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Edelweiss

by Sherry Ryan 2 months ago in Fantasy
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Prologue

There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. Thousands of years ago the gods created it as a place to hide their treasures. They weren’t really gods, but rather master manipulators of other dimensions. Thieves, who stole from the multiverse realms and enslaved their peoples. In the mountains high above was the gateway to these other places. The Valley below held a grid carved into the basin. This living map, which was visible only from above and undetectable to its inhabitants, led the way to the treasure trove. Slaves were brought there to work the land and unknowingly guard the horde. With no memory of enslavement, they innocently worshipped these thieves as gods. Brainwashed to believe they were being protected from wild beasts living in the mountains, they made weekly sacrifices at the foot of the mountain to the South. Superstition and mystery prevented the farmers from exploring beyond the limits of the Valley. It was enough for them to live within its confines, which was a lush patchwork of green pastures covering its floor. Shepherds lazily watched their flocks from beneath apple trees that clung to stone hedges dividing up the land. It was truly idyllic. Botham, a shepherd’s son living on the North side of the Valley, didn’t recognize its beauty, nor the people’s superstitious ways. He was sombre and hateful as a child, who only grew more morose with age. Everyone has a choice when it comes to light or darkness. Each path brings its own allure. When darkness came to him with its seductive power, Botham took hold of it with both hands. He began the destruction of this paradise, bringing more than just dragons to this realm.

Botham’s sisters all married and left home. He envied his eldest sister, whom he considered lucky for marrying a Blacksmith in the nearby town of Westby. In his mind, the town was alive and bustling with adventure at every turn. The other two married into the same boring shepherding life from whence they came. Botham knew this was also his fate. He was to farm this land like his father. Whenever he could, he escaped the Valley to explore the mountains. Following the river that found its way down from atop the mountain, he’d bring a fishing pole, his bow and knife, feigning productivity. Often, he pleased the family with a supper of fish, rabbit, or fowl. Predation brought him joy. The thrill of stalking prey and killing it was only part of what drew him in. The other was animal blood, particularly watching it drain from a beating heart pulsing in his hands.

One day, he discovered a magnificent waterfall. Hearing its mighty roar, he followed the sound to its precipice. From the top, he saw a group of unclothed women basking in the sun next to the pool. Botham didn’t recognize them, but he was enthralled by their relaxed nature and beauty. He crouched behind a shrub to watch. His movement caught the attention of one of the women, who alerted the others with a shrill call. In unison, they dove into the water. Botham waited for them to resurface, but they disappeared into the depths. After several minutes, he walked closer to the edge and peered down. There was no sign of the women. However, a giant squid-like man with tentacles for arms and legs arose from the water. It quickly manoeuvred its way toward the frightened teen. Wrapping its long tentacle arms around nearby shrubs the creature propelled itself easily up the side of the waterfall’s cliff.

Suddenly, a dark funnel cloud came out of nowhere and swiftly lifted Botham from the ground. The teen, with rod and bow in hand spiralled midair. The rod’s line released, spinning the hook outward. It hook stuck into the creature’s chest and removed a scale. With centripetal force it snapped back toward the centre of the twister. With Botham inside, the black mass moved away from the water beast and down the side of the mountain hurling boulders and trees out of its path. Reaching the edge of the Valley floor it deposited the teen with a thud. As if with consciousness and will, the storm cloud backed away returning from whence it came. Botham was shocked and amazed, yet thrilled. He could feel the dark force raging within the twister filling him and matching his own. He was wind swept and covered in dirt, but he felt alive for the first time in his life.

When Botham arrived home, he looked at the scale hanging from the hook. In direct sunlight it shimmered with rainbow lights. Yet, when he took it to his room out of the sun it became dull and grey. Deciding it to be a lucky charm, he turned it into a pendant which he hung around his neck from a length of fishing line. Once completed, he tucked it beneath his shirt. His room was covered in animal kill trophies. But the pendant held special meaning and he wore it with secret pride. There was nothing to be gained by telling this story to his family. First, they wouldn’t believe him and secondly, they might not let him continue to venture into the mountains. He was more intrigued than ever with the mysteries there.

Botham was smitten with the women by the falls. Thinking about their naked bodies aroused something more than lust. He recalled them lounging next to the water’s edge careless and free. He wanted that. But he also wanted to trace his tongue along the birthmark-like spots which wound around their waists, angling upwards from their flanks over the backbones and disappearing under gorgeous lion-like manes. He wanted to grab one by her hair and thrust himself deep into her body. He wanted to possess her. A few days after his initial encounter, he returned. This time, he would be more careful. Scouting out the place, he discovered a large mass of boulders. He could clearly see the pool and surrounding area while lying flat atop a huge rock. This is where he spent most of his time for the next few weeks.

One day, he was surprised by a younger woman who came to the top of the falls. She was searching for edelweiss which grew amongst the boulders where he lay. Her eyes caught the shimmering light from the pendant first. They locked eyes for a moment, before she bowed to her knees. Giving him god-like authority. Who else would be able to win such a prize from the Guardian of the Gate? Botham instantly knew this. Touching the pendant with a sly smile. He puffed up his scrawny chest and motioned for her to stand and come toward him. She obeyed like a child. His heart raced at the thought of claiming her as his prize. Worried that the squid-man would discover them, he quickly grabbed her hand and began to run, pulling her behind. Bewildered and frightened, she followed. The flowers she collected fell loose from her other hand.

