Priests of the Khravik
by Paul Edward Costa
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The Khravik reared back and stomped each of its three legs in the fury of a tantrum. It made no vocal sounds but it whipped its arms up and down. It lashed its long fingers against the ground. It swung its arms forward in windmill motions and its long, tentacle fingers kicked up a storm of earth before swinging around again and again.
Quick, crashing steps came from the other side of the dry lake. Rahl and Siddar saw several large creatures leap into it and bound towards the Khravik. They were smaller than it and resembled insects with glowing purple rings around their heads. Their long legs bent under their bodies. They each had a large bulb on their backs and tiny, withered arms folded against their chests. They moved by leaping into the air and spinning forwards while airborne before they landed and launched themselves up again.
The priest snickered. “So it’s the Gwassgawrs who’ve come this time,” he said. Siddar kept his balance on the ledge where he stood. Rahl scrambled back from the precipice of the outcropping when the stomping Khravik shook the entirety of the empty basin.
The Gwassgawrs ran towards the Khravik. They leapt up and spun in the air. As they did, they swung the bulbous organs on their backs and released a seed that popped out towards the Khravik. Each seed exploded into a splash of corrosive acid. Some hit the Khravik’s thick hide and turned to steam as they dripped down its rough skin. A few others made it past the beast and landed on a section of parched shore just below Hollow Harbour. The released corrosives melted away a part of the old beach. It was only then that the townspeople who’d gathered on nearby piers and docks turned and fled back into the confines of the town.
“I’ve always been amazed at how they run once the violence they’ve gathered to cheer gets closer,” Siddar said as he turned to Rahl. “Or when they see it in their midst.”
Rahl looked back at him and said nothing as he turned once more to the fight between the Titanide monsters in the basin below them.
The Gwassgawrs had landed, jumped again, and released a second volley of acidic seeds. However, they didn’t all survive the Khravik’s counterattack. It snapped its arms upwards and its long fingers whipped up from its hands. They caught two of the jumping creatures and wrapped around them. The Khravik’s contracting tendrils crushed their long legs as they pulled the Gwassgawrs down and slammed them into the ground. The glow of the rings around their heads died away as their broken forms writhed on the drained lakebed and stopped moving. The two surviving Gwassgawrs broke away and leapt to the left and right. They cycled back and attacked again, spinning more violently in the air than they had on their first approach.
Siddar looked over from the outcropping where he stood and expected to see Rahl retreating from the mountain’s edge as most of Hollow Harbour’s residents had done, either from the risk of collateral injury or from what they saw as an overwhelming display of unhinged violence.
Instead, he saw Rahl close to the precipice, watching the battle between Titanides with a wide-eyed intensity and a deep engagement, lost in the suspense of the moment. He seemed to no longer be aware of the pain in his damaged hand. Siddar smiled and turned back to the colossal beasts locked in combat.
The Khravik’s featureless sack of a head rolled around atop its torso while it continued the stomp of its war dance. The last two Gwassgawrs jumped towards it and released the caustic ordnance from their bulbous organs. The Khravik whirled its hands in circles, and the flurry of its sharp-edged fingers destroyed the first seed before it could reach its body.
The second seed, aimed slightly higher, managed to sail over the monster, though it did not reach the city. Instead, it splashed over a section of recently vacated boardwalk on the dry beach. The released liquid dissolved the wooden planks and ate into several feet of the sand underneath. This time the Gwassgawrs again tried leaping away to opposite directions from each other. One bounded up and leapt passed the place where Rahl and Siddar watched on the north mountain range.
It seemed, for a moment, that these last two Gwassgawrs might actually get past the Khravik’s range and reach Hollow Harbour, but the beast defending the town clapped its palms together and thrust its arms out to the side. The long whips attached to its hands lashed through the sky to its left and right. Each set of long, crystal coated fingers extended out of the dry lake and just caught both Gwassgawrs’ bottom halves.
Rahl and the Siddar looked up and saw the one above them crumple as the Khravik’s whips closed around its legs and pressed them against the body they crushed. The glowing circles around its insectoid head were already diminishing when the Khravik pulled it and its partner back to the drained lake bottom. Their bodies broke apart into blood and random appendages when they struck the ground.
The way the Khravik caught the last two attacking Gwassgawrs as they seemed about to outmaneuver it made Rahl leap to his feet and shout in an exclamation of vicarious victory. Silence emanated from Hollow Harbour.
