Sun and Snake on the Isle

This Week’s Prompt: 85. “For has not Nature, too, her grotesques—the rent rock, the distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, the unveiled structure of man in the embryo, or the skeleton?” Pater—Renaissance (da Vinci).

The Prior Research: She’s a Viper

Chasing Austin’s invitation to his new studio-home—several miles away from a small island town several hours away by boat from his well our old home—ended up costing me an third of my rent for the month. Perhaps it isn’t surprising, then, that I was in something of a bitter mood. Austin had been insistent I come out to see him. I had convinced myself that it was only to save on postage that I was visiting, but it had been almost a year without seeing him or sharing a coffee.

The boat ride was calming at least—the sea has that effect on me. It is too vast for concerns and anxieties to stand in it’s presence. Austin and I had tried with both our arts to capture that vastness, but it defies capture. It is too big for words and pigments, except in the hands of a master. Still, it was a nice image to wake to in the morning, enjoying coffee on the misty deck.

There was only one other companion out to greet the morning sun. He was an old man, Patrick Seoriseson, who would strum a guitar at the dawn and hum some song I’d never heard of. We didn’t talk much—not that he was bad company, but he was…well. Strange. He looked in his sixties, but his hair was bright blond, and his face and eyes looked young. Like someone grafted a twenty year old’s head, fresh before college, onto the body of their own aging grandfather. He had a beard, but it was blond too—not scraggly hay blond, folded and woven silk blond.

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As unnerving as he was, another presence on that chill morning, as the island rose from the fog, was a welcome one. We had, turning back to see the homeland, made it just in time. Behind our ship, dark clouds had formed. A storm was roiling, and I was suddenly glad to have no pressing business for several weeks.

It was getting dark when I finally set foot on the land—my sea legs taken three steps to return to their land-bound cousins. I bought a large bottle of water, and set my phones secondary charger—the house was a good five miles from town, a nice hour or so walk to gain my composure. Austin had been very clear about getting to his house as soon as I could—apparently whatever he had couldn’t wait. And while small coastal towns are welcoming to some, to me they are always a tad unearthly. They all feel drenched with age by the sea.

The road to Austin’s house was a somewhat paved, at least the first half. As the sun began to set into twilight, I was walking on more rocks and dirt. The shore had splits and crags, streams of salt water rolling inland. Eventually, I saw his house come into view—two luminous lights, shimmer on the horizon.

I thought it was his house, anyway. I didn’t check my phone, and well. I nearly walked into the tide and rocks.

And saw the lights in four different directions.

Whatever was going on in the atmosphere, my GPS hadn’t failed. And that I could follow, cold from the wind, back to the path. And at last, I found his house. A collection of lights from the house—square, instead of the lying spheres I’d seen on the way. It was a nice looking house. As I got closer, I saw the paint was peeling. There was something acrid in the air. As I walked up to the house, I saw someone shuffling inside—their back was bent pretty far but when I squinted they were walking fine.

I rang the door bell, but there was just a fizzle. Austin probably forgot to fix it. So instead, I gripped the knocker—an lion headed one, old iron—and rapped on the door. There was a bustle, papers unseen falling to the floor as Austin came to the door.

He was a bit thinner, still catching his breath as he held out his hand.

“Jeffery, come in, come in. Gods I thought you’d abandoned us.” He said, stepping out the way after a brief shake.

“It is a bit out of the way.” I said, looking around. The walls were nice—the wood floor was oddly smooth. “And there’s…some sort of rave outside…I think. Have you had problems with lights?”

“Lights? Oh, come now Jeffery. A will-o-wisp never hurt anyone who had their wits about them.” Austin said, laughing. I didn’t laugh as he lead me to his study up the stairs. The house creaked as it settled, and the steps spiraled at a bit of an incline.

“You have a cat out here, Austin? Seems more like dog country.” I said, looking down at the steps. “This groove to drain water or something?”

There was a foot long indent along the stairs, running down the middle. Perfectly even at a glance.

“Oh, no, no, old owners lived here a long time. I think they might have evenly spread it–”

There was a crash, first of thunder then of a dropped pans from the kitchen. Austin’s face went pale for a second.

“Its quite alright, I’m sure!” Austin shouted after me. I had already rounded into the source, the kitchen—door half open. I threw the door open and–

And she nearly put me through the wall. I felt claws on my shoulder and saw dozens of enraged and startled serpent eyes. As she held me on the floor, I heard the warning rattle from an unseen scaly tail. My eyes were distracted by her fangs bared at me.

“Its alright, it’s alright!” I heard Austin shout. “Dear, please, your both high strung! Storms do that.”

“Austin, I think you forgot somethings!” I shouted, eyes fixed in hers. Her face was hidden by a veil of snake skin.

“Did he now?” The woman said—with all twenty snake mouths that made up her head, her face unraveling and rem-emerging from the masses. It was when she moved that I realized my legs were trapped—feeling slowly returning to my feat, little bites marring my pants.

“Well, dear, how would you explain it.” Austin said defensively.

“…You better think of a quick way to explain it Austin.” I said, slowly pushing my self up into a chair.

MedusaHeadSwarm.png

Austin’s explanation was full of poetry and phantasms and whimsy. I will abbreviate it here, as I was not in a whimsical mood. He had acquired the house from a man in town, at first to rent but then bought outright. The house was the man’s great aunt, and something about it’s perpetual disrepair had spoken to Ausitn. Fallen age of man, decay of empires, Adam’s sin, artists of his type always seem to love decaying bodies.

Never seem to ask why the place is full of dead things, and maybe that dwelling on such things is dangerous.

Of course, Austin, the fop he is, found the notion of a haunted place alluring. He loved the idea of will-o-wisp, of changelings, of entertaining morbid faerie guests. I’ve never found a reason to want such things—stories rarely make them pleasant. Had I been Austin, the strange rustling outside, the flash of scales in the bed room, the sight of dozens of serpentine eyes down the hall? Those were signs to flee.

But fly he did. Into her arms. Well, not at first. There was some back and forth. She hadn’t had someone react quite like Austin did. Asking her name—Tengra Dudana They became friends the way most people did. Shared food.

Of course, she asked questions. Why was he here, what was he doing. The two became fast friends, once they started talking. She enjoyed his artistry, he enjoyed her singing and laughter—he insisted that a hundred serpents singing was a choir I’d have to here.

Austin had a knack for friends. His art improved also—her rippling serpents inspiring thoughts of the sea more perfectly realized then before. Austin elided if they had ever left the boundaries of friendship—but he grew sheepish enough for me to decide.

Thunder continued to boom outside as Austin talked. Thunder and storms put her on edge—she was suspicous of everything on dark nights like this.

“It was not a typical romance.” She said, encoiling her body around the chair. “But a pleasant one.”

I nodded, nervously sipping the tea.

“Well, I—I imagine.” I said slowly.

“Yes, well, I had…hoped to show you the gallery first.” Austin said. Tengra rolled her eyes.

“He thinks pictures are a good start. They are wonderful paintings, but…they are not good preparation.” Tengra said, unwinding herself and sinking to the floor, then reforming as a singular woman—a rather tall one, her skin only rippling slightly as coils found their place.

“I would not oppose seeing them.” I said, placing my tea down. My nerves were slowly waking up from their stunned silence.

The paintings were…good. Yes, good. The paintings were acceptable, they captured some of the motion of their subject mater that, without first hand experience, would have seemed unbelievable. Tengra seemed fond of many forms, but there was something in the shape of the cliffs and moors that carried her image as well. By day, I’d have to see the originals nature had carved—whether she had woven Tengra into the hills, or whether that was some inspiration of Austins I cannot say.

There was one picture, however, that I paused at.

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“Austin, who is this?” I said. I pointed behind the cross of interwoven snakes, to a man on the hill. There was something about his shape I recognized—his golden wave beard and hair.

“Oh, some vagrant I think.” Austin said, shaking his head. “Well, a rather well off one maybe. He’s been around once I think.”

“Did you talk to him much?” I asked. Austin frowned, and I noticed Tengra seemed to be paying more attention.

“I…don’t think I did. It’s strange I hadn’t considered him much, but I think I talked a decent amount with him. He’s some sort of musician I think? He’s from across the sea though, I didn’t think it much important.” Austin then paused again. “No…no, not across. He said the strangest thing. He’s from the ‘other side’ of the sea.”

Austin raised a finger upward, imitating the memory.

Tengra hissed a bit.

“He is a strange man. You should have pointed him out to me, he might have been squawking.”

“You mean gawking?”

“That as well.” Tengra said.

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The next morning, me and Austin had arranged to have coffee on the porch—Tengra was sunbathing somewhere, warming her scales.

“So…so what do you think?” Austin asked, sipping his coffee slowly. I put down mine, steam still rising from it.

“The house needs work. The fence is rusty, I’d start there.” I said, flatly. Austin blinked.

“I meant about–”

“I know, I know. Uh. Well.” I said rubbing my head. “Your in love with a swarm of snakes. I…Look, I don’t have the tools to process this at the moment. Like, I’m assuming she’s not holding you hostage right? Not hypnotizing you with her eyes, like that Disney movie?”

“…the Jungle Book?”

“Yeah that one.” I said, scratching the back of my neck. Austin burst out laughing.

“No, no, she’s just a wonderful person.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Well. I, I guess there are worse things?” I said, sipping my coffee. “She’s not French or a fascist, so a plus all around there.”

“She can sing in Gaelic.” Austin piped up.

“Talented. Creepy, I’m not going to lie, but talented.” I said with a laugh. The storm hadn’t cleared yet, but in the distance I saw the sun rising—the ship back wouldn’t have a problem. I’d need to make my exit politely, this needed some thought.

It was while I was mulling this over and talking a bit on art with Austin that something caught my eye—like those will-o-wisps, a flash of light. But this was bright, metalic light. Turning my head, I saw a car rolling up the road. There was a boom of thunder, a flash of lighting in front of the sun as out walked the man with the golden beard.

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“Hey is that…” I said nudging Austin—and then I saw it flash, briefly. A long backward curved blade, that he was examining beneath his coat. “Austin, we…we should get inside.”

Austin took a moment to register—maybe sleep still lingering on him, but he saw where I pointed. Across the way, Patrick waved. He was smiling, perfect white teeth catching the sunlight.

“Oh, yeah, its…that guy. Come on, Jeffery, lets get some more coffee. Ask him what’s happening.”

“Austin he has a–”

“Hello there, fine sailor and artist too.” Patrick said. He’d…moved fast while we where talking.

“Oh, well…Hello.” Austin said. Patrick laughed. His laugh was surprisingly deep—his slightly higher pitch giving way to a low rumbling laugh. “Can…Can I help you?”

“Serendipity says so, yes. I’m looking for something old among the cliffs—older then will-o-wisp and banshee and them.” He said, gesturing behind him to the road way. “Something with fangs and scales, an old something.”

“Well, there aren’t snakes on islands.” I said, standing up a bit.

