Genesis Scrolls Round 1: {Fool's Errand: Part 2}

Name/Pseudonym: {Quetzelcoatlia}

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### {Fool’s Errand, Part 2}

{

Mirror Grotto was a little observed wonder in the realm of Juwnedon-Wek on the south stormshores of the Order of Protection’s principal island. Very little was known about it, partly due to the wild remoteness of the region and partly due to the density and great variety of the demon population there, who deterred most travellers and ate the rest. The earliest historical account of the place is also the most detailed – a short passage in Phasros the Elder’s Vestigo, reading:

Of the so-called grotto of mirrors near Ninnolzhew, which may be the same wonder as the Knoll of Bones, it is said to be a demon-made construction taking the shape of a low hillock upon the landscape, the inside of which is lined with splendour and the outer with gore.”

Most later texts do not mention it at all, although there is mention made in an old song of that region which mentions “yon shyning hill of bones,” which likely refers to the place, there being no real hills or mountains in that region at all. It does not feature on the majority of maps, lacking the extraordinary usefulness of The Exalted Basin, or the tragic history of The Exalted Maple.

How Prince Leif Berranek had managed to make it there unscathed was anyone’s guess. His armour was mismatched and poorly made, his sword was dull, and yet he carried with him an astonishingly rare map from the library of the royal family, printed on demonskin. This map, strange to say, had been gifted to him personally by the very same royal personages who had seen fit to send him out into the world wearing dogskin gloves. It depicted the island in wonderful detail, accurately charting a number of regions that were thought to be entirely uncharted, among them Juwnedon-Wek, the realm of the Mirror Grotto. The map had been marked for him to show the reported locations of a number of Divine Relics - those rare and curious pieces of equipment that were sought by all those who sought power, and which granted their bearers strange, wonderful gifts.

Prince Leif stood just a few paces now from the Grotto, dressed in his strange garb and bejewelled crown. He consulted the demonskin map one last time. The wonder had been depicted as a low mound, and a small golden X had been painted on to indicate the presence there of a possible Divine Relic. In black ink above the mound was another tiny symbol – a six fingered hand, the mark used to denote the presence of a great demon.

Leif put the map away and looked the grotto. Phasros the Elder’s Vestigo and the map had both depicted the grotto as a sort of hillock, but both sources were ancient. The Mirror Grotto had grown since those days. It jutted up into the sky now like a giant skeletal thumb, pale against the pale sky. It had looked uniformly white from a distance, but now that he was closer Leif saw the innumerable bones and skulls and ossicles that had been picked clean and pressed into the walls of the structure. The bones near the bottom of the towering structure had bleached white in the sun, but those nearer the top were newer, and were dark with blood. Above, a magpie circled.

No demon came to tear him limb from limb as Leif approached: no challenge answered his tentative, questioning call. Still, it was with great trepidation that he entered the grotto, almost holding his breath as he stepped through a doorway that no living creature but the demon Rojin had passed through for centuries.

It was cool inside, and quite silent. The high walls reached up to an open circle of sky far above through which the light poured in, breaking itself on the way down into a thousand points of brilliance, for the walls of the grotto were lined with glittering treasures from the floor to the ceiling.

So kaleidoscopic and dazzling was this effect that it took some time for Leif’s eyes to adjust, and then with a racing heart he stepped further in and began to gaze around in search of something resembling a Divine Relic. Here, he began to have his first misgivings. On closer inspection, the items lining the walls did not appear to be treasures at all, but rather a large collection of carefully curated pieces of rubbish.

There was a pair of broken spectacles, with a crack across one of the lenses. There were innumerable pieces of magenta and turquoise coloured glass – the hues commonly used in that region for ale and rootwine bottles. There were shards of mirrors, and not only shards but entire hand mirrors, wall mirrors, and (Leif shuddered to see) hundreds upon hundreds of traditional handheld demonglasses. These relics were commonly carried by villagers and poorfolk, and consisted of a piece of smoked mirror set in a little embroidered frame at the end of a stick – it was believed that they warded off demons. They clearly had not warded off the demon Rojin, who had plucked these mirrors from the bodies of the villagers he had killed, and had been setting them in the walls of his grotto for centuries. The demonglasses nearer the bottom of the walls were quite ancient: their mirrors were hexagonal instead of circular, and the surface of the mirrors were engraved with words in the old language, a practice which had died out more than two hundred years ago.