“I don’t believe they properly recognize the Khravik’s service,” Siddar said as he again faced Rahl. “But you... you found joy in that, didn’t you?”
The titanic clash of beasts had drastically increased the intensity of Rahl’s heartbeat and breathing. He ignored the numb pain of his injured hand. He paced on the mountain ledge while regaining his composure. He couldn’t deny that witnessing the colossal battle had thrilled him. They always had, but here, with the priest in the north mountain range, was the first circumstance in which he’d been able to fully express that feeling. Celebrating the violence of such battles between Titanides was frowned upon in the culture of Hollow Harbour, though Rahl had always found that distaste unseemly.
He said, “I... I enjoyed seeing the power of such a being let loose, uninhibited.” He motioned to Siddar to help him light his pipe once more. “Its power commands such respect,” he said after his first puff.
“It does,” said Siddar. He smiled as he did. “It is something all minds fear and respect when they behold its power... and clear purpose.”
Rahl nodded and focused on his pipe. He didn’t notice the priest staring at him intently.
“Now what if I were to tell you that you could commune with such power? That you could feel what the Khravik feels when it becomes ‘uninhibited’ as you said.”
Rahl exhaled a plume of smoke. “Do not deceive me, priest, I warn you.”
“Oh I do not at all,” said Siddar. “I, and the others in my order, we speak to it through our thoughts. We pray in this manner as well. We don’t do so to feel the thrill of its battles, not us, but you... a former townsperson, unaffiliated with us, you could simply feel the rising tension of its fights, the adrenaline release of its victories, and the soothing afterglow of a pride well earned.”
Rahl smoked steadily, but his eyes kept their gaze fixed on Siddar standing before him.
“Why, if we act quickly, I could give you a sample of that sensation; you could still tap in and feel the sense of achievement the beast celebrates right now.”
The great Khravik was stomping around in circles at the bottom of the empty lake. It stopped sometimes as its sagging, misshapen head rolled around on its body before it whipped its hands against the ground and started its heavy movements again. The two, uneven lengths of ragged yellow material hanging from its shoulders fluttered around it and billowed outwards.
Rahl removed his pipe from his lips and raised his arm. “Just a moment though... why? Why do you offer me this experience?”
Siddar nodded toward the town. “Clearly they have no means of treating the violence in you, so perhaps the same technique that allows our prayers to the great Khravik can be a release for the poisonous aggressions within you.” He tilted his head, raised his eyebrows, and extended his scepter in offering to Rahl. “You need only take this and complete the simple actions I say to feel the tremendous sensations the beast there feels right now.”
Rahl looked over the side of the mountain ledge. The colossal Khravik, galloping in circles, radiated the essence of an eternal god devoted to primal violence, in both act and aura. Rahl found himself thinking that no act of his had ever been as grand and powerfully important as what the Khravik has just done. Rahl wished for that feeling as well as the respect such an accomplishment would bring. His face blanked for a moment before the priest spoke again.
“What have you decided? The beast will soon return to its cavern.” His voice snapped Rahl’s mind back from its daydreaming, and the momentary twilight of that transition gave him the confidence to seize the scepter being offered to him.
“Good,” said Siddar. “Now follow my instructions, and make haste.”
The Khravik priest guided Rahl and had him etch a curving, uneven set of circles around himself, followed by three perpendicular lines on the section of circles closest to the ecstatic colossus. He next ordered Rahl to dig the sharp base of the scepter into the rock beneath him with repeated strikes until it stood on its own. This took longer than expected with Rahl only using one hand.
Siddar told Rahl to sit and wrap his legs and arms around the scepter so that his mouth was a few inches from the brass scepter’s crystal end piece. Rahl repeated after Siddar. Then the wordless sounds, rhythms, pitch variations, and tongue clicks he created put vibrations in the crystal tip glowing yellow. Rahl’s mind raced as he completed these actions. His thoughts were a mix of anticipation and a dread of the unknown contained in such a grandiose promise as the one made by the priest.
The headpiece on the scepter hummed. The sound of it coming to life gradually rose in intensity until Rahl feared it would explode and send sharp shards into his face. He resisted the temptation to wince and pull back. No physical combustion took place when the scepter released its built-up energy; instead, it shot a straight beam of its gathered light towards the Khravik’s sagging, featureless head, connecting with a part of its thin skin that glowed with a colour identical to that emitted by the scepter.
