Peter Kennedy

Quest for the Silver Key

“What is it?” asked Xen
 “It’s an item of legend; a magical instrument of great power,” said the old wizard Mernomus as he held in his hands an old dusty box.
 “Any idea what to do with it? After all, you’re the wizard,” asked Xen.
 “See this keyhole?” asked Mernomus, gesturing at the box.
 “What about it?” replied Xen.
 “You see, there’s this key that’s needed to open the box….” said Mernomus.
 “Well that seems kind of obvious,” interjected Xen.
 “Well, the problem is we don’t have the key. Anyway, I think I’ve got an idea where it can be found,” replied Mernomus.
 “What anyway does this box, this key have to do with me?” inquired Xen.
 “That’s precisely why I came to talk with you….” said Mernomus, setting the box down and picking up his staff.
 After a brief pause, the old wizard continued, “You’ve been a treasure seeker before, haven’t you.”
 “I take it you want me to find the key to that box,” interjected Xen.
 “Yes, but it’s not that simple,” said Mernomus as he leaned on his staff. Continuing, the old wizard said, “I know of your past exploits as a treasure seeker and that is precisely why I have selected you for this quest, though I’m afraid it’ll be somewhat more difficult than anything you’ve encountered yet.”
 “More difficult? What do you mean?” asked Xen. A look of concern upon his face.
 “If I understand the clues correctly, the key to the box is located in the gatehouse to the underworld….” said Mernomus.
 “The gatehouse to the underworld!” exclaimed Xen.
 “Yes, and it’s a dangerous dark place filled with all sorts of demons. The only way there is through the Cave of the Abyss, though I do not for sure know the exact path there,” said Mernomus in a tone growing more serious.
 “Hold on! So you expect me to get lost in a cave and battle swarms of demons in the dark just to get the key to that box! Can’t you just pick the lock or open it with some sort of magical charm?” said Xen excitedly.
 “No, nothing but the silver key can open the box, but the quest is quite well worth it. With the key, the power of the box can be released and at last the world could be rid of evil,” said Mernomus glancing at the box.
 “So that’s the great power of the box….to destroy evil. But how on earth do you expect me to find that key for you? One could get hopelessly lost in the Cave of the Abyss and even if I got to the gatehouse, how is one man expected to defeat the swarms of demons you say are there?” asked Xen in a concerned voice.
 The old wizard pulled a small scroll out of a pocked hidden in his robe and unrolled it. On it was a crudely drawn map of the Cave of the Abyss. The wizard then produced a wand and tapped it on the map. A few dim sparks flew and a faint dotted line appeared on the map.
 “A path?” inquired Xen excitedly.
 “Yes, and count yourself lucky that it’s a quite easy one to follow…” said Mernomus.
 “Easy?” replied Xen in a semi-sarcastic tone.
 “Well yes, as a matter of fact, to get to the gatehouse, you just keep going straight down the cave. As long as you never deviate from a straight path, you should get to the gatehouse if the map is correct…,” replied Mernomus.
 “And why should we trust it to be correct?” interjected Xen.
 “It is the best clue we have. It was made centuries ago by a wizard who is said to have reached the gatehouse to the underworld. As well as I can see it is an honest artifact,” said Mernomus as he carefully rolled the map back up, the tip of his wand still glowing faintly.
 “And what about the demons?” asked Xen.
 “There are of course ways of dealing with them,” said Mernomus as he produced from another pocket of his robe a small crystal bottle containing a green liquid.
 “That’s supposed to stop the swarms of demons; that little bottle?” inquired Xen in a voice sounding half-sarcastic and half-concerned.
 “No of course this little thing can’t stop swarms of demons, but it’ll enable you to avoid them. Drink it when you get near the gatehouse and you’ll become invisible to the demons,” replied Mernomus with a smile.
 “But even if I can avoid the demons, there’s still the problem of getting to the gatehouse in the first place….” said Xen.
 “Don’t think me unwise, for I have prepared a solution to that problem as well,” replied Mernomus as he produced a second small crystal bottle, this one containing a red liquid. Continuing, the old wizard said, “Drink this and you won’t be walking to the gatehouse to the underworld. No, you’ll be flying.”
 “Flying?” inquired Xen
 “Yes, flying. This potion will make you buoyant in the air and fast like an arrow. Just remain focused on flying straight and watch out for any obstructions,” answered Mernomus as he handed the two crystal bottles to Xen. “Remember, the red one is to get you there and once you get there the green one is to make you invisible to the demons. Don’t get them confused,” continued the old wizard.
 “I won’t,” promised Xen.
 “It is time for the quest to begin. I shall lead you to the entrance to the Cave of the Abyss and from then on, you’ll be on your own. Don’t take the flying potion until you lose sight of the entrance and remember to go straight. I’ll wait near the entrance,” said Mernomus.
 The old wizard hid away his wand amongst his robes and picked up the magical box. Xen carefully placed the crystal bottles in his pocket and the two headed to the entrance to the Cave of the Abyss.
 “Well, this is it,” said Mernomus gesturing at a black hole in the rock face.
 “Here goes nothing,” whispered Xen on his breath as he threw himself through the opening.
 After just a few steps, Xen found himself shrouded in complete darkness. A faint dripping of water could be heard in the distance, but other than that it was a sense of total isolation; a spooky sort of sense. Xen took another few steps and drank the bottle of flying potion.
