Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Three Pigments, One Dream

by Chris McKinney


Night seethed with the turbulence of the gods. Divines who watched the world like gamblers with high stakes in a particularly riveting game were especially distressed at the previous move. The Dice had shown the ominous snake eyes.

Death was a projected scion to life. Death was natural and not to be feared. Ironically, it seemed every individual was, to some extent, apprehensive of it. If only mortals knew the designs put in place by the immortals...

The afterlife was indescribable; to call it 'magnificent' was to call a single grain of sand a beach. Upon death the soul no longer was affixed to the confines of its fleshy vessel. Spirit walking, ghosts, nature's coalescing -- they were the closest to describing what lay after life, yet they could no more accurately describe it than a blind mute might describe a summer's day.

Yet the design of these all-knowing, all-powerful deities proved to contain one fatal, disastrous flaw.

One day innocent amity governed and men of the flesh had fallen into clay beds from which they were born in timely fashion. But then sin woke into the world, and in its wake came genocide. The gods had never prepared for such numerous deaths, and it was clear the world's invisible realm would soon be blanketed in the white flood of spirits.

To further complicate problems, the gods had vowed to one another upon the completion of their world that they would never return to its domain. Though departed and unable to intervene in matters amiss, the gods were resourceful.

From sequined thrones, divine immortals watched as events unfolded...

####

Wrapped in sable, a single dwarf found he was on an equally swarthy tor. Peering down to inky nadir, Dwight felt his stomach lurch. Slowly, he shuffled away from the vertigo-inducing bluff. Before his leather greaves moved him more than a few feet, however, he felt invisible hands connect with his back and apply potent pressure.

Down and down Dwight fell. Faster and faster he plunged.

Plummeting down the lightless burrow, inky blackness swirled and sketched lines for his eyes to see. Color swelled into existence between the black lines. Scenes formed by a painter's brush welled on the paper that was this world, only to transgress from ink into actuality instants later.

Swallowed in accomplishment that could only be achieved horizontally, Dwight tumbled vertically from deserts to hinterland then finally a cloud-scraping mountain.

Rising to his feet, the dwarf looked over the mountain peak's rim. Everything but the mountain he stood upon evanesced in an inky sea. This one mountain was all that the dwarf's world now composed.

####

"Feels like a hammer hit my head."

Casting a red-eyed glance several feet, the roused dwarf saw a surplus of bottles amassed in a corner; he had overindulged himself on rare drafts the previous night. Scents of cider and elderberry seeped from the dry tankards. Inhaling the exotic wafts, dreamy visions filled his mind.

"Get out of my head," he groaned, flinging an empty bottle that ended in a crash.

Pulling his heavy body from bed, Dwight thrust out a hand to steady his balance against a wall. Such a sight this hung over dwarf was!

Robed in curls, this dwarf's beard was but inches from the earth he trod upon. The twirling hairs were deep grays, flecked by browns, blacks, and whites; it looked as if he had rolled in the very dirt he sprang from.

His comical appearance did not end its oddness there. Necklaces of gold and silver hung about his thick neck; ruby and diamond brooches were pinned to his curling robe; in his ears sat finely cut tourmaline; and on his fingers sat topaz, amethyst, and peridot in bands of white-gold. Did this dwarf not know that gold and other riches were for saving, not wearing?

Suffering another bout of imbalance that almost resulted in Dwight's face making intimate acquaintance with the floor, the dwarf lumbered from his bedroom.

Entering his personal smithy, Dwight found his mind soothed and his body to relax. Every dwarf had their own forge, but Dwight's was as different from theirs as he was to his kin.

The room was humble; it offered just enough space for Dwight to perform his art, which was fine by him. Soot concealed the walls in coats of gray but all wandering eyes were drawn to the myriad gems that lined their surface. Polished and crafted with intricate care, the pretty things dazzled, sparkled, and even reflected light of all shades throughout the foundry. Gems were not dull and drab, for dwarves were both these.

Displayed on tables and other surfaces were baubles, ornaments, and even filigrees. Fine powder sat in small piles. In a stoppered bottle was residue of an electric pink.

