The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

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

The Prior Research:The Eye

Part 1:The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

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

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

King Morgan's Veil.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a general assent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magi and King 2 Midnight Chat.png

They frightened him.

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

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

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

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

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

The veil parted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Chambers.png

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

 

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What Mr. Diamond Met on the Shore

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

The Relevant Research:Marble Heads and Marblehead 

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

DreamMassachuesets Shore.png

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

They were revolting.

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

*

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

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

Graveyard The Sea Statue.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statue On THe Shore 1.png

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

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

Statue On THe Shore 3.png

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

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

Nothing moved.

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

Nothing moved.

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

*

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

nightmare-tadpoles.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veil Peirced.png

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

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

*

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

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

THe House of Diamond.png

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

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


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


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The Shifting Temple

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

The Prior Research: There Is Nought But Chaos

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

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

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

Formless Temple 1.png

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

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

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

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

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

Wall 1 Temple.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wall 2 Temple.png

I saw and I could not understand.

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

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

 


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

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

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

There Is Nought But Chaos

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

The Resulting Story: The Shifting Temple

This week we are given a topic that we have, in the past, covered with some detail. The notion of a living core of an ancient structure bares a resemblance to notions of shapeless forces we discussed regarding Azathoth—we will be re-discussing some of those here, with greater detail and focus, as well as some other forms of living structures.

There are two parts to this prompt, each worth review in equal part—the shapeless and the center. That is, there are creatures and stories of things who’s shape cannot be known, and of things that support buildings and worlds. Both will be discussed—particularly when they overlap at the end.

Kraken.png

First we will discuss the most fantastic—the shapes at sea that support entire camps, and resemble islands from afar. This is actually the origin of the Kraken, a creature recorded in biology texts from the eighteenth century. There is another such creature in Norse tales, the hafgufa. Recorded as a giant whale, the hafgufa resembles an island from afar—in some tales, its nose is so massive that it suffices for an island!–and it is noted both for its taste in ships and men, and its peculiar means of attracting prey. The hafgufa is a species of two in some texts—and both are infertile, otherwise the ocean would be over run by false islands. In some texts, the hafgufa is also called the Kraken—albeit a whale not a squid. You can find more of it here.

Medieval Bestiaries produce another whale like creature—or sometimes turtle—who is so big, it’s back ridge has trees growing on it and valleys form around it. The aspidochelone is sometimes more sinister however—its appearance of false life and safety are an allegory in one text for the Devil and demons, who seduce the desperate.

St. Brendan.png

In Ireland, the stories of Saint Brendan the Navigator tell of a strange beast that appeared as an island and breached his boat. The Saint here is safe—the whale sinks after a fire is lit on it’s skin, much to the shock of the crew but little harm.

In Chile, there are stories of a similar creature—although it is more commonly in lakes, the Cuero is a danger to sailors who draw near it’s lure. Sometimes the shape is like a cow hide, sometimes an octopus, sometimes a stingray. Here is a more in depth article on not only the legend, but histories of it’s recordings

World Turtle.png

Then there are those supports that are much wider and vaster then a mere ship. The World Turtle, for instance, carries…well, the world on its back. Sometimes this is a literal and direct holding. Kurma, for instance, supports the world directly in Hindu stories. Other stories, such as when Nuwa repaired the sky, have the turtle shell as a form of architecture somewhat removed. Turtle Island refers to this imagery as well—the notion that the Americas are on the back of a great mythological turtle. Other stories—the most obvious being Discworld—suggest the world is on the back of four great elephants, and then on the back of a turtle.

Bahamut is another supporter of the world, albeit a fish with a great bull on its back. Found in Arabic sources, Bahamut is more terrifying then others. The bull on its back has a hundred legs and horns, and Bahamut itself is so vast all the worlds oceans would fit into its nostrils like a mustard seed. It is also the farthest removed of all the great beasts—on its back, the bull; on the bulls back, a ruby; on the rubys back, an angel; on the angel’s shoulder, the world.

arabic world map

The map of the world here is rotated on it’s side–Bahamut is the fish

Of course, there are also non-sentient living supports. The World Tree can be found in cultures around the world. The famous Norse Tree Yggdrasil holds the nine worlds in it’s branches—and is echoed in the Volsung saga, were the house of the Volsung’s has a great tree holding up its roof–the tree is called Barnstokkr. There Odin—well, a stranger who resembles him greatly—places a legendary sword, that begins their undoing. Further south, we can find the world tree in Zorastrian stories. The Gaokerna is one of many great trees—its fruit is immortality, and will be key to the recreation of the universe. Beside it grows the Tree of Many Seeds, where all plants have their origin.

