This is the first part of a 5 part novella I’ve written to be part of a Fantasy compilation that takes place in the same setting as The Anvil, The Hammer, and The Sword; it is meant to give more life to the world and flesh things out a bit more and will contain about ten short stories and this novella. I’m presenting “Tiamat’s Game” in five parts–primarily because it isn’t finished, lol–here because I want to. 😀
These writings were discovered in the abandoned and ruined temple of Kalik af Nora. Years after the fall of the Empire and the death of Queen Shadow, one of the rulers of divided An’Kai sent an expeditionary team into the temple to see if they could find anything of value or anything that would help win the war against the other territories in the torn Kingdom. Among other things, the following testament was discovered.
* * * * *
I’ve decided to keep a journal. There seem to be some strange things going on, and I want a record of it. But I should come back to that. See, we’ve been here for two weeks now, and if I’d known the strange things that were going to happen—or if I’d known how long we were going to be here —I would have started this diary as soon as we arrived. But I knew neither of these things. I still know very little. Maybe someone will one day discover this journal and will understand better than I what is happening.
There are five of us on this island. None of us have any idea how we came to be here, and we had no knowledge of each other prior to our arrival. We’ve guessed that we were on a ship that was caught in a storm. The ship must have been destroyed, and we must have been the only passengers to wash up on the shore of this wretched isle. We must have nearly died ourselves, and we must have suffered serious injuries to our heads—as none of us remember being on a ship or why we would have been—though no marks remain to indicate this; it is speculation only. We must have, because we have no other idea how… this came to be.
I wonder if the elf is keeping a record of events—I hope so. The elf could describe the island much better than I can. But let me circle back to that, because I should start with the five of us. I am called Gandis, and I am a human who lives on the continent southwest of Inrabis [Editor’s Note: Isle of Myrar has not been considered a “continent” since the Second Age, indicating that this diary is from some time between 14,000 years ago and 8,000 years ago]. I’ve lived there my entire life, outside a village called Gahenna [Editor’s Note: The town of Gahenna was destroyed by the Storm in 14316 Grand Count but was located southwest of Lhosa on the eastern edge of the Verdan Woods.].
Like I said—I can’t imagine what in the Nine Hells I was doing on a ship.
Anyway, there is an elf. Her name is Arieiiiiieninililenienillen or some such nonsense. We call her “Arie” because we have no idea what her name really is. It’s just a stream of vowels, the letter “l,” and the letter “n.” None of us understand it when she says it. She’s sweet and kind, but she’s obviously very young—for an elf, I mean. Or so they say—by the gods, until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even believe that elves were real!
I didn’t believe that dwarves were real, either, for that matter. And there’s one of those, too. A grumpy little bastard whose name is as jumbled and confusing as the elf’s. I call the dwarf “Brick” because, just like with the elf, I have no idea what is really coming out of his mouth when he says his name. Instead of vowels, the letter “l,” and the letter “n,” though, the dwarf’s is a mess of the letter “k.” Might as well call him Brickikikikik. That’s what it sounds like. The best part is hearing the dwarf try to say Arie’s full name. It’s hilarious—and funny moments are priceless in this abominable place, because they are so rare.
And, the gods help us, there is a gnome. There is a tribe of gnomes (Do gnomes live in tribes?) [Editor’s Note: No, they don’t.] in the forest near Gahenna, so I’ve seen gnomes before. The ones near Gahenna are really shy, though, and I’ve never talked with one. This little bastard on the island with us, though—he’s anti-shy as they come. His name is Savin, so it’s pretty straightforward and none of us have a problem with it. The problem with him is that the tries to spit out as many words as possible as fast as possible, whether they make sense or not.
Luckily for me, there’s a human woman here, too. Well, it’s not really “lucky” for me, because she’s younger than I am and not very friendly in the first place. I guess I can’t blame her—none of us are friendly. Her name is Lucrecia, and she says she’s from a place called An’Kai, but I’ve never heard of it. She’s a warrior, too, and a damned good one.
We all have one skill or another. I’m a miner and the only real woodsman here, so I’m basically responsible for hunting, foraging, and building shelter. I wish I could be more useful, but I don’t even have a weapon. I’ve got my pick and my axe (none of us can account for how in the world we managed to arrive here with some possessions), but the pick certainly isn’t any use in fighting. The axe is meant for chopping trees—it can be used in a pinch, but I’m better off running.
The gnome calls himself Savin the Sorcerer, but he seems a trickster to me. He’s lit a few fires for us and done some other useful things, but all of them can be explained by prestidigitation, like the people do in the carnivals that come to Gahenna each year. My grandparents told us the story of how the gods banned magic and made it impossible to do [Editor’s Note: After considerable research, it is a mystery as to what Gandis is referencing.], but Savin says he can still use magic.
The dwarf, like Lucrecia, is a natural warrior, and he has a much better axe than I do. His is a battle-axe. Mine is a wood-cutting axe. Brick, though, has offered a few times to let me use his axe to go about my work, but he only said that because he wants me to sharpen his axe for him. Even if I wouldn’t have to sharpen his axe after using it, though, the thing is still too large to be useful to me.
