Hey guys, sorry it took me so long to post the story here, every time I remembered needing to I got distracted by something. The story didn't win, but the few comments written by the judges were positive so that was good. I did get an agent to request the manuscript of my novel, but unfortunately I haven't heard from her since the conference :/. I'm really interested to hear way y'all think of the story, as I'm thinking about making a short game based on it using the new RPG Maker MV software. There isn't support for tactical battles yet as the software was just released, so it would be more of Shining in the Darkness or FF6 battle system. Without further ado, here is True Burden:
“So can you get it off?”
“I’m not sure,” answered Jaha, as he continued to examine the metal. “How did you get it on?”
“I didn’t. And before you ask me who did, I don’t know. All I know is I woke up one day, pulled back the covers, and there it was. Now can you get it off or not?”
“Honestly? I don’t know. Whatever this metal is, it feels almost harder than mithril. I might be able to do it with a diamond saw but, it’s a little risky given where it is.”
I looked down at the metal vest surrounding my chest and shoulders. I didn’t like the idea of getting cut by a diamond saw anywhere, but especially not near my heart or neck. It made no sense: thinking back on the war, everything I’d gone through then almost seemed easier than this stupid piece of rock. But they had to be harder; all the years of fighting, of trudging through forests and deserts, the people I had to kill…the friends that died. I’m sure when Sarah was struggling to save my arm, a 20 lb. weight strapped to my chest wouldn’t have seemed like any burden at all.
“Aside from the saw, your best bet is probably finding someone who can pick this lock (he pointed to the circular indents near the middle of the weight). Slade maybe? Assuming he’s not in jail again.” Jaha chuckled.
“A) he is in jail. And B) I’ve already met with him and every other thief on this island.”
“Maybe if you found out who put it on? Uhh, somebody from Galam?”
“You’re a blacksmith,” I stated. “I didn’t come here for your powers of deduction, I came so you would blacksmith this damn thing off!”
I stared a hole right through Jaha but received no anger from him in return. After a moment I averted my eyes and took a deep breath. Exhaling, I apologized to my old war buddy.
“I’m sorry; I’m just so sick of having this thing on all the time. Once I get it off I bet I’ll be able to leap over the castle walls in a single bound.”
Jaha smiled at me, but I could see the concern behind it.
“If things get bad enough I’ll be back for that diamond saw.”
The sun shone through the window as Elis pulled back the shade. I’ve never been a morning person, but getting out of bed with this metal had become the hardest part of my day.
“Come on, honey,” Elis said, pulling the covers from my grasp. “It’s time to get up.”
“Okay,” I replied, too tired to argue. I yawned, then closed my eyes again. I was legitimately trying to get out of bed, but it was as though my body could now simply choose to ignore what my mind told it.
“Bowie, I know you’re tired but you have to get up. Father has meetings scheduled all morning and we need to be there.” Elis pulled the pillow out from under my head.
My head fell to the bed, though I’m sure I could have slept there soundly without it. But, summoning all my strength (and with Elis physically rolling me over), I managed to sit up on the edge of the bed.
“How bad is it today?”
I looked up and saw the concern beneath Elis’s beautiful, blonde hair. Pushing myself off the bed, I shook my head and said, “I’m okay, darling.”
Elis’s expression told me she knew I was lying. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“Will do,” I replied, forcing a smile.
“You okay, son?” asked Elis’s father, King Granseal, who had just entered the room.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little tired that’s all. Need to get back in shape; your daughter’s cooking is killing me.”
“Haha, I hear that my boy. It was the same way with her mother when we first married. Why don’t you get out of here and go for a run? Elis and I can handle today’s meetings. Besides, the tournament is coming up and I expect you to defend your title.”
Jogging through town, the annual dueling tournament was the last thing I wanted to think about. It’s true I had won each of the last two years, but that was before this stupid thing. My speed, stamina, strength; all of it would be muddled if I couldn’t get this weight off before the tournament started. And what if I didn’t? It’s not like I beat Gyan by that much last year anyway. Plus Galam was sure to have a new champion. Whatever happened I couldn’t lose to them. My mind was racing. If only I could get my body to race and my mind to be tired, I’d be okay. After all, this was supposed to be my prime.
