The Prisoner of Stone
by Floyd Looney
It had been a long journey for Brother Aron from the monastery to his new assignment far to the north in a region dominated by mountains. Indeed the nearest village would be more than a days walk from what he had been told.
The bumpy ride in the back of the farmers cart came to an abrupt halt. “The Keep is up that way, a fair ways,” The farmer said, pointing toward a small peak in the distance. “The road doesn't go there, I'm afraid.”
Brother Aron climbed from the wagon and stretched. “You have been more than generous, friend. I thank you kindly,” he said, giving a bow to the man who had let him ride for quite a ways.
The farmer nodded and then shook a stick at the oxen pulling the cart. “Get a moving, you ugly beast.”
Aron smiled for a brief moment before turning toward the wooded incline. The grayish peak in the distance rose up and dominated the wood that surrounded it. The image of the swaying trees bowing and giving homage to the rocky peak crossed his mind. He pushed it away and cursed the devil for the thought.
Brother Aron adjusted his pack and began walking, hoping he would arrive before nightfall. Just before nightfall he found a gray-stone tower, barely big enough for a hermit. It backed against the ugly rocky peak, where Aron was sure a cave entrance must be.
“I am Brother Aron, I have been sent by the Monsignor!” He cried out, hopeful that the caretaker of this place would hear and come. He repeated this again a few minutes later and soon after the large wooden doors were disbarred and then opened.
A gray-haired man with a bushy beard wearing a simple brown robe greeted him. “The Monsignor has sent you, you say? Monsignor Allan, how is he these days?”
Brother Aron frowned. “Monsignor Allan passed away eleven winters ago, I am sorry to report. I have been sent by Monsignor Bruno. He has read some of your reports, I gathered he was concerned. Still, he did not tell me anything.”
The man grinned. “You do not understand what this hermitage is for, then, Brother Aron?”
Brother Aron shook his head, “I admit to knowing nothing at all. I had never even known this place existed before I was sent.”
The man nodded and waved his hand. “You will be wanting to come inside, it's getting dark. I have warm stew if you are hungry.”
Once inside the old man barred the door with quite a large piece of lumber. Inside it was dark, only a candle here and there allowed Brother Aron to follow the old man to the study. A fire in the fireplace, a stew-pot next to it, the walls were unadorned but there were shelves with books and on the table with scraps of parchment was a large heavy crucifix.
“Please, sit down,” The old man said, “I assume you know my name?”
“I was not told.”
The man chuckled and began scraping stew into a dish, which he delivered to the table in front of Brother Aron with a wooden spoon. After this he sat on a stool on the other side. “My name in Benjamin, Brother Benjamin. I have been here on duty for some thirty-seven winters now.”
Aron dropped the spoon and gaped. Then good manners returned. “I apologize for my reaction, I am simply finding it hard to fathom.”
“No apologies needed.” The man said, seeming to find it amusing. “Indeed, I'd be disappointed if you hadn't reacted. I will ask you this; what do you suppose the purpose of this place and my purpose in being here is?”
Brother Aron was confused. “Aren't you a hermit? To spend your life in prayer and praise of God and keep apart from the low pursuits of men?”
The old man shook his head. “No. I do a fair bit of praying, no doubt. It comes with the job, which I can show you better than to explain with words.”
He walked to the door and grabbed a torch which he lit in the fireplace. “Follow me, you shall not be disappointed.”
Aron was not surprised to be led into a cave that wound down and down underneath the ugly peak, along the way more torches were lit.
“If you are not a hermit, then why live like one?” Aron asked as they walked. Finally the descent was over and they stood in a wider space. Benjamin walked around the room and lit torches on four sides.
“I am a jailer.” Benjamin said with some amusement, watching for a reaction. Aron was thoroughly confused by this point. Benjamin glanced at the center of the chamber where a large square stone plinth-like object sat.
“What is that?” Aron asked, walking toward it to get a better look. There were engravings all around it, most were Biblical references and verses.
