The Book-Spirit of Tirma'Lauda

Submitted into Contest #202 in response to: Write about two people striking up an unlikely friendship.... view prompt

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Fantasy Friendship Happy

The wind made a call like a siren as it tore across the peaks. Mysterious, inviting, deadly. The peaks wove on for miles--white-black stone interspersed by tumbling green and flowing blue. Tirma'Lauda the people had named it in those distant, distant days when the cosmos had held a different shape. Most folk who passed through it now simply called it 'cold'. It was strange--the skies knew no clouds, and the sun seemed to always hang right up in the center of the sky, but warmth felt distant.

When Salvus Korr came marching up from the south, he found the cold altogether inexcusable. "Damnable winds," he said, "like nipping wisps. Not at all like the books." He was right, of course. Nowhere in Tobias Mauldrie's Journeys Beyond Isle did he mention the cold; Nyxie Cim'Ri neglected to recommend packing a spare set of layers in Whereby River You Go.

Shivering, Salvus rubbed his hands together and grumbled. His robes were a deep brown--simple, like he preferred. What wasn't simple was the arrayment of baubles, books, globes, talismans, shrunken skulls, arcanic accumulators, elemental reticulates, rune-plates, and scrolls he wore tasseled to a single belt around his chest. He preferred simpleness and timeliness. Needing to stop in stores or at home wasted time, so he carried everything he'd ever need with him. Everything except warmer clothes.

There were many paths through Tirma'Lauda, but few had been maintained over the years. Underfoot sat one of the few that had: a pale, tightly-graveled, manicured vein that ran clearly between the rolling foothills. Along the bends, statues of myu'ii-spirits sat, their angry faces shaded by hoods of moss. Despite the cold, he could not deny the beauty of the land. There was no doubt about it--this would make a great place to finish his-

"AAAALLLLEEEEEOOOOOO!"

Salvus winced. There was no doubt about it--this would-

"AAAALLLLLLEEEEEOOOOOOOOOO!"

"QUIET!" Stomping his feet, Salvus shouted up into the foothills. He couldn't see who was yelling, and he had no desire to; he'd come seeking solitude, and come hell or high water, he'd have it.

"AYYYYYYYY!"

Grumbling, Salvus flailed his hands in the air and paced. After a moment, he stepped off the path and marched towards the source of the yelling. He passed over a series of hillocks, digging his heels into the mud with showy force. He expected vagabonds--noisome children perhaps--drunken wanderers lost in the wold. When he crested the final hill, he froze.

Down between the hills, in a young grove of aspens, was a creature unlike any Salvus had ever seen. In form the creature was like a man, yet his skin was riddled with cracks of glowing violet and tattooed many times over with blazing pink. He was massive too--riddled in muscles the dark, blood-splattered plate he wore did little to hide. A great helm hid his head, the horns of three rhinos rising from it, and pinkish flames belching out from its eye-slits. A cannon lay in his monstrous hands, and he played with it like a child, sending volleys of golden lead out into the aspens.

Salvus was awe-struck for a moment.

Then the creature yelled again.

Growling, Salvus stomped down into the grove and threw up his hands. "You there!"

"AAAALLLEEEEE-"

"I SAY!"

"ALLE-"

"STOP IT, YOU ASS."

"AL-al...alleeoo?" The creature, lowering the canon, looked down at Salvus. The creature's helm was imbued with some magic. The metal around the eye-slits bent and warped like eyebrows; they seemed confused.

Salvus flailed his hands in the air. "Stop it! Stop yelling! For the love of the stars, just stop!"

The creature scratched the back of his helm. "'Stop yelling'?"

"Yes!"

"No."

"Wh-what do you mean 'no'?"

"Well, I suppose I mean, 'no, I shan't stop yelling.' Least, not any time soon. Why don't you stop yelling?"

Screwing his face up indignantly, Salvus stomped his feet, the trinkets on his belt rattling as he did. "I'm not yelling!"

"Yes you are."

"Oh, am I?" Salvus glowered at the creature. "Can you hear me over the hills?"

The creature looked around. After a moment, he shrugged and cocked a metallic eyebrow down at Salvus. "I am not over the hill. I am here. And so, may I point out, are you."

"Wh-well...you..." Salvus scratched his chin and set to tapping his foot. That was true, he supposed. He'd have to tread carefully here. Whatever this creature was, it clearly wasn't human. If it wasn't human, then it had to be a spirit--that meant it would be tricky, malicious. Or, so he'd read in Cat Jacobs Spirit and Spirit-Kind. Very well then--Salvus would need to play it calm, collected. Exhaling slowly, Salvus rolled his shoulders. "Hear me, spirit."

"Tom."

Salvus groaned. "So be it, 'Tom'...I command thee to-Tom? Is it really?"

"Mmm-hm. By birth, in fact. Before even." Slinging the canon over his shoulder, Tom the spirit looked off to the sky. "See, my mom--nice lady they called 'Cicirella the Drinker of Bile and Other Bodily Fluids'--decided that if she were ever to have a kid, that it should have a simpler name." Tom wheeled his gaze back to Salvus and leaned over the man. "Right?"

Salvus stammered for a moment--he wasn't really sure what to say. Was this one of the spirit's tricks? "Y-yes. Or, right."

Tom leaned back. "Exactly, so she landed on 'Tom'. I quite like the name. Sounds a bit like the sound this canon should make."