Not far away from the Zorastrian myth, we have the world tree of Kabbalah—a tree that, I have heard at least, is often depicted upside down. The Tree of Life here holds many worlds, as the light of divinity is refined downward from the undivided Ein Soif into this world. Kabbalah as a tradition is rich in symbolism and complexity, and should have more of an article at some point. The interesting point to me, however, is the suggestion of a reverse tree–a Tree of Death, that runs counter to the virtues of the Tree of Life and is made of the shattered remains of an earlier world. 

pakal tomb

The top portion of the World Tree found on Pakal the Great’s tomb.

Maya world trees are commonly depicted in artwork—the tree runs from the underworld into the heavens. Like the tortoise shell of Nuwa, the tree was constructed after a flood—the destruction of Seven Macaw and the end of the wood people—and like stories of Ymir and others, it is fed by the blood of gods. Some link it’s form to the visible Milky Way in the sky

All of this brings us slowly round to the most literal form of the shapeless center—Chaos, Khaos. Beginning with the most literal, the Greek conception of Chaos is the source eventually of all things. The form or force that precedes all the rest of existence, Chaos is gloomy and far away—and not terribly relevant to most stories. Chaos is the origin directly of Night and Darkness, and sometimes the foundation of reality itself.

Chaos is not the only strange and shapeless originator in Greece are concerned. There was the strange shape in Demophon’s casket, which was the first topic we discussed discussed (and which was rewritten on our Patreon here). Chaos in other cases contains all elements. When Milton depicted King Chaos in Paradise Lost, he maintained this for the realm of Limbo, where elements fly about.

Biblical starts of Genesis refer to an abyss of water from which the world was made—using the terminology that neighbors used for Tiamat, a vast sea monster that was also eventually the root of all things and truly varied in shape. What this abyss was is a topic of much debate, especially in esoteric circles.

Chaos can be joined by Hundun. Hundun is a Chinese character, a faceless wanderer that is the originating chaos of the world. I recall best a story of Hundun from the Taoist, Chuang Tzu: The Emperor of the North Sea and the Emperor of the South Sea once met with Hundun. Grateful for his generosity as a host, they offered to repay him by giving him the seven holes all men have (eyes, nose, ears, mouth). Each day the bore another hole in Hundun’s face.

On the last day Hundun died.

Hundun has other comparable descriptions, often like a lump of clay and making a sound like thunder. It is malleable, sudden, and terrible perhaps. Or just hard to see, touch, or discern except by its overwhelming presence.

Taoist notions of a shapeless root of the world are common in Chuang Tzu’s writing. We can consider the story of the Shaman and Hu Tzu. Hu Tzu, a sage, changes his complexion and diagnosis at every meeting, culminating in this one:

The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, but before the shaman had even come to a halt before Hu Tzu, his wits left him and he fled.

“Run after him!” said Hu Tzu, but though Lieh Tzu ran after him, he could not catch up. Returning, he reported to Hu Tzu, “He’s vanished! He’s disappeared! I couldn’t catch up with him.”

Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as Not Yet Emerged from My Source. I came at him empty, wriggling and turning, not knowing anything about `who’ or `what,’ now dipping and bending, now flowing in waves – that’s why he ran away.”

That the ultimate origin of reality is shapeless and indeed perhaps unable to be shaped is not unique to these presentations: Ein Sof, the infinite roots of the Tree of Life, is beyond definition as a being. The Prima Materia is less sentient, but the raw potential of creation that can—in theory—be shaped into just about anything that’s desired. These forces of chaos are also vitality—they are shapeless and thus support all shaped things. They are the raw stuff at the very core of life in the world.

michael_maier_atalanta_fugiens_emblem_36

I couldn’t figure out how to cut this properly, so enjoy the image of the Prima Materia or alchemical mercury–the cubes are the mercury.

