This Weeks Prompt:48. Cities wiped out by supernatural wrath.
The Research:Calamity And Woe
Thul of the Golden Collar moved through the outer districts as a hare moves through the forest in dread. Beyond Anuel’s kingly walls of marble, lined with gold, there was all the ills a city might expect. The brand of high nobility on Thul’s brow gave him a degree of protection form banditry and worse as he moved through the market. But the fire roaring in the distance, the veiled bodies of the diseased glimpsed in boarded up homes, the hungry dogs that barked in the alleys thick with the stench of the dying were not as kind nor as polite as to excuse him.
Spice and sparse food were not what Thul’s purpose this day. Under the smog and smoke, he was looking for something peculiar to his soon-to-be married mistress. She was exacting, and Anuel’s gods were a greedy bunch. They hungered for blood and gold, and Thul had seen those slaves of less pure collars led screaming to be offered before the bloody handed lords of Anuel. But these would not do for princess Shapanat. The princess had deemed that only the sort fit for the highest of gods, made beautiful in the fires and grind of the city. A diamond the glistened in the rough, she said as she sent Thul out.
He had his instruments of his temporary office. A staff topped with miniature hand carved of jade, to be used to point to the fortunate one. A crook to dissuade any of the masses from assailing him. And on his arm, a band like a serpent of silver as a final badge of office. So adorned, Thul set out among those bound in iron and brass, dregs of the city.
He saw while he walked the cities degenerate roads a peculiar sight. A man, dressed in nothing but his vast and unkempt beard. He was standing on a pile of broken boxes, jumping now from one crumbling, cracking bit of wood to another.
“Repent, oh gluttonous Anuel! Repent, for the gods skulk now in the hills and plan your ambush. Repent and they shall pass over you, and your wicked ways! For I have seen great lords of rust and rot, who will make your stones like dust and your irons sand!”
Thul ignored this latest doomsayer. If the gods had any plague for Anuel, it could not reach past the great walls. The gods of Anuel stood there resolute and guarded, pleased with the blood and fire given to them daily. But not far from him did Thul see what his mistress desired. A young child, skin as dark as the night sky, with eyes the color of the moon and day. The prophet protested more, but Thul parted him with the gesturing stick.
“You have been found in copper.” Thul said to the boy, who showed neither fear nor understanding. “You will be wrought into gold.”
They were the words with which to address a sacrifice. Thul found no wailing here, however, that he and others had grown accustomed to. Now crying mothers or threatening siblings. There was s sudden silence spreading from the boy, a ripple out as a hundred eyes stared at Thul as he walked back to the marble walls. They recalled stories of jackals and hyenas waiting in badlands, watching prey pass.
There was hunger in those eyes.
The day of the wedding between Shapanat and Marad was attended with much pomp and circumstance. The fleet of litters were gathered around the long table, with the many slave serving nobles waiting. With hands gloved in velvet and utensils as long as spear, they served the greatest guests, so that the air only barely touched them. Others, the lesser members, made a show of walking about in fantastic array, with masks and feathers and long flowing gowns and capes.
The newly wed royals sat atop their thrones, skin painted bright red and yellow with crowns of emeralds and sapphires. But one thing disturbed the serene surface peace of the court. As the ceremonies and gifts began to approach the greatest height, some of the guests noticed a new member among them. He had a mask of gold, that stretched from ear to ear, leaving only his eyes and forehead apparent. The rest was kept in a playful smile, like a statue carved by the wisest carver. A small whole in the mouth piece allowed him to speak, and what a voice it permitted. It was a soft thing, like a bird song in spring. But his words when he spoke where never soft.
“I have come to reclaim what the houses of Anuel have stolen from the lion, the bull, and the dragon.” He said, when asked of his purpose. “And I shall do so.”
He milled about in silks of silver and white, although some swore they saw a bleeding stain emerging on his side. His steps seemed like a delicate insect carefully crawling on the skin of a great beast, grace without any apparent thought to what he did. The stranger’s stir brought Thul’s attention, as he was sent to inquire of the strange debt collector.