“Adder, smooth snake, grass snake, corn snake, and viper all round the King of England’s crown.” He said, as if that explained anything. “Only emeralds really snake free, my friend. Only emerald, and that’s at least part from me. Now, have you seen it?”

“No.” Austin said, getting up. “I haven’t seen–”

The man held his hand to Austin’s face, tilting his head. He hissed behind his teeth.

“Nevermind that, never mind me.” The man said, turning now to the hills, hand reaching in his jacket. There he held that knife. “You stay here, I’ve got business. I think I can enjoy myself from here.”

I reached out to grab his arm—Austin reached for his back. The next moment I was against the wall—his fore arm was under my neck, while Austin had been tossed onto the roadway. His knife was drawn, blade facing away—it was was curved somewhat, with a straight edge on the inside, away from me.

“Friends, this seems unbecoming of men of art and wonder. Lying in the underbrush like savage hunters to catch the noble deer—very unbecoming.” He said, pushing back against my neck. I gripped his wrist—I couldn’t breath, and I felt the wall behind me cracking. My entire back was bruising—and then he dropped me on the floor. I slumped over, breathing heavy, eyes closed from sudden exhaustion. When I opened them, he was walking after a scrambling Austin—who, god bless him, was shouting a warning for Tengra.

I pulled myself up—my legs and back were not fond of the predicament. His hat flew off as the wind picked up, the storms weeping overhead. It was strange. I thought the man’s coat had looked pitch black before—now it seemed to be roiling gold and white and red. He had so many eyes. Why did his coat have so many eyes?

I threw the door open and stumbled inside, sitting behind the door frame. I heard thunder rolling, and hissing outside. I didn’t look, so this I cannot report on directly. The sun had risen only a finger when I was able to rise again— and see an empty roadway, no sign of Austin, Tengra, or the man. I hobbled out, calling Austin’s name along that cliffside road.

“Jeffery, Jeffery is that you?” a shout came from a large stone on the edge. I ran to it, and found him there—slumped against the back, holding a long snake skin to his face, sobbing.

“Austin, God in Heaven, your alive.” I said.

“Oh, not in heaven, and how alive? She is gone, Jeffery, she is gone!” He said, batting away my outstretched hand.

“Gone? As in gone or gone?” I asked, looking around. “And that man…is he gone with her? We need to leave Austin.”

“Gone, both gone! Oh the fire, the eyes, it was like Apollo wrestling Python! Oh it was dreadful–”

I decided that was enough and pulled Austin up. This time, he didn’t resist. He just kept up his mourning, about how she had vanished, how that strange man had seemed so much larger, how helpless he felt when he’d been thrown against the stone—thrown, yet lived! The man has no taste for practical miracles—how could he face the dawn without her, how could he paint without her and so on.

“Well, you have some of her scales.” I said, sighing as I lowered him on the porch. “So that’s something.”

It was apparently only a small consolation. Austin swore, swore as he lay there, holding to the skin tight, that he would find her somewhere—somewhere, in earth an heaven, or whatever was on the other side of heaven. I nodded politely—and reminded myself to never again agree to any of Austin’s wild adventures.




If there ever was a story that warranted more writing and expansion, it was probably this one. The central mystery needs more time, and the final confrontation with the Apolloian hunter needs more build up. I’ll file it away for next year.

Next week, however, we return fully to our horror roots. It’s time to go inside a book, into an old house



 

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This is the Story of a Pearl

This Week’s Prompt: 84. Hideous cracked discords of bass musick from (ruin’d) organ in (abandon’d) abbey or cathedral.

The Prior Research: Peacock and Serpent

Carol was dusting off the counter a bit, to make the place look nice, when the woman walked in. Bright blue skirt and sea foam green top, capped with a cyan scarf and hat. A pair of silver sea shells were around her ears, as she walked between shelves of turquoise jewelry and miniature mountains. She tapped a dull maroon umbrella—Carol wondered where she’d been to need it—on one of the displays.

“These pearls.” She said. “Are they genuine?”

“Well, of course.” Carol said, stepping out to make sure the display did in fact have real pearls along the mermaids finny tail. “Real pearl, torquis, and silver by a local artist. He also did the bird over there, with the emerald eyes.”
“And the pearls. Are they local?” The woman asked. Carol laughed a bit, but trailed off nervously when the woman kept eye contact.

“Uh, I don’t know? I think he gets them from a freshwater pearl producer?” Carol said, frowning. She didn’t ever really bother Dave about his art. The woman nodded.

“I see. Produced not procured. Well, thank you for your time. If you happen to meet the gentleman who made these, my card.” The woman said, producing a small blue business card, with white letters across the top. A bunch of triangles ran along the edges.

Mariam Thompson—Collector of the Fine and Exotic.

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There were three unlabeled numbers, and what Carol took to be a phone number. Mariam left, the bell jingling as she walked out, before Carol could ask another word. Carol frowned and placed the card on the desk. Dave might know what was going on.

A little while, after a few of polo shirted khaki tourists and the occasional teenager looking for some new age enlightment, Carol was convinced that the strange woman was the worst for the day. Then two more visitors arrived. One was an older man, dressed in his business suit with, with a scruffy gray beard and big red cheeks. Three bands were on his hand—a green one, a gold one, and a silver one. There was some writing on one of them, but Carol didn’t get a good look at it. With his shades and earrings, he looked like if Santa had gotten into a rock band and then cleaned up to become a middle manager. Spent most of his time looking at postcards. Eventually, he came up to Carol with a sweet smile.

“Lots of nice jewelry you’ve got at this place—must cost a fortune.” He said, gesturing at a diamond of silver worked with designs Dave said were native. “I think I’ll take that one.”

When Carol returned, the man looked at the silver carefully, bending it to catch the light.

“Yes, nice work this is. They don’t make quality like this often—heh, well I suppose I shouldn’t be so sweet when buying it. Might change the price.” The man said, taking out two twenties and a ten. “I noticed your artist knows his way around pearls…does he work with any bigger ones?”

Carol raised an eyebrow as she rang him up.

“Pearls? No, think Dave mostly works with the smaller ones. Don’t know if his supplier has big ones.”

“Ah, that is a pity. I know a guy, if he wants to get in touch, who can supply him with some bigger materials if he likes.” the man said. “My card—give me a call, I’m in town for a week or so.”

The card was white, with a green, gold, and silver swirl along the edges.

Leonard Mell—Acquisitions, Supplies, and the Finer Things in life.

He’d printed his hotel number on it. For some reason.

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The other visitor was…weird. Not as weird as the blue woman, not as monochromatic. He was wearing a heavy coat—and even in the mountains, the desert sun was too harsh for that to be reasonable. Blue jeans, and dull grey gloves. Construction gloves. He had a scarf on too. Tattoo on the bit of his neck that Carol could see—seemed to move for a moment.

Her eyes tracked him carefully—that much bulk was for hiding something, probably to grab something. She watched as he passed the jewelry and looked at the mermaid figurine—gave her out reached hand a high five with his finger. He smiled, placed it back after turning it over. He looked at some white bead necklaces for a bit…and she frowned as he slipped something beneath one of the novelty cactus mugs.

Taking it, she frowned. A…business card.

Albert Alphonso Adum—Experimental Pottery

There was a lion on the front, holding a snake in it’s mouth. No number, no address.

Carol was looking over her collection of strange cards that night, when there was a knock at the door. A man in a button up and sports jacket.

“Stores closed.” She said, tapping the sign.

The man sighed and held up a badge.

“Michael Lett.” He said through the glass. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

***

Michael had been out getting coffee when he got the call. The exchange had been brief—a package, at a train station, had gone missing in the last twenty-four hours. The person who had contacted the department had set the estimate of it’s worth—it was one of those numbers that Micahel was pretty sure was fake. However, they had provided a description.

A pearl, weighing one hundred pounds, in a specialized locked case. The client was supposed to purchase the pearl from someone—they weren’t co-operating on who, but had insisted that locating the pearl was of the utmost importance.

Train footage hadn’t been very helpful—yes, it was clear someone had taken the pearl, but they’d definitely cased the place before. He had gone into a crowd, hat and coat on, and then slipped beneath the blind spots in the camera. Michael had managed to get a bit of a better bead—a regular at the coffee shop had seen the stranger get in a taxi. The taxi driver had taken him to another cafe, and the barista there after some…green reminders, told Michael the guy got on a bus out of town.

The chain had run cold at times, but Michael had managed with a map and some thought, to get to Carol’s souvenir shop in the Rocky Mountains. Well. To be fair, as he explained to Carol, she was the third person he had talked to recently.

“But the first young man was a Mormon, and the second wouldn’t let me in.” Michael said, hanging up his coat.

“Well, a strange man walking around saying he’s with the authorities isn’t exactly comforting.” Carol muttered. “Third one today asking about pearls.”

Carol handed the business cards to Michael, which he flipped through. The felt…strange. Textured. Mariam’s felt smooth and grooved like sea shells, and Leonard’s was too smooth for paper. Albert’s had a faint feather print. Weird for someone so disheveled.

“Where does Dave do his work?” Michael said, looking over the cards. They were looking for the pearl—sounded like they expected Carol to get something. “At home, at a studio?”

“I think at his house, sometimes he does it down stairs.” Carol said. “I was going to get him the cards next time he came in—do you think their looking for this pearl with him?”

Michael stared at the business cards again, frowning as he flipped through them.

“I think they don’t know yet, either.” Michael said, frowning. “I might be back later, hopefully we get this sorted. Thank you for your time.”

***

It was dark out already—the mountains made the sunset a bit more sudden as shadows of giants fell on the town. The motel Micahel was at was one of those drive in ones, with conical rooms painted to look like tepees. As tempting as sleep was, Michael instead decided to take some time to get to know one of the witnesses.

“Coming coming. By God, who in the wide world want’s me at–” Leonard said, opening the door a jar to see Michael holding the badge up quietly. “Ah. Of course. The authorities would be so rude.”

Leonard opened the door in striped pajamas, rings still on. Without his suit, the small necklace around his neck of silver and brass links was more visible, ending with a small bronze plate. The plate had a…thing on it, Michael noticed. A weird bunch of circles and dots, and some liquid in a tiny bottle beneath it.

“Well, what is it at this hour? I’ve been in town not even a day, surely nothing terrible has–”

“Mr. Mell, I’m here to talk to you about pearls.” Michael said, gesturing for Leonard to sit…which Leonard did, slowly.

“Pearls? Strange thing to talk about in desert mountains.” Leonard said, frowning.

“You’d be surprised what can be found in freshwater—although the Colorado hasn’t made many big ones, there are some truly large river pearls.” Michael said, sitting on the hotel desk chair. “I’ve heard there’s been interest in pearls from the valley lately.”

Leonard nodded.

“They have something of a strange color.” Leonard said, nodding knowingly. “A bit, ah, a bit yellow you might say.”

“I admit, perhaps I lack the professional inclination.” Michael said, nodding.

“Well, it isn’t a hard business to enter, if law enforcement isn’t your fancy anymore.” Leonard said. “I know a numb–”

Glass cracks. Michael turns, as the window caves in. There’s a flash of light. Car alarms go off. And then it’s gone.

