The Frog Church

This Weeks Prompt:76. Ancient cathedral—hideous gargoyle—man seeks to rob—found dead—gargoyle’s jaw bloody.

The Prior Research: Sacred Guardians

The Windgift church is a large, if vacuous one. The city has withered away around it—moving mostly up river or down roads. Folks still call it the cathedral, but the diocese is based out of Morgstadt now a days. Pilgrims still come and go—the old icons and relics are still held aloft for display. I think that’s what got Leon Pyrmont’s attention first—the relics gold and glittering cases. Maybe it was the bones instead, calling to him like dead men are so often called to grace.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Cathedral has one other, notable addition—the Gargoyle. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Its become sort of famous. Some horror movie big shot came and took photos of it for his monsters, and then people in the know referenced the movie with their own homages. Yes, yes, the gargoyle is really old. It’s not like those pictures you might see of a gargoyle shaped like an Alien or astronaut or Darth Vader. Those were all put there recently. They look old, but that’s because there supposed to look old. No, the Gargoyle of Windgift is an original.

Frog Church 1.png

It looms over the front of the cathedral, a three headed hunched over human, with a tadpole tail. The three frog heads all look down on the masses coming in and out—its a bit creepy honestly. Worse when you realize there’s a fourth mouse, closed and grinning with teeth, on it’s belly. No, yeah, that’s actually there. They didn’t add that for the movie.

Leon didn’t come to see the Gargoyle, though. I first saw him examining it on the church steps. It is certainly eye catching, and even tourists off to better known traps will stop and stare at the stone warden, leering down at the crowd. He—uh, Leon, not the Gargoyle—was dressed like a tourist. Slightly off green coat, baseball cap, jeans. Roamed around with the tour group as well. Really, he wasn’t that note worthy except he wasn’t taking pictures. That and he seemed…aware of what he was doing. Walking with purpose you know? I decided to have a chat, seemed nice enough.

Leon said he was a tourist, kind of, going to all these churches that had unique architecture. We talked about the history of the cathedral a bit. I rattled off some of the healings I’d seen. You know, kids with cancer, broken backs, wasting disease. Showed him my own patched up scar. His eyes sort of wandered as I talked, but you know, I thought he was just taking it all in. And I guess he was.

His eyes fell upon the old story of the Gargoyle, and asked about…well, it is gruesome display on the glass. St. Remus and the beast. I love that story, honestly. Some academic tried to tell me it was just a bastardized version of St. Slyvanus and the Beast, but that thing was a wildman. We, on the other hand, have a genuine beast. A real devil. In the story, the beast lived in the local bog. The pagans used to keep it satisfied by offering thieves and murderers to it. And you know what? When they drained the bog, yeah, there were over a hundred corpses at the bottom. So, someone was tossing bodies down there for some reason, and—

PeatBog.png

I’m getting ahead of myself again. Anyway, the beast lurks in this bog. It’s troublesome, but mostly it just…eats folks. Sometimes runs around wearing their faces, luring people off trails. But its, you know, just the weird cannibal monster in the woods. Then Saint Remus comes along.

Now, okay, he’s not a saint yet. This is one of like, twenty stories about St. Remus doing cool stuff. But the monster story is the best. Now, Remus learns that this town of pagans is sending its criminals to be thrown into a bog. And being a good Christian, he can’t exactly tolerate that sort of behavior. So he goes with his staff and bangs on the kings door—yeah, probably not called a king yet, but who cares—and demands he stop in the name of God.

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The King tells Remus to sort it out himself if God’s so great. So Remus decides to go up with the next criminal. Now they head up to the bog, but the beast knows Remus or something. So he hides in the bog, and makes terrible noises to scare him off. Remus thinks it just some gas I guess. Either way he leaves, and everyone has a good laugh at it. They all decide, hey, we’ll send you guys up next month.

Except, the monsters mad now. It hates Remus, wants him gone. So it flies out and starts throwing skulls at the town. Raging around, killing people Remus talks to, burning houses he sleeps in, poisoning food around him. Just hates him. And, well, people hate Remus too. Messed up a good deal they had going. So, they send him up early.

But…the monsters still afraid of him. Yeah, following him around and messing with him—I think it was invisible or something? I don’t know. But either way, ti lurks at the bottom of the bog. This time, the guys who took him out there won’t take Remus back, though. I mean, they don’t want their stuff burned down either. Or food poisoned or, you know, angry monster. So…everyone just stays there, all day. Remus is sitting on an old stump. Probably poking the bog with his stick.

Turns out, next day is Sunday. So Remus gets up, turns to the dozen or so people gathered there, and asks if he can read Mass. And the executioners and the dead dude look at each other—here’s this nutter asking to say Mass at his death bed. They shrug, say sure. Or whatever fifth century is for sure. I missed Latin. So, St. Remus gets up and starts preaching to no one. The sermon is on Saul’s trip to Damascus, and Remus gets so patient about it that the thing in the bog hears.

Imagine that—well, I mean you can see it in glass at the church. A five headed, winged, snake armed thing floating out a bog. It’s covered in gray mud, and it’s dripping with blood probably. You’ve seen this thing eat people. And it’s floating there, behind this preacher. Not saying a word. Just…there.

And when it finally talks, it asks this random priest…it asks this priest if it’s true.

So Remus turns around, and hand it to the guy, he has a talk with this monster about God and Christ and Heaven and baptism and all that. And he leads it back to the temple—they have a big baptism, the beast becomes a Catholic defender of the new church, and they agree to pardon a dozen thieves every summer or something, I don’t know. That parts not in the stain glass, so. You know. Who cares.

So I start telling this to Leon, and he’s not really paying attention. I mean, he’s paying attention to other stuff. I follow his eyes, and realize he’s kinda scoping the place out. He’s looking at the entrances and exits, hes scoping the place out.

Later, it broke that this was Leon’s part time gig. It’s not a common job, or wasn’t, but its profitable. You’ve got small, dying churches that have more than a few holy items. A shroud, a bone, an icon, a bit of jewelry. It’s old, it’s powerful, and more than thirty people remember it. But the old churches? They aren’t that secure, they aren’t seen that often. It’s a waste of a miracle to let it just stay there, gathering dust between displays.

That’s where people like Leon get involved. New churches, or churches that are new to their providence, they need relics. And if no one or nobodies are using the old ones, well. Who’s going to notice, right? And hey, if they notice, you just hide it for a while. Then it’s ‘miraculously’ found out in the wilderness by the priest and whoops their relic now. Its…well, its business I suppose. Wonder if we ever hired anyone like that…anyway, that was Leon’s work. Normally, the genuine relic is replaced by a forgery. I wasn’t clear who switched’em—seemed like Leon did it sometimes, sometimes the church did it to hide the robbery, whatever.

At the time, I think he’s just worried. Maybe he’s here to hide out, or whatever. I shrug, and go home.

What happened next isn’t really clear. The church doesn’t have security cameras—the police do, outside, so we know that at one o’clock at night Leon went into the cathedral. He got through the door with some lock picks—they were found still in the door the next day. From there, it gets harder to figure out exactly what happened. He got inside, but the interior was really messed up when he was found. And a stone floor doesn’t leave many tracks.

Frog Church2.png

It seems likely he left shortly after entering the vault. Or, rather, attempted to leave. Leon’s body was not located—however, his right hand was found gripping the remains of a reliquary, behind the altar. There were a number of bloodstains on the inside, although most were cleaned up before I arrived. A drop fell from the gargoyle—I thought it was rain. Looking up to see the storm, I was horrified to see a red stain from the four amphibian heads.


 

This story started as an anonymous history, before I found a good voice. I think it could have been done better–its unclear why the story is being told or to who or when–but the concept is rather solid. The premise itself is limiting–there’s not much to do right now with a simple heist. There could have been more, but I…honestly couldn’t think of an expansion.

Next week, we resume a discussion of gargoyles and demons–but there dances and parties this time!

 

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The Fire Breaks

This Week’s Prompt: 75. Black Mass beneath an antiquated church.
The Prior Research:Witches Sabbath

Part 1:The Black Mass Gathers

I watched as the blue and green lights on the mountain faded. They slowly went away, leaving nothing but strange scars in the side of the stone, and from the window even theses were barely there. I was transfixed a little longer—not much, but a little longer. I felt eyes on me, from those mountains—something strange and numerous gazing at me as I quickly packed my things and left. I locked the door behind me, and went down the by now mostly empty roads.

Mrs. Lorain’s cooking would clear my mind—she often made a stew or soup that was something else. Walking down the path, smoother than I remembered, I saw a few more new arrivals chatting in strange tongues while buying bread. Two women and a man, dressed in outrageous clothing—like something out of century old painting, stretching itself into parody. One was tossing something like dice, but shaped strange on the table as they talked. Suddenly, one of the women looked at me. Her eye was bloodshot and black. It stayed fixed on me as she resumed conversation. It didn’t blink.

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I hurried along, avoiding the other crowds of strangers and costumes. The eye was still lurking on me some. It was a bit hard to breath when at times they pressed close to me. But at last, I arrived at the Lorain house.