A cold wind blew down between the trees, shaking golden leaves from their roosts. Salvus, shivering, hugged himself. "Listen, Tom," the cold had dulled his anger, or made it seem pointless, "stop yelling. I just want to wander in quiet."

"What a weird thing to want. You have all of eternity after you die to do that."

Salvus felt the cold dip down into his soul; his pupils tightened. "Sweet mercy, what in the hells does that mean?"

"Oh, nothing too severe--just the endless grey march beyond death...the silent wandering between the lean, pale creatures of the ever-gloom." Tom scratched his chest and nodded slowly. "Not too nice, if you ask me."

"That's horrible."

"Eh, it's not so bad--could be worse. Could be four in the morning."

Salvus shot shot his eyes up to Tom; the woods were growing more sinister. "What? What do you mean? What happens at four?"

Tom shrugged. "Birds'll start chirping. Ruins any good sleep."

Frowning, Salvus shut his eyes and massaged his temples. He was starting to doubt this spirit--this Tom--actually had any tricks up his sleeve at all. If anything, Tom just seemed rather spacey.

"Strange thing is, don't much hear birds the rest of the day. Just at four."

"Tom," trying not to lose his patience, Salvus looked up at the spirit, "please...please, just stop yelling."

"Can't"

Salvus flinched. "Why not?"

Sighing, Tom displayed his canon. "Sheila here is busted. She's supposed to be loud--nasty in all the best ways. Yet, she won't bark now. Won't even make a peep. So I must be loud for her. I'll ask you this: what kind of cannon can't bark?"

Scratching his chin, Salvus looked over the canon. Its metal was ancient, but immaculate--interwoven with veins of blue and orange jade. Arcane-infused plates hummed above its cylindrical body, tendrils of electricity tethering them to it. Its barrel had been molded into the face of hyena, though the years had worn down its features.

Realization--fascination--coursed through Salvus. "Bless me! This is no ordinary canon, Tom!"

The spirit's metallic eyebrows raised gleefully.

"This is a Hellmachian Marble-Thrower! They've not been used since the turn of the century!"

"You've seen one before?"

Salvus stepped closer; the cold seemed distant now. "Only illustrated in Evren Agrinya's History of the Grey!"

Displaying the weapon proudly, Tom laughed. "A great bit of reading, but does the old girl no justice. Kimber Graves put it better in her collection: 'A fiercer roar the world had never heard, nor a call or screech known since. Like bottled lightning set loose upon the land; like fire birthed in the maws of celestial ire.'" The spirit lowered the canon, allowing Salvus to touch it.

"You've read Graves?"

"Of course! Have the whole set in me."

"'In' you?"

Laying the canon on the ground, Tom reached up and opened a latch on his helmet. Under the metal was neither face nor skull, but a flaming door into an endless library, the shelves made from coal-like grey matter. "Not always so easy," said Tom, "collecting books when folks are scared you'll break down their houses. But, you look hard enough, you can find just about any book." Shutting his helm, Tom sighed. "But I've read em all twice and twice again--not a one has helped me fix Sheila."

Momentarily off-balanced by seeing the spirit's brain-library, Salvus shook his head and scrutinized the canon. "Have you taken it to an arcanurgist?"

"No. Likely can't either--not exactly many folk willing to speak with me."

Tom had said it with such ease, but something in the words made Salvus sad. He was silent for a moment, tilting his head up to the sky. Night was coming. The stars were peeking through the last of day--sprawling glimmers beyond the atmosphere. At last, Salvus nodded. "Let me take a look at...at Sheila...let me see what I can do."

"You're an arcanurgist?"

Salvus beamed. "I'm a little bit of everything, Tom."

Tom had drawn a great X in the ground. From it, he'd made a roaring fire. Sitting by it, Salvus felt the heat of summer, the comfort of spring. Tom the spirit and Salvus the man sat side by side, working late into the night. Salvus pulled little hammers and picks and holy censers from his pouches; bit by bit, he revitalized the canon. Watching the man work, Tom laughed and quoted from the books he'd read. He was loud--eager as a child--but sweet; his excitement was inspiring.

"-though I will say, Lady Nine-Tails's version's not nearly as neat."

"She was a warrior first, Tom. In all likelihood, she didn't even know how to write until much later in her life. But, that is precisely why her words are so potent--they are sincere. She was not a romantic--not a liar. She wrote what she had learned; what she had felt."

"Hm. Maybe. But is being sincere an excuse to write dully?"

Salvus thought for a moment and shrugged. "Perhaps not." The man looked up for a moment. Beyond the tips of Tom's helm, beyond the rustling trees, dawn was starting to bloom. The spirit seemed to notice too.

"Will you go when the sun is up?"

For a long while, Salvus was silent. At last, he nodded. "I plan to."

"I see. May I come?"

"Yes, Tom, I suppose you can."

Salvus remembered reading a book long ago--a tome he couldn't recall the name of. A single line in it stuck in his mind: 'And so they wandered over the wolds together, though they had not thought they'd do so.'

June 16, 2023 19:59

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1 comment

Marty B
04:57 Jun 23, 2023

Tom is an interesting character! I love his brain-library, and the fact that he is a purple and pink beast who loves to shoot a loud cannon! Very pertinent line for the Reedsy writers: that is precisely why her words are so potent--they are sincere. She was not a romantic--not a liar. She wrote what she had learned; what she had felt." Congrats on making the recommended list!

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