Turning around, Michael stood up in shock. Leonard was gone—clothes and all. Well, not all. There’s a shadow on the wall, moving still. Explaining as it goes through the motions, before slowly fading away.

***

Mariam Thompson’s hotel room was a quick drive. Leonard took stock of what he’d learned while he drove over. There had been a circle—about a foot in diameter. Salt along the edges, almost perfect—one crack. The cars weren’t damaged—well, one was. Next to the circle—a long depression on the top. Alright. No signs of Leonard. The phone number on the business card didn’t go anywhere. The address for his home office was an abandoned building in New York, which didn’t bode well for the rest of his business.

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It was half past eleven. Ten minutes after meeting Carol and then poof goes the suspect.The hotel Mariam was at was one of those towering ones, with a nice front for being dropped off by a taxi. Michael parked quickly, and slammed the door, looking around for anything unusual. His ears pricked up on something—a dull throbbing bass line coming from the road. Probably some late night party he was too old for.

Finding her room was easy, and the front desk was co-operative when Micahel mentioned he was here about a missing persons case and presented her business card. Over the phone, when they called her up, Michael was sure to make mentions of the pearls. That got things moving smoothly.

Mariam Thompson was still in all blue, although she’d taken off her jewlery. There was a bottle of wine on the table, and a glass half full. Michael’s eyes darted around. The room was plain, no suitcases insight. Mariam took a seat in a recliner, wrapping one leg beneath the other for comfort.

“Well Officer, what’s the prob–”

“Detective.” Michael said. He didn’t bother to sit. “Ms. Thompson, I’ve been informed you’ve come to town recently looking to purchase a pearl.”

“Straight to business aren’t we?” Mariam said, topping her glass. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink?”

“Ms. Thompson, did you or did you not intend to purchase a pearl from one Carol Yotes this morning?”

“I did, yes. She didn’t have any worth my trouble, I’m afraid.” Mariam said, taking another sip.

“Did you know three other individuals arrived and expressed similar interests?” Michael asked, twitching somewhat—the headlights of a passing car in the window. Nothing wrong.

“I did not. Seems rather odd, but not worth the involvement of law enforcement. Surely there are stranger purchases for you to be investigating?”

“Ms. Mariam, thirty hours ago, a world record sized pearl went missing from the station—less then twelve hours ago, it was reported to be nearby. Less than two hours ago, one of the other suspected buyers went missing.” Michael said, keeping his calm. “For your safety and mine, I suggest you co-operate.”

Mariam paused, tapping her glass twice and then placing it on the mantle. She stood up, opened a drawer and removed one of her earrings, looking at it closely.

“Which one went missing?” She asked, roating the earring.

“What?”

“Which of the two other buyers went missing, detective?” She said, emphasizing the last word. “I would assume you hadn’t forgotten already.”

“Mr. Leonard—”

“Not his name. No one uses their real names here. Not now.” Mariam said. “What did he wear? Grey robes? Arachnid headress? Silk robes?”

“Rings.” Micahel said, holding up his hand and touching his ring finger three times.

There was a flash. A crack. Outside, Micahel saw it more clearly this time—it was farther away. A bright, pearl white sphere unraveling into the air—encompassing a whole building not far away. Midnight.

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“And then that, that happened.” Micahel said, pointing with his index and ring finger out the window. “Care to explain that?”

“…No, I do not care to.” Mariam said, staring out the window. “Detective, I’m afraid you have misjudged the situation, and your fellows at the station or pinkerton house or where ever you call home, have misjudged the timing. You are not hunting a pearl. You are hunting an egg. And it’s started to hatch.”

“…what lays an egg that looks like a pearl?” Michael asked slowly.

“Oh, many things. I am afraid we will have to cut this short. For your safety, detective, I suggest you let this case sort itself out. It is, how do you say it these days, above your pay grade.”

***

Michael was ready to take her advice—a missing witness, flashes of light, and cryptic nonsense was too much for him. Eventually, there was a point where normal police work had to at least find experts or help. Real help.

However, Micahel did want to inform Carol of what had happened—especially since her friend, the pearl guy, was probably caught up in this nonsense. What was his name again? Dave something. Her shop was on the way out of town anyway, and Michael wanted to get far away from her.

Well.

That’s where her shop was. Michael the cars outside caved in, the windows shattered, the door torn off it’s hinges. The cracks in the wall shimmered in the headlights as Michael turned them off, glittering like opals. At the front of the door, there was a circle. Exactly two feet across—three cracks in the edges.

Michael swallowed his dread and crossed into the building. The lights were still on, and excpet the broken glass all over the floor, nothing had been moved—although, he noticed, there wasn’t a single pearl in the old display. Just the mermaid, her entire body looking like cast coral without the stones.

He didn’t bother calling out for Carol.

The door in the back was missing—going down the steps, he found Dave’s workshop. Unfinished sculptures were lying on the floor. A small pile of pearls, and a pedestal. Michael walked slowly around until he spotted something more unusual—a dent in the wall, one foot across. The edges had that same opalescent quality to them—the same rainbow, multicolored sheen. It seemed to be moving—spreading almost.

Touching it, he felt a dim vibration. Whatever was making these, this was a recent one…but it was a smaller shape then upstairs. Two maybe? Or maybe…it started here, and went upstairs next. Feeling along the edge, he felt one…then two subtle shifts in the wall. Just two cracks. There was a clock above it, trapped in a thin finish, glittering pearls growing off of it’s cracks. It’s stuck at the eleventh hour. It’d happened during his interview with Carol—whatever it was.

Michael weighed his options. He could go after Alberto—that was the last lead. The last shot at finding out what happened. Or he could run, forget this whole thing. Forget the weird colors and lights. Probably sleep a bit easier not knowing.

Michael pulled out Alberto’s business card and dialed into the cellphone. He didn’t really need sleep, right?

***

Alberto was more co-operative. Especially when Michael said the last three had gone missing. Michael was past caring. The pearl wasn’t going to show up by poking around gently.

Alberto looked about as presentable as expected for a late night meeting in a parking lot, not far from an abandoned church. Apparently the road party hadn’t stopped—there was still thrumming bass music not far off. Almost sounded like it was coming from the church, but no one was in side the abandoned building.

“Wow, this is…you’ve got to know this is sketchy right?” Alberto said, walking down the road from his own parked car.

“I saw a man go missing in a flash of light, and another flash of light dissappear a bunch of pearls—I figure being shot in the dark on the road is too mundane to happen today.” Michael said, holding a box of cigarettes out to Alberto.

“Ah, no thanks.” Alberto said, waving his hand. “So….you already know about the other two?”

“Sure.” Micahel said, lighting his first. “Mariam talked in circles. Leo went missing before I could ask. So. It’s an egg?”

“…yeah, its an egg I guess.” Alberto said, breathing slowly. “Kind of anyway.”

“And it’s hatching, right?” Michael said, looking up at the sky. “It’s cracking, that’s hatching right?”

“Sure, close close.” Alberto said, nodding. “You’ve got the gist of it.”

“Right, so. What’s it doing? What’s with the flashes?”

“Its a baby. A big one. You wander around, and realize a things are going missing near a kid–”

“Eating them, got it.” Michael said, nodding again. “So, why you guys? Why not random folks? Why try and grab this thing?”

“…It’s a baby.” Alberto repeated, shaking his head. “Kid’s need parents. Especially cosmic kids, big kids. We’ve been waiting for…well, for a while for this kid. Had to make sure we got it right.”

Michael made a hum and exhaled, looking off in the distance towards the church. The bass sound was getting louder. Faster, vibrating his fingertips.

“So that’s it? Just a question and–” Alberto began.

“It recognizes you.” Michael said suddenly. “Somehow, you’ve seen it…and it’s seen you. So it goes looking for you, to make cracks.”

“I mean, that’s a thought.”

Michael looked at his watch.

“So how long until it comes for you?” Michael asked. Alberto froze. Michael stared at his watch—there was a flash, right at one o’clock. Which meant one for Mariam. Looking up, Michael saw it. Floating there, a great pearl with six cracks running along the edges. He could see faces in that pearl—places, even, forests and seas. It was swelling too—six feet wide, as big as a person, reflecting him perfectly.

PearlEgg2.png

Michael walked up to the pearl, as the cracks began to spiderweb. Out it burst,sending shards flying away—one nicked Michael’s cheek, living a long thin scar he’d explain for years.

Sitting at the epicenter of the explosion was a child—glowing faintly like the moon. It looked so helpless. So confused. Michael looked either way on the street, crossed over, and offered a hand to the five year old, and a coat. They got into the car.

The car drove off.



I think this story was strongest at the start–the scene at the shop was not only delightful to write, but reading it over for editing, it felt the best. As the story moved along further, the constraints of time and space became more of a problem–this turned into a mystery story, and I frankly only have so much space for a supernatural mystery. I think it’s enjoyable, and certainly a bit strange, but not finished by a long shot. The ending might lead into other stories. 

Next week, we’ll be going to another specific time and place: The Rebirth of Italy, the magics there in, the artistry. I hope to see you then!

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The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

This Week’s Prompt: 83. Quotation “. . . a defunct nightmare, which had perished in the midst of its wickedness, and left its flabby corpse on the breast of the tormented one, to be gotten rid of as it might.”—Hawthorne

The Prior Research:The Eye

Part 1:The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

The palace of King Morgan was adorned with thin metal chains—each link held a small carving, word, or gem. They fanned outward, along wires across the city of Lanmoth. Mothers told their sons that the net caught the nightmares of the world, and forced the strange things of the world to pay proper homage when they entered. As Lawerence and the stranger came through the great doors, they reached the growing spindles and thick knotted chords of metal. It caused the stranger no small discomfort, Lawerence noticed, to see that central triumph of the court.

The pillar rose like a tree in the center of the room, a column of woven metals and gems that shown like thunder’s net. Fires were set all around it, so auspicious shadows were cast upon the veils of the court. Each magistrate and lord sat hidden in their own parlor, sequestered from the world. The royal chamber, which occupied the man entrance, was covered by a great purple and white curtain. Three sets of eyes in bright red were painted on it—one for the king, one for the queen, and one for the princess.

King Morgan's Veil.png

Lawerence bowed to these painted eyes, and introduced the stranger as a son of the River Liliu, a worker of wonders. There was silence at first, but a steady music played from King Morgan’s chamber.

“What feat will you will work for us first?” The King’s voice said, muffled somewhat. The stranger smiled at the familiar tone.

“First, if it please the king, I will do a humble and simple spell. It is tiring, however, so it will be all I can for today—I have worked many wonders in the market, and my powers are taxed. However, bring me a bird—I will send the bird unto the realm of the dead and call her back again!”

There was a shuffling from the court, gasps behind heavy cloth where only the outlines could be seen. At last the King let out a call for a spectacular song bird—one as large as a man. It was brought forth, and slipped from it’s handlers hand! There was a shout of surprise, as it threatened to run amok with it’s talons and fierce beak! And then the many colored eyes of the stranger fell upon it.

