Artifact Stories

The Scorched Spear

by Angilion

A few weeks ago, the Priest-Sage Il'yana experienced a dream of unusual lucidity. The dream remained clear in her mind in all its details for many hours after she awoke, during which time she wrote it down. It may have been a knowledge-dream sent to her, or it may have been just a dream. Opinion is divided and the dream is a common topic of discussion across the land. You must form your own opinion:

Many thousands of years ago, beyond the memory of even elvish lore, the far ancestors of modern humans lived, few in number and scattered widely by the habit, common amongst them, of slowly wandering. They were different to modern humans, being stronger of body and weaker of mind though they had started to tread the path of the mind more than the path of the body. They lived quite well in even the harshest of environments, showing the tenacity that has always been the hallmark of humanity. They understood the concept of tools but metalworking was to be a long way into their future, so they chipped suitable stones into sharp-edged shapes, a laborious process, and used parts of slain animals to bind those stones to lengths of wood, forming crude tools. Their magic was similarly crude, a new discovery as they followed the path of the mind rather than the body. They had not invented writing, so all knowledge had to be passed on orally or learnt anew, and they lived in small tribes. These two factors made the learning of magic difficult even for those who had the gift. Many of the strongest magic-wielders had taught themselves, their gift strong enough to show itself without teaching.

One such person was Talks-With-The-Ice, the shaman of a tribe living in the icy lands of the far north. These lands were so cold that the snow there never melted and the land was always covered in ice, as it still is today. It is barely habitable for humans, but it has great beauty and solitude is easily found there for those who seek it. Talks-With-The-Ice was a shaman of great power. He could sit naked on the open ice and send his spirit into the spirit-world for many hours whilst the shrieking wind hurled snow against his naked body, yet he would not be cold. People could touch him without disturbing his trance, and they would find his skin as warm as if he were in a well-heated cave. He was held in awe for his powers. People from other tribes walked for many weeks to learn from him and seek to become his apprentice, but it was in a baby from his own tribe that he sensed the power of the one who would at first learn from him and then teach him. That child was still a babe at their mother's breast, but Talks-With-The-Ice did not lack for patience.

Talks-With-The-Ice earned his name through the strength with which he entered the spirit-world. Other shamans could send their spirits into the spirit world deeply enough to talk with the spirits of the newly dead or of animals. Some could go deeper and talk with the spirits which rule the animals, but none could go as far as Talks-With-The-Ice, who could go so far into the spirit-world that he could talk with the spirit of the ice itself, a great spirit, slow, inexorable and beyond the understanding of a human, even one as wise as Talks-With-The-Ice. A thousand years was as nothing to it, yet in that time Talks-With-The-Ice could have lived twenty lifetimes. It was too different to be useful to humans. Lesser spirits provided greater guidance, a paradox Talks-With-The-Ice often considered as he meditated.

After a day sitting on the ice communing with the spirits and with awed children watching as the snow built up in a drift covering all his back, Talks-With-The-Ice spoke to the tribe, telling them that he had received a vision-quest and must leave them for many moons to fulfill the quest. They feared the loss of his guidance, but he spoke calmly to them, reassuring them of their own abilities and assuring them that he would return. There would be little danger on the quest, though it would result in a new thing and there is always some danger with new things. Powerful spirits wanted to guide a human in creating an object of potent magic, a unique thing that would not decay and could be destroyed only by the greatest of magic. This object would be the first human artifact.

Talks-With-The-Ice travelled southwards for five moons, seeking the signs sent to him in the vision-quest; a green guide, a teacher and a sky-blasted branch killing a tree. After several moons travel through strange lands where the ice came only in the winter and the earth was covered in plants, he was disheartened. He was far from home, far from the spirits of his own land. He could use his magic to find food and water, but he was alone in a way he had never been before and there was nothing his magic could do about that. He walked on, each step taking him further from his home.

