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Chockstone Forum - General Discussion
General Climbing Discussion
|Light climbing fiction for the seriously bored
Over a year ago, after a successful Arapiles weekend, a story idea was hatched. During the car ride back to Melbourne, a vague plot was formed about a fantasy/quest story focussed on climbers and climbing lore. What would a fantasy story about climbers be like?
The following draft chapter is the first in several that attempt to answer this question. Characters were based on the nicknames of climbers I know (not the climbers themselves) and it was all done for a bit of distraction and mild amusement.
Enjoy. Or not. It makes no difference to me, I make no money either way.
Tales from Topout
Prince Rockhard and the Holy Hex
There is a world called Topout, a world dedicated almost entirely to climbers and their ilk. Well probably not. It’s more accurate to say that climbers and their ilk are dedicated to Topout. Much in the same way that the ocean doesn’t exist purely for the benefit of fish, but local conditions are hard to argue against.
The view from above (the most commonly taken), shows a range of kingdoms, crags, cliffs, canyons, the Bakeries of the Neutral Lands and more, each one with it’s own terrain and people. But first, welcome to Cliffedge - a land far from overdeveloped areas but still close to amenities. A fairer land where climbers are mostly free from poor weather, chossy ascents and the social pressure of having to bathe more than twice a week when on a strict climbing schedule.
But now look closer, zoom in towards one particular cliff. An unusually well presented individual is quietly soloing up a cliff face. He’s no novice, simply being at this cliff is evidence of that, let alone climbing it. This towering wall of granite simultaneously inspires and intimidates. Even people on the ground have been known to tie themselves to a tree before looking all the way up, just to lessen the vertigo. But this climbing individual is in fact climbing royalty and more about him will soon become clear. Enough talk, climb on!
Up on the cliff face, Prince Rockhard of Cliffedge grimaced and considered the next move. He adjusted the chin strap on his crown and put more weight on the low pinkie jam keeping him on the face. Now ready, he launched and with only minor twangs and protests from his groin, snared a big toe on the crimp hold by his head.
Right, he thought. The next bit may get tricky.
‘Sire!’ The Castle Ghost, a former climber who made the transition to spirit without having to change his tan appeared next to him.
‘You must come at once my lead! The Holy Hex has been stolen!’
At this the Prince almost lost his grip and swore as best you can with a quickdraw in your mouth. The idea was almost unthinkable, the Holy Hex had been a permanent fixture for years. Like the sky or porridge you forgot to clean out of the pots that has now set like concrete.
Taking care (in order to avoid joining the realm of the Castle Ghost ), he quickly down-climbed and made for home. After a quick bush bash, trail hike, scrub walk and a discreet stop in the bushes, he came to his home, Castle Rockhard.
As always it stood high and proud, just off the ground and protruding out of the cliffs like some bizarre growth that incorporated bunting. The castle stone took the characteristics of the crags it was attached to. There were deep oranges and reds with slashes and smears of lighter stone, mixed through the rock like the lines of a multi-layer cake. All of which combined to become like an enormous piece of abstract painting in the late afternoon sun. It was home.
But there were signs of distress to the familiar observer. The outer walls already showed signs of mourning, belay calls were curiously absent and the traditional gear slings and improvised clothes lines were all at half mast. The Prince approached the drawbridge (which hadn’t been used in centuries), and climbed through the traditional entrance – the upper windows. There in the Hall of the Grand Tarp, behind the Royal Throne was a horrible gap in the wall. The castle was already filling up with muttering climbers and general hangers-on as news of the theft spread.
‘Who could have done this?’ the Prince demanded. ‘The Holy Hex was forever bomber! Unremovable!’
‘We do not know.’ Said the Ghost sadly. ‘We believe it was just one climber. They got in, somehow stole the Holy Hex and then pinched the chocolate teddys on the way out.
Prince Rockhard considered this. Then before he could ask if anything happened to the hummus, the ghost spoke again.
‘The Holy Hex must not remain booty! It holds Castle Rockhard and the Kingdom of Cliffedge together. I was alive in the terrible days when we were a tent and the Royal Anchor was just RPs. Without the Hex I don’t know how long the castle will last. When it fails we are finished!’
Prince Rockhard nodded, in his mind’s eye he could already sense weakness in the castle. The Holy Hex had been placed centuries earlier and the castle was built up around it. It was more than pro, it was Pro – the capital letter was important. Maybe a piece from the legendary First Rack, although it’s entire existence or origins were still just legend.
