Olav and the Lute

The Dream

I guess that explains the neck pain.

I am in some sort of cave. Pounding, liquid music in the background - maybe water trickling down somewhere, or just my pulsating head? I see three low cabinets in front of me; a goblet full of water sits on top of the leftmost one. The middle cabinet is open, and houses a burning campfire, while atop of the right cabinet lies a sword. Suddenly the vision dissolves. When it comes back in focus, I see the same scene, but this time the goblet is empty; the campfire is dead, and the sword is broken in three parts. Now they're gone, and I see two creatures, two indistinct black blobs chattering in an alien language. I zone out. The scene changes again... this time I'm looking at myself, seemingly unconscious -or am I dead?-, a huge black mass grabbing me by the neck as a cat would carry its offspring, lowering my inert body to the ground. 

Call me Olav

I wake up, feeling shaky and disoriented. The dream has seemed too real. I allow my eyes some time to adjust to the humid darkness, and after a short while I am able to confirm my fears. Sure enough, I am in a dark cave just like the one in my dream. I have no further memory of how I got here. I am alone, with no food and no equipment whatsoever, save for the hooded robe I am wearing and a couple of sandals. I do remember my name. My people call me Olav.

I am still trying to get my bearings when a sudden sound nearby makes me jump. I take a tentative step forward, heart pumping, and peer into the darkness. A book has materialized out of thin air a few feet ahead of me, and has hit the cave floor with a thump. It was actually a modest sound, but it felt like an explosion; I hadn't noticed the oppressive silence that surrounds me until now. I pick up the book and open it, eager for some clue as to my current whereabouts, only to find myself being stared back at by a bunch of blank pages. "An empty book. How useful", I murmur dejectedly. I nonetheless slide it under my robes and set out to explore the rest of the cave.

My mail-order book club is getting a bit ridiculous.

Inside the next chamber I find a massive runestone perched against the wall. Someone has carved a strange set of symbols on the stony surface. Three of them I recognize as crude depictions of a waterdrop, a bonfire, and some kind of tool. "What might this tell us?", I wonder aloud. Five minutes alone, and I'm already talking to myself. Another larger carving above the symbols looks like some sort of loom, but I can't say for certain. And then below that there's the symbol of an open eye, staring intently ahead. I scrutinize these icons for a while until I have to look down to ease the pain on the back of my neck.

I let out a gasp. On the ground beneath the runestone rests a shiny wooden lute. This discovery both surprises and unnerves me. Back home I had actually taken many lute classes before deciding a life as a minstrel simply wasn't in the cards. That much I remember. I also remember sucking royally at it. Are the creatures that brought me to this place responsible for this? Is this a sign? A threat? A trap? I check both entrances of the room to make sure I am alone before snatching the lute and scurrying off through the nearest passageway.

Oh hi, disheveled-looking cyclops above the flame.

The Loom

Ah yes, that has to be Narsil on the right. No wait, was it Andúril... Sting? Orcrist? I give up.

The next chamber is even stranger than the previous one. The vast space is dominated by a giant loom resembling the design carved on the runestone, its thick silvery threads crisscrossing the air below the high stony ceiling. "The Loom doesn't seem to be working," I recite slowly, strangely aware that something's amiss. Then I notice in front of me the three cabinets from my dream! I realize then the obvious connection with the etchings on the runestone. These objects have some sort of significance. Looking at them - the empty goblet, the unlit fire, the broken sword - I start feeling a strange unease that evolves into a kind of dull urge. I must make things right. The Loom must be reactivated. I must restore all the items to the way they were in my dream/vision. These goals seem to appear and dance in my mind with no agency on my part. I'm just filled with a sudden and powerful sense of determination.

For the time being, nothing I do seems to affect the objects or anything in the room, so after a while I push forward down the cave. Finally, a door! Alas, it is massive, and it is locked. Maybe the King-Sized Key that's conveniently hanging on the wall nearby would be useful. "It won't fit in my pockets," I observe astutely. I reflect a bit on my predicament while carelessly passing my hand over the cold steel of the key. Suddenly I hear a set of four distinct musical notes, as if coming from the key itself!

Where's a "Drink Me" potion when you need one?

Dumbfounded, I touch it again, and I hear the same four notes again. With each one, the key seems to vibrate slightly. A shadow of an idea then crosses my mind. I take out the lute and play the notes in front of the Queen-sized door. To my amazement, I hear a low deep rumble and I am blinded by a bright flash of light coming from the outside world! The door has opened! I waste no time and leave the dark cave, making sure I keep my lute with me.


