The Eighth Vile Vermin

Submitted into Contest #209 in response to: Write a story about someone going on a life-changing journey.... view prompt

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Fantasy Mystery Adventure

Elara stood in the ornate chamber of the Tyrian Library, her heart pounding with a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation. The flickering candlelight cast dancing shadows on the walls, illuminating the rows upon rows of ancient tomes and scrolls that lined the shelves. She took a deep breath, her green eyes fixed on the imposing figure seated at the head of the long wooden table.

Before the young hare archivist sat the Lord Head Cleric: a venerable badger named Lord Thorne, flanked by his council of esteemed scholars. His fur was a mix of grizzled gray and white, a testament to his years of dedicated service to the pursuit of knowledge and to the God of Justice, Tyr.ย 

The other council members - a diverse group of creatures from different species - regarded Elara with a mixture of curiosity and scrutiny.

"Elara," Lord Thorne's deep voice rumbled, breaking the silence that hung in the air. "You are no doubt aware of the significance of the task that lies before us."

Elara nodded, her long hare ears perked up in eager attentiveness. She had heard whispers and rumors circulating within the hallowed halls of the library, hinting at an important mission that was about to be assigned. Her heart raced as she waited for Lord Thorne to reveal the details.

"The time has come for the Tyrian Library to embark on a journey of great importance," Lord Thorne continued, his eyes meeting Elara's with a solemn intensity. "An expedition to uncover the lost relics of our ancient civilization, buried deep within the uncharted lands that form the basis of our culture."

โ€œI accept!โ€ Elara chirped, bouncing on her honed hare legs. She then stopped, suddenly realizing who she was in the presence of.

She still had a bit of her father - the High Jester of the last Archjusticiar - in her.

The council smirked in unison.ย 

One of the older members, a field mouse with long lipfur, leaned over the table and leered at her.

โ€œDo you recall what your thesis was on, young one?โ€ He creaked.

Elaraโ€™s response was on the tip of her quick tongue. โ€œYes Member Northsnow: An exegesis on the Seven Vile Vermin: Specifically the first one: The Vermin of Greed, Prince John of the Lions.โ€

There was a muttering among the Council. โ€˜Prince Johnโ€™ was considered very vile.

...Very vile indeed.

Northsnow was unimpressed and held up his hand. โ€œThat is all well and good, but-โ€

โ€œ-But none of the others have been confirmed?โ€ Elara interrupted.

That stopped the council cold. Elara knew at that moment that she and her fellow archivists had been kept in the dark until that moment. Normalcreatures had been completely convinced without evidence, but Elara and her fellow archivists had nothing but stories... Northsnow cleared his ancient throat.

โ€œMay I continue?โ€ He asked with authority, his voice echoing around the dark and cavernous room.

Elara bowed her head and folded her ears back submissively.

โ€œAs I was saying, that is all well and good, but... We wish for you... No, we order you - in the name of Tyr - to investigate the eighth Vile Vermin.โ€

Elara stood up and adjusted the little glasses on her snout. โ€œThe... the Eighth Vile Vermin, sir?โ€

Forget numbers two through seven - including the horrifying Savareth: The so-called ferret 'God of Torture' - Every time Elara mentioned the possibility of an eighth Vile Vermin, she was met with eye-rolls and scoffs, even from her most liberal-minded associates.

This time, it was Lord Thorne who spoke up. โ€œDo you question the council, Elara Greenshield?โ€

โ€œN-no, my lord!โ€ Elara said. The acceptance of her thesis depended on his good graces.

โ€œGood,โ€ the badger warlord said, stamping a hitherto-unseen form. โ€œIn one month you will be sent on an expedition to the site of Rosehearth.โ€

Elara nearly jumped out of her furry skin. โ€œOh, thank you my lord! Thank you!โ€

There were some congratulations and a post-expedition social gathering. Lord Thorne was there, but Northsnow was absent. The drinks were the finest the New Nottingham archives could afford. The conversation was light, and when Elara returned to the dormitories in the middle floors of the huge Tyrian library, she was lightheaded.

It was a high honor to go on the โ€˜questโ€™ - the expedition - to the ancient ruins of Rosehearth. When she met with her other doctoral coworkers, she beguiled them with descriptions of the Council room, and then retired to her room.

