Ashes to Ashes Dust To Dust

This Weeks Prompt:87. Borellus says, “that the Essential Salts of animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious man may have the whole ark of Noah in his own Study, and raise the fine shape of an animal out of its ashes at his pleasure; and that by the like method from the Essential Salts of humane dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal necromancy, call up the shape of any dead ancestor from the dust whereinto his body has been incinerated.”

The Prior Research: Restored And Resurrected

I stood outside the old adobe building. A dust devil rolled by, the windows and door trembling as it passed. They seemed more commonly lately, but that could be just my mind betraying me. The old Crowe house had always been a bit windy, even when it’s owners were alive.

I checked the vials in my hands and took a deep breath. Three. I had three to pull it off—three bits of glimmering dust and oil. I tapped the aluminum baseball bat on my shoe, testing my nerves a bit before going in. The gate wasn’t locked—not that surprising all things considered. It wouldn’t need locks anymore.

The Crowe family got me and Alfred’s attention five years ago. You study enough medical folklore, looking for lost cures and bits of genius that the modern age had swept up, you start to come across patterns. Patterns that take you from wizard to drug dealer to old grandma. And one of those patterns brought us to the Crowes.

There’s a trend—a common one, you can probably found it around the corner—of supposed doctors who have miracle cures. Cancers a really common one. And in those cases, before you ask why isn’t in the news—well, because the good doctors don’t do it for money, and won’t share with companies that would. Most of the stories are crackpot nonsense. The Crowe’s were one of the more extreme though. They didn’t cure cancer—they cured death.

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Eliza Crowe has two obituraries, one from 1932 and one from a 1968. Printed in the same small paper, the two obituaries have the same details up for the first twelve years. That gave the stories of Louis Crowe having some sort of miracle cure more grounded—it spread around the house, and was easy to follow when we got here.

The fountain in the courtyard is covered in moss—stagnated without proper care. The water company had cut it off a while back, in preparation for the planned demolition. Electricity out too. As I walk up to the door, I hear glass crack. Looking up, I saw the shattered skylight, bit of glass still there. So, it was still here.

The door was locked—given it came and went from the ceiling, that wasn’t so surprising. Fortunately, the Crowe’s were predictable. Spare key in the potted plant. I mean, I guess a potted cactus is more secure then under the doormat. The heavy double doors open, and the remains of the living room are apparent. High ceiling, sitting area a small stair walk down. Couch was torn, some by a dog or coyote that’d wandered in, some by the actual issue. Four fan blades shot up from a shattered light.

There was stained cotton all over the floor, some giving away it’s footsteps. I listened for any movement in the house.

Nothing. I walked along the wall, passing the dining room towards the steps—there was noise. I turned quick, bat ready—and only flies. Flies buzzing around the dishes in the kitchen and on the table, some wasted away parts of food.

The Crowe’s didn’t keep much of their great grandfathers work, but they did know what we were on about. We talked for a bit, and the older Crowe says its all true—his mom not only died, she died in a fire. Louis Crowe was able to restore his mother from just ashes using a family secret. Of course, when asked why his mother had died anyway—albeit later—he shrugged and said his mother was a very righteous woman. She wanted to see her Lord in Heaven.

Of course, when we left, they hadn’t told us the secret recipe. I didn’t mind—odds were, it was some snake oil or something. That sort of selfless honesty—well, I could believe it of one or two generations of people, but a family? That never sold out a secret? No, not these days. You could make bank with that sort of thing, some black helicopter would have swept it up, surely.

Alfred didn’t think so. I really shouldn’t have been surprised, when he had that look in his eyes, that there was a break in to the house in another three weeks—and that the family vault had been broken open. Nothing missing, but the Crowe’s medicine book was open.

The stairs creek as I walk past stained and broken pictures of mountain landscapes. There’s a smashed imported tile scattered on the hallway threshold, the door still open. I have to be quiet now. Three vials and the bat is all I have. Three strikes, and I’ll be out. Hell, two and it’ll be over.

It sleeps during the day. Or at least, it doesn’t hunt in the light. People made it out during the night, the calls came during the night. The strange long limbs, the occasional eye, the crouching gargoyle that wasn’t on the church before.

One kid even told me that it spoke—the kid knew some old Greek, and thought he heard someone whispering old Homeric verses around the house one night. The kid followed the sound—the road was well lit, and he saw a tall man in an illfitting jacket and looking away, a hat on. The kid didn’t get close—smart, really, when the thing turned to face him.

All the kid would say was that he ‘didn’t look right’. The man’s face, looked weird. Droopy and strange.