Dwight clapped his hands together and began working on the trinkets that labeled him 'eccentric' amongst his kin, who felt the only true calling was forging swords, axes, armor, and other engines of war. Here in his self-induced prison, Dwight was happy.

####

For a consecutive day Dwight could be found in his personal forge. Had he not just finished his poundings, the dwarf would not have heard the knocks on his door.

Opening the iron plank seconds later, he was greeted by the wide smile of a dwarf. White teeth were nearly as white as the dwarf's head.

"Not snow, no, nor rain, nor heat, or even gloom of night keeps me from accomplishing my appointed courses with all speed!"

Dwight gazed blankly at the dwarf carrying a bulging parcel by his shoulder. Behind the knocker, the bustling streets of Surtnarok could be seen.

"Still making those pretty little things, I see," said the courier, handing Dwight a letter.

Dwight repositioned himself so the new dwarf's vantage did not reveal his workshop. "They bring me happiness," he responded, as if disclosing a heavily-guarded secret.

The courier nodded noncommittally. After a lengthened pause, the bald dwarf offered a blank face and said, "Well, I'll be off then."

With that he left and Dwight closed the door to return to his jewel crafting.

####

Again Dwight found he was in an unquenched night; again he was pushed from swarthy heights; again he fell down the tubular tunnel of an inkwell; again a supernatural painter drew the world as he plummeted; again he landed on a towering mountain; and again night poured around this granite monster.

Unlike other dreams, Dwight found he was not on the mountain. The dwarf stood on an invisible step as the swarthy sea slowly seeped towards him, towards the heights of the mountain. Dwight ran for the mountain; all the while this living blackness crawled and oozed its way towards him.

So close! Dwight was so close! Darkness pooled closer to him, and the dwarf just could not reach this towering behemoth. With every step he took, he was another step from his terminus!

Blackness reached for him, spreading its oozing tendrils to grab him--!

####

Another knock sounded the next morning, and a haggard Dwight opened the door.

"Dwight, you look terrible!" said the same courier. He eyed Dwight from his unkempt beard to his red eyes and the purple rings beneath them. "What happened?"

All he received was a brisk reply. "Nothing. Just couldn't sleep."

Even in Surtnarok, a city inhabited by dull dwarves who make anything out of the ordinary their business, some things are better left unsaid. Dwight was already considered eccentric enough by his bland counterparts. Wishing not to spread rumors, the bald dwarf nodded, deposited his letter, and then departed on his rounds.

"Not snow, no, nor rain, nor heat, or even gloom of night keeps me from accomplishing my appointed courses with all speed" was heard as he left.

####

A fortnight passed, and every night Dwight was plagued by the same dream: him always running towards the mountain, running from darkness, but never to quite reach either.

After awakening in a sweat from these nightmarish visions, Dwight said, "Fine, I'll go! I'll do what you ask of me! Just let me sleep peacefully for one night!"

That night Dwight entered his bed. Having gained only small hours of fitful slumber for the last two weeks, he fell into black rest in instants. Dreams did not visit him that night.

Following that morning, Dwight, hefting a pack nearly as large as he, had left the comfort of Surtnarok and could be found trudging across the arid desert baptized Vinter. Crossing burning plains and passing into the threshold of winter as he climbed the mountain shown to him in his dreams, Dwight was heard to angrily mock the courier's motto quite often on his trek.

####

"It's always some frigid peak or raging inferno or some other horror the heroes have to cross," grumbled Dwight as he climbed his dream-envisioned mountain. "Why can't it be a trip down Sugar Knot Lane or running in the Fields of a Thousand Pleasures?"

At that very moment ice shattered into a million pieces beneath Dwight's footsore and gravity pulled the dwarf with invisible grip.

Another force pulled him upward, though.

Dwight opened the two coals he called eyes in the pale mask of his face to see a fair hand grabbing his beard. The mysterious hand proved heartier and won its invisible struggle.

"Not the beard!"

Thrown to the mountain's flattop, Dwight stared in a daze up at an elf. To a dwarf lying on his belly, the elf seemed a giant.