“At first we thought it might be something like the sarcophagus of the ancient Egyptians.” Brother Benjamin told him, he waved the torch over it. “But no human engraved those words and symbols.”
They were masterfully done by skilled workers no doubt. “Of course they were human?”
Old Benjamin laughed again. He walked to one of the corners and handed an iron chisel to Brother Aron as well as a heavy mallet. “It is impervious to tools. Give it a try.”
Brother Aron wondered if the old man was senile. Of course it was not impervious. He lifted the mallet while holding the chisel on the top corner of the stone structure, where chipping it should be the easiest, he'd at least leave a mark.
It hadn't even left a scratch. Brother Aron struck the chisel a second time without leaving a mark. The sarcophagus, though, had lit up brightly and a sound like a horrible wailing filled the chamber. Brother Aron dropped the tools and backed away wrapping both arms around his head.
Then the light and terrible noise dwindled to a growl and vanished.
Brother Aron was quite shaken and scared.
“The prisoner doesn't like it too much.” Brother Benjamin said, conversationally. “As I said, I am a jailer. Not a monk.”
Brother Aron grabbed Benjamin's sleeve. “I want to leave this cursed place. Take me back.”
Benjamin led him back up the pathway and then back to the study. Neither man said a word the whole time. Aron sat on the bench and rested his arms on the table.
“What was that thing?” Aron asked.
“I'm afraid nobody really knows. We have theories and ideas, we also have wild notions. The church is involved because they believe it may be the tomb of Lucifer,” Benjamin told him, “Otherwise there would have been no ability to keep all of this a secret.”
Brother Aron walked to the far wall, finding it completely covered by a bookshelf containing many scrolls and bound volumes. “After thirty-seven winters, is this all you know of it?”
Benjamin rubbed his nose. “Of course not. I know things I would have never written down, not even in a report to the Monsignor.”
Aron looked sharply at the old man. “You keep things from your benefactor?”
Benjamin frowned. “If I had been given alternatives, I shall not have been here for thirty-seven winters, I assure you.”
“There is a monster in the cave,” Aron said, “There must be a way to slay it.”
Brother Benjamin smiled and walked to the fireplace, taking a seat on a low stool there. “We cannot access the sarcophagus. I am afraid that if we released the beast inside, it would consume us all. It is not likely Lucifer, a fallen angel surely, but of an intelligence. No, it is a real monster, as you say, one that must stay where it is.”
“What if it were to escape?”
“Calamity, no doubt.” The old man said. “My most sacred duty to the human species is to never allow the beast its freedom.”
“It must be slain! It is too dangerous,” Brother Aron argued.
“A foolish but expected thought.” Benjamin said, “You would have to free it before you can try and kill it, of which you would likely fail. That beast has been imprisoned for centuries, possibly millennium, liberating it, even for the purpose of slaughter would end the human species as the final act of arrogance and foolishness.”
“How can a monster survive without feeding?” Aron asked.
“A question that has been asked many times, for many decades.” Benjamin answered. “It lives in another realm, unlike this one. It probably has access to whatever sustenance it requires, but it is not strong enough to break through.”
“Can you open it?” Brother Aron asked. “We can take swords and torches. Beasts are afraid of flame! We could slaughter it ourselves.”
Benjamin looked a bit alarmed. “That was not the purpose for which you were sent, Brother Aron. I beseech you to set aside such dangerous thoughts.”
“Why was I sent here? I no longer wish to be here. I will leave at sun-up!”
Benjamin chuckled again. “There are things I cannot tell you. Not while you are so impatient. You must think things through before you ever dare act. I should ask the Monsignor to send someone less passionate and imperious.”
Deep in the night Brother Aron was woken by a bright flash of light and a growling voice. At first it seemed like a dream. Then Brother Benjamin opened the door and shined a torch into the bed chamber and was carrying a sword.
“I am relieved to find you here, and safe,” The old man said. “I have to tell you something. One of the reasons I sent a message to the Monsignor was to request help. I fear that the beast has been getting stronger for it invades my sleep, it has learned to intrude on our dreams. It will be able to influence our thoughts.”