The Crowe House

I didn’t see Alfred for six weeks—and he didn’t look good when he knocked on my office door. I looked up to see a haggard man standing there, bags under his eyes and skin now sickly pale-green. Before I said a word, he held a hand up.

Hey, long time no see, brought someone by,” he said quickly—and I heard the thwapping of a tale on the door. A small snout poked out, and then a jubliant ball of fluff jumped into my lap. I impulsively pet the corgi as Alfred took a seat and slumped down.

Great isn’t he?” Alfred said, cutting me off again. “He’s just as lively as when I was a kid.”

I paused a the corgi panted in my lap.

What do you mean when you were—Alfred, is this…?” I said, holding he’s head up in my hands.

Rocket, yeah.” Alfred said nodding. “Crowe’s formula works—its a miracle.”

…And he’s not like, a zombie? He seems…really friendly.” I said frowning. Rocket for his part titled his head at me and licked my nose.

No, no, nothing wrong with him as far as I can tell.”

…so what’s keeping you up at night? Took six weeks to make the formula?” I asked slowly. “I mean, why are…not calling me or emailing or…”

Well…” He looked at his ruined shoes.

Alfred, you look like shit, not like someone who solved the problem of dying.”

There’s a clay vase in our house.” He said slowly. “It’s old—like, before my grandparents came to the States old. No, like, before my grandparents grandparents moved to Greece old. I don’t know how old. It’s got some ashes in it, and I…I always wondered who’s they were. There was a picture on the top—they’d layered it over a few times, but it was portrait. I thought, you know, why not? Why not find out who this was?”

…Alfred, you didn’t…”

Alfred looked at his hands.

Well, see, I thought it might go wrong. Brought a few buddies over first, got everything ready, and figured five of us could take a startled and newly reborn person down. I hadn’t asked though, about the ashes. If they were human ashes.”

I stared as Alfred pulled out a handful of vials and a few pages.

I…I think it recognizes me. I know it does. I think it followed me, Andy. It followed me, and after me it’s going to try and find the book. I didn’t take the pages—I made photos. But I think it can read, and if it can read, it knows where I took those photos.” Alfred rambled, putting the crumpled papers and the vials on the desk. “I’m…I’m going back to the Crowe house tomorrow, with some things—some things that Louis said would put a man down. Down for good. But if I don’t do it, if I fuck it up, Andrew I need you to do it.”

I kept staring.

Keep Rocket safe, he’s a good dog, I just—I fucked this up and I need to get things sorted okay.”

I nodded.

You should get help if your in a bad place.” I said slowly.

A bad place? A bad place? Listen—I gotta go. If it knows I’m here, it might go after you, and—look, keep Rocket, I’ll be back for him if I can.”

Alfred didn’t come back. The police came by my apartment the next day—Rockets barking let me know. Alfred had been seen, of course, leaving my office at the university. He’d shown up, body badly mangled. A week before his funeral, someone broke into the Crowe’s house. When I got back down to the desert, cats were going missing every night.

CroweHouse2.png

I wasn’t completely clear on what Alfred had woken up. But his writing, panicked at the end, made it clear he was worried it’d find the formula Louis had made…and that it would wake more of it’s kind from ashes around the world. That “a once long lost horror might again walk the world unawares”.

Purple prose to the end.

It’s lying on the bed at the end of the hall—a nest of piled beds. Up close, the sunlight illuminated stretched flesh that shuddered and shivered. Its limbs changed—folding into and out of each other, blurring together. A squat head on top of it, like clay crudely molded into a human form. Two eyes, then four, all resting. It looked peaceful, as I opened the first vial.

The eyes burst open as I poured the vial out on its torso. It let out a howl and started to move—I swung the bat, again and again. It screamed. It aged, skin tightening and tearing.

I opened the second vial with my mouth, as the thing struggled to wake up and shake off the blows to the skull. The noise grew worse with the second vial—its flesh sloughing off as it howled. Organs pulsed beneath a thin paper veil of flesh. It was close, it was fading—it was pitiful really. Feeble hands reaching up to stop me.

I beat them down with my bat, and smashed the third vial.

I watched as it, howling and groaning, turned to ash and dust. Leaving not but a few small cat bones in the middle.


 

This story went through a few drafts, and I’m happy with the current set up. I never was able to nail down exactly what the monster was, or even what it looked like–and so the ending kind of falls flat I feel. Still, I am proud of the idea of reviving an alien horror unintentionally–in a longer story or with more time, I think it could have been delievered more effectively.

Next week! We begin looking at the folklore and horror found in one particular US state!

