And on a separate note, my all new novel, THEOPHILUS: A TALE OF ANCIENT ROME, releases on Tuesday, April 11!! Watch this blog spot for a link six days from now!
THE DESTROYER AND THE MACE
A Short Fantasy Tale
By Lewis Smith
No one knew why Goza the Destroyer had returned. But return he had, as the old legends said he would. Four times as tall as a man, his scaly hide impervious to any weapon humans could forge; he had come rampaging from the Valley of Fire a fortnight ago, falling on Da Driscoll’s farm just before sunset. The old man had stepped outside to see why the cows were bawling and been picked up and devoured in a moment. His wife had come screeching out the door with a pitchfork, feisty to the end, trying to avenge her husband. The iron tines had snapped off as she tried to drive them into the beast, and she had followed her husband into its maw. Only their son Hoyer had survived, fleeing out the back window as the beast ripped the front door off of the house.
Goza did not devour all his victims, but he killed any who crossed his path. Only the swiftest could outrun him, and he rarely paused in his assault on humanity. The Driscoll farm was isolated, but by the next day the creature had found its way to Findale, the nearest village. Some twenty houses held the town’s population of nearly a hundred; by the end of the creature’s rampage fifty were dead and the rest fled for their lives.
Tyrone heard about the return of the Destroyer from the frantic survivors as they reached his own village of Doreton the next day. His father, the mayor, ordered the townspeople to pack up their possessions and be ready to flee if the monster turned towards them. He called on Cromwell the Mage to find a spell that might repel, if not destroy, the beast, and then he called on Tyrone.
“You are our scholar and scribe,” he said. “You alone have read the ancient chronicles that tell of Goza’s previous attacks. You must find a way to stop him, for otherwise the entire district – perhaps the entire kingdom - shall be laid waste!”
“There is only one way,” said Tyrone. “Only one weapon has ever proved potent against Goza, and it has been hidden for a millennia.”
“You think the Mace of Negation is real?” the mayor said.
“It has to be,” said Tyrone. “Three times since men began telling tales Goza has come to destroy us, and three times he has been repelled. While the details differ, all the stories agree that a legendary mace was used – a mace that simply erased Goya from existence. What it is, I know not, nor where it is hidden. But I shall delve into the chronicles and find out!”
“Dusty books are no good against a demon lord,” said Sir Frederick the Paladin. “Cold steel, a fearless heart, and a strong arm are the proper tools!”
“Unless you are more abundantly equipped with those than any of the heroes of old, you will fail,” said Tyrone. “Cedric of Coldwell himself went up against Goza, armed with his great blade Blackfire, and could not even wound the beast.”
“I will measure my blade and my heart against any hero of the Golden Age,” sneered Frederick. “Goza will feel the bite of my Dragonstinger and go fleeing back to his valley in fear of his life!”
The knight patted the huge claymore that was strapped across his back, Tyrell the Mayor looked at the paladin with admiration and sadness in his eyes.
“I think this foe is too great for you, my friend, but I also know that your honor compels you to make the attempt! May the Goddess guide your blade, and bring you back safe,” he said.
The entire town gathered to watch Sir Frederick ride off, and three local boys volunteered to act as his squires so they could see him take on the dread creature. Tyrone shook his head sadly and returned to his books. Late that day his father sought him out again.
“Any luck finding where the mace might be hidden?” Tyrell asked.
“I don’t know what it even looks like!” said Tyrone. “See, here is a copperplate illustration from five hundred years ago.”
He held up the heavy tome he’d been reading, and there was a stylized picture of Roger of Thornhill, the last knight to defeat Goza. He was holding aloft an ornately carved wooden stave, inscribed with ancient runes of power. Mounted in its head was a jet-black gemstone the size of a goose-egg that radiated beams of blackness at Goza, which ate away at his skin like acid, burning holes in the monster wherever they touched him.
“That looks like a mighty weapon,” said Mayor Tyrell.
“It does!” his son replied, “but look here. This chronicle, written two hundred years earlier, also has a picture of the mace.”
