To battle my recent writer’s block, I tried different techniques to come up with stories. One of these techniques, working with story cubes, gave me interesting stuff to work with, resulting in the following short story.
“Come, we have to go on”
said Ari as he reached out to his younger brother Kfir.
Kfir stood up after he had stumbled in the searing hot sand of the desert.
“It’s been days. Do you think they still pursue us?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out either.”
his brother responded with a strange look on his face.
They were fleeing from the red tower – the place where they had been held since their village had been attacked by men with strange dark skin colour and only barely speaking their tongue. Since then they had never seen anyone from their village again. They had been kept in hot dungeons stinking of filth and decay with just barely enough to eat and drink. Every day, people had been taken away from the dungeon, never to return. Ari had tricked the guards into opening the door so they could escape their uncertain fate into the desert.
“Ari, I’m thirsty”
“Please don’t complain. I’m thirsty, too. You know just as well as I, that one apple is all that we have left.”
After that Kfir fell silent. He was too tired to argue and about to lose all hope. For days, he and his brother had been following the stars at night. Stars which, some of them, they have never seen before.
Kfir stumped weakly after his brother through the sand when he suddenly bumped into him.
“Do you hear that?”
There was a hissing sound in the distance. They looked up into the blue, cloudless sky to see where it came from. They saw something falling down. With a loud thud, it dropped into a dune in the distance. Curiosity befell Kfir. He began to run to the place where the object was glimmering in the sand. Ari shouted something, but Kfir didn’t listen. He ran and ran until he reached the small crater in the sand. There it was. A large, white egg with a visible crack in its shell. Ari arrived just as Kfir was about to slide down the slope of the crater towards the egg.
“Wait. We don’t know what it is.”
he said, but that didn’t stop Kfir.
Kfir slid down to the egg and examined it. It was colder than the surrounding sand with a very smooth surface, which glistened with all colors of the rainbow. Carefully he knocked on the shell. Suddenly, there came a loud wailing noise from the egg and Kfir backed off in surprise. Ari came sliding down the slope.
“What was that?”
he asked with an alarmed voice.
“I think there is something inside the egg.”
Kfir responded and gave the shell another knock. Another heartbreaking sound came from it. He dug his fingernails into the crack in the shell and tried to pry it open but to no avail.
“What are you doing? We don’t know what’s inside. What if it’s hostile?”
“You mean more hostile than this desert?”
asked Kfir with bitterness in his voice. He heard his brother breathing in as if to prepare for a response, but he remained silent in the end. Instead, Ari kneeled down to the egg and helped Kfir try to open the egg, but even with their strengths combined, they did not succeed in prying the egg open. During their attempts the creature inside the egg kept on wailing, but each time it seemed increasingly faint.
Ari stood up while Kfir was still trying to open the egg.
“We need a tool to open this.”
he said and tapped gently on his brother’s back.
“Look, there are some cliffs over there. If we carry the egg over there, we can open it with a rock.”
Together they picked up the egg. It was still surprisingly chilly and a lot heavier than it looked. With every shock while carrying the egg the creature in it let out a small howl and each of these howls stirred a feeling of compassion in Kfir. He was fighting back his tears by the time they arrived at the cliffs of red rock. Gently, they lowered the egg into the sand, grabbed some sharp rocks and hacked at the shell on the spots already weakened with cracks.
“Hold on just a little longer, we’re nearly finished”
Kfir whispered silently with a soothing voice, unsure whether he tried to calm himself or the creature inside the egg. They continued until finally the eggshell broke in half and out of it emerged, with a joyful purr, a colourful turtle. Its skin was of a dark grey colour, but the scales on its shell shone in bright colours, each of them in a different colour. Both brothers sighed with relief, when they heard the turtle’s soft purr. Kfir slowly approached the turtle and carefully caressed its head. The turtle responded by closing its eyes and purring again.
“See? It’s not hostile at all”
triumphed Kfir with a laugh.
The turtle backed off slightly and, with a soft hum, lifted itself in the air and floated slowly in Ari’s direction. It startled to nibble on the pouch he carried on his belt. Both brothers gasped audibly. They had never seen anything like this.
“Hey! Back off!”
shouted Ari after he recovered from his shock, He shoved the turtle gently from his pouch. The turtle backed off slowly with a growl. Kfir’s stomach rumbled.
“I’m hungry, too”
“This is all we have left, Kfir. We can’t just waste it.”
“I didn’t say to give the turtle the whole apple. We could at least share it.”
Ari sighed and shook his head.
“Let’s at least go into the shade”
he said and went closer to the cliffs. Kfir followed with the turtle.
Once they arrived in the shadows of the ragged cliffs Ari took the shriveled apple out and broke it into pieces. He gave two to his brother and resorted to eating the smallest one himself. Kfir delightedly chewed his part of the apple while feeding the other part to the turtle, which rested purring on his lap.
After finishing their meagre meal they remained in the shadow of the cliffs for the remainder of the day. Kfir spent most of the time sleeping and the turtle did not leave his side. Ari also found the time to catch some sleep.
