Hatchlet and the Quest for the Philosopher's Sword

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Review Chain

Another story in the world of Pathos, following the characters Hatchlet, a human child raised by harpies, and Bronweld, a powerful wizard suddenly forced to take her in and teach her as his new student. While currently written to be a collection of short stories that can be read in any order, I recommend reading this one first: https://www.booksie.com/659340-hatchlet-and-the-land-of-kulvar.
This story follows Hatchlet's first quest, a deeper exploration of magic in the world of pathos, and a prince that just wants a classic adventure.

Hatchlet sits on her balcony, savoring the afternoon sunlight, as she fiddles with a pen and paper, pondering what to write.

“Dear Princess Thrash, I’m sorry it's been a while since my last letter, but I’ve been pretty busy. You know, ‘cause of…” She fumbles for the right word. “...magic stuff.”

It had already been a couple months since Hatchlet’s first encounter with the princess, and she had even visited again when Bronweld had more business in Kul’Var, something about getting giant’s blood for a personal project. But, knowing few others her age, Hatchlet has used some of her free time every week since to write to Thrash.

They both bounce off numerous topics; the daily goings on in their lives, hobbies, debates over whether or not Hatchlet could truly arm wrestle a bear, etc.

But there was one topic they both had done their best to avoid.

“Anyway… I’ve been wondering about something for a while. About the competition-” She scratches it out and says, “Ahh! Too indirect, I sound weird!”

She tries again. “Hey. So you wanna marry me or whatever- NO! Too awkward.”

She slumps down onto her back and lays down on the balcony, sighing. She didn’t think often about Thrash’s roundabout proposal, not really.

But whenever it did come to mind, it was hard to stop.

“Hello?”, a distant voice calls.

Hatchlet jumps up and looks over her railing. Below her, standing at the distant base of the tower, is a person. She can’t quite make out all the details from this angle and height, but she does notice unusually bright colored clothes, so vibrant and alive she has difficulty focusing on anything else about the figure.

Hatchlet rushes out of her room and towards Bronweld’s workshop, pounding on his door with eager vigor from her newfound distraction.

“Bronnie! We have a visitor!”

“Not now, Hatchlet, I’m almost-” but his voice cuts off and almost immediately he yanks the door open, his gloves still steaming with molten heat. “I’m sorry… what did you say?!”

“A visitor at the door-”

Bronweld stands aghast. “...But we don’t get visitors.”

“Well, we do today. Why are you surprised, anway? Isn’t there a magic button or something, something for people to let you know they’re at your door?”

“Of course not.”

“Why not?”

“‘Cause then they’d use it!”

Hatchlet drags a reluctant wizard to greet his guest and opens the heavy steel door of the tower’s entrance.

Waiting for them on the other side, a young, dark skinned man poses dramatically with a frilly crimson suit and a billowing silk cape.

“Salutations, Archwizard Bronweld Stormforger, he who bends lightning into steel and blood into fire-”

Bronweld groans softly. “Please, no…”

The stranger draws a bejeweled one-handed blade of gold and ruby and thrusts it towards the ground by his side. “I am Mercolo Yavanti, third in line for the Princedom of Yavanti, yes, that Yavanti, and soon-to-be legendary swordsman-”

“No.” Bronweld says roughly.

“I have journeyed far to find you, so that I may beseech-”

“I said no. Scram.”

Mercolo Yavanti, third in line for the Princedom of Yavanti, deflates a little, with a look of despair creeping across his face.

“But-”

Bronweld tries to slam the door, but Hatchlet catches it and heaves it back open, much to the surprise of her teacher.

“Don’t mind him.” She says. “He’s just grumpy from being stuck in his room all day. Please, continue.”

“Well, I’m glad someone is respectful here. Thank you, miss…?” Mercolo drags out the pause, awaiting a response.

“Hatchlet.”

“Ah, Hatchlet. Hatchlet…?” Drags another pause, awaiting another response.

“Yeah, call me Hatchlet.”

“I mean, what is your family name? Or last name, perhaps?”

“I haven’t even chosen my first name yet. Not sure I’m ready to choose the last one I’ll ever have.”

Mercolo digests these words with a confused palette. “Your… what do you… ah, nevermind, I’m losing focus! Bronweld Stormforger!”

“Yes?” Bronweld says, ready to shut the door again the moment Hatchlet loses grip.

“I have come here for your guidance on my quest for the Philosopher’s Sword-”

Bronweld scoffs.

