Mistica Chronicles

Welcome to Issue 73

Red Winning Entry

"There's nothing I can do for you here."

Ven had braced himself for as much a response, but hearing the words from the Jeweler herself was a knife to his hopes. "You're certain? It's not a gem you've seen before?"

"The handle's ivory, or something close enough, but as to the blade..." She spun the dagger between her fingers, hardly flinching as its tapered edge struck the rocky flat of her palm. "Yes, it's rather odd. Never worked with its like."

"A fake, I reckon," piped the Kohal beside her. He'd not moved but to cross his massive arms since Ven arrived; now his eyes flickered over the Belragoth, acknowledging his presence with icy dissent. "The thing hasn't even a mark to distinguish its maker."

Granny had no mark, Ven considered telling them. She always said the best craftsmen need neither nock nor nick to set their work apart of the others. But after half a vacillate heartbeat he refrained, lacking both the conviction and the evidence he required to prove the dagger's authenticity.

Besides, on what chance would either of them recognize the name Ibitha Khangher? And even if they did, would the knowledge help them to repair her ancient, broken dagger? Ven doubted it. "I can assure you, sir, that this piece is nothing but genuine. Made of some queer material, I grant, but made lovingly all the same."

And swallowing his disappointment with little more than a grimace, Ven gave Soraya a resigned tilt of the head and held out his hand to receive Granny's broken dagger.

Once again in his palm the blade rightly shimmered, splashing the shop's pale cream walls with amber resplendence, but all Ven saw in its cracked length was his failure. Failure to live up to even a fraction of his granny's mastery. He shouldn't have come. "My apologies, for squandering your time such."

As he began the trek home in no better spirits than he'd left it, Ven found himself straying from the Quarry Trail and onto a narrower, dirt-strewn path. It wound through what seemed miles of dense forest, tall oaks and elms with trunks wound about by curls of ivy in heavy bloom; to be sure, there was here the intermittent brook, there the occasional sunshone meadow, but Ven did not stop until he came to a small woodlet cradled in shadow. Cool, silent, removed from the striking sound of the Quarry and its mines.

He settled atop a smooth rock, and at once withdrew Granny's dagger from a padded fold of his vast waistcoat. Staring at it now, he felt a recurrent wash of dissatisfaction. For all the love he found in the arts, Ven had not been blessed with the nimble fingers of a Khangher. Not even a pinky of aptitude in me, the Belragoth thought glumly, smoothing a claw over the blade's enameled surface. What he'd give to emulate Granny's skill!

Above him the eaves gave a somber rustle, like the bells of some dark churchchime, and Ven cast a tentative eye at them. Some creature of the thicket, he decided of the sound, before moving to stand. He really should be getting home, before night fell in its fullest.

But as he picked his way back to the trail, leaves crunching underfoot, another noise stopped him. Not the shuffle of a roving animal, this time, but deep and alluring speech. Ven spun about, incredulous, to see who'd said the words.

Across the woodlet, regarding Ven from the gaping nook of a substantial spruce, stood a milky white Braenon, immaculate in silk dressings. "That your dagger?"

"My grandmother's," Ven felt impelled to say. There was something familiar in the question, and so in the questioner. "Well, it used to be hers. She's... it's broken."

"My apologies," said the Braenon. A blink, and then she was at his side. Ven started, before seeing the longstaff in her paw. The pieces of his fragmented memory came together then, and he dropped to a reverential knee. Pandoria. The goddess Pandoria. "For both of your tribulations. You may rise."

And rise Ven did. He towered over the Braenon, yet felt ineffably dwarfed in her presence. Astonished that she should root him, him, out from a certainly vast number of Misticans in worse position than he. Perhaps it was that astonishment that made him blurt, "Can you help me, then?" He took a gulp of air, holding his lip with a crooked tooth, and continued. "I went to the Jeweler -- Soraya -- and she could do nothing for me. I was just heading home now, but now that you're..." A pause. Realization. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't ask such things of you."

The Braenon fixed him with an inquisitive look. Serene, understanding. "My decision to visit this grove came on the word of a friend; she insisted it was a matter most urgent. Seeing you now, her reasoning becomes clear.

"You want something, terribly, and if you wish I can grant it -- but as much as I'd like to say otherwise, I may do so only in part."

In part? "Goddess?"

She returned the question with her own. "Knowing this, will you take up what I offer?" When she saw that Ven did not, in fact, know anything, she continued, "That skill once held by the craftsman you so laudably covet?"

Ven nearly gaped at the Braenon. Of course he did... but how was that only part of his want? "I will," he said, trying to keep a level tone, "but I would know also that which cannot be... granted." Perhaps she, like Soraya before her, could not repair Granny's dagger. But if he'd even an ounce of her skill... I could repair the thing myself.

As Ven fought to oppress the grin from his lips, Pandoria drew a white palm over the orb crowning her staff. In all the colors of the world it glowed, ringed about in splendid watercolor. "Why, your grandmother herself."

And then his body was changing, becoming more solid. Ven felt his folded wings stiffen, and then his legs; a wash of panic struck him, unbidden, and the breath choked in his throat. What infernal magic..?

But a heartbeat passed, the feeling ebbed, and Ven opened his eyes. When had he shut them? He glimpsed first Pandoria's orb, and in its depths an unfamiliar Belragoth; staid, poised, seeming almost carved of the forest itself. Only a moment later did he see the blade clutched in the Belragoth's fist, the still-broken point wedged keep in his flesh but departing no blood.

Looking down, he realized the Belragoth was him. "Seems I've had a mischance with the dagger," Ven chuckled, breathless, plucking the thing from his palm as if it had been nothing but a chancing splinter. He traced its crevasse, watching it shrink as the wood about it came in on itself. And then he flexed his hand, now immaculate, and laughed aloud. "I didn't realize the look came with Granny's abilities."

Pandoria shrugged, a dispassionate motion accompanied by a glance at the dark forest about them. "Soraya suggested the wood, in truth." A sudden chuckle took her, as she realized something. "On my mercy, the woman's made of rock herself -- small wonder she plead urgency." But there was laughter in the chide, and some sort of gentle compassion. "Oh, I suppose it makes no matter as long as you're pleased. Now, haven't you got something to fix? A dagger, perhaps, on which you can whet your new talents?"

Indeed I do, Ven thought. His fingers clutched the dagger, and he sent a glance skyward. Through scattered branches and dimlit leaves he glimpsed the starlit sky, entrancing. I won't disappoint you, Granny.