The Summit of Asuroth
In a time long ago and a place now lost from all memory save that of the very wise, there was a town half-hidden by mist and nestled among the mountains. Ellril was its name, and the people who lived there were strong of heart but inexperienced in warfare, for theirs was a land of peace. But Ellril stood at the base of the mountain Asuroth, and at the peak of that mountain was the home of the great black dragon Golmast, whose stirrings were thunder and the rumblings of the earth. Golmast was ancient past reckoning, ancient beyond the passage of centuries into aeons; and when the world was young and formless and full of fire, he was already old, and in what primal void of sprawling chaos he first grew and found life, no record tells, or if any did it is now lost.
Golmast was powerful, but he slept much of the time now, and he seldom stirred in his ice caverns high above. The townspeople regarded Asuroth and its white summit with a quiet foreboding; for no one alive had ever seen the dragon, but stories were passed down, no more than legends of legends, of dark and terrifying days long past; and there was unease in Ellril.
Days passed, and became weeks, and then years, and dark clouds gathered around the mountaintop. Rumors became more horrifying in the telling and retelling, and always people's eyes were drawn to the mountain; and so it went. But into this growing disquiet came Masdin.
It is said that there is a balance between hope and despair, so that where one grows the other must produce some champion or force of strength to preserve its place in the minds of men. Whether this is true, or not, is a matter for talk in firelit cottages, late at night, in cold winters when the mind wanders. As for Masdin, to his own eyes he was only a cold and weary wanderer who was making his way into a village at the end of the day's light.
He was a strong man, not young but not yet old, and whence he came originally he himself scarcely remembered; his travels were dictated by the gossamer whims of random fortune. Now they led him here, and he was content.
Masdin was welcomed with little ceremony, though some wonder, for visitors to Ellril were rare. He found the inn and ate his supper in the common room, surrounded by the inquiring glances of wary strangers too respectful of silence to break it with questions.
Yet at length he spoke.
"Thank you for the food," he said.
There was a murmur of reply, followed by another silence. Into this came a question from the gathered mass of townspeople.
"Where are you from?" someone asked, and a hush settled on the room in anticipation of an answer.
"The south," Masdin replied, and this seemed satisfactory. For the people of Ellril, the world consisted of the town itself, the mountains around it, the vast, broken wasteland to the north, and a vague understanding that many other people lived strange other lives "away south;" Masdin fit neatly into the latter category.
Another question came, from a younger man this time. "Why have you come?" But to this there was no answer, unless silence is an answer, and late evening passed away into night without further interruption as sleep crept over Ellril.
Day came, and went, and came and went again, and as time passed, Masdin gained acceptance in the town. He spoke little in conversation and kept mostly to himself, often going on long treks into the mountains from which he would not return for days or weeks. He became a curiosity, the subject of local talk; yet he also became, obscurely, a source of strength. He moved with a sense of purpose - not as one who knows what he must do, but as one who is searching for something and will know it when he finds it. There was a light of wisdom in his dark eyes, a strength in his hands -
And he carried a sword.
It was a great blade, straight and keen-edged and beautiful, marked with strange symbols and set with a diamond in the hilt. Dionin was its name. It was a source of endless fascination to the people of the town, many of whom had never seen a sword. Some of the children began using sticks to play at swordfighting, in imitation of how they imagined Masdin fought. When he saw them, he only smiled.
But the people's disquiet grew, for the clouds turned ever darker, and storms came often, and the earth began to shake beneath their feet. People said it was a bad omen and were afraid. And one day the dawn rose red under a black sky.
The dragon came.
Golmast came like an avalanche down the mountainside, boulders scattering in his wake, his claws rending great gouges in the rock. He was vast and terrible, ominous and black, like a thundercloud with scales of iron. His eyes were dark and shone with liquid malice. His jaws opened wide, and his tail beat against the earth, shaking it.
