Relic Hunter

Submitted into Contest #124 in response to: Start your story with someone trying to read a map.... view prompt

33 comments

Fantasy Fiction

A fool steps into the unknown. An explorer finds their way back.

Vali considered herself the better of the two. 

She raised her map against the buffeting sands, grains rapping against the paper. Relics and scrolls shifted in her pack as she stumbled, the wind picking up. Vali covered her face with her arm, squinting at the dunes ahead, the piles of sand as tall as mountains. An endless desert. An orange sun set on the horizon.

Savour the sand that stings your face, Valianne, Xqoaix spoke. She would never escape his voice—as subtle as her thoughts. Let it be a reminder I still let you live.

“Alright,” Vali mumbled. She could hardly open her eyes against the incoming storm. “I can’t read my map in this. Bring me home, Xqoaix. I’ve got what I came for. Save the rest for another day.”

Power coursed through her. Her vision flashed blue, blinding, then settled as she appeared in her bedroom—the second floor of her shop. A gust of wind followed. Vali stepped out and descended the stairs, brushing loose sand from her shoulders.

Light footsteps tapped against the stone floors and approached her. 

“Hey, you were gone for a while,” Naomi said. The girl stood at the bottom of the stairs, broom in hand. She looked at Vali’s weather-beaten outfit and cocked her head. “Where’d you go?”

“Worlds and dimensions you’d never dream of.” Vali grabbed her satchel. The stairs creaked beneath her. She undid the latch and brought out an ancient calendar—written in a foreign alphabet. A cursed relic from the expedition.

Try your luck on the marked days, but fear where it cuts off.

She handed it to Naomi.

“I want this drawn by…” Vali looked to the window. Still dark. “By sunrise. We open at noon. Get to it, gutter rat. It’s what I’m paying you for.” Naomi nodded and scurried off. The thief didn’t make a sound as she ran.

Quite rude to her, Xqoaix said, aren’t you?

“She survived on the streets of Middknight, she can take a few names.”

Vali paced through the shop. The gutter rat had lit candles, dusted the shelves, and rearranged the remaining relics. A quiver that drew an endless supply of arrows from god knows where. Rings that’d eat your finger but provide knowledge. A cloak, purple and black, that would render its wearer quick and agile in the dark, heavy as stone in sunlight.

“Well,” Vali said, “let’s get to work.”

She cleaned the blood from her side sword and replaced the maps in her shoulder bag. She attached a shovel across her back, a canteen and a mattock to her belt. Naomi sat on the ground, sticks of graphite in hand—even now, the thief wouldn’t use a table. She looked up at Vali.

“Are you going out again?” 

“I’ll be back by noon,” Vali said. “We’re making a profit today.”

With maps drawn from Xqoaix’s visions, she set out. Her eyes flashed blue; her surroundings warped. She stepped foot in a graveyard, patches of teal grass concealing her boots. Statues of beings with tentacles for arms stood watch. Vali followed the map.

Humans and necromancy—if they understood it, they wouldn’t bury all the fun things.

She dug up a grave. A decaying body held a dusted book with skeletal fingers. Wrapped in chains, locked shut, hieroglyphs written down its spine. Dangerous work from unstable scholars—practises better left unread. It’d fetch a good price. Vali pried it from his hands and threw it in her satchel.

All great works require a touch of insanity.

Her vision flared blue. Onto the next world. 

Her boots kicked at rubble, a courtyard in ruins. Libraries torched to the ground. Buildings of stone left prey to the weather. The skies above a crimson red, no clouds in sight, monstrous birds patrolling. Vali stepped around century-old soldiers in plates of rusted armour. They crumbled at the touch.

My greatest regret, Valianne, is not being here to witness the ruination of this world.

Vali pushed open a door at a timeworn mansion—it broke with the slightest bit of pressure. She hacked her mattock at a safe, cracked it open, and grabbed a bottle of glowing champagne within. The drink would render one’s looks younger and mind older. It clinked against the book in her bag.

Take a sip. What’s the worst that could happen?

Another hour, another world.

An overgrown garden, verdant green, birds chirping on the trees. Clusters of flowers reached up to her waist. Vines conquered archways. Vali reached into a moss-covered fountain for a single gold coin, one face a reaper, the other a saint. Flip it before a decision to decide your luck.

