River of Fire

This Week’s Prompt:50. Phleg′-e-thon: a river of liquid fire in Hades.

The Resulting Story:Ill Fated Boat Ride
This week’s prompt appropriately enough brings us back to one of the richest goldmines that Mr. Lovecraft employs: Classical imagery and mythology. In this case, the Phlegethon, one of the rivers that runs along Hades, providing a boundary marker. The river itself is often described as alit with fire, flowing ( or “coiling”) into the depths of Tarturus, the closest thing to an infernal domain the Greeks had.

Phlegethon

Fittingly, then, Phlegethon has been maintained past the Classics into the imagery of Hell provided by Christian authors. Dante describes it as a river of blood and violence, boiling over as murderers and war criminals were forced to stay in it by patrolling centaurs. Milton places it and the other four rivers as parts of hell explored by the fallen angels, before the idea of tempting mortals is introduced. The Faeire Queene by Spencer has it scorch sinners, and even Mr. Lovecraft included it in the work “the Other Gods”.

However, as strange as a river of fire might sound, it is not alone in peculiar underworld rivers. Rivers, being natural dividers and boundary markers, often arise around the land of the dead, many with strange contents. Hubur, the Sumerian river of the dead, held dead souls in it’s depths against their will. Sillias, a river reported by a Greek traveler in India, allows nothing to float, but rather drags everything into it’s depths. The Vaitarna River is, to the sinless, a river of nectar. To the sinner, it appears filled with blood, bones, and pus. When the sinner approaches, flames appear everywhere. Those who try and cross, and are in fact sinners, will burn forever in the whirlpools in it’s depths.

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And of course there is Xibalba. Xibalba has a number of rivers. A river of blood, yes, but also a river of pus and a river of scorpions. These rivers mark the roads and borders of the Maya realm of the dead, to keep the living out and the dead within. The rivers must be crossed successfully,

These rivers often have fearsome guardians. Hubur has monsters with many arms demonic birds, the Phelegthon has it’s centaurs in Dante, and Vaitarna has hundreds of crocodiles and birds to devour the flesh of sinners before the cross.

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Of course, rivers of fire are not merely fantastical. There are multiple records of polluted rivers bursting into flames or exploding, sometimes for shockingly long periods at a time. The resonance of damned souls burning and industrial waste igniting is perhaps not an accident. It is a potent image, fire snaking it’s way down what ought to be it’s relief, a boiling mass of suffering from what is normally life giving.

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Rivers role with the dead we’ve discussed here, when talking of suicides at bridges, and here with Davey Jones. The river’s leading inexorably down to a place of punishment is not one we’ve directly addressed. However, as an image and mode for a story, flowing down a river unwittingly to doom seems as good a premise as any to describe the arc of a story. The realm of the dead is near the edge of the river, the damned are just below it’s surface struggling to be free.

I would focus on the rivers, then, and the journey down them rather than the dead itself. It can keep the story somewhat more grounded then we’ve been lately, more in the realm of the mortal than the completely supernatural. I’d suggest a borderline between the surreal but natural occurrence of flaming rivers and the wholly supernatural rivers of fire and hell would be a good place to work. A place of uncertainty, where the danger is real, but the extent is not completely clear. And the river is a good place to set such a story. Rivers are border places, where parties of either side might meet. It is a perpetual threshold between two places, endowed with motion onward.

The other recurring image is the attempt (and failure) to cross the river by sinful souls or inquisitive dead. Xibalba is the exception, of course, having been crossed and overthrown by the Maya Hero Twins, and even then it had more confounding traps past the river. Vaitarna allows people to cross with proper preparations, offerings, or after a lengthy time of suffering. Other rivers are generally safe to the sinless, a sort of natural filter.

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And of course, with many of these, the role of supernatural ferryman is a strong image. A ferryman who is more aware of the nature of the river and what’s around it. Charon serves this roll for the Styx, Guru’s for the Vaitarna, Virgil for Dante. These more than human guides might have a place in our story as well.

Come next week to see what corpse we pull from the boiling blood, and what it’s appearance resembles!

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Father and Son

This Week’s Prompt:49. AZATHOTH—hideous name.

The Research:Blind Idiot Gods

The door slammed before Samson could sit down. Rubbing his temple, he looked to his wife Irene for some explanation, his face somewhere between dumbfounded and full of rage. His hands and throat were still shaking when he went into the kitchen.

We can’t keep doing this every week,” Irene said, her gaze avoiding the open kitchen door. Samson nodded, unseen, and poured a water to aid his dry throat.

No, no we can’t. But that’s–”

And it can’t be Paul’s call.” Irene cut in. Samson paused. “He’s a kid, Sam. He’s not gonna go out there, again, and have some road to Damascus moment where he comes back and it all clicks.”

