Stone Altar

“I still don’t understand why destroying the egg is primary over killing the beast.”  Cadwalader glanced at his companion’s back as they trudged up scattered rocks and boulders that kept their progress to single file.

Since the two of them were alone, Malach wasn’t wearing his usual gloves or hooded cloak.  His tunic and trousers were much like Cadwalader’s, as was the sword sheathed in its scabbard.

“Understanding is not necessary for your task,” Malach replied.

Cadwalader frowned.  Despite living under Malach’s care for over fifteen years of his life, ever since he was a toddler, his companion’s reticence in sharing information always stymied him.  Yes, Malach held to the belief that experience was a more effective teacher than words, but sometimes Cadwalader would like to have more warning … especially when their quarry was a gwiber and its egg.

Except for some reason the egg was considered more a target than the serpent-like beast.  He was familiar with stories of such monsters, but having never seen one, considered their existence might be made-up … even though he kept company with Malach, another otherworldly being.

Interestingly, this gwiber had a name.  “Does Carrog have a weak spot?”

Malach halted and raised one hand, index finger up.  The nails on those fingers were more like claws – short, but still thick and pointed.

They’d reached a cleft in the towering rocks ahead, partially obscured by ferns and lichen growing on the mountaintop.  Malach turned halfway toward Cadwalader as he lowered his hand.

“Aim for his strength.”  At least Malach was going to answer his latest question, sort of.  “Keep your sword down, but if his throat swells, slice it.”

The pit of his stomach trembled.  “What will you do?”

“I will be engaged in slowing his advance, which requires my full concentration.  Also, if he decides to speak Cymraeg, expect deception.  Remember he is a liar.  And the most credible lies grow from a kernel of truth.”

Malach stepped into the crevice before Cadwalader could utter another question.

He followed his mentor, and within a few strides through a tunnel of stones, stepped into an opening of monolithic rocks angled toward the cloudy sky overhead.  Smaller stones littered the ground that was bare of any plant life.  The rocks congregated into a low mound, no higher than his knees, and cradled a mottled egg that would fill a bushel basket.

Malach motioned for Cadwalader to halt.  Nerves taut, he obeyed, and his mentor drew his sword and strode toward the nest.

A whirring rattle, like leather-strap ties humming in a gale, announced the arrival of the beast that soared over the far boulder.  Head like a fearsome lizard; neck long and muscular like a horse; smooth, green wings stretching from a muscular torso; and a thick, spiked tail contributed to its vague appearance of a hairless bat.

Still in the air, and well out of range of Malach’s sword, its throat swelled.  A blast of fire shot from its mouth and upon Malach, engulfing him in swirling flame.

The heat brushed Cadwalader even as he shuffled back, his heart skipping a beat.  Had he not known of Malach’s abilities, he would have surrendered to his urge to flee.

The fire flickered from existence, and Malach, standing with free hand spread open before his face, took one step back.  The gwiber known as Carrog alighted on the craggy nest.  It rested both front … feet … or knuckles … on either side of the egg and folded its wings against its ribs.

It pressed forward, but so did Malach, hand still outstretched, as he closed the gap between them to only a couple of paces.  The creature strained as though attempting to push through the wall of a hut.  But Malach’s ability to maintain an invisible force prevailed, and Carrog stopped lunging.

Cadwalader hoped neither noticed how his legs trembled as he stepped to his companion’s side and drew his own sword.  His attention locked on Carrog’s throat as he aimed the point of his weapon toward the ground.

The gwiber spoke.  It was a guttural, rough language that Cadwalader couldn’t understand.  And Malach replied in a similar manner, only not so gruff, as he lowered his outstretched hand to his chest.

For several minutes they conversed, and nothing in the tone of either suggested there was any friendly aspect in their discussion.  This was surely when Malach was trying to negotiate sparing Carrog’s life if the gwiber wouldn’t try to kill them for destroying the egg.

Cadwalader contemplated the events that brought them here while he waited for the outcome of this conversation.  Malach had learned another being like him roamed these lands.  But this one was trying to hatch a scheme bent on the destruction of Cadwalader’s people.  This Other had discovered Carrog, and encouraged it to join the devastation.

Apparently this plot involved procreating first.  And since there were no females among these otherworldly beings, Carrog had to fly to some distant land, accost a female serpent of enormous size, and bring back the egg that would have split her open as she had laid it.

A rumble that could only be a growl rolled from the monster as it glared at Malach.  Then its attention shifted to Cadwalader, and it spoke in Cymraeg.

“You agree to this?”

What did that question mean?  Cadwalader shot a very quick glance at his companion, but he didn’t want to remove his gaze from the creature’s throat for too long.  Malach’s focus remained on Carrog, offering no revelation.

His attention returned to the gwiber’s neck.  “I am willing to spare your life in exchange for the egg’s destruction.”

A different rumble escaped from Carrog, a deep staccato that was oddly familiar.  Was the gwiber laughing?