“Lady Shapanat has heard that you believe she owes you some debt, and one great enough to interrupt this high and holy day.” He said, staring into the man’s eyes that seemed, if for a moment, to swirl like a serpents. “She would like to hear what is owed to you, or what you claim is. And if possible, she has given me authority to remedy it this night.”
“Ah, send a serf instead of facing the messenger yourself.” the man said smiling. “She has stolen the nations of the bull, the lives of the lion, and the might of the dragon. They have thus laid siege to her, from outside the walls with all their battery. Now, they have seen she has stolen something even more beloved. A boy they blessed for great things. Return him, and they shall abate.”
Thul did not have to return to his mistress to know her will in this matter. Delight was written across her face when she beheld the boy. Her wrath would be in equal measure, and would fall upon his back as soon as this impudent foreigner was ripped to shreds by eager hands.
“That is not acceptable.” Thul said simply. “We may compensate whoever it is that you represent, with a value in gold or jade that is equal to him in weight.”
“The gods deal in more than you, little man.”
As they spoke, the boy in question was lead atop the great circular sacrificial stone. Three bent gargoyles, with the heads of crocodiles and the bodies of leopards, held up the altar that was carved in the image of a hungering god. There was silence, as the sacrifices were, one by one, lead up to the altar. They were covered in oils, with feathers from their hair and prayers carved on their face. Twenty three were brought up before the boy, each pushed to their knees, and their throats slit so that their blood spilled into the mouth of the grim god of Anuel.
But when the boy was lead, with the horns of a bull on his head and chains of sparking silver around his arms, the crowd grew more silent yet, inhaling in awe the little sound there had been. For he looked the part of a small god, to be sacrificed to their anthrophagian lord. And some even wept, when he was slain on his knees like the others.
The weeping was prelude. Many touched their faces to find tears of blood, and some even swore the great crocodiles wept bleeding tears as well. But this was for a moment. In the next, the earth shook violently, rising and falling as if a herd of cattle ran under the surface, their backs pushing against the rocky ceiling of the cave. There was a sudden roar of thunder, but not a sight of lighting or a cloud in the sky. The altar cracked, the jaw of the god of Anuel forever open and broken by the rage of the unseen. And out poured a cloud of dust and smoke, a pillar of darkness rising into the sky.
The smoke hung over the noble quarter like a funeral shroud. Thul wondered at it as he stood on the balcony. He ought be overseeing the iron bound winemakers, or the copper servants taking food for his mistresses feast. But Thul of the Golden Collar felt no such compulsion to duty anymore. The other servants had fled or hid, as the storm and smoke settled.
In the distance beyond the wall, the fire raged. The child’s sacrifice and the omens hence had been magnified with time, echoing out and growing in power as they reached the edges of Anuel. People saw ghostly lions and specters with bloody hands roaming the streets,crying out for the boy.
The people were rioting. They were clawing like hungry wolves at the walls. They were pelting it with stones, hammering with iron tools that quarried mountains and fields. Thul had seen them on his walks with his mistress, watching the tide of glittering iron and flesh smash against the walls. They hadn’t broken through yet. But the walls couldn’t hold forever.
His mistress had fallen ill in this rain. It was sickly green or grey at times, and where it fell, all the crawling things of the world crawled forth. The cats of the house were often hard at work crushing and hunting the scorpions and ants and beetles and centipedes that were encroaching on the noble gardens. Such sights weaken her already failing constitution.
Thul watched and waited for the final sigh. He watched and waited for the hammering at the walls. As mighty as the marble was, lined with gold, it would bend and it would break. Already it’s varnish was rotting away, revealing gravel beneath the sheets of marble.
In his soul, Thul prayed that the gods so offended would come swiftly upon him. A crack, as the marble walls at last broke, seemed to promise just that.
I’m not the entirely happy with this piece. The writing outline was well made, but it deserves another pass or two. It occurred to me that the extended timeline would have worked better with a distraction from the Gods wrath. Some drama or nonsense that would occupy the time of the nobility (And the audience) as the tragedy mounted beside them. However, I couldn’t work one in that felt natural, so I dropped it in favor of what is here. If I come back to this, which I might, that will be among the first additions.
This was our second anniversary, although we did little with it. Next week, however, will be our clearest reference to some rather intriguing Lovecraftian lore: The demon sultan himself will be there for all to see.
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