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Restored And Resurrected

This Weeks Prompt: 87. Borellus says, “that the Essential Salts of animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious man may have the whole ark of Noah in his own Study, and raise the fine shape of an animal out of its ashes at his pleasure; and that by the like method from the Essential Salts of humane dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal necromancy, call up the shape of any dead ancestor from the dust whereinto his body has been incinerated.”

The Resulting Story:

We are back among the dead! Oh it has been sometime. But here, we are discussing not just the dead, but the act of restoration of life. This is a miracle that Lovecraft here seperates from necromancy, remembering the work of the esteemed chemist Borel. The notion, however, of restoring a body with portions missing is discussed in a number of books and tales. To guide me through this genre of folklore and magic, I will be going through the writings of Cornelius Agrippa, who devotes an entire chapter not only on the tales of these feats, but also the magical theory behind them and related acts.

Cornelius Agrippa

To start with Agrippa’s theory then, Agrippa cites Arabic notions of men who have escaped their bodies and formed higher souls. These men, endowed with divine powers, can compel their bodies to mend themselves. He compares this control over their bodies and their lower souls to two famous pieces of animal folklore: The lion, who rouses dead cubs from death with its breath, and the otter, who’s weeping wife restores them from death as well. Agrippa acknowledges that such powers seem fantastic, but seeks like a proper scholar to back this claim with historical examples that follow suit.

His first example from folklore is a set of Zeus’s children—Tindareous(sic), Hercules, and Palici. Hercules famously has an unclear result after death—he appears to have become deified, but is also found in the underworld as a ghost. This aligns to Agrippa’s theory of two souls, a lower and higher part. The Palici were Zeus’s children by the Muse Thalia, and were a pair of twins. I have yet to find the myth Agrippa is referencing, but it might be a reference instead to Castor and Pollux—half twins by Zeus and Tyndareus’s wife. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to grant Castor immortality, and the two became Gemini. The Palici are referenced, in one source, as being swallowed by the earth after birth with their mother, and then bursting forth as their namesake geysers—a metaphorical death and rebirth then. Tyndareus, in some collections, belongs to a larger group of resurrections in Greece. For in Greece, there was a doctor so skilled at medicine, he had the power to raise the dead. Ascelpius’s staff still marks hospitals to this day, and he himself has a number of famed attributes. Ascelepilus raised so many dead in fact, that he was killed for stealing subjects from Hades, and his staff serves as a mark of the medical profession to this day. I will only briefly note that Ascelpeus learned the secret herb of immortality and resurrection in one version from a passing serpent—one of the two that Agrippa considers early in his writings (the other being the Phoenix).

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Past him, Agrippa next moves to a series of biographers about Apollonius, who became divine after death as well. He mentions again Glaucus—the individual raised by Ascelpeleus—and an Egpytian prophet who placed a herb in a dead man to raise them again. Agrippa theorizes that this proves souls can sometimes stay in bodies after death, and brings to the focus examples of animals that have appeared to come back to life after seeming dead, especially mice. Agrippa concludes briefly that a number of resurrections are actually merely cases of men appearing to be dead, but being restored before they truly pass.

Before going forward, I would like to call to our attention another resurrection we discussed once—the restoring of a Romani hero. I gave an abridged version before, but the story in full can be related here. The son of the deceased emperor is sent to slay dragons, and kills all the dragons in a household—except the youngest. The youngest he defeated, but sealed inside a jar. His sweetheart, a maiden, warned him he had done a wicked thing to leave it alive. And indeed he had. One day, his mother was visiting him and his sweetheart. She happened to hear murmuring from the jar—and opened it. The dragon asked only for some water for a favor—and the favor was the dragon’s love, an offer to be the dragons wife. The Empress accepted, and the two conspired to kill her son. Here follows a series of similar episodes—the Empress fakes illness, sends the hero to some dangerous place to find a cure, and the maiden sends him with advice and a many winged horse. The challenge includes a cannibal sow, a beating apple tree, and murderous clouds. After he succeeds, the dragon and the Empress conspire again, and this time ambush him at cards. The mother binds his hands behind his back, so tight his wrists bleed—and, as an aside, this game is described as “the sort she played with her husband” which is more insight into royal love lives then I care for—and the dragon emerges and kills him. Sending him off on his horse, the two rejoice.

The maiden finds the hero in this condition and weeps, before killing a pig. She takes the flesh of the pig and patches up the wounds left by the dragon. Running water over him, she restores him entirely. She then places an apple in his mouth—and he comes back to life! This in many ways resembles Agrippa’s archetype, of restorative food. The story proper ends with the lad tying the dragon and his mother to the stake and burning them alive.