This I think could be the source of our horror story—instead of merely discovering a shapeless core at the center of the world, we could present a story where that shapelessness is vital to the world and its movements. And if that shapelessness collapses—if like Hundun, it dies on contact with the five senses—then there is a tragedy at play too. By discovering the truth of the world, something about the world’s vitality is lost. I could go on about how defining something restrains it, and so on and so on, but I’ll leave that for the musings of the story.

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The Court

This Week’s Prompt: :78. Wandering thro’ labyrinth of narrow slum streets—come on distant light—unheard-of rites of swarming beggars—like Court of Miracles in Notre Dame de Paris.

The Prior Research:The Court of Miracles

Dear Mariam

It is a happy lie to presume that the current state of affairs will continue, uninterrupted, forever. In Berlin, I was introduced to the notion among some brahmins of India, that the world was always cycling and shifting. Some suggested that every moment was distinct and novel, others that the world was a great wheel among a multitude of other wheels. I find such notions endearing. They suggest, ultimately, that this state of being we enjoy will in time come again and again.

I was in Paris last week—a city with wonders and bohemians alike. A city that has seen its changes and reversions, its miracles and blasphemies. Are there a people as resentful of good governance as the French? We will see—the future holds many secrets. It was a long night when I decided to retire home, coffee and wine having mixed in my head a bit strongly. I was aware, despite myself, I was critically aware of all my senses as I walked towards my home for the visit.

Wheel of Fortune.png

 

I was keenly aware of the stones that felt through my shoes, of the lights on the streets, I could read them all very well. Despite this, my mind was drunk as a sailor. All the senses in the world are nought if the mind is gone—and so I found myself now moving through back roads, convinced that I had found some short cut or another to home. Yes, your dear brother still has not learned to hold his liquor. And Paris, lacking as it is in pea soup, is still a city designed by madmen for rats more than for the intellectual and rational mind of an inebriated university student. Some Cretan must have felt quite clever building up it’s walls and streets haphazardly and in rounds.

I reached that edge of the city, the halo of darkness that marks the seemly from the misbegotten. The penumbra of the city of lights I suppose, where even in my disreputable state I was aware danger was about. The bark of a stray dog alerted me, and I turned to see two men slumped on the side of the wall—talking and pointing off in my direction. The alley over had a mangey hound, low to the ground and bigger than me by a good amount. One of the men shouted something at the dog, who barked again at me. My heart in my neck, I turned and headed away, along the outer roads.

The light was scarcer here—the buildings in disrepair. Notre Dome still towered in the distance, but her bells resounded on empty streets. My own foot falls were most of my company, and the faint outline of my long shadow among street lights. The night was oppressive, and the haze of wine was wearing thin. I grew more aware of my danger, so far from where I was—in fact, I barely knew the names of these avenues. And yet, as my mind returned to its fullness, my senses receded away. My eye began to fail me, and I saw strange shapes shifting—I heard noises from nowhere, and caught whiffs of the party long past.

So there I was, fumbling in a darkened street—certain it was empty, but hearing movement just out of my sight. The occasional meow of a cat or warning bark of a street dog kept my on edge as I started back—I would head towards places I knew, but find the streets and alleys turned me around again. In these valleys of darkness I felt condemned to wander until dawn—at last I saw a light, strange and ferocious in the distance.

My sister, you must think your poor brother a fool for approaching a strange light in the middle of the night, far from home and in places of danger. And you may be correct— but in my defense there is I think some human instinct to seeking out things to see, and that instinct over came my good sense. I do not regret it. If it was foolishness, then I have become one of God’s own fools now.

The source of the dancing lights was apparently shortly after I started after it—a fire. Open, on an autumn night. That alone was not surprising, I reckoned. No, what was shocking about the flames were their size. It was a bonfire, surrounded by all sides so that the buildings hid it from authorities. It wasn’t until later, when I recounted to my friend the shape of the place, that I learned I had been at the most infamous court in France—where bandits and beggars commingled. And I saw them, I did. Around the fire, speaking and dancing, planning and training in the method of their profession.