This looks like a lovely place to lay down and die, explorer.

“It does,” Vali said. She yawned, stretching her arms out behind her. “Bring me home, Xqoaix. The gutter rat will panic if I leave the store to her.”

Back at the shop, Vali readied the shelves. She hesitated at the sight of a large boiling flask, thunder roaring within. Swirling dark clouds and streaks of lightning—a bottled storm contained by a mere cork. Vali snapped her fingers for the thief, who, as thieves do, appeared from nowhere.

“Have you drawn this one yet? I’d rather not sell it until it’s recorded.”

“No,” Naomi said, wiping her graphite-stained hands on a rag.

Vali took the bottled storm and handed it over. “Alright, be very careful, there are a dozen thundershowers contained in this one bottle. Make sure to hold it by the neck-”

Naomi grabbed it from the base. A shock ran through her system—she recoiled. The bottle dropped from her hands, shattering against the ground, shards of glass scattering under tables. Its contents dissipated. The sky outside darkened.

“Well, good going,” Vali said. “You just flooded the streets of Middknight.”

“I’m sorry, miss! I didn’t mean to, it was a mistake-”

“I’m sure our farms would love to hear that. The relic’s coming out of your pay, gutter rat. Go get a broom.”

Vali switched the sign on the door from closed to open. Rain pattered against the windows, sunlight vanishing. It’d disrupt sales. Yet, sure enough, a man walked through the doors and rang the bell. Another drawn to their fate by curiosity. He stood by a pair of laced shoes as Vali approached.

“How much for these?” he asked.

“These?” Vali looked at the shoes. Flawless leather with ancient patterns engraved onto the side. Run as fast as you want, but too fast and you’ll go blind. “Good shoes, these. I’ll take fifty silver for them.” 

The man shook on it. No refunds.

The next customer asked about a lantern, which only burnt when held. It draws upon your soul, draining you of life as it lights your path. Twenty-five silver. Naomi—still learning to count—took her time to give the man change. The bell rang above the door.

A woman gazed at a crystal pendant laid out on the table. Find twice your luck in wealth, deal with unrelenting stress. A town guard complained about the sudden rain, then pointed to a gleaming chest plate. Forever polished and clean, but never be able to take it off. An old man with a walking cane stopped at a mummified hand. Xqoaix laughed. Not even I know what that one does, Valianne. Sell it.

By the time Vali closed the shop, her pockets were full. A handful of relics gone. It wouldn’t be long until she’d have to move shop again to avoid complaints. She snapped her fingers for the thief. Naomi didn’t appear.

“Gutter rat,” Vali called. She stepped around the tables in search of her. “Good work today. I heard you count past thirty. A breakthrough. Now grab a broom and-”

Naomi laid against the wall, head lolled down to her neck, quiet breathing as she slept. True to her upbringing—sleeping anywhere. “To think,” Vali whispered, kneeling to pick her up, “I bought you a bedroll.”

She weighed less than a feather. Vali brought her to her bed, laid her down, and extinguished the candle. Rain tapped against the roof. Thunder boomed, shaking the windows. Naomi trembled. Vali pulled the covers over her, then retreated to her desk. 

Where did you find such a girl? Her art is extraordinary for a child of the streets.

“She came in thinking I ran a pawnshop.” Vali counted her profits, picking up a quill to write them down. “She wanted to sell her art supplies. I promised her more silver than she could imagine if I could judge her drawings. Some food and I quickly gained her trust.”

If only gods could bond over bread like mortals do.

“Miss your kind?” Her quill scratched against paper.

My ‘kind’ has outcast me. Why else would I turn my attention to you? You’re looking to create chaos instead of only studying it. I’ll see how far you can be pushed until I move on.

“Oh, I’m just making a living. The fools that walk in are the ones buying into it.” Vali smiled. “Good thing you’re immortal, Xqoaix, because I’m not giving in any time soon.”

December 15, 2021 16:15

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33 comments

Sarah Simpson
15:36 Dec 17, 2021

Hi Alex, great job on another incredible story! Once again, your imagery is wonderful. You did a great job making sure each world that Vali travelled to was described perfectly and succinctly. I particularly liked the bit about the bottled thunderstorms. That was imaginative, playful, and fun. I would love to read an entire story about the customer who bought the cursed lamp. If Xqoaix is a god who wants to create chaos instead of just studying it, I’m wondering if maybe his dialogue should be a bit more chaotic and evil. There’s are part...

