The Dread Horsemen

This Week’s Prompt: 67. An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. [“DISSIPATION?” by Dan McCoy]
The Resulting Story: The Ruins of Dimov

Ah, a good long prompt with something like an arc already backed in. It feels like it’s been a while. We start with a brief scene of the city in peril, and then return after it’s destruction to a number of squabbling men in a small room near an equestrian statue. The statue it seems comes to life, and upon seeing this the story ends. Nice and simple.

Now, I think there are things to be expanded upon. I think the choice of a horse at the center of destroyed city is interesting. Horsemen in mythology and folklore, especially in non-chivalry contexts, have associations with destruction. There is the Wild Hunt, a host of fae or the dead, lead by one of power—the devil, Odin, Eric of Wales, or any other storm power—which pursues its quarry from the sky. The viewer often dies, and war and terror reign for some time after wards.

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Beyond this band, there are the horsemen of the end of time—four horses with five riders: Conquest(Not plague, don’t listen to modern authors!), War, Famine, Death, and Hades. These riders, atop multicolored steeds are the heralds of a quarter of the world dying by various means. Found in art and popular culture, these are ruiners of cities and men alike. The Book of Revelation also includes the host of destructive angels who ride out to cause misery on the world again. This locust horde of the abyss that resemble armed horses are terrors onto the world for the suffering.

And then there are the centaurs, Greek creatures that resemble horses but with the upper bodies of men, and who are known for their uproarious and provocative behavior with the sole exception of Chiron. Their most famed conflict was the abduction of the women of the Lapiths in a raid at a wedding—an incident that reminds me in passing of the Satyr’s tendency to cause terror at weddings. Variations include the centaurs of Dionysus, sent by Zeus to protect the wine god, and the centaurs of Cyprus who are horned.

Of course, the Greeks do not have a monopoly on dreadful horsemen. Akin to the centaur are the people of the Kinara Kingdom in India, who’s exact form varies from “horse necked” to hybrids like the centaurs. In the Philippines there’s the Tikbalang, a horse headed humanoid that can be found in the mountains that some reports suggest can be tamed with a piece of it’s own hair. While the Aswang project reports it as generally harmless and a trickster, others indicate that the Tikbalang is more malicious or even cannibalistic, at times resembling the Wild Men type we’ve discussed earlier.

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And then there is the Nuckelavee—a creature that resembles a man on a horse, with no skin. It’s head is three feet wide, or sometimes it has two, with a horses head that exudes toxic vapors. It is plague and famine, with it’s breath wilting crops and poisoning wells. It’s eyes are fiery. In some cases, the Nuckelavee is even blamed for the withholding of rain and water, causing massive droughts in addition to it’s personal harassing of those it meets.

Folklore about horses can have more various forms—to ride a horse backwards, for instance, causes illness. A trio of horses of the same color are signs of death, and a dead horse hoof buried beneath the stable secures them against enchantment. Horses that are startled have seen dead men, or the soon to be dead.

The Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas includes a number of creatures that take the form of the horses. There is the creature called which-lake on Mountain Hiddenabyss, which has a horses body, bird wings, a serpent’s tail, and a human face that enjoys giving humans a lift. On Mount Belt there is the ugly-coars, a creature which resembles a unicorn with a ‘hard grinding shell’, and that appears immune to fire. Twenty of the forty-three of the deities of the Western Mountains are horses with a human face. And on Mount Dam, there is an animal that resembles a horse with four horns, ram eyes, and an ox tails—the appearance of this creature, the far-far, causes a rapid increase in fraud. And so on.

The horse sacrifice is a kingship practice in Hinduism—a horse is sent around the kingdom, and if none dispute it, the horse is returned and sacrificed to secure the king’s undisputed rule. Needless to say many epics include sections of conflict disputing this—the Mahabhrata and the Ramayana both feature these sections for instance, before their climatic battles or wars.

Horses and kings are associated elsewhere. Mythical, many king gods have wondrous mounts—the seven headed horse of Indra, the eight legged horse of Odin, the taltos steed, the mythical horses born of the golden fishes. Poseidon, a god of the Greeks who was supreme for that lost Mycenean age, was lord of horses and earthquakes and islands. The epic hero King Gesar was a horse lord of great prominence, the most important throughout northern Asia. Horse numbers were also prestige markers among the various tribes of the Plains Indians of the American west.

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A more modern equestrian statue, that perhaps was once possessed, is Blucifier. The large Blue Mustang statue outside the Denver airport has brilliant red eyes that give it a diabolic appearance was commissioned in 1993. Meant as a symbol of the wild old American West by it’s artist, Luis Jimenez, the horse’s eyes glow and During construction, the massive statue fell on the man who designed it, killing Jimenez. With it’s appearance and the legacy of a frankly disturbing death by its hand, outcry has grown around the statue. A demon horse indeed.

Within the stories of pulp, this reminds me most of one other story in particular: the Story of the Sword of Welleran by Dunsany, which features a number of equestrian statues saving a city in peril from devastation. You can read the full story here.

Now, as I said at the end of the last story, I feel I’ve drifted more into shock and …well, missed the power of horror in character focused dramas. And here, I think, we have an opportunity to work with character drama. We have a group in a small place, in a tense situation—the clattering of hooves outside could indicate rescuers, or it could indicate surviving looters. We have danger, a small place, and a group of survivors huddled together. We just need a cause of conflict and paranoia for the ball to get rolling.