Cours De MiraclesThe Voice.png

The moment my eyes fell upon the crowd, I made towards the edges. Do not fret, sister, I was not immediately spotted as a man of means who might be extorted. The benefit of the lifestyle of a student is that I am used to appearing impoverished. So I made my way, carefully and slowly, around the crowd.

For the land of miracles, little wonders failed to happen. I heard children laugh, yes, but also weep. Babes cried out, and comforted by mothers. Bellies rumbled hungry . Men shouted, cursed, talked of God and damnation. Some spoke of great cons on the local priests—how they might get more meals yet from this or that source. But slowly, I heard one by one the topic turn to ‘the nightly business’.

It was as I was on the edge, that they appeared—the nocturnal crew. A group of three or four, with one shorter man at the head. At the center of the fire, a dull drum beat began that silenced the crowd. I turned and listened, as a figure began to speak, in a voice as low as thunder and rumbling like flame. He spoke at a length, and I cannot repeat it here. Not only for concern of my sister’s sensibillities, but because the whole of the speaker’s tongue was lost on me—at times, French, yes, but at times in Spainish and German or even languages in the East. The finery of his words were thus lost on me—as was the outbursts and shouts from his fellows. But the thrust, that I understood.

There is an old Jewish story I heard once, about four men who saw the face of God. One went mad, one died, one became a heretic, and one became holy. I found it an amusing understanding of the truth, but little more. Now I cannot say which I am. I sit writing this letter, having heard a man—and still, I am uncertain if he were a man, woman, or angel—recount the suffering of the world. I have seen his hand point towards me, however incidentally, and recited the crimes of the world.

He talked of starving children, of thieves and murders in palaces of bone, of the blood watered sugar canes, of the shots that rang out in town squares. He talked of lives that never could be, of villages and peoples trampled undnereath, of the four horsemen unleashed—how following conquest had come the ills of war, famine, and plague. And how now, now at the turning of the years, it would finally end.

Judgement Day.png

I fled at once, away and no longer caring that I drew attention to myself. I found my way, stumbling, wheezing—yes, your dear brother has yet to learn proper exercise—to an officer of the law. To a street that, I realized, was well lit. To a place, a place where I could find my way home.

 

That was a week ago. Yet the fire, the fire still burns on my skin. It holds some space in my head, it murmurs in my ear. That Judgement Day may come at the hands of man and not God is a terrible thing. That it might seize me, at any moment—surely this has driven men mad.

A man cannot bear that great weight—I expect the cracks to form soon. It is coming soon, it is winding down the wheel of fate soon. When judgment comes, will it be our last? Paris, my sister, Paris is kindling. Perhaps it won’t come soon—I pray I do not see it soon. For the righteous are against us, and I see no recourse or escape. The sea will not take me, and even in Berlin I know those words will haunt the streets.

I wonder now, when I have the patience and mind, if this tribulation has happened before? Has the wheel of fate turned past, or is the end of all ends coming for us? On that day, will my name be called? Will the dull thud of the razor resume, the old heart of Paris restored? Will they cheer when my head rolls free? Or worse, will I be swallowed up—nameless in the flood?


 

I’m not fond of this story. I think it came out unfinished, and that it was both too politically overt, and too vague in it’s horror. It feels like perhaps the pay off to a larger build up or  a story where the ‘threat’ is so clearly the hero, that it’s hard to be scared with the main character. Aw well.

Next week! Secrets beneath the castle walls! What is waiting in the forbidden room?

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The Harvest Moon Shines Down

This Week’s Prompt: 77. Unspeakable dance of the gargoyles—in morning several gargoyles on old cathedral found transposed.

The Prior Research:We Can Dance If We Want To

Ever since Lena was a babe, she’d loved the moon. It hung in the sky, shifting slowly through the months—a pale or yellow orb smiling down. Less harsh than the sun, it was kind to Lena. It didn’t blind her and its rays of light didn’t weigh down on the backs of her parents. Not that anyone worked under the moon, of course—Lena had to sneak out to stare up at it during the night, because everyone else slept. And moonlight was a comforting pale light, even more calming than a warm fire.

She went among the hills, to get a good look at it. She passed over stone shapes—the broken remains of a long buried cathedral, craggy gargoyles sticking their heads out. She sometimes found other bits of the old town—even the old well, overgrown now. Her parents told Lena to avoid the well water—something had died in the well, a long time ago. The death lingered in the water. They had abandoned everything, to escape that water.