Leif stood on tiptoe and craned his neck to get a better look at the items higher up. Beetle wings; tin foil; silverware; what looked like a great cracked lighthouse lens. And as Leif stared in growing dismay, a dark shadow fell across the entrance to the grotto.

There in the entranceway stood the great demon Rojin themselves, in the form of a giant magpie. This shape of theirs was so large that they could not even fit their head through the doorway of the grotto: instead they stooped and pressed their enormous eye against the entrance to peer in.

Leif, trembling from head to toe, drew his sword and promptly dropped it.

“Whoops,” he said.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here?” said the magpie. The demon’s enormous eye almost filled the entirety of the doorway. Leif backed himself up hastily against the furthest wall, and tried to think of something to say.

“I am Prince Leif,” he said at last, for it seemed as if the magpie really was awaiting an answer. “Prince Leif Berranek, of the royal house of the Order of Protection.”

“A prince!” The great eye scrutinised him in silence for a bit.

“I like your grotto,” said Leif, weakly.

“Do you?”

“Oh yes! Yes… there’s ever such a lot here, isn’t there? Gosh. And er, the decoration. Is it all… er… This sort of thing?”

“What sort of thing?”

“Bottles? Bits of glass and such?”

The eye at the entrance narrowed.

“Well!” said Leif, nervously. “It’s all marvellous, I must say. Jolly good stuff. Lovely bottles.”

“I collected it all myself,” said the demon Rojin.

“Goodness! Well! My word!” Leif cleared his throat awkwardly. “Is - is there anything more powerful here, perhaps? My map said there might be-“

“I have spec-a-tacles,” said Rojin modestly. “Many pairs. Human made.”

There was a pause.

“Do they – are they – do they have any sort of, er, powers?”

“Light catching,” said the magpie. “They catch the light. Look!”

Leif looked, dutifully. They did indeed catch the light rather nicely, but it was becoming evident that there were no divine relics to be found in this place. Rather, Leif had entered the lair of a demon that had been killing humans for centuries for their sparkly things, and he had entered it wearing an incredibly sparkly crown. He straightened it now, nervously, and watched the enormous demon eye track his movement, and remain fixed on the crown after he had put his hands down.

“Are there any more of those seeds left?” said the giant magpie, conversationally.

“P-pardon?”

The demon turned, and poked their enormous, sharp beak into the entrance of the grotto. The beak was long, but not quite so long that it could reach Leif, pressed as he was at the furthest end of the grotto, with a collection of cracked pince-nez digging into his back.

“DO YOU HAVE ANY MORE OF THOSE SEEDS LEFT?” the beak said, very loudly.

“Oh! Are – are you – the magpie from earlier?”

“Yes,” said the magpie from earlier.

“And,” Leif hesitated, thrown into sudden doubt. “You are the demon Rojin, are you?”

“Yes,” said the demon Rojin.

The beak was very alarming to look at, this close. It was as black and wicked as a flint’s edge. When it opened to speak (which was also alarming) it revealed a sharp looking tongue, as black as onyx.

“Those seeds,” the beak prompted.

“Oh! Yes! I have more,” said Leif. “Many more. An infinite supply. My amulet can make them.”

Rojin removed their beak and pressed their eye to the entrance again to have a good look at the amulet. Leif could see himself reflected in the great oil-dark eye. He looked very anxious. He tried to make himself look less anxious by putting one hand on his hip in a nonchalant manner, but the results were mixed.

“Did you say infinite?” asked Rojin.

“Yes,” said Leif. “Infinite.” And then, remembering the razer sharp beak, he added hastily – “but only I can operate it. Th-there’s a knack, you know. So, you wouldn’t want to kill me for it.”

“No,” said Rojin, rather vaguely. The eye was so large that it was hard to know whether it was staring at the crown, the amulet, or Leif himself.

“No,” said Leif, firmly.

“Give me one”, said Rojin. He thrust his beak back through the doorway.

