“The Weird of Ironspell” by John R. Fultz
Illustrations by Alex Sheikman
7. On the Mountain of Sorrows
Lightning raged about the peak. Ironspell pulled himself toward the sky, finding handholds in precarious places. Storm clouds cast ominous shadows upon him. Peals of thunder rolled across his back like boulders. It had taken the better part of a year to reach the Mountain of Sorrows, and neither gods, demons, or nature itself would keep him from reaching the summit.
A voice in the back of his mind whispered unheeded warnings:
How do you know your son will truly be here? This is another trap Azazar has set for you. Your son is dead. You’ll find his animated corpse walking rotten and full of hate…
He screamed his rage into the storm, drowning the voice of caution. He must scale this mountain; he could do no less for his own flesh and blood. If Tyneus were dead, at least he would finally know. And if he lived…
Ironspell had crossed the length of Dylestus, the dead kingdom where ghosts, wights, and ghouls prowled the remnants of shattered cities. The depraved descendants of the ruined realm had quickly captured him and Tumnal. They dragged the duo into a subterranean realm to feed a swarm of ravenous young. But the seekers escaped into an underworld of blind, crawling monsters and passed through a fungoid city of grotesques.
Ironspell’s alliance with a tribe of stunted burrowers enabled his flight to the surface world. There his blade cleaved armies of rotting dead in the quest to reach this forsaken peak. At the foot of its black slope he forbade Tumnal to climb alongside him; the liberation of Ironspell’s son belonged to him alone. And too many of his comrades had already died for his troubles. Tumnal protested, but could not refuse him.
Rain fell in moon-silver curtains, and the mountainside grew slippery and more treacherous. Ironspell climbed on through the night while the tempest roared. In the gray glimmer of morning, he saw the pillars of a dark temple rising upon the summit. In the glow of distant lightning he pulled himself onto the lip of the ultimate precipice. There he found a carven stairway winding toward the squat temple’s gates.
The edifice was a shrine to unholy things, a monument to terror and cruelty. On either side of its arched gate, colossal columns took the form of demon-brutes with yawning mouths. Twin pits of flame blazed before the entrance, hissing red against the rain. Firelight danced upon the faces of the stone fiends; they mocked Ironspell with winking eyes of obsidian. Upon the black gate glittered the insignia of the golden skull…the Mark of Azazar. Ironspell drew his blade, ascended the dark stairs, and Runesblood gleamed silver-bright in the hellish murk.
A bolt of lightning struck the temple’s barbed dome, and Ironspell saw the guardian of the gate. A knight in black armor stood at the head of the stairs, his helmet forged in the likeness of a human skull with a crown of iron spikes. With mailed hands, the knight lifted a great sword. Its broad blade glittered like the depths of a starry night, and Ironspell knew it was made of the very nothingness between worlds, the essence of the deadly void. The knight’s breastplate bore a golden skull. The rain-slick plates of his armor shimmered like black diamonds.
Tyneus lives, Witch-son. The hollow voice of Azazar rang among the storm winds. But you will never see his face again unless you defeat Death’s champion.
Ironspell rushed to meet the knight. The starry blade met Runesblood with a deafening clang. A shiver of agony quivered through Ironspell’s right arm. The knight moved with inhuman speed, withdrawing his blade and slicing at Ironspell’s chest. The blade’s black point barely touched Ironspell’s skin, but it sent a dreadful chill rushing through his body. The weapon sliced not only his mortal flesh, but tore the essence of his immortal soul. While Ironspell shivered, the knight made a killing stroke, but Runesblood parried it. Ironspell fell back as the skull-helmed guardian bore down upon him.
Ironspell slashed and stabbed, but always the starblade was there to turn Runesblood aside. Another kiss of the knight’s sword drained all the strength from his limbs. Ironspell’s living spirit seeped like blood from a split vein. He fell, lying on his back against the stairs.
Death’s champion stood over him, eyes blazing inside the sockets of his skull helm. He raised the black sword for a final blow, and Ironspell shut his eyes.
Azazar’s laughter echoed on the spiteful wind.
Ironspell screamed his son’s name, and in his weary fist Runesblood stabbed upward.
A shock of tearing metal, rending flesh, and severed bone. Ironspell opened his eyes. The knight stood transfixed upon the silver sword, his metal-shod arms still holding the starblade aloft for a deathblow that was never delivered. Instead, the black steel fell from the knight’s hands and melted into black smoke. Blood, red and steaming, ran down Ironspell’s arm, the copper tang of it filling his nostrils. The eyes inside the skull helm looked out at him with a blend of arcane emotions. Ironspell’s heart shriveled as he recognized his own green eyes staring back at him.
The knight fell with metallic clash against the stairs. Ironspell removed the skull helm. A face identical to his own stared up at him…identical but younger. The face of the fully-grown Tyneus, slain by his father’s own hand.
Once again the laughter of Azazar rang through the sky, mingled with thunder. The roiling clouds took on the shape of a vast skull. Lightning danced in its night-black sockets.
I spoke truly, Witch-son, echoed the bodiless voice. Tyneus was alive when you met him here. You have defeated my champion, and now you see his face again. Hurl yourself from this peak and let your death avenge the crime you have done this day…
Ironspell cradled the body of his son, tears mingling with the rain that scoured them both. The mountain began to tremble, and the evil shrine crumbled into dust, but Ironspell did not notice.
Or will you live on? asked the voice of Azazar. And seek me once again? Seek me throughout eternity. Seek me without hope…and let your hate draw you near.
Ironspell removed the black armor and tied Tyneus’ body to his back. Then he began the long, perilous descent. The moon was at its zenith days later when he reached the bottom of the mountain. There waited faithful Tumnal.
They wrapped Tyneus in a shroud and carried him from the ruined kingdom. They carried him across the lands of the Three Sultans, and beyond the Greyfold Mountains, and they buried him at last in Neshma, the land of his birth.
Then Ironspell went alone into the world once more. He followed the path of his terrible hate, which flowed before him like a river of blood.
Next Week–Conclusion!: The Breaking of the Weird
About the Author: John R. Fultz lives in the Bay Area, California, but is originally from Kentucky. He keeps a Virtual Sanctuary at: http://johnrfultz.wordpress.com His fiction has appeared in BLACK GATE, WEIRD TALES, and SPACE & TIME magazines, as well as the DAW Books anthology CTHULHU’S REIGN. His graphic novel of epic fantasy, PRIMORDIA, was published by Archaia Comics. He has new stories forthcoming in BLACK GATE, LIGHTSPEED, SPACE & TIME, and the WAY OF THE WIZARD anthology from Prime Books. In a previous life he made his living as a wandering storyteller on the lost continent of Atlantis.
About the Artist: Alex Sheikman is the incredibly talented creator/writer/artist of the samurai-steampunk-western-scifi comic ROBOTIKA, available at www.amazon.com in two fantastic graphic novels. Much more of his amazing artwork can be seen at http://sheikman.blogspot.com He has a brand-new sketchbook full of wonderful illustrations that readers can order directly from his blog site. Go order his books now–you’ll thank me later!