"Witness ancient gods, demons, and creatures of the night. Travel far and wide to the future where intelligent robots exist. You just may happen to hunt monsters; please avoid the assassins as well. Do you believe in Unicorns, mystical sea creatures, or perhaps dragons? Delve into these short tales and let your imagination soar."
It was early in Hasmouth, a farming community on the outskirts of the capital city of Opeth. The birds were chirping, the air cool and fragrant with the hint of the coming harvest. Dab, my earliest friend and neighbor in the farming collective where I grew up, knocked on the door and, when my dad answered, he looked down at his feet and asked, “Is Alsiyad home?”
“What do you want with Alsiyad, young man, so early?” “Mom wants me to go into the market and pick up a hand of bananas…”
“And why should I let Alsiyad go with you, hmm?”
“Because… mom thinks it best I not go along….”
“I’m just joking, Dab. Come in, Alsiyad is in his room… he better be cleaning that mess up.”
Dab took off his shoes and left them to the side of the door and slipped inside. Alsiyad’ father Ramus locked the door behind him and called Alsiyad from the sitting room, gesturing to a couch for Dab to sit in and wait. Alsiyad was in the back of the house, in his bedroom, dressed in his best Kholdun suit, mimicking the high order of magicians who advised the great King Aleksy II at the palace in Opeth City.
He wore a high hat, white as baby’s milk, with a giant Red Eye in the center with illuminated lines reaching outward from the center. With a makeshift wand in his hand, whittled oak with a painted red tip, he waved his arms about casting imaginary spells. When he heard his dad calling, he was quick to remove his mock religious robes, slide back into his trousers, and hide his hat of the divine eye beneath his mattress. His walls were covered in knock-off copies of King Aleksy’s youngest granddaughter, the princess Aya, the most lovely girl in all the world. Alsiyad said goodbye to the portrait, “I’ll see you when I get home,” he said. Closing the room behind him, he met his father in the hallway.
“Dab’s here,” he said. “Claims he needs to go out for his mother—but from what I can tell, his mom hasn’t been home in days. So, he wants you to go to the market with him.”
Alsiyad considered, “We can take the back way, by the Broad River.”
“And you better be careful,” his father countered. “There have been reports of the djinn along the river, and you can never guess their shape.”
Alsiyad remembered the story of the djinn, the smokeless fire, a mirage with teeth capable of detecting the slightest impurity in a person’s heart and, upon detection, capable of wrapping them in holy fire – expunging their life along with their guilt. Alsiyad wished he could take his seer’s cap, as those of the Kholdun class, order of the Divine Eye with the gift of Second Sight, which made it extremely easy for them to avoid the possession of the smokeless fire. Ramus looked down at his son and sighed, a smile on his face,
“I’ll give you 3 tiyish,” he said, “pick up some potatoes. We’ll have soup for supper tonight.”
Alsiyad put the jagged, bronze coins into his pocket and made his way into the living room where Dab sat, hands folded in his lap, eyes cast down at his feet. When he saw Alsiyad, he looked up with a pained smile on his face but stood quickly, with enthusiasm, and hurried over to draw him into an embrace. “So, you feel like walking to the bazar in Saransi?”
Alsiyad looked to his father. Ramus nodded. “Yes,” Alsiyad said, “I’ve got to get some potatoes for later…”
Alsiyad hugged his father and followed Dab from the porch, down the long gravel driveway to the edge of their property. In Hasmouth, from his residence, Alsiyad knew that to go to Saransi he would take a left, walk five bows length, and at a crossroads, one leading to the Hunter’s Guild, the other leading to the worker’s camp, he could go straight to the marketplace from there, passing the haunted river. He remembered the stories his mother used to tell him about the smokeless fire, even though she was never a believer in the Divine Eye. He missed her.
Dab and Alsiyad took a left at the end of their property, walked quietly for the first few bows, before Dab finally spoke up.
“I haven’t seen my mom in two days,” he said. He did not elaborate. They were near the crossroads before Alsiyad responded, because he knew that when someone disappeared—if one found themselves in the King’s Fist, they were like to never be seen again. Alsiyad thought of his own mother, whom he barely remembered, only a smile, bright, kind eyes, long, silky hair. He shook his head, as to block his own memory.
“I can have my dad talk to his contacts at the palace.”
Dab was quiet for the rest of their walk until they began to pass the haunted river. Alsiyad’ hair rose along the length of his neck and goosepimples stood out on his arm. Something – something was in the air, something oppressive, something hungry. He imagined, on the other side of the riverbank, smokeless fire morphing into the shape of what he most desired – taking the shape of the Princess Aya, crimson hair, light skin, only to lead him away to his death. He shivered, took Dab’s hand, and hurried him along. They passed paddy workers ankle deep in their rice fields, marami – a word Alsiyad would dare not use in front of his father – worked at plowshares and tilling the alluvial soil that came with the overflowing river. Alsiyad noticed each had a bronze badge with a hammer on it appended to their chest.
“They say the river goes all the way to the royal palace,” Dab said.
“Who is ‘they’?” Alsiyad asked.
“It’s just something my mom said.”
Throughout the scope and breadth of the entirety of human history there are many cultural differences that people use to divide us into groups. And yet, for all of the differences that we have there is one trait that every culture on Earth, past and present, has in common – we all tell stories.
Stories serve as a powerful tool in our social repertoire that brings us all closer and connects us – and in my mind, anything that brings us together is never a bad thing.
Stories can serve as ways to preserve history, or they can be allegories of modern concerns. They can be funny, or satirical, or scary. Stories can be a way to share what we are afraid of, and what we wish for the future.