Mercolo’s bravado melts into a glare. “I had heard you were a difficult sort, but I never imagined such indignation! I am merely here to ask for your aid.”

“Insulting me and then asking for help? That’s not usually the order of things, now is it?”

“I- but you started-”

“I shall have none of this nonsense. Good day, Prince Mercolo- oh, wait, I mean backup-backup prince Mercolo.” He wrestles the door from Hatchlet and shuts it on Mercolo’s face.

As he stomps back to his workshop, Hatchlet veers behind him in frustration.

“You could have at least heard him out!” Hatchlet protests.

“I’ve told you, many, many times; I. Don’t. Do. Quests.”

“Why not? Who knows what exciting things could happen-”

He spins around and points an accusatory finger. “Exactly! It's impossible to know what will happen! It's chaos! And quests lead to more quests forevermore! A quest is its own sort of magic; the worst kind. I’ve grown tired of dabbling with it.”

Hatchlet waits for his rant to finish before she says, with assertion, “Well, I haven’t, cause I haven’t been on any. Not a proper one, anyway.”

Bronweld grumbles in irritation. “Save yourself the trouble. Quests aren’t worth it… they never leave you satisfied.”

“Don’t you ever get tired of staying in this tower so much? Only going out for quick jobs once every other week?”

“Not really, no.” Bronweld says, truly meaning it. A craftsman could get lost in his work, and Bronweld liked being not found when he was.

Hatchlet sighs with a puff. “Well… I do. I grew up with friends and people all around my nest. It's been really hard for me to be secluded all the time… with so few voices other than my own. And yours.”

“Hatchlet, I take you all over the world-”

“Again, like bi-weekly, and you don’t always bring me. Half the time it's stuff you say I’m not ready for and you leave me on the Storm Flower.” She rubs her talon necklace, calming herself down. “I’m sorry, I’m thankful for all the stuff you’ve taught me, but I need to be around more people… other people. And you just shut out the first new person I’ve seen in weeks.”

Bronweld looks down at Hatchlet for a moment, sensing he was about to do something he greatly did not want to do. He resists… for a few seconds at least.

“It’s beautiful!” Mercolo says, standing on the deck of the Storm Flower a couple hours later, taking in the sight of the clouds zooming past and the occasional bird passing by. He continues gawking at the ship and exploring its colorful and winding deck.

“What a miracle of genius!” He decreeds.

“The only miracle is how I haven’t dropped you off in the Crownless, now sit back down!” Bronweld shouts from the helm.

As Mercolo slumps down against the rail, Hatchlet pats his shoulder in sympathy and says, “Don’t worry about it. Quests are just a whole thing for him.”

“I knew he was going to be a bit reluctant… with all of the rumors about him.” Mercolo says with a judgemental tone. “But I thought he’d be a wizened man with words of wisdom amidst his fits… not just a grease monkey!”

“Hatchlet!” Bronweld yells. “Tell that third-rate noble prick if he calls me a monkey again, I’ll brush up on my transmutation notes and turn him into an ape fitting of his station… probably a baboon.”

Mercolo laughs for a moment, but the laugh dies as he sees the sparks of energy spilling from beneath Bronweld’s goggles.

“He is joking, right?”

Hatchlet waves her hand dismissively. “Of course, he’d never do that.”

“Oh, thank gods-”

“Transmuting a living person is much too hard. He’d much sooner vaporize you than anything challenging.”

The rest of the ride, Mercolo was dutifully polite.

Eventually, late in the noon, but still quite a bit until evening, the Storm Flower anchors itself and floats to a halt.

Beneath the ship, a boggy wilderness awaits.

Mercolo speaks up as he struggles to dismount from the ship’s platform. “Ah, there seems to be some mistake. We need to meet my contact for our first lead to the sword’s whereabouts-”

“No need, already know where it is.”

“...Really? How?”

“I’m the one that left it here.”

Mercolo stops in his tracks. “YOU were the wizard that bested the Ivory Judge?”

Hatchlet frowns. “Who?”

Bronweld clicks his tongue in annoyance. “It was some lawmaster obsessed with riddles a few years ago-”

“Almost a century!” Mercolo interjects.

“Yes, exactly, a few years ago. Real boring man, with a sort-of clown get-up. Never did figure out what his deal was. A reverse jester, perhaps?”

“He was a mad tyrant!” Mercolo protests. “He was vicious and cruel, harshly punishing his citizens for the most trifling of grievances! It is said that he flogged people for looking left before right when crossing the street!”