"A dwarf? I should have let it fall for all its use."

"What you got there, twiggy?"

The elf twisted his frowning body at the short, blue arrival.

"An ungrateful dwarf, goblin." He spat out the last word like a disease.

The goblin stroked his long canines as he stared at the sprawled Dwight. "It's almost as ugly as you, elf." Before the pointy-eared elf could retort, the blue-skinned figure addressed the new arrival. "So, suffering from chronic oneiromancy too?"

Dwight responded with a confused, "What?"

"Dreams. Have you been having them, too?"

"Real specific, elf. Like no one else has dreams."

Seeing the elf's reddened façade, Dwight said, hoping to balk any approaching outburst, "Of this mountain?"

He received two silent nods; he could tell they were mentally debating whether continuing their vocal tirades worth the effort.

"Every night for several weeks. Among other things."

"You're not alone."

Said the elf, "Yeah, you two can both discuss your shortcomings."

"You know, you're really stepping on my nerves," snorted the goblin, whirling around.

"Pretty easy to do so when you're a lumbering behemoth," said a tired Dwight.

Hearing the comment, Dwight was almost surprised he had said that. Bigotry dwells deep apparently, and Dwight, the same height as the goblin, found he was insulted by the jibe. Now in no way did he like this smart-mouthed blue, but he was a dwarf, a mountain child! He was not about to take abuse from some elf who pranced willy-nilly about the trees!

Voice rising in pitch, the tall elf countered, "At least I don't move my lips when I think!"

"That's because you can't even do that!"

"Listen here you fat little goblin," snarled the elf.

"Fat? I think you're confusing me with this dwarf," said the blue figure.

Dwight had previously planned to drift away from this heated conversation, but at the goblin's comment he lashed out. How dare they call him fat! All dwarves were stout!

"At least I don't have to wear iron shoes over my feet of clay! I hear you goblins are soft, delicate-footed little princesses."

While it was true the goblin was wearing odd footwear (only because he liked the outlandish, mind you!), he would not have even let his own mother call him "princess."

Lifting a foot casually, the dwarf continued, "I wonder what would happen if I were to stomp on the princess' toes." Seeing the goblin's distress Dwight returned his boot to the white-blanketed ground, but only after failing to stifle a snicker.

"That's not funny!"

"Simmer down," said Dwight. The dwarf felt tad remorse; the goblin truly seemed disgruntled. "It was just a joke."

"Joke? Joke?"

The elf had the misfortune of giggling and mumbling audibly "Delicate-footed princess."

"At least I'm not stupid enough to stand barefooted in the snow!"

At this the elf's chortles were stifled. He raised one long pale finger but was interrupted by continuing tirades.

"You people are all the same!"

Dwight found the scene now had taken a distasteful turn. Intervening between the berserk blue and the elf he said, "Enough. Enough!" Hands like iron pressed against white and blue chests, impeding both. "It was a joke. A bad one," he quickly added, seeing the goblin's red eyes. "My apologies."

Reluctantly, the goblin nodded.

"We were summoned to do a job; now let's do it."

Both elf and goblin nodded silently.

"Good. Now follow me," said Dwight, traipsing through knee-high snow.

"Where are we going?" Blued lips had to howl to be heard over the wind.

"I don't know," bellowed Dwight, "but it's better than standing around freezing!"

The goblin stared first at the elf then the dwarf. One could not argue with that logic. Having to almost leap to carry his short frame over the sheets of snow, the goblin bounded after Dwight.

Whatever comment the elf made was lost in the wind, and he soon marched after the two.

####

To say Dwight was led by some mysterious force, some light of the gods, would have made quite a tale, but that would be a lie. Dwight merely walked across the flat, snowy disc of the North Mountain until he found himself before an enormous troll. It was a big troll, very big indeed, and it was only conceivable Dwight would have found it eventually. It just so happened he found it sooner rather than later.

"Whoa! Big troll!"

Seated as if in deep meditation, the troll stretched fifty feet! Or perhaps it was a hundred... Perspective was hard to determine when from the eyes of a short dwarf. No matter, the troll was huge, but that was not the only defining trait. Hair did not cover its hide like all other trolls, but this creature's flesh was as hard as granite. In fact, its flesh was granite!