Some say it came from gods who took pity of humans falling so often. Although others privately speculated that they just wanted the humans to get higher before they fell. There were also stories about wizards, magical pro-smiths, gifts in the forms of a challenge from the moutains, whatever. The important thing that some pieces existed, no matter that their origins were unknown. Even if they weren’t part of some almighty rack, their impact was undeniable. The Holy Hex had allowed Rockhard’s ancestors to build both a prosperous castle and kingdom that largely defied gravity. But with it gone, theirs was a pinky hold on a windy ledge; the Holy Hex was the foundation of that strength and prosperity.
He imagined the not too distant future, with the forces keeping the castle strong gone. While it’s sudden departure had not resulted in immediate damage, it was coming. It was like taking a vital stone out of a dam wall. Right now there was only a distant hiss of escaping water, but soon everything would give way with a roar. He’d seen people hit the deck before, the idea of a castle and kingdom doing something similar was horrible to comprehend.
With this in mind, Prince Rockhard made a decision. He stuck out a chin so firm you’d be happy to belay from it, plus his chest on which some had already done so.
‘Bastard. He will pay! I will give chase and retrieve the Hex. Regardless of the walk in!’
Prince Rockhard knew what he must first do to save the kingdom. He needed answers, he needed to know who could have done this and why. He would consult Glamrock, the wise, old, tight-fisted hermit that lived amongst the cliffs of WHAT!!?? (so named for their windy ledges). Only coming out at night to search by the light of his magic chalk bag, for a dollar lost many years ago. Even though he was a hermit, like all old men stuck on mountains he seemed very knowledgeable of what was going on.
Plus he was cheap.
Rockhard considered his options. ‘I’ll need supplies and a seconder. I summon my favoured subject who cooks, tastes and occasionally steals my food: ‘Larderman! Laaaardermaaann!’
At the call a figure rapped in from the kitchens in a shower of crumbs.
‘Mmf? (gulp), yes sire!?’
‘Prepare for an epic. We journey to retrieve the Holy Hex!’
Preparation was done carefully as this was no ordinary trip. Rockhard packed his newest and most reliable (but strategically scratched) gear. Some pieces had been donated by the climbing aristocracy and held enormous value. He appreciated this and like anyone else, spent a lot of time telling people of the incredible cost of the things he didn’t actually have to pay for. Some had enchantments that he was only starting to explore, such as the quickdraws that used chirpy tones to judge your placements: Gonna die! Gonna die! Gonna die! Nah, yehgood.
Larderman packed differently but with no less ceremony. He was by trade a provedore to the stars and celebrity camping chef. The first person to climb with fry pans, wok, gas stove, chopping boards, knives, spice rack and more, all with their own inlaid carabiners. It was rumoured he had flipped pancakes 20 metres into the air whilst climbing, so he had time to pull rope and clip in to gear with his fry pan hand.
Once ready they were seen off by most of the population, happy that someone else was doing something. The High Priest gave them the usual blessing for those going on a long journey (got your headlight?), then in accordance with climbing tradition they left the required one and a half hours after the Agreed Leaving Time. Returning for a second departure 30 minutes later to retrieve The Thing That Had Been Forgot (also in accordance with tradition).
But the wind is a curious thing. It can stop conversations across a few metres, or carry them across entire mountain ranges, bouncing from peak to peak for those who know how to listen. Far up in his cave, Glamrock listened to the farewells, just as he listened to whatever the wind brought each day. He’d even heard the High Priest give the dull recital of ‘That Was A Quick Trip’ when Prince Rockhard and Larderman returned for The Thing That Had Been Forgot.
‘The Holy Hex eh?’ he muttered.
‘Wait until they learn of the Crux they face…’
Far away Prince Rockhard and Larderman continued their journey, unaware of cryptic mutterings of old men in caves. They were just following the rules of ‘when thou art lacking a guide book, find a guide.’ Without knowing who took the Holy Hex or how, it was a first ascent in every sense.
They made their way from the castle and approached the cairns that marked the end of Cliffedge proper and the roads to led to the larger world. They had acknowledged the cheers and encouragements from climbers in their own land, however this warmth noticeably lessened upon crossing the border.
This was both in a literal and metaphorical sense. What climbers they saw seemed less eager to wish their party luck as they got further from the castle. Gossip travels faster than official news as it doesn’t always have to carry the heavy detail of the truth. Already, climbers across several lands knew of the quest and could only speculate on the powers of whatever dark forces that had taken the Holy Hex.
All in all, Prince Rockhard and Larderman traveled like a couple of wandering bomb technicians - praised by those who are directly threatened, but nervously avoided by everyone else. After all, they’re only around if something is about to go bang.