He flipped back to a much earlier page in the same book, and there was another picture of Sir Roger, this time holding aloft a plain wooden stave with a bright red ball, nearly a foot across, attached to the end. From it a beam of pure red light shot through Goza and burned clear through him, boring a hole in his midsection.
“That is not the same weapon,” his father said.
“No, it isn’t,” his son added. “But this is what the scribe wrote below it: the Mace of Negation is said to have disappeared shortly after Goza was defeated, and none alive today have seen it or have talked with those who have. The old tales say that it has the power to negate the very existence of Goza, hence the name of the mighty weapon, but what it may look like and what strange power it has over this otherwise indestructible daemon, none can say at this late date. In other words, father, the illustrator is simply guessing what the Mace looked like!”
“Are there any earlier descriptions of the Mace?” Tyrell asked.
Tyrone flipped back to the beginning of the book, running his finger down the dusty page.
“This chronicle was begun over eight hundred years ago, but that was still over a hundred and fifty years after the last attack by Goza,” he said. “There is a colorful description of Sir Roger’s battle with the beast, but not an actual description of what the mace looked like or how it was able to destroy Goza!”
His father looked over his shoulder.
“This is the Primary Chronicle, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Exactly,” said Tyrone. “It’s the oldest complete history of our kingdom. But there are some very ancient books in the cellar, crumbling with age. I shall search them next.”
But before he could move towards the cellar door of the town’s Great Hall, there came a shouting and commotion outside. The mayor and his son raced outside to see what was the matter.
It was one of the three lads that had ridden off with Sir Frederick that morning. His horse was slathered with sweat, and his tunic stained red with blood. Wild-eyed, he was gasping for breath, unable to speak. One of the young maids brought him a dipper of water, and he gulped it greedily.
“Sir Frederick is dead,” he said, “and the other two boys as well. Ah, Goddess, he was so brave! We rode six hours west, moving at a slow pace towards the Valley of Fire, when we saw it coming. I tell you, Tyrone, the old tales speak true. Such a monstrous creature never walked on two legs – huge, clawed legs, like a bird of prey, whiplike arms that lash out and wrap around and pull you into that maw – saints protect us, no creature needs that many teeth! It has no eyes – at least none that I could see – but it knew we were coming. Smelled us, I guess. It turned to face us before Frederick ever challenged it.”
“What happened then?” asked one of the young maids. Like many of the girls in town, she had been smitten by Frederick’s bravado and good looks.
“He rode straight up to it,” said the young squire, whose name was Wat Tyler. “Those snakelike arms reached out for him and lifted him right out of the saddle, but he was ready for it. He had Dragonstinger out of its sheath and raised the blade high over his head, and as the beast opened its mouth to devour him, he drove the blade as far down its throat as he could!”
“Did that have any effect?” Tyrone asked, curious.
“I think it did startle the monster,” said the squire. “It clamped its jaws shut with enormous force, and snapped the blade clean in half!”
“That’s impossible!” snapped Cromwell the Mage. “Dragonstinger was forged of vulcanium, the hardest metal known to man, melted with dragonfire in the days when the Great Worms still roamed this land and could be domesticated. No blade of vulcanium has ever broken!”
“I can’t speak to that,” said Wat. “I just know what I saw. That blade snapped in Goza’s mouth like it was a dried twig. I heard Sir Frederick screaming in protest just before the mouth opened again and bit him in half. His armor didn’t even slow those teeth down! All three of us charged in at that moment, crazed with anger and shock, I guess. I had a lance that Sir Frederick had given me; the metal head bent and the shaft shattered to pieces when it hit that monster’s hide. One of those flailing arms knocked me out of the saddle as it wrapped around poor Rupert, and I guess that saved my life. His horse wheeled and ran for it, and I swung myself up on its back while Goza swallowed Rupert. It grabbed Lee next, and was still chewing him up when it came for me. I barely managed to outrun it, but once I got clear I headed home as fast as I could.”
“As before, so again,” said Tyrell. “The mightiest warriors in the land have never been able to vanquish Goza without the Mace of Negation.”
