archie,

I need your help to test out a new invention. My usual assistant is out sick today, and I know how you enjoy my experiments. I’ll see you at 11:00. Don’t be late!

Sylvia

     Archibald sipped his coffee and sighed. Sylvia’s inventions always meant trouble, and he was due to give a lecture this evening on the importance of cross-indexing references in the scholarly examination of epic Old Armellian poetry to the local chapter of the Royal Literary Society, but he supposed he could spare a little time. Surely whatever task Sylvia had in mind for him wouldn’t take long. He picked up his copy of the Prairie Observer.

     Strange Burial Complex Mystifies Archaeologists, proclaimed the paper. Apparently, a number of tombs had been found at a series of sites not far from Prairie Bridge, with some of the oldest predating Armello itself. The occupants of the tombs were exclusively otters. Even more strangely, one of the tombs was completely empty, but showed no obvious signs of looting. The sites suggested continual occupation of the area from the early Pre-Dynastic era until the reign of the Mad King, but there was no indication of why no other traces of settlements had been found there, or why they might have been abandoned. Archibald shrugged. He had his own mysteries to confront – such as why Sylvia insisted on sending such uninformative notes. He returned to his room, and changed into his brown pinstriped suit and trousers. Finally, he collected the belongings he took on any outing into the city: wallet, pocket watch, cane, and hat. He stepped out onto the curb, hailed an auto-carriage, and paid the fair for a ride to Sylvia’s laboratory.

     Archibald opened his eyes. The sun had begun rising, and his newfound friend was shaking him awake. He blinked wearily. Was that a memory, or a dream? Aloud he asked, “Will you tell me your name now?”

     “Violet,” came the reply, “That was my mother’s favorite flower.” The otter’s voice caught; she cleared her throat. “She died for you, you know,” she continued, her tone faintly accusatory. “They all did. Not all of them knew that, and even I don’t know why, but I know you have a plan. Mother always said there was a plan to save us.”

     The rabbit sighed. That newspaper headline. That’s what it meant. I should have realized – should never have tried this. I was doomed to fail before I even started. “There was a plan,” he said flatly, “but it failed. That’s why I’m here now and not sleeping for centuries longer. And I didn’t know, or at least I didn’t know that I knew, that you and your mother and your whole Rot-blasted village would be there!” Startled by his own outburst, the rabbit softened his tone. “I’m sorry, it’s just… my best chance at getting back, at getting home, not to mention stopping a catastrophe before it starts, has just gone up in smoke. I also apparently have enemies who are hunting me for reasons I don’t know or understand. So my first priority is to get out of here alive, and then I have to figure out what to do next.”

     Wordlessly, Violet gestured for Archibald to follow her away from the clearing where they had spent a few hours resting. For a long time they walked silently through the woods in the growing morning light, a light rain adding to the overall sense of gloom pervading the rabbit’s thoughts. Finally they paused near a hollowed-out tree trunk, exhausted from walking so far without food or water. “Tell me something,” Archibald began, “Exactly how much do you know about me? What legends have been passed down to you over the years I’ve been asleep?”

     Violet was silent for a few moments, and Archibald wondered if she would simply refuse to speak to him again, when she spoke, her voice little more than a whisper. “The elders say you came here from beyond the sunrise, many years ago when Armello was in its infancy. They say you fled a great darkness, but that you had a plan to defeat it: one that would save Armello from certain doom. You were too exhausted from your journey beyond the Sun to carry out that plan, so you slept for years and years, and we were to serve as your caretakers and guardians until you awoke.”

     The rabbit shook his head. “Then you know only part of the truth. I shouldn’t be surprised. After so many centuries it’s amazing your people got that much right. There are still some gaps in my memory, but I will try to tell you what really happened. You deserve to know the truth.” Archibald leaned back and closed his eyes. “Let me think, where to begin…”

« Last Edit: March 23, 2017, 05:38:36 PM by Biologist »
Pet peeves: Apes are not monkeys, jellyfish are not fish, and tomatoes are not vegetables!

Biologist

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 318
    • View Profile
Re: Short Story: "Ouroboros"
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2017, 08:21:33 AM »
Part Two
Four hundred years in the future. Sylvia’s laboratory.

     “Sylvia, what is so urgent that you needed me to rush over here and help you with it? Couldn’t this wait until tomorrow? I have a lecture to give later, and… and…” One look at his friend’s expression was enough to send Archibald stuttering to a halt.

     “Archie,” Sylvia admonished, “I’m about to make history. Literally. My Temporal Displacement Engine is nearly complete, and today of all days that poor lummox Friedrich has a fever and can’t assist me with the final preparations. You want to give that dusty Society of yours a real lesson in Old Armellian poetry? Go back and witness it being spoken in its native accent, or better yet, bring a cylinder along and record it for them!” Carried away with her enthusiasm, the black-furred hare gestured dramatically. Her arm swept through the air and narrowly missed a bronze lever on the side of the machine that dominated the center of her laboratory.

     Archibald looked around the laboratory, which was a large converted warehouse on the edge of the city. The floor and walls were of concrete, the ceiling reinforced with heavy steel beams. Copper pipes ran everywhere throughout the room, valves letting off superheated blasts of water vapor with alarming frequency. The apparatus at the center drew his gaze, like a great iron and bronze spider at the center of a metallic web. The machine looked like the spawn of an unfortunate union between a blast furnace and a distillery. Ten enormous pistons, each as big around as an ox, stood ready to leap into motion. A great coil of wires sat atop a huge central cylinder, into which was set a door with a thick, round glass window. Whether this was used for adding fuel or test subjects the bemused rabbit couldn’t tell. With a start, he realized that Sylvia had resumed speaking.

     “You see, Archie dear,” she said, “I need someone to go and explore the past while I operate the Engine. The first trip won’t be long, I’m afraid: just a brief test of the machine and then I’ll pop you back into the present. And don’t worry,” she cut off his attempted protest, “I’ve tested it on several objects already, and they showed only some minor singeing, which I’m sure I’ve worked out by now.”