A few days later, he saw something he had only heard described by a few visitors who had travelled far to speak with him: a forest. Talks-With-The-Ice had heard descriptions of forests from those few travellers, but that was far from seeing a forest himself. In his heart he had thought that the travellers must surely have been exaggerating their tales. On this quest he had seen some trees and a few groups of trees, which was strange enough for a person used to plains of ice and sparse, tenacious vegetation. The forest was stranger still, a vast expanse of trees twenty times as tall as Talks-With-The-Ice, or more. There were thousands of trees, close enough for Talks-With-The-Ice to touch two with his outstretched arms. There were signs of many animals in the air, on the ground and in the trees themselves, more animals than Talks-With-The-Ice would see in moons at home. There was so much life!

Talks-With-The-Ice soon became uneasy in the forest, a place so different to his home. He could not see the sky. It was like being indoors whilst outdoors, an unnerving feeling. The spirits here were unfamiliar to him, no longer his guides. He could see no further than a few strides and had lost his sense of direction. He was lost as he had never been before and he began to feel as if the trees were closing in on him, all around him and above him. This odd fear worried at Talks-With-The-Ice's spirit like a pack of dogs at a slain animal, but he could use the same skills he used with his magic to put the fear aside and remain calm. The strange environment brought fear, but the mind that made humans different to other animals allowed Talks-With-The-Ice to control instinct with reason. There was no obvious danger, no reason to feel fear. [Il'yana has added a note here, pointing out that Talks-With-The-Ice's thoughts show that humans had not yet met any of the other species with similarly or more highly developed minds, an interesting historical point] Talks-With-The-Ice was lost, but that didn't matter because he wasn't heading for a specific location. He could still feel that he was on the path of his vision-quest. He had food for several days left from that which he had obtained from a settlement a few days before entering the forest. Their shaman had understood the vision-quest markings on Talks-With-The-Ice, so the people had given him the aid due a vision-questor. Following a path that was obviously made by the forest animals, Talks-With-The-Ice found a stream with good drinking water and a reasonably clear path through the forest alongside it. Vision-quests were usually far more arduous and dangerous than this. So far, he had not seen any of the signs from his vision, but they would come when it was time and there was no point in trying to hurry them or in worrying about them. Nor was there any need.

A voice called from the forest, a man alerting Talks-With-The-Ice to his presence before he appeared out of the forest. He was dressed in clothes dyed various shades of green to blend in with the forest. Talks-With-The-Ice did not understand this man's language, but his gestures were clear enough. He offered some of his food and water to Talks-With-The-Ice, a widespread custom indicating goodwill and ruling out an attack, then showed with gestures that Talks-With-The-Ice could follow him to meet others and share food, water and shelter. Talks-With-The-Ice gladly followed, as this man was obviously the green guide who was the first of the three signs on Talks-With-The-Ice's vision-quest. A few hours walking with the guide brought Talks-With-The-Ice to a settlement in the forest, built amongst the trees around a clearing near a small river. A dozen or so people, mainly children, watched Talks-With-The-Ice curiously. No doubt strangers were uncommon here. Talks-With-The-Ice waited patiently, since he could not speak with any of the people, not even the two warriors who stood alertly next to him. Friendly though these people seemed to be, they practised a sensible caution. Talks-With-The-Ice was content to wait. The Guide was to lead Talks-With-The-Ice first to the Teacher and then to the sky-blasted branch, the second and third signs of the vision-quest. Things would happen as they should, Talks-With-The-Ice had no doubt of that, but he remained alert for any trouble. The spirits guided but they did not control. A vision-quest was not a glimpse of an unchangeable future and it would be dangerous to think of it as such. It was possible for Talks-With-The-Ice to die without completing the vision-quest, though it seemed very unlikely that these people would kill him. The guide was probably speaking with the leader of these people, or perhaps with someone who could speak other languages.

