Not ‘camp’ NaNoWriMo. Camp nanowrimo. It’s this April, so I thought I’d kick things off with a repost of one of my old short stories! Basically, I’m doing a compilation of short stories, so this isn’t completely random or anything. without further ado…. enjoy
Prompt 2: The Philosopher’s Stone
The Philosopher’s Stone. A stone rumoured to have the power to turn base metals into gold or silver. A stone with the ability to produce the Elixir of Life; a medicine capable of curing any ailment and giving the drinker immortality. A stone said to be able to revive the dead. Certainly a valuable stone, if one could get one’s hands on one. But not something that exists. Not in the real world, outside of stories and myths and legends.
Or so you might think, if you were a man of science; of realism and rationality. Even a man of the church would be swayed in that direction; religion has a way of closing one’s mind to matters spiritual, ironic as that may seem. No religious men I know of would dare to believe in such a Stone as this, and they certainly would not believe in alchemy. Even if the proof was right in front of their eyes, as it is here, even if it were undeniably true they would continue to disbelieve. Perhaps it is better that way. Leave the alchemy for those with faith.
Most people only ever hear about two of its properties anyway. Its ability to produce gold from base metals is well known, and the production of the Elixir of Life is practically the stuff of myth. People often forget it has other abilities. The one we are chiefly concerned with here is the production of silver.
Silver, you might cry, if your tongue wasn’t still and your heart stopped. Why silver, when silver tarnishes, gold is perfect and the Elixir of Life is coveted above all else? Well, for starters, there are some who prefer silver.
But I won’t beat around the bush. There is a much more pressing need for silver here than its shine or its high value due to its scarcity around these parts. Most people would be content with gold, and I probably would if I had been born anywhere else. Having been born here, on the Edge, I value silver above all else. I might even sell my sister for a pound of the stuff, safe in the knowledge she at least knows how to escape back to here. We’ve done that more than once, as a matter of fact, and I’m never quite sure if she’s forgiven me for it. Nevertheless, the small lump of silver I keep around my neck is a valuable treasure. I would hide it if I didn’t need to keep it on show at all times. Strange, ordinarily you would hide such trinkets under your clothes. Not here though. If you have no silver, the streets aren’t safe. It needs to be visible.
Having said that, I have heard horror stories. If your necklace breaks, for instance, or your bracelet slips over your knuckles. Not everyone comes back out of the dark.
There I go again, rambling on for ages. You must be still so confused. We need the silver, you see. Not for social standing or for our children to sell on a rainy day, or even to look at on boring seventhday afternoons.
We need it for the monsters. Not just your regular, run-of-the-mill monsters; your Bogeyman, troll, harpy or even werewolves, to whom it turns out silver is not inimical.
I mean the real monsters, the ones that crawl and slither out of nightmares. The ones that aren’t really there until you name them, and then they’re fixed in that shape until dawn or until you can banish them with a handful of well-aimed salt, which is often risky, or with a lump of silver, which destroys the physical form permanently.
Obviously, there are some risks to both methods. Salt is easily obtainable, and all you need is a pinch. But if you miss… well, you rarely have a second chance. At least with silver, mere proximity weakens the night terrors. Of course, there are the difficulties in obtaining such a metal. This is where the Philosopher’s Stone comes in.
Alchemists are few and far between, but we were able to … obtain… a few in recent years, to learn from and study. And then we were able to produce one or two of the precious Stones. The price was high, but the rewards great. Of course, you have to be careful with that sort of thing. Even the slightest wrong move can mean death. Alchemy is not to be trifled with. And I hate to say it, but perhaps information obtained under duress is not necessarily the most trustworthy information. Still, it has been successful enough.
I have to admit, the longer we fight these monsters the stronger they seem to get. But what alternative is there? Life on the Edge of the World is difficult, yes, but at least here we are free from the tyranny of government or the harshness of war. We could not be guaranteed that anywhere else, so we stay. Even though in the winters the nights stretch out to engulf the day, and even though the clouds are frequent and allow tiny shadows to slip through. Even if cold silver seems to be less effective than it was even half a century ago. Even when our enemies grow cunning and band together against us. Perhaps it is merely our fears and unease that make it so.
They are made out of our nightmares, after all.