“Sh, sh there’s no need for that…” the stranger coaxed, extending his free hand and gesturing for the bird to draw close. Slowly the bird stepped forward, one claw at a time.

“There we go, there we go, that’s better. Now, the act.” The stranger said, turning to the king’s chamber, a hand under the bird’s beak. “My wise king, surely you will fear that my act is merely some mesmerism—that I have done this through a commanding eye, and thus faked my wonders. I ask only that my friend, this fine subject of yours, confirm my wonder at each step. For with such a veil, could my eyes harm him?”

There was a general assent.

The stranger then turned to the bird, and held out his hand—and the bird grew stiff. The stranger spoke few words, in a language unknown to most there—and the one who might have understood could not, for the veil muffled those drolling words. The bird stretched its neck up, its feathers flattening until, at last, it fell on it’s side. The stranger, unbreaking from his stance, gestured for Lawerence to examine the bird. Lawerence, bewildered, rushed to the bird’s side, and proclaimed not a sound or motion was coming from the body—it was as cold as ice!

The stranger raised his staff up. A sudden whistling sound filled the are and the bird sprung upright again, it’s beak nearly sheering Lawrence’s veil.

“If this is you exhausted, friend, you may stay as long as you produce such wonders. Go, Lawerence, and take him to chambers to rest.”

When Lawerence left, Bartholomew was summoned to the King’s side—and entered the veils to the royal family. King Morgan alone was there, his wife and daughter not having come to court today. The King drummed his fingers on his secret throne.

“Bartholomew, this man we must keep under careful guard. He knows magics unseen—be ready at my word to strike him down, for he seems familiar to me.”

“As you wish, my king.” Bartholomew said, nodding.

“And take this, to guard you from his gaze. It is stronger then most—I fear it would rend your veil asunder.” the King said, handing him a charm—carved of coral, with each hole filled with a small pearl. “Our guest has come with higher purpose—and I will not allow it to be fufilled.”

The stranger was taken to the highest quarters, nestled not far from the veiled halls of the king and queen. His room had many fine things, most from lands far from Lanmoth, but that had been offered as gifts or tributes to it’s royal family. The stranger of course had little need for the finery, even as he admired them. As the King suspected, he had a higher cause.

He called to him, in that room when none were about, his many half-brothers. They were gray things, more mist then men, that were unused to these homes. They preferred the ruins of their old lives, but answered their half-brothers soft conch call. The stranger set them about to touch the great pillar, the shifting and shimmering heart of the city wide talisman.

The brothers slipped beneath the door as mists, slinking on barely seen hands and feet in the moonlight, until at last they reached the pillar with it’s many layered chains. As they reached, the chain’s light took hardened form and pricked their fingers. The gold stung like scorpions and bit like snakes. The many small gems shone like Argus’s hungry eyes, and the brothers retreated.

They had thought as much. The trip from their father’s house had been long, but entry into the city had been hard going on them. Their half-brother, with his flesh and blood and breath, found it easy. But they were afforded no-such protections. Working wonders for him on birds and buildings they could do. But not tear down the pillar.

The stranger thanked them in the customary way, with an offering and some incense. He then set about planning his mischief.

That night, the stranger lay to sleep in his special way—stepping outside of himself, as he began to dwell as one with the world. For beneath the world, below the laws of men and gods, there are great sleeping things. Their minds are the bedrock of the world we see.

So the stranger dreamed as they dreamed, as he dreamed on Mount Moni. He walked in the waking world as little more than a breeze. The great talisman in the court shone through the walls at him, glowering as the enraged sun. He made no effort to hide from it, even as it corroded on his skin. The mists of Mount Moni were not here to aid him.

Still, he stalked down the halls, flickering with each step—in but three steps he covered the entire palace, to find the room of the King and Queen. He reached to go through the door, but felt the singe of the many golden chains and tailsmans, as they gently rang at his attempt. Within, he saw the king stir. So the stranger took to the ceilings, working his way in the upper air of the building, eyes wandering and marking where he could.

As the wind, the stranger felt another presence. Another person breathing in the halls. With a single motion, he arrived at where she was—the princess of Lanmoth, looking out the window at the pale-veiled moon.

The stranger moved as a wind around the moonlight, and listened quietly. He stared down at the girl, her face a mirror of the moon. The stranger found her eyes like his—in them where a dozen dancing colors, even if they lacked his training in the arts. His gaze was lost navigating hers at times, as he tried now to complete his higher cause—but his eyes barely took root, when she stared back at him.

Magi and King 2 Midnight Chat.png

They frightened him.

The stranger knew how to guide and protect his own gaze, even as he stood nought but the sigh of sleep in front of her. The stranger was schooled in many ways of magic from his adoptive father. But the stranger was now locked in eyes that were as gifted as his.

The stranger explained his intent, even as he struggled at being held still. She gave hers. The two were locked in wits—an observer the next day would note the room smelled of burnt flesh from the confrontation, and one passerby saw ripples of colors between the two. They talked as the old dreaming things talked.

The next day, the whole royal family was behind the veils of the court. The song birds in their cages watched and waited. The brilliant eyed stranger, the only face that could be seen, prepared another preformance. This time, there was no need for his staff—he had shown it’s greatest power already, and instead chose a more terrible feat. The king had asked more pressingly for something less unnatural then another raising or convulsion.

And the stranger was ready to oblige. He had, after all, a test to preform.

So, setting his staff of bone to the side, the stranger breathed in deeply—his own breath, mixed with the toxic breath of dreams that his family had. And he stared ahead, his eyes glittering. He reached out a hand, to one of the lesser veils. A pale one, not the best kept, lacking the red eyes of the kings. He turned his thousand facet gem eyes to the veil—driving deeper and deeper in. The court waited on baited breath.

The veil parted.

The lord and lady crawled like new born kittens. With a flick of the stranger’s wrist, they rose. Smoke rose from their eyes like temple candles as he compeled the lord and lady to dance. Their feet moved to an unheard rhythm, as they embraced and parted, spun and sprang. At last they finished with a bow. The stranger closes his eyes three times and the pair awoke from their bewitchment.

As the embarassed pair smiled and returned to their veil, pulling it a bit tighter. Alas, the stranger mused. For standing outside the veils, he saw the singe marks still on their covers. Only the king’s was guarded against his vision—and even that only for now.

That night he again dreamed as old ones dream, and set about his goal. He came to the great pillar, as unbareable as it’s heat was. And there he closed his eyes—and opened the ones he had left nearby. He opened the eyes of the great song birds. He opened the eyes of the lesser nobles. He opened the eyes of Lawerence.

But Bartholomew’s eyes would not open. The great giant of Lanmoth awoke, the charm he was given cracking at the weight of such a presence. Sword in hand, still in his night gown, he ran and beat on the door to wake the king. As his fist thudded on the door, the squawking of other birds became clear—dozens of them, who had gazed into the eyes of the first fellow, were descending through the halls. Running like ostriches, they joined the nobillity with their torn veils in a mass towards the court hall. This commotion woke Morgan, who joined Bartholomew with his blade.

“My king, something magical is afoot.” Bartholomew said. The two took to follow the crowd, and found them at the great pillar, hands and claws tearing at the chains, hacking with beaks and clubs. Bartholomew rushed to push them aside—but the King stared down more clearly. For he had learned to see the dreams of elder things, even if he could not walk them.

And seeing the shape there, that child of the sea-goat, directing the vast host, the King understood.

In the Chambers.png

With a bellow, now, he runs to the strangers room. He gives no head to the sleep walking fools and birds, instead smashing aside the door. He draws his sword, edged with saphire—and sees that host of brothers guarding his guests. The ala stand, faceless and ready, battering off him as struggles through. Almost—his sword is almost in reach! One more blow, good king! One more blow, king! And then–

There is a crack, and chains collapse. A great sigh, far away, as the golden cloud of Mount Moni descends, and sweeps up all Lanmoth.

The breath of dreams takes the place of the breath of air—and both the stranger and the princess leave for the temple atop Mount Moni.

 


 

This story was…tricky. Honestly, I cut out over a thousand words and am still not entirely happy with how fast it moves or how many characters it has. I think there are too many names for such a short story–while making it a third part would have been intolerable. I think the idea, broadly speaking, isn’t that bad. I tried making my own illustrations, which, ah. Was not a wise idea on this time table.

With that in mind, next week we continue on our road of the occult and mysterious, albeit with a more sympathetic view. See you then!

 

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The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

This Week’s Prompt:82. Power of wizard to influence dreams of others.

The Prior Research:I Dream Of Mages

Part 2:The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

It is said that nothing lives on Mount Moni. To even a casual observer, this claims is false. Birds land on the mountain, and some grasses grow along it’s base. But the idea of anything more than the most determined creature surviving the raw stone cliffs is unheard of in the lands around Mount Moni. Knowledge of what rests on it’s summit exists only far from the land—and from such a land came Morgan. The cliffs were hard climbing for the young man, a scholar by trade. But months of travel to the mountain had prepared him for the climb up the path. A path that was often covered by mist—sleek and smooth like a river. And the top of the mountain itself was halo’d in a great cloud.

Yet up he had to go.

Mountain Moni From Afar

As he climbed, Morgan felt strange things. He saw shapes in the fog, floating off the path. Glowing shapes, that looked like faceless men with outstretched hands to embrace him. Those who knew the mountain can still point to the patches of strange white dust, where men have lept to their deaths pursuing the misty guardians. Some even saw the strange creatures, a band of thirty, gnawing at the bones to render them to dust.

Morgan, however, was a man of knowledge. He passed ahead with effort, reciting prayers to the shining chariot and to the brilliant spear and the cleaning waters of the river. The mist did not part, but the ghostly images let him bee, soaring ahead and around as they left. They whispered and hissed as they did, but there was little they could do now.

The Temple at Mount Moni.png

Atop the great mountain, through the clouds, Morgan beheld the great crumbling edifice. Pillars rose to support a long collapsed ceiling. Torches still flickered, and the broken paintings of glory were still visible, their faded eyes and hands marking the stones. At the center was a great statue—its top worn down by time and space, it’s lowere body coiled like a serpent. And beneath it, sat the sorcerer.

His hands were bedecked with jewels as the moved up and down the long ivory pipe. A mask rested over his head, his two eyes focused on the colored smoke of his fire. His tune was soft—audible only from here, as he swayed—as if to dance with an unseen cobra.

Morgan approached, and fell on his Knees across from the magician.

I have traveled far and braved many things to speak with you.” Morgan said. The sage continued on his flute, but his eyes raised slowly to meet Morgan’s own.

I have heard the sage enjoys a block of tea, from the lands of Shilab—or so they say in Kahal. So I have brought with me tea to his liking.” Morgan said, removing a block of packed leaves and placing it beside the fire. The magician played a few notes—and a thing with the torso of a man came, lifting the tea and taking it into the darkness. Green steam rose around it, and the music paused as the sage inhaled the smell of sweet green tea.

Wizard on Mount Moni.png

The sorcerer put down his flute and stared expectantly at Morgan.