And for that, I think the associations of ruin and desperation of war could work in our favor. We could infuse the story with some paranoia about survival, as the sounds of war are still heard not far off. I think some sort of set up might be needed: why are people suspicous in the wake of the calamity? Are our characters safe from the horde outside? From each other? Is one a looter, a spy, a traitor? Genuine paranoia is a hard thing for me to write, so this will be good practice. I think the most difficult part is forcing a reason for our characters to come together. If they are distrustful of each other, why not split apart? An outside danger might solve that particular problem, but I think some greater pressure is needed to compel a group of strangers inside then the lingering threat of raiders and pillagers in a dead city.

How about yourself. Do you know any devil horses, steeds of Diomedes, or terrors that lurk in desolate cities? What would you write?

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Calamity And Woe

This Week’s Prompt: 48. Cities wiped out by supernatural wrath.

Resulting Story: The Fall of Anuel
This weeks topic is very similar to a number of earlier topics. We have of course, the tale of Irem from not that long ago. We have the hubris end-of-times discussion earlier. We have the stories of Atlantis. But lets see if there is more to discuss here, before going into what shape our plot might form.

We do have the lost cities of Lovecraft, including Ib and Sarnath. The people of Sarnath slaughtered the creatures of Ib, and the god of Ib in return destroyed Sarnath in it’s entirety. The Doom that Came To Sarnath records that after their victory over Ib, the people of Sarnath reigned for one thousand years. On the anniversary of the destruction of Ib, Bokurg, god of Ib, visits doom upon them.

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In Hindu myth, there are the Tripura, who were destroyed after their dominion over the world by Lord Shiva. The Asura who raise the city were once devout followers, and practiced many devotions to earn the blessing of Brahma and raise a great and impregnable fortress. The fortress could only be overcome if a single arrow overthrew it, a feat that only Lord Shiva could accomplish. Being devoted to him in their entirety, the Asura thought themselves safe. They went forth, and conquered the worlds. In time, however, they forgot their piety and were overturned.

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Atlantis’s allegorical myth bears repeating here as well. Founded by sons of Poseidon, the Atlanteans conquered the world. They were turned back by Athens. Unlike other, popular versions of the story, Atlantis’s original cause of destruction is not explicitly said, although they lost the favor of the gods certainly. Given our prior with Tripura, Sodom, and Babel, I would suggest they to grew proud.

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The hubris of man and his empires is certainly the running theme of divinely destroyed lands. This makes a degree of sense. Empires are mighty, all encompassing powers that often boast divine backing if not divine nature. Such boasts of power are almost asking to be undone and disproven by gods that do not endorse the nation in question. The arc of empire, often made analogous to the arc of comets, is one of tremendous rising force and stupendous, alarming collapse.

Which brings us to our plot to be examined: the fall of a city by the wrath of some supernatural force. The wrath of the gods is a varied lot. While there are traditional shows of force, such as shaking the earth or sending forth plagues, there are some that are more unique or disturbing. The flood caused by the gods of the Maya had the cooking implements of the people turn on them. A rain of frogs appears in the Old Testament assault on Egypt. The Curse of Cain is that of wandering with no hospitality. The gods of Olympus regularly transformed those who raised their ire, from Arachne to Niobe. There is , in general, a large degree of imagination in imagery when the gods deign to unleash their terror on the world.

or, Qualtiy over Quantity.

But what our plot might have that separates it from the other resurrected corpses is that our story of fallen hubris doesn’t take place in the narrative past but the narrative future. This would bring it in closer connection with the Prophecy of Tammuz. A story of an impending, doomed collapse. The final, waning days of an empire before the gods level their wrath upon it.

In fact, I suggest we split our story up into three temporal parts, five hundred or so words each. The decay will be apparent in the in-between times, as omens are made apparent and ignroed, as prophets call out warning but are ignored, as sins are damned and the victims cry out, apparently ignored. The wrath of the Gods is often kind enough to send some warning ahead of it. We will then have on display all the ugliness and vice of a city that will be destroyed.

Our first scene then, would establish the empire as it is. What is it’s glory? Grandeur? Not yet decadent, to the view of the audience, but rather a vast and glorious thing that only occasionally hints at the suffering cities of hubris are built on. The second scene would refocus on these, bringing the decadence to the for. We might here introduce more overt omens of doom, that the audience is aware of but the characters are dismissive of. Prophets, perhaps, or strange figures in the sky. Black stars or ghosts of lions. Omens are a fun bunch.

The third act would not be the doom itself. No, it would be when the characters themselves are aware of their doom. Whatever act caused their doom, whatever the hubris was, is now made apparent. The gods wrath has begun, if it is a plague or similar slow acting misery. But the finale, the final act of judgment has been proclaimed but not carried out. So we end our story, with our characters alone and frightened, acutely aware they are going to die soon, that they have no recourse to escape, and no one else to blame but their own deeds. The end of a tragedy.

I would focus our story on those most likely to be the most decadent members of society. A story of hubris loses some of it’s veneer if we view it from the downtrodden and suffering. And while such people have their own horror, that of an fate they did not ask for and do not deserve, such story seems more difficult to preform in a short span of fifteen hundred words. I might toy with the notion of contrasting characters, however. A prince and pauper perspective might add some depth and contrast to the apocalypse. And it might help add some shades to the typical moral against hubris.

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If we do get such a perspective on the city in question, the cause of wrath I feel should be more than just hubris. Building the Tower of Babel is fine for a work of myth, but we work in smaller symbolism. We will need butchers, slavers, exploiters of everything under the sun, monsters of men that are themselves proof against the city’s right to exist.

This will take some meditating. Such horrific crimes aren’t often revealed in myths of hubris and devastation. Just that they were there, and the group in question was deserving in it’s annulment. I will think on what sorts of crimes could warrant such devastation. One of my favorite sources is Chariot, a tabletop game I’ve never played but I commend for it’s writing and world building.

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