In this game, rather than playing as the adventuring hero who goes into dungeons to find magic loot and dangerous creatures – you play as the piece of magic loot. There’s a bunch of options to choose from, such as a weapon like a sword or ax, or a staff ( think wizards staff ), or even a tome.
The game guides you through the process of writing the history of your Artefact. You pass through several “Acts” from “Act I: Newly Forged” all the way to “Act III: The Ruination”. Each act has you create a “Keeper”1, and you answer some questions about the Keeper, yourself, or the world. Then you progress time and do it again.
One of my only complaints is that I didn’t realize you’re supposed to do two Keepers in each act. It’s not that it’s worded in a particularly confusing manner, either.
Here’s what the Time page for Act I has to say:
If you have already chosen two KEEPERS from this act move on to II. A TIME OF GLORY to choose your next.
Otherwise choose from those remaining in this act.
I don’t know why, but for some reason my head interpreted that as “something in Act I would have told you to make another Keeper after this Time section, so if you don’t remember seeing that move on to Act II”.
So instead of two Keepers per act I’ve only got one. To be honest, it’s probably for the best, as I went into word-barf writing mode.
Overall I think the game is pretty neat. I wrote a lot of words while playing through my session and figured I’d share them with y’all.
So here’s what I came up with while playing through Artefact.
I am a halberd forged by the Royal Weaponsmith for their King. Having created wondrous weapons and armor for nobles of the court and generals of the army, the King requested he forge a weapon for a leader. It was a time of war, and the King asked the smith to forge the greatest weapon he could.
I am that weapon.
The shaft is carved from ironwood, and the process took nearly a full year. The first several months was simply shaping the wood into the form required, the rest of the time was spent by artisans carefully inscribing the shaft with runes of power and protection. Inlaid with white gold, the haft blazes like a flare when hit by the sun. The blade is made from crystal steel, a strange metal from a far off land. It took the smith nearly his entire life to become good enough to work this metal, and this was to be his finest work yet.
Along with some filigree and scroll work, the blade is stamped with two runes: one that beseeches the gods for luck, another that calls power to the blade. The crystal properties of the blade mean that it never needs sharpening and would never rust.
In the Royal Forge, contained deep within the Royal Palace, the smith and his helpers toiled day after day to produce the weapon. Despite being deep within the castle and far below the earth the smithy is a place of light and wonder. Strange arrangements of lenses, mirrors, and focusing crystals bring the light of the sun or the moon into the smithy. There the light is further focused through several devices onto the anvil. Somehow the light is changed by these devices so that no forge is needed – metal placed upon the anvil becomes workable by hammer, although it doesn’t always behave as metal in a normal forge.
Working the metal with sunlight and sharpening the blade by moonlight, the shaft and blade together create a weapon unmatched by any other in the Royal Arsenal.
I am shining with a golden light.
I am loyal to my Keepers for all time.
I am curious about the world and wish to see it all.
Tales of the Keepers
A Folk Hero
How I Met My First Keeper
After the death of the Queen, the Kingdom slowly died away as well. The King died shortly after the end of the war, many claim his broken heart could no longer sustain him. This may be true, but you’d have to ask someone else; after killing the Queen I became something the King could no longer bear to look upon. My shining form seemed to mock everything the Queen had become.
So one day, the King disguised himself and rode out. Riding south, he rode for days, eventually reaching the very edge of his kingdom where the mountains met the sea. There he found a small village, and by luck arrived during a week of festivals and games. Several of these games were tests of strength and constitution, pushing the strong and hardy past their limits.
One of the contestants caught the eye of the king; a young woman. She looked as if she had spent time in the Royal Army, and fought and moved like it as well. When asked, she corrected the king ( with harsher language than I think the King was used to hearing ), stating that her grandfather had been in the Royal Army and had taught her everything she knew. Despite being a bit of a show-off, the King could see that at her core she held the kind of strength, willpower, and kindness that he had seen in his Queen.
Of medium height and build, although a little on the stocky side. Brigot could carry herself with a surpassing and hidden amount of grace and nobility, echoing what she remembered of her grandfather. Her hair had gone white when she was young, the side effect of a disease that nearly took her life. Smokey grey eyes looked out on the world, often shining with mirth as she joked and laughed with her fellow villagers. However, they just as easily became cold flint when facing down a dangerous task or foe. Her hands and arms were covered with the green tattoos that the people of that region used to mark important dates and occurrences in their lives. The tattoos I became most familiar with were the ones on her hands, detailing aspects of her lineage.
When the games and festivals were over, the King found the young woman and bequeathed me to her.
“I have no need of this weapon any longer, I am an old man who has lost his reason for fighting. But your village needs protecting, and you have the spirit and courage to wield this weapon properly. Take it, and use it to protect those you love; it will always strike true so long as you continue being the strong and kind woman I saw win those games.”