“Peter! Why, aren’t you late. Did the students give trouble?” Mrs. Lorain asked from the kitchen. I collected myself for a moment. I slowed, staggered onto a chair and managed a smile.

“No, no, but the cold air caught me. I thought a storm was coming, so sprinted home.” I said, waving at the sky. It was cloudier outside then normal, but the storm had resisted raining for at least a week so far. Such is dawn of Autumn.

“Ah, well, I reckon it’s got a couple days before it rains and washes away some of the rubbish.” Mr. Lorain said, looking up from his almanac. He read it daily for such predictions. “Weather’s rather regular when you look at it all the way, Peter, you should know. Why, its almost enough to set a clock by.”

“Maybe, maybe. I thought for a moment I saw lighting on the mountain.” I said, cautiously expanding into my fears. I was unsure what to make of the sighting—there were accounts of seeing a woman in the Mediterrian and of course in Ireland and Scotland stones took on strange forms on misty mornings. Flashes of light as the sunset…were not necessarily strange nor significant.

“Ah, probably just some kids with some of the fireworks or something on the hill.” Mrs. Lorain said, as one of the guests—who introduced himself as Rinaldo, but would not give his family name—came down the stairs.

“What already? Their getting faster.” Rinaldo said, his necklace of feathers and bird talons bouncing a bit as he stopped. “Yeah, thunder and lightings an old trick on the mountain. You get some iron bowls or pans, you drop the right firecracker in them with in the old caves and it looks like the devil himself is in the woods.”

“Ah, well…if that’s all that’s good. I was worried for my wits back there.” I said, nodding slightly. When Rinaldo put a hand on my shoulder my blood ran cold.

“Don’t worry, sir, you’ll see far greater spectacles in a day or so.” He said, smiling with his ivory white teeth.

That was not comforting.

*

During the night, I got little sleep—and when I would sleep, I was startled awake rather quickly after. At first it was just the evening wind. I sealed the window then, paying little mind to the dancing and reveling I could dimly make out by the moonlight. Then it was a scratching at the window—one of the strays around town I think. I knocked on the door to keep it away.

And then…I don’t know why I woke up. I just did, in that terribly uncomfortable place of being a wake but loathing it. I got up to pace, but my legs and arms felt like stone. Even as I slumped over to my desk, weight settled on my back to bend me over. I started writing blankly, unaware and uninterested. I waited until the small glimmers of light came through the window. I packed for work then, unshaven and disheveled as I walked down the road. I’d barely remembered to dress.

School Brick2.png

The weights did not go away as I arrived ahead of the students, into the class room. I scraped the structure of the latest writing on the chalk board, coughing a bit at the dust. Exhaustion slows even times long passage and dulls the best senses. I didn’t notice the arrival of the Tarneys until Mrs. Tarney herself gave a rather noisey cough.

“Are you alright Peter?” She asked, leaning to the side of the doorway in a blouse and skirt—black with thin white lines running down, creaking into lighting lines at the bottom. I blinked and focused more on her voice.

“I’m…yes. Had a rough night last night.” I said, resuming to diagram and map Prospero’s island.

“Oh, something disagree with you?” She said, tapping her foot. “Normally Mrs. Lorain–”

“No, no, her cooking was superb as always.” I said, shaking my head. “No, just some sickness that I suspect is at it’s end. I’ll probably not stay so late tonight. The autumn winds aren’t good for my health I fear.”

“Well, they are thin and cold up here.” Tarney said as I placed the chalk down and began to set up my other things. “You might want to start bundling up…you look absolutely pale.”

And with a click of her tongue she was gone.

The lesson for the week was rather dull as well, but not without merits. We had begun work on Shakespeare’s plays, and now came to the end of those stories. Prospero and his island on our minds, I reviewed the structure and sonnets. The children were more fond of this then other plays—the nymph and dread Caliban gave an air of wonder to it. Suitable, I think, to even the teenagers and the young children. Far more than the tragedies.

After classes were dismissed—and there were a number of classes I contrived to teach the same text, for different aims—I again settled down and started packing my things to go. After last nights…strange encounter, I thought it would do to leave early. But…but I must be honest, there was a macabre fascination with the sight that held me. I need to know—was it delusion that I saw fire on the hills? And the strange habit of Mrs. Tarney made me cautious to follow her down the hill.

So instead I waited, watching out the window. I saw the old path that wound to the mountains—a dirt road worn out when trade up the hills were common. Sitting in my chair, I saw a trickle of travellers heading up the winding path. Most were dressed…more ostentiously then before. Bright colored cloaks and dresses, with feathered collars and scaly neck pieces. Almost all wore masks worthy of Venice…although a few had masks that were so pale and untouched they looked like bone wrote in the shape of a long forgotten creature.

I paid the first few of strangers no mind. The next two or three piquied my intereast away from the hill—after all, it was not a well known route. And after a dozen or so had gone, it became clear that some gathering was going to take place. Some party no doubt—I wondered briefly it was a tradition from when these now grown guests were teens. No matter. I made a few notes of faces and particularly outrageous costumes. Most were rather macabre. But otherwise,not worth notice. Not really.

The sun was setting now, and distantly I saw…yes, a spark. And another. Just fireworks, as the young man had said. Nothing more, nothing more. With that in mind, I packed my things, and headed home.

*

The road back to the Lorain’s was oddly barren. There was a young man packing things in the bakery—which was usually open far latter than this. A cat, who seemed like a miniature tiger, crossed my path. Turning to face me, the cat let me know I was not welcome on these fair streets with a rather unwholesome noise.

Then he scampered off.

The incident was unremarkable…except stray vermin and the occasional cat were the only occupants in the whole town I could find. The Lorain’s had locked the front door to the house—although the back was open. None of the guests, nor either Lorain was home. After searching for a time, I considered if they too had gone to that strange lights in the mountains. I considered going to bed early—retiring again to make up for lost sleep. But…sleeping alone, in an unguarded home, with potential drunkards wandering back into town…If there was one reasonable fear I had, it was the descent of a hoard of drunk bohemians armed with mischief.

So I sat and read for a time by the candlelight. And as I poured over pages of Parisian lore, I lost myself. Time spun her wheel faster over my head, interrupted only by the mewling of hungry cats. Then, a loud crash—and a distant flash. Lighting and thunder outside, lighting and thunder. I nearly fell out my seat, and turned to the mountains—and there, those lights had grown. There was a great conflagration along it’s mount. Some strange shape was at it’s core—and long dancing shadows came down from on high.

Fire Outside ElderBir.png

I set aside my fears and terrors. For there, there I knew was some mischief about. I began walking up through the town—the light of the mountain cast it in morning twilight. The cats were all about, standing at attention on the main road. I walked in back streets, slipping around the strange street up towards the mountain. The roofs were thick with ravens. Red eyes followed me out of town.

The trail was only rugged until the woods—then it began to grow smooth. The remains of old Roman roadworks were visible—rocks and bits of blocks sticking up with increasing frequency. The rain…the rain had swelled the dirt. The orange dirt looked dark red in the twilight, clay pushing up against the rocks and stones. The road was better kept as I went—the stones sealed together better.

The forest was alive with lights—the great bonfire that was raging raced down occasionally, in great columns of light. And the sounds—the sounds that night. There was music, of course, drums and pipes and trumpets. A cacophony of noise, unearthly but not unpleasant noise. Except the braying—there was the occasional bray of some no doubt terrified donkey.

As I wound my way up the path, small candles—their wax dripping over stones—came into view. At the base of these candles, carved in strange shapes and colors, votives were left by guests. I saw portraits and coinage glimmering in the darkness. The exact details were unclear—but the shapes were strange, and some had writing or scars drawn on them. I stopped at one. It was a young man, with a nail driven into the portraits eyes.

As the noise grew louder and I drew closer, I was tempted to leave the road—I was not looking forward to being seen here. But the woods now seemed to alive. A thin film floated in the air, a membrane invisible that none the less divided the woods and winds from me.

At the edge of the road, just as it wound to the flame, I was assaulted by an foul odor. It was rot and burning hair and sulfur. It nearly drove me to vomit, like walking into a sewage filled slaughterhouse. Swallowing, I turned the corner—and what dreadful things I saw.

The Fiery Monolith.png

There was that roaring many colored fire—and in it’s center was a monolith. The flames made it hard to see how it was raised—it looked like a singular stone finger. And atop the monolith was a bestial thing, a man with the head of goat. Serpents came from his cheeks, as he stood with arms spread out. A woman was on all fours, a great iron cauldron resting on her back. Clouds of incense and smoke rose from the cauldron.

As I was agap at the sight, I felt hands grab me. Turning I saw a porcelian mask with tusks jutting from the mouth—the scarlet dancer pulled me in a line of dancers. Feathered veils and dresses whirled around—leonine heads and bleeding eyes. I felt the coils of serpents run up my arms and around my back as I was pulled every which way. I wanted to scream, but something choked my voice.