     Archibald opened his mouth to tell Sylvia that, safety tests or no, he was not using her Rot-blasted machine. Then, he paused. His life was so ordinary. Here was a chance at adventure, and while Sylvia might be willing to risk his health and possibly his sanity, he doubted she would risk actually killing him. The eccentric hare was one of his oldest friends. They’d suffered through interminable lectures together at the Royal Armellian University. She’d spent hours assisting him with research for his dissertation on comparative symbology in ancient Wolf and Rabbit clan pottery, and he’d argued on her behalf when some of the faculty called for her expulsion after that unfortunate incident in the University’s alchemy lab. He couldn’t let her down now. Although, she really did turn that professor’s fur a rather violent shade of pink. I do hope this Temporal Displacement whatsit doesn’t cause any further chromatic mishaps…

      So it was that Archibald found himself ushered in to the bowels of the machine, through the door he had noticed earlier. Curiously, the inner walls of the Engine’s central chamber were lined with lead. “Just a precaution!” Sylvia assured him in response to his question regarding the chamber’s unusual design. “My initial tests showed that rather too much energy was being transferred to the subject. You do not want to know how much mess an apple can make when it’s exposed to too much temporal energy. Friedrich had to scrub for hours to remove the stains!” She paused, realizing this might be less than reassuring. Anyway, you might want to hold onto something, or maybe just sit on the floor… the transition to a new time might prove a bit disorienting.”

          Archibald sat cross-legged on the floor, trying not to clench his teeth from anxiety and wishing Sylvia would hurry up and start the experiment before he lost his nerve. Finally, he heard a muffled whumpas the Temporal Displacement Engine rumbled to life, followed by a steady rumbling as the ten large pistons began pumping in unison. The temperature in the chamber began rising as more and more energy was poured into the device. The pistons began moving faster as the rumbling increased in pitch. There was a flash of light, and Archibald thought he could briefly see his bones beneath the fur of his paws. The rabbit shuddered and gripped his cane for support. From outside the room, he heard something that sounded like Sylvia screaming “Oh, Wyld’s Branches!”  Then came another flash of white light, exploding behind his tightly-shut eyelids, and when it fled so did his consciousness.

     The first sound he heard was the wind. It wailed like a lost cub, rising to a shrieking pitch before falling into something resembling a gentle sob. With the wind came a disturbing scent: not the smell of death or decay so much as the absence of any living thing. He could catch not even the faintest whiff of grass or tree or beast. Archibald groaned and opened his eyes. What he saw rendered him unable to do more than stare in shock. The machine, Sylvia, her laboratory, and the entire city were all gone. Before him, a nearly featureless, ash-strewn plain stretched in all directions. He was alone.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2017, 08:23:19 AM by Biologist »
Pet peeves: Apes are not monkeys, jellyfish are not fish, and tomatoes are not vegetables!

Biologist

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 318
    • View Profile
Re: Short Story: "Ouroboros"
« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2017, 02:58:36 PM »
Part Three
Somewhere within the Rabbit Clan boundaries

     Archibald had been telling his tale as he and Violet walked, the pair having left the woods in favor of travelling down a winding road of packed dirt, with the forest on one side and a grassy field on the other. The otter had expressed doubts at first, but the rabbit had insisted. “Look, Violet,” he began, “the soldiers who were hunting for us most likely think us dead. I doubt they had an exact head count of your village, and even then, they wouldn’t know about me, would they? So as long as we don’t draw attention to ourselves, we can pass as a pair of travelers.”

     Violet nodded. “I suppose. We’ll need food soon anyway, and you will need new clothes.” She glanced pointedly at his attire. “If we follow this path we must eventually reach some farm or village where we can beg, borrow, or steal what we need. I would rather not be a thief, but I will not starve to death.

     Archibald sighed. This is what I’ve been reduced to. A vagabond and criminal. Then he realized just how selfish this thought was. He’d chosen to seek out this mad adventure, while his new ally had just seen her home burn. After he described the disastrous malfunction of the Temporal Displacement Engine, the pair walked in silence for a while as he gathered his thoughts. A new idea sprang into the rabbit’s mind. “Do you think any others from your family might have survived? We might try to meet them.”

     The otter shook her head resignedly. “Not if the King’s Guard caught them. I do have a younger cousin, barely more than a cub; he might have been small enough to escape their notice if he hid himself well. At least, I didn’t see him anywhere when the slaughter started.”

     The rabbit shuddered at the thought of one so young in such danger. Then he realized the significance of what he’d heard. “Wait,” he interrupted, “but did you say ‘King’s Guard?’”

     “Yes,” the otter replied, “the servants of the Mad King. He has been purging Armello of all that he believes to be a threat to his rule. Apparently he counted my holt among those threats. Probably because rumors of your legend reached his ears.” Her tone had become accusatory again. “So tell me, what did my family sacrifice their lives to fight? What great darkness do you plan to defeat?”

     “I will tell you everything I remember,” Archibald promised, and he resumed his story. The words of his tale carried the otter’s mind to a very different time and place.

     The rabbit stared in horror. Something had clearly gone terribly wrong. Perhaps the machine had exploded, somehow sparing him while levelling the city. Or perhaps the explosion hadn’t spared him, and this was the afterlife? Either way, everything he knew was gone. Fighting back the urge to panic, Archibald forced himself to assess his circumstances as best he could.

    I’m still breathing, so I’m probably still alive. To test this hypothesis, he hit himself on the back of his left paw with his cane. Ow! I can still feel pain, too. Definitely still alive, somehow. I’m guessing that means the device worked, and I was sent to another place. Or time.Archibald turned in a circle, searching his surroundings for anything familiar. All he saw was grey clouds, grey ash, and bare dirt. He couldn’t even be sure if it was night or day. I don’t know of any period in Armello’s history that would look like this. A horrible thought occurred to him then. Wyld’s Bark – what if Sylvia’s machine didn’t send me into the past – what if it sent me into the future? But then, what could possibly have caused all this destruction?

     Archibald didn’t get long to ponder the answer. As he sat, lost in the horror of his own thoughts, he became aware of a faint shuffling sound behind him. Had it not been for rabbits’ legendarily keen sense of hearing, he might not have heard it at all. He turned, and screamed in terror as only a rabbit can.
   
     The nightmare that confronted Archibald nearly defied description. It had surely walked upright, once, but hideous growths and malformations of the spine had doubled the creature over until it was walking on all fours. An elongated neck ended in a head with beady, yellow eyes, a large, blunt snout, and a mouth full of sharp, crooked teeth. The thing had no visible fur or clothing that the rabbit could see. Its skin was grey, though whether this was its natural color, or a consequence of the ash that shifted in the constant wind, Archibald could not be sure. Robbed of the advantage of surprise, the thing let out a screech like the sound of claws dragged over slate. Archibald briefly considered trying to fight the monster off with his cane, thought better of it, and chose to run.