“Nor has any mage,” Cromwell said, “But I think I perceive what their great mistake was.”
“What was that?” asked Tyrone.
“They tried to destroy Goza,” he said. “I shall merely seek to contain him. I believe I can succeed where they failed.”
“Let me know how that works out for you,” said Tyrone. “I am going back to the Chronicles. Finding the Mace is our only hope!”
“You to your craft, me to mine,” said Cromwell. “Goddess grant that one of us succeed.”
Tyrone dug for hours among the crumbling tomes and scrolls that were stacked in one corner of the Great Hall’s cellar. Tax records, letter, poems and stories of ancient times, but nothing about Goza beyond a few cryptic references. Finally, near the bottom of the stack, he found half of a leather-bound volume, its cover scarred and scratched but still legible. Excited, he dragged it up to the scribe’s table upstairs where the light was better. Mayor Tyrell was anxiously pacing the floor.
“What do you have, son?” he asked.
“This volume is entitled A True History of the Depradations of the Daemon Goza the Destroyer, with an Account of his Destruction by the Brave Knight Sir Roger of Thornhill, by the Venerable Scribe Dorman of Doyle. It looks old enough to have been written shortly after the event.”
He opened the book and began to quickly scan its pages, flipping them rapidly. Here and there he gave a nod or a grunt, but all too quickly he reached the end of the fragmentary volume. He sighed in frustration.
“Nothing here,” he said. “Roger was still seeking for the Mace where the story is cut off.”
“Is the other half of the book down there somewhere?” Tyrell asked.
“I went through the entire stack,” his son sighed. “It must have been tossed out years ago.”
“What’s this?” the Mayor asked, pointing at a piece of paper sticking out the top of the book.
“Just a folded piece of paper,” Tyrone said. “I think that someone was using it as a bookmark.”
“Perhaps we should unfold it,” his father said.
Tyrone shrugged and pulled the paper out. It was folded into fourths, and was actually quite a bit bigger than he supposed. Better yet, it was covered on one side with archaic writing. He squinted in the failing light, trying to make it out, then his eyes widened.
“Bring the lamp closer, father,” he said. “I think this may be what we were looking for.” His father set the oil lamp down on the table, and Tyrone began to read the letter out loud.
I thank you for your enquiry, Scribe Dorman, it began. As far as I know, I am the last man still living who saw the battel between brave Sir Roger and the foul daemon known as Goza the Destroyer. The Mace of Negation is the most potent of all weapons, its humble appearance notwithstanding. Indeed, it appears not to be a weapon at all, but everywhere it touched Goza, he simply faded from existence, until there was nothing of him left. But in his joy at the monster’s demise, Sir Roger brushed the weapon’s lethal end against his own foot, and it ceased to exist, just as the monster had – without blood or pain, simply being erased from existence. So on a crutch did he ascend, back to the cave of the Giant’s Blood, where he found it, and there the Mace awaits the first man who can pass the three challenges, that it may be wielded again when Goza returns. The cave’s location is well enough known, but the challenges should suffice to keep any man from taking the Mace until the true need of it is upon us once more.
“Father, where is the Cave of the Giant’s Blood?” asked Tyrone.
“My grandpap told me that was the original name of Lizard’s Deep up on the side of the mountain,” Tyrell answered.
“Lizard’s Deep?” said Tyrone. “That cave only goes back a hundred feet! I have been in it many times!”
“Maybe there is more there than meets the eye,” his father said.
“I guess I have to go find out,” Tyrone said. He grabbed a knapsack and threw a few pieces of bread, an apple, and a torch into it.
As he left, he saw Cromwell standing at the edge of the village, holding his staff high over his head and chanting words in an arcane language. It seemed that he could see sparks hanging in the air where the staff had already passed.
“He is trying to weave a Forbidding,” Tyrell said. “I pray his magic is strong.”
“He will not stop Goza,” said Tyrone. “The Mace is our only hope.”