The outside world looks alien, but at least I am no longer feeling my way around in the cave. The open door leads to a flight of stone steps that have been carved directly on the rock of a mountain. Someone has drawn a strange symbol on the wall, which I find strangely familiar. I see a clearing ahead, with several patches of bushes and a few paths leading off elsewhere. In the middle of the clearing there's a strange contraption that catches my attention. It is seemingly made of bamboo canes. One of the bamboo arms seems designed to swing back and forth on an axis, like a funny teeter-totter. The water puddles on the ground nearby lead me to believe the whole thing used to serve some kind of ornamental purpose; a fountain maybe. Only it looks completely dry now. I approach the silent structure, and the words "Shishi Odoshi" seem to materialize in my mind spontaneously! I sense a confirmation from the Beyond that this is indeed one of those Japanese garden thingies.

Okay, I had to google what a Shishi Odoshi is.

Looking past the water contraption I notice a huge water tank that's lying among the bushes against an arrangement of boulders. It seems to have been dropped from some height directly onto the rocks, resulting in some dents and a long, thin crack across its face. Water is trickling out of the crack and down the side of the tank with a soft hiss, but still is a good several feet away from the Shishi Odoshi. The crack is just too narrow. So I get this bright idea. I pull out my lute once more and begin playing the notes I learned from the key back in the cave, the pattern that opened the door. I feel pretty chuffed when the crack in the tank widens and a healthy stream of water spurts out! The water reaches the top of the Shishi Odoshi and begins filling the bamboo arm. While it's doing so, I hear a new set of four notes coming from the device itself. As I did with the key, I step forward and touch the bamboo arm. The arm pivots forward, pouring the water back into the ground. I then hear the same four notes as before, only playing in reverse order!

At this point I have an epiphany, one of those rare events where everything clicks into place. Somewhere somehow since I was taken from my village, I have gained a very valuable power. I seem to be able to "listen in" to some properties and processes of nature, and decode them into musical notes or patterns. Who has bestowed this ability on me, or why, I cannot say. Maybe it's the lute itself! Whatever the answer, it all fits nicely with my recently gained sense of purpose, the reason for my being here. I then remember the blank book I found when I woke up, and following a hunch I open it again. With shock, I discover that a series of annotations have magically appeared on its pages! It seems the book is automatically recording my learnings in the form of music patterns!

I look around the clearing for more clues. There is a broken bike lying on the ground, and farther away on the opposite direction there's a barrel with a hazard symbol painted on. The label reads "Made in Fukushima". I find this disquieting for some reason. I leave the barrel alone and try to fix the bike. With no tools other than my bare hands, I quit after several unsuccessful attempts and decide to look for my next destination. I examine the three paths that lead off the clearing. Of the two leading East, one of them shows traces of snow, the other is cushioned with flowers. The third path is actually a road leading West to a city identified as "Gorbindi Good" according to a sign nearby. I start walking towards the East, thinking that I'd like to see some snow.

Top of the World

"Way down upon the Swanee River, far far away..."

I advance further down the snowy path, temperature dropping rapidly with each step. I walk up to a deep ravine. It looks as if a mighty river runs through it in summertime, but now it's mostly gone; I can hear the faint gurgling of a small brook deep below. There's no physical way for me to cross to the other side, so I decide this is a good opportunity to test some of my newly acquired powers. It will take some imagination, though. I try to envision the ravine as a container that needs to be "filled" with water. I play the notes for the "fill" pattern on my lute, and lo and behold, with a deafening roar water rises up to the very edge of the ravine! Not only that, the process seems to have freed a wooden raft that was moored somewhere upstream, and is now drifting down along the shoreline. Incredibly and conveniently, it comes to a full stop almost at my very feet. Blessing my good luck, I use the raft as a bridge to cross over the river. As soon as my feet touch the opposite shore, the raft resumes its journey downstream and out of my sight. So much for my return ticket. I see the trail is leading up a snowy slope, so I follow it.

At the top of the hill I run into a pair of strange Eskimo-looking fellows sitting around a campfire. They look to be hunters; a few yards away a hastily pitched tent flaps in the cold wind. They're wearing gas masks under their heavy fur hoods. Their look is decidedly unsettling, as are the spears they're wielding, so I try my best to convey a "I come in peace" vibe through my body language (not much I can do about my face). Fortunately the reaction I get is a friendly one. The two hunters greet me calmly in some foreign tongue, and don't seem to mind when I join them at the fire. While I'm warming my hands, I hear a familiar sound: I'm learning a new pattern! The book records it as "heat", and I notice it's also logging the effect achieved by playing the notes in reverse order. Thus "heat" becomes "freeze" when the pattern is played backwards. I test this theory on the Eskimos' fire and it works; the flames die out in an instant. I glance nervously at the two hunters, who are now mumbling confusedly. I quickly rekindle their campfire by playing the right "Heat" pattern and let that be my sign of parting.

