The Mountain King

By EM Malachi

The dead whispered, and Shamino listened. The murmurs belonged to those Shamino Salle’ Dacil had known over the long years – family, friends, soldiers he had sent into battle, and his beloved Beatrix. With the grief renewed after the centuries, he had spent a time wandering the wilds. Then he had returned to Skara Brae to find a way to serve, to bury his pain in work. Now he was standing vigil on Iver’s Rounding to watch over the Well of Souls.

While mages would have explained the Well of Souls with talk of leylines and arcane geometry, the rangers had a simpler explanation: some places are crossroads between here and there, between life and death. These are hallowed places to find solace and peace and to lay to rest wandering spirits, but they are also targets for necromancers and daemons. Protecting this particular crossroad had fallen to the rangers of Skara Brae.

It was sudden when the voices went quiet. The wind through the trees stopped. At the Well, the boundary between life and death weakened, and the color seemed to drain from everything close to it. Shamino frowned and moved closer to look inside. He placed his hand carefully against the veil as he had been taught and felt part of himself step across.

The other side looked like a simple stone catacomb. There was light from strange necromantic runes, and the air was still and stale. The ranger moved forward, walking for what seemed like hours. Eventually, the catacombs gave way to a natural cave. At his feet, the earth itself formed into a face and spoke, “Who are you, little being, to stand in my way?”

“I am Shamino Salle’ Dacil. And who might you be?

“I am Lithos. I am the Mountain King. I am the Heart of Earth. I claim this place.”

Shamino asked, “What is the basis for your claim?”

“By right of power. I claim all those who return to the ground, and they serve me forever. As shall you.”

Shamino noticed then that skeletons were rising from the earth around him, their bones etched with evil looking runes and writings. The ancient necromancers reached out glowing hands to grasp at Shamino. He quickly moved between them, dodging their lethal spells. He turned and fled back to the place where he had entered the shadow realm.

Stepping back across the veil, Shamino found himself again on Iver’s Rounding. The ghost of an old ranger he had befriended decades before mouthed the word, “Run!” just as the Well of Souls exploded. Specters and ghosts he did not recognize spilled forth from the rift between life and death, covering the island and crossing the channel to Skara Brae.

The dead had begun their siege of the city of Spirituality.