Brother Aron was aghast. “The foul creature is some kind of demon, certainly. If the scripture on the sarcophagus was not carved by man, what put the words there?”
Benjamin took one step closer to the bed, he lit a nearby torch on the wall. “I believe that the creature was once intelligent. That it was losing its mind and determined to protect the Earth by imprisoning itself. I believe the verses on the sarcophagus were put there while the prison was forged. Call them demons or dragons, both would live in more than one realm, more than just our physical world.”
“A dragon? A powerful, mad dragon?”
“Perhaps the last of its kind.” Benjamin said with a nod. “For thirty winters I have heard it's roar and growl but I have also heard it speak, at least telepathically. Possibly analogous to talking in your sleep. It has not spoken for sixteen winters.”
“There must be a way to slay it or banish it to the other realm forever.” Brother Aron said.
“I have studied this topic for decades, Brother Aron. It is impossible,” Benjamin said, “But if the beast is growing stronger and more monstrous, then something must be done. I am at a loss as to how to handle this.”
Brother Aron picked up his sword and picked a torch from the wall and left the bedchamber.
“Where are you going?” Benjamin asked.
“I am going to slay the beast!” Aron answered.
“I beg you to put such deranged thoughts aside. The beast is influencing your actions.” Benjamin said, following the younger man through the corridor, “It wants you to let it out, can't you see?”
Brother Aron ignored the pleadings of the old man all the way down to the buried chamber. He re-lit the torches on the stone walls and turned his attention to the sarcophagus. Benjamin stepped between Aron and the stone prison.
“You cannot do this.” Benjamin told him.
“You lied to me,” Aron said, “You said there was no way to free the creature. I know by your reactions that this is untrue.”
Benjamin nodded. “It is too dangerous. You must leave the creature where it is!”
The stone prison was now flashing different colors.
“I shall defend the world and slay the demon.” Aron said, holding up his sword, as if convincing himself.
Benjamin pulled out his own sword. “I must stop you. I beg of you, do not do this.”
“I slay this foul demon in the name of God!” He said before rushing forward. Benjamin backed up nearer to the prison before their swords clanged. Several times he was able to block the stroke of the younger mans' sword.
“This is madness! Brother Aron, control yourself!” Benjamin exhorted, as he began to tire.
Brother Aron stepped back then quickly yelled and rushed at the older man who was knocked onto the top of the stone prison. His shoulder gushed blood and his eyes were wide.
“You've doomed us all!” The old man said.
As Brother Aron watched the blood that covered the stone block was sucked inside of it. Then Benjamin screamed and Aron could see his face and skin turn pure white as his own blood was taken. Aron dropped the sword and backed away as the body of Benjamin became emaciated and then flattened and then was ingested by the block completely.
“No.” Aron muttered, his mind now clearing. “No, no.”
The flashing lights of the stone prison was now bright red, and a beating sound like a heart was loud enough to hurt Aron's ears.
“Please, God, no!” He said, his face covered in tears and snot as he cried, falling to his knees “What have I done?”
Suddenly the stone prison shattered, showering the room and Brother Aron with fragments. Through the dust in the air something large was moving about. It turned and faced the human, so much smaller than itself. Its red eyes looked very evil to the terrified human who tried to crawl away.
“Get behind me, Satan!” The human cried.
The beast smiled, showing many needle-sharp teeth. “You have me confused with someone else, but I am flattered by the compliment.”
Brother Aron had backed up against the wall of the chamber. “Benjamin said you had become mad.”
The beast grinned. “Old Benjamin was fanciful, he enjoyed telling himself stories about me. He was quite tasty, but I require a bit more than one thin man before I can continue to exist on this world.”
Brother Aron felt the beast digging through his mind. It became painful and he collapsed into curled position holding his head. “Yes, the villages. I shall grow fat on human meat and learn much from their minds. If you wish, I will let you live for a time, Brother Aron. You may call me Master Grotiss.”
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