Two people entered the clearing in which Talks-With-The-Ice waited, with the guide following behind them. The first was a man in his middle years but with his hair already white, which gave him the appearance of wisdom. The appearance was probably appropriate, as Talks-With-The-Ice could feel the power in this man. He was obviously the tribe's shaman, which would account for the respect shown to him. The second figure was a woman dressed in leather armour dyed green in places to blend with the colours of the forest. She carried a spear in her right hand, a knife at her belt in easy reach for her left hand and a bow on her back. Her poise was that of a warrior, balanced and alert. Perhaps she was an honour-guard for the shaman. Talks-With-The-Ice watched carefully. It was clear that the forest-dwellers showed the same degree of respect to both these people. A guard would not warrant the same respect as the person they guarded. The only person likely to be given the same respect as the shaman would be the chief. The woman wasn't wearing anything that marked her as chief, but that was the custom in some tribes. The shaman spoke some words, but Talks-With-The-Ice did not understand them and shook his head. The shaman tried again with a different language, but it was still not one Talks-With-The-Ice spoke. Again the shaman tried and this time Talks-With-The-Ice recognised the language of a people to the south of his people. He returned the greeting, glad to be able to communicate. Looks-Above-Trees, the forest-people's shaman, spoke to his chief, telling her that this was a shamanistic matter. She had noted the vision-quest markings on Talks-With-The-Ice and acknowledged Looks-Above-Trees' authority in this matter before leaving. Talks-With-The-Ice had found the Teacher, the second sign of his vision-quest.

He returned to Looks-Above-Trees' dwelling-place, built amongst the branches of an ancient tree, and they talked through the night into the next day. There was much to talk about. Talks-With-The-Ice spent two moons with Looks-Above-Trees, learning some of the shamanistic lore of the forest, knowledge that he would need in the making of the artifact that was the purpose of his vision-quest. Each day Leflas, the guide, roamed the forest in search of the sky-blasted branch that was the third and final sign. On the middle day of summer, the day of the strongest magic in the forest, Leflas returned in the early morning with the news that he had found the sign. It was time to begin the making, a process that would start here and end in Talks-With-The-Ice's home because the artifact was of his making.

Talks-With-The-Ice followed Leflas into the forest. By the afternoon of that day, they reached the summit of a small hill. A tree had been struck by a bolt of lighting which had torn off part of one of its branches and hurled it into a small tree nearby, killing that tree. This provided the starting point for one of the attributes of the artifact Talks-With-The-Ice would make from the branch section, the power to slay plants. He pulled it free from the small tree, feeling the potential in it with his magic-sense. It was scorched from the lightning-blast, but it was straight and strong. Feeling a deep satisfaction at this tangible proof of the progress of his vision-quest, Talks-With-The-Ice entered the spirit-world to shape the branch-piece into a spear and smooth it by rubbing it for many hours with the salt he had brought for that purpose. This salt and accompanying magic would build on the plant-slaying potential the spear had. The contact with the spirit-world allowed the great spirits who sent Talks-With-The-Ice on this vision-quest to augment his magic and make the spear forever safe from decay and mudane harm, even from almost all magic. It was late in the day when Talks-With-The-Ice returned from the spirit-world with a scorched spear in his hands, but night falls late on the middle day of summer and there was time for Talks-With-The-Ice and Leflas to return to the village. Looks-Above-Trees was enthused by the magic of the spear and would have liked to study it for many days, but the making of it was not yet complete and Talks-With-The-Ice had to continue his vision-quest with the first light of day, retracing his steps back to his home.

He returned home almost a year after he had left, to be greeted with relief and joy. The celebrations would have to wait, though not for long. Talks-With-The-Ice still bore the marks of a vision-questor, but his quest neared completion. All that remained was to give the spear its second great power. That was to come from Talks-With-The-Ice himself. For three days he sat on the ice and snow in howling cold, a cold of elemental power, with the spear in his hands. Using his potent magic, again augmented by the spirits who had sent him on this quest, he imbued the spear with the same power to withstand cold as he himself had. Just as he had given the spear the power to withstand all cold, now the spear could give whoever wielded it the power to withstand all cold. The making of it was complete. Talks-With-The-Ice felt profound satisfaction at having succeeded in his vision-quest. The result, the first human artifact, was in his hands: The Scorched Spear.

Updated January 25th, 2003
© Copyright by the authors and Andrew Williams 2000-2003