Leif looked doubtfully at the beak. “Well… alright. I was just thinking, perhaps, if you did have an item of power around here, perhaps you might consider trading it for some seeds?”

The beak opened as much as it could in the low entranceway, which was not very far.

“Ahhh!” the beak said, expectantly.

Leif unclasped his amulet and rather gingerly placed one of the acorn-sized seeds into the open beak. The beak clacked shut and withdrew. There was a pause.

“W̵̠͉̽̈́̽H̷̢̘̳̪̯͌̎͋͘͝A̶̼͇̙̙̅͂͋̅͘͝͝T̵͚̪̮̱̠̬̝̑̌̑̒͗?̷̨̧̧͈̹̰̀͝?” roared the demon Rojin, in a voice like ragged thunder.

Leif eyed the open doorway in alarm, through which he could just see a pair of enormous black scaley bird legs, and the white feathered underbelly of Rojin. If he ran now – if he ran quickly and darted out of the way, perhaps he could escape – but before he could put this thought into action, Rojin had put their eye to the doorway once more. The eye looked annoyed.

“That was TINY. What a tiny little seed. Where are the big ones you gave me earlier?”

“Th-these are the same ones,” said Leif, faintly. “There’s only one kind. They’re from the royal tree.”

“WHAT?” cried Rojin. “Where are you hiding them? Where? Why? Give me one!”

“You were much smaller earlier,” offered Leif, timidly.

There was another, much longer pause.

“I know that,” said Rojin, haughtily. “I was much smaller earlier. Yes. I was in my smaller magpie form, wasn’t I? Yes.”

The monstrous form at the entranceway seemed to fold itself inwards somehow as if a drawstring were being pulled, and Rojin, in the form of a little magpie, hopped pertly into the grotto. Leif, who had come forward a little bit, shrank sharply back against the wall again.

“Give me another,” croaked Rojin. “It wasn’t as good when my beak was big. It tasted very small. I’ll have one in my small beak instead.” They opened their small beak, demonstratively.

Leif wondered whether he should put a seed into the beak, or whether that might be presumptuous.

“Wait,” said Rojin, and rose, and grew, and in a sudden was in human form, in their cloak of black and white feathers. Their eyes were very bright and very black, just as the magpie’s had been, but were far more expressive, and regarded Leif with much curiosity and interest. Leif, for his part, was quite speechless, having never seen a demon change forms before, and having not expected such a very human looking Rojin to approach him with hand outstretched.

Rojin’s face - their human-seeming face - was a remarkable one. They wore stripes of black and white facepaint, white beneath the eyes; black beneath the mouth. In their face there was a suggestion of immense pride and cruelty, but at the same time something confiding and very full of simplicity. The contrast was what struck Leif at that moment, as opposite as the black and the white feathers. The overall effect was unusually lovely, a very strange beauty – Leif opened his mouth to speak and could not think of a single word to say.

“I’ll try one in this form,” said Rojin. They were standing far too close. “Please.”

Wordlessly, Leif unclasped the golden locket, took out another seed and dropped it into Rojin’s open palm.

The demon tossed it into their mouth at once, and crunched it rapturously. “Wow,” they said. “Wow. Wow.”

“Good?”

“Good. Very good. Yes. The raiment, the gifting. So far, very much.”

Not knowing quite what to say to this, but observing that he did not appear to be under any immediate threat from the demon, Leif said – “about that trade…”

“There are more seeds?” said Rojin.

“Yes, of course.”

“More seeds for me?”

“Well,” faltered Leif, “If… if…”

“You are good,” said Rojin, nicely. “You are very nice.”

“Th -thank you,” said Prince Leif.

“Do you suppose,” said Rojin, “that I could have another seed?”

“Could I have a divine relic in exchange?” said Leif, bravely.

Rojin parsed this for a moment, then leaned in without any hesitation whatsoever and kissed him. It was a keen, thoughtless, fleeting kiss - all wildflowers - and it was the first time that anyone had ever kissed the crown prince Leif Berranek, although he was almost twenty eight years old.

“Oh,” said Leif.