I have traveled far and braved many things, to ask but one request. It is said that the sage of Mount Moni may weave dreams and passions with better skill then heaven itself—that even the greatest of interpreters may believe his words. The lord of my land has no children—I wish to endear him to me, that I might inherit his lands with his passing. I am a wise man, schooled in many classics and laws, with a good mind and soul. Only the vagaries of fate hold me away. I ask the great sage, if he should right this injustice?” Morgan said plaintively.

The sorcerer made a noise like a droning goat, until his tea was brought to him. Taking a long drink of the green tea, the magician spoke.

To mend dreams and omens and set them in motion is within my power. But I must have an offering to preform this task from your king.” He said slowly, eyes glittering on the lonely mountain top.

Morgan paused for a moment, before reaching into his coat and producing a small, iron ring.

The sages at Kahal warned of such a request. Here is a ring of iron the king wore on his wedding day—the only ring of baser metals. Will it suffice?” he asked. The wizard took it in hand, and examined it under the stars.

Yes, yes this shall suffice. I shall weave his dreams as you request—but you must grant me one request. When you are king, bring to me a child born on the ninth day of the sea goat to a dead mother—fail in this, and I shall see you undone.”

And Morgan promised to bring such a child, at the appointed time. And the magician sent him away, so he could work his wonders. With the flute of ivory, he inhaled the smoke, tossing the ring amongst the flames. He called out names of slumbering gods and spirits, who’s dreams were mighty but malleable. He wove with his flute and mask, and became that dread brother of Death.

What dreams the King had that night! What visions he saw! Chariots of gold that brought Morgan forth, the crown carried in triumph over all the world. Eagles with Morgan’s eyes, scattering the mice of nations. The old wizard of Mount Moni was cunning and quick in the language of dreams. He adorned Morgan’s image with all the signs one could ask for—and with a borrowed voice, he spoke of the great powers that Morgan would bring to bear and lay low.

And so the stargazers and dreamers were gathered, to hear of the King’s dream. And he told them of all he’d seen. The vast conclave consulted and spoke and debated and preformed. At last, they all came to agreement. The gods had spoken. Morgan was fetched, and made heir.

It was three years before Morgan ascended to be king. After his coronation, he sent word for a child born under the sea goat on the ninth day be fetched, and took quiet leave abroad. With his knowledge of the world, he road faster than any could have dreamed—and arrived at the base of Mount Moni, among the pale dunes of doomed carriers.

He brought the child, wrapped in somber cloth—the sages of Kahal had warned that bright colors aroused the fury of the wizard—upward and upward through the parting mist. At the summit he found the wizard, playing his flute. He lay the child at his feet.

We are done then, good wizard. My debt is paid.” he said. The wizard did not speak, but played to his unseen cobra. Morgan considered that the end of their discussion, and left as he came. The child stirred in it’s sleep, strange dreams coming to it from the flute of the wizard at Mount Moni.

The Wizard of Mount Moni saw Morgan again, a decade past—or so he assumed from the dreams he had seen, and the child’s growth. Morgan came by way that a fellow magician might—a chariot, hewn of unearthly metals, roiling through the clouds. Such an entrance was normal enough to raise the magician’s ire—but he saw on Morgan’s hand the symbol of clemency, and the wound that was on his chest, between layered talismans of no small worth.

So the boy had been a fine king.

Oh Magician of Mount Moni, I have traveled far to speak with you again. I have heard from the sages of Kahal that the magician enjoys for such dreadful events tea from the golden flowers of sunset.” Morgan said, breath wavering. He held out a block of tea, orange and yellow like the sunset. The Wizard stopped his flute and whistled. The boy rose from slumber and took the tea, heading off to warm it in the Wizard’s cup.

Oh Magician of Mount Moni, I ask a favor of you again. My lands prosper, my people delight. But neighbors have marshaled against me. A sorceress leads them, and she and her students have masked their movements. She knows some great skill, and has woven arrows that escape my defenses. My crown will be subsumed. I need again aid. Can you raise some vision to my defense and victory?”

The wizard was silent until he drank the golden tea, that smelled as sweat as honey. His voice was softer then before, flowing out like a warm steam.

Matters of war are small things, if heavy in their cost. I can secure your home from invasion with effort—surely they have some sorcerer, but there are none who hold the breath of dreams in them save me. But in exchange, of course, I wish for a heavy if small thing. Bring me work men to raise my temple a new—to restore it’s splendor as I direct.”

Morgan agreed without hesitation or consideration.

After he left, the wizard called his many children, the Alu of the fog. Some leg less, some armless, some headless, all gray and viscous. His living son, who was brought by Morgan years past, had prepared a great draught from the cloud around the Mountain. Each took and drank the breath of dreams—and each flew then out at the Wizards flute. They sang the whole way, of their seven elder uncles who lay cities low and feast on the blood of men. They sang of their mothers, who drank the souls of men. And then they came upon the host.

Alu.png

How terrible things to be afflicted by, who press themsleves close to the chest. Who’s hands hold eyes shut—pressed down and closed with dread. Who breath in all the air in their victims lungs—and without mouth, replace it with dreaming air. The draught is painful—cold, vaporous, sticky like honey but sharp as ice. Mortal life cannot be sustained on such things.

They all died in their sleep.

So Morgan crowned himself with Jove and Alexanders great laurels. And the workmen came on his spell born ship, to raise from raw stone the old temple of Mount Moni. Lustrous it was, still wreathed in clouds. The magician’s palace was painted garish colors, and the statues that loomed over it’s arcs were clownish grotesques. But finished all the same it was, and the magician slipped in the night to steal back the dreams the workers had of those oddly familiar statues.

Decades thudded past. The wheel of time brought Morgan once more to his zenith. But in his silver mirrors, his lines began to grow. His hair had lost it’s sheen—though his interweaving oils preserved it. Death’s great and terrible hound, Time, was gnawing at him. And while in other ages, solutions and safeguards to such perils were known, they were abandoned by the time Morgan rose. So he set about that second method of immortality—marriage.

He consulted many signs and stars for this affair. He brought many apprentices to help him in his laboratory—scanning for symbols, working tablets and tables. In time, he had found a woman far off, whom he knew would be a perfect wife. Her name was Lenore—she bore raven hair and eyes like emeralds, from the distant West where the Serpent Queen ruled still. Her father was a king like Morgan, although whether he knew the arts of a wise man Morgan did not know. He sent envoys, both spirits of the wind and men in flesh and blood. They reported she was good company, learned and prudent. Morgan was delighted. Only one problem remained.

AlgolSymbol.png

The star Algol, that treacherous red eye that swallows nations whole, loomed over the best wedding night. Such an ill omen would ward off any astrologer or match maker. Moragn drummed his fingers, thinking of ways to forge or hide the omen. A storm could obscure the heavens, but the movement of the stars was known to learned men. He might call up some spirits and compel falsehood from the voices of astrologers, but that would not last—such things were not sublte to a king, who was often surrounded by exorcists.

No, there was one way he could circumvent the problem, though he was loath to do so. He gathered his belongings, and mounted his chariot—telling no one where he was going, he set forth in the heavens to Mount Moni.

The clouds, full of the grey spirits, parted as he approached. A decade had passed since he had last arrived. The statues and temples were full of buzzing sounds—hidden cicadas no doubt, lurking behind the many strange shapes.

The Wizard was no longer sitting before the fire. He was pacing with a young man, describe the various murals on the walls. This was, Morgan knew, how a teacher instructed in the arts of magic. Of course, they spoke in a language lost on him. His arrival, from the great front entrance, ceased the lesson for the time, as the magician turned to him.

Ah, my old friend returns again. What miracle needs working this time, that you disturb Mount Moni with your steps?” the magician said, his flute in hand.

Morgan explained at length the latest difficulty. How he had considered other options, before speaking to the wise sorcerer, how he had plumbed his resources. The wizard listened carefully, and occasionally spoke a whispered word or two the the boy born under the sea goat. At last, he replied.

A work that you are asking, so perfect to fool every oracular device against an ill omen as great as Algol, is within my power.” The wizard said—holding his hand up to stall Morgan’s delight. “However, I shall have my price. Your first child will be a daughter—surely you know this already. My own son, he lacks a bride and will have little time to find one with his studies. Your daughter marries my boy, and all will be well.”

And Morgan paused for a moment. He had, as the magician knew, considered his own fortune. He agreed, slowly, to the wizard’s terms.

So it came to pass that Morgan married learned Lenore—the dreams with gods in their splendor, who promised and explained the true mean of the Red Star. For Algol, they said, was spying on his foe men, who would be born of this union. The great cannibal of war would be undone by their daughter, the readers of stars and lineages were told. The casters of bones were given new phrases from old ghosts—ghosts they knew by title if not by name. So the wedding was arranged.

Now, Morgan lived happily. And he was happier still when his first daughter was born—in her he saw so much promise. He considered then, with regret, that she would leave for a far away place when she came of age. He kept this private from her and from her mother—for he knew her mother would despise him for decieveing the oracles, and his daughter would not understand he feared. Instead, he worked slowly.

Like a spider, Morgan wove webs of talismans through out the city. Few noticed the small markers of jade and shells, hanging from windows and walls. The markings, the carefully carved guardian dieties and beasts of the field, the running cords—most was hidden or lost. And when one had a sorcerer king, one grew used to such strange things.

So it came that, when the day Morgan had agreed upon arrived, there was a great trap waiting for the dream wizard. The sorcerer of Mount Moni, finding his son’s promised bride had not arrived, gazed down on Lanmoth. Morgan had worked his magic well, as it seemed impossible that his children would approach without some protection. So the wizard devised a more cunning plan, and called his son to his side.



Next time we’ll see the end of this tale. It got ahead of me more than I expected, and at 2700~ words, is far too long as it is. I could have edited it down, entirely removing the dialouge and just leaving the exchanges between Morgan and the wizard, but I felt those sections gave a sense of the world the characters live in and of Morgan’s own intentions and character. Next week we will have the research—and the prompt for next time, dealing with dreams, nightmares, and broken promises, will be part of the 2nd half of this story! What do you think the wizard has planned to entire the warded land of Lanmoth?

Find out here! The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

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What Mr. Diamond Met on the Shore

This Week’s Prompt: 81. Marblehead—dream—burying hill—evening—unreality.

The Relevant Research:Marble Heads and Marblehead 

Mr. Diamond held his hand out as the storm rolled over his dream. He was used to dreams of Marblehead’s coast, of its hills and the sea. It was a gift he had found useful, if unreliable at times. There were no ships coming in from sea—no great monsters indicating pirates. No, there was just a great inky black cloud, with flecks of green, as if a sickly mucus sun shone just behind it.

DreamMassachuesets Shore.png

As Mr. Diamond resigned this to a warning of plague, it finally began to rain. The first drop fell and splattered on Mr. Diamonds hand—a bit thicker then water. Looking down, Mr. Diamond frowned at the purple stain…until more drops fell. Hundreds of thousands came down, and a few landed again in his hand. They didn’t splatter though. They wriggled in his hand, tadpoles squirming between his fingers. Small fingers sprouted. They looked now like infant hands, gripping his earnestly.

