By. Jason P. Hein
Excerpt from "Tales From Varsia."
Tilon Gror stood staring into the river where something had caught his eye. As an avid explorer he had traveled from the Gorlyn Heights to visit the centaurs in the mountains and to the Sanhadree Highlands in search of the lost city of Shangri-La. He had traversed the Sarengedeeze plains and been to the Deanemis Tavern to see treasures from far away lands. But never had he seen anything like what lay before him now.
On the river floor gleamed a multitude of polished stones. But not just any polished stones. In these fist-sized pebbles replayed the history of the world! Each stone boasted a vivid image that played out events of the past.
Tilon was saddened as he looked into the face of one stone and noticed his own past replaying. He gazed into his own brown eyes. Even as a child his strong facial features had been evident. He could see himself being laughed at by the other children. He could see his parents telling him he wasn’t good enough. “Try harder!” his father always told him. Tilon sighed and looked away.
“Hello?” a voice said from behind, startling him.
Tilon turned around to see a pale-skinned man of middle age. “Yes? Who are you?” Tilon asked.
“I am San Ashat,” the man said with a smile. “And you, by your uncut hair and rugged clothing, I would guess are an explorer.”
“Yes, I am,” Tilon confirmed, trying not show his distrust of the slender man.
“Perhaps, then, you would be surprised to know you are only miles from civilization,” San told him.
Tilon looked into the man’s ominous gray eyes with evident disbelief. “There is nothing on the map.”
“I own a tavern near here,” San explained. “You would be surprised how much business I get from traders who take a shortcut through the Haientoaidn Woods. But despite that, I am always short on workers. You’re a strong man. Perhaps you would be interested in earning some money?”
Tilon grinned. “No, I’m afraid money doesn‘t interest me. I make a habit of avoiding other people, so money is useless.”
“Then perhaps a trade?” San suggested. “I have salt wages. Or you can simply eat and refresh your supplies for free.”
Now San was getting Tilon’s attention. “I have no need for salt. I do, however, need some supplies. What kind of work did you have in mind?”
“Come, I will show you,” San said, gesturing for Tilon to follow. “It’s mostly just fixing leaks, repairing tables and the like. Perhaps cutting timber if needed.”
Tilon followed San along the faint path that was worn into the ground as it wound in and out of trees and bushes. Tilon was still unsure about accepting this man’s proposal, though. He had become an explorer to get away from other people. “A few days in exchange for supplies will be all right,” he persuaded himself.
Tilon was so caught up in his internal thoughts that it seemed only minutes later when they arrived at the Tavern. “There she is,” San said, pointing to the tall stone tavern. The lights inside shone out brightly and from where they stood Tilon could hear men talking and laughing.
The two men climbed down the rugged rock cliff that they stood atop of and made their way to the tavern. San arrived ahead of Tilon, entered the building and shut the door behind him. Tilon shivered as he grabbed the cold metal handle and opened the door. An ominous chill ran the length of his spine. To his surprise the heavy door fell off the hinges. Tilon sidestepped to avoid the falling door and then looked into the tavern, where he saw not a bright room full of happy people, but a dark span void of life.
“Tilon,” San’s soft whispering voice called out, but with a more wispy tone than before.
Tilon stepped in, feeling as though he must. He didn’t understand why. The tables were covered with dust, and most were laying on their sides. The chairs were turned over and many of them were missing legs and backs.
Tilon heard the voice again, calling his name. “Tilon.” It seemed closer than before. The voice made the hair on the back of Tilon’s neck stand straight up! Immediately he turned to leave, crushing some glass from a broken cup under his foot. He rushed for the exit, but the door flew up from the ground and slammed shut. Tilon tried the handle, but it didn’t work. Not even with all his strength could he force it open.
“Tilon,” San’s voice called again, even closer than before. “You can’t escape.” Tilon then turned around to see a transparent figure with bright red eyes approaching. He tried to move but he was paralyzed with fear. The creature grabbed him around the neck and slowly, Tilon could feel the life being drained out of him. As he grew weaker and weaker his mind began to fade until all went black.
Tilon wasn’t sure how long he had been out for, but as he began to regain consciousness he jumped to his feet, grabbing for his sword handle. Suddenly he realized he was back at the river where he had met San earlier. He looked down into the river once more. There in a stone replayed the moments he had just lived.
“It never really happened,” Tilon surmised. “It was all the stone!”
“Hello?” a voice said from behind, startling Tilon.
Tilon swung around, sword pointing at the intruder. “Who are you?” Tilon asked.
Before him stood a young girl, no more than fifteen years old, holding a basket of laundry. “My name is Tahsa Nas. My family and I own a tavern near here,” the girl answered.
“What are you doing out here?” Tilon asked her.
“I came to wash our clothes in the stream. What are you doing here?” Tahsa replied.
“I’m an explorer,” Tilon told her.
“Then perhaps you would like to come help us at our tavern,” Tahsa suggested. “There was a storm a few days ago and the building took a lot of damage. We can let you eat and refresh your supplies for free in exchange for labor.”
Tilon still pointed his sword at the young girl’s neck. “I’m sorry, but I have to be going,” he said. The girl’s face looked hurt at first and Tilon almost decided to change his mind. It was as if something inside was urging him to help her. Tilon shook his head and repeated himself. “I have to go.”
“Why? We could be friends. We can even give you a place to stay,” the girl offered.
Tilon once again felt something inside of him urging him to accept. Perhaps it was loneliness, or something else entirely, but once again he had to decline. “I’m… I’m sorry, I really must be going,” he told her.
The girl’s face looked angry now. “You watched the stones, didn’t you?” She dropped her laundry and frowned ominously. “They warned you of me.” As she spoke her voice became distorted and airy, and she transformed into a ghostly figure. “Drop your sword. It can’t hurt me,” Tahsa ordered.
