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The Stone of Rán
A fantasy short story about the quest for power
I’ve got to be honest, this is not what I expected fromat all. But I mean that in the best possible way. Just when you think you have figured out what a certain writers wheelhouse is they decided to stretch their creative muscles and completely surprise you with something.
This is one of my favourite parts of role with this Substack- always being kept guessing by what our roster of creators are gonna come up with next. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I trust that you feel the same.
Damn! Metheus froze and extinguished the luminescence spell on the tip of his wand.
If orcs were anywhere nearby in the dark tunnel, their keen hearing would have picked up that snap and they’d come investigate. He hadn’t anticipated stepping on a twig this deep inside the underground complex.
Metheus waited, stoically and unmoving, in the darkness for a full ten minutes. Drops of water clung to the damp corridor’s ceiling, falling occasionally in heavy, ponderous, percussive drops that plummeted as liquid bombs onto the wet stone floor, exploding into fluid, concentric shockwaves. The plink……………plink………….plink of these drops remained the only sound Metheus heard while he listened.
Hardly daring to breathe, he could now hear his own heartbeat in the deafening silence between water drops. Without the light from his wand, the tunnels were an oppressive, heavy black, and every plink of water seemed to echo for miles until the silence returned. The hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention, and he couldn't help but feel like he was being watched. As he calmed himself, his mind wandered back to the conversation he had with his master, Crimeaon, two days earlier…
“You are finally ready Metheus,” Crimeaon said as he turned, looking up from his book and fixing Metheus with his ‘pay attention’ look - which made effective use of Crimeaon’s intense, piercing steel-blue eyes framed by his odd circular glasses.
“You have learned all you can from our resources here,” Crimeaon waved his hand absentmindedly at the ancient books, scrolls, constructs, cauldrons, and devices that chaotically filled the floor-to-ceiling shelves in his Arcanum, the combination wizards library, observatory, spell room, and laboratory where they worked.
“We have reached the time of your mage quest. If you complete it successfully, you’ll be granted the privileges and duties of a full wizard.”
Crimeaon adjusted his deep red mage cloak and continued, “You must travel deep into the western mountain range, past the Dorado river.”
He turned to a shelf behind his desk and grabbed a dusty scroll. Handing the scroll to Metheus he said, “Here's a map. This map will lead you to ancient ruins. These were discovered recently by one of our scouts and we don’t believe anyone has ever explored them, although, as always, they are likely crawling with orcs. This is one of those places of the ancients that contained great power in the form of the Stone of Rán. Since the ruins are newly discovered, any Stone there is likely still in place. It is this stone that you must retrieve.”
Still hearing nothing and detecting no movement, Metheus finally, tentatively took a step. Then another. Breathing a sigh of relief, he re-ignited the tip of his wand and ventured deeper into the underground ruins.
Metheus yelped and jumped back again, ready to fight.
The click had emanated from the magical construct he carried. He sighed again and started moving, creeping slowly and silently through the ancient damp tunnel as his mind ruminated further on that conversation with Crimeaon.
“Take this ancient magical construct with you on your quest,” Crimeaon added.
“It contains ancient magic that can detect the presence of the Stone of Rán. It will click when you are near the stone, and the faster it clicks, the closer you will be to your goal. We do not know how the ancients powered it. They had some other magical constructs that they would place inside of it to power the spell. There is still much about their advanced wonders of magic that we do not understand. But I have placed a spell on this construct that will provide power for up to seven days after you leave on your quest, so be quick in your travels.”
The construct started clicking faster, pulling Metheus’ mind back to the present:
Click. Click. Click. Click.
Metheus winced. The device was clicking regularly now as he approached an intersection. He wished there was some way to make it quieter. Most underground complexes in this part of the land were crawling with orc colonies.
Some of the more superstitious villagers Metheus knew said that, after the ancients had lost control of their magic, that many people had been forced to live underground because the land had become poisoned and unlivable. The legend was that the surface of the earth was enveloped in winter for years and that going underground had been the only escape available to most people. Most of these strange children’s tales held that the orcs had once been men, but now, corrupted by millenia in the darkness of The Deeps, had transmogrified into twisted, evil, bitter creatures.
Methus snorted and shook his head. Of course, he didn’t believe in such nonsense. No human could ever become something so vile and disgusting. They were just tales to frighten children into obeying their parents.
He reached the intersection, faced the tunnel to the left, and held out the magical construct..
Click click click click click.click.click.click.click.click.click.click.
And turning to the right:
The left tunnel it is.
As Metheus methodically made his way down the left tunnel, the clicking kept increasing in speed, faster and faster, and, as the tunnel opened up into a large chamber, it started to click so fast that the sounds almost became a solid tone. He invoked the counterspell on the construct that disabled its power. He had reached his goal.
Methus surveyed his surroundings. This large cavern was nearly pitch black except for a small, strangely rectangular, pond in the back corner. And, from the bottom of the deep pond, he could see a faint green glow. That had to be the Stone of Rán.
Why can’t it ever be simple? Looks like I’m going for a swim.
Another memory of Crimean appeared in his mind.
“The Stone of Rán is extremely dangerous Metheus.”
Crimeaon took a slow puff of Redleaf weed from his pipe, blew a smoke ring, and watched the ring dissolve into the form of a dragon as it floated up the tower until it finally dissipated. Metheus rolled his eyes at Crimeaon’s usual showboating. After a moment, Crimeaon, once again, fixed Methus with those intense eyes to be sure he communicated the gravity of the coming warning.
“You, with your magical ability, will have some protection against the Stone’s effects, but as soon as you retrieve it, you must affix it inside the head of your staff. Our magical staffs are designed to absorb and contain the power that the stone naturally leaks. It is this leaking power that the magical construct I gave you detects. You must not forget this step for if you come near any other humans while returning from your quest and the stone is not contained, they will become extremely sick, and it is possible they would die from even brief contact. It is, however, safe if it is kept securely inside the head of the staff.”
