Storytime Mondays: The Awakening

This story was written for a creative writing class I took in 2000. The inspiration was a D&D campaign I was playing at the time. Thus there is a wizard, a dragon, and some really cheesy names like a volcano called “Mount Sear.” Don’t ask me where I came up with that, I really don’t know!

———————————————————————

The mountain was smoking.

For years now it had been quiet, and everyone in the town of Redwind Gale had thought there would be no more tremors, no more reason to fear.  Decades ago, Mount Sear had erupted, killing many of the villagers; human, elven, and dwarven alike, and scarring the memories of many more.  The survivors had rebuilt the town much farther from the mountain’s base, but there were still those who remembered the fiery carnage wrought by the mountain’s fury.  When the tremors had first started up again, almost ten years ago, they had frightened the villagers to a near panic.  Everyone was afraid, especially the children, whose imaginations ran wild with images of flaming rocks, molten lava, and stories of the destruction that had occurred for miles around.  After the initial tremors passed, the people had calmed, realizing that they might not be doomed after all.  But the mountain had never slept peacefully since then.  As the years passed, the villagers lived in a silent fear, awaiting the day that the volcano would wake.  Each time the ground shook, the people stared into the distance with fear, praying that it would pass.

Even when the volcano was silent, people still thought of the day they knew would come.  The elders’ stories had become all too real in their minds, and with each quake they pictured their beautiful town in flames, and saw the burning bodies of their friends and loved ones.  Many of the elves had moved back into the distant forests, seeking safety in nature’s embrace, while the dwarven citizens had begun digging new tunnels in the surrounding hillside, hoping to make a safe shelter in which to hide.  Some people, however, refused to flee their homes, despite their fears.

Then one day, the tremors stopped.  For months the mountain was silent, and everyone thought that this time it was for good.  Everyone lived peacefully for a time, and the nightmares of their envisioned end had soon ceased.  The preparations that had begun, either for some form of defense or a plan of escape, were all soon forgotten as the threat seemed to vanish.  The older villagers eventually stopped telling their stories to the children, and everyone was able to live free of worry.

Until the day several of the children came running back into the village, full of panic and shouting.  They were all gathered in a confused huddle, all of them crying and shouting at once.  It took a few moments for them to be calmed down, and by then everyone nearby had gathered around, putting aside their daily chores, to find out what was wrong.  The oldest boy, Clancy, a lad of eleven summers and full of imagination and mischief, had done most of the talking.

“The mountain’s exploding!” he shouted, sending the people gathered around into a panic.  “We’re all doomed!”  At first no one believed him, and a few of the adults laughed and muttered under their breaths about the child’s imagination.  Sen, the blacksmith, stepped forward to find out what was wrong.

“Calm down, m’boy,” Sen took the boy by his shoulders, trying to soothe Clancy’s nerves with his own calm, steady presence.  “Take a few breaths there.”  He waited a moment, giving the boy a stern look when he appeared ready to jump right back into his tale without waiting.  Once Clancy looked to be calmer, he asked “Now what’s all this ’bout the mountain exploding?”

Clancy opened his mouth to speak, but by then a shout had risen from the gathered crowd, and he was cut off.  “Look!” someone pointed, and everyone’s attention was pulled away from Clancy and his friends.  They no longer needed to hear his tale to know it was true.  A pillar of smoke could now be seen, rising up from Mount Sear’s peak.  Everyone stood in silence as the sight was absorbed, and forgotten fears began to resurface.

“We was playing on the slopes, that’s all,” Clancy continued, drawing the villagers’ attention back to him.  “We didn’t mean nothin’ to happen, honest.”  The boy was on the verge of tears, and some of the other children had already begun to cry.

“It’s all right, m’boy” Sen told him, squeezing the lad’s arm.  “T’isn’t your fault.  We all knew it’d start up again someday.”

“No, you don’t understand,”  Clancy shook his head, tears streaming down his cheeks in earnest now.  “It’s Philip, he’s….”

A scream from the crowd cut him off.  A desperate arm shoved Sen aside, knocking the burly blacksmith to the ground with a thud, startling those nearby.  “My Philip?”  the woman screamed, grabbing Clancy and shaking him.  “My son, my baby where is he?”