The other children said that a well man had moved in, a specter that had started collecting the souls of dead things down there. Father Mitchell, the old priest, couldn’t get rid of it—so they moved the entire neighborhood and the church as well, stone by stone. Except the gargoyles, buried somehow. Others said that one day, all the stars in heaven had smashed it down. They were so sick, they needed a new place to stay. Others said that a great bird had blown it away with its wings, and secretly made its nest over in the mountains near Windgift.

Even as a child, Lena doubted that story. She became well acquainted with the shape of the old town—it was the best place to see the moon from. Most was rubble…but gargoyle heads poked from hillsides, and pillars rose from the broken sections of road. Her parents knew she wandered at night, especially on full moons. They did not mind. Such wanderings were good for her soul, and gave her appreciation of the world—and nothing dangerous lived in the hills. No wolves or specters or bandits could bare it anymore.

Harevet Moon 1.png

There was one exception, however. During the first full moon of autumn, Lena was kept inside the house. The first time this happened when she was eleven, she merely assumed her parents were tired of her escapes—and so stayed inside for a few nights more, hoping they would forget. The red light that flowed into her room did not trouble her much then—it never really did. But over time, Lena realized that her parents were rather deliberate. Her doors and windows were locked firmly, and nailed shut. Her father waited in her usually routes. Her father waited at the edge of house, eyes like a hawk. The tree’s branches were trimmed, and in time iron bars locked her in. Eventually, Lena silently agreed to not go out on that first autumn moon.

The day before, her parents would place boards around it. This infuriated and frustrated Lena, all the way until she was a young woman. She occasionally spoke to her friends about it, but none had seen the first full moon of autumn either. But to them, it was no mystery. Their parents had been forthright—the first full moon of autumn was a deep crimson, and when it rose, the gargoyles of the church woke up and danced in the old town. As did the specters and fae of the woods, and the well man, and the other creatures of the night. And those dancers stole away anyone who saw them.

From age twelve to sixteen, Lena slept soundly although still annoyed that her parents hid the moon from her—she never noticed the shifting shaking of the floor, that her door once closed was now ajar. The red light of the Harvest Moon never woke her—it was oddly pleasant. When she woke with the rising of the hateful sun, a book was moved, or a glass of water on the edge—nothing particular over those three nights. But when she was sixteen, the earth shook more violently—and her glass did shatter.

Lena found herself upright and reeling. Her room seemed to be convulsing. Outside were shouts and songs and flickering lights—but they died quickly. Poor Lena had only glimpsed the infinity of the Harvest Moon Night. But she wouldn’t forget what woke her—and on her seventeenth year, she schemed to slip free and see what all the ruckus was about.

Lena began by stealing supplies from the yard that day, her steps as silent as a cat. Spent bullets near the edge of town, and stones that glimmered in the sun. Gathering these in her bed, she next made off with a kitchen knife—the better to begin carving away at the bars on her window. Her parents had put faith in those iron bars, and allowed the nearby tree to grow again. It’s branches would supply her steps. Lastly, she mapped her path. She would go around and back, working her way through the old roads and forgotten paths. And then she waited.

The Moon Hills Harvest Moon.png

When her mother was asleep, and her father standing guard, Lena carved out the iron bars. She lay them one by one on her floor, before the earth started to roar. Then, a gargoyle on the windowsill, she tossed the stones and bullets with a sling made of curtains—they crackled against the boundary stones, stray hunter shots. She paused. And sure as sunrise, her father ran after them.

Lena lay her tools aside, and held her cloak tight as she leapt and scrambled onto the tree branch. Knife at her side, she felt the branch begin to give and crack—she was not as light as when she was a lass. Still, she had the time she needed, to scramble down the trunk. As she felt bare felt touch grass, she raced past the house, up and around the roads to the old town.

By then, the earth began to groan. Its belly shook lightly after first, a hungry moan. But as Lena moved between trees and hills, it grew to a dull roar. And then she saw the dance.