But its eyes, with the same swirling irises as Malach’s, still simmered with contempt.  “Is that all this deceiver told you?”

These questions weren’t getting any easier, so he might as well try to verbally parry with one of his own.  “What concern is it to you?”

“The concern is entirely yours.  You did not know you were supposed to sacrifice yourself as part of the bargain, did you?”

Cadwalader’s breath grew thin, but he dared not try to glance at his companion again.  Malach wouldn’t have saved his life all those years ago only to betray him now….

“You lie.”

“Do I?”  That eerie laughter rumbled from him again.  “Has he told you why he is willing to spare my life?”

His stomach tightened.  “Not yet.”

“Then allow me to illuminate you.  He cannot destroy me.  Thus he cannot destroy the egg unless I permit it.  In his grand delusion that he has turned to a lighted path, he has made a bargain with me.  Because he believes stopping Forcas’s agenda is the greater good, he offers me your life in exchange for the egg.”

Was Forcas the actual name of the Other?  But the matter of an exchange was more pressing for the moment, even though it was easy to discredit that claim … at least for the moment.

“Why would my life be considered a fair trade?”

Another ghoulish chuckle sent a chill racing down his back.  Carrog tilted its head to one side, and its lips drew back, revealing teeth like rusty daggers.

“Has the deceiver denied anything I said?”

Cadwalader risked another glance at Malach, who remained focused on the gwiber, the veins and tendons in the back of his hand more pronounced.  He’d said he would need all his concentration to keep this beast at bay.

His companion was always evasive about his past.  Cadwalader knew Malach had been devoted to the destruction of mankind long ago.  But for a reason he didn’t know, Malach had turned.

But had he turned less than Cadwalader assumed?  How much gray lay between darkness and light?  Would Malach really offer him as sacrifice because that was a lesser evil than allowing the Other’s plot to come to fruition?

These two did share a dark and distant kindred, and that was becoming more obvious.  They had the same swirling irises, similar claws, and sharp teeth.  One was called liar, the other deceiver….

Carrog raised its head and tried to lean closer to Cadwalader.  “Abandon this deceiver, for he has abandoned you.  If you believe he has trained you to resist Forcas, then flee to that fate.  We will meet again on the battlefield where you shall die … or you can simply flee, and live.”

And … was his life worth giving if he knew it would contribute to a greater good?  But he didn’t know….

“Determine for yourself what is truth for you.”  Carrog’s throat began swelling.

No more time for contemplation –

Cadwalader lunged forward and swept his sword beneath the beast’s jaws.  The blade ripped open skin and flesh, and a putrid rush of air, reeking like rotten egg, rolled over him as Carrog screeched.  He gagged and threw one arm over his nose and mouth, but stood ready to strike again with the other.

Carrog screeched once more.  It flapped back up into the air, and in the previous language snarled something to Malach.  Then it twisted as it turned away and soared back over the far boulder.

Cadwalader coughed as he tried to fan away the stench.  He turned to face Malach, who lowered his hand slowly as he gazed after the gwiber.

“I presume parts of its claim were true?” Cadwalader sputtered.

Malach glanced at him before returning his attention to the sky.  “Almost everything except sacrificing you to bring about a greater good.”

“You did not offer my life?”

“No, although Carrog wanted it.  I told him you were faithful.”  Malach’s gaze slid back to him.  “That if he didn’t surrender the egg, I could destroy him while you were at my side.”

Cadwalader stared at him.  “That still made me a target.”

“Because I held him back, he could only attack with fire.  You denied him that power by cutting his throat.  Then he believed both of us could defeat him, and his own life was more dear to him than this egg.”

He was finally able to start following Malach’s plan, but it still exhibited a major flaw.  “You could not tell me that before this encounter?  I actually questioned your motive.”

“Your fealty had to be proven.  If Carrog deduced you anticipated his challenge, he would have stood his ground to fight.  Together we are capable of defeating him, but he could still destroy either or both of us.”

Despite Cadwalader’s experience with unnatural creatures, they remained difficult to comprehend.  “Why would my loyalty to you make any difference?”

“My kind understand faithfulness, but do not embrace it.  We are too proud.  That is why we stir rebellion in mankind, to keep you from uniting in truth.  For if you ever did so, that is when our fall will be complete.  This is why Carrog fears your loyalty.”

He stared at his companion.  “You know you took a chance by counting on my fealty?”

Malach’s gaze softened … at least, that’s what it looked like.  Cadwalader questioned what he was seeing.  In his over fifteen years with this being, Malach had always been attentive yet aloof.  Something … that drew upon a connection to humanity … reflected in those enigmatic eyes.

“You underestimate the faith I have in you.”

Also not entirely like Malach … was his time living among mankind beginning to bring out more tender qualities?  “Yet you turned from your path before it crossed with mine.  Why?”