Clancy tried to respond, but she was shaking him so hard, he couldn’t speak.  It took three men to pull Philip’s mother back, trying to calm both her down.  It took a few moments of gentle reassurances to soothe both the mother’s fear for her son, and Clancy’s fear of Philip’s mother.  Once both the boy and woman stopped crying, Sen took charge again and asked Clancy to continue his story.

“Well,” Clancy choked a bit, still afraid he would be blamed, but Sen’s reassuring hand on his shoulder urged him to continue.  “We was just playin’.  We didn’t mean no harm.  But then the ground started to shake.  We didn’t know what to do, and we was all scared.”  He looked at the ground, ashamed to admit his own fear.  “The mountain exploded on us,” he whispered without looking up.  “We all got burned.”  For the first time everyone noticed the burn marks on the children’s hands and faces.  Most of them weren’t bad, but some looked to be serious.  One of the girls had a bald spot where her hair had been singed away, and one elven child had taken a horrid looking burn to one of his pointed ears.  “Philip was the closest.” Clancy muttered, sniffling back his sobs.  “He was burned real bad, and…and he didn’t get up, and…”  The boy broke down into tears now, and Philip’s mother screamed, a cry of heart wrenching anger and sorrow.  She had to be held back down, to stop her from running towards the smoking mountain, trying to save her son, who was surely long dead by now.  After a few moments all of the fight drained out of her, and she collapsed, sobbing, held up by the arms of the men who had restrained her.  One, her husband, held her close, pressing her head against his shoulder, his own tears flowing with hers.

The other villagers were looking at the mountain now, and realized that the plume of smoke was getting thicker.  A tremor rocked the ground around them, and the other parents suddenly saw visions of their own children being caught by the same awful fate as Philip.  Fear began to grip the townspeople, and everyone started talking at once, everyone making panicked suggestions.

“We have to run!  Flee into the forest!”

“We should go east, towards the ocean.  We’ll be safe there!”

“Call the wizard!  His magic can protect us!”

“Grab everything you can carry!  We have to get the children to safety!”

Before the crowd could erupt into total chaos, a voice from the back called everyone to order.  It was Benal, the village mayor.  With a calm, steady, persuasive voice, he began giving directions, bringing everyone to order, and calming them with the focus of duties that needed to be done.  He became the calm center, trying to guide his people, so as to save as many of them as possible from the approaching catastrophe.

In the distance, the mountain rumbled…

*  *  *

 

In a tower in the distant hills, a hooded figure watched the scene as the villagers became aware of the mountain’s awakening.  As the waters from his scrying pool lost their energy, the image of the frightened townsfolk was replaced by his own gaunt reflection.  He grinned crookedly, a laugh emerging from the back of his throat.  It was all working according to plan.  Soon, the beast would emerge, and in its fury lay waste to all the surrounding lands.  The people of Redwind Gale would simply be the first to experience the carnage that would follow.  They would be his test subjects, so he could see how powerful the destructive force really was, before unleashing it upon the rest of the world.

It had been chance, really, that the old wizard had stumbled across the ancient text, telling him of the mountain, and the secret held within its bowels.  Then it had simply been a matter of time.  The time it took to discover how to unleash that secret, and harness its power.  For years he had studied, learning all that he could about the art of enchantment, and growing ever more powerful.  And now, finally, he was ready.  Over the years he had worked from afar, only occasionally visiting the mountain to directly work his magic.  He had slowly tied the beast down with chains of magic, and now he had it completely under his control.  Soon, he would awaken it, and then the world would feel his wrath.

Rubbing the old wound in his side, the wizard smiled.  Soon he would have his revenge against the world.  And then he could rest, and forget the pain that had plagued him all these years.  He would sleep, and he would no longer feel the bite of the old wound, remembering the pain of the steel that had pierced his flesh.  He would forget the shining eyes, the triumphant smile, and the burning touch of his enemy, who still plagued him now, even from beyond the grave.