The Ritual Goat.png

There were other moniliths. Other men with masks of great birds of prey, of skulls, of bulls with snakes fangs lining their mouths. The dancers continued. At the gesture of the scepters and staves, they sang in bestial tones. A wicked harmony they compelled—even my own voice became rough and formless. An ectasy took hold. They dragged me into the fire’s cold grip. Up, up the winding monolith.

I saw the face of the altar, as the goat-headed priest grabbed my hand. I saw the priest’s familiar eyes. As the hands guided me, the entire crowd cheering—they lowered me into the cauldron. It burned. It hurt.

It hurt as it filled my lungs, with boiling tar.

It hurt.

*

I woke up in the small, drab room in town. I ached all over as I rolled out of bed. I stumbled a bit, pulling my coat on. It was morning—my head was pounding and my skin…my skin felt strange. It felt…heavy, like a layer of dirt was on it. I shook it off and buttoned up my jacket. It was cloudy out—an iron gray sky. The window showed a town full of mist. Slowly blinking my eyes, I went down the stairs.

The road clicked as I walked along, absently buying some bread for breakfast. I’d take it on the hill today, I figured. The rain hadn’t started yet, and a breakfast inside would give it too much of a chance. And the rain—well, it was autumn and cold winds were coming. The rain would be a fever or mold on my clothes. I’d rather avoid that.

The students piled in, and sure enough the rain started to fall. In the distance, a fire was doused. The chalk on the board blurred beneath my touch. I coughed—and blinked as a black feather came out of my mouth.


 

I’m not super fond of the ending–I ran out of time, and had to rush something to happen to Peter. But overall, I like how this story turned out. I got to write some old fashion purple prose description, for good or ill. It was a bit slow at first, and could use some  expanding. Maybe next year it’ll be voted as a rewrite at the Patreon, who knows?

Next week! Research into gargoyles and guardians of churches! Come and see!

 

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

The Demon Throne

This Week’s Prompt:61. A terrible pilgrimage to seek the nighted throne of the far daemon-sultan Azathoth.

The Prior Research:Pilgrimages

There is an old road that runs beyond the world, to a most holy land. Beneath the two outstretched arms of giants, frozen for hubris long ago and now bleeding basalt in perpetuity, beyond the watch posts of the Crimson Kings who bear swords that sing, past the walls of stars that stand sentry against the crawling things. The road is worn, and broken in parts. Pavement and stones come and go, stone incarnations of an irregular heart beat. Drops of the old pulse still pass, following it past the end of the world to a most holy land.

Men and women who travel that road rarely come to it’s close. Most grow tired of their searching, abandon it for a highway, forming clots of wooden huts that grew sometimes into small towns. Others perished of over belief, forgetting their still mortal needs. Their skulls, if they were holy in death, grew into strange shapes. Some gained eyes after death, some horns, some became pallid growths in the earth, morticians moss on Mother Earth.

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And some found themselves in a situation like the sage Gilmora, in a cage of well made iron, bereft of his votive offerings of brass and his occult jade tools currently picking the flesh out of Negoi’s teeth. Negoi sat between the other two bandits, a mountain of muscle, with a necklace of relic fingers and tokens strung like beads. Occasionally he stirred the bronze pot, carved with divine faces, with the staff of some less fortunate traveller.

“So, what’s the haul with this one?” He asked the fellow to his right, who had cracked open the wooden case Gilmora had born with him.

“Not much, not much food anyway. Some skull thats gone and turned green.” Dozji said, holding the skull of St. Jian in one hand, turning it over and pulling out a cork seal. “ Dust in side. Smells like rotten eggs.”

“That’d be sulfur. I read once, stuff burns like fire, stings awful. Don’t know why you’d put it in a skull.” The third bandit, Olmoi with his beady red eyes said, looking up from the scrolls he had hanging from the branches. The letters on some were small square blocks unknown to Gilmora, while a codex of great worth was torn at the trees base, pages used to feed the fire of boiling flesh and fat.

“Maybe you throw it and the skull breaks on’em!” Dozji said, resealing the skull. “What do you say, little pig? Or is this how you lot season your food.”

“If a man is what he consumes, the ashes of a saint and sulfur can only do you good, friend.” Glimora said, folding his legs.

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Olmoi stopped Dozji’s hand before he poured the ash into the stew, shaking his head and quietly explaining that he would in fact perish, and kill all of them while he was at it. The three of them split the soup without any more of the saintly seasoning. Drinking out of the meditation bowls thank rang slightly when they hit the gold with their false teeth, making strange ringing for seconds before stoping at their lips. The conversation then went on to Glimora.

“Monks don’t fetch as much as they used, but I’m not sure if he’s worth eating…” Dozji muttered.

“Might be holy enough, we could hack him up. Polish his bones, sell him off as relics…” Negoi said, looking up from his bowl, turning it over so the scraps of less edible meat fell into the fire, crackling for a moment as the fat caught flame.

“If their relics, shouldn’t we just keep’em?” Olmoi said, frowning. “I mean, can’t monks tell what ain’t relics?”

“Yeah, but not fast. We can ditch them for another road or something.”

Gilmora sat serenly through the conversation, his mind’s eye wandering over the hills to see if that etheral city might be spotted. As the conversation continued, his invisilbe pupil continued on, settling in the barren wastes for a time. When he was done, he unfolded his legs and stood, walking to the edge of his cage.

“Ah, well, have an idea of where we should start?” Negoi said, messaging the finger bones and turning up from the conversation. Gilmora said nothing, walking to the front of the cage. His bones bent wax like round the iron rods, muscle and sinew folding out to make more room, before stitching himself back together on the other end with thin filaments of silk woven by unseen spiders.

“I knew he was holy.” Negoi murmured, before reaching for the sacrifical knife at his side and lunging at the escapd man, and running him through. Gilmora politely pushed the man back onto the fire, where the fat burned and scalled through the clothes of long dead pilgimrs, and the oil from the relics along Negoi’s neck burned bright.

Olmoi and Dozji merely stared as the pilgrim Gilmora went on his way, marching measuredly out of the camp and into the woods, back to the shimmering holy road. Olmoi glanced at his terror stricken fellow, before going after the escapee.

Olmoi had never followed the Pilgrim Road past the blasted heaths and hills, where none had returned. Negoi had once, and told the younger bandit that to glimpse that land was the worst decision of his life, and set him against any such pilgrims searching for that holy of cities, where demons walked the streets unhindered.

Azathoth City Body 2.png

Gilmora floated down the road then, barely touching the ground now. Olmoi heard distantly the song of a great beast, a deep siren sound of a whale as they drew near the iron hill. And there, for but a moment, in the indigo light of that place beyond the world, he saw the throne of Azathoth. The pulsating, squamous seprentine mass, grooves the size of buildings rising from the bulk as a mass of eyes and teeth stared down in all directions. At the center was a great maw, echoing outward with that song through fibrous teeth. Great was the yawning mass, an abyss of flesh with fingers reaching out on the wind.

And then Gilmora was gone, leaving not but his skull behind, smoke and dust swirling into the embrace of the demon king’s throne. The carnivorous cavern lasted but a moment more, a dread and terrible light shining within, beckoning like a beacon at sea. And then, it too was gone. Olmoi stared for a moment in terror, before collecting the skull of Glimora. Out of it’s foramen magnum dripped a sweet smelling liquid, like honey. But it’s touch burned Olimoi’s fingers. He flipped it in his hands and carefully carried it back to mortal lands. But that is a story for another time.


This was a rushed story, to be honest. My first few drafts were boring, tiresome, and had nothing happening. This is the result rewrite that tried using the pilgrimage as a spring board, and expanding into actually including characters. Next time, however, we will return to an old well of classic horror: Burial alive.

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Pilgrimages

This Week’s Prompt:61. A terrible pilgrimage to seek the nighted throne of the far daemon-sultan Azathoth.

The Resulting Story: The Demon Throne

A traveler’s corpse has been found on the road, heading to some distant holy sight ruled by a demon king. We’ll be digging up a number of corpses for this one. Because, as shocking as it might be, diabolic creatures as sources of heavenly insight are not as uncommon as you might believe!

Azathoth we’ve talked about at length here, so we won’t repeat much of mythos lore here. We do have stories of individuals going to Azathoth’s black throne, to sign in a dread book for knowledge and witch craft. But for the most part, the court of Azathoth is referred to only obliquely and in reference to the dance and music of various gods. That done, there is a precedent of demon kings having a good deal of heavenly knowledge. We discussed one such being last time we did research: Asmodeus.

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Asmodeus is a demon of some note, who has an odd reputation in the midrash and talmud around holy texts. He has done dreadful things, such as slaying seven successive husbands of a woman in the Book of Tobit, but has also aided in things such as building the temple itself. He gave knowledge of the future to Solomon and provided, by a trickster curse, an education on reality with the ring.

The capacity to grant knowledge is associated with a number of demons in the Ars Goteia. The play Faust also includes the conjuring of a demon for the knowledge such a fallen angel possesses. The logic is rather clear here: An angel has a view of all the cosmos, but is in alignment with God. Distracting an angel from it’s divine task is, of course, sinful. But a demon has nothing better to do and may possesses some of the knowledge of their deeds before the fall. The binding of demons into objects, either for wonderous working or in order to compel knowledge from them, was a tradition of sorts in the early church. The dangers of this hubris are rather obvious, and the practice was mostly suppressed.