Trolls had begun like any other race. Sadly, a disease had come to infect them. By moonlight these beasts danced and sang, and by daylight these night-walkers turned to stone. Here an ancient troll had lain to rest but never woke, for high in the sky smiled the face of the pearly moon.

"Looks like a big you, Blue."

Ire bubbled in the fleshy ewer that was the goblin. Metaphorical steam billowed from orifices as the little goblin shifted his focus to the elf. "That's a troll. I'm a goblin. We're nothing alike. Nothing!" he finished, jabbing a finger at the fair figure.

Having succeeded in his scheme to agitate the goblin, the elf was agreeable. "Okay." He smirked.

"You're an absolute morrowit," said Dwight.

"Just look who comes galloping to the little Blue's aid!" exclaimed the elf.

"Yeah!" voiced the goblin as realization dawned. "I don't need your help, so back off!"

"Maybe I called you a morrowit! Ever think about that?" screamed the dwarf at his blue counterpart.

How he wished he were in his forge right now. Everything could be solved in a smithy. Tempers distilled, patience crafted in accordance with fine jewelry, murder easily accomplished...

"You're calling me a morrowit?"

"Yep," said Dwight with equal vigor.

"You called me a morrowit?" repeated the goblin.

Stupidity had to be a goblin trait, mused Dwight. This blue midget could not even formulate the simplest of sentences.

"What're you going to do about it?"

"Both of you are morrowits!"

Soon, three figures were screaming protests. Their shouts were a jumble of unintelligible bedlam.

"This is too grand! Voofnir, you got some popcorn? I feel like I'm at the theater!"

Goblin, elf, and dwarf immediately halted their bickering at the arrival of this trill of a voice. Looking up the height of the petrified troll, they saw three feather-coated creatures. Features that could be said to resemble a human shaped them, while beaks, talons, nape, wings, and all other traits reminded of a giant, mutated bird.

For such a small package, a surplus of boldness was stored in the goblin. "What are you freaks suppose to be?"

"Who are you calling a freak, you little blue tart?" snapped one gray-feathered creature known as Memin.

"Yeah," added another winged bipedal. "You look like a little pig."

"Oink oink oink!" chimed the last of the three birds.

"Why you--!"

It was at this point that the goblin drew a pickaxe from his pack and struck what the three sat on: the troll. Sounds like a gong being struck chimed and the goblin's last words were lost in a loud uproar. This was probably for the best, as even the most veteran sailors would have reddened at his comment.

"Hey now! Stop that!" demanded Habrok the leggy one.

Smiling wickedly, the goblin struck once more.

"Stop!" cawed Voofnir.

Shockwaves tore across the granite giant once more, and the birds were pelted by headaches.

"Stop it, runt!" cried Memin as again a pick caused a tidal wave to caress the troll's flesh.

Seeing the goblin raise his hand for another blow, the three birds leapt from the troll and flew about its head, cawing a song. As their song progressed, their courage grew and they flew around the heads of the three below.

You're a runt,
You're a runt
A squiggly iggly little runt!
You don't go in the front,
But the...back
O, you're a runt!
You're a runt
A squiggly iggly little runt!
Let's be blunt
You're a cu--

"What are you lot anyway?" demanded the elf, interrupting the bird's song.

The three birds with sickly gray feathers coating their bodies like needles in a pincushion pretended offense at the disruption and then returned to the troll's wide head. Doves these avian were not; doves they resembled only to blind eyes. On the headstone they resembled pigeons.

"We're avlar," they offered.

"Avlark?"

"Av-LAR!" they pronounced. "Get it right!"

"Ok, avlar, whatever."

"Come on guys," said Voofnir coolly, "These freaks are boring me. I think I saw some worms on our way here."

As the three verbal vultures left, one felt it amusing to defecate. To the opposing three's fortune, they avoided the white monstrosity.

Once the excitement spawned from the avlar's grotesque manners had retrenched, Dwight asked, "What do we do now?"

