"s 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Yazul "

Submitted by Joseph Bashaw (Skarl the Drummer)

Yazul the young goatherd laid his head upon a cushion of grass and closed his eyes for a pleasant rest. His job was to tend and protect the thirty goats his family owned, which fed on the sweet plants that grew at the base of Mount Zan. Yazul, though a good-natured lad, was a lazy daydreamer, and would often sneak in a nap or two even while watching his animals. They never got in trouble anyway, always staying nearby, and no wolves or thieves ever lurked in these parts. Besides he and his herd, and the looming presence of Zan itself, there were only pastures all around. His family's home was beyond several tall hills in the distance, allowing the boy a nap without rebuke.

Yazul took one last moment to gaze up at Zan, admiring its sloping green ridge which traveled upward like a vast snake into colossal cliffs and unseen misty peaks. His family had known this mountain for countless generations, and were so impressed by its majesty they once thought it to be a divine monarch which ruled the land. Zan was respected and even feared by his ancestors, who in bygone times would climb onto its cliffs and sacrifice a member of their herd on them, as an offering to permit their other animals to be loosed upon its greenery.

Since then this practice had stopped, for gods and spirits no longer occupied the practical lives of his family. No curse had ever befallen them since the sacrifices ceased, but Yazul, in his mind of fancy and wonder, liked to believe that Zan had had its fill of blood and passively allowed the family to stay even without it. A being of such primordial age and stature couldn't possibly need the tiny gifts of mortals, he thought.

The young goatherd drew in enough of the mountain's beauty to impress it upon his memory, and so peacefully drifted into sleep. He took the image of the mountain with him into his dreams, populating its cliffs with the genii and daemons of ancient tales, which danced and howled and laughed at the ignorant humans of the land far beneath them. Forked tails lashed and cloven hooves clattered. Strange paws gripped instruments of impossible design, and played a musical cacophony which would drive any sensible man to madness. Yazul, in a shapeless dream-form he could only half notice, joined the mad beings of dreamland in their howling and dancing, on the faerie lantern-lit peaks of Zan.

He had slept like this for some time, much longer than he intended. When at last he awoke from the revelries of his dreams, horror immediately pressed upon his mind and drained all of the rest and ease from his face. All of his goats were gone. Yazul leapt from the grass and searched for his herd in panic. He found not a single goat anywhere on the fields or behind the hills. Once he even took a chance to peek over the tall hills farther away, grimly hopeful that his family had caught him sleeping and tricked him by taking the animals with them, but all he saw were his parents and siblings minding their own chores around their pitched tent home, with no goat in sight.

Yazul would not return home without his herd. He spent much time searching all around the more remote fields for them, even the desolate rocky lands far away, but found not even wolf-eaten remains or the tents of nomadic thieves. With nowhere else to look the boy dejectedly returned to the ancestral fields of his family. While contemplating what to do next, he looked up once more at the lone, towering Zan. His goats couldn't have wandered anywhere and disappeared so suddenly, except up that mist-shrouded mountain. With determination driven by desperation rather than courage, Yazul began his ascent up the green, snake-like ridge, and entered into the misty realm of Zan.

For hours he searched the high cliffs once trodden by his ancestors, who had born daggers and led goats with a rope tied around their necks to their doom. He saw the silhouettes of stone formations emerge from the surrounding gloom. Some were of such great size and shape that they looked to him almost like crouching gods, leering down at him and filling him with dread. Others he had briefly mistaken for goats roaming in the mist, only heightening his hope and frustration. No matter how far or how long he searched however, he could find no sign of his herd.

The sky was growing dark and a chill swept the mountain. Yazul could see that snow was falling and was quickly engulfing his surroundings. He knew that by now his family had noticed his and the goats' disappearance, and as frightened as he was of his parents' wrath, the cold of the mountain would surely kill him, and no doubt his herd too if they were still on it. The goatherd then decided it would be wise to abandon his search and return to face whatever punishment awaited him. He had grown sick of the bleating animals now anyway.