It had been decades ago that he had sworn revenge.  Years since his plans had been foiled by the holy knight, whose name the wizard had never learned.  The paladin had been sent to stop him, right at the most critical juncture in his ritual.  The ritual that would have granted him the power to enslave the world.  It had been a magic that was passed down, generation to generation in his family, waiting for the right time when all the cosmos were aligned properly.  The spell had taken months of preparation, and only he could have cast it.  It would have granted him power beyond belief, even more power than that which he was now awakening.  But somehow, someone had learned of his plans, and had sent the paladin to stop him.  The ritual had been ruined when the knight arrived, disrupting the carefully wrought energies of the place, and plunging his sword into the wizard’s side.  He had destroyed the paladin moments after the near-fatal wound was brought upon him, but even in death, his enemy had been victorious.

Because of that moment, the world could no longer be his.  And if it couldn’t be his, he decided, he would destroy it all. All would suffer, and feel his wrath.

Soon, he would have his revenge.

*  *  *

 

Come to me.

The voice was there again.  The same voice that had plagued his sleep for years now.  It whispered in his dreams, unwelcome, uninvited, unwanted.  But there was nothing he could do to stop it.  For a time, he had shut it out, and his sleep was undisturbed, but then, suddenly, it was back again, and it angered him now more than ever.

Come to me, the voice whispered, and the sleeping beast writhed in anger.  The ground all around trembled with the force.  He had slept for a long time, and didn’t want to be disturbed now.  But the voice wouldn’t go away.

Come to me, it called.  He tried again, unsuccessfully, to shut it out, but it remained, buzzing in his head like an annoying fly.  Come to me.

Finally, it was too much.  With a loud roar that shook the ground for miles around, he awoke.  For millennia he had slept, undisturbed, until now.  Someone would pay for disturbing his slumber.  He was enraged, angry at the intrusion into his rest.  For this, he would wreak a vengeance upon the one who had disturbed him.

But first, he was hungry.

*  *  *

 

The people of Redwind Gale all stopped at once when they heard the explosion.  The tremors had grown fiercer in the time they were preparing to flee.  Under Mayor Benal’s direction, they had decided to head for the old dwarven tunnels, since they were the closest, and most likely the safest place to hide from the volcano’s destruction.  They had gathered everything they could carry, loading every cart and wagon they could find, and were finally ready to move out.  But just before the word to head out was called, the moment they had been fearing arrived.  With a thunderous KABOOM! the mountain exploded, sending flaming rocks and debris flying for miles around.  Smoke billowed out of the newly formed crater, and magma began oozing over the side.  Luckily, the village was far enough away to be outside the range of the initial explosion, but no one knew how far the magma would spread, or how much would be consumed in the fires that had already sprung up in the forests and plains.  The townspeople knew they were still in danger, and they had to reach safety as quickly as possible.

Before the panicked villagers could be reorganized, though, someone in the crowd screamed in pure terror.  Most of the people had turned their attention back to the tasks at hand, wanting to get away as quickly as possible.  But their attention was pulled back, and it took only a moment for the cause of the scream to bring about many others.  People dropped what they were carrying, forgetting all sense of organization, and simply ran.  They ran in pure terror of what they saw.  A legend brought to life before their eyes, a beast of such lethal beauty that some of the villagers could only gape in awe and fear.  Some of the women, and even a few men, fainted dead away.  Others began to sob, too overwhelmed by fear to think or act.  But most of them just ran from the huge, winged terror that now flew towards them, the sunlight glinting fiercely off its red, scaly body.  What they saw was death, flying towards them.

With an angry roar, the dragon swooped down towards its prey.

*  *  *

 

The mortals fled below him, screaming and crying out in terror.  He laughed, a great rumble that echoed across the sky, delighting in their terror.  It refreshed him, to feel such fear after such a long sleep.  But it also made him hungry.  Fear alone could not feed him.  He needed blood.