It should be noted that such knowledge bearing principle is no doubt tied to the association of demons with the dead, who we discussed consulting here. As many demon lords have no knowledge, and in fact are deceivers as much as any. Not far from Asmodeus, we find Ahriman, who is the literal lie to Ahura Mazda’s truth in Zorastrianism.

Shukra.png

Wise demons, to stretch the term somewhat, is found more prominently in the Asura of India. Mahabali was an asura king, celebrated by his subjects, who regularly preformed penance in order to return to the world of the living. Shukra serves as the guru of the asura, as knowledgeable as the guru to the more heroic devas. Sunda and Upasunda were asura brothers who’s asectisim grew dangerous and frightening to the gods, to the point were the god Brahman was compelled to grant them a boon. The Tripasura, who we discussed here, gained their dominion over the world and their near invulnerable cities by mediation and religious practice.

A demon as the goal of a pilgrimage is rather unusual, however. The typical pilgrimage goal is to some holy site. In Europe, the locations of miraculous items, either the bodies or images of saints. Copies of these images are often sent back as markers of their successful pilgrimage. These tokens typically contained some miraculous power of their own, refracted from the original.

The power of these sacred places is best known to me regarding icons. Images of saints and holy figures, the miraculous icon often has healing power attributed to it. The image’s attributites can be more extreme however. When a bishop unveiled an icon despite tradition, the image of the virgin Mary underneath drove him to suicide. Other instances are recorded of the image’s mere gaze driving out demons from the bodies of the possessed. The end of the road of a pilgrimage is a sacred work, but the sacred is dangerous and powerful.

Kaaba.png

The most famous pilgrimage, of course, is the pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims, carried out once in a life time. The Hajj has its specified time, the eighth to twelfth month of the Muslim calendar, and attracts millions every year to Saudi Arabia. The Hajj, as one of the five pillars of Islam, is necessary barring financial or health concerns. The site itself contains what, according to the Koran, is the first place of worship constructed by Ishamael and Abraham. The sites holiness cannot be overstated in this case.

Other faiths maintain their own pilgrimage sites: Zorastrians to fire temples that have survived, Hindus to the sites of major moments of divine action, Buddhists to sites of the life of Buddha. I know less regarding these, however, and didn’t have the time to delve into any of them deeply as I would have liked.

Journey to the West.png

In addition to these, there are stories of pilgrimages. One that sticks out to me, with talk of demons and such, is the Journey to the West. Here, while demons are not the goal of the pilgrimage, they are assisting in the travel—admittedly for their own benefit, but still. The pilgrimage in that case is of a Buddhist monk retrieving a set of scriptures from India to be brought to China, for the betterment of all. Here we have demonic aid for the completion of the pilgrimage, and demonic challengers to the progress of our pilgrim.  There is more to go into on the Journey to the West, but as it is a classic work I encourage my fellow scholars of the deceased to pursue it on their own. 

There is also the collection of stories known as the Cantebury tales. While a bawdy and comedic affair, and ranging in quality and incomplete, the story does center around the people who travel on this pilgrimage, their reasons and their means, and how they entertain themselves along the way. This format was taken up later, in a science fiction context, in the novel Hyperion to good effect as well.

A danger to said pilgrims, found in the Christian tradition, has some odd horror aspects as well. As holy figures, the remains of pilgrims were sought for as relics. While some villages and towns were content to merely find those who died of exhaustion or exposure, at least one went beyond. One Saint Gerald of Cologne–who’s documentation I can only find below–was killed by bandits near Cremona, and then had his relics stored their for future reverence. This sounds to me similar in principle to the demons of Journey to the West who seek to set upon the monk for his immortality-granting-flesh.

There was a recent murder in Spain of a pilgrim from the United States. While the motives are unknown, the murderer did intentionally mislead and disorient the woman in question, before murdering her and mutilating her body. The pilgrims road is thus perhaps still dangerous in the modern era.

The pilgrimage then can serve both as a source of danger and a way to unite a diverse number of characters. The motive in this case, to behold the court of the ultimate creator (As Azazoth is to a point), and the ultimate source of knowledge can include any number of beings as well as professions. And a winnowing of visitors—akin to the one at the frozen mountain with a garden atop—would also be a start.

The story should certainly establish the reasons or motives for the traveling—even if only in a line or two, or perhaps by implication—and what the expected difficulties are, how they’ve prepared, and then get into how thing begin to go wrong. It could end with the death or dissertion of all pilgrims before reaching the fabled throne, or we might glimpse that ultimate mystery ourselves. The history of searching for the holy is fraught with challenges. The Grail Quest removes nearly a third of all the knights of the Round Table and leads eventually—in some versions—to the downfall of the entire court. The dangers along the roadside are numerous.

I have a few ideas of horrific or horror tinged pilgrimages to strange and dark locations. The throne of Azazthoth, and the holds of demon princes and kings in general, are well guarded, far way, and deserted places. Our pilgrims will be risking mind, body, and soul for a glimpse at that ultimate font of reality.

There is a story of what happens when one glimpses the ultimate paradise. Four rabbis entered. One went mad, one became a heretic, and one died. Only the fourth entered and left in peace. To look upon the holy is to risk everything. The horror. The horror.

Biblography:

Garnett, Jane, and Gervase Rosser. Spectacular Miracles: Transforming Images in Italy, from the Renaissance to the Present. Reaktion, 2013.

Geary, Patrick. 1986. “Sacred Commodities: The Circulation of Medieval Relics” in Arjun Appadurai (ed.) The Social Life of Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.169-91.

Vauchez, AndreÌ. Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2005.


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A Loss of Idenitity

This Weeks Prompt:54. Transposition of identity
The Resulting Story:Dr. Klien’s Little Book

The loss or shifting of identity is a recurring fear, such that I do not terribly begrudge Mr. Lovecraft for giving us a three word prompt. A discussion of identity loss, however, must focus on two changes to identity that could be called transpositions. One is to lose identity to another, to have it stolen. Dopplegangers, changelings, pod people, and other such notions where someone pretends for a time to be the unfortunate victim. The other mode is to have more bodily seizure of identity. To suddenly be someone else, to be possessed or altered and granted a new identity.

The first variation has, as mentioned, something of a folkloric and popular culture history. The idea of creatures that take on the appearance of a living being, as a sort of apparition, appears in Irish folklore as a Fetch, an ominous shade that warns of death. Etiäinen are a Finnish manifestation of a guardian spirit that appears to be a person doing the actions they will do in the future. But these are not quite what we are looking for as a transposition of identity.

Zeus-Uther

Zeus and Uther, both kinda creepy.

A more accurate idea of this sort of double might be in an old story(That was apparently written by Mark Twain, huh), the Prince and the Pauper. Here we have two individuals who look identical, and thus are able to (with some planning) take the place of each other. While that particular tale is lacking the sort of malice that switched identities often carry. We might consider the work of Merlin, who enchanted Uther Pendragon to assume the likeness of his enemy to lay with his Igraine, and thus conceive Arthur. Or the similar story of Zeus taking on the form of Alcemene’s husband in order to conceive of Heracles. More extended instances of taking on the form of others in order to spell misfortune are noted. A changeling, for instance, is a deception of a family with the intent of making off with a child. 

To touch briefly on a scientific note, there is a mental disorder where one is obsessed with the notion that a friend or loved one has been replaced with a look alike. This Capgras delusion may be a good reminder that many of the accusations of individuals being replaced by some other, alien thing are not…not taken well, and may in fact be used by confused individuals to justify harming others.

MedievalExorcism.png

Man, the human version of hairballs is awful

Moving to the idea of transposition not away from the individual but onto the individual, the very first notion that springs to mind is demonic possession. I specify demonic to indicate an uninvited and unsought possession. There are a number of examples of this in popular culture, specific the Exorcist film that convinced many that Ouija boards are the devil.

Catholic possessions often culminate in destructive and suicidal behaviors. Early symptoms include speaking in tongues, exhibiting secret knowledge, blasphemous rage, and incredible strength. Possession need not be of individuals, but may be of animals or places.

An interesting potential character here is a number of demons in the Ars Goetia, who impose afflictions of the mind onto others. Twelve of the 72 reconcile friends, 11 make others fall in love, and at least one renders other men the subjects of the summoner. While this is less a transposition as the other stories, the altering of consciousness radically is as terrifying even if direct possession is not at the root.

PaimonandBeleth.png

However, exorcists date back at least to ancient Sumer, where we have assorted inscriptions for invoking the might of the sun god Shamash in order to combat possession. Possession in the sense of Sumer is not terribly developed. Ghost possession is a second possibility, more common perhaps. A ghost may end up possessing a living person of it’s own power, or be conjured for that purpose and inflicted on someone.

