Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Trap!

Travis Hite - Reader's Challenge

The greatest alchemist in all the lands
A room that does not exist
A game of chess
A poisoned tea set

Oberan moved through his lab as if there were a clear path. To any other guest, the room looked almost impassible. There were tables with burners, beakers, tubing and other necessary items for alchemy. The far wall held the components he needed. He had done so much work for others until a month ago. The young mage eyed the wall of components then referenced his list. A month ago, Oberan had found reference to the possibility of opening a portal to a room no other could enter. He wanted to access this room for his research documents, unique potions and dangerous elements. It would add to his already overfilled labatory and let him protect his most valuable finds and property. Despite a mage by birth, alchemy was his great love.

He had been making extracts all week. You could not make extracts too far in advance as their properties faded over time. Some lasted only a week or two. The last extract he needed to make was from cat eyes. Oberan scoured the shelves. He had harvested all the parts of a cat about two month's ago. The problem was there were a number of elements starting with C was rather extensive. Finally, he found the jar with the two cat's eyes. He moved back to his current work station, side stepping boxes and tables as he went.

He placed the eyes into the boiling liquid. He had a been warned that there was a trap to the room. He had also found notes of the need for a gift. The young man had purchased an intricate tea set lined with gold for its purpose. He was so close to finishing. The elements were now all purchased. Some had been hard to find and a good half of his store of silver and gold coins had been given to the cause.

Once the liquid had boiled for some time, the remaining contents had condensed down. He carefully decanted the liquid to separate it from the now shriveled eyeballs. The mage placed the vial of hot liquid next to a row of other such vials and beakers.

He set the cauldron on the larger burner he had created after the concept of the updraft stoves. He fed the small opening with shortened branches that he had started calling pegs. He was ready. Everything was ready.

The first thing he placed in was the hot liquid. He needed a liquid base to begin and it was already heated. Oberan then added the crushed bones of a long dead human.  He stirred the mixture slowly, being sure the powder was properly disbursed and dissolved.  Slowly he added the water of boiled animal fur. He had been careful to get different areas of fur to ensure an extension of the potion's potency.  The alchemist looked at the notes he had taken down, then added the crushed diamond.  It was hard to create diamond dust and he had only managed to break down a little for the needs of the potion.

He rolled out the mixture of corn starch charcoal and chalk creating a bowl of the liquid.  Once the cauldron boiled for an hour with occasional careful stirring, he decanted the liquid into the powdered mixture.  He used his hands to create what appeared to be a sort of paste like substance.  As he worked he repeated the ancient words he had found.  When the spell had been completed, he pressed the substance into the molds he had created.  Now, at last after hours of work, he could sleep.

The next morning Oberan rose with excitement. He prepared the tea set.  It was both a gift and a trap; All but one cup was lined with a poison.  He smoothed down his robes carefully.  He had chosen split robes so that if he needed to battle, he could do so. The Mage turned alchemist carried the gold lined set to the wall he had prepared. It was part of the reason his lab was such a mess.  He needed a blank wall.  He went back to his table and popped the prepared concoction out of its mold, it now appeared as a stick of chalk in his hand. 

Swooping up his staff, he returned to the wall. He smiled with delight as he drew the doorway.  Reciting the ancient words of activation, the spell came alive.  The rectangle shimmered with magical energy. He pocketed the chalk and took up the tea set.  After a long deep breath, he stepped through.

He looked about quickly as the room shimmered into view.  It was a huge room, but it was not empty. One end of it had a rich office area.  One wall was lined with shelves of curiosities and treasures. The other end held a lab with all the equipment he could ever need. The last wall held a huge library. Oberan set the tea set down before a fireplace, squared off in the center of the wall and close to where he entered.  There was a trap.  He knew that, but what was it?  He carefully explored the room, but found no trap that was revealed in his studies.  The room was so well contained that one could live here for sometime as long as food was brought in.

