The Price of Preservation

I suppress a shiver.   It wasn't from the frigid cold blanketing me. No, Is has a tight control on that, focusing her magic on the forces at the base of the mountain. It was from what was about to happen. What I've been asked to do. I turn to Bevarelse. He's still carefully carving into the semicircle of tall stone that makes up the peak.   "Lord, we should be fighting. Her army is worn down," I say even though I know he won't change his mind.   "Tuvæ hø bjern prentav," comes his deep, resonant voice. He continues his elegant etching, still careful with each stroke despite the army at the doorstep. "Apri sof iða hej, vit bevarl fæl gøjet zurað."   He was right, of course. We have already lost. We were too slow. Too unprepared when Vira began her campaign. Even eleven years later we haven't managed to stop her. "They will destroy your work here, just like with Zremak." My grip tightens on my hilt in anger. The people of Zremak weren't even aligned with us. They were innocent. And they were slaughtered for living in a city full of Bevarelse's documentation. "All your work of preserving history, it will be lost." What was the point of trying to keep it? Hopeless as it was, I would still do what I was asked to.   "Ù tuvæ hødret kek ræya," he finishes his carving and stares at me. It's difficult to maintain eye contact with his deep, swirling eyes. So much knowledge and wisdom were held behind those eyes; all the knowledge and wisdom that Vira seeks to destroy. "Pel æsef ram sø kem, vit luvek beskyð den."   I close my eyes and inhale deeply. Can I even do that? Can I save the truth and history from being purged from the world? It was why I was here. I open my eyes. "I am ready, Lord."   Bevarelse takes a slow, deep breath in. The pressure around the peak tightens, feeling like the sky will crush me. He releases, and the pressure spikes, slamming into my body. I gasp. The pain was immense and sudden, but gone in an instant. As I regain myself, the air pressure tightens again as Bevarelse casts something upon the peak itself. The snow gets blasted away. He breathes heavy, exhausted from the use of his powerful magic.   "Beskyð kek ræya," he says. His posture dips in sorrow. "Beskyð sæl ðuvas levræ," his strong voice cracks. "Døsne Is jer witte."   I bow my head. Bevarelse bounds off the mountain, gone within moments.   I will guard his work, and when Is dies upon this mountain, I will guard her body, too.   My eternal vigil has begun.  
  137 Years Later, at the base of Riner Is   Teodor Vincent tried to steady his shaking hands. If he slipped up now, he would destroy weeks of work. But more importantly, he would lose the greatest breakthrough the world had ever seen. The Script stone was amazingly thin—and therefore—amazingly fragile. He pulled his hands away from his work, cupping them and blowing warmth back into them with his breath. A chill ran down his spine.   "Gloves, Teodor. Can't continue your work if you lose your hands to frostbite," he mumbled to himself. It was impossible to be warm when one was so close to Riner Is, but it didn't bother Teodor. He was used to it. Especially after the first week out here, in the ruins northwest of Fellbe.   That first week was brutal. He spent each hour of every day digging through the ice and snow. His wife had hated that, but supported him anyway—even when everyone thought he was too foolish. Scholars better than him had scoured the ruins fruitlessly for decades before him. But Teodor felt it; there had to be something out here. There were small snippets of Script on the remains of, well—scholars argued over what, exactly. Pillars? Perhaps the stones were once part of arches? There wasn't enough here for scholars to definitively say what these ruins once were. Though if there was, it was buried ever further under the permafrost.   And Teodor was about to crack it all open.   Another chill ran down his spine. He was excited. He glanced over his research papers. The Script stone he had managed to dig up was remarkable for a sole reason.   It wasn't all written in Script.   Most of it was written in Common.   Well, Old Common, technically. But Teodor was well educated in Old Common. And after translating the stone, he was certain this stone belonged to a scribe or scholar from ages past. It was definitely notes on the words written on the stones in the area. From a time when the stones were whole. A time when there were people here. This information alone was enough confirmation to bring Teodor up the scholarly ladder. But when he deciphered the language of Script? A language no one has been able to make any headway in? Not only would he go down in history as the resurrector of Script, but he'd be able to treat his wife to anything, and make up for all this time spent away.   "Writes Bevarelse 'ðele kek dann tæv sæl dømme', yet fails saying does he of Omdanne being there," Teodor reads from his copy of the stone. He looks to the notation above the script portion, translated into Old Common by the original author. "Split the ground with my command". He couldn't keep the excitement off his face. With even just this one line—and there were more—he'd be able to translate so much of the Script around him.   What knowledge did all of these elegantly carved words hold? Another shiver ran down Teodor's spine. He froze. He was chilly, but he wasn't so cold as to have this many shivers. His eyes flicked up from his work.   He yelped and fell back. A cloaked figure stood on the other side of Teodor's makeshift workbench. Teodor scrambled to his feet. The white-clad figure was no longer there. Had he been pushing himself to the point of hallucination? Teodor took a steadying breath, and smelled a tangy scent. Odd, what did that smell remind him of?   Then he tasted the tang in his mouth. He knew the taste, though never so strongly.   Blood.   Teodor fell to his knees. He looked down. Blood was pooling and freezing below him. "Where...?" he whispered. Then he realized. It was coming from him. Funny, he didn't feel anything. Even the cold was fading to nothing.   The figure stepped from behind Teodor to stand in front of him. Teodor looked up at the man, his sight fading. "Why?" Teodor uttered. "What have I done wrong?"   The assassin didn't answer. Teodor collapsed to the ground. "Tilde, my love," he thought as he breathed his last ragged breath. "You were right."