"Nothing to do. We got where we were supposed to be. All we can do is wait for further instructions." The elf ran his hands through his long mane; obviously even he was not content with these orders.

"What if they don't tell us?"

"Get some sleep," said the elf, though not unkindly.

It seemed the three avlar's appearance had dampened the three's dislike of each other.

Before following the elf's example, Dwight looked into the heavens. Above the dwarf, the astral plane was a midnight blue tapestry, dappled by white-bright stars.

####

Not mirroring him in the slightest, the face of Dves stared at Dwight. Big ears flapped on this dwarf god's head like fans, and a preened beard ran along the ridge of his jaw. Dwight then saw Dves in his entirety as the well-endowed immortal walked to a familiar stone troll.

Reverence stole Dwight away as he watched the divine dwarf raise a hammer over his head. Twin turtleheads faced opposite one another, acting as the hammerhead, and a garnet shell clothed where their necks conjoined. In a movement no mortal could have accomplished, Dves brought the sublime tool down on the troll.

Brown flesh crumbled in one synchronized dance. Instead of a naked troll, two hands, conjoined at the wrist, were in its place.

Another tap from the divine hammer, and a flame sprouted in the coupled hands.

With a wave of his instrument, Dves bounded into the flame; its orange surface rippled like disturbed water.

####

Dwight stepped from his makeshift tent. The tent had kept him warm in the night, but leaving its security, he felt the cold seep into his nostrils, ears, mouth -- every orifice. Like a living entity it strangled him, suffocating him like a bitter foe. Pulling his furs close against him, Dwight watched as the sun managed to poke its blazing head over the mountain that was the skyline. Orange, yellow, and colors between reflected off the white of the snow. Dwight no longer found he was chilled.

Back against the rising orb, the dwarf smiled for having naught to squint.

His brown eyes fell on the pick the goblin had buried in the massive troll. A splinter to a giant, he thought.

Growing nearer it, his mind recounted his dream. The pickaxe seemed otherworldly. Fingers reaching the tool, Dwight unquestioningly removed it from its inches-deep impression.

Hefting it in his hand, he found it weighed little. It seemed as light as a feather.

"Heigh-ho." He uttered it like a calm battle cry.

With a blow that seemed to exceed his body's limits, he sent the pick downward in a cultivated arc. Sparks ignited as the tool plunged deep into the rough flesh it craved. To the astonishment of the dwarf, he saw a reflection on the stone's surface.

No, not on its surface. In his mind.

Across his mind's eye flashed Dves. The divine dwarf raised his ambrosial hammer, and a turtle's head cracked against the troll's exterior. Like a snake shedding its skin in a matter of seconds, the rocky hide of the troll fell. Revealed were two hands of gargantuan proportions. Spinning his hammer, Dves then struck the coupled hands with the twin turtlehead. A single ember transmuted into a globe of wildfire in their conjoined palms.

All this happened in one brief instant. Never did this reel in his mind end. When the vision came to the end, Dwight found the finale replaced by the beginning.

As he continued to watch the movie play out in his mind's eye, the dwarf found scenes playing out of order, the film becoming erratic as it progressed.

Raising the pick, he found the revelations to disperse instantly. Released from his vision, Dwight knew what he must do.

Again and again and again he struck the troll's hard flesh.

Woken by the systematic hammering, Blue asked, "What's that pygmy doing?" but his heart was not in the jibe.

Leaving their tent, both elf and goblin saw Dwight chiseling away at the troll's skin.

Even the elf did not know why he did not chide the dwarf. Without a word, he strode beside the dwarf and in the same dutiful manner he began scraping away at petrified flesh. Too, Blue joined.

Spellbound by their work, the three were neither elf or dwarf nor blue or pale, but smiths.

####

"What a day!" exclaimed Blue. A blue palm wiped sweat away from a blue brow.

Three pairs of eyes looked at the work three pairs of hands had accomplished. Already the troll had been reshaped from his knees down.

Only the dwarf knew what this piece's final form would be, but he had not told his two fellow sculptures any details. Yet not one error was to be found where any of the three's hands had molded this gentle monstrosity. It was as if the gods moved their hands with unseen precision, like a parent guides its child.