Samson sighed as he stared at the water. The kitchen light flickered, the ripples bent before the hit the edge of the glass. He took a deep breath and went for his coat.

Alright, I’ll go get him. I know where’s he’s gone, probably.” Samson said, putting on the faux leather heavy jacket he wore for cold nights like this. Paul had gone to the same spot every night like this, Samson was sure.

And?”

And I’ll try to be more civil. I just understand how he thinks he can go around at night like that,” Samson said, shaking his head as he put a cap on. “Doing god knows what. It’s not safe out there these days, and I swear that those Miller boys are in some sort of gang.”

Scaring him off won’t help.” Irene said, eyes locked on her magazine now. “You know, there was a report on youth crime recently, and they said distant father’s played a big part.”

I don’t think being distant is the problem.” Samson grumbled. “But I’ll keep my cool this time.”

It’d rained during the fight. There was a wall of cold wet air like something out of a freezer right outside the door. It hadn’t occurred to Samson before he set foot outside. Well, he figured that your own flesh and blood calling you a damned fool for caring about where his life was going might be part of that. The street lights caught a few of the long, near invisible spider threads that ran from branch to fence. Some even ran along the fences, like a secondary ward against flies. Drops of rain water had made them rather appealing, even if Samson couldn’t bear the thought of a spider being anywhere near him.

It was a long walk to the train tracks. Samson was sure Paul was there. There was some intuitive reason, some chord that he and his son shared in common. When Samson needed to cool down, he’d take a deep dive into some misery. Go somewhere painful. It wasn’t healthy, not by any notion of the imagination. But it was what he did.

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As he passed a strange shaped web, that had been bent just right to look like a spiral by the rain water, Samson wondered if that was the start of it all. They’d found Jordan dead on the tracks, head busted open a few months ago. He knew Paul would grieve, he’d braced himself for loud sobbing and mourning. When it didn’t happen, he’d figured Paul was going to just ride it out. Maybe it’d buried it self, waited. Maybe.

The boys Paul was with now, when Samson knew anyhting about them, were strange ones. Stupid, snarling, barely intelligent kids who gave him a dirty look whenever they saw him. Which, Samson admitted, was rare. He paused his thoughts to collect himself. He’d grown up here, he knew the streets and architecture well. He’d been headed to the last of the rails, but the red brick work told him he was on the wrong side of town already. He’d slipped across without any notice.

It was disgraceful mistake, he had to admit. How did you miss the tracks? It was like missing the river. Samson organized his mental map, and figured he’d gotten distracted and missed a turn or something. Maybe his mind was moving away from construction as he mulled over the weirdos Paul called company.

It was wrong, Samson thought, to hate your son’s friends so much. But they were bad kids. They had this look in their eyes that reminded Samson of starving strays. And while he might pity them, in some abstract way, they were too cunning and a half for their own good. The thing was, and this made Samson more uncertain, they didn’t dress like thugs. Some wore button ups, clean slacks, dyed hair parted neatly. Hell, if you’d told him this was just some intern down at the firm, Samson would have believed you. Weird as it was to see that sort of clothing on them, the clothing wasn’t the problem. It was the way they walked, it was like there was a slight invibislbe gas leaking from their mouths. Their eyes hinted at malice, and they held their hand smore like claws then proper fingers and joints.

Samson got dizzy again, near an intersection. He stopped himself this time, and realized he had almost missed the train tracks again. The under pass, lined with tents, was just on the right. It seemed to swell in front of him. Most of the denziens were inside on a cold night like this. Samson frowned as he walked down the shaky concrete. Some of the asphalt must have been fresh, with the way it shown and almost flowed in the light. Like a river of gold.

It wasn’t fair, to call them strays. Strays just wanted some food. Or a home. Samson had taken in a few when he was a boy. No, they were more like…like the spiders. Or like a wasp Samson read about, that played with cockroaches before killing them. Malicous, maybe even sadistic, but naturals at it. They’d probably given not a second thought to what they did. Samson wasn’t sure if they’d done anything. He had theoires. He was pretty sure they’d killed a cat. There were less cats and squirrels about. He knew they were bullies and probably a few made a career being vicious. He’d seen one burn a bunch of dolls in an alley once.

Samson didn’t know which was worse. That the strange idiots stole a girls dolls and burned them, or they bought a bunch of dolls to burn for the hell of it.

Maybe they’d killed Jordan. The thought had crossed his mind. It seemed so fortunate for the freaks that Paul needed an outlet, and they were right there.

But Samson put that all aside as he walked down the tracks. Now was the time for peacemaking. Now was the time to talk with Paul, to make sure he got home, to make sure he was okay. The tracks were where Jordan and Paul once walked.