How I Helped Protect Their Home During A Crisis
For the next few years I was mostly used by Brigot to chase bandits away from the village. There was one memorable battle when we fought off a rampaging chromehound, as well. But the greatest threat I faced with Brigot was the Black Gulls, a band of warriors tied together by deed and fate.
A crew of soldiers and mercenaries that had fought on the side of evil during the war, they had spent the last few years after escaping the final battle on the run. They claimed to have destroyed several villages that had refused them; although what they demanded was just as certainly death for the village.
As winter approached, they came to our village demanding we give them enough food to last the winter or they would kill us all. They and the village knew that giving the war band enough food for the winter was a death sentence for the village.
So Brigot and several of the other villagers armed and armored themselves and went out to attack the war bands camp. The war band was not particularly big, they were outnumbered by the men and women of the village. But what they lacked in size they made up in skill; each of them had spent the last several years fighting and killing and had become quite good at it. Brigot and I saved the day, though.
I silently urged Brigot on, twisting and shifting in her grip to block every incoming blow. I knew she had the skill and determination to kill the leader of the war band, Kioz the Red. Once a general, now a bandit leader, he was still a formidable opponent. But the weight of time lay upon him – old injuries hindered his movement and stole the strength from his blows. His skill and power were no match for Brigot’s speed and endurance, or the edge of my shining blade.
Brigot defeated Kioz in single combat after an intense, short fight. Stunned by this turn of events, the rest of the war band lost their cohesion and morale. Many turned and ran, most were cut down as they attempted to flee. A handful made it into the forests where they lived out the rest of their days, alone and powerless.
First Quest of Many
One year, a plague started to sweep through the lands around Brigot’s home. Several of the village died unpleasant and painful deaths, the chirgon unable to do anything to help ease their suffering. He told the village that he needed some special ingredients: the crystal waters from a spring in the mountains, and a special herb that only grew near those same waters.
The trek to the mountain would be hard, scaling the mountain would be even harder. Several, including Brigot, stepped forward to volunteer. However, the chirgon and several of the villages leaders reminded them that rumors from villages closer to the mountain said a great beast had made its home in those same peaks.
Brigot was the only one to stay standing where she was.
Taking some supplies and a horse, Brigot made her way to the mountain. Much of that tale I don’t really remember now. I do remember a few details. Some bandits we fought and later befriended, a mad mage we had to trick to get past, and the blessing Brigot received from a great stag have stuck with me all these years. But more than all that, I remember the creature we faced at the entrance to the shrouded valley at the top of Oritz Mountain.
Part owl, part lion, part great reptile – I have never seen its like before or since. It spoke in rhyme and riddle, and bared access to the valley. It continuously asked questions of Brigot, even as they fought. It was strange though, that fight. While the creature struck with force and accuracy, and did wound Brigot several times; I got the feeling it was testing her. The blows that landed were all ones that both Brigot and I either failed to see coming or misjudged where they would land. The questions got harder to answer, becoming more philosophical in nature than straightforward and easy to answer.
Eventually it decided that Brigot was worthy, and stopped the fight. It stood back, and uttered words that I pondered for a long while.
“Only the hooded king can set them on the true path.”
After saying those words, it stared at Brigot in that unnerving fashion that only owls are capable of. After a minute or two, it simply vanished. One moment it was there, the next it was gone. No trace of it remained; all the feathers, fur, scales, and blood that had littered the ground was gone. Even its footsteps no longer remained. Slightly unsettled by this, Brigot and I entered the valley.
We found the water, and the plants. Filling her water skins and backpack with both, we headed back to the village.
While a few more had died while Brigot had been away, the water and herbs saved the lives of everyone in the village. There was even enough for many of the surrounding villages.
Named by My Keeper
For my part in saving the village, Brigot named me Saodarh – an ancient word for “salvation”.
How I Was Lost
Of all the ways I had expected to lose Brigot, I had not expected it to be the cold hands of time that took her from me.
Eventually Brigot grew old, and I spent more and more time above the fireplace of her home. She found love, married, and grew old. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren grew up on stories of our adventures. She always would smile when she told those stories. I miss that smile.
Time comes for all mortals though, and one day the family awoke to find Brigot had passed on. Sitting in her favorite chair, with me across her lap; they found her with a contented smile on her face.
By this time the village had grown, and while the graveyard had become more than a few patches of dirt with wooden markers it wasn’t what Brigot’s family felt she deserved. So they took a portion of their wealth and paid to have a tomb built. Carved into a nearby cave, it was carved to be the story of her life. The entrance to the tomb told the story of her ancestors and her birth. The circular room where they laid Brigot to rest told her entire life, spiraling in from the walls before ending at her stone coffin.
And there, set into the carved likeness of Brigot’s hand, I was laid to rest as well.
I slept for a decade, there in the tomb of Brigot.
A Monster Hunter
How They Found Me
During the decade before I was found again, the tomb grew cold and lonely. After the first year or so they stopped visiting on feast days. Eventually it was only on the solstices that they would come and say a few prayers at the entrance – which had become a shrine to the ancestors at the blessing of Brigot’s family.
