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       Opon-Hul, p.1

           Rafael Lopez
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  by Rafael L. Lopez

  All rights reserved

  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any

  media without written permission from the author, except

  brief excerpts in critical reviews and articles.

  This is a work of fiction. Any and all references to real persons, events, and places are used fictitiously. Other characters, names, places, events and details are fabrications of the author’s imagination; any such resemblance to actual places, events or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2014 by Rafael L. Lopez

  Artwork by Rafael L. Lopez

  Untamed skies swept over The Mountain as silken water flows upon submerged stones. Streams of clouds caught the wind on their march across the land. The air was gold with the morning glory gilding its soul. Strings of fragrance drifted upwards from the beds of meadows, where flowers grew and opened their hearts to the sky. Sunlight shone upon the pale summit of The Mountain and glistened as white gold does when finely polished.

  Being the only spire in the land, The Mountain was sacred and only traversed by Staff Keepers who maintained the border of peace –– a boundary that could not be broken by the soldiers of evil.

  A new dawn settled over the quiet land of Dathzon, and with it spread a new terror from The Land of Dark Dirt. A new beast unlike anything in the land. The only creature that could fly. And it spread its wings as the ill feeling of its presence spread toward the hearts of people.

  Twenty small villages surrounded the foot of The Mountain. Ten large castles lay scattered after the edge of a forest. These citadels stood erect upon grasslands extending beyond the trees.

  At the top of The Mountain rested an old temple, built before the coming of humans; old as The Mountain, yet strong nonetheless. ‘Twas the long-forgotten place whence The Dark Dirt was produced and cast upon the land to smite all. A large waterfall graced the entrance, tumbling over green marble walls to land in a flurry of froth at the foundation of the peak.

  There was but one way up The Mountain. A long and dark stairway commenced at the base, behind the great waterfall’s landing. It climbed through The Mountain’s core and surfaced near the temple. All the other slopes were too high, too graded for any to climb.

  Sheer height secured the safety of Temple Berghope, which maintained the border of Magic across the land, defending against monsters that prowled the perimeter along The Land of Dark Dirt.

  Morning mists hovered above the villages and castles finally beginning to cast down its fogged walls and dissolve into the day’s new light. But there was no more mist upon The Mountain’s top. There, the warmth of day was cradled.

  Heavy silence clung to the moist marble staircase leading into Berghope as two men scaled the steps. A lethargic breeze blew trees into a sway. Gilt leaves drifted to the floor around the Staff Keepers. Their eyes had the flame of youth still ignited within, and their wide open hearts felt the feelings far adrift the wind.

  “A very lovely dawn it seems. Dost thou agree, Kelpreen?” said one to his companion.

  “Indeed, ‘tis a fine morn upon The Mountain. Beauty hath awoken hither.” The second monk hesitated though, his face worried. “A fine day, yet it has a sense of something amiss. Something hides in the folds of the clouds.” He carefully judged the winds and sunlight, poised on the uppermost step. “Something comes. I will return.”

  “And I will be here.”

  Kelpreen walked around the corner of Berghope’s main building and peered at the passage to the land below. Everything was still for a long moment. The eyes of him gazed down like a watching father upon his family. Yet, the forest thence lent no secrets to his searching vision.

  Kalpon, the other lad, stood listening. His head tipped to a side, feeling the air’s voice against his cheek. Behind the deep murmur of the wind, candor in villas yonder and tree’s rustle, there was another sound. Great wings flapped hard and fast, and they became louder as he listened.

  “Something comes, indeed, Kelpreen. Ill-fated noise, not of this land, nor of the land beyond. ‘Tis a new sound that finds my ears. It brings dread to my mind.” Kalpon squatted down in the shade and turned his sharp gaze skyward. Clouds sailed forth, and the Sun turned their dew to rainbows. “What evils hide in this beauty?”

  Kelpreen too cast his eyes skyward in hopes of catching the sound with a glimpse of its creator.

  “I see naught, my friend,” said Kalpon after a bit of watching.

  “Neither do I, my friend. But something is about. Something rides this way. I think we should go inside Berghope, for this ill sound may be coming hither for The Staff.”