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Samson blinked a few times as he made his way down. He didn’t bother calling out, it was bright enough to see Paul when he needed to. Hell, it was getting brighter and brighter as he walked down the tracks. There wasn’t any particular light, just everything seemed to be in sharper contrast and glow as he went. The tracks had clearly worn down since he got here, Samson thought. Some were broken or sprawling off. Maybe repairs or replacements required those bends and buckling. Some of the pieces of wood seemed to be replaced by bits of metal. A lot of them had been vandilized, little holes stabbed in them or gibberish carved in them.

Along the way, Samson swore the shadows blinked at him, or that in the holes of tracks there are flickers of motion like scurrying ants or beetles. It’s not too bad. Vermin always forms when places are left alone and forgotten. Samson’s known that for a while.

At last he comes to something that might be a destination. A pair of cargo containers, red and blue. On top are a bunch of tents, mini-roofs. Lights are shining out, brightest just above the two roofs, making a dome of bright light that slowly dissipated upwards into the sky. Samson walked to the rusted steel doors, breathed deeply and knocked.

There wasn’t any sound before the knock. Then a slight whistling and piping, as if Samson had disturbed some strange sleeping creature. Samson blinked and turned to make sure nothing was following behind him. When he looked back, the metal was gone, bent up into a surprisingly spacious ceiling. The piping continued, shaking the shimmering interior. As he stepped in, Samson heard the crunching of sand or salt beneath his shoes.

Samson heard voices from the deeper interior, halls of shining metal containers and ladders to the top tents. The light was bright,and Samson had to cover his eyes to come inside. Slowly he worked towards the voices. Paul was probably among the voices, deeper into whatever strange fort this was.

There was scribbling on the wall, symbols that Samson recognized from an old code book he had as hobo warning marks. About wild dogs and guns. Some of the scribbles were decayed, some were definitely alphabets he’d not seen in his life. Or gibberish in English, overlapped from overwork.

The halls smoothed as he got close to the voices. Despite being maybe twenty feet across, it seemed to stretch in front of Samson towards the horizon. He was surprised how quickly he crossed. He was surprised how long it took. The piping was melodious, almost calming now. With each step that crunched, crackled, and echoes through the metal walls it grew louder, more persistent. Like a lullaby being sung over a screaming child.

At last, Samson found the source of the lights and sounds. A door off the side of the hallway opened like a flower, peeling away but with a smoothness that washed over Samson’s alarm. They were gathered their, the strange boys playing piping instruments. They sat around a green fire that seemed to be a reflection, more flat then fire should be.

Paul was there, as Samson thought. Paul sat in the fire unsinged, eyes closed. Samson walked forward into the hall. A single word was written round the walls now, without beginning or end.

THOTHAZATHOTH

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Paul murmured it in endless chant as Samson walked towards the fire, his son still unburned. In an instant Paul’s eyes opened. They stared ahead like wax orbs, no light shining from them. He stood, the flaming plat form putting him at eye level with his father.

Paul…” Samson said, arms outstretched. “What is this Paul?”

Paul looked back as if he did not understand, like Samson was speaking a language he never understood. Samson took another step forward.

Let’s go home, Paul. We’ll talk about this.”

Paul didn’t move from the fire, his clothes unburned. Samson took another step forward.

Son, come on. We can–”

Paul let out a howl and Samson started back. He saw a flash of a knife in his son’s hand, a flicker of silver that rushed at him. With strength not his own, Paul toppled his father and slashed into him over and over again, before slicing his throat.

As the men and women at the center of the city had said, a sacrifice would be provided. Paul had expected his mother, however.

 


 

This story gave some trouble. I didn’t know the ending until I got there, and it is a bit sudden isn’t it? But I think some of the central conflict and fears could be expanded on later.

Next week! Our fiftieth research! Our fiftieth story! A story of fire and sin!

A Blind Idiot of A God

This Week’s Prompt:49. AZATHOTH—hideous name.

The Story: Father And Son

Azathoth is a creature of some surprising clear description in the works of the Lovecraftian Mythos. Azathoth, epithets ranging from the Demon Sultan to the Nuclear Chaos to the Blind Idiot God, is the close thing the mythos has to a creator deity. From Azathoth spews forth all things madly and randomly, creation occurring out of his court on a whim. Azathoth is credited as having long gone mad, being now only entertained by his court of outer gods and their music and piping. Azathoth’s origins are perhaps as manifold.

The name holds many hints. One theory is that Azathoth derives his name from Azazel. Azazel is a desert demon or fallen angel who accepts the scapegoat for the sins of Israel, an angel thus involved to a degree in the purging of sin. Azazel is also credited, however, in Enochian texts as the creator of the weapons of humanity (in traditional mythic fashion, he gives men weapons and women make up). He was also there the father of some of the Nephilim, man-eating gigantic heroes that were destroyed in the flood.

