This Week’s Prompt: 63. Sinister names—Nasht—Kaman-Thah.
The Relevant Research:What’s In a Name?
It started in my left palm when I was five, dying skin forming a single pale letter. It stretched out in both directions like a skeletal pair of wings or an ant with too many legs. There were hushed whispers of what it meant, but for ten years the spreading script in some unintellegible language continued. At last, my mother sat me down in private, as both hands already stung to use and searing marks made their way down my back. And she told me a story. A story of her old life, away from the hills, when she lived on the plains of Kaman-Thah.
On those plains, in the house of a noble queen, a word was spoken in wrath and greed, in prideful seeking of power from old scrolls. And this hidden word, this ancient name, spread along the walls and pillars, like ivy of fire. Those who heard it broke and bent, and the first bearer of the name emerged from the carnival of seared flesh. Within days, her home was changed in way she couldn’t say. The name that scarred the stars in the sky, granted fire to the eyes, and rent the veils to hidden places spread not just in the shouting of the mad man plague, but seared its way into souls through their very eyes. She had fled into the hills, pregnant with me when she reached the hills, among people who nothing of the word, her face bearing scars of that old encounter.
To rid herself of the name that wormed it’s way through her flesh and blood, sketching itself into her eyes and cheeks, she spoke it one more time alone to me. For my first name was that ancient and dread name, exorcised into me as a babe. She gave my second name to me in a proper ceremony, bore it in a sealed talisman, and taught it to everyone so that the children wouldn’t release that poison. But they knew. If not the form, they knew the substance.
And now, the name long dormant, never spoken for more than a decade, was waking. It was time for me to go, lest it burst free and devour my home. They had considered killing me before now. But they were afraid. The curse might escape in my blood on the ground, or into the air with my dying breath. So I wasn’t going to die. But I couldn’t stay.
I begged my mother not to send me out of the hills I had known. I begged to stay somehow. I begged even for life not that far off, on a hill a day away, in a hut of my own building. But there was no negotiating. I pleaded a way to cure the markings that spread. My mother showed mercy, her diamond face cracking slightly. She knew no cure for that curse, she confessed. But perhaps, in the storied halls where the name had been kept, deep in Kaman Thah, I might find solace. She told me which direction to run, gave me a meal to depart with, and sent me on my way.
My first thought was to go to my neighbors, but there door was locked and they didn’t here my knocking on the door. By the time I gave up on receiving hospitality from anyone I’d known , the sun was rising impatiently on the horizon. Hurry up, it whispered on the morning breeze. You can’t lurk here forever. I set out then, with but a meal and a notion of where to go.
When I wondered into other towns, ones that new my marks and hurled stones at me, I thought of home. I wondered if they wept when I was gone, or if they had done all the weeping when I was born. I learned to wear heavy rags, to scavenge clothes on the days journey, following whispers as hunger gnawed away at me. I barely slept, even on those nights where my bed was the soft grass and my roof a friendly moon. Most nights it was neither.
A waste encircles Kaman Thah. The ground is a rusty red, a scabbed over wound from long ago. Spires shoot up on the horizon, arrow shafts jammed into the flesh of the earth. I scurried across the crumbling dried mud that made up the cloudless land, forgetting my rags I drew near. There was a faint wind, heaving over the ground and forcing a thin mist of the
I saw the letters that were emerging on my skin inscribed into shattered stones that seemed to pulse as I got close. I saw rotting blots that made the contours of characters on the trenches that ringed the city. When I approached the great gates, broken down and twisted by unseen hands, I saw the cancerous cyan light all around me. The windows and doors of the buildings were bloated and molded into half formed faces within faces, crumbling edifices that if somehow brought together would be a perfect sculpture of the dread sorcerer. Pulsing stars made up their brickwork and mortar, hanging on the skeletons as the flesh of a jellyfish lightly adheres to water.