“What’s he doing?”
“He’s resting for a little bit.”
“While the jester is performing? I thought he loved that guy. The jester’s joke about Peter and the word ‘legendary’ nearly knocked Bowie off his chair last time.”
“He does really like the jester but…” Elis sighed. “He said he just didn’t feel like it today.”
“We’ve got to snap him out of this, Elis. He’s missing meetings right and left, he skipped the tournament last month, and now he doesn’t want to see the jester perform? We can’t keep this under wraps forever. Eventually Galam’s going to hear that our champion is…sick, and treaty or not, that may lead to war. A lot of their people still blame us for King Galam’s death.”
I could hear Elis and Chaz talking just outside my bedchamber. I was tired enough without having to think about war with Galam. I rolled myself over and off the bed, hitting the ground with a thud. It hurt, but at least I was up.
“Sweetie, what happened?” Elis said after opening the door. “Oh your nose is bleeding.”
Sitting up against the bed, I wiped my nose with the back of my hand, then sniffed in twice.
“I’m fine; I was just picking it.”
“That’s gross,” Elis replied, standing up from beside me.
“How are you?” Chaz asked from the doorway.
“Still strong enough to stick my foot up your ass, wizard.”
Though he didn’t completely buy my assertion, Chaz did fidget a little at my threat.
“Elis and I were talking,” he began.
“Yea, I heard.”
“Well there’s someone who I think can help with your…situation.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Just spit it out before you choke on it, Chaz.”
“Are you f*cking kidding me? What the hell good is Kazin gonna do me? If I wanted help from a crappy mage I’d just ask you.”
“Bowie!” Elis scolded.
I turned to her, then back to Chaz. Their looks reminded me of my meeting with Jaha earlier this year.
“Sorry.” I exhaled. “So where is Kazin? And why do you think he can help?” I added.
“He and Sarah headed back to Paramecia after Elis awoke. Last I heard they had settled down in Odegan. It’s east of Thornwood over the mountains.”
“I know where it is. And why do you think he can help?”
Chaz looked uncomfortable with my question. “He might have had some experience with this metal before.”
“When he was a child, before he apprenticed under my father.”
“What? How is that possible?”
“He mentioned something to me once. Talked about a, weight on his chest. I never understood what he meant, thought perhaps it was a metaphor for something, but now… I think it’s worth a shot.”
“Huh, is that what we’re down to?” I snorted, eyes turned to the floor. “Worth-a-shots?”
“We’re the same place we’ve always been, my love,” Elis replied. “Whatever’s going to make you better. You have to stay positive.”
I nodded my head up and down, as though trying to convince myself I actually agreed with them.
“Looks like I’m going back to Parmecia.”
It took two weeks to reach the mainland, and another couple days by foot to reach the village where Kazin had made his home.
“It’s been a long time, Bowie,” Kazin said, a puzzled look on his face.
“Yes it has.”
“I didn’t think I would ever see you again.”
“Nor I you. How’s Sarah?” I added.
Kazin stared at me unblinking for a moment, then asked, “What are you doing here Bowie?”
“I need your help.” I lifted up my shirt to reveal the dark grey weight still latched across my chest.
The expression on Kazin’s face quickly changed to sorrow, and he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“So you’ve seen this before?”
“And you can get it off?”
“I can relieve your burden, yes,” Kazin answered. “But it’s not easy to do. You’ll need to give everything you gave during the war. Maybe more.”
I stared at Kazin. I was glad to know he could remove the metal, but hearing it compared to the years we spent fighting against Zeon and his army?
“As long as you get this thing off I’ll be happy.”
“Then let’s go.”
I glanced around.
“The mountains, northeast of here.”
I waited for Kazin to explain why, but he never did. After about fifteen seconds of awkward silence I said, “Fine. Whatever it takes.”
