Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #20

Suggested by: Nan Sampson Bach

The List:
Name: Diego
Place: Phantom Gorge
Time: 1453
Object: A handful of sand (magical?)

The Result:

"The Sands of Sight" 
("Soul Mates" Part 8)

The stranger arrived in the late hours of the evening. The brethren watched him drag his weary body across the threshold. His clothes hung in rags from his emaciated body, and a smell arose from him that made those nearest to him draw back, in spite of how inhospitable that was. He raised sunken eyes to the priest standing in front of him, lifting his gnarled, weary hands in pleading.
"The Braven Temple!" He cried, gazing around at the vaulted rafters and the walls covered in intricate designs. "So many years, so many stories—and all the time it was here, out of sight, beyond comprehension!" He stood on his own now, no less filthy and malnourished, but invigorated by hope. He looked back at the priest, who stood a great deal shorter than he, wearing a thick woolen robe dyed earthen-green.
"Please," he rasped. "I have spent years searching every mountainside in the eastern world. I have spent every last ounce of strength I have just to climb the cliff to reach this place. If—" the man shuddered so hard that his teeth clacked.  "If indeed you are a Brother of the Braven-folk," he said quietly, "then you know who I am and that which I seek."

The priest's fingers stroked the beads hanging around his neck, and he felt a cool sensation flowing into him, like the waterfall that poured into the ravine below the temple. He nodded to the man.
"You are Diego Montoya, of Phantom Gorge." Even as he spoke the words, the priest felt the dread and the danger they carried.
Diego leaned in close. "And what do I need, priest?"
You need a bath and a good meal, thought he, but he would not dare say it to Diego's face.
"You desire... The Sands of Sight." Just as the man had heard stories of Braven Temple, even so, Braven Temple had heard stories of the Montoya family. Stories of murder and mayhem, of cruelty and greed.
Diego nodded and leaned back. "You do credit to your order, Brother Brave. Never once have I uttered those words aloud, yet my heart has cried out with longing.” He flung his arms wide, as if the very air of the temple had restored some of his strength to his over-wearied limbs. “I present myself ready for the Trials!” he announced.
The priest felt a twisting in his gut. Diego would know that the Trials to obtain the Sands of Sight were no small undertaking; to pronounce himself ready was to be more than so--but at the same time, the priest knew that if the grandson of the infamous Dread Pirate Inigo Montoya intended to acquire the Sands of Sight, there would be nothing good come of it.
He raised his hand to Diego. “Do not rush hastily into these matters,” he warned the man. “The Trials have been specifically designed so that only one worthy of the Sight would complete them.”
Diego scowled. “But I am--”
“That remains to be seen.” The priest saw the arrogance in the man’s face, and knew that as long as the Sands remained in the Temple, not even a Montoya could dominate them. Otherwise, he would not have dared to interrupt the man. “But first you must rest; bathe and eat. In the morning, we will commence the Trials.”
Diego opened his mouth to protest, but decided against it. He nodded. “Very well,” he said, and withdrew to where another priest beckoned him to the guest lodgings within the temple.

Early the next morning, while great clouds of mist still clung to the cliffs, Diego again presented himself before the priests. This time, he had fed, bathed, and now wore a borrowed green tunic much like their own.
“Are you ready, Diego Montoya?” asked the priest.
Diego nodded. “I am.”

“Then let us begin.” Another priest waited for him at the edge of the cliff. He pointed to the mists still gathered in the gloomy ravine. “Contrary to what you have heard, Diego, there is but one trial to receive the Sands of Sight. Down in the ravine is a treacherous mire,” the thin, wiry man explained, tugging on his wispy beard. “Long ago, there was a thing of value lost to us down there, and there has been no one able to retrieve it. Draw it up for us, my son, and you shall have your reward.” He drew back and a third priest advanced, bearing in his hands a long, thin object wrapped in a green cloak. “Take this with you,” he said, throwing off the cloak. In his hands was a long rapier, a sword with no equal. Diego lunged forward and grabbed it. The grip felt familiar in his hand, like a glove, and the balance was so finely-tuned that it could have only had one maker--his great-grandfather, Domingo Montoya. He could feel the strength of his forefathers coursing through his arm, from the blade. Then he knew--he had been fated for this journey since before he was born. He must not fail, for his family’s sake.
The priest caught the change in Diego’s face and nodded to him. “Go,” he said.
Diego nodded and began descending the cliff face on a path no wider than his foot.

