Friday, May 18, 2012

The Colossi

Is it cheating to post something I wrote, forgot that I wrote, stumbled across, and decided was cool?

Well, too bad. I'm doing it anyway.

I wrote this in response to a challenge issued by my friend Jon. I can't remember the challenge anymore, but I still have this. It isn't so much a story as it is a premise - or perhaps it's the introduction to an RPG or a video game. It's definitely not the kind of thing that gets published nowadays. Either way, I hope you find it entertaining.

The Colossi
By Mark L. S. Stone

This story is true.

Once, the Kingdom of Azarit stood at the heart of the world. Their goods were in every market, their gods were in every temple, and their name was on every lip. Their swords were at every throat, too, so all the other nations sent them tribute in metal, stone, and slaves, from the greatest nation that sent a hundred of the world's finest flute players – trained for this exact purpose – every twenty years to spend their lives playing in the king's court, to a tiny island monarchy that sent a handful of cowrie shells every year.

The center of the Kingdom of Azarit was the City Azar, which stood in the shadow of the Black Man of Azar, a huge black stone statue of a triumphant king. The Black Man of Azar was a civic treasure of the city and the kingdom. Poets came from far and wide to behold it and to write verses about its wonder and its glory. The Black Man of Azar was one of the Colossi – huge statues of mysterious origin scattered throughout the world.

The last king of Azarit was a man named Raam. Born to power and privilege, it galled Raam that there was a statue of another man at the center of his capital city, and that others came to adore it. Being a man of action, Raam set out to change this. He hired the best architects and stone-cutters of the world to change the Black Man's face so that it was Raam's face. Raam's priests and advisors warned him against this course of action; the ravens of the City Azar fed well on the entrails of priests and advisors for days.

The day that work began was the last day of Raam.

The day that work began was the last day of any kingdom in all the world.

Raam was brought low first. Other cities followed. Monsters had been unleashed upon the world, huge and powerful, with many strange abilities. Some could call up the winds with enough force to crush a man to death. Others could sing songs that drove women to murder their children. Some of them had smaller selves – or offspring, or something – to do their bidding. All of them were physically more than a match for an army.

The only safety was the shadows of the Colossi. The stone edifices which had once contained the monsters were still proof against their power. Those cities that were lucky enough to be built in the shadow of one of these statues survived. Those that were not were destroyed. People flocked to the cities built near the Colossi, or fled to the nearest Colossus and built new settlements, ramshackle tent cities beneath and upon the statue.

This was a little more than twenty years ago, and everyone knows that they can't take much more of this. Every day, civilization fades a little more. Perhaps soon there will be nothing left alive but the Titans and their children.

• • •

This story is a myth.

Once, there were a hundred thousand gods – more gods than you can imagine. Together, they made the world for their enjoyment. Then, however, they discovered that their ideas of enjoyment were very different. Some gods were content to be in the world they had made and enjoy its pains and pleasures. Others wanted to use what they had made to make bigger and greater things. Others enjoyed their creation in a very different way: by destroying at will and reveling in the pain and despair they caused.

Together, the first group of gods and the second group of gods banded together against the third. They refused to honor their enemies with the title 'god' and called them 'demons' instead. The battle between the gods and the demons stretched on for longer than time can tell – for how do you measure the length of a battle that happened before history began? In the end, it was neither gods nor demons who decided the outcome of the battle, but mortals. With frail mortal instruments, the gods forged weapons that could bind the demons forever within bodies of stone.

The demons defeated, the gods who wanted to build a better and greater world taught their loyal followers how to cut stone and smelt metal. Their followers are the race of man, who builds cities and nations and empires. Those who wanted to enjoy the world and its pleasures forgot their divine natures and became the spirits of the wood and field, the fey hosts who survive to this very day. There have been conflicts between men and each other, and between the children of men and the children of faerie, but none so great as that first war between gods and demons.

The demons were bound forever in their mausoleums of stone.

At least, that's what everyone thought.

• • •

This story is true.

The beast is everywhere and nowhere.

Our Colossus takes the shape of an enormous dog. It is fitting, perhaps, that our Titan is a gargantuan wolf who haunts the foothills around the ruins of our city. It is bigger than a hill, bigger than the ships that once sailed up the river to bring us spices and news from distant lands. Yet, despite its size, it comes as quietly as the night itself, to creep up behind us and snap us up with its terrible jaws.

Half our city lies within the Stone Dog's aura. The rest of our city has become a broken-down wilderness. We can't survive on what we have with us in the city, so our most courageous and most foolish young people have taken to raiding the ruined half of our city for what supplies they can find. In the decades since Raam's Folly, supplies in the ruined city have become difficult to come by. Every year our searchers must spend longer and longer in danger in order to bring us what we need. Every year they bring us less and less. Every year, more of them die.

It could be worse, I suppose. At least we have our wells. I've heard tell of a city whose only wells are beyond the range of their Colossus. They rely on cisterns and ration their water strictly. When there is not enough water for their population, the excess people are sent out to face the beast alone. Their families begin their funerals before they are out of sight.

We can't survive much more of this.

• • •

This story is a myth.

But we dearly wish it to be true.

Some travelers – those rare, courageous individuals who brave the space between the Colossi – tell stories, which they have of other travelers, which they have of other travelers still, of a distant city that has killed, or bound away, its Titan. They say that a young woman – or perhaps a young man – climbed their Colossus and found a secret room in its upraised spear. In this room, this hero found a tarnished spearhead. This hero's friends read secret books and learned the Titan's secret name. They found the wood that was this Titan's bane and fashioned a shaft for the spear. The hero went out at dawn – or possibly dusk – and battled the Titan alone with a magic spear, and slew it, and freed the city. The hero now rules as a benevolent queen – or king. Although the world is still a dangerous place ruled by dangerous creatures, theirs is a free city now. The only monsters who plague them are the children of Titans, not a Titan itself.

It's a nice story. We all like to believe that somehow we can find salvation.

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