     Fortunately, rabbits are generally good at running. Unfortunately, Archibald was a scholar who, despite enjoying athletic pursuits as much as the next creature, was not in the best of shape. He ran desperately onward, hoping the thing’s malformed body would slow it down, hoping he could find some suitable place to hide. In his panic, the rabbit placed his foot in an unseen hole in the terrain, sending him crashing to the ground. He managed to roll onto his back and hold his cane in front of himself defensively, steeling himself for the inevitable moment the monster’s jaws closed about his neck. The thing closed in, pounced toward its prey, and then smashed into the ground inches from Archibald’s right side. A crossbow quarrel was buried in its shoulder. Another quarrel to the head put the horrific monster out of its misery.

     Seeking the source of the shot, Archibald looked to his left to see a slender figure standing atop a small rise, pointing a crossbow at him. The creature had rags wrapped around its head like bandages, presumably to keep the ash out of its eyes and mouth. A shirt and cloak covered in patterns of grey mingled with brown helped the creature to blend into the landscape. “If you’re going to shoot,” Archibald panted, “then do it. I can’t run any further, and I have no weapons besides this cane. You don’t seriously think I could be a threat?”

     As luck had it, his captor spoke Armellian, though with an unfamiliar accent. “You are out here alone.” Archibald noted that the voice seemed to be feminine. “Alone, travelers in this place are three things: powerful, stupid, or crazy,” the stranger continued, “If powerful, a threat; if stupid, useless; if crazy, a threat and useless.”  She raised her crossbow. “Any words from you?”

     “You are alone also,” the rabbit protested, “and I notice you hide yourself from sight. You’re not powerful, then, or not enough to walk openly. You clearly aren’t stupid. That means you must be crazy. Mad beasts should stick together.”

     The figure paused to consider, then slowly lowered her weapon. “You’re right. I am crazy. Otherwise I would have stayed home.” A thought seemed to strike her. “If we go together, we aren’t alone anymore. If we aren’t alone, we aren’t crazy. Maybe that makes you not useless? Come with me, keep me sane.”

     Archibald wasn’t sure, but he thought he’d just been offered the job of traveling companion to a creature of questionable sanity and unknown motives. His other option, however, was to be shot with a crossbow, so he quickly agreed to go with the stranger. “You’ll have to help me up, though. I twisted my ankle.”

     “I can’t continue my mission. I’ll take you back to the others,” the stranger said. As she drew closer, Archibald could see she was an otter. “I’ll take you back to Sage. Sage will know how to handle you.” The rabbit could only nod apprehensively. He noted that the otter possessed a surprising, wiry strength as she helped Archibald back to his feet. She supported part of his weight as they walked.

     Further conversation revealed that the otter’s name was Myra, and that this “Sage” she mentioned earlier had sent her to locate something important. Evidently Myra had been returning to report her lack of success when she stumbled over Archibald’s predicament. Strangely, though she had been travelling for some time, Myra carried no food with her, nor did she ever suggest stopping to eat. In due time, the pair came to what could generously be called a settlement.

     A crude wall fashioned from wood and metal surrounded a forlorn collection of huts and lean-tos constructed from whatever materials could be salvaged from the wastes. Evidently, some traces of civilization had survived, for at the center of the huts rose a strange transparent dome, made of a material similar to glass, but less dense. The dome dwarfed the rest of the dwellings in the village. Within the dome, various areas were partitioned off into rooms using makeshift walls and curtains. Archibald wondered at the original purpose of the structure, and how it had remained intact when all other large structures seemed to have vanished.

     Myra approached the gates of the settlement with Archibald in tow. “Open up! I have a visitor for Sage!” The gate guard, an emaciated ferret, began turning a crank with visible difficulty, causing the gate to swing inward. Myra hurried Archibald inside. The ferret shut the gate, then turned to stare at the rabbit. “This one got muscles on him. Lotta meat. Been eatin’ well I’d say. You think where he come from still got crops growin’?”

     Myra glared at the guard. “It’s for Sage to figure out, not you. No more words, Ollie. Be happy guards get double rations.” She turned to Archibald and simply said, “Come with me.” The otter promptly guided the rabbit toward the central dome. It wasn’t as if he had a choice, anyway: even with his cane he still needed to lean on Myra for support. She led him to one of the small huts along the main path from the gate to the dome. “My home. Rest in here. I will go to Sage. Steal anything, and your skin is my next blanket.” The otter left without further words.
   
     Archibald entered the small hut. The only illumination came from the open doorway at the front, which could be blocked by a curtain. He looked around and saw little that would tempt him to risk Myra’s wrath: the otter’s living space was austere to say the least. A small central pit was dug into the bare dirt floor of the hut for a fireplace. To the left was a single table consisting of a wooden slab laid across two pieces of stone, the items doubtlessly salvaged from some ruin. To the right was a bed fashioned from ropes stretched tight into a sort of hammock atop a wooden frame. Several heavy blankets had been placed on top to form something resembling a mattress. There was no other furniture, and it occurred to Archibald that the table and bed alone might indicate a certain amount of luxury compared to the living conditions of the village’s other inhabitants. Too exhausted to attempt a closer examination of the room, the rabbit hobbled over to the bed and collapsed onto it, falling asleep almost immediately.
   
     “Hello, rabbit.” The voice jolted Archibald out of a sleep filled with formless nightmare beasts stalking him through a dark room lit by flashes of lightning. Myra was standing over him with an expression that seemed to be somewhere between annoyed and amused. “I see my ancestors tolerated you.”

     Archibald blinked, trying to wipe the sleep from his eyes. “W-what do you mean?” he asked. “What about your ancestors?”

     The otter stared as though he’d grown a second head. “Wouldn’t have someone else’s ancestors guarding my dreams.” Archibald was still confused, until he realized the nature of the “mattress” he’d been resting on.

     “Wyld’s Roots, these are furs! I’ve been sleeping on…on… Ow!” The rabbit had tried to leap from the bed to his feet, only to remember too late that he had an injured ankle. Sylvia stared quizzically as he collapsed to lay sprawling on the floor.

     “Is this not the custom where you come from? Our ancestors remain with us even after death. They guard our dreams. They usually do not like strangers, but they seem to like you. Mostly.”

     Archibald shivered, shaking his head and trying not to let his mind dwell on the situation. It made a certain crazy sense, actually. Plant fibers would be hard to come by in this wasteland, so the survivors used whatever they had, even the skins of their own dead, to make blankets. A form of ancestor worship helped to remove the guilt they must feel at desecrating their loved ones’ bodies. “Myra,” Archibald said hesitantly, “you wouldn’t really have made me into a blanket, right?”