I spent my time wondering what was happening out in the world, how the Kingdom had changed, and how Brigot’s family had grown. I thought on the creature that had guarded the valley, and the strange words it had said. I thought of the King and Brigot in equal measure, two noble souls I was proud to have known.
Eleven years, three months, two days, and five hours after I had been laid to rest, an intruder crept into the tomb. His dress was strange to me, obviously not from the village. He spoke in a tongue I did not recognize, but the greed in his eyes were plain to me. He stole me from the tomb, and traveled for days before feeling safe enough to try to sell me.
After running from bandits who wished to steal me, he fell afoul of a creature in the woods. I laid there for a month next to his rotting corpse before I was found by a passing knight.
Unlike the knights I had known during my time with the King, this warrior was quite different.
He swore fluently in several languages, and had a habit of getting drunk or high whenever he had the money to spend. He sought only solitude, and to be alone with his pain. For this knight was a broken man.
I eventually learned that he had failed to protect his family and his town against a rampaging monster. A great beast had been called forth from the ether by a foolish mage looking to make themselves more powerful. They lost control of it, and it wiped several towns and villages off the face of the earth before being disappearing into the wilds.
The knight had wandered for years before coming back to civilization, unsuccessful in his quest to destroy the beast.
After finding me, the knight spent a few years wandering from town to town. I didn’t learn his name until our second year together: Bartoz.
Eventually, he heard of a guild that had been formed to hunt down and kill the creatures that were becoming more of a problem as the years passed. The borders of the old kingdom had shrunken, some of the wisdom and laws of that kingdom had followed the retreating border.
Mages became more common, and many sought to wake ancient creatures or summon them from alternate planes or realities. They wanted power, and the hearts and other organs of these creatures were known to have special properties. However, most proved to be too much for those mages to handle.
This guild was fiercely competitive, as only those who had earned a title were entitled to compensation for their efforts. Those without a title had to make do with the charity of those they saved.
The knight quickly made a name for himself with me at his side. His sharp wit and keen eye helped him find and exploit the weaknesses of the creatures he fought; I often had to do very little to help him during those battles. Tales of the fearless hunter began to spread, though I know that it wasn’t that he didn’t feel fear – it was that his drive to find his nemesis was stronger than his fear. And while my blade stayed ever sharp, Bartoz fought in a much different style than the King or Brigot. While they fought with a flowing graceful style that maximized how often my killing edge could be brought to bear, Bartoz was a much simpler fighter.
He used his prodigious strength to hammer away at foes, driven by his rage and shame at failing to protect his family. In his mind, every creature was the one that had stolen his life; and he attacked with all the power his rage could muster.
Eventually, Bartoz tracked down the creature that had set him on the path of vengeance. He learned it had made its lair in a mountain cave far to the north. He immediately set out, with only enough supplies to get him there.
He did not plan a return journey.
After a month of traveling, Bartoz found the cave. The entrance was surrounded by piles of bones and refuse, the dumping ground of the monster’s victims.
Stepping into the darkness of the cave, I could feel his rage along with a swirl of other emotions. Fear at once again facing the beast. Dismay that he would fail his family, would fail all those that had been claimed by the beast.
I reached out to him, and tried to turn his thoughts. Glowing gently as I once did when held by the King or Brigot, I whispered to him.
I turned his rage into wrath; it was right he should be angry at a creature that had ended so many lives.
I turned his fear into purpose; my sharpness and his might would be the end of this beast.
Lastly, I turned his dismay to hope; that the victims of the creature could finally rest easy, knowing no others would fall to its claws and poison.
Together, we entered the lair of the beast, and entered into combat with the vile creature.
A great battle ensued. We fought for days. Sometimes we chased the creature through the twisting halls of the mountain. At other times we hid, or laid traps. We whittled the creature down, bit by bit. The fighting was more intense than any battle I had been in before.
At last, at a chamber in the heart of the mountain, we faced the creature for the final time. A large chamber, lit by blue and purple crystals that sang softly, it was an odd place for such a battle. The floor of the chamber was uneven, and a great chasm split the chamber in two.
Some energy within the creature disagreed with the light I carried within, sparks flying when talon and blade met.
At the end, with both of them near death, I saw my moment. The creature began to rear up, to raise its hand to attempt a killing blow. I gathered my might and spoke into Bartoz’s head.
“Throw me!", I said to him.
I don’t know if it was because he was tired, or because he had accepted long ago that there was more to me than the materials I was made from, but he did what I asked.
He threw me, and I struck true.
I sank into the chest of the creature, cleaving its heart in two. Stunned, the creature could do nothing but fall back, into the abyss. I felt it die, limbs and wings broken upon the bones of the mountain.
I could feel my connection to Bartoz fading, and sent him one other message.
“Your quest is over. Go and live your life, and remember your family with joy, for they are avenged.”
My Keepers Strange Preoccupations
Over my time I’ve had many Keepers. But the one trait they all shared is one I have never been able to understand.
