Prompt This Week: 21. A very ancient colossus in a very ancient desert. Face gone—no man hath seen it.
Research: Look Upon My Wonders, And Despair!
Dear His Imperial Majesty and Protector of the Faith,
As you requested, I have continued to take a record of the disturbances that plague your kingdom. I have ridden far, from the jewel of Istanbul to the southern lands where Arab tribesmen dwell. And it was there I encountered my unfortunate delay.
I was investigating reports of a lost manuscript, one from Bablyon that had been smuggled south and lost in a sand storm, when I heard from a travelling merchant of another oddity: a statue in a mountain, near the Basket of Gold. Raiders from the early days of the Caliphate had settled around it, and was haunted by djinn of ill repute and fickle nature. The merchant, who introduced himself as Rostam Al-Dahak, offered to guide me to those who inhabited the area now, who he assured me where more civilized folk.
Thus, with steel by my side, I made my way out into the Azir Mountains, south of the City of the Prophet a good ways before we arrived at the strange tribes men. The merchant made good on his introductions, speaking some unfamiliar tongue. He explained that besides the Holy Koran, the people here knew not a wit of Arabic. They spoke some language of their own, precious to them since Babel. Despite that, he spoke some as well.
The tribesmen, simple folk with iron weapons bought with wool and sheep, where a bit alarmed at my presence. Rostam explained that they were very wary of outsiders, particular men from Medina. They thought the secrets of iron and textiles the work of ghuls and desert spirits that conspired against the Prophet. The belief seemed strange at the time, but we shall get to that shortly.
For the time being, Rostam brought me to the headman, a man that the Lord of Creation granted a long life and a healthy mind. His beard was short and white, a cloud puffing out of his chin. He wore a woolen robe and hood even indoors, and spoke with Rostam briefly in their own language. The elder meddled with some beads before nodding along a bit. What follows is the best transcription I can manage, translated by my dear Rostam, and summarized for purposes of time.
There is, according to the esteemed elder of the tribe, a mountain that was hollowed out by an ancient sorcerer, who tamed the winds and forced them to raise metals and jewels, that he might have a paradise hidden form the eyes of the Lord. Vain in his deeds and hopes, he made metal halls and shining stars, binding strange servants of brass and light. Fiery ifrits were forced to serve him, and in the dark halls he prayed wastefully to idols carved in stone and offered sacrifices atop fiery altars made by the giants of Ad and Gog.
The foul sorcerer could not, of course, avoid the gaze of God. Even in that time before the Prophet, peace be upon him, walked the earth, holy men abound. A number of them gathered around the entrance to the sorcerous chamber. They pounded their staves on the ground, and uttered many prayers to end the abominable practices that occurred there. And there faith was that of the esteemed desert hermits, such that the Ineffable One moved the mountains.
The earth shook and scarred as the, as Rostam put it, wind of death descended into the hold from its resting place in the peak. Howling like raging wolf, it descended upon the halls, many armed in its terror and strangled all it found with a hundred limbs of smoke. And it tore and rent all of its contents, its singing swords, its women of metal, and its dark writings. But the power born in Ad’s statue frightened the wind, and it cowed about it, before being recalled unto heaven. So the place still stood, surrounded by the work of the Carrion Wind.
The elder started then speaking in hushed and more rapid tones, and Rostam did his best to convey the knowledge. They said that the mountain had laid abandoned thus since, but raiders and nightly demons still made offerings to the strange statue, that its foul powers aid them. They walk atop desert storms and storms with drums of thunder when it is pleased. When it is not sated, the shepherds see hosts of locusts and worse growing on the distance.
The elder admitted to Rostam that he could show us the way to the strange fortress. It was not a hidden place, he said, to those who knew the mountains. He sent with us a shepherd who had slipped into sleep that day. He laid us faithfully, if reluctantly, to the mountain. A pillar of stone that was stained black in places. Wounds seemed to have been struck along it sides, such that a number of springs bubbled strange rivers out. A great cavern stood along the side, between the four rivers of bile. Surely, great shadow of the Lord, it was something forsaken by Nature and Man if not by the Lord of the World.