Metheus stripped off his robe, his shirt and his boots. He supposed keeping the stone at the bottom of the deep pond was an attempt to contain the leaking power, although he didn’t think water would provide much protection from its magic. Then again, the ancients had built wonders beyond fathom, so, perhaps in their day, it hadn’t been normal water. Or perhaps they simply knew more than he did.
He placed his wand between his teeth, dived in and quickly sank to the bottom. The stone appeared to be encased in a metallic setting of some sort and he struggled to pull it free. So he grabbed his wand and used a handy cutting spell to cut the stone free of the metal casing. He reached in and grabbed it, and, as soon as it touched his hand, he felt a surge of unimaginable power.
Later. Investigate it later. Just get out of here.
As his head broke the surface of the pool, he heard the armored footsteps in the distance.
Scrambling to get dressed, he could hear the orcs yelling at one another in their ugly, guttural language. They were approaching rapidly.
Metheus quietly (and quickly!) dressed, put on his robe, and ran back down the corridor.
No time to worry about stealth.
Just as he rounded the corner into the main corridor and headed for the entrance, the orc patrol came out of the other corridor, right behind him. There were four of them. The large, gray, animalistic creatures paused for a moment in surprise, and then began growling as their eyes turned red with battle lust. Methus ran at top speed for the entrance. Fortunately, Metheus had always been fast and quickly outpaced them exiting back out into the sunlight and……came to a stop, blinking.
He faced an entire battalion of orcs marching toward him from across the valley.
I’m going to have to fight my way out of this.
Even with his magic, this would be challenging, and he needed music to get into the proper battle state of mind.
Methus ran up the mountainside and found a defensible location where his back was protected, while he quickly grabbed his other magical construct of the ancients. It was a small, slim device with an image of a white apple on one side, and the following runes on the other side:
i P o d
He used a small trickle magic to power the construct, and added a sound amplification spell to play the music loudly over a radius of 100 yards around himself. With any luck, it would distract the orcs. The device was already tuned to his favorite battle music (what the ancients called a “track”) called Megadeth - Symphony of Destruction
Appropriate. Because destruction is the fate that awaits these orcs.
As the heavy, grinding music started, Metheus narrowed his eyes at the orcs who were looking around in confusion momentarily. And, as their eyes started glowing red with their collective lust for blood, Methus made a fateful choice. To destroy them all, he had no choice, he had to try and use the power in the Stone of Rán. He grabbed his staff, inserted the Ránstone into the head piece, and instantly felt power beyond imagination.
“Come here Metheus. I want to show you something.
I will show you the secret to the power of the Stone of Rán. This is an extremely rare book containing the wisdom of the ancients and it outlines some of the runes they used in their strange arcane spells that they called ‘equations.’ Look here. The Stone of Rán is governed by the following spell:
E = M C2
To decipher this, I’ve had to learn the entire discipline of ancient knowledge that they called ‘mathematics.’ The first symbol ‘E’ stands for what they called ‘energy’ and it’s what we refer to as the power of a spell. The second rune, ‘M’ is what they called mass and it’s the amount of matter. It refers to what we would call the weight of the Stone of Rán, which incidentally is our modern name for the ore.
In their day, they called it ‘uranium’.
And the third rune, the ‘C’ - and this is where things get interesting - it represents the speed of light. Yes, light has a speed, Metheus, I was shocked as well. Light is not instantaneous but simply travels so fast that it only seems to be instant from the perspective of a man or a mage. And that last rune, the little tiny one, that one is hard to explain, but, for now, let's just say it the tiny little number that means one adds the speed of light to itself many thousands upon hundreds of thousands of times. An almost infinite number from our perspective. What that means to us, in practical terms, is this: even a tiny Stone of Rán, in the hands of a wizard, will yield nearly unlimited power. And that is why we seek it. And that is why it is so dangerous.”
“If the ancients tamed such power, Master Crimeaon, why did their civilization end up in ruins?” Metheus wondered.
“Because, then, as now, men were driven by fear, anger, guilt, pride and greed, not by acceptance and love. They turned the power that they commanded against one another over petty, selfish reasons, with terrible results. But, not to worry, your magic will protect you from the power leakage and, as long as you have the staff in your grasp, the magic will protect you even from its terrible devastation, should it be unleashed. Once you have mastered it, of course.”
Armed with this knowledge, Metheus faced the charging orcs and, with a knowing smirk on his face, opened his magic channels fully to allow maximum magic to flow and then, he pointed the head of his staff, containing the now brightly glowing Stone of Rán, directly at the aggressive beasts and let the power flow fully and without reservation.
The music seemed to grow to an almost unbearable volume…..
“You take a mortal man
And put him in control
Watch him become a God
Watch people's heads a'roll”
Metheus’ eyes now glowed bright golden and as the spell reached its apex, a huge, powerful beam of magic shot out of the staff and enveloped all the orcs charging Metheus, as a blue domed protective magic shield popped into existence around him…..
“Swaying to the symphony…..Swaying to the symphony……of DESTRUCTION!”
Crimeaon stood on the top of his mage tower, the observatory just above his arcanum, surveying the mountains to the west with his looking glass. As he watched, he heard a distant BOOM and, a few seconds later, saw a rising cloud of gray smoke that, unlike smoke from a common fire, formed a strange and distinctive mushroom shape as it rose into the sky.
He took a slow drag of Redleaf weed from his long pipe and blew a smoke ring that slowly morphed into the shape of a running unicorn before fading into nothingness.
“Well,” Crimeaon chuckled to himself, “It seems young Metheus has found his Stone of Rán.”
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