Another theory suggests, particularly from the name Demon Sultan, that Azathoth derives from the story of Vathek. Vathek is an old Gothic story, that is distinguished in the setting and cosmology from other horror tales of the genre. Vathek is set in the court of a Caliph, and the predominant religion in imagery is Islam instead of Christianity. We named ‘Valley of Vathek” after the main character, and a full version of it can be found here. The connection between Vathek and Azathoth the Demon Sultan seems based primarily on it’s ending of profound suffering in the courts of hell rather than the expected elation. The punishment of the damned is a sort of blinding truth and madness.

Azazthoth, broadly speaking in the Mythos itself, is to a degree the supreme creator deity, credited with giving rise distantly through more famous children such as Yog Sothoth and Nyrlanhotep. More pressingly, his authority is somewhat supreme. His name alone cows multitudes of monstrous creatures

Demiurge

Demiurge

Azathoth bears a resemblance to the characterizations of a few more creators worth mentioning. Chaos/Kaos as creator of course resembles Azathoth, as an apparently unintelligent creator force. Hudun resembles him as well, with no perceivable senses. Instead Hudun simply exists, and is in fact slain by receiving senses in certain Taoist texts. The Gnostic Demiurge, a creator of reality who is blind to it’s true nature and has woven a nightmare realm from his own selfishness, has a passing resemblance as well, if only as a hostile creative power that seeks to trap mankind.

Azazthoth has one significantly literary reference that must be recalled however.

Azathoth’s name and title however, belie more horrifying insinuation. His name recalls an alchemcial term: Azoth, the primary substance of Creation in many branches of Western Occultism and alchemy. Described sometimes as the source of Solar fire and Lunar water. Azoth then is similar to primary material or chaos. But unlike those, Azoth persists at the core of everything. The thing that gives things their existence.

Azoth

A depiction of Azoth

This presence is echoed by the title Nuclear Chaos. Now, in the post Hiroshima world, Nuclear has a very clear meaning as associated with radiation. And certainly, as horror iconography goes, radiation and nuclear weapons might be reflective of the destruction and perverting influence of the gods of Lovecraftian lore. But the Nucleus here meant something entirely different. It meant the core of something, it’s center and by extension it’s very being. The nuclear chaos alludes to Azathoth’s all pervasive nature that makes him more than a distant disorder. The madness that is Azathoth, the thing that is at the bottom and center of everything, giving existence to all things, is insane. Utterly idiotic and insane.

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This is almost a horrible punchline to a nihilist joke, isn’t? It reads almost like something from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Goats. It’s a silly supposition, comically from the right angle. But we must labor to make this farce something almost horrifying. Restore some majesty it has lost.

So how to make this horrifying? Well, we might first abandon the primacy of the creature. Being trapped or happened upon by an absolutely mad and all powerful entity is itself rather terrifying, if full of humorous potential. The strange and disturbing effects that something omnipotent and foolish could do are rife with potential.

Or we could focus on the change wrought on such a being. How did Azathoth come to be in this state? What was it like, when the essence of the cosmos changed from what it was before? That has potential, but might be too abstract, and frankly too small in effect.

We could return to the notion of Azathoth as an inspiring source. Something that hasn’t been touched on that Lovecraft was fond of was the creation of arts in the wake of terrible beings. We discussed this somewhat, back in our discussion of wicked muses. The Demon Sultan has played that role in the past, particularly regarding The Music of Erich Zann. This might put further emphasis on the name’s hideous in someway, regarding perhaps its latent power inscribed into a poem or even a play (something like the King in Yellow perhaps?).

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Azathoth as an infectious thing in reality, spreading and warping like a maddening rot, might be an approach to consider somewhat seriously. The story would need to begin with establishing the nature of reality as it is, and then gradually introduce the corrupting changes. Ideally, only our character notices these changes. Perhaps they are only changes in his perception, perhaps they are real. The changes will be such that whatever goals the lead was pursuing become increasingly impossible. Slowly, the world seems to drift away from his understandings and notions. Until, at last, he is isolated to a degree in an alien landscape.

Hegel

Hegel. Looks Kinda Like A Deep One

In this manner we might examine Azathoth as an anti-Hegelian conception of the universe. Hegel’s theory of history purports that the world spirit, the embodiment of …well, existence grows closer and closer to self knowledge through the synthesis of thesis and anti-thesis. Azathoth, who sits not only at the core of real space but at the center of the Dreamlands, and thus of both the waking and sleeping world, is the opposite. If anything, Azathoth is losing awareness, deluded by music and his own madness.

