Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Shakara
The Citadel, Heaven’s Fort, Gaia’s Shrine, Chapel of Power… The place had many, many names given to it over the centuries. Whatever it was, Farah just called it ‘ludicrously big tower’. Farah was famous in her town for rock-climbing and hiking, but nobody had predicted that she would try to climb The Citadel.
Many of the shamans and wise women had urged against it, calling the tower sacred territory that mustn’t be touched by the hands of man. Of course, she’d ignored them. It was only stone. There wasn’t a chance she would start listening to folktales. She had been climbing ever since her childhood, her hands and feet calloused and her limbs strong. She dug the pickaxe into the rock as she ascended.
The Citadel was a dark gargantuan tower of basalt. It didn’t look like a regular tower. Parts of it seemed man-made, with smoothly carved arches and hourglass sides, whereas other parts looked just like regular rock. Almost as if a monstrous statue was planned to be made, yet never fully finished, left to wind and time.
Farah climbed, finding some easy footholds to advance her progress.
Astoundingly, she happened upon a long, pale ladder that led right to the top! It was oddly patterned, and very hard. Even her pickaxe couldn’t dent it, instead sending a dull ringing through the air.
Eventually, she found herself at the top of The Citadel. It was a colossal orb. She stood upon an outcrop of white bricks, uniform and sharp, next to some kind of triangular altar pointed to the sky. Farah looked out, seeing the horizon for miles around her. She could see Thröll’s blocky sandstone houses, the rugged mountains of Windtorn, the high castles of Skal and if she looked hard enough, she could see Goldvale miles away…
Just then, she looked down and noticed a shining gemstone, lodged in a wide, hair-thin slit in the top of the tower. She knelt, looking closer. It was as big as her own head, shining all manner of colours. Red, then deep green, then brilliant orange, midnight purple, pale yellow… What was this? Some kind of opal? Whatever gem it was, she could take it and bring it back to her town. Oh, she would live like a queen! Farah, the heroine of Thröll, master climber!
Upon striking the rocky slit with her pickaxe, the entire tower began to tremble.
A horrid, loud baying came from within The Citadel as the white bricks split apart. It filled the sky. Farah gaped in terror as she realised- It was a mouth. The hourglass sides, a torso’s curve. The ‘ladder’, an exposed spinal cord.
The scent of long-dead rot filled the air as the baying finally, mercifully, quieted. Her ears rang and her head span. The rocky slits snapped open, shining gemstone discs as eyes, filled with terrifying lucidity.
She screamed as the tower split apart, basalt arms stretching, fingers like spires. The lithified monster stretched, neck creaking with a sound comparable to a landslide. It groaned, sand coming off in thick, billowing waves as its body twisted. Farah clung to the titanic nose as she looked dizzily down the beast’s throat, seeing a deep crimson chasm, not unlike the hall of a cathedral.
The earth shook as the giant walked forward, legs cracking away from the ground. It slowly walked forward, as if testing its body after so many years of sleep.
Farah kept firmly attached to the giant’s nose, quaking with each monumental step. How was she going to leave? She could feasibly climb down, but the tremors would probably shake her off and she’d plummet to her doom. The giant blinked rapidly, rubbing its eyes, face twisted in some expression akin to contempt.
A low hum ran through the beast’s mouth, stony lips curled in curiosity. Spire-like fingers reached out to pick up the small woman, the fingernails long plates of pearl and gold. She desperately hacked at the fingers with her pickaxe. The metal point fractured and split apart. The now-useless tool slid out of her sweat-slicked hands, the wooden handle falling to the ground where it promptly shattered. She stared into the giant’s face. The rose window eyes, the curves of the face arches and the mouth a gateway of marble. Time came to a standstill as the beast studied her.
She couldn’t let out a single word before the giant opened its massive maw and swallowed her.
Farah found herself laying upon a pile of greying skeletons, the smell of sand filling her nostrils. There had to be hundreds, all dusty and ancient. She couldn’t move. She suspected a sharp rib had pierced her lung and the fall had shattered her legs. Light occasionally entered the vast chamber from the marble mouth, only to turn dark once again. Over and over, the mouth breathed, illuminating spiralling pillars of bone forming the inner walls, ribs like buttresses. Rows of gemstones lined the interior, sunlight shafting through it, splitting in emerald, sapphire, ruby… Through spherical archways dotting the torso, she could hear wind howling, ancient ululating songs never meant to be heard by the ears of men. A pinnacle of divinity wrought physical in construction. A mad god of basalt and bone.
She wept as she felt the giant walk onward, each step shaking the leviathan chamber, the bones rattling loudly as they drowned out her sobs. Long, skeletal arms slowly twisted out from the crimson walls, finger-joints rearranged to form ornate claw-like tools. Though greying, they remained firm and sharp as they buried themselves in her chest.
No point to try and escape. For soon, she would be torn of flesh and muscle, her fine bones reused to further the construction of the mighty citadel giant, her blood and sinew to be mixed into mortar. Humanity had to remember the flesh of the earth, to what they all would return one day. Each man, woman and child would find themselves in the stone womb of Gaia.
To pray to the earth, for their body was a temple.Onward they walked, toward the city of Thröll, each massive footstep a portent knell.