They all wanted, eventually, to live a quiet life. To settle down in one place for the rest of their days. Some wished to raise a family, others just wanted to be left in peace. A few wished to spend their final days atoning for what they had done.
I never understood that. The world is so big, and full of wonders. I want to see it all! I want to see things grow and change. I want to help discover mysteries, and explore strange places. Even the places I’ve been before are a delight to re-visit. Families grow, cities change.
Why stay in one place when you could see it all!
Ironic that I was now stuck here, in the cold and dark, with absolutely nothing at all to see.
How I Was Lost
The abyss I fell into after striking the creature was far too deep for Bartoz to climb down to me. I told him to leave and live a happy life. After some time spent mourning, he left.
I hope he lived a happy and long life.
I spent the next thousand years in the darkness of that cave as the world above changed and grew.
A Millennium Underground
I was not asleep or alone for all that time. An earthquake and a flood of water brought me further underground, to a land of mist and light and heat. I was found and lost by the races that live unknown to man. I learned ancient secrets, and saw great and wondrous things.
Eventually I ended up in a cave not far from the surface. Part of a pile of oddities and treasures, left behind when my previous Keeper had fallen while trying to guard some of the last relics of their people.
One day, a strange woman came into the cave. Dressed in a fashion unlike any I had seen before, she was a marvel to behold.
After a thousand years beneath the ground, it was nice to see one again.
Dressed in a pair of rugged pants, a tank-top, and a pocketed-vest she was unlike any explorer or adventurer I had seen before. Her gear was unfamiliar as well, carrying books and strange devices rather than a weapon or shield of some kind.
As it turns out she was not an adventurer but an archaeologist. Someone who explores the ancient ruins and forgotten caves, looking for information about the past. She searched for information about a lost, once-great kingdom.
When she found the pile of refuse that hid me, she was disappointed. Apparently most of the things in the pile were junk to her; strange how what one values above life itself is nothing more than a gewgaw or trash to another. Taking notes and talking to herself about what she picked up, I found her charming and endearing.
Despite her initial disappointment, she was thorough. And her perseverance paid off; for at the bottom of the pile is where I had lain for the last hundred years or so. When she saw me she seemed to lose the ability to speak for a moment.
“You… you can’t be…", she said as she lifted me from the pile.
“Those runes, and these markings… You’re from the Kingdom of Arkun, aren’t you?”
Arkun? I thought to myself. That’s… that’s the name of my King! My first Keeper!
She went on and on to herself, amazed at many facets of my being. The scroll work and carvings on my haft, the runes worked into my blade. I had picked up a few scratches and dents in the last thousand years, which she touched gingerly; as if afraid to hurt me.
Standing up, she carried me reverently in her hands, all the way back to her camp. There she stood me against a tree while she looked me over, taking notes and making sketches. After a while, she decided it was time to head home now that she had a real find.
Wrapping me up, she took me back to her home: the University of Elandra.
The University stood upon the ground where the castle of my King once stood. The bright walls of the buildings reminded me of the halls of my birthplace.
Tucked in near the back of the University grounds, the archive libraries is where my rescuer worked and pretty much lived.
It was only upon her return to the library and archives that I finally learned her name: Aliva.
She was one of a few researchers who looked after the vast archives, some of which extended below ground. It was only later that I found out that portions of the archive were actually built into the uncovered ruins of the forge of my birth. The anvil and crystals were long gone, the room now filled with tables, dusty scrolls, and a scattered collection of ancient relics.
The archive was separated into three parts.
The section above ground was part library, part museum. This was where reproductions of ancient relics and translations of recovered texts could be seen and browsed by the general public.
Below that was a warren of rooms, hallways, and chambers used by the staff for lectures and workshops. Being part of a University apparently meant teaching everything they had learned to those who came. Some were only taking classes to “widen their horizons”, a favorite saying of Aliva that I still don’t quite get. Others were there to study archaeology, and when they were granted their titles and status as licensed explorers they went out into the world to search for a find of their own. The last group were the teachers and researchers who called the University home – this was the group Aliva was a part of.
The lowest sections of the archives were where the actual relics, scrolls, and tomes were kept. Some were sealed into cases that protected them from the elements. Others were kept in locked rooms, due to the relic having some intrinsic property that made it dangerous to keep in the open.
I spent most of my first few years in Aliva’s study, where she was building a collection of artefacts from my ancient home. I was the largest and best preserved piece she had found yet, a fact that made her enormously happy.
Studying The Past
Aliva spent time split between collecting artefacts from Arkun, and studying those same artefacts in her study. I was given a place of honor; a wonderful stand made of wood that had been varnished until it was nearly glowing, under a case of steelglass that kept dust and fingers from my surface.
Once I learned her area of interest, I began to wake further. A millennium below ground had made me sleepy and torpid. I would spend days or weeks at a time, slumbering in my case.
