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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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The Brand of Nasht

This Week’s Prompt: 63. Sinister names—Nasht—Kaman-Thah.

The Relevant Research:What’s In a Name?

It started in my left palm when I was five, dying skin forming a single pale letter. It stretched out in both directions like a skeletal pair of wings or an ant with too many legs. There were hushed whispers of what it meant, but for ten years the spreading script in some unintellegible language continued. At last, my mother sat me down in private, as both hands already stung to use and searing marks made their way down my back. And she told me a story. A story of her old life, away from the hills, when she lived on the plains of Kaman-Thah.

On those plains, in the house of a noble queen, a word was spoken in wrath and greed, in prideful seeking of power from old scrolls. And this hidden word, this ancient name, spread along the walls and pillars, like ivy of fire. Those who heard it broke and bent, and the first bearer of the name emerged from the carnival of seared flesh. Within days, her home was changed in way she couldn’t say. The name that scarred the stars in the sky, granted fire to the eyes, and rent the veils to hidden places spread not just in the shouting of the mad man plague, but seared its way into souls through their very eyes. She had fled into the hills, pregnant with me when she reached the hills, among people who nothing of the word, her face bearing scars of that old encounter.

To rid herself of the name that wormed it’s way through her flesh and blood, sketching itself into her eyes and cheeks, she spoke it one more time alone to me. For my first name was that ancient and dread name, exorcised into me as a babe. She gave my second name to me in a proper ceremony, bore it in a sealed talisman, and taught it to everyone so that the children wouldn’t release that poison. But they knew. If not the form, they knew the substance.

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And now, the name long dormant, never spoken for more than a decade, was waking. It was time for me to go, lest it burst free and devour my home. They had considered killing me before now. But they were afraid. The curse might escape in my blood on the ground, or into the air with my dying breath. So I wasn’t going to die. But I couldn’t stay.

I begged my mother not to send me out of the hills I had known. I begged to stay somehow. I begged even for life not that far off, on a hill a day away, in a hut of my own building. But there was no negotiating. I pleaded a way to cure the markings that spread. My mother showed mercy, her diamond face cracking slightly. She knew no cure for that curse, she confessed. But perhaps, in the storied halls where the name had been kept, deep in Kaman Thah, I might find solace. She told me which direction to run, gave me a meal to depart with, and sent me on my way.

My first thought was to go to my neighbors, but there door was locked and they didn’t here my knocking on the door. By the time I gave up on receiving hospitality from anyone I’d known , the sun was rising impatiently on the horizon. Hurry up, it whispered on the morning breeze. You can’t lurk here forever. I set out then, with but a meal and a notion of where to go.

When I wondered into other towns, ones that new my marks and hurled stones at me, I thought of home. I wondered if they wept when I was gone, or if they had done all the weeping when I was born. I learned to wear heavy rags, to scavenge clothes on the days journey, following whispers as hunger gnawed away at me. I barely slept, even on those nights where my bed was the soft grass and my roof a friendly moon. Most nights it was neither.

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A waste encircles Kaman Thah. The ground is a rusty red, a scabbed over wound from long ago. Spires shoot up on the horizon, arrow shafts jammed into the flesh of the earth. I scurried across the crumbling dried mud that made up the cloudless land, forgetting my rags I drew near. There was a faint wind, heaving over the ground and forcing a thin mist of the

I saw the letters that were emerging on my skin inscribed into shattered stones that seemed to pulse as I got close. I saw rotting blots that made the contours of characters on the trenches that ringed the city. When I approached the great gates, broken down and twisted by unseen hands, I saw the cancerous cyan light all around me. The windows and doors of the buildings were bloated and molded into half formed faces within faces, crumbling edifices that if somehow brought together would be a perfect sculpture of the dread sorcerer. Pulsing stars made up their brickwork and mortar, hanging on the skeletons as the flesh of a jellyfish lightly adheres to water.