They ran for a half a mile or so down a path the twister cleared weeks earlier. When he felt safely away from danger, he slowed his pace. Only then did he notice how tiny she was. He practically dragged her the whole way. When they arrived at a small clearing, he decided to stop and size up his prize. He motioned for her to sit on a mound of moss clinging to a boulder. To his amazement, she didn’t seem the least concerned about not being clothed. However, when he tried to touch her breast, she sprang away, extending sharp claws and hissing. Not only did she have the reflexes of a cat, but she also had its sharp claws too. He loved her spirit. How animal-like she was, he thought. Patting the mossy rock, he invited her to sit once again. Cautiously, she moved to a stone a little further from him. Eyes wide in anticipation of danger, she glared at the teen through piercing green eyes. He tried to speak with her, but she did not understand. His plan to explore her body more fully would have to wait. Her claws, now protracted and unnoticeable, were deadly. Botham decided she looked human enough to bring home. Perhaps, he could convince his parents to allow this waif to stay.

Near his house was a stand of trees. Botham took her there and motioned for her to stay. He crept past his mother cooking in the kitchen and went into his sister’s old room and found a dress that would work. Crumpling it into a ball and tucking it under his shirt, he slipped back out and ran toward the stand of trees, worried she might slip away. There she was shivering beneath the trees. Recalling her claws and worried that she would be upset with him pulling the dress down over her head, he showed her first by putting over his own. Then he pushed it toward her pointing to her head. As his pendant flashed in the sun’s light, she allowed him to dress her. The dress was a bit big, making her look awkward. He knew she was afraid but carelessly dismissed this. Taking her hand, he led the creature to his house. There, he presented her as a mute orphan he had found wandering in the woods. His mother quickly embraced the child, making the girl felt safe for the first time in hours. The matter was settled in an instance.

Botham named her Sachiel. Everywhere he went, she followed as if on lead. Her cat-eyes fixed upon his every movement. Attached as if by an invisible chain. The teen wanted more from her, but memories of her claws kept him in check. So, he worked day and night to act in ways that might win her over. He no longer hunted, because of her reaction to his predatory nature. The first time he killed an animal she sobbed hysterically and stroked the hide of the skinned rabbit, while looking at him pathetically through teary eyes. He wanted her to fear him, as it kept her close. But not so much fear that she wouldn’t let him touch her, which was his end game. So, he resorted to picking apples or berries and offering them to her. She delighted in wild strawberries. He took her to all the secret places where they grew. Soon, she became more open to him. Botham taught her only enough language and behaviours to manage in his world. She missed her home but had no hopes of return. They never went back to the waterfall or left the Valley.

Sachiel followed his lead daily, serving him as he directed. Botham was able to win her over and claim his prize soon enough. As her swollen belly grew, his parents insisted the two marry. They were given a small parcel of land neighbouring his father’s land. Within the year, Sachiel bore a son, whom she named Daileass. Botham resented the child. As she put all her attention and love into the baby, her husband was a secondary figure in her world now more than ever. She avoided his probing hands feigning exhaustion from caring for the home and child. His frustrations grew daily. He was unable to leave the Valley to explore the mountains. Now he was stuck farming just as his father before him. Botham’s jealousy and anger grew. Eventually, he discovered escape by making and drinking cider.

Daileass became sick in his second year. Sachiel was desperate to find a cure for her beloved son. She asked her neighbour, Isobella, a known healer for help. Isobella told her of an herb, called edelweiss, growing only in the mountains. The old woman warned her of the dangers there. Sachiel recalled collecting this herb on the day she was captured and knew exactly where to find it. She couldn’t tell Botham about the herb, nor of her plans. He would forbid her to climb into the mountains. With that in mind, she awoke in the small hours of morning and crept away unnoticed. Days passed without her return.

Botham paced the cabin with the sickly child wailing in his arms. Angry that Sachiel left and terrified she’d never return. Finally, he could stand the screeching child no more and took him to Isobella. It was here he learned of his wife’s plan to search for the healing herb. She must have come to harm, because he knew she would never leave her beloved son behind. In desperation, he attempted to organise a search party, but it was fruitless as the farmers feared the mountains. They scoffed at her foolishness for having gone into this forbidden land. In the years that followed, he often went to the waterfall, but found no life there, just the raging falls. Attempting to spur the creatures he'd seen here years before to rise to the surface, he threw rocks into the pool below to no avail. It was as if it had all been a dream.

Years of searching passed. Finally, he resolved never to return to the mountains. In a fit of rage and despair, he tore the pendant from his neck and threw it in the corner of his bedroom. Daileass found the necklace and began wearing it unbeknownst to his father. Botham’s anger grew daily alongside the child who was a mirror image of his mother. The storm that carried the teen down the mountain years earlier raged within him. Everyday, the boy received its full fury. Life was hard for Daileass. By his early teens, he began to escape into the mountains whenever his father was unconscious from drink. Unlike his father, he went to explore its beauty. However, his journey would lead to the Gate which should have remained forever closed. Only he, a halfling, would be able to journey to the realms on the other side.

Fantasy

About the author

Sherry Ryan

I have ink in my veins. It is a curse and a joy. Reality makes it challenging to devote myself to the pen. I have finally succumbed to my daemon blood and hereby commit myself to making it the reality of my life. Perhaps I will find peace.

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