The Immortal[Imperial] Rites

This week’s prompt:45. Race of immortal Pharaohs dwelling beneath pyramids in vast subterranean halls down black staircases.

The Research:Maat and Apep

To His Sacred And Imperial Majesty, Great King of Cairo, Commander of the Faithful,

Your faithful servant has much witnessed many miracles in his travels. The men of the hills and their idols, fearful things along rebellious Aegean shores, and beyond. So he reports thus a mission both fruitful and tiring for his form, to that most ancient of lands Egypt.

His report must begin thus: While returning from the tasks your Majesty had assigned him in foreign lands, for the betterment of all people, your servant heard a strange rumor in Cairo’s dockyards. The rumor was something of a story that the Jewish people tell, of thirty-six righteous souls that preserve the whole of the world from the judgment of God. It was a story your servant had heard in years before and years since, and of itself was little to report.

But of greater interest was the storyteller’s insistence that he had seen these very men, in a distant farm along the Nile. There, the man said to your Majesty’s servant, they all had gathered in order to combat an enraged djinn that the Prophet Sulieman had bound in the earth at the height of his kingdom. Your servant was of two minds regarding this tale.

The first was that indeed there was a group of wise men, doing some holy meditations as the Christians say the desert fathers do or some of the Sufi’s preform. In which case, their wisdom would be for the beneficence of your majesties reign, as their wisdom could aid in all things under the sun and bring about great victories for your Majesty.

The second was that, given the past your Majesty’s servant has had seeking out strange and remote places, these men were charlatans and sorcerers. In this case, they ought be sought either to lend their talents for your Majesty’s victory or, if they are unwilling and in service of futile rebellion, put to the sword to end whatever darkness they preform. Either way, I made my way down the Nile to investigate this further. The flood was particularly swift that year, so the journey down was swift.

The location of the gathering was, according to the riverman, well known to be in southern Nubia. There, beneath a pyramid, the conclave could be found. He warned your servant, however, that some disturbances were rumored to have come from the desert. Your servant gave these warnings perhaps too little heed.

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The first village along the shore your servant arrived at was fractious, and found your servant’s arrival an affront against them. Your servant explained he was not from the local pasha, but rather from a farther off land, in search of supposed wise men. They were still disrespectful to your servant, who learned hence that the village was many rebellious ones in that year. Given this, what occurred later was of little surprise.

The villages eldest, however, recalled the tale that had reached the ears of your Majesty’s servant, and directed him further inland. There, the eldest said, your Majesty’s servant might find the men who knew of the ancient clergy that dwell beneath the earth and their battle with Iblis. Your servant thanked them and continued along the path.

Suffice to say your Majesty’s servant was greatly misled in this. As he traveled through the desert, he was waylaid by horsemen armed with spears and crude sickles turned into swords. Your Majesty’s servant, lacking in the arts of war and being a scholar by trade, was quickly captured and brought back to their distant camp. Here he overheard them speaking of ransoms or murder for your servant’s great transgress of having a righteous lord. Here he learned that he had been betrayed.

Exchange

By what was over heard, your servant fears rule of law has begun to slip in the region. Bandits are growing bolder, more numerous, and the remains of older orders are starting to rear their ugly head. The disuptes seemed trivial, even out here. Support for rulers who your Majesty’s elders rightfully displaced had found fertile soil with recent droughts. As food failed to grow, resentment was brewing. Your Majesty’s servant held his tongue, and did not speak out, for he cowardly feared for his life. Still, he has sent word to your Majesty’s right and honorable swordsmen.

The exact conditions of your servant’s escape are perhaps evidence of the beneficence of G-d. Or perhaps the arrogance of defiant subjects. After all were asleep, your servant was granted a miracle.

For while he was bound and gagged at the camp site, your servant found that one of the bandit’s had left abandoned a sword in the sand. Carefully, your servant crawled on his belly like a serpent to the sword, unsheathing it with some difficulty using his neck and chin as makeshift hands. With some caution he then freed himself, cutting the bonds on the blade. Able to wield it properly, your servant cut his feet free and removed all impediments to his escape.

Still, your servant was in the desert and lost. He knew not where the men of legend and righteousness were, nor even where the grasps of civilization lay. His only clue, that night, was the path of a dog he found wandering in the desert sand. Your servant reasoned that, if the dog was alive, it must be going somewhere it knew, somewhere with water and possible food. Your servant’s choice was aided by the sound of waking men in the camp, who had made clear they deisgned to kill him.

Your servant wandered thus, after phantom footprints until dawn. The cold of the desert night and the silver of the moon preyed on his mind more than once, deluding him to thinking he was in the realm of the pagan dead, where shades wander. But the rise of the golden sun, and the gust of heat it brought over the world, dispelled that notion rather soundly.

It was at dawn that, in the east, your servant saw the tips of the pyramids promised. They were not as wide or grand as those near Giza, but rather like spear heads rising from the earth. There was a small village near it, which your servant now approached cautiously. Here he found men who spoke freely, having little apparent fear of strangers coming from the desert. They were confused by your servant’s claims of your Majesty’s authority, and even laughed at the telling of your authority. Your servant would have pressed the issue, but considered it unwise.

The young men your servant found around the pyramids took him inside, and gave him good food and rest. When your servant asked after the thirty-six holy men, they told your servant that he should rest and eat, for approaching their kings while in such a state may kill him. Your servant unwillingly obliged, satisfied that at last safety had been reached.

When your Majesty’s servant awoke, it was well into the night. The moon had risen to near it’s full, altough it was a new moon and thus marked by the absence of light rather than it’s prior silver splendor. The stars alone cast some light on the soft sand and dirt, and even this required a torch to be guided through to be of any use. Your servant was then lead by one of the native guides towards the pyramids, where a set of black steps were now revealed.

Here, they told your servant, was where the wise men did their work nightly. For by day they slept, to better have energies for their holiest of works.