As I took in the sight of so much mutilated masonry, I heard footfalls down the streets. There, hunched over the twisted fractal fingers that a statue had become, was a thing like a man or dog. Its forelimbs where bent thrice, a jagged line that ended in double-sided hands that seemed stitched together. A tail with a luminous stinger swept back and forth as it observed me, its face a mass of iron that dripped onto the floor. The thing loomed over, white flames slipping out of the shifting eyes. For a moment, I thought that like a stray dog it may be befriended, beast in this strange city that might enjoy company. And then it screeched at me and bolted off.

As I felt the pang of not being of interest, I grew suddenly afraid of a more terribly shape and sound—a drunken and sickly choir making its way toward me, a mass of bodies lurching forward with jaws that reached to their distended stomachs and flesh that folded together. At once they were one and then many, and when that sea of eyes laid on me, they were far less passive. Their bodies became vigorous and the tide surged towards me as I ran down a nearby alley, weaving through the paths that from above formed the start of that name. I hid behind a door of open palms as the mass surged past, its many arms still outstretched to find more food for the fold.

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When I was sure they passed, I slipped back out. Clutching the cloth close over my warped limb, I carried on. I didn’t know what I was looking for…or rather I knew, but not what it would be. My mother had said to seek scrolls for some cure, but I had no illusions that such a thing could be found. Not anymore. No, in this city of broken reflections and copies of copies and recreations that crumbled after themselves, I sought the name in it’s fullness. I sought that thing that was what I might be, what I could become.

I sought to drive a knife into its head and make it bleed for cursing me, to watch it die on the streets of its own shape, until from its corpse I might find meaning and that most basic of life’s blessings that was stolen from me. I wanted to watch that damned sorcerer’s pusling form die in his temple to himself, bleed out in his own ego.

Other creatures appeared, but seemed unconcerned with me. A great winged thing, with a serpent neck and a head full of eyes flew over head. It’s feathers fell sloppily on the floor, cracking the ground beneath the wait of letters they formed. The name was everywhere, but unfinished and poorly rendered. I knew the shapes from my hand, where it still refined and spread even then. I followed the sections that looked most finished, that most resembled my palms brand, for what have been days—for the sun and moon and stars all too were bent stranger here, into writing in glowing lines upon a twisted sky.

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Until at last after days of worming my way through the mass of bodies and brickwork, I found it. A towering temple body. A hundred hands drooped onto the street, pillars of the hunched over form. As I stepped between them, into the interior, I saw that the arms that held the dreadful body aloft were fractal, each composed in turn of a hundred smaller limbs. Within I saw a glimmer of light reflecting off some strange shape inside.

Haggard and tired breaths pushed through the body of the sorcerer, from mouths unseen. The smell was at one time putrid rot, at other times sweet honey. My gaze fell upon the head of the aborrent thing which was made of rust red flesh, colder and less harsh on the eyes than my own limb. In the back, staring over the finger formed iconostasis with a many pupiled eyes it waited. I drew closer, waiting for a snarl. Waiting for a sign, a woven spell, a flash of light, or worse.

Closer, closer, crawling over the bent wall and remains. With a sharp stone in hand, I was close enough to touch that strange pulsing mass of eyes. Carefully balanced, I stared at the infinite inscriptions of the name, each marking and completion within itself. Over and over it worked itsway on the flesh of the temple, symetrical and unbroken if faded with the winds of time. Every blow bled that name in bright colors down its red face, down my hand and on the stone as I smashed it’s eyes and skulls apart screaming vengance, laughing, crying as it bled and as the breath began to stop.

I feel to my knees laughing as the dread sorcerer died, my hundred hands holding me above the ground. My hundred fold eyes saw the temple fade into another corpse, as I stood tall. It was dead, except in my head. The name was gone, and I left that city triumphant and towering over the broken and half-formed progeny of it’s endeavor. The pains of my flesh born limbs were gone, and I set my eyes northward, to show my mother what I had become.


I enjoyed writing this story. I think it could obviously use some work, but this is the first one in sometime that I felt at least had a fun premise and concept. It was nice to write after some more academic work, and to indulge in something like character work–something that is usually lacking in the stories I manage to produce in a week.

Next week! Making life, the new old way!

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