They were revolting.

Throwing them to the side, Mr. Diamond made his way along the shore of his dreamed of coast. The bay didn’t abet those, and soon the strange creatures were gripping at his feat—they coated the buildings like a squirming moss. Mr. Diamond frowned at the strange singing they made, the awful appearance of their slowly opening eyes. Eyes that bulbed up like mushrooms from the masses, blossoming open to reveal goat pupils. The entire town, covered with those strange eyes.

*

Mr. Diamond awoke and set about his day. He was used to dreaming such dreams, and his memory of them never faded. Practice had refined that skill into something more sublime such that his dreams sometimes seemed longer than his waking lifetime. Still, the stranger ones needed a second consultation. Mr. Diamond was familiar with a number of experts in the distance, but getting to them would take a great deal of time. And this seemed to require more…immediate consultation. Which he luckily had an abundance of.

Staff in hand, the moon still to his back, Mr. Diamond approached the burial hill, where small stone markers stuck out of the ground. While chiefly for the memory of the departed, Mr. Diamond was more thankful for this traditions expediency. A grave stone to him served the same purposes as a door did to the debt collector.

Graveyard The Sea Statue.png

So he struck a number of graves with his staff, and intoned their names deeply. Not the ones on the graves precisely, but the ones he had learned over the years of living so close to the dead. Names change ever so slightly on death.

The ground rumbled at each blow, as his incantation grew on the wind. The sound of burrowing shapes could be heard—worms and other subterranean features parting for the dead to speak. As he stopped, he turned to see the cracks giving way in the ground—small cracks that looked shallow, but reached all the way down into the graves of their inhabitants.

The dust clouds formed vaguely human shapes, hunched over with centuries of weight. They gathered in a crowd, muttering and cursing to each other. The dead of Marblehead were not the largest poll to draw from. But the names of those who were here before weren’t in Mr. Diamond’s vocabulary.

Good evening.” Mr. Diamond said, letting a small smile slip. “It has been some time, good captains and maidens.”

Did your ships not arrive as promised?” The first ghost—Brown’s boy, new among the dead and still somewhat irksome—asked, his coat billowing in the wind. “We were having a delightful dream.”

Ah, my ships my ships…well, my dear Captain has yet to send me word. But I trust your arms. No it is the matter of dreams which I have come to discuss.”

A wise woman can tell you that, leave us–” the ghost began, before another rested a silencing hand on his shoulder. Julie Cotton stepped ahead of Brown and frowned with her fallow face.

Dreams, Mr. Diamond? What did you dream of to call us so soon?” She said, as other ghosts murmured to one another. “Time escapes us—the reckoning of months and years is past me, honest. But it cannot have been too long.”

Mr. Diamond nodded and politely described the strange rain in his dream, and the shapes that had come from it. There was silence and then buzzing among the dead. They spoke to one another—spoke quickly as well, so they sounded like buzzing cicadas, long having lost the need for breath. Their enthusiasm for conversation was somewhat worrying to Mr. Diamond. At last, he grew impatient with the discourse, and tapped his staff on the brick to call attention. The dead turned at once, as if a church bell had rung beside their ear. Several hissed in irritation at Mr. Diamond, but he was beyond care.

My kind guests, I only have so much time to speak. The sun may rise soon—and with it, you must return. What can you warn me of?” Mr Diamond said, holding his staff a bit higher to ensure a peace. He looked about at the silent specters for a time, before at last one of them spoke. The old minister, Cheevers—still in his garb—spoke slowly as if afraid his tongue wouldn’t be understood.

We haven’t much time regardless, Mr. Diamond. Time is strange to us, we had thought this concern farther away. Something strange slipped through our parts—it passed without incident, but your dream is warning that it will wash ashore soon. Stay to your self for three days—do not go into town, no matter the need, do not approach the coast line no matter the temptation. After three days, you may see for yourself what has come ashore. We cannot say percisely what it is, but something fearsome. Something we forgot.”

Mr. Diamond frowned, and raises his staff for a more straight forward answer—but the sun’s warmth came up behind him. As it’s orange rays arrived, the dead retreated—like a fog pushed away. Mr. Diamond grimaced and resolved to call them back the next evening. The answers he had received were far from adequate. But their advice was…palatable. He had no particular reason to go to the coast today, and staying to himself suited him fine.

And so he went about his day, investigating affairs abroad and reviewing the requests that other more civic minded members of the colony had made. He made sure his crops would come in well, and finished another small carved figure to harvest them in the night. As he set the small figurine with rest, he paused. The foul smell of rotting fish came over the air, and Mr. Diamond turned towards the source—the sea. The sea’s dark blue stained wine red, purple ink spreading over the canvas. The boats…the boats were close together. They had caught something.

Mr. Diamond idly took one of the eyes from the statue—a preserved eagle eye—and whispered a word to it. Staring more carefully out, he saw the nets pulling something large and heavy up from the depths. Two pale arms of marble reaching skyward, out of a bubbling milky mass. Something stared back as Mr. Diamond recoiled.

So that is what the dead were on about. Something fished up from the sea. Mr. Diamond considered his options carefully. The dead’s warning was no doubt wise—or rather, it was well attuned to Mr. Diamond not joining them. The dead dreaded the arrival of a sorcerer among their ranks. But, on the other hand, Mr. Diamond was aware that the statue—now being brought ashore, like a strange mermaid with hands raised to heaven—was a danger. One he could not abide preying on his fellows. But for now, he chose prudence. It might be that this was a passing danger—one that his interference would only make worse.

Still, he kept his eye on the town. And grew worried. The statue, once raised on the shore, was of a towering and lithe figure, hands raised up to the heavens, head covered in a veil. A fog seemed to hold around her, a constant spray of water. The townsfolk had for the most part merely let her be—left her standing not to far from the dock, her hands raised as if blessing their boats. That was acceptable, if unusually for a Puritan sect. She seemed deeply…Catholic or even pagan to Mr. Diamond.

Statue On THe Shore 1.png

But it was not unheard of for colony to find something new and novel, and hold it dear. Especially if it was well made. No, what started to alarm Mr. Diamond more was the gradual movement of the statue—gently drawn closer and closer to the town and up the shore. At first he thought it was of its own power, but as he steadied his vision, he caught them—the occasionally child or fisherman or wife would take a moment or two to push the statue up closer. To a more sturdy position, or to a more clear view of the town.

That children were making, from wet sand, small simulacra of the statue was not unusual either. Children, when they had the opportunity free of their parents to alter their surroundings, mimicked them. And the older gentlemen, those who’s age had worn them down beyond most work, carved wooden toys as well. That those resembled the statue was more concerning. AS the day went on, a small crowd of the statues began to form around the large marble one, wooden echoes rippling out.

Statue On THe Shore 3.png

By that point, Mr. Diamond had observed the statue move to near the center of town, on small waves of human labor. It was painful to see, through the eagle eye, even as birds rested on it’s shoulder. He avoided the statue’s upward gaze, rolling the eye in the bowl to glimpse around more generally. It was nightfall, and the sailors were coming in again—this time with a bounty of fish. They set home with their catches and all seemed normal.

Mr. Diamond retired up to the burying hill again, as night fell. He took his staff and spoke his summons, striking the stones and the occasional burial.

Nothing moved.

Mr. Diamond frowned as he paced again, striking the ground directly as to batter on the homes of the dead, swearing and invoking the oldest tongues he knew—reminding them of the jurisdiction of the living, swearing to beat them with his thorn staff when he found them, promising the flames of perdition. Had a man or woman stood there, they would have witnessed a sermon full of hellfire and brimstone upon the dead.

Nothing moved.

The night was clear as day, the moon revealing a placid and calm earth. Mr. Diamond turned now towards the sea, where a vast fog had settled. He resolved then to go down to town at noon. And see what sorcery this statue had wrought from the sea.

*

His dreams were inky black—falling into a bottomless sea. Diamond saw the sun fading away above him, and felt the dim light of stars behind him—as if he was falling into the darkness of the night. Hands wrapped around his arms and gripped his mouth. Pulling him down, down among broken ships and dead sailors illuminated by glimmering stars and flickering candles in fish mouths. And he felt the blood seeping out of his mouth.

nightmare-tadpoles.png

He awoke, coughing up water. Stumbling, Mr. Diamond stared shaking at his hands. Color slowly returned. As he stepped outside, a drop of water fell on the top of his head. The sky had been completely covered in clouds while he sleep—and looking down from the hill, Mr. Diamond saw that the fog of morning was preserved by the great storm.

Wandering along the rocky shore, Mr. Diamond encountered some of the sailing boys, watching the ships. The idols hands were visible around the youngest’s chest—he was holding the wood like he was protecting an infant. Mr. Diamond paused.

That’s a strange toy you have there, Phillip.” Mr. Diamond said, eyeing the shape. The boy looked up, as if he had been struck before speaking up.

It’s not a toy! Da says it’s good luck!” Phillip said, shaking his head. “I’m supposed to keep one, and he’ll keep the other, to keep things safe.”

Really now.” Mr. Diamond said, his eye scanning the rest of the young faces. They where looking back at him with usual suspicion. “Well, best of luck then, Phillip. You’re starting to look pale.” Mr. Diamond said, moving deeper into town.

Phillip wasn’t the only one—there were small statues everywhere Mr. Diamond looked. Beside door frames, or perched on top of them. Others littered around fields, even a few that had fallen over into heaps. The nightly ran and the thin mist that hung in the air gave many a mildew smell—and moss was growing over others, rendering their features indistinct. No one gave Mr. Diamond trouble as he observed the town. It wasn’t unusual for the old witch of the hills to come down to look around. Most people kept to themselves.

Better to leave him to his work, and not risk attracting his ire.

As he walked, however, he nonetheless felt the pressure of a thousand eyes coming down upon him. The veils, crudely carved in the statues, flowed together. Something lurked behind them—even the small crowd of uplifted hands near the mayor’s house seemed to be reaching out to grab him. Mr. Diamond, however, finally made his survey, before arriving at the great statue at the center of town.

Her veil had fallen, ever so slightly. An eye stared out. Fixed on him.

Veil Peirced.png

Mr. Diamond felt fingers running on his back—small, infantile things. Curious even. He was gone before the rain started to fall. Heavy and thick on the mist covered streets. Mud covering up stones.

Mr. Diamond did not need to descend to the grave hill. He knew they would not come. He had barred his door and consulted his books. He had taken down his mirrors and—in rooms unlit, as thunder croaked over head—consulted visions unseen. He had spoken words in tongues most forgot. He had felt, in that muddy rain, the squirming shapes that came down with them.

*

Mr. Diamond strew the old book on the floor. He spoke into the mirror old names—ones that had deep, droning tones that would be unknown to most Englishmen. Names that had rough, ill used letters, guttural sounds, whistling tones, and rattles. They wore masks in European lands, of Saints and spirits. Some resembled thunder-spitting dragons; some great bulls of the Euphrates, but without faces; some men and women on airy forms.