As soon as the setting sun touched the horizon a deep rumble shook the cliffs. The stones began to move and the sand began to shift. Great black claws emerged from the sand and tried to grab the brothers. They managed to evade each of the attacks, but could not escape because of the shaking ground. Ari grabbed Kfir by the waist and tried jumping off the cliffs. He succeeded to jump down to where the sand had shifted away, just to see that under the claws waited a giant orifice full of sharp teeth. Two yellow protruding eyes leered maliciously at the brothers. The sand was still shifting and dragging them towards their certain doom, when with a howling sound the turtle came floating down. The brothers grabbed the turtle by its shell and the turtle started lifting them out of the danger. Just as they were about to get away, another claw emerged from the sand and grabbed Ari by the leg.
“You go on without me! It can’t lift us both!”
Ari shouted over the roaring of the shifting sand and rumbling rocks. He let go of the turtles shell. Kfir reached out. He wanted his brother to live. He missed Ari’s hand by just a small distance.
With tears in his eyes Kfir looked back and watched as his brother was dragged towards the maw. He struggled against the grip of the mighty black claw holding his leg, but he was mercilessly dragged inside the orifice of the giant crab and crushed by its mighty mandibles. Without Ari’s weight the turtle increased rapidly in speed and left the place of horror with Kfir on its back.
They flew night and day until Kfir almost couldn’t hold on the turtle’s shell any longer when a giant tree appeared on the horizon, its branches reaching far into the clouds. As they approached he could see houses built into the boughs and towers and gates on the outermost branches. Giant birds transporting people and goods on large saddles filled the air around the tree coming to the gates and leaving in the distance. Kfir directed the turtle gently towards the nearest gate, where they landed safely. His legs were weak so he stumbled more than he walked towards the gate followed by the turtle which floated in midair.
Just before before Kfir could cross the gate and enter the city, he heard a sharp call.
“Halt! Who are you and what is your desire in Oulian?”
Guards emerged from both sides of the gate. He was too tired and worn out to respond and broke down on the spot.
“bring water and bring him to the palace!”
were the last words he heard, before his mind turned blank.
Kfir woke up in a warm and comfortable bed. He sat up and looked around.
The room he was in was gorgeous. Beautiful paintings covered the walls
and the furniture was of unparalleled craftsmanship. He had been washed
and wore clean clothes with a flowery scent. Beside his bed on a small
table rested a carafe full of water. He immediately grabbed it and
emptied it in no time. He had been thirsty beyond measure. As he stood
up he heard a familiar purring sound. The turtle lay on a cushion beside
his bed and lifted itself in the air as soon as it saw him. Softly the
turtle nudged Kfir and he began caressing its head when suddenly the
door opened and a young woman entered the room.
“Thanks to the tree, you are awake.”
She exclaimed with joy.
“Where am I?”
Kfir asked. It was not his first time waking up in an unknown room, but this time it at least seemed a lot nicer than in the red tower.
“You are in Oulian Palace, residence of King Bialden. His highness wants to see you and your turtle. My name, by the way, is Issajana.”
she answered, opened the door again and beckoned him out of the room.
Kfir followed her through the corridors of the palace. They were of breathtaking beauty. He stopped at a large window for a while and looked outside. The palace was at the center of the treetop. Outside was a great bustle with birds flying to and fro carrying all kinds of things and people. The roads on the large branches of the tree ware also very lively with merchant stands and people.
He followed Issajana deeper into the palace, until they finally entered a large hall. It was decorated with the finest paintings of the whole palace and on the floor were excellent rugs. On a platform in the middle of the room stood a single throne. Soft flute music was playing in the background. They entered the hall until they stood before the throne. The king sitting on the throne was a frail old man, looking sickly with his pale skin.
“This is the mysterious foreigner, I presume”
said the king with a soft voice.
“What is your name, boy?”
He asked scrutinizing Kfir.
“My name is Kfir, your highness.”
“Do you know what kind of animal you have as company?”
The king inquired further.
“It’s a floating turtle. I don’t know what it’s called.”
Kfir answered. He was surprised about the king’s interest in the animal.
“This animal is called a ‘Cloud Glider’ and is believed to be extinct. It is said its tears can heal any wound and illness.”
The king explained with a sigh.
“You see, I am very ill and my healers are unable to help me. It is a strange whim of fate for you and your companion to arrive at the gates of my city. Would you allow your companion to heal me and receive my eternal gratitude?”
Kfir looked at the turtle and the turtle looked back. It seemed that it had understood the whole conversation and nodded slightly.
“I will allow it, but I have a condition. I want to erect a tombstone for my brother, who sacrificed his life to save ours.”
The king didn’t need long to consider this offer.
“I agree. You will be given a spot on the palace grounds and the services of my master mason for your tombstone. Your brother’s bravery has to be remembered.”
As the king finished, the turtle purred softly and floated towards him. A single teardrop rolled down the turtle’s cheek and fell onto the king’s open hand, where it landed as a clear little gem.
“I thank you so much. I will have everything arranged for you. Be my guest in the meantime.”
said the king, still looking at the little gem in his hand.
In the next days Kfir spent time with the king’s mason, who made a great tombstone of marvellous artisanship for Ari. With finally a place to mourn for his brother, Kfir arranged a symbolic funeral for him.
The king grew fond of Kfir in the time he recovered from his illness and endowed him a small house in his city.
As the years went on, Kfir spent time looking for his native village on the back of his cloud glider he named Anani, but he never found his village nor the red tower and with the years passing he spent more and more time in Oulian until the death of king Bialden, who, being childless his whole life, named Kfir his successor.