However, as the days passed, Aliva’s passion and drive reminded me of the King, and of Brigot. When I had the strength, I would whisper to her stories of my past. I shared stories about the kingdom and its people, about the King and his downfall, Aliva and her quest.
I don’t think she believed me at first; it took quite a while before she accepted she was not crazy, that I wasn’t just a voice in her head.
She wrote down everything I told her, though. And as she researched and discovered more bits and pieces of history, my stories were shown to be true. Eventually she started sharing stories as well.
The first were stories about herself; her time as a young girl, growing up without parents. Her discovery of the past and what it could hold, and the excitement of finding something ancient.
Later she began to tell stories of Elandra, the University, and its people. She told me of the wars and calamities, the plagues and pestilences, and the suffering of the past. She told me of the champions and heroes, the march of reason, and of magic transforming into science. Eventually, in bits and pieces, she filled in my knowledge from when I disappeared into the ground up to the present day.
One day I asked her about Bartoz, if she knew of anybody by that name. She didn’t know who I was talking about until I told her the tale of how he and I bested the creature that had haunted him.
Apparently, he had returned to town a champion. To this day he was simply the Blue Knight, the one who slew the Dread Wyrm. I found it funny that the creature that I barely had the words to describe had been whittled down by time into nothing more than a particularly large wyrm.
One day, Aliva asked me about a place I would like to see again.
I told her of the castle where I had been made, and the city in which it stood. I told her about the bridges that had spanned from the edge of the city to the tops of nearby cliffs, and the roads that you could travel to the furthest edges of the kingdom.
I told her my final story of the king, and of the spot he had rested at after traversing the Grey Bridge. The end of the bridge was marked by a great golden arch. At sunset it would drink in the last rays of the sun, and would glow lightly until midnight.
From that spot where he rested, the King and I looked out over the core of his kingdom. I had only been alive for a short period of time at that point, but I could feel the love and pride the King had for this city, it’s people, and the land. There was sorrow there too, wounds left by the war that still pained him.
He spoke then, one of the few times he spoke to me.
“This is what she saw, when I first brought her home. The palace of my father, the lands of my people. She looked out upon the place that was to become her home, and my new wife smiled. Her smile is what I miss the most, I think. When she smiled – when she really smiled – it lit up rooms and chased away the dark.
“Now I stand here, and its so hard to picture that smile. The golden light of her beauty has been replaced by the ragged black nothing that made its home in her heart. Her eyes that shone when she was happy, now all I can remember is the grey and lifeless orbs that were left after we killed her.
“There are so many things in this world that can hurt us. Monsters in the dark, evil men in dark alleys, crazed madmen who try to burn the world down, and the strange gods who compel them all. I’ve spent so much time fighting them, to make my kingdom safe…
“I think I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be truly happy.
“I know this, though. You, my weapon… You deserve more than to be placed on my walls as a trophy, or for the feelings that lurk in my heart to twist you into something dark.
“No, I have a better life in mind for you. You are the finest creation of my smith, and you will be around a long time. I would not have you grow dull or twisted.
“Instead, I will take you out into the far lands. To the very edge of my kingdom. I will find someone worthy, who will love and cherish you as you should be. Honor you the way you deserve to be. You are more than just a halberd, you are a relic of a kingdom whose time has passed.
“As has mine. I have left my crown behind for my son. All I take with me are the clothes on my back and you.
“This will be my last act, to set you on a path of greatness. You are more than just a weapon, you have a purpose.”
He sighed. “I just hope that those who wield you are worthy of the honor.
After that the king made himself some dinner, and went to sleep.
As I lay there, propped against a tree, I looked out at the kingdom. So much I wanted to say, so much to do, so much to see.
In the years since, I have been wielded by many. There are a few handfuls I would call “Keeper”, those champions and friends I have been blessed to be held by. I’ve been to places I will not talk of, for they are secret places that deserve to stay hidden. I’ve seen things not dreamed of by man in ages. I’ve spent my life passing from glory to nothing to glory in an endless cycle.
But in all that time, I’ve never forgotten that spot. The spot where a king became a man, where the weight of a nation was replaced by a simple quest. The place where I first saw the beauty inherent in the scars and rebuilding after dreadful war. Where I saw how fragile hope can be after years of bloodshed and battle.
Someday I’d like to return there. I know the bridges are long gone, and the arch is probably long since fallen.
But that was where my journey truly began, and some day I’d like to visit there again. Maybe the spirit of the King lingers there still, and I can tell him how things turned out.
One day, several decades after she found me, Aliva took me from my case. This wasn’t too unusual, as occasionally I was brought to be studied by other people with strange devices.
This time was different, though.
Aliva was dressed for travel, with a few days supply.
“Where are we going?” I asked, curious about what was going on.
“We’re going somewhere special” was all she said to me.
For several days we traveled, towards the southern cliffs that bordered the valley. Our rate of travel was slow as Aliva had grown old, her legs didn’t carry her with the strength and vigor she once knew. She rested often, drawing strange looks from passers-by; an old woman carrying a halberd such as me were not a common sight.