The quest continued and the weather worsened along with both their moods. Their initial enthusiasm waning through days of travel by foot, climb and the occasional rappel.
Finally they got to formidable slabs of craggy rock, their destination, home of Glamrock and site of an eternal battle between weather and geography.
Wind howled across the legendarily noisy cliffs of WHAT!!?? There were spires, canyons and gulleys, carved by nature and acting as wind tunnels, forcing gusts this way and that. But these tunnels affected the weather in turn, as wind was bent around spires and barrelled through passages, it hit currents doing the same from the other side. This was one of the few places where a hot westerly would sear your exposed skin, vanish into the twisting tunnels and come back as a cool easterly that makes you reach for a jacket. Right now it was just in a teasing mood. It grabbed at ropes and flapped Larderman’s hood in his face, further souring his mood.
It had taken hours to get up the first pitch and communication with Prince Rockhard on lead was all but impossible. Then an hour ago a packet of flour had fallen open and it’s contents effectively exploded in the gale, coating him and briefly fooling Prince Rockhard into thinking a bushfire had started below.
Sound from above bounced off the cliffs, almost lost in the roar of the weather. A climbing call from Prince Rockhard?
‘WHAT?’ yelled Larderman.
Larderman cursed, the echoes and wind scrambled everything. He decided Prince Rockhard probably said safe. It was certainly closer than any other climbing call he could think of and gave the expected response.
‘Off Belay Prince!’
That was probably an ok. Larderman dismantled the anchor and put his shoes on. The bright side of the flour disaster was that he wouldn’t need to chalk up for the entire climb.
‘Climbing!’ he bellowed.
‘TAY! LIME A STEADY!’
Larderman shook his head, gently dusting the rock in self-raising and climbed on.
About two pitches and a traverse away, the old hermit Glamrock was pleading with three menacing figures. Not an easy thing when your own tightfisted nature can compete with your survival instinct.
‘Look, I’ll give you anything! Well by give I mean lend and by anything I mean almo-’
Glamrock shut up. As one does when faced with a counter-argument that is framed by fangs and delivered at a painful volume from inches away.
One figure in particular was handling the talking. The others stood back, sniffing the air or curling and uncurling their tales. A large claw poked Glamrock in the chest and its owner snarled down at him. ‘You understand? You know nothing!’ Or never get it again!’
He looked longingly at his prize possession the three now had. He was in a bad position to haggle and the claw that poked him was only large compared to his own hands. Compared to the other claws on display it could only be called standard. ‘I understand’ he muttered.
The three moved to the darkness in the back of Glamrock’s cave, one reverting to four legs for the trip. Glamrock himself took up position at the entrance and listened to the approaching climbing banter .
The approach to this ledge was considered run-out by many and Prince Rockhard was no exception. His hand flailed over the top of the ledge and gained grateful purchase. He pulled himself up, stared Glamrock in the knee and gave the post-climb greeting: ‘Faaarrk!’
‘Dry your eyes princess’ said Glamrock in the traditional response. ‘What are you doing up here? Not that it matters ‘cos I can’t help you.’
Prince Rockhard explained his quest as he looped the rope around a boulder and belayed his partner up. Glamrock however, refused to look at him and kept ignoring any questions.
A while later, sweaty and still caked in white powder, Larderman crawled over the edge looking like a badly lost mime.
‘Any luck my lead?’ He asked.
‘None’ replied the Prince. He took Larderman by the arm and walked to the far side of the ledge. ‘In fact he hasn’t even asked me for spare change or UHT milk.’
Larderman paled, or that may have just been the flour again. ‘Something’s wrong, he’s normally ready to trade at least’.
‘Yeah’ said Prince Rockhard. ‘And I think I know what the problem is.’ A fresh grin in place, he approached Glamrock. ‘Ok! One last time. You see-’
‘Right so that was the last time then?’ interrupted Glamrock. ‘Listen mate, I don’t care what you’re up to and don’t want to know what you’re doing with a ghost on belay. Push off.’
‘Actually it’s just flour-’ began Larderman before Glamrock cut him off.
‘Don’t care, tell your story abseiling.’
‘Where’s your magic chalkbag?’ asked Prince Rockhard.
Glamrock’s mouth snapped shut. It seemed like even the wind had quietened down.
‘Very impressive I’ve heard’ continued the Prince. ‘Lights the way and carries entire racks without increasing in weight? Can’t imagine why you’d let go of it when you haven’t found your long lost dollar yet.’
Glamrock just continued his quiet impression of the rock next to him.
