Doom, Darkness and Metaphors

"Well, maybe you should have checked the map before we left."

"I told you, I had provisions, you had navigation."

"Whatever. This is stupid anyway."

"Will you two shut up?" Rowan said. He scanned the ground, trying to find anything that would indicate the way they should take.

"Well maybe you - "

"Shut up, Grob," said Rowan. To his surprise, the dwarf obeyed.

"We've seen this tree before," rumbled Grhxnom.

"How can you tell?" said Marianne. She tossed her perfect hair – completely unnecessarily, thought Rowan – and looked around. "They all look the same. Someone remind me why we're out here in the Forest of Horrible Death, or , like, whatever it's called?"

"Gloom and Darkness," Rowan corrected her automatically. Grob rolled his eyes.

"Horrible Death, Gloom and Darkness, Pain and Strife... Whatever. More like the forest of Lame Quests."

Rowan scratched his head. He thought Grhxnom might be right. The tree in question did look unpleasantly familiar. And for once, he almost found himself agreeing with Grob. It was a lame quest.

"We have to destroy the amulet - " Rowan said, the weariness in his voice betraying his own doubt in their mission.

"The amulet of pointlessness," interjected Marianne.

"The amulet of Bhelhg," Rowan continued patiently, "to stop it from falling into the hands of the evil lord Fporpev."

"So the world doesn't get, like, plunged into eternal darkness," Marianne finished. "Of course, right. That's not silly at all."

"I believe we may be lost," Grhxnom commented helpfully. Rowan considered it a mark of his impeccably good manners that he did not respond to this remark.

"Let's just leave the stupid amulet here and go home," Marianne said, throwing down her pack and plonking herself on the ground beside it.

"We can't go home," Grob pointed out. "We're lost."

"Oh, right." The elf girl leaned back against the tree and stretched her legs. "Well, guess we're going to die here," she went on with a yawn.

"We will if you don't all shut up," Rowan said, gritting his teeth. He cast about desperately for a path, or a trail, or an anything, but without success.

"Bet you no one would notice if we did just go home," said Grob.

"They might notice if the world gets plunged into eternal darkness," Marianne countered.

Grob snorted. "Can't happen. It's a - a whatchamathing. You know. A - thingy. A - "

"Metaphor?" Grhxnom suggested. He was very well-read, for a troll. Of course, as a ceaseless campaigner for the rights of trolls to be recognised as more than the thoughtless, destructive beings they were in children's books, he would have swiftly clubbed to death anyone who implied that it was not perfectly normal for a troll to be well versed in figures of speech.

"Metaphor," said Grob. "That's the thing. It's a metaphor."

"So, like... It won't really be dark... It'll just be lame?" Marianne said slowly, processing this.

Rowan gave up on trying to find the way. He had never been meant to be a hero. That had been his brother's job. Then stupid Harold had gone and got himself gored by a grumpy unicorn, and now here was Rowan, in the middle of a forest, on the way to somewhere he'd rather not be, with three companions he didn't much want to be with, carrying an amulet he wasn't much interested in. Still, it beat mushroom farming, he supposed, as he sank to the ground beside the others.

"No use," he said.

The others accepted this stoically. Stupid quest, thought Rowan. Stupid amulet. Stupid forest with a stupid name.

"I vote we leave it here," said Grob.

"Can't," Rowan said. "You know the story. Darkness. Doom."

"But it's a metaphor," Marianne explained, proud of her new word.

"Still can't," said Rowan. "They'd know."

The others considered this grim notion.

"They always know," Grob added darkly.

They would, at that, Rowan thought. They always seemed to know what was going on. Them. Wizards. Associating with wizards was like having a great-aunt constantly breathing down your neck and making snide remarks about your choice of tunic. Rowan resisted the urge to turn around, half-expecting to see a robed figure tutting at him for his lack of commitment to the lame – uh, the quest.

"Bloody wizards," grunted Grob, uncorking a flagon of something that was definitely not water, and indeed bore little resemblance to any beverage safe for humanoid (sorry, personoid, Rowan corrected his inner monologue automatically) consumption, judging from the way it smoked as it was uncorked. Grob took a swig and passed it around. After a moment's hesitation, Rowan gulped some back, thinking that, if it killed him, at least he wouldn't have to worry so much about doom and darkness any more. It was hard work, questing. It wasn't all singing in the woods, partying in tree houses and having slightly inebriated conversations with attractive elf maidens.

The drink burned his throat, and he choked. Marianne had a sip, pulled a face and passed the flagon on to Grhxnom, who took a large gulp without any apparent ill effects apart from a gentle smoking at the ears.

"You know, if wizards are so great," Grob said, some time later, "if wizards are so great..." By this time, the bottle had done a few rounds, and everyone was starting to feel rather more inclined to talk, possibly at length, to anyone who would sit still enough to listen. As it was doubtful that any of them could stand by this point, this target audience included the whole party. Grob looked sadly down into the bottle. "'S empty," he said. The group fell into sympathetic silence, contemplating this sad reality.

"Wizards," said Grhxnom eventually.

"What about them?" Grob asked, looking blearily at the troll, who was stretched out on the forest floor like a collection of boulders of assorted sizes.

"You said, 'If wizards are so great...'"

"If wizards are so great what?"

"Tha's what I'm asking you."

"Oh."

There was silence as Grob pondered. Rowan found himself completely entranced by an ant that was making its bold way across his hand.

