The Shedu

Prompt This Week: 21. A very ancient colossus in a very ancient desert. Face gone—no man hath seen it.

Research: Look Upon My Wonders, And Despair!

Dear His Imperial Majesty and Protector of the Faith,

As you requested, I have continued to take a record of the disturbances that plague your kingdom. I have ridden far, from the jewel of Istanbul to the southern lands where Arab tribesmen dwell. And it was there I encountered my unfortunate delay.

I was investigating reports of a lost manuscript, one from Bablyon that had been smuggled south and lost in a sand storm, when I heard from a travelling merchant of another oddity: a statue in a mountain, near the Basket of Gold.  Raiders from the early days of the Caliphate had settled around it, and was haunted by djinn of ill repute and fickle nature.  The merchant, who introduced himself as Rostam Al-Dahak, offered to guide me to those who inhabited the area now, who he assured me where more civilized folk.

Thus, with steel by my side, I made my way out into the Azir Mountains, south of the City of the Prophet a good ways before we arrived at the strange tribes men. The merchant made good on his introductions, speaking some unfamiliar tongue. He explained that besides the Holy Koran, the people here knew not a wit of Arabic. They spoke some language of their own, precious to them since Babel. Despite that, he spoke some as well.

The tribesmen, simple folk with iron weapons bought with wool and sheep, where a bit alarmed at my presence. Rostam explained that they were very wary of outsiders, particular men from Medina. They thought the secrets of iron and textiles the work of ghuls and desert spirits that conspired against the Prophet. The belief seemed strange at the time, but we shall get to that shortly.

For the time being, Rostam brought me to the headman, a man that the Lord of Creation granted a long life and a healthy mind. His beard was short and white, a cloud puffing out of his chin. He wore a woolen robe and hood even indoors, and spoke with Rostam briefly in their own language.  The elder meddled with some beads before nodding along a bit. What follows is the best transcription I can manage, translated by my dear Rostam, and summarized for purposes of time.

There is, according to the esteemed elder of the tribe, a mountain that was hollowed out by an ancient sorcerer, who tamed the winds and forced them to raise metals and jewels, that he might have a paradise hidden form the eyes of the Lord. Vain in his deeds and hopes, he made metal halls and shining stars, binding strange servants of brass and light. Fiery ifrits were forced to serve him, and in the dark halls he prayed wastefully to idols carved in stone and offered sacrifices atop fiery altars made by the giants of Ad and Gog.

The foul sorcerer could not, of course, avoid the gaze of God. Even in that time before the Prophet, peace be upon him, walked the earth, holy men abound. A number of them gathered around the entrance to the sorcerous chamber.  They pounded their staves on the ground, and uttered many prayers to end the abominable practices that occurred there.  And there faith was that of the esteemed desert hermits, such that the Ineffable One moved the mountains.

The earth shook and scarred as the, as Rostam put it, wind of death descended into the hold from its resting place in the peak. Howling like raging wolf, it descended upon the halls, many armed in its terror and strangled all it found with a hundred limbs of smoke. And it tore and rent all of its contents, its singing swords, its women of metal, and its dark writings.  But the power born in Ad’s statue frightened the wind, and it cowed about it, before being recalled unto heaven. So the place still stood, surrounded by the work of the Carrion Wind.

The elder started then speaking in hushed and more rapid tones, and Rostam did his best to convey the knowledge.  They said that the mountain had laid abandoned thus since, but raiders and nightly demons still made offerings to the strange statue, that its foul powers aid them.  They walk atop desert storms and storms with drums of thunder when it is pleased. When it is not sated, the shepherds see hosts of locusts and worse growing on the distance.

The elder admitted to Rostam that he could show us the way to the strange fortress. It was not a hidden place, he said, to those who knew the mountains. He sent with us a shepherd who had slipped into sleep that day. He laid us faithfully, if reluctantly, to the mountain. A pillar of stone that was stained black in places. Wounds seemed to have been struck along it sides, such that a number of springs bubbled strange rivers out. A great cavern stood along the side, between the four rivers of bile. Surely, great shadow of the Lord, it was something forsaken by Nature and Man if not by the Lord of the World.

Rostam and I proceeded alone. Not even the stern shame of sloth would motivate our guide to enter that dimly lit cavern. Lanterns in hand we entered the belly of the beast.  Its sides shone as if wrought from iron and steel, and were cool to the touch. The ground was a single piece of metal, a passage way more completely crafted than any other. The reflection of the fire danced upon the sides. The air was thick as we descended deeper and deeper. At last we lighted upon the room of the Carrion Wind.

There was in fact a statue there, a colossus unlike anything these tribesmen had ever seen. I, however, and no doubt yourself, Commander of the Faithful, recognized it swiftly. A tall and might form, that resembled a lions, with something like a man’s head, and a pair of thrown back wings. Two bull horns poked from its top. Certainly, it was nothing more than a mere pagan idol. It was well made, certainly, with the only flaw being the cracked and smashed face.