Mr. Diamond was unused to this magic—it was a higher art then the mere calling of the dead from their tombs. It was more taxing as well, as his limbs felt aged from every incantation. But the dead would no heed his call. He reached out then to the others. He made many bargains then—many signed parchments and sworn libations, many swears and banishment. Those who know much of Mr. Diamond may find the place around his house marked in strange ways by so many invocations.

THe House of Diamond.png

And then the orange fingers of dawn, dampened by the now breaking clouds came. And Mr. Diamond, exhausted, his body feeling older than a century, stepped outside. And saw the mist recede—he saw the places where the ground had shook, the marks of battle between those forces he had sent down in darkness and an unseen lot. He saw, towering near the entrance of town, a new sharp needle of stone along the shore.

Rolling down the stone where small striations, like cloth flowing in the wind. Near it’s top, a bird perched and pecked at a small hole—one of dozens running down the coral outburst. The waves and mist hung about it. Splinters of wood shot out of the statues feet. There was a noise from the nest of broken images—and Mr. Diamond saw a pitiful hand, skin sloughing off the bone, rise out of the broken shells of images. The fishermen went out to see, ignoring the strange shapes as they went with their nets back out onto the sea.


I think this story works well. A few more passes would make it great. If I expanded it, Diamond’s ritual at the end would have failed and we would have some more gradual introduction to the statue and its effects.


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The Shifting Temple

This Week’s Prompt: 80. Shapeless living thing forming nucleus of ancient building.

The Prior Research: There Is Nought But Chaos

The valley of Olim sits along the bubbling river Syper. The river runs down from a mountain, littered with cracked stones, and across a number of misty hills, before arriving through the path of it’s ancestor—the glacier Euroni, who’s ponderous mass filled the valley—and reaching out into the sea of the dead. The river in truth carries through many more places, but those are not of important to this story. The valley of Olim is nurtured by the river, and like many such valleys and rivers, a number of people have come to live on its shores.

As a young man, I traveled to Olim when it’s walls were still covered in ever thickening layers of ivory. I had come to study architecture—the carvings and burrows of the people where fascinating to me, their carefully made stone work wrapping around the great trees and rising from the marshy banks. In part, I wanted to understand how they had built such stable lives on unsure footing. More accurately, I wished to understand the great temple that sat at the center of the city, astride the river.

The temple was a bulbous shape, a great dome atop with a blossoming flower of many colored jades and metals. The temple without is remarkable, yes. Its walls resemble tree trunks, with roots and branches for soaring rafters and buttresses. Along the roof is a great garden, surrounding the dome in a halo of life. Pumps run river water around it, four waterfalls careening back off the temple top into the sea.

Formless Temple 1.png

To the architectural mind, the most frustrating matter was the interior. The great temple is a single wheel shaped structure, with an interior column running up the middle. This column contains a stair well—and if one enters the stair well, it leads upwards, without branching or changing. Yes, I’m sure your amazed that the most simple functions of a stair way still operate. Nonetheless, the reverse is not true—go down the stairwell and you will find yourself in another room from where you started.

This fact was reported to me before I came to Olim. I considered it at first to be a clever trick of the column. Surely, it rotated or shifted the stairs around while the visitors were not looking. This would explain how the priests and attendants knew how to move about the tower—there was some clockwork gears and contraptions moving the stairs. It might shift the walls slightly, so that their length hid the illusion.

I decided, on my first day—well, second. My first day I spent recovering in the house of my host, as something disagreeable had come into the water I had. Regardless, my first real day I went to the temple. I saw the great murals, the offerings left behind. Straightening my cuffs, I tried my best to avoid attention. The smoke that rose out of the altars helped.

It was an unpleasant experience. The air was thick with mist and incense, and even in the relatively cool and isolated stair case, it felt like a sauna. I wondered if this was a part of the illusion of the temple. To get visitors in such a confused state that its operations would go entirely unnoticed. I went up the stairs as best I could—the walls were decorated here with total abstractions. Pyramids seemed to gradually come into view, and fractal squares and circles continued to blossom all the way up the corkscrew—until I arrived at the top. I stood and stared over the winding river and forests. The wind was a relief as I stared sat in the sacred gardens. I breathed deep, to clear my mind.

And then set back down again—counting my steps, and carefully watching the walls for shifts both subtle and vulgar. And I walked down, feeling each step, until at last I stopped—before an eyeless statue of Joni, the Watcher of Paradises Gate. I frowned, and turned about. There were little statues lining the hall. There were priests intoning prayers drawn from a bowl. It was certainly a shrine. I turned to the door—the stairs lead down again, but none went back up to the roof. I continued down, and found another shrine—to Delia the Traveler—and then another, and after the fourth I reached the bottom again.

Wall 1 Temple.png

After withdrawing to consider all the events, I concluded that the first room had occluded my vision. I would need a more definite way of navigating next time. So I examined my cartographic and measuring supplies, and removed a set of nodes—small pyramids, with compass orienting tips. I had about three dozen to leave carefully on the stairs. Then I’d use a compass to navigate back. That should help against any tricks of the temple priests.

The priests did grin when I returned and asked if I needed anything—my face must have given away my determination, if not my frustration. I waved them off for now, and set up to the gardens. Every ten steps, I let one of the pyramids fall—pushed against the wall, to prevent them from being noticed and taken. I consulted my compass as I walked up, to see what might have changed behind me—and the compass shifted somewhat as I went. But it went in a spiral, like the stairs. So that was expected. At last I emerged onto the beauty of the garden from the heated tunnel below.

I breathed, stretched, and immediately went back down into the depths. Like clockwork, I found the first pyramid. My compass lead me to the second—and then the twelfth. I frowned and examined the small pyramid again. Perhaps, I reckoned, I had missed the early ones. Heading back up, my eyes caught a waver in the air as the stones shimmered. I found the fourth, the fifth, the third…and so on. I paced up and down the stairs, finding my pyramids now at the entrances of shrines I did not know or alcoves and libraries unfamiliar. It took the better part of an hour, by my count, to locate all thirty and arrive back at the bottom.

Perhaps…perhaps what happened next was rash. Honestly, it was a dire mood that came over me. It wasn’t the sort of rash frustration that one fumes about and is free of—it was a driving force that possessed my best faculties. I turned and left, wordless as I examined my own notes. There was something amiss, I reasoned, with a stairway like that. The core of this building—no, it was built in correctly. It was built wrong and if I could understand how it was built so wrong, I could improve on it.

I couldn’t hope to do it during the light of day. The priests knew many strange prayers, but an architects tools were likely to draw attention. And surely, surely, they would refuse to allow their ruse to be undone. More importantly, my work was likely to involve a more destructive habit then they were used to. I had to tear through that column, see their clockwork mechanisms. I had to see how they did this. What arcane secrets powered this nonsense miracle. And that might be objected to.

So it was that in the dark of the night, in a heavy jacket and with a sledgehammer I slunk in. I looked the part of a lone iconoclast. But my goal was not the statues, the paintings, the other trappings and decorations. The jewels of the temple I did not take aim at. No, with chisel and hammer, I went for its holy heart.

When a priest asked my purpose—the poor neophyte, new to his orders, but perhaps guessing my goal—I told him I was here to carve a new shrine into the alcove. Hence my tools. Yes, it was an unusual request, but the god in question could only be honored in the night. The sunlight would ruin my tools, I explained. It would make them no longer capable of working with the sacred. And so I went up the stairs without further objection.

Once I was sure I was out of earshot, I struck hard and fast at the central stone. I struck that cured fractal eye—exactly in it’s pulsing blue pupil. It cracked. I heard a commoiton down the stairs—the neophyte had reported the strange sculptor no doubt. None the less, I needed to know what was at work here. What diabolical sorcery had they employed.

The cracks formed quickly—the stone was thinner than I expected. Another whack and another. On the tenth, the stone chipped. I had made, with careful precision, a triangle in the wall. And now, as I hear steps rushing up to stop me, I pull it out. Crowbar in hand, I gazed in.

Into a shimmer skin, a membrane that is all the colors of the rainbow. It appears like a tree’s bark one second, a cows hide the next. I see the glimmering eyes of a spider, then a drifting flock of birds. I see the steps whirling in other parts of it—space itself digested and shaped by a vast pulsing thing. I saw worlds and shapes floating in it’s jetsam. For a moment, I saw all the million shapes of life.

Wall 2 Temple.png

I saw and I could not understand.

And in the next moment, it stopped. Petrified, bubbling stone was all that was left. Gas sighed out, and screams broke out. There walls cracked as stairs collapsed from unseen room. I saw shrines buried in it’s skin trapped forever. As the priests laid hands on me, I understood that the temple had died that day. And that something was lost.

A dozen or so parishioners died that night. Or we assume they are dead—the rooms they were in are no longer accessible. A hundred or more shrines are stuck, unable to be found anymore. Others are being excavated as best they can from the interior. I have been banished from the valley—and from three other towns, once my reputation found its way out of my wine stained lips. The ivy does not grow in Olim. The woods have begun to recede. Every year, they say, the river grows more gray.

 


This story was fun to write, if a bit short. I drew more from the Taoist texts then the great beast stories–I found the story of Hundun espeically interesting to approach. All in all, while I could have stretched this story some, I think I’ve captured the main thrust here. Did you have a different approach to the prompt?

Next week, come and gaze into dreaming stones and inspiring muses! …not as bad as last time I promise, these muses are kinder.

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Samson And Delilah

This Week’s Prompt: 79. Horrible secret in crypt of ancient castle–discovered by dweller.

The Prior Research: A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

The marriage was the biggest spectacle Delilah had ever seen. Her wandering fiance Samson  had brought in far away wine, musicians from eastern lands where dreams made up the desert sands, fire breathers and jugglers from the circus, food and fowl from northern mist clad counties. Her mother was so proud to see her in a wedding white. Her husband had been strangely silent in his suit, smiling without ever showing any teeth. Delilah drank another glass.

BluebeardWedding.png

 

It was probably nerves about the wedding night. She had them too—her mother had tried to explain to her what could happen on wedding nights. Of course she’d already known—she had married friends who, when a bit tipsy or tired or angry, confided about the bedroom. And their husbands were far less fine then hers.

The night carried on for a time, and at last the guests began to leave. Delilah hugged her mother close—her mother wept on her shoulder. She was so proud. Delilah never heard her weep that her daughter was gone from her forever. Never heard the silent curses as the house, small as it was, grew all the quieter.

Delilah and her husband walked home, across the old white stone roads the Romans laid. They came up a hill to his house—a house she’d seen often as a child, though always in an abandoned state. She had assumed for years that no-one lived there. But three months ago, it was as wondrous as the prince’s palace—its walls clean and shining green, with roofs of bright purple and gold. Servants were mulling about, its gardens full of blossoming flowers. When she asked a friend who lived nearby, she was told that the great house had a new heir. It’s base was set like a wide disc, with a tower rising from the center.