Dwight continued looking at the monument they had been crafting. What a sight it would be! In two days more time their work would be complete. Dwight only wondered what it was they were building...

"It's beautiful. Add some jewels and it would be absolutely perfect." He cast another gaze at their labor. "Just think what would have happened if you'd all been dwarves!"

"It'd be incredibly dull, that's what," laughed Blue.

Tired from the day's excursions, Dwight considered the retort before his bearded mouth had a chance to respond. Blue was right; if the elf and goblin had been dwarves, it really would have been dull.

Dwarves were known to be the finest smiths, but where their hands were dexterous, their minds lacked ingenuity.

"You're right," agreed Dwight. "It turned out well."

"It will be amazing when it's complete!" added the elf.

"One of the wonders of our world! No, wait. The wonder of the world!"

Their praises continued throughout the night. For the first occasion since they met, the three were not arguing.

####

Leaving their tents, the smiths could see the three avlar seated on their unfinished work.

Pointing at the shedding troll, one avlar said, "Look at this sh--"

"--ut up, avlark," said a blue goblin loudly.

"AVLAR! Get it right!"

"All I see is a freak," said the elf, stepping beside Blue.

Dwight walked to the petrified troll unnoticed. Swinging swiftly, he pinpointed one good blow against the thing the avlars were using as a chair. Feathers drifted from the wobbling Voofnir, Memin, and Habrok. Once they had command of their legs again, the three gray pincushions jumped from the troll. Their caws curses, the feathered hoodlums flew away.

"That'll show 'em," said the dwarf, wiping his hands together.

Blue nodded and the three soon resumed their incomplete task.

Within only a few minutes a yelp was heard; it seemed the elf had accidentally trod on Blue's foot. The unattractive compliments started only seconds later.

Habrok, Voofnir, and Memin, who had yet to drift away from earshot of the three workers, snickered as they heard the little runt yell "At least our women don't have beards!"

####

Two days time had passed, and both mornings the smiths had been pestered by the rogue avlars. Dwight had transitioned from striking the monument to just merely chucking lumps of ice at the pigeons. Never did the avlars harass them in sable hours, however; Dwight surmised it was because the temperatures were too frigid in the unlit hours.

Elf and Blue had already returned to their tent, but Dwight, stubborn dwarf he was, had continued hammering at the granite titan for some time. Even his beard could not keep the cold from him, and reluctantly he too retreated into the green fabrics.

Sealing the wool flaps, Dwight found the elf and goblin in conversation. Their banter was not unkind.

"At least you're not some damn human. Did you know they come in different pigments? It's not enough that they fight with us, but they use that as an excuse to fight with each other!"

Elf pondered this and proposed, "Can you imagine if our races lived together? I mean: goblins and dwarves in the same place."

After some musings he received a reply. "Maybe that's why we separate ourselves. It's hard enough for us to live by ourselves, but if you give us an excuse we'll damn well use it."

"It's like having to see your crazy Aunt Agatha once every year. It's bearable, but if you had to live with her you'd kill yourself." Both elf and goblin turned to stare inquisitively at the dwarf. "Or something like that," he finished lamely.

"No, I get you," said the goblin. "But in a goblin's case you'd kill her instead."

Dwight felt his stomach tighten at the calmness which the goblin spoke this comment.

"What're your names?" he asked, trying to change the subject.

"Name's Jiv." Blue Jiv offered a toothy smile and a hand.

"Tom."

Bearded Dwight and blue Jiv looked inquisitively at Tom. "That's not very elvish."

"How many other elves have you met?"

"Zero," divulged Jiv, while at the same moment Dwight answered "One" just as honestly.

"What was his name?"

"Elvin Lorthindia Elwood the Third," said Dwight in a snotty tone that obviously mocked the very elf he evoked.

"Not all elves have names like that." Realization then dawned on Tom. "Wait, did you say Elvin Elwood?"

"The Third."

"Wore a big purple hat with a feather? And he said things like 'Hwhen is thee hparty?"

