Ammon Brax

The mountain had been carved in ages past by a forgotten people into the likeness of a great head. A head with eyes staring blindly into the sky and a mouth open in awe or horror or some other emotion that only the long-dead stonecarvers understood.

The young man with jet black hair and a long, sharp-boned face climbed the steep, narrow stair that led to the mouth of the vast head. He carried nothing but a slender walking stick of polished oak.

As he entered the cave of the mouth he opened the wings of his cloak. A pale green light came from the inner lining of the cloak and lit his way through the darkness of the tunnel. Small, skittering creatures fled the light and his footsteps.

He passed several piles of human bones but scarcely gave them a glance. The tunnel branched into many tunnels, and the young man paused for a moment, tilting his head as if listening, before he made his choice and went on.

In a chamber deep inside the mountain he found what he sought. Before him stood a naked giant of a man. Or rather, two halves of a giant man. This was the terrible Zofim, the One Torn in Two.

The two halves of Zofim were busy arguing over the thigh bone of the last treasure-seeker who had dared to enter the giant’s lair. When the young man appeared the two halves dropped the bone and turned their one eye each at the interloper. The two halves of Zofim’s mouth grimaced and slavered. Then both halves of Zofim moved toward the young man.

With one leg apiece you might imagine that Zofim’s halves had to hop awkwardly in order to get anywhere. In fact, over the centuries Zofim’s bony feet had elongated into grotesque handlike extremities, the toes so long and splayed out that they could crawl spiderlike over the stones. The halves of Zofim didn’t hop. They came gliding across the floor, each on one leg, their one foot like a taloned spider upon which they rode.

When they were inches from the young man and towering over him, they stopped and moved closer together. Close enough that their two halves of a face touched and formed one face with a red gash down the middle. This was the only way Zofim’s lips and tongue could form words.

“Did you bring it?” the hideous mouth growled.

The young man nodded. He slipped a small glass vial out of an inner pocket of his glowing cloak. Zofim leaned forward expectantly.

“I hope you remember our bargain,” the young man said. “In exchange for making you whole again, you give me half your treasure.”

Zofim’s bifurcated mouth scowled.

“We remember,” he said.

The young man held out the bottle. Zofim’s two hands grasped for it, pulled out the cork, then poured its thick syrupy contents over his tangled, blood-crusted locks. As the clear fluid ran slowly down the two halves of the giant’s face, neck and chest, it followed the red gash. The fluid traveled the length of his scabbed and filthy frame.

At last it was done. Zofim touched the middle of his face, then his chest tentatively. He strained to pull himself apart, but could not. The red gash still traveled the length of his body, but it was a scar now. The giant was whole. The One Torn in Two was One again.

 “And now,” the giant said, grinning, “you die.”

He reached for the young man, but Zofim’s legs refused to move. He looked down, snarling. His feet were stuck to the stones of the chamber.

“The Honey of Binding is a very tricky substance to use safely,” the young man said. “It will make anything one with anything else. I noticed that some of the honey made it all the way down your legs and to the floor. In a few moments you will be One with the mountain itself. You will be flesh merged with stone.”

The giant’s eyes grew wide with terror. He struggled and roared and foamed at the mouth. The young man stood nearby, watching. A short time later the giant was completely still, his eyes staring blindly upward, his mouth open in what was decidedly horror. And rage. And agony.

“Why settle for half the treasure when one could have it all,” the young man said. His voice was calm but hands were shaking and his brow slick with sweat. It had cost him much to hide his fear from the giant.

The young man was an apprentice mage from the island of Kyning Rore, but he had grand dreams. He was determined to become Archmage of the High Council someday, and he knew it would take as much gold as it would actual spellcraft to raise himself to that eminence. Gold opened doors, and bought allies, and silence. Gold was more important than spellcraft, which he had never been the best at anyhow. Even the teacher he looked up to the most, Nicholas Pendrake, had lost faith in him and refused to teach him all he knew.

Once he had found and gathered up the giant’s gold, Ammon Brax returned to the motionless giant for a final farewell.

“It’s time we went our separate ways,” he said. “Some of us, anyhow.”

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