Of course, incorporating these ideas into a single story is hard. I suggest then a short vignette. A brief story of a decay to madness that has, at least on paper, another plot entirely. A story of a date, or of a confrontation with a father, or a bad day at work. A generally normal outline, that slowly decays both in the mind of the main character and in the outline overall. A place of insecurity can be magnified by the inclusion of a literally changing world. Albeit, at least physically, probably for the worst.

The Fall of Anuel

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 Alluel’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 Alluel’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 Alluel. 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.

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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 Alluel! 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 plauge for Alluel, it could not reach past the great walls. The gods of Alluel 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 heyenas 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.

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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 Alluel 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 seige 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 repersent, 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 Alluel.

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 Alluel 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.

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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 Alluel. 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 most 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.

Calamity And Woe

This Week’s Prompt: 48. Cities wiped out by supernatural wrath.

Resulting Story: The Fall of Anuel
This weeks topic is very similar to a number of earlier topics. We have of course, the tale of Irem from not that long ago. We have the hubris end-of-times discussion earlier. We have the stories of Atlantis. But lets see if there is more to discuss here, before going into what shape our plot might form.

We do have the lost cities of Lovecraft, including Ib and Sarnath. The people of Sarnath slaughtered the creatures of Ib, and the god of Ib in return destroyed Sarnath in it’s entirety. The Doom that Came To Sarnath records that after their victory over Ib, the people of Sarnath reigned for one thousand years. On the anniversary of the destruction of Ib, Bokurg, god of Ib, visits doom upon them.

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In Hindu myth, there are the Tripura, who were destroyed after their dominion over the world by Lord Shiva. The Asura who raise the city were once devout followers, and practiced many devotions to earn the blessing of Brahma and raise a great and impregnable fortress. The fortress could only be overcome if a single arrow overthrew it, a feat that only Lord Shiva could accomplish. Being devoted to him in their entirety, the Asura thought themselves safe. They went forth, and conquered the worlds. In time, however, they forgot their piety and were overturned.

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Atlantis’s allegorical myth bears repeating here as well. Founded by sons of Poseidon, the Atlanteans conquered the world. They were turned back by Athens. Unlike other, popular versions of the story, Atlantis’s original cause of destruction is not explicitly said, although they lost the favor of the gods certainly. Given our prior with Tripura, Sodom, and Babel, I would suggest they to grew proud.

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The hubris of man and his empires is certainly the running theme of divinely destroyed lands. This makes a degree of sense. Empires are mighty, all encompassing powers that often boast divine backing if not divine nature. Such boasts of power are almost asking to be undone and disproven by gods that do not endorse the nation in question. The arc of empire, often made analogous to the arc of comets, is one of tremendous rising force and stupendous, alarming collapse.

Which brings us to our plot to be examined: the fall of a city by the wrath of some supernatural force. The wrath of the gods is a varied lot. While there are traditional shows of force, such as shaking the earth or sending forth plagues, there are some that are more unique or disturbing. The flood caused by the gods of the Maya had the cooking implements of the people turn on them. A rain of frogs appears in the Old Testament assault on Egypt. The Curse of Cain is that of wandering with no hospitality. The gods of Olympus regularly transformed those who raised their ire, from Arachne to Niobe. There is , in general, a large degree of imagination in imagery when the gods deign to unleash their terror on the world.

or, Qualtiy over Quantity.

But what our plot might have that separates it from the other resurrected corpses is that our story of fallen hubris doesn’t take place in the narrative past but the narrative future. This would bring it in closer connection with the Prophecy of Tammuz. A story of an impending, doomed collapse. The final, waning days of an empire before the gods level their wrath upon it.

In fact, I suggest we split our story up into three temporal parts, five hundred or so words each. The decay will be apparent in the in-between times, as omens are made apparent and ignroed, as prophets call out warning but are ignored, as sins are damned and the victims cry out, apparently ignored. The wrath of the Gods is often kind enough to send some warning ahead of it. We will then have on display all the ugliness and vice of a city that will be destroyed.

Our first scene then, would establish the empire as it is. What is it’s glory? Grandeur? Not yet decadent, to the view of the audience, but rather a vast and glorious thing that only occasionally hints at the suffering cities of hubris are built on. The second scene would refocus on these, bringing the decadence to the for. We might here introduce more overt omens of doom, that the audience is aware of but the characters are dismissive of. Prophets, perhaps, or strange figures in the sky. Black stars or ghosts of lions. Omens are a fun bunch.

The third act would not be the doom itself. No, it would be when the characters themselves are aware of their doom. Whatever act caused their doom, whatever the hubris was, is now made apparent. The gods wrath has begun, if it is a plague or similar slow acting misery. But the finale, the final act of judgment has been proclaimed but not carried out. So we end our story, with our characters alone and frightened, acutely aware they are going to die soon, that they have no recourse to escape, and no one else to blame but their own deeds. The end of a tragedy.