     The otter appeared to give the question serious consideration before responding. “No, you’re right. A rug would be better. Come, it is time for you to meet Sage.”

     Archibald was led to the central dome. From what he could see, the interior had originally been one open area before screens and curtains were used to divide the space into compartments or rooms. Most of these rooms seemed to be used for storage, and a few were empty. Odd. Why do so many live in crude huts outside when they could just sleep inside the dome? Looking up, Archibald noticed that pipes and wires were woven throughout the upper reaches of the dome like a spider’s web. Myra led him to a large curtain that blocked his view into the center of the dome. “Sage is through here.” The otter offered no further explanation as to the strange workings of the place or its purpose. Perhaps she had none to give.

     The rabbit straightened his hat and pulled aside the curtain, striding into the central area of the dome. He was greeted with a bizarre but familiar sight: a large machine of iron and bronze, with ten pistons arranged around it, sitting in a spider’s web of pipes and valves that stretched into the upper reaches of the dome. The device was smaller than the Temporal Distortion Engine he remembered, but it was undoubtedly the same design. As Archibald stared in shock, a voice that creaked with age sounded from his right side.

     “Archibald. At last. You have no idea how sorry I am.” The rabbit turned slowly to his right, and beheld the speaker with a mixture of horror and disbelief. The creature was a hare, rail-thin and missing the last third of her left ear. Her left eye was a sightless white sphere. Her black fur was tinged with grey. She wore an artificer’s apron fashioned from leather over a simple dress made of skins. Her expression was of pity mingled with regret. “I am the one they call Sage. She who restores forgotten knowledge.” Sage wore an odd, self-mocking expression. “I’ve been stranded here for fifty years, trying to find a way back. I’ve all but forgotten my true name. Now I’ve finally found you again, and it’s too late for me to go home. There’s still hope for you, though.”

     Archibald stared. After several moments, he found his voice. “Sage – Sylvia – what happened to you? What happened to Armello? Why did you end up fifty years behind me? What is this nightmare?”

     Sage sighed. “Sylvia. That was my name. I shall answer your questions as best I can, and then I must ask for your help. To begin with, my injuries are a result of my attempts to return home. When I first arrived here I was as young and fit as you are now.” Sage chuckled mirthlessly. “That alone made me stand out to these villagers, who have been starving for generations as their food reserves slowly run out. I was able to repair some of their machinery, including devices for recycling organic matter into food, but all I could do was delay the inevitable. I decided that I had to rebuild my Temporal Displacement Engine and help these poor creatures escape into the past. I ventured far and wide in search of components. I convinced the inhabitants of this place to help me, giving them a purpose beyond mere survival. I made the machine more compact, but without any source of fuel I could not generate enough power to travel through time. I reasoned that the ruined capital district might still have a power source strong enough to send me home.”

     Archibald nodded. “And what did you find?” he asked quietly.

     “I learned what put Armello in its ruined state. In our future, the Great Worm itself arose. With no followers of the Wyld to stop it, it blighted all of Armello, creating the wasteland you see around us, and feeding upon the misery of the surviving creatures. An encounter with one of its servants resulted in my present condition.” Sage paused, her thin frame wracked by coughs. “I failed in my quest. This village is dying. We can only recycle the same matter so many times. No crops will grow. People use the skins of the dead as clothing and blankets. Injury and age have stolen my strength.” She coughed again. “Please, finish what I started. Find a power source, bring it back, and return to the past. Stop this future from ever happening, no matter the cost.”
« Last Edit: June 08, 2017, 01:55:06 PM by Biologist »
Pet peeves: Apes are not monkeys, jellyfish are not fish, and tomatoes are not vegetables!

Biologist

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 318
    • View Profile
Re: Short Story: "Ouroboros"
« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2017, 05:30:27 PM »
Part Four

     Archibald and Violet had walked for several more miles as he related the story of his sojourn across the wastelands of the future. The two companions, weary from travelling for hours with no food and little rest, stumbled to a halt at the sight of a large party moving toward them along the road. Violet grabbed Archibald by the arm and pulled him into a thicket. “Keep still,” the otter whispered.

     “What’s the point?” Archibald asked. “Hiding here won’t disguise our scent.”    He stepped out into the open and stood at the side of the road. Violet reluctantly joined him.

     At the front of the approaching party strode a wolf with brindled fur, wearing the insignia of the Wolf Clan Militia. Archibald was startled to see the insignia hadn’t changed in the centuries between this time and his own. Behind the wolf were a large brown ox pulling a cart loaded with supplies, and a red fox wearing a merchant’s garb. Walking alongside the cart were a hare with light-colored fur and a broad-brimmed hat, and a small creature with oversized feet and ears that Archibald recognized as a jerboa. A mouse wearing an artist’s smock rode atop the baggage in the cart.

     “Hail, travelers!” the brindled wolf called out as he drew near. “Do you need help? You look exhausted, and the roads aren’t safe lately.”

     Archibald thought for a moment, his mind racing. Surely this Militia wolf was unaware that the rabbit and otter were fugitives? “We’ve travelled a long time without food or water,” Archibald explained, “and would be grateful for anything you can spare.”

     The Wolf Clan fighter nodded, strode to the wagon, and took out a loaf of bread and a water bottle made from cloth sealed with resin. He passed these to Archibald. “Let me introduce myself and my friends properly,” the wolf said. “I’m Patches, the ox is Karl, the fox is Brushfur, and these are Mara, Fenzir, and Fortuno,” he said, gesturing to the hare, jerboa, and mouse in turn. “I am escorting them to the Wolf Clan capital. If you were travelling that way, I would offer you my protection, but it seems you are bound elsewhere.”

     Violet frowned, but Archibald shrugged and said, “Actually, we don’t have a destination in mind. Our village was burned by raiders – we’re the only survivors. We managed to give them the slip, but we’ve been wandering lost for a while now. If you can guarantee our safety, we’ll be happy to travel with you.”

     Patches shook his head in sympathy. “Bane attacks, bandits, and now raiders. It’s enough to make a creature wonder what the King’s Guard are doing these days. At least you can count on the Militia.”