Malach’s attention returned to the egg as he raised his sword again.  “I learned atonement was possible for my kind, but only through the humanity we despise.  Let us finish the job.”

Cadwalader followed his companion’s lead in hacking open the hard shell, but his thoughts kept returning to Malach’s words.  How could mere men, wicked themselves, provide any means for atonement?

###

So here is my submission for #BlogBattle, and the word this month is Hatch.  Don’t miss out on all the other great stories!

27 thoughts on “Stone Altar

  1. Clever interplay Abe. Master and acolyte where acolyte begins to question while master tests the actions. Are these the types of thing that show an acolytes training is coming to fruition, or is the questioning a danger point when paths can clash or turn as in Anakin with Kenobi?

    Your wyvern equivalent sounds very much a deceiver itself too…or is it truth sayer that anticipates the conflict going on and simply asks the right questions to add confusion into minds and lay self doubt within those confronting it. Maybe this is why Malach keeps the plan quiet?

    Of course one now ponders what’s up with this mystical egg too. A hatchling of the wyvern or was it guarding something else with a darker ambition? I notice their was no real sense of ownership of it but more a guarding. Obviously Malach wants it destroyed before hatching which makes things seem far more sinister. A case of if it hatches then doom follows…which is at odds with a fresh juvenile which is vulnerable unless it’s growth rate matched Alien haha.

    Very nicely done indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Considering acolyte is human, and master … not so much … much of their tension is trying to bridge that gap. Master is the one trying to learn humility while acolyte questions if he really is the man for the job. The conspiracy about the wyvern and the egg could only be touched upon in 2000 words, but there’s nothing particularly helpless about a recently hatched wyvern! Your sense of guarding instead of ownership is good instinct – when selfishness and pride are hallmarks of these creatures, they share no affinity for others. It was also fun to get to stick a dragon into a story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha it’s more perspective. Juvenile versus adult. One might argue chances favour the hatchling who still has to learn how to exhale more than air without setting fire to itself. Mind you, depends on how one views their maturation. Most animals are born with instinct but still need to hone skills before being totally fiercesome. My wyverns are independent as adults, form fierce bonds with mates and small groups. Young are guarded and guided to adulthood. From egg to maturity takes several years before they go it alone. That said the sense of self has no human emotion attachments.

        All that said they have suffered a genocide so their sense of purpose has altered somewhat. Huge debate upon what is a dragon haha. Although we are in similar running methinks.

        Odd though… 1000 words used to be too short to do things justice on the wider plot arc…now so is 2000 😳

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, your wyverns are more true wyverns while I’m playing around with ‘You recognize it as a dragon but you’re a bit mistaken….’ Your comment about learning how to exhale more than air without setting fire to itself made me laugh! And yeah, like you I’ve noticed that having twice as many words to use still feels like the same challenge…. 😉

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      • True maybe or is it more I’ve lived with mine longer so have had to create a backstory that befits them? The Black for example is guardian over their last standing point after a genocide. It’s living role was protector of their graveyard. A place they went to die as it were.

        Haha…yes… I just figure they either are born with a full skill set or have it innately, like many animals, but just need initial guidance to fully ready themselves for being cast off from parental overwatch. Not too disparate from fledging birds in some respects.

        Agreed too. Next it’ll be half a NaNo’s worth…..

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think one reason the ‘dragon’ has endured so well is that it’s very adaptable to writers’ goals. Your genocide sounds like an intriguing history for the Black.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That history was outlined in Dragon Stone Originalis. It’s on here somewhere haha. Part of a full chapter featuring Wayland, a blacksmith who falls foul to my antagonist very early on. I’m actually trying to persuade writers to have a look at that to get their views on it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It was something I did long before BB. Several years ago in fact. I did it as three posts covering what came to be a full chapter. Never quite followed it up, but it was the start of an unexpected world build that ended up featuring in four manuscripts. After them came the concept of the Dragon Stone world itself. That series lay in waiting I think until the time to follow it up fell into place.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The atmosphere from “Peering into the Abyss” continues. The tension between Cadwalader and Malach remains. I am drawn to the image of these two beings linked by a combination of a type of trust, necessity and perhaps destiny.
    In the conflict with Carrog with its complexity of layers there was thus touching hint of the bond formed between the two. Despite the words of Carrog and the mortal danger Cadwalader continued to place his faith in Malach, while the latter maintained his confidence in this mortal.
    Despite the suggested superiority of Malach over Cadwalader there is no sense of cynical usage.
    They are a most intriguing duo.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve created a great duo. I’m always curious about their adventures. While what they do is entertaining to read, I also enjoy the parts where we learn more about their personalities and their relationship with one another. This piece shows how this was put to the test. Thankfully, they’ve passed.

    Always a lot of mystery… You’ve gotta keep us coming back for more somehow. Right? I want to know more about the egg, the serpent (interesting choice!), and Carrog. I have a feeling we’ll meet again.

    Liked by 1 person

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