by Zed Reilly
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Dark · #2285977
Short story inspired by a song.
|For the full experience, listen to pg.lost - Oscillate while reading.|
A long time ago, in an era long lost in the froth and tumult of human history…
The final ruby fell, glittering as it tumbled in the scant starlight. It’s kin, lying below in a pile accumulated over millennia, seemed to vibrate with the tension of a long-awaited release. The world held its breath as it tumbled through the air, tiny facets reflecting the light of long-dead stars. It rang with the sound of a tiny bell as it landed at the apex of the conical pile, its brothers picking up its song, ringing with the clear tone of a tuning fork. The ringing grew in intensity and volume, vibrating the chamber and the huge hourglass the rubies were entombed in, making the dust that had accumulated there puff back into the dank air. The tone hit a harmonic frequency with the hourglass and it began to vibrate in sympathy, an atonal buzz added to the unbearably pure scream of the rubies. The volume and intensity rose, causing sleeping animals on the steppe below the mountain to wake and run out of primal instinct. Clear mountainside streams began to run brown with shifted silt, their glassy surfaces puckered and cratered by the ultrasonic vibrations building up in the water. Small rocks tumbled freely down scree slopes, causing cascades and rockslides across all sides of the old cinder cone.
Just as it seemed the tone might shake the earth itself apart, there was an almighty crack like the breaking of a god’s bones, and the surface of the hourglass crazed, held for a second, and then burst outward with explosive force as an unearthly scream blew with hurricane force out of the cave, scouring the walls and floor of the chamber, lifting the tiles that had been carefully set there by the mages who sealed this place. The scream picked the delicate mosaic up in a wave and blew it with shattering force against the far wall, adding to the broken glass and scattered rubies.
A skeletal hand, wreathed in black flames, stretched itself out of the scattering pile of rubies, followed by the blackened bones of a forearm, scraps of flesh and cloth still clinging to the ancient, cursed bone. A second arm followed, and then a weapon-scarred skull, black flames welling out of the eye sockets and running down the cheekbones as hellish tears. Dripping rubies like a mouthful of blood, the gaping fleshless maw of the skull rose out of the surface and released another scream, blasting more rubies and glass across the ruined floor of the vault. Laboriously, the skeletal figure freed itself from the heap of glittering stones and crawled on hands and knees to the edge of the pile, where it knelt on all fours, shuddering as black flames wreathed its entire body.
The pitted, rotten skull reared back and opened its jaw to its full inhuman extent and screamed while vomiting black flames, shuddering. The flames had left the previously empty sockets and it was now possible to see that wide, unblinking eyeballs had formed there, rolling wildly in their sockets. The irises were the reddish pink of an albino, and the mismatched pupils fixated on the sole source of light in the room – a ragged hole high in the ceiling aligned with the constellation of Archon, the blacksmith of the heavens. Long-dead, newly reborn eyes watched as the night’s ragged clouds drew back and the full light of the constellation fell upon the screaming avatar of torment lying in dark flames on the floor. The flames burst into a new level of intensity, jetting out of the mouth and nose of the skull, forcing themselves through the small gaps in the crown, and out of each section of the spine like a lizard’s ridge of spikes.
The skeleton screamed again, cringing with a new level of anguish than they’d shown before, as if the starlight were the gaze of the cruel eye of an unforgiving god. It curled into a ball, centered in that small window of starlight on the ground. Black flames engulfed it wholly now, smokeless, a raging bonfire, a torrent who’s rush and crackle could not drown out the animal screams coming from within. The wheel of the sky turned slowly overhead, and within a few minutes Archon was no longer aligned with the skylight. All at once the flames extinguished and revealed the shape of a man, shining pale skin rubbed raw, and curled fetally around itself, naked, shuddering on the floor. His new skin torn already along the palms and knees from the carpet of rubies and shattered glass, he rose to his feet and stumbled, newborn on shaky knees ten thousand years old, turning to face the ruined hourglass. Huge shards of the lower bulb remained intact along the backside, jagged fingers of glass reaching upward and cupping the pile of rubies and the throne they had been concealing in its palm. The throne was carved of black granite and deeply etched with unsettling runes. The newborn man flicked his hand at the seat as he approached and the rubies scattered from around it, revealing a dais inscribed with more of the same runes.
Sitting heavily in the throne, the man put his head back, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply of the air, scented with pulverized stone, blood, and the fearful stench of the eldritch and forbidden. What was once his prison, his tomb, would now be his seat of power, the heart of his new empire. He drew a blood soaked finger down each cheek from his eye, leaving two stripes of dark red arterial blood down the bloodlessly pale skin of his face. He picked up a handful of rubies from the piles surrounding the sides of his throne and let them run through his fingers contemplatively, before starting to laugh, quietly at first but rising into a cacophonous shrieking that echoed through the cave and shook the mountainside again. Somewhat downslope from the rocky crag that formed the chamber’s skylight, a hillside subsided and slid down the mountain, revealing a rock face with a towering door, beautifully carved in a forgotten tongue with a dire warning not to disturb the contents therein.
The doors began to shudder and a bright blue light danced across them, chasing through the deep grooves and decorative whorls, seeming somehow alive. The doors strained outward and the light formed a network across it, looking like nothing so much as blood vessels beneath the skin. The light could not hold back the force that was pressing outward however, and with the sound of a woman’s gasp it shattered, shards dancing in the air before the door for a moment before the huge stone doors slammed open, crashing into the rock face that supported them with such force that the mighty slabs of stone cracked and began to topple. Small pools of the bluish light welled up in the ground below before vanishing under the foul wind issuing from the mountain’s new wound. The maddened laugh of the entombed man rolled out in a shockwave across the landscape below, over the hills and dales, waking everything with ears to hear in the villages for miles around.
The age of the Artificer had begun, and this time he would not be sealed away so easily.