Your servant was lead then down these stairs to a room that was made of perfecltly locked stoned. Painted along the walls were the sigils of the Egyptians from the days of the prophet Moses, images of sun worship and cats. A great pair of beasts were resting there, something between desert dogs and donkeys. They raised their heads, which had something of a crocodiles teeth to them, and seemed distrustful of my approach, until the guide tossed some meat at them.

“You are our honored guest, they are over zealous guards. If your master is who you say he is, then he is deserving to hear of our great work.” The man said, wiping his hand on his robe as we turned a corner beneath the pyramid.

And there I saw a terrible sight. Thirty six men, in the headress of pharaohs, each with golden masks and well kept beards, stood in a wide circle. At the center of the circle they held something fast with each of their thirty six hooks. Each struck it back with their flail, chanting in a tongue foreign to my ears.

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But it was the thing, the thing they struck that struck me with horror. For it appeared to be a child, beaten and bloodied so greatly that I could not tell beneath it’s rags whether they were boy or girl. It cried out pitifully at each wound. As I stared horror struck, I realized each cry was for help in a different tounge. Greek, Aramic, Arabic, Persian,French, the tounges of the distant east, tounges I had never heard. It cried out again and again. At last I turned to my guide in rage.

“What deception is this? This is what you are proud of, this is what you call holy work?” I said, nearly snuffing out our late when I reached for him.

“Of course it is holy work! Or are people beyond blind to decievers now?” the guide said.

“Explain.”

“The child is no child. It takes many forms, every night, that it might by mercy escape into the world. For it is the king of dreams the men here battle, a proteus of chaos and terror.” the guide said, frowning. “For millenia they have stood and stamped it out. When it slips it’s binds, even a little, it spreads famine, it devours empires, it overturns rightly apointed princes and unleashes plauges. The thirty six lords here must, therefore, bind and strike the beast or inflict its suffering on the world.”

Your servant insisted there must be another way to deal with the malcontent. He was told there was not one. Your servant again pleaded that the child was crying. Your servant was informed that one often cries out when struck with lashes. Your servant continued until his guide held up his hand and infromed your servant that there was nothing to be done. Such was the nature of the world, that thirty six righetous lords must inflict such punishment on the king of dreams until the end of days.

Your servant was then escorted out, but found the sun to have risen when he set foot on the edge of the stairs, and the silence of the night replaced by the clamor of Cairo. By some old magic, your servant believes he was in the end transported, back whence he came.

Your servant would suggest, humbly, some force move to the south to liberate the children sentenced to blood beatings. But he is uncertain if such a child is existent. And that aside, your servant recognizes the animosity of those regions have more pressing and immediate concerns. He sends only his humble advisement.

Your Right Hand and Clear Eye,

XXXX


If this story was of interest to you, consider reading earlier exploits of our lost scholar here, and here.

Maat and Apep

This Week’s Prompt: 45. Race of immortal Pharaohs dwelling beneath pyramids in vast subterranean halls down black staircases.

The Resulting Story: Forth Coming

We have an exquisitely preserved corpse today, my friends. For Egypt kept her kings intact, either with desert sands or by mankinds hands. And her pharaohs and pyramids are known the world over. We’ve discussed some of Egypt’s associations before, in more exotic contexts. Here we’ll examine some more or less concrete narratives.

The Pharaohs had a divinity ascribed to them, often but not always inherited from a divine ancestor(typically Ra and Horus, although lineages vary). The supernatural duties of the pharaoh and the kings before them predominantly focused on maintaining order (Maat) in the world. Examples of this include the Nile’s regular floods, which if poor were proofs of the failing power of the pharaoh. The pharaoh alternatively was key in Maat among humankind as well. The pharaoh by maintaining good and just behaviors among humanity promoted the maintenance of the eternal order of the cosmos.

This was a sort of microcosmic achievement, the actions of the kingdom extending out into the universe. This was also the purpose of state sponsored rituals and temples, to keep an order over all the cosmos. The rising sun and the flowing river needed to be maintained, after all, or all life would perish from the earth.

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Notably, then, there are agents of Chaos to be opposed. The most prominent of these is Apep, a great serpent. Apep dwells in the underworld, and daily assails Ra to devour him. He is defeated by Bast and Set, depending on the time period, or even Ra himself. Apep bears a resemblance to Leviathan, who we talked about here, in his role as serpent devouring the sun. Compared to other world destroying serpents, such as Jormungandr or Vritra, Apep is rather small, a measly 16 meters (or, roughly,48 feet). Sometimes however, he is said to be the vast horizon, or just beyond it. His roar will shake the underworld, calling to mind mythological the Kur dragon. Apep posses a number of powers, including the favorite of the serpent: a magical gaze. His wars with Set are the thunderstorms. His battles below with Ra’s entourage are earthquakes. In the end, often, Ra claims him in the form of a cat. His actions betray a greater, almost immortal chaos that is waiting to be unleashed. Apep is thus the eternal enemy of the pharaoh and Maat, more than any other. Appropriately, as an immortal entity of chaos, some suppose Apep to be the first god-king, overthrown by Ra. Others say he was born of Ra’s umblical chord after Ra’s birth.

Interestingly, his name derives by some accounts from the word ‘to slither’. Apep is thus a crawling creature of chaos….and the relevance of this expands somewhat when we talk about the odd detail this corpse has. A set of black stairs. Where is this familiar image from? Mr. Lovecraft would later ascribe such stairs to the entrance of the Dreamlands. The priests at the bottom of the stairs have distinctly Egyptian sounding names: Nasht and Kaman-Tha. Furthermore, the ruler of the Dreamlands is that dread lord Nyarlahotep, who’s name is meant to evoke Egypt.

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Nyarlahotep has emerged in our examinations before, but let us take a moment to note a few parallels. Nyarlahotep frequently has the form of the Black Pharaoh, a form used to create cults and according to some rule Egypt for an unspecified time. Nyarlahotep’s most eminent title is the ‘Crawling Chaos’, something akin to the description of Apep as a slithering force chaos. Bast, the Egyptian god who in many cases defeats Apep, persists as an Elder God in the Dreamlands, opposing the more chaotic elements of the Cthulhu Mythos.