     Archibald introduced himself and Violet to Patches and his companions, and the group set off for the Wolf Clan capital. Archibald said little and Violet said less, fearful of revealing too much about their background, though the rabbit couldn’t help but stare at Mara from time to time. The odds were astronomical, but unless he was mistaken, Sylvia had an ancestor named Mara who had held quite a prominent position in the early days of Prairie Bridge’s history, when it was still known as Prairie Ford. A shiver went down Archibald’s spine just thinking about it.

     The journey to the Wolf Clan capital proved uneventful, and Patches bade the pair good luck. “Wyld’s blessings upon you, friends! I’m sorry you won’t be staying with us, but I understand that you need to find your own path. I can give you enough to pay for a night’s lodgings at an inn in the Worker’s Quarter. Look for the Lone Wolf’s Den; enough Militia wolves frequent there that crime rates are fairly low. Good luck to you both.” Archibald thanked Patches on behalf of himself and Violet, and the pair set off to find the inn. As they wound their way through crowded streets filled mostly with wolves and the odd coyote, Archibald was lost in thought. I wonder what will become of that young Wolf Clan warrior. I suppose that’s another story. 

     As the pair settled in to their small room at the inn, the cramped space lit by a single smoky tallow candle, Violet looked pointedly at Archibald and said, “You never did finish explaining to me how you got here.”
     The rabbit nodded. “The memories are still returning to me. There are gaps. What remains is unpleasant. Still, you should hear the rest of the story. I had set out as Sage had asked, and Myra was sent to guide me…”

     For many hours they had walked across the ash-strewn wastelands. Exactly how many hours, Archibald did not know, but long enough that Myra had insisted they make camp and sleep for some time before moving on. “How do you keep track of time in a world with no sun?” the rabbit asked.

     “I count heartbeats,” Myra replied. Archibald couldn’t tell if she was joking.

     At last, a darker shape obscured the grey horizon. Twisted spires rose above the ground, higher than anything Archibald had yet seen in the ruined lands of Armello’s future. Crumbling walls of stone surrounded the spires. “Is that the capital district?” asked Archibald.

     “What’s left of it.” Myra nodded. “Sage never fully explained what she found there. A servant of the Rot. Assume it’s still there, and still deadly.” The pair approached the capital slowly and cautiously, alert for any sign of attack. Their travels across the waste thus far had been uneventful, but this only served to make Archibald more apprehensive as he neared his destination.

     As they entered the ruins, the winds fell silent. The air held no scent, and no sound other than the quiet breathing of the two explorers. Archibald saw that the spires he saw were all part of a single larger structure. “The remains of the palace, I presume. If there is an energy source to be found, that seems like the logical place to look.”

     “Yes. Also the most likely place for any beast to make its lair,” Myra replied. As they approached the palace, they passed the remains of buildings in various states of decay. Archibald noticed a number of architectural changes between his own era and the structures of Armello’s future, most notably an increased reliance on metal, glass, and some transparent material he could not identify.

     Archibald and Myra approached the walls of the palace courtyard, a strange ethereal wailing reached their ears. “Do you hear that?” whispered Archibald. “It’s coming from inside.”

     “I’d say it’s wind over the broken stones,” said Myra, “but there is no wind.” Moving slowly forward, the pair crept through a gap in the courtyard wall. On the far side of the courtyard, the remains of a keep stood silent vigil. Nearby, they could see the remains of an ornate fountain, long since run dry; it was so eroded from time and weather that no creature could have said what its carvings had originally portrayed. Sitting on the ledge of the fountain was a small, huddled figure, playing a flute. Its back was turned to them.

     “You might as well show yourselves,” the figure said in a dry, brittle voice, “I knew you’d be there. You will excuse my playing; I have little skill with the flute, but it seems to have a calming effect.” As they stepped closer, the figure turned to face them. It was a male rat, wizened and skeletal. His flesh was almost totally bare beneath robes that drooped from his emaciated form. His eyes glowed with an eerie white light under the hood of his blood-red garment.

     “Who are you?” Archibald could not help but ask. There was no doubt in his mind that this was the servant of the Rot that Sage had warned him of, but he did not seem aggressive – yet.

     The rat made a noise that might have been a chuckle. “I have been alone longer than any have lived. I am the last King of Armello, and soon of all the world. I am the Master of Fate. I am Sargon.” The rat paused. “I see by your bemused expressions that my speech is not as awe-inspiring as I had hoped. A pity. I’ve had long enough to compose it, after all.”

     “You’re mad,” Archibald said, shaking his head. “Completely insane! King of Armello indeed! Can’t you see this is nothing but a wasteland? And all your doing, I’d wager!”

     Myra laid a cautioning paw on the rabbit’s arm. “Remember that there are three kinds who roam these wastes alone,” she hissed, “and this one is no fool.”

     “My doing?” Sargon seemed genuinely surprised. “Whatever gave you that idea? I will admit to having foreseen this current calamity, but surely you don’t think I caused all this destruction. That was the Great Worm’s doing.”

     “Yes, and you are its servant!” cried Archibald, his temper rising in spite of his better judgement. Did the rat think him an idiot?

     Sargon shook his head. “I serve a different power.” Getting to his feet, the rat picked up a nearby staff, which Archibald noted had a socket for a torch at the top, and drew a symbol in the dirt. “A worm eating its own tail. The symbol of eternity. Called an ouroboros by some.” Sargon sighed. “This present devastation is merely the continuation of a cycle. The Great Worm, source of all Rot, seeks to undermine and corrupt the Wyld’s power from within. Eventually it succeeds, rising to devour all life, as it is doing at this moment. Eventually the Worm will exhaust itself and return to its slumber, and life may begin again.”

     The rat smiled, showing yellow fangs. “I realized some time ago that the servants of both the Wyld and Rot were mistaken. True power lies not in spreading or banishing corruption, but in achieving mastery over the cycle of life itself. In time, the seeds of the Wyld will germinate, life will rise again, and I will rule over that new world. I will be obeyed, feared, worshipped. I will hold ultimate power over my subjects, and when the Rot rises again, I will remain, to rule over the next cycle, and the next. I am the master of Fate itself!”

     Archibald stared. His mouth hung open, but he struggled to find words. Finally, found his voice. “You are mad. If you wish to declare yourself the ruler of a barren wasteland, so be it, but leave us to our search.” The rabbit turned and began to walk away, across the courtyard.

     Sargon laughed. “Ah yes, your little errand. I could tell you where to find what you doubtlessly seek – a source of power to sustain your machines – but it will make little difference. I see all too clearly what is in store for your elderly friend and her pathetic village. Even now her doom approaches.”