She spent much of the journey in silence, simply enjoying the walk and the sights nature showed to us.
On the fifth day we reached the bottom of the cliffs, where a great switchback had been carved into the cliff to allow carts and people to travel up and down. Waving off every offer to ride in a wagon, Aliva slowly made her way up the ramps. As we climbed, the city of Elandra revealed itself to me.
It shared much in common with the city that once stood there, the first city I ever knew. Shining towers of blue and cream white stood above a city that housed thousands. Farms and small villages ringed the city, almost all the way to the mountains. The lands I had once seen in the aftermath of a great war were now home to a comfortable and cozy peace. It was so nice to see how these people had thrived and grown in the centuries since I was last here.
On the seventh day, we reached the top of the cliffs.
There was no golden arch, but there was a ceremonial gate – the “South Gate”, it marked the edge of the kingdom. Beyond it lay miles of countryside. Far, far down that road would be the village where I met Brigot, and if I had a mouth I would have smiled at my recollection of her.
Aliva didn’t head towards the gate, though. Heading for a small mound of dirt and rocks near the cliffs edge, I held my tongue. I will admit I was very curious to know what Aliva had in store, but after so long alone I had become very good at waiting.
Once she reached the small mound, I saw it wasn’t dirt and rocks but a small base of some kind. Carved from stone, it had some of the same scrollwork that adorned my haft. In the center was a hole, big enough for myself to fit.
“Is that…” I ventured.
“Yes, old friend. Many years ago you told me of this place. The golden arch, and where your journey began. Where a King became a man.
“It took a while, but one of my students eventually figured it out. This is where that golden arch used to stand, the terminus of that great bridge you spoke of.
“Turns out, there’s an old legend about this place.
Aliva placed me in the hole of the base, which was perfectly fitted to me. She continued her story.
“A long time ago, there was a great king. He fought off one of the greatest threats to ever walk these lands, but had to sacrifice much for victory. He lost his Queen, the love of his life to the vile darkness. The kingdom was devastated by the war. Many lives had been lost, and much of the kingdoms infrastructure was torn down by the invading horde.
“When the war was over, the king stepped down from the throne. He appointed a council of regents to look after and rebuild his kingdom. He planned to go away, to travel into the south. His heart had once been full of joy, and now only felt sadness. The king wanted to go out into the world to see if there was still happiness out there.
“He took only some clothes and the powerful relic that had defeated the evil army. Some say the King talked to the relic as if it were alive, and that it responded in turn.
Aliva smiled with a twinkle in her eye as she paused for a moment. Taking a drink of water, she swallowed then continued her story.
“He traveled across one of the great bridges to the edge of his city. On that cliff top he looked back, seeing a city just beginning to recover from the horrors it had endured. He knew he had left it in good hands, and so traveled into the countryside without looking back.
“Now, back in those days the Kingdom of Arkun was much bigger than our nation today. The path that the King followed went all the way to the sea. When he reached the sea, the King found a village.
“He saw that the people there were happy and content. They lived simple lives, and had not known the terror of war. The King stayed with them a week, learning about their lives and their hopes.
“Before he left to return home, he left something behind. Some say it was a weapon, that will return to the Kingdom of Arkun when its most needed. Others say it was a powerful staff that would protect its wielder. There are stories that say that it was a relic that housed a powerful but loyal spirit, while others say it was a jewel of some kind that held the power of light which had vanquished the evil army that had besieged the land.
“In any case, the King decided it was time to return. The journey to the village had taken nearly a year, and it was past time he returned.
“On the return journey, the King began to feel better about what lay ahead. He knew that the relic was in the right place, that it had found its true purpose.
“Two years to the day after he had left, the King arrived back at the gate he had left from. A great golden arch built an age ago, it had stood over his city since he could remember. The king walked pas the arch, and out to the cliffs edge.
“There, he looked upon his city and it was as if scales fell from his eyes. No longer did he see the damage and destruction of war. Some rebuilding had happened while he was away, but some of the scars still remained. But his time away had changed the king. Scars that he once thought of as ugly reminders of the death visited upon his people, he now saw as a symbol of their hardiness and perseverance. The battle grounds that had been warped by dark magic were no longer dark landscapes of despair, time had turned them into gardens and oases of peace.
“The king sat down upon the edge of the cliff, tears falling from his eyes. The strength and will of his people had helped them shrug off the effects of war. He saw now a resilience he hadn’t seen before.
“Nobody saw the king again after that, but some say that if you come to the southern gate, on a cloudless night when the moon is full – you just might see him. A golden phantom, standing at the edge of the cliff, watching over Elandra and its people.”
She turned to me, and I saw that she had tears in her eyes.
“This is where you belong, old friend. I have treasured our time together, but my time is coming to an end.”
“No, don’t say that!” I cried to her. “You’ve still got lots of time, and I’ve got more stories to tell!”
She smiled through her tears, and her hand came up to trace the scrollwork of my haft.