We thus have the interesting opportunity of engaging with the Mythos in a more concerete way. It has been sometime before we dealt in the mythos themselves, instead of their shadows. More intreastingly, Nyarlahotep’s character is the sort that can be directly included and confronted in the story proper. Not only because such confrontations are frequent in the mythos (Quest for Unknown Kadath, The Witches House, the Nyarlahotep poem), but also because Apep was so confronted. Priests of the Egyptian faith published guides to the overthrowing of Apep, dismembering his body.

We thus have established perhaps a society of immortal pharaohs (and truly old pharaohs as well. Apep is first referenced it seems in 4000 BC, placing our Pharaohs as older than any hero of the Illiad or Oddessy, and older then the civilizations that made them), dedicated to the maintaining or binding of an agent of Chaos from the world. I would say the waking world, rather than the world of Dreams, as that way will allow some menace to the agents of darkness. Our pharaohs are perched then at the peripice, on the boundary line between reality and the land of dreams.

Now, to spin the eternal battle into a single narration requires an outsider. I’d posit an outside observer, rather than a change in the battle. Partially because a change in the battle requires an overlapping amount of work (explaining the significance of the battle, the battle itself, and presumbably an outside observer finding it) while adding more than can be expected in our word count (the after effects of the battle, finding the site of the battle, and an ending that hinges on undoing the chaos or merely witnessing a victory). An outsider then may descend into the land of Egypt, perhaps persuing some local legend of the steps of immortality, perhaps even pursing the great hall of immortals that is beyond the Silver Key.

The story would then be a report of a terrible mystery or seires of mysteries (what is the purpose of this place, what do these pharaohs protect from, whence comes their power, etc). Our reporters endeavors to find it would make it resemble one of our earliest (and my favorite) stories, who’s character I think we should revive as well.

To continue this, the primary difficulty of the story will perhaps be getting to the place. We could include signs of the chaos nearly breaking through. A peasants revolt, a plague, a famine (the three very often are found together), any of these could provide difficulties to cross into the path of interpid investigator. We know such works existed in the past (such as Ibn Battuta, who wrote a number of journals from his travels abroad), and the difficulties those explorers faced in their works could certainly serve as reference for our current character.

By the Lake

This Week’s Prompt: 44. Castle by pool or river—reflection fixed thro’ centuries—castle destroyed, reflection lives to avenge destroyers weirdly.

The Research:Out Of the Lake

Robert, Seamus, and Logan observed the smoldering remains of castle Lochancath. From the tall tower, the only stone structure left. The men below were rifling through the crumbled buildings for anything that could be carried home. The proper treasury was already under guard, trusted men at arms of the three lords holding fast with spears to defend newly one gold.

“I wonder if it will all be as leaves.” Robert wondered at the ash whipping into the air. “That’s what they say about faerie gold, isn’t it? Ash and leaves when you leave with it.”

“I doubt the coffers of the lord were leaves. If they were, someone would have beaten us to killing all this lot years ago.” Logan said. “Ys title or no, you don’t pay men with leaves and not get a pummeling from’em. Antsy men aren’t trustworthy ones either.”

“Men of magic have their way of doing things. I’d not put it past them, to value leaves as gold. Given Their style, who can say? That knight, with the blade made of mirrors was rather dreadfully skilled, despite his size. You’d think a giant would be less swift.” Seamus said. “And who knows? I suspect their magic fades with them, but well, would you look at that.”

Seamus gestured over the opposite end of the tower, looking over the castle’s namesake lake. There, in the still waters, the castle and town were reflected as they had been summers ago. Not a single sign of seige or famine, every building intact and gleaming gloriously from the waves. Only a small ripple disrupted the image, something bobbing along the shore.

“Is that–” Robert said squinting. “By God, it is. Would you look at that, a little Moses.”

“Go, get the babe from the river reeds.” Seamus said, turning to one of the standing soliders, “Bring it here.”

“Bring it here? No, no kill it before we suffer whatever magics it has.” Logan said, turning ot Seamus. The solider waited in confusion.

“Kill it? Can you not see the value in a sorcerous squire?” Seamus replied.

“Yes, but can’t you see the danger? One boy was spared by Herod, one by pharaoh, one by every tyrant. And they will grow and avenge themselves on their parents.”

“Only because their parents were fools, and headed prophecy. If we are fated to die at the hands of one of Lochancath’s heirs, tell me, will killing this babe forestall our destiny?” Seamus said, shrugging. “There is much to gain, and little to lose. Stories are not history, and the scholar is quick to see the doom as foertold. How many did Herod massacre with no savior? How about Caesar?”

As soon as Seamus was done, his footman returned with the babe, wrapped in red cloth. It was pale green, and quiet despite staring out with ever curious eyes.

“Do not bring that thing up in your own house at least,” Logan said, shaking his head. “Send it somewhere where it will never learn what we’ve done nor have ambitions to thrones our sons have been promised.”

“Very well, he’ll live with a squire of mine. I know just the one.”

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It would be almost two decades before the child was seen by Seamus or Logan. It was on Saint Jude’s day, and Logan had almost forgotten the boy in the years since. He was thus at also for words when the old squire, now a knight in his own right, presented the boy to the court as Anloch, here to become squire of one of Lord Seamus.

“My son Anloch has done well in my household, serving with distinction and grace. I humbly submit him to be a squire of your majesty,” the old knight said, gesturing at the youth beside him. He was still pale, almost luminescent. Long curling red hair hung from his head, and his hands and feet seemed made for a larger man. Logan, frowned, his mind worrying about some forgotten dream. Frankly, as the youth was presented, bowing humbly to the king, Logan suspected the weight of the feast landed heavily on him.

“Ah, we’ve heard a little of this lad,” Seamus said with a smile, “Except that he is fond of the hunt and does not lack skill at it.”