Terror sprang up in Ellril as everyone ran, scattering in all directions, some screaming, some stricken with silence, all afraid. And not a few looked around desperately, wondering where Masdin was, searching for the strength his presence somehow lent. But he was gone, away in the mountains; so the people fled, and those caught by the dragon were devoured, and those who escaped sat huddling in the cold, listening to the tumultuous roar of towering devastation set loose upon their town.
When Masdin returned two days later, most of the people were back, but Ellril lay in ruins. Rubble cluttered the streets, and houses everywhere were torn apart. The wind, bitterly cold, beat itself against what walls still stood. Of Golmast there was no sign.
All that day, and the next, and the next, Masdin helped in the work of beginning to rebuild the town, but his mind was elsewhere, and he spoke even less than usual. That night, when most were asleep, he set out again. Only one person saw him leave, an old woman, and she asked where he was going.
"To Asuroth," he replied, and he was gone.
All that night and all the next day he spent climbing the mountain. At first there was a path, but this quickly deteriorated into nothingness, and he was left to pick his way among the boulders with only his view of the summit to guide him.
On the evening of his first day of climbing, he found a small cave. It gleamed in the light of the setting sun, and as he approached he saw the cause: all the inside of the cave was set with diamonds. Some were large, some were small, but all were cut and polished, and the sight was dazzling to the eye. Long he stood there, in wonder, and at last he chose the one that seemed most beautiful to him, and took it, for it slid easily out of the rock. He wrapped it in a bundle and put it in his cloak, and then he lay down on the cave's floor to sleep.
He awoke in the middle of the night to a screech in the darkness, and he saw a small brown goblin, long-eared and hideous, staring at him.
"You haven't got a shield," it said.
In spite of his surprise, Masdin answered. "I don't need a shield."
The goblin chuckled. "Haven't got a sword, either!" it crowed and bounded out of the cave.
Masdin glanced around hastily and saw that it was so; Dionin was missing. With a growl of bridled rage, he ran in pursuit.
The creature led him on a long chase over broken terrain, scrambling up steep slopes littered with pebbles, hopping around madly, hiding in icy gorges, and stopping every few minutes to howl with derision at its pursuer before moving on.
Masdin raced after the goblin with great speed, but even so it was clear to him that the monster could have evaded him if it wished. The thing wanted to be followed...
He stopped and called out to it. "Give me back my sword!"
It sneered at him.
"My sword!" he shouted again.
"Thief wants his sword back! Thief doesn't like thieves!" it cackled.
Masdin understood at once. He took out the diamond and held it aloft. "This? You want this?" He set it on the ground and backed away from it. "Take it!"
The goblin eyed him warily.
"Take it!" he repeated.
It sniffed the air, then scampered over and snatched up the jewel triumphantly. The creature gave him a toothy grin and shot off into the distance without a word of thanks. It was soon gone.
With another growl and a muttered curse, Masdin set off again in the direction of the cave. But when he arrived there once more, he was surprised by what he saw. Next to the supplies he'd left there, he found Dionin, returned to him - and next to that was a shield made of diamond.
He picked up the shield, holding it, and stared in wonder for a few moments. It was not heavy, but it felt solid - felt like adamant - and it was of a good size. And beautiful! How exquisitely crafted, how perfectly cut, how every passing ray of moonlight was framed in brilliance on its crystal facets!
"I do not need a shield," he said again, but he did not cast the thing aside, and when he set out again the next day he took it with him.
Asuroth was a stern mountain, tall and imposing and difficult to climb, but Masdin made good progress on its frigid slopes, and by the evening of the second day he had come far through great peril.
He picked his resting-place under the shelter of a cliff wall, high and sheer, with a slight overhang. It bordered a wide, flat, open area where the wind swept wildly in one long, ongoing, violent gust. The rock was little protection against its steadfast fury, but it was better than nothing.
Evening hovered on the edge of night, but no stars were visible through the glowering mass of dark clouds overhead. Masdin lay, exhausted, moments from sleep, when something caught his attention.
At first he was not sure what it was, for he could see no movement in the frozen darkness, and silence reigned; but at last he understood: the wind. The wind had stopped.
