Artifact Stories

The Boots of Great Speed

by R.P. Barnett

Fast Learner

"In the forest deep,
all living beings weep
for fairies cruel and fast
won't let you last.
Search with care
and fast like lightning you might fare!"

Believed to be an extract from the Codex Monstrum, but since the last known copy of this tome was lost nine years ago, this cannot be confirmed. The "fairies" are the legendary Quicklings, the reference to the forest is not known. All explorers sent into the Arbolo forest have not found any permanent dwellings, though three different Quickling sightings were reported.

Gather round! Yes, that's it, come close. I'm an old man, and I don't have the energy to shout to you all. Now, my young ones, what story would you like me to tell you tonight? No, I told you about Bassuk Thimosp the Slayer of Bugs last night. No, that story isn't suitable for you young Rynt. No, I'm not telling you the one about the Drakeling Warlord again… I know! Tonight, I'll tell you a story that none of you have heard before. I don't recall telling it to anyone since I was a young man, and even then I was merely repeating what the madman told to me.

Chaos is one of the most contradictory forces in the universe, more so than love, hate or even life. It is both subtle and obvious... and seductive. Oh, so seductive.

I remember the day when I was told by my mother that she was going to teach me to read. I couldn't give you the exact date - but it was almost two years to the day after the death of my father. I was so excited that I couldn't sleep that night. I was ten years old, and was apprenticing to the master tailor of the town. My mother, being of the noble House Vaarn (though sadly fallen from grace) had decided that all of her children would be given the chance of being more then simple labourers. My sisters, Crolek and Ashyar had learnt to read, and then returned to their petty crafts and needlework. She never said so out loud, but I could tell she was gravely disappointed. We began with simple things, the alphabet, stories about heroes and kingly deeds. I was rather surprised to discover that I actually had some talent for it, and learned to read things faster and faster. I was insatiable. I devoured books on any subject, in any language and of any length.

By my mid twenties, I had finished my apprenticeship and was a skilled tailor, allowing me to support my other vice - the pursuit of knowledge. I even began to study books of magic, though having never formally trained as a wizard I was unable to cast the more complex spells. I could perform simple conjuring, parlour tricks really - lighting up a room, healing a small graze or if I was feeling particularly focused - sending a small magical missile across the room.

At the age of thirty five, I was healthy, had a thriving tailor's shop and had taken a wife - Ell'Ensis, a pretty girl of twenty three years. However, my mother was now old, and decaying more with every passing day. On the eve of my thirty-sixth birthday, she died quietly in her sleep. It was a silly thing, but the first thing that hit me was not the fact that she had gone, but the fact that she had not finished reading her book - "Legends of the High Kings". It bore upon me the knowledge of my own mortality, and that there would never be enough time to learn everything. It was also on that day that I decided that I would defy the universe and actually manage to know everything. A foolish quest, you may say, but every man has some dream, attainable or otherwise. Through my reading, I knew that true immortality was theoretically possible, but hedged with such formidable practical problems that I would not be able to achieve it before I was an old man, with a weak and failing mind. Thus, I decided that I would have to make the most of the time I had. I spoke with the local Wizard's Guild about spells to extend my life. I even travelled to the Dwarven Temple on Sybrack Mountain to speak with the monks of Clamgaddin about memory techniques and mental skills. I learnt a great deal in six months, I could learn at three times the rate of most men, and the Wizards (once their palms had been greased with several thousand gold pieces) had given me potions that would extend my life by thirty years or more and keep me sprightly and sane until the very end. But, this was still not enough. In my life I had only managed to work through half of the town's library, to say nothing of the many works contained within the other libraries of the world. My quest seemed far from my grasp.

