As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block has ceased publication. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. 

TODAY

Monday, April 22

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


Airbags

Hello Blagg,

I am Estonia Citizen temporarily living and working in Hong Kong Standard Chartered Bank, I need a partner to represent me in business dealings. When you reply, I will discuss with you further information on these business.

Thank you,
Orwell Callahan.

Trepidation fills my heart as my bootheels echo on the bare rock. Another lungful of chill air burns my lungs and I remind myself again that there is no reason to be afraid, or wary; never mind the fact that I now travel through the merciless mountain country where I nearly died one year ago.

To the left and right I look. I am accompanied by allies, those that I have, and this time the route is known to me, unlike my previous journey, where I sought the hidden lair of the reclusive sage Osgood. We are well-armed and supplied, exactly what I was not when I nearly expired of hunger and mean exposure on this cruel mountainside. We are watchful and alert, which my half-starved and stumbling self was not when I was set upon by a giant and nearly slain upon these rocks.

Nothing to fear. Trudge onward, one foot, then the next.

So it has been since before dawn, when we set out: the boy Alfie, Nan, Rhett, a squad of his rebels and myself. Since breaking camp this morning in the foothills, we have marched upward into the stone heights, our breaths shortened, the air falling cold. We go to palaver with the rogue sorcerers Osgood and Weiland.

These two are the reason the Dark Lord Kayne has massed his Black Guard and sent them north to scour the Towerfall Mountains, where they remain hidden. If the swirling black clouds that loom over the peaks are any indication, Kayne has not yet found and subjugated them. I suppose this should make me glad, but I am apprehensive.

True, the mage Weiland aided my escape from Rheidling, after I inadvertently freed him from a dungeon as the town plunged into chaos. It also is true that between the two magicians, they may know a way to vanquish the horrible Beast that Kayne has summoned into this land. Yet I trust them not; I know too much of their history, their plot to bend the kingdom to their will via their control over the weather, and Osgood has already attempted to play me for the fool once before. Indeed, he almost succeeded.

I find my teeth grinding together and remind myself to relax. If there is to be a battle — and something in the air suggests it — I must remain supple and responsive. And so we plod onward.

Behind me, Nan and Rhett bicker.

"I still think it's a trap," Rhett says.

"Then turn around and go back," Nan yawns.

"The hell I will. These tricksters can't be trusted."

"We've been over this. There's no one else who can tell us how to be rid of the Beast. As long as it's loose, you have no hope of uniting the people against Kayne, and the Axman will remain a wanted man." She pauses. "I mean, more wanted than usual."

At this my teeth begin to grind anew. The treacherous despot Kayne has made me into a scapegoat, convincing the people that I am responsible for the horrid creature that rampages the kingdom. Twice yesterday we passed wanted posters. I refused to move onward until I had felled the trees on which they were nailed.

~*~

It is midafternoon before we near the appointed meeting place, which Osgood described to the boy Aflie via some accursed magical communication. Single file we advance into a small canyon, sheltered from the cutting wind that lashes the mountain's face. The path is narrow, plunging down hundreds of feet onto one side, and several of Rhett's men complain of vertigo. He slaps one across the face and tells him to keep moving, which brings a grim smile to my face. Rhett is a captain after my own heart.

Nearly an hour down the snaking path we come to a broad outcropping, which stretches over the barren floor of the canyon far below. Two hooded figures clad in dark robes stand abreast, watching us, and I know that we have arrived.

"Ahoy, Axman," calls one. He pulls back his hood and I look upon the lined face, made hard by the wind; it is Osgood. I nod in reply, and his partner Weiland pulls back his own hood, tips me a wink. "It's been a while, Blagg," he murmurs, offering a slight bow. I grunt in response, turning to read the boy's reaction, but his face is impassive.

Nan steps up beside me now. "Hello Osgood. Weiland." Her hands draw a quick figure in the air, and the two magicians look at one another.

"A student of our old colleague Grauss, then."

Nan nods.

Weiland cocks an eyebrow. "Shouldn't he be dealing with this, ah, development personally?"

"Kayne had him executed more than 10 years ago."

"I understand." A half-smile comes over the old man's face, and I sense the tension rise.

"Be that as it may," I rumble, "we're here to discuss the Beast, and what may be done about it. It behooves you to tell us what you know, if we are to move against Kayne, for while the Beast lives none of us rests easy."

Osgood folds his arms and Weiland tugs briefly on his flowing white beard. "We know little, but suspect much," he says. Osgood nods. "Kayne has called forth this creature from the nether realms, but now finds his control over it has been broken."

"We know that," Nan snaps. "I was the one who broke it."