He trailed the line of books; there were titles long lost to the world of modern mages.  He could spend hours just reading if he chose.  His eyes lit up at the four long shelves of titles referencing Alchemy. As he reached for a tome, a voice startled him.

"Finding what you seek?" 

Oberan spun, magic drawing from the well within him.  Before him was an elderly man, hair long and silver.  He was leaning on a staff; for defense or aid standing was unclear.  He had a strange look on his face.

"I apologize for intruding.  My research did not tell me the room would be occupied."  Oberan stuck out an arm, palm facing the gentleman and gave a slight bow.

The man shuffled to the fireplace and lowered himself into a chair.  As he did so, Oberan took the time to examine him.  He was dressed in pants and tunic, both in black. He had a long sweeping cloak that trailed behind him.  Oddly, it held little dust or wear.

Yes, I was not informed when I first found the room.  I see you have brought tea, let us sit for awhile and speak."  The man beckoned him over.  "My name is Viduus."

Viduus ... as in the god of death... Viduus."  Oberan sat down laying his staff beside is chair.  

Viduus gave a smirk.  "Yes, but I am not a deity.  I was named after the legend of one."

Oberan let out a slight sigh of relief.  "I am Oberan Manu, alchemist of the great royal city of Golgetha.  It is my pleasure to meet you."  He carefully laid out the tea cups. He filled two and handed the one without poison to the old man.  How could he poison such a welcoming host?

"I see, like the legends tell, you have brought a gift.  This set is quite beautiful." Viduus reached for the cup nearest him.  "Yet have you prepared for the trap, I wonder."  He blew softly on the steaming tea.

"So there is a trap?"  Oberan picked up his teacup holding it in his hand.   He had not planned for this man and therefore, while somewhat resistant to the poison his cup held, he dared not drink very much.

"Oh yes, Oberan, you are in it."  Viduus stared into the cup as if lost in a memory.

"You obviously escaped it." Oberan pointed out. 

"You would think so, yes?"  Viduus looked up at Oberan.  "I have not yet managed to escape." He noted Oberan was not drinking.  "Something wrong with your tea?"

Oberan's eyes darted to the teacup.  "Oh no, I am letting it cool."  He set the cup down and leaned forward, hands moving to his knees.  "You don't seem trapped, after all you entered just as I did."

"I entered as you did over one thousand years ago.  Now the door is obvious to me wherever I need it.  You see, within the room, time does not move."  Viduus reached over and took up Oberan's teacup and set his own in its place."

"I wouldn't drink that!" Oberan said suddenly. "It is poisoned."

"Ah, a true gift then.  I can only thank you for your preparations."  Viduus took a long drink. "Well done.  I can not discern the elixer used.  The tea is fragrant and well prepared.  All that would have made it better is a touch of honey."

Oberan stared at the man as he quickly fished his belt for the antidote. 

Viduus smiled with understanding and put up his hand. "I will not need the elixir.  This trap is yours and I bequeath it to  you with great relief.  I am so tired.  Let us play a game of chess while I wait for you elixir to send me to the gods."

Viduus reached down under the table and took a chess board already prepared and set it on the table.  "It will be good to play one more match with a person of flesh and blood." 

Oberan was very confused as he looked about. He was missing something, but he could not discern it.  Why had Viduus drank the poison and refused an antidote?  Why did he want to play a game of chess while it took effect?  He decided to concede to the older man's wishes since he seemed to have chosen to die.

"Smoke before fire, it is your move first.  After each of your moves,  you may ask me one question.  When I pass or when the game is over, the room is yours." Viduus stated cheerfully.

Oberan did not excell at chess, but he was willing to try to give the man his dying wish.  He moved his Queen's Knight out to stand in front of her.  He looked up and thought about his question.

"Why are you eager to die?" Oberan asked.

"Easy, over a thousand years is a long time to live.  I think I have done everything a man might ever wish to do." Viduus smiled and moved his Queen's pawn forward two.