“We’ll see about that,” Tilon said, lunging at the transparent image. The slow-moving creature was stabbed in the arm and let out an ear-splitting shriek as black vapor dissipated from its wound and evaporated into the air. Tilon jumped over the stream and took off running, but as he ran a heavy fog closed in, disorienting him. Sounds of movement began all around him, and more ghostly figures floated slowly around him in the swirling fog.
Tilon stopped, trying to get his bearings. Just as he started to move again another grayish figure, larger than the first one, came at him. The creature swung at him with a sword that seemed to be made of nothing more than a shadow. Tilon blocked and spun around behind the creature. With a quick swing he sliced the thing in half. The shadowy figure dropped to the ground with a shriek. Black vapor began evaporating upward out of the being, as if it was bleeding.
Once again Tilon started to run, but before he could get far, three more of the creatures appeared. He blocked high, parried to the left, and ducked below a wild attack. The creatures were pushing him backwards, shrieking and wailing as they moved towards the middle of the forest.
Tilon rolled out of the way as the three creatures converged on him, sword blades swinging. Coming up to his feet Tilon sliced the back of one of the creatures and was immediately forced to block another attack while moving sideways and ducking behind a tree to dodge a second strike.
Tilon battled on, still being pushed back by the foul creatures. He finally got in a good strike, cutting off the arm of one of his attackers. It seemed that for every creature he killed, three more appeared out of the fog, though.
He wished more than anything that he was experiencing another delusion brought on by the strange stones in the river bed. “Is this how I will die?” he wondered.
With another bloodcurdling scream one of the shadowy figures went down to the ground, the scent of its black vaporous blood pouring into the air like smoke from a fire. Once again more creatures appeared, seemingly materializing out of the fog.
“Perhaps they are the fog,” Tilon thought, but he had little time for thinking.
He blocked another attack before being pushed back. As he stepped, his foot slipped off a ledge and he fell backwards. With a splash he landed in the stream of polished stones. He quickly jumped back to his feet, coughing to get the water out of his throat.
“Stay back! All of you!” Tilon said, swinging his sword threateningly towards the remaining creatures.
The creatures stopped, but the smaller one, who Tahsa Nas had transformed into, approached. “You cannot defeat us all, Tilon Gror. We are a legion!” The creature spoke proudly with its frail voice, its arm still leaking the black vapor.
“What do you want from me?” Tilon demanded.
“We want your life force,” the creature said with a grin. “It is what we feed on.”
Tilon glared at the creature in disgust. “Come any closer and I’ll take your life force!”
“I told you,” the creature replied. “We are many.” The creature lifted its arm, and the fog began to materialize into a host of shadowy figures. “Do you honestly think you can defeat us all? We have seen your past, a past of pain and suffering. Do you not long for death? To escape the bondage of your fellow man?”
“I am not bound. I am free! I answer to no man,” Tilon assured them.
“But you are not free from pain. You trust no one lest you are betrayed. Come, and I will ease your pain.” The creature inched closer.
Tilon backed away, trying not to let his fear show. Suddenly, however, something caught his eye on the riverbed. One of the polished stones was shining slightly brighter than the others encircling it.
The creatures gasped and muttered amongst themselves in a foreign tongue as Tilon reached down to pick up the stone. He looked into the stone, and on the smooth surface it played his future. “Let me go free or you will all die,” Tilon warned the creatures, holding up the stone to reveal its secret.
The ghostly figures backed away as they saw Tilon, in the stone, defeating the last remaining survivor of their kind. “Impossible,” the small creature said with horror, backing away as Tilon pointed his sword at its face.
“I told you that I answer to no man…” Tilon replied. “And so it is true. I answer to only one. The Creator of all! He has shown me this and saved me from your evil plans. It might be impossible for me to defeat you in my own power… but with Him nothing is impossible!”
“Very well. You win, human. Depart from these woods and never return or we will not be so gracious.”
Tilon carefully stepped out of the stream, taking the stone with him, and headed away from the horde of deadly creatures. He watched carefully behind him until he had cleared the woods. With every step he took away from the river, the image in the stone seemed to fade a little bit, until finally, there was nothing but a blue, glass-like surface.
Tilon smiled as he looked up to the cloud-filled sky. The creatures would never know what else he had seen in the stone. They would never know that the image they saw would not take place for many years. And they would never know that he had seen them, in the stone, allowing him to leave because of the image of him killing their last survivor.
“If they had tried, they could have killed me. The only reason I live is because they were deceived,” Tilon thought. “But now I know my future, that I will destroy their kind from the Varsian Kingdom.”
Tilon traveled on, now with a purpose. He didn’t travel to escape the world, but to save it from a menace more terrible than most could imagine.
The Poem, "Polished Stones" is an excerpt from "Poems of Varsian Lore."
This piece of poetic lore was written by the Centaur man Clemious and refers to the Centaur legend of the "River of Polished Stones." It is said that the seven kings of old lived near the stream where the polished stones replayed the history of the world. The seven kings studied the history and grew very wise from the insight the stones provided. The location of this river is not known but the most common belief is that it is somewhere in the Haientoaidn woods.
I look down through waters cold,
Inside it's currents flow.
Images of new and old,
In every rock will show.
Tales of the ancient past,
In a special way.
Their trials to be told at last,
Each and every day.
Like a mirror to the past,
And present scenes of day.
A story finished told at last,
That will not fade away.
Every stone a different sight,
On the river bed.
In the darkness shines a light,
On the visions now long dead.
In the world's darkest days,
The stories they have grown.
Now in rivers it replays,
In every polished stone.