It took us nearly a month to reach our destination. Back during the war I had ascended a half-dozen mountains with Kazin, and never once had he been in front of me. But now, with this weight on my shoulders, I could barely keep him in sight. Every branch that hit me felt like the club of an ogre, and every step up in elevation felt like I was wading through mud. Not to mention the ridiculously heavy bag he was making me haul. I would have asked him to carry it, but he already had two. And his secrecy about everything hadn’t let up either, as the bags were magically sealed and he had given me exactly zero reasons why we were climbing a mountain. Finally we broke through the last wall of trees on the mountainside, revealing the snow-covered summit. Kazin stopped just beyond the tree-line, setting his bags on the ground.
“Is this it?” I asked. “Something in the snow is going to help you get this off me?”
Kazin stared ahead, almost ignoring me, as he said, “No; it’s where you are.”
I looked around for something else that was different about where we were standing besides the snow and lack of trees. Seeing nothing, I said,
“What the hell are you talking about, Kazin? There’s nothing different here from the rest of the mountain except for the snow. And how about you look at me when I’m talking? I’m standing right next to you.”
“Would you drop this f*cking secrecy act and talk to me like a normal person for two seconds?”
“You’re standing right next to me,” Kazin replied, finally turning to face me. “That, is what’s different, Bowie. You’re not a league behind, struggling to breathe in the altitude and shouting for me to slow down.”
“So I’m in better shape than when we left your village, so what? This had better not be just some fitness boot-camp.”
Kazin said nothing, and the rage began to rush through me as I realized this whole trip might have been exactly that.
“You said you were going to take this damn weight off me!” I screamed, fists clenched.
“I told you I could relieve your burden,” Kazin replied calmly. “I never said anything about removing the weight. Now I can train you to live with it, and even to regain much of what you once had. But your true burden Bowie, the idea you’re clinging to so desperately, is that someday you will be free of this weight. You will not. It’s there for life. But once you accept that, your burden will begin to lift.”
I grabbed Kazin’s robe with both hands and pulled his face right next to mine. His expression was just as emotionless as the one he’d had since I met him almost a month ago. I shoved him with both fists and he fell back onto the ground. I must have pushed him really hard, because my knuckles felt like I’d hit a wall.
“What the hell is wrong with your bones?” I asked, rubbing my knuckles and trying not to think about the fact that I’d just shoved one of my friends to the ground. “They’re like mithril.”
He unclasped his robe and pulled it apart at the top to reveal the metal across his chest. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. The most I could manage was to mouth the word, “What?”
“It’s been there since I was a child,” he answered. “I used to be able to remember a time before it, but not anymore. I’m actually glad for that.” For the first time, Kazin smiled. He pushed himself up off the ground.
“This weight we have doesn’t just come off with a saw or a key; at least not one I’ve found. It stays with us, growing and shrinking, feeling as heavy as this mountain or a lite as that stick. And I’m sorry you have to go through it too Bowie, I truly am. But if you treat every day like one of our battles, some easier, some tougher, but all of them winnable, the burden of that weight will be lifted, even if the weight will not.
“Everyday?” I repeated. My breaths were coming quicker and quicker, as though I was sprinting. “I can’t, I can’t do this every day, Kazin. I can’t.”
“And for the first time since I woke up with this metal on my chest, I began to cry. Kazin walked forward and hugged me as I sobbed into his robe. I had been holding it in for so long, trying to be the leader, to be the man I used to be. But it all came out in that clearing atop the mountain all those years ago. And once it did, once I let go of all that, I began to get better. And that is the story of this weight, son.”
“Will I ever get a weight on my chest, daddy?”
I looked deep into my son’s eyes. “I pray to Volcanon that doesn’t happen. But if it does, your uncle Kazin and I will be here to help you through it; just like he helped me.”
I looked up at Kazin who was standing at one of the side entrances to the castle court. I tapped my chest twice and pointed at him. He smiled, and pointed back.