I would focus our story on those most likely to be the most decadent members of society. A story of hubris loses some of it’s veneer if we view it from the downtrodden and suffering. And while such people have their own horror, that of an fate they did not ask for and do not deserve, such story seems more difficult to preform in a short span of fifteen hundred words. I might toy with the notion of contrasting characters, however. A prince and pauper perspective might add some depth and contrast to the apocalypse. And it might help add some shades to the typical moral against hubris.

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If we do get such a perspective on the city in question, the cause of wrath I feel should be more than just hubris. Building the Tower of Babel is fine for a work of myth, but we work in smaller symbolism. We will need butchers, slavers, exploiters of everything under the sun, monsters of men that are themselves proof against the city’s right to exist.

This will take some meditating. Such horrific crimes aren’t often revealed in myths of hubris and devastation. Just that they were there, and the group in question was deserving in it’s annulment. I will think on what sorts of crimes could warrant such devastation. One of my favorite sources is Chariot, a tabletop game I’ve never played but I commend for it’s writing and world building.

The City In Silver Sands

This Week’s Prompt: 47. From Arabia Encyc. Britan. II—255. Prehistoric fabulous tribes of Ad in the south, Thamood in the north, and Tasm and Jadis in the centre of the peninsula. “Very gorgeous are the descriptions given of Irem, the City of Pillars (as the Koran styles it) supposed to have been erected by Shedad, the latest despot of Ad, in the regions of Hadramaut, and which yet, after the annihilation of its tenants, remains entire, so Arabs say, invisible to ordinary eyes, but occasionally and at rare intervals, revealed to some heaven-favoured traveller.” // Rock excavations in N.W. Hejaz ascribed to Thamood tribe.

The Research: Pillars Lost In Shifting Sands

 

I recently came in the possession of a curiosity that has defied expectation. A set of papers, written in a slow long hand, coated in silver sand. The box of them was sold to me by an antiquarian by the docks, and the shopkeeper there informed me that he had purchased them from an Arab traveller, who had found them among the sands of Arabia. It records…well, I have reproduced the legible portions here. Needless to say, I belive it is of the upmost intreast to our society, and the common brotherhood of mankind, that this knowledge be considered and carefully revealed at the appropriate time.

I have long searched for Irem, City of Pillars, Atlantis of the Sands. A city of the primeval age, if the Mohammedan is to be believed, and thus host to secrets beyond imaging. The wonders of Alexandria, the prosperity of ancient kings of Egypt, the wonders that were ascribed to Daedulus and Zoaraster, the majesty of Ethiopia and the rest of the East African coast, all this can be traced to Irem. It sits at the center, like the nucleus of a great pulsing cell of life. From it emanates wisidom and prestige, the first birth place of mankind.

Recently, my search has come to an end. I have tracked down a guide to the deserts, who several trusted sources have verified can lead me to Irem. I made sure to consult sources that are beyond mortal keen, my crystal nearly cracking from over consultation and interrogation. The trusted guide has hence lead me out near the volcanic fields of the south, and told me that there, when the moon is full and the wind rides over the bubbling fields and makes a howling flute sound,the city of Irem appears for any to enter.

Overjoyed, I offered him the opportunity to join me, but he said it was not the place of living men to disturb Irem. Perhaps the superstitious fear to venture into the unknown, but I had already seen the terrible ruins of Sarnath in far Mnar, had often read of the dread plateau of Leng, and seen the distant black stars of Hali. I fear no place haunted by strange sounds and the flickering ghosts of the past. So I waited in the desert by a burning fire, with the gathered herbs to help see beyond the veil of the mortal world.

As the night went on, and the moon grew bright, I started to lose faith. The worm doubt was wrapped around my heart. But at last, I saw them. Men and women walking, as if fighting some great unseen wind, their bodies bright but without distinction. Like figures of smoke or made of cracked glass, they tumbled forward along desert slopes. I raced towards them, and saw rising behind them the lost mountains and towers of Irem.

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The text here becomes somewhat illegible. However, it is clear that our traveler, by some means, managed to enter Irem, and records some of the wonders he saw as such.

…of marble, and towering edifices of basalt. I wondered the wide avenues for a brief time, and saw great giants, robed and with faces covered by veils. From each a singluar silver light shown through the veil. Some it seemed from an eye, others from their mouths, or perhaps they were built strangely. The whole place was covered in dark fog, and lighting crackled in the strange, dark sky. It was of every hue and, despite the apparent closeness of the arcs, there was no sound. The light was brilliant but faded fast. In an effort to avoid the gaze of the giants, for I could not discern their motives as they shuffled among their mountain dwellings, I hid by the wall of a great stone hall.