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Comparable in that regard is the descent of Inanna to the Underworld. She too is slain, after being disarmed—more precisely, she loses all of her garments of power to the seven guardians of the underworld. Left dying in the underworld, her servant goes forth to the halls of heaven and to the many gods she asked for, and begs they help her. When none do, the servant goes to Eridu and asks Enki weeping—Enki, who knows the food and water of life. Enki then fashions two creatures, both without sex, who carry the food and water of life. As she leaves, a number of demons follow her, offering to ‘precede her’ into the cities and worlds of mortals. They demand that someone take her place among the dead—and after passing over her mourning servants, they set upon her husband with Inanna’s permission. The husband’s fate is continued in later poems.

To leave briefly the nature of food and life—hard as it is, as folklore is rich with times you should and shouldn’t eat, from death, to fae, to even immorality—we can also consider the reconstruction of Osiris. Osiris, after being named Re’s heir, was butchered by his brother Set. The exact nature of this death is unclear, although some versions explain that Osiris was lured into a sarcophagus and then cut to pieces. The motive is likewise variable—from adultery to vengeance for an earlier slight.

His parts were then tossed into the river, and scattered about the Nile. Eventually, Isis restored him, stitching his parts back together—these parts sometimes numbering exactly 42. The two copulate, and Horus is conceived. In later versions by Plutarch, Osiris isn’t entirely restored—Horus is conceived  before the restoration.

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Agrippa proposes next that longer resurrections may be the case of exceptionally long sleeps. He gives many examples of slumbering individuals, including those who have slept for almost two hundred years—the Seven Sleepers. These seven youths in Ephesus entered a cave to escape persecution by the Emperor Decius, refusing to bow to pagan idols and instead taking up worship in a cave. There they fell asleep. The Emperor found them, and ordered the cave sealed. The youths were thought dead, until two hundred years later, a king more friendly to Christianity had the cavern opened—and out emerged the seven youths, convinced that they had slept only a day. One even went to town to buy food using their old coins, gaining the attention of merchants and eventually the bishop. This story was repeated not only in Christian Hagiography, but also in Qur’an. The Qur’an adds the detail our other account didn’t, of a loyal dog keeping watch over the sleepers.

A more extreme version of this is Muchukunda. Having spent a heavenly year defending the gods while they searched for a commander, he was given a rest as long as he pleased as reward—should he be disturbed, his gaze would turn the disturber to ash! As it happened, this trait was useful for disposing of a later Yavanna invader—Krishna lured him into the cave where Muchukunda slept. After destroying the disturber, Muchukunda paid homage to Vishnu and was granted any celestial pleasure he wanted.

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These wonders are considered another way that man might appear to be raised from the dead—and Agrippa notes that there are cases were even deprivation of food and water can be ignored. If this were the case, a body could slumber indefinitely, and then be made to rise from the dead by all accounts.

Interestingly to me, Agrippa doesn’t deal with Christian notions of the Resurrection or the ascension of Saints—it might be that these methods were deemed outside a magicians power, or that they were unique miracles of God compared to the holy sages he starts with. Likewise, Enoch’s being taken up by the Lord isn’t included in this section, although the exact meaning of his departure might have something to do with that. Likewise, Elijah’s ascension to Heaven without death is somewhere between ‘dying’ and ‘becoming more’. The main difference here, that I think connects to Agrippa’s first notion of higher powers compelling lower ones, is that such saints often have supernatural bodies in the waking world, such as relics or icons.

For a horror story, the uses here are many fold. The idea of an ancient evil awakening to the world, restored to power, is not novel. However, I appreciate the motive implied by the quote—that the resurrection was not a part of an evil scheme to restore some forgotten king by a cult, but rather an incident of curiosity. In a horror notion, this curiosity is dangerous. Restoring to the body and mind someone or something long beyond the world is startling—especially if, perhaps, the actual humanity of the dead is more in question. This formed the basis of the story of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, which contained the most important Lovecraft quote on magic: Do not call up what one cannot cast down.

Come and see who was brought back with the bread of life next week!

Bibliography:

Agrippa von Netteshiem, Henry Cornelius.  Three Books of Occult Philosphy or Magic. Hahn and Whitehead. Chicago 1898.

Kramer,Samuel Noah. Sumerian Mythology, a Study in Spiritual and Literary Achievement. The American Philosophical Society.  Philadelphia 1944.

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The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

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

The Prior Research:The Eye

Part 1:The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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