For my fortieth birthday, as usual my sisters and my wife presented me with the gift of books. The works provided by Crolek and my wife were interesting, but contained nothing of any great import. The text given to me by Ashyar was far more interesting. It was the first time I ever read anything about the beings known only as "Quicklings". My mind was racing that night, as I lay in bed having finished the text some hours before. Here were beings that moved faster than the eye could see… if I could duplicate their abilities, I might have some chance of completing my personal quest. For the first time in many years, I left my books behind and travelled deep into the forest with two hired Dark Elven archers, the fastest beings I could find. There, we waited. On the twelfth day, there was a flash that zoomed past us. On the fifteenth day, the flash hit one of my archers and severed his arm. He bled to death, my healing skills being inadequate to help him. On the seventeenth day, by pure chance, the flash came as I was hanging up my cloak upon a tree, it being a hot day. It became tangled up in it and buzzed loudly. Before it could escape, my elven companion shot a series of arrows into it. My coat was ruined, but we had our goal, a quickling. Although I did not know this at the time, I had in fact taken a member of the Quickling royalty. We took the broken body back to my home, and there I put my tailoring skills to work. I had recently acquired a set of seven-league-boots from a gnomish trader that I used for travelling, and they seemed the perfect base to begin. The creature was boiled and its remnants dissolved in viscous and sticky potions and allowed to harden. I spun the material into thread and stitched it into the boots. I put them on, and was bitterly disappointed when the effect from wearing them was almost imperceptible. I travelled once more to the forest, and caught three more quicklings by setting nets in the forest, and span their bodies into the boots, and still no effect. Five more quicklings, one a lord and no effect. The next week, seven more. And another two. And four more. By now, my wife had become cold to me, but I no longer cared. It was an obsession. I had even stopped reading while my little project was in progress.

By my sixtieth year, my wife had left me, my sisters stopped calling upon me and I had sewn the bodies of four hundred and twelve quicklings into my boots. They glistened now, with some unnatural sheen and by wearing the boots; I was able to perform actions faster than normal, but still only by a small fraction. I finally realised that there was some element missing, and that the natural speed of the quicklings was not binding to me. I turned to Chaos. It is, after all, the ultimate alchemist, blending elements from infinite things into infinite combinations. With my enhanced speed, catching a few pathetic Chaos spawn (which seem to be appearing more and more than in my youth) was a mere cantrip, and I had boiled them down and soaked the boots in a cauldron of their remains for seven days, while chanting incantations of binding and combination (by this point, my magical abilities were equivalent to a medium level wizard). When I took them out, they were such beautiful things. They seemed to phase in and out of reality, and when I put them on, I was able to move so quickly that I could read a book of a thousand pages in ten minutes. And so I did. I worked my way through every book in the town, and by my eighty-second year, I had moved on to the next town.

What I did not realise, is that Chaos always demands its payment. My body was twisted and warped, tentacles sprouted from where my eyes had once been (though I could still see, by some demonic trick that still eludes my understanding), and I had the abilities of a mage of the ninth order. I continued adding to my boots, and when I reached my centennial year, they contained the fabric of two thousand and nineteen quicklings and eighty eight Chaos spawn and I myself knew more than half the sages of the world combined.

Then, the cruellest trick of fate fell upon me. In my one hundred and tenth year, my feet twisted and warped under the Chaos that now permeates me, and were no longer able to fit into the boots. I was broken. Words cannot express the pain and anguish I felt when I slowed down for the first time in what seemed to be aeons. In my rage, I blasted the cursed footwear with all my might, and utterly failed to make a dent in them. I threw them deep into the forest where the quicklings were once so populous. But Chaos shall provide the answer, as it always does. It is the only way. The only reason you still live and that I have even deigned to talk to you, young man is that I have always respected knowledge, and you carry a book of great value with you - I had always believed that I had read the only copy left. I will go to the heart of Chaos in this world, and I will learn to live without my beloved boots. Chaos brought me speed and knowledge, and it will do so again. I no longer even fear death, Chaos shall preserve my body for eternity should need be. And I will learn everything. And I will know everything. And I will understand everything. And Chaos shall be the way. And Nuurag-Vaarn shall be known across time and space as the most knowledgeable being in existence.

And with that, he left. Yes, it is a good story, isn't it? I doubt it's true though, the old man never even took his hood off, but he sounded like a stiff breeze would finish him off, he's probably been dead for years now. But, I trust you children understand this story? You are old enough to hear it, and you see the dreadful things that Chaos can bring? Good, good. Rynt, would you put out the fire? Thank you! And tomorrow night I'll tell you all about Candor Kerbek the Trap Eater, who is the world's greatest inventor! Come along children…

Updated January 28th, 2003
© Copyright by the authors and Andrew Williams 2000-2003