It’s been a while since a “normal” Chuck Wendig Friday Flash Fiction Challenge. In the previous weeks, it was a collaborative story. While a lot of fun, it’s nice to be able to write a piece all the way through. This week it was back to the whim of the dice–2 columns of 20 words. Roll the dice and one word from each column becomes your title. Thanks to Sufjan Stevens and this song, as well as a Lord of the Rings poster, for some much needed inspiration
Ostan stood atop the tower, feeling the marble ledge bite into his hands. The winds whipped the black clouds into a writhing, lightning-veined morass. They smelled dry with the barest hint of decay. Like cracked bones spewing marrow into the seething air. He shuddered as the fingers of charged air caressed his cheek. It did not matter that he was right. That the masters who called him charlatan and liar even now cowered in the depths of Durra’dûn’s deepest, dankest cellars. He clutched the stone battlement tightly as a bolt of lightning clawed its way through the clouds and gouged the earth. He heard the terrified whinnies of one of the many herds of wild horses that wheeled across the burning, windswept plains around Durra’dûn.
“Ostan! What madness holds you? Come down from there, boy!”
Ostan turned and saw that the doorway to the top of the tower was open. He could faintly see a grave-pale face in the gloom. Rilog, his former mentor and Master of the Book. Ostan felt the hair rise on his arms and neck as lightning opened another gaping wound in the earth, barely missing the tower.
“No madness, Rilog. Or perhaps the same madness that foretold this time would come.” Ostan didn’t know if Rilog could hear him over the howling wind. The wind and the other things now howling in the gathering darkness.
“The hour is late for pride, boy,” Rilog shouted back. “Come down, Ostan.”
“The hour is long past for anything but death, Rilog. Go back to your Book, to your cowering greybeards, to your wealth of precious knowledge. Go back to where it is safe.”
As if waiting for his words, the heavens opened and rain began to fall, soaking Ostan’s clothes within moments and plastering his dark, shoulder-length hair to his face. The rain felt especially cold on his bare cheeks. The beard he had begun to grow in anticipation of his anointing as a Master of Durra’dûn was newly shorn.
“We did not bring this darkness down, boy,” Rilog’s voice wavered as he clambered up the steps and stood shivering in the doorway, seeking shelter from the whipping rain.
“You did nothing to stop it, Rilog.” Once Ostan would have suffered the lash or even the hot brand for referring to his mentor without the honorary title of Master. He smiled grimly at the thought.
“There may still be time. Ostan, please,” Rilog’s tone grew desperate. “They will listen to you now. They must.”
Ostan turned fully to face Rilog for the first time. The older man was hunched against the wall, his cheeks sagging above his straggling beard. The rain had soaked his thinning white hair to his head and his baldness glinted in the unnatural, charged light. Ostan began to laugh, leaning back against the black marble ledge for support. He could see the whites of Rilog’s eyes show as he cowered back into the doorway. Perhaps I have gone mad, Ostan thought. The world has, why not I?
“They did not listen when they had the chance and now that the world crumbles you say they will listen? No, Rilog, the time of the Masters is at an end. Perhaps the time for this entire land has reached its final doom. Go back with the other rodents and cower, Rilog. If these are to be my last breaths I do not wish to waste any more upon you.” Ostan did not wait to hear Rilog’s retreating footsteps as he turned back to the landscape before him.
The Tower of Durra’dûr was the tallest structure in the Plains of Wildemar, the masters said it was the mightiest edifice created by man, dwarfed only by the ancient, jagged peaks of the Mordir mountains. Perhaps they were right. In any case, it gave Ostan an unobstructed view of the desecration of the land as far as his eyes could see. Fires still burned along the plain despite the icy rain and lit the horizon with a false dawn. He looked up again to the roiling clouds. His last night on earth and the stars were forever hidden from his vision. He would have liked a last glimpse of those silver lights. The study of the stars was what lured him into the cadre of the masters. Since the age of seven, he toiled, enduring torment and testing. Eighteen years of rising steadily through the ranks. He would have been one of the youngest in the history of the Order to receive his ring and cowl.
He had studied the portents in the stars, had seen the minor shifts, the smallest deviations, and knew what they foretold. Doom for men and their Age of Light. But he was still an apprentice and the Masters dismissed his knowledge and his fears. They did not see what was so obvious to his eyes. The day he was to receive his ring and cowl, he demanded again that they heed his words as time was drawing short. They did not listen; they threatened to keep him an apprentice for another year, for five years, for ten. He drew his silver belt knife, the mark of an apprentice’s final year, and shaved the beard from his chin in defiance, casting away the ring and the hood.
A horrendous crack tore his mind from his memories and he recoiled, half expecting Durra’dûr to split beneath his feet and swallow him in its black marbled maw. Instead, a brilliant light flashed down from the heavens. Cerulean shot through with silver. It blinded him and there was a noise like the wailing of a thousand mourners. He squinted up at the sky. Wheeling above him was his favorite constellation as a boy, a gathering of stars that resembled a man a-horse. The Rider, it was called. The brightest star in the constellation was pulsing blue and sterling.
Ostan closed his eyes as the light washed over him. It was the last light before all went dark.