Oberan considered the board carefully, at the same time, considering questions as well.   He moved his Queen's pawn one forward. "Why have you waited till now to end your life?"

Viduus stared at the pieces.  "You cannot end your life till someone has entered the trap with you.  You are the first to have the skill to enter since I too fell victim." He also placed his Queen's knight, but his was before his bishop.

"So I am in the trap now, interesting as I do not feel trapped."  Oberan looked about them.  He moved his King's pawn up two.  "Does this trap cause harm?"

Viduus looked up at him sadly.  "Yes and No.  No physical pain will come to you, however, you will watch those that gain your love live and die as long as you are trapped."

"That seems likely only if you spend a great deal of time in the room that is apart from time."  Oberan was now starting to see edges of this trap, but surely you could just enter only briefly therefore live only slightly longer than those around you.  He moved his King's pawn forward two.  "Why did you spend so much time in the room?"

Viduus looked up.  His eyes were slowly turning red around the pupils, the first sign the poison was taking hold.  "I could not stand the outside world for long periods of time. It felt safer in here." The older man moved his Queen's bishop's pawn forward one.

That had to be the clue he needed.  Oberan moved his King's Bishop's pawn forward two.  He was running out of time; soon Viduus would not be able to move. "Why could you not stand the outside world?"  

Viduus shakily moved the Queen's bishop forward to stand before his King.  "I could see time.  It was so swift.. so fluid.  While I could make it swifter for some, I could not slow it for any."  

See time.  Surely this was an analogy?  How did one see time?  He moved his King's Knight behind the Bishop's pawn.  "How does one see time?" Oberan asked.

"It is a part of the trap.  Everywhere you look, you will see time. When you leave this room, you will understand."  Viduus hand shook violently as he toppled his King.  "You win and lose Oberan.  I hope you have prepared yourself to face what must come."  Viduus looked up at Oberan.  "One.... last.. Thing.  Don't touch those.... you … love."  The man toppled forward scattering chess pieces about the floor around them.

Oberan sat back and drank from the unpoisoned teacup.  He had more questions but had ran out of time.  What did the old man mean ... seeing time? He decided the only way to know was to go outside the room and see if anything had changed. Where before he had a shimmering portal, now there was an actual door.  He left the man where he had fallen.  Time did not move inside the room, so he had time to dispose of the body.  He stepped back into his lab.  Now there was a door in the wall where before it had only been a portal.  The spell had worked.  The room was his.

He stepped out into the actual shop.  He had closed for the day so as to not be disturbed.  He made his way to the window and looked out at those passing by the shop.  He stood staring with his mouth open.  He could see the heart of every man and woman as if it were exposed.  These hearts had differing levels of a dark red within them.  Some were full, especially most of the children.  Some were barely colored and the heart looked gray and sickly.  What did it mean?

He unlocked the door and stepped out into the street.  Locking it behind him, he began to stroll the boardwalk.  There was no human or animal around him that did not have this strange heart throbbing before him. He could hear the faint murmur of one hundred hearts beating a whispering rhythm.  He moved down the street in amazement.  As he passed the tavern, the barkeep through out an old drunk.  The man struggled to get to his feet; his heart gray and withered.  Oberan reached down to help the man.  The drunk collapsed back to the ground and the heart stopped. Oberan stood and stared then looked at his hand.  Had he done that?

He decided to test it again. He looked throughout the city for one with such a dying heart. Finally, he came across an old crone, selling flowers from where she sat at the wall.  Oberan tossed a couple of coins into her can and as she handed him the flowers, he let his fingers slide across hers. The crone slowly fell sideways and the heart ceased to beat.  It faded from view as he stood looking.

He let the flowers fall from his hand as he swiftly made his way back to the shop.  He quickly moved inside and relocked the door with shaking hands.   He turned and leaned back against it staring into space.  He felt the trap click shut as Viduus last words came crashing down around him. 

"Don't touch those that you love..."