Some Hindu theories of possession do not treat it as a seizure of the body, but rather the cause of illness. There are a number of charms and wards against these included in one of the Vedas, linked to here.

Demonic or ghostly forces –and we would do well to remember that hell and the underworld are often very deeply related—can thus rewrite or transpose a new identity onto an individual, compelling them to be someone they normally are not.

But this is…perhaps not what Howard Phillip Lovecraft intended. He was always, at least in nomine, a man of science. The best analysis of this notion are tales like The Thing on the Doorstep. Here, the alluring power of the Waites family is described as hypnotic. Lovecraft was writing when hypnotism was gaining steam, although he personally might not have indulged much on the matter. Still, it was a new science that, while now discredited, promised access to the deepest portions of the human pysche.

It has yet to deliver, but the idea of brainwashing to create a new identity is common enough. For instance, we may observe a modern depiction of mass technological (in name) possession in Doctor Who. The Master, a master hypnotist, use medical machinery to convert all of earth’s populace into himself in a rather disturbing sequence in the episode End of Time.

The Manchurian Candidate and Jason Borne are other famous examples of new personalities onto people. The often horrifying to discuss brainwashing techniques, while how possibly nonexistent, have a place in the mind of genre writers at least as tools of recruitment and shifting of beliefs and even entire modes of thought for nefarious purposes. And this line of thinking lead me to a novel idea.

We have examples of these powers or tactics used to shape followers. But what of leaders? What if a cult tried to create it’s own chosen one, it’s own ideal leader, using these methods? Philosophers including Plato have discussed the idea of molding leaders through subversive means. The idea of a cult working to make someone, unwittingly and unknowingly, into their ideal leader may be an intreasting one to explore.

Real life examples of large scale magic might be found in the Bablaon Working or tulpa creation (although neither of these are actually, exactly, what we are looking for). There are number of tricks to be considered before carrying on. We should discuss of course whether to view this change from within the mind of the narrator or without. Within is more intimate, more horrifying maybe. But without gives us a fuller understanding of what has occurred. If looking from the outside, we can see the changes wrought and how different things have become with much, much more certainty.

If we were to start from within, it would most likely manifest in breaks in narration. Start with the character in one location, and then inexcpilcably time and space have passed without the audience or the narrator aware. Of course, having laid out this gimick in such detail, I am now inclined not to use it. Especially since, while mysterious, it relies a bit to much on the twist. Still, I have an idea in mind that will at the least be entertaining. Come next week to see what poor soul is lost!

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The Wedding of the Oberherrescher, Part 1

This Week’s Prompt: 40. Warning that certain ground is sacred or accursed; that a house or city must not be built upon it—or must be abandoned or destroyed if built, under penalty of catastrophe.

The Research:The Ground Under Your Feet

Part 2: Here

It began with a fallen brick, a loose piece of stone work that drew everyone’s attention with a crash at the top of the stairs. Three generations of Oberherrscher watched as the single block fell from the top of the arch, leaving a pair of broken stone fangs at the crest. And then, after a moment, a dozen more followed, the archway collapsing almost in it’s entirely. Beside them, Lady Holdberg and her brother Tobias gasped in horror. For, to the tears of all, the youngest of the Oberherrscher family, William, was now beneath the great stones of the hall.

The footmen on hand rushed them out of the hall as the mother fell to her knees weeping. Up a few flights, the would-be bride and her brother were taken. Tears, they had once been told, were for the privacy of closed doors.

“Do you think…do you think it did him in?” Lady Holberg said, after recovering herself.

“It is possible. But men have surivived in the depths of fallen mines. He might be alive.” William said, sitting by the bed.

“A strange thing, for the stones to break. Stone ought last longer.” Lady Holberg said, turning out the window. “But I suppose crumbling stone is to be expected in this valley.”

Along the valley, in clear veiw, was the stone caracasses of castles rising out of the mist. Lady Holberg wondered how so much had fallen away so fast. Why none of the halls and towers had been swept away and rebuilt later.

“You know, I once heard the crusaders tore down entire monuments, that they could raise more castles in the distance.” She said, staring at the crumbling ruins. “It seems strange to spare these architectural cannibalism.”

“Perhaps,” William said, walking over to the same veiw, “but there are no new castles to be built, are their? And forts in the colonies and frontier are so far that carrying the stones seems a fools idea. Maybe if there is a war on the continnent, they’ll carve new ones out of the hills.”

William’s eyes drifted from fallen peripat to tumbled tower, until it cam to rest again on an intact and inhabited residence. It was a stained window into an old hall. William could see the eldest of the Oberherrschers seated at the table, a man more wrinkles than skin. Beside him, dimly in the sunlihgt, William made out the form of the elderly matriarchs of the Oberherrscher family, sisters that were piles of black veils and gowns, nearly living shadows in their perpetual mourning dead husbands. He wondered briefly if it was his sisters fate.

“How many elders are you marrying into?” William asked, as his eyes scrutinized the table more carefully.

“What? I don’t…just the three I think.” Lady Halberg said, coming over to her brother. She counted the members at the table he pointed at. Seven, seven bodies in seven seats, each a shifting and whispering mass of silk.

“That is…odd. Perhaps there are others they are entertaining?” Lady Holberg wondered.

“They seem familiar, and concerned.” William said.

“Panic makes sense, when your youngest son dies a week before the wedding night.” Lady Halberg said, leaning over to see more clearly. However, their observations were interrupted by a pounding on the door.

Another footman with the red-yellow crest on his chest explained that the family had good news down in the main hall, if the lady was more at ease and not anxious of heart. Lady Holberg infromed the footman that she had regained her composure. William Holberg had never lost it.

So the Holbergs were escorted down the stairs to the main hall. A large hall built like an upside down ship, with a large set of cross beams, the columns were topped by the great lions of the mountains, claws outstretched in order to grasp invisible prey. Lady Holberg wondered if the arhitect realized that they seemed to be reaching for the people sitting in the hall.

The middle generation of Oberherrschers was waiting in the middle of hall. The eldest Oberherrscher had abdicated to Heinrich Oberherrscher when he passed his seventieth year. Heinrich had since lost a great deal of his youth to the castle, by most accounts. By his thirtieth year, his hair was rendered silver despite his face still having something young about it. His eyes were bagged and seemed to catch the light of lanterns and candles, making them glowing orbs set into a melting waxen mold. His wife was a singluar stripe of red, with hair kept in curls. She sometimes seemed to Lady Holberg to be a tongue rising from the Earth. The lady was pale by her own discretion as well, her face a somber moon even in the brightest room. They were speaking quietly, as best not to be overheard, until the Holbergs arrival imposed silence as the two turned to face them.

“Sofia, madame, I am glad to see you well. Well, as well as you can be all things considered.” the Lord Oberherrscher said, bowing his head slightly. “but we have good news, grand news in fact.”

“Is it about Tobias? Is he safe?” Lady Holberg asked. William observed that the footmen moved back and forth quickly with hammers and chisels. Thing with which one could break down stone, presumably to clear out the mess.

“Our beloved is safe and sound, yes. After you left, we found found him. Some stones broke his leg, and his of course deeply frightened. But he is alive and, with some work and bracers, will be able to walk in a few weeks time.” the Lord Oberherrscher replied, his mouth forming a thin smile.

“Oh, that’s wonderful news! Why didn’t you simply tell me?” Lady Holberg asked.

“It seemed…inappropiate not to address your dismay, young lady.” Lady Oberherrscher replied.

*

It was days before there was another incident. William and Sofia made a point of visiting Tobias, broken thing that he was. He resembled his father ever so slightly, being broad shouldered and with a wide head. He was striking in his striving for fitness, but it never seemed to wear on him properly. With the cane that was now his custom, it seemed even less. William once remarked to their father that he seemed to bulge through his skin, as if it was a suit tailored for a much younger and smaller man.

But the calamity that came did not befall Tobias. They were walking in the main hall, Heinrich Oberherrscher directing them in the rituals of the familial marriage with the eldest of the family. The aged former lord was never addressed by name, only Grandfather or Father. Sofia had never seen him walk, always seated rather in a chair. A pair of attendants stood on hand, presumably to move him whenever he needed to be moved. At times, when the light was dim, they were identical in everyway. The sun seperated them nicely however.

The rituals were not to strange, additions to the sacrament that only a devout man would object to. They featured a cup that was filled with wine from the ancient vineyard, from which both man and wife would drink. A specially prepared loaf would be eaten, containing a few specks of the castle grounds baked in.

“And then, after this, you shall recite the vows. These vows–” Lord Oberherrscher said, before a loud crack of stone cut him off. A second followed, then a third , a fourth, fifth. One of the great lions of the hall suddenly came tumbling down, claws out stretched. In silent terror, Lord Oberherrscher dived out of the way, but not fast enough. Long stone talon marks struck across his back, leaving bleeding lash marks.

“No, no don’t mind me!” the bleeding lord shouted, struggling to his feet as footmen rushed towards him. “Carry on, carry on, I’ll be fine. I’ve got more than enough blood in me, I’ll be fine.”