“Many a mangy hind have I hunted, four fierce boars I’ve speared as well.” Anloch replied, standing unblinking before Seamus. His voice reminded Seamus of a flute, high and airy. “And many more than these have I found with hand and knife.”

Seamus smiled and laughed.

“Boars, you say? For someone so slight, that is quite the feat. Well, you are welcome in my court then. Come, sit at my side.” Seamus said, gesturing beside him, and sighing low some. He seemed tired to Logan’s eyes. Perhaps he had been up late, examining plans and books. Or perhaps memories of the wars abroad, of battles near and far, had kept him up with their clamor. Logan shrugged it off.

The youth tilted his head as he sat beside the sons of his new lord. They engaged in some lengthy conversation, but neither Seamus nor Logan could hear it. As he spoke, he gestured with his hands, spinning invisible circles round and round in front of the boys eyes, as if Anloch was trying to weave a net out of the air.

“He’s come along well, hasn’t he?” Seamus said after to Logan. “And hunting so much at his age. He’ll be a grand fighter, even if he never does practice. Imagine him honed in iron.”

“He winces at the sight of a mirror,” Logan said, frowning. “Even his reflection in a plate of iron gives him pause. It worries me, that he’s grown so.”

“Are you talking of Anloch papa?” Seamus son, Scath, said. The boy was barely into his eleventh year, but already walked about with a knife at his side.

“Yes, was he fine entertainment?” Seamus said, kneeling down to his son’s level.

“Yeah! He’s done so much work out in the woods! I think Rachel has gotten smitten for him!” Scath said.

“Scandalous. Well, we’ll see how she feels when she’s of more marriagable age.”

“You’d consult your daughter?” Logan asked with a raised eyebrow.

“If I didn’t, tragedy would most certainly follow. You are slow on your hearing of old stories, friend. A bitter bride is poison in the house.” Seamus said, waving a corrective finger.

“Papa, where’s Anloch from?” Scath asked. Seamus turned cold for a moment, before smiling at his son.

“Well, Sir Bedeve is from the western part of the county, so that should–”

“But he doesn’t look like Sir Bedeve! He’s got no beard, and red hair, and his eyes aren’t as blood shot and he walks like a bird,” Scath asked, crossing his arms.

“Well, you have the curiosity of a crow and belly of a pig.” Seamus said, poking his nose and belly. “Anloch’s from Sir Bedeve’s house, and that’s all that matters.”

“But he talks funny–”

“That is all that matters, little one. For you and anyone else.” Seamus said, ending the discussion as much with his tone as with his words. Logan saw Rachel looking from behind a column, darting back at the end. He ought to have considered things to come.

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Years again passed, and Anloch remained something of a fixture at court. Logan watched his youth and found his own age weighing stronger and stronger. He seemed, when he looked in the mirror, to be a caricature of the elderly, each day growing feebler and feebler. The more time he had to ponder the change, the slower his mind’s gears seemed to turn.

Logan assumed the same was true of Seamus.He hadn’t seen Seamus in two years, with his boy Scath returning missives, not infrequently with that Anloch boy attending to him. Like a flame, he drew people round him wherever he went. Ladies and squires and even knights at courts, Logan had seen. Tripping over themselves to talk to the strange lad, who never seemed to blink properly. It bothered Logan to know end. Anlochs blinks, they rolled between his eyes instead of closing and opening at the same time.

He needed not to assume with Robert. The two rode and visited frequently. Each time Robert seemed to speak in more hushed tones and in more irregular patterns. Pauses would give way to hurried or slurred words, and he’ stare lazily into space for hours. Something had become of him, Logan knew it.

Logan thought over this as he rode under moonlight, a dog helping him on the trail. He knew the boy was related to this nonsense. His daughter had vanished into the night, along with half the guards and footmen. And as tired as he was with the world, he had reserves yet to go and find her.

Logan’s hounds followed her scent down the old roads at night, back to the ruins of Lochancath. He saw two more horses, Robert and Seamus’s riding to the same outcropping, and the same placid lake. There along the shore, in the rubble and remains, Logan saw a sight unimaginable. A host of men and women dressed in the finest clothes, men at amrs with shields painted white with a single red stripe, children in baptismal apparel. His daughter among them, and Seamus’s son as well, and at the head of the host stood Anloch.

How tall he was! He towered a head and shoulder above every knight and walked still as softly as a cat. He directed the host with a single finger down into the lake, and each walked into the reflection of the castle, still perfectly maintained in the rippling water. Anloch turned wordlessly to see the three lords who he had beggared of household and lives. On his brow was a third, crimson eye. He did not smile knowingly, he did not smirk with malice. There was a calm of completion that he spread, as he with a few steps, descended into the depths.


 

So, there are a few things I wouldn’t do if I were to rewrite this. Logan and Robert could be fused, and the center of action is clearly in the two middle acts, during Anloch’s ‘seduction’ of the various courtiers. As it is, this is a piece that suffers a lot, as I feared it would, from my attempts to say at 1500 words. I have some ideas for expanding it into a bigger story later, but those will have to be done outside the Society.

Out Of the Lake

This Weeks Prompt: 44. Castle by pool or river—reflection fixed thro’ centuries—castle destroyed, reflection lives to avenge destroyers weirdly.

The Resulting Story:By the Lake

So, we have here a prompt that reminds me very much of a couple of past prompts. Rather than review the notes from those, I’ll just briefly list them here:(Mirror Mirror On The Wall, The Storm Comes. The Dragon Roars.,THE MOON ).

I can’t, at the moment, recollect any folklore that relates to this sort of prompt not already covered in the above. I will note that this prompt reminds me more clearly of some sort of architectural version of The Picture of Dorian Grey, a book I find…tedious and don’t recommend. The basic notion, of a image of something preserving it’s beauty is the primary component at work here, albeit in reverse.