He rose and walked warily into the sudden stillness, the air charged with foreboding, like coming death; it was as though the world held its breath in anticipation, as if he had found the hub around which time and space revolved, and all was quiet.
All at once, with an inaudible snap, the tension was gone. Lightning cracked and seared the brooding sky. Thunder boomed - and a tendril of cloud reached down from above to touch the ground. Slowly, deliberately, as Masdin watched in wonder, the heavens funneled themselves onto the open heath.
And at last all the thundering clouds were collected into a single vast pillar, so that none were left anywhere else in the sky; but the open sky was black, utterly black, and starless. And the pillar shrunk, falling away from its connection with the sea of ink above, down, down, down, until at last it was only twice Masdin's own height - and there it stopped.
And the swirling darkness roiled and took the form of a man.
It was a knight. All of his body was covered in armor, dark gray and tinged with lightning. He had a huge battle-axe, double bladed and silver, and in his left hand he held a shield taller and wider than Masdin himself. He wore no helmet, and his raven hair flew wildly in the screaming air. His eyes shone bright white, and his countenance was terrible to behold.
The being spoke, and his voice rolled like the heart of the storm. "I am the Tempest Knight," he said, and the sound of his words still echoed on the mountain as he swung his axe.
Masdin leapt aside, casting away his shield as useless against the massive weapon, and gripped Dionin with both hands. They entered into combat. On the one side raged the Tempest Knight, footfalls reverberating, axe swinging, a force of nature made corporeal, bellowing as he fought; on the other, Masdin, quick and agile, sword gleaming, darting and dodging amid the pounding of the night.
How long did their duel last? A minute? An hour? How many timeless seconds ticked away in the blackness of the empty sky? Time had no meaning in that fight, to those fighters; all was metal and motion and the rocky ground.
Yet the battle did end. Masdin thrust Dionin into the heart of the Tempest Knight, and the knight screamed. It was a wordless cry that came from the depths of the void, and the air trembled with the sound. An explosive torrent of wind burst from the place he had stood, knocking Masdin onto his back with its force. For a moment, all of sight was a white brilliance, and all of sound was an overpowering roar; and then there was silence.
Masdin got up and looked around, dazed, but there was no sign of the knight. The world was quiet but for a slight breeze. He collected his sword and shield and returned to his makeshift bed at the base of the cliff - and there he found, oddly, a large green leaf that emitted a faint but pleasing aroma. He kept it.
Masdin slept beneath the stars that night.
On the morning of the third day he set out with renewed vigor, for the peak of Asuroth was in sight. The mountain became ever more dangerous as he climbed, with sheer cliffs, slippery precipices, frigid gusts of violent wind, and always the threat of avalanche. But Masdin was strong and courageous, skillful and steadfast, and he made his way undaunted through the rock and the blinding snow. And on the evening of the third day, he reached the summit.
He came through a narrow passageway with high walls on either side and into a vast chamber of stone. Before him was a huge wooden gate, and in front of that stood a colossal stone statue, arms outstretched, palms upward; and its eyes were sapphires.
The statue spoke.
"Would you pass?" it asked in a voice as deep as the ages.
There was only one answer. "Yes."
"Will you answer the riddle?"
"Then consider, and answer."
And the statue gave the riddle:
"I've shown myself in countless wars
But seldom on the ocean's shores
I live on flowers and on trees
I spread with sickness and disease
My face is seen at break of dawn
When light is lost, I'm also gone
I am a thing no man can hear
Yet light a fire and I'll appear
When apples rot, I also die
I can't be felt - but what am I?"
And the words of the riddle appeared in large golden letters at the base of the statue.
The answer was not immediately obvious to Masdin, so he sat down to think. Hours passed; the night wore on. At last he fell asleep.
He woke with the coming of the dawn, and he got up and left the chamber to see the rising sun; and as he gazed to the east, it came to him.
He ran back into the chamber to stand before the statue and speak:
The colossus did not answer, but it melted into dust and was swept away by the wind. All that remained were two sapphires lying on the ground. These Masdin took; and then the gates opened, and he stepped into the darkness.