In every direction the young goatherd went however, the oppressive whiteness of the snow and the darkness of night had completely changed the landscape. He knew not which way he came and could find no familiar landmarks. The crouching stone gods, now with snow piled onto their humped backs, served only to excite the boy's mind and scare him into further disorientation. Soon the cold gripped the boy's body and slowed him down, until he was left a hopeless shivering mass on the white ground.

Yazul was ready to give up his life to the mountain, content to pass away in its bosom and embrace unending oblivion. Before his vision could fade into pure black however, a light caught his eyes. The boy weakly stood up when he saw a radiance spreading through the dark. This light looked to him warm and pleasant, and in his delirium he trudged through the snow to reach it. He followed it up a gentle slope, until he saw in its radiant circle the brightly lit windows of a temple, sitting beside a peak too high to see its top in the night sky.

It was a tall building, at least twenty stories high, and with many windows on each side and story. The windows all shone with yellow and orange warmth, inviting the boy to enter immediately and escape the frigid air. Yazul climbed a wide flight of stone steps which led to a pair of large red doors. On the right door was a massive door knocker, dimly gleaming with gold and shaped like the face of a ferocious snarling dragon. He would have eagerly reached for it and knocked but saw that the door was already ajar, allowing some light from within to spill onto the steps below. Too cold to allow courtesy to delay him, Yazul entered.

He saw that the temple looked even more grand on the inside than it did outside. Before him was a great hall that seemed to stretch for miles. Its walls were a deep bright red, its air was thick with the scent of exotic incense, the floor was covered with the soft toasty furs of large animals, and its walls were decorated with beautiful tapestries. These tapestries displayed intricate, masterful depictions of monstrous forms on mountain tops high above the heavens. Fanciful beasts such as oxen with the faces of dragons, towering apes with faces like man, winged pink insect-men with faces like blossoming fungi, and countless other grotesque chimeras littered the walls around him, each playing roles in strange mythological narratives he could not guess. As he followed these tapestries along the hall he noticed that recognizable people and animals only appeared in a few of the later ones, though they were miniscule in size compared to the characters and stories of previous tapestries.

Yazul saw no one, and so called out for whoever lived in this temple. He found it odd that such a magnificent building was here without any of his family knowing, but that was the least of his concerns for now. Yazul hoped to stay here at least for the night, waiting until the blizzard outside ceased so that he may finally leave. He called louder and finally someone emerged from a doorway along the hall. Yazul swore that that door was never there before, but he attributed it to his distraction by all of the luxuries around him.

Approaching him was a woman. Her sharp eyes regarded him with a look of patient indifference, and her mouth, just a small line, betrayed no judgment. She wore a golden silk robe which trailed behind her as she took slow deliberate steps towards him, and her long black hair looked just as silken and beautiful. From the way she gazed at him with a face pale and still like marble, the way she approached him without fear or curiosity, and the way she moved with regal dignity, Yazul believed without a doubt that she was the very owner of the temple.

"Welcome. I see that the snow has driven you to my home. Please, come with me so that you may be given food and warm new clothes." she said in a voice gentle yet resounding, her lips barely moving.

The woman motioned with her hand to a pair of red doors at the very end of the hall, which suddenly seemed shorter than it had earlier. Yazul also noticed many other open doors along the walls, between the tapestries, though how he could have missed them until now he wasn't sure. The woman immediately turned around and walked, moving with such grace and smoothness that she flowed down the hall like a ghost.

Yazul had nearly forgotten his chill while in the woman's presence. He stood for a while enamored by everything about her and her exotic home, until he remembered why he was there and followed her. He thanked her for her hospitality and asked who she was, and where he was.

"My name does not matter, but this place is a sanctuary of joy and pleasure. The harshness of life may not enter here. You will be clothed, fed, and entertained, and however long you stay, no worries will bother your mind."