It took him over an hour to hike up the mountainside to the point where the mouth of Lizard’s Deep faced to the northeast. From this elevated vantage point, he could see his village, and he could even see traces of the Forbidding that Cromwell had conjured hanging in the air just outside of town. But he could also see a trail of smoke and dust hanging in the sky, its source a massive figure many miles away, but still visible, going too and fro and destroying all in its path. It was only an hour or two from his village at the most. He lit his torch with a flint and tinder and hastened into the cave.
Lizard’s Deep was a narrow oval cave, perhaps a hundred feet at its deepest point from the opening. The back wall was somewhat flat and vertical, like a wall, but there was no sign that it was anything but a natural rock face. Or was there? Tyrone had been in the cave many times, but it seemed as if there was something different about it today. There was a very faint gleam seeming to come from parts of the wall, but the torchlight made it impossible to see clearly. He dropped the torch in the dust and kicked dirt over it until the flame went out, and then closed his eyes and counted to ten. Finally, he opened them and stared at the wall before him.
He gasped for breath. Hanging in the air before him were letters of orange fire, suspended in the air in front of the sheer rock face. Together they formed one word – a question.
He thought for a moment. His own name was the first thing to come to mind, but somehow that didn’t seem right. He said it anyway, just to see what would happen. The fiery letters winked out for a moment, and then slowly reappeared, not as bright as before. NAME, he thought. What name could it possibly want? Then, suddenly, it came to him. There was only one name that indicated that the mace was needed.
“Goza the Destroyer!” he said.
The letters blazed up to incredible brightness, and then faded. There was a rumbling groan as the back wall of the cave split in the middle, opening a new passage before him. The passage was dimly lit, as the very stones of the wall glowed with a faint blue light. He advanced for perhaps a hundred feet, until he came to another wall. There the same glowing letters hung in the air before the flat rock face. Another one word question:
“To destroy Goza!” he said confidently.
The letters flickered and dimmed, then slowly rekindled. He thought for a moment. Goza always came back, he reflected, therefore he could not truly be destroyed. That must be it.
“To defeat Goza!” he tried the second time. Again, the letters guttered out and faded, and took a much longer time to re-appear. He realized he might not get another chance. What could the purpose be? If he did not retrieve the Mace of Negation, then his whole village – indeed, the whole kingom! – was doomed. Then it hit him, and he clapped his hand to his head. How simple could he be?
“Negation!” he cried, and the letters blazed up to brilliance, and then faded as the second rock wall split down the middle and opened before him.
This passage was even more brightly lit than the first, and Tyrone fairly ran across the bedrock to the final wall. The letters of fire were even brighter now, hanging in the air before the last wall. One last barrier between him and the Mace, one last question posed in a single word:
He recalled the tales of the Mace’s awesome power, and realized that there was only one promise that could satisfy whatever forces there were that guarded the magic weapon. Otherwise the Mace could become a tool of oppression, a source of great evil in the land.
“I promise to return the Mace here as soon as Goza is defeated,” he firmly said. The letters blazed in fiery satisfaction, and the walls slowly slid apart before him. The chamber glowed with blue fire, brighter than the full moon on an autumn night, outlining every crevice and crag in silvery fire. And, resting on a massive stalagmite in the middle of the floor, was the Mace of Negation.
It looked nothing like a weapon. One end was vaguely pointed, but the tip was crushed and blunted from repeated impact. The shaft was wooden, painted a dull yellow, and carved into a hexagonal cross section. Some dull runes were carved into its side, but they were in no language that Tyrone had ever seen. The actual mace was rectangular, pink, and dull-looking. Curious, he reached out and touched it, and it actually felt soft beneath his fingers. How could this rubbery thing possibly be a weapon? Still, all the old tales reported that this thing was Goza’s bane, so he grasped the wooden shaft and turned back towards the distant cave entrance.
By the time he got there, he could see that Goza had approached almost to the invisible boundary that Cromwell had created. The wizard stood behind his Forbidding, holding his staff aloft and chanting incantations to preserve its power. Tyrone broke into a trot, determined to be there when Goza reached the magical barrier. The villagers were huddled outside their homes, horses saddled and wagons loaded, hoping the Forbidding would hold and fearing it would not. Tyrone shoved past them and watched as Goza drew nearer and nearer to the Mage’s creation.