He swooped down close, knocking the humans down with the force of the air as he passed, pulling up just before he crushed them beneath him.  Their terror amused him, but he had more pressing concerns now.  He needed to sate the gnawing hunger in his belly.  The humans fled from his salivating maw, thinking he intended them for his breakfast, but he had never had a liking for human flesh.  The delicacies in his time had been wild unicorns, griffins, pegasi; creatures of magic.  He hoped such creatures still existed in this time, but for now simple animal flesh would do.  The livestock kept by these humans would suffice, until he could find a mystical beast or two to snack on.  Diving towards a nearby field, he snatched up a startled cow in his jaws, killing it with a snap of his mighty teeth.  He swallowed the beast in two bites, then swooped down to nab another.  Blood dripped down his jaw, barely visible against the red of his scales.  He roared in pleasure, satisfied for now, and flew off to the northwest, leaving the pathetic humans behind.  He had more important concerns than them.

He had to find the voice.  And when he did, he would silence it forever, and make it pay for awakening him.

*  *  *

 

The wizard watched with glee as the ancient dragon flew at the townspeople.  Unprepared for such an attack, they simply fled in terror beneath the massive beast.  He cackled in pleasure at seeing the fear the creature could bring, just by its mere presence.  No one alive had witnessed such terror in a thousand years, since the last living dragon had supposedly died.  But now this long-sleeping terror was awake, and angry, and fully under the wizard’s control.

As the dragon gulped down a few stray cattle, the wizard decided to flex his newfound power, and see what destruction he could bring about.  Grinning, he spread his arms out over the scrying bowl, drawing from the energy he had stored.  Chanting softly, he focused the magic he had chained around the beast while it slept, seizing control of the leash he had made.  His fists closed around invisible threads of magic as he focused his will towards bringing the dragon around.  The magical ties he had forged would allow him, with mere thoughts, to force the dragon into doing whatever he wanted.  He could safely, and easily, guide the dragon on its rampage, all from the safety of his tower.

Feeling the magic chains tighten, he used his mind to force the dragon to change its path.  Looking down in his scrying bowl, he waited for the image to shift, to show him the dragon as it turned back upon the frightened villagers.  He waited…..

And nothing happened.  The dragon was still flying away from the village, its course unaltered.  Grunting in frustration, the wizard flexed the chains of magic again, but to no effect.

“Impossible,” he muttered, trying again to bring the dragon under his control.  It didn’t work.  He couldn’t understand why.  Everything had been perfect.  Every spell, every incantation had been masterfully executed, and the unprotected, sleeping beast should now have been his slave.  But somehow it had resisted.  The magic had failed.

The wizard cursed his failure, then swore again when he realized where the dragon was now headed.  Moving over to a window, he saw it now with his own eyes, a red speck closing in from the distance.  His own death flying towards him.  For he had awakened the beast, and set it free, but he had no way to control it.  Fear gripped the wizard as he envisioned the dragon’s rage at being awakened.  For a moment he considered fighting the beast, using his magic to destroy it, but he knew it was useless.  His powers had already failed him, and he was too tired now to conjure any more spells.  There was nothing he could do.

He gripped the old wound in his side as the dragon flew towards him.  It throbbed in time with the beating of the beast’s huge wings, and he gritted his teeth against the pain.  For a moment, the throbbing seemed to echo in his head, like a mocking laughter from beyond the grave.  Then everything went numb as the dragon reached the tower, and all the pain, and fear were replaced with simple acceptance.  Standing tall and proud, the wizard refused to cower before the beast as it crashed into the tower, knocking it askew with the force of its momentum.  He staggered a moment, but regained his footing on the now tilted floor, standing in defiance of the winged death that was now before him.  Maybe, he thought, his courage would be rewarded in the afterlife.  Maybe….

The dragon roared, and the tower was engulfed in its fiery breath.

*  *  *

A week later, the people of Redwind Gale returned to their homes.  The fires had stopped short of the town, though much of the land had been scorched all around.  Much of their livestock had been killed, or had run away, and some of the townsfolk were missing, most likely killed in the fires, when they panicked and fled.  Those who had stayed together, heading for the caves as planned, had all escaped the fiery death they had feared so much.

There had been no sign of the dragon, and for that they were all glad.  Some said it had merely been a hallucination, and denied that the beast had existed.  But everyone had seen it, and they knew it had been all too real.  But while many of them would have restless nights, plagued by nightmares of the fiery beast, none of those nightmares would ever come true.

For beneath the ancient mountain, the dragon slept again.

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