‘I think I can help!’ said Prince Rockhard. ‘Why don’t we all just go have a look in your cave? It’s bound to-’
A roar cut him off mid-sentence. It rolled around them, working its way up and down in pitch before dwindling to a gutteral growl, like an engine idling before being switched off.
‘Turn up?’ Rockhard knew those noises well. They had come from the darkness of the cave and could only be made by one thing.
‘Larderman! he cried. ‘Look out! Dark Possums!’
They came scrambling out of the cave in unison, hissing and flexing their claws. Rearing up on their hind legs they were over six feet tall and almost a double sling wide at the shoulders.
These weren’t ordinary possums. These were the Dark Kind, enemy of all climbers, the ones that collect skulls and consider tents and sleeping bags as nothing more than a semi-edible way to wrap the real food.
A couple of daggers hung from their slings but they didn’t need them. They had the muscle and claws to open up a rib cage like it was hinged.
The Prince scrambled for his weaponry but Larderman didn’t hesitate. Twirling fry pans #3 (good for faster moves, notably knees) and #7 (bludgeoning), he leapt towards them and slapped his pocket that had the remainder of the split flour bag.
It went off like a smoke grenade, obscuring climbers and possums alike.
He made short work of the first possum by taking out its legs before bringing down the #7. A spray of chilli powder into the face of another gave him enough time to forcibly apply a pointed climbing shoe to its groin and fry pan to the face. It barely went cross-eyed before collapsing, old flakes of porridge now embedded in its forehead. The final possum hastily retreated in the face of dwindling odds, managing to run eleven metres before realising the ledge ended at ten.
Prince Rockhard listened to the fading screech until it finished with a crash (that particular sound halfway between a crunch and a splash).
Larderman meanwhile had already re-stowed his gear and was checking to see if he could salvage any of the flour. Glamrock hadn’t hesitated in getting his chalk bag back from the now prone possum and was checking it either for a pulse or more likely, valuables.
‘That was incredible’ said Prince Rockhard smiling. ‘I didn’t know you were such a fighter.’
‘My lead’ said Larderman. ‘Truly you are one of the great climbers in the kingdom, but I prepare meals. You soon learn how to deal with possums.’
While still impressed by this unexpected display of Cook-Fu, the Prince turned his attention to Glamrock who sat muttering and clutching his retrieved chalk bag.
‘Glamrock, we’ve helped save your magic chalkbag. Would you say that you owe us?’
‘I wouldn’t say it.’
‘Ok, but the fact is you do. Come on Glamrock, point out a hold ‘
Glamrock didn’t like being faced with a debt that couldn’t be fixed by stealing someone’s milk.
‘Alright’ he said. ‘You’re looking for the Holy Hex right? Been stolen? The Dark Lord Crux is behind it, I’d bet your boots. A terrible enemy he is, lives in his fortress in the Flatlands with his own army.’
‘Army?’ asked the Prince.
Glamrock c--ked his head to one side. ‘Where did you think the Dark Possums came from? They knew I’d know something, I hear everything up here. I even know who was hired for the job, mercenary called The Ogslaught.
‘Great’ said Prince Rockhard. ‘Where do we find him?’
‘Ah’ said Glamrock. ‘Well, better be prepared before you face him or anything else Lord Crux throws at you, possums are just the start. Then there’s the way there. I don’t know how to do it safely, or at least less dangerously. To find the way there’s one more thing we have to go and consult.’
‘The Philosopher’s Chockstone.’
TO BE CONTINUED...
What a great read! Keep the new chapters coming, that's awesome stuff.
Once resigned myself to the plunge into the endless depths of no paragraph breaks... it's brilliant.
Very entertaining. Continue! :)
Edit to add: thanks for the edit. ^^ Much better now.
An excellent read, that I can see becoming the basis for much future banter on Chockstone!
Thanks for sharing it with us.
I look forward to the next installment.
For those interested in such items, there are also heaps of other 'stories' over on the Short Stories thread, where I have posted a x-link back to this one.
>... crawled over the edge looking like a badly lost mime.
Unreal. Looking forward to the next installment.
Ah yes, my apologies for the formatting. That's what I get for doing a straight cut and paste from word when very tired. I'll take note for next time, glad people have enjoyed!
It continues... Third chapter along soon.
hey, awesome read!
Any chance you can paste it here as work won't allow me to open the link... please? =)
Better still, post it to Short Stories thread, (along with the first chapter)!
Hmm, I tried moving it over to the short stories thread and posting fresh links but the forum just doesn't seem to want me to. Damn technical issues!
In any case, the basic link to where I'm stockpiling the chapters can be found here:
There are more specific links to chapters on the site.
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