Around the old well, a many colored flame grew—sea green and sky blue and sunset purple. Around it they danced, two dozen gargoyles in a troupe. Their wings flapped and clapped together as they bounded and whirled. An unearthly rhythm formed from their circle, over and around the fire true. And the ground seemed, in that unearthly illumination, to rise and fall with the troupe in their crumbling ruins. Lena was intoxicated by the sight of the fire, swirling with softer cooler colors, and the crimson moon that lay over head.

The Harvest Moon Fire.png

And then the ground buckled, and seemed to break—for something great shifted beneath it and left tremors in its wake. It was vast and graceful—it called to mind the snake that a traveling flute player once tamed. A hundred Typhonic heads reared themselves around the beast—its skin was cobble stone streets, made shining like gem. And as it uncoiled from the hills, this mammoth of a thing, it sang a thousand songs—songs in hundreds of languages, all in harmony but still a grand cacophany. Those songs, from all sides and all places wove themselves through Lena’s ears.

Then they snap shut around it, a gorgon’s trap around her mind that pulled her limbs forward. She understood the approach of other great shapes from the sky and ground—the shadowy being that pulled itself from the well, surrounded by birds and cats and other things; the stars that came to earth, with wolfish heads and howled as they danced; the glittering wings of the great birds, who’s feathers shone as infernos; and of course the moon.

The Red Faced Moon.png

The lovely moon, her white veil cast aside—a figure with blood red skin, tooth and claw, and a throne of pale bone that descended down to dance that night with Lena. Lena who had always loved the moon.

The children say Lena died that day—drowned in the well. But her parents and the elders know she instead went somewhere else. Up to that lowliest of heavens, where the strangest of angels do dwell—she has joined them now, who were moon lovers.


 

This story was delightful to write–It’s a bit more atmospheric I think, and much smaller in scale. I forgot some sections of the original prompt–the gargoyles, for instance, are not noted as transposed, and the cathedral here is a crumbled away ruin. But I still like the general arc, and I don’t feel like I have much more to add to it–I could add dialouge and expand it much more, but it feels rather self contained.

Next week, we take a trip to a miraculous court, and I try to work in some folklore that most people don’t hear! See you then!

 

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Squeaks in the Night

This Week’s Prompt:73. Rats multiply and exterminate first a single city and then all mankind. Increased size and intelligence.

The Prior Research: The Rats Are Closing In

I’ve never liked the city at night. I blame television—the crime shows are always in cities, and the crimes are almost always at night. So when you walk in those precious bits of not absolutely brightly lit street, your hair stands on end. Is that a leaf billowing in the wind or foot step. Is someone following you or just walking the same way? What about the shapes in front of you, that you can’t quite make out? Are they people, or is it just a shadow from a passing car? Was that little bit of motion a cat on the prowl?

Of course it was. Of course it almost always is. My heart stays in my chest these days, along well worn paths. Sure, every now and then I eye someone with undue suspicion. But that’s all it ever is. And sure, I make a point of walking places where there’s more bright lights when I can—it helps to be safe, and i’ve never had that particular strain of paranoia that thinks everyone on a street might be scheming against me. Not frequently. The odd squeak or sound of a horn was easy enough to ignore.

Squeak? Hm. That was new. I fumbled with the keys at the front door, trying to brush it off. Rats were uncommon along 53rd, but they weren’t impossible. And it probably was a bicycle tire or something similar.

But then I heard another. And another. I turned my head as the lock finally clicked open. There, lurking beneath a bush, were eight eyes that seemed to faintly glow, packed ontop of each other. Staring at me.

I went inside quickly, making sure the door closed behind me. Flying up the flights of stairs, panting at the top. I barely noticed the small shreds of a spider web in the corner—I’d get rid of that later with a broom. Spider season was coming late it seemed.

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I woke up when my room mate slammed my window shut, my air conditioning crashing down three stories onto the back alleyway.

What the hell?” I said, jumping up from my bed as I saw Rob hammering nails into the window sill. He held up his hand to shush.

Your hammer away and telling me to sush what’s gotten–” I started before he put his hand on my mouth.

Shush means shush.” Rob said, glancing at the window. “We…we have a bit of a problem right now.”

I batted aside his hand and looked out the window. And I nearly vomitted. Down in the alley, I saw the broken remains of my AC—and a pool of blood coming from it, hundreds of small eyes staring up in a mass of fur and tails.