BluebeardHouse.png

And that Samson now took her by the arm and up to the gate. He smiled dat her, his proper smile now. Teeth glittering white in the moonlight, reaching from his lips to his green eyes. They walked threw the evening mist and dew to the great oak door. Its leonine knokcer gently thudded as a footman opened the door—into the candlelit hall, with its great fountain at the center. Suits of restored ancestral armor, with there ceremonial armor and jeweled swords, stood guard at the stair case. And above, on the ceiling, was painted a whole host of angels.

 

“Well, that was certainly an affair.” He said as we walked up the steps.

“Was it? I thought it rather lovely.” Delilah said smiling and carefully minding my steps.

“Even with the stories?”

“Well, Anne couldn’t let me get married without making sure everyone knew what I was like at three years.” Delilah said, giggling a little. “I’m sure yours would have done the same.”

BluebeardBackUp.png

“Well then I count myself lucky they had business away.” He said, laughing. Delilah felt a pang of guilt—she knew little of Samson’s family, but they rarely saw him and seemed to care little of him. She hoped that such distance wasn’t normal among such wealthy personages—Lord in Heaven, she wouldn’t be so distant with her own children.

Up the stairs they went—Samson’s servants opening the doors ahead. Pale ivory doors parted like moonlight deeper and deeper in. At last, behind a well wrought door of silver, was the bed chamber. Four lion heads held up the top of the bed, grinning faces of gold looking down. Delilah had often heard of wedding nights.

*

The next day, the two parted. Samson entrusted Delilah with a set of keys—golden, each with a glittering gem at the top. Every door in the house had a key, Samson said, marked with the inlaid gem. It was all hers to see and take in.

“I don’t want you getting bored or complacent—so entertain yourself with each room, and you will find delights that never end.” Samson said, as he put on his coat and hat. “But please, do not go into the room marked with two gems—cat’s eye and the other one..”

He held out the key, who’s stones looked like eyes of glass and was carved with a lion and a wolf. He shook it almost in front of Delilah’s face.

“Not this one. It goes to my own chambers, the only place of privacy in my entire house—when I am there, do not bother me but be patient on my return. Do not worry too much when or how I come there either—it is a place of mine. The rest, however, are ours.” And with that, and a kiss on the cheek, he left.

DelilahReading.png

Delilah considered the keys. She set about through the rooms—each with it’s gemstone. In the red coral room, there were wondrous arms and armors—the heads of great beasts from the hunts, armor shimmering with decorations, hilts with eagle wings of bronze. The heads of great beasts were stuffed along it’s walls, from bears to deer to great wild cattle. He was a brave warrior and hunter, her husband. Or, Delilah thought, perhaps his family was. There were fine silks as well, and chests overflowing with treasures. Plunder and spoils it seemed.

The room with the diamond was more her suiting however. Here were portraits lining the wall—eyes all fixed on the center. There a column of women stood, carved of marble. Delilah gripped her shoulders as she paced the incompete pillar—for there were still portions unworked around the edge. The statues were painted ever so slightly. A small blush, the tiny glimmer of jeweled eyes, a faint bruise on the skin, a thin scratch. The artistry was in the dress though. Delilah found it unnerving to see the clothes…she could not tell without touching whether they were exquisite stone carvings or the women’s own dress. There were desks, with many mirrors arrayed around them. If she pulled the curtains close behind her, the eyes of the portraits and statues didn’t glimmer back at her as she examined the jewelry. Another place to explore, she decided when she had more time.

The next room had a great pearl on it’s top—and within she found many treasures indeed! She found works of poetry and a number of paintings—these of luschious landscapes and forests, instead of persons, full of animals in the hunt or watching with curiosity at the painter. Several were still finished, including one of her—or she assumed of her. The seat was there, and she settled into the pose she imagined Samson would remember her in. She wondered if she would be carved into the pillar as well—and now frowned. Where those past wives of his, or the women of his family. They had seemed all rather young.

She considered but moved along to the emerald door. Here she found shelves upon shelves of scrolls and books—how well read Samson seemed! She barely knew her letters, her family never had the money for education. But she could learn to love these treasures as well. There were some held open to illustrations of holy men or of teachings she remembered from priests in town or tales her parents told. Btu not many so clear.

Beside it was the room with a yellow gem. The lock took some working this time—and inside Delilah understood why. Like the emerald room, this was a room full of shelves—but on each was a crown, carefully wrought of gold. A small image was above it, recounting no doubt the lineage of Samson’s family. And at the center was a display—a great golden mace, with gems along it. Behind it was a flowing robe and cape of heavy wool, gold woven with the cloth. There were gems along as buttons—shining diamonds and amethysts. Purple and gold, a royal coat in deed. But hidden away—Delilah was under no illusion that her husband might be heir one day to some royal family. Not anymore anyway.

Still, perhaps one day there would be an inheritance to the crown. They were strange crowns, admittedly—most had ivory spikes rising from their heads, and all of them were rather old fashioned. They looked like the crowns on fallen statues in the woods, not kingly images the tax collectors carried or that were stamped on the occasional gold coin she had seen.

Some older place then, or some far away land. Still. A noble king and scholar, a warrior and perhaps a poet.

And then there was the door with it’s two gems—a red stone and a yellow one that glimmered like a cat’s eye. The red stone was in the right hand of a man, the yellow in the left—his own eyes stared back out with glimmering opals. It was an enticing door, with his pearlescent smile and glimmering eyes. But Delilah ignored it, and pushed on to the room with the sapphire—embedded in a skull, yes, but still it had been granted to her.

And in that room she found copious bones, gilded and held in metal boxes. Each had pictures atop it, and Delilah recognized the lives of a hundred saints in this gallery. Saints from as far as mist covered marshes of Wales to the distant east where their own saints left rainbows in their wake. Holy tools from a hundred places the world over. Some were petrified eyes, some where finger bones, some were nails. And at the center, enshrined with images of four beasts at each corner, was a carefully suspended spearhead. It was stained blood red on one side, the other was washed clean and stainless. A curious relic. Not one she was familiar with. She would ask about it in time.

*

And so Delilah continued along the spiraling house of Samson. He did return, tired but lively, a few days hence. She heard the sound of footsteps in the halls, and managed to catch him closing his study door. She pestered him with questions—about his auspicious lance, which he explained as a relic of a very distant ancestor, that had been blessed by holy blood. He agreed to teach her some letters.

“And until then I can of course read you the stories and romances, and some of the poems.” Samson said nodding. “Or have a servant do so when I am away.”

“Ah, only some? Why only some of the poems?” Delilah asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Because a man has the right to bury his shames, and many of those poems record my shames.” He said. She laughed at that.

“Oh my, did my husband leave his heart on the page? How awful.”

“To write one’s passions is not shameful—but perhaps to articulate them as a youth would leaves something to be desired.” He said, joining her in laughter.

Well, she reckoned she could find a servant who would tell her of those youthful poems.

After a time, Delilah tired of the house. With Samson’s permit, she sent a carriage back to town—to learn what had become of her friends in her absence, and how affairs were ordered. Only Anne was willing to visit her, although Delilah never learned why. She delighted in showing the rooms to Anne, and enjoying tea.

The subject of the married life and the house came up again and again during their conversations over tea. Delilah even gave Anne a wonderful broach from one of the rooms, to mend the many struggles between them. Anne’s curiosity was mostly sated, until she asked about the two-jeweled door. To Delilah’s surprise, Anne’s face fell at the explanation of the door. She shook her head, and placed the cup down on the table.

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“Oh, poor Delilah. Poor girl, what will your mother say when she learns what you’ve married?” Anne said, shaking her head.

“A scholar and a prince? What’s to be ashamed of that?” Delilah said, folding her arms.

“Do you believe it? No, truly, you and your mother have been tricked by a sorcerer. Go into the two faced door—there I wager he keeps his arts and secret magic to raise the building and enthrall you. You must go in at once, when he is far away. You’ll find proof no doubt, that all this is but a game for him.”

Delilah considered it, even as they moved on to other topics of gossip—the affairs and arguments of old flames, rumors of scandal, and more. When she eventually returned home, she found a note from her husband—he had left for business for several days, as his erstwhile family needed him. She was free to herself again.

She paced from each of the rooms, taking in all their delights. But still the twin gems haunted her. Day and night she stared at the door. Its grin taunted her with secrets—surely it was only a matter of time before she would learn its contents from her husband. Surely it was only a matter of waiting—surely, that room held nothing more viscous then rumors.

She crept quietly—she was unsure the servants would be forgiving. The door opened easily, the lock clicked silently as she stepped into a darkened room, candle in her shaking hand.

The room was bare stone. A window marked with claws let the sunlight into the forbidden room. And with its help, Delilah saw a dreadful site—her husband’s empty skin was on the wall. Below, bloodstained table. Beside an iron cauldron lined with grease. A drop of blood fell on Delilah’s face. She did not look up at the hundred empty eyes. She did not look up. She closed the door, silent as a cat.

But the lock would not click shut. To Delilah’s horror, the lock would not shut. She strained with the key—if her husband came home, and found it open, Lord only knows what he would do. She tried and tried and tried to click the lock shut. The smiling door mocked her efforts until at last she forced the key free.

At once, Delilah called for a servant to fetch her a carriage—she wanted to see her mother, she said. She managed anyway. Her face was as pale as a corpse, her eyes full of terror. The servant, perhaps wise to what had happened, shook his head—there was but one carriage befitting a lady. And her husband had taken that to his relations.

Before she could ask for more, Delilah heard a clatter from the halls. She turned to the noise—poor girl, she turned to see her husband. His eyes glittered like gems. And now she saw how his skin seemed ill fit. It hung loose around his neck. He had put it on in a rush. His wrist seemed wrinkled, as it bent a saber.

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“Ah, Delilah dearest—did you enjoy your day?” He asked, smiling like the moon. Delilah opened her mouth to speak. The words caught in her throat as Samson reached into his coat—and produced a single shard of worn gold.

“Delilah, dearest, I made one request. I found this, stuck in my study door—the tooth of my keys.” He said, shaking his head. “I made but one request.”

Before Delilah could speak, there was a flash of steel. Her body fell to the ground, as Samson held her head by her hair.

“And she was so lovely—I’ll have to hang this one well.” He said. With a wave of her sword, the blood was stopped and the floor was cleaned. “Her mother…is she passed already?”

The footmen, taking Delilah’s body in his arms, nodded.

“Well, that is for the best I suppose. Had she any friends? I would rather not leave so soon.” Samson asked, tilting his head.

“The lady was visited by one Anne from town, sir. She seemed wiser.” The footman replied.

“That settles it—Send for her soon. I would hope to have a wife last longer.” Samson said, shaking his head. “A few months is hard to savor. Light the iron as well—My hunt went well, and now I want to eat away my sorrow.”

And so Anne and Samson lived happily ever after.

***

This week’s story is a bit long, but was fun to write. I don’t have much insightful commentary–I’m pretty sure sticking close to the origin was a good decision here, and didn’t find much to improve on the original format. I hope it was enjoyable! Next week, more lively foundations!

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