And there, as I got my bearings, I beheld a sight both wondrous and terrible. What I had thought were men and women fleeing the city were in fact the city’s outer wall. A mass, rising higher then I could see, of silver statues. Each was interlocked carefully, arranged to be impenetrable but striving forever away from the giant’s keep. A monument to those who it seemed had failed in their efforts to leave the city of pillars.

And I saw, in the dimly lit room I as in, that a multitude of others hid in carvings and outcoves along the great doors, like rats in the halls of terrible kings. Here I spent sometime, as I found a few who knew my languages. They were a frightful of the giants, and said that strange birds would drag them away in the night if caught on the street. At day, however, all was safe. The presence of the birds was their only means of discerning time, however, and it was by their terrible -illegible- where they detected before hand.

The people here are aware of the wall. If one tries to scale it or flee out the gate, at the wrong time, then they are trapped as ardent statues. However, the giants have some means of moving through the gate. They have seen strange figures coming through or venturing out the gate, and some believe that if one is cautious and quick they can sneak out with the procession. Such have never returned, but to those born in these warrens, wearing the scraps of silk left by great giants, why would they?

They have given my shelter and offered to show me the ways to find the giants hidden lore among their places of worship and laboratories in the depths of the city, where….lies sl….in abundance and ….

At this point the entire text again becomes illegible. By the various diagrams that were found amongst the texts, it appears that our entrepreneurial traveler had some skill as an artist. He has diagrammed and noted that the people had the features of many tribes of the earth, but their skin tone possessed an ashen, silver coloration. A few fragmentary pieces remain. I have arranged them in chronological order, roughly.

…within which a body might be preserved without regard for its…,something that even the best botanist might find astounding, especially with how functional the survivors told me their senses were. The sensation was akin to joy, pleasurable but now repulsive to the…. Who found it difficult to discuss. The production of such boxes and glass however is…..

…. expedition, I located a large, dark obelisk carved with ….like the skull of some lost bovine. The eyes appeared to have some awareness, and flashed various colors in response to lighting over head. I suspect it provides the dregs and…. with directions of some sort. Why such a monument would be necessary, I can’t say.

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The silver gaze …incredibly painful. Needles through out the ligaments and bones, freezing in pain, matched only by….Hideous disposition. Luckily the creature did not notice me, distracted by Fernda’s more obvious form. She whimpered as it reached down and scooped her up with barely a worry in a single hand. Like an insect.

I know the face of one of the silver filled ones. …. her blood with …., replaced her mind …. sand, but I know her face. I saw her in a portrait in…. How long has he been here? And why is the sand so vibrant. I must…

…reflects some of their devices, making lines and patterns when near them. Enough of it, and one could move objects remotely by adjusting the machines nearby. They could even…. or perhaps communicate distant messages. What effects on the body must such irritations have? The impulses must be minute, if they are undetected…

And so ends the majority of the fragments. I have removed any of the small, one sentence or garbled letters that have no clear meaning. Sadly, either the shopkeeper or the Arabic tradesmen, failed to preserved the middle text. However, to what I am sure is our benefit, the ending of the story is preserved.

…the entrance to the great laboratories. I have bought myself time, after seeing the engines of the lords of this city. I have bought time with blood of others, and now, if my calculations are right, the moon shines again over the Arabian desert. I’ll send everything I’ve written out into the world, out where it can perhaps serve as a warning.

The mechanisms beneath the city are horrors of horrors. They are in possession of more than I dreamed of. Great crackling engines are down in that darkness, and I saw the bodies of even vaster titans. From these they directed dregs under the every watchful Anzu birds to carve more silver and iron. I have learned, that the engines send messages to others. Sleeping near them, I feel them shifting my dreams as I hid. I shudder at what they do when turned, focused onto the enemies of Irem. What power they hold over the mind, even here in their hidden city.

They speak in a buzzing tongue in their laboratories, and walk without veils. They speak with invisible whistling wind spirits, and strange demons, and send them out into the world to find precious…. That they might persist in their experiments. What ever work they do, it bodes poorly for the world, and that it is hidden makes their …like the roots of a twisted tree.

The possibility of such influence, unseen, among the people of our guarded nation must be investigated, I am sure you will agree. The nature of the influence itself would be of utmost interest of the society, I am sure. In these waning days of the world, we should be certain that no unseen hand pulls at our hearts or minds, nor any unguided or foreign pulse beat in our countryman’s minds.

 


 

This story I believe holds not only some promise for future visitations, but some genuine unnerving ideas with the interrupted narrative that is recovered. Next week, we again visit calamitous cities, but these now in their prime.