Its brilliant shine enveloped Rahl’s head. The scepter’s light kissed his skin. He felt a moment of terror when his vision dissolved as his limbs refused to move. He didn’t understand what was happening to him, but he instantly knew this was not what Siddar had promised.
The next few seconds happened so quickly there wasn’t time for anger to possess him. He couldn’t see the priest; everything else he saw warped together in blinding light. A searing pain flashed over him as the energy of the instrument he held tore at his nerves.
Rahl sent signals to his limbs instructing them to pull away from the scepter. He tried screaming when they stayed stone still, but he’d lost the ability to control his throat and mouth. A wave of nausea and breathlessness lurched through him. He couldn’t mentally process the next instant because his brain burst apart into particles of energy at the same time as his body.
Rahl’s solid form dissolved into an immaterial mist which the scepter absorbed and sent to the Khravik. The connection broke when the transfer finished.
Siddar smiled at the success of his deception. He walked over to where his scepter protruded alone out of the stony mountain ledge. He pried it free and turned in a hurry. The smile faded from his face as he focused on the Khravik, looking with anticipation for the change this would create in the colossal Titanide beast.
Siddar thought back to the first time he and the other priests had communed with the Khravik. They’d agreed to lure people out of the town — or interecept those who left on their own — and trick them into being absorbed by it. They did this to restore its full strength. It, in return, agreed to defend Hollow Harbour from other colossi. It also promised to help the priests seize control of the town once it was fully restored.
The people in Hollow Harbour went on believing that the Khravik defended them because it was a divine protector sent down for that purpose. They grew fearful of the mysterious sect of priests in the mountains because of their connection to otherworldly beasts and the growing number of disappearances in which they were alleged to have a part.
However, the priests had recently grown suspicious of their pact with the monster.
The first people they tricked into being absorbed for energy simply restored the Khravik’s vitality. After it stood and became mobile, the next people it absorbed fuelled augmentations on its limbs; each absorbed life force became another jagged, yellow crystal on its bullwhip fingers or elsewhere on its body. Some souls it absorbed made it slightly faster, or greater in strength.
Each of the souls it absorbed recently, though, only triggered the creation of two separate lengths of material hanging from each of its shoulders where they fluttered and seemed to serve no particular purpose. The left one sprouted first, followed by the right, and while they occasionally were the same length, the one on the left currently hung slightly longer than its opposite, and it was this appendage which Siddar watched with great intensity, bearing a scowl and a furrowed brow.
The Khravik stopped its furious, post-battle dance as soon as it fully took in the beam of light which contained Rahl’s essence. It stayed still and its form seemed to droop atop its steady legs. Its arms hung at its side and its long fingers curled about its feet. Its smooth, deflated sack of a head rolled counter-clockwise on its tumorous body. A quiver shot through its form. The length of flaccid yellow material hanging from its right shoulder grew longer and became the same size as the one on the left.
Each of the Khravik priests watching this ritual from various points on the two mountain ranges grimaced. They saw the combative purpose of the jagged crystals, but the thin material sprouting from its shoulder blades seemed to have no function at all. A few priests had, over time, inquired about its evolution, but they received no response from the monster.
This time, though, something happened that none of them had ever seen or been led to expect. The two lengths of murky yellow material on the Khravik’s back came alive and spread out into large wings beating the air.
Every priest around the dry lake felt a sudden dread wash over them. They each completed communion rituals with their scepters in a hurry. A dozen beams of light shot towards the now airborne creature. The Khravik answered none of them though, and the lines of bright light dissolved as soon as they touched the colossus’s form.
The Khravik rose high above Hollow Harbour and the empty lake with its outstretched wings. Its arms hung down and its three thick legs wrapped together like a short section of rope. Its tentacle fingers dangled beneath it, and their crystals glimmered in the sunlight. The direction of its attention was hard for anyone to discern due to its lack of facial features, but the sagging lump atop its shoulders moved in a way that observers interpreted as a scoff of disgust. It flew into the distance with unexpected lightness.
The priests in the mountain ranges didn’t need to communicate among themselves to know the sense of deception each of the others felt in that moment, as if their hearts had dropped low in their chests. A tense silence enveloped Hollow Harbour. The priests found this quiet frigid, but an even colder sensation coated their nerves when they heard other Titanide colossi in the distance.
Copyright © 2019 by Paul Edward Costa