Arie calls herself a “bard” and I reckon she’s a pretty good storyteller. But she does it constantly—getting her to shut up is a magic spell in and of itself. I’ve got to admit, though, that her stories and poems are really inspiring. When she starts reciting, I feel a surge of energy, like I can do anything. She’s not bad with a bow or sword herself, but I had to make her a bow (and some arrows) since she didn’t already have one.
Well, now that I’ve got that out of the way, I should tell you about the island we’re on. It’s small. It’s damned small, and that’s its defining characteristic. If it weren’t for the trees, you could stand on the beach on one side of the island and easily see the beach on the other side. It’s about a mile across one direction and about half that in the other direction. In the center is a wooded area and a cave—that cave!
That damned cave is the source of all our problems. We can’t explore it because it’s just too damned dangerous. I can stand at the entrance, just outside of it, and look in—dozens of red, glowing eyes stare back at me, and an orchestra of growls resonates from within. There are all manner of beasts in there, and while they should be attacking and killing one another, they’re not. For some reason, they are living together peacefully, crammed into that cave, and they wait. They just sit there and wait—for the sun to set.
We constantly must hide, and that’s where I come in. I have to dig us new hiding places every day, usually in a new location after destroying the previous one. It’s a pain in the ass and it takes all day, but by the time the sun is getting ready to set, I’ve got the night’s shelter dug. Don’t get me wrong—the others help. But they have to use wooden and stone tools that we made, and those break easily.
There seems to be no end to the island’s game—just as there is no end to the island’s beasts. Arie has killed a rabbit or deer every single day since I made her a bow, and we have yet to exhaust the supply of edible varmints. Arie fishes, too, so food is the only problem we don’t have. There’s also no end to the island’s surprises, but I’ll have to get into that tomorrow. I’ve got to go to sleep now. Tomorrow will be a long day—tomorrow is always a long day.
It’s not really Day 2. I don’t know what day it is. Arie says we’ve been here two weeks and three days, but Brick says we’ve been here more than a month. Savin says it couldn’t be more than three weeks. Lucrecia says they’re all wrong: we’ve been here forever. I said I’d get into some of the island’s other surprises, so I guess I’m going to do that now…
Lucrecia says we’ve died. She doesn’t mean that we’ve died and this is the afterlife. She says that we have all died at one point or another, and that we reappear and wake the next day on the shore of the island, having all of our memories erased. She says she is the only one who remembers this, possibly because she’s the only one who hasn’t died. She says that we’ve been on the island for at least a year and that we all—except her—have died several times, each time waking on the shore with no recollection of what has happened.
But I only remember the past two weeks. I tend to agree with Arie that we’ve been here two weeks and three days (though I would have said two weeks and one day). But if Lucrecia is right, that means Arie and I have both went through this “death and resurrection” thing more recently than Brick or Savin (since Lucrecia hasn’t gone through it at all), and neither the dwarf nor the gnome have any recollection of me or Arie dying. Lucrecia says that she remembers and that the other two must not remember because they, too, have died on the island.
Really, I think Lucrecia is mad. Being stranded on a tiny island will do that to a person. She does have some kind of explanation why she alone remembers our deaths, but what she said really doesn’t seem likely. How could we die and not remember it? How could one of our fellows die and we not remember it? That’s why I’m keeping this journal. No matter what happens, these words will remain, and we can figure out what is going on.
I woke up on the shore of an island exactly two weeks ago accompanied by people I’ve never seen before and with no idea how or why I came to be on the isle. It was lucky I was there, though, because I’m a miner and I have a pickaxe, so I’m the only person really capable of digging out a shelter for us. And a shelter is needed. By the gods, is a shelter needed when night falls! Horrible, enormous, and ravenous beasts roam the island at night, and they are, the elf says, only interested in us. They pay no attention to the deer or rabbits—or to each other.
There are five of us—an elf, a dwarf, a gnome, another human, and myself. But I’m not going to bother going into detail about us all, because… I just found a book buried beneath a tree. It was apparently intended to be a spellbook by the look of it. It probably belonged to the gnome. But finding it curious (to say the least!) to dig up a book beneath a tree on a desert island, I opened it up to see what it was.
This book has my writing in it. It has two entries, one marked Day 1 and one marked Day 2. The date on these passages says that I wrote them fifteen days ago. But I’ve only been here fourteen days! I know this for a fact! I’ve been keeping track of each day as it passes by making a notch in a specific tree near the shore and I carved into it the fourteenth notch this morning.
Lucrecia says I died. She says I died during the night on Day 2, that I went out to relieve myself and was devoured by the monsters. She says that this day, today, is actually Day 16—so I’ve put “Day 16” here. She says we die with alarming regularity and we never remember it. Nor do we ever remember our previous “life” on this island when we resurrect the next morning. We also, apparently, don’t remember when someone else dies. If Savin dies, I apparently would not remember his death. He would die and resurrect on the shore, and I would go about the day as though nothing had happened. Lucrecia says she remembers all of this because she has yet to die.
