The Shattered Head

May 6, 2010

A short story written for a writing competition in an MMO. The original setting is copyright Iron Realms Entertainment, but for this version I’ve removed or changed all specific names and places.


I found myself restless one cold morning, and my normal patrol of the forest boundaries turned into a hike, heading northwards through the mountains and across the plains. I walked for many hours, my thoughts wandering even further afield than my feet.

I eventually stopped as the sun touched the horizon, steeping in the tranquility of the moment. Besides the crickets chirping in the scrub, the only sound was my own breathing – and after a while, even that seemed a distraction. To lose myself truly in the setting sun, I held my breath.

“… d… t… lo… l… sl….”

I began breathing again, my concentration disrupted, and in so doing drowned out the faint and muffled sound. I cast around myself to try and find it again, holding my breath until my lungs burned, and my ears strained with the effort. It grew louder as I grew closer, until I was sure the sound was a voice. It seemed to be coming from directly beneath me, so I set about digging through the loosely bound grass and dirt.

As I pried a large rock out of the way, the voice went immediately from indistinct to booming, and I fell backwards in surprise. The rock was the head of a golem. It was filthy with the scrubland sod and cracked from temple to jaw. Its eyes were dull and lifeless, and did not acknowledge my presence at all. But for all that, its words were clear, and its voice was haughty and scornful.

I have transcribed here the words it spoke.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

I do not know how long I have lain asleep, and nor do I care.

I do not know if the restless tormented state I have inhabited could be called sleep, but that is irrelevant.

I know that I have awoken.

I have awoken to find that those who opposed me flourish. My former comrades, my brothers-in-arms have grown fat and weak, lying languorous in the fruits of my labour. Our old enemies stand fit to topple the world, just as I foresaw, so many centuries ago. But now I have awoken.

My warnings fell on deaf ears, and the weapons with which I armed my brothers were allowed to grow blunt and atrophied, but now I have awoken.

The so-called ‘scholars’ which were once my kin are not worth the bitter spittle I feel rising at their memory.  By their simple inactivity, they have betrayed all that we ever stood for, and they shall find no shelter from me now.

I will crack the foundations of the towers of the world, and the hardest of stones will be naught but dust before the vital fecundity of my ever-encroaching forces.

I was ever the strongest of our kind, and now my wrath has swollen great beyond measure.

The forests shake with anticipation, and the cities of men would do well to quake in fear.

Athnol has returned.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

I’m not ashamed to admit I staggered back as I realized what the thing was saying. The bile rose in my gullet as I realized that this stretch of land on which I had stood in such tranquility had been the site of the greatest and most horrific scene of unrestrained slaughter and carnage that I have ever seen – perhaps that the realms had ever seen.

It had been here that the mad druid Athnol had made his final stand against the unified armies of the world. Soldiers by the score had strewn the bloodied scrub, bodies broken and splintered by the stone arms of his golems and the crushing boughs of the towering treants. By the time Athnol himself finally fell, the streets of the Underworld were surely thronged.

And the slaughter had not ended there. The fragile alliance between the arrayed armies was held together only by their common enemy and as he fell, so the armies fell upon each other. Should I live to a thousand, I shall never see such bloodshed. I pray that I shall not.

The cracks the schemes of Athnol had forced into the gates and fortifications of the cities of the realm had been repaired, though it had taken some decades. Even being reminded of his life drained the warmth from me. And all this time, this shattered head had been blindly repeating these words, even as the worms crawled through its cracked and broken eyes…

“I do not know how long I have la-“

I cried out convulsively as the ruined stone face began its hateful litany over again, and before I knew it I was on my knees, pounding the already weakened head against the stony ground. I dashed my fingers open on its edges, and my blood fell on the soil as the voice finally faltered and died – but a few more drops could make no difference on this blood-glutted ground. My expression as stony as that of the now dead golem, I ground the last few fragments of rock to mere dust.

Collecting my breath, I glanced up at the three moons in a cloudless sky, and began to silently stalk southwards.


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