I half expect they'll start moaning "Are you my mommy?" any time now.

Back at the river I am faced with the problem of crossing this now substantial mass of water without the help of a raft or a bridge. However, this time I know exactly what to do. The pattern "Freeze" played on my lute turns the foamy water into a thick layer of ice, and I'm able to cross it unimpeded. I'm getting the hang of this!

Ghost in the Machine

Oh come on now, who watches TV anymore?

Upon reaching the clearing, I take the second path East. It meanders through a flowery hillside and finally ends in a small plateau. Here things get weird. And I mean really weird. First off I find myself facing a humongous mushroom, the size of a small car. A few yards ahead, a broken TV set lies on the ground, looking beyond repair. But more worryingly of all, there's a ghost nearby! Thankfully he seems to be one of those Casper-like friendly types, and on top of that he's crying inconsolably for some reason. There's nothing even remotely menacing about this ghost, which I feel very grateful for. I am informed by telepathic means that his name is Niichi, and that he is indeed sobbing over his broken TV.

Nothing I can do about that for the moment, so I look at the flowers lining the base of the hill, thinking that maybe a bunch of flowers may cheer him up. The flowers must be imbued with a powerful spell, though, as each time I try to pick one I can only mumble the letters "asdaf". That doesn't sound right, so I finally approach the giant mushroom and touch its surface lightly. I have to jump back when it reacts by spitting a puff of noxious green spores into the air! A few musical notes are heard, and my book informs me that it has recorded the patterns for "Poison" and "Heal". I am not particularly in need of either, and apparently there's no way to make the "heal" pattern work on the broken TV set. Thus, unable to find a reason to stay, I retrace my steps down the path and back to the clearing.

Cabin Fever

Sheesh buddy, your body is a temple...

This time I take the road to the city. To my surprise and disappointment, it doesn't lead to any city, but instead lands me near a cabin in the middle of nowhere. This cabin has seen better days. A large sign on the paint-peeled front announces brazenly that this is "Buki house!", and a smaller sign below reads "F*k offf!", leaving little doubt as to the owner's sense of hospitality and command of basic grammar. The whole place, by the way, is a veritable dump. The view is adorned by unkempt grass, dead trees and radioactive barrels. But more interesting is the immense palooka that lies sleeping on the ground among the debris and garbage that litter the porch. I can only assume this is Buki himself. He's snoring loudly; his hulking body is stretched across the front of the cabin door, effectively blocking access inside. Judging by the beer cans and the occasional gasoline container that surround him, it is clear he's had one too many to put it lightly. I feel a pang of compassion for the brute, and take a look at my book of patterns. Yes, "heal" should do. I pluck the notes on my lute, and in an instant Buki is on his feet. He doesn't look much better though, nor does he utter a word before opening the cabin door and shuffling inside.

"Keep calm and drink"; Buki took at least half that advice

I sneak in after him. The inside of the cabin is aesthetically consistent with its exterior. There are only two rooms, one of which is Buki's bedroom. He has already crashed into his bed and is sound asleep again. I let him rest, and examine my surroundings. There is a plate with partially eaten food on a rickety table, some shelves filled with useless trash, a rather large hole on the wooden floor, and a peculiar machine on one of the corners. I examine it, coming across a label with the words "DESTRUCT 300". Intriguing! Buki's still snoring like a pack of rhinos, so I feel bold enough to turn the power on. A second later the machine comes to life with a loud hum. The whole mechanism consists of a conveyor belt that enters from an adjoining room through a crude hole on the wall, and a large piston located above the belt. Suddenly, the belt starts moving and several items begin entering the room through the hole -- only to be immediately crushed by the piston! A banana, a pair of glasses, a teddy bear - they all get methodically and senselessly smashed into pieces for no apparent reason, and then the remnants fall off the end of the belt, vanishing right into the hole on the floor. Above the dint of the destruction, I can hear four notes -- the DESTRUCT 300 is teaching me another pattern! I decide I've had enough of Buki and his cruel machine, and I hightail out of there.

