Welcome to Sunday Scribbles!
This week the prompt is ‘Promise,’ so of course I wrote about magic and a quest!
Last orders had been called over an hour ago, but still I sat at the bar, nursing my fifth, honey flavoured, drink, and trying to thaw the chill in my bones. No matter how much I drank, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. The fiery woman who captured my heart over seven years ago. My choice of drink ‘Flaming Amber’ wasn’t helping matters.
I emptied my glass, and the thick liquid oozed down my throat. A local delicacy in this icy tundra, but, despite the warmth oozing from the glass onto my bare hands, it did little to thaw the chill inside me. I rubbed my left temple and gestured to the barkeep for another. He rolled his eyes but complied, replacing my empty glass with one full to the brim. ‘Have a double.’
I nodded my thanks and downed half of it. Seven years since the day I’d lost her, since I’d made the promise that dictated my existence, yet I remembered it like it were yesterday.
‘Let her go!’ I yelled, but my limbs refused to obey. ‘What did you do to me?’
The man, a scientist who’d loped into the village tavern earlier this evening, sneered. ‘A little concoction I brewed and baked into the cupcakes you all gobbled up. You’re paralysed, but for your lips. I do love a good banter.’ He curled his whip around Amber’s waist and drew her closer to a swirling crimson portal. ‘Don’t worry, it’ll wear off soon.’
It already was. Drunk with fear and woozy from the drugged cupcakes, I grit my teeth and forced myself to take a step towards them. I stumbled over a fallen villager and met Amber’s wide and teary eyes. I could move, but not enough. ‘I promise-‘
‘Please, don’t.’ She struggled to lift her palm, but the flames she usually brought to life with ease failed to ignite. ‘Don’t make promises you can’t keep.’
‘I’ll keep it, I promise. I’ll find you and save you!’
Her face as she was dragged into the portal, tears rolling down her cheeks, haunted me and kept me going, but the promise I’d made chilled my heart and slowed me down. I’d never stopped looking, but now that I’d finally found her? Rescuing her would be damned near impossible. I couldn’t keep my promise, and it was killing me.
I downed my drink and slammed the glass on the bar. ‘Another, barkeep.’
He glanced up from his communicator and shook his head. ‘I’m cuttin’ you off.’
‘You said I could have as many as I want!’
‘Yeah, well, things change. My ride’s here.’
‘Thought he’d abandoned you and was a big jerk?’
A smile lit up his face. ‘Apologised. Come on, I’ve got better things to do than mope in a bar all night.’
Ugh. Low blow. The door slid open and a sheepish man with mousy hair and brown eyes stepped in, holding a small box. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and handed the box to the barkeep.
‘Martian chocolates? These are nearly impossible to get hold of!’
‘Yeah, well. You’re worth it, okay?’
They kissed, and the chill that threatened to consume me thawed a little. They made me want to try again, because, dammit, she was worth it too. I stood and slammed my hands on the bar. ‘All right, I’m going. Have a nice night.’
I dumped a generous handful of coins beside my glass and swaggered to the door. No time for regrets. Time to be a hero.
I crept into the scientist’s lair the same way I’d entered earlier that day; Through a heavy oak door at the side of his mansion, along seemingly endless corridors, and down a spiral staircase. At the bottom, I shivered and tugged my coat around me as I squinted in the dimly lit corridor. An eerie mausoleum greeted me, with coffins set into alcoves in the marbled walls. The scientist’s family? Were they proud of him or turning in their graves? None of the coffins stirred, so I could only assume the former.
I blew into my chilled palms as the marble corridor gave way to a large cave, walls lined with bookshelves stretching towards the ceiling like trees towards the sun. If my quest weren’t so urgent I’d flick through a few of the dusty tomes, but I was already running on borrowed time. I drew my pistol and headed towards the far end of the library, where large tubes full of eerie red liquid leaned against the bookshelves in the corner.
There, suspended inside the third tube and not a day older than the day I’d lost her, was Amber. I pressed my forehead to the glass and let it rest there for a moment. She was just as beautiful as I remembered. I shook my head, no time to think, and ran my hands over the smooth glass. The tube wasn’t even scratched from the beating I’d attempted to give it earlier today, and no matter how hard I searched I couldn’t find a switch to open it.
‘You can’t save her.’
I spun around, and there he was. The scientist who’d haunted my nightmares for seven years. ‘Let her go.’
He approached the tube and placed a hand lovingly against the glass. ‘No can do, especially when I’m so close to achieving perfection.’
I raised my pistol and pointed it at him with shaking hands.
He laughed and pressed a button on his watch. ‘You think bullets will stop me?’
I emptied my magazine. A portal appeared in front of him, sending my bullets who knew where. I shoved my empty gun back into its holster as the portal faded and backed away into one of the bookshelves. My fingers scrabbled at a spine, and the dictionary I threw at him hit him square in the nose. He scowled and advanced. I reached for another book, but my fingers cracked and my fist turned to ice. I cursed and cradled it with my free hand.
‘Oh, so you’re one of them.’ The scientist placed his hands on his hips and smirked. ‘Studying an oath keeper will be most fascinating. I think I’ll let you freeze over here, so close to saving her, yet never able to. I like that.’
His eyes flicked behind me, to an unusual book. The tell I’d been waiting for. I exhaled a misty breath. I was done for regardless, the ice inched closer to my heart with every breath, but maybe, just maybe, I’d get Amber out alive. I gathered the last dregs of my energy and pressed the book. A hairline fracture appeared in my icy fist, but, with a whir and a click, the bookshelf slid open.
I pressed all the buttons on the revealed console, and the crimson water drained away. The glass lowered. I reached for her as she blinked open her eyes, but my heart seized, my body turned to ice, and I froze in place. Only my eyes remained, able to see everything but not able to act. Just like every cursed soul in the temple back home, a warning to those who considered breaking a promise.
My thoughts slowed to a crawl. I’d won. It’d cost me my life, but she was free. Searing flames engulfed the scientist, and Amber reached for me. I couldn’t make out the words, couldn’t hear, but I could read her lips. ‘You idiot, why’d you have to promise? Dammit.’ Her fists clenched by her side. ‘I forgive you, for not keeping your promise in time. Please let that be enough.’
She knew that, as an Oathkeeper, I’d had 7 years to keep my promise. I was one day late, and destined to freeze. Yet, my thoughts were clearing, and she wiped something wet from my cheek. The ice was melting. I blinked. She looked at me through her tears and smiled. And oh, it was worth it, every hardship, every moment of chill seeping into my soul, to see that smile again.
Flames flickered to life in her palms, and, slowly, she helped me thaw out. Her forgiveness had broken the curse of my species. In between the books and the scientist’s charred remains we embraced, and I reflected, as the chill receded, that perhaps I’d be more careful with my promises in future. Unless of course it came to her, because for her, I’d risk the consequences of another broken promise.
Thanks for reading!
The scientist’s lair is based on Hojo’s basement in Final Fantasy VII, and the rest is the crazy product of my brain: Imagine if you died if you failed to keep a promise: You’d be so careful about using the word!
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Next week? Another short story: Two in a row to make up for the tumble-weed once I start university again!