“Yes, yes, whatever. One thing led to another, I was on trial, I won, and he said I earned his title or some nonsense. I refused, of course. Legal work is the least of my interests. Then he burst into confetti.”

Mercolo looks appalled. “The stories say few ever won his trials, and those who did he would offer his seat. That those few that impressed him were compelled by his power, and possessed by his spirit, turning them into the next Ivory Judge… it was said you were too virtuous to be tempted...”

Bronweld smirks. “Is that what he was doing? Strange. Must have been one of the Fabled Ones, then. They are bound even more by magic’s rules than I am.”

As the trio walk farther from the ship, thick mist begins to hang above them. The flat marshlands become wilder, more overgrown, and thick roots lay like twisted snares before their path and obscuring the way forward..

Mercolo stumbles, and cries out when he sees a spot of mud splash across his cape. “It’s getting dreadfully murky!”

“Indeed.” Bronweld replies. “Hatchlet, how would you solve this?”

Hatchlet turns away from a frog she was trying to catch and says, “What?”

“If you want to quest, it means you want to solve problems. So… try solving one.”

Hatchlet inspects the scene around her, and after a few minutes, comes to a decision.

“I’m gonna stretch my wings.” She says as she leaps up to a tree and climbs past its canopy.

With that, Hatchlet becomes their scout, pointing out the path ahead, helping traverse the wild terrain, and leaping first in danger, including trying to fight a bear. As Bronweld drags her away from the confused animal, she merely yells, “I just want to know!”

“Know what?” Bronweld asks while struggling to contain the power of a Hatchlet.

“Who’s stronger?”

Bronweld decided to not let her find out.

Eventually, they find their way to a damp, flat grove with dozens of scattered mossy stones and small boulders.

As they enter, Hatchlet grumbles, “...I could’ve taken her.”

“With your ferocity, I have no doubt!” Mercolo seconds. “Why, if I wasn’t predisposed at the time, I would have valiantly joined you in an epic duel against nature incarnate itself!”

Bronweld gives him a sideways glance. “You mean, after you were done valiantly retreating from the forces of that one duck?”

“It fought without tactics! That’s the most dangerous foe of all!”

“How?”

Mercolo laughs and scoffs at the same time. “All true swordsmen know the most dangerous opponents are the ones that know the least. Nothing is more unpredictable than an ignorant opponent.”

Bronweld whispers to Hatchlet, “Then why isn’t he more dangerous? Eh?”

She rolls her eyes, but stifles a chuckle.

Mercolo narrows his eyes. “I don’t know what you two are laughing at, but- wait! Is that-”

In the center of the grove, a lone blade sits inside a derelict stump. The pommel is simple, and unadorned, and metal is a dull bronze. Simple, despite its renown.

“It looks so…” Hatchlet searches for the word. “Basic.”

Mercolo smiles knowingly, like a teacher explaining their favorite subject. “It may appear simple, but its history is anything but! It has exchanged hands across every continent. I’d daresay it has a name in every language; the philosopher’s sword, the final verdict, the edge of ethos-”

“Why not just take it, and show her how it works?” Bronweld says, keeping a blank expression.

Mercolo rushes towards it, but almost immediately stumbles to his knees. “What… what is this?”

As Hatchlet approaches, she feels it too. The blade does not shine or glow, but it emanates a pressure, a force. The closer she steps towards it, the thicker the air feels, almost like she was walking through water.

“Is this… abjuration?” she asks.

“Indeed.” Bronweld says, smiling slightly with pride. “Put it there myself. Didn’t think anyone would find it anyway, but at the time there was a city that saw this sword as a god… so I thought an extra obstacle wouldn’t hurt.”

Mercolo, after struggling and failing to press the invisible barrier, falls onto his back and says, “Then, would you mind un...abjuring it?”

“I’m sure my student can solve it well enough.”

Bronweld spots a particularly moss covered rock and hoists himself down onto it. “Better get at it, Hatchlet.”

Hatchlet also tries rushing through it, thinking that her strength is enough, but finds herself walking in place, as though she wasn’t moving at all.

“Hmm…”

Hatchlet wasn’t very experienced with magic, but she was an expert at causing problems, which is essentially the same. Only now she had to work backwards and fix a problem, something she had the second most experience in, with only half as much chance of success.

Circling around the barrier, she tries to spot any vulnerabilities; is it less effective in certain areas, does it have a sort of switch to turn it on or off, etc.