Yazul was about to ask what she meant, but he distracted himself peering into the open doors that they slowly walked by. Each room was red like the hall, but contained different things. In one room he noticed bald-headed men in meager clothes and beads, perhaps monks, bowing to a small golden figure. In another room he saw a large nude man lying on a golden bed with two women. In another room he saw men surrounded by a thick cloud of smoke coming from countless sticks of incense, their exotic perfumes lingering in his nostrils as he passed by. Whatever room he peered into, he noticed that everyone's faces were obscured, whether by darkness, smoke, or objects.

The woman led Yazul to the grand doors at the end of the hall, and without even a command they were opened for them. They stepped through and entered a vast red chamber. Along the walls were several doorways and many pieces of extravagant furniture and art. In the center of the room was a long low table with golden cushions serving as seats, and on the wall across from the main entrance was a massive tapestry displaying a mandala. Bordering the mandala were stars and planets, and several unidentifiable objects, in exquisite patterns, and all of them so bright they almost appeared to shine like the real things. Within the circle itself were layers upon layers of rich, vibrant colors. In each circular layer was a row of unique creatures and scenes, several of which Yazul remembered depicted on the tapestries outside. The smallest layers towards the middle of the mandala depicted the tiny figures of human beings and their domesticated animals. These were all bowing to the very center of the mandala, to the dominating image of the great mountain Zan.

"Sit with me. My servants will attend to your needs." The woman said, sitting down on a cushion by the table. Yazul complied, though moved slowly as he gawked at the treasures of the chamber. When he sat upon the cushion beside the woman, seven men in robes entered the chamber through one of the doorways.

"This man needs warm clothes. Bring him a robe, and prepare for us a feast."

The servants bowed and quietly left the room. Yazul noticed with slight disturbance that even though he was looking right at the servants, he never paid attention to their faces, and now that they left he wondered why he couldn't remember even a single face. It didn't take long for one of the servants to return with an ornate red robe. Yazul changed into it and immediately felt warmth on his skin and relaxation in his body as it fitted him snugly.

"Now bring something which will amuse our guest." The woman commanded, and the servant bowed and left. Again Yazul noticed that he never paid attention to the servant's face, but this thought was dim and fleeting, for the warm robe and the heavy atmosphere of the chamber lulled him in a blissful state. Although he didn't mean to, he couldn't help but smile in content.

"Soon you will see wonders beyond even what you see in this room. While we wait, let us speak. What, o honored guest, brings you to this mountain?"

Yazul thought for a moment, so clouded by bliss and warmth he nearly forgot that he even had a life before he entered the temple. He explained to her how he had been watching his goats on the pastures just next to the Zan, how they mysteriously vanished, and how he thought they could have wandered up the mountain in search of food. The woman listened intently, but showed no emotion.

"Goats you say. I haven't seen a goat on these cliffs in ages." was all she said after Yazul finished.

The goatherd was going to ask her about herself and her grand home, but before he could speak a man walked into the room and the woman turned her pale face to him. She didn't seem very interested though, instead looking like she was silently signaling Yazul to watch. The man wore a tattered yellow cloak and concealed his face with a hood. Man might not be the most appropriate word to use however, for although in those clothes it had the shape of a man, Yazul noticed that it moved slowly and awkwardly as if there was something inhuman in that cloak, shambling in an attempt to appear man-like.

The cloaked figure stopped beneath the great mandala and turned to face the audience of two. It then knelt down onto the floor and bowed, neither to the woman or the goatherd. Slowly it rose back up, struggling as if the very act of standing were difficult, until it wobbled into a straight upright position. Then it raised its two arms, and above it in midair manifested a great orb made entirely of colors.

Yazul could see, in his widened eyes, that they were indeed colors. What he couldn't tell was what colors they were. Seemingly a whole menagerie of colors flashed and pulsated in that still orb, but he could not describe any of them. They were nameless colors that fascinated him just as much as they confounded his senses. Sometimes they all sparked independently, and at other moments they seemed to blend as if they may have been a single color all along. The goatherd momentarily looked to the woman beside him, awe and excitement in his eyes, but she remained unmoved by the sight.