There was blood splattered, of course, along the bottom of it. And a number of shimmering swords were cast about it, shimmering like the walls in the lantern light. Rostam shivered as a chilly breeze came up from the depths of the mountain. No doubt greater secrets or oddities lay there, a treasure trove lost to time.

I was examining the statue when the light first flickered strangely across it. The smooth skin grew small dusty hairs.  As I raised the lantern closer to examine the workmanship, I saw it move more certainly. With a low moan it breathed in. The cavern shook as it breathed out. I started back as the lumbering thing stirred, its shoulders stretching. Its beard unfolded, slowly, into a multitude of limbs. Its wings rose and fell, the entire cavern swept by its movement.

It had no face still though. Its head was jagged and broken, it’s face and skull apparently smashed in.  It slouched forward and lumbered off its platform with cool assurance, swords breaking under its paws. The tendrils flickered out, stroking the air absent mindedly. I sat silent and still as it paced about. Rostam…Rostam did not. He cannot be blamed. The beast’s visage was the fear work of nightmares, its face bleeding sap and its body bestial. I must commend Rostam, for only shouting in panic and attempting to run.

The creature, if it had any sense, surely had excellent hearing, and immediately pounced upon, a boulder of muscle crushing him. The beast made a noise, a gurgling noise, and raised its head a triumphant lion over a lamb.  Its tendrils gripped Rostam’s clothing, and tore flesh and cotton apart with ease. I rose slowly, considering what could be done against such a creature, faster than the wind and stronger than steel.  I decided swiftly that if this was to be driven from your Imperial Majesties lands, a division of men twenty strong, armed with rifles, might suffice. If the Most Generous be willing.

It shouldn’t then be noted among my sins that I fled. I did as quietly as I could, careful not to step upon a single blade or piece of rubble. I moved as slowly as I could, the steel floor catching only the slightest of my movement. The beast was pre occupied with tearing into Rostam’s flesh, though as I began to pass it, I noticed it was not actually devouring him.

The creature was instead jabbing the pounds of meat onto itself, probing its own face for a mouth. It turned about sluggishly, making a strange moaning. After several ponderous steps, it lowered its head and pushed about several of the swords, its  root like limbs struggling to grip them.  Gradually it pulled its head up, stuttering as it did. A beard of blades surrounded it as it turned toward the exit, it long breath growing strained.

I have, I admit, put little effort in placing the location of that fortress. Nor can I explain what occurred to the beast, although I speculate that perhaps the elder misunderstood the story. I suspect, possibly, that the great creature has –unfortunate for itself – a great intolerance to blood. Whence it came I cannot say, nor whether those blades were its or others. The mountain is a strange one, but it is a danger that can be avoided, should we simply wall it up with stones and boulders. A simple solution, I think.

 

Your beloved Servant.

 

I believe this story may have been a misstep. I could not quite get a grip on a deeper horror, or rather, found it much harder to express than an initial draft focusing on a British empire. I was a bit too eager to return to a good corpse I think. Something I will keep in mind as I go on.

What about you, my brothers and sisters? Was it frightening?

If you enjoyed it, consider looking at the previous visit to the Ottoman empire.

Also, a note: This story did draw some inspiration from our good friends at horror prompts. Check them out for some good off-kilter poetry.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

A Letter to His Most Sacred and Imperial Majesty

Crete Cliffs

This Week’s Prompt: The shores of Attica respond in song to the waves of the Aegean.

The Resulting Story:Greece, But Not As You Know It!

To His Sacred and Imperial Majesty, Commander of the Faithful,

I have returned from your sacred majesty’s mission, and wish to make account of what I have seen in those lands that are farthest west in your domain. The Attic peasentry remain resentful of your righteous rule, but your loyal servants keep the peace. The taxes are collected in a timely manner, the people are protected, and the grain is bountiful. There is, however, a peculiarity to this goodly report. I write this to inform your imperial majesty, and for no other purpose.

The mothers ina village along the Attic coast, some distance from Athens, have had only young girls. Not a single healthy male for your service has been born. When I inquired to the your local servants about this oddity, they insisted that it was a strange miracle or simply misfortune that the village had borne only women, and that men have been found outside the village. Not one boy for the Janissary, they said, but not one for the fields either. Unsatisfied, I made to survey the village myself.

The village priest was welcoming, speaking well of your reign and of your just laws. When I inquired to the strange pattern of births, he showed me a detailed account of the baptisms, from the time of Caesar Justinian. Several boys were listed, but disaster had struck, funerals occurring when the boys were just at the cusp of manhood. Broken legs, ribs, and illness were time and time again listed as the cause. I asked where this plague of miseries came from and the priest was at a loss. Simply misfortune he said.