A Dream within a Dream

Well now, back to square one! I spend a stupid amount of time wandering about before realizing that the same pattern that allows me to Destroy gives me the power to Repair when played backwards! My book confirms this, so I go and test the Repair tune on the broken bike. Not only do I succeed in fixing the bike, but I also seem to restore its looks - it's now glowing brightly in a metallic pink paint!

Encouraged by these results, I head for the flowery hill again to fix another item that I know is in dire need of repair. Niichi is still there, and is still crying; little ectoplasmatic tears pour endlessly from his empty eyes and dissolve before touching the ground. I play the "Repair" pattern on the TV and it comes to life immediately. The ghost stops crying at once. The image on the screen looks bad, but that doesn't seem to bother Niichi, who floats by with a big smile on his face and begins singing a strange tune. The song sounds to me like a downtempo/trance J-pop number, and after a moment I realize I'm getting really sleepy.

Elevator music has nothing on this.

I lie down on the ground, hearing the sound of another pattern being recorded by my book, but I can't think of checking it out right now. Niichi's song is still playing as I fall asleep, while my mind is filled by many questions for which I have no answers: What exactly am I doing here? What was that graffiti at the stairs? How in the world do I know what J-pop is? I get no reply, and soon everything is darkness....

I wake up with a slight headache. I am still on the very same place, but Niichi is gone. I remember the final notes I heard through my sleepy daze, and open the book to find a new pattern: "Sleep". So was it Niichi who did this? I stare at the symbol that adorns the reverse form of the pattern: "Awake". It's an open eye. I have seen this symbol before, but where? Then it hits me. Of course! The Runestone!

The Loom

Everything seems very clear, and I know exactly what I must do. I realize now I have collected all the musical patterns I need to make things right! To fix the objects in the cave. To wake up the Loom.

I hurry up the stone steps and enter the damp darkness of the cave. The room remains as I have left it. Impatiently I take out the lute and play the "Fill" pattern on the goblet, which immediately fills up to the brim with water. Then I direct the "Heat" notes toward the campfire, and after a few crackling sparks a beautiful, full golden flame emerges among the logs. Finally, I use the "Repair" pattern on the broken sword, which magically reforges itself into an impressive looking blade.

The cave is shaken by a brief rumble, and a few lights flash on the cabinets. I wait for a few seconds, but nothing else happens. The Loom seems unfazed by the recent events. As I'm inspecting it, a thought crosses my mind: "We need to wake it up now".

Wake up the Loom? Of course... that's what this was all about. That explains the symbol in the Runestone. That's why Niichi taught me the last pattern. The Loom is not dead -- it's just asleep. This is the key, this is why I've been brought here. My hands tremble a bit as I pluck out the notes from the "Awaken" pattern in the direction of the Loom.

Stupid lute lessons!

The cave begins shaking, much more violently than before. It seems I've triggered an earthquake! The tremors dislodge huge rock fragments from the cave ceiling that fall crashing on the dirt around me. A dense wall of dust rises slowly from the ground and threatens to suffocate me. Something hits me hard -- I can barely see anything because of the darkness and the dust; the cave continues to rumble furiously in my ears... is that a hole in my hood, is that blood on my hands? I drop to the ground, again feeling like I'm losing consciousness. Something is seriously wrong with my head. I can't find the lute, or the book. What have I done? Was there a point to all of this? Was I --


Awww all that effort and I'll miss the fireworks?

The boy lies on the ground, his task completed. The Loom begins pulsating louder and shining brighter as each of its countless threads are awakened one by one. One by one the worlds it hosts and nurtures will come back to life as well, their patterns properly recorded and catalogued in billions and billions of tiny fibers made of pure consciousness, the warp and woof of all that exists. 

We'll take the boy now. He's done well. He's as much a part of the Loom as are we, as is this story, as is this writing. The Loom knows of no beginnings nor ends, and can never die. Sometimes, once every other Age, it just takes a nap.

6 comentarios :

  1. This is my vote for the best review. Very nice writing. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Wow, thank you Zenic! Really appreciate it :-)

    2. Yep, you get mine too (although I guess in this race only Trickster has the vote).

    3. Thanks Ilmari! Very kind of you both, though I'm not sure the format fits the challenge requirements (I didn't review the game or produce any Pissed ratings after all). At any rate, it was a lot of fun to write and the game was the perfect length for the exercise.

  2. Testing... testing... oh... THIS is the comments box? I was wondering who "Commentario" was that I need introductions to... Anyway, great read! Oh, geez... how do I post this? Publicar? It is like a bus but car-sized? Perha