     Archibald whirled. “What do you mean?” The rabbit advanced with his cane raised, ready to strike the decrepit rat down. He’d had about enough of this mad beast and his veiled threats. “Rot take you, what do you mean? What have you done?” Sargon merely continued to laugh, and Archibald swung his cane down, expecting to knock the rat senseless. Instead, the cane shattered in midair, as though it had struck an invisible shield.

     Myra raised her crossbow, but before she could act further, Sargon gestured almost negligently in her direction. A sheet of flame flew from his left forepaw to engulf Myra. She dropped her weapon and collapsed to the ground, her fur burning away. Archibald averted his gaze, unable to watch, but he could do nothing to block out the dying otter’s screams. Sargon raised his other paw, and a bolt of lightning lanced down from the sky and knocked Archibald flat on his back. The rabbit found he was paralyzed, unable to move a muscle. Sargon gestured once more, and the flames surrounding Myra vanished. A horrible smell of burnt fur and flesh filled the courtyard.

     “Remember,” said Sargon, “that today I chose to show mercy. You are no threat to me. However, I will not tolerate further insolence.” Sargon withdrew a flask from his robes, took a long draught, and then waved his paws a final time. Archibald felt his muscles regaining their strength, and after a few moments he was able to sit upright. A quick glance to his side showed Myra’s fur growing in to cover newly healed skin, the otter’s eyes fluttering open. “The Sage cannot escape the fate that is written for her,” Sargon continued, “Fighting me will not change that. However, if completing your quest will give you some satisfaction, I can give you what you seek. The rat withdrew a small, dull grey sphere from his robes. “This should suffice.”

     Hesitantly, Archibald took the sphere. He was startled by its weight. “It’s made of lead!” he exclaimed.

     Sargon chuckled. “A good thing too, or it would burn the flesh from your bones as surely as my spells. Now I suggest you leave. You’ve interrupted my playing, and that’s bound to make them angry.”

     “Them?” asked Myra.

     “The Banes, of course. You didn’t think I was playing for myself, did you?” As if to punctuate the rat’s words, a horrifying screech split the air. A dark, winged shape burst from the keep’s doorway, angling straight for the three creatures by the fountain. Its talons stretched forth, eager to rend flesh. Myra fumbled for her crossbow and Archibald ducked behind the fountain, but Sargon stood calmly as the Bane approached. Suddenly it came to a halt, its eyes widened, and it shrank back as though frightened. With a final shriek, the creature turned and flew away.

     Sargon withdrew a misshapen, withered object from his robes. “Bane’s claw,” he explained. “Keeps them away. Farewell, friends. We’ll meet again. Or perhaps we already have.” With those words, Sargon vanished. Archibald and Myra wasted no time in fleeing the courtyard and putting as much distance between themselves and the haunting ruins of the capital as possible. They ran with a strength born of fear and desperation, the heavy lead sphere weighing Archibald down every step of the way. Finally they slowed to a more reasonable pace, and began the long trek back to Sage’s village.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2017, 03:39:28 PM by Biologist »
Pet peeves: Apes are not monkeys, jellyfish are not fish, and tomatoes are not vegetables!

Biologist

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 318
    • View Profile
Re: Short Story: "Ouroboros"
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2017, 06:08:29 PM »
Part Five

     The settlement looked the same as it had on Archibald’s first visit. Decrepit and forlorn, but still standing. The sullen gate guard was on duty again, but was wise enough to avoid commenting within Myra’s hearing. The pathways between the dwellings were nearly deserted. A few creatures wrapped in rags shuffled between huts on some errand; they appeared to be moving their few possessions into the central dome. Exhausted, but unwilling to waste any time, Archibald and Myra hurried to find Sage. Archibald found the hare in her laboratory, tinkering with the new time machine.

     “Sylvia! We found the power source!” Archibald called over the hissing and groaning of various steam valves. He explained what he and Myra had encountered in the ruins as Sage inspected the strange artifact.

     Sage shook her head slowly. “Follower of the Rot or not, that rat is clearly mad. Still, I think I can use this device to supply the power I need to operate the Temporal Displacement Engine. Not a moment too soon, either.” She sighed. “Something is coming, Archibald. I feel it. We’re running out of time. I’ve had the villagers move their belongings here for shelter – normally they avoid this place, out of fear or perhaps respect. The mad hermit’s words only confirm my suspicions. We may only have hours left.”

     With Archibald and Myra’s assistance, Sage worked tirelessly to attach the strange power supply to the machine. In the end they were able to use it to generate enough heat to boil the community’s remaining water reservoir, providing enough steam to run the turbines that powered the mechanisms of the Temporal Displacement Engine. Archibald marveled at the fact that, despite the loss of their water supply, the villagers did not challenge Sage’s decisions. Perhaps they trusted her implicitly, or perhaps the sense of impending doom had cowed them into silence. Even Archibald could feel it: the winds had risen to an unending howl, lightning crackled through the grey skies, and the ground began to rumble beneath their feet. Suddenly a horrible screeching wail rose above even the noise of the wind, and a shape darker than the angry sky materialized within the settlement walls.

      “A Bane!” shouted Myra, observing from the dome’s entrance as several guards rushed to defend the village with makeshift weapons. The Bane slaughtered them mercilessly, growing stronger with each kill. Two more shapes materialized beside the first, then another, and another. Myra rushed inside, hitting a switch on the inside of the entrance as she did so, and a heavy metal door clanged shut. The Banes quickly finished off the remaining survivors who had not sheltered inside the dome, then began throwing themselves at the central structure, seeking to harvest the lives of those within.

     Within the central laboratory, Sage rushed about, checking connections and readings and power levels. She sent for Myra to join her as Archibald prepared to enter the central chamber of the machine. As the otter arrived, Sage motioned for her to help Archibald push a heavy metal table across the curtained opening that served as the laboratory’s doorway. “Hurry, we don’t have time! They’re going to get through!” This task completed, she ushered Archibald into the machine once more. “I’m sorry we don’t have time for a proper good-bye,” Sage said, “but know that you’ve sacrificed far more for me than I had any right to ask. Now, it’s the least I can do to get you home again.” The elderly hare turned to Myra. “You go with him. No arguments. I can’t save everyone, but I can save you. You kept my friend alive in those wastes, so here’s your reward: a chance at a better life. Go on, get in!”

