By Nathan McDonald
Streaks of wispy white clouds smear across the early morning sky. Gold, rose, and violet hued auras dance along the eastern horizon as the fiery dawn-beast emerges from a dark and silvery sea. The crisp smell of mountain pines and rocky scrub comes alive in the thin air as calls of morning birds filter up through the sparse conifers of the rocky spine from the lush oak and maple choked saddles below.
Two dark, cloaked and hooded figures stand still in this grandeur, seemingly afraid to break the spell of the moment. The first stands tall and strait, arms akimbo and legs planted shoulder width and solid, facing the rising sun and basking in the refreshing warmth of newborn day. The other, hunched and leaning heavily on a gnarled, capped staff faces northward, catching only sidelong rays from the sun. A trap of logic, an equation of power, draws his attention away from the splendor of dawn.
Following the gaze of the wizened figure northward, a menacing black edifice is seen to loom some 40 yards distant. All signs of life dissipate near the linteled arch. It is clearly an anathema to things living and natural. Not even the mottled lichens that cover the stony ground grow near it. Yet there are black and twisted remains of chaparral that dared grow to close in times past. But did these ill fated plants grow there by the whims of the whispering breezes that play across this bleak peak, or did they court the danger… for there is an attraction in this thing, as much as it repels.
The monument stands as high as three men, with harsh, irregular angles and sharp, precise edges. It is comprised of two inclined columns cantilevered against a heavy horizontal beam. As immovable and solid as it seems, there is a sense of frailness in its construction that suggests it could topple at any moment. Numerous glyphs and sigils that reflect the dawn's light break the polish of the arch's dark marbled surface. A feeling escapes from it that hints of a power that should not be contained, a dark and viscous aura that is a poison to innocence.
The bent elder's lips move in a silent litany as he begins hobbling toward the construct, leaning heavily on his staff. Shuffling loose gravel on the eroded granite face draws the other's attention, and reluctantly, he turns from basking appreciation of the rising sun and follows, teeth gritted from the unease permeating his body as he approaches the portal. Every step heightens the tough's burden, even as the elder seems heartened, his muttering now audible.
Standing before the portal, the hunched figure draws a yellowed crystalline stone from some hidden pouch, and presses it into a barely perceptible recess on the western column. The glyphs of the column catch the crystal's hue as weathered hands trace their path, the muttering charged with purpose and urgency. An azure crystal is produced from the depths of the elder's robes, and placed in a similar niche on the eastern column, glyphs aglow with the crystal's tint, crooked fingers follow the meandering signs on the dark stone's face.
Reluctantly, the tall one steps toward the center of the arch as the old man beckons him over. Then, in a practiced but clumsy process, the young man laces his fingers and boosts the elder to stand on his shoulders. The old man steadies himself on the arch, reaches up and shaking, pressing a rose hued crystal into a indentation on the underside of the lintel-stone, where it clings in spite of gravity's incessant pull. Grunting in annoyance, pain, and frustration, the old hands trace the reddened symbols on the bottom of the horizontal slab.
Awkwardly, the elder clings and clambers off the tall youth's shoulders, nervously making his way to the ground. The unease of the youth is clear on his face as he grimaces against the dull throb now emanating from the portal, it's glyphs pulsing with light. Maniacal eyes reflect the light from under the elder's hood, a wicked grin spreading as he traces a last sign on the western column.
The old man's gnarled hand grasps the arm of the youth as the humming begins to heighten and wail, the pulsing light of the sigils matching the keening of the stone arch. Suddenly, a blast of light and heat sears down from a clear blue sky, a chromatic lightning strike that forks and hisses as it is caught in the extended fork of the columns rising above the lintel. The blast of power is deafening as the glyphs ignite in a white hot glow, then all goes deathly silent, even the chirping birds in the valley below stilled.
The hunched elder's lifeless corpse collapses to the stony ground under the archway, his grasp finally releasing from the tall youth's arm. Using the elder's staff, the rosy crystal is dislodged, caught, and pocketed by the survivor, then the blue and yellow crystals are taken in turn.
With a maniacal glint in his eye, the tall youth casts the menacing arch a wry grin as he saunters away, reciting a silent litany, the staff cradled fondly in the crook of his arm.
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Nathan is a husband, father of two, and retired aerospace designer. He grew up in Southern California and now resides in the Puget Sound region of Washington state.
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