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A Prophecy Above Sorcery by Michael Morton
SUMMARY: My entry for the February '10 flash fiction contest - Theme is fantasy clichés.
There is an unwritten tale among the common folk, one that is told around hearth fires on cold winter nights, at feasts where the village elders captivate the attention of children, adults and travellers alike with long tales passed from generation to generation and told by parents to sleepless children. The tale tells of a mysterious object locked in a magical chest that is hidden far away deep in the forests. This object is claimed to be a mysterious amulet with the ability to grant the wearer an unlimited number of wishes and could be used whether your intentions are for good or for evil. It was sealed away many hundreds of years ago by a group of wizards in the fear that it would fall easily into the wrong hands and be used to conquer the world. No one knew exactly where the amulet was, only that a chosen person would be able to find and claim it...
One particularly cold winter, a strange Elven traveller arrived at one of the villages where the story is told to rest and hear local news, whether it be of lost treasures or recent battles. Like most Elves, she was shorter than those of the race of Man, but she was more slender than their women. She carried a simple wooden stave that she used for walking, but despite its appearances there was something magical about it in the same way there's something frightening about a dark, strange house. In the eyes of the villagers she was beautiful and graceful, yet in the eyes of her own kin she was average looking and rather clumsy. Weary from many weeks of travelling, she found herself staying in the village for a few days to restock her rations and to regain some strength and energy. Almost all the villagers wanted her to stay with them, so she agreed to spend one night in each house. Out of respect, but also curiosity, she sat with the various families as they gathered around their cooking fires in the evening to eat and listened to their many stories – truths, legends, myths – but also told her own if she was asked, which she often was.
Within a week she had heard no less than three variations of the amulet's tale, and her curiosity piqued. What if she found it? Her magic could easily disperse any traps on the chest, an easy task provided she could find it. She quizzed the village elders about the amulet and hoped one of them could give her some indication of its location, a task that bore fruit. One of the elders mentioned he had heard of a small abandoned temple in the midst of the forest and that some said the amulet rested there. Without any hesitation, the Elf gathered her few belongings and new supplies and departed for the woods. The villagers claimed they were about two days to the west of the village and, for the most part, was on flat ground.
It took her only a day and a half to reach the woods on foot and upon arrival she could sense that the forest was not all that it seemed. The bark and leaves of the trees seemed faded in colour and the birds barely sang. Cautiously she walked into the forest, her eyes and ears straining to notice anything that would serve as an explanation.