And this is one of those! Chuck Wendig, an author that some of you have probably heard me talk about now and again, does a weekly flash-fiction contest over at his blog, Terrible Minds. This week’s challenge was to pick a setting from a list he posted and write a short story (< 1000 words) in that setting. Two of the settings were “in a haunted mountain pass” and “on a battlefield during a war between two mythical races.”
Oh, man. Too much fun! While the pass isn’t haunted until the end of the story (when the battle is over), the setting is most definitely a battlefield:
The Massacre at Jhonglai Pass
A cold wind blew from the peak of Kharak-Zhar. It flew from the summit of that great mountain, stirring up whirlwinds of snow and blowing them helter-skelter across the bleak expanses of Jhonglai Pass. Turak Iron-Beard, Warden of the Western Reach of the Dwarven Empire, looked out across the pass at the forces arrayed before them. His army, a hundred-thousand strong, clad in steel and carrying guns, was facing down a rag-tag assortment of perhaps a third their number armed with stone weapons and leather armor.
They had spent the better part of six months mustering this army. Now they stood at last ready to bring battle against the enemy. The Empire had spent nearly two years negotiating with the trolls of Jhonglai, trying to convince them to open it to dwarven expansion. They had refused. Dwarven negotiators had been told repeatedly that the pass was the territory of the trolls. They claimed that there was an ancient pact between them and the Empire which said that the mountain passes and summits were forever to be the domain of the trolls, while the dwarves could roam freely beneath the mountains.
There were no records of this pact in dwarven history. Diplomats had been taken to a cave near the top of Kharak-Zhar and shown a group of ancient carvings in Trollish and ancient Dwarven that the trolls purported were the words of the first dwarven emperor, agreeing that the dwarves would not intrude upon their mountain homes and would confine their empire beneath the surface. The dwarven mage-scholars looked at it, cast their divinations, and solemnly reported that it seemed to be authentic.
The Emperor, though, would have none of it. There were no records from the time of the First Emperor which said anything about a pact with the trolls, he declared. The trolls must be lying. The Empire’s destiny was east, through Jhonglai, and into the fertile Khumbar plains beyond.
Tunneling under Jhonglai–as the trolls said they must–would take years, time the Emperor didn’t have. He was old and had nothing to cement his legacy. This, he had decided, was how he would do it. So Turak marshaled the army. As the Warden of the West was the highest-ranked of the five Wardens, command had fallen to him. He didn’t know much of politics, just that he had been ordered to clear the trolls out of the pass and that the might of the Empire was behind him.
So here they were. A single troll, enormous even for that towering race, stepped out from the front lines and walked towards Turak. “Hold fire!” the dwarf bellowed. The troll carried a flag of truce. Turak stepped out to meet him with his top commander. They walked the two hundred yards to the center of the pass to meet the troll. As they approached him, the giant creature’s voice boomed like thunder.
“I see you, Turak Iron-Beard, Warden of the West. Come no further. Take your army and leave this place. This is Trollish land, and has been since the first days of the first dwarven empire. It is our home, and we shall not permit you to pass through it against every promise made to us all those centuries ago. Leave now, and you may return home in peace.”
Turak spat. “We have no records of these promises you speak of. The Dwarven people seek new lands to settle, and our way lies through Jhonglai, and through you if you insist upon it.” The troll shook his head sadly.
“You know not what you speak of, Iron-Beard. While we have no desire to spill the blood of those who were once our friends, we will not suffer your army to be here.” He turned and began walking away from the dwarves.
“Come back, coward! Let us settle this now!” Turak shouted after him, drawing his flintlock. The troll paused and turned halfway back around to face him.
“No,” the troll said. He continued walking away. Turak cocked his gun and took aim at the giant’s back.
“I said COME BACK,” he shouted again. The troll did not stop, but continued to walk.
Turak pulled the trigger. The shot echoed through the pass. The troll staggered, stopped, and turned around again. His eyes flared green as magic sealed the gaping wound the shot had left in his back. “We gave you a chance, dwarf. You didn’t take it. Now you die.” The troll reared back his head and bellowed to the skies.
Thirty thousand answered. The roar from the trolls shook Turak and his lieutenant to their cores. When none of the trolls moved, though, he laughed. “Is that it?” he asked. “You roar at us until we go home?” The troll glared at him.
“No, dwarf. We call the mountain to aid us. She knows us, and now knows you.” His eyes, still glowing, narrowed. “And she knows you do not belong.” A low rumbling, just beyond his hearing, buzzed in Turak’s bones. His lieutenant looked up at Kharak-Zhar in horror.
“AVALANCHE!” he screamed. Turak looked up and saw that the snowpack of the great peak had broken loose and was rushing down towards the dwarven army, away from the trolls. The troll was running back to his people, who were now silently watching. Turak looked back at his men. They had all seen the avalanche, and they reacted as any sane beings would.
They all ran, away from the avalanche, back down the pass. They weren’t fast enough. Turak watched in horror as the entire army was swept away by the tide of white death. He and his lieutenant were barely outside of it. Then he heard a heavy THUNK and his lieutenant tumbled forward, dead instantly from a spear sticking out of his back.
“Run home to your emperor, dwarf!” a troll shouted to him. “Tell him what his legacy truly is!” Then the trolls were gone, vanished into the swirling snow.
And there you go! Hopefully you enjoyed it. I’m thinking I might have to write some more in this particular world, because I have some excellent ideas for the trolls. Too often they’re portrayed as big, dumb, and evil. Who knew they had magic, and could control the weather and the very earth beneath them? I think that’s all for today.
I should really write some new brewing-related stuff, too, but I haven’t been brewing much! So hopefully I’ll have some time soon to do that, and tell you all about it. In the meantime, find a beer you like, crack it open, and enjoy it.