 The potion burned like fire and in a brief moment, Xen found his feet were no longer touching the ground. He discarded the empty bottle and a moment later felt himself zooming forward headfirst. The acceleration gave him a strange queasy sensation.
 Xen kept every ounce of his concentration on flying straight, though the darkness made it impossible for him to know which way he was going or what obstacles might lay ahead. Occasionally, he felt an icy drop of water falling from high above splatter on his body.
 Suddenly, Xen felt something strike his head. A loud unearthly shriek echoed off the rock walls of the cave. There was a sound like the beating of wings and then stillness, save for the dripping of water. Xen’s heart was racing; he felt his pulse throbbing throughout his body. A second later his mind cleared and he realized it was only a bat.
 Several minutes later, Xen felt a small torrent of ice-cold water pour upon his body. He had flown below a small waterfall. In spite of the discomfort brought by being doused by icy water, Xen kept his mind focused on one and only one thing, flying straight.
 Xen lost track of time in the darkness of the Cave of the Abyss. Had he traveled a mile or two miles, or ten miles he had no idea. At once out of the darkness, there appeared a dim red flickering glow, that of lit torches. As he approached, a stone wall resolved itself in the dim light. The gatehouse to the underworld was near.
 Reaching into his pocket, Xen pulled out the bottle of invisibility potion and drank it with a gulp, casting the empty bottle into the void. Like the flying potion, it burned like fire, but unlike the flying potion, it did not make him feel lighter or for that matter in any way different.
 “Now for the challenging part…” whispered Xen under his breath as he prepared to negotiate the entrance to the gatehouse.
 Xen aligned himself with the entrance between two burning torches and flew through. Unearthly screams and squawks echoed through the structure sparsely lit with a handful of torches. Xen began to think about where he might find the silver key and then Bang!
 Xen felt a sudden pain as his head smashed into a stone wall. He fell to the ground and felt reality swimming away. Then blackness overtook him.
 The moment Xen regained awareness, he found himself momentarily disorientated. Shadowy figures darted about, but paid no attention to him. Then it all came back to him, seeming like an odd dream. The old wizard, the potions, the flight, and the key.
 “The key….Where was the key?” thought Xen to himself as he gently rubbed his sore head.
 The collision with the wall had apparently broken the charm of the flight potion, but that did not presently concern Xen. All he was interested in now was finding the silver key and getting out and away from those awful ghostly shadows as quickly as possible. With a residual headache, he got up and set about his search.
 Instinctually, Xen searched for loose bricks and hidden doors as he carefully worked his way along the walls of the inner room of the gatehouse to the underworld. All the while, he prayed the potion Mernomus gave him would keep him hidden from the shadow figures.
 Xen’s careful search yielded nothing. The room was empty except for the ghostly dark shadows. There was however, a side room yet to investigate. Perhaps the key was in there he wondered. One thing, however, troubled Xen about the side room, the dozen or so dark shadow figures that danced around its entrance, more than anywhere else in the main room.
 Summoning his courage, Xen walked past the shadow figures and into the side room. A single dim torch lit the room. Xen found himself drawn to some strange ruins carved deeply into one of the walls.
 “A clue?” whispered Xen under his breath.
 A clue it turned out to be indeed for just below the ruins a stone came loose revealing a small hidden space. Xen reached in as far as he could and grasped something. It was a chain, a necklace of sorts. When he got it out, Xen was relieved to see a silver skeleton key dangling from the chain.
 Xen carefully undid the ancient clasp on the chain and refastened it around his neck, making extra sure it was secure so he would not loose the precious key. The chain was a tight fit, but he had the key and that was all that mattered now.
 Xen dashed out of the gatehouse, happy to be getting away from those shadow beings, whatever they were. He took one of the torches from the wall on his way out hoping to have some light on his way back out of the Cave of the Abyss.
 Xen dashed away from the gatehouse out of concern that the invisibility potion might be wearing off, for he had no idea how long it was suppose to last. He wished he had more flying potion to make his way out of the cave, but had to settle for a long walk.
 Alone but for the steady drip of water and the crunch of gravel at his feet, Xen steadily trekked toward the cave’s entrance. The torch he carried dimly illuminated the path ahead, various formations of rock casting eerie shadows, but none as spooky as those shadow beings in the gatehouse to the underworld.
 Xen focused as best as he could on maintaining a straight path as he walked. The chain with the silver key on it dug into his neck, but he ignored that. After some length of time passed, he once again passed under the waterfall of ice water, being careful to keep the torch lit.
 The icy water made Xen shiver, and almost put the torch out in spite of his efforts. Luckily, the torch sputtered back to life on the other side. Soon, Xen heard the wing beats of bats echoing through the cave, the shape of the chamber serving to amplify the sounds.