Rojiin looked pleased. They looked at his dogskin gloves, and his patched boots, his glowing armour, his golden locket and his sparkling crown. They looked at his wide, pale eyes and his parted lips and his wheat-coloured hair. “Would you like another?” they asked.

Leif appeared to be struggling with how best to answer this question.

“That’s alright,” he said at last, with some effort. He gazed at Rojin, quite lost for words. At first, when the demon had come up so close to him, he had become as pale as death; but now the blood had rushed back to his cheeks. “The thing is… I was actually – I was looking for items of power, you see… there may have been a misunderstanding.”

“Items of power?” Rojin cocked his head to one side. “Afbrigði?”

“Pardon?”

“You’re talking about the calamities, aren’t you? Abrigði. Calamities. The singing swords and the burning cloaks? The little bits of talking jewellery?”

“Yes! said Leif, excitedly. “That’s them! Only, we call them Divine Relics!”

“What!” Rojin rather unexpectedly burst out laughing. “You call them the same word as a kiss! How funny you humans are! Ha! Ha! Ha! A kiss, I like that!”

“Oh,” said Leif, blushing again. “Well. We don’t exactly –“

“I understand,” said Rojin, serenely. “You like the calamities. You’d like some for the nest?”

“The nest?”

Rojin gestured around them at the grotto. Seeing Leif’s dumbfounded expression, they added hastily - “It’s not finished. It could go much higher than this. This is just for starters. Lots of room for Abrigði.”

Leif gazed around, distractedly. He looked rather flustered – his blush had not disappeared yet, and he spoke quickly and self consciously. “So there are none here? Well, that’s alright. I’m on a mission, is all. It isn’t going very well so far. I’m supposed to collect them up, as many as I can -they’re dangerous, you see. I’m not surprised you call them calamities in your tongue. Ha! Yes. I’m to send them back to the castle to be destroyed. It doesn’t matter that there aren’t any here though, after all. Hey ho! It was only a rumour. I thought that Dread Grasp might be here.”

“Never heard of it,” said Rojin.

“You’ve never heard of Dread Grasp? The gloves of protection?”

“Never.”

“What, you must have! Dread Grasp! From the song!”

“Not at all! What song?”

“Grasping the heart of forgetting,

Holding firm the threads of dream,

Gath’ring the stems of oblivion

Stitching closed the broken seam”

Leif paused, embarrassed. His voice, as clear as birdsong, rang out against the eyeglasses and the mirrors and the broken bottles.

“It’s about a pair of gloves,” he said shyly, rather aware that Rojin was staring.

“That is a human song, I think. Could I have another seed?”

Leif gave them one. The demon ate it very slowly and consideringly, looking at Leif all the while with their bright dark eyes. When they had finished it, they said,

“I accept.”

“You do?” said Leif. Then, “accept what?”

“The gift was good. Very good. I like the gifts very much. I like very much that there is an infinite supply of gifts,” said Rojin. “I liked the song very much also. Yes. The crown is precisely to my liking. I like you very much, prince.”

Leif looked at the demon gravely for a moment, as if he were unsure whether he were being teased or not. But seeing that Rojin’s expression was quite as serious as his own, he suddenly broke out smiling.

“Oh! I think I like you too, Rojin – you are not at all what I thought you would be. I am a great believer in destiny – I don’t know if demons believe in a thing like that, but – that is - it seems as if we were supposed to meet. I had a strange feeling when I first saw you. I almost felt as though I knew you; as if I had seen you before, in a dream perhaps.” He stopped, confused. Rojin looked at him inquisitively, but did not laugh.

“And you could help me collect Divine Relics? That’s the very thing I’ve set out to do!”

“There are no Abrigði here,” the demon said. “But if those are what you like, I shall help you get some. Yes! In return for your song and your gifts and your raiment. And then you’ll see how powerful Rojin is! A strong bird! A builder of tall nests!”

“Is that so?” murmured the Prince, a little nonsensically.

“You don’t have to decide now, of course,” Rojin said hastily. “Three moons is traditional. You can wait. You can see.”

“I see,” said the Prince. “And - after three moons?”

Rojin placed Leif’s hand into their own and laced their fingers together, six against five.

“We can marry!” }

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