“There’s one more bit left to tell you about the tale of the king, but this is something we’ve discovered only recently,” she said.
“You see the base you stand in now?”
Looking down, I regarded the stone base I was fitted into. There was something vaguely familiar about it, but I just couldn’t place it.
“Well, yes, it is a rather interesting piece of stone.” I said, confusion colouring my words.
Aliva laughed, as melodic and strong as when she first found me.
“Yes, but do you know what’s really interesting about it?” she asked.
“It’s got a hole I fit into?” I ventured.
“Well, yes,” she grumbled, before continuing. “What’s really interesting about it is that we don’t know who built it. Far as my students and I can tell, it’s been here over a thousand years.”
The same mischievous twinkle shone from her eye, the same twinkle that I saw when she kept the answer of a particularly troublesome riddle to herself.
“Okay, so it’s an old stone with a hole in it.”
“Maybe this will help” she said, as she started to brush away the dust and pebbles that covered the base.
As she worked, I saw scrollwork and symbols unearthed. The feeling of familiarity grew, until I could stand it no more.
“What is it?! And why is it so damned familiar?” I cried
Seeing my confusion and hurt, Aliva put her hand on my blade and spoke softly to me.
“Oh, friend, I forgot that it has been so very long. And it’s not like you look into mirrors very much, I guess.”
She lifted a finger to my blade, and traced the runes and scrollwork. As she did, all the pieces fell into place.
The markings on the base were the marks of my smith.
He had built this base, presumably for me. This had been waiting for me my entire existence, a last gift from my maker and my King.
“We’ve partially translated the runes. It would have been much more helpful if you could read, but we did what we could.”
She chuckled. My inability to read had come as a great shock to her when she first found out. Many scrolls continued to go untranslated due to that flaw in my ability to learn.
“We think it says ‘The Blade That Ends Wars, To Sleep Until Needed Once More’.”
I was quiet for a very long time.
“So I just sit here, waiting out the rest of time?”
“It’s better than gathering dust in the archives, or stuck beneath a mountain for the rest of eternity though, right?” she questioned
“Huh…” was all I could respond. That one had me stumped. I did not want to leave Aliva. I hated leaving any of my Keepers, but she would be the hardest. She had provided me a link back to my earliest days, and had been a friend and confidant for quite some time.
No, I didn’t want to be left again. Didn’t want to spend another age in the dark, or sleep away the years in some musty tomb. I wanted to see things, to travel.
Despite what I thought I wanted, this felt right, somehow.
“Aliva, could you try something for me?” I asked after a while.
Aliva, who had started to fall asleep, woke with a start.
“Hmm? Oh, yes, old friend, of course. What do you need?”
“Can you try pulling me out?”
She looked at me with that look I had seen many times when relating a story about a monster or particularly nasty piece of magic. The wild and dangerous dark magic had long since faded into myth, along with the creatures it had birthed. It was a look that said “you never lie but I don’t believe you”.
After a moment, she spoke up.
“Oh, fine, let’s give it a go, shall we?”
Stepping up, she rubbed her hands together before placing them on my shaft. She pulled and strained for a moment, but I didn’t move. It was the strangest thing, too. I didn’t feel anything holding me in place. It was just that for some reason after being placed in the stone plinth I apparently was locked in place.
“Huh. That is the strangest thing.” Aliva said, mostly to herself. She looked up and gave me her “sorry but this is too weird and I love it” grin.
“Guess I should have asked if you wanted to be stuck here before I placed you in there, huh?”
She sniffed, and I could see tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
“You have been a good companion to me over the years. You’ve helped me unravel mysteries of the past, and kept me company during the long dark winter months. I wish we had more time together, but I assume that’s what all your previous owners said too.”
“Keepers. The ones I care about are Keepers, not owners. Owners try to twist me, to remake me, to use me for their own ends. Keepers are partners, ones who have their own inner light that I help them shine out into the world. Some were warriors, some were mystics. Some were leaders, some were builders, some were nobody. Some… some were teachers.”
I saw that the tears ran freely from Aliva’s eyes now, but continued anyway.
“I’ve loved and cared for so many, and I miss them all. I’m going to miss you, Aliva, when you’re gone. And someday, I’ll find someone else to tell my tales to, and I’ll add their tales to my collection. I might not be alive, Aliva, but I can make you immortal the only way I know how; by sharing your story with the people I’ll meet.
“And this is a good place for me to wait. I’ll be out in the sun and the rain, every day will be new and different.
“Who knows, maybe some day whatever holds me here will release me. Maybe the magic will just fade, or there might come a day when my sharp edge is needed once more and I will be released into the hands of my next keeper.
“All I know for sure is that while I can’t see the whole world from here, I can see enough of it to be happy.
We talked for a while longer, neither one of us wanting to let the other go. Aliva lit a small fire, making herself some tea to “warm her old bones”. Eventually the stars came out, filling the sky with the most beautiful thing I’d seen in a long time.