 Thoughts of the box and the magic it contained, of the shadow figures in the gatehouse to the underworld, and of the precious silver key filled the mind of Xen as he walked along.
 “Damn it!” yelled Xen as water flooded his boots, his voice echoing through the cave.
 Xen did not see the light of the cave entrance until he was but a few feet from it. The torch had grown dimmer as time went on. How long he had been in the Cave of the Abyss he was not sure. Several hours at least.
 “Mernomus,” yelled Xen exhausted as he exited the cave. The last life of the torch sputtering out as it was discarded on the cave floor.
 “Mernomus, I have the key!” yelled Xen again.
 No answer, where was the old wizard. He had said he would wait by the entrance, but why was he not answering? Had he been in the cave longer than he thought? Did time flow differently in the cave? All these thoughts and more rushed through Xen’s mind when Mernomus failed to answer his call.
 By the entrance to the cave, he searched, yelling the old wizard’s name repeatedly, but to no answer. He sat and waited. He waited until the sun approached the western horizon, yelling the wizard’s name from time to time.
 With the day fading away, Xen set out for the place where he first met the old wizard, hoping he could find Mernomus there. After another walk and even greater exhaustion, Xen was relieved to see the old wizard waiting with the box.
 “Why didn’t you wait by the cave?” asked Xen.
 “I should be the one asking you ‘why?’” said Mernomus. “It’s been three days since you entered the Cave of the Abyss. Why on earth did you take so long?” continued the old wizard.
 “Three Days! I thought I was gone for several hours, but three days….” said Xen.
 “Yes, three days. Well, I see you’ve got the key and that’s what really matters now,” said Mernomus.
 Xen unclasped the chain from around his neck and handed it over. The tightness of the chain had left a red mark on his neck. The old wizard eagerly grabbed the key and prepared to insert it into the lock on the box.
 With the key in one hand and his wand in the other, Mernomus carefully pushed the key into the lock and slowly turned it, but before he could get it all the way turned, there came a fluttering of small wings. A small creature was flitting about by near by.
 When the little creature flew toward the box and precious key, the old wizard wasted no time in blasting it with his wand. There was a flash and a small lightning bolt flew from the wand, striking the little creature, which fell down dead.
 “Only a common garden fairy…” said Mernomus as he examined the creature’s remains.
 The creature was shaped like a small humanoid with a set of wings upon its back like a butterfly. It stood about as high as the width of a hand and wore cloths made from green leaves. A shirt made from a large flower bore a burn mark from the lightning bolt. The tiny eyes of the fairy were closed and a look of peacefulness yet lingered on its still face, despite a small dribble of blood from its mouth.
 “Can’t take any chances; if this was a fairy of the underworld…” Continued Mernomus.
 “But it was only a garden fairy meaning us no harm. Why must such a creature be killed?” asked Xen, his heart still racing from the shock of the old wizard’s sudden strike on the fairy.
 “Because we can’t take the risk. A fairy of the underworld might want to steal away the key and return it to the gatehouse,” replied Mernomus.
 “Can you use magic to restore the creature’s life, seeing as it meant no harm?” asked Xen curiously.
 “Yes, but I don’t see it being worth the effort. There are so many thousands of common garden fairies in the world, hence why we call them ‘common.’ The loss of one makes no conceivable difference,” said Mernomus.
 “I fetched the key from the gatehouse to the underworld for you, can you not restore the life of that fairy for me?” asked Xen, saddened by the old wizard’s apparent indifference to the life of such a sweet little creature.
 “I suppose,” sighed Mernomus sounding slightly annoyed as he pointed has wand at the lifeless garden fairy and began chanting a spell. Sparks flew from the wizard’s wand and the lighting burn on the fairy’s shirt disappeared. A moment later, the fairy wiggled its arms and legs, yawning slightly. Mernomus drew away his wand. The fairy fluttered its wings and flew off into the distance.
 Returning to the magical box, the old wizard turned the key with a loud click. A lid popped open and a bright blue glow emanated from inside.
 “What is it?” asked Xen in amazement.
 Before the old wizard could answer, there was an explosion of light. A dragon wrought of blue fire rushed from the box into the sky. Gigantic sparks flew as the fiery dragon soared through the night sky above leaving behind a faint blue trail and a residual glow in the box. The old wizard lay flat on the ground, one hand still held tightly around the key and the other curled around his wand.
 “Mernomus!” exclaimed Xen.
 The old wizard gave no response. Xen yelled the wizard’s name twice more as a flurry of thoughts flew through his head. The box was supposed to destroy evil, so was there some evil hidden in the heart of the old wizard, Xen wondered.
 Before he could wonder any further, the box emitted a brilliant flash of light so bright it was impossible to see anything but the light. Then came darkness, darker than dark. The wizard, the box, the key all gone! Xen felt a cold stone floor beneath him.
 “What is this place?” said Xen bewildered.

 

All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Peter Kennedy.
Published on e-Stories.org on 01.02.2010.

 

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