As I took in the sight of so much mutilated masonry, I heard footfalls down the streets. There, hunched over the twisted fractal fingers that a statue had become, was a thing like a man or dog. Its forelimbs where bent thrice, a jagged line that ended in double-sided hands that seemed stitched together. A tail with a luminous stinger swept back and forth as it observed me, its face a mass of iron that dripped onto the floor. The thing loomed over, white flames slipping out of the shifting eyes. For a moment, I thought that like a stray dog it may be befriended, beast in this strange city that might enjoy company. And then it screeched at me and bolted off.
As I felt the pang of not being of interest, I grew suddenly afraid of a more terribly shape and sound—a drunken and sickly choir making its way toward me, a mass of bodies lurching forward with jaws that reached to their distended stomachs and flesh that folded together. At once they were one and then many, and when that sea of eyes laid on me, they were far less passive. Their bodies became vigorous and the tide surged towards me as I ran down a nearby alley, weaving through the paths that from above formed the start of that name. I hid behind a door of open palms as the mass surged past, its many arms still outstretched to find more food for the fold.
When I was sure they passed, I slipped back out. Clutching the cloth close over my warped limb, I carried on. I didn’t know what I was looking for…or rather I knew, but not what it would be. My mother had said to seek scrolls for some cure, but I had no illusions that such a thing could be found. Not anymore. No, in this city of broken reflections and copies of copies and recreations that crumbled after themselves, I sought the name in it’s fullness. I sought that thing that was what I might be, what I could become.
I sought to drive a knife into its head and make it bleed for cursing me, to watch it die on the streets of its own shape, until from its corpse I might find meaning and that most basic of life’s blessings that was stolen from me. I wanted to watch that damned sorcerer’s pusling form die in his temple to himself, bleed out in his own ego.
Other creatures appeared, but seemed unconcerned with me. A great winged thing, with a serpent neck and a head full of eyes flew over head. It’s feathers fell sloppily on the floor, cracking the ground beneath the wait of letters they formed. The name was everywhere, but unfinished and poorly rendered. I knew the shapes from my hand, where it still refined and spread even then. I followed the sections that looked most finished, that most resembled my palms brand, for what have been days—for the sun and moon and stars all too were bent stranger here, into writing in glowing lines upon a twisted sky.
Until at last after days of worming my way through the mass of bodies and brickwork, I found it. A towering temple body. A hundred hands drooped onto the street, pillars of the hunched over form. As I stepped between them, into the interior, I saw that the arms that held the dreadful body aloft were fractal, each composed in turn of a hundred smaller limbs. Within I saw a glimmer of light reflecting off some strange shape inside.
Haggard and tired breaths pushed through the body of the sorcerer, from mouths unseen. The smell was at one time putrid rot, at other times sweet honey. My gaze fell upon the head of the aborrent thing which was made of rust red flesh, colder and less harsh on the eyes than my own limb. In the back, staring over the finger formed iconostasis with a many pupiled eyes it waited. I drew closer, waiting for a snarl. Waiting for a sign, a woven spell, a flash of light, or worse.
Closer, closer, crawling over the bent wall and remains. With a sharp stone in hand, I was close enough to touch that strange pulsing mass of eyes. Carefully balanced, I stared at the infinite inscriptions of the name, each marking and completion within itself. Over and over it worked itsway on the flesh of the temple, symetrical and unbroken if faded with the winds of time. Every blow bled that name in bright colors down its red face, down my hand and on the stone as I smashed it’s eyes and skulls apart screaming vengance, laughing, crying as it bled and as the breath began to stop.
I feel to my knees laughing as the dread sorcerer died, my hundred hands holding me above the ground. My hundred fold eyes saw the temple fade into another corpse, as I stood tall. It was dead, except in my head. The name was gone, and I left that city triumphant and towering over the broken and half-formed progeny of it’s endeavor. The pains of my flesh born limbs were gone, and I set my eyes northward, to show my mother what I had become.
I enjoyed writing this story. I think it could obviously use some work, but this is the first one in sometime that I felt at least had a fun premise and concept. It was nice to write after some more academic work, and to indulge in something like character work–something that is usually lacking in the stories I manage to produce in a week.
Next week! Making life, the new old way!
If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.