Okil Steger The Castle in the Clouds

Submitted into Contest #87 in response to: Write about a mischievous pixie or trickster god.... view prompt

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Fantasy Adventure Fiction

There were only three of them left now. Well, four if you counted Missile, the lame donkey, but the band of thieves had taken a toll to their numbers on their journey up the Cousgarrd Mountains. The word Cousgarrd meant cloud piercer in the language of Giants and it was small wonder that it was they who named it so, because, as far as Lanette was concerned, they were the only ones capable of scaling this ridiculously steep pathway.

“It’s been days Gregor! How much further!?” The green skinned figure ahead, turned his tusked face back to look at her. The snow crunched under Lanette’s metal shod boot and she raised her shield against a flurry of ice shards that scattered from the base of the half-orc’s billowing cloak. “It’d probably feel closer if you took some of that armour off to walk up a bloody mountain!” Lanette glared up at the Gregor all wrapped up in furs and cloaks that flapped in the intense wind. Whilst her layers of padded gambeson, chainmail and plated metal kept the warmth in, it weighed about half as much as she did, so he did have a point, not that she was not going to concede it.

“Did you not see what happened to Variel?!” She exclaimed. “You remember? The elf, all dressed in his embroidered leathers and that, ridiculous bright orange fire-lion cloak? And do you then remember the Wyvern that plucked him off the path like he was a berry on a bush?” Gregor wasn’t showing any expression, but Lanette could tell he was getting cross. “He popped on the way to its nest. His blood froze as it rained down on us. Do you remember what we called it? Red hail!”

“Are you planning on becoming a bard…” Gregor began. “Or can you just not shut up?”

Before Lanette could contemplate trying to rip her sword free from where it was frozen in her scabbard, a small voice came from back over her shoulder. “Nette! Need help! Missile’s got the spooks again!” With a growl, Lanette slung her shield over her shoulder and stomped back down the frosty track to where a small gnome stood with Missile the brown donkey, his fur thick and tipped with frost, on the end of a rope.

The path was wide enough here to accommodate a cart, though no way near flat enough, and about as exposed to the elements as possible. They had just crossed through, yet another layer of cloud and it was a wonder that the poor creature was still alive in these conditions. Lanette snatched the rope from Dodger, his fingertips on the cusp of changing from red to black in the biting wind and cold, to match his bulbous nose and pointed ears that were suffering in a similar fashion. His clothes were poor and thin, though he never complained of the cold.

Pulling the rope, Missile resisted for a few moments, even sliding along the frosted ground as he tried to dig his hooves in before finally giving in and plodding forward. “Thanks, Nette!” Dodger said, taking the rope back eagerly, “Don’t mention it.” She replied gruffly, unslinging her shield and re-strapping it to her arm. “It’s a miracle he’s made it this far anyway.” Dodger tapped his frostbitten nose with a frostbitten finger and smiled up at her. “That’s because he’s special. I knew immediately, from the day I met him that…”

“I recall the story. You both won the race over a half-mile.”

“The inter-town cattle race of 482!” Dodger interjected eagerly.

“Yes, yes! You don’t need to tell me again.” She checked the Donkey’s packs as Dodger pulled his badger skin cloak around his podgy frame making “Brrrr,” sounds and sniffling.

“Do you really think there’s something at the end of all this?” Dodger asked plaintively as Lanette calculated their supplies, “You know. The Castle. Okil Stejer. Do you really think we’ll find it?”

“We’d better.”

“Is there going to be treasure?”

“Yes.” Said Lanette firmly. “If there’s not, there’s going to be Gregor’s head and that’s worth a pretty penny although…” She moved her feet to stop them freezing to the path. “I might have to take it anyway.” Dodger forced a nervous laugh.

“Try to keep him going. Don’t let him stop for anything.” Dodger nodded and fell into step behind Lanette who set off at a quick pace to try and keep herself warm. Missile plodded along the path reluctantly, as Dodger murmured to him softly. “Come on boy, not far now.” Looking up and ahead, she saw the path rounded a bend in the mountain and there was no sign of Gregor. Hopefully, he had fallen off but no such luck. As she skidded around the narrow bend, avoiding a peek down into the chasm below, she ran into something resistant and soft and blinked away stars to see Gregor’s back, standing and staring at something. Ready to shout she took a deep breath, but it caught in her throat as she saw what he was looking at.