Rats. Hundreds of rats, filling the alley.

Jesus Rob, what the hell are they–”

I have no idea.” Rob said, walking out of the room. “I’ve nailed up most of the windows—a couple got in the kitchen door, but–”
I followed, still in light pajamas, and saw the remains of a few rats on the floor, little blood stains and broken skulls.

–There seem to be more. News says there’s a surge of them across town. Gotta imagine that there’s no pest control reaching us for a bit.”

The kitchen door was sealed with duct tap layers, and rubber cement. We’d lose the security deposit for sure with stuff like this. I mean the cleaning bill will cost a fortune, and a rat infestation—well, I mean it was the whole city so…my train of thought stopped when I looked out again. There was a dozen rats on the tree branch, crouched and baring their teeth. A number of small dents on the window indicated a few had jumped across already, trying to get in. One of the rats was nibbling on some shoelace.

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Wait, they’ve shut down the whole city? Why not just run cars over them or something?” I asked, gesturing outside. “Or the trains?”

Did they scatter from the AC?” Rob asked, not looking up as checked the kitchen windows.

No.” I said, frowning.”

Then I don’t think their going to scatter from cars. Who knows, maybe they would, but do you want to take that risk? You run over a few—who knows how many, and then what? You park, and get jumped by hundreds of them on the sidewalk.” Rob said, shrugging. “Don’t know if they can stack high enough to get up the walls, but they can bite ankles pretty badly.”

At least we’ve got food.” I said, popping over the fridge and trying to keep the impending freak out down. “I mean…we’ve got some.”

A carton of eggs, some brocolli and onions, some carrots. Three pounds of ground chicken, because Rob refused to buy quality meat. And rice and pasta in the cupboards. More than enough food to last us a week…okay, five days. But still. That was a good amount. The rats wouldn’t last that long.

The lights flickered in the kitchen.

Shit.” Rob muttered, and ran out to the stairs. “Hey, Ashley, your lights acting up?”

Y-yeah.” Ashley’s voice came up from the second floor. “AC’s down too.”

Alright, I’ll test the pipes.” Rob said. “Tim, you check the place across the hall—don’t worry, I already nailed it shut. If the lights there work, then half the place has power. If not, the rats got the main line.”

I nodded, and ran over to the empty apartment across the hall—the door was unlocked, in case Mike found a buyer who wanted to see it that day. It was almost identical to ours—three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen. But utterly barren, not even scarps on the wood floors.

It didn’t get any brighter flicking the switch back and forth. I went into the kitchen, and tried the same. Nothing. As I went to check the fridge there was a thud. Looking up, I saw a pair of paws gripping to the windowsill. The rat puffed itself up as it emerged, hissing. I slowly backed out of the room, not breaking eye contact, as another rat thudded on the window. And another.

They were hissing and clawing at the window as I scampered out.

RatBig

Lights down. And a couple got on the window.” I said as I heard the faucet turn off and a few stray drops fall. “Hows the plumbing?”

Well, we got water.” Rob said. Rounding the corner I saw the rust brown stain on the steel of the sink. “But don’t drink it. I don’t know if they’re rubbing in the water, or if the actually messed up the pipes.”

No power, almost no food, no water…” I said slowly, as Rob turned at another thump at our window. “We’re fucked, aren’t we.”

Not yet.” Rob said, thinking. “Down stairs I’m sure someone has water bottles. I mean, these rats are smart, sure, but it’s not like we’re in any trouble as long as we can–”

There was another ding on the window. Not the dull thud of a rat’s skull smacking on the glass, but rather a small tick of a stone striking glass. And then another. We both stared at the rats on the tree, sitting up on their hindquarters—tossing stones at us from the tree.

Yeah. Yeah we’re fucked.” Rob said, as the window started to crack.


This story is a bit rushed, and a bit silly. I went with an isolated and human level case, and wrote it with B-Movie notions in mind. If I had the time, I would have probably watched the classic movie The Birds for some inspiration regarding a massive of animals taking over and menacing a small town. As it stands, this story got interrupted by my own moving plans and a general problem of energy this week.

Next week, a story of revenge!

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