Rostam and I proceeded alone. Not even the stern shame of sloth would motivate our guide to enter that dimly lit cavern. Lanterns in hand we entered the belly of the beast. Its sides shone as if wrought from iron and steel, and were cool to the touch. The ground was a single piece of metal, a passage way more completely crafted than any other. The reflection of the fire danced upon the sides. The air was thick as we descended deeper and deeper. At last we lighted upon the room of the Carrion Wind.
There was in fact a statue there, a colossus unlike anything these tribesmen had ever seen. I, however, and no doubt yourself, Commander of the Faithful, recognized it swiftly. A tall and might form, that resembled a lions, with something like a man’s head, and a pair of thrown back wings. Two bull horns poked from its top. Certainly, it was nothing more than a mere pagan idol. It was well made, certainly, with the only flaw being the cracked and smashed face.
There was blood splattered, of course, along the bottom of it. And a number of shimmering swords were cast about it, shimmering like the walls in the lantern light. Rostam shivered as a chilly breeze came up from the depths of the mountain. No doubt greater secrets or oddities lay there, a treasure trove lost to time.
I was examining the statue when the light first flickered strangely across it. The smooth skin grew small dusty hairs. As I raised the lantern closer to examine the workmanship, I saw it move more certainly. With a low moan it breathed in. The cavern shook as it breathed out. I started back as the lumbering thing stirred, its shoulders stretching. Its beard unfolded, slowly, into a multitude of limbs. Its wings rose and fell, the entire cavern swept by its movement.
It had no face still though. Its head was jagged and broken, it’s face and skull apparently smashed in. It slouched forward and lumbered off its platform with cool assurance, swords breaking under its paws. The tendrils flickered out, stroking the air absent mindedly. I sat silent and still as it paced about. Rostam…Rostam did not. He cannot be blamed. The beast’s visage was the fear work of nightmares, its face bleeding sap and its body bestial. I must commend Rostam, for only shouting in panic and attempting to run.
The creature, if it had any sense, surely had excellent hearing, and immediately pounced upon, a boulder of muscle crushing him. The beast made a noise, a gurgling noise, and raised its head a triumphant lion over a lamb. Its tendrils gripped Rostam’s clothing, and tore flesh and cotton apart with ease. I rose slowly, considering what could be done against such a creature, faster than the wind and stronger than steel. I decided swiftly that if this was to be driven from your Imperial Majesties lands, a division of men twenty strong, armed with rifles, might suffice. If the Most Generous be willing.
It shouldn’t then be noted among my sins that I fled. I did as quietly as I could, careful not to step upon a single blade or piece of rubble. I moved as slowly as I could, the steel floor catching only the slightest of my movement. The beast was pre occupied with tearing into Rostam’s flesh, though as I began to pass it, I noticed it was not actually devouring him.
The creature was instead jabbing the pounds of meat onto itself, probing its own face for a mouth. It turned about sluggishly, making a strange moaning. After several ponderous steps, it lowered its head and pushed about several of the swords, its root like limbs struggling to grip them. Gradually it pulled its head up, stuttering as it did. A beard of blades surrounded it as it turned toward the exit, it long breath growing strained.
I have, I admit, put little effort in placing the location of that fortress. Nor can I explain what occurred to the beast, although I speculate that perhaps the elder misunderstood the story. I suspect, possibly, that the great creature has –unfortunate for itself – a great intolerance to blood. Whence it came I cannot say, nor whether those blades were its or others. The mountain is a strange one, but it is a danger that can be avoided, should we simply wall it up with stones and boulders. A simple solution, I think.
Your beloved Servant.
I believe this story may have been a misstep. I could not quite get a grip on a deeper horror, or rather, found it much harder to express than an initial draft focusing on a British empire. I was a bit too eager to return to a good corpse I think. Something I will keep in mind as I go on.
What about you, my brothers and sisters? Was it frightening?
If you enjoyed it, consider looking at the previous visit to the Ottoman empire.
Also, a note: This story did draw some inspiration from our good friends at horror prompts. Check them out for some good off-kilter poetry.
If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.