The reflection on a lake unchanging is an image that has appeared recently, in Dark Souls 2’s opening sequence. What exactly is meant by the still intact reflection is not known to me, and beyond a visual cue, we don’t exactly have the reflection itself seeking vengeance upon the destroyers of the unknown structure.

In general structure, it isn’t hard to think of the general outline. We can begin with the destruction of the castle by the named characters. The owners themselves are of little import, although the motive for destruction is. Given that the reflection is fixed through the centuries, presumably from before the castle’s destruction, it would not be unreasonable to say it’s builders and perhaps it’s lords are a tad fae.

Such nature might be the cause of the castles fall, or it might merely be an after thought of the real cause. Magical and mystical power is something that can be terrifying, and terror often prompts eventual reprisals. I doubt the unchanging reflection is, in it of itself, terrifying to the assailants. It is no doubt proof of what they feared.

Thinking on that, how would a reflection go about seeking it’s revenge? It does so in a ‘weird’ way, but to be honest, and with all due respect to Mr. Lovecraft, I fail to see how a castle’s image could achieve vengeance EXCEPT weirdly.

There are a few venues I would like to close off for the moment, however. The first is the image ‘haunting’ its prey, and damaging their reflection, their by damaging themselves. This feels a bit too slasher-mystery to me. In my time working with these corpses, I have learned that mysteries are hard to maintain in a reasonable word count. They simply need more time.

In this case I’ll also note that, despite having multiple characters to achieve vengeance on, the vengeance is better in a single act that afflicts all of the destroyers rather than hunting each indvidually. Mainly this is for space as well, although it also encourages a bit more creativity with the act. It has to be something that disturbs and drags down the lives of all involved.

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There is the option of obsession, Narcissus style. The castles beauty might lure the destroyers into the lake, deeper and deeper, until they drown themselves trying to reach false halls and parapets. Or lure them towards the sorts of creatures that live down in that lake, long basking in the magic of the castle and it’s lords. Either is as deadly.

An alternative is the reverse. The castle’s reflection seeks vengeance by creating something and sending it out into the world. Something that, by strange means, destroys the lives of the destroyers. A living thing or inanimate object could both be desctructive in their own ways.

The trick with a living emergence would be to make it something besides a monster. Vengance via simple murder does not seem strange enough, or that horrifying in my opinion. Thinking on it for a bit, a living thing that bound them in some sort of prison, perhaps in the reflection itself, might be better. But that runs a risk of being too strange to properly be terrifying. Most people do not fear being trapped under a lake, and while claustrophobia or the like could work, that would center on the aftermath of the vengance, not the act itself.

Perhaps the castle’s agent could act as a lure. Not for the initial destroyers, but instead luring those dear to them, slowly pulling them towards an untimely end or ultimate sorrow. There is a more clear fear there of someone growing distant, of being unable to help a loved one or friend, and of the past coming back to destroy present relationships in unexpected ways.

Castle Lake Cover

The form of the creature of the reflection should, to a degree, be malleable therefore. I think some shining thing would serve it best. Unearthly in it’s color and appearance, it should be bewitching and yet frightening. The form of a child strikes me at the moment, partially for it’s apparent innocence, partially for it’s potential in the store (mistaken as the last heir of the castle, and spared out of mercy), partialy for it’s means of afflicting many (as a child grows, it can slowly worm its ways into hearts), partially for potential warning in ausipocus physical markers (third eyes, speaking too soon), and so on.

A child as a means of vengeance, slowly unmaking the fearful destroyers, seems like a fine tale. But I worry it will run too long. At best, the story should be broken into three parts. Each part is roughly five hundred words, and each would mark a stage. First would be the introduction of the cursed child, shortly after the ruining of the castle. Next would be the initial vengeance, as the strange child bewitched playmates and makes his way into the hearts of the destroyers court. The third act would be his final revenge, mutilating or driving out those who destroyed his kingdom or perhaps leading his devoted followers into the lake, where the foemen cannot follow.

I’ll have to think of how to do all these succinctly, but I think there is promise in this story. The outline is vauge for now, but that is what the remainder of the week is meant to refine!

Invasion From Below

This Week’s Prompt: Monsters born living—burrow underground and multiply, forming race of unsuspected daemons.

The Research:Kobolds, Goblins, and Demons Beneath Your Feet

The fields outside the manor house always seemed to buzz after the rain. Jameson had heard from the senior staff supervising the old building that it was the cicadas waking, and certainly it sounded like the summer buzz of breeding insects. But Jameson had never found that comforting. As a child in the Southwest, the cicadas were a presence heard but never seen. He sometimes was convinced that it was actually the leaves and seeds of the trees burning under the heat of the sun.

But the fields couldn’t be burning, even if the grass almost seemed to light when the sun set behind them. Jameson knew better than to expect that. IT was the rain season. Fires never happen during the rain season. And here, the rain could last for days. The mountains blocked off any clouds that came from the sea, so a down pour would last until the clouds finally passed.

It was actually the seventh straight day of rain that Jameson and Jonathon observed that morning.

“You’d think the buzzing would stop with the rain.” Jameson said, sipping from the warm coffee he had. “But it’s almost like they go into a heat with the water.”

“Aren’t mosquitos like that? Love water and stuff?” Jonathon asked.

“No, no, skeeters like the warm, still standing stuff. They freeze up like most anything.” Jameson said with a shrug.

“Hmph. Well, maybe it’s a warning then.”

“A warning?”

“Well, they burrow underground right? I imagine it must be flooding down there.” Jonathan replied. “And I mean, if I was trapped in a flooding tunnel –a”

“Hush, hear that?” Jameson said, holding his hand up. The buzzing of the cicadas had grown, and now a second sound echoed behind it. Something more like… “Is that a drill?”

Jonathan stood at once, and Jameson pushed away from the table. Squinting into the rain, barely visible in the field, was a widening pile of dirt. A small pyramid emerged, whirling faster than anything they expected. It grew on the horizon until it was the size of a house, a glittering red light peering from it’s side. Soon another followed it, and another. About half a dozen pyramids, forming a line around the visible portion of the grounds.