Weiland narrows his eyes. "From the peaks we have tracked its movements. It rages here and there like a storm, uprooting forests and smashing villages. Its hide cannot be pierced by your steel, and it is resistant to much known magic."

"We know all that too," I growl. "What can we do about it?"

"There is something that may be tried..." Weiland says.

"...But first, there is price to discuss," finishes Osgood.

"Price?" My ax is in my hand. "This Beast will leave the kingdom in tatters if it isn't dealt with, yet you want to bargain? Perhaps your life is compensation enough?" I take a step toward them and the boy and Nan catch hold of my arms. The old sorcerers' eyes blaze, but my attention shifts suddenly over their shoulders, where a hunched shape skulks above us in shadow...

"Up there!" I cry, but it is too late — the figure scurries away. I turn back to the others: "It's a trap!"

We form a tight circle, searching the rock for whatever other interlopers may be hiding, and Rhett's men rush toward us from where they've been stationed. Then he appears — Gort, the loathsome lackey of the Dark Lord Kayne.

"It ends here, Blagg," he calls to me from across the stone outcropping on which we stand, his men emerging from the cracks and crevices where they had secreted themselves.

"All that ends here, Gort," I roar back, "is your life!" I emit a keening battle cry and rush toward the Black Guard, who must number nearly three dozen, my ax swinging free over my head. After a moment's hesitation the rest follow me, and the battle is joined.

A trio of Guardsmen step between Gort and myself; the first I cleave neatly in two, and while the second dances out of range I crush the face of the third with my elbow as he attempts to circle behind me. Another takes his place and an ax-blow sends him reeling to the ground, his chestplate caved in, while I turn to pursue my target. Beside me Alfie duels two more of the dark-clad fiends, and farther off I see Rhett jerk free his sword from the carcass of another. Nan, meanwhile, pursues Gort, dodging the stabbings of his blade as she attempts to work some piece of battle-magic.

Around us the air grows cold, suddenly freezing, and the wind begins to howl. As I cut down another of the enemy with the assistance of one of Rhett's men, I see Osgood and Weiland standing apart, their arms raised to the darkening sky. Again the wind howls and tiny bits of ice begin to bite at my face. I find it somewhat distracting, but the Guardsman I now face finds it doubly so, for I am able to sever his leg without much difficulty. The wind-speed continues to rise, though, and after I incapacitate another of Gort's men I turn toward the sorcerers, hoping that they can cease or at least slow this gathering storm.

But when I turn, it is not the faces of the old men who give me pause, nor the tortured concentration that grips them. It is the enormous shape that climbs up behind them, horned, vaguely reptilian, the driving snow spinning strange eddies and whorls around its bulky form.

"It cannot be," murmurs one of Rhett's men, standing beside me.

Many run — the remaining Black Guard, most of Rhett's men — but the rest of us watch as the Beast claws its way up onto the overhang, behind the two sorcerers, who remain oblivious. Its sabre-like teeth gleam and its lantern-like eyes crawl over us as it rises up to its full height, nearly 30 feet over Osgood and Weiland, and the wind screams again.

The Beast roars and their concentration finally is broken — in an instant the wind falls still, an enormous clap of thunder shakes the ground, and the creature charges forward.

Confusion and fear scatter those of us who haven't fled. My ax merely glances off the thing's oily black hide and I dive away as it drives one of its enormous claws into the ground where I stood. Gort I see hiding in the rocks, stealing away bit by bit, while Nan tackles the boy to the ground as the Beast's terrible maw snaps at him. Rhett, in a blind rage, hacks away at one of its rear legs until his sword breaks, then tosses the handle at the thing's face. A tight grin takes my face just then.

Osgood and Weiland, meanwhile, regroup and have again raised their arms overhead, spindly wrists jutting from the wide sleeves of their robes. Thunder cracks again and a charge comes into the air, enough to make one's hair stand at attention. The Beast seems to sense it — it freezes, only feet away from disemboweling a defenseless Rhett, and it turns toward the old wizards, standing at the edge of the overhand.

With a hiss and a snort it advances on them. I see their lips moving, pronouncing outlandish syllables, and the wind rises again.

At last the Beast pounces. Osgood and Weiland bring down their hands and a thick bolt of blue lightning streaks downward — but they are an instant too late and it strikes just behind the Beast, shattering the rock on which they stand, and the rock parts, begins to slide.

Sorcerers and foul creature reel and fall, silently slipping out of sight. The Beast roars, the wind screams, and they are gone.

GB store
 

About the Author(s)

A former mercenary for hire, Blagg is an axman by trade and still carries the banner of King Mandrake, the once and true ruler of the realm. Gapers Block readers are invited to contact Blagg for advice, insight and recommendations at blagg@gapersblock.com. His column appears every other Saturday.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15