Masdin came first to the Rain of Daggers. He saw a great chasm crossed by a narrow bridge of stone. Above there was no ceiling, only darkness; and out of this came a continuous stream of daggers hurtling downward point-first. The room echoed with the constant clang of steel on rock where they hit the bridge and tumbled off into the abyss.
This made him pause for a moment in thought, but he remembered his diamond shield and decided it would serve him here. He held it above his head as protection against the daggers and in this manner crossed the bridge in safety. Once he was on the other side, the shield faded away into nothing, its purpose served. Masdin moved on.
Next was the Hall of Smoke. He came to a long passageway where great fires burned to the left and the right, and these filled the air with smoke and noxious fumes. But he remembered the leaf and its cool scent, and holding it to his nose, he crossed the hall in safety. Once he was on the other side, the leaf faded away into nothing, its purpose served. Masdin moved on.
Finally he arrived at the Lair of Ravens. It was a wide room, and when he entered, two large black birds dove at him and would surely have killed him; but he remembered the sapphires and threw them aside, one to the left and one to the right. The ravens squawked and changed their path to chase the jewels, their attention distracted; and as he ran across the room to the gate on the other side, the gems faded away into nothing, their purpose served. Masdin moved on.
And so he came at last, through great danger and over great distance, into the cave where Golmast made his home.
The air was bitterly cold, and ice covered the walls and ceiling of that vast cavern. But Masdin heard a rumbling ahead, so he made his way forward until he saw that which he had come to see: the terror of the land, the black monstrosity, bane of Ellril, the dragon of Asuroth: Golmast.
The creature was huge and terrible to behold. Its body was covered in thick black scales. Its claws were sharpened steel and glistened in the dim light. Its mouth was large enough to snap up horses whole. The tip of its tail flicked like a whip against the ground.
Yet Golmast was asleep.
Masdin gazed in wonder and horror at the beast, listening to the deep sounds of its breathing, for a long time - and then he drew his sword.
Golmast awoke from a deep sleep, full of dreams, and he awoke into a new dream; for the sound that awoke him was the sound of his own name spoken aloud, and it was spoken by a man with a sword; and this must be a dream, for such things never happened to him anymore. A human had not challenged him for - how long? Centuries? Millennia? He was not sure. The years ran together, now.
The man kept speaking, and his words ran together, too. What was he saying? A challenge? The language seemed almost familiar - but no. Life ran together, all of it, and he could not be sure.
The cave around him - the cave in his dream - seemed cold. That was good. The cold was good. He breathed - so many memories! How the dreams grew into one another, the sleeping into the waking and back again! All was a blur -
There was a blur of motion in front of him. The words had stopped, the sword was out, and the man was rushing towards him. Golmast reared back with a roar -
He reared back with a roar as the Red Dragon lunged at him, fire pouring from its nostrils. Golmast was not intimidated. He had faced other dragons before, greater than this one. The Red Dragon would soon be dead. He swiped a claw at it -
He swiped a claw at the little man with the sword, but the man dodged. He was quick -
The eagles were quick, swooping down at him from their eyries with talons outstretched in the rushing air. Golmast twisted and writhed, snapping at them as they flew past. The eagles hated him for raiding their nests, and they attacked him, but he was not afraid. They could not harm -
The human could not harm him, not with his tiny, pinprick blade. Golmast turned to face him again, but already he was behind him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a flash of steel -
He saw a flash of steel in the noonday sun; knights were riding towards him, lances forward like wasps with stingers out, swept towards him in the charge of battle. The emperor had sent his entire force at him. A thousand legions. Golmast snorted with derision. Mortals. He lashed out with his tail, unhorsing five. How long ago had that been, now? Ages. And he was old. So old. A lance point struck him in the side, and he screamed with pain -
He screamed with pain, a shrill, inhuman cry that sent shivers through the icy cave. The little human had stabbed him! Ridiculous! And the pain! Hot blood seeped from the wound. His thoughts exploded into a towering rage. He would crush -
He would crush them all! Everywhere they sprang up! Village after village! City upon city! Empires, and monuments, and machines, and everywhere, everywhere, the spread of humanity! At first killing them had been so easy, such pleasurable glory, but the raw and icy glory had tarnished with every passing, interminable year. And at last he came to live in the mountains, away from the wearying tide of man and stone and steel that went ever on -
On and on the battle went, through rage, through pain, through shock and horror and fear and now past hope of victory. And his body felt wet from his wounds, and his blood was warm -
He was warm here, in this place of heat and light, warm, and he was young, and not yet strong. Thunder sang in the clouds overhead, and there was a light rain. Fog was in the air. The earth trembled, but this to him was only another kind of peace. Was this real? Had he truly been this young once? Ages and ages, so very, very, very long ago. No. Don't think. Breathe the warm air. He closed his eyes, and there was darkness -
And there was darkness.
