Friday, April 6, 2012

Story of the Week: Stone Eater

In "Stone Eater" from issue 42 of Abyss & Apex Brent Knowles tells the story of a dwarf and master builder who finds himself forced to do the unthinkable. The story begins with Ongar secured to a stake in the desert, left to die from the elements. He was the master builder hired by a wizardess to build a tower of stone on the site of an ancient fortress. Once lush with life, the building site has become a cursed desert that continues to expand. The Wizardess believes she can stop the desert and heal the land, bringing back its verdant life, but she must have the tower to carry out her plans. For Ongar, the tower becomes an obsession and his drive for perfection leads him to neglect his family, who abandon him, and then a stranger arrives, a Charlatan who turns the Wizardess against Ongar. He watches in agony while work continues on his tower. He watches the workers make mistakes. The tower will never achieve his dreams of perfection. A badger brings Ongar river pebbles, which replenish his energy, keeping him alive, prolonging his suffering he comes to believe. Why does the badger help him? Perhaps an affinity between burrowers?

Ongar contemplates giving up, but the badger persists in bringing him stones and forcing them into Ongar's clenched fists. A group of soldiers arrive to arrest the Charlatan. The Wizardess dispatches them and their captain is staked near Ongar. From the soldier, Ongar learns something about the Charlatan's identity. The soldier devises a plan to foil the Charlatan, but it requires Ongar to destroy the tower, his last and most perfect creation. The badger assists in the plan, transferring a ring from the soldier to Ongar.

First the ring unraveled, parting at an invisible seam, the finger falling to the sand. Next [Ongar] urged the metal to extend, thinning it to a fine blade. What blood remained was absorbed by the metal, Ongar’s will insufficient to completely smooth the surface. It was as if the blood had rebelled in that final moment, distorting the blade with a rough and contoured surface. No matter, it would cut. The ensorcelled bonds were no match for the stonesung blade. Ongar fell to the sand and crouched there in shock, the impact wonderful, invigorating. The stone sang its welcome and his body thrummed, his blood rejoicing in the reunion.

The captain said, “Be crafty. Confront the conjurling directly and it will be your undoing. You must destroy the tower.”

“I will be careful,” Ongar said, avoiding a lie. He would not destroy his tower. He would find another way.

Ongar still has much to learn and little time to do it.

"Stone Eater" is a meditation on folly, obsession, and sacrifice. The tower, built to turn back the forces of nature and to celebrate Ongar's craft, reminds me of the Tower of Babel. The Charlatan easily twists the bloated ambitions of Ongar and the Wizardess to his own evil purposes. Ongar's obsession robs him of his wife and children, leaving him with no meaning in his life except the tower. The power of sacrifice proves the Charlatan's undoing in the end. The soldier gives up his finger, chewed off by the badger to transfer the ring, and Ongar gives up everything he has left only to discover a new gift far greater than what he has sacrificed.

To learn more about Brent and his writing, check out his blog at

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