     Myra and Archibald huddled in the small chamber, wincing as the shrieks of Banes and the cries of victims sounded faintly in their ears. They could hear Sage talking worriedly to herself as she finished the final preparations. “No time, no time, oh Wyld they’re here! They’re – ” This last exclamation was cut short by the sound of something large throwing itself against the table blocking the doorway. A few moments later, there was an agonized scream and a spray of blood splashed across the small circular window of the Engine’s door. Myra leapt for the door, but Archibald caught her and pulled her back. Then there was a flash of light, and the surrounding horror faded away into nothingness.

     Torn nearly in half by a Bane’s talons, Sage dragged herself to the master control lever. There’d been no time to finish calibrating the machine. It would send Archibald and Myra back, but how far? No matter, at least they would be safe. With the last of her strength, Sage threw herself onto the lever, her weight pulling it into place and starting the Temporal Displacement Engine. Sage’s body slid to the floor, a smile frozen on her face.

     The first thing Archibald noticed was the moon. It shone bright and silver in a dark blue sky, over green grass, in a meadow with living trees dotted here and there before a river that shimmered in reflected light. There was a warm, wholesome breeze. The air carried no scent of death, decay, or Rot. Turning to one side, he saw Myra also stirring to consciousness beside him. “We made it. Sylvia’s plan worked, we made it back.” The rabbit fell silent as he thought of his friend’s final sacrifice.

     Myra stared, unable to speak in the presence of more natural beauty than she had ever experienced in her life. “This place is wonderful. So many things I thought were only stories told by elders – it’s all real! Is this your home?”

     Archibald nodded, then frowned. “Yes, in the sense that my home has trees and grass and water and blue skies and moonlight. No, in the sense that I’ve never seen this place before in my life.” He looked about for a landmark, and saw a stone circle at the top of a tall, steep hill, in the opposite direction from the river. “There. There are only so many of those stone circles in Armello; perhaps I can determine our location if we go and study it. At the very least the hill will give us a better vantage point.” As they climbed the winding path around the hill and approached the cluster of standing stones, they saw that the site was not the abandoned ruin that Archibald expected. Several robed figures stood within the circle, at the center of which was a sort of altar. Another figure, partially obscured from view by the robed creatures, was secured on top of the altar.
     
     Slowly, cautiously, Archibald and Myra crept closer. The robed ones seemed intent on some ritual, chanting out phrases that Archibald could make no sense of. As a scholar in Armellian literature and legends, he was familiar with several older dialects and dead languages with ties to Modern Armellian, but this was outside his experience. Despite the sense of danger, he felt compelled to get as close as possible, to study this strange ritual, and Myra followed his lead, gliding silently behind him through the tall grass.

     At last the chanting ended, and the lead figure, a stag wearing green robes and a fearsome skull mask, spoke. His words, though still mostly unintelligible, were more familiar to Archibald, and it took a moment for the scholar to realize why. Wyld’s Bark, he’s speaking Proto-Armellian! That language has been dead for over two thousand years! Having recognized the language, the rabbit strained to make sense of it, which was difficult since it had not been spoken aloud for centuries before he was born. Strangely, perhaps due to some innate magic of the ritual or circle, he understood more the longer he listened. Another realization also struck the scholar. The machine - Sylvia must not have had time to calibrate it properly. We've been thrown back too far, into prehistory. Pushing back his growing sense of dread, Archibald tried to concentrate on the problem at paw, straining to hear what the creatures were saying.

     “And this heretic’s soul,” the stag was saying, “blighted by Rot, shall be purged by the purest light of the Wyld! His corruption ends today, and all that he has ruined in his mad quest for power shall be renewed. All shall be as the Wyld wills.” At that moment, the robe figures each stepped to the side, clearing the line of view to the figure atop the central altar. A druid of indeterminate species was at that moment fitting a crimson hood over the creature’s head. Archibald’s mouth dropped open in shock, and Myra’s breath hissed between clenched teeth. The victim on the altar was a young, healthy, and horribly familiar rat.

     “Sargon,” Archibald whispered, “it can’t be.” For one horrible moment, Sargon seemed to stare directly at Archibald and Myra and smile, as though acknowledging the bond between them. His skin and fur were whole, but his eyes had the same strange glow about them. Then he spoke, and his voice was not the thin rasp that Archibald expected, but strong and confident.

     “You are all fools. My rise is inevitable, and your ritual will accomplish nothing. My power is beyond your understanding, druids. Do what you will, but your fates are sealed, while I will endure.”

     The stag waved a hoof in the air, gesturing for silence. “Enough! You will be silent, Death-Teller! You have given your soul over to the Rot for your powers, and we will purify you this day… at the cost of your life. I call upon the Wyld, aid us in banishing this darkness!”

     The druids danced and chanted in unison. A charge like static electricity filled the air, making every creature’s fur stand on end. Suddenly, silently, a blast of green light lanced down from above, engulfing the prone form on the altar. The chanting rose to a crescendo. Then the light faded, but instead of a dead corpse or a pile of ashes, there was Sargon, his bonds burned away but otherwise unhurt. “I suppose the Wyld saw fit to spare me after all,” he said voice dripping with irony, “and now, sweet friends, you must excuse me. I have other business to attend to. You, on the other paw, should greet your new guests. You’ll find them lurking just outside this circle. Farewell.” With that, the rat snapped two digits on his left paw, and vanished. Archibald and Myra had little time to react to this turn of events, as the group of druids turned in eerie unison to face them.

     The candle had burned low in its socket by this point in Archibald’s tale. The rabbit yawned. “I think I’ll stop there for the night. We’ll need some rest. In the morning we’ll decide what to do about acquiring some new clothes, not to mention money. And food.”

     Violet nodded. “You will tell me the rest tomorrow.” The otter paused, then spoke again. “You probably wonder why I’m still with you. I could survive on my own, and part of me still resents you for bringing the King’s soldiers down on my family. The truth is, you’re the only slightly familiar thing I have left. That, and we both had our lives ripped away from us. I don’t fully understand your talk of travelling forwards and backwards in time, but if I can help you get home, I will.”

     Archibald smiled sadly. “That’s very kind of you, Violet. Unfortunately, there may not be a way home for me anymore. Still, we have to deal with more pressing matters first. We’ll discuss this again another time.”

     Morning came sooner than Archibald would have liked, and he and Myra went downstairs at down to eat an uninspiring but filling breakfast of hot gruel before heading out in search of work. The rabbit thought to ask the innkeeper for his advice.