|4 Mar 2003|| Anonymous|
very good structure, and symbolism in the end. too vague as to the questions arising in my head, why did the goblin help Masdin after he stole his diamond? why did the tempest knight come? what makes Masdin so special that he was able to kill the dragon? i know, i know, its only a short story but it could give more, you are a gifted writer though. good luck in the future. Brian Buckley
replies: "Ok, to answer the questions... basically, it was arranged in more of a classic fantasy style, i.e. there are "tests" the hero must pass - it's centered around the hero, so there isn't a whole lot of "why" to the test. Maybe not too satisfying, but it's all I can give you. As for how he beat the dragon - Golmast was very old, weak, hallucinating, and overconfident. And Masdin was very, very good."
|24 Aug 2004|| Ricky N. Barnett Jr.|
I like the classic style to it.
good job on yet another great peice. I'm off to read more. Brian Buckley
replies: "Thanks... this was a story where I basically stopped worrying about making everything make sense so much, and just wrote down what came to me. It was a fun exercise, but probably not too successful as a general rule. I like it though."
|6 Mar 2007|| Anonymous|
I am by no means a source of great knowledge when it comes to writing, so do not place any store on my comment to heavily. I didnt like it that much. Yes it was a short story done in classical style, and i can appreciate that it was a bit of fun for you the writer (jotting things down as they came), but for me it had no substance. I thought also your descriptive writing was ok, but just didnt do it for me...i needed more...yes...short story heheh. Anyway good job, i hate writing short stories myself, i just find i want to write on forever describing, creating ect. heheheheh
|8 Dec 2007|| Dan DC Peterson|
Good writing, but with so many dragon slaying stories it was completely unconvincing and unrealistic. In the real mythologies that insprired modern fantasy, "killable" dragons are seldom larger than a goat. This is because these people had far more commons sense than people of today brought up on indestructable marvel super heroes. Back then, people still fought boars and bears with spears and could not believe any man could kill the large dragons carved on their churches that only God could control and would be releasd to devour the wicked on judgement day. Dragons fought by Saints were generally believed to be the "baby offspring of Satan". One also wonders why this dragon that has lived "since time began" would not possess more magical abilities than a wannabee dragon slayer and his handful of magical trinkets. How utterly boring. You build this up as the typical, predictable, rediculous, hero slays dragon cliche' and thats all you gave your reader. A cleverer writer may have done something less expected and predictable.
|23 Jun 2009|| Jimmy Shanahan Brandt|
Good short story, very much enjoyed the classical style. As for how Masdin killed the dragon, Golmast and not to mention Masdin himself...
I understand Golmast was old and such; it made sense, as well as him being there before the dawn of Time and Existence... People think far too much of such things, or perhaps too little. After all, they only matter within the realm of our own insignificant universe.
And Masdin. He’s interesting. "...there is a balance between hope and despair, so that where one grows the other must produce some champion or force of strength to preserve its place in the minds of men..." almost makes me think of him as a manifestation more than a living being. But now I’m just pouring out my own thoughts here.
Keep writing! You’ve got great talent.