“I think it might be best to pause, wait for your recovery.” Maximillian said, eyes glancing at where the lion fell from. There was a scafaloding hidden behind it, a way for servants to move in the upper towers. And for instant he saw a large form slink down the hall, a shadow darting down.

“No, no, it’s fine, I’m—” here the Lord’s protestations were interrupted by a coughing fit as he gripped his back. His palms were stained as the footmen lifted him up.

“We must stop, for the night.” the eldest Oberherrscher said, a sudden burst of shouting from his oversized mouth, elongated by wrinkles. “Tomorrow morning we will finish. Lady Holberg seems to have the jist of it anyway, and I won’t have you dripping blood on the floor. It must be kept clean, very clean.”

“I…do get the general idea, thank you Lord Oberherrscher for your concern.” Lady Halberg said, curtsying briefly. Her brother walked her up some of the stairs towards their room. The walls were narrower here and the bricks were blended over, emerging only in wounds of the wall. If one was not cautious or perceptive, one might be misled and think the whole castle was but one large cave grown out of the mountainside.

“This place is not well in the head.” Lady Halberg whispered to her brother.

“No, it does not seem. Still, I wonder if it’s the place or something else.” Maximillian said, frowning. “I saw a man, or a thing, pushing the lion.”

“Nothing human could have moved it. No, I think this place has simply gotten old. Look, here, feel this patch of stone.” Lady Halberg said touching a break in the wall. “It’s spongey and warm. I can sometimes see roots growing, or dark molds breaking through the edges of the stone.”

“Festering architectural wounds aside, I saw something move that statue. And if it couldn’t be a man, well, then perhaps it was something else. Old castles and ruins attract red caps and worse. They might have come up here in the mean time.”

“And next you’ll have us running to the friar. Misfortune comes with age, because it looks so similair.” Lady Halberg said, glancing again down at the heaps of stone below. In the setting sun, they seemed almost silver and gold, shining stripes against a blue green earth.

“Well, be cautious. I best make sure that my own room lacks cuts and bruises that send large stone lions crashing down.” Maximillian Halberg said, taking his leave.

*

Lady Halberg waited until night came, until the sun was gone and the pallid moon made the world a dim shadow of itself, to begin preparing for the night. She told her self that such misfortunes as had come to pass must be common to the family and the castle, too old to stand alone anymore. To old to be anymore.

As she stared at the wallpaper peeling like potchmarked skin, she began to slowly drift to sleep. It seemed to rise from the bed like an intoxicating fog. Her sleep had been the best in this old crumbling castle, it’s age welcoming her below, a temporary excursion to the lands of the dead.

But then, there was a scratch in the hall, an iritant that began to rouse her. The scratch came again, louder. Something dragging along the hall. Her eyes slowly flickered open, to hear great thumping now. Footsteps, no, horsesteps. Marching down the hall, clopping along the stone floor. That roused the Lady instantly. She reached for a poker from the fire place and crept toward the door. The horse had grown louder, larger. Lady Halberg had heard of no horse of such size, the ground seeming to shake with each step.

Despite the wills of her father and mother, Lady Halberg had some valor and fire in her heart. She opened wide the door, raised poker to smote whatever intruder was waiting. But what she found astounded her.

Atop a white destrier was a man in shining white, a scimitar at his side and dressed in bright blue robes. He rode on at full speed now, galloping through the halls and shouting in a tounge she did not understand. At best, she imagined it an archaic Arabic. But the roar of wind that followed him down the hall, a light like star, startled her back into the room. After a moment to regain her composure, she looked again.

And naught was there but moonlight, shining through a window. It’s light cast a pale image of St. George running through the dragon along the hall, with only the red and green to distinguish the blurred image. Lady Halberg cursed the veil of sleep for betraying her, as no sign of hoofsteps were on the floor.

But as she stood, she did see something, something bent over in the hall. It had the form of a great man, one of immense and impossible stature, staring with a loathsome eye and a long beard like roots. She back slowly into her room, reaching for a candlestick. Here eyes never left the form and it’s eye, which was locked with hers. Gripping a small silver stick, she turned away only to light it with a match in the drawer.

When she turned back around, it was gone.

But the lady was familiar with the hunt, and considering herself well armed, decided to pursue the figure. She took the candle down the hall where that form lurked, thinking it some burglar or the attempted murderer of her soon to be father-in-law. She was not entirely wrong on either account, to her credit. The form had abandoned the hall, but Lady Halberg found it easy to follow footsteps. It stayed atop the castle for a time, before fleeing down stairwells that Lady Halberg barely knew. Only lighting more eagerly sought the ground than this man.

Lady Halberg stayed close behind, thundering along. She made no attempt to hide her pursuit, perhaps hoping that it would frigthen the theif into surrender or inaction. Instead, he seemed more set on escape. So set that, after delving a layer beneath the earth itself, he had vanished. There was nothing but the room plastered over, with giants holding up it’s roof. Lady Halberg caught her breath, cautiously examining her surroundings. She had no desire to go from hunter to hunted.

As she paced, the lady tapped the walls absent mindedly with her prod, eyes darting round. She paid it no mind, until it strukc a portion of the wall and sounded hollow. She frowned, turned and struck it harder. Hollow. Something on the other side. She knelt down cautiously, touching her hand to the spot.

And quickly recoiled from it’s heat. She resolved to retire for now. She would inform Maximillian in the morning. After all, her sleeplessness would be apparent, and she suspected it would not due for her to be pursuing the castle secrets in the dead of night.

CoverTaboo.pngPart 2:

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The Wedding of the Oberherrschers, Pt 2

This Week’s Prompt: 40. Warning that certain ground is sacred or accursed; that a house or city must not be built upon it—or must be abandoned or destroyed if built, under penalty of catastrophe.

The Research:The Ground Under Your Feet

Part 1:Here

“A what?” Maxmillian said in a hushed whisper.

“I don’t know what, but it was large and fast. Must have been the thing you saw.” Sofia said, carefully cutting her eggs.

“And you chased it?”

“Is a noblewoman not to defend her castle? If I went to you, it’d have escaped.” She said, glancing over at Heinrich Oberherrscher, who’s back was clearly still pained. Whatever miracle cure there had been for Tobias had by all accounts expired.

“Well, I—Hmph. Fair enough I suppose. I doubt they’ll give me much trouble, though watch yourself. Whatever is causing this seems to prefer you remain a maid.”

“It can rot then.” Lady Halberg said with a chuckle.

“I’m serious! First it attacks your fiance, now it interrupts your rehersal and nearly kills your father in law. Be wary, or it will kill you.”

Maximillian himself found it easy to be excused from the exercises that day. The elderly Oberherrscher from his long seat and footmen waved him away when he explained he wished to get some air. The footmen he found somewhat more vexing.

“I’m quite fine, thank you.” He had said to the latest pair that improvised themselves as escorts to his walks through the castle.

“Yes sir, if you feel safe and certain.” The men with lion helms said, leaving again. Each patrol had said so, and each time Maximillian worried it was less concern and more menace. Still, he made his way down the path his sister had charted, into the depths of the castle. As he approached the underground, he took up his own torch. There was no sun below after all.

He found the wall quickly, and found it still hot to the touch. Not as burning as his sister said, or perhaps his skin was tougher to the threats of the fire. Running his fingers across it, he found it easy to remove some of the stones, making an opening that he could duck through. The burglar, he noted, must have been swift fingered to open and close such a passage before his sister seized him.

The interior of the room before him was…well, it was wonderous. Gold and iron lined the walls instead of bitter stone. Carvings along it, broken into the rusting iron between the gold showed saints painted softly, small figures in the presence of veins of metal and well worn works. And the heat was greater, the air thick with burnt incense and a dull hum.

Maximillian gripped his sword as he went in deeper. As he walked through the tunnel, he saw sarcophagi on the side, with faces as much lion as man. Writing ran across their faith, and on their chests was carved a foreign sigil. No sign of cross as tall, except the guard on the sword that ran to its feet. But footsteps below drew Maximillian deeper.

Deeper and deeper, in caverns that glittered in the torchlight, until at last he came across a vast cavern. It had the look of a chapel, a great altar in the center and rotting pews lined for service. They had been cleared back for another massive cyst. It was brass, lined with gold, with a face made of silver. The form showed a large prince, attended on all sides by impish creatures and locusts. Written along it’s bottom was the name “Dahak, Master of the World”. Beneath it names unfamiliar to Maxmillian: Agraes, Bael, Marbaras. As he inspected the shape, he heard a laughing shot from above.

Chapel Vathek

Raising his torch, he saw it crouched on the bone like beams that ran across the ceiling. Defaced images of angels and saints sat in judgement behind it, a hunched over mountain of a man. He had a beard that ran down his chest, and eyes that shown in the dark. His laughter was bitter, and as he rolled his head back, Maximillain saw a thin iron cross hanging from his neck.

And he spoke, in hoarse tones.

“So you are the boy they send now to rout dear Marbrason? Come, good forign man! Test your strength! The Lord will see you slain far from home!”

“I have absolutely no idea who you are.” Maximillian said, drawing his sword, “But if I am slain in defence of my sister, then the Lord is not the one who has decided this bout.”