     “Don’ know why ev’y’one thinks I know ev’y’thin’,” grumbled the portly grey wolf behind the inn’s bar, “but If I was you, an’ I’m glad I’m not, I’d ask down by the waterfront. Harbormasters there always need labor. You long-ears types can read n’ write, can’t you? Bet you’ll find work as a clerk or somthin’.” He seemed to notice Violet for the first time. “That slip of a female’s got possibilities too, if she can swim. Docks need repair, hulls need patchin’ an’ cleanin’. Hate to see a lass like y’self fall into disrespectable work now, wouldn’ we?” he said with a wink. “Tell you what, when you get to the docks, tell whoever that ol’ Garth Greymuzzle sent you. I got friends ‘round there what won’t steer you wrong.”

     As the pair left the inn, Garth shook his head, lost in thought. There’s a likely pair. Might be useful, might not. King’s creatures will sort them out one way or another. The wolf shrugged and returned to polishing the surface of his bar.

     Archibald quietly related the rest of his story as they walked the streets of the Wolf Clan capital. Pausing to trade the remains of Archibald’s suit and hat to a rag-picker in exchange for some unremarkable secondpaw clothes and two copper coins, they made their way to the waterfront.

     “At that moment,” said Archibald, continuing his tale, “I thought we would be next on the altar for sure…”

     Archibald stammered nervously, his mind racing as he tried to explain his presence at what must certainly be a secret ceremony. “I, that is we, we um, had no idea you were here. We’re lost, you see, and thought maybe we could find where we were, if we got to the circle, and – ”

     The leader of the druids cut off the rabbit’s rambling with a brief gesture. “Stop. Your words are strange to our ears. You must speak plainly. You will answer my questions. You will answer them truthfully. We will know if you lie. First,” said the stag, glaring down at Archibald, “tell me, are you an ally of the heretic?”

     Archibald shook his head. “No.”

     “Second, if you are not his allies, why did he seem to recognize you?”

     “We met him once, far away, at… a different time. He tried to kill us, then let us go. I don’t know why.”

     The druid gave no indication of what he thought about that statement. “Third, how did you come to be here?”

     “We were sent here by a machine. A portal. Like magic, but different.”

     “Where did you come from?”

     Archibald gulped, knowing the answer would sound ridiculous, when Myra answered for them both. “The future. We come from the future, from many days after tomorrow. We came to stop Sargon, the heretic, before he destroys the world.”

     The druid looked at Myra, then back to Archibald. “If what you say is true, then you must explain further.” Haltingly, Archibald related the whole tale of his sojourn into the future to the assembled druids, with occasional comments from Myra. The druids were silent for a long time, then their leader spoke once more. “If what you say is true, then this heretic may be beyond even our power to destroy. However, it may be possible to send you to your own time. You can carry your warning home, as you intended. You will wait in this place while we deliberate.”

     The “deliberations” took three days and three nights, during which time the druids kept the rabbit and otter supplied with food and water, but did not permit them to stray beyond the hill and its surrounding meadow. At last they approached the pair. “We can send one and one only. You must follow us.” The druids led Archibald and Myra down the path around the hill, stopping at a seemingly unremarkable point roughly halfway down. The druids chanted in unison, and an opening appeared in the hill as if carved by magic. Which, Archibald realized, it probably was. Walking through the opening, Archibald was able to see a small chamber in which was a slab similar to the altar within the stone circle.

     “We can send you back to your time,” said the stag, speaking for the druids yet again, “but it will cost us dearly. Four of our number must sacrifice their lives to fuel the spell that will place you into a deep sleep, not to awaken until many moons pass. The otter must remain here, to make whatever life she can in this place. We do this because the Wyld demands that it be so.”

     Archibald could see that the druids would not take “no” for an answer, and furthermore were completely serious. Startled at both the abruptness of the druids’ pronouncement and the horror of its cost, he felt compelled to ask, “Is there no other way?”

     The stag merely shook his great head.

     Archibald turned to Myra. “Myra… I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I don’t want to leave you stranded in a strange place, on your own. Believe me, I understand better than most what that feels like. Listen, whatever you do, you must be careful not to change anything, all right? Live out your life, be happy, be free, enjoy the sunshine, you’ve earned that. Just don’t try to do anything, I don’t know, heroic. The smallest action this far in the past could have unintended results in the future. And don’t try to follow me, or convince them to recreate whatever spell is used here. The price is too high.”

     Myra nodded. “The robed ones said you’ll be asleep. I’ll make sure you’re watched over until you awake.”

     Archibald smiled sadly. Poor thing, she doesn’t seem to realize how long that will be. Far longer than her lifetime, at any rate. “Very well, I’m ready. What must I do?”

     The druids’ leader gestured to the slab. “Simply lie down, close your eyes, and rest. When you awake, ages will have come and gone. Know this: the magic used to keep you alive may continue for some time after you awake. You will not age as others do, at first.” Archibald nodded, disconcerted once more. It seemed he had very little say in any of the life-altering decisions being thrust upon him lately.

     At last, the time came for the ritual. Archibald slowly settled himself onto the stone pallet and closed his blue eyes. He slowed his breathing as the rhythmic sounds of the druids’ strange chanting reached his ears. He drew in a breath and let it out again, the last one for centuries.


Epilogue

Sargon was unsettled. The rat was unable to understand the meaning of his latest vision. The strands of fate had, impossibly, unwound and reformed into a new and subtly different pattern. Here, a village burned as it always had, but in the wrong place and time, and for the wrong reasons. There, a king lay dying in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Behind it all, the Wyld and Rot continued their titanic struggle, and Armello was shattered. Too soon. It comes too soon. I must be ready. I am the Grey Tide, none can stop my rise! I must be ready…





This story is finally over! I'm already planning a second story that will pick up the loose threads from this one. I'm aware that there are some conflicts with established lore for some of the characters I plan to have appear in my next story, hence the idea that Archibald's meddling has thrown Armellian history a bit out of joint. Perils of deciding to write a time-travel story, I suppose. I hope it's been an enjoyable read (if not, I'm surprised you read this far), and I also hope my next project progresses more quickly.

Pet peeves: Apes are not monkeys, jellyfish are not fish, and tomatoes are not vegetables!

Shrapnel

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 18
    • View Profile
Re: Short Story: "Ouroboros"
« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2017, 02:37:35 PM »
I'm enjoyed the parts which involve Sargon. It's been a pleasure to read these ^^
« Last Edit: June 10, 2017, 02:40:30 PM by Shrapnel »