INvasion Below Cover

“Who…Who do we call about this?” Jameson asked, as one of the pyramids tops slowly began emitting a deep red light.

“No one.” Jonathan said slowly, waving his phone around. “Signals gone.”

“…well, if that ain’t ominous.” Jameson said, turning back to the field. “Think it’s them? Think their aliens or something?”

“Could be the storm. Doesn’t much matter, because I intend to wait this out in the basement.” Jonathan said, pulling Jameson along. “Because if it’s not the storm than those things are probably responsible and their isn’t a decent reason to cut off someone’s reception, not unless your planning something that frankly I don’t—”

Before Jonathan could finish blurting out his thought, there was a loud crack from the bottom floor. Followed by another, longer creeking sound. Peering over the stair, they saw another pyramid rising, a spear point smashing through the floor. Before their eyes, the sides slumped off, making a four pointed star on the floor.

The Creatures Below

Slowly out came a thing that bore a resemblance to the wild men sometimes poking outside of paintings of forests and pagan rights. Long hands felt outward as a short, stocky creature covered in pale fur came forth. It was dripping wet, and moved more like a chimp then a man. But it’s fingers were almost reptilian, long serrated claws scratching the floor as it walked. It’s head was large and wide, like the top of mushroom. A tooth jaw ideally opened and closed, the long tounge of a serpent flicking out.

Neither Jonathan nor Jameson waited long upon seeing the thing before running up the stairs again. They almost tripped over themselves, running up the stairs to the topmost floor, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the strange machinery. When the skidded into the dancing hall, unused for the last thirty years, they slammed the door behind them.

What followed was a blur of activity, as the two of them piled the chairs and tables into a makeshift barricade on the door they came through and the side exits, leaving the servants exit free in case of escape. It was a fine looking barricade, with shining gold finery around the edges and white cushions making up a not insiginficant amount of bulk. Its practical ability was an unknown to either Jameson or Jonathan, nethier having spent much time around barricades.

Jonathan leaned against the larger window at the back, rolling his head to look outside again. In the distance, obscured by pouring rain, were more of the pyramids. Out of them ran a wave of the creatures, some carrying long pitch forks and others things that resembled a rifle with a drill bit at the end. But something else caught his eye.

“Christ, what are they doing out there?” Jonathan said, his shoulders slumping. A number of the gardening staff hadn’t yet come in from the rain, or maybe had been sent out in spite of it. As Jameson got closer to the window, he saw the descending horde of things falling on them with sticks and flashes of light, dragging away the dead or unconcious towards their pyramids.

“What do you think their doing with’em?” Jameson wondered. There was a sudden thump on the barricaded door. Both of them jumped and Jameson grabbed a chair as a meager weapon.

“Well, we might find out. Any idea of where to head from here?” He asked. Jonathan was doing his best to find the door handle to the servants passage again.

“Er, well, there is one place. Central tower garden might be safe. But we’d have to go down.” The clasp clicked open. “And they’re already down there.”

Windows

A click-click-click sound came from outside as Jonathan finished. Jameson slowly moved back to the window and, looking down, saw long metal ladder affixing themselves like vines along the wall.

“Well, in a moment they’ll be up here too. Open up and lets get out of here.” Jameson said, hurrying towards the door. Sure enough, moments after they closed it and began rushing down, there was the sound of smashed glass overhead. The two continued until they at last reached the courtyard.

The central tower of the manor was a tall, calcified thing.It had vines and pipes reaching up to the top apartment, and then spanning out to water the many garden plots around it. It had one door, around the front. Which, to Jonathan and Jameson’s shock, was locked.

The shock was in part due to the sound of clambering feet from the main hall, and the realization that the strange and terrible things were going to come for them at any second, with the last possible hold out no longer availible. The clambering and clanking of metal behind them, the sound of a centipedes worth of clattering feet certainly made the shock more clear.

But more immediate was the fact that only the family of the manor could lock the door. The interior lock require a key, both Jameson and Jonathan knew. They needed to get one of the kids to lend their key when locking it up every night. And the full implications began to sink in.

“Let us in you bastards!” Jameson shouted, smashing the chair he had brought on the door. Jonathan stared blankly a head as Jameson beat on the door with the remains of the chair legs, growing smaller and more splintered with every blow.

The family within the tower had had some warning. This had occurred before, about three decades prior. Once every thirty years or so. The patron of the house watched over the hills as the rain began ot die down, as the pyramids began to sink into the grown. It was one hell of a storm. The damage was severe, and the hush money for questions would probably be worse this year. Still. At least the inane buzzing had stopped for now.


*

This corpse was a fighter. I had another story ready, but the horror aspect didn’t click. so I started again from scratch. And then half of it was lossed in a computer incident. The result is a story I’m not the most proud of, but that could be expanded in interesting ways later.

Next week we will be looking into a lost castle across the vast gulf of time.

Kobolds, Goblins, and Demons Beneath Your Feet

This Weeks Prompt:43. Monsters born living—burrow underground and multiply, forming race of unsuspected daemons.


The Resulting Story: Invasion From Below

Well, this prompt has lead down some strange rabbit holes. The corpse specifically deals with creatures underground, burrowing in a method that reminds me of locusts or cicadas. The underground is full of strange creatures, but when it comes to sheer numbers and the sort of clamoring that forms indicates only a few key cases, from folklore and urban legends that is.

Sailor Kobold.png

First is the Kobold, who resembles a diminutive man, despite claims by Wizards of the Coast and Paizo. Kobolds dwell either in mines, aboard ships, or in houses, and are creatures of German extraction. We will be focusing on the mining branch, who have the most mixed reputation. These kobolds are reportedly expert miners and desirous of precious metals. They themselves can enchant metals, making fools gold or metals that cause a burning sensation. They are also responsible, it is believed, for the creation of cobalt. It is they who give cobalt it’s arsenic content and poisonous power.