"By my beard! You know him?"

"Of course I know him! Everyone hates him! You can't like someone who puts h's in front of everything they say. When people say 'he gives us a bad name,' it's Elvin Elwood who gives elves a bad name!"

Liveliness seemed sucked from the quarters. The three had just learned an important lesson.

"I'm Dwight," said the dwarf, extending a hand. "It's been a pleasure to meet you both."

Jiv and Tom returned the sentiments sincerely.

Their meeting really had been defining.

####

Throughout all daylighthours and throughout all of night they labored. For a full day they toiled over the divine artwork. Morning rose as a golden pearl high in the white-misted canvas above just as the final swing of a pick sounded.

"It's simply miraculous." Tom's voice oozed admiration.

Admiring their handiwork, the goblin beamed; his grin was like a lighthouse shining on a blue midnight. "I know we built it with these hands," he said dreamily, "but looking at it...it seems unreal, almost ethereal..."

Dwight clasped hands on his two companions. The Voice that spoke, however, was not Dwight's.

"Well done. You've achieved much."

Looking back on it now, Dwight had the faintest suspicion the Voice had not meant their sculpting toils.

Three heads spun, bobbed, and gyrated as they searched for this Voice.

"Don't bother," said the invisible newcomer. "Had I wanted you too see me, I would have shown myself to you."

"Who are you?" The words came out as almost a squeak.

"Let's just say I...speak for your employers."

A full eight seconds passed before the meaning of this unseen apparition's words sunk in. Simultaneously, the three smiths were struck with humility.

"My gods," prayed Dwight.

"Precisely," said the invisible Voice.

Said Jiv, "You mean--"

"Yes, yes," interrupted the Voice. He did not like repeating himself.

"The gods!" vociferated three mortal lips in prayer.

Had the three smiths seen the Voice they would have seen his eyes roll. "I didn't come here to lead a liturgy. I came here to propose a request. The gods were quite happy with your work, and they aren't unappreciative. They're willing to let you enter their land and even sit beside their very thrones."

Obviously the proposal had left the three in a stunned state. Today the Voice was impatient (perhaps he was speaking for the trolls' fire god, Fargöth), and the few seconds he did not receive a response seemed an eternity.

"They are giving you the chance to avoid death itself and sit with them in their land. No other mortals have ever been given such luxury before."

"How humbled we are!" chorused the three.

"Yes or no?"

Three cries vociferated a single word: "Yes!"

In a tone that made it obvious the outcome did not matter either way to him the Voice said, "Excellent."

In that very moment, between the open palms of the gargantuan hands, a small flame came into existence. Before even a second had passed, the ember had conflagrated into a blazing sphere that crackled between orange and raspberry. Faint yellow glow that encircled the stimulated globe grew in intensity, and as another second passed the three smiths were obscured in ethereal luminescence. Another second later the lemon light failed and Dwight, Jiv, and Tom had vanished into promised land.

No eyes were keen enough to perceive the throng of invisible wraiths that followed them, leaving the world of the living forever.

####

Distanced enough so that they were unnoticed, three avlar sat watching the three smiths. Veiled in an awe that could be mistaken for silence, they watched as the three laborers finished their monument, watched as a flare popped into existence, and watched as the forbidden apple-colored flame ate the blacksmiths.

"How pretty," said Habrok.

Voofnir responded by saying, "To think we tried to stop it from being built."

Led by Memin, the three avlar then departed. With backs to the divine monument, they were not witnesses to the greatest spectacle of all to come from the hands that reached into the sky: a monstrous dragon with snapping jaws, cat-resembling eyes, and shield-sized scales of green and azure sprang forth from the glowing flame like a dolphin leaping from his element.

THE END


© 2010 Chris McKinney

Bio: Chris McKinney is a twenty-one year old English major at Johnson County Community College. His story "Earth's Bane" appeared in the Johnson County Community College magazine, The Mind's Eye in Spring 2010; he has subsequently joined the editorial staff of that magazine, while also contributing a monthly column to the Kansas University Edwards Campus newsletter.

E-mail: Chris McKinney

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