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Alex Sultan
08:56 Dec 18, 2021

Thank you, Sarah. This is great feedback. You really know your stuff about fantasy stories, I'm guessing. I've made some small changes to Xqoaix's dialogue based on your comments and I agree 100% with what you've written(Especially on the mummified hand, that piece of Xqoaix's dialogue already felt off to me. I'm really glad you pointed it out) It is nice to hear you liked the bottled storm and the cursed lantern - I had fun coming up with them. Your comment is really kind. I appreciate you taking the time to write such helpful feedback :)

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Sarah Simpson
18:01 Dec 18, 2021

I am dying to know if Vali was the girl who sold Aluin the book that turned him into a monster. Also, is Highway Robbery a part of your Middknight series? Is Vaux one of the bandits that escaped Aluin’s attack?

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Alex Sultan
20:08 Dec 18, 2021

It's so cool to hear you're interested! Vali was the one who sold Aluin the book. I'm glad I could connect the two stories together. As for Vaux, he's unfortunately not a part of Middknight(The tech in his world is more advanced - early gunpowder, where Middknight is a lot more true to medieval)

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04:53 Dec 20, 2021

Hey Alex, this is such a cool story. I just love the imagination involved in all the different worlds, and especially how each relic is seemingly innocuous but has a hidden drawback. The imagery in the first few paragraphs was so vivid - took me straight to Tatooine! Will be looking out for your work each week for sure. :)

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Alex Sultan
05:05 Dec 22, 2021

Thank you, Shuvayon. Stories like these are my favourite to write - I always find myself happy with them when I'm done, win or loss. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment. I'm glad to have you along.

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Zaara Rajaji
03:04 Dec 20, 2021

Your story is extremely intriguing. Your descriptions are vivid and detailed, I really enjoyed this story!

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Alex Sultan
05:05 Dec 22, 2021

Thanks, Zaara. I like this one a lot. I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

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Alex Sultan
16:25 Dec 15, 2021

My fourth story about Middknight(Middknight's Cavalry, Soul Reaving, and Moonlight Voyage being the other three) - I had a lot of fun writing this one. It'll be my favourite for a while

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Kevin Marlow
00:54 Dec 16, 2021

Wonderfully imaginative, I'm so glad all the relics were cursed; a great reminder that everything comes at a cost.

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Alex Sultan
04:44 Dec 17, 2021

Thanks, Kevin. I had fun coming up with all the relics(I had a lot more written down in my notes, but could only include so many) I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and thanks as always for the kind words.

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17:44 Dec 26, 2021

Hi Alex, another cool concept from you! I love the idea of the shop and the down side of the purchases. Have you read or watched Needful Things? I think you might enjoy it. It's too late for line by line, but I didn't spot much anyway, this is pretty polished already. Great read. Thanks for posting.

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Alex Sultan
19:22 Dec 27, 2021

Thank you, friend. I had a lot of fun writing this one. I came up with a lot more than what I got into the 1500 words here. I haven't seen Needful Things, but I'll read it - I looked it up and it sounds very similar to this story. I really like this story and I'm glad you could read through it.

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Annalisa D.
02:51 Dec 19, 2021

Great story! I really enjoyed the concept and all the different items in the shop. I really liked the secret things to them the buyers didn't know. This was a fun story and I really liked reading it.

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Alex Sultan
05:06 Dec 22, 2021

Thanks, friend. I came up with so many of these relics - a lot didn't make it into this story. I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Annalisa D.
05:30 Dec 22, 2021

You'll have some for future stories

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Delia Tomkus
12:13 Dec 17, 2021

Ooh I love this! Not quite a cliffhanger(thank you), but enough to keep me wondering. Great job!

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Alex Sultan
08:49 Dec 18, 2021

Thanks, Delia. I like this story a lot. I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

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Alyissa Austin
06:35 Dec 17, 2021

I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t envious of your talent. I could read a whole series about the adventures of this shop.