Kobolds sometimes preform helpful deeds, debatedly. They get the name Koblod for their tendency to knock on mine walls. The knocking either marks a region that miners ought to avoid, as it is dangerous, or one that they should mine for a thick vein of ore. This knocking habit persists into the Kobolds relatives, the Coblynau. The Coblynau are, however, always malevolent and frequently cause landslides in their never ending mining.

Grootslang.png

In South Africa, far yet close to the German Kobolod, we have another creature. A favorite of mine: The Grootslang. The Grootslang was the first creation of the Gods, when they were new to the work of making life. They made the Grootslang too mighty, and split it into two creatures (snakes and elephants). But one of the Grootslang escaped, and from it came the whole dread species. Grootslangs lust for gems and gold, akin to dragons. They are cunning and cruel creatures, but susceptible therefore to bribery.

There are less …demonic inhabitants below of course. We have the urban legend of ‘molemen’, groups of homeless and oppressed people driven into subways and sewers for their entire lives. There they form, according to myth, tribes and nations of their own, governed by their own laws. There are some…obviously uncomfortable implications to discussing those that society has suppressed as living in underground societies of barbarity. But that is the legend. There is something in this myth in particular that could be reversed, the rising of those condemned against those that would damn them. The oppressed gripping the oppressor by the throat…

But that might be leaving the prompt a bit.

Journey to the Center of the Earth.png

In more typical realms of genre, there is the field of Subterranean Fiction. Jules Verne is perhaps the most famous here, but given that his explorations do not deal with something intellgient enough to call demons, we will look instead to a few other authors in the genre.

It would be strange to leave out Mr. Lovecraft himself, with the world of K’n-yan. The underground of K’n-yan is ruled by people who resemble First Peoples and possess advanced technology. They can materialize and dematerialize at will. The command undead slaves of conquered races and are ruled by eugenically engineered men and women. Once they worshiped Tsathoggua, but learned his nature and abandoned him.

With them dwell the remains of the snakemen, who we discussed more here. And in the depths of the cavern is Tsathogua himself, dread great old one surrounded by living oozes.

Mr. Lovecraft then aside, there is the work of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. This accounts not for demons, but rather a race of ‘superior’ subterranean humans that manipulate life energy. This ties into the accountants by Theosphanists, a group who’s writings make fine genre work but are tinged forever by racist and white supremacist implications if not handled properly. Ironically, I wonder if the people of K’n-yan were meant as something of an insult to the work of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Intriguing if true.

With all this in mind, what are we to do? Well, we have some compelling examples of complex relations between surface dwellers and those below. The idea of inherent hostility in the underground works well for horror, and the setting in a liminal place between above and below would work well. A subway, a mine shaft, a cave entrance. A place between the two worlds, perhaps the spot of their divergence.

The action of the story is probably the arising of the ‘demons’ whatever form they take, coming up from the underground. The analogy of locusts rising might be fitting here, a wave of death arising from below. There is some revolutionary undertones to that …well, phrasing. Revolutions often have horrors in them, either in the build up or execution.

The other solution, perhaps the one that can mesh into this as easily, is a stranger stumbling into the hostile world below. A journey into the literal underworld, as Dante and Aeneas have undergone. We’ve gone over such journeys elsewhere, but those where far more metaphorical journeys below. This would be tumbling into a strange, hostile land of demons waiting to overtake the world. Whether they are revolutionaries or conquerors, such a place could hold a host of horrors. It must have wealth, that much is clear from most myths. And that makes a fairly good amount of sense. The ground is where growth comes from and where ores are found.

It might be wise to blurr the line between conqueror and revolutionary, to make the nature of the demons uncertain and unclear. I would point the group as coming up from below, surging beneath some manor or castle, in order to begin either a revolt or a conquest. It is probable that the footmen do not know which the sudden surge of demons is. If that is the case, then there is horror to be found in being swept up in a terror that you bear little knowledge if not responsibllity for.

I will have to think this over, I don’t quite have a full story in mind yet. There is so many possibillities that I have yet to narrow them down in a meaningful way.

I will note one other obvious source of inspiration: the videogame Undertale. I…have not finished it, so can only recommend it by reputation and the little progress I have made so far.

In a similar vein, I’d like to call your attention to a horror contest that might interest you, as it’s themes resemble this prompt. You can find it here. My story here will, of course, not be an entry in that competition.

Catoptrophobia

This Week’s Prompt: 42. Fear of mirrors—memory of dream in which scene is altered and climax is hideous surprise at seeing oneself in the water or a mirror. (Identity?)

The Relevant Research:Mirror Mirror On The Wall

My first dreams were fine. I didn’t even think they were dreams, while having them. I remember entire lives, and I guess the first of those is the one to start with.

The dreams started well after the the machine was running. They weren’t that bad at first, run of the mill nightmares. Falling through the floor, skin flying off, loud winds, that sort of thing. I wasn’t too concerned, at first. We were busy and wondering on dreams isn’t exactly a productive use of time in a facility like ours.

Of course, it really was the reverse. We really should have been paying more attention to our dreams. Dreams and visions are the secrets to the Kingdom and such. But I didn’t. I sat down at the control desk next to Dan, looking over the hollowed column of shining silver. Purified, rariefied, polished silver. A mirror of lunar metal, a hundred huddled faces staring back at us with the same coffee addled anticipation as us.

“Alright, calibrating now. Control, are you there?” Dan asks, twisting one of the many many dials on our desks. There was a buzzed reply.

“Think we’ll get something this time?” I asked, flicking a few switches. The column began to bend, the reflections forming a callidascope of reflected images, only a few showing our complete faces. Dan shrugged.

“Beginning oscillation.” I said into the intercom mic. The all clear came back, and with that the screaming started.

Oh, no, not from anything horrible done to us. Not yet. No, the sound was a recording, or a set of recordings. I moved the pitch up and down, watching it echo through the mirrored chamber. Little rippls and cracks formed along the edges of the mirrors, and the reflections began to distort. The Bloody Mary principle seemed to be coming through.