Pillars Lost In Shifting Sands

This Week’s Prompt: 47. From Arabia Encyc. Britan. II—255. Prehistoric fabulous tribes of Ad in the south, Thamood in the north, and Tasm and Jadis in the centre of the peninsula. “Very gorgeous are the descriptions given of Irem, the City of Pillars (as the Koran styles it) supposed to have been erected by Shedad, the latest despot of Ad, in the regions of Hadramaut, and which yet, after the annihilation of its tenants, remains entire, so Arabs say, invisible to ordinary eyes, but occasionally and at rare intervals, revealed to some heaven-favoured traveller.” // Rock excavations in N.W. Hejaz ascribed to Thamood tribe.


The Resulting Story: The City in Silver Sands

After a dirth of short, brief prompts, Mr. Lovecraft has graced us with a longer and more elaborate notion! Excellent. And one with a good deal of information as well! Let us begin then with the nature of the tribes and the city they supposedly hail from, according ot the texts at hand.

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A cliff dwelling attributed to the Thamud

Thamud, Jadis, Tasm, and Ad are all members of the a group of tribes referred to as ‘Perishing Arabs’. All four are extinct populations according to the Koran: Jadis and Tasm by genocide, Ad and Thamud were destroyed for their lack of faith. Iram of the Pillars is a city of Ad, and was destroyed in some versions by a storm, in others by volcanic activity. Iram was sent a prophet, to bring monotheism to the region, but did not listen. Likewise, Thamud was sent a prophet and by accounts from the Koran shared some relation to Ad. Thamud was destroyed by earthquake after rejecting the prophet. Thamud seems to have constructed homes from within mountains, or inside of them, an architectural feature I suggest we continue in our own story.

Now, of course, civilizations that have fallen from hubris are not new. We’ve covered some before, but we might call to mind Atlantis and Babel, also punished for their arrogance. Sodom and Gomorrah likewise for their crime of inhospitably were laid low by YHWH. However, what is notable about Irem is not only it’s location (a desert, as opposed to at sea), but also it’s nature as still existent. Sodom and Gomorrah are traditionally not available for human eyes to behold, and Atlantis is buried in the sea. No, Irem is still in the desert, where some occasionally find it.

Iram of the Pillars

Artist Interpertation found on Wikipedia

The invisibility of Irem to all but holy eyes also bears resemblance to hidden kingdoms of djinn, which occupy a different spatial relation then those of mortal men. We might also consider hidden kingdoms and cities such as beyuls of Tibetian mysticism or the fairie lands of Celtic myth.

Celtic myth, particularly Irish, adds an interesting element: the phantom Island. Brasil (not the nation) is and island that emerges and disappears at certain times throughout the year. In Slavic myth, there is Buyan, the island that holds the immortal Korschie’s heart. Both islands are near impossible to reach, but not as otherworldly as lost Atlantis is. Our story, from these traditions, should probably be about the cross over into such an otherworldly place, which is more than mortal but less than magical entirely.

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The mythical island of Brasil

An odd, if depressing, version also found in Russia is the Kingdom of Opona. Opona is an earthly paradise for serfs, that lies on the edge of the world. There are no nobles, no gentry at all here. Only peasents and their ruler, the wise and just White Tsar. It is an odd place, that many peasants wandered forever searching for. I don’t know exactly what to make of it, except as a note of interest.

I would even suggest borrowing some of the most common themes of those strange places that are just out of sight, namely the warping of time upon entrance. We might find in our mysterious city a plethora of lost souls, still wandering from eras long past or only just recently present. This could perhaps create a colorful visual, if not cast to draw from. The associations with these hidden locals and the dead should also, in all likliehood, be preserved in our text.

Before continuing, I will pause here to note that Mr. Lovecraft does appear to have used this prompt for his own work, The Nameless City. The work in that case focuses on an archaelogical expedition, and in some ways is similar to At the Mountains of Madness which also featured archaelogical uncovering of an alien city, filled with hieroglyphs and markings.

For our own story, I would begin with the city alive instead of dead. A city that is only briefly and occasionally aligned with our own, allowing travel only at very specific intervals of time and space. Partially because this will be an easy seperation from Lovecraft’s own work, but partly because it also allows us to play with the notions of apparent destruction. It would also allow us to include other characters who are perhaps a tad more otherworldly then our lead.

As to their own identity, I would shy away from an actual man of science or a professional in matters of reality. We won’t be using our belabored Ottoman bureaucrat or a census man. No, I think a better character might be one who is interested in such ruins, who has sought them out at the time they appear, and made the journey at no small expense out of an obsession. I think it will be an obsession on matters occult more than scientific, determined to plunge the depths of reality for some lost secret or another, or believing that the hidden city of Irem actually contains. I imagine then our narrator is an eccentric of some sort at the least. I have an idea for his means of communication, but that would perhaps be giving too much away.