“You know,” I said, “I don’t think I ever spent much time looking at the stars. So much time spent in forests, or underground, or wrapped up that I never really got the chance.”
“Yeah?” asked Aliva. “And what do you think?”
We sat in silence for a while longer. Aliva occasionally pointed out a constellation, or a star with a interesting story.
Eventually it was time for her to leave. Her old bones needed to get back home, back to her family.
Neither of us said anything. Aliva stood, her hand resting on my haft, both of us looking up at the sky. I took every bit of joy and happiness I had ever felt, and tried to send it to Aliva so she could truly understand what she and the other Keepers meant to me.
Alive smiled wistfully as a single tear rolled down her cheek.
“You know the most interesting thing about you, old friend?” she asked.
“What is that?”
“In all the stories about you that I’ve been able to find, you’re a weapon in only a small portion. In the rest you’re something else. An amulet. A piece of clothing or armor. A guiding spirit. The stories where you help the hero, the shinning stories of wonder and honor, all the ones with happy endings…
“In all of those, you’re never a weapon.
“The ones that portray you as a sword, or axe, or staff; none of those are happy. Most of them are cautionary tales about thieves and scoundrels getting their comeuppance. Sometimes they’re just sad.”
“Why is that interesting, Aliva?” I asked.
“Because I think it shows what you really are. When in the hands of the just, the righteous, or the brave you’re not just a weapon. You’re a symbol. Of hope, of better times, of the shining possibility we all hold within us.
“I know your first name was Saodarh.” she asked, with the tiniest inflection of a question colouring the statement.
“Yes, Brigot named me that.” I replied.
“It took me a while, but I tracked down a book that helped me translate the name. You said that Brigot thought it was a name that meant “salvation”, right?”
“Yes, from some ancient book of poems or something.”
“That’s right. I found the book. Took me a devil of a time to translate. One of those old languages that’s almost more metaphor than meaning.
“Turns out, there’s more to it than just ‘salvation’. The poem the word shows up in is about a maker of some kind, in the last and terrible days of a kingdom.
“His world, and the world of his people, is at an end. There’s nothing they can do to stop or forestall their doom. It was something they brought upon themselves, something they had made or unleashed.
“And while everyone else was despairing about the end of the world, the maker still had hope. He knew that his world was coming to an end, but he had hope that humanity would endure. Other kingdoms, other peoples – they’d still be out there, and would hopefully destroy the evil his people had unleashed.
“And so he made something. Like I said, this was written in a very… poetic language. Lots of room for interpretation. It’s unclear if he made a weapon, some kind of protective device, or something else entirely.
“After building this thing, he used the last of his money to buy the fastest horse he could. He gave the device to his son, and placed him upon the horse. He told him to ride as fast and as far as he could, until he found a ruler he could entrust the device to. That while it was too late for him and the rest of their people, his son could potentially save everyone else.
“Before he left, his son asked him what the device was called.
“It took him a while to decide on a name, for his people believed them to be incredibly important.
“After a few minutes, he had decided.
“He chose a name that meant hope for the future, but not for your own. The kind of hope a mother feels when hiding a child from a marauding army before sacrificing themselves. The kind of hope a scholar has when burying scrolls and tomes to protect them from fire.
“The hope of a light, thrown into the future, that will change destiny and save lives.
“Brigot was right, that saodarh could mean salvation. In some contexts it means ‘salvation of others’.
“A potential alternate translation is ‘beacon of hope in the darkness’.
That’s how I got my second name. My new purpose, as I wait out the days and years here atop this cliff. Over the years, my plinth became something of a shrine. I didn’t heal the sick or give sight back to the blind.
I stood and waited for the day I would be needed again. And while I waited, I gave hope.
I shared stories of how others had overcome adversity. How even my long turn in the dark had led me to this beautiful spot. I let my light shine out upon those who came seeking guidance; the lost and the lonely. To those who had lost hope, or had simply lost their way.
I was a light, guiding them back to the lives and families that loved them.
And after a great long while, my new Keeper did come.
They came and stood before me, and told me of their quest. Of the danger that faced the land that had once been named Elandra, and Arkun long before that.
He asked if I would aid him, if I would lend my strength to his cause as he rode out to face the gathering hordes.
“Try to lift me, and you will have your answer.” I replied.
Slowly and gingerly, my new Keeper laid their hands upon my haft. They closed their fingers around my haft, and closed their eyes. They stood like that for a moment before lifting with all their might…
“Well, now that I’m free to join you, I guess I should tell you my name.” I responded, seeing them open their eyes in disbelief.
“It would be an honor, great relic.”
“Well, once I was known by Saodarh. Someone once told me it meant salvation. I like the alternate translation better.” I told them.
“What is the alternate translation?”
Someone who carries you around for a while. ↩︎
This post was authored by Sean Patrick Hagen on 2021-11-08 16:35:41 -0800 PST
Wanna see the commit? Go here: 24a4aac3bfb0fc82a0d5534cfb65921014fc3851