Elara smiled at Rumblebirch, her less-than-studious roommate, and threw her cape on her bed.

โ€œMissed you at the little gala we had,โ€ the hare said, still sailing high on the idea of the expedition.

Rumblebirch - the badger daughter of Lord Thorne himself - hung her head in shame. Elara quickly wrapped her arms around her friend.

โ€œOh no, I didnโ€™t mean that,โ€ she said. โ€œIf you have to study, you have to study.โ€

Rumblebirch shuddered, a few tears escaping her strong badger eyes. Elara smirked. Not everyone could be as clever as a hare.

โ€œYouโ€™ll figure it out, Rum,โ€ Elara said. โ€œLet me know if you need assistance.โ€

The sky outside was dark, and Elara had a few weeks to prepare. The hare scooped her ears behind her head and lay on her comfortable bed.

โ€œElara, Iโ€™m having some trouble. Could you help-?โ€

โ€œGood night Rum!โ€ Elara chirped happily.

The alcohol from the council party was still swirling in the young hareโ€™s head. The dots and figures behind Elaraโ€™s head spun and spun. She could feel herself twisting and twisting.

Hello, a voice behind Elara's own eyes said.

Elaraโ€™s ears twitched.

I see you. I see you.

Elara spun and spun and spun. The bricks in the dormitory felt like air. Elara blinked and steadied herself. The drinks from the council were apparently much, much stronger than she anticipated. Even as she opened her eyes, the room was still spinning. The young hare held her turning stomach and focused on the other side of the room where her dear badger friend was collapsed over the easy homework from last night.

โ€œRum?โ€ She said, trying to steady herself. โ€œRumblebirch?โ€

Twisting the badgerโ€™s head, Elara saw a hole where her friendโ€™s face should have been. Instead of being afraid, however, Elara peered deeper into it.

Two violet dots peered back.

I see you, a voice whispered.

SNAP.

Elara awoke, staring a hole into the stone roof of her dormitory. Gulping she looked over to the desk on the other side of the room. There, the hulking back of her friend was still hunched over last nightโ€™s homework.

It had to be a dream.

It had to be a dream.

It had to be a dream.

One arm over the side of her bed, eyes focused.

It had to be a dream.

It had to be a dream.

Carefully, the hare nestled her paw over her badger friendโ€™s head and rolled it over. She breathed a sigh of relief and saw the dunceโ€™s face drooling over the parchment.

Elara scoffed, smirked, shook her head, and began to pack. She only had a couple weeks to choose the most important hundred pounds of gear in her career.

The next day, Rumblebirch had asked for a different roommate and Elara didnโ€™t contest it. The next week, Elara had whittled down her most important gear to two hundred pounds. By the night before her voyage, she was down to a choice between two tomes.

As she ran to the pier next to the Temple of Tyr in New Nottingham, Elaraโ€™s extended family was gathered, waving her goodbye. Her fluffy tail twitched in pride as she turned and jumped for them all, wishing them all the luck of the God of Justice.

All at once it hit the young hare: She was leaving her family behind. Her throat rose in her neck as her huge family crowded the pier and wished her a happy voyage. Elara stopped herself from being too hasty, however, and simply waved goodbye from the prow of the research galleon as it pulled away from port.

The otter captain clapped her on the shoulder as voles and mice hauled in ropes behind.

โ€œLost continent, eh?โ€ He said in his swarthy sea-honed accent.

Elara nodded, then gazed Northward.

โ€œAye, a little storm. โ€˜Tis nothinโ€™ to worry โ€˜bout.โ€

Elara didnโ€™t respond and instead retreated to her cabin - paid for by her family - to keep notes while the cold northern air tilted in.ย 

When she drifted to sleep, she dreamt of Rumblebirch again, this time surrounded by her family. She turned in her sleep instead of looking at their non-existent faces.ย 

Her body involuntarily shuddered as the ship headed into the storm.

August 05, 2023 02:11

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2 comments

M B
02:28 Aug 05, 2023

I don't think she's going to be the same after this expedition is over.

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Perhaps she was insane before this expedition: and afterward she will be able to see the world as it truly is ;) Perhaps she will be the only sane one in the whole world after the revelations from her trip... ...On the other hand, perhaps she will go insane from sanity: โ€œNo live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.โ€ โ€” Shirley Jackson, 'Hill House'

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