Saturday, October 12, 2013

Serial Saturday: Suggestion Box #12

Featuring the Suggestions of Sam Garcia.

The List:
Ashuria
Citadel of Natalys
a century
fountain of youth

The Result:

Stamp! Stamp! Stamp! Stamp! Stamp-stamp... Stamp, stamp...
Wait for the noise to die down.
Silence.
Count for a buffer.
Five...four...three...two...one....

Zero.

Ashuria tied her cloak firmly under her chin and pulled the hood over her head to hide the violet hair that betrayed her rank. She had twenty seconds to reach the main chamber of the citadel before the next rotation of the guards. She checked the bed to make sure the curtains were drawn. Over the last week she had taken great pains to ensure that drawn curtains meant "do not disturb on pain of punishment." So long as no one opened the curtain and threw back the coverlet to expose the pillows underneath, no one would miss her. And it was vital that no one know of her absence until she had completed the mission.
Ashuria rounded the corner and heard the stamp-stamp of armor-plated boots heading up the corridor. Desperately, she yanked the grey hood low and pressed herself against the wall in an alcove. She held her breath as they passed by in the main hallway.
At last, the sound faded, and Ashuria gave herself another five-second count before continuing.
At last, she made it to the staircase away from the castle. Here, she did not have to hide her face—but she still wore her hood, at least until she reached the market square, halfway to her destination:
The Fountain of Youth.
Ashuria shuddered at the thought.
She made it past the wandering townsfolk and royal courtiers, and with a sigh she removed her hood. She stood now in the wide courtyard that used to he filled with bustle of people selling fresh foods and fruits and wares of all sorts. Now it was empty, and quiet.
"Ashuria!" A young man hailed her, coming from the far side.
Ashuria looked up and squinted. "Mr. Konner?" she gasped. When she'd seen him last week, the grey hairs were beginning to give way to white. Now he looked as fresh as if he had shed twenty years in only a few days, or even fifty in only a week's time.
Damyen Konner grinned and ran a hand through his dark, shiny hair. "I've been at the Well; what do you think?" He stood at the best vantage for Ashuria to survey his revitalized physique. The wrinkles were gone, the skin full and smooth. One wouldn't even tell that this youth had been well past seventy when he first arrived in Natalys—when they discovered the Fountain, converted to a Well over the course of the last century.
Ashuria fought to stay civil. "I—I hardly recognized you," she faltered.
Konner grinned, showing perfect white teeth. "You stay the same, though; in fact," he reached up and stroked her cheek. Ashuria flinched at his touch.
"You look a bit older," he murmured softly.
The water from the Fountain gave his eyes a strange glow. Ashuria backed away.
"I have to go," she muttered, and slipped away.

That cursed fountain! Ashuria did not stop moving until she was out of sight from Konner, but by now she was moving through the township of Natalys. All around her milled people of the same unnatural bloom of youth. Ashuria even caught her own reflection and gasped. She did not appear to be a day over sixteen—yet like the others she had been living in Natalys for one hundred years.

One hundred years of war, one hundred years of seclusion. Outside the walls of Natalys, armies aged and enemies entrenched themselves, just waiting for the occupants to become bored or starve enough to open the gates and expose themselves to danger. But Natalys had a secret, one that they did not discover until they had been beseiged for several months: The Fountain of Youth.

It regressed the ages of the old ones, and kept the young ones healthy. No one appeared older than twenty-five. Mothers became playmates for their own children, grandparents ran about with their grandchildren; over the years, the addictive fluid replaced the need for food and any other sort of nourishment. When the stores ran out, everyone continued drinking from the Fountain. Let the armies outside waste away in their deuce towers, let them fail in every attempt to assault Natalys! The watchmen didn't even bother climbing into their towers anymore. There were games to play, a good deal more interesting than watching greybeards age!
Only Ashuria, it seemed, took any thought for the outside world. Two weeks ago she had climbed the tallest tower in Natalys. From there, she looked over the valley, blackened by war and bristling with abandoned siege towers. It seemed that the nations of the world, in losing interest in conquering Natalys, had turned upon each other. From there, Ashuria had directed her attention to the streets below.
Whole families staged barrel races and company dances in the streets. No one farmed, every day was another party. The air was alive with lights and color and music and laughter every day—and the only substance anyone consumed was the water from the Fountain.
Ashuria aimed to change that. She had ceased drinking a long time ago; once she realized that no one was going to care about food as long as they had the Fountain, she began stockpiling her own stores, working on methods that would enable her to have food when the stores were depleted. Hence, she had been keeping nourished in the conventional way. Her age was becoming evident, but the "drinkers" changed so very little that even the normal course of time seemed shocking and cruel. Moreover, Ashuria discovered that abstaining from the Fountain proved in no way detrimental. Time and aging merely picked up where the Fountain left off and progressed from there. This had been the motivation behind her plan: if she could destroy the Fountain and remind everyone of the world they lived in, she had no doubt that the vast numbers of strong and hearty men and women currently disregarding the passage of time could turn the tide of battle and rescue other nations now suffering at the hands of the enemies of Natalys.

At the moment, though, it didn't look as if she could do it. There were dozens of people around the Fountain, drinking and carousing. Ashuria huddled under a pile of hay to wait for the bustle to die down, using her cloak as added camouflage. The more she watched, the more her chest ached and her head burned. Did they not care for any other part of the world besides the small corner they occupied? Finally, the now-adolescents grew bored of the activity and departed to seek fresh pleasure. The Well was for the most part deserted. Ashuria crept forward, every thought in her mind screaming, "DESTROY IT! COVER IT! BURY IT!" She moved to begin pushing rocks from the edge of the Well into its supply.

"Ashuria!"

Her father! She had not even heard his approach, nor that of his entourage. How had he known? Ashuria didn't let her body heed her mind. Splash after splash echoed as her hands pushed against the rocks that once made the foundation for the Fountain.

"Ashuria, wait!"

His words only made her work faster. Now it was easier to push on the rocks; they pulled away, leaving the dusty dry-clay crumbling soil exposed. Ashuria kept pushing even then, working the dirt into the Well and hoping that the parched soil would soak up all the Fountain's water.

"Someone stop her!"

Ashuria just kept shoving soil into the Well as fast as she could. When she felt a hand on her back, she whirled around and threw a stiff punch to the chest connected to that hand. More people laid hands on her—bizarre people who were all roughly the same age. Ashuria couldn't continue her mission and fight them off. They dragged her away from the edge.
"No!" she screamed. "You don't understand!"
Konner was among them. "That's right, Ashuria," he said, "we don't understand; why are you doing this?"
"I have to! Don't you see?"

Before anyone could utter another syllable, a tremendous rumble shook the ground beneath them and all those closest to the Well suddenly scrambled away from it.

Ashuria's efforts had done their work. The ground around the Well gave way and collapsed inward, completing the task for her. When the dust settled, there was nothing left but a damp hollow in the ground.
Ashuria's father—not much older than herself by this point—looked at her in horror. His grey eyes with their freakish glow pierced her like a knife. His hands trembled and he looked at the well, on which he had come to depend for so long. When he spoke, the voice was hollow, as one already dead.

"What have you done?"

The 2013 Suggestion Box Series:

#1  #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 #11 #12 #13