Tyrone gripped the Mace tightly. It looked even less impressive in the light of the morning sun. How could this bizarre tool harm such a mighty beast? He prayed Cromwell’s forbidding would hold so that he would not have to go up against the monster with such a useless-looking weapon.
The prayer was refused. Goza reached the forbidding, and the magic barrier crackled and spat as the creature touched it. Sparks showered the massive creature, but the Forbidding failed to forbid. It didn’t even persuade – Goza tore through it like it was a spiderweb, and then grabbed Cromwell in its snakelike tentacles. The Mage shrieked a mighty spell and brought his staff down on the monster’s head as hard as he could. Blue fire crackled from the staff, but it rebounded back on the mage and burned his body to ashes without so much as singeing Goza’s scaly hide.
Tyrone swallowed hard, his palms sweating where they gripped the Mace. Then he stepped forward, right into the path of the most fearsome monster of legend and history. Goza the Destroyer stopped, swaying on its massive clawed feet, its snakelike tentacles whipping back and forth. Its mouth yawned wide, its hundreds of razor sharp teeth specked and clotted with blood. The young scribe had never been so scared in his life.
“Stop!” he said. “Turn back, Goza, or I shall destroy you!”
The massive beast stopped, its eyeless face regarding the youth in its path. Tyrone could not tell if it was afraid, curious, or about to collapse into hysterical laughter at the arrogance of this slight youth that barred its path with a glorified stick. Finally, one of its tendrils reached out, groping for Tyrone’s face. Closer and closer it drew, until he could see that every tiny sucker pad was in fact another mouth full of fangs, ready to latch onto his face.
“Why not?” Tyrone whispered to himself, and swung the mace at it. The pink rubbery rectangle swiped across the monstrous tentacle – and the section that it touched simply vanished. The severed tip fell to the ground, thrashing about wildly. It brushed across Tyrone’s ankle, and he drew his foot back and swept the pink rectangle across it. The severed appendage vanished as if it had never existed.
Goza shrieked and started to turn, but Tyrone leaped forward and swept the Mace across its mighty haunch. Monster flesh vanished at its touch, and the leg fell to the ground, severed clean. Goza roared in pain and confusion, its sole remaining leg propelling him in a circle. Tyrone swung as hard as he could, and everywhere the Mace touched, the legendary beast was negated, just as the old tales said. Soon there were only fragments of the beast lying on the ground, and Tyrone went from one to the next, busily scrubbing them out of existence as the villagers looked on and cheered. By the time the sun had climbed to noontide, there was no trace of Goza left.
When it was done, he held the Mace aloft, newly respectful of its power.
“The King will knight you for this, my son!” Tyrell said jubilantly. “You have saved us all!”
“Not yet, Father,” Tyrone said solemnly. “I have a promise to keep.” As the people of the village watched curiously, he began toiling up to the path towards Lizard’s Deep to return the Mace to its home.
Far away, in the Valley of Fire, deep in a remote cave, faint lines began to appear in the air. Gradually, they coalesced into a single, iridescent scale, hanging in the air. A few moments later, another scale began to appear beside it as Goza slowly reappeared. It might take a millennium, but he would be back.
“All right, who erased my monster?” the angry comic illustrator snapped.
His co-workers looked at his messy workplace and shrugged. One of them concealed a snicker behind a notebook he was holding.
“This isn’t funny, guys!” the artist said. “Three times I’ve drawn him this morning, and three times I step away from my desk and find him completely erased. If I catch whoever did this I’m going to kick their -”
“Stow it, Larry!” the editor snapped. “I think you just don’t want me to see this new creature of yours because it’s lame.”
“That’s not fair boss!” the illustrator whined. “Goza is awesome; just let me draw him again!”
He took the offending pencil with the big pink eraser on its end and chunked it in his drawer, then picked up a fine-tipped, freshly sharpened one, and began sketching Goza’s scales.