I stayed the night in this quiet town, boarding with a woman who was alone at the time. Her husband, she explained, was in town showing his itqa records to your loyal servants, to ensure that they both did their proper duty. While serving dinner, she inquired at my reason for coming so far from my homeland. I explained that the peculiarities of this village had attracted the attention of your majesty’s loyal servants and ministers. In passing, I asked if she had any knowledge as to why not one son native to this village yet lived. At this she was silent.

I asked her if there was something she could say, but she held her hand aloft and told me to be silent for a moment. There was a song in the distance, its pitch sinking slowly, a choir invisible. She said that her mother told her it was the song of their souls, going onward to heaven. Perhaps, he said, I could find them there. I asked for a lantern and a coat, and the woman warned that the stones are slippery near the shore. I thanked her and left for the caves.

The sea wind was cold, but the brilliance of the moon made the night into day. As I made my way along the grass, a good distance from the shore, the distant tone continued to sink. The once wavering and high pitch settled deeper and deeper. As I at last arrived at the cliffs, the noise was like a man striving to hold a great weight over head, as it slowly pushed him to his knees.

The caves were low set, domes carved by the Creator’s own hand, and now half full with water. Bits of wood and mangled rope floated on the surface. How many ships had been smashed into these great cliffs? How many since the time of the Prophet, peace upon him?

As the din grew deeper, a roaring as strong as the sea, I saw something else floating in the caves. A pair of long fingers gripped the stone, floating in the water. And lowering my lantern to see what poor soul was victim of the waves, I saw arms with veins barely held in their skin. A great bloated form pulled itself out of the water, slowly. Its limbs shook as its long claw like fingers gripped the stone. I was transfixed, as the creature rolled to face me, its eyes catching the moon light. Its maw opened and revealed that, despite it’s human form, its teeth were like a great dogs. And bones, such small bones floated out of its jaw. I felt great hands upon my very mind. I am unashamed to say I fled, hearing the moaning of the caverns.

I send this story simply to inform and advise. Whatever the creature is, it must be destroyed. It is anathema to your just rule and a danger to your subjects. As for what is to be done, about this village that tolerated such a beast, and what horrid rites they may have practiced, I leave that to the wisdom of the Commander of the Faithful.

Your Humble Servant.

Well, that scrap of flesh had a lot to say. What did you find in the waves?

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Greece, But Not As You Know It!

This Weeks Prompt: 3. The shores of Attica respond in song to the waves of the Aegean.

The Resulting Story: A Letter to His Most Sacred and Imperial Majesty
Alright, so proper nouns: Attica is part of Greece, namely the region around Athens. The Aegean is the sea next to Greece, separating it from Anatolia. So, we’re back in the same region as we were for Demophon.
map-of-attica-1
Except, this time, we’ll examine another portion of Greek history: The Ottoman Era. Specifically, the time between the Ottoman conquest of 1500 to the Greek War of Independence of 1821. This is a rather long era, but some broad commonalities existed through out.

Firstly, the Ottoman empire’s most infamous policy, child taxation. The Ottoman Empire was partly run by a group of bureaucrats called the Janissary, Christian children raised by the state and forbidden to have families. The Janissary were acquired using the Child Tax, which require 1 in every 5 children that were male and able-bodied to serve.

The tax collectors, who often collected said children along with normal taxation, were often in the upper strata of society (This isn’t as weird as you might suspect. If your not a land owner, tax collector is usually a decent job. The government often doesn’t notice if you’ve swiped some.). Greek’s, as most people, did not like the tax man. Or the Ottomans, for that matter. Greek monasteries played a key role here as well, as Orthodox Christendom was key to Medieval Greek identity. And while the Ottomans never forced conversion, they did demand the typical additional tax from non-Muslims.
In this climate, came one of the most fascinating creatures I’ve ever read about. Greek folklore at the time conjured forth the vrykolaka, a fascinating variant on the Slavic vampire. The vrykolaka has numerous attributes in common (powered by Satanic and nefarious forces, hungry, infectious, from a dead body), but some truly interesting original twists (body like a drum, limited vocabulary at times, crushing victims in their sleep). I would speculate that the origin of such a creature has a common cause in both Slavic and Greek fears: Conversion.

In modern times, the vampire is a frightful specter, but we seem to have forgotten that originally, the vampire was a lieutenant of hell. The bite did more than force you to walk the earth post-mortem. It was damnation and hell-fire. It was a forced violation of the soul by an embodiment of sacrilege. Now, the Ottoman Empire had many benefits, but it is hard not to imagine such a fear growing in Christians that were occupied at the time.

But back to the story. How to make Attica sing? Well, a rather peculair trick occurs to me: Caves. Caves, if of the right composition, can produce sound with enough air. There’s an interesting set in Iceland that produce rather strange noises in this manner.

And as for the waves of the Aegean…well, what would happen to the tone as the water rose? Deeper and deeper it would go. And things from the depths of the cave would rise to the surface.

I wonder, what corpse I can make inquiry of next week.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.