"Wizards!"

"Where?" Rowan asked, snapping his head up, and wishing at once that he hadn't moved quite so fast. He closed his eyes to give the trees time to catch up with his brain.

"Wizards," repeated Grob, at a more conversational volume. "If they're so great, why don't they go and destroy the amulet?"

"Bet you they could," said Marianne. "That's a metaphor."

"No, t'aren't," said Grhxnom, slipping, as he always did after a few drinks, into the hill dialect he worked so hard to avoid the rest of the time. "That there, that be a rhetorical question."

"'S not rhetoricicial," Grob said. "'S a reg'ler question. Why don't they do it?"

"Yeah, they could do it with their magic," Rowan said. "They do magic, you know."

"'S what makes 'em wizhards," Grob agreed, nodding his assent to this profound statement. "Magic. But ser'sly," he went on. "Why are they back there being all warm and doin' their magic, while we're out here in the forest with nothing but this bottle..." He peered into the bottle again. "'S empty," he said, so sadly that Rowan was deeply moved by his friend's plight.

"Don't worry," Rowan said quickly. "We'll get more! When we get to... Uh... Where are we going again?"

"Mountains of doom and darkness, or something," Marianne said, lying down on the ground with her legs in the air.

"No, it be doom 'n darknaisse that we be tryin' to prevent," Grhxnom said.

"Oh," said Marianne. "Will there be this stuff there?"

"Hope so," said Rowan, wondering, not for the first time, why they were going there in the first place.

"Wizards," growled Grob again.

"Maybe they can't do magic," Rowan said. "Maybe they're just pretennin'. So we'll go into the forest and they won't have to do their pretend magic."

"Brilliant!" said Grob. "They send us out into the lonely forest to do all the hard work, and they stay back in thingy and do their pretend magic." He lifted the bottle to his eye. "'S empty," he pronounced.

"It's a sad, sad world, my friend," Grhxnom said, shaking his great head.

"What's so special about it anyway?" Rowan asked, pulling the amulet out of his pack and holding it up to the light. The adventurers regarded it without enthusiasm.

"It's shiny," Marianne suggested, after a moment's contemplation.

"Very shiny," Grhxnom agreed.

"Yes, but what's so special about it?" Grob said. "I mean, 's shiny, all right, 's very nice... But a lot of things're shiny. A lot of things're nice. Why does this one mean we have to go all the way out here for it?"

"To the stupid mountains," chipped in Marianne.

"Stupid mountains," agreed Grob. "We should just go home," he added, suddenly. There was a pause as the travellers considered this hypothesis.

"Can't think why we should not," Grhxnom said. "Well, when we not be lost no longer."

Rowan frowned, sure there was some reason they shouldn't do this, but not quite able to remember anything that could be more important than a warm bed, a hot pie and that woman who sold ale down at the Dripping Tap.

"Doom and darkness. F'rever," Marianne said eventually.

Oh yes, thought Rowan, that was it. The others nodded morosely. The weightiness of their situation settled upon them.

"I do not want to go a-questing," Grhxnom said sorrowfully. "I miss the hills. My mother would always sing to me, like this, herhtrom skerp, srpo hegwno gwerhwon..." He started to sing in a deep bass, his voice like gravel been scraped beneath a great stone. Rowan thought it was the saddest song he'd ever heard in his whole life.

For a while, all the adventurers stared at the amulet, the cause of all their troubles. Their eyes met, and Rowan had a sense that the others were forming the same plan that he was.

"We could just –" Grob said.

"Doom and darkness," Marianne reminded them.

"Yes, but..." Rowan looked down at the It was a silly thing, he thought. All shiny and all nice, certainly, but also all keeping-him-in-the-forest-and-far-away-from-pretty-what's-her-name-and-her-ale. As it glinted in the last rays of sunlight that shafted through the trees, it seemed to be taunting him.

***

It had to be there somewhere. Up to his waist in the fast-flowing water, trying to ignore the throbbing in his temples, Rowan searched the river early the next morning.

"Any luck?" Marianne asked, leaning against a tree in a manner that suggested her legs were not yet quite up to the task of supporting her.

Rowan shook his head, and instantly regretted it. "I give up," he said at last, squelching out of the river in his sodden boots. "Stupid thing's gone."

"Do you think we could pass this off as 'destroyed'?" Grhxnom asked. "I mean, technically speaking, it may not be destroyed, per se, but we certainly no longer have any evidence that it isn't."

Grob shielded his eyes as he looked up through the trees. "I don't see any doom and darkness," he said.

"That's because it's a metaphor," Grhxnom said.

"Well, I don't see any metaphor either," said Grob. "I reckon it's destroyed enough. What do you think?"

"Seems pretty destroyed to me," Marianne said.

Rowan sighed. Well, he thought, 'destroyed' is such a vague term anyway. "No longer in our possession" seemed to fit the bill well enough, at a bit of a semantic stretch.

"Stupid metaphors," muttered Grob.

"Stupid amulets," said Grhxnom.

"Stupid doom and darkness," added Marianne.

"Stupid bloody wizards," Rowan said.

They all nodded their agreement. Hefting their packs onto their backs, they set off from the clearing, leaving behind them only the dark river and an ominous glint of metal, somewhere beneath the surface, as the sky began to cloud over.


A/N: Written for the April Writing Challenge Contest. The prompt was "Wilderness". Please read, review and vote for your favourite story!