“It’s not that dyna-whatchamacallit-”

“Dynamic alteration-”

“Cause then I would bounce off when I run into it, opposite and equal reaction and whatnot… but it still seems to be pushing against me, so it's not just a wall of energy, there is something more at work-”

“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?” Mercolo asks, still trying to wedge himself through the abjuration.

“Magic stuff.” Bronweld and Hatchlet say in unison.

Mercolo starts slashing at the barrier, hoping his sword will cut whatever invisible wall is blocking his path. “Can’t you just blast it away? Like with a bit of fire or lightning or something?”

Bronweld laughs, while Hatchlet groans.

“That’s what I thought.” She says. “...Before I learned better. But it's not a good idea to hit with anything until I know what language it is.”

“What does language have to do with it? It's magic!”

“What’s your favorite subject?” Bronweld asks.

Mercolo, still swinging his sword haphazardly, answers quickly and without hesitation, “History! Especially regarding valiant heroes and noble kings!”

“Ah, so fiction. Tell me, what would you do if a book was written in a language you didn’t know?”

“I’d just get a translated copy.”

Bronweld sighs. “I suppose you could, if you wanted to lose context. But while that is fine with history and science and fiction, it is not so with magic.”

He stands and raises his steel staff, its small clouded gem glowing bright with primordial and thunderous power. “Magic is alive. Literally and metaphorically, don’t ask how it works, it just is. It does not have personality or a will of its own, but it does have memory.”

He Wills energy through the staff’s gem and lightning bursts into threads of light spinning around him.

“It remembers when people use it. It remembers when people use it to make something new. And when people invent a new magic, whether it be a single application, a branch, or even an entire school, it remembers the way it was crafted. And once a memory is etched, that aspect of itself becomes forever locked in the configuration it was first designed.”

“...And that means, what?”

Bronweld goes to reiterate his answer, even more complicated and detailed than before, but Hatchlet interrupts and quickly says, “It means to do magic, you can’t just use any language or logic, you have to use the same as the first people to use it.”

Mercolo scratches his head. “Okay… so who invented invisible walls?”

“Uh… there’s a lot of answers to that.”

“But you just said it only works one way!”

“For a specific type, yeah! But this could be using weather manipulation, advanced abjuration, heck, it could even be an illusion just messing with our heads!”

Mercolo sighs and returns to slashing at the barrier. “I still don’t see why you can’t just blast the thing.”

Bronweld, leaning back against the stone, says, “For the same reason you don’t light a match and drop it onto oil; not everything reacts kindly to each other. Like a chemical reaction, you have to know how things mix.”

“What’s the worst that could happen, blasting it open?”

Hatchlet thinks for a moment and replies. “It could bounce it back, it could expand the barrier by converting it into energy, it could cause an even bigger explosion, or… it could just break. Do you want me to chance it, or think about it?”

His lack of response tells her to think more.

Hours later, as the sun begins to set, and Bronweld is just about to tell them both he’ll take care of it and explain the process, Hatchlet stuffs her fingers into her ears, screams as loudly as she can, and runs towards the barrier-

Passing through it without resistance.

Bronweld smiles but grunts, happy that his student figured it out, but slightly disappointed he didn’t get to lecture more.

He waves his hand, staff aloft, and the barrier drops.

Mercolo, dozing to sleep, jumps to attention as Hatchlet gets through and the way is cleared. “Yes! What was the answer! A ball of lightning? Controlling the wind?”

“Being deaf.” Hatchlet replies.

“What?”

“It was an auditory illusion inside an abjurial sound barrier. It has some real toughness to it, but it's a weak one and gets weaker if it can’t pass through your ears.”

“How can you tell it was weak?”

“Cause my brain didn’t explode.”

Moving on from that, the three approach the sword. Mercolo reaches for it, but holds himself back. “I know that… I was pretty useless for all this. You should take it, Hatchlet.”

Hatchlet shakes her head. “The quest was for you, it was your dream. Besides, I don’t think Bronnie will let me take it.”

Bronweld says nothing.

Mercolo however bows. “You are a truly valiant wizard, Hatchlet… unlike your teacher.”

He reaches out, expecting the sword to give some sort of final test of worthiness, but jumps back with the surprise as he pulls the sword back with ease.

He laughs, blade in hand, testing its feather light weight and somehow perfect balance. “Yes! Wait until my brother sees this!”

Bronweld leans to Hatchlet and whispers, “He is about to be severely disappointed.”

“Why?”

“Just watch.”

Mercolo spins with a flourish and points the Philosopher’s Sword at a nearby tree. “Philosopher’s Sword, the Edge of Ethos, hear my plea! Judge my heart and see my worth! And be my soul true, cut this tree in twain!”