Castles require strong foundations of dense stone to be built on, the thick stone walls and tall towers will not stand without them. The reaching spires would crumble, and the crenellated walls would collapse in on themselves. So how was it, that all of this currently drifted toward them on a cloud. It passed up along side the mountains like a boat navigating rapids, on a river of white mist and seemed to “moor” alongside where they stood. It was magnificent, constructed of immense white stones unmarked by age and ten times the size of a man. The walls daunted the mountain peaks themselves, so high that the towers within them appeared almost lost like the fangs of a thick jowled predator.

“Okil Stejer…” Gregor murmured in awe.

“It’s real…” Lanette whispered, finally letting out the breath she’d been holding.

“You found it then.” Came Dodger’s spritely little voice from around their waist.

“I told you,” Gregor said, and then more excitedly bellowing like a war-cry. “I told you!!!! It’s real! The Castle in the Clouds; built by Cloud Giants in the before times! It’s real!” He spread his arms wide and howled back at the wind. Lanette just gawped as the castle very slowly, like a ponderous galleon drew to a stop by the mountainside. “We have to get inside.” Gregor said waving his arms and pushing past Lanette to get to Missile and the packs on his back. “Rope. We need a rope with a hook to throw over the wall.”

“Throw over the wall?” Lanette bickered with a frown. “Those walls are over 100 ft high! How are we going to throw a rope over it?” Gregor paused and snarled at the armoured warrior, bearing his tusks. He was more angry that she was right than he was frustrated with the situation. She pointed at the castle, specifically at the draw bridge, currently drawn up almost flush to the castle wall. “If we can shoot the chain in just the right place, we might be able to break it and the bridge will fall down.” As the talked, Dodger was stroking his beard and frowning ponderously. “Just a thought. Why has the castle stopped right be where we are? Don’t you think it seems a bit…Well…”

“Shut up Dodger!”

“Shut up Dodger!”

“…Convenient.”

There was a rock breaking shriek, followed by a clunk and then a rhythmic clattering as the chain began to rattle and the drawbridge began to lower. It sank down like a guillotine toward the mountain path, forcing the air aside like water almost knocking them down with the force of its sheer weight before, with a surprisingly hushed sound, it touched on the edge of where they stood, dislodging a whisper of snow down the cliff. A bridge of thick wood and long iron nails unto a mysterious glistening interior. “It welcomes us,” Gregor whispered melodramatically, his knees shaking. “Okil Stejer,” Tentatively he took a step onto the wooden bridge. He gasped in awe and began to walk across. “Not without me you don’t!” Lanette snapped, hefting her shield and marching after him onto the wooden walkway. Dodger looked after them and shrugged. “Well, that’s that then.” He turned back to missile and stroked his nose fondly. “Another job done.”

The frostbitten gnome turned back as the drawbridge began to raise and he bowed his respects, “Adieux, Gregor and Lanette.” He muttered, “I’d say it’s been fun but…” He just managed to catch a glimpse of Lanette’s face from the far side of the immense bridge looking back at Dodger in confusion before switching around and raising her arms in horror, as an immense shadow fell across her. “…It really is a chore.”

The drawbridge slammed shut and then, with a sudden howling roar, the castle of clouds dissolved into mist. Its stones did not crumble, the towers didn’t topple, it simply came undone like ice melting into warm water, unweaving into nothing but fine white cloud and from out of the cloud came a shape. Like a diver swimming in the deep sea looking for treasure, the cloud giant came its head low and feet in the air as it floated down toward where Dodger and Missile stood, pushing its masked face up close to them. The giant’s head was the same height as a man, and the mask that covered it was bisected to resemble a smile on one side and an expression of the blackest rage on the other. It wore brightly coloured robes covered in diamond patterns and patches of ornate embroidery that rippled slowly, flowing like liquid about its immense frame.

“GETZHUUL AR’U NAZIIMLRA!” It grumbled with a voice of resounding thunder and pounding rain.

“I’m glad the offering is to your liking.” Bowing his head once more, Dodger backed away pulling Missile with him. “I will be back with more by the next new moon.” The cloud-giant turned in the air, weightlessly, its elaborate, harlequin patterned robes billowing in defiance of the air current before shrinking away into the distance. “The things I do.” Dodger sighed, “Come on boy.” He said, pulling the donkey after him. “Let’s go fishing.”

April 02, 2021 20:53

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