Down in the ravine, the mists clung so thickly that the sun could not break through. Diego found himself wishing that he had remembered a lantern or some means of light as he peered into the darkness. A soft squelching underfoot gave him pause. Through the dim haze, he could see the soft, verdant folds of moss covering the surface of the mire. His eyes slowly adjusted to the murk, and he could see that the moss covered the whole of the valley floor. He would have to test every inch for firm ground if he wanted to move. Slowly, Diego moved out toward the middle of the ravine, sweeping his boot over the surface of the moss till it found purchase, and then transferring his weight to that foot, praying to all the powers that his foot would not slip.

The further he progressed from the rock wall, the more the soft moss swallowed all sound. By the time he reached the middle, Diego could not even hear the noise of his own breathing. But sound did not matter, for in that moment, he saw it: a simple-enough relic, a bronze collar from some bygone era. It rested upon a moss-covered boulder as if in the velvet setting of a queen’s jewelry case. Diego forced himself to maintain the painfully-slow pace he had used thus far; one hasty step nearly plunged him into the mire, as the lush green moss gave way to vile, stinking black sludge that splashed up the legs of his trousers. He had nearly attained his goal, he would not throw caution to the wayside now.
Diego crept closer. He was nearly within arm’s reach. The sooner he had presented the collar to the priests, the sooner he would acquire the one thing that would reveal magic portals all over the world: the Sands of Sight. With these portals and their access to any location in both history and geography, he would become the ultimate pirate, the scourge of nations. His grandfather would be proud.
He was so caught up in his reverie that he failed to notice the approach of another being until it was too late. By the time Diego looked toward the collar again, a fearsome sight had arisen between him and his goal: a hulking, black body somehow formed from the inky-black mire itself, heaving with rage, fixing upon him with huge, glowing, fiery eyes. A mire-mare, a thing of night-terrors and evil. Diego found his body unwilling to move as the mire-mare stood in the moss before him, its breath expelling putrid clouds of rot and hatred. Then, Diego understood--to get to the collar, he needed to defeat the mire-mare. And his only weapon was a sword.

In a small cottage in suburban New York, an elderly woman and a small brown Wood-sprite sat spellbound as the young professor concluded the harrowing tale. “The priests waiting at the top of the cliff heard the screams of the nightmare coupled with those of young Diego, and they wondered if he had in fact failed, as the others had before him.” He stared at the last sentence on the webpage and sighed.
Agnes rapped the arm-rest of her rocking chair with such force that Nakoma jumped. “Kenneth,” she burst out, “what happened then? Did Diego Montoya fail, or did he succeed?”
Kenneth scrolled to the top of the page, but could find no other sources or citations to explore. “That’s it, that’s all it says.” He pointed to the picture accompanying the article. “There’s a journal entry in Diego Montoya’s handwriting, dated in the year 1453, which somebody found, but the only decipherable words seem to be ‘ya lo tengo,’ which pretty much translates to ‘I already have it’--but what is ‘it’? Did he really write this after getting the Sands of Sight from the priests of Braven? Or perhaps he decided to keep the collar instead?” He closed the browser and shook his head. “Now we know somewhat of where the Collar of Cuimnhe might have come from--but what happened to it afterwards?”
Nakoma sighed and curled up on the floor, pulling her knees close to her chest. “Will we have to find this Temple ourselves, to retrieve the Collar?”
Kenneth shook his head; the image of Arielle, resplendent in her fairy cloak, staring at him as if she had just been violated by a total stranger, had seared itself into his brain. He would do anything to take it all back! If only she hadn’t gone on that foolhardy trip to try and find a meteor that supposedly fell out of a nebula she’d been watching!
“I hope not,” he told the Wood Sprite. Shrugging and stretching his arms, he turned back to Agnes’ ancient computer. “Let’s keep looking.”

Previously in This Series:
#15 "Rendezvous"("Soul Mates" Part 6/"Serenity's Light" Part 2)