The orb flashed and pulsed faster and faster, with each of the individual colors within growing more distinct from each other. Soon each color split away from the other, until the great orb was no more, and in its place were six smaller orbs, each of its own solid though still unidentifiable color. The six orbs slowly descended to the red floor and landed in a wide circle around the cloaked figure, who still stood with its arms raised up. The six orbs then burned brightly as if flares, brightening the room so much that the goatherd had to squint. When the flares at last died away into nothing, all that was left in their place were six small robes, each one being the same nameless color as the orb that landed where they now sat.

The yellow cloaked figure then lowered its arms and stood still. Without warning, the whole cloak suddenly crumpled to the ground, as if nothing was wearing it to begin with. Yazul jumped at the sight of this, and wondered how a whole man may vanish in the middle of a room, until something within the crumpled yellow cloak caught his eyes. The cloak was now writhing from some thing within. Its tatters violently bobbed up and down, and strange shapes emerged from the clothing. Thick serpents were pushing and twisting and squirming their thick green bodies to escape the confines of the cloak. At least, they appeared to be serpents to Yazul at first, but the longer he stared at them, both repulsed and fascinated, he realized they could have been gargantuan worms or fat eels.

The serpentine things, six in number, squealed loudly and incessantly as they each slithered toward one of the nameless-colored robes around them. They burrowed into the ruffles of the clothes, until at last there was no more movement or noise.

Yazul stared silently with his mouth open. Exhilaration and horror pounded in his heart, and his mind was racing with multitudes of thoughts and feelings too fast to fully recognize. But even while he stood there stunned, the six nameless-colored robes began animating themselves. It began slowly, with the ruffles gently bobbing, and the crumples evening themselves out. Something was expanding from within the robes, and filling them with child-shaped forms. Soon Yazul saw faces, arms, and legs, and saw that the robes were now worn by dwarves, black-skinned and white-bearded. As soon as they were fully materialized, the dwarves turned towards each other, and danced. They spun and ran and whirled through the air, and despite their squat forms, they were graceful and swift.

The dwarves danced with and around each other in a mad frenzy. So fast were they that eventually Yazul couldn't see any of them clearly, and they had become a blurred twister of intermingling alien colors. After some moments of this vivid show of colors, the blur soon subsided, and the dancers once again became clear to the goatherd. Only now, he did not see the squat, robed, black-skinned forms of the dwarves, but instead the tall, lithe, elegant, scantily-clad forms of women. Their hair was long, sleek, and pitch black, but their skin was of the same individual nameless colors of the robes worn by the dwarves. These strange-skinned women danced with closed eyes and serene smiles. The longer they danced, the slower and more gentle their dance became, until finally they stopped.

They formed a circle, all of them facing each other, and raised their arms up into the air. As they did so, the room suddenly became black, and Yazul couldn't see the dancers, the woman beside him, or even his own hand in front of his face. He heard a loud rumble coming from the darkness, and a loud beastly grunt. Soon the room brightened again, and standing in the middle of the circle of women was a vast beast. Yazul could recognize the creature. It was one of the gigantic man-faced apes he saw on the tapestries in the hallway. The beast was so tall it had to sit down so as to not hit its head on the high ceiling. It looked down to face Yazul, ignoring the strange women surrounding it. Yazul felt a fearsome power in the beast's stare, one which forced him to sit back down in his seat. Its face was a ghoulish facsimile of man combined with animal, too terrible for a weak-willed person to behold without fainting, but its giant eyes were like windows to some remote era long before the coming of man, which filled Yazul with solemnity.