“Your sister? You are the brother of the bride to be, the bearer of inquities? Then our opposition is one of bad faith,” the man mused, stroking his long beard, “for your sister is one of the many I hope to save.”

“Save by tossing statues at her?” Maximillian shouted up at the man. “You’ll pardon my lack of faith in your benevolence.”

“Not at her you fool! At those who would do her the worst harm man can imagine!” the man said. “The Oberherrscher scheme new malices for you and yours yet. For they have spoken with what works in the older house. They appeal to deeper powers.”

“And who are you, to know so much of the Oberherrscher’s comings and goings?”

“I am Marbarson, as I said. Or is your listening poor?” The man said from the rafters.

“Yes, but who is that? Surely you cannot be a man. I saw your work with stone, no man could do that. Not alone.”

“Aye, I’m not enitrely a man. My mother was of Eve’s line, but my father was of a crueler kin.” Marbrason replied, pointing down towards the unbroken earth. “For that fool’s reign, it was courtly fashion to be attended by infernal dukes and princes as if they were foreign dignitaries. And of them I am begotten.

“Well, if you are a child of the devil and a woman that would lie with him, why should I trust your words at all?”

“Because it was not my father in flesh that raised me.” Marbrason replied. “No, his kind feel no compassion for their offspring. I was one of many wild calibans, through blackened and charnel wood, amazed at the wars and wonders waged by impish legions overhead. But I had a single stroke of happy fate, despite the rest of miserable kind.”

“You, a happy fate? You forgive my disbelief.”

“Ah, but it was belief! For I found a man loathed by my father’s ilk. He was old and broken and had naught but one possession, a simple book. A commentary on what was left of holy scripture. This man taught me the things that spirits of greed and inquity were loath to think of. Voiceless he was, his tounge removed by dogs of the crowns then. But still I learned enough of holy words then, and kept the book close, as I hid in this dim chapel.” Marbarson said, gesturing at the cavern. “For it was only towards the end of darkness that my father’s mechanical engines and his compatriots breaking earth were able and willing to pierce it’s halls, to be a tomb for the Prince who brought them. Then I was driven to further flight. But it was near enough the end.”

“The end? Which? A hundred crashed and desolate castles lie like bodies around this hill.”

“And all of them and more fell to the Turk’s sword. As much as my father resented them, they came as holies on the land. I saw the saints riding with them. I saw them, shining horses and firey swords.” Marbarson said,tracing one of the saints above him. “The ilk of my sire fled before them. And I saw my sire, with his dread designs and plauges attempt to escape into the earth, to emerge from the tomb when it was free. That I could not allow. So I spoke words from pslams as best I knew them. Now, he lies imperfetly bound beneath the earth.”

“And so, for the sake of a prisoner you make attempts on the living?”

“Bound not silent! Listen, lordling, and you may hear him breathing in the gold that lines halls. No, I assail the living to send them fleeing this place, lest they be seduced by him and his. And for years, I succeeded. Centuries passed without a word. But this family.” Maximillian swore Marbarson shuddered. “They knew some fell art from backward hills, and were able to break some of the bond. So they have their legion of imps, who take on the guise of footmen, and fell powers to send me back below. They have become partners in Marbras’s scheme, with your sister at it’s center.”

“So, not only am I expected to believe that one of hell’s legions lies in these halls, but that the Oberherrschers are in league with powers infernal. Have you any proof of this?”

“Have you seen their footmen? How they all seem much the same?”

“A uniform does that, creature.”

“Then look about this hall. Look at how the ore grows, wrapping and weaving around.”

“The world is full of wonders. That ruins become beuaty is no secret.”

“Fine! Then tell me, princeling. Where are the priests?” Marbrason asked, leaning over.

Maximillian paused. He thought over every man and woman that he had seen in the halls. The Oberherrschers had made no mention of chapel the Sunday before, but Maximillian had assumed modern notions of piety had penetrated this far. The ritual however, and the ornateness of the castle seemed suddenly at odds with that. Biting his lip, he finally hit upon a point.

“Ah! But there is a priest coming, for the wedding! Perhaps they must invite one, but they are not afraid of holy men!” Maximillian said, stabbing at the air with his sword. The incence shook with the laughter of Marbrason.

“Even a demon can wear the clothes of a holy man. But if it will not persuade you, ask them. Ask them about this priest. See how much he is, for I swear by all that is holy, they have no concern or intent on the sacrament of marriage. But leaving that aside, what think you of Tobias?”

“What of him? He is strangely formed and sickly—a”

“And ought to be dead.” Marbrason said, tilting his head. “Buried beneath stones that shatter bones. But he is walking, utterly unharmed. I have watched him from afar, but you must have noticed. Not even a bruise.”

“Say I believe you,” Maximillian said, frowning, “say I trust you that these men of rank and power are creatures of hell and servants of darkness. What would you have me do? Flee, with my sister, and tell the world this story?”

“What you do is your own will. You seem eager to use your sword for your sister’s defence. Put it proper.” Marbrason said with some remanent of a reverend’s authority. “I will endevor by all means to undo these beasts that call themselves men. For I cannot allow my sire to free himself, nor by means foul create more of those creatures wise men call nephilim and fools call giants.”

Before Maximillian could respond, Marbrason bounded down atop the tomb and made to leave through the tunnel again. However, as his feet set down on tomb, the cloud subsumed him, devouring him whole. Maximillian started back as a large lion rose from the earth, a glowering appraition with purple eyes rushed upwards, disheartening between the rafters. He made a hasty retreat at once.

*

While her brother had his encounter below, Sofia Halberg was walked through the halls to the lion’s chamber. With repairs on the second hall, and her own concerns about the uncertainty of the structures there, Tobias and the elder Oberherrscher had agreed it’d be best to move to the closest thing the old castl had to an chapel in this day and age.

The Lion Room was the image of magnificence. An elaborate statue of a lion bearing tomes of law stood in the center, flanked by serpents. The elder Oberherrscher explained in brief that the lion was for John, bearing with a lion’s roar the gospel all the way to the old castle. The men who became the Oberherrscher line, he said, found something prefferable to the Gospel as John told it then to the others.

“It was an eternal supposition, not some nonesene of prophecy, but a taste of the immortal walking among us and spreading out, a plauge of goodness on the world, roots of a grand tree that was planted in the beginning.” The elder Oberherrscher said. “Nothing of kings and geneologies, nothing of infants and fleeing. Pure beatific visions of the cosmos.”

Lady Halberg was not so caring on the matter of gospels, though the large statue of the lion was imposing enough. The room was lined with gold and glass, a great mirror on either side giving it and it’s fountains a sense of eternity. The fountains, Tobias explained, were ingenious designs of his ancestor. The water itself came from a fairly distant spring, and was run using a set of pipes, pumps, and pulleys. Once a month, some of the servants dealt with the manual portions of the system, insuring the water was always fresh and shimmering like silver.

“Used to be actual silver, but we lost that bit of the work didn’t we.” Tobias said, turning to his grandfather. The grunt neither confirmed nor denied what Sofia assumed was jest.

“What was this room for back then? It’s so…much.” Sofia said, faining a loss of words.

“It was the chapel, when we were properly pious. But Heinrich hated church, I suppose.” the eldest said frowning. “Tinkering with machines from France and the Orient. Dangerous nonsense, it was. But the room is fine for it’s older purpose. Better even, I’d say. More intimate and yet, with the mirrors, all the more vast.”

An illusion of vastness, Sofia thought. An illusion and little more.

“I must admit, it will be quite close with all of your family here,” she said, turning to Tobias.

“Well, a bit. But it won’t be that bad, we have enough room for all the portions. And it is more convient, look, the altar is already here!” Tobias said, leading Sofia around to see a large pair of winged lions bearing up the flat surface. A footman, who had entered silently as far as Sofia could tell, set the ritual cup and plate on the table.

“Now, let us rehearse once more. You two will say the old vows, and as the closest thing to a priest left in this building, I will ask you if you invite the greatest of spirits into your lives. You will, of course, affirm for that is the only way for this all to proceed.” the eldest Oberherrscher said, slowly wobbling towards the altar. His preferred chair had been left in the hall, to not impose on the room.

Sofia nodded along as the steps were traced again. A little dance done in celebration, the Oberherrscher explained. A tradition from the country out West, before they had come into the illustirous estate of ruin.

It was around the second go of the dance, hands locked with Tobias’, that Sofia heard a rumble in the deep. In the mirror, she saw a lion with the eyes of a man staring into her own, eager and hungry. Its teeth were bared in a grin that seemed unnatural. She started, breaking the grip as it’s mouth widend to a silent roar. She felt her face grow cold and pale.

“Ah, anything wrong, my delight?” Tobias asked,glancing behind him.

“No, no.” Sofia said, regaining her composure. “It’s just so sudden, all of this. To think, only another night and I will be wed.”

“Oh, of course. It’s natural to be nervous.” Tobias said, smiling. There was something in his grin that reminded Sofia of the lion. Something hungry in his eyes.