  “Let us go in then.” The watchers quietly stole inside and bolted the door. As the entry was closed, the room grew dark. Calmness resided in the air.

  “Let us have some light, Kalpon. What do thee say?”

  “Blaze those torches, brother!”

  Kelpreen ambled to the other end of the room, his feet guided by the soft glow of The Staff of Hope in the center. He removed a crimson stone from his pocket. It had a flame in its core that did not go out, but flickered as a candle would in the wind as his breath brushed its surface. He touched it lightly to a torch that was fastened to the wall. Light sprang and leaped to the walls and slowly crawled around, lighting any torch it fingered until a bright light enveloped the circular room.

  The white marble floor glinted and the black marble roof twinkled as light reflected off certain parts, like stars in the night. The round wall that ran around them glowed of jade-colored marble.

  “That is much better,” said Kalpon as he felt the warmth of light touch his heart.

  “Indeed.” Kelpreen stowed the red stone and stood there, but did not see the fire’s performance. His friend’s words of an ill sound lingered to trouble his mind. “Let us sit and absorb the aura of The Staff to get rid of this ill feeling.” Kelpreen led the way to the middle of the room.

  There rested a column of water that stood to the ceiling. It suspended The Staff of Hope in the center of the pillar. The Staff shone and their moods elevated. As the music of the wind blew through the cleansing walls, their ears were deaf once again to the sound that bothered their minds earlier.

  Tranquility consumed all. The two men stood motionless beside The Staff and column of water. But the feeling of danger had taken it’s hold inside Kelpreen and refused to retreat. It kindled there, a great torrent of fear. A moment later, The Keeper stumbled back and his form left the blue glow.

  “Art thou okay, my friend?” asked Kalpon after his friend paused outside The Staffs light.

  “That ill feeling hath come back. I cannot shake it from me. I am afraid, Kalpon, I am afraid something comes.”

  “Return to the warm light of The Staff, my friend. You will become serene again.”

  Looking hopeful, Kelpreen took his friend’s advice and advanced into the glow. His negative feeling diminished but did not entirely withdraw. It grew a second time and thrust him out.

  He slid across the smooth, polished floor, finally stopping at the wall. His head hang down in dismay. It hurt him to think he had been tarnished by evil. “I cannot be healed,” he muttered. “This feeling consumes me entirely. The Staff will not allow me entry. I should not stay in here any longer. May the Magic guide thee well, Kalpon. For me, I fear I must leave the temple room. I have been touched by the darkness.”

  “But wait! Give the Magic time to heal thee. Give it time, my friend. There is nothing that hope cannot heal.”

  Kelpreen stumbled toward the hard door that could scarcely be discerned from the wall. “My hope has gone. There is nothing that can banish thi
s horror I feel within. I must go. Farewell.”

  “Farewell. May you find strength again to be at peace!”

  Kelpreen opened the door and sunlight coursed into the large round room, as if the wind had turned to gold. The Staff glittered and its glow became even more brilliant. Kelpreen strode outside and gazed aloft. Kalpon came to the door and peered out at his friend with concern.

  “Oh, Kalpon, ‘tis terrible!” cried Kelpreen, his eyes growing wide. A shadow passed over their heads. The feeling within him at that moment can only be imagined by the depth of wordless thought. For if any were to try to write in word the horror, it would be but a slight mockery of truth. Yet, as he cowered there, with darkness coming, he screamed a last phrase, the words known to few. “Opon-Hul!”

  Kalpon listened in confusion. While he watched, the shadow bore down upon Kelpreen and consumed him. The Keeper was gone.

  The shadow condensed into a great winged beast. Its long thick wings spread, like the night spreads over the land. A night with no stars or moon to bring hope of light. The wings folded as the creature approached the door where Kalpon stood frozen. It’s silver glazed eyes stared at him, and then the beast hissed in a foul breath that darkened Kalpon’s hope.

  “Zafthic,” it hissed through long, jagged teeth.

  Kalpon ran quickly away from the door and the ghastly beast that loomed there. He
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