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Alex Sultan
08:49 Dec 18, 2021

Thanks, Alyissa! I could definitely see a book about Vali, Naomi, and Xqoaix - there's a lot more of this shop and these characters to write about. Thanks for reading :)

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Tommie Michele
05:59 Dec 17, 2021

I love this story, Alex! One line really stood out to me when I read it--not sure why, but I loved this one in particular: "She would never escape his voice—as subtle as her thoughts" Something about the way it sounds just pulls me in. I wanted to let you know that I likely won't have time to write another short story in the next few weeks--but I will keep up on reading yours :). I love your Middknight stories and I think this might take the cake for my new favorite of yours--the way you described the relics, with seemingly insignificant ...

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Alex Sultan
08:51 Dec 18, 2021

Thanks, friend. I'm glad you like this one - it's my new favourite as well. I went overboard coming up with up relics and still have a lot more I didn't use(Same goes for dialogue. I wanted to keep the story short) I hope all is alright! I'm looking forward to your next story, whenever it comes out.

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Jon Casper
19:45 Dec 15, 2021

Alex- Great story. I loved all the imaginative consequences to the use of the relics. The characters are intriguing, and Vali's dialogue with Xqoaix is superb. (How does one pronounce that name, by the way? Ex-quo-aix?) On first read-through, I did not happen across any line notes to speak of. I'll give it a second read this evening. Pure reading enjoyment. Great work!

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Alex Sultan
20:13 Dec 15, 2021

Thanks, Jon - I saw you posted a two-part story this week. I'm looking forward to reading through them. You got the pronunciation right. I have it different in my head(Xoh-quai-ix, but the way you wrote it makes a lot more sense) The dialogue between him and Vali was my favourite part to write - I wrote a lot more lines for him that I didn't get to use! I'm glad you enjoyed reading through this one.

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Jon Casper
23:09 Dec 15, 2021

OK I've done a closer read. Having taken literally no issue with a single line, I will simply detail the things that I enjoyed! Solid opening. Loved the description of the sandstorm. Good sensory detail. //She would never escape his voice—as subtle as her thoughts. I love this depiction. Captures so much in so few words. //mattock I learned a new word today -- thanks! //With maps drawn with Xqoaix’s visions Would "from Xqoaix's visions" work better, since the sentence begins with "with"? //Dangerous work from unstable scholars—practise...

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Alex Sultan
05:01 Dec 17, 2021

Thanks again, Jon. I think this story is my new favourite on my profile. I really enjoyed writing the three characters, and I'm glad you liked them. The bottled storm part might be my favourite scene in this as well. I appreciate the kind words. /With maps drawn with Xqoaix’s visions Would "from Xqoaix's visions" work better, since the sentence begins with "with"? -good catch. I didn't notice the repetition here on my read through

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Sharon Harris
18:22 Dec 15, 2021

I was completely taken away with this 😀 I love the pace and the worlds, also the inner voice which flows naturally. Really intriguing.

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Alex Sultan
20:22 Dec 15, 2021

Thanks, Sharon. I really enjoyed writing this one - planning everything out, the dialogue and relics, was a lot of fun. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Bruce Friedman
17:02 Dec 15, 2021

Great story, Alex. I am beginning to understand most of what you write. It obviously takes me to another place. I was struck by your use of the word I’d. Assume a contraction of “I would.”

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Alex Sultan
20:23 Dec 15, 2021

Thanks, Bruce. Your comments are always appreciated. I'm glad you liked the story - I'm looking forward to reading over your latest one.

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Bruce Friedman
17:02 Dec 15, 2021

Great story, Alex. I am beginning to understand most of what you write. It obviously takes me to another place. I was struck by your use of the word I’d. Assume a contraction of “I would.”

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Dustin Gillham
20:35 Dec 22, 2021

Hello amazing writers. My name is Dustin and I am wanting to start a small writing circle where we are able to really critique and focus on one another’s work for the week. I’ve sent six invitations to various individuals but we can certainly add more if you like. This is just a general invite to see if any of you are interested. Please post a comment on my latest feed if you this is something you’d like to do and I will give you details on the structure and meeting times. Since it’s the holidays I thought we’d start in January.

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Mohamed Sarfan
14:28 Dec 24, 2021

It's Valuable Content. All The Best My Dear Friend; Write More Congratulations

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