They were excused by a mildly annoyed senior. Sofia was surprised to find her brother returning so soon, pale and slightly bruised from his expedition. He silently waved away any discussion of his activities, instead joining Tobias in a discussion on the virtues of the hunts locally. The conversation turned to rival hunting stories, which Tobias and his grandfather had in abundance. Boars were a frequent nuisance it seemed to the peasantry and serfs around them. In their nobility, the Oberherrscher family took to hunting the creatures at every opportunity, by means cunning and bold at times.

After dinner, which the Lord and Lady Oberherrscher attened in silence, the two Halbergs exchanged their experiences. When the potentially infernal nature of the Oberherrscher family was proposed, Lady Halberg hesitated over the rites she had been instructed in.

“It simply sounded like an antiquated form of communion…but it is vaugely worded.” She said, thinking. “No doubt something is intended. Why, if there were a devil behind it, it would be Faustian almost, to invite in a ‘greatest spirit’ but not specify that it is holy?”

“Possible. And if he is bound into the ground, like the poor Marbrason said, then consuming the earth…”

“Yes, it is an invitation to possession. But how are we to escape the trap then?” Lady Halberg said, pacing. “Have we any means? If we attempt to way lay them, their legions of footmen will rush to their aid. And I doubt politeness will prevent their endevors now, so close to whatever heinous aim they have up on me.”

“No, no, a frontal assault is foolish.” Maximilian agreed. He paused for a moment. “But if we act swift, we might not need it.”

“Hm?”

“At the wedding, we shall be in that wretched Lion’s Room?” He said, glancing around now for unseen ears.

“Yes, in all its gold and mechanism.”

“Well, then we need not worry much about striking. They will be crowded in. If we act swiftly, the whole lineage might fall in moments.”

“Can demons not dance on a needle’s tip in thousands?” Sofia said, sitting on her bed. “They might wait invisible in hundreds of swarms upon the whole place.”

“The caliban made mention that devil hands cannot assail a priest, and seemed by his iron cross to escape all but the worst. I will descend down into that place again, and make off with an image of a saint to protect me. If that fails…” Maximillian stared into the moon. “If that fails, we will be forced to reckon with the forces a scholar of Hell and his servants can muster.”

“Then let us see how best we can handle them.” Sofia said sternly. “I will see if my gown can hold a letter opener in it’s sleeve. We must be of stern stuff tomorrow, for good and ill.”

*

And so they came to the fateful day in the Lion Room. No window entered, no light from the sun fell on Sofia’s face as she stood before the altar. Tobias was dressed in the red coat of his family, his millitary sash and honors underneath. The Lord and Lady stood beside him, in rapt attention. Footmen stood at the door, eyes peeled for ‘the nameless assaliant’ that Lord Oberherrscher swore was stalking them. His veiled grandmother sat beside them. And behind the altar, dressed in a long red and white robe, was the eldest Oberherrscher who sermonized the needs of commitment and loyalty to one another. Sofia noted that for his religious pertentsions, Oberherrscher was careful never to mention any word of God in the room.

Her bother noted that and more beside her. He noted that Tobias carried a sword, though whether decorative or not he couldn’t say. Heinrich was still aching from his back, and if Maximilian could come from the side, it would slow his turn. Both women were an unknown matter, and bounding over to slay the mostly infirm patriarch was equally questionable. After all, the apperance of fragillity might mask something darker.

They waited until the vows. Maximillian watched through the mirrors as Tobias promised to be faithful in marriage and strong in her defence, to provide her needs and wants. He slowly rested his hand onto his blade as Sofia replied. As she promised to obey the wishes of her husband, her wrist felt at the small letter opener stuffed into the sleeve of her long white gown. And as she promised to do so in health, she took the bread and wine.

Held them both in her mouth as carefully as she could. Tobias seemed utterly unaware, as elder Oberherrscher asked if he accepted the greatest spirit upon him. Tobias nodded fervently. He then turned to Sofia.

“I accept the Holy Ghost into my soul.” Sofia replied, spitting the bread and wine onto Tobias’s face. There was an instant of confusion and then outrage across the Oberherrscher family’s faces, replaced by alarm when suddenly Maximilian sword plunged into Heinrich’s side. The elder let out a shout of agony, falling over in pain.

Maximillian wasted no time, perhps infected by the swords purpose long ago, and turned his blade on the Lady next, who fled behind the lion statue in the center of the room. Carrying on with his stroke, Maximillian struck down the matriarch of Oberherrscher instead. During the panic, the footmen outside entered and drew weapons of their own, the Lady Oberherrscher quickly pushing behind them.

Sofia was having her own misfortune, however, as she tried to drive her letter opener into Tobias’ chest while he was distracted by wine in his eye. But his hand was quick and his build did not dissapoint. Swearing, he grabbed her wrists and held it back for a time, his grip began to hurt.

“Harlot, you would try to slay me now? Had you not the presence of mind to try at least after our pleasures?” Tobias shouted, his voice sounding distant as he drew his own blade. Holding her hand above her head, Tobias kicked Sofia in the stomach, knocking her over.

MarbrasWalks.png

“Of course you couldn’t, no, you guessed the game. All well, we’ve never necessarily been one for invitations, have we Simon?” Tobias said, turning to his elder. Sofia heard the blade as it left it’s sheathe, a grinding noise like rows and rows of teeth. She shouted a warning to Maximilian as he parried the footmen’s spear. With quickness granted by fear, Maxmillian avoided the blade, it’s edge like a hawks tearing claws. Tobias lazily swung again, nearly slicing the young Halberg’s head off.

“Have at you devil, in the name of the Lord!” Maxmillian said, driving his steel into Tobias’s chest.

Tobias stared at him for a moment, calmly tapping the steel blade. The silence was broken by the footmen’s cackling laughter. Maxmillian slowly dragged his sword down, tearing through Tobias’s jacket. A mass of metal pipes and alchemical vials, tubes of rubber and flickering wires that pulse in the remains of flesh stood there, uninterrupted by the blade.

“I would not invoke the Archtyrant here, boy. You’ll earn few friends.” Tobias said, slashing across Maximillian’s cheek as Maximillian was still struck by what was before him.

Sofia now began to stand. She saw the mechanisms in the mirror. Worse she saw some ghastly cloud seem to hover over them. The Lady Halberg was not used to fighting, but doubted a letter opener would suffice where a sword failed. In it’s place, however, she turned to the distracted but stationary patriarch. She advanced on him slowly, twirling her instrument in her hand to feel it’s weight, before striking. The blade found the old man’s bones softer then she thought, sinking into his neck. His head fell back, and stared up at her, eyes empty and mouth agape. Out flew a host of small things like flies, swarming onto the ceiling.

“Oh, and wonderful. Now there’s no one left to say the ceremony.” Tobias said, turning to face Lady Halberg. With a gesture, the swarm was upon her, gripping at every edge to hold her to the altar’s side. “You truly are a foolish lot, aren’t you? Here I am, offering to be the start of a new, better future, fo you to be a new Eve to a—you know what, never mind now. Marbras must be freed eventually, but we still have time to fix this my delight. Still have time.

“You, however,” he said turning his attention back to block one of Maximilian’s blows to his shoulder. “need to cease.”

With a clicking precision, Tobias—or what Sofia suspected had once been Tobias—strode at Maximillian, his clicking living blade meeting the unfeeling steel. It tore at the steel, rending off chunks and leaving them on the floor. To his credit, Maximillian held his own against Tobias and the spear men. He ducked and wove, slowly driven towards the entrance. No doubt, he realized, more footmen would come and overwhelm him from within.

“The statue!” He shouted at Sofia as he pulled against the swarm’s strength. “Sofia, by God, the statue!”

At that, and realizing her brother’s intent, Sofia pulled free of the swarm, her gown nearly torn to tatters as she slammed her shoulder into the statue. It rocked back and forth, a pendelum that finally finished when Sofia gave it another push. The weight of the golden lion descended on the two swordsmen.

Maximillian held his hands to pervent the blow, to hold off his doom futily. But it didn’t come. Opening his eyes he saw Tobias, face half construed into a lions roar, growling as he held the great golden idol up. For a moment he began to lift it. And in that moment, Maximillian made his fateful stroke. He drove his blade again into the mechanism, and Tobias let out a cry as it periced wire and vial.

And with a resounding thud, the two were crushed. The footmen shrieked in rage, as the last Oberherrscher heir died. Sofia looked over the carnage, noting that the Lady had escaped. She wondered what nightmare she might weave. But that was for another time. For the moment, she wept for her dead brother, for the terror that was finally at an end, and for what could have been but was not.


Well, this was the longest I’ve written in a while. What can I say, the prompt got away from me. I would like sometime to return to the story, as length means I didn’t have the time I felt needed to edit it. And the ending is too rushed to my taste. Still, I’m fairly proud of this one!

I will say I do have a prequel to this story, set in the time of Prince Dahak. If there is sufficient interest, I can post it. But I feel the story does stand alone.

Come by next week to see our research on Italy, Fear, and Death!

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