Cover image: Flatirons in Snow by Stephen Collector

Comments

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2 Feb, 2020 15:01

Nice combination of two texts! But I'm still surprised by the ending. What did he do and who's the assassin? :O

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2 Feb, 2020 17:22

It's always a struggle to participate in competitions while trying to keep secrets from my players ;) There's a certain group in the world who doesn't want the past to be unburied, therefore, they send an assassin to stop it from being revealed. These kinds of questions after reading are what I'm looking for, though. Thank you!

6 Feb, 2020 02:52

As far as meeting the conditions of the challenge go, you've definitely succeeded. And I like the story and was invested in the outcome. As far as story structure goes, this feels like a cheat of the payoff. You kinda want the scholar Teodor to meet the guardian, and when he doesn't, you're a bit like "what the hell?" That's my minor critique. Otherwise, good work!

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga. Mother of Bunnies, Eater of Pickles, Friend of Nerds, First of her Name.
7 Feb, 2020 02:37

Thanks for reading! I think I need to add some other scene change/setting notifier with the year, as with what you've pointed out to me, it's not very clear that Teodor's story is not only in the future, but also not quite in the same spot as the guardian.

18 Feb, 2020 07:22

Yeah, I think I did catch that. My comment is just a writing thing, and mind that I'm working in the field and am probably being overly picky, so take my suggestion with a grain of salt. It's meant to help improve your writing craft, not as a comment on the competition or the world or the game, and I'm sorry, I should have that explained better in my initial comment, but I think I was really tired at the time. :)   Advice all the editors and writing instructors give you is "if you introduce a gun on the wall in the first act, it needs to be fired by the third act." (unless it's an absolutely deliberate red herring.) By making the guardian into the viewpoint character, especially a first person viewpoint character, and making it clear that this guardian has been set to guard the work and that it is an "eternal vigil," you would expect to meet the guardian in some form in the last part of the story. If that wasn't going to happen, why introduce the guardian at all?   I get that you needed someone to witness the events, but you could have done that with journal entries from the scholar or something. If you really felt the need to include a witness, I would have suggested using a third person personal voice to give the character a little distance. Or, maybe the guardian kept a journal, in which case the journal entries become a "primary research source" for the characters (or your readers) and the story becomes a mystery to solve. A first person character is never just a throwaway. You focus on their POV because it's important.   Anyway, just something to chew on when the competition is done. You met the terms of the challenge well. The reason why I spoke up is that I was invested in your guardian and wanted to know their fate; which means you managed to make the character sympathetic in a very short piece, which is no mean feat! I imagine other readers will feel the same way. :)

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga. Mother of Bunnies, Eater of Pickles, Friend of Nerds, First of her Name.
18 Feb, 2020 19:18

Ah ok, yep yep. I see what you're getting at. Thank you for taking time to explain :)