The idea was pretty simple, and for an occult science, fairly sound. Noises near mirrors caused disruptions, misforutunes, called up terrible entities and ghosts. There was a great deal of potential in that in-between space that was just on the otherside of the mirror. A thin barrier that, with the right amount of pressure, we hoped to crack.

Based on studies, we reckoned there was something to learn from the other side. Something about what the foundations of the world are, or perhaps what lies beyond our own. What is inimical to life, does anything transcend our petty corner of reality to all cosmos? Do we have like-minded thinkers to await us.
So we built a machine. We found the noise that pierced the soul, that drew attention best. We found mirrors and arranged them in thousands of angels. And now, Dan and I spent hours blasting them with simulations of screams, waiting for a ripple to spread, a sign that the other side had heard back. It wasn’t exactly the most pleasant work. It wasn’t surprising that at night, dreams were, as I said, a tad disturbed.

But we really should have noticed. Should have asked, should have talked about it, in case…well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

CoverMirror.png

That day was unlike other days, in a way you have probably anticipated. You see, for once, the mirror began to flicker, the silver began to peel like paint and ripple like water. The reflections bent and burned, eyes widening, subsumed by great pupils that became darkness as they were torn open to reveal something new. Something that wasn’t on our side of the shining fence.

And then…darkness. There was still the screaming, the modulation stopped where the dial left it, a low and deep sound that almost resembled a dying whale’s song. There wasn’t anything else, just an inky black so complete that I was certain I was sleeping. If not for the continuous screaming.

When the lights came back on line, when the world started to unfold, it looked different. The first, most obvious difference was the column. There was a hole, lined wit the mirrors, extending backwards. I couldn’t tell, just looking, how far back the hole went. The lights didn’t reach all the way back, and even if they did, reflections would make just visually measuring the depth hard. Okay, that was an after the fact relization.

No, what struck me first after the ‘why is there a hole in the middle of the machinery’ was, well, what had knocked me and Dan over and was Dan breathing. There was broken glass everywhere. When I started to pull myself, up I had to stop because my hands felt like they were full of needles. Something had gone horribly wrong. There were alarms going off now. I ignored them like I ignored the other loud peircing noise and push-crawled to Dan. He looked alive. He seemed to be breathing. His breath fogged up a bit of glass I could barely hold over his mouth.

After that, some emergency folks came in. I lost consciousness again.

WormMirror2.png

I didn’t wake up in a hospital bed. I woke up, first, in a room. A plain room, with curtains around every wall and a breeze coming through. The tile floor was cold to walk on. I stood, staring at my hands that seemed fully healed. As I stared at them, I saw things moving beneath the surface. Worms crawling in my skin. It didn’t bother me much.

There was nothing else in the room, but it felt more like I was swimming then walking. It wasn’t hard to move, but it was…heavy. I looked around some, pacing around the place I had been lying. There wasnt any furniture, but the floor had felt like a bed before.

With nothing else to do, I wlaked toward one of the curtains and grabbed it. It felt like human skin. I pulled and pulled at it, to see what was behind it. Just when it was about to give, I woke up again.

I woke up this time in the hospital room, with curtains surrounding me and the beeping of machines beside me. This was to be expected. There were people talking, sillehoutes I could make out, all in hushed voices. Something had gone wrong, that much was certain. Someone behind the curtain sounded nervous, afraid.

There was a pounding on the door. A man gestured towards it, I assumed. He then peeled back the curtains to get a better look at me.

“Hello, David? I’m Doctor Stevens. Nod if you understand.” the Doctor said. He was wearing a face mask, and saftey goggles. Excessive, I thought, for what my condition was. I lifted my head a bit. My neck really hurt. But I managed to nod. My hands still stung as I tried to move them.

“Okay, great. Now, there was an accident. Do you remember the accident?” the Doctor asked. More pounding on the door, some shouting. I nodded again. My mouth felt dry, really dry. I worried if I opened my mouth, I’d suddenly speak only ashes.

“Alright, now, do you remember who was with you in the control room?”

Another nod.

“How many people where in the control room with you?” the Doctor asked. I heard wood cracking. The door was breaking. I turned slowly towards the noise to not hurt my neck anymore.

“Ignore that. How many people where in the room with you, David?”

I raised my hand cautiously, holding up a single finger. My hand stung, and I think blood was still running down my palm. Doctor Stevens nodded.

“And after the accident? How many people, before you pass—”

I frowned. After the accident? The security guards I guessed. Counting in my head, the cracking grew louder. I managed to hold up fiver fingers before the door smashed onto the ground. There was screaming and shouting. I squinted to see what was happening on the otherside of the curtains as Doctor Stevens ran.

There was a thing out there, a sillehoute. Hands, on the ground, grabbing and pulling down. I saw Dan walking. No, floating, like some forgotten spectre. He pushed through the crowd as it grew quiet, as screams became choking sobs. I saw his hand…or what was left of his hand, reaching up along the curtain, pulling back at the edge, pulling it aside. I caught a glimpse of maggots festering, a mass of rotting flesh and new born flies pouring from his dead eyes. His pupils, or a black abyss like pupils, was swelling over his face, hanging over his cheek bones.

I woke again. I awoke not far from here, alone in a bathroom stall. New clothes, new skin even. Still felt…well, felt tingly. But when I looked in the mirror, I saw a pair of bloodshot eyes and a face I’ve never seen before. Yeah, this face. I don’t know who Jacob is. I don’t know why my hands still feel like their bleeding. But that’s not important.

Eyes.png

I saw my eyes, detective, I saw them. The pupils are growing wider.


 

This weeks prompt suffered from a loss of my time. I think the premise of piercing a veil through mirrors has promise, and might be revisited latter. And the pupils feel a bit…well, corny at the moment. A draft more than a story for now.

 

Next time, we delve into the depths of the earth, and find unsuspecting foes! What will we find below? What daemons lurk in the deeps of the fertile earth?