Before anything could be spoken, before anything could be thought, the strange women lowered their arms, and the chamber was once again engulfed in blackness. When light returned to the room, the giant beast was gone. The strange women then turned to their audience, bowed, and left the room silently. Yazul sat completely still, overwhelmed by every possible sensation in his mind and body. His host however seemed unfazed.

After allowing the goatherd several minutes to calm his nerves and regain composure, the woman beside him spoke.

"I see that you are more than satisfied with our entertainment. Although I know you have no words yet to speak about it, I am honored that our service was so astounding to you. Rest assured, that was but a small hint of the things you may see here. There are no limits in this temple. If you stay long enough, you may be eased into far greater experiences."

Yazul, though he couldn't yet say it himself, was indeed more than satisfied. So much more that he could not even describe what he felt. He felt changed forever. Horrified and scared for his life, but longing for more. Longing for more peeks into unholy vistas which normal human beings could not even try to imagine.

Shortly after the woman spoke, a procession of servants entered the chamber. They carried with them many gold plates of fruits, cheeses, cakes, and flagons of wine. The food and drink was delicately set on the table before the two, and when all was complete the servants bowed and left the room. This time Yazul didn't even care to try to discern their faces. They could have been faceless men for all he cared.

The woman poured herself and her guest a cup of wine, and held her own cup to him.

"Now, will you give me the pleasure to dine with you?"

Yazul smelled the aroma of the fine drink, and so picked up his own cup and gave a toast to his most gracious host.

As the two dined together, they spoke for a long while, speaking not of petty trivial matters like home or profession, but of far deeper subjects such as dreams, visions, nature, and that which is above nature. The woman's marble face never once changed expression, nor did it even seem to blink, but her eyes and her voice penetrated Yazul's mind and opened him to new ways of thought. For once he felt that dream and reality were one, and took the shape of this eerily beautiful woman and her temple of transcendent pleasure and horror.

"Yazul, do you love this temple? Do you love this mountain, and the endless things it has to offer?"

Yazul answered with an obvious yes.

"Well then, why don't you stay here? You have seen only the very edge of an entire realm beyond the pastures, beyond the mundane world that you know. You desire more. You are changed by what you've seen. You can never turn back to the life you knew and feel satisfied. And why would you? You fear the wrath of your family and are ashamed of your failure. If you stay here, on this mountain, you will be forever satisfied with everything you see, and forever dissatisfied as you wish to see, feel, taste, smell, and hear more. Life will never be the same for you, it will constantly change, and that is what you want."

The woman spoke softer than ever before, and yet her words rang loudly in Yazul's head. Deep down inside he never wanted this experience to end, but he wasn't sure how to answer her.

"Don't bother trying to think. I already know your answer. I have seen you gaze at me. I have seen you lie on the grass of your pasture and look up at me for long stretches of time. I have seen you dream of me, and I even visited these dreams, every time you sleep while watching your herd. I am the mountain. I am the soul of Zan. I have lived so long that I have seen things come and die and be reborn again, and will continue to see this cycle for untold aeons to come. I do not need you. You are but a small blink of light to me. But you feel you need me, for I am vast and immortal, and that excites your little mind. If you come with me, I can expand that mind into a whole universe, and when you die and I continue to exist for billions of years, you will have at least lived a life of fullness, and I will have had my fun with an animal small as yourself, like a child playing with an insect one afternoon."

With these words striking his mind, Yazul felt everything around him twisting and melting into one single form. The woman, the red walls, the great mandala, the whole mountain, all of these things briefly took on one shape, and it sat there rigid and strong before him. He felt he could see, momentarily and dimly, some semblance of reality beyond human senses. Perhaps mercifully, his normal human vision returned to him, and he was back in the red temple of the pale woman.

Yazul did not have to speak. He couldn't speak. His eyes told everything.

"Just as I thought." The woman said. "Soon you will reach that realm unattainable to human beings you so crave. Before that however, we still have a meal to finish."

Another servant brought a large platter to the table and placed it in front of Yazul, who sat there in a daze. The dinner was fresh, cooked goat.