Many miles west of Wellman, through the northern regions of the Bryn Mountains, beyond the Plains of Shole, lay the city of Shole itself. The largest of all the cities in the Lowlands, it was also the oldest, built by Homsoloc and his sons. Placed on an immense plateau, it overlooked the region around it for miles in all directions. It was a fortified city, originally built for the sole purpose of defense. Made of stone at its center, it had withstood sieges, fires, and the fiercest weather the Lowlands had ever seen. The rock wall that surrounded the city limits, standing four feet high, had witnessed it all. The architecture of Shole was like that of a large puzzle, as if its builders had more than once considered it incomplete. But with each passing decade it had grown larger, its citizens adding yet another section, slowly filling the plateau. Settlers now also inhabited the region surrounding its soft slopes to the north and the east.
Still further west, on the opposite side of an expansive valley of wooded terrain stood the Black Mountain. It rose into the sky like a scar on the landscape. Once a flourishing wilderness, the woods immediately surrounding the mountain were now dead and colorless, like a pile of ashes in the midst of a healthy green field. The very mountain itself had died and hardened. On its peak and along its slopes lay the twisted forms of trees, like men left dead on a battlefield.
At the foot of the Black Mountain there stood a large gate, a lattice of long, sharp spears. For hundreds of years it had remained unchanged, maintaining the dark color of the ore from which it had been forged. Joining together an arching stone wall that ran to the north and south, the gate faced the city of Shole like bared teeth. The wall, standing ten feet tall and five feet thick, curved back toward the Black Mountain in the shape of a crescent, forming a large courtyard of dust, gravel and rock.
On the other end of the courtyard was a pair of guards, each armed with a large battle-axe, standing watch at the entrance of an enormous cave. They were soldiers of Mornoc set apart for their size and strength to be the guardians of the Black Mountain. They wore no helmet but had full heads of thick black hair pulled back from their eyes and tied behind their heads. A fierce, but stolid expression was written on their faces. The chain mail shirts they wore were impenetrable, heavier and thicker than any known to man. Even so, they seemed more ceremonial than anything, as these soldiers were not likely to lose a fight hand to hand.
The cave itself had a roughly hewn entrance, but the floor of it cut deep into the heart of the mountain like a well-worn road. Once the mouth of the cave and the light of day were lost from sight, pairs of torches were set in either side of the cave wall at intervals. Despite these lights to lead the way, it was an unearthly, suffocated place.
Like the main road to a hidden city, smaller tunnels branched off of it, leading to the far recesses of the mountain. Some of these passages were watched by an armed guard while others were merely marked by a lantern.
As the tunnel continued, in time, it gave way to several sets of stairs carved into the floor, leading to higher ground. At the top of these stairs the cave walls opened up into a great hall and the ceiling doubled its height. In this hall, an elaborate array of torches lined the inside of ten massive columns carved from the walls, five to the right and five to the left. On the opposite side of each column hung another lamp lighting the face of the walls and the entrances to yet more tunnels, running to more rooms within the mountain. In the center of the hall, three monstrous chandeliers hung from the ceiling, lighting the way to the far end.
There, with a king’s court all to himself, Mornoc, the father of rebellion and pride, sat on his throne. Positioned against the far wall, facing east, it was cut from the stone floor. Its arms yielded to the shape of his grip and its seat and back to the posture of his body. The right arm of this throne was carved in the shape of a large hand, clenched in a fist. Resting in its grip was Mornoc’s spear, over ten feet long and razor sharp.
The fine garments that would normally have adorned such a magnificent throne were instead carved into it; no ornament of cloth, gold, or jewel was present. Without a single crack or fissure, it displayed such decorations in its surface and structure. But it was colorless. Mornoc himself wore robes in shades of gray and black. Even his skin color was a dingy gray, and his bald head did not shine in the glow of the lamps. His face was worn, lined by centuries past, wrinkled by bitterness and a desire for revenge. His eyes were gray, cold, and piercing.
Staring at the other end of the hall and drumming his fingers on the arm of his throne, Mornoc wore a smug smile. His dirty nails clicked loudly in a slow and ominous rhythm. It was not joy or happiness that moved the corners of his mouth, but expectant malice. Content to remain silent in his hall, he was waiting, patiently waiting.
“One day soon. One day soon . . .” Mornoc whispered to himself. “I will have mine.”
With these words he jumped down from his throne and began to pace back and forth. With both arms held behind him, his robes flowed loosely, barely touching the floor. Turning sharply at the base of one column, he headed back toward the other with a measured pace, following a clear path he had worn into the stone floor. And every time he turned he would look toward the entrance. The guards stationed there remained at attention, not daring to observe the movements of their lord.
Pausing, he brought a hand to his chin. Staring into the thin air in front of him, he muttered under his breath, “I will have mine.”
He did not look upon the splendor of his hall or the size of the chandeliers above. His eyes were peeled on the one thing he had failed to attain so long ago. “I will have my own name, my own kingdom, my own . . .” His thoughts trailed off once again to a place he could not go. Scowling, he released his chin and clenched his fist. “I will have mine!” he said in a deep, suppressed yell. His words pulsed off of the rock walls. With a huff he returned to sitting on his throne and staring at the entrance to his hall.
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