A voice, sourceless but everywhere at once, answers in an inquisitive tone.

Why?

“Um… why what?”

Why do you want to cut the tree?, the sword clarifies.

“Well, to test your power?”

Understood. No.

Mercolo’s eyes look downwards. “I see… then I am unworthy.”

No.

His eyes brighten. “Then you will cut the tree?”

No.

Mercolo locks eyes with Bronweld. “I- I do not understand.”

“Yes, I had a feeling with the way you talked about it. Tell me… what version of the story did you read?”

“Well, all of them! Records from across all of Pathos-”

“Yes, but what language?”

“...Does it matter?”

Bronweld sighs. “Why do you think it judges your worth?”

“B- Because that’s its whole story! That it can only be wielded by a swordsman that it judges worthy of its power!”

“Right… except it doesn’t judge worth, it judges ethics.”

“...What?”

Bronweld scratches his beard in contemplation. “Must be a translation issue, or perhaps forgotten lore? Both?”

“Is that much of a difference? Are my values and actions not the extent of my character?”

“Wrong line of thinking. It’s not judging you, it's judging your request.”

“To cut a tree? What’s unethical about that?”

The sword responds, its voice reverberating at the back of everyone’s minds.

Has the tree committed an unjustifiable offense?

“Well, no, but-”

Is it imperative that the tree is utilized in some way?

“No, but it’s just a-”

Then your request is denied, prosecutor. And the sword becomes silent once more, its verdict made.

The trip to the Crownless was uneventful. Bronweld refused to fly close to it, and was quick to rush Mercolo off.

Before he embarks, however, Mercolo hands the sword to Hatchlet.

“Are you sure? I thought this was like a milestone for you? Even if you can’t use it much, it's still a souvenir from your first quest.”

Mercolo shakes his head, somewhat ashamed. “But was it? I felt like a bumbling fool. You went on a quest. Me? I was just stumbling along after you.”

He looks to the enormous castle border in the distance. “Perhaps, though, I did gain something.”

“And what’s that?”

“A wake-up call. I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I did, and I am not prepared as half as much as I need to be. Maybe stories aren’t enough… maybe stories are just the starting point.”

As the Storm Flower leaves Mercolo Yavanti and begins returning to the tower, Bronweld asks Hatchlet a question.

“...You getting lonely with me?”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it like that-”

“It's fine, I understand. I often forget… forget how old I am. How everything blurs so closely to me, but is so much more distant to everyone else.”

“It’s fine…”

After a few moments of silence, Bronweld again interjects, “You know… maybe I could use a change of scenery.”

Hatchlet raises her eyes. “You mean-”

“Yep. I think I should-”

“Move out of the tower!” Hatchlet says, excitement bubbling within her.

“...No.”

She slumps back down. “Oh-”

“I’m gonna move the tower.”

“Like… by hand?” She asks skeptically.

“No, like teleoportation! Like my motor-cyle.”

“...It can teleport, too- Wait. Why do we even use the Storm Flower?”

“...Hmm?”

“Why don't we just teleport everywhere?”

Bronweld looks away. Hatchlet looks closer.

“Agh, fine.” He relents. “The practical reason is because it’s a bit chronic in the long-term, and the tower can only take it every so often…”

Hatchlet digs for more. “And the real reason?”

“Because do you know what would happen if every ruler in the world knew I could be at their side with a snap of their fingers? They’d be snapping at me over every sprained toe and stray shadow!”

Hatchlet nods in understanding. “Ah, laziness.”

“Damn right. I work for me, not for them!”

After they return to the tower, and eat and separate to their rooms, Hatchlet looks out to the night sky from her balcony, the stars dimly visible through a scattering of dark clouds.

She holds the Philosopher's Sword in front of her, and looks at it with strained thought.

“Hey, sword?”

Yes, prosecutor?

“Is it ethical to kill?”

There is a delay, but the sword does answer.

If there is no alternative, in the most extreme of circumstances, then yes.

“...Did they kill my mother for a good reason?”

Who?

“The metal men.”

I cannot say, I was not there. But from what I see inside your mind… it is unlikely.

Hatchlet holds the blade outward, edge reflecting the night on one side, and her face on the other.

“If I find them, can I kill them, with you?”

Yes, but that is the wrong question.

“...Will you kill them?”, Hatchlet asks softly.

If ethos demands it.

 


Submitted: September 30, 2021

© Copyright 2021 G.P.Sharp. All rights reserved.

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