I see that on previous pages I thought she was mad. I’m having a hard time telling myself that now. I can’t dispute my own handwriting. I was clearly here fifteen days ago, though I have no recollection of it at all. What is going on here?
Arie speculates that we are in the Nine Hells. She might be right. Arie’s people tell a story about an elf (named Hababababakis or something—I have no idea what she said) who angered the gods by stealing fire from them and bringing it to the world as a gift to mortals. The gods were furious, because it diminished the mortals’ need of the gods, so the gods caught and imprisoned the man. They tortured and killed him every day and he always woke the next morning. Arie says this is pretty much what is happening to us.
I don’t know.
Arie is dead.
I hope that Lucrecia is correct and that Arie will be alive and well the next morning, because it really tore me apart to see Arie die. Especially because it was… mostly my fault. I had to get some more wood and I couldn’t collect it near our camp for the night, because that would have told the abominations where we were. Arie volunteered to accompany me because… Well, let’s face it. I’m worthless. If something attacks me, the best I can hope to do is not accidentally kill myself while running away. And there are plenty of hostile things on this island, while not all of them come out only at night.
I was chopping down a tree when it happened. A thick vine whipped against my back, tearing through my shirt and ripping into my skin. Arie screamed. A second cord wrapped around my ankle and tripped me. My axe was thankfully embedded in the tree, so accidentally chopping my own head off wasn’t possible. The vine wrapped around my ankle hoisted me into the air while Arie fired arrows at it, but the vine was too swift and nimble.
Arie drew her shortsword and came to rescue me. That was when the rest of the monstrous plant revealed itself. It ripped up from the ground, sending dirt, leaves, and rocks exploding in every direction. Shaped similarly to a pinecone, the damned thing was twice as tall as I am and as wide as I am tall. It had several vines as arms, and it had some control over its roots and could use them as legs. I’ve never seen anything like it. Worse, it had eyes. Two huge, black eyes, and a gigantic mouth filled with razor sharp teeth, each of which was as big as any of my fingers.
Arie slashed the vine that held me, but because of its whipping around, she had to get close enough to the plant monster to strike at the place where the vine connected to the rest of its body. Her sword cut through the appendage, but it cost her life . I fell several feet to the ground and ran as fast as I could to go get Lucrecia, Savin, and Brick—they could help, and the only thing I could do for Arie was get help. By the time the four of us returned, the plant had gone back underground and only Arie’s arm remained on the ground, still clenching her sword.
Lucrecia says I shouldn’t worry too much because Arie will be back in the morning and none of us will remember Arie’s death. That’s pretty good for Arie—I wouldn’t want to remember what it was like to be eaten by a giant plant monster. But Lucrecia still might be mad. It’s quite possible that the whack on the head which caused us all to forget how we got here and when we got here also made Lucrecia insane. I hope not, though.
Yesterday I wrote that… Arie died…?
I must be losing my mind. Arie is fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with her. I was attacked by a giant plant monster which ate her? That’s one crazy nightmare–maybe dehydration got the best of me. Perhaps I didn’t get enough to drink. Or maybe I ate the wrong kind of mushroom. Regardless, Arie is alive and well, and there’s no way I could have forgotten a thing like I wrote about yesterday. Even if Lucrecia is right and Arie did die without any of us remembering, that still doesn’t explain why I don’t remember the plant attacking in the first place. I don’t remember the plant at all—why wouldn’t I remember that?
Savin and Brick don’t remember Arie’s death, either. They also don’t remember anything about a giant plant; nor do they remember me running and getting them so they could help Arie. Lucrecia says that she remembers, but I think she’s insane. And I think that I’m going crazy myself. Perhaps Lucrecia wrote yesterday’s journal entry, mimicking my own handwriting, to mess with my head. She’s mad, after all, and crazy people do that kind of thing.
Lucrecia. She’s on thin ice with us. She killed Brick today because he refused to go with her into the cave and see what could be done about some of the monsters. Brick said that was suicide—and he was right. So Lucrecia asked him why he had a problem with dying. She said he’d be back the next day. And he told her that she was mad. So she drew her sword and stabbed him through the chest before he could react. As Arie, Savin, and I watched in horror, Lucrecia laughed.
“He’ll be fine,” she said. “And if any of you have a problem with that, you are more than welcome to join him.”
Brick is the only one who has the slightest chance of taking on Lucrecia. Arie is decent with a shortsword, but if Lucrecia and she end up fighting, Arie won’t stand a chance. Savin is almost as useful as I am when it comes to fighting, so without Brick there’s no hope of anyone putting Lucrecia down. We hesitated for a minute. “Well?” the bitch Lucrecia asked. “Is anyone going to be joining him in a shortcut to tomorrow?” One by one, we went back to our work. I went back to digging. Then Arie went back to hunting. And finally Savin shook his head and went back to cooking the food Arie had already gotten for us.
I will post a new part on each Monday, so Part 2 will arrive Feb. 22.