Lannith walked into the stone carver’s shop, carrying a black rock, a question on his mind.
“I’ll be right with you,” called a gruff voice, and Lannith stopped to stand in the entry, gazing around the dark shop, glass lamps lighting some of the carvings displayed on dark wooden shelves, the clink of metal on stone punctuating the otherwise silence.
Even outside it was a quiet day, growing more so as the mood had begun to weigh heavier on Tannith, just like the rock in his pocket.
He touched the rock, feeling the strange warmth, wondering again at the recent acquisition. His aunt had been a strange one at times, but he had certainly never expected to be given a rock from her as she passed, her eyes grown gray like her skin.
Her final words to him had been strained, and her grasping hand had told him that she had much more to say, but all that she managed was: “Keep it safe.”
The rocksmith, as the fellow liked to be called, was one of a kind. Most sculptors used a variety of media for their craft: whether stone, wood, or even metal, but Master Cragon specialized only in rock.
For that reason some called him a master of his craft, but others just called him crazy.
Lannith fidgeted, wondering if he should really have come. Cragon wouldn’t have any answer for Lannith, why, in fact, did it really matter?
He turned to go, but then the rocksmith came from the back, each step of his great frame a heavy thump on the floorboards. “What need you, young master?”
Lannith looked up, knowing that he had heard Cragon to be a large fellow, but what he had heard was almost deceptive in reality, and while Cragon hunched over coming through the doorway, it seemed to make him no less tall, and no less imposing for all of his bulk: his large face, lined and weathered; his mountainous shoulders; and great hands that looked like they could take Lannith’s face in one giant mitt and crush it like an egg.
“I was just curious, sir, to see your carvings. But, I...I really should go. It is just an idle interest. I don’t know what drew me. I will return at a later date.”
Then Lannith turned to the door.
But Cragon held him with his voice. “You came for a reason. You’re here. Hm. Out with it. I don’t take kind to falsehood.”
Lannith’s hand touched the rock in his pocket, feeling its warmth: was it warmer now? He took in a great breath. He was here after all, so why not? He touched the rock again. It was definitely warmer. He should have just tossed it away, be done with the strange mystery, but now he felt trapped by Cragon’s attention.
A piece of sandstone was crafted into an angel standing on a pedestal upon the counter before him, it was delicate and beautiful, a surprising contrast to Cragon’s harsh features.
“Ok, well, can you tell me, how do you make a simple piece of sandstone into this finely crafted angel?”
“Hm? What? No!” answered Cragon, his big face expressive. “No. I don’t ‘make’ the rock anything. I just reveal what it is.
“Eh, hm. You don’t understand. Here.” The rocksmith grabbed a hunk of stone, colored a deep red and sooty. “Here, see this? This is blood granite. Stupid name, not granite. There’s no mica in it. But I didn’t name it. You’d probably just call it a rock. See here? Look, look, yeah? No. It’s not granite. Not a piece of rock. No. It’s a delicate dove, yeah...hm. Neck tilted a little to the side. Left foot raised up. Right foot a little crooked—old break, old wound, healed long ago. Still favors it. Hm. That’s what this is: a dove, not a rock. A dove! Got it? Beautiful dove. Hm.”
Lannith nodded slowly with regret. Cragon was as eccentric as he had heard. He should have known better.
“Now. Put that down. See this? Hm? See it? Limestone. What do you see? You see a rock? Right? Yeah, I know. I can see it in your face. No—not a rock. It’s a...it’s a lizard. Tiny little lizard. Scaly hide. Tail torn off two months back. Regrown. Smooth—smoother than the rest.”
Cragon set the stone down, rubbing his fingers together. “But you didn’t come to see what I have, you have another question. I see it in your eyes! Out with it. Hm. Don’t have all day.”
Lannith grasped the rock in his pocket, nearly warm enough to be called hot. His friends would call him foolish. But they didn’t need to know, and something of Cragon’s insistence was motivating. Lannith pulled the stone out, the color as black as pitch, but at an angle, or in light, you could see its smooth reflective glassiness.
“I was wondering if you could tell me about this stone?”
Cragon took the stone in his great hand, running calloused fingers over it with gentle dexterity. “Hm. This. This! Right here. You think this is, uh... Onyx? Black shiny rock?”
“No. Yeah? You think this is a rock. You think that is all it is. No. Not that. It’s a...let me see. It’s a...a...hmm.”
Cragon went still, very still as he stared. “Oh...my...”
Lannith swallowed, feeling suddenly colder; the lamps dimmer.
“What is it?”
But Cragon didn’t reply, his small eyes widening under his heavy brow. “No—no—no.”
Lannith licked his lips.
Shaking his head Cragon shouted, “Go. Go! You’re in danger! Hm. Don’t you get it? Don’t you see? ‘Course not, you’re blind. No. Blind! They’re always blind.”
None of this made sense, but Cragon’s intensity built up a fear within Lannith like he had rarely felt.
And then light manifested within the rock, glowing brighter and brighter, the lamps dimming to near blackness, the remaining light of day from the gap of the open door dwindled, and the rocksmith dropped the rock to the ground, hissing, smoke rising from an angry red mark burned in his flesh.
The stone hit the ground, a fissure of cracks lit through its surface, every crack glowing like it was lit from within by the sun. The cracks splintered and the stone was transformed into a many pointed shape of such perfect symmetry that it could not have been fashioned by man.
Cragon leapt over the counter like an acrobat, landing smoothly, pulling some metal box fashioned of strange design, carved with markings that Lannith had never seen. He set it next to the glowing rock, the hinged lid open. The air in the room began to blow by Lannith’s ears, rushing into the rock; the very space rippled with electricity; the wooden floor beneath began to blacken and smoke.
“What’s going on?!”
Cragon grabbed a set of iron tongs, grasping the rock in them, trying to move it into the box, but as soon as the metal touched, it glowed red, then yellow and melted away. A fact that defied reason for the stone had not yet burned away the floor beneath.
“Go!” howled the rocksmith, but Lannith was riveted to the spot.
Scowling, Cragon grabbed at the stone, trying to transfer it to the box, but before he could even touch it, the fingers on his hand blistered, catching to flame and burning wildly.
Screaming, Cragon fell back, the thud as he fell to the floor barely felt amidst the roar of wind.
Lannith’s eyes were seared by the brightness of the stone, white-hot. And he was transported back to his aunt’s death bed, straining to hear her last words, wondering at her sudden interest. This prideful woman that had never needed anyone; always strong, always independent, but the need in her that day had shocked Lannith, making him wonder if he had ever truly known this woman.
And he remembered watching her wrinkled lips as they moved for seconds after she had uttered her last words, and he realized she had not been moving them for pain, or for loss of faculties, but for an attempt to speak further, though she was never able to draw that breath. He could picture her lips form the letters, then the syllables, then the words and he realized that after she had told him to keep it safe, she had also said: “Only you can touch the stone. Only you can nullify its power.”
He knew it with a shocking certainty.
Lannith would have called her last words madness, but for the scene before him. Compelled, moving without cognitive thought he reached down and grabbed the stone, feeling the heat like a physical punch, but his fingers did not burn. Strange thoughts grabbed at him, attacking his mind, telling him it was wrong, telling him to leave the stone, to go away.
But he had brought this stone here, given it to the rocksmith who now huddled on the ground like a child, cradling his blackened fingers to his chest. And picking the stone up, the heat redoubling, bringing tears to his eyes he shoved it into the chest and slammed the lid shut with a thunderous bang.
Upon closure, the box clicked, some locking mechanism activating, and the markings upon the surface lit up with a blue light that ran across the box like lightning.
And then all the wind, the heat, and the searing light of the stone vanished.
Silence pervaded as Lannith looked at his hand, whole and unmarked, except for 8 points now branded into his palm.
Cragon moaned, sitting up, his wide face covered in sweat, glancing at the box, then breathing heavily as he pointed with a statement and accusation all rolled into one. “You are a Nullifier.”
Lannith shook his head. “That’s not possible.”
“Hm. If that’s what you think, then danger has only just begun.” He looked at the box again, the blue light fading to a dull glow that pulsed, the lid so tightly fitted to the box that if the stone still glowed from within, there was no evidence. “Hm. And we have little time.”
Copyright © 2021 by Clifton Hill
What did you think? Intrigued? I don't have a larger story for this scene, it's something that popped into my mind years ago, some smith-type character that could see deeper into his art than one would expect, so much so that it might be considered a talent. You've perhaps heard the analogy that a sculptor does not craft the shape from the stone (or wood), so much as they